10 Breathtaking Pictures of Icy Worlds

Both intimate and monumental, the photography of Paul Nicklen captures the wonder of the polar regions.

Most people, if asked to describe their life’s most memorable moment, might share something profound but ultimately recognizable: getting ready for their wedding; a sunrise at the Grand Canyon; a really, really great baseball game.

Paul Nicklen shares moments from a different world entirely.

Polar Bear

Paul Nicklen describes his 10-year quest to capture this underwater image.

The Canadian photographer, who was raised in an Inuit community of some 300 people, has devoted his storied career to documenting the animal inhabitants and breathtaking landscapes of the polar regions. For him, extraordinary moments—like running naked across the nighttime tundra as 50,000 caribou tear through his camp, or being fed penguins by a leopard seal—are all part of the job.

A job which, for Nicklen, involves more than one kind of action. A dedicated conservationist, Nicklen co-founded SeaLegacy, a collective of visual storytellers who use their work to inspire global ocean conservation. And on Earth Day, Nicklen will also open a fine art gallery in New York City. A portion of the proceeds will support SeaLegacy’s youth education programs and documentary storytelling.

“It just seems like great timing to be celebrating conservation, nature, the stories of our changing planet,” Nicklen says of his work.

And as for his one memorable moment?

“I don’t really remember the near-death experiences,” Nicklen says. Instead, he describes a moment where, waist-deep in an Arctic lake filming the aurora borealis, he realized he was surrounded by a pack of wolves.

“So the aurora borealis is rippling across the sky, and I see the space station going across on this dark, starry night, and I'm surrounded by twelve wolves howling.

“You have those moments, where you just really can't believe that you're alive at that moment, how lucky you are.”