Departing for the Arctic in Winter 2019

We are more than half way through January and well and truly rolling  into 2019 now. It feels like Christmas and the New Year evaporated under the heat of the Australian sun (and it has been very hot this summer). I know I frequently say it, but I really do feel like time is speeding up! Tomorrow I will be leaving Australia to kick off my year with expeditions and workshops to the Arctic in Winter. My first stop is northern Canada to complete my scouting trip for the Snowy Owls workshop I will lead back there in December this year. From northern Canada I will travel to northern Finland for my winter wildlife and landscape workshop. And from Finland I will travel back to Iceland for my annual Arctic Fox expedition into the Hornstrandir Nature reserve. After that I will return to Svalbard for both a personal snow mobile expedition as well as leading an expedition with clients before I wrap up winter with a ship based expedition north of Longyearbyen. Winter is without doubt my favourite time of the year to visit the Arctic and I am itching to get up into the cold, ice and snow and escape the oppressive heat of the Australian summer.

This series of trips takes in more than a dozen flights and countless lay overs, security screenings and customs clearances. Quite honestly I am not looking forward to the customs and securities formalities. Airports have become so impersonal in recent years and any joy that was to be found between actual flights has been exterminated by the overlords like something out of a George Orwell novel. There is literally nothing glamorous about airline travel these days! With that said I am trying to pack a little lighter (hilarious I know…) than I might otherwise do to try and ease my airport travel. Although I need the two big north face duffels for all my winter clothing I am trying to keep camera gear to a minimum- well, as minimum as can be. My list for these trips as below:

  • 2 x Canon EOS 1DX MKII Cameras
  • 2 x 1DX MKII Spare batteries
  • 1 x Canon 16-35mm F4L IS (Id like to take the 11-24mm.. but the extra weight and size made me remove it).
  • 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS
  • 1 x Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS MKII
  • 1 x Canon 300mm f2.8L IS MKII
  • 1 x Canon 600mm F4L IS MKII
  • 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
  • 1 x ProFoto B10 AIR TTL Portable Light System & OFC Magnum Light Shaper

I would like to take my Go Pro system, a gimbal and various accessories but something has to give and this time the video equipment will stay at home.  Instead, I am taking a new ProFoto B10 Light – more on what I intend to use this for later. Time permitting, I will do my best to post some updates from the road and hopefully some photographs as well. See you in Canada!

 

Wild Russia in Winter Siberian Tigers Update

A quick update for the many of you who have registered your interest in photographing Siberian Tigers in Russia in winter. At this stage I am still trying to finalise dates, logistics and costs with my contacts on the ground in Russia. This process is taking far longer than I had originally envisaged or thought possible. Part of the reason for the lengthy delays is I am trying to get permission for us to enter part of an extensive Nature Reserve where the Tigers are being protected that is normally off limits.  How much more time this will take I do not as yet know. At this point the ball is definitely not in my court as I wait for answers, permits and final details. I will post a further update and contact all those who pre-registered once I have more definitive details. My best guess for timing at this stage based on progress to date is that the expedition will not be before December of 2020 at the earliest and this could easily spill into late 2021 early 2022. More details as they come to hand.

Hokkaido in Winter Workshop – A Visual Haiku

A late addition to my 2019 workshop and expedition line-up is a brand new Winter Workshop to Hokkaido in Japan in early December this year.  Hokkaido has long been on my list of destinations to offer a workshop and now after some extensive scouting with my friend and co-leader for this workshop, Martyn Lucas, we are excited to open this up for bookings. A different take on the usual sort of offering available in Japan, this workshop is designed with contemplative slow paced landscape photography in mind. We will not visit the tourist saturated snow monkey park or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of others trying to photograph eagles or Snow Cranes. Instead it is our intention to immerse ourselves into the subtle monochromatic  and quiet landscape of Hokkaido in Winter – A Visual Haiku.

On this adventure you will experience snowy landscapes, simplicity of trees, lines of fence posts and restless seas pointing to infinity, also lakes of stillness, expansive terrain and poetic, Zen like minimalist scenes.  Such moments in time we will capture  from unique view points whilst immersing ourselves in Japanese Shinto and Buddhist culture and enjoying the tastes of authentic local cuisine.

We will have the pleasure and company of Hokkaido’s most knowledgeable and adventurous guide who will provide landscape encounters we could never be aware of on our own.  Absence of colour, majestic trees, wild settings and a reduction in colour encouraging our landscape focus – a minimalist point of view. Together, we will be surrounded by water, mountains, trees and landscapes transformed by snow and ice and we will interact and concentrate on capturing the beauty and starkness which is Hokkaido.

 

While in Kamifurano we will plan to visit the Goto Sumio Museum of Art – exhibiting some 130 landscape paintings by this iconic painter who has become a national treasure of Japan. A painter who freely comes and goes between the worlds of realism and spirituality.  Similarly, while in Yoichi we will enjoy a tasting of Nikka Malt Whiskey at Japan’s oldest distillery where we will most likely enjoy lunch too.

All inclusive Commencing evening of December 11, 2019 ending after lunch December 20, 2019. Investment: $8800 USD per person – Includes:

  • Nine nights bed and breakfast
  • Nine evening meals (six hotel and three, local restaurants
  • Ten lunches at local Japanese restaurant
  • Snowshoes, Hand Warmers, Hot Coffee and Tea
  • All Transportation between shooting locations
  • All Photographic instruction and tuition
  • Local Guide and Driver

Limited to just eight participants in total this workshop is for those who want to work at a slower more methodical pace who want to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the Japanese landscape. A Full PDF itinerary will shortly be available for download from the workshops page of my website. If you would like to register your interest please drop me an email for further details.

Master the Craft Step Three – Divest Yourself of Your Emotional Attachment

In Part One and Part Two of this Master the Craft series of articles we covered the importance of knowing your camera and subsequently moving past the camera and the critical skill of understanding the difference between a good photograph and a great one. If you have not as yet read Part One “Master the Craft Getting Past the Camera” and Part Two – “Master the Craft What Makes a Great Photograph” I encourage you to go back and give them a read.  These two articles are two of the cornerstones to great photography.

In the final Part Three of the Master the Craft series we are going to discuss the vitally important skill of divesting yourself of your emotional attachment in your own work. Of all the elements to Mastering the Craft this concept is perhaps the most difficult for the vast majority to master (and accept). Having truly impartial insight into your own work is a fundamental skill that is hyper critical to the production of great photography. Some (very few) photographers possess this skill as an innate talent. The majority do not and will have to try and learn it (almost all will fail).

Perhaps the best way to understand this process is by example.  Lets say I spend a bunch of money, book myself a plane ticket and travel all the way to some distant country in search of dramatic landscapes; perhaps Nepal or Tibet (although it doesn’t really matter). I then spend two weeks travelling the area, exploring and making photographs. On the whole I get weather that co-operates and my trip is a resounding success. I then return home, I download the hundreds or thousands of photographs I made and start to pour over and edit them. This is where most people run into real trouble with their photography. The skill set required to productively and successfully edit ones own photography is completely different to the technical (and artistic) skills used to make captures in the field. The importance of the difference between the skill sets and the need to practice and master both both really cannot be over stated. The real problem stems from the fact that as the photographer who spent a chunk of money and time travelling to a far flung destination we become far too heavily emotionally invested in our own work. We can (and the vast majority do) fail to recognise that the photographs we made are on the whole pretty banal. Sure, they might be great record shots and fantastic memories of our trip, but they are often light years away from great photography. Being able to recognise this fact and see past ones own emotional investment and attachment to our own photographs (because ‘we’ made them) is an extraordinarily rare talent – which is why those photographers who possess it and implement it so well shine so brightly above the masses. These gifted photographers recognise that their own ego has absolutely nothing to do with the photograph they just made. Incidentally, this is also the reason magazines, newspapers and other media employ a photographic editor and perhaps National Geographic are the most obvious example. Yes, they send out a great photographer to complete an assignment, but its not the photographer who edits the work and makes the final selections for the magazine. That job is handled by a photographic editor who has zero emotional investment in the work that was produced. Of course we cant all employ a highly skilled and experienced photographic editor, so how does one go about divesting themselves of their emotional attachment to their own photography?

The first step to divesting yourself of any emotional attachment is to recognise and accept that most of the photographs we make are far from transcendent. They are on the whole average and not worthy of post production (let alone social media praise). They should be seen as stepping stones or building blocks we used in the refinement of those photographs that really did work and that are truly great. The seconds and thirds that might be close, should not ever see the light of day. Accepting and recognising that the vast majority of the photographs we make are seconds and thirds is a bitter pill to swallow, but a necessary one on the path to being truly impartial about our own work.

How you go about divesting yourself of the emotional attachment to your own work is very personal and is going to be different for everybody. In my own case, I like to let a good passage of time pass between when I made the captures and when I actually sit down to edit and produce the work. This passage of time lets me disassociate myself from my direct experience in the field. My memory has had a chance to fade and I can be more objective in my selections. I find if I start to edit my work too soon after a shoot I make selections that tend to be less objective and as a result my portfolio suffers.

Once a suitable passage of time has passed I like to look at my work with a truly hyper critical eye. I try and look at it as if I was not the photographer, but the editor. I ask myself, What am I trying to say with this photograph? What is the story or message? Is there emotion in the work or is it bland and devoid of feeling? Is it a decisive moment? What about the colour pallet, depth and framing? Composition? Is the eye pleased with where it comes to rest in the image or does it wander lost or out of the frame? Will this photograph tug on the heart strings and generate an emotional response in the viewer? All of these questions need to be asked and answered honestly and impartially.  Most fail to ask these questions and fall into the trap of asking the technical questions such as, Is it sharp? Would it have been sharper at f8 instead of f14?  Did I get the depth of field correct? What about exposure? These are questions you should not need to ask if you have mastered Master the Craft Getting Past the Camera. Perhaps Ansel Adams said it best ‘There is nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy idea‘.

Divesting yourself of the emotional attachment in your work is really tough and of the three steps to Mastering the Craft, divesting yourself of the emotional attachment you have to your own photography is by far the most difficult and is likely the one most people will fail to achieve. You have to have a very critical eye for your own work and need to be your own harshest critic. You also have to realise and accept that just because you spent a bunch of money and time and travelled to some remote destination that it doesn’t mean you made a great photograph. A good friend once said to me ‘You know, just because you lived on an iceberg for 30 days doesn’t mean you made a great photograph’. He was 100% correct. All I did in that 30 days was give myself the opportunity to create something beautiful. There is no guarantee I actually did so. By far the vast majority of photographers fail to fully divest themselves of their emotional investment in their own work. Its a tough skill to master but if you succeed your photography will improve exponentially.

 

Photograph of the Month January 2019 – Midnight Love

The first photograph of the month of January for 2019 comes from my November expedition last year to photograph the Emperor Penguins on the sea ice at Gould Bay in Antarctica. Taken on our last evening, sometime around midnight under the midnight sun. We were fortunate that we had some beautiful soft atmospherics and clouds that worked wonderfully with the golden light backlight. I really wish I could share the print, as the print really makes the photograph come alive a wonderful etherealness that the jpeg just cant match.

I will be returning to the Emperor Penguins at Gould Bay in 2020 for a small group photography expedition. As per the expedition last year (Read the Trip Report) I will take just five photographers with me and several places have now already been spoken for. If you are interested in joining us please register your interest now (Just drop me an email) to avoid any disappointment. There is no obligation at this point.