A Day In The Life Of… A Polar Photography Guide

19 January 2023
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A Day In The Life Of, Antarctica, Arctic, Quark Expeditions

We spoke to Photography Guide Michelle Sole to find out how she spends her time snapping wildlife on her many trips to the polar regions.

From the age of thirteen Michelle spent 10 years chasing winters around the world and competed for Great Britain as a downhill ski racer. Having always had a love for animals and the outdoors, in 2011 Michelle moved to South Africa to learn the ropes as a safari guide and wildlife photographer. In 2017 Michelle swapped elephants and lions for penguins and polar bears and started working for Quark Expeditions. She now divides her time between the icy Polar Regions and the African sun. Michelle’s photographic work has been published in Africa Geographic and The Guardian.

Michelle in her empirical outdoor office!

How does a typical day start for you?

Being British a typical day starts with a good cup of tea! Each morning we monitor the weather and the ice conditions onboard before an excursion. The elements are to be respected in the polar regions; you may have visited a site a hundred times but the wind, ice and snow conditions vary each time. Then it’s time for action! Warm clothes, a camera charged, the polar landscape and wildlife will do the rest.

Emperor penguins in Antarctica

What advice would you give travellers coming to explore Antarctica/Arctic?

Bring binoculars. Binoculars are a great tool for getting a better view of polar bears and Arctic foxes in the Arctic. In Antarctica, they are useful for spotting whales and watching the great albatrosses soar across the Drake Passage.

Whale watching while Zodiac Cruising in Antarctica

What’s the most memorable moment you’ve experienced being a Photography Guide?

My most memorable moment was at Useful Island in Antarctica. Whilst looking out from the top of the hill we spotted orca below. We took to the zodiacs in the hope of getting a closer look at these incredible animals. Luck was on our side. The orca were very curious and approached our zodiacs. They then proceeded to hunt some gentoo penguins! It was amazing to see the agility and speed of these apex predators. Fortunately for the penguins though, they were faster on this particular day!

Penguins scampering near the Ultramarine

What attracted you to work in this part of the world/this role?

I believe Antarctica to be our last true wilderness. Glaciers that have no names, mountains that have never been climbed and a myriad of life in the ocean that we are still learning about. These unknowns and this pure wilderness attracted me to work in and explore this part of the world. My work in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions has since taken me to the Arctic, another remote wilderness that provides extensive wildlife photographic opportunities and one that I have fallen in love with.

Paddling Excursion in Antarctica

Favourite thing about working in the polar regions?

My favourite thing about working in the polar regions is having my breath taken away on a regular basis. Whether it’s the magnificent mountains rising up out of the ocean, the waves crashing ice onto a beach or the intimate moment between a penguin chick and its parent. It’s pure magic. Watching guests experience this for the first time is great.  

King Penguin chick in South Georgia

Biggest challenges you face in your role?

The biggest challenge I face in my role as a photography guide is attempting to capture the magic that we experience. No photo or video do these places justice. It is impossible to fully capture the awe, the solitude and the emotions that are evoked when visiting these wonders of the world. I can only hope it jogs a memory for someone who has experienced this or inspires someone who has yet to experience it.

A moment captured on the Spitsbergen Highlights itinerary

Favourite time of year and any tips for when to go?

This is a question that I am asked a lot and one that I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Early season November/December in Antarctica the penguins are just arriving, finding mates and laying eggs. The snow and landing sites are pristine with white snow and there is often lots of ice in the bays and beaches. Later in the season the snow in some areas begins to melt, the penguin chicks have hatched and more whales have arrived to feed in the rich waters.

Early season and late season in the Arctic affords beautiful golden light as the sun dips below the horizon and if you are fortunate in Greenland at this time of year you might glimpse the Northern Lights. The middle of summer gives 24 hours of daylight lending a great opportunity to try and spot polar bears. Midseason the tundra comes alive, the melting snow revealing the many small beautiful flowers in bloom.

Polar bears on Quark’s Intro to Spitsbergen tour

All photos © Michelle Sole / Quark Expeditions

Ready to start planning your incredible Arctic or Antarctica expedition cruise?

Simply complete our enquiry form to get in touch, or call our Polar Specialists on 020 3666 1033.

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