Chris Owyoung: Christmas at Neko Harbour

The Image

Chris Owyoung

Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Time / Date:
16:15 / December 25, 2013

The Technical

Camera Body: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S

Camera Settings:
Shutter Speed: 1/320
Aperture: f/11
ISO: 100
Focal Length: 14mm

The Story


I traveled to Antarctica over Christmas and New Years of 2013. The trip came together in a hurry so I did not know what to expect in terms of the climate or what kind of gear I would need when I got there. To make things more interesting, I’m a music photographer, so I don’t have much experience with panoramas, landscapes or how to carry gear through knee-deep snow. Luckily for me I had already been shooting for a couple of days when I made this particular image and by that time I’d learned what to expect from the landscape, and what equipment I could reasonably carry without falling down a mountain.

On Christmas morning, the expedition leader Shane announced that we’d be landing at Neko Harbour, a place he described as one of the most beautiful spots in Antarctica. (He could not have been more right – Neko is an stunning harbour surrounded by glacier-covered mountains that begin a pure white at their peaks and fade to a deep blue where the ice touches the ocean.) When sitting on the ridge, you’re enveloped by a “noisy quiet” that consist of the the cracking glacier, the wind and the sound of gentoo penguins calling to each other from the rookeries below. The experience of being there is both beautiful and humbling.

The Scene: 

This photo was taken on a rocky outcropping looking out over Neko harbour towards Anvers Island. A small group of people from my expedition have braved the cold and heavy winds to spend part of their Christmas day at this special place. The strange circle in the sky is an atmospheric phenomena known as a sun dog or parhelion that forms when the rays of the sun are refracted by rings of ice crystals in the clouds. Our ship, the Ocean Diamond can be seen anchored in the middle of the harbour.


On this particular excursion, I was carrying Nikon D4 and D800 camera bodies with the trio of Nikon zoom lenses (14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm). When I decided to make a panorama, I chose the D800 for its high resolution 36mp sensor and the 14-24mm lens for its excellent resolving power and flare resistance. Importantly, the 14-24mm allowed me to capture almost all of what I wanted with a single row of hand-held panning with the camera held in portrait orientation.

Making the Shot:

To make this photo, I first picked a spot on the ridge that would give me a full view of the harbour with as few distractions in the foreground as possible. There’s almost too much light in Antarctica during the summer so setting my exposure was a simple matter of choosing an aperture (f/11) that would give me the maximum amount of resolution without much diffraction,  and a shutter speed (1/320) what would push my exposure to the right without totally blowing the highlights in the sky or snow. This image was shot as a hand-held panorama consisting of 12 individual frames taken in a single row. I knew that I wanted a very large finished image so I held the camera in portrait orientation instead of landscape.

Editing & Processing:

The workflow for this image was fairly unsophisticated. The final photo is composed of 12 separate files, all of which were processed identically with Adobe Lightroom 5. After processing the separate images were merged into a single file using the panorama utility in Photoshop CC. While in Photoshop, I trimmed off any uneven edges, cropped the shot to a rectangle and filled any minor remaining gaps with the content-aware fill tool. Finally, I saved the file back to Lightroom for some final adjustments to contrast and saturation.

Looking Back: 

One of the most difficult things about shooting in an unknown and unpredictable environment like Antarctica is that it’s almost impossible to separate the ideal equipment for a shot from a bunch of stuff that will end up becoming a useless burden when you’re dragging it through snow and ice. If I had been hired to make this photo, I’d have taken a sturdy tripod with a panning head and a nodal slide so I could minimize distortion and get precise framing. Since I was on vacation and had no desire to carry tons of extra gear for one shot, I’m very happy with the way this image turned out.


If you’re going to be taking pictures in Antarctica (or any extremely cold, wet and windy climate) I’d advise the following:

• Bring extra batteries and keep them close to your body so that they stay warm. Cold temperatures produce terrible battery performance.

• Try not to breath on your LCD or viewfinder. The moisture from your breath will fog up instantly and/or can freeze.

• Use a camera bag with a rain cover to protect your gear from water and snow.

• Pick a backpack or sling bag that can hold the camera with a lens attached. You’re not going to want to have to assemble the camera outdoors in high winds and snow.

• When coming in from the cold, the extreme change in temperature will cause condensation to form on your equipment much like a can of soda in the summer. To counteract this, place your camera into a ziplock bag and press the air out. The condensation will form on the outside of the bag leaving your gear safe and dry.

• Bring a rocket blower and a lens cleaner; your gear is going to get dirty.

• Use UV lens filters to counteract all of the light bouncing off the water and snow. And, when your filter gets dirty (which it will) you can simply remove it and keep shooting or, clean it in the field without worrying about damaging the lens.


I’ve loved the work of Jim Marshall for as long as I’ve been shooting music. He had a great eye and a level of integrity that won him access to the most iconic musicians of the 60s and 70s. When I look through his work, I’m struck by the honesty of his photographs and the huge amount of trust that his subjects bestowed upon him.


About the Photographer

In 2005, New York based editorial and commercial photographer Chris Owyoung got his first digital SLR to take photos of flowers and rusty fire hydrants. Today, he’s an internationally published photographer specializing in concert photography and portraits for musicians. His work has appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Q Magazine, SPIN, Billboard, Vibe, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and The Guardian. His commercial clients include American Express, Wrangler Jeans, Clear Channel, Roadrunner Records, and the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis. In addition to his photography, Chris is the Senior Marketing Manager at PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing and archiving tools for photographers.

Twitter: @chrisowyoung
Instagram: @chrisowyoung

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  1. Our First Photographers - The Image Story

    […] Chris Owyoung is an internationally published photographer specializing in concert photography and portraits for musicians. His commercial clients include American Express, Wrangler Jeans, Clear Channel, Roadrunner Records, and the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis. Chris has contributed an image from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica. View Chris Owyoung’s image story. […]