Capturing The Moment: Advice From A Professional
Hello! My name is Denis Elterman, I am a wildlife and nature photographer, filmmaker, editor and expedition guide from Daugavpils, Latvia. I have spent the last six years travelling the world to capture and document it’s many cultures and wild spaces. For the last five years, I have focused my career on expedition videography and photography. I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue my passion in over 60 countries, and all 7 continents.
What is Expedition Videography and Photography?
This form of photography and videography involves capturing some of the world’s most incredible, and in many cases, remote regions of the world. In my role, I travel on well-equipped expedition ships with expert teams (composed of scientists, naturalists, scholars and more). On each contract, my main job as a videographer is to produce a short documentary film that captures the natural beauty of places we visit.
Expeditions, while inherently varied in region and itinerary, always include lots of adventure!
The goal is to authentically experience the environment, wildlife and culture. This means fully-embracing the unpredictability of the region! As such, expedition work requires a lot of flexibility. We constantly account for weather conditions, safety, and wildlife protocol. I need to be prepared for all situations and circumstances. Depending where we are, the expedition may include multiple snorkelling operations, hikes, zodiac cruises and local community cultural events. Expedition also allows for stellar wildlife sightings.
The work I do allows for a range of photographic genres. I’ve photographed Polar Bears on ice from a small ship in Svalbard (Norway), used a drone to capture footage of salt lakes in the Atacama Desert (Chile), taken images of Green Turtles underwater in Aldabra (Seychelles), and have flown by helicopter to shoot glacier ice in Ilulissat (Greenland). That being said, I spend most of the time working from a Zodiac (Rigid Inflatable Boat/RIB). I spend my days out ashore, and nights onboard editing and producing content.
Some Of My Favourite Places And Highlights:
I’ve found through my travels that my passion lies in capturing the most inhospitable corners of our planet. My favorite region is Antarctica. It’s isolation and beauty is unmatched! I’ve visited the continent over 15 times - it’s addicting, and I can’t wait to go back! I’ve also really enjoyed Greenland, Agats (West Papua, Indonesia), and the Solomon Islands.
How I Prepare For My Expeditions
Prior to every expedition, I study the itinerary and determine what equipment will be needed. As a general rule of thumb, I try to maximize the amount of gear that I can bring. Usually, that results in a very large, heavy backpack! On one contract I may sail to a range of climates and environments. In 2019, I did a three month contract that started in Arctic Greenland and took me all the way to the Antarctic Peninsula. During this contract I went to both Polar Regions and 3 continents - North America, South America and Antarctica. In doing so I had to pack for the coldest and warmest environments in the world (and everything in between).
My luggage regularly includes items for every climate - from a very wooly hat to a pair of flip flops!
My Biggest Inspirations
Different people inspire me in different ways. It was my Uncle who first gave me the travel bug. I grew up wanting to follow in his footsteps and explore all of the places he had been. He was the main inspiration behind pursuing this career path.
From a professional standpoint, I have always been fascinated by National Geographic Photographer, Paul Nicklen. Nicklen photographs the creatures of the Arctic and Antarctic, generating global awareness about wildlife in these isolated and endangered environments. I also really admire the people that I work with! I work with the best experts in the industry - they have extensive knowledge and talent, they also make every trip a lot of fun.
The Biggest Lessons I’ve Learned from Expedition Experience
Be prepared for all weather and environmental conditions, even on seemingly clear-skied, “calm” days, weather can rapidly take a turn for the worst.
Waterproof, waterproof, waterproof (yourself and your gear). Being soaked for hours out on the Zodiac can be miserable.
Get enough sleep. When the perfect shooting opportunity comes, you want to be awake and well-rested.
Keep track of time-zones, change your clocks! Don’t underestimate this.
When visiting new places, talk to colleagues and guides to know where to go and how to get back.
Simple, but always make sure you have a good grip on your equipment. One of the most foolish (and expensive) lessons I’ve learned was in Svalbard where I tried to change lenses in high winds/gusts and watched in horror as my camera took a dramatic, and ultimately detrimental tumble.
Advice for Amateur Photographers Or Videographers
When are Looking to Get Started in Expedition Work:
Focus on what you're shooting, but don’t forget to appreciate the moment.
Do your homework and research, and use your favourite artists as inspiration. Have at least two or three shots in mind for each location, this will often lead to a higher chance of getting the desired images/videos.
Don’t be shy to seek advice from your colleagues and mentors.
Master your gear/techniques prior to starting a contract. Life on board is too busy to sacrifice your time learning how to use your new camera body.
If you enjoyed Denis's article, and want to show him your support why not by Denis a coffee.
Due to the global pandemic, I’ve put a pause on international travel. I’ve been using this downtime to brainstorm how to develop and expand my brand and content. I am looking forward to launching an online platform to sell fine-art prints of my photography.
You can also contact him via his email:firstname.lastname@example.org.