Antarctica: What’s In My Bag

Continuing with our series, we look at the gear Joshua Holko takes along for photographing in and around Antarctica

It's cold in Antarctica. That's obvious, but what's less obvious, if you haven't been there, is how the cold and wet conditions that you encounter when you're aboard a ship affect the kind of specific gear you take with you. Joshua Holko is a veteran of these conditions, and his experience has enabled him to pack the right equipment to keep him warm and dry, and the right photo gear to get his shots.

Most Antarctica expeditions, including the outfitters that Holko uses when he puts together his Antarctica tours, supply boots for passengers on the ship. The boots are usually the basic Wellington style, which work well—up to a point. Holko does these one better with Arctic Sport Boots by Muck Boot Company. The design is a little more weatherproof, and Holko finds them to be warmer and drier than the boots supplied aboard the ship.

From head to toe, Holko dresses in Gore-Tex® garments for their warmth and waterproof attributes. Antarctica expeditions involve a lot of running around and photography from Zodiac-style boats, so waterproofness is critical. Holko's pants are bib-style, which adds an extra element of protection from spray and weather. His insulated jacket, also made with a Gore-Tex® membrane, is insulated and has an integrated hood.

Holko is fortunate in that he's less sensitive to cold than a lot of people. Even around Antarctica, he seldom finds a need for gloves, but sometimes, they're necessary. He uses fingerless Seal Skin gloves that allow him to operate the camera easily. The gloves convert to mittens in the event that the temperature drops below his tolerance level.

Photo Gear
It's a long trip to Antarctica, and all gear must be kept to the essentials. In his Gura Gear Bataflae 32L, Holko packs his primary DSLR, a Canon EOS-1DX, and his backup, a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III. For lenses, he takes the Canon 17mm and 24mm tilt-shift, an EF 16-35mm ƒ/4L, an EF24-70 ƒ/2.8L II, an EF70-200mm ƒ/2.8L II and an EF600mm ƒ/4L II.

He also carries a Gura Gear Chobe bag, which holds most of his noncamera gear, like a 15-inch MacBook Pro and iPad, as well as travel documents and a range of small spare gear. In the Chobe, he also takes an EF 200-400mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens with built-in 1.4x extender for a variety of wildlife opportunities.

A lot of the shooting on an Antarctica expedition is from a boat—either the ship or Zodiacs. That's all handheld. But there are some land-based opportunities, and for those, Holko takes a Really Right Stuff TVC 24L four-section tripod fitted with a leveling base and a BH-55 ballhead. He switches out the BH-55 out for a Joby gimbal head for birds in flight.

Go to Classes, Tours & Workshops, to see a video in which Holko walks us through all of his gear and explains how each piece fits into his Antarctica photography plans.

1 Comment

    Regarding one misstatement in your article — see:

    Q: Mom always said to wear a hat in the cold because we lose 80% of our body heat through our head. Is that true?

    A: Lots of people believe that but this pearl of motherly wisdom is FALSE. Here’s why.

    The head only represents about 10% of the body’s total surface area. So if the head were to lose even 75% of the body’s heat, it would have to lose about 40 times as much heat per square inch as every other part of your body. That’s unlikely — which has been borne out by tests of college students who lost the same amount of heat whatever the exposed area.

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