Email, firstname.lastname@example.org to book now, less than 24 seats for the season.
A little about Bear Witness Photo Tours and your guide Johnny Hayward and his ultimate small group tours. Bear Witness Photo Tours offer a 1 to 3 guide/driver to guest ratio with a max of three guests per vehicle. Bear Witness only uses full sized pickup trucks giving each guest their own window and door making for easy access to get in and out of the vehicle on your own time never missing a moment of wildlife action.
Johnny is a wildlife photographer and a retired Canadian national photojournalist with more than 28 years of experience. As a photographer and a certified guide his approach to wildlife photography is similar to how he covered major news or sporting events—waiting and watching for the subtle moments that tell the story behind the story. Johnny has travelled to the farthest reaches of North America to reveal the humanity in nature, and the nature of our humanity. His aim is simply to bear witness and bring you nature’s most captivating stories as they unfold. Johnny has become familiar with the polar bears of Churchill having had his first trip in 1999, with several visits through the years logging a lot of travel time in the polar bear capital of the world. 2022 was Johnny’s first time leading a tour in Churchill and with the help of local Gerald Azure it was a huge success giving clients a trip of a lifetime with a personal touch of stories, great food and friendship. Johnny believes in relationships and his friendship with locals like Jennafor and Gerald Azure who are the owners of Bluesky Bed and Sled help him settle into the community with ease. Jennafor and Gerald also own the best dog sledding company in Churchill which is a real treat if you can get a ride in. Being a photographer himself Johnny works to get his guests into the best location possible looking for clean backgrounds when possible to help everyone create brilliant images. “I like to try and break away from the other tours when possible and take a chance on seeing something unique.” Due to our small group size we can take our time to enjoy the environment and not having to cater to the needs of a large group.
The goal is to photograph polar bears and if you want to stay with a particular bear all day to get the moment that you have envisioned then thats what we do. Safety is our first and main priority, getting the image that you desire comes next and we will spend the time to help you achieve this goal while keeping both the guests and the polar bear safe.
Nanuk, or I like to call him, the “King of the North”.
This tour is all about polar bears. You’ll view and photograph polar bears walking along the shoreline, testing the sea ice, cubs playing with one another, and if we are lucky adults wrestling and sparring with another. There are endless photography possibilities, including every pose and portrait you can imagine.
Seeing polar bears in the wild is special. But photographing wild polar bears on foot is an experience unlike any other.
From mid-October to mid-November, polar bears congregate near Churchill to test the newly formed sea ice. It’s been months since they’ve eaten a seal, their primary source of food, and they are eager to hunt. Unlike most other popular bear populations, these bears are tolerant of human activity, which allows for close encounters and amazing photographic opportunities.
Bear Witness Photo Tours provides some of the nicest and cleanest accommodations in Churchill along with amazing home cooked meals. This is a great way to unwind after a day out on the land, with no need to leave our cozy B and B in search of dinner.
Bear Witness Photo Tours works with a new full sized pickup trucks for a max of 3 guests per vehicle so everyone gets their own window and door to make easy access when you want to quickly get in or out of the truck to make an image. This gives everyone plenty of space for photography gear and large winter jackets. The back of the truck gives ample space for tripods and also can act as a bit of a step up if needed to see over a rock or grass when photographing the bears. I bring lunches and coffee with us so we can stay out in comfort till the daylight fades away. Your vehicle is equipped with oversized tires perfect for the terrain, a lift to give better clearance, towing equipment, shovels, two way radios, first aid kit and a booster battery.
Guests are to arrange their own transportation to and from Churchill, MB. Please note that flights to Churchill, Manitoba normally leave Winnipeg early am Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. This early departure means that you will have to overnight in Winnipeg the night before your flight to Churchill, I recommend the Courtyard by Marriott right at the Winnipeg airport as its new clean and well priced.
Unofficial 2024 Polar Bear Tour Dates: (NOTE: these dates are based on flights historically scheduled by Calm Air, 2024 official dates won’t be posted till 2024)
Friday, Oct. 25, 2024 – Wednesday, Oct. 30 at noon, 2024.
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2024 – Monday, Nov. 4 at noon, 2024.
Monday, Nov. 4, 2024 – Saturday, Nov. 9 at noon, 2024.
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2024 – Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2024, full day on the 13th guests fly out in the evening.
Arrive in beautiful Churchill, Manitoba.
Your polar bear adventure starts midday when the Calm Air flight from Winnipeg arrives. For the guests arriving by plane, I will pick you up at the airport in a clean new truck and I will bring you to your room at the Bluesky Bed & Sled. After a quick check in, we will head out in the afternoon to search for polar bears until sunset.
For each of the next four days, we will have an early hot breakfast prepared by one of the all time best cooks in the north before heading out in search for polar bears until sunset. This is a ground based tour which gets you up close to the bears to view them at eye level, a once in a life experience to say the least. Once we spot a bear I will do my best to get the vehicle into the best possible viewing position and when it’s safe to do so, we will be able to get out of our vehicle to photograph polar bears. Simply amazing. Other animals that we may come in contact with are arctic foxes, red fox, wolves, ptarmigan, eagles and arctic hares. Once the light is gone and we have worked up an appetite we will return to our cozy home base to enjoy a fabulous home cooked meal followed by dessert, drinks and chatter of the excitement of the day. If the conditions present themselves we will go out to photograph and view the incredible Northern Lights, a sight that is beyond words.
We will have one last morning to search for polar bears. Your tour will end around midday to coincide with the return flight to Winnipeg.
“I had an unforgettable trip with Johnny’s tour in Nov 2023. And let me list a few key aspects that in my opinion made Johnny’s tour vastly superior to many others: A small group in full sized pickup trucks was by far more convenient and more practical compared to larger groups in minivans and such (particularly for photographers like us who at times wanted to get in and out of the car very quickly to get THE shot). Having all meals included was a huge plus, from both cost and convenience perspectives. And not just any meals, but some excellent home-made meals prepared by the amazing Jenafor at BlueSky B&B. All the folks at BlueSky made us truly feel part of the family even though we just had a very short stay there. It was so comforting coming back “home” after a long day of photographing bears and other wildlife on the tundra. Lastly Johnny has been in this area numerous times over the years, and Gerald at BlueSky is a local. So they are very familiar with every corner, and with them as our guides, we had no issues finding many polar bears, and other wildlife (many foxes including an Arctic Fox, arctic hare, etc.) during our short stay.” –Kambiz Shoarinejad, Tustin, CA, USA. (Nov. 2023)
“Going to Churchill to photograph polar bears was a bucket list item for us. We felt like going with Johnny was the best decision we made. He loves the bears and wants more than anything to protect them and see them thrive. It was truly a moving experience to witness this. With his 2 trucks and extra guide, we had the best opportunity for photography. And we had so many opportunities to see the behaviors and beauty of the animals. His collaboration with Jenafor and Gerald at Bluesky Bed and Sled is ideal. So relaxing to be able to go straight back to our lodge after a long day of bear photography and look forward to a fantastic home-cooked meal. Jenafor is an amazing cook. We have nothing but awesome memories of this trip and couldn’t be happier with the photos we brought home with us.Thank you so much for a fantastic week!” -Amy Tyson, Colorado, USA. (Nov. 2023)
“Johnny has nailed the ingredients of an amazing tour to Churchill. His experience of over two decades with the polar bears, coupled with his world class photography expertise culminates in a fabulous experience. Each day is wrapped in the warmth of the Bluesky Bed and Sled accommodation. Local, genuine hospitality that is unbeatable. His collaboration with the lifetime local guides results in a wonderful engagement. If you want to truly fill your soul, spend a week with Johnny Hayward Photo.” Paul Wright, Whistler, B.C., Canada. (Nov. 2022)
“I just wanted to thank you again for such a spectacular experience and for your patience, guidance and valuable hints and tips to help us improve our photography. It was so exhilarating and awe-inspiring to be amongst those majestic polar bears, and to capture those images.” -Tony Trott, Calgary, Alberta. (Oct. 2022)
“I had a wonderful time with Johnny Hayward Photo in Churchill. We saw around 20 bears and several foxes, the photographic experience was amazing. Thank you Johnny for your constant good mood, your endless help in all situations and photographic matters. Johnny is always at the right position at the right moment with the perfect angle! All was very well organized , comfortable and spacious truck, nice and cosy B&B with amazing food (thanks to Jennafor and Gerald from BlueSky Bed & Sled). Hope to come back one day for a new unforgettable experience!” Sophie Rapp, Morocco (Nov 2022)
Questions and Answers:
What kind of temperature can I expect?
Well its northern Canada so to say it varies is an understatement but typically it can range -5 to -30 degrees Celsius with windchill. I work with layers so I can adjust my warmth throughout the day this allows me to take something off if I get too warm while in the truck. A warm truck is always close to take reprieve but for those who like to stay out for a long time warm books and mitts/gloves are a must. For boots I swear by Fubuki to keep my tootsies warm. www.fubukiboots.com
Pack yourself a warm parka with a hood, ski pants or like, the warmest gloves you can find, hat, face cover. For the environment if you could please bring your own coffee thermos and water bottle as we want to leave the smallest footprint from our visit as possible.
What is the ability level?
This would be rated as easy for most wildlife photographers and adventure seekers as most of the travel each day is in a heated four wheel drive full sized pickup truck. Guests should be prepared for extreme weather and severe cold.
What focal length is best to photograph polar bears?
These animals are apex predators so my main lens is mostly a 800mm focal range or a 600mm with a 1.4X. Thats not to say that you can’t get away with a 100-400mm which I have made some incredible images with especially as a bear approaches and like every photoshoot I always have a wide angle lens ready to make the atmospheric images that may present themselves. For travel cases and backpacks I highly recommend Canadian made Nanuk products, www.nanukcases.ca you can receive 15% off any products there if you add promo code johnnyhayward15 at checkout.
How far are we to the bears?
We can not get closer than 100 meters/300 feet from a bear however bears may close that gap and come closer to us. This is where you guide will access the situation to keep both the bears and the guests safe while maintaining an optimal place to photograph and view from. Safety is the top priority. Our job is to simply view and not to obstruct or challenge a bear in any way.
When is the best time to view polar bears?
From Oct. to mid Nov. is the best time. This is because the waters from the Churchill River flow into Hudson’s Bay allowing sea ice to form along the shores of Churchill before anywhere else. This sea ice is crucial for the polar bear to get out to its hunting grounds to look for seal which is their main source of food.
What happens when nature calls (aka I need to use a washroom)?
Making a trip to a washroom is never an issue, just communicate with your guide and we can head to either the research centre, to the airport or back to the bed and breakfast depending on where we are at the time of need.
What are the dining options?
Churchill has several restaurants however due to Johnny Hayward Photo renting an entire bed and breakfast we have the ability to do all of our own meals which is included in the price. All breads are made on site with daily with freshly ground Manitoba wheat, be prepared for some of the best home cooked meals that you have encountered on a wildlife trip. Any special food requirements have to be made at the time of booking as setting the menu and the gathering of supplies happens months and weeks prior to your arrival.
Will there be wifi?
Indeed there is, our bed and breakfast has incredible wifi so you can upload your photos as you see fit and or stay in contact with loved ones back home. Cell coverage is great around the town of Churchill but quickly gets lost when we are out in the field with the bears. Your guide will have a two way radio to keeps us in touch with home base and other guides.
How do I get to Churchill?
When travelling from Winnipeg to Churchill you have two options. You can fly directly from Winnipeg airport via Calm Air www.calmair.com or you can take the train from either Winnipeg or Thompson www.viarail.ca
With Calm Air you can sometimes book with your Aeroplan but this has to be done by calling Calm Air directly.
Should I get insurance?
I would strongly suggest travel insurance that would include trip cancellation, medical evacuation lost or stolen luggage and or camera equipment. Johnny Hayward photo will not be held responsible for missed connections or any other travel related issues. Sorry but we have to adhere to our cancellation policy.
Will we see other types of wildlife:
Though wildlife viewing is not guaranteed anywhere due to nature being nature there is a high probability of seeing arctic foxes, red fox, wolves, ptarmigan, eagles and arctic hares. This year a wolverine was spotted so you just never know what you will come upon.
EMAIL FOR 2024 PRICING AND TOUR DATES SPACES ARE FILLING UP QUICKLY.
To secure spaces email me at email@example.com once I receive your email I will send an invoice for a 50% deposit per person with the balance being due 120 days before the trip. Invoices can be paid via visa, mastercard, amex or e-transfers. Your reservation isn’t confirmed until I receive the deposit in full. Due to the geographical location and small number of guests 100% cancelations are only available up until 120 days prior to your trip. Travel insurance is highly recommended.