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5 Tips For Capturing Amazing Wildlife Photos In Antarctica

Antarctica is a dazzling destination. Blue glaciers, dramatic ice cliffs, and pure white carpets of snow create the perfect canvas against which to capture dramatic wildlife photographs. Or capture your subject against the azure sapphire of the icy seas, or in the powerful tumult of Antarctica’s Drake Passage.

Penguins, jaegers, leopard seals, elephant seals, humpback whales, and if you are lucky, the mysterious Type D orca. These are some of the spectacular photographic subjects that travelers from across the world dream of capturing, on an Antarctica expedition.

Here are 5 tips for capturing amazing wildlife photos in Antarctica.

Different Focuses: Wildlife And Their Environments

Capturing a wildlife photo of just one animal, or a part of it can make for a very beautiful image. A close-up of a single penguin against the icy blue Antarctic sky, for example, or the facial expression of a seal about to dive into the water. 

But it’s also important to capture Antarctica’s wildlife in its natural environments. This allows you to give viewers of your photos a more holistic experience of the animals you are photographing, allowing them a glimpse into their world and lives.

An Elephant bull seal in the context of its colony shows its massive size in comparison to the females. And an albatross in flight amidst other seabirds can suggest the immense size of the wingspan of this bird.

A High-Quality Pixel Phone Could Be Useful

You wouldn’t think so, but having a high-quality-pixel phone can capture some of the best wildlife photos in the Antarctic. This is because they don’t require lens changes, and most often automatically adjust to a focal point in front of you. So if a whale suddenly breaches or approaches to investigate, you can snap the moments quickly.

Some tips for photographing with your smartphone include inverting your phone, so the camera is on eye level with your subject. This allows the whale or penguin to fill the frame. 

Using a macro lens attachment, which is small and lightweight so won’t add to the equipment you’re carrying with you, allows you to get the shallow depth that you would with a DSLR camera. This is great for making a seal stand out against its background. 

Make sure to activate burst mode if you’re following a seabird in action, or dolphins breaching and diving. This will increase your chances of capturing the perfect image you’re looking for.

Be careful of using the zoom function on your phone, as it tends to pixelate your image the more you zoom in. It is possible to attach a telephoto lens to your phone, though these are most often used with digital cameras, you can also use the leading lines that nature naturally creates for you. For example, a piece of drifting ice could lead the viewer’s eyes to a penguin about to jump into the water. 

The Right Specs For The Right Shot

When shooting wildlife in Antarctica, a telephoto lens is very valuable – it can capture details while allowing you to keep your distance from the animals. This is great for shooting Elephant seals, or nesting birds that you don’t want to disturb.

With penguins, it’s recommended that you use a wide-angle lens. You won’t need a fast shutter speed for these more sedentary birds, with the same applying to shooting seals. Because of this, it can be valuable to bring a tripod along if you’re shooting on land.

When photographing whales and dolphins, you’ll most often be capturing them from your ship or a zodiac, and they’ll more often than not be quite far away from you. So a zoom lens of 100 to 400mm, even going up to 600mm, will help you get “up close and personal” with them.

Getting a striking image of a whale surfacing against its backdrop is best captured using a wide-angle lens. To ensure you don’t miss these mighty creatures breaching suddenly, use your camera’s burst function. 

This also helps with seabirds diving for fish and resurfacing with their prey. Ensure that you use a fast shutter speed of 1/2000 to 1/4000th of a second for capturing those perfect moments with birds and whales.

If possible, have two cameras with different lenses. You can then capture photos with time to play with angles, zoom, etc., on one camera, but have the second wide-angle lens to capture sudden moments. You may miss quick opportunities if you have to switch between lenses.

Ditch The Extras And Take Only The Essentials

Take as little equipment as you can get away with. Thermal clothing already adds weight, plus you’ll be navigating rough terrain as you hunt for your photographic subjects and the perfect shot.

Extra flash equipment is wasted. It adds weight and is pretty functionless with the high light of the midnight sun in the Antarctic. 

You can even leave the tripod behind to lighten the load. 

The most essential thing to take a long is extra batteries or an external battery pack. The cold of the Antarctic causes batteries to drain more quickly, even if all extra camera functions are turned off. 

One of the most important tips we can offer is to back up your photos. There is nothing worse than having an accident and losing all your incredible images from your trip. 

Tips For Photographing Different Types Of Wildlife

Penguins On Land

Look for unusual behavior or interactions, or penguins engaging with their chicks. You can make these peppy birds stand out using the longest zoom you have, and then blur the background out with a large aperture.

If the day is a bit overcast, increase your ISO to ensure that your shutter speed is fast enough. And on brighter days, try to underexpose your image a bit as the black and white coloring of the penguins tends to have very high contrast. You can always add shadows at the editing stage.

Seals On Land And Sea

A good tip for photographing seals is to get low, onto their level, and shoot them head-on. Bring their faces to the viewer’s attention using a wide aperture lens, then soften the rest of the seal as well as its background.

If you’re on a zodiac, having a waterproof Go-Pro with a selfie stick either attached to the zodiac or held firmly as you lean over the side, can get some fantastic in-action underwater shots.

Capturing good images of seals on the ice, from the zodiac, requires a fast shutter speed and wide aperture – around/5.6 to f/8.

Whales And Dolphins At Sea

The first trick is to be familiar with the way that these sea animals move and breach. From the first blow to the surfacing of the dorsal fin, you’ll know exactly when to snap that perfect shot.

It’s always a good idea to get these animals within the context of their backgrounds. It makes the images far more dramatic and interesting. A wide-angle lens helps to incorporate them into the background, with a zoom allowing you to capture them resting at the surface of the water.

Seabirds In Flight

One of the hardest things to capture is a bird in flight. Use your longest zoom, and a fast shutter speed of 1/2000, but ideally 1/4000. 

Have a small selection of focus points on the bird – a single point can make it hard to get that exact point, while too many could have your camera automatically focusing on the sea instead.

Make sure to use your burst mode or sports mode to capture multiple photos. That way there’s more chance of finding your perfect one – and you can delete the others.

A final suggestion is to observe the bird’s flight pattern, then when you’re ready, hold down the shutter and pan with the bird as it flies.

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