Things to Consider
- The usual rules don’t apply on South Georgia. The sheer density of wildlife and their general lack of concern for humans requires a different approach
- Choosing the right trip is crucial for the best photography - pay attention to the itinerary, whether photography is a focus and the size of the expedition team
- Light conditions are worth considering when to go. A low sun brings out textures, shapes and colours, which is why November is popular with photographers
- South Georgia’s weather can be wild, unpredictable and fast changing - this can be a real benefit for the photographer, resulting in the most dramatic images
- Dedicated photographers may consider joining a specialist South Georgia photographic voyage, which are more focused around photographers needs
South Georgia’s Wildlife
As staggering as the density of wildlife is, it can also present real challenges. Firstly in terms of how to do justice to such a photographic feast and creating something unique. And secondly, simply being able to navigate through such tightly packed animals. Moving slowly and cautiously is your best strategy and will provide plenty of time for observation.
The other extraordinary characteristic about South Georgia’s wildlife is their remarkable tameness. On landings, telephoto lenses can be left behind and your sympathetic muses won’t impose the usual time constraints on the wildlife photographer.
Choosing the right trip
The number of planned days in South Georgia varies markedly between different trips, directly affecting the number of landing sites you’ll visit and how much total time you’ll have ashore. Compare individual itineraries carefully.
It’s also important to establish how much focus a voyage will give to photography. While having an onboard professional photographer can be attractive, more experienced photographers will be looking for extended landings giving them more time to work, and competent zodiac drivers who understand photographers requirements.
When to Go
There really isn’t an optimal time to visit. Regardless of the timing of your trip, South Georgia will never disappoint - there are always hundreds of thousands of penguins, seals and birds to photograph.
However, the photographer in search of photographic perfection and killer images may prefer the more dramatic weather and softer light conditions of November or March, when the sun is lower in the sky.
In a place which challenges both people and gear, being well prepared means packing the right gear so you and your kit keep warm and dry, while having the right camera systems to cover all eventualities. Good admin and paying attention to the small details can really make the difference.
When considering your camera gear, bear in mind that you’ll need cameras for different scenarios and platforms, from shooting aerial birds from the ship, to close-up work with individual animals.
Specialist Photographic Voyage?
An important decision to make is whether you prefer a specialist photography voyage or are happy to join a more generalist voyage, with perhaps an expert photographer onboard?
While there are fewer specialist photographic voyages, they come with obvious benefits: a photography heavy lecture programme, photo workshops and travelling with like minded people. However, comparing f/stops and camera lenses at the bar isn’t for everyone.
The decision is ultimately down to personal choice and which voyage dates suit you.
The photographer in search of photographic perfection may prefer the more dramatic weather and softer light conditions of November or March when the sun is lower in the sky.
Specialist South Georgia Photographic Voyages
A special photography-focused expedition to South Georgia and Antarctica during early season when light conditions are most favourable. Nine full days of ‘off ship’ exploration maximises your photographic opportunities, while this small 54-passenger ship provides both spontaneity and a very…
South Georgia Voyages with onboard Photographer
These are more generalist voyages, with an onboard photographer & workshops
Alongside the obvious highlights of the destinations themselves, we like this voyage for this ship’s renowned stability ensuring more comfortable sea days. Combined with a sizeable expedition staff and an extensive programme of activities, Southern Ocean travel doesn’t come much…
Designed by an operator with 50 years of Polar experience, from the balance of the 24-day itinerary to the wealth of onboard expertise and utilising state-of-the-art expedition ships, this trip has a real ‘pedigree’. Explore with the pioneers of Polar…
Advice on Photographing Wildlife on South Georgia
Preparation: When you first land on a South Georgia beach and are confronted by thousands of animals, it's easy to be overwhelmed. To help prepare, it's a good idea beforehand to do some research by googling images so you have a game plan of where to begin.
Observation: Take time to observe how individual animals interact with each other and their surrounding environment, these vignettes can create really unique pictures.
Perspective: To shoot compelling images your perspective must be different. Try shooting wildlife from a lower than life perspective by placing the camera on the ground and pointing the lens upwards.
Lighting: Look for interesting light conditions. Side or horizontal lighting from a low sun will help to bring out textures, shapes and contours.
Technique: Try to get close ups with longer lenses as using wide apertures. F/2.8 for example would blur the background beautifully, which if photographing an individual penguin would isolate the bird from their cluttered background. Be careful though of apertures wider than 2.8 as the depth of field, or zone of sharp focus, will be so thin that if you’re at an angle to the penguin’s face, one eye will be in focus and the other will be out of focus.
5 Tips on What to Bring
- For maximum flexibility and to avoid changing lenses out in the field, the perfect setup is one wide-angle and a one mid-range zoom (i.e.100-300mm) on two camera bodies
- Choose your equipment carefully beforehand and try to travel light for speed and safety. Accidents from overloaded photographers carrying heavy packs across challenging terrain aren’t uncommon
- Don’t forget to pack dry bags to protect your camera gear while on the zodiacs, it's the wrong place to have a camera malfunction due to water
- Weather conditions on South Georgia can be really challenging. Bring multiple pairs of under gloves gloves which are thin enough to handle your camera, plus waterproof overgloves when conditions require them
- If you plan to spend time working at eye level with penguins in particular, packing knee pads can be a really good idea
South Georgia Photography: FAQs
With wildlife found in vast numbers at all times, it's a photographic feast whenever you go. November and March can be popular with photographers as the sun is lower, light softer and the weather is more changeable and dramatic.
Very close is the short answer! The combination of densities of South Georgia’s wildlife and their lack of fear of man means getting close to wildlife isn’t the challenge, it's giving them enough space which is. Finding a curious penguin pecking your rubber boot is common.
Prion Island is renowned for its nesting wandering albatross. Access to the island is strictly controlled; it's closed to all visitors between 20th November - 7th January (inclusive) so time your visit outside these dates.
The landings are the main focus on these cruises and so plenty of time will be allowed at each place. Each excursion typically lasts for 2- 4 hours, depending on location.
All cabins have power points where camera equipment can be recharged between landings. Just check that you’ve got the correct adaptor.
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