THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD DEBRIEF REPORT

A few days ago I returned home from a workshop trip down the Great Ocean Road and I have now sorted through the roughly 600 frames which I shot while travelling down the coast photographing some of the mightiest icons of Victoria. For those of you who may not be aware, the Great Ocean Road is still one of the leading tourist attractions in the world. As a result of the increasing tourism, the area is now quite busy over the weekends, with regular busloads of camera-toting tourists and back-packers scurrying over the usual tourist hot spots. Shooting at the iconic Twelve Apostles at sunset can be like rush-hour. And yet, for the intrepid and dedicated landscape photographer, there are many other rugged and beautiful locations to choose from that are just as spectacular and more secluded from the tourist throngs.We were fortunate during this trip to have some dramatic light on the evening of our arrival, as well as some truly beautiful pre-dawn glow on the final morning before our departure. As a landscape photographer, I am always chasing dramatic light in order to create photographs that are unique, powerful and expressive. Whether it is through curtains of rain or stormy clouds, I seek out that special light that usually lasts for only a few seconds. And, it is not often I am fortunate enough to experience dramatic storm-light in combination with sunset, a combination that is truly magical and quite rare.

The conditions under which this occurred last Friday evening were challenging, with pelting rain, hail and powerful winds all conspiring against the rigidity of my camera and tripod which were perched precariously on the edge of the limestone cliffs. Standing near the edge of a 35 metre cliff above the broiling ocean, with the winds threatening to toss me into the sea with each gust certainly gets the adrenalin flowing. I was very thankful for the weather sealing of my 1DS MK3 as it was exposed to several hours of intense rain and pervasive salt spray from the storm breakers smashing into the cliffs. The waves that were crashing against the coastline were 6-8 metres high, tossing spray over a hundred feet into the air as they slammed into the rugged cliffs – it was both awe- inspiring and  intimidating to be on the edge of that precipitous cliff.One of the joys of storm photography is how often and how quickly the light changes. You have to move quickly and instinctively in order to make the most of it if you are to capture the best light. Balancing composition with light in weather conditions that are conspiring against you can be a real challenge. Even keeping the camera lens free of rain spots can be problematic. Also, having an instinctive understanding of your camera controls is essential to being able to work quickly to make the most of the changing light and conditions. Likewise, understanding shutter speed and the effect it will have on moving water and waves is essential to creating photographs that are artistic and capture the feeling of motion and drama in the sea. Being able to combine your skills as a photographer whilst battling the elements takes some practice.The Great Ocean Road is an astonishing but challenging location to photograph. The coastline is truly spectacular between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool, but to convey a sense of scale, place and context is difficult. Most photographs I have seen of this part of Victoria fail to do justice to the rugged beauty and grandeur of this coastline – a lovely sunset just isn’t enough. Although calm seas and a perfect sunset will always result in a pretty picture of this Victorian coastline, the area offers so much more for photographers willing to put in the hard yards and exercise their patience in search of the right light and the best composition.Landscape photography in Australia is an exercise in patience and frustration followed by final fulfilment. Australia’s often harsh daytime light works against good art photography of the type I am pursuing, as does the flat light caused by overcast conditions. The golden hours of perfect light are fleeting. As I have said before, landscape photography in Australia is like a long-haul international flight – hours of boredom followed by a few seconds of sheer panic during landing, when the light is at its best. It is an exercise in patience, which, in the end, can be extremely rewarding. This is not known as the Shipwreck Coast for nothing.

Nearby, the dense and mysterious Otway forest offers many opportunities for daytime photography, including several waterfalls, a forest of giant Californian Redwoods, the Cape Otway Lighthouse, and countless coastline images, including a multitude of abstractions in the coastal cliffs, as well as the myriad of possibilities in the many rock pools.

I will shortly be offering another multi-day workshop down the Great Ocean Road designed specifically for photographers who are keen to work hard for their images and who want to take their photography to the next level. Like my international workshops, this trip will be strictly limited in numbers to ensure we can operate quickly and cohesively in the field. Bookings will be taken on a first come, first serve basis.  Stay tuned for further details over the coming weeks.Higher resolution versions of these photographs can be seen on my primary portfolio website at www.jholko.com under Australia.

GREAT OCEAN ROAD ICONS – WEEKEND PHOTOGRAPHY IN VICTORIA

I am taking a couple of days off this weekend from home and office duties and heading down the Great Ocean road with a fellow photographer friend for a few days of coastal landscape photography. The weather forecast is for occasional rain showers and possible hail so I am hopeful of some really dramatic storm lighting. Right now as I look out my studio window its quite overcast and windy with occasional breaks of sunshine –  a real mixed bag.  There are many wonderful locations for photography along the Great Ocean road including the iconic twelve apostles (of which there are approximately only six left), London Bridge, Gibsons Steps, Lochard Gorge and more. The Great Ocean road is a location in my backyard only a few hours drive from where I live that I have long ignored and I am looking forward to shooting along its spectacular coastline again. See you in a few days.

A friendly reminder: If you are in Melbourne this weekend, my new exhibition is currently on display at Source Photographica in Brighton. The exhibition includes some of my personal favourite images from Antarctica, Iceland and New Zealand over the last three years. Source Photographica is located at 1A Rose Street in Brighton, Victoria, Australia and is open seven days a week. Entry is free. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF PATIENCE AND CONDITIONING IN WILDERNESS PHOTOGRAPHY

It occurred to me about a week or so ago (when I was forced to drop down into an ‘Everest gear’ to grind out one of the big hills on the mountain bike trail that I ride near my house) just how out of condition I am after my time in Antarctica (over-indulgence in good food during the Christmas New Year period has not helped either). During my time in Antarctica, on board ship, I never really did any exercise; yet I regularly stowed away three square meals a day (large three-course meals at that). Since I didn’t suffer from sea sickness, I was able to keep all those meals down (thankfully). My cardiovascular fitness has really deteriorated and it feels like I am missing a lung as I drag myself up the hills on the bike. After 20 kilometers on the trails, my body feels quite battered and broken. Overall, my time off the bike over the Christmas-New Year period has left me feeling quite unfit and out of condition. Subsequently I have actually managed to crack my bike frame and am undergoing a forced hiatus while I wait for my bike to be rebuilt.

The connection to photography may not be apparent at first. But physical fitness plays a major role in successful wilderness photography.  A good level of physical fitness enables you to hike faster, further and arrive at your destination ready to shoot, in better condition. It can be the difference between arriving at the top of the hill and getting the shot before the best light is gone and arriving on location exhausted and disappointed. It can even mean your not making it to the top at all. This is not to say the best shot is always at the end of an uphill hike. However, you will never know if you don’t make it up there to see for yourself. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be a wilderness photographer, but I find a good level of physical fitness certainly helps.

Whilst I was puffing my way up the hill on my mountain bike, I also got to thinking that mountain biking is like photography in that to get good at it you have to do a lot of it. To stay in peak condition you have to be persistent. I have observed this many times when I am out on my photography excursions. My shots continue to improve as the days roll past and my ‘conditioning’ improves. It takes time to get into the ‘groove’ —the right frame of mind that enables me to recognize the good images from the bad. Antarctica was like that: it took me time to assimilate. After extensive international travel, the few days I had in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia gave me the opportunity to wind down, leave the stress of daily life behind, and start to focus on photography. This time was crucial because I had the chance to relax, which is just as important as being fit for the task. Buenos Aries itself didn’t turn me on photographically. It is a crowded and polluted city, quite unlike my expectations of Antarctica. But, at least, I was in the right frame of mind—relaxed—when we eventually left for Antarctica.

Before I arrive this July for my 2012 workshop in Iceland I am going to be spending a couple of weeks travelling through France and Italy (specifically, driving down from France to Venice) photographing the countryside as a precursor to the workshop. I am hoping to use this time to get my eye in, as it were, and ensure my state of mind is at or near its peak when I arrive in Iceland.

Landscape and Nature photography requires a serious commitment. You must be prepared to spend countless hours outdoors, frequently in inclement weather or harsh environments. It also requires hours of patience to get the best possible light. I have spent many hundreds of hours in the wilderness waiting for the right conditions. Nature and landscape photographers who are truly committed are a rare breed; we have to put up with a lot—fitness, patience, vigilance, and an eye for the main chance. It takes a certain mindset and dedication to stand around in freezing conditions and rain for hours, waiting for the right light when what beckons is a nice dinner and a glass of wine in a warm hotel somewhere.  You need commitment and dedication to get the shot.One thing I have learned through experience is that it is always worth sticking it out to the bitter end when waiting for the best light, no matter the prevailing weather conditions. Generally, brief moments of special light don’t fill the bill; you have to see it out to the end. All too often, the light changes in the last few moments and in these instances the light is often at its most spectacular. I recall a very poignant example of this, which I have blogged about before in Iceland in 2010 when I arrived at the top of one of the highest mountains in Landmannalaugar in Iceland, more than three hours before sunset. They skies were dull and grey and we were exposed to the full force of the Arctic winds. My friend Dmitry and I decided to hunker down and wait out the 3+ hours before sunset. I just wanted to hike back to the 4-wheel drive to warm up with a hot cup of coffee and a piece of cake, but the wait proved worthwhile.  The shoot provided some of the most spectacular light I have ever experienced anywhere. We had distant rain showers, rainbows and light that can only be described as sensational. Lesson learned – Never Give In. Above all, patience!

MAHOMETS TOMB – MOUNT BUFFALO

It has been a while since I have posted a landscape photograph from my own home country. Partly because I have just been flat out with other things and also because I had not really had a chance to sit and sort through a series of photographs I shot toward the end of Winter up at Mount Buffalo in the Victorian High Country. Mount Buffalo is my favourite location in the Victorian High Country for landscape photography – particularly in Winter. The large granite boulders and outcroppings make wonderful subjects that are very beautiful when covered in snow. Snow is a photographers best friend in the Australian bush – it really aids in hiding much of the messy scrub and underbrush that is not particularly photogenic.

This photograph was taken at an area known as Mahomet’s Tomb just on sunset. I had hiked up to the location anticipating that as the sun dropped low to the horizon it would catch the outcropping of boulders known as Mahomet’s Tomb. For the shot to work I needed a clear horizon to the west so as not to obscure the setting sun and light (which I was fortunate to get). Shortly after I made the photograph I was wandering around down in the valley area pictured and went through the ice up to my waist in a hidden creek – it took me some to extricate myself. It was a most uncomfortable experience; but it did make the shoot memorable; even if the hike back to the car was cold and wet.

CANON AUSTRALIA PROFESSIONAL SERVICES [CPS] INTERVIEW – ‘GEAR IN ACTION’

I was recently interviewed for Canon Australia’s CPS Pro website and the content of the interview is now online at CPS Australia. Although the discussion was wide ranging and varied there was an emphasis on large format printing and the fact that I do all of my own printing in-house. Printing is a critical part of producing photographic fine art and next to actually working in the field with my camera equipment is an aspect of my photography that I very much enjoy. Hope you enjoy the interview.

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.