Control in the cold

Jonas Beyer

Jonas Beyer

Danish-born Jonas Beyer is a professional wildlife photographer. Jonas spent his childhood taking photographs of anything he could and when he got older, his love of animals took him to some of the coldest and most unforgiving places on earth in order to photograph animals in their natural habitat.

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If somebody asked me 8 years ago what I wanted to do as a profession, I would never have answered wildlife photographer. Don’t get me wrong, ever since I was a young child, I loved taking photos. When I was 13 years old, I got my first digital camera and I took photos of anything I could – classmates, gymnastics, horses, dogs. I just found it very funny to be able to capture moments in a frame. When I got a bit older, I got my first DSLR camera and I would look to seek out other photographers to learn more about camera settings and other tips and tricks.

The reason why I never thought about this becoming a career is because it was always a dream to become a police officer and I spent most of my life chasing that dream. Unfortunately, I failed my English exam and had to come up with a way to learn the language as sitting in a classroom, trying to learn, wasn’t going to work for me. Instead, I found a job in Greenland, at the US air force base in Thule. They needed an activities floater to run the gym and teach fitness classes. This job forced me to speak English every day and I knew that would be the best way to learn the language.

I had always wanted to see Greenland so the combination of being able to work and live there was just perfect. Wherever I went, I had my camera with me. On my days off, I would be out in the nature, looking for wildlife and trying to capture the beautiful scenery. I remember one specific encounter with an Arctic Fox that will stay with me forever. It was mid-August and I was out with my camera as the sun was beginning to set. I had noticed this beautiful little fox running around and it was curious enough to come up to me. After taking hundreds of photos of him, he laid down and I decided to lay down next to him to get a different angle. Occasionally he would open one eye to look at me, but he never looked scared. This moment made me want to do more wildlife photography. I wanted to create pictures of animals in their natural habitat that I could show to the world so they could also see how amazing these animals are. I started to research wildlife photography on YouTube and look at what kind of equipment I would need to consider taking it seriously and then save money until I could afford it.

Finding inspiration for my photos was easy. It helped that I worked in the arctic. I just had to go out to my “backyard” and look for the wildlife. After the dark season, my first winter started and the entire landscape was now covered in snow. It was beautiful but also extremely cold. I wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it was going to be to take photographs in -30ºC temperatures and as these extreme temperatures drain the batteries quickly, you must make every shot count.

I was about to face one of the deadliest predators in the world. The confidence drained out of me and I suddenly realised I wasn’t ready for it as I watched four or five dorsal fins swimming directly towards me.

As crazy as it sounds, I find it quite cool that I have to send myself out into such extreme environments to be able to find and capture photos and moments with the arctic animals. They are used to these conditions, but I must find a way to adapt and trust my equipment and clothing. Sometimes I am out in the cold with very little movement for hours on end, so if the clothes cannot keep me warm, I can’t take the photographs I want and share my amazing experiences with everybody else.

Arctic wildlife photography has allowed me to work in some of the most amazing places in the world. Some encounters have been mind-blowing and will stay strong in my memory for the rest of my life. I remember my first time in Norway when I was about to enter the cold water to come face to face with orcas. This would unnerve some people, but the fear never hit me. In fact, I felt confident and couldn’t wait to get in the water. It wasn’t until I was laying in the cold water, in my dry suit, that I started to realise what kind of situation I was in. I was about to face one of the deadliest predators in the world. The confidence drained out of me and I suddenly realised I wasn’t ready for it as I watched four or five dorsal fins swimming directly towards me. I wanted to get back in the boat, but I was about 30-40 meters away. I turned on my back and swam as quickly as I could. As soon as I was close to the boat, I turned to look into the dark blue water to see if the orcas were close by. I looked all around me, but they were nowhere to be seen. Sitting back in the boat, the regret began to build up inside me. I wanted to swim with the orcas so badly, but fear had got the better of me. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get another opportunity.

Another memory that sticks out was when I was driving deep inside the Norwegian fjords, looking for polar bear tracks. I had been looking for hours and couldn’t find anything. The cold was getting too much and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stay out in such extreme conditions. I decided to cut my losses and head back towards the base when I saw something in the distance, close to an iceberg. It was a lot of small black dots. I thought perhaps they were ravens, but if they were, then why were there so many of them in one spot? Then I saw the white shade move and I knew what it was. It was a polar bear.

I immediately forgot about the -30-degree weather and pointed my snowmobile in the direction of the polar bear. When I got closer I realised that it wasn’t just one, but a mother and her two cubs. I knew how protective female polar bears can be of their young and as I got closer, the mother kept a very close eye on me as I approached. After a couple of photos, she saw that I wasn’t a threat and laid down to rest while her two cubs played around her. It was a crazy experience, being allowed by the mother to be anywhere near her and her cubs. Being able to document their natural behavior and show the rest of the world these amazing moments makes every second in the cold worth it.

There is no way you can schedule a shoot like that. When I go out with my camera into the arctic desert, I have no idea of what I will come home with. 80% of the trips I will come home with nothing. I cannot make an appointment with a wild animal to make sure it will be there whenever I am ready. It takes so much time and so much patience, which I think is the beauty of it. With that being said, there are a few things I can control. As a photographer, I need to be ready and to be two steps ahead of a situation. I need to place myself in the right spot, I need to have thought about the light and wind. If I don’t want the animal to notice my presence, I need to have positioned myself so I am ready to get the image when something extraordinary happens. I must blend in with the surroundings to draw less attention to myself in order to experience the most authentic behavior of the animals.

All this sounds like a lot of preparation, but when you are out in nature and something happens, everything goes so fast so there is only a very limited time to get the shot. That is what I really like about it, the whole situation depends on you, and where you are in that specific moment to take control.

I love this planet’s wildlife and it will always be a big part of me. I will keep fighting to protect our nature and animals through my pictures and video. Hopefully, it will create awareness and more people will help us protect our planet and the wild places we have left.

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