Antarctica remains the last continent on the planet which still exudes the frontier ruggedness that famous polar explorers such as Ernest Shackleton would have encountered over 100 years ago. An otherworldly place at the end of the earth where the climate dominates year round.
Capturing that granitic beauty on camera and sharing it with the wider world was the challenge National Geographic photographer Michaela Skovranova faced on the Uncover Antarctica expedition cruise earlier this year.
For Skovranova, her goal was to create a beautiful, immersive experience for readers by not only “capturing the beauty and rawness of the location and its landscapes but to convey the stillness of the place. Everywhere you go, you can imagine you’re the only person who has ever been there,” Skovranova says.
“It’s a place like nowhere else on the planet and with the weather changing from moment to moment, you want to capture it all and give people a real sense of the Antarctic experience in pictures.”
From capturing the underside of icebergs that looked like submerged crystal cities to craggy snowcapped mountain ranges glistening in the late summer sun, the wildly contrasting landscapes of Antarctica constantly change before your eyes.
A particular highlight for Skovranova was being able to film one of nature’s most amazing sights – a glacier calving, where a huge wall of ice slices off a glacier and crashes into the sea.
Accompanying Skovranova on the expedition was documentary filmmaker Dave May.
“We were in one of the expedition ship’s inflatable boats known as Zodiacs, and the ship’s Captain steered us close to a glacier while maintaining a safe distance. Firstly, there was a loud crunch like I’d never heard before and then we watched a huge sheet of ice weighing thousands of tons crash into the water,” May recalled.
For May, it was his first visit to the Antarctic.
“I’ve always wanted to film there and I must admit that as we sailed across the Drake Passage at the beginning of our journey, I was a little intimidated as to what to expect,” he says.
“On the first day as the sun rose over the landscape, it looked totally surreal. It was almost alien, like we were on another planet. I had an idea what to expect but nothing prepares you for Antarctica. There’s a scale, a stillness to it that’s incomparable to anywhere.”
“Out in the field we never knew what we were going to see, we wanted to capture as much imagery that reflected the sights and sounds of Antarctica as possible.”
Skovranova says it was important to capture events such as the ice calving because while it’s an amazing spectacle, it’s also a poignant reminder of the effects of climate change in Antarctica.
According to Skovranova, we tend to forget about the effects of climate change on Antarctica because “it’s a place so far away”.
“Yet it feels all the impacts of climate change more strongly than anywhere else”.
To document Antarctica’s elements and capture its fragility in intimate detail, Skovranova depended on the robustness of the Oppo Find X2 Pro smartphone that she carried with her on the expedition.
“The phone allowed me to get really close to the bits of ice and water I wanted to film. I wasn’t really worried about the salt spray, the snow or rain as I could just give it a wipe and get on with my photography.”
Much of this was due to some of the smartphone’s special features such as 10x Hybrid Zoom as well as the 13MP periscope telephoto lens which allowed Skovranova to grab unbelievably detailed photographic and video images.
“Everything seems to be moving including the icebergs which are driven by the ocean currents. You’re constantly in awe of everything around you which makes it so hard to leave behind.”
“For me, it’s an amazing place and every moment is unmissable,” Skovranova concludes.
Learn more about Michaela Skovranova's journey with the OPPO Uncover Antarctica expedition here.