Polar Bears International

Arctic Documentary Project: Harbor Seals

8/18/2011 8:07:21 PM

Arctic Documentary Project: Harbor Seals

Another great morning. Skies are still blue. We spent a quiet night anchored in the protected waters of Virgohamna but are now on a southerly route on our way back to Longyearbyen. We still have a couple of days left for photography and the captain has a place for possible puffins and other arctic birds. He also mentions that last year there was an arctic fox den in the area as well, so I'm excited for the possible opportunities ahead.

A harbor seal sunning itself in Svalbard.
A harbor seal basks in the warm evening sunlight in Virgohamna, Svalbard, Norway.

Virgohamna is a great place for harbor seals. Last night after dinner we spent the evening taking pictures of these charismatic, beautiful creatures that haul out onto the rocks at ocean's edge. We shot until 10:00 p.m. in light as dramatic and beautiful as any we've had on both trips. To get our pictures we took the Zodiac, all of us shooting either handheld or with a monopod. No tripods in the Zodiacs. Just too much to deal with for a crowded little boat. It's these situations that the Vibration Reduction technology in my Nikon lenses really comes into play. The light was exceptionally low on the horizon and at this time of night it is not very bright. That being the case you have to shoot at slower shutter speeds which is not what you want when working with a handheld camera with telephotos lenses from a floating craft of any sort. But this is the exact situation where this technology really shines. Generally, to get good, crisp images there is a old tried and true rule of thumb that suggests you should use a shutter speed equal to or greater than the length of the lens you're shooting. With VR you can get away with slower shutter speeds. So, in low-light situations, with powerful telephotos, having Vibration Reduction as an option is a huge advantage.

Daniel J. Cox with camera
To handhold a 600mm lens, shooting from a small boat, would have been basically impossible before the days of Vibration Reduction technology.

It was a wonderful shoot in spectacular low evening light that is so common during summer months in the Arctic. Back to the ship at 10:30 p.m. feeling a bit tired but exhilarated from a great shoot with such such appealing subjects.

Photos ©Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures.

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