Guest post: My year in Antarctica

My year in Antarctica 13
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Todays's guest post "My year in Antarctica" is by Stefan Christmann ( who is working at the Neumayer III station in Antarctica as a physicist and was able to capture some amazing images with his Nikon D700/D800 cameras (click on images for larger view):

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It's 3am when my alarm clock rings. I am only half awake when I slide into my boots, covering myself with a thick jacket and putting on my beanie. Descending the stairs I can feel my body slowly waking up and when I open the door, a cold gust of wind blows into my face making the moisture in my nose freezes in an instant. The sky is pitch black with a million stars twinkling like holes punched into a backlit curtain. Soft clouds roll in the distant, starting to glow in pastel colors with a thin bright line visible along the horizon. My perception of my surroundings becomes crystal clear and I realize, that I am standing at the end of the world - Antarctica. While I walk to the Pistenbully, the solid-frozen snow shatters underneath my steps, sounding like cracking glass and spreading out in front of me. I turn on the block heater of the motor, since it will have to run at least 45 minutes before the machine can be safely moved. Coming back inside my glasses fog up from the warm air condensating on the cold lenses. It's 3.15am when I start packing my gear. I check all lenses, batteries, extra memory cards and loosen the knobs on my tripod, since they would lock up in the cold otherwise. Pouring my morning coffee at 3.30am I meet Lars on the hallway as he is getting ready for our trip as well. He's one of the few people I could always talk into getting up for a pre-sunrise tour to the bay. He's not quite awake yet, but I know he will be, as soon as the cold air hits his face when stepping outside. At 3.45am I start putting on my polar clothing. First of all a thin layer of long underwear and thick socks. Then another layer consisting of a thick fleece pullover and fleece pants. Moving already feels awkward when I slide into my red polar overall. It's not very fashionable, but I know it will keep me somewhat warm for 3-4h outside. Lars has joined me in the changing room. Together we make the last checks, get radios and GPS units and carry all our stuff outside. The bully weeps a few times before the engine finally starts.

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Kriechendes Licht
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It's a 45 minute drive, since the bully can only go 12 km/h. The ground is frozen rock-solid and every sastrugi feels like a pot-hole on an old beaten track. The glowing line across the horizon is getting brighter as we approach the edge of the shelf-ice. Far in the distance we can already see the peak of a tipped-over ice-berg, that we have called "sad glacier" for its funny shaped snow cave. Just like every morning it frowns upon us as we arrive at around 4.30am. The wind has picked up a bit and bites in our faces. A familiar chant reaches my ears as we descend the ice-ramp into the sea-ice. In about ten minutes we will be at our final destination. The emperor penguin colony of Atka-Bay. We are incredibly lucky to be stationed so close to one of the largest emperor penguin colonies of Antarctica. On our way there we are greeted by single penguins traveling towards the open sea in order to hunt for fish. The remaining birds are standing closely packed in the so-called huddle - the penguins' secret weapon against the wind and the cold. I look towards sad glacier and realize that our old friend has started to glow pink. The show has begun.

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The next four hours pass in an instant. The only reason for me to really tell that we have been outside for quite some time is the numbness of my face and my fingers. Also my toes have started to go numb, which is usually a good reason to pack up my stuff and head back to the bully. Back inside the warm vehicle a feeling of victory takes a hold of me. Again I have witnessed a marvelous sunrise in Antarctica, again I have won the battle against my alarm clock and again I have been stunned by natures incredible beauty, which just never fails to amaze me. I feel grateful and privileged to the utmost extent.

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Antarctica has been my photographic dream. Together with a group of eight other people I have lived here for an uninterrupted period of 14 months, nine of which we were completely isolated and only reachable via satellite communication. Our team consisted of four scientists, one doctor/surgeon, one communications engineer, one chef, one mechanic and one electrician and kept our research base and all the scientific equipment running throughout the Antarctic winter. Usually, people who travel to Antarctica visit the continent during the southern summer, when the Sun never sets and temperatures just barely drop below zero. During winter however, at our latitude of 70°40' South, the Sun did not even rise for six weeks straight and temperatures fell beyond -45°C. These are incredibly challenging conditions, for both man and machine.

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Obviously temperature is the most limiting factor when it comes to photography in Antarctica. Although I rarely had camera malfunctions, there were a few times when the lubrication of my lens' aperture or the camera's mirror mechanics was too sluggish to function correctly. Once my D700 stopped working after 45 minutes (at -42°C and 20 knots of wind) but every time it regained its full functionality after warming up again. With some 80k clicks the D700 has been my workhorse and I have really come to love this camera. The same is true for my D800, which arrived in the first plane after winter. The quick locks of my Gitzo tripod kept freezing up quite often though. For the most part of winter I had to decide up front if I wanted a low or a high tripod setup for the trip, since slight amounts of water in the threads of the knobs would freeze and block their movement completely. After visiting the penguin colony it usually took a whole day to slowly warm up my gear in my photo bag again. Of course I always put the memory cards in my pockets before entering our station ;).

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Aside from the gear functioning correctly, there were quite a few other pitfalls, which I had not anticipated. For example being able to move freely and quickly change positions is just not possible if your are dressed in your polar clothing. We approximately wore 7-9 kg of additional clothing when shooting outside and even if you're really fit, you will have to catch your breath after running 300 feet because you wanted the Sun to rise behind the pointy part of the iceberg. Combine this and the fact that every breath against your viewfinder will make it freeze up in an instant and you got yourself a real problem! 😉 Of course you can easily clean it if you take off your gloves - it just costs you the top layer of skin on your fingertip. Or try to switch your ISO settings with gloves on .. I could go on and on and on!

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Please don't get me wrong. I am not trying to sound like a hero for coping with all these less than ideal conditions. In fact I enjoyed every minute of freezing my butt off and every numb finger I got. Besides, there were many things we did to make life easier. We built external battery adapters for our cameras so we could put the batteries into our pockets where they stayed warm and retained most of their original capacity while we were waiting for auroras. We also had gloves with heating resistors, that could be connected to the batteries of our skidoos. Most of the time solutions to our problems were quite simple to find and it was fun to come up with new ideas.

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I really hope that this article and my images can convey my deep fascination for this continent. It is still a mainly untouched wilderness and it needs to stay like that for as long as possible. To me Antarctica is ultimately the one single place on this planet where man is not shaping the landscape, but where the landscape is shaping man.

Mond über dem Meereis

You can follow Stefan Christmann at following websites:


If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Yamadude

    Fabulous, stunning shots, congratulations!!!

  • Rick

    WOW !!!! Great story.

  • Mike

    Incredible images! The last one has floored me. Agreed: the is has been the best guest post on this site. Bravo!

  • preston

    Thank you for sharing here! I’m DEFINITELY doing a winter sunrise shoot in Boston now (always told myself it was too cold).

  • Funduro

    Excellent guess post. Wow, terrible conditions overcomes by perseverance for the image. Chasing the magic light can not possibly be harder then this.

  • Norm

    Wow. The photos are great and your story makes me want to pack up and fly down to Antarctica. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike

    Excellent! Thanks for posting.

  • upuaut

    Stunning and inspiring. I hope someday, I’d get the opportunity to be there. Question to Stefan: from your experience, was the D800 as much of a workhorse as the D700?

    • Stefan

      I have only had the D800 since November (I guess I was one of the last persons on Earth to get it ;)), but so far it has been working without any issues. However, it has not been super-cold. The lowest was -20°C in November, but it performed well under these conditions. It’s at 10k clicks now. I am just running out of harddrive here…
      Cheers from down South! 🙂

  • Stefan needs to give up being a Physicist and become a full time Pro wildlife photographer. These images are stunning both in their composition, lighting and detail. The story just tops it all. Well done Stefan.

  • Ryan

    Gorgeous photos, amazing place! I hope to go one day.

  • One of the best guest posts ever. Stunning images, beautiful and poetic text. Inspiring.

  • Amazing shots! Chiming in with the others, this is a superb guest post!

  • DileepAnthikad

    One of the best Antarctica series I have ever seen in a blog. And your story telling talent made the ultimate difference. Thanks a lot Steve for sharing your images and experience.
    Kind regards,

  • Love it

  • zenzei

    Excelent article, one of the best I’ve seen here. Thanks for sharing

  • Bassman59


  • alpha37

    Beautiful… and I was reminded of many years ago, on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada, the day I arrived, watching the sun set for the “night” in October. We were not to see it rise again until March! But your photography evokes memories long dormant. Thank you for that as well, Stefan!

  • alpha37

    Beautiful… and I was reminded of many years ago, on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada, the day I arrived, watching the sun set for the “night” in October. We were not to see it rise again until March! But your photography evokes memories long dormant. Thank you for that as well, Stefan!

  • Kyle Farris

    That was extremely (EXTREMELY) well written for a blog post. I wasn’t even going to read it (I’m at work) but then I read the first couple sentences and I was hooked. Fantastic photos. Probably some of the best photos I’ve ever seen of wildlife, if not anything. I’m literally blown away. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Debbie Dobbins Shetter

    Completely blown away by Stefan. Amazing story, and stunning photos…WOW, Major Kudos!

  • doireally have

    Stefan, I’m left speechless. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I absolutely adore these “species” for providing so gorgeous love to their puppies.Really stunning. Many people are not capable of anything remotely close to this.

  • chamroeunrourn

    Agen Bola : MU Pertimbangkan Beli Pemain Juventus

    Manchester United disebut kembali mempertimbangkan untuk
    membeli pemain Juventus. tak tanggung-tanggung, United dikabarkan ingin
    memboyong tiga pemain Juve ke Old Trafford musim depan. United dikabarkan mulai
    masuk dalam perburuan Arturo Vidal, demikian menurut Indo Eleven. Sebelumnya United juga telah menyatakan minat
    kepada Claudio Marchisio dan Mirko Vucinic.

    Sir Alex Ferguson disebut sangat terkesan dengan hasil
    kerja Antonio Conte bersama Juve. Fergie juga ingin membawa beberapa pemain
    kunci Conte untuk memperkuat United musim depan.

    Selain United, Vidal juga menjadi pemain yang diincar
    oleh Bayern Munich dan Real Madrid. meski demikian, Juve disebut tak akan
    melepas pemain andalannya tersebut karena Vidal merupakan sosok penting dalam
    kebangkitan Juve. Menurut agen pelatih Bayern Jupp Heynckes, Juve bahkan sudah
    menolak tawaran 45 juta euro dari Bayern untuk Vidal.

  • chamroeunrourn

    Agen Bola : Bayern Munich Tidak Suka Dibandingkan

    Indo Eleven – Mantan pelatih Barcelona FC
    Josep Guardiola kembali memberikan pujian kepada Lionel Messi. Guardiola
    menyebut bahwa pergerakan Messi tak tertandingi siapa pun. Selama ini Guardiola
    sering dianggap sebagai pelatih yang membentuk Messi menjadi seorang predator
    gawang lawan. Messi memang mengalami peningkatan kemampuan yang sangat tajam
    selama diasuh Guardiola di Barca.

    Pergerakan Leo di tengah lapangan tak tertandingi siapa
    pun. Posisi false nine membuat Leo bisa mundur ke tengah lapangan untuk mencari
    bola, dan dia tak akan diikuti para bek. Dengan begitu, Barca bisa mendominasi
    area yang ditempati oleh Leo,” jelas Guardiola.

    Calon pelatih Bayern Munich ini juga menolak saat
    dibandingkan dengan para pelatih lain. Ia menyebut dirinya hanyalah pelatih
    biasa yang punya kelemahan. Saya tidak lebih bagus dari pelatih mana pun.
    Kesuksesan dan kegagalan adalah bagian dari permainan,” tambah Guardiola.

  • Lauren Metzler

    Absolutely gorgeous photos! 😀

  • Chhunmeng TyTy

    Arsenal to bid for Lars Bender

    Agen Bola terpercaya reported,that Arsenal are set to launch a new assault on Bayer Leverkusen hotshot Lars Bender.

    Arsene Wenger is a keen admirer of the player and he has already had an £18.5 million bid rejected for his services.

    However, the Frenchman is ready to reignite his interest in the midfielder and is reportedly looking to offer around £20 million in January.

    The only problem is that Manchester United are also keeping close tabs on the 24-year-old footballer..

    Lars Bender has established himself as one of Bundesliga’s top holding midfielders over the years, whereas he is also capable of playing at right back.

    While making 114 league appearances for die Werkself, Bender has so far earned 16 Germany reported by Indo Eleven.

    The latest media reports are enough to suggest Arsenal are determined to finally mount a serious title challenge in the league, and having already climbed to the top of the standings, the Gunners are 4/1 to lift the premiere league.


  • Nika

    Great article Beautiful pictures

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