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Author Topic: Antarctica's spring 2011 advice  (Read 13374 times)
goudswaard
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« on: February 09, 2011, 01:25:39 AM »
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I plan to book an Antarctica trip this year, as close to Antarctica's springtime (Nov or Dec 2011) as I can get. Hope to hit the continent itself, and other locations such as South Georgia etc would be a bonus. Hoping to find something targeted towards photography, such as the "C/R/B/M/M" expedition (web site), but I realize that such a targeted expedition might not be possible with such short (<1 year) notice. Would be happy to go with a tour company that can offer plenty of shore time, good photography locations, zodiacs, widest range of wildlife (birds & sea life) etc.

As part of my research I can pull plenty of brochure facts, but do any of you have anything to comment on regarding any of the following tours I found? I'm interested in first-hand experiences: the ships, accommodations, locations, crew, equipment, anything I might not find on their web sites.

Joseph Van Os photo safaris
Quark
Nat Geo
Zegram & Eco
Oceanwide Expeditions
Linblad/NatGeo
Heritage expeditions
Aurora Expeditions

and then there are the summer ones:
Luminodyssey
Wildwings

Thanks
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neile
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2011, 12:47:34 AM »
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Quark.

If you are going to go and you want to take photos I highly, highly, highly, recommend you go with other photographers and nobody else. When you are with other photographers nobody will mind when you say "please back the zodiac up about a foot, now circle left, no wait, circle right, hold it.... hold it... YES!". On a regular trip? They'll throw you overboard.

Seth, JP, and Andy are awesome instructors and you will have a blast shooting with them. I went with Seth, JP, and the rest of the gang on the Antarctica 2009 trip. Worth every penny. Reach out and find out if they have openings, and if they don't whether they have a waitlist. People get sick/drop out.

I have a book up on Blurb that shows my work from the trip, as well as photos in my online portfolio. I also wrote a blog entry for a friend's blog on what I took and what worked/what didn't.

I'm sure others from the trip will chime in, there are several of us that hang out here. Andy will probably jump in too Smiley

Neil
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Neil Enns
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David Campbell
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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2011, 06:18:29 AM »
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In November last year I traveled on an Aurora Expeditions trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.
(South Orkney's were on the itinerary, but due to bad weather was skipped to make sure we did not lose the booked schedule locations on the peninsula)

The trip with Aurora was really well run and enjoyable.
The expedition team that Aurora had put together were knowledgeable and down to earth.
They really added to the experience of the trip.
When I decide to travel to the high Artic, I wont hesitate to travel with Aurora again.

If you are considering a spring time trip, South Georgia is a must, even if you are not a wildlife photographer.
The landscapes were stunningly beautiful and the abundant sub antarctic wildlife was almost over whelming.

This trip was Luminodyssey's first trip to Antarctica with Aurora. http://antarctica2010.com/
The group size was 18 photographers including David and Glenn the instructors. Martin Bailey was originally scheduled to instruct this trip but had to pull out for personal reasons.

Unfortunately, as this was the first trip with Aurora, the photography workshop side of things did not run as planned and it ended up a bunch of like minded people shooting together with minimal instruction.
Glenn really made the effort to work with the people that either needed help or sought advice and was really helpful
(I am a self taught amateur so was looking to learn as much as I could).
That being said, I am sure the kinks will have been ironed out for this month's trip now that David knows how Aurora run their voyage and can plan around their lectures to fit in photography/processing based sessions whilst sailing.

I agree with the comments about being in Zodiac's with other photographers.
You wont hesitate to ask some one to kneel on one side of the boat so that everyone can shoot.
They will also completely understand and get down to make way for you and vice versa.
The Aurora staff were excellent with taking requests on where to go, when to stop, shutting the motor down to reduce vibrations etc.


I would also recommend spending some time in Argentina whilst you are in the area. (unless you are planning to leave from Australia and New Zealand with more time at sea).

I have a bunch of photos on my flickr site that will give you an idea of what we saw.

Forrest Brown who was also on the trip has a nice blog about his experience. It is worth checking out, especially for the timelapse from above the bridge of the ship whilst sailing through icebergs. The Aurora trip starts from here. http://www.forrestbrown.com/blog/page/4/
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abiggs
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« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2011, 08:19:30 AM »
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I have had a wonderful experience working with Quark Expeditions for my own workshop with Seth Resnick and John Paul Caponigro, and can easily recommend them to anybody. They aren't the low cost solution, for sure, as their service is better than the rest, both before your voyage, during and after.
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Andy Biggs
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darmour
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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2011, 08:56:21 AM »
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The one operator that is missing from your list is www.cheesemans.com

Assuming that you are a competent photographer the main factor should probably be time in the field. Of the trips that run down there the Joe van Os and Cheesemans are the two most extensive. I can't speak about the former but can give feedback about the latter.
 
Although not specifically a trip for photographers, most of the crew/lecturers are pretty serious wildlife photographers (some are pros) so your needs would be well catered for regardless. A number of well-known pros have used the Cheesemans trip as paying customers. You can expect lots of early starts and lots of early landings with a committment to spend the maximum amount of time possible onshore or in zodiacs as the opportunities arise. Lunch and/or dinner were of only minor importance and could be delayed, moved around or skipped entirely if needed (bear in mind that many ships operate on quite a strict timetable to make life more straightforward for the galley staff who already have a difficult job juggling food prep in small spaces). The extra time onshore made it possible to spend serious amounts of time getting the best possible shots, waiting for action and the best light. It was never a problem to get zodiacs moved around to get a shot as most people on this trip are taking photos themselves (and the crew just want to help).

Apart from this you not really said what interests you the most - the Falklands are more about wildlife than scenery, South Georgia has both amazing wildlife and landscapes, and the antarctic peninsula has ice and wildlife, and favours the landscape photographer a bit more.

You can see our galleries from the 2008/2009 trip at http://www.twodrifters.co.uk/cheesemans/main.htm


Duncan

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DavidB
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2011, 05:24:31 PM »
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As David C mentions, we were in South Georgia/Antarctica with Aurora last November. Both Aurora and we learnt a lot about integrating the photography program into the usual running of the expeditions.
I was also with neile on that 2009 trip, and definitely the Zodiac trips can be easier without having to interact with non-photographers. Of course that's not the only issue, but it can be prominent.


goudswaard, an impression I get from your post is that you're hoping to set up a wonderful single expedition. This is commendable, but there are always challenges and you'll need to compromise.

Trips that include South Georgia necessarily include a LOT of sea-time (not surprising when you look at a map). Although I do believe that travel time is more than recompensed by the experiences you will get at the island, it does consume a lot of time. Most trips that include South Georgia don't actually spend a lot of time in Antarctica itself. In November's voyage we had 2 days in the Falklands, 4 full days in South Georgia, and just over 2 days along the Antarctic Peninsula. Those were all very full days, but I know some people came away wishing for more time amongst the Antarctic Peninsula having had a 2-day taste. The rest of the time was spent travelling. It's not wasted time, as it gives us a chance to get non-outdoor activities in (including reviewing your images and "recharging" for the next destination, and also various lecture programs and photography of birdlife as the weather allows).
Our schedule was restricted by the weather, but that's always a chance(likelihood?) on the Southern Ocean. Luckily for us the weather usually just meant slower travelling (thus we had to skip the South Orkneys) and we could still get "outside time".

Even trips down to just the Peninsula have to spend time crossing the Drake Passage. In 2009 when we headed down below the Antarctic Circle with MichaelR we had about 8 days along the Peninsula. It was billed as a 13-day trip.

The kicker with the added sea-time on these trips is that it usually directly adds to the price (ie. the running of the ship is a big cost that needs to be covered).


Just considering locations, whatever trip you go on will be a compromise. You could go on a 3-week South Georgia/Falklands/Antarctic trip and then decide which area you wanted to go back to on a future voyage, you could take on one of the purely-Antarctic itineraries and then consider the sub-antarctic islands for a separate trip, etc.
I know some people who've been to both and decided that the wildlife of South Georgia is their drawcard, and aren't really interested in Antarctica. And then there are others who feel that Antarctica is the big drawcard for them.
BTW they both have landscapes and wildlife, but I think in general the Antarctic environment is overwhelming. I'm drawn to both places, but fitting it all into one voyage is always a challenge.


Later this month I'll be heading down to Ushuaia for the last trip of the 2010/2011 season. On this voyage all the passengers will be photographers, and we'll be running our updated photography program as the core of the voyage. The entire voyage is a long one, heading down to the Antarctic Peninsula (7 days), up to the Falklands (5 days), and then up the Patagonian coast including locations such as Peninsula Valdes. However, there's also the option to head home from the Falklands after two weeks. BTW, this voyage is a one-off opportunity and is not scheduled for 2012.
There are some last-minute spots available, for as little as $4500 for the 2-week option. But you'd need to be able to travel for the last half of March.


By the way, in November 2011 our South Georgia trip is being run under Aurora Expedition's banner (integrated into the ship's expedition team). It's the November 12 departure, and under the "Activities" tab on their site you can see "Photography" listed as an option. Although the photographers won't be filling the ship, we'll be an official group within the voyage (e.g. with our own Zodiacs, lecture slots, etc) which I'm sure will be a different experience to the 2010 trip.

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David Burren
« Last Edit: February 28, 2011, 06:23:38 PM by DavidB » Logged

darmour
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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2011, 12:34:04 PM »
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Everything that David B has said is true - but I'd push you to consider the longest trip that you can afford.....

The advantage of the Joe van Os and Cheeseman's trips is that they're not three weeks they're more like 26 days on the boat. So on the Cheeseman's trip you get 6 days on South Georgia, 3 days on the Falklands, 1 day on the South Orkneys and 7 days on  the Antarctic Peninsula. So in total 17 days of landings, 9 days at sea. Cut it shorter than that and I do think you are in the realm of compromises - every day shorter is a day less of landings. The Joe van Os itinerary is similar but roughly a day shorter I think. The time at sea isn't dead time anyway - there are lectures on photography and wildlife, not to mention the chance of shooting lots of birds from the back of the boat. One of the runner's up in the Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition this year did exactly that - http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/wpy/photo.do?photo=2596&category=48&group=1

Then just compare the costs between the operators.

Now if I had to choose just one area then the peninsula would probably win out, but I know that if I had just gone there, I would have had an urgent need to go to the Falklands and South Georgia anyway. I still want to go back, and the truth is, I'd probably want to do it all again, and not miss out anywhere.
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goudswaard
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« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2011, 10:03:13 PM »
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Wow, great advice and most heartily appreciated. Have been doing my research for quite some time, hopefully my final choice will not be booked yet, as I'm down to a final few tour operators. Two questions:

1. People often reflect on how slippery hiking is due to either guano or ice or both. Would some instep crampons (like Camp Quattro Four Point Instep Crampons) be useful?
2. On the longer end of things, is my 500 f4 overkill? 100-400 suffice? Am a Canon shooter, and don't actually own a mid zoom 70 - 200, budget isn't a problem so I could swing a 70 - 200 or what about that new 70 - 300?
3. I was wondering does everyone bring their big tripods with them on the landings? Or travel tripod/monopod or just hh?

cheers
Pete
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neile
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« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2011, 10:05:29 PM »
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1. Personally I think they'd be one more piece of junk to carry with you on shore landings. I never had any problem with slippery conditions in the boat-provided boots. I just walked carefully.

2. Yes, it is. Keep in mind I'm not a nature/bird photographer, but that's a big freaking lens and a royal pain to deal with on a trip like this. I think only 1-2 people on my trip had one with them, and I don't recall seeing it out that often.

3. My tripod is a Manfrotto 055MF3 and it came with me on every shore landing. Did I use it? Not really. Am I glad I had it? Yes.

Neil
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Ed Bacon
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« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2011, 12:12:24 PM »
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Since you need to decontaminate your boots everytime you reboard, the ice grippers would be not worth the hassle. I could not imagine extracting the penguine poo would be much fun.

I either used my monopod or a single extended leg of tripod as a walking stick. But where there are no rocks or solid ice under the slushy stuff neither would not keep me from slipping. Make sure your boots fit, mine were too loose so my feet would slip inside the boot.

Niele I seem to remember a number on the trip w/ big lenses; they were used primarily from the observation deck. But again for better mobility I tended toward my 70 - 200.
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darmour
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« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2011, 03:12:23 PM »
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No crampons are going to be no use at all.

Footwear most of the time is going to be some sort of wellington - we bought ourselves the insulated Artic Muck Boot which has both great grip and good insulation and wore them most of the time- we took our own but the boats normally can supply them, they're just not as good as the Muck Boat. On a couple of landings there was the opportunity to do a longer hike of several miles so occasionally you might want walking boots if you are on a trip that does the same kind of thing, but the wellington style was fine every time. As others have said, your kit will be hosed down and disinfected after every landing.

Lots of photographers were carrying 500mm lenses on the Cheesemans' trip and they seemed to get good use out of them. Most of the time I didn't feel that they were completely necessary for the reach (the wildlife will walk up to you) but it does give you a narrower field of view (so less clutter which would help at times), and more choice of subjects at some of the bird colonies. Sometimes though the reach would have been useful - light mantled sooty albatross for example like to nest on the edge of cliffs and you'll want the reach then, similarly the closest approach distance will be greatly increased for some of the more sensitive bird species near the nest (e.g. snow petrel and cape petrel) so a longer lens would help then. Most of the time though I used the 100-400mm  and was pretty happy, as it covered photography on the land, zodiac cruising and back of the boat bird photography. My wife prefers the 70-200 f4 L sometimes with the 1.4 teleconvertor as it's a really nice light combination that works well. I imagine the new 70-300L would achieve similar things.

Although I've mainly talked about wildlife lens choice, much of my landscape photography was done with long lenses too. The frequent lack of foregrounds from the main boat meant the longer lenses still tended to work best. Only on zodiac cruises where you could get amongst the ice was a shorter lens useful e.g the 17-40L.

We both shoot routinely from a tripod and can't imagine not having one - the light and weather can be poor sometimes and if you do use a longer lens it would seem mad not to have one. We took 2 bodies each so we had a choice sometimes but mainly kept one in the cabin as a spare in case of disaster. Wear and tear on cameras was quite bad with a number of photogs having  failures.

Finally consider your storage options carefully - we shot 30,0000 images in RAW over a 26 day cruise between 2 photographers - a lap top and 6 pocket hard drives (to allow a duplicate copy) were essential.
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polarphotos
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« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2011, 12:07:47 PM »
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I would like to add one more option to the mix of possibilities. I am leading a 28 day-long photographic expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula on a sailboat. Of the original seven spaces, two are filled, so there is still room for five photographers.
Departure from Ushuaia, Argentia: December 29, 2011   Return to Ushuaia: January 25, 2012 Cost: $12,950
For more details please go to the expedition website http://www.sailantarctica.com.

This unique voyage is tailored for amateur as well as professional photographers. No sailing experience is required, however, the chosen team members must have a passion for photography, an enthusiasm for capturing the magic of the least explored continent on earth, the resilience to endure crossings of the Drake Passage, and a deep desire to experience a unique adventure on 'The White Continent'. This expedition is not designed to be a trip for the weekend warrior or a cruise with guaranteed smooth sailing - this expedition will be a true adventure for the independent traveler. Our interest in photography and wildlife observations will dictate our schedule. We will maximize our time on shore at amazing locations. This photo expedition will be a photographic highlight of a lifetime to one of the wildest edges on our Earth. 

The length, commitment and remoteness of this expedition requires participants to be in overall good health, mentally prepared and to have a strong team spirit, as we will spend periods of time in close quarters with each other. Our yacht is cozy but if you expect a hair dryer and bathrobe in your cabin, this expedition may not be for you.

The motivation for organizing the this photo expedition stems from my own experience discovering Antarctica from a sailboat. In the winter of 2007/2008, I was hired to be the photographer of an international sailing expedition, and we spent over a month along the Antarctic Peninsula retracing the first scientific journey to Antarctica (the 'Belgica' expedition with De Gerlache, Amundsen and Dr. Cook). During the same winter, I was able to cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula on board the icebreaker Polar Star. Unlike being on a big cruise ship, where everything has to be very scheduled and there is little time for personal input, the intimacy of a small group on sailboat gives a lot of flexibility and freedom for personal exploration. I also believe that one really needs time in Antarctica to really be able to absorb and capture the exquisite nature of the place. After subtracting sea time, we will actually spend around three weeks in Antarctica, and in all my research I couldn't find any other expedition or photo tour that spends that much time in Antarctica. This created the impetus for a photo expedition by a photographer for photographers. Going to Antarctica takes a significant financial and time commitment, but the journey is a trip of-a-lifetime. I would like to make this experience possible for other photographers, so they too can return with an amazing portfolio of landscape and wildlife images. Our journey has been timed to coincide with the longest days of the austral summer, as well as with the birth of the penguin chicks, a period of breathtaking beauty and life. 

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Laurent Dick, Juneau/Alaska
http://www.sailantarctica.com


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tonywong
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« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2011, 02:32:32 PM »
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I wish I would have hooked up with some of these tours but I have a Van Os tour booked for this Nov 5-Dec 1. I hope it will be a great tour but I was wondering if anyone has any tips for booking to Perito Moreno Glacier. I was thinking of doing before the Tour starts and I was hoping to get some good pics of the North Face.

Are there any good operators out there that anyone can recommend?  Anyone else going on the Van OS tour? I'm going solo this time so maybe if someone has something planned to the Glacier I might be able to hook up and split some costs.
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