Michelle Valberg is an Ottawa-based photographer who fell in love with the Arctic five years ago , the first time she went up North for a project with Adventure Canada. Though she makes a living out of studio and commercial photography, she is renowned for her images of Arctic landscapes and wildlife. She started Project North three years ago with a friend, which sends hockey equipment up to Nunavut communities. When she’s not propped up on her elbows watching for polar bears on an ice floe edge, she runs Valberg Imaging, an Ottawa photo studio and gallery, with fellow photographers Valerie Keeler and Lindsey Gibeau.
First camera Nikon FE
Most memorable photography blooper - the first time I photographed in the Arctic water – I was so excited to see Narhwal beneath me, I clicked away but forgot to focus my camera!
If I could go anywhere in the world for my next photo shoot I would photograph gorillas in Rwanda
What makes shooting in the Arctic unique?
There are lots of issues and situations you don’t have to deal with elsewhere. I learned on my first trip that you have to be ready for anything that could happen. In the cold, the hood of your parka is up all the time, so your senses are muted and you have to remember to keep an eye out for critters that may appear. Your lenses can fog up. The weather is so unpredictable, you can go for days without getting a single shot. You can get fogged in. So you have to be completely flexible.
How do you deal with that unpredictability?
There are times that I’ve gone up North and taken 10,000 images in one trip. But that’s not always the case. One time I went to photograph caribou migrating near Arviat, NU. I was there for a week and ended up spending two days in a tent because of the rain and saw only a couple of hundred caribou instead of the thousands I was expecting to see. You are lucky to get whatever you do get. Wildlife will do what they do and we can’t control it.
What tips can you share for wildlife photographers?
When you’re photographing wildlife, the animal can turn its head just slightly and make all the difference in the photo. It can make the difference between a good photo and an amazing photo. I keep explaining to people that the image can only get better the more photos you take.
What’s your biggest photography pet peeve?
I used to work in film, so every time I clicked the shutter, it cost money. Though that’s not the case anymore, I find people still measure clicks. Just shoot a lot and change your vantage points often. Change how you’re looking at a situation. One photo is never enough.
Which photographers do you admire the most?
The Karsh brothers are high on my list. Yousuf was an influence in my career, and Malak was a dear friend of mine. Annie Leibovitz too. I’m a relative newbie at Arctic photography, and of course I marvel at Paul Nicklen, who grew up in the North and lived it for many years. I also like Mike Beedell’s work.