- and close encounters with a Polar Bear or two…
Photographer Paul Souders has encountered some extraordinary adventures in his life. Everything from being slapped by penguins, head-butted by walrus, and bobbing around in a leaky rubber boat getting closer to a polar bear than is perhaps advisable. He insists that he has the best job on earth .
FirstStep.me makes contact with him soon after winning a first place award at the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. His image (below) of a Polar Bear swimming beneath the ice highlights twenty years of a personal voyage photographing wildlife around the world.
It is his level of humility and enthusiasm for the job that is probably most inspiring.
“I'm a guy from a working class American family who has found a job that I love…” says Paul.
His story is an example not just for budding photographers, but for all careers. An example of pure energy and a passion that shows how to make the most out of every opportunity presented.
“I sort of grew up with a camera in my hands. My grandmother was one of those wonderful blue-haired widows who traveled around the world on package tours. When she came home, we’d darken the living room and look at her slide show. It was like magic, and I was hooked.
My parents were practical folks, and they didn’t have much time for me dreaming of becoming some kind of artist. There was never any doubt I was going to get a job and work for a living. I actually went off to University as an Astronomy major. But I discovered early on that Astronomy is Physics. Physics is Math. And I am nowhere near that smart.
So I transferred into Journalism, and I was lucky enough to get a job working in the darkroom at a local newspaper outside of Washington D.C. It gave me a chance to actually do the job I was studying for, so I dropped out and threw myself into the deep end of news photography”, says Paul.
More than three years of small town newspaper work was a great training ground for journalism, but eventually Paul wanted to make a name for himself in international news and conflict photography. He maxed out his credit cards and bought a plane ticket to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as it was undergoing a round of political upheaval and violence. It was a sobering introduction to a brutal and violent situation.
“It became clear quickly that I didn’t have the heart for a career in combat or conflict photography. There are incredibly brave and dedicated people who photograph conflict around the world and I respect them enormously. But I decided early on that I did not want to go through my career and life with recording human suffering and misery”
But his love for travel and exploration grew, and before long his next step was to Alaska.
“It was an amazing place to be living in. How often to get to see a moose in your backyard and a bald eagle flying overhead as you drive to work” Paul remembered. “I had a staff job for the state’s biggest newspaper, photographing great stories, but I began to switch gears away from photojournalism and toward exploring and photographing the wilderness that surrounded me.”
After five years on the newsroom staff, he returned to free-lancing and soon signed on as a contract travel photographer with the Corbis picture agency. His first assignment was a dream job, four months of traveling and photographing across Canada. Then another three months around Australia.
“Those were the assignments I’d been dreaming of,” he remembers. A chance to explore the world and create a visual record of all that I saw.” He’s been traveling ever since, sometimes on assignment but mostly on self-financed expeditions and trips to all seven continents and more than fifty different countries.
Working as a freelancer in a digital world, Paul says “The economics of photography have changed. It is much, much harder to make a living in photography now. With technology today, it’s a whole lot easier to make technically good photographs. And much harder to stand out, let alone to get paid for it. But I try to see the proliferation as a gift and a challenge. It makes me think a lot harder about how to bring up my game, to shoot new and creative images that haven’t been seen before.”
“I love to travel solo to the ends of the earth. It's a great way to learn some new skills and shoot some new pictures.
Paul tells the story of his first trip to Africa. “I didn't know anything about going on safari that I hadn't seen on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. But rather than hire a guide or go on a proper safari, I rented a car and drove off into the wilderness on my own to see what I could see.
“I’m a firm believer that you remember the hard lessons you learn on your own. I once spent 27 hours digging myself out of a mud hole in the Serengeti using only a sauce pan. After that, I brought a shovel. Within a few years I was the proud owner of the worst Land Cruiser in Africa, and traveled overland from Johannesburg more than 3000 miles to Uganda and back again, spending months on safari photographing wildlife along the way.
More recently, he’s been photographing Grizzly Bears in coastal Alaska and Polar Bears in the arctic reaches of Hudson Bay. Rather than go on tour though, he purchased a 22-foot fiberglass boat and has traveled thousands of miles solo.
Paul jokes, “For someone who hates boats, I sure spend a lot of time floating around in them. It offers all the joys of life in prison, with better odds of drowning”
“But it’s a chance to explore independently and spend time in new places and new animals that I love. And I have a job that lets me share what I see with others.”
Paul’s amazing combination of technology, patience, travel and a dash of mad cap adventuring, has proven a successful recipe for world class wildlife photography and journalism. Going through Paul’s portfolio you can see there is a dimension and thoughtfulness to his photography. The fact that his career delved between the daily news, politics and the environment, illustrates a true and well rounded career. A method or approach that can be used in any workplace scenario.
About: Find out more about Paul Souders on WorldFoto.com - to view or purchase some of Paul's world famous photographs click here. You can also read his very entertaining Blog about his global adventures!