Following on from last week’s look at some images from South Georgia, this week I’m going to walk you through some photos from the three consecutive voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula, working with Aurora Expeditions in November and December 2012.
Picking up the story after we left the breath-taking South Georgia, we spent three days on the Drake passage, before starting off with a great landing on Penguin island. It was here that I got my first chance to photograph the amazingly cute Chinstrap Penguins. I included almost too many shots of these guys in the video that I released a few weeks ago, so I’m going to keep the numbers down a little here. Over artistic merit for this first one, I wanted to show you a shot of a Chinstrap with its brooding pouch open. I honestly didn’t even know that penguins had these slits in their feathers so that they can warm their eggs with direct skin contact, so this shot fascinates me. I also like the slight tilt in the penguins neck, almost as though he or she is showing me something a bit naughty.
Open Brooding Pouch
I personally think the chinstraps are probably one of the cutest looking penguins. That strap looks like they have a big broad smile on their face of course, but they also just move around in such a way that you have to smile yourself. The movie Happy Feet probably helped with their image a lot too. I was actually traveling with a naturalist called Gary Miller the first time I was in Antarctica, and he was a consultant on penguins for the movie. He of course absolutely adores these little guys too.
Next up, is a shot from a couple of days later, when we were in a place aptly named Paradise Harbour. This shot was from just before 7:30am, during an early zodiac cruise around the harbor. I have other shots from closer up, but to give you an idea of the scale of the scene, when another Zodiac cruised along the front of the glacier you can see running across the horizon of the water, they weren’t much more than a pin-prick. It was hard to see them in fact. The only reason we knew they were there, was because they’d sped across the harbor disturbing our perfectly calm mill pond shortly after this.
Glacier in “Paradise”
That of course is one of the nice things about being in the photography group, and therefore in my Zodiac. We can basically call the shots on where we go, and how much time we spend there, rather than just ploughing through the harbor taking everything in at a much faster pace. This suits the general passengers of course, and on the odd occasion when we end up mixed, they usually complain that the photographers take too much time, so it’s great to keep us apart with the photography option that I was providing on these voyages.
Shortly after the last shot, we returned to the Polar Pioneer, our ice strengthened Russian ship that I mentioned briefly last week. I have to say again though, that I love this ship. She’s big enough to keep us relatively comfortable in rough seas, and small enough to get into parts of Antarctica that the larger 150 passenger cruise ships simply can’t get.
Polar Pioneer in “Paradise”
These last two shots have both had a little bit of Color Efex Pro run against them, to bring out the texture and detail a little more. I actually rarely use Color Efex on wildlife shots, but I did use it on the next shot too, to enhance the falling snow as this Chinstrap penguin battles uphill in a storm. Although I like to really add punch to some images with Color Efex, with wildlife shots especially, I really like to keep the effect subtle. I don’t think you’d know I even used it here unless I told you. A bit of Pro Contrast or Tonal Contrast can really bring out snow in a scene like this though, as can a very small amount of Detail Extractor, or a subtle mix of all three.
Note too that although I had a pretty productive time, to save going through each of these three expeditions in too much detail, I’ve really tried to keep the number of images I talk about down to a minimum. The day we left Paradise was actually the last day of Expedition one, and this shot was after we’d crossed the Drake Passage, back and forth to Ushuaia, to pick up a new ship full of passengers. This is a place called Two Hummock Island, at the start of the second expedition.
This next shot from the following day at Curverville Island, is straight out of the camera though, and one of my favorites from the trip. These are Gentoo Penguins hurrying along there penguin road along the snowy beach, after a fishing expedition. Here of course I timed the shot so that they were all in line like this, looking like they’re doing one of those swirly rotating dances. Because they were moving relatively fast towards me, I’m pretty sure that for this one, I had focussed on the snow just in front of them, and then snapped a few frames as they progressed to that spot. AI Servo focusing might have worked too, but in the heat of the moment as I turned and saw this cute scene, prefocus seemed like the best option, and I’m happy with the results.
The follow day, as we flipped the calendar into December, we were at Port Lockroy, with the wonderful museum and even a gift shop at the old British base. It was nice to actually be somewhere that we could meet other people, and even spend a bit of money. Many people write postcards as you can post them right from the base. This next shot is a yacht that was moored in the port, with the snow covered glacier behind it making a wonderful backdrop for this shot.
Yacht at Port Lockroy
Here I actually added a +38 post-crop vignette in Lightroom, to brighten the corners and enhance the dreamy feel of the image. I rarely do positive vignettes, but I think it works nicely here. The only thing I regret is that there wasn’t enough room in the foreground before this side of the port started, so I had to cut off the reflection of the yacht’s mast, but it doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve already tried printing this one too, and it looks pretty impressive. One of my favorites, for sure.
The weather was treating us quite kind during the second expedition, and we found ourselves at Enterprise Island the following day with the most incredible calm sea again, and I got another shot that will probably remain a favorite. With the abandoned whaler at the back of this cove, and the sun lowish in the sky, I put the horizon smack in the middle of the frame, and mirrored the sun in the mill pond water, and because I was stopped down a little, I got this lovely sunburst effect as well, caused by the aperture leaves in the lens. This was shot at f/11, but I get a nice sunburst effect even at f/8 with my 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, so I like to play with this on the rare occasion that I’m shooting on a clear day like this.
As we left the Antarctic Peninsula on the last day of the second expedition, because we weren’t able to get into the caldera of Deception Island, our last scheduled stop before returning to Ushuaia, our landing at Elephant Island became our last landing, and it was a pearler. To start with, it was a tough call for the expedition leader as to whether or not we would even be able to land, because the sea was so rough. I’d been asked to wear waders, instead of my usual knee high overshoes, as it was possible I’d be in some nasty waves as I helped people in and out of zodiacs on the beach.
The crossing from the Polar Pioneer, that would wait over a mile out to sea as we went ashore, was pretty nasty. Swell was probably around 3 meters, which is a lot when you are in essentially a rubber boat. On the way ashore though, the sea was working with us. When we got ashore, it became obvious that the zodiacs weren’t going to get back to the ship to pick up more passengers without a little ballast to stop them flipping as they sailed into the wind. I was to be the ballast on one of the zodiacs. Doctor John, the ships physician and highly skilled zodiac driver asked me to sit near the front on the pontoon, but pretty much as soon as we left the shore it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be possible to just sit on the pontoon. I was thrown all over the place, and ended up spending most of the trip back to the ship crouched near the box at the front hanging on to the anchor rope, like some sort of an insane aerobic teacher come rodeo rider. Once every two or three waves the icy sea water would come flooding over the front of the zodiac and over my head mostly too. It was a pretty rough ride, to say the least.
We picked up another load of passengers, and made our way back out to Elephant island again, for our landing. When I got there, rather than art photographs, I was documenting a rescue mission, as there was a series of potholes, with groups of six week old elephant seals in them, that had dropped through the snow. The staff debated briefly about the ethics of what we were about to do, because if we were not there, these young elephant seals would surely perish. We figured that us humans had been responsible for the deaths of enough of these seals already though, so set about the task of rescuing them, another good reason for the staff being in waders on this particular day.
Here we can see James and Santiago, two of the Aurora staff, in a pot hole with five elephant seals. These seals are fed for about four weeks or so after they are born, and having grown to around 60 – 100 kg in that time, they are then left on the beach as their mothers go to see for a few weeks to feed on fish, and come back to give their pups one last feeding before they are left to fend for themselves. Conditions this year though had for some reason had caused the seals to melt through the snow in these potholes, and there were groups of them all over the beach.
Aurora Staff Rescuing Elephant Seals
It was a relatively dangerous job, as every so often a seal would crank its head back around and try to bite someone, but after an hour or so, the last pup was released from the last pothole. We used ice picks to dig further out around the holes, so if more pups dropped in after we’d gone, they’d hopefully be able to climb back out again.
Aurora Staff Rescuing the last Elephant Seal
One could argue that we shouldn’t have helped the pups, interrupting the course of nature, but I’ll never forget the look on their eyes as we found the first few groups. I’ll find it a lot easier to live with the decision to help them, than I would have if we’d decided to leave them to perish.
Stranded Elephant Seal Pups
We’d been back to Ushuaia, and picked up our passengers, and were half way through the third and last expedition, when I shot this next image. We were in Cierva Cove, with beautiful light, and relatively good weather again. We’d spent the morning zodiacing around the cove, exploring some magnificent icebergs. This one was recently printed and handed out to guests at the OFFSET launch. Offset is a new stock agency that Shutterstock have launched to provide a better class of stock photography, and I’m proud to have been invited to join them. There’ll be more on that in the coming weeks, as they open the doors more and more to the public, but if you are a buyer of stock photography, then you can request an invite to browse the galleries at www.offset.com. Again, I popped this a little with a run through Color Efex Pro, but I just love the iridescent blues of the underwater part of the iceberg here. I also see a roman centurion calved out of the ice to the right, but a quick poll on Google Plus recently, tells me that not many other people actually see that.
Next, I once again have to apologise to my friend Ade, because we’d been hoping for a chance to shoot a leopard seal the entire time we were together on the first expedition, but it didn’t happen. Finally, now towards the end of the third voyage, we found one sitting up on a small iceberg, having a rest, probably after eating a penguin or two for breakfast. He had a mouth full of foam, but did open up his big fierce jaws to give us a look at his teeth a few times, and that is what I shot here. I had to crop a passenger’s shoulder out of this to the left mind, as my photography has to take a back seat when something special happens and there is limited space to shoot it.
Foaming Leopard Seal
This next shot, still from that morning in Cierva Cove, is one that I included in my 2012 best ten images, and seemed to go down pretty well with you listeners as well as people that follow me on Google+. It remains a favorite, though I have to admit, at the time of shooting this, I didn’t think I was going to like it quite this much. These two monumental icebergs really were magnificent though. Still pretty much tables of ice, that had probably broken away from one of the large ice tables found around Antarctica. The texture in the sky adds a lot, and once again I pumped this up a little in Color Efex Pro. I think using a wide angle lens here, shooting this at 16mm, gives us a feeling of the water and the sky kind of radiating out from the icebergs, or maybe that we’re rushing towards them.
Remember, as I said last week, if you are thinking of picking up Nik Software’s complete package, Google have now made it available for just $149, and for another short while, you can use my code MBP15 to get a further 15% discount, taking the price to just $126.65. If you enter my short-link https://mbp.ac/mbp15 (Sponsored by Google) into your browser, the code should be entered for you automatically, but otherwise, try entering MBP15 on checkout. I’m pretty sure this won’t work after June 2013 mind, so don’t hang around if you want to use the code.
It really was an amazing morning in Cierva Cove, and shortly before we had to go back to the ship, we found these three Adelie Penguins on top of a growler, which is actually the proper term for a small iceberg about the size of a family saloon car. The name comes from the sound they make as they rattle along the side of a ship. We circled these lovely penguins a few times in our zodiac, and this is a shot from shortly before they made their exit, diving into the sea, probably to get away from a group of ten annoying photographers in a zodiac.
The Three Adelies
We called in at Elephant Island once again, as we left the Peninsula for the third time. I apologize in advance if this last photo disturbs you, but unfortunately when we got there, we found a few groups of dead Elephant seals on the beach. They’d obviously fallen into potholes again, though there weren’t the numbers that we’d rescued less than two weeks earlier, which was good. I chose to include this image in my slideshow, and here today, as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life down here in Antarctica. It only takes a bit of strange weather, maybe overly warm sun causing the dark seals to warm up enough to melt a hole in the snow, and their lives can be put in danger incredibly easily. It was sad to see, but I felt I had to shoot this, especially as the pelt that is left around the bones of the seal almost look like the hood of the Grim Reaper that took this poor little soul away.
We were able to get into the caldera at Deception Island before we left the peninsula though, finally, on my fourth chance. Apparently there are rocks just below the surface on one side of Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance to the mouth of the mostly underwater volcano that forms the island. In stormy weather, the ship can be blown across to the rocky side of the opening, which is why we need pretty good conditions to be able to get inside.
The beach, made of black volcanic sand is warm, and the water is apparently warm enough to bath in, in places. We weren’t invited to do so this time, as time was against us, but we had a wonderful couple of hours inside here. I did some long exposure shots, like this one of two small abandoned boats half buried in the black sand. I cropped this down to a 1:2 aspect ratio too, as the foreground and sky weren’t adding much here, and I wanted to accentuate the long structure of the boat.
Whalers Bay Boats – Deception Island
In the slideshow that I released a few weeks ago, also included a couple of shots of another less than proud human legacy, the whale blubber boilers that were behind me as I captured this shot. Deception island was unfortunately a whaling station for some time, before we moved away from that horrible practice. We’ll finish here for today though, and I do hope you’ve enjoyed these photos, and sharing some of the experiences that I had on these three expeditions. I would like to thank Aurora Expeditions for giving me the opportunity to work these three voyages, and I’d like to thank any of the passengers that joined the photography option, also making it possible for me to spend this very special time with you.
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Having finally uploaded my favorite shots from my visit to South Georgia and Antarctica to my portfolios site, today I’m going to talk about some of my favorites from South Georgia, and tell you a little about that wonderful place.
In November and December 2012, I was working with Aurora Expeditions, teaching photography to a small group of passengers on three consecutive expeditions, the first of which took us to South Georgia before we went on to the Antarctic Peninsula. We’ll get into Antarctica next week probably, but this week, I wanted to look at 12 images from the first voyage. I flew first to Santiago in Chile, then on to the Falkland Islands, and we then sailed for three days, 1,390 kilometers (864 miles) east-southeast of the Falklands to the beautiful Southern Ocean archipelago of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
If you didn’t already check out the 10 minute video slideshow that I released as last week’s Podcast episode, I’ve embedded the video into the top of this week’s blog post too. It might not be for everyone, but I’m happy with the way this video turned out. It’s full 1080p HD video too, so if you have enough bandwidth, hit the cog wheel in the player and watch fullscreen in the highest quality. Turn up your speakers too, as I matched the photos and video to a nice peaceful soundtrack.
To pre-empt a few of the questions you might have, note that there was no ice in the sea on the way to South Georgia, the footage we start with of the ship breaking through sea ice, was shot in Antarctica a few weeks into the expeditions. This was a little bit of artistic license on my part, but I thought it kicked off the video really well. From a photography project perspective, I’m finding more and more that I like to get some video footage as I travel, to really liven up this kind of presentation.
We’ll look at a few images in a moment, but I also wanted to mention that around six minutes into the video you’ll sea wonderful blue ship, called the Polar Pioneer. She’s an ice strengthened Russian vessel and was home for the five weeks I spent on these expeditions. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled in the Poloar Pioneer, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. She’s a beautiful ship, full of character and fond memories.
I answered a few other questions on the original slideshow blog post, and I may touch on a few more when we talk about Antarctica, so we’ll leave it there for now. If you’d like to take a look, the blog post is at https://mbp.ac/367. Now let’s look at some of the photos from South Georgia.
This first image is the opening shot from the slideshow video. I was amazed at the size of the King Penguin colonies at Salisbury Plain and a few days later at Gold Habour. I’ve seen this sort of colony in documentaries, but I honestly hadn’t expected to see them on this voyage. The wider angle shots, a few of which I’ve included in my portfolio, don’t really do this spot justice. I found it better to get in a little closer, and use shallow depth-of-field to emphasize the number of penguins. This was shot with my 300mm f/2.8 lens stopped down just a little to f/4.
King Penguin Colony
As you can see, I’ve focussed on the young chick, but this is really about the group of adults walking and standing around. The colors of these magnificent penguins are absolutely stunning. The chicks are quite ugly really, looking a little bit like Cruella Deville, from 101 Dalmatians. Another thing the video and photos don’t put across is the smell. You get used to it, but a colony of penguins like this is pretty ripe. You’re clothes actually smell of rotten fish when you get back to the ship, but it’s all for a good cause.
This next image is from a few days later at a place called Fortuna Bay, where there are substantially sized Elephant Seal and Fur Seal Colonies. I remember feeling significantly afraid as I tried to get close enough to this guy to get the shot I wanted. I was with my friend Ade, who had joined the expedition, and we were walking up and down the beach, trying not to get trapped by the fur seals that can be quite vicious. There was also a slightly younger male elephant seal swimming around behind us, trying to find a spot on the beach, and this guy was partially reacting to him, and also reacting to me, to a degree, I’m sure.
The Morning After
The rule is that you aren’t allowed to get closer than 3 meters, or stand in places that cause these guys to change their behavior, but this guy was so vocal there wasn’t much chance of me getting any closer than this, which I shot at 420mm, this time at f/6.3, to get a little more of his bloody neck in focus than a shallower depth-of-field would have given me. Not super deep, but a nice balance of sharpness and pleasing background bokeh in my opinion.
The following day we spent a good chunk of time at Grytviken, an old whaling town that is now home to a museum, a church, and a small graveyard that houses the explorer Ernest Shackleton’s grave. The main group gathered around the grave as I was doing some long exposure shots, but as I made my way up to the grave later, I felt a huge wave of emotion at the braveness and determination of the man that did so much down here in South Georgia and Antarctica.
The legacy of the town though isn’t one us humans can be particularly proud of, when you see the wrecked Petrel, a whaler still with the harpoon gun proudly positioned on the now rusty bow that we can see in this photo. This is a longish exposure, at 25 seconds, so there’s a bit of cloud movement and the sea has pretty much smoothed over, but leaving a little bit of texture.
I like to use Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 for long exposures, and I have a few black and white shots from here in the set too, but for this shot, I liked the rust color and the greens in the rugged environment, so I enhanced the texture a little in Color Efex Pro 4. By the way, if you haven’t heard, Google have now put the entire Nik Software package of plugin’s out there for just $149! I’m not sure how long this will last, but at the moment, my code MBP15 is still active, giving you a further 15% discount, taking the price to a staggering low $126.65, so if you’ve ever thought about buying these plugins, now is a great time to do it. If you enter my short-link https://mbp.ac/mbp15 (Sponsored by Google) into your browser, the code should be entered for you automatically, but otherwise, try entering MBP15 on checkout, and see if that still works for you.
When you shoot as many images as I did during my five weeks at sea on these voyages, it can be a major task in itself just to work through your images and make your selections, so I try to keep on top of this as much as possible during my time in my cabin and on sea days etc. I spent a few more days going through my images at the end of December, after finishing a private tour that I did straight after getting back from Antarctica, and pretty much had my selection down by the start of this year.
One thing I love to do though, is to revisit the original RAW files a few months after a major trip like this, to see if there’s anything I overlooked in my initial frame of mind. I think we develop certain expectations while in the field, and they affect our editing decisions if we do them quickly after any particular shoot. This is why I like to leave my final decision on what to show people at least a week or so after the shoot, but it’s always great to look back six months or so down the road. As I was going to create the slideshow video and update my portfolio Web site, I didn’t wait quite six months, but I was close enough to go through this exercise before doing these recent tasks, and one of my favorite shots now is this next one, which I originally left out of my selection.
It’s another wreck at Grytviken, this time a 36 second exposure at f/14. Again, this is a Color Efex Pro 4 enhancement, as I wanted to keep the rust colors, and the green of the weed attached to the remains of the hull of the ship, as well as the red in the mountains on the other side of the bay. The two dark figures in the sea in the foreground are actually a couple of fur seals that where lying around as I made the shot.
I’m not sure why I originally didn’t like this. It was probably the iron structure on the beach in front of the wreck, as that still bothers me a bit now, but not enough to leave this out of the selection.
The day after Grytviken, we went to the second major King Penguin colony at Gold Harbour. This place again was incredible! It was here that I got another of my favorite shots from the trip, of a pair of King Penguins cuddling up. The tenderness in this shot really moves me. I was lucky enough to have witnessed this at a spot where there was a fresh water stream of melted snow running behind the penguins, so I could get some beautiful balls of sparkling bokeh in the background.
King Penguin Tender Moment
Surprisingly, I’d actually stopped down to f/9 for this shot, but because I was pretty close for 420mm, I still got a nice shallow depth-of-field. In fact, if I’d gone much wider at this distance, the background would have been so soft I’d have lost much of that effect, so it’s a fine line.
I wandered along the beach for a while too, and got some shots of the King Penguins going out to sea, and here’s one of them that I quite like. I cropped this down to a 1:2 aspect ratio, to emphasize the distance between the forerunner and the guys at the back. They often go out to sea like this, waiting for one brave penguin to go first, because if there are any predators in the area, it’s safer to go after someone else.
Testing the Water
It was another amazing day, that I didn’t think could get any better, and then, it started to snow, as you can see in this next image. You know how much I love snow, and this was just the icing on the cake for Gold Harbour. I was like a kid in a candy store, running back to some of the locations I’d shot earlier using the fine snow to effect. I shot this at f/8, again at 420mm, just singling out a group of penguins, but the compressing effect of the long lens accentuates the number of penguins in the colony behind this group and also enhances the effect of the snow in the air.
King Penguins in Snow
We went back to the ship at around 11am on this day, after a magical landing, and then in the afternoon went out for Zodiac cruise. With the fine snow still falling, I got this shot of an Arctic Tern in flight. These are small but truly beautiful birds, and again here, I love the feeling of suspension that the snow affords the image. The tern actually splays his tail feathers out like that when they are hovering and moving slowly, then fold them into a two pronged fork like a swift when they are flying at speed, so we can see here that he’s suspended to a degree. There’s wing movement though, even at 1/400 of a second and although that often annoys hard-core birders, I love to see a bit of wing movement in a shot.
Towards the end of this Zodiac cruise, I shot this regal looking Fur Seal, again, in the fine falling snow. You often see just one or two fur seals up on the rocks like this, and I imagine they are guarding their territory, though I might be wrong. I actually learned to seriously dislike these guys while on this expedition. They will run along the beach to come and try to bite you, and a number of times, especially at Grytviken, I had to use my extended tripod to ward them off. We’re in their world of course, so I feel bad for feeling this way, but I wouldn’t be too concerned if I never got close to a wild fur seal again. Unfortunately, I believe there will be a colony or two in Africa when I’m there next month. Hopefully they’ll be better behaved than the ones we met in South Georgia. 🙂
Fur Seal in Snow
The last five images were all shot on November 17, and this was to be our last day in South Georgia before sailing down to the Antarctic Peninsula. The grand finale though, was a Zodiac cruise and then a wonderful sail around the Drygalski Fjord in the Polar Pioneer.
In this shot again I used Color Efex Pro to bring out the amazing texture in the sky and water. This is one of those shots that really needs to be viewed large though, as deep in the image, close to the horizon of the water to the right is a Zodiac and the Polar Pioneer. If you look close enough to the largest sized Web version of this (click to enlarge), you can see them, but they aren’t obvious at first. They give you an idea of the scale of this place though.
Polar Pioneer in Drygalski Fjord
The dramatic skies and grandeur of the Drygalski Fjord will make the couple of hours we spent cruising around on Zodiacs one of the fondest memories of my life. Again, it’s hard to do justice to the scene with a wide angle shot like this. However much you might get from this shot, believe me, it’s only a 100th of the actual awesome beauty of these locations.
Again, to me, the longer focal lengths capture the feeling of this place better than the wider vista. This next image, shot at 75mm showing the face of a glacier in the fjord with the magnificent rugged mountains behind, captures the spirit of Drygalski for me much better for me. As a highlight of South Georgia, the captain of the Polar Pioneer took us right up to the face of a vast glacier, and although in reality we were still a way off, it almost felt as though we could reach out from the bow of the ship and with a longish arm, touch the glacier directly.
Drygalski Fjord Glacier
Everyone on board knew that there was a certain amount of risk involved, but as the light faded at the end of our last day in South Georgia, with the entire passenger list congregated on the bow, I don’t think anyone was going to complain. It was another memory of a lifetime.
To finish with, let’s look at one last image, a sunset that I shot on one of the first days in South Georgia, as we sailed around the island to a new location, just as the sun poked through the heavy clouds. This is a slightly ore subtle use of Color Efex to bring out detail in the sky to the right of the sun, as I had exposed this to keep some details in the foreground water, allowing the sun to blow out but also letting the right side of the sky get pretty bright too. Using Color Efex I was able to balance this out, bringing the right side of the sky under control a little, and also bring out more texture in the bottom line of cloud as the dark area ends.
South Georgia Sunset
I’m going to finish with this shot as it feels like the end of this part of the voyage, and that is how I used this image in the video, before we move on to Antarctica. I also included a bit of video footage of the Polar Pioneer in a storm, shot from the bridge, on the highest deck, which is I think deck 6, and we still took had water from a wave washing across the bridge windows, so it’s quite impressive to see. I had the tripod taped to the hand-rail for that video by the way.
Anyway, that’s it for South Georgia. I expect to be back here in the coming years, hopefully with some of you, but for now, I have really enjoyed reliving the week in South Georgia through my photos, as I put the video together and updated my portfolio site. After this, we sailed for three days across the Drake Passage, arriving at Penguin Island on the Antarctic Peninsula, and were to spend three days, before heading back to Ushuaia in Argentina, ending the first of the three expeditions. We literally picked up a new set of passengers, and turned around and went back across the Drake, meaning I spent six days on the notorious Drake Passage between the first and second, and the second and third expeditions. Part of my job was to gather photos for a slideshow in the lecture room on the last night of each voyage, and gathering images for the ships log, so although crossing the Drake is like a weekend for the staff, it was a busy one each time, but a lot of fun too, seeing the photos that the passengers took.
Next week I’ll walk you through some of my favorite shots from Antarctica. If I can’t fit them all into one episode, we’ll run for a few more weeks, but I have other stuff that I want to move on to, so I’m not sure yet. Either way, if you are interested, do take a look at the video, and to see most of the shots at your own pace, the portfolio site is the best place to go. I’ve actually got the top page set up to cycle slowly through all of the South Georgia and Antarctica shots at the moment, so if you go full screen it can be quite an immersive experience.
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For this week’s Podcast episode, here’s a slideshow of images from three consecutive expeditions to Antarctica and South Georgia, in Nov-Dec 2012, while working with Aurora Expeditions. Grab a coffee, kick up your feet, and make sure you have audio turned up. Once you’ve watched this, I try to answer some of the questions you might have below.
Oh, and this is full 1080p HD video, so if you have enough bandwidth, hit the cog wheel and make sure you’re watching the highest quality, and go full screen. The usual Podcast feed will download an iPhone optimized version via iTunes if you are subscribed.
First off, before anyone asks, no, there was no ice in the sea on the way to South Georgia, this was my artistic license. The initial footage of us breaking through sea ice was shot in Antarctica a few weeks into the expeditions.
The big blue ship that appears at around six minutes is the Polar Pioneer, the ice strengthened Russian vessel that was home for the five weeks I spent on these expeditions. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled in her, and it won’t be the last. She’s a beautiful ship, full of character and fond memories.
What was my role on board? I was running the Photography Option, with a group of 10 to 12 photographers on each voyage. We did lectures while on board, and travelled in the same Zodiac so that A) we could spend more time photographing than other Zodiacs, and I could work with the group to help them with their photography, and B) so we didn’t annoy the hell out of normal passengers, that don’t typically use such long lenses and spend so much time on their photographs.
Why did I make a point of calling out “The Albatross” at Cape Horn? Here’s what’s inscribed on a monument down there:
“I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world… I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world. But die they did not in the fierce waves, for today towards eternity in my wings they soar in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds” – Sara Vial
Why did I include the shot of the dead elephant seal? Well, that’s life! Or death… I deliberated on this one, and I apologize if it shocked you, but these things happen. The first time we visited Elephant Island as we left the Antarctic Peninsula on the way back to Ushuaia, there were many baby elephant seals, maybe four or five weeks old, stuck in holes were they’d dropped through the snow, and couldn’t get out. We made a decision to help them, and released about 10 to 15, which hopefully lived. When we went back a second time, there were circles of dead pups, that had obviously dropped through the ice again, but no-one was there to help them this time. It’s saddening, even heart-breaking to see, but it happens all the time, and I felt fortunate to have witnessed this harsh truth, so I left this shot in.
The two shots after the dead seal are boilers or storage for whale blubber, at Deception Island. Something that we should not be proud of, but again, these are a legacy that we cannot ignore. There are a few shots earlier than that of wrecked ships. These are also old whalers that were run aground when they were no longer needed. It was apparently less expensive to just leave them down there than sail them back to their base countries to be broken down.
How did I get the end roll video? I lay on the anchor box at the front of the Zodiac, as expedition leader Don McFadzien navigated deftly around the sea ice. The resulting footage was bumpy as hell, as we roll over chunks of ice, but I stabilized the footage in Adobe After Effects, and the result looked almost as though we were flying over the surface of the sea, rather than sailing, that’s all.
What software did I use to create the slideshow? I used Boinx Software’s Fotomagico 4.2.1 to create the bulk of the slideshow, but although it’s easy to set out the slides and manipulate the animation/zoom effects, I can’t recommend this software to anyone, at all. It crashed constantly on my MacBook Pro Retina, and if I hadn’t invested so much time to begin with, I’m sure it would have been quicker in the end to just do the whole thing in Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro. I created the end credit roll in Premiere Pro, because there’s no way to do that kind of scrolling credit easily in Fotomagico. Also, aligning audio in Fotomagico is like pulling teeth. Very tedious and painful. Unless you want just a very quick simple slideshow, look for other software. [UPDATE: Boinx Software just released a free app called SandboxCleaner that they say will prevent FotoMagico and other video and photo related software from crashing. I’ll use FotoMagico again soon and update you if it appears to work. Fingers crossed!]
Can I buy any of the images in the slideshow? Of course! For commercial use, go to www.offset.com and search for “artist: Martin Bailey”. For now, you’ll have to request an invitation, as the service is not fully public yet, but once you are in, you can buy and use these images commercially at a very reasonable price point. For prints, I’ve also just updated my Portfolios site, with 100 of these photos available for viewing at your own pace, and I’ve added these image for print sale here, under Antarctica. In the meantime, if there is an image that you would like a print of, but can’t find, just contact me with the time that the image appears in the video, and a brief description, and I’ll get back to you.
Am I doing any more Photography Expeditions to Antarctica? You bet, but nothing I can talk about right now. Subscribe to our Tour & Workshop Newsletter to receive information as it’s released. We will never spam you or share your information with third parties.
This is a slide-show of the 38 pieces displayed at my Exhibition in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, from Dec 23-30, 2010. I also merged in a bit of video footage from a few of the locations, to help tell the story.
You can also view the embedded video right here on your iPad, thanks to Vimeo!
Note that there is an iPod/iPhone version of this video in iTunes, which is good for portability, but if you’re watching on a computer, the video above is better.
Following on from Episode 237, this week we look at some images from the Landscape leg of the 2010 Hokkaido Workshop. We also hear participants comments from the entire Hokkaido Tour (only in the audio available in iTunes or at the bottom of this post).
Before we look at these images, do note that we will not be visiting these locations on the 2011 workshops. I’ve changed the itinerary based on participant’s feedback. Basically it takes a long time to get over to the middle of the island, and with the bad weather we had this year, it took even longer, and some of the 2010 participants didn’t feel that it was worth the time to get over to central Hokkaido for these scenes. I have added some new locations for 2011 that offer similar opportunities, but we will generally be spending more time in each of the locations that we looked at in Episode 237, and I’m also working more structured lectures and training into the 2011 schedule too.
I’m very pleased to be able to announce that I have teamed up with the kind folks at X-Rite, the makers of the ColorMunki and ColorChecker Passport, and will be integrating hands-on sessions on color calibration in the digital workflow.
Anyway, let’s look at some photos from the second leg of the 2010 tour. Having made our way from the Shiretoko Peninsula to central Hokkaido, and the Daisetsuzan Mountain range, we would spend the night of the 7th of February at a hotel close to the cable-car station, from where we could take a cable-car that would take us close to the top of Mount Asahi the following day, weather permitting. The plan for this first afternoon was to to shoot around the cable-car station, and I had walked up the ski slope with one of the participants, as he picked my brain on my thoughts about subject and composition. I honed in on the pair of trees that we can see in image number 2497.
Black and White Trees
These trees attracted my attention because one was almost black, and the other almost white. When you see something like this in nature it’s often a good idea to try and capitalize on the situation in some way. I started with a wider lens, but switched to the 70-200mm F2.8 lens and walked back a fair distance, so that I could use the stacking effect of the lens to make the two trees appear to be almost on top of each other, although they were already very close. This perspective would also enable me to line up the top of the trees almost with the top of the trees in the distance, and a wide aperture of F3.2 and long focal length would also enable me to throw the background out of focus, even from a distance, to create some separation between the main subjects and the background. I also ensured that the two small trees in the mid-ground to the right were not overlapping the right side of the white tree. I really wanted a little separation there, or they would have acted as a conduit between the foreground trees and the background.
The following day, we got to the station to board the first cable car up the mountain, and I was happy to see just the occasional, although very small, patch of blue, through the clouds that were moving pretty fast across the generally overcast sky. It was snowing, but I figured it would be worth going to the top, in the hope that we’d catch one of these small patches of blue. I’m not always one for having blue skies in my shots. In fact, I usually avoid blue skies altogether. But when you are talking about the top of the tallest peak in Hokkaido at 2,291m or 7,516ft, being cloudy means almost zero visibility and danger too, if you wander too far from the cable-car station. We needed it to clear to give us a chance of photographing anything worth photographing.
We’d been walking around the outside of the station, trying to get to a vantage point that would be worth shooting from if it cleared, and then we wandered up the start of the ski-slope to about as far as we could go without skis or snow-shoes. As we got there, the cloud started to thin, and we started to be able to see the ghostly white outline of the peak of Mount Asahi in the distance. We set up our tripods, and shot what we could, with a histogram that was like a small spike on right side, indicating that we were shooting very slightly different shades of almost pure white. I assured the group that we’d be able to salvage something from the shots with tone-curves and levels etc. and we continued to shoot for a while, and then, as if someone started to slowly open the curtains, the sky cleared from the left, as we can see in image 2501.
Incredible Mount Asahi
It was a beautiful sight. You can see in this image that it was still snowing. We all had a frantic few minutes of photography making the most of this amazing clear spell. Australian skiers stopped beside us looking in wonder at the top of Mount Asahi. One told us that they’d been skiing here for five days now, and this was the first time they’d seen the summit. We were most certainly being granted a rare look at the face of our mountain host. It didn’t last long. I felt sorry for an elderly Japanese gentlemen, that walked up and dropped his tripod down beside us as the cloud cover thickened again, hiding the summit once more. Luckily though, as we made our way back down on the cable car, it did clear again, and I’m sure he got himself a few beautiful shots as well.
They don’t heat the cable car too much, so there’s no concern about condensation on the way down. Because of this, I usually keep a camera out of my bag, with a 70-200mm F2.8 lens attached, as there are often opportunities to shoot from the cable car, such as my shot of a skier through the trees, in image 2502. The skier here helps to give us some scale in the scene, and I like this image more because it tells us how beautiful this location is to ski in, as well as a location for the occasional group of crazy, yet very lucky photographers.
Skiing the Winter Wonderland
On the way down the mountain we stopped at a spot that we’d also visited in 2009, to shoot the pillows of snow in one of the rivers that flows down from the mountains, as we can see in image 2504. This is the landscape or horizontal orientation version of two images that I uploaded. I like both of them, selected this one to look at today, as it enables us to see more detail in the water and the texture of the snow. This was shot with the 70-200 at 200mm, with ISO 100 and an aperture of F11. I selected F11 for depth-of-field, but also to get a slow shutter speed, but I also needed to use an NDX400, which is a nine stop neutral density filter to reach a shutter speed of two and a half seconds, to render the water that smoothly. We were standing on a bridge too, so you have to make sure that you don’t make your exposure while cars or trucks are driving over the bridge, as this will often cause vibration and ruin your shot. Even though I wanted nice soft dreamy water, the details in the snow have to be sharp, or it doesn’t work.
In image 2505, we see the view from the other side of the bridge, which is much more picturesque than the side from which I shot the last image. The water was too far away to be able to appreciate the effects of a slow shutter speed image, so I removed the NDX400 for this shot, and exposed it for 1/320th of a second instead, still at F11. I shot this with the 24-70mm F2.8 lens, so the detail is amazing, and it works very well in a large print, with the texture of the snow and the shadows from the small trees etc. I converted these images to black and white with a slight blue tone in Silver Efex Pro by the way.
Mount Asashi Foothills
Later in the day, we arrived in the Biei area, and made our way to the Takushinkan, which is the gallery of Japanese photography Shinzou Maeda, who made this area of Japan famous, and popular with photographers. Unfortunately, I knew that the gallery was going to be closed for the winter months from this year, but there are some beautiful trees in the grounds of the gallery, so we visited in the hope that we’d still be able to get in, and we were able to. One of my favorites shots from here is number 2506, in which we can see three trees, with the low afternoon sun behind them. This was shot at around 3:30PM, so there was around another hour or so of daylight left, but we were shooting up at the trees, and the hill behind it, so the sun was almost touching the horizon from our perspective. I’ve actually just added a new paper to my fine art print options, which is Hahnemuhle’s Fine Art Baryta. This is a beautiful gloss fine art paper, and this particular photograph looks absolutely beautiful printed on it.
Trees at Takushinkan
Ten minutes later, and just to the right of these first three trees, there’s a line of four small trees, which we can see in image 2507. I like this image because of the beautiful soft tones and texture in the snow as it forms the line along which the trees are growing, and a second line just behind them. There’s also a fox trail on the hill just behind these trees to the left, which adds an additional subject of interest when viewed large.
We drove to a place where we’d have been able to shoot a beautiful sunset, but nature was not cooperating, and the sunset didn’t happen, so we went back to the hotel and called it a day. On the following day, we headed back to an area close to the previous day, just down from the Takushinkan, to where my favourite tree in Biei is. We’ll look at that in a moment, but first, I shot image number 2508, which Ross_M on Flickr called a Photo Haiku, which I thought was so cool. I’m sure you know, but Japanese Haiku are very simple poems with five, seven, then five more syllables. They also should have what the Japanese call “kigo”, which is a word associated with a season. This image of course is very simple, like a Haiku peom, and with the totally white, wintery look, it has a strong “kigo” as well. There are also seven distinct stems protruding from the snow, as in the middle phrase of the haiku poem. I’m not sure if Ross was fully aware of this when he made the comment, but I thought it was an amazing observation all the same. Thanks for that Ross if you are listening/reading.
Finally, here’s my tree. I shot some image very similar to one of my favourite images last year, with this tree almost totally whited-out in a snow storm, but I didn’t upload any of these, as they were pretty much the same as last year. Image 2509 though, came out pretty well, as the sun broke through the heavy cloud forming some very nice contrast when converted to black and white, again, using Silver Efex Pro. When I initially posted this image to the Web, it was almost a straight conversion, with just a few Control Points to add a little more contrast and structure to the sky. When I printed it though, I found that the snow in the foreground was a very dark grey, because I’d exposure for the bright areas in the sky, and it really didn’t look right, to have dark grey snow. I reworked it in Silver Efex Pro to brighten the snow quite a bit, to a lighter grey, which in my mind looks much more natural. It’s still grey, not white, but when you consider that the snow was in the shade, I’m kind of happy with the results now. Again, this makes a beautiful large print.
My Favourite Biei Tree
Later this day we travelled to the Tokachi Hot Springs area, where I’d shot an image last year that I called Heaven on Earth. Unfortunately the weather worked against us again today, and although we just managed to scramble up there with the aid of our amazing bus driver, the weather only cooperated for a few minutes. As the space that you can shoot from is very narrow, there was only time for one group to get a few frames before the clouds rolled in again. We had lunch at the hot-springs, and waited for it to clear again, but it didn’t happen.
In general, although we had a few lucky breaks, I have to agree that the extra effort to come over to the central part of the island, especially when a number of things don’t go well, reduces the overall “Wow!” factor, and so I’m happy with my decision to not return here with next year’s tours.
Having said that, I will certainly come back here myself in Winter, as I love the area, and can’t imagine never coming back here at all. I might even organize another workshop here at some point, but it will be separate from the main workshop, and could even be a little earlier, as we wouldn’t be trying to work to the schedule of the ice-floe etc. that have a much shorter window of opportunity.
Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at some of my images from the tour, from what turned out to be the last Landscape leg for the time being at least.
Remember that I have published details of the 2011 Tours and Workshops, so do take a look if you are interested. The longer 12 day tour including a visit to the Snow Monkeys in Nagano before we head up to Hokkaido is now half full (as of May 2010) so please do try to get in touch before too long if you are thinking of joining us.
Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.