Iceland is a country well known for its waterfalls. One of its most famous is Selfoss; a waterfall I made several repeat visits to during my 2010 trip. What makes Selfoss so unique and other worldly is the way it cascades down both sides of a deep rocky canyon. I have not seen such a geological feature anywhere else in the world and as far as I know it is unique to Selfoss and Iceland. The light was very different on my second visit to Selfoss and on this occasion a storm was building and dark storm clouds were racing across the arctic sky as I set up my tripod to take this photograph. The water has an almost chocolate colour as it is glacial and full of sediment from melting glaciers upstream. Not long after I made this exposure it began to rain heavily and I was forced to abandon any further shooting; but it didn’t matter as I had the photograph I wanted and an image I have titled ‘Selfoss before Storm’. A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen on my primary portfolio website at www.jholko.com under Iceland. Limited Edition Fine Art Pigment on Paper prints are available of this photograph through Source Photographica in Brighton.
Last year I schlepped my 17″ Macbook Pro, power pack and accessories all the way from Australia to Iceland (along with 25+ kilograms of camera equipment). I learnt an important lesson from this exercise: I should not have purchased a 17″ laptop for field work (international or otherwise); a 15″ would have been more than sufficient and saved considerable weight and space. I will not make the same mistake again of selecting such a large laptop. I was seduced by the increased real estate of a 17″ screen and the proposition that I could actually do some image processing in the field. The reality however, is that laptop screens are a very poor substitute for my wide gamut 26″ professsional image editing monitor in my studio. Even calibrated with a high end colorimeter the colour on laptop screens just sucks – period.
Given the price of a fully loaded 17″ Macbook Pro with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a 256 Gigabyte Solid State Drive is a dime or two more than chump change I am resigned to living it with until it reaches the end of its useful life and is subsequently replaced with a 15″ (or smaller) model. Unfortunately, (or forutnately for my bank manager) my 17″ MacBook Pro is going to still be well within its useable life cycle when I leave for Antarctica in November this year and I cant justify ditching it early just to save a bit of travel discomfort.
Unlike Iceland, New Zealand or Tasmania (or pretty much any of the other trips I have done) this time I will be based on a ship with only short zodiac excursions and the occasional shore landing. This means that once housed in my ship quarters I can pretty much set-up the laptop and leave it that way for the duration of the trip – a very appealing proposition instead of carting it from location to location. Yes, I am going to have to haul it all the way from Melbourne Australia to Ushuaia South America; through quite a few airports with lots of security checks with all the annoyances that comes with the pleasures of airline travel these days. But, at least on boarding of the ship it will become a static operation.
So, armed with my 17″ laptop for the trip I will have several advantages over small back-up devices such as the Hyper Drive. Firstly, a much larger screen for reviewing files and second the power to run Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop on location. Since space is really not an issue on this trip there is little to no advantage to additional and somewhat expensive devices such as Hyper Drives. These kind of devices are really space and weight saving options and are ideal for hikes or trips where its just totally impractical to carry a full size laptop. I can do all of my key-wording in Lightroom on location at the end of each days shooting on my laptop and even some initial image selection (should I find enough time). I won’t be doing any actual processing of my RAW files since as I mentioned above I find the quality of the screen not up to scratch for this purpose.
In terms of back-up I plan to take a couple of Lacie external rugged firewire drives; which I will use to back up my files on a daily basis. One drive lives permanently in my laptop bag and the second drive will stay with my person for the duration of the trip. In the unfortunate event (touch wood) that I loose one drive I still have the second back up plus my laptop. Its the belt, suspenders and a piece of string mentality.
I will be taking a large number of 8, 16 and 32 gigabyte compact flash and mini SD cards with me – more than enough for a couple of day’s heavy shooting (and I am envisaging major giggage on this trip!); and after backing up the cards at the end of each day will erase and re-use them. I don’t advocate taking enough cards to never have to erase and re-use; since I want to import and key-word my files at the end of the day in Lightroom anyway and back them up to multiple hard drives. Plus I find it too easy to forget which cards have been used and which have not.
This approach and methodology has worked well for me over the last few years. The only real downside is the size and weight of my 17″ Macbook Pro – a situation I will remedy when my laptop next comes up for refresh sometime next year. In the meantime, if anyone wants a pre loved, fully loaded 17″ Macbook Pro at a discount please drop me a line!
I’ve been away up at Mount Buller for some skiing and snow play with my kids over the last few days and I was very pleased to learn on my return to Melbourne last night that one of my photographs has been selected as a semi-finalist in the Windland Smith Rice International Awards. There were more than 21,000 photographs submitted this year to this award; which is run by Natures Best Photography and I thrilled to have one of my photographs selected to go through in to the semi-finals. At this stage I need to supply additional ‘exif’ information and a higher resolution file for further judging. I cannot as yet disclose which photograph has been selected as the next round of judging has not yet been completed; but will do so as soon as possible.
In Part One of this article I talked about the problem of wildnerness photography in relation to how to comfortably carry equipment into the field on extended hikes and some of the problems I have encountered over the years. I also talked some more about the Gura Gear Kiboko camera bag now that I have been using one for a year in the field. At the risk of repetition the Gura Gear Kiboko is I believe the best camera bag on the market that I have tried for my style of photography.
In Part Two of this article I am going to talk about how the custom Khumbu Xtra-Hand Vestperformed for me in the field over a couple of days shooting up at Mount Buffalo in Victoria in the middle of winter. I was very keen to get out into the wilderness with my new vest from Vested Interest to see if it would live up to my hopes and expectations. I was relatively fortunate with the weather over the weekend as it was mostly fine; although a little overcast on Sunday. It was quite cold up at Buffalo with temperatures well below zero for the sunrise shoots and hovering around zero during most of the day before plummeting again at sunset. It did not rain or snow over the weekend although the occasional wind blasts were very cold and quite damp.
I did several long hikes with the vest including a single hike of approximately ten kilometres through quite deep snow loaded up with a Canon EOS 1DS MKIII with a Really Right Stuff L Bracket, a 70-200mm F2.8L IS lens, a 24mm F1.4L MKII lens, a 17mm F4 TSE lens, a Canon S90 Point and Shoot, my Lee Filter Pack and Filter Holders, Polarising filters, spare battery, spare memory case and cable release, my full size Gitzo Tripod and Really Right Stuff Ballhead and of course my small thermos of coffee as well as all the normal personal items like car keys, mobile phone etc.. This is not an inconsiderable amount of equipment and although I did not weigh it I would estimate it to be in excess of ten kilograms and possibly quite a bit more. I wore a marino wool long sleeve thermal top, my 66 North Eldja mid layer jacket with a 66 North Glymur waterproof jacket over the top. The Xtra-Hand vest went over the top of all this without issue. Because the side straps of the vest are adjustable it is very easy to wear this vest in both the height of summer and dead of winter. I would rate this adjustability among the vests strongest attributes as it means this is an all year accessory; and not season specific. Synching the vest up is a snap with the side straps and its very quick and easy to make adjustments.
A few thoughts on how this vest performed in the field: I can easily reach my hand over my shoulder and pull out my tripod from the large back pocket to set up a take a photograph without having to remove the vest. This is very convenient when one needs to work quickly. It means I can stop anywhere and access everything I need without having to take off the vest. Putting the tripod back is difficult without taking off the vest and really requires either removing the vest (which only takes a moment) or having an assistant or nearby photographer drop it back in the pocket. I should stress that I use a full size Gitzo GT3530 LSV Carbon Fibre Tripod. This is a very large 3-section tripod and it is a testament to the excellent design of this vest that it can be carried on the back securely, without flopping around and lifted out without the need to remove the vest. Every back pack that I have ever tried that claims it can carry a tripod on side straps fails to adequately support the large Gitzo. Incidentally, I made comment in Part One of this article that I can fit my 300mm F2.8L IS lens in the back pocket of this vest. In point of fact, the pocket is actually large enough to store up to a 600mm F4L lens with the lens hood reversed mounted to Canon 1D MKIV. That should go a long way toward giving you and idea of the storage capacity of this pocket. Of course, there is no way you could remove a 600mm lens and attached camera without first removing the vest. The pocket has a velcro lid and also a drain hole should water get in – another solid plus in the design.
I found the side pockets of the vest a great location for storing lenses up to the size of the Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS. I can reach around and take a lens in and out of these pockets with relative ease without having to remove the vest. The 70-200mm F2.8L IS lens is somewhat of a tight fit in these pockets and if I was ordering this vest again would have the circumference of one of the pockets increased slightly to more easily accommodate this lens. As it stands its acceptable with the 70-200 F2.8L IS and easy with anything smaller. The ability to retrieve and stow a lens or thermos in the side pocket is a real boon as I found it very convenient when I wanted a cup of coffee on a hike or wanted to access a lens quickly.
The padded hip belt was I feel a significant factor in the comfort this vest provided over long hikes. During a three and a half hour hike through relatively deep snow I never felt any back or neck discomfort. I only removed the vest once during a snack break and only then to climb a nearby boulder more freely for a better view of the surroundings. The vest does an outstanding job of spreading the weight of the equipment much better than a traditional back-pack that loads the shoulders and tends to make you somewhat unbalanced. By loading up the front pockets of the vest as a counterweight to the large rear pocket weight is more evenly distributed and makes hiking much easier. The padded hip belt just helps spread the weight and transfer some of it to the waist. Because of the nature of this product being a vest everything is easily accessible in pockets; which is extremely convenient and makes working in the field with a backpack seem very primitive.
Overall I am very impressed with how this vest performed in its first field test. It has met my expectations and actually proved more comfortable on long hikes than I had envisaged it would be. As I mentioned in Part One, these vests are custom made for the photographer. They are about function and convenience and not style and looks. I am certainly not going to win any fashion awards in the field with this accessory; but it is going to make my hikes more comfortable and my equipment more accessible and that makes it a well designed product in my book.
GURA GEAR AND THE XTRA-HAND PHOTO VEST
I will endeavour to never again make the comment to my wife that she owns too many handbags for the simple reason (as she so eloquently pointed out to me; while I was busy pointing the finger) that I own more camera bags than she does handbags. That was quite a head scratching moment for me – just how did I end up with so many photography bags?
The answer is a combination of trial and error and horses for courses. Over the years I have purchased different camera bags for different applications and uses. They all seemed a good idea and ‘must-have’ accessory at the time; but oh, for the benefit of hindsight! All of them have been used at one stage or another and some more than others and as of the last twelve months one more than any.
When I got back from my expedition to Iceland a year ago (where has the time gone…) I decided I was ultimately fed up with my current and then bag of choice the Lowe Pro Nature Trekker II. For a multitude of reasons it was no longer fulfilling my needs. After reading some reviews I went ahead and purchased the Gura Gear Kiboko camera bag and subsequently commented on how happy I was with it in my ‘Iceland – What worked and What Didn’t‘ article. Now, nearly a year on from the purchase and many photographic trips later (both local and international) it seems a good time to reflect on my travels with the Kiboko. And on my latest acquisition; which I hope will be the perfect photographic shooting partner to the Kiboko – the XtraHand Photo Vest from Vested Interest.
My Kiboko is as fantastic today as the day I purchased it and I cannot imagine my life now as a landscape and nature photographer without it. For storing and transporting my photographic gear, getting in and out of vehicles, through airports, negotiating international travel and shooting out of the boot of the car or relatively close by there is nothing that works better in my experience for my style of shooting. ‘My style’ for what its worth is to cart as much of my photographic kit as I can physically manage to my destination. I just don’t like to leave anything at home in case I might need it. The Kiboko is the ideal camera bag for me in that it comfortably holds all of my photographic equipment that I like to take with me on a landscape and wilderness shoot. But this is a double edged sword…Because the problem with the Kiboko for me is that it holds ALL of my photographic equipment (except my laptop); which means that it is heavy; really heavy. Fully loaded and ready to depart on a dedicated landscape and nature shoot my Kiboko weighs in at over 28 kilograms and that makes it just too heavy for any serious wilderness trekking. Even with the Kiboko’s excellent backpack harness system I can hike for no more than a few hours over steep terrain before I am pretty trashed. But, the Kiboko is the best means of getting all that gear to the start of the hike or for any type of shooting for that matter that does not involve extensive hiking. So what is one to do?
I have tried taking a 2nd smaller backpack with me and just repacking what I want for a given hike into that; but this approach causes more problems than it solves. For starters it necessitates packing a 2nd pack; which takes up a significant amount of space when flying or travelling and I am already juggling another laptop bag, my tripod and a suitcase (assistants really should be mandatory for nature photographers!). The other problem I seem to constantly run into is that when I finally get to the position I want to shoot from there is frequently no where to put down my bag that isn’t either soaking wet, muddy or otherwise less than ideal to plonk an expensive bag full of expensive cameras and lenses. Hanging the bag from a hook underneath the tripod is not a suitable solution as it makes accessing the bag problematic. Plus if shooting in the mud or snow or at the beach the extra weight often causes the tripod to slowly sink into the soft ground causing blur. Even when I do find somewhere to put my bag down I frequently wander afar in my search of subject and composition necessitating the need to occasionally jog back to my bag for a filter or alternate lens. Or, as happened in New Zealand’s South Island a couple of weeks ago to rescue my bag from the incoming tide.
I have also tried and used my Domke photography vest over the years with mixed success. Whilst it somewhat alleviates the requirement for carrying a camera bag into the field it is extremely limited in its carrying capacity and to be totally honest isn’t that great at carrying those items it can hold. Lenses in the large lower pockets tend to dangle low below the waist and bang into objects. Its made of cotton so the moment it rains it acts like a sponge soaking up the water and adding weight. And when loaded up with a few lenses its uncomfortable for any length of time and gives me no end of neck discomfort. It might be fine for a photojournalist walking the city streets with some small Leica lenses, a mobile phone, passport and wallet; but its not much use to me in the inclement weather of the wilderness with big heavy equipment. I recently replaced my Domke with a similar style of vest that is not quite so overtly ‘photographer in nature’ for international flying and believe this is firmly the best use for this style of vest. They have no place in the wilderness.
I could of course half empty my Kiboko bag into the boot of my car before embarking on a trek; and I have done so on numerous occasions. This approach is relatively successful most of the time as it lightens the bag significantly to the point where I can comfortably hike for most of the day. It does not solve the problem of where to put the bag when I am shooting however or of being caught short a lens I left in the boot of the car. I like to shoot with Prime Lenses so I am almost always changing lenses. Nor is it an ideal solution when shooting in foreign countries as there is frequently no safe place to leave gear behind.
Enter the Xtra-Hand photo Vest from Vested Interest. Now right off the bat let me be clear that you dont really want to walk into the local cafe at the end of a days shoot wearing this vest. It is about as ‘tactical’ as a Navy Seal and about as subtle as a house brick. Wearing this vest in a public place is going to get you a lot of unwanted attention. However, when I am standing in a swamp trying to set up a shot with no where to put my bag; well.. it ‘aint a fashion contest out there’. It took me a long time to finally get around to ordering one of these vests. I just didn’t think I needed something that appeared so overtly Rambo. I needed to mentally get over the ‘look’ of the vest and focus on its function.
Now that I have finally ordered and received my Xtra-Hand vest I feel somewhat silly for having waited so long to purchase one. Or possibly, I just needed to go right through the suite of options out there before I finally got to it. Irrespective I now own one and am very happy with it – even though I have only been on a couple of shoots with it. I headed up to the mountains and snow this weekend past for a couple of days shooting and put the vest through its paces in the field. I did several quite arduous hikes to remote locations that saw this vest put to the stress test. But for now as Part One of this article I want to further elaborate on the vest itself as well as the extensive modifications I had done to it and why. Part two of this article will follow on in the next week or so once I have had more of a chance to consider my impressions after using it in the field.
After much pondering I finally decided on the Khumbu model from Vested Interest as the base for my ideal vest. I chose this model for the extra large pocket that is included on the back of the vest to enable me to carry a large telephoto lens like my Canon 300mm F2.8L IS or my Gitzo Carbon fibre tripod, or even a thermos or food. I also liked the addition of the two sewn on side pockets for both by 70-200 F2.8L IS lens and a small coffee thermos I like to carry in the field. I frequently find myself scrambling over rocks needing both hands to keep my balance so a large pocket that can hold my tripod is a very welcome addition. I hope this pocket will also serve as a great place to store my tripod when shooting from zodiacs in Antarctica later this year before we go ashore (where I will want and need my tripod).
In order to ensure a custom vest is properly fitted you need to provide Vested Interest with your measurements. There is a downloadable and printable order form on their website to complete with all of the required details. Even though measurements are important to ensure the vest is properly sized the side straps on the vest provide a huge amount of adjustability meaning this vest can be worn over a t-shirt in hot weather or over multiple layers in colder weather. There is a choice of colour including Tan, Camouflage, Black, Navy, Grey, Green, Desert Camouflage and Digital Camouflage. I went with the very non descript grey and I feel it was the right choice to minimise unwanted attention. Wildlife photographers may want to consider a Camouflage if photographing skittish subjects or shooting from a hide.
A few other brief points – The Xtra-Hand vest is predominantly made of nylon; which means its pretty much waterproof and does not absorb water. This is a very important consideration for me as I often find myself shooting in the rain or snow. As I have stated above, cotton and non waterproof materials just don’t work for me. The vest itself is designed to carry a huge amount of equipment into the field and to spread the weight strategically for long term comfort. The shoulders and neck are extensively padded to ensure that when loaded up with heavy cameras and lenses discomfort is kept to a minimum.
There are some standard options available when ordering any of the Vested Interest models and I chose to include some of them; the first of which was the Padded Hip Belt. The padded hip belt is simply an additional waist belt that is designed to help get some of the weight off the shoulders. It is both adjustable and removable. I would encourage anyone considering acquiring one of these vests to include this option. It is relatively inexpensive at $40.00 US and provides a greater level of comfort. I also included the optional shoulder pads at $20.00 US and again would consider these mandatory to avoid discomfort on long hikes.
I cannot take credit for the following modification to the vest that was first devised and implemented by Art Morris who runs the website Birds as Art. Art also has an extensive article on is website that is well worth a read. Although Art chose to use the Magnum as the base for his vest (I used the Khumbu) the alterations applied are the same. The first of these modifications is the inclusion of a bright orange handle so that I know where to safely grab the vest to lift it up and put it on when its full of camera gear. The handle is stitched into the actual frame of the vest to hold the full weight and is the safest place to pick up a fully loaded vest. Something I have not yet mentioned is that Vested Interest who make these vests are actually a division of a parachute manufacturing company so as you would expect the quality of construction and stitching is absolutely first class. The only other place I have seen stitching of this standard and quality is on rock climbing harnesses and slings.
I had both the front large bottom pockets sized the same as those on the Magnum vest as these are a size that comfortably holds a Canon 1DS MKIII or MKIV with a Really Right Stuff L Bracket attached. The Khumbu normally comes with one front pocket that is even larger and I had no requirement for a pocket this size.
Both the top pockets were modified to have zips in lieu of velcro as I often store my mobile phone, wallet and keys in my top vest pockets and didnt want there being a chance of anything falling out accidentally. Zippered top pockets added around $20.00 to the overall total.
A very welcome addition is the inclusion of a detachable ground cloth. When shooting in the snow, mud or wet there is often either nowhere to sit down for a few minutes or nowhere clean and dry to place objects. The detachable and waterproof ground cloth gives me somewhere clean and dry to sit or place equipment. I also included the optional camera straps.
In part two of this article I am going to report on how this vest performed in the field and on long hikes. I spent last weekend up at Mount Buffalo photographing out into the wilderness with my new vest and have some strong initial impressions. More to come soon.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my Iceland friend and photographer Daniel Bergmann that his new book ‘Iceland Landscapes’ was now finished and available for order. I was just passing my laptop on the way to bed when I saw his email but could not resist the temptation and ordered a copy then and there on the spot. I have subsequently been eagerly waiting for it to arrive; which it did yesterday and I have now had a chance to sit down, read, and absorb the wonderful photographs contained therein.
I spent a couple of weeks travelling through Iceland with Daniel Bergmann in July and August, Summer 2010 and have visited many of the locations photographed in this new book. Indeed, I feel a personal connection to some of the photographs as I was standing alongside Daniel (or, was at least in the nearby vicinity) when they were taken. As such, I have a wonderful emotional connection to the photographs that is for me at least quite visceral. Photographs of locations I have not yet visited – well; they inspire me to return to this amazing country to seek out the light and subject captured by Daniel.
Iceland Landscapes includes 110 landscape photographs from Iceland, mostly taken during the last five years. The book is in English and covers both the locations photographed along with technical information and thoughts on photography. Renowned English landscape photographer David Ward wrote the introduction and an Icelandic author, Pali Asgeir Asgeirsson, wrote the preface. The book is 144 pages long and is 24 x 28cm. It was printed in Iceland on high quality semi-gloss paper. It is self published by Daniel Bergmann. The print quality is extremely high and the colours and beautifully reproduced. This is an extremely well produced book.
Iceland Landscapes is not yet another tourist book on the amazing geological landscapes of Iceland. It is rather a successful effort to capture the essence, soul and stunning light found in Iceland. It is a book that is going to appeal to photographers and those who appreciate fine art photographs on many levels. It will serve as an inspirational guide to those wishing to travel to the remarkable country of Iceland for Photography and inspire them to visit some of its many wonders. It will also fill the cup of those who want to experience Iceland through the pages of a fine art photography book. David Ward eloquently sums up Iceland Landscapes better than I can in this excerpt from his introduction -
… More extraordinarily, the photographs reveal that Daníel can find new perspectives in subjects that are familiar to him. This requires a particular openness of mind that, as I know from my own struggle, is extremely hard to achieve. American photographer Wynn Bullock wrote, “Mysteries lie all around us, even in the most familiar things, waiting only to be perceived.” The photographer needs a desire to explore, a yearning to look in new aesthetic directions as well as to tramp all points of the compass. Only by prolonged and in-depth observation can a photographer begin to see beyond the expected and reawaken a childlike sense of wonder. In this way one might begin to see one’s homeland, as Daníel does, with the eyes of a stranger. And imagine what a gift that is…
Daníel Bergmann’s images in this book succeed as both distillations and revelations of his country’s amazing landscape. Both beauty and the sublime are evident in his photographs, and his work even manages to transcend Iceland’s amazing subject matter.
I encourage any photographer (or non photographer for that matter) who may only have even a passing interest in the amazing, varied and often primordial landscapes of Iceland to purchase a copy of Daniel’s new book ”Iceland Landscapes. The photography and print quality are wonderful and having spent time in Iceland can say with some degree of experience that Daniel has captured the soul of his countries amazing landscapes in this new work.
I already had plans in place to return to Iceland in July next year 2012 for a couple of weeks with Daniel. Now that I have read Daniel’s new book I feel totally re-ignited to get out in the amazing landscapes of Iceland.
Iceland Landscapes can be ordered online at HERE and shipping is available worldwide. I highly recommend this book.
There is a relatively new feature in the ever more powerful google search engine that I only became aware of earlier this morning thanks to a forum thread on the Luminous Landscape and a blog post by a fellow photographer – Graham Mitchell. This feature allows you to either upload an image to google or direct google to a link on your website with the chosen image and google will then trawl the web for all instances it finds of the photograph. This new feature allows photographers to scan the web on an image by image basis for unauthorised use of their photographs. Here is how it works:
1 – Go to www.google.com and click on the images link in the top left hand corner
2 – Now click the small camera icon in the search bar
3 – Upload a jpeg of one of your photographs or direct google to a link on your website where it can be found and hit search.
Google will now search the internet for all the instances it finds of this (and similar photographs). The search is not perfect or fool proof, but you may well find instances of your photographs on the internet that you had not authorised. I have found several instances after only a few minutes of searching of some of my photography being used by overseas commercial travel companies to promote travel destinations. These are instances of use without my permission or payment and are an infringement of copyright. One of the websites has even had the gall to remove my copyright logo (badly in Photoshop) and replace it with their own. Included below is the result of their photoshop work. I am refraining from linking to their website as I do not want to give them any more ‘google-fu’ power. Suffice to say that they have been contacted regarding the matter.
I am hopeful that google will continue to develop and refine this tool further as it is a great asset to protecting a photographers rights. Of course, its one thing to find an unauthorised use and it is quite another to have it removed or to collect damages.
One of the locations I most wanted to visit during my recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand was the Moeraki Boulders. The Moeraki boulders are located on the East Coast of the South Island not far from Dunedin. The area is so named for the large and highly unusual spherical boulders which are grouped together on the beach. Wikipedia has a good explanation of how these boulders formed as well as additional information about them. The boulders themselves are only a short five minute stroll from the car-park making them a very popular tourist attraction. I was fortunate during my visit to the boulders that I had the entire location to myself at both sunrise and sunset on two occasions – one of the benefits of shooting in the dead of winter I guess.I took this photograph not long before sunset as the tide was going out on a very overcast stormy afternoon. I actually prefer sunset at the Moeraki boulders even though the sun sets behind the photographer and is lost behind mountains quite early in the afternoon. I found sunrise somewhat problematic as so many of the boulders are deep in shadow and the moment the sun rises it is hard to exclude the sun from the frame if shooting wide angle lenses. That said, I do have some photographs from sunrise that I like very much and will post over the coming days.
I used Canon’s 17mm Wide Angle TSE lens for this photograph. A higher resolution version of this photograph is available for viewing on my primary portfolio website at www.jholko.com under New Zealand.
The good folks over at Moab have an update on their blog about one of my prints that took out a Gold award at this year’s APPA awards (Australian Professional Photography Awards). The print (in fact all four of my APPA prints) were all made on Moab Somerset Museum Rag paper; which is my absolute favourite fine art photographic paper. I have two exhibitions opening later this year 2011 at Source Photographica in Brighton and at the Wilderness Gallery at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and both will be printed on Somerset Museum Rag paper.
There are high resolution images of my APPA award entries on my primary portfolio website at www.jholko.com
Some of the most enjoyable photography I have done in the South Island of New Zealand has been by small mountain helicopter. There really is no better way to see, experience and photograph the Southern Alps and glaciers than by helicopter. With the doors removed for better photography, warm clothes and cameras ready I spent just an over an hour this trip photographing the spectacular landscape. One of the goals of this trip was to try and get a photograph of the waterfall drilling down into the side of Fox Glacier. I had flown over these falls several times on previous trips, but had not been able to get the shot I wanted. My pilot from this trip was Mike from Mountain Helicopters. Mike is as good as they come and he was able to position the helicopter in the ideal position for me to lean out and take this frame with a wide angle 24mm lens on the full frame Canon 1DS MKIII. We were less than 30 metres off the deck when I took this photograph. I have flown with Mountain Helicopters several times now and can highly recommend them to anyone looking for very experienced pilots who can position a helicopter exactly where the photographer wants and then manage to tilt it to keep the rotor blades out of frame.
One of my recent purchases that I was very keen to test out in the South Island of New Zealand in Winter was the new Seal Skins gloves I purchased online just before I left Australia. In Part One of this mini-review I made mention that it has been a constant search for the perfect winter photography glove. I won’t restate the story thus far; suffice to say the search has been ongoing. Before I dive into it I just want to make a comment on the fingerless glove with the optional slide over mitten that many outdoor sports people and hunters use. These types of gloves don’t work for me. Although they provide plenty of tactile feel (because they are fingerless) they are not waterproof and far from warm enough in the sort of environments I sometimes shoot in.
The Seal Skins gloves on face value appeared to tick all the boxes for me. They are waterproof, warm (at least around the house!) and yet retain enough tactile feel that I can still operate my camera equipment effectively in the field. So how did they perform?
The result is a mixed bag. Firstly, the gloves are in fact waterproof as advertised. I spent several hours clambering over Fox Glacier in cold and wet conditions. Experience has shown me that my previous thermalite gloves (which were warm when dry) would have been totally saturated after half an hour of this kind of activity and thus totally useless. The Seal Skinz on the other hand remained totally dry; even when I was fumbling around in puddles of glacial water adjusting my crampons. They shed water beautifully and remain dry on both the inside and outside. Just on the subject of glaciers – I almost came to quite a nasty end at Fox Glacier. I am always extremely careful when traversing glaciers for obvious reasons.I have quite a bit of glacial experience; but you can never take them for granted. They are riddled with hidden dangers; falling ice, wave surges and crevasses are but some of the potential dangers. Glacial ice is pound for pound about the same weight as structural concrete and there have been several very unfortunate deaths over the years at Fox Glacier from falling ice. Fox Glacier is currently receding and this makes it more dangerous than an advancing glacier since it is shedding ice (at a fairly rapid rate). I was keen to get a photo of the terminal face of the glacier so had hiked up the side of the glacial river with a wide angle lens to get close to really give a sense of scale to the photograph. Getting close to the terminal face meant skirting the edge of a very large overhanging piece of glacial ice – not something I would normally do. I could see large boulders and rocks perched precariously on the ice flow 30 odd feet above. However, ‘photo fever’ got the better of me and I chanced it; I scrambled forward against the ice and river; set up my tripod and prepared to take a frame just as several rocks the size of basketballs came hurtling over the top of the ice landing only a few feet in front of me in the river. Needless to say that was enough for me. It was a timely reminder that no amount of experience on glaciers is worth a pinch if you find yourself somewhere you shouldn’t be . I beat a hasty retreat and decided it was far wiser, safer and more enjoyable to photograph the glacier and alps by helicopter.
I have photographed the Southern Alps and Glacier by Helicopter before in winter in 2009. I had chartered a small mountain helicopter with two other photographers. We had the doors removed and spent a couple of glorious hours shooting thousands of frames over the alps. The ambient air temperature was -19 degrees celsius during that flight plus whatever the wind chill factor was and even with several thermal layers I was frozen by the time we got back to the helipad.
I chartered another helicopter this trip and with the door off and harness on spent another hour photographing the alps and glaciers shortly after breakfast. It was not quite as cold this time at -9 degrees celsius; but it was still a good test for the Seal Skinz. What I found was that my fingers still got very cold (almost totally numb after an hour shooting); however, even with near numb fingers, the chopper door off and wind I was still able to change both CF and the tiny SD cards in my 1DSMK III with relative ease. In fact, I was really quite surprised at just how good the tactile feel is in these gloves. I never felt like I was going to drop any of the small cards; even when I had several between different fingers in an effort to ’speed-change’ the cards. Helicopter charter is $1500 an hour – so you don’t want to waste to much time playing with camera cards and settings. In this respect the Seal Skinz gloves are nothing short of brilliant; giving all the tactile feel required for even the most difficult shooting environments. The downside is they are not quite as warm as I had hoped they would be and I can only rate their thermal protection as average at best.
In summary the Seal Skinz are the best gloves for cold weather photography I have yet tried and are therefore my current choice when I am shooting in these environments. They are waterproof, and give wonderful tactile feel and grip. They are not as warm as other thicker gloves; but I am willing to trade some warmth for ‘feel’. I suspect that in temperatures down to around -5 celsius they will do just fine for quite long periods of time. In colder temperatures I will want to have a warmer over mitten that I can put over the top after an hours shooting to re-warm my hands. This is the best current compromise/solution I can come up with. Seal Skinz do make a version of this glove that is lined with a polar plus material; which would undoubtedly make it quite a bit warmer. However, I suspect that one would trade quite a lot of ‘feel’ for ‘warmth’. The Seal Skinz will be accompanying me to Antarctica later this year so that is a pretty solid recommendation. The caveat is I will also be taking a pair of 66 North over mittens just in case it gets really freezing and I need to re-warm to carry on shooting.