Svalbard Photo Tours: An Introduction

Our Svalbard photo tours are designed exclusively for photographers by photographers.

Our mission? To get you the very best photography opportunities in the wild! 

We keep our group sizes small, with a maximum of just 12 guests traveling on our ice-strengthened expedition ships, allowing great flexibility for all our Svalbard photo expeditions. In the true spirit of exploration, we can adapt to the whims of nature while ensuring you’re in the right place to capture those perfect shots. 

Our ships are equipped with Zodiacs, sturdy, inflatable boats that we use for exploration and photography. Often some of our most intimate wildlife encounters are taken from the Zodiacs with the engine switched off, allowing us to blend silently into the environment. Unlike larger groups, our trips allow you unhurried time in the field, free from crowds, and you’ll never have to wait to get ashore on the Zodiac because we can launch all our guests simultaneously. 

Guiding you through this extraordinary experience is our professional expedition team and a photography expert. Our Svalbard photo tours are suitable for photographers of all levels, from professionals to semi-pros to amateurs. Allowing you to gain valuable knowledge from the experts at your fingertips.

Join us on an unforgettable journey to explore Svalbard one click at a time. 

Polar bear on ice Svalbard Rayann Elzein Secret Atlas

Choose Your Svalbard Photo Tour

Svalbard has very distinctive seasons and may significantly impact your visit. Contrary to its Arctic Circle location, Svalbard is not always the frozen fairytale you might expect it to be. It’s a land of surprises, where you can uncover the secrets of a landscape that transitions from crisp frozen tapestries and snow-covered mountains to green tundra, sandy beaches, and rich red mountain ranges. 

To learn more, check out our ‘When to Visit Svalbard: Month by Month Guide

Small Ship

with 12 Guests

Days

9

Months

April, May

Frozen Svalbard Photo Tour

Our very first expeditions begin after the long winter, where Svalbard showcases a magical frozen fairytale

Highlights:

  • Frozen landscapes, snow-capped mountain ranges, dense pack ice and prominent glaciers.
  • Soft diffused twilight periods, known as the ‘blue hour’, create a magical atmosphere and excellent photo opportunities.
  • Wildlife activity is often less than during the summer, but it is still possible, and photographing it against the snowy backdrops can yield impressive results.
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Natural Wonders Of Svalbard Photo Tour

The short spring season offers the most transformative landscapes as the ice melts and unveils another world

Highlights:

  • Wildlife springs into action in sync with the warmer temperatures, allowing for great wildlife encounters, including the much-loved polar bear as they hunt on the pack ice. 
  • The contrast between the white snow and the rugged terrain can result in stunning and minimalist compositions.
  • 24 hours of daylight.
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Small Ship

with 12 Guests

Days

9

Months

May

Small Ship

with 12 Guests

Days

10

Month

June

Spitsbergen Explorer Wildlife Photo Tour

With Paul Goldstein

The height of summer is the peak season for wildlife and visitors to Svalbard

Highlights:

  • Great chances to encounter wildlife, including polar bears, walruses, arctic foxes and marine life.
  • Bird cliffs are bustling with new life in the hundreds of thousands – a must for bird watchers!
  • 24 hours of daylight.
  • Explore more locations and fjords due to the reduced ice coverage.
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Ice Waterfalls, Wildlife & Arctic Colours Svalbard Photo Tour

The latest expeditions of the season offer a chance to witness the dramatic autumn colours and the most diverse landscapes

Highlights:

  • Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, warm hues, and soft lighting.
  • A rare chance to photograph the meltwater waterfalls of the Austfonna ice cap. 
  • Reach the furthest parts of Svalbard that are inaccessible during the early season.
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Small Ship

with 12 Guests

Days

10

Month

September

Svalbard Photo Tour Highlights

Numbers matter. We deliberately explore in small groups to minimise our environmental impact and enhance your experience – bringing you closer to nature and creating incredible photography opportunities in the process.

Our Commitment
polar bear in svalbard

WILDLIFE

Svalbard is known for its abundance of Arctic wildlife. While we can’t promise you’ll see all those who call Svalbard home (we must remember we are respectful guests in their wilderness and cherish every encounter), but the chances are high for some remarkable sightings. During our photography tours, we often encounter polar bears hunting along the sea ice and observe walruses hauled out on the beaches by the hundreds. 

Ashore, Svalbard hosts a unique subspecies of reindeer; their distinctive compacted bodies and legs have adapted to survive the harsh winters. Cunning arctic foxes hunt for small prey on the tundra, their fur camouflaging brown in the summer to match the color of the landscape but changing to a striking white coat in the winter for camouflage in the snow..

But that’s not all, those who love seabirds will not be disappointed during the months of June, July and August, as the cliff faces become blanketed with nesting birds: puffins, guillemots, terns, kittiwakes and auks that all make Svalbard their summer home.

LANDSCAPES

The best light for photography in Svalbard is the early (April – May) and late (September) season. 

In the early spring season, Svalbard’s frozen landscapes grace the archipelago like something from a frozen fairytale. The landscape is dominated by jagged, snow-covered mountains, framed by shimmering glaciers. While some areas still remain encapsulated by ice, we explore mostly by Zodiac, providing a platform for immersive adventures. 

The shift from spring to autumn in Svalbard marks a dramatic transformation. As the ice thaws, it reveals the naked mountainscape, rich with warm hues and lush vegetation carpeting the lower elevations. With winter around the corner, the sun dips below the horizon for the first time after the endless daylight of summer. The September sky is awash with mesmerising rainbows of watercolor tones delivering captivating sunsets that captivate the senses.

Glacier in Svalbard by Rachel Bibby
zodiac cruise in the pack ice Svalbard

ICE

Svalbard has over 2,000 glaciers with land masses crowned by some of the world’s last remaining ice-caps. Sea ice hugs coastal areas and narrow fjords, and when the alpenglow races down from the mountaintop to sea, it’s possible to view glittering pack ice, ablaze with pastel colors of pink, gold and lavender, so spectacular you’ll feel as if you are on a different planet

Zodiac boats allow us to get up close to the ice for some amazing photo opportunities. Under the guidance of our expedition team, we navigate through floating ice and along the faces of calving glaciers (when conditions allow). 

If you’re in search of a frozen wonderland, consider joining one of our early photography tours. For those enchanted by sunsets, diverse landscapes, and a whimsical atmosphere, a late autumn photography tour is the perfect choice for you.

Svalbard Wildlife 

photo tours reindeer

Svalbard Reindeer

Ringed seal in Svalbard by Chase Theron

SEALS

WHALES

Walrus haulout in Svalbard

Walruses

polar bear photo tour in svalbard

Polar Bears

Arctic fox Svalbard Autumn photo tour

ARCTIC FOX

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

Paul Goldstein

Photo Tour Leader

A travel veteran of over 35 years and a multi-award-winning photographer with a following spanning six continents, Paul Goldstein has a broad and burgeoning bank of followers.. He is also a big defender of persecuted species and has run 20 marathons including the fearsome Everest one last year, in his now fabled tiger suit, raising almost half a million dollars for his beloved Bengal cats. Paul is a great educator and shipmate. Travel with Paul and you’ll be sure to come back home with your own award-winning photos under his guidance.

View Paul’s Profile & Photo Tours

Chase Teron

Photo Tour Leader

Canadian environmentalist Chase Teron is a professional wildlife and nature photographer who has worked with major international clientele for his photography and drone work. Before switching mediums to photography, Chase was an artist producing oil and acrylic paintings of wildlife and landscapes.

As an “obsessive backcountry hiker and traveler”, photography became a natural extension to practice his passions in tandem. For the past decade, Chase has continued to expand his expertise in photography as well as prime his knowledge on all things artistic theory in the field and in post-processing.

View Chase’s Profile & Photo Tours

Jenni Teron

Photo Tour Leader

Jenni Teron is an artist with a deep love of nature. She specialises in ethical wildlife photography tours in remote regions and digital marketing for nature conservation photographers and organisations. Jenni has always felt a calling to capture the beauty and experience of nature, and is constantly captivated by the hidden treasures she finds.

Her art is a collection of all the pieces of beauty that inspire her – from animals and nature, to little moments that bring her happiness and inner peace. Jenni’s passion lies in spending time with animals and exploring nature; it fills her with inspiration and brings her immense joy.

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Tom Crowley

Photography Guide & Professional Cinematographer

Tom is a true maestro behind the camera! His memorable work on Racer Snakes vs Iguanas in Planet Earth 2 was simply breathtaking and he has gone on to win Emmy and BAFTA awards for his work. 

Not only is he a gifted photographer and cinematographer, but Tom’s dedication to wildlife and the ocean is remarkable. His experiences as a marine scientist studying blue and humpback whales, coupled with his time as a polar guide, truly showcase his deep-rooted passion for the natural world.

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Polar Photography Tips

Svalbard Photo Tours FAQ

Plan Your 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.

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. 

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

Our trips are friendly and inclusive. 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. 

We have welcomed young professionals, middle-aged solo travellers, looking for their next adventure, and retirees looking to see Svalbard in a more in-depth way.

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.

Yes, we welcome all kinds of guests that share an interest not only in photography but in learning more about nature and observing wildlife in its natural habitat.

Our photo tours are designed for guests that are looking to spend time out in the field taking photos. We welcome all levels of photography, so whether you’re an experienced professional or completely new to photography this is a great opportunity for you to capture images and spend extended time out on the zodiacs enjoying the nature and wildlife that surrounds you.

In addition to our photography guide, we also have a highly experienced expedition leader and guide on board, giving you plenty of opportunity to learn about Svalbard.

Sustainability

That’s a great question and one we believe in complete transparency when it comes to the environment and sustainability. 

At Secret Atlas, our core philosophy is based on an absolute admiration for the natural world. This principle governs every aspect of our operations, and we take great care to ensure that our encounters with the environment and wildlife are always conducted with the utmost respect. Our commitment to small-group travel is one of the ways in which we demonstrate this. By keeping our groups small, we help to minimize the impact on the environment, and we are proud to work only with partners who share the same values.

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 objects.

  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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