In part two of the new Gura Gear Bataflae series of videos we have a look at just what I pack in my camera bag for both international travel and local landscape photography. Depending on where I am travelling and what I am shooting I occasionally swap lenses in and out of this collection. As you will see, you can fit quite a bit of gear in a Bataflae 32L! I actually discovered another tele-converter in the bag on top of all the other equipment when I was repacking the bag after we finished filming. Just click on the image to watch the video via You Tube. I hope you enjoy. You can order the Gura Gear Bataflae cameras bags directly from Gura Gear.
The good folks at X-Rite have posted a short five minute audio interview on their blog I did with them a few weeks ago as part of their Coloratti program.
Coloratti Josh Holko is our newest member of the Coloratti program from Melbourne, Australia. Josh is an accomplished nature photographer and workshop leader. He received word this month that his photographs of Antarctica have made set him as a finalist in 2012 Outdoor Photographer of the Year. Already an award winning photographer Josh’s blog says, “I feel I have been very fortunate this year as I was also a finalist and highly commended with 3rd place in the Travel Photographer of the Year ‘Single Shot Water Category’ and was a finalist in the ‘Fine Art Photographer of the Year’ competition in Paris a few months ago.”
We caught up with Josh a few weeks ago to talk about his photography and yes, I admit it, to enjoy his lovely Aussie accent! You have to hear about his thoughts on “luxury shooting” in his workshops.
Visit the X-Rite blog for the complete interview.
As has become somewhat traditional on my blog I like to do a post toward the end of each year that looks forward to whats in store for the coming year. Its a good opportunity for me to ready myself mentally for the year ahead and to also close off the previous year. 2013 is shaping up to be very busy with a significant number of workshops and expeditions that I am very much looking forward to. Although I very much choose to specialise in the Polar and sub-Polar regions (which remain my focus) I do have a new exploratory trip planned for 2013 into China. More on this below.
In March I will be co-leading two back-to-back Winter Aurora workshops to Iceland with my good friends Andy Biggs and Daniel Bergmann. These workshops are going to focus on the coastal regions of Iceland including the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the mighty sea stacks at Vik and the spectacular Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. We are looking forward to frozen waterfalls, glaciers, icebergs and with a little luck the Aurora (Northern Lights). We are going to be in Iceland at the peak of the eleven year solar cycle which should mean some intense solar activity. Fingers crossed for clear skies and blazing Aurora!In May I will be headed to the remote Xinjiang province in China with my good friend and fellow photographer Antony Watson on an exploratory expedition to the Gobi Desert, Tian Shan mountain range, Kanas Lake and Kanasi. This investigative trip is the culmination of over a year of logistical arrangements and I hope will open up some incredibly beautiful and remote wilderness for a future expedition workshop to this region.
In July I will be headed back to Iceland to lead a summer workshop with Daniel Bergmann into the Highland Regions. We will be travelling into Landmannalaugar; which is one of my favourite locations in Iceland as well as visiting the mighty Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls and the iconic Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Normally inaccessible in Winter, the Highlands of Iceland are a very special place and simply incredible for photography.In August I will fly from Iceland to Oslo and Longyearbyen for a personal expedition to Svalbard to photograph Polar Bears and Walrus before I return to Longyearbyen to lead two back to back expeditions to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland – The Jewels of the Arctic. The first of these expeditions will be co-led with Daniel Bergmann and the second co-led with Australian Grand Master of Photography Peter Eastway. Abraham Joffe’s award winning film and production company ‘Untitled Film Works‘ has been secured to join us on the second expedition and will be producing a video of the trip which I hope to share freely here on my blog late next year.In November I am travelling to Ushuaia in South America and will lead an expedition to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands with Daniel Bergmann. This 15 day / 14 night expedition was more than eight months in the planning and is something I am very much looking forward to. We have been able to arrange access into areas normally off limits that are dedicated to Science which is going to provide us with some really unique opportunities. We are travelling early in the season which should give us the best possible opportunities for spectacular icebergs, dramatic weather and great light.In late November I will travel to Patagonia with my friend Martyn Lucas on a personal trip to photograph the spectacular Torres Del Pine and surrounding landscape. Patagonia boasts some of the most dramatic landscapes on Earth with precipitous mountains, jagged granite spires and enormous glaciers. During our time in this area we plan to hike up to the Torres and bivouac to give ourselves the best opportunity for great light. This will be my first visit to Patagonia and will fulfil a life-long ambition to photograph in this spectacular area.
I will then return home to spend Christmas my family. All up, I will be away from my studio for around 4-5 months in total next year which means I am not going to be offering much in the way of printing workshops or Lightroom instruction in 2013. If you are already booked in for one-on-one Lightroom and Fine Art Printing then those dates stand as I will be in Australia during these times.
To those of you who are travelling with me on one (or more) of these trips I am very much looking forward to spending time shooting together. It is going to be a very exciting year for photography. Roll on 2013!
For those of you who may be travelling with me on the expedition to Antarctica in November next year I am very pleased to report that (weather dependant) there will be the added option to spend a night ashore camping in Antarctica. Should the weather favour us we will select a suitable location at the end of a days photography and head ashore via zodiac where we will make camp. All overnight camping equipment will be provided (including sleeping bags) and all you need to do is to make the decision to either spend the night ashore or on ship. Zodiacs will be kept ready throughout the night in case there is any need to return to ship. Of course if you choose to spend the night camping there will be non-stop opportunities for photography throughout the night. This is a fabulous opportunity to not only tick one of the seven continents but also to spend a night ashore. If you are interested in joining this expedition and have not yet signed up there are now only a couple of places remaining before this trip will be sold out. Please see the Workshops and Expeditions page for further information including a detailed itinerary. This photograph was taken just for giggles on my last trip to Antarctica for the Icelandic outdoor clothing label 66° North.
I was recently interviewed by the editor of Camera House’s Better Pictures magazine for their Christmas issue and the article ‘Outward Bound’ is now online. The magazine is free and can be viewed online in a web browser or you can download a PDF of the article HERE. Check it out if you have a few minutes spare.
I find myself getting very enthusiastic about photographic equipment again lately with the pending release of Canon’s new 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter. This new super telephoto zoom lens promises to be a game changer for photographers who shoot at these kinds of focal lengths thanks to its inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter and reported superb optics. Canon claims that this new lens “will offer an unsurpassed combination of versatility, first-class optical performance and an enhanced weather-proof construction.” They also claim it will be just shy of a wallet smashing eleven thousand dollars MSRP; which is going to give a lot of photographers serious cause to stop and consider whether this lens is going to be worth the price of admission. The good news is that Canon had a slew of prototypes of this new lens at the London Olympics a few months ago and by all reports and feedback this lens is an outstanding performer and lives up to Canon’s claims.
For Photographers who need a super-telephoto zoom in the 200mm – 560mm range with superb optics this lens is likely to be worth every cent. After spending time shooting from the deck of ships I have come to the realisation that there is no substitute for a high quality super telephoto zoom lens. For shooting wildlife such as penguins, seals, polar bears, walrus and birds from the deck of a ship where the required focal length is always different I expect this lens will likely prove the ultimate no compromise choice for ‘getting the shot’. It is the lens I have decided to take with me on the expeditions I am running to the Arctic and Antarctic in August and November next year. I will also take it to Iceland in March and China in May.
With a focal length of 200mm – 400mm or 280mm – 560mm with the 1.4 TC in place this lens will also be very popular with sports photographers simply because of the extreme versatility it will provide. It is not quite as fast as a 300mm or 400mm F2.8 but I expect this small sacrifice in speed will be a small price to pay for the added flexibility this lens will bring to many sports shooters. I expect this lens to be in hot demand with sports and wildlife photographers when it is released early next year; even with its horrendous price tag. I am hoping to take delivery of this lens in late January next year and will be doing some extensive testing with it before I head to Iceland in March. Look for a full review early in the New Year.
One of the real joys of ship based photography is to stand on the ship’s deck with a camera and watch (and photograph) the scene slowly roll past as you cruise along. Many of my best photographs from Antarctica were made this way – including ‘Penguins Adrift in Snow Storm‘ which was recently featured as photograph of the day on National Geographic’s website. Unlike land based photography, shooting from ship requires absolutely no strenuous walking or hiking (and obviously no tripod) – except perhaps to the bar for the odd drink or the occasional shore excursion via zodiac. All that is really required is a little patience and perhaps a decent pair of sea legs if the swell is up to help keep your balance. Even then, it is amazing how easy it is to brace yourself against the ship to create a stable shooting platform. In point of fact, shooting from ship is actually far easier than helicopter.
During my last Antarctica expedition my good friend Martyn and I spent a lot of time shooting side-by-side as we cruised slowly up the Beagle Channel toward the Drake Passage and Antarctica. Flanked by the Andes mountain range the scenery was truly spectacular with jagged mountain peaks, swirling clouds and dramatic light. Conveniently our trip departed late afternoon from Ushuaia (as most trips do) and we were fortunate to be treated to some lovely dramatic and moody light. As a photographer who searches for the dramatic and portentous this was truly food for the soul and I can vividly recall dashing from one side of the ship to the other with a huge grin on my face in an effort to drink it all in.
Although I had chartered a helicopter with one of the other people on the trip to fly over the Andes mountains the day before; ironically I actually ended up prefering those images I shot from the deck of the ship. One of my favourites being this photograph which is highly evocative of the jagged and precipitous peaks that comprise the Andes Mountains and the dramatic clouds that are constantly swirling around the peaks and summits.A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen on my website in the South America Portfolio. I am looking forward to cruising up the Beagle Channel again next year on my next Antarctica Expedition with my co-leader Daniel Bergmann and I will most definitely be out on deck armed with cameras as we sail slowly past the spectacular Andes Mountains on our way to the last great frontier – Antarctica.
I was recently interviewed by Resource Photo.Video.Lifestyle magazine about my landscape photography and the content of the interview is now online at their website HERE. This interview was particularly good fun for me as the nature of the questions gave me an opportunity to talk about how I got my start in photography, in addition to my thoughts on working in the field in remote locations, the importance of the right equipment and the opportunity to talk about my workshops – including the recently announced 2013 Antarctica expedition. I hope you enjoy the read over a morning / afternoon cup of coffee.
I am including below an image I shot on my last Iceland workshop in Landmannalaugar in August this year. Photographed from the top of one of the regions highest peaks in overcast misty conditions it was a very stark contrast to my visit two years earlier (during which time I witnessed some of the most amazing light I have yet had the pleasure to experience). I thought at the time that the grey misty skies of this trip were conspiring against me and that there was going to be little in the way of opportunity. I photographed anyway and found when I got back to the studio and was reviewing my images that I actually really liked the soft lighting which seems to work so well with the pastel pallet of Landmannalaugars amazing volcanic mountains. This is an area of Iceland very near and dear to my heart and one I am very much looking forward to revisiting next year during my summer workshop. A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen in my portfolio at www.jholko.com under Iceland II.
How do you take what is widely regarded by many photographers as one of the finest camera bags on the market and make it even better?
I was pondering this when the guys at Gura Gear first told me that they were working on an update to the very popular Kiboko 30L camera bag along with a range of new accessory storage bags called the ‘Et Cetera’ range.I was an early adopter of Gura Gear bags. After I returned from my first expedition to Iceland I realized how unhappy I had become with my then current camera bag (whose name shall remain anonymous). For a variety of reasons it was no longer satisfying my needs and I was on the lookout for a new lightweight bag that met airline carry-on restrictions for size but enabled me to carry more equipment comfortably into the field. Anyone who has travelled domestically or internationally with camera equipment understands the importance of being able to carry equipment onto the airplane to avoid the risk of damage or theft in checked luggage. I therefore needed a bag that could not only hold all of my equipment, but that was light, robust, suitable for moderate hiking, and still enabled me to glide through airport check -in with a smile and a wave. My search led me to the Kiboko which, after several years of photographic travel, has become my number one camera bag of choice for all of my photography.
Fast forward to 2012 – With a four week photographic trip to Europe and a workshop in Iceland in July and August this year it was the perfect opportunity to field test the new Gura Gear Bataflae camera bags and Et Cetera range. The good folks at Gura Gear agreed and a shipment of the new product range was soon winging its way to me.
I admit to being very excited when I opened up the boxes from Gura Gear and saw the new products. You know you have purchased a quality product when you open the box and are greeted by the super slick black dust covers bearing the Gura Gear logo. Whilst the addition of a dust bag might seem superfluous it does in fact prove very useful for long-term storage and can even serve as a pretty cool laundry bag when travelling.
Widely regarded as being capable of swallowing copious amounts of camera equipment with room to spare (the Kiboko 30L will hold just about everything you can throw at it) the new Bataflae 32L adds even more space. Overall, it is larger and deeper than the original. This extra space proved a real blessing during my field tests as Canon’s new 1DX camera with a really right stuff L bracket is a very tight fit in the original Kiboko, but slides perfectly into the new bag thanks to the extra head room. Users of professional DSLR’s, medium and large format camera gear will really appreciate the extra height available.
Those of you familiar with the original Kiboko will already be sold on the benefits of the unique butterfly openings that avoid that unwieldy large flap that most camera bags provide for internal access. There are, however, times when it would be nice to be able to open the bag right up for packing and full access. Well, the new Bataflae gives you the best of both worlds with the traditional butterfly openings but adds the ability to open the entire bag up by releasing a simple clasp at the top of the bag. This really makes packing much simpler as well as providing full access to both sides simultaneously when required in the field. The centre divider contains extra strengthening to maintain rigidity even when the bag is fully loaded. In use, I found this to work very well.The rain cover has been relocated from inside one of the butterfly pockets to outside the bag in a small zippered pocket, which has freed up more room in the butterfly pocket. The rain cover now also utilizes a draw string which is an improvement over the original elastic cover because it can now also serve as a ground sheet if required.
Like the original bags, the new range is manufactured from highly durable materials, although the new material has more bling. The stitching, zippers and internal fittings of the new bags are improved in every respect. Even the finger zipper pulls are easier to use. Additional padding has been added to the backpack harness, which makes the bag noticeably more comfortable when hiking. There are yet more refinements to be found in the way of improved clasps for carrying tripods which can even accommodate items such as crampons. Like its predecessor, the new range comes with a considerable number of extra dividers so that its internal storage space can be customized to one’s own particular needs. All of this amounts to a very compelling reason to upgrade to the new models.
When the new Bataflae is fully loaded with my camera equipment it was significantly over the normal carry-on luggage allowance during my Europe and Iceland expeditions, yet I had no issues on any of the five international and domestic flights, including several long haul flights. With the increase in size, the new Bataflae still fits in the overhead lockers on the aircraft I travelled and still retains its understated appearance. I am utterly convinced that the Bataflae is the best camera bag on the market for photographers who fly and travel.
During my four weeks in Europe I used the new Bataflae everywhere, from the bustling streets and Cathedrals of Paris to the more subdued provincial countryside and wine regions of France where I travelled by hire car. I took it mountaineering at 13,000 feet at Mont Blanc in Chamonix where it was -15 degrees Celsius, and trod the myriad of canals in Venice Italy during the peak summer season. I then travelled to Iceland for my 2012 summer Workshop where I spent time on the Snaefellsness Peninsula, the highlands of Landmannalaugar and the stunning Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to name but a few locations. I undertook some fairly arduous hiking in the Landmannalaugar region and subjected the bag to everything from waterfall spray, rain, salt spray, sand and dust. I threw just about everything I could at the new bags and found them an improvement in every way over the originals.
The design changes and refinements to the new bags are in many cases subtle but they add up to a significant overall improvement that makes for a very compelling reason for existing Kiboko owners to upgrade. If, on the other hand, you haven’t already pampered yourself and your camera gear with Gura Gear then you are about to be presented with a fantastic opportunity with the release of these new products. They are highly recommended for their robustness and overall design.
The new product range takes everything that was great about the original bags and improves on it in just about every respect. I would argue that, outside of the camera and lens, there are few pieces of equipment that can have as much impact on your photography as your camera bag. If you travel or frequently change locations (and which photographer doesn’t!) you owe it to yourself (and your expensive equipment) to check out a Gura Gear camera bag.
Part Two – The Et Cetera and Tembo Range
As photographers we are constantly adding accessories to our equipment arsenal. Additional batteries, chargers, color checkers, CF and SD cards and card readers, adapter rings – the list goes on and on and there is only so many of these that can be shoehorned into a camera bag already overflowing with bodies and lenses. I am sure many of us have thrown all manner of photographic accessories loose into our suitcases before we travel because our camera bag was already overweight with bodies and lenses and at risk of airport check-in destruction.Solving this problem could well be Gura Gear’s masterstroke. Its new Et Cetera and Tembo line of products is designed to solve that annoying problem of finding a home for some of those accessories. The range is perhaps best thought of as the ‘Tupperware’ of camera storage and provides a range of different storage options for different accessories. I found these storage containers invaluable on my recent European trip and Iceland workshop and far more convenient than throwing items loosely in my checked luggage.
There is a range of different sizes and shapes from which to select and photographers will likely choose those models that best suit their needs and requirements.
Gura Gear products can be ordered directly from the Gura Gear Website
A quick availability update of remaining places on the Antarctica Photographic Expedition I am leading with Daniel Bergmann in November next year. There is currently only one triple share male space remaining and two triple share female places. There are still a few Twin Share spaces available and Twin Privates. There is one mini-suite remaining and the Captains Suite is sold out. If you are interested in joining us on what is going to be a unique and wondrous expedition to Antarctica then please drop me an email to secure your spot. Places are secured on a first come, first served basis. Once they are spoken for and booked thats it.
- Triple Share Cabin Male (One space left)
- Triple Share Cabin Female (Two spaces left)
- Twin Share Cabin (Six spaces left)
- Twin Private (Eleven cabins left)
- Mini-Suite (One cabin left)
- Captains Suite (Sold Out)
Time has really slipped away from me over the last few weeks and I realised this evening that I am already a week late updating my photo of the month for June. This photograph of the Andes Mountain range near Ushuaia in South America was taken from the deck of the Ocean Nova ship as we cruised up the Beagle Channel on our way to the Drake Passage and Antarctica. It is somewhat ironic for me that my favourite photograph of this mountain range should be taken from the deck of a rolling ship with a 300mm lens rather than the chartered helicopter I spent a dedicated hour shooting from with wide angle lenses. It just illustrates how you don’t have to use a wide angle lens from a helicopter to get an evocative shot of a mountain range. The Andes is a spectacular snow capped mountain range with precipitous and towering peaks with countless rugged and jagged ridges that is evocative of a more primordial earth. Being able to see it up close and personal from a helicopter with the door off was really a very special experience. Being able to photograph it from the deck of a ship as it cruised slowly past was equally satisfying. A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen on my portfolio website at www.jholko.com under South America. This photograph was awarded with a Silver award at the 2012 APPA Australian Professional Photography Awards.
Once a year the annual APPA Australian Professional Photography Awards are held in Australia. This year they were conveniently held in my home state of Victoria. The event is sponsored by Canon Australia and is run by the AIPP Australian Institute of Professional Photography. Widely regarded by many as the toughest photographic competition in the world today APPA remains one of the few world wide competitions where the finished ‘print’ is judged (in the vast majority of categories) by a panel of professional photographers who are each considered experts in their chosen specialities. The five judges score each print out of 100 points under strictly controlled lighting conditions. The judges scores are then averaged to give a final overall score out of 100. Prints of a professional standard that score between 75 and 79 points are not considered of award standard but are considered to be a good example of solid professional practice. Prints between 80 and 84 are considered examples of photographs above professional practice and worthy of recognition and are subsequently classed as a Silver Award. Prints between 85 and 89 are of exceptional standard and are awarded with a Silver with Distinction. Prints judged 90 – 94 and 95 – 100 are Gold and Gold with Distinction awards respectively that are reserved for prints that are considered to be of the highest calibre. Judges are often heard to wax lyrical about a Gold award print needing to be one that is never forgotten. It takes a print of exceptional quality to be awarded with a Silver or Gold award.
Last year (2011) was my first year entering the APPA awards as a full member of the AIPP. Full members of the AIPP are allowed to enter a maximum of four prints across any of the categories and I was thrilled to receive a Gold award with my very first print in the landscape category. My subsequent three prints in ‘landscape’ each scored Silver awards. This year I was equally thrilled to receive two Silver with Distinction awards and two Silver Awards for two photographs from Antarctica and two from Iceland respectively. Each of these prints was printed on my personal favourite paper – Moab Somerset Museum Rag, Higher resolution versions can be seen on my portfolio website at www.jholko.com and limited edition prints are available through Source Photographica in Brighton.The Fortress – Silver with Distinction APPA 2012Lone Penguin – Silver with Distinction APPA 2012Black Dawn – Silver APPA 2012Iceland Pastels – Silver APPA 2012
I was very pleased to learn yesterday that I was selected as a finalist in the 2012 Capture Magazine Top Emerging Photographers in Australia in the Landscape category. This is Capture’s fourth annual awards showcasing the very best of Australia’s emerging photographic talent as chosen by some of Australia’s preeminent professional photographers. Over 4000 images were received this year for judging and I am very honoured to have had my portfolio of six photographs amongst them and to be selected as one of only three finalists in the Landscape category. Capture Magazine is Australia’s top selling pro-photography magazine and has also previously featured my work in 2011.
It occurred to me about a week or so ago (when I was forced to drop down into an ‘Everest gear’ to grind out one of the big hills on the mountain bike trail that I ride near my house) just how out of condition I am after my time in Antarctica (over-indulgence in good food during the Christmas New Year period has not helped either). During my time in Antarctica, on board ship, I never really did any exercise; yet I regularly stowed away three square meals a day (large three-course meals at that). Since I didn’t suffer from sea sickness, I was able to keep all those meals down (thankfully). My cardiovascular fitness has really deteriorated and it feels like I am missing a lung as I drag myself up the hills on the bike. After 20 kilometers on the trails, my body feels quite battered and broken. Overall, my time off the bike over the Christmas-New Year period has left me feeling quite unfit and out of condition. Subsequently I have actually managed to crack my bike frame and am undergoing a forced hiatus while I wait for my bike to be rebuilt.
The connection to photography may not be apparent at first. But physical fitness plays a major role in successful wilderness photography. A good level of physical fitness enables you to hike faster, further and arrive at your destination ready to shoot, in better condition. It can be the difference between arriving at the top of the hill and getting the shot before the best light is gone and arriving on location exhausted and disappointed. It can even mean your not making it to the top at all. This is not to say the best shot is always at the end of an uphill hike. However, you will never know if you don’t make it up there to see for yourself. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be a wilderness photographer, but I find a good level of physical fitness certainly helps.
Whilst I was puffing my way up the hill on my mountain bike, I also got to thinking that mountain biking is like photography in that to get good at it you have to do a lot of it. To stay in peak condition you have to be persistent. I have observed this many times when I am out on my photography excursions. My shots continue to improve as the days roll past and my ‘conditioning’ improves. It takes time to get into the ‘groove’ —the right frame of mind that enables me to recognize the good images from the bad. Antarctica was like that: it took me time to assimilate. After extensive international travel, the few days I had in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia gave me the opportunity to wind down, leave the stress of daily life behind, and start to focus on photography. This time was crucial because I had the chance to relax, which is just as important as being fit for the task. Buenos Aries itself didn’t turn me on photographically. It is a crowded and polluted city, quite unlike my expectations of Antarctica. But, at least, I was in the right frame of mind—relaxed—when we eventually left for Antarctica.
Before I arrive this July for my 2012 workshop in Iceland I am going to be spending a couple of weeks travelling through France and Italy (specifically, driving down from France to Venice) photographing the countryside as a precursor to the workshop. I am hoping to use this time to get my eye in, as it were, and ensure my state of mind is at or near its peak when I arrive in Iceland.
Landscape and Nature photography requires a serious commitment. You must be prepared to spend countless hours outdoors, frequently in inclement weather or harsh environments. It also requires hours of patience to get the best possible light. I have spent many hundreds of hours in the wilderness waiting for the right conditions. Nature and landscape photographers who are truly committed are a rare breed; we have to put up with a lot—fitness, patience, vigilance, and an eye for the main chance. It takes a certain mindset and dedication to stand around in freezing conditions and rain for hours, waiting for the right light when what beckons is a nice dinner and a glass of wine in a warm hotel somewhere. You need commitment and dedication to get the shot.One thing I have learned through experience is that it is always worth sticking it out to the bitter end when waiting for the best light, no matter the prevailing weather conditions. Generally, brief moments of special light don’t fill the bill; you have to see it out to the end. All too often, the light changes in the last few moments and in these instances the light is often at its most spectacular. I recall a very poignant example of this, which I have blogged about before in Iceland in 2010 when I arrived at the top of one of the highest mountains in Landmannalaugar in Iceland, more than three hours before sunset. They skies were dull and grey and we were exposed to the full force of the Arctic winds. My friend Dmitry and I decided to hunker down and wait out the 3+ hours before sunset. I just wanted to hike back to the 4-wheel drive to warm up with a hot cup of coffee and a piece of cake, but the wait proved worthwhile. The shoot provided some of the most spectacular light I have ever experienced anywhere. We had distant rain showers, rainbows and light that can only be described as sensational. Lesson learned – Never Give In. Above all, patience!
The current February / March edition of Australian Digital Photography magazine that is just hitting the news stands is tagged as ‘The Landscape Issue’ and has an eight page feature article on my photography (sub-titled ‘Insights into the world of extreme landscape photography’) from Iceland. This was an interesting interview for me as much of the talk was about equipment, technique and the process, rather than discussion of the actual photographs themselves. A high resolution copy of the article can be downloaded HERE.
Having a photograph published in a photography magazine (or any magazine for that matter) is a lot of fun and will always puts a smile on a photographers face. Being interviewed and having a multi-page feature on your photography published in that magazine will fix that smile for at least as long as the issue remains on the news stands. Scoring the cover photograph in the very same issue is the home run that hits the ball well and truly out of the park. In a home run for me, the latest February / March edition of the Australia’s top selling digital imaging magazine Digital Photography + Design features an interview and six page spread of my photography, as well as sporting one of my most well known photographs from Iceland on the cover. A PDF of the complete article can be downloaded HERE.
On the surface of it, Antarctica might well be considered an environment that is seemingly devoid of colour and monochromatic in nature. This is a reasonable assumption because the great white continent is renowned for its brilliant white ice and dark brooding seas. Such dichotomy is simply wonderful for black and white photography and consequently some of the photographers on my recent expedition produced some stunning examples. However, there is also a pallet of colours on display in Antarctica that can only be described as extraordinary. For the colour photographer, Antarctica, and its dizzying array of free-form sculptured icebergs, is a veritable playground of deep blues and glowing aquamarines that are as alluring as the sirens’ call. To claim the scope of colours is inspirational is to hugely understate the nature of this superb environment. It is breathtaking.
During my 2011 expedition to Antarctica I wore a persistent ear-to-ear grin when out shooting, which was for most of my waking hours. Many of the bays and coves we visited were festooned with icebergs that provided limitless opportunities for photography. As a colour photographer, I place great emphasis on a complimentary pallet of colours in my images, so I was completely enthralled by the deep blues and luminous aquamarines in the ice. On more than one occasion the cry of ‘look at those blues!’ could be heard coming from either our zodiac, or another nearby. Even the frequent driving snow did little to dampen my enthusiasm for the extraordinary colours and the magical scenes around us.I am methodically working my way through the editing and processing of my photographs but wanted to share some examples that illustrate the range and tone of colours found in Antarctica. Post-production of these photographs, and in particular the blues and greens, presented some unique challenges. To date, my experience has shown that a very delicate touch is required in order to compliment and accentuate the myriad of subtle tones and textures in the ice and to balance these with the overall colours in each frame.The temptation to overly saturate colour that is naturally incredibly vibrant and surreal is an easy mistake to make. The end result can be a photograph that not only transgresses belief but appears almost gaudy. Judicious use of saturation is the key difference between an incredible, but believable photograph and one that is quite simply ‘over cooked’. It’s a discussion I have had with my good friend and co-Moab Master Andy Biggs over Skype on a couple of occasions and we are in agreement that no embellishment is required in most cases – isn’t Mother Nature wonderful! In these examples very little post-production work was performed to the RAW files. No additional saturation or vibrance was added and in the majority of cases the white balance was only subtly tweaked, or otherwise left as shot.I am starting to make my first prints from this trip for my upcoming exhibition in Melbourne at Source Photographica and have settled on Moab Entrada Rag Natural 300gsm as the paper of choice for my Antarctica images. After some experimentation I have found Entrada Rag Natural to offer the ideal surface and stipple to preserve the tone and colour in my photographs. Images have a soft, soothing, somewhat muted and understated look on Entrada Rag that I find highly complementary to the vividness of the natural blues and greens. Delicate texture and detail is retained and enhanced by the paper surface, whilst blacks remain rich and deep. Entrada Rag Natural 300gsm is in many ways a similar paper to my other favorite Somerset Museum Rag. However, there are some subtle differences in the surface texture that led me to choose Entrada Rag for my Antarctica photographs, because it retains and accentuates all the subtle nuances in the ice surfaces.
Higher resolution versions of these photographs can be seen at my portfolio website at www.jholko.com
EDIT – Some of you may have noticed that this blog entry has also appeared on the Moab website and that another of my earlier entries ‘The Fortress‘ also appeared on Gura Gear’s blog a few days prior to my own. You aren’t going crazy or experiencing a weird case of de’ja’vu. I was invited by both Moab and Gura Gear to share some journal entries for their own blogs that I think might be of interest to their readers.
It has taken me longer than I had hoped to pull together this post Antarctica round-up debrief. Between jet-lag (which I just seem to take an inordinate amount of time to get over when crossing so many time zones – particularly between the Americas and Australia), Christmas, New Year social functions, a stomach upset, my kids, the wife etc. it has been longer than I would have liked between posts. I am also well behind in my image editing and processing from Antarctica; and not just because of the above. I am finding images from Antarctica require a very delicate touch in processing to really coax out all of the beautiful detail and texture that is so prevalent in the ice – and so easily lost in post production. Lots of staring time and a very delicate touch required. I also find that it is often wise to let a good amount of time elapse after this kind of ‘heavy-shooting’ trip to reflect on my RAW files in the light of a new day (and new eyes) as it were. Whilst this often leads to me looking at my images thinking ‘what on earth was I thinking when I shot this’ I do find that it frequently results in better editing and selection of ‘picks’. Given I shot over thirteen thousand images in the three weeks I was in Antarctica it is going to be some time in the far distant future before I get through even my initial selects. The only way to even contemplate approaching a task of this size is in small bit sized chunks; so I will likely slowly release my photographs over the coming year as I complete the editing and processing. I am including a few snapshots from throughout the trip in this post to give an idea of what it was like and to help illustrate where appropriate.Now that some time has past and I have had some time to reflect on the trip to Antarctica at the bottom of the world I want to share my experience of what worked and what didn’t work for me during the trip (much as I did for the workshop to Iceland last year). Those of you who follow my blog will already be well aware that I like to plan meticulously in terms of where I am going and what I am going to take with me on my workshops and expeditions. This trip to Antarctica was a little different than normal in that I had no real say in exactly where in Antarctica I was going. Location was determined more or less on a day by day basis dependant on the prevailing weather conditions and our expedition leaders experience and local knowledge. This was in many ways a good thing as it freed me up to focus and concentrate on my photography. A quick word of praise and thanks to our expedition leader Graham who went above and beyond the call of duty on numerous occasions to ensure we were in the best locations at the best possible time. Trying to please 70 odd neurotic and maniacal photographers all mad keen on making the most of their Antarctic adventure is no easy feat. Yet Graham managed his role and duties with great aplomb. His role is in many ways an unenviable thankless task so it is important to take moment to recognise and thank him for his excellent work throughout the trip.
It is worth mentioning at this point in time that shooting from ship presents its own unique challenges. In some ways shooting from ship is quite easy; one can simply step outside from their cabin onto the deck, frame and shoot. Tripods are obviously out of the question so all one really has to do is select a focal length, ensure shutter speed and aperture are appropriate and wait for the subject to roll past – pretty easy stuff that makes for very civilised photography. Shooting from zodiac however presents a different set of challenges – not the least of which is keeping camera gear dry and operating. The logistics of shooting from zodiac make the entire photography equation much more complex and I will write a dedicated post on the pros and cons and how to approach this style of shooting at a later date.All of my camera gear operated and performed flawlessly the entire trip. I noted in my initial blog post on returning from Antarctica how harsh the shooting conditions were and it is worth re-iterating that on multiple occasions my cameras were covered in sea water and salt spray in freezing conditions when shooting from zodiac. I was extremely glad that I decided to take two 1-series Pro bodies with me for this trip as these cameras are all but indestructible and are designed to cope with very adverse shooting environments (and Antarctica certainly qualifies as an adverse shooting environment). Between the salt spray, cold, dust (when changing lenses – Antarctica is an incredibly dusty place), snow and ice there are lots of opportunities for cameras to fail. Several other photographers had failures with Canon 5D MKII’s and 7D’s. It is a testament to the build quality of Canon’s 1-series cameras and L-series lenses that they continue to operate in such extreme environments under such adverse conditions. There is no question that I am both hard and demanding of my equipment. When in the field I take little in the way of precautions to keep my gear dry. In fact, I pretty much gave up during several zodiac excursions as the sleet and spray were overpowering and focused on just wiping away the worst of the spray off my lenses so I could keep shooting. It is also worth noting that there were also several medium format digital rigs on this expedition including a couple of Hasselblad cameras with Phase One backs and a Mamiya 645D. To my knowledge there were no issues with any of the medium format equipment; although I never saw any of it in operation from zodiac.I used all of the lenses I took with me (see my earlier post on what I took to Antarctica HERE) except my Canon 50mm F1.2L; which did not make it out of my camera bag. It’s not that I didn’t need it – simply that I was too busy shooting with my other lenses. By far my most used Lens was my Canon 24mm F1.4L MKII, and my 17mm F4L Tilt / Shift. I really enjoyed shooting with the 17mm Tilt Shift from zodiac where I was able to use the shift feature to change the perspective to raise the view ‘off the water’. I occasionally used a small amount of tilt to extend depth of field or correct the perspective of particularly tall ice bergs. Both my 70-200 F2.8L IS and 300mm F2.8L IS were also mainstay lenses that saw plenty of action throughout the trip. The reality of shooting in Antarctica is that there is quite literally a shot almost everywhere you look and almost any lens will work in most circumstances. I saw other photographers shooting with everything from 14mm all the way to 600mm throughout the expedition. I always shot with two bodies; which gave me the opportunity to have two different focal lengths immediately on tap. I would have been very frustrated had I been limited to one body only. In fact, I think I could probably have managed a third body when shooting from the deck of the ship. Given Canon’s 1-series camera bodies run well north of $6000 plus I am highly unlikely to purchase a third.
I was very glad I made the switch from a full size 17″ macbook pro to the smaller and lighter 15″ Pro for this trip. I really noticed the saving in weight, size and convenience during the many hours spent in airports and in transit. I really appreciate the ability to keyword my photographs in Lightroom during my trips (as well as check sharpness and exposure on the laptop monitor) so prefer to travel with a full size laptop as opposed to a small card reader/viewer. That said, I really appreciate the weight and space saving of image viewers and although I do not own one I am keen to try one on a future endeavour.
In many ways this was the Gura Gear trip to Antarctica. I would estimate somewhere around 40-50% of all the photographers on this trip were sporting at least one Gura Gear Kiboko camera bag. And who can blame them? There is no such thing as the perfect camera bag for all occasions; but it was universally agreed amongst all those photographers I spoke with that the Gura Gear Kiboko is the best camera bag on the market and as close to perfection as possible. I am utterly convinced that the Kiboko is the number one camera bag on the market and it was great to be able to spend some time with Gura Gears founder and chief designer Andy Biggs to relay my experience with the Gura Gear product. One of the added side benefits of the Kiboko is that it has very much become the photographers ‘introduction tool’. With so many photographers choosing the Kiboko it has become a symbol for the travelling photographer and both my friend Martyn and I had conversations with several others at airports who recognised us as fellow photographers due to our Gura Gear bags. All good fun and a really great way to meet other photographers.This was the maiden voyage for the Gura Gear Chobe for me. If you read my pre-flight review HERE then you are already well aware that I had high hopes for this bag based on my initial impressions and thoughts on how I planned to use it. I am very pleased to report that the Chobe lived up to my expectations throughout the trip. In fact, the Chobe has convinced me that it really can serve as both an overnight bag and as a dedicated camera bag depending on your specific needs at the time. Given its ability to also carry a laptop, card readers, back up hard drives and other accessories it really can meet just about any demand. Whilst I wouldn’t do any serious hiking with the Chobe (and it was never designed for this purpose) I would quite happily sling it over my shoulder and carry it in the field for an extended period. Quite a few other members of the trip were also sporting Chobe’s in addition to their Kiboko’s for additional camera gear, laptops and accessories – Gura Gear are definitely on a winner.One of the real joys of the trip for me was the opportunity to shoot with the Leica S2 and 120mm Apo-Macro Summarit lens. I have been half toying with the idea of adding a Leica S2 to my kit for some time and I relished the opportunity to put one through its paces in the field thanks to good friend Andy Biggs. I was particularly keen to see how reliable the Leica was in the very adverse shooting conditions found in Antarctica as I have heard somewhat spurious second hand reports of S2 failures in the field before. The S2 is a wonderful camera that feels like it was carved from a single block of ‘unobtanium’ and I am pleased to report it performed flawlessly during the trip. Its somewhat slow to focus compared to my Canons and dialling in exposure compensation requires far too many button presses but it otherwise has an intuitive user interface and produces stunningly sharp files. The increase in resolution over the Canon 1DS MKIII is most definitely advantageous – at least when viewing files at 100% on screen. The ‘S’ series lenses are quite simply the best I have experienced with outstanding corner sharpness and contrast. I have to continually wipe the drool off my keyboard every time I inspect the files. I have not as yet had a chance to make any prints from the S2, but I am very much looking forward to seeing a few prints roll off the printer. Is there a Leica S2 in my future? No. Put simply, the economics of the S2 currently don’t stack up for me for a number of different reasons. But there is probably a revised Leica S2 in my distant future and I will be keeping a good eye on Leica’s lens range and support for the S2.
As is usually the case for me I packed too many clothes for this trip. This is something I continually struggle with on all my photographic expeditions. On location I tend to more or less live in the one set of clothes and almost always come home with some unworn items of clothing. I really need to work on minimising my clothing attire. I travelled almost exclusively with 66 North clothing for this expedition and it kept me both warm and dry the entire trip. I was pleased to see several other members of the expedition had taken my pre-trip recommendation and also purchased 66 North clothing – it really is one of the best (ok, the best) range of outdoor clothing on the planet.I already made mention in my initial return post from Antarctica that Quark Expeditions were outstanding in every way and I stand by my prior thoughts and comments. My expectations were continually exceeded by all of the Quark crew (including the legendary secret weapon – Captain Alexey). This praise applies across the board from the ships cleaning staff, to the multiple chefs and culinary staff to the zodiac drivers, biologists, ornithologists, expedition leader and crew. To my mind they could not have provided a better experience. It is worth noting that Quark title their trips as ‘Polar Expeditions’ and not ‘cruises’. Expeditions is an appropriate word as the emphasis on our trip was in getting the photographers to the best possible locations in whatever the prevailing conditions. Although the level of service was exemplary in every way I would encourage those looking for luxury 5+star cruising to look elsewhere. Alighting a pitching zodiac in Antarctic winds with pounds of camera gear in large swells is not for everyone. Remember its Quark ‘Expeditions’ – Not Quark ‘Cruises’.It is also worth taking a moment to talk about the Drake Passage and seasickness. As I have previously mentioned I have never suffered from any kind of motion sickness but I took preventative medication on this trip in the form of ’scopolamine’ patches; which are designed to act of the part of the brain that causes nausea. Unfortunately these patches (which last quite a long time – 24 hours+) have some rather dramatic side effects including severe drowsiness, a very dry mouth and a very horrible metallic taste on the pallet. I found they made me so drowsy on the trip over that I felt the urge to quite literally go straight back to bed after breakfast (having already slept ten hours) and sleep another six hours until lunch. No matter how much water I consumed I could not overcome the dry and metallic taste in my mouth so was very glad to rip off the patch when we arrived in Antarctica. For the return trip across the Drake I chose to pop a ‘Kwells’ tablet and keep my ginger levels up by drinking plenty of ginger ale as a precaution. This worked far better for me as I did not suffer side effects from the tablet. On future trips I would avoid scopolamine patches at all costs. I can’t complain however, many of the photographers on this trip were laid completely flat out by sea sickness and unable to even make lunch or the evening meal. I am sure they would have been very glad of just the side effects I suffered.
My flights for this trip were with Qantas and Aerolineas Arengtina. I was fortunate to be travelling at the front of the aeroplane so to speak for the long haul sections of this trip from Melbourne to Buenos Aires and these flights were about as comfortable as fourteen hours in an aeroplane can be – not much more need be said. For my internal South American flights I travelled with Aerolineas; which proved the other end of the comfort scale. Firstly, I was more than annoyed to arrive at the airport in Buenos Aires to find that I had been bumped to a later flight after pre-booking and pre-paying a full eight months in advance. Aerolineas took an opportunity to resell my seat to a higher paying customer because of flight cancellations due to union issues (and sold to the public under the guise of volcanic ash fro the Chile volcano) – most annoying. Aerolineas also really need to do something about the quality of their inflight food. Powdered milk for coffee is not acceptable in my book under any circumstances (even UHT milk would have been better) and the less said about the ham and cheese roll the better. The internal flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and back were also on old MD-88 jets; which are not my favourite passenger jet and always make me a little nervous. I was very glad to touch down both in Ushuaia and Buenos Aires and leave the Byzantine MD-88 behind. I did not have any luggage weight issues on any of my flights and was able to carry on both my 18+ kilogram Kiboko and my 5 kilogram Chobe without issue. I did see a couple of other photographers get nailed for being overweight with carry on luggage on the trip from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. Aerolineas seem quite happy to randomly select and penalise those they take a dislike too. Personally I have always found a smile and a friendly hello goes a long way with airport check in staff; but your mileage may vary as they say.
If some of the above seem somewhat like nit-picks its because I really did not have any other issues the entire duration of the trip. All of my camera gear and computer equipment operated flawlessly and I never once found myself wishing for anything other than an assistant to hand me another lens or load a new CF card. One of these days I must get a travel assistant!
Antarctica has been a long time dream for me and this expedition was very much the trip of a lifetime. I mean how often does one get to travel with roughly 70 like minded enthusiastic photographers to one of the worlds last pristine wilderness locations on a trip dedicated to nothing but photography! As a photographer who has a passion for ice bergs there really is no location more appealing and it goes without saying that I can hardly wait to return (which I will most definitely be doing in future expeditions). They say you travel to Antarctica a tourist and come back an Ambassador and I think those words ring very true for me.
Martyn and I managed to find our way over to the Cementario De Recoleta early this afternoon where we spent some time wandering amongst the maze of ancient crypts and tombs before settling into a nearby cafe in the shade for a cold drink and a spot of lunch. Its quite hot and humid today in Buenos Aires (33 degrees celsius) and I was well and truly ready for a beer and seat in the shade after a couple of hours in the sun. The Cementario de Recoleta is a fascinating location and I could easily spend hours and hours photographing in and around the multitude of decrypit crypts and statues that make up this cemetery. The Cementario de Recoleta is one of those locations that would be just wonderful to photograph with rain and or mist / fog. As it was we had to make do with brilliant sunshine on a cloudless day – hence the focus on detail and not the big picture. As is often the case with these things there is immense pleasure to be found in the detail; although the myriad of walkways amidst the grand crypts are incredibly impressive and awe inspiring. This was the first time I have pulled my camera out of the bag (just the S90 Point and Shoot) since I arrived in Buenos Aires and it feels good to have a few shots ‘in the can’. Although this is not the sort of photography I pursue on a regular basis it was very enjoyable and it felt good to start exercising the shutter finger and get my mind into a more creative frame of mind.
A more pointed example than Buenos Aires that big cities are just not my cup of tea I cannot imagine. The sprawling, seething urban metropolis ticks all the boxes for things I dislike about big cities – pollution, over-crowding, poverty, crime, grime, the list goes on. And to top it all off its far too hot for my liking with temperatures in the low 30’s celsius. I will be very glad to head south in a couple of days to the much smaller town of Ushuaia, much cooler climate (sub ten degrees celsius) and nearby mountains. Until then I am going to see a few local sites including La Bocca (the home of the Tango) and otherwise relax to while away the time.
The journey over from Australia was uneventful and I was thankfully able to break the back of the long haul flight with a good six hour sleep – yes, a few scotches helped. I was treated to an absolutely superlative view (thanks to clear skies) of the snow capped Andes mountain range as we crossed into South America from the window of the plane. The Andes would rate as one of the most spectacular mountain ranges I have ever laid eyes on – absolutely beautiful and stretching as far as they eye could see. With any luck I should get another view of them on the flight to Ushuaia if the weather stays clear.
For now, its time for some breakfast and just a small amount of local culture…