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Photographing Antarctica

Lesson 3 from: Maximizing the Potential of Remote Locations: Arctic to Antarctic

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

3. Photographing Antarctica

Lesson Info

Photographing Antarctica

Antarctica has been a place that helped my career because right out of college here in seattle at the university of washington, I graduated with degrees in painting in art education but within ah year I met somebody that was forming a company called society expeditions and they were among the very first if not the first people in america to bring tourism tan article and I talked my way about aboard the ship I traded photos for free passage and I got down to antarctica in the very early eighties and so many of my really good friends and colleagues hadn't gotten down there and until probably ten years ago, I was down there over forty years ago and so I got penguins and I really love the place and when when you think of antarctica and I'm leading two trips in this next year one in november of next year and then fall and one in december of this year when you think of antarctica, you think of this, I'm thinking this is what most people think of antarctica, you know I'm not going to go down ...

arctic, I'll be happy to look at your pictures, but in fact, as I said earlier it's at the height of the summer, there were some record temperatures in an article this past winter I was down there in just light shirt light jacket it was, I think I think the temperature was around seventy five degrees on a couple of days, which sounds great, but that means a lot of changes happening right? So I have shot the shots in full out blizzards upon ellesmere island and other places this was actually in antarctica and it was one of my students years ago there was blowing snow I said get up under that snow I wantto take a picture of you know, the blowing stone front of you it wasn't that cold and once I get up under the ice and I look out and using those um vertical columns of ice icicles to really frame the distant landscape last december I was down there early december as you know, I went there right before iceland and it was a full moon and you know, with the full moon at that time of the year you have like ours to photograph the full moon it's just going down and slowly across the horizon in a couple hours you're getting the moon rise and so if full moon was what you're after on a clear day you've got all these up opportunities, same moon, same night, very different location so antarctica is a place if one can physically get down there or if you have the economy to get down there, I believe, you know, our lives are short, you know, you know that now you see that every tick of the clock that life is precious life is worth living and why would you not want to go to a place as beautifully and that symbolizes the remoteness of the earth's planet in ah ah world where we wake up and we travel six hours to new york and what do you see in new york you see you know the same stores you see in seattle or san francisco or l a and that's true now in london and other places there's a homogenization of the earth and so why would you want not to go to these beautiful and austere places and now you have the economy to do that you know there's enough ships to go down there what I'm trying to do it again and again is to pull out textures in lines and create depth with the various ways the light falls on the subject late in the day so now we're talking about working in the margins of the day when the sun is up when it's dark here in seattle at four o'clock it is like today on lee in december down there so you have these very long daylight hours and so often europe till twelve o'clock shooting the light and if you don't go to bed you can shoot all night long so you're deep south in antarctica but I see beauty in the farm and the way the light falls across the ice backlighting you know one side of the boat ship you're shooting with backlighting the other one full light it's there's a lot of different ways you can translate antarctica you can give it an all out blizzard you can get it on these clear summer long days of the antarctic summer exquisite beautiful amazing it again it reminds me of the watercolor washes I was doing as a college student and then again there's the ice on a larger scale. You know playing with arches and looking through things and you have that ability because you're always on zodiac rafts these nineteen foot rubber rafts that you khun tool through the landscape and I think icebergs are amazing subjects I mean this column of ice would rise one hundred fifty feet one hundred fifty feet tall and it's seven tenths of it lies below the surface so you have scaled unlike you would find in the arctic the antarctic has the most ice and house the biggest glacier has the biggest iceberg. So front lighting backlighting playing with conveying a sense of the place is the mission and then I go for the more abstract looking at light and form trying to those shapes graphic details so all of those are part of the litany of shooting and these kind of locations if you've gone through the entire effort of getting down to antarctica, you do not want just to shoot an iceberg or a penguin or one thing or the other you want to try to shoot the breath of a place you fall into bed at night in your bunk in your cabin, exhausted and then the next day is a new day so and the ice is so different. You know, this one is modeled by is location on the glacier earlier in its life. And now as it's floating around in the ice, all that tumultuous surface is coming into play, and on the back side is just this cut glass landscape, so we have amazing subjects to it not exploit but to take in as we travel. You know my backgrounds art, as I've said numerous times tonight, but I also use that history as an artist to find things that remind me of some of the paintings I used to stay like georgia o'keeffe. This looks like a georgia o'keeffe landscape, the austerity of the land. People have honestly sat across the dinner table and said, why would you ever go to antarctica just cold and it's like look at that that's like a ancient castle of ice is so dramatic why would you not want to experience that in your lifetime? Why would you not want to see that it's incredible this planet we live on, but so many people are just happy to go to disneyland where here you have these amazing places, I turn things in the black and white. As I said earlier, I look at the details playing with form, being on a small sailboat, traveling to antarctica. I would be so afraid, people often will not go to antarctica because they're fearful of crossing the drake passage, this tumultuous body of water between south america and antarctica. And I've crossed it twenty times, and only a couple of times has there been a storm most times it's, a fairly smooth sailing. Now I don't suffer from sea sickness, but there are certainly ways to get across, uh, would patches and, uh, whatever, but is worth the effort to get across. This is within an island called deception island. It's a crater is like crater late on ly you have access from the ocean. So is a protected, calm water within this volcanic island. And that beautiful sailboat just was perfect with those very slow, narrow slices of snow what's interesting to me, too, is the fact that when I first started going to antarctica, you would be lucky to see a whale in the distance. And yet, over the years, every time I go down there, I swear to god, there's, mohr, and more whales, and last december, we got into of see, that was just across the bay whale after whale after whale and these were finned whales. These air, the second largest whales, second largest animal that's ever lived on the face of the planet are the whales and so blue whales here the biggest finn wells and the next and it epitomizes what's happening in the oceans right now most of the major well species air coming back they're not to the numbers they were pre whaling but they are coming back and now is really, really common to see humpbacks. Mickey's this little minke whale was following the open lead that we created with ours o'dea so just followed like a dog through the water so humpbacks orcas um, I'm sure we've seen blue whales down there and now finned wins so it's taken since the end of the rial official wailing days of the fifties that's when officially ended in south georgia number it took on very long time but now all the major species air starting to re populate the planet there's a humpback whale and then there's the penguins and that's really? Why people probably would be willing to cross ah and go down article they have zero fear of human there's, a responsible tourism that's going in, but from a photographic point of view I knew when I shot this shot that was going to crop into panoramic so therefore what did I do? I did several things I lower dia so so I have the smallest eso which enables me to crop significantly into panoramic without, you know, losing a whole lot of pixels I shot aperture that was appropriate and in this particular case I was far enough away from them that at f eleven with a wide angle lens meant I had clarity from the foreground chinstrap penguins to the distant mountains and then I cropped as ah linear landscape poor traits portrait's part of it conveying you know the strangeness of these creatures like the adelie penguins in particular are the iceberg emperor penguins are icebergs these a delhi's are even mohr tuned to the ice they have strange looks, they look like they're on cocaine there just strange things that come waddling right up to you and look straight up at you with those bug eyes they're great great subject and again with an animal that's pretty approachable you could move yourself into all sorts of positions and taking that event into the background. I did a book called the living wild which was all about animals within the context of their environment and so therefore I started looking at the backdrop you know, the first time people go down there's they're so enamored and happy to see the penguins they can photograph a penguin you see all these out of focus people behind it they they're not even aware so I start first and foremost look at the backdrop is there a beautiful mountain and where am I going to be then to put the penguin in the foreground so that's what's happening in here you know single bird mountain environment it says antarctica and a clean simple away clean then there's the unclean the baby's the baby's that live in filth, mud and guano and in the late summer when the temperatures are above freezing the mudge's becomes the soup of guano and mud in these babies just seemed to relish it but the parents are just seemingly ashamed so the down feathers quickly go away and they get into their adult plumage but for a while those little pig styles those little babies so just everything but what you'd want to cuddle hello a mad max going on here you know they lose the feathers on their side and then they got these mohawks their adorably ugly you know they're they're so ugly you got to photograph him so over the years have had lots of opportunities, predictability of movement that penguins go from their rookeries down to the sea and they go on numbers like this and that there's a little bit of a chasm in between you sit there and you can take you know, thirty six shots of birds hopping over there now I say thirty six because that was what I remember from the back film days so you could take analyst shots now and you follow them you follow them down to the sea and when they go into the water they go in great numbers. And why would that be? Because there are leopard seals down there and the leopard seals linger where they know penguins enter the sea and in all that confusion they often can grab one and the penguins enter all at once because they know the leopard seals are there and they know one of theirs might get chomped but there's safety in numbers. So again, you put yourself in a situation where you have the backdrop of the ice, the penguins air small enough in the frame but it conveys that breath of the landscape. Then you go in for deeper, tighter shots and then sometimes you got to seal the leopard seal these guys penguin you've heard a poor pissing well, these guys penguin out of the water at great speeds and sometimes they're just not fast enough and that's part of the natural history or their this shot I like because it's a single analogous to that polar bear shot that I showed you earlier where polar bears surrounded by water as a metaphor for disappearing ice well, one single penguin on a tiny iceberg in a big landscape is also a metaphor for changing in conditions down there, and as I approached this penguin from a zodiac, there was like eight on the iceberg, and they kept on peeling away as we got closer and I kept on wheeling one I just wanted one two is a different story three too crowded one is a metaphor, unfortunately, this one never left a circled it five or six times and took a left so that one really get the message there's a predictability now in recent years, there's an agree upon protocol for photographing in an article where you're not to approach an animal within fifteen feet, but if you just sit down, they're going to come straight up to you so often that's what I'm doing, you know, I'm sitting on the edge of a trail and with a sixteen millimeter wide angle virtually every jan do penguin that walked past me whack me in the face, I'm so close and they're not not going to walk pass me, so here I'm laying on my belly, I'm pre focusing and waiting and they come right up to me within probably five inches, so they're curious animals and so with a shot like that, I'm shooting with a sixteen millimeter wide angle I'm shooting with f twenty two so that from the closest stone to me to the farthest iceberg, everything's attacked sharp, so I'm putting importance on every element by having them clearly distinguished my focus. Sometimes I can't use a tripod. I can't use great depth of field. I put the camera out into the environment of my subject, and I know that the curious, uh, weddell seal is going to see his own reflection. This is a baby and he's going toe see his own reflection and kind of be curious, and that brings them in so foreground would else feel distant, single a deli, and in this case, even closer now he knows me is completely at ease and he's just a few inches away from my lens, so that is a great privilege. Great opportunity to get shots. I looked very different than the kind of shots that would occupy a mammal book of seals around the world, you know, it's being in their environment, there's the intimacy, there's, the eye, contact there's personality and, like and svalbard and iceland lake un's are the plants that thrive in cold environments there, among the slowest, oldest growing plants on earth, and it provides color. So in the otherwise environment of gray rock, whitestone, blue sky, you've got that element of color that I often them using. In france. So I'm drawn towards that. And there are times after you have photographed the seals, the penguins, that you just want to do something different. So I do make time to pull out the intimate landscapes, and sometimes, you know the tight details. It just feels good to have that diverse variety of shots and scale. It's, a very different mental scout. Callous, tannic. You jump through when you're framing a macro type shot versus, you know, trying to stay with the action of a seal hunting a penguin. So I like that variety of skills and variety of photos and my archive.

Ratings and Reviews


Art always does a great job of presenting the challenges involved in shooting in out of the way places. That combined with Creative Live's excellent production make this a great course for anyone interested in photography.

JOy CAdy

Amazing class! Art is a wonderful story teller, captivating his audience. This class has inspired me to look at a composition in a much different way.

Teresa Piccioni

This class is full of inspiration.... great pictures

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