A Black-browed Albatross glides over the churning waters of the South Atlantic on the coast of the Steeple Jason Island in the Falklands. Steeple Jason is home to the largest colony of Black-browed Albatross in the world. Some hundreds of thousands nest there. I guarantee your jaw will fall open when you first look across the expanse of birds.
There is no place like the Falklands. This small archipelago is a British holding just off the coast of southern Argentina. A fair amount of controversy surrounds the islands and the Argentines regularly grumble over what they call the Islas Malvinas, and how they are rightfully a part of Argentina. However, whatever the Argentines think, the people of the Falklands are unquestionably British. In fact, in a recent non-binding vote, the residents overwhelmingly showed their support for remaining British. That actually puts in mildly, the election had 92% turnout and more than 99% voted in favor of remaining British. Virtually unanimous.
Spend any time in Stanley (the capital), or in any of the many remote ranches on the islands and you’ll quickly sense how British the place is. Tea and biscuits are ubiquitous and Stanley’s one pub pours warm pints of thick, dark beer. Land Rovers are the vehicles of choice. Even the weather feels British as fog and drizzle regularly hang over the water, (though it occasionally is penetrated by a dazzling southern sun).
Getting to the Falklands is easiest aboard a small expedition style ship. Though there are a few trips that only visit the Falklands, most stop into the islands on their way to or from Antarctica or South Georgia Island. It is a pity the Falklands often become a pass-over stop because they offer so much potential. There are numerous excellent cruise companies out there, just be sure they provide substantial shore time before you book what will be a very expensive journey. Alternatively, you can fly into Stanley and work your way to the outlying islands via local outings. Some of the sheep stations provide housing and food to visitors.
For an outdoor photographer, the Falklands are stunning. Penguin, albatross and cormorant colonies are dotted across the rugged shorelines. Lacking mammalian predators (the Falkland Islands Wolf was exterminated many years ago), the birds are remarkably tame. Full-frame headshots of birds are easy to create, meaning that even sharp, clean-background shots, with lovely light, can be run-of-the-mill. And during both my visits to the Falklands, most of the images I’ve come away with are this type. (There are exceptions of course, the top image here in particular is one of my favorites.) I like these shots, some have been published. But when I return (and I will), I plan to concentrate on providing context. Telling stories. There is lot to be told about the Falklands, and I look forward to having a go.
Rockhopper Penguin. I made this image on a drizzly day on West Point Island. This type of image is easy. A long lens (500mm f4) isolated the bird, and turned the background of tussock grass and rock into a clean blur.
When the sun does emerge, it gets bright and hot. You’ve got to position yourself for the kind of image you want. For this I went with light quartering off my left shoulder, which, I think, threw a nice portrait light across the head of this Black-browed Albatross. In retrospect, I would have liked a bit more of catchlight in the bird’s eye.
This, like the image at the top of the post, is one of my favorites. These Striated Caracaras are endangered world-wide, but they aren’t uncommon on some of the islands in the Falklands. They are generally scavengers, though they will occasionally steal an unguarded chick from a penguin or gull. This shot is from the amazing Steeple Jason Island. I saw a small group of these Caracaras patrolling a patch of rocky ground and lay down with my long lens to make some images. My stillness drew their attention, as they hoped that I might be on the verge of death. This bird landed just feet away, and my long lens quickly became useless. Slowly I reached back into my camera bag, removed my wide angle and swapped lenses. The bird, still hopeful that he might make a meal of me, remained while I shot several wide-angle portraits. After a minute or two of listening to me click and adjust, he realized I wasn’t going to die and flew off down the coast.
Blue-eyed Shag. Formulaic and easy, but nice.
Wet Rockhopper. The rain had soaked the normally jaunty head plumes of this Rockhopper has he waddled from the ocean up a steep hill to the colony. I suspect he was happy in the rain, though I was not.