Helen, fantastic to get to talk to you again and to hear about a recent trip to Antarctica which I am totally jealous of! So tell us a bit about yourself and how on earth you got the opportunity to head out on such an awesome trip?
The company that I went with have a trust attached and the trust offer scholarships to those under 30. The Enderby Trust recognizes conservation is best spearheaded by those who have experienced the environment themselves (a lot like diving) and know that most of us under 30 don’t have the money to get down to these incredible places. It’s an amazing opportunity to head to the Sub Antarctic Islands or if you’re really lucky all the way to Antarctica.
What was the boat like? The accommodation on board and the facilities?
The boat was really nice, it’s a Russian icebreaker with all Russian boat crew (English speaking expedition staff and chefs), so an excellent opportunity to practice a new language! The berths were a lot more spacious than I thought they would be and I didn’t have to have a top bunk which was a bonus. There are a few rooms that have bunk beds and I was not looking forward to the westerly winds found in those latitudes and a top bunk. The food was incredible, it was like eating at 5 star restaurants every night, except for the constant swaying.
Did you find that there was a real mix of people that were on the expedition?
Our trip was, In the Wake of Mawson, who was an Australian Antarctic explorer and we were supposed to leave from Australia so we had a majority Australians. We were on the boat for both Australia day and Waitangi day (NZ national day) which was interesting, we had a bit of a showdown on who celebrates better. People get very creative when national pride is on the line. There were some excellent story tellers in the group so we were always kept entertained.
Your photos are just amazing! Are you a pro photographer?
Not at all, it’s just a hobby of mine. I’ve been really lucky with work so far and have visited some incredible places both internationally and within NZ, so plenty of opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.
What do you think is important about shooting wildlife, especially marine life?
Patience and rapid shooting. For the big stuff, it’s either finding the right places to dive (or sail to) or just getting lucky. I love macro so next on my list of purchases is a macro lens. For me it takes a lot more creativity to get that perfect macro shot.
Does being a Scuba Dive Instructor give you an advantage when taking photos underwater? Do you feel that the level of your dive certification contributes or can anyone take good pics?
As a divemaster I had the advantage of being in the water all the time which obviously means you’re more likely to see things to shoot. But since becoming an Instructor I’m finding I have less time to take my camera out. Anyone can take good pictures though, there are a huge range of cheaper cameras available now that means anyone can take good quality pictures. Do your research on what camera will be best for what you want to photograph and go out there and take as many photos as you can.
I have always wanted to go to Antarctica, it’s a big one on my list. Would you recommend it to people?
Absolutely. I didn’t want to leave at all. When we got back to port in NZ, they were stocking up to head straight back out again, I wanted to stow away with the supplies. I don’t have enough superlatives for the experience but it was awe inspiring. The serenity, the space, the diversity… I was amazed at how many hardy creatures manage to survive down there. We had a few nights in a row where we had humpback whales surround our boat and put on a show for hours. We estimated there was at least 25 one night. If you ever have a chance to go, do it!
How did you manage the cold? I saw a video of you jumping in the ocean in a bikini and must say I was impressed with the bravery!
That was the coldest thing I’ve ever done and potentially the stupidest. Other than doing silly things such as jumping in the water, I was never really cold. In fact I was constantly made fun of for wearing shorts when we went out for walks on the islands. We were given jackets for Antarctica but I actually have an incredible jacket from Wear on Earth which along with some layers kept me toasty the whole way. The Russian crew love being warm so the boat was always hot enough for shorts and tshirt.
What is your favorite thing to photograph in the marine world and why?
That’s a hard one. I think it changes depending on where I’m diving. I love nudibranchs and they are such great models. But sharks are great to photograph as well, they have so much character and make for some very dramatic shots.
Do you think an interest in conservation helps you do what you do and what is your motivation for working in the field?
Absolutely. I studied Marine Biology and Ecology & Biodiversity at university and it has allowed me the opportunity to work in conservation and given me a solid background in the marine environment. Working in the field is amazing. The experiences you get are so incredible, one work day I found myself sitting in the sun eating gelato on the shore of Lake Wanaka, you don’t get that back at the office.
Helen I want to see more of your photos and I am sure our readers do too! Please keep them coming and let us know what you get up too next. We love to meet adventurous, interesting people and follow all of the wonderful things they do and are keen to hear about a current trip that you have just embarked on in Djibouti! Lucky girl!