It's time for a Very Special Antarctic edition of Bullet Sunday, which starts... now...
• Go! Antarctica is a pricey trip, but it's not the horrific monetary spectacle you might think. Not including airfare, you can take the same ship I did... have the same type of experiences I did... for as little as $5,000 in Antarpply's 2018 season. I went via Muench Photography Workshops, which was quite a bit more expensive... but it had world-class photography instruction with people like Will Burrard-Lucas, which made it worth the ridiculous cost. If you've always had a hankering to see the bottom of the world, it's worth saving your pennies to do, and doesn't necessarily have to cost $15,000 for a great experience... penguins and all.
• Darkness! The strangest part of being back to the Real World? That it gets dark. Something that barely happened when I was in Antarctica. The fact that it starts getting dark around 4:00 and is pitch-black by 5:00 just makes it all the stranger. I've gotten used to light at 10:00 at night!
• Photography! My most used lens was a 24mm-70mm. It worked for glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife that was near me. My second most-used lens was a 70mm-200mm... which I really, really wish was a 70mm-400mm. Fortunately, my 200mm lens optical quality is excellent and I had massive 42.4 MP images I could easily crop into... but things would have been much easier if my telephoto had more reach. I also took a 10mm-18mm ultra-wide angle which I used occasionally. I didn't use any other lenses I took.
I highly recommend having two camera bodies on you. That way you can have both zooms handy and be sure to capture most anything at a moment's notice. You also have a backup body in case one fails, which is pretty much essential isn't it? You aren't going to go all that way and not have a camera!
I took a monopod because it was easier to pack than a tripod. I never once used it. I imagine that you could set up for taking shots, but there was plenty of light to go handheld 100% of the time, and the flexibility was critical towards getting my best shots.
I fretted over condensation accumulating when I came from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors ruining my cameras. Was never a problem (heck, my glasses never even fogged over). It was suggested that I take a plastic zipper-bag to put my camera in so that the condensation forms on the bag and not my camera. After spending weeks finding one big enough, I never had to use it.
I bought a massive dry-bag that I could put my whole camera bag into so my gear would be safe during a Zodiac landing. Thing was... I never took my entire camera bag. Just my two cameras and their lenses. Which meant my dry-bag was massive overkill. I should have bought a smaller one and just wrapped my cameras in towels or something.
I took circular polarizing filters. Never used them. They might have been handy to cut glare on the water when the whales turned up... but they were just a hassle every other minute of the day, so I ignored them.
• Un-Borrowed! I needed a backup camera body, but couldn't afford to buy a full-frame one to take with me. So I decided to rent one from BorrowLenses.com. I received an email telling me that I could pick it up at Kenmore Camera the day before I left. I went to pick it up and it wasn't there. I called and found out there was a mess-up of some kind with UPS, and it wouldn't be arriving until after I left for the airport. Their attitude was absolutely shitty. First of all, they would never give me a tracking number so I could find out if it was THEIR fault or UPS's fault (of course they blamed it on UPS). Second of all, they did nothing... NOTHING... to try and make the situation right. It was all "Oh well... stuff happens!" No offer to buy a body from Kenmore Camera and rent that to me. No offer to express ship to my hotel in Buenos Aires. No attempt to find an alternative. No offer to try and find a rental company in Argentina. Absolutely NOTHING. They didn't care about helping me out in any way, despite their promise to have the camera available on the date I requested.
And so... I had to spend $1400 I did not have to buy a camera I did not want. Especially since I could have put that money (if I had it) towards a new Sony a7R mark III. Such a crappy situation. I mean, what choice did I have? What was I going to do? Go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica without a backup camera? Impossible. Thanks for absolutely nothing, BorrowLenses.com for being a total piece of shit.
UPDATE: I complained on Facebook. Borrow Lenses refunded my money and gave me a credit for future rentals. They were apologetic about the situation (this time) which has me wondering if I just got the wrong customer service agent... or if they only act this way when called out publicly?
• SmartWool! There was a lot learned on my expedition to Antarctica. The most surprising? How fantastic SmartWool socks are. I have been wearing them ever since I got back and have had warm, comfy feet despite cold temperatures in my home town (and a history of cold feet).
Don't know how I'd get through winter without them now that I know about them.
• Warmth! As it turned out, I worried way too much about being too cold. As it's summer in Antarctica and global warming is actually a thing, it was never all that cold. Certainly not even close to how freezing cold it was on Cadillac Mountain when I was waiting for the sun to rise in Acadia last month! I usually ended up taking off my winter coat on land excursions and just wore my fleece, waterproof pants over jeans and long underwear. Only a couple of times when the sun was clouded over and it was snowing did I double up on long underwear and wear my coat. And, despite buying hand-warmers and spending two days in Ushuaia finding Zippo lighter fluid to put in them, they went unused. So glad I didn't rent an arctic parka and snow pants. I would have never put them on. I guess what I'm trying to say is... prepare for the worst. Make sure you have enough clothes to stay warm if the weather is terrible. Have layers and layers available so you can build the outfit you need to be comfortable in cold weather. But... don't obsess over the idea that you need to buy Antarctic-winter-level expedition gear to stay warm. Unless something goes really sideways, you just won't need it (and if things go that sideways, your landing will probably be canceled anyway). I'd recommend following the advice you'll get from your ship if it conflicts with my experience... but it really shouldn't.
The only thing that ended up being a little cold was my feet because the rubber boots you get from the ship for the landing are not well-insulated. My SmartWool socks with liners made sure it never got that bad. On cold days where I'd be in snow for long periods, I doubled my SmartWool socks, and... problem solved (seriously, those socks are amazing).
One final tip... it was highly recommended that I get two or three pair of Merino Wool long underwear. The stuff is soft (not scratchy) and does a really good job of keeping you warm. Best of all? It doesn't trap odors, so you can wear a pair for several days and not smell like a locker room. Which is what I did... except... I bought some inexpensive disposable men's underwear (which seem very much like cotton panties... or "manties") as a fresh daily barrier to help keep my long undies clean. Worked great. Took up practically no space in my suitcase. In the end, Merino Wool is a bit pricey but so worth it. I bought two pair of the mid-weight tops/bottoms directly from Minus 33 and was very happy with it. I loved that it was so thin that I could double it up on colder days and be toasty warm.
• Sun! The sun reflecting off the snow and ice is pretty harsh. Take good sunglasses (and, if you wear glasses, get good prescription sunglasses). And, oh yeah... TAKE SUN SCREEN! I had a friend tell me that he got sunburned pretty bad on his Antarctica trip. So I took Banana Boat SPF 30 and applied it liberally to my face. Wore it every landing we had. Still got burned. So... take a higher SPF than 30 if you want to avoid sunburn!
• Expectations! I was warned many times to keep my expectations in check. Antarctica is wildly unpredictable on all fronts, and having lofty expectations is almost certainly setting yourself up for disappointment. All you can really do is get excited for the possibilities... then roll with whatever comes your way. I mean, just look at my trip! We had to cancel one of our landings so we could detour to have somebody airlifted to Chile for a medical emergency. We had to cancel another landing because of bad weather. And yet... everything worked out. I was just thrilled to see what I got to see and do what I got to do...
And, seriously, it could have been worse. It can always be worse!
• Inflight Movies! With nearly thirty hours in planes that had a rather large film library, I was able to watch a few movies to occupy my time getting to Buenos Aires and back...
And... no more Antarctica for you. Or for me. See you next week.