The high Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination. Explorers, adventurers and more recently wildlife enthusiasts, have found it to be a place that delivers extra ordinary scenes in a pure wilderness. The Svalbard Islands are located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole and here you will find pure untouched Arctic wilderness.
It is a place of extraordinary beauty, dramatic scenery and rich wildlife. It is a land where glaciers are mirrored in pristine waters with snow-capped mountain peaks standing tall, the playground of the largest predator of the Arctic - the polar bear - roaming the vast expanse of pack ice.
Over the years most people travel here in September, when the waters are free of ice making it easier to navigate around the islands. Over the last few years the pack ice surrounding Svalbard has been opening up earlier and earlier each year. This means that it is now possible to navigate Svalbard as early as April, yet also have lots of pack ice available to visit. The reason for requiring pack ice is that it is the home of the polar bear and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing a polar bear walking and jumping on floating ice in the Arctic ocean.
April is the start of spring in the Arctic, with all the migrant birds returning to the shores to start courtship. The Polar Regions have a very productive and short breeding season and our expedition is planned to coincide with the start of this breeding season. Coupled with the large ice packs that surround Svalbard this cruise will offer you the best of both worlds in terms of finding polar bears on pack ice and also experiencing one of the wonders of nature, Spring in the high Arctic.
In addition to the bird life, we will explore and expect to spend time with walrus, artic fox, reindeer and bearded seals. But the king of the landscape is the polar bear and nowhere else can polar bears, be found more reliably in their natural habitat- the sea ice. Photographing these magnificent animals in this austere environment is for most photographers, a “once in-a-lifetime” experience.
Going by boat allows you to move around freely and it allows you to spend as much time at any specific location as needed… in essence it allows for great photographic opportunities. Voyages in spring are best as this ensures that the sun is lower in the sky this time of year and for photographers this means the quality of the light is softer and gentler. The quality of the light is simply quite amazing at this time of year.
In 2012 C4 Photo Safaris chartered their first voyage to Svalbard and it was a grand success, with countless sightings of polar bears.
This will be C4 Photo Safaris’ seventh expedition to Svalbard. We have used our experience of past sightings, season and vessel to ensure that this trip is the best one yet. It is a photography-focused expedition with no fixed itinerary. If we encounter a good sighting, we will stay there as long as we like. Our “itinerary” is to find excellent wildlife sightings during your time on board and make sure you come home with amazing images.
The ongoing development of stricter regulations by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and the reviewing of the Polar Code will likely create increased standards and costs for the operation of vessels in polar regions. One outcome is that all vessels wishing to operate in polar regions will require “Polar Ship Certification” and this is anticipated to become effective between by 2018. The review of the Code addresses ship’s construction standards, polar safety equipment, and the requirements for a qualified ice navigator. A major objective of the new Code is the existence of international, comprehensive, and non-discriminatory standards for Arctic ships in the near future. It is anticipated that all ships, will inevitably face increased costs to gain and maintain the whatever new form of certification becomes mandatory. For photographers, who enjoy the more intimate small ship experiences with polar region wildlife, landscapes and seascapes, such as that offered on MS Freya, the new Code may curtail the current access we have to these magnificent remote regions. With the usual high demand for MS Freya we expect the demand to become even higher with the new regulatory requirements on the horizon. If you are a dedicated wildlife or nature photographer and you plan to travel to one of the last true wildernesses before access to it changes, this photographic expedition is designed for you.
By the end of October the Arctic sun will have shed its last rays for the year and Svalbard heads towards a period of darkness, known as the “Dark Winter”, or polar night when the sun does not rise at all. Between mid-November and the end of January, darkness prevails around the clock. In contrast, the period March to May is known as the “Light Winter” in Svalbard. As the light returns the activity and energy levels on the islands increase – for both the people and the wildlife. Everyone wants to get out, to see and explore! The days become increasingly longer, and by the middle of April, the midnight sun has returned to warm a winter white landscape. The seals and the polar bears enjoy the sun’s rays from the fjord ice and the landscape is still a winter wonderland, an exceptional backdrop for photography (compared to the brown landscapes found later in the year, when the majority of the snow has melted). April, being one of the driest months, is also at the start of the Spring season with plenty of new life starting to emerge and tens of thousands of migrant birds commencing their return to the shores to start courtship.
Most people select to travel to Svalbard in the peak season of late May/June/July/August when the surrounding seas traditionally experience less ice, making it easier to navigate amongst the islands. Over the last few years the pack ice surrounding Svalbard has been opening up earlier in the year. It has been possible to navigate Svalbard, in the right vessel, as early as May yet also have plenty of pack ice available, especially in the East and North.
The king of the Arctic is the polar bear. They are at the top of the regional food chain, the largest bear species in the world, are marine animals who swim and walk great distances. Their true habitat is the dense drift ice and the fast ice of the frozen fjords and bays. This pack ice is the home of the polar bear and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing a polar bear or a bear and cubs, walking across a floating ice wonderland in the Arctic region. While only the hardiest of Svalbard’s wildlife can be seen in winter, the island’s animals come out to play in spring. March/April is the peak breeding time for polar bears, and groups, including mother and cubs (who then emerge from their dens for the first time), can frequently be seen together at this time of the year. Also, the bears will have seen no vessels for the entire winter and so are more curious. In April they are not ‘harassed’ by vessel after vessel seeking to get close to see them, as occurs in June/July/August when the number of cruise and expedition ships increase dramatically. In April, the bears are generally more relaxed and approachable. Having only a small group (14 maximum), in two zodiacs, makes approaches to bears and especially to bears with cubs, less threatening, compared to ten or twelve zodiacs from the vessels which carry in excess of a hundred passengers. Using a smaller vessel at this time optimises opportunities for getting closer to walruses from both shore and zodiac.
The polar regions have a short but very productive breeding season and the expedition is planned to coincide with the commencement of the breeding season. It is designed to offer you the best of both worlds in terms of finding polar bears on pack ice and experience one of the wonders of nature – Spring in the high Arctic, one of the most magical places on the planet.
Finally, typical wind speeds in April, vary from 1 mph to 15 mph (light air to moderate breeze), rarely exceeding 27 mph (strong breeze) making it very amenable for photography from a smaller ship like MS Freya.
The tour leaders are Shem Compion, Owner of C4 Photo Safaris and Kyle de Nobrega, Professional Photographer and Safari Guide with C4 Photo Safaris.
Shem is the founder and owner of C4 Photo Safaris and we have led many photographic adventures over the last ten years, including several to polar regions. You will appreciate his knowledge of wildlife and the experience he has of Svalbard. He will get you to the best photographic locations and introduce you to the best photographic opportunities in the icy waters of Svalbard. His photographic eye and excellent naturalist knowledge enable him to capture unique and compelling images be it in the Arctic or in the deserts of Namibia. The diversity and amount of awards he has won are testament to his versatility as a global wildlife photographer. This will be Shem’s 7th trip to the Arctic. We chose to use the same crew and Expedition Leader in the Arctic to ensure continuity and be satisfied that we are working with the best team while in amongst the pack ice searching for polar bears.
Kyle, a professional naturalist guide, a wildlife photographer has dedicated his life to wilderness regions and the natural world. He is constantly on a mission to explore, find and share the photographic jewels of nature. He is one of the leading young creative photographers in Southern Africa. His eye for a striking image is well honed and coupled with his deep naturalist knowledge he will assist you capture many compelling images. Shem and Kyle have guided together many times and have formed an excellent working relationship. In 2016 Kyle and his partner Ruth Nussbaum paddled the length of Lake Tanganyika to raise US$50,000 to fund the translocation of an endangered black rhino to the sanctuary of Botswana. This self supported adventure took 6 weeks and when they returned, the required funds had been raised! The rhino is now happily residing safely in the Okavango Delta- a direct result of Kyle and Ruth’s passionate endeavours. Kyle is C4’s in house photographer in Maun, manages C4’s operations in Botswana and guides photo safaris throughout Africa and elsewhere.
Please note that the tour starts and ends on the MS Freya. It is advisable to arrive in Longyearbyen at least one day earlier.
Board MS Freya in Longyearbyen harbour at 16.00 hrs. Please note you are responsible for finding your own way to the vessel in Longyearbyen Harbour. There are a number of taxi services in Longyearbyen.
Closer to the date of departure we will advise you on transfer arrangements from your hotel to MS Freya in Longyearbyen Harbour. When on board it will be a “meet, greet and enjoy a drink”, followed by an evening of orientation before retiring. The ship will sail as we sleep.
On board MS Freya. Heading along the west or east coast of the archipelago MS Freya will continue to sail until it reaches the pack ice where the quest for polar bears begins. The actual itinerary, selected by the captain, will be determined by the sea, wind and most importantly by the conditions prevailing at the time of planned departure from Longyearbyen. Both the eastward and northward passages provides many photographic opportunities.
If the light obliges, we should have spectacular ice landscapes over the wilderness. Every endeavour will be made to spend extended periods photographing polar bears as they hunt, rest and play on the pack ice. Be aware however that polar bears are not easy to find and there may will be extended periods with little polar bear activity. After spending the allotted time in the east and or north region the vessel will begin its return voyage to Longyearbyen arriving approx. 9.00am on 17 April 2019.
If ice and weather conditions permit, the vessel will visit the spectacular ice cliffs of Ausfonna, an incredible spectacle. On occasions the ship will operate continually over twenty four hours. At other times the engines will shut down at night in the ice or in a sheltered harbour. This can often be an attraction for bears and frequently they are found close to the ship in the early morning.
Return to port with an anticipated time of disembarkation at Longyearbyen harbour of 09.00 hrs. This is the end the workshop. Please note you are responsible for finding your own way back to your hotel or the airport. There are a number of taxi services in Longyearbyen.
The vessel we will use will be the MS Freya. This is one of the finest vessels in the Arctic: Perfect for work in pack ice, recently refurbished and with an excellent track record in Svalbard. She is in very high demand throughout the year and often very hard to find space on. The owner, Captain and crew of the ship have extensive experience in running photographic expeditions in this region. The MS Freya’s crew are great enthusiasts of the region’s unique wildlife and unspoilt nature too, so do not be surprised if you unexpectedly see the chef ashore taking photographs or studying birds, whenever time permits. The genuine curiosity of the crew is a prerequisite for successful expeditions of this kind. A trip on board MS Freya in the pristine waters of this polar region is an experience of a lifetime.C4 Photo Safaris has worked with the expedition leader on two previous occasions. This on-going relationship means you will gain from our experience of working together with him.
The MS Freya was built in 1981 in the Åsiverken shipyard in Amal as a lighthouse building vessel. Since then she has been used by the Swedish Coast Guard for environmental protection purposes; as a research ship by the University of Umeå, and has also spent time as a diving vessel. She has recently undergone a full refit as a passenger ship and has undertaken her first season exploring the icy shores of Svalbard.
With space to accommodate 12-18 expedition passengers, it will feel more like being on board your own private yacht than an Arctic cruise ship. All cabins have on floor bunks/beds and private facilities and all are the same price/person. Please nominate a preferred cabin number from the deck plan and we will endeavor to allocate it to you. If it has already been booked when we receive your Registration Form and initial deposit, we will allocate a cabin to you.
A non-refundable deposit of US$3,350.00 per person sharing and US$5,350.00 per person single. The balance is payable 8 week before tour start date.
There is accommodation for a maximum of fourteen (14) clients and a minimum of nine (9) clients on this tour, registrations will be accepted strictly in the order they are received.
A detailed pre-departure document detailing climate, clothing, travel logistics, travel information, camera gear and other safari information will be sent to you a 6 weeks prior to your departure date.
Although polar bears will remain our focus throughout, you can expect to photograph a range of wildlife and landscape subjects using a variety of lenses from wide-angle to telephoto. Most wildlife subjects will require a telephoto in the range 300mm - 500mm. A wide-angle zoom (e.g. 28 -135mm) would be ideal for scenic images. A tripod is recommended. The power supply on the boat is 220 volts. A European plug adaptor (two thick round pins) will be required.
For clients who book with us, we will send through a comprehensive list on:
Board MS Freya in Longyearbyen harbour at 16h00.
Return to port with an anticipated time of disembarkation at Longyearbyen harbour of 09h00.
"This was my first C4 trip, but it wont be my last. C4 had been highly recommended by 2 friends who had travelled with them previously in Africa. Together with a few other friends, we all decided to go to Svalbard with C4. This trip consisted of us 12 photographers and our 2 guides, Shem and Kyle, as the only guests on a small ship as we travelled around Svalbard searching for wildlife and photographing the stunning, and at times, overpowering landscapes around us. We also had 2 expedition guides and a small but extremely capable crew. Firstly, Shem and Kyle. Their knowledge and their willingness to share it and teach each of us camera skills and post processing both out in the field and on the ship just blew me away. They only got out their cameras occasionally, and then, only when every one of their guests were happily photographing with no problems or questions. The patient way in which both Kyle and Shem answered questions, assisted in the set up of cameras doggedly going about problem solving and demonstrated things in Lightroom or were just generally around to assist, was amazing and was a real comfort particularly when I was stressed and not wishing to miss shots due to worrying about doing the wrong thing. The sheer enthusiasm of Kyle and Shem permeated the entire atmosphere of this cohesive group of travellers and the vibe on board was fantastic. The landscapes that we traversed were many and varied but the word that springs to mind as I look back on this trip is majestic. I will never forget the sight of a Polar Bear plodding across the ice with a back of huge white mountains. It was almost surreal. Our expedition leaders made sure that we got off the ship and into the zodiacs if there was an opportunity to do so and on those occasions we photographed from the zodiacs. The Captain advised us that there was a lot of ice around for our trip and so we had had less exposure to the zodiac experience than he would ordinarily expect. It did not matter. You cant control the weather and you cant control how many animals and birds you see - that is part of the adventure. I would like to thank you Kyle and Shem from the bottom of my heart - this trip was fantastic."Jane, Australia
"I have just finished my adventure with C4 Safaris aboard the MS Stockholm out of Svalbard in the Arctic. Let me start out by saying the organisation of this tour by C4 Safaris Shem is excellent in every way. From the skills shown with the manoeuvring of the MS Stockholm by the captain and crew to make sure we were in the best photographic positioning, the general cheery nature of the stewardesses, and the outstanding culinary skills of the chef on board was just amazing. A special mention must go to the dedication and knowledge of our guides Ronald and Annette, who spent countless hours organising, spotting, giving educational and historical talks, and of course putting the safety of our group as their number one priority. This trip was by far the best experience I have ever encountered and I have travelled extensively. I come away with some excellent photos, and I feel my photographic skills have improved due to the expert knowledge and professional support of Shem himself. I would not hesitate to book my next adventure with C4 Safaris – Africa is on my list for 2016. "Kelvin Blake
"Once again a wonderful trip. Everything was well organised. The ship was small but cozy, the cabin tiny, but we were only there to sleep anyway. We had sensational sightings. Great experts on board and Shem took his turn in the polar bear watch with the experts, looked lousy in the morning, but we got our bears....they somehow always showed up on his watch! Good people, great food from a tiny kitchen, lots of useful tips... Were hooked!"Astrid Juerg Bluemel
"Our 5th to 15th September 2014 trip to SVALBARD with C4 Images Safaris was, in short, simply splendid! The pristine Arctic wilderness, the hauntingly beautiful landscapes in the fjords and pack ice, the glaciers and the icebergs, the magical light, the polar bears, reindeers, walruses, seals and avifauna all contributed to make this one of our most memorable experiences. Personally, as a visual artist, I appreciated Shem Compions on-the-tap photographic inputs and insight sharing on technical as well as creative aspects, both in the field and in respect of digital workflow. And what is more, Shems warm, pleasant and knowledgeable company ensured that both my wife a non-photographer and I had an enjoyable and interesting time throughout. Our expedition leader, Ronald Vissers, patience with our queries and enthusiastic communication of his deep knowledge of the Arctic, its people, wildlife, history and geography, really enlivened the trip and has given me a lot of material for my next travel story! We also really appreciated the fact that Shem, Ronald and Magnus the captain and crew of the Ms Stockholm really worked hard to ensure we had the most optimal yet safe sightings and landings from the ship and the zodiac trips. Arctic conditions are alien to people like us from the tropics and we are obliged to Amanda and other crew members for helping make things comfortable for us. Ours was a multi-cultural group with participants hailing from different countries, but the shared passion for photography nature facilitated pleasant and enriching interactions. My wife, Koel, and I have travelled on photographic expeditions to various places around the world and had a lot of expectations from this Arctic Adventure - we are happy to say that this trip exceeded even those high expectations and we would whole-heartedly recommend this trip to any nature lover photographer!"Amartya Koel Mukherjee
"The Svalbard trip was exceptionally well organised and everything was effortlessly taken care of. Ronald Visser imparted his vast knowledge of the area, sea ice, glaziers and the animals with enthusiasm - together with Shems photographic expertise and passion they ensured we would have the best photographic memories. The Captain and crew on the SS Stockholm also ensured that the trip surpassed my expectations. Safety was always taken care of as that is something photographers tend to forget in the excitement of getting the shot. The starkness of the landscapes photographed from the SS Stockholm leaving Svalbard and travelling through the icey regions of the North is breathtaking. Added to this being able to photograph Polar Bears, Walrus, Seals, Rheindeer and the final excitement of the Arctic Fox in their natural habitat was unforgettable. The colours of early morning sunrise, brilliant light through the ice sculptures, misty moody ice capped mountains gave us photography at its best. The weather conditions were challenging at times but Ronald and Shem ensured we always got the shot. Timing was essential when photographing from a moving Zodiac, together with climbing up slippery slopes - all added to the excitement of a once in a lifetime trip. Im very lucky to have been part of this amazing experience - a highly recommended trip and destination for every Photographer. Thank you Shem and the C4 Team."Glynnis Salvado
"My trip on the SS Stockholm went perfectly.Ronald Visser. our expedition leader,led us with enthuasiasm and shared his knowledge as a naturalist and geologist with us. Well supported by Shem from whom we learnt a great deal about taking photographs, particularily in the Arctic, how to process them and also about the art of photography. Photography in Arctic conditions is challenging, not only is the weather frequently against one, but you cannot always land and have to shoot from a moving Zodiac or the boat. Conversely when the light and conditions are right there are some superb scenes to be taken and excellent natural history shots.jpgptain of the Stockholm was very cooperative and on one memorable occaison circled a Bearded seal amongst the sea ice - we took the photos.For anyone interested in photography this was a great trip if I did not get some good photographs it was my fault."John Cucksey
"This was an adventure so few have enjoyed with ,never to be forgotten wildlife in their own environment with magic light sky, ice-scapes from glaciers noisily diminishing to sea ice retreating as our boat forged through it, to perma-frost. The passion knowledge of Shem Compion Ronald Visser, the co-leader environmentalist resulted in a stream of instruction information. What more could an intrepid curious photographer wish for"Neil Cumpston
"Thank you for arranging the Svalbard photography trip. This was an amazing once in a lifetime experience always to be remembered. Everything on this trip exceeded my expectations from the services and meals on the ship to the wild life and landscape photographic opportunities we experienced. The exceptional scenery and nearly 24 hour perfect light makes this trip a landscape photographers dream. The polar bear visits to our ship on the packed ice, the inquisitive walrus approaches to the zodiac, the sly arctic fox and bird life, just to mention the highlights is a paradise for wildlife photographers You and our guides knowledge, experience and assistance during the trip was of great value and much appreciated. I highly recommend the Svalbard experience to anyone interested in photography and a must visit as a once in a lifetime opportunity."Jamie van Zyl
"Once again C4 Images and Safaris delivers a photographic trip beyond belief! Polar Bears, walruses, seals and Arctic foxes in their natural environment in one of the most beautiful regions on Earth. Great light, sightings, information, both about the environment/wildlife and how to photograph it - what an awesome trip! Topped up with great company and superb organisation - I am very lucky to have been on this trip, thank you again Shem and the team at C4."Christine Chong