Why a Wonder: Remote and rugged, Snow Hill Island is home to approximately 4,000 pairs of breeding Emperor penguins (larger and heavier than King penguins) and their chicks. That brings the total number of Emperor penguins to about 10,000 – all in a remote, rarely-visited and relatively small space. What’s more, Snow Hill Island is almost totally snow capped throughout the year, so you can make beautiful photographs of the penguins against pleasing snow-and-ice backgrounds – as opposed to some places in Antarctica where, in summer, the penguins are living on rocks and dirt.
Where: In Antarctica’s relatively remote Weddell Sea. You'll need to get there on an expedition ship, like the ships operated by Quark Expeditions.
When: Year around, but most folks visit the island in November and December (summer in Antarctica).
Photography: Here, as well as in all of Antarctica, you must follow the number one IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) wildlife rule: When approaching an animal, you cannot get closer than 15 feet. That being said, the animals don’t know about the rules, and they sometimes walk right up to you. With that in mind, bring a zoom lens like the Canon RF24-105mm lens for up-close-and-personal shots, and telephoto zoom like the Canon RF100-500mm for telephoto shots.
When it comes to composition, you’ll need to “cut the clutter,” that is, isolate a penguin or several penguins from the colony. The opening photo for this post illustrates that technique. The photo above, although it accurately depicts a section of the colony and definitely tells a story, it is basically a compositional mess.
Snow and ice can cause your in-camera light meter to underexpose an image. Therefore, when photographing on one of the automatic modes (all these photos were taken on the aperture priority mode) set your exposure compensation to +1 . . . as a starting point. I know +1 sounds backward, but, without getting too technical, that’s how it works.
Take a test shot, check your histogram and highlight alert, and set your exposure accordingly.
Try to get down low and see eye-to-eye with the penguins and photograph eye-to eye. When an animal is photographed at eye level, the viewer of the photograph can relate more to the subject than when an animal is photographed above or below eye level.
It may snow during your adventure to Snow Hill Island, so be sure to have a “raincoat” for your camera bag and camera. Also bring a lens-cleaning cloth to wipe snowflakes off the front element of your lens.
To reduce glare on snow and ice use a polarizing filter.
© Rick Sammon
This post sponsored by Breakthough Filters.