two gentoo penguins perched on a rock in front of a bay in antarctica

What’s in the Camera Bag? Antarctica Expedition

To many, it’s the holy grail of real deal exploration.  It’s what often comes to mind when you think “expedition”.  It’s the last continent, and still to this day one of the most remote wildernesses on earth.

If you’re headed there, you’ll want to make sure you have the right gear, as wildlife, scenery, and adventure await in ways unlike any other place on earth.

Wide Angle Zoom

As with pretty much every photo adventure, this is something you just can’t leave home without.  Some people refer to this as their “walking around” lens, and in Antarctica, it’ll be your “zodiac-ing around”, “snowshoeing around”, and “exploring around” lens. These are your lenses in the 18-55mm, 24-70mm, or 24-105mm range for DSLRs or a 7-20mm, or 12-40mm on a mirrorless setup.

Because of the incredible scenic photography opportunities, I would estimate that this will be on your camera at least 40% of the time.

Zoom Telephoto

How often you use your zoom telephoto will be up to the type of photographer you are.  For reference, when I speak of zoom telephoto, I’m thinking of something in the 70-200mm or 70-300mm range (mirrorless equivalent is something like a 40-150mm).  These are major telephoto lenses, but they will no doubt do the trick.  For Antarctica, you really don’t need much more than these.

two gentoo penguins perched on a rock in front of a bay in antarctica

The wildlife (primarily penguins, seals, and whales) are abundant and will be rather close.  And I also use these lenses for scenic landscape photos, too, as you’ll often want to “fill the frame” with mountains, glaciers, icebergs, and other elements to yield what I often refer to as a “big shot.”

a jagged mountain range in antarctica amidst ominous storm clouds

The nice thing is that you don’t often need to worry about light…with the snow and ice, it’s quite a bright place, and since most Antarctica Expeditions take place in the antarctic summer, you get plenty of daylight.  Thus, you can have lenses with apertures in the f/4-5.6 range and be just fine.  While f/2.8 is always nice, it’s not as critical as it is elsewhere in the world (e.g., rainforests, etc.)

Do I bring a Super Telephoto?

Not a key lens in your Antarctica kit.  Now, of course there will always be opportunity that you’ll want more zoom.  Even if you have a 600mm along with you, there’ll still be a shot or two where you want more.  However, I personally find a 100-400mm to be the maximum that you’ll need, with a 70-200mm or 70-300mm being perfect for a majority of shots.  However, for maximum versatility, a 100-400mm or similar gives you a tad more zoom, and of course a wider range comparatively.

a fur seal in antarctica barks at people as they pass

X-factor Lenses

There is one clear winner here, as far as “x-factor lenses”, and it’s an ultra-wide angle lens.  These are your 10-22mm for crop frames, 17-40mm or 16-35mm for full frames, and 8-15mm for mirrorless cameras.

a gentoo penguin comes close to see what the camera looks like

These ultra-wides aren’t going to be on your camera all the time, but they’ll definitely get you some amazing shots you couldn’t get otherwise, like the close up above.  Because the penguins have virtually no fear, you can allow them to approach you quite closely, and with some luck you’ll get sensational photos to complement the other photographs you’ll get throughout the adventure.

And it’s not just for wildlife, but the scenery can sometimes demand ultrawide photos, too.  One technique I love to use is photographing an ultrawide shot of a landscape, and then cropping the photo considerably, like below.  In this photo I’ve cropped a good bit of the sky and water out, making the photo look like I took a panorama.  Of course you can stitch these types of photos together in photoshop, but with the increasingly large megapixel capabilities of cameras, this is another high quality way to get this type of image.

a panoramic photo of snowy mountains in antarctica

Accessories and other gear

Fortunately you won’t have to bring much else, except for lots of extra memory.  As I say with most wildlife expeditions, a flash will often produce unrealistic effects and behaviors.  Plus, you’ll have quite a bit of light, rendering it largely unnecessary.

A tripod can be handy, especially for expeditions that camp on shore for a night or two, when you can get sensational night photo opportunities.

two glowing yellow tents photographed at the blue hour on the mainland of antarctica

Folks often ask about whether a second camera body is helpful on this trip.  It sort of is.  Not nearly as much as an African Wildlife Safari, but of course minimizing the need to change lenses can always help.  But frankly, this is a trip where you can easily get away with just one camera body.  Now, if you have two, it’s a good idea to bring a second, more as a backup than anything.  However, because you’ll often be in zodiacs, where a second body around your neck could be prohibitive, I often try to stay disciplined and stick with just one lens at a time.

Hopefully this helps a bit, and if you have your own ideas on what to bring with you photographically, feel free to leave a comment below!

All the best,