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Penguins can’t properly fly no matter how hard they try. While on land, the birds don’t really use their wings for much beyond smacking each other about. But in the water they are strong and graceful swimmers, using their wings as flippers to propel themselves to surprising bursts of speed.
When penguins approach shore, they often launch themselves into the air. Sometimes, it’s to escape from predators such as leopard seals. At other times, it seems like they are simply saving themselves a difficult climb up steep rocks, snow and ice.
To get this shot, I spent day after day struggling to position my camera just right to catch penguins in midair. I would set up one or two remote-control cameras on a rock perch, then climb up on the snow bank so that I could see down into the water and watch the penguins swimming toward shore. But the birds are incredibly fast, and I had no way to predict where and when they would leap, so I just kept shooting and hoped for the best.
It wasn’t easy. Each time a penguin launched itself onto shore, my cameras were soaked with seawater and I had to climb down and clean off the lenses. A couple of times, the penguins actually landed on my camera, knocking it into the ocean. That’s a tough one to explain to the insurance company. But I’d be thrilled to take the risk again.