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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Antarctic Dreams


The exhilaration of being out of the comfort zone

Labels: On Landscape


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Iceberg Arch, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica. This photograph was taken on January 30, 2014. It was one of Neill's longest shooting days ever.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-105mm ƒ/4L IS USM

Beyond words. Beyond my imagination. Was I dreaming? Fortunately, as more of a photographer than a writer, when words fail to be adequate, my images will have to serve to reconnect me with the experience and, hopefully, others will get a small sense of the sights I saw. I recently returned from an amazing adventure to Antarctica with Michael Reichmann and Kevin Raber's Luminous Landscape photographic workshop. Only three weeks before departure this past January, I was asked to replace an instructor who was unable to go. Lucky me!

The tour started in Chile, and from there, we flew to Antarctica rather than crossing the Drake Passage by ship. We photographed along the Antarctic Peninsula for five days, and I made 10,000 frames. I know this amount sounds ridiculous, but the days were very long, and the quality of the landscapes and wildlife was epic. The shooting conditions were difficult, as we often were photographing from our moving Zodiacs or ship, and I photographed all images without a tripod, with little time to deliberate on each composition. Handholding, with two cameras around my neck, one with a wide-angle zoom and another with a telephoto zoom, was a constant struggle. I definitely was out of my slow-paced, "landscapes on a tripod" comfort zone.

While adapting to the flow of this type of photography, I learned to watch carefully, to see when the confluence of foreground elements such as icebergs aligned dynamically with the mountains and glaciers in the background. When I photograph on land with a tripod, I'm always shuffling my feet, sideways, back and forth, to find the most interesting alignments. In Antarctica, I was dealing with one-way, steady, lateral motion so I was able to anticipate these alignments while looking ahead from the boats. When I found a stunning iceberg, I also would look for wildlife flying or swimming along to add an accent of scale. We were constantly seeing wildlife, including seals, penguins and whales. It took good timing, a burst of exposures and a good image-stabilization system to catch the action. The experience was sometimes frustrating, but mostly exhilarating!

I've been editing and postprocessing at a frenetic pace, eager to see, to begin to absorb and interpret, all that I saw. Since returning, I pore through my Lightroom catalog daily as I recall the myriad images I created. I'm thrilled with the results, but I have a long way to go in my editing and processing. I plan to develop a portfolio of 40 to 50 images for a potential ebook, gallery prints and exhibits. It will take me weeks, maybe months, to absorb and organize the portfolio, a process that can't be rushed or forced.

In this On Landscape column, I'm showing a photograph from January 30. Our dawn photography along the Lemaire Channel began at 3:30 a.m., photographing from the ship as we cruised past volcanic peaks blanketed with glaciers cascading to the sea. After dropping anchor, our Zodiac cruise in Pleneau Bay began at 5:30 a.m. The bay is also known as the iceberg graveyard, where both large tabular icebergs and older, rolled icebergs have run aground. One of the highlights of this session was photographing this iceberg with its amazing shapes and arch. We floated slowly past, as our very excited group blazed away. Each inch of motion changed our camera positions, altering the relationship of each curve and line and arch opening.

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