This year, I spent 6 weeks on a science-based adventure to and from Antarctica. I knew my trip was going to be one filled with spectacular scenery and wildlife so I planned and packed about 20 lbs of my photography gear with me to document my journey and to maximize every photo opportunity.
In total, I ended up capturing 111 GB of travel, nature, and science imagery (photos and videos) on my personal cameras. During my trip, I only had brief moments to scan through my images for quality control and to do a quick once-over for deletions and post-processing. I ended up bringing home ~3,800 RAW images captured on my primary dslr which I used to analyze patterns in my shooting behavior (scientists gotta science!). I took a quick look at the metadata of my RAW images to get a sense of my most commonly used focal lengths while I was in Antarctica and to get a sense of the patterns in my shooting habits.
At the telephoto range, the peak at 150 mm was the maximum focal length on my 50-150 mm telephoto zoom. I only sparingly used my 135-400 mm telephoto zoom because of its slow minimum aperture (F4-5.6) and average sharpness which made it some what useless in the low light conditions that is characteristic of winter in Antarctica. I found myself cropping photos I had taken at 150 mm (F2.8, ISO 800) because the results were better than trying to use the 135-400 mm. A cropped photo taken with a significantly sharper lens was better than a soft photo taken at a higher focal length.
A sharp lens with a focal length of 300 mm or greater would have been useful for my trip. Perhaps a 300 mm F4 prime would have helped me photograph the large charismatic wildlife (penguins, seals, dolphins) although sightings of them were few and far between. The trade-off would have been the additional weight - something I definitely noticed a lot during my trip. I also noticed my constant need to switch lenses because of how I would photograph a scene. I would often take photos at a wide angle then switch to a telephoto focal length to focus more on the details of a site.
The big question is, where do I adventure next with my cameras?
Jackson W.F. Chu
Jackson is a marine biologist, photographer, and dog-owner. This blog will try to be heavy on the photos and light on the text.