Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 4: Photography Equipment)

Half Moon Island

The decision to travel to Antarctica is a big one. It requires a commitment of both time and money and involves more planning and preparation than most other trips. But like all great travel adventures, this is part of the overall experience and part of the fun.

Having made the decision to return to Antarctica at the end of this year, I’ve found myself asking the same questions I did the first time round. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve shared my answers to the most common questions asked about planning, packing, photography and the experience itself.

 

(These answers are my own personal opinions, based on my experience travelling with Quark Expeditions.)

Previously: 

Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 1: Planning)

Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 2: Packing)

Preparing for a Trip to Antarctica: FAQs (Part 3: The Experience)

Part 4: Photography Tips

What type of camera do I need in Antarctica?

Can I still take good photos in Antarctica with a compact camera?

Should I bring a backup camera body?

What lenses do I need?

Do I need a tripod?

How many memory cards should I take?

What is the best way to back up my photos whilst travelling?

Do I need to bring a laptop?

What impact does the climate in Antarctica have on my camera?

What type of camera bag do I need?

Do I need filters?

What else do I need?

What about a GoPro?

Keep reading for the answers: 

 

FAQs: What Photography Equipment Do You Need in Antarctica?

As Antarctica is an once-in-a-lifetime adventure for most people, it’s a great opportunity (or excuse) to invest in a new camera to capture the experience. But remember, the best camera to bring to Antarctica is the one you are most comfortable using. If you are going to upgrade your camera, give yourself time to learn how to use it before you board the ship.

What type of camera do I need in Antarctica?

The answer to this depends on the type of photographer you are, but one rule applies to everyone: bring something! Even if you don’t normally take photographs on your travels, bring more than your iPhone to Antarctica. Everyone who visits Antarctica takes more photos than they expect and some even return home inspired to learn more about photography as a result.

There are more cameras on the market today than ever before and the choices can feel overwhelming. The type of camera best suited to your Antarctic adventure is influenced by your ability, your interest in photography and your bank account. You choices fall into three main categories:

Compact

These are the small point and shoot cameras with fixed lenses that you can’t remove or change. They are best suited to travellers whose main objective is to capture memories and souvenirs of their adventure. A decent zoom is a useful feature to look for in a compact camera for Antarctica.

Bridge / Mirrorless / Interchangeable Lens Compact

With fewer features, lighter and more compact than a DSLR but higher performing than a compact point and shoot, these cameras provide the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and give the photographer more creative control over their images. They are best suited to travellers who have an interest in photography but want to create images without the added weight of a DSLR or who lack the expertise on how to use one.

DSLR

DLSR cameras are best suited to travellers with interest in or passion for photography: from entry-level beginners, enthusiastic amateurs and professionals. These cameras provide the most functionality and opportunity for creative control. As I shoot with a DSLR, my responses to the questions below are from that viewpoint.

*TIP*: If you have decided to use your Antarctica trip as a spring board into the world of DSLR photography (and it’s a great reason to do so), learn how to apply the basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO before you go. A trip to Antarctica is a great opportunity to improve your photography as you will be constantly inspired to shoot and will have the chance to interact with and learn from other photographers of all levels. But you will get the best out of the experience by learning the basics of your camera before you get there.

Chris Miller 2013-01-04 1

Can I still take good photos in Antarctica with a compact camera?

All things equal, a DLSR will produce a higher quality image than a compact point and shoot. But owning a DSLR is not a pre-requisite to capturing great photographs. A great photo is the product of the following:

  • Know Your Equipment
  • Creative Composition
  • Effective Light
  • Interesting Subject

A photograph taken with a small point and shoot that meets these criteria is more likely to be a better photo than a badly composed shot from a high-end DSLR.

Read More:  20 Tips for Better Travel Photographs: Expensive Camera Not Required.

Should I bring a backup camera body?

If one of your main interests in Antarctica is photography, then yes, yes, yes bring a backup camera body. Plan for the worst and hope for the best! There are no shops in Antarctica, so packing a backup body helps mitigate the potential heartache of returning home without any photographs. A backup body is also useful when you are in the zodiac or on the ship and overwhelmed with photography subjects. Having a wide-angle lens on one and telephoto on the other allows you to switch between the two without constantly changing lenses. Bringing a compact point and shoot is also useful as it can sit in your jacket pocket during zodiac rides just in case a humpback whale suddenly appears beside you when your main camera is safely packed away in your waterproof bag. It’s also good for party shots in the bar!

When choosing a backup body, make sure your lenses are compatible with both (eg Canon EF-S lenses can only be used on crop sensor bodies and not full frames).

*TIP*: if funds are tight, purchase a second-hand body online and sell it again as a used model when you return.

Saunders Island, Falkland Islands

What lenses do I need?

One of the highlights of Antarctica is its diversity: sweeping landscapes, icebergs of all shapes and sizes and wildlife on the ground, in the water and in the air. You’ll want a variety of lengths to capture this diversity at its best. I travel with:

  • Wide-angle (16-35mm)
  • Mid-range (24-105mm)
  • Telephoto (100-400mm)

On my last trip I probably used the 100-400mm most, followed by the mid-range and then the wide-angle. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be without any one of them.

Serious wildlife photographers who own lenses from 400-800mm can certainly put them to good use in Antarctica, but will have the weigh up the pros and cons of using this lens with the monopod and additional weight they’ll need to travel with.

Do I need a tripod?

A tripod is not much use on a moving ship or zodiac and on land you are usually shooting wildlife at fast shutter speeds in great light. A tripod doesn’t add a lot of value in Antarctica. The only reason I’m packing mine for my next trip is that I’m spending a month in Patagonia and North-East Argentina afterwards. I don’t plan on taking it out of my bag in Antarctica.

How many memory cards should I take?

As many as you can afford and carry! Everyone who has been to Antarctica will tell you to expect to take significantly more shots than you normally do. Always carry a spare memory card with you on landings, on zodiac cruises and even out on deck. More importantly, have a plan to back up photos along the way.

MERV5373

What is the best way to back up my photos whilst travelling?

Don’t forget to back up your photos along the way! I am always paranoid about losing my photos, so my routine was to transfer my shots to my laptop after each excursion, and then back these up to a portable hard drive at the end of every day. When travelling, I always keep the PHD in my checked in bag and my laptop in my carry on as an extra precaution. I also carry a small USB with me, which can also be used as a backup and is useful for sharing photos you take of other passengers along the way.

Do I need to bring a laptop?

In my view, a laptop is essential for photographers travelling to Antarctica. Not only does it provide a storage and backup option for your images, it allows you to edit them along the way. You don’t need to spend hours every day fully editing every shot – and you shouldn’t, you should be outside taking photographs and enjoying the scene! But taking a moment to check out your shots on a larger screen than your viewfinder is a great way to correct errors and improve your technique whilst you still have the opportunity to do so.

What impact does the climate in Antarctica have on my camera?

Most good DSLR cameras these days are weather-sealed and do a good job standing up to extreme conditions. The three main things to be aware of are:

Condensation:

Condensation may occur when bringing your camera into the warmth of the ship after being outside in the colder air. The best way to combat this is to give your camera time to adjust to the sudden change in temperature, by leaving it in its bag when you first return to the ship. Have a shower, grab some lunch or a drink and then take it out.

Faster battery depletion:

You may find the camera’s battery depletes faster in the cold weather, so carrying a spare is essential. I always kept a spare in the warmth of an inside pocket of my jacket and had another one charging back on ship. I’ve also added a battery grip to my kit since my last trip.

Sea Spray:

Apply the same common sense you would anywhere in the world by protecting your equipment from rain (common in the Falkland Islands) and sea spray when in the zodiac. It’s helpful to have a ziploc bag, a shower cap or other waterproofing options when shooting on land or from the zodiac.

The zodiac rides from ship to land can be a wet affair, depending on the conditions. In addition to wearing waterproof clothing, it’s important to protect the equipment in your camera bag. The waterproof covers that come with most camera bags proved adequate on my last trip, but we experienced relatively calm conditions. A dry bag provides additional protection in rougher waters and the Boundary Sealine collection is a great option. I recently swam through overflowing gorges in Australia with one on my back and everything in the bag stayed completely dry.

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

What type of camera bag do I need?

I’m yet to find a camera bag I completely love as they all have pros and cons. Whilst wheeled bags are convenient as carry-on luggage on planes, you really need a good outdoor photography backpack for Antarctica. Not only do you need to be hands-free to get in and out of zodiacs, you will be walking on uneven, rocky or snow ground. As mentioned above, make sure you have a waterproof cover or dry bag to use as an alternative.

*TIP*: Don’t check in any camera equipment – always carry it on board with you. Carry-on weight restrictions can be a challenge with some airlines, but – touch wood – I’ve never had an issue with this.

Do I need filters?

A polarising filter can help cut down the glare off the snow and water and increases the intensity of the sky, so it is useful but not essential. I had one with me last time but rarely used it. Other filters don’t really add a lot of value in Antarctica in my view.

What else do I need?

Don’t forget your battery charger (and power adaptor – most ships have European sockets, but check before you travel), cleaning tools and cloths and memory card reader for your laptop.

What about a GoPro?

I’ve decided to invest in a GoPro this time round, based on some great footage I saw from others with one on my first trip. It feels like a “nice to have” side hobby for capturing time lapses and underwater video from the zodiac, whilst I focus on my main DSLR photography. GoPros were particularly popular with kayakers.

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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