Picture Perfect Polar Bear

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Gulbransen’s winning photo of a polar bear on Hudson Bay.
Gulbransen’s winning photo of a polar bear on Hudson Bay.

Out of 66,000 submissions, one Syosset resident’s photograph of a polar bear on the Hudson Bay won The Weather Channel’s 2016 “It’s Amazing Out There” grand prize. Although photography serves as more of a hobby for Greg Gulbransen, he was able to beat out professional photographers with his rare photo.

Gulbransen, a pediatrician in Oyster Bay and professor at the Hofstra University School of Medicine, never envisioned photography becoming a part of his life. The art began as a release for him about 14 years ago after a tragic accident. Gulbransen had gone outside to move his car from the street to the driveway, not realizing that his 2-year-old son had run out behind him. While backing up his SUV, he accidentally ran over his son, who died an hour later. The horrific tragedy prompted him to begin lobbying in Washington in an effort to get a bill passed regarding rear view cameras in cars.

“The fight was very difficult,” recalled Gulbransen as he discussed the proposed bill inspired by his son. Because of his unrelenting fight, as of 2018 any vehicle sold in the US will be required to have a rear view camera. He hopes the passage of the bill will prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

Syosset resident Greg Gulbransen, winner of the “It’s Amazing Out There” grand prize.
Syosset resident Greg Gulbransen, winner of the “It’s Amazing Out There” grand prize.

In search of a release from the unimaginable pain of losing his son, Gulbransen would take his camera up and down the beach snapping photos of his surroundings.

“It was so therapeutic,” said Gulbransen. He now uses photography to get out of the office and connect with nature. His main interest is in photographing birds, bears and adverse weather.

“If there is bad weather coming, I will be outside with my camera,” said Gulbransen. “When the weather is very adverse and it’s wild out there, as long as authorities aren’t telling you to stay inside, you should go out with a camera.”

His love for inclement weather and animals brought him to the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada, where he stayed in a lodge with an unidentifiable location for about four days in hopes of capturing photographs of polar bears. He shot his grand prize winning photo the morning after a night marked by a drastic decrease in temperature and blustery weather.

“The water was evaporating and you could see the sunlight shining right through,” Gulbransen said regarding the picture perfect moment on the Hudson Bay. He had his camera set up with the intention of taking shots of the magenta-toned scenery when he spotted a polar bear. At this point, his camera was running out of battery.

“If God gives me one shot,” Gulbransen thought to himself as the polar bear walked into the frame. As the bear lifted its head he was able to capture the shot, and ultimately a $15,000 grand prize, just moments before his camera died.

“I really didn’t think I was going to win,” said Gulbransen, recalling the moment he got the phone call from The Weather Channel. “They said I won and I remember getting a tear in my eye. I never won anything. I couldn’t believe it. The fact that I won something made me realize I’m being recognized for doing it well.”

Gulbransen was chosen out of 64 finalists because of the rarity of the photo. The weather patterns and the polar bear all appeared to come together at the right moment, creating a profoundly raw image that a panel of judges believed was deserving of the grand prize.
“You want to keep your image small in the frame,” said Gulbransen, explaining what he learned from winning this contest. “You want to show the creature in the environment and tell the story.”

The pediatrician, professor and photographer said he will continue to take trips for photography. On the anniversary of September 11, he hung out of a helicopter to take pictures of the lights shining from the freedom tower. He will continue to make one bear trip a year to take photos of both grizzly and polar bears. In July of 2017, Gulbransen plans to take a trip to Alaska to photograph grizzly bears and musk oxen.

As for whether or not he will continue to enter contests, he said that he will occasionally throw in pictures to newspapers and remain open to the idea of taking photos for competitive purposes, but is mostly competitive with himself.

“I will always try,” said Gulbransen. “I will be shooting for more.”

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