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Stunning photo of balloon, iceberg in National Geographic contest

A Canadian photographer is in contention for a National Geographic photo contest's top prize for her image of a hot-air balloon flying between two columns of an iceberg near Arctic Bay in Canada's eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut.

"It was probably one of the most unique photos. I mean, who thinks of seeing a hot air balloon between two icebergs," said photographer 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 should be announced later this month.

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.

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 90 miles 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.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.