A diptych of images showing a detail of snow piled high on the windows of Scott’s historic hut at Cape Evans. When we visited in October the interior of the Hutt was very dark because the sun was still low and this snow on the windowed blocked it’s light. This created a very moody experience as we explored by the light of headlamps.
A massive iceberg trapped in the sea-ice near Cape Evans. We walked around this beast in the light of the midnight sun. I took photos for two hours solid that night in temperatures lower than -25°c until the camera finally gave up and refused to focus and the LCD screen faded to grey .. but my fingers were so cold I didn’t care.
Today I thought I would mark the departure of the TEDx peeps from Scott Base with a triptych of photos taken there. As we walked around the base in 18°c comfort, every window we past gave a different framed view of the Antarctic environment beyond. This made me think how much we depended on the insulated protection the base provided us, and from there I expended my thoughts to a wider relationship with nature which formed the basis of my “thin green line” conceptual framework.
But then, academic constructs aside … it just looked bloody cool.
Camping in the New Zealand summer … Antarctica style. After a three hour ride in the Hagglund we arrived at our campsite for the final part of our field survival training. This shot was taken about 11.30 at night and this is about as dark as it got. The tents are pretty much the same design Scott used during his fatal 1912 journey to the pole. In the background is the ever present Mt Erebus. On the left Warren is recording the sound of the flagpoles squeaking as the move in the snow.
To learn more bout the camping see my earlier video post.
Following on from a conversation with Warren in which he asked me to send him a new photo from our Antarctica #60shadesofwhite project every Friday I have decided to declare the beginning of “Antarctica FridayFoto” – I’ll post a random image every Friday … what fun!
To kick things off I thought I would transport you to the disorientingly beautiful world under the sea-ice in McMurdo Sound. Taken from the observation tube in front of the American base, both images (yes one is upside-down) show the algae growing on the underside of the 2m thick ice.
Some research into photography/video in Antarctic conditions.
In practice – my own findings
We went to The Ice in late October which is early in ‘the season’. At that time of year the sun is up 24hrs a day but gets very low in the sky between 12 and 2am. Really quite nice light. It did mean it was still quite cold. Most days were about -20°c without windchill (which could easily push it down to -35°c). In short … bloody cold.
Obviously this meant wear sensible clothes. As your mother would tell you “wear a jacket”. AntarcticaNZ go a bit further and issued us with some amazing kit!. I was never really cold with the very notable exception of my nose and fingers. In order to use the cameras I often had to compromise what gloves I wore. When possible I opted for a pair of polyprop liners and some medium weight outers but even then holding the cameras was painful after 30 minutes or so. On rare occasions I took my outer gloves off to do fiddly things which I usually regretted doing almost instantly. AntarcticaNZ gave me some chemical glove warmers which helped, especially to get the feeling back when you stopped shooting.
Anything metal becomes a nightmare to hold for even a short time. I wrapped as much of the metal surfaces of cameras and tripods with thin closed cell foam and insulation taped which definitely helped.
Another hassle with wearing thick gloves was that it became hard to feel my way around a lens so I would occasionally turn the focus when I wanted to zoom etc. I put a cable tie and insulation tape around focus ring to make it easier to feel and it worked a treat (see red tape on lens in the photo above).
The next biggest issue was glasses and goggles fogging. You have to wear a neck warmer or something over your mouth and nose which meant that my sunglasses tended to fog (and then freeze). Goggles where better but harder to look into the viewfinders. I do recommend the neoprene face masks with vents for nose and mouth. As expected the bright conditions made it very hard to look at the screen on the back of the camera unless it had a viewfinder on it. I found the Zacuto Z-Finders worked perfectly – no fogging.
Condensation was really only an issue when things got steamy – in Hagglund vehicles with lots of body heat or in cooking tents etc. See the tips below which helped to a degree.
On the whole batteries were not as big a drama as I was expecting. They definitely didn’t last as long as usual but the onboard batteries in the Nikons were ok. I used an external pack for the D800 for a while but the cable froze solid and snapped! The one battery type that really didn’t work well was the GoPro batteries which lasted as little as 15 minutes at -20°c. Underwater where it was only -3c they were better. The Nation Geographic crew had larger external batteries (I think they wee third party) which seemed to last better.
The cameras themselves were little troopers! Big ups to Nikon and Black Magic! All the cameras just kept on functioning without too much drama. After long periods the screens would slowly crap out. LCD’s would fade and become sluggish, the rear monitors would have pixels crap out and develop alarming lines down them (BMPCC) but they came right in the warm and the cameras kept taking pictures.
The absolute hero was my little Nikon CoolpixA – small enough to always be there, I could put it on my pocket to keep warm and even when frozen solid it kept going even though it was covered in frost and the screen went blue!
I am yet to get to the bottom of an autofocus issue with the D800 – it may be an issue with one lens. Other than that it was fine.
I used ND filters most of the time to control the 24hr sunlight. An absolute must!
All the lenses where fine most of the time. The only real issue was when my Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM lens focus froze solid (both manual and auto-focus) after about 2 1/2hours at -20°c … but by then my fingers were so cold I didn’t care!
Microphones all worked fine – the big shotgun mic with a blimp was essential to work in the wind. As expected the audio recording on the BMPCC was … well it was totally shit … reference only. The Zoom H6 was outstanding!
For more of my pre-trip research read the Sub zero photography page
Warren played a short gig at the bar in New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica as part of our visit there. This is a short sample of what he played. Sean Tracey joined us from McMurdo Station (the American base) to play harmonica.
It was magical moment at the base with most of the personnel crammed into the small bar with guests from the nearby McMudo Station. Huge thanks to Scott Gilbert for bringing over the guitar etc.
As this photo of Warren on the sea ice at Cape Evans illustrates, Antarctica can feel unlike anywhere else on the planet at times. When I saw him in all his survival gear casting this massive shadow in the midnight sun I instantly thought of the photos of the astronauts on the moon (thanks NASA for making them public btw). Two harsh environments where man goes to extraordinary lengths to survive – it was about -20˚c when I took this.
The dark “landmass” on the right is in fact an iceberg trapped in the frozen sea-ice.
A bit of Antarctica fun for a Friday.
One of the first things you do when you visit Scott Base in Antarctica is to go “field training” where you learn survival techniques and spend a night camping in -20ºc.
After two hours driving in the Hagglund tracked vehicle we arrived at our camp site with Mt Erebus standing guard. We slept in tents very similar to those that Scott used and made a cooking area with blocks cut from the snow. The Field Trainers from Antarctica New Zealand were superb. That wonderfully New Zealand combination of friendly and relaxed but totally on to it and experienced.
So join Warren and I on a very quick, lighthearted look at camping in Antarctica.
Not long after we arrived at Scott Base, Antarctica my project partner, Warren Maxwell sang a stunning waiata to mark “International singing day”. Purea Nei by Hirini Melbourne
A real highlight of our expedition to Antarctica was camping out on the ice with a team of scientists/divers at Cape Evens. And a highlight of that highlight was when we dropped a GoPro down one of the dive holes to get a glimpse of the world under the 2m thick sea ice.
Little did I know that seconds before I pulled the camera up a Weddell Seal cruised by to check out the rope (this footage has been edited because it sat on the bottom doing very little for a while).
Earlier that day Warren had dropped a hydrophone down the hole to reveal the constant chatter of the seals – wait until you hear what he captured! The background audio on this pales in comparison.
The divers cut a hole through the ice using a “heat drill” and park a modified shipping container over the hole to give them a sheltered work area.
Weddell Seals are now my favourite animal!
After three days of planning, weighing, rationalising and packing our gear is just sneaking in under the 25.5kg weight limit for flying to Scott Base in Antarctica. Not everything has made the final cut but most has. A huge proportion of this mountain is batteries because the life of batteries plummets dramatically in such cold conditions.
Ok … So the Collage of Creative Arts, at Massey University is a busy place, full of talented people doing amazing projects and that means sometimes you miss out on talking to the people you work with … that’s the excuse I’m going to use because it wasn’t until I stumbled upon this interview with my fellow CoCAnut Anne Noble (Distinguished Professor Anne Noble to be correct) that I really got some great insights into her work and realised that we have similar thoughts particularly on the environment, science and process.
We really need to have that coffee.
After a really productive initial discussion with @AntarcticaNZ my research has moved into a new phase – I’m now focussing on the depiction of ‘heroes’ and ‘explorers’ through portraiture in historic and contemporary contexts.
This reflects a fledgling strategic approach to repositioning the public perception of science by depicting the Antarctic Scientists as “Science Explorers” – modern approachable heroes striving to understand climate change to help deal with it.
This might be the beginning of “the new heroic age” of Antarctica?
Still early days … watch this space.