The Arctic Arts Project Update 2017

Eco magazine has just published a new interview with the director of the Arctic Arts project (Kerry Koepping) in its May 2017 issue. As one of the seven members of this project I am really pleased to be a part of the team and to be able to contribute to this worthwhile project.  Just click on the image below to download the complete article – The Melt.Published nine times a year in print and digital formats, each issue of Eco presents critical business intelligence for professionals in all disciplines of this multi-faceted industry including offshore oil & gas, government agencies, utilities, renewable ocean energy, academia, international banking, engineering, and construction.

Svalbard in Winter 2017 Expedition Report

In late March 2017 I lead a new ship based expedition to Svalbard in Winter to photograph the wildlife and arctic landscapes of this remote archipelago in a winter setting. The primary reason for choosing late March was at this time of the year (and at this latitude of nearly 80º North) the sun is very low in the sky all day and thus there is hours of golden light available for photography. Dawn and Twilight light at this time of year typically last three or more hours and even at midday the sun is still very low in the sky. This situation provides hours and hours of superb light for photography. There is also something about the quality of light in winter at this latitude that translates very well into photographs. The light is soft and ethereal and often has wonderful pink and blue pastel shades not found at other times of the year. This combination of light, snow and ice is simply unmatched in my experience.This expedition was for just twelve photographers and utilised the same ice-hardened expedition class ship I have been using for Polar Bear photography over recent years. On this expedition we encountered three individual Polar Bears including a courting male and female and a third unwelcome male who was chased off after a late night fight. We spent approximately two and a half days photographing these bears while we were parked in the pack ice. On one occasion early in the morning they approached within just a few feet of the boat. On others they were between one hundred and four hundred metres away on the frozen sea ice. The opportunity to watch them interact was extraordinary and this encounter rates as one of the best I have witnessed from a behaviour standpoint.Temperatures during our expedition ranged between -10º celsius and -30º Celsius plus wind chill factor. Our coldest day was around -50º Celsius with a 20+ knot wind and air temperature of -28º celsius. I can tell you from experience that these sort of temperatures are quite demanding on body and camera. However, the wonderful thing about ship based expeditions such as this is its easy to walk back inside the ship (where its around plus 20º degrees celsius) and warm up with a hot drink. Being outside and making photographs in these sort of temperatures does require some thought and planning in terms of both equipment and clothing but if you are properly prepared its quite possible to spend very long periods of time out on deck making photographs.The landscape opportunities in Svalbard in winter rate as the very best I have ever experienced (even better than Antarctica). The formation of new sea ice is nothing short of spectacular and set against a back drop of snow covered peaks and glaciers with sea smoke billowing off the open areas of ocean and you quite literally have one of Natures most dramatic and breathtaking scenes. The sea smoke phenomena is caused by super cold air passing over the much warmer ocean water (although the ocean is only just above freezing the air temperature can as low as -30º Celsius). The smoke adds a wonderfully dramatic element and really elevates the interest and mystery in the landscape.One of the great pleasures of ship based photography is that the scene is constantly changing as the boat moves slowly through the ice filled fjords. Opportunities for photographs are everywhere and part of the experience is watching the incredible landscape roll past. I particularly enjoy this sort of landscape photography as no two images are ever the same.During the expedition we also saw and photographed Reindeer, Arctic Fox, Walrus on sea ice as well as sea birds such as Fulmars and Gulls. The opportunity to photograph Walrus on sea ice is a wonderful addition in winter as they are normally found either in the water or on land in summer. Walrus can be somewhat skittish on sea ice but we were able to manoeuvre quite close on several occasions for some wonderful photographs.Svalbard (and the Arctic in general) in winter is not for the faint of heart. With temperatures well below freezing it can be challenging to both person and equipment. However, the rewards for those brave enough to take on the challenge are absolutely extraordinary and not to be missed. In my own personal opinion Svalbard in Winter offers the most extraordinary opportunities for dramatic landscape imagery I have had the good fortune to experience. It is quite literally breathtaking.

If you are interested in travelling to the Arctic and photographing the incredible landscapes and wildlife of the Svalbard archipelago in a winter setting I will be repeating this expedition in late March next year (March 26th – April 3rd 2018). Late March offers us the best opportunity for wonderful light over the dramatic winter landscape. Due to initial registrations and bookings places are already extremely limited. If you would like more information or a detailed itinerary please just drop me an email.

Guest Photographer: John Hurshman Svalbard Winter Expedition 2017

Following on from Dallas Thomas’s guest post I wanted to share some thoughts and photographs from John Hurshman who also recently accompanied me on my Winter Svalbard Expedition. It was a pleasure travelling and photographing with John and all aboard this expedition and I just wanted to again pass on my thanks to him for both his participation and for sharing some of his thoughts and photographs from this expedition here on my blog. I will have my own expedition report early next week from this remarkable expedition. All text and photographs by John Hurshman.

In March 2017, I fulfilled a “bucket list” dream of traveling to the Arctic Circle to see Polar Bear in the wild… while they still exist in that environment. The trip was organized by Joshua Holko, Australian wildlife photographer, and, from my point of view, the workshop achieved all I had hoped for. The trip was timed to allow us to experience a glimpse of winter in the Arctic Circle, and also a potential for seeing Polar Bear and other wildlife in their natural habitat. The glimpse of the Arctic winter meant it was COLD… air temps bottoming out at -29º C (-20º F) with a 20kt wind for effective temp of -40º C/-40º F. We had daylight for more than 12 hours/day since we started out after Vernal Equinox (March 21), but the sun did not climb very high in the sky, so we had mostly very photogenic low angled light. It was cold, but ruggedly beautiful. We saw limited wildlife, three Polar Bear, a number of Walrus, Arctic Fox, and numerous bird species. While one of the purposes of this trip was photography, I found that I often put the camera down and experienced the moment through my eyes rather than through the view finder of the camera. Also, sometimes I didn’t have a choice, since my camera didn’t play well with the cold temps and sometimes decided to throw a temper tantrum. The following are some of the times camera was working and I was looking through the viewfinder…This was my first sighting of Polar Bear. Our keen eyed guides saw them from quite a distance and maneuverer the ship to our encounter. These two, a large male and small female stayed near the Origo for 48 hours, at which time we had to leave, because the ice was closing in behind us.The Convergence of ice and open water dusk.

Another male shows-up in the vicinity of the male and female we have been watching for 12+ hours. This interloping male show signs of a fight with blood streaks on his shoulder and under jawLate evening light on snow covered mountain. What photographers refer to a the “blue hour”, that time before sun rise and after sunset when the sky glows with color, was not an hour long… but more like 2+ hours long . By the end of our trip in the first week of April, it never really got dark. At 2AM, you could easily see. The formation of sea ice.Our Ship, M.S Origo parked in the ice for the night. To see more of John’s photographs from the expedition please visit his website.

Iceland Winter Workshop 2017 – The Frozen North Trip Report

In late February 2017 I lead my annual Iceland Winter workshop with Daniel Bergmann. We have been running this workshop for the last five years now and have continually been refining our itinerary. For our 2017 workshop we based ourselves predominately in the north-east of Iceland which gave us access to some of the areas less frequented by the plethora of tourists that are flooding the south of Iceland these days (I will have more to say on this in a future post).

We kept our daily itinerary moderately flexible in order to allow us to take advantage of the best conditions, weather and light. As it turned out, this approach has continued to provide us with fabulous opportunities. In particular this years workshop included a unique opportunity to access and photograph the spectacular waterfall Selfoss in a winter setting. I have been wanting to visit and photograph both Detifoss and Selfoss in winter for many years but conditions have hampered access in recent times. This year we were able to drive all the way to the car park and walk the kilometre and a half through compact snow to the very edge of Selfoss. The waterfall was in superb condition with some spectacular icicles hanging from its rocky edges and fresh snow along its banks. Iceland is well known for its waterfall photography and in my experience winter frequently offers the most interesting and dramatic opportunities to photograph them.As is often the case in winter we lost one day during our workshop to bad weather (our very first day). We had a huge storm hit the south coast as we were leaving Reykjavik which delayed us for several hours due to road closure. Fortunately we were still able to make it to our planned accomodation on the first evening which meant we didn’t loose any real photography time. The Iceland SAR (Search and Rescue) have taken to closing the roads in recent times due to the high number of tourists who often ignore the weather warnings. Whilst the closed road caused us some delay it was better than spending our time rescuing stranded tourist vehicles. It actually never ceases to amaze me the number of people who travel to Iceland in winter and then expect to drive the roads during Arctic storms in little Toyota Yaris rental cars.  Do yourself a favour if you are planning a future trip to winter in Iceland and make sure you are properly equiped with a real 4-wheel drive and always keep an eye on the weather.

During our workshop we had several opportunities to photograph Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Aurora photography is hot right now and is one of the primary reasons many photographers actually travel to Iceland in Winter. To be honest, much of what I see in the way of aurora imagery leaves me pretty cold. Frequently there is little if any foreground interest and the viewer is left with nothing but some pretty colour in the sky. The key to strong Aurora photographs is to use the lights in the sky to add interest to what is already a strong composition. A well composed Aurora photograph should work well without any actual Aurora! The addition of the Aurora can take the image from good to great though and as such we spent some time trying to make sure we had strong and interesting foreground. We were fortunate to have some strong Aurora at Godafoss waterfall (although I did not personally make any Aurora images of it as I was instructing) which remains one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Iceland.We had several opportunities in the north of Iceland to photograph the geothermal fields in a winter setting. The geothermals of Iceland are one of the most photogenic areas in the country in my opinion. The landscape is a constantly changing sea of fumaroles and boiling mud pits that never ceases to disappoint. We were fortunate this year to have a fresh dusting of snow which added another element to an already dramatic landscape. One of the real pleasures of landscape photography in this area of Iceland is that the area is never the same between visits. Its possible to make truly unique and dramatic photographs by spending a little time exploring the area. My favourite photograph from this workshop was actually a drive by shooting in the north of Iceland. We stopped by the side of the road on our way to Myvatn to photograph one of the spectacular snow covered mountains looking south towards Askja. This particular scene reminded me of pencil sketch with its monochromatic colour palette and soft lines. Simple photographs such as this are often the strongest and usually connect with the viewer on a much deeper emotional level. As is often the case, the best photographs need very little in the way of post production. All I did to this photograph in post was to set the colour balance, white and black points and sharpen it. The rest was taken care of by mother Nature.Iceland in winter can be quite challenging with weather, but the opportunities in a snow covered landscape can be exceedingly beautiful. This was actually the last landscape photography workshop I plan to lead in Iceland for the foreseeable future. Tourism has exploded in Iceland in recent time to the point where it has become exceedingly difficult (even in winter in my opinion) to properly photograph many of the more commonly known and accessible locations (there are just tourists everywhere). The more accessible ice caves are now flooded with tourists throughout the day and the glacial lagoon and black sand beach are now overly saturated with tourists and photographers. Whilst many of these common locations remain absolutely superb for photography they now lack the remoteness and tourist free experience I prefer to offer those that travel with me on my workshops.

I will still be traveling to Iceland and photographing in this incredible country, but it will now be on far more specialised niche workshops that take us far into remote areas of the country where tourists cannot reach. These workshops and expeditions will be for small groups only and are designed to net us photographs that others simply cannot achieve (such as my Arctic Fox expeditions – read the recent trip report) and my upcoming Puffin workshop. These new workshops offer opportunities in areas otherwise inaccessible and provide participants with unique photographs that really set their work apart from the average Iceland visit.

Extraordinary Vision Magazine Features Choosing an Antarctic Expedition Part Two

Extraordinary Vision Magazine issue #57 has just published Part Two of a recent series of Articles I penned on How to Choose an Expedition to Antarctica. Choosing the right expedition will make or break the photographic opportunities you will experience in Antarctica. If you are planning or considering a future photographic expedition to Antarctica I recommend you  take a few moments out of your day and check it out. Part Three and Part Four will be published in subsequent issues.Extraordinary Vision magazine is available fortnightly with a kick start free trial. Best of all its only $1.99 to subscribe per month – less than a cup of coffee. Do yourself and your creativity a favour and check it out. Available exclusively though the iTunes App store or Google Play.