Monday, 30 July 2012

Svalbard photographic expedition

I just returned from an amazing expedition to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.  I was traveling as a photo guide together with my good friend Ole Jørgen Liodden (, and a fun group of photographers from Russia. On this ten day trip we only had a rough outline of our route. Instead of setting up a detailed plan we go with the changing conditions to provide the best photographic opportunities for our clients, and ourselves. On this expedition I believe we did quit well.

Perfect reflection in Adventsdalen. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/200 sec @ f/9, ISO 250
I started on my own with a couple of days in Longyearbyen. Spending the nights out around the settlement can really provide with some great photography. The nights are usually calm, and with a hint of midnight sun it came together on a few occasions. Several arctic birds and an Arctic Fox were captured in pleasant light.

Arctic turn on the run. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/8 sec @ f/11, ISO100
Boarding the small vessel M/S Origo on the 15th of July we set up a rough outline of the trip and convinced the guests that we should go as fast as possible northwards. So we did, only stopping to check of a couple of Polar Bears on the way.

Northern Fulmar following the vessel on the way north. Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 1/1600 sec @ f/8, ISO 800
What surprised me on this trip was how far north we needed to go to find ice. At one point we even crossed 82° North. The next few days we moved slowly eastwards in the drifting ice. Constantly using binoculars to spot wildlife, Liodden, the crew and myself were scouting on shifts. You might think finding Polar Bears and other wildlife are easy in the Arctic but it does need some real effort.  Just to make a point I will sum up our trip at ones. We met some Germans that was in the ice and was lucky to find one Polar Bear. We found a total of 38 on our ten days! Of course this is not normal, but it shows that with knowledge and some effort you will have more success.

82 degrees north - top of the world. Nikon D800, 16mm fisheye, 1/400 sec @f/10, ISO 160
Polar Bear tracks on drifting sea ice. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/400 sec @ f/13, ISO 160
One of the many Polar Bears we met in the northern oceans. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/1600 sec @ f/8, ISO 320
It is a special feeling to go slowly through the drifting ice, as the summer mist makes visibility hard. The only sound except the engine is of ice floes getting crushed against the boat. Suddenly, as you feel like you are getting closer to the top of the world, a yellowish shape is moving across the horizon – the Polar Bear. The difference between bears in the ice, and on shore is huge. The Polar Bear belongs in the ice, with plenty of food to go around. Three of the bears we found in the ice actually had a seal kill. At one point three bears were hanging around, partly sharing a large seal carcass. An amazing sighting in “the middle of nowhere”.

Feeding Polar Bear at night. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/250 sec @ f/7,1 ISO 320
Summer swim in the Arctic. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/2000 sec @ f/7,1, ISO 800
Two large male bears sharing a seal kill. Nikon D4, 500mm and 1,4 ext, 1/1600 sec @ f/6,3, ISO 800
With the ice being far north we passed over Nordaustlandet and continued down the stunning Austfonna glacier. This is one of the largest glacier fronts in the world measuring over 200km from north to south. We were of course hoping to get Polar Bears on blue ice along this cap, but instead we were blessed with four Humpback Whales bubble net feeding and eventually breaching close to our vessel. Even the chef got the photos to prove it!

Waterfalls from Austfonna Glacier. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/2000 sec @ f/11, ISO 800
Feeding Humpback Whales. Nikon D800, 70-200mm, 1/160 sec @ f/8, ISO 320
Humpback Whales east of Svalbard. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/400 sec @ f/7,1, ISO 320
Hearing rumors of 10-12 bears in front of a glacier a bit further south we anchored for the night and had a well-deserved rest for guest, guides and crew. The next morning we headed into this “secret bay”.  The large glacier in the background made it hard to spot any abnormal shapes, but suddenly the first Polar Bear showed up, then the next and the next. From the vessel we spotted at least 12-15 bears and decided to enter the Zodiacs.

Zodiac cruise in a "secret bay". Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/ 3200 sec @ f/10, ISO 800
During the next 24 hours we spent 10 in Zodiacs on three different cruises, not raising anchor before 3 o’clock in the morning. A total of 19 bears were counted in this bay, all of them mothers with cubs and younger animals. Some were really inquisitive and gave us some great photography.

Mum and her two youngsters. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/1000 sec @ f/11, ISO 1000
Getting close to the Polar Bear. Nikon D4, 24-70mm, 1/1600 sec @ f/7,1, ISO 800
Resting Polar Bear at night. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/1000 sec @ f/9, ISO 800
The next morning (around midday) we were woken up by the anchor as we had arrived at one of the major Walrus haulouts in the Hinlopen strait. The chef served another great lunch and we entered the Zodiacs again. This was our first proper landing in several days and the guests were eager to get ashore. After securing the beach, making sure no Polar Bears were hiding nearby, we moved slowly towards the pile of Walruses on the other side of the beach. Sitting down on the beach seemed very effective, as the animals were very curious of these two-legged creatures. We spent almost five hours photographing Walruses and nearby scenery. A great landing!

Getting to know my neighbor on the beach. Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 1/50 sec @ f/8, ISO 320, and flash
Still room for one more. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/160 sec @ f/11, ISO 250
With a promising forecast we started our journey northwards to get the best light at Alkefjellet. As we moved north the sea settled and the sun started peaking through. Brünnich’s Guillemots became more and more abundant and added to the spectacular scenery along the coast. Arriving at Alkefjellet, pretty much everyone was startled by the pure abundance of birds and the constant noise. Cameras were going warm, and we continued shooting from the vessel and from Zodiacs until early morning.

Brünnich's Guillemots by night. Nikon D4, 14-24mm, 1/1250 sec @ f/7,1, ISO 400
Alkefjellet cathedral. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/1000 sec @ f/8, ISO 250
As the vessel moved north in the early morning, I was talking to the first officer on the bridge about whaling and his childhood dream to become a whaler. Today he was enjoying the “whale hunt” with photographers and was glad that he did not go into the shady business of hunting the marine giants. As we were chatting along I suddenly spotted two large spouts further north. As we were getting closer it turned out to be two large Fin Whales. One of the largest animals on earth. The next couple of hours we enjoyed their presence, getting lots of nice images. I believe all went to bed, pretty content, at 8 in the morning, as the boat continued north and west into the fjords.

Two Fin Whales in Hinlopen. Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 1/1250 sec @ f/7,1, ISO 640
Later that evening we woke up just in time for dinner, and realized we anchored up near the always stunning Monaco Glacier. After a solid meal we headed out on a Zodiac cruise among the ice. Getting closer to the glacier we heard the rumbling sound of the calving glacier, but always at a safe distance. The waves formed by the falling ice was the only thing that moved the water in the fjord this evening. The guests were happy to stretch their legs and to use those tripods. There were some brilliant landscape photographers among the Russians. Leaving Liefdefjorden we were followed by no less then 30 Belugas. My first encounter with this white whale among the ice.

Monaco Glacier in evening light. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, 1/640 sec @ f/11, ISO 160
Midnight reflection, Liefdefjorden. Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 1/800 sec @ f/7,1, ISO 250, Polarizer
The following evening we visited another of the famous Svalbard glacier, Lilliehöökbreen. A Bearded Seal gave us some nice images, as well as some amazingly blue ice.

Bearded Seal on ice floe. Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 1/250 sec @ f/5,6, ISO 400
Blue ice. Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 1/320 sec @ f/6,3, ISO 500
The last day we visited Alkehornet to finish of with some landscapes and Svalbard Reindeer. We also heard rumors about Arctic Fox cubs. It didn’t take long before we saw two cubs playing, but when we arrived they were gone. On the way down to the Zodiacs we walked right into them and had a marvelous time watching and photographing these little critters. Lunch was late again, but everyone was happy.

Arctic Fox cub, taking life easy. Nikon D4, 500mm, 1/1250 sec @ f/5,6, ISO 800

This was a perfect trip!

I will be guiding a similar trip in 2013, but all spots have been reserved. ( Contact Naturfokus for enquiries on future photographic expeditions to Svalbard. 

Photographic equipment on this expedition;

Camera bodies
Nikon D4
Nikon D800
Nikon D3s

500mm f/4
70-200mm f/2,8
24-70mm f/2,8
14-24mm f/2,8
16mm fisheye f/2,8
24mm tilt/shift f/3,5
105mm f/2,8 macro
TC14 extender
TC20 extender

SB 900 flash
R1C1 macro flashes
Nikon EDG binoculars
Sacthler tripod
Macbook Pro
And tons of little things...


Kenneth McDowell said...

Roy, this is all magic :-)

Niccolò Bonfadini said...

Very well done Roy, I guess all your clients were satisfied with so many polar bears and great photography.

The pictures here are really breath taking!


Kolbjørn Pedersen said...

Fantastic series Roy. The light is just pure magic.

stella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stella said...

Photos so magical, that I remained without words ....

Arnfinn said...

Flotte bilder. Hvilke inntrykk har du av D800 så langt ? Regner med du har E versjonen.

Geir Ole said...

Heilt supre bilder Roy!
Fleire som blir favorittar i dette knippe, men strukturen, lyset og tonen i Austfonna breen ........aldeles nydelig :)

Roy Mangersnes said...

Thanks for all your nice words!

Arnfinn; jeg er veldig fornøyd med D800 (har standard utgaven). Jeg har aldri sett maken til rå filer. Litt lett bygd for min smak, men selv etter to runder i dørken på båten så ser den ut til å holde formen (jeg er vant med D3 og D4 serien som tåler mer juling).

Mvh, Roy

Anne-Lise said...

En fryd å "være med til Svalbard" på en så fantastisk, vellykka fotoekspedisjon! Tenker enhver var fornøyde med alle disse inntrykkene, hva både natur, dyr og fugl ga, og sikkert også maten ombord! Skikkelig flotte bilder du viser frem her! Forsøkte meg på å plukke ut en favoritt, men DET er en stor utfordring... Ikke rart neste tur allerede er fullbooka! Rett og slett helt rått! DU er god! Må anbefale denne reportasjen til andre BioFotinger på Sørlandet, og andre fotointeresserte!

Roy Mangersnes said...

Takk for det Anne-Lise. Du må bare dele med hvem du vil :-)


UWVIDEO1 said...

Beautiful photos! It looks like a fantastic place to shoot.

Torbjørn Wingsternes said...

Imponerende natur formidlet på imponerende vis.
En fryd for øyet.

Jesús Chueca Zalba said...

As you enjoy seeing the work of a true professional photographer while you discover the carancias of one and the road ahead. Great blog with some extraordinary photos, congratulations for that.
Greetings from Spain.

Knut-Sverre Horn said...

Flott og variert serie, og det forlatte og blodige isflaket på NPB var enda sterkere.

Men du er kanskje litt rå i etterbehandingen et par steder. Antydning til glorie rundt havhesten, og himmelen over Monacobreen er kanskje litt vel mørk? Eller var det så dramatisk?

Lorents H Blomseth said...

Super serie, kjenner jeg må tilbake til isbjørnens rike igjen jeg også, over et år siden sist nå :-)
Det siste polarrevbildet er stort !

northierthanthou said...

Very cool pictures. It is surprising that you had to go that far North to find ice. Even with today's climate, that's a ways out.

Bob Baillargeon said...

Absolutely beautiful work Roy! That Nikon glass produces some remarkable colours.

SKIZO said...


Tom Dyring said...

Flott !! Det er vanskelig å ta bilder fra Svalbard etterhvert synes jeg, fordi så mange har tatt så like bilder, men du leverer varene igjen. Jeg synes faktisk at hvalrossene, blåselen og reven er de fineste.

Anita said...

Så fantastisk flott!

Scott (@NESASK) said...

Love these extraordinary photographs of amazing landscape and wildlife. Greetings from Canada.

Jill c",) said...

Du er fantastisk heldig som får ta bilder i et slikt fantastisk landskap og mer en dyktig:)

Drømte meg helt bort her inne på bloggen din:)

Fredrik Broms said...

Fantastisk bilde-serie, og det klør i D800-fingrene..


Seraphina´s Phantasie said...

Gorgeous ! Stunning ! Awesome ! Magical ! Thanx a lot !
Best regards, Synnöve

Pinto Peanut said...

You are so lucky person that you can visit these wonderful places. You are also a great photographer.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch. I really appreciate you reading through all of them.

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