Sue Flood documents the emperor penguin

Tent camping on ice in subzero Antarctic temps? Absolutely worth it for wildlife photographer Sue Flood, as it positions her to photograph and observe her favorite polar creature, the emperor penguin. Her photos have been collected into a book, “Emperor - The Perfect Penguin” (ACC Art Books).

What we learned about Flood’s penguin photography adventures: 

Sue Flood
© Courtesy Sue Flood
Sue Flood

Why emporer penguins? Their resilience, Flood says. The largest of the penguin species, they brave temperatures that plummet to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit and walk for 100 miles to forage for food for a single chick, she says. They stand motionless for hours, huddled with other members of their colony. “But simply, they are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever photographed.” 

Biggest challenges: There are two, she says. The weather, of course. Being outside for long periods in sub-zero temperatures is draining. So is sleeping in a tent in that climate. The other challenge is an artistic one. After photographing these birds for many years, it gets increasingly difficult to find a new angle, behavior, or fresh perspective, she admits. “You have to really push yourself to be creative.”

A typical day: There isn’t one. Flood has camped on ocean ice in the Weddell Sea while a blizzard raged outside her tent, and she’s stayed in a comfortable cabin with a shower and toilet on a Russian icebreaker ship. Sometimes the temps are minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes they soar above zero, which allows her to strip down to a thin layer of thermals and rubber boots.

Favorite moment: While visiting the Snow Hill Island penguin colony in the Weddell Sea off of Antarctica, Flood carried her camera bag across the sea ice from the helicopter and positioned herself to photograph the penguins from a safe distance. “The sound of chicks was magical, and I laid down on the ice, propping my head up on my camera bag and closing my eyes as I listened to their calls,” she explains. Exhausted from an early morning start, she nodded off to sleep and woke to find a young emperor chick lying next to her with its diminutive wing resting atop her gloved hand. “One of my most magical wildlife encounters.”   

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.