Whether you prefer a "point and shoot" camera or you're a seasoned photographer, the extreme climate of Antarctica presents some special challenges for photographers. I'd consider myself somewhere in the middle, sometimes preferring to lug out my DSLR camera for that perfect shot and sometimes, especially when traveling, preferring to travel light, using a lightweight "point and shoot". Whichever type of camera you have, the make and value of your camera is not what makes good pictures, rather how you use it. Most digital cameras these days take decent photos and with a little preparation and some basic photography knowledge, anyone can capture some amazing shots to remember their trip to Antarctica.
Camera Gear for Antarctica
1. Protect Your Gear
Whether you bouncing over waves in a zodiac or your battling the rain or snow, there are numerous ways your gear can get wet and ruined, so first and foremost, it's important to protect your camera from the elements. Most cameras will do fine in light rain or snow for a short period but for prolonged shots or long periods outside, purchasing a plastic rain sleeve for your camera will keep it dry and in good working condition. When not in use, keep your camera in its case to protect it from the cold. I also prefer to put my camera and case in a dry bag anytime I'm traveling near water, just in case I drop it! You'll also want to keep a microfiber cloth in your camera bag to clean any rain or spray from the boat to clean your lens.
2. Beware of Condensation
After being outside in the cold weather for awhile, your camera gear will quickly form condensation if it warms up too quickly. To help prevent this, seal your camera and gear in your case or in a large zip-lock bag before you take it inside. Let it sit for an hour and warm up slowly inside the case or bag so that less condensation forms.
3. Bring Back-Ups
Pack plenty of rechargeable batteries and memory cards and perhaps even a laptop with an external drive to back up all of your photos. Usually I don't travel with my laptop because I'd hate to lose or ruin it but when I'm after the perfect shot it's necessary for reviewing photos and backing them up. Many ships offer photography rooms for editing and back-up and some even have resident experts who can help you catch the perfect shot so be sure to find our what your boat offers and plan accordingly.
4. Zoom Lens
When shooting wildlife, it will help to have a decent zoom lens (50-200mm for DSLR cameras) or a point and shoot camera with a zoom (10x to 30x) for getting close-ups of animals without disturbing their habitats. Good lens are expensive ($500 to $10,000!) and you may want to consider renting a zoom lens for your DSLR; which can save you a lot of money - just make sure to read the rental policy and insure it if necessary.
Tips and Tricks
1. Find the Action
One of the most important parts of a good photograph is finding the action or story, which usually takes patience. In the example below (left), the sun bathing sea lions almost look dead, while the play between the adult and baby sea lion on the right draws viewers in and gives the animals character. While most of the time this means practicing patience, you never know when the action might come, so always be prepared!
2. Consider Angles
When shooting photography of any kind, but especially wildlife, one of the biggest mistakes I see is people using the wrong angles. When it comes to portraits, of people or animals, it's important to get on eye level with them. The example on the left is shot from a standing view and does not lend much interest (it's also not properly exposed - more on that later). The lower angle used on the right creates an immediate connection between the viewer and the baby penguin and makes a much more appealing and natural photo. Different angles can also help us see things in new ways and make mundane items incredibly interesting so don't be afraid to get down and play with different angles.
Antarctica is a vast continent and no doubt you want to portray that in your photos. Massive icebergs and towering mountains will inspire awe but how you frame them will make a difference. Instead of taking up the whole frame, (example on left) think about the foreground or background and how you can show proportion by including something in the frame to compare it to (example right). No doubt both of the formations below are huge, but the photo on the right is clearly massive! It can also be hard to get a steady shot in a moving boat so allowing extra space in the frame will also give you leeway when you need to straighten a horizon in the editing process.
The most difficult part of photography in Antarctica is finding the right exposure. It can be quite tricky when most of your surroundings are white, especially if there is bright sunlight. In the two previous examples above, (penguins and icebergs), both photos on the left are not exposed correctly, rendering the snow gray or blue, while the photos on the right show clear color and crisp white snow. Thankfully, if you have a point and shoot camera or an entry level DSLR, there will likely be a "Winter"/"Snow" exposure setting. Use it and your photos will thank you! If you have a more advanced DSLR camera you will want to get used to the exposure lock function ahead of time and set it to overexpose shots (read how here).
Whatever your level of experience and photography goals, the most important part is to have fun and be creative! If you want to learn about more advanced camera accessories check out our marketing director's blog Camera Gear for Adventure Travelers. If your interested in travel to Antarctica considering joining one of our Wildland staff this fall or check out our trips to Antarctica.
Hannah Lunstrum, Marketing Associate