After we had brought the participants of our photo trip in Iceland safely to the airport, another special adventure was waiting for me.
As reported in my February blog entry about the winter birds, I decided at the beginning of the year to go on a trip once a year - if possible - for which there are actually more rational arguments against than in favour 😅
My first "project" was to visit the Arctic and photograph its landscapes and animals. Now I have already had to postpone this project twice and due to the large number of trips we had already planned, it was in danger of failing this year too. Finally, however, there was a small window of opportunity.
I had time barely a week and decided not to postpone it again until next year. Knowing full well that the net time for photography is not more than 4 days and that if there is a storm or bad weather I will come home without a picture.
This circumstance did not necessarily brighten my mood, as I had to leave my comfort zone very far for this photographic project anyway; for example, in terms of flight, planning security, cold, physical strain, danger situation, etc. I had to take a lot of precautions. But I have this handful of photographic dreams and the motivation was stronger in the end.
With a flight to Oslo and finally to Spitsbergen ("Svalbard", translated "Cool Coast"). I'd just like to say that the landscape on approach, with the blue sky, was the most impressive thing I've ever seen from above....
For a few weeks I had already been following the weather to get a feeling for what cold and warm means here and how often it storms. Wind is a crucial factor for success on the ground. Because the snow is quite dry and even with stronger winds you can sometimes hardly see your hand in front of your eyes, this is not because of the snowfall from above but because of the sideways snow drifts, I only had this once for an hour. Depending on the place, 5-6 gusts of wind can kill it.
Due to the microclimate, the forecast is only partially reliable anyway. I was expecting -6° to -23° degrees in March. However, things turned out differently: unfortunately, the forecast was very sobering for the very first "day of use", here is a mobile phone screenshot a few minutes before the start of the first tour:
At exactly 7.00 a.m. it was -28° Celsius. Even the forecast gave me a lot of respect, not to say: I was really nervous the day before the first long tour 😉 Because I knew that the first day could be very long.
So I was actually nervous the next morning, something that had never happened to me before in photography. However, this quickly dissolved after leaving with my guide, at the sight of these great landscapes. By the way, I was also there on behalf of Brockmann Travel as I was also scouting guides there and I was asked not to name them, which I would normally do, because they did a great job 🙏
You need a guide on Spitsbergen as soon as you leave the "secure zone" of the small settlement of Longyearbyen. Because outside the zone there is an acute danger of encountering polar bears. So either you have a suitable weapon and the appropriate licence, or a guide accompanies you wherever you go. For me it was the latter.
I wasn't aiming for polar bears anyway, but for the Arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer, the Svalbard ptarmigan, the headland of Hiorthhamn in the Tempelfjorden, as well as the peaks of Bünslow Land.
To say it in advance: apart from the temperature, I was very lucky with the weather on these days in terms of precipitation and wind. So I was able to photograph practically all the way through and ended up being outside for 11 whole hours on the first day, without lunch or a longer break. I was literally fascinated by the many great things I saw here in nature. I even forgot that my body was slowly covered in frost 😅 Here's a selfie after I had already been out for a good 9 hours:
This time there is more information under the 27 selected pictures. I think I can show you a completely different world here and hope you enjoy it 🖐 Let's go:
What you could already see well in the background tomorrow: wherever the sun hit the sea at these extreme minus temperatures, a heavy fog immediately developed over the water.
By the way, the course of the sun's position is interesting - this picture was taken about 4 hours after sunrise, and the day was already about 11 hours long. And yet the sun is so low there. Really remarkable!
As polar bears also like to swim across the fjord, my guide advised me to always keep my eyes open and check the situation when photographing the coast.
Late in the evening, my guide told me that a reindeer had slipped down a mountain slope and unfortunately died. The next day we searched the mountains for reindeer and foxes, which was not easy in this monochrome landscape....
Suddenly we saw the reindeer and tried to get there. It was getting steeper and steeper uphill and at some point I told my guide that I didn't feel comfortable any more, as I was afraid of
slipping through the snow lying under the ice layer. He then helped me with the last passage of maybe 30m to the only photographically suitable spot, at the same height as the reindeer, and
belayed me. This was also pretty far out of my comfort zone, as I'm not really into heights.
Eventually we sat on for quite some time and the light got better and better as the evening wore on. When the cold became too much we were about to give up (and by we I mean me, I was already straightening up), he suddenly appeared out of the white nothingness and started walking up and down a flatter mountainside.
We continued to wait by the reindeer and hoped that he would come closer. After he had completely disappeared again at first, he did, by now under a colourful evening sky. What an
Unfortunately, he then kept standing behind it, tearing out smaller pieces and hiding them on stones behind the hill. They do this to build up depots for the winter. Hardly visible to me, which
is why I couldn't convert full-body shots at close range. But for a moment he came our way and stood diagonally in front of it - just for a few seconds.
I always had a portrait of this animal in the back of my mind, because of its great eyes and its beautiful bushy fur in winter. Normally you see shots like this more from the summer, when they "hang" their head over the ground as they run. Here, however, he had quite a graceful posture for a brief moment. So, if too close, I quickly swung the converter in at 840mm and a very special image I think emerged on this borderline slope:
You can imagine that this mix of motifs and light moods was extremely impressive for a nature photographer in such a short time and I am more than happy to have taken this risk. Already one day after my departure, there was hardly any visibility at this spot due to strong winds and drifts, as I was told by a photographer. All in all, the entire winter (January/February) around Longyearbyen was very dark and stormy, and these were probably the first beautiful days of the year.
The return journey was again very tiring and, by the way, the temperature difference on the day of departure between Longyearbyen in the morning and Ennepetal in the evening was exactly 40°C, which I have never had before.
I arrived here and the 13°C felt like a fresh June day in Mallorca 😅 What can I say in conclusion - it was a great and, in the truest sense of the word, adventurous experience.
Even if it might seem otherwise given the short time: the effort of preparing for this trip was very intensive and I also had support in the process - so I would like to thank three more people:
- Kathrin Brockmann (Brockmann Travel), for whom I was also allowed to "scout" on site, and who supported me with the costs for this project, thank you 👋
- Klaus Rudolf from Nikon Service Point Munich, who provided me with a second Nikon Z9 for this project. Many thanks 😀
- Florian Smit, who advised me with his expertise regarding photography in very high minus temperatures in advance and left no questions unanswered, thanks 😉
And finally, many thanks for YOUR interest in this report 🙏