Photo of hot air balloon in Arctic up for award

Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg's image of a hot air balloon flying between two columns of an iceberg is in contention for a National Geographic photo contest.
Valberg and her companions had been camped for 12 days before winds calmed down enough to fly up in the balloon. (Submitted by Michelle Valberg)

An Ottawa photographer is in contention for a National Geographic photo contest for her image of a hot-air balloon flying between two columns of an iceberg near Arctic Bay, Nunavut.

"It was probably one of the most unique photos. I mean, who thinks of seeing a hot air balloon between two icebergs," said Michelle Valberg.

The enormous iceberg in the image is actually one iceberg, with the balloon seemingly tucked in between two of its largest columns.

Valberg's image was nominated in the National Geographic Traveler reader photo contest for 2012. The winners for the contest are expected to be announced in August.

The image is unique, but the circumstances that led to it were no accident.

Valberg was at a campsite in Nunavut in June after a wealthy tourist from Mexico hired her along with a Toronto-based company called Arctic Kingdom to lead him and his family on a tour of the remote north. Arctic Kingdom outfits companies, filmmakers, scientists and tourists for northern expeditions.

Unusual requests included balloon, helicopters

Among the unique requests of the tourist were two helicopters and a hot air balloon, both to provide once-in-a-lifetime views of the region.

Valberg said the man bankrolling the operation also had an interest in photography.

"He was a very good photographer... it's not what he does as a profession but he certainly had all the kit and caboodle, he had every known lens and camera," said Valberg.

The tour was camped out on the ice about 150 kilometres from Arctic Bay, Nunavut when gusting winds in the region had finally died down enough for the balloon to fly.

She said that as far as she knows, the voyage is the highest latitude passenger flight on a hot air balloon ever. But it's her striking image as the balloon passes into view between two pillars of one enormous iceberg that helped make it memorable for her.

"It ranks up there with uniqueness... and the lighting just happened to be perfect," she said.