(Video is at bottom of post)
The last month for me has been one that will go down in the books. I have been home from Antarctica for a week now and I am still buzzing off of how amazing and incredible of an experience it was. Antarctica is truly something everyone should try to experience in their life. I walked into it with little to no expectations. Sure, I’d seen some BBC documentaries and even the Morgan Freeman narrated ‘March of the Penguins’, but it would not prepare me for the sheer, untouched, pristine nature that awaited me.
I am so utterly grateful to have been given the experience to shoot down there alongside with my travel colleague and blogger Ralph Grizzle, The Avid Cruiser. We’ve travelled a lot together over the last few years, shooting for various cruise lines and tourism boards all around the world… Antarctica however, was a first for both of us.
What were we doing down there? A luxury cruise line called Silversea asked us if we could blog/photograph/video the Antarctic experience to generate buzz and excitement for the company. Silversea, who operates several smaller high-end luxury ships worldwide, has two expedition vessels in their fleet. These vessels travel globally to smaller, more remote destinations offering unique and incredible experiences larger sized ships cannot. The ship we were on was called the ‘Silver Explorer’, and had a capacity for a little over a hundred guests plus an additional hundred crew. This is very small for a cruise line; I used to work for Princess (love them!), and the ships I worked on held 3000 passengers and 2500 crew; essentially a massive 18 story floating city. Silver Explorer, with its ~200 people, was intimate and small and allowed us to navigate to much more remote and unreachable destinations. Perfect.
Before I knew it I was in the sunny and beautiful Buenos Aries, Argentina, boarding a chartered flight to Ushuaia, Argentina. Ushuaia is the most southern human settlement on Earth, located at very bottom of the South American continent, a short distance from Cape Horn. This would be where I first met our beautiful expedition vessel, as well as act as our jumping off point for the Antarctic continent.
It would take us 2 days to cross the notorious Drake Passage, renown to be one of the nastiest and most turbulent bodies of water of Earth. This is where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet, and the seas and weather can be incredibly dangerous and unforgiving. I am embarrassed to say that I got very seasick while crossing it. The first time in my ENTIRE LIFE! Having lived on the oceans for an entire year, I thought I had my sea legs… My cabin was on the 7th floor towards the bow of the ship, (read: the worst place for movement) and all of the waves were extenuated. We had 3-5m swells and I was bed ridden for an entire day eating ginger and crackers. Ugh. The Antarctic continent was making me work for its spoils! Talking to the captain later the next day, this was one of the calmest crossings they had… The previous voyage had 10m swells! 10 METRES! Wow! I got sick at 3m. I can’t even image 10m in a small ship like the Explorer.
All of the furniture on the ship was bolted to the floor, and there were barf bags in every corridor!
Soon we sighted the Antarctic continent. The buzz and energy on the ship was electric. The expedition team onboard would lower zodiacs and we would make two beach landings a day to various points of interest along the peninsula. When the announcement came to start loading, I felt an incredible excitement and anticipation in my stomach I haven’t gotten in a long time.
My first landing in Antarctica was an island on the peninsula called ‘Aitcho’. Penguins. Everywhere. One of the things that struck me immediately about Antarctica was how the wildlife shows absolutely zero fear of humans. None. This goes for seals, whales, penguins, sea birds… They’ve just never been around people and do not fear us. Penguins would waddle up to me within arm’s reach, and just look at me, shrug, and then walk off. Amazing. I’ve never experienced this anywhere in my life before. They truly don’t care. This allows for some really amazing opportunities for photos as you can get very close to the wildlife.
We saw pods of humpbacks, fin whales, orcas, weddell seals, astronomically large amounts of penguins, leopard seals, and all sorts of seabirds. The wildlife was abundant and a pleasure to see.
So how were shooting conditions? Surprisingly not bad! I was expecting it to be way colder and harsher, but when we arrived it was Antarctica’s peak summer, and temperatures ranged from 0 to -5 Celsius. Granted, when you incorporate wind-chill and shooting on the ice (and there’s LOTS of it), it can get cooler… But, Silversea provided us with gorgeous sub-zero parkas and I was never cold once on the trip.
The two most challenging things to work with were the insane amounts of light/brightness coming off of the glaciers, and the snow getting on your lens when shooting. Fusion Cine, Vancouver’s top film production rental house, provided me with a radial ND filter up to F8 however, so this immensely helped with shooting. The FS100 is a very sensitive camera due to its super 35mm sensor, and this shoot would not have been possible without this filter.
On one particular day, we were shooting inside Deception Island, an active, hollowed out volcano shaped a like a crescent. Our captain actually drove the ship INSIDE the volcano, and we used zodiacs to get to shore explore the inner crater. The water here was steaming, as it was volcanically heated, which gave a great eerie mist to everything. Inside the crater we explored an old derelict, abandoned whaling station, which was destroyed during an eruption many years past. Towards the end of our day, a blizzard started up, and the snow was falling almost horizontal out of the sky. The white of the snow contrasted by the black volcanic sand beaches proved a beautiful stark contrast. It was officially the most harsh conditions I’ve ever shot in in my life. Man it was fun!
I was really amazed at the variety of experiences we were offered during our visit. We visited penguin rookeries with hundreds of thousands of penguins, remote research bases, massive glaciers the size of mountains, ascended mountains for stunning views of ice as far the eye could see, took zodiacs through the maze of grinding and twisted ice floes, visited active volcanos, old forgotten whaling stations… the list goes on. In all of these areas were an abundance of wildlife and rugged, pristine nature, to the likes that I have never seen. It was hard to take a bad photo in Antarctica, as everything was just so epic and huge. The place really truly is beautiful.
I had a funny moment during the trip- I was looking out the window and I noticed a beautiful sunset! If you know me, I’m a real sucker for that gorgeous magic hour light. From experience, I know that you often have around a 15-20 minute window to capture this glow before it’s gone. I kicked into high gear and grabbed my camera and nailed the shot. I was happy I managed to capture it, and decided to head to the ship’s bar for a hot chocolate to warm up. (Shooting on the decks when the ship is moving is truly frigid) I got a little distracted and ended up spending an hour chatting with other passengers. When I came to, I looked out the window and low and behold, the sunset was still there over an hour later. I burst out laughing. There’s 22 hours of daylight a day in Antarctica and the sun just hangs in the sky. That sunset was sticking around for a longggg time. Oops!
My Antarctica trip was truly spectacular. The landscape took my breath away, and the abundance of wildlife and accessibility offered by Silver Explorer was unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced in the cruise industry. I believe I captured some of the strongest footage I have ever taken in my career on this trip, and I can’t wait to show you the video. (See below!) If you ever get a chance to go to Antarctica, TAKE IT without hesitation. The place is magical and I already feel the siren’s call of the ice to go back. It’s little wonder the great explorers of old were drawn to this place time and time again.
Huge thanks to my friend and colleague Ralph Grizzle for making this trip possible, as well as the amazing folk at Silversea for providing us with such a world-class experience.
I also wanted to give a very special shout out my good friends at Fusion Cine (http://fusioncine.com), a local Vancouver gear house and Sony retailer who were very gracious in providing me with a shiny new Sony FS100 camera to record the trip with. The camera functioned fantastically in all of the adverse weather conditions Antarctica threw at it. Thanks Fusion Cine! You guys are truly the best gear house in Vancouver!
I will never forget this as long as I live. Thank you all for making this experience possible. I am truly grateful. Enjoy the video!