Antarctic voyage: Photographic tips and advice

By Guest Work 07/03/2013 2


Written by Adrian Bass

Date: 6/3/13
Location: 60.015577°S, 154.067054°E
Weather: cloudy, 20 knot winds
Sea state: 1-2 swell

I am a scientist, so my main aim on this expedition was to collect some good data for my research.

But a close second is the opportunity to photograph what is certainly one of the most breathtaking places I have visited. While I am far from being a professional, I like to think I have a basic grasp of photography. So I will attempt to share my experience of photographing the views and wildlife in the ice.

Basic equipment list: I am shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III, a 17-40mm 4.5L, 70-200mm 2.8L II and a 400mm 5.6L.

I suppose you can’t really ask for a better start to a trip than the dusky dolphins on the very first day. This gave me my first lesson for the trip! You never know when the animals will appear, so keep the big zoom on the camera ready to go! Fortunately, the dolphins stuck around long enough that I had time to change from my wide angle lens and get a few shots. I use burst mode at 6 frames a second to shoot fast moving wildlife and probably get about 1 good shot for every 10 photos.

Dusky dolphins . [Adrian Bass]
Common dolphins . [Adrian Bass]

One of my goals on this trip was to try my hand at taking photos of birds in flight, an area I’ve never really explored before. Spending two hours on the stern taught me a few more things, the most important being that birds can be very inconsiderate with their flight paths! Would flying in a straight line really kill them? However, after the first hour or so I managed to get my eye in, and after that I can honestly say it was great fun. Frustrating, but fun!

Bird. [Adrian Bass]
Giant petrel. [Adrian Bass]

Living in the tropics I have apparently forgotten how to dress correctly to photograph in cold conditions. This lead to probably the most frustrating lesson of the trip – always dress for the conditions and make sure your shooting finger does not freeze! My first foray into the frigid Antarctic wind taught me this, and just happened to be the first time a pod of Orcas swam past. While I got a shot, it was pretty average. A real missed opportunity. After learning this lesson both my camera, and cold weather gear sit ready and waiting on the bridge. My mistake was not repeated for the humpback whale and when we encountered a second pod of orcas a few days ago.

Orcas in the Antarctic ocean. [Adrian Bass]
Orcas in the Antarctic ocean. [Adrian Bass]

The landscape here is quite remarkable. In a way you can look out the window and wonder how you could possibly take a bad picture. While it’s true, I’ve found it equally challenging to take what I would consider a really ‘good’ landscape picture. While I have a tripod with me and would always use one on land, it has been no use on the constantly moving ship. So you have to be on your feet and have a steady hand – much easier when the seas are calm.

The daytime light can be harsh and sap away all but the smallest amount of colour and contrast, but the addition of the ship or people can give the shot a sense of depth. The long sunsets and sunrises on those rare clear days make up for all the problems, and give an opportunity to really show the beauty of the area.

Ice in the Antarctic ocean. [Adrian Bass]
Ice in the Antarctic ocean. [Adrian Bass]
Ice in the Antarctic ocean. [Adrian Bass]
Ice in the Antarctic ocean. [Adrian Bass]

Conclusions so far: photography from a research vessel is 90% frustration and 10% exhilaration. But what a 10% it is!

Adrian Bass. [Helen Bostock]
Adrian Bass. [Helen Bostock]

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