The changeable weather in Antarctica can be a harsh environment for your camera gear. As you can imagine, there is no photography shop on board and Amazon won’t be delivering you new gear to the ship the next day, even using prime! Protecting your camera gear in Antarctica is therefore critical.
If you are fortunate enough to have a 2nd camera, even if it’s an old one, it’s worth taking it as a spare. The last thing you want is a camera issue for your trip of a lifetime.
If you don’t have a spare it’s worth considering hiring a 2nd camera body, just make sure it’s something you’re familiar with and is compatible with your lenses!
What is more, having a 2nd camera body gives you the ability to have two different lenses on two cameras, removing the need to change lenses in what could be a harsh environment.
Phone case & lanyard
Take a waterproof case for your phone, or if your phone is waterproof, a lanyard to go around your neck. Zodiacs bouncing around in the waves is an easy way to lose your phone (and all your photos/videos) overboard.
A phone certainly comes in handy to capture the moment, when it’s not possible to access your camera fast enough.
Most would think Antarctica is very cold, and yes, in winter at the South Pole, the average temperature is around -50°C! However, during the tourist season for the Antarctica Peninsular, the sea ice has melted enough for landings to be possible and therefore the weather is far milder at around 0°C. Read more about the weather in Antarctica. Although the temperatures are relatively mild and you may not need to protect your gear from extreme cold, it’s a different story when it comes to rain, snow and waves coupled with strong winds.
Read all about camera gear to take to Antarctica in Essential camera gear for Antarctica photography. If you own a Nikon DSLR you may be interested in the Best lenses for Nikon D7200 for travel photography
When on deck, it’s easy to retreat back inside through the nearest door, therefore taking your camera without a cover/bag is perfectly fine. However, it is definitely worth taking a bag with additional lenses and a lens cloth. The last thing you want is to have to run back to your room to get a zoom lens to get a shot of a whale or passing albatross when you only took your wide angle!
Zodiac general advice
Whether you’re going on a cruise around the icebergs or to a landing spot, your mode of transportation is likely going to be a zodiac (an inflatable boat with an outboard engine).
This is the time your gear will need maximum protection. The slightest waves will create spray, and if you’re near the bow you’re almost certainly going to get wet. If you can, try to sit near the back: this way everyone in front can protect you from the spray! It also means that you are closer to the driver and can communicate with them easily if you want to stand or get closer to a particular iceberg or composition you have in mind.
This being said, some of the best shots can be taken from the zodiac, so ensuring you get the correct balance between access and protection is key, and this depends on the weather.
It’s also worth being sensible with your lens choice. Taking a huge bazooka-type lens on a zodiac is a great way to give others a black eye and get some blurry photos! Unless you’re the onboard photographer, a huge Pelican case full of gear probably isn’t going to be the best choice either.
Zodiac: calm weather
On the zodiac, if the weather is good and the sea is calm, you can tuck your camera under your waterproof jacket. It’s a bit tricky with the life jacket but it is possible and more accessible than in a bag. Top tip: get a jacket large enough to fit your camera under so take your camera to the jacket fitting!
The last thing you want is it swinging around when you get on the zodiac!
Still keep any spare gear in a rucksack, either within a waterproof bag or with a waterproof cover. It’s wet on the floor, and the risk of spray on your back is high. However, don’t bury it away too much, as you don’t want to waste your time looking around in your bag when time is of the essence.
Also, you can’t place your bag down on the snow due to biosecurity reasons. So bear that in mind when deciding on a bag/storage solution. I went with a regular backpack with a waterproof bag inside, which worked well, if not a bit overkill (we were very fortunate to not have many wet/windy days!).
I didn’t want to risk changing lenses on landings. See how I was able to get shots like this with the same lens in this post on lens choice (coming soon).
Chinstrap Penguin, Orne Harbour & Icebergs and mountains, Yalour Islands
Top tip: if you are not in the first group to venture out, take a look at others on zodiacs to assess the conditions. It is also a great time to get some shots of the zodiacs to give a sense of scale.
As with the zodiac, access to your camera and adequate protection is key.
Top tip: Unless you need them, or they are mandatory, avoid using walking poles. It will free up both your hands enabling you to focus on using your camera.
Keep your camera out and accessible. Look to explore as much of the landing site as possible to really make the most of it, and also give you time to scope out compositions.
The ideal is to have a camera body and lenses which are weather sealed. If not, keep your gear under your jacket until your need it. Rain covers are an option, but ensure they definitely cannot blow away.
If there is snow or rain, your lens cloths will be your best friend! I even had others asking to borrow my lens cloth! Also worth having your lens hood on to help reduce raindrops on the lens front element.
Top tip: If it’s snowing or raining, always consider the wind direction when your lens cap is off, keeping your lens facing away from the wind. The same applies to taking photos, although not always possible. This will reduce the amount of time spent wiping your lens clear.
In the cabin
Yes, even in the cabin looking after your gear is important!
Don’t be tempted to lay out all your lenses and camera on a shelf or desk like you would at home. The Drake Passage can be very rough, and things can move around. Keep your gear on the floor, this way it can’t fall anywhere! Ideally, keep everything in a bag to avoid things rolling around. Keeping your kit on the floor was a tip provided by our onboard photographer. He told me a horror story of someone leaving a 600mm F4 on a desk, which fell to the floor on the Drake damaging it beyond repair.
Cleaning your gear
Finally, at the end of each day make sure your gear is clean, considering the following:
- Cleaning the outside of your camera body and lenses. A damp cloth works well. If you did get any spray on your camera or lenses be sure to clean them, salt water is your camera’s worse enemy.
- Carefully clean the front element of your lenses, always use a blower first to remove any sand or grit in order to not scratch the glass.
- Check and clean your sensor if needed. The last thing you want is to be removing dust spots from all your images when you return home. Top tip: Take a photo of something white, like a wall, with the smallest possible aperture (Highest f/stop) and your longest focal length (if using a zoom lens). Then take a look across the image at ideally 100%. This is the best way to reveal any dust spots on your sensor.
- Dry / shake out your microfiber cloths.
- Also, charge your batteries and backup photos from your SD cards!