Fish Island, Grandidier Channel, Petermann Island, La Mer Channel

Pre-breakfast cruise at Fish Island through thick brash ice to two fantastic iceberg arches topped off with a close encounter with a leopard seal that slapped our zodiac with its flipper and followed us all the way back to the boat. You’ve got to shoot fast to get these shots. Sometimes you miss them, but if you get hung up on the last one you missed you miss the next one. Move on.

Post-breakfast cruise through the Grandidier Channel. All sorts of states of water; calm and with swell; clear, ice-spotted, and ice-choked. I became fascinated with the wake of the boat and sinuous like it cut behind us. Slow, dreamlike shooting as the world drifts by subtly changing by the minute. You need to look and look again; shoot and return; shoot and return.
Post-tea cruise to Petermann Island (a premiere penguin colony) with departure detour to nearby icebergs on the open ocean side. Floating through canyons of ice with heavy swell and some crashing surf. Fast and furious shooting. One shot only. Tossing boat. Shoot first. Ask questions later.
Post-dinner cruise through the La Mer Channel, considered a jewel of the Penninsula, second only to the Gullet. Weather moved in fast, we reacted, moving into the channel early. Fog enshrouded the high peaks creating a moody atmosphere. We glided up the deep fiord watching it all unfold high above us. At the end, whales. The next best thing to evening light is atmosphere. Expect the unexpected. Make the most of what you’ve got.
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Crystal Bay & The Gullet

This is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever been. While the captain of the ship had been here before, none of our guides had – our expedition leader Brandon has been on 80 voyages. Very few people get to see this part of the planet. There was no one else here with us. The place feels as pristine as it is white. We sailed slowly through miles and miles of sea ice and icebergs in a glassy smooth ford-like channel with 500 meter high cliffs that gave off small avalanches and tall peaks where tiny clouds accumulated in an otherwise completely blue sky. The channel was so tight and choked with sea ice there were times we couldn’t imagine where we’d go next or see where we came from. An endlessly changing composition of light and form on a scale of symphonic grandeur unfolded before us continuously for hours on end. Everyone needed to take a break, though we hated to, at some point or another. Not one of us could fully believe what we were seeing. It will take some time for this to sink in for all of us. Even then, I imagine we’ll need to revisit our photographs to confirm that it wasn’t just a dream.

How did I deal with a complex fast moving subject? Two cameras (no time tochange lenses) with two lenses of different focal lengths (one wide angle, one telephoto). The exercise of switching ways of looking from the big picture to the details, from near to far, and back again, and back again, and back again was excellent. You truly learn to see in different ways, internalizing the knowledge, not just understanding it intellectually.
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Stonnington Island

Sunshine! After days and days of gray with next to no visibility and rain, the sky broke open. Cold katabatic winds churned the seas. We visited the abandoned base of Stonnington Island, gazed on the glacier behind it, and cruised the iceberg strewn harbor in zodiacs. One small iceberg exploded a mere few paces from us, disintegrating in a scant few seconds. The evening color was exquisite. White is such a changeable color. Lavender and gold, warm blue shadows, cool blue ice, naples yellow distant mountains turning pumpkin next to robin’s egg blue-green sky. Few people would believe the colors tonight were real. We could hardly believe that the color never truly faded. Sunset started after 10 pm, most of us slept after 2 am, but a few never did, photographing all “night” long and through the golden dawn.

A white balance target was of little use in these hours. The most important pieces of equipment, after a cameras and lenses, were waterproof camera bags. They were essential for protecting equipment while making the quick moves between locations and return to the boat, where sea spray doused us.
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La Mer Channel

Bearing the weather in mind we headed south fast last night and got to the La Mer Channel late in the morning. On the past two trips we took several days making multiple stops along the way. But this time the weather is so poor (rain and sleet) that we can hardly see the nearby islands and mountains. Weather is constantly changing, everywhere, but particularly here. In December 2005 we sailed through and extraordinary sunset with glassy smooth waters. In February 2007 we sailed through overcast and wind,
weaving through substantial icebergs. In January 2009 we sailed through rain with relatively little ice. On the far side is Plenneau Bay (the iceberg graveyard). In 2005 we were locked out by an icesheet. In 2007 the bay was full of extraordinary icebergs. In 2009 there are just a few bergs. High wind and horizontal rain kept us from making a zodiac excursion. We hope to return and find better weather at this extraordinary location. I love photographing weather, but there’s a limit to just how much weather you can work effectively in.

Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on. We decided to push south to the Antarctic Circle, traveling long distances in bad weather, with the hope that better weather is on it’s way. Getting into position for a slower return with lots of exploration. We’re out in the open ocean again with high swells. Many of the crew have never been this far south, so everyone’s excited about seeing something new.

More seminars in transit. Michael Reichmann introduced panoramic stitching. Steve Johnson followed up with more information.

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South Shetland Islands


Take the walk.
Barrientos Island has two major points, a penguin nesting ground and a long strand with two dramatic columnar basalt outcrops. In 2005, we never took the longer walk to this surreal landscape. So a familiar place offered a dramatic surprise. It was well worth the walk. Several of our party, lost in penguins and small details, never got there. I advised that in the future they walk to the farthest point, noting interesting places to stop, only stopping if the light is perfect, and then spending more time on the return at only the most promising places. Scouting’s a critical part of making the most of your limited time.

Prepare for weather.
There was a lot less ice on Half Moon Island when compared with our 2005 voyage. No dramatic blue bergs floating in the bay. Less ice scattered on the far beaches. I quickly surveyed the three points on the island (penguin colony, long rocky strand with occasional ice, and retreating glacier. I asked our guides if we could walk the long distance to the glacier. They offered me a ride. This left me with lots of time to really explore the striated glacier and the small rivulets it produced. Dive bombing skuas kept me from crossing a ridge to the strand, so I went around the other side. Watching my time carefully I was able to see two out of three points in the island and just make the final zodiac call. I had three hours alone, no small feat amid 75 photographers. I was the last one off the island. Constant rain made photographing really challenging. Never mind physical discomfort, no matter how much you wipe your lens a few images always show raindrops. You think two or three times before changing a lens, inside your waterproof camera bag. And, my Aquatech camera rain cover saved my camera from an untimely fate. Even then, condensation formed on my lenses when I returned, but a little time on the radiator dried them right out. It’s been the most successful day so far. I only made images of two things – glacier and ice chunks on rocky beach. Two real keepers are worth far more than a hundred close misses.
Tonight I presented sessions on color and black and white (excerpts from my recent DVDs.
Enjoy my Antarctica galleries, book, and statements.
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Crossing the Drake


It takes almost two days to cross the Drake Passage (the roughest waters in the world)(we’ve been blessed with an easy crossing) to get to Antarctica. What do you do while you’re waiting to arrive? Sleep. Read. And listen to onboard lectures. Watch the ocean. Weather thick but not interesting. Light low. Wind and waves relatively small – enough to bounce us around, but not enough to perform for the lens.
The Quark team offers lectures on the area. It’s interesting to note that200 years ago Antarctica was just an idea. The explorers who discovered it in bits and pieces went through harrowing experiences to find them, largely pursuing commercial interest before scientific ones. Times change fast. Now the region is in an era of government sponsored scientific research. The first tourist cruises started in the early 60’s. Recently, there’s been an explosion of tourism in the last ten years; 1998 7,000 people; 2008 35,000 people. The staff is split; it’s too early to tell if global warming is having an impact on the area versus it won’t be here for long.
Seminars started today. Seth Resnick did a great job on asset management. His recommendation for file naming? 31 characters, no spaces, no punctuation, except . – and _. Dates in yyyymmdd – 20090111. His file name – 20070125_sobe_0001.cr2.)
Seth has many examples of how the right keywords have translated into dramatic increases in his stock photography sales. Learning more about keywords is high on my list this trip. I need them for an upcoming project. My advice? Just get started. No matter what kind of photographer you are, keywords are useful. The longer you wait, the more work you’ll have to do later. No system will ever be perfect. Things (systems and words) will evolve.
Enjoy my Antarctica galleries, book, and statements.
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All Aboard

Today was all logistics. Get last minute items. Pack and load bags. Find my cabin. Get luggage stored and tied in for a bounce across the Drake Passage. Introduction to and orientation with the Quark staff. Safety issues. Now it’s two days of bounce before the action really starts. Most people find the open ocean boring. Given the right conditions, I love it. Pray for light or wind to create a drama on an seemingly infinite stage.
Enjoy my Antarctica galleries, book, and statements.
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Ushuaia – Alvear Glacier

Ushuaia – Alvear Glacier

Today we (my companions Seth Resnick, Craig Perrini, and Chris Hauser) took a hike. It was the hardest hike I’ve ever taken. It was described simply as a 3 hour 7 km hike one way. What was left out was that it was 75% vertical, ascending 3600 feet, including muddy paths through forests and crossing sheer loose scree (flat sheets of shale on hard packed dirt) – wet. It rained. Our guide had no med kit or training and spoke limited English which combined with my limited Spanish got us 75% of the way there – most of the time. She was in amazing shape. The goal was the Alvear Glacier ice cave, which was discovered ten years ago and has now melted up to 100 yards. Once inside it, it was beautiful. We should have had helmets. It constantly exfoliates. Amazingly, we had cell reception. So when we got three quarters of the way back Seth and I called our wives, “We’re idiots. We’re sorry. We love you.” We got back to the bus at dark. The hike lasted from 2 – 11 – 9 hours. It really was a questionable endeavor. Now that we’re back we have a great story. We all got some good shots. But I’m still questioning my sanity. If I knew then, what I know now I’d do it completely differently

Lessons learned.
There is such a thing as too much gear. I needed my tripod. I only used one lens 16-35mm. 40 pounds was simply too much. I would have enjoyed the trip more, made more images, and seen better with less gear. Too much gear compromised my safety.
In these situations clothing is essential. Water proofing. Layered warmth. Good shoes. I got a new pair of boots the day before and they were life savers. Waterproof bags and camera covers are musts too.
Get as detailed description as possible of what you’re in for. Check what safety precautions that are in place.
Keep your eye on the big prize. I’m getting on the boat to Antarctica for 14 days. This was just icing on the cake. If something had gone wrong, I might not be eating cake.
Only go with good people. We helped each other through all the rough spots. No one got left behind – ever. Seth and I laughed our way, sometimes hysterically, all the way up and back down. We always have a good time together.
I’m sure there will be other lessons learned as I share this story with others.
It would be easier to make light of the situation or stoically project masculine confidence, and say “It was fine.”. But I think it’s better to call it straight, A better response is, “What was I thinking?”
Enjoy my Antarctica galleries, book, and statements.
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Ushuaia


We (Caponigro, Johnson, Resnick, Schewe) got the lay of the land today. We tapped local resources for information about the area, scoured maps and guide books, rented a car, and drove through the mountains to Lake Fagnano. The local landscape isn’t particularly distinctive. I had low expectations. I was just along for the ride. So I experimented. I warmed up with my new 5D Mark II. I tried a lot of things with multi-shot images. I find it takes practice to learn new ways of seeing. It’s one thing to understand an idea intellectually. It’s another to learn to see in new ways and be able to practice it. At the end of the day I was thinking and seeing in new ways, making my approach more versatile. I was surprised at how many images I made – 8 gigs later. Will there be any keepers?
While it may be challenging to find compelling images here, it’s easy to find an adventure. Tomorrow we take a 3 hour guided hike to ice caves in the mountains. Though I expect to make fewer images, I have high hopes. Whether I shoot a lot or a little, one real keeper would be welcome. It will be interesting to see the results.
What’s the influence of expectations on results?
The research has also clarified goals for future trips. Next time, I’d like to plan extra time to see Iguazu falls (in the northern Argentina) and/or walk the glacier’s near Calafate (western Argentina).
Enjoy my Antarctica galleriesbook, and statements.
 
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20090108

27 hours is too long to spend in a plane.
You work, you read, you sleep and it’s still to long.
Arrival is welcome.
A comfortable bed is even more welcome.
Ushuaia, “the bottom of the world” is nestled in high mountain peaks along the Beagle Channel. It’s a sporting town – fishing, skiing, hiking, boating … you name it. They often display maps that look upside down from a northern hemisphere perspective.