Capturing change on the coldest continent

National Geographic photographer Michaela Skovranova witnesses the fluctuating vistas of Antarctica.

Photograph by Michaela Skovranova
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An expedition ship glides calmly along the shoreline at sunrise.
Photograph by Michaela Skovranova

This year marks the 200th anniversary of what might be the first recorded sighting of Antarctica when a Russian Antarctic expedition encountered what is now called the Fimbul Ice Shelf in 1820; although, Polynesian oral histories suggest the explorer Ui-te-Rangiora may have first sighted the white continent more than 1,300 years ago.

Two centuries later, it might appear Antarctica has remained unchanged and frozen in time. National Geographic photographer Michaela Skovranova found the opposite to be true.

While visiting the White Continent as part of the Uncover Antarctica expedition with OPPO, Skovranova found a land in constant flux, constantly transformed by the weather, its violent storms and the fluid colors effected by the seasonal light. She made it her goal to capture the majesty of the continent and document this constant change using the smartphone manufacturer’s Find X2 Pro.

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Photographer Michaela Skovranova captures a moment with Gentoo penguins.

Capturing seasonal change

Part of that constant change is how Antarctica adapts in the warmer months. This particular trip took place at the end of the summer season and Skovranova was keen to photograph the ice in the water and to capture the sheer scale of the icebergs.

What struck Skovranova particularly, was that some of the places she had visited before in previous expeditions had been completely transformed. Whole glaciers had changed shape as the warmer summer weather had hastened the ice melt, resulting in the glaciers calving icebergs into the ocean.

These icebergs weren’t small. Skovranova says she and documentary filmmaker Dave May didn’t appreciate their size until they were abreast of them in an inflatable Zodiac.

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The lifespan of an iceberg, from snowfall on a glacier to finally melting into the ocean can be up to 3,000 years.

From afar, it looked to them that each iceberg was only a few storeys high but when they drew closer, they realised the icebergs were much larger. Like mountains in the sea, May says “you’d think they’re part of the landmass but they are totally detached from the coastline.”

Especially striking was the occasional iridescent, aqua-colored iceberg the duo came across, that were encircled by many more white icebergs. Skovranova says these extraordinary behemoths developed from older, deeper glaciers formed under immense pressure for hundreds of years. “Unlike the white icebergs, that immense pressure has forced out all the air in them so when the sun hits them they refract a blue or aqua color,” Skovranova says.

Recently calved and released into the open sea, these unique icebergs bring new color to the Antarctic seascape.

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A lone iceberg of iridescent aqua floats proudly in an ice-filled Antarctic bay.

Variations in light and color

For Skovaranova, the ever-changing colors of Antarctica are a part of its allure. She fondly remembers the expedition’s first morning as their ship slid across a calm Weddell Sea, and the crew awoke to a sunrise of spectacular colors.

“We were presented with these amazing pastel pinks and purples at sunrise. It was the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen. There was no air pollution and the air was so crisp, cool and clean,” Skovranova says.

For May who was making his virgin trip to the Antarctic, that first day was time spent “with my jaw on the floor.”

“The storms we encountered on our journey across the Drake Passage after setting sail from Tierra del Fuego had cleared and it was calm as we woke up to those colors of sunrise which contrasted sharply against the white of Antarctica itself,” May says.

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Photographer Michaela Skovranova working on deck at sunrise.

According to Skovranova, it’s those contrasts which make Antarctica a photographer’s dream location.

“You feel the urge to constantly capture the immensity of the landscapes ranging from the icebergs to long craggy mountain ranges… there are very subtle differences of color across the landscape and sky,” she says, and she was impressed with how the OPPO Find X2 Pro smartphone performed as Antarctica is one of the more challenging environments for photography.

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The white continent's landscape of colors are always changing.

“It’s a place of stark beauty. Landscapes of white, black and a little blue yet the smartphone captured a really smooth transition between the colors… (every image) places me in a moment, it anchors me to a point in time and how I was feeling in that moment.

“It was a seamless and unobtrusive way to shoot – it added to the experience and that gave me the opportunity to focus on being more creative,” she concludes.

Learn more about Michaela Skovranova's journey with the OPPO Uncover Antarctica expedition here.

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