Flying and Photographing in the Arctic

Article and photographs by Jason Pineau
January 15, 2013

The most important key to my photography is to always have my camera close by.  As a pilot first and a photographer second, I never know when or where my next photo will be taken.   Usually my camera and lenses are packed right alongside my flying headset and lunch for the day.  A lot of days I end up too busy to pull the camera out, but every so often I get a break, and anywhere from five minutes to five hours to shoot whatever is around. 


Wilberforce Falls, Nunavut by Jason Pineau ©
Wilburforce Falls in Nunavut, taken from the airplane in the dead of Winter and the heat of summer.

Whatever’s around can include pretty much anything, but of course (usually) being at an airport, one of my main focuses are aircraft.  I enjoy capturing aircraft of the north in their unique operating conditions, whether it be a big jet aircraft off of a gravel runway, or a 70-year old DC-3, or a Twin Otter bush plane sitting in the middle of nowhere.  Winter lasts for a long time in the north, and although the cold can be brutal, it also brings clear skies, beautiful, all-day soft light, and unique photo opportunities. 


Twin Otter parked on a hill in the Arctic by Jason Pineau

Our Twin Otter parked on a hill in the middle of the Arctic tundra.


Sunset Cambridge Bay, Nunavut by Jason Pineau ©

A sunset view of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, with the old stone church.


But aircraft are not the only things I shoot on my travels.   There are often beautiful landscapes to capture, or shots of the small communities we visit.  And of course wildlife, such as last summer at a remote camp on the Arctic coast, where I followed a pack of wolves around the runway for about an hour!  This was part of one of my most memorable trips, spending four days camping and waiting at a handful of different spots across the blazing-red tundra.

Arctic wolf howling on the tundra by Jason Pineau ©

Just one of about a dozen wolves that were living near the airstrip at the remote Tree River fishing camp.


The Tree River by Jason Pineau ©

The Tree River, just before it flows into the Arctic Ocean on Nunavut’s mainland coast.



Northern Lights over Point Lake, NWT by Jason Pineau ©

The northern lights arc across the sky while we spend the night in a small cabin on Point Lake, NWT.


This is how about half of my photos are shot, while the other half are taken on more normal outings, road trips, or at night under the aurora borealis.  Whether taking my camera flying, or just out for a quick photo session in Yellowknife, my gear remains essentially the same.  I usually carry 3 lenses, covering the range from 16 to 400mm.  Add in the Canon 5D Mk II body, a flash, and an aviation-band radio scanner, (for the photos of aircraft!) and I’m left with a fairly rugged, and compact kit.



Boat in winter on shores of Lac Le Martre, NWT by Jason Pineau ©

A boat on the shores of Lac Le Martre, NWT awaits warmer temperatures.


Northern Lights above Yellowknife's houseboat community by Jason Pineau ©

The northern lights dancing above Yellowknife’s houseboat community.

With so many clear, cold nights during the winter, I’m always looking up at the sky to see when the Aurora will make an appearance, and I’ve enjoyed trying different approaches to capturing them.  Panoramas have become a favourite, and as an extension of that, 360 degree virtual tours.  The virtual tours have provided a unique challenge in that finding a location sufficiently away from city lights and with an interesting 360 degree foreground can be difficult to do.  For the panoramas and the virtual tours, a panoramic tripod head is essential, along with a wide angle lens.  I use a Canon 16-35 f2.8, but in the case of virtual tours, a fisheye lens would be best.


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The northern lights above the floatplane base in Yellowknife. To view more of Jason's spherical panoramas and other arctic photographs please visit his web site. To view more VR panoramas click here.


Jason Pineau portrait in winter  

Bio :Jason Pineau is based out of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.  He specializes in aviation photography, as well as Auroras and landscapes.  He is a regular photo contributor to Canadian Skies Magazine, and has been featured in the coffee table book, “Buffalo Airways – Home of the Ice Pilots.”



More of his photography can be seen at





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