Penguins - Tips for great Penguin Photos

Pinguine - Tipps für tolle Pinguinfotos
Penguins - Tips for great Penguin Photos

Antarctica. It looks like the winter sales in Berlin. They flow in masses from left to right. Then from right to left. Then they stop, form small groups and seem to talk. They look curiously over at me. Are they talking about me? From the side a brave fellow approaches. He stops a few metres in front of me, looks at me steadfastly and then begins to clean his plumage. The courageous little fellow belongs to a colony of Adelie penguins. Together with the gentoo penguins, they have the bay firmly under control at Brown's Bluff. There are thousands of them. In my next article I'll tell you my best tips on how to take great penguin photos.

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Brown Bluff - Pinguin Party am Tafelvulkan - Tipps für Pinguinfotos
Brown Bluff - Penguin Party at the Table Volcano

Table of Contents and Quick Navigation

Penguins - Love at first Sight
Tips for Penguin Photos
Rules for Penguin Encounters
The Penguin Calendar: When do you see what?
Gallery Penguins - Tips for great Penguin Photos

Here you can find an overview of all reports from my Antarctic trip.

Penguins - Love at first Sight

Penguins make you happy. I already suspected it before my trip to Antarctica and Patagonia. But I had no idea how much the cute animals fascinate me. My first penguins were the King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego in Parque Pingüino Rey website. Majestically they stood around in small groups and balanced their eggs between their feet and stomach fold. But then I came much closer to the Magellan and gentoo penguins of Isla Martillo near Ushuaia. Because there we were led on marked paths through the breeding colonies. Here you can learn more about my walk with the penguins of Isla Martillo in the Beagle Channel.

Kolonie Adeliepinguine auf Brown Bluff - Tipps für Pinguinfotos
Colony Adelie penguins on Brown Bluff
Adeliepinguine auf Brown Bluff - Tipps für Pinguinfotos
A slightly different portrait of an Adelie penguin, Brown Bluff

Already these first encounters with penguins have enchanted me. While observing and photographing I started to forget the time. But what is it that makes penguins so fascinating? And what exactly did I try to capture with my over 3,000 penguin photos?

Highlights im Beagle-Kanal - Pinguine, Seelöwen und mehr
Young Magellanic penguin looks boldly out of the cave. Isla Martillo, Ushuaia

First of all they look cute with their roundish shapes. Secondly, they look worthy of protection. Because as soon as they run ashore with their small wings and short legs, they are clumsy. Thirdly, I thought I saw human behaviour in the penguins. Because obviously they were holding coffee klatsch, they argued or were tender with each other. They also eyed their chicks with critical parental eyes. They showed different facial expressions that gave them a personality. So even after a long time it never got boring to watch them. Again and again I was able to capture their uniqueness visually. In short: I was looking forward to each individual.

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Tips for great Penguin Photos

So that you have great souvenir photos after your trip to the penguins, I'll now tell you my best tips for penguin photos.

Eselspinguin, Cuverville Island
The gentoo penguin as model, Cuverville Island

Tip 1: Exposure Compensation

Photographing in ice and snow is always a challenge for setting the exposure. As soon as the penguin is surrounded by snow and ice, up to 90% of the light is reflected. And this much higher reflection has to be compensated. Otherwise, underexposed images are produced. Or more precisely: the aperture setting must be corrected. Experiment with your aperture and make different settings for the same subject. Many cameras also offer so-called "bracketings". With these you can take previously set exposure series.

Tipps für Pinguinfotos, Eselspinguinkolonie, Neko Harbour
With so much snow, it is not easy to find the right exposure. Gentoo Penguin Colony, Neko Harbour

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Tip 2: Be Patient

Sit down for a while, be patient and let the animals come towards you. Penguins are usually very curious. Passing animals also stop in front of you and look at you. But you shouldn't stay in the way but release it with enough distance for the penguin.

Highlights im Beagle-Kanal - Pinguine, Seelöwen und mehr
During your visit you should keep a minimum distance of 5 meters. But sometimes the penguins come closer.

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Tip 3: Take a close Look

There is always something new to discover in a penguin colony. Take a close look and you will discover different penguin behaviors depending on the season. And in the best case you can capture it with your camera: Breeding animals, chicks, feedings, nest building, defence of the nest and the building material (stones), plumage care, socialising, heat regulation, mating. In the case of larger breeding colonies, first get an overview of the events and possible motives. That's better than taking wild pictures. Often it also helps if you stay in contact with the guides and let them tell you special features about the colony.

Tipps für Pinguinfotos - auf Details achten: Zügelpinguine bei der Paarung, Half Moon Island
In a penguin colony there's always something to discover, like here the Chinstrap Penguins mating, Half Moon Island

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Tip 4: Perspective

Get at eye level with the penguins. So off into the snow, kneel down or lay on your stomach. But be careful not to lie down in penguin dirt lengthwise. You'll have to remove it carefully before you board.

A single penguin in the white expanse of the ice fields is also a great motif.

Tipps für Pinguinfotos - die Perspektive. Eselspinguin, Damoy Point
Perspective does it. Gentoo penguin, Gentoo Point

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Tip 5: Use the natural Light

The penguin colonies and routes to them are in most cases determined by the guides. Therefore you are somewhat restricted in your choice of photo position. Look from which direction the light comes. If possible, choose a colony for your penguin photos that is shined by the sun.

Zügelpinguin mit Küken, Half Moon Island, Antarktis
Bridled penguin with two chicks on Half Moon Island, Antarctica

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Tip 6: Search for Details

This is one of my favourite tips for great penguin photos. Because sometimes the opportunity arises for great portraits of penguins. Try to take detailed pictures. For example of the eyes or the beak with its small "teeth" on the tongue and on the upper jaw.

Tipps für Pinguinfotos - Details. Wärmeregulierung bei Pinguinen, Eselspinguin, Damoy Point, Antarktis
Penguins open their beaks to regulate heat. Gentoo penguin, Damoy Point

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Tip 7: Photos of the ship / boat

It is not easy to photograph the penguins from the ship. But there are great new perspectives. With a little luck, you can catch a penguin in "swimming flight". A steady hand, a good image stabilizer and a short shutter speed help. Make sure you always have a waterproof bag or other protection with you in the Zodiac. Because a Zodiac ride can get pretty wet even in sunshine.

Tipps für Pinguinfotos - vom Boot aus fotografieren. Schwimmender Eselspinguin
To photograph a floating gentoo penguin in the flight phase, I needed several approaches

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Tip 8: Telephoto Lens with/without Tripod

With a telephoto lens, you can get "close" to the animals even at a sufficient distance. You can also achieve a nice background blur. But first think about whether you really need a tripod for each shore leave. Often it is also a hindrance. Many cameras and lenses already have a very good image stabilizer, so you can often do without a tripod.

Tipps für Pinguinfotos - Teleobjektiv mitnehmen. Damoy Point, Antarktis
You can hardly do without a telephoto lens. Damoy Point, Antarctica

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Tip 9: Follow examples

Most ships that sail to Antarctica are equipped with a comprehensive ship library. Take a look at the illustrated books there. I'm sure you'll be able to put one or two of these suggestions into practice when you next go ashore.

Eselspinguin, Damoy Point, Antarktis
Gentoo penguin at Damoy Point, Antarctica

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Rules for Penguin Encounters

But despite all the enthusiasm, I would like to point out a few rules of conduct here. These are even more important than all my tips for penguin photos. Surely you will get these rules explained so similarly by your guides:

  • Always pay attention not to bring the animals by your approach to a change of their natural behavior.
  • Never run, scream, touch or feed them.
  • Always keep to the given distances, usually 5 meters. Do not surround the animals and never block the escape route towards the water. Penguins always have "right of way". Also stay behind any barriers that may have been set up or on paths.
  • A sufficient distance also serves your own safety. An injury by a penguin beak can sometimes lead to serious infections.
  • Do not take feathers, eggshells or stones with you. The penguins need the small stones to build their nests.
  • Footprints can become a deadly trap for penguins. So try not to leave any. If you have deep footprints, you can simply fill them with snow or widen them so that the penguins can climb out again.
Tipps für Pinguinfotos - Eselspinguin und Reisegruppe, Cuverville Island
Penguins always have right of way. Gentoo penguin on Cuverville Island

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The Penguin Calendar: When do you see what?

Depending on when you travel to Antarctica, you can see penguins behaving in different ways: mating, nesting, breeding or raising chicks. The breeding cycle of three frequently seen penguin species usually follows the scheme below. However, deviations may occur due to weather conditions. If the breeding rocks are covered with snow for too long, the nests cannot be built. Thereby, the incubation then shifts somewhat to the rear. On our journey we saw the first chicks of the gentoo penguins on 29 December.

Breeding cycle of penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula

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Gallery Penguins - Tips for great penguin photos

In my Gallery I have more penguin photos for you. The pictures were taken during my trip to the Antarctic Peninsula in winter 2018/2019. All photos were taken with the Canon 5d Mark III, most of them with the Telezoom EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM without tripod. You can read more about my photo equipment here .

Tipps für Pinguinfotos
Parental love for the Magellanic penguins of Isla Martillo
Tipps für Pinguinfotos - auf Details achten, denn in den Pinguinkolonien ist immer was los
There's no way around it: plumage care in offspring. Magellanic Penguin, Isla Martillo
The offspring is always hungry. Magellanic Penguins, Isla Martillo
Tipps für Pinguinfotos - Konkurrenzkampf um Futter, Magellanpinguine, Isla Martillo
The competition for food can look pretty brutal. Magellanic Penguins, Isla Martillo

Book Recommendations for Antarctica

Do you want to know where the journey is going? Then I can recommend this travel books* to you.

You can order the travel guides on Amazon by clicking on the pictures. If you buy a product via an affiliate link, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. This does not make the product more expensive for you.

Have you ever seen penguins in the wild? Where was it and which are your favourites? Do you have any questions about my article or any other tips for great penguin photos? If so, please write me a comment!

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