Best-ever BAA Student? & Free Southern Ocean Photography Guide Excerpt « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Best-ever BAA Student? & Free Southern Ocean Photography Guide Excerpt

What’s Up?

Six of us enjoyed a last morning at the cliffs. There were not a lot of pelicans but those that remained after a big group took off were quite tame… Muriel McClellan graciously treated everyone to a fine lunch at The Crab Catcher. In the afternoon I put the finishing touches on my Saturday morning program–see yesterday’s blog–and headed up to Carlsbad for dinner and INSPIRE: The Power of Story. Cliff Oliver’s mentor, Dr. Paul Brenner, the father of alternative medicine in the US, is one of four featured speakers.

If today’s blog post inspires you to join the BAA group for the OCT/NOV 2016 Cheesemans’ South Georgia/Falklands Expedition please scroll down for details.


This image was created with the hand held Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (at 400mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 1250: 1/1600 sec. at f/5.6 was probably +2/3 stop off of the water. AWB.

Grey-headed Albatross on final approach to nest

Image courtesy of and copyright 2015: Clemens Van der Werf

Clemens Van der Werf Blog Post

If you enjoy good photography, you will want to check out Clemens’ Adventure in South Georgia blog post here. In addition to some good writing you will find a dazzling array of images including lots of scenics, some killer black and whites, and some excellent people in nature stuff.

In addition to being a good friend Clemens is one of (if not the) top BIRDS AS ART students.

Free Relevant Excerpt from the Southern Ocean Photography Guide


On my 2015 trip we landed the next morning at Elsehul after being faced with wind and snow on our landing at Undine Harbor the day before. Cheesemans’ had sent out a scout team to search for Grey-headed Albatross nests and reported by walkie talkie that in addition to the hike being steep in spots and tough (both as usual) that the only nest they had found was quite a distance from the landing site, about 1 ½ miles.
The day was quite lovely and though you can never count on such conditions to last long on South Georgia, many folks decided to make the trek. For me, with my problematic left knee, the decision not to try the hike was an easy one. On the beach you can expect the same birds and animals as noted for Undine Harbor.

Knowing that most of the folks in my group would not be making the long difficult hike I was keen to see if we might find a spot to photograph some Grey-headed Albatross in flight. That search did not take long. In fact, as we landed I noted a headland to the right of the landing site. Both grey-headeds and light mantled sootys were flying by on a fairly regular basis. Bingo I thought.

I asked permission from a staff member to make the gentle climb up the top of the headland and hang out for a while. It was granted. I took my time and the climb was not too difficult at all. Some folks in the BAA group joined me. At first the birds simply stopped flying. I was 100% positive that that was purely coincidental and that the birds in flight were in no way affected by our presence. After a while, I would be proven right.

One group member got bored too quickly and left. Others who had faith in their leader stuck it out. And after about 45 minutes they were rewarded. We had birds of both species flying above us and below us, some so close that you had to duck. In addition, we had some good chances with a few Giant Petrels that were exploring the hillside below us for nest sites.

I enjoyed on and off action for about four hours as other group members came and went. When it comes to flight photography, my determination serves me well. Be on the lookout for nice scenics anywhere at this location: on the ridges, on the beach, from the zodiacs, and even from the ship. Heck, the same applies to pretty much all of South Georgia with its spectacular mountains and related geology. The best lens for scenics might range from a fish eye or wide angle to an intermediate telephoto and would include everything in between.

As always for flight photography we worked in Manual mode. We used one exposure for the Grey-headed Albatrosses and went one shutter speed click lighter for the overall slightly darker Light Mantled Sooty Albatrosses. If you are confused by the above please see Exposure Simplified in The Art of Bird Photography II (ABP II: 916 pages, 900+ images on CD only). Learn more in the “A Brush-up Tutorial on Working in Manual Mode” blog post here. Learn which is the best shooting mode in the “At Long Last, As Promised: the Greatest, Most Educational Blog Post Ever? Manual… Av… Tv… Program… Which is The Best Shooting Mode?” blog post here.

Southern Ocean Photography Guide

The Southern Ocean Photography Guide is a work in progress. I hope to have it finished as soon as possible. If you are headed to the Southern Ocean and would like to purchase a pre-publication version please shoot me an e-mail.


All images on the card were created on the 2015 Cheesemans’ South Georgia Expedition. From top left clockwise to center: King Penguin resting on Snow, Fortuna Bay; Macaroni Penguin in snow, Cooper Island; Grey-headed Albatross, Elsehul; King Penguin neck abstract, Godthul; Northern Giant Petrel, Undine Harbor; adult Wandering Albatross, Prion Island; Elephant Seal, Undine Harbor; South Georgia Pipit fledgling/thanks Joe Kaplan! Fortuna Bay; high key King Penguins in snow, Fortuna Bay.

Card design and all images copyright 2015: Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Hard to Believe: An End to the Best…

I have been to the Southern Ocean five times, the last four with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris (CES). It is common knowledge that they offer the finest ship-based photographic expeditions to South Georgia and the Falklands. Nobody else is close. They will make landings in tough conditions. Always. Their experienced staff and crew of zodiac drivers will get you on and off safely. You will enjoy so much time on a given landing that you will often want to head back to the ship early! Sorry, not me (though I did go back to the ship an hour early on our 2015 St. Andrews Bay landing. I quit after only 12 1/2 hours to go back to the ship on the 5pm zodiac when I could have stayed till 6pm…. My excuse? I could not raise my lens anymore.)

I learned recently that their October 22-November 6 (on the Sea Spirit) will be their last trip down to wildlife heaven on earth. Here is what Ted Cheeseman had to say:

The 2016 October/November expedition will be our last to South Georgia. Market changes, regulation changes, and as big of a part of our lives as it has been, we realize this next will indeed be the last.

When I asked him if he was sure that the 2016 trip would be the last, he replied:

To be honest, we have been known to go back on our statement of ‘last trip ever’. But for South Georgia, I don’t see how we could do it in the future. We want to continue but the costs are skyrocketing, regulation is threatening in a way that I think after 2016 may very well make it impossible to have free roaming folks ashore, i.e. possibly guided groups only – no thank you. So though I am loathe to say it, the Oct/Nov 2016 trip will be our last. If we do another before the end of 2018, I’ll see to it that you get free passage aboard. How’s that for a commitment?

BIRDS AS ART and the 2016 Cheesemans’ South Georgia/Falklands Expedition

When I got off the Ortelius at Stanley and told Ted that the just concluded voyage would be my last to the Southern Ocean, I meant it. But once I heard that the 2016 trip would be their last, I realized that I had to make the trip. As soon as I sign up a single participant for the expedition’s BAA group, I will be sending my deposit check.

If you would like to join me on what will be an amazing trip to a wondrous place, please shoot me an e-mail with the words “Cheesemans’ Last South Georgia Expedition” cut and pasted into the Subject Line.


All of the images on this card were created in the Falklands on the 2014 Cheesemans’ Southern Oceans Expedition. From top left clockwise to center: Black-browed Albatross tending chick, Steeple Jason Island; Black-browed Albatross courting pair, New Island; the Black-browed Albatross colony at Steeple Jason Island; Black-browed Albatross landing, New Island; King Cormorant head portrait, New Island; hull detail/derelict minesweeper, New Island; Rockhopper Penguin head portrait in bright sun, New Island; Striated Caracara, Steeple Jason Island; Magellanic Snipe chick, Sea Lion Island.

An Expedition Overview

Experience the vibrant spring of South Georgia, a true Antarctic wildlife paradise. Observe and photograph wildlife behaviors seldom seen beneath the towering, snow blanketed mountains (see image below) that dominate the island’s landscape. Southern Elephant Seal bulls fight for breeding rights while females nurse young, overlook vast colonies of loafing King Penguins, watch Macaroni Penguins cavort in the snow, photograph handsome Gray-headed Albatrosses in flight or attending to their cliffside nests and awkward Wandering Albatrosses attempting first flight. The itinerary includes six landing days on South Georgia and three landing days in the Falklands to observe too cute Rockhopper Penguins, Magellanic Penguins standing watch at their nesting burrows, and more Black-browed Albatrosses than you could ever imagine. To commemorate Shackleton’s famous self-rescue crossing South Georgia, CES also offers an optional trek retracing his steps. With Cheesemans’ twenty years of experience in the Antarctic region, they commit to an in-depth exploration of one of the densest wildlife spectacles found anywhere in the world, and with only 100 passengers, they routinely give you the opportunity to completely immerse yourself on each landing.

Two of the scheduled Falklands landings, New Island and especially Steeple Jason Island, rival the best locations on South Georgia. Those will likely include Salisbury Plain, St. Andrews Bay, Elsehul, Fortuna Bay, and either Cooper Island or Hercules Bay (for Macaroni Penguins).

Why Sign Up Through BIRDS AS ART?

If you have been thinking and dreaming of finally visiting South Georgia, this is the trip for you. There will likely never be another trip like this as the best outfit in the Southern Oceans business will not be returning after 2016…. Quit dreaming and act now. Though I will not be an expedition staff member on this trip, those who have traveled with me know that I cannot help but teach. And I will be doing a introductory photography program for the entire ship on our crossing to South Georgia. All who sign up via BAA will receive a free copy the new Southern Ocean Photography Guide (a $100 value) that I am currently working on. It will include pre-trip gear and clothing recommendations and a ton of info that you will find to be invaluable.

I will hold informal pre-landing briefings aboard ship so that when you land you know exactly what to expect and where to go. I will be available on the ship to review your images, answer your questions, and conduct informal over-the shoulder Photoshop sessions. And best of all, everyone who signs up under the auspices of BAA are invited to tag along with me on the landings where I will be glad to offer invaluable in-the-field advice. And the same goes for the shipboard birds in flight and marine mammal photographic sessions.

Again, if you would like to join me on what will truly be a once in a lifetime opportunity to a wondrous place, please shoot me an e-mail with the words “Cheesemans’ Last South Georgia Expedition,” cut and pasted into the Subject Line.

You can learn more about the trip here. If you sign up on your own be sure to mention that you would like to be part of the BAA Group. I’d be glad to answer any and all question via e-mail or by phone at 863-692-0906.

Important Notes

#1: If you fail to e-mail me as noted directly above, and register directly with CES you MUST let them know that you would like to be part of the BIRDS AS ART group.

#2: Joining the BIRDS AS ART group as above will not cost you one penny.

The Sea Spirit

The Sea Spirit is an “all suite” luxury vessel built for sailing in ice with an ice-strengthened hull and retractable fin stabilizers, the latter deliver smooth sailing to make your polar expedition enjoyable and safe. All cabins have a private, en-suite bathroom, a lounge area, and ample storage. The cabins have unobstructed exterior views via portholes, picture windows, or a private balcony. The ship is outfitted with a presentation room for on-board lectures as well as a gym, library, game room, lounge, bar with bartender, and dining lounge with chef-prepared meals. The Sea Spirit provides warm and comfortable accommodation for 100 passengers, the expedition staff, and the ship’s crew. The Sea Spirit carries a fleet of ten Zodiacs. The Zodiac loading area, located at the rear of the ship, provides a safe and relatively sheltered place from which to embark on our adventures.

Best of all, the Sea Spirit does 14 knots, a huge step above the other ships that I have been on; each crawled along at 11 knots…

Going Light

On recent trips I found myself going with shorter lenses and lighter gear than on my previous Southern Ocean Expedition. It is completely conceivable that you could do the entire trip with either the new Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II lens or a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens with both teleconverters. Nikon folks could go with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm G ED VR lens or the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens and the Nikon TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter for D-AF-S & AF-I lenses ONLY. We do not recommend the Nikon 2X TCE.

A good crop factor camera body like the Canon EOS-7D Mark II makes makes life (and landings!) much easier.

Cheesemans’ Well Deserved Kudos

I know from personal experience that if you are a photographer who is going to invest in Southern Ocean voyage, you will want to put your money on Cheesemans’. No other tour company goes as far out of their way to ensure making every possible safe landing. And no other tour company will have you spending more time on land. Michael Viljeon from South Africa was aboard the Ortelius on a Southern Oceans voyage that preceded the Cheesemans’ trip that we were both on. As we headed back to Ushuaia, he said, “The folks that ran that first trip were pathetic. Too rough. No landing today. Surf too high today. No landing. Wind wrong direction. No landing. Cheesemans’ routinely and safely gets folks on land in conditions where the leaders of other tour companies do not even bother getting out of their bunks.”

Here, from the” Way to Go CES! (Cheeseman’s Ecology Safaris)” blog post here, is one of my favorite Cheesemans’ stories:

The landing at Bailey Head, Antarctica, was especially rewarding to me as I had been sitting in a zodiac 100 yards off shore on my 2007 trip when the zodiac in front of mine swamped and the captain of the ship called off the landing…. Early that day it looked as if my weather Karma might not be working. Ted’s “Good morning shipmates” was followed by the news that we would not be able to land at Bailey Head that morning as the swell was too big. The beach there is sloped tremendously and the sea strives to pull the zodiacs back into the ocean before folks have gotten off with their gear. Tom Murphy had said to me several days before, “We will get you on the beach at Bailey Head.” Ted concluded his morning greetings by saying, “We are sending out a scout team to see if landing is possible.”

After breakfast I was thrilled to hear Ted’s voice again on the PA, “We will be landing at 8am.” Afterwards folks noted that it was the calmest landing ever at this amazingly beautiful spot. My good weather Karma (courtesy of late-wife Elaine) had come through one last time. Along with St. Andrews Bay, it was one of my two favorite super-great once-in-a-lifetime days of the trip. And we even got to enjoy three additional hours at Hannah Point, Antarctica before calling it a wrap and heading for the feared Drake Passage. All thanks to Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

If you’d like to join me on the OCT/NOV 2016 expedition to South Georgia and the Falklands, please shoot me an e-mail with the words “Cheesemans’ Last South Georgia Expedition” cut and pasted into the Subject Line.


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