Antarctica Cruise Ship and Zodiac Boat Photos

Cruising the waters off Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

While on a group tour to Antarctica you'll likely have the opportunity to photograph from three quite different situations: from the ship, from a zodiac and on land.

Make Photos From the Ship’s Deck

The above photo was made from the deck of the Antarctica cruise ship, the Polar Pioneer. A cruise ship provides the opportunity to photograph from an elevated position.

This means that instead of being limited to exploring foreground and background, your photos will now include more of the mid ground.

That’s the advantage of photographing from a higher vantage point, even if all you reveal in the mid ground is space and color.

From water level it’s as though you’re photographing through the landscape which can produce more unique, expressive images.

Conversely, photos made from a relatively high vantage point allow you to photograph into the landscape.

It’s a great approach when you’re looking to explore a more descriptive view of the topography in question.

A weddell seal springs to attention while resting on an iceberg near Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Photography From A Zodiac Inflatable Boat

Zodiacs are sturdy, inflatable boats that feature a bow and sides that are constructed of inflatable tubes filled with pressurized gas.

Light, fast and relatively easy to transport on a cruise ship the shallow draft of a zodiac boat allows it to access shallow waters.

Their ease of navigation and ability to get passengers through waterways with chunks of floating ice make zodiacs ideal for Antarctic cruise ships.

You do need to be relatively mobile if you're going to be involved in a tour that involves zodiac landings.

That's because the zodiac will often pull up just short of the shoreline and you'll need to hop out into the water for a few steps onto dry land.

It can be exciting photographing from a zodiac. As it moves you’ll need to keep your wits about you and be ready to respond as the moment unfolds.

Higher ISO and Shutter Speeds are usually required to ensure sharp images, particularly when you’re photographing wildlife in motion from a zodiac boat.


A king penguin, standing alert on the steep slopes of Cuverville Island, Antarctica


An Extended Antarctica Tour

It’s a great feeling to alight from a zodiac with the opportunity to explore rugged and remote landscapes.

If your Antarctica tour includes a few days visiting South Georgia Island you may find yourself running the gantlet, as you make your way from the beach, through a colony of seals and cantankerous elephant seals.

On the beach there’s usually loads of wildlife to photograph. Inland you’re more likely to be photographing landscapes.

Personally I find a visit to South Georgia Island on the way down to Antarctica to be a great option due to the opportunities for great wildlife photography.

While not as epic the Falkland Islands also offers excellent wildlife photo opportunities.

Chaos and Abstraction, Curverville Island, Antarctica

About To Travel?

Fun Facts About Antarctica

Are you ready for some fun facts about Antarctica?

On the Antarctic continent the landscapes you’ll experience will consist mostly of ice and snow. Not that all that much snow falls in Antarctica. It’s actually a desert, though a very, very cold one.

Did you know that 98 percent of the Antarctic landmass is covered in ice. The volume of the Antarctic ice sheet is hard to comprehend. At its deepest the ice is over 4 km deep.

As to how much ice is in Antarctica I’ve read estimates up to 30 million cubic kilometres (7.2 million cubic miles). That represents 90 percent of the world’s ice and 70 percent of the world’s fresh water.

It’s said that if all the water held within the Antarctic ice sheet melted sea levels would rise by up to 60 meters (200 feet).

Terry, our barman from Aurora Expeditions Polar Pioneer ship, on a hilltop above Paradise Harbour in Antarctica.

The Best Lens Choice For Antarctica

A zoom lens with a variety of focal lengths from wide-angle to telephoto and, possibly, a tripod may be required to cover the diversity of opportunities you’re likely to face.

On a full frame camera a focal length of 24 mm should be sufficient for your landscape photos, though a zoom that covers the 16-35 mm range would be ideal.

The wider the focal length the more opportunity you’ll have, when it’s safe to do so, to move in close and include interesting flora or fauna in the foreground of your landscape photos.

A close up view of a penguin's feet on the icy slopes of Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

For close-up images of seals and elephant seals you’d normally find yourself standing further back and filling the frame with a longer telephoto lens.

A 70-200 mm is probably sufficient for this kind of work, whether you’re working with a full frame camera or a APS-C size sensor.

The close up photo of the King penguin’s feet was made with a Canon 100-400 mm lens at a focal length of 400 mm.

A participant on the tour I was co-running loaned me that lens as I was using a full frame Canon camera at the time.

Having that lens enabled me to make several photos that I just couldn’t have made with the other lenses in my kit. Wow! What a gal.

More powerful focal lengths are always attractive, though it’s important to be wary of the size and weight of these lenses.

You’ll need to be able to bring them onto the plane, as carry on luggage, and you’ll also need to carry them around with you on location.

That can be very stressful when there are several plane flights involved before you even commence your Antarctic cruise.

This is certainly an argument for the smaller and lighter APS-C cameras and lenses.

Antarctica Zodiac Boat Landing - What To Wear

Being prepared for a range of photography opportunities and changing weather will be essential to your success when making photos in Antarctica.

It’s important to get cracking because you might find that, after alighting from a zodiac boat, you only have an hour or so on land.

As far as clothing is concerned you’ll need to dress to stay warm, dry and comfort. I’d recommend the following:

  • Thermal underwear, top and bottom

  • Fleece pants

  • Thin Fleece top

  • Thicker Fleece top, possibly including some kind of wind stopper technology

  • Fleece or wool beanie

  • Waterproof Gore-tex jacket

  • Quality hiking boots

  • Waterproof overboots to protect your feet from getting wet as you jump in and out of the zodiac

Once passengers have made it to the shore one or more tour leaders will heave the zodiac onto the beach.

You’ll often be able to slip your overboots off and leave them inside the zodiac so you can make your way around the landscape more comfortably.

After making the arduous climb up the hill overlooking Paradise Harbour and the Almirante Brown Antarctic Base it's an absolute thrill to slide down, in a fraction of the time.

Camera Kit for Antarctica Zodiac Landing

Here’s what you’ll need to bring along on an average zodiac boat expedition and landing on Antarctica.

  • Camera backpack with room for a rain jacket, and possibly some of the other clothes detailed above, when they’re not required

  • Tripod (optional) that, ideally, is secured onto the outside of your camera’s backpack

  • Wide-angle zoom lens for landscapes and close-up environmental portraits of penguins and seals

  • Telephoto zoom lens for action based wildlife photography including birds in flight, penguins, seals and elephant seals

  • Spare camera batteries and spare memory cards

  • A special hared plastic waterproof bag (optional) into which your backpack is placed during the zodiac trip from ship to shore, and back again.

You’ll want to leave the location feeling like you’re done your best with the time available to you.

There may be a chance for more pics from the zodiac, on the way back to your ship, and from one of the ship’s decks as you leave your destination.

After that it’s time to upload your images, clean your camera gear and relax with a drink in the bar.

And it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that my friends.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru