It goes without saying that someone interested in traveling to Antarctica can’t simply go online, book a flight and hotel, pack their bags, and shove off like they would for most other international destinations. It can be a daunting task trying to find a reputable tour company that is a good fit for you.
I’ve been to Antarctica multiple times and have traveled with more than one tour company. Personally, I recommend Polar Latitudes for someone who has a keen interest in photography. Among other eco-experts at your disposal, Polar Latitudes has a staffed professional photographer on each voyage to instruct its expedition members both onboard and out in the field. It really doesn’t matter if you’ve never picked up a camera or are a professional yourself. You will undoubtedly come back home with the best images possible and expand your technical knowledge.
Best Time to Travel
For starters, I would avoid the Austral winter, unless you are a research professional who doesn’t have the luxury of picking a time of year to travel. Having said that, there isn’t a “best time” to travel to Antarctica but what you are able to photograph will depend on the time of the year. The Antarctic tour season typically runs from November to March (remember, the seasons are reversed from those in the northern hemisphere). Generally, penguins are on their nests with eggs or giving birth to baby chicks from November to January. Newborn chicks (like the one pictured below at Port Lockroy, Antarctica) can usually be photographed towards the end of the season in January through March.
Traveling with Kids
Given its remoteness and limited access to the outside world, children under 12 years old are generally not permitted to travel to Antarctica with tour companies. However, companies like Polar Latiudes encourage children (like John and Michelle Bourland pictured below) to join trips. Undoubtedly, kids who have an opportunity like this will continue to develop their passion for photography and become ambassadors for the conservation of our polar regions. John and Michelle, who were attached at my hip during our December 2014 trip, joined the mirrorless revolution and were developing their skills with a Sony Alpha a7.
Proper Exposure for Highlights is Crucial
The most important tip for successful polar photography is to always meter on your highlights (oh…did I say always meter on your highlights?). Monitor your histogram frequently, especially on sunny days. Be sure not to clip your bright whites. Even try slightly underexposing your image, like I did with these Chinstrap Penguins pictured below.
This can be accomplished by using the exposure compensation feature on your camera body. If you aren’t sure where to find the exposure compensation feature, make sure to locate it and master operating it before you leave. It’s the little +/- button used in conjunction with your command dial.
Consider a Different Perspective
Every photographer likes to shoot with long glass, like a Nikon 600mm f/4G AF-S ED VR. However, you’d be surprised what a little patience and a less powerful lens can produce. Penguins are not shy. They are very curious, actually. They even travel in groups along a “penguin highway” or defined paths in high traffic areas. Consider sitting down, within an acceptable distance of a highway, and you may have an unexpected guest allowing you to capture an image with a shorter lens (like this King Penguin I photographed with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S ED VR II on South Georgia Island).
Consider Black and White Images
I have written about this topic in previous blog posts but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Many of us share a fondness for B&W images. When we get back home, we often forget to convert some of our digital images that may be better suited in monochrome before we consider them unworthy. Try B&W conversions with some your polar images, particularly in situations where you have an image that you feel is unacceptable due to extreme contrast, has washed out colors, or is overexposed (like I did with this lone Gentoo Penguin on a small bit of floating ice).
Prepare to get wet, it’s unavoidable. There are ways to ensure you stay warm and keep your gear dry. Here are a couple tips:
• While traveling to and from the ship and landings on a zodiac, wear a pair of simple industrial grade rubber gloves that you can buy from any local hardware store. Keep your winter gloves in your gear bag (like a Gura Gear 26L Bataflae).
• Use an Aqua Tech SS-300 Sport Shield Rain Cover to protect your gear from the elements.
A Final Word
While traveling in any protected area occupied by wild animals, please be respectful of the environment. Leave the place as you found it and keep acceptable distances from the wildlife for your safety and theirs. If you are one of the few fortunate people who travel to Antarctica or another polar region, we hope this information will help you capture some great images. Share the experience so that others may go and help protect this amazing place.