It's early morning. Very early - the further south we travel, the earlier I set the alarm. It was a 3.30 a.m. start this morning and the weather is brooding, almost antagonistic. We approach Elephant Island from the north and are somewhat sheltered from the gales out to sea. In fact, it's almost calm as we cruise between the icebergs.
It is noticeably colder, unsurprisingly. We have just spent two days at sea in relatively mild conditions - by Southern Ocean standards. Part of our time has been spent reading and listening to talks about Shackleton, so looking through the snow squalls towards Elephant Island has a new meaning.
As the light intensifies (there is no real sunset to be seen), I gradually shift the ISO setting on the Phase One P65+ from 1600 down to 50. Even on a moving ship I find a tripod is useful, but most of my photos from the ship and zodiacs are hand held, ramping the ISO setting up as required to give me a chance. Not every photo is successful (camera shake is really easy to see with 60 megapixels), so I often take several frames, re-focusing each one just to check that I have got all the settigs exactly right. The cold can do funny things to your brain and your cameras!
The little Lumix GF1 is also working a treat and doesn't mind the cold either. However, the two cameras require different mindsets. With the Phase One I am thinking like a view camera user, looking for simple compositions with great detail. For the Lumix, it is more of a documentary style, capturing moments and shooting off the hip. And the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III with the 300mm telephoto simply can't be beaten for wildlife. Okay, the Nikon D3x has more pixels and maybe the EOS 1D Mark IV would be a better wildlife camera (10 fps etc), but the versatility of the DSLR format and the speed of autofocusing make it an essential part of my camera quiver.
I keep pinching myself that I am in one of the world's most exotic and beautiful locations with some of the world's most advanced and exquisite photography equipment.
The weather is too rough for either a zodiac cruise or landing - and there is probably too much sea ice to allow us ashore anyway. We spend a few hours in sight of Elephant Isand before turning around and heading for our next destination.
Next: Deception Island