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Svalbard

by Josh Anon

Story by Light May 20th, 2016

Editor’s note: The images in this post were taken with a Light L16 prototype. The prototype used for these images uses pre-production image sensors and pre-production image processing algorithms. While we like these images, and they reflect the potential of Light‘s technology, the image quality of the final L16 cameras will be even better.

I’m Josh Anon, a member of Light’s Creative Advisory Board, and I’ve been a nature photographer for over 20 years. I have a passion for traveling and finding unique moments with beautiful light. A few years ago, I went to Svalbard for the first time. Svalbard is an Arctic archipelago with some of the northern-most settlements in the world. In the winter, months go by without the sun ever rising, while in the summer it never sets. Polar bears and walruses call Svalbard home year-round, and whales and birds migrate there in the summer. I caught the polar virus and the unique landscape, wildlife, and light have kept me coming back.

You can see my full galleries at http://joshanon.com to get a sense of what Svalbard is like throughout the year.

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On one of these trips, I met two amazingly talented photographers: Ole J Liodden and Roy Mangersnes, who run WildPhoto. WildPhoto specializes in Arctic photography and runs the northern-most photo gallery in the world in Longyearbyen. The best part was, like me, they were always searching for new and unique light and experiences. After months of work (including securing special permission, buying crazy immersion suits and more) they were able to organize their first boat-based winter expedition (Svalbard has a dark winter and a light winter!). I joined them and 10 others from April 12-19 this year, and it was spectacular.

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Our hope for the expedition was to capture the white landscape, with its snow and ice, in the soft and colorful light around the midnight sun (and ideally to have some wildlife as subjects!). Our first evening, as we headed out to sea, we were immediately captivated by the light and colors. While sailing through various fjords, we encountered a particular type of thin, newly-formed ice. It created many unique shapes and reflected the ever-changing sky amidst its deep blue color.

We were even lucky enough to see two polar bears, including a close encounter with one our first evening. Polar bears are special creatures and have different personalities. Sometimes they’re curious and will come close to check you out. This can be dangerous as you don’t know the difference between a curious bear and a hungry bear, so you have to put safety first. We were safe on our ship during all of these encounters, and never pursued a bear, always waiting instead to see if they’d come to us. The challenge, though, is when the bears don’t want to be found - if they don’t want you to see them, you won’t. They can just lie down, and blend completely into the vast, icy landscape. You could be within 100 feet of a bear and not realize it.

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The last polar bear count is from the mid-90s, and it put the population at ~25,000 world-wide. Some countries, like Canada and Greenland, still allow bear hunting, and kill roughly 1,000 bears each year. Plus, we know for certain that climate change is having a negative impact on the overall bear population. In the Arctic, you also see the results of climate change firsthand: the sea ice was much further north than previously, even during the coldest point of the year. Suffice it to say that all these factors come together making it tremendously hard to find a bear, and all the more special when you do. We balanced spending time in the fjords seeing walruses, with hours sailing at the sea ice’s edge, looking for bears. Our guides also spent hours with binoculars on the bridge and outside in -5°F/-20°C temperatures searching for signs of wildlife.

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We also received special maps showing the most likely ice pieces on which to see bears—you can see one in the background of this photo.

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Beyond polar bears, the other special part of our winter, boat-based expedition was the fjord ice we encountered. We saw every type of ice you can think of, from juvenile ice (newly-formed) to pancake ice (starting to solidify into round chunks) to sheets of ice, to a huge iceberg that likely floated to Svalbard from Greenland.

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The biggest challenge shooting on this trip wasn’t the cold as you’d expect (thanks to multiple layers and down-filled GoreTex jackets) but rather finding time to sleep. During the day, the sun never rose very high, but didn’t fully set at night either. From 10pm to 5am, the sun sat low in the sky, making golden hour last all night! On our last evening, we parked in a beautiful fjord, hoping a polar bear would come check us out. I was outside shooting around 11pm when the sun dropped below the horizon. I kept going outside every so often for the next few hours as the the sky changed colors, and took this photo at 3am when the sun started to rise again. The way the soft, pink light reflected off the ice was incredible. And even though we didn‘t find a polar bear in this fjord, it was still an amazing experience! I’m already making plans to go back to the unique and special place that is Svalbard.

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Svalbard and Jan Mayen