Photo Friday: A second visit to the Penguins

The weather here has been really nice to us for the last week or so: -10°C, blue skies and next to no wind. The summer is definitely coming! And taking advantage of the conditions, we decided to arrange another visit to Windy Bay and our neighbours, the Emperor Penguins, to check out on them!We also have a good number of new wintering team already on base and though it would be a good idea to introduce them to the experience, use the opportunity to show them the rope work, abseiling, jumaring and just give them the experience away from the station.

We kitted everyone out with boots, climbing harnesses and bits and pieces of outdoor clothing that they might need the day before and arranged to meet up outside of the A module at 0800 on Sunday morning, ready to go.

In the morning we got the Sno-Cat out, packed all kit on top of the Siglen sledge, got everyone inside and left the base. After about two hours of driving the Cat we arrived to Windy Bay, where Ian, the new Field GA took all the new winterers and helped them out get ready, while Al, Rich and myself went straight towards the Ice Shelf edge to set up the abseil, where we installed the anchors and set up two ropes, each with a pre-built 5-point Z pulley system. The last part was there just in case we needed to hoist anything heavy or anyone up to the top of the Ice Shelf again.

One by one we got everybody down to the Sea Ice and off we went to look at the penguins.

Penguin Colony

The first thing I’ve noticed was how big the chicks grew! When we visited them for the first time around three months ago, they were really small, literally a tiny head with even a tinier body attached to it, all hidden under their parent’s belly, just carefully standing on their parents feet. Now they are running around, playing, exploring and doing whatever penguin chicks are doing best!

The colony has also split into a number of groups, instead of one big huddle. I think it is around this time of the year that the chicks will start learning how to huddle to preserve warmth, but when we were there, they haven’t figured that out yet. Soon, all adults will leave them and go feeding and preparing for the next breeding season and the chicks will have to look after themselves.


Where there’s abseiling, there’s also jumaring as well, and when we were finished looking at the penguins, we went back towards the ropes and with a bit of effort, got back up the cliff. I must say, this time the jumaring was much easier and dare I say it, much more pleasant than the last time we did that. I think having crampons on, as well as tying off the bags to the end of the rope to be hoisted up later made a big difference. Everyone did really well. I even had the time and energy left to look around and take the view while suspended over the sea ice!


Photography tips

It was a bright enough day, with a layer of altocumulus cloud covering pretty much the whole sky when we were on the sea ice. Nevertheless, the sun was peeking through the cloud.

This made it for somewhat tricky conditions, as the light tended to be flattish, but occasionally it would become quite harsh. At the same time, the contrast between the white of the snow and ice, and the black feathers or really any other dark objects was quite high.

To ensure I get the details of penguins or people, I tended to expose for the darker elements in the frame – generally setting the exposure compensation to +⅔EV did the trick. This was all done knowing that the sky and the ice could become washed out a bit, but I knew as well that I could correct for both in post processing.

Speaking of post processing, I used my usual recipe in Lightroom, which roughly consists of:

  • Apply lens correction for all three parameters: distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration.
  • Apply color profile. In my case, most of the time for scenic pictures I use Nikon D2X Mode 3, but if I want to make the picture a little bit less contrasty with smoother tones, I use Nikon D2X Mode 1 (most often for people portraits, but this also works for penguin portraits too).
  • Adjust Basic Settings:
    • Decrease Blacks just a tad (-5 to -10) to make the images “pop” a little more
    • Increase Clarity, which controls the local contrast, to somewhere around +25 to +33. This is a great setting to bring out a little more detail and texture
    • Increase Vibrance again to anywhere between +10 and +33. This adds a little more “oomph” to the images, while maintaining the original colour tones.
    • Sometimes I increase the Saturation just a tiny bit, especially if the image is mostly in one colour tone (e.g. mostly white, or white-blueish, as is the case with pictures taken outdoor in winter conditions), and I have a small bright red/orange/yellow element that I’d like to emphasise a little (e.g. a person wearing a bright jacket, standing far away from the camera).
  • If required, I remove the spots left on the image by sensor dust.
  • If I have a bright sky that might be overexposed or washed out, I’d use a Graduated Neutral Density filter, with a setting of -1EV to -2EV. I would also decrease the colour temperature of that filter to between -10 and -15, which makes the sky a little bit bluer.
  • If the image can benefit from it, I then add a little bit of post-crop vignetting. Note how I first eliminate vignetting created by the lens using the Lens Correction, and then follow that with adding my own effect – I prefer to be in control of the effects myself.
  • Use sharpening and noise reduction, even if the picture was taken at ISO100. I typically use the presets that came with Lightroom and choose Noise Reduction – Light (although if the images were taken at very high ISO, I might use the Medium setting) as well as Sharpening > Landscape > Medium
  • Finally, I look at the whole picture and adjust the Exposure to make sure I don’t end up with either an underexposed or an overexposed image. I look at my main subject as well as the background and fine tune all the above (exposure, vignetting amount and grad ND filter amount).

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