We’ve arrived in Longyearben on Svalbard. This island, which is about the size of Ireland, and at latitude 78°N, is only 1338km from the North Pole! We are here to photograph polar bears.
DAY 1: we board the MS Stockholm
We board our ship the MS Stockholm in late afternoon, and will sail south during the evening and night. We are, as Shem said, a cosmopolitan group. 11 photographers from 3 continents: Africa, Australia and Europe. This is somewhat like one of the big brother soaps, 12 strangers in a confined space (our cabin is about 2x3m), without contact to the outer world, but we’ll be okay, we all have the same goal: a great photo of a polar bear.
Just a short sleep, at 05:15 there’s a bang on the door, polar bear sighting! Unfortunately the researchers put collars on the female bears and each bear gets a number on its bum, this one is Nr.22.
In the afternoon we board the zodiacs and go ashore to stretch our legs and do a bit of landscape photography. It is rather cloudy now, not the best light to photograph but we try.
DAY 3: polar bear with cubs
Oh shit, it’s 04:00 and there’s a knock on our door, end of my beauty sleep! The mum and cubs are coming in our direction. By the time we are all awake and geared up for our zodiac tour, things have changed. A male has shown up, chased off the mum and her cubs and is eating off their kill.
We watch some great interaction, taking turns in standing and photographing from our wobbly zodiac, hand held and moving, this is a challenge, but great fun!
After lunch we go ashore again and do some land and -seascape photography, this time in wonderful weather. This is an inspiring and beautiful place. From here we sail south during dinner and most of the evening.
DAY 4: tiny cub on the run
We’ve seen 5 polar bears in 32 hours, and we’re only at the start of day 3! Their timing is disastrous, this time the knock at the door is at 02:00. It takes two more wake up calls at 04:00 and 05:00 till the beat with tiny cub is within photographic range. A big male has appeared, they start running, pass us at about 20m distance, and within 2min they are out of photo range again, and soon after that out of sight.
In the afternoon we cruise by glaciers, the one called Burgerbukta we will definitely remember. The captain parks the ship quite far into the ice then turns the motor off. Now this is a novelty. They put out the ladder and tell us to leave ship. Not because anything is wrong, just for fun, so we can walk on the ice.
From here we move further south, do two more stops to photograph walrus on the pack ice (which is the free floating ice, lots of it) and just as we head for bed at 23:00 the next call comes : polar bear with kill ahead. Honest, you don’t get to sleep on this ship!
DAY 5: “un bear able”
This is our no bear day, unbearable! We sleep till 07:30, such a luxury! We do a zodiac tour, first walrus, then to yet another glacier, photograph the Killiwakes in front of it.
After lunch the next glacier, the Fridtjovbreen. We go quite a way into the ice till we get stuck, 15min photo time the captain says. Shem shows us how to use the graduated filter, it really does make a difference, suddenly the grey mess up there shows some interesting contrasts.
DAY 6: walrus for breakfast
After breakfast we take the zodiac to the shore and walk towards the walrus. In the background the mainland with mountains and glaciers, in the foreground a messy heap of snoring and farthing walrus. A call from the beach, there is one of them approaching from the water, curious, as most animals here are, he swims up to us, really close!
The afternoon we cruise along the Dahlbreen glacier, at last we found a glacier which hasn’t got a whole load of fast ice in front of it. The sun is shining, the glacier lights up, we see every cliff, crack and dent in the ice, there are little bits floating around in front of it, the sky in the background is a bright dark blue, such a lovely contrast.
We are again anchored at an unbelievably beautiful, and very quiet and peaceful spot. Today we will go ashore, hike up a hill to a bird cliff. There should be reindeer and arctic foxes there. We only see birds.
This afternoon we get a lecture by Shem, after that the next outing. He actually explains lightroom to us, lots of useful tips and tricks. The next stop is at another famous bird cliff, its structure, and that of the other mountains around us is amazing. At the top there’s lots of birds flying around, fewer at the bottom. We find a nest of black guillemots and watch a gull steal eggs from it. There are puffins flying to and from the cliffs, the best and closest shots are those of the puffins in the water.
DAY 8: all good things come to an end
Time to go home, it was a great trip with spectacular sightings: 9 polar bears, walrus, seals, reindeer and lots of birds and the amazing little puffins. An amazing ship, with a friendly crew and an excellent cook, and good company all the way. Thank you Shem and all my fellow photographers, we had an awesome arctic experience!
For the whole story and more photos check out our blog at: www.bluemelphoto.ch
Copyright photo and text by Astrid Bluemel for bluemelphoto.ch