Practical Tips: What Gear I Used and Why Plus Some Suggestions
My Camera Kit
I took two bodies and three lenses: Canon 5D Mark III and Mark IV. My Canon 24-70mm f/2.8; 70-200mm f/2.8; and 200-400mm f/4 with 1.4 converter.
This kit gave me a lot of flexibility for wide shots and varying distances of Antarctic wildlife and landscape elements such as icebergs.
Antarctica (I’m including South Georgia/Falkland Islands) throws wonderful photographic opportunities at you constantly. But rarely at consistent focal lengths.
I carried two bodies for this reason. One fitted with a long lens for distance and the other for wide angles. You don’t want to risk changing lenses in the field with the wind, sand, snow, or saltwater. At best, you’ll nick your sensor. At worst, something gets into your camera that permanently damages it––no Bueno.
If you don’t own a second camera, I highly recommend renting. It is a smart and affordable solution if you don’t own two bodies. I’ve used Borrowlenses on and off for years. You can order online, and they ship it to you. It’s simple and a fraction of the cost of a new camera. Renting is also a smart way to test out new gear without committing.
What kind of bag and how a photographer accesses her gear in the field are preferences developed over time. You learn what works best for you in the doing. I always use my Gura Gear Kiboko 22L as the main transit bag. I also brought a large waterproof duffle in Antarctica to protect my Kiboko during all the landings. (For more info: Why I feel Gura Gear’s Kiboko Backpack is the Best DSLR Camera Bag)
Zodiacs travel at a decent clip unless you’re taking a leisurely tour, zodiacs travel at a decent clip. Random splashes or fine saltwater spray inevitably pools on the boat floor with your bag.
Unless your camera bag is 100% waterproof (water resistant isn’t sufficient), I recommend a waterproof duffle to shield your bag from water, sand, bad weather, and nosy wildlife.
Most of the time, I left my Kiboko in the duffle at the landing site, where staff members stood guard, and I returned to it as needed. I always prefer to walk around as light as possible.
On South Georgia Island, however, there were times I’d explore far from the landing site, and then I wore my Kiboko.
I used my Black Rapid dual camera strap (FYI- it works with one camera as well), which I love for traditional travel and wildlife photography. Why? I like to be able to drop one camera by my side as I lift the other, and this camera strap makes that easy.
You can’t wear two camera straps crossbody without inhibiting movement. That leaves on camera hanging off a shoulder which I find irritating because it’s always sliding off. I also prefer not to pull a second camera from a backpack or other holders if I can avoid it.
Depending on how close I expected to be to subjects, I mounted either my 200-400 mm or 70-200 mm on one body. The 24-70 mm for environmental and landscape shots on the second.
On landings with this setup, however, I had to be mindful that the camera hanging by my side that I wasn’t using could hit the rocks, water, or snow when I knelt, which was often. I became proficient at balancing the unused camera on my lap while shooting with the other.
Cotton Carrier’s camera harness is another option. It’s especially helpful when you need both hands for something else. I wore mine during a trek when I knew I’d need both hands to use my walking poles for uphill climbs. You access the camera by sliding it up and out of a locking mechanism on the harness and using a hand strap to hold it.
A harness is a great option if your camera is a relatively short wide-angle lens. I found attaching my longer 70-200 mm lens uncomfortable. I think owners with mirrorless kits probably find it a better option. My DSLR is significantly heavier.
I didn’t bring my Cotton Carrier Antarctica because, knowing I would wear multiple layers under a parka, I felt the harness would feel constricting. But I did see other guests using theirs.
I highly recommend investing in kneepads for this trip. In Antarctica, there are rocks, ice, jagged sand, or all three on land. Richard I’Anson, an excellent Australian photographer, suggested I bring a pair, and I am so grateful he did. Donning my kneepads, I could comfortably shoot from low angles as long as needed. Since the trip, I’ve continued to use them on questionable terrain, including city streets.
The weather in Antarctica is volatile. A cloudless blue sky can turn to rain or snow, seemingly without warning. Rain sleeves will protect your gear when the conditions become rough.
A good microfiber cloth and cleaning solution should always be part of your basic camera kit. For Antarctica, bring multiple cloths with you on landings in case one gets wet. In addition, bring a kleenex or other absorbent material to soak up water on your lenses, then follow up with the microfiber.
Tripod or No Tripod?
I rarely use a tripod unless I’m indoors or for night photography. I feel I lose my spontaneity. I can’t change position easily, and it’s cumbersome. But for those who prefer support for a long (heavier) lens, a tripod is a solution.
Ken Shew, a guest on the cruise, explains why he used a tripod. “By having [my camera] on the tripod and remote switch, I don’t have to be steadfast in looking thru my viewfinder and holding steady the lens,… and I can take the shot [without] looking thru the viewfinder. I can pre-focus … and just watch what may happen.”
In the end, it’s whatever you feel will better suit your style of photography.
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