As an expedition and photography guide on Intrepid’s Ocean Endeavour, Andrew Miller has learned a thing or two about capturing a place that defies words.
‘Antarctica is a wilderness unlike any other wilderness you’re going to encounter. It feels as alien as anything can, I think, on planet Earth,’ he says.
Andrew has spent much of his life on the water. Growing up in Toronto, Canada, he was an avid boater and after college, he spent the first 14 years of his career on cruise ships, managing the photography and videography department and travelling to destinations all over the world, including the Baltics, Asia and New Zealand.
After a few years on dry land, the icy continent was calling. Adventure travel lover Andrew couldn’t resist – and lucked out when during his very first season in Antarctica, he happened to be working as an expedition guide on the day that explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was found over a century after it sank.
‘We actually landed at Point Wild on Elephant Island [where Shackleton and his crew sought refuge during their ill-fated expedition] that day. It was pretty exciting – just like Christmas morning,’ says Andrew.
Every day’s an adventure in Antarctica
But you don’t need a global newsworthy event to occur to have a good day in Antarctica. During his first season as an expedition and photography guide with Intrepid, Andrew spent over 100 days aboard the Ocean Endeavour, never losing his sense of wonder.
‘It’s like being in a perpetual state of shock – at the scale of it all and how beautiful it really is. There are places in Antarctica that haven’t been touched by people, haven’t changed in thousands of years,’ he says.
On Intrepid’s Antarctica expeditions Andrew wears many hats. Some days he’s coordinating expedition schedules, taking into account weather conditions and recent wildlife sightings. Others, he’s running photography seminars, workshops and Zodiac trips for the travellers enrolled on the expedition’s photography program.
Photography is not only his profession, but his purpose and passion too – and he finds sharing his knowledge with others, especially in such an epic location, extremely rewarding.
‘In Antarctica, everyone – whether you’re a seasoned guide or a first-time guest – ends up at the same level of dumb awe. It’s not uncommon to see people in tears. Witnessing travellers seeing incredible things for the first time, watching someone’s mind get blown again and again by the sheer volume of wildlife and helping them to capture photos of those experiences is incredibly satisfying. What a privilege.’
Antarctica photography tips from a pro
Wondering how to best capture the majesty of Antarctica? Keen to come home from a once-in-a-lifetime trip with more than just a few overexposed snow shots? Even Andrew admits that photography rarely – if ever – does Antarctica justice, but if you want to try, here are his top tips.
1. You don’t necessarily need a fancy camera
Though I normally work with a DSLR, I shoot plenty of medium and wide shots on my phone. If I’m using a telephoto lens on a Zodiac and a whale comes right up to our boat, I’ll reach for my phone. In moments like those, just remember to give the lens a wipe before you shoot.
2. If you’re bringing a DSLR, consider a telephoto lens
If you’re committed to bringing some gear, go big. A telephoto lens lets you get in really close detailed shots of wildlife. You might also want to pack your laptop so you can do a little editing at sea.
3. Don’t be disheartened by grey skies
There’s a reason wedding photographers love grey days. No blown-out highlights, no deep shadows. You can capture a certain moodiness and amplify the drama in post-production. Still want sunshine? Give it 30 minutes and chances are you’ll have bright skies.
4. Don’t hold out for the perfect shot
Don’t be afraid to overshoot a little. Sometimes the photos you would usually disregard because they’re not technically perfect capture a vibe or tell their own story.
5. Put the camera down and just enjoy
Sometimes, you just want to take it all in and you really should. Like the time a minke whale came so close to my Zodiac I could have scritched it on the chin. I didn’t even bother trying to take a picture. I just wanted to take it in.