June Photo of the Month: White Angel

I launched the first part of a brand new service for RAW file optimisation and production of high resolution finished PSD files this week and the response so far has been almost overwhelming – thank you. For those of you who have sent me files for processing I am currently working through them in the order they were received and I hope to get them back to you within three-to-five days of you having sent them. Over the next few days I will be launching the second part to this service where you can have a fine art print of your photograph made here in my studio and shipped to you anywhere in the world. If you are considering entering APPA this year and are looking for someone to print your images please contact me for details. The prints I entered this year in the State awards scored Gold and Gold with Distinctions and I was also fortunate to take out the overall Highest Scoring Print of the Year.  I also have some other exciting announcements coming up on my blog over the next couple of weeks and am looking forward to sharing them.

In the meantime I have been retrospectively trolling through some of my photographs from the Arctic last year and came across this one of an Ivory Gull coming into land on an ice flow north of Svalbard. This was one of half a dozen or so Ivory Gulls we encountered last year whilst we were photographing Polar Bears at the edge of the pack ice. Ivory Gulls are incredibly angelic birds with pure white plumage and jet black feet.  With a little luck I hope to see them again this year in August when I lead my Arctic expedition to Svalbard and Greenland. This is one of those photographs I have absolutely no recollection of taking and I am not sure why it did not jump out at me on my initial and subsequent pass through edits. Nevertheless, ‘White Angel’ is my photograph of the month for June.

RAW File Processing and Image Optimisation of Your Photograph

A great photograph always starts with a great capture in the field and capturing stunning Landscape, Nature and Wildlife photographs in the field is a skill in and of itself. Once you have captured the RAW data in the field though how do you interpret it and fulfil your vision in file and finished print?


Processing your RAW file optimally is the key to getting stunning images that realise the captures full potential and your vision for the finished photograph. Workflow and how to best optimise your capture are two of the questions I am most often asked on my workshops. The reality is there is no one simple answer that can be applied to all captures to really coax them to their full potential. It takes time, practice and experience to know which tool to use when, whilst processing RAW files. A one-trick filter or preset might work for some images but it  falls well short of optimal image processing. To help with your RAW files  I am very pleased to now offer a service where you can have your RAW file optimally processed and if you so choose, have a Fine Art Print of your photograph lovingly crafted right here in my studio. The purpose of this service is to be able to provide a finished optimised and processed RAW file complete with all meta-data of exactly what was done to the image during post production. A layered PSD file is also provided along with the processed RAW file that includes any and all adjustments made in Photoshop so that you can see exactly how the image was processed and then if you wish apply this process to more of your own files. Importantly, all post processing faithfully reproduces the intent of the original file in accordance with my own ethics for RAW image processing. This includes any adjustments normally allowed by competitions including Nature’s Best Photography and BBC wildlife Photographer of the Year.

The process of having your own RAW file processed is very simple. You simply send me an email with your request and then upload the RAW file/s to a drop box or other file sharing program of your choice for processing. Processing is done in Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud and Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud. Once the image has been processed you will be able to download the RAW file complete with an XMP sidecar file that gives you a step-by-step process on how the image was processed. In addition, you will be able to download a high resolution 16 bit layered PSD file that contains any and all adjustments that may have been made in Photoshop. The purpose of providing the layered PSD file is to allow you to see exactly what adjustments were made to the image and in what order. You can then use these same techniques on more of your own images if you wish. Once you have uploaded your RAW file and sent me an email you will receive an invoice for payment which can be paid either via Paypal or Credit Card (Visa or Mastercard).

Ultimately the purpose of this service is to provide you with the finished optimised RAW file complete with all metadata changes as well as the layered PSD file so that you can use this information to better improve your own image processing techniques.


Turn This: Original Canon EOS 1DX .CR2 RAW File Capture with Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4 Teleconverter ISO200 F11 1/400 of a second  – On a Really Right Stuff TVC24L Tripod with Jobu Gimbal Mount.


Into This: Finished High Resolution Processed PSD File 


  • Faithful processing of your original RAW file in Adobe Lightroom with sidecar XMP containing all the meta data adjustments
  • A High Resolution Layered 16 bit PSD file containing any and all adjustments made in Adobe Photoshop
  • If any cropping is recommended you will be supplied with two versions – the original uncropped image and a cropped version


  • No HDR High Dynamic Range or multi-image composites. If you have these sort of requirements for your finished images you are better off engaging someone who specialises in this sort of post production work
  • A processed image that does not adhere to the original colour and integrity of the RAW file capture
  • Any cloning or removal of objects outside of sensor dust
  • Any digital manipulation that falls outside of that normally allowed by competitions such as Natures Best Photography and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year


The cost to have your RAW file optimally processed and delivered along with a high resolution 16 bit layered PSD file is $110 AUD inclusive of GST per image.


1. How long does it take you to process a file?
It takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour or more to properly process a RAW file and produce a PSD that I consider to be finished and optimised.  Much of that time is often taken up with deciding how to get the optimum result and it often takes some experimentation to really bring out the best in each file.
2. How long from when I upload my RAW file until you can process it and return it?
This depends on my current workload and travel schedule. If I am currently in my studio in Australia the typical turnaround is 3-5 days depending on my current workload. If I am travelling I will send you an email with an updated time of when I can work on your file/s.
3. What do you do with the RAW file afterwards?
All RAW files are deleted along with the PSD files once they are returned to you. I do not keep copies after they are returned. Please note that you need to back-up your own images.
4. My RAW file was returned to me unprocessed?
If your RAW file was returned to you unprocessed you will have also received an email explaining that it could not be processed for some technical reason. These include but are not limited too ‘poor exposure with blown highlights or blocked up shadows’, ‘out of focus’, ‘corrupted file’ or similar technical reason.
5. What if I am not happy with the result?
You will receive a full refund.
6. Do you process the file or do you have someone do it for you?
I personally process and handle your RAW file. No one else will touch it.
7. Can I send you multiple RAW files and ask you to choose the best one?
Please don’t upload multiple RAW files and ask me to choose the best one. This is not an image editing service. The purpose of this service is to provide an optimally processed RAW file and a high resolution layered PSD file so that you can see exactly what was done to the file to eek out the very best from it. If you wish to have your work edited it is better to engage the services of an image editor.
8. I have a lot of images the same. How do I choose the best RAW file to send you?
Check your images for exposure. The best exposure will likely be the one where the histogram is biased towards the right without clipping. Also check your RAW files for sharpness. The best RAW file will be the one that combines the best exposure with the sharpest result.
9. Can I send you Portraits or photographs that don’t fall into the Landscape, Nature or Wildlife Categories?
No. This service is only offered for the processing of RAW files that fall into the Landscape, Nature or Wildlife categories. If you have portrait or other images that require processing or retouching you are better off contacting someone who specialises in the respective genre.
10. Can you make a Fine Art Print of my finished PSD file and send it to me?
Yes. Fine Art Printing of your finished PSD file is available. Please contact me for details.

Epic Sense of Scale Antarctica – On Display at Montsalvat Art Gallery in Eltham

One of my winning photographs at the Victorian Epson Professional Photography Awards earlier this month (an Epic Sense of Scale Antarctica; which scored a Gold with Distinction award with 95 out of 100 points), will go on display next week from June the 5th at Montsalvat Art Gallery in Eltham. I am very honoured to say that this is the third year in a row one of my photographs has been selected to be included in the prestigious Nillumbik Prize. I will be attending the opening gallery drinks at 7pm on the 5th of June so if you in the area and are stopping past please come and say hello. The print measures 24″ x 100″ inches and was printed in my studio on Moab Somerset Museum Rag paper. The task of framing a work this large was entrusted to Art Conservation Framers in North Melbourne.

Namibia Desert Fire Portfolio Release

Today I am very pleased to be releasing my latest work – A Portfolio of new landscape photographs from Namibia titled ‘Desert Fire‘. This new release contains over thirty photographs from my recent overland Safari workshops to Namibia and includes photographs from the iconic locations Dead Vlei, Sossusvlei, and the surreal ghost town of Kolmonskop.

In March and April this year I spent the better part of a month travelling through the deserts of Namibia on two back-to-back overland Safaris with my good friend Andy Biggs. During this time we experienced some incredible landscape and some fantastic weather and light that included sand storms, rain storms, rainbows and more. I will have a full debrief report on these two safaris here on my blog in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please enjoy this new release of photographs. The full portfolio can be seen on my website at www.jholko.com in the Namibia portfolio. I will also be publishing select photographs here on my blog over the next few months.

International Landscape Photographer (Digital Art Award) of the Year

A new competition caught my attention yesterday when an uninvited email hit my inbox – “The International Landscape Photographer of the Year“. Curious about the title I paused from what I was doing and read through the email; a summary of which is included below:

Entries close in just over one week for the International Landscape Photographer of the Year, a new global competition to showcase the best landscape photography. Don’t miss your chance to be one of the 101 inaugural winners! Open to all photographers from around the world, the contest will award the best 101 landscape images from the past 12 months and publish them in a beautiful coffee table book which will be available in a variety of formats, including a free eBook. The judges will also be on a search for the International Landscape Photographer of the Year (based on a folio submission of at least 4 images) and the International Landscape Photograph of the Year (being the best single photograph). Prizes on offer include $10,000 cash, trophies, limited-edition copies of the awards book and large framed prints of winning images (courtesy of our sponsors Momento Photo Books and Created For Life printing and framing).

However, the contest closes on 30 May 2014, just over one week away!

Each entry will be scored by all judges on the panel and receive a score out of 500.

There are also some special awards for a bit of fun and bragging rights, including:

– The Lone Tree Award,
– The Fuzzy Water Award,
– The Jetty Award,
– The Sunset Award,and
– the ‘HOT’ Location Award.

The first ‘HOT’ location in 2014 is ICELAND!

As clearly noted in the email, this is the first time this competition has been run and that got me thinking about it’s title and why we might need yet another photographic competition and so I decided to dig a little deeper. My spider sense started tingling when I started looking into the rules. In my mind a competition that calls itself the International Landscape photographer of the Year should be about the photographer’s ability to capture incredible landscapes in the field (at least thats my assumption and I was clearly naive in this case). Unfortunately, the competition isn’t necessarily about that at all. Since the rules of this new competition clearly state that anything goes in post production. So we are not just talking HDR or multi image composites, we are literally talking – ANYTHING. Sorry folks, thats not a landscape photography competition – thats a Digital Art award. When you open up the flood gates on post production you invite such a broad range of work that any meaningful comparison between the skills of the different photographers in the field becomes utterly meaningless. We are now awarding their skills in post production as retouchers and not their skills to capture landscape imagery in the field. Anything is possible these days in Photoshop. Just search You Tube for examples and you will find digital artists who have created a image of a beautiful woman from a photograph of a slice of pizza (I am not kidding).

To quote the rules: The Entries presented for judging must be photographic in origin (taken with a camera), but there are no restrictions on post-production except that any post-production must be the work of the entrant. You cannot have someone else edit or work on the image for you. We consider this part of the art of landscape photography.

I have to respectfully disagree with whoever made the statement that this is part of the art of landscape photography. To my mind at least, the ‘art of landscape photography’ is in the photographers ability to see and capture an incredible landscape photograph in the field. Not to create one on their computer.

There is a very good reason renowned and respected competitions like Natures Best Photography and BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year demand the RAW file if you are fortunate to make the finals. It’s because the competition is about the photographer’s ability to capture an incredible image in the field. Its most definitely not about their retouching skills back in the studio. I don’t need to elaborate on the rules for these competitions here; you can read them on their respective websites. Suffice to say I feel they are the gold standard in terms of competition rules that others might do well to follow.

It is true there is absolutely nothing to stop anyone entering this new competition with purist photography (and good luck to them if they do). My issue with this new competition and these ‘anything goes rules’  is it pits what might be purist photography that a photographer worked incredibly hard to achieve in the field against the skills of the photographer in Photoshop to create something that did not exist. And that makes it a basket case of a competition in my book.  There is just no way for any judge, no matter how experienced to accurately compare the photographic skill of the entrants when the parameters are so broad. By the time I had finished reading this section of the rules I knew this new competition was not for me. I suspect that many photographers will enter this competition somewhat naively and perhaps be drawn by its enticing title when they do not fully understand what they are really competing against.

The final alarm bell rang when I got to the entry fee for this competition. At eighty dollars for four digital entries that is significantly more expensive than many well established competitions in the market place (Natures Best and BBC wildlife Photographer of the Year come immediately to mind; but there are also many others). To my knowledge APPA (the Australian Professional Photography Awards) are one of the most expensive in the world. But thats a competition where the print is judged (in most categories) and there are very significant expenses associated with running this competition so the cost is justifiable. APPA also openly states it does not run at a profit. In this instance we have an entry fee of $25 per image for the first three images and then an $80 offering for four image entry. Additional entries after that are permitted at $20 and uncapped. So, if you are keen and have the budget you can certainly stack the odds in your favour with multiple entries. 

There are some significant cash prizes in this new competition and that will no doubt entice people to enter. In fact there is a total of $10,000 USD on offer across a range of prizes and thats not to be sneezed at. If we divide $10,000 by $80 (the cost of entry for four images) we get 125 entrants and thats not a lot. And thats before we take into account single image entry income. I blogged a little while ago about competitions that are set up to generate potential profit  for the owners and you can read my thoughts on that HERE. If a competition is being set-up as a business and to make a profit that is returned to share holders it should be clearly indicated in my view. If all of the profits are supposed to be returned to the entrants in terms of prize money (which does not appear to be the case here) then the prize money should be a floating element dependant on the number of paid entries. Incidentally, competitions where the owners of the competition business are also judging the entries are operating somewhat unethically in my view. This is a grey area, but I think its questionable ethics to own or part own a competition that operates as a business and also act as a judge.

Edit – Just as a Post edit: I noticed this comment in the FAQ on the website: What are my chances of winning? Chance does not enter into the process as it is based on the judges’ assessment, but we expect to get several thousand entries.

Several thousand entries? Lets assume that its three thousand entries (it may well be a lot more). Lets divide that by four which is assuming everyone opted for the $80 Entry for four prints. Thats 750 individual entrants all paying $80 each for a revenue of $60,000 USD. Take away the $10,000 USD in prizes and thats a tidy profit of $50,000 USD for the organisers. And it still does not take into account any single entries at $25 or any additional entries over the $80 package for four which are charged at $20 each. All of a sudden this is quite the cash generation machine. I will assume the cost of producing the books is being covered by the print sponsor –  but there is the small cost of some trophies (or perhaps they are diamond encrusted?)

The end result of this new competition is that someone, somewhere is going to be crowned ‘The International Landscape Photographer of the Year’ and we will likely have absolutely no idea what their skills are like as a photographer in the field. We do know the work will likely be outstanding as its going to be voted on by a panel of highly respected and renowned photographers (some of whom I have immense respect for), but the work may well be a complete fabrication on reality and in no way reflect the skill of the photographer to capture a great image in the field.  International Landscape Photographer of the Year seems like a pretty hefty title to me and I would like to have thought that it would be awarded to the photographer who demonstrably demonstrates their skills in the field to capture an incredible landscape photograph and not to the photographer who artificially creates the best photograph on their computer. I contacted the operators of this new competition and expressed my concerns and was told I was being somewhat judgemental. So, rather than belabour my point any further –  You be the judge: International Landscape Photographer of the Year? Or, International Landscape Digital Art Award of the Year.