FotoFriday: Ramon Terrado, Oceanogrophotographer

Ramon Terrado is a oceanography student that I came across on the soon to close photo community / magazine website JPG where I was also a member. His work is amazing and his story is cool. (pardon the pun) Below the jump is an interview he did with JPG.

"Do not mess with an icebreaker!" by Ramon Terrado
Alone in the Dark by Ramon Terrado
"Alone in the dark" by Ramon Terrado
Waiting for the Sun by Ramon Terrado
"Waiting for the sun" by Ramon Terrado

What’s your profession? Please describe it.

I am an oceanography student at the Université Laval, in Quebec City. My study focuses in the smallest organisms you can find in the Arctic Ocean, microorganisms. It might sound strange that someone finds interesting to study this minute organisms, but actually they are one of the most important players in the Arctic. Without them, we would not get to see any photo of cute and more charming organisms like polar bears or seals. Microorganisms are the base of the Arctic ecosystem, source of food for small animals that are on their turn a source of food for fishes and finally, food for top predators like seals or birds. I spend most of my time in a lab or in front my computer but things get exciting when it comes to my fieldwork, collecting samples onboard the icebreaker Amundsen in the Arctic.

Where do you do this?

My fieldwork takes me to the Arctic Ocean. As part of my studies I have been four times in this magic Ocean, all of them onboard the Canadian icebreaker Amundsen. The region I have visited with this vessel is the eastern Canadian Arctic. My first travel was in Franklin Bay, in the Beaufort Sea, you could feel that you were in the middle of nowhere, all white around you without any reference point but your own ship. Not all the Arctic looks like these. My second and third visits to the Arctic were to the waters between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, as well as the Canadian archipelago. There landscapes are just breathtaking, with icebergs flowing out the Arctic and glaciers falling from the land to the water. If you are lucky enough to get a helicopter ride over these landscapes, these are images that you will never forget. On my last visit to the Arctic I went back to the Beaufort Sea in winter. Although I missed so much the scenic views of the previous years, I had the opportunity of living the polar night, which is as breathtaking (literally) as the fantastic landscapes I visited before.

Do you enjoy what you do?

Onboard the ship work is everything but ordinary, collecting water samples for my own studies as well as helping other people with their work. As it is a unique opportunity to be there, and costs lots of money to bring an icebreaker to the Arctic, work knows no schedule. You might be working for several days with just a few hours of sleep. In summer there is no night, in winter no day, and your body feels some kind of intoxication with this changes. Add to all this low temperatures. I guess that drilling holes in the ice at -30 ºC in a windy day is not the kind of work everybody can enjoy, but being up there is like a drug that once you have tasted it, you never have enough. I have been lucky enough to live the four seasons on the top of the World. All of them have its charm. In spring sea-ice melts and live signs becomes more apparent in the water, summer has incredible long days, in autumn cold is back and fantastic ice landscapes reforms, winter is the polar night and is just magical. How can I not enjoy this!

When you were young, what did you want to “be” when you grew up?

I guess that everybody as a child dreams of cool jobs as astronaut or firemen. Adventure and excitement all seasoned with bits of heroism. Well, I was not different. I guess that my big dream was to be a cool astronaut, exploring the moon, being at places nobody has been before, seeing things nobody has seen before and doing stuff that nobody has done before. And somehow life has taken me to a different path, though I must confess some of my wildest dreams as a child have become true. I have seen and lived things that not everybody has seen and lived and I have been to places that not a lot of people have gone. Not as cool and risky as being an astronaut but I feel very lucky with the opportunities I have with my job.

Do you feel stuck doing what you are doing?

It is funny to use the word stuck. The only time I have felt stuck with my job is in the literal sense of the word. Breaking the ice with an icebreaker is not as easy as it might sound. Sometimes ice is just too much and you can literally rest stuck with the ship. No way of advance, no way of going back. Fortunately the crew of the Amundsen is very competent and hard working and are able of un-stucking an icebreaker from the ice, even if they have to use their hands to drill holes around the ship to free the ship. Not an easy work, and can be risky, but thanks to the hard work of these people I have not being stuck in my work more than a couple of days!

What are the most and least satisfying parts of your job?

I guess the least satisfying part of my work comes when I have to spend lots of hours in front my computer. Or when after a whole weekend working in the lab you actually loose all job because something did not work as well as was supposed to be. Or when you have to be awake for a couple of days sampling water onboard the ship. But then the most satisfying part comes just after this. When after lots of hours infront your computer you finally succeed writing the perfect paragraph of your thesis. Or when after loosing a whole weekend working you finally succeed getting nice lab results. Or when after days of hard work onboard the ship you finally can relax a bit, and you can sleep without setting your alarm clock. Besides, even if you get to work hard onboard the ship you always have friends helping you, supporting you and, non-the less, you have incredible landscapes that put your mind at ease so you can work even harder. I guess that all the least satisfying parts of my work get washed out with all the nice and satisfying parts of it.

How do you combine photography with your job?

On my first trip to the Arctic I only had a point and shot cheap camera, and it was quite frustrating. After this I decided to buy a reflex camera. I always wanted to buy one to play with images. Being in the North just convinced me of getting my Canon. And I am so happy. Photography is my hobby and with my work I have plenty of opportunities of developing it. Sometimes I would like to go to the North just for photo, not to work, but as expensive as is travelling there my work just gives the opportunity of making photos in a breathtaking environment. I guess that my greatest challenge so far was to do photo during the polar night. It is not only the lack of light that is challenging, but also the low temperatures. There were times I was afraid I would break my camera. Luckily my camera has always responded well to my excesses! So my work made me go ahead developing my hobby, photography, and also gives me a great opportunity of practicing it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Maybe someone might be interested in how I did photography during the polar night and which were the principal challenges. First my equipment included lenses with big apertures to deal with low light. A tripod is useful, but sometimes you can not carry it everywhere. With the cold, batteries get consumed really fast, so I always carried with me a replacement. Also, great idea is to keep spare batteries close to your body to warm them. Even batteries that you have just used and are frozen can be warmed with your body and being re-used later if needed… not for a long time but enough to do that photo that you were going to miss because your spare battery just died. And with cold outside, condensation comes a problem when you get inside the ship (which is warm). So when getting inside a warm place I would carry a plastic bag with me and put the camera inside it, so condensation would form mostly in the plastic bag. Also I would let the camera warm before using it again. And never ever breath in front of your lens, your breath will frozen on the glass!

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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