Wow! Wow! Wow! On Saturday we went to catch the new IMAX movie “To the Arctic” from MacGillivray Freeman Films and narrated by Meryl Streep. It was an amazing and beautiful film all about the animals of the Arctic, in particular polar bears. The filmmakers were able to catch some amazing shots and stories on the ice and underwater. We highly recommend seeing it as soon as possible! We don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but just be ready for excitement! You can see it Fernbank Museum of Natural History in their fantastic IMAX theater, click here for show times! After seeing the movie, we had a chance to sit down with one of the amazing photographers from the movie, Florian Schultz. Here’s our interview with this fascinating photographer and explorer!
Us: We just loved the movie! Thank you so much for taking time to sit down with us.
How long were you in the Arctic?
Florian: I spent 4 months filming with the IMAX crew and have spent a total of 18 months in the Arctic over the past 10 years on several different exhibitions. I have been to Alaska, Canada and Norway.
*It took the film crew a total of 4 years to make “To the Arctic”, which is only about 45 minutes long. Whew, making an IMAX movie is a ton of work!
Us: Wow! That is a lot of time in the cold. What was the most amazing part of your trip with the IMAX crew?
Florian: While we were on the research boat, we found a mother polar bear and her two cubs that we followed for 5 days. It was summer and there was 24 hours of daylight, so it was like we got 10 days with her. She completed trusted us and we all felt like we had a connection with her and the cubs.
Us: That is so cool. We loved watching her and the cubs in the movie. What was the most difficult part of shooting the animals & scenery?
Florian: While we were camping, one person had to stay awake to watch for polar bears. You never have a safe point when both of you can sleep for a period of time. You can never relax and between having to melt snow for water and cooking food, photographing during good light and polar bear watching you start not getting any good sleep. You get so exhausted that you don’t care if a polar bear comes or not. From the film side, filming under the ice is difficult, because the water is 29 degrees and you have to bring the big camera housing through a small hole in the ice. You only get 3 minutes to film which also makes it difficult.
*Florian told us before the movie that the IMAX film and cameras can only record up to 3 minutes at time. You must change the film after those 3 minutes. The camera housing itself also weighs around 400 lbs! We thought that was fascinating.
Us: Wow, those conditions do make it difficult to work. How did you stay warm?
Florian: Layers are the key; you wear wool as the base, then fleece, then down and a windbreaker. If it’s really cold you wear another layer of down on top of that. You begin to feel a bit like a polar bear yourself.
Us: Haha, we bet you feel like a polar bear. It has to be hard to move in all those clothes. How do you keep batteries/cameras working in the frigid temperatures?
Florian: You have to imagine when you are out there that your cameras will freeze. But the big important part of that is that you cannot take the cameras inside the whole time, because condensation will build up on the lens and the housing and then you won’t be able to use it at all. I leave the camera outside, completely frozen the whole time. The only thing I keep near me are the batteries, so that they last longer. I use all Nikon cameras and they haven’t let me down.
Us: That is neat! Who knew frozen cameras worked! Were there any particularly dangerous incidents while you were shooting?
Florian: There were two times when a polar bear came close to our camp and he knew we were there. His eyes had a different expression and we had to fire a flare gun into the air. Then he came back and that was really scary. We had to shoot the flare gun again. And one of the other really scary things that happened was when I almost fell through the sea ice without a dry suit on. I was so focused on shooting pictures of these birds that I didn’t realize it how fragile the ice was. Later on I broke out in a cold sweat after I realized what a risk I took.
Us: Whew! Good thing that ice didn’t break! So what inspired you to become a wildlife photographer?
Florian: Nature and different environments are one of the greatest riches of this world. It’s so diverse and so wonderful and for me to be able to document it is one of the greatest gifts. There is so much to discover. When I was a teenager I started out with bird watching and with a telescope I would have best encounters with not just the birds, but other wildlife. I would tell people about it, but telling them didn’t quite describe it. So when I started taking pictures they got it. That is when I got more and more in to taking pictures.
Us: You have tons of passion for wildlife that is great! Wild animals are known to be difficult subjects to shoot, because they aren’t on your schedule. You have to have a ton of patience. What has been one of your most difficult shoots?
Florian: I spent 72 hours in a blind to shoot the snowy owls that are my book. (A blind is a cover or shelter that hides the photographer and his equipment.) It’s definitely a patience game because the sun wasn’t out or they weren’t turning their heads the right direction and that was really, really hard. Another thing that took a lot of patience was filming the big caribou herds, because it took 3 different expeditions to film them. On the first two trips I only saw one caribou and then on the third trip I finally saw the big herd and that was really rewarding. To be honest though I don’t get bored, because there is always something to discover, suddenly I see a bird’s nest or I hear the song of a bird and that intrigues me. And also I often have to make up the images in my mind first, so I spend time doing that. That gives that you that drive and energy to get the shot. You become more in tune and I love discovering things. The more you sit out in silence the more you learn and the more you discover.
Us: We love to sit and watch nature too, not sure that we could do it for 72 hours though. You’ve been all over the world, what has been your favorite place and where are you headed next?
Florian: I cannot pinpoint one place alone, for me whatever place is the most natural, the most intact is special. An ecosystem where all the different animals play together is where I feel at home. It seems like the world before we influenced it. Some of those places include the arctic or the rainforest of British Columbia, Canada where I watched spirit bears and whales, or it can be a desert where there are not so many animals, but all the animals that are there play together. I will go back to the Arctic one more time and then after that I will go to Baja California to start the Freedom to Roam project. You can check out his next project here!
Us: Your next project sounds so amazing! It is great that your images are also helping save animals and their habitats. Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us and share your great stories!
Don’t forget everyone- you can see “To the Arctic” at Fernbank now! You can also buy Florian’s book “To the Arctic”! We have it and it is full of even more amazing pictures and stories. If you like the “Welcome to the Arctic” Facebook page, you can get a discount on the book!