Photo Tips from the Pros – Shooting Antarctica

Wildlife Photographer Shooting Emperor Penguins Up Close

1)      Pre-Trip Considerations with a bit of hindsight after a few days

a.       Consider the need for back-up equipment / redundancies – on the Sea Adventurer (  Once you leave Ushuaia there isn’t a lot of options available to either repair or replace a piece of equipment if it goes wrong.

b.      Think about weather protection – you are almost certainly going to encounter bad weather while photographing (rain, high winds, hail, sandstorms, sea spray – and that was on just one landing).  As a minimum you will need something to dry the camera and if you are not using pro grade equipment that is suitably weather sealed, be extra careful that the elements are not going to destroy the electronics.

c.       Filters – there has been a lot of forum discussions about whether you should take filters.  I’m not a fan of UV filters as I don’t want to add an extra layer of (cheaper) glass in front of a (relatively expensive) lens.  A circular polarizing filter, however, can be very useful for bringing out contrast and reducing glare when the sun is out (there are lots of reflective surfaces out here).

d.      Lens hoods – take them, use them.  Religiously.  They protect the lens front from many of the elements and prevent lens flare when the sun is at the wrong angle.

e.      Familiarity with your equipment – if you are going to treat yourself to that nice new camera or lens, bite the bullet with sufficient time to become familiar with how they work. Using their various functions and capabilities needs to become second nature.  When an albatross is bombing past the side of the vessel, you don’t want to be trying to figure out where the focus point selector button is.

2)      Photographing Seabirds while on board ship

a.       A feature of any ship-based trip between Ushuaia and Antarctica or any of the surrounding island groups is that your vessel will be accompanied by numerous small, large, and very large seabirds.  While each present their own unique challenges, they all seem to possess an in-built ability to second guess you by changing direction just as you are about to press the shutter button.

b.      To combat this, the best tip (other than being familiar with the capabilities and functionality of your equipment) is to practice, practice, practice.  In these days of digital photography, practice is almost free.  Get used to tracking moving objects (try following cars as they approach you).

c.       Think about the background – the wake of the ship can be a useful background to create some interest rather than a white / grey sky.

d.      When photographing, spend some time looking at the patterns that the birds follow as they will tend to repeat it.  This will show you where the best place to stand will be as your ideal location is to have the birds alongside the ship and moving at approximately the same speed as the ship – this makes it easier to track the bird and enhance the composition.  As much as possible, stand on the rear quarter of the ship that is less windy.  Not only do you have to deal with moving birds, you will be moving as well due to the wind and the effects of the ship’s movement.  Minimize this as much as possible to increase the chances of a sharp picture.

e.      If the light allows it, increase your aperture as this will give you a shot with more of the bird in focus.

Northwinds Photography is husband and wife team, Dave and Dawn Wilson.  Their passion is for photographing the wildlife and natural landscapes of the world.

The Antarctic, and surrounding areas of South Georgia and The Falklands, have long been a wish list item as the variety of photographic opportunities on offer is unparalleled, and unique.  The list of ‘want-to-see’ items is naturally pretty extensive. Our hope, however, is to be able to expand our photographic horizons; experience and, hopefully, capture the magic of the location and the creatures that inhabit this inhospitable land; and to enrich our understanding and appreciation for the beauty and diversity of planet Earth.