Skip to content

UfD: Travel Photography-Lessons Learned

Travel Photography-Lessons Learned

Last December Leanne invited me to write a post entitled “Up for Discussion- Travel Photography” for her blog and I happily accepted the opportunity. Both she and I were planning major trips to completely different destinations—New York City and Antarctica—and we asked readers to offer their thoughts on what gear we should be taking. The responses were numerous and full of good ideas.

My Antarctica trip is now completed and Leanne suggested a “Lessons Learned” post might be of interest. It also is opportunity to thank those who commented on the original article. Their collective wisdom was of great help in my pre-trip research. On the subject of pre-trip research I would also recommend a post by Susan Portnoy, an excellent travel photographer based in New York City.

Antarctica 21

Early Morning (38mm, shot at f/5.6, 1/1000th sec., ISO 800)

  1.  One Camera Body or Two? There is no place in Antarctica to rent equipment and several readers (Murray Foote, Chillbrook, and others) recommended taking two bodies, so I purchased a second D800E (used). Even though there was no breakdown, the second body had another important benefit discussed in Lesson #3.

    Caption:  Lemaire Channel (35mm, shot at f/16, 1/640th sec., ISO 400)

    Lemaire Channel (35mm, shot at f/16, 1/640th sec., ISO 400)

  2. Weight Matters: There was a strong consensus that putting cameras and lenses in checked baggage is risky. Consequently, airline weight restrictions for carry-on baggage become the critical factor in limiting what one can take. The tour company advised that our flight to Ushuaia had a strict 5 kg policy (11 pounds). Yikes! But several readers (Murray Foote and others) assured me that airlines rarely weigh the bags. That turned out to be the case, although I had Murray’s Plan B (Winter Jacket with big pockets) if I got unlucky. The tripod remained at the hotel in Buenos Aires, a decision I did not regret. I retrieved it afterwards for the side trip to Iguazu Falls where it was heavily used. One reader suggested the F-Stop Loka Ultralight Camera Bag which weighs in at 1 kg (2.2 pounds) and has the perfect dimensions for overhead bins.

    Gentoo Penguin and Ice (31mm, shot at f/16, 1/400th sec., ISO 400)

    Gentoo Penguin and Ice (31mm, shot at f/16, 1/400th sec., ISO 400)

  3. How Many lenses? Many readers emphasized the need for at least two lenses, a mid-range and a telephoto. Several said a long telephoto (300mm at least) would be needed for wildlife. But weight considerations made this impossible. However, Sarina of Sariscorner among others recommended a tele converter. My Nikon 1.7x converter (9.3 ounces) increased my 70-200mm lens to 119-340mm. I left my 5-pound 80-400mm zoom behind and I’m glad I did. The two lenses plus the tele converter were sufficient. The second camera body eliminated the need to change lenses, a critical benefit because the numerous shooting opportunities in Antarctica are both fleeting and varied, not to mention the wet conditions. Sv-takeiteasy suggested a dry bag for the Zodiac trips, and I found one that fit easily in my checked baggage.

    Caption:  From a Moving Zodiac (200mm, shot at f/11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 800)

    Caption: From a Moving Zodiac (200mm, shot at f/11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 800)

  4. Prepare Yourself: Lensaddiction contributed some excellent points about one’s ability to cope with the conditions in which they are photographing. If you aren’t in shape, start exercising well before the trip. Have proper outdoor clothing, and stay hydrated at all times. As she said, “It’s not just the camera gear, it’s you.” When the weather turned really cold here in Virginia, it was an opportunity to test certain clothing options to see how they stood up. I found that NorthFace nylon rain pants (very thin material) as an outer layer provide excellent protection against wind chill in a stiff wind even at 10 degrees (F). But not all worked as advertised. A pair of Freehands gloves, for example, make camera operation easy but provide little protection even in moderate cold. Solution: use them as the inserts in ski gloves when not actually shooting.

    B&W Images Work Well Here (200mm, shot at f/11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 800)

    B&W Images Work Well Here (200mm, shot at f/11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 800)

  5. Trust the histogram: Antarctica provided a combination of challenges I had never experienced simultaneously: shooting frequently in low light conditions without a tripod, a need for depth of field (small aperture), and high shutter speed. This usually required a higher ISO than I typically used. The Histogram, and its trusty sidekick, the “blinkies” panel, are your best friends in a situation like this.

    Dawn (70mm, shot at f/5.6, 1/250th sec., ISO 800)

    Dawn (70mm, shot at f/5.6, 1/250th sec., ISO 800)

  6.  Shooting from a Moving Platform: I knew the definitions of roll, pitch, and yaw before this trip, but I had never experienced them while trying to take photographs. Of course, a high shutter speed will eliminate the effects of motion and horizons can be straightened in post-processing. That’s OK for single exposure images, but what about panorama scenes where several overlapping exposures are taken with the intent to merge them in post-processing? The rules for this technique insist the camera be in the same spot for all exposures in the sequence. But the ship was not going to stop every time I saw a pano opportunity. Having no other choice, I took each sequence as quickly as possible, averaging about 1 second between exposures. I could only hope that Photoshop would figure it out somehow which, as it turned out, was the case.

    Merge of 3 Images  (200mm, shot at f/9, 1/800th sec., ISO 800)

    Merge of 3 Images (200mm, shot at f/9, 1/800th sec., ISO 800)

  7. Be Alert to Surroundings: A number of readers (e.g. Savannahhop9), mostly on the topic of Leanne’s upcoming trip to New York City, suggested that staying aware of your surroundings is an important practice. While perhaps less relevant aboard a ship than walking through a gritty urban environment at night, it was important several times during my time in Argentina and Brazil. Since I often am shooting in US cities after dark, I already knew this well and stayed out of trouble. Along this line, epadawon suggested using the free app from lenstag.com to register one’s gear in case it goes missing. I signed up for the service, but fortunately haven’t needed it so far.

    Moonrise (120mm, shot at f/5.6, 1/640th sec., ISO 800)

    Moonrise (120mm, shot at f/5.6, 1/640th sec., ISO 800)


Looking back on the trip and the photographic results, I would say that it was very successful. I can honestly say that much of that success is attributable to the excellent guidance from those who took the time to comment—many at great length—on the original post. I am very appreciative.

Antarctica 37

For those who like gear lists:

Cameras: 2- Nikon D800E DSLR bodies (total weight—2.04 kg)

Lenses: 1- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (weight—1.05 kg)

  1. Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 with 1.7 tele extender (weight–1.91 kg)

Accessories: 4- camera batteries, Memory cards (320 GB capacity), circular polarizing filter, variable neutral density filter, battery charger (combined weight—0.82 kg)

Camera bag: F-Stop Loka UL (weight with the added optional internal camera compartment—1.5kg)

Total Weight = 7.3 kg (16 lbs)

Antarctica 24

I hope you will all join me in thanking Robin for this great post.  It is great to see how the trip went and what he learned about the gear to take.  Robin has given us a lot of links, but none to him, so if you would like to take a look at his photos of this trip then go to his blog, photographybykent. Thank you Robin.

50 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks very much for the reblog. I appreciate it!

      May 1, 2015
  2. Great tips!

    May 1, 2015
  3. what wonderful photos of such a remote and wild destination!

    May 1, 2015
    • Thank you, it was definitely remote and fortunately on this trip, the weather was not as wild as it can be.

      May 1, 2015
  4. An excellent post by Robin. And so nice to see how this community works well together.

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks for your comments, And yes, the many suggestions made by readers of the original post and Leanne’s collaboration in this effort were a huge help.

      May 1, 2015
  5. Excellent images and informative post, Robin. Thanks.

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks, Janet. I appreciate that. Im glad you liked it.

      May 1, 2015
  6. Amy #

    Spectacular shots here, Leanne.The sun and moon rising shots are breathtaking; love the flying bird capture. Thank you for the tips on packing equipment.

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks Amy. I’m glad you found the information useful.

      May 1, 2015
  7. Fantastic post! Thank you Robin and Leanne for the follow up post. Some very useful information and analysis of what worked and why. The images are breathtaking and the technical info on settings also great reference. I so would like to see Antarctica!

    May 1, 2015
    • Hi, and thanks for the very kind words. I didn’t include the picture in this post, but I thought of you when we spotted a single masted sailboat (plus a twin mast as well) near Port Lockroy.

      May 1, 2015
  8. Reblogged this on ezzianz and commented:
    Loving the close up images of ice and water intermingling 😉 It must have been majestic

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks very much for the reblog. Great of you to do that. Yes, the scenery was nothing like I’ve ever seen. Now Im all fired up for Iceland this fall.

      May 1, 2015
      • You are so very welcome!, I’ll be watching!!! How exciting! I travel as well, but have yet to add Iceland to my list. Safe travels and thx for sharing ~

        May 1, 2015
      • Thanks, again. I’m looking forward to it. Unlike Antarctica, this will be a photo workshop; I’m going with two colleagues with whom I have traveled with on other expeditions. Should be interesting.

        May 1, 2015
  9. Stunning photos!

    May 1, 2015
  10. Amazing photos! Wow!

    May 1, 2015
  11. Thanks for posting this 🙂 Really nice of you to help the photography community. On top of that the adventure displayed through these photos is simply stunning. That is one cool place to be.

    May 1, 2015
    • Thank you, The ideas that others sent to to the original post were really helpful and this seemed like a good opportunity to say thanks. I’m glad you liked the pictures.

      May 1, 2015
  12. Great collection of images Robin and nice to see what worked out for you! Thanks to Leanne for posting this, I think it is really helpful for people to see that the blogging community can help with such questions! And I am happy that I was able to help! 🙂

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks for your comments on the images, glad you liked them. And especially, thanks for your suggestion about the teleconverter. It turned out I had one already, just hadn’t used it i a long time. But it was quite useful on a number of occasions and weighed only a trifle.

      May 1, 2015
  13. Thanks for sharing the tips and the photos are marvelous. What a trip!

    May 1, 2015
    • Thanks so much. I’m glad you liked the images. And you’re right, it was a great trip.

      May 2, 2015
  14. Reblogged this on Sherry Felix – port4u.

    May 2, 2015
    • Thanks so much Sherry, that was great of you to reblog the post. I appreciate it.

      May 2, 2015
  15. Very useful post for someone like me trying to go beyond the basics in photography! Thank you!

    May 2, 2015
    • Thanks, Peter. I’m glad you found the discussion helpful. Feel free to shoot me questions anytime over at my blog.

      May 2, 2015
  16. Great advice and gorgeous photos! Having two camera bodies seems like a good idea in rough conditions or for quick shots.

    May 2, 2015
    • Thanks, Sabina. Good to hear from you again. And you’re right about having two bodies. And as on e commenter pointed out in the original article, there aren’t too many rental sites down there.

      May 2, 2015
  17. I didn’t click like on any of the photos, because I didn’t want to spam Leanne with likes. They’re all great shots Robin!

    May 2, 2015
    • Thanks, I appreciate that, and I’m sure Leanne does as well;-) Thanks for checking out the post and for taking time to comment. Always good to hear from folks.

      May 2, 2015
  18. Such beautiful pictures!!!! and they inspire so much! Thank you for the tips!

    May 2, 2015
    • Thank you, I’m pleased that you liked them. Hope the tips will be of help.

      May 2, 2015
  19. Stunning photos.
    Two camera bodies are definitely a must in challenging and cold conditions. You don’t want to have to change lenses with numb fingers.
    I once had a army surplus sleeveless vest with lots of big pockets. I was great for holding the lenses and other filters as well as film ( back in the days of real film photography.) It had the bonus of keeping equipment warm as well. I lost it a few years ago but it was a great alternative to a camera bag.

    May 2, 2015
    • Thank you, Raewyn. Good point on the numb fingers, that’s definitely an additional consideration in a place like Antarctica. The vest is a great idea as well as long as one can remember which pocket the needed item is in;-)

      May 2, 2015
  20. These are all such stunning shots! Great tips as well. While the conditions at times must have been a bit severe – I might guess it was all well worth it.

    May 2, 2015
    • Thanks for the very nice comments on the images. Actually, the conditions were less severe than they could have been. We were quite lucky on that score. Temps were in the mid 20s (F) and occasionally snow squalls and windy conditions. But it was far colder when we got back home to Virginia.

      May 3, 2015
  21. Sweet posts… thank you for sharing these insights. It has been 15 years since I travelled with professional photo gear, and while much here is useful reminders of my own lessons learned, change offers new challenges… weight restrictions on carry ons!

    Exquisite photographs, too. 🙂

    May 3, 2015
    • Thanks very much. Yes, some things don’t change, but rules about travel seem to vary quite a bit. Fortunately, I never was actually forced to place the bag on the scales, so everything worked out OK. But it could have happened.

      May 3, 2015
  22. These iceberg pictures are beautiful!

    May 3, 2015
  23. Thank you Robin for an interesting post and some wonderful images. Giving advice is always easy. It’s nice to see that sometimes it is also useful!

    May 4, 2015
  24. What a great follow-up, Robin! Your photos are exceptional and your take-always from your experience so incredibly helpful. It is wonderful so many were able to provide helpful guidance, and now you are part of the awesome collective wisdom! Thanks to Leanne for hosting your posts! And now I’m going to revisit your phenomenal photos 🙂

    May 4, 2015
  25. Reblogged this on Arkansas Stories by Terry Engel.

    May 6, 2015
  26. Fantastic images and very useful information, too. Now I am inspired to brave the cold. Thanks so much to Leanne for hosting and Robin for contributing.

    May 6, 2015

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: