Ultimate Photography Equipment List for Arctic Photography Expeditions
You have done the tough part and have finally chosen an Arctic photography expedition. Now we can discuss the exciting part of getting your camera gear and expedition gear ready. This article contains a photography equipment list that will be extremely useful for planning and preparing for your chosen Arctic photography expedition.
This photography equipment list and packing guide can be used for Svalbard photo tours, Greenland photo tours or any other Arctic expedition.
The Arctic is a harsh place, and it takes many months of preparation to be adequately equipped for an expedition. We will discuss how you can pack wisely and prepare your gear, clothing, equipment and more so that you are ready for anything the Arctic might throw at you.
Although I am a Canon dedicated photographer, you can reference your own preferred brand based on the model levels that I discuss in this article. You’ll also get a clear idea of what photography gear is essential and what gear is nice to have but non-essential. When deciding what camera gear to bring to the Arctic it’s imperative that you understand the subjects that you will be photographing and the shooting scenarios that you will face in order to produce the best results and I will provide you with a clear explanation of why I choose certain pieces of equipment over others.
Let’s get the Arctic expedition clothing going first so then you can get that sorted prior to getting into the more complex part of the article with the camera gear.
Chase Teron’s Photography Equipment List for Arctic Photography Expeditions – Landscape and Wildlife Focus
Camera Bodies – for both wildlife and landscape
- Canon R5 Body
- Canon 5D Mark IV Body as a backup and secondary body with alternative lens setup
Photography Equipment List: Preferred Lenses for Arctic Wildlife Focused Trips
- Canon 400mm f/2.8 EF USM ii – Primary Lens with extenders this lens satisfies all focal lengths while using a prime lens setup. Most often Polar Bears are far enough away that we need the 600 to 800mm range but if there’s a closer encounter with low lighting conditions or complex distracting backgrounds, the 400mm f/2.8 is ideal. I previously used my Canon 200-400mm with the 1.4x built in extender but since then have changed my main telephoto lens. Additionally, in the past I have hired an 800mm for Svalbard but found it very limiting when the Polar Bears and other Arctic wildlife came closer.
Here is the 800mm f/5.6 lens hire for a Svalbard expedition. Although the lens was fantastic for creating intimate portraits, it was too heavy and bulky and too much telephoto. By using the below 400mm, I can go between 400mm to 560mm to 800mm very easily depending on the wildlife sighting.
- Canon 1.4x iii Extender *** Essential with a 400mm – multiplies your focal length by 1.4x and reduces aperture by one stop of light
- Canon 2.0x iii Extender *** Essential with a 400mm – doubles your focal length but reduces your aperture size by two stops of light.
- Canon 100-400mm – My secondary lens for wildlife as a backup or for hiking adventures with the possibility of having wildlife sightings or for extreme weather conditions.
- Canon 70-200 f/2.8 USM ii – this lens is ideal for photographing wildlife with a bit more habitat context in the scene.
Preferred Lenses for Arctic Landscape Based Trips with Possibility of Wildlife
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 USM iii *Landscapes / Camera trap / Creative closeups / Ship based photos. If I were to bring a camera trap set up, then this lens would be chosen over the 24-70mm but if I had to choose between the two I would say the 24-70mm is the ideal focal length for most Arctic endeavours. If you are specifically shooting landscapes then ensure you have both the 16-35mm and 24-70mm focal length options.
- Canon 24-70mm RF f/2.8 *Landscapes / General Travel / Habitat Scenes / Creative Timelapses. As mentioned previously this lens is a great lens to bring along with you for hybrid wildlife and landscape photography tours.
- Canon 70-200 f/2.8 USM ii – I use this lens to capture mountain portraits and distant scenes. You can see here in this scene below with the iceberg and the moon. I was using this lens and the resulting image brings in some lovely compression which makes the moon look larger.
- Canon RF 100-500 f/4.5-7.1 *** Secondary lens for wildlife as a backup or for hiking adventures with the possibility of having wildlife sightings
- Canon 1.4x iii Extender *** Essential
- Canon 2.0x iii Extender *** Essential
- Canon 400mm f/2.8 EF USM ii
It is possible to rent or hire photography lenses which may be the best option as you are getting into wildlife photography and for you to determine which lens you like. As mentioned previously, for the Arctic, the wildlife are typically at greater distances than places like Africa. So you must make the decision based on your local wildlife and preferred wildlife subjects when going to outright purchase a lens.
Depending on where you are located, your local camera shops may have options to hire or rent gear. If you need a camera body and lens you can rent them right in Longyearbyen, Svalbard via https://svalbardcamerarentals.net/ or if you are looking for more premium gear to hire Canada has options like from the camera gear store, Vistek. Other options included www.lensrentals.com and a blog I found useful is https://photodoto.com/8-online-lens-rental-stores-compared/ for those based in North America. It’s as easy as typing in Photography Telephoto Lens for Hire or Rental in your local Google search.
Some other essential gear for wildlife photography are memory cards. The memory cards I recommend are dependent on your camera systems but my Canon r5 uses CF Express as the primary and SDXC as the secondary slot. I always pack more memory cards than required in case I shoot more video or a unique photo opportunity requires a ton of shots.
Memory Cards (for a sample 2-3 week trip)
- CF Express Tough Memory Card (256GB x 2)
- Compact Flash Memory Cards (128GB x 3)
- SDXC Cards (128GB x 4)
If a backpacking mission then more batteries otherwise 4 Canon Batteries if there is a re-charging station in between days shooting.
Stabilization Gear for Arctic Photography Expeditions
Beanbag – Lens Coat or home made one filled with buckwheat groats. When photographing from an ice breaking vessel or any ship there is always a bit of vibration therefore a tripod is quite useless on board unless the ship’s engine is completely off. A beanbag can help with stability and fatigue and be able to absorb some of that vibration on board.
Gitzo Mountaineering tripod – carbon fibre. I choose this option because I’m often hiking for my wildlife and landscapes but I recommend a tripod that can handle high winds with your heaviest telephoto setup.
My tripod head for wildlife photography is the Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal head for just wildlife images or a Gitzo fluid head for wildlife video. Additionally, you could go with the Gitzo or RRS ball head for the landscape photography setup. If you are shooting video then you’ll need a fluid head to be able to smoothly pan. Bringing a tripod is an essential part of landscape photography for long exposures, focus stacking and if you’re in the shoulder season for auroras/northern lights.
On Board Expedition Essentials
- Macbook Pro 13” for travel to fit in backpack for photo editing and backup workflows
Technology Applications I use:
- Phone: Photopills, All Trails Pro, Priority Pass, Aurora, Ronin, Camera Connect Canon, Strava, Unfold and Windy
- Laptop: PTGui for Panoramas, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, Topaz Labs De-noising AI, Topaz Labs Sharpen. Additional software includes: Raya Pro 5 for Photoshop landscape exposure blending.
Photography Equipment List: Clothing Gear for Arctic Photography
Clothing, Accessories and Footwear
The following list is geared towards photographers who will be spending a considerable amount of time outdoors, and perhaps hiking.
Summer: Regardless if you’re land or boat based, the Arctic is still cold so keep a similar list to winter for extreme lower ranges of temperatures. Keep in mind on the boat and within the fjords and open ocean, it’s considerably colder than posted temperatures in weather reports.
- T-shirts (use a natural wicking material; not cotton)
- Base layer sustainable wool
- Long sleeve shirt (preferably a wicking material; not cotton)
- Zip-off pants (that give you a shorts or pants option)
- Fleece or insulating mid-layer
- Waterproof/windproof shell or rain jacket
- Baseball Hat/Cap
- Sunglasses Polarized
- Toque / Beanie
- Rain Pants / Shell Pants for high winds
Winter: I would combine the summer list with the winter items here. Remember it’s vital to have layers and options to add on gear so ensure your outer most layer is larger than you would traditionally buy. Everything I would bring would be to handle the lowest temperatures during the middle of the night. Especially if astro photography and aurora borealis photography is an option.
- Long underwear – shirt and pants
- Snow pants light insulated
- Shell Pants
- Insulating mid layer like fleece, wool sweater
- Waterproof and windproof shell jacket
- Puffy parka jacket
- Moisture wicking socks – bring extra!
- Ski goggles – essential for high winds and potential blowing snow
- Heavy duty gloves – must be tactical and able to operate camera with
- Neck protector or balaclava is essential
- Hiking boots high top to protect ankles
- Rubber boots – for jumping off zodiac
- Insulated winter boots – waterproof
These are my recommendations for photography gear for Arctic landscape and Arctic wildlife photography expeditions. I hope you have a solid understanding of where to start when planning and organizing your bags. Remember to plan well ahead of time and practice packing up your gear to determine the total weight and size.
Most airlines flying to the Sub-Arctic or Arctic are smaller than regular commercial airlines so you’ll have to be careful with your packing total weight and size.
In addition to packing all of this gear, ensure that you have proper insurance for your camera gear under your homeowners insurance, rental insurance, travel insurance or commercial photography gear insurance.
I hope this photography equipment list has provided you with some clarity on what my gear looks like for an Arctic photography tour.
See you up north!
You can join Chase on a photography expedition to explore the Arctic here.