Have you ever thought of a trip to Antartica? Read Dr. Palazzolo's trip report and you might be booking your reservations sooner than you think..

 

 

Antarctica Baby!

As you know I sometimes solicit material from accomplished and interesting fellow photographers.  Dr. Palazzolo is a friend and a colleague and I’m delighted to introduce him to you in this column.  Dr. Palazzolo is an avid traveler, exotic animal veterinarian, and a wildlife conservationist.  He teaches digital photography workshops on his exotic trips, and shares his professional equipment with his students to help increase the chance they’ll come home with those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ photographs to show off to their friends.  Even though most of his trips are in Africa, South America, and Alaska, he’s had the opportunity to teach photography to a group of veterinarians on an Antarctic expedition.  I hope to bring Dr. Palazzolo to Thailand and include him in future workshops while showing him all Thailand has to offer!

Dr. Palazzolo’s stated philosophy concerning photography is as follows:

“My goal in photography is to capture a unique moment and share it with others. It is not to take a perfect photo regarding shadows and highlights, nor is it to get my photos on the cover of some magazine. It is to share what I see with others and present it in a manner that all can relate to and learn from.”

Dr. Carl Palazzolo

Lucky Number 7- Antarctica

Finally, after traveling halfway around the world I am on the Explorer II as it leaves the southernmost city in the world called Ushuia- next stop Antarctica! Well, not exactly- the next stop in my mind is the Drake Passage, some of the most turbulent waters on the planet, and the body of water we need to traverse for the next two days. I must admit that seeing those vomit bags scattered around the ship did nothing for my confidence in this area. I am keeping my fingers crossed that my anti motion medication works, especially when I lecture to our group of 30 veterinarians. The rainbow I see as we leave port gives me hope - my 7th continent, here I come.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

My worries were unfounded as we crossed what our expedition crew affectionately called the “Drake Lake”. On the ride out we were visited by petrels and albatross that spend their lives wandering these waters. They are attracted to the boat and entertained us by streaking past in the ample winds as we all tried to focus on them with our fancy cameras. This was a good time for us to practice our focusing techniques for the opportunities to come.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

During our two-day voyage across the Drake we had the good fortune to happen across 25 humpback whales early in our trip. Maritime law dictates that you do not approach marine mammals within one hundred yards. These animals do not have to follow this law though, and when your enthusiastic Italian captain tells you to get on deck pronto as he turns the engines down you sometimes get lucky and they approach your ship.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

They were feeding on a massive krill swarm just below the ship. When the captain announced this find (he was more excited than we were) we all scurried to the deck with our cameras in tow. The whales circled our ship and put on a show as they dove and surfaced, displaying their beautiful flukes, and then repeating the process as they fed. In the clear waters we could observe them underwater swimming all around us. The calm Drake Passage (a 3 out of 10) and the whale sightings were good omens I hoped would continue.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

On the ride out we were kept well fed and well informed by our professional (and irreverent I might add) expedition crew and Filipino staff. I had a feeling it would be a colorful trip when our captain, in spite of what our expedition briefing stated, told us that he would allow us to go on the bridge and watch them navigate around icebergs. Let's see, how exactly did he word it...”Buon giorno everyone, and welcome a to my a ship. You no worry about what your read about the bridge, you comma on my bridge any time you feel a like it”.

As we got near the Antarctic peninsula we started seeing penguins that were coming and going on feeding trips. The speed at which they literally fly through the water is in such contrast to the way they waddle on land. Between the whales, sea-going birds, and now these penguins, we had plenty of time to perfect our photographic techniques on moving objects as we arrived at the Antarctica Peninsula at a location called Deception Bay.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

It was an old whaling station and British research station, and the first of many islands we would visit on our excursion. This was our first chance to don all our gear and head out in the zodiacs. For some of us the best part of our first Antarctic stop was taking a dip in the frigid waters at just the right spot where the thermals were bubbling up. I am now an official member of the Deception Island Hot Tub Club!

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Over the next 5 days we would visit numerous locations on the peninsula and learn the storied history of this land. Our expedition crew was top notch, and in addition to lectures on the flora and fauna, an historian that was the great nephew of an early Antarctic explorer added a colorful slice of history to the early explorers that risked so much to navigate and map this huge continent. At the end of each day, at what was termed “recap” by the crew of the boat, they went over what we actually ended up observing. Their approach was a bit more irreverent than you might anticipate by such a professional crew, which added to the ambiance of the trip.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

The highlight of the trip for almost everyone was our interaction with the penguins. If you like penguins then you will be in guano heaven! We were surrounded by them- chinstraps, gentoos, and adelies. We followed the strict rules about not approaching closer than 5 meters because of the stress they must endure during their molt. These rules did not apply to the penguins though, and if they waddled towards you and happened to nip at your toes then you made a new friend. To be allowed back on the ship we had to pass a crew inspection of our boots for guano. Offenders had to endure the indignity of the guano-matic to clean their boots or else they would be left on the island as our ship sailed to its next destination.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

As ungainly as penguins are on land their movements in the water are graceful and fast as lightning. Herds of them would literally streak past us, popping up momentarily, then disappearing like torpedoes. If you wanted to capture them with your camera you had to focus on the water where you anticipated they would appear and start firing before you even saw them. Needless to say, as we edited our photos later, we had to review lots of out-of- focus and just plain water shots to get a few of them as they literally flew through the air.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

In addition to penguins we saw weddell seals, crab eating seals, and leopard seals. We basked in beautiful blue skies, helped our captain navigate around untold numbers of icebergs, ate massive quantities of food, contemplated huge glaciers, and marveled at the early explorers who risked so much to establish whaling settlements and map the continent.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

The stark beauty of Antarctica was apparent as the weather would change from blue skies and balmy seas to ominous skies and windswept waters in minutes during our daily zodiac excursions. This stark beauty was enhanced one day as we watched an awesome predator called a leopard seal tear apart and eat a bird.  When we first encountered him he was checking us out by rising up out of the water. He would then dive under our zodiac and look at us from the other side. In no time he was gone and we got word he had a bird called a blue-eyed shag in his mouth.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

All too soon we had to end our trip and face the Drake again. Too bad for some in our group the ride back was not as calm as the ride over. The Richter Scale on the ride back was a 7 out of 10, which meant 30 foot waves, although the captain gave us permission to say they were 50 feet.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

The crew of our boat (oops, I mean expedition ship) was outstanding, the food was great, the boat was comfortable, and the company was the best. For most of us this well organized trip exceeded our expectations. Antarctica is a trip well worth taking for anyone with a small sense of adventure, an appreciation for the wonders of our planet, and a little anti motion medication.

Antartica by Carl Palazzolo

For substantially more information and pictures about this trip please visit Dr. P’s web site.

(after reading about this fantastic trip I was left wondering what gear and other information concerning the technical’s Dr. Palazzolo might be able to provide, so I asked him!  He was generous enough to include the information below!)

 

Dr. P used the Canon 1D Mark III on his Antarctica trip for almost all of the action shots. The good focusing ability (he has never had the infamous Mark III focus problem on this trip), high frame rate and weather proofing in the face of salt spray made this camera a good choice out on the water in the zodiacs. He used the Canon 5D for most of his scenery shots and some of his land shots of penguins. Having two cameras at his disposal minimized lens changing and missed photo opportunities. . Almost all of his shots are RAW. He uses aperture priority for most of his wildlife photography, and tends  to use partial and spot metering most of the time.

He usually uses his Canon 500 mm f/4 IS for his wildlife photography due to its optimal combination of size, weight,  and focal length. In Antarctica it was not needed. Instead he used the Canon 300 mm f/2.8 IS, sometimes with a 1.4X teleconverter. This combination was used for the whale shots taken from the expedition ship. "The whales came upon us fast and we had to scramble to get on deck and find a good position to shoot. There was no time to play with white balance or make any other significant settings changes".

The biggest shooting challenge of the trip turned out to be the flying petrels and albatross at the back of the boat. With the strong wind the birds literally whipped past. It was good practice trying to lock focus on them, especially with choppy background waves in the same scene.

The majority of time, especially when out on the zodiacs, he used the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 IS. This proved to be a valuable lens, and was used to take the leopard seal photos. The leopard seal shot was taken in difficult conditions. The wind was whipping, the boat was bouncing, and the waves were chopping and sending salt spray. Even the people in the zodiac were moving around and making photography difficult. When Dr. P came across the leopard seal thrashing the Shag in its mouth he had to shoot fast and hope for the best due to all these factors and the fact that the seal was only above surface for a few seconds with the shag in its mouth.

The Canon 24-105 mm f/4 IS was used for the general scenery shots.

When the blue sky was present and the angle right a polarizer filter was used.

On the misty days a plastic sleeve, available for $5 at the local camera shop, fit perfectly over the camera and 70-200 mm. Condensation never seemed to be a problem when moving from indoors to out and back.  Probably because the temperature outside ranged from 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thank you Dr. Palazzolo!  I know the time and effort required to put together a piece like this is significant and I’d like to thank you for your time and efforts.  I’m sure many readers will find this as fascinating as I did.

Dr. Palazzolo’s contact information:

Carl Palazzolo, DVM, MBA

Long Beach Animal Hospital

3816 E. Anaheim St.

Long Beach, CA 908094

WWW.LBAH.COM

Carlp@me.com