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Untamed: An Interview with Wildlife Photographer Paul Souders

With nearly 30 years of experience and a laundry list of blue-collar side gigs under his belt, Seattle-based travel and wildlife photographer Paul Souders has captured some of the world’s most breathtaking photographs. He shot for newspapers in his early years then quickly fell in love with endeavors that required immersing himself in nature.

Paul won the 2013 National Geographic Photography Contest with one of his captivating shots of a polar bear beneath melting sea ice on Hudson Bay, one of many awards he’s received for his photographs of animals, from African elephants to rambunctious meerkat pups. Get to know the famous photographer behind the lens here on the Art.com blog and you’ll see why Paul’s photographs have wowed the world.

Paul Souders

Underwater Polar Bear, Hudson Bay, Nunavut, Canada

Laura Vrcek: Why photography?  

Paul Souders: Well, it’s either get out and shoot some cool pictures or go work for a living. And at this late stage of my life, I’m completely devoid of any other marketable skill. So I’ll stick with the devil I know. Photography is a huge part of how I experience the world and how I define myself, for better or worse. It’s my meal ticket and my dysfunctional love affair.

LV: What’s running through your mind when you look through the lens? 

PS: Whenever something amazing is happening in front of me, a cheetah stalking, a glacier calving or a polar bear swimming beneath an iceberg, I slowly repeat this simple mantra: Don’t… screw… up.

Paul Souders

Bull Elephant, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana

LV: Even after you get a killer shot, what keeps you on the hunt for more? 

PS: Every time I wake up on a shoot, whether it’s in a place I’ve never been or Day 18 in the same dust-blown stretch of the African savannah, I’m inspired to go out and try to make a killer shot. I’ve been slapped by penguins, head-butted by walrus, chased by bears and hounded by creditors. And still, I believe with all my heart that I have the best job on earth.

LV: Who/what do you love most? 

PS: I love those days when, against all odds, it all comes together. There are so many days on the road where I’m working and trying to make good pictures and… they’re okay. Professional. Competent. And once in a great while, it’s effortless, and magic happens. You push the button and the universe conspires to make you look really smart. 

Paul Souders, Art.com

Storm Clouds Over Joshua Tree

LV: What do you like to eat or drink when you’re shooting? 

PS: I’m not the first photographer out there with a fondness for a nice bottle of scotch. I spend a lot of time in the arctic, and it’s become my custom to fish out the first small iceberg I see, plop it into a glass and offer a toast to absent friends. It probably sounds pretentious as hell, but it reminds me of the folks who’ve inspired me in this life.

Paul Souders, Art.com

Meerkat Pups, Namibia

LV: What are you working on right now? 

PS: I’ve spent months over the last three summers living on a small boat up near the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Hudson Bay, photographing polar bears on the pack ice. Lord knows there are more than enough organized tours taking groups all over the arctic to see and photograph bears. But part of the magic and challenge for me is going out on my own. 

Until a few years ago I didn’t know the first thing about boating, so there’s been a steep learning curve. But after the first couple thousand miles it gets easier. Still, it’s a pretty big logistical challenge to get all the gear and food that I’ll need for six weeks up to the arctic, store it all on a 22-foot boat and then head off, alone, to the edge of the ice pack.

I’ve just purchased an old 43-foot steel sailboat for next year’s summer expedition to Baffin Island. Now I just have to learn how to sail…

Paul Souders, Art.com

Brown Bear Cub, Katmai National Park, Alaska

LV: What would your 10-year-old self think about your art? 

PS: I can picture that cheerful, tubby 10-year-old me in a crew cut and his cowboy belt buckle taking one look at the pictures of polar bears and lions and going “Whoa… cool! That’s like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

For more on Paul Souders, check out his bio on the Art.com Wiki.

 

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