Last winter I took advantage of an amazing opportunity to journey to the Arctic and photograph the astonishing wonders of this unique place on our planet.
For six days I trained my cameras on the fauna, clouds, and landscape that are like no other. Primarily I found myself drawn to the wildlife, especially the polar bears!
There are photography opportunities and challenges in the Arctic that are unlike any other I’ve encountered. For instance the temperatures, which ranged in November from 0 °F to 30 °F, can make things pretty uncomfortable if you’re not properly prepared. Nothing ruins a chance at a great shot like worrying about cold, wet, feet!
That same damp also means condensation, which can be a death knell for good gear. But in contrast to the climate concerns there’s the light, ice, and wildlife. The chance to create art in this environment is not to be missed.
If you have the opportunity to travel to the Arctic there are two things you must keep in mind.
There are two kinds of gear to consider when heading to the Arctic, personal (clothing) and, naturally, photography equipment.
On the clothing front, it’s all about layers. Cotton isn’t the best choice when water is around and because if you sweat from exertion it stays wet against your body. So polyester, Capilene, and fleece are your friends. Start with synthetic or silk underwear (I use X bionic), then a thin top layer, add a fleece pant and top (I have used Arcteryx with success). For the outer layer, you will need down jackets (Canada Goose is very good). Gloves are a very personal choice for photographers. It can be hard to take a picture with gloves on, but it’s also hard to continue as a photographer if your fingers freeze! Some people use polysynthetic glove liners when shooting outdoors. I have used Outdoor Research inner thin gloves and a large mitten made by Mountain Hardwear on the outside. You have to take the mitten out of course when taking pictures.
Most heat in our bodies escapes through the top of our head. A hat, therefore, is mandatory. Sunglasses are essential in the arctic because the reflection of the sun on ice is blinding. Goggles can also be used if it is very windy.
Reliable. That’s the key word you want to apply to the camera bodies and lenses you take on this trip. Now is not the time to try out that new Leica Noctilux (which is entirely unsuitable in this environment anyway!). Make sure you have thoroughly tried all your equipment on a previous mission.
The best bet is to bring at least two camera bodies and two or three lenses (including a long telephoto) that you know will work under most circumstances. In the Arctic you are dealing with wide-open spaces, lots of reflection (snow and ice), animals in the distance as well as movement. Wildlife doesn’t sit still and pose while you think about which lens to use.
For my trip, I packed one Canon 5DS and one Canon 5DIV and found myself using mostly my Canon 100-400 and Canon 600, sometimes with the 1.4x extender to get me to 840mm of focal length. I also had my Canon 16-35 for landscape shots. You will need sturdy tripods, I used a Manfrotto Cinema tripod on my trip.
To call the Arctic unique is an understatement, as is saying “you gotta go!” It’s truly amazing and, with a little planning, there’s no reason you won’t get the shot of a lifetime.