Antarctic Adventure 2019 Recording sound, stills photography and flying the drone for upcoming documentary

I’ve just returned from filming the Weddell Sea Expedition covering the first 2 months of this year in Antarctica. The WSE was on 2 missions, to carry out scientific work in the Larsson C area of the Weddell Sea and to search for Shackleton’s ship Endurance that sunk in the Weddell Sea in 1915. If you aren’t familiar with the story it’s worth reading about, as it really was an epic achievement of the failed expedition to stay alive and get to safety.

DJI Mavic Pro 2 with hand warmer and silver insulation ‘jacket’ to keep the wind chill off the battery

DJI Mavic Pro 2 with hand warmer and silver insulation ‘jacket’ to keep the wind chill off the battery

We were the first visitors to the famous break away giant iceberg A68, but got chased away eventually by a build up of ice floe. The science in this area sampled the ice, water, looked at the phytoplankton and diatoms, salinity, temperature and flow, mud samples, seabed biology, and mapped not only sea floor but for the first time underneath sea ice. As with all new technology it was not without its ups and downs. But lots of interesting advancements, data, and papers have come out of the science weeks. It was a truly international affair to with scientists coming from UK, South Africa, Norway, China, Finland, New Zealand, and technicians from USA, UK, Netherlands, South Africa and France.

We set forth to find Endurance for the second half of the journey. Even making it to the last know co-ordinates was a huge achievement by the mighty Agulhas II, the South African icebreaker and it’s SA captain, Captain Knowledge, and crew. The ship had to break through ice far thicker than it would usually, and we relied on his expert and experienced team to get us through safely. It wasn’t without challenges as we got ‘stuck’ a few times and had to rely on pilot skill and tides to lift us out, normally watched by an audience of about 200 seals that seemed to follow us around. This area is a particularly special part of the world as getting to it, into it, and permits, are rare. It really is an animal kingdom untouched by man and the most magical part of the world I’ve ever been to. Apart from the 200 odd Crabeater seals, Adelie and Emperor penguins plus the odd passing Pilot, Blue and Fin whale kept an eye on us during our time there.

Possibly the first ‘drone delivery’ in Antarctica as I deliver a memory stick and phantom 4 rotor with an Inspire 2 to the off ship party from the bow of the ship.  Photo credit: Dr. Claire Grogan, Expedition Doctor

Possibly the first ‘drone delivery’ in Antarctica as I deliver a memory stick and phantom 4 rotor with an Inspire 2 to the off ship party from the bow of the ship.

Photo credit: Dr. Claire Grogan, Expedition Doctor

It was fun to fly the drone off the ship and off ice floes, though not with out it’s heart in mouth moments. Always a bit trickier flying off moving boats, especially if they are made of metal, and therefore playing havoc with your compass. I took out with me 2 DJI Inspires (X5S and X7 cameras) and a Mavic 2. The Mavic was such a stable platform to work from, the batteries were giving me 15 mins flight time even with the cold conditions. I did make them little jackets with hand warmers under to go on the batteries. The Mavic became the work horse and did 8 out of the 10 hours flying time. Being where we were in Antarctica had the distinct advantage of having a completely free airspace to use, and a couple of times I flew right up to 500m to do fairy tail reveals of the ship and the ice from the start of the cloud base.

The Inspires though were hard to make work off the ship as the battery life was just 7 mins flying time, which is difficult when you’ve got to get off the ship, to the point of interest, film it and then get back to the ship, so was less useful for epic wide shots. That said when on the ice floes and poi were near to the ship they got some beautiful footage, the ability to shoot raw with great dynamic range, and the interchangeable lenses is brilliant. You just need to be able to plan the shots to get the most out of the I2, the platform/footage is a lot less stable though in comparison to the Mavic 2, and will definitely need stabilisation in the edit., but the rotors do punch out more down draft. The Mavic was less stressful to fly, but I think the quality in the edit will shine through with the Inspire footage. Hopefully DJI will sort out the problems they have with the TB50 Inspire 2 batteries running such short flight times, and take some of the stress out of flying what is normally a fantastic drone to fly.

N.B All special permissions and permits for flying the drone were in place. Sorry no further photos or videos due to them being underwraps.