Planning your photography trip to Antarctica: what to consider

  • Over the years Swoop has helped hundreds of avid Antarctic photographers arrange their dream trip, as well providing logistical support to dedicated photography groups
  • Our long experience of working across the polar fleet means we know which ships are the most photographer friendly and which trips will give the best opportunities to capture that perfect shot
  • From maximising time in destination, to picking the best time for the best light and wildlife encounters and having on board top photography guides, we understand what's on your priority list
  • In addition to Swoop's Antarctic specialists, our inhouse cameraman Burnham is a polar photography veteran who is here to share his knowledge

Swoop's top Antarctic photography tips

Advice on choosing your Antarctic photography trip

When to go

Long distance shot of a photographer in Antarctica during golden hour

For any Antarctic photography trip, when you travel is of paramount importance. The cruise season, which runs from November to March offers several choices: opt for high summer's warmth and busiest wildlife or embrace the extended golden hour sunsets and sunrises of the shoulder months.

For lovers of landscape photography, November is a hard month to beat. The sun still dips below the horizon for the chance of amazing sunsets, and the presence of the winter snow offers an amazing canvas ready to be painted with light. The light in March is equally wonderful, but while the snow is no longer quite so pristine, you'll find yourself in the height of whale watching season. Having spent the summer feeding, they're often curious around zodiacs and kayaks at this time, making for tremendous photos.

Antarctica's famously unpredictable weather may sometimes mean working with the weather for moody atmospheric shots. The high summer stretch from December to mid-February with its long days may bring fewer dramatic lighting opportunities but is conversely the peak time for wildlife photography, with busy penguin colonies and plenty of chicks plus lots of seal and whale sightings.

Is it possible to have both wildlife and light? If you have the time, consider including South Georgia on your itinerary: king penguin chicks are present all year round, while November brings breeding elephant seals and March offers up playful fur seal pups by the thousand.

Choosing your ship

A zodiac full of photographers in the Antarctic peninsula

Any Antarctica cruise is going to offer you a spectacular array of wildlife and landscapes to point a camera at, but if you’re serious about your photography then choosing the right ship will go a long way to helping you capture that perfect shot. At Swoop, our inhouse photographer travels south on a shooting trip every year and our sales team knows the entire polar fleet inside – so we have the inside knowledge to help you get the most out of your trip.

One of the most important considerations for your trip is how much time you’ll spend off the ship. Larger ships can mean it takes longer to disembark or that landings can be shorter, so we recommend choosing a smaller ship.

The majority of ships will have a photographer as part of their expedition team who is there to help with advice and guidance. However, many ships also operate dedicated photography-led tours, with extra photography guides and excursions along with technical workshops and talks on board. These can be perfect for really maximising your experience as you’ll be travelling with plenty of fellow enthusiasts all with the same purpose in mind.

If you’re considering a fly-sail cruise and are bringing a lot of kit, be aware that flights to the Antarctic Peninsula have strict baggage limits of 15kg (33lbs) for checked bags and 5kg (11lbs) for carry-on. On some internal Argentinian flights to the cruise starting point at Ushuaia you may also have to pay extra for bags over this weight: our team can advise you of current baggage limits when booking. 

Our best voyages for Antarctic photography

Special Offers:Swoop has access to the widest range of offers and can help you find the right trip, cabin, & price.

Travelling aboard a state-of-the-art small ship and accompanied by unparalleled onboard expertise, expeditionary cruising doesn’t get much better. Regular departures throughout the season and a choice of three outstanding ships renowned for their comfort, enhanced safety features and spirit of…

  • 12 Days
  • $15,840

Start your adventure in Puerto Madryn, a mecca for southern right whales and then sail to the wildlife paradise of South Georgia, stopping off at the Falkland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula en route. This three week odyssey on a stylish…

  • 22 Days
  • $20,895

By offering time saving flights, extended time in Antarctica and the chance to reach the Polar Circle, this 10-day voyage maximises the polar experience. Minimum travel time & maximum exploring time and all the benefits of only 73 people…

  • 10 Days
  • $15,595

Spend 6 full days exploring Antarctica with the Polar Circle at 66 degrees south as your most southerly objective, on board one of the most exciting new vessels. Limited to only 132 passengers with spacious cabins, state-of-the-art technology and optional…

  • 12-15 Days
  • $16,195

Explore the White Continent onboard one of the newest additions to the Polar fleet, a state-of-the-art expedition vessel combining adventure with comfort. Limited to only 132 passengers, there’s also a wide range of optional adventure activities on this classic Antarctic…

  • 11-15 Days
  • $12,795

Maximise your time looking for Antarctica’s most iconic species, the emperor penguin, on this luxurious expedition to the remote Weddell Sea. If conditions allow, two sleek twin engine helicopters will fly you over vast tabular icebergs to Snow Hill Island,…

  • 14 Days
  • $27,995

With a good choice of departure dates through the season across three medium-sized ships, this 19-23 day trip stands out for its value for money and the broad range of cabin categories available, including Quads, which are…

  • 19 - 22 Days
  • $13,550

Uniquely focused on extensive exploration of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, without heading further south to Antarctica. Spend 8 full days exploring these bountiful sub-Antarctic Islands, brimming with both wildlife and history. Limited to spring and late summer…

  • 17 Days
  • $24,940
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Burnham says

There are few places on earth where you can safely get as close to the wildlife as in Antarctica. This is heaven for a photographer as it means time to play with composition, shutter speeds and lenses to find your perfect shot.

Burnham Arlidge Swoop Photographer & Videographer

Why Swoop

Expert Impartial Advice At No Extra Cost

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Antarctic travel options are complicated. We help you choose the right boat, the right cabin, and at the right point in the season.

A Depth Of Knowledge On Board

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As a team of ex-guides, tour leaders, & polar adventurers our Antarctic knowledge is leagues ahead of the rest.

For The Ends Of The Earth

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Swoop is proud to be B Corp Certified as we know sustainability is more than our carbon footprint (but we’re reducing that too).

We’re With You At Every Step

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We’ll make sure you have the adventure of a lifetime.

Photography kit for Antarctica

A photographer takes his shot on Petermann Island, with Seaventure in the background

Keen photographers will already have much of their gear to hand, but polar conditions require a few extra considerations when drawing up your packing list. Besides, what better excuse to treat yourself to some new kit than taking a once in a lifetime Antarctica cruise?

Serious photographers should consider bringing two camera bodies with them to avoid continually swapping lenses in often harsh weather. From experience, we recommend bringing a wide-angle lens for landscape photography and a zoom for wildlife close ups. In general you likely won’t need anything over 200mm as you’ll be close to the wildlife, but a longer lens can be handy for long distance shots of whales or albatrosses off the ship.

Bring a waterproof bag or dry pack to protect your camera as you’ll invariably get wet on zodiac trips, as well as making sure your cameras have good straps for when you’re carrying them. Leave your tripod at home though. You won’t miss it; it just gets in the way and you’ll most be shooting at fast speeds because of the light anyway. As for tackling that light, bright snow makes a polarising filter essential and a graduated ND filter highly recommended.

Don’t forget the accessories. Bring plenty of spare batteries and keep them inside your coat so they stay warm in frozen air. You’ll take more photos than you’ll even anticipate so extra memory cards are a must, especially ones that write fast when you’re trying to capture animals on the move. Bring a hard drive or two to back things up: going through the day’s shots on your laptop in the ship lounge is also a great icebreaker for meeting fellow photographers.

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What our customers think of Photography in Antarctica

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The landings were great because even if you weren't mountaineering or kayaking, you were able to hike and take more time to view wildlife/scenery and practice photography - we got some amazing photos! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2017

Travis & Kalli Walthall - United States Of America

One memorable zodiac cruise we saw 7 little penguins nestled within an incredibly blue ice shelf on an iceberg - this made the most stunning of photos! We also had a leopard seal swim around all of our zodiac boats on one excursion. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Isabella Kornas - UK

If you are a photographer, always have a camera with you even while you are on the ship. You never know when a pod of killer whales will pop up. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Maricela Alaniz - USA

The wildlife was extraordinary. I could have watched the penguins for hours and my photos are wonderful but no substitute for observing the animals with my own eyes. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Rebecca Klein - USA

Remember to put your camera down and absorb what's happening around you. It's a once in a lifetime experience - forget your digital gear and just luxuriate in the occasion. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Marg Macleod - Canada

A bridge camera with a decent zoom is only high end camera you will need, take some classes before going to be able to look at the world in different angles and perspectives. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Steve Rimel - USA

I brought an iPhone 14 and a canon camera with a zoom lens. I thought this was a very good combination for taking photographs. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

James McHugh - USA

We just had iPhones, and wish we had brought a “ selfie stick” to mount them on as we were always taking gloves on and off for picture taking. If I repeated the trip, I probably would have brought my simple camera with a telephoto lens. It’s important to “ be in the moment” and not worry about taking pictures. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Joe Brubaker - USA

Hand warmers ("Hothands") and a good DSLR camera are a must in my opinion. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jamal Perry - USA

Most memorable moment: hard to choose just one! Penguins swimming underwater en masse. A huge, unusually large pod of orca feeding. The magnificent mountain peaks and sunlit valleys beneath them, and on and on. Truly something I will remember every day of my life! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Kent Kimball - USA

My favorite encounter was having a very curious penguin come up and bite my camera lens. Wow! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Gordon Pickering - USA

Penguins and whales and seals and albatrosses offered themselves up for some phenomenal pictures. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Rex - Len Hunt - United States Of America

If you want good pictures of animals, invest in a camera with a zoom lens that goes to 250mm at least. Some people had a point and shoot non-zoom camera and they regretted not investing in something better. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Kayla Kissane - United States Of America

The expedition staff far surpassed all my expectations. My favourite moment was just sitting with the penguin colonies and watching them interact with each other. An absolutely incredible experience! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Jill Pickett - United States Of America

We saw four types of whales, three types of penguins, and four types of seals. Not to mention tons of ocean birds. We have so many amazing pics and videos! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Nancy Jones - Canada


Wildlife photography in Antarctica

Wildlife photography in Antarctica isn't quite like anywhere else on the planet. This isn’t like tracking game in Africa: animals have no natural fear of humans and can appear in such abundance that you can sometimes be overwhelmed when choosing what to shoot! The environment can bring its own challenges however, depending whether you're on land, in a zodiac or on board the ship, so this is our guide to getting the most out of your camera:

During a landing

King penguins in the golden hour on South Georgia

One thing that makes photography in Antarctica so rewarding is that the wildlife almost comes to you.  You'll need to maintain a distance of at least 5m between you and the wildlife but this aside, you'll be wondering more about where to point your camera rather than finding a subject to shoot.

You'll have plenty of time to observe behaviour and pick your shot, whether that’s early season nesting or feeding chicks in high summer. Taking a moment is even more important when you’re in South Georgia, where you can easily imagine yourself in the centre of a David Attenborough documentary such is the overwhelming volume of wildlife.

Although the temptation is often to get out of the zodiac and straight into the action, we always recommend lingering a while on the shore. There’s always plenty to shoot here: penguins are often at their most charismatic when getting out of the water at their cleanest and glossiest, while in South Georgia there is always plenty of action with fur seals and elephant seals.

On a zodiac cruise

Two gentoo penguins porpoising through the water

Gentoo penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula

Shooting from a moving platform like a zodiac can sometimes be a learning experience, but polar guides are highly trained and there to help you get the best shots you can – it's common on trips for some cruises to have dedicated zodiacs just for the hardcore photographers to allow you to concentrate on your craft.

Being low on the water can certainly add drama to your photography, though you’ll need to have your burst mode and a narrow focus aperture ready to capture a group of porpoising penguins. Leopard seals are often more obliging as they may approach your zodiac out of curiosity, as do whales at the end of the season after they’re often quite playful after a summer of gorging on krill.

Ice always makes a great subject when you’re out on the water, whether that’s brash ice with the horizon kept high in the frame, or when you’re looking to capture the perfect iceberg reflection on a sea that’s as flat as a mirror.

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Swoop says

Your ship's photography guide should be your best friend while during your trip. They're there to share their Antarctic experience and help you get the most out of your camera, down to the last shot.

On the ship

Black-browed albatross in flight

Photographic opportunities on your cruise begin the moment your ship leaves port. As soon as you enter the Drake Passage en route to the Antarctic Peninsula you’ll start to attract sea birds that glide effortlessly in your wake. The smaller petrels and prions seem to positively skip across your lens, while albatrosses skim with the grace of a ballet dancer. Either way, they’ll allow you to get in some early practice panning your long zoom lens with your camera in burst mode to capture the action. Don’t worry about framing: these are shots you’ll definitely fix in the edit.

Whales aren’t so commonly seen in the Drake Passage, but especially in high summer and autumn in the Peninsula there are plenty of opportunities to see them from the deck. Your ship will frequently stop to allow you to better observe and photograph them. Guides will help you anticipate their rhythm to time your photography: first the blow, then a dorsal fin breaking the surface and then (if you’re lucky) a set of flukes as they dive.

Photography in Antarctica FAQs

  • Is there an optimal time to go for photography?

    With wildlife found in large numbers at all times, it's a photographic feast whenever you go. November and March can be popular with photographers as the sun is lower, and the light softer, but the high season months of December through to February can be some of the busiest months for wildlife behaviour and penguin chicks.

    Visit our dedicated page about the best time to travel to Antarctica for more detailed information. 

  • How close do you get to wildlife?

    Very close is the short answer! The wildlife's densities lack of fear of man means getting close to wildlife isn’t the challenge, it's giving them enough space – zoom lenses are frequently unnecessary. For safe wildlife watching however, it's crucial to keep a minimum of 5m between you and any animals. 

  • How long will I have to photograph during a landing?

    The landings are the main focus on these cruises and so plenty of time will be allowed at each place. Each excursion typically lasts for 2- 4 hours, depending on location.

  • Should I bring a GoPro?

    A GoPro can be a great addition to your arsenal if you're planning on shooting video. They're super portable and can really add an extra dimension to what you capture. GoPros really come into their own during activities such as kayaking, allowing you to film the action at water level. Waterline action is just as exciting captured from a zodiac, but you'll need a selfie stick for full reach. Always be sensitive to others  when filming with selfie stick however and be careful never to disturb the wildlife with one: the rule about keeping a minimum of 5m from wildlife starts from the position of your camera lens! 

  • Can I take a drone to Antarctica?

    It is not permitted to fly recreational drones in Antarctica. This is to prevent disturbing wildlife, noise pollution and accidental pollution by crashed drones that aren't used to flying in subzero conditions where batteries are quickly drained. 

Explore more about Antarctic cruising

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Antarctic Peninsula Cruises

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