I really wasn't sure I wanted to go to the Arctic in the middle of winter. (Especially since the polar bears in Svalbard are famous for thinking photographers are just another kind of tasty seal.)
But we needed the image of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for our National Geographic Magazinestory on saving the world's agricultural heritage of precious seeds. And it was the only time Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, was going to be there, so that settled that.
I dreaded a howling blizzard but got lucky on a calm evening when Cary could work with me. All the elements had to come together in one image: Cary holding seeds that I could see (he had some in protective glass tubes), the stark architecture of the seed vault sticking out of the mountainside, and the vast arctic beyond. Lighting Cary was straightforward (and he was a trooper) but the vault needed lighting to make it stand out.
In the end the battery gods were shining on me and the strobes fired for over an hour. The seed vault was fascinating, and the stage was set for the rest of my coverage for the story, including Ethiopia, Peru, Ireland, Wales, England, China, and numerous locations in the United States. But that one picture was the beginning. Building the architecture of a complex story like this one is often nerve wracking. Getting started with a strong image gave me added confidence over the long haul to come.
And no polar bears (or photographers) were harmed in the making of this picture.
Learn more about seed vaults, polar bears, and working on assignment from Jim this summer:
The National Geographic Assignment
with Jim Richardson
July 1 - July 6, 2012