Exploring the Crystal Desert: Antarctica Through a Photographer’s Lens

Christopher Michel doesn’t like to sit still. Despite a career that includes gigs as a pilot, tech investor, entrepreneur, journalist, and government science advisor, Michel has managed to steady his hands long enough to also hone his skills as a photographer. His pursuit of the perfect image has taken him from Mount Everest to Papua New Guinea to the Korean Demilitarized Zone — and even, in 2010, to the edge of space (inside a U-2 spy plane). His most recent journey, however, is to a place he deems most magnificent of all: the frigid waters of Antarctica’s so-called “Crystal Desert.” On board a giant ship chartered by Harvard (his alma mater), Michel photographed icebergs as they froze, melted, and refroze. We managed to slow Michel down long enough to ask him a few questions about his polar voyage.

What kind of photography equipment do you recommend for extreme environments like Antarctica?

Antarctica and camera equipment aren’t friendly. From the inevitable Zodiac sea spray of the Southern Ocean to the battery-draining deep freeze, a smart photographer needs to come prepared with backup equipment, extra power, and protective everything.

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Reflected Aurora Over Alaska 

Image Credit & Copyright: Todd Salat (AuroraHunter); Sky Annotation: Judy Schmidt

Some auroras can only be seen with a camera. They are called subvisual and are too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. In the above image, the green aurora were easily visible to the eye, but the red aurora only became apparent after a 20-second camera exposure. The reason is that the human eye only accumulates light for a fraction of a second at a time, while a camera shutter can be left open much longer. When photographing an already picturesque scene near AnchorageAlaskaUSA, last autumn, a camera caught both the visual green and subvisual red aurora reflected in a lily pad-covered lake. High above, thousands of stars were visible including the Pleiades star cluster, while the planet Jupiter posed near the horizon, just above clouds, toward the image right. Auroras are caused by energetic particles from the Sun impacting the Earth’s magnetosphere, causing electrons and protons to rain down near the Earth’s poles and impact the air. Both red and green aurora are typically created by excited oxygen atoms, with red emission, when visible, dominating higher up. Auroras are known to have many shapes and colors.”

If you hover over the image here, you can see it with and with out the labeled stars, planets, and constellations.

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Smoke Droplets with Refraction

“Smoke resolved into its component droplets of wax, with zones of refraction making rainbows on the upper edge.”

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Look at this photograph and consider the challenges of fighting a fire in the bitter cold. 

  • It’s bitter cold and you need to put people into it for hours while you battle a fire
  • Those people are getting covered in water
  • the water you’re spewing onto the structure is freezing as soon as it leaves the tip of the hose
  • you’re icing over the trucks, the ladders, pretty much every tool you’re using
  • The truck that you’re spewing water from is now sitting in freezing water
  • you’ve added thousands and thousands of pounds of weight to a weakening structure

I’m sure there are more, but this is what immediately comes to mind. I do not envy the men and women of the Fire Department - but I’m glad they’re there. 

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Photo by Marta Soul 
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Rob Kesseler is fascinated with the science of macrophotography. He coats each plant specimen with a thin layer of gold, then photographs them with a scanning electron microscope. 

Microscopic Photos of Plants Merge Science and Art

via Fubiz

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When does a photograph become a painting? We could literally spend hours browsing Laurence Demaison’s portfolio. His specialty seems to be shooting through films of water, giving his prints a beautiful abstract feeling. 

Laurence Demaison’s Black and White Water Portraits

via Synaptic Stimuli | Laurence Demaison

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Light painting gets done a lot, but few people get captures like this one by Brian Matthew Hart. Brian had to compile over 300 photographs to get this tapestry of light! 

Light Painting Photographer Creates Incredible Mosaic Photos

via Colossal

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Corona Del Night by Michael Asgian on Flickr.

(Source: oix)

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These oddly saturated photographs are from around 1905, when color film was just beginning the develop. Czar Nicholas II funded two pioneering Russian photographers to document the diverse landscape and people of his empire. 

Early Color Photographs from Czarist Russia

via Reddit

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We just had to show you these photos from the Thai Yi Peng celebration! The lanterns are made of a type of rice paper, and then a tiny candle is balanced in the middle. 

Paper Lantern Constellation Marks the Yi Peng Celebration in Thailand

via DemilkedTaradol Chitmanchaitham

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Photographer Andrew Hall expertly captures these liquids in motion. The simply colored backgrounds are an excellent touch as well! 

Photographs of Liquids Suspended in Mid Air

via The Fox is Black

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Cosmic Dialogue (by a galaxy far, far away…)

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Upon looking at Sonia Soberats’s photos, you can imagine the immense amount of work that must go into each shot. Light painting is tedious work, but what if you did it all without the aid of sight? 

Blind Photographer Shoots Inspiring Light Paintings

via NYT Lens Blog

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Niccolò Bonfadini is what’s known as an astrophotographer, someone who captures images of space.

You might be wondering what’s celestial about this photo, but the reddish band running across the upper third of the photo is actually the Belt of Venus! 

Astronomy Picture of the Day - The Belt of Venus and Frosty Trees

via Live Science | APOD


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