The Gould Bay Emperor Penguin Colony, Antarctica

30 01 2012

Emperor Penguin adult and chick

Some things in life make you feel like you have won the lottery. In my case, the chance to visit a colony of Emperor Penguins in Antarctica gave me just that feeling. I was in Antarctica to guide a group to the Geographic South Pole for a great company called Polar Explorers. We chartered a flight to the penguin colony for some of our group and I was fortunate to get the chance to escort the group for the day.

Basler BT-67

Some of the group in front of the Basler BT-67

We flew a few hours from the Union Glacier  base camp in a ski-equiped, Basler BT-67 to a location on the sea ice on Gould Bay, about a mile from the colony. We landed between a couple of huge icebergs frozen into the ice.

Hiking to the penguins

Walking to the penguins from the landing spot

We hoofed it for the mile over to the spot where the penguins were gathered. What a sight! From a distance, you would swear there were a bunch of people shuffling around. We tried to keep a distance of 5 meters from the penguins, but they were so curious, they would waddle right up to you.

Even more chicks

Fuzzy gang of penguin chicks

We weren’t required to run away from them, but could not approach them. They have no land predators in Antarctica, so the penguins did not view us as any kind of threat.

Penguin Close Encounter

Hard to believe how unafraid the penguins are

I have to say the penguin chicks are just about the cutest thing you can imagine. It was all you could do to resist stuffing a few into your camera bag to take home.

the smallest chick

The smallest chick I saw– about the size of a grapefruit

The chicks were about the size of an overinflated football, or maybe a bit longer, and they travelled around in these little gangs of grey down that made me giggle like an idiot.

More Chicks

Penguin chicks showing off

Off to school

The penguins would wander alone or in groups from one cluster of penguins to another

Regal Near and Far

Some penguins waddle, some slide

The adults were about waist height and very regal. They would alternate between waddling along and sliding on their bellies.

Penguins on their bellies

Two adult Emperor penguins and one chick

The sliding looked a lot more efficient to me, but I suppose they can see a bit farther when standing and it is probably warmer not laying on the ice. The sound of the colony was a cacophony of honks and chirps. I made a short audio recording of the penguins. Listen to it here: 

Happy Feet

The penguins' feet look almost reptilian

Penguin Headshot

Closeup adult Emperor Penguin

2 chicks

Acouple Emperor Penguin chicks about the size of a football

I brought a few lenses with me to shoot the penguin colony, but I ended up shooting almost everything with a Nikon 70-210mm f/4–5.6 on a D700.  I recorded the audio with a Roland Edirol R-09HR digital recorderI think if I could do it again, I would have 2 bodies (full frame sensor) with a 300mm f/2.8 on one and a 24–70mm f/2.8 on the other. I would bring a 1 and 2 stop neutral density filter for each or a variable neutral density filter so I could get 3 stops wider open in the bright sun. A flash would have been great, but I am afraid it would be too disruptive/stressful for the penguins. If I was going to be there for a couple of days, I would bring a body that could shoot video also and a tripod with a fluid head. I would also add a shogun mike to my Roland recorder.

My camera kit was necessarily light for this trip, since it was not a photography trip, but rather a ski trip. We were to be skiing with our camping gear in sleds pulled behind us on our approach to the geographic South Pole, so camera equipment with its weight and volume was something of a luxury item. As the guide for the trip, I had to (rightfully) put the team and its needs in front of any desires I had to make photographs. Therefore, I only brought a Nikon D700 body, three lenses (20mm, 50mm, 70–210mm), and a Canon G10 point and shoot for basic video and pocketable convenience. The lens selection was pretty good overall, but I really didn’t use the 20mm with the penguins and I didn’t use the 70–210mm for the ski trip.  For a trip where I had to travel light and cover a range of situations, this kit suited me well.


Curious little penguin chicks

Double Dutch—The Blackrapid RS DR-1 Double Camera Strap Review

25 05 2011

It may seem hard to imagine that you could get excited about a camera strap. Not long ago, I would have agreed with you. Now, all of that has changed. If you haven’t heard of Blackrapid, listen up.


The Blackrapid camera straps come in a few different styles that all work on the same principle. The camera slides along the strap on a heavy-duty, steel swivel snap that clips onto a burly steel eyelet screwed into the tripod socket (of the camera or a long lens mount). The eyelet is backed by a rubber gasket that compresses against the camera body and makes it very unlikely that it would accidentally come unscrewed. Blackrapid recommends moistening the gasket before attaching it to the camera to get an even more snug fit.




Instead of the camera resting against your stomach or ribs, the strap is slung across the body, like a messenger bag and the camera hangs at your hip. The double strap has loops that hang beneath each arm and connect at the shoulder pads. To shoot, you just drop your hand to your side, and the camera is right there. Slide the camera up in front of your eye and shoot away.

If the strap rotates around your body when you lift the camera, an ingeniously simple adjustable bumper on the strap will catch on the swivel snap as you lower the camera and rotate the luxurious shoulder pad back into place. The Blackrapid site has some great videos showing how this works.

The build quality of this gear insures that it will be with you a long time and hardware failure is not an issue.

The event I shot earlier this week was 250 people for 5 hours. Lots of running around was required with the typical heavy f/2.8 lenses on pro bodies. I shot the event alone, so I didn’t have anyone to shlep gear for me. it’s tiring just talking about it. I used the Blackrapid RS DR-1 Double Strap to hang one body on each side like a pair of six-guns.


The DR-1 is essentially two of their single straps mated together (they can be separated and used as sigle straps too!). It has a strap between the shoulder blades to adjust the width, a fastex-buckeled strap across the chest and an elastic strap across the lower back to pull the cameras back and out of the way when they are not in use.


The padded shoulders are similar in feel and look to backpack straps (minus the backpack) and are comfortable for a long shoot with a lot of weight.

Wedding/event/sports photographers and photojournalists will love this rig and benefit from the speed at which cameras can be changed without constantly worrying about a strap slipping off of your shoulder in the heat of the action.

For my last event, the double strap was invaluable without the aid of an assistant. I was able to have a very smooth rhythm moving from shot-to-shot and camera-to-camera — dropping one camera at my side as I simultaneously lifted the other from the other side. The bodies and lenses were not clunking together all night and I didn’t need to carry a bag.

With my 80-200 lens, the strap was attached to the lens’ tripod mount. That kept the camera and lens balanced more or less horizontally. I found that configuration more comfortable than the lens hanging straight down.


For being outstanding in usefulness, ergonomics and build quality, I can recommend this product without reservations. This may be more camera strap than you will need, but it certainly won’t be less.

Check out the RS DR-1 and their other great products at

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