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Tips & Tricks for Amazing Polar Photography with Your Smartphone

4 min read

Over the last few years, built-in cameras have become standard in smartphones, and those built-in cameras have been getting better and better. Today, many smartphone cameras offer high definition, spot metering, adjustable exposure and endless photo editing apps which rival most point-and-shoot cameras on the market. When you're planning an expedition into polar landscapes, that may mean a separate point-and-shoot camera is one less piece of equipment you need to pack. Or, as many of our passengers do, you might find that your smartphone camera is simply more convenient to carry and use when you're hiking, kayaking or on the go. Here are a few tricks for keeping your phone safe while taking awesome photos on your Arctic or Antarctic adventure.

Smartphones, iPhones & Cases for Polar Snaps


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The iPhone 5S is arguably the most popular HD camera smartphone on the market today. Its camera can toggle back and forth between regular and HD, and you can adjust both focus and exposure by tapping the screen. The HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom and Nokia Lumina 1020 are top contenders with the iPhone, as well as the Sony Xperia Z2, which stands alone as the first waterproof smartphone with a camera that holds its own. For the other smartphones and iPhones, there are plenty of cases which offer the protection you need on an Arctic or Antarctic expedition. Just like digital cameras must be cared for and protected, your smartphone will likely be pummeled with salt spray, rain, dust and even potentially dropped in the water. For polar photography, a phone case that's waterproof and shock absorbent is a must. If you plan to use your smartphone as your main camera, an extra battery pack is also a very good idea. Simple waterproof phone sleeves, like this one sold at Quark's  gear shop, offer affordable protection and a universal fit, although they may hinder performance somewhat while in the middle of a shoot. For really gritty and underwater photography, cases like this one, by Hitcase Pro, offer not only protection from the elements but a wide angle lens and waterproofing for up to 30 feet deep. Lifeproof has similarly rugged cases for Galaxy phones. Some rugged iPhone cases also have built in battery boosters which can double battery life.

Photo editing apps & storage


There are almost as many iPhone and Android photography apps as there are models of DSLR cameras, but for great photography out on the tundra or ocean, you only need one or two apps you really like. For added control over exposure, focus and aspect ratio, Pro Camera 7 is a natural choice, allowing you to mimic the capabilities of a DSLR, if you feel it's worth $2.99. For $1 less, Camera+ offers camera replacement features similar to Pro Camera 7, with grid display overlays and plenty of great effects. Free apps like Snapseed and Aviary offer easy to use and plentiful photo editing options, ideal for quick and dirty editing in the field. If you're working the field in HD, photo storage might get tight, but there are plenty of free and inexpensive cloud photostream backup solutions available. iCloud's built-in storage (paid over 5G) is native to iPhones, but photostream social networks like Google+, Picasa and Flickr offer free uploads.

Stay Connected & Share Your Travels Right from Your Smartphone

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Not only do many smartphones take amazing photos; they also make sharing photos effortless. Many of Quark's cruise ships offer onboard internet connectivity, making it relatively easy for you to share your polar photography on social media as soon as you come back in from the field. From the deck, you can upload your photos to Picasa or Flickr, post them on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and keep your friends and family up to speed on your adventures from halfway around the globe. Note that internet connectivity in the Polar Regions is intermittent and not always reliable, so please understand that you may have to wait until you're back in South America before sharing your photos online.

Photos with an iPhone

How to Take Great Pics with Your Device

1. Ignore your zoom feature. Zooming in on landmarks, animals or people from a distance can result in blurry or pixelated images. Instead, take the wide shot and crop it later using your in-camera or online photo editor.

2. Edit with a light touch. Photo filters are really popular, but they literally put a mask over your entire image. You may just need to tone down brightness, or sharpen an image, to make it look its best. Don't get carried away with trendy photo edits! The Polar Regions are so spectacular you'll want your images as true to life as possible.

3. Play with new apps. If you're looking for greater shooting control, for example, you might like to try Camera Awesome, which allows you to shoot in bursts. If there's something you'd really like to accomplish, do a Google search for camera apps for your device. You'll be amazed at the features and functions that are already out there!

4. Turn off your flash. At the very least, set it to Auto so it will only flash in low-light. Having the flash activated in good lighting is a waste that will drain your battery. You don't want to run out of juice while you're out for an afternoon, away from the ship!

5. Keep your lens clean. Carry a soft cloth to wipe your smartphone camera lens down as needed. We put our phones through a lot in a day, between touching them with our oily fingers, stuffing them in our pockets and sometimes dropping them on the ground. Keep it clean for sharper, clearer images. It doesn't take the world's most expensive camera to snap a priceless shot. As you prepare for your trip, familiarize yourself with your smartphone's camera features and play with photography apps to find the one you like best. Even if you bring nothing with you on your polar expedition than your iPhone, a waterproof case and a keen eye, you will be ready to capture stunning images of the wildlife and scenery around you!

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