2019 Churchill Polar Bears
Workshop Information Package
2019 Churchill Polar Bears Workshop
Workshop Dates: October 25–31, 2019
Thanks again for joining the 2019 Churchill Polar Bears Photography Workshop & Tour. I hope you are as excited for our adventure as I am! This document contains important information to help you prepare for our journey. Please take the time to read it carefully.
Itinerary & FAQ’s
A copy of our day-by-day Itinerary and trip FAQ’s (found at the bottom of the workshop page) are included in this package for your convenience. These documents contain important information that will not be repeated here. Please read them.
Balance of Fees
The balance of your workshop fees are due Aug 1, 2019. You will receive a PayPal invoice by email in early July. Payment can be made online by credit card (Visa/MC) or PayPal. Prompt payment is much appreciated.
Prescription Medications – don’t forget to pack an adequate supply of any prescription medications you take, as they may not be available in Churchill.
Allergies – please let us know about any allergies you have AND the severity of your reactions. It is your responsibility to carry appropriate medications (e.g. Epi Pen) in case of accidental exposure.
Travel Logistics & Documents
International Flights –
Arrival – book your flights to arrive in Winnipeg (YWG) no later than ~3pm on Oct 25 (our first group activity is at 4pm). We will be staying at the Hilton Winnipeg Airport Suites which offers a free shuttle service. After you collect your luggage, call the Hilton at 204-783-1700 to arrange for pick up.
Departure– The workshop ends upon our arrival at Winnipeg airport on the evening of Oct 31. Note: Hotel accommodations in Winnipeg for this evening (Oct 31) are NOT included in the workshop price.
Additional Hotel Nights – if you need additional hotel nights in Winnipeg before or after the workshop, we can book them for you at the Hilton at our group rates:
Oct 24 $125 CDN ( ~$93USD)/night
Oct 31 $135 CDN (~$101 USD)/night
Please let us know asap if you need any additional hotel nights
Passport/Visas –if you are not a Canadian or American citizen, you will need an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to travel to Canada. Most applications are approved within minutes and the cost is only $7. Americans do not need an eTA, but a valid passport is required.
Travel Insurance – please forward us a copy of your travel insurance policy. The primary purpose of this requirement is in case of medical emergency – cost should not be a consideration in getting you quality medical care. Policies that cover medical evacuation as well as many other things like trip cancellation, lost luggage, theft/loss, etc are very affordable. See the FAQ’s for recommendations.
Notify Banks & Credit Cards – notify your financial institutions about your travel plans to prevent problems using credit cards or ATM’s while traveling.
Mobile Phone Carrier – look into your phone carrier’s international roaming policies and rates BEFORE leaving home or you may return to an extremely expensive bill. You may want to pre-purchase a data plan from your carrier or limit your mobile phone data usage to wifi only.
What to Pack
Weather Note – obviously the primary consideration is staying warm. Historical high/low temperatures for October and November are below, but the low temperature for any given day could dip well below these averages:
October 43˚F (6˚C)/30˚F (-1˚ C)
November 26˚F (-3˚C)/13˚F (-11˚ C)
Clothing – the following are key items to help you stay warm and comfortable in very cold temperatures. It is not intended to be a complete packing list. Based purely on performance (weight to warmth), I prefer wool and down for insulation. Synthetics and synthetic/wool blends are an option, but don’t perform nearly as well in my experience, regardless of any manufacturers’ claims.
Heavyweight base layers (top & bottom) – in my opinion, great base layers are the absolute key to staying warm in extreme cold temperatures and well worth the extra cost. I strongly favor merino wool for my base layers. Smartwool & Ice Breaker are some well-known (aka expensive) brands in this area. Minus 33 and WoolX offer high quality alternatives at slightly lower (but still not cheap) price points. I’m a huge fan of Minus 33’s expedition weight tops and bottoms.
Mid Layers – thin down jackets/vests, wool sweaters or fleece (not as good) should make up your mid layer tops. Lined pants made for cold weather or heavyweight corduroy are the best option to keep your legs warm. Jeans are NOT a good choice.
Outer Layer – a well-insulated parka and ski pants (or similar)
Warm socks – merino wool again is my preferred material. I’ve found a very thin pair next to the skin with a thicker second pair on top work best.
Insulated boots – something like a pair of Sorel winter boots with a temperature rating well below zero are what you want. Non-insulated hiking boots are NOT a good option
Gloves and/or mittens – you need a pair of thin gloves that will let you work camera controls without removing them. This is all I typically need in Churchill – I put my hands in my pockets (with handwarmers) when not shooting, but for those who tend to get cold easily, a second pair of gloves or mittens attached to your wrists by lanyards are a good option to keep your hands toasty.
Warm hat or beanie
Balaclava, scarf or buff – to protect your face & neck during extreme cold.
Sunglasses – polarized lenses work MUCH better than non-polarized sunglasses to cut glare off snow and ice. I would much rather have a pair of cheap polarized gas station sunglasses than the most expensive name brand non polarized alternatives.
Hand & Toe warmers – cheap, long lasting and very effective, especially for those whose extremities get cold first.
Photo Gear – it’s tempting to bring everything you own, but that usually works against you. The following are what I consider to be the essentials. I’m happy to give more specific brand/model recommendations for specific items. Just ask.
Camera Body – dSLR or mirrorless (full frame or crop sensor)
Lenses – I favor zoom lenses for their flexibility in composing images, but prime lenses tend to be ‘faster’ (larger maximum aperture) which is an advantage in low light, but you give up flexibility and primes are also usually bigger/heavier and more expensive. In my opinion, modern zoom lenses are so good that the difference in image quality (vs primes) is negligible. The choice is yours, but your longest lens should reach at least 400mm (before adding teleconverters). You will also want 2 or 3 shorter focal length lenses. As an example, lens-wise, my kit will consist of a 16-35mm, 24–105-mm and a 150–600mm. If you prefer prime lenses, one lens from each of the three zoom ranges would be ideal.
Filters – A polarizing filter is highly recommended for cutting glare of snow ice and even fur. The only other filters I would consider bringing are a graduated neutral density (GND) and an intensifier (or other filter designed to help reduce light pollution in night photos) but these are really not necessary in my opinion.
Extra Batteries and Memory cards – you will be shooting a lot, maybe more than you ever have, easily in the thousands of images and hundreds of gigabytes total. Bring PLENTY of extra cards and batteries. You should NOT erase/overwrite any memory cards until you get home, even if you have downloaded the images to your laptop or hard drive.
Battery Charger – do not forget! As a backup, you might consider purchasing USB powered battery charger. They are inexpensive cheap and let you charge your camera batteries without a wall outlet. Google “(your camera model) USB charger”
Tripod – sturdy, but light with a ballhead (or gimbal) and quick release mount is the way to go. Make sure your tripod can solidly support your longest lens and that you don’t have to bend over uncomfortably WITHOUT extending the center column. Also, don’t forget your quick release tripod plates–in fact, I strongly recommend getting an extra plate to leave permanently attached to your long lens.
Headlamp – MUCH better than a flashlight because it leaves both hands free. One that has a red light option is best for night photography
Remote release (optional) - nice to have when working with very long lenses to help prevent camera shake
Laptop or tablet –highly recommended. Your photography will improve if you review your images daily. Doing preliminary selects and ratings also makes the mountain of images more manageable when you get home. We will also have several sessions on post processing and image management
Portable hard drive - for image storage and/or backup. If you are considering purchasing one, look for a “bus powered” model – a drive that gets its power from the computer and does not require a separate power cord
Chargers and cables for your mobile phone and other electronics
Power bank – extremely handy for traveling
Churchill Polar Bears Workshop 2019
To Do Checklist
___ Book Inbound/Outbound flights to/from Winnipeg (YWG) and forward copy of flight itinerary to Ken.
___ Let us know if you need any extra hotel nights
___ Purchase Travel Insurance and forward copy to Ken
___ Notify Banks & Credit Cards of your travel plans
___ Check mobile phone carrier’s international roaming policies and plans
___ Make personal packing checklist
2019 Churchill Polar Bears Workshop
Day by Day Itinerary
Day 1 (Oct 25) Winnipeg – After you collect your luggage, call the Hilton at 204-783-1700 to arrange for pick up via their free airport shuttle. Check in and relax until 4pm when we kick off our adventure with an Introductions and a Workshop Overview meeting followed by a session on Wildlife Photography Fundamentals. We’ll break for dinner and convene again afterwards for Seeing 101, Ken’s presentation about practical ways to develop your ‘Photographer’s Eye’.
Day 2 (Oct 26) Winnipeg to Churchill – we board our morning flight to Churchill after an early breakfast. Upon arrival, we will transport you to our hotel. Once everybody is settled, we’ll get together to meet our guides for this trip, who will conduct an important polar bear safety orientation. Then it’s out into the field until sunset, exploring the shores of the Hudson looking for signs of polar bears and other wildlife. Dining options in Churchill are limited, but surprisingly good. After our meal, we’ll head back to the hotel where Ken will go over some tips and best practices for managing images in the filed and at home.
Days 3–6 (Oct 27 - 30) Churchill – Each day, we venture out along 15 miles of coastline in our 4X4 vehicles accompanied by our professional bear guides, tracking polar bears and trying to anticipate their behavior to be in the best positions for eye-level photography. Other species such as arctic fox, red fox, arctic hares, gyrfalcon, rough-legged hawks, caribou, snowy owl and wolves may be spotted as well. Whenever a photo opportunity arises, we stop our vehicles and carefully work our way in on foot as close to our target as the situation allows. We break for lunch in the afternoon to recharge batteries and warm up at the log cabin style Lazy Bear Lodge in Churchill before heading back into the field for more wildlife hunting with our lenses until twilight. Two visits to the Canadian Eskimo Dog Kennel are scheduled during our week. This is a resting area for large male polar bears who have become quite habituated to human presence. This is our best opportunity to photograph polar bears sparring or to capture ultra-closeup images. Our post dinner schedule will be dictated mostly by the weather. If conditions look favorable, we may head out to hopefully photograph the northern lights. Otherwise, Ken will demonstrate some of his favorite post processing techniques, offer his comments on participants’ images or work with you individually as time allows. We might also get to experience and photograph the spectacle that is Halloween in Churchill - when the whole town comes together to provide security for town children so they can trick or treat without fear of bears.
Day 7 (Oct 31) Churchill–Winnipeg – one more full day of photography. Then, we will have our farewell dinner and head to the airport to catch our evening flight to Winnipeg. Sadly, our adventure is over upon arrival at Winnipeg airport.
Note: Hotel accommodations in Winnipeg for this evening (Oct 31) are NOT included in the workshop price.
Churchill Polar Bears 2019 Workshop
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
Q: How is this trip different than other photography tours?
A: This workshop is specifically designed for serious (but not necessarily expert) photographers who are looking for the best opportunity to bring home portfolio worthy images of polar bears and other arctic wildlife and landscapes. We are not confined to a tundra buggy or attached to a large group. The helicopter photo tour provides unique perspectives. Finally, this trip is meant to be a learning experience about the art and craft of wildlife photography as much as an opportunity to photograph polar bears.
Q: How should I book my travel?
A: You should arrive in Winnipeg (YWG) no later than 2pm on Oct 25. Our return flight to Winnipeg on Oct 31 is scheduled to arrive at 8:30pm, but this flight is often delayed by weather. We suggest planning an overnight stay in Winnipeg (NOT included in workshop fee) and flying home the following day.
Q: Can you guarantee we will see polar bears?
A: When it comes to wildlife, there can be no guarantees. The workshop is timed specifically to maximize our chances of encountering large numbers of polar bears on snow covered terrain based on historical freeze-up dates but climate change and other factor are making things less predictable these days. Again, no guarantees.
Q: Is it safe?
A: Polar bear viewing and photography can be done safely if everyone follows the rules and acts appropriately. Our guides are experienced professionals who are knowledgeable about bear behavior. They also carry deterrents including bear spray and firearms which are only deployed as a last resort. However, these bears are wild animals and individuals may not behave as expected. Intentionally approaching large predators for viewing or photography is an inherently dangerous activity. You will be required to sign waivers acknowledging and accepting this risk as a condition of participation in this event.
Q: What are the accommodations like?
A: We will be staying at the Bear Country Inn in Churchill. Click the link for more details and photos. It’s definitely not fancy, but it is clean, comfortable and warm. Our hotel in Winnipeg will be quite comfy.
Q: What will the weather be like and how should I prepare for it?
A: Specific recommendations will be provided to participants after registration, but this is the arctic. Be prepared for extreme cold.
Q: What kind of photo equipment should I bring?
A: Specific recommendations will be provided to participants after registration, but a telephoto lens of at least 400mm is strongly suggested as a starting point.