They Said it was Chilly


Here I am in Ushuaia, Argentina.


Wool jacket? Check.

Shorts? Check.

Camera crap? Check.


Kid with dog, plenty of people about, and windy.


This is the day after, I'm wretro-riting. That's the Ushuaia coming into port. I'm up a mountain.

Bladder full, crouched below the ceiling, I descend down the three steps of my rack's ladder. It's 0330. We're off the shore of the Falklands.

As I return to bed, I look out the porthole next to my rack. "What the Devil is this?!" Outside, I think I see some luminescent creatures of the sea. They're all glowy and awesome and such. I use the fabric curtain to clear away what I think is condensation (the previous morning there was). The ghostly whippings outside do not resolve themselves. I admire and wonder for a bit, and then lay down.

Thinking about how to photograph them as I try to want to go back to sleep (it'll be a tiring day if not) I think of using my 14-24mm to get right in the window to look out. It's too cramped of a spot, and would make too much ruckus for my light sleeping roommate Steve Pelton. Juggling ideas, I'm thinking about using the 70-200mm to have on a tripod across the room to look through. The angle wouldn't be low enough however, and the shutter clacking away may not be welcome at again, 0330. I love the full framed dslrs... but quiet they are not.

Resigned to try tomorrow, I try to sleep again.. but it keeps bugging me... What the hell are those things? Shorts and an underarmour t-shirt, I toss on socks and shoes and CREAAAAK out of the room door, which is entirely too large for its frame. I run up the ladder and push out into the cold and mist. Lots of mist. Great stuff, great for photos. It's also very dark. Eyes adjusting, the fleeting white flashes are these crazy birds swooping all over the place. Mystery solved. I need to take a picture of this, it's pretty cool to see, and I'm envisioning this great abstract shot of these things in the night with white streaks. I returned to the room, cursing the door, and got my tripod, d800e, 70-200mm, and jacket (it's been very windy, and even I had to put on a jacket... but I've still got the shorts ;) ). 

I head topside and go down to the bottommost deck at the stern of the ship. I'm thinking that I can get right even with the flittery things and get a nice shot. But as I was fearing, it's too bright down there, and I can't see past the railing. As I'm walking back, this dumb, poor, cold little bird is banging into crap. It falls and I go investigate. It's wedged into this little nook and is sitting still. I put the tripod aside and decided to see if I could help the poor fella'. Thinking he'd peck holes in my fingers, I gently grasped him and picked him up. Light as a... you guessed it, I put the poor little guy on a chair and got my camera. I took a video which I may put up here. 

Back to the real shot of the day/morning/crack of dawn. I went back to the port side where I originally ran out in shorts and t-shirt and set up the tripod and camera. I forgot to zoom back to 70mm for a while because I had to deal with focusing on mist-blurred birds in the dark that would only show up as they flashed their wings in the light. Live view couldn't see 'em. I couldn't see 'em. No focusing for Thomas. I guessed, twisted the focus ring, switched it to manual focus after I heard the damn thing whirring away from my carefully selected focus (this happens more than I'd like to admit). Everything set up, I think I was choosing ISO 6400, f/4 - 5.6 - 8 (whatever right?), and around 8-15sec for a shutter speed. Well I'm probably zoomed in, because even though they're flashing by, all I'm getting is the illuminated mist. Zoom out to 70mm so I can actually see something. Aim, fire, push the button to see my masterpiece (or mastershot as some would call it), and see that I've gotten squat. This is no surprise because it's what I've gotten the other four or five shots before it. I try a bit more, differing shutter speeds, differing apertures (perhaps it's not in focus, which is always a problem at night because you can't even see if what you want is out of focus, it's just not there due to the nature of low light/mist antics.

Eventually I've gotten a few shots where you can see what looks like moths at night (wing flapping patterns) and I'm a bit unimpressed with the shots, and disappointed. Stupid night birds. Oh well, it's oh-something-later-in-the-morning-but-I'm-tired-and-didn't-get-my-shot-so-who-cares, probably an hour and a half had gone by, so I retreat to my cabin and return to my rack. I'm laying there and trying to figure out how to get the shots I envisioned. The 14-24mm may have to happen tomorrow because everything beyond two feet would be in focus, the porthole would act as a frame (gotta get it straight though, or it won't come out nice and symmetrical), and I might get something a little better. Who knows, today's not tomorrow yet. I can't sleep, and thinking that this is something that I should have something to show for it, I think of all these ways to write this and how it'll be great. Head bursting with imaginative ideas, and I'm trying to get back to freakin' sleep. I'm not winning this battle, so I get up and go up to sit on one of the lounge couches. I start writing. Roommate comes up, I probably woke him. Hooray for winning this morning!

I didn't get the shot I wanted. :(


I actually got the little bastards! They're called Thin Billed Prions, and I had to stretch physics to get them to actually show up in the photographs!

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 2.09.42 PM

You can the contrast is boosted like crazy, the blacks and whites are stretched (basically super-contrasting an already contrasted image), and the shadows are  brought up a bit to... idk, but it helped make the trails more visible.


I've not decided which is my favorite, but I'm thinking that the first or the third would qualify. Which would you choose?

08NOV13 - 0715

Sitting in the lounge on the couch against the starboard wall. We're a rockin' and a rollin' and on our way to South Georgia. We had to leave the Falkland Islands early due to rain. We still endured it for the first half of the day, but a second outing after we were all soaked from the first was a bit unlikely. Whilst there, everyone walked along the path, along the king penguins, and made their way to the larger penguin colony of the rockhoppers on the other side of the island.

UPROAR! Hourglass dolphins just now. Didn't see them, but everyone else did. 

They're raggin' on my having the laptop out this early. Everyone's got their coffee and sitting talking about sleeping naked in down sleeping bags. 

"Looks like a railing!" they yell as the ship rolls to port and everyone gawking at the wandering albatross out the starboard side.

This bunch of folks are pretty cheery.

10NOV13 - 0840

Last night after dinner, I was the only one shooting out at night. It seems that I'm the only one that doesn't mind a bit of grain in my photos (besides being in sunlight with one of those horrible apertures with numbers like 8, and 11). There was a squall out in the distance which made for some beautifully dramatic lighting. D800e and ISO 4000 at f/2.8 and something around 1/50sec (at the darkest) to 1/200sec. I had a 50mm lens on the camera. One of the lectures yesterday was about spot metering and the importance of manual control of the camera (the dreaded "M" mode). During the sunlight hours, I'll use Aperture Priority Mode most of the time. It does what I want, but as soon as it becomes difficult lighting (usually at night when lights are aimed at you and your metering system just goes haywire) I'll switch to Manual. It gives me the control, and that's what I did as soon as the light got darker in a situation as such:


Hooray! South Georgia is in view!

11NOV13 - 0814

We tried landing on Prion Island, but the seas thwarted our boarding of the zodiacs with swells of 7ft. Not wanting to kill anyone, the tour decided to forego possibly the only chance to see the great Wandering Albatross (11ft wingspan).

Yesterday on Right Whale Bay, there were Elephant and Fur seals, as well as these furry monsters:


I also was trying for some interesting compositions. There was a rock which I stumbled towards that looked somewhat like a lounging seal. As I got closer, I found an actual seal which would work perfectly for what I wanted. I can't decide which seal-rock combination is most effective:


As of right now, I'm thinking that the vertically composed image is most effective.

I've also tried organizing penguins in a similar manner to the snow in the background:


If the comparison isn't made without direction, I hope the composition is aesthetically sufficient.

12NOV13 - 1000 (or thereabouts)

Night is beautiful here. Moonlight lit this scene:


The very first image of the night this session. 24mm f/1.4, @f/2.8, 1/6sec, ISO 6400

I'm waiting on more images to import into Lightroom, but I think this is the shot of the day. You'll notice that the mountains are lit by the moon ever so slightly, and the deep blue is the remainder of the setting sun. My thoughts are that the future shots I may process won't have that critical punch that the set sun added to the sky. I'll put up one so you all can see the difference.

This just in! The opposite side of the above image around 2300 is this:


Is that the sun brightening the sky from the other side of the earth? It may be the brighter center of the 24mm f/1.4 (which is what I've been using)... but I'm not quite sure. The consistent brightening right above the entire ridge-line may be a clue... hmm.


If only I could have the moonlight and position from the second (the ship seems to have drifted closer), and the fading blue from the first, as it is, I'm left with two that I can't decide between. Actually, with the focus clear and illuminated (clouds/mountains) I'm going to have to say that that the second is the stronger image (but the first is still my desktop background if that says anything). 

Both were shot with the D3s and Nikon 24mm f/1.4 on the top deck of the Ushuaia. At 1/8sec, f/1.4, and ISO 12800 (with a tad bit of noise reduction) I had to contend with the wind, moving ship, and bitter cold. I used live view to focus on the mountains, and was dancing the fine line between the moving boat and a shutter speed slow enough to capture the minimal light.

Here's the bridge a little later; I love lights at night, they give such a great look:


He went back to fiddling with controls, turned on the light, and saw me waving at him in the dark. I wouldn't want to see me outside a window in the dark, but I'm sure he loved it.

14NOV13 - 1014

St. Andrews Bay was quite windy. The early group headed out at 0345 to catch the sunrise, and the group at 0800 was actually unable to land due to 50+knot winds. Sand/wind conditions shown below:



Needless to say, retrieving those of us that were already ashore turned out to be an interesting situation. The ship blew its horn nearly 40 times (signaling an immediate return to the landing site), but because of the buffeting wind, not a one was heard. We had to operate only one zodiac at a time with two staff weighing down the front so the craft wouldn't flip over. Ferrying around 40 passengers between shore and ship took a few hours.

The wildlife on shore was staggeringly abundant. This site is the single largest king penguin colony down here. The penguin calls competed against the wind for decibel level. 

Today I've seen penguins chase off a baby seal that must've gotten too close, a penguin peck a skua away, penguins look like ducks, a penguin youth attack my arm and boot, another passenger communicate with a baby penguin by flapping arms/flippers, a snowy sheathbill that liked pecking penguin ankles and then running, and an elephant seal challenge me as I was passing (my heart rate may have spiked a tiddly bit).


This little fuzzball was the pecky-at-arm guy. I'm shooting at 24mm at f/1.4, I focused with live view because autofocus via viewfinder only reliably focuses at f/2.8. With a wide angle I nearly filled the frame, and he stayed stationary long enough to get a quick focus on his crazy looking eyeballs.

15NOV13 - 1829

Supper in a minute; gotta jot this down quickly. We went to Salisbury Stea--- er.... Plain. It looked like this:


16NOV13 - 1525


I've got to give full credit to Paul Steeves, from the greater Vancouver area, for the idea of the above photo. He noticed the light coming off the ship and I may have copied the idea a teeny, tiny bit.

I was concentrating on capturing the light from the compass below, when he showed me his shot and I thought that I just had to get one too:


Paul (aforementioned), Steve (just now mentioned), and I (not shown) were up on the top deck admiring the moon and mountains with our light-capturing equipment as seen here:


The brisk ocean air and successful shoot made for a satisfying sleep. In the morning, we zodiac'd around some stuff and got more wildlife among the rocks:


Here are some white bird things (anyone else could tell you their actual names).


Ooh! Look at the center framing with the birdie below! Other shots just didn't have the head in a clean bright background... I wish I had more sun on the face of the darn bird, but I've got what I've got. I do enjoy the background though.


19NOV13 - 1432

Hooray, icebergs with penguins!


20NOV13 - 1206

We made land! The great white continent itself! The beach was littered with bergybits being sloshed back and forth. Adelie penguins smell a bit, but are generally friendly. They squawk, waddle around, and fall face-first into the surf when wading. After hanging around for an hour or so, we were able to take the zodiacs out driving. We got to see some porpoising penguins with a beautiful background of cool-blue icebergs. I didn't get a picture for you guys, but it was very white, just like this:


Get the idea?

Oh, and I almost forgot about the blue! It went something like this:

(this was at 0130 this morning and the sky was bright with sunlight... so no stars)


Food! Hooray! Please excuse me, I must feed. 

Whilst dining, we had an iceberg driveby. Looming over the dining windows, the behemoth's closest part was a jagged edge leaning (without much support) right at us. Because it was so close, I didn't see it until we were right under it, so no shot unfortunately :(.

By the way, I lied before... here's a porpoising penguin:


REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE - is what I imagine that little guy saying as he's speeding through the air.

...and then there was this guy:


You really can't keep these guys down:


And then we come to the reason I wanted to come to Antarctica. The vibrant blues are so poignant that it's almost unreal.


The above composition was an improved version of this one below. If you notice, I wanted the background to give the shot some depth, so I moved to the right a few steps. If to do it again, I'd try organizing the behind-berg a little more to the right to balance things out. I also have another shot where the top and bottom room is about equal, but the room above the fore-berg works better methinks... but I'm not quite sure why.


MMMMM - delici-gone... some coconut maraingy-ding stuff that I can't spell. Boy, are you guys missing out.

Back to the penguins. This one is chowing down on some delicious snow; it helps them cool down as well quenches their thirst.


This just in, killer whales sighted. Rushed up, and nada. Well, a bit, but photographically nada.

And below is a wonderfully calming video of our first landing ashore Antarctica. Watch as the adelie penguin stands still, and the bergybits are tossed in the surf. Shot with the 85mm @ f/1.4, the depth of field draws you to the penguin, but pulls you to a dreamy focus of the ice chunks moving, until the penguin moves. 

During dessert, everyone ran out to view the view. Most left before dessert was served... (not me though)... and we saw something like this:


...and this:


A warm sunset started to bathe all the ice in it's glow. (Even some penguins were caught in it)


And some more golden goodness since I can't resist.


Wow, what a day! I've taken far more photos today than on any of the other days.

A new day dawns before this one's over. 

21NOV13 - 0855

Another fantastic breakfast. I've just figured out that walnuts in cereal (along with banananananas) is a viable and delicious combination.

Passing icebergs today just don't have the same zing that yesterday's had. Damn sunset.

Correction, we just had an iceberg that was quite zingy. As soon as I manage my past three years of work, I'll show you folks. 


It had so many little interesting parts to it. Everyone was out shooting, running back inside to warm fingers, and running out again. The blue, oh the blue. 


FYI, this is how photography truly works:

"It's good enough, I'll just sharpen the piss out of it." - Steve while admiring his sunset work.

Hernan just had me call Raphael "Don Francisco". I guess he was a TV gameshow host in Chile and Miami. He was fat. Hernan was calling him fat. He's also had me ask if Raphael's 'sundia' was from Chile. But it goes both ways, I've called Hernan Pedro Piccapiedra (fred flintstone) because he looks like him, as well as 'emano'.

Christian and Fabienne Peter have some really amazing work. From Switzerland, the couple is on their honeymoon here, and are two of the four "whippershappers" on the cruise. Christian was carrying his Nikon 600mm f/4 on the zodiacs, and inspired me to try insane reach for such a unsteady transport. Armed with the 200-400mm f/4, I was able to get some amazing abstracts of the ice (which worked quite well as a distance macro lens). I didn't get Andy Lerman's shot of the blue ice-ring under the water, but I pushed myself with an extreme, and I was so pleasantly surprised by the results that I took it on the zodiac ride in the afternoon as well. Here's some of what I've got:




And my shot of the day, which I'm keeping, merely to piss off birders everywhere:



Without the tip of the beak, it could very well be a seagull; further identification is required. 

23NOV13 - 1550

"Enano" and my effective adjustable-arm technique:


And with a properly positioned arm:


This is one of those moments where an idea actually works. I noticed the shitty shadow my elbow caused, and seeing that it was blocking the reflection in a useful way, I modified my arm position and tried to make it work better for me. Split second decision making as Hernan's in the middle of talking and I wouldn't have gotten the expression later (there's a shot following this and it's a half smile...).

An image that I particularly like, and have come to by accident, is this one:


You can see the penguin footprints right behind my ugly shwawtermark. They tend to travel in some fairly inaccessible terrain over astonishing distances. The composition is balanced out by the blue ice in the top left corner, and all my other compositions focus on the footsteps too much, when all it needed was a small touch of them. Steve Pelton has referred to something similar, a small detail that makes the shot, the image's 'gesture'. He's also yappin' about the 'edge of light' or some such thing, perhaps this scene utilizes the principle?

And speak of the devil... he saunters right over as I'm working on another image, and I realize that this image fits into another of his little composition schemes; triangles:


"Look at all the triangles!" Steve says.

And by the way, or btw for all those hip people out there (hippies?), Steve doesn't saunter... thus the funny.

At the end of the day, we happened across this little guy hidden away in the ice:




So another fun day of cold stuff. We were so close to penguins that we could punt them. That proximity allowed for a horror image:


I seem to get all the crazy birds. I wish I had known how effective it was, I would've tried to get more/better. But you know the age old adage for birds; if you can't focus on the eyes, focus on the gullet.

Its not a perfect image, but it's the only one I've got, so it'll have to do until I get another chance (i.e. 20+ years or so). Here's to you, 45 or 85 year old Thomas, may you still be limber enough to get down on the ground.


Above is the scene we leave behind us as we sail into a snow squall. The rare day with sunshine down here was breathtaking. I love the S-curve of shadow in this image. The foreground of the rock ledge in the bottom right seems to balance out the black cloud in the opposite corner. Could it be better composed? The S takes precedence, as well as control of your eye, in the frame. The level of detail is amazing, thanks to the D800e. Some other just had a look at this image and thought that it was very busy (it is) and preferred other shots that I didn't like as much. That's how it is, right? I'm still thinking of printing this large. In my opinion (and only mine it seems) its a very powerful image when seen in great detail. 

All in all, a fantastic trip. I learned quite a few new things and I'd like to to thank Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris for a wonderful Antarctic photography cruise.

The guides and crew were fantastic, I had just as much fun with everyone as I did with photographing the southern areas. I was also quite impressed that we returned to Prion Island after we weren't able to land there the first time. It's a really restrictive place to get to, and once we weren't able to land due to the weather, we didn't have another slot available to us. Somehow, they were able to get us another reservation after having the South Georgia guy on for lunch. During the night, the captain took us all the way across South Georgia back to where we came and we were able to get a landing.

The effort made to make the landings was impressive. The weather was battling us every step of the way, and 

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