Bear Necessities

Bear Necessities

Bucket List

Bear Necessities

bear necessities

I’m at 36,000 feet on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage, blissfully dreaming about another rendezvous with Alaskan Coastal Brown bears in a remote, fly-in lodge. Suddenly my body is overcome by a wave of paralyzing dread. Have you ever had a dream where you show up for a final exam in college, but you forgot to study? Or you attended no classes? Or you weren’t wearing pants? Well, that’s the feeling.

The meaning is obvious and unmistakable. There’s an upcoming event for which I’m unprepared. This could be the result of packing fantastically light for a remote photography location in the Alaskan wilderness. For example, I’ve packed only two lenses. On my first trip to Alaska more than ten years ago, to offer context, I hauled in 37, give or take a few. Doctor Freud could easily have demonstrated a symbolic link between the number of lenses carried and pants – or the lack thereof.

However, the anxiety would wane within moments as my left-brained rationality laid out the game plan for this expedition. I had two Canon R5 camera bodies, a Canon 100-400mm lens with EF-RF adapter, a Canon 24-105mm lens, and 4 TB of Lexar CF Express cards. That’s all my photography gear.

The practical excuse for this minimalism was the weight limit imposed by the air service from Anchorage out to the lodge. If you wanted to board the plane, your clothes, boots, jackets, toiletries, photography gear, and anything else necessary for five nights in the Alaskan hinterlands couldn’t exceed 50 pounds. In years past, this limit was more of a suggestion to help reign in chronic over packers. I was advised this year would be different.

But even before the newly enforced restriction was known to me, I had decided to leave the 500mm f/4 lens, bulky tripod, and gimbal head at home and adopt a light and nimble approach to the bears this year. I was convinced that super-telephoto primes were becoming less necessary for most wildlife photography and, in many cases, a liability. To creatively compose or to ensure I achieved the right balance of negative and positive space in the image frame, I would need to continually “zoom with my feet” – moving closer and farther away with every shooting encounter. Zooming with the lens while keeping my feet stable and in one place is a tremendous advantage.

bear necessities

“Illiamna” Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA

Then there’s the obvious fact that bears are large mammals and don’t require the same image magnification as songbirds, for example. Coastal brown bears in this specific area were relatively well adapted to a human presence, so I could approach these bears closer than grizzlies in the interior parts of the North American continent. The 45 megapixels of the Canon R5 also allow generous latitude for cropping in post, making the decision even easier. In fact, replacing the heavy prime telephoto lens with the 100-400mm wasn’t really much of a radical option at all.

The decision not to bring a tripod was more psychologically uncomfortable, however. Before I left for Alaska, I experimented with some settings. I knew at 400mm I would need at least 1/1000 of a second to ensure consistently sharp images when handholding the camera and lens. I tested the combination of 400mm and 1/1000 of a second in a variety of lighting conditions I expected to encounter while working with bears in Alaska. Under no reasonable lighting situations did I need more than 4000 ISO to produce a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. Most ISO settings were at least half of that, and in sunny conditions, I could use ISO 400 or less. With the low-light capabilities of the Canon R5, I felt those numbers were easily manageable. Plus, handheld photography gave me more freedom and mobility to capture those decisive moments that make wildlife photography so captivating. I’m confident I captured images handheld on this trip that I would have missed had I been using a tripod.

A second camera body is an essential safeguard against accidents or electronics failure, especially in a remote place like Alaska. I mounted the Canon 24-105mm lens on the second R5 body for wider “bearscapes” with background tree lines, mountains, clouds, and sky. Environmental portraits are some of my favorite wildlife images.

In the end, the two camera bodies gave me a necessary peace of mind, the 24mm to 400mm range offered no unnecessary overlapping focal length redundancies, and the 4 TB of storage in the CF Express cards allowed me to leave the computer and external hard drives at home. Best of all, I made no real sacrifices to the quality of my photography work while still weighing in a few ounces under the limit.

Sometimes the bear necessities are all you really need.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – AUGUST 2021

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Namibia: 8 Stunning Locations Photographers Must Visit

Namibia: 8 Stunning Locations Photographers Must Visit

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Namibia: 8 Stunning Locations Photographers Must Visit

Namibia

Namibia Photography Hotspots

Simply put, Namibia is a photographer’s dream. It’s also a big, sparsely populated country so knowing where to go when you arrive can save you lots of time and money while optimizing your photography output. Namibia has the planet’s oldest desert, largest sand dunes, world-class wildlife viewing and many more attractions that you probably didn’t know about but should. If you have the opportunity to visit Namibia, here are 8 must-see locations that will make your photography trip a sure-fire success.

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park in the north-central part of Namibia is renown for its amazing wildlife viewing and photography. It’s the most important wildlife sanctuary in Namibia and one of the largest savannah conservation areas in all of Africa. Elephants, zebras, black and white rhinoceros, lions, leopards, cheetahs, herds of springbok, giraffe, and wildebeest all call Etosha home in plentiful numbers.

The Park is at its prime during the dry months, which is approximately May through November, when the water holes draw the greatest concentration of animals, especially early and late in the day. The gates into and out of the Park are closed and locked at sunrise and sunset (to help thwart the pervasive wildlife poaching) so the holes nearest to the Okaukuejo, Namutoni, and Halali base camps are where you have the chance to work with the best light of the day.

This is one of the easiest wildlife parks to drive yourself, hopping waterhole to waterhole to find the best wildlife activity. You are not allowed to exit your vehicle at any time. Gates open at sunrise and close at sunset.

Namibia
Namibia
Namibia
Namibia

(Clockwise from Top Right) Giraffe silhouettes reflected in Okaukuejo water hole at sunset, Etosha National Park; zebras lining up for a late afternoon drink, Etosha National Park; a stately male lion in Etosha National Park; two elephants greet each other at the evening water hole, Etosha National Park; A parade of elephants in sunset light, Etosha National Park; a giraffe at sunset, Etosha National Park.  All Images © Richard Bernabe

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Namib-Naukluft is a large National Park that stretches across much of Namibia’s southern coast. Within its boundaries are the world’s oldest desert and largest sand dunes. Sossusvlei, an area in the southern Namib, is characterized by enormous red sand dunes – the largest in the world. The dune complex is often referred to as Sosusvlei, although the name specifically applies to a hard clay pan located in the center of this region as well as one particularly large dune.

Deadvlei is another clay pan near Sossusvlei with dozens of stark looking camel thorn trees entirely surrounded by giant red sand dunes. The early morning and late evening light is best for photography when the warm, low-angled sunlight intensifies the dunes’ bright orange and red hues.

Access to the Sosusvlei and Deadvlei area is via the Sesriem gate with a forty-mile drive to the dunes. The final 3 miles (which includes immediate access to both Sosusvlei and Deadvlei) are accessable with a 4WD vehicle with high clearance only. The gate at Sesriem opens at sunrise and closes at sunset.

Namibia
Namibia
Namibia
Namibia
Namibia
Namibia
Namibia

(Top Left) Tree art at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Upper Right) The enormous dunes at sunset, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Left) A dunescape in Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Middle) A lone acacia tree is dwarfed by the edge of a giant sand dune, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Middle Right) Shadows are cast across the clay pan at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Bottom Left) An oryx crests the edge of a sand dune and into the light, Namib-Naukluft National Park. (Bottom Right) Tree art during intense dune light at Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park. All images © Richard Bernabe

Quiver Tree Forest and Giant’s Playground

Near the southern Namibia town of Keetmanshoop sits a unique forest of “quiver trees”, one of the most fascinating photography destinations in Namibia. These are not actually real trees, but rather several different species of Aloe, which are large enough to be referred to as “quiver trees” by the locals, since bushmen once used the branches to make quivers for their arrows.

The plant’s distinctive candelabra-like shape creates ideal silhouettes against a colorful sunrise or sunset sky. The forest is also the perfect locale for night photography with static starscapes, star trails, and streaking clouds through a moonlit sky.

The Giant’s Playground is only a few miles from the quiver tree forest (and contains a respectable number of quiver trees as well) but In the surroundings of the forest there is another site of geological interest (itself a tourist attraction), the Giant’s Playground, a vast pile of large dolerite rocks.

(Top Left) Symmetry represented in the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop. (Above Right) he sunburst though the fork in a tree near sunset.(Bottom) The Milky Way hangs over the Quiver Tree Forest during a light painting night photography session, Keetmanshoop. All images © Richard Bernabe

Desert Horses at Aus

On the eastern edge of the Namib Desert near the town of Aus is a thriving population of feral desert horses, the only herd of feral horses in all of Africa. This group of about 90 -150 members has captured the imagination of Namibian tourists and photographers for years as they survive in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Your best chance to see the horses is at the man made watering hole at Garub, early and late in the day.

Namibia
Namibia

(Above Left) Desert horses graze in a rare area of vegetation as the sun rises through the morning fog. (Above Right) A mare and foal in the barren desert landscape near Aus. All images © Richard Bernabe

Kolmanskop Ghost Town

Kolmanskop was once a bustling village built around a productive western Namibian diamond mine. Located just beyond the coastal city of Lüderitz, Kolmanshop is now a surreal ghost town, well preserved by the dry desert climate.

When diamond production ceased in the mid 1950s, the citizens of Kolmanskop abandoned the town and left the remaining structures to fend for themselves against the advancing desert sands. What’s left is well preserved today, if not partly overtaken by the desert in many places. The juxtaposition of the manmade and the visable forces of nature make Kolmanskop a favorite photography destination for visitors.

Namibia
Namibia
Namibia

(Top Left) The well-preserved, colorful paint on the walls provides an interesting contrast with the overwhelming forces of nature that have overtaken the floor, Kolmanskop. (Top Right) Morning light streams through the doors of an abandoned hospital, Kolmanskop. (Bottom) A bright blue room housing an itinerant sand dune, Kolmanskop. All images © Richard Bernabe

Cape Cross Seal Reserve

Cape Cross Seal Reserve sits along the Southern Atlantic Ocean about 80 miles north of the coastal town of Swakopmund and just south of Namibia’s famed Skeleton Coast. What interests photographers the most is the fact that Cape Cross hosts the largest colony of cape fur seals in the world. Depending on the time of the year, more than 200,000 cape fur seals can be found congregating along the shores of Cape Cross to feed and fight for potential mates.

There is an elevated boardwalk that brings you literally face-to-face with many of the colony’s members. Althoguh your initial impulse might be to grab the longest telephoto lens you can find, there are creative compositional options at many different focal lengths, including a wide-angle perspective.

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Namibia
Namibia

(Top Left) A backlit cape fur seal shows off its whiskers, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. (Top Right) A lone cape fur seal seems to pose in front of a back lit crashing wave, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. (Bottom) A wailing cape fur seal caught with electronic flash and a wide-angle lens, Cape Cross Seal Reserve. All images © Richard Bernabe

Spitzkoppe Mountains

The Spitzkoppe Mountains are a group of smooth granite peaks and boulders that rise dramatically from the flat Namib Desert. The Spitzkoppe or Matterhorn of Namibia is the highest peak in the group at 5800 feet (1780 meters) iand can be spotted and recognized from many miles away.

In addition to the formidable mountains, Spitzkoppe is home to boulder fields and natural arches that can be the source of endless compositional variations. Early morning and late evening are the best times when the low angled sunlight lights of the orange rocks with brilliant color. To gain access to the area during the best light, the nearby campsite is the best lodging option.

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Namibia

(Above Left) Shadows dance across the glowing rocks at sunset, Spitzkoppe. (Above Right) The rock arches can be used to frame the Spitzkoppe Mountains, especially near sunrise and sunset when you experience the best color, Spitzkoppe. All Images © Richard Bernabe 

Walvis Bay

Walvis Bay, a coastal city of 100,000 residents on the Atlantic Ocean, is an important deep-water port for Namibia’s economy. It also attracts an impressive array of wildlife because of it’s plankton rich waters. Southern right whales, pelicans, and two species of flamingos can be found in the area in large numbers.

Both the greater and lesser varieties of flamingos can be easily seen and photographed right from the center of town on the tidal flats. Morning is the best time when the the sun is at your back and it’s not obstructed by the marine layer hovering over the ocean in the west. Longer telephoto lenses are needed for close-ups but catching large flocks of birds with shorter telephoto lenses is also a good strategy as well.

Namibia
Namibia
Namibia

(Top Left) A group of lesser flamingos taking flight from the tidal flats, Walvis Bay. (Top Right) Flamingos in the cool light of pre dawn, Walvis Bay. (Bottom) A trio of greater flamingos feeding on the tidal flats in the soft light of early morning, Walvis Bay. All Images © Richard Bernabe

Useful Namibia Links

Namibia Tourism Board  http://www.namibiatourism.com.na
Namibia Weather Network http://www.namibiaweather.info
Etosha National Park http://www.etoshanationalpark.org
Hosea Kutako International Airport (Windhoek) http://www.airports.com.na/airports/hosea-kutako-international-airport/12/
Air Namibia http://www.airnamibia.com
Namibia Wildlife Resorts https://www.nwr.com.na
Namibia Travel Guide http://www.namibia-travel.net
Spitzkoppe Campsites http://www.spitzkoppe.com
Sossusvlei.org http://www.sossusvlei.org
Kolmanskop.net http://kolmanskop.net
Quivertree Forest Rest Camp http://quivertreeforest.com

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Chefchaouen: The Blue Pearl of Morocco

Chefchaouen: The Blue Pearl of Morocco

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Chefchaouen: The Blue Pearl of Morocco

chefchaouen

Nestled into the rugged Rif Mountains of Morocco is the brightly painted blue city of Chefchaouen. The city’s stunning mountain surroundings, brightly-painted blue streets and alleys, and the exotic culture and shopping make Chefchaouen a must-see location for the travel photographer and casual tourist alike.

Chefchaouen is most famous for being the blue city. That’s what most people call it – “The Blue City” or “The Blue City of Morocco” since most tourists cannot spell or pronounce Chefchaouen. The city was founded  in 1471 but didn’t receive its famous indigo hue until around 1492, when a large influx of Jewish refugees arrived, escaping the Spanish inquisition. The color, many say, was chosen since it’s the spiritual color for the Jewish people (also used on Israel’s flag), while some historians believe the color was a tribute to a nearby mountain spring that made this settlement possible in this arid land. Locals today will claim that the blue color keeps the mosquitoes away.

The most interesting (and colorful) part of Chefchaouen is the Old City or medina.  Here you will find a Byzantine maze of narrow streets and alleys through blue and whitewashed homes and buildings of Spanish and Moorish architecture. It’s a great (and fun) place to get lost.
The Plaza Uta-el-Hammam is Chefchaouen’s cultural and commercial center with excellent restaurants and shopping. There’s also a museum in the plaza that’s a converted kasbah, a medieval fortress. You can purchase spices, rugs, ceramic pottery, fresh tea leaves. and locally made leather goods for sale in the many shops, markets, and open air souks. Don’t pass up the Moroccan mint tea while you browse!
chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is a 125-mile (200 km) drive from Fez and a 210-mile (340 km) drive from Casablanca. There are also daily flights to and from Casablanca to Chefchaouen on Royal Air Maroc and bus services as well. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll have dozens of hotels to choose from but try to stay in the medina if possible. For more information on visiting Chefchaouen, you can check out the website of Morocco Tourism on Chefchaouen.

chefchaouen
All text and photos © Richard Bernabe

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

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My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

National Parks for Photography

My recent travels have taken me to some amazing places around the world (Iceland, Patagonia, Myanmar, Tanzania, and others) but many of my all-time favorite photography locations are the National Parks of the United States. Most of these parks are beyond beautiful, easily accessible for recreational activities, and are preserved as sanctuaries for pristine mountains, deserts, forests, seashores, tundra, and the wild creatures that inhabit them.

The writer, historian, and environmentalist Wallace Stegner is credited with coined the phrase America’s Best Idea when referring to the National Park System. Here’s what he said in 1983: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

At the time of this writing, there are 59 National Parks in the United States. By my last count, I have photographed in 32 of them. Here – in no particular order – are my 5 favorite National Parks for photography, with a few honorable mentions thrown in as well. If you have a favorite that American National Park that didn’t make my list, let me know which is your favorite in the comment section, including why.

Yosemite National Park

No other place in the world inspires photographers quite like Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Iconic landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls are burned into the psyche of landscape photographers in both name and visage. Spring, particularly the month of May when the waterfalls have the highest flows and the dogwoods along the Merced River are in bloom, is the most popular season for photographers. The summer months, with bumper-to-bumper traffic in Yosemite Valley, should probably be avoided but any season will produce fantastic images, including winter. Regardless of the month, Yosemite is always a good idea!

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s the most visited of all the national parks in the United States as well as one of the most ecologically diverse. Often dubbed “Wildflower National Park” because of the profuse blooms each spring (mid to late April is best) the Smokies have so much more to offer than flowers. There is spectacular autumn colors in late October, stacked mountain ridges, and wildlife too, including the highest density of black bears in the world. The Smoky Mountains National Park is also my “home park” and the place where I honed my skills many years ago. For sentimental reasons alone, it’s one of my all-time favorite national parks for photography.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the few places in the US where you can capture both deciduous autumn color (second to third week in October) and dramatic seascapes in the same frame. Favorite photography locations within the first national park east of the Mississippi River include Jordan Pond, Jordan Stream, Otter Cliffs, Monument Cove, Cadillac Mountain, Duck Brook, and Hunter Beach Cove. Nearby Bass Head Lighthouse can be crowded with other photographers at sunrise or sunset but it’s certainly worth a visit anyway.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is the most famous landmark in Arches National Park (it’s featured on Utah’s license plate) but it’s certainly not the only shooting location. All in all, there are more than 2000 sandstone arches in the park as well as many other geological formations, windows and fins that make superb photo subjects. With Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park nearby, the town of Moab, Utah makes a great location for a week or two of landscape photography and you still won’t scratch the surface of the available locations.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Yellowstone National Park

As America’s first national park established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is best known by photographers for its wildlife and the many geothermal features found within its 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2). I’ve been traveling to Yellowstone for wildlife for more than 20 years and it never disappoints for the wildlife opportunities or the geysers, mud pots and fumaroles. Lamar Valley is often referred to as “America’s Serengeti” because of the sheer abundance of wild animals and is one of those places no wildlife photographer should miss during their lifetime. My favorite seasons for visiting for photography are spring, autumn, and winter while summer is a bit too crowded for my personal taste.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Iceland: Our Amazing Planet. FREE e-book

Iceland: Our Amazing Planet. FREE e-book

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Iceland: Our Amazing Planet. FREE e-book

Iceland, Our Amazing Planet, explores the pure magic that is this small country in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Here are two dozen photographs of Iceland’s mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife, and beautiful light captured by renowned nature, wildlife, and travel photographer, Richard Bernabe.This virtual tour of Iceland will visually demonstrate why Iceland truly is one of our planet’s most amazing places. Come join the adventure with this 32-page e-book!

*  Depending on your particular mobile device and software/apps, you might have a problem downloading this PDF directly to your phone or tablet. If that’s the case, download to a computer first and then transfer to your phone or tablet.

Sample Pages

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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The Desolate Beauty of Greenland

The Desolate Beauty of Greenland

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The Desolate Beauty of Greenland

A Place Like No Other may be an overused bit of hyperbole found on every other Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet article you read (I mean, how many places like no other can there be?), but when describing a country and experience like Greenland, it’s actually true.

Greenland, the largest island in the world not considered its own continent, is a place of raw natural beauty and desolation. Steep, craggy mountains, titanic icebergs of sparking blue adrift on the sea and in the fjords, some of the largest glaciers in the world, tidy and colorful Inuit fishing villages, the aurora borealis, and the list goes on.

Eastern Greenland is one of the loneliest places on the planet. Along its 13,000-mile coastline of sparse, rocky mountains and hulking glaciers, there are only two small towns and five settlements in total. There are no roads connecting these remote outposts (all travel is via helicopter, boat, or dog sled in winter) and life for the residents has remained relatively unchanged over the past hundred years. Hunting and fishing are the main source of the culture’s food and sustenance.

The primary natural element in Greenland is ice. It’s everywhere. Aside from rock – there are no trees and very little soil along the coastline – ice is what you see in almost nearly direction. In the area near Tasiilaq, the town where I stayed while on the eastern coastline, there are dozens of giant outlet glaciers from the immense Greenland ice field creeping their way down rocky canyons to the fjords, sounds, and sea. Thousands of icebergs, some the size of office buildings, litter the water’s surface in varying hues of blue and silver, scattering sunlight in a dazzling display.

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.