Respectful Distance

When I first traveled to the Falkland Islands in the mid-1980s, I encountered very few other visitors. I was able to roam alone and marvel at the islands’ abundant wildlife. When I returned a few years ago, great changes had taken place. Dozens of cruise ships now call on Port Stanley, the archipelago’s capital, and sometimes a single vessel disembarks so many passengers onto the small town’s streets that they outnumber the local population. The Falklands have been discovered as a travel destination for good reason. Its wildlife is spectacular and remarkably trusting of humans, as is the case on many oceanic islands. But with so many visitors, restraints are necessary.

When I joined a group of tourists while they visited the Falklands’ only king penguin nesting site, I found that a circle of white rocks had been placed around the colony, denoting a perimeter within which the birds should be guaranteed privacy. Despite that, when penguins would enter or exit the area, they would often walk straight past people without hesitation.

My first photographic response to the situation was to apply a long telephoto lens to overcome the distance, but then I noticed that the collective shadows of the visitors, myself included, all pointed directly at the colony. This presented a more unusual image. Sometimes, when you are part of a group, showing a context in your photos that includes your fellow travelers can be as interesting as focusing on the subject you’ve come so far to get close to. Once I recognized this, executing the image was a straightforward matter. A super-wide-angle lens closed down to ƒ/22 and mounted on a tripod ensured a razor-sharp rendition of the scene, from my own shadow all the way to infinity. In the final frame, the distance between the huddle of king penguins and the people gathered to observe them is a measure of respect.

Sign up now for Frans Lanting’s expanded photo workshop program for Spring 2010 at his studio in coastal California. Visit for more details.

Frans Lanting has been hailed as one of the great nature photographers of our time. For more than two decades he has documented wildlife and our relationship with nature in environments from the Amazon to Antarctica. He portrays wild creatures as ambassadors for the preservation of complete ecosystems, and his many publications have increased worldwide awareness of endangered ecological treasures in the far corners of the Earth.