So you have made the leap. Congratulations, you have bought your ticket to Antarctica. Now the hard part starts. What camera gear are you going to bring to capture this beautiful landscape and its wildlife? I faced the same question before my own trip with Quark Expeditions. After endless days of research, talking to people who had been there and now drawing upon my years of expertise as a travel photographer and my own experience photographing images in Antarctica, I have put together this list of must haves for you camera bag. This list will allow you to bring back the best images possible from the most extraordinary trip you'll ever take.
I took 2 DSLR Bodies (Canon 5D MKII and a Canon T3i) as well as a P&S (Olympus Tough 810).
The two DSLR bodies worked well as I was able to have a wide lens on one and a zoom lens on the other. In that environment 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 great for video when we were kayaking, but I was not overly satisfied with the image quality. I would recommend 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.
This is the hardest decision and is pretty personal depending what you already have in camera bag. But if there ever was a time to get some new gear this is it. Ideally you would carry one wide angle and one long zoom lens. Here is what I brought:
Wide Angle: 16-35mm F/2.8. For me, as a professional travel photographer, this has been my go to lens for years. Fast and sharp it is perfect for those sweeping landscapes of the Antarctic. It is a perfect combo with the FF 5DMKII. If you only have crop sensor bodies, like a 60D, 7D or a T3i, and plan on sticking with them, I would recommend something like the EFS 10-22 F/3.5-4.5. Great quality for a non-professional lens and gives you the equivilent of 16-35mm on a cropped sensor camera.
Long Zoom: 70-200mm F/2.8. I love this lens. Though it may be heavy, it is a top perfomer and sharp as a tack. I put this on the T3i which gave me a reach of approx. 320mm, which for me was plenty as you can get fairly close to the wildlife. If you wanted to get some extra reach I would recommend getting a 1.4 Telecoverter. If you are visiting the Falklands and have some extra cash you might want to rent a 300mm F/2.8 or 500mm F/4 lens but these will probably be too long for South Georgia or the Antarctic Peninsula.
**Option** If you only have a budget for one lens I would recommend the Canon 24-105mm F/4. It performs well and will get you through most situations.
I brought 3 batteries for each body which was plenty. I never went through all of them in one day. Just be sure to keep them close to your body when not in use and they will last at least a day. I chose not to use a battery grip on this trip as I wanted to eliminate any unnecessary gaps that water or condensation could sneak in to. I know one person who was using his, and his camera failed. We thought this could have been the reason why.
I brought a polarizing filter which I used a few times. It helps with reflections on the water and improving the saturation. I would recommend bringing one. It doesn’t weigh much and there are definite situations you can use it in. Just remember to put it on outside of the ship so no condensation builds up between the lens and the filter.
This is another difficult question as weight is such an issue. I brought mine as I was shooing 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 HDR shots. If you are looking for extra stability I would recommend bringing a Monopod instead, It is lighter and more versatile.
If you are going to bring all this gear, you'll need a place to put it all. I personally use F-Stop Gear. There stuff is made for adventure. I used a F-Stop Loka with a large ICU. This works nicely to fit all of my gear and is comfortable to wear as well. I also brought an F-Stop Dry Bag that I used for all my needs in the kayak and zodiac.
Ziplock 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 3 cameras. I found these really large ziplocks that I could fit the whole ICU in and zip it up. This allowed the cameras to warm up at there own speed. Just make sure to put the cameras in the bag while still outside and dispell all of the air out of them.
Plastic Rainsleeves: You can use ziplock bags with a whole cut in them but I found these to be much more convenient. Especially when it was snowing like crazy while we were touring on the Zodiac one day. It was covered in snow but kept the camera and lens dry while I was shooting.
Laptop & External HDD: I brought my laptop and two external HDD. I am very careful about backups so I make sure there are minimum 2 different places my images are stored. You will be taking a lot of photos so bring a lot of memory cards and download and back up your photos. You would hate to have that memory card fail with all of you images on it right?
Conclusion: The ideal setup for me would be Canon 5DMKIII, Canon 7D with 16-35, 24-105, 70-200, 1.4TC.
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 that eye away from the eye peice once and a while and enjoy the natural beauty that is Antarctica.
Dave Bouskill is a photographer and the male half of the travel couple The Planet D. Married for 15 years, he’s visited over 80 countries on 7 continents with his wife Debra inspiring people to follow their dreams and push their boundaries. Currently he’s a 2013 American Express Ambassador and Real Life Potentialist. 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’s appeared on TV as a regular travel expert, been featured in such publications as Men's Health, Lonely Planet Traveller, The National Post, BBC Travel, National Geographic and has spoken around the world about pursuing your passion.