A life well travelled: Paul Nicklen

Photographer, film-maker, marine biologist and author of new book, Born to Ice


I cannot say I enjoy the process of travelling. I like arriving at a place and making myself part of the scenery.  I enjoy staying long enough so that I can begin to understand the patterns of nature and the movement of animals. If an animal, like a bear, has accepted my presence, then I know I have been in a place long enough.

I discover destinations based on the subjects I want to photograph. For me, the connection to megafauna – the whales, bears, sharks – is what makes me happiest, so I seek places where I can spend time in the wild with these creatures, on their own terms and unencumbered by other humans.

Every time I am able to spend time with animals, like polar bears or grizzly bears, I feel like I am learning something of value.  Wild creatures that are intelligent, communicative, and yet are often treated like they have no feelings or suffer no pain, need someone to give them a voice. I have spent my entire life trying to share with the world the real character of animals that are often portrayed as evil or ferocious but, in reality, are just trying to survive in a world that is frequently harsh.

I grew up in the Arctic and I learned from the Inuit people with whom I spent my childhood not just how to survive in the cold, but how to thrive in conditions that most people would find unforgiving. The polar regions are where I feel most at home and where I have made my professional mark. For as long as I can, I will continue to return to wild, remote areas in the polar regions, where nature is still allowed to exist as it did thousands of years ago, but where our human carelessness is inflicting the most dramatic change.

I prefer to travel alone, but if I had to pick a travel companion I would say that my life partner, Cristina Mittermeier, is the person I most enjoying travelling with. Like myself, she is a passionate conservation photographer, adventurer, nature lover and my favourite dive buddy.  

I am excited to begin exploring the tropical seas; places that are still pristine and wild, like the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia, or places that need help, such as the Caribbean. There is a big sea out there to explore and I intend to spend the rest of my life working to protect our oceans.

Paul Nicklen’s new book, Born to Ice, is out now, published by teNeues