Antarctica Photography: 10 Essential Tips

Antarctica photography is simply stunning. The White Continent is a land alone, a land forgotten by time.

Its pristine environment remains untouched by humans and, as such, exudes a wild and untamed nature that is both stark and hauntingly beautiful all at once.

Antarctica is a photographers dream and, quite often, a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture such a unique landscape. However, Antarctica photography is unlike any other photography and you’ll need to brush up on some skills before you leave.

Because you’re not likely to be there often, getting the right set up and shots for your DSLR is paramount. Therefore, we have put together these 10 essential Antarctica photography tips.

We realize that every photographer is different and that what you choose to shoot will greatly impact your gear. However, we believe these tips are universal and will make your Antarctica photography skills considerably better whether you’re shooting wildlife, landscape. macro etc.

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Antarctica Photography – 10 Essential Tips

1. Bring Ziplock Freezer Bags and/or Dry Bags


This is probably the single most important piece of gear you bring. Antarctica photography is cold – seriously cold.

It’s also wet. You’ll be travelling on zodiacs for much of the time when you’re photographing and water splashing into the boat is not uncommon. You’ll also be making wet landings where you really don’t want to drop any camera gear. Therefore dry bags are a must.

You’ll also need dry bags in the battle against condensation which every Antarctica photographer knows too well. The outside air temperature is far colder than inside the ship. Therefore, if you bring your camera straight from the cold into the the ship then condensation will form on both the outside and the inside of the lens and body.

To stop this, it’s best to seal your camera in a ziplock freezer bag, dispel all the air from it, then take it inside and leave it in the bag for a few hours as the camera slowly adjusts to the new temperature.

2. Bring several Camera Bodies


Because Antarctica often experiences severe weather conditions such as high winds, freezing temperatures, snow and rain, it’s never a good idea to change lenses outside.

Just when you’re taking a lovely landscape shot of an iceberg, you may suddenly spot a whale and need to change lenses. Exposing the camera in freezing conditions is not a sensible option and the only way of getting around this is to bring several camera bodies and several lenses.

This way you wont be exposing the camera and you’ll also be able to change lenses far more quickly – simply pick up the other camera and you’re away! A good tip here is to always test your camera settings prior to shooting as you want to be able to just pick up the camera and know you have the right settings to capture the shot instantly.

See our camera and lens recommendations.

The most popular wildlife camera in the world is probably the Canon 7D Mark II.

The cropped sensor and exceptionally fast shooting speed (10 fps) make it ideal for capturing wildlife in Antarctica. Professional wildlife photographers generally use the full frame Canon 1DX Mark II, however, this is far more expensive.

For Nikon users we recommend the D500. If you can afford it, the Nikon D5 is simply superb - but comes at a higher price tag. 

3. Bring Extra Memory Cards and Batteries

Once again, this is where the extreme cold of Antarctica comes into play. Your camera batteries will lose charge way faster in the cold conditions. In fact, expect about half the normal life of your battery.

Once you have been dropped ashore by one of your zodiacs, you can’t simply pop back to the ship another battery. Therefore, it’s imperative to bring extra batteries with you at all times.

Whilst memory cards are not affected by the cold, you many people find they fill them up quickly because of the constant photo opportunities.

We have also seen memory cards stop working midway through a trip. This can be soul destroying and it’s always a good idea to bring a back up just in case.

4. Demonstrate Scale in Your Photos


Antarctica is a land of extremes. Huge icebergs, towering ice sculptures and abundant wildlife less than 2 metres away are common sights.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to give your viewers a sense of that feeling by showing scale in your photos. By photographing seals, people, kayaks, penguins in your landscape shots, this will serve to demonstrate the scale of the landscape to your viewers.

Another good tip is to use your cruise ship. Although your ship will be large, it will be nothing compared to a huge iceberg!

If landscape photography is your thing, then look no further than Canon 5D range. The 5D Mark IV is truly awesome and won't let you down.

Sony is also making waves in this industry and the latest A7R III is a 42.4 megapixel beast. For Nikon users we recommend the full frame Nikon D810.

For people wanting a full frame lens on a budget then the Canon 6D model is your best bet. Super image quality and particularly good in low light. 

5. Classic Wildlife poses


There are some shots that will always turn out better than others. Penguins in particular are very cute and photographing them whilst interacting gives you a much better chance of producing a nice shot.

Luckily, they’re quite sociable creatures and this shouldn’t be too difficult. Penguins in ‘flight’ tends to makes for a good shot, particularly jumping from ice bergs into the sea.

Seals are a little more difficult to shoot as they don’t really do much except lie still. However, if you can get a shot of one looking directly at the camera, this is always good, particularly if it bares its teeth in a yawn. Please remember never to disturb the wildlife or get too close.

If you remain still the wildlife will often come to you!

6. Tripod


Most people will tell you that you need to bring a tripod for your Antarctica journey. However, this is not necessarily true.

Tripods are often large and cumbersome and you’ll constantly be dodging people on deck with them. The light is very good in Antarctica and we find that wildlife photographers generally leave them in the cabin after the first few days.

Unless you’re shooting macro, long exposure shoreline images or arty type movement shots, the tripod can stay at home. However, we do recommend bringing a very small travel tripod in case the shot you really want demands a tripod.

See our tripod recommendations.

7. Lens Filters 


We always suggest taking two filters – A UV filter and a polarizing filter. The UV filter is basically a protection lens against the elements you may be shooting in.

Whereas the polarizing filter is a must for Antarctica photography as it helps reduce glare and saturates colours. The glare from the snow and sea on bright days can be extreme and a polarizing filter will reduce this significantly and sharpen distant focal points like icebergs, mountains etc.

Remember though, a polarizing filter will darken your shots and you’ll lose about two F stops of light. This is generally fine for landscape shots, however, wildlife photographers should take caution.

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8. Getting The Right Exposure


Getting the right exposure for Antarctica photography is more difficult than it sounds. Often, cameras have a difficult time reading bright snow which leads to the snow in your images appearing grey!

The dreaded grey snow effect is best avoided by bracketing your exposures. Generally a setting of 3 or 5 brackets at an interval of 1 to 2 stops will get your images showing nice white snow.

You’ll often have to over expose using this settings which will feel wrong, however, just go with it and see what happens. Check out this video for more info.

9. Shoot From Different Angles


With so much wildlife it’s often difficult to think of good ways to photograph them! The best rule to remember is to get down to your subjects height.

Both penguins and seals are relatively short creatures. If you stand near them and shoot downwards you’ll find that the shot doesn’t have that wow factor.

Antarctica photography is all about the background. This means getting on the ground and photographing the wildlife from their level. This way you’ll be able to get the landscape behind the wildlife. This is particularly important in a spectacular environment such as Antarctica.

By getting lower you’ll often be able to photograph more of the penguins or seals at once which is also another nice effect.

With so many lens options, it can often be difficult deciding on the best option. We personally recommend the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L for wildlife photography in Antarctica. Great reach and very versatile!

For landscape photographers you can't go wrong with either the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L ll USM Zoom Lens or the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. Both lenses are incredibly sharp, even wide open.

For Nikon we definitely recommend  the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E 

10. Shooting From a Zodiac or Kayak


You’ll often want to get your camera out whilst on a zodiac or kayak. This is the time when you can explore the lesser seen areas of Antarctica and see angles of icebergs you wouldn’t otherwise get to view.

However, zodiacs and kayaks can be bumpy which makes taking photos a bit more difficult, especially when it comes to getting a level horizon. There are two things to remember here. The first is shutter speed. If there is plenty of light use a faster shutter speed as this will stop any blurring from movement.

The second is cropping. If you’re shooting landscape, make sure to zoom out further than the shot requires. This is so when you’re editing back home you’ll have space to crop properly, particularly if your horizon is not level, you’ll be able to rotate the photo slightly and still get the whole image you wanted.

The best camera for your adventure is defintely the GoPro Hero series. Strap them to your kayak and get incredible footage as you pull up next to a seal or whale! 

For people looking for an all-in-one camera that does stills and video, then we seriously suggest looking at the Sony Alpha series. The latest A7R III is quite simply unbeatable when it comes to both factors.

42.4 megapixles, 4K footage, Slow-motion capabilities and 14 stop dynamic range makes this one unstoppable piece of kit! 

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  • Bill says

    5 years ago

    I've photographed for many years but still found some great tips here as we head to Antarctica this week. Very helpful.

    • Burnham Arlidge says

      5 years ago

      Thanks Bill! Glad it helped :)

  • Margaret Minor says

    5 years ago

    Hello, really informative article. I’ve taken your suggestions seriously. I have Sony A6000 & A6500. Of my lenses which would you have ready to go to not interchange them on the zodiac. Mine are 70-300mm, 55-210mm, 10-18mm (landscape), and 16-50mm kit lens. I was thinking the 300mm & landscape but then what do I do for close-ups on shore? Okay to change on shore or will cause condensation? I also have UV-Haze filters for all. I’ve got a Macro but not sure how much opportunity I’ll have for bugs there or whether to even bring it. Thank you for your articles.

    • Burnham Arlidge says

      5 years ago

      Hi Margaret, I personally just brought my camera bag with me on the zodiac (with a waterproof cover). I kept the bag quite small because there is limited space on the zodiac. Changing lenses is not an issue in the cold - it's only when you bring the camera indoors from outside that condensation will form. That being said, you still need to watch out for blowing snow when changing lenses. There is really no point bringing your macro lens... you won't find bugs or anything that small. However, if you explore the region around Ushuaia before or after your trip then it may come in handy. If you like your wildlife, you'll most be using the 70-300mm. Actually a great lens for landscape as well because it compresseses the shapes in the landscape together (such as icebergs) for some wonderful shots. Hope that helps!

  • tim williams says

    4 years ago

    Any particular brands you recommend for a UV filter and a polarizing filter? Thanks in advance. Our trip is in two weeks.

    • Burnham Arlidge says

      4 years ago

      Hi Tim, The more money you spend the less the filter will affect the image. But if you're not professional, the standard Hoya ones will do the job just fine. Cheers, Burnham - Antarctica Guide Team

  • MAX says

    4 years ago

    A great article. Very helpful. BUT you never mention a mirrorless camera. I love Fuji. lightweight with great features and lenses. I now have an XT-1; likely to add the XT-3 for my upcoming Antarctica adventure. My question is if my 85-200mm[300mm effective] good enough, or should I get the 100-400mm telephoto? I did extremely well with current lens on African safari. Thanks.

    • Burnham Arlidge says

      4 years ago

      Hi Max, It's funny you say that, I've actually just switched to a mirrorless system myself (Sony A7RIII). Your 200mm will be good enough for most of the penguins shots when you go ashore as they don't have any fear of humans generally speaking. However, shots from the ship often require a longer focal length if you want wildlife portraits. Seals are often perched on ice floes and whales are often spotted some way off - so the longer the better really for these situations. Personal preference though, I actually prefer wildlife in the landscape pics instead of portraits - so focal length is not as important in that situation. Hope that helps, Burnham - Antarctica Guide Team

      • MAX KLEINMAN says

        4 years ago

        Hi Burnham, For some reason, I JUST noticed this! VERY helpful. Thank you.

  • Sohel Rana says

    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your information.I have benefited from reading your article. Thank you very much.

  • Evawolf says

    3 years ago

    The content is beneficial. Tips number 3 seems quite interesting. Thanks for these great tips and useful information.