Extreme Nature; The Photography Of Bill Curtsinger Page 2

Suiting Up
In the Antarctic Curtsinger's prime concern is to stay warm in the 28Þ water. Dry suits, sealed at the neck and cuffs, are required as well as three-finger gloves, separated for mobility to the thumb and forefinger. Since the dry suit has air, a diver is required to wear 30-40 lbs of lead to prevent floating back up and "getting glued to the underside of the ice."

Getting there is half the fun and often the diver must dynamite a hole in the ice and clear it away in order to jump in. If he or she is near a base there are huts on sleds, the huts having a large hole in the floor and a little heater to keep the hole open for the diver to drop through and return.

Emperor Penguin

Portrait of the largest and most elegant of all penguin species, the emperor.

All divers go down in pairs. It sounds pretty safe but Curtsinger makes it clear that if you get into trouble you're going to have to think fast. "Even if your dive partner is 30 ft away you may not be able to get their attention since you really can't communicate underwater. The other diver might be preoccupied with collecting data when suddenly my regulator stops working. I need to make some quick decisions, the most obvious one is to swim over and buddy breathe with my partner or to swim to the nearest hole and make an ascent. You're pretty limited under so much ice."

Many adventures are recorded in Curtsinger's journals, his way to stay connected and to share experiences with his son Owen. "A lot of my assignments, especially those for National Geographic, require a real time commitment of six or seven months and I call the collection `Traveling to Owen.'"

Photo Gear
"All of my equipment is Nikon and my film, Fujifilm Provia 100. My cameras are in underwater housings, each with two strobes attached. With the ocean you have to bring your own sunshine," he says, "unless you're in clear water in a nice sunny, tropical place. Knowledge of lighting is essential! I carry one housing, as does my assistant, and if the situation is right I can put a couple of extra housings on the bottom. I will do that if I am doing bottom creatures so I can have a macro lens in one camera."

Some of Curtsinger's most colorful images, though unrecognizable to most of us, are his "beautiful drifters," the jellyfish and sponges that cling to the depths of the ocean. They are among the strangest looking creatures in the water, as well as the most beautiful.


After a storm, the sky begins to clear along the Antarctic Peninsula coast.

"The underwater world is a wide angle world or a macro," Curtsinger says. "Most of my work is wide angle and I have used anything from a fisheye lens up to 24mm. I've also used a 13mm and a 14mm and have had a housing built around the 13mm. On occasion I use a 16mm to do a split image underwater where you can see the surface elements as well as the scene below."

Curtsinger describes making photographs next to a 50-foot southern right whale. "The huge flank going past me felt like an underwater freight train," he wrote in his book. "But I never felt endangered. The fluke of a whale that size could kill a man," he said, "but each time the animal approached, she lifted her tail up over my head and swam on. I took as many frames as I could of that whale until I ran out of film. The light was perfect, the water clear and that whale posed for my camera that morning."

Curtsinger writes, "Swimming just beneath the surface you hear the ebb and flow of coral reef life, shrimp snapping, parrot fish crunching, and waves swishing. You can hear the song of the humpback whales. Listen carefully."

To learn more about Bill Curtsinger, visit his website at: www.billcurtsingerphoto.com.