South Georgia from a Photographer’s Perspective

Award-winning photographer Daisy Gilardini explains what she finds special about South Georgia

“South Georgia is one of the most amazing and overwhelming places on Earth. A real photographer’s paradise. It’s not just the beauty of the landscape, with its snow-covered peaks, hanging glaciers and endless beaches. When it comes to myriad forms of life, this little Island in the middle of the Southern Ocean has few contenders. Its geographical position between the frigid waters of Antarctica and the warmer waters to the north attracts a wide variety of marine mammals and sea birds.

Numerous species of whales feed in and around the island’s coastal waters, from one of the largest animals ever known to exist on Earth — the blue whale, now seen more frequently than in the recent past — to fin whales, humpbacks, sperm whales and the largest member of the dolphin’s family, the orcas, or killer whales.

In October the beaches are virtually covered from shore to shore in elephant seals. Every year, around this time, they come onto land to mate and give birth to their pups. The dominant males — beach masters — are very active at this time, and fight frequently, to stake a claim to their territory and defend their harems of females.

The beach masters will be gone by mid-November, leaving just the young wieners and a few moulting females. Pups tend to be quite curious during this stage of their lives. They’re friendly with visitors and often approach of their own volition. Photo opportunities abound, especially for the keen photographer.

As the elephant seals move on, Antarctic fur seals take over the beaches. The newcomers follow a similar routine: landing on the beaches, giving birth to their young and mating.

Millions of birds — some 30 million in all — nest on South Georgia’s slopes, including four species of albatross. These include the wandering albatross, one of the largest seabirds on Earth, and the smaller, more elegant light-mantled albatross. South Georgia’s waters also attract seagoing petrels, prions, sheathbills, skuas, Antarctic shags, cormorants and gulls, along with endemic species like pintail ducks and South Georgia pipits. The number of endemic birds has increased in recent years, thanks to the success of the rat eradication program.

The real highlight for a wildlife photographer is, without a doubt, the huge penguin colonies. Roughly two million macaroni penguins share the island with a million king penguins, 200,000 gentoo penguins and 25,000 chinstrap penguins. The most impressive of these are probably the king penguins colonies. Imagine yourself among hundreds of thousands of kings!

Over the years, I’ve tried to capture the vastness and wild beauty of this place. Photography is basically a two-dimensional medium though, so this poses a real challenge. How does one translate an experience that involves so many of our senses — sight, smell and hearing — in a single shot?

After many years of trying, I came to the conclusion that it is simply impossible to convey such grandeur. The best I can do is try to evoke a sense of wonder, encourage the thrill of discovery and, most importantly, convey a message of conservation and the need to protect and preserve what remains of our natural wonders.

During the One Ocean Expedition photography symposium, I have the privilege to lead a group of amazing professional photographers and visual artists. Every photographer, every artist, contributes a specific area of interest and expertise, working together to design a program that enhances and encourages the photography skills of our guests.

We offer a variety of presentations, for beginners to advanced photographers alike. Instruction and advice cover topics both technical and inspirational and include one-on-one sessions, onboard and ashore, during landings.  Unlike other expeditions, our primary goal is to chase the light and maximize the time during our excursions, whether on land or in our zodiacs.

As any nature photographer well knows, the first rule in photography is “BE THERE.” It’s even better if you’re there at the right time of day, and for as much time as you need”.

Talk to your travel agent to join Daisy Gilardini on her next photography symposium.