Arctic Photography – 10 Pro Tips

Arctic photography

The Arctic landscape is both unique and unforgettable. Many people would call it a photographer's dream. Arctic photography can be tricky though.

From towering sea cliffs and epic mountains, to wild tundras and spectacular wildlife, the Arctic is truly one of the best places to shoot for both landscape and wildlife photographers.

However, shooting in the arctic is unlike other landscapes and you'll need to brush up on some skills before you take your Arctic cruise.

Because of the expense and the rarity of shooting in the Arctic, it's best to be as prepared as you can. To help you do this, we have put together a list of our top 10 tips for Arctic photography.

We understand that every photographer is trying to get something different out of their experience and not everyone will require the same gear, however, the tips below should be relevant to most beginners looking to shoot in the arctic for the first time, whether it be landscape, wildlife, macro etc.

Please also bear in mind that some cruise itineraries, particularly longer ones such as the Northwest Passage or Canadian Arctic, have dedicated photography experts and tours. 

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

​Arctic Photography: 10 Top Tips

1. Demonstrate Scale


The Arctic is one of the few places on earth where you'll be able to photograph some incredibly large and beautiful species. 700kg polar bears roam the ice, 1500kg walrus battle on the beaches and giant whales breach the surface alongside your cruise ship.

With such large creatures, it's often difficult to get across in a photo just how big these animals really are.

One of the easiest ways to add a little extra zing to your wildlife shots is to demonstrate scale. This means placing something we know the size of already, such as a boat, a kayak or a human in a photo alongside the animal.

We are certainly not suggesting you stand next to a polar bear, but you could definitely stand a good 50 feet behind a walrus and have someone take a picture from the other angle.

The above picture is a great example of demonstrating scale as you can see clearly how big the whale's flukes are in comparison with the boat behind.

​2. ​Bring Dry Bags


Probably the most important thing you bring on your trip after the camera itself. As you probably know, the Arctic region is cold - very cold, it can also drizzle a fair amount.

You'll also be making numerous wet landings and sea water frequently splashes into zodiacs when whale watching. It's therefore of the upmost importance that you bring some dry bags with you to store your camera/lens in while on the move.

Dry bags are also a must in the battle against condensation. If you have ever photographed in freezing temperatures, you'll know what we mean.

Because the outside air temperature is much lower than the inside of your cruise ship, when you take your camera indoors, your lens will form a layer of condensation both inside the camera and out.

To combat this, you'll need to seal your camera in a dry bag, dispel the air from it and then take it inside and leave to acclimatise for a period of time before removing it.

​3. ​​Extra Memory Card and Batteries

arctic photographymemory-cards

It's surprising how many people forget to bring extra memory cards and batteries to the Arctic. You'll be amazed how many photos you take when you see a polar bear or whale near your ship.

You'll start clicking away, often taking 5 or 6 shots a second to capture that perfect moment. Before you realise, the memory card is all full up just as the bear begins to move towards the ship! It happens more than you think.

Bring at least 1 spare memory card and remember to always upload and format your card each night for maximum shooting potential the next day.

Batteries are another thing to keep in mind. Because the Arctic is cold, you'll notice that your  batteries die significantly faster than back home. Many photographers go through 3 or 4 batteries a day if there a some wildlife sightings.

This does largely depend on the brand of camera and if you're using official batteries. Sony batteries are notoriously short-lived, as are non-official batteries for Canon and Nikon.

​4. ​​​Framing A Landscape

arctic photography landscape

Probably one of the most difficult things to do is to know how to frame a shot. What makes a good composition? Whilst there are certain rules regarding framing, these rules are often broken in the pursuit of the unusual.

The tip here is to not only think about framing a landscape when you're photographing a lake or mountain, but to also frame a landscape when photographing animals. Great wildlife shots work because the animal is nicely framed within the landscape, not just because you managed to get close to a polar bear.

The beginner rule is to think in terms of thirds. In your mind, create three horizontal and vertical lines across your frame and make the landscape lines match those imaginary lines. Whilst this will always yield decent results, it's by no means a set rule.

Another top tip here is to engage with your guides and fellow travellers. You'll find that your guides are often photographers themselves and will be able to give you excellent guidance. You'll also find that your fellow passengers are a gold mine of information when it comes to photography, so don't be afraid to ask .

Another tip its to look at photos that you like and use them as our inspiration. There is no shame in this as every photographer takes inspiration from something.

​5. ​​​​Take Filters

arctic photography filter

You'll definitely want to take several filters with you. The first is a simple UV filter that is basically there to protect your lens glass.

Arctic photography is often conducted in cold, wet and windy conditions, therefore, having protection on the front of your lens is a must.

The second filter we highly recommend bringing with you is a polarising filter. You'll find that the bright white snow gives off a large amount of glare, as does the reflection of the sun on the sea. A polarising filter will combat this significantly and sharpen distant focal points such as lakes, mountain icebergs etc.

Keep in mind though that a polarising filter will darken the image and you'll lose about 2 F stops of light. Whilst this is fine for landscape photography normally, wildlife shots may suffer.

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

​6. ​​​​T​ry Handheld

artic photography hand-held

Hand held photography is very underrated when it comes to the Arctic. you're be surprised how many people we see using tripods in order to photograph wildlife.

On a cruise ship that is moving through the water, you'll want to up the shutter speed and get used to shooting hand held, even for landscape shots.

Not taking a tripod ashore with you gives you a lot of flexibility to move into unusual positions and find angles that are often overlooked.

Unless you're planning a taking a long exposure landscape shot, you really only need to go handheld.

​7. ​​​​​Shooting from A Kayak

arctic photography kayak

If you're taking an Arctic cruise, you'll most likely take one or two kayaking trips along the way as they're great ways of getting up close and personal  with the sea life.

This is also the perfect time to photograph things as you'll get to explore hidden bays and take shots of icebergs from angles that no cruise ship could reach. However, taking a photo from a kayak is never easy, particularly getting the horizon level.

The first thing you can do to combat this is up the shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed, the less likely bumps are to affect you. You'll also get a lot less blur as the fast shutter speed literally takes 1/1600th of a second.

The second thing you can do to get a straight horizon is to crop in post. You can literally zoom in on your image and turn the image so that the horizontal is level.

The problem of course is that you lose some of your image. You therefore need to be aware of this so that you frame your shots slightly wider than you would otherwise.

​8. ​​​​​​Classic Animal Poses

arctic photography animal-pose

Some animal poses and angles are always going to work. An example would be whales.

Simply photographing the top of a whale as it comes up to breathe often yields poor results. However, if you manage to catch the fluke of a whale as it points upwards just before diving down, then that usually makes for a lovely image.

Animals that are looking directly at you also make for nice images, particularly seals that are notoriously cute. Sadly for cruise passengers, shots angled downwards on an animal rarely make for nice shots.

The trick is to get as low as the animal itself so you can create some nice blur behind the creature. This is why taking shore excursions is so important as it gives you that chance to interact with nature on their level.

​9. ​​​​​​​Find Interesting Angles

arctic photography different angle

Arctic photography provides travellers with unique landscapes and wildlife. Finding interesting angles to shoot these elements will heighten your photos even more.

As mentioned above, getting as low as you can to the wildlife is a great way to get nice shots as you can capture the landscape as well. This means getting on the ground, often lying flat and waiting for the right angle.

Finding interesting landscape angles is also a great way to improve your photography. Instead of shooting the lake in front of the mountain, why not put your tripod in the water itself and take the image from there. Or better yet, why not take an image of the lake from on top of the mountain!

Why not shoot the waterfall from behind, or take an image from the ground of someones shoe in front of an epic landscape. Try to think outside of the box. It doesn't always work, but when it does it's brilliant and unique.

​10. ​​​​​​​Find​ing The Optimum Exposure

arctic photography exposure

Getting the right exposure is paramount to your Arctic photography adventure. Dark light and bright snow both prove difficult to expose for.

The dreaded grey snow effect happens all to often and can ruin many a lovely picture. To avoid grey snow, you'll need to bracket your exposure. Generally a setting of 3 or 5 brackets at an interval of 1 to 2 stops will stop the grey snow effect and give you nice clean, white snow images. This often means overexposing though which can feel a little wrong. Just try out the setting and ask the guides if you're confused. Check out this video for more info.

Shooting in the dark for the Northern Lights is an entirely different situation. Once again, it's pretty much trial and error. What you will require though is a wide-angle lens of at least 24mm with an f/stop minimum of 2.8 for great results.

Try setting your ISO to 1600 and leaving the exposure for 10-15 seconds. The shorter the exposure you can get the better as this will reduce star blur. If you want to get fancy, expose for the Lights on one shot, then expose for the foreground on the second shot and blend them in post.


If you have any queries or questions regarding Arctic photography, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Tags: Arctic photography, tips for Artic photography, how to shoot in the Arctic, how to take photographs in snow

About the Author Burnham Arlidge

Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has cruised to some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet.

Leave a Comment:

Dave says June 3, 2019

Great tips. My wife and I are travelling with Heritage Expeditions July 2020 through the Northern passage. Looking forward to the photo opportunities. We travelled Antarctica and sub Antarctic Islands with them in 2018. Fantastic adventures

    Expedition Cruise says June 3, 2019

    Thanks Dave!

Let's connect lens says September 19, 2019

Some of the best tips I have read so far. Amazing post and captures so much detail. Worth the read for every travel photographer. Keep it up.

    Burnham Arlidge says September 22, 2019

    Thank you – much appreciated!

Add Your Reply