Tell us about your most memorable assignment in the Arctic.
While on assignment for National Geographic magazine, I worked on a research vessel to produce a story about the science of sea ice. The expedition went beyond Svalbard, in the winter when temperatures are much lower. I was working in -36 degrees Fahrenheit. Our small ship was locked in, drifting with the ice. I had spent many years researching and reporting on sea ice, but in the polar night and extreme cold, it was as if I were seeing the landscape for the first time.
What is it about the Arctic that has such a transformative effect on visitors?
Visiting the high Arctic region widens our perspective; it changes our notion of scale to see the vastness of the planet. Watching species survive in this harsh landscape shows us how precious life is. Seeing firsthand how a polar bear or a walrus is adapted to extreme weather reminds us of nature's resilience. This area is greatly affected by climate change. Witnessing these changes playing out in front of us makes climate change more real than just another newspaper headline, and can inspire us to take better care of our environment.
You've spent a lot of time in the Svalbard region. What makes it an inspiring place for a photographer and what advice do you have for capturing it on camera?
The sheer range of opportunities for photography hits you from the moment you step off the plane in Longyearbyen. The key is to be flexible and embrace opportunities when they come—wildlife sightings can happen in the middle of dinner. Keep your camera batteries charged and yourself refreshed with sleep.
What motivates you as a photographer and a filmmaker?
Focusing my gaze on one thing is like an act of meditation, and it makes me happy. Everyday life can be very distracting and the discipline of photography—focusing interest and applying curiosity—gives me new energy.
Why is travel important?
Experiences gained while traveling can change the way we lead our own lives and allow us to see the world anew. Travel encourages us to learn more about a place, a culture, or an ecosystem. With an open mind, traveling is an opportunity for learning.
Can you describe a favorite travel memory?
My best travel memories all involve friendships—experiencing something new and unexpected, then sharing the story with a friend and looking at each other to say, “Did that just happen?” Unexpected moments will often stick in my mind, such as being grounded by bad weather and forced to take shelter in a wild place, and being thankful for simple things like shelter, food, and water. Many of my happiest memories in the Arctic are triggered by sounds, like the call of an ivory gull traveling across the seemingly endless ice, gliding on the winds, piercing the emptiness with the cry of life itself.
Join photographer Nick Cobbing aboard the National Geographic-Lindblad fleet to capture new angles on icy realms during a polar expedition.