Sunday, April 6, 2008


People who've been following along with this blog have probably noticed that the photos are a big part of it. Photography has been my major passtime down here when not at work, partly because I've wanted to learn about it for years, but mostly because there are just so many amazing sights.

Antarctic photography poses some unique difficulties, most of which arise from the extreme cold. It's currently -65C (-85F) outside (not counting the wind), and very little works as it should in those temperatures.

I, for example, can't have exposed skin for more than a couple of seconds if I want to avoid frostbite. I have a pair of gloves which give me about 2 minutes outside without fear of frostbite, but for longer sessions, I have to wear my giant gauntlet gloves. Either set leaves me seriously lacking in dexterity, and finding the little buttons on the back of the camera to set it up for a shot rapidly becomes impossible. Even finding the shutter button is difficult enough that I've gone to a remote, which stays nice and warm in my left mitten.

The camera itself refuses to take photos after its internal temperature drops below -40C, which takes about 10 minutes if left exposed. The LCD response slows and washes out, making it unusable after 15 minutes. Batteries rapidly run down if they get cold, and to get more than 5 photos off a charge, I've had to build a battery-on-a-wire which I keep inside my parka. Tripods seize when the grease inside them has frozen, and I've had to completely disassemble and degrease mine.

It's dark enough outside now that I'm taking 5-20 second exposures. That would be near impossible without this setup, but remains difficult even with. While shooting, I've got several wires/cables running from me to the camera, all of which quickly harden into solid beams and shake the camera if I move at all. Even breathing produces a large enough cloud that it can easily ruin a shot. During an exposure, I have to remain perfectly still, standing behind the tripod, trying not to breathe.

All that said, I can now get about 30-45 minutes outside before having to go in because my face is too frosted to see. And I love every minute of it.

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