Land of the Kings

South Georgia has surpassed all my expectations. To be honest, one of the deciding factors in choosing this boat rather than others that simply explore Antarctica was because of the itinerary that included South Georgia. And trust me…it’s worth it. South Georgia is, by all means, the land of the kings. Several hundred thousand king penguins reside on the island, giving it the most densely populated king penguin colonies in the world. When we made our first landing, I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. The mass of penguins is so thick that once you reach the edge of the colony, you cannot even take another step forward. I can’t even begin to fathom how they scooch between each other to get to the sea and feed, that’s how smashed up against each other they are. But even more impressive is how this hodgepodge of penguins seems to stretch as far as they eye can see – the landscape is just covered with them!

King penguins are spectacular birds whose bright orange feathers make them some of the most beautiful and picturesque species we’ve seen so far. It’s been an absolute blast photographing them, although it’s been more challenging than I expected for a number of reasons. Firstly, coming from Antarctica where life is much less abundant, stepping on to South Georgia with a camera feels like stepping in to a war zone that’s been swept with chaos. There is no organization, no routine, no moment of calm. It’s an overload of sensations on every level – most notably the odor! As a photographer, it becomes a very difficult task to sort through the mass of information that’s in front of you and try to find balance and direction with your images. It requires a level of creativity that I have not yet in countered since I am often in situations where the ‘photographic moment’ is presented to me in a simple manner (ie a leopard in a tree, a bird searching for prey, or a beautiful landscape at sunset). I quickly learned that there was just so much going on, that I needed a vision of what I wanted before I would get any pleasing results, and it was this process that I fell in love with. I would sit for however long it took to realize this vision, camera down by my side, just watching the dynamics of the group in front of me. I would pick out the individuals with unique behavior, paying special attention to them, until I saw something that caught my eye. It was then that I would pick up the camera and wait for a similar behavior to occur. This was how I got the best results – willingness to put the camera down and study my surroundings, patience, and vigilance. And in my opinion, it paid off.

One last note about photographing penguins in large colonies – be prepared to get dirty. I spent the majority of my time crawling on the ground, literally sprawled full eagle most of the time. Knee/elbow pads would have saved me a lot of grief on this trip, but I find that the best pictures often come from eye level. And for those of us who tower over a two foot penguin, that means getting down and dirty! By the end of each day I was covered…. COVERED in penguin poo from head to foot! I had cuts and scrapes, banged up knees and elbows, I’d been pecked at and even pood on! But at the end of the day, I was the happiest guests onboard, because this is what I love doing – I love the challenge of getting the shots that touch the heart of my audience. I love conveying a feeling, an emotion, and putting the viewer in my shoes when I take a photo. But most of all, I love connecting with nature, feeling a part of where I am and a connection with the land and the animals that live there, and the only way I know how to do this in South Georgia is to live like a king![gallery ids="432,433,434,435,436,437,438,439,440,441,442,443,444,445,446,447"]