Many visitors to the Arctic Circle consider photography to be one of the most important elements of their trip. The Arctic is full of countless natural wonders that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, from the dazzling light show of the aurora borealis to majestic glaciers to unique wildlife such as the polar bear. If you’re on your first Arctic adventure, you’ll want to take as many pictures as possible in order to memorialize your trip and show off to your friends and family.
While many of the general principles of photography apply to the Arctic Circle, there are a number of considerations to take into account before you pack your bags. Here are some tips to ensure you get the best photos possible on your Arctic journey.
Photography in the Arctic Circle
Some more amateur adventurers may be content to use their smartphones, tablets, or other electronic devices to record their explorations. While it’s possible to capture good photos using these devices, one consideration you should take into account regardless of your equipment is climate. With temperatures frequently well below zero, particularly during the winter months, certain types of electronics may not function properly.
Many smartphones will automatically shut down when the temperature drops below a certain point, while others may function less efficiently. Internet service is also generally not available in rural areas, where the best sights are seen; if Internet service is available by chance, it will be slow and/or of poor quality. You’ll have to wait until you get back to your hotel room before you start texting your friends with pictures from your trip.
To accommodate the cold weather of the Arctic, you’ll want to pack appropriately. Bring thick, multi-layered clothing to ensure you remain warm and dry regardless of the weather. Bring water-resistance boots and gloves to protect your hands and feet. Consider bringing both a pair of thicker mittens and a thinner pair of gloves; use the gloves when you are setting up your equipment and the mittens at all other times.
To protect your equipment, bring heavy-duty bags and snow covers to ensure that moisture and snow don’t damage your camera and other belongings. Additionally, pack additional lithium batteries; cold weather typically results in lithium batteries draining more rapidly. Make sure all your batteries are fully charged before you head out to take pictures. It’s good practice to have three sets of batteries: one inside your equipment, a spare kept in your pocket to stay warm, and a third charging at your hotel room or camp.
One major issue with Arctic photography is the sheer amount of white due to glaciers, icebergs, snow, and the like. On default settings, cameras will typically underexpose the whiteness in your photographs, turning it grey. To mitigate this, you can use bracketing, a gray card, slower shutter speeds, or adjusting your camera’s exposure value from +1/3 to +1 1/3. Also beware of falling snow; it may look pretty, but it can also ruin the focus of your shot. Use manual focus to prevent this.
You will also want to bring long lenses. Due to safety and legal considerations, going right up to wildlife and photographing them isn’t an option in most cases. Use a telephoto lens of at least 300 mm and a mid-range zoom of 70 to 200 mm. For added stability, bring a tripod or monopod so you can ensure your shots are clean and focused. You’ll also have to be patient in many cases, as wildlife are unpredictable and will frequently move in and out of your shot.
Finally, don’t forget the landscape. The Arctic is home to some of the most breathtaking natural landmarks in the world, and they look spectacular with or without wildlife in your shot. For best results in landscape photography, bring a wide-angle lens with a range of 24 mm or less.
The Arctic has countless photo opportunities year-round, though the particular sights to see vary depending on the season. In winter, get ready for snowfall and the Northern Lights. In summer, watch out for grizzly bears, bald eagles, and other wildlife that hibernate or travel south for the winter. Remember to keep your distance to avoid endangering yourself (as many Arctic animals, particularly bears, are known to attack humans) and stay in compliance with local and national laws.
The Arctic Circle is a photographer’s dream, with countless wildlife and landscapes to explore. By bringing the right equipment, protecting yourself with the proper clothing, and respecting local wildlife, you can be guaranteed to take some truly spectacular pictures. If you’re planning on booking a trip to the Arctic Circle, prepare in advance so you’ll be able to snap some of the most memorable pictures in your life, ensuring those memories will last you a long time.