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26 January 2013 / leggypeggy

Snapping away on my camera in Antarctica


Antarctica is filled with colours, but shades of white are predominant

Our chance to visit the Antarctic came about so quickly (last-minute deal) that I didn’t have time to do anything sensible in relation to my camera. What I had was what I used.

That camera is a not-so-ancient Canon 450D with a lone 15–85mm lens (more about that later). I bought the body, along with two kit lenses, in 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa, after a point-and-shoot Canon died in Namibia.

Both the kit lenses died in 2011 and, after much dithering, I replaced them with the 15–85 number. For the Antarctic, I wished I’d had a proper telephoto lens as well.

But you wouldn’t believe the cameras that came to Antarctica with us. Every time I pointed my camera, I felt like a guy with a teeny-weeny willy.


A keen photographer gets in position

There was one (maybe two) group of Chinese tourists who brought cameras lenses I didn’t know existed. We’re talking huge willys—lenses as long as my leg, There may have been one or two as tall as me!

Group members were part of a photography club, and I’ve since seen an online reference to the fact that they might be able to sell a photo for up to $50,000.

I have no way of knowing if that is true, but I went on a Zodiac cruise with eight Chinese and I could hardly hear for the clicking of cameras. The last time I heard that amount of clicking was in the early 1980s during the civil war in Lebanon—and clicking was of a lot of people cocking their kalashnikovs.

But I digress. I need to answer more of the questions asked about cameras in relation to this expedition.

Given my ancient camera and lack of preparedness, I fear I may not be the best adviser, but this should help others who are not overly prepared.


Lots of the yellow penguins have tripods and ginormous lenses

Did you use a tripod?

Nope, I didn’t have one. That said, I could have used one. But we travelled for many months on the back of a truck, so I decided not to take one. There’s only so much you can carry in anticipation.

I’m guessing here, but I think a tripod would be especially important on an Antarctic expedition that was plagued by bad weather—anything to control movement and lighting. You can’t predict the weather, so if you can afford the room and/or weight, take a tripod.

How much did you use a polariser?

I might have used a polariser a lot, but I didn’t have one. Poor John has polarised sunglasses and it was nice to look through them for the view every now and then, but I never used them with the camera.

Bird in Antarctica

A good reason to use a fast shutter speed

What settings did you use?

I’m kind of embarrassed to answer this, but I’ll be honest. The expedition photographer gave a lecture about camera settings. He talked about ISO settings and various other aspects, which I can no longer remember. I think he said to lower the ISO to 100.

I didn’t mean to ignore his words, but I kind of know my own camera and preferences. As a result, I tried an experiment that worked, and stuck with it. I used the TV setting that relates to shutter speed. I set it at a 250th of a second and left it there for most outside shots.

Part of the reason I went with a 250th of a second is that I wanted be able to freeze action when necessary, so that fast shutter speed allowed me to capture a few nice shots.


With weather like this, we didn’t need dry bags. Note the two (tiny) penguins on the left

How did you protect your camera?

Here’s another confession about unpreparedness. Poor John and I have several ‘dry’ bags that we always take on overland adventures. Oh, except we forgot this time! He thought I’d packed them and vice versa.

The day before our first landing, the expedition photographer explained the challenges to keep your camera safe and dry—a dry bag was essential!

Rats! The onboard gift shop was closed and would not reopen until after the landing. So I winged it and I was lucky. In fact, I was lucky for the entire time.

We had beautiful calm weather for the entire trip. Occasionally, when the Zodiac sped along, I sheltered the camera against my jacket, but overall it wasn’t an issue. So I never had to buy a dry bag.


It was impossible to stop looking at and photographing the scenery. Absolutely gobsmacking

What video camera did you use?

Geez, you people ask tough questions. Remember, I wasn’t prepared. My iPhone did a pretty good job of filming.

I always slipped it in my pocket and it even survived being dropped in the disinfectant bath we walked through as we left and returned to ship for landings.

When I go again

On my next trip to Antarctica—oh, yes, I will return—I’ll plan to take a new camera body, several lenses including a not-over-the-top telephoto, a tripod, my own dry bags and a video camera. Oh, and I’ll take the iPhone as back-up!

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Leave a Comment
  1. Sy S. / Jan 27 2013 3:39 am

    Hello LeggyPeggy,

    You hit my “Hot Button” talking about photography. I have over $5,000 USA+ in Nikon equipment and have been a Nikon fan for 50 years. Sticking with one brand is not a bad idea and Canon is a top brand. Also, your 15-85 Zoom lens is a perfect one for being out and about on your South American trip.

    However, a long lens in the Antarctica would be a nice advantage, to capture animals far away.
    A mono-pod would have been good instead of lugging around a tripod. The lower the ISO like 100 means better quality images… and since it is very bright in Antarctica this is a good ISO setting.
    And using 1/250 shutter speed is also a good choice, except if it is very windy and a little higher shutter speed would be good. A photo selling for $50,000 I doubt it, except if it was a top diplomat/President getting eaten up by a polar beer or a giant penguin LOL. One of the photographers with their $$$$ expensive lens might fetch I would say about $500 or maybe $5,000 ??? tops for a photo and again only for a special person in it or a very unique/historic shot.

    Further, since a cameras sensor sees a very bright scene it closes down the aperture 2 stops. So the rule of thumb is to re-set the aperture by opening it up 1-2 stops. However, you photos appear to have the correct exposure for viewing on my computer… so you did choose good settings.

    Hummm are there Polar Beers in the Antarctic (or only in the North Pole area)? What other unique animals can be seen in Antarctica and no other area in the world?

    Thanks for your detailed info on photography in Antarctica…. and I enjoyed the photos…

    Sy S.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 27 2013 8:04 am

      Thanks to you too, Sy, for so many tips on settings and equipment. The first day in the actual Antarctic, I played around with my settings and settled where I did with shutter speed. I also downloaded my photos to my laptop after every landing. AND backed them up to an external hard drive.
      And I agree with you, I doubted that any pic down there was worth $50,000. Wishful thinking! Maybe they were referring to how much each photographer had spent on their equipment.


  2. RICK HARRISON / Jan 27 2013 8:31 am



  3. lmo58 / Jan 27 2013 9:25 am

    Thanks again Peggy for a really informative post. I’ll have to brush up on my photography skills before I go. As always, the photos are fantastic too. And thank you Sy for your technical information about photography.


    • leggypeggy / Jan 27 2013 10:21 am

      Thanks Louise. You’ve reminded me that I should take a course to get the most out of my digital camera. Better check what’s available.


  4. Jonathan Medwin / Jan 27 2013 9:40 am

    Another marvelously practical post – my kind of info. On the subject of video cameras and saving space – my new Canon 60D also shoots full high def video (1080P) … love it so much. J.


    • leggypeggy / Jan 27 2013 10:58 am

      Thanks for the tip Jonathan. I’m about due for a new camera body, so that’s great info.


  5. mickeydownunder / Jan 27 2013 9:44 am

    Thanks Peggy! Always enjoyable to get real answers from real people who look like they had (yet another lol) trip of a lifetime! Thank you so much for sharing and look forward to seeing you and Poor John soon! 🙂


    • leggypeggy / Jan 27 2013 10:22 am

      My pleasure mickeydownunder. It sure was a trip of a lifetime. Loved every minute, but I’m glad I don’t get seasick.


  6. Sue Daw / Feb 16 2013 6:09 pm

    Mickeydownunder’s sentiments are mine precisely! and many thanks for answering my questions regarding polarisers, tripods, etc. Weaving such a great sense of humour into your artful wordsmithing and information-packed posts is a real treat Peggy. Thank you.


    • leggypeggy / Feb 17 2013 6:09 pm

      Thanks Sue. Look forward to hearing about your adventures when you get there.


  7. Holistic Wayfarer / Oct 11 2015 1:47 pm

    My 8-yr-old tapped the like. He wonders how deep the water was and if you saw any seals. Amazing you trekked on out there!


    • leggypeggy / Oct 11 2015 5:47 pm

      Thank your 8-year-old for the like. 🙂
      Tell him we saw lots of seals, penguins and other seabirds, and a few whales. Most whales don’t arrive until the numbers of krill, which is what they eat, build up.
      The water around the Antarctic is called the Southern Ocean. The average depth is 1038 meters or 3410 feet. The deepest point is 5450 meters or 17,900 feet.


  8. fitnessgrad / Jun 22 2016 12:00 am

    Wow! This is really cool, you caught great pictures! I love the wildlife!


    Liked by 1 person

  9. kelleysdiy / Jan 3 2017 3:52 am

    Wow!! So awesome Peggy!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 3 2017 11:20 am

      Thanks. We have wonderful memories of that trip.


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