Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery Part Three

I thought I might have been finished yesterday when I hit the publish button on Part Two of my Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery article. However, I realised this morning that the flood gates were open and that there was more I wanted to share on this topic. I was quite direct in part two of this series on the problem with ‘Wow’ photography (See my post from yesterday for the definition of a ‘Wow’ photograph) and I want to instead focus on more positive aspects on the creation of evocative photography.  Training ourselves to see with better eyes and freeing ourselves up to be creative is going to be the subject of this third article. The hope is that we can create images that rise above ‘Fast Food Photography’ ‘(See my post from yesterday for the definition of Fast Food Photography).

One of the things I have noticed that happens in my own image making is that it takes me time to get into the rhythm of the location I am photographing. I rarely turn up at a new location on day one and make a photograph I consider to be anything more than a snapshot. If I get lucky and get some good light I might create a ‘Wow’ photograph, but thats not really any better than the snapshot. This is a phenomena I have long pondered and I have come to the realisation that it is actually very difficult to arrive in a new location and take a great photograph on day one.  Part of the reason for this is it takes time to settle in and get into the natural rhythm of the landscape and see better photographs. I need time to let the creative side of my brain attune itself to its surroundings. I need time to let my creative juices flow and I need time start to see strong compositions. The more time I spend at a location the more likely I am to produce an interesting evocative photograph. And that is an aspect to the creation of evocative photographs that has continually frustrated me.Well of LifeWhat I have also come to realise is that the more time I take off from actually being in the field and making photographs the more my ability to see strong and evocative images diminishes. When I spend a week or more in the field making photographs I become attuned to the landscape and the images start to flow freely. As the days progress I usually find the quality of the output improves. I am not necessarily taking more photographs, but I am taking better photographs. I can see this by looking at the images I made on a day-by-day basis after the fact in Lightroom.

When I subsequently leave the field and return to my studio for a period of time and then head back out into the field I feel like I am starting at square one again. Time has passed, my creative image making brain has been idle, and I have to attune myself all over again. Its a conundrum that has continually frustrated me. It really would be nice to pick right up where I left off with my creative brain in top gear and with strong and evocative imagery flowing freely. But how can that be done?

I have considered this problem for some time and have come to the conclusion that my creative ‘image-making’ brain is not being exercised sufficiently when I am not out in the field. Or perhaps more accurately, I am not spending the time learning to see with better eyes that I am doing when I am in the field. By the way, ‘seeing with better eyes’ is a subconscious process – its not something I am consciously considering when I am in the field. As a result my skill to see creatively is lying dormant and like any skill you don’t practice you start to loose your edge. The best analogy that comes to mind is cardio fitness. If you exercise daily your cardio fitness improves. If you stop and sit idle for a period of time your cardio fitness starts to deteriorate. Our ability to see creative images in the field works the same way – at least it does for me.

I have long considered the first few hours or days in the field to be ‘ramp-up’ time. That is time I need to spend attuning myself to see creatively. Or to use the cardio analogy, I need to ‘get fit’ again. The problem with ‘ramp-up’ time is that opportunities get missed. You may not realise it at the time, but you will no doubt, on reflection think back and consider the opportunities you missed during the first hours or days of a field session.

The key to minimising ‘ramp-up’ time for me has been to make a concerted effort to look at other photographers work in book and print as often as I can. This not only gives me insight into the work of other photographers and educates me on how they see the world, but it also keeps my creative brain ticking over. When I make the effort (and it isn’t an effort at all – its actually something I really enjoy) to sit and read or study a book of photographs it lights a creative spark in my brain. That spark gets me thinking about not only the photography I am absorbing, but also my own image making and how I can improve my next photograph when I next lift the camera to my eye. Looking at the work of other photographers gets me thinking about their interpretation of a scene, their vision and their way of seeing. It makes me consider how I look at the world, what stories I want to tell with my photographs and how I might consider an alternative approach to a scene or situation. It helps keep my ‘eye-in’ as it were and keeps things ticking over at a regular consistent pace.

One of the best things I believe you can do to improve your photography before you head out on your next field session is to spend some time looking at other photographers work. Not on social media, not on the web, but in books, prints and galleries where you are free from the distractions that plague the internet and social media platform. Take some time out of your day when the house is quiet and study a photography book from someone you admire or whose photography you enjoy. Go to the nearest gallery during your lunch break and spend some time studying the art work. Get to know the contemporary photographers out there who are masters of their craft and who are creating strong, evocative photographs with their own distinctive style. It never ceases to amaze me how many photographers I speak with can’t list more than ten well known photographers whose work they admire. Think about that for just a moment…. And what you will realise is that photographers are going out into the field uneducated and uninformed.

If you are planning a photographic trip somewhere make the effort to keep your creative brain stimulated with quality imagery before you get there. The more we train our brain to see the elements that make up a powerful evocative photograph the more likely we are to be able to create our own when we are next in the field. Just as an aside, I am not necessarily advocating you spend your time looking at photographs of African wildlife if Africa is your next travel destination. I am in two minds about wether this is a good idea. A part of me likes to approach a new location with fresh eyes and a clean slate without the influence of having seen location specific photography. Instead I would advocate you look at wildlife imagery in general and don’t necessarily limit yourself to African wildlife as in this example.

There is another thing you can do to improve your photography. I believe this is a really important aspect to the creation of evocative photographs and at the risk of being controversial, that just about all of us would be far better to invest the money allocated to our next camera or lens purchase to books on photography, prints, and museum and gallery entrance fees instead.

The marketing departments of the camera manufacturers has done a superb job over the last decade or so of convincing us that we ‘need’ the new model. That those extra pixels or extra stop of dynamic range are paramount in our photography. And that our current camera is now sub-optimal because the new version is now available for pre-order. This conditioning has been incredibly successful. Just scan the pages of any photography forum and you will find thread after thread talking about the next camera to come down the pipeline. Almost all of the ‘chatter’ is about equipment and very little is about about the creation of photographs. Now, I grant you the camera is an integral part of the process, but it is also just a tool.

The problem with that tool is that far too many photographers are constantly upgrading to the new version in the belief that it will improve their photography. The truth of the matter is that it usually has the opposite effect. The reason for this is that until control of the the camera you already own has become second nature and the movement of its controls nothing more than muscle memory you can never be truly be freed up to be creative. The brain is too focused on being a technician as it grapples with knobs and dials. We need to free ourselves up to be creative and the best way to do that is to properly learn to use the tool we already own. The best musical instrument players are intimately familiar with their instrument of choice. Yes, they can pick up another guitar, or another violin and play it very well. But they will play their own instrument at a higher level because they are intimately familiar with it. They understand its idiosyncracies and its limitations. They also understand how to get the best from it. And lastly, they don’t have to think consciously about it so they are freed up to play at their very best.

This is actually something I have witnessed countless times on my workshops and expeditions. Photographers fumble with their camera trying to find a button or setting. The focus and attention is on the equipment and not the photograph. Their brain is busy being a technician and is not focused on being creative. This is perfectly fine if the workshop is about teaching the technical aspects of photography and you are there to learn how to operate your camera. Typically however, this is not the case and the photographer is there to make images. Not only that, but they frequently have an expectation of wanting to create a strong photograph, yet they hamstring themselves through being unfamiliar with their equipment.

The take away from this is that you need to give yourself the best possible chance to be creative in the field and to do that you need to be intimately familiar with your equipment. Learn the camera you own back-to-front and inside-out and I promise your image making will improve considerably. Soldiers are trained to field strip a rifle blindfolded. They sleep with their rifle and they make sure they are intimately familiar with every aspect of their weapon. I am not advocating we all start sleeping with our cameras, but that perhaps if we just spent a bit more time committing the controls to muscle memory that we would give ourselves a far better chance to create a strong photograph when we are next in the field. This is unfortunately not the advice a lot of people want to hear. They prefer to believe that the new model camera that will be out soon, will improve their photography and that there is always some piece of gear or equipment that is holding back their image making. As you can see, the marketing departments of the camera companies have been extraordinarily successful.

If you choose to take this advice to heart you will find several things happen. Firstly, your wallet (and probably your significant other) will thank you as you will avoid what is in all likely hood an unnecessary camera upgrade or spurious lens purchase. As a side benefit you will also now have money for photography books, prints and gallery / museum entrance fees. Secondly, as you continue to learn the camera you already own your photography will improve as your brain shifts from being a technician who used to struggle with knobs and dials to a photographer who is freed up to create. Thirdly, your knowledge of photography will improve because you will own, appreciate and be familiar with the work of more photographers in book and print form. And finally, your own creative vision will improve because you have made the effort to focus your attention on the vision and not the tool. You will have armed yourself with the knowledge of the work of other photographers so that when you next go out into the field you are seeing with better eyes.

Read more.. Friday, January 30th, 2015

Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery Part Two

Yesterday I wrote a post (Creating Landscape Photographs with Emption and Mystery) in response to a question I received from Scott via Social Media that really got me thinking about creating evocative photographs. In fact, it got me thinking about a whole lot more than just making emotional images and I realised this morning I only just touched on what I was feeling when I drafted yesterdays post.

I want to pick up where I left off yesterday by first talking a bit more about what I have come to term ‘Wow’ images. A ‘Wow’ image is my term for the sort of photography referenced in the ‘Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up‘ article by Ugo Cei. These are photographs that make us go ‘Wow!’ on first glance but that lack any real substance once you strip back the colourful facade and frankly cliché composition. Incidently, these photographs are almost always also devoid of any discernible style as Ugo notes in his article.

The immediate impression on viewing such a photograph is usually ‘Wow!’ as our senses are overwhelmed with a beautiful scene full of vibrant saturated colour; hence my terminology. However, ‘Wow’ quickly turns to ‘Whats Next?’ because there just isn’t any real substance, emotion or intrigue there to hold the viewers attention once they have absorbed the scene and colour. There is no question posed, no mystery, or intrigue and usually no emotion or story. Its a fleeting experience perfectly suited to the nano-second attention span that is the social media experience. We look at these photographs, we ‘Wow!’, we ‘Like’ and we move on (Yes, I do it as well). We move on because we have already absorbed everything the photograph has to offer. We have been wowed by its vibrant colour and the experience is complete. The problem is, a few seconds later the experience is not only complete, but its completely forgotten. Our brain has moved onto the next thing that has drawn our attention (often another Wow image). This is something I have come to term ‘Fast Food Photography’.  Its cheap, easy and devoid of nutrition.

If you read my post from yesterday you already know that I have a strong personal preference for images that contain mystery, intrigue, drama and emotion. Suffice to say that photographs that contain these elements are not only more interesting than Wow images (at least to me) but they tend to grab and hold the viewers attention much longer. Straight up, these photographs will not get as many ‘Likes’ and as many comments as ‘Wow’ images on social media. But that has nothing to do with the power of the photograph and everything to do with the fact that these photographs require the viewer to actually pause and use their brain – something that many on social media seem unwilling to do. However, those viewers who do stop to look at the photograph will spend more time with it and it will likely make far more of a lasting impression than the next ‘Wow’ photograph that will come and go a few million times more that day.

Making ‘Wow’ photographs requires little in the way of artistic skill (Sorry if that offends anyone, but its true). Turn up to a beautiful location, setup your tripod and camera, wait for good light and practice being a technician. The net result will be a Wow photograph. It isn’t hard. In fact, its downright easy once you posses the technical skills. Probably the easiest and best example I can think of is the long exposure pier photograph that must run the social media channel highway a few million times a day in various iterations. We have all done it. Many of us continue to do it and those new to photography will do it in the future. In fact, its almost a right of passage or could perhaps more kindly be considered part of the photographer’s growth curve. Yet there is absolutely nothing of substance to the image once you strip back the sunset colour and the pier’s leading line. Its a standard cliché composition executed by millions of people that really only differs in the quality of light on offer. And here is the rub; I can guarantee someone has been there before you in better light. There are many more examples I could use to illustrate this point (Mesa Arch at sunrise springs to mind). If all you want to do is make these sort of photographs then all you need do is practice being a technician. But what if you want to create more than that?

Lets look at a couple of photographs of mine that I will use to illustrate a point. These two photographs were taken within seconds of each other near the Weddell Sea in Antarctica in November last year during gale force catabatic winds. The first photograph is a pretty standard composition. Yes, there is drama in this photograph courtesy of the weather conditions, but the composition doesn’t really hold the viewers attention. Is it a Wow image? Possibly.. although I would like to think it has enough drama and emotion to hold the viewers attention a little longer. In fact, I liked it enough to make it my photograph of the month for January this year. I still like it, but I also think I took a better photograph a few seconds later.Antarctic StormThis second photograph was taken just a few seconds later when I realised that this photograph should not be about the iceberg. Nor should it be about the ocean or the distant mountain partially obscured in cloud and fog. What this photograph was about was the jet trail like plume of snow being whipped off the top of the iceberg. This is where the real drama and emotion was to be found in this scene. The ocean is the stage, the distant mountain is the backdrop and the iceberg is merely a supporting actor. It is the vapour trail of snow that is the star of the show.Snow VapourAt the time I made these two photographs the decision to shoot the second image was a subconscious one. I knew I had captured the easy photograph – the entire scene; so I was now free to move on and ascertain what it was about the scene that was drawing me to photograph it. My subconscious took over and the result is the second photograph; which I personally feel, upon some reflection is a much more interesting image than the first.

It is the job of the photographer to dissect the scene through the viewfinder at the time of capture and to understand what should be excluded (See my post from yesterday about photography being a subtractive process). By cropping this image in camera I could much better focus the viewers attention on the real star, but still leave enough of the iceberg in frame to give context and create intrigue. We no longer know if this is a complete iceberg, or if its the edge of an ice shelf. We have left that decision to the viewer who will fill in the blank with their imagination. By comparison, the first image leaves nothing to the imagination and completes the story for the viewer – as a result its a ‘scene’. A dramatic scene, but just a scene nonetheless. In the second photograph we have still told the story, but we have excluded part of the iceberg to help fire the viewers imagination. We have given enough clues to help the viewer complete the scene in their mind without giving them just a pretty picture. In short, we have made them stop and think. Ultimately, it may well be a stronger photograph than the complete iceberg because it delivers a stronger message with deeper meaning.

I want to give one final example of how to achieve emotion in a photograph and it is one that comes courtesy of my six year old daughter. Last week she wandered into my studio as she is prone to do and asked me what I was doing whilst I was looking over a print I had just made. I told her I was looking at a print and she asked if she could see the photograph. Sure I said and turned the print to show her. This was the photograph in question.Antarctica-4470-Edit12014The first thing out of my daughters mouth after she spent a moment taking in the photograph was, and I quote: ‘The penguin looks sad Daddy“.

I smiled and asked her why she felt the penguin looked sad. She said, “Because he is all alone“.

As Yoda said – “Truly wonderful is the mind of a child“. My daughter nailed it.  And in one sentence understood exactly what this photograph was about – Solitude and loneliness.

I did not tell my daughter than just out of frame on the left hand side of the photograph there was an entire colony of over a hundred Gentoo Penguins going about their daily lives. It was not relevant to what I was trying to say with this photograph; so I excluded it from the frame. I wanted to give a sense of scale to this photograph and I chose to do so by framing just the one penguin in the corner with the huge mountains in the background. The heavy snowfall adds the magic element of drama and just a hint of mystery to this photograph, but it is the lone penguin set against the gigantic stage that carries the emotion.

In summary, I think it is worth thinking about what we are trying to say in our photography when we click the shutter and make a photograph. There is nothing wrong with wanting to create the Wow image (we all do it) and the world does need them for next years calendars and postcards. I challenge us all though, that we can do better and create more evocative photographs with deeper meaning if we just paused a little and thought about what we are trying to say with our photographs.

Read more.. Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Landscape Photography with Emotion and Mystery

I received an interesting message and question a couple of days ago via social media that I think is worth sharing here on my blog. Scott asks:

Hey Josh. As a hobbyist photog who doesn’t really participate in social media with my images nor enter comps, but shoots purely for relaxation and personal enjoyment and who struggles with creativity, how could you suggest I look to make landscape images with more emotion and mystery? I don’t really shoot the common haunts as I may as well just get a perfectly fine image off the web.

Its a good question and one I suspect Scott is not grappling with alone. Before I address his question though I think its worth taking a moment to look at what spawned the question.

A couple of days ago a blog post appeared on social media that got a number of photographers in a bit of a flap (the post is still doing the rounds on Facebook). Titled “Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up“, the essence of the post was that the internet is now awash with technically perfect landscape photographs that are soulless, lacing individuality and devoid of emotive content (You can read the original post HERE). As an aside, I am actually in complete agreement with the author and shared my thoughts about it on social media yesterday. I went as far to say that I felt the author had not gone far enough and that (to quote myself) “We live an age where prolificacy is rewarded over quality (at least on social media). Never before has the idea of less being more been so poignant in my mind.”

I have been feeling more strongly of late about these issues for all of those reasons already listed in the aforementioned blog post. In semi-frustration I kicked off my social media year with this comment on Facebook “2015: I want to see more mystery in photographs. Deeper relationships and more thoughtful and considered story telling. What is not shown matters more than what we show in a photograph. Give me a great story, mystery, drama and leave me longing for more…..”

What I didn’t do though was go on to talk about how to do that, which brings us to Scott’s question.

Photography is at its core a still medium that we use to tell stories. The problem with much of the photography that is referenced in the blog post ‘Will the Real Landscape Photography Please stand Up” is that there is no story being told by the photograph. Or rather, the story is one of technical perfection and a pretty picture.

Photography is the art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place or thing. It frequently has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. And that brings us to the art of seeing. An art that is being lost in a sea of technical perfection. Sure it takes technical skill to set up a camera and tripod in a beautiful location with great light and make a pretty picture. It takes artistic skill however to create an evocative photograph with emotion and mystery.

Creating images with mystery and emotion starts with seeing with better eyes. Weather, light and composition all play a vital role in the process but the real emotion is going to come from the story you are trying to tell with your photograph. I wrote yesterday in my book review of La Nuit du Cerf (Night of the Deer) about how photography is a subtractive process and what we exclude is often more important than what we include. Photographs are often successfully emotive because of what the photographer chose to exclude, rather than what he or she has included – there are countless well known examples to illustrate this point. Giving a sense of something is often far stronger than showing the whole thing. Leave something to the imagination of the viewer in your photographic compositions and you will find your images become stronger, more emotive and mysterious. The story does not have to be completed in a wide angle frame that encompass absolutely everything. It is often well worth letting the viewer fill in the blanks in their minds eye. After all, no photograph can compete with a stimulated imagination. The more you can fire the imagination of the viewer the more successfully emotive your photograph will become.

I cannot recall who it was who was first quoted as saying “Don’t photograph what it is. Photograph what else it is” but this statement is great advice we should all keep in mind when we are out taking photographs.

I have judged many photographic competitions over the last few years and without doubt those photographs that are most successful are the ones that tug on my emotional strings. These photographs create a connection with the viewer that is deeper and more meaningful than the feeling a pretty picture might impart.

Learning to see with better eyes takes time but is something we can train ourselves to do. Looking at photography books or attending galleries (not just photographic galleries) and exhibitions are two good ways to improve your vision. Look a how other photographers whom you admire interpreted a scene or subject and analyse what it is that creates the connection for you to the work. Think about what it is you are trying to say with your photography before you click the shutter. I frequently ask workshop participants what their photograph is about when they ask for feedback on their images –  I often receive a blank stare in return. If the photographer doesn’t know what the image is about how is the viewer supposed to know? It might be a photograph of a Penguin and that might well be the answer, but the real answer should be about what the photographer is trying to say about the subject.

Lets look at this photograph of mine of Gentoo Penguins on the sea ice near the entrance to the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica as an example. This photograph is about “being left behind”. It tells the story of the Gentoo Penguins in their environment. We know (even though they are small in the frame) that these are penguins because of their distinctive shape. We know they are in Antarctica because of the giant icebergs in the back ground. We know they are in their natural environment as they are walking across the sea ice. Yet, it is that one lone penguin that is lagging behind that creates the emotion in the photograph. When this photograph was judged at the 2014 APPA awards the judges giggled and commented about the story being told. The mere fact the photograph illicited giggles speaks to the emotive content. The photograph subsequently received a Gold Award.March of the Penguins

Now, if you put your thumb over the screen and cover up that lagging penguin then suddenly the story is now nowhere near as strong and the real power and emotion of the photograph is gone.

The same applies to the overall composition of this photograph. To the left of the large iceberg just out of frame is a large island. To the right hand side is a mountainous peak, likewise just out of frame; but neither of these elements are important to the photograph so I excluded them to simplify the frame and distill it down the essence of what I wanted the photograph to be about. I wanted to tell the story about the penguins on the ice with the little feller playing catch-up. Excluding these extraneous elements not only cleaned up the frame, but it also left the imagination to fill in the blanks about what might lie just to the left and right. Our minds eye fills in the blanks and at least in my own case I imagine the sea ice continually stretching out in both directions. This is far stronger than seeing the Island and mountain that are just out of frame.

There are some wonderful articles available on the internet about the art of seeing, the art of composition and creating emotive imagery and its worth taking some time out of your day to research them. Personally, I regularly listen to and enjoy the podcasts from Brooks Jensen over at Lenswork. I find his musings on creativity, art and photography insightful and useful in my own image making. David Ward who is a master of the intimate landscape has also written some excellent articles on this subject that have appeared in On Landscape magazine. I recommend subscribing to this magazine as it contains a great many excellent articles as well as countless examples of wonderfully emotive imagery.

Learning to see with better eyes is a core aspect to creating emotion in your imagery. Learning to use the elements available is another. Those who have travelled with me to the Polar regions know I relish bad weather. Snow, blizzards, and dramatic weather provides the perfect canvas to create emotive imagery. It doesn’t have to be Polar though – a breaking rain storm or the edge of weather will almost always provide an opportunity to tell an emotive story. The take-away to remember is that the weather provides only some of the feeling and drama to the photograph. It is your composition and choice of what you include and exclude that is going to tell the story. Remember, like all good stories, a photograph should leave the viewer wanting more. And that is the key to getting emotion and mystery into your photographs.

Read more.. Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Book Review: La Nuit du Cerf – Night of the Deer by Vincent Munier

Photography book reviews are something I have been meaning to sink my teeth into for the last few years – I just frankly haven’t had the time to really make a start. Actually, that isn’t quite true, I did an informal review of my good friend Daniel Bergmann’s latest book Iceland Landscapes (now sold out) when it was released back in 2011 and I look forward to reviewing his next book when it is released hopefully later this year.

Like turning the wheel on a motor vehicle, it is much easier to do so once you have a little forward momentum and this new book review is going to be my momentum to kick start a series of book reviews over the coming months. Before I begin however, I want to get something off my chest. In my view, far too few photographers these days collect, read, study and treasure photographic books. Even fewer collect photographic prints, but thats a story (ok, a rant) for another post. In the era of the social media jpeg the quality photographic book is unfortunately slipping by the wayside. And that is a real shame as there is whole generation of photographers out there missing out on a wonderful learning tool.

Reading and studying photographic books can be one of the best ways to actually improve your own photography. And I am not necessarily talking about books on photographic technique. Studying the work of photographers you admire and respect will give you wonderful insight into your own image making and I promise it will improve your photography. As photographers, it is important that we spend time looking at the work of those in our profession who we admire and respect. Sitting down with a photographic book is a fantastic way to do this and something I try and do as often as I can. This is a habit I picked up when I was studying photography in my late teens. My teachers made a point of recommending a great many photographic books over the course of my studies so as to expose me to as much quality photography as I could consume (they also recommended attending galleries and shows on a frequent basis). I believe it has stood me in good stead in my own image making and if you are not currently reading and collecting photography books I recommend you make a start.

I plan to review quite a few books over the course of the coming months and years and am going to give them a rating based on my overall impressions of the photographic content, the presentation and finally the print quality. I am going to sum up each book with a rating out of five stars.

  1. * Give it a miss. There are better books on this subject you should consider adding to your library
  2. ** Consider buying this book if the subject matter appeals to you.
  3. *** Nice to own. A quality publication that should have a home in any serious photography library.
  4. **** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.
  5. ***** Must own. No photography library is complete without this book

I want to kick off my first book review for 2015 with a book from one of my favourite contemporary wildlife photographers – Vincent Munier. If you are not familiar with Vincent’s photography then you owe it to yourself to take some time out of your day and get to know his work. Vincent is a master of wildlife photography and his most recent book La Nuit du Cerf or Night of the Deer is going to be the subject of this review.demo

La Nuit du Cerf (and I will call it by its French name from here on) is a collection of photographs of wild deer from the darkest reaches of the French forests photographed at night. But it is much more than just a collection of wonderfully evocative wildlife photographs. The book is also accompanied by an audio CD that includes sounds of the deer and forest recorded by Marc Namblard during the time Vincent spent making the photographs. This is an unusual addition to a photography book but is one that in my opinion greatly enhances the experience of the book. The audio tracks are actually also available as a free download if you purchase the book along with a short (but very well filmed) video of some of the making of the photographs. The video is available on You Tube.

In the deep of the autumnal night, the deer shows up.

Dark shadows and pale moonlight, unreal atmospheres and surprising fuzziness bring to light the admired silhouette of the animal. Like in mysterious tales, the subtle and original pictures by French photographer Vincent Munier transport us into the heart of the deepest forest.

His photographs are accompanied by a CD of nature sounds, collected by Marc Namblard to offer the reader the thrill of a night approach and the power and energy of the rut season.

French writer and ecologist Yves Paccalet is the author of the prelude.

If you are not familiar with the style of Vincent’s wildlife imagery this book might seem like quite a shock to you on first reading. You will not find perfectly sharp photographs, highly saturated colours, super clean backgrounds or any of those traits that seem to dominate the plethora of banal wildlife imagery on the web today. What you will find instead is highly evocative imagery that is rich in emotion, feeling and drama. The photographs are powerful because they pose questions and leave us wanting more. They provide us a glimpse into the deepest recesses of the forest at night where wild deer still play and roam. The photographs are successful because of what Vincent has chosen to exclude, rather than what he has included. We are left with a sense of the deer in the forest at night, like ghosts and fleeting spirits we never really get a good look at them and that is real magic to the photographs in this book. There is mystery and drama here that tells a story and that story is not just about the deer, but it is about the environment in which these animals exist – the dark forest, the cold morning mist and the low fog are all working together to tell the story. It is a mystical world, hidden from the eye of the average person that is so well conveyed in the photographs in this book.

Photography is very much a subtractive process in my view. When framing an image in the viewfinder what we choose to exclude is often more important than what we include and it is this skill that Vincent employs so artfully in La Nuit du Cerf. What I particularly enjoy is what is left to to the imagination in these photographs. Everything is there to set the stage for a great photograph. Low mist, fog, dramatic cloud and light, are all in abundance, but it is the choice of framing and shutter speed that bring the image to life and paint the subject in such a mysterious shroud. This is artful and soulful wildlife photography executed by a master craftsman.

Many of the photographs are monochromatic in nature (although they are still clearly colour photographs) but it is important to note that although they are desaturated I am not left feeling as though there has been a deliberate attempt to win me over with post production. What we are looking at here is the natural muted palette of nature expertly crafted by a master.

Presentation - In terms of presentation La Nuit du Cerf leaves very little wanting. Hardbound on wonderfully heavy paper the presentation is excellent. The muted choice of colour for the cover is complimentary to the photographs and the entire book feels like a carefully considered package.

Personally, I dislike full bleed images in photography books as I prefer a white border around the images to help frame them and keep my eye from running off the page. I know some photographers like to include a few full bleed images to help break up a book but I personally feel this detracts from the photographs and works against the flow of a book. I was very pleased to see no full bleed photographs in this book. All of the photographs are framed by the white of the paper and this works well to contain the imagery from page to page. I particularly enjoyed the layout of this book and the use of small photographs on some of the pages to create a more intimate feeling. In an era where big is often seen as better it is nice to see the use of small images employed to help draw the viewer into this mystical world. I also appreciated the regular use of an empty page on the left hand side that allows the mind to take a slight pause and focus on just one photograph on the right hand side of the page. This is clever design that lets the eye really take in and enjoy each photograph without feeling overwhelmed.

The inside cover of the book contains a small envelope with the additional Compact Disc. As noted above, the audio tracks are also provided as downloadable FLAC lossless files when you purchase the book online.

Print Quality - It is hard to review the print quality in La Nuit du Cerf as many of the photographs are very dark in nature and on first impression you could be forgiven for feeling there should be more detail in some of the shadows. However, it is the use of solid blacks that really enhance many of the photographs and help convey their feeling so successfully. My feeling is that the print quality is best judged in the subtle tonalities of fog and mist in many of the images; the feeling and drama of which is well conveyed.

I feel somewhat spoiled in my experience with print quality. As a photographer who regularly makes and sells fine art prints I have a pretty good grasp of just how good modern day fine art inkjet prints can be. To date I have not yet seen an offset printing process that can match that of a finely crafted inkjet print. My feeling is that the print quality in La Nuit du Cerf is about as good as offset can achieve with current technology and in that respect it is very good.

Conclusion – Quite honestly, this book epitomises just about everything I love and enjoy about wildlife photography. Available in two versions via Kobalann Online Store, La Nuit du Cerf can be purchased for 50 Euro plus shipping in standard edition (as review here) or for 800 Euro as a limited edition (30 copies only) in a presentation box with a fine art print.

I highly recommend you consider adding La Nuit du Cerf to your collection of photography books. If you are not yet collecting books on Nature photography then this would make an excellent start and provide you many hours of enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Overall Review - **** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.

Read more.. Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

2015 – Packing for Yellowstone, Iceland and an Arctic Winter

It really is hard to believe that Christmas and New Year have come and gone and that in a few days time we will already be in February. In less than two weeks time I will be flying out of Australia on my first two workshops of the year – Yellowstone Winter Wonderland Experience and Iceland in Winter. I will also be spending time on a new scouting trip to the Arctic in Winter as well as my Arctic Fox project. It is going to be an exciting couple of months.

It has been nearly ten years since I was last in the United States and I am very much looking forward to returning and photographing in a Yellowstone Winter with a small group of great friends and passionate photographers. The Yellowstone workshop is about both wildlife and landscape opportunities and I am really excited about what we may encounter during our time in the park and surrounding areas. We are also visiting the Grand Tetons and National Elk Refuge at the end of our workshop.

After I finish in Yellowstone I am flying directly to Iceland to co-lead my annual 2015 Winter Aurora workshop with Daniel Bergmann. As I have written before Winter is wonderful in Iceland with snow covered landscapes, partially frozen waterfalls and with a little luck we will see and photograph the Aurora Borealis. We are focusing our efforts during this workshop on the landscapes of Southern Iceland and will be visiting many fantastic locations for photography in these areas including ice caves. The 2016 Winter workshop will focus on the Northern landscapes of Iceland. I opened the 2016 workshop for bookings a couple of days ago and there are now only a few places left before we will be sold out.Ice CaveAt the conclusion of the Winter Iceland workshop I am going to travel to Svalbard for a week long scouting expedition to photograph Polar Bears and Reindeer in winter light. This is a very exciting opportunity and I will have more to say about this expedition in a few weeks time.

After completing the Svalbard trip I will fly back to Iceland and spend a week and a half in the extreme northeast of the country photographing Arctic Foxes for my Arctic Fox Project. I will then fly back to Australia at the end of March.Arctic FoxAs is customary I like to do a packing list of what I am planning to take with me on these workshops and for my time away – it helps me make sure I have not forgotten anything. Unlike my 2014 Iceland Winter Workshop I am not heading to Namibia in Africa directly afterward and so can pack only cold weather clothing, leaving the shorts and sandals at home. In fact, given I am spending time in Yellowstone and the Arctic in Winter I will be packing all of my best cold weather clothing. I am expecting temperatures of -20º celsius and below in Yellowstone and Svalbard – Iceland should be a warm bath by comparison. My Sorell Caribou winter boots are currently in storage in Iceland so I intend to purchase a new pair of winter boots in Bozeman before we start our Yellowstone workshop.

In terms of camera gear I am packing the usual gear for this trip including two long lenses for wildlife. As much as I would also like to take my TSE lenses the reality is I simply do not have enough space and already have considerable weight to manage. On top of the below I am also packing the new Lens Coat 600mm F4 Camera backpack which I can use to store the 600mm when not in use. This clever new bag packs flat and takes up almost no room in my luggage.

- 2 x Canon 1DX bodies
- 1 x Canon 16-35mm F4L IS
- 1 x Canon 24-70mm F2.8L IS MK II
- 1 x Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MK II
- 1 x Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4X Teleconverter
- 1 x Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII
- 1 x Canon 1.4X MK III Teleconverter
- 1 x LEE Foundation Kit
- 1 x LEE Foundation Kit and Polariser
- 1 x LEE 3 Filter Lens Wrap
- 1 x LEE 3-Stop Soft Graduated ND Filter
- 1 x LEE 3-Stop Hard Graduated Filter
- 1 x LEE 6-Stop Little Stopper Neutral Density Filter
- LEE Adapter Rings for 77mm and 82mm
- 1 x Canon Drop-in Circular Polariser
- 1 x Leica Ultra-vid 10×42 HD Binoculars
 .
Gura Gear Chobe (Carry on Luggage)
- 1 x Apple MacBook Pro 15″ Retina
- 1 x Apple laptop charger
- 1 x Thunderbolt 1 TB external portable hard drive
- 1 x  USB CF card reader
- 1 x Sunglasses and sunglasses case
- 1 x Astell & Kern Hi-Rez Portable Audio Player
- 1 x Astell & Kern Charging Cable
- 1 x Inner Ear Stage Two Driver Headphones
.
Etcetera Case #1 (Inside Chobe)
- 1 x Canon 1-Series camera charger
- 2 x Power Adapters
- 2 x Canon1DX spare Batteries
 .
North Face Rolling Thunder Duffle (Checked Luggage)
- 1 x Lens Coat 600mm Backpack
- 1 x Arćteryx Atom LT Hoody
- 1 x Arćteryx Atom LT Vest
- 1 x Arćteryx Cerres 850 Down Filled Jacket
- 1 x Arćteryx Kappa Pants
- 1 x Arćteryx Alpha SV Goretex Pro Bibs
- 1 x Arćteryx Alpha SV Goretex Jacket (Because at some point it will rain in Iceland)
- 1 x Arćteryx Gamma Pants
- 1 x Norona Svalbard Pants
- 1 x Devold Expedition Thermal Long Johns
- 2 x Devold Expedition Thermal Tops
- 1 x Scarpa Hiking Boots
- 1 x Shirt
- 2 x T-Shirts
- 1 x Jobu Deluxe Gimbal Head with Dovetail Base
- 1 x Petzl Headlamp
- 1 x Heat Company Heat 3 Cold Weather Gloves
- 1 x Really Right Stuff TVC24L Carbon Fibre Tripod with RRS Levelling Base
- 1 x Really Right Stuff Set Tripod Spikes and fitting Alan-key
- Personal Items
 .
Etcetera Case #2 (Inside North Face Duffle)
- 1 x Arctic Butterfly Sensor Cleaner
- 1 x Filter Wrench
- 1 x Zeiss Cleaning Fluid and Lens Cleaning Tissue
- 1 x Micro Fibre Lens Cloth
- 1 x Rocket Blower with Hepa-Filter
.
If you are considering purchasing any of the above camera equipment for your own photography please consider doing so by clicking through this B&H Photo Link. This affiliate link helps me pay for some of the the costs of running this website.
Read more.. Monday, January 26th, 2015

Iceland Winter 2016 – The Frozen North Expedition Open for Bookings

Daniel Bergmann and I are pleased to have now finalised our Winter Workshop itinerary for 2016 to Iceland. The workshop will run from the 4th of March 2016 until the 13th of March 2016 and will focus on the incredible northern landscapes of Iceland as well as the Aurora Borealis. We will be travelling in two Icelandic Super Jeeps (modified 4-wheel drives) so that we can get off the main bitumen road and into the more interesting areas for photography and experience the true splendour of Iceland in Winter. We will be focusing our efforts in the Northern part of Iceland in some of the less visited and more spectacular winter locations. In winter the northern landscapes are covered in snow and the light is often soft and ethereal. There are fantastic opportunities to create wonderful images of the winter landscape.Godafoss in Winter from the top of the fallsAt the beginning of March the darkness of the Icelandic winter is starting to lift and the days are becoming longer. We will have up to ten hours of good light during the day and with a little bit of luck the spectacular Northern Lights will increase our photographic opportunities well into the night. Winter conditions in Iceland can be stunningly beautiful: the glacial lagoons freeze, some of the waterfalls are partially frozen, the glaciers appear more blue with fresh snow on top, the landscape of the north is covered in fresh snow and with fewer visitors. With true darkness in winter comes the possibility of seeing the awe inspiring Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). We plan to make photographs of them whenever there are clear skies and intense Aurora activity.Aurora over ReykjanestáYou can download a complete itinerary and information PDF HERE. The workshop is fully inclusive of all meals, accommodation and ground transportation as well as all tuition and image reviews. Our 2014 and 2015 workshop sold out in just a few days so if you would like to join us you can register your interest by dropping me an email or by filling in the registration form on my website at www.jholko.com. Due to initial expressions of interest and registrations the workshop is already 50% sold out. The last places are filled on a first come, first served basis and once they are spoken for thats it. Please be sure to read the testimonials page to see what others are saying about our workshops and expeditions. You can also visit the Iceland Portfolio on my website at www.jholko.com for more images of Iceland in Winter.Shaes of White

Read more.. Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Baby Elephant Seal Play Time in South Georgia

One of the most fantastic experiences you can have during a Nature photography expedition is getting close to wildlife. Close encounters with wild animals are always special and can yield wonderful photographs. During the recent twenty one day expedition I lead to South Georgia Island and Antarctica we were fortunate to have some wonderful close encounters with wildlife. One of the most memorable was with a baby Elephant Seal at Grytviken Harbour in South Georgia.  This very curious and inquisitive baby seal decided it would be good fun to play in the shallows and kiss the underwater camera. Just click on the image below to play the video.Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 7.47.12 pmIt is important to note that this seal approached us on its own and was in no way stressed or harmed – it was merely curious. In fact, during our time in Antarctica we had several participants who even had curious baby seals approach them and try to climb up onto them whilst they were lying down and taking photographs. Baby seals are often very curious and its  quite common for them to not only approach well within five metres but also to touch, push and play with people. We always respect wildlife and boundaries to the wildlife and enjoy these special moments when the wildlife decides to come to us and investigate.

The underwater housing featured in this short video and that was used to make this photograph is an Aquatech Delphin 1DX housing with underwater dome port.Baby Elephant Seal

Read more.. Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2014 – Commended Wildlife Category

It is definitely competition season at the moment in photographic circles with many Landscape, Nature and Wildlife competitions either opening for 2015 or announcing their winners for 2014. I was very pleased to learn yesterday that one of my photographs has been commended in the 2014 Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition in the Wildlife Insight Category. I was fortunate to win this competition in 2013 in the Spirit of Adventure Category for a photograph of mountain climbers near the summit in an approaching storm and it is a great thrill to have my work recognised again this year with a commendation for the Wildlife Insight Category. The photograph I chose to enter was of an Arctic Fox stalking a gull from behind a snow drift. I took this photograph early last year in winter in the extreme north east of Iceland in a place only accessible by boat. This particular image was taken with the Canon EOS1DX and Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII.Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 8.52.59 amFox Attack

Read more.. Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Deception Island Antarctica – The Hand of Man

Deception Island is an island in the South Shetland Island archipelago off the Antarctic Peninsula. It is renowned as one of the safest harbours in Antarctica and has been for me a regular stopping point during Antarctic expeditions. The island itself is actually the caldera of an active volcano and geothermal sulphur still rises along the waterline. Photographer pauses to admire the beauty, partially hidden by riThe volcano caused serious damage to local scientific stations in 1967 and 1969. The island is perhaps best known historically for its whaling station; although it is now regarded as a tourist destination with a scientific outpost. Interestingly there are various countries that havee claimed sovereignty over the Island but it is thankfully administered under the Antarctic treaty system.Deception IslandI have been fortunate to visit Deception Island and Whaler’s Bay now on several different occasions. In fact, I actually posted a series of images here on my blog I titled ‘Made of Steel‘ from my first visit back in 2011. There is a palpable sense of grim history to this location and I have heard many first time visitors remark on the impact this location has had on them. Having visited this location many times now it remains for me one of the most sombre locations I have ever photographed with its dark whaling history. I feel a strong sense of foreboding at Whalers Bay, although I have enjoyed the photographic opportunities at this location very much. Whaler’s Bay is in many ways a a stark reminder of the way we were. Its rusting whaling remnants are a poignant reminder of humanities injustices on Nature. It is said, that at the height of the whaling in this area there were so many whales slaughtered that the bay turned red with blood. Now, many decades on from the injustices of human action the rusting remains of the whalers activities serve as some very interesting photographic subjects. Deception IslandThese three photographs were made during my recent expedition to Antarctica at the end of 2014 (the first photograph of the photographer on the beach was taken in 2011). They summarise for me the feeling of this abandoned location and capture something of the haunting atmosphere that seems to hang so low over the land. Interestingly all of these photographs were made during heavy snowfall. I have visited Deception Island in a range of different weather, but it is the images captured in the driving snow that best convey the feeling of this location for me.Deception Island

Read more.. Thursday, January 15th, 2015

South Georgia Island and Antarctica Expedition 2014 Report

In November 2014 I led an extensive twenty-one day landscape and wildlife photographic expedition with good friend Andy Biggs to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica. The purpose of this extended expedition was to provide the definitive Antarctic and sub-Antarctic experience. We planned to take in the best of the Falklands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica and experience not only the diverse landscape and wildlife, but also some of the historic relics and history of these amazing places.

Our expedition saw us cover more than 3400 nautical miles in a round trip from Ushuaia, to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, The South Shetland Islands, Antarctica and finally return to Ushuaia. We experienced the full range of weather and conditions from brilliant sunshine to gale force winds on our approach to Antarctica. As a photographer who prefers the drama of overcast skies and storm conditions I relished the opportunities that we had to shoot in inclement weather. Those of us who preferred calmer conditions were likewise blessed with some wonderful weather during much of our time in the Falklands and South Georgia. Unfortunately for me, I did suffer (not alone ) a good dose of seasickness during this expedition that more or less confined me to cabin during our sea days on this expedition. This was the first time I have succumbed in such a manner to sea sickness and I can now completely sympathise with anyone has been unfortunate enough to suffer from this uncomfortable condition.FalklandIslands-063612014In the Falklands we visited West Point Island and New Island where we photographed majestic Black Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguins. Rock Hopper Penguins are the rock stars of the penguin world and are extremely photogenic with their wild hair and cool looks. We were fortunate to have some fabulous light and incredible access in the Falklands and were able to photograph nesting Black Browed Albatross up close. Some of us were also fortunate to see and photograph the very rare Striated Kara Kara. Although I did manage to grab a couple of snaps of this rare raptor for documentary purposes the images themselves are more record photographs and not considered compositions. Nevertheless it was a real thrill to see and photograph this rare bird of prey.

FalklandIslands-096412014We also stopped in Stanley, the capital of the Falklands where we refuelled on coffee and took in some local sights. Keen to make our way to South Georgia our stay in the Falklands was brief and we were soon underway for three days sailing to South Georgia Island.

South Georgia is one of the most remote islands on the planet and is a full three days sail from the Falkland Islands. It is also host to an incredible biomass of wildlife that makes it not only unique but also incredibly special. The sheer mass of wildlife on tap in South Georgia is a wildlife photographers dream and the opportunities are infinite. South Georgia is nothing short of a complete sensory assault with tens of thousands of nesting King Penguins, penguin chicks, Fur Seals, Elephant seals and a virtual cornucopia of birdlife. At first blush South Georgia can be so overwhelming that simply making sense of it can be difficult and it pays to spend some time simply enjoying the experience as well as photographing.King Penguins Saint AndrewsSouth Georgia island is strictly controlled in terms of number of visitors permitted on the island, where they are allowed to land and the hours they can be ashore. The purpose of these restrictions is to keep South Georgia as pristine as possible and to give wildlife a chance to rest away from the disturbance of human visitation. As such it is not permitted to land in South Georgia before 4am and you must depart by no later than 10pm. In order to take advantage of the best light possible we frequently commenced our zodiac operations at 4am so that we could not only maximise our time ashore but also ensure we experienced the best of the light available. These long hours usually enabled us three landings per day which meant we could squeeze in a great amount of photography during our time in this amazing location.

Our first stop in South Georgia was Grytviken where we explored the old whaling remnants that lie scattered amongst the small settlement. Fur seals and elephant seals greeted us as our zodiacs landed amongst the rusty whalers remnants. I chose to focus my efforts at this location on a very playful baby elephant seal wallowing in the shallows of the harbour. This photograph was taken with a Canon EOS1DX with a 16-35mm F4L IS lens in an Aquatech underwater sports housing with wide angle dome port. The seal seemed intent on kissing the camera and I had to wipe seal slobber off the dome port on several occasions. My sincere thanks to Aquatech for the loan of the underwater housing for the duration of this expedition.SouthGeorgia-8339-Edit22014One of the greatest attractions in South Georgia are the majestic King Penguins. These elegant birds are the Kings of South Georgia and can be found by the tens of thousands at Salisbury Plain, Gold Harbor and Saint Andrews – all of which we visited during this expedition. Larger than the Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroon they are also the most colourful and to my mind at least, the most elegant and photogenic.

SouthGeorgia-2456-Edit42014We also visited Little Moltke harbour, Hercules and the Drygalski fjord in South Georgia. All of these offered incredible landscapes and wildlife opportunities. I hope to share more photographs from these locations over the coming weeks and months.

As we sailed from South Georgia Island to Antarctica through the Scotia sea we passed gigantic tabular icebergs slowly drifting out of the Weddell Sea. The largest of which measured an enormous twelve kilometres on the ships radar. Icebergs of this size and magnitude generate their own local weather system and are always dramatic to photograph.SouthGeorgia-9735-Edit62014Our approach from South Georgia to Antarctica presented us with nearly 50 knots of howling wind which prevented us from landing at Deception Island. However, we were able to land briefly at the historic Point Wild in rising Catabolic winds. This is the first time I have been able to actually place a foot on rock at this location having been blown out on all other attempts. Point Wild is home to a colony of Chinstrap penguins and was the location where Antarctic explorers huddled for three months before rescue.Antarctic StormDuring our time in Antarctica our most southerly point was the breathtaking Lemaire Channel which we cruised through during a magnificent polar sunset. The Lemaire channel is always a dicey bet this early in the season but with the experience of our Russian Captain we were able to navigate the ice strewn waters and experience one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever witnessed in polar waters.

Antarctica-375612014We also explored Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay, Cierva Cove and more. We cruised on zodiacs amongst spectacular icebergs as well as landing and exploring on foot. We were regularly greeted during our landings by our comedic friends the Gentoo penguins.

Our final landing in Antarctica was at the penguin festooned Cuverville Island. Cuverville has become one of my favourite landings in Antarctica with its stunning dramatic scenery, extensive Gentoo penguin colonies set against precipitous mountains and incredible glaciers hanging between mountains. It provides the perfect backdrop for Antarctic photography. Add a liberal dose of inclement weather and the island comes alive with drama. Cuverville was our coldest landing with 20-25knott winds and a significant wind chill. The resulting images bore out a taste of just what Antarctica can truly be like. It is hostile in its magnificence.Antarctica-2380-Edit82014There were some fantastic photographs that resulted from this expedition by many of the photographers who participated. Personally, I shot over 7,500 images during the course of the expedition and as is usual it will take me many months to mine the jewels from this expedition. For now the photographs in this report are just a few of my initial favourites. During the course of the expedition the ships crew prepare a report of the previous days activities as well as what to expect for the coming day. You can download the daily trip reports as a SouthGeorgiaReport PDF.

SouthGeorgia Group PhotoWe also had a videographer aboard to document our expedition and I hope to share the video from this expedition in a few months once all of the editing and post production work is complete.

If you are interested in travelling and photographing in South Georgia Island I will be leading a dedicated fifteen day expedition in November this year that departs from the Falkland Islands and that will spend more than eight days in this wondrous location. There are now only two places remaining before this expedition will be sold out. If you would like any additional information you can register your interest by dropping me an email at info@jholko.com

Read more.. Tuesday, January 13th, 2015