Have you ever felt like being alone in the world, without communications and the comfort of our daily life? Well I have a word for you, the Arctic.

Ever since I first set my foot up at Svalbard a couple of years ago, I have been longing to go back there. It is difficult to put into words, but there’s something about being so far up north. This winter I came across an ‘explore the east coast expedition’ and I just couldn’t hold it anymore, so I took the opportunity and booked both the trip and flight tickets. The weeks before departure I spent many hours going through what type of personal equipment I should bring with me. And I’m glad I did. Even though the expedition was carried out during Svalbard spring time, the temperature stayed around -10°C. Driving the snowmobile in chilly winds without freezing your fingers off is worth the effort of good planning.

Snowmobile. I have never driven one before, and now I see why people enjoy it so much. Driving through an untouched landscape as majestic mountains and blue glaciers pass by gives you an indescribable and calm feeling inside. Everything is white and all you left behind you is a small track which is soon to be covered with fresh snow. Being out here makes you see how fragile and wonderful nature really is. Per today 65% of Svalbard consists of conservation areas and there are little traces after human activity to be found.

We make a few stops now and then, either to take a quick leg stretcher or just to watch the breathtaking sceneries. At our first target, Temple fjord, there is a Dutch ship frozen in the ice. It is being run as a business for tourist to come for a night out in the wild looking for the northern lights. Together with a cup of tea we discuss with the owners about polar bear sightings. Just the day before there had been a mother with her two cubs passing by, but probably they had moved on already. And as the weekend was just about to start (the fjord would be filled with one-day-trip tourists) we saw no point in staying in the area.

We continued towards our goal for the night, and surrounded by the sound of nesting Northern Fulmars we put up our tent camp. Out here in the Arctic one needs to have a polar bear guard during the night and fortunately for us we brought the best guards there is, sled dogs. And I must admit there is quite exciting sleeping outside knowing there might be a polar bear right around the corner.

For the rest of the trip focus was at finding the majestic white bears, and we were lucky. The second night we reached our main goal, the east coast. Here we found our first sighting, a mother with her cubs. They stayed very far out on the ice so we stood for a few hours observing them through our binoculars before we returned to our tents for another night’s sleep. Per now it looked like this trip could turn out quite successful.

Looking for polar bears requires time, a good guide and especially a pair of good binoculars. And most of the days are spent looking for these amazing creatures. It is easy to forget what’s around one self but as soon as you stop the scooter there is an opportunity for good landscape pictures. We had in total ten polar bear observations and a few of them came up quite close to us.

But the best sighting we had our last night. We had been working with a big male for a small hour before he walked up towards a hill. And as we were about to pack the scooters for our last trip back to Longyearbyen through the night, we saw a mother with her two cub running down a steep slope. It turned out that the big male tried to track her down, most probably to kill of the cubs.
So we are standing there watching the mother with her small ones with only hundred meters between us, running away from our direction, this great photo opportunity just disappearing in a matter of seconds. After watching them running away over the fjord we start to discuss about the last trip home again. But as we are about to start the motors we see that the mothers suddenly makes a sharp turn. She stops running and she and the cubs start to walk towards us. So we are standing there again just waiting to see what will happen. What is happening is maybe one of my greatest experiences in the nature ever. The mother and her two cubs get up to us as close as 40 meters before she stops and lies down. The small ones looks really exhausted and probably in the shelter of us three people the three bears decided to rest for almost half an hour. It didn’t take long for the small one to recover and only a few minutes later they were already squabbling. This short moment felt like an eternity and when they finally walked away from us again we had to drive home to catch the flight back to mainland.

Do I really have to say that it won’t be long before I go back to Svalbard again!

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22 Comments

    1. Tusen tack Kolbjørn! Östkusten på Svalbard var helt fantastisk, och vi så många björnar 🙂

  1. Jonathan, your images absolutely rock! You show us a wide range of photography skills, and some of them are undeniably art masterpieces! I love the delicate tones you render your pictures, and the snow makes our for a very special atmosphere! This portfolio really makes me want to travel to Norway right away. Congrats!

    Now, if only you could share with us some exif data from your pictures: in some cases, I wonder how you manages your soft rendering.

    1. Hi Eric,
      I am glad you like my pictures. It was an amazing trip with lots of opportunities.
      I have found out a workflow that suits me, actually for most of the pictures I am using the ViewNX. I want the postprocessing to be quick and the ViewNX flows better then CaptureNX I think. For the cases where I want that little extra out of difficult exposures I’ve just started using Adobe Lightroom. I think the exif is stored in the images published in the series so if you have a exif reader in your browser you can probably just right-click on the images and find out. Otherwise I can add to below the pictures if desired.

      Regards
      Jonathan

      1. Thanks for the feedback. You’re right, the reader had crashed but now everything works. The light you got there is really amazing, looks like the color pallet was infinite.

  2. Hello,
    I was directed here form the nikonrumors.com website. I just wanted to say that I am blown away at these stunning photos! I’m a bit of a photography addict and on average look at over 500 photo’s a day, so at times I can get a bit jaded as I’ve seen so many photo’s of all kinds, but these photo’s stand out in my eyes. These truly are master level photo’s. I felt such emotion looking at them, I wanted to pack up my gear and head out to the arctic today! Thank you for sharing you work.

    1. What can I say, you don’t get these kind of comments very often. It is so fun to hear that my some of pictures stand out from the masses. A big thank you Rob! Almost made me blush 🙂

  3. Great photo’s they are absolutely stunning and real too!
    wow it looks and feels so cold. Glad that the D800e held up so well in the cold, I have not tested my D800 in weather, and thanks I don’t have too. lol

    1. Well, the Nikon cameras really performs in bad weather. Never had an issue with the camera houses, can always rely on them 🙂
      Thank you Louis 🙂

  4. Absolutely amazing pictures!! Wow, I am still trying to master the D800. I noticed your comment in your photog that you had to make some adjustments to keep the sharpness in tack. Could you please comment on what types of personal technique mods you used? I would be very interested in what type of camera support you use as well. Thanks for your comments, and great job, my mouth is watering for a trip like this!!

    1. Hi jeff,
      Well the difference from the D700 is to have a second look on the shutter speed and try to be extra sturdy in the arms when going handheld. The 36Mpix requires a much quicker shutter time than the D700. So it is not an issue with the focusing 🙂

      Regards
      Jonathan

  5. I too was directed here by Nikon Rumours. Your photographs are absolutely breathtaking. Thank you.

  6. Came here from Nikonrumours and what a find! Congratulations on such amazing and inspirational photos Jonathon!

    You really capture the essence of the high arctic– that light and that landscape and the fauna too. I so want to visit Svalbard and other places like East Greenland and northern Norway. – I just wish I had your talent for photography so I can bring home images I will be happy with.

    Thanks again for providing pictures that give such pleasure.

    All the best
    Chris

  7. Sir. I worked in the Arctic for a couple of years some time ago. I did not have a nice camera back then (and Im not a pro photographer). Anyway after I saw your pictures I dropped a couple of tears. You took back there
    thanks a lot sir

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