A series of guest blogs by Alex Ingle, resident filmmaker and photographer.
Now that we’re done with introductions (blog here), and as we’re just about at the halfway point of the cruise, I thought I’d share some insight into life on board the ship from a photographer’s perspective; what it’s like being the ‘odd one out’ and some of the unique challenges that this environment presents me with.
Life on board a research ship is a 24/7 operation, there’s always something happening, people are always working, and there’s always a photograph opportunity or two. This is the first challenge for me, whereas the science teams and crew have set shift patterns that rotate every 12 hours, I’m in charge of my own schedule and must decide when and where to photograph. I could choose to only shoot on blue-sky days for a few hours and spend the rest of my time with my feet up, but this wouldn’t be a true representation of ship life (and, honestly, it wouldn’t be much fun). In order to portray a more realistic picture, and to document the ups and downs which come with this line of work, it’s my job to experience both day and night shifts, across the whole ship come rain or shine.
Sometimes I’ll be out on deck at night – sitting with the crew as they exchange stories during horizontal rain, watching the science teams jump into action as fresh cores are hauled up from the sea floor in the early hours. At other times I follow the day shifts – the chefs and porters in the galley, the engineers beneath deck or the science teams processing cores in the labs. Some days I do a bit of both. It’s an intense environment, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and making sure that I’m always in the right place at the right time to get the shot is a constant challenge, as is making sure I get enough sleep in between it all!
However, by far the biggest challenge for me revolves around safety. Shooting an assignment in a complex and dangerous offshore environment requires much more consideration than most of my work on dry land. Traversing glaciers, or navigating gorges whilst following scientists isn’t without its dangers, but here on the ship you really have to stay on the ball at all times. This is particularly challenging as a photographer/filmmaker coming into an environment like this for the first time. Now I have the benefit of last year’s offshore experience, but when you first step on board it’s not difficult to get caught up in a shot without realising that you’re in danger of falling overboard or getting caught in a winch cable. With ‘viewfinder vision’ it’s all too easy to forget what’s happening around you while you’re focussed on getting the shot.
You find photo opportunities wherever you look, but you have to have eyes on the back of your head, and be completely aware of everyone and everything around you. This is especially the case beneath deck in the engine rooms. Down there you wear noise-cancelling earmuffs, it’s deafening without them. Losing one of your senses makes a dangerous place even more so, particularly when navigating through watertight doors and past moving machinery. But, if you keep your wits about you, listen to the advice of the crew, drink plenty of coffee and make sure that when one eye is behind the viewfinder, the other is always focussed outside the frame, then it’s a thrilling place to work.
Another challenge that springs to mind involves capturing 24/7 coring operations on film. Being immersed in this environment, it’s easy to get a sense of scale first hand, but it’s quite a logistical and technical challenge to capture that on film for others to see. The fairly straightforward task of shooting time-lapse sequences suddenly requires a lot more thought when you’re on a ship. In addition to the usual technical considerations, you need to consider how high the swell might get, strapping everything down with cable ties and ballast and making sure it’s protected from the elements. I don’t attempt these long time lapses very often out here largely because of the impact it has on my sleep – I tend to lie in bed imagining my gear out on deck sliding overboard, and end up checking on it every hour throughout the night. I haven’t (yet!) encountered any major issues but since I shot a few successful 24-hour time-lapse sequences of ‘vibrocoring’ on JC106 last year… I don’t think there’s any need to tempt fate (or disturb my sleep) this time around!
On a side note, being the one behind the camera means there’s not a lot of photos featuring me – the exception being the slightly unflattering ‘checking to see if the GoPro is running during a time lapse’ shot:
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