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Photographer Profile — Daisy Gilardini (full story)

Story by Stephanie Hounsell
Photography by Daisy Gilardini

Seek and you shall find (unless it finds you first)

Photographer who specializes in polar regions knows patience is the key to getting a great shot. But sometimes special photos just appear

Wildlife photographer Daisy Gilardini knows all-too-well the need for almost super-human patience when it comes to capturing her award-winning images of creatures in the polar regions and beyond.


Case in point: she once waited more than 100 hours over 13 days to capture a photo of a mother polar bear exiting a maternity den for the first time with her new baby bears.

But there are times images seem to seek her out. And she has learned to be ready for whatever comes her way.

Weddell seal

The circumstances surrounding the photographing of this Weddell seal in Antarctica are quite common for Gilardini; she took the photo after a three- or four-hour wait.

Seals are quite challenging to photograph, says Gilardini, who lives in Vancouver, BC when she’s not travelling to the Arctic or Antarctica, or to photograph her other specialty, North American bears. Seals climb up onto ice after they’ve gorged themselves at sea. When they emerge, the only thing they’re interested in is a nice nap — which doesn’t make for the most animated photos.

©Daisy Gilardini
Weddell seal

So on this day, Gilardini found herself watching and waiting. “The challenge here is to be patient enough to sit,” Gilardini explains. “Something might happen and something might not happen. You have to take the risk.”

While she was waiting, the contented seal yawned, making it look almost as if it were laughing. Gilardini took the photo from five metres away, a distance that photographers must observe when taking pictures in Antarctica — although they sometimes get lucky when animals choose to come closer.

White tern

Gilardini’s photo of a white tern was more of a surprise. It wasn’t a shot she’d planned, it just happened.

She was in Hawaii on assignment to help educate people about the danger to birds of plastic that washes up on shore. One morning she was bicycling when she heard something at her back. She stopped, looked and, finding nothing, started biking again. Again, she heard it and again she stopped, this time seeing a flock of white terns.

©Daisy Gilardini
White tern in flight

Thinking she was upsetting them by invading their territory and possibly being near a nest, she pedaled away. But the birds continued to follow her and did this every morning. She realized they were simply curious. One tern was particularly photogenic.

“She was just coming and hovering on my head, staying almost still, looking at me,” Gilardini remembers.

She titled the photo Messenger and explains it was like the tern wanted to deliver a message about the importance of caring for the environment for the animals’ sake.

The white-on-white — it was an overcast day — results in a simplicity that Gilardini likes. “It’s a way to really let the character and the soul of the animal to come out,” she says.

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