Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island belongs to the state of Tasmania, Australia – although  it is 1500km south of Tasmania (approx latitude: 54°29’S longitude: 158°56’E); in layman’s terms it is about half way to Antarctica from Tasmania.

World heritage listed in 1997 it teams with wildlife and offers not only a unique travel experience, but also amazing opportunities to get up close to the fauna and experience it in its rawest form.

Getting there

Macquarie Island is not an easy place to travel to – no planes fly there so travel by ship is the only way. Strict rules apply and limited numbers of tourists are allowed to go ashore each year.

To get there you need to travel either on an organised tour (i.e. expedition cruise) or as part of the Tasmanian government’s small contingent of workers on the island’s research station. Expedition cruises such as I did leave from New Zealand or Tasmania during November through to January.

Once you get there all the planning and monetary investment is worth it – the sensory overload and excitement of the wildlife waiting to greet you is overwhelming.

Special Equipment

You’ll be jumping in and out of zodiacs as you can see in the picture above so the landings are “wet”; i.e. you will jump into shallow water. The day we went ashore it was calm however when we left the swell had risen considerably increasing the risk of my photograhy gear getting wet.

Macquarie Island is also a wet place in the sense that you can feel the heavy dampness in the air. It also rains nearly every day of the year.

Penguins and Elephant Seals sit low to the ground so you’ll need to shoot low to the ground – therefore stability of the camera can be easily compromised as you balance yourself.
Key items recommended:

  • monopod or tripod (I used a monopod as I found it easier to adjust and move about with whilst practicing before leaving Australia)
  • water proof bag to protect camera and lenses
  • light backback to store gear whilst travellling on the zodiacs and walking around
  • plastic zip lock bag to protect camera from rain (it is highly likely to rain or drizzle whilst ashore) – cut a hole in one end to stick the lens through and seal it down with a fabric coated hair tie (the fabric allows you to move the tie around on the plasitc more easily than an orndinary rubber band does
  • lens wipes – you will need to keep your lens dry – it will get drops of water on it from the light drizzle and wind
  • lens hood – I use these anyway but it helps keep out the rain and drizzle whilst walking around if you keep the lens pointed away from the wind
  • UV lens filter – just to protect your lens as you will be in sandy, wet conditions – it also reduces the risk of scratching your lens as you wipe it
  • fingerless, windproof gloves – Macquarie island is cold – not essential but many tourists on my trip kept their waterproof ski gloves on – not good if you are taking photos! I had fingerless, windproof gloves I picked up from an outdoor adventure and trecking store (Kathmandu)

You can see the plastic bag and fingerless, windproof gloves in this shot – not to mention how close you get to the action! When it start to rain or drizzle, you just pull the plastic forward.

Shooting tips

As it rains most days on the island it is overcast – that diffuses the light very nicely and creates a warm light however it may not be very strong light. Shooting the wildlife is best done down at their level. You have to keep a certain distance from the wildlife (unless they walk up to you, which penguins and birds may do) – therefore a zoom lens is well suited.
Key tips:

  • Shoot wildlife low
  • Use a monopod or tripod to stabilise the camera
  • take a good zoom lens preferably with stabilisation technology. I used a 28-105mm zoom and found it pretty good however would have preferred a lens that went a bit wider at times (which I unfortunately left back on the ship)
  • use auto-servio focus (continous focussing when shooting a moving subject)
  • focus on the wildlife’s eyes
  • use fill flash (perhaps stopped down by one stop) to fill shadows under animals and create some catch light in their eyes – I chose not to do this as I didn’t want to disturb the animals anymore than was necessary. I found using some simple post production techniques I could compensate for not using flash.
  • shoot in raw if possible – it will allow you to correct your images more selectively and powerfully later on
  • shoot in Time Value mode – there is not a lot of time to think as you are moving as part of a group and need to get your shots quickly. I kept my ISO set at 400 due to low light, composed the shot, looked at the focal length and then set the time to try and be at least twice the focal length (to minimise camera shake) or faster if the subject was moving and I needed to freeze movement – the trade off though is Aperture and it was sometimes too wide causing too shallow DOF (see below)
  • experiment with apertures both wide and narrow to create depth of field when needed – try not to have a too wide an aperture when in a strong zoom as it can make the DOF too shallow. The shot below is a good example of a great shot that is technically not good; these penguins came walking toward me and I didn’t have enough time to get all the settings correct – the zoom and aperture did not work well together and the DOF is too shallow; the back row of penguins are not sharp; ISO400, f/7.1, 105mm, 1/500sec

Selected pictures with setting details

Missing image – antarctica-holidays-macquarie-island-seals.jpg

ISO400, f/10, 100mm, 1/250sec

ISO400, f/6.3, 96mm, 1/250sec

ISO400, f/5.0, 105mm, 1/320sec

ISO400, f/7.1, 85mm, 1/400sec

ISO400, f/25, varioius mm, 1/30sec

Effect created by turning the zoom ring whilst depressing the shutter – experiment!

Please contact the author if you would like more information about shooting at Macquarie Island or similar environments.
If you would like to view more work by the author, please visit his pages at:

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Author Bio

Phillip Danze

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