2014 A Retrospective and What’s in Store for 2015?

As has become a tradition for me I like to do a “What’s in Store” post here on my blog for the coming year as well as reflect back, and wrap up the year that was. 2014 was a huge year for me both with destinations visited, sheer number of international miles travelled as well as competition results. 2014 also marked the year I finally visited Africa and completed the seven continents. I have no idea how many actual miles I covered in 2014 in total, how many aeroplanes I boarded, how many times I went through airport security or how many tens of hours I spent waiting around in airports for connecting flights, but it was a lot – an awful lot. I wish I was better at taking advantage of layover time to catch up on email and office work but the reality is I am usually in a semi-vegitative state from jet lag and in no fit state to focus on any actual work. The positive flip side being I have such a love and passion of photography in the Polar regions that I could not ever imagine doing anything else. Airport layovers are therefore nothing more than an unfortunate means to a much loved end. 2015 will certainly have its fair share of flights and layovers and I am trying to work through as much office work as possible in the next few days before I board the next plane.

Over the course of this year I published my favourite twelve photographs here on my blog. Please be sure to check them out and let me know what you thought. I don’t think I have an overall favourite this year, although I definitely have a soft spot for this photograph of the giant sand dune and ghost forest I photographed in Namibia early this year. To those of you who have emailed me asking if and when I will be offering a future Namibia workshop the answer is unfortunately not in 2015 as I have too many other commitments. However, I am tentatively planning a future workshop for early April 2016 and will have more to say on this at a later date.

Ghost Forest

In competition terms, 2014 was my biggest year yet and winning the 2014 Canon APPA Professional Science, Nature and Environment photographer of the year as well as the highest scoring print in this category was a massive honour and thrill that I am still buzzing from. To pick this award up after already winning the Science, Nature and Environment category at the Victorian State Awards as well as 2014 Epson Professional Creative Photographer of the Year, Highest Scoring Print of the Year and overall win for Epson 2014 Professional Victorian Photographer of the Year was just about the perfect result and I quite honestly couldn’t be more thrilled. It was all topped off with wining the 2014 Travel Photographer of the Year in the Wild and Vibrant category a couple of weeks ago; which was just about the perfect news to receive on returning from Antarctica. It was a fantastic year and I have been really humbled by the results – thank you.

Australian Professional Photography Awards: Science, Environment and Nature Category Winner 2014
Australian Professional Photography Awards: Science, Environment and Nature Category Winner 2014

2014 was also my biggest year yet for workshops and expeditions. The year kicked off with an ‘almost’ local two week New Zealand South Island workshop which included helicopter time over the spectacular southern Alps. We visited Milford Sound, Queenstown, Kaikoura, Mount Cook and a great many other off the beaten track locations during the workshop and were treated to some fantastic weather and light (Read the Trip Report). New Zealand is a country made for photography and it is always fantastic to return to this wonderful country. Below is a short snippet of raw video from the workshop.NZVideoDaniel Bergmann and I then ran our annual Winter Iceland workshop (Read the Trip Report) that included destinations in both the north and south of the Island. Iceland in winter is an incredible experience and this workshop provided us with wonderful opportunities in a snow covered landscape. I then backed up Iceland in Winter by flying straight to Africa for two back-to-back Namibia overland Safaris (Read the Trip Reports). Namibia was a truly amazing experience and its ancient landscapes are ideally suited to the intrepid landscape photographer – even if it is hot!

After a short break, I then returned to Iceland for the Summer season and lead two back-to-back Ultimate Summer workshops that saw us circumnavigate the Island twice and photograph a great many of Iceland’s incredible locations (Read the Trip Report). I never tire of returning to Iceland and eagerly look forward to each return visit. The 2015 Iceland Highlands workshop is sold out, but I will soon be announcing the 2016 schedule for those of you who would like to get the drop on securing an early place. Just drop me an email to register your interest – no obligation at this point.

After Iceland I led a two week expedition that departed from Isafjord in the north of Iceland and sailed across the Denmark Strait to Greenland and Svalbard ‘The Jewels of the Arctic‘. During the expedition we explored and photographed many of Greenland’s incredible mountain lined fjords, rugged landscapes and arctic tundra slopes before we sailed across the Greenland sea to Svalbard (Read the Trip Report). Greenland has some of the most amazing geology of any place I have ever visited and in combination with gigantic icebergs it offers unique opportunities for photography.

In November I travelled to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica for a twenty one day expedition that saw us photographing in some of the world’s best locations for wildlife. We sailed from Ushuaia aboard our expedition ship stopping at several places in the Falklands along the way. We then spent several days in South Georgia before sailing to Antarctica. I have really been enjoying seeing the fantastic photographs being shared on social media taken by all who participated on this expedition – and although I suffered quite badly from sea sickness during this voyage it really was remarkable.  I hope to post a trip report as well as more photographs over the coming weeks. In the meantime, this was a photograph I made at Grytviken in South Georgia Island of a very curious baby Elephant Seal. The photograph was taken with a Canon EOS 1DX with a 16-35mm F4L IS lens and an Aquatech Underwater Sport Housing with wide-angle dome port. My sincere thanks to Aquatech for their support with equipment for this expedition. Baby Elephant Seal

At the conclusion of this expedition I travelled with friends to the Argentinian side of Patagonia to spend some time hiking in the back country and relaxing before I led one final expedition for the year to the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the second time I have been to Patagonia; although it was the first time I have visited the Argentinian side. Last year I spent a week on the Chilean side of Patagonia and it was interesting to experience the difference between the two areas.  In terms of sheer impact, I have to say I prefer the Argentinean side; although both are spectacular and both are equally exposed to ferocious winds. Patagonia is a wild place and you have never truly experienced the power and ferocity of Nature’s winds until you have travelled and hiked in this area of the world. I took the opportunity to put down my cameras whilst in Patagonia and although I made a few photographs I really took the opportunity to have some down time and just share the experience with good friends. I really needed time to recharge my batteries before the final Antarctic expedition and Patagonia was the perfect experience.

The final expedition to Antarctica proved about as perfect an experience as one could hope for in terms of weather. This was the first time I can recall visiting Antarctica and not loosing any time or landings due to wind and weather. Although I prefer moody, dark and overcast skies for my photography it was nice to see some blue sky and visit a few new locations during this trip. This photograph of the old whaling ship ‘The Governor’ was taken at Enterprise Island and is a good example of the kind of weather we experienced. This was the first time I have visited Enterprise Island but it will most certainly be on the hit list for future expeditions.The GovernorAll up I led a total of nine separate international workshops and expeditions in 2014 spread across more than ten countries (not including some local private workshops to the Great Ocean Road as well as one-on-one Print workshops). A brief count tallies up more than thirty international plane rides and more than thirty thousand exposures (wish they were all keepers!) and a lot more than thirty hours of lost sleep. It was a fantastic year and I just want to thank all of you who I was fortunate to meet, travel and photograph with throughout the year. It was real privilege to share in such remarkable destinations with so many fantastic photographers – thank you.

2015 is shaping up to be an even bigger year than 2014 in terms of both miles and locations and I am really excited about whats in store. In February I will lead a sold out trip to Yellowstone in Winter. Yellowstone in winter has long been on my wish list and I am very excited to be travelling to the USA again with such a small group of fantastic friends and photographers. We are looking forward to photographing Bison, Elk, incredible snow covered landscapes and with a little luck perhaps even Wolves and Lynx.

Yellowstone Sold OutIn March I will lead my annual Winter Aurora workshop to Iceland (Sold Out) with my good friend Daniel Bergmann. We have a  slightly different itinerary in store to last year and will be visiting both the south east and south west coasts during this workshop. At the conclusion of this trip I am going to fly over to Svalbard and spend some time in the backcountry via snowmobile photographing Polar Bears and Arctic Fox in winter. I will then fly back to Iceland to continue my Arctic Fox project in the north of the country. I hope to share a lot more of this project over the coming year as I continue to assemble the images but you can get a preview on my website in the Arctic Fox Project.Arctic Fox AttackIn May I am going to make the short hop across to the South Island of New Zealand to co-lead a Masterclass workshop with friend Phillip Bartlett. The South Island of New Zealand is breathtaking and was made for landscape and Nature photography. We have some really exciting locations lined up for this trip that include helicopter access into the remote back country. Click on the image below for a video preview of whats in store.


In July I will head back to Svalbard to lead my Wild Polar Bears expedition (Sold Out) from Longyearbyen up to the permanent pack ice. At the conclusion of this trip I am flying to Iceland where Daniel and I will lead our Iceland Highlands expedition (Sold Out). We both then return to Svalbard for our Kingdom of the Ice Bear expedition. Untitled Film Works will be joining us on this expedition and will be producing a short film of our experiences as we photograph the King of the Arctic. This will be the second film Untitled Film works will have shot and produced for me and I am looking forward to working with them again. You can watch the first Polar Photography Experience movie by clicking on the image below.polar-experience-videoKingdomoftheIceBear2015In November I will travel to the Falkland Islands (our departure point) with Norwegian friend Ole Jorgen for a dedicated fifteen day photographic expedition to South Georgia Island. Unlike the expedition I led this year which also took in Antarctica this new expedition will focus solely on the wilds of South Georgia Island. We have secured a permit for a much longer stay than usual and will instead have ten full days of photography in this incredible location. We intend to explore many of the more rarely visited and out of the way locations as well as some of the major highlights. It is sure to be an absolute wildlife fiesta. There are currently only two places remaining on this expedition before it will be sold out. KingPenguinsAt the conclusion of the South Georgia expedition I will remain in the Falkland Islands for a one week extension to photograph at two of the worlds best hot spots for Birds – Sea Lion Island and Saunders Island. This will be a very small group of photographers and we will move between the islands via small charter plane. The Falklands is a world class location for photographing Albatross as well as King Penguins and Rock Hopper Penguins and I am looking forward to returning to this remarkable area.

I then have one final expedition to Antarctica for the year that will take me right through until Christmas and wrap up 2015. Its going to be a very busy and hectic year and I am keen to get make a start in Yellowstone in just a few weeks time.

In other projects, I am also aiming to finalise and publish my book ‘Extreme Latitude’ early next year. This long overdue project has been sitting ‘mostly’ finished on my hard drive for the last couple of years and it is time to pull it all together and complete it.

A final sneak peak into 2016 for those of you who have managed to read this far: I will be announcing at some stage next year a unique once in a lifetime expedition to travel deep into Antarctica via snow plane and snow mobile to live, camp and photograph with the mighty Emperor Penguins. The expedition will likely be early November 2016 and be strictly limited to a very small number of photographers. I will have more to say about this opportunity next year.

Lastly, I want to wish all of you a very safe and happy New Year and may 2015 be one of amazing light and experiences for all of you.

Testimonial from Garry Smith – Photographers South Georgia and Antarctica 2014

“Hi Josh, Back on land again in Ushuaia after 20 mind blowing days of amazing wildlife, amazing scenery, amazing seas etc etc in the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. Still having trouble processing all the things I have seen and done. My thanks to you for providing an unforgettable photographic experience, for all your assistance and companionship.” Garry Smith

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings

I just wanted to wish all of you who may have travelled and photographed with me either past, present or future, who follow my blog and photography or even just stumbled across my work somewhere, a very happy and safe Christmas and festive season. I hope Santa brings you some new photography toys and that you are fortunate to spend this festive time with close friends and family. Wishing you good health and happiness and all the very best for the festive season and New Year.

It is going to be a busy couple of weeks for me before I head back to Antarctica. I hope to finalise my 2015 What’s in Store Blog Post as well as finish the trip reports from South Georgia and Antarctica. I hope to also process and share some of the images I made during these expeditions. For now though, its time to celebrate Christmas with friends and family, say thanks for a wonderful 2014 and usher in the New Year. Roll on 2015.Chinstrap Penguin

Travel Photographer of the Year Winner 2014 – Wild and Vibrant Category

I have just returned home to Australia after spending the last two months in South Georgia Island, Patagonia and Antarctica. Two months photographing in these incredible wilderness areas was as always a fantastic experience that was wonderful to share with so many like-minded friends and participants. I will have photographs to share and a lot more to say about these expeditions over the coming weeks once I get a chance to catch up on email correspondence, jet lag and family Christmas celebrations. Celebrations have at least started a few days early as I was very excited to learn on docking back in Puerto Williams from Antarctica that I had just won the 2014 Travel Photographer of the Year award in the Wild and Vibrant category. I only learned I was even in the TPOTY Finals a few weeks earlier after I docked back in Ushuaia from my first expedition to South Georgia Island and Antarctica. In fact, it was a mad panic and rush to get the prints made remotely and submitted by the deadline for the final round of judging. I only had a few days between expeditions and had to engage a third party company to make the prints on my behalf. Had I the time I would have much preferred to make the prints myself but given my printer was more than several thousand miles away I had to settle for a high quality lab in the UK. Travel photographer of the Year is one of the few remaining competitions that still judge the printed image and it is a massive thrill and honour to have won the Single Shot Wild and Vibrant Category with one of my Polar Bear photographs from Svalbard in the Arctic.

The judges said “In a time of environmental change the polar bear has become a powerful symbol of man’s impact on our climate. The wildness of this image is evident but the image also conveys vibrancy, both in colour and in the sense of power and energy. The elegance of the setting contrasts with the gruesome natural way of life in this harsh environment of Svalbard while the two splashes of red connect death with survival.”

The winning photograph has subsequently been featured by the UK Daily Mail, National Geographic Itlay, The Guardian, The UK Telegraph, the German news website Spiegel Online and more. Winning Travel Photographer of the Year in the Wild and Vibrant Category has topped off for me what has been a truly incredible year in the competition arena. The standards in these competitions are incredibly high and it an immense honour to win the category.VPPY - Gold Award

I am very much looking forward to returning to the pack ice north of Svalbard later this year in search of more Polar Bears on two separate photographic expeditions – Wild Polar Bears and Kingdom of the Ice Bear. Due to a recent cancellation there is now a single place available on the Wild Polar Bears expedition. If you would like to take advantage of this opportunity to travel to the edge of the permanent pack ice and photograph Polar Bears just a few hundred miles south of the North Pole then just drop me an email for more information or to register your interest. You can also download a PDF information flyer from www.jholko.com

Spirit of Antarctica 2014 Complete – Heading Home

After nearly two months of solid photography in South Georgia Island, Antarctica and Patagonia I am finally headed home later today in time for Christmas with my family. The last two months has been nothing short of a phenomenal experience that was as always a sheer pleasure to share with so many like minded and passionate photographers.

I am currently in Puerto Williams in Chile having just docked a couple of hours ago after returning from my last Antarctica expedition of the year. We were fortunate to have a relatively mild Drake crossing on the return which was a pleasant and welcome surprise. Another pleasant surprise has been I just learnt that I have won the 2014 Travel Photographer of the Year Award for the Wild and Vibrant Category. The winning photograph was shot last year in Svalbard.VPPY - Gold Award

I admit to being pretty shattered at this point having existed on little sleep over this last two months. With so much exposure to the midnight sun so far south my body clock is a bit of a mess. The one benefit of this state of exhaustion is that I am likely to at least catch up on some sleep on the long haul flights home. I quite honestly have no idea when I will get a chance to process some of the photographs I have made during this time away as my time at home is very limited before I next head overseas. In the meantime, I am very much looking forward to walking in my front door, seeing my family and spending Christmas with my kids.

If you have been following along on my blog you will know that I will only be home for a two weeks before I will head back to South America and Antarctica for a scouting trip to photograph the mighty Emperor Penguins at the beginning of 2015. I am super excited about this new opportunity and am looking forward to heading deep into remote Antarctica where the Emperors make their home. The intention of this scouting trip is to spend a week camping and living on the sea ice with the Emperors in order to ensure everything is in place for a future small group photographic expedition in 2016. I will have more to say about this expedition soon. For now, if you are interested in a future expedition to visit, camp, photograph and live with Emperor Penguins you can drop me an email to express your interest – no obligation at this point.

Now, its time to head to the airport in Puerto Williams and start the long trek home. See you in Australia.