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Face-to-face with a polar bear on Hudson Bay. Dax Justin photo.

Face-to-face with a polar bear on Hudson Bay. Dax Justin photo.

by George Williams

A walk in the woods can change your life. Just ask Dax Justin, who discovered the sweet addiction of nature four years ago. The young Canadian Explorer/Adventurer/Photographer recently walked the tundra with polar bears on the Hudson Bay coast while on assignment with Canadian Geographic. He was taking part in the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake Ecolodge.

“I’d been to the Churchill Wild Web site before I went there,” said Justin. “I knew it was a safari on the ice with bears, but I didn’t really get it. Then we’re flying in and we can see bears below us. We’re about to land on the gravel runway and these two polar bears are sparring and we’re thinking, we’re going to walk to the lodge with those two polar bears right there? But then you’re on the ground with the bears and that’s exactly what you’re doing. We were instantly blown away.”

Once at the lodge, Justin, his crew and guests strapped on their winter gear and out on the ice they went in search of more polar bears.

“One day we were on the ice and there were three polar bears around us,” said Justin. “We didn’t know which one to take photos of. We were surrounded by polar bears. We’re standing there on the ice with these majestic apex predators, yet we’re completely at peace. It’s a captivating experience. You don’t know what to feel. It changes you.

“After that experience our group was bonded forever. Suddenly you’re best friends with all these great people, you’re a community. The photos are just a bonus. And it’s a family type of experience. Very welcoming. The artisan style food was prepared from scratch and we were very well cared for, especially by Nolan and Doreen Booth. I was absolutely impressed.”

Feeling alive! Scarbrow at Dymond Lake Ecolodge. Dax Justin photo.

Feeling alive! Scarbrow at Dymond Lake Ecolodge. Dax Justin photo.

The Great Ice Bear Adventure was just the latest wild excursion for Justin, who has been on a meteoric rise as a Canadian explorer/photographer since he first became addicted to nature on January 26, 2013.

“I woke up super early that morning, and I was working with design clients and working on the web, but for some reason it was at a chaotic moment in my life,” said Justin. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I was searching for something. I put on some outdoors gear that still had tags on it and drove out to Bragg Creek 40 mins from Calgary.

“I found dream catchers and tepees in the woods and I was like whoa! I felt alive. I felt like a kid again. I thought, is this real? Does this exist? After that moment I just started taking pictures on my smart phone and sharing them online. And that’s where it all took off. Because after that day I just relentlessly pursued that feeling of being alive.

“I went a little bit further every day and there was an instant response on social media. Whereas before I’d post politics, road conditions, logo designs etc. This was so different. It was emotional and from the heart and it immediately resonated with people because it was just natural. I wasn’t trying to sell anything, I wasn’t trying to boast about something I’d worked on. I didn’t even know how to take a proper photo, but the feedback was immediate.

“I was just shooting and sharing, and the change in my mindset was rapid. Everyday I’d go out to more and different places and there would people hiking, and I’d meet them, from sunrise to sunset. I would get a tear in my eye. Everyday was different and I thought, how have I been missing this for 30 years?”

Justin’s newfound connection with nature led to more and more adventures and his popularity on social media attracted attention from KEEN CANADA, who offered to sponsor him. That led to more sponsorship and adventures from tourism organizations in Alberta including Travel Alberta, Canadian BadlandsChinook Country Tourism and HelloBC, as well as assignments with Canadian Geographic, a TEDx talk and more, to the point where Justin became a professional explorer.

Nature at its finest. Dax Justin photo.

Nature at its finest. On a smartphone. Dax Justin photo.

Justin now partners with destinations, adventure companies and travel brands to help tell their stories by capturing and delivering high-quality visual content rooted in social narrative that is both creative and immersive. The photography captured on his expeditions brings the adventure to a worldwide online audience in real time, expanding brand reach through social media and travel networks.

Justin’s work has now been featured in national and international publications including Matador Network, the Travel Channel, Hootsuite, The Weather Network, Canadian Geographic, CBC, Shaw TV, HYPEBEAST and Instagram. He has also given talks for the Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Rundle College, Social Media Breakfast and WordcampYYC.

Next up for Justin?

He’s been invited to speak alongside David Suzuki and Dr. Anthony Russell at the 52nd Annual Prairie University Biology Symposium, February 22-24, 2018, and he wants to see the east coast of Canada. Lighthouses, seascapes and landscapes. He’s also working on funding a new adventure, Secrets of Nahanni, a trip to the mysterious and ancient lands of Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, where he will be working with TELUS, CBC, National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Royal Canadian Geographic Society, CBC Arts and a documentary film crew. And finally, he’s established a Smart Phone Photography Workshop for aspiring outdoor and nature photographers.

Advice for young people?

“Don’t worry too much about the technical part of it,” said Justin. “Anyone can do this. Don’t do it for the likes. Separate yourself from the masses. Post the feeling. Tell the story. Take people there. It’s about the essence of life, vitality, getting in touch with nature, feeling alive.

“Frost on the eyelids.”

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