Category Archives: Scott Base

Antarctica FridayFoto #11

 

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A three-for-one deal this Friday… just because I love the progression between the these shots.

NIWA diver Rod Budd trudges through a building wind to the field kitchen as he brings in gear from our field camp on the sea ice at Cape Evans, Antarctica. It would have been about -25°c but with wind chill easily more like -35°c.

Antarctica’s historic huts

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Shots of the historic huts in Antarctica – mostly from Scott’s hut and Cape Evans with a few from Shackleton’s Cape Royds thrown in. This is a working edit so will change over time.

Scott’s hut is the iconic base associated with Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910–1913 and his second, and final, famed attempt for the Geographic South Pole.

I wanted to capture the feeling of visiting the hut rather than concentrating on accurately documenting the site and artefacts, after all, many very good photographers have done this already (including the outstanding work of Jane Ussher in her book Still Life: Inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton). I found it quite liberating to know I could take a totally different approach. See her video from TEDx at the bottom of this page.

 

When we entered the hut it was very dark with snow covering many of the windows. We had to wear head-torches which created an eerie pool of light in the inky dark, revealing a small bit at a time. To try and get the feeling of the experience I shot with combinations of head-torch and snooted flash lighting and using my homemade lens on a modern Nikon DSLR. The lens is made with the element from a 100 year old Kodak pocket camera very similar to that used by the photographer from Shackleton’s expeditions, Frank Hurley.

This video of Jane Ussher speaking for the recent TEDx Scott Base gives a fantastic heartfelt context to the place, her work and then how my photos contrast to her work.

The Antarctic Heritage Trust has a very good website that goes into great detail about this and the other historic huts in Antarctica https://www.nzaht.org/explorer-bases/scotts-hut-cape-evans

 

Antarctica FridayFoto #8

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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.

Antarctica FridayFoto #5

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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.

Antarctica FridayFoto #3

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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.

Photography at -20c

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Warren and I wrapped up and working in well below -20°c

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.

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My Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera – wrapped in insulation tape and closed cell foam in an effort to avoid me touching metal as much as possible.

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!

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All the equipment ready for packing – click here for a full list of the gear we took

For more of my pre-trip research read the Sub zero photography page