Ultimate Iceland Summer Workshop Space Available

Daniel Bergmann and I have a single place that has just become available this year on our Ultimate Iceland summer workshop from July 13th – July 23rd. We are looking forward to spectacular waterfalls, glaciers, icebergs and the incredible geothermal highland interior of Iceland all under the soft light of the midnight sun. The workshop investment is $7,450 USD and is fully inclusive of all accommodation, meals and in country transport. If you are interested in photographing the spectacular landscape of Iceland and would like additional information then please drop me an email at info@jholko.com.  This last available place is filled on a first come, first served basis.

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Read more.. Friday, April 18th, 2014

Iceland 2015 Winter Aurora Workshop Open for Bookings

Daniel Bergmann and I are pleased to have now finalised our Winter Workshop itinerary for 2015 to Iceland. The workshop will run from the 28th of February until the 9th of March 2015 and will focus on both the Aurora Borealis as well as many of the iconic and lesser known locations of Iceland. For 2015 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.

At 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 and with fewer visitors, the black sand beaches of the south are more pristine. 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.We have a new itinerary for 2015 that includes many of our favourite locations for Winter photography as well as quite a few new ones we have not included before. Our 2014 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. The workshop is fully inclusive of all meals, accommodation and ground transportation as well as all tuition and image reviews. 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.

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Read more.. Monday, March 31st, 2014

Arrived in Africa – Completing the Seven Continents

It certainly feels very strange to be trading the deep freeze of an Iceland winter for the heat of the world’s oldest deserts and as I boarded the Air Namibia flight in Frankfurt I did take a second and think to myself about that less than comfortable moment of instant acclimatisation when one steps out of an air conditioned aircraft and is greeted by an oppressive wall of hot desert air. I really do prefer the cold climate of the world’s polar regions. Nevertheless I have made it to Namibia and its fantastic to be in Africa. This is my first visit to Africa and it marks a personal milestone and goal of visiting all seven of the world’s continents by the age of forty (Africa was the last continent for me). The irony for me is that I have visited most of the rest of the continents many times and that it was only a decision to run two joint photographic workshops to Namibia with my friend Andy Biggs that finally drew me to the dark continent. Now that I am finally here I am very keen to make the most of the opportunity and put some serious time into desert photography.

Andy and I are keen to get underway tomorrow on our first Namibia workshop. I admit to feeling a real sense of adventure for the coming trip as the locations we are visiting are all new to me and I relish the chance to photograph them with fresh eyes. Our workshop is of an overland nature and we are travelling in 4-wheel drives between our accommodations and shooting locations so there will be lots of opportunities to stop and photograph along the way. Internet access is likely to be somewhat sporadic over the next few weeks but I do hope to post an image or two from our travels if time and availability permit. For now, I have traded the Arctic clothing for a pair of light weight trekking pants, sun shirt and hat and it’s time to start exploring.

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Read more.. Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Iceland Winter Workshop Complete – Heading North in Search of Foxes…

Daniel Bergmann and I have just completed our annual winter workshop in Iceland and are now back in the capital city of Reykjavik. This quick post is not intended to be a full debrief report from the trip as that will come later once I have more time and a chance to sit down and write up the details of our trip. In the meantime I am headed north west tomorrow to the seaside town of Ísafjörður on a short internal flight where I am meeting up with a film crew to spend a week photographing Arctic Foxes in the extreme north in Hornvik. Hornvik is located in the remote Hornstrandir nature reserve in the Westfjords of Iceland. The area is situated between the precipices Hornbjarg in the east and Haelavikurbjarg in the west.  The nearest cove further east is Latravik with the lighthouse, and to the west is Haelavik. This part of Iceland is very remote and completely inaccessible in winter or summer by car or 4-wheel drive so our only chance to get there is with a weather window by chartered boat. No people have lived there permanently since approximately the 1940’s so it is necessary to take absolutely everything with us for our stay in this area – including food, fuel and emergency e-perbs. Hornvik is the ideal place to find Arctic Foxes and my hope is to spend a week photographing them in their winter coats around their dens in the snow. The image below of an Arctic Fox was made last summer in Svalbard.

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Read more.. Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

What’s in my Camera Bag?

With the many different approaches to camera gear it can be quite interesting and insightful to see what gear photographers carry with them into the field as they go about their work. I have picked up a number of good equipment tips and packing techniques over the years from other photographers who have joined me on a workshop or expedition. To this end, InMyBag.net are featuring the equipment I have carried with me to Iceland this winter. InMyBag.net is a new destination website which showcases photographer’s best work, delves into their philosophy, and more interestingly has a nosey in their camera bag!

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Read more.. Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Arrived in Iceland – Ready for Winter Aurora Workshop Kick Off!

I don’t think it matters how many times you do the same long haul international flight as it never seems to get any easier or less painful. Even though I was able to co-ordinate my flights to avoid any really horrendous layovers in Dubai or London I didn’t get much sleep on the flights over here and as soon as I finish this blog post I am going to crawl into bed and catch some shut eye so I am fresh and rested for day one of my winter workshop. It is fantastic to be back in Iceland in Winter and I am super keen to get underway tomorrow. We have a really fantastic group of twelve participants on this workshop and Daniel and I have some incredible locations lined up for photography over the next ten days. We will be headed North to some lesser known locations initially as we make our way around the top of the Island before we drop down to some of the more well known locations such as the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in the south. The weather forecast is looking good for the next few days in the north (storms in the South East) and we are hopeful for some Aurora Borealis (Northern lights) during the evenings. It is going to be a blast and if time permits I will post some updates to my blog and Facebook as we travel around the Island. But right now its time for sleep….

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Read more.. Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Packing for Iceland in Winter and the Deserts of Namibia

Late this evening (my plane leaves at the not so civilised time of 3:30am) I am starting the long trek to Iceland for my annual winter workshop with my good friend Daniel Bergmann and I have found myself struggling over the last couple of days with a real packing quandary. I will be spending a total of nearly a month in Iceland this winter before I fly directly to Namibia (via Frankfurt) to meet with Andy Biggs for our back-to-back Namibia desert workshops. At the completion of my winter workshop in Iceland and before I head to Namibia I will be heading further north with a film crew and spending a week in the extreme remote north of Iceland on a new project on the Arctic Fox. This means I need to pack my Arctic winter gear as well as clothing suitable for the world’s oldest deserts in Namibia – it has been quite the brain buster trying to rationalise my packing (I know.. its a good problem to have).  In the end I have decided to simply leave my winter gear in Iceland and collect it when I am back there in July later this year. It makes little sense to haul unnecessary winter gear half way around the world through the deserts of Namibia when all it would be doing is adding weight and bulk. With that intention in mind I still had to figure out how to get myself, over twenty kilograms of camera gear plus my winter gear and summer desert clothing for Namibia over to Iceland. I admit it feels a tad strange to be packing a wide brimmed sunhat and sunshirts with my arctic boots and winter clothing. The issue is somewhat compounded by the fact that Iceland and Namibia require very different approaches in terms of camera gear which adds both weight and complexity. Perhaps doubly so as I am carrying long and heavy telephoto lenses for my project on the Arctic Fox at the completion of my winter workshop. In the end I have packed almost my entire lens line-up and my checked luggage is right on the 30 kilogram limit imposed by the airlines.

Despite my intentions not to upgrade my Macbook Pro I finally crumbled and purchased the new model not long after my return from Antarctica in December last year. There are significant weight savings in the new model (as well as the much improved retina display) and these advantages finally swayed me to part with the cash and purchase the new model (GAS ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ strikes again). It is funny how when you travel as much as I do you can quickly rationalise a new piece of expensive equipment just to save some weight. That said, I have very quickly become quite accustomed and fond of the Retina display. If NEC ever offer their current large wide gamut SpectraView monitors in a retina display I will be sorely tempted to upgrade – especially if they reach the magic 300 DPI number.

The Canon 1DX will remain my primary camera of choice for these trips. I will also carry a couple of spare batteries so that I can cycle them in and out of warm pockets. 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 did long ponder the idea of taking a camera with more mega pixels with me (particularly for Namibia) 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 my agent recently sold a 24 x 100 inch print (also from a 1DX file) from Antarctica at his gallery in Aspen in the USA. Suffice to say the quality of the pixels makes a huge difference to the final output and the 1DX has truly fantastic pixels.

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 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE MKII 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
  • 1 x Spare Battery for the 1DX
  • 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 new LEE adapter for the Canon 17mm TSE Lens

I am carrying the two TSE lenses specifically for photography at Kolmanskop ghost town in Namibia. This abandoned town is the ideal location for Tilt and Shift lenses and I hope to put them to good use in this area. Although I am primarily carrying the 600m and 200-400mm lenses for the Arctic Foxes in Iceland I do hope to put these lenses to use for wildlife in Namibia at the end of our second workshop when we head into Erindi Wildlife Reserve on a short extension.

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)
  • Sandisk USB CF and SD Card reader
  • Passport / iPhone / Wallet
  • 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)

  • Sorrel Caribou Winter 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
  • Micro Spikes
  • Sunhat
  • 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

The astute amongst you may have noticed that there is no back-up camera in the equipment listed above. Thankfully, I have access to a back-up 1DSMK3 in Iceland should I require it. There is a tendency across the internet these days for photographers to tout the virtue of travelling super light when flying internationally (often with micro four thirds systems or even mirror less camera systems). Whilst I admire these photographers for their ability to travel with slim light weight kits I confess that I personally prefer to haul my best quality lenses and cameras irrespective of their weight. After working with a pro video team in the Arctic last August even the above extensive list of gear would be considered light weight in the world of professional video. I thank the gods I am a still photographer. See you in Iceland.

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Read more.. Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

March Photograph of the Month: Aurora over Hellnar in Iceland

Whoops.. I have been busy packing for my annual winter workshop to Iceland and almost let another photo of the month slip through the cracks before I board the plane tomorrow. It seems only fitting to post an image from Iceland in Winter as my photo of the month for March given in a couple of days I will be back in my favourite country for photography. This was a photograph I made in March last year whilst leading my winter workshop with Andy Biggs and Daniel Bergmann of Aurora Borealis over the church at Hellnar. This wonderful little church was just a short walk from our guest house accommodation and proved the ideal subject to include beneath the Northern Lights. I am very much looking forward to abandoning the heat of Australia and photographing more Aurora in just a few days time. My winter workshop to Iceland this year is sold out, but I will shortly be taking bookings for 2015. If you would like to reserve a place please drop me an email to info@jholko.com

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Read more.. Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Guest Photographer: Antony Watson – Does the Camera Make the Image?

Late last year I started a new segment on my blog for photographers with whom I have travelled before in order to provide an outlet for them to share some of their own writing and photography. The first to do so was wildlife photographer and biologist Chris Gamel who accompanied me to Antarctica last year and wrote about Better Wildlife Photography. This second guest post is by fellow workshop leader Antony Watson and poses that much discussed adage: Does the Camera Make the Image? With all the gear talk online these days and with many photographers continually looking for that next magic silver equipment bullet I felt the post quite timely and relevant.

Does the Camera Make the Image?

When I think about this question I visualise a Shakespearean Actor on stage posing the question in olde English to the audience with questioning hand extended  ’Doth the camera maketh the image?’ In all seriousness though, does the camera make the image?

Well that question can be answered from a few different perspectives namely with regards to how one defines the various elements in the posed question.

First and foremost the simplest thing to define is what is an ‘image’?   A dictionary definition of what an Image is may shed some light into one interpretation of what constitutes an ‘image’ per se:

An Image, derived from the Latin term imago, can be defined as “an artefact that provides a visual representation or depiction of a likeness of a subject”.

That makes perfect sense to me. But the clincher of the question we’re looking at lies in the question of how one defines “makes“.  What ‘makes’ an image?’

If you consider the term ‘makes an image‘  to be loosely interpreted as the manufacture/construction of a physical of visual representation , or  alternatively if you define it as makes the image as per the phrase this makes my day i.e. to make it, to succeed, to pull it off, to accomplish, to be successful can make the ultimate difference in how one answers the question posed.  I prefer the latter interpretation.

There is absolutely no doubt about it, a camera technically constructs a physical visual representation of a likeness of a subject and stores it in a digital file, but does it ‘make an image’ in the sense of it being a successful and accomplished image and thus an overall well regarded image?  So what makes an image successful, accomplished and well regarded is a pretty good question?

There are a million articles out there easily accessible on the web discussing just this. They cover topics such as composition, colour harmony,  leading lines, emotion, communication, light amongst numerous other attributes of what constitutes good image design and the key ingredients for a recipe to a successful image.  But what 99.99% of these articles will never mention is the camera.   Why is that?  Why isn’t the camera mentioned in all those articles, let alone specific camera types or specific camera capabilities?

Because the camera is merely one of many tools used in the process to create a successful image along with a number of other tools.  Its a very important and necessary tool in the overall production of a successful image, but its not the be all and end all of tools in the chain of image making.

Without human intervention in some way or another a camera has never taken an image. We construct, trigger, program, push, point, direct, aim, place …

But a camera will NOT:

  • frame a composition
  • find you leading lines
  • select colour harmony
  • communicate emotion
  • provide amazing light

……. and on the list goes on and on.  Really a camera doesn’t do that much to create a successful well regarded photograph.

But what it will do is allow you to capture light and thus a representation of your vision into a digital file.

Your own vision and talent ARE the biggest contributors to producing a successful image. PERIOD.

So often these days we are focussed on camera gear.  So often I read/hear I need the latest body that has X more megapixels, more dynamic range, better colour depth etc but do we really need these things or are we somehow fuelling our unjustified and completely wrong belief that the newer faster better more awesomely marketed camera will make the image.

It was only just a few years ago, in 2012, that a famous wedding photographer entered a Wedding Album into WPPI.  He scored an 85 for the album. A sound result most wedding photographers would be proud of.  All the photographs within the album were shot on an iPhone ( I believe it was an iPhone 4) with no Photoshop post processing.   A tonne of vision and talent and what most would consider, a camera with a long list of limitations and short falls, outscored a very large majority of photographers albums equipped with the latest and greatest cameras, lenses and computer software.

Without vision and talent, a Stradivarius makes a horrendous noise yet a $100 violin played by an artist with vision and talent makes exquisite music.

As I have stated numerous times to others when posed questions such as to  ”Should I upgrade to the latest and greatest?”  ”Do I need a MFDB?”   ….. unless you have a resounding business justification or limitation you need to overcome to deliver a result, then the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Yes having better gear definitely won’t hold you back, but if you’re looking to produce more successful images, then more often than not, one would be better to invest time and funds in developing ones vision and talent more so than the latest camera body or lens.

Only you can decide whether you’re an artist with commensurate vision and talent that will make use of/is hampered by not having the extra features of the latest, greatest, biggest, sharpest camera offering more megapixels, more dynamic range, more bits of colour depth.  But I’d hazard to say that most of us, with a fascination with camera gear, will find some way to justify the purchase to satiate our addiction for new camera gear,  myself included, regardless of having a true need *.

* Editors Note: Otherwise referred to as GAS – Or Gear Acquisition Syndrome

When I can afford to, I will be buying a Ferrari 458 Speciale.  With its sleek thoroughbred design, 595 horsepower and magnesium wheels that will cost more to replace than my children’s college education when I clip a gutter driving them to high school.  I dream of speeding around a racetrack with the the ferver and pace only the skills of the talented Michael Schumacher will allow, a skill set of which I have made zero inroads to develop so far. But I’m still buying that car…. one day.  But in the mean time, after now writing this article,  I might just go and enrol in a few high performance driving courses to develop some of those skills whilst I save my pennies/quarters.  After all I have just quite of few years of saving ahead of me.

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Read more.. Monday, March 3rd, 2014

New Zealand South Island Summer Workshop Report

Late last week I returned home from a brand new Summer workshop to the South Island of New Zealand with my good friend Phillip Bartlett. Our workshop took us on a photographic journey into ‘Middle Earth’ – The spectacular South Island of New Zealand. In case you have not seen the Lord of the Rings movies, 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.

Our workshop took us on an eleven night / twelve day odyssey around the South Island to many of its iconic locations and some of its lesser known gems. During our travels we experienced some incredible weather and light as well as some fantastic landscape and wildlife photography opportunities. Two of the main highlights of this workshop included a privately chartered helicopter flight with the doors removed for photography over Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and the awe inspiring Southern Alps and a privately chartered boat in Kaikoura to photograph Albatross and playful Dusky Dolphins. Both of these experiences were regarded by all on this trip as once in a lifetime and not to be missed. Included below is a brief summary of our travel and photography during our time in the South Island.

Day One – We began our workshop in Christchurch in two large 4-wheel drive vehicles that were to be our transport around the island for the next twelve days. One of the real benefits of travelling by 4-wheel drive instead of bus is the ability to get off the beaten path and into more remote locations and we certainly took advtange of this ability during our travels. Our first stop was Mount Cook on the East side of the Island where we photographed New Zealand’s tallest mountain against a sunset backdrop and some dramatic evening light and cloud.

Day Two – We rose early for Sunrise in the Tasman Valley  where we had wonderful views looking back up the river to Mount Cook. Sunrise in the Tasman Valley can be an incredible experience if the weather is co-operating and we were fortunate to have some beautiful pre-dawn light during our morning shoot. After our morning session and breakfast we took advantage of our 4-wheel drives off road capability and went off roading up to the terminal face of the Tasman Glaicer where we scaled one of the large lateral moraines for spectacular views across the glacier. We returned in the evening and photographed sunset at the edge of the lake at Tasman Glacier.

Day Three – Day three saw us depart Mount Cook before dawn and head south toward Queenstown. Along the way we stopped to photograph sunrise at Lake Pukaiki with some incredibly spectacular light – quite literally one of the most breathtaking sunrises I have ever exeperienced. The southern shore of Lake Pukaiki is a fantastic location for photography as the waterline is dotted with giant boulders that lie partially submerged and make for wonderful foreground subject. In the distance Mount Cook can be seen illuminated with Alpine Glow. We spent several hours in this location basking in the incredible light and conditions.

After breakfast we also stopped to photograph dramatic storm clouds at Ahuriri on our way to Queenstown. My thanks to my co-leader Phillip for spotting the clouds in his rear vision mirror! This area of New Zealand offers a myriad of photographic opportunities with dramatic cloud cover and we spent an hour photographing the racing clouds in this location. Midday is often a time for driving between locations and usually not the ideal time for landscape photography. Every once in a while however the clouds and light combine to provide fantastic midday landscape opportunities.

After our midday shooting session we continued to Queenstown where we photographed Lake Wakatipu against the backdrop of the spectacular Remarkables mountain range. Queenstown was also a chance to stock up on snacks and souvenirs for those who wished to take home some nick-nacks.

Day Four – We rose again well before sunrise and travelled south to Glenorchy for sunrise at the edge of Lake Wakatipu. This part of Lake Wakitpu is home to some small Willow trees set against the mountains and makes for a great location for landscape photography. After breakfast we headed off road again up to the Routeburn where we photographed the forest, waterfalls and mountains in misty cloud by the shore of the river. New Zealand’s rivers are spectacularly pure and clean and I spotted several wild trout swimming slowly against the current whilst photographing in this area. At sunset we photographed in Queenstown at the shore of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkabes mountain range as our backdrop.

Day Five – We again headed off road in our 4-wheel drives to a high vantage point for sunrise known as Skipper’s Canyon. Skippers Canyon looks down a valley into rural farmland and is an opportunity to capture long shadows and low hanging cloud and fog in the valley below. We were fortunate to have a perfect morning for this type of landscape photography with low cloud and fog hugging the trees in the valley below us. After breakfast We travelled to Milford Sound, one of the icons of the South Island, and photographed the mountains at sunset by the shoreline in misty conditions.

Day Six – We photographed Milford Sound at Dawn and then took a boat cruise up the Sound where we photographed cloud swirling around the mountains and the waterfalls cascading down into the sound. Milford Sound is truly an amazing location with dramatic peaks that plunge for hundreds of metres into the water below. This entire area was once glaciated and the Sound is what now remains as a result of the glacier carving its way through the mountains. Milford sound has a great deal to offer in the way of Wildlife photography as well as landscape and I took this photograph of a white Heron whilst ankle deep in the inky black water near the shoreline (I did have to fight with the local and rather irritating sand flies to make this photograph!). After our cruise up Milford Sound we drove to Wanaka where we photographed another iconic New Zealand location – the Lone Willow tree.

Day Seven – Sunrise we photographed at lake Wanaka amongst the boulders in soft pastel light before driving to Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier is one of my favourite locations in the South Island. This small town boasts easy access to Fox Glacier and is the main hub for helicopter flights over the glaciers and alps. It also provides easy access to Gillespie’s beach where we had drizzly rain combined with dramatic cloud at sunset. The west coast beaches of New Zealand can be notoriously wild with their steep pebble beaches and large breaking waves. In this instance we were fortunate to have little in the way of wind and some dark brooding clouds that made for some very moody images.

Day Eight – We took a pre-dawn hike to Lake Matheson for a viewpoint looking up to the Southern Alps. On a clear morning the southern alps can be seen reflected in the dark water of Lake Matheson and the well known viewpoint makes for an iconic photograph when conditions are right. After breakfast we photographed in the Goblin forest at the base of Fox Glacier. The forest at the base of the southern Alps is akin to a scene straight from the Lord of the Rings. The forest is full of old gnarled trees draped with vines and wonderful foliage. We took the opportunity to do some macro work for several hours under the dense canopy in misty rain. These sort of conditions are ideal for forest photography with the cloud over head acting as a giant softbox and the rain ensuring the greens of the forest are very saturated.Day Nine – We rose early and took a chartered helicopter flight with the doors removed for photography over the Southern Alps in spectacular conditions. We photographed Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier, Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in fantastic conditions. We were blessed with swirling moody cloud and breaking light dancing amongst the ice formations and mountains.  Click on the image below to be taken to the RAW HD video footage from our aerial photography flight over the Southern Alps.

After our helicopter flight we drove north along the spectacular west coast to Punakaiki and photographed Pancake Rocks at Sunset. This location is one of the more easily accessed in the South Island and comprises of unusual layered pancake like rock formations that feature several blow holes. Large rolling swells crash against the rocks and throw spray high into the air that often catches the last golden rays of sunset.

Day Ten – We photographed sunrise at nearby Truman Beach in soft dawn pastel light before packing up and driving to the seaside town of Kaikoura on the East coast. We photographed at sunset on the rocks in the bay.

Day Eleven – Day eleven proved one of the real highlights of the trip as we took a private boat charter out to photograph Albatross and playful Dusky Dolphins at sunrise. We also discovered a sperm whale at first light and a few of us captured this magical moment before the whale sounded and was gone. Having our own private boat meant we had plenty of space for photography and we were able to move and follow the Albatross and Dolphins as we wished.After breakfast we spent time photographing Sea Lions and sea Lion pups on the rocks north of Kaikoura. These Sea Lions (often incorrectly referred to as seals) are quite approachable and as long as you don’t get closer than about fifteen feet they are quite comfortable to pose for photographs as they bask on the rocks in the sun. January and February are great times for photographing the sea lions as the more aggressive bull males have moved on and the pups are curious for all things and often approach quite closely to investigate.

Day Twelve – Saw us travelling from Kaikoura to Christchurch and completing our twelve day odyssey around the South Island.

The photographs above are just a very small sampling of the more than one thousand images I made during this workshop. As yet, I have not had time to sort, edit and process the vast majority and as I am leaving for Iceland in a few days for my annual winter workshop I will not have time to really devote to them until later this year. This was a very successful workshop and some fabulous photography resulted from all who participated. Our days were very long as we rose well before sunrise each morning and shot until after sunset each evening but we certainly made the most of all the locations we visited and opportunities that presented themselves to us.

Phillip and I will be leading another workshop to the South Island of New Zealand in May next year – May 2nd to May 13th 2015. This workshop will include even more aerial photography in privately chartered helicopters at areas including Milford Sound, Fjordlands and Fox Glacier and the Southern Alps. We will even be using helicopters to land us high in the Alps amongst the glacial seracs for a chance to set up our tripods and photograph these incredible formations as well as visiting and photographing areas inaccessible by 4-wheel drive. We will be limiting this workshop to just six photographers and It is going to be a very exciting trip. Look for details here on my blog and on my website in the coming months.

I will also be opening bookings in the next few days for my annual Winter Aurora workshop to Iceland with Daniel Bergmann in late February / early March next year. Our 2014 Winter workshop sold out in just a few days this year so if you would like to reserve a place or have any question about the trip please drop me an email at info@jholko.com.

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Read more.. Monday, March 3rd, 2014

International Polar Bear Day

I just returned home two days ago from an incredible expedition workshop to the South Island of New Zealand and am still catching up on email and office work as well as drafting a blog post on our experiences in the South Island. However, I wanted to quickly acknowledge that today is actually International Polar Bear Day and that we all need to do our bit to reduce greenhouse emissions to help protect and preserve the environment for the world’s largest land carnivore – The miraculous Polar Bear. On International Polar Bear Day—or starting any day you choose—adjust your thermostat a few degrees (up or down, depending on where you live or the season) to show your commitment to greenhouse gas reductions. Make every day a Polar Bear Day by keeping your thermostat adjusted, insulating your home, or taking other steps to save energy. And if you need an added incentive then remember its cheaper to put on a sweater than crank up the heating. 

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Read more.. Friday, February 28th, 2014

New Zealand South Island Experience and Victoria’s Great Ocean Road

In a few short days I am heading back to New Zealand for a workshop tour of the magnificent South Island with my friend Phillip Bartlett and our group of participants. The South Island of New Zealand is an incredible part of the world and boasts spectacular mountain alps which run down the spine of this amazing country. These mountains plunge almost straight into the sea on both sides of the country. It is the only place in the world I know of where alpine mountains plunge straight into temperate forest that directly hugs such a rugged and wild coastline. I was in the South Island of New Zealand only a few weeks ago completing a week long commercial assignment and I very pleased to be returning again so soon. On this trip we will be circumnavigating the South Island and taking in the best of its many iconic locations as well as visiting some of its hidden treasures and lesser known areas. We will be chartering a helicopter with doors removed for photography over the alps and enjoying a private boat charter for playful Dusky Dolphins and Sea Lions off the coast of Kaikoura. If you want to get an idea of what this tour is going to be like be sure to watch the short tester video below.

Packing for this trip is somewhat of a challenge for me as I am quite keen to take my newly acquired Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII Lens (why own it if you don’t intend to carry it) as well as the 200-400mm F4L Lens – for both Sea Lions, Dusky Dolphins and Albatross in and around Kaikoura. I plan to carry these two lenses to both Iceland and Namibia in March this year so this trip to New Zealand is an ideal opportunity to see how they travel together on international flights. These two lenses add up to a not insignificant amount of weight, but perhaps of more immediate concern is the sheer bulk and space they require inside the camera bag. With both of these lenses in my Gura Gear camera bags there is little room for much else. Nevertheless it never ceases to amaze me just how much gear can be squeezed into the Bataflae 32L bag. So, after some trial packing I will be carrying the following on this trip: (I know this is a ridiculous amount of equipment but I am a person who prefers to carry it and not need it rather than need it and not have it.) Just as a side addendum to this; I used to think I carried a lot of equipment, but then I worked with a video guy last year in the Arctic who redefined what it meant to carry a lot of gear!)

Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Camera Bag

  • Canon EOS 1DX
  • Canon EOS 1DS MKIII
  • Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII (Lens hood goes in the checked luggage bag)
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII
  • Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII
  • Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE MKII
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE
  • Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
  • LEE Filter System including Graduated ND filters and Polariser
  • Cable Release and other accessories

Gura Gear Chobe Camera Bag

  • 15″ MacBook Pro, back-up hard drive, card reader and accessories
  • Canon 200-400mm F4L IS with inbuilt 1.4 TC (incredibly this does fit in the Chobe!)

North Face Rolling Thunder Duffle *

  • Clothes and Personal Items
  • Really Right Stuff Tripod, BallHead and Jobu Gimbal Mount

* I really like the North Face Rolling Thunder Duffle as a travel bag. It is extraordinarily tough and copes very well with the rigours and violence that checked luggage is exposed to (I really have no idea what baggage handlers do behind the scenes but I am sure it involves some sort of contact sport with people’s luggage). The only downside to this bag is it weighs eleven pounds or five kilograms empty. On flights with a 20 kilogram luggage limit that is one quarter of the limit before you start putting things like clothes in it. Thankfully many of the airlines I travel with these days have more reasonable 25 to 30 kilogram luggage limits and I can usually get close enough to these limits to avoid excess luggage charges.

Victoria – The Great Ocean Road

Just before I depart for New Zealand later this week I will be leading a private three day trip down Victoria’s spectacular Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road is home to some iconic Victorian scenery including the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, The Wreck Coast and more. It has been nearly a year since I last photographed this part of Victoria and I am looking forward to spending a few days in the field in my home state and sharing these amazing locations with my first time visitors. I am offering further one-on-one private workshops here in Victoria by appointment and based around my existing travel schedule both this year and next for anyone who would like to experience the best of this part of Victoria. Please contact me to discuss timing, cost and availability if you are coming to Australia in the near future.

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Read more.. Monday, February 10th, 2014

A Polar Photography Experience Video Interview and Outtakes

Late last year I released a short movie I produced in conjunction with Untitled Film Works in the Arctic on what it was like to travel on a dedicated photographic expedition to the Polar regions – A Joshua Holko Photography Polar Experience Video. This video was a huge amount of fun to produce and work on with the crew from Untitled Film works. During the filming we were fortunate to experience and capture some truly spectacular sights including an incredible free standing iceberg collapse amongst some incredible landscape and wildlife experiences. The video was shot on a combination of a RED Epic Cinema Camera and a couple of Canon 1DC 4K Cinema Cameras. Audio for the film was recorded separately by a dedicated sound person. The entire movie was shot over a two week period in the Arctic using our ship ‘Polar Pioneer’ as a base of operations. We departed from Iceland in August and sailed across the Denmark Strait to Greenland where we explored the many fjords before we sailed across to Svalbard and docked in Longyearbyen. If you have not seen the movie click on the image below to watch it in full high definition.

One of the really enjoyable things for me during the production was the video interview we shot high in the Arctic near the calving face of one of Svalbard’s glaciers. The full interview includes all of the final cut footage included in the film as well as all of the outtakes, stumbles and slips that are a part of video production and interviews. The full unedited interview is included below. Enjoy – And remember its outtakes as well!Equipment for this Project

Since the release of this video I have had a few emails asking me specifically what equipment was used to produce this film. So I am including below a list of hardware we took to the Arctic and utilised for the production of this movie.  All of the editing and post production work was completed by Untitled Film Works at their studio in Sydney and a number of different software programs were used depending on wether the footage in question was shot with the RED Epic or the Canon 1DC cameras.  The RED Epic RAW footage requires different grading to the motion jpeg produced in the Canon 1DC cameras and so it was necessary to process them separately before combing the footage in the final edit. The entire project was however shot in 4K resolution and much of it was also shot in very high frame rate on the RED Epic.

Camera for this project included:

  • Red Epic 5K Cinema Camera for high frame rate slow motion footage in 4k resolution
  • Canon 1DC 4K Cinema Cameras x 2
  • Canon 1DX Camera (behind the scenes)
  • Canon 5D MK3 Cameras x 2 (behind the scenes)
  • Several Go Pro Cameras were also used for filming but none of the footage was included in the final cut

Lenses for this project included:

  • Sigma 15mm Fisheye
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE
  • Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE
  • Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII
  • Canon 70-200mm F.27L IS MKII
  • Canon 200-400mm F4L IS with inbuilt 1.4 TC
  • Canon 2X Teleconverter

Other Equipment included:

  • Really Right Stuff TVC-24L 4 Section Tripod x 2
  • Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead x 2
  • Really Right Stuff Levelling Plate x 2
  • Really Right Stuff L Mount Camera Brackets for Canon 1DC, 1DX and 5D MK3 cameras
  • Really Right Stuff Lens Plates for 70-200 and 200-400mm lenses
  • Really Right Stuff MonoPod with RRS Ballhead
  • Miscellaneous Really Right Stuff Accessories including Multi-tool and universal clamps
  • Glide Cam
  • Miller Video Tripod and Fluid Head
  • Various Rode shotgun and lapel microphones
  • Audio Recording Devices
  • 15 Terrabytes of Hard Drives and numerous laptops and associated accessories.

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Read more.. Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Purchasing the Canon 600mm F4L IS Mark II Lens

Recently I decided to take the plunge, make the investment, and purchase Canon’s super telephoto 600mm F4L IS Mark II lens. I had been toying with the idea of purchasing this lens for almost six months and finally decided it was a necessary piece of equipment for several projects I am currently working on. Normally, I would not procrastinate for so long on the purchase of a new lens (who really needs a reason to purchase a wonderful lens anyway); but given the significant cost of ownership I needed to really map out my intended use to ensure I get the most from this expensive optic. I am not going to write an extensive review of this lens as quite frankly there are already many excellent reviews online. Suffice to say, the image quality from this lens is absolutely second to none in this class of telephoto. The MTF graphs alone tell the try story of just how sharp this lens really is. If you need to know anything particular about this lens then Google will certainly find it for you. Instead, I want to just briefly share my thought process on choosing this lens; what the alternatives were and why I decided it was worth jumping the cost barrier to entry.

Those of you familiar with my current shooting equipment might be asking yourself why I would purchase such an expensive lens when I already own the Canon 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4 teleconverter. The answer is really very simple – I simply want and need more reach. Although the 200-400 can reach 560mm on a  full frame camera such as the Canon 1DX with the 1.4 Teleconverter engaged; the 600mm is faster (F4 instead of F5.6) at the 560mm end of the 200-400 with 1.4 teleconverter, but more importantly, the 600mm F4 will reach in excess of 800mm with the addition of a 1.4 teleconverter for a max aperture of F5.6 (max focal length with 1.4TC on full frame is 840mm). This provides significantly more reach than the 200-400 lens. Thus the 600mm becomes a very good supplemental lens for subjects that are too far away for the 200-400.

At this extreme end of the telephoto range there are really three lenses to choose from in the Canon line-up if you want long reach and a fast aperture. The 500mm F4L IS MKII, the 600mm F4L IS MKII or the 800mm F5.6L IS lens. I do not include the rare Canon 1200mm F5.6 lens as this lens is no longer available new from Canon and it commands ridiculous amounts of money on the second hand market (in excess of $100,000 USD). It is also the size of a bazooka, has no Image Stabilisation, is extremely heavy and thus completely impractical for travel. There are also numerous 400mm options to choose from but none of these provide the reach I require. The 500mm falls well within the focal range of the 200-400 with inbuilt 1.4 teleconverter so was not really the ideal choice to supplement this lens; in effect it’s just doubling up on a focal length I already own. The 600mm F4L IS MKII lens offers more reach at a faster aperture than the 200-400 with its 1.4 teleconverter engaged. The 600mm F4 can equal the 800mm’s F5.6 aperture at 840mm with the addition of a 1.4 Teleconverter. The 600mm combined with the 1.4 and 2X teleconverters gives me options from 600mm, 840mm and 1200mm – more than enough for my intended use. In short, this makes the 600mm F4 the more versatile lens and a better choice for my intended use. If I were photographing small birds I may well have opted for the 800mm for the extra reach to get as many pixels on target as possible. Just an aside: Canon’s new MKIII 1.4 and 2X teleconverters are truly outstanding and I would have no hesitation using either of these with any of the Canon L series lenses. In fact the 1.4TC on Canon’s 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII makes an excellent light weight ‘Birds in Flight’ lens for handheld shooting from ships.

One of the major considerations for me in purchasing the 600mm F4L lens (other than the cost) was how I am going to travel with it from my home base in Australia to Iceland, the Arctic and other polar destinations. Truthfully, I have not yet fully decided on wether I am going to schlep this lens through airports or pack it in a Pelican case and FEDEX it to my destination. At this point in time, I am leaning toward carrying it in my carry on luggage – although the bulky lens hood will ride in my checked luggage. It is going to be  tight squeeze with a 200-400 and 600mm f4 lens in my camera bag with camera bodies and supplemental lenses and equipment and I am expecting some spill over into a second bag (my Gura Gear Chobe bag). The addition of the 600m is going to put me way over the normal carry on luggage allowance; which is a bit of a worry and honestly I may yet opt for the FEDEX option. To date, however, I have not had issues (touch wood) with carry on camera equipment on any airline except Jet Star (with whom I will never fly again after they stranded me for 10 hours in Tasmania and refused me carry on in New Zealand back in 2008). In that vain, I did enjoy this image that incidentally turned up on Facebook a couple of days ago.Purchasing a lens like the Canon 600mm F4L IS is a significant financial investment and therefore it warrants serious consideration on its intended use before such a commitment. In my case, I plan to use this lens for a project I am working on to photograph Arctic Foxes in Iceland this winter (I expect this project to be ongoing over the next few years). This project will have it’s own dedicated micro-site that I am currently working on as well as the backing from the Arctic Fox Station, and several other sponsor parties. I will also take the lens to the Arctic with me (in addition to the 200-400) to photograph Polar Bears and Walrus on the Jewels of the Arctic trips in August this year. The first of these two expeditions is sold out and there are only three places remaining now on the second trip before it will also be sold out. If you want to get an idea of what this expedition entails be sure to watch the Polar Experience Video I produced late last year. I also intend to use this lens in the Arctic in 2015 on a dedicated expedition I am leading to photograph Polar Bears. I hope to officially open this trip for bookings in the next few weeks.

For the dedicated wildlife photographer the 600mm F4L IS Lens has long been the hoy grail of optics for capturing wildlife and I am looking forward to shooting with this lens over the coming years.

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Read more.. Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Solicitation for Payment to Promote Artists – Use Caution

Over the last few years I have been receiving sporadic emails inviting me to have my work published and / or displayed in some form of publication on a cost to the artist basis. These emails almost always begin with ‘You have been specifically chosen from amongst thousands of artists‘. These solicitation emails have historically utilised printed media such as magazines and quote ‘ Art Books’ as their publishing platform. The long and short of this approach should you be unfortunate to receive one of these email invitations is that the artist or photographer is approached (usually via email) with an offer to have their work published in a quote ‘respected’ book or magazine. The offer often goes into quite some detail about the ‘extensive’ circulation of the publication, the importance of being included and the exposure that comes from having ones work displayed in the publication. The artist / photographer is presented with a number of different offers that range from a single page of publication to multi-page spreads at a cost of usually $600-$900+ USD per page. There is usually significant embellishment by the seller on the number of galleries the publication is distributed to as well as the extensive number of art purchasers who subscribe to the publication. The entire package is then dressed up for sale and proffered as an exclusive opportunity to the artist / photographer. Most of these books that I have researched are in excess of 300 pages which gives an idea of just how many artists you would be competing with should you pay to have your work included. Some simple math indicates that even at the lower end of $600 per page these publishers are raking in around $180,000 USD in revenue (and many of them are upwards of $900 per page and well in excess of 300 pages). With book publishing being as cheap as it is today in China  you can bet that less than a quarter of that is being spent on the actual publication. It doesn’t require much thought as to where the rest of it ends up. I did some checking with galleries here in Australia as well as those in New York and other prime locations. Most had never heard of the short list of ‘Art books’ I had been approached by and those that had did not have kind things to say about them; suggesting quite bluntly they were a complete waste of money and that any artist who was seeking representation should contact them directly for folio appraisal.

I am going to refrain from naming some of these publications even though I have both direct and indirect experience with quite a few of them. You should be able to quickly recognise these publications for what they are in how they market and present themselves. These publications prey on the often fragile ego of the artist photographer hoping to be recognised and to stand out from the crowd. The sales pitch is designed to entice the artist to part with their money in exchange for having their work published and distributed to an often unknown network that is difficult to verify. There is almost never any offer of follow up after publication to verify the distribution or of offers to work with the artist who is usually seeking gallery representation. I know of one recent example whereby a good friend paid to have his work printed in what was supposedly a well respected magazine. Despite making his substantial payment in full no magazine has been published to date and all requests for a refund have gone unanswered. In this magazine’s defence I believe they did release a digital PDF version after complaints from many of the contributors (all of whom payed to be published). Who this was distributed to remains unknown and wether an actual magazine will ever be printed remains unlikely. Either way, my friend is unlikely to get value for his money and even less likely to get his money back.

My advice if you are considering paying to have your work published is that you look very closely at the distribution of the media you are considering being a part of. The very first thing you should do on receiving any email that offers you publication in exchange for money is to Google the publication and find what experience other artists have had in dealing with them. I guarantee you will find someone out there who has been approached and written about their experience to help others. Put zero credence in their own website testimonials unless they include a full name and email link to contact the artist to verify the quote. Testimonials without  a full name and email address for verification are worth less than the virtual paper they are printed on.

More recently I have started to receive solicitation emails that are utilising the Apple APP store as the publishing platform. The email offer entices the artist / photographer to have their very own app developed comprising of their work. The company making the offer will design and build the app on behalf of the photographer and take a heavy percentage of any sales on top of a substantial up front development fee. On the face of it this may seem a fair deal. However, you should be sure to read the fine print about who owns the copyright to displayed work and what you are really signing up for. If you are approached with such an offer I suggest exercising caution. Be sure to do your due diligence. Try and speak with photographers or artists who have  paid to to use the medium and find out what they really got out of it. There are many application development kits now on the market that require even less work than setting up a website and I recommend you look into these before you hand over potential profit from sales of your work to a third party. The last such offer I received turned out to be using nothing more than an Adobe application for single issue publication called Adobe DPS Single Edition. This easy to use tool can be used by anyone to create their own application without development costs above those from Adobe for the software and Apple for access to iTunes. You don’t even need to know how to write code.

There are of course many legitimate reasons to pay for publication of your work. Just be very clear in your mind what you are hoping to achieve by having your work published if you intend to pay for the privileage. If it is purely ego driven then perhaps paying to satisfy this need is justifiable. But, if you are paying to publish your work in the hopes of recognition or with a plan to increase your exposure and publicity then I would think very hard about it before you make a financial investment. You are likely to get far more benefit from publishing your own book (or e-book!), or contacting a gallery or agent directly than you will ever get from being included in a artists book that showcases the work of many artists. There are a myriad of options out there for artists who want to promote their work and increase their exposure. Many of them require no where near the upfront investment some publications are asking. There are many roads to recognition for the promotion of artists – consider your options carefully and ask yourself what you are really trying to achieve before you part with your hard earned money to promote your work.

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Read more.. Saturday, February 1st, 2014

February Photo of the Month: Petermann Island Antarctica

My photograph of the month for February is of a Penguin rookery high on the mountain side at Petermann Island in Antarctica. Petermann Island is one of those incredible Antarctic locations where it is possible to go ashore and wander amongst the many Penguin rookeries making photographs. In this instance, we landed late in the evening via zodiac at Petermann Island and spent several hours photographing the landscape and penguins as the sun slowly set in perfect weather conditions. This photograph was taken around 11pm at night and illustrates just how much light is available this late in the evening in Antarctica. We were very fortunate during this landing to have just about perfect conditions with wonderful light and atmospherics. Dedicated expeditions for photography such as this one (Read the Report) are the key difference between capturing images such as this in ideal lighting conditions and just snapshots taken in the middle of the day. If you are interested in travelling to Antarctica for photography I am running two expeditions to the great white continent this year. The first is an extended expedition to South Georgia Island and Antarctica with my good friend Andy Biggs. The second is a shorter expedition to the Antarctic peninsula with fellow Australian photographer Antony Watson. Full details, including an itinerary is available for download on the workshops page of my website at www.jholko.com There are only very limited places remaining on both expeditions. If you want to get more of an idea what it is like to travel on a dedicated photography expedition be sure watch the Polar Experience Video I produced late las year.

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Read more.. Friday, January 31st, 2014

FujiFilm Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year 2013

Just over a month ago I helped judge the Fujifilm Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year Competition for Australian Photography + Digital Magazine and the winners have now been announced. Congratulations to Debbie Fowler who is the inaugural winner of the prestigious Australian Photography + digital Fujifilm X Landscape Photographer of the Year award. She won with her aerial abstract series, which she shot whilst on an open-door helicopter flight above the Cambridge Gulf in far northwest Australia. Second place overall went to Helen McFadden, who shot a series of icy images made in Godhul Bay, South Georgia island, north of Antarctica and east of the South American continent. The other eight finalists to make the top ten included Brad Grove, Matthew Smith, Luke Tscharke, Shirley Milburn, Aaron Huang, Andrew Dickman, Judith Conning, and William Patino. The top twenty five portfolios included Peter Hill, a second portfolio from Aaron Huang, Nick Baldas, Derek Feebrey, Francis Pisani, Tim McCullough, Peter Hammer, Ben Taylor, Priyaji Peiris, Michael Harris, Cameron Downie, Chris Wiewiora, Margot Hughes, Jason Beaven, Kiall Frost. My congratulations to all of these photographers.

The competition was open to amateur photographers only and true to its name sake was out to find the 2013 Australian amateur landscape photographer of the year. I know the term professional photographer is somewhat convoluted these days but Australian Photography Magazine define it as: Professional photographers are not permitted to enter. By entering this competition the entrant guarantees that he/she is not a professional photographer. For the purposes of this competition a professional photographer is someone who earns more than $2000 a year from photography. By that definition we can assume that all entrants into this competition earned less than $2000 with their photography in the year of entry. This is an important distinction as this point rules out many very fine photographers who make some (albeit a meagre) income (above $2000) from the pursuit of their passion but fall far short of being able to sustain and support themselves without some other supplementary income (usually a full time job). I emphasise this point as this competition is one truly open to amateurs only.

This was not the first time I have  been invited to judge a photographic competition (and I hope it wont be the last!) but it was the first time I have judged a competition whilst I have been on a photographic expedition. In this case, I had just completed two spectacular weeks in Antarctica (Read the Report) surrounded by fifty other passionate photographers. Emotionally this time away on an expedition spent with a passionate group of participants put me in a very creative frame of mind and I felt charged and dare I say it perhaps even qualified to judge the photographs entered into the competition and prepare my thoughts on the winning images.

Whilst I was viewing the photographs it struck me that those images that were most successful were those that stepped beyond the obvious cliché and triggered an emotional response in the viewer (in this case me). I wrote briefly about this for Australian Photography Magazine and my orginal text is included below:

Firstly, thank you for the invitation to judge this competition and for the opportunity to present my thoughts on the judging process in relation to the submitted entries. It is very easy to wowed as a judge by exotic locations and having been fortunate to travel to, and visit many of the places depicted in the images submitted by many of the contestants I feel qualified to comment on how the image has been executed – composition, light, the ability to see past the obvious cliché. Travel to exotic photography destinations is perhaps half the battle. But it is on location where the magic of light and composition have to come together to create something truly special in landscape photography. It takes a keen eye and the ability to successfully translate a three-dimensional scene into a two-dimensional image that maintains a sense of depth and movement.  Being able to see past the obvious and capture form, shape and texture sets the best work apart from merely technically competent work. I was very pleased to see a selection of images in the competition that clearly demonstrated this skill and ability.

As a judge I am looking for images that demonstrate not only technical excellence, but also that evoke an emotional response in the viewer (In short, images that challenge the viewer and make them stop and think). A photograph that is well composed with a strong subject and great light really shines when the photographer also manages to capture the mood and feeling of a location. I look for a sense of depth, movement and design (once the technical aspects have been assessed) when judging images and those photographs that successfully convey this always stand out. Photographs that pose a question or that cause the viewer to pause and consider what it is that they are viewing are always far more powerful than just a pretty scene.

FujiFilm Australian Amateur Landscape photographer of the year is not a title to be bestowed lightly. Although this competition is not open to professionals I viewed all images with the eye of a professional full time nature photographer and it was very pleasing to see such a solid standard of work. The line is very blurred these days between amateur and professional photographers and I regularly see work from amateurs of the highest calibre. I am pleased that this competition has attracted this high standard of work and it was my pleasure to view and judge the photographs. I commend all the photographers who entered and encourage them to do so again next year. Thank you.

Not long after I had finished judging the competition and had forwarded my thoughts above to Australian Photography Magazine I came across a fascinating article by photographer David Ward. I was sitting in the airport at Punta Arenas in Chile waiting for my connecting flight to Santiago last December and was reading issue #65 of On Landscape magazine (one of the finest publications on landscape photography to grace the halls of landscape literature in my view). Of particular interest was an article by David titled ‘Leaving Room, Where Does the Viewer Live?’. I have not yet had the pleasure to meet David but his article strikes at the very core of what I was driving at when I wrote the above statement about judging the Fujifilm Landscape Photographer of the Year competition.  Landscape photography is about so much more than just a pretty or dramatic picture and David’s article sums this up succinctly and in such a way that the photographer can take many pearls of wisdom away from the article and apply them to their own phtoography. If you do not subscribe to On Landscape I highly recommend you do so and read David’s excellent article. Issue #66 also includes an excellent article on judging Competitions titled ‘The View from the Other Side” by Tim Parkin that is well worth a read for any would be contestant entrant as well as any existing or potential future photographic judge.

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Read more.. Monday, January 27th, 2014

Gura Gear announce the ‘Uinta’ Modular Camera Backpack

It would be hard to argue that the Gura Gear Kiboko and Bataflae camera bags have not made a major impact with photographers around the world. In my travels, I an fortunate to spend a lot of time with photographers from all over the globe and I consistently see a multitude of these bags on my workshops and expeditions. Gura Gear bags are universally adored by their owners for their sturdy construction, light weight build and ability to swallow copious amounts of gear. In fact, the only criticism I ocassionally here from owners of these camera bags is that they hold too much gear and therefore there is a temptation to carry too much equipment into the field. The only other comment I ever here is “I wish they made a pack more suitable for hiking.” As it turns out the folks at Gura Gear have been listening and since the release of the new Bataflae camera bags Gura Gear have been hard at work behind the scenes on a new modular camera bag system designed for photographers with different needs and they are now introducing the newest addiition to the Gura Gear product line, the Uinta adventure backpack system.From the Press Release: Named after the majestic Uinta mountain range located in Northern Utah, the Uinta is designed to be the ultimate adventure pack ready to haul camera gear and hiking essentials wherever your travels take you. The Uinta spans the gap between urban and adventure lifestyles. Whether you need a technical day pack for photo/video gear, or a reliable adventure pack that accommodates a single DSLR and adventure’s essentials, Uinta boasts 30 liters of space and adjusts to your needs with specially designed module inserts. Uinta is a lightweight, weather-resistant bag that will adapt to your needs.

Featuring an extremely comfortable and breathable harness system, the Uinta is perfect for day trips in the mountains, deserts, or wherever life’s adventures may take you. In any situation, accessing gear is easy through any of the multiple access points. Uinta features a set of removable padded, configurable photo modules engineered for the latest in digital photographic equipment allowing the user to adapt the bag for each day’s requirements. The protective foams were specifically designed to maximise protection while minimising weight. Not all of life’s adventures involve the wilderness, that’s why Uinta can even stow up to a 17” MacBook Pro in the padded interior compartment, perfect for travel, work, or play. (I know many photographers will very very appreciative of the ability to carry a laptop in their camera bag if required).

The Uinta is an adventure pack designed to utilise Gura Gear’s new modular photo inserts and tripod and hydration system. Small Pro and Medium Pro Modules as well as a Tripod & Hydration System (THS) are available as separate components. Thus the system can be customised to suit the needs of the individual user. This new bag opens up new areas for Gura Gear and gives those photographers who require a dedicated backpack an ideal solution. The current line of Gura Gear camera bags is very much designed for travel and handling large amounts of gear. This new bag is designed with hiking and day trips in mind.The Uinta is all about being the right bag for whatever adventures you take. Whether you are looking for a spacious technical daypack for hiking to the summit of your dreams, or a pack to haul just a little or a whole lot of camera gear, the Uinta can be configured to suit your needs.

The available modules make carrying just the gear you need easy and accessible. Your options are many:

  • Use both the Medium and Small Pro Modules for the maximum camera gear configuration.
  • Use only the Medium Pro Module and give yourself some additional space for extra essentials at the bottom of the pack.
  • With the Small Pro Module you can handle the lightest camera setup with ample room for hiking essentials. The Small Pro Module can be installed in both the lower and upper sections of the bag. This allows you to manage the weight distribution in the pack to be exactly where you want it.
  • For those times when you’re not taking your beloved camera gear and you just need a lightweight and durable pack, the Uinta offers a spacious configurable 30 liters of space to tote everything you need.
  • Add the Tripod and Hydration System for a simple way to secure a tripod, hydration bladder, small shovel or anything else your adventure requires.

Uinta has many options. Photographers never face the same conditions and what works best in the morning may not work in the evening. With the Multi-Point Front and Rear Access System you have the ultimate control on how you would like to access your gear. When Modules are installed in the top section of the pack you have full access to your gear from either the back or front of the Uinta. And the Small Pro Module (when installed in the lower section) is easily accessed through a third opening on the bottom back of the bag. Uinta even has built in room for up to a 17″ laptop and compartments to organize the small stuff in life.

Introductory Offer

I am currently field testing the Uinta system – look for my full review in the coming weeks. In the meantime Gura Gear have a super introductory offer for those of you keen to get your hands on the new system. When you order a Uinta with both the Small Pro and Medium Pro Modules you will receive a free Tripod & Hydration System (THS) valued at $39.95. Add a Uinta + Sm and Md Modules + THS to your cart. Use coupon code FREETHS when checking out.

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Read more.. Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Creating Intimate Wildlife Photographs

One of the easiest things you can do to dramatically improve your wildlife photography is to get down low. Chris Gamel who was a participant on my photography expedition to Antarctica last November touched on this briefly with his ‘Alter the Perspective‘ tip in his guest post here on my blog a week or so ago. It is worth emphasising the importance of this advice as getting down low allows the photographer to connect with the subject and create a far more intimate photograph than one taken at the average human standing height. When you get down low (to eye level) with the wildlife you have a much better chance to connect with your subject and to create a photograph that tells the viewer much more about the life of the critter and the environment in which it lives. Many banal wildlife images could easily have been improved if the photographer had made the effort to get down to the perspective of the subject. Getting down low is not always the answer of course. There are occasions when raising the perspective is the preferred approach and these instances should be relatively obvious.

I am including an example below that illustrate the importance of getting down low and connecting with your subject in wildlife photography. I want to place particular emphasis on ‘connecting with the subject’ as this is something professional portrait and street photographers often talk about and with good reason. When you connect with your subject you have a far better chance to successfully capture their character and personality. You are going to create a photograph that tells the viewer something about the subject and perhaps gives an insight into who they are.  Connecting with a subject does not always mean you have to make eye contact either. Connecting in this case simply means you are shooting the subject in a manner in which you are trying to tell their story. When it comes to telling the story of wildlife my preference is often to shoot landscape photographs that include wildlife rather than head and shoulder portraits. Photographs that include the animal in the landscape tell the viewer something about the environment in which the animal lives and helps place the critter in context. In this example I am including a photograph that is more portrait orientated to better illustrate the importance of perspective. I photographed this Polar Bear at 80º North of Svalbard at the edge of the permanent pack ice. This bear showed no fear whatsoever of the small ship (with only twelve photographers aboard) I was travelling on and approached within just a few feet of us. The opportunity to create a great photograph was a combination of being in the right place at the right time, but just as important as actually being there was getting down low. In this instance I got down as low as I possibly could and waited until such time as the bear and I made eye contact before I pressed the shutter and took the photograph. The result is an intimate and personal photograph that speaks volumes about the environment in which the animal lives and how it perceives its surroundings. The viewer perceives the sea ice and surroundings from the perspective of the bear which helps connect the viewer with the subject. In this instance, eye contact with the bear helps draw the viewer into the photograph and emphasises the connection with the subject.

I want to emphasise that getting down low and connecting with your subject starts long before you arrive on the scene and take a photograph. You have to consider the location you are going to be shooting from and how this relates to where your subject might be when you press the shutter. And of course you have to take into account the all important background amongst a myriad of other technical, aesthetic and compositional concerns and challenges.  Some forward planning can go a long way when you are planning your next wildlife photography sojourn. Give serious consideration to the places you will be able to take photographs from and the opportunities that location will provide you. Your chance to get down low and connect with wildlife could be more than hampered by a poor choice of vessel or vehicle. Large cruise ships with hundreds of people and big buses that place the photographer high up are not ideal shooting platforms if you want to get down to eye level with your subject. Be it an African Big Cat Safari or an expedition to Photograph Polar Bears take a moment and find out what your real options are for connecting with your subject. It could well be the difference between an outstanding wildlife image and just another snapshot.

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Read more.. Monday, January 13th, 2014

Limited Edition Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Camera Bag in Stone Green

The good folks over at Gura Gear who design and manufacture my favourite camera bags have just announced a new limited edition Stone Green version of the Batalfae 32L (The Bataflae 32L is my primary camera bag for international airline travel, workshops and expeditions. I usually just order my camera bags in black, but there is some real benefit to having a limited edition colour when you are reaching for your camera bag on a trip or expedition amongst a myriad of other ‘black’ camera bags. Stone Green was inspired by Gura Gear’s recent work in the field and will be available exclusively in the Bataflae 32L beginning in Mid-January 2014. The limited edition Grey and Tan colors of the Bataflae 32L were discontinued last fall. There are still limited quantities remaining of the Tan Bataflae 32L (Grey is sold out). You can Pre-order the new Stone Green today to receive it in the first shipment later this month. If you are wondering just how much gear you can actually fit inside one of these Bataflae 32L bags be sure to check out the VIDEO I did late last year.

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Read more.. Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
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