Outdoor Photographer of the Year Finalist 2012

I received notification via email yesterday that one of my photographs from Antarctica has made the finals in the 2012 Outdoor Photographer of the Year Competition. I feel I have been very fortunate this year as I was also a finalist and highly commended with 3rd place in the Travel Photographer of the Year ‘Single Shot Water Category’ and was a finalist in the ‘Fine Art Photographer of the Year’ competition in Paris a few months ago. This was the first time I have entered Outdoor Photographer of the Year and did so more or less on the spur of the moment as one of the category titles (‘The Spirit of Adventure’) really struck a chord with me whilst browsing their website. I had a particular image from Antarctica; which I felt really summed up ‘The Spirit of Adventure’. The photograph in question was taken from the deck of the Ocean Nova near the Lemaire Channel and is of mountain climbers nearing the summit of one of Antarctica’s precipitous mountains in rapidly deteriorating weather. The truth of this photograph is that I did not see the mountain climbers (or at least I do not recall seeing them) when I took this photograph. I do recall being attracted to the sinuous ridgeline, dark sky and swirling clouds as we cruised slowly past and perhaps on a subconscious level I did see the climbers; but my memory of this particular photograph is a little foggy. It was, after all, just one of more than 13,000 images taken on the trip.From the exif data I know I used the Canon 300mm F2.8L IS lens on the Canon EOS 1D MKIV body, which gave me an effective focal length of 390mm for this capture; which should help give an idea of just how far away these climbers were when I made this photograph. It was shot at ISO400 F7.1 at 1/2500th of a second. You can’t see it on this small jpeg; but there are two large sea birds perfectly sharp and frozen to the right of frame. A higher resolution version of this photograph can be seen on my website in the Antarctica Portfolio.

Footnote: Unfortunately, Outdoor Photographer of the Year is not judged on the ‘Print’; but rather on the submission of digital files. To their credit they do require the submission of the original RAW file as proof the photograph has not been significantly tampered with. As I have previously blogged however, I far prefer to have my work viewed in Print, which I regard as the ultimate output. Nevertheless I am very honoured to have made the finals of this prestigious competition and look forward to seeing the winning entries when they are announced early next year.

2013: Whats in Store?

As has become somewhat traditional on my blog I like to do a post toward the end of each year that looks forward to whats in store for the coming year. Its a good opportunity for me to ready myself mentally for the year ahead and to also close off the previous year. 2013 is shaping up to be very busy with a significant number of workshops and expeditions that I am very much looking forward to. Although I very much choose to specialise in the Polar and sub-Polar regions (which remain my focus) I do have a new exploratory trip planned for 2013 into China. More on this below.

In March I will be co-leading two back-to-back Winter Aurora workshops to Iceland with my good friends Andy Biggs and Daniel Bergmann. These workshops are going to focus on the coastal regions of Iceland including the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the mighty sea stacks at Vik and the spectacular Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. We are looking forward to frozen waterfalls, glaciers, icebergs and with a little luck the Aurora (Northern Lights). We are going to be in Iceland at the peak of the eleven year solar cycle which should mean some intense solar activity. Fingers crossed for clear skies and blazing Aurora!In May I will be headed to the remote Xinjiang province in China with my good friend and fellow photographer Antony Watson on an exploratory expedition to the Gobi Desert, Tian Shan mountain range, Kanas Lake and Kanasi. This investigative trip is the culmination of over a year of logistical arrangements and I hope will open up some incredibly beautiful and remote wilderness for a future expedition workshop to this region.

In July I will be headed back to Iceland to lead a summer workshop with Daniel Bergmann into the Highland Regions. We will be travelling into Landmannalaugar; which is one of my favourite locations in Iceland as well as visiting the mighty Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls and the iconic Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Normally inaccessible in Winter, the Highlands of Iceland are a very special place and simply incredible for photography.In August I will fly from Iceland to Oslo and Longyearbyen for a personal expedition to Svalbard to photograph Polar Bears and Walrus before I return to Longyearbyen to lead two back to back expeditions to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland – The Jewels of the Arctic. The first of these expeditions will be co-led with Daniel Bergmann and the second co-led with Australian Grand Master of Photography Peter Eastway. Abraham Joffe’s award winning film and production company ‘Untitled Film Works‘ has been secured to join us on the second expedition and will be producing a video of the trip which I hope to share freely here on my blog late next year.In November I am travelling to Ushuaia in South America and will lead an expedition to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands with Daniel Bergmann. This 15 day / 14 night expedition was more than eight months in the planning and is something I am very much looking forward to. We have been able to arrange access into areas normally off limits that are dedicated to Science which is going to provide us with some really unique opportunities. We are travelling early in the season which should give us the best possible opportunities for spectacular icebergs, dramatic weather and great light.In late November I will travel to Patagonia with my friend Martyn Lucas on a personal trip to photograph the spectacular Torres Del Pine and surrounding landscape. Patagonia boasts some of the most dramatic landscapes on Earth with precipitous mountains, jagged granite spires and enormous glaciers. During our time in this area we plan to hike up to the Torres and bivouac to give ourselves the best opportunity for great light. This will be my first visit to Patagonia and will fulfil a life-long ambition to photograph in this spectacular area.

I will then return home to spend Christmas my family. All up, I will be away from my studio for around 4-5 months in total next year which means I am not going to be offering much in the way of printing workshops or Lightroom instruction in 2013. If you are already booked in for one-on-one Lightroom and Fine Art Printing then those dates stand as I will be in Australia during these times.

To those of you who are travelling with me on one (or more) of these trips I am very much looking forward to spending time shooting together. It is going to be a very exciting year for photography. Roll on 2013!

NEW GURA GEAR BATAFLAE BACKPACK REVIEW – IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

How do you take what is widely regarded by many photographers as one of the finest camera bags on the market and make it even better?

I was pondering this when the guys at Gura Gear first told me that they were working on an update to the very popular Kiboko 30L camera bag along with a range of new accessory storage bags called the ‘Et Cetera’ range.I was an early adopter of Gura Gear bags. After I returned from my first expedition to Iceland I realized how unhappy I had become with my then current camera bag (whose name shall remain anonymous). For a variety of reasons it was no longer satisfying my needs and I was on the lookout for a new lightweight bag that met airline carry-on restrictions for size but enabled me to carry more equipment comfortably into the field.  Anyone who has travelled domestically or internationally with camera equipment understands the importance of being able to carry equipment onto the airplane to avoid the risk of damage or theft in checked luggage. I therefore needed a bag that could not only hold all of my equipment, but that was light, robust, suitable for moderate hiking, and still enabled me to glide through airport check -in with a smile and a wave. My search led me to the Kiboko which, after several years of photographic travel, has become my number one camera bag of choice for all of my photography.

Fast forward to 2012 – With a four week photographic trip to Europe and a workshop in Iceland in July and August this year it was the perfect opportunity to field test the new Gura Gear Bataflae camera bags and Et Cetera range. The good folks at Gura Gear agreed and a shipment of the new product range was soon winging its way to me.

I admit to being very excited when I opened up the boxes from Gura Gear and saw the new products. You know you have purchased a quality product when you open the box and are greeted by the super slick black dust covers bearing the Gura Gear logo. Whilst the addition of a dust bag might seem superfluous it does in fact prove very useful for long-term storage and can even serve as a pretty cool laundry bag when travelling.

Widely regarded as being capable of swallowing copious amounts of camera equipment with room to spare (the Kiboko 30L will hold just about everything you can throw at it) the new Bataflae 32L adds even more space. Overall, it is larger and deeper than the original. This extra space proved a real blessing during my field tests as Canon’s new 1DX camera with a really right stuff L bracket is a very tight fit in the original Kiboko, but slides perfectly into the new bag thanks to the extra head room. Users of professional DSLR’s, medium and large format camera gear will really appreciate the extra height available.

Those of you familiar with the original Kiboko will already be sold on the benefits of the unique butterfly openings that avoid that unwieldy large flap that most camera bags provide for internal access.  There are, however, times when it would be nice to be able to open the bag right up for packing and full access. Well, the new Bataflae gives you the best of both worlds with the traditional butterfly openings but adds the ability to open the entire bag up by releasing a simple clasp at the top of the bag. This really makes packing much simpler as well as providing full access to both sides simultaneously when required in the field. The centre divider contains extra strengthening to maintain rigidity even when the bag is fully loaded. In use, I found this to work very well.The rain cover has been relocated from inside one of the butterfly pockets to outside the bag in a small zippered pocket, which has freed up more room in the butterfly pocket. The rain cover now also utilizes a draw string which is an improvement over the original elastic cover because it can now also serve as a ground sheet if required.

Like the original bags, the new range is manufactured from highly durable materials, although the new material has more bling. The stitching, zippers and internal fittings of the new bags are improved in every respect. Even the finger zipper pulls are easier to use.  Additional padding has been added to the backpack harness, which makes the bag noticeably more comfortable when hiking. There are yet more refinements to be found in the way of improved clasps for carrying tripods which can even accommodate items such as crampons. Like its predecessor, the new range comes with a considerable number of extra dividers so that its internal storage space can be customized to one’s own particular needs. All of this amounts to a very compelling reason to upgrade to the new models.

When the new Bataflae is fully loaded with my camera equipment it was significantly over the normal carry-on luggage allowance during my Europe and Iceland expeditions, yet I had no issues on any of the five international and domestic flights, including several long haul flights. With the increase in size, the new Bataflae still fits in the overhead lockers on the aircraft I travelled and still retains its understated appearance. I am utterly convinced that the Bataflae is the best camera bag on the market for photographers who fly and travel.

During my four weeks in Europe I used the new Bataflae everywhere, from the bustling streets and Cathedrals of Paris to the more subdued provincial countryside and wine regions of France where I travelled by hire car. I took it mountaineering at 13,000 feet at Mont Blanc in Chamonix where it was -15 degrees Celsius, and trod the myriad of canals in Venice Italy during the peak summer season. I then travelled to Iceland for my 2012 summer Workshop where I spent time on the Snaefellsness Peninsula, the highlands of Landmannalaugar and the stunning Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to name but a few locations. I undertook some fairly arduous hiking in the Landmannalaugar region and subjected the bag to everything from waterfall spray, rain, salt spray, sand and dust. I threw just about everything I could at the new bags and found them an improvement in every way over the originals.

The design changes and refinements to the new bags are in many cases subtle but they add up to a significant overall improvement that makes for a very compelling reason for existing Kiboko owners to upgrade. If, on the other hand, you haven’t already pampered yourself and your camera gear with Gura Gear then you are about to be presented with a fantastic opportunity with the release of these new products. They are highly recommended for their robustness and overall design.

The new product range takes everything that was great about the original bags and improves on it in just about every respect. I would argue that, outside of the camera and lens, there are few pieces of equipment that can have as much impact on your photography as your camera bag. If you travel or frequently change locations (and which photographer doesn’t!) you owe it to yourself (and your expensive equipment) to check out a Gura Gear camera bag.

Part Two – The Et Cetera and Tembo Range

As photographers we are constantly adding accessories to our equipment arsenal. Additional batteries, chargers, color checkers, CF and SD cards and card readers, adapter rings – the list goes on and on and there is only so many of these that can be shoehorned into a camera bag already overflowing with bodies and lenses. I am sure many of us have thrown all manner of photographic accessories loose into our suitcases before we travel because our camera bag was already overweight with bodies and lenses and at risk of airport check-in destruction.Solving this problem could well be Gura Gear’s masterstroke. Its new Et Cetera and Tembo line of products is designed to solve that annoying problem of finding a home for some of those accessories. The range is perhaps best thought of as the ‘Tupperware’ of camera storage and provides a range of different storage options for different accessories. I found these storage containers invaluable on my recent European trip and Iceland workshop and far more convenient than throwing items loosely in my checked luggage.

There is a range of different sizes and shapes from which to select and photographers will likely choose those models that best suit their needs and requirements.

Gura Gear products can be ordered directly from the Gura Gear Website

CANON ‘GEAR IN ACTION’ INTERVIEW – THE 1DX IN FRANCE, ITALY AND ICELAND 2012

CANON: I was recently interviewed again for Canon Australia’s CPS ‘Gear in Action’ website and the content of the interview is now online at CPS Australia. Unlike my previous interview HERE which primarily focused on Fine Art Printing this time the emphasis was on cameras and my experience with Canon’s new tour-de-force 1DX camera during my recent travels through France, Italy, Venice and Iceland. There is also a small gallery of images– which I have not yet even uploaded to my website. I hope you enjoy the interview.For CPS members there are also details of the expedition I am leading to Antarctica with Daniel Bergmann on Canon Australia’s website HERE. This expedition is of course open to all photographers. You don’t have to shoot Canon or be a member of Canon’s Professional Services. 🙂

PHOTOKINA: If you are heading over to Germany for Photokina later this month be sure to stop past the Moab and Legion Paper stands where some of my prints from my Iceland series will be on display on my favourite paper: Somerset Museum Rag.

A small disclaimer: Although I both shoot and print exclusively with Canon cameras and printers I am not sponsored by Canon. I pay for all of my own equipment with my own hard earned money. I choose to use Canon cameras and printers because I have found them to offer outstanding results and reliability in my photography – not because I am incentivised by the manufacturer. I am a Canon CPS Gold Member and rely on CPS to assist me with sensor cleaning and loan equipment from time to time.

CANON 1DX IN THE FRENCH ALPS

One of the real highlights of my trip through France was the opportunity to visit the alpine town of Chamonix. Widely regarded as the mountaineering Mecca of France, Chamonix is a magnet and playground for mountaineers and alpinists from around the world. With its high altitude mountains, precipitous and jagged peaks, and high quality granite spires it is easy to see why.

The town itself is filled with all manner of outdoor clothing, mountaineering and adventure shops. The only other place I can recall seeing such a collection of stores and brands in such a small a geographical area was in Ushuaia at the bottom of South America from where the majority of Antarctica expeditions depart. In short, if you can’t find it in Chamonix you probably don’t need it (although the prices might leave you reeling).

With a day free in Chamonix before heading for Venice, I jumped at the opportunity to take the two cable cars up to the Aiguille Du Midi at just over 12,600 feet for some mountaineering photography.With no real mountains to speak of in Australia, I am not used to high altitude climbing and suffered from constant lack of breath, light-headedness and a severe headache after twelve hours at nearly 4000 metres. Whilst my Austrian companion seemed unaffected by the altitude I was forced to stop every few minutes to try and catch my breath as we made our way up the ridgeline. It was worth the pain, however, as the opportunity to photograph climbers returning from Mont Blanc along a very exposed ridge provided breathtaking views and photographic possibilities. We were taking a little bit of a chance with this climb as it was very windy and the pressure was dropping, with the possibility of a forecast storm. Spindrift was whipping off the peaks and, with eleven people loosing their lives on Mont Blanc in the last few weeks, I was less than thrilled at the thought of getting caught in an exposed position.  I was, however, very keen to get some photographs, because the wind was whipping clouds and fog across the mountain at a rapid rate which was creating a lovely play of light. In the end, I climbed only a relatively short distance up the ridge as the conditions were just too dangerous for my experience at that altitude.This was the first opportunity I had to use the Canon 1DX at high altitude in cold weather and it did not disappoint. At -15 degrees Celsius the Canon 1DX performed flawlessly and I was able to squeeze out nearly 600 frames without any effort, finding no need to warm the battery or swap it for another from a warm pocket. This is remarkable performance in such a hostile environment and is consistent with my experience with the 1DS MK3 and 1D MKIV cameras in Antarctica.I hope to return to Chamonix in the future and spend more time in the stunningly beautiful French Alps. Along with the Andes mountain range in South America, they rate as some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains I have seen.

For now, I have arrived in Iceland and am looking forward to heading out into the wilds tomorrow morning.