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Photography: How to shoot in the cold

Shaney Hudson, the photographer for the Antarctica feature in our October 2016 issue, explains how she managed this shot in the cold conditions at Orne Harbour

Photography: How to shoot in the cold
Image: Shaney Hudson

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Shutter speed: 1/200
Aperture: f5.6
ISO: 100
Mode: manual
Lens: Sigma Art 35m
Camera: Canon 5D Mark 3

This image was shot in Orne Harbour, one of the first landings our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, made in Antarctica.

Strict environmental restrictions govern how many people can be on the ground at any given time. So I had a decision to make: I could either hike 1,000ft up a challenging switchback ice-walk to the top of the ridge or head out on a Zodiac cruise in surrounding bays. It was a tough choice — I would have been gutted to miss a whale encounter but the climb to capture panorama shots could only win out.

That day we were looking at temperatures of 1C and a wind chill of -1C — not too heavy. Having shot in the polar regions before, however, I knew icy conditions are tricky to negotiate. Snow presents a technical challenge. Cold and wet, on the other hand, like to kill cameras. I use a travel towel to wipe down any splashes or snowflakes, and I always use dry bags while out on the Zodiacs, skipping to and from the shore.

Normally on assignment, I shoot in RAW with a Canon 5D Mark 3, combining it with either a 24-70mm or a 70-200mm. For this image, though, I used a new prime lens: the 35mm Sigma Art.

The camera was in manual at f/5.6 at 1/200th of a second, with ISO set at 100. Shutter speed had to be fast enough to freeze subjects but slow enough to catch the snowfall’s sideways sweeps. Too slow and subjects would be blurry — too fast and the fierce force of snow and wind wouldn’t be captured.

On a grim and grey day, the reflective nature of the snow allowed for each subject to be perfectly lit.

Composition-wise, coming down the ridge I had this image in mind but because it was so slippery I couldn’t really stop to set up a shot. With the weather closing in, it was simply a case of checking back over my shoulder to see if I could find an angle I liked — and getting the image before the people behind me caught up and bowled me over.

The sense of movement and leading lines are a big part of what makes this image work but it’s the spectacular pop of orange that stands it out for me. On embarking, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic break out bright-coloured jackets for passengers: it’s a great safety feature and nifty branding. For photographers the payoff is that they help create consistent, high-contrast photos through the duration of the trip.

I shot more than 10,000 images in Antarctica and submitted 100 to my editor. This one was because I’m a big believer in putting people in the frame. So much of the stunning imagery taken in Antarctica is of the landscapes, the animals and the ice, but photographing expeditioners actively moving across the landscape shows the viewer Antarctica isn’t a passive experience.

The photographer travelled with the assistance of National Geographic Expeditions.

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Published in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Magazine