Category Archives: Uncategorized

Five hot tips to maximise your Antarctic camping experience

While travelling to the Antarctic peninsula on the Antarctic Explorer trip with Quark Expeditions I was one of 30 passengers to spend a night camping on the ice.

Tip 1: Make sure you pick a trip where camping is offered 

Some companies do not offer camping on the ice as an option and, if the company you are travelling with does do camping options, those options may not be offered on every trip.  So make sure you do your research before selecting the trip you go on.

Tip 2: If you want to camp on the ice book ahead

We had 110 passengers on the Sea Spirit and a maximum of 30 were allowed to camp for a night.  On the departure I was on there were a few more passengers who wanted to camp but were unable to do so.

Tip 3: Know what you want to get out of the experience

We were given a choice of sleeping in a tent or in a bivvy sac. For me, sleeping in a bivvy sac felt like I would be getting the maximum out of the experience. The majority used bivvy sacs on our trip with one tent being used amongst the passengers and another tent was used by the three expedition staff. The two options are seen in the photo below with the bivvy sac in front. Antarctica14742 - print   One reason I was keen to camp on the ice was to experience some different photographic opportunities from those available during the day time excursions. Camping on the ice was the one time my tripod came out in Antarctica.  Unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned as the sky was overcast on the appointed evening. Antarctica14738 - printAntarctica14748 - print

Tip 4: The bivvy sac was easy to lay out

We received all the gear during the afternoon before camping. This included a bivvy sac,  sleeping bag, sleeping bag sheet and two sleeping mats (one went inside the bivvy sac and one lay between the ice and the bivvy sac). I put my yellow jacket Quark provides to all passengers on top of the bivvy sac and the boots Quark loans for the trip provided the structural basis for my pillow. Before leaving the Sea Spirit the whole bundle was rolled up so it was just a matter of rolling out the bundle and bed was ready once hitting the ice.

Tip 5:  Camping  experiences are different from day excursions When we walked into the area mapped out for camping we noticed a seal and a number of penguins. This was something to ponder given the stories we had heard about seals being found at the feet of passengers in the morning.  However, nothing of this nature was experienced in our group. Antarctica14693 - print After walking around for a while and taking photos we all settled into bed. Before I fell asleep, one of the things I noticed was the sounds from ice movement  and animal life (especially birds). The absence of other human background noise undoubtedly enhanced this experience.

For the record

The 30 intrepid passengers (yellow jackets) and 3 expedition staff (red jackets) who camped on the ice on the night of 11/12 February 2014 are shown in the photo below. Antarctica14740 - print


The diversity of Antarctic animal life: 39 species seen on my trip

You will see a lot of penguins when visiting Antarctica (see my previous blog post here) but don’t make the mistake of thinking that penguins are the only animal life you will see.  After my trip with Quark Expeditions we were given a full list of wildlife sightings while on the trip.  This list is too long to reproduce here but suffice to say along with the penguins I have previously described we saw:

  • four species of albatross
  • twelve species of petrel/shearwater
  • two species of cormorant
  • one species of sheathbill
  • three species of skua
  • four species of gull/tern
  • three species of whale
  • one species of dolphin
  • four species of seal/fur seal.

If you have been reading my blog posts you will know that all this was experienced on a trip exclusively to the Antarctic peninsula.

Following are a few of my favourite photos  showing animal life (excluding the penguins) in Antarctica.


Antarctica14267 - print Antarctica14670 - print


Antarctica14246 - print


Antarctica14338 - print Antarctica14349 - print



Seals and fur seals

Antarctica14427 - print Antarctica14325 - print Antarctica14311 - print



For me, the penguins were fascinating and there was also a wide variety of other animal life to keep this natural history  enthusiast very excited with this Antarctic trip. I suspect the great majority of visitors to Antarctica have a love for all forms of natural history and for that person, Antarctica is a fantastic place to visit.  If you are thinking about visiting the southern continent I hope this series of posts on Antarctica continues to whet your appetite and encourages you to book your trip.  Feel free to leave your comments on your dreams/plans for an Antarctic trip or your experiences if you have already visited.

Four approaches to landscape photography in Antarctica

For most of us the landscapes/seascapes you will experience in Antarctica are very different to those we see at home.  When I travelled with Quark Expeditions the main opportunities for land/seascapes took place:

  1. on board the Sea Spirit
  2. while zodiac cruising
  3. while on land on our twice daily excursions
  4. while on land for a night’s camping on the ice.

Back at home I use a tripod for landscapes most of the time and take my landscape photos around sunrise and sunset.  When on a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica the situation is quite different and the question of what camera support to use varies by your shooting location.

Capturing landscapes from on board you boat

Apologies if this is stating the obvious but there is no point using your tripod on board the boat.  The boat is moving and rocking so a slow shutter speed will result in blurred images whether the camera is on a tripod or not.

The perspective is also different when shooting from on board the boat – the sea is always some distance below the outdoor decks  so any icebergs that you want to include in your image will be below you.  This will result in those points of interest being smaller than if you were shooting from a zodiac.

Antarctica141170 - NG


However, the greater interest might be on land and often taking a photo on a telephoto setting works well then.

Antarctica141179 - print


Sometimes the primary interest is on board the boat.  The following photo was taken with a wider angle lens.

Antarctica141145 - print


Zodiac cruising

Zodiac cruising does not occur in those golden hours around sunrise and sunset.  As you will realise from the photo above it is difficult to obtain a stable position while on a zodiac but being on the water level emphasises the size of the icebergs.  There were typically ten passengers and one driver in each zodiac.

When the point of interest was on your side of the zodiac you were encouraged to kneel down.  You were therefore in a more stable position and could use the side of the zodiac as a support at times.  When the point of interest was on the other side of the zodiac you could stand up (once the driver gave permission). It was more difficult to obtain a good shot in this circumstance – I had many crooked horizons.

Antarctica14401 - NG


Antarctica14452 - Facebook


One more very important point about zodiac cruising – think about your equipment.  I used rain sleeves to keep my camera dry.  See more on this in a previous blog post here.

Daily excursions to land

I have a big interest in natural history so when I went ashore on the twice daily excursions my focus tended to be on the animal life.  I used a monopod for these animal photos.  Therefore, my tripod was not used on these excursions.

As with the zodiac cruising, the land excursions did not take place during prime landscape photography time but being a trip of a lifetime you still have to take photos even if the prime purpose is as record shots.  Despite those limitations, the photographic skills you use will seem familiar with all the normal composition and exposure considerations. Don’t forget to compensate for the snow/ice to avoid underexposed/grey snow.

I wrote about the equipment I took here but suffice to say that the 11-18mm lens I took with me came into use at this time.

Antarctica14239 - print Antarctica14253 - print


Camping on the ice

One of the reasons I chose to camp on the ice was to take photos as the sun was going down.  This is the one time my tripod came out in Antarctica.  Unfortunately things didn’t quite go as planned as the sky was overcast on the appointed evening but the tripod still came into use.

Antarctica14738 - print Antarctica14748 - print

Concluding thoughts

I gave some tips on Antarctic photography in a previous blog post (find them here). They sum up key considerations.

A trip to the Antarctic is a fantastic experience and I hope the above both whets your appetite if you are thinking about going or helps your planning if you have decided to go. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed with the experience.

If you have any questions about your upcoming trip feel free to add a question in the comments. If you have already been to the Antarctic feel free to add other thoughts.


Six tips for taking great photos in Antarctica

I visited Antarctica in February 2014 with Quark Expeditions on board the Sea Spirit.  I had thought about this trip for years and I wanted to maximise my chances of taking high quality photos.  Having now been on the trip I thought I would share key learnings.

Antarctica141168-2 - print

Tip 1: Do your research

Before the trip I did a lot of reading about equipment people recommend taking to Antarctica. I tend to take a lot of equipment but I was surprised when I discovered taking two DSLR bodies was commonplace. However, in the end I was pleased I took two bodies myself. I also took an 18-270mm zoom lens because I didn’t want to be swapping lenses much in the harsh environment. Normally, I had a 200-500 zoom on my other body (although I also had an 11-16mm lens with me).  If I had just been visiting Antarctica on the trip I would have taken a monopod but not a tripod.  In the end I took both (as I wanted to tripod in other destinations) and I used the tripod on the night I camped on the ice.  However, the monopod went with me on all landings and was used all the time (it also came in useful as a support when walking down icy slopes).

Antarctica14742 - print



Tip 2: Keep your gear safe

There would be nothing worse than having gear failures in the Antarctic.  When Zodiac cruising, I used rain sleeves to protect the cameras and when going ashore my cameras were kept in dry bags.

It goes without saying but make sure you have all essential camera gear as carry on when flying to your destination.  Although weight limits can be severe (my flight to Ushuaia allowed 15kg checked and 5kg carry on) I kept my essential gear with me. My carry on was over the limit but was never weighed.  Had I been pushed, my next step was going to be to wear a camera around my neck.

Tip 3: Take the photos when you can and make the most of good conditions

In my six days around the Antarctic Peninsula the sun was out for very limited periods of time (due to cloudy skies).  Luckily one of those times was shortly after sunrise. This was a perfect time to capture landscape/seascape images.

Antarctica141170 - NG


On another morning we were woken up by the Expedition Leader at 5.15am who suggested we come up on deck to view humpback whales.  I suggest always following the leader’s advice – they know what they are talking about.

Antarctica14338 - print

Tip 4: Do not approach the penguins too closely

There are rules about approach distances for the wildlife on Antarctica.  If you ignore these rules, not only will you have an adverse effect on the wildlife but you will also end up with mediocre images.  In terms of penguins, this will take the form of lots of black from retreating penguins.

Antarctica14586 - NG

You can find more about penguins in my post entitled: Penguins of Antarctica.

Tip 5: Even if the conditions aren’t perfect still take the photos

Our time zodiac cruising was in the middle of the day and usually under cloudy skies.  These conditions do not yield perfect landscape photos.   However, as a minimum, you must still take photos to record the moment, and for me I was still happy with the photos I took at such times, such as below.

Antarctica14452 - Facebook


Antarctica14401 - NG Antarctica14432 - print


Antarctica14401 - NG


Tip 6: Put your camera down

There is a huge temptation to spend all your time with your camera up to your eye when on excursions.  If you resist this temptation, you will better recall details of your trip and you will also end up with better photos.

To take truly inspiring photos, you need to take time over the scene and understand the behaviour of the animals.  One of the challenges in photographing penguins in particular is to isolate penguins to avoid having ‘half penguins’ in the frame.

Once you start observing different behaviours the photographic opportunities become endless.  To see more on this please see my post on Penguins of Antarctica.



Antarctica: how often is it the seventh continent we visit?

I visited Antarctica for the first time in February 2014.  With this visit I have now travelled to all seven continents at least once.   It was my travelling companion’s sixth continent.  I wonder how often Antarctica is the seventh continent we visit?

Is there a lack of interest in travelling to Antarctica?                             

My suspicion is that Antarctica is the last continent most people visit and this isn’t because of a lack of interest in travelling there.  For me as a nature lover and photographer my visit was fantastic.  To wake up to landscapes like the following was truly inspiring.

Antarctica141170 - NG

Safety concerns                                                                                          

Throughout my trip I felt very safe.  I travelled with Quark Expeditions.  From my reading and talking to other travellers and my travel agent, Quark has a good reputation and were a joy to travel with.  Yes, there is the question of “will I be sea sick with that journey across the Drake Passage” but I would be surprised if that puts many off.  Even during my night camping on the ice (more on this in a future post) I felt very safe.  I wonder how many put the trip off because they feel it isn’t for them?


I live in New Zealand.  I could have gone straight from Australia, New Zealand or South America to Antarctica but for me it came down to the amount of time I would be at sea and the most common route used.  Therefore, South America became my point of departure.  So, yes, it was a distance from home but with travel these days this was certainly not a problem as far as I was concerned.   

Questions for you

  1.  If you have been to Antarctica: When you visited Antarctica how many of the other six continents had you already visited?
  2. If you have not visited Antarctica: How many of the seven continents have you visited?

Future posts

In future posts I will:

  1. summarise responses to the questions if there is sufficient interest
  2. provide more details on and photos from my trip to Antarctica.

Comment rules

  1.  Use your own name, not a site name or keywords
  2. Do not use language that is offensive
  3. Stay on topic and do not post a comment that is unrelated to this site.