Steve Pressman didn’t know how good a photographer he really was, until a few of his employees asked him if some of the photos on the wall in his store were taken by a National Geographic photographer.
The 64-year-old Florida pharmacist and owner of Pill Box Pharmacy & Medical Supply was at both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge photographing polar bears, moose, beluga whales and wolves with his wife Angela and their two boys Daniel and Matthew in 2022, and the couple are coming back to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge again for the Den Emergence Quest.
Pressman has travelled the world photographing wildlife and been on numerous trips to see polar bears in Churchill, Svalbard and Wrangel Island. He’s also been to Antarctica three times.
“I like visiting those cold places,” said Pressman. “You get the best photos with the wildlife in the snow. And I always know I’m coming back to Florida where I can put on my shorts and t-shirt most of the time.”
Pressman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where he graduated from pharmacy school. He moved to Florida during an April snowstorm when he was 24 and never looked back. His visits to the cold places on earth must conjure up at least a few memories of lost winters in New York for him — without the concrete — and he’s certainly not finding any of that on his wildlife trips.
Photography became a hobby for Pressman about 15 years ago and he’s been on a roll ever since.
“One day in 2008, while on the computer, there was a WPBS – Public Broadcasting System station having a silent auction fundraiser,” wrote Pressman on his website at YouGottaLoveNature.com. “I discovered that there was a small group travel company that donated a trip to see Polar Bears… In the wild? Wow!! That sounded interesting, so I went to their website.”
And that was it. Pressman was hooked.
He found trips to see harp seals in Canada, all kinds of animals in Africa, penguins in Antarctica, tigers in India, whales in Baha, British Columbia, and the Galapagos Islands, bears in Alaska and more. His first big wildlife photography trip was to the Galapagos Islands.
“That’s where and when my passion for photographing nature started,” wrote Pressman. “It was no big deal at first. I took pretty good pictures. I also made a photo book – WOW – how exciting to be able to show your family and friends the pictures I took and what I experienced.”
Pressman took photos on that first trip to the Galapagos and did the same on his next trip, which was to Churchill to see the polar bears. He didn’t think much about the photos he was taking at the time, but after enlarging a few and hanging them in his store, his employees started asking questions.
“Where did you get those? Who took those photos?”
“They thought I bought them from National Geographic,” said Pressman. “And that was it. That made me say, ‘Hey, maybe I’ve got some talent, maybe I should do something.’ I just fell in love with wildlife photography after that. My kids were young at the time, and I wanted to show them the world, so I said let’s do this. And year after year we were doing wildlife photography trips to places most people are never going to get to. People loved the photos, and I wanted to share those experiences with others that may never make the journey.”
Pressman and his wife Angela and sometimes their sons have since travelled to Antarctica, Africa, the Arctic, Canada, Alaska, Baja Mexico, China, South America, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cayman Islands, Greenland, Europe, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Colorado and more, to photograph wildlife — and a live volcano in Iceland.
“We made special arrangements to go see that and it worked out fantastic,” said Pressman. “Most of the time I was taking pictures of the lava just spewing out. And then I put the camera down for a while and just watched it. We were close enough and far enough to way to get some great photos.”
What was scarier, photographing a live lava flow from the edge of a volcano or polar bears at ground level in the wilds of northern Manitoba?
“Polar bears,” said Pressman. “Just be prepared for the mosquitoes and the horse flies during the summer. My wife is a mosquito magnet, so I like being with her during mosquito season.”
“You live on a boat and travel around in Svalbard,” said Pressman. “We got a good photo of a polar bear there in April, which was kind of early. That just goes to show you that the ice is getting thinner, and global warming is real up there. You could never do an April trip there in the past. We saw a polar bear eating a seal and he was all covered in blood, but that was on the ship, we weren’t on land.
“We also went to Wrangel Island, but again it was from a boat. We did get to go on land, but it’s not like being at the Churchill Wild lodges. You have to walk fast, and you have to walk in a group. And if the polar bears are coming, you have to go back to the boat. The polar bears there have probably never seen people before. You won’t get close to a bear there unless it’s by accident.
“At Churchill Wild your guides know whether a bear is approachable or not. On the July trip we walked single file towards a bear lying on a rock and then fanned out as a group. We also had a bear come up the to the fence at the lodge, sniff and walk around. That was pretty neat.”
Pressman and his wife will be back at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge for the Den Emergence Quest and are also thinking about returning to Seal River Heritage Lodge for the Polar Bear Photo Safari in the fall.
“Just to see the different animals that are around Seal River at that time of year,” said Pressman. “We had wolves at Nanuk two days before we left. They ran right by the lodge, but it was at night, so we saw one or two wolves and then the whole pack went by. It was like ‘Holy Cow!’ and then we went outside and heard them howling. So that was wild.”
Pressman photographed polar bears at Seal River Heritage Lodge during the summer on the Birds, Bears and Belugas safari, and moose and wolves at Nanuk in the fall on the Cloud Wolves of the Kaska Coast safari. He was also able to capture some beluga whale footage at Seal River with a GoPro.
“That was one of the highlights of the trip,” said Pressman.” That was a lot of fun. We hung on to one of my kids’ legs while he hung over the Zodiac with the GoPro and an extender taking pictures underwater of the belugas swimming next to him.
“And we saw bear and a wolf bear together while in the river on the Zodiac. They were pretty close to each other for a couple minutes. The bear didn’t care about us. The wolf was looking at us though. I got a quick photo of them together, but nothing I would put in book. With the bear and the wolf, I only I got the bear from behind walking sideways, but it was a special encounter. The moose in November at Nanuk were great too. I got some great moose photos because it was snowing, and the moose was covered in snow.”
Pressman was hoping for snow at Nanuk, and he got what he bargained for, along with the cold.
“You already had tons of snow there,” said Pressman. “And we got snowstorms and everything else, which is what I wanted. It was funny because in November they said it was -40, but they said in March it’s much worse. And I’m thinking how much colder can it get?
“How many more layers can I put on. I guess it can get to -50 when the wind is up. I bought more stuff to wear and heated electric gloves. And thank goodness you had those mitts made from moose hide at the lodge, because my fingers were going to fall off taking pictures. You know, you pull them out of the gloves for two minutes and it’s like, holy cow.”
Pressman started his photography career using a Nikon camera and one of his first DSLR cameras was a D80 and then a D90. He then moved on to a Nikon D7200, which he used on his Churchill Wild safaris, but he also recently purchased a Sony Alpha a7III mirrorless camera.
“I’ve started playing with it but I’m not as familiar with it as I’d like to be,” said Pressman. “So far the photos I’ve taken with it have been fantastic.”
Pressman has a few more trips planned for this year, including a jaunt to Brazil to photograph Jaguars. And then possibly back to Seal River in November.
“I’m trying to do a You Gotta Love Nature coffee table book at the same time,” said Pressman. “About my travels over the past 14 years, all the places I’ve been. I’ve got over 500,000 photos. So, you’ve got to pick the best of the best and you put them in an album. And then you have to pick the best of the best of the best. To get it all the way down to a 120-page book. Photography is a great addiction.”
Pressman learned about Churchill Wild on an earlier trip to Churchill to see the northern lights.
“The lights were out of this world,” said Pressman. “And I met Pennie Bell at the Churchill airport selling Polar Bear Wear t-shirts. She suggested I check out Churchill Wild. When I was leaving to come home, I also saw the Churchill Wild electric sign at the airport, so I looked into it and thought it looked pretty neat. We had to go back to Churchill with Churchill Wild.”
The rest is now history, but did it live up to Pressman’s expectations?
“My sons had the experience of a lifetime and loved being at Seal River Heritage Lodge with my wife Angela,” said Pressman. “All loved the nature and adventure.
“The guides were excellent, Boomer (Jerritt), Terry (Elliott) and Jessica (Day) at Seal River, and Jad Davenport and Emri (Canvin) at Nanuk. They totally looked after us. My only complaint is that the food was great.
“I just told Sue (Brown) at Churchill Wild to make sure you only feed me lettuce when I come back, and maybe throw in a carrot or two sometimes. You just eat there like it’s going to be your last day on earth.
“I want to live there.”
See more of Steve Pressman’s photos at YouGottaLoveNature.com
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