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Photographing South Georgia Island

Lesson 4 from: Maximizing the Potential of Remote Locations: Arctic to Antarctic

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

4. Photographing South Georgia Island

Lesson Info

Photographing South Georgia Island

And then finally, I'm going to end to one of my favorite places, which is south george island. It is simply put, my favorite place on the planet when it comes to natural history. It's, an island that's, got the mountains this fall barred it's got glaciers, it's got iceberg. But it's also got million it's and millions of penguins and seals and it's so remote it's, four hundred miles southeast of the falkland islands, which in and of themselves are remote. So you're in a landscape that is really quiet. You hardly ever see another person down there, but what you do see are the king penguins, and they're one of the species of penguins that are mushrooming in numbers these days because is the climate changes the waters around south georgia, warm mork real that thrive in the waters are reproducing and that's what these animals the penguins are eating, they're amazing penguin there, the my favorite penguin there or they've got this gold and silver color. They looked like they were put togethe...

r by a team of designers. I love shooting these tight shots. You know what sharp, sharp focused on the feathers. You know, they took their heads around in their feathers when they sleep, just that color palette is great to work with and then as much as I can sometimes I shoot straight on and is analogous to photographing the ice and the reflections of the ice it's about symmetry and if you can look straight down the beak of a penguin you can play to the strength of the design of course you're shooting at f twenty two to get depth of field and I've done that with not only king penguins but rock coppers ten two's chin straps there all on south georgia island so when I'm talking penguins in numbers, I'm not talking ten thousand birds I'm talking hundreds of thousands of birds in many rookeries so you come ashore and you're our senses of smell and hearing and sight are overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of birds right in front of you so the brown ones are the babies and king penguins become a great subject because what patterns repetition of similar shape so I'm going to fill the frame with front and lighting and then I'm going to walk around on the back side of this referee and shoot him backlit same light just a few minutes away coming away with two distinctly different shots. These penguins these babies were last year's chicks, so unlike most birds it takes him over a year and a half to attain their adult plumage so last year's ticks are pushed out the recre they're hanging out together they're all like pimply teenagers, they're awkward now the mothers are back on the egg and hatching the next set so that's one of the reasons they're very, very successful and I've been down on south georgia in the middle of the winter camping and, uh these are the shots I'm after, you know that sense of place atmospheric conditions, you know, still photography for me is an extension of what I was doing with the tv show. I want people to come away knowing a place if I could convey a sense of smell you would really know this place because you just the smell of the place kind of pervades your clothes and you get back to the ship and everybody smells a little bit like guano but ok and that's maybe a negative but is well worth the positive of seeing the sights to see this place. And if the babies start to feel better about themselves and adult will wander right through the middle of them to remind him how ugly they look like you know, they look like miniature brown bears their their feathers, they're down feathers looked like the fur of a brown bear this close this thing I can think of and these guys are really, really poorly they can withstand the harshest days on the south georgia and not an andy standing cold water just call their bodies when I first went to south georgia in nineteen eighty one, there was just a tiny group of, um, for seals existing and you could wander almost all of south georgia without ever seeing a first deal today, there's three million of them so span of what? Nineteen eighty we're talking thirty five years or so it's the greatest comeback story of any mammal in the history of the planet they were hunted to near extinction in the fifties when the whaling industry crashed. They thought they hunted the last personnel there was thirteen left on the tiny island and from those thirteen there's three million first seals on the silent I'm just going to end this diatribe by show you a little bit from the film clip travels the edge, and what you're looking at is the antithesis of a first year for seals look and act like a wolf, very sharp teeth. They're very aggressive there a prime ah predator on the island, not on the island, but in the seas around it the elephant seal babies or call weiner's. They're called weiner's because they've just been weaned by their mothers and they grow to be the largest steel on the planet over a ton several times say they can grows long is twenty five feet, they dive deeper than any other seals, so everything about elephant seal is major but when they're babies they're only about two hundred pounds and if you arrive right after the mothers have gone out to sea they're looking for mother's milk and they they have no hesitation to come up to you so that's what you're going to see here way you know so don't touch my land way said don't do that excuse that's you he pressed me do you think I look like your mother that's a baby got more feeling oh yeah well with that I'm bringing my presentation to end has any questions about anything shooting whatever yes on the extension tube's when you're doing macro shots other than losing a stop or two of light do you find that they cost any quality in sharpness or details? So what you're confusing is extension tube's with xt spenders so extenders have glasses in them and you do lose a stop of light and extension tube is like a napkin ring is hollow all it does is move out the front element of the lens from the plane of where the digital is and the farther out that goes the closer recon focus so it's very cheap you don't lose inequality because there's no loss of clarity of the lands so it's a lightweight great all alternative to owning a macro lens or macro filters on that this lady has a question yeah I'm wondering about protecting your gear from water from seals not from whatever how do you do that? Yeah, most times I'm not trying to protect the cameras because I'm not out there and just torrential rains and if a little mud a little guano gets on there, I just simply wipe it down. I'm not overly protective of it. Earlier this year, I was in india, where we were photographing holy where they're throwing paint and for about five dollars, or I think there's about five dollars, we about plastic um protectors that went over entirely the lens and we used cheap filters on the front of it, and I'm glad we did that because we were virtually covered in paint virtually covered in paint and it would've ruined the camera, so for a very inexpensive amount of money and they're compact, you could actually put in your pack and on those days where you've got to be out shooting and really blowing snow and it's often those elements arraigned the snow, the mist that makes a shot more artistic and more memorable. You'd want to have a little bit of protection, but you'd be surprised I usually use just a handkerchief or something I dept out, you know, I'm using fairly high end cameras that are wonders sealed, so the cheaper the cameras are usually cheaper because they're not as watertight but for, you know, the brands I'm using their they're fine but I'm not holding my camera under a waterfall either but a little bit of miss that we hear have here I'm not worrying about yes art so it seems like when you started a new location you're quite methodical he get the cityscape you get people, you get a lay of the land he talk a little bit about the connections you make with the people and how it sort of opens up your eyes them sharing sort of secrets or tips about their place great question you know, in the case of fall barred you know their western culture so that was really easy you know they love their dogs, they're proud of their dogs, they're likely entrepreneurial they want people interested in what they're doing with their dogs. But if it's india or any other place I good a third of what I do is cultural photography where I'm going into remote places where they're not western there they're in trouble africa tribal, amazon I just basically as we're talking we have eye contact I'm smiling I'm looking at the camera if I have no language I can communicate I'm going to show him the camera often I put the camera in their hands I'd make him look through the viewfinder I put their finger on the view on the clicker, they take a picture and in today's world they can see the back of the camera now, some tribes never have seen a camera in their life and that's a revelation I mean, you've got to calm him down after that experience but is laughing and engaging them as opposed to kind of sneaking around and trying to take a picture that they don't want taken that's a recipe for consternation and if they're upset, you take that upset in this on and it changes the way you shoot so I have first and foremost engage the audience are my subjects, and in the tv show you would see how I put the cameras into the hands of these late old lady aboriginals in northern australia and have them take a picture and it is fun if you really respond to people on a uniquely human comforting, open way it's amazing how people just khun read you on dh except you and that's how I engage people solved just body language. Really? Yes, when you were shooting the kind of the twilight shoots in iceland from helicopters and airplanes, how do you deal with? I assumed shutter speed with vibration but still being able to maintain quality of shots it goes back to you know, whether you should nikon or cannon or sony or any of the major brands, the iast sos in the advancement of technology is part and parcel why I'm so enthusiastic and doing this seven days a week new opportunities open up and historically with film you know I started taking pictures when I s o twenty five was what we were using kodachrome twenty five and when we went to fifty oh my god that was heavy stop I'm not worthy of that and now with my particular camera I feel comfortable pumping up the I s o two four thousand at four thousand I'm still getting a really good image and a slight noise adjustment can you make it look like it's perfect and so in a helicopter even a twilight four thousand is a fast shutter speed and I think with a helicopter anything if you can attain ah shutter speed of the five hundredth of a second you're mitigating any vibration from the helicopter and so five hundred had four thousand is not hard to do because why are you shooting your shooting from from space you're shooting aerials where you don't really need great depth of field because everything's on the same playing field so I'm using perhaps four point five or five six aperture opening because everything's and focus and that permits and a faster shutter speed and with s o four thousand in the darkest part of that entire shoot of the snow or of the lava I was still able to maintain at least a minimum of five hundredth of a second so things are changing uh great it's a great time to be a photographer quite honestly and staying in iceland those northern lights you know, yeah, we could photograph northern lights twenty five years ago, but you're shooting a much longer exposure and northern lights are moving. They're just constantly moving and those longer exposures would ruin the shot simply because our eye wants something sharp to focus on and today now we can shoot sharp shots of stars the milky way I shot a beautiful shot of the milky way over mount rainier last august, just being up at sunrise and I keep on checking my head is like it was only a myth on idea five or six years ago. Now you can do it so yeah, if your interest in photography now's the time to be really interested and cameras just keep getting better the people that so I miss my old film, you know, they're dinosaurs. They should be in a museum exhibit. Yes, that kind of leads into my question, which was going to be about what you're processes for post production, you know how you approach it and and what you do and so forth. Okay, well, I'm a little neurotic. No kidding, I am typing all the way that means when I'm shooting before I go to bed that night, even if I get back to the room at eleven a, m p m I mean the download gonna andrew of the film into labrum and I will virtually go through every shot I just have shot that kind of a good day I cannot not do that I cannot fall asleep and so I enter everything in the labrum and lightly I'll make a collection and pull things into the collection and on a good day I'll have worked on probably didn't ten or fifteen things I use imports meaning I usually use in libra my use five points of saturation twenty five points of vibrancy ten points of clarity and those air my presets and then I another preset is fifty points of sharpness so fifty points of sharpness is good enough for anything on the internet anything in a lecture like this if it's ever going to be made a print or of its in tv production then we take that away and then it sharpens through a different process like for instance we make prince with absence so we're going toe sharpen it through photoshopped rather than light room but all that's changing still because the latest incarnation of light room is now incorporating more and more of what you could do with photo shop so things are changing but all getting better but basically my work flow is to do most of the work and is not a whole lot but it's making the digital capture which is raw look mme or like the film die historically was using in last fifteen years of my film career, which was fuji chrome bell bia I've found that had the cleanest color and christmas of color and that's what my digital captures look like today and so shooting in raw importing them in a liar um exporting amount of light room into either original with ex mp ex mp files or as j pegs that's just the work flow now when I bring it home they're uploaded into our archives and there's a couple of girls in my office that are much better at prepping an image if it's going to be it made into a print or if it's going into book productive I don't touch any of that I'm reticent to touching it any more than what I've done simply because I don't want to become fixated on the computer I still want to be out tormenting humans and bothering animals yes, so another question we've talked about the technology and that provides motivation for you but you've been doing this for more than forty years you've showed pictures that you've been two places around the world many, many times how do you keep fresh artistically and how do you avoid it? Writer's block it's just by showing you what I've just done, you know, evolving it you know, I'm shooting things today that I would never even seen three years ago, so I'm constantly moving the carrot forward too keep moving! I've seen too many of my colleagues have just run out of steam, run out of ideas often in my classes I get people that have have they they used to shoot film, they ran out of ideas. Now, everybody's shooting with digital, they got a digital camera, but they're still how many times can you shoot the grand canyon before it becomes redundant? So I'm trying to expand their imagination and open up their playing field? If I learn and I teach it tomorrow, so I'm eating exactly what I'm doing. I'm not I don't covet on have secrets, everything I dio I'm trying to teach because I believe that if people become better photographers, it makes me work that much harder to become a better photographer and it's that laziness and, uh, um, what's a better word for it blood zaniness about say, I've done that, I want to move on. I think that there's a lot to be done as a still photographer that have never done and that's the challenge and you can feel it in my voice. I'm not like performing for you. I'm speaking my heart right now, and I just did a shoot this past weekend where I, um, shooting with models and playing them up and turning them into landscapes. And that's new and is no for the last three or four years but it keeps evolving I'm doing a shaman siri's you know, I've got more ideas in time and the idea is if you always have an idea and purpose, you'll never die I'm living in denial but you know it's like moving forward and I love teaching that I love conveying that onto my students thank you very much. So with the advent of the internet and the explosion of social media facebook, instagram flicker you name it photography has been opened up to so many people what do you think about that particular phenomena? And then what would you suggest to photographers to maybe stand out in the crowd I noticed earlier you said you know, a lot of people have shot that grand canyon shot zoom in so what do you think about that explosion in social media? And then what would you suggest the photographers to stand out to really kind of highlight there personal touch I think you have to work hard that's a multi questioned question I think first and foremost you have to follow your heart and your passion a whether you ever make money from this or not is secondary to having something in your life where you feel excited and there's a lot of people that are being entertained by the talents of other people so the first thing is money is just one element making a living should be secondary to having something that you're excited about because people that are creative people that have a passion live longer lives. I studied that what? The impressions period painters that lived in late eighteen hundreds they lived into their late eighties and nineties at a time where the average human male would die around forty eight. So what does that tell you about using that part of your brain that's nourished by excitement and creativity so that I wanted to get out? I think in the age of social media you have to use all of that. I run a business where I've got five employees I used to have eleven we've downsized, as did most people in two thousand eight, but I want to keep those five people that I've been working with a couple of them for over twenty five years, so there's an obligation to keep the boat running in the right direction so social media is something we do, but and more and more people have become photographers and that makes a little neurotic in age of stock. But I love that challenge because it forces me to reinvent myself, to see things new, to constantly have that little bit of hunger and I'm when people say, oh my god, you have arrived, you must be happy, fat and sassy, well yeah, I could lose. It may be a pound, but I'm not lazy and I'm not ever sitting back. I'm all actually amazed when anybody actually ever knows my name or even recognizes me, because I don't assume that I go in any situation, assuming nobody has a clue who I am and that's a good thing, because I think if you think of yourself, has really arrived and you're on the top of the world and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you got to get lazy and you can lose that drive and drive and enthusiasm and creativity is all part of being an artist and being, you know, out there teaching and, you know, inspiring other people. So social media is just part of building that community. We we teach from the community, but it's also, you know, I don't look at stock is a viable way of making money, so I'm relying on teaching, doing the tv show and giving inspirational. So that's, my little niece that I try to foster.

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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