I recently had the pleasure of going on a 10-day Svalbard expedition to explore pristine nature, wildlife and landscapes with a company called Natural World Safaris. We embarked on a small ship named “M/V Kinfish”. I can tell you that, hands down, it was one of the best trips of my life.
I’m Alex Stead – a London based travel and lifestyle photographer. I grew up in London and in the past five years have moved around the country to Cornwall and Brighton. I’ve loved photography ever since I was 13 years old.
It was always a passion of mine to become a photographer but I never dreamed I would get to travel to stunning places like Svalbard.
To be honest, a Svalbard expedition was never that high up on my travel bucket list. However, my girlfriend worked for Natural World Safaris who do holidays and adventures for travellers out in the Svalbard area.
The team at Natural World Safaris had seen some of my previous work and they were eager to collaborate with me. So I had the opportunity to go on a 10-day trip on a small ship around the archipelago.
I was blown away by my Svalbard expedition. The landscapes were just incredible. We visited some of the most remote areas and travelled without signal for most of the 10 days. It was refreshing to disconnect from technology for a while and reconnect with nature.
Our trip was mainly on the east side of Svalbard to places that I can’t spell or pronounce but that were incredibly beautiful.
The Journey to Svalbard: From London to Longyearbyen
I departed for my Svalbard expedition from London. It was quite the journey to get there. I had to book four flights and an overnight hotel in Copenhagen before I reached the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard. Booking in advance is essential for any journey to Svalbard.
It was 2pm when I arrived in Longyearbyen and I got transferred straight to the M/V Kinfish ship. I had the pleasure of meeting the other guests (in total there were 10 on board) and being welcomed by the crew.
As soon as I boarded this world-class ship I felt right at home. Our guides, Alex and Lauren, were amazing. We set off in the afternoon and sailed south. My great 10 day Svalbard expedition had begun!
On our first day we were lucky to see polar bears from a distance. I utilised my telephoto zoom lens to get a closer capture of these beautiful creatures.
In the afternoon, we hopped onto the zodiac boats and made our first landing on shore. It was awe-inspiring to see the Arctic landscape up close and discover a world teeming with wildlife.
As well as seeing polar bears, we got to see seabirds flying overhead and nesting in the cliffs. Arctic foxes were also roaming around hunting for bird eggs. It was an incredible sight that’s hard to put into words. After the shore landing, we headed back in our zodiacs to the Kinfish.
Highlights of my 10 Day Svalbard Expedition
Summer in Svalbard is when the midnight sun is out in full effect. It’s a bizarre feeling when you’re not used to the sun setting at the normal time.
However, this natural phenomenon makes for unique photography opportunities and wildlife viewing. Our guides, Alex and Lauren, would wake us up at different times of the day for polar bear sightings.
Each morning we woke up in a different location and spent our days going on at least one or two zodiac excursions. The glaciers and icebergs were breathtaking and the wildlife even more impressive.
It was a photographer’s dream to be on the zodiacs and get close to icebergs – capturing reflections of the landscape on the water.
One of the most memorable days of the trip (and my entire life) was on the north east of Svalbard when we saw 10+ polar bears including a mother and her two cubs. The polar bear family were playing and jumping in the water about 100m away. It was a magnificent sight!
Our small ship was the perfect platform to take photos of the polar bears as it was low to the water. We ended the day anchored to the sea ice with the most epic view of Svalbard that I will cherish forever.
Normally the east side of Svalbard is engulfed in ice, making it inaccessible. But since we visited in the summer months, the warmer weather allowed us to head around the ice as some of the ice had melted.
We were completely alone when we saw the 10+ polar bears within a four mile radius. Some of the polar bears were over 500m away and others were only 100m away making it a once in a lifetime experience.
The main reason people go on a Svalbard expedition is to get the opportunity to see polar bears up close. They are certainly the highlight for many travellers. But there is still so much more to see.
In the entirety of our 10 day Svalbard expedition we saw Arctic foxes, seals, walruses and countless different birds. For me, they were all highlights of a beautiful region of the world rich in wildlife.
Capturing the Beauty of Svalbard through Photography
In terms of photography, it’s a lot easier to take photos of polar bears in cloudy overcast conditions as the light is more even. Sunny days make for ideal sea and landscape images as the bright sunshine and blue sky allows the colour contrast to show on glaciers, icebergs and mountains.
I added a polariser lens to reduce some of the harsh reflections and really make the blues pop. My camera gear for this trip included my D850 and D810 Nikon bodies as well as the following lenses: 16-35mm, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 400mm 2.8, and 1.4 and 2X converters.
If you’re interested in learning more about why I used these lenses feel free to head my gear blog which explains everything in more detail.
Svalbard Expedition with Natural World Safaris
Natural World Safaris specialise in wildlife based tailor-made small group safaris. If you have the budget I would highly recommend them and I’m not just saying that because I worked with them. They are professional and have one of the nicest boats in the world – the M/V Kinfish.
With a maximum of 12 guests, you get to experience the incredible Svalbard landscape and wildlife in an intimate and personal way.
At the back of the boat you can get low to the water which is fantastic for photographers. The crew were super helpful and the en-suite cabins are newly refurbished with comfortable beds and luxurious white linen.
Cruising Svalbard on this ship was extremely comfortable. The M/V Kinfish has a fantastic stabilisation system that is superior to other vessels of its size. Passengers are able to sit in comfort with 360 views of the landscape and seabed from all levels of the ship.
If you’re interested in booking this trip called the Svalbard Polar Bear Explorer, check out the link here.
Tips for your Svalbard Expedition
My number one piece of advice for a Svalbard expedition is to book on a boat for starters and make sure it’s a small ship. There are a lot of ships which take 100 – 150 people. We had 10 people on our boat and I couldn’t have been happier with this intimate experience.
Svalbard is a once in a lifetime kind of place to visit so you have to be prepared to spend a lot of money. It’s one of the most remote places in the world. I doubt a trip there could be done cheaply! This is a good thing though as it makes the experience more precious.
Saving for this trip might take a while but your memories on a Svalbard expedition will last forever. I can’t recommend it enough!