Antarctica…. a place I never thought I would visit. A place on the bottom side of Earth where few people go. Most of my friends, when they learned I would be taking this trip, asked: “why Antarctica? What’s to see besides penguins, seals and ice?” For me and most photography friends of mine, Antarctica is on our bucket list. Not just for the photographic opportunities, but for the natural beauty all around that cannot be described by any word other than awesome. My partner in this adventure was my 34 year old, world traveler daughter. We are both amateur photographers, me more amateur than her. This was an extraordinary father-daughter bonding trip.
The trip included 5 days of boat touring on and around the Antarctic Peninsula. Some of the islands are volcanic and some are actual volcanoes with defined craters which were visible after a short hike up. Our ship, the Ocean Nova, was perfect in size and amenities. Every day we went on two excursions via 10 person Zodiacs which enabled us to get up close and personal with the wildlife and landscape.
On the many islands we explored, we saw 3 varieties of penguins, fir and elephant seals, and numerous varieties of birds including the petrel and the albatross. The official rule is not to get closer than 5 meters to any wildlife, but there were many times when the wildlife came to us. When that happened there was no 5 meter rule applicable and we could then use an assortment of lenses other than our long lenses. However, some fur seals and elephant seals gave off extraordinary large growls that would scare any human; in many cases we self-imposed a 10 meter rule.
The three main varieties of penguins were the Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo. Our trip began this past January 20th (summertime in Antarctica) and the timing could not have been better. Most penguins were either incubating their eggs or rearing their newborn chicks. At one island there were over 20,000 penguins and their chicks. It was incredibly interesting to watch the interaction of the mother and her babies. I took some great shots of mother penguins feeding their chicks mouth to mouth. Watching them walk or waddle brought smiles to everyone’s face. We also had the experience of watching them swim and jump in and out of the water.
The primary birds we saw were the Petrel and the Albatross. We were mesmerized watching these birds searching for food, flying low over the colonies of penguins looking for untended eggs or isolated baby penguin chicks. I caught a picture of one of these birds trying to snatch a chick only to be scared off by several loud and intimidating mother penguins. The Petrel can have a wingspan exceeding 6 feet and the Albatross can have a wingspan exceeding 8 feet. These are powerful birds that can fly for long distances.
The landscape all around us was nothing short of dramatic and jaw dropping. The icebergs were large and magnificent and at times our 45 room ship was dwarfed in comparison when we got close to some of them. Some of the icebergs were 50 meters tall, remarkable in that twice that height is unseen beneath the water.
I did bring two SLR cameras, since the word was not to change lenses while outdoors due to high winds and salty air. This combination of environmental issues can damage memory cards and/or cameras. The only other photographic adjustments I had to make was photographing quite a bit of snow and ice. On bright days I had to compensate for my cameras light meter by one to two stops so my otherwise darker images would be as bright as the landscape I was photographing. Alternatively, on dusky and misty days, I had to compensate in reverse to ensure I would get the darkened mood I wanted to capture. Even though I take pictures in RAW, I used Cloudy as my White Balance setting to prevent many otherwise needed temperature adjustments in post processing. I think most of my photos came out great.
We had wonderful weather on this trip, highs around 40 degrees and lows in the mid-twenties. The only bad weather we experienced was on the last scheduled day of our trip as fog set in. The 67 of us were stranded in Antarctica for 5 extra days since no planes could land to pick us up. Under the circumstances, being stranded on a luxury ship and engaging in 10 additional excursions was not a bad thing. Truly this was a trip of a lifetime and something that both my daughter and I will share and remember forever. After this trip we encountered some real Arctic weather back in New Jersey.
This guest post was contributed by Michael Packman. You can find more of Michael’s travel and other types of photography on his website.