Paddling with penguins

Andy Rouse

05 Dec 2016

Photographing Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

It was a stunning morning in Neko Harbour, the sunrise had been an incredible mix of stormy blue and subtle grey. Antarctica does that all the time, throws in a surprise just when you think you’ve seen it all….

On to the Zodiacs

We landed mid-morning after spending time cruising the bay, photographing the icebergs against the stunning backdrop. As we came towards the beach a bunch of swimming Gentoo penguins came over to the Zodiac to say hi. I always love Gentoos, they are always friendly and generally do something to raise a smile on even the darkest day. Excitedly we clambered off the Zodiac and the swimmers came ashore right next to us and just stood there observing our antics, occasionally waving their flippers. I wasted no time getting my camera out, it was very very dark so I attached a flash “off-camera” to light the penguins against the dark background. I attached a diffuser to the flash as well as I didn’t want to cause them any stress with the flash, it’s always the best policy to be careful when using flash with wildlife. I laid down and crawled unto the closest penguin, slowly inching forward until I was a few feet away. The penguin observed me and was joined by a few more, edging forward gingerly towards this strange apparition on the ground in front of them. I made slow movements and took my time taking my shots, as I was watching for any adverse reaction with the flash (I had the power turned right down). 

I took my first and they didn’t react so I started to take more and took some nice low angled portraits...

Then it was time to move up to the colony above the beach, there was a set route that we had to use so I followed the track and soon was greeted with an amazing view…

Wide angle photography

I decided to shoot everything wide angle on this day as the habitat just screamed at me to be included, the backdrop was just incredible. Penguin colonies are not always the most photogenic of places either as they are full of general mess, one reason why going on an early season Antarctica trip like ours is vital as many are still covered by snow giving a much more natural effect than later in the season. With this in mind I moved quickly away from the colony and focused my efforts taking a group of penguins walking down in a line for a swim…

I placed them in the bottom of the frame to give the image nice composition as I think that the best penguin images are those that show tiny penguins dominated by the landscape. It’s a technique that always works well I think and especially in Antarctica.

I decided to head back to the beach to spend the remaining time with the penguins that had greeted us before. They were in the water, flapping around and having a good old clean. So, having my wellies with me, I waded in close to them…

It was amazing to be so close and have them accept me.

I shot with a wide angle as I wanted to show them in the foreground of the stunning habitat, as they moved around then so did I, which gave me some great angles on the light. I’m actually glad that the light was dark and moody as it would have looked awful in sunlight, I think too many photographers think great pictures are only taken in sunlight which is clearly untrue.

I hope that you enjoyed this blog and my wonderful encounter with some friendly Gentoos. The techniques that you see here will be expanded upon in great detail by Andrew James and myself during our exclusive Antarctic cruise with Natural World Safaris. As photographers you will learn a lot on this trip and will be encouraged to try new techniques and expand your photography. 

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To find out mote about travelling with Andy on board the Akademik Ioffe, or to book your place on the Ultimate Antarctica Photography Safari in 2017, click the button below to get in touch.

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