APPA 2014: Overall Winner Science, Environment & Nature Photographer of the Year and Awarded Australian Institute of Professional Photography Master Photographer Honour

This weekend saw the running of the annual AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) APPA (Australian Professional Photography Awards) awards in Sydney. These awards are the highlight of the calendar year in Australia in competition terms and are eagerly looked forward to by many (myself included). In fact, they are widely regarded as being at the very top of the pyramid in professional photographic circles. There is something very special about the APPA awards and it’s more than just the kudos that comes with receiving an award – its the incredible standard of work across all categories every year that never ceases to impress and amaze. If you have never checked out one of the annual APPA award books I encourage you to do so (they can be ordered online from the AIPP). They are are a wonderful source of inspirational photography. There is a palpable buzz that comes with the opening of the first days judging at APPA and a drum beat that rises to fever pitch as each day progresses. There are moments of incredible elation and moments of crushing defeat. It can be an emotional roller coaster and whilst its not healthy to become too emotionally invested one can’t help but ride the roller coaster of ups and downs.

If you want to see where the bar is set for world class photographic images and prints you need look no further than APPA. Every year the bar is continually raised that much higher in terms of the standard of work entered. I admit to being a bit of a nervous wreck during the APPA judging. The spine-tingling anticipation of having my work scrutinised for any minutia by my peers gets my heart racing. It’s not even the fear of scoring poorly that puts me on edge; its something far less tangible that I can’t quite put my finger on. If you have never entered or attended the APPA awards that probably sounds a little strange, but for those of you who have entered before you will know exactly what I am talking about. Its a special competition and quite honestly its not for the faint of heart. It’s never wise to take these things too seriously, but on the other hand, APPA is the standard by which professional photographers are judged against each other and is considered to showcase the highest level of photography so one can’t help but become emotionally involved.

This was a massive year for me as I entered APPA after winning multiple categories in the Victorian State Awards including Creative Photographer of the YearScience Environment and Nature Photographer of the YearHighest Scoring Print of the Year and overall title of Victorian Professional Photographer of the Year. There is a hefty weight of expectation (even if it is self imposed) that comes with those awards that carries over into APPA so I felt even more nervous than usual when my first print turned around for judging.

For those of you unfamiliar with APPA you can read my previous blog post HERE about how the system operates. The four prints (the maximum you are allowed to enter) I chose to enter this year were my highest scoring prints at state level and I entered them into the Science, Environment and Nature Category. At state level they scored 2 Gold Awards and 2 Gold with Distinctions and thats about as good as one could ever hope to score. So, I was ecstatic to receive a Silver Award, a Silver with Distinction and two Gold Awards for my four entries this year at APPA. All four entries were printed on my favourite fine art paper - Moab Somerset Museum Rag. You can watch a video of the judging of the three highest scoring prints online by clicking on the image below.The culmination of these four awards provided more than the necessary points to also receive the coveted and highly sought after ‘Master of Photography’ ribbon from the AIPP.  This award requires the accumulation of not less than ten points in no more than five years after receiving an Associateship Award and its no easy feat to achieve. I had set myself a goal of achieving this in four years and I am pleased to say I managed it in just three years. In fact, I already have several excess points in the bank toward my first Master of Photography Gold Bar. You can read about the honours and points system on the APPA website.

I was even more ecstatic to subsequently learn at the awards dinner last night (which unfortunately I could not attend in person due to print workshop commitments) that not only did I receive multiple Gold and Silver award scores for my prints at National level as well being awarded a Master of Photography by the AIPP but that I also won the overall category and award for 2014 AIPP Canon Professional Science, Environment and Nature Photographer of the Year. This was only the second time I have ever entered this category and taking out the overall title is a huge thrill and honour. It was also a great honour to learn that I took out the highest scoring print in this category – an honour that resonates deeply with my love of the craft of photographic print making.
APPA – Silver with Distinction Award ‘Bear Reflections’

APPA – Gold Award ‘Epic Sense of Scale’APPA – Silver Award ‘Glacial Delta’APPA – Gold Award ‘March of the Penguins’

With APPA done and dusted for 2014 and my goal of achieving Master of Photography completed, along with being the overall winner of the Canon 2014 Professional Science, Environment and Nature Photographer of the Year as well as highest scoring print in the category I am now planning to take a short term hiatus from competitions and focus on my book projects that are currently overdue for completion. I hope to have more to say about the first of these over the coming weeks.

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Read more.. Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

August 2014 Photograph of the Month: Puffin Landing

Due to recent travels I am more than a few weeks late with updating my photograph of the month for both August and September. I hope to get to September in the next few days; but in the meantime my photograph of the month for August is of an Atlantic Puffin I photographed at Ingólfshöfdi in Iceland on my first Ultimate Iceland Summer Workshop in July this year. Photographed with the 600mm F4L IS MKII Canon lens on the 1DX during driving rain and wind I used a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second with a wide open aperture to partially freeze the action. Puffins are like missiles in flight and even at 1/1000th of a second there is blur in the furiously flapping wings.  I could easily have raised the ISO further and frozen the entire Puffin, but I decided after some experimentation on the day that I really liked the sense of movement created in the image with the motion blur in the wings. In this instance the strong wind worked in my favour as it made landing on the cliff edge difficult for the Puffins which forced them to slow down earlier than usual. This photograph was taken just a fraction of a second before this Puffin landed on the cliff edge. The image is full frame and uncropped.

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Read more.. Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Photokina 2014 – Moab and Legion Paper Stand

If you are visiting Photokina this year be sure to stop past the Moab and Legion paper stand where one of my images of the ice hardened expedition ship ‘Polar Pioneer’ parked in the pack ice in Antarctica is on display. Printed on my personal favourite paper – Moab Somerset Museum Rag at a whopping 40″ x 60″ inches.

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Read more.. Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Nature’s Best Photography Semi-Finalist 2014 – A Polar Passion

It is the season for photography competition news so following on from yesterday’s post about the Epson International Pano Awards I was very pleased to learn a few days ago that one of my photographs has made it to the semi-finals in Natures Best Photography this year. This is the third year in a row I have had photographs in the semi-finals or finals of Nature’s Best Photography and I feel very honoured to have been included yet again. Unfortunately I cannot yet divulge which photograph is in the semi-finals – suffice to say the category of choice for me was ‘Polar Passion’.

Nature’s Best Photography is one of the premiere and most respected Nature photography competitions in the market place today (along with BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year). Importantly (for me) Nature’s Best consider the art of photography the photographers ability to capture an incredible image in the field at time of capture and not just create one on their computer. This is a really important distinction for me as it is in lock step with my own Ethics for Image Capture and post production. As such the submission of RAW files is mandatory to validate them against the high resolution TIFF file at point of entry. Of equal importance to me that the image be captured in the field is that Nature’s Best Photography also place significant emphasis on the print even though the initial round of judging is done digitally. With over 25,000 entries this year it would just be impossible to judge the initial round on the printed page. Kudos to Nature’s Best however for taking the print into consideration in the semi-finals and finals. This is a stance I feel more photography competitions would do well to follow.

It is worth taking a moment to reiterate my thoughts on post production as I am seeing a multitude of over processed, over saturated, and frankly over cooked images across a range of social media and competitions of late as photographers strive to outdo each other (saturation slider goes to +11) and stand out from the crowd. I recently judged several photography competitions for magazines here in Australia and the overall trend was overcooked and over saturated images to my eye. This is of course a personal aesthetic and personal judgement, but its certainly a rising trend. But then this is also a subjective medium and there are as many opinions as there are photographers and frankly none are less valid than another. Along with this trend is an increase in heavily manipulated photographs that include dropped in skies, multiple image composites etc. This is not surprising really as the tools to create such work have become easier to use and more accessible. Suffice to say, from my own ethical perspective I strive to create my photographs at time of capture and not create something that did not exist in Nature. Is this a distinction between a Nature photographer and a Landscape photographer? Possibly… and it could be argued that this is the case, but I certainly hope not. Certainly there are competitions out there touting themselves as ‘the’ landscape competition of choice that have an anything goes approach to post production. I avoid these type of competitions as I feel they are more about creating digital art than about real photography. It certainly shows in the those images that get awarded that the skill of the retoucher is far more heavily weighted than the photographers ability to actually capture a great shot. This is not to say that there isn’t a time and place for this type of post production – I just feel it isn’t in Nature or landscape photography. Categories such as ‘Illustrative’ are far more suitable for anything goes post production. That is my personal judgement however and too each their own.

All of this is good and well of course and it is important to note that standing on an iceberg for forty days, or camping out in the desert for a month does not guarantee a good photograph – because it certainly doesn’t. Time in the field in itself does not guarantee a great capture, or even a mediocre one for that matter; but it certainly stacks the odds in your favour to encounter great subject and great light. Then its up to the skill of the photographer to capture and craft the image at time of capture. Post production should then be used to enhance what was captured – not create something that did not exist. That said, turning a sours ear into a silk purse in Photoshop really does not require much photographic skill – just solid retouching skills. Personally, when I am wowed by a new photograph and I later learn that the photographer dropped in a different sky, or moved an island, or otherwise heavily manipulated the image I feel somewhat cheated. It is my assumption (sometimes incorrectly) that the image was found in Nature and I am left deflated and often disappointed to learn it was a digital creation in post production. I have blogged (ok, ranted) about this on several other occasions but I feel compelled to restate my feelings and opinion for what they are worth in the face of some of the images I am seeing surface across competitions and social media of late. The flip side of this coin is that I am also seeing some really incredible photography emerge across the internet that seems to just drift by quietly and largely unnoticed in the face of the overwhelming noise. The good news is these photographs and photographers are out there producing really incredible work. You just have to filter through the white noise to find and enjoy them. Ill have a list together soon that includes a range of contemporary photographers whose work I believe is being largely missed or ignored outside of their home countries. Watch this space as I think you will very much enjoy the art of great photography.

In other competition news this weekend will see the opening of the 2014 Australian Professional Photography Awards in Sydney. The APPA awards are eagerly looked forward to by all who enter (myself included) and it will, as always be interesting watch the live-stream of the judging. The Landscape category remains an ‘anything goes’ post production fiesta so I have avoided this category entirely again this year and instead chosen a category more in lock step with my own thoughts on post production. – ‘Next Print Please….’

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Read more.. Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

International Pano Awards 2014: Epic Sense of Scale Silver Award

I broke one of my rules for 2014 earlier this year when I decided to enter one of my photographs into a ‘Digital Only’ photography competition. It wasn’t that long ago that I concluded I was really only interested in competitions that judged the finished fine art print rather than the digital jpeg. Nevertheless something went ‘twang’ inside me and in a moment of weakness (or possibly vanity) I entered one image (and one image only) into the 2014 Epson International Pano Awards. The photograph I chose to enter – ‘An Epic Sense of Scale‘ – subsequently scored a Silver Award.  Earlier this year at the 2014 Victorian Professional Photographer of the Year Awards it scored a Gold Award and was my third highest scoring print after the two Gold with Distinctions. It also contributed to my overall wins in the Science, Environment and Nature Category, Creative Photographer of the Year Category and Overall Victorian Professional Photographer of the Year. The print was also a finalist in the 2014 Nillumbik Art Award. I mention this because this discrepancy in judging is a very good indicator that photography competitions are subjective and very much a lucky dip at times – You just never know what you are going to get.

Although this photograph scored a very solid silver at the Pano Awards it still fell short of what the judges had to say about the print at the State Awards. Personally, I am not displeased with the result in the Pano Awards as I really feel the jpeg fails to do justice to the printed image – in fact its nothing more than a poor facsimile and the jpeg file probably scored what it deserved. It was a valuable moment for me to receive back my score from the Pano Awards as it reminded me why I prefer to look at prints in lieu of digital files and why I choose to enter print only competitions these days. Am I done with digital only competitions? The answer is probably. There are a few competitions out there that are judging digital files in the initial round of judging but then shift to printed images for the semi-finals and finals and I will continue to enter some of these as time and motivation permits.

In the meantime, I just returned two days ago from more than two months in the Arctic which included two back-to-back workshops in Iceland as well as an expedition to Greenland and Svalbard. I shot over 5000 images during these trips and its time to start the editing and sorting process as well as share some trip reports and feedback. 

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Read more.. Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Testimonial from Jaime Dormer – Iceland Ultimate Summer Workshop 2014

“Hi Josh, I just wanted to say that I have done a lot of workshops and photography trips with many different leaders and companies over the years. Your workshop was absolutely full on. You could not have done anymore or worked any harder. I expect that is why you have so many repeat customers and why your trips sell out so fast. Thanks for a truly fantastic trip and experience. I want to come back in Winter with you next year.” Jaime Dormer – www.jdponline.com.au

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Read more.. Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Outdoor Photographer Magazine – Antarctica: What’s in the Bag?

Outdoor Photographer magazine are running a multi-issue (six + issues) feature on the expedition I am leading this November to South Georgia Island and Antarctica with Andy Biggs.  This series of feature articles is sponsored by my good friends and manufactures of my preffered camera bags – Gura Gear. The third part of the new series is featured in the brand new September 2014 issue. Subsequent issues will include how to pack, what leads on from South Georgia and Antactica and then at the conclusion of the expedition there will be an issue reporting on our experiences along with a number of photographs taken during the expedition. You can click on the image below to Download a Larger Version of the second article.  Be sure to Subscribe to Outdoor Photographer magazine for the follow up issues. Subscriptions are available in single issue or multi-issue in Print, iPad, Zinio and more. Just choose your favourite reading medium, subscribe and enjoy. The South Georgia and Antarctica expedition has a single place remaining due to a recent cancellation. If you are interested in joining us please Contact Me with your expression of interest.

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Read more.. Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Departing for the Jewels of the Arctic Expedition 2014

Tomorrow my co-photography leader Antony Watson and I will be boarding our ship ‘Polar Pioneer’ in the north of Iceland for our 2014 Jewels of the Arctic Expedition. There is always a palpable sense of excitement in the air on the eve of an expedition departure and I am keen to get underway. I have been photographing more or less non-stop in Iceland for more than six weeks now and I am feeling the northern call for icebergs, dramatic fjords and wildlife. It has been a full year since I was last in Greenland and I find myself just itching to return to its amazing landscapes. I wrote last year in the 2013 Jewels of the Arctic trip reports about the incredible geology in Greenland, the monolithic icebergs and the unique wildlife encounters – all of which I am again eager to photograph and share with all on this trip. We have a boat full of passionate and keen photographers and I am very much looking forward to seeing what they produce over the next two weeks.

It was on this Jewels of the Arctic trip last year that I produced the short video in co-operation with Untitled Film Works on what it was like to experience a photography expedition in the Arctic.  Our intention was to capture the feeling and essence of what it is like to travel on a dedicated photography expedition in the Polar regions. You can watch that video by clicking on the image below.

Over the last six weeks in Iceland my body has become accustomed to operating in the small hours under the midnight sun for the best light for photography. As we sail north from Iceland over the next few days the sun will no longer fully set and we will have near perpetual daylight. It has been my experience that the best time of day for photography this far north is late into the evening when the light becomes soft and ethereal. It will likely take me a day or so to find my sea legs once we get out of the harbour and into the Denmark Strait but I am hopeful that I can adjust quickly like last year and slip easily into ship board life with my co-photographers.

This will be the last blog post for a couple of weeks as we will have no internet once we sail out of the Isafjordur harbour. Its going to be a very exciting trip. See you in Longyearbyen in a couple of weeks…

What about the Volcano?

If you have been keeping up with recent events here in Iceland you will be aware that there is currently an orange eruption alert for the Bárðarbunga volcano at the northern end of the Vatnajökull ice cap. I have been monitoring the status of the volcano constantly via the Iceland MET website over the last week and have spent some time in relative proximity observing the ice cap but there has of yet been no clear and certain indication that an eruption is about to occur. Presently there is no evidence that magma is moving toward the surface which would indicate an eruption is imminent. Things can change quickly however and should the volcano erupt whilst I am in Greenland I plan to fly back to Iceland to make the most of the photographic opportunity – ash cloud permitting. For now, there is little else to do but continue to monitor the  volcano’s status as the earthquake swarm continues.

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Read more.. Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Ultimate Iceland Workshops Completed

Daniel Bergmann and I have just completed our two back-to-back Ultimate Iceland workshops. During these two workshops we circumnavigated the Island twice and visited a great many of its iconic landscape locations. As one would expect we had a real mix of Icelandic weather and light that provided some fantastic opportunities for photography and I will have more to say about both these workshops in a full report here on my blog at a later date.

If you are interested in travelling and photographing in Iceland Daniel and I are running a workshop in August 2015 dedicated to photography in the Highlands and you can read more about that workshop HERE. Places are now extremely limited (only two remaining before it will be sold out). To get an idea of the sort of photographs you can make on a workshop like this please visit the Iceland Portfolios at www.jholko.com.

For now I am taking two weeks off for some personal photography with my friend Antony Watson in some of the more remote parts of Iceland before we both board our ship ‘Polar Pioneer’ for the Jewels of the Arctic Expedition. Our Jewels of the Arctic Expedition will see us sail from the north of Iceland across the Denmark Strait to Greenland where we will explore the many mountainous fjords before we sail across to the rugged coastline of Svalbard.  Just as a teaser: Spitsbergen’s rugged northwest coast comprises mountains, tundra and fjords. Greenland’s remote east coast shows off the immensity of the icecap, fantastic icebergs and massive granite spires rising over 1000 metres above the fjords. We will likely see and photograph Polar Bears, Reindeer, Arctic Foxes, Walrus, Glaciers, icebergs and more. You can read the full report on the 2013 Jewels of the Arctic Expedition here on my blog.

If you are interested in travelling to the Arctic to photograph Polar Bears Daniel Bergmann and I are running an expedition in Svalbard next year dedicated to photographing the king of the Arctic and you can read more about that expedition HERE. There are only two places remaing before this expedition will be sold out.

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Read more.. Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Outdoor Photographer Magazine – The Lure of Antarctica

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

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Read more.. Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Australian Geographic Magazine – The Spirit of Antarctica

Australian Geographic magazine is featuring a small gallery of my photography from Antarctica in the Travel section of their website. I will be leading two trips to Antarctica this November and December. The first is an extended expedition to South Georgia Island and Antarctica in early November. The second will depart for the Antarctic peninsula in early December. You can see a complete portfolio of my Antarctic images at my main website at www.jholko.com

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Read more.. Friday, July 25th, 2014

InFocus – How to Choose your next Workshop or Photography Tour

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

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

1 – ACCREDITATION, PROFESSIONALISM AND ETHICS

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

2 – PRIOR HISTORY & LOCAL GUIDES

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

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

3 – PORTFOLIO OF IMAGES

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

4 – TESTIMONIALS AND FEEDBACK

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

5 – LEGAL / INSURANCE AND PERMITS

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

6 – INDUSTRY RECOGNITION / ACCOLADES AND AWARDS

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

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

7 – TAG TEAM

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

8 – GROUP SIZE

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

9 – ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD

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

10 – PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP OR PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR?

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

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

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

BONUS – SENSE OF HUMOUR

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

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Read more.. Monday, July 21st, 2014

Arrived in N’Iceland

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

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

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

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Read more.. Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Departing for Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard 2014 Workshops and Expeditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gura Gear Chobe Bag: (carry on luggage)

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

North Face Thunder Rolling Duffle: (checked luggage)

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

Tripod: (checked luggage)

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

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

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Read more.. Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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

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

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

Photo of the Month July 2014: Ghost Forest Namibia

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

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Read more.. Monday, June 30th, 2014

Elected to the AIPP Victorian State Council – 2014

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

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Read more.. Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Source Photographica Gallery Now Open in Aspen USA

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

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Read more.. Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Iceland – The Highlands 2015 Workshop

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

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

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

Itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read more.. Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Press Release: Gura Gear acquires Tamrac Camera Bags

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

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Read more.. Thursday, June 19th, 2014
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