Antarctica 2018 - Report

Our Antarctica Expedition for December 2018 began with large tabular icebergs as we approached the South Shetland Islands. Further south we saw even more tabular icebergs, in spectacular light. We had a perfect landing in gently falling snow, at Cierva Cove, where we spent time with gentoo penguins. Another calm landing, was had in Paradise Bay, surrounded by gentoos, feeding humpbacks, nesting cormorants, and even a leopard seal. We followed this up with a traverse of the legendary Lemaire Channel, freshly blanketed in snow, and festooned in gleaming rime ice. We experienced more dramatic light through Neumayer Channel, passing a pair of killer whales, and icebergs laden with hundreds of crabeater seals, before landing at historic Port Lockroy. After a blustery entrance through Neptune’s Bellows, we landed at the black beaches of moody Deception Island. Our final landing was at Half Moon Bay, where the glorious sunshine made up for some of our less ideal weather conditions early on!

On board our ship we delivered classes on Lightroom library and develop module, on The Art of Seeing, and on Wildlife Photography Techniques. We had naturalist lectures on all of the wildlife, geology, ice, and ecology of the region. We had several of our signature image review and critique sessions, covering images from all guests that wanted to share.

All in, we had 13 landings and zodiac cruises. The first two were cut short due to rough conditions, but then great weather and conditions allowed for amazing photography for the rest of the expedition and 11 more landings and zodiac cruises. And all the while we had great photography from onboard our ship as well. And the dreaded Drake? On the way to Antarctica, it was about normal for one day, and calm the second day. On the way back, it was a “Drake Lake”.

We’re headed back to Antarctica in December of 2019, and we have only a few cabins remaining on board our private ship. Join us!

Muench Workshops Pro Juan Pons: This is my favorite image from this year’s trip to Antarctica, and this image was one year in the making. Last year on our visit to Half-Moon Bay I noticed this small gap between two boulder fields where penguins were cresting over a hill while being framed perfectly by the distant landscape in this breathtakingly beautiful area. For a variety of reasons, not least of which is the unpredictability of wildlife, I was unable to make the picture I envisioned. This year I was very eagerly anticipating our visit to Half-Moon Bay with visions of making the perfect image. The weather was beautiful, the light was great, now the question was, would the penguins cooperate? Well, cooperate they did and I was able to make the image I had envisioned a full year before. I was thoroughly pleased, but more more importantly, I was so happy that I was able to instruct a group of about 20 workshop attendees on what was unfolding before us and get them ready to capture this moment and we all got to make a memorable image.

Muench Workshops Pro Lisa LaPointe: "It seems improbable that warm blooded creatures can exist in such an inhospitable place, but they do survive—and thrive—in Antarctica. Many, such as this leopard seal, are top predators. One of the advantages of photographing from nimble Zodiacs is the ability to get an up close, eye-level view with marine mammals, and to capture intimate portraits of them in their extreme environment."

Muench Workshops Pro Will Burrard-Lucas: This is a photograph that I have always wanted to take. When we landed at a Gentoo penguin rookery during heavy snowfall, I knew my chance had come. The fresh snow was deep and we sank down almost to our waists as we forged a path up from the zodiacs. This penguin was on its way up from the sea and had a lovely clean belly (unlike the muddy penguins coming down from the nesting site)! I crouched down to get the penguin above the horizon line and used a wide-open aperture to get shallow depth of field to isolate the penguin and the large falling snowflakes. A fast frame rate and continuous AF helped me capture a sharp image as the penguin hurried past. Sony a7rIII, Sony 400mm f/2.8. ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/800s, handheld.

Muench Workshops Pro Michael Strickland: The vast untouched wilderness of Antarctica bewilders the mind. Sailing through the Neumayer Channel, the wind stopped and the water turned to glass, while the setting midnight sun began to break through the wisps of last remaining snow and cloud cover. While the sun never completely broke through, its presence warmed the scene and produced some of the more breathtaking light I've photographed.

Muench Workshops Pro Kevin Pepper: Penguins are at almost every landing in Antarctica. After taking hundreds of photos, I decided to think outside the box and start taking more unique images of the penguins in unique positions and situations. In this photo, I went up right behind a snow bank and used the foreground snow to blur out the bottom half of the image to give this image a unique minimalist look.

Muench Workshops Pro Randy Hanna: The warmth of the penguin rookery is a stark contrast to the cold waters and ice flows of the Antarctic environment. While photographing in the Antarctic regions, I am simply amazed at all of the life found here and the harsh conditions that must be overcome. Using a wide angle lens and a moderate f/stop, I was able to keep everything in focus from the edge of the rookery to the distant background. Shot with a Hasselblad H6D100C and a 24mm lens.

Antarctica: It’s “hotter” than you think

Debunking "You're' crazy, it's way too cold there!"

Having read the book, “Endurance,” visions of Schackelton’s ship frozen in the Antarctic ice, and of penguins huddled in unbearably cold conditions, struggling to protect their eggs, came to mind as I prepared for my first Antarctic expedition. How would I deal with the bitter cold of this foreboding land?

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Flash forward to the December day we landed at Hydrurga Rocks, with the sun shining so strongly, I had to peel off layers to avoid overheating! All those fears of a brutal chill quickly vanished.  

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Indeed, Antarctic expeditions are not as cold as you might think. Sure, weather conditions will vary from day to day and minute to minute, but most visitors benefit from the moderate temperatures, typically in the 30s, Fahrenheit, and even warmer. Sure, it can get a bit colder on a ship’s deck, or as you cruise the bays in a zodiac. Rain or snow can make things feel a bit colder, too. But there’s no need for special

expedition gear. All you need is to think in layers. And then let the thrill of photographic possibilities provide added warmth!

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I started out with a simple base layer (a T shirt), and then added some nice merino wool thermal underwear. For my legs, all that was really needed beyond that was a pair of DWR (durable water repellent) pants. Waterproof pants, or a rain pant shell, for the occasional spray of water or wet seat while on the zodiac, DWR is fine. (By the way, rain is highly unlikely. Did you know that technically, Antarctica is a desert?)

Up top, I went with a sweater (fleece is good, too), topped with a down jacket and a rain shell. The shell helps break the wind, providing warmth on the zodiac rides. A neck gaiter is nice for colder weather, and is easily stowed in a pocket or pack when it’s too warm for it. A warm beanie to cap it all off, and I was all set.

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The ship provided rubber boots for the landings, so I didn’t need to pack hiking boots or anything special. The only shoes needed are the ones I wore on board. A couple of layers of thick, warm wool socks were great to keep my feet warm while onshore or on the zodiac.

With this, the weather and temperatures were such a non-issue that I had no trouble immersing all my senses into the amazing wildlife and landscapes that surrounded me. Like penguins hopping from rock to rock, tending their nests, or waddling to the sea to feed, clean themselves off, and play in the water. It’s a mesmerizing display.  Or two humpback whales, as they played right next to and below our ship for well over an hour. Or seals sunning themselves on shore.

Visiting and photographing Antarctica was a life-changing experience, and now I’m looking forward to the next expedition with even more excitement. What will be different this time? I’ll worry less, and enjoy it more!

How to Photograph Antarctica

Capture the splendor and magnificence of Antarctica's wildlife and landscapes!

The Antarctic Peninsula will captivate you in ways you never thought possible. The ice, the wildlife, and the light are magical. Our experience has yielded some great lessons:

Camera Support

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Because you’ll be shooting in daylight, you won’t need a tripod.  Which means you don’t need to lug it onto the plane, through customs, or along on every excursion. And you will have the freedom to compose on the fly, without having to setup the tripod prior to clicking the shutter. When I’m working in an environment with many moving parts—icebergs, penguins, light, and myself in a boat, I find working handheld to be far more rewarding and fun. Today’s great zooms like 100-400mm, 200-500mm, and 150-600mm make this really easy.

 

 

Exposure

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Exposing properly for the bright light and reflective surfaces, such as snow and ice, can be tricky, even on cloudy days. Set your camera meters to “evaluative metering”, meaning the entire scene from corner to corner will be taken into consideration. However, even this setting can be fooled, such as with bright snow or ice. All cameras and light meters are calibrated to 50% grey. So there will be many times you need to override the camera meter, and “overexpose”, so that the snow is white, not gray. When you do this it’s important that you don’t overcompensate, which could lead to blow-out highlights. Avoid this by using the “highlight warning” (the “blinkies”) setting.

Focus

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When capturing images of wildlife it’s best to use a focus setting called “continuous focus”, which allows the camera to continually track focus on the subject, whether it’s a penguin or whale. Your job is to continually press down on the trigger just before releasing the shutter. If you’re using what’s called “back button focus”, then you’re pressing on the AF button on the back of the camera in addition to the trigger. It’s best to use a group of focus points somewhere in the center of your frame. This helps assure that the camera will acquire accurate focus on only the subject lined up behind the focus points, so be sure your subject is behind the group of focus points.

 

 

Stability

When you’re holding your camera, be sure to be as comfortable as possible, with one hand on the camera body and another under the lens and your eyelid pressed up against the eyepiece. It’s also important to use the built-in image stabilization for your camera or lens. Finally, a faster shutter speed will maintain sharpness by freezing the movement of the wildlife. With the huge amount of light in Antarctica, this is never a problem.

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Composition

Composing fields of ice, hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of penguins, and mountains covered in ice, is challenging. In this environment, it’s best to isolate specific subjects from the larger landscape, such as one lone penguin, or a crevasse in a glacier. By doing this through the lens, you’re isolating something special out of the mix. If you focus on finding these isolated subjects, and add some interesting light to it, you will begin capturing unusual compositions that many never noticed, thus making your images more interesting.  

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There are endless opportunities in Antarctica to capture unique images of landscape, wildlife, and even travel scenes. Be sure to not only capture images in focus, but also try different things like getting super low, or using motion blur or shallow depth of field. Most importantly, be creative with the camera, make mistakes, and learn from them so you can grow in ways you didn’t think were possible.

Antarctica: The Photographer’s Paradise

It is ironic, that a place so stark, cold, remote, and inhospitable is coveted by so many photographers.

But then again, when you think how far photographers will go to get shots that inspire, amaze, and gratify them, it’s no wonder.

Simply put: there’s no place like it.

Antarctica is actually an inviting place, teeming with life. Imagine coming upon a glacier that creates an icescape that seems like it could be on another planet.

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Or photographing a breaching humpback whale, whose size is as astounding as it is majestic.

Or picture yourself out on a zodiac, photographing icebergs that, with their colors and shapes, appear like sculptures afloat in the sea. And there’s nothing quite like standing face-to-face among a community of penguins, each of which seems to have a personality just waiting to be captured in its eyes and expressions.

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More than just home to spectacular images, Antarctica is a catharsis. Being somewhere so distant, so removed from the day-to-day, so very different from everything that is “normal,” it’s no wonder our clients can’t help but return home pondering their “life-changing experience.”

That’s the advantage of joining a team that has conducted photography workshops around the world for over a decade: Getting to the best spots at the best times. Having many professionals who will open your eyes to more image possibilities, or a naturalist to deepen your connection to the environment and wildlife around you. And, I dare say – having all the details worked out for you in ways that make their complexity seem so darn simple.

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More so, there’s nothing like being among others who aren’t in a rush to constantly move on, but rather to savor the moment and pause to truly see the scene they’re in, and have the freedom to become immersed in the photographic possibilities. Where you can ask questions, bounce ideas, or just wander off on your own and see what awaits.

In Antarctica, all this is magnified on a scale unlike anywhere else on earth. You can’t help but be pulled in, delightfully lost in the enormity of the place, and gleeful that you and your camera are indeed in a photographer’s paradise.