Behind the Shot: Polar Bears at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Hi everyone! The Photo Challenge has been amazing so far, and I want to thank everyone for participating. I hope you are all having a great time. We’ve finally come to my absolute favorite assignment (I know, I say that every week, but this time I really, really mean it): backlighting!

Whenever I get the opportunity to put the sun behind my subject, I go for it. There’s just something magical about backlighting, and I find that of all the arrows in my artistic quiver, this is the one most likely to land dead center with viewers. Three polar bear photos from my recent trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska should easily show you why.

Related article: Backlighting Photography Tips for Photo Magic

For this first photo, I intentionally underexposed the image in order to reveal only the rim lit fringe around the bear; I let everything else go dark. The result is striking.

Canon 7DII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 320, f/6.3, 1/1000 second.

This next photo illustrates the creative use of lens flare. I photographed this mother with her cubs backlit by the rising sun; since I was shooting almost directly into the sun, there was a lot of light striking the front of my lens. The resulting lens flare reduced contrast, and created a warm glow over the image. I love the warm tones and the way the shadows form lines that lead the viewer from foreground to the background.

Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/800 second.

For this final photo, I zoomed out while photographing the sun rising behind a polar bear mother and her playful cub, including some of the colorful clouds in the sky. I made sure that the sun was directly behind the bear, in order to maximize the rim light effect.

Canon 1DXII, Canon 200-400mm f/4 lens with built-in 1.4x extender, ISO 100, f/8, 1/500 second.

I hope these three photos inspire you to really push your creative boundaries for this assignment. Good luck!

P.S. If you want some more polar bear inspiration, download my new eBook Giants of the North: Polar Bears of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s free!


About the author: World-renowned professional photographer and Tamron Image Master Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to several leading photo magazines and the author of numerous books and instructional videos. You can see more of Ian’s work at

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One Response to “Behind the Shot: Polar Bears at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”

  1. Brenda Cook