Behind the lens: Cubs, cats, armed men in hats!

© Martin Smart

In our next 3 winners' photos we visit the cute, the frightening and somewhere else completely, which somehow manages to combine the two! Meet Martin Smart, Molly Hole and Jennifer MacNeill who take us on a journey through their triumphant photographic journeys involving bears, kittens and firearms!

Cubs at Play by Martin Smart (top photo)
Winner of the Crowd-vote in Playtime

Photographing Polar Bears in their natural environment in North Alaska certainly ranks high on the “Trip of a lifetime” list! We travelled by vehicle from Fairbanks along the famous Dalton Highway (North Slope Haul Road) through the magnificent North Slope Mountains to Prudhoe Bay. From there, an Era Alaska flight took us to the little village of Kaktovik on Barter Island, a small island 3-by-2-miles just off the arctic coastline from ANWR. The island has a large saltwater lagoon located on the East side which provides sheltered anchorage for village fishing vessels.

The village is inhabited by approximately 250 Native Inupiat people whose subsistence has been dependent on hunting marine mammals and whales for thousands of years. In a tightly controlled hunt permitted by federal law, they are allowed a harvest quota of three bowhead whales during the hunting season.

The carcasses of the butchered whales are left on the beaches and provide an attractive food source on which Polar Bears can scavenge. Pack ice covers this area of the Beaufort Sea surface for 9 months of the year and during this time the bears feed mainly on seals that live under the arctic ice. However in mid-summer when the pack ice moves offshore the bears are often marooned onshore where food sources are limited. The bears therefore often enter the fall season hungry and have keyed into the valuable food source provided by the carcasses of the butchered whales.

During our visit a few local fishermen offered the facility of a trip around the lagoon and other parts of the Island to photograph the bears from their boats and it was on one these occasions that I was able to capture the cubs in this image. In freezing temperatures, lying face down on a Zodiac with my 500mm lens resting on the tube, I was pretty much at eye level with them playing on the shore and they almost seemed to be performing for us as their audience! Their mother was reasonably close by but was happy to let them play for several minutes. None of the Polar Bears we saw seemed threatened by our presence and being able to photograph them in this remote natural environment was a truly remarkable experience.

There was no need for very much post-processing of the image other than fairly minor level adjustments, highlight recovery, saturation, a little sharpening and some cropping.

View more of Martin's work on Photocrowd here.

© Molly H

How can you stare in the face of death, when death has no face? by Molly Hole
Winner of the Expert vote in Dark Matters

What compelled me to take this image was my adoration for creating stories through images. This image in particular causes the audience to think about the story due to its lack of obviousness.

The image shows nothing more than a silhouetted man pointing a gun towards someone - that someone being the POV of the image. This subtle setup allows the viewer to have their own interpretation of the story.

Only one small studio light was used to take this image which was placed behind the subject. This is because I wanted the face of the subject to be in shadow, while allowing the white of the walls to bounce light onto the rest of the image.

I used Photoshop to post-process the image, by simply changing the levels to increase shadow and making the image black and white.

You can see more of Molly's Photocrowd uploads here.

© Jennifer MacNeill

Between the Sheets by Jennifer MacNeill
Winner of the Crowd-vote in Three thinking

My photo triptych 'Between the Sheets' was taken because I wanted to capture as many photos as possible of our new pet before she grew up.

Kittenhood lasts for such a short while and I wanted to photograph her playful spirit, sense of adventure and curiosity. I was making the bed and she jumped up and started playing under the blue sheets. I peeked under them and noticed how beautiful the light was and loved the blue glow, so I quickly grabbed my camera. When I came back, camera in hand, she was at the bottom of the bed. I started billowing the sheet and each time it would come up and down she would get a little closer to me. It looked a bit like she was stalking the camera. I couldn't choose one as a favorite but noticed how well three images worked together to tell the story.

Post-processing was done in Lightroom 5. I enhanced the blue (it looked a little green out of camera) and used a radial filter to increase brightness and clarity to the subject.

Jennifer's Photocrowd portfolio can be viewed here.

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