Amateur photography tips for Antarctica: capturing a good shot

Recently, we wrote an article on photography in the Antarctic: what lens to use, how to pack, and important cold-weather considerations. But we did not talk about what makes a great Antarctic photograph. So we’ve pulled together some advice for capturing great photos in Antarctica. Whether you are trying to capture a penguin encounter, an awe-inspiring glacier, or proof that you’ve crossed the seventh continent, these tips can help any amateur photographer capture their polar experience on film.

When taking wildlife shots

  •  A camera with a good telephoto capacity (300mm and above for SLR camera’s) is a good place to start.
  • Another consideration is a zoom lens, which will prevent you from constantly changing lenses in the cold.  
  • A zoom lens is also helpful for capturing shots of regulated wildlife (such as seals and certain birds), which have distance restrictions set by the IAATO. In general, keep a minimum of 20 feet away from penguins (even more if you’re photographing nesting penguins), and 50 feet for seals (although fur seals can cover that distance in about 3 seconds!). Penguins don’t read the rules either – they’ll waddle right up and introduce themselves.
  • There are no trees in Antarctica, so it helps if you get down near the ground instead of towering over the animals when taking photos.
  • When capturing a wildlife image, focus on the eye of the animal, and try to capture one (or two) of the eyes facing the lens. Pictures where the sun is glinting in the eye of an animal are especially intriguing. When a direct face shot is not an option, try for a facial expression—a yawn, an open mouth, or a feeding session.
  • Add variation to your pictures. It can be tempting to take photo after photo of that adorable penguin. But capturing variation in your shots can keep them from getting boring. Zoom in and out, and aim to capture wildlife in action: swimming, walking, running, and interacting.
  • If you are a beginner, consider following the “Rule of Thirds”. Place large animals at the bottom third of the frame, unless shooting a reflection shot (in which case you should center the horizon).

When taking landscape shots

  •  A good, wide-angle lens (18mm to 70mm) will help you capture the scenery of massive bergs and glaciers.
  • Use a tripod when possible for best results when taking long-range landscape photos.
  • The reflective qualities of white snow and ice make shooting in the polar regions a challenge. To avoid overexposing the picture, try bracketing. You might even increase the usual range of ½ to 1 stop above and below to 2 or even 3 stops, just in case.
  • Cameras with built-in spot-metering are excellent for reducing overexposure.
  • Most cameras have a built-in light meter, so you don’t need to take an external meter along. Whether you use an internal or external light meter, take a reading on your hand or a neutral piece of clothing. That usually works as well as grey card.

 When taking people shots

  • Maybe you are more inclined to take landscape pictures, or maybe you like people shots. Even if you are typically a landscape person, you will not be disappointed by grabbing a few pictures of both.
  • Capturing shots of people dressed in bright colored gear against the Antarctic landscape can add great contrast and aesthetic interest to a photo.
  • People shots can also add scale in a photo. In general, the person should be dominant in the shot, and located on the left-hand side. If getting someone else to take the shot for you, frame yourself in the shot first, then hand over the camera for best results.
  • Generally rule of thumb is to use the flash in a people shot despite the weather conditions when there is snow on the ground. Using a flash to fill in the person or animal in the foreground of a snowy, white setting works nicely.

Other considerations

  • Review your photos often to see what is/is not working. Your eye can play tricks on you, and what you think is a great shot may turn out to be underexposed, zoomed in too close, or lacking enough contrast.
  • Enlist the help of more experienced persons around you. Many of our passengers are great photographers who can offer advice on making the most of your polar picture-taking experience.

 For more information on polar region photography, visit our website which has tips on Antarctica photo taking.