What motivates us to travel varies from one individual to another. Sometimes a specific place presents an emotional connection. Often a destination takes root in our soul when we're young, either through a memorable movie, a great novel, or from listening to someone recount their travel adventures. What piques the curiosity of most travelers more than anything, however, are images of an unfamiliar or exotic destination.
Seasoned polar traveler Palmer Anson said: “I was only 12 years old when I flipped through a National Geographic collection of pictures of Antarctica that bordered on unreal. Tens of thousands of penguins on a shoreline. Then I flipped the page and was met with the massive head of a whale. Beautifully-produced pictures of Antarctica grabbed hold of my heart 25 years before I actually visited the 7th Continent.”
Here are 20 of our favorite pictures of Antarctica followed by resources from our expert photographers on how you can take the same kinds of photos.
Mystical Antarctic Islands
There are hundreds of Antarctic islands, some better known than others. Antarctic Islands include South Georgia Island, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, South Sandwich Islands, Falkland Islands, Deception Island, and Elephant Island, to name a handful.
Icebergs near Elephant Island. Photo: Nicky Souness
In our dedicated blog post, Exploring Elephant Island, we learn that Elephant Island, 150 miles north of Antarctica, is a rugged, inhospitable island that became the refuge for Sir Ernest Shackleton's crew in 1916. It first became known, of course, for its elephant seal population. Other inhabitants include migratory gentoo penguins, chinstrap penguins, and various species of seals.
Rock formations at Deception Island. Photo: David Merron
Deception Island, in the South Shetland Islands, figures in our story Spotlight on Deception Island: Ghosts of Adventurers Past. The former sealing and whaling station is off the northwest shores of the Antarctic Peninsula. The island is known for its prominent rock formations, such as Pete's Pillar and Raven's Rock, which make for excellent Antarctic landscape photographs.
The curiosity between penguins and humans is mutual at Deception Island. Photo: David Merron
The two chinstrap penguins in the above photograph are among the estimated 100,000 breeding pairs of Chinstraps that are found on the shores of Deception Island, which is an active volcanic island. Gentoo Penguins are also abundant on Deception Island.
Magellanic penguins approach a guest at Carcass Island, in the Falkland Islands archipelago. Photo: Nicky Souness
Carcass Island is a small island that's part of the Falkland Islands, which is included in the itinerary for the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings voyage. One of the largest populations of King penguins is found in this set of Antarctic Islands. Visitors can also observe Magellanic, Rockhopper, Macaroni and Gentoo penguins. Not everyone expects to encounter white sandy beaches on Antarctic Islands, which also make for excellent photographs.
Quark Expeditions guests arrive at the Almirante Brown Antarctic, Sanaviron Peninsula, which becomes an "island of ice"
at certain times of the year. Photo: Michelle Sole.
Almirante Brown Antarctic Base, or Brown Station as it's more commonly known, is an Argentine Antarctic base and scientific research station. The name honors the father of the Argentine Navy, Admiral William Brown. It's located along Paradise Harbor, Danco Coast, in Graham Land, on a peninsula that almost becomes an island of ice during extremely cold temperatures. The now long-abandoned base operated from 1954 until 1981. In recent years the base has been open for visitors on polar expeditions.
Port Lockroy, Antarctica.Photo: David Merron
Port Lockroy Base is located on Goudier Island in Port Lockroy Bay, west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The base is home to the most southerly operational post office in the world. The base appeals to polar history buffs. To learn why visitors are drawn to Port Lockroy, read Spotlight on Port Lockroy: A Living Museum & Haven for Gentoo Penguins.
Icebergs and Glaciers of Antarctica
A tabular iceberg floats in the Drake Passage. Photo: Michelle Sole.
Polar Explorer's Guide to Icebergs: Bergy Bits, Growlers & More explains the different types of icebergs visitors can expect to see in the Antarctic islands. The opportunity to view both the icebergs and glaciers of Antarctica has long drawn visitors to the 7th Continent. A tabular iceberg, pictured above, is formed when an iceberg breaks off an ice shelf resulting in a tabular-shaped iceberg with seemingly perfect vertical sides and a flat top. Some tabular icebergs can reach 160 kilometers (100 miles) long.
Quark Expeditions guests photograph an iceberg off Cuverville Island. Photo: David Merron
Quark Expeditions guests appreciate the chance to look through a “hole” in an iceberg in places such as Cuverville Island, which is in the Errera Channel between Arctowski Peninsula and Rongé Island, off the west coast of Graham Land in Antarctica. Cuverville Island has long attracted ornithologists, as well as amateur bird watchers, who come to see the populations of petrels and penguins.
Icebergs manifest in many different shapes and colors. Photo: David Merron
You'll notice from viewing numerous pictures of Antarctica that icebergs aren't always the same color. Many are white, others are surprisingly blue, some are striped or occasionally green, and others appear to have a mottled appearance depending on the light.
Most icebergs indeed look white instead of the natural blue and that's because of the densely packed snow covering. Snowflakes reflect all wavelengths of light equally which results in a sparkling white color. Some icebergs have multicolor patterns similar to striped candy.
Blue icebergs develop from older, deep glaciers which have undergone intense pressure for hundreds of years. When long-wavelength light from the sun hits the iceberg, it's absorbed rather than reflected. The light transmitted through the ice therefore appears as blue or blue green.
The Antarctic landscape offers visitors so many unforgettable photos ops: enchanting mountains of Antarctica, Antarctic wildlife, icebergs and glaciers, rugged coastlines, seemingly mystical Antarctic Islands, and more.
Snow-covered peaks in Antarctica. Photo: David Merron
Whether you're walking during a shore landing during an Antarctic voyage, seated in a Zodiac, or standing on the deck of a polar vessel, you'll undoubtedly feel dwarfed by the mammoth snow-capped mountains in the distance, which forever reminds us of how small we are in the greater scheme of things. Nature is so much bigger at times!
Grytviken, South Georgia, where visitors can pay respects at the grave of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Photo: David Merron
The small settlement of Grytviken, on South Georgia Island, is significant in the annals of polar history. In our blog titled South Georgian Grytviken Church Centenary: Remembering a Storied Past & Looking to the Future, readers will get a sense of the kind of terrain surrounding Grytviken, and its importance to the legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who lies buried here at the small church graveyard.
A burst of color at West Point Island in the Falklands. Photo: David Merron
As an archipelago of sub-Antarctic islands, the Falkland Islands tend to surprise travelers in various ways. Many first-time visitors are astounded by the colorful vegetation at places such as West Point Island—and by the 2,000 black-browed albatrosses that live here, as well as the coastal views and dramatic cliffs. The floral and beach settings similarly produce some of the best pictures of Antarctica.
Quark Expeditions guests photograph ice formations at Port Charcot Bay, Antarctica. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Two Quark Expeditions guests, as seen in the above photograph, get ready to photograph huge chunks of differently shaped ice formations in Port Charcot, a small bay located at the north tip of Booth Island. Because the light is so different – and sometimes ever-changing on Antarctic expeditions —it's wise to prepare in advance. Here are some Antarctic Expedition photography tips to help you.
Wildlife of Antarctica
Antarctica, with its large populations of wildlife species, has been described by videographer and photographer Hugo Perrin as “the Disneyland of Antarctic wildlife.” The staggering numbers of, penguins, sea birds, seals, whales, and walruses make for excellent pictures of Antarctica.
Adelie penguins are small but feisty. Photo: David Merron
You'll want to brush up on your penguinology before heading south to take pictures of Antarctica, or simply attend one of the onboard presentations by polar experts. Antarctic wildlife will obviously feature in many of your photographs. As you can see in the above photo, Adelie penguins seem to wait for their photo opp. Check out our Meet Five Fascinating Antarctic Penguins for some extra inspiration.
Humpback whale puts on a show for Quark Expeditions guests in Neko Harbour. Photo: David Merron
Visitors to Neko Harbour, an inlet of the Antarctic Peninsula on the west coast of Graham Land, have frequently lucked out with memorable whale sightings, especially of humpback whales, which you can learn more about in Best time to see whales in Antarctica.
A massive penguin rookery on Gold Coast, South Georgia Island. Photo: David Merron
Gold Harbour, on South Georgia Island, is inhabited by tens of thousands of King penguins and, in lesser but not insignificant numbers, gentoo penguins. You can also expect to see plenty of elephant seals. South Georgia Island is often called the “Galapagos of the South Seas” because of its rich biodiversity.
This leopard seal doesn't seem bothered by the Zodiac of admirers in Cierva Cove. Photo: David Merron
Polar explorers and leopard seals are equally drawn to Cierva Cove, a secluded spot on the Antarctic peninsula at the northern end of Hughes Bay. Leopard seals, which are known for their grace and prowess, can weigh up to 454 kilos (1,000 pounds). Their sometimes quizzical looks perhaps explain why leopard seals find their way into so many pictures of Antarctica
A King penguin rookery on South Georgia Island. Photo: David Merron
King penguins are the second-largest penguin species after Emperor penguins. They're frequently observed in rookeries numbering 10,000 or more throughout Antarctica. Check out our King Penguin video to see adults waddling along together with their baby chicks!
The Antarctic Tern, also known as the Arctic Tern. It thrives in both poles. Photo: David Merron
Antarctic Terns (a.k.a. Arctic Terns) are one of the few species that you can photograph with almost equal success in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Spending seasons in both Polar Regions, they are known for having the longest migratory path of any animal species on the planet. Learn everything you've ever wanted to know about these birds in the Arctic Tern Facts: World's Longest Migratory Route and more report.
Elephant seal pups congregate in Gold Harbour, South Georgia. Photo: David Merron
Photographers capture elephant seals in various parts of the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic, especially in South George Island. As evident in this photograph, elephant seals frequently share the shorelines with penguins.
How to see Antarctica and capture these moments on camera
It's almost impossible to visit the 7th Continent and not take amazing pictures of Antarctica. But first, you must get there. Joining an Antarctic voyage that's led by seasoned polar expedition guides is crucial. Quark Expeditions' team includes seasoned polar experts in Antarctic wildlife, glaciology, and penguin-ology, among other areas of expertise. Expedition guide and photographer Acacia Johnson's article, Why I Love Traveling to the Falkland Islands as a Landscape and Wildlife Photographer, shares insight into what photographers, amateur or advanced, can do to take great pictures of Antarctica.
A couple of good resources to help you prepare for your Antarctic voyage—where you'll want to take the best pictures possible: Antarctic Expedition Photography Tips and What Photography Gear You Should Bring to Antarctica.
Another excellent resource is How to Shoot Your Best Video on a Polar Voyage, by Quark Expeditions' Video Content Specialist Dani Plumb and Director and Cinematographer Hugo Perrin. It makes sense that travelers who are keen to take great pictures of Antarctica will want to take videos, too.
Scenic Cruises to Antarctica
Any cruise to Antarctica is scenic by definition! It's almost impossible to take a bad photo in Antarctica.
Give some consideration in advance to your preferred subject matter. Do you want to take photos of penguins? Or would you prefer to focus on ice-covered Antarctic landscapes, such as icebergs and glaciers? Perhaps you're fixated on marine mammals such as whales. Or do the snow-capped mountains of Antarctica fascinate you the most?
Start by selecting the Antarctic voyage that best matches your travel photography goals. It's quite possible voyages like Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia entail everything your photo-loving heart desires. Or it's possible that nothing but a penguin safari will satisfy you. No worries. Itineraries such as South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari will reward you with more penguin photo ops than you ever dreamt were possible.
We hope these 20 breathtaking pictures of Antarctica inspire your travel dreams!