Tag Archives: Education

All At Sea

Thursday 7 & Friday 8 March 2024 – At last!  A break from all this relentless expeditioning, a chance to draw breath, a chance to catch up with writing about what we’ve seen and posting it on…


No internet.


This is serious.  If Something Is Not Done, you, my adoring public, will not be up to date with our travels and Jane will lose her Duolingo streak.  One of these is more serious than the other.

The journey from South Georgia to Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands, takes two and a half days in Hondius, a period without any expeditions from the ship. Both Jane and I were ready for this, as were various other passengers we talked to; the preceding days had been not only exceedingly content-rich but also quite tiring, involving much clambering about on and off Zodiacs, some hiking and lots of concentration.

The two days were a great opportunity to attend lectures from our guides, all of whom have scientific backgrounds as well as being able to pilot Zodiacs and identify local wildlife. To be honest, I didn’t attend many, as my main focus was to look through, select and process photos from the active days and then to write up what we’d been doing. It would not be possible to post them online (or indeed to look anything up to fact-check), but I could draft stuff in Word against the time when we would get internet access back.

Despite there being no internet available, we could keep some contact with events in the outside world through the home screen on the TV in our cabin.  As well as giving us information about each day’s programme and what was on the menu for the meals, it provided a summary selection of news stories from around the world.  Whatever selection mechanism was at work was very idiosyncratic; some of the stories were in Dutch, many of them were US-based stories and the selection of sports covered was quite niche.  Every so often, among the important (but tiresome) news items such as Trump v Biden we would get global, stop-press news items like this.

I did attend one lecture, about the circumpolar current, the 30-50km wide band of water that circulates westward (that’s clockwise, if you are looking at the earth with Antarctica in the centre of your picture) at latitudes between 48° and 61° South.  This separates the cold waters in the Southern Ocean (which contains some 40% of the global ocean volume), from the warmer and saltier waters of Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, maintains the extreme Antarctic climate – and captures about 30 times more carbon than the atmosphere.  The Southern Ocean, and the life within it, sequester twice as much carbon as the Amazon rainforest, making it an extremely important for life on earth.  If we bugger it up, human life will become very difficult indeed, and I for one am glad that its importance is becoming more and more obvious and increasingly accepted around the globe.

Other lectures concerned further topics relevant to the southern ocean – biological survival mechanisms in cold temperatures, feeding strategies among the wildlife, details about life cycles of the animals found in this ocean.

One of our guides, Ursula, has been running a project called 121withanimals for many years. She has participated in several research projects and her original background was in arts and crafts.  What she has done is to create, in fabrics, life-sized versions of various animals, including many of those that we’ve seen on our travels so far, and she uses them in education projects, for example to teach children about food chains and to give them an insight into creatures they would otherwise have little idea about. (She had brought several of them with her and occasionally we’d go down the stairs or into the lounge one day to find that another creature had been attached to the walls for us to admire.)


Every so often, the lectures would be interrupted by an announcement from the bridge, where someone was perpetually on wildlife lookout duty, about the sighting of various creatures, at which point everyone would rush over to the relevant side of the ship to watch what was going on.  For example, we saw some hourglass dolphins riding along beside the ship

and there were often birds flying around, typically petrels or albatrosses.

So there was plenty to occupy our time and our intellects.

You’ll be able to infer from the wildlife photos above, that the weather conditions were good.  Our extraordinary luck with the weather has continued thus far.  In lieu of video, here are two pictures taken from the after deck showing the extent of the roll we had to deal with.

I, for one, was grateful, as it made it much easier to get decent shots of the wildlife.

The second day, Friday March 8, was important in three regards; firstly, it was the day before we reached the Falkland Islands, and was an opportunity for the guides to help us check over our clothing for biosecurity compliance; secondly, it was International Women’s Day, which gave a chance for Pelin, our history-focused guide, to tell us about the regrettable lack of women in early polar research (for example, three ladies approached Shackleton to join one of his expeditions and he told them baldly that there were no vacancies for women), although this is clearly changing, since most of our guides (also scientists, you remember) are women; and lastly, Pippa and the team had assembled a series of lots for an auction to raise money for the South Georgia Heritage Trust. The ship’s hotel manager, William, helped this last along with a happy hour whilst the auction got under way

and there’s little doubt in my mind that this helped things along, as did the fact that it was an extremely good cause.  The team had done a good job of getting together a great variety of items

as well as some great ideas for unique offerings (publicised on the lounge screens with great humour)

and the whole evening was great fun – and raised several thousand pounds for the Heritage Trust through very generous bidding (see “Happy Hour” earlier).

And so, buoyed up by all this education, fun and the prospect of visiting Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, in weather that might actually not be too bad, we all headed for bed looking forward to getting back to Doing Stuff after all this resting nonsense.

The role of workshops in developing skills

This post was inspired by Amateur Photographer Magazine, who said, in a Facebook post, “We’re planning a feature about photography workshops and holidays. Have you ever done one, and if so who was it with, where did you go and what did you think of it? Would you do another one, once Covid is gone, and if so what’s on your wishlist?”

Using my phone, I started writing a response, then realised that there had been several workshops which had been not so much valuable as crucial in developing sufficient photo skills to sustain me in a certain amount of paid work – plus one which I was unable to attend for health reasons. So this post is my response in more detail than would have been appropriate for a Facebook stream.

The first workshop lesson: take it seriously (Nikon School)

Having dabbled in both film and digital photography, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and bought a digital SLR, a Nikon D70 (the courage being necessary to explain to the distaff side about the amount I’d spent). I realised quickly that I needed education about how to get the best out of it, and so enrolled on a specialist one-day course with Nikon School designed to bring home to the participants the sort of capabilities the D70 brought to bear. So, although I didn’t technically learn anything that wasn’t in the instruction manual, I picked up a sense of the importance of understanding the kit so that I could use it well. This principle was more important than the actual technical knowledge imparted.

Interim learning – the value of a mentor

Shortly afterwards, my work in PR enabled me to meet a professional photographer, Rob Matthews, who we employed to help us with a couple of PR projects. He was very patient in answering my persistent beginner-type questions and I also learned a huge amount simply by watching him at work and seeing the results he got. Not a formal workshop but an invaluable learning experience which shaped my professional style and, importantly, earning ability.

The second workshop: composition (Light and Land)

My principal (unpaid) photography was based around travelling and I simply made sure that I had a camera with me wherever I went. So when I spied an opportunity to visit the Lake District in a landscape photography workshop, I thought it presented a good chance to help me up my game from simple travel snaps, which is all I had really managed thus far. It was organised by Light and Land and, further, was an opportunity to meet not only Damien Demolder (who will be familiar to any regular Amateur Photographer readers, him being one-time editor and that) but also the great Charlie Waite, who is not only one of the great landscape photographers but is also a gent. I learned huge amounts about how to compose decent images rather than simply capture what’s in front of my eyes at the time.

The best one: Historic Warbirds (Nikon School)

As you can infer, I’m a Nikon user, and have attended various other Nikon workshops, such as a wildlife expedition to the British Wildlife Centre. This was enjoyable and I got some great photos out of it – and Nikon sold me a good lens on the strength of it, so winners all round. But Nikon School really came up trumps with an opportunity to photograph Spitfire and Hurricanes – Historic Warbirds – with the USP of being able to do this from the air. As well as learning the best way to photograph aeroplanes in flight, I and the other participants got the chance to capture some absolutely unique images. A memorable experience indeed.

The one that got away: Printing (Light and Land)

The trouble with Light and Land’s offerings is that they are all so tempting! I managed to resist their blandishments for a while, but then spotted a workshop with Joe Cornish, another great of landscape photography, focussing on preparing and printing images. Sadly, I had to cancel my attendance due to medical reasons, but this is an area where I recognise my own shortcomings and so is likely to be the subject of my next photo workshop.

The value of workshops

There is little substitute, when it comes to learning about something like photography, for just getting out and doing it. The value of a workshop is in shaping the practice – imparting knowledge, giving feedback and enabling the exchange of ideas. You still have to get out and do it, but with the help of workshops you can do this with greater confidence, insight and quality.