Biosecurity & Antarctic photography

In light of the arrival of Avian Flu in South Georgia in October, biosecurity measures that have been in place for over a year continue to be maintained this season. Whilst there are no confirmed cases of Avian Flu in Antarctica, we invite you to join us in adhering to the guidelines of IAATO (The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators), designed to protect Antarctic wildlife. Please familiarise yourself with the current biosecurity measures and respect them when photographing during your adventure.

Specific biosecurity measures include cleaning and vacuuming your gear, disinfecting boots and camera tripods, maintaining a distance of 5 metres from wildlife, and avoiding lying down, crouching, squatting or kneeling to rest or take photos. You must also make sure any possessions such as bags, jackets or cameras do not touch the ground. 

IAATO's guide to responsible photography

Top tips for Antarctic photography

Since this video guide was created, heightened biosecurity measure have come into effect. Contrary to some of the video, kneeling, crouching and squatting down is no longer permitted during onshore excursions.

Choosing the right camera

Generally speaking, bringing a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) is the best option as this will give you the best image quality and lens options. However, if you are just after holiday snaps then a simple point-and-shoot camera is a great option.


DSLR cameras are by far the most common type of camera used in Antarctica. The image quality of a DSLR outstrips most other camera types and you get far more creative options thanks to the lens choice and settings.


  • Image quality and resolution is optimal
  • Images can be printed out in large formats at home
  • More creative settings to choose from such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO (a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo)
  • Interchangeable lenses allow you to choose which lens is right depending on the situation
  • Easy auto mode for beginners


  • Not the cheapest option
  • Heavier than some compact cameras
  • You’ll probably want to purchase several lenses
  • JPG and RAW image files can be quite big
Photographer raising her camera to take a shot of an iceberg

Shooting ice in Antarctica

Point & shoot cameras

Whilst DSLR cameras are by far the most popular option, point and shoot cameras always have their place. If you just want some snaps to remember the adventure, then a point-and-shoot might be the way to go.


  • Very easy to use
  • Quite versatile if you get a decent zoom lens model
  • Very lightweight and small - just chuck it in your pocket
  • Often cheaper than a DSLR


  • Image quality is not quite as good
  • Not many creative choices
  • Not as rugged as a DSLR
Photographing whales from a zodiac boat, Antarctica

Photographing whales from a zodiac boat

Weather sealed options

On an Antarctic cruise, you're going to have to protect your camera from the elements – snow, rain and spray – while you're out on deck or in a rubber zodiac vessel. With this in mind, you could look at getting a camera that has 'weather sealing'.

This usually means that the joints and buttons will be covered and sealed with rubber to reduce exposure to moisture and dust, however, this does not make the camera waterproof. High-end DSLRs shine through in this respect as their weather sealing will be exceptional.

Therefore you could also think about purchasing a rain sleeve. This is not the most technical piece of kit - it’s basically a plastic bag for your camera. It should only cost you around £8/$10.

Photography in Antarctica

Choosing the right lens

As Antarctica offers both breathtaking landscapes and rich wildlife, bringing both a wide-angle lens and a telephoto zoom lens is advised.

Telephoto lenses

For most wildlife photographers, telephoto lenses are the go-to choice. However, unlike most places on our planet, the wildlife in Antarctica is neither shy nor scared of humans, and in many cases is actively curious. Penguins will often waddle past your feet and seals barely look up at you when you approach them at a safe distance.

This behaviour means that long telephoto lenses are not as critical as they might be in other places. It is still advised to bring a telephoto lens, particularly for photographing whales, but a 400mm lens will usually suffice and help to keep the weight down in your luggage.

Photography in Antarctica


  • Capture wildlife that is not close to you, such as whales
  • Compresses wildlife and landscape together
  • Ideal for portrait images of seals and penguins


  • Heavy and bulky when transporting
  • Not required for penguin and seal images on land
Photography in Antarctica

Wide-angle lenses

Wide-angle lenses often produce the most interesting wildlife photos in Antarctica. This is because they are great at capturing both the wildlife and breadth of landscape in a single image.

You’ll be taking daily shore hikes and wide-angle lenses are lightweight and easy to carry. They also allow you to capture the enormity of the Antarctic landscape and demonstrate the sheer scale of the environment you are standing in.

A wide-angle lens such as a standard 16-35mm F4 is more than good enough to get great wildlife shots of penguins whilst ashore. In fact, curious whales will often appear next to zodiacs and a wide-angle lens is the only option when this happens.

Photography in Antarctica


  • Great for capturing the wide-open landscape of Antarctica
  • Can demonstrate both the landscape and wildlife in one image
  • Can often produce more intimate wildlife shots
  • Easy to carry and pack


  • Not good at capturing detailed wildlife images
  • Frustrating when wildlife appears in the distance
Photography in Antarctica

Do I need to bring a tripod?

Photography in Antarctica

This is a tricky one, as you will spend a lot of your time on a moving ship or zodiac. However, if you want to capture stunning HDR landscapes while on land, or take a timelapse, a tripod will be useful. They can also be great for achieving things like motion blur on the water, which can have stunning results.

If your focus is purely wildlife then a tripod is not really necessary. The bright snow means that your shutter speed will be fast and, unless you’re trying something very creative, a tripod won’t be useful.

However, bringing a monopod may be a good idea, particularly if you know you’ll be doing a lot of wildlife photography. Many people complain of tired arms when using telephoto lenses for long periods and a good monopod will alleviate this problem instantly. Monopods are also great when photographing sea birds from the ship's deck as they can be moved around easily.

If you do decide to bring a tripod or monopod this must be scrubbed, cleaned and disinfected at the same time as your boots as part of the biosecurity when returning from a landing.

What extra gear will I need?

Extra batteries and memory cards

Photography in Antarctica

It goes without saying that Antarctica is a cold environment. Even in summer, temperatures are regularly below freezing, especially if you travel in the shoulder months of November and March. It becomes evident very quickly just how much shorter batteries last in the cold environment.

If you can, bring extra batteries and try to keep the charged batteries close to your skin during the day to stop them from leaking power.

You should also consider bringing extra memory cards. Not only do memory cards frequently malfunction, but if you have an epic wildlife encounter, you’ll take a lot more pictures than you expect. You really do not want to run out of memory just when humpback whales are surfacing next to your zodiac.

You may also want to bring a USB stick or hard drive to keep in your cabin so that you can back up your photos as you go or share photos with other passengers whilst on board. 

Dry bags

Condensation in the cold weather can be a big problem and quite a shock to first-timers. When there is a quick change in temperature, the front of your lens can often fog up with condensation. This frequently happens when you take pictures outside of the ship and then bring your camera inside.

To combat this you should put the camera in an air-tight bag before coming back inside. This allows the camera to slowly adjust to the new temperature and prevents condensation from forming.

Photography in Antarctica
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Swoop says

You should also bring air-tight bags or dry bags for the zodiac trips. The sea is often choppy in the zodiacs and it is not uncommon to get a good dose of seaspray over you and your camera.


Seeing as so much of the landscape in Antarctica is white, having a filter for your lens is important. One of the biggest issues with photographs of Antarctica is that they end up over-exposed, so an ND (Neutral-Density) filter would be perfect to avoid this. They reduce the amount of light entering the lens, and so should help you avoid over-exposing your photos.

Polarising filters are also useful for darkening skies or removing glare from the sun on the sea or the snow, which is incredibly useful if you're on a boat surrounded by icebergs.

You should be able to pick up both of these for a reasonable price. They are light too, so easy to pack.

Photography in Antarctica

Adelie penguins on an iceberg

Thin insulation gloves

If you’re planning on taking a lot of pictures, then it is definitely worth purchasing a pair of thin purpose-made photography gloves to sit under your outer gloves. These are perfect for keeping your hands warm whilst still being able to change the settings on your camera.

Photography in Antarctica

© Ira Meyer

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Swoop says

It's all too easy to spend your time seeing only 1cm square of what is going on, and missing some incredible drama kicking off nearby, or be so absorbed in getting the perfect shot, you forget to just soak it all up. Don't forget to put your camera down and enjoy the moment!

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What our customers think of photography in Antarctica

Physical landings are NOT always the best way to view wildlife in certain areas. The mobility of the zodiac often provides a wider range of options for both viewing and photography. Also, for capturing images of penguins and other wildlife in sheer rocky areas, the only way to capture great images from a low angle are from the zodiacs. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Steven Thacker - USA

Be sure to spend time observing without your camera. A lot of people on our trip missed magical moments because they were focused on getting their camera out. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Haley Schools - USA

Bring a bungee for your phone. Even those who had larger DSL cameras were also carrying cell phones. It was precarious to use our cell phones on the zodiacs and on the side of the ship. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Love Zubiller - USA

Bring binoculars to spend time just enjoying the wildlife without looking for a best shot! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2023

Diane Alton - Canada

Bringing a camera lens that can reach 600mm gives you the best photos for wildlife. Enjoy the sights not always from behind the lens. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Daniel Hopping - USA

Sometimes put the camera down and just take in the vastness of the ice and the sounds of Antarctica. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2023

Michael Robert Perata - USA

It's important to figure out how you will manage taking photos with gloves on or how you will avoid losing your phone and getting your hands warmed back up once you remove the gloves for picture taking. Thanks to Swoop's information I was ready and could have stayed in the elements far past the allotted time. Read the full review

Travelled: October 2023

Keith Lorin Harris - USA

Yes, plan to take a lot of pictures, but don't forget to just experience it with your own two eyes. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2023

Sarah Larson - USA

Bring binoculars. And while the iPhone camera is good for some things, there are some photos you will only appreciate if you have some better zoom features. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Michael Sanders - USA

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

We found ourselves encircled with a pod of about 12 whales that were communicating with each other as they surfaced and checked these yellow coated camera-happy humans out… It was a warm, sunny, still afternoon and truly indescribable the paradigm felt. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Paolina Xocco - USA

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

Watching the albatrosses was like watching ballet in the air and was able to capture their musical in the sky and enjoy the show. Photos can't capture the brilliance of the ice, shapes and colors that can be seen. 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

Most memorable moment: photographing a little, lone penguin trudging through a blizzard to join up with his colony. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Scott Hogenson - 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

Temper your expectations. Don't think every day is going to be filled with gorgeous sunshine, as photos tend to suggest. If you concentrate on the incredible landscapes and fantastic wildlife, you will have an unforgettable adventure even if the weather is not the best. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Fred Delcomyn - 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


GoPros & drones


Gentoo penguins heading out to sea, underwater, Antarctica

Gentoo penguins heading out to sea

GoPro cameras can be great fun. As well as a funky time-lapse feature, they are able to film and take pictures above and below the waterline, so filming humpbacks swimming under your zodiac is a real possibility. It’s a good idea to invest in some of the cool accessories, like the selfie stick and clamps, and have some fun experimenting with the various camera functions.

We suggest you get some practice using your GoPro before going on your trip, as it can take some learning (especially the ones without an LCD screen on the back) and you don’t want to be spending time pushing the wrong button when that penguin is staring in the lens.

If you will be kayaking during your trip then we definitely recommend bringing a GoPro as you’ll be able to film your adventures and sightings both above and below water.

We recommend that you give your camera a thorough clean and rinse off when you get back on the ship.

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Swoop says

We advise taking a GoPro stick with a wrist strap. You wouldn’t want it to end up at the bottom of the ocean!

Can I bring a drone?

Unfortunately, you can’t take your drone to Antarctica.

IAATO (International Association Antarctic Tour Operators), the governing body for Antarctic tourism, which aims to keep Antarctica as pristine and untouched as possible, has ruled against the use of drones. Drones are considered to be at high risk of getting lost and as such are not allowed to be taken to Antarctica. Besides that, the noise can be disturbing to your fellow passengers.

However, if you are planning on spending time in Patagonia pre or post your Antarctic trip, then bringing a drone may be a good idea as you will be able to find spots to film in those regions.

Photography in Antarctica
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Swoop says

Get somebody to take some pictures of you and do the same for your fellow passengers. Selfies really don’t capture the incredible scale of Antarctica! If you get a good shot of another passenger, let them know and get their email, so you can share it when you get home. 

Ten photography tips to get the most out of your Antarctica trip

Join Swoop Antarctica's videographer, photographer and Antarctic expert, Burnham, for this blog article where he offers up his best 10 tips for getting the most out of your Antarctic photography.

Read the article

Top tips for photographing in Antarctica

Demonstrate scale

Antarctica is an incredibly vast landscape, but it’s often difficult to convey this to people who have not been there. The best way to do this is to show a subject in the photo that people would recognise. For example, having some kayaks or a ship in the composition will help to give people some perspective as to just how immense the landscape really is.

Photography in Antarctica

The dreaded grey snow effect

The huge amounts of snow in Antarctica mean that your camera’s auto settings and histogram will underexpose your photos and leave you with landscape images covered in grey snow.

To avoid this you can either over-expose your photos or set your exposure compensation to +1 or +2. Just remember, do not trust your camera’s light meter in these conditions as the snow will play havoc with them.

Photography in Antarctica

Get your camera low down

Getting the camera closer to the ground so that you are at eye level with the penguins is key to creating intimate photos. The penguins will pop out against the background far more this way and create a stronger connection between the animal and the human when viewing the photos.

However, please be careful not to kneel or lie down, or allow your camera to touch the ground as this is not permitted for biosecurity reasons. It's also important not to crouch or squat as it's all too easy to slip over on the ice or in a wind gust or get caught out by putting one hand down to support yourself when standing back up.

The best way to get a lower perspective is by bending forward from the hips, which will change the angle of your shot. It helps if your camera has a moveable/flip-up style screen so you can check your subject is in the frame.

Photography in Antarctica

Be respectful of the wildlife

This is the golden rule of wildlife watching and photographing in Antarctica. As the wildlife in Antarctica is unafraid of humans, there can be a tendency to get too close to the wildlife. 

If a penguin approaches you, move slowly and quietly out of its path, to maintain the 5-metre distance as per IAATO regulations for interactions with Antarctic birds.

Photography in Antarctica

Get familiar with your gear

Don’t bring a brand new camera that you’ve never tried at home. If you are bringing a brand new camera, bring the manual! The onboard photographer can try to help but there are hundreds of camera types and having the manual can help them to help you if needed.

The onboard photographer will generally run a lecture in the early days of the trip, which is fantastically helpful for providing tips on how to make the most of working with Polar conditions. Also, many of the general expedition team are very experienced photographers and may be able to help out.

Photography in Antarctica