As veterans of many Antarctica expeditions, we’ve drawn on our broad photo cruise experience to offer a second-to-none nature photography tour to the legendary wildlife and scenic areas of South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Because we direct all aspects of the cruise, nature photography and wildlife watching are always the foremost activities aboard ship!
"The Van Os expedition staff are experts in getting you safely into the best target-rich areas for wildlife and landscape photography. If you are looking for a hardcore Antarctic trip where your time on shore is maximized, this expedition is for you. You will be rewarded with amazing images and memories.
We have chartered an entire ship for our clients only. During our voyage, we visit the most prolific wildlife habitats and the most spectacular landscapes at each destination, landing as much as safely possible and spending a luxurious amount of time on shore. Our philosophy is to spend more time at choice locations instead of wasting photography time making numerous landings every day. And to top off our comprehensive itinerary, we have scheduled six full days at superlative South Georgia—perhaps the most photogenic and awe-inspiring wilderness on Earth!
Throughout the voyage, participants’ photography and wildlife interests shape our plans. Unlike general interest cruises with strictly scheduled mealtimes, during our longer landings meals usually do not require participants to leave the shore. We avoid Antarctic bases, photographically unproductive historic sites, and dressing up—casual outdoor clothing is always the order of the day. Our leadership team of 10 nature photographers, naturalists and wildlife biologists is unmatched in the industry. They offer passengers exceptional photography and natural history experiences on shore and an excellent learning environment on board ship.
During our 24 days aboard ship we explore and photograph a number of near mythic locations along the Antarctic Peninsula, multiple world-renowned wildlife areas on South Georgia, and some of the most wildlife diverse and photogenic islands in the Falklands.
The sturdy research expedition ship Ushuaia
allows us to travel in safety and comfort in this magical land of penguins and ice. This ice-strengthened polar vessel provides ample deck space for photography and an open bridge policy. Originally built for the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ushuaia
has been refurbished to accommodate a maximum of 78 passengers and 10 Photo Safaris staff in comfortable twin cabins and suites. We carry a fleet of Jacques Cousteau-designed Zodiac landing craft. Perfectly suited to expedition cruising, these useful nimble boats carry small groups ashore, landing on otherwise inaccessible terrain where we explore rugged, rocky headlands and broad wildlife-packed beaches.
Our itinerary allows maximum time to photograph the birds and mammals of the region, and to explore some of the most incredible seabird colonies and seal rookeries in the world. This trip hits all the regional high points! You stand right on the edge of penguin colonies comprised of more than 100,000 birds. We photograph massive king and Adélie penguin colonies and impressive albatross nesting areas, in addition to thousands of wheeling seabirds, gigantic elephant seals, feisty fur seals, and pods of killer whales navigating through impressive ice-choked channels.
Our Ultimate Antarctica
cruise alleviates many of the pitfalls of other Antarctica voyages that are not exclusively tailored to photographers. When you compare the amount of time we stay in each region, the amount of time we spend on shore, smaller group size and the quality of our leaders, this tour is undoubtedly crafted as a photographic trip-of-a-lifetime. Below are just a few of the cruise attributes that, for photographers, set our trip apart from all others.
Time, Time and More Time!
When you've made the effort to travel to places as remote as Antarctica and South Georgia, you want time to explore the spectacular environment at your own pace instead of wasting time commuting from landing site to landing site. The standard turnaround time for landings on the vast majority of general interest Antarctica cruises is just three hours from the time you leave the ship until the time you are required to return. Our 24-day cruise allows plenty of time to slow down and enjoy each stop along the way. Where possible, we offer extended shore landings—without skimping on the number of diverse locations we visit. These days, the trend on many Antarctica cruises is for more shipboard cruising and less time ashore. We maximize your time ashore.
Expert Planning with Built-in Flexibility.
After operating more than 30 expeditions to Antarctica we have acquired the expertise needed to plan a nature photography itinerary that is second to none. We know the wildlife hotspots and have included them in our planned itinerary. We also know when and how to be flexible in our program, both to ensure your safety and to take advantage of unexpected good weather and wildlife activity when it benefits our clients and their photography.
A Smaller Group.
Cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers are now the norm in Antarctica. The logistics of getting these larger groups ashore are challenging since IAATO rules only allow a maximum of 100 passengers on shore at any location in Antarctica. That means passengers on these larger ships must go ashore in short shifts. With the exception of the wandering albatross colony on Prion Island offshore of South Georgia—where only 50 visitors are allowed at one time—with 88 passengers and expedition staff members, and plenty of Zodiac landing craft, we can get clients to shore quickly at all locations with minimal hassles. We provide as much shore time as we can to allow you the flexibility to explore, photograph and observe wildlife at your own pace or to return to the ship as needed.
More Leaders per Client.
This is one of the major differences between our cruise and others. Why is it important? First
, our clients are very inquisitive and intent on learning photography tips and about the natural history of the area. With one leader for eight clients, you have excellent access to leaders when questions arise—and you have ten different leaders to interact with throughout the cruise. Second
, other tours often have only three or four expedition staff members for a group larger than ours, and they often have to double as Zodiac drivers during landings. This means there are extended times when most leaders on other ships are not accessible on shore because they have to ferry clients to and from the ship. Our leaders are always accessible on shore.
Our Photography and Nature Guides.
Whether you're serious about photography or just want to learn a few tips to take better photos, our photography leaders can help. Joe Van Os, John Shaw, Jeff Vanuga, Joe and Mary Ann McDonald, and Mark Thomas are all professional photographers who have led hundreds of nature photo trips all over the world. We are driven to photograph wildlife and nature! To provide the best in nature interpretation we have dedicated expert naturalists on board—Chris Edwards, Anna Sutcliffe and Monika Shillat. They help you understand the incredible diversity of life we see around the Southern Ocean. And many of our staff are both accomplished interpretive naturalists AND professional photographers.
Prime November Dates.
Our voyage is timed to travel in the Southern Ocean when courtship and early nesting activity of penguins and other species is high. At Antarctica there are many huge icebergs. Snow is a good possibility at this time of year at South Georgia and Antarctica—which greatly enhances the look of your photography. The penguin colonies are much cleaner and relatively freer of poop than later in the season. The wandering albatross colony on Prion Island, South Georgia, is still accessible before closing to visitation for the year on November 20. The spring breeding season at the Falkland Islands is in full swing with albatrosses, geese, ducks, penguins and wading birds at the nest or tending young. By using these dates we also avoid the huge crush of travelers flying between North and South America during the December holidays.
. We understand that photographers carry lots of camera gear. To aid in transporting camera gear ashore we are assisted by the ship’s able-bodied seamen who carry all your photo gear up and down the ship’s gangway and while you are getting in and out of the Zodiacs. Once on shore, in certain prime wildlife and scenery locations, we ensure all can shoot a pristine “people-free” wildlife-filled landscape by directing all clients to photograph—for a short time—as a group from a prime vantage point. On every landing we bring all passengers ashore before we disperse at a landing site, so there is no real advantage for being first in line when leaving the ship.
For more information on this trip, check out this trip report in the Photo Safaris blog.
Depart from home.
Day 2 (Nov 9, 2017)
Arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina. The hotel tonight is included in the tour fee.
The morning is free to explore the southernmost city in the world. A bus tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park is optional. Stores and shops are open, presenting a chance to stock up on some personal “snacks” or purchase forgotten items. In late afternoon we board our ship and set sail to the Falkland Islands. (BD)
We start our journey around the "Scotia Arc," traveling with the prevailing current to the Falklands. We see a variety of birds, including our first ship-following black-browed and wandering albatrosses and hundreds of petrels and other “tubenoses.” On all "at sea" days throughout the cruise, there are photography, digital workflow and natural history discussions and inspiring nature photo presentations. Plus, if wind conditions are favorable, great bird flight shots can be made on deck. (All meals are included while aboard ship.)
During our three days in the Falklands we make landings on four substantially diverse islands with photogenic rockhopper penguins, beaches dotted with oystercatchers, kelp and upland geese, meadows punctuated with active Magellanic penguin burrows, and exciting black-browed albatross colonies. Other photo subjects should include striated caracaras, snowy sheathbills, king cormorants, and a host of other waterbirds.
Departing the Falklands, our ship crosses the Scotia Sea. Although we are far from land, there is much to see if you are an active wildlife observer on deck or the bridge. Many birds follow the ship. Whales are a possibility. Numerous leader presentations prepare us for the landings to come. Our course takes us across the Antarctic Convergence, the invisible boundary between the cold Antarctic water and the warmer currents flowing from the South Atlantic. We start to see the first icebergs. Our next landfall is South Georgia, some 800 miles from the Falklands. With favorable weather, we arrive at South Georgia the evening of Day 10.
This absolutely phenomenal island is 102 miles long and 24 miles wide—a mere speck in the vast Southern Ocean. At South Georgia, we repeatedly find ourselves in stunning colonies of king penguins, macaroni penguins and wandering albatrosses. Here, at the most spectacular island on Earth, we usually stop at only one landing site per day, but our experience at these locations surpasses what virtually any other ship offers to its passengers. Weather permitting, we visit the enormous king penguin colony of the incomparable Salisbury Plain for two very full days. The wandering albatross colony at Prion Island in the Bay of Isles is still open to us for visitation, closing to visitors for the remainder of the year a day or two after we leave. We plan to land at wildlife-packed St. Andrews Bay and choose other sites depending on landing conditions. We encounter innumerable seals throughout the landing sites, including gigantic elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals. The landscape, reminiscent of the last ice age, is dotted with vast glaciers, meltwater streams, alluvial beaches and offshore icebergs. Our six days should allow us to locate and photograph some of the more unusual nesting species, such as light-mantled sooty albatrosses, southern giant petrels and Antarctic terns. We also shoot macaroni penguins and take our time looking for the best possible photo situations in the vast king penguin colonies. There is no place on Earth like South Georgia!
On these days we cross the enigmatic South Atlantic en route to Antarctica. Icebergs are now a familiar sight and, depending on timing and sea and ice conditions, we may choose to cruise an “iceberg graveyard”—where bergs ground in “shallow” water—in hopes of photographing a beautiful iceberg decorated with penguins.
The Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent South Shetland Islands offer exciting photography that packs these next five days. We select landings at prime wildlife and spectacular scenic areas only, avoiding national research bases and historic sites that have meager wildlife populations. We plan to visit Paulet Island with its massive Adélie colonies, cruise the Neumayer and Lemaire Channels—the quintessential Antarctic scenery locations—and also land Zodiacs adjacent to gentoo and chinstrap penguin colonies and loafing beaches. Our leaders use their experience to select the best areas to optimize your photography and ensure our safety. We cruise by Zodiac amidst ice-choked crystalline wonderlands and also use the Zodiacs to shoot Weddell, crabeater and leopard seals and, possibly, whales as opportunities are presented. We set foot on continental Antarctica.
We spend these two days at sea, crossing the renowned Drake Passage. Last minute bird flight shots are still available from the back deck and our final lectures take place in the lounge. Cape Horn looms on the horizon. The peaty smell of the vegetated rolling hills wafts in the air as we make our return trip into the Beagle Channel toward Ushuaia.
Day 27 (Dec 4)
Arriving in Ushuaia, we clear customs, disembark the ship and transfer to the airport to depart for home. (B)
About The Vessel, Ushuaia
The Antarctic expedition ship Ushuaia was originally commissioned as the R/V Researcher for the US National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 1995, while in the service of the US government, the ship was the first NOAA vessel to circumnavigate the globe on a scientific voyage carrying out baseline studies to gather data critical for later comparison on the ocean's role in global climate change, the Antarctic ozone hole, and the El Niño phenomenon, among other projects.
MV Ushuaia, our 278-foot-long ship, was converted for passenger travel and refurbished as a privately-owned expedition vessel to accommodate a maximum of 86 passengers and expedition staff in 43 comfortable twin cabins and suites. Though Ushuaia is far from fancy, it is the perfect small vessel to support us in achieving our photographic goals. Many cabins are being renovated for the 2015 season. The ship features upgraded navigation and communication systems and passenger email access on the ship’s bridge. Cabins on this ice-strengthened polar vessel feature lower berths in the Suite, Superior cabins, all A and B Category cabins, and upper and lower berths in C Category cabins. Most cabins feature private baths with Category C having semi-private baths. A desk, wash basin, and ample storage space is standard in all cabins. Public areas feature a large dining room, a spacious observation lounge and bar, a lecture room with seating for all passengers, an "Antarctic" library, a changing room and a small infirmary.
The ship has a large bridge with an open bridge policy. Ushuaia is staffed by an Argentine captain highly experienced in the art of Antarctic navigation and a friendly and genuinely helpful crew. A large amount of outside deck space is available to passengers for photography, wildlife viewing or gazing at Antarctica’s spectacular scenery. A full complement of inflatable Zodiacs is available for use for shore landings and for cruising to view wildlife and explore Antarctica’s amazing icy coastline.
• View Ushuaia's Deck Plan
|Standard: Twin outside cabins with portholes on Deck E, two berths (upper/lower), semi-private facilities
|Standard Plus: Twin outside cabins with portholes or windows on Deck E, two lower berths, private facilities
|Premier: Twin outside cabins with windows on Deck G, two lower berths, private facilities
|Superiors: Twin cabins with windows on Deck G, two lower berths, private facilities
|Suites: Twin cabins with windows on Deck G, two lower berths, private facilities, lounge, video, TV and fridge
All prices above are per person based on double occupancy (except Premier Single Cabin category) from Ushuaia, Argentina and are shown in USD. The trip fee does not include airfare of any kind, transfers other than with the group, visas, excess baggage charges, airport departure taxes, tips for the ship’s crew, travel insurance, bottled water, beverages other than coffee, tea, milk and juice taken at meals, bar expenses, phone calls, faxes, email, laundry, or other items of a personal nature.
The photographic safari to The Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica definitely surpassed any expectations and pre-conceptions I had. Every day delivered a carefully planned new adventure—even days at sea were packed with lectures and activities by the team leaders to make sure we were getting the most out of the trip. Every professional, semi-professional or budding photographer needs to add this tour to their bucket list as I'm positive there are no others that would come remotely close in offering the exciting photo opportunities that we experienced. Plus, on top of all the technical and creative advice received, we also had some really fun times on board - parties, auctions etc. which resulted in us all becoming one big happy family. A huge congratulations from me to Joe and his well-oiled team.
The trip of a lifetime with expert leaders and excellent ship staff. A dream vacation come true blessed with "wow" landscape & wildlife. Given the opportunity, we would re-book!!