ABFriday Week 57

This week’s ABFriday Forum was in serious jeopardy of not happening because our usual hostess (Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing) is out of town this week.  However, a heroic rescue by Loré Dombaj of “Snow’s Fissures and Fractures” has made it possible for all of us to continue.  As usual, this week’s forum allows pparticipants to submit an example of  how they transform an image to reveal their creative vision.  You can see all of the others at Loré’s post here.  And as always, you can get all the guidelines for participating in this forum by checking out Stacy Fischer’s site here.

Sometimes its a good idea to go back and review the image files from a major shooting session to see if a good image might have been overlooked.  This week’s submission to ABFriday is an example.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 60 Before

Before Image (Original RAW File)

The above image apparently escaped my attentiona few months ago when I was selecting images for an exhibit. on Antarctica.  But this image caught my eye during a subsequent review of the image files a couple weeks ago.  I remembered the scene as being much more colorful and thought there might be some potential.

The scene was taken as our boat was heading north in the Gerlache Strait at about 10:45 PM. The sun’s last light hitting the top of the mountain was similar to the alpenglow effect I had seen in the past.

As usual, the image was first opened in Adobe Camera RAW.(ACR) and the adjustments were fairly standard (setting the black and white points, reducing Highlights, opening up the Shadows, adding some Clarity and Vibrance). Then, in Photoshop CC, two Curves Adjustment Layers were added, one to increase the contrast of the mountain and snow, the second to darken the sky.  A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was used to slightly increase the saturation of the sky. Next a bit of the sky was cropped out for balance in the composition and, as a final step, a gradient layer was used to darken the sky (Blend Mode: Soft Light).  Now it looked like the scene I saw that night. Robin Kent ABFriday Week 60 After

Final Image

Thanks again to Loré Dombaj for organizing this week’s After Before Friday Forum.  Please visit her site to see all of the other submissions by clicking here.

Antarctica–Lessons Learned

Last December I wrote a guest post “Up for Discussion- Travel Photography” for Leanne Cole, a talented photographer and writer in Australia.  Both she and I were planning major trips to completely different destinations—New York City and Antarctica—and we asked readers to offer their thoughts on what gear we should be taking.  The responses were numerous and full of good ideas.

After my Antarctica trip was completed, Leanne suggested a “Lessons Learned” post might be of interest.  I saw it as also as an opportunity to thank those who commented on the original article.   Their collective wisdom was of great help in my pre-trip research.  On the subject of pre-trip research I would also recommend a post by Susan Portnoy,  an exceptional travel photographer and writer based in New York City.

My Lessons Learned essay, along with a number of images from Antarctica, has just been posted on Leanne’s site so If you have an interest on how to prepare for a major photography trip, please check it out here.  Leanne’s blog has a wide readership so there is bound to be some interesting commentary from her followers.

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Early Morning, Antarctica

Journey to Antarctica – Part 5

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The Final Leg, Paradise Bay to Half Moon Island

The variability of weather and scenery continued as our ship moved north from Paradise Bay, to Neko Harbor, and then out of the Antarctic Zone toward Deception Island and the return to Argentina.

Paradise Bay lived up to its name as our good luck with weather—at least from the photographer’s viewpoint—continued.  And I’ve since discovered that the scenery of Antarctica also lends itself nicely to Black and White images.

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View from Zodiac, Paradise Bay

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Paradise Bay, Mid-morning Light

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Vicinity of Neko Harbor, Evening Light

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Neko Harbor, Evening Light

Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands, is considered one of the safest harbors in Antarctica.  I guess you could say that, except the island is the caldera of an active volcano and your ship’s captain must know exactly where that submerged rock is located in the very, very narrow entrance (see map).Deception Island Map 02

Map of Deception Island

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 Inside the Caldera, Deception Island, mid-morning

 We were told that the island got its name because sailors had been going past it for decades until finally one curious ship captain found the narrow entrance was hiding a perfectly formed harbor.  For us, the deception was the weather.  When we arrived, everything was very nice.  But a few hours later a snow squall spun up making it a little difficult for the Zodiac drivers as they maneuvered alongside the ship.  (Click here to see a Vimeo clip)  But please overlook my limited video skills.

Our last stop in Antarctica was Half Moon Island, a 400-acre speck of land that was home to a chinstrap penguin colony which we were bound and determined to see.

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Chinstrap Penguin Admiring the Snow

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Chinstrap Penguin Colony

Interestingly, Google has a lite version of its “Street View” application captured (on a much nicer day) from this location, apparently the sole basis for its claim that it has covered all 7 continents.  Click here for a view not far from my image above and, although you may have to rotate the scene with your mouse, you will recognize the jutting rock on the right.

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Fresh Snow, Half Moon Island, Antarctica


Next—Iguazu Falls

Journey to Antarctica – Part 4

First, a quick update on the Herndon ArtSpace Fine Art Photography Competition.  I was quite pleased on Saturday evening to receive a 3rd Place Award for my “Clearing Storm, Yosemite Valley” image (see my previous post here).  Maybe I should do this more often…or should I quit while I’m ahead?   Anyway, back to the saga of the White Continent……….

Antartica Map 03 Version 2

It seems that every Antarctica trip veteran we met before our departure had a different story about the weather.  Although we’ve been there only once, it’s pretty easy to see why.  Even when conditions are not extreme (i.e., enormous waves, huge storms), the weather is still volatile and often localized. This combination can make things very interesting. The following sequence of images on our passage through the Lemaire Channel is just one example.

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Lemaire Channel, Looking South at Sunrise

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Lemaire Channel, Looking East  (One Minute Later)

Antarctica 21Lemaire Channel (25 Minutes Later)

Lemaire Channel is about 7 miles long and a mile wide at its narrowest point. Because of the closeness of the sheltering mountains, it can be as smooth as a lake.  Icebergs, however, can block the passage especially earlier in the season.   Our destination was Petermann Island, home to another colony of Gentoo penguins and no iceberg congestion interfered (two images below).

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Gentoo Penguin Surveys His/Her Domain

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Gentoo Penguins on Petermann Island

Petermann Island was the southernmost point of our expedition, even though we would not have complained had the captain decided to break ranks and continue on. But such was not the case and that evening we retraced our route through the Lemaire Channel. On the positive side, we were treated not only to some very nice evening light by the setting sun but also the spectacle of a rising full moon (images below)

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Sunset, Antarctica

Antarctica 25Alpen Glow, Antarctica

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Moonrise, Antarctica

Next—Paradise Bay and Beyond

Journey to Antarctica – Part 3

Antartica Map 02

Route of Le Boreal, February 1-3

As the ship resumed its southward course, the favorable weather made it possible to navigate the most scenic route to our hoped-for first Zodiac landing.  Neumayer Channel is a 16-mile narrow twisting passage less than two miles wide and bounded on both sides by islands with steep glacial mountains rising as high as 6,000-7,000 feet.  The maze-like route is further complicated by the random appearance of icebergs that have broken away (calved) from the many glaciers on both sides.  A 500-foot ship is not as nimble as the little Zodiacs that would be zipping us around the ice floes. (This Google map lacks much detail, I don’t think the Street View folks have been here yet.)

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Humpback Whale Feeding by Lorraine Turci

On the way, a new group of feeding Humpback whales was spotted and the ship maneuvered for a closer look.  At this point I would like to introduce Lorraine Turci, the ship’s official photographer who used her 400mm telephoto to good effect.  (See image above.) She kindly gave me permission to use some of her images on my blog.  One of the more fascinating habit of whale and dolphins is their practice of creating a “curtain” of air bubbles when they are hunting.  The curtain is often used to corral their prey and we all got a rare opportunity to see this in action.  Lorraine’s image below was far better than mine and gives a great perspective on the complexity of these bubble curtains. Here she used a wide angle (24mm) lens which tells you that this happened right next to the ship. If you look carefully, you can see that a snow flurry came through at this moment.


Humpback Whale “Bubble Curtain” by Lorraine Turci

Shortly afterwards, we encountered a pod of 20 Type B Killer Whales, which hunt mostly seals.  Here again, Lorraine worked her magic with the long lens.  (Image below)

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Type B Killer Whales by Lorraine Turci

The skies seemed to be opening as we approached the Neumayer Channel (Image below). Prospects for a ride in the Zodiacs seemed good.

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Approaching Neumayer Channel

Port Lockroy, our destination, is a natural harbor that was used as a whaling station between 1911 and 1931.  During World War II the British established a military presence on a tiny island in the harbor, calling the activity Operation Tabarin.  Explanations vary as to the actual purpose, so feel free to launch your own Google investigation.  Designated a historic site, the base was renovated in 1996, and now serves as a post office, museum, and gift shop whose proceeds are used to fund the upkeep of the site and other historic sites in Antarctica.  Although the practice of sending postcards has become  uncommon these days, that word has not reached Port Lockroy.  It seemed nearly everyone on the ship wanted to send a few and we were no exception.  And never mind that delivery is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

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Zodiacs Heading for Port Lockroy

Conditions were perfect for our first Zodiac launch and we bundled up in our red polar coats and waterproof boots. The process of getting lots of people onto these lightweight boats was like a military operation, but a detailed description can wait for now.  We were here to see penguins and mail postcards and buy souvenirs and take pictures.

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Closer View of British Post Office, Museum, and Gift Shop

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My first shot from a Zodiac

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Le Boreal at Anchor in Harbor of Port Lockroy


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Gentoo Penguin and Chick by Lorraine Turci

Next—Petermann Island

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).

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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).

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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).

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Wilhelmina Bay

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

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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