Cathedrale Notre Dame : Reims, France

France is home to some of the most magnificent and spectacular cathedrals, churches and chateaus I have had the privilege to visit in Europe. During my time in France in July this year my wife and I visited a great many throughout Paris and the French countryside and I spent a lot of time looking up with my camera at the wonderful architecture. Without doubt the most famous cathedral in France is the Notre Dam in the heart of Paris. I was actually unaware that there are in fact two Notre Dame Cathedrals in France. The first (where all the tourists go) and most well known is in Paris. The second is in Reims – Cathédrale Notre Dame; and is where this photograph was taken.

Many of the photographs I made in both France and Italy I have converted to Black and White and treated with Nik Silver EFX Pro 2 as I felt the monochrome tonalities better captured the timeless feeling of the various places for me. This first photograph however I chose to keep in colour (although the pallet is selective and somewhat muted) as I very much like the dichotomy of the stone and stained glass and the rays of sunshine streaming in through the windows. I did not in anyway ‘treat’ the colour in this image and simply left it as captured by the cameras sensor.

I admit to pre visualising this photograph as I wandered around the Cathedral with my camera in the late afternoon listening to the school choir. I had noted the angle of the sun on entry and had hoped it was going to strike the stained glass and indeed it did shortly after my arrival. It lasted only a minute or so before the light was gone; but it was a magical minute of wonderful light. In order to achieve this effect in a single frame without shenanigans I used the cameras spot meter and metered off the windows as I knew this would preserve the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may. I was then able to coax out the detail in the shadows in post-production in Lightroom with the Shadows slider.

Just an aside; but I continue to be absolutely amazed at the high ISO quality of the files from Canon’s 1DX camera. Shot at ISO3200 the RAW file is incredibly clean and the tiny bit of luminance noise that is apparent at 100% in the shadows at ISO3200 is easily cleaned up in Lightroom with small nudge of the luminance noise slider. The noise control of the 1DX is truly remarkable.

Iceland ‘Where to Go and What to See’ Map : Review

I recently became aware of a French photographer by the name of Michael Levy who runs a website called ‘International-Photographer‘. Michael has produced a map of Iceland specifically for photographers and was selling limited edition copies via his website. Curious for all things Iceland and photography related I contacted Michael via email and after some brief correspondance he kindly offered to send me a copy of the map for review.

Before I dive into reviewing the map though a little history is in order. I have been to Iceland many times and have travelled from one end of the island to the other. I have circumnavigated the island by 4-wheel drive and driven through the highland interior both solo and with a guide. I have stayed in hotels and guesthouses around the island as well as camped by the side of the road. I have hiked mountains in Landmannalaugar and wandered around the geothermal mud pits of Þeistareykir. As of next year I will have spent over four months in the country and will have experienced both summer and winter seasons on multiple occasions over a period of several years. Each one of my trips to Iceland has been dedicated to photography and even so I feel I am just scratching the surface of what this amazing country has to offer for the intrepid photographer. To be upfront, I am a huge proponent of using local guides whenever I am in a foreign country and this includes the workshops and expeditions I lead to Iceland and other countries. An experienced local guide can offer intimate local knowledge of not only locations, but also and perhaps more importantly weather conditions. There is nothing more frustrating than arriving at a spectacular location only to be shut down because of bad weather. Iceland is a country where the weather can change incredibly fast. It can be brilliant sunshine and pouring rain five minutes down the road. No map, no matter how good, can possibly replace a local guide with local experience. If you are planning a trip to Iceland for photography I strongly encourage you to join a workshop (It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of mine) that employs a local guide who has the experience to read the weather to put you in the best locations at the best possible times; when the light is magical. Without belaboring the point local guides will frequently be able to take you to ‘secret’ or relatively unknown locations that are not marked on maps and that quite often are no less spectacular (and often more so). I have on many occasions been taken to locations I simply would never have found without my local guides. With that said, I am going to review this map from the point of view of those photographers who may be planning a self-drive tour without a local guide since this is likely who the map will most benefit and appeal to.

This first edition of the map reportedly took two years of work from concept to printing and was created entirely by hand  (not from a database) and will I am told be regularly updated. From the International Photographer website: The map shows essential route information, detailed descriptions of all areas of interest (volcanoes, waterfalls, lighthouses, monuments, fauna, flora and curiosities) as well as national parks and nature reserves. Not only can you now prepare your trip in detail, thanks to this handy map, but there’s no chance of missing anything exciting once you get there!The map itself is printed on 120 gram matt paper (double sided) and measures 980mm x 680mm (38 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches) when fully opened. Folded, it measures 120mm x 22mm (4 1/2 x 9 inches) and will fit in a standard map pocket or sleeve. The second side of the map is devoted to a photograph of ice on the beach at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and the latitude and longitude co-ordinates of this remarkable location. This first edition of the map is limited to 1,000 copies and was printed in France. Kudos to Michael for having the map printed locally in his home country. I applaud photographers who print their books and work in their home country and resist the urge to outsource to China and other mass-producing countries.

Producing a map for photographers of a country so rich in photographic locations and subjects is a daunting challenge and Michael is to be commended for his hard work and dedication in seeing the project through to completion. The map itself is professionally produced and easy to read. Various symbols have been used to denote certain geographical features, flora, fauna, waterfalls and areas of interest etc. and are well documented on the key / legend. Also included is a basic day/night length cycle chart in the top right hand corner, scale 1:600 000 and a small map in the lower right showing the main highway one circumnavigation route of 1,339 kilometers.

I would have liked to see geographical contours added to the map as there is a lot of potential hiking and walking in Iceland (particularly in the Highland regions) and being able to read the grade and elevation would be useful in these locations. I am however very pleased to see that camp grounds have been included on the map and are suitably denoted in the key / legend. You can more or less camp anywhere in Iceland; however, there are times when it is nice to stop by a dedicated camp ground to grab a shower, refill water bottles and re-supply.I was very pleased to see that locations that are not to be missed are noted with a star rating. Such locations include the incredible Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, the volcanic area of Askja and the sea stacks at Vik as but a few examples.

It is important to note that this map of Iceland provides a holistic overview of the country’s main photographic attractions and not detailed information about each location. The map notes Landmannalaugar for example as a ‘Must See’ location but does not provide specific information about which might be the best walking track to take or which mountain provides the best view at a given time of day for photography. This sort of information is normally included in guidebooks (or provided by local guides) and is not usually found on an overview map such as this. For the photographer arriving for the first time at Landmannalaugar they may well find themselves somewhat overawed by the sheer size and scale of the location and not know where to begin. Local knowledge and experience are the keys to getting the best out of locations such as this and is another great example of where a local experienced guide can be an invaluable resource to have on hand. It is worth noting at this point that Michael does produce and sell an e-roadbook; which is designed to accompany and supplement this map. I do not however have a copy of the e-book to hand to review the content (that will hopefully come later). There is a PDF sample on his website and the sample does include much more detailed information on each area including such things as where to eat and stay, what track to take and how much time to allow at a given location. Suffice to say if you are purchasing the map it makes logical sense to also purchase the e-book and Michael does offer a package deal if you purchase both. The e-roadbook includes information on:

– Basic planning pointers
– What vehicle should i hire?
– Which way round should i go?
– Light and climate 1/2
– Photographic subjects 1/3
– Where are the best places to photograph (sea)birds?
– How long does it take to explore the key sites?
– When is the best time of day to photograph them?
– Unmissable waterfalls 1/3
– Useful filters for iceland 1/3
– Making a panoramaMy only real gripe with the map is that there is currently no digital version (especially given the e-roadbook is available as a digital download). I would like to see a digital download version for photographers who do not wish to carry a traditional paper map with them into the field (especially in Iceland where it frequently rains). Photographers are some of the fastest adopters of digital technology and I don’t think there is a serious photographer out there who does not own a tablet device (or phone) of some description that cannot store and display digital map files in the field.

I would also like to see GPS co-ordinates added to the map in a future digital edition for photographers who prefer to work with a digital map and a set of co-ordinates for finding a given location. Geo-tagged maps are starting to become quite popular with photographers and there are now a number of photographers producing (and selling) geo-tagged maps of iconic locations in America as an example.

Conclusion:

At 20 UK Pounds plus freight for those who live outside of Europe this is not an inexpensive map to purchase. However, it is important to remember that this map was a hand created labor of love that is printed in limited quantities (1000) in the photographers home country of France. It is to my knowledge a unique effort to provide a single map of photographic locations in Iceland and should be considered as such when deciding whether to purchase.

For the photographer travelling to Iceland for the first time this map will likely prove invaluable as it provides sufficient information to plan a self drive tour and covers virtually all of the major iconic locations you are likely to want to visit as well as ensuring you don’t miss the ones that are somewhat harder to find. In combination with something like the Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland and Michael’s e-roadbook to Iceland it will provide a great launching pad for an exciting photographic tour of discovery. I suspect even photographers travelling in groups or with guides will find this map useful as it provides an easy to read and follow reference as you drive around the island. I will personally carry and use it on my own workshops and expeditions so that I can easily illustrate where we are in Iceland to those in the group.

I expect we will see more of these maps in the future as the back side of the Iceland map also mentions other titles coming in 2012 / 2013 including Argentina, Australia, Canada, Eastern Europe, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Scotland, Span and the USA. I particularly look forward to reviewing the map of my home country of Australia and my back yard New Zealand.

For all the international-photographer content visit the International Photographer

Footnote: Michael tells me that a digital download version of the map may be offered in the future.

2013: Whats in Store?

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!

Untitled Film Works to Film Jewels of the Arctic

I am very excited to announce that Abraham Joffe’s award winning film and production company ‘Untitled Film Works’ has been secured to travel with me next year on the Jewels of the Arctic II Expedition I am leading with Peter Eastway to Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard from the 18th – 31st of August. Untitled Film Works will be shooting video footage throughout the trip and will be producing a video of the expedition that will be freely available to download later next year here and on my website. We hope to capture the essence of what it is like to glide amidst icebergs on a zodiac, photograph Polar Bears and Walrus and what life is like aboard ship on a dedicated photographic expedition to the Arctic. It is going to be a huge amount of fun and I am very much looking forward to it. Untitled Film Works have given me permission to repost one of their recent videos from the Mashatu Elephant hide in Botswana. Just click o the elephant image to download the video (85MB). Enjoy.

Antarctica 2013 : Camping with the Penguins!

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.