Ultimate Puffins of Iceland 2017 Workshop Update

In late May this year I will be leading a brand new workshop with Daniel Bergmann that is dedicated to photography of the Atlantic Puffin and other birds of Iceland including Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots (Murres), Arctic Terns and Razorbills. Iceland is one of the best places in the world to photograph Puffins and other Arctic birds in their natural environment. We will visit a number of different locations during this workshop where we will have outstanding access to the Puffins living in burrows on the edge of sea cliffs. We have timed our 2017 workshop to ensure we are in the best locations at the best times to photograph these wonderful birds. We will have hours of golden light under the spectacular midnight sun – ideal conditions for photography of the Atlantic Puffin. We are now down to the last few places on this workshop before it will be sold out. UltimatePufinsThis photography workshop will last for 11 days (11 nights). We will be staying in good hotels and guest houses that are functional and clean. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all included and will generally be held at the hotels where we are staying. However, this workshop is all about photography and we will be putting in long hours in the field in order to ensure we get the best possible light for photography. We may take food and drink with us into the field to ensure we are in the right locations get the best possible light.

Daniel Bergmann and I will be providing extensive in the field photographic instruction throughout the workshop for all participants. We will be covering camera setup as well as techniques for how to photograph birds in their environment. In the evenings we will have informal discussions and critiques as well as post production demonstrations. This will be a very hands on workshop and it is our intention to provide very expansive instruction as required. If you are keen to photograph Puffins and other birds in Iceland in beautiful light then you can register your interest by dropping me an email at info@jholko.com

Choosing an Expedition to Antarctica – What you Must Know Part Four

In part one, part two and part three of this series on choosing a photographic expedition to Antarctica we looked at the option of flying or sailing to Antarctica, how to choose an expedition ship (as well as the importance of the expedition leader and photographic guide) and when you should choose to travel in the short Antarctic season. In this final part four of the series we are going to look at what equipment you should take with you to optimise your opportunities to capture the best possible photographs.Antarctic StormDespite outward appearances, the best photographic opportunities are fleeting and momentary in Antarctica. Therefore the most important thing you should keep in mind when choosing your photographic equipment is the ability to work quickly when shooting from ship, when cruising on zodiacs and when you are ashore. Familiarity with your equipment is absolutely critical if you are going to give yourself the best possible chance to capture stunning images during your expedition experience. I cannot stress the importance of this next point enough. Under no circumstances should you even consider taking a brand new camera that you are unfamiliar with. Such a tool will ensure you miss opportunities as you fumble with unfamiliar controls and settings. Be sure to take camera equipment that you are intimately familiar with and can use with a high degree of confidence. The more familiar you are with your camera the more likely you are to capture amazing photographs. Your knowledge of your cameras controls is going to have far greater bearing on the quality of your photography you produce than what brand and model of camera you might use. I believe this point is so important I am going to restate it in its own paragraph.

Your knowledge of your cameras controls is going to have far greater bearing on the quality of your photography than what brand and model of camera you might use.

Quite honestly, the biggest problem I see in Antarctica amongst participant photographers is missed opportunities. These missed opportunities are the net result of the photographer being incapable of reacting in time to capture the decisive moment. They cant react in time because they are fumbling with unfamiliar equipment. You should be using muscle memory to manipulate the controls of your camera. It should be intuitive and it should be fast. If you have to stop and think about changing aperture or shutter speed then you have already missed the moment. You have to free up your brain to be creative and not to function as a technician. What is really wonderful about becoming intimately familiar with your cameras controls is it costs you absolutely nothing outside of an investment in time. And I promise you it is the best investment you can make to improve your photography in Antarctica (in fact, anywhere).Antarctica-2380-Edit82014Antarctica is a very demanding place to photograph. It is one of the coldest, windiest and driest places on the planet and as a result it can be very hard on photographic equipment (and photographers!). You will be forced to contend with corrosive salt sea spray during zodiac operations, shore landings and when photographing from the deck of the ship. If you are at all concerned about the ability of your camera to withstand these sort of elements then rain and spray covers for your equipment are a very good idea. You wont need to use them all the time, but there will likely be days when the salt spray is flying and you will want to protect your expensive equipment.

You should plan to take a minimum of two camera bodies with you for any expedition to Antarctica (irrespective of wether you shoot a DSLR, mirrorless system or  a point and shoot). As well as providing you with a level of redundancy the second body allows you to shoot with two cameras simultaneously with different lenses. This level of flexibility gives you a lot of options in the field that are immediately available to hand when there is lots of wildlife action or when you need to change focal length quickly. If possible, I recommend travelling with two identical bodies so that you don’t have to worry about different menus between cameras and different ergonomics.  When shooting from zodiacs I will always have two cameras with two different zoom lenses at the ready.Man vs. Glacier During zodiac operations it is reasonable to expect some salt spray to get into the boat and onto your equipment. Therefore I absolutely recommend you bring a large dry bag with you that you can work out of when shooting from zodiacs and when travelling to and from the ship for shore landings. A dry bag will give you some much needed protection for your equipment and provide you a place to store equipment when there is spray in the air or to store extra equipment when you go ashore. Personally, I use a large 120 litre dry duffle bag that I can put my whole camera bag inside and find this works extremely well in the field. It might sound obvious but when choosing a dry bag try and find one that is a nice bright colour. A black or blue dry bag is going to be virtually invisible if it were to fall in the water.

Clothing is a very personal requirement and how much you need to stay warm really comes down to the individual in question. In terms of temperature you can expect everything from a few degrees above zero Celsius to temperatures as low as -10 Celsius plus wind chill on a standard Antarctic Peninsula expedition. Such a temperature range is difficult to work in and difficult to prepare for. You should start with a base layer of thermals made from marino wool and then build up additional layers of wool, and down to suit your bodies needs The key is to layer you’re clothing and then on top of everything else you wear an outer layer of waterproof / windproof breathable material such as Goretex. Denim and cotton should never be worn.Petermann Island, Antarctica12013If you are prone to feeling the cold then you might want to consider some chemical hand warmers. I am not really a fan of these use once and dispose warmers as there are some environment issues surrounding them. However, they are very effective and will keep your hands warm on cold days. One in each pocket is usually sufficient and you can then put your hands into warm pockets whenever you feel cold. The alternative is battery headed clothing (which is even more effective) and which is readily available from companies such as Gyde.

When it comes to camera batteries I suggest you plan to bring enough batteries for a heavy days shooting (around 1000 – 3000 images per day). The cold does have an affect on battery life but much depends on the size and type of the battery as well the ambient air temperature. I always have enough batteries with me for each camera that I can have one in the camera, one spare in a warm pocket and one on charge in my cabin on the ship. You should also ensure you have sufficient digital storage as well as a reliable means to back up your images in the field. Each individual will have different storage requirements but I like to travel with two external SandDisk 2TB SSD drives onto which I back up my images.Walking on the Pack Ice One of the items I really like to travel with for Antarctic expeditions is my own life jacket. It is mandatory to wear a life jacket during all zodiac operations and the expedition ship will provide you with a lifejacket so you don’t have to bring your own. However, the life jackets provided are generally quite bulky and restrictive and I personally find them a hindrance when photographing. Light weight self inflating life jackets are relatively inexpensive and take up little space in checked luggage so I prefer to travel with my own.

Lens selection is a critical decision process for any photographic expedition to Antarctica and flexibility is the key to your success. A great deal of your photography will be done from ship and zodiac where you have only limited ability to approach your subject by zooming with your feet. Therefore zoom lenses are going to provide you the best opportunities to frame your shots in camera. At the wide end lenses like 16-35mm, 11-24, or 14-24mm are absolutely ideal. I also like to travel with a mid range zoom such as a 24-70 or 24-105mm and then a medium telephoto such as a 70-200mm or a 100-400mm. These three lenses are all you really need for any expedition to Antarctica unless you have very specific requirements for a certain look or certain focal length. Super telephoto lenses are generally not really required in Antarctica as it is possible to get very close to almost all of the wildlife. If you are a dedicated bird photographer then something like a 400mm F4DO or 300mm F2.8 with a 1.4 extender is generally a better choice than a 500 or 600mm lens as its much easier to handhold from the deck of a moving ship. I personally like to shoot wildlife at very fast apertures for narrow depth of field so I tend to choose F2.8 lenses where possible. I often add a 300mm F2.8L IS lens to my arsenal specifically for the narrow depth of field and the telephoto compression that this lens offers. Of course, much depends on your personal preference and style of subject engagement. The key thing to keep in mind is flexibility.The Antarctic Ice Pack Frankly there is little need for a tripod in Antarctica unless you wish to try some long exposures during shore landings or you wish to use it to support a long / heavy lens. In all the expeditions I have done to Antarctica I can recall only one instance where I used a tripod for a long exposure (although I do use a tripod a lot to support heavy telephoto lenses). Generally tripods slow down the pace at which you can work and although this can be a real positive in contemplative landscape photography it is more often a hindrance in Antarctica where working quickly is one of they keys to success.

Another item I really like to travel with is a pair of knee pads. As a wildlife photographer I spend a huge amount of time lying and kneeling on the ground in order to ensure I am at eye level with my subject (so I can create more intimate images).The cold metal deck of the ship and zodiac is far from comfortable to kneel on so I recommend you add knee pads to you’re packing list. A good set of knee pads costs almost nothing, weighs almost nothing and is guaranteed to ensure you don’t end the day with sore knees. They also provide you a degree of protection as you move about the deck of the ship.

If you are keen birder or have an interest in whales then a good pair of binoculars is absolutely mandatory. Most expedition ships have a few pairs lying around to be shared amongst the passengers but you are going to want the highest quality optics you can so I recommend investing in your own binoculars. I personally carry a pair of Leica Ultra Vid HD 10 x 42 and find this a good compromise between power, size and weight.Made of SteelDespite what you might think Antarctica is actually an incredibly dusty environment and you will end up with dust spots on your sensor at some point during the expedition. If you are comfortable cleaning your own sensor then I do recommend you travel with whatever you usually use to clean your sensors. It is not uncommon to have to clean the sensor a few times during an expedition if you change lenses frequently.

In general a polariser is not required in Antarctica. The light at the Poles is already heavily polarised and the use of a polariser can cause the corners of the image to be overly and unnaturally darkened if care is not taken. A polariser can be useful for removing the sheen from water and as it is small and weighs almost nothing I usually have one in my bag just in case. In reality, I have probably used it only a handful of times across all of the expeditions I have completed in Antarctica.

Graduated Neutral density filters are not required in Antarctica. The dynamic range is on the whole quite narrow on all but the brightest of days. I have not found a situation where I desperately needed a graduated ND filter to capture a specific image and as such I don’t bother packing filters.Beauty is more than Skin DeepThe overall key concepts to keep in mind in terms of equipment for any photographic expedition to Antarctica is flexibility and familiarity. The more flexible you can be with your camera equipment and the more familiar you are with its operation the better your chances for producing an extremely strong body of work from your expedition. The best investment you can make before your expedition is to ensure you become intimately familiar with the operation of all your camera equipment (irrespective of brand or model). If you embark on your expedition with equipment you are intimately familiar and confident with you will absolutely produce your best work. Have a wonderful and prosperous expedition!

New Zealand South Island Masterclass 2017 SOLD OUT

The last place that was available on my 2017 New Zealand South Island Masterclass has been taken and the workshop is now sold out.  I am super excited to be heading back to New Zealand in a few months time. The South Island is absolutely spectacular and the 2017 Masterclass workshop includes extensive use of helicopters for accessing some of the most remote and spectacular country as well as aerial photography of the spectacular Southern Alps and glaciers. Very much looking forward to getting back to the land of Middle Earth._MG_5578-Edit

Choosing an Expedition to Antarctica – What you Must Know Part Three

In part one and part two of this series on choosing an expedition to Antarctica we discussed the option of either flying or sailing to Antarctica and how to choose the best ship for your needs if you have decided to sail. We also looked at the importance of selecting a truly dedicated photographic expedition (avoiding mixed expeditions at all cost) and the importance of ensuring that the expedition you chose has an expedition leader who understands the needs of photographers and a photography guide who has extensive experience in Antarctica. In part three of this series we are going to look at the very important decision of what time of year you should choose to travel to Antarctica.

The Antarctic travel season begins in November and runs through until early / mid March. The short summer season runs a little over four months and there are some very significant differences between travelling early in the season and late in the season. Depending on your needs and expectations for photography you should be aware of these differences in both the landscape and wildlife at different times of the season (particularly at the beginning and tail ends of the season).

I have been fortunate to travel to Antarctica in every month of the short summer season at some point in the last few years and have found through experience the best times for specific given subjects. Irrespective of when you choose to travel to Antarctica you are going to require the same level of cold and wet weather clothing as well as the same sort of camera equipment (we are going to look at camera equipment in the next and final instalment in this series).antarcticaunionglacier-02027Cutting right to the chase, in my experience, early November is the best time to travel to Antarctica for photography (unless you specifically want to photograph Penguin chicks). At this time of the season the snow and ice are still clean and pristine in Antarctica and the best photographic opportunities are usually to be found. The importance of clean snow and ice should not be underrated as it provides a platform for framing your photographs and makes it far easier to obtain clean and pristine backgrounds for your images. By comparison, late in the season (anytime after Christmas) much of the snow and ice is gone from many of the landing sites and any covering that may remain is muddy, dirty and covered in Penguin guano.

The weather in November is still highly variable in Antarctica and at this time of the year you can expect everything from clear blue sky days to overcast skies with the occasional blizzard and snow storm. This variability is absolutely ideal for photography as it is going to provide you with lots of different opportunities to create a varied and powerful portfolio. Although I personally detest blue sky days for photography, one or two of these are usually inevitable during an expedition and they do help to break up the overcast weather generally found in Antarctica at this time of the year. As the season progresses the weather stabilises and you can expect more clear blue sky days and far less snow and ice.

It is important to understand that overcast weather (Natures softbox) is preferred for photography in Antarctica as it ensures both soft light and a more controllable dynamic range. Bright sunlight tends to bleach icebergs pure white and creates super hot highlights on the ice and snow that make polar photography problematic. Ideal conditions for photography in Antarctica are almost always overcast skies with soft light with good cloud detail and you can expect to encounter these conditions in November more than any other month. Overcast light also has the added benefit of really enhancing the aquamarines and blues that are found in the icebergs in Antarctica. For photography, this is absolutely ideal.An Epic Sense of ScaleNovember is without doubt also the best time for iceberg photography in Antarctica. With a greater chance of overcast skies and far more ice in the water the chances for encountering spectacular icebergs are at their best in November. On a standard Antarctic Peninsular expedition in November you can expect to see and photograph large tabular icebergs coming up out of the Weddell Sea around Antarctic Sound as well as a great many other varied icebergs around the Peninsula itself. Later in the season icebergs can be harder to find and there is typically far less ice in the water than November.

If the primary goal of your photographic expedition to Antarctica is to see and photographic Penguin chicks then you should choose an expedition later in the season (Penguins on eggs can be seen as early as November with regularity). Generally speaking an expedition in late January or February will be ideal for newborn Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap chicks. Be aware however that by late January there will be very little (if any snow) at the penguin colonies and as a result it is far more difficult to get clean backgrounds for your photographs. If the goal of your expedition is Emperor Penguin chicks then November is the ideal time. For Emperor Penguin chicks you will need to choose a fly to Antarctica expedition and fly to Union Glacier (Read a previous Emperor Penguin Expedition Report for an explanation of the logistics).emperorsexpedition2016-20062-editIn terms of other bird life you can expect a similar spread of Antarctic birds including Snow Petrels, Snowy Sheathbills, Albatross, Kelp Gulls, Giant Petrels, Prions, Diving Petrels, Wilsons and Storm Petrels, Antarctic Terns, Skuas and more irrespective of which month you decide to travel to Antarctica. Skua activity at the Penguin colonies is at its height from November onward and as soon as the Penguins have started to lay eggs.Call of the WildAlthough January and February are generally regarded as the best months for Whales in Antarctica I have actually historically had far more success in November with whales as they migrate down to Antarctica. Irrespective, whale photography is very hit and miss in terms of both sightings and significant photo opportunities so I would not base a decision on which month to travel to Antarctica if whales are one of your primary goals. You are just as likely to encounter  a large pod of whales in November as you are any later in the season. The key to whale photography in Antarctica is actually to spend as much time as possible up on deck of the ship with binoculars and to always have a camera with you. Whale sighting are often brief and you may only get a few seconds to grab the photograph before the whale is gone.

When it comes to wind you should be aware that Antarctica is one of the windiest (and driest) places on the planet. From gentle breezes to near hurricane force katabatibc winds that come down from glacier fronts you will likely experience the full gamut of wind at some point during your time in Antarctica. You can expect a wider variation in wind speed during expeditions early in the season but you should keep in mind that blowing snow adds great drama to a photograph and will greatly assist you in the creation of powerful emotive imagery.Chinstrap PenguinThe success of any photographic expedition to Antarctica depends greatly on the choices you make when choosing your expedition. The timing of your expedition is absolutely critical to the encounters you will have, the weather and light you will experience and as a net result the portfolio of photographs you will produce. Consider carefully the time you choose to travel to Antarctica. Although it might be tempting to jump on board with a last minute bargain for a late season trip you should bear in mind that these reduced rates are only offered because many photographers recognise its not the best time of the season to travel to Antarctica. Choosing an expedition in November (or even early December) is likely to net you far better opportunities to create a strong and powerful portfolio of images.

In the final part of this four part series on what you must know when choosing an expedition to Antarctica we are going to look at photographic equipment as well as some ancillary equipment and accessories that are going to ensure you have the best possible photographic experience during your time in Antarctica.

Canon Australia Feature Outstanding Professional Photographs from 2016

Canon Australia has just published a series of photographs from a select group of its Australian professional photographers entitled Outstanding Professional Photographs to Make You Feel Better About 2016. The series of photographs includes one of my favourite images from my recent project on the Arctic Fox. You can see the full series online at Canons Website.arcticfoxiceland-9910-edit“After sitting for days through the freezing arctic winter conditions of Iceland, I finally got the opportunity to photograph the white morph of an Arctic Fox. He was patrolling the edge of his territory during a heavy winter snowstorm. It’s very evocative o the incredibly harsh environment in which these animals survive. Able to withstand cold better than an other mammal, the Arctic Fox heads headlong into the blizzard in temperatures below -2o Celsius.”

I will soon be returning to the extreme northwest of Iceland to lead a small group of photographers on an expedition to photograph Arctic Fox in winter. This invitation only expedition has long been sold out, but I will soon be announcing details for the 2018 expedition.  You can register your interest in this unique expedition by dropping me an email to info@jholko.com