Audun Rikardsen

Water droplets cascade from the tail of a humpback whale as it plunges into the sea at night.

Canon Ambassador and wildlife photographer Audun Rikardsen managed to capture this humpback whale in motion as it dived into the dark polar night in the northern Norwegian fjords. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 70mm, 1/200 sec, f/3.2 and ISO2000. © Audun Rikardsen

A love of the Arctic led Norwegian marine biologist and Canon Ambassador Audun Rikardsen to blaze a trail that combined both his passions.

It's fair to say there aren't many photographers like Audun. Not only is he a professional wildlife photographer, but he is also a science professor at UiT, The Arctic University of Norway. He possesses talent, knowledge and resources that have allowed him to capture spectacular scenes above and below the water and, just as often, in-between the two with equipment adapted for split-level photography.

Audun's close-up yet wide-angle images typically feature whales, caribou, eagles and other birds, as well as many species of fish and invertebrates. Expect to see an Arctic creature basking in the icy seas below the low-lit backdrop of snow-clad landscapes, or enigmatic night skies illuminated by the Northern Lights. "I often get ideas for 'impossible' pictures that have not been taken before," he explains.

Audun designs and builds his own specialised photography equipment. "Often there is no equipment available on the market for such specific pictures, and therefore I have to make the necessary accessories myself. For example, I've made special underwater housings for low-light conditions, flash systems, floating remote-controlled camera rigs or other types of remote-controlled camera systems. Many of them have given me some great pictures, but others have been a total failure. It is all about thinking differently, being creative, daring to try and never giving up. And yes, if you develop your own system that works well and no-one else has, you will, of course, be able to take different pictures that may be unique."

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Audun Rikardsen.
Location: Norway
Specialist areas: Nature, landscape, wildlife
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS R6
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
A golden eagle lands on a tree branch in a snow-covered landscape.

Audun captured this image of a golden eagle on the northern Norwegian coast, around 1.5km from his home. It was awarded best picture in the bird category at the UK National History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards in 2019. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 11mm, 1/2500 sec, f/14 and ISO800. © Audun Rikardsen

The result is a unique perspective, leading to some truly incredible images that have been greeted with international acclaim and an impressive collection of accolades, including a Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio award and the Fritz Pölking Prize. Audun has also been named the overall winner of the Siena International Photo Awards, the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the Arctic Photographer of the Year (two times), the Nordic Photographer of the Year (three times) and the Norwegian Nature Photographer of the Year.

Growing up in the small fishing community of Steigen, in Northern Norway, inspired Audun's two loves, biology and photography; but it was as a science professor completing Arctic fieldwork on Bear Island in 2009 that his photographic ambitions became reality. Two years later he won his first major international award and his photography career took off.

A sea eagle, its wings outstretched, lands on a lighthouse balcony in front of a golden sunset.

After a ban on hunting sea eagles in Norway in the late 1960s, the birds increased in number and are now starting to use new and unusual locations for nesting, such as this former lighthouse. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 6D Mark II) with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 16mm, 1/250 sec, f/11 and ISO400. © Audun Rikardsen

Audun admits that it's a challenge to have two jobs and to be a father to his young daughter. However, being able to combine his photography and his science work can save him time and give him opportunities that he otherwise might not have had. "It is a great advantage to have the scientific knowledge of the ecosystem I photograph," he says. "This helps me to take better pictures, and also to tell the full story behind them. I often use my pictures to publicise my scientific work, and I've seen what a powerful tool pictures can be in this regard. It is often the pictures that sell the stories to the media. Therefore, combining my photography and science is a win-win situation."

Audun's unique skill set has led to him becoming a highly sought-after speaker, competition judge and tutor, and his images have frequently appeared in the Norwegian and international press, including National Geographic, GEO, BBC Wildlife Magazine and others. He has also made frequent appearances on television programmes and documentaries, talking about both his photography and his scientific research. In 2016, he became Tromsø's citizen of the year, and in 2019 he won the Research Council of Norway's Award for Excellence in Communication of Science.

What focus type do you use?

"Usually Single Point AF; I place the focus towards the edge of the image in order to compose the picture as much as possible in camera. Many photographers prefer to use a centre focus and then compose the picture by cropping it in post, but they will lose pixels. However, the new 'intelligent focus' of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 is just amazing. I am now starting to use the full field of focus points because these cameras are just so good at following and locking the focus on your target without switching to other objects."

Do you use a tripod or do you prefer shooting handheld?

"With the exception of most of my night shots and when I'm using camera traps, I rarely use tripods. I find I'm much more flexible without one – and I often like to get down for a very low perspective."

What do you do in post-production?

"Adjustments such as colour temperature, exposure, sharpness and contrast. My split-level shots are obviously high contrast, so I adjust the highlights and shadows to make the final image appear closer to the way our eyes would see it."

What's been the toughest Arctic species to shoot?

"The white-tailed eagle. I wanted images that had never been taken before: a wide close-up of the eagle grabbing a fish from the water, and one from a fish's perspective underwater. It took years to develop the right system and find the right eagles, light, wind and current conditions to make it finally happen. But it was worth it!"

What's the best way for a new wildlife photographer to develop their skills?

"Practise as a 'couch photographer'. Play with your camera on your sofa and learn all of its possibilities and functions. That way you know exactly what to do when a possibility appears in the field, increasing your chances of a successful and unique picture."

One thing I know

Auden Rikardsen

"Many photographers overlook their own backyard. It's a myth that you need to travel on long, organised trips to remote areas to take unique wildlife pictures. This has become even more relevant since the Covid-19 situation began. Going on organised trips may give you great experiences, but you'll probably just get the same shots as all the other participants. Explore your own surroundings, even if it is just your garden, city park or local riverbank. Then you can take your time and be in the right place at the right time. With some planning and creativity, you'll create unique, self-made images that are hopefully different from other pictures."

Facebook: Audun-Rikardsen-Photography


Audun Rikardsen's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Audun Rikardsen's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The ultimate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "It's about the same shape as the earlier EOS-1D X versions, so it fits nicely into my older underwater housing," says Audun. "This is the camera I use during the most extreme conditions. It always delivers."

Canon EOS R6

The radical EOS R6 features technology that will have you falling in love with photography all over again. "This camera, together with the R5, is a 'game changer'." says Audun. "The new intelligent autofocus over the full sensor is just amazing. It also has the built-in stabiliser that together with the RF lenses almost make tripods unnecessary in many situations."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This accomplished all-rounder is engineered to give high-quality performance in every situation. "It's a few years old, but it's still my favourite all-around camera for most conditions both above and below the water's surface. This camera has given me so much; it's one of the best I've ever owned," says Audun.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

With a full-frame sensor and compact design, this 26.2MP DSLR is ideal for portrait photography, offering tight control over depth of field. Audun says: "This is my must-use camera for motion trap photography and most of my camera traps. That's why I have three of them."


Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture more, even in low light, with this fast f/2.8 L-series, RF-range ultra-wide angle 15-35mm zoom with 5-stops of image stabilisation. "This is a perfect wide-angle lens for my low-light photography up here in the north during the harsh Arctic night," Audun says. "Also, this lens works perfectly for my camera traps, as I can attach a screw filter (usually UV) to further protect it from extreme weather."

Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

A highly versatile 24-105mm zoom lens offering photographers and filmmakers an ideal balance between performance, portability and image quality. "This is the lens that I always bring with my RF cameras," says Audun.

Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM

With a 100-500mm focal length range, plus 5-stop image stabilisation and L-series build quality, the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM offers performance and image quality like no other. "This new super-zoom with high-quality optics delivers ultra-sharp images across its zoom range," says Audun. "It is compact and light, and can be combined with the new RF extenders, giving additional range without losing much performance. This lens has become a new favourite for me."

Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

A versatile fisheye zoom lens offering a choice of full-frame or circular image. "This is my go-to lens for underwater shots and split-level pictures," says Audun. "It's very flexible and also great to play with if you want a picture with a different perspective, or to add a little humour."

Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM

The complete range of ultra wide-angle focal lengths in a single high-quality zoom lens, perfect for those shooting landscapes, architecture and interiors on location. "My favourite extreme wide-angle lens. Super sharp, flexible and very wide, it's probably the best on the market," says Audun. "I use this for landscapes, split-level pictures and close-ups of wildlife."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

Fast, flexible and built for any assignment, this lens is a popular choice for professional photographers. "An excellent and extremely sharp lens," Audun says. "I use this often under low-light conditions, for example for photographing whales during the polar night in the north. It also works great with teleconverters."

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Combining high-quality optics with a four-stop Image Stabiliser, this lens delivers ultra-sharp images across its zoom range. "It's very flexible and delivers excellent sharpness. It works especially well when you have to compose your framing fast – for example when you don't know when or where your subject will show up. It's my most-used lens for whale photography," says Audun.


Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

Engineered for fast frame rate shooting and usable off-camera or in the hotshoe, allowing you to take complete control over lighting. "It has a powerful flash, is very versatile and gives me multiple options for light settings," says Audun.

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