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In the last 30 years, Antarctica has opened up, enabling travelers to witness some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. But when you carry a camera on such a once-in-a-lifetime journey, it’s good to be aware of the difference between moments worth remembering with an easy shot and opportunities to get creative that may require more effort.
On a recent cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula, I passed through the Lemaire Channel, a dramatic strait with glacier-covered mountains on both sides. The water was in afternoon shadow, with sunlit scenery mirrored on its gently rippling surface. When water undulates in waves, the reflections bend with it, creating phenomena known as “skypools” and “landpools”—elongated ovals that form ever-changing patterns that show distorted images of sky and land.
Watching water in motion is mesmerizing, but translating that experience to a striking image requires some forethought. I decided to capture the interplay between water and light as sharply as I could. I took my gear to the topmost deck, knowing that the steeper angle from a higher vantage point would reveal more detail. Using a tripod on a moving ship can be futile, but our vessel was cruising slowly and there were no ocean swells. So I could use a 200-400mm ƒ/4 lens to get more reach and I mounted it on a tripod to achieve better stability. Applying an ISO of 1600 kept my shutter speed above a thousandth of a second, which overcame the effect of water movement and ship vibration. It also enabled me to close my aperture to ƒ/22 for a maximum depth of field.
What I sacrificed in pixel rendition from increasing my ISO was more than compensated for by the exquisite patterning I was able to freeze: ellipses of baby-blue sky and dark brown naked rock, surrounded by swirling beige hues of snow and ice tinged creamy by the evening sun—an abstraction of an Antarctic summer scene distilled into pools of pure color.