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My homage to mother nature

me in Svalbard

Me in wind-protection mode

These are some of the thought-steams going through my mind since getting back from Svalbard on Thursday. I'm trying to organise them by writing them down and this has helped, even if it is a bit of a smorgasbord!

I am just back from 2 weeks of 24/7 daylight and 24/7 photography. It was wonderful, necessary, refreshing, inspiring and just what the doctor ordered - nature’s prozac at it’s best.

I’d not been away anywhere for the last few years and needed to put myself into completely new, unchartered territory and to immerse myself in my photography. I was ready. I have traveled the globe fairly well and although I have been above the arctic circle twice in wintertime I have never experienced true Northern Arctic conditions in summertime. And boy did we go north.. right up to within 500 miles of the North Pole at 81.5 degrees.

In Svalbard my iPhone said sunset at 00:00 and sunrise at 00:05!

The trip was a gift to myself.

Polar bear

Polar bear seen from our boat

Svalbard is a truly magical place. It is eerie, mystical, mesmerising and stunningly beautiful.

Limited colours in the landscape ranged from powdery blue skies to incredible ranges of turquoises in the sea and ice and pale buffy brown mountains and white snow often topped with the most beautiful patterns of brown sand and earth.

The weather ranged from between minus 6 and plus 6, changing between sunny days with clear blue skies and mirror-like calm seas to windy, rainy days that were moody and rough.

And the light cast down by the midnight sun was so beautiful it made me weep.

It was so great just concentrating on photography without interruptions, without the internet, without the news, without attending to family duties, without thinking about DIY and renovations, without work, without anything other than me and my camera. Nothing else was important during those two weeks.

Bearded seal

A bearded seal showing off his absolutely perfect paws and splendid whiskers

There were about 70ish people on this trip. I made a few new friends and we had some really funny, belly-laughing-till-you-cry moments but mostly I kept myself to myself, avoiding social chit-chat.

It was fascinating watching others do photography. Here’s what I observed:

  • People got very carried away in the excitement of a 'wildlife sighting' without grounding themselves and thinking “Is this what I want my photo to be like?”’ and “Does this image tell a story?” or even “How do I interpret this scene?” or most importantly "Am I using the right settings to get what I want?"

  • People only going for the cliche shots. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than bagging a cliche shot… but that to me is just the beginning.

  • People zooming in too much - they forget to zoom out and show the environment.

  • I saw so many people furiously clicking like crazy and then being disappointed when back in the photo-editing media room - it was heartbreaking to see. I know this feeling as I am often broken by my own mistakes too.

  • I saw people confused as they were expecting to take National Geographic quality photos - without having put in the hard graft and learning beforehand.

  • I saw people clicking so furiously that they never stopped to simply watch the incredible scenes before their eyes. A few sightings were so special I wanted to drink in what I was seeing and burn it on to my mind forever.

I have been there in all these ways, so I completely get the whys. I have all those t-shirts, and still wear them - there is always more to learn as I know very little really. I am just a nobody who loves taking photographs of wildlife and nature. But observing all this made me aware of how much wiser I am now.

People wanted to sit beside me on the zodiacs to see what I was doing. In moments of calm they were asking to see what I’d done and how I did it. For example, "How ‘did’ I capture that bird in flight?" I actually didn’t mind helping people out if I could. It felt good seeing their progress and the sheer joy of nailing a shot that they were messing up before. It also felt like a bit of a confidence boost for me.

When asked ‘how’ I got a particular image I told them I photograph the garden birds for about an hour each day before work - regardless of weather, just to keep my hand in and to keep learning and discovering new ways of doing things. That's how. There are no magic settings, just settings appropriate for the scene before you v what you want to achieve.

Arctic Tern

Arctic tern. The most incredible bird that flies from pole to pole each year.

I think seeing the edge of the ice cap was one of the most important experiences of my life. Knowing global warming is reducing this edge is harrowing - not just for the polar bear and the other wildlife that lives up there, but for all of us. I don’t claim to know any answers… but it is something I want to learn more about now.

The edge of the ice cap

The very edge of the ice cap

People only really protect what they love - if you are told to protect something in a job-description kind of way then it becomes a mathematical exchange that can only be short term.

This Arctic area and the Antarctic are the last truly wild places on our troubled planet and we have to ensure they stay that way.

And yes, we did find plastic rubbish there.

When we, us humans, go to remote places we have a responsibility to protect those places and one way we can do this is to use photography.

It is a rare and immense privilege to visit such places and I owe it to mother nature to create the best images I can.

I hope that my images can make people love this place even just a little bit enough to care. With this in mind I will be spending all spare moments over the next few months trawling through the thousands I took to ensure I only show the very best in the final selection. So forgive me if my phone goes straight to voicemail! The photos I have chosen here are plucked out just for the now.

I know we can’t all get to places like Svalbard… however, the one thing I’ll say is, this: giving yourself the gift of immersing yourself into doing what you love is a wonderful, nourishing thing.

I was at peace there and it’s not often in my turbulent life I have said that!

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