All-Encompassing Svalbard Photography for 20 Years

- I am happy to see the polar bears enjoying it, photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen says with a smile. He is passionate about light, nature and animals around Svalbard. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Photographing is a major passion of Tommy Dahl Markussen. He refers to it as a hobby, but readily admits that it is more than that.


Photographing is a major passion of Tommy Dahl Markussen. He refers to it as a hobby, but readily admits that it is more than that.

- I spend most of my free time camera shooting on Svalbard, and I guess I have been at it for almost 20 years now. My inspiration lies in the ever-changing light, the fauna and all the changes that come with the changing seasons. I am probably out with the camera every weekend as well as two to seven nights per week, the photographer says.

- Svalbard reindeer are curious animals. You can often just sit down and they will come to you. This reindeer shot was captured in strong winds under the midnight sun, Markussen says. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
- Svalbard reindeer are curious animals. You can often just sit down and they will come to you. This reindeer shot was captured in strong winds under the midnight sun, Markussen says. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)

20 years of golden shots

Markussen’s daytime job is working with IT at the Svalbard Governor’s office. But as soon as the weekend arrives, he heads out into the outback. He carries a heavy interest in photographing, and the target for every outdoor trip is finding something to photograph.

- My photo passion caught speed when I moved to Svalbard 20 years ago. I always bring the camera with me, whether I walk my dog, climb a peak or join a cruise around the archipelago. I am always chasing golden shots, because creating something is simply part of my DNA. I love the feeling of coming home knowing I have something worthwhile on the memory card, Markussen says with a smile.

His IT background fuels his interest in technology.

- I like mastering my camera and exploiting it even better, taking even better photos. Photography is about completing a project that provides a result. That is in my nature, Markussen says.

Photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen spent a lot of time shooting Arctic foxes last winter. The goal was to photograph the animals during the dark season and when the light returned. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen spent a lot of time shooting Arctic foxes last winter. The goal was to photograph the animals during the dark season and when the light returned. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)

Changes

His photographing has documented clear changes over time on Svalbard. One can tell that the amounts of ice around the archipelago has decreased over the years.

- With less ice comes fewer polar bears. I can also clearly tell throughout the years of photographing that the 60-year old ban on hunting walruses has led to an increased number of animals, Markussen says.

Then there’s the issue of new bird species; chasing up-close pictures of new species in the Arctic.

- Just being able to document, to  get an up-close image of a species never seen here before, is an inspiration in and of itself. We who live here do not always have the opportunity to travel and see new places, so the motives are frequently repetitive. Just think about the dark winter season. It is pitch-black dark outside and the only light we can look forward to, are the Northern Lights. Nevertheless, it gives me something, because the darkness stands in stark contrast to the next season, the photographer says.

In spring, in May, birds arrive to the otherwise rather grey landscape. In June, flowers blossom.

- Changes in nature are a tremendous inspiration. I was out yesterday shooting Arctic foxes and birds. I am already yearning to go out again, Markussen says.

Waiting for spectacular lights over Longyearbyen is part of the excitement with a strong photo passion in Arctic areas. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Waiting for spectacular lights over Longyearbyen is part of the excitement with a strong photo passion in Arctic areas. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)

A fantastic experience

The increasing amount of blue whales around Svalbard represent another change over the past years. The blue whale exists in all the world’s oceans, however, it has rarely been observed this far north.

- My greatest experience during these years has been when two blue whales appeared during a cruise trip near the Hinlopen Strait in 2011, a straid between Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet on Svalbard. We were having dinner and I can vividly remember all passengers getting up from the table when the whales splashed around the boat. It lasted for about an hour and was a tremendous experience, the photographer says.

He describes the huge animals, almost as large as the vessel itself.

- It is the biggest animal that has ever lived on earth, including the dinosaurs. We see the animal increasingly often up here. Another experience of a lifetime was meeting a female polar bear with little cubs. It is quite a thrill, he says.

The inspiration to go out, to go hunting with the camera, lies in expectations.

- The expectations trigger me. Like when we had a major solar eclipse here. I used three cameras and planned everything in detail. Yet I have become increasingly aware of making sure I don’t always experience things through the lens, which has proven a challenge. I have become increasingly better at experiencing things in and by myself too, lifting my eyes so to speak. Because if you watch everything through the lens it is almost like watching TV, Markussen says with a smile.






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Photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen is passionate about Arctic photography. (Photo: Arnt Rennan)
Photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen is passionate about Arctic photography. (Photo: Arnt Rennan)
This image of a solar eclipse on Svalbard is combined by several picutres. The images of the sun were shot with a 500 mm lens and the main image with 24 mm. An experience creating great expectations before taking place. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
This image of a solar eclipse on Svalbard is combined by several picutres. The images of the sun were shot with a 500 mm lens and the main image with 24 mm. An experience creating great expectations before taking place. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Walruses do not smell nice, according to photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen. Over the past 20 years, he has observed more and more of the animal that has been protected since the 1960s. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Walruses do not smell nice, according to photographer Tommy Dahl Markussen. Over the past 20 years, he has observed more and more of the animal that has been protected since the 1960s. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
- We had two blue whales around the boat. Here is one lying on its side, and we can see the side fin, the tail fin and its belly. A tremendous experience, the photographer says. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
- We had two blue whales around the boat. Here is one lying on its side, and we can see the side fin, the tail fin and its belly. A tremendous experience, the photographer says. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Animals in their true element are treasures for a passionate nature photographer. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Animals in their true element are treasures for a passionate nature photographer. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Curious Arctic fox. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
Curious Arctic fox. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
An Arctic fox and the northern lights, a wonderful combination. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)
An Arctic fox and the northern lights, a wonderful combination. (Photo: Tommy Dahl Markussen)

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