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Dispatches from the Ends of the Earth: Antarctica and Patagonia

London-based travel photographer Alex Stead has captured photos and video all around the world, but Antarctica and Chile have always been the ultimate destination for him. In October 2022, he finally realized his dream of exploring these two wild landscapes when he joined us aboard National Geographic Explorer for Antarctica and Patagonia: Legendary Ice and Epic Fjords. “This expedition certainly didn’t disappoint,” says Stead. “The contrast between doing the two different destinations was incredible.” Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up

Here, Stead shares some of his favorite highlights from the voyage, including an outstanding encounter with a puma in Torres del Paine National Park, as well as advice on shooting photos in these stark and rugged surroundings.

All photos: Courtesy of Alex Stead

An Epic Puma Encounter in Torres del Paine

Patagonia Puma Stead.jpg

As we were nearing the end of a hike through beautiful Torres del Paine National Park, news filtered back that a puma had been spotted ahead! When we reached the other group, we were amazed to spot the puma’s head nestled amongst the bushes only about 10 meters away. After observing for a short while, it treated us to a big stretch and yawn before breaking into a jog and sliding under the fence only a few meters in front of us.


Antarctica and Patagonia: A Film by Alex Stead

I was unprepared for how the sound of the ship crunching through sea ice and the hull knocking aside small icebergs would cement the feeling of truly being on ‘Expedition’, and not just a regular holiday.
Alex Stead

Photo Tips to Know Before You Go

For a trip like this, preparation is key. As an avid photographer, there’s many aspects to consider when going away for a long period of time. Even more when the destinations you’ll be exploring are remote and cold. Here is all the gear I packed.

Photo Gear Flat Lay Stead.jpg

  • Nikon Z7II
  • Nikon Z9
  • 200-400mm F/4
  • 400mm F/4.5
  • 16-35mm F/4
  • 70-200mm F/2.8 (my most used lens for photographing penguins)
    24-70mm F/2.8  (Great all-around lens I also used a lot)
    50mm F/1.2  (my least-used lens)
    Ronin-RS2 gimbal
    DJI mavic pro (only for parts of Chile; drones are banned in Antarctica)
    Batteries (bring spares, nothing saps battery like the cold)

Don't overlook storage. While you may not be a professional photographer, you'll be surprised by how many photos you take, especially on longer trips. Always bring multiple memory cards for your camera. If you have the space, a laptop and external USB/Harddrive will also be useful to have an extra backup.

Consider what images you want to capture. For landscapes showing the full scope of the area, a wide angle lens is great. But if you want to get close-ups of penguins, seals, or whales you’ll need a telephoto lens. Many of the penguins aren’t usually that far away so a 200mm lens would work, but if you want to get whales and further photos I’d recommend 400mm to 500mm.

Prepare for wet weather. Use a waterproof cover if you can. A lens hood, usually used for sunny conditions to reduce glare, can also work well to prevent water from getting to the lens. Try to plan ahead and attach the lens you want to use to your camera body before you head out--you don’t want to risk getting water on your sensor by changing lenses in a snowstorm. And lastly, always carry a lens cloth or absorbent wipe you can use to clean the lens.

Troubleshoot a cold camera. One thing to note about your gear is that  extreme temperatures can cause cameras to freeze up. If this happens (and it happened to me a couple times in Antarctica), try to turn it on and off a few times, or if that doesn't help removing and reinserting the battery should do the trick.

Explore Two Legendary Destinations: Antarctica & Patagonia