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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Penguin Planet

The top 5 locations to photograph the world’s most unique birds

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Emperor penguins may be the best models in nature, happy to stand still for hours, looking regal. Here, I balanced the warm midnight sunlight on the penguins with the cool shadows on the Antarctic mountains in a classic near-far composition.
Many of these islands offer lodging that ranges from basic, self-service cabins to quite comfortable hotels. One of the best, and most productive, is Sea Lion Lodge, where there are huge colonies of gentoo penguins almost right outside your door, as well as elephant seals, a host of waterfowl and always the chance of orca whales hunting in the bay.

If you don't mind a little isolation, however, spend a few days on far-flung Saunders Island, especially a little-known spot called "the Neck." On this narrow strip of land, miles from anyone or anything, you'll be utterly surrounded by wildlife. Four species of penguins nest here, and it's a short wander to a massive black-browed albatross colony, along a windswept ridge, or a rockhopper penguin bathing pool. In places like that, with all the time you need, you're almost guaranteed to get world-class pictures.

No list of penguin places would be complete without mentioning Antarctica itself. It is, simply said, one of the most glorious places on Earth, a feast for the senses, with spectacular landscapes, round-the-clock light and immense colonies of penguins. I met my first penguin here, an emperor, back when most pictures were still taken on Kodachrome.

Today, however, it's still as close to Mecca as it gets in the penguin world. And if you want to see the penguins of your imagination—lounging around on icebergs or being chased by leopard seals—this is the place. The only downside, however, is that it's not a place you can really explore on your own; Antarctica requires a cruise ship and a considerable amount of money.

Here's what I suggest: Justify the breathtaking expense by remembering that this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip (or at least until your next one) to one of the most beautiful places you'll ever see. Oh, yeah, and there are a lot of penguins.

The Antarctic Peninsula is where most trips go, and it can be magical, especially in January, when penguins have chicks and the whales are starting to arrive. Come much earlier, and you can still be wading in snow; much later, and the world turns to mud and squalor.

If you can, make sure your trip includes the island of South Georgia, arguably the most staggering collision of mountain scenery and wildlife anywhere I've ever been. This is the home of king penguins, stately birds whose colonies may number in the hundreds of thousands. Bring plenty of memory cards and prepare to be stunned—and enchanted.

There are other penguin places, of course, but most are even harder to reach or closed altogether to non-scientists. For now, however, I hope this list will keep you busy and result in some fantastic pictures.

Kevin Schafer trained as a seabird biologist before becoming a full-time wildlife photographer in the 1990s. The new edition of his book, Penguin Planet, was released in October 2013. See more of his work at www.kevinschafer.com and at www.outdoorphotographer.com/blog on the OP Blog.


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