How to shoot Amazing Images in the Arctic on an Expedition Cruise
Whether you are joining one of our Expedition Micro Cruises or Photo Tours, being able to take great photos is all a part of the experience.
In this article, we talk to one of our expert photographers, Chase Teron, who shares his top tips on how to capture that perfect image in the Arctic and help you to get the best out of your photography.
You don’t have to be an expert photographer to take great shots, but being prepared is essential.
A young polar bear captured by Chase Teron. You can join Chase on a photo tour to Svalbard here.
You have to be prepared for all of the uncontrollable variables at all times. You should expect snow, rain, wind, cold, sun and wildlife to be at different distances. The wildlife could be in perfect photography range and then they could leave, then the moment is gone.
You need to be able to anticipate encounters to have your gear prepared (multiple cameras with different focal lengths) and ready to go at any time because the most special moments could happen at any time. Which is what makes it exciting but also a little bit challenging. But with a small zodiac and efficient small group set up and ability to have a good relationship with the guides, you can communicate openly and clearly of what angle or positioning is best.
There’s a big difference between general trips to Svalbard vs. photography focused trips, with a photographer instructor/guide like myself, I can plan and prepare with the guides to get us into the best positioning without any friction. We aren’t just trying to find awesome wildlife viewing opportunities, we’re trying to find the best photographic opportunities.
A good photographer is always prepared, is skilled, is open, a visionary, and is resilient. You have to be prepared for the conditions and always be ready to shoot.
Know Your Camera
You need a degree of skill, in the sense that you have knowledge of your current camera system, where the shortcut buttons are located, how to operate the menu, how to problem solve and is well practised in non-essential conditions.
A seal in Svalbard captured by Chase Teron. You can join Chase on a photo tour to Svalbard here.
A good photographer is always learning and doesn’t operate with ego. I’m a professional and I constantly am watching other photographers, I invest thousands in attending workshops and I keep my knowledge evergreen and I’m always evolving. Be open to continuous improvement and watch your photography takeoff.
Have a vision
The best photographers work on the story. They don’t just worry about shooting close up wildlife portraits, they want to capture different behaviours, positioning, environmental conditions/scenery and they have thought of a creative vision. I always do a storyboard of what images I’m looking for, meaning positioning as a photographer for unique perspectives, lighting conditions and colour palettes and when I’m in the field, I shoot to edit. I know how to already edit a photograph when I take it in the field because when a situation arises, I know what type of series to shoot with alternative exposures etc.
A polar bear hunting on the sea ice captured by Chase Teron. You can join Chase on a photo tour to Svalbard here.
Persistence is key
A good photographer needs to be resilient. You will have plenty of missed opportunities in the field from all of the challenging uncontrollable variables and a good photographer knows this. They know that they have to go back, to try again, to be better, to try something new, to slightly improve. A good photographer will see these failures as learning opportunities to progress. Also, they are flexible in their approach, when working in groups they are able to honestly communicate what they are looking for to capture.
Quality not quantity
You find a lot of miserable photographers because their happiness is equal to their expectations minus reality. Year after year, for example, I will build and work on a portfolio of a specific animal and it may not always improve with each trip I go on. If you are out in the field, shooting consistently and going on different trips you should aim for 5 to 10 breathtaking images. The rest is practice. The rest is the photographer’s story – 50,000 photos in a year to get this one shot. A good photographer knows that to come away even with 1 stunning image / 1 personal best is worth every penny.
Practice makes perfect
If you’re an amateur and you’re coming to Svalbard, practice the right techniques and practice them until you have the muscle memory to change settings without looking. If you can, prior to the trip, go to farms to photograph cows, horses or dogs in the park. Learning photography theory, the rules and the techniques and skills will provide the best return on your investment in a trip to Svalbard. You can take your best photographs ever in this location, so don’t just try to wing it.
The view from the ship captured by Chase Teron. You can join Chase on a photo tour to Svalbard here.
The right kit
Bring a 500mm lens with the 1.4x extender – aim to have a focal length of at least 500mm. Unlike Africa for example where you can get quite close, we tend to photograph the wildlife at some further distances and if you want to get nice intimate portraits of some of the wildlife, then having the extender option is great. I like the 1.4x extender for the only 1 stop of light reduction in the aperture and the speed of the autofocus isn’t as compromised at the 2x. Also potentially bring a bean bag like a LensCoat to attach to the boat rail or to rest your camera when on the boat. Bring good gloves that you can use your camera with, touch screen, flexible, warm with grip pads on the gloves.
For the highest quality of photos of your Arctic expedition here’s what I recommend:
Full frame camera allows for most light to hit sensor or a mirrorless – I use a Canon 5D Mark IV but will likely have a Canon r5 mirrorless. That way you can have a faster shutter speed for sharp shots and a lower overall ISO which also explains my lens selection/setup. I will be using either a Canon 400mm f/2.8 with a 1.4x or 2x or a Canon 500mm f/4 with a 1.4x of course with a UV filter to protect your lens.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 for closer wildlife and more habitat scenes and for mountain portraits with UV filter to protect your lens
I bring a Canon 24-70 f/2.8 for portraits, adventure photographs and general travel with a circular polarizer for glare and for the preservation of colour
Waterproof cover for backpack or waterproof cover for padded duffle bag during zodiac cruises. Sometimes the wind blows sea water on us and that’s game over for your camera and lenses.
2x Rain/Snow plastic covering
Windproof/Waterproof shell pants, warm base layer, extra socks. Backup hard drive like a LaCie 4TB rugged drive, extra memory cards, laptop with Adobe Lightroom / Photoshop downloaded and any card readers to download and backup your images during the trip.
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