lone polar bear walking through the snow

Sony Wildlife Explorers

In 2021 a group of Sony photographers collaborated with Sony Nordic to form the Sony Wildlife Explorers. The group currently features seven Sony wildlife photographers - Staffan Widstrand, Melissa Schäfer, Fredrik Granath, Marcus Westberg, Magnus Lundgren, Floris Smeets and Roy Mangersnes. All the photographers have a background shooting in the Arctic region, where the effects of climate change are perhaps more apparent than anywhere else on Earth.

With the support of Sony, the Wildlife Explorers group want to use their images to images to tell the story of the Arctic.

One of the project's founding members is Swedish photographer Staffan Widstrand. Talking about the group, Staffan explained how they “want to share the joy of the wild so that more people fall in love with our natural heritage because what you love, you will protect. But how are you supposed to love something that you have never seen?”

an elk walking through the snow

© Staffan Widstrand | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/640s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000

“I think we all have the same goal”, says fellow Sony Wildlife Explorer, Fredrik Granath, who goes on to explain the group’s desire “to shorten the distance between people and nature.” By making the spectacular but fragile wildlife and landscape more visible, Sony Wildlife Explorers hope to reach beyond those with an existing awareness of climate change.

cracked ice in the arctic sea

Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/4.5, ISO 100

melting iceberg in the arctic sea

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II | 1/1000s @ f/13, ISO 400

Sometimes you are already preaching to the choir. We need to reach beyond the usual audience for wildlife and nature photography and reach the masses,” says Fredrik. “And we want to really reach people - to reach all the way to their hearts. When we do that, we can change and inspire people more deeply. So for us, it is continuing to figure out how to do that.”

2 walrus sitting on a rock

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/500s @ f/4.0, ISO 1000

Fredrik is an experienced producer and photographer who has been working in the Arctic for over 20 years, and in the last seven years, has been doing so together with his partner, Melissa Schäfer.

"When you stand on the ice and have a polar bear in front of you, it feels like he can smell your thoughts," says Fredrik. "The old Inuits used to say, 'Don't think ill of the bears because that might make them angry.’ They have a presence and intelligence that we cannot comprehend. They might be more intelligent than us, but in a very different way."

polar bear walking gracefully across the ice

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 250

For their trips to the Arctic, they take a Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II, FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II and the super-telephoto FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS. Each lens helps them to tell a different part of the story of the life of the polar bears.

"We are telling the story of the Arctic, more or less seen through the eyes of the polar bear." Fredrik explains. "We are giving the Polar bear a voice because they have a story to tell about all of us. We see our future by looking at what happens with the polar bear.

polar bear looking at his reflection in the ice

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 160

The ice is melting. The polar bear needs the frozen ocean to thrive and survive. That is where he finds the food. Without sea ice, there is no polar bear. They die out. We have been working in the Arctic for years now, so it allows us to see the changes over the years. We have photos of what it looked like 10 or 15 years ago and comparing that high Arctic region then to what it looks like now is like looking at two completely different places. It's brutal.”
the tranquil arctic sea with mountains behind

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/16, ISO 400

With so many shocking negative headlines surrounding climate change, Fredrik, and other Sony Wildlife Explorers, are equally keen to show the many beautiful parts of the region. Positive images are just as important to spread the message of what is happening, just as much as negative headlines.

"You can describe the horror and the fear of the polar bears drowning in the ice melting. You know, the bleak headlines you see in the news about how terrible everything is and how the world is ending. But then the risk is that people just shut down and think, 'this is too big. It's up to the politicians. I can't do anything.’ Or, as our philosophy goes, you can show the beauty and the wonder of the Arctic and the magnificent creature that the polar bear is. Then, use this as a way to inspire people to feel a connection and come to the sense that planet Earth is our home, and we need to take care of it." says Fredrik.

close up portrait of a polar bear

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/800s @ f/4.0, ISO 500

It was on a trip to photograph polar bears a couple of years ago when Melissa and Fredrik switched from their DSLR cameras to a Sony Alpha 1. They were immediately impressed with the autofocus tracking of the camera, which helps them to get pin-sharp images of the polar bears they encounter. “When we came home from our first trip shooting in the Arctic with the Alpha 1, I remember transferring all the files from the memory cards to the computer and going through all the images, and I was floored by the quality, right down to the pixel level. It was just amazing. The quality of the gear is just incredible,” Fredrik explains.

pink sky reflected in calm arctic sea

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/320s @ f/7.1, ISO 100

The Arctic is one of the most demanding places to shoot, but Fredrik has been impressed with how the Alpha 1 has lived up to the challenge.

“The Alpha 1 performs exceptionally well in the cold. The camera can handle anything. Like any other camera, you must be careful with condensation going from warm to cold environments and back again. You also have to take care of the batteries and try and keep them warm, but even then, the battery technology is so good now it isn't an issue like it used to be.'

a walrus lying on the ice with his mouth open

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 200

Through their incredible images, one way that the Sony Wildlife Explorers group are reaching more people and spreading their message is by presenting Sony-supported lectures and talks around the Nordic area. “We've given talks around Sweden,” says Fredrik, “and we were in Finland a couple of months ago.”

portrait of Fredrik Granath

Fredrik Granath

“There are different ways of reaching people, you can reach them through social media, but you reach people briefly and in a shallow way. Social media makes it easy to reach 100,000 or even a million people. But, if you create a book, a magazine or give a talk, you reach fewer people, but hopefully, you reach them on a deeper level.”

Sony Wildlife Explorer, Staffan Widstrand, feels that working in a group enables them to all inspire each other and share their skills for the more significant cause.

arctic falcon sitting in the snow

© Staffan Widstrand | Sony α7R IV + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/400s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

“So far, I've enjoyed sharing time and working with bright minds and great professionals. We all share a genuine passion for wildlife, people and our natural heritage. The teamwork also brings a lot of visual inspiration and the sharing of technical know-how, and even training sessions with Sony experts.”

“It has been wonderful working with Sony,” Fredrik adds. “They have been great with us and whenever we ask for support, they are there for us. But also, they are helping us to share our message and reach a new audience. We are all working together to one common goal – making our home, Mother Earth, a place where we can live in harmony with, and protect, nature.”

an elk standing by the shoreline

© Melissa Schäfer | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II | 1/500s @ f/3.2, ISO 100

Sony Wildlife Explorers also hold online lectures and talks, to help people learn more about nature photography and how Sony Wildlife Explorers see the effects of climate change in their work. From discussions on photography, climate change & wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for more from the group in 2023.

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