Antarctica offers many great opportunities for pictures: icebergs, glaciers, mountains, wildlife and blue sky or water contrasting with the white of the ice and snow under perfect conditions. These can make up nice photos, but there are a few things that you should keep in mind when trying to receive good photographs under the special conditions in the Antarctic.
Photography is not just taking pictures; to get good pictures from the travels it is important to practice and to know the equipment and its functions. Practice in advance, take pictures of wildlife and landscapes and consider why some are good, and others not as good. Also look in magazines and books for good pictures and study why you like them.
When you decided to buy new equipment, get to know your camera and its functions before the trip but consider also bringing the manuals with you. Consider bringing two cameras, or at least two cameras per couple. It can always happen that a camera gets damaged, jams in the cold or even disappears over a ship railing. If it’s your only camera – you will be furious!
Expect to take mainly landscape, wildlife and landscape photos, as well as some of people, the ship, and in the zodiac. For wildlife shots it is best to have a good zoom lens, for landscapes a wide angle lens. Plan carefully what equipment you really need, as you have to carry it around with you, not only in Antarctica (in the zodiac and on land) but also during (international) flights.
The Antarctic has quite different conditions to that normal elsewhere. It is often very bright with considerable contrast from the background, so the subject risk appearing much darker. Therefore adapt the aperture when the light is bright and close when the subject is dark. Try out your film before at sunny conditions as well as under overcast conditions before the trip. Use flash at sunny days to compensate for harsh shadows.
Look for the subject you want to photograph and frame it carefully. The right composition can make a huge difference to the result, as does the background of the picture. A wildlife picture with another tourist in the background may not be what you want, so you might have to re-position yourself to get the background right.
The Antarctic wildlife often appears to be unafraid of humans even when they actually might be afraid. The presence of humans can stress them, especially when humans are too close. Guides usually will point out what are safe distances, but do keep an appropriate distance to the animals. Do not block the animals’ paths to the sea or to its young. When approaching an animal, be quiet and calm and watch its reaction. When it moves or changes behavior it is a sign that you are too close. Try to sit down, be quiet and patient and the animals might approach you after a while on their own.
Of course appropriate zooms and telephotos are essential. Generally it can be useful to use a zoom lens to not getting too close to the animals and to still be able to frame single creatures. Try having the animal’s eyes on the picture and if possible consider the perspective that you take the picture from. Being at the same level as the animal works very well.
For landscape and scenery a wide-angle lens will bring out best the glaciers, mountains and icebergs although a standard lens will still work well.
The weather and lighting in Antarctica can change dramatically from a bright blue sky to foggy, overcast or stormy conditions, so practice with your camera on how to make the best out of these conditions.
When using a digital camera equipped with plenty of battery power, you can review your photos on the spot to check whether the exposure is correct. On sunny days, the strong light reflected by the snow, can be hard for a camera to deal with (when using automatic setting) and the result may be gray or too bright.
What to remember
Next to the normal photo equipment, it is necessary to bring some special equipment for Antarctica. Here a small reminder and tips:-
- Batteries: the cold temperatures can make batteries go flat much faster than normally. Carry several with you on the landings as spare, and keep them warm in an inside pocket of your jacket. Make sure your battery charger is with you in the cabin, or that you have plenty of spare batteries.
- Film/memory cards: bring enough films or memory cards to make sure you do not run out of them and then miss photo opportunities. Expect that you will take a lot more pictures than normally. Allow for taking large-size photos. The worst you can do is bring along insufficient cards and find yourself rationing either the pictures you take or the size of the photos. (We’ve been there, and from one cruise have only 680×480 pictures as a result…)
- Protection: bring a good protective case and a waterproof plastic bag for your camera or equipment to protect it from saltwater spray, snow, dust and rain. A good idea is a camera bag with shoulder strap protecting your camera and making you having your hands free for walking on ships and when boarding the zodiacs. A waterproof bag pack can be of good use for the landings. Plastic bags help to prevent negative effects on your camera at the transition from warm to cold or from cold back to warm environments (when leaving or going back on the ship). The climatic changes can make the camera suffer from condensation. Wrap the camera in plastic bags in these situations and give time to adjust its temperature to the surrounding before unwrapping it.
- Tripod: if wildlife or landscape is really important for you, consider bringing a small tripod to avoid camera shake, especially when using zoom or a long shutter speed.
- Cleaning: do make sure you bring along suitable cleaning materials and brushes for lenses.