How To Photograph Wildlife In Antarctica

A seal, resting on an iceberg, near the shores of Paradise Harbour in Antarctica.

This seal was photographed on floating ice in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. I was in a zodiac at the time and, by cutting the motor, we were able to move in quite close without scaring the seal.

It's a Question of Biology

While wildlife photography is not my speciality I know enough about biology, by which I mean behavior, to respect the notion of personal space.

It's often the case that animals will allow you to approach quite close before they become anxious or aggressive. One trick I've learned over the years is to avoid approaching them in a straight line at pace. My approach is to move towards them, in a very indirect manner (e.g., zig zag) and, where possible, try to give the impression that I'm grazing. The message you're trying to send is that you're not interested in them and, as a consequence, you're not a threat.

Admittedly the grazing idea works better with grass than ice. So, improvise! My point is that you need to ensure that your approach doesn't cause undue concern to your subject, resulting in flight or furry.

There are Cats and there are Cats

Now, obviously, I'm not suggesting you approach any kind of wildlife (e.g., animals, reptiles, spiders, etc) that have the potential to do you serious harm. Remember, in the case of the above photo, I'm on a zodiac and not on the ice. What's more I'm a member of a small group who are all being looked after and, to an extent, managed by an experienced zodiac driver/guide. It's their job to get us close to the seal without provoking it.

This may involved motoring past the animal in question and, sometimes, cutting the engines as the zodiac gently floats by. That's a great bonus when it comes to being able to hold the camera still, thereby ensuring sharp images and good composition.

Photography can be a Team Effort

The above photo showcases the skill of our driver/guide and is a testament to their understanding of animal biology.

As you can see our approach was made in such a way that the seal, while aware of us, is quite unfazed by our presence.

Photos are such an important part of the way we remember major events and adventures throughout our lives. And, for a serious photographer, a trip without great photos will often be considered a failure. The above photo was made on a special photography tour I co ran to Antarctica with my friend and colleague David Burren through Aurora Expeditions. A special thanks to the great crew and guides on the Polar Pioneer for helping photographers like me make so many great photos.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru