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!

 

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.

Happy New Year 2019!

I would like to thank all the readers and followers of my blog, those who have purchased prints and workshop participants for your continued support throughout 2018. I wish all of you a very happy and safe New Year and all the very best for 2019. If you are travelling with me in 2019 on one or more of my workshops or expeditions I look forward to shooting together in some of the world’s most beautiful and remote locations. I hope your year is full of beautiful light, stunning locations, good health and great times.

2018 A Retrospective and 2019 Whats in Store?

As is tradition on my blog, I like to do a “What’s Coming Up” post for the new year as well as reflect back, and wrap up the year that was (its a great way for me to keep a record of my travels and photography and also helps me prepare for the coming year). Even though I ran less workshops than the previous year, 2018 was a frantic year and when I look back at all the destinations and all of the photography its actually hard to reconcile that it all happened in a single year. It was a year that included some absolutely superb photographic destinations and some really incredible experiences.

In equipment terms 2018 was relatively quiet for me with no major changes to my camera line-up. As I wrote both last year and the year before, the Canon EOS 1DX MKII remains the best DSLR camera I have ever used regardless of price, brand or model. I actually managed to get through an entire year without purchasing a new camera or a new lens! I cannot recall the last time I managed to do that! It was a close call on the new Canon mirrorless camera, but after trying one I decided it did not really offer me anything that would improve my photography at this point. Perhaps future generations of the mirrorless system might better suit my needs.

My gear pick for the 2018 year (I always choose something I actually own) is somewhat of a tough choice as I did not actually purchase a new camera or lens. I did however purchase the newly designed Sachtler Flowtech 75 tripod and this has definitely become my favourite tripod. Its super fast to set up in the field, its light, strong, exceptionally sturdy and extremely versatile with its spiked and rubber feet. I also very much like the flexibility that comes with different positions when splaying the legs.

2019 should be a fairly interesting year in equipment terms. I expect to see several new L series lenses from Canon that will predominantly be in the new RF mount. I highly doubt we will see any new pro DSLR bodies until early 2020 – a 1DX MKIII announcement late 2019 is probable. The much rumoured 600mm F4 DO lens (a patent has been filed by Canon and they have shown a prototype) has not as yet eventuated and my gut feeling is that when it finally does it will almost certainly appear in an RF mount only. In fact, I expect the majority of new lenses Canon releases in 2019 to be in RF mount only.

Last year I am gave the nod to Ragnar Axelsson’s excellent Faces of the North for my book pick of the year. For 2018 I am giving the guernsey to Inherit the Dust by Nick Brandt. Nick has continued to lead the charge in black and white elephant photography; producing absolutely superb imagery that is both emotional and timeless. His style and approach are highly imitated, but rarely if ever matched. Inherit the Dust is a wonderful (although sombre) look at what we are doing to our planet. I definitely recommend you check it out and consider adding it to your library.

Over the course of this year I also published my own favourite twelve photographs here on my blog. Please be sure to check them out and let me know what you thought. I don’t usually have an overall favourite from a given year, although I definitely have a soft spot for the Wolverine I photographed in northern Finland in Autumn this year during a scouting trip. As below, I have a new workshop for Wolverine and Wolves that will kick off next Autumn in Northern Finland (only two places remaining before it will be sold out).

In competition terms, 2018 was a great year for me with the overall win as the Victorian Documentary Photographer of the Year. This was the second year in a row I have taken out the win in this category. This year I was also a finalist  in the AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards – Science, Wildlife and Wild Places Photographer of the Year. I was also short listed in BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, ANZANG Australian New Zealand Nature Photographer of the Year and was also Highly Honoured in Natures Best Photography Nature in Motion Category for Ghosts of the Arctic as well as being a Finalist and Highly Commended in the Hot and Cold Category of Travel photographer of the Year. Overall, it was a solid year and I am very pleased with the results.

2018 was also another huge year for me both with destinations visited and sheer number of international miles travelled. The year kicked off in early February with a winter workshop to Lofoten (Read the Trip Report).  The landscape of these islands are really quite something to behold. Precipitous and ominous peaks that rise straight out of the ocean loom over small fishing villages that comprise of bright red houses lining the shorelines. With a dusting of fresh snow and arctic winter light the entire scene is akin to a fairy tail location and subsequently the photographic opportunities were truly superb.

From Lofoten I travelled to Iceland to lead my annual expedition to photograph Arctic Fox on the north-west peninsula in Winter (Read the Trip Report).  This was only the second time I have taken a small group with me into the nature reserve as this is an area very near and dear to my heart. During the expedition the participants made between ten and twenty thousand plus photographs per person which gives you a really good idea of just how many incredible opportunities and encounters with Arctic Foxes we experienced during our time in the Nature reserve. Many of our encounters lasted several hours and on multiple occasions we had the luxury of choosing our backgrounds and angle of view for our photographs.

From Iceland I travelled north to Svalbard for both a personal snow mobile expedition to photograph Polar Bears on the sea ice in Winter and to subsequently lead my annual winter workshop in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and dramatic Arctic landscapes (Read the Trip Report).  I spent nearly three weeks exploring the archipelago of Svalbard in winter via snow mobile in temperatures as low as -30º Celsius in search of Polar Bears. Bears were thin on the ground and extremely hard to find this year. In three weeks I drove over three thousand kilometres on my snow mobile and found only one Bear. My winter ship expedition was much more successful with some fantastic bear and wildlife encounters. 

From Svalbard I travelled closer to home to the South Island of New Zealand where I lead my annual landscape workshop with my good friend Phillip Bartlett (Read the Trip Report). Although this was a very successful trip for all who participated it was a difficult and somewhat frustrating trip for me as I was suffering quite badly with a torn lateral tendon in my right elbow at this point and was unable to lift my camera for most of the trip. As it turned out I did actually make some photographs I was very happy with during the workshop. I was also finally able to get my elbow back in shape with some very intensive physiotherapy on return to Melbourne.

From New Zealand I returned to Svalbard for my yearly expedition north of Longyearbyen to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice (Read the Trip Report). With our small group of just twelve photographers and our ice hardened expedition class ship we were perfectly prepared for ten days of Arctic photography under the midnight sun and it turned out to be an absolute gem of an expedition. July and August are just a fantastic time of the year to visit Svalbard. With twenty four hours of daylight (the sun never sets this time of year) the opportunities for photography are literally non-stop and we took advantage on many occasions to photograph late into the evening and early hours of the morning.

After a short break I returned to the deserts of Namibia to lead my bi-annual workshop for both landscape and wildlife to this fantastic country (Read the Trip Report). This was my fourth workshop to the desert of Namibia and the first time I had ventured north into the wildlife rich region of Etosha. It was also the first time I have scheduled this workshop for October (instead of April / May when there is often more cloud). October was a deliberate choice for this safari as it is the end of the dry season in Etosha. Water is at its most scarce and the wildlife is thus forced to congregate around the last few remaining watering holes whilst they wait for the rains and the start of the wet season.

I then wrapped up the year with my expedition to photograph Emperor Penguins on the remote sea ice at Gould Bay in Antarctica (Read the Trip Report). The colony at Gould Bay is actually the most southerly Emperor Penguin colony in Antarctica and is also one of, if not the most, difficult colonies to reach. This was my third expedition to this remote region of Antarctica and it proved extremely productive. This was also the first time I have been able to properly explore and photograph one of Antarctica’s dry valleys – a location not far from Union Glacier known as the Elephants Head. I also took the opportunity on this expedition to shoot some video and I hope to get some time in the new year to edit it all together into a short experience video to share here on my blog and website.

All up I led a total of seven separate international workshops and expeditions in 2018  spread across the globe (not including personal work, some local private workshops to the Great Ocean Road as well as one-on-one Print workshops). A brief count tallies up over fifty plane segments and nearly sixty thousand exposures (not all keepers unfortunately!) It was a fantastic year and I just want to thank all of you who I was fortunate to meet, travel and photograph with throughout the year. It was real privilege to share in such remarkable destinations with so many fantastic passionate photographers – thank you.

2019 is ready to get underway and I am really excited about whats in store. In mid January I will be making my first trip to northern Canada in winter to photograph Snowy Owls. Snowy Owls have been on my wish list for many years and I now finally have the right local contact to photograph them in the wild on private land. This exploratory trip is the precursor to an already sold out workshop to photograph these magnificent birds that I will lead back to this part of Canada in late 2019.

From Canada I will travel back to Finland in winter to lead my Sold Out workshop for Wolverine, Wolves, Eagles, Owls and winter landscapes. Northern Finland has quickly become one of my favourite destinations for wildlife photography. Not only does it offer fantastic opportunities for wildlife, but it does so in an absolutely superb winter setting. The opportunities for a landscape draped in fresh winter snow and the stunning Aurora Borealis can make for incredible photography.

From Finland I will travel back to Iceland for my annual SOLD OUT expedition to photograph Arctic fox in the Hornstrandir Nature reserve in winter. Arctic Foxes are unfortunately hunted and shot across most of Iceland making them extremely shy and difficult to find (and even more difficult to photograph). In the remote north-west however the Arctic Foxes are protected inside the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and can be more easily approached and photographed. We will be staying in a small remote cabin that is rustic, but functional and clean and we will have up to 10 hours of good light during the day with which to photograph the Arctic foxes. With luck, we may also see and photograph the spectacular Northern lights.

From Iceland I will travel directly to Svalbard for both personal work (on snow mobile) and to lead a brand new SOLD OUT expedition via snow mobile  for both wildlife and landscape in a stunning winter setting. I have been returning to Svalbard in Winter for quite a few years now and have found the opportunities afforded by exploring via snow mobile to be truly unique and very special. Be sure to check out the video below that my friend Abraham shot during the filming of Ghosts of the Arctic.

At the conclusion of the snow mobile expeditions I will lead my SOLD OUT annual winter ship expedition in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and Arctic landscapes. The main focus of this expedition will be Arctic winter light, landscape and wildlife. In March and April the light conditions in Svalbard are magical. The 2019 expedition is long sold out and places are already limited for the 2020 expedition. If you would like more information or would like to reserve one of the remaining places for 2020 please drop me an email at any time.

From Svalbard I will return to Australia for a short break before I lead two brand new back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean Road and wild landscapes of Tasmania with my New Zealand co-leader and friend Phillip Bartlett. I am really excited about these new Tasmania workshops. Tasmania is still very much an undiscovered gem on the global scene with huge potential for dramatic and unique landscape photography. The first workshop is long Sold Out, but there are still two places remaining on the second trip if you would like to join Phillip and myself. Just drop me an email to register your interest.

From Tasmania I will head north again to Svalbard for my annual SOLD OUT Polar Bear expedition to the High Arctic. We will depart from the small town of Longyearbyen and sail up to the edge of the permanent pack ice where we will spend out time searching for and photographing the king of the Arctic. With 24 hour daylight under the midnight sun we will have hours and hours of light for photography.

We will search the sea ice north of Svalbard for Polar Bears, Walrus, Arctic Fox, Arctic Birds and spectacular Arctic landscapes. Whilst Polar Bears and other wildlife are the main attraction on an expedition such as this it needs to be said that the landscape opportunities in Svalbard are nothing short of breathtaking. Soaring bird cliffs, plunging glaciers and dramatic mountainous scenery means there is quite literally something for every photographer. If you have never been to Svalbard you should absolutely put it on your bucket list. As above the 2019 expedition is sold out, but I am already taking bookings for 2020 – full details on my website in the Workshops section.

From Svalbard I will head to the Faroe Islands to co-lead a brand new ‘small-group’ landscape workshop to this spectacular archipelago with friend Martyn Lucas.The Faroe Islands are comprised of eighteen small rugged and rocky islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The island’s position is unique and is the frame for breathtaking views; beautiful mountains, majestic fjords, dramatic sea cliffs; all in all a photographers paradise. The islands have a rich bird life, Including the largest colony of storm petrels in the world and over 305 bird species including Razor Bills and Atlantic Puffins. There are still two places remaining if you would like to join Martyn and myself. Just drop me an email to register your interest.

From the Faroes I will travel back to Iceland to co-lead back-to-back ship based expeditions to Scoresby Sund and the incredible east coat of Greenland with Daniel Bergmann. Both of these expeditions are ‘fly-in, fly-out’ trips that will depart from Reykjavik via charter plane and land at Constable Point in Greenland. Flying to Greenland saves us two days sailing across open ocean in either direction and means we have more time for exploration and photography.

A few words on Greenland: Home to some of the most extraordinary geology to be found on earth, the red and orange glacial scarred landscape of Greenland stands in stark contrast to the electric blue icebergs that carve off its many glaciers and drift slowly down its precipitous fjords. It is a remote land of untamed and unbridled beauty that is rarely visited and even less rarely photographed. It is an incredible place to inspire the imagination and fuel your photographic desires. There are still a few places remaining on each expedition if you would like to join Daniel and myself. Just drop me an email to register your interest. You can check out a portfolio of photographs from Greenland on my website at www.jholko.com

After Greenland I will return to northern Finland to lead my new workshop for Wolverine and Wolves in a fiery Autumn setting. I first scouted this trip in Autumn this year and found it to be an absolutely superb time of the year for photography in Northern Finland. At this time of year the Wolverines and Wolves are active and the bears have not yet begun to hibernate. Additionally the Autumn colour is in full swing which makes for outstanding backgrounds. This workshop is for a small group of just five photographers – only two places remaining before it will be sold out.

And finally to round out the 2019 year I will again return to Northern Canada to lead my new Sold Out workshop for Snowy Owls. 2019 is going to be a very exciting (and very busy) year and I am looking forward to getting underway. For those of you who have made it this far – A sneak peak into 2020 includes brand new expeditions and workshops to the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica as well as a new and very special expedition to the remote east coast of northern Greenland on the very cusp of winter. More on this later.

I wrote last year that it was my hope that 2018 will be the year I published my new fine-art book on Antarctica. Unfortunately time conspired against me and I simply ran out of days to complete the project. I wont jinx myself by making a statement that I hope to finish it in 2019, but I will say I am going to try and allocate more time to completing this project. I have had some preliminary negotiations with a large international publisher and am now in the final throws of deciding wether to self publish or take up their offer for publication and distribution.

Lastly and certainly not least, I want to wish all of you a very safe and happy New Year and may 2019 be one of amazing light and experiences for all of you. See you in the New Year!