Photos from Antarctica

A trip to Antarctica in 2010, part 1

This is the first of two pages of photos that were taken on a trip to Antarctica on the ship Akademik Ioffe, with Quark Expeditions. I had to break this photo gallery in half because it contains so many images. Click here to view the second page.

To see a book of photos from this trip, visit: Icebergs & Albatrosses

Day 1. First photo of the trip, taken about three seconds after stepping aboard the Akademik Ioffe. Little did I expect that I would take five thousand more over the next week. Don't worry, I cut it down to slightly under three hundred of the best ones that you'll see here.

Our first meeting in the dining room, at 5:30pm. All I remember is something along the lines of, "We plan to leave at 6pm, but this is Argentina. Don't count on it. Get used to flexibility." Not surprisingly, we weren't able to leave at 6pm (apparently because of a delay with customs, in combination with a sudden storm that shut down the port for several hours).

I wasn't really worried about sea-sickness until I saw that the chairs were bolted to the floor.

Ship's muster. Yes, that's cyrillic (Russian) on the board. The ship was built in Finland, but it was a Russian ice-strengthened research vessel. The crew was almost entirely Russian, although the ones that we talked to all spoke a bit of English. "Ice-strengthened" means one step below "ice-breaker," so we didn't really want to get iced-in anywhere.

One of the radio rooms on the ship.

At the end of the voyage, we were still all confused by these fans.

Still waiting at the port, a few hours later.

And yet later again.

A view of the bridge. We had access to it most of the time, as long as we were quiet and behaved.

Starting to get dark, although at least the storm has almost passed over the port.

Some of the ladies were sharing shots of Seaman by this point. I held off.

And if you weren't sure that the ship was Russian, you could always check out the air fresheners. Ok, yes, I was still searching for interesting photo opportunities at this point, since we were still waiting to set sail. Luckily, at about 11pm, the harbour pilot came aboard and we were finally underway. At this point, we were bracing for a severe storm in the Drake Passage (which is already the roughest sea on the planet) so I loaded up with scopolamine and gravol and went to bed.

This was taken on day 2. We were still waiting in the lee of the harbour entrance to the Drake, because the storm in the Drake was so bad. The Captain didn't feel that it was a smart move to go forward, so we basically spent a full day at anchor waiting for the storm to pass. "Be flexible." In retrospect, considering how queasy a lot of the passengers felt for the first two days, I think that was a VERY wise move on the Captain's part. The scopolamine patches seemed to work wonders for me, because I didn't feel queasy and I don't think any other passengers on scopolamine were seasick, but we certainly weren't very perky or in the mood to wander around the ship. That was OK by me - I was completely fine with spending most of the first two days in my cabin, napping between occasional photo shoots around the ship. The Quark expedition staff were hosting lectures and presentations constantly between meals, but I wasn't quite up to them. One of my few regrets from the trip, but probably wise in retrospect.

We had all kinds of birds following the ship throughout the voyage through the Drake, grabbing fish stirred up in the ship's wake. I can't even remember all the types, although I was always interested in bird species when I was growing up. Over the course of the trip, we saw five species of albatross, one type of gull (or maybe two), and a dozen types of petrels and shearwaters. And of course, penguins once we got to Antarctica. It was really hard getting clear shots of the birds, between the constant snow and spray, and the fact that they floated around so much. But I finally got a few good ones. I wish it was possible to show the scale of these ... wikipedia says that their wingspan is ten or eleven feet. Huge.

Our first whale sighting. We saw a few different species, although they were hard to photograph on this particular trip.

All the photos up to this point were roughly in chronological order. The rest are all jumbled up in random order, mostly over days four through seven of the voyage. After that, I had to put my camera down because I had so many photos, and I just wanted to spend the rest of the time looking at the sights around me, so I wouldn't forget them. This, of course, is a penguin colony.

Chinstrap penguins. You can tell this species because it looks like they have a strap under their chin. I think there are about eighteen species of penguins, although I'm not positive. We saw three species: chinstraps, gentoos, and adelaies.

Some floating ice, and some shore ice (or glaciers). I used photoshop to touch up most of these photos slightly (especially with cropping, dimensions, and exposure). However, you'll be surprised to know that some of the photos that you will see here have absolutely no color/exposure/contrast work done to them. A lot of the ice really was this blue! Ice of this blue color means that it has been extremely compressed over a long period of time. By the way, remember that Antarctica (at the "bottom" of the world) is a continent, and has land underneath. Antarctica has penguins. It is a non-political area which does not "belong" to any country, and the entire continent has been delineated as being reserved for scientific research. There are some "bases" in various areas, set up by a dozen or so countries, but they aren't officially part of those countries. The Arctic, in contrast (at the "top" of the world) does NOT have land directly on the surface, under the ice, and instead of penguins it has polar bears.

This photo was probably taken on the first morning that we were in the Zodiacs (motorboats). I was glad that I slept so much going through the Drake, because our schedule was pretty full once we got down to Antarctica. Our first wake-up call on day four was at 5am for an early-morning launch. The beaches were iced-in, so we couldn't actually land, but we spent a few hours just wandering around in the Zodiacs, and saw our first seals and penguins.

It almost looks a bit sunny in this photo. To be honest, we had pretty bad weather on this particular trip. There was really only one day-time period that we had a few hours of sunshine, and you'll see some of the photos later on with clear skies. Those photos are incredible. But even though almost the entire rest of the time was overcast and grey, the scenery was still unbelievable.

These penguins just popped out of the water. Watching them pop out of the water is a pretty funny sight.

These are NOT penguins. They are Phalacrocorax bransfieldensis. They are sometimes referred to generically as Imperial Shags, but that term covers several different and somewhat controversial subspecies. This particular subspecies is known as the Antarctic Cormorant.

When penguins swim, they often pop up above the water to catch their breath and look around.

Early morning kayaking for the hard-core. Actually, as long as you have some basic experience with kayaking, you'd be comfortable doing this. Incidentally, the lead kayaker on this expedition (Valerie) was from Canada. In fact, about half of the expedition staff were Canadians.

This is one of my top five favorite photos from the entire trip. I should probably send a copy of the original to Quark for their advertising literature.

The Zodiacs (there were about thirteen on board) were loaded in and out of the water with the crane every time we went sight-seeing. Sometimes three times a day.

Here is one of the few photos that I was able to take while it was sunny out.

One of the very most important things to bring to Antarctica is a pair of sunglasses! To put it into perspective (for the photographers), in the brief time that it was sunny, I was shooting at iso100, F16, and 1/4000th. I don't think I've ever shot above 1/1250th in Canada.

Loading up for another tour.

These are gentoo penguins. You can tell by the bright orange bill.

Another gentoo. As you can tell, we were able to get pretty close to them. We weren't allowed to approach within five meters, but we would usually get almost that close and then sit down on the snow, and the penguins would usually come very close to us out of curiousity. They didn't see us as predators, so they certainly weren't scared of humans, especially when we weren't standing up. I didn't see any case of a penguin actually touching a human, but I definitely saw quite a few times when they came to within two or three feet of us.

Ok, this is where the allure of the penguin might wear off a tiny bit. You've seen them in photos, and they all seem to look so white and pretty. But in truth, when you're there in person, it sort of smells like a fish market, although not a bad fish market. However, the reddish brown stuff that you'll see a bit more of shortly is penguin poop. They seem to like to stand in it.

Cross-country skiing.

I believe that this photo was taken around 1am. It never really gets dark in the Antarctic. That's another of my regrets - I never got a chance to see a starry sky at night, so I still haven't ever seen the Southern Cross.

Here were have XB trying out a sleeping bag. We spent a night camping on the snow on shore. No tents, just sleeping bags on the snow. I'm not kidding. Mind you, for a Canadian who spends a lot of time in the outdoors, this isn't really that strange. It's not like a tent is much warmer than open ground. However, there were HUGE challenges involved in this. Bringing food or drinks (other than water) is completely forbidden. Nothing can be left behind (in other words, if you have to pee in Antarctica, you're taking it back to the ship). This could be a long story, but the short version is that everyone is extremely paranoid about potential contamination of any type, and the Quark staff were extremely diligent to make sure that none of us screwed up. Boots washed and sterilized getting on and off the ship, so bacteria couldn't travel from one penguin colony to another. No loud noises. No deep footprints in the snow, in case a penguin fell into one and couldn't get out. After seeing the beauty of Antarctica, you'd understand why all these rules are in place and you'd be glad to know that people respect them.

Another night-time photo.

Even though it was overcast, the sunglasses came in handy. The exposure of this photo makes it seem like it wasn't too bright out, but it was still fairly bright, and with sunglasses, we were able to see much more details of the environment around us.

Shadow, a friend of mine from Canada. We may have been the only two Canadians on the ship that were passengers, although several of the expedition staff were from Canada.

Now we see the squalor.

Almost every single photo of people without sunglasses shows them squinting because of the bright landscape. For photographers, you really have to know what you're doing. Having a good camera can lead to a lot of filtering and some absolutely incredible shots, although it seemed that people who brought "point and shoot" cameras got a large number of "decent" shots. I had a Canon EOS XSi camera with the stock lens and a 70-300 zoom. If I went back, I'd take the same zoom, a wide angle instead of the stock lens, a different Canon body, but also a simple Sony point-and-shoot. The point-and-shoots are really quite impressive in what they can do for a lot of the spontaneous shots around the ship, whereas the better camera is a lot better for the wildlife and the scenery.

I'd be tempted to apply for a job here. It's a six-month term, and four people "man" the base for the November to March period. No real consistent electricity, communications, or other technological comforts. No showers at the base - the staff occasionally get to shower when an expedition ship lands for a few hours. However, there is a post office! It might take 6-12 weeks for post cards to be delivered though. The only drawback is that Lockroy is built in the middle of a penguin colony, so by the time March rolls around, the staff said that they are basically wading around in penguin poop up to their knees.

The Union Jack at Lockroy. That still doesn't make it an official British territory.

A seal. This fellow is sleeping for an hour or so. They dive for incredibly long periods, so they need to come up and sleep for a few hours afterward to let the lactic acid dissipate. Something has bit this fellow.

One of the buildings at Lockroy.

The entrance to the Lockroy museum and post office. There really isn't much else other than these two buildings.

All of the photos that you're going to see that look sort of like they were taken in a British outpost in the 1950's ARE exactly that - the Lockroy museum.

This is one of the nights that I was DJ'ing. I ended up doing three sets on the trip, which will all be online shortly. One was a drum & bass set for a semi-private party that we had down in the lecture hall. The second was a short progressive house set that I did while we were camping in Antarctica (very small audience and no amplification, but I had to be able to say that I was the first DJ to do a live set ON Antarctica). And this was the final set, a full three-hour tech-house set on Titanic Night in the ship's lounge. All three sets were done with a laptop and Ableton, since I obviously couldn't lug around any proper gear.

I liked the colour of some of the kelp on the beach, so I took a photo of it. Much less "green" than we see in Canada.

Some of the passengers decided to do a 'power hour' (sort of like what Canadians call a 'century club') before my drum 'n' bass set.

Our ship, the Akademik Ioffe. It carried 107 passengers and 53 crew.

Some of the Zodiacs and kayaks.

I'm not sure what this fellow was trying to say.

BBQ night! Sooo much meat. People really loved this meal.

A sheathbill. I wish this was a better photo, but it was taken after midnight so it was fairly dark out. This bird landed about five or six feet away from me, and didn't seem at all worried about me taking photos of it.

This is a good photo to illustrate how much of an iceberg is hidden under the surface. The water in Antarctica is extremely clear. We could see the bottom clearly in some areas that appeared to be twelve or fifteen feet deep.

This is the first of two photo pages from this trip, since there were so many photos. Click here to view the second page.

For info about the DJ sets that I played while on this trip, check out the links below. All three of these mixes can be downloaded from Bolivia's mixes folder on Dropbox. The second set from November 25th is our top recommendation:

Set #1: 128 minutes of Drum & Bass, from November 22nd, 2010. Click here for the blog post.

Set #2: 66 minutes of Progressive House, from November 25th, 2010. Click here for the blog post.

Set #3: About three hours of tech house, from November 26th, 2010. Click here for the blog post.

And finally, click here for general notes about the trip.