Take Your Best Shot: 3 Tips for Better Polar Photos

June 17, 2015 Paul A. Teolis

Whether your final destination is the Antarctic Peninsula or the Norwegian territory of Svalbard in the Arctic, both regions have their own unique characteristics for photographers.

The first time you see a penguin waddling along an icy shoreline or catch the gaze of a solitary polar bear wandering in search of food, you want to be ready to capture the perfect photo. Here are some tips to pack with you to make sure your memory and your lens get the most out of your time in the polar regions.

A cold day at Damoy Point, Antarctica.

How cold is cold, exactly?

The weather in the polar regions is unpredictable at best and can change in literally minutes when either on land or at sea. It’s best to always be prepared to keep your gear protected from the elements.

A durable dry bag or a waterproof backpack to store your camera gear when making shore landings on a Zodiac is the smart choice. Salt water can ruin camera electronics, so keep your equipment dry from random splashes or a sudden change in weather.

On land, take a large freezer bag to cover your camera and lens. This is a useful and inexpensive solution to protect against snow, sleet, or sometimes rain (in the Arctic) which can all happen unexpectedly. You can also purchase storm jacket covers for your lenses that slide over the camera body allowing for ease of shooting, and safeguarding it against moisture.

The cold can defeat you in one area though – your batteries. Most lithium camera batteries handle the cold well, but will have a noticeably shorter life span. It’s important to carry back-up batteries and get into a regular charging routine. Always have three camera batteries with you: one in your camera, a spare in your inner jacket pocket keeping warm and a third back on the ship charging. Get into a routine of charging between landings so you won’t experience that awful moment when your camera is running on empty.

Giant petrel at Cecilia Island, Antarctica.

Giant petrel at Cecilia Island, Antarctica.

How much is too much memory?

It’s fair to say you will probably shoot twice as much in polar regions than you would on a normal outing. Carry multiple 16 or 32GB cards with you that meet your budget needs. Remember that if you shoot mostly jpegs you will be able to hold more images on a memory card than if you have a camera that shoots in RAW format, which are much larger files.

Bringing a laptop or separate storage device allows you the benefit of backing up photographs to your computer after each landing. This will free up your memory cards, allowing you to worry less about having enough space to capture the incredible landscape and wildlife around you.

What’s the best camera and lens combo?

There is no quick and easy answer as there are endless combinations of lens ranges available, depending on needs and budgets.

The best camera to bring is the one you are most comfortable using, whether a DSLR or point & shoot. Bring a good wide-angle lens for landscapes; a 24mm, 28mm or 35mm range will give you exceptional coverage. To bring yourself closer to wildlife, birds, or icebergs, a zoom lens in the 70–200mm range or larger is optimal.

With the unpredictability of polar bears in the Arctic, you will likely need extra longer lenses, 400mm or more, unless you are lucky enough to experience a close encounter from a ship or Zodiac.

It’s important to protect your lenses with one simple investment – a good filter. A protective UV filter left on all the time removes the need for a lens cover, and for bright sunny days, a polarizer filter will add some punch to your photos of skies and the blue of the ice, and will also remove the glare off reflections that come from the water.

Reindeer antlers, St. Jonsfjord, Gjertsenodden, Svalbard.

Reindeer antlers, St. Jonsfjord, Gjertsenodden, Svalbard.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg

Many photography-related questions have been asked over the years on G Adventures’ Wateringhole forum, so if we missed anything, don’t hesitate to leave your questions there and we will be sure to respond.

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of expeditions in the polar regions encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.

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