My name is Andrew Macdonald and I am a photographer and videographer from Scotland, now based out of Cape Town, South Africa.
At the time of writing I am about to embark on my second season on ice with White Desert. My original trip to the south came after I heard White Desert were opening a new camp, Echo Base. I reached out to a friend in the company and before I knew it I was heading south from Cape Town to set foot on my 7th and final continent. My role is to capture a wide range of photography and videography including the accommodation, activities, wildlife and behind the scenes. If it happens on ice, I’m shooting it.
First impressions of the Great White Continent
On my first trip to Antarctica I had no idea what to expect. I guess I was both nervous and excited. Walking down the steps of the plane and taking my first steps on ice was a surreal experience, I felt like I was disembarking a spaceship onto another world. I spent 27 days on ice last season and even on that very last day it still felt like I was on another planet, the magic of Antarctica does not fade and I am so eager to return.
Needless to say, photography in Antarctica comes with its own set of challenges. In fact, everything you do there, normal day to day things, are so different from the other destinations I’ve shot. For me, taking photos or videos, changing settings and camera filters etc was made harder as most of the time I’m wearing gloves or, if I’ve left them off too long, I couldn’t feel my fingers from the cold! My camera batteries were ok but at the South Pole they were only lasting around 20 minutes in the environment. Shooting in golden soft light is also a challenge due to the 24 hours of daylight. Depending on the month I was sometimes shooting the accommodation at 2am to get some golden light. It was a mind bend.
Golden hour under Antarctic skies
A taste of luxury at the end of the world
Last season I was lucky enough to spend a few nights in guest accommodation which was pretty incredible. The rest of the time I was staying in one of the staff tents which isn’t quite so luxurious but can be surprisingly comfortable and cosy. With the sun never setting I would either use a sleeping mask or pull my hat over my eyes to try and achieve darkness. It makes you more “one of the team” when living the tent life. Having said that, if a night becomes available in guest accommodation this season I will grab it with both hands!
The food was always great in Antarctica, I don’t know how the chefs do it. Dining with the rest of the staff in the mess tent is also good for team bonding in my opinion.
During my first season on ice I experienced things I never thought I would ever do. I stood at the South Pole, marvelled at emperor penguin colonies, walked through ice tunnels, climbed mountains, zip lined, abseiled and walked between towering ice waves. It was like a dream, I still have to pinch myself. As a wildlife photographer the penguins were a highlight but the most mind-blowing thing for me would have to be the ice tunnels and the ice waves near Whichaway. I never knew such a place could exist.
Bow to your Emperor
There’s no doubt about it, Antarctica changes you. Coming back to the “real” world seems strange at first. You have a new appreciation for the simplest of things and hopefully you will find yourself making small changes in your own day to day life to be more environmentally conscious and help prevent the negative effects in Antarctica. If you visit this continent and are not changed then I’d be worried!
Should you get the chance to visit, for me it’s a no brainer, just say yes! Experiencing this wilderness will blow your mind.
Gazing towards the horizon
One of the biggest surprises in Antarctica would have to be the mountains. I was pretty ignorant to the fact that these mountains, or nunataks, even existed. I was in awe when we were flying into Wolf’s Fang one day and we skimmed past the impressive Ulvetanna (Wolf’s Fang Peak). To think that these huge peaks are just mountains sticking out of the glacier left me trying to envision the landscape with no ice and how these mountains would appear even larger.
If I was to sum up my time in Antarctica in just one word it would have to be… otherworldly.