There are few places on earth where the landscapes and wildlife are as unspoiled as in Antarctica. There’s no light pollution, no urban development, no iconic viewpoints overrun by tour buses. In short, there’s a spectacular shot no matter where you point your camera.
Visiting here is a photographer’s dream. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture images many people will never get a chance to take. You are not likely to travel to Antarctica more than once, so having some tips from someone that has been there will go a long way to ensure a successful trip to Antarctica.
So let’s have a look at some of my essential Antarctica travel and photography tips.
Travel Tips when going to Antarctica
Making your Embarkation – You don’t want to miss this. I know, I am stating the obvious. You need to understand that they will not hold the ship for you. Do yourself a favor and get there a day or two early.
You’re probably leaving from Valparaíso, Chile or Ushuaia, Argentina. There are lots to see and do in either city. There are even day tours you can take from either city. So, give yourself some peace of mind. Get there early.
Flying to Ushuaia - If you are flying through Buenos Aires (B.A.) en route to Ushuaia, you need to pay attention to the two airports that you are potentially flying in and out of. The International Airport is Aeroparque Internacional Jorge Newbery (Airport Code: AEP) and Ezeiza International Airport (Airport Code: EZE)
Flights can typically be bought 335 days in advance. Book early to get the best options available. While it is possible to book flights all the way to Ushuaia on one ticket, you might find out that the best way to break it down like this: one round-trip ticket from your home to Buenos Aires and back, and a second round-trip ticket from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and back. This is for two reasons:
your preferred airline might not be partnered up with LATAM or Aerolineas Argentinas
there are two airports in Buenos Aires, AEP (the domestic airport) and EZE (the international airport). These airports are one hour by taxi apart (on a good day!). If you are flying straight through from your home to Ushuaia without staying overnight in BA, make sure you allow enough time to change airports if your flights require that. Taxis are readily available to transfer you between the airports.
Gear and Packing Suggestions While Travelling
Anything special I need to do with my laptop to prepare for an expedition?
Before you leave home for the expedition, launch Lightroom (and Photoshop if you have it) and make sure it connects to Adobe over the internet. It's good to check for updates, as well. Then log out of Adobe Creative Cloud and log back in. Be sure you don't have too many copies of Lightroom and Photoshop installed on different machines. Test Lightroom and Photoshop on your laptop with Wi-Fi turned off, to make sure it launches and works for you. It's a good time to make sure you have your laptop power supply and your card reader packed!
Do I need my tripod?
While you can certainly use a tripod, it really isn't necessary. In fact, this is one of the places in the world where the tripod might cause you to miss a shot! Shooting handheld will be totally fine and doable, since the light levels are normally very high. We shoot handheld all the time with our 100-400 (or similar) zoom lenses. There are not many opportunities for long exposure, tripod-mounted photography. Again, being "light, nimble, and quick" is the order of the day.
Are there luggage restrictions on LATAM? Aerolineas Argentinas?
It depends on the type of ticket you purchased. But like all airlines around the world, you can just pay a fee if your luggage is overweight.
NOTE: At this time, we're being told that tripods ARE NOT ALLOWED in the cabin on Aerolineas Argentinas flights. LATAM has said that tripods in the cabin are OK.
Tip for your camera gear carryon
If any airline is strict about weight limits for your camera backpack, no worries, use the trick of putting your heaviest camera and lens on a strap around your neck. Put a lens or two in your coat pockets if you have to. Once on the plane, you can reload into your backpack. This is a nuisance, but it works when airlines are weighing carryon. Also it helps immensely if you simply smile, and say that you have really expensive and fragile camera gear, and that it can't be checked.
What Camera gear should you take to Antarctica?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Its not the time to scrimp on what you are taking. My suggestions would be to take the following:
Cameras - 2 DSLR bodies. The 2 DSLR bodies will work well in the following configuration. One camera with a wide, and the other will have a zoom lens. It’s important to note that you want to avoid changing lenses out in the environments if you can. This setup will allow you to be ready for any situation, on any landing.
Lenses - This is a personal decision, depending on what you already have in your camera bag, finances, bag space etc. But if ever there was a time to get some new gear, this is it. Ideally, you really want at least 1 wide-angle and 1 long zoom lens.
Batteries - I would have at least 3 batteries for each body, which was more than enough. Just be sure to keep them close to your body when not in use. Keeping them inside your coat, or inside your front pocket will keep them warm, essentially stopping the cold from depleting them while you are not using them.
Filters - I recommend bringing a polarizing filter. It will help with reflections on the water, bringing out more detail in your iceberg images, and helping with sun glare off the snow. Please remember to put it on your lens outside of the ship. This will eliminate condensation issues by trapping warm air between the filter and lens if you do this in your cabin.
Here is my personal camera setup for my next Antarctica Expedition
Two Nikon D850 full frame cameras
Both cameras will have a battery grip and 2 NIKON EN-EL 18C batteries.
I will also take 6 EN-EL 15 batteries as back up
Sigma 120-300mm f2.8
Nikon 24-120mm f4.0
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8
How do you deal with your gear in the zodiacs?
Try to be "light, nimble, and quick." Typically, carrying two cameras for your shore excursions is all you would need. One body with a short zoom (like a 24-70/24-105mm) and another body with your longer zoom (100-400, 80-400, 28-300, 70-200). Sure, maybe you want to put a wider angle lens in a pocket, just "in case”. Memory cards, spare batteries, lens cloth, and that's pretty much all you need. The zodiac rides are typically calm and very smooth, but you should be prepared for anything, because splashing can occur. For this reason, it's advisable to have your gear in a dry bag. Some will put their backpack into a dry bag (this is perfectly fine). But a really good choice is to have a small dry bag into which you will put your two cameras for the zodiac ride (something like a 20L or 30L dry bag).
How do I carry my gear when on land?
We recommend two camera bodies on sturdy camera straps, for the maximum flexibility. Or one body on a strap and your second body in a small satchel or small camera pack that holds your second body and a lens or two, plus small items. Sure, you can carry your backpack, no problem, but be careful about carrying too much, as you will find that you can get the majority of photos with just two zoom lenses. In addition, you will likely not want to put your camera pack down on the ground in too many places (just watch out for penguin guano!).
Photography tips for your Antarctica Expedition
Try and Scale Your Images – Antarctica is a land of extremes. Huge icebergs, massive mountains and small penguins, sometimes less than a few feet away from you.
Trying to explain the sheer expanse of nature is really hard to do when you get home. use your camera to give your viewers a sense of that feeling you experienced by showing scale in your photos.
Watch Your Shutter Speeds - You are going to be taking photos from the ship as it passes floating ice with seals laying on them. You are going to be on zodiacs photographing penguins. It is very easy to overlook the shutter speeds that you need to get sharp images. I always try and keep my shutter speeds at a minimum of 1/800th of a second, preferably upwards to 1/1600th of a second.
Watch your exposures in camera - Getting the right exposures while you are in Antarctica is more difficult than you would think. Digital cameras have a difficult time reading bright snow which leads to the snow in your images appearing blue or grey! The sensors tries to compensate for the vast amount of light being reflected back from the snow. So it tries to underexpose. That is what causes the grey and blue snow.
To avoid this is quite easy. Use your exposure compensation. I will generally take my exposure compensation to +1 or +2 to achieve white snow in camera. It may seem wrong, but try it, you will see what I mean.
You’ll often have to over expose using this settings which will feel wrong, however, just go with it and see what happens.A Photography Expedition to Antarctica designed by photographers, for photographers
Shoot From Different Angles - The tendency will be to walk and take photos of the penguins and seals while you are standing. Get down on the ground and photograph the wildlife from their level. If you do this you will be able to get the landscape behind the wildlife. You will also be capturing the wildlife from a more interesting point of view.
Take Some Video - While photos are great. Simply taking out your iPhone and capturing video of walking penguins, or the landscapes from the boat will create a well rounded story of your Expedition.
One final thought before you make your decision on what Antarctica Expedition to go on
Most Antarctica trips are not dedicated fully to photography, and because they are on tourist cruise ships with 150, 200, or 250+ passengers, they can’t get as close to the landings as a smaller ship like expeditions solely dedicated to photography. Therefore, smaller ships will have zodiacs that will zip you to shore safely and quickly, so you more time for photography. On a photography expedition you will be with like-minded photographers and travelers who are interested in maximizing every opportunity to capture amazing wildlife and landscape images, and to learn as much as possible from the pros and naturalists on the team. Don’t worry, your non-photographer spouse/partner/traveling companion will enjoy this type of expedition just as much as everyone else, and they too will enjoy the landscape and wildlife and the guiding from not only us but the expedition staff and naturalists.
If you are a photographer, and that is your purpose in visiting Antarctica, you should check on (a) number of people that are on the boat and (b) how many photography guides there are on the ship. There are photo trips out there where there are 200+ people on the boat and one or tow professional photographers. How much guidance do you think you will get on an expedition like that?
I am headed back to Antarctica in December of 2019 on a photography expedition with 70 photographers being lead by ten photo pros and five naturalists. This will be on board our own private ship - https://muenchworkshops.com/workshops/antarctica-expedition-photo-workshop
Antarctica on its own blew me away by its beauty and diverse wildlife; but, if you have a little more time and an insatiable appetite for photographic possibilities, taking in the Falkland, South Georgia and Antarctica in October of 2020 will leave you rewarded in infinite ways - https://muenchworkshops.com/workshops/falkland-islands-south-georgia-antarctica-photo-expedition