Winner 2019 AIPP Epson Victorian Professional Nature Photographer of the Year

Over the last few days The AIPP Australian Institute of Professional Photography Victorian State awards (VPPY) were held here in my home town of Melbourne at Melbourne Polytechnic Fairfield Campus. The AIPP Annual state and national awards are my two absolute favourite photographic competitions to participate in because all entries (in the categories I choose to enter) are judged in print and not digitally. Those of you who follow my blog regularly are already well aware that I am a huge advocate of the print as the finished medium of choice for my own photography – enough said. The AIPP National and State awards remain two of the few remaining competitions to actually judge the finished print and they do so using a panel of judges all deemed experts in their respective genres and accredited as Masters of Photography through their years of success in this arena.

About the Print Judging: In case you are unfamiliar with either of these competitions the prints are judged in a controlled lighting environment and assessed for their content, originality as well as technical craftsmanship. The judging is enthralling to watch (it was live-streamed to the internet this year) and can be quite nerve wracking if you are a first time entrant as the standard of work is incredibly high. In brief, prints are scored out of 100 with images judged less than 70 being deemed not of professional standard. Prints judged between 71 and 79 are considered strong professional practice and entrants receiving scores in this area are considered to be producing professional quality prints. Images judged 80-84 are awarded a Silver and are considered strong professional practice of an award standard that demonstrate skill beyond strong professional practice. Scores of 85-89 are given a Silver with Distinction and demonstrate superior imagination, craft and skill that elevates the print far above professional practice. Prints judged 90-94 exhibit excellence in visual communication, craft and skill and are considered stunning and exceptional in every way. This level of print far exceeds professional practice and is reserved for only the highest quality prints. And finally those rare few images that reach 96-100 are considered to have exceptional vision, creativity, innovation, master craftsmanship and skill. Very, very few prints ever score Gold awards in these competitions.  Out of the hundreds and hundreds of print entries this year (over 700 prints) fewer than two dozen received Gold awards and only two Gold Distinctions were awarded.

This year I entered the Nature, Documentary and Landscape categories, entering the maximum allowable twelve prints spread across the three categories. I wanted to put what I felt were my strongest four prints into the Nature category, but also wanted to test the other eight prints and see how they performed in different categories. This turned out to be the right approach for me and I was absolutely thrilled to take overall first place in the Nature Category as well as being a finalist in both the Landscape and Documentary categories. The Nature category is very near and dear to my heart and winning it is a huge honour. On top of winning my chosen category I also took out the Highest Scoring Print award for the Nature category. As someone who is so passionate about the ‘print’ and the craft of fine art printing this was an incredible honour.

Below are the winning prints. All of the prints were printed on Moab Somerset Museum Rag. This wonderfully sublime paper has continued to remain my stock of choice for all my fine art photography prints. If you love printing and are not familiar with this paper I urge you to check it out and get a sample pack.

To help provide some insight into the judging I captured and uploaded the live-stream video of the judging of my four photographs in the Nature category. I did not bother with the Documentary and Landscape categories as these were more or less my ‘seconds’ and it was really the Nature category that I was interested in. If you are keen to check out the judging of my Landscape and Documentary prints you can find the full livestream on You Tube. It is both insightful and  interesting to hear the judges thoughts, comments and perspectives. Keep in mind, you are listening to individual opinions – hence a panel of five judges.

Face-Off in a Blizzard –  GOLD Award Nature Category

Lost in a Blizzard –  GOLD Award Nature Category

Family Reunited –  Silver with Distinction Award Nature Category

 

Arctic Fox Snow Storm –  Silver with Distinction Award Nature Category

Sinuous –  GOLD Award Landscape Category

Mars –  SILVER Award Landscape Category

Hanging Glacier –  SILVER Award Landscape Category

Greenland –  SILVER Award Landscape Category

Top of the World –  SILVER with Distinction Award Documentary Category

Wolverine –  SILVER Award Documentary Category

Polar Bear –  SILVER Award Documentary Category

Lone Hunter –  SILVER Award Documentary Category

Great Ocean Road and Tasmania Workshop Reports 2019

In May and June of 2019 I lead two back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean road region of Victoria and both the East and West coasts of Tasmania with my co-leader and friend Phillip Bartlett. Both of these workshops were structured to provide outstanding and varied opportunities for landscape photography as well as the opportunity to see and experience the wild coastal region of the Great Ocean Road and World Heritage Wilderness areas of Tasmania. Both of these locations offer world class landscape opportunities, yet both remain relatively unknown on the world stage (at least for now). We planned to not only photograph the fantastically varied landscape of these two locations, but also enjoy the fantastic fresh food and produce both of these locations are well known for.

In May and early June in southern Australia we are in the transitional phase from Autumn to Winter and the weather is often varied and unsettled. It can be quite cold, occasionally wet, but also extremely beautiful. Sunrises and sunsets are often intermixed with dramatic cloud and when the wind is up it can result in wild weather as storms and squalls roll in from Antarctica to smash into the coastline. As it turned out and as expected, we experienced a little bit of everything weather wise during both workshops. Our workshops were deliberately timed in the hopes of some dramatic weather and light and we encountered both during the two workshops. As also expected we lost a day, or part thereof on each trip due to intermittent rain, but we more than made up for it with beautiful light on several occasions.

We began our workshops with three days of intensive landscape photography along the spectacular Great Ocean Road and Otway forest region of Victoria. I have been travelling and photographing this part of Victoria for many, many years now and over this period of time have discovered many wonderful locations to photograph and learned a lot about the ideal time to visit these locations. Contrary to popular thought, many of the more obvious locations for sunset actually work much better at sunrise with the massive sandstone sea stacks picking up their own equivalent of an alpine glow before the sun crests the horizon. Sunset is in many ways too obvious for the westward facing sea stacks and experience has shown me sunrise usually provides better light and better opportunities. Typically, there also fewer photographers around and one almost always has the location to themselves – as we frequently did. Knowing where and when to photograph is key to getting great results along the Great Ocean road and there is simply no substitute for local knowledge in this regard. This time I decided to include a fellow participant for scale to show just how gigantic some of these sea stacks truly are.

During our time in Victoria we also made several stops at some of the Otway Ranges waterfalls. On both workshops we were blessed with ideal shooting conditions that included low cloud and mist – perfect conditions for this sort of forest photography. Despite Victoria being somewhat unknown for its waterfalls we do actually have several fantastic places that offer superb opportunities when the conditions are optimal. My own preference is always overcast light with low cloud for the soft box light effect. The addition of mist or light rain also adds a further element to really add mood to the photographs. Recent rains ensure the waterfalls are in full flow and at their best for making photographs.

After we finished in Victoria we returned to Melbourne and made the short flight down to Tasmania where we spent the next few days exploring and photographing the world heritage region at Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Claire National parks. Cradle Mountain is without doubt the jewel in the crown and heart of Tasmania. This rugged and wild region of the island offers an opportunity for mountain and forest photography that is as unique as it is impressive. Cradle mountain itself forms an ideal photographic back drop to Dove Lake (the large alpine lake that rests in front of the mountains), whilst the surrounding old growth forest adds a primordial feel that gives the whole place that fantastical ‘Tolkien’ look. The opportunities for dramatic and unique imagery in this area are as expansive as they are untapped and we explored and photographed quite extensively during our time in the area. With our luxury accomodation just outside the park we were perfectly positioned to maximise our time in this area. Some of us even took the opportunity to hike to Marions look-out and walk many of the forest trails. For those that were keen there was also wildlife opportunities with Wombats and Wallabys in abundance.

From Cradle Mountain we travelled south to the small seaside town of Strahan on the wild West Coast where we were based for two nights. During our time in Strahan we took a day cruise out to Hells Gates (the narrow entrance to the harbour) and then on up the Gordon river – an extremely scenic journey into the pristine old growth world heritage forest. Our cruise included a stop at Sarah Island on our return. Overcast light with low cloud and mist is again ideal for this sort of forest photography and we made the most of the opportunities provided to us. We were also fortunate to get fantastic reflections on the river. On our first trip we also tried to find and photograph the Fairy penguins (now known as the Little Penguin) at Bonnet Island but had only marginal success with only a couple of penguins arriving on the island well after dark. The population of Fairy penguins has been in decline at Bonnet Island in recent times and my feeling is this is now pretty much a dead end for penguin photography.  In lieu of the penguins we took an opportunity to photograph Tasmanian Devils on the second workshop at the sanctuary near Cradle Mountain which proved productive and worthwhile.

From Strahan we travelled East to Coles Bay in Freycinet National Park where we spent several more days exploring and photographing this rugged and exposed peninsula. The Freycinet peninsula possess some of the most amazing granite boulders to be found anywhere on earth. Pink and orange granite boulders adorn both sides of the rocky peninsula and offer limitless opportunities for landscape photography. Perhaps best of all, this hidden gem is virtually untouched and un-photographed by world standards. During the many hours we spent photographing in this region at both sunrise and sunset we did not encounter a single other photographer – a rare treat these days.

From Freycinet we travelled South to Hobart where we wrapped up with a final sunrise photography session atop the rock riddled, Mount Wellington. The days are short this time of year in Tasmania; with sunrise around 7:30am and sunset around 5pm. This timeline is absolutely perfect for this type of workshop and meant we could get in a full days photography from sunrise to sunset before ending our day with a fantastic locally produced meal in one of the nearby restaurants. With many of the towns in Tasmania located on or near the coast the fresh seafood on offer is amazing with some of the best fish, oysters and scallops to be found anywhere.

Landscape photography in Tasmania is an absolute joy. Free from the crowds of tourists and photographers that have inundated many other corners of the world, Tasmania remains a quiet back water, mercifully blessed with fantastic food and wine, and world class landscape for the travelling photographer. Although I have been to Tasmania many times in my life, I never tire of returning to this small Island just a short stones throw from my home in Melbourne. The landscape is as irresistible as the fresh seafood and as such I will return again next year for one more workshop to the Apple Isle. You can drop me an email to register your interest.

Footnote: On the second workshop I decided to take a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera with me. This was the first time I had spent with the camera in the field and I was quite surprised with my findings. I will have some more detailed thoughts in another post in the next few days. My conclusions might surprise you.

Tasmania II Workshop Departure and Packing List 2019

A week of R&R has quickly rolled past and tomorrow I am starting the second of two back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean road in Victoria and World Heritage Forests and Wild Coasts of Tasmania. Although I have been to Tasmania countless times in the course of my life I never tire of returning to this wonderfully quiet corner of the world. Smattered with primordial old growth forest, pristine rivers and wild and rocky coastlines the landscape opportunities are as fantastic as they are varied. Perhaps best of all, there are still many opportunities to create strong and unique photographs that transcend those captured in the many over touristed locations found around the world today – it is in many ways virgin ground. I have been so taken with the untapped potential on offer in Tasmania that I have decided to return in May next year 2020 and offer one more landscape workshop to Van Diemens land and its primordial forests and coastlines. I will have full details soon, but you can pre-register your interest by dropping me an email at info@jholko.com

Shifting gears somewhat, and hot on the heels of my recent (and somewhat controversial as it turns out) post on ‘Why the DSLR is here for many years to Come *’ are some more thoughts on where mirrorless cameras actually fall into action for the working professional (and serious amateur). Despite what some might believe, I am not against mirrorless cameras (I actually just purchased one – A Canon EOS R). I believe mirrorless cameras hold some significant advantages over traditional DSLR cameras for certain applications and in certain situations. Firstly, mirrorless cameras (the bodies anyway – For some reason mirrorless lenses are often bigger and heavier than their mirrored cousins) are generally much smaller and lighter than their traditional DSLR counterparts. This makes them ideal for hiking and travel. EVF’s (Electronic View Finders) also offer some added additional capability not found in a traditional SLR Mirror camera. Features such as a live histogram in the viewfinder, zebras (for blown out areas) and focus peaking are all really useful features.  The problem with EVF’s to date is their tendency to simply shut down and stop working once they are exposed to temperatures below -10º Celsius for extended periods. Granted, this isn’t going to be an issue for most people, but if you plan to photograph in the world’s Polar Regions at any stage it bears serious consideration. Battery life is also a serious problem in cold weather. The extra current draw required for EVF’s results in dramatically shorter battery time in sub zero temperatures. I have watched photographers struggle with mirrorless battery life on recent cold weather workshops in the Arctic and the necessity to swap batteries in and out on a regular basis is a royal pain in the rear end. By comparison I can get multiple days out a Canon EOS 1DX MKII battery in temperatures as low as -35º Celsius and shoot thousands of frames. No mirrorless camera can do that (yet). Nor, can any mirrorless camera match the focus speed and accuracy of a 1DX MKII in the sort of conditions in which I frequently find myself shooting. I know much of the mirrorless hype would have you believe otherwise, but actual real world experience in the field has shown me it simply is not the case. Nor can any mirrorless camera yet match the rugged build and reliability of a 1DX MKII. That time may come, but today the weapon of choice for serious wildlife work in inclement conditions has to be the Canon EOS 1DX MKII (and its Nikon equivalent).  That said, mirrorless cameras most definitely offer some significant advantages for landscape photography (in all but the harshest of conditions) and that is why I decided to add a Canon EOS R mirrorless to my arsenal.  I did seriously consider the Fuji GFX50 (and its new big brother the GFX100), but ultimately decided the lack of native tilt shift lenses was a deal breaker for me. Especially since the larger sensor in the Fuji results in even shallower depth of field.

For my second Great Ocean Road and Tasmania workshop I am packing the following:

  • 1 x Canon EOS R Mirrorless w/ Really Right Stuff L Bracket (with spare batteries)
  • 1 x Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS Lens
  • 1 x Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE Lens
  • 1 x Canon 100-400mm F3.5-5.6L MKII Lens
  • 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
  • 1 x Gitzo GT3533S Carbon Fibre Tripod with an Arca Swiss D4 Geared Head
  • 1 x Set of Nisi Graduated Filters w/ V6. Holder and Polariser
  • 1 x Set of Lee Neutral Density Filters

This will be my first foray into serious landscape photography with my own personal mirrorless camera and I am really looking forward to seeing how it performs in the field. I decided to opt for the EF adapter with the added functionality of the control ring (which I have left at its default setting for Aperture control). Since I primarily plan to use this camera for tripod landscape photography I decided not to purchase any native RF lenses, but rather adapt my current EF lenses (especially my TSE lenses). The addition of the 1.4 TC MKIII is mostly for use on the 24mm TSE lens (turning it into a 35mm TSE Lens).  The keen eyed amongst you might also note the addition of a suite of Nisi Filters. Yes, I recently upgraded from my rather scratched, much loved, but well and truly worn out ‘LEE resin filters’. See you in Tasmania!

* Addendum – It seems Ricoh agrees with me. The DSLR is here for many years to come.

Great Ocean Road & Van Diemens Land Workshop Departure

My new workshop to the Great Ocean Road and Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) has quickly rolled around and tomorrow morning my co-leader Phillip and I will be getting underway on our two week adventure with our small group of participants. This is the first of two sold out back-to-back workshops and I am really looking forward to getting underway. These workshops are primarily landscape based and as such my choice of lenses is quite different to the usual long lens wildlife work I have specialised in over recent years. I will still be shooting with the Canon EOS 1DX MKII as my main camera, but have substituted my long telephoto lenses for my wide angle tilt shift lenses (and will very much enjoy the reduction in weight!). I am also packing my Sachtler tripod and a selection of neutral density and graduated ND Filters. The addition of the 1.4 Teleconverter is specifically for the 24mm TSE lens as I frequently find a need for a 35mm TSE in my landscape work. If time permits I will try and post a few updates from the field. See you along the Great Ocean Road and in the wilds of Tasmania!

  • Canon EOS 1DX MKII Camera Body

  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens

  • Canon 24mm F3.5L MKII TSE Lens

  • Canon 1.4 TC MKIII

  • Canon 24-70mm F4L IS Lens

  • Canon 100-400mm F4-5.6L MKII Lens

 

Svalbard Winter Ship 2019 Expedition Report

In March and early April of 2019 I lead my annual winter expedition by ship in the Svalbard archipelago in search of wildlife and frozen landscapes. As I have written recently before, Winter has become my favourite time of year to visit Svalbard.  The low angle of sun, snow and ice covered landscape draped with stunning ethereal light make for wonderful photographic opportunities and unlimited potential. Of course, winter also brings with it an increased chance in inclement weather which can present a different set of challenges to summer expeditions when the weather is typically more stable. For those that are willing to brave the elements of a winter trip the rewards can be truly outstanding.

Unlike my snowmobile expeditions (Read the Trip Report), the 2019 ship expedition proved a challenging year for weather with repeated days of high winds and often poor visibility. Strong winds over the entire archipelago prevented us from heading to the edge of the permanent pack ice north of Spitzbergen. Instead, we made the decision to search many of the fjord systems still partially frozen with sea ice. We played cat and mouse with the high winds, seeking shelter in the fjords wherever possible.  This strategy proved fruitful with some great landscape opportunities that we might otherwise have missed. We also had some really great wildlife encounters whilst we sheltered from the weather.

This year we encountered just two Polar Bears during the expedition. Thankfully, both encounters proved extremely profitable with fantastic photographs of both the  bear in front of one of Svalbard’s many glacier fronts as well as the playful teenage bear that put on a wonderful show for us on our last full day of the expedition. As I have frequently lamented – its not the number of bears one encounters during an expedition; its the chance for a ‘photo-friendly’ bear encounter that really counts. I would trade ten bear sightings for one good ‘photo bear’. This year we had two wonderful bears and all aboard made fantastic photographs.

Although Polar Bears were quite thin pickings this year we did have some absolutely superb Walrus encounters on ice flows that more than made up for the lack of bears. Walrus are fantastic to photograph and vastly underrated as a subject. In addition we also had multiple encounters with both white and blue Arctic Fox, Harp Seals, Ivory Gulls and more.

My 2020 expedition to Svalbard in Winter is already almost sold out with just a few places remaining. If you are keen to photograph in this amazing archipelago in the beauty of winter then just drop me an email to express your interest. The remaining places are filled on a first come, first served basis.  If you want to get an idea of what to expect check out the Article – The Art of Polar Bear Photography.