Südgeorgien

The place to dream of for every wildlife, landscape or nature photographer

For many years, long before I decided to do professional wildlife photography, I dreamt of going to South Georgia, more for adventure than anything else. This wish lived on, morphed into wildlife photography and I finally decided to make it happen in 2003. No island in the world can be compared to South Georgia regarding its landscape, history, plant and wildlife.

But South Georgia makes you pay a high price. I do not mean the costs of travel, but its location in the roaring forties with drifting icebergs, high seas and everything which takes place in this latitude.

All the same, this island is for anybody who is interested in the polar regions and one unique experience after the other. Nothing will compare to it. Mountains up to 3000m right from the sea, calfing glaciers, colonies of more than 30.000 pairs of king penguins, beaches crowded with Elefant Seal, but also storms, fog and drifting ice as well as the long passage from the Falkland Islands.

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How to get to South Georgia

Generally speaking you have two options.

-with cruise ships which visit South Georgia often on the way to Antarctica

-with private yachts offering South Georgia as a special destination in their program

For me it was very clear, that I would go for the yachts, as I wanted to stay on South Georgia more than the 2 to 3 days the cruise ship are offering. I onyl can recommend this option for everybody who wants to photograph professional or semiprofessional or who is just a bit more adventurous. Depending on the yacht you can stay 3 to 4 weeks on South Georgia, that will give you enough time to do lots of photography on this island.

the passage from the Falkland Islands takes depending on the yacht about 5 days, the returning to the Falklands, head on against the prevailing winds, takes even longer, at least 6 days. Thats the price you must be ready to pay. 5 to 6 days on the roaring fourties, so second a peaceful moment where you do not have to cling to the boat with all legs and arms you have, storms, drifting ice of various sizes and for the most of the passengers sea sickness.

Around South Georgia everything is more relaxed, as there are enough safe anchorages.

I sailed with the Sarah W. Vorwerk .

The yacht offers a high degree of comfort and enough space for big equipments. Henk and Jaqueline are experienced sailers, who have been sailing for many years in these latitudes.

How is the weather like on South Georgia

Much better than its reputation. That is at least my experience from staying there for 4 weeks in late spring/early summer 2003. The crew of the Sarah W. Vorwerck told me that "my" month was pretty average according to their longtime experience.

The temperatures are about 0 to 10 degree celsius and we had rain from time to time. To be precise every 2 or 3 days a full low/high/low pressure cycle blows over South Georgia. This means sun, rain, heavy winds, sometimes snow. But long periods of bad weather are very rare and if the sun is shining the light is phantastic, the colors are vibrant.

What equipment do you need for South Georgia

The first thing you should check is, whether the yacht let you use their yachting garment. In these latitudes staying on deck is seldom comfortable and buying good sailing equipment for loads of money for just one trip is not a wise investment. On South Georgia clothing we use in winter/spring in the Alps is sufficient. You will not have very low temperatures on South Georgia. Good rubbber boots will be a very important part of your equipment. As South Georgia has no marinas or any other form of easy landings in the interesting bays, going ashore is done by a small rubber dingy. Aand you will wade through antarctic waters nearly every day. Moreover Wellies are the best boots you can imagine for muddy, stinking and (sorry penguins) shitty colonies. Just wade a bit in the clean antarctic waters and everything is clean and good smelling again. Next time I would by the best boots I can find upfront, even if the yacht supplies them as well!

Two pairs of gloves are recommended as well. One warm pair for the crossing (if you are on ice watch it can get quite cold...) and the landings with the dingy. the second pair should fit quite tight to allow to handle the camera. I used the gloves lowepro is selling and are still very happy with them.

 

A bit surprising for me was how important my worn out dry bag (bought a long time ago for canoeing) turned out to become (Ortlieb produces high quality dry bags (X-Plorer, X-Tremer). It maybe was the most important piece of my more general equipment.

All my camera equipment including tripod has to be carried ashore every day and it is very likely that a wave will hit the dingy once and everything gets dripping wet or you stumble when wading the final meters through the surf. I packed everything including my tripod, spare socks and gloves in the dry bag and everything was save, whatever happened. The bag stayed on the shore under some stones or the skipper took it back to the yacht. Perfect.

Moreover you should carry hiking or skiing poles useful for hiking expeditions to the mountains of South Georgia and they are essential for fending of aggresive fur seals!

What kind of foto equipment was useful on South Georgia

The animals on South Georgia are not shy. Sometimes you keep distance for your own safety (Fur Seals, Elefant Seals), sometimes for the sake of the animals (the rest). Very long lenses are only necessary for blurring the background. Standard wide angles can be used for animal photography and should be carried. Even very focused wildlife photographers should do some landscape photography on South Georgia and carry what they need for that.

  • [70 - 200 mm zoom, mit 1,4 Extender - good combination for nearly all situations
  • 24 - 70 mm wide angle zoom
  • 600mm, seldom used
  • Hasselblad X-Pan for landscape photography and the big penguin colonies
  • tripod
  • Flash, espacially for fill in situations
  • lots of film (no shop around for the next 2000 km) or storage media
  • what did I miss: medium prime tele lens 300/400 mm for working in the colonies
  • camera bag: I did not use my photo trekker, but combinations of the Field & Street System. Recommended, as I did not want to leave a photo trekker full of equipment around when love sich 3 ton Elefant Seals bulls are chasing competitors and penguin colonies are not clean places. I could carry everything (not the 600mm) and everything was handy!

How much time should I invest

With all the effort involved going there, 3 weeks should be minimum. In my case 4 weeks have been ok, but one week longer would have been nice!

Was there anything special to consider for photographers

South Georgia and sailing in the roaring fourties on its own is something special, but there was a difficulty, everybody will encounter on South Georgia.

 

Antarctic fur Seals!

 

For years their numbers are increasing and by now they occupy whole beaches pushing penguins, albatrosses and sometimes Elefant Seals away. During the harem season is the landing on beaches with dense colonies nearly impossible. Without somebody covering your back it is nearly impossible to go ashore, as the fur seals are very aggressive and defend their territory violently. With hiking/sking poles or with a tripod you can keep them at a save distance, but thats nearly impossible on your own. Risk must be avoided, as the next doctor is many days away.

As a photographer you want to be as early as possible ashore and come back as late as well. You have to convince fellow passenger the evening before, that getting up at 5:30 is a terrific idea, to help you going ashore. Not always easy!

any questions, just ask

If collegues or anybody else have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me using the contact form!

 

 

Martin Zwick

06.06.2006

 

 

Martin Zwick

06.06.2006