Florian Ledoux on Saving The Arctic With an Aerial Perspective

07/29/2019

As a self-taught photographer, Florian Ledoux’s passion for preserving nature and for dynamic drone-based aerial imagery has thrust him into an extraordinary career abounding with arctic expeditions and involvement with conservation groups, where together they work to bring awareness to the urgency

Florian Ledoux’s is a self-taught photographer who began his career in reportage while working for the French Navy. Doing this work gave him the opportunity to develop a passion for both environmental conservation and the use of drone photography in the capturing wildlife imagery. However, it was a surprise opportunity to join an expedition in the Arctic that gave Florian the chance to produce the body of work that opened the door to his commercial career.

With the use of Loupedeck+ to create inspiring images of wildlife set against the backdrop of the gleaming white and azure setting of the arctic, Florian is known for his intimate and beautifully composed imagery of polar bears. These images have brought him countless awards in the drone and wildlife categories, including First Place for Aerial Photography at HIPA 2019 Dubai and First Place for the 2018 Wildlife The Nature Conservancy prize. His work has also been published in magazines like National Geographic, Time, Géo France / Spain and National Geographic Traveler, and can be seen in the Netflix documentary, Our Planet. 

Yet perhaps most importantly, Florian’s work has been recognized by conservation organizations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and has been used to help raise awareness of the urgency of climate change. Read on to hear about Florian’s most moving moments working with wildlife in the Arctic region, about his trials and triumphs with drone photography and about how his passion for saving the planet laid the foundation for his career. 

MEET FLORIAN LEDOUX

As a photographer and filmmaker, you have set out to bring a new perspective to nature photography – a perspective that integrates wildlife as well as the wider habitat and landscape. Naturally, the use of drones provides a unique opportunity to showcase the wider habitat of the animals featured in your work. How did your work evolve to incorporating drone based imagery?

When I was younger, I was very inspired by a flight over the arctic, and have always been in awe with the patterns of the earth. As far as I can recall, I wanted to bring a different angle to my work and to best show the beauty of nature’s line. But things never happen overnight, so it was a long process and journey to integrate the drone’s unique point of view into my work. In the early stages of my career it was unaffordable to personally take flight to photograph, and in fact, it is still. Drones have been within reach and they offer the added benefit of allowing me to be where a helicopter could not.

How do you feel about the distance that drone photography creates between you and your subject? Or would you consider distance par for the course when it comes to photographing wildlife?

It definitely creates a distance in that you don’t experience and see the scene directly, but regardless, it is an intensely beautiful point of view. I always get excited by what I see. In fact, I am so connected to my screen that it feels like I’m seeing it with my own eyes – so intense! It is also why I will always continue to work with traditional photography, where I can also have those experiences where I am in closer contact to the wildlife.

As a vocal conservationist, one of your aims is to use your photographic work as a vehicle to help expand marine conservation areas in the polar regions. Do you feel that as an artist you have more agency than you might have realized before embarking on this journey? What tips do you have for other photographers who share your concern for the environment and also want to make a difference?

My work has been growing at a pace I could not have imagined possible. As my audience has expanded I’ve been able to have more influence and to bring more awareness than I would have expected. Recently our team working on Greenland was asked to join a meeting of the ICUN (International Union for the conservation of nature) to explain what we documented in Greenland this May – an early melt of the ice-sheet.

As a self-taught photographer, I learned along the way that a powerful image is an image at the cross points of art (creativity), conservation (story) and science (information). For upcoming photographers, I would suggest creating not only stunning images, but to concentrate on storytelling that might make a difference. To pursue relevant imagery that hasn’t been seen before and to focus on bringing attention to the compelling stories of endangered species.

In your biography you highlight your purpose as a photographer to, “witness, document and protect.” What inspired you to base your documentary work on these tenets? Was it something that you set out to do before you became a successful nature photographer, or did your experience as a photographer guide you to embrace this motto?

The idea evolved with time and practice, but these concerns were on my mind long before my work became successful. It’s the nature of my sensitive mind. I traveled to witness, I started to document, then naturally came the need to protect.

You are a self-taught photographer, yet your technical skill is evidenced in your striking compositions and flawless palette of azure skies and waters, set against perfectly rendered pearly islands of ice and snow. Are there any tools and techniques that you felt were especially helpful in mastering the craft of photography?

The main thing is that you need to become one with either your camera or drone. You need to be able to work with your eyes closed when it comes to technique. As for the rest, composition, creation and inspiration – for me, I compose with my heart, the point at which my entire soul joins in union with nature. When I am out there in those magical and wild places of the polar region, I am somewhere else. 

Pataniali said “When you find yourself inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”  It is exactly what I feel when I photograph.

“I traveled to witness, I started to document, then came naturally the need to protect.”
Your work has been published in magazines like National Geographic, TIME, Géo France, Géo Spain, Oceanographic and National Geographic Traveler to name a few. What do you feel played the greatest role in establishing relationships with your editorial clients? Promoting your own work through your website and social media, or participation in photo competitions and the resulting prestigious awards that you’ve collected over the last couple of years?

The editorial work almost exclusively arose out of the large number of prizes that the bear imagery received. That work brought me visibility, and with the exposure came many contacts.

Another major success is your upcoming collaboration with the Netflix series Our Planet. What can you share with us about this new exciting endeavor?

Indeed last spring had three images published in the book “Our Planet.” I was first thrilled to discover that the foreword was authored by Sir David Attenborough, the producer of Planet Earth, Blue Planet. Later when I saw the series I was even more moved and honored to be part of this beautiful project. I was also very grateful to find my work amongst photographers such as Paul Nicklen and Vincent Munier, both of whom I considered my mentors during childhood (and in many ways still are).

In addition to working as an editorial photographer and filmmaker, you also work with organizations that promote wildlife conservation. Tell us about your work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In what ways is this organization engaging you as an artist and image maker to help advance the cause of conservation?

For some time now the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has used a selection of my images to bring greater awareness to the cause. Most recently as part of the Arctic Arts Project, our collaborative team has been asked to present our work from Western Greenland at the World Nature Congress 2020 conference in Marseille, France. This opportunity provides a truly exciting chance for our team to reach an important audience with imagery that helps to elucidate the current state of the Arctic. 

“As my audience has expanded I’ve been able to have more influence and to bring more awareness than I would have expected. “
Over the course of time that you’ve spent photographing the arctic and its wildlife, have you personally noticed any changes in the landscape?

Yes, I have. Especially the noticeably warmer temperatures, such as what we experienced this last May in Greenland. Most days I was comfortable wearing a t-shirt, which was abnormally warm for the season! It is scary! But I’ve not spent enough time in Arctic to speak to my own experience alone. What’s certain, is that the scientists and climatologists that I have met all agree on climate change and the impact on the Arctic and it’s diminishing ice.

You’ve sailed more than 6,000 km in a period of 8 weeks from West Greenland through the Arctic. How do you prepare as a photographer for such a long journey, emotionally or technically, with the expectation of shooting a high volume of images for so many days on end?

In taking part in this long sail I was most humbled by the two incredible Captains, Hayat Mokhenache and Peter Madej, that made the journey – and ultimately the capture of my images – a reality. Emotionally and physically, it was a very long expedition. It can be complicated to be confined on a boat for such a long time. In terms of photography, you need to be very organized prior to setting sail and come prepared with everything you may possibly need for the trip. You learn with time and practice, but in this case I had just about 2 weeks to prepare. The opportunity came by surprise, which meant that I had to suddenly withdraw from the navy,  where I was working up until that time, and dash to stock up on all necessary supplies in order to join the expedition in time.

Of the many documentary expeditions that you have now completed, what was the most extraordinary photographic moment that you witnessed?

The pinnacle of my photographic career, is undoubtedly, the opportunity to enjoy close encounters with the majestic yet gentle animals that are the polar bears. For me, there is no better feeling than being in close proximity to those magnificent mammals and sharing a space with them. I will always remember the moment when I saw my first polar bear. I discovered a bear swimming and by the time I lowered my binoculars to announce it to our captain, I had tears in my eyes. I continued to cry during the entirety of the three hours we stayed close to them.

In your biography you share the story of your first encounter with a polar bear and how the experience brought you to tears. In what way does such a profound emotional connection with your subject effect how you approach image making?

I think it’s really important to be connected with your subject. It helps in creating profound images. As I said earlier, I compose with my heart. In this way, once connected to your subject it’s as if you are in transcendence and harmony with it, allowing you to disappear from the scene.

“For me, there is no better feeling than being in close proximity to those magnificent mammals and sharing a space with them.”

How Loupedeck+ fits into Florian editing workflow

Have you run into any challenges when working with drones? For instance, when equipped with multiple large accessories such as a mic and a long lens?

Flying in the Arctic wasn’t so easy with an early stage drone. There were crashes and a few lost machines before getting to my current comfort level.  And although the technology has improved, it can still be tricky. Especially working and flying in the arctic. It’s more complicated because of the lack of satellite signal, interference with magnetism and  northern lights, thankfully with practice I’ve learned how to get beyond drone limitations.

Shooting a white landscape in either sunny or overcast conditions can pose technical challenges. Yet each of your images embodies that luminous quality of snow reflecting light without compromising highlight or shadow detail. How much of that look do you owe to accurate exposure versus the work that you do in post-processing? How does editing with Loupedeck+ play into this light-balancing act?

In this white world of the arctic, it’s always a matter of making sure your image is not over or under exposed. Loupedeck helps me to edit much faster. Coupled with a Benq calibrated screen I can routinely achieve highlight balance that accurately depicts the gleaming  white of snow without losing detail.

Loupedeck’s wide-ranging adjustments can be used  to correct a variety of technical issues in post. In knowing that this is part of your toolkit, has your Loupedeck+ emboldened you take any risks or allowed you to become more experimental when shooting?

I haven’t gotten to know Loupedeck+ well enough quite yet to take huge risks, but I’m slowly testing the boundaries. Coupled with the wide dynamic range of new cameras, I’d say that by using Loupedeck+ I’ve been able to push my creativity.

 

Do you have any tips on specific Loupedeck+ settings and techniques that you feel are essential to your post-editing process?

Like anything new, it requires some time to feel confident and to commit the various functions to memory. But because the design is intuitive, you can become familiar with the console rather quickly. Ultimately, practice is the key to developing skillful use of the Loupedeck+.

Is Loupedeck+ integral to both your video and stills photography editing?

Most of my experience with Loupedeck+ has been editing stills in Lightroom. This has greatly helped to boost my creativity by allowing increased control over my images. I’m not as experienced editing with Loupedeck+ in Premiere or FCPX,  but I am due to begin a video editing project next month for the release of a new documentary called “I am Fragile,” and I’m very excited for the opportunity to have a hand at editing the project using the Loupedeck+! I’m looking forward to seeing what creative tweaks are in store and anticipate that it will save me even more time in Premiere than it has in Lightroom.

How has using Loupedeck+ changed your editing experience? Are there any major improvements in your workflow from the point of image capture to the  final edited image?

Loupedeck+ is a beautiful tool that has both unlocked greater creativity in editing my images and allowed me to work much faster. It has become an integral part of my production chain together with my computer, calibrated screen and printer. So far I’ve been using it in the studio setting, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity when I can take it on future expeditions and see what’s it’s like to work with it out in the field!

Learn more about Florian:

To get a glimpse of Florian’s moving documentaries and still photography, visit his personal website and vimeo project links to access a large collection of his work. Follow his social media channels to get the latest updates on Florian’s projects and for news on the upcoming release of his Netflix documentary!

Florian Ledoux Personal Website: 

https://www.florian-ledoux.com

Arctic Arts Project presentation to IUCN:

https://vimeo.com/347149339?fbclid=IwAR2VTEmFJZUZfqUdJbro-dMFZrRNYBH6cIQ_o_I6IYt_cMC4a-azR0OGIgA

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/florian_ledoux_photographer

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/ledouxphotograph