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POLAR PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

You’ve booked your trip of a lifetime to the polar regions and you’re super excited. You’re a keen photographer and you want to capture stellar images to wow your friends and family or if you’re a pro, you want to wow your clients and followers.

Travelling to Antarctica or the Artic with photography equipment

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for one of the best places on planet earth for photography.

When booking flights, try to avoid travelling on budget airlines that rigorously impose carry-on baggage weight and size restrictions.

Know your camera gear

Familiarise yourself with your camera and camera settings before leaving home and be sure to bring plenty of batteries, a recharger and lots of memory/film. If you’re a really keen photographer, bring your laptop and an external hard drive to download, back up and edit as you go.

It’s a good idea to bring a copy of your camera manual (electronic copy if possible) to troubleshoot error messages and settings. 

What to consider when choosing a camera bag for polar regions

Make sure you have a decent pack to keep your gear dry and protected. If you don’t have a dry bag you may wish to bring a liner for the inside of your camera bag. Salt water and electronics do not mix so try and keep salt water off your camera gear. If you do get salt water on your camera, immediately remove the battery and use a cloth with fresh water to remove salt and dry it out in rice or some other dry or water absorbent environment/material. 

Clothing considerations for photography in polar regions

Good gloves are vital. Try gloves that are warm enough but also thin and grippy enough to manipulate your camera settings (ow use your phone camera) without having to take them off.

Know what you want to photograph and how to do it

Practice makes perfect. If you’re keen to capture a beautiful shot of the world’s largest bird by wingspan, the Wandering Albatross, practice shooting birds in flight at home.

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross by David Sinclair

Know your camera and know how to change settings quickly. There are so many great photo opportunities but some of them don’t last long. One minute you might need a fast shutter speed to capture a Skua swooping over a penguin colony, the next you might want to shoot a backlit penguin chick and underexpose heavily to capture rim lighting. If you can react quickly and manipulate your settings quickly, you’ll be able to capture great images more consistently. 

Clean penguins generally make for better shots than dirty penguins. You’re more likely to find clean penguins returning to the colony.

Cloudy skies are generally better for shooting ice, albatross and penguins. There can be too much contrast on bright sunny days to capture details in the highlights and the shadows. High contrast lighting can, however, be a great time to experiment with black and white photography. 

Contours by David Sinclair

Some of the best light will happen late at night. You can catch up on sleep when you get home! 

In Antarctica, some of the best action shots happen at the water’s edge around penguin colonies. Find a nice quiet spot where the light is at your back and the backdrop for your images is ‘clean’ and wait for the penguins to come and go. We all need to take great care not to block any ‘penguin highways’ or change the behaviour of any animal just to get ‘the shot’. 

Don’t be afraid to play with exposure and shoot some ‘high-key’ and ‘low-key images (over-exposed and under-exposed). Get creative once you’ve got your safe and sharp “keepers”. 

High key portrait of a Chinstrap Penguin by David Sinclair

Get down low, to eye-level. This may mean lying down and getting that jacket and pants dirty but you’ll get more impressive shots. 

With wildlife, for the most part make sure you get the eye of an animal in focus.  An animal looking directly at the lens often provides for a more engaging portrait.

Ursus Maritimus by David Sinclair

If you’re a landscape photographer, you may want to pack a tripod and a 9 or 10 stop ND filter for your wide-angle lens to get some lovely long exposures (capturing the movement of clouds and water).  

Consider bringing two camera bodies you. It’s nice to have two camera bodies so you can have a wide lens on one and a telephoto on the other. This reduces reaction time and removes the need to change lenses and expose the interior of the camera to the environment.

Finally, and most importantly, remember to put the camera away and find time to sit quietly and listen to Antarctica and soak it all in.

Keen to learn more? Join us in Antarctica February 2025. Click here for more information.

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