Shooting Under the Antarctic Ice

For “Frozen Planet” director Chadden Hunter and cameraman Didier Noiret, the challenges of photographing emperor penguins rocketing through ice holes from the water below at high speeds were significant, but shooting them underwater was even more daunting. In order to show the penguins with the jet stream of bubbles behind them, they had to dive unthethered (a rope could get tangled with the camera) and film with a slow motion camera that they had never used underwater before.

The documentary “Frozen Planet” will premiere in the U.S. on Discovery Channel on March 18 at 8 p.m., and the companion book is available January 2012 from Firefly Books. All images courtesy Firefly Books/BBC Earth.

Didier Noiret in action under water, where the massive camera is weightless, allowing him to track the emperors. Those that have swum up from the depths are circling around the exit point, waiting for their heart rates to return to normal. They then jet-propel themselves upwards, leaving a rocket trail of bubbles in their wake as all the air is forced out of their feathers. With no limbs to pull themselves onto the ice, this is the only way to exit. But it means they can’t see what’s on the surface, and beak-breaking collisions with ice blocks can happen.

A Minke whale surfacing in an opening in pack ice on the Ross Sea.

An egg-collector at work in the midst of a guillemot colony in the Russian Arctic. In summer, the Inuit are prepared to risk their lives to harvest seabird eggs, using just a rope and sure-footedness. Few other land predators are able to reach the precarious nesting ledges.

Visiting polar bears were a worry for the crews filming them. As much as they enjoyed seeing the bears at the window, the constant visits from bears led to insomnia.

Under the Ross Sea. Doug Anderson fixes his tripod upside down to the sea ice so he can film the growth of the strange ice-crystal formations.

In the confined space of a volcanic cave the only way cameraman Gavin Thurston could film was to use the video mode of a digital SLR camera. Careful lighting was crucuial to show the diamond-like glitter of the crystals. Day by day the crystals would change, melting if the temperature rose but reforming when it dropped.

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