As you can observe, my first photo for this week’s Photo Challenge is one of a penguin in Antarctica that has plenty of room to move.
While travelling to the Antarctic peninsula on the Antarctic Explorer trip with Quark Expeditions I was one of 30 passengers to spend a night camping on the ice.
Tip 1: Make sure you pick a trip where camping is offered
Some companies do not offer camping on the ice as an option and, if the company you are travelling with does do camping options, those options may not be offered on every trip. So make sure you do your research before selecting the trip you go on.
Tip 2: If you want to camp on the ice book ahead
We had 110 passengers on the Sea Spirit and a maximum of 30 were allowed to camp for a night. On the departure I was on there were a few more passengers who wanted to camp but were unable to do so.
Tip 3: Know what you want to get out of the experience
We were given a choice of sleeping in a tent or in a bivvy sac. For me, sleeping in a bivvy sac felt like I would be getting the maximum out of the experience. The majority used bivvy sacs on our trip with one tent being used amongst the passengers and another tent was used by the three expedition staff. The two options are seen in the photo below with the bivvy sac in front. One reason I was keen to camp on the ice was to experience some different photographic opportunities from those available during the day time excursions. Camping on the ice was the one time my tripod came out in Antarctica. Unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned as the sky was overcast on the appointed evening.
Tip 4: The bivvy sac was easy to lay out
We received all the gear during the afternoon before camping. This included a bivvy sac, sleeping bag, sleeping bag sheet and two sleeping mats (one went inside the bivvy sac and one lay between the ice and the bivvy sac). I put my yellow jacket Quark provides to all passengers on top of the bivvy sac and the boots Quark loans for the trip provided the structural basis for my pillow. Before leaving the Sea Spirit the whole bundle was rolled up so it was just a matter of rolling out the bundle and bed was ready once hitting the ice.
Tip 5: Camping experiences are different from day excursions When we walked into the area mapped out for camping we noticed a seal and a number of penguins. This was something to ponder given the stories we had heard about seals being found at the feet of passengers in the morning. However, nothing of this nature was experienced in our group. After walking around for a while and taking photos we all settled into bed. Before I fell asleep, one of the things I noticed was the sounds from ice movement and animal life (especially birds). The absence of other human background noise undoubtedly enhanced this experience.
For the record
You will see a lot of penguins when visiting Antarctica (see my previous blog post here) but don’t make the mistake of thinking that penguins are the only animal life you will see. After my trip with Quark Expeditions we were given a full list of wildlife sightings while on the trip. This list is too long to reproduce here but suffice to say along with the penguins I have previously described we saw:
- four species of albatross
- twelve species of petrel/shearwater
- two species of cormorant
- one species of sheathbill
- three species of skua
- four species of gull/tern
- three species of whale
- one species of dolphin
- four species of seal/fur seal.
If you have been reading my blog posts you will know that all this was experienced on a trip exclusively to the Antarctic peninsula.
Following are a few of my favourite photos showing animal life (excluding the penguins) in Antarctica.
Seals and fur seals
For me, the penguins were fascinating and there was also a wide variety of other animal life to keep this natural history enthusiast very excited with this Antarctic trip. I suspect the great majority of visitors to Antarctica have a love for all forms of natural history and for that person, Antarctica is a fantastic place to visit. If you are thinking about visiting the southern continent I hope this series of posts on Antarctica continues to whet your appetite and encourages you to book your trip. Feel free to leave your comments on your dreams/plans for an Antarctic trip or your experiences if you have already visited.
For most of us the landscapes/seascapes you will experience in Antarctica are very different to those we see at home. When I travelled with Quark Expeditions the main opportunities for land/seascapes took place:
- on board the Sea Spirit
- while zodiac cruising
- while on land on our twice daily excursions
- while on land for a night’s camping on the ice.
Back at home I use a tripod for landscapes most of the time and take my landscape photos around sunrise and sunset. When on a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica the situation is quite different and the question of what camera support to use varies by your shooting location.
Capturing landscapes from on board you boat
Apologies if this is stating the obvious but there is no point using your tripod on board the boat. The boat is moving and rocking so a slow shutter speed will result in blurred images whether the camera is on a tripod or not.
The perspective is also different when shooting from on board the boat – the sea is always some distance below the outdoor decks so any icebergs that you want to include in your image will be below you. This will result in those points of interest being smaller than if you were shooting from a zodiac.
However, the greater interest might be on land and often taking a photo on a telephoto setting works well then.
Sometimes the primary interest is on board the boat. The following photo was taken with a wider angle lens.
Zodiac cruising does not occur in those golden hours around sunrise and sunset. As you will realise from the photo above it is difficult to obtain a stable position while on a zodiac but being on the water level emphasises the size of the icebergs. There were typically ten passengers and one driver in each zodiac.
When the point of interest was on your side of the zodiac you were encouraged to kneel down. You were therefore in a more stable position and could use the side of the zodiac as a support at times. When the point of interest was on the other side of the zodiac you could stand up (once the driver gave permission). It was more difficult to obtain a good shot in this circumstance – I had many crooked horizons.
One more very important point about zodiac cruising – think about your equipment. I used rain sleeves to keep my camera dry. See more on this in a previous blog post here.
Daily excursions to land
I have a big interest in natural history so when I went ashore on the twice daily excursions my focus tended to be on the animal life. I used a monopod for these animal photos. Therefore, my tripod was not used on these excursions.
As with the zodiac cruising, the land excursions did not take place during prime landscape photography time but being a trip of a lifetime you still have to take photos even if the prime purpose is as record shots. Despite those limitations, the photographic skills you use will seem familiar with all the normal composition and exposure considerations. Don’t forget to compensate for the snow/ice to avoid underexposed/grey snow.
I wrote about the equipment I took here but suffice to say that the 11-18mm lens I took with me came into use at this time.
Camping on the ice
One of the reasons I chose to camp on the ice was to take photos as the sun was going down. This is the one time my tripod came out in Antarctica. Unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned as the sky was overcast on the appointed evening but the tripod still came into use.
I gave some tips on Antarctic photography in a previous blog post (find them here). They sum up key considerations.
A trip to the Antarctic is a fantastic experience and I hope the above both whets your appetite if you are thinking about going or helps your planning if you have decided to go. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed with the experience.
If you have any questions about your upcoming trip feel free to add a question in the comments. If you have already been to the Antarctic feel free to add other thoughts.
If you visit Antarctica you are going to see lots of penguins. However, the type of penguins you will see depends on where you go.
In February 2014, I visited the Antarctic Peninsula with Quark Expeditions on board Sea Spirit. I was on the Antarctic Explorer trip which meant I did not go south of the Antarctic circle. On this itinerary I was expecting to see Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie penguins. Little did we know when we left Ushuaia that we had a surprise awaiting us on our first day of landings. This surprise took the form of an Emperor penguin on Deception Island.
We later learnt this sole Emperor penguin left Deception Island two days after our visit. It was a mark of how unexpected this visitor was that all the expedition guides on our trip who could come over to see this penguin did so with great enthusiasm.
In general, the penguin chicks we saw were around six weeks old when we visited. This enabled viewing of feeding behaviours, as shown in the following photo of Gentoo penguins.
Penguin behaviour around water
Watching the penguins near water was a fascinating experience. They look quite awkward approaching water, often stand and contemplate for a long period of time at the water line (see below a chinstrap penguin) before entering the water but once they enter they are very swift swimmers.
There are strict guidelines about approach distances in Antarctica but I found that if you chose a place to sit and observe by the water line penguins will emerge from the sea and walk right past you (this is permissible as you are not approaching them).
Groups of penguins versus lone penguins
Survival is much higher for penguins found in groups. Sometimes penguins are found huddled together and this huddling often occurs if a predator is nearby.
Do you tire of photographing penguins?
On our last landing of the trip one of the Expedition Guides commented that I was still photographing penguins. I immediately commented that you can’t take too many penguin photos. At that point I was taking photos that were showing different penguin behaviours. For me, each landing yielded plenty of opportunities and I made the most of the time available on land (usually about 2-2.5 hours on each landing).
This was my first trip to Antarctica and of course the travel season is short. However, it strikes me that if you are to go on repeat visits, doing so at different times of the year will reveal a whole lot of different behaviours.
Herein lies an important decision to make before visiting Antarctica – the question of what time of year do you most want to visit. It is worth spending time researching this and thinking about what stage of the penguin life cycle you most want to observe in what could be your only visit to this fascinating land.
I visited Antarctica for the first time in February 2014. With this visit I have now travelled to all seven continents at least once. It was my travelling companion’s sixth continent. I wonder how often Antarctica is the seventh continent we visit?
Is there a lack of interest in travelling to Antarctica?
My suspicion is that Antarctica is the last continent most people visit and this isn’t because of a lack of interest in travelling there. For me as a nature lover and photographer my visit was fantastic. To wake up to landscapes like the following was truly inspiring.
Throughout my trip I felt very safe. I travelled with Quark Expeditions. From my reading and talking to other travellers and my travel agent, Quark has a good reputation and were a joy to travel with. Yes, there is the question of “will I be sea sick with that journey across the Drake Passage” but I would be surprised if that puts many off. Even during my night camping on the ice (more on this in a future post) I felt very safe. I wonder how many put the trip off because they feel it isn’t for them?
I live in New Zealand. I could have gone straight from Australia, New Zealand or South America to Antarctica but for me it came down to the amount of time I would be at sea and the most common route used. Therefore, South America became my point of departure. So, yes, it was a distance from home but with travel these days this was certainly not a problem as far as I was concerned.
Questions for you
- If you have been to Antarctica: When you visited Antarctica how many of the other six continents had you already visited?
- If you have not visited Antarctica: How many of the seven continents have you visited?
In future posts I will:
- summarise responses to the questions if there is sufficient interest
- provide more details on and photos from my trip to Antarctica.
- Use your own name, not a site name or keywords
- Do not use language that is offensive
- Stay on topic and do not post a comment that is unrelated to this site.