Travel Photographer of the Year Finalist 2014

It was a pleasant surprise to receive an email on docking back in Ushuaia a few days ago after twenty-one days in South Georgia and Antarctica that several of my photographs have been selected for the final round of judging in the 2014 International Travel Photographer of the Year competition. I took third place and  was highly commended in the Single-Shot Water Category in 2012 with the ‘Blue Berg’ photograph from the Jökulsarlon lagoon in Iceland and this is now the third year in a row I have made the finals of this competition. This year I have photographs in the finals in the Earth, Air, Fire, Water Portfolio category (four photographs), Spirit of Adventure Portfolio (four photographs), and the Wild and Vibrant Single Shot category. As final judging has not yet taken place I am unable to share the photographs at this point, but will do so once judging is complete.TPOTY 2014 finalistBlue-BergI am continually inspired to enter the Travel Photographer of the Year competition as it is one of the few photographic competitions remaining today that still judge the ‘print’ rather than a compressed jpeg. I wrote a couple of years ago of my disillusionment with so many of the photography competitions that make their judgements solely on a compressed jpeg file. The craft of producing a beautiful fine art print is one of the most enjoyable aspects of photography for me and is how I prefer to have my work viewed.

Read more.. Monday, November 24th, 2014

Antarctica and South Georgia Island 2014 Expedition Complete

Andy Biggs and I have now wrapped up our twenty one day South Georgia Island and Antarctica photography expedition.  We docked yesterday in Ushuaia after experiencing some of the most incredible polar landscapes and wildlife experiences of my photographic career. It was a unique experience and an absolute joy and pleasure to share it with so many other passionate and keen photographers. I recall something renowned photographer Art Wolfe once said – “If you can only visit one place in the world for wildlife photography it should be South Georgia Island”. He was most definitely right. From what I have already seen from those aboard there were some incredible photographs created during this voyage. No doubt, more will emerge over the coming weeks and months as everyone gets a chance to sort through the plethora of images we made during this expedition. Our ship was abuzz with excitement during our voyage and the recounting of our daily experiences over the evening meal that included everything from wildlife encounters to talk of dramatic landscapes, weather, photography and myriad of other topics made the whole shared experience simply wonderful.SouthGeorgiaThis brief post is not intended to be a full trip report as that will come later once I have had a chance to fully digest our experiences and sort and process a few more of the many thousands of photographs I made during this voyage. After twenty one days of pretty much non stop landscape and wildlife photography my cameras and lenses are smoking and my shot count well in excess of seven thousand images – including many underwater and split (half above / half below) photographs thanks to Aquatech who kindly provided sponsorship equipment for this expedition. It is going to take me a long time to sort and edit the photographs from this expedition, but I do hope to publish a few images when I get home just before Christmas. On top of that, my good friend and fellow photographer Antony Watson was tasked with shooting video for the duration of the expedition and we hope to cobble that together into a short movie of our experiences to be shared at a later date.For now, Antony, Martyn, Louisa and I have a day to rest and recover in Ushuaia before we fly out for ten days trekking and photography on the Argentinean side of Patagonia. The last time I visited Patagonia a year ago with my my friend and fellow photographer Martyn Lucas we experienced horrendous winds for six out of the seven days we were in the park and photography was more or less impossible. We have high hopes for better conditions this time. It will certainly be very nice to stretch the legs with some long hikes in the Patagonian back country after twenty one days of being at sea.Zodiac CruisingJust by way of a small teaser announcement for a future expedition: Once I finish in Patagonia I will return to Ushuaia for one more Antarctic expedition this season to the Peninsula with my friend Antony before I fly home in time for Christmas. I will be home for just over a week before I will return to Antarctica at the end of the year for a scouting trip to photograph Emperor Penguins in a very remote region of Antarctica. This scouting trip is something I have been working on for more than a year now and it is my hope that this test trip will result in a future photographic expedition to photograph the world’s largest and most majestic penguin – The mighty Emperor.

Read more.. Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

2015 South Georgia Island Photography Expedition Announcement

I am very excited to formally announce that I will be leading a new fifteen day photographic expedition to South Georgia Island in November 2015 with my good friend and talented Nature Photographer Ole Jorgen. It seems somewhat fitting to have scheduled this new expedition announcement to coincide with my being in South Georgia at present and in the middle of a twenty one day expedition to both South Georgia and Antarctica. The 2015 expedition is going to be very different to the trip I am currently undertaking and will hone its focus and specialise solely on South Georgia Island. I have heard it said “If you can only photograph wildlife once in your life make sure its South Georgia Island“. I have to say I am in total agreement with that statement. South Georgia Island is a wildlife photographers paradise. There is absolutely nothing that prepares you for the enormity of the landscape or the miracle of the abundant wildlife. This is indeed a place where you are likely to only put down your camera when your finger is so tired you can no longer press the shutter and you can no longer see for the smoking cameras. It is an absolute photographic mecca and a true experience of a lifetime. My friend and fellow photographer Antony and I are currently shooting some video in South Georgia and we hope to share some our experiences with video on our return.Penguin Rookery at Petermann Island in Antarctica. Incredible miThis fifteen day photography expedition will depart from the Falkland Islands on the 7th of November 2015 and is singularly focused on providing the definitive South Georgia Island photography experience. We have arranged permits for an extended stay in South Georgia that will allow us not less than ten days of photography (compared to the usual 48 hours only) at this incredible location. Best of all we have timed our expedition with the breeding season for the Penguins, Albatross and Seals. At this time there will be a lot of activity in the colonies and lots of action to photograph. We will sail from the Falkland Islands (the closest port) directly to South Georgia Island where we will zodiac cruise through a maze of icebergs before landing ashore on a beach bedecked with penguins, seals and lichen encrusted boulders. South Georgia Island promises fantastic wildlife and landscape opportunities. We will see and photograph the world’s largest King Penguin rookeries, majestic albatross nests, seals and a plethora of bird life. Kelp strewn beaches are cluttered with basking elephant seals, feisty fur seals and hundreds of penguins that will prove a wildlife photographers dream. Stromness and Grytviken harbour 3000 metre rocky peaks that rise up from the ocean to form amazing backdrops to the remains of whaling stations that will fulfil every landscape shooters wishes for dramatic landscape.

South Georgia’s remote, untamed landscape is simply stunning. Scattered across the mighty Southern Ocean, the tiny arc of windswept islands and harbours are some of the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries set against world class landscapes. Famed for its abandoned whaling stations and Shackleton’s heroic journey, South Georgia is home to literally millions of fur seals and penguins, wallows of elephant seals, and nesting albatross. After we finish photographing in this breathtaking area we will sail back to the Falkland Islands where we will dock on the 21st of November and conclude this photographic expedition. For those who are keen there is a one-week extension for dedicated Bird photography in the Falkland Islands at the conclusion of the expedition. The extension is limited to just four photographers. EDIT – Please note the Falkland Islands Extension is already SOLD OUT.

KingPenguinsThis photograph of King Penguins was taken by my good friend Ole Jorgen on a previous expedition to South Georgia Island.

The expedition is for a strictly limited number of 52 participants plus leaders and expedition guide. We will be using an ice hardened expedition ship that will enable us to get into the best possible locations. Our expedition ship the ‘Polar Pioneer’ is 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! Due to prior expressions of interest and bookings there are now only two places remaining out of the original 54 that were available before this expedition will be sold out. If you would like to reserve one of the two remaining places or would like further information you can download a detailed itinerary and PDF flyer HERE or drop me an email and I will get back to you when we dock back in Ushuaia later this month. Please note that once these last two places are spoken for thats it.Call of the Wild

Read more.. Sunday, November 16th, 2014

5 Years Old and Kicking On – Thank you

It is hard for me to believe it has already been five years since I started this photography blog.  It still feels like only a few months ago that I sat down and decided to start writing about my photographic experiences, workshops, expeditions and travel photography. At the time I was not really sure exactly where I was planning to head with my own photography (or this blog for that matter); or perhaps a more accurate description would be I had not yet fully realised the direction I was taking. Looking back, I think the idea of working as a full time professional Nature photographer was always my ideal and the path now seems very clear, but I was perhaps to scared to allow myself to fully realise the dream. My feeling nowadays is you should always chase your passion regardless of the pursuit. As artists, we do our best work when we are most passionate about our subject. Passion and love of the subject and craft always shines and shows in the finished product. Wether you like to shoot macro images of insects, wildlife or grand vistas it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get out there and photograph that subject. Do it with passion, do it because you love it and do it as often as you can.

It feels sort of ironic for me that this post celebrating five years of blogging and sharing my photographic experiences was scheduled to go live on this date automatically as I am currently in South Georgia and Antarctica leading a twenty one day photographic expedition with good friend Andy Biggs. This particular expedition was one I had been looking forward to for a very long time. With so many good friends and passionate photographers on board our ship and such world class wildlife and landscape I can think of no better place to be to celebrate the five year anniversary. If you missed out on this expedition, or if you have always wanted to travel to South Georgia Island then stay tuned – I will soon be formally announcing a new dedicated expedition to South Georgia Island in November 2015 that includes an unprecedented 10-day permit for photography in this world class location. Renowned photographer Art Wolfe once said something along the lines of “If you can only photograph wildlife in one place in your life, then make it South Georgia Island.” I have to say I agree with him. Interest in this 2015 expedition has been extraordinary and there are already only two places remaining before this trip will be sold out. If you want to get the drop on one of the last places please just send me an email to register your interest and I will get back to you when I return to Ushuaia.

I want to take a moment at this point to thank all of you who have been regular readers, and all of you with whom I have had the pleasure to travel with and photograph over the years (including the many photographers sharing the current expedition in South Georgia Island). The collective passion a group of photographers exude is powerful and intoxicating and an incredible source of inspiration to myself and all photographers. I feel very fortunate to have been able to share in so many photographic adventures with so many fantastic photographers – many of whom have become firm long term friends and are incredible photographers in their own right.

It was quite a hard decision deciding what photograph to share for this five year anniversary post but in the end I decided to share a new image from a project I am currently working on and hope to finish by the end of next year. This project will be a celebration of Polar Life in both the extreme North and South latitudes of the globe and will include photographs of a number of different species. This new work will appear in full once I finish the printing of my book ‘Extreme Latitude’ early next year.

This photograph of an Arctic Fox was taken from a snow blind in March this year at Hornvik in the extreme North West of Iceland. This location is only accessible by boat and is many, many miles from any civilisation. There are no roads into this area – it is pure wilderness. In the deep winter months when I visited this location I spent the better part of a week in a snow blind photographing a number of Arctic Fox. This large male was foraging in the snow and bristled when he found something edible so close to my location. It was shot with a Canon EOS1DX and Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII.Arctic Fox

Read more.. Monday, November 10th, 2014

November Photograph of the Month: Penguin Love

It feels appropriate to post up a Penguin photograph as the image of the month for November as I am currently making my way from Australia to Ushuaia in South America in preparation for two back-to-back expeditions to South Georgia Island and Antarctica. This photograph was taken at Petermann Island in Antarctica in November last year during a fourteen day expedition. Shot near midnight we had been photographing pretty much non stop for more than twenty four hours. This was one of the last images I made that day of a male and female Penguin watching the Antarctic sunset. It was an interesting decision how to expose this shot and in the end I elected to go for more of a silhouette look and let the Penguins go quite dark. The Penguin shape is so distinctive as to be instantly recognisable irrespective of detail. I probably shot two or three dozen different frames of this scene as the Penguins moved around – but it is this one with the outstretched flippers from the male and with the female looking up at him that really worked for me.Penguin Love

Read more.. Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Arrived in Ushuaia South America – Antarctica Bound!

After more than two days of constant travel, including five separate plane rides, I have now arrived in Ushuaia South America – the most permanent southerly settlement in the world. It is somewhat surreal for me to be back in Ushuaia and headed for South Georgia Island and Antarctica after being high in the Arctic and only 600 miles from the North Pole only a couple of months ago. This is not the first time I will have visited both the Arctic and Antarctic in a single year, but it is the closest in terms of time difference. It is fantastic to have arrived in Ushuaia in the middle of quite a steady snowfall and the Andes Mountain Range looks absolutely spectacular in fresh snow.The AndesAs I have previously written, Ushuaia itself is a wonderful town with some great restaurants, shops and cafe’s and it has been fantastic to meet up with both old friends with whom I have had the pleasure of travelling with many times now, but also new friends who will be experiencing the magnificence of the Great White Continent for the very first time. In some ways I envy those travelling for their first time to Antarctica. Seeing Antarctica for the very first time is an awe inspiring experience and photographing it with fresh eyes is something you only ever get to do once. I always get a huge thrill from the visceral and palpable air of excitement first time and repeat visitors radiate as they board the ship and we throw off our lines and sail down the Beagle Channel. I am very much looking forward to our experiences ahead and sharing everything we discover.

This will be my last ‘in person’ post now (I have a few automated posts scheduled) for at least the next twenty one days as we sail from Ushuaia, to the Falklands, South Georgia Island and then Antarctica. I do have a few posts automated for my time away and I hope to post an update on what our expedition was like after we dock back in Ushuaia on the 22nd of November and before I head to Patagonia on further travels. Until then, Bon Voyage.

Read more.. Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Leaving for South America, South Georgia Island and Antarctica

The last few weeks have been a a complete blur for me and it is hard to believe it has already been six weeks since I returned home from Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard. The time has just absolutely flown past and I feel I have really not made much forward progress on personal projects (although I have finally started to make prints from my workshops to Namibia earlier this year). I had hoped to have more images processed from Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard but between the day-to-day business operations and family I just have not had time. I am actually quite a bit behind in image processing and I could use a month or two of solid computer time for editing, sorting and processing. Image processing will have to wait though as it is now time to turn my attention in full to South Georgia Island and Antarctica.

It is always exciting to be embarking on a new adventure with other passionate photographers and even though I have a pretty horrible travel schedule over the next three days to get to our departure point in Ushuaia, South America, I am looking forward to getting underway in just a few minutes when I finish up this post. Its just about 3am in the morning here and my first flight leaves in a couple of hours so it is time to load the car and make my way to the airport. See you in South America.Penguin March

Read more.. Thursday, October 30th, 2014

South Georgia Island and Antarctica Expedition Packing List 2014

In just under a week I will be making the long trek from Australia to Ushuaia in South America where I will be co-leading both a twenty one day photographic expedition to South Georgia Island and Antarctica with my friend Andy Biggs, as well as a second Antarctic Peninsula expedition just before Christmas. In between the two expeditions I am taking some personal time for photography at Mount Fitzroy in Patagonia with a few friends for ten days hiking, camping and photography in the Patagonian back-country. This will be my second visit to Patagonia in as many years, but my first to the Argentinian side. Last year on the Chile side we encountered horrendous winds that made photography impossible for six out of the seven days we were in the park. I have hopes for better conditions this year.

With a love of the Polar regions I really lucked out being born in Australia when it comes to travel time. With recent changes to airlines routes from Australia it is now necessary for me to fly Melbourne to Sydney, Sydney to Auckland, Auckland to Santiago, Santiago to Buenos Aires and finally Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. And thats before we even board ship for sailing time to South Georgia and Antarctica. I have not counted the number of hours that is going to mean sitting around in airports and on aeroplanes as I quite honestly I don’t really want to know. The reality is for me that I would endure just about any amount of travel pain to visit and photograph in Antarctica. The pain of international travel is quickly forgotten when that first call of iceberg ahead! is made on the Drake Passage. Antarctica is a miraculous location and with each visit my respect and love for this continent grows in leaps and bounds. One of the most fantastic things about these expeditions is the camaraderie with all on board and the shared passion for photography. Asa  result I am looking forward very much to sharing the experience with all aboard.

As has become traditional I like to do a packing list post before I depart on an expedition. The purpose of this list is to both help me make sure I have not forgotten anything, but also to share what it is I take with me for those either travelling with me on these trips or considering their own future trip. Packing for both two Antarctic expeditions as well as a hiking and camping expedition in Patagonia presents some rather unique challenges and I have spent a good deal of time weighing up all my options for both camera gear as well as clothing. Thankfully I do not have to transport all of my camping gear to South America as we will be hiring what we need on location. You might note that my choice of camera bodies for this time away is not ideally suited to hiking. As much as I love the Canon EOS1DX (I just recently purchased a second one) it is not exactly what I would consider a light weight hiking friendly camera. I will instead loan a 5DMKIII from one of my good friends for the hiking component of our Patagonia trip and leave my 1DX cameras in storage.antarctica-gear

In addition to the usual camera gear I am also carrying an Aquatech Delphin 1D underwater sport housing, dome port and ancillary accessories for one of my Canon EOS 1DX cameras. I have long wanted to pursue some underwater and split photography options (half above the surface / half below the surface) in Antarctica and I am very excited about the opportunity on these two expeditions thanks to a new sponsorship arrangement with Aquatech. I hope to post some still images and video of the housing in use in both Antarctica and South Georgia Island as well my thoughts and experience on this type of photography in the polar regions.

- 2 x Canon EOS 1DX bodies (I recently purchased a second 1DX and finally retired my 1DS MK3)
- 1 x Sigma 15mm Fish Eye Lens
- 1 x Canon 16-35mm F4L IS
- 1 x Canon 24-70mm F2.8L IS MK II
- 1 x Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MK II
- 1 x Canon 200-400mm F4L IS w/ inbuilt 1.4 TC
- 1 x LEE Foundation Kit
- 1 x LEE Foundation Kit and Polariser
- 1 x LEE 3 Filter Lens Wrap
- 1 x LEE 3-Stop Soft Graduated ND Filter
- 1 x LEE 3-Stop Hard Graduated Filter
- 1 x LEE Big Stopper Ten Stop Neutral Density Filter
- LEE Adapter Rings for 77mm and 82mm
- 1 x Canon Drop-in Circular Polariser

Gura Gear Chobe (Carry on Luggage)
- 1 x Apple MacBook Pro 15″ Retina
- 1 x Apple laptop charger
- 1 x Thunderbolt 1 TB external portable hard drive
- 1 x  USB CF card reader
- 1 x Sunglasses and sunglasses case
- 1 x Astell & Kern Hi-Rez Portable Audio Player
- 1 x Astell & Kern Charging Cable
- 1 x Inner Ear Stage Two Driver Headphones
- 1 x Leica Ultra-vid 10×42 HD Binoculars

Etcetera Case #1 (Inside Chobe)
- 1 x Canon 1-Series camera charger
- 2 x Power Adapters for on board ship
- 2 x Canon1DX spare Batteries

North Face Rolling Thunder Duffle
- 1 x Arćteryx Atom LT Hoody
- 1 x Arćteryx Kappa Jacket
- 1 x Arćteryx Kappa Pants
- 1 x Arćteryx Alpha SV Goretex Pro Bibs
- 1 x Arćteryx Alpha SV Goretex Jacket (For Patagonia)
- 1 x Arćteryx Gamma Pants
- 1 x Norona Svalbard Pants
- 1 x Devold Expedition Thermal Long Johns
- 2 x Devold Expedition Thermal Tops
- 1 x Scarpa Hiking Boots (For Patagonia)
- 1 x Skins Hiking Lycra (For Patagonia)
- Other regular Clothing
- 1 x Sleeping Bag Liner (For Patagonia)
- 1 x Jobu Deluxe Gimbal Head with Dovetail Base
- 1 x Petzl Headlamp
- 1 x Heat Company Heat 3 Cold Weather Gloves
- 1 x Sandles (For footwear inside ship)
- Personal Items
- 1 x Aquatech Delphin 1D Underwater Sport Housing
- 1 x Aquatech P-70 Extension Ring
- 1 x Aquatech PD-85 Dome Port (For Canon 16-35mm F4L IS)
- 1 x Aquatech Pole Shutter Kit
- 1 x Pair Aquatech Sensory Cold Weather Gloves
- 2 x Aquatech Sport Shields for 70-200mm and 200-400mm lenses

Etcetera Case #2 (Inside North Face Duffle)
- 1 x Arctic Butterfly Sensor Cleaner
- 1 x Filter Wrench
- 1 x Zeiss Cleaning Fluid and Lens Cleaning Tissue
- 1 x Micro Fibre Lens Cloth
- 1 x Rocket Blower with Hepa-Filter

Ortlieb 120 Litre Dry Duffle Bag
- 1 x Really Right Stuff TVC24L Carbon Fibre Tripod with RRS Levelling Base
- 1 x Really Right Stuff Set Tripod Spikes and fitting Alan-key
- 1 x Arctic Sport Muck Boots

There is one other important piece of documentation I will be taking with me on this expedition and that is an Australian Customs Declaration form. If you are travelling internationally from Australia you can read about the benefit arming yourself with this documentation HERE.

What Camera Gear is being left at home?

I always find myself in a bit of quandary when it comes to deciding what to leave at home when packing for a workshop or expedition. Despite my intentions, I often find a lens I planned to leave at home sneaks its way into my bag at the last minute as the fear of wanting it outweighs the thought of the extra weight in the camera bag. On this occasion however, I feel quite confident in my lens selection. I have all the major focal lengths covered and although some of my favourite glass is staying at home (The Canon 17mm F4L TSE and Canon 24mm F3.5L MKII TSE) I do have these focal lengths covered in the new 16-35mm F4L IS and 24-70mm F2.8L MKII. As much as I would like to also take the Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII the sheer weight and bulk of this lens in combination with everything else really preclude it as a viable option so in this instance it is staying at home.

The Bitter Sweet

It is always somewhat bitter sweet for me to be heading overseas on a photography expedition. On the one hand I love spending time in the outdoor polar regions with other photographers who are passionate about their craft. I am fortunate to meet and travel with some fabulous people who are not only talented photographers in their own right but also a source of continual inspiration. Many of these participants have become friends and I just want to take a moment to acknowledge their photography and thank them for their participation and input. The bitter for me is that I am leaving my two young kids for an extended period of time. Thank goodness for technology and Skype.

Purchasing Equipment

If you are considering purchasing any of the items listed in this packing list for your own photography please consider doing so by clicking on the links on this page. It helps me keep this blog running and pay for the hosting fees with a small commission on affiliate sales when you purchase through this site.

Read more.. Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Photo Review Magazine – Ice Work and Cover Photograph December / February Issue

The new December / February issue of Photo Review ‘Inspiring Australian Photographers’, will soon go on sale and includes a feature article ‘Ice Work‘ on my polar photography as well as one of my recent photographs from Antarctica on the cover. The cover shot was taken last November during a photographic expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula and is of a Gentoo Penguin calling its mate during a heavy snow fall. I cannot recall the exact location I took this image as we visited so many different islands, coves and bays during our two weeks visiting and photographing in Antarctica. It was shot with a Canon EOS 1DX and the new Canon 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4 Teleconverter. I was able to create a more intimate and evocative photograph by lying down in the snow in order to be at eye level with the subject. The heavy snowfall was a bonus and this really adds to the atmosphere and interest of the photograph for me. Scoring the cover of a magazine is always a huge thrill. Magazines rarely  advise you prior to publication that you have made the cover so it is always a wonderful surprise to see the issue for the first time. You can click on the image below to download the full article or HERE to download as a PDF. Photo Review is available in both print as well as digital editions for the iPad or PDF for other electronic readers.PhotoReview-CoverIt is less than ten days now until I head back to Antarctica for two back-to-back expeditions to South Georgia Island and Antarctica. The excitement of heading to one of the world’s most remote and magnificent destinations for photography is as strong for me now as it was with my very first visit and I am really excited to share these expeditions and the majesty of Antarctica with all aboard. I still have many loose ends to tie up before I board that first plane for the long haul to South America in a weeks time – not the least of which is the traditional packing list blog post. I hope to have this finalised in the next few days.

Read more.. Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

ATA Carnet – A Passort for your Camera Equipment

There has been quite a lot of chatter and confusion recently on some of the forums and social media platforms here in Australia about ATA Carnet’s for international travel with photography equipment.

Let me say right at the start that I have never used an ATA Carnet (or even a Customs Declaration form) in all of my travels and not once to date have I ever been pulled up by customs and immigration in relation to the extent of my photography equipment. This could easily change though and it is worth taking a bit of time to discuss both Carnet’s and Customs declaration forms to both correct some of the misinformation out there, but also to ensure you are covering yourself in a suitable manner should you find yourself in a situation where you are asked if you are holding one of these documents or being asked to pay duty on equipment.

Lets start at the beginning with what is a Carnet?

Carnet or ATA Carnet (pronounced kar-nay) is an international customs and temporary export-import document. It is used to clear customs in 84 countries and territories without paying duties and import taxes on merchandise that will be re-exported within 12 months.  Carnets are also known as Merchandise Passports or Passports for Goods. See “What is a Carnet?” Video. In effect, a Carnet is a passport for your photography equipment that protects you from having to pay duty on equipment you export and re-import. Carnets facilitate temporary imports into foreign countries and re-importation into your home country. There are 84 countries and territories that accept carnets. See a complete list of Carnet countries here.

A Carnet effectively consists of two parts, the first of which is an export document that is presented to customs when you are leaving your country of origin. It includes a list of your equipment as well as your intended use for that equipment and is stamped by customs to show you are taking the equipment out of the country and that the equipment is not subject to import duty when you return. The second part of the Carnet is presented to customs on your arrival into a foreign country that is part of the Carnet system. This document also lists your equipment and protects you from being charged import duty by the foreign country on both entry and exit from the country. It must be shown at the time of entry into the country and at the time of exit. If you fail to exit the country with the equipment you imported you will be charged duty (which will be taken form your Carnet security deposit). See below about the Carnet security deposit and how this duty is charged. See also International Chamber of Commerce.

Here in Australia it presently costs $451 AUD to have documentation prepared for a Carnet by VECCI and you need to apply for a Carnet not less than three business days before you depart (and they recommend two weeks). There are processing fees over and above the $451 dependant on wether you take out a Carnet for three, six or twelve months. A Carnet must list all of the countries you plan to take the equipment that are part of the 84 countries in the Carnet system as well as your intended use for the equipment. There is also a bond that is taken by VECCI to secure your equipment against possible duty charges. This bond is equal to 50% of the commercial value of the goods you plan to travel with. So if you are travelling with $50,000 AUD worth of camera gear you are required to leave a deposit here in Australia with VECCI of $25,000 AUD. VECCI justify this ridiculous security bond because they are covering themselves for the variance in customs duties per country. If you know the specific duty that the country you will be visiting charges you can have this 50% bond amended by VECCI to the same as the country charges. For example: If you are visiting ‘X’ country and ‘X’ country charges 10% duty then VECCI can amend the bond to be 10% in this instance.

The reality of the situation is that a 50% security bond deposit is well above any potential customs duty you may be charged should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being charged import duty on equipment you are carrying internationally. The positive of the ATA Carnet is that you protect yourself from being charged duty and that you will receive back 100% of your bond on return to your home country with all of your equipment. You just have to be prepared to tie up 50% of the commercial value of your goods in a security bond. VECCI do not consider a credit card number a suitable security bond – you have to leave them the actual money.

It is important to note that there is no dollar value minimum or maximum on a Carnet. You do not suddenly need one because the value of your goods has reached a certain amount – there is no minimum threshold and no maximum. A Carnet can be requested for something as small as $100 trade show samples or as large as multi-million dollar private jet. Now, if you are importing a multi-million dollar yacht for an international yachting race, or you are Peter Jackson filming Lord of the Rings and you need to import a few million dollars of equipment for clear commercial purposes then an ATA Carnet is pretty much a mandatory document. But if you are an amateur or professional still photographer like myself who travels extensively with a reasonable amount of camera gear this document is optional. It is worth noting VECCI recommend you do take a Carnet with you, but they also note it is not mandatory and that there is an alternative you can use at least in Australia. You should also note that different countries enforce Carnet’s differently. Presently both New Zealand and the USA are noted by VECCI as rigorous enforcers of Carnet’s.

The alternative to an ATA Carnet is an Australian Customs Declaration Form. An Australian customs declaration form is designed to protect you from having to pay duties on equipment you leave Australia with and then bring back into Australia on your return. Unlike an ATA Carnet, an Australian customs declaration form is free, requires no bond and you can complete this document yourself without a third party. You present this document to Australian customs when leaving the country and have it stamped and your equipment inspected. You then present this document on your return to Australia if you are challenged to pay duty on your equipment on re-entry.

There is a very clear difference between an ATA Carnet and a Customs Declaration Form. The former is designed to protect you from paying duty in both your home country as well as the participating Carnet country you will be visiting – it is in effect a passport for your equipment. A Customs Declaration Form is designed to protect you only in Australia; although you could certainly present this document internationally if you are challenged to pay duty in a foreign country as proof you intend to take all of the equipment home. It is important to note that the foreign country is not in any way obligated to accept an Australian Customs Declaration form and could still legally charge you the full duty amount. Only you can decide if you need a Carnet or an Australian Customs Declaration form. You can download the Australian customs declaration form HERE.

All of this red tape could be a real headache if you are unfortunate to be pulled up by a grumpy customs official who decides to exercise his overt powers and charge you import duty on photography equipment you intend to take home with you. So at the very least you should know how the Carnet system works, what it is and why you should consider if you need one.

It is also important to note that individual countries have their own policies for import duty, their own documents and procedures. You should do your own research on the country you plan to visit and find out what their requirements are for bringing in camera equipment and what can happen if you are challenged and are not able to produce documentation to protect yourself from duties. You should also research the specific laws in your own home country for export and re-import of photographic equipment – even just for personal use abroad.

Personally, I intend to take Customs Declaration forms with me from now on to at least protect myself from duty in  my home country. The ATA Carnet system would me by preferred approach but frankly the cost of doing so is ridiculous and I have no desire to tie up large amounts of cash in security bond deposits with VECCI.

Read more.. Monday, October 20th, 2014