Paul Nicklen, Biologist and National Geographic Arctic Photographer Explains How He Got His Start As a Photographer

National Geographic has just debuted its “Live!” speaker series in Anchorage. From daring tales of dealing with 8,000-pound elephant seals to how the solar arrays on the Mars rovers were designed
Paul Nicklen is a biologist and a contributing photographer for National Geographic. He has traveled from all over the world producing stories for National Geographic and has two published books.
Nicklen grew up in an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic, where he spent most of his time outdoors. He said this gave him the survival skills he needed to take some of these iconic pictures.
He went on to graduate from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, with a Bachelors of Science in marine biology.
He got a job traveling all over the arctic, sometimes 2,000 miles in a month, tagging polar bears for the government. He got frustrated though as the government was not sharing their data.
Nicklen wanted to share the stories of these ecosystems, so he became a photojournalist for National Geographic. The first few articles that he made were dry and full of data. The readers didn’t really understand what the data meant and didn’t care according to Nicklen.
His first big break was a plea to the readers that if the earth continues to lose sea ice whole ecosystems will become extinct. Nicklen says was an emotional story that connected the readers and the data through good storytelling. It got, according to Nicklen the highest readership score of any article in the magazine in the previous 14 years.
“Through his work at national geographic, Paul (Nicklen) has brought attention to the many challenges that face the species residing in some of the world’s most isolated regions,” said Fred Rainey, associate dean and director of the Department of Biological Sciences, as he introduced the famed photographer Oct. 7.
Nicklen went on to tell the stories of how a leopard seal fell in love with him and how a four-ton elephant seal almost crushed him.
When someone asked him how one could get his job, he said, “Set your goals. It’s a journey. Figure out who you want to work with, what do you want to achieve, where do you want to end up. But no matter what you do in life, enjoy your journey along the way.”
For more of Nicklen’s stories and pictures, find his work online at and