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Svalbard 2014 - The High Arctic

by Peter Cox

14 Image Stitch (handheld)
Nikon D800E, ISO 400, 24-70mm, 1250th/sec at f/8
By Kevin Raber 

Publishers Note:

Since 2005 I have been fascinated with the Antarctica region and have visited there six times with each trip having special memories for me.  For whatever reason I somehow never explored the Northern Polar region until last year.   That trip was totally awesome.  Here is an article on that trip we published a year ago. 
On that trip our Expedition Leader (EL) was Morten Jorgensen.  In my travels I have worked with many EL’s but none were on the level of Morten.  His knowledge of the region as well as his passion for the plight of the Polar Bear was amazing.  His knowledge extended to the birds and all other wildlife. Plus, he understood what photographers were looking for and made sure that we were at the right places at the best times to experience photographically this amazing part of our planet.
During the trip I got to be friends with Morten and made sure we could work again.  Coincidentally he was EL on the Luminous-Landscape workshop in January 2014.  Ask anyone on that Antarctica Trip and you’ll hear the same words to describe a perfect trip.  You can read about that incredible voyage plus see a video in our Antarctica 2014 – A Most Amazing Trip article.  I am happy to report that Morten will be back onboard with us as EL for our two back to back trips beginning January 2015.  We still have a few spots available so check this workshop out.  Also, stay tuned for a special Antarctica 2015 announcement on Monday August 11th.
In the spring I received a call from Morten and Peter Cox asking if I would want to work with them doing two back to back small boat cruises back to the Svalbard region.  I couldn’t say no and thus we launched and just returned from two extremely incredible and special workshops.  Each trip was different and both groups were super cool.  Doing a workshop with small groups on a small ship certainly allowed for everyone getting to know each other plus allowed for lots of flexibility to go where we knew the shots were. There were only 11 attendees on each trip.
I want to personally than Morten and Peter for leading this trip with me.  Also, we wouldn’t have been able to do the trip without the small ship Malmö as well as its excellent crew.  It was true team effort and it all added up to an incredible experience.
I especially want to thank the attendees of both of these trips.  We saw and photographed some amazing things as you will see in the story below.  All of us became friends and I know we’ll share and cherish the memories of this trip for a lifetime.  We are now considering plans for 2015 and returning to Svalbard.  If after reading this article you are interested in possibly being part of the next trip then please email me and let me know.  We’ll most likely look at late August and early September for 2015.
The following article was compiled by and presented by Peter Cox with input from the trips logs provided by Morten Jorgensen as well as photography from all of us. I hope you enjoy sharing our adventure and do hope you’ll consider joining us for one of our other workshops.
Thank You,
Kevin Raber
Publisher

 


 

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/13, ISO 200
Image by Peter Cox

In July 2014 myself, Kevin Raber and Morten Jørgensen partnered together to run a pair of back-to-back Luminous Landscape workshops in the dramatic Svalbard archipelago in the high Arctic.

It was a place that Kevin and I were very keen to return to after our trip there in 2013. The Arctic gets under my skin in a way that few other locations have. Dramatic landscapes, beautiful and plentiful wildlife and, of course, ice.

We chartered a small ship, the M/S Malmö, and took just 11 participants on each trip. Due to the small size of the ship, I was acting as guide and zodiac driver as well as photographic instructor. Kevin played his role as host and instructor to the hilt, and Morten was our expedition leader as well as the driver of the second zodiac.

Video

We welcomed our first group of participants onto the ship and cast off into Isfjorden, the large fjord system that houses the major town of Longyearbyen. The weather was improving and we were to be treated to several days of great photographic conditions. Early the next morning, we woke to beautiful sunshine and I brought out a new photographic tool that I was itching to try out in this dramatic place – a DJI Phantom 2 carrying a GoPro camera. It took a bit of nerve to fly it off the deck of the Malmö – this is not a large ship, and open deck space clear of masts, stays and other obstacles was hard to come by. I set up on the boat deck just aft of the bridge and took off, getting the first of many dramatic aerial video shots of the trip. I’ve cut these together into a short film which will give you a little taste of our experience for the next two weeks.

 

First Bear Encounter

Not long after this maiden flight, we entered the boats for our first zodiac cruise of the trip, into the beautiful Bjørnfjorden. The name was a good omen (“bjørn” is Norwegian for bear), as within minutes we spotted our first polar bear of the trip, lying asleep on a snow patch. The encounter lasted quite some time, with the bear treating us to several different scenarios – sleeping on the snow patch, wandering up a ridge where it appeared beautifully backlit, and exploring its little peninsula while gobbling up eider duck eggs as it came across nests.

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6G ED VR@ 400mm
Exposure: 1/2000th @ f/8, ISO 640
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 286mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/5.6, ISO 100
Image by Peter Cox

After returning to the ship for lunch, we went out again and explored the landscape of the fjord, which was spectacular indeed. A beautiful glacier and surrounding mountains, and more wildlife in the form of several beluga whales. While standing on a small outcrop of rock in the fjord, we were also treated to a nearby calving of the glacier.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 533mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/5.6, ISO 100
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED @ 26mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/11, ISO 400
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/5.6, ISO 100
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 240mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/11, ISO 640
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 47mm
Exposure: 1/320th @ f/9, ISO 100
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 190mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/11, ISO 640
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/13, ISO 200
Image by Peter Cox
Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 461mm
Exposure: 1/200th @ f/9, ISO 100
Image by Peter Cox

 

After dinner, we moved to Hamiltonbukta, another beautiful bay with a spectacular glacier front. Another drone flight there, from a rocky island in the bay – this can be seen at 3:30 in the video. It was almost midnight before we called it a day, and what a day it was!

Ice Carving at the Texas Bar

The following day, we entered Liefdefjorden where we made a landing at the Texas Bar, a 1927 trapper’s hut. It was a beautiful day, shirtsleeve weather, and Duncan Hamilton, a London-based ice sculptor who was on the trip as a birthday present from his wife treated us all to a demonstration of ice carving. Using a large piece of glacier ice washed up on the beach, he revealed a polar bear head and extended paw. We all joined in and had a go at chipping the ice, working up a thirst and making plenty of shaved ice for the drinks which we brought ashore later on to celebrate the morning.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 58mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/4, ISO 100
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED @ 56mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/11, ISO 400
Image by Kevin Raber

 

We left Texas bar, somewhat reluctantly, and headed north seeking the pack ice. Find it we did, and there’s no better reminder of where you are than to hear ice floes grinding against the hull. It makes for a fine alarm clock! Heading up on deck, the light was excellent for photography, and the seas mirror-smooth.

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 380mm
Exposure: 1/2000th @ f/8, ISO 1000
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Alkefjellet and Walrus

We made our way into the Hinlopenstretet, heading for one of the highlights of the trip – the massive bird cliff of Alkefjellet. Home to perhaps 200,000 Brünnich’s guillemots it’s a sight (and a sound!) not to be forgotten.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
Exposure: 1/4000th @ f/11, ISO 1600
Image by Peter Cox

 

Beautiful skies, calm seas and ice floes at the cliff base and the peak of the breeding season made for plenty of photographic opportunities!

Our next destination was Wahlbergøya, and walrus. These are some charismatic (if ever-so-slightly flatulent) animals, and we were rewarded with about 30 large males hauled out in a heap on the beach. We had a great backdrop of ice floes moving swiftly around the point behind the animals.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/8, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 600mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/9, ISO 1250
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 380mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/9, ISO 640
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Over several hours, the walrus allowed us to share their space. There was coughing, snoring, farting, belching and a lot of itching and scratching going on – as well as the odd stabbing of the neighbour, as well as a slow migration to the water by one or two. All too soon, it was necessary to return to the ship for a late lunch. The ice had encroached on the anchorage, so it was necessary to use the zodiacs to push some ice floes around to clear the gangway area. I might have enjoyed that part almost as much as photographing the walrus.

The Ice Wall

Along the way to our next location, the ice cliff of Bråsvellbreen, we were alerted by another ship to a polar bear on a small island in our path. We sailed around it in the ship, but the bear was nowhere to be found. It turned out it had gone in the water, to the surprise of many, since conditions were rather choppy. We found it swimming ahead of us and had brief views of this great predator in what is actually not a hostile environment to it – the near-freezing Arctic ocean.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/8, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

We left the bear to its swim and proceeded to the ice wall where once again, we lucked out. The sun was low in the sky (it would be midnight before we went to bed) and rays were striking the wall, producing some beautiful backlit waterfalls, along with wonderful grazing light on the ice wall itself.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 325mm
Exposure: 1/8000th @ f/8, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6G ED VR @ 400mm
Exposure: 1/6400th @ f/8, ISO 400
Image by Kevin Raber

 

This was what Kevin called the wall-day: Bird wall, wal(l)rus, and ice wall.

Polar Bear Family

The next day, we had a report of a polar bear family in Murchisonfjorden. We entered the fjord to investigate and anchored at Indre Russeøya, a location that we were to have good luck with again on the next trip. Kevin called it “Bear Island”. After dinner, we entered the zodiacs and enjoyed an easy cruise, marvelling in the clear water – if it wasn’t freezing, it would be very tempting to take a dip! We found some marvellous rock formations on the far side of the island and found the family, a collared female with two yearling cubs sleeping on a snow patch. We landed quietly on the beach below them, enjoying a different kind of encounter. Just us and the bears, watching one another on a fine polar evening. On the way back to the ship we had a brief encounter with a pair of walrus, rounding out the evening.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/6.3, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 533mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/6.3, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 150mm
Exposure: 1/320th @ f/7.1, ISO 1250
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Magic on the Ice

The following day, we returned to the pack ice. Towards the end of the day, after some great photography we decided to chance the drizzle and low cloud that had moved in and go for a zodiac cruise anyway. There were a few walrus on ice around and we wanted to give people the chance to walk on an ice floe. What at first seemed like it might turn out to be a little bit miserable turned into a real highlight of the trip. It goes to show once more in photography that if you’re not out, you don’t get the good light, images and experiences!

We were able to get very close to the walrus after careful approaches. We got within feet of a big male on a floe with the engines off and rowing past – truly a multi-tasking experience for me, concentrating on keeping the boat out of the walrus’ personal space, staying quiet and simultaneously capturing images was difficult, but rewarding.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 32mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/8, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

We then landed on a magical piece of ice. A large floe with several hummocks and a beautiful blue melt-water lake in the centre. The wind died, the clouds parted and we had beautiful light. Where better than to take the group photograph, than standing in the meltwater on a piece of frozen ocean?

 

Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
Exposure: 1/500th @ f/4, ISO 400
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
Exposure: 1/2000th @ f/11, ISO 400
Image by Peter Cox

 

We made our way back in the direction of Longyearbyen as the trip was nearing its close. Along the way, we stopped at Lilliehöökfjorden, an impressive amphitheater of ice. We had a zodiac cruise in here and despite rain and a cold wind it was a fruitful photographic experience, plenty of moody Arctic landscapes to be had. We manoeuvred through the brash ice from the glacier listening to the snap, crackle and pop of escaping air, thousands of years old. We also observed several calvings.

Pyramiden and Rust!

The following day, we made a landing at Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian coal mining settlement. Naturally, Kevin was in heaven. Rust galore!

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 35mm
Exposure: 1/4000th @ f/4, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED @ 70mm
Exposure: 1/640th @ f/14, ISO 1000
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 73mm
Exposure: 1/125th @ f/4, ISO 1600
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/500th @ f/11, ISO 500
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 105mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/4, ISO 320
Image by Peter Cox

 

After this slightly unusual experience, it was time to head back to the ship, and ultimately back to Longyearbyen and civilization.

Trip Two!

We had a busy turnaround day in Longyearbyen, saying goodbye to one group and welcoming the next aboard just a few hours later. We left the quay in the late afternoon and started to head out again, getting to know our traveling companions for the next eight days!

Revisiting the North Coast

For the early part of the trip, we followed the same route up and around the north coast. We paid a visit to Raudfjorden and Hamiltonbukta where we had wonderful weather and some amazing ice.

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 600mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/8, ISO 1000
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 250mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/11, ISO 640
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6G ED VR @ 400mm
Exposure: 1/2000th @ f/8, ISO 800
Image by Kevin Raber

 

We sat for a while in Hamiltonbukta in front of the glacier. We had heard lots of cracks and groans, so were hoping for a big calving. We certainly got it, and the subsequent wave caused a large blue iceberg right in front of us to split up and roll over. Impressive!

Dining Al Fresco with a Young Bear

We left that area to head up to the pack ice. Unfortunately, the pickings were slim so we headed south into the Hinlopenstretet hunting for bears. As we entered Murchisonfjorden, where we had good luck with that bear family, we spied another bear on the same island – a young female with a kill. Our first bear of the trip and an even better encounter than the young male we found on the first day of the previous trip. It was time to enter the zodiacs again to take a closer look.

There was a slight swell running and the tide was flowing, which made position keeping just offshore to watch the bear an interesting task. Luckily, the water was crystal clear and it was possible to see exactly how deep the water was and what was on the sea bed. I enjoyed this spectacle almost as much as the bear encounter.

The young female had caught a seal on the rocks right on the shore and was eating it in leisurely fashion. She wasn’t in the slightest concerned about us, paying more attention to the ivory gulls who were attempting to join her in her meal.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/7.1, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 400mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/5.6, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

After she had finished her meal, she rolled around a bit in the snow, cleaning her fur, then headed down right to the water’s edge to check us out. Our boats were within about 30 feet of her, a truly magical experience.

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 400mm
Exposure: 1/2000th @ f/8, ISO 1600
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 400mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/5.6, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

It was a happy crowd that enjoyed dinner that night when we reluctantly headed back to the ship. The next day saw us making a landing for a leg stretch and a hike through some beautiful Arctic tundra. Ancient whale bones, beautiful flora and the more recent remains of a young polar bear all featured.

Stone Wall and Ice Wall

Then it was time to head back to Alkefjellet, the bird cliff. I concentrated on the waterfalls which thunder down from the glacier on the southern end of the cliff for this visit.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 105mm
Exposure: 1/500th @ f/8, ISO 640
Image by Peter Cox

 

After this, it was time to head back to the ice wall at Bråsvellbreen. We were in for a treat. The light was even better than on our last visit. The photographs speak for themselves.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/8, ISO 640
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/8, ISO 640
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 307mm
Exposure: 1/2500th @ f/9, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 200mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/9, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6G ED VR @ 175mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/8, ISO 1000
Image by Kevin Raber

 

It was on this evening that the ice wall footage in the video was captured.

Heading South, Circumnavigation

At this point, we diverged from the previous trip’s itinerary. There was a gale forecast in the Hinlopen, so it made sense for us to continue south and circumnavigate Spitsbergen. Kevin and I were excited by this in particular as this would be new territory for us. Of course, this whole area is Morten’s stomping ground so he was able to guide us to the best locations.

Our first landing was a Sundneset on Barentsøya. We had to make a last minute change to the landing site as we spied what was probably a sleeping polar bear inland, and our walking route would have brought us too close. We moved around the headland and headed into the tundra. A magical place with a soft carpet of mossy bog with vivid colours.

We made our way towards a herd of reindeer we knew to be in the area. This led to a wonderful encounter as they accepted our presence and even approached individuals in the group rather closely.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 372mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/6.3, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/6.3, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Isbukta and Hornsund: Dramatic Landscapes

It was time to return to the ship and head back towards the southern tip of Spitsbergen. The next morning we found ourselves in the dramatic Isbukta (Ice Bay), which is most certainly well named. A broad semicircular bay, many miles from headland to headland, glacier after glacier flows in. We came looking for walrus, but unfortunately none were home in their usual haul-outs.

Instead, we enjoyed the other wildlife and the stunning landscape of the bay.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 82mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/8, ISO 400
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/8, ISO 400
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/10, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED @ 16mm
Exposure: 1/2500th @ f/8, ISO 640
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 240mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/8, ISO 800
Image by Kevin Raber

 

That night found us rounding the tip of Spitsbergen and heading back up the west coast. Not far, though – we entered Hornsund in the early morning. I found this to be my favourite place in Svalbard thus far for landscapes. It was simply stunning. We made a ship’s cruise along the glacier at the end of the fjord with magical light playing on the mountains and glaciers around us. We did a zodiac cruise in a narrow fjord extending out of the main system with beautiful icebergs rotating in a gyre near the glacier front and sheer rock walls soaring up to the hanging glacier and peaks above.

Ivory gulls aplenty were perched on the icebergs as they made their leisurely way around the fjord.

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 280mm
Exposure: 1/4000th @ f/10, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox
Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/13, ISO 200
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/2000th @ f/10, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 67mm
Exposure: 1/100th @ f/13, ISO 200
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/800th @ f/13, ISO 200
Image by Peter Cox

 

And where better to make the group photograph for this trip? At the base of Gnålodden, the growling mountain, which also features in the video at the top of the article.

 

Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-105mm f/4L @ 24mm
Exposure: 1/125th @ f/13, ISO 200
Image by Peter Cox

The end of the trip was approaching, but in many ways the best was yet to come. We headed out of Hornsund towards Prins Karl’s Forland, a barrier island on the west coast, near the mouth of Isfjorden. Here was our last chance for walrus on the trip.

A Close Encounter with Walrus

After landing, we approached the haulout site. Unfortunately, despite our cautious approach the walrus became uneasy and moved into the water. We felt badly about this, but before long they became accustomed to our presence and relaxed. As we had landed around the headland from the haulout site, and the walrus appeared to be moving towards the boats, I wandered over to the landing to see what was happening. As I saw that there were several walrus in the water, I radioed the rest of the group to head my way.

While I was waiting, I carefully moved to the water until it was up to my calves. The walrus got curious and I was treated to a rare experience as between seven and eight walrus approached me very closely. It was incredible. When the rest of the workshop group arrived, they hung back a little and attracted their own walrus crowd, giving a few others the benefit of such a close encounter. It’s an experience I’ll not soon forget. I didn’t do much still photography, but experimented with the GoPro. The result can be seen in the video.

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 160mm
Exposure: 1/3200th @ f/8, ISO 1600
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 560mm
Exposure: 1/1600th @ f/5.6, ISO 800
Image by Peter Cox

 

After this, the walrus started to move into deeper waters. We launched the zodiacs and again carefully approached. This led to the second stage of the encounter with a small group getting curious about the boats and approaching very closely.

With the GoPro I was able to get a glimpse of them underwater – the second last shot of the video. This was pretty special – the contrast between the grace they have in the water and their clumsiness on land is remarkable.

Arctic Fox and Returning to Civilization

We returned for the ship and headed towards our final landing the following morning, at Alkhornet in Isfjorden.

We landed and headed towards a place where a family of arctic fox traditionally have their den. Immediately upon arrival we were rewarded with the sighting of one of this year’s cubs. He approached, played around for a while and then had a nap right in front of us. Shortly afterwards, his sibling appeared playing with a bird’s wing. It wasn’t long before the two of them were up and playing together, mere feet from where we were photographing them. Another remarkable wildlife encounter and a great way to end the trip.

 

Nikon D800E, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD @ 550mm
Exposure: 1/1250th @ f/8, ISO 2000
Image by Kevin Raber

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 282mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/5.6, ISO 1600
Image by Peter Cox

 

Canon EOS 1Dx, EF 200-400mm f/4L 1.4x Extender @ 274mm
Exposure: 1/1000th @ f/5.6, ISO 1600
Image by Peter Cox

 

Unfortunately, this meant the end of the trip. It was time to head back to Longyearbyen for the last time for flights home. I look forward to returning again!


About Peter

Peter is a landscape photographer and workshop leader living and working in the beautiful south-west of Ireland. He sells his prints from his gallery in Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry tourist route and one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland.

He also runs regular photography workshops in Ireland and abroad. He jokes that he likes the cold, running trips mainly in Scotland, Iceland and the Arctic. 

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Concepts: Svalbard, Polar bear, Arctic Ocean, Sea ice, Polar region, Antarctica, Bear, Arctic

Entities: Longyearbyen, Isfjorden, Hamiltonbukta, Alkefjellet, Murchisonfjorden, Bråsvellbreen, Hornsund, Pyramiden, Killarney, Bjørnfjorden, Wahlbergøya, Liefdefjorden, Lilliehöökfjorden, Barentsøya, Hinlopen, Gnålodden, Raudfjorden, haulout, Antarctica, Ireland, Antarctica, Iceland, Scotland, Arctic, Ice Bay, Arctic ocean, Bear Island, hanging glacier, Arctic tundra, Indre Russeøya, melt-water lake, mossy bog, instructor, Texas Bar, Peter Cox, Kevin Raber, Morten., Peter Cox, Morten Jorgensen, Morten Jorgensen., Malmö, Duncan Hamilton, Prins Karl, Spitsbergen

Tags: trip, polar bear, ice, walrus, ice wall, ship, zodiac cruise, pack ice, ice floes, Amazing Trip article., small ship, small ship Malmö, polar bear head, snow patch, previous trip, London-based ice sculptor, polar bear family, ice wall footage, Isbukta Ice Bay, Northern Polar region, glacier ice, polar bear inland, way, expedition leader, beautiful blue melt-water, beautiful backlit waterfalls, dramatic Svalbard archipelago, Antarctica Trip, beautiful Arctic tundra, texas bar, great photographic conditions, Luminous Landscape workshops, fruitful photographic experience, true team effort, new photographic tool, aerial video shots, group photograph, Peter Cox, fine polar evening, remarkable wildlife encounter