Photography in Antarctica

Digital SLR and compact cameras
Almost everyone brings a digital camera south – the question is what kind? A compact camera is easy to carry around and convenient for mountaineering/skiing and SLRs are more expensive, heavy and bulkier but give you full manual control. The choice is yours and there are definite advantages to having both. Most people tend to have Nikon, Canon and Olympus digital SLRs, the standard of digital SLRs these days is high and most makes are more than likely to be suitable. As for compact cameras, there are loads of great ones on the market which for most of the time will do the job. If you haven’t got a camera already then read the online reviews before buying and make sure that it’ll do what you want it to do (i.e. quality images, video). Most camera shops will tell you that you’ll need the most expensive top end camera as soon as they hear the word “Antarctica” but the reality is that most cameras will work down here if you look after them. Recommended SLR lenses are a wide angle 24mm, standard 50mm and a telephoto 200mm; any zoom lenses covering this focal length will be suitable.

In terms of camera durability most cameras will do fine. There’s no need to get a high end digital SLR with waterproofing and seals. However it’s important that you buy a decent camera bag to carry it around in. There can be moisture condensation problems associated with taking a cold camera into a warm building but if you leave it in a camera bag for a few hours then it won’t be a problem.

All of the public PCs have card readers for downloading from digital cameras, there’s an A4 and A3 sized photographic printers. Bring your own photo grade paper as this isn’t provided.

Essential spares
For all forms of photography you’ll need to have a spare battery (rechargeable), the cold sucks the charge out of the battery quick so it’s essential to have a second battery. Bring plenty of memory cards with you. You may even consider a hard case for those long winter trip skidoo journeys (i.e. a pelicase) but most of the time a good quality camera bag will suffice. For serious photography a good quality tripod is essential, the light begins to fade rapidly after the summer season ends and it’s the only way to properly capture the stunning Rothera winter sunsets and weird clouds. Think about whether you want to insure your camera equipment but note that a lot of companies won’t insure for Antarctica (i.e. read the small print!) Remote control release, flash guns, UV and polarising filters are also useful.

Top 10 Tips to Take Great Zoo Photos

Zoos are one of the best places to photograph wildlife.  They have the largest concentration of wildlife per acre anywhere.  The animals are not spooked by humans; they have limited range and usually are set in scenic surroundings.  On the downside there are a lot of humans present and the range of shots is limited.
Before we provide our top 10 tips, the two most important items of zoo photography need to be addressed before you visit.  First, you must have a camera (digital with zoom is best) and a photo editor program.  Practice with both before visiting the zoo.  Try photographing objects at various distances under different light conditions.  The big advantage of a digital camera and computer photo editor programs is that you can practice with both endlessly at no cost.
Other items you should check prior to visiting the zoo are the zoo’s feeding schedules, shows and keeper interactions.
Here are Zoo and Aquarium Visitor’s top ten tips to make you a great zoo photographer.
  1. Time of day.  Early mornings and late afternoons are always best.  Mid-day shots tend to be harsh and wash out the colors.  Depending on the exact direction of the sun, it can shadow portions of the face, especially the eyes on many species.  Early mornings and late afternoons are also the times of day when wildlife is most active resulting in opportunities to film the species in active modes.
  2. Foggy and rainy days.  When the sky is clouded and moisture is in the air, many times shadows are eliminated.  It also diffuses light, making for some special and unique photos.
  3. The animal.  With wildlife photography, when capturing images of single animals the face is the focal point.  On the face, the eyes become the most important feature.  They capture the expression of each individual.  Make sure they are not shadowed.
  4. The context.  What do you want to shoot and how will it be framed.  Do you want a shot of the face, the whole body, or the exhibit itself?  Whatever you are photographing should represent at least 80% of the picture.  If you are attempting to do a head or face shot, zoom in until it fills most of the viewfinder.  If you are doing a whole body shot, make sure the feet or tail is not cut off.
  5. Angles.  Once you have taken the shot you want, move to the other end of the exhibit and see what can be captured in your viewfinder.  If you are photographing through a glass or acrylic display, NEVER attempt to clean the display.  Also, never allow any part of your camera to touch the display.  Scratches are very expensive to remove.
  6. Camera settings.  If the animal is stationary, a long exposure can be used provided you can keep the camera still.  If the animal is moving, you will want to use the fastest setting possible.  Before bringing a tripod or bipod, please check with the facility first.  Many facilities DO NOT allow their use.
  7. ALWAYS carry extra batteries. 
  8. Take the camera’s instruction book with you.  Use it until you have all of the proper settings for each situation memorized.
  9. Patience is an essential quality with both the animals you are photographing and the other visitors who will get in your way.  Call in advance and ask when the school visits are scheduled.  You may want to avoid trying to shoot during those times. 
  10. Look for flash restrictions.  Some animals get spooked or agitated by camera flashes and as a result you will occasionally see “No Flash” displays.
Manners and etiquette while photographing at the zoo.
  1. Animal photographers do not have priority or special preference over other guests.  Don’t expect special treatment or become annoyed when visitors walk between you and your shot.
  2. Do not do things to get the animal to look directly at you.  This includes yelling, throwing objects, or teasing with food.
  3. Respect the barriers.  Do not climb any fences for a closer shot.
  4. Do not shoot close ups of other zoo visitors without their permission.
After your photo session.
  1. Download and view your photos as soon as possible.  This will give you the best chance to remember what the circumstances were at the time each photo was taken, helping you to improve your future photos.
  2. Delete at least 80% of your pictures.  Honestly evaluate your photos for content, light, and overall quality.
  3. Only show your best 5 photos for the day. 
  4. Use your photos to recruit at least one new person to accompany you and photograph the zoo animals during your next visit.  Recruit an independent photo judge.
  5. Take pride in your work.

Top 10 Tips to Take Great Aquarium Photos

Unlike zoos, aquariums are not environments which are conducive to good photography.  The facilities are crowded, many exhibits have small viewing areas, lighting is poor, there is water and glass between your camera and the marine life, and flashes are prohibited in many areas.
With all of these obstacles and barriers to overcome, it takes tremendous effort, persistence, and time to get good aquarium photos.
Before we provide the top 10 tips, the two most important items of aquarium photography need to be addressed before you get started.  First, you must have a camera (digital with zoom is best) and a photo editor program.  Remember that buying a good camera does not equate to good pictures.  Developed skills give you good pictures.  Practice with your camera and photo editor before visiting the facility.  Try photographing objects at various distances under different light conditions.  The big advantage of digital cameras and computer photo editor programs is that you can practice with both endlessly at no cost.
Prior to visiting the aquariums you should review the feeding and show schedules for the various exhibits. 
Here are Zoo and Aquarium Visitor’s top ten tips to help you become a great aquarium photographer.
  1. Time of day and day of the week.  These are the two most important components for aquarium photography.  You have to visit when it is not crowded.  Usually, arriving when the doors open will give you clean displays, curious marine life, and room to shoot.
  2. Dirty and smudged displays.  NEVER bring a bottle of Windex or glass cleaner.  It is poisonous if it gets into a touch tank.  For that reason alone you may be held, charged, or questioned if attempting to enter the facility with a cleaning product.  You should never attempt to clean a display.  
  3. The content.  What do you want to photograph and how will it be framed?  Do you want a shot of the face, the whole body, or the exhibit itself?  Your subject  should fill at least 80% of the picture.  If you are attempting to do a head or face shot, zoom in until it fills the majority of the viewfinder.  If you are doing a whole body shot, make sure the feet, fins or tail is not cut off.  Including coral and plants can help contrast the color of marine fish, and in the case of fresh water fish, inclusion of the background will usually demonstrate the fish’s camouflage ability.
  4. Angles.  In an aquarium straight-on shots work best unless you are using a flash for the picture.  For a flash opportunity you may need a slight angle.  Be careful of interior light, and image reflections off the display as well.  Once you have taken the shot you want, move to the other end of the exhibit and see what can be captured in your viewfinder.  NEVER allow any part of your camera to touch the display.  Scratches are expensive and difficult to remove.
  5. Camera settings.  The rule of thumb with aquarium photography is that you can’t use a shutter speed that is too fast.  Many facilities DO NOT allow the use of tripods or bipods.  With most digital cameras you have limited adjustment of the shutter speed. You need a shutter speed fast enough to prevent a blurry picture of a moving object, yet you need to allow enough time for light to enter the camera so the photos aren’t too dark. To achieve this you will need to adjust your ISO setting to at least 800, possibly as high as 1600 if your camera is capable.  When photographing in an aquarium, the lens will stay open for a longer period than usual.  Try to stabilize the camera by placing the base on a friend’s shoulder.
  6. ALWAYS carry extra batteries. 
  7. Take the camera’s instruction book with you.  Use it until you have all of the proper settings for each situation memorized.
  8. Patience is a necessity with both the species you are photographing and other visitors who will get in your way.  Call in advance and ask when the school visits are scheduled.  You may want to avoid trying to shoot during those times.  But at some facilities, such as Georgia Aquarium, students have there own viewing areas.
  9. Look for flash restrictions before starting.  Some species are attracted to the flash anticipating a food source, others get spooked or agitated.  Pay attention and look for the “No Flash” display signs.
  10. Planning.  Do your homework before you arrive.  Know which species you wish to photograph and where they are located.  Get there before the displays get dirty and the crowds fill the viewing area.  List in descending order the species and the locations that you wish to photograph during your visit.
Manners and etiquette while photographing at an aquarium.
  1. Photographers do not have priority or special preference over other guests.   Don’t expect priority or become annoyed when visitors walk between you and your shot.
  2. Do not do things to get the fish to look directly at you.  This includes knocking on the display, flashing objects, or teasing with food.
  3. Respect the barriers.  Do not climb to obtain a closer shot.
  4. Do not shoot close ups of other visitors without their permission.
After the visit.
  1. Download and view your photos as soon as possible.  This will give you the best chance to remember the circumstances at the time each photo was taken.  It will help you improve in the future.
  2. Delete at least 80% of your pictures.  Honestly evaluate your photos for content, light, and overall quality.
  3. Only show your best 5 photos for the day. 
  4. Use your photos to recruit at least one new person to accompany you to photograph the fish during your next visit.  Recruit an independent photo judge. 
  5. Take pride in your work.