The Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard, is one of the world’s northernmost inhabited regions, housing approximately 2,500 permanent residents. Situated at 78 degrees north, its landscape comprises a vast tundra, towering glaciers, barren mountains, long fjords, steep cliffs, and low-lying wet plains. During the polar night in the winter, this region exhibits stunning northern lights and icy landscapes amid sub-zero temperatures. The town of Longyearbyen is the main residence of the inhabitants of Svalbard. In contrast, the milder summers give rise to more than one thousand different species of diverse plants, which flourish in the midnight sun. The vast biodiversity of Svalbard is also reflected in its wildlife, which has aptly adapted to one of the harshest climates on Earth. Besides the majestic polar bear, large communities of Arctic foxes, reindeer, seals, walrus, whales, and seabirds roam the archipelago. While the majority of photographers seek out the king of the Arctic as their prevalent subject in this region, depicting these diverse species can also produce stunning and exceptional images. For those visiting this unique corner of the Arctic, this guide provides an overview of the far-reaching wildlife photography opportunities, with helpful tips and tricks on how to best portray the diverse species that can be discovered there. The importance of wildlife biodiversity in Svalbard. The harsh conditions in Svalbard make life very challenging. Foliage is rare and for a predominant part of the year, the ground is covered in snow. Therefore, one of the major adversities for wildlife entails finding enough food for survival and reproduction. Maintaining a biodiverse wildlife community is crucial to sustaining a functioning ecosystem and enabling different species to survive in the winter. A Black-legged kittiwake rests on an ice floe in front of a large glacier in Svalbard. Every species in Svalbard plays an important role in maintaining a healthy, functioning food chain. Whales can advance algal blooms, which are important for seals, polar bears, and birds that feed at sea. Meanwhile, seabirds transport a large amount of nutrients to the land during breeding season, which can support herbivorous reindeer. These, in turn, serve as a food source for carnivorous species, such as the Arctic fox and polar bear, which feed on reindeer carcasses in the wild when the opportunity arises. Hence, besides highlighting their uniqueness, photographing the diverse species in Svalbard can pay homage to their eminent contribution towards maintaining life in this region. Photographing wildlife in Svalbard. With an abundance of wildlife to choose from, here are the top inhabitants to photograph. Arctic foxes. The Arctic fox can be discovered across the entire archipelago of Svalbard. With its round ears, short snout and thick coat of fur, this small fox species can maintain its body temperature even at -40° Celsius without expending any additional energy. In contrast to their pristine white coat during the winter season, Arctic foxes don a dark brown or black coat during the summer for improved camouflage. Therefore, the most interesting season to photograph the animals is during the spring, when they are shedding their winter fur. An Arctic fox roams through the tundra. Its unique colouring is due to the shedding of its white winter fur in preparation for the summer. This allows for interesting photographs of Arctic fox patterning and captures the species’ unique characteristics. An additional benefit is the soft Arctic light, which grazes Svalbard’s landscapes during the seasonal transition. Given the curiosity of Arctic foxes, photographing them in the wild is an exhilarating experience, as relatively close encounters are possible. Nevertheless, since the animals may carry parasites and diseases, it is important to maintain a safe distance and refrain from petting them. Reindeer. Svalbard reindeer are the smallest reindeer subspecies on Earth and are unique to the region, with an estimated 10,000 individuals inhabiting the archipelago. During winter, they generally congregate around ridges and plateaus, where there is less snow cover. During summer, they move to lowland plains and valleys to feed on vegetation. Despite their seeming omnipresence and frequent sightings around the main town of Longyearbyen, reindeer refrain from close human contact. Therefore, a long lens is necessary to capture the species on camera effectively. Two Svalbard reindeer graze in the tundra during a whiteout, in which the visibility of the landscape only reaches a few meters. The fur of Svalbard reindeer is generally white or beige coloured, with darker pigmentation around the face and the back. Therefore, when shooting against the snow, the camera may have trouble focusing on the animal and nailing the correct colour balance. To facilitate accurate focus, it is recommended to place the focus point directly on the eyes of the reindeer, which are darker in colour. Moreover, setting the white balance manually can improve results and reduce post-processing. Marine mammals. Svalbard is home to nineteen different species of marine mammals. These include polar bears, walruses, five seal species, and twelve whale species. The best way to photograph these marine mammals is to embark on a speedboat trip, which ventures out to different fjords around the archipelago. Besides increasing the chances of spotting a marine mammal, tourists are restricted from leaving a settlement in Svalbard due to polar bear threats. One of the most common species that can be encountered on a day trip from Longyearbyen is the bearded seal, which prefers to haul out on sea ice. The bearded seal is the largest Arctic seal species and can be distinguished by its long, curly whiskers and shimmering gray-brown coat. As a result of feeding at the bottom of the sea, the faces and fore-flippers of bearded seals may become rust-coloured, which lends them a particularly unique appearance. A bearded seal lounges on the sea ice in the sun. The coloring on its face and fore-flippers arises from iron compounds, which the seal encounters while hunting at the bottom of the sea. Another large species that can be discovered when sailing through the archipelago of Svalbard is the Atlantic walrus. In particular, large colonies of walruses – called ‘haulouts’ – rest and socialize on the shoreline of the island Prins Karl Forland. With their commanding presence, sheer size, and long ivory tusks, photographing these pinnipeds is an exhilarating experience. Observing the animals stretching, scratching, hunting, or tusk wrestling allows for interesting and diverse action shots. For the best photographic results during a speedboat trip, a long lens comprising 400-600mm is recommended, as tour companies approach the animals at a safe distance. Moreover, since shooting from a speedboat may be unsteady, a high shutter speed, as well as continuous drive and focus modes are helpful tools to ensure effective shots. Seabirds. Birds comprise the greatest majority of the wildlife that resides in Svalbard. Approximately 30 different species regularly breed in the archipelago, while approximately 230 species have already been observed in the region. Migratory birds return to Svalbard during the summer months, when the cliffs and islands come alive with large flocks. The diverse bird life that can be encountered in Svalbard includes the Little auk, Brunich’s Guillemot, Kittiwake, Arctic skua, Common eider, Purple sandpiper, and the Northern fulmar. A Northern fulmar flies above the Arctic waters in Svalbard. Many seabirds can be photographed near Longyearbyen at Isdammen, a small freshwater reservoir where wildlife congregates. Alternatively, a speedboat trip allows photographers to witness diverse bird species in action. These include the Atlantic puffin, which leaves its burrow to hunt at sea, and the Northern fulmar, an underrated but graceful relative of the albatross with nostrils at the top of its bill. In conclusion. Svalbard is a hotspot for some of the most remarkable species in the Arctic. Besides the majestic Polar bear, this region provides the opportunity to photograph a diverse range of wildlife, which have thrived in the archipelago due to their unique adaptations. The vast biodiversity of the archipelago can open up a slew of creative possibilities for shutterbugs that are seeking to diversify their portfolio beyond the conventional subjects.