Eoin Macdonald-Nethercott, ESA-sponsored medical-doctor in Concordia in 2010-2011, shared advice on how to take photographs at -60°C. These are extracted from the “Concordia ESA Human Behaviour and Performance Training for Concordia Over-Winterers Participants’ Reference Handbook”

Eoin's cold camera

Eoin’s cold camera. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA – E. Macdonald-Nethercott

Performance in the cold is variable. At minus 30, your camera will operate normally, but the batteries will cool down and only work for around two hours. Wind will not make much difference. Below minus 60, your batteries will last 45 minutes if the air is still, and perhaps only ten minutes in a wind of 10m/s. But at this temperature, the LCD on your camera will slow down and stop working in around 1 hour after you expose it to the cold, and wind will affect it the same way. . And the batteries start cooling from the minute you leave the station, not the point you start using the camera. Putting handwarmer sachets in the camera bag do help a little.

Below -50 degrees C, the part of the camera that fails most quickly in the cold are the manually operated wheels you have on your camera to adjust settings, such as exposure/ISO settings. So set your camera to what you want before you leave the station if you can, or straight away on setting up the photo, and don’t try to change it after the first few minutes of exposure to the cold. As the parts freeze the sensors don’t work and it’s increasingly impossible to actually set to the settings you want. Furthermore, it’s better to avoid using wheels once the camera gets cold because if the moving parts break as they become fragile, your camera would be ruined. Digital buttons to change the settings are less likely to break, so it might be worth looking for a camera without any moving adjuster wheels.

It’s definitely worth bringing UV filters to protect your lenses. One saved my good lens when I dropped it. For landscapes, don’t bother with a polarising filter as the intensity from the snow or water is the same as from the sky, so all they do in Antarctica is lengthen the exposure time, but they may still be useful for portraits outdoors, if you are skilled in using them.

People have in years gone by built heated boxes to keep cameras warm outside for time lapse photography using triggering devices, or long exposure photos of the night sky, with superb results. But, be careful with time lapse photography. It makes the camera take a lot of photos. One previous winteroverer wore out his only camera within a month of start by simply taking too many photos!

During the summer months, never take you lens cap off with bare hands, always wear some thin cotton gloves on for that. Because sooner or later you’ll get the sunscreen on your fingertips smeared onto your lens, which will cause terrible sunlight artefact over every photo afterwards.

You do need a good tripod for photography through the winter, a) because they all need long exposures in the darkness and b) because as the camera body cools down to -50 degrees C the less you have to touch it the longer your fingers stay warm.