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About Andy

 

I am an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. My photographic safaris allow my travelers to not only enhance their understanding of photography, lighting, and wildlife, but to develop a life-long admiration for Africa ‘s beauty and culture.

Banana Republic recently used my photographs as the cornerstone of their Urban Safari campaign, and my images were seen in all 750 stores around the globe, as well as in their billboards, catalogs and annual report. I was also the winner of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the ‘Wild Places’ category in 2008 and a highly commended in the ‘Creative Visions of Nature’ category in 2007.

I launched Gura Gear in 2008, in an attempt to deliver lightweight camera bags to the market. I was looking for a lightweight camera bag to hold all of my photographic gear, and there was nothing desirable on the market that suited my needs. After spending 2 years with many prototypes, the Gura Gear Kiboko bag was born. More products are now available on the Gura Gear web site.

 

 

 

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« It's Here! The Nikon D4 | Main | Happy New Year »
Tuesday
Jan032012

Antarctica - What Worked and What Didn't

 

Nikon D3x, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR2, 1/2500 @ f/5.6, ISO 400

I have been back from Antarctica for about 3 weeks, and I was hoping to have more information online (both photographs as well as text) by now. Obviously the Christmas holidays got in the way, but now I sit with pen and paper and want to write about some of the things that worked from the trip and some of the things that did not. Long blog posts somehow always escape me, and I am not sure why. I think that I am torn in so many directions on a daily basis, and it makes it quite difficult to do anything that requires more than 5 minutes of my time. Yes, I am a poster child for adult ADD, but we will leave that for another post.

As far as images go from Antarctica, I didn’t take that many raw files if I compare the quantity to some of my peers. I heard numbers that were in the 10,000+ range from most of the other passengers, but I only ended up with 3,000 or so. Why so few? I can honestly say that I was busy working with 68 travelers that I didn’t have much time for my own photography. I consider my primary job to be that of a leader and instructor, and not as a photographer. Heck, nobody is paying me to take photographs, and I think other workshop leaders out there need to understand who pays the bills and why we in the industry are doing what we are doing. It is a gut check for other people in the industry to lift up their heads and listen to what customers need and how to service those needs. This is a general statement about the industry and in no way reflects on my co-leaders / instructors from this trip! It is a diatribe about what is going on in the workshop / photo tour industry that has been bugging me for a while, and I finally found a few seconds to write about it. Ok, on to the rest of the story…

 

Yours truly. Photo courtesy of Joshua Holko

 

Of the images that I did take, I have found some great ones that I am quite happy with. The processing is quite challenging, and I am finding that Adobe Lightroom isn’t the best tool for the bulk of the development work. A very delicate touch is required to get the most out of these files, and I have not found the exact mood that I am after that will help me have a consistent look across my best ones. My workflow is: Lightroom for cataloging and global development work (white balance, exposure, black point and just a few other items), Photoshop for local adjustments with the aid of Nik Software plugins (Viveza 2 and Silver Efex Pro 2). I know that it will take me many months to process and release my best images, which is ok with me.

As you may know, I did take a ton of camera gear with me to the bottom of the earth:

 

  • Nikon D3x
  • Nikon D3
  • Nikon 16-35mm f/4
  • Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR2
  • Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR1
  • Leica S2
  • Leica 35mm Summarit-S f/2.5
  • Leica 70mm Summarit-S f/2.5
  • Leica 120mm APO Macro Summarit-S f/2.5
  • Leica 180mm APO Elmar-S f/3.5
  • Really Right Stuff TVC-24 with TA-2-LB leveling base and quick release system
  • Gura Gear Kiboko 30L
  • Gura Gear Chobe shoulder bag

Since this was my first trip to Antarctica, I somehow thought that by bringing a ton of gear I would at least be able to figure out what I needed by the 1st or 2nd day and only use the items that I needed most. Note: Leica loaned me the S2 kit for the trip, as well as for a trip earlier in 2011 to Moab, Utah. I am writing up a field review for Luminous Landscape that should be complete within the next few weeks.

 

Nikon D3, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/2000 @ f/6.3, ISO 800

 

I ended up using my Nikon D3x and the Leica S2 the most, primarily because I favored larger file sizes over high ISO noise performance. Most of my D3x images were shot at ISO 800 or under and the Leica S2 was shot at ISO 320 or 160. I did have to push it to 640 a few times, but I was more comfortable with the lower ISO values. I didn’t have a single mishap with any of my 3 cameras, however I did see a number of Canon 5DMk2 and 7D bodies give up the ghost. Some came back from the dead and a couple did not. If you are planning on an Antarctica adventure, please be aware that you will benefit from having sealed cameras with you, such as the Canon 1 series bodies or the Nikon D3, D3x or D3s bodies. It really does make a difference.

Most of my images were captured between 24mm and 200mm, and I was surprised to see that my 24-70mm was my most used lens when I looked in Lightroom at the metadata. Very surprising. My #2 most used lens was the Leica 120mm, then the Leica 70mm, Nikon 70-200mm, Nikon 16-35mm and then the Leica 35mm. I am only speaking of my favorite images, which are less than 100. We had a nice balance between Canon and Nikon equipment, as well as Phase One, Hasselblad and Leica. I didn’t see much in the way of 4/3 system equipment, now that I think about it.

 

A landing on Deception Island

Leica S2, 35mm Summarit-S, 1/2000 @ f/2.5, ISO 160

 

I only used my tripod once, which was when I went hiking with my 200-400mm lens on a rainy and windy day. I am likely to leave the two items behind if I decide to go back to Antarctica in the future. With that being said, I will absolutely take the combination if I make it to South Georgia and the Falklands, due to more abundant wildlife opportunities. I did have a failure of a camera strap, and I feel fortunate that I was able to catch my D3x before it hit hard rocks below. I was using a Pacsafe Carrysafe 100 camera strap, and the connection hardware at the camera failed by snapping off at the swivel on one of the sides. UGH. I just feel fortunate to have caught my camera before it landed on hard ground.

I took all of my camera gear in 2 bags: the Gura Gear Kiboko 30L and Chobe. The combo worked perfectly, both for travel to get to Antarctica as well as for shooting in Antarctica. I did use the included rain cover for the Kiboko 30L on a daily basis, due to the rain, sleet and snow that we encountered almost every day.

 

Leica S2+ 70mm and Nikon D3 + 70-200mm VR2

 

I packed the perfect amount of clothes for this trip, and I am not sure what else to say about it. Laundry was always available, and there was no need to overpack. Quark Expeditions gave each of us a heavy parka for us to keep, and they had boots for us to use, and these were provided to us when we got on board the ship. What an awesome way to go, because I didn’t have to travel with large, heavy clothing. I did bring NEOS Adventurer overshoes, which are my biggest recommendation for anybody traveling to the frozen continent. These overshoes fit over my light hiking boots, and made walking in snow quite easy and comfortable. I have high arches and have Supertfeet insoles to help me with comfort. I did use the supplied rubber boots on one occasion and never liked how they felt, so I went back to my NEOS overshoes for all other excursions.

Since this voyage to Antarctica required the crossing of the Drake Passage, it goes without saying that I needed drugs to help me with the extreme rocking and rolling. Each passage took around 50 or so hours, and can only be described as not that much fun. Well, ok, it sucked. On the way down I used Scopolamine patches, which didn’t work at all. I needed something else, because I had nausea every time I stood up for more than 5 minutes. Scopolamine just made me sleepy as well as thirsty. Thank God I had another option, which was Zofran. I remember my mother used Zofran when she was going through chemotherapy, and if it is good enough for cancer patients it must be good enough for me. It worked like a charm, and my recommendation to Antarctica travelers is to always have 2 solutions to seasickness, just in case your first solution doesn’t work as planned. Quark had an on-board doctor with another set of drugs, and some of the travelers took advantage of the service. Needless to say, the Drake Passage on the way back was a 100% Zofran voyage.

 

Leica S2, 70mm Summarit-S, 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 320

 

My Antarctica adventure was a trip of a lifetime, and I look forward to the day when I am able to return. I feel fortunate that all of the gear that I took with me worked as anticipated, except for the mishap with the camera strap. I do feel sorry for those who were affected by moisture with their 5DMk2 and 7D cameras, and am glad that most were able to get them back working again. I think pro cameras are the way to go if one can financially pull it off to bring one (or more than one). I am a huge fan of renting gear, and Borrowlenses.com has a great rental program for such equipment.

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Reader Comments (20)

Andy,
Thanks for the info. Am going back once again and as you have found out, there is no perfect solution to the best combo of gear and lenses. I'm hoping to take all three of my gura gear bags, the Kiboko and Chobe to get to Ushuaia and the 20L for most of the landings. Given the rough conditions I'm planning on taking as many camera bodies as I can, conditions are harsh and it's nice to know you have a backup.
Unlike your trip, the Falklands and South Georgia are included and, unlike the past, where I've regretted not having it, my 500 is coming with me. Whether I actually use it or not will depend on conditions.
One of the 'backup' but indispensable lenses I'm going to include is the 28-300 for use on zodiac trips. In rough seas it's nice to have just one body and lens to cover everything. Certainly better than missing the shot.
Will update you on my return, the Kiboko has already survived penguin inspection on South Georgia in the past! Regardless of equipment this is one of the most magical places in the world (Botswana the other!)
Debbie

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Harrison

Stunning images, Andy! Fun to see your work in a completely different color palette!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterali

I love your images Andy and hope to one day be able to travel with you, be it Africa or Antarctica!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristina Trowbridge

Andy,

You raise an interesting point. As Nikon is set to release two (hopefully) new camers, Nikon seems to have split its top cameras with the reported D4 at 16mp, and the D800 at 36mp, furthering the split between pro bodies and megapixels. With the D3x you have the high megapixels and sealed body. I still shoot with a D2x and have to stay in the low ISO range. What are your thoughts about the planned D4 with 16 mp over the D800 with more megapixels, but a less robust build? With limited budgets (Iskipped the D3 series and the D700 to save for the next generation) I cannot afford to make a mistake.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill Bogle Jr.

Bill, you are asking the same questions that I seem to be asking myself. I really don't know until I see what the cameras look like, as it will be difficult to decide ahead of time.

January 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterAndy Biggs

Great report and very useful information... :) You must visit India soon... :)

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngad

Andy, great write up!

With regards to the comment - "I can honestly say that I was busy working with 68 travelers that I didn’t have much time for my own photography. I consider my primary job to be that of a leader and instructor, and not as a photographer. Heck, nobody is paying me to take photographs, and I think other workshop leaders out there need to understand who pays the bills and why we in the industry are doing what we are doing."

Could not agree with you more. Being in the same position as you I agree that it is about the client first. Tour leaders fighting for the best spot to get their own pictures is just not right and it happens more than you think!

Thanks for being an inspiration through your images and how you conduct yourself! :)

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGerry van der Walt

Nice write up I enjoyed it since we are going to take a trip to Svalbard and conditions are similar. You said that 7D's etc died due to moisture. How did the lower end Nikon's hold up? D300, D7000? How did you cope with the transition between cold climate and the warmer ship? Just keep you camera's in the bag until they warmed up?
How is the shooting from a zodiac? Do you have to keep the shutter up high or are zodiacs more stable than I reckon?

Looking forward to the coming photos.

Peter

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Maris

Peter, I didn't see or hear of any D300, D7000 or similar cameras go down, but I also didn't see many on the ship. The 5DMk2 was definitely one of the more common cameras around. Our temperatures weren't cold at all, as it was mostly 35 to 40F outside. I didn't do a thing to combat moisture issues, but I was prepared to use a ziplock bag to slow the condensation process that occurs. Shooting from a zodiac was pretty easy from a mechanical standpoint, but the rain / sleet / snow had to be dealt with. I used a small dry bag to put my camera in when I wasn't shooting. I tried to shoot at 1/1000 or higher to combat the movement of the boat.

January 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterAndy Biggs

Hi Andy,

Great report. I have been looking forward to it. I also prefer the pro bodies to the non pro bodies and this is exactly my argument. I love the D3 /s /x bodies as they are definitely more robust at surviving conditions.

Without having even heard for certain the exact "real" specs of the upcoming bodies no one of course can say how they will perform. That being said, when they do come out, would you mind updating us on your opinions on how they do / will perform in adverse conditions? You certainly see more adverse conditions than most of us. Most of us will not often go to the places that you go regularly so your opinion is important.

Have a Blessed New Year!

Michael

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Great blog Andy! Take a 617 next time! Happy New Year, Dean

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDean Tatooles

hi Andy thanks for the reply. I am getting old skool with my gear I reckon ;) Those are temperatures above 0 degrees celcius or not? That is not too cold indeed. You just ziplock your camera in your bag?
About the zodiac shooting you mean just sit or stand, point your camera and keep the shutter up, should be easy indeed. Small dry bag is a nice idea. I was thinking about a full size dry bag for my whole camera bag, but I reckon that is a big hassle to get your camera out of the bag and into it everytime.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Maris

Peter, shooting from zodiacs is just what you think it will be, hand held shooting from wherever you are sitting. You can stand for a moment, but it won't be too easy to do for very long.

January 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterAndy Biggs

Hi Andy,

Thanks for your writeup. It was good meeting and talking with you on this trip.

I thought the Gura Gear bags (Kiboko and Chobe) did a good job of lugging my gear around, but when it came time to do the Zodiac expeditions, I found it was more practical to just sling two cameras around my neck (Nikon D3S w/70-200 & D700 w/24-70) and hop aboard. I pulled a small dry bag (about 13-15 liter) over each camera as it hung around my neck and twisted it closed around the camera strap until I was ready to start shooting. This worked pretty well, although by the end of the week I didn't even bother because both cameras had already been rained on, sleeted on, and sprayed with water over the bow of the Zodiac and had kept working fine. The most important thing I found was to carry several microfiber cloths in my pockets to wipe down the cameras from time to time and to keep checking the front of the lenses to wipe off water drops.

It was a great trip and I look forward to seeing more of your images.

Duane

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDuane Miller

"My Antarctica adventure was a trip of a lifetime, and I look forward to the day when I am able to return." Hmmm. Still trying to wrap my head around that one.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Bob, I am glad you noticed my contradiction! :-)

January 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterAndy Biggs

Very interesting read :)

Thank you for taking the time to post.

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Kai Piper

Andy
Excellent report back here Andy, providing lots of interesting reading. The penguin with the blue iceberg is one of my favourite images of yours. Look forward to seeing more images and reading more over the days ahead.
cheers
Grant

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrant Atkinson

Hi Andy

Great synopsis of the trip. I, too, wish I had brought my own boots. The furnished ones were okay for sloshing around getting in and out of Zodiacs but they're not the greatest for hiking - especially in deep snow. But my D3s stayed dry and my brand new Kiboko passed its first test with flying colors. With holidays and getting ready for our workshop in Yellowstone, I've had little time to process images but, I have culled them down a bit and, at the urging of some friends, posted a handful on my Facebook page .

Totally agree with your comment about leading workshops and tours.

Enjoyed your company. See you down the road. Happy New Year.

George

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Theodore

Hi Andy

Sounds like a great trip, look forward to seeing more images. I'm surprised the 7D and 5Dmkii didn't fare so well, I had no trouble with 30D/40D/7D in Antarctica and Svalbard/Greenland, but perhaps depends on weather conditions and extra care in bagging the cameras when not in use / moving from outside to into the ship. Agree that pro bodies are better if you can but otherwise a ziplock bag for when in misty/rainy conditions, and a decent camera bag for changing environment should work pretty well.

Best wishes
Alistair

January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair Knock

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