This is the latest in our One Photo series, where PhotoShelter photographers share their most meaningful photo and the story behind it. Also watch our One Photo video here, where 5 photographers tell us what their image means to them.
“This was the most incredible scene I’ve ever photographed,” said Robert Zaleski.
Robert, a travel and lifestyle photographer, took this image while on assignment in Alaska. In it, three paddle boarders appear dwarfed by Bear Glacier as they drift through the misty lagoon in Kenai Fjords National Park.
The trip happened in July of 2012. Robert was joined by Dave Shively, who was writing a story for SUP Magazine. Alaska had just experienced 20 straight days of rain and a heavy winter, so when summer finally arrived, water was everywhere and the creeks were gushing. This meant that the paddle boarding opportunities were endless.
Their first stop was Anchorage, then onto the Alaska Railroad bound for Seward. Once arriving, Robert and Dave met two others on the Seward docks to finalize the gear they would need for the trip’s next leg. They would be bringing their Canon 5D MK II and Canon 7D, plus a list of lenses including a Tokina 10-17, Canon 50 f1.2, Canon 17-40 f4 and Canon 70-200 f2.8.
With overnight bags also in tow, the plan was to travel in a 16-foot inflatable boat 12 miles down the Kenai Peninsula. They would need to take advantage of high tide so they could make it up the river to their SUP (stand up paddle boarding) base camp near Bear Glacier. It was all part of a test to see if overnight SUP trips in that area were possible. Nomadic guide Chris Mautino, who was joining the group, reminded them that this would truly be an adventure.
The next stop was Lowell Point where they would pick up their paddle boards before heading to Bear Glacier lagoon. Once reaching the lagoon, they only had a few worries about falling ice.
Dave wrote, “In geological time, things are happening fast. The glacier inches toward the lake like a river of ice, stretching and compressing, the march ending at the waterline. But, winding down from the mountains at such a low angle, we’re not too worried about chunks falling from the wall into the lake. Rather, it’s the smaller chunks of berg rolling and breaking apart into the shallow lagoon water.”
Their worries were soon forgotten as the group got lost in the scenery. Said Dave, “We became children staring into the clouds.”
As they continued on, feelings of tranquility were suddenly interrupted by a thundering “boom.” Less than a mile away, a chunk of ice had fallen off the largest berg. They expected waves or a large surge inward, but nothing happened.
It was silent, and they felt completely alone. Robert remembers the scene vividly.
“When you’re in an environment like this, it’s difficult to gage a sense of scale,” he said.
“I just remember being astounded at how small we are as human beings, and how big our impact is on our planet.”
This one photo sums up that thought, and has also taught Robert the importance of patience.
By the time he arrived at Bear Glacier, he’d already been shooting for a week, capturing different scenes and compositions. It was ultimately nature that helped pull the elements together to create a striking moment.
“When I look at this photo today, I’m reminded that when you travel and seek adventure, you expose yourself to endless potential,” Robert said. “You can only do so much research and planning. But in the end, you may never anticipate all the possibilities that may unfold in front of your camera.”
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