My wife and I area avid eclipse chasers. One of the joys of seeking out total solar eclipses is their geographic dispersion: each total eclipse can be viewed only from a narrow band of land or sea whose swatch could cut across any corner of the globe. This means the dedicated eclipse junkie could, and eventually will, end up traveling to nearly any given remote spot on the planet. In March, 2015, we had the opportunity to observe and photograph a total solar eclipse in Longyearbyen, the only population center in Svalbard, the vast island in the Norwegian Arctic. This wonderful trip was conducted by A Classic Tour Collection (http://aclassictour.com/travel-company/), specialists in eclipse tours. Home to more polar bears than humans, Svalbard is a place of remarkable pristine beauty located closer to the North Pole than it is to mainland Norway.
In a previous post I provided a primer on eclipse photography. You can review that post here: Post on Eclipse Photography. And don’t forget to book your travel for the upcoming Great American Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Today’s post focuses on Svalbard’s photographic treasures. The village of Longyearbyen itself is very distinctive. The world’s northernmost permanent settlement, it was built to enable the mining industry in the region. The landscape and architecture are very unusual and starkly beautiful.
This row of miner’s cottages, each painted a vibrant color, makes a nice subject. I overexposed the foreground and background snow to emphasize the richly saturated colors of the houses. Buy this photo
Any Arctic location affords the possibility of seeing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The conditions must align properly: dark sky, clear weather, and it helps to be near a peak in the solar cycle. While I’ve seen more impressive displays in the past, the aurora we observed in Svalbard was still impressive.
To capture the Northern Lights, use a fast wide-angle lens and a sturdy tripod. As a starting point for exposure, try an ISO setting of about 800 and shutter speeds from about 4-15 seconds. Experiment to see what works best. Buy this photo
The stark icy landscapes surrounding Longyearbyen are otherworldly. I photographed this glacier-covered mountain near sunset, and we enjoyed the excitement of climbing it the next day.
To make this image of an icy butte on the outskirts of the village, I used a tripod and exposed using spot metering for the rocky parts of the mountain. Buy this photo
When shooting in very cold climates like Svalbard in March, it’s important to keep both your gear and yourself safe and functional. Check out this post on shooting in extreme conditions: Post on Extreme Conditions.
One of the trip highlights was a polar bear safari by snowmobile. Zipping along pristine ice fields at speeds up to 75 km/hour while the Arctic sun slowly set was thrilling. Our turnaround point was an old campsite on the shore of the Barents Sea. It truly felt like the edge of the world. Due to an incident earlier in the day, in which a group of campers was attacked by a polar bear and forced to shoot it, we did not encounter any of the skittish bears that night. We did, however, see the doomed animal’s footprints in the fresh snow.
My wife hikes alongside the tracks of a polar bear shot to death earlier the same day. This dramatic image was made in near total darkness, so I was forced to use flash as the main lighting source. In these situations, I dial down the power of the flash by at least one stop and try to position it for maximum dramatic impact. Buy this photo
One of my favorite images from the trip, this was made on the shore of the Barents Sea at sunset. Landscapes like this one need to be composed especially carefully to best showcase elements in the foreground, middle ground, and background. I chose a vantage point low to the ground to emphasize the ice floes. While I also experimented with using a bit of fill flash, I preferred this image with natural light only. Buy this photo
On eclipse day, there is a palpable air of excitement. Here is a shot of astronomer and leading eclipse expert Jay Pasachoff preparing for the eclipse along with one of his students.
Even during an exciting event like a total solar eclipse, it’s important to remember to document the people and activities in your group. Buy this photo
The diamond ring effect signals the start of the period of totality. Buy this photo
After the eclipse viewing, we enjoyed a dogsled ride back to Longyearbyen village. I wanted to capture the feeling of exhilaration as the dogs pulled us rapidly along the snow fields into a wide-open horizon. To capture that emotion, I shot from the perspective of the rider, handheld, using a fast shutter speed and a fairly wide focal length. Buy this photo
Wildlife is a favorite genre of photography in nearly any region. During our ascent of a glacier-covered mountain, we were fortunate to observe several Svalbard reindeer, the world’s smallest subspecies. I used a telephoto lens and exposed for the animal’s fur, as using an auto mode would have underexposed the main subject due to the bright snowy background. Buy this photo
Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost settlement, so it stands to reason it would contain the world’s northernmost church. Care must be taken when photographing architecture using a wide-angle lens not to distort the perspective. Buy this photo
Your intrepid author photographing the total solar eclipse. Buy this photo
Parting shot: After returning from Svalbard, I created this montage of several images each depicting a different phase of the eclipse. Buy this photo
I hope this article inspires you to want to visit Svalbard. While extra effort is required to visit the world’s most remote and extreme destinations, the returns are enormous in terms of the beauty and unique photographic experiences.
Have you visited Svalbard or other Arctic destinations? What was most memorable? Please share your thoughts here.
Want to read more posts about travel photography destinations? Find them all here: Posts on Destinations.