He isn’t scared of getting up close and personal with his subjects and prefers to travel alone. This independent wildlife photographer is as much an adventurer as he is a photographer and has lived at a whopping 26 different addresses in the past 30 years. We are elated to share with our readers more about award-winning photographer Paul Souders.
An adventurous grandmother, his biggest influence
For Paul, his grandmother had a big influence in exposing him to photography and adventure. “One of my favourite childhood memories is sitting in our darkened living room, watching images from my grandmother’s latest trip flickering across the screen. Those slideshows from the Serengeti to the Amazon and the Pyramids opened up the world for a young kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania.” But, Paul dreamed of becoming a war photographer not knowing that nature photography would become his passion.
The road to nature photography
Paul started his first workday at a small daily newspaper with dreams of attaining journalistic glory, but most of his assignments were terribly unglamorous. He left his job and after doing a few freelancing assignments (and maxing out his credit cards on plane tickets to news hotspots like Haiti, Israel and central America), he was lucky enough to land a job as an in-house photographer at a big Alaskan newspaper.
Long story short, he was still shooting weather and sports, but after noticing a moose in his backyard and bald eagles flying over his morning commute, he started focusing his attention on a more fulfilling subject matter. He loved that his gear allowed him to record something more timeless than the fleeting stories of daily newspapers.
He has followed this passion for many years and “if you think about it, I’m still working on one of the most important stories of our time: the ongoing conflict between man and the natural world”.
Waiting it out
“You can’t just drive up to a lion pride or sleeping bear and expect them to ‘perform’ for you”. For this reason, Paul says that patience and persistence are the key character traits that lead to his success as wildlife photographer. Experience has taught him that if you sit somewhere long enough, something interesting will happen and if it doesn’t, there’s always tomorrow.
Nature is a teacher
Photographing wildlife has opened doors and provided Paul with the opportunity to study the natural world. He has spent time in some of the world’s most beautiful, and, often undisturbed, places since his trips are self-organised, self-guided and self-financed.
Paul is a solo traveller, just like the great bears of North America. “I often joke that the first time I arrived in Africa, I got off the plane in Cape Town knowing nothing more about going on safari, than what I’d seen on TV. There was a pretty steep learning curve, but I really enjoyed the process of learning about animal behaviour, and the hard stuff like making my way through the bush.”
All that time being alone in the wild has taught Paul to mirror apex predators’ behaviours. The prime lesson is to stay aware of your surroundings; mindful of both opportunities and threats.
Polar bears and grizzly bears are always aware of what’s going on around them; looking for the next meal. And they’re constantly on the lookout for potential threats, like bigger bears or bad weather. For Paul, it’s a photo opportunity or the very real chance of winding up shipwrecked.
“I love the big, charismatic megafauna”
Paul says that subtlety is wasted on him as he loves big, charismatic megafauna, preferably ones that aren’t running away from him. When it comes to his favourites, Paul goes through phases. When he first travelled to Kenya, he fell in love with cheetahs – animals that hunt in the open and in broad daylight. Then, he spent a couple of summers photographing humpback whales in southeast Alaska, listening to their “otherworldly sounds” through the hull of his boat, not forgetting spending time with the King penguins of South Georgia island of the South American coast. For now at least the focus is on polar bears. He’s made three trips to Svalbard and five more to Canada’s Hudson Bay to photograph the iconic species of the North. Paul has spent thousands of dollars and months of hard work outfitting a steel sailboat to launch his most adventurous expedition yet. He’ll be leaving this summer (winter for South Africa) to photograph the polar bears in even more remote settings.
Paul’s newest hobby
A few years ago, Paul was searching the Internet for a steel sailboat and found a distinctly unlovely home-built sailboat in Nova Scotia, on the other side of the North American continent, that perfectly fit the bill: Tough, homely and most important, cheap.
He bought her sight unseen and only later discovered just how much time, work and money go into outfitting a proper expedition sailboat. But, over the past few years, he’s gone from being the “guy who pays someone to change the lightbulbs” to “a guy who owns a lot of tools and can sometimes properly use them”. He admits that he will never be terribly handy, but that he can now change the oil, swap out a bad alternator and wire just about anything that is needed on the sailboat.
He has spent the past two years flying over 6000 km back and forth between his home in America’s Pacific Northwest and Nova Scotia along Canada’s Atlantic coastline. Now, he’s planning on sailing up the Atlantic coast to Labrador and, finally, north to Baffin Island.
When not working on getting his 13 m sailboat ready to sail north, Paul has been busy writing his first book: A collection of stories from his polar bear diaries on Hudson Bay.