All About Ice: Exploring Antarctica with Photographer Phil Schermeister

Over the past 25 years, photographer Phil Schermeister has completed more than 40 assignments for National Geographic magazine and other Nat Geo publications. He has photographed in dozens of countries on four continents—from Antarctica to Iceland and the Pacific Northwest. In his search for “decisive moments” in nature, Phil seeks out drama in the forces that sculpt natural landscapes. We sat down with Phil to talk about his enthusiasm for Antarctica’s ice and his advice for photographers journeying to the White Continent.

What are some highlights, for you, of National Geographic’s Journey to Antarctica expedition?

For me, the highlights of this trip are the endless variety and beautiful forms of the polar ice, the stunning mountain scenery, walking among penguin colonies, the old preserved British base of Port Lockery, and the drama of flying into the port of Ushuaia, with its dramatic setting against lofty mountain peaks.

What makes Antarctica a great subject for photography?

Antarctica is an unparalleled destination for photography because there are dramatic scenes constantly in front of you. Craggy black mountains jut up everywhere along the coast, many with cloud caps hovering over them. Penguin colonies dot the landscape, and the soundtrack is the soft but persistent call of Adélies, chinstraps, and gentoos.

But ice is what sets Antarctica apart. It dominates the landscape. Depending on the light, it can be almost any color: white, orange, blue, clear, and even black. From the smallest ice bits in the water to massive mile-long icebergs and calving glaciers, no two pieces of ice are alike. Icebergs sculpted by wind and water into a myriad of fanciful shapes are constantly passing by our ship. The incredible variety and beauty of ice is what makes Antarctica a visual wonderland—there is something unique to be discovered each time I visit the White Continent.

Tell us about one of your favorite projects in Antarctica.

On one of my expeditions aboard the National Geographic Orion, our captain was able to park the ship on fast ice (ice attached to the shore), and all the travelers were able to walk off the ship directly onto the ice. The scene of all our parka-clad guests hiking and skiing next to the huge ship was breathtaking. This experience made me realize what a unique opportunity it is to visit this part of the world.

How would you encourage travelers to approach photography during this trip?

For photography in Antarctica, preparation for the weather is paramount. Often—on the deck of our ship, in Zodiacs, or during landings—the weather will dictate how long you are able to photograph. Having the proper outerwear will extend your time outside and give you the best opportunities to get great shots. Parkas are essential, as are good gloves, a warm hat, and some perseverance.

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Why is it important to travel?

For me, one of the best things about travel is seeing things from a different viewpoint—a vantage point I would never have at home. Many times, while in the midst of a travel experience, I have vowed that because of that experience I would do things differently back home. For example, when in Europe I see the many advantages of a strong public transportation system, and it reminds me to try to use my local system as much as possible when I return. To me, that's one of the main benefits of travel: incorporating positive change in the way you see, do, or approach things in everyday life.

How do you hope the experience of visiting Antarctica with you will affect travelers?

Antarctica is singularly special because it is a vast wilderness that has never been developed. To see and experience the Earth in its primeval form on such a large scale inspires me to do everything I can to make sure it stays the way it is. I hope to communicate to our travelers my enthusiasm for this special place.

Capture images of towering icebergs with Phil on a National Geographic expedition cruise to Antarctica.