Emperor Penguins -The Beauty in the Reality

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

When photographers venture out to capture images of the beauty of nature, we typically look for pristine views that grab our attention, and we edit out the pieces that detract from the overall art. This happens with both landscapes and wildlife, although it can be harder to get a nice pleasing background in wildlife photography because the animals move. :-). That’s when knowledge of animal behavior becomes important for predicting movement and being able to set up with a clean nice background.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

All of the penguin images I’ve posted so far on this blog and on my website have been with the above concept in mind–clean, non-distracting backgrounds so the viewer could focus on the beauty of the penguins. I set up those shots on purpose so that I would have images that could be considered fine art. This was not the case for all of my photos at the colony. At times, I changed my mindset and focus so that my images documented the full scene before me.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I wanted to show what it looked like on the sea ice when temperatures climbed to abnormally hot 50+ degrees Fahrenheit. The ice started melting too fast, leaving areas with standing water on top of the sea ice.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The heat in combination with the lack of blizzards and fresh snow left the colony looking raw with penguin and gull feces.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 390 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

This area of sea ice was their home and their colony. The colony didn’t move much from this area so the result was some very dirty sections of the colony. The heat led to many penguins lying on the sea ice not just to move from one location to another but to cool down in the unseasonably warm spring temperatures. At one point, even I had to join them lying down on the sea ice after I shed my parka and another down jacket!

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 480 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

The benefit of taking images for documentary purposes is that we can learn about all aspects of the colony and animal behavior. Sliding on the sea ice gave the penguins the stains on their bellies. We could tell which penguins spent time with others based on the extent of their stains.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

At first glance, these images might repel you, especially when you understand the reason for the stains, but there is beauty even in the dirty, ugly scenes. The image below is one of my favorites as it represents to me the difficulty of life and the tough days that we have to trudge through and just keep going.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 260 mm, f/8.0, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

Togetherness and reliance on each other were other features of the colony that became apparent after studying and photographing these animals for 28 hours over 3 days.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 330 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

I learned a lot in those hours, not just about wildlife photography. These animals don’t know what is happening in the world or how the climate is changing but they continue to push on, adapting to what nature gives them.

Image: Emperor penguins after unseasonably warm weather, Snow Hill Island, Antarctica. Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 200 mm, f/8.0, 1/2500 sec, ISO 400, hand-held.

You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

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