Paul Goldstein

Guide, Wildlife Photographer & Presenter

See Paul’s Work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

Paul is an outspoken conservationist, award-winning photographer and guide with a large following that fully embrace his unique style of teaching and leadership. With nearly 40 years of travel experience and working on all seven continents, Paul Goldstein has truly earned his reputation as an avid conservation campaigner and travel expert on wildlife tours in Africa, Asia, South America and the Polar regions. According to the Sunday Times, he is ‘preposterously vivacious, a guide of almost psychotic gusto’ and they also added ‘no-one will drag you up the wildlife photography ladder quicker.’

He has lectured and worked all over the world, his favorite places being the Arctic and Antarctic, the Pantanal, India, Baffin Island and his beloved Maasai Mara conservancies. Predators are his primary photographic subject, and tigers inspiration enough to run 20 marathons in his now-famous outfit, including the Everest marathon in 2022.

Paul may pull you out of your comfort zone at times, but this will inevitably result in you getting fantastic images to add to your wildlife collection. Never knowingly undersold, always outspoken and proactive and a vibrant and entertaining presenter/raconteur. You’ve been warned. ; )

“My journey in wildlife and polar expeditions has been filled with unforgettable moments, yet I’m always ready for the next adventure. There’s no room for complacency, and I’m driven by the thrill of exploration and discovery. Whether in the wilds of Africa, the icy landscapes of the polar regions, or any other corner of the world, the unpredictable nature of wildlife photography keeps me engaged and passionate.”

Personal Note

My background is in travel, which I was formerly trained in. However, after working in mainstream travel for several years, I realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. I always felt that to truly experience a destination, you need to dig deeper and scratch beneath the surface. About 30 years ago, I ventured into the world of wildlife, and the call of the wilderness became irresistible. It’s a sentiment I believe resonates with anyone who’s tasted the allure of the wild. Unfortunately, true wilderness is becoming increasingly rare.

I’ve worked for six or seven different companies, ranging from mainstream ones to small businesses and Africa specialists. Africa played a significant part in my career, and I even run my own business in Kenya. Geographically, I don’t limit myself; there are numerous regions worldwide that captivate me, and the polar regions hold a special place in my heart.

Paul Goldstein Photo Tour Guide

Now, when it comes to the polar regions, there’s a common misconception that one can easily compare the Arctic and Antarctica. Having explored both extensively, I can attest that each offers a unique and captivating experience, each has its own unique charm. The Arctic lacks the immense scale and drama of Antarctica, but it has its own allure. Accessing the Arctic is more straightforward, and the 24-hour daylight adds to its appeal. What’s essential is experiencing these regions properly. Nowadays, many expeditions treat it as a checkbox exercise, where spotting a walrus or a polar bear is enough for them. To me, that’s missing the point entirely.

Antarctica was a pivotal point in my journey, and I vividly remember that expedition from 20 years ago. It was an extraordinary trip, marked by unforgettable encounters with penguins, humpback whales, and dramatic landscapes. However, what I’ve learned over the years is that the most critical aspect of any expedition is research. This holds particularly true for polar regions, where careful planning can yield remarkable rewards. Traveling on a smaller ship with fewer than a hundred passengers provides the freedom to spend ample time onshore, a luxury that larger vessels can’t offer. Unfortunately, many larger companies don’t emphasize this aspect. I vividly remember my first morning in Antarctica, with penguins tumbling off massive icebergs and humpback whales breaching. It felt like waking up in a different world. Similarly, my first trip to Spitsbergen left a lasting impression, with its 24-hour daylight and encounters with incredible wildlife. I recall being on Zodiacs, looking through binoculars, and spotting what I thought were Arctic foxes. It turned out to be a mother with two tiny cubs. They wandered by for about 25 minutes, and it was a life-changing experience. I don’t remember much else from that expedition, but that sighting of the polar bear family is still one of the best I’ve ever had.

Initially, I explored these regions on my own, always eager to scout things out firsthand. Then I began chartering ships, which placed a significant amount of responsibility on my shoulders. However, it also made it clear to anyone who joined us that our top priority was maximizing daylight and creating meaningful experiences, rather than engaging in aimless shore excursions or shopping trips.

I prefer working with smaller companies that adhere to ethical principles. The size of the ship is crucial, but it’s not just about the ship’s size; it’s also about having the right staff. When Michele approached me with the opportunity to collaborate with John Rodsted and his wife, Mette Eliseussen, who share a similar approach to mine, I was convinced. Additionally, learning about the ship’s low emissions and the fact that it had undergone a genuine refit impressed me.

I’ve been disappointed in the past by companies that claimed to offer exceptional experiences but then fell short. I’m deeply loyal to my passengers, and I take it very seriously when I feel let down. Secret Atlas is different and really caught my attention. I appreciate that the Vikingfjord can accommodate up to 20 people without penalizing solo travelers.

The crucial thing to understand is that both Mette, John, and I will work tirelessly to position the ship and Zodiacs in the best spots to discover exciting things. How people choose to document their experiences is entirely up to them. Whether they prefer binoculars or cameras, they’ll receive plenty of advice if needed. We put in a lot of effort, but the rewards are substantial, like finding ourselves 20 nautical miles from shore with a mother and cub in an ice field at two in the morning – that’s truly special.

Polar bears on iceberg by Paul Goldstein
polar bears in Svalbard on photo tour

While I work with predators worldwide, such as Bengal tigers, cheetahs, leopards, lions, snow leopards, and jaguars, it’s essential to note that I don’t have a favorite animal or an infatuation with the polar bear. Svalbard simply is the best place to observe them, perhaps aside from Baffin Island in spring, which can be a massively expensive operation. In these regions, you need to encounter multiple polar bears to capture extraordinary moments. The first one you see might be two nautical miles away, walking across a vast icy expanse.

Of course, there’s no guarantee in wildlife photography, but I’ve led 25 expeditions and never failed to spot bears. Quality matters more than quantity. It’s not about seeing many bears ashore; it’s about encountering them on the sea ice, where they truly belong. Some people might say, “We saw 30 bears,” but if they were all onshore, feasting on a two-year-old dead walrus, it’s not quite the same.

There’s plenty of advice to give to young photographers aspiring to follow a similar path. Firstly, understand that wildlife photography may not be a reliable source of income. It’s incredibly challenging. Unless you happen to capture that one iconic shot of two polar bears fighting airborne with a walrus and an Arctic fox on roller skates, it can be tough. Dedication is crucial, and so is research. Be your own harshest critic.

When you start winning awards and gaining newspaper coverage, you’ll know you’re on the right track. Speaking of social media, having thousands of fans and likes on platforms like Instagram isn’t the ultimate measure of success. It’s like being rich with monopoly money – it doesn’t mean much. Many images on social media are overprocessed and lack substance.

In simple terms, a good photograph needs three key elements. First, it should have a clean and appealing background. A messy, cluttered background ruins many images. Second, you need an interesting subject. Finally, the third element is critical – you need something extra to make the photograph come alive and be compelling.

Rare or endangered subjects should also adhere to these principles. Whether it’s a pangolin or a Ross’s gull, it doesn’t matter; the photograph still needs to satisfy the fundamental principles that make a good image. I’ve had people show me photos and say, “Look at this amazing bird,” but it’s not in flight. It’s all about capturing birds in action, as birds have the remarkable ability to fly, setting them apart from other subjects. In my experience, judging hundreds of photographic competitions, I always look for two key elements: the degree of difficulty and originality. It’s not easy to find both in today’s photography, especially with how extraordinary photos can be taken with an iPhone 14 Pro. Moreover, many people are turning to video, which is often a more compelling way to share experiences with family and friends. A 10-15 second video clip can be far more engaging than 10-15 still prints.

As we venture into the Arctic, encountering challenges is inevitable, but that’s where the small ship with no fixed itinerary becomes invaluable. When people ask me for a plan, I always say the same thing: go find some ice and bears. And Ivory Gulls, and Walrus, and Glaciers, and all sorts, but bears are the main event. Regarding the best time to see bears, it’s not on the vast pack ice but on proper sea ice. June is my preferred time for expeditions, as it offers better chances to spot young bears, given their increased mobility. I know a lot of people go in April or May now that it’s fashionable, but it’s too early. It’s very cold and very unlikely to see young ones at that time as well. You need them when they’ve gained a bit more strength in their legs and can cover longer distances.

I have indeed captured numerous polar bear images, but three particular moments stand out. In 2007, we endured dreadful weather conditions for two to three days, with thick fog obscuring our surroundings. Then, suddenly, the fog lifted slightly, and we found ourselves in an ice field in Hinlopen. Within just three hours, we spotted a mother with two cubs, yearlings, and next, after people had gone for breakfast, I called them back as we had a mother with this year’s cubs on the starboard side, along with a male. These magnificent creatures were right next to us, creating an extraordinary sight.

Another memorable moment was what I refer to as the “midnight swim.” I spotted a polar bear swimming and decided to take a risk. I hurried down to deck three on the old Russian ship and managed to capture a stunning shot of the polar bear in its natural environment, framed by the dynamic Arctic surroundings. It was a special moment as it showcased the bear in its habitat.

However, the most extraordinary experience I had in Svalbard was in 2013. We were at Alkefjellet, surrounded by immense basalt columns, with hundreds of thousands of Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Arctic Foxes, and more. We started our day at 5 a.m., which is my preferred way of operating. Upon our return, I checked the schedules and realized no other ships were coming until 11 a.m. So, I suggested going out for another run. All but nine people joined, and those who opted out later regretted their decision. While observing an Arctic fox, I received a radio call about a polar bear. Initially, I thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be a three-year-old male bear scaling those towering columns—an awe-inspiring sight. Up and down he went, securing eggs, birds, and fledglings. It was a remarkable display of energy for an hour and a half. In my 30 to 35 years of wildlife experiences, that ranks among the top three or four. This is the beauty of not having a strict itinerary. When everyone says, “Oh, we’ve done that, let’s move on,” you sometimes miss such extraordinary moments.

As you can see, it’s quite unsettling. At one point, there were a pair of glaucus gull chicks on a column that it could have easily taken, but it would have had to jump onto the top of that column. Once there, it would have been unable to jump back up, leading to its demise. It’s compelling yet quite distressing to watch because this is not what a three-year-old male polar bear should be consuming. Their natural prey is seals, for which they need sturdy sea ice, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly scarce.

In conclusion, my journey in wildlife and polar expeditions has been filled with unforgettable moments, yet I’m always ready for the next adventure. There’s no room for complacency, and I’m driven by the thrill of exploration and discovery. Whether in the wilds of Africa, the icy landscapes of the polar regions, or any other corner of the world, the unpredictable nature of wildlife photography keeps me engaged and passionate.

I’ve spoken to people who have been doing a similar job to mine for many years, and sometimes they say, “I’ve got nothing else to prove.” You know, you’re only as good as your last lecture, your last game drive, or your next game drive, or your next Zodiac ride. As for my motivation, the day when spotting a polar bear no longer quickens my pulse, I’ll find another passion. Until then, I’ll continue pursuing the thrill of the wild and sharing it with those who join me on these incredible expeditions.

Lastly, a tip for photographers: please bring good binoculars; because when I see people using 100 to 300mm lenses as binoculars, it doesn’t work. You need precise binoculars. And also, it might be you who spots that ivory blob on a distant ice floe, and you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself.

Meet Paul

For a more personal connection and to stay updated with Paul’s latest adventures, conservation efforts, and photographic endeavors, we encourage you to connect with him on FacebookInstagram or via his website.

Photo Tours With Paul Goldstein