Spending Time With a Walrus

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

Can you remember what you felt like when you photographed your first lion in the wild?

What about an elephant? Or a leopard?

There is an incredible rush in photographing a new species for the first time. Just seeing that <enter your species of choice here> for the first time is incredible, but to then look at the scene through your viewfinder adds a whole new dimension of awesome to an already amazing experience.

More often than not, your first images of a species will not be keepers.  They will be proof shots just so that you have a record of your first time. When you look at the images later, your photographic voice will more than likely run wild with the various ways you could have photographed the scene or subject, and from personal experience, it is always one of the ‘I-wish-I-had‘ points that comes up.

Cue my first Walrus.

While we were prepping for last year’s Svalbard photo expedition, these massive, lumbering pinnipeds were not even close to the top of my list of species I was hoping to photograph. As we headed out to the island where a small ugly of walruses were piled on top of each other, my interest grew. By the time we were on foot with these huge creatures, I was photographically ready to fill a few memory cards, not only to get a few proof shots, but also to create some striking wildlife images.

Fast forward a bit to where our whole group had shot off a few frames to capture the initial moment of being on foot with Walruses in one of the remote areas on the planet. Now it was time to get to work.

It didn’t take long for everybody to start looking for lower angles in order to create interesting, different and emotive images of the small group of Walruses who could not have been more indifferent to our presence.


Staying nice and quiet and keeping a healthy respect for the fact that they are still very much wild animals, we were able to get close enough in order to create tight portraits with anything between a 300mm and 600mm lens.

Being on foot with wildlife is great from an experience point of view, but photographically it allows you to work a variety of angles you would not be able to get otherwise.

Gerry van der Walt - Svalbard Photography

We spent a bit of time photographing a group of 7 Walruses when we noticed another very large male making his way from the ocean towards the group.

Normally, wildlife subjects move pretty quickly, but this was not a worry with these guys.

They…        move…        very…        slowly…         which, for us, would mean time to set up our cameras and compositions.

We all lined up on our stomachs and waited for the shot.

Gerry van der Walt - Svalbard Photo Safari

600mm, 1/800, f/6.3, ISO 800

The freedom to move around, spend time with a subject, a new subject, and the ability to create incredible angles made for fantastic photography. We must have spent about 3 hours with the group of Walrus and, in the end, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

In about two months I will again be heading to Svalbard – and yes there are still a few spots left if you want to join! –  and this time around Walruses will definitely be on my list of want-to-photograph subjects.

When was the last time you had the rush of photographing a new species for the first time?

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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