Post Cards From The Freezer; Photographing Antarctica Digitally

"Antarctica is a separate is the presence of ice, from the first occasional fragment, escalating in shape, form and frequency, and finally dominating all else, that brings assurance of arrival in Antarctica."--Mark Jones, from Wild Ice: Antarctic Journeys (available on

Taking pictures in Antarctica is easy. Point your camera in almost any direction, fill the frame with a stunning landscape, seascape, or unique wildlife encounter, press the shutter release button, and presto, your memory is recorded instantly by your digital camera.

Stunning, floating ice castles grace the Antarctic seascape with beauty and awe. (Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon 17-40mm lens.)
All Photos © 2006, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

For the travel, landscape, seascape, environmental, and wildlife photographer, Antarctica is a dream come true--a fantasy world of experiencing and exploring a truly fascinating and awe-inspiring massive area of our planet. It's a dream I experienced this past December, during Antarctica's summer, aboard the Russian icebreaker the M/V Professor Multanovskiy, which is outfitted for photographers and travelers like myself. I booked the trip (actually promoted as an expedition) to the Antarctic Peninsula through Quark Expeditions (, specialists in polar exploration. (Note: Most travelers book this trip six months in advance.)

The "Rick Wrap," an Antarctic special, is designed to keep photographers warm and toasty. Actually, the yellow parka is supplied to all Quark Expeditions participants. (Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon 28-105mm lens.)
Taking a break from shooting, I checked out my pictures on my laptop in the comfort of my cabin.

"Yes!" That's the enthusiastic answer I give to those of you who are reading this column and wondering if the experience was worth it--a 12-day trip that included for me a 10-hour flight from New York to Buenos Aires; a 31/2-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on the planet; a day layover in Ushuaia; and a two-day voyage from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula.

What made the experience especially enjoyable and rewarding for me was the instant gratification that digital imaging offers. Each day, after photographing the landscapes, seascapes, and wildlife with my Canon digital SLR cameras and lenses, I downloaded my pictures, recorded on SanDisk Extreme III 2GB and 4GB CompactFlash cards, to my PowerBook G4 laptop and gave them a quick glance to ensure that I was capturing the images that I was seeing. After downloading my pictures to my laptop, I copied them to my G-TECH 60GB portable hard drive. After the pictures were stored in two places, I formatted my CompactFlash cards in my cameras (which is better than formatting cards via a computer) so that I would be ready for more picture opportunities the following day.

My autofocus camera, set on AI Servo (which tracks a moving subject), helped me to get good wildlife photographs, including this image of a leopard seal.

What's more, the team of knowledgeable naturalists onboard offered in-depth talks and seminars on the marine life and geology of the area.

I wrote this column in my cabin aboard the M/V Professor Multanovskiy, which gently and predictably swayed in the 5- to 7-foot sea swells that I could see outside my cabin window. I have selected a few images that I think offer an idea of experiencing and photographing one of the world's most pristine destinations--the destination at the bottom of the earth.

Penguins are the most photographed (and by far the smelliest due to the massive amount of penguin poop) species in Antarctica. This photograph was taken with my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon 100-400mm zoom.

Many visitors to Antarctica go to photograph unique wildlife. For tight headshots, you'll need a telephoto lens or telephoto zoom--you are not allowed to get closer than 15 ft to the animals in most areas. However, some animals nest or rest along a path, which can make for wonderful close wildlife encounters.

Some penguins walk right up to photographers and visitors, which means you can use a wide angle zoom. However, be prepared with a telephoto zoom for distant shots.

Icebergs, ice floes, patch ice, and snow-covered mountains tell visitors that they are arriving in Antarctica. (Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon 15mm lens.)

To capture detail in ice, shooting raw files is a must because JPEG files toss away 1/3 or more of the information in a file, mostly in the highlight areas. A gray sky is the norm, but the sun does burn through the clouds on occasion.