Svalbard: Far Beyond Amazing « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Svalbard: Beyond Amazing

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This Red-throated Loon (Red-throated Diver here in Europe) was photographed with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens, the Canon EF 1.4X III TC (hand held at 280mm), and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/800 sec. at f/4 in Manual mode.

Lens/TC/camera body Micro-adjustment: +1. (After I had this Mark IV repaired and adjusted the micro-adjustment dropped from +5 to +1 with the TC in place; it is important to micro-adjust once a month.)

Svalbard: Far Beyond Amazing

I am alive and well and safe in Svalbard, Norway. We had no internet access until now, which is Tuesday afternoon. I am unable to send or receive e-mails.

My flight from Orlando to Newark was delayed more than an hour; that cut my layover to about 6 hours. I met Patrick and Robin Sparkman at the gate and we flew overnight to Oslo Norway arriving at 8am central European time (2 am in Florida). We ran for our next flight and barely made out connection. We few to Tromso and then continued on to Longyearbyen. There we met our guide and after two hours setting up our rooms we headed out on a cloudy bright late afternoon. The sun came out in a while. We wound up photographing for more than 12 hours finally quitting at 5am….. It was one of if not the best photographic sessions in my 28 years. We started with a completely tame Red-throated Loon on the nest. There were breeding plumage Purple Sandpipers everywhere but we pretty much ignored them. We drove a short distance to one of the local hotspots, the dog kennel and were stunned to see an adult Ivory Gull feeding on a rotting seal carcass. It allowed us to approach closely.

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This adult Ivory Gull image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/1250 sec. at f/10 in Manual mode.

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: +10. After a month of banging around the micro-adjustment for this combo increased from +3 to +10.

Having arrived a day early to scout, our guide had learned of several pairs of King Eiders from a researcher friend who birds in his free time when not working or sleeping. We found the bird rather easily in one of the ponds near the kennel and photographed it on and off for many hours. It was in the company of 25 or so Common Eiders.

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This displaying drake King Eider was photographed with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/400 sec. at f/11 in Manual mode.

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: +10.

We too a short break sometime in the middle of the night for a reason that I am too tired to remember. When we headed back out we visited a staked out pair of Parasitic Jaegers. They too were amazingly tame and incredibly curious. With the three of us lying on the wet tundra and Patrick’s wife Robin observing the whole scene from the road, both birds apparently noticed us and began walking towards us until they were no more than 20 feet away. We had all we could do to stop laughing.

We did of course wind up making many head portraits of these birds.

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This Parastic Jaeger image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/640 sec. at f/9 in Manual mode.

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: +10.

After the jaegers it was about 2am and everyone was pretty pooped but the sun had come back out so we decided to head back to the kennel ponds to do some more eiders. On the way there I slept-head bouncing all over the place according to Patrick–for about five minutes. It was a magical nap as I was completely rejuvenated. The others were not…. We spent a few more hours photographing mostly Common Eiders until our guide laid down the law: we were quitting at 5am despite the gorgeous light. At 5:05 am we packed up and headed back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.

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This tight head portrait of a drake Common Eider was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop: 1/800 sec. at f/11 in Manual mode.

Lens/TC/Camera Body Micro-Adjustment: +10. As you can see by the exceptional sharpness and detail here the micro-adjustment was spot-on.

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the images in today’s post. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Support both the Bulletins and the Blog by making all your B & H purchases here.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Man, I am loving this lens on my shoulder with the 2X III teleconverter. I also use it a lot–as above–with the 1.4X III TC.
Canon 1.4X III TC. This new Series III TC is designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
CR-80 Replacement Foot for Canon 800. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.

The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.

Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. These high capacity cards are fast and dependable. Clicking on the link below will bring you to the Delkin web site. There is lots of great stuff there. If you see a product that we do not carry let us know via e-mail; we will be glad to have it drop-shipped to you and save you a few bucks in the process.

I pack my 800 and tons of other gear in my ThinkTank Airport SecurityTM V2.0 rolling bag for all of my air travel and recommend the slightly smaller Airport InternationalTM V2.0 for most folks. These high capacity bags are well constructed and protect my gear when I have to gate check it on short-hops and puddle jumpers. Each will protect your gear just as well. By clicking on either link or the logo below, you will receive a free gift with each order over $50.

20 comments to Svalbard: Far Beyond Amazing

  • Absolutely wonderful work Art,what a fabulous trip.The Loon shot is awesome!

  • Gary Esman

    These are awesome shots, absolutely beautiful.

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks all. Yes, from one session with another 200+ keepers. We are still doing great but that first 20 hours remains amazing. And yes, 24 hours of sunlight every day. We have twice stayed out until 5am…. Can you say jet-lagged and exhausted?

    Nick: have you micro-adjusted your gear? Have you studied and practiced the Advanced Sharpness techniques in ABP II? Using the advanced Live View techniques detailed in our Mark IV and 7D User’s Guides it is possible to make sharp images with the 800 and the 2X and with that and other lenses using stacked teleconverters….

  • Sounds like a great trip. Images are stunning. I especially like the Parastic Jaeger image.

  • Mike Lotito

    Well deserved after dealing with all your hand problems! Over the top nice as always.

  • absolutely remarkable. Stay Healthy.

  • Quite a trip. My favorite birds, especially the King Eider.

  • Eric Thomson

    You are a genius! Fabulous Images. Thanks so much for sharing

  • These are great Artie esp the Ivory Gull. Are you go to do a Polar Bear cruise while you are there?

  • Tor Lund

    Artie, I knew you would be in trouble with light. It is just amazing. You need your sleep!

  • Nick Sharp

    Great shots with so many species in one session. These pictures are just gorgeous. I also have the Canon 800mm and the 1.4x III combo. But my pictures with this combo are not as sharp as yours. I can only get similar sharpness without the 1.4x III. Amazing how you can get so sharp with that combo.

    I am not familiar with Norway. You said 2 am and 5 am. So it is like Alaska that has extremely long daylight during the summer?

    Enjoy your trip.

  • Gloria

    Beautiful!! Wow, what a great bill on that Gull. Gorgeous as usual!

  • Sid Garige

    Exceptional image of Ivory gull Artie.
    Good luck with the trip.

  • Neil Nourse

    Awesome shots Artie!!
    Thanks for sharing and keep them coming…

  • Beautiful, Norway has been on my “bucket list” for the past couple of years but something has always come up to delay plans. Every photographer that I know that has been there has made plans to go back. Stay a while and post lots of pictures

  • M. Bruce

    Beyond amazing is an apt description! The Red-throated Loon might even be beyond that – it stopped me in my tracks.

  • cheapo

    Your title says it all. The Red Throated Diver and Eider are spectacularly good looking birds. Their tameness must be due to 2/3rds of the islands being nature reserves. And being so remote, they won’t have developed that hereditary fear of humans that creatures in other areas do. Somewhat akin to Galapagos.
    Just watch out for Polar Bears!


  • Good for you. Enjoy!!!

  • Awesome Artie.. My brother is a Professor at the University there… I must head up and visit him!!!

  • All these wonderful species from one session?! Simply stunning. Enjoy your trip!