Photography gear for Antarctica


So you’ve bought a ticket for this mystical trip of a lifetime. The date is set and the clock starts counting down. It was surprising just how fast that last 18 months went in the lead up to my Antarctic trip.

Probably the most vexing part of the preparation was in choosing the photography gear I would take.

I spoke to people who had been there, even consulted with other photographers and called upon my years of experience as a travel photographer to come up with a list of what needed to be in my bag for this most important trip. I figured I might only get one crack at a trip like this in my lifetime to I really wanted to make sure I gave myself every opportunity to bring home the best images I could take.

The body

The first item for consideration was what camera body to take. I knew all the gear I was to take had to fit into a waterproof backpack that I would use as we loaded into zodiac for our day trips so weight was to be an issue. But you’re going so far and too far away from any assistance should you run into problems and some of your gear stop working. That meant built-in redundancy had to be maintained. In all I took two DSLR bodies and a P&S. I chose the DSLRs based upon form and function wanting to be able to reproduce the highest quality images possible (that was still within my budget) and I wanted a point and shoot for my happy snaps around the boat and for when you needed something small enough to slip into your pocket. I ended up taking my Canon 5D MKII, a 5D and my G12 all of which I knew would give me great images. _N1W1109

Lenses

Long Zoom: Lenses are critical on this occasion. Firstly look to what you have in your existing kit. Do you have a telephoto lens? Yes? If so, how long is it? When you’re on the ship you’ll see many opportunities to take photos of passing icebergs, whales and birds but they are often a long way away so you’ll need a minimum of 400mm, longer if possible.

Wide Angle: A wide-angle lens is always useful as well. Many images are up close and personal and often too large to capture unless you are using a wide-angle lens. How wide to take? This really depends on your style of shooting but a 20mm lens should be adequate.

Next question is do you go Macro as well? Will there be any opportunity or need for close up images? Probably not. I took a 100mm macro and it didn’t leave my bag the entire trip.

After much deliberation I ended up taking the Sigma 50 – 500mm telephoto and my 17-40mm as well as the 100mm macro. I chose these as much for their respective ranges as well as performance. With the telephoto and wide-angle lenses I would have an entire range of widths covered with good quality glass.

I didn’t own a 50-500mm lens so I then had to consider purchasing or renting one. I ended up renting one through a local camera company, Lenspimp, at a very reasonable rate as compared to purchasing this lens.

Almost certainly you will need some way of waterproofing your camera. All decent camera shops will have some method available to you but with some creativity waterproof housing can be made from some Ziploc bags and tape. Good to know and easy to do in case you get caught out without something.

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Filters

Always a good item to consider. I took a ND filter (3Stops) to help with the harsh white that I felt we would encounter and found it very useful

Batteries

I was repeatedly told to take extra batteries so I ended up taking 3 batteries for each of my cameras. The cold does have an effect on battery performance so make sure you keep unused batteries warm by putting them close to your body when not in use and you go out for an afternoon excursion. No doubt you’d be bitterly disappointed if you were away from the ship for an afternoon among the penguins and half-way through the afternoon your battery runs flat.

Also remember religiously to charge all batteries every night or ant the end of your day in preparation for the next days fun.

Memory

Take cards, cards, cards… and make sure you upload and back up regularly. I can’t emphasis this aspect enough. The size of memory card you will use mostly depends on the size of files your camera will take and your style of shooting (how many different ways you might shoot a scene). I chose to take cards ranging in size and speed from 16 to 64G. I choose smaller card and more of them so that if a single card gets corrupted then I limit my loss to just the images on that card. _N1W1279

Tripod

To tripod or not, that is the question.. I took a good, sturdy tripod on the trip and only used it once or twice. A lot depends again on how you shoot your images. Often times I could use a rock or ledge to lean against to steady my hands so that my image would be sharp.

My advise is if you want total flexibility then take a tripod but you can take pretty good shots without it too. _N1W7745

Insurance

Lastly but not least important make sure you have insurance for all your gear. I can’t stress how important this is. Specialized insurance will take the worry off your mind in case of stolen or damaged goods and lead to a more relaxed vacation.

I can certainly speak with experience as on this occasion  I had a camera stolen day one of my recent South American holiday.

For more images of this extraordinary continent please visit my website

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5 thoughts on “Photography gear for Antarctica

      1. My first-grade teacher was the first person I’d met who’d made it to all seven continents. I remember being in awe that she’d been to Antarctica! Someday, I’d love to follow in her footsteps and see it as well. 🙂

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