Working at the End of the Earth

What’s it like to work in Antarctica? This is perhaps the question I get more than any other. In a nutshell it’s: too cold to snow, blindingly beautiful, filled with creative souls and Amazon packages make up the bulk of our weekly mail. Yes, really.

It’s a long trek to get here flying from Denver to LA to Auckland to Christchurch to the ice. I was lucky enough to make the last leg of my flights this year on a Basler. An old plane that’s been beautifully converted to a utility plane that does a lot of the heavy lifting on this continent.

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We flew low over the Transantarctic mountains heading to our worksite at the South Pole.

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We’ve had a rather slow start to our season this year as normal flights were hard to come by and our crew slowly trickled in. But arriving at the end of the winter with so few people on station for the first week was a great way to start the season and get things rolling. It’s been a little chillier than we usually see this time of year but I always love seeing the piles of snow from the winter.

Technically, the South Pole is in a polar desert so we only see about 8” of snow accumulation in a year and most of that is blown in, as it’s too cold to snow. But the wind brings us huge snow drifts.

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I wasted no time this year in getting into a routine. Our vertical tower, aka the Beer Can, is 90 steps from top to bottom. I do the Beer Can 10 times every day at 4am. It will definitely wake you up as the tower isn’t heated and is generally in the -50F range. And I’ve been shooting photos and writing every morning as well. These are the things that keep my sane wherever I am in the world…

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It’s good to be back and I’m looking forward to another adventurous summer season at the end of the earth… I’m teaching a photography class this year, continuing to operate the greenhouse in my free time and my band Jimmy Snippet & the Crevasse Detectors is ramping up again for the season (we’re still looking for a drummer if you know of one!).

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Side note: these photos were all shot with my newest lens, the Lensbaby Sol 45 (https://lensbaby.com/product/sol45mm/).

How To: Creating Dreamy Lights

I'm always looking for ways to create dreamy, magical color & light in my photos. Most often I achieve these effects by combining multiple photos into one. This is the final composition of my most recent piece but I'll show you below how I created it.

 This my final composition with dreamy lights & color, which is exactly what I was trying to do.

This my final composition with dreamy lights & color, which is exactly what I was trying to do.

I first created the background by combining these two photos in Afterlight using the Multiply blend mode. I created this first jpeg in Procreate on my iPad Pro because I needed some circles to represent a bokeh-like feel in the background. I left them in gray so that they would pick up the color of the photos I combined this with. The second photo is something I shot in my kitchen a few years ago. I cleaned up the white balance before flattening them together in Afterlight.

I love Afterlight and use it for most of the heavy lifting when compositing my photos. There are MANY other apps that you can use, many of them are way more complex, but I don't need more complexity and can do most of what I need right within Afterlight.

The next thing I needed was some additional color and some small lights. I used the left photo below to create this effect and combined it with the two photos above to create the photo on the below right. 

At this point, I wasn't too happy with it, but it can take quite a while to build your background so I kept plugging away at it. I needed it to be softer and I wanted more of the little yellow lights throughout the frame. To achieve both of those things, I made a copy of the photo above on the left and flipped it upside down. I then combined it with the photo on the above right.  This smoothed things out a bit and gave me more little round lights throughout the frame. 

Next, I took this photo into both Mextures and Distressed FX to add some subtle texture and lighting to the background as well as to lighten the whole piece up and decrease the blues & purples. I meant to save a copy at that step but unfortunately I forgot to do it. I try to save a copy at every step along the way, sometimes ending up with 30-50 copies by the end, but once in a while I just forget to do it...

I spend a lot of time creating the background for my pieces but if you put in the time & effort to get the background right, then they generally all come together fairly quickly in the end when you combine the final photo. From start to finish, the background took me about 1 1/2 hours. The remainder, combining the final photo and putting the finishing touches on it, only took about 10 minutes. 

Often, I already have the final photo in mind when I start a new composition and I'm creating a background specifically for it, but sometimes I just create a background and then find a final photo once I see what I've come up with for the background. That's the case with this piece. Once I saw the completed background, I knew I needed plants or something else with a strong graphic element to lay across the light in the middle of the photo. 

This photo doesn't look like much by itself, but I've used it many times as a final photo because I just love the perspective these little flowers were shot from and they work perfectly for scenes like this where you want to light something up. (Also, I had to lie on the side of a muddy hill to capture this from below, so it's good to know that messy day paid off!) If you scroll down through my Instagram feed, you'll see that I've used this one several times before in different compositions, sometimes flipped backwards.

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After combining the final photo with the background, there wasn't much remaining editing to do other than adding a tiny bit of vignetting and I always add a dash of pink to the highlights, because that's just my style... And here again is the final photo composite:

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