Guest Photographer: Dallas Thomas Svalbard Winter Expedition 2017

A few years ago I started a new segment on my blog for photographers with whom I have travelled before in order to provide an outlet for them to share some of their own writing and photography amongst a wider audience. It has been a while since the last post (read Here) but I wanted to share some thoughts and photographs from Dallas Thomas who recently accompanied me on my Winter Svalbard Expedition. It was a pleasure travelling and photographing with Dallas and all aboard this expedition and I just wanted to 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. All text and photographs by Dallas Thomas .

Svalbard Winter 2017 – My High Arctic Adventure Dallas Thomas

I had the privilege of spending 10 nights in the arctic in Svalbard in late March, it’s located 2,000km north of Oslo, Norway. A geographically remote place it’s the most northern permanent settlement in the world The North Pole is about 1,300km north.Eight of these nights were on the MS Origo exploring the fjords of Svalbard looking for polar bears and other wildlife to photograph. I have included a short film “Kingdom of the Ice Bear” made 2 years by our expedition leader Joshua Holko, the film was shot later in the season than we experienced. Unfortunately we only saw three polar bears, but seeing these magnificent animals in their natural environment was something I will never forget.

What did surprise and sadden me was the naturist onboard told us 90% of fish caught in the area that were tested had some form of plasticised evident. This was so surprising given the pristine environment we were in. Yes Dallas is starting to turn green!!

You may ask was it cold, the answer is hell yes, the 2nd day out it was – 29 and when the chill was factored in call it -50. The Captain later told us he has never experienced colder weather!

We went as far north as the conditions would allow, the sea ice stopped our voyage at 79’43’38’ for the technical minded, this well inside the arctic circle which starts at 66’.
The landscape is brutal, harsh yet very beautiful.
My advise is if you are thinking of visiting a wilderness like this do it now while you still can.
More photographs can be found on my website under travel Norway. I have many more images yet to process so feel free to check frequently.
If you are interested in travelling and photographing in Svalbard in Winter I will be running another expedition in March next year. Please contact me for further details (limited places already remaining).

Guest Photographer: Jose Antonio Rosas The Emperors Expedition 2016

A few years ago I started a new segment on my blog for photographers with whom I have travelled before in order to provide an outlet for them to share some of their own writing and photography amongst a wider audience. It has been a while since the last post but I wanted to share some thoughts and photographs from Jose Antonio Rosas who recently accompanied me on my Emperor Penguin Expedition last November. I have had the pleasure of travelling and photographing with Jose now in Antarctica on two occasions and I just wanted to 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. All text and photographs by Jose Antonio Rosas.

The Emperors Expedition 2016 – Jose Antonio Rosas

Last November, I joined a group of four photographers on an expedition to an emperor penguin colony in Antarctica. These penguins are among the most fascinating animal species in existence. They have been the subjects of such successful movies as March of the Penguins and Happy, in which they drew the world´s attention because of the extreme conditions in which they live and their complex mating habits.

Like other penguin species, emperors spend their summer months next to the sea, fishing in the rich, cold waters of Antarctica. Starting in March, their behavior becomes different than that of other penguins: males and females leave the sea and walk between 70 and 100 kilometers over the ice until reaching the colony in which they were born. There, they will start their annual reproduction cycle.jar-emperors-30These colonies are located in extremely cold and windy places, with no sources of food. However, since they are far from the sea, the risk of predators for chicks is reduced. Once they reach the colony, males and females start the pairing process: they will sing a special cry that will lead them to the penguin who will be their mate for the next year. Two months later, each female lays and egg and transfers it very carefully to her mate. The females have consumed too much energy and must now start the long walk back to the sea to feed. Meanwhile, the males will incubate the eggs, protecting them against the harshest winter conditions: temperatures of -70 Celsius, and winds of more than 150 km/h.
jar-emperors-21Chicks are born between late August and early September, still under their fathers care. A few days later, mothers come back, bringing valuable food for their young. It is now their turn to take care of the chicks, while the males walk to the sea to regain the weight they lost. During the following three months, males and females will take turns caring for the chicks and walking to the sea to bring back food.

It is very difficult to visit emperor penguins in the wild. The areas in the sea where they spend the summers are surrounded by ice and inaccessible to most ships that visit Antarctica. Their colonies are far from the sea and can only be reached by flying in specially adapted planes. jar-emperors-23The point of departure for our expedition was Punta Arenas, a city located in the extreme south of Chile. There, we waited for six days until the wind in Antarctica was adequate to fly. We reached our base camp in a Russian Ilyushin jet originally designed to fly to Siberia. After a four-and-a-half-hour flight, we landed on an ice runway in an area known as Union Glacier, which is nearly 80 degrees south.There, we utilised a large camp that is used as the starting point for different types of expeditions in Antarctica: skiers trying to reach the South Pole, climbers after the conquest of the tallest mountain in the continent, runners ready for the most extreme marathon of their lives. Also, those of us who wish to live up close with the largest and most fascinating penguin species: the emperors. The logistics required to operate this camp are astounding.
At Union Glacier, we waited for two days before flying to our final destination: Gould Bay, a large expanse of frozen sea ice in the Weddell Sea. We flew in a Twin Otter plane conditioned with skis. There, a small camp was waiting for us. This camp had high mountaineering tents and special condition sleeping bags. All of this was essential, because during the three days we spent there, the wind was never lower than 25 knots (45 km/h).
Living conditions are not the most comfortable, and the wind and cold are very harsh, but all of it is justified by the purity of the air, the absence of artificial sounds and the direct contact with nature.
At that time of the year, the sun never sets in Antarctica, allowing us to choose the best time to walk to the colony and photograph the penguins: after dinner, at around 8pm, when the low lying sun created excellent light conditions. The penguin colony was located 1.5 km away from our camp. The walk is not too long, but when the wind is blowing against you, every step feels like an accomplishment.

It is impossible to transmit in words one´s feelings at the first encounter with those 8,000 fascinating birds. When we arrived for our first visit, the evening light projected long shadows and the wind made the snow flakes fly, covering everything with a golden layer. I can think of no better introduction to this species.jar-emperors-28I spent a while sitting, enjoying the curiosity of the penguins, who were not timid about approaching us. Then came the moment to take out my camera and walk next to the colony to start making photographs. Soon, I saw the eight-week old chicks.  Some were sheltered inside their parents´ brood pouches; others were standing at the feet of the adults, asking for food with a special cry; others were discovering how to walk, taking tentative steps away from parental protection. Parents were always close to their chicks, ready to step in and protect them at the first sign of danger. It is fascinating to witness how the colony´s entire life flows around the protection and growth of chicks.
Photography under those conditions is a big challenge: heavy gloves and goggles are essential at all times, but do not allow for operating the camera or looking through the viewfinder. I had to take them off to make a photograph, but could only do it for very short moments, because the weather seemed to guess when I was uncovered to throw snow in my face or freeze my hands. That first day, after four hours out in the cold, I could no longer feel my hands and decided to return.

During the next two days, we repeated our evening walks to the colony and received several visits of emperors in our camp. Ours cameras froze and became frozen bricks, the snow buried the entrance to our tents several times a day, and the visibility disappeared for long stretches. All of this was part of a unique experience, the best I have enjoyed in direct contact with nature.

Trips like this renew my appreciation of the need to keep spaces apart from all human activity, where our fellow species in the planet can live without threats. The worldwide population of emperor penguins has remained stable during the past few years, at 500,000 individuals. However, several studies have confirmed that the species might become endangered due the effects of climate change and overfishing in Antarctic waters. It would be a huge pity if that magnificent species becomes one more victim of our activity on earth.

More of Jose’s Photography can be found at

Guest Photographer: John Hurshman ‘Hot and Cold’

Following on from my recent guest photographer post from Kevin Horsefield – Iceland the Frozen North, I want to share a short interview and photographs from John Hurshman who recently accompanied me on my Iceland Frozen North 2016 Workshop. I have had the pleasure of travelling and photographing with John now in both Iceland and Namibia and am looking forward to sharing an expedition to Svalbard with him for Polar Bears next year. Please enjoy the interview by Digital Transitions and photographs from our most recent Iceland and Namibia trips.

DigitalEditors Note: While most of our clients are professional photographers deriving their income from their craft, we also have many clients for whom photography is a passion, but not a source of profit. We thought we’d share the work of one such client, John Hurshman, who has recently traveled to both Namibia and Iceland. This combination struck us as especially interesting as it highlights the robust nature of Phase One digital backs – from the heat of the African Desert to the cold of the Icelandic winter. We interviewed John by email, with some editing for length, clarity, and focus.1_IcelandDT: What is your relationship to the art and practice of photography?

John: I am a retired corporate CEO who has been involved in photography for 35+ years. While early on, I had work published by National Geographic Books, Audubon Calendar and National Wildlife Magazine, the demands of family, career and business travel precluded much time for photography. It is only since I retired in 2012 that I have had the time to re-establish my involvement in photography. Much of photo time is spent in the environs of Charleston SC, my adopted home. Additionally, I now have the time for photo tours/workshops… Namibia in 2014, Iceland in 2016 and Polar Bear of Svalbard scheduled for 2017.2_Iceland

DT: Have you switched to Phase One or do you use it alongside other cameras?

John: I haven’t really “switched” to Phase One, but use is in conjunction with another system… most recently Fujifilm X-PRO2 mirrorless. My primary reason for adding a Phase One back was to take advantage of more pliable files, improved color and tonal gradation, and greater resolution; I have not been disappointed! I am using my Phase One IQ260 on a Cambo tech camera, and enjoy the slower and more deliberate work flow. As a by-product of working with a Phase One back, I have adopted Capture One as my primary image editor; I prefer the interface, workflow and end product.3_NamibiaDT: Why did you select Digital Transitions to make your foray into medium format digital?

DT: Can you tell us a bit about your trip to Nambia?

John: I first worked with DT when I was having trouble getting answers from another vendor that I had previously worked with. DT has not disappointed; you always respond promptly and clearly. I had a tiling problem with my IQ260, and your tech people quickly helped me resolve the problem.5_Namibia

DT: Your trip to Iceland featured a near polar opposite (pun intended) landscape. What inspired you to travel there, and how did you plan your trip?

John: In April 2014 I completed a 20 day trip to Namibia to witness and photograph the country’s unique ecosystem with a group led by noted wildlife and wilderness photographers Joshua Holko and Andy Biggs. It’s one of the most arid regions in sub-Saharan Africa. My primary interest was the dunes at Sossusvlei which feature vivid pinks and oranges because of their iron content.6_Iceland

John: Iceland has been on my “Bucket list” for quite a while, due to its stark beauty, harsh conditions and geological history. I also prefer places where I can more closely interact with and get more involved in the environment… and take my time. Regarding planning my trip… that was done for me by the tour organizers, Joshua Holko and Daniel Bergmann. Following that 10 day tour, I hired another guide, Chris Lund, for 2 more days of travel to places that couldn’t be included in the first tour.7_IcelandDT: We especially enjoyed “Long Stretch of Black Sand Beach.” Can you step us through your mindset and process in creating this image?

John: My thought was for strong leading lines and a long depth of focus to convey the expansive nature of the scene. The image was captured with the Phase One IQ260 at ISO 50 on the Cambo Anniversary Edition with Rodenstock 40 HR-W lens at f/11. I wanted to have the patterns on the snow in the foreground illuminated by the sun, so the shadows would lead into the line of snow and wave receding into the distance. Additionally, I was hoping for the more distant section of the snow covered land to have some sunlight in order to draw the viewer’s eye more deeply into the picture. Sometimes, the foreground was illuminated, but not the background – sometimes vice versa – sometimes no illumination. But, there were enough thin spots in the clouds to encourage sticking with it. After about ½ hour of waiting, the thin spots in the clouds lined-up the way I had hoped. Also, the clouds did not clear completely, but thinned so that the sunlight was softened and not harsh. Sometimes you get lucky!8_IcelandDaniel Bergmann and I will be running our annual winter trip again in 2017 and bookings are now open and places are limited. Just drop me an email if you would like to join us.

Guest Photographer: Kevin Horsefield Iceland the Frozen North 2016

Two years ago I started a new segment on my blog for photographers with whom I have travelled before in order to provide an outlet for them to share some of their own writing and photography amongst a wider audience. It has been a while since the last post but I wanted to share some thoughts and photographs from Kevin Horsefield who recently accompanied me on my Iceland Frozen North 2016 Workshop. I have had the pleasure of travelling and photographing with Kevin now in Iceland on several occasions as well as Namibia, Antarctica and South Georgia. Enjoy his thoughts and photographs from our most recent Iceland trip.

Iceland the Frozen North 2016 – Kevin Horsefield

I ventured to Iceland in late Winter of 2016 with Joshua Holko and Daniel Bergmann.  As a veteran of their workshops, I know that we will be in the best possible location at the right time to maximize our photography. Daniel’s ability to read the light and Iceland’s fickle weather patterns are unparalleled.  Once at a location, Joshua can take over and helps his clients fine tune their compositions if necessary.
We seemed to be constantly dodging storms on this trip and dealing with rather flat light.  My solution was to shoot into the sun to bring a bit of drama to the scene.  With the sun being somewhat low on the horizon even at mid-day in Iceland, this technique can work well in these conditions.20160304-_N1A169620160307-_N1A1928
I also employ this strategy when I’m working with thermal areas, such as Hverir.20160309-_N1A206220160309-_N1A2097Backlighting also works well at Iceland’s famous black sand beach with the sun illuminating its translucent icebergs.20160308-_N1A1975
Some images work best with a conversion to black and white.  The color at sunset was so muted on this evening that I decided to strip it all away to emphasize this composition. I also added a slight blue tone to this image to convey the feeling of winter in Iceland.20160304-_N1A1731-Edit
More of Kevin’s Photography can be found at
Daniel Bergmann and I will be running our annual winter trip again in 2017 and bookings are now open. Just drop me an email if you would like to join us.

Guest Photographer: Antony Watson – Does the Camera Make the Image?

Late last year I started a new segment on my blog for photographers with whom I have travelled before in order to provide an outlet for them to share some of their own writing and photography. The first to do so was wildlife photographer and biologist Chris Gamel who accompanied me to Antarctica last year and wrote about Better Wildlife Photography. This second guest post is by fellow workshop leader Antony Watson and poses that much discussed adage: Does the Camera Make the Image? With all the gear talk online these days and with many photographers continually looking for that next magic silver equipment bullet I felt the post quite timely and relevant.

Does the Camera Make the Image?

When I think about this question I visualise a Shakespearean Actor on stage posing the question in olde English to the audience with questioning hand extended  ’Doth the camera maketh the image?’ In all seriousness though, does the camera make the image?

Well that question can be answered from a few different perspectives namely with regards to how one defines the various elements in the posed question.

First and foremost the simplest thing to define is what is an ‘image’?   A dictionary definition of what an Image is may shed some light into one interpretation of what constitutes an ‘image’ per se:

An Image, derived from the Latin term imago, can be defined as “an artefact that provides a visual representation or depiction of a likeness of a subject”.

That makes perfect sense to me. But the clincher of the question we’re looking at lies in the question of how one defines “makes“.  What ‘makes’ an image?’

If you consider the term ‘makes an image‘  to be loosely interpreted as the manufacture/construction of a physical of visual representation , or  alternatively if you define it as makes the image as per the phrase this makes my day i.e. to make it, to succeed, to pull it off, to accomplish, to be successful can make the ultimate difference in how one answers the question posed.  I prefer the latter interpretation.

There is absolutely no doubt about it, a camera technically constructs a physical visual representation of a likeness of a subject and stores it in a digital file, but does it ‘make an image’ in the sense of it being a successful and accomplished image and thus an overall well regarded image?  So what makes an image successful, accomplished and well regarded is a pretty good question?

There are a million articles out there easily accessible on the web discussing just this. They cover topics such as composition, colour harmony,  leading lines, emotion, communication, light amongst numerous other attributes of what constitutes good image design and the key ingredients for a recipe to a successful image.  But what 99.99% of these articles will never mention is the camera.   Why is that?  Why isn’t the camera mentioned in all those articles, let alone specific camera types or specific camera capabilities?

Because the camera is merely one of many tools used in the process to create a successful image along with a number of other tools.  Its a very important and necessary tool in the overall production of a successful image, but its not the be all and end all of tools in the chain of image making.

Without human intervention in some way or another a camera has never taken an image. We construct, trigger, program, push, point, direct, aim, place …

But a camera will NOT:

  • frame a composition
  • find you leading lines
  • select colour harmony
  • communicate emotion
  • provide amazing light

……. and on the list goes on and on.  Really a camera doesn’t do that much to create a successful well regarded photograph.

But what it will do is allow you to capture light and thus a representation of your vision into a digital file.

Your own vision and talent ARE the biggest contributors to producing a successful image. PERIOD.

So often these days we are focussed on camera gear.  So often I read/hear I need the latest body that has X more megapixels, more dynamic range, better colour depth etc but do we really need these things or are we somehow fuelling our unjustified and completely wrong belief that the newer faster better more awesomely marketed camera will make the image.

It was only just a few years ago, in 2012, that a famous wedding photographer entered a Wedding Album into WPPI.  He scored an 85 for the album. A sound result most wedding photographers would be proud of.  All the photographs within the album were shot on an iPhone ( I believe it was an iPhone 4) with no Photoshop post processing.   A tonne of vision and talent and what most would consider, a camera with a long list of limitations and short falls, outscored a very large majority of photographers albums equipped with the latest and greatest cameras, lenses and computer software.

Without vision and talent, a Stradivarius makes a horrendous noise yet a $100 violin played by an artist with vision and talent makes exquisite music.

As I have stated numerous times to others when posed questions such as to  ”Should I upgrade to the latest and greatest?”  ”Do I need a MFDB?”   ….. unless you have a resounding business justification or limitation you need to overcome to deliver a result, then the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Yes having better gear definitely won’t hold you back, but if you’re looking to produce more successful images, then more often than not, one would be better to invest time and funds in developing ones vision and talent more so than the latest camera body or lens.

Only you can decide whether you’re an artist with commensurate vision and talent that will make use of/is hampered by not having the extra features of the latest, greatest, biggest, sharpest camera offering more megapixels, more dynamic range, more bits of colour depth.  But I’d hazard to say that most of us, with a fascination with camera gear, will find some way to justify the purchase to satiate our addiction for new camera gear,  myself included, regardless of having a true need *.

* Editors Note: Otherwise referred to as GAS – Or Gear Acquisition Syndrome

When I can afford to, I will be buying a Ferrari 458 Speciale.  With its sleek thoroughbred design, 595 horsepower and magnesium wheels that will cost more to replace than my children’s college education when I clip a gutter driving them to high school.  I dream of speeding around a racetrack with the the ferver and pace only the skills of the talented Michael Schumacher will allow, a skill set of which I have made zero inroads to develop so far. But I’m still buying that car…. one day.  But in the mean time, after now writing this article,  I might just go and enrol in a few high performance driving courses to develop some of those skills whilst I save my pennies/quarters.  After all I have just quite of few years of saving ahead of me.