Antarctica — penguins on ice

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ITN reader Donna Judd asked for tips on getting good shots in Antarctica and Alaska. In this column I’ll discuss Antarctica, as most visitors go there in the Austral summer, November to March, and many of the techniques apply to both destinations.

I recommend some preparatory reading. Photo books can be expensive, but many are available at your local library. Look up “Antarctica: Beyond the Southern Ocean” by Colin Monteath and “Wild Ice: Antarctic journeys” by photographers Monteath, Tui de Roy, Ron Naveen and Mark Jones for inspiration and background. A great online site is www.coolantarctica.com.

Suggested equipment

I suggest you consider taking the following basic equipment for photography in Antarctica: two single-lens reflex (SLR) camera bodies or one plus a backup point-and-shoot camera; two zoom lenses, each fitted with a skylight filter; polarizing and warming filters (81A or B) for each lens; rechargable (or lots of extra) batteries for camera and flash; lots of film (at least two or three rolls per day) or flash cards for a digital camera; portable hard drive to store digital images; battery charger, and cleaning equipment, including a soft cloth and a soft, clean lens brush plus lens tissues and cotton swabs. — J.D.

Antarctica is the pinnacle of adventures, so if you don’t own a 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera (film or digital), now is the time to consider one. An “image stabilizer” lens (Canon and Nikon) is very expensive, but you will be on board a moving vessel most of the time, and it can help you to get sharp images. Otherwise, be sure you maintain a shutter speed of at least 125th when hand holding your camera.

Fixed-focal-length lenses are the sharpest and admit the most light, but carrying a variety of lenses is not really practical. Newer zoom lenses are quite sharp and lightweight. I have one that goes from 28mm to 300mm, which should cover the majority of shots. Zooms also allow you to vary your view when it’s impossible to move around.

Protect each lens with a skylight filter so that, in the event of a tumble onto the deck or worse, the filter and not the lens may be scratched or break. It protects against salt spray and moisture, too.

A polarizing filter will help to control glare. Buy one well before you go, and play with it. It will deepen the blues of icebergs, elliminate specular highlights and bring out clouds. But it will also rob you of light (one or two stops), so remember to check your meter reading with it on.

Being able to control light is key to good exposure in this land of ice and snow — all very light and reflective. The light meter in your camera records mid-range light as medium gray. That means all your shots on Automatic will be underexposed. Bracket, by shooting the scene first at the setting of the light meter reading, then at one stop more and another at two stops more.

If you are shooting icebergs from the deck of your ship, the light will change constantly. Set the ISO dial (mine’s on the left side of the camera) to +2 and all shots should be well exposed without your having to think with each click of the shutter.

What the heck is a “stop”? To use an SLR, you need to understand some basic technique. If there is time, take a class at a college or adult school or enlist the aid of a local photographer or photo enthusiast (look for camera clubs) to learn the basics. A thorough reading of your “manual,” a basic photo “how to” book and some practice will help. In fact, practice is essential. Also, I can answer some questions; call me at 866/382-6994.

Keep your equipment basic, and travel light. A lot of complicated gadgets will slow you down and make you miss photos.

Tripods are not very effective on a rolling deck, and they’re awkward to handle in a skiff. A bean bag is good on shore — place it on a rock, brace your camera on top and get that penguin at his eye level.

Clean your camera every day when you return to the ship. Brush sand or debris off the body and lens barrel, and wipe them with a soft, barely damp cloth to remove salt spray. Use a soft, clean brush (don’t handle the bristles with your fingers) and a lens cloth for the filter (leave the main lens surface alone). Be gentle and careful.

Keep your camera and batteries warm; tuck them inside your red parka when they’re not in use. Have lots of backup batteries and, if at all possible, a backup camera body. Even a point-and-shoot can seem like heaven if your main camera breaks.

Don’t forget to keep your horizon line level.

If you are shooting landscapes or animals for fine art, look out for people and distractions in your shots. But, to give a sense of the experience, I like to occasionally catch a piece of the ship or a person standing at the rail. Having a fellow traveler in the landscape will help your audience to feel what you felt and “stand” where you stood. Oh, of course, have someone take a few shots of you in that stylish red parka.

Your on-camera flash will come in handy when your subject is back-lit, although the sillhouette of a penguin (especially if his back is to you) against a perfectly composed and exposed landscape will be wonderful too. Take both.

Wait for the decisive moment. Don’t just raise your camera and shoot. Look through the lens, take a record shot and then wait. The light will change, the animal will do something interesting or the sea will suddenly wash over the iceberg. If you miss it, wait some more; it will happen again.

Take lots of film or digital cards, and keep shooting. The more pictures you take, the more good ones you’ll keep.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

ITN reader Donna Judd asked for tips on getting good shots in Antarctica and Alaska. In this column I’ll discuss Antarctica, as most visitors go there in the Austral summer, November to March, and many of the techniques apply to both destinations.

I recommend some preparatory reading. Photo books can be expensive, but many are available at your local library. Look up “Antarctica: Beyond the Southern Ocean” by Colin Monteath and “Wild Ice: Antarctic journeys” by photographers Monteath, Tui de Roy, Ron Naveen and Mark Jones for inspiration and background. A great online site is www.coolantarctica.com.

Suggested equipment

I suggest you consider taking the following basic equipment for photography in Antarctica: two single-lens reflex (SLR) camera bodies or one plus a backup point-and-shoot camera; two zoom lenses, each fitted with a skylight filter; polarizing and warming filters (81A or B) for each lens; rechargable (or lots of extra) batteries for camera and flash; lots of film (at least two or three rolls per day) or flash cards for a digital camera; portable hard drive to store digital images; battery charger, and cleaning equipment, including a soft cloth and a soft, clean lens brush plus lens tissues and cotton swabs. — J.D.

Antarctica is the pinnacle of adventures, so if you don’t own a 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) camera (film or digital), now is the time to consider one. An “image stabilizer” lens (Canon and Nikon) is very expensive, but you will be on board a moving vessel most of the time, and it can help you to get sharp images. Otherwise, be sure you maintain a shutter speed of at least 125th when hand holding your camera.

Fixed-focal-length lenses are the sharpest and admit the most light, but carrying a variety of lenses is not really practical. Newer zoom lenses are quite sharp and lightweight. I have one that goes from 28mm to 300mm, which should cover the majority of shots. Zooms also allow you to vary your view when it’s impossible to move around.

Protect each lens with a skylight filter so that, in the event of a tumble onto the deck or worse, the filter and not the lens may be scratched or break. It protects against salt spray and moisture, too.

A polarizing filter will help to control glare. Buy one well before you go, and play with it. It will deepen the blues of icebergs, elliminate specular highlights and bring out clouds. But it will also rob you of light (one or two stops), so remember to check your meter reading with it on.

Being able to control light is key to good exposure in this land of ice and snow — all very light and reflective. The light meter in your camera records mid-range light as medium gray. That means all your shots on Automatic will be underexposed. Bracket, by shooting the scene first at the setting of the light meter reading, then at one stop more and another at two stops more.

If you are shooting icebergs from the deck of your ship, the light will change constantly. Set the ISO dial (mine’s on the left side of the camera) to +2 and all shots should be well exposed without your having to think with each click of the shutter.

What the heck is a “stop”? To use an SLR, you need to understand some basic technique. If there is time, take a class at a college or adult school or enlist the aid of a local photographer or photo enthusiast (look for camera clubs) to learn the basics. A thorough reading of your “manual,” a basic photo “how to” book and some practice will help. In fact, practice is essential. Also, I can answer some questions; call me at 866/382-6994.

Keep your equipment basic, and travel light. A lot of complicated gadgets will slow you down and make you miss photos.

Tripods are not very effective on a rolling deck, and they’re awkward to handle in a skiff. A bean bag is good on shore — place it on a rock, brace your camera on top and get that penguin at his eye level.

Clean your camera every day when you return to the ship. Brush sand or debris off the body and lens barrel, and wipe them with a soft, barely damp cloth to remove salt spray. Use a soft, clean brush (don’t handle the bristles with your fingers) and a lens cloth for the filter (leave the main lens surface alone). Be gentle and careful.

Keep your camera and batteries warm; tuck them inside your red parka when they’re not in use. Have lots of backup batteries and, if at all possible, a backup camera body. Even a point-and-shoot can seem like heaven if your main camera breaks.

Don’t forget to keep your horizon line level.

If you are shooting landscapes or animals for fine art, look out for people and distractions in your shots. But, to give a sense of the experience, I like to occasionally catch a piece of the ship or a person standing at the rail. Having a fellow traveler in the landscape will help your audience to feel what you felt and “stand” where you stood. Oh, of course, have someone take a few shots of you in that stylish red parka.

Your on-camera flash will come in handy when your subject is back-lit, although the sillhouette of a penguin (especially if his back is to you) against a perfectly composed and exposed landscape will be wonderful too. Take both.

Wait for the decisive moment. Don’t just raise your camera and shoot. Look through the lens, take a record shot and then wait. The light will change, the animal will do something interesting or the sea will suddenly wash over the iceberg. If you miss it, wait some more; it will happen again.

Take lots of film or digital cards, and keep shooting. The more pictures you take, the more good ones you’ll keep.