InFocus – How to Choose your next Workshop or Photography Tour

The latest issue of Infocus magazine (available for the iPad) has a new feature article titled ‘A World Apart’ on how to choose your next Photography Workshop. The invitation to comment for this article was timed with an interesting email I received asking advice on how to choose a photo safari – “I want to do a safari to Africa next year and as you do not run Safari’s I thought you might be able to give me some impartial advice on how to go about choosing a safari that will give me the best photo opportunities.”

This email got me thinking further about how to best go about choosing the right workshop. In conjunction with the article in InFocus magazine; below are my top ten tips for choosing your next workshop. Just click on the image below to Download the InFocus Article.TOP TEN TIPS FOR CHOOSING YOUR NEXT PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR OR WORKSHOP

1 – ACCREDITATION, PROFESSIONALISM AND ETHICS

There are many ‘photographers’ out there  competing for your business in the workshops and photography tours market. Many of them are not full time professional photographers, but are rather semi-professional, or perhaps professional amateurs is more accurate. These photographers have regular day jobs but present themselves as full time photographers through their websites and social media channels. Beleive it or not this is a very common occurrence. With the ease and availability of DSLR’s there has been an explosive proliferation of  ‘professional photographers’. It is usually not too hard to find out who the real full time photographers are once you start digging, but don’t always accept on face value that a photographer is a full time professional just because their website says so. In the world of photography tours and workshops it may not matter if your leader is a true full time professional, but you should at least know their true status before you commit to travelling with them. It can also give you significant insight into the character of your potential leader and their experience leading trips.

2 – PRIOR HISTORY & LOCAL GUIDES

Has your workshop leader been to the location that you are planning to travel with them? You would be surprised, but there are many operators who want you to help fund their next adventure and there are unfortunately countless examples of photographers who have used paying customers to help them access new locations they have wanted to photograph.  Unless the trip is clearly labelled and marketed as a ’scouting trip’ you should expect your leader to have prior experience in the areas you will be travelling. They should know the best locations and what time to be there for the best light. They should also be able to tell you some classic photographs at each location as well as view points that are less well known. In other words, they should have on the ground experience in the locations they are planning to take you.

Does the leader you are considering travelling with use a local guide? Local guides are a key component to a successful trip. The ability to read local weather, find out of the way locations, manage local logistics, deal with any accommodation issues, understand local laws and customs is absolutely essential to a successful experience. Sometimes the leader is also the guide and this can work extremely well if it is their home country in which they are guiding and leading. It doesn’t matter how many times you visit a country, there is no substitute for local knowledge and a local guide. Make sure your next trip includes one.

3 – PORTFOLIO OF IMAGES

If you are planning a workshop be sure that the workshop leader has a strong portfolio of their own photographs from the location you are planning to visit with them. The leader’s portfolio is an excellent indication of not only their abilities as a photographer, but also an insight into the time they have spent in that location and their ability to produce strong work as a professional. If your workshop leader can’t show you a strong portfolio of images from the location there is a fair chance they have never been there before or that they have little experience in the area.

4 – TESTIMONIALS AND FEEDBACK

Does the workshop or tour leader you are planning to travel with have feedback from prior participants and prior trips on their website? Testimonials and client feedback are an excellent gauge of the experience others have had before you and can give you a real insight into the sort of person you are about to travel with. A testimonial isn’t worth the paper it is printed on if it does not come with an email address, website or some other way for you to verify that the testimonial is truthful and accurate. Any testimonial should be signed off with the clients first and last name and either an email address or website link. If it has neither, then disregard it. A single testimonial that includes a customers full name and some method of contacting them is far more valuable than a hundred testimonials that contain no contact details. Independent verification is the key to the strength and power of the testimonial.

5 – LEGAL / INSURANCE AND PERMITS

Unfortunately, there are quite a number of workshop and tour operators that operate outside the law to varying degrees. Some of these leaders simply lack the necessesary insurance to lead trips, where as others lack the required official permits. Leaders operating in this manner are not only behaving irresponsibly and unethically (and in some cases illegally), but are also muddying the waters for those leaders who operate within the law and to the highest standards possible. Tour leaders who operate without permits can be asked to leave National Parks and permit restricted areas on the spot with no regard or recompense for workshop participants. Make sure the workshop leader you are considering travelling with has insurance and relevant permits and permissions.

6 – INDUSTRY RECOGNITION / ACCOLADES AND AWARDS

Industry recognition and award are a key indicator to the standard of photography from your potential tour leader and will likely give you significant insight to their professionalism. Have a look if your tour leader is accredited by a professional photographic body such as the AIPP Australian Institute of Professional Photography or other professional body – they should be. Photographers who are members of professional industry bodies are usually held to the highest ethical standards as part of the organisations charter.

Awards and accolades are great indicator of the quality of work your potential leader has produced. Look to their awards and accolades for their ability to make a great photograph – not for their ability to mentor or teach as those are very different skills. However, a leader who has consistently won awards for their photography likely has a strong ability to produce good work on a regular basis. You can potentially learn a lot from watching how they work in the field, how they compose and create their photographs. Industry awards and accolades are also also a good indication of peer recognition. They are also a good indicator of prior experience. For example, a photographer who has won numerous awards for their Africa images likely has significant experience travelling in this area.

7 – TAG TEAM

It is becoming increasingly common for workshop leaders to team up on trips to add both benefit and credibility to a trip. Chances are if you see a workshop is being led by multiple well respected leaders there is a very good chance you are booking onto a great experience. Tag Team trips also help reduce the instructor / student ratio so if you are looking for good solid one-on-one time with your leader/s Tag Team workshops are a great idea. Multiple leaders also helps spread the workload so your leaders will likely be more relaxed and better able to help you.

8 – GROUP SIZE

Look at the maximum number of participants on the trip. Are you willing to travel with that many other people? The instructor / student relationship is very important if you want serious one on one time with your tour leader. If the trip is ship based then you should look carefully at any landing restrictions for places you will be visiting. You want to avoid being on a ship where you cannot go ashore because there are too many people on board (this can happen in Antarctica with IATO restrictions).

9 – ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD

It goes without saying that you should fully arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect in the way of accommodation and food during your trip. Most photography tours and workshops include accommodation and food in the total cost. Make sure you request a single supplement if you want a private room and make sure you check if any special dietary accommodations can be catered too. Ask your operator what sort of accommodation and food to expect for the duration of the trip.

10 – PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP OR PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR?

The difference between a photography workshop and a photography tour may not be immediatetly apparent to many people. However, there is a vast difference between the two and it is important to understand the difference so that you can better choose which is right for you. Photo workshops should be instructional in nature and the leader should be student focused, helping each participant with assistance in the field when required. The leader should be not only an accomplished photographer but also a comptetent educator (and the two do not often go hand in hand). Just because the photographer has won multiple award does not necessarily make them a good teacher. This is where testimonials can really help you evaluate the leader you are considering travelling with.

Tours, on the other hand, tend to be more loosely structured. The primary responsibility of tour leaders is to get the group to a specific destination in good light, and in some cases, that’s it. Many tour leaders will go above and beyond and answer questions about photography or will provide insight as to the location or subject being photographed, telling about the history of a place or behavior of an animal, but don’t expect that they will. In some cases, the guide may not be a photographer at all, while in others, the guide may be an accomplished photographer and primarily focused on creating their own images while on the trip. While neither of these is necessarily bad, it is important for a photographer who signs up for a photographic experience to know what to expect from their leader. If you aren’t sure how hands on your tour leader may be and what role they will take during your trip, be sure to ask and get a clear explanation before you sign up.

Similarly, many workshops provide classroom based instruction of some sort. This may take the form of presentations on specific subjects or techniques, workflow and post processing sessions using Lightroom and Photoshop, photo critique sessions, or opportunities for questions and answers. Mostly, these sessions fill up the middle of the day when the light on location is no good for shooting. Before signing up for a workshop, know which of these, if any, will be included so that any expectations you have are met.

BONUS – SENSE OF HUMOUR

Believe it or not a sense of humour is one of the most important components a workshop leader requires. You are going to spend anywhere from a single day to a month with your workshop leader which means you need to take into acount and consider the personality, attitude and sense of humour. The choice of leader is as important as the destination and your choice will likely be the difference between a wonderfully enjoyable experience and one you might care to forget.

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Read more.. Monday, July 21st, 2014

Arrived in N’Iceland

A few days ago I completed the long haul flights from Australia to Oslo and then the short hop across to Iceland (thank you to Iceland Air for the business class upgrade – much appreciated!). It is again wonderful to be back in this amazing country. I admit to being super keen to visit Vegamót (one of my favourite eating establishments in Reykjavik) for a bowl of seafood soup as soon as possible after landing. I got sidetracked looking through the menu however and ended up with the Lobster pizza – still excellent!

Thankfully I can report that I did not have any issues with the airlines and my camera gear on the journey over here (either with Qatar or Iceland Air). Travelling with large amounts of camera gear is getting harder and harder and I always get a little nervous about lugging so much gear on the eve of an overseas trip. Its always a nice feeling to get off the plane at the final destination with all of your equipment on your person and in tact.

Tomorrow Daniel Bergmann and I are kicking off the first of two Ultimate Iceland Workshops which will see us circumnavigate the island as we explore many of the dramatic landscapes this island has to offer. Those of you who follow my blog are already aware of my love for the highland regions of this country and we will be spending a good amount of time in the interior of Iceland. But I am also very much looking forward to returning to Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls. It has been a few years since I last visited these waterfalls and I am keen to re-shoot them with new vision. Ridley Scott put Dettifoss on the Hollywood map a couple of years ago when he chose to photograph one of the more dramatic scenes from his movie Prometheus at the waterfalls edge – an angle I shot several years earlier. I have had more than a hankering to return to this waterfall since I first saw the movie. For now though, its time to get started with a morning espresso. See you on the road…

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Read more.. Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Departing for Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard 2014 Workshops and Expeditions

This is my last post for a while as I will be piling  into the taxi shortly and heading to the airport to make my way to Iceland for my 2014 back-to-back Ultimate Iceland workshops. I have been looking forward to these two workshops for some time as we are circumnavigating the island during both these tours and taking in a great many of its incredible locations. I am particularly looking forward to returning to Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls as well as well as the geothermal highland regions of Landmannalaugar and Vedivotn. Both of these areas are more or less inaccessible in winter and both are two of my favourite areas for photography in Iceland. We will have hours of golden light under the midnight sun which is going to give us lots of opportunities to make incredible images in this amazing country.At the conclusion of these two Iceland workshops I will be boarding the expedition ship Polar Pioneer and sailing to Greenland and Svalbard on the Jewels of the Arctic Expeditions. Greenland and Svalbard offer incredible opportunities and the high Arctic is a breathtaking landscape to experience and explore and I am very much looking forward to returning. You can read a report on last years Jewels of the Arctic expedition HERE. Peter Eastway who accompanied me as my co-leader also had a Feature Article in Better Photography magazine on this exciting adventure. We are looking forward to monolithic icebergs, glaciers, towering mountains that guard the fjords and with a little luck we will see and photograph the King of the Arctic – the Polar Bear. If you are interested in photographing Polar Bears then Daniel Bergmann and I are running an expedition for just twelve photographers in August next year dedicated to photographing the King of the Arctic. You can read more about that expedition HERE. Places are now very limited.

I usually make a dedicated post on what equipment I am taking with me on each trip but I have just not had time over the last few weeks so am including it here: The Canon 1DX will remain my primary camera of choice for these trips. I will also carry a back up Canon 1DS MK3 and a couple of spare batteries so that I can shoot with both cameras when on ship and zodiac in the Arctic. Experience has shown me that I can pretty much go an entire day without a battery change but I like to have spares on hand just in case. I have long pondered the idea of taking a camera with more mega pixels with me (particularly for Iceland) but I have ultimately decided that the quality of the pixels in the 1DX are more than good enough for my requirements. I have been making really wonderful 20 x 30 and 40 x 60 inch prints from Canon 1DX files and have now sold quite a lot of large prints made with images taken with the 1DX. The 1DSMK3 is somewhat long in the tooth these days, but it still makes excellent photographs at low ISO and in its rugged 1-seris body its the ideal 2nd body for photography in the Arctic regions.

In terms of new equipment for these trips I am taking the new Canon 16-35mm F4L IS lens and am looking forward to shooting with this lens from ship and zodiac in the Arctic. Canon has long needed a high quality wide angle zoom and the new 16-35mm F4L IS lens has finally plugged that gap. You can read my thoughts on Canon’s current lens line-up HERE.

Gura Gear Bataflae 32L: (carry on luggage – Believe it or not this does all fit in the one camera bag!)

  • Canon EOS 1DX Pro Body Camera
  • Canon EOS 1DS MK3 Pro Body Camera
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE MKII Lens
  • Canon 16-35mm F4L IS Lens
  • Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII Lens (The MKII version of this lens is an amazing piece of glass)
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII Lens
  • Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII Lens
  • 2 x Spare Batteries for the 1DX and 1DS MK3
  • Canon 1.4 TC MKIII Tele-Extender
  • Leica Ultra-Vid HD Binoculars
  • Cable Release and Bubble Level
  • Assorted CF and SD Cards totalling around 100 Gigabytes
  • Rocket Blower and Dust Cleaning paraphernalia
  • Complete LEE Foundation and Filter Kit with Soft and Hard ND Graduated filters and LEE Polariser – includes LEE adapter for the Canon 17mm TSE Lens

I am carrying the two TSE lenses specifically for landscape photography in Iceland. I expect to use the new Canon 16-35mm F4L IS when on my Jewels of the Arctic expedition when shooting from ship and zodiac. I am primarily carrying the 600m and 200-400mm lenses for Polar Bears and other wildlife in the Arctic, but also intend to use them to photograph birds at Jökulsarlon in Iceland.

Gura Gear Chobe Bag: (carry on luggage)

  • 15″ Macbook Pro with Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS6 with the Nik Plugin suite
  • MacBook Power Adapter
  • Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4 TC (Watch the Unboxing Video) This lens ‘just’ fits inside the Chobe!
  • 1 x LACIE Thunderbolt External 1TB Hard Drive for in the field Back Up.
  • Various Power Adapters / Chargers and Associated Cables
  • Canon 1DX / 1DS MK3 Battery  Charger
  • iPad Mini (e-books and movies for the long flights)
  • USB CF and SD Card reader
  • Passport / iPhone / Wallet
  • Astell and Kern AK100 MK2 High Definition Portable Audio Player & Inner Ear Stage 2 Driver Headphones
  • A lot of these items I store inside Gura Gear Etcetera cases inside the Chobe. (These cases are fabulous for organising accessories)

North Face Thunder Rolling Duffle: (checked luggage)

  • Arctic Sport Muck Boots
  • 66º North Wet and Cold Weather Outer Shells
  • Arc’teryx Kappa and Atom LT Jackets
  • Devold Expedition Base Layers
  • Mid Layers – Trekking Pants and Tops
  • Light Weight Long Sleeve Shirts for Namibia
  • Gloves and Hat
  • Miscellaneous clothes
  • Personal items and toiletries – including Sunscreen

Tripod: (checked luggage)

  • Really Right TVC24L Tripod
  • Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head
  • Really Right Stuff Tripod Spikes (For mossy ground and rock claws for ice and rock)
  • Jobo Jnr. Deluxe Gimbal Head with Really Right Stuff Dovetail Base Plate

I am going to do my best as always to update my blog whilst I am away; but posts may be somewhat sporadic, particularly when I am at sea in the Arctic. For now, I have nearly thirty six hours of travel ahead of me and it’s time to make a start. See you in Iceland.

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Read more.. Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Kingdom of the Ice Bear Expedition : August 20 – August 30 2015

Icelandic Nature Photographer and good friend, Daniel Bergmamn and I are very excited to announce a new expedition to the very edge of the permanent pack ice north of Svalbard to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice – The Kingdom of the Ice Bear.The High Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination. Nowhere is it more accessible than the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located deep within the Arctic Circle. With the reduction in Arctic sea ice the Polar Bears in Svalbard are dwindling in number and the number of years left to photograph them is unfortunately limited. July and August are the ideal times to photograph Polar Bears north of Svalbard due to the dwindling ice around the archipelago. We will be photographing Polar Bears under the midnight sun and as such we will work late into the evening when the light is best. We are highly manoeuvrable on our small ship and our experienced captain and expedition leader will place us in the best possible position for photographing the bears we encounter.

The expedition is for a strictly limited number of just 12 participants plus leaders and is dedicated to the photography of Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice. Our intention is to sail directly north from the small town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard to approximately 80 degrees North to the very edge of the permanent pack ice. At our northerly most point we will likely be less than 600 miles from the North Pole. We will be using the ice hardened expedition ship M.S Malmo (the sister ship to M.S Origo) which will enable us to skirt the edge of the pack ice searching for and photographing Polar Bears. M.S Malmo and M.S Origo are widely regarded as the best ships in the Arctic for Polar Bear Photography. With low decks and operable portholes a mere 50cm above the water line we can photograph at eye level with wild Polar Bears. Our expedition ship is also equipped with sufficient zodiacs and crew for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment  - So bring what you need!
On this expedition we will also search for walrus, arctic fox and other wildlife of the region including the rare and angelic Ivory Gull. Dramatic glaciers, plunging cliffs and beautiful drift ice formations will be present as well. To get an idea of the sort of wildlife photographs you can take on this expedition please visit the Svalbard portfolio at www.jholko.com
If you are excited by the idea of travelling to the edge of the permanent pack ice to photograph Polar Bears in their natural environment with a small group of dedicated photographers now is the time to register your place. The first expedition Wild Polar Bears sold out in just two days. Due to the waiting list for this expedition and preliminary bookings there are only six places remaining on this new expedition before it will be sold out. You can download a detailed itinerary and PDF information flyer HERE. Please contact me if you would like additional information.
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Read more.. Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Photo of the Month July 2014: Ghost Forest Namibia

My photograph of the month for July is from the desert of Namibia in Africa. I shot this image on my recent overland Safari workshop by the roadside at Sossasvlei late in the afternoon. I recall being instantly drawn to the incredible texture and folds in the giant red sand dune juxtaposed against the fossilised dead trees.  I was fortunate to also have some wonderful afternoon light and blowing sand to add atmosphere. This is one of my favourite photographs from my recent trip to Namibia. I used the Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4 Teleconverter at 1/400th of a second at ISO200 on the Canon 1DX.

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Read more.. Monday, June 30th, 2014

Elected to the AIPP Victorian State Council – 2014

I was honoured this week to be elected for the second year in a row to the Victorian State Council of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP). Serving on the Victorian council is a privilege and I am looking forward to working with my fellow council and Victorian members over the coming year. The AIPP have some very exciting events coming up over the coming months and the council has some great plans to continually improve it’s events and membership return on investment. It is an exciting time to be continuing with the council and I am looking forward to the year ahead. If you are considering joining the AIPP I would strongly encourage you to attend one of the upcoming events and get involved in the peak Australian body for Photography.

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Read more.. Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Source Photographica Gallery Now Open in Aspen USA

If you are fortunate to find yourself in or around Aspen in the USA over the next few weeks for the Summer season then be sure to stop into the Source Photographica gallery where I have a selection of my Iceland and Antarctica photographs on display. The gallery is open from 11am – 9pm Sunday – Monday (closed Tuesdays) and by appointment. 

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Read more.. Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Iceland – The Highlands 2015 Workshop

Daniel Bergmann and I are very pleased to announce a brand new workshop for Iceland next year that focuses exclusively on the interior and highland regions of this incredible country. The workshop will run from the 8th of August until the 18th of August 2015 and will take us from the capital city of Reykjavik into some of the most remote, spectacular and rarely visited highland areas of Iceland.The Highlands of Iceland cover most of the island’s interior. Inaccessible in winter, they rise 400–500 meters above sea level and are an untamed mingling of uninhabitable volcanic desert, jagged mountains, glaciers and hot springs. A few oasis like areas, such as Herðubreiðarlindir near Askja, are found only in proximity to rivers.

Two mountain roads, Kjölur and Sprengisandur, cross the interior from south to north and open up the highlands for exploration. Those two roads are open from late June to early September and we’ll be travelling both on our journey, plus a number of lesser mountain roads and tracks. As there are unbridged rivers in many places that need to be crossed we’ll be using specially modified 4×4 vehicles.

Some of Iceland’s most interesting landscapes are in the highlands, especially where there is volcanic activity. This includes the Landmannalaugar area in the Fjallabak region, Kerlingarfjöll Mountains off Kjölur and Askja in the northeast. All will be on our itinerary, plus a number of other exciting locations.The highlands are a rugged area that can get wild storms coming through, even in summer. Therefore we are going to do this adventure in as much comfort as possible by staying in hotels rather than camping. We’ll be using four hotel bases and staying 1–3 nights in each.

Itinerary

Our first base will be in the Hrauneyjar Highland Center, which is located about 45 minutes away from Landmannalaugar. Accommodation there will be in en suite facilities but Hrauneyjar is a basic, expedition style motel. After three nights in Hrauneyjar we’ll travel north over the Sprengisandur route and reach Mývatn, which will be our next three-night base. At Mývatn we’ll stay at the four star Hotel Reynihlíð and do excursions from there, including into Askja. Once our stay at Mývatn comes to an end we’ll travel south the Kjölur route and spend a night in the cabins at Kerlingarfjöll Mountains. Accommodation there is in cabins (very nice ones) so we cannot offer single rooms in this location. Our last base, for two nights, will be in the town of Hvolsvöllur on the south coast. From there we’ll explore the southern part of the Fjallabak region. We plan to take advantage of weather and light as we travel and as such our itinerary may change due to weather and other conditions.As this expedition is first and foremost about photography we may sacrifice regular hotel dinners in order to be out in the best light of the evening. In such circumstances we’ll carry food with us into the field and in some cases we’ll leave our accommodation before breakfast and return after a morning shoot for late breakfast.

This photography tour will last for 11 days (10 nights). Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all included and will generally be held at the accommodation where we are staying. However, this workshop is all about photography and we will be putting in long hours in the field in order to ensure we get the best possible light for photography. We may take food and drink with us into the field to ensure we are in the right locations at the ideal time. There will be some moderate hiking on uneven ground and a reasonable level of fitness is recommended. Should this be of concern please contact us to discuss. There is no obligation to participate in any hikes and every effort will be made to accommodate any requests.

Conditions
The days are still long in the middle of August. Sunrise is at around 5 a.m. and sunset just before 10 p.m. The best light for landscape photography is therefore during the evening and early morning. This means that we may have an early dinner and then head out to photograph and sometimes be out before breakfast for a morning shoot. On cloudy days we’ll have a more normal routine. What we’ll do exactly on any given day will be decided around the weather and other conditions and there will be small changes to our original plan to make the most of our time.

This workshop is about photography and lots of it. There will be no formal classroom sessions or lectures and no formal instruction. Rather, participants and the group leaders will work side by side, sharing their knowledge, vision, philosophy and experience together in the field. We want you to make great photographs and therefore the emphasis is on being out in the field when the light is best. We are always on hand for any advice or instruction you may need and we will work together as a team.A small group of participants (maximum of 12 plus leaders) guarantees a more personal and intimate experience than bigger tours can provide. This is a unique opportunity to travel and photograph with two experienced professionals who have a combined total of more than 40 years of photographic experience and can take you to the best locations that are off the beaten track, and at the right time – when the light is best. We will be travelling in large off road ’super jeep’ 4-wheel drives to give us plenty of space for camera equipment and gear. We will be travelling on some rough tracks in order to get to the best locations.

Cost: $6,990 US
Duration: 11 days/10 nights
Includes: Accommodation for ten nights in single rooms (except in Kerlingarfjöll which is on a shared basis). Food and beverages (excluding alcohol). All transport during the duration of the workshop in modified 4-wheel drive vehicles. All tuition and guiding services.
Excludes: International flights
Group size: 12

Due to initial bookings and expressions of interest this trip is already 50% sold out. If you would like to register your interest for one of the remaining places or would like additional information please contact me at info@jholko.com. You can download a detailed itinerary and information PDF form HERE.

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Read more.. Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Press Release: Gura Gear acquires Tamrac Camera Bags

In a move that is sure to shake up the camera bag industry Gura Gear have just announced that they have acquired the brand and assets of Tamrac camera bags. Tamrac had been one of the largest and most recognised brands in camera bags over the last decade and the acquisition by Gura Gear now ranks them amongst the largest manufacturer of camera bags on the market today. This is really exciting news for photographers who have used and adored camera bags from Gura Gear. With newly acquired assets and expanded manufacturing capabilities we are no doubt going to see some very exciting products released over the coming years.

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Read more.. Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Sunny Side Up at Goðafoss

It has been a while since I have posted a more intimate landscape photograph. This photograph of a small ’sunny side up fried egg’  ice-flow at Goðafoss waterfall was taken on my winter Iceland workshop in March this year (You can read the full report online HERE). Goðafoss remains one of my favourite waterfalls for photography in Iceland and I am looking forward to returning there in a few weeks time for my Summer Workshops.  Both the Summer workshops are sold out this year, but I will soon be announcing a new workshop for 2015 that focuses on the interior of Iceland and the spectacular Highlands. If you would like register your interest you can contact me to be added to the list of interested attendees. No obligation at this point.

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Read more.. Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Outdoor Photographer Magazine – Antarctica: The Edge of the World

Outdoor Photographer magazine are running a multi-issue (six + issues) feature on the expedition I am leading this November to South Georgia Island and Antarctica with Andy Biggs.  This series of feature articles is sponsored by my good friends and manufactures of my preffered camera bags – Gura Gear. The first part of the new series is featured in the brand new July 2014 issue. Subsequent issues will include everything from what one can expect to see and photograph in Antarctica, what gear and equipment we are taking, what accessories, clothing and other items are required for this sort of expedition, how to pack and then at the conclusion of the expedition there will be an issue reporting on our experiences along with a number of photographs taken during the expedition. You can click on the image below to Download a PDF of the first article.  Be sure to Subscribe to Outdoor Photographer magazine for the follow up issues. Subscriptions are available in single issue or multi-issue in Print, iPad, Zinio and more. Just choose your favourite reading medium, subscribe and enjoy. The South Georgia and Antarctica expedition is sold out, but if you are interested in being put on the waiting list please Contact Me with your expression of interest.

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Read more.. Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Namibia Overland Workshops April and May 2014 Report

In March and April 2014, I co-led back-to-back workshops with Andy Biggs to the Namibia desert in Namibia, Africa. The goal of these safaris was to photograph the breathtaking desert landscapes of Namibia in a different way than Andy has offered on his Namibia trips in the past: in an overland fashion. These were overland photographic journeys, and we had complete flexibility to stop to take photographs at any time along the way. We wanted to put these trips together that had a good balance between flexibility, photographic opportunities and comfortable accommodations – And we did indeed stay in some very swish camps! This approach also enabled us to carry more than enough camera gear, so we were able to bring everything we needed. Personally this meant I was travelling with lenses as long as 600mm as I had travelled directly from Iceland in winter where I had been photographing Arctic Foxes at the conclusion of my annual winter workshop (You can read the Iceland Winter Report HERE).On the South Western Coast of Africa, where the icy Atlantic ocean meets the world’s oldest desert lies a place that is known for its landscapes as much as the Serengeti is known for its abundant wildlife. The unique combination of desert, grassland and cold ocean current form a one-of-a-kind terrain found only here. For this reason landscape photographers from all over the world journey to the Namibia Desert to try and capture its ethereal beauty.In this captivating region of Namibia lies a maze of mountainous valleys that look like they were carpeted from slope to slope by ivory coloured grass, criss-crossed by ancient riverbeds and dotted with a collection of photogenic acacia trees. The final unique touch is added by the large snake like dunes that rise from the grasslands like the roof of some subterranean world. These stark and compelling landscapes are something to behold with the human eye, but when it’s sweeping meadows, barren mountains and blood red dunes are captured and transformed into a two dimensional image, it becomes obvious why this place is so beautifully addictive to photographers.

These new safaris were custom tailored to take in the very best of Namibia and included such iconic areas as the mystical Deadvlei, the ghost town of Kolmonskop and the Dune landscapes of Sossusvlei.

We began our adventures in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. From here we travelled to the abandoned ghost town of Kolmonskop with a detour along the way to the Quiver tree forest at Keetmanshoop.

I admit to struggling with my photographs at the Quiver tree forest. As the first stop on our Namibia workshop my shutter finger was not yet up to speed with my artistic vision and as such I felt my images from this location were really just snaps and not worthy of publication. On the second workshop I had more success but still felt my photographs did not do the area justice. The location itself is interesting,  but challenging to make sense of photographically. There is some good potential if you are willing to put the work in but its one of those locations that you mot definitely have to think outside of the box to get the best from. My feeling is that the best images from this location are more about intimate detail of tree bark than grand landscape and I have seen several successful images from participants that adopted this approach. I would have preferred to have overcast conditions at this location as I found the blue skies counter productive to my style of photography. Circumstances did not permit, but I also felt that this would have been a good location for night time star trail photography. This location did however serve as a good warm up, chance to loosen the shutter finger and to break up the drive between Windhoek and Kolmonskop.Kolmonskop has become an iconic Namibian location over the last decade or so and it was one of the locations I was really looking forward to visiting and photographing during these workshops. This abandoned diamond mining town offers limitless opportunities for photography and it was great fun to share this location with such passionate photographers on both workshops. One of the really beautiful things about Kolmonskop is its sheer size. With so many houses and so many rooms within those houses you rarely bump into other photographers and it very much feels like you have the place to yourself. We were fortunate during both workshops to experience strong winds which resulted in lots of sand and dust in the air to catch the light and make for dramatic images. I endeavoured to take advantage of this whenever I could as I felt Kolmonskop really needed these sort of atmospheric phenomena to help bring the images alive. The blowing sand made for tough working conditions but I really felt it added the missing element to complete the scene. I have seen images of Kolmonskop in fog and was hoping we might be lucky enough to experience this but it was not to be.

One of the fascinating things about Kolmonskop that appeals to photographers is the weathered and peeling paint, worn wallpaper and pastel colours found inside many of the stone houses. All of us found this subject matter fantastic for photography and we spent many hours exploring and photographing in and around the old buildings. We photographed at both sunrise and sunset at this location across multiple days and I quickly figured out which houses and rooms were better at a given time of day. By 10am there are shafts of hot light coming through many of the slats in the roofs that provides for pretty dramatic light and shadow. This is fairly typical of much of the photography one sees from Kolmonskop but I preferred and opted for the first and last light of day when the light was softer.Kolmonskop is one of those locations that all of us felt we could repeatedly return to and continue to make new and interesting images.After Kolmonskop we travelled to Sossusvlei where we photographed a sea of gigantic red and golden sand dunes along with the well known salt pan of Deadvlei with its ancient fossilised dead trees. Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are without question the big two locations for landscape photography in Namibia and in many ways were the highlight of these two workshops.

During our days in this area we chartered a small Robin helicopter during both workshops to take us up and over the dunes with the doors removed for both sunrise and sunset photography. This was in my opinion the real highlight of both workshops. An aerial view really helps give a sense of place, perspective and scale. The immensity of the dunes really cant be appreciated any other way and some really interesting photographs resulted from our helicopter flights. The helicopter is a recent addition to this area and it was extremely welcome. As nice as hot air balloons and light aircraft are for an aerial experience there is simply no substitute for a helicopter with the doors removed when it comes to aerial photography.

I personally found the journey out to the Skeleton Coast in the helicopter the most fruitful photographically. Near the coast the dunes turn a sinuous golden yellow and there are incredible patterns and textures which are wonderfully juxtaposed against the ocean waves.

One of the things I tried personally very hard to do whilst shooting at Sossusvlei was to really focus on the light and to avoid getting sucked into the postcard scene. As a result I tended to avoid the grand vista and focus on more intimate landscapes where the sand was blowing and was often back lit from the setting sun. My intention was to capture more of the feeling and emotion of the landscape in my images and as such I made quite a number of images with the 200-400mm zoom lens to really hone in on the areas that I found most interesting. I found from experience the most interesting images resulted when I hiked up into the dunes into the blowing sand. This if course was also the most difficult conditions to shoot in and resulted in all of my camera gear needing some professional cleaning on return to Australia.Personally, I found Deadvlei quite a challenging location to photograph. Although we were staying inside the park on both our workshops and were able to be on location before sunrise and before the tourists arrived there is only so many different interpretations you can do of the ancient and fossilised dead trees on the salt pan before it starts to become somewhat cliche to me. I opted to use large amounts of empty space in my images in this location to try and give an impression of the sheer vastness of the pan, the desolation and the wonderful texture in the cracked earth. The challenge at Deadvlei in my view is to create a photograph that is both iconic and unique. I admit I would just about give up my first born to have a sunrise at Deadvlei in fog but such an atmospheric phenomena in the desert is rare at best.

Andy and I had deliberately chosen April and May for our workshops as this is typically the best time of year for clouds at Sossusvlei. We did indeed have sporadic cloud cover for some of our time in this area and we even witnessed the rare collision of a sand storm and rain storm which resulted in some pretty spectacular light.After Sossusvlei and Deadvlei we journeyed further afield to the Wolvedans area and a location known as Drifters. This was a very subdued landscape in comparison to the mighty dunes of the desert and it offered an opportunity for more intimate landscapes in a relaxed environment. We also had several successful game drives in this location and many of the species sighted are in the attached Namibia species list. The Oryx in particular are an incredibly regal animal and we saw a great many in this area of Namibia.

In terms of gear failure I can report that across both workshops of twenty people the only gear failure was my own and it was the result of sheer carelessness.  I inadvertently swung my still open camera backpack across my shoulders at the Quiver tree forest on day one of the workshop which promptly saw three lenses fly out of the bag at fatal velocity into three strategically positioned boulders. Net result – three smashed lenses on day one (Canon 17mm TSE, 24-70mm F2.8L MKII and 1.4 TC MKIII). This was a careless mistake I have not made before (and will not make again!). Thankfully my camera insurance covered it and I was able make do without the lenses for the rest of the trip.

At the conclusion of the second overland workshop Andy and I ran a short extension for several of the group with an emphasis on wildlife photography at Erongo and Etendeka. This was my first taste of big Africa game driving and I was not disappointed – in fact, the experience was thrilling. The highlight of this extension was coming across three lionesses right on sunset as they were setting off on their evening hunt. We also encountered many other birds and mammals including the Pygmy Falcon (the world’s smallest Falcon) and the Hartman’s Mountain Zebra.One of the most surprising elements of these two workshops for me was the sheer number of different species we encountered during our time in Namibia. I had not expected to see desert Lions, Elephants, Giraffe, African Wild Dogs and more. We even came across a Caped Cobra high in a tree raiding a Sociable Weaver nest. I spent a good hour photographing the Cobra as it went from chamber to chamber in search of prey. Finally, just after sunset the snake became exhausted and fell from the tree against the backdrop of a desert lightning storm. It was an incredible experience. You can download a complete list of species I personally sighted and confirmed during our time in  Namibia.Camera equipment across these two workshops included everything from my own Canon system to Nikon, Hasselblad, Phase One (including technical camera systems from Alpa), Sony, Leica, Panasonic and just about every other major brand. This was the first chance I had to really play around with the Sony A7R and I have pretty mixed feelings about the viability of this camera in the field.

It is a testament to the quality of camera gear these days that there were no mechanical or electronic failures during these workshops. Namibia is one of the harshest environments I have encountered for photographic equipment. The blowing sand and dust is incredibly pervasive and it is a real trial to keep it out of cameras and lenses. I worked extensively with my 17mm and 24mm tilt shift lenses in Namibia and both required professional cleaning on return to Australia by CPS.The deserts of Namibia have been high on my list for photography over the last few years. They are an incredible place for both landscape and wildlife photography. Although I personally struggled with the sweltering temperatures (I am after all a Polar photographer at heart) I look forward to returning again in the future. Namibia offers the intrepid photographer many opportunities for producing really fabulous landscape and wildlife photography. To those of you who have asked if I will be leading a future trip to this part of the world the answer is unfortunately not in the foreseeable future. I simply have too many other commitments that I wish to see through in the Arctic and Antarctic. I will have more to say about these over the coming months.

You can see the full portfolio of my photography from Namibia at www.jholko.com

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Read more.. Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

New Zealand South Island MasterClass Workshop May 2nd – May 13th 2015

In May 2015 I will be co-leading a new landscape Masterclass workshop to the South Island of New Zealand with good friend and Pro Landscape Photographer Phillip Bartlett. Our workshop will take us on a photographic journey into ‘Middle Earth’ – The spectacular South Island of New Zealand. We will be photographing in the style of professional landscape photographers, setting ourselves up with three main ‘base camps’. This means we will have extended stays in areas which offer exceptional photography in all directions, allowing us to select our shoot locations based on the prevailing weather. This approach will give us the best possible chance to capture the highest quality imagery. This 2015 Landscape Masterclass is the follow-up to the very successful 2014 Introduction to New Zealand Workshop I led in February this year (You can read the Trip Report Here). To get an idea of what we will see and experience on this masterclass workshop just click on the image below to play the short preview movie.

Our South Island born guide, Phillip Bartlett, is a seasoned New Zealand landscape photographer. Our itinerary has been carefully put together and includes many of his favourite locations, which by definition are a world apart from the usual tourist areas. To access these remote wilderness areas we need to travel by 4-wheel drive vehicles and helicopters, to where few others, both visitors and New Zealanders alike, have been. Our shoots will be concentrated in the regions of the MacKenzie country, Fiordland and the West Coast, with a side trip to the East Coast!The South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the most spectacular scenery and landscapes in the world. It is no co-incidence that Peter Jackson chose the South Island of New Zealand to film the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings movies. Perhaps nowhere else in the world can one see and photograph precipitous alpine mountains plunging into temperate rain forest and wild ocean beaches in so short a space. New Zealand is home to an incredibly diverse range of subject matter in a small island. Glaciers, waterfalls, spectacular valleys, imposing mountain ranges and black pebble beaches. It is an island of ever changing weather and spectacular light conditions. It is a country made for photography.This masterclass workshop is strictly limited to just six photographers. We welcome all level of photographers; however it is best suited to those who have a good understanding of their camera and photographic technique. Due to prior expressions of interest and bookings there are only three places remaining before this workshop will be sold out.  You can download a PDF with information including an itinerary at my main website at www.jholko.com. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to register your interest for this masterclass workshop.

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Read more.. Monday, June 2nd, 2014

June Photo of the Month: White Angel

I launched the first part of a brand new service for RAW file optimisation and production of high resolution finished PSD files this week and the response so far has been almost overwhelming – thank you. For those of you who have sent me files for processing I am currently working through them in the order they were received and I hope to get them back to you within three-to-five days of you having sent them. Over the next few days I will be launching the second part to this service where you can have a fine art print of your photograph made here in my studio and shipped to you anywhere in the world. If you are considering entering APPA this year and are looking for someone to print your images please contact me for details. The prints I entered this year in the State awards scored Gold and Gold with Distinctions and I was also fortunate to take out the overall Highest Scoring Print of the Year.  I also have some other exciting announcements coming up on my blog over the next couple of weeks and am looking forward to sharing them.

In the meantime I have been retrospectively trolling through some of my photographs from the Arctic last year and came across this one of an Ivory Gull coming into land on an ice flow north of Svalbard. This was one of half a dozen or so Ivory Gulls we encountered last year whilst we were photographing Polar Bears at the edge of the pack ice. Ivory Gulls are incredibly angelic birds with pure white plumage and jet black feet.  With a little luck I hope to see them again this year in August when I lead my Arctic expedition to Svalbard and Greenland. This is one of those photographs I have absolutely no recollection of taking and I am not sure why it did not jump out at me on my initial and subsequent pass through edits. Nevertheless, ‘White Angel’ is my photograph of the month for June.

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Read more.. Friday, May 30th, 2014

RAW File Processing and Image Optimisation of Your Photograph

A great photograph always starts with a great capture in the field and capturing stunning Landscape, Nature and Wildlife photographs in the field is a skill in and of itself. Once you have captured the RAW data in the field though how do you interpret it and fulfil your vision in file and finished print?

RAW FILE PROCESSING AND IMAGE OPTIMISATION

Processing your RAW file optimally is the key to getting stunning images that realise the captures full potential and your vision for the finished photograph. Workflow and how to best optimise your capture are two of the questions I am most often asked on my workshops. The reality is there is no one simple answer that can be applied to all captures to really coax them to their full potential. It takes time, practice and experience to know which tool to use when, whilst processing RAW files. A one-trick filter or preset might work for some images but it  falls well short of optimal image processing. To help with your RAW files  I am very pleased to now offer a service where you can have your RAW file optimally processed and if you so choose, have a Fine Art Print of your photograph lovingly crafted right here in my studio. The purpose of this service is to be able to provide a finished optimised and processed RAW file complete with all meta-data of exactly what was done to the image during post production. A layered PSD file is also provided along with the processed RAW file that includes any and all adjustments made in Photoshop so that you can see exactly how the image was processed and then if you wish apply this process to more of your own files. Importantly, all post processing faithfully reproduces the intent of the original file in accordance with my own ethics for RAW image processing. This includes any adjustments normally allowed by competitions including Nature’s Best Photography and BBC wildlife Photographer of the Year.

The process of having your own RAW file processed is very simple. You simply send me an email with your request and then upload the RAW file/s to a drop box or other file sharing program of your choice for processing. Processing is done in Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud and Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud. Once the image has been processed you will be able to download the RAW file complete with an XMP sidecar file that gives you a step-by-step process on how the image was processed. In addition, you will be able to download a high resolution 16 bit layered PSD file that contains any and all adjustments that may have been made in Photoshop. The purpose of providing the layered PSD file is to allow you to see exactly what adjustments were made to the image and in what order. You can then use these same techniques on more of your own images if you wish. Once you have uploaded your RAW file and sent me an email you will receive an invoice for payment which can be paid either via Paypal or Credit Card (Visa or Mastercard).

Ultimately the purpose of this service is to provide you with the finished optimised RAW file complete with all metadata changes as well as the layered PSD file so that you can use this information to better improve your own image processing techniques.

THE ORIGINAL RAW FILE

Turn This: Original Canon EOS 1DX .CR2 RAW File Capture with Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4 Teleconverter ISO200 F11 1/400 of a second  - On a Really Right Stuff TVC24L Tripod with Jobu Gimbal Mount.

THE FINISHED HIGH RESOLUTION PSD FILE

Into This: Finished High Resolution Processed PSD File 

WHAT YOU GET

  • Faithful processing of your original RAW file in Adobe Lightroom with sidecar XMP containing all the meta data adjustments
  • A High Resolution Layered 16 bit PSD file containing any and all adjustments made in Adobe Photoshop
  • If any cropping is recommended you will be supplied with two versions – the original uncropped image and a cropped version

WHAT YOU WONT GET

  • No HDR High Dynamic Range or multi-image composites. If you have these sort of requirements for your finished images you are better off engaging someone who specialises in this sort of post production work
  • A processed image that does not adhere to the original colour and integrity of the RAW file capture
  • Any cloning or removal of objects outside of sensor dust
  • Any digital manipulation that falls outside of that normally allowed by competitions such as Natures Best Photography and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year

COST

The cost to have your RAW file optimally processed and delivered along with a high resolution 16 bit layered PSD file is $110 AUD inclusive of GST per image.

FAQ

1. How long does it take you to process a file?
It takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour or more to properly process a RAW file and produce a PSD that I consider to be finished and optimised.  Much of that time is often taken up with deciding how to get the optimum result and it often takes some experimentation to really bring out the best in each file.
2. How long from when I upload my RAW file until you can process it and return it?
This depends on my current workload and travel schedule. If I am currently in my studio in Australia the typical turnaround is 3-5 days depending on my current workload. If I am travelling I will send you an email with an updated time of when I can work on your file/s.
3. What do you do with the RAW file afterwards?
All RAW files are deleted along with the PSD files once they are returned to you. I do not keep copies after they are returned. Please note that you need to back-up your own images.
4. My RAW file was returned to me unprocessed?
If your RAW file was returned to you unprocessed you will have also received an email explaining that it could not be processed for some technical reason. These include but are not limited too ‘poor exposure with blown highlights or blocked up shadows’, ‘out of focus’, ‘corrupted file’ or similar technical reason.
5. What if I am not happy with the result?
You will receive a full refund.
6. Do you process the file or do you have someone do it for you?
I personally process and handle your RAW file. No one else will touch it.
7. Can I send you multiple RAW files and ask you to choose the best one?
Please don’t upload multiple RAW files and ask me to choose the best one. This is not an image editing service. The purpose of this service is to provide an optimally processed RAW file and a high resolution layered PSD file so that you can see exactly what was done to the file to eek out the very best from it. If you wish to have your work edited it is better to engage the services of an image editor.
8. I have a lot of images the same. How do I choose the best RAW file to send you?
Check your images for exposure. The best exposure will likely be the one where the histogram is biased towards the right without clipping. Also check your RAW files for sharpness. The best RAW file will be the one that combines the best exposure with the sharpest result.
9. Can I send you Portraits or photographs that don’t fall into the Landscape, Nature or Wildlife Categories?
No. This service is only offered for the processing of RAW files that fall into the Landscape, Nature or Wildlife categories. If you have portrait or other images that require processing or retouching you are better off contacting someone who specialises in the respective genre.
10. Can you make a Fine Art Print of my finished PSD file and send it to me?
Yes. Fine Art Printing of your finished PSD file is available. Please contact me for details.

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Read more.. Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Epic Sense of Scale Antarctica – On Display at Montsalvat Art Gallery in Eltham

One of my winning photographs at the Victorian Epson Professional Photography Awards earlier this month (an Epic Sense of Scale Antarctica; which scored a Gold with Distinction award with 95 out of 100 points), will go on display next week from June the 5th at Montsalvat Art Gallery in Eltham. I am very honoured to say that this is the third year in a row one of my photographs has been selected to be included in the prestigious Nillumbik Prize. I will be attending the opening gallery drinks at 7pm on the 5th of June so if you in the area and are stopping past please come and say hello. The print measures 24″ x 100″ inches and was printed in my studio on Moab Somerset Museum Rag paper. The task of framing a work this large was entrusted to Art Conservation Framers in North Melbourne.

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Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Namibia Desert Fire Portfolio Release

Today I am very pleased to be releasing my latest work – A Portfolio of new landscape photographs from Namibia titled ‘Desert Fire‘. This new release contains over thirty photographs from my recent overland Safari workshops to Namibia and includes photographs from the iconic locations Dead Vlei, Sossusvlei, and the surreal ghost town of Kolmonskop.

In March and April this year I spent the better part of a month travelling through the deserts of Namibia on two back-to-back overland Safaris with my good friend Andy Biggs. During this time we experienced some incredible landscape and some fantastic weather and light that included sand storms, rain storms, rainbows and more. I will have a full debrief report on these two safaris here on my blog in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please enjoy this new release of photographs. The full portfolio can be seen on my website at www.jholko.com in the Namibia portfolio. I will also be publishing select photographs here on my blog over the next few months.

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Read more.. Sunday, May 25th, 2014

International Landscape Photographer (Digital Art Award) of the Year

A new competition caught my attention yesterday when an uninvited email hit my inbox – “The International Landscape Photographer of the Year“. Curious about the title I paused from what I was doing and read through the email; a summary of which is included below:

Entries close in just over one week for the International Landscape Photographer of the Year, a new global competition to showcase the best landscape photography. Don’t miss your chance to be one of the 101 inaugural winners! Open to all photographers from around the world, the contest will award the best 101 landscape images from the past 12 months and publish them in a beautiful coffee table book which will be available in a variety of formats, including a free eBook. The judges will also be on a search for the International Landscape Photographer of the Year (based on a folio submission of at least 4 images) and the International Landscape Photograph of the Year (being the best single photograph). Prizes on offer include $10,000 cash, trophies, limited-edition copies of the awards book and large framed prints of winning images (courtesy of our sponsors Momento Photo Books and Created For Life printing and framing).

However, the contest closes on 30 May 2014, just over one week away!

Each entry will be scored by all judges on the panel and receive a score out of 500.

There are also some special awards for a bit of fun and bragging rights, including:

– The Lone Tree Award,
- The Fuzzy Water Award,
- The Jetty Award,
- The Sunset Award,and
- the ‘HOT’ Location Award.

The first ‘HOT’ location in 2014 is ICELAND!

As clearly noted in the email, this is the first time this competition has been run and that got me thinking about it’s title and why we might need yet another photographic competition and so I decided to dig a little deeper. My spider sense started tingling when I started looking into the rules. In my mind a competition that calls itself the International Landscape photographer of the Year should be about the photographer’s ability to capture incredible landscapes in the field (at least thats my assumption and I was clearly naive in this case). Unfortunately, the competition isn’t necessarily about that at all. Since the rules of this new competition clearly state that anything goes in post production. So we are not just talking HDR or multi image composites, we are literally talking – ANYTHING. Sorry folks, thats not a landscape photography competition – thats a Digital Art award. When you open up the flood gates on post production you invite such a broad range of work that any meaningful comparison between the skills of the different photographers in the field becomes utterly meaningless. We are now awarding their skills in post production as retouchers and not their skills to capture landscape imagery in the field. Anything is possible these days in Photoshop. Just search You Tube for examples and you will find digital artists who have created a image of a beautiful woman from a photograph of a slice of pizza (I am not kidding).

To quote the rules: The Entries presented for judging must be photographic in origin (taken with a camera), but there are no restrictions on post-production except that any post-production must be the work of the entrant. You cannot have someone else edit or work on the image for you. We consider this part of the art of landscape photography.

I have to respectfully disagree with whoever made the statement that this is part of the art of landscape photography. To my mind at least, the ‘art of landscape photography’ is in the photographers ability to see and capture an incredible landscape photograph in the field. Not to create one on their computer.

There is a very good reason renowned and respected competitions like Natures Best Photography and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year demand the RAW file if you are fortunate to make the finals. It’s because the competition is about the photographer’s ability to capture an incredible image in the field. Its most definitely not about their retouching skills back in the studio. I don’t need to elaborate on the rules for these competitions here; you can read them on their respective websites. Suffice to say I feel they are the gold standard in terms of competition rules that others might do well to follow.

It is true there is absolutely nothing to stop anyone entering this new competition with purist photography (and good luck to them if they do). My issue with this new competition and these ‘anything goes rules’  is it pits what might be purist photography that a photographer worked incredibly hard to achieve in the field against the skills of the photographer in Photoshop to create something that did not exist. And that makes it a basket case of a competition in my book.  There is just no way for any judge, no matter how experienced to accurately compare the photographic skill of the entrants when the parameters are so broad. By the time I had finished reading this section of the rules I knew this new competition was not for me. I suspect that many photographers will enter this competition somewhat naively and perhaps be drawn by its enticing title when they do not fully understand what they are really competing against.

The final alarm bell rang when I got to the entry fee for this competition. At eighty dollars for four digital entries that is significantly more expensive than many well established competitions in the market place (Natures Best and BBC wildlife Photographer of the Year come immediately to mind; but there are also many others). To my knowledge APPA (the Australian Professional Photography Awards) are one of the most expensive in the world. But thats a competition where the print is judged (in most categories) and there are very significant expenses associated with running this competition so the cost is justifiable. APPA also openly states it does not run at a profit. In this instance we have an entry fee of $25 per image for the first three images and then an $80 offering for four image entry. Additional entries after that are permitted at $20 and uncapped. So, if you are keen and have the budget you can certainly stack the odds in your favour with multiple entries. 

There are some significant cash prizes in this new competition and that will no doubt entice people to enter. In fact there is a total of $10,000 USD on offer across a range of prizes and thats not to be sneezed at. If we divide $10,000 by $80 (the cost of entry for four images) we get 125 entrants and thats not a lot. And thats before we take into account single image entry income. I blogged a little while ago about competitions that are set up to generate potential profit  for the owners and you can read my thoughts on that HERE. If a competition is being set-up as a business and to make a profit that is returned to share holders it should be clearly indicated in my view. If all of the profits are supposed to be returned to the entrants in terms of prize money (which does not appear to be the case here) then the prize money should be a floating element dependant on the number of paid entries. Incidentally, competitions where the owners of the competition business are also judging the entries are operating somewhat unethically in my view. This is a grey area, but I think its questionable ethics to own or part own a competition that operates as a business and also act as a judge.

Edit – Just as a Post edit: I noticed this comment in the FAQ on the website: What are my chances of winning? Chance does not enter into the process as it is based on the judges’ assessment, but we expect to get several thousand entries.

Several thousand entries? Lets assume that its three thousand entries (it may well be a lot more). Lets divide that by four which is assuming everyone opted for the $80 Entry for four prints. Thats 750 individual entrants all paying $80 each for a revenue of $60,000 USD. Take away the $10,000 USD in prizes and thats a tidy profit of $50,000 USD for the organisers. And it still does not take into account any single entries at $25 or any additional entries over the $80 package for four which are charged at $20 each. All of a sudden this is quite the cash generation machine. I will assume the cost of producing the books is being covered by the print sponsor –  but there is the small cost of some trophies (or perhaps they are diamond encrusted?)

The end result of this new competition is that someone, somewhere is going to be crowned ‘The International Landscape Photographer of the Year’ and we will likely have absolutely no idea what their skills are like as a photographer in the field. We do know the work will likely be outstanding as its going to be voted on by a panel of highly respected and renowned photographers (some of whom I have immense respect for), but the work may well be a complete fabrication on reality and in no way reflect the skill of the photographer to capture a great image in the field.  International Landscape Photographer of the Year seems like a pretty hefty title to me and I would like to have thought that it would be awarded to the photographer who demonstrably demonstrates their skills in the field to capture an incredible landscape photograph and not to the photographer who artificially creates the best photograph on their computer. I contacted the operators of this new competition and expressed my concerns and was told I was being somewhat judgemental. So, rather than belabour my point any further –  You be the judge: International Landscape Photographer of the Year? Or, International Landscape Digital Art Award of the Year.

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Read more.. Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Scenes from N’Iceland by Scientific Fantastic

Friend and cinematographer Joe Capra from Scientific Fantastic recently posted another excellent video from Iceland that includes footage from all over the Island – including the incredible highland interior under some pretty spectacular light. Watching footage of my favourite country in the world for photography always makes my shutter finger itchy and I am very much looking forward to heading back to Iceland in a little over a month for my Ultimate Summer Iceland Workshops. My Winter Aurora Workshop next year is now close to sold out and I will shortly be announcing a new Summer Highland workshop for 2015 – stay tuned.

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Read more.. Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

How to Remove Lens Flare from your Photographs

I received an email today from one of the participants on my winter Iceland workshop this year asking me if I new a good way to remove a really nasty lens flare from a photograph. It has been a while since I worked on an image with lens flare, but the email got me thinking about a frequency separation technique that is often used for retouching skin and can work equally well for removing really nasty lens flares. Its a relatively simple technique that takes just a few steps to achieve in Photoshop but that can really save a file that might otherwise be destined for the trash. The key to this technique is the separation of colour and texture into different layers. This is a really important step as it enables us to work on just the colour component of the photograph without affecting the texture (lens flares are just colour aberrations and contain no texture). This makes this technique especially useful for photographs that have textured areas overlaid by lens flare and the image I received today was a perfect example. To make things easy I have recorded a short video that shows how this process works and what the steps are in Photoshop Creative Cloud to use this technique. Just click on the image below to watch the video.I realised after I had uploaded the video that I neglect to mention that you must ensure that you have sample set to: Current and Below when using the Clone Tool.  If you only have ‘current’ set you will not get the desired effect. So there you you have it, a simple technique that might just save a photograph you might have otherwise discarded.

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Read more.. Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
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