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Svalbard-a unique photographic experience

From 23rd of August to 3rd of September 2018 I have spent - with WildPhoto as our organizers- a great time sailing around the coast of Spitzbergen (Svalbard) on the MS Origo. I co-organized this trip for some colleagues and friends who were all very curious to see how touring in the Artic Sea would be. To summarize: it was very impressive with many photographic highlights. A very new experience as here sea, clouds, ice, wind and sometimes a furious sun come together to make a unique blend of colors and moods. Sometimes I felt that this must be the end of the globe…

It is a small town of about 2100 residents and it is the administrative center of Svalbard. It was initially a mining town and still has some active charcoal mines. It has quite nice restaurants and very good shops for winter or outdoor clothing. It is a place that offers adequate infrastructure for the tourists…who might flog-in during summer in quite big numbers. At the period of year we have been there, we did not see many of them…The port is well protected from the bad weather and this is important here. However, the airport might be closed for planes due to fog that might be present almost at any period of the year, which means, you have to plan your travel schedule accordingly. Some of us stayed in the Base Camp, a small hotel that was okay. Initially, during the first 2 days of our trip, the weather was very pleasant and we just wondered why we had all these winter clothes with us. But I was warned that my clothes were on the light side-so in the Wildphoto Gallery lovely managed by Sophie, I bought a parka that later in the trip became very useful. To be honest: it gets pretty cold on the Zodiac as the cold water, the spray, cold wind, lack of body movement, the glaciers and icebergs make you feel cold.

During the first 2 and a half days of our trip the greatest things came in front of our lenses: polar bears, walruses, ice blocks, clouds, stormy skies. Weather allowed us to go as far north as the rim of the pack ice connecting to the North Pole—we were at 82 degrees North - so impressive.

As the sea was free of pack ice (due to climate change) we then sailed a little south and east to Kvitoya, the White Island: an enchanted island emerging as ice cap out of the artic sea. But then the weather gods started to have fun with us and released strong winds which forced us to change the itinerary and some of us passengers to spend most of their time in the cabins taking whatever medicine is supposed to be helpful to manage this period.

Nevertheless, the bad weather only lasted about 19-24 hours with swells that were sometimes a little bit too strong for the unaccustomed ones but not as bad as the forecasts had indicated. BTW: the ships that had not to cruise the open sea all tried to stay in well-protected ports or fjords.

So we sailed around the north east coast of Svalbard down to the Ny Alesund,

and then, well-protected from the swells, through Forlandsundet back to Longyearbyen.

Photography is nice to practice from the ship MS Origo, as the railing is not that high from the water level. But I realized that I had to use fast shutter speeds to overcome the vibrations caused by the engines when the ship was sailing or has still not turned off the engines. Great are the moments when the ship is anchored and there is no noise of her engines, no noise of traffic or aviation, only the waves, the gulls and the as far as you can see nordic nature.The cry of the birds, the sound of the waves were like music.

Polar bear sightings: that is the great excitement on a trip like this. On the rim of the northern pack ice 2 polar bears came to inspect the ship: it was and remains a great moment to witness and to photograph. For my taste they are one of the most beautiful and mysterious predators.

Photography on the Zodiac has to be learned as the current pushes the small rubber boats and it was difficult to get time to compose the perfect shots. So the job of the guides is quite demanding and they have to watch out not to get blocked by pack ice. To photograph walruses from the Zodiac is a great thing: but the bigger walrus groups have a couple of “guards”, that are male walruses that protect their harem and they can rapidly attack the Zodiac

As the sun is out almost 23 hours a day, time to shoot pictures-- weather permitting-- is abundant. So I sometimes emerged from my cabin around 10 at night, or midnight or early in the morning to take pictures of the landscape and the great scenery of light, clouds and water.

MS Origo, the expedition ship, was built around 1955. Well, she cannot hide her age…The cabins are definitely small, but just ok for one person. With only 12 passengers-and this time with 6 of us who were already colleagues or friends--everything was perfect. The crew we had was lovely and the meals the chef composed for us were perfect. Our guides, Martin and Espen from WildPhoto, maintain all their enthusiasm for the great north and for serious wildlife photography. After only 9 nights, we touched base again in Longyerbyean, and by flying back over Oslo, Amsterdam to Geneva the trip ended quite quickly. Photo equipment: the fantastic thing about a ship is that you really can bring along a lot of equipment and have access to it almost all the time.

Svalbard should definitely expect to see me again.

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