Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Playing with black and white

As I am coming to the end of my 2 year position as the Zoological field assistant here at King Edward Point I have been handing over to my replacement Daniel. This has meant fewer treks over to Maiviken, especially if it’s raining or snowing! I have been a few times recently though, to give Daniel a weekend off, and when he was doing 2 days of field training with the outgoing base commander who is also a field guide.

Having had some fun in the darkroom developing black and white photos I have been more interested in what black and white can do for my photography. There was a nice chunk of ice over in Maiviken and I had a bit of a play around with it to see how it would look. I think it works quite well with the high contrast treatment.


On my way back from Maiviken I stopped of in Grytviken. Sunlight kept breaking through, and seemed to highlight the textures of the whaling station. With creative juices flowing I took a few more photos to see how they would work out.

20121206-DSC_3727 Oil storage tanks slowly rust

Two old fishing/sealing/whaling ships make a great place to take photos in Grytviken. I really like the rusting metal and flaking paint. There are also various lines securing them together, and offering interesting leading lines for the eye.

20121206-DSC_3737 Lines of an old whaler

Looking up at the bow gave an interesting perspective. The rusting hulk bearing down on you, the decay of the ship, the decay of it’s whaling past, the two holes look almost like eyes, or nostrils, maybe the blow holes of a whale viewed from above.

20121206-DSC_3740 The bow of a whaler

My experiment worked well I feel, and I really need to visit again, maybe spend a day just wandering around, exploring, soaking in the atmosphere, getting a feeling for what might work. It’s good fun experimenting.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Antarctic Terns

It seems that Terns are like Marmite, you either love them or hate them. Their defence tactic of dive bombing and chattering harshly at anyone within range of their nest seems not to be particularly liked by some people, especially when out for a quiet walk. I don’t mind though, they’re gutsy little birds trying to defend their eggs and chicks from predators much bigger than themselves, like skuas, so they really do need to give it their all.


We have a good number of Antarctic terns nesting around King Edward Cove, at least 5 pairs alongside the track to Grytviken, a pair on the old Grytviken jetty, a couple of pairs near the magnetometer hut to name just a few. Most of the UK tern colonies, (Arctic, Common and Little), nest in quite distinctive, high density colonies. The Antarctic terns here though seem to nest fairly well spread out. There are some places where they do form  colonies, but at a much lower density to that which I’ve seen with UK breeding terns.


With the regular traffic along the track to Grytviken one pair in particular have become very accustomed to having people around, something I was able to make use of to get some photos without disturbing the adults. Obviously if the adults are trying to peck you on the head they’re not going to be foraging and feeding their chick, and you’re not going to get any photos of the adults with the chick. I was lucky that while I was watching one of the adults brought in a Krill and fed it to the chick.

20121126-DSC_3353The adult is calling to it’s partner which is flying into the nest with a Krill

20121126-DSC_3357Dinner time for the chick, a tasty Krill

20121126-DSC_3367Down the hatch!

20121126-DSC_3378This tern chick from another pair nearby was a bit older

20121126-DSC_3338A happy tern chick

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Furries and Pingus

Now that spring is well under way it’s breeding time for the fur seals and gentoo penguins. The male furries have set up their territories on the beaches which they defend ferociously, and the females are gradually coming in and giving birth to their pups. The gentoo eggs, which have been incubated for a few weeks are now hatching, and you can hear the chicks quiet ‘cheeping’ coming from all over the colony.

20121123-DSC_3159Big male keeping a good watch

20121124-DSC_3211Play with me mum!

20121124-DSC_3200Not now I’m sleeping

20121124-DSC_3193 Fur seal family

20121123-DSC_3187Basking in the evening sun

20121124-DSC_3225Chick trying to find food under it’s parents wing

20121124-DSC_3236Two nice healthy chicks

20121124-DSC_3246Chicks being fed

20121124-DSC_3264Cute chick close up

Thursday, 8 November 2012

St Andrews bay, part 2

Waking up on the first morning at 4:30 it was a beautiful day, but being pretty tired from the ski over I went back to sleep, feeling rather guilty for not making use of the dawn. Luckily though I had the chance to redeem myself the following morning as a beautiful day began.

I walked down to the beach, and headed along past the moulting king penguins, and the elephant seals towards the main penguin colony. The first river was frozen over, the second was fairly shallow and I could hop from rock to rock and stay dry (even when one was covered in ice and try to dump me in the drink). Being with the chicks and kings to watch the sunrise was one of those moments you will always treasure, as well as enjoying the moment I tried to take a few nice photos too.

20121005-DSC_9647King Penguins and Giant Petrels all in different poses at dawn

20121005-DSC_9663Beautiful clear skies

20121005-DSC_9690‘Dawn chorus’ South Georgia style

20121005-DSC_9705Adults rising above the chicks


20121005-DSC_9715Family bond

20121005-DSC_9891Golden down



20121005-DSC_9949Chicks huddled together, backlit by the low sun

Sunday, 4 November 2012

St Andrews bay, part 1

On the BBC series Frozen Planet a sequence was shown of two male elephant seals in battle. This was filmed at St Andrews, somewhere I am lucky enough to have now visited twice while here on South Georgia.

Erny and I skied in thick fog from Sorling beach, to Hound bay, finding our way by map and compass, and occasional verification using the GPS. At Hound bay the cloud lifted, and the rest of our trip, and holiday took place in beautiful weather.

Most visitors to St Andrews only ever get to spend a few hours in this stunning place. Some are lucky enough to have early landings for dawn, but these are few and far between.

20121003-DSC_9260St Andrews hut, built in the 80’s for a film crew, re-roofed last year, a very comfortable base for a few days holiday, or 3 months if you’re a BBC film crew!

20121003-DSC_9252 King Penguins like to stand on snow to keep cool especially when they are moulting.

20121004-DSC_9497 Reindeer wander around the colony munching on grass that grows in the glacial soils.

20121004-DSC_9628The Milky way stretches across the sky over the thousands of Kings. Exploring the beach during the night was an incredible experience, it got particularly scary while taking this shot as two males began fighting on the beach behind me!

20121005-DSC_0043Taking a morning swim.

20121006-DSC_0542 It’s quite tricky to take a photo at St Andrews with just one penguin in it!

20121006-DSC_0581 Kings everywhere.

20121006-DSC_0594 Erm, so how do we get through this lot? Elephant seals on the beach make it tricky for the penguins to get past, they often spend quite some time finding a route through, only for a female to turn around and block their path!

20121006-DSC_0635 A cute elephant seal pup trying to work out what sort of seal or penguin I am.

20121006-DSC_0648 Two bull elephant seals fight for territory and females on the beach. When the loser flees there are often pups and females that get squashed, fortunately they seem to be fairly squashable and are usually none the worse for their ordeal!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Iridescent clouds and a trip to the beach

20120928-DSC_8592As it was a beautiful afternoon we were all sat out on the covered walkway alongside base, Pat even brought around a jug of his new home brew which was very tasty.

The edges of the clouds had a beautiful iridescent pearlescent colouring that gradually changed as the clouds moved.

With lovely weather forecast over the weekend a trip to the beach was in order. Jo one of the government officers, and her guest Will, had gone over to Maiviken on the Friday to stay at the hut. Katie, Andy and I snow shoed over to meet them at the beach, and took lunch with us. It’s not often you get to laze around on the beach here, it’s usually too cold, or the beach is fully occupied by the wildlife!


I couldn’t sit around on the beach for long, and soon enough I was exploring the rock pools. There were all sorts of different algae, and attractive limpets too. It was interesting trying to photograph them without getting too much distortion from the water.

There were a few Fur seals around, and the first of the Elephant seals, some of which had pups already. Gentoos, which have a colony a short way behind the beach, were coming in, porpoising, and then leaping out of the water to stumble up the shore. It’s great fun to watch, but really difficult to photograph well.

After spending plenty of time relaxing, we headed back to base in time for dinner. A very pleasant way to spend a day.

20120929-DSC_8936Sharing the beach with wildlife

20120929-DSC_9085Curious fur seal having a sniff



Sunday, 9 September 2012

Pinhole camera

In wanting to have a go at some film photography I also fancied the idea of making my own camera. Obviously it would be difficult to use proper optics, so the sensible option is a pinhole camera. I had a medium format film sent down by my parents, which I wanted to use, but it was getting tricky trying to work out how to get it all to work, and wind on especially. So I had a go at making a matchbox pinhole camera instead. There are good instructions at http://www.matchboxpinhole.com/ and there are plenty of photos and other variations on this design available at http://www.flickr.com.

20120830-DSC_8252 An old film canister to wind the film into, a matchbox with a pinhole made in an aluminium drinks can, and the full new film. Ilford 100asa black and white.

I didn’t take very many photos whilst making my pinhole camera, but thought I better have a couple to put on here. I won’t go through the instructions, but basically you make a pinhole very carefully in a bit of aluminium drinks can (mine is 0.15mm diameter), and put that in the side of a matchbox. Then you thread through a new film and sellotape it to the end of a used up film. Lots of black electrical tape makes it lightproof and a makeshift card shutter is all you need to expose the film.

20120830-DSC_8254 I cut a piece out of a BAS calendar to use as the shutter.

Apart from remembering to wind on it’s really easy to use, and you just count for a couple of seconds in sunlight, about 5 seconds in cloud, and several minutes indoors. The frames are 24mm square, so it’ll take a while to finish the film, but it will be interesting to see the results, especially the occasional double exposure!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Film photography

A visitor to South Georgia kindly left an old Nikon film SLR, and some black and white films to go with the darkroom equipment we have on base. There is a darkroom for developing x-ray film for the doctor, and historically darkroom equipment has been held on bases for processing photographic film for work and recreation. With the popularity of digital though it hasn’t seen much use over the last few years, so I decided to have a play.

Traditionally on each base a midwinter photo is taken, framed and placed on the wall each year with all the other midwinter photos. This year I thought it would be nice to have a photo taken, developed, and printed on base, using good old film and paper.

20120827-DSC_8244 Going out for a ski

Both the film camera and my digital were set up to take the midwinter photo, and after setting the timer I just had to run round to the group, easier said than done in the snow and tussac. That done, I then had to finish the film off, it felt quite odd having to wait to get the photo, and even stranger getting used to not being able to check the photo on the back of the camera.

20120827-DSC_8247 Gentoo penguins on the track

Several more weeks passed while I read up on developing films, found the appropriate chemicals on base, and then got around to processing the film. Loading it into it’s reel was quite a fiddle in the complete darkness, and it took three attempts to get it in right. After that it was plain sailing using a JOBO canister and water bath. Set the timer, pour in the developer, wait 15mins, pour it out, pour in the stop, 30 sec, pour it out, pour in the fixer, wait, pour it out, then rinse several times. It was quite exciting when I unloaded the canister to see a developed film, quite a relief to be honest to see the images there recorded. A long swipe with a squeegee, and hang up to dry (diagonally).

20120827-DSC_8248 Posing fur seal

I really wanted to see what the photos were like, so I got my digital SLR and macro lens and headed back to the darkroom. With the film hung up, and trying to avoid reflections I took a few backlit photos of some of the frames. I was then able to invert these in Lightroom by reversing the levels curve, and then playing with the brightness and contrast to get a pleasing result.

20120827-DSC_8249 Midwinter group photo at Shackletons cross, with Mt. Paget in the background.

Now I have to get into the darkroom again, and have a play with printing the negatives. They have a wide tonal range, the very bright mountains/snow, and the dark foreground, so it should be and interesting job. Lets hope I manage OK!