Image of an iceberg above and below the surface in Antarctica.

It truly is true that the majority of an iceberg is underwater.

The ship pitches and rolls among the many swells that ship sea spray excessive into the air because the metallic prow slaps in opposition to the water. My eyes are mounted straight forward, straining to see the horizon, misplaced within the infinite span of blue-white. An albatross skims throughout the scene, dipping its wing right into a wave earlier than disappearing into the mist. The one break within the ongoing rhythm and roar between the ship and the ocean is from my shipmates, lots of whom are inexperienced and groaning with seasickness. Our two-day trek by means of the world’s roughest seas, referred to as the Drake Passage, was certainly an journey in itself.

As we navigated the Beagle Channel on the very backside of South America, I questioned if photographing Antarctica would reside as much as my childhood goals. Or if, like most childhood goals, the world’s coldest, driest continent wouldn’t match the pictures I’d already made in my creativeness.

Image of a sunset in Antarctica.Image of a sunset in Antarctica.

Sundown over Enterprise Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. The iceberg within the backside left is bigger than a soccer stadium.

Antarctica’s Enduring Mystique

Antarctica intrigued me lengthy earlier than I grew to become a photographer. I grew up studying the extraordinary accounts of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, Sir Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton, and all the continent grew to mythic proportions in my thoughts. Against this, Captain James Prepare dinner discovered himself pissed off by impassable ice in 1773, declaring Antarctica to “not be definitely worth the discovery.” I longed to see for myself what this land of thriller was actually all about.

Image of Station A, taken while photographing Antarctica.Image of Station A, taken while photographing Antarctica.

Based in 1944 throughout World Struggle II, “Station A” at Port Lockroy was the primary British base in Antarctica.

The considered enduring the Drake Passage solely to be dumped out on the ice to try to survive shouldn’t be one thing I can start to think about. We caught a glimpse of this once we landed at Port Lockroy, also referred to as “Station A” (the primary British Antarctic Survey base, in operation since 1944). Little greater than a hut surrounded by penguins, the bottom was residence to meteorologists and geologists for years at a time. The usual keep was 30 months, a lot of which was within the infinite darkish of the Antarctic winter. 

What’s the magic of photographing Antarctica? What drives individuals to cross oceans, endure infinite summers and winters and add extra layers of clothes than one ever thought potential? Is it really price seeing, or is it simply intriguing due to its remoteness?

Image of a cave in an iceberg.Image of a cave in an iceberg.

An Antarctic shag (a type of cormorant) shelters in a cave carved out of an iceberg.

The primary reply comes from the icebergs that start to seem lengthy earlier than reaching the continent. They’re initially small, lonely blocks which have been weathered clean of their sea voyage. Nearer to land, the bergs grow to be extra sculptural—profound artistic endeavors carved by water and wind. Antarctic regulars even have terminology for various sorts and sizes of icebergs. The little ones are “growlers,” “bergy bits” are concerning the dimension of an SUV, and people which are thought of “full-grown” might be bigger than soccer stadiums.

Amongst The Bergs

The closest factor to icebergs I’d beforehand photographed have been slot canyons in Arizona. Each share the identical property of being a little bit overwhelming to {photograph} since discovering a composition amongst all the curves might be difficult. Just like slot canyons, the angle of the solar utterly modifications the colours of the ice—however icebergs even have the distinctive ingredient of compression. As glacial ice ages, compression squeezes the air out, abandoning one in every of nature’s true wonders: blue ice. The shades of blue vary from deep cobalt to virtually white, and I eagerly scouted for these hues.

Image of an iceberg with a strangely sculptural appearance.Image of an iceberg with a strangely sculptural appearance.

The deep blue colour in icebergs comes from older ice that has been compressed a lot that all the tiny air bubbles have been pressed out.

My favourite picture of the journey got here out of a second of sheer panic. I used to be stress-free in shorts and a T-shirt within the ship’s inside once I noticed an approaching berg with dozens of parallel, vertical stripes in a gorgeous deep blue. I ran barefoot to the open deck, and it was all I might do to decelerate, compose my body, examine my publicity and shoot. It was solely minutes later that I returned to the heat of the ship with frozen toes and trembling arms, thrilled with what I noticed on my LCD display screen.

In Pursuit Of Wildlife

Whereas it’s true that icebergs really feel quintessentially Antarctic, its wildlife—colonies of penguins and leopard seals that prey on these penguins—is equally as photogenic. What extra might a photographer ask for? Extra time. I might really feel each second ticking by.

To benefit from the time I did have, I not solely photographed above water, however I additionally dove with my underwater gear virtually daily; I needed my shot to make pictures within the crystal-clear Antarctic water. And I had one thing particular in thoughts.

Image of gentoo penguins taken while photographing Antarctica.Image of gentoo penguins taken while photographing Antarctica.

Gentoo penguins usually enter the water in teams. Researchers disagree on whether or not that is for their very own security or to extend their probabilities of a profitable hunt.

Earlier than I even arrived on the ice, I had pre-visualized {a photograph} of penguins diving in entrance of an iceberg. Having discovered an lively penguin colony adjoining to a properly formed berg, I equipped and dove in—and proceeded to spend the longest 40 minutes of my photographic profession. Floating 15 toes beneath the floor of 34° Fahrenheit water, I waited for the peerlessly framed picture of mountains, an iceberg and swimming penguins. Low on air and shivering from the freezing water, I climbed again into the boat with out having seen a single penguin. Virtually instantly, a rush of penguins hit the water. To a tiny penguin mind, an extended, darkly clad, bubble-blowing mammal was indistinguishable from a leopard seal, so that they stayed dry till the coast was clear to keep away from turning into dinner. Survival of the fittest, I suppose.

Photographing Antarctica: The Dream Shot

As a lot because the penguins needed to keep away from turning into prey, of all of my hopes and goals for Antarctica, photographing a leopard seal underwater was my one true bucket checklist merchandise. Whereas being up shut with an apex predator sounds perilous, the hazard might be minimized with an excellent understanding of the animal’s habits and the setting—identical to with most different sorts of wildlife pictures. The principle factor to recollect is to not stress out the animal, and it most likely gained’t assault you.

Image of a leopard seal.Image of a leopard seal.

A leopard seal, one in every of Antarctica’s apex predators, naps on an iceberg within the Fish Islands.

Leopard seals might be elusive, however we have been fortunate sufficient to search out just a few, some lolling about on icebergs, some swimming and a few that appeared to lose curiosity in us the second they determined we weren’t meals. As if to sprint my bucket checklist goals, none of them have been in a dive-friendly setting. The closest we got here was with an enormous and curious feminine that slipped off her berg and got here to mess around our zodiac. The water was clear, the seal was playful, and every part was good—aside from the tall and doubtlessly unstable iceberg proper subsequent to us. The prospect of getting trapped beneath that didn’t appear to be a good suggestion (nor was it allowed by the guides), so again on the bucket checklist that dream picture went.

Exterior The Body

Past photographing Antarctica, a part of what drew me to this extraordinary place is that it’s quickly altering, and we don’t understand how lengthy it would truly feel and look because it does at this time. One in every of my fellow adventurers took his first journey to Antarctica over 50 years in the past, and as we visited locations the place he’d beforehand hung out, his commentary of, “There was once way more ice,” grew to become routine. Just like the Arctic, Antarctica is melting. Between 2014 and 2017, the continent misplaced 16 p.c of its ice protection, based on a research of 40 years of satellite tv for pc observations reported by the Nationwide Academy of Sciences. Attributable to local weather change, this wondrous continent will seemingly grow to be unrecognizable inside our lifetime.

Image of a boat leaving Antarctica.Image of a boat leaving Antarctica.

As a storm breaks, a ship leaves port from Ushuaia, Argentina, one of many foremost ports of departure to cross the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula.

For many people, Antarctica is a must-photograph—however fickle—vacation spot. It’s a rare dedication of each money and time and is unpredictable once you get there. The query I’ve been requested essentially the most is whether or not it was price all the hassle. Surely, it was. I extremely suggest that if you are interested in seeing this distant marvel, go sooner fairly than later.

I do know I’ll return. As Jon Krakauer mentioned, “Antarctica has this mythic weight. It resides within the collective unconscious of so many individuals, and it makes this large impression, identical to outer house. It’s like going to the moon.” And as soon as upon the Antarctic moon simply isn’t sufficient. Apart from, I’ve acquired a bucket checklist that’s lacking my underwater {photograph} of a leopard seal. 


See extra of Jon McCormack’s work at jonmccormack.com.

<!–
default-gravatardefault-gravatar
Textual content & Pictures By Jon McCormack –>

(function(d, s, id) {
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = “https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.6”;
fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

Shop Amazon