Just some stuff about photography

BY TAG

In search of the Emperor Penguin

in Antarctica , Sunday, January 01, 2017

At the end of November, we set off on a 10 day "expedition cruise" operated by Oceanwide Expeditions, branded as "Search for the Emperor Penguin". The cruise, aboard the M/V Ortelius, was to head into the northernmost region of the Weddell Sea, and hopefully reach Snow Hill Island, where a number of Emperor penguin colonies had been discovered some years previously. Snow Hill Island is actually well out of what was usually understood as the range of the Emperor, being well North of the Antarctic Circle. The colony had been reached twice before by tourist operations, several times by the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov chartered by Quark Expeditions, and once by Ortelius itself in 2013. Ortelius is quite an unusual Antarctic cruise ship in that it has a helideck and hangar, and enough space for 2 to 3 helicopters. In this case, 2 were carried. The ideal situation would be that the ship would be able to get close enough to Snow Hill island to be able to use the helicopters to ferry passengers to a location on the sea ice at least 2km distant from the colonies, from where they would be reached on foot. This is a pretty ambitious plan - with a lot to go wrong. It appeared than a significant proportion of the passengers did not really realise quite how ambitious it actually was, and how low the chances of success were.

In order to succeed, the following ducks needed to be in a neat row:
- ship able to reach within approx 40km of the landing target
- adequate visibility for safe helicopter operation
- low enough windspeed for safe helicopter operation
- calm sea conditions
- penguin colonies actually there
- sea ice conditions suitable for safe travel by complete amateurs

In the past years, very few of the conditions had been met. Up until 2016 Oceanwide had 4 attempts at carrying this through, with a success rate of just 1 actual landing (if I understand correctly). This time round, absolutely everything worked out fine ... except for the last point. The Ortelius encountered open water for almost all of Admiralty Sound, but the remaining sea ice, where the colonies are located, turned out to be in very poor state. In several areas there were surface pools, along with areas which looked recently refrozen, and there were many rifts and cracks. A little to the south there was open water into the Weddell Sea, as far as the eye could see. Possibly it might have been feasible for experienced sea ice travellers to make a safe traverse, but no way could 110 blundering tourists be unloaded. Furthermore the helicopter crews did not feel that the ice would reliably support the weight of a helicopter.

drm__20161201_PC010137.jpg

M/V Ortelius up against the sea ice west of Snow Hill island, with Lockyer Island in the background.



So, sadly, that was that. There were a lot of very unhappy punters on board, but while it was natural to be disappointed, a lot of people seemed to think they were on a day trip to Disneyland or something. Antarctic operations, especially tourist cruises, need to take a very conservative approach to safety. Anything that goes wrong would very likely go wrong very badly. There was perhaps a significant lack of timely information and explanation provided by the staff, which didn't help the atmosphere, but that in itself changed nothing so far as conditions were concerned.

Everybody did at least get an overflight of the colonies, and spotted a few solitary emperors on sea ice near to the ship. These in themselves are experiences that very few people have had, but these days it seems that expectations run ridiculously high. The desire to grab photographic trophies to post on Facebook or wherever blinds people from the richness of actual experiences.

drm__20161201_PC010112.jpg

Emperor penguin colony from the air (the dots on the right). Being British (well, sort of), I obeyed the rules and didn't take a telephoto lens in the helicopter.



As it turned out, the colonies appeared to be thriving. As I understand it, we expected to find 3, in fact there were 5. I'm not sure how much longer this will be the case though. By the look of things the sea ice is very vulnerable. Very strong currents run through Admiralty Sound between Snow Hill and James Ross Island, which I assume are driven by the Weddell Sea gyre, and if there is a complete breakup in a summer season, it is hard to see how it will recover. Multiyear ice seems to be very sparse. The breakup of the Larsen A & B ice shelves in the same region has been partly blamed on rising surface water temperatures, so the outlook cannot be good. With no sea ice there will be no penguins.

drm__20161201_PC013971.jpg

Emperor penguin on the sea ice edge



The standard price of this trip is, for the lowest standard two berth cabin we had, $13K per person. Fortunately we got an extremely reduced offer, or I would not be writing this. I get a reasonable salary, but $13K for a 10 day trip is way beyond reality, never mind pain threshold. Oceanwide expeditions is a good company, and they are quite open about the chances of success - meaning physically reaching the emperor colonies - but unless it is something you really, really want to do, and are prepared to take a big gamble, there are much better Antarctic cruises on offer at very significantly lower prices, including with Oceanwide. Helicopters don't come cheap.

Posted in category "Antarctica" on Sunday, January 01, 2017 at 11:49 PM

Riders on the storm

in Antarctica , Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Every once in a while there comes along a photo which will just stick in my head. Some of them I didn't even actually take - there's a fantastic shot I have from New Zealand 15 years ago which I didn't actually take - but in the case I did.

The location is the Antarctic Sound, 2 weeks ago. There was an absolutely insane storm blowing, with unearthly lighting that I'll never manage to convince anybody isn't Photoshopped. The ship was being blown through an expanse of tabular icebergs, providing non-stop shots of a lifetime, provided you could find somewhere to wedge yourself in to avoid getting flattened by the wind or thrown over the side by the motion.

Most people had, sensibly, retired to somewhere sheltered with things to hang on to, and sturdy paper bags nearby. We hung on. And then this happened - an iceberg, loaded with frantic Adelie penguins careened crazily past. There cannot have been more than 30 seconds to grab a shot, but for once I kept my wits about me and got four. Here's one of them. Ok, yeah, it isn't absolutely pin sharp at 100%, but I'll take it.

drm__20161201_PC013918.jpg


Posted in category "Antarctica" on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at 07:13 PM

Penguin Parade

in Antarctica , Monday, September 16, 2013

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) are almost certainly the cutest of all penguins - except for all the others, of course. But really, they’re cute. Not quite as entertaining as Adelies, not quite as exuberant as Gentoos, not quite as big as Emperors, but sweeter than all of these combined.

And here’s a selection.

Drm 20130122 5661
Drm 20130122 5631
Drm 20130123 6306
Drm 20130124 6924
Drm 20130122 5718
Drm 20130124 7077
Drm 20130124 7011

With the unflappable support of the Olympus Optical Company’s E-5 photographic apparatus and assorted, and somewhat heavy, lenses.

Posted in category "Antarctica" on Monday, September 16, 2013 at 10:47 PM

A daily penguin

in Antarctica , Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Another set of rough cuts from Antarctica, this time a batch of impossibly cute Adelie penguins doing penguin stuff. These particular penguins hang out at Detaille and Petermann Islands.

Drm 20130118 3745
Drm 20130118 3839
Drm 20130119 4261

He went thataway!

Drm 20130119 4284
Drm 2013 01 20 drm 20130120 4744

Drm 2013 01 20 drm 20130120 4857

Drm 2013 01 20 drm 20130120 4898

Who says penguins can’t fly?

Drm 2013 01 20 drm 20130120 4783

Bye for now…

All photos courtesy of my antiquated, obsolete ... or, and rainproof, Olympus E-5. If you needed to know.

Posted in category "Antarctica" on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Jackpot

in Photography , Sunday, April 14, 2013

I posted this image on Flickr on April 12, 2013.

adrift

At the time of writing, it has accumulated 5,356 views, 249 favourites and 53 comments, which is so far above my average rating it’s ridiculous.  I’ve been on Flickr since October 2006 and my 680 posted images have between them collected 27,263 views.  So either this is an absolute world class masterpiece, and everything else I’ve ever posted is, well, not, or it is an indication of just how unreliable social media popularity is at evaluating how good your photography is.

Now, this photo has been “selected for Explore”, the meaning of which I’m ashamed to say I don’t quite fully understand.  I’m not quite sure what Explore is, but apparently 27 of my photos have been in it - so, a hit rate of 1 in 25, which may or may not be good. But anyway, it does seem to raise visibility and sometimes popularity. Having said that, so does posting a photo from my Sigma DP2 Merrill, whatever the subject.

Perhaps it’s penguins, but then again I’ve post other penguin shots.

Anyway, at least it means that the few generous souls who regularly comment on my photos, probably to cheer me up, can take a few days off.  On the downside, I feel morally obliged to respond to all the people who’ve be kind enough to comment, write or “fave”, and so far that’s taken over 2 hours. Still, I’ve discovered some pretty good photos on the way.  Check out my own favourites to see a few of them.

I guess it will all calm down again soon enough.  It’s nice to feel popular, but I don’t think I could keep up that level of interaction for long.  I’m far too much of a miserable old git for that.

Posted in category "Photography" on Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 10:29 PM

Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >