It always seemed so unattainable to me. But after two days at sea, and a year of anticipation, I was mesmerized when we first caught sight of a few rocks off Elephant Island through the thick fog – harbingers of our imminent arrival on the fabled White Continent. There is no wilder place on Earth, nowhere more remote, more inhospitable.
And as I found out over the six weeks following that moment in early January 2017, you’d be hard-pressed as a photographer to find another location on the planet that is more overwhelming. The photo opportunities just kept on coming, and I’ll never forget the sense of remoteness, the way life thrived on a whole other level, and the scale of the land down there. I’m thankful for One Ocean Expeditions for bringing me on board.
Amazingly, I managed to underestimate how many photographs I would take on the trip. When I returned home from the White Continent, the hard drives were filled to the brim, and between test shots, time-lapses, bracketed sequences and such, I came home with 40,000 files! I’m just starting to put a dent into all that material, but I would like to share some of the early results with you.
Antarctica is a place that will stay with me forever, and I very much look forward to revisiting my experience there through the thousands of photographs. I hope you enjoy the sneak peek!
Click on any image to enlarge and start the slideshow.
The scale of South Georgia is absolutely overwhelming. Massive mountains grace the horizon. Glaciers are colossal. Penguins come by the thousands. Fur seals are everywhere you look. And the island itself is 2,000 km from the nearest mainland – isolation beyond description. I took this from our ship, the Vavilov, on an early morning at Gold Harbour, a place of incredible beauty. This is a penguin highway, which is simply a path of least resistance the animals continuously follow. In the back is the rapidly receding, spectacular Bertrab Glacier. By the way, the Canon 100-400 was by far my most used lens on the trip. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
I’ve taken my share of selfies, but never with penguins, fur seals and elephant seals looking on. That morning at St Andrews Bay was a highlight of the time spent on South Georgia with One Ocean Expeditions. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
A trio of synchronized whales swim into the endless Antarctica sunset. We saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of cetaceans that evening in the Gerlache Strait. The ice and mountains alone were just breathtaking. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Love the mysterious, deep blue hues of Antarctic icebergs… Lemaire Channel, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
This was one of the most entertaining wildlife encounters we had on South Georgia: a macaroni penguin and a blue-eyed shag fighting over a little rock island. I think I took 100 shots of that interaction, but with the subjects moving and the zodiac bobbing around on the waves, I never quite got the composition where I want it… This is the best one of the lot. A wonderful wildlife moment in the middle of nowhere. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
A self-portrait taken on Petermann Island on the Antarctic peninsula. Between the gentoo penguins, the huge icebergs floating by, and the distant glaciated peaks, this is one place I found particularly overwhelming as a photographer. Just incredible. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
They had warned me that South Georgia would turn anyone into a wildlife photographer… Hard to ignore those three king penguins backlit by a fiery sunrise. This was at St Andrews Bay, meaning there were another 100,000 penguins right behind me. Just mind-blowing. I’d never seen life thrive at that level. This is the largest penguin colony on the island. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
As we explored the coast of the island that morning, we all did our best to simplify our compositions, usually by isolating one or two animals. But the truth is, South Georgia is an incredibly cluttered place. It’s a compositional mess of colours, textures and lines. So here’s a crowded image I feel is representative of that amazing island! A lot of the detail is lost here on social media but I hope it conveys a sense of the place. Fortuna Bay, South Georgia. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Ice in Antarctica comes in all shapes, sizes, textures and shades of blue. A paradise for the cryophile. The turquoise ramparts of this iceberg were particularly mesmerizing. Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Gloomy morning at Fortuna Bay, South Georgia. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
I think it’s fair to say gentoo penguins look rather clumsy above the surface. Underwater though, they move with incredible speed and precision. I took 500 shots. A handful had penguins in them… Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Hiking on the peninsula, a sacred place. For me, every step was a privilege in that precious, stunning part of the world. In the background is the Conscripto Ortiz refuge, run by Argentina. Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Camping on the 7th continent… Would you? I settled into my “moat” for the obligatory self-portrait and then realized the surroundings were just too good to pass up. I spent a sleepless, exhilarating, peaceful night exploring and photographing beautiful Leith Cove before returning to the ship. Leith Cove, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Penguin life has its challenges. Gruesome, I know, but a reminder that leopard seals and other predators constantly prowl the icy waters of the Antarctic peninsula (good thing to keep in mind for the underwater photographer too I suppose). Danco Island, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
I really wished I hadn’t used the word “epic” so much before going to Antarctica. I think we all ran out of superlatives soon after reaching the continent… Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
An Adelie penguin reaches the extent of the sea ice, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Self-portrait at the edge of the world. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Brash ice, cirrus clouds and mammoth peaks – a perfect afternoon on the White Continent. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
An albatross conveniently soars through the frame as crepuscular rays rain down on the peaks of South Georgia. So much beauty in that remote corner of the world. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Iceberg illuminated by the sun, Antartica. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
A lone Adelie penguin seemingly runs out of sea ice off of the Antarctic peninsula. As for us, we ran out of water. This encounter marked the southernmost extent of our journey: about 67 degrees, somewhere in Lallemand Fjord. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.