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Guiding Light - Insights from Industry Professionals, John Bozinov

John Bozinov, photographer, arctic, antarctic, wildlife, new zealand, expedition guide, expedition guide academy, expedition guide training, zodiac driver
John Bozinov - passionate polar photographer

New Zealand born and bred, John has honed his craft as a polar photographer, lecturer and guide while rightfully building a significant following through social media.

His clean, authentic style (photographic of course) has captured the attention of over 370,000 followers on instagram and the likes of Apple's Tim Cook.

He has sailed to the North Pole on nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, ventured into Antarctica's Ross Sea, Russia's Franz Josef Land and spent plenty of time exploring the Western Antarctic Peninsula.

John, thanks for taking the time to join us.

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is John Bozinov, I'm a New Zealand born photographer and polar guide.

What is your current role in the expedition industry?

I work for a few different polar operators, my role usually has a photography focus although I also work as a regular guide and lecturer.

What is your background?

I'm a self-taught photographer. My passion for the outdoors grew from my passion for photography which naturally led me to the polar regions. I've been working aboard these [expedition] vessels for the last 5 years and still can't get enough.

How did you get your start in the industry?

I applied for a scholarship to visit the New Zealand subantarctic islands on a passenger vessel which I was very fortunate to receive; this was my first exposure to the world of polar tourism. I only really applied because I was interested in photographing the endemic flora and fauna on these uninhabited islands and it was my only opportunity to get down there. I absolutely fell in love with the whole experience - the vessel, the open ocean, the beautiful scenery. Once I got home I was laser-focused on how I could do more of this, and see more of the polar regions too. I reached out to anybody who I thought could help me with this goal, asking for advice and assistance. I eventually got my necessary certification (STCW & RYA Powerboat level 2) and was subsequently offered my first contract for Antarctica shortly after.

How did your passion for photography lead you into the outdoors?

When I first became interested in photography I had an insatiable appetite to shoot anything and everything, to say I was obsessive is almost an understatement. I was always looking for new subjects to photograph and this eventually led me to a few solo road trips around New Zealand. I fell in love with hiking and exploring our national parks, carrying a backpack full of different cameras as I went.  What was your motivation to capture and record the flora and fauna of the subantarctic’s? Were you already interested in flora and fauna?

I had done some research about the different archipelagos of the New Zealand subantarctic before my visit, essentially what I could expect to find there and photograph. While these island groups share a lot of similarities, they all have endemic species which would provide a once in a lifetime experience. Unique birds, pinnipeds and cetaceans are all animals that make New Zealand special, and so I was excited to see many of them for the first time.

Subantarctic, New Zealand, yellow eyed penguin, expedition, expedition guide, expedition guide academy, guide training, photographer, expedition guide life
Yellow Eyed Penguin, one of the many residents in New Zealand's Subantarctic Island's

What was the scholarship you went down with?

I believe it was a collaboration between the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust and Heritage Expeditions. The idea was to get young Kiwis to visit our southernmost islands and do some community outreach about our experience.  What ship were you on to the subantarctic’s?

We sailed down on the Professor Khromov (Spirit of Enderby). She's a small ship of about 50 passengers, but ice strengthened and well suited to polar waters. The southern ocean is seldom calm and so the vessel moves a lot, but it's definitely worth it worth the experience.

Describe a “normal” day for you at work?

Expedition days are usually pretty full on! Our activities are usually weather/wildlife-dependent and so our routine does differ from day to day, although we do have a general blueprint that we follow for a typical day of activities. I wake up to a vibration alarm on my watch (don't want to wake up my cabin mate) at around 06:00 each morning and make my way to the gym to spend around 45 minutes doing a workout of some kind. I'll then have a quick breakfast in the restaurant before heading back to my cabin to quickly suit up for our morning activity. This will usually involve either a landing onshore or a zodiac cruise exploring coastal areas; either way we're typically expected to be ready to go in the zodiacs around 08:00. My role for the morning often changes, sometimes I'll be driving a zodiac to shuttle our guests to shore, on other days I'll be part of the shore party involved in setting up the walking route for our guests or preparing the landing site in some capacity for their arrival. This involves finding a safe area for them to step ashore and assessing any potential risks such as a slippery path or perhaps a particularly territorial fur seal. As the photographer, my job is to document the activity with my cameras - the landscape, the wildlife we encounter and of course the general experience of our passengers. After a few hours, we'll head back to the vessel for a quick lunch before our second daily activity - again a landing or zodiac cruise. These run exactly the same as our morning excursion before we return to the ship for the evening. My colleagues and I will then have a gathering with our guests in the lecture theatre to recap our daily activities, answer questions and give them a general outline for our plans for the following day. The rest of the evening involves a quick dinner, a drink in the bar and a lot of photo editing before bed.

What’s your favourite expedition destination?

This is difficult to answer as there are many aspects of a destination that can influence my experience there - weather, wildlife, time of year etc.. but overall I'd have to say the Antarctic Peninsula, it's hard to put into words how incredible it is there and in truth, even photos don't do it justice. It's simply extraordinary.

What aspect of guiding are you most passionate about?

I think these days having an authentic encounter with a true wilderness is becoming more scarce, and for me, this is where the polar regions are unique. I love being able to see wild animals in their natural habitat and the look on people's faces when they have these encounters for the first time.

No rest for the expedition photographer. John heads for the look out at Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself starting out?

Probably to take slightly shorter contracts. I think I was so eager to spend as much time in the polar regions as I could early on that I got tired and burnt myself out a little in the beginning. I'm grateful for all of the incredible experiences that I've had but I could have taken my time a little more.

What is the thing that surprised you most about guiding?

Definitely how fun zodiac driving is! I'd never really spent much time in boats before starting my polar career, but once I learned how to drive a zodiac I absolutely fell in love with the feeling of freedom you have driving them around.

What has guiding and working in the polar regions taught you about yourself?

I think in many ways my career has really shaped most aspects of me and my general outlook on life. Living in the city it's easy to forget about the natural world, but working in the polar regions has re-calibrated my perspective to one that I feel is more outward-facing rather than introspective. It's taught me the importance of being compassionate and respectful to nature.

What skills/ knowledge do you rate the most important for professional guides?

I think the most important skills are to be friendly, tolerant and supportive of your colleagues. The job is quite full-on - 7 days a week, usually for a few months without a day off, all while living and working very closely with your colleagues. It's understandable that this environment can be challenging at times and I've always found that my most enjoyable time onboard has been working with a cohesive team who are always supportive of each other. From a knowledge perspective, I'd say having a good understanding of the environment and the weather. At the end of the day safety always comes first and nothing is more important than understanding how to mitigate risk in tough situations.

For those looking to join the industry, what advice would you give?

Build a portfolio/CV as best you can with skills that will make you useful on board, such as training for zodiac driving, experience in public speaking, preparation of relevant lectures, working with a group on a team project etc. Nothing will fully prepare you for your first expedition but just getting your first contract and some experience under your belt is the most important first step.

For those looking to continue advancing their current expedition career, what advice would you give?

I guess it depends on your goals. I'd recommend branching out a little and working with different operators to experience how things run on different vessels. Visiting a variety of travel destinations is important too for expanding your knowledge and experience in the poles. I recently had the opportunity to work in the Ross Sea, and even though I've already done countless voyages in the Antarctic Peninsula, that experience there completely changed my perspective of the continent.

Icebreaker, north pole, 50 years of victory, sea ice, john bozinov, expedition guide, expedition guide academy, expedition guide training, photographer, arctic
Who need's horse power when you have man power. Closing in on the North Pole the hard way.

What is the biggest learning moment from your time in the industry?

It's the challenging moments that I always learn from the most - the experiences where I'm pushed outside of my comfort zone. Whether this is giving a new lecture for the first time, visiting a new landing site or encountering rough weather. These days aren't always easy but they're the ones which help develop your personal growth.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

That's a question I don't think about too often. If you'd told me 10 years ago that this is where I'd be today there's no way I would believe you. New unforeseen opportunities constantly present themself to me so I'm happy following this path and discovering where it takes me day by day. I just hope I'll still be healthy and able to continue doing what I love.

What future trends do you think guides need to consider?

The polar regions have traditionally been seen as an unusual or extreme travel destination, but I think this perspective is changing which is evident by the growing numbers of tourists visiting the polar regions each year (pre-Covid). Wilderness areas are not playgrounds for tourists and I think respecting these environments is becoming more important than ever, especially when their sensitivity to climate change is considered. For guides, I think teaching guests about the significance of respecting the polar regions will become more important than ever with their increased exposure to visitors.

What advice do you have for those heading to the polar regions to photograph?

Take a dry bag. Cameras and water don't mix well and there are times when you'll definitely want to be protecting your gear from the elements. A decent telephoto lens is also essential for epic wildlife shots (especially polar bears!).

polar bear, mother and cub, arctic, sea ice, polar bears, john bozinov, expedition guide academy, expedition guide training, polar bears on ice
A true wilderness experience. Polar Bears on ice!

What are your go-to photographic items?

I believe any camera is capable of taking amazing photos when in the hands of a skilled photographer. So my advice for travellers is to take whatever camera you enjoy shooting with the most - and ideally something with decent weather sealing. That being said I carry a lot of photography equipment with me - iPhones, GoPros, drones, Canon DSLR and mirrorless cameras.. the list goes on and is ever changing. The iPhone is still the camera I enjoy shooting with the most.

If you could bring anyone on an expedition to Antarctica with you?

Probably my late grandmother. She never experienced anything like that in her life and I think seeing the look on her face as she saw her first glaciers and icebergs would be wonderful.

If you could have been on any expedition ever?

That's a tough one to answer, but I'd probably say Scott's Discovery Expedition. It was a true scientific expedition and seeing a few of the great explorers such as Scott, Shackleton and Wild all working together would be awesome.

A huge thanks to John for joining us and offering some insights into his journey to expedition guiding. Hopefully, you're as inspired as we are by his photography and approach to polar guiding. Want to enjoy more of John's images? Follow the links below.

John Bozinov - Photographer

Mobile: +64 27 305 7281

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