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What Photography Gear Should You Bring to Antarctica?

7 min read

This popular guest post by Dave Bouskill, photographer and half of the travel couple The Planet D was first published in 2013.

Congratulations! You've bought your ticket to Antarctica! You've made the leap, and now it's time to decide which camera gear to bring to capture the beautiful landscapes and wildlife.

I faced the same question before my own trip with Quark Expeditions®.

Whale bones set against a spectacular backdrop in Antarctica.

After endless days of research, talking to people who had been there, and drawing on my years of expertise as a travel photographer (including photographing images in Antarctica), I've put together this list of must-haves for your camera bag. This will help you bring back the best photographs and videos possible from the most extraordinary trip you'll ever take!

6 Must-Have Pieces of Antarctic Photography Gear

1. DSLR vs. Point & Shoot?

I recommend both. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I took the following:

  • 2 DSLR bodies (a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon T3i)
  • 1 P&S (Olympus Tough 810)

The 2 DSLR bodies worked well, as I was able to have a wide lens on one and a zoom lens on the other. In polar environments, you want to avoid changing lenses if you can, and this configuration allows you to be ready for any situation.

The P&S worked best for some happy snaps and was good for video when we were kayaking, but I was not overly satisfied with the image quality. I'd suggest something a little more robust, like the Canon G12 with a waterproof housing (if you are kayaking) – it takes great images and fits in your pocket. Pick up a pair of sensor gloves, which make it easy to snap pics on the fly, even with your touchscreen smartphone.

A long lens will help you get up close and personal wildlife shots without being intrusive.

2. Lenses

This is the hardest decision and is pretty personal, depending on what you already have in your camera bag. But if ever there was a time to get some new gear, this is it. Ideally, you would carry one wide-angle and one long zoom lens. Here's what I brought on our Antarctic adventure:

Tip: If you can only budget for one lens, I recommend the Canon 24-105mm f/4. It performs well and will get you through most situations.

  • Wide angle: 16-35mm f/2.8. As a professional travel photographer, I'd say this has been my go-to lens for years. Fast and sharp, it's perfect for those sweeping landscapes of the Antarctic region, and it makes for a perfect combo with the full-frame 5D Mark II. If you only have crop sensor bodies, like a Canon 60D, 7D or T3i, and plan on sticking with them, I recommend the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 – it provides great quality for a non-professional lens and gives you the equivalent of 16-35mm on a crop sensor camera.
  • Long zoom: 70-200mm f/2.8. I love this lens. Though it may be heavy, it's a top performer and sharp as a tack. I put this on the T3i, which gave me a reach of approximately 320mm. That is plenty, as you can get fairly close to wildlife with it. If you want additional reach, I suggest getting a 1.4 teleconverter. If you're visiting the Falkland Islands and have some extra cash, you might want to rent a 300mm f/2.8 or 500mm f/4 lens; however, these will probably be too long for South Georgia or the Antarctic Peninsula.
A Gentoo penguin feeds its young in Antarctica.

3. Batteries

I had 3 batteries for each body, which was more than enough (I never went through all of them in a day). Just be sure to keep them close to your body when not in use, so they will last at least a day. I didn't use a battery grip on this trip, since I wanted to eliminate any unnecessary gaps that water or condensation could sneak into. One passenger was using his, and his camera failed. We thought this could have been the reason why.

4. Filters

I recommend bringing a polarizing filter. It helps with reflections on the water and improving the colour saturation. Plus, it doesn't weigh much and there are definite situations where you can use it – I used mine a few times. Remember to put it on your lens outside of the ship, so no condensation builds up between the lens and the filter.

Ice flows are part of the unique photographic landscape in Antarctica.

5. Tripod

This is another difficult question, as weight is such an issue. I brought mine, since I was shooting video and some time-lapse sequences, but overall I shot a lot handheld. When I did use my tripod on land, it was mostly for high-dynamic-range (HDR) shots. If you are looking for extra stability, I'd bring a monopod instead, as it's lighter and more versatile.

Tip: Consider bringing a monopod rather than at tripod, for stability without the added weight.

6. Camera Bag

If you're bringing all this gear, you'll need a place to put it. I prefer F-Stop Gear, which is made for adventure. I used a with a large internal camera unit (ICU). It fit all of my gear and was comfortable to wear. I also brought an F-Stop dry bag, which I used for all my needs in the kayak and Zodiac.

The Antarctic is a great place for amateur and professional photographers alike to hone their wildlife photography skills.

3 Must-Have Photography Accessories for Antarctica

1. Zip-Top Bags

These are perfect for protecting your camera when coming in from a cold environment to a warm ship. I saw condensation kill at least three cameras during our expedition. I found these really large zip-top bags that fit the whole ICU, allowing the cameras to warm up at their own speed. Make sure you put the cameras in the bag while you're still outside, and also remove all of the air before fully zipping up the bag.

2. Plastic Rainsleeves

You can use zip-top bags with a hole cut in them, but I found these to be much more convenient, especially when it was snowing like crazy while we were touring in the Zodiac. Although the sleeve was covered in snow, it kept the camera and lens dry while I was shooting.

3. A Laptop & External HDDs

I brought my laptop and 2 external hard drives. I am very careful about backups, so I make sure to store my images on a minimum of 2 different places. You'll be taking a lot of photos, so bring a lot of memory cards and regularly download and backup your pictures. You'd hate to have that memory card fail with all of you images on it!

Dave's Ideal Antarctic Photography Setup

Waterproof camera gear or protective casings are important for Antarctic kayakers.

The ideal setup for me would be a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 7D with 16-35mm, 24-105mm and 70-200mm lenses, plus a 1.4 teleconverter.

So that about does it! With these suggestions and tips, you should be able to come back with some amazing images. Enjoy your experience and remember to take your eye away from the eyepiece once in awhile and enjoy the natural beauty that is Antarctica.

Editor's note: Please keep in mind that fly/cruise expedition charter flights to your point of embarkation have limited luggage capacity. Contact a Polar Travel Adviser to learn more.

Want to learn more?

Dave Bouskill is a photographer and half of the travel couple The Planet D. Married for 15 years, he has visited over 80 countries on 7 continents with wife Debra, inspiring people to follow their own dreams and to push their boundaries. He's also a part of the F-Stop Photography Pro-Team. He's been featured in the Expedia Find Yours media campaign and is a Travel and Escape New Nomad. Dave has appeared on TV as a regular travel expert, and he has been featured in Men's Health, Lonely Planet Traveller, the National Post, National Geographic and BBC Travel. He has also spoken around the world about pursuing your passion. To check out more of Dave's images from Antarctica, please visit his gallery.

You can also follow Dave on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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