Why you should book a photography trip to Svalbard

Lorna Griggs

23 Sep 2016

Why you should book a photography trip to Svalbard (even if you’re not a professional photographer)

At Natural World Safaris, we run several specialist photography departures to Svalbard each summer. I recently returned from one of these departures with Shannon Wild and Russ MacLaughlin on board the M/S Freya, and had an incredible time picking up some tips and tricks from the professionals. My photos might not be National Geographic standard (like Russ and Shannon's) but I learned a lot, and had a fantastic time while I was at it!

Nobody goes to Svalbard hoping to see a polar bear and return without a photograph to prove it. Everyone is hoping for that perfect shot of a bear padding across the ice, or hunting a seal. If you’re lucky and get to see one of these magnificent bears, you want to be prepared to capture the moment without hesitation, without fumbling nervously with your camera settings, and without worrying that the photo will be blurry, overexposed or the wrong colour. Before we had even left Longyearbyen, all our group talked about was getting that iconic shot of a polar bear on the ice. I have to admit, it’s what I was hoping for too!

Having expert photographic guides on board your ship means that before you even get to the polar bears, you can sit down with someone who really knows their aperture from their ISO and figure out how best to set up your camera for that perfect shot. Our pro's run special photography lectures and workshops to inspire you, and help you get the best out of you once in a lifetime trip. If you’re already confident in your skills, and know your way around a DSLR, this is the time to pick up some tips to make your photos stand out from the crowd and take them to another level.

I sat down with Russ and Shannon for a chat about photography expeditions to Svalbard so you can hear it straight from the experts.

HEre's what they had to say...

Lorna: We get some travellers thinking about taking a photography expedition to the Arctic, who don’t think they have enough experience to join a photography tour – what would you say to them?

Russ: You really don’t need any experience! You should just get yourself here!

Shannon: You can’t set limits on yourself, because this is a beautiful environment to learn in. It’s either that you are learning in your own backyard, or you’re learning out here in a really spectacular environment. I don’t think skill level should have anything to do with it.

Lorna: Is there a basic level of equipment you think is necessary to have? For example – do you think a DSLR is absolutely necessary for a photography trip?

Shannon: No, I don’t, especially when you look at some of our travellers and they got some great shots on their point-and-shoot cameras! Obviously most people specifically interested in a photo tour are likely to have a DSLR, and are actively wanting to expand their skill set… but I don’t think that your equipment or skill level should hinder your decision to come along.

Russ: I don’t think so. Limited equipment shouldn’t ever be part of the decision to not come. If they are bringing DSLRs though, I would say you need at least a lens with a 300mm reach if you’ve got it or can get it.

Shannon: At the very least someone could come along on a trip with a point-and-shoot and we can help in terms of composition and framing, or we can help teach the animal behaviour side of things.

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Lorna: You mentioned a 300mm lens Russ, so what sort of equipment would you recommend someone bring with them on a trip like this if they are using a DSLR?

Russ: One thing I would say when it comes to equipment, is if you’re bringing telephoto lenses, definitely bring a monopod. It will help you out so much. If you’re not bringing a telephoto lens, then a good zoom lens (like a 300mm) is really important for photographing wildlife.

Shannon: I would also say though, that you need to be prepared for some of the landscapes, and the closer encounters so something like a 70-200mm lens is a really nice focal length. A wide angle lens is also nice, unless your phone does really good quality stuff. You’ll want to capture the landscape and environment. It’s so stark, and until you do the wider shots, you don’t really get a sense of how amazing it is.

Lorna: I agree, the landscapes are truly spectacular and I got some great shots on my phone! Finally, what was your most memorable wildlife encounter while in Svalbard?

Shannon: For me it was definitely the day the polar bears came right up to the ship! The light was perfect, it was our first encounter, and who doesn’t love polar bears!

Russ: Agreed, definitely the polar bears, I think that would be everyone’s answer, and for good reason as well! We literally had polar bears breathing down the lenses!

Shannon: I was waiting for the female bear to grab the Go Pro right out of Gabi’s hand – she was that close! Really incredible – I can’t wait to come back next year!

So there you have it! Grab whatever camera you have, and come join us in Svalbard next summer. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

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To find out more about travelling the the Arctic with Shannon and Russ in 2017, click the button below to get in touch.

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