Journey South-Part 2 (Antarctica)

As we boarded the ship that would take us to the White Continent, I recalled our months of planning and preparation, the helpful advice from others who had preceded us, the sage equipment and technical guidance from experienced photographers/bloggers, and the detailed packing lists from the travel company.  (See for example, my guest post on Leanne Cole’s Blog on December 5, 2014.)   But now, looking at the grey skies over the Beagle Channel, we knew that good images depended almost entirely on the region’s infamously volatile weather.

Antartica Map 01

The Route South to Wilhelmina Bay

It takes two days on a cruise ship to cover the distance from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Zone, a voyage that often features very rough seas.  But perhaps our luck was changing. The Drake Passage which had brought grief to so many, seemed not to care about us.  Nevertheless, after nearly 48 hours of remarkably smooth sailing, we reached the passage between the South Shetland Islands and found unpromising conditions.  A heavy fog obscured the channel and the islands were almost invisible.  Not good, I thought, as my camera remained poised but inactive.   The ship’s captain decided to bypass Deception Island, one of the advertised highlight spots for a Zodiac landing. As we traveled south, however, the fog began to lift and about three hours later the scene began to transform (see image below).

Antarctica 08

Shortly afterwards,the clouds descended again and snow flurries began to envelop the ship.  But as I looked over the railing, the telltale sign of the explosive exhalations of humpback whales appeared, and the ship altered course to get closer (see image below).

Antarctica 09

Humpback Whale Alongside Ship

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 70mm; exposure 1/160th sec @ f/6.3, ISO 800)

The image above is uncropped, full frame.  The whale was  essentially next to the ship’s hull but was unconcerned by our presence. It became quickly apparent that the combination of low light and the ship’s motion would force some compromises on exposure choices. Normally I would have preferred a lower ISO and smaller aperture to ensure a sharp image.  This would become a recurring theme in the journey.

Less than 4 hours after the encounter with the whales, we arrived in Wilhelmina Bay and were treated to a spectacular combination of clear air and dramatic clouds punctuated by segments of blue sky (see images below).

Antarctica 10

Wilhelmina Bay

(Technical DataNikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 50mm; exposure 1/800th sec @ f/16, ISO 400)

Antarctica 11

Wilhelmina Bay

(Technical DataNikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm; exposure 1/640th sec @ f/16, ISO 400)

So far, so good.  A smooth sail across the Drake Passage, it was still early on our first day, and at least a few decent images had already been captured. The next stop was Port Lockroy and, if the conditions permitted, our first Zodiac landing.

Next—Port Lockroy

43 thoughts on “Journey South-Part 2 (Antarctica)

  1. Wow! Amazing landscape/seascape shots. The colour in the ice is incredible. Isn’t it fantastic to be so close to whales? We went whale watching off Massachusetts last July and got close to several humpbacks. I’ve been close to a minke in the past too. I would love to have more whale encounters in the future.

    Totally on a tangent but the place names Shetland and Wilhelmina leapt out at me in your narrative because my Great-Gran was named Wilhelmina and she was from Shetland. It makes me wonder how the areas of Antarctica gained their names.

    I look forward to following the rest of your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Laura, thanks for your kind comments. We were very lucky with whale sightings on this trip and your experience in Massachusetts must have been great also. As for the names of the islands, we learned a bit about them during some of the briefings given by the expedition guides. Wilhelmina Bay was discovered by the Belgian explorer, Adrien de Gerlache for whom the Gerlache Strait is named. He named the Bay after Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, The South Shetland Islands have a more complicated history with several nations claiming sovereignty there. The first “official” discovery was announced by a British expedition in 1819 which was the first discovery of any land south of the 60th south parallel. Their name is a reference to the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland. The two sets of islands lie about the same relative distance from the North and South Poles.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah ha! Thanks for that. I wondered if it was because the shape of that southern peninsula had echoes of Shetland (as in the Scottish one) but that’s interesting that they are at approximately the same distance from the poles. I remember my Gran telling me about the long winters with hardly any day light and the summer’s where it never got darker than dusk (which they call simmer dim in Shetland) which must then be similar to your experience in Antarctica.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, Laura: Yes, we were about 5 weeks past the longest day of their year, so there were a few hours of semi-darkness, but one had to be up extremely early for the “official sunrise.” Needless to say, there were very few passengers up at that hour.


  2. Hi Robin, I am forwarding this email to Nadine who expressed an interest in your blog. She’ll really enjoy reliving her Antartica trip through your images! Michele

    Sent from my iPad



  3. Amazing photos Robin and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come. The ice looks like its glowing with a pale blue light! How wonderful to get so close to the humpback whales, they look such beautiful creatures! Looking forward to the next instalment!


    • Thank, Katie. I appreciate your taking the time to comment. The whales were very exciting for everyone on board. The ship often deviated from the planned route/schedule when a group of them showed up. I have another post coming out tomorrow which will include some additional whale images taken by the ship’s photographer.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Robin! Wow, I seriously thought of Odyssey when reading your post, which is filled with suspense. It is one thing to look at the photos, but really a different experience to read about the adventure the photographer has been through to capture those moments. I love all of these photos, especially the first one. Thanks so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m jealous. What an amazing experience! And amazing photos! I’ve seen whales before in Cabo San Lucas but to have one come up that close to the boat would be akin to meeting God for me lol. Looking forward to more posts from you about this adventure!


      • Yes — the cameras must work!

        I had a recent experience where I had two film bodies freeze up during my recent shoot down at Point Lookout. In both cases, the batteries were too depleted to work in the extreme cold; they were fine in warmer temps, but not out in sub-freezing digits. The experience is making me rethink my final film body choice.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I saw those images. It looked really cold there. I had been warned that batteries go quickly in extreme cold so I had three extras ready and waiting in our cabin. Plus a charger. As it turned out, the temps were not that bad, nothing below 25 so I was able to avoid that issue. But, as you know well other things can go wrong too and there is no friendly camera store to rescue you in a place like that.


  6. Wow, wow, wow!!!! I am LOVING reading your post and viewing your spectacular photos. So glad you included the map – it’s nice to picture where you were sailing. I was showing my husband your pictures and he asked if the turquoise of the bergs was enhanced. I had to remind him that we saw that same color on our cruise in Alaska. Unbelievable colors! Gorgeous photos! Thanks so much for sharing your journey – it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy them while being warm and comfortable:D And, yay, I still have another post I can read!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Arctic Journey | photographybykent

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