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Penguins on Ice: How a Hobbyist Captured an Award Winning Photograph

5 min read

You could say it was a shot fifteen years in the making, yet when Katrina Zinger captured her ‘Penguins on Ice' shot, she had no idea how exceptional it was.

Early in 2016, when they set sail from Ushuaia aboard Ocean Endeavour en route to Antarctica, Katrina and her aunt made good on a promise they'd made to one another a decade and a half ago. Their 14-day Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition journey was the culmination of a lifetime of travel together that started when Katrina was just a girl.

Katrina Zinger's award winning Penguins On Ice Antarctic photograph

"Penguins on Ice", Katrina's award winning photograph.

At seven years old, she accompanied her aunt to the Bahamas. By the time she was 13, the duo were off to Australia and New Zealand, where they toured the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. They made a pact: one day they would visit Antarctica, and they would do it together.

Perhaps they'll do it again sooner than expected. Against that beautiful backdrop of a stunning cerulean blue Antarctic sky and a sea chock-full of icebergs, Katrina captured the Quark Expeditions Brochure Photo Contest 2016 winner. In addition to seeing ‘Penguins on Ice' grace the cover of our brochure, Katrina won a Quark Expeditions trip for two. She spoke to me recently about her award winning photograph and what it took to make it happen.

Finding the Time to Travel to Antarctica

The reasons Katrina and her aunt were inspired to journey south are plenty, but as with most people, the challenge was in finding the right time. In 2015, she saw that an opportunity would present itself early the next year. “I was switching jobs, so had some built-in time off. My aunt is a professor and was going on sabbatical, so the timing worked out perfectly for us,” she said.

Katrina Zinger and her aunt fulfilled a lifelong dream to travel to Antarctica

Though neither really knew what to expect, they were excited at the prospect of seeing penguins.

“My mom has a penguin obsession so we have an entire wall in our house with penguin pictures and figurines,” Katrina laughed. “We have a whole penguin ornament tree for the holidays, so I grew up loving penguins!”

Even so, she had a few misgivings about the trip. “I figured that it was going to be brutally cold,” she confessed. “I also thought there was a good chance that I would be one of the youngest people on the cruise, considering it was in January and not during the holidays.” She was pleasantly surprised, she said, to find people from all walks of life on board, with many travelers near her own age.

Antarctica the Ideal Backdrop for Award Winning Wildlife Photography

A protective services supervisor for Central Boston Elder Services, Katrina considers herself a hobby photographer; she loves taking photos on vacation, but has no formal training. In fact, she feels she ‘got lucky' with her best shots, which she captured with a Canon EOS Rebel T6i and Canon Ultrasonic zoom lens EF75-300.

Which camera should you bring to Antarctica? Here's how Katrina Zinger captured her winning wildlife photograph.

I give her more credit than just getting lucky. Like many passengers, Katrina took advantage of onboard lectures and hands-on instruction from expert guides en route to Antarctica. “On those first days (at sea), you can learn a lot about the wildlife and glaciers you're going to see, as well as Antarctic exploration in general. The staff were really good about educating us,” she said.

She also spent a good deal of time on deck, experimenting with different camera settings and how her camera reacted to different lighting conditions. Katrina estimates that she took about 3,000 photos over the course of her trip and said that each evening, she reviewed her day's work as she transferred photos to her laptop.

“There were definitely moments where I was like, ‘Oh, that picture's really great! I can't believe I was able to capture that,” she said, again dissolving into laughter. In fact, our entire conversation was punctuated with it; even today, you can hear the smile in Katrina's voice as she revisits her Antarctic journey.

“I'll never forget the morning I woke up from camping with the penguins,” she recalled. “Watching the penguins while I sat, still with the sleeping bag on… it was just such an amazing way to wake up, with penguins 50 feet away! I just sat there watching them engage with one another, It was amazing.”

Capturing Candid Penguins on Ice

Katrina's winning photo came a few days later and was born out of another passenger's wish: to capture a shot of penguins jumping from an ice floe into the frigid Antarctic waters. A new friend in her Zodiac group, Sonja, inspired Katrina's entire group to work on getting this iconic shot.

On each expedition, passengers are split into groups and then head out with 8 to 10 people per Zodiac and expedition guide, for both Zodiac cruising and shore landings. This ensures that some passengers are out cruising while the others explore on shore, reducing and controlling the amount of people on shore at any given time to minimize our impact on the environment and keep within International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) regulations. The small size of each group also gives passengers maximum facetime with their polar expert guide, who helps them understand what they're seeing, hearing, and experiencing in what can seem like a completely alien environment.

“Our guide stopped us near an iceberg so we could watch these penguins… they were everywhere!” she laughs. Katrina's group was cruising just off Paulet Island, just southeast of Dundee Island near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Just 1.5 kilometres in diameter, it's an excellent place to see imperial shags, snow petrels and kelp gulls, all of which nest on the island.

What the area is best known for, however, are Adelie penguins. Recognized as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, Paulet Island is home to about 100,000 pairs of breeding Adelies in the Antarctic summer.

Katrina and her aunt pose with Adelie penguins in Antarctica

“We kept watching and thinking, maybe they're going to walk to the edge this time! Maybe they're going to jump... we'd watch for a bit, then we'd go to a different area to watch other penguins,” she recalls. “Eventually we found ourselves near this iceberg with a group of three penguins on it. I liked the groups of three penguins, because I'm one of three children.”

It made sense for Katrina; she wanted to capture a few great penguin pictures for her mother and felt the group of three penguins versus her family's group of three children made the emotional connection that excellent shots are made of.

As she quietly observed the penguins waddling to and fro on the ice, indecisive and unsure whether they wanted to make the leap, Katrina started snapping photos. Although the penguins didn't jump, it was out of that series that her award winning photograph materialized.

But what about Sonja's perfect shot, the one of a penguin leaping off an iceberg into the Southern Ocean?

Again, Katrina laughs. “We saw penguins jumping at the next iceberg, so Sonja got her wish that day, as well!”

Katrina's sheer joy in recalling her trip of a lifetime was infectious, and it's not hard to see why her aunt finds her an ideal travel companion. Her next adventure with Quark Expeditions is sure to generate an entirely new portfolio of fantastic polar photos and thanks to ‘Penguins on Ice,' the next time she travels to Antarctica it's completely free of charge.

Congratulations, Katrina!

If you'd like to learn more about the polar regions and how to plan your own trip of a lifetime, download the Quark Expeditions Brochure (and be sure to check out ‘Penguins on Ice' on the back cover!).

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