Life Below Zero in Antarctica

02 Nov 2018

Wildlife photographer Ginny Scholes fulfilled a lifelong dream when she took her camera on an Antarctic expedition:

My grandfather gave me a camera when I was 10 and I haven’t stopped taking pictures since. As time went on, my passion for wildlife and photography increased. Then, in 1997, I sailed from San Francisco to the South Shetland Islands as part of my job crewing a 46m sailing boat. Though we didn’t get as far as the Antarctic Peninsula, the polar bug bit hard. Wild, off-the-beaten-track locations excite me, and there’s nowhere wilder than this. 

Last year, I finally got the chance to go back, onboard the Russian research ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov. As we made the epic voyage, the ocean changed daily – from steely grey to deep blue, and from relative calm to waves engulfing the bow. Towering icebergs floated past silently, or were lashed by the waves that sculpt them into such striking shapes. The horizon was endless, with no sign of human life for miles around.

Antarctica is so special because of its remoteness. A pristine wilderness with no shops, roads or hotels, it is a unique environment and a real privilege to visit. Setting foot on the Antarctic Peninsula at Neko Harbour was a dream come true for me. I’d never seen so much snow, and the water was so still the reflections were perfect for photography.

The wildlife is incredible, from tiny South Georgia pipits darting in the tussock grass to enormous beachmaster elephant seals duelling on the shore – and over half a million penguins.

Photographing penguins in the blizzard on Salisbury Plain in South Georgia is an experience I’ll never forget. I imagined how Ernest Shackleton must have felt. It was such an emotional roller coaster: one moment 
I was going to burst into tears and the next felt thrilled to be back and taking photos in such conditions. The inclement weather added real atmosphere to the shot, more so than a blue sky. When the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the scene briefly, I knew I had the shot – I just couldn’t stop smiling.

From South Georgia it’s a two-day sail to the Antarctic, arriving first at King George Island, then Danco Island and Neko Harbour. As we continued to sail around the coast, the scenery was constantly changing and I spent hours on deck watching seabirds whirling and diving off the stern. At night, the ocean rocked me to sleep, and by day I spent time keeping a journal and editing my photos.

Though the Akademik Sergey Vavilov is technically a research vessel, she is well equipped for passenger expeditions. The expert crew also host talks on their polar specialities. For my part, however, I remained perfectly happy on deck – glad to have no phone reception and feeling able to switch off completely. 


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