How do you begin to describe a destination and the multitude of experiences had, and one that has had a profound impact on who you are?
I know I arrived back home a different person to the one who started the photography expedition. How could I have not?
It was spellbinding. It was mesmerizing. It was humbling. It was filled with incredible photo opportunities, scenes and sightings, laughter, happiness and amazing people.
It feels appropriate to write about a wild sea and its equally wild landscapes and wildlife whilst sitting at a table that looks out to another sea, a calm sea, one that is different yet the same.
ORYX’s Antarctica Photo tour to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula and its surrounding islands has been one where I find the memories still materializing in my thoughts at the end of a day, when my mind wanders off from my day-to-day activities.
I hope to share a taste of my guests’ and my experience – one that was truly impactful on every level. I know, as I write this, that I can only hope to share a fragment of the bigger picture, as this is one journey that needs to be undertaken and experienced personally to be fully understood. It is one commitment you will never regret…
The morning of our departure was much like the weather I am looking at outside my window: it had turned overcast and grey, and there was a bite to the air. This did not dampen my guests’ and my spirit at all as we wandered through Ushuaia taking photos, and just getting to know each other. We would be spending three weeks together, and as with every photo tour I host, it was important for me to get an understanding of who my clients are and what they were looking for on this journey – from a photographic stance and, as always, from a personal experience too.
I had met one of my guests the day before, over the casual action of dishing up scrambled eggs, which the buffet had so lavishly laid out, onto my plate. Later that day, with the sun high in a beautiful blue sky, we explored Ushuaia and watched the Akademik Ioffe come into the harbor and dock. It was such a stunning sight, as it brought with it the promise of all the treasures we would witness, photograph and experience over the next few weeks.
The time for our departure finally came, and we jumped onboard a bus filled with equally excited guests, who we would get to know so well.
Having been shown to our rooms and allowing us some time to get unpacked and settled in, we padded up in our warm clothing and headed to the deck to watch the dock and the mountain range that surrounded this inlet fade further into the distance. We were heading for the open sea!
For the next 2 days of our Antarctica Photo tour, we gathered on the decks, photographing the pelagic birdlife that flew around the ship. Whilst the images taken were nothing truly spectacular and were more for the beauty of identifying the sea birds, it did present a wonderful opportunity for my guests to practice panning, getting their focus on point and identifying which camera settings to dial in. Other times, it was just a pleasure to stand on deck and gaze at the surreal vastness of the ocean, seemingly infinite.
Days at sea were broken up by lectures held by a team of biologists, historians, ornithologists and more. Always fascinating, always something to learn. We lapped these lectures up and learnt so much about the world we were going to be a part of during this cruise.
West Point Island, Falklands
It was our first excursion, and we were chomping at the bit to get off of the boat and onto the island as soon as we possibly could!
West Point Island greeted us with a very civilized jetty (not to be had again during the Photography Expedition) and an emerald green landscape with bright, yellow-flowered shrubs. Once off the jetty, and with our gear in hand, we walked up the hill to or desired location: to cliffs where long clumps of grass grow, and what thousands of nesting Black-browed Albatrosses call home.
The scenery is pretty spectacular: short green grass and shrubs, where the only trees we saw were molded by the wind. It felt like we were on a farm where the wind and nature dictate the course of action.
And then we saw them. Thousands in the air, thousands on nests. It was relatively noisy, there was a certain smell to the air, and it surpassed my expectations. Black-browed Albatross look like porcelain objects to me. I think they are exquisite in appearance, as well as being pretty large birds!
Alongside these undeniably majestic creatures were the more caricature-looking Rockhopper Penguins, which also proved to be wonderful photographic subjects.
We spent a long time observing and photographing these beauties, exploring the different ways to capture their story: themselves in their environment, and also as individuals.
Carcass Island, Falklands
Unfortunately, the initial days heading to the Falklands islands at sea with some big swells left me not as strong as I had hoped. My guests went without me (yes, I was completely overcome by missing out!) and had a wonderful excursion.
Port Stanley, Falklands
It is a piece of British territory, and it holds up to its colonial ties! We wandered around a section of the island’s beautiful coastlines. After a few hours of walking around, we just had to end it off by heading to a pub for a typical English fish & chips combo. My client, Simon, being British himself, was in his element, as we walked past red phone-booths and entered our pub that was very much modeled after a typical British pub! It felt like we had stepped through a portal, and instead of entering Narnia, we crossed continents to arrive in England. It was very interesting!
And we were back on the open road! Well, open ocean. The seas were feisty, and whilst we proved that photographers are creatures dedicated to their passions, the constant gazing at laptop monitors combined with the rolling seas left us not feeling too strong after some time, so we broke up our editing sessions with relaxing with books in the lounge, sharing travel stories with one another, getting to know other guests, as well as staff, onboard, and of course, afternoon nap times. Spliced into these days at sea were more lectures, interesting stories being told, as well as one of my favorites: the fireside tales. After dinner, we would all gather at the bar, grab a drink and a seat and listen to one of the ship staff talk for roughly 15 minutes on anything they wanted to share with us. Some told us about adventurous travels deep into the Amazon, others about how they came to be where they are now, and so many more interesting topics! It was a time for everyone to get together in a more public setting, and get to know one another.
So many people with so many stories. One of the reasons why this industry is so riveting to me!