Tony Beck - Photography, Nature and Birding Tours, Local Birding Excursions

Polar Photography – Dealing With The Challenges

Adelie Penguins - black & white subjects are a challenge for the camera meter

Adelie Penguins - black & white subjects are a challenge for the camera meter

As adventurers, we tend to seek unusual travel destinations. We need to satisfy an insatiable appetite for discovering remote parts of the world. Inevitably, these isolated destinations come with extreme conditions – rugged landscape, unpredictable wildlife, inhospitable environments and harsh weather. Yet the wilderness calls us. And, we answer.
Fortunately, thanks to advances in digital photography, it’s never been easier to document such adventures. Even tiny cameras can produce high-quality images with just the push of a button.
But, extreme conditions come with challenges. Polar regions in particular will test the limits of any modern electronic gadget. Beware of ice, snow, wind, salt, moisture and extreme light.

Here are a few simple recommendations:

1) Cold temperatures eat battery power. Battery life is much shorter in the cold. Keep spare batteries handy – ALWAYS! If possible, keep them warm in a pocket close to your body. When you replace batteries, return the used ones to your warm pocket. There may still be some juice there.

2) Keep things dry / protect your equipment. I use a large, padded, weather-resistant backpack with an additional rain-cover that folds out from the lining. I sometimes also use a solid waterproof Pelican Case. There’s a lot of protective gear available on the market. Search for the right products that match your needs and equipment. At the very least, carry a large plastic garbage bag or heavy-duty zip-lock bag. It will keep your equipment dry for short periods, or during less severe situations.

3) Watch your exposure, especially with black or white subjects – both ends of the visible colour spectrum. In Polar Regions, you can expect a lot of highly reflective snow cover. Camera meters are calibrated to read mid-range colours, and have trouble dealing with extremes like snow scenes. Black & White subjects, like an Adelie Penguin or Thick-billed Murre, can pose severe exposure challenges. I deal with exposure issues later, while viewing my images on a computer. I fix imperfections with a photo editor like Photoshop, Elements or Nikon Capture. However, learning to use the editors takes time. Fortunately with digital cameras, we have the advantage of reviewing the image immediately after exposure. Look at your results right away, and compensate your exposure with your camera’s exposure controls. Try using several different exposure settings (bracketing), take lots of pictures, and review your results as you go. At least one of the images is bound to work. Many new digital cameras have auto-braketing functions.

4) Bring two of everything. You never know when something will fail, break, or even disappear. Although doubling your camera inventory isn’t always practical, if you have the capacity, it might save you in time of need. I always travel with two cameras, and several lenses. But, even a little compact camera will work as a spare. It may not replace your DSLR. But, it’s better than nothing if your good camera expires.

5) Memorize your owner’s manual. At least, bring your manual with you when you travel. Most digital cameras have a myriad of functions and features. Your manual will familiarize you with them. It should also inform you how to deal with extremes such as snow and cold.

6) Take lots of pictures. Bring plenty of memory cards. And, don’t ever hesitate to press the shutter release. You can always delete the bad pics if necessary.

You’re about to travel on the trip of a lifetime, a place where few have dared to venture. Be prepared, and you’ll capture all the beauty, drama and joy to share later with the world.

Polar Bear - another tricky exposure challenge

Polar Bear - another tricky exposure challenge

The immaculate beauty of our vast polar regions are waiting to be discovered

The immaculate beauty of our vast polar regions are waiting to be discovered

Humpback Whales from the Zodiac - be prepared to capture the excitement

Humpback Whales from the Zodiac - be prepared to capture the excitement

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