Photography Tips for Arctic and Antarctic Picture Taking

“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” ― Karl Lagerfeld.

Photos are our recorded interpretation of our memory of an event, allowing us to share our momentous journeys with others, or even recall mental images of an event just as it occurred.  That is why so many polar cruisers find that they take hundreds--even thousands--of photos on their Arctic vacation or Antarctica cruise.  Even if you are typically “not the photo-taking type,” you may find yourself taking twice the amount of photos you thought throughout the duration of your breathtaking polar adventure.  

That is why it is so important--crucial even--to be prepared with the right camera and accessories on your polar cruise.  We often get asked questions from photography hobbyists and amateur photographers alike about what kinds of camera and equipment they should bring on their trip to the Arctic or Antarctica.  Here are our recommendations for polar picture picture taking on your Arctic or Antarctica cruise.

Bring the right camera.

Choosing the right camera for your Arctic or Antarctic travel depends on your photography experience and the intended use for your photos.  Those who are serious about their photography and plan on publishing their photos to a website, magazine, or make large-size prints should select a camera accordingly.

If you are an amateur or intermediate photographer, you should consider a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera which will allow you to take quality pictures in nearly any situation because of their accuracy, size and weight, affordability, flexibility, and quality.  SLR’s are available in both traditional film and digital cameras.

If you select a traditional film camera: If you decide to bring a film camera, make sure it accepts a variety of film speeds.  One-hundred ASA works for sunny days and 200-400 ASA works for cloudy days and telephoto shots. Speeds lower than ASA 100 works for some particularly bright days on the snow. Note: remember that print film has a much broader latitude (exposure-wise) than slide film.

If you select a digital camera: Digital cameras are a great choice for their quality and convenience. Digitals allow you to take unlimited numbers of pictures (given enough storage space) on photo cards which are reusable and easier to handle than film. They also allow you to view, edit, delete and share the pictures as soon as you take them.  You will also have the flexibility of photo editing shots on your computer, and digital pictures are also great for easy photo sharing through email, Facebook, or photo-sharing sites such as Instagram and Flickr.  

The downside to digital cameras is their response time to action shots.  Newer digital camera have quicker response times, and will work just fine for most encounters on your Arctic and Antarctic vacation.

Choose the right megapixel camera.

While a four mega-pixel camera is all it takes to produce acceptable results (especially when a good camera is matched with a good lens like the Panasonic cameras with Leica lenses), a minimum of six to eight mega-pixels is recommended if you plan on making larger prints or sharing your photos online. Megapixel quality can vary by manufacturer, so we recommend reading camera magazine reports, consumer reports, and ask your local camera store for help selecting the right camera for you.

Bring enough film / storage.

Unless you plan on uploading your pictures to a very reliable laptop throughout your vacation, it is a good idea to bring twice the camera card space you believe you will need.  This notion applies to film and storage space on your computer as well.  The Arctic and Antarctica are filled with so many breathtaking photo opportunities, we find that most first-time polar travelers underestimate the amount of photos they will end up taking.

Bring backup.  

Not only is it important to have extra film and storage for your photos, but if you are serious about photography, it’s not a bad idea to also bring an extra camera just in case.  Compact cameras make a great choice for a backup camera or when headed on an adventure where the conditions may be hazardous to a very expensive camera.

Along with extra camera cards, film, and an extra camera, don’t forget to also pack extra batteries and/or battery packs.  We recommend also replacing older batteries with newer ones that charge quickly, hold charge longer, and are less likely to be affected by the cold.

Prepare for the cold.

Most cameras are rated for 32 degrees F, which makes the cold not much of an issue in the Arctic regions if you go in the Summer, when it is typically above freezing.  However, polar weather and conditions can present some problems, such as salt water spray, which can get into digital camera buttons, or abrupt temperature changes which can crack lenses.  

It is important to remember to never breathe or blow on a cold lens; dust or brush off snow and debris instead. Condensation is another issue during polar travel, and may require the use of a lens cloth when the lens fogs up.

We recommend that travelers carry their cameras and batteries inside their coat, pockets, or outer layer on cold days to keep them warm when not in use. Note: Many polar travelers also choose to carry their camera by wrapping it in a scarf or other insulator that won't hold moisture.

Finally, consider hand attire (and its affect on your picture-taking ability) when packing for your polar excursion. Poly-synthetic glove liners (when used under thicker fleece or ski gloves) are a good choice when shooting outdoors.  Another good choice is “flip back” fingertip gloves.  While your fingers probably won’t stick to the camera, you can attach some tape or felt or something similar to any metal areas or eyepieces on the camera that might touch your skin--just in case.

Bring a skylight filter.

We recommend bringing a skylight filter to protect your lens from the elements.  Other creative color filters, however, we suggest you leave at home.  Polarizing filters, which don't always work well in Antarctica or the Arctic, use a polarizing filter to take out the glare and darken the sky without ruining the rest of the photo. Regardless, we recommend taking a split image filter – half and half for sky effect--for the  best results.

Other special considerations for polar picture taking. 

Because of the moisture and condensation that collects while at sea, you may want to consider a waterproof and floating bag for your camera.

When onshore, a shoulder bags or a backpack for lugging around your camera gear may also come in handy. A camera bag that attaches to your waist instead of on your shoulder or back makes your camera more accessible--perfect for taking wildlife shots in an instant.

With so many beautiful sights to see in the Arctic or Antarctica, photography-savvy travelers often find themselves snapping away nearly every moment of their adventure.  By being prepared with the right camera and equipment, you can be sure to capture moments that will last forever in your memories...and photos.

For more tips on photo-taking in the Arctic and Antarctica, check out the special polar photography considerations listed on our website, or speak to one our our seasoned polar travel specialists (and photography gurus) by calling 888-484-2244.