Photographing the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctica

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Few places on Earth are as remote, or as inhospitable to life, as Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands.

Will Burrard-Lucas recalls, “On first visiting this frozen land, the sense of being a visitor to an alien world was almost overwhelming. As a photographer, how could I start to convey the essence of this place through images alone? How could I capture the sense of wilderness, the abundance of wildlife, the harshness of the environment and staggering beauty of the landscape?”

Now, after several trips to region, Will feels like we has started to chip away at this challenge. So, to help our group of future Antarcticans that join us on our expeditions, he decided to share some of the lessons he has learned after numerous trips to Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands.

With so much wildlife, interesting behavior is all around

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Being confronted with a penguin colony can be sensory overload. In every direction busy birds can be seen going about their days—building nests, tending eggs or chicks, chasing off predatory skuas, and squabbling with one another. Knowing which point to point your camera at can be a tremendous challenge!

In these situations Will says he learned to pick out a few birds and then just wait and watch. By being patient you will find that natural behavior unfolds in front of you and when it does you will already be in the perfect position to capture it.

Something else happens as well—the birds in these places have no innate fear of humans, and so are actually quite inquisitive. If you sit down and remain still you becoming even less threatening and often birds will come up and check you out. Penguins will also start pecking at your sleeves and shoelaces! This makes for great wide-angle portraits.

Capture portraits with personality

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Few birds are as interesting and fun as penguins. So try to capture their personalities in your photos. The single most important thing you can do to capture impactful wildlife portraits is to get down low, on the same level as your subject. For penguins this either means lying down in the snow or flipping out the screen on your camera and holding it down below your knees. The low perspective not only helps the viewer connect with the animal, it also moves the background out of the plane of focus, which isolates your subject and helps make it “pop”.

To capture a successful portrait, you need to make sure your focus is spot on. For animals, this means making sure the eyes are tack-sharp and then selecting an aperture to give you the depth of field you need. If I’m photographing a single animal, I often shoot wide open to get a shallow depth of field and isolate my subject. Penguins hop around surprisingly quickly and with a telephoto lens, you don’t have a lot of leeway in terms of focal plane. I therefore recommend shooting in continuous auto-focus mode and placing a single focus point over the eye so that the focus is continually updated until the moment the shot is taken. This means you have to practice moving your focus point around the frame quickly in order to recompose your shots. Sometimes cameras might mis-focus slightly, or the animal might blink and you might not realize this at the time—and so, Will recommends capturing 2 or 3 shots at a time just to be safe.

It’s not just the about wildlife but the habitat as well

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It was the wildlife that first drew Will to Antarctica, but it was the landscapes that blew him away; imposing jagged peaks, glaciers tumbling into the ocean and beautifully sculpted icebergs set a spectacular stage. Whenever possible look for scenes where You can show the animals in their environment. Often this means trading the telephoto lens for a 70-200 or 24-70. These will be the type of images that capture the essence of Antarctica.

The weather can be a challenge but also an opportunity to capture something different

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The weather in this part of the world can be both unpredictable and extreme. As a result, you never quite know what today, or the next day, has in store for you. Rather than being an inconvenience, Look at the diverse weather as an opportunity to capture interesting images. Maybe it is fierce wind whipping snow over the crest of a hill, giant snowflakes drifting down over a penguin colony, rough seas pounding against the base of a tabular iceberg, or a ray of sunlight melting the snow on a mountainside. Whatever the conditions, it is the varied weather that makes every trip to the region different and gives a unique twist your photos. Embrace it!

Will Burrard-Lucas is a wildlife photographer. He leads workshops in Africa and Antarctica for Muench Workshops and develops equipment for camera trap photography through his company Camtraptions. You can follow @willbl and @muenchworkshops on Instagram.

Please consider joining Will, 9 other Muench Workshop PRO photographers and a team of 8 Expedition Leaders & Naturalists in the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica in October of 2020! Its going to be an EPIC expedition!

Shooting Handheld Panoramas

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Andy loves to shoot handheld panoramas. With this skill, you can turn any lens you have into a wider focal length!

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A cool thing is that when you shoot a big pano you can get a small bit from it, a photo within a photo, and you still have lots of pixels. This crop to the left is 80 megapixels of awesome ice-covered trees in Yellowstone National Park.

Here is the “How To”

1) Set your camera to manual everything, and meter off the brightest part of the image. 
2) Auto focus on your chosen focus spot, then switch the lens to manual focus so it doesn't change.
3) Shoot left to right, right to left, it doesn't matter. Overlap each frame by 50% to make it easy. Maintain your camera in a level position.
4) Shoot in portrait orientation, to get more pixels in your final image.
5) You can do two rows if you are ambitious! Overlap the top and bottom by 50 % as well.
6) Don't forget you can do "two shot" or "three shot" panoramas as well, if the lens you're working with isn't quite wide enough and you can't move from where you're shooting from. 
7) In Lightroom, process one image and synchronize the processing to all (normally this is just going to be basic exposure, lens correction, and white balance settings).
8) Then in LR, choose your images, and right click>Photo Merge>Panorama.
9) Voila!

You can always come on one of our workshops to learn this technique! :-)

RESOURCES

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Useful tutorials, videos, and more!

Free Ebook: by Marc Muench

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Free 122 Page Photography Ebook

After 10 years of doing what we love, we figured it was time to celebrate! We’re excited to announce our new free ebook, with 122 pages of tips, inspiration, and deep thoughts from our pros. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed creating it. Click here to download this Ebook!

 

Stay organized Lightroom while on the road: The Traveling Photographer

Confused about how to manage your Adobe Lightroom Classic CC library while on the road? After years of experience staying organized while on workshops, we’ve written a handy little guide to help keep you organized and your images safe while traveling. Click here to download this free guide!


Marc's online Creative Live Class: Landscape Photography

In Landscape Photography, he’ll teach you the skills and insights essential to memorable photographs of the natural world. Marc will help you:

  • Develop your eye by connecting with your subject

  • Execute great images in the field

  • Improve your post-production process through Lightroom

Marc will teach his approach to, what he calls, the Creative Trinity of Photography: composition, subject, and light. You’ll also learn how to improve the quality of your shots through Technical Trinity of Photography: ISO, aperture, and shutter.


Marc's Online Class: Settings for Landscape Photography

Join Marc Muench and build an essential understanding of camera settings for landscape photography. You'll begin by learning about different camera modes and when it's beneficial to use each. When you move on, you'll learn how to gauge the camera focus you need, set it and adjust your exposure for dynamic range. Marc will also guide you through lenses and aperture settings, before giving you best practices for unforgettable panoramas. Plus, you'll discover new tricks you can use for creative photo effects that lead to intriguing imagery.


Focus Stacking

Muench Workshops pro Wayne Suggs takes the mystery out of focus stacking.


Customize Your Photoshop Workspace

Muench Workshops pro Wayne Suggs helps you take control and personalize your photoshop for the most efficient workflow.


reCOMPOSE Photography Podcast

Andy Williams and Marc Muench host a biweekly podcast on all things photography! Click here to subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or listen right on the website.


Our Infrared Processing Workflow

We love shooting infrared! We've come up with a workflow and that we really like and we're happy to share it with you. Download the PDF, it's free. Of course, if you have questions, just contact us!


Content-aware fill is a useful tool for extending the edges of your image. You can do this when you’ve framed your subject too close to one of the edges of the frame, or to clean up rough edges of a stitched panorama. There are many reasons to use content-aware fill, and it’s really not difficult to do. Just be careful in its use when submitting images to competitions, or if there’s any other reason to be cautious of adding to the reality of the image.

This tutorial is written for use with Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop.


Antarctica 2018 - Report

Our Antarctica Expedition for December 2018 began with large tabular icebergs as we approached the South Shetland Islands. Further south we saw even more tabular icebergs, in spectacular light. We had a perfect landing in gently falling snow, at Cierva Cove, where we spent time with gentoo penguins. Another calm landing, was had in Paradise Bay, surrounded by gentoos, feeding humpbacks, nesting cormorants, and even a leopard seal. We followed this up with a traverse of the legendary Lemaire Channel, freshly blanketed in snow, and festooned in gleaming rime ice. We experienced more dramatic light through Neumayer Channel, passing a pair of killer whales, and icebergs laden with hundreds of crabeater seals, before landing at historic Port Lockroy. After a blustery entrance through Neptune’s Bellows, we landed at the black beaches of moody Deception Island. Our final landing was at Half Moon Bay, where the glorious sunshine made up for some of our less ideal weather conditions early on!

On board our ship we delivered classes on Lightroom library and develop module, on The Art of Seeing, and on Wildlife Photography Techniques. We had naturalist lectures on all of the wildlife, geology, ice, and ecology of the region. We had several of our signature image review and critique sessions, covering images from all guests that wanted to share.

All in, we had 13 landings and zodiac cruises. The first two were cut short due to rough conditions, but then great weather and conditions allowed for amazing photography for the rest of the expedition and 11 more landings and zodiac cruises. And all the while we had great photography from onboard our ship as well. And the dreaded Drake? On the way to Antarctica, it was about normal for one day, and calm the second day. On the way back, it was a “Drake Lake”.

We’re headed back to Antarctica in December of 2020, and we have only a few cabins remaining on board our private ship. Join us!

Muench Workshops Pro Lisa LaPointe: "It seems improbable that warm blooded creatures can exist in such an inhospitable place, but they do survive—and thrive—in Antarctica. Many, such as this leopard seal, are top predators. One of the advantages of photographing from nimble Zodiacs is the ability to get an up close, eye-level view with marine mammals, and to capture intimate portraits of them in their extreme environment."

Muench Workshops Pro Will Burrard-Lucas: This is a photograph that I have always wanted to take. When we landed at a Gentoo penguin rookery during heavy snowfall, I knew my chance had come. The fresh snow was deep and we sank down almost to our waists as we forged a path up from the zodiacs. This penguin was on its way up from the sea and had a lovely clean belly (unlike the muddy penguins coming down from the nesting site)! I crouched down to get the penguin above the horizon line and used a wide-open aperture to get shallow depth of field to isolate the penguin and the large falling snowflakes. A fast frame rate and continuous AF helped me capture a sharp image as the penguin hurried past. Sony a7rIII, Sony 400mm f/2.8. ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/800s, handheld.

Muench Workshops Pro Michael Strickland: The vast untouched wilderness of Antarctica bewilders the mind. Sailing through the Neumayer Channel, the wind stopped and the water turned to glass, while the setting midnight sun began to break through the wisps of last remaining snow and cloud cover. While the sun never completely broke through, its presence warmed the scene and produced some of the more breathtaking light I've photographed.

Muench Workshops Pro Kevin Pepper: Penguins are at almost every landing in Antarctica. After taking hundreds of photos, I decided to think outside the box and start taking more unique images of the penguins in unique positions and situations. In this photo, I went up right behind a snow bank and used the foreground snow to blur out the bottom half of the image to give this image a unique minimalist look.

Muench Workshops Pro Randy Hanna: The warmth of the penguin rookery is a stark contrast to the cold waters and ice flows of the Antarctic environment. While photographing in the Antarctic regions, I am simply amazed at all of the life found here and the harsh conditions that must be overcome. Using a wide angle lens and a moderate f/stop, I was able to keep everything in focus from the edge of the rookery to the distant background. Shot with a Hasselblad H6D100C and a 24mm lens.

Antarctica: It’s “hotter” than you think

Debunking "You're' crazy, it's way too cold there!"

Having read the book, “Endurance,” visions of Schackelton’s ship frozen in the Antarctic ice, and of penguins huddled in unbearably cold conditions, struggling to protect their eggs, came to mind as I prepared for my first Antarctic expedition. How would I deal with the bitter cold of this foreboding land?

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Flash forward to the December day we landed at Hydrurga Rocks, with the sun shining so strongly, I had to peel off layers to avoid overheating! All those fears of a brutal chill quickly vanished.  

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Indeed, Antarctic expeditions are not as cold as you might think. Sure, weather conditions will vary from day to day and minute to minute, but most visitors benefit from the moderate temperatures, typically in the 30s, Fahrenheit, and even warmer. Sure, it can get a bit colder on a ship’s deck, or as you cruise the bays in a zodiac. Rain or snow can make things feel a bit colder, too. But there’s no need for special

expedition gear. All you need is to think in layers. And then let the thrill of photographic possibilities provide added warmth!

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I started out with a simple base layer (a T shirt), and then added some nice merino wool thermal underwear. For my legs, all that was really needed beyond that was a pair of DWR (durable water repellent) pants. Waterproof pants, or a rain pant shell, for the occasional spray of water or wet seat while on the zodiac, DWR is fine. (By the way, rain is highly unlikely. Did you know that technically, Antarctica is a desert?)

Up top, I went with a sweater (fleece is good, too), topped with a down jacket and a rain shell. The shell helps break the wind, providing warmth on the zodiac rides. A neck gaiter is nice for colder weather, and is easily stowed in a pocket or pack when it’s too warm for it. A warm beanie to cap it all off, and I was all set.

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The ship provided rubber boots for the landings, so I didn’t need to pack hiking boots or anything special. The only shoes needed are the ones I wore on board. A couple of layers of thick, warm wool socks were great to keep my feet warm while onshore or on the zodiac.

With this, the weather and temperatures were such a non-issue that I had no trouble immersing all my senses into the amazing wildlife and landscapes that surrounded me. Like penguins hopping from rock to rock, tending their nests, or waddling to the sea to feed, clean themselves off, and play in the water. It’s a mesmerizing display.  Or two humpback whales, as they played right next to and below our ship for well over an hour. Or seals sunning themselves on shore.

Visiting and photographing Antarctica was a life-changing experience, and now I’m looking forward to the next expedition with even more excitement. What will be different this time? I’ll worry less, and enjoy it more!