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Antarctica: The Edge Of The World

In the first of a series of articles, we speak with photo expedition leader Joshua Holko about a journey to one of the last great frontiers on earth

Surrounded by the roiling Southern Ocean, Antarctica is isolated by a combination of geography and climate. The inhospitable continent is home to fewer than 5,000 people, mostly researchers, but a variety of unusual wildlife exists in this most remote of terrestrial land masses. “Remote” has become a relative term, however. Today, intrepid adventurers can make their way to Antarctica to see and photograph in Terra Australis, and expert guides lead extensive photo tours. Over the next several issues of OP, we’ll spotlight tour operator Joshua Holko as he prepares for his November tour. Below is a brief outline of the structure and day-by-day plan.

In November 2014, I’ll be leading an epic South Georgia and Antarctica photographic expedition. This dedicated photographic expedition will depart on the 3rd of November and will dock on the 22nd of November. The trip will set sail from Ushuaia in South America and will take in the very best of South Georgia Island and Antarctica before docking back in Ushuaia.

The expedition is for a strictly limited number of 50 participants, plus leaders and expedition guides, and offers an extended period in South Georgia Island and Antarctica. Whilst most trips to Antarctica take 100-plus tourists, this expedition is capped at a maximum of 50 dedicated photographers in order to ensure the best possible experience. We’ll be using an ice-hardened expedition ship with a highly experienced crew in order to ensure we get as close as possible to big ice, and also to place the photographers in the best locations for making photographs. Our expedition ship is equipped with sufficient Zodiacs and crew for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously, with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment. It’s going to be a truly spectacular photographic trip for a very limited number of photographers aboard the ice-hardened expedition-class ship, the Polar Pioneer.

There will be informal talks and image reviews, and plenty of opportunity for one-on-one instruction for those who wish it throughout the length of the trip. In addition to informal side-by-side shooting from the deck or on Zodiacs and during shore landings, there will be many opportunities to discuss all aspects of photography and image making with like-minded individuals.

Andy Biggs and I will be conducting lectures on everything from RAW image processing to in-the-field composition instruction. Our emphasis is on photography, personal contact with the environment, wildlife encounters and making incredible images.

Andy and I wanted to put together a dedicated photography expedition to both South Georgia Island and Antarctica that really gave photographers the best possible opportunity to photograph big icebergs and amazing wildlife. We also wanted to ensure sufficient time in both Antarctica and South Georgia Island, so this is a brand-new itinerary that has been planned from the ground up to really maximize the opportunities for photography. We’ve timed the expedition early in the season in order to give the best opportunities for plenty of icebergs, as well as wildlife at South Georgia Island. The ice and snow at South Georgia Island will be pristine and as yet unvisited by man after the Antarctic winter.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Day One: Boarding. The group gathers in Ushuaia and explores the bustling community that lays claim to being the world’s most southerly town. It sits beneath the spectacular mountains of Tierra del Fuego on the edge of the Beagle Channel. There are fantastic photographic opportunities around the Andes Mountains, where it’s possible to take a helicopter ride for some truly spectacular aerial photography. We will board the Polar Pioneer in the afternoon and will settle into shipboard life as the ship sails down the Beagle Channel.

Day Two: At Sea. At sea, albatross, plunging dolphins and flighty petrels, amongst other sea birds, will be the photographic focus. The photography program begins, and special briefings prepare the group for landings.

Day Three: The Falklands. Falkland Islands’ Camp life gives way to elephant seals, penguins, sea lions and a mix of water birds. Zodiacs offer plenty of room for camera gear.

Day Four: The Falklands. Stanley, the Falklands’ undeniably British capital, features an excellent war museum, welcoming shops and pubs.

Day Five and Six: Scotia Sea. We cross the Scotia Sea, entertained and informed by the expert naturalists and historians, review photographs and prepare for shooting in South Georgia.

Day Seven to 11: South Georgia. Spring brings an explosion of life to South Georgia, and there will be ample time to explore and photograph the island’s spectacular northern coast. We visit wildlife havens that include the world’s largest king penguin rookeries, majestic albatross nests and beaches cluttered with basking elephant seals, feisty fur seals and penguins. Inspired by Shackleton’s epic, we hope to retrace the expedition’s final steps from Fortuna Bay to Stromness.

Day 12 and 13: Scotia Sea. We cross the Scotia Sea, watch seabirds, our first iceberg and great whales including blue, fin and sei. We have time to reflect on South Georgia and prepare for Antarctica, the next leg of our adventure.

Day 14: Elephant Island. Conditions permitting, we approach Cape Wild, a bleak, rocky spit along Elephant Island’s dramatic north coast. If sea state allows, we’ll Zodiac cruise, possibly even step ashore, to pay tribute to Shackleton’s 22 men who survived four months here.

Day 15-17: South Shetlands. We hope to land in the South Shetland Islands before sailing down Gerlache Strait and awaken to the drama of Antarctica—a photographer’s paradise! We encounter pack ice, and penguin rookeries alive with courtship, mating and nest building, visit historic sites, and land on the continent proper.

Day 18 and 19: The Drake. Return to the realm of the albatross—the Drake Passage. We celebrate, recap our many experiences and learn to manage our abundant collection of new photos.

Day 20. Dawn greets us in the Beagle Channel. We bid farewell and conclude our expedition.

Read more: Antarctica: What’s In The Bag

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