Photographing Penguins on Icebergs

Andy Rouse

20 Jan 2017

Zodiac cruising

One of the real joys of Zodiac cruising in Antarctica is that, in the words of Forrest Gump, “you never know what you’re gonna get”. It’s always a voyage into the unknown and for me that is what I love, as I think it makes any successful photography all the more pleasurable.

Over the years I’ve had many successful Zodiac cruises, but there is one special one that really stays in my mind. We’d moored just outside a bay that had a lot of floating icebergs, some of which had little black dots on which I hoped were our flippered friends. I’d always wanted to photograph penguins on icebergs so had my fingers, and everything else, crossed as we headed out in the Zodiacs. Sure enough as we got closer I could see that indeed there were many penguins on the icebergs and they were my favourite chaps, Gentoos! 

Somehow on this day the Gentoos had managed to scramble some 20 ft up the iceberg, a feat which none of us watching them could have repeated. We killed the engines and drifted slowly closer, I guided the driver to bring us round on a small group of three that were nicely sat against the blue ice...

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It’s been one of my most successful penguin images, appearing on many calendars including the BBC Wildlife one a couple of years ago. There are several factors that make this image work well. First: it’s got penguins!!! Second: it has nice composition, nice and wide to let the penguins breathe in space and to show the beauty of the iceberg. And finally: it’s the moment I caught the lead penguin stretching out, which just adds something extra to the image. I love this image and always will.

After a few minutes we drifted by the penguins and onto another iceberg where again, we found three penguins lurking. My first shot was this....

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I timed this image so they all looked the same way, it’s pointless doing anything else as it would look odd. The iceberg in the background provided a great backdrop too, but soon we had drifted by this....

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Here you see the problem of working with animals, they never do what you want or expect!! The middle one stuck it’s head down, which actually gave the final image some balance. I deliberately left a lot of space to the right of the image to balance up the awkward composition to give something worthwhile. As we watched they started to walk down the iceberg.....

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I got really excited as I thought they were going to jump off. So we waited and waited and waited. Then we waited and waited and waited. They moved.....back upwards!!! Bah, that’s wildlife for you, perhaps in November I will get to see some leaping penguins. Fingers crossed!

I can always find something magical on any Zodiac cruise and on our forthcoming cruise with Natural World Safaris, fellow mentor Andrew James and myself will be inspiring everyone to get the most from every cruise. Our nightly light-hearted picture critiques, with appropriate refreshment in hand, will hopefully show the results and inspire our passengers to really love their Antarctic photography. Come with us!

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