Svalbard Photo Tours: An Introduction

Our Svalbard photo tours are made for photographers by photographers. Our goal is to get you the best photography opportunities. 

All our tours take place on ice-strengthened expedition vessels with a total of just 12 guests. This offers us a great deal of flexibility.

Each vessel is equipped with Zodiacs that we use for exploring and photographing from. Often some of our most intimate wildlife encounters are taken from the Zodiacs with the engine switched off as we silently drift. 

Unlike ships with larger guest numbers, our trips are unhurried and offer lots of time out in the field. There is no time waiting to enter a Zodiac and all our guests can fit in the zodiacs at the same time. 

Our tours are led by a professional expedition team and a photography expert in to assist you in the field. Our Svalbard photo tours are suitable for professionals, semi-pros, amateurs and those wanting to spend an extended time outside exploring. 

Choose Your Svalbard Photo Tour

Small Ship

with 12 Guests

Days

8 Days

Month

May

Natural Wonders Of Svalbard Photo Tour

With Florian Ledoux

Highlights:

  • Ideal for wildlife & landscape photographers
  • One of the best places in the world to photograph polar bears in the wild
  • Get up close to glaciers and pack ice
  • Remote Arctic landscapes

Next Dates: 6th  – 13th May & 13th – 20th May 2023

See The Tour E-mail me Brochure

Svalbard Explorer Wildlife Photography Tour

with Rinie van Meurs

Highlights:

  • A focus on wildlife photography opportunities from the ship, shore and Zodiacs.
  • Wildlife expert guide with30 + years experience.
  • One of the best places in the world to photograph polar bears in the wild
  • Get up close to glaciers and pack ice

Next Dates: 13th – 20th June & 7th – 18th August 2023

See the Voyage E-mail me Brochure

Small Ship

with 12 Guests

Days

8 – 12

Months

June & August

Svalbard Photo Tour Highlights

polar bear svalbard photo tours

Wildlife

Svalbard is known for an abundance of Arctic wildlife. Using a small expedition vessel we are able to get close to wildlife in a low impact way and open up fantastic photography opportunities. Although we can’t guarantee it, we often encounter polar bears on sea ice or hunting along the coastline. We frequently encounter walruses both from the shore and from the water and usually visit at least one walrus haul-out area. From the vessel, we often observe a variety of Whales, including belugas. Ashore we commonly see Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes. 

svalbard photo tour

Landscapes

One of the attractions of Svalbard is the frozen landscapes early in the season. Jagged, snow covered mountains framed by glaciers are just one of the many subjects to photograph. Early in the season it is difficult to land due to the ice on shore and the majority of our exploring will take place by Zodiac. The Zodiacs offer us opportunities to shoot sea ice in the foreground with landscapes and mountains in the background.  

sea ice landing on svalbard photography tour

Ice

The area is home to over 2,000 glaciers and sea ice is easy to see earlier in the year. Using Zodiac landing crafts allows us to get up close to the ice for some great photo opportunities. If conditions allow us we will cruise along with the faces of calving glaciers with lots of ice floating in the foreground for some perfect shots. We will attempt to reach the sea ice to the north on our ice-strengthened vessel. To see more ice choose a photo tour earlier in the season.

Svalbard Wildlife 

polar bear photo tour in svalbard

Polar Bears

The area around Svalbard is home to 2,000 plus polar bears and it is one of the world’s top destinations for seeing the apex predator of the Arctic. Polar bears are dangerous to encounter on land and the safest way to photograph them is at a distance from a small expedition vessel. During the summer months, polar bears are commonly sighted on the north-west coast of Spitsbergen, Svalbard’s largest island, and hunting on the sea ice to the north. Small expedition vessels regularly encounter polar bears although sightings can never be guaranteed.

walrus in svalbard

Walruses

An estimated 4,000 walruses live in Svalbard with several hauls out sites that can be visited on a Svalbard photo tour. During the shore landings, Walruses can be observed on the beaches and photographed from a safe distance. Walruses are also seen from expedition vessels lying on ice flows and swimming in the waters around Svalbard.

Svalbard photo tours Svalbard reindeer

Svalbard Reindeer

Svalbard has its own subspecies of reindeer found nowhere else on the planet. Svalbard reindeer have adapted to survive the harsh winters and are smaller than reindeer found elsewhere. The reindeer have lived on Svalbard for over 5000 years. They can be spotted all over the archipelago and inhabit the non-glaciated areas. Overhunting during the 19th and 20th century decimated to the population to the point of near extinction. Today they are easily spotted along the coast.

To find out more about the wildlife of Svalbard please see our blog posts: 21 animals you can see in Svalbard and Birds of Svalbard.

Meet Our Svalbard Photo Tour Leaders

Florian Ledoux

Photo Leader

Florian is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker who is passionate about protecting the Arctic through conservation photography.

Florian brings with him years of knowledge and experience of photographing in Svalbard on every Secret Atlas Trip.

His most recent assignment was filming the new Disney production ‘Polar Bear’ shot in Svalbard.

Florian’s work has been published in magazines like National Geographic, Time US, Géo France, and Spain, Oceanographic UK, National Geographic Traveler, as well as in the international daily press.

View Florian’s Profile

Rinie van Meurs

Photo Leader

Rinie van Meurs is the only person who spend 31 consecutive years as expedition leader in Svalbard, and locked more than 250 cruises in his seafarers book. He has been fortunate to photograph and study many Polar Bears in the Arctic and has become passionate about these magnificent animals as well as other Arctic wildlife.

He developed a broad interest in the entire sea ice ecosystem and marine life which resulted in his book “The Future Polar Bear: The impact of the vanishing sea ice on an Arctic ecosystem”.

Rinie will show you the most beautiful places in Svalbard and will give expert advice on photography in this unique environment.

 

Svalbard Photo Tours FAQ

Plan Your Svalbard Photo Tour

Which month is best for a Svalbard photo tour?

Every month offers something different for a photographer in Svalbard and often our guests return to experience the place at different times of the year.

We offer photo tours in Svalbard throughout the season which runs from March until early October.

In March & April Svalbard is emerging from the winter and conditions are more extreme with temperatures well below freezing. Expect frozen landscapes, plenty of ice and some amazing winter colours in the sky. Wildlife sightings are less frequent early in the season and it is suited to photographers looking to capture the magical winter light and frozen landscapes. Passages are shorter due to the sea ice restricting the north of Spitsbergen.

In early May the shores of Svalbard are still covered in snow making it a scenic paradise and ideal for photography. There is now 24 hours of sunlight. Wildlife begins to return and it is possible to sea polar bears on the edge of the fjord ice. Walruses can be seen resting on ice flows. Early in the month it is hard to land on the shores due to the ice and most of expedition will take place from the Zodiacs which we will use to explore the coastline. During these months cruises are shorter as access to the north coast can still be restricted due to the sea ice. 

By the end of May and into June the coast to the north of Svalbard opens up making longer expeditions possible. Birds begin to arrive back in Svalbard and June offers a great month for wildlife photography. As the fjord ice disappears it makes it possible to get up close to mighty glaciers that have been locked in by ice for the winter. 

In July and August the summer is here. The sea ice has retreated further north and it is usually possible to reach further less visited parts of Svalbard. These months offer the ideal opportunity for wildlife viewing. By the end of August the birds start to migrate south.

September is a good month for photography as the light becomes lower in the sky. Whilst the birds have mostly migrated south, Polar bears and walruses are still frequently sighted. It is also possible to witness the first snow of the coming winter.  

Where do your Svalbard photo tours depart from?

All our Svalbard photo tours depart and return to the town of Longyearbyen.  Longyearbyen is easily reached by daily flights from Oslo in Norway making it one of the easiest destinations to reach in the High Arctic. To find out more about how to get to Longyearbyen please visit our guide. 

How do your Svalbard photo tours work?

All our Svalbard photography tours take place on purpose built, ice-strengthened expedition vessels that are capable of entering the sea ice. 

What makes our tours really unique is that we take just 12 photographers per voyage. This helps us create an intimate experience for our guests and gives you lots of flexibility to get the photography that you came for. 

Our trips are led by an experienced expedition leader, an assistant expedition leader and a professional photographer with lots of previous experience shooting in Svalbard. This team are there to help you get the shots you came for and provide you with any assistance as necessary. 

During the days we will launch the Zodiac landing craft and use them to explore. This are ideal to shoot photography from and help us get close to wildlife without causing any disturbances. 

 

Why is a a small ship expedition the best way to photograph Svalbard?

At Secret Atlas our philosophy is the smaller the group size the richer the expedition experience for our guests.

Large cruise ships taking over 100 guests offer a completely different type of experience. 

A small ship with 12 guests offers a great deal of flexibility. We can reach areas large ships cannot reach, deploy our zodiacs rapidly if we see a photography opportunity, and have a much lower impact. 

Our Svalbard photo tours offer you a chance to experience Svalbard in a personal way without the crowds of larger vessels. Our goal is to make you part of the adventure.

During Your Svalbard Photo Tour

What wildlife will I see on my Svalbard photo tour?

Svalbard is an untamed Arctic wilderness and on every photo tour we encounter different wildlife. We can never guarantee specific wildlife sightings, although we do work with expedition teams that are excellent wildlife spotters to maximise chances.  

Svalbard in our opinion is the best place in the High Arctic to see wildlife including polar bears as there are high concentrations surrounding the islands. Whilst a sighting is never guaranteed we do frequently get a chance to photograph polar bears in their natural environment. 

The chances of encountering wildlife are very high and on all previous trips, we have seen walruses, whales, Svalbard Reindeer and a variety of birdlife. Whilst we can’t make any guarantees, we have encountered polar bears on the majority of our trips and we cruise areas where they are known to hunt.

You can find out more about the wildlife in Svalbard in this blog article here.

 

What places will I visit on a photo tour to Svalbard?

Our Svalbard photo tours offer a chance to explore and don’t follow set itineraries or routes. This gives us a great deal of flexibility to maximise photographic opportunities based on the sea ice and weather conditions. 

On a typical photo tour we will launch the Zodiacs on a daily basis to go exploring and carry out shore landings. 

Our expedition team will ensure you see the most that Svalbard has to offer.

 

Will it be cold on my photo tour to Svalbard?

Due to the influence of the gulf stream on Svalbard’s climate, it is warmer during the summer than most people would imagine. A summer’s day rarely feels colder than the temperatures experienced in Northern Europe during the winter. It is not uncommon to be out hiking with only a base layer on when the sun is shining.

The temperature varies depending on the month you travel with the months of July and August offering the warmest temperatures.

Average High:

April -9°C,

May -3 °C

June +3°C

July +7°C

August +6°C

September +1°C

Know More

Is an Expedition Micro Cruise or Small Ship Suitable for me?

Our cruises are suitable for the vast majority of people and we aim to make them as accessible as possible. We ask that our guests have a good level of mobility as it is a requirement that you can safely step down from the vessel into the landing craft and then exit the landing craft on the beach. Due to the remote areas we visit and the distance from medical assistance, we advise that you have a reasonable level of fitness and are in good health. During the shore landings, we have 2 guides which enable us to split the group if we have some keen hikers and some other guests with more limited range.

Who joins your Svalbard photo tours?

Our Svalbard photo tours attract guests from all walks of life and onboard we have a diverse group of like minded travellers. Photographers vary from professionals looking to build their portfolios to semi-pro’s and amateurs looking to experience a unique location. 

In the past we have had young professionals, middle-aged solo travellers, looking for their next adventure, through to retirees looking to see Svalbard in a more in-depth way. Our trips are friendly and inclusive for all our guests.

 

Can I join your photo tour as a solo traveller?

Yes, you can and every year we welcome solo travellers onboard where you will find a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

We offer accommodation options for single cabins or sharing a cabin with travellers of the same gender.

Can I join your photo tour as a non-photographer?

Our photo tours are designed for guests that are looking to spend time out in the field taking photos. 

We allow non-photographers or partners of photographers to join our trips that are happy to spend extended time out on the zodiacs enjoying the nature and wildlife watching.

We also have an expedition leader and guide onboard as we do with our standard expeditions so there will be lots of opuurutunity to learn about Svalbard. 

Sustainability

How do you ensure your photo tours don’t have a negative effect on the environment?

That’s a great question and one we want to answer honestly.

The vessels we work with don’t burn heavy fuels which are particularly detrimental to the environment and run on standard marine diesel. As a part of our commitment to the environment, we climate compensate all of our emissions by planting trees with our sustainability partner in Greenland. The cost of this is covered within the fares our guests pay and we don’t charge an additional fee for this.

Secret Atlas don’t sell flights but we are aware our guests have to fly to our destinations to board our cruises. As a part of our climate commitment, we will match the offset costs for any guests who would like to offset their flights with us. This is offered at the time of booking.

During our photo tours, we follow very strict guidelines as set out by AECO (Association Of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) to ensure minimal impact on the wildlife and places we visit. This includes following strict rules about not disturbing wildlife in its natural habitat. We employ highly experienced expedition leaders to run our expeditions in accordance with the rules and safety code laid out by AECO. The principal rules are:

  1. Leave no lasting signs of your visit
  2. Do not pick flowers
  3. Do not take anything with you
  4. Do not disturb animals and birds
  5. Leave cultural remains alone Cultural remains are protected by law and a zone of 100 meters around the remains is also considered a protected zone. Watch where you are walking and standing. Walk around and not in between obj
  6. Take the polar bear danger seriously
  7. Respect local culture and local people
  8. Be safe

Our expedition leaders are highly trained in safety and following these rules and brief guests at the beginning of each departure. They ensure the safety of the guests throughout the cruise and that the AECO rules are followed.

As a member of AECO we take great efforts to ensure our trips don’t have any negative impact on the wildlife or environment. You can find out more here. 

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