This was the image Paul had been so hoping to get: a sunlit mass of emperor penguins charging upwards, leaving in their wake a crisscross of bubble trails. The location was near the emperor colony at the edge of the frozen area of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. It was into the only likely exit hole that he lowered himself. He then had to wait for the return of the penguins, crops full of icefish for their chicks. Paul locked his legs under the lip of the ice so he could remain motionless, breathing through a snorkel so as not to spook the penguins when they arrived. Then it came: a blast of birds from the depths. They were so fast that, with frozen fingers, framing and focus had to be instinctive. ‘It was a fantastic sight’, says Paul, ‘as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me’ – a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I’ll never forget.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 8-15mm f4 lens; 1/1000 sec at f7.1; ISO 500; Seacam housing.
Cape Washington, Ross Sea, Antarctica
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Paul Nicklen, Canada
A polar bear specialist and marine biologist, Paul grew up on Baffin Island among the Inuit people. From them he developed a love of nature, an understanding of ice ecosystems, and the survival skills that have made him an award winning nature photographer. Paul has contributed stories to National Geographic covering the slaughter of narwhals, salmon farming and the importance of polar ecosystems.