Q&A with Adventure Photographer Lee Narraway

Lee Narraway is an incredible photographer who has been an integral part of the Students on Ice family for a decade. Since 2004, Lee  has beautifully captured the magic of the ‘greatest classrooms on earth’ along with the remarkable people and wildlife that make up this fragile and changing landscape.

Lee with Ernest Shackleton's grave on South Georgia Island

Lee with Ernest Shackleton’s grave on South Georgia Island

What is your background?

I spent my childhood exploring the forests, lakes and wetlands of the Ontario wilderness with my parents and three siblings. My father was a wildlife expert and outdoorsman who taught me the importance of conservation, my responsibility to protect the environment and instilled in my soul an on-going love of nature. I brought home an unending variety of orphaned wild animals and injured birds and with the encouragement of my supportive mother, raised them at home then re-introduced them into their native environment. I still prefer to spend as much time as possible in the outdoors.

My love of photography began early when I received a small camera as a child. Although we did not have much money for film, I would practice using an empty camera and eventually progressed to professional photography as a career. As a freelance photographer, I shoot for magazines and clients around the world, specializing in the Polar Regions.

How did you first get involved with SOI? When was your first expedition?

For seven years from mid-May to the end of June, I cooked for an outfitter in the high Arctic north of Pond Inlet. In 2004, SOI brought a group of students to camp with us at the floe edge where the frozen sea meets the open water. In the Arctic springtime, this is is where all the wildlife is congregating waiting for the ice to break up so they can get to their nesting and calving grounds. Seals, whales, thousands of birds, walrus and polar bears can be seen here.
This is where I first saw the Greatest classroom on Earth in action. Glaciologist, Eric Matteson was teaching the students about glaciers by pointing out the similarities and differences in those on the mountains that lay beyond our camp. The students were captivated and I was hooked! What an exciting way to learn about this planet.

Two years later, SOI returned and Geoff Green asked me to come on the next expedition with them as their photographer… And here I am ten years later and still hooked.

Lee & Kids_1

Lee with a group of Inuit children

What is your favourite SOI memory?

It is impossible to pick only one highlight of my SOI experiences. But here are a few that have touched my heart.

1) Standing at the floe edge on the ice of the Arctic Ocean and sharing an SOI group hug before we climbed into the qamatiks (sleds) to head back to civilization. A massive Bowhead whale rose to the surface and exhaled almost at our feet. It floated there for 2 more breaths before silently sinking back under the ice.

2) Watching an Israeli and Palestinian student holding the peace flame between them as they ran grinning down a rocky beach in Antarctica.

3) Seeing the delight on a student’s face when the botanist told him that the sedge grass he had just found on an Arctic hillside was a rare plant.

4) Sitting in a group of zodiacs with about 60 students, surrounded by more than 40 sleeping bowhead whales. No one made a sound, we all just sat there and listened to them breathe. Then they started to move and glide away from our boats, performing tail-slapping and spy-hopping behaviours. Unforgettable!

Arctic or Antarctic?

I have been to the Arctic 97 times as a photographer and love the land and people of the northern regions.

My passion is the wilderness but I never imagined a paradise like Antarctica where I can be surrounded by over half a million wild creatures and none of them are afraid of me. The stunning scenery and patterns of nature all combine to make this a sacred place for me.

The beauty of both of the Polar regions fills my soul.

How many expeditions have you been on? How has this experience evolved over the years?

Including my 2 sessions as cook….I believe this will be my tenth Arctic expedition with SOI. I have also made four to Antarctica.

I am responsible for submitting images each day for the web site plus recording images of all the students and staff and activities that occur on the expedition. Plus landscape and wildlife photos and images from our interactions with locals in the towns we visit. These images are shared with sponsors, media and students and are stored in the SOI image bank.

I also have taught photo workshops each year and held a just-for-fun photo challenge and as well made chocolate decorations for all the birthday cakes and mentored budding photographers.

Because I love kids, I have provided a listening ear for them and also have helped homesick and shy young people to join in the activities.

With the popularity of Facebook, I find more students keep in touch. They ask me for photos to help with their presentations, send images to me for critiques and continue to ask for mentoring… I love this.

The number of participants and the photo responsibilities have increased each year. Last year, Martin Lipman joined the photography team. His input, hard work and exceptional photography has enabled SOI to continue to provide top coverage of the expeditions.


What are some of the changes you have noticed in the Polar Regions?

I have been travelling to the Arctic for 15 years and even in this short time span can see how our changing climate has affected the High Arctic regions. From receding glaciers to collapsing permafrost these changes are affecting both wildlife and human populations.


Lee on Digges Island during the Arctic 2010 expedition. Photo (c) Olivia Rempel

Lee on Digges Island during the Arctic 2010 expedition. Photo (c) Olivia Rempel

Advice to youth considering an expedition?

Jump at the opportunity to travel on an SOI expedition. Work yer butt off… Fund-raise… Save and save until you can afford to go. As cliche as it sounds, this will be the trip of a lifetime. You and all the other awesome youth on board will be surrounded by an outstanding group of educators, scientists, artists and environmental experts who want to share their understanding and love of the polar regions in the most amazing classroom on Earth. Do it!!!!


Any advice to budding photographers on the expedition?

You are about to be immersed in the magic and beauty of the Polar Regions. Shoot lots of images. Try to look for simple uncluttered compositions that will tell your story. Come and show me what you are shooting and I will share some tips and tricks to help improve the photos… Unless I am in the middle of a photo shoot…. Like focussing on the whiskers of a polar bear.

Technical notes: bring LOTS of cards… I shoot 800 to 1000 images a day. ( I admit to being out-of-control) extra batteries, battery charger, polarizing lens is effective on SLR cameras, cleaning tissue or cloths for your lens. Please protect your camera; it does not thrive in salt air or water so keep it covered when you are in a moving zodiac. At least 3 cameras per expedition get broken, usually by sitting on them or dropping them…have a neck strap for the camera and keep it in a sturdy case when not in use.


Follow the 2014 Arctic Expedition!

The 14th Annual Students on Ice Arctic Expedition will take place July 9-24, 2014. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Students on Ice is proudly supported by bv02.

This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.