One of the more iconic views on any of the BAS expeditions to the Antarctic is a Pyramid Tent, lit up from the inside with a Tilley Lamp, on a back drop of an evening (or early morning) sky.
Iconic BAS Pyramid Tent
I was hoping to take a picture of a tent like that on my second round of winter trips, but unfortunately due to the weather, that didn’t happen.
Not to worry, we were able to pitch a tent up at the perimeter of the base for the purpose of taking the picture. I know, it is cheating a little, but in a way it also makes it a bit easier to take the shot, as I could have a dedicated time out near the tent solely for the purpose of photography.
These tents have been around BAS for at least fifty years if not longer. Similarly to the likes of Primus Stoves, Tilley Lamps or Nansen Sledges, they pretty much reached the level of perfection and nothing better came out since. They may be big, heavy and bulky so they are not suitable for all uses, but when you travel BAS style, weight is the least of your considerations – everything is carried on a sledge behind a Skidoo, or on top of a Sno-Cat.
I’ve set my camera on a tripod, quite low above the ground to make the tent fill a relatively large section of the sky. I used Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 12-24 f/4G IF-ED lens on my trusted old Nikon D200. The exposure ranged from 10 sec at ISO100 f/4 to 30 sec at ISO400 f/4 and I took pictures both at 12mm and at 24mm focal length.
The challenge in these conditions is to not get too cold to change camera settings – it was about -30°C last night, with a 10kt breeze.
The photographic challenge was to do with making sure the frame is in focus – for this I use a technique of pointing the camera towards something bright that it can se the focus automatically to (in this case it was the edge of the lit up tent), lock the focus while pressing the shutter half-way to manual and then recompose the image. Sometimes, when I’m not so lucky to have a big bright tent with me, I’d use the station lights, or any other bright thing I can find – using another person or even a prop of some sort lit up by a head torch in a bit of a distance as an option of last resort.
I also typically shoot on manual settings after looking at what the camera’s meter wants to do. I remember that the meter is trying to set the exposure to bring the frame to a neutral grey. What I did in the case of these shots was to evaluate the scene myself and decide how bright or dark the scene really is, and then either under or over expose the scene in relation to what the meter was telling me. The thought process might have gone something like: “OK, I have a big generally dark scene, with a relatively small bright element (the tent and some glow on the horizon). I’m going to underexpose the scene by ⅔ of the stop and see what happens, using the display and the histogram on my camera).
And then it’s a case of taking a number of shots, changing the framing and playing with the settings a little bit for different results!