Australian Geographic magazine is featuring a small gallery of my photography from Antarctica in the Travel section of their website. I will be leading two trips to Antarctica this November and December. The first is an extended expedition to South Georgia Island and Antarctica in early November. The second will depart for the Antarctic peninsula in early December. You can see a complete portfolio of my Antarctic images at my main website at www.jholko.com
The latest issue of Infocus magazine (available for the iPad) has a new feature article titled ‘A World Apart’ on how to choose your next Photography Workshop. The invitation to comment for this article was timed with an interesting email I received asking advice on how to choose a photo safari – “I want to do a safari to Africa next year and as you do not run Safari’s I thought you might be able to give me some impartial advice on how to go about choosing a safari that will give me the best photo opportunities.”
This email got me thinking further about how to best go about choosing the right workshop. In conjunction with the article in InFocus magazine; below are my top ten tips for choosing your next workshop. Just click on the image below to Download the InFocus Article.TOP TEN TIPS FOR CHOOSING YOUR NEXT PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR OR WORKSHOP
1 – ACCREDITATION, PROFESSIONALISM AND ETHICS
There are many ‘photographers’ out there competing for your business in the workshops and photography tours market. Many of them are not full time professional photographers, but are rather semi-professional, or perhaps professional amateurs is more accurate. These photographers have regular day jobs but present themselves as full time photographers through their websites and social media channels. Beleive it or not this is a very common occurrence. With the ease and availability of DSLR’s there has been an explosive proliferation of ‘professional photographers’. It is usually not too hard to find out who the real full time photographers are once you start digging, but don’t always accept on face value that a photographer is a full time professional just because their website says so. In the world of photography tours and workshops it may not matter if your leader is a true full time professional, but you should at least know their true status before you commit to travelling with them. It can also give you significant insight into the character of your potential leader and their experience leading trips.
2 – PRIOR HISTORY & LOCAL GUIDES
Has your workshop leader been to the location that you are planning to travel with them? You would be surprised, but there are many operators who want you to help fund their next adventure and there are unfortunately countless examples of photographers who have used paying customers to help them access new locations they have wanted to photograph. Unless the trip is clearly labelled and marketed as a ‘scouting trip’ you should expect your leader to have prior experience in the areas you will be travelling. They should know the best locations and what time to be there for the best light. They should also be able to tell you some classic photographs at each location as well as view points that are less well known. In other words, they should have on the ground experience in the locations they are planning to take you.
Does the leader you are considering travelling with use a local guide? Local guides are a key component to a successful trip. The ability to read local weather, find out of the way locations, manage local logistics, deal with any accommodation issues, understand local laws and customs is absolutely essential to a successful experience. Sometimes the leader is also the guide and this can work extremely well if it is their home country in which they are guiding and leading. It doesn’t matter how many times you visit a country, there is no substitute for local knowledge and a local guide. Make sure your next trip includes one.
3 – PORTFOLIO OF IMAGES
If you are planning a workshop be sure that the workshop leader has a strong portfolio of their own photographs from the location you are planning to visit with them. The leader’s portfolio is an excellent indication of not only their abilities as a photographer, but also an insight into the time they have spent in that location and their ability to produce strong work as a professional. If your workshop leader can’t show you a strong portfolio of images from the location there is a fair chance they have never been there before or that they have little experience in the area.
4 – TESTIMONIALS AND FEEDBACK
Does the workshop or tour leader you are planning to travel with have feedback from prior participants and prior trips on their website? Testimonials and client feedback are an excellent gauge of the experience others have had before you and can give you a real insight into the sort of person you are about to travel with. A testimonial isn’t worth the paper it is printed on if it does not come with an email address, website or some other way for you to verify that the testimonial is truthful and accurate. Any testimonial should be signed off with the clients first and last name and either an email address or website link. If it has neither, then disregard it. A single testimonial that includes a customers full name and some method of contacting them is far more valuable than a hundred testimonials that contain no contact details. Independent verification is the key to the strength and power of the testimonial.
5 – LEGAL / INSURANCE AND PERMITS
Unfortunately, there are quite a number of workshop and tour operators that operate outside the law to varying degrees. Some of these leaders simply lack the necessesary insurance to lead trips, where as others lack the required official permits. Leaders operating in this manner are not only behaving irresponsibly and unethically (and in some cases illegally), but are also muddying the waters for those leaders who operate within the law and to the highest standards possible. Tour leaders who operate without permits can be asked to leave National Parks and permit restricted areas on the spot with no regard or recompense for workshop participants. Make sure the workshop leader you are considering travelling with has insurance and relevant permits and permissions.
6 – INDUSTRY RECOGNITION / ACCOLADES AND AWARDS
Awards and accolades are great indicator of the quality of work your potential leader has produced. Look to their awards and accolades for their ability to make a great photograph – not for their ability to mentor or teach as those are very different skills. However, a leader who has consistently won awards for their photography likely has a strong ability to produce good work on a regular basis. You can potentially learn a lot from watching how they work in the field, how they compose and create their photographs. Industry awards and accolades are also also a good indication of peer recognition. They are also a good indicator of prior experience. For example, a photographer who has won numerous awards for their Africa images likely has significant experience travelling in this area.
7 – TAG TEAM
It is becoming increasingly common for workshop leaders to team up on trips to add both benefit and credibility to a trip. Chances are if you see a workshop is being led by multiple well respected leaders there is a very good chance you are booking onto a great experience. Tag Team trips also help reduce the instructor / student ratio so if you are looking for good solid one-on-one time with your leader/s Tag Team workshops are a great idea. Multiple leaders also helps spread the workload so your leaders will likely be more relaxed and better able to help you.
8 – GROUP SIZE
Look at the maximum number of participants on the trip. Are you willing to travel with that many other people? The instructor / student relationship is very important if you want serious one on one time with your tour leader. If the trip is ship based then you should look carefully at any landing restrictions for places you will be visiting. You want to avoid being on a ship where you cannot go ashore because there are too many people on board (this can happen in Antarctica with IATO restrictions).
9 – ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD
It goes without saying that you should fully arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect in the way of accommodation and food during your trip. Most photography tours and workshops include accommodation and food in the total cost. Make sure you request a single supplement if you want a private room and make sure you check if any special dietary accommodations can be catered too. Ask your operator what sort of accommodation and food to expect for the duration of the trip.
10 – PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP OR PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR?
The difference between a photography workshop and a photography tour may not be immediatetly apparent to many people. However, there is a vast difference between the two and it is important to understand the difference so that you can better choose which is right for you. Photo workshops should be instructional in nature and the leader should be student focused, helping each participant with assistance in the field when required. The leader should be not only an accomplished photographer but also a comptetent educator (and the two do not often go hand in hand). Just because the photographer has won multiple award does not necessarily make them a good teacher. This is where testimonials can really help you evaluate the leader you are considering travelling with.
Tours, on the other hand, tend to be more loosely structured. The primary responsibility of tour leaders is to get the group to a specific destination in good light, and in some cases, that’s it. Many tour leaders will go above and beyond and answer questions about photography or will provide insight as to the location or subject being photographed, telling about the history of a place or behavior of an animal, but don’t expect that they will. In some cases, the guide may not be a photographer at all, while in others, the guide may be an accomplished photographer and primarily focused on creating their own images while on the trip. While neither of these is necessarily bad, it is important for a photographer who signs up for a photographic experience to know what to expect from their leader. If you aren’t sure how hands on your tour leader may be and what role they will take during your trip, be sure to ask and get a clear explanation before you sign up.
Similarly, many workshops provide classroom based instruction of some sort. This may take the form of presentations on specific subjects or techniques, workflow and post processing sessions using Lightroom and Photoshop, photo critique sessions, or opportunities for questions and answers. Mostly, these sessions fill up the middle of the day when the light on location is no good for shooting. Before signing up for a workshop, know which of these, if any, will be included so that any expectations you have are met.
BONUS – SENSE OF HUMOUR
Believe it or not a sense of humour is one of the most important components a workshop leader requires. You are going to spend anywhere from a single day to a month with your workshop leader which means you need to take into acount and consider the personality, attitude and sense of humour. The choice of leader is as important as the destination and your choice will likely be the difference between a wonderfully enjoyable experience and one you might care to forget.
A few days ago I completed the long haul flights from Australia to Oslo and then the short hop across to Iceland (thank you to Iceland Air for the business class upgrade – much appreciated!). It is again wonderful to be back in this amazing country. I admit to being super keen to visit Vegamót (one of my favourite eating establishments in Reykjavik) for a bowl of seafood soup as soon as possible after landing. I got sidetracked looking through the menu however and ended up with the Lobster pizza – still excellent!
Thankfully I can report that I did not have any issues with the airlines and my camera gear on the journey over here (either with Qatar or Iceland Air). Travelling with large amounts of camera gear is getting harder and harder and I always get a little nervous about lugging so much gear on the eve of an overseas trip. Its always a nice feeling to get off the plane at the final destination with all of your equipment on your person and in tact.
Tomorrow Daniel Bergmann and I are kicking off the first of two Ultimate Iceland Workshops which will see us circumnavigate the island as we explore many of the dramatic landscapes this island has to offer. Those of you who follow my blog are already aware of my love for the highland regions of this country and we will be spending a good amount of time in the interior of Iceland. But I am also very much looking forward to returning to Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls. It has been a few years since I last visited these waterfalls and I am keen to re-shoot them with new vision. Ridley Scott put Dettifoss on the Hollywood map a couple of years ago when he chose to photograph one of the more dramatic scenes from his movie Prometheus at the waterfalls edge – an angle I shot several years earlier. I have had more than a hankering to return to this waterfall since I first saw the movie. For now though, its time to get started with a morning espresso. See you on the road…
This is my last post for a while as I will be piling into the taxi shortly and heading to the airport to make my way to Iceland for my 2014 back-to-back Ultimate Iceland workshops. I have been looking forward to these two workshops for some time as we are circumnavigating the island during both these tours and taking in a great many of its incredible locations. I am particularly looking forward to returning to Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls as well as well as the geothermal highland regions of Landmannalaugar and Vedivotn. Both of these areas are more or less inaccessible in winter and both are two of my favourite areas for photography in Iceland. We will have hours of golden light under the midnight sun which is going to give us lots of opportunities to make incredible images in this amazing country.At the conclusion of these two Iceland workshops I will be boarding the expedition ship Polar Pioneer and sailing to Greenland and Svalbard on the Jewels of the Arctic Expeditions. Greenland and Svalbard offer incredible opportunities and the high Arctic is a breathtaking landscape to experience and explore and I am very much looking forward to returning. You can read a report on last years Jewels of the Arctic expedition HERE. Peter Eastway who accompanied me as my co-leader also had a Feature Article in Better Photography magazine on this exciting adventure. We are looking forward to monolithic icebergs, glaciers, towering mountains that guard the fjords and with a little luck we will see and photograph the King of the Arctic – the Polar Bear. If you are interested in photographing Polar Bears then Daniel Bergmann and I are running an expedition for just twelve photographers in August next year dedicated to photographing the King of the Arctic. You can read more about that expedition HERE. Places are now very limited.
I usually make a dedicated post on what equipment I am taking with me on each trip but I have just not had time over the last few weeks so am including it here: The Canon 1DX will remain my primary camera of choice for these trips. I will also carry a back up Canon 1DS MK3 and a couple of spare batteries so that I can shoot with both cameras when on ship and zodiac in the Arctic. Experience has shown me that I can pretty much go an entire day without a battery change but I like to have spares on hand just in case. I have long pondered the idea of taking a camera with more mega pixels with me (particularly for Iceland) but I have ultimately decided that the quality of the pixels in the 1DX are more than good enough for my requirements. I have been making really wonderful 20 x 30 and 40 x 60 inch prints from Canon 1DX files and have now sold quite a lot of large prints made with images taken with the 1DX. The 1DSMK3 is somewhat long in the tooth these days, but it still makes excellent photographs at low ISO and in its rugged 1-seris body its the ideal 2nd body for photography in the Arctic regions.
In terms of new equipment for these trips I am taking the new Canon 16-35mm F4L IS lens and am looking forward to shooting with this lens from ship and zodiac in the Arctic. Canon has long needed a high quality wide angle zoom and the new 16-35mm F4L IS lens has finally plugged that gap. You can read my thoughts on Canon’s current lens line-up HERE.
Gura Gear Bataflae 32L: (carry on luggage – Believe it or not this does all fit in the one camera bag!)
- Canon EOS 1DX Pro Body Camera
- Canon EOS 1DS MK3 Pro Body Camera
- Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
- Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE MKII Lens
- Canon 16-35mm F4L IS Lens
- Canon 24-70mm F2.8L MKII Lens (The MKII version of this lens is an amazing piece of glass)
- Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS MKII Lens
- Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII Lens
- 2 x Spare Batteries for the 1DX and 1DS MK3
- Canon 1.4 TC MKIII Tele-Extender
- Leica Ultra-Vid HD Binoculars
- Cable Release and Bubble Level
- Assorted CF and SD Cards totalling around 100 Gigabytes
- Rocket Blower and Dust Cleaning paraphernalia
- Complete LEE Foundation and Filter Kit with Soft and Hard ND Graduated filters and LEE Polariser – includes LEE adapter for the Canon 17mm TSE Lens
I am carrying the two TSE lenses specifically for landscape photography in Iceland. I expect to use the new Canon 16-35mm F4L IS when on my Jewels of the Arctic expedition when shooting from ship and zodiac. I am primarily carrying the 600m and 200-400mm lenses for Polar Bears and other wildlife in the Arctic, but also intend to use them to photograph birds at Jökulsarlon in Iceland.
Gura Gear Chobe Bag: (carry on luggage)
- 15″ Macbook Pro with Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS6 with the Nik Plugin suite
- MacBook Power Adapter
- Canon 200-400mm F4L IS Lens with inbuilt 1.4 TC (Watch the Unboxing Video) This lens ‘just’ fits inside the Chobe!
- 1 x LACIE Thunderbolt External 1TB Hard Drive for in the field Back Up.
- Various Power Adapters / Chargers and Associated Cables
- Canon 1DX / 1DS MK3 Battery Charger
- iPad Mini (e-books and movies for the long flights)
- USB CF and SD Card reader
- Passport / iPhone / Wallet
- Astell and Kern AK100 MK2 High Definition Portable Audio Player & Inner Ear Stage 2 Driver Headphones
- A lot of these items I store inside Gura Gear Etcetera cases inside the Chobe. (These cases are fabulous for organising accessories)
North Face Thunder Rolling Duffle: (checked luggage)
- Arctic Sport Muck Boots
- 66º North Wet and Cold Weather Outer Shells
- Arc’teryx Kappa and Atom LT Jackets
- Devold Expedition Base Layers
- Mid Layers – Trekking Pants and Tops
- Light Weight Long Sleeve Shirts for Namibia
- Gloves and Hat
- Miscellaneous clothes
- Personal items and toiletries – including Sunscreen
Tripod: (checked luggage)
- Really Right TVC24L Tripod
- Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head
- Really Right Stuff Tripod Spikes (For mossy ground and rock claws for ice and rock)
- Jobo Jnr. Deluxe Gimbal Head with Really Right Stuff Dovetail Base Plate
I am going to do my best as always to update my blog whilst I am away; but posts may be somewhat sporadic, particularly when I am at sea in the Arctic. For now, I have nearly thirty six hours of travel ahead of me and it’s time to make a start. See you in Iceland.
Icelandic Nature Photographer and good friend, Daniel Bergmamn and I are very excited to announce a new expedition to the very edge of the permanent pack ice north of Svalbard to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice – The Kingdom of the Ice Bear.The High Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination. Nowhere is it more accessible than the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located deep within the Arctic Circle. With the reduction in Arctic sea ice the Polar Bears in Svalbard are dwindling in number and the number of years left to photograph them is unfortunately limited. July and August are the ideal times to photograph Polar Bears north of Svalbard due to the dwindling ice around the archipelago. We will be photographing Polar Bears under the midnight sun and as such we will work late into the evening when the light is best. We are highly manoeuvrable on our small ship and our experienced captain and expedition leader will place us in the best possible position for photographing the bears we encounter.