Polar Safari Equipment recommendations:
I always recommend two bodies for adventures of this kind, one main camera for a telephoto lens and one grab camera/backup with a short zoom or wide-angle lens for the jaw-dropping panoramic landscapes and seascapes.
- Fast super-telephoto lenses are great for wildlife; 300mm+ will suffice for the majority of situations. Penguins are relatively approachable and the pelagics often approach very close to vessels. However, a 500mm+ will give the options to isolate individuals, focus on interaction, and create more intimate portraits. When encountering the seals and killer whales, it is difficult to predict how close we will be (hence the recommendation of two bodies).
- If you do not have access to the 500mm+ lenses, teleconverters may give you that extra reach. A wide-angle lens in the range of 16mm to 24mm is essential for the epic icescapes and seascapes. Opportunities for macro work will be limited to tundra flora. Polarizing filters reduce glare and saturate colours, as well as deepening blue skies. They may prove particularly useful when photographing killer whales through the water. Graduated neutral density filters will correctly expose bright skies and help preserve highlights in sunsets and sunrises.
Flash is permitted. Flashguns are welcome and indeed recommended during the day for fill-in flash to relieve contrast (especially for black-faced penguins) or add punch in overcast conditions.
Tripods are recommended for landings and can be used (with care) on board the ice-rated vessel. They are neither practical nor advisable, however, within the confines of the zodiacs where it is easier to place the lens on a beanbag on the outer pontoon of the inflatable craft.
Storage & Backup:
A small notebook and/or portable downloader or hard drive is essential for storing and reviewing images. For example, I work on a 15” MacBook Pro™ and always travel with two high-speed image downloaders storing over 250Gb each, plus a high-capacity Western Digital® 1Tb My Passport® pocket-sized portable drive to back up all my images.
High-capacity memory cards, each clearly numbered for when you wish to preserve or accidentally erase (we will have software that may retrieve accidentally deleted files); Memory card reader and/or downloader.
Binoculars, batteries and chargers, power cables, connectivity cables, lens cloths (this is almost a completely dust free environment so dust is not an issue for sensors), small MagLite™ or head-torch, note pad and pen, personal medication, toiletries.
Expedition clothing is strongly recommended. Even though we are travelling in summer, the weather can change with shocking immediacy and you need to be prepared – the Arctic is definitely more weather-friendly than the Antarctic in this regard! A layering system works best enabling you to strip-off and apply layers as the weather changes. For instance, a thermal under layer > base fleece and thermal lined weatherproof trousers > Windproof fleece > Down ‘puffa’ jacket > Expedition rated waterproof/windproof jacket and over trousers.
Light footwear is suitable for onboard expedition vessels, but waterproof trekking boots, or Muck Arctic Sport Snow Boots, are required for all landings. With some polar operators, these boots are issued onboard and are complimentary. If you bring your own, be sure they have adequate high-grip soles. The terrain is often uneven, slippery, and treacherous under foot, so good grips and ankle support are essential – Hunters are not appropriate. Layering two pairs of socks definitely keeps your toes warmer; for instance, a thin liner sock with a thick heavy-crew boot sock. A wide-brimmed hat (with chin strap) will prevent ears, neck, and face from burning in the strong sunlight. The diligent use of high-factor 30-50+ sunscreen is essential on all exposed skin.
Layered gloves will keep your hands warmer. Using a fleece, silk, or polyamide liner with a waterproof/windproof shell means that you can pull your hand out to use the camera while still maintaining some protection against the cold. In severe weather, a fleece-lined balaclava will protect your face. High quality wrap-around sunglasses are recommended to prevent glare and headaches commonly encountered with the strong sunlight and reflective surfaces of ice, water and snow.