Behind the Lens: Humbled by Brasvellbreen Glacier

Silversea’s Onboard Photographers carry the weight of guests’ excitement and curiosity on their lenses. They often photograph once-in-a-lifetime moments for travelers who have journeyed far and wide, and take pride in preserving experiences, capturing feelings, and delivering the unexpected. Silversea’s guests take great delight in reliving their voyage through the images and videos of the professionals.

For Denis Elterman, “photography and videography extend the voyage experience for travelers, recreating magic moments and re-conjuring felt feelings.” The Expedition Filmmaker enjoys shedding new light on guests’ experiences: “I use my drone to take guests up into the sky and I use my GoPro to take them beneath the water. And with my Canon DSLR and each of my lenses, I unlock a new view of the same unforgettable experience.”

Transformation through Travel: “As the longest-serving Onboard Photographer for Silversea Cruises, I’ve been traveling the world aboard Silversea’s ships for the last five years, on and off,” continues Elterman. “I’ve visited all seven continents, including the remotest corners of the planet—many of which seem to have been explored by few humans before me and lie outside of the sphere of popular exploration. It’s this feeling of discovery that keeps me coming back time and time again: always new, always exciting, never predictable. I’m completely hooked. I think the same can be said of the most passionate travelers. But for me, there’s one experience that stands out above all others from my travels…”

The Brasvellbreen Glacier
Glacial runoff gushes into the sea from atop the Brasvellbreen Glacier, Svalbard/Denis Elterman

“Those travelers who have seen a towering glacier first-hand will appreciate why I’ve selected my first-ever journey to Brasvellbreen Glacier as my stand-out experience with Silversea. I changed that day, back in July of 2016, when I first set eyes on the immense wall of Arctic ice while sailing on a 10-day Svalbard cruise. Something within me transformed, as I saw this natural structure merging with the sky above, runoffs of vibrant blue gushing from atop the glacier into the sea below.”

Approaching the Wall of Ice: “We were sailing aboard Silver Explorer in the remote waters of the Barents Sea around Svalbard. As the glacier came into view, I could make out a long white line on the horizon, stretching from port to starboard. I had no sense of scale at first, with no idea how tall the ice was. We edged closer and the line gradually grew. As we approached, we saw birds circling above the flowing meltwater pools. The sunlight made the glacier glitter and I was entranced. This was a wholly sensuous experience: seeing this ancient structure of ice before me, hearing the bird calls and the powerful flow of water, and feeling the fresh gusts of wind. I felt inspired.

Zodiacs in front of the Brasvellbreen Glacier
Silversea’s guests admire the Brasvellbreen Glacier in Svalbard from Silver Explorer’s Zodiacs/Denis Elterman

Camera Poised: “The ship was anchored a fair distance from the glacier and the Expedition Team members were operating Zodiac tours a safe distance from the landmark. I felt nervous, as if about to participate in a running race, the excitement and curiosity of Silversea’s guests a key factor in my nervousness. My turn came and I boarded the Zodiac with guests, butterflies in my stomach, clutching to my Canon 5d MkIV and my DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ drone—my preferred tools of choice for the challenge ahead.

Our Zodiac glided across the calm water, transporting us closer to the vast Brasvellbreen Glacier. As we moved, our accompanying Expedition Expert was describing the life cycle of glaciers: how fresh snowfall takes two years to become ice, how the glacier shifts under it own weight, and how ice breaks off at the glacier’s base in a process called calving. All the while, Kittiwakes were darting across the white of the ice, catching my attention with their squawking calls.

We got nearer and nearer, as was reasonably allowed. I was stunned by the enormity of the structure before us. The streams of flowing water were in fact vast waterfalls, plummeting from dozens of meters above sea level with great force.”

Brasvellbreen Glacier
Elterman was determined to capture footage of the glacial runoffs from above, as they plummet into the Barents Sea/Denis Elterman

Soaring Above the Glacier: The longest glacier front of the northern hemisphere, the 180km-long Brasvellbreen Glacier forms part of Austfonna, Europe’s third-largest ice cap in terms of area and volume. Elterman had eagerly anticipated the opportunity to cast his lens upon the spectacle and photographing Brasvellbreen Glacier had become his obsession.

“I love filming natural landscapes and extraordinary natural phenomena, and so I was desperately excited to see Brasvellbreen Glacier for the first time, mentally preparing for the moment for months prior to the voyage. But I was determined to show guests the icy mass from a unique perspective—from an angle that they couldn’t have enjoyed without professional equipment.

From the Zodiac, under the watch of a spotter, I took to the skies with my drone to illustrate the vein-like waterways that were etched into the glacier’s surface by flowing meltwater. From imagining to seeing, I was amazed by the view; the incredible patterns on the top of the glacier stretched far into the distance. The sheer volume of the ice block was made real. I’d never seen anything like it before—it was a completely otherworldly surface that looked like another planet.

For a second, I became disoriented, astray in the depths of Mother Nature. I couldn’t determine from which direction I had flown and the sea was lost to the horizon. Once I had finally found my course again, I traced the glacier’s boundary, looking down upon white pools of meltwater in a sea of blue. I couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of what I had filmed.”

Meltwater channels on Brasvellbreen Glacier
Vein-like meltwater channels decorate the top of the Brasvellbreen Glacier/Denis Elterman

“When I showed my video of Brasvellbreen Glacier to Silversea’s guests at the end of the expedition, they were amazed to see this once-in-a-lifetime experience from a new perspective. For me, this is what I love most about both photography and travel: each broadens your horizons and pushes your boundaries, enabling you to develop a new appreciation for incredible beauty, time and time again. We travelers share moments, emotions and stories, collecting them like mementos, enriching ourselves in the process.”