Book Review: Arctic the Best Photographs – 2013

My fourth book review for 2015 is Arctic The Best Photographs. Arctic the Best Photographs is a publication of the winning, runner up and highly commended photographs from the 2013 Russian Global Arctic Awards Photographic competition.5cd8cba1efcef904bc1f5439b1d16294Arctic the Best Photographs is therefore a collection of photographers work (90 different photographers) that was judged to be the best from the 2013 Global Arctic Awards. As such, there is a broad diversity of work throughout the book from many different photographers and the genres range from wildlife to landscape, people, travel and more.  I found this diversification of work to be an enjoyable experience as it really showcases how many different aspects there are to life in the Arctic. If you value photography from the Arctic regions you will certainly find many images that will appeal to you. As you would expect for a “Russian photographic publication” the included text is presented in Russian as the first language and the English translation supplied next to it.

With a shelf price of 35 Euro Arctic the Best Photographs isn’t exactly inexpensive, but on the other hand no quality photographic book ever is and the pricing is commensurate with similar publications. Just as an aside, freight to Australia for Arctic the Best Photographs was considerable at more than twenty Euros making the cost of ownership higher than would perhaps be expected. First world problems…

Presentation: Arctic the Best Photographs is hardbound in a nice clean glossy finish with de-bossed silver text on the cover (there is no dust jacket). Consisting of approximately 160 pages in an almost square (26cm x 24 cm) format there is a large amount of material enclosed and as such the book is quite hefty for its size. The choice of square format for this publication was a clever decision that gives equal billing to both portrait and horizontal images. The paper is a medium weight semi-gloss lustre that is satisfactory; if somewhat lacking to some of the finer papers found in higher quality publications. Although, I personally prefer art papers to lustre papers the choice of paper in Arctic the Best Photographs is suitably chosen and appropriate for the imagery.  I like the inclusion of matching end papers that increase the overall quality of the presentation. Most of the included photographs are printed with a white paper border to help frame and contain the image and keep the eye from running off the page. There are a few full bleed images included and I felt these detracted from the rest of the presentation. Whilst I appreciate the use of the occasional full bleed image to help break up a book I do feel that their use really takes away from the images that receive this treatment. Otherwise the layout is pleasing with each photograph receiving its warranted billing. Each photograph is titled with the image title, photographers name and the location of where the photograph was taken (in both Russian and English). Overall the presentation is satisfactory, but falls short of excellence.

Print Quality: The 2014 Canon APPA Gold awards book I reviewed earlier this year remains the gold standard in print quality that surpasses anything I have yet seen from an offset printer. Arctic the Best Photographs unfortunately falls more than a little short of this benchmark with quality that can perhaps best be described as average. As you would expect of a book that encompasses the best photographs of the Arctic, many of them were shot in superb light and its unfortunate that this has not translated well in print. The print quality is better than I have seen from many self publish books, but is definitely not representative of the best it can be. I am always left somewhat disappointed when I am looking at fantastic photographs that are poorly printed – it really detracts from the overall experience and leaves me unfulfilled. Just as an aside Arctic the Best Photographs was printed in Latvia. I have several other books I purchased recently also printed in Latvia and they range in quality from quite good, to mediocre. Arctic the Best Photographs unfortunately falls in the mediocre camp.

Conclusion: Arctic the Best Photographs is a solid two star presentation of the best photographs from the 2013 Global Arctic Awards. The photographs contained therein are for the most part superb and on their own would rate much higher (although there is the odd cliché image that obviously still managed to woo the judges). I really wanted to give Arctic the Best Photographs more than two stars as there are so many fantastic photographs included in the book; however, the print quality really lets down the photographs and left me feeling somewhat short changed. Arctic the Best Photographs is a worthwhile addition to any photographic library that values photography from the Arctic regions. ** Consider buying this book if the subject matter appeals to you.

Footnote: Arctic the Best Photographs (2013) is now in limited supply and Arctic the Best Photographs (2014) appears to be already sold out.

Svalbard Polar Bear Expeditions 2015 Report

In July and August 2015 I lead two photographic expeditions to the edge of the permanent pack ice north of Svalbard to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting in their natural environment. During the expeditions we also photographed incredible arctic landscapes as well as other wildlife of the Arctic region including Walrus, Arctic Fox, Whales, Seals and a plethora of sea birds including the rare and angelic Ivory Gull and the even rarer Sabine Gull (the first time I have seen and photographed this gull). Both of these expeditions were for small groups of just twelve passionate photographers and utilised a small ice hardened ship that enabled us to sail north directly into the pack ice in search of the king of the Arctic.

Importantly, our ship had very low decks that were very close the waterline which enabled us to make photographs at eye level for more intimate images. The choice of ship for expeditions such as these is critical to the ability to put yourself in the best possible place to make powerful and emotive photographs. Large ships that are unable to penetrate the ice and with high decks  where you have to compete for space with other passengers are far from ideal and unsuited to photography expeditions.DJI_0009-EditDuring both expeditions we were fortunate to see and photograph Polar Bears on the pack ice including a number of Bears on recent seal kills. Seeing a Polar Bear on a seal kill is a very rare event and as luck would have it were able to photograph the kills and all aboard were able to capture some really fantastic photographs.

Although both expeditions had the same objectives, we undertook very different routes on both trips to achieve them. On the first expedition (July 25th – August 4th 2015) we sailed south to the bottom of Spitsbergen before rounding the cape and heading north. Our decision to head south was an educated gamble based on the prevailing weather and as it turned out it really payed off with a wonderful mother and cub polar Bear encounter on the sea ice in our first twenty four hours. We also scored the added bonus of circumnavigating Spitsbergen (something I had not done before).Svalbard-2143-EditWe continued our northerly travels encountering a mix of weather and fog before we arrived into better conditions in the Hinlopen strait. In this area we explored and photographed the spectacular 200 mile+ long glacier face Bråsvellbreen and the plunging bird cliffs at Kapp Fanshawe. The sights and sounds of thousands of nesting birds against such a precipitous cliff is an awe inspiring sight. I have been fortunate to visit this area a number of times now and it never ceases to impress. Bobbing up and down in a zodiac beneath these rock spires, surrounded by thousands of Arctic birds is a very special experience.Svalbard-0404We continued to head north spending the next few days exploring the pack ice and photographing Polar Bears as they jumped from ice flow to ice flow. The Arctic pack ice is a vast area and just finding Polar Bears in this maze of ice can be quite the challenge. We spent many hours scouring the ice with binoculars to find these masters of camouflage. On this expedition our total bear count on the pack ice was eight – with almost all of these being close encounters where we were able to get some really wonderful photographs.Svalbard-1928-EditWhen it was time to head south again we made several stops in the spectacular Kongsfjorden; where we photographed Arctic Fox cubs and cruised the glacier fronts photographing icebergs, seals and landscapes. We also landed in Poole Pynten where had a wonderful session photographing Walrus in fantastic light. During the expedition we were also fortunate to see and photograph a rare Blue whale (unfortunately I did not get a good photograph). Blue whales are quite tricky to photograph as they rarely reveal to much of their body above the waterline. Nevertheless the experience of seeing this massive mammal is an experience that stays with you forever.Svalbard-4918-EditThe second expedition (August 20th – August 30th) saw us set sail from Longyearbyen and head directly north for the pack ice. We made a number of small detours and stops along the way (including a glacier front cruise at Duvefjorden where we encountered three polar bears on some summer melt pack ice) as we dodged some inclement weather before arriving directly on a fresh seal kill with two Polar Bears on the edge of the sea ice – perfect. This was a miraculous find as we had a quickly closing weather window that required us to retreat from the sea ice until the seas calmed and we could return.Svalbard-1734-EditWe sought shelter for the evening in the lee of the Seven Islands before resuming our search for Polar Bears on the pack ice. At our furthest northerly most position we were just shy of 82º North – less than 500 Nautical Miles from the North Pole. We cruised the edge of the pack ice for several days photographing the dramatic landscape and had numerous encounters with Polar Bears in fabulous weather.

Untitled Film Works accompanied Daniel Bergmann and I on the second of the two expeditions and filmed the expedition and we hope to soon be releasing a short film of our experiences in the Arctic. Look for this video soon if you have ever wondered what it is like to travel on an small dedicated expedition to the Arctic.

During both expeditions we took advantage of great light at every opportunity and often worked at night when the light was soft and ethereal. One of the most fantastic things about photography in the Arctic is the 24 hours of daylight and the extensive opportunities this provides for image making at any time of the day or night._MG_1187-EditOur total Polar Bear count for the first expedition was eight including three bears on kills. Our count on the second expedition was fourteen including another two kills. This was a fabulous result that netted some amazing photographs from all aboard.Svalbard-0097-EditThis year saw a dramatic increase in sea ice in the Svalbard region that made finding Polar bears very difficult due to the nature of the ice (lots of ice rubble and very little flat pack ice). It is worth noting that this increase in sea ice is not contrary to global warming evidence (as has been reported elsewhere). This phenomena was merely the result of the polar ice cap (which moves) shifting more toward the Svalbard side of the globe. Overall, the massive reduction in sea ice continues and 2015 saw the Arctic ice pack shrink to record lows. Just as an aside I was extremely pleased to hear in late September this year that Shell has now abandoned its oil and gas exploration drilling in the Arctic for the foreseeable future.Svalbard-4255-EditBoth of these expeditions were remarkable trips that provided some truly fabulous photographic opportunities. The high Arctic remains one of the most spectacular locations I have ever visited and I look forward to returning again next year when I will lead another expedition to the pack ice north of Svalbard (and again in 2017) Polar Bears of Svalbard. The expeditions will depart on the 25th of July from Longyearbyen and are dedicated to the photography of Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice. If you would like more information about either of these expeditions please drop me an email at

Testimonial from Clara Davies – Iceland the Highlands 2015

Over eleven days from 8 to 18 August we were part of a spectacular tour through the Highlands of Iceland with Joshua Holko capturing images and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Iceland is a breathtakingly beautiful country – vast and endless landscapes of mystery and intrigue, a unique and defined culture and a passionate and interesting people! After the tour concluded we finished with two nights in Reykjavik and took a day to tour the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which proved to be equally beautiful.

We were part of a diverse group that travelled from the far reaches of the globe. Our group was filled with charismatic personalities and passionate photographers who soaked up every moment, even when we had had our fill of “fossing” fosses. Thank you to my travelling companions – you made this a fun and exciting, not to mention a hugely interesting and enjoyable tour.  

A huge thank you also to both Joshua Holko and Daniel Bergmann for organising and leading a fabulous tour. Your professionalism, commitment and dedication was obvious as was your enthusiasm. Your passion for Iceland was clear from the outset and hopefully it is reflected in the images that everyone managed to capture, my own included.  

Iceland treated us to an environment of vast and spectacularly beautiful landscapes that often looked like pastel paintings or surreal lunar scenes. We were blessed by the weather gods (or possibly just expertly guided to the best locations in the most favourable conditions). We were saturated with amazing photographic experiences. I will return to Iceland because it has so much more to offer. It may be in winter next time but whenever it is, I have a feeling that Iceland will deliver once again! – Clara Davies

Extraordinary Vision Magazine : Objective Editing of Your Photography

The latest issue number #32 of Extraordinary Vision magazine features an article I recently penned on Objective Editing and the importance of this skill as a photographer. You can download the article by clicking on the image below. Extraordinary Vision is a free magazine (and a fabulous resource) available for mobile devices and can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Store.ExtraodinaryVisionCover

October Photo of the Month Winner – Erica Serena

Congratulations to the tenth print winner ‘Erica Serena’ for the photograph of the month for October 2015: ‘Vanishing Point’.

What Erica said: Wow… This is stunning and I’m just looking at it on my phone! I can only imagine the detail in this as a print. Absolutely gorgeous!_MG_1187-EditCongratulations Erica (and thank you for the wonderful comment!), your print will be sent to you within the next week or two. Keep an eye out on my blog for the next print giveaway with the November photograph of the month. Remember the best way to get instant updates is to subscribe via email.