The icy landscapes and exotic wildlife found in polar expeditions simply beg to be photographed. Many of Quark's passengers have flexed their photography skills in the polar landscape, capturing sweeping icebergs, intimate wildlife views and even underwater marine life.
The extreme cold, snow, briny ocean water and condensation polar photographers face can seriously damage equipment if photographers aren't careful. With the right knowledge, preparation and a few extra accessories, however, polar photographers can easily protect their equipment and create the conditions they need to capture once in a lifetime memories.
Protecting Your Camera
If you're planning on using older, mechanical camera equipment, you will want to winterize your equipment by taking the camera apart and removing heavy lubricants, which can freeze and stick in extreme cold conditions. Instead, use low viscosity lubricants, or no lubricants at all. Newer digital cameras shouldn't need any special winterization.
The most important thing to avoid when handling your camera in polar conditions is “cold soaking”. This happens when your camera is allowed to reach full ambient temperature outside, and it's a recipe for a drained battery and possible mechanical malfunction. But avoiding cold soaking isn't hard. Digital cameras naturally generate internal heat as they operate, so they generally won't cold soak while in use. Keep the camera from getting too cold while you're not using it by putting it back in your pocket (if it's compact) or a well-insulated camera bag. Hand warming packs are also great tools for keeping your camera warm, while in use or in its bag. Avoid protecting your camera and equipment inside your coat, where your body's moisture can cause condensation buildup.
Ocean saltwater is another enemy to be wary of. Whenever photographing in or near the water, wipe your equipment down with a cloth as soon as you're done using it. Keep a small, soft cloth in your coat just in case.
Camera Batteries in Polar Conditions
Extreme cold temperatures drain camera batteries very quickly. Most polar photography experts recommend carrying at least two additional batteries per camera, as batteries can drain in as quickly as 45 minutes in polar conditions. Cold soaking will also drain spare batteries if they're left exposed, so when they're not in use it's best to keep these protected in an inside pants pocket or a sealed, insulated container (such as the SeaVault Capsule), accompanied by a hand warmer.
Protecting Lenses and Filters
Condensation buildup caused by dramatic changes in temperature is the biggest danger to lenses in polar conditions. This can be prevented by assembling lenses and filters outside, in the same environment (or temperature) you'll be using them in. When you're done for the day, camera equipment should be allowed to warm up gradually in a well-insulated equipment bag or cooler. Some polar photographers take the extra precaution of placing equipment in a sealed bag before placing them in insulation, to protect from condensation.
In especially snowy conditions, it's a good idea to keep a one-inch paintbrush on hand to remove any snow buildup from your lens.
Camera Bags, Tripods and Other Equipment
A well-insulated camera bag will insulate equipment from temperature shock, so the thicker the camera bag, the better. When it comes to choosing a tripod, standard tripods can be more of a hassle than a help in most polar expeditions. Most polar photography is handheld, so unless you plan on shooting extensive video, a monopod is the most practical choice.
If you're brave enough to venture underwater for the perfect marine shot, flexible waterproof camera cases are a simple and fairly inexpensive solution for just about any type of camera. These cases are available for both DSLR cameras and smartphones at Quark's shop.
Last but not least, remember to get the right gear for a photographer's most important equipment: your hands! Be sure to bring along warm gloves that are thin enough for you to shoot with.
Whether you've taken professional photos for years or are in the market for your first DSLR, a polar expedition is a photographer's playground. An aurora borealis-lit night in Greenland; vast king penguin colonies in South Georgia; ancient Inuit artifacts in the Arctic; whales at play in iceberg-laden waters; wherever your polar explorations take you, amazing photographic opportunities await. With the right equipment and care, your camera can help you retell your adventures on land and at sea, whatever the conditions.