Antarctica Cruise season is in full swing and if you are one of the lucky few to check the 7th continent off of your bucket list, you are going to want to create lasting memories of this trip of a lifetime. These Antarctica photography tips can help you capture those images. We’ve been fortunate to witness the majesty of Antarctica and have had the honour of having our photographs featured in the Quark Expeditions brochure and in many other magazines and features including the Lonely Planet and the Toronto Star.
There are several photography tips for travel and landscape captures, but Antarctica photography is an entirely different beast. There are many elements to deal with from cold and damp weather, extreme climate changes, unstable shooting environments and having to be ready to capture a spectacular scene at a moments notice. Antarctica photography can be intimidating, but if you follow a few of my tips, you’ll be sure to come home with frame worthy pictures that will be a conversation piece for the rest of your life.
Antarctica Photography – 8 Easy Tips and Tricks
Giant ZipLock Freezer Bags
This may seem like an odd tip to be number one, but this inexpensive item will keep your camera gear safe from breaking down part way through your Antarctica Cruise. Condensation ruins cameras. After a few hours outside your camera gets really cold, I used really large ziplock bags to put all my gear in before I went back inside the ship. This allowed the cameras to warm up at their own speed without forming condensation. Make sure to put the camera in the bag and zip it up before going inside and dispell all of the air out of them. Your camera will thank you.
Bring 2 Camera Bodies
The last thing you want to do is change lenses outside in the elements. So be prepared for any situation with your 2 lenses of choice mounted on 2 separate bodies. I used Canon 5D MKII and Canon rebel T4i. That way I could shoot the massive landscape scenery, but quickly change cameras to capture a whale that unexpectedly surfaces or a penguin off in the distance.
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Bracket your shots
Getting the right exposure in snowy locations can be tricky. Usually you cameras meter has a hard time reading snow and this can lead to the dreaded “grey snow”effect. In order to avoid this situation try bracketing your exposures. Usually 3 or 5 brackets at an interval of 1 to 2 stops will cover you so that you can get that crisp white snow. If you are unfamiliar with this process try and use you cameras spot meter. It will give you a more accurate reading.
Think of showing Scale
With large icebergs and massive land formations showing a sense of scale can really give the viewer a sense of what it is like to be there. By placing kayaks, people or wildlife in the frame it will help to translate the sheer size of the environment you are in. You can also use the ship or zodiac to relay this information. This shot with the seal and the ship in the background really gives you a sense of how large those surrounding icebergs really are.
Get down low to photograph penguins
You are going to see so many penguins that finding an interesting way to photograph them can be difficult. I found that getting as low as you can and placing them against the background works really well. Most people use a long lens to accomplish this but if you are patient enough and let them come to you then you are able to use your wide lens and capture more of the surrounding area and give the vier a sense of place. This is a perfect example of that where I was down on my stomach with a 16-35mm lens.
Bring a dry bag
Protecting your gear from the elements is imparative especially in Antarctica where weather can change in an instant. I remember heading out on the zodiac when the sun was shining and 45 minutes later is was snowing and then that turned to rain. Combine that with the salt water and it can ruin your camera. I made sure to bring a dry bag to store all my gear when I was on the Zodiac but also had my cameras in an Op/Tech rain sleeve which are very cheap and do the job. If you can’t find those then a Ziplock bag with a whole cut in it would do in a pinch.
Know your settings
A little trick I always do is take some test shots in the environment I am in before the action starts. This means that while you are on the zodiac heading out for the day and before the humpback whales start surfacing, make sure you have your camera on the right settings. I used shutter priority mode at 1/200th of second or faster if I was shooting from the Zodiac or Kayak and used Aperture Priority mode when I was on land. The last thing you want to do is have that humpback whale show his fluke in front of an iceberg and the shot be blurry. Knowing your camera and how to use it in different situations will help you bring back the best shots possible.
I do recommend bringing 2 types of filters. A UV filter to protect the front of your lens from the elements and a polarizing filter which will help reduce glare on the water and can help saturate the colours as well. A word of warning is to make sure you know when and when not to use the polarizer. It can really over saturate the sky if you are not careful and give an unrealistic look to your photos. So test out how you are going to use it before you leave.
That should do it. These Antarctica photography tips not only helped me capture some great images but they have also helped me keep my camera safe when we are in all kinds of different weather situations.
Do you have any tips for polar travel photography? Share them in the comments below