6 Inspirational Photographs from Churchill, Canada

There’s something incredibly intriguing about the arctic.  It’s inhospitable, unforgiving, and absolutely stunning.  The landscape is an incredible combination of stark beauty and vibrant life.  Vibrant life?  Perhaps it seems more vibrant because of the desolation and isolation, but there is something truly extraordinary about experiencing, and photographing, wildlife in the arctic.  And in between those moments of bliss, there are so many other great travel and landscape photos to be had, from sled dogs in the snow to the aurora borealis.  Here is but a few of the many highlights from the ever-impressive Churchill, Canada.

Spruce Trees on the Tundra

While iconic wildlife sightings tend to steal the show when it comes to photography, there will often be downtime…either between sightings or on your own while exploring around the town area. And this is when the arctic scenes like the above become amazing subjects to photograph.  When shooting landscapes, composition is critical, especially in barren landscapes like the tundra.  With only a few things to use as foreground or background elements, they should be deliberately placed in the scene.  Above, you’ll notice that the photo follows the rule of thirds quite well, with the sky taking up the upper 2/3s, ground taking up the lower 1/3, and sun right at the “invisible” intersecting point between the thirds in the upper right.  If these terms are new to you, please take a moment to read our composition page to learn more.

Arctic fox on the Hudson Bay Beach

While these may be the rarest of arctic critters to spot and photograph, there is always a chance, and due to the location of Churchill you have an honest chance.  When photographing arctic wildlife, I love to set them apart from the environment if at all possible.  While I have many photos that I love with the arctic fox on silky snow, there is something mesmerizing about seeing it here in the grasses near the Hudson Bay beach.  I’m fond of the uniform texture of the grasses, allowing the smooth curves of the fox to stand out, as well as the change in color.  (You’ll also notice I use this technique in the cover photo of this article, too).  Foxes can often be quite hard to spot in snow, so getting a photo of this guy in the amber waves of grain is really a treat.

Polar Bears sparring

To this day, the above photo remains one of my favorites ever taken of these great Kings of Churchill.  The polar bear is so iconic that truly any photo you’re fortunate enough to capture is going to send goose bumps up your spine for years to come.  One thing I love about wildlife photography is that you can turn a fleeting moment into a lifelong memory.  When bears spar, it is often short-lived.  Mix that with the fact that your own adrenaline spikes through the roof, and it seems like a split second.  Getting a photograph of that single instant is priceless.

Much like the arctic fox photo, I always look for contrasts.  While bears on snow are sensational, there is something truly magical about getting a photograph of them in the red and brown willows — the can be found during the early part of autumn in Churchill.  Excellent textures and strong colors create a very unique shot. The key technique here is to make sure you shoot with a fast shutter speed, often at 1/750th of a second or faster.

Sled dog with snow

Sled dogs are an institution up north.  They’ve been used for centuries as a vital means of transportation, both of goods and people.  They are still an integral part of the culture and offer a wonderful icon to photograph.  Here, I chose to crop the photo in this unique 1:1 ratio – a square – in order to take advantage of the shape of the dogs face and sideways look she’s giving me.  Oftentimes I will try and see the photo at a specific ratio, knowing that I’ll crop it a specific way when I edit my photos.  The more planning I do, the better the resulting photo.  In order to isolate the pups beautiful eyes, I used a shallow depth of field to bring focus mainly into the eye.

Northern Lights over the Churchill Inukshuk

Simply put, seeing the northern lights is sensational.  While the above photo is one of the best auroral displays I’ve ever seen, Churchill is known for these incredible shows many nights each year.  Taking photographs of the aurora is one of the best ways to appreciate its beauty, as our cameras pick up much more color and detail than is possible with our eyes alone.  In fact, our eyes actually see the lights as much more white than what the camera picks up due to our color sensing cones being particularly bad in low light.

Nighttime photography is no easy feat, though, as there are many challenges.  I have a number of separate pages on photographing the lights, so I suggest you take a look if you’re headed up that way.  Northern Lights Photo Resources


As you can see, Churchill offers some incredible photo opportunities.  While the time of year when polar bears are most abundant and the time of year when northern lights are most visible are unfortunately mutually exclusive, many photographers will go to Churchill more than once to experience the many wonders that are possible in this unique environment.  Nestled right at the confluence of three major biomes, the Tundra, Boreal Forest, and Hudson Bay, the landscape, travel, and wildlife photography opportunities abound.  I hope to see you up there!

Go forward and give it a shot,