Earth Day Feature: Q&A with photographer & videographer Florian Ledoux

The man behind the camera, up close and personal with the polar bears

This Earth Day, we celebrate the experienced Secret Atlas team and the undeniable attention to nature, education and conservation garnered through their work. Take part in our Earth Day celebrations by signing up for our newsletter. It’s quick and easy, and for every sign-up, we’ll plant a tree with our favourite charity, GreenlandTrees.org

florian ledoux photographer

One member of the team, Pro Photographer Florian Ledoux, recently completed a year-long polar bear video shoot in the Arctic to contribute to DisneyNature’s Polar Bear, airing exclusively on Disney+ today, April 22 (watch the sneak peek above/here). Narrated by two-time Academy Award® nominee Catherine Keener (“Capote,” “Being John Malkovich”), Disneynature’s “Polar Bear” tells the story of a new mother whose memories of her own youth prepare her to navigate motherhood in the increasingly challenging world that polar bears face today.

I captured things I never expected to happen, like two cubs breastfeeding on top of an iceberg, and so much more…”  – Florian Ledoux

Ledoux, recognized and lauded by many organizations (Grand Prize Nature TTL Photographer of the year 2020, Gold medal Fine Arts Louvre Carrousel 2019, 1st Prize Aerial Photography (video) HIPA 2019 Dubai, Drone Photographer of the Year 2018 SIPA, 1st Prize Wildlife The Nature Conservancy 2018, and 1st Prize Drone Video Animals 2018, just to name a few) started out as a self-taught French photographer. He further honed his skills as a photo reporter in the french military navy as he launched a passion project in Greenland that was borne of his desire to preserve nature, and specifically, the Arctic.

IMAGE USED WITH PERMISSION BY FLORIAN LEDOUX

This summer, some select travellers will get the opportunity to learn directly from Ladoux on a Secret Atlas Photo Tour. In the below interview, Ledoux elucidates his experience while capturing the footage for Polar Bear as well as advice for the budding nature photographers he will soon be guiding aboard a Secret Atlas Photo Tour.

Why did you decide to take on this project? 

The project was the most ambitious ever made film about polar bears. Because of the previous work I have done in the Arctic, the production company called me for the last year of the shoots. It went super well and working for such an important producer whom I admire from previous films such as Our Planet (Netflix), Penguin (Disney); it was an honour. The film was shot in three years, and I joined the last year, which was still a great opportunity.

polar bear by florian ledoux

Disneynature’s POLAR BEAR – Photo by Florian Ledoux. ©2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What was the housing experience like? 

Indeed, I stayed there for a long period of time. Svalbard is a place where my heart belongs, so even outside of this film project, I spend a lot of time there. For a part of the project, we had a modern camp, made of units, on a glacier near the sea ice where the bears live and roam the vast landscape. It was a unique experience to spend so much time out there, living so close to the polar bear habitat, the sea ice.


What was it like to film polar bear encounters? 

I mean, there were plenty of encounters. We spotted more than 207 bears in the time I was there. Each moment is unique. I felt so much emotion and even had tears sometimes. 

Filming the polar bear is extremely difficult as the environment they live in is totally crazy. The ice can be dangerous and constantly in motion; the extremely low temperature makes everything much harder with the equipment, but also managing your body to not freeze. 

We spent so much time with the bears that we could recognize different characters between individuals but could also recognize them physically. They became personalities we came to know. They were like friends to us.


Elaborate a bit on the drone sequences you filmed for Polar Bear.

I was a drone cinematographer for the project and was focused on aerial drone images on a daily basis out there. So [I was responsible for] half of the drone images. I had the opportunity to witness great moments and film several sequences of the film such as courtship, a cub playing in the water, and some hunting situations, together with the incredibly talented long lens cameraman Rolf Steinmann. We made a great duo.

Disneynature’s POLAR BEAR – Photo by Florian Ledoux. ©2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What do you want children who see Polar Bear to take away from the film? 

Images –films and photographs– generally speaking, are universal languages that talk to each of us. Wherever we are on Earth, it is a mirror of who we are collectively as a species and how we share planet Earth. 

Images can capture us, they connect us emotionally. One image has the power to stand for those who cannot speak their words. It is a way to remember the past but also to understand where we are heading, by highlighting issues of our world. Images are the storytelling of humankind. They are a powerful tool that can help us to reconnect humans to Nature.


Is there anything you were hoping to capture that you weren’t able to? 

When I go out to document the beauty of nature I try to not expect too much. Nature is the one that decides. Because capturing all of these unique landscapes and animals from above is still pretty new, I often get so excited. All the ice patterns and lines are so unreal and mesmerizing. There were plenty of incredible moments– I captured things I never expected to happen, like two cubs breastfeeding on top of an iceberg, and so much more… you just have to watch the film.


Any advice for the people who go on an expedition hoping to capture an image of rare wildlife such as a polar bear? 

Don’t expect anything, be humble toward nature and open your heart to receive the best. Everything you will see there [will be] incredible, beauty is all around us.

Ledoux attributes nature and the search for isolated and wild places for his intimate and aesthetically dramatic compositions. Through his lens, he hopes to celebrate the beauty of the frozen continents, the incredible wildlife inhabiting the ice edge, and the enormous importance they bear for the survival of our entire planet and all living species.

If you are interested in seeing more of Ledoux’s past work, besides watching the Polar Bear Disney feature film, he suggests checking out his recent favourite projects like Frozen Planet II, Our Planet (Netflix), and A Perfect Planet (BBC). He also recommends that people follow his work on Instagram for his new, never before seen images.

Helmed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, the directing team behind Disneynature’s “Penguins,” and produced by Fothergill, Wilson, Jason Roberts, Keith Scholey and Roy Conli, “Polar Bear” launches exclusively on Disney+ on April 22.


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IMAGE USED WITH PERMISSION BY FLORIAN LEDOUX

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