Saturday 31 December 2011

The Ultimate Arctic Seamammal Experience

WildNature arrange Svalbard expedition 03-17 August 2012
Join me on a wild experience in one of the world’s last wilderness. Svalbard is famous for its pristine and wild nature, and of course for the cold scenic landscape and roaming polar bears.

On this trip we will focus on the large whales that are coming to the archipelago to feed during summer. This is one of the best places in East Atlantic to see blue whales and feeding fin whales are in good numbers. As I only work with wild animals, I never give any guarantees. However, there is a lot of things that need to go wrong if we don’t see most of the species I advertise here. Other cetacean species that we can expect to see are humpback whales (often observed in groups doing their famous bubble netting behaviour), white-beaked dolphins (often come to the boat bow riding) and of course minke whales. In the fjords we have reasonably good chance to see belugas, often feeding with a spectacular glacier setting as a back curtain. Seals are often around, and we will most likely see all of the Svalbard species (ringed seal, bearded seal, harbour seal, hooded seal and harp seal). We will spend time at some of the walrus haul out sites, meaning normally good photo oppurtunities for these weird, but fascinating creatures. Polar bears will also be on the agenda, and we will stop whenever the opportunities arises. However, keep in mind that this is not a designated polar bear trip, but is the only trip available in Svalbard that focuses on the cetaceans. The weather and ice conditions will decide where and when we go for the different localities.

While August is arguably the best time for cetaceans, it is at the very end of the breeding season for birds. Most of the bird cliffs will be more or less empty at this time. We will anyway make an effort to see most of the breeding species in Svalbard. Ivory gull, Sabine’s gull, Grey phalarope, Brunnich’s guillemot, Atlantic puffins, Little auk, Barnacle goose, Pink-footed goose, Great-, Pomarine-, Long-tailed- and Arctic skua as well as Snow bunting, Purple sanpiper and Glaucous gull just to mention a few.

Why travel with me?
I have worked 8 seasons as an expedition leader for different bird and cetacean science projects in Svalbard. I have explored most of the coastline in Svalbard in a zodiac, and hence know where to find the different species. There are probably no other tour operator that are able to show you as many species – simply because many other tour operators travel with guides that don’t have the nescessary identification skills and they don’t have the field experience. I’ve guided other photographers and film teams with great success in earlier trips.

To ensure good photo oppptunities – we will make exstensive use of zodiac whenever weather permits.

When not in the zodiac, we use a 49 feet sailyacht specially made for Arctic conditions. This is smaller than what most other people use, which means we are able to reach places that others give up. We sacrifice luxury of spaceous cabins for the intimate nature experience!  

I do have extensive Arctic field experience. This includes boat safety and polar bear safety, which is of upmost importance on a trip like this into remote areas where the nearest help might be days away.

I am an educated biologist, professional wildlife photographer and a keen birder – which all ensures a good general knowledge about behaviour and how to increase our chances to see and photograph the animals without disturbing them too much.   

Only 4 custumers allowed, means exclusive experiences and photos as well as flexibility regarding where and when to go as the group wants.

The price – no other tour operator match this price. NOK41000/person (about EUR5100) for 14 days of true Arctic experience. This price includes all guiding, all food onboard (alcoholic drinks needs to be brought onboard yourself), all fuel and boat costs.

What to bring
Warm clothes – normal temperatures 0-5 degrees C. Keep in mind that standing out on the deck of the sailboat watching the wildlife can be cold at times. You don’t want to miss the best experiences and photo opportunities because you didn’t bring enough clothes…Hiking boots for landings, and some sneakers or light shoes to use when on the boat.

Binoculars – even though the guide will constantly watch for interesting animals and birds, it makes a huge difference to watch the wildlife through your own pair of binoculars.

Camera – For clos up portraits of birds and mammals I recommend at least a 300mm lens. For more landscapes and cetacean shots, something like 70-200mm is very handy (For the last years, I almost exclusively shoot with 70-200mm myself).  Wideangle lens for land based photography can also be useful.

Personal (normal) travel insurance. No need for the extra search and rescue insurance normally needed for independent travelers in the Arctic since this is all sorted by the boat owner.

Since the price is pushed to an absolute minimum, we need 4 people to let this trip go.

Closing date – 20th of January.

Contact details for ordering or questions about this trip:

Eirik Gronningsaeter
Cell: (+47) 95257710

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Highly Commended

I have just returned from a super weekend in Lünen, Germany where one of my images has been highly commended in the landscape category in GDT European Wildlife photographer of the year. This is considered one of the most prestigeous nature photo contests in the world with about 1000 photographers from 39 different countries entering this year, so it is no secret that I feel a bit proud and honored to receive such a prize. 

This was the first time ever I entered the competition. I have always had a somewhat ambivalent feeling about photo contests, and I have only entered my images into competitions four times in my life. There is certainly a bit of lottery involved in this game as you never know which images will reach the feelings of the jury. I am sure that a lot of great images don't make it to the top, so there is also a need for humbleness for the winners involved.

Last year's success in the BBC Wildlife photographer of the year and this year's prize means that I have a pretty good hit rate so far, and maybe I should stop while I'm on top. Then again, going to these prize ceremonies also means the chance to meet colleagues from around the world. I get new ideas, new inspiration and the chance to attend different presentation where great images and stories are showed. Time will show if I enter again.

Three other Norwegians (Orsolya Haarberg, Ole Jørgen Liodden and Knut-Sverre Horn) were successful as well, and I think its really nice to see that Norwegian nature photography is at such a high international level. An exhibition of the winning photographs will now tour Europe, and will be seen by a huge audience.

My image was taken at the end of July in Svalbard two years ago. We where having dinner at the sailboat we were working from, when the low clouds finally liftet a bit. Fresh snow had made the land formations in the mountains of Svalbard even more obvious than usual, and I saw the oppurtunity to make this image at the southern tip of Edgeøya at the eastern part of Svalbard.




Wednesday 28 September 2011

Rabies outbreak in Arctic Norway - Hysteria or sensible management?

A menace to society!

Rabies is a viral decease that is common worldwide, except for in a very few countries in the world (eg. Norway, Sweden, UK, Australia, Japan, Iceland). It is also known as dog madness decease as the virus mainly spreads through saliva which gets transmitted when a dog or an other canine species bite another warm-blooded species. The virus goes into the neural system and eventually reach the brain in which it infects. Once reached the brain, the strong symptoms starts to show and the decease is virtually incurable. One of the symptoms is that the infected animal get aggressive for no apparent reason and might bite anything that comes close. About 55 000 people worldwide are killed every year due to rabies infection.

I was recently in Svalbard, where there have been a few cases of rabies in arctic foxes. We were at the harbour, and some of our crew saw a fox that was biting rubber tires of cars, and was very approachable. A woman bent down, stretched her arm out to feed it and got bitten. The fox was killed, and proved positive to rabies. This was the beginning of what is now known as a rabies outbreak in Svalbard. The Governour is now flying around the whole of the archipelago, and especially around the year round settlements, to find animals (foxes, reindeer and I guess polar bears) that behave in a strange way – if so – they shoot them. Arctic foxes in Svalbard has become extremely common and due to no hunting (only trapping in traditonally made traps) most of these are very tame and easy to approach. In fact, they often approach you to within a meter or so if you remain calm. How the Governour is asessing the behaviour and what is normal from not I don’t know. They already killed many foxes – and except the very first one - all of them proved perfectly healthy…..I think they have admitted some problems themselves with this since they decided that in and around Longyearbyen (the main settlement of about 2300 habitants) they will kill ALL foxes – sick or not.

The decease probably arrived to Svalbard via Arctic foxes migrating over the drift ice from Russia, Greenland or Arctic Canada. Due to this migratory pattern, and even though very rarely documented (last in January 2011, and before that in the 1980s), I think it is safe to say that rabies might always be present in Svalbard. Longyearbyen has a lot of people, dogs and not the least children, and I therefore understand there are some concerns. But given the slight chance to get infected, and the relatively easyness to treat the decease (when treated at early stage, there is a 100% recover) isn’t this yet another example of Norwegians absurd view on nature? The rest of the world is living with rabies present around them all the time, but they don’t go around killing every animal in nature. There are also other methods to prevent the decease to spread than killing – for instance has North America had great success with ”vaccinated” bait put out for raccoons. Once again, Norway show themselves as the hunting nation it is, and find the only way to manage nature is through hunting and killing.

There is a concensus in all the countries that have signed the Svalbard treaty, that Svalbard should remain as natural and pure as possible and the archipelago should be viewed as a reference area to how nature would look without human interference. To eradicate a totally natural decease like rabies is thus not obeying to this objective. The arctic fox is a very important top predator in the Arctic ecosystem, and the number of foxes present has large affects on population distribution in many sea bird species. Rabies is one of nature’s ways to reduce the arctic fox population. When our wildlife management starts to pick out pieces of nature, to select them away from the ecosystem we so desperately want to preserve - they virtually make the whole idea of Svalbard as a reference area for science and future look like a big illusion.

My advice is therefore not to go around like cowboys to kill foxes that shows perfectly normal behaviour, but to make people watch their dogs, vaccinate all dog owners that frequently get in touch with canine saliva (there are a lot sledge dogging activity in Longyearbyen) and to keep some vaccination stored in case of a rare incident of a fox biting a person should happen. 

The arctic fox is an important top predator in the Arctic eco-system


Tuesday 6 September 2011

Canon eos 7d - made for wildlife photographers?

I had this camera for about a year and a half, or more precisely – I had three of this camera for a year and a half. I like it very much, and until this summer I had only good things to say about it. The autofocus system, the image output, the fastness, the flexibility and not the least the price. Compared to most other professionals and semi-professional photographers I regard myself as fairly conservative when it comes to the equipment hysteria we have witnessed as the digital era has evolved. I like to think of my equipment as work tools – not diamonds or treassures. Therefore, I rarely buy the most expensive or the newest equipment out there. Sometimes, things go wrong. It also means that I can take some risks regarding the equipment in pursue of the images I see in my mind. A good example is the award winning polar bear picture in the BBC WPY competition last year. When putting up the equipment for this image, I considered the camera and lens as a write off. Surprisingly, both the camera and lens survived with no permanent damage. However, a week after it was destroyed by an angry walrus.

As a wildlife photographer, I learned a long time ago that the best images are not necessarily made in nice weather. Therefore I upgraded myself to a camera, where the manufacturer promise weather resistanse and highly trust worthy for action photography. The 7d is also a ”crop camera” which is perfect for my bird photography since it fits well with my 300mm lens. All things combined, the choice was quite straight forward when deciding on which camera should replace my broken Canon 40d. Soon I got the 7d, and I have been very happy with it, contrary to the walrus I met this summer. Another angry walrus. Another camera broken. I can’t blame this on the Canon manufacturer, and since I’ve been happy with it so far I bought myself yet another new 7d. This one had some problems from the beginning. Since I was doing fieldwork in the Norwegian Arctic and far away from any internet or post service, I couldn’t report it imediately.

One day, I was again out photographing some walruses. The weather was light rain, and I was for once actually careful with my camera to avoid getting it wet. For maximum five minutes, I had it outside in light rain, and was careful to dry it off with a cloth before putting it back into the camera bag. Since this day, It has never worked and I was quite sure that this would be possible to reclaim from Canon as a fault. Could I be more wrong about it! Not possible according to the workshop, and they suggest to write off this camera as well. I was quite pissed off by this, but searching the internet it seems that I am not alone. Many others report the extreme low weather resistanse of this camera despite the the adds from Canon. It is worse than all my lenses and previous cameras I’ve ever have had my hands on. I was very surprised when I heard that Canon write on their web site that by weather resistant, they mean the time it takes from it starts raining until you have put the camera into your back pack. In reality, this means 10 seconds! This is actually like being spit in the face, and I must say that I’ve rarely heard such bullshit.

Canon sells their camera under false conditions, and as a customer I feel tricked and fooled. In short – if you are a serious outdoor photographer – stay far away from the Canon 7d!  You have been warned!

Walrus killing a Canon 7d


Saturday 30 July 2011

Silhouettes of greatness

The high mountain plateau of Dovrefjell is almost like a national monument in Norway, and even though being an introduced species, the musk ox somehowe fits into this mystical world of greatness. Despite being very easy to approach, I found them extremely difficult to photograph in an interesting way. We anyway had a nice time up there, and these are actually my very first images of these animals. At least I added a new species to my archive.

I am sucker for silhouettes, as I think they add a nice atmosphere to the images. An atmosphere which I tried fit into the Norwegian myths and fairytales about this area.

Solarizing the image in the editing process, can sometimes make them look more dramatic and fit better into the story.

Our kingdom....

Til Dovre faller!

- EG -

Sunday 29 May 2011

A trip into No Man's Land

In the last blog, I wrote about how a wildlife photographer always must be versatile and ready for the unexpected. This was certainly true for this week's blog. A very good friend and colleague of mine, Kjetil Schjølberg, and I had for a long time planned an Iceland trip to photograph some of its amazing wildlife and landscape.

However, the evening before departure, one of Iceland's many vulcanoes started to rumble and airports were closed. One and a half hour after our flight got cancelled, we were on our way to Finland and a major road trip layed ahead of us. Bears and wolves were our target at one of Finland's famous feeding sites for these spectacular animals.

Due to the Norwegian government's successful policy of actively trying to eradicate the Norwegian populations of the four large predators in Scandinavia, Norwegian photographers need to go abroad to have a realistic chance to experience these species. We spent three nights in the hides on the border between Russia and Finland, and since there are no hunting or people allowed into these areas without special permition, this area is extraordinarily rich in wildlife. However, there are still a lot of luck involved to get the animals to perform as a demanding photographer wants to. The large predators are mostly active in the darkest hours of the night, and they don't always appear as close as one wants to. Anyway, I think I managed to catch some of that mystical atmosphere that these animals are surounded with into my images. If you agree, then I feel I have succeeded.

A lonely brown bear cub feeding at a carcass, perfect old forest setting. A few minutes later, it was hunted by three wolves and dissappeared into the forest and probably up into a tree. I had never expected either wolf or bear to be able to run this fast. In the books it says about 60 km/hr, my estimate would be well above a 100 km/hr.

The wolverine is one of my favourite mammals in the world. Within 24 hours, we managed to see wolf, brown bear and wolverine - something that is virtually impossible anywhere else in Europe.

Close up portrait are not always the way to describe an animal in an image. Unsharp in an old forest scenery captures some of this shadow's myths.

The alpha male carries food back to the nearby den, and the waiting alpha female that probably is resting with small puppies somewhere in the forest.

- EG -

Wednesday 18 May 2011

To expect the unexpected

As a wildife photographer, one is always on the hunt for new stories to make and new images for the archive. When I enter into nature, I usually have an idea of what image I want to capture. At least what species to photograph. However, since I am only working with wild animals it is more than often that not everything goes as planned and I come home empty handed. At other times, just like this week, I don't get what I set out to get but something totally different.

Last week, a friend and I spent several nights in what is arguably the area with densest brown bear population in Europe. At this time of the year, the possibillity to find females with very small cubs is at its best. The dream would be to photograph a bear family feeding on a moose kill in a boreal forest settting. But even to catch a glimpse of the large carnivores is a challenging task in Scandinavia, due to decades of people hunting them. Anyway, many hours and several nights without any sleep we didn't find any bears and I decided to take a short trip to the coast instead.

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by the radio about some dolphins turning up far away from their normal distribution range. My hope was that these still were around. After the dolphins got media coverage, they turned into celebrities and many people and local photographers have enjoyed their unusual visit. The luck was on my side this time, and even though the sea and light was not ideal for photography I really enjoyed spending 3 hours watching these fantastic sea mammals. Because of the size difference between the two animals, I am pretty sure it is a mother and her calf. As far as I know, there are only about 15 previous records of Common dolphin in Norway - so this was a highly appreciated addition to my Norway mammal list which now is counting 13 different whale species.

Common dolphins is a bit of a head ache for the taxonomists, and common dolphin might actually consist of two or even three different species. The ones turning up this far north is believed to be Long beaked common dolphins.

It is ironic though, that after spending a week deep inside the Scandinavian forest, I come home with dolphin pictures on my camera. But as a wildlife photographer, I learned a long time ago to be versatile and always expect the unexpected.

- EG -

Sunday 8 May 2011

The forest lake

Spring colours in evening light, and the red listed slavonian grebe (horndykker) posing for the camera man.



Saturday 16 April 2011

Varanger duck

A few weeks ago, I was in the Varanger fjord in the very north eastern Norway to photograph one of Scandinavia's most beautiful birds. Combining this with visiting a good friend had to make the perfect setting for a good trip. I enjoyed it very much. Because the birds weren't too cooperative to be honest, close up portraits was not possible and I was forced to think a bit alternatively. The type of images below always receives somewhat mixed applaude. While they might not show the beauty regarding the colours of these ducks very well, they are however (hopefully) interesting in its own way.


Sunday 3 April 2011

From the African veld

In January, I spent a week in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Here are a few images from that week.

Elephants are plentiful in Kruger NP - in fact, contrary to many believes, there are far too many of them to form a sustainable ecosystem in the 20 000 km2 park and a certain number of elephants needs to be shot each year to keep the population healthy. I find photographing the larger game in Africa to be one of the most difficult things to make interesting. As usual it all depends on light and composition.

A mother shows her strong maternal instinct when she carries her dead offspring at the same time as she struggles to keep up with the rest of her flock. Do animals really have no feelings?

African wilddogs belongs to one of the rarest animals on this planet. Even in Kruger NP, you are by no means guaranteed a sighting during a visit. The territory size of a pack is equivalent in size to that of Scandinavian wolves - about 1500 square kilometers. While I have kept the original composition of the animals in this image, I made the background all white in post editing process. 


Wednesday 23 February 2011

Another brick in the wall!

A bit personal this time – if I may…Since four years ago, I decided to try to be a fulltime wildlife photographer. A bold and risky thing to do you might say.  Most of the people I meet think it is virtually impossible to make a living from it, and some of them even discourage me to go further with the idea.

I have always had a reputation of being stubborn, and I always have felt an urge to do things my own way. This might not always be a good thing, but through the years it has certainly helped me to gain self confidence as the number of victories increased. Growing up with a huge fascination for nature, and birds in particular, I’ve spent countless days outside and this has slowly shaped me as a person. Money has never taken a big part of my mind. Being able to have the freedom to go where I want, whenever I want  and at the same time do what makes me smile every single day is worth more than what any money can buy.

However, I will be the first to admit that taking a career move into wildlife photography is not an easy thing to do. When I did the step, I knew it would take many years to build up the business. I needed to build it piece by piece and brick by brick, and work hard every single day to achieve my dream. Every time an article or one of my images is published in a magazine, it is a small victory helping me to believe in my dream. Last year (2010), I had my first exhibition and won a first prize in the world’s most prestigeous photography competition (Veolia WPY). This year has kicked off with my very first National Geographic article (Nordic version, 2/2011). A magazine that only a few years ago seemed impossible to have on the client list. To be published in it, only excisted in the deepest dreams of mine. National Geographic is arguably the most prestigeous magazine to be published in among nature photographers. I am happy to see that my business seems to improve every year.

I still have some distance to cover before I can call myself a full time wildlife photographer. But I have always believed that if one wants anything strong enough, one will achieve it in the end as long as you work hard for it and keep focused. At the moment, I live in a mixture of being a photographer and a fieldbiologist who designs and runs field studies for scientists. I will continue to build my business brick by brick, and the National Geographic article which is on sale now, I consider to be an especially important brick in my wall. To be a full time wildlife photographer is still my dream, and I’ve always believed that dreams are there to be realized - isn’t it?

Online version of the National Geographic article can be read here

This "snowy eagle" was photographed about two weeks ago from the hide to Smøla Naturopplevelser. Experiences like this make chasing my dream well worth every minute of the effort!


Friday 18 February 2011

Shit happens!

So it happened again – a serious oil spill along the Norwegian coast. Last night - a cargo boat, in nice and calm weather, hit shallow water and parked itself on a skerry. It seems that about 500 tonnes of bunker oil might pollute our ocean. This accident happend in Southern Norway in the outer part of Oslo fjord, and basically in Norway’s only marine national park!

Despite this, I need to admit that, when the accident anyway needs to happen, the Oslofjord area is probably the best place for it since this area is realtively poor in nature quality and especially of relatively low importance to birds compared to the rest of Norway. It is however, extremely important as a recreational area, as this part of Norway is densely populated and has several of Norway’s larges cities close by. However, I was anyway shocked to listen to the news last night when the responsible authorities for minimizing damage (Kystverket) in an interview says that we can’t begin damage minimizing activities because it’s dark and we can’t see the distribution of oil on the sea yet. In other words, in ideal conditions for a clean up, with dead calm weather (only 7m/s wind from NE according weather forecasting service our equipment is not good enough to start minimizing damage because it is dark!?

Everybody seems to be happy with the northerly wind direction and that the serious oil spill drifts southwards away from our coast. This might be good for beach loving tourists and hut owners in the area, but not necessarily for nature. The largest concentration of birds in this part of Norway are pelagic species, and if worse comes to worst – the oil spill might even reach the shores of Denmark where huge amounts of seabirds flocking at this time of the year. The potential damage is enormous. I guess Norwegian authoroties once again prove that nature is not important, but rather that things are ok if they look nice from the outside.

I was perfectly aware that Norwegian oil rescue facilities was in a horribly bad shape, but this is more than worrying for several reasons. At the moment, there is a poilitical fight if Norway should or shouldn’t start oil searching activities in the Lofoten area – on the edge to the Barent’s sea and one of the most bird and fish rich areas in the world. Several threathened species have their core breeding sites in this area. This is the coast of Northern Norway where you barely have a day without gale force winds, and for several months of the year have no light because of its northern latitude! In other words, if an oilspill happens here, our autorities have now admitted that we have absolutely nothing to help minimizing the damage.

Norway wants to make enormous amounts of money on oil – but not spend ”pocket money” to assure that we can cope with an accident if it happens. In my mind, this is reason more than good to ban all oil activities in nature rich areas such as the Barent’s sea as we never know when shit happens!

The black-legged kittiwake (Krykkje) is normally one of the seabird species that get hit badly in oil spills. The species has shown a heavy decline the last decade all over its distribution areas.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

The Ferrari of Mammals

I have travelled all over the world in quest of seeing and photographing wildlife. However, there are a few species which in my mind stand out, and one of those is the leopard. Every time I see a leopard I get goose bumps all over my body – the adrenalin rush is intense! I have spent the last week in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Heavy rain this summer had made the grass very tall, thus searching for the elusive cat was more challenging than ideal. Parts of Kruger has the highest density of leopards in the world, and despite the difficult conditions this year - we managed to find five different leopards. We even saw a female with a newborn cub. Even though the leopard is rarely seen, it is actually widespread all over Africa and most of Asia. Maybe surprising to many, it is also fairly common outside the national parks. It is one of the very few predators in the world that on a regular basis kill people. Even so, the leopard is a highly respected and honoured animal, maybe strangely, it is in the areas it kills most people that it gains most protection.

The leopard is the master of all senses in nature. Stealthful yet large, fast yet silent, powerful yet gentle, camouflaged yet colourful, beautiful yet scary. It is the ferrari of all mammals. Please have a look at my images from last week, and you can make up your own mind.

A leopard crouching together, in hope of not beeing seen. I can just wonder how many times I've actually been watched by these intense eyes in the African bush....

A young male leopard watching a nearby flock of impalas, and is ready to start its evening hunt. The impalas of course, have yet no clue about the spotted cat watching them.

The leopard might look lazy and relaxed some times, but when needed, it shows the power and speed for which it is built.

By coincidense, we came across this leopard. This female actually hides her newborn cub between her front legs as the image is taken. Unfortunately for the photographer, she never lifted her offspring high enough so it came clear of the tall grass so I could photograph the rare event.

Careful, silent and well camouflaged,yet still perfectly aware of the photographer - the leopard takes its risks because water is a vital resource also for these cats. A forest stream in the African bush, makes a perfect setting for the natural scene.

-EG- featured in the best Nordic Nature photo magazine!

In the January issue of the Nordic nature photo magazine, Natur og Foto, there is an interview about me and a small portfolio from my work. Even though the magazine is only about one year old, with its 12500 prints it has turned out to be one of the most popular photo magazines in the Nordic (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and it is a real honour to be portrayed in such a high quality magazine!

The magazine can be purchased in magazine selling kiosks in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, or you can become one of the other 3000 subscribers at their web site: