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I’ve just got back from two weeks-ish on the Vavilov, the ship that Exodus charter to explore the polar regions. I’m lucky enough to have been on several times before and it and its crew and staff are all top rate - can't fault any aspect of the experience. I was travelling with Jonathan and Angie Scott and many of the staff who I know so it was a very pleasant platform from which to forage for photos. This time we headed north to the Svalbard archipelago in search of nice ice, polar bears and a few sexy birds.  

It was a real mix of moods and weather. I got so cold after a seawater drenching and then two hours in a Zodiac pottering along the edge of an ice shelf in a slush of freezing water and sleet that I couldn’t even pee when I got back to my cabin. And then I wandered around in a tee shirt trying to photograph Arctic foxes whilst getting an unhealthy tan. But as usual it wasn’t the climate which impacted on my disposition, it was the fluxing fortunes of photo opportunities.

Let me nail it to the mast straight away – we didn’t get close enough to any bears to get anything useable. We had great views, some good behaviour and plenty of time to enjoy the four bears that we found but they were just too far away to score. But as we all know, that’s the way it goes, that’s why we keep going back, keep trying, because we know that if we put in the hours it will happen. And besides, I didn’t like the light or the backgrounds much anyway. So the big white furries were no photo fun.

Getting decent pictures in the Zodiacs on the sea is an art which is often pretty difficult, bumping about, trying to get the helmsman or woman to align it properly and then holding the kit steady can all conspire to reduce success. So I was pleased to be able to get something out of a couple of encounters with birds on ‘bergs. The row of Kittiwakes were obliging and with a bit of work tidying in Lightroom the shot might scrub-up and the lonely drake Eider peeping over the snowy crest had potential but I’m not sure I capitalised before it flew off.

As far as I’m concerned Artic Terns have co-incidentally evolved to be almost perfect photographic subjects. Lean, streamlined, simply marked and beautifully balanced it's always a treat to try and squeeze their gorgeous curves into the frame and do something with their translucent feathers it terms of the light. I missed a reflection opportunity - tern on drift wood, in pool behind beach, mirrored perfectly, flew off as I arrived – so I was happy to spend the morning in Longyearbyen on the beach with a few pairs of these super models. Again once I’ve fiddled they might yield something of use.

Fulmars are veritably ‘old hags’ compared to the terns but they are always following the ship, often absurdly close, and I rather like their stiff winged gliding profile. But they are also easy, anyone with a bit of servo auto-focus can get a nice portrait with a bit of effort, so I worked hard until the bitter end to make the beasts beautiful. Thus on the last night I neglected the revelry in the bar and hung out on the deck until one forty, shooting away in the low late sun and over the mirror calm ocean. I identified small zones of nice water in terms of its colours, wave patterns and reflective quality and then just waited until a bird flew across them and my camera locked on. Maybe it was worth the wait . . . The mad inky reflections were one goal but as usual the best birds didn’t match the best water or the best reflections. The one here has a manky wing, one of its primary feathers is broken or out of place, and I don’t really like the way that it is approaching with its beak mixed up with its head. I prefer the side profile shot over the sunnier water, it has some very nice reflected lines cast by the mountains beyond, but I’m afraid it is a very heavy crop and hasn’t enough pixels to withstand any serious use.

Counter to my usual photographic self-loathing I’m still trying to like the shot of the Fulmar over the sunspot. Its pin sharp and perfectly placed in respect to the reflected light and is actually lit itself by the sun bouncing back from the brilliant white side of the ship. It's about a fifty percent crop from a vertical frame, the reason I was using the focusing spot in the centre of the frame, but just out of this crop there are two other very distracting highlights which have to go from the final composition. The velvety black water, the foreground sparkles and the detail retained in the wings are okay though. Rest assured I’ll hate it within the week and isn’t it a pity that it wasn’t a Snow Petrel!

Here are a few other snaps too, nothing of merit, but it wasn’t my most productive two weeks with a camera. Female Grey Phalarope, Arctic Fox and Glaucous Gull .The landscapes will probably have birds grafted onto them at some point, that’s why I shot them and have deliberately over-cooked them in Light room.

P.S Bird wise it was great, Ivory Gulls and King Eiders adding to summer plumage Grey Phalarope and swirling clouds of Little Auks, plus some excellent Arctic Skua vs Kittiwake dogfight action, Snow Buntings and Long-tailed Ducks. Ooooh, yes!




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