St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia, Southern Ocean Voyage; Best Day Ever? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia, Southern Ocean Voyage; Best Day Ever?

This image was created in the sweet afternoon light with the tripod-mounted Canon 16-35mm L lens and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV). ISO 200. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/640 seconds at f/9 in Av Mode. Gitzo 3530 LS tripod with the Giottos MH 1302-655 (Tiny) BallHead. Wimberley P-5 camera body plate. Double Bubble Level in the hot shoe. Rear Focus AF and recompose. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial.

For a much greater appreciation of this image, click on the photo. Then click on the enlarged version to close it.

St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia, Southern Ocean Voyage; Best Day Ever?

January 11, 2012 dawned dark and somewhat foreboding, but small patches of slightly brighter sky left me confident that my 17-year streak of photographic good-weather-Karma would continue. We would be visiting the world’s largest King Penguin colony at St. Andrews Bay where more than 320,000 pairs breed. The winds were light but the sky still dark and stormy as we exited the Zodiacs and unpacked our gear. When I was about halfway to the ridge that served as a vantage point above the vast plain of penguins it began to sprinkle. The sprinkle quickly turned to a heavy drizzle and in another minute it was de ja vu all over again as a heavy rain began to pelt down….

Three days before at the glorious and slightly smaller King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain those who had stayed out all day had been drenched by a pouring rain that left my two EOS-1D MIV professional camera bodies completely dead. Hours inside a pillowcase with a hair dryer set on medium heat had revived them slightly. For the rest of the trip I was unable to see the large LCD on the back of each camera but otherwise they each functioned.

Within minutes and much to my relief, however, the rain at St. Andrews Bay quit.

Soon I was set up on the ridge and making images in the muted light. A quick-flowing stream ran along the edge of an almost endless plain of King Penguins. Each adult stood protecting the single egg that rested atop its feet enveloped in a brood patch. Long lines of fluffy, brown oakum boys, last year’s young, zigzagged through the colony. Staff ornithologist Jim Danzenbaker explained that the young birds are relegated to the lower portions of the plain while the nesting adults chose the higher drier ground; thus, the lovely patterns.

The King Penguin colony was photographed in the morning with the tripod-mounted Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens (at 110mm) with the EOS-5D Mark II. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1/3 stop: 1/20 sec. at f/32 in Av Mode. Rear Focus Central Sensor AF and recompose. Click here if you missed the Rear Focus Tutorial.

For a greater appreciation of this image, click on the photo. Then click on the enlarged version to close it. To see a really cool quasi-HDR grunge version of this image click here.

The upper reaches of the distant mountains in the background were covered by fog. Mesmerized by the beauty of the scene before me time flew by as I changed lenses and changed perspective often. Before I knew it, it was 11:00am and the sun peeked through here and there revealing the snow-covered peaks. But by the time that I switched to a wide angle lens they were once again shrouded in fog. A bit after noon the sun broke through with a vengeance and just like that it was too bright to photograph. I took a break, sat down on a rock, and enjoyed the lunch that I had scavenged at breakfast: ham and Swiss roll-ups with mayonnaise and a bit of low-sugar ketchup that I had brought from home. Stuffed into a zip-lock plastic bag it was quite the messy meal but it really hit the spot; you can could call it an astronaut style lunch.

I napped for a bit dreaming of how great conditions would be when the light got sweet later in the afternoon. When I awoke I noticed that the wind had come up a bit. Then it roared. The words “katabatic winds” were on everyone’s lips and at times it was difficult to stand. Whitecaps filled the bay around our anchored ship. We soon received word to head back to the landing site and await further instructions…. I packed up my gear and—a bit disappointed–headed back to the beached Zodiacs.

By the time I arrived the winds had pretty much abated but the ½ mile up and down hike turned out to be a blessing in disguise: I drank a ton of water and refilled the three bottles that I had drained in the morning. The light was getting nice and there were penguins entering the water, penguins feeding in the surf, and penguins so stuffed with lantern fish that they could not stand when leaving the water. Had it not been for the wind warning I would have missed some great chances as the wet King Penguins set against the deep blue water and breaking surf made a great combination.

This King Penguin emerging from the surf was photographed with the tripod-mounted Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II lens, the 2X III teleconverter, and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV). ISO 200. Evaluative metering at zero: 1/500 sec. at f/13 in Manual mode.

After an hour of the “surf” photography I hiked back up to the ridge and made hundreds of images of the sea of nesting penguins on the plain below–in the sweet light that I had dreamed of. On the way back to the landing several of us had great chances with adult kings feeding chicks in the sweetest light of the afternoon. In all respects the ten hours at St. Andrews Bay turned out to be one of the great days of my 28 years of bird photography.

This image was created with the tripod-mounted Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II lens, 1.4X III TC, and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV). ISO 200. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop: 1/1250 sec. at f/8 in Manual mode. There will be lots more on the Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II lens coming soon; it turned out to be the perfect long lens for me on this trip….

Your Favorite?

Leave a comment and let us know which of the four images above is your favorite (and why).

Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

I traveled with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris; find out what I thought about them here. You can learn more about CES by clicking here. If you have any questions you can shoot them an e-mail or call them at 800.527.5330.

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My Comments

With a bit of free time I had a chance to respond comments posted to the December 28, 2011 blog post here.

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Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the image in today’s blog post. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Autofocus Lens. This is Canon’s top of the line wide angle zoom lens.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Man, I am loving this lens on my shoulder with the 2X III teleconverter. I also use it a lot–as I did for the image of the eagle with fish–with the 1.4X III TC.
Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II lens. This lens proved to be ideal on a tripod for both birds and wildlife with both the 1.4X and 2X III TCs. All images were super-sharp and the lens was light enough for hand-holding both in the zodiacs and when doing flight photograph from the ship.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital Camera. Canon’s lightweight full frame body is perfect for serious landscape photography.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders :). And you will love them in mega-cold weather….
Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Giottos MH 1302-655 (Tiny) BallHead. I spin off my Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head and mount the tiny ballhead whenever I need to use a short lens on the tripod. The camera goes in the clamp via the Wimberley P-5 camera body plate.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.

25 comments to St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia, Southern Ocean Voyage; Best Day Ever?

  • Hi Arthur,
    This is a general comment. As an avid follower of your images and your Blog, is it possible for you to record a couple of extra things against some, or all of your Blog images?
    Namely: 1.Distance to subject and 2. % image crop.
    I think this would help a lot of amateurs like me, “gauge” the quality of their own images, by making direct comparisons with respect to these two key factors in making a high quality image.
    Kind regards

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks all for your more than kind comments. I love them all but the first two of the colony are my favorites. The second was made in the no-light of the morning; the first in the sweet light of the afternoon. Hold a gun to my head and I might pick the second one…. I love the no sun look 🙂

  • Vincent Scarnecchia

    Artie- did you water soaked cameras recover completely ?

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Vincent, They both half came back to life–the rear LCD screens were dead–and both were fine after being sent to Canon Repair in Jamesburg, NJ.

  • James Saxon

    I prefer the interaction of the last photo but the choice was hard.

  • St.Andrews Bay – hard to beat as a wildlife spectacle anywhere on this planet. Looks like there were more penguins there than when i visited in mid-November. All the images are great. Can’t wait to get back later this year.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Paul. I will see you on the Cheesemans’ Falklands/South Georgia trip this fall! If anyone would like to get on the waiting list please e-mail. Or if you want to go to Antarctica without me click here.

  • cheapo

    Artie, I’m in sixth Heaven, (seventh would be if I was actually there). I love the nearly feeding image, and the returning pengiun announcing it’s arrival, but the colony with the stream and the colours is just superb! I’ve always thought of Penguins as colourful, but never thought to see such a colourful colony.

  • Maggi Fuller

    I am with Carol… my favourite is the King Penguin emerging from the surf, followed by the last one with the chick. The ones of the colony are amazing, but don’t do a lot for me.. I guess here in the UK, we see more David Attenborough programmes than you guys, a recent one with this very colony over Christmas.

  • Wow! I can’t pick a favorite. They are so great. And I love your account of the day; would like to read a whole journal of your trip. (any plans for a book?)

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      No book. Just lots of blog posts :). Hey, I could make some money off a book… Maybe a CD book one day.

  • Gail Pltz

    Those are truly inspiring photos, which make me wish I were there right now! What a fantastic opportunity.

  • Charles Scheffold

    Artie – it sure does look like you had an amazing day! All of the pictures are beautiful, but I like the shots of the colony the best. Never would I have imagined so many birds in one place.

    Unfortunately, you also demonstrated why it is critical to have at least 2 back-up bodies with you on that trip of a lifetime! I have been caught out in the rain with my gear only once or twice, but now I always have 1 or 2 large black garbage bags that I keep tightly folded up in each of my camera bags. A gear saver for sure.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I’ve been teaching the folks the trash bag trick for nearly two decades….

  • Roger Williams

    Wonderful behavioral images, Artie. I’m pleased that the 5D II functioned for you. I just purchased the same, and love it. I’m particularly interested in your comment about using rear focus with the 5D. I’ve tried to set it like my 7D, but have been unable to disable the shutter button from acquiring AF. Any suggestions here would be greatly appreciated.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You owe me big time. I just fished my 5D MII out of my Think Tank bag here in a Tokyo hotel room. It’s easy: set C. Fn. IV-1 to 2: Metering start/Meter + AF start. Setting C. Fn. IV-2 to 1: Enable is optional.

      Sorry to be so tardy but I have been busy having fun in Japan. artie

  • I live outside of Washington, DC and visit the National Geographic Headquarters frequently for their photographic exhibits. The photographs from your recent trip capture behavior and tell a story in a way I have not seen anywhere else.

  • Terry Jackson

    Hi Art
    Great work – you are truly a lucky man to have had the opportunity to spend so much quality time at the prime location in South Georgia. I was there in early November and St. Andrews Bay was the one prime location we could not visit due to dense fog – I will nowrelive it through your shots. I like the first phot best as it gives a great prespective of the magnitude of the location. I look forward to the rest of your stories and images. Which expedition company did you go with?
    Cheers, TJU

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Very lucky indeed. All of my good weather Karma is supplied by my late wife Elaine. I went with Cheesemans’; they were great. Click here for the whole story.

  • What truly fantastic photographs! I love them all but my favorite would be the last one. I can’t explain why I like it better than any of the others but, to me, it just stands out. It shows what life is about. They all go together because they tell a story.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Carol Nichols

    My favorite is the King Penguin emerging from the surf. A good name for this photo would be “Happy Feet”. I can’t wait to see more of your images!

  • One word….. WOW, that must have been an experience of a lifetime, super images

  • Gordon Lindsay

    Welcome back Art, looking forward to hearing all about your trip.

  • Welcome back, Art! Thanks for the impressive photos and trip details. Wow!
    My favorite? The King penguin with juvenile, so sharp, but lots of soft texture.