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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Here Be Dragons


Documenting the wild world in expeditions that go to the ends of the earth

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This Article Features Photo Zoom
Live In The Moment
The wake-up call comes at the uncivilized hour of 3:45 a.m. It seems particularly early, even for a sunrise landing on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. I don my thermal layers and rain gear, pulling on rubber boots for a guaranteed wet landing.

By the time we hit the beach, the dawn sky is glowing pink. It’s time to get to work. There are photo opportunities in every direction. King penguins porpoise through the surf, then come ashore in bunches in their formal black-and-white attire. There’s the symmetry of penguins lining up like bowling pins, and reflections off the water as the surf is pulled back out to sea.

Looking back on this experience, the light was incredible, and it was one of the best couple of hours I’ve ever had in photography. As I recall, I filled every memory card I had before going back to the ship before breakfast!

Certainly, not everyone wants to go ashore at sunrise on their vacation, or stay out late missing cocktail hour or even dinner. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to give yourself a chance by getting up early, being observant and staying out late. As a photographer, it’s up to you to make the most of every opportunity. Start by spending as much time as possible out on deck. The more time you spend looking, the more you’ll see to photograph. There’s always interesting subjects to shoot, from seabirds to waves and seascapes. Make the most of every shore landing. If at all possible, never miss a landing, no matter what the weather.

Most importantly, live in the moment. Living in the moment is about learning a personal approach to the art of nature photography. To truly be in the moment requires you to be thoroughly familiar with your equipment. For me, it’s a process that goes beyond the search for the perfect image, to a more mindful way of being in nature. Being mindful keeps me ready to click the shutter at the decisive moment, the moment it all comes together in the viewfinder.


The reward for living in the moment is developing the knack for being in the right place at the right time. This is where practice, preparation and patience pay off. Like the big fish that got away, missed moments haunt nature photographers. Follow your passion, and see every situation through to the end while staying open to serendipity.

Ralph Lee Hopkins travels to the world’s wild places with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. His latest book is Nature Photography: Documenting the Wild World. You can see more of his photography and workshop schedule at www.ralphleehopkins.com.

Travel Companies Offering Polar Expeditions

Abercrombie & Kent
www.abercrombiekent.com
Aurora Expeditions
www.auroraexpeditions.com.au
Lindblad Expeditions
www.expeditions.com
National Geographic Expeditions
www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com
Quark Expeditions
www.quarkexpeditions.com


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