Friday, December 28, 2007

Photographing King Penguins in Antarctica in five easy lessons...

World traveling nature photographer and expedition leader Ralph Lee Hopkins sends this delightful scene of King Penguins coming ashore through the surf at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia, which Ralph describes as one of the world's great wildlife spectacles.

"During a recent photo expedition aboard the National Geographic Endeavour," says Ralph, "we went ashore around 4 AM to catch the dawn. The skilled drivers of our Zodiac raft navigated the surf for a safe but wet landing. LESSON #1: Carry your gear in a protective dry bag.

"Once on shore, we could see the dawn light brightening as well as the penguins coming ashore in waves, like soldiers. A magical situation like this is a humbling experience. Clearly, we are visitors on 'their' beach, but they welcomed us as friends. Following the shoreline, we walked slowly among them. No chance for a tripod here. In the days of slow film, a tripod was a must. But with today's digital SLRs, you can adjust your ISO setting to shoot on the edge of darkness. LESSON #2: Bump up the ISO and shoot wide open.

"As the sun climbed to the horizon, the clouds were first painted in soft pastels, then warmer and warmer tones. The clouds turned to gold that was reflected back as the waves washed across the fine sand. With the bright sky and dark foreground, this was a perfect time to use a Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density filter. In this case, a 2-stop hard edge held back the bright sky while bringing forth the detail in the foreground. There was no time to fool around, get your horizon straight, click the shutter, and check your exposure. If you see "blinkies" in the sky, reduce your exposure then keep shooting. LESSON #3: Check your histogram to be sure you get it right.

"Walking through the surf with penguins, or dropping to your knees to get on their level, is a definite risk to your equipment. When in a rush I sometimes simply handhold the ND filter over my lens, but it can really help to have it in a filter holder so both your hands are free to hold the camera -- especially when working around water. LESSON #4: Having your ND Grad in a filter holder will free your soul to shoot with abandon.

"In a short time I realized that this was one of the best photo opportunities I've ever experienced. Looking back along the beach I could see all the other photographers crazy enough to brave the surf at 4 AM. All of them were in their own bliss, each with their own penguins and each having their own magical experience. LESSON #5: Be patient, sit still, and wait for magic to happen."

This image was taken with Ralph's Canon 5D, 16-35mm lens at 32mm, f/2.8 at 125/sec, ISO 200. Since he left his filter holder on the boat, he hand-held his Singh-Ray 2-stop hard-edged Graduated ND Filter. You can discover a lot more about Ralph's photographic images and travels by visiting

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tom Bol's Antarctic "Icescape Escapades"

Outdoor and nature photographer Tom Bol just got back from Antarctica. "It was really a fun trip," says Tom. "It was a bit wild crossing the Drake Passage with 35-foot seas and 45-knot winds. We had a couple of days with some sun, so I had the chance to use my Singh-Ray filters for a few nice 'icescapes' including this one."

While we were cruising around last week in Antarctica, I was more overwhelmed than I have been in a long, long time. There were just too many things to photograph! Each time the boats turned a corner, a stunning new scene would appear, prompting me to jog continually from one side of the ship to the other -- wishing I could spend weeks, not days, in this area. Our landings consisted of mingling with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of penguins. Note to myself... bring more flash cards the next time.

One day we had some sunny skies as we were cruising an ice-choked channel. Due to the intense sun and glare of the snow and ice, I knew two tools would help me with these images... a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer and Graduated ND filter. The water in this channel was deep blue, so adding a 2-stop soft-edged Graduated ND filter to hold back the snowy mountains helped control the contrast and saturated the blue sky. I also used the polarizer to cut the reflecting glare and enhance the blue sky. Because our boat was constantly moving, tripods wouldn't work, so I used the large 4x6-inch ND Grads which proved easy to hand hold while the boat and I moved... that marks the beginning of a new technique for me."

Tom added this postscript image captured as he was working with a group of his students during the Drake Passage crossing. "We were actually getting some sunny weather," recalls Tom, "and the second I looked off the back of the ship at the engine's wake and the high waves I knew it was a perfect opportunity to use my Vari-ND and a very slow 4-second exposure. All the image needed was something to anchor the shot, and the bright red color in the flag was a great contrast to the green colored water.

To see more of Tom's work, be sure to visit his website.