The Gould Bay Emperor Penguin Colony, Antarctica

30 01 2012
lunchtime

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.

incoming

Curious little penguin chicks

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10 Tips for Great Firework Photography

1 07 2011

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Fireworks are a once-a-year event for most people that provide an exciting photo opportunity. They are not too hard to capture if you keep a few things in mind. This information is most useful for SLR or DSLR users, but much of it will apply to point and shoot cameras also.

1. Use a tripod. You can photograph fireworks without one, but the results will be more like artistic light trails than recognizable as fireworks.

2. Use a remote shutter release. You are going to want to use the “Bulb” setting on your camera, and it is a lot easier with a wired or wireless shutter release.

3. Put your camera in “Manual” mode. You don’t want your camera to make adjustments to your settings without your input.

4. Set the shutter speed to “Bulb.” This will give you the most control over your shots. You will use the above mentioned remote shutter release to open and close the shutter.

5. Set your aperture somewhere in the middle of the lens’ range around f/8.

6. Put your camera’s focus setting on manual and focus your camera to infinity.

7. Set your ISO to 100 or 200. Fireworks are really bright!

8. Arrive early enough to get a good unobstructed view. Set up you tripod and camera and roughly frame your shot. You can make adjustments after the fireworks start to fly. Consider including foreground elements that make interesting silhouettes or water for beautiful reflections.

9. When the fireworks launch, give it a moment or two to get up in the air, then release the shutter. Hold down the remote shutter release until the firework has faded and close the shutter ( let go of the shutter release button). It may take a few fireworks to work out the timing, but you will see it is pretty easy. Check your image on the LCD to see if you like the framing. If it looks good, fire away.

10. Remember that the fireworks are a family event and kids will be everywhere, so try to set up where your tripod won’t be in the way of others. This is meant to be fun for everyone, so be courteous to those around you and have a great time.

Have a great holiday and get some great shots!





If You Want to Make Great Pictures, Get a Junky Camera

28 04 2011

One of the main topics on photography message boards, letters to photo magazines, and photo podcasts revolves around what equipment is the best. Of course the latest equipment splashed around the pages of the photo mags is super sexy, but it may not be what you need. If you are just starting out as a photographer, you may be better served by using inferior/older gear. You may not want to hear that if you are hoping to get the new Superultimax 5000 to improve the quality of your photography and are looking for someone to tell you that is what you should get.
My experience in most things, including photography, is that it is beneficial to start with something simple and learn to overcome its limitations. When you focus on the process of the art rather than the equipment, you will find that you gain a more solid grasp of the fundamentals of photography instead of learning to be a D3x operator. Learning to use more complex professional equipment is light years easier if you already understand what it is that you need the camera to do. My first SLR (film) was a Nikon N5005 with a 50mm lens — no photographic powerhouse, but I was able to learn how to control every aspect of it and sell a lot of pictures using it while the other photographers I worked with were using N8008s or N90s. I was selling just as many images as they were even though my equipment was technically inferior. I purchased an inexpensive Nikon 35—105mm lens and was able to get an understanding of a range of focal lengths and still create lots of saleable images.

When I moved to digital, I got the modest Nikon D50. My knowledge gained from my film camera transferred neatly and my learning curve was a very low angle. I was able to focus on the difference between film and digital instead of learning how to operate a complex camera. I still occasionally shoot the D50 and get great results from it. After a few years with the D50, my understanding of digital photography filled out nicely and I decided it was time to move to a full-frame camera.

Over the years of using equipment that was less than the latest and greatest, I learned how to improvise and make shots work without the benefit of vibration reduction, a high frame rate, fast zoom lenses or 51 focus points. Now, when I pick up my D700, I know that all of the advanced features are icing on the cake and not necessary for me to make a great image. My foundation of photographic knowledge is solid, so that I can get the most from my equipment rather than missing shots because I am trying to program a supercomputer with a lens.

Don’t get me wrong, I made purchasing decisions for my first cameras based on my limited funds at the time and if I had been rich, I might have gotten more advanced gear from the start. My point is that the fact that I started with lower-end gear and learned how to make it work in all situations has probably made me a better photographer in the long run. Likewise, if you feel like your gear is holding you back, challenge yourself to make great images despite its limitations.








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