Tag Archives: travel

Arctic Adventure…Part 1

I’m a few days back from an enjoyable, challenging and ultimately rewarding 3 week trip to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.  It seems that it’s done nothing but rain back here while I’ve been away (and since my return too) and compared to the sustained spells of high pressure that this remote location in the far north normally enjoys and has when I’ve been in the past, the weather gods were looking equally angrily on us.

That said I’d decided to place a lot more emphasis on capturing images that really gave a feel for the location rather than simply concentrating on the wildlife to be found there on this particular trip, and the grey skies leant themselves to a monochrome approach, whether enhanced through processing to that format like above, or left to the natural shades as below.

I was also keen to work on some stitched panoramics too – I know they won’t look their best on the size constraints of the web but it’s a format that really helps to get the size and nature of the mountains and glaciers across in my view – jagged peaks that caused the first Dutch explorers to name the main island here Spitsbergen.

When we did have some occasion to enjoy the beautiful tones that the midnight sun (it never sets here) has to offer we were always keen to take full advantage and the evening spent with this group of young male Walrus in front of a beautiful glacier will long remain with me – it’s an image I think really sums this place up.

We had timed this visit a few weeks earlier this year to give us a better chance of finding the areas in front of the glaciers still frozen over and increasing our chances of Polar Bear sitings, but as here in the UK it had been an unusually mild winter in Svalbard and already this ice had gone.  This process does however leave some beautifully shaped and colourful icebergs behind though and they are another key landscape feature I was keen to work with: this is the same ‘berg from  different angles and demonstrates just how the angle of lighting here can dramatically change an image.

A close look at this last image will show some signs of the seabird life that takes full advantage of their presence – either as a resting place or simply because they can act as a magnet for their food in the surrounding seas: we would regularly look to explore them for Kittiwakes and Fulmar especially.

The colours at times were simply stunning and leaving the subject small in the frame really allowed the landscape to dominate, and the same approach worked well when we spent a beautiful evening on a true gem of an island, full of tundra-based breeding birds including the elegant Red-Throated Diver.

It was also an approach I enjoyed trying out with the main target for the trip Polar Bears as well and this very simple composition is one that I particularly like.

I begun by saying it was a challenging trip because the weather wasn’t on our side, and this came to a real head when for the basis of comfort, safety and also in an attempt to ensure we could maximise photographic time we had to give up our original goal of heading to the pack ice that residers to the north of the archipelago.  It is traditionally the best place to see Bears, but with a combination of good luck, perseverance and patience we ended up enjoying some amazing encounters with in particular this extremely relaxed young male, and I’ll look to share some more images of him and also some more of the wildlife in a Part 2 to follow next week: there’s just too much to share in one post from a 3 week trip!!

Icelandic Gems

Well I’m behind again as far as posting is concerned, but in my defence I’ve been away once again (more of that in a future post) and have at least updated the Natures Images Blog between times too: well worth a visit if you’ve not been there yet as there’s stuff from all of our tour leaders to be found there as well as some different selections of my images!

There is of course much more to be seen and found in Iceland than water based birds, and most photographers visiting the country do so for the impressive and at times awesome landscape opportunities.  I don’t consider myself to be much more than a competent landscape photographer in comparison to my wildlife work but you almost can’t fail to capture something here, whether it’s one of the seemingly thousands of waterfalls, the beauty of the extreme isolation of the place or the amazing colours that the sulphorous activity at the core of the country can bring to the scene.

One of the beauties of travelling around the country is that almost wherever you stop there seems to be an opportunity to spend time with breeding waders at this time of year.  These are birds that are notoriously difficult to work with in terms of their general wariness (or scarcity) here in the UK but with some patience, sensible stalking and preparedness to wait until the moment is right then whether it’s Black-Tailed Godwits or Whimbrel on the moorlands or Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher by the shore then it’s time well spent, and very enjoyable too.

Last time I’d visited the country the wader I was most pleased to spend some time with, in part because simply listening to their call is so evocative of any moorland habitat, was the Golden Plover.  This trip they once again didn’t disappoint but with a fantastic twist in the form of a heavy snowfall as well – summer plumage and winter weather all in one: the pleasures of working in the far north neatly summarised.

As enjoyable and unusual as this was though it was another smaller and more dainty wader that really took my heart this trip – the Red-Necked Phalarope. Here in the UK, the odd winter vagrant apart, they are only to be found breeding in The Shetlands, and in by no means great numbers either.  They are fantastically confiding birds, more intent on busying themselves in their almost constant search for flies to eat it would seem or at this stage of the breeding season making sure that the female has found herself a good male to incubate her eggs and bring up the chicks – it’s a complete role reversal from the norm for this unusual birds.  When the beautiful Icelandic early morning light combined with a couple of perfectly still mornings conditions were near perfect to capture a little bit of their antics.

Iceland is a stunning country to visit and work in photographically – extremeley hard work in these summer months when the weather is in your favour as the nights are very short and the best light is to be found on either side of it so sleep comes in bite-sized chunks.  But interacting with nature and enjoying the experience both emotionally and photographically is what all nature photographers like best (much more so than the admin and office work that’s necessary) so I’ll never be one to baulk at a bit of tiredness when there are opportunities like this to be had.  It won’t be 5 years till I go back next time for sure!