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!

2013: Exploratory Trip to Xinjiang Province in China

2013 promises to be an exciting year with multiple Workshops and Expeditions to the Polar regions; including Iceland, Antarctica, Svalbard, Greenland and the Arctic. To those of you who may be accompanying me to one or more of these wonderful locations I am very much looking forward to travelling with you and shooting together. As has been tradition here on my blog I will soon put together a post with more detail on exactly what is in store for 2013; but it is going to be a lot of fun and I am seriously looking forward to it.  In the meantime, I am announcing that after months of research I have decided to also travel next year to the remote and sparsely populated Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. Xinjiang is located in the extreme north west of China and borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and covers an area over 1.6 million square kilometers. This is a personal trip I am taking with a good friend and fellow professional photographer (Antony Watson) and is in essence an investigation expedition that I am hoping will lead to a future workshop into this very remote and rarely visited  (and even less rarely photographed) part of North Western China.

I have been researching a possible trip to this remote region of China for well over a year now and had hit quite a lot of snags (not the least of which was the language barrier) and more than a few roadblocks that had almost forced me to give up. Local infrastructure is very light in this remote province and the logistics are incredibly difficult to arrange to ensure the best photographic opportunities. Information about these areas from a photographer’s perspective is very thin and in many cases simply unavailable. Thankfully, I have been able to partner with both an experienced Chinese travel agent and a well respected local land operator that has the experience I was looking for and who is providing 4-wheel drive vehicles and resident guides with the critical local knowledge I need to accommodate photographers. After much discussion and planning we have been able to put together a thirteen day / twelve night itinerary that takes us into some of the most remote and spectacular parts of provincial China; many of which have rarely if ever been photographed by a dedicated photography expedition. Indeed, some of the areas we will visit in the Gobi desert have likely never been photographed.

We will be flying into Shanghai in early May where we will catch a connecting flight to Ürümqi; which is the capital city of Xinjiang. Ürümqi whose name means beautiful pasture in the Mongolian language is the largest city in the western most region of China and is the starting point for this investigative expedition.

Just some of the places we will be visiting during this thirteen-day trip include the Tian Shan mountain ranges; which span some 2,800 kilometers and offer amazing snow capped mountain vistas with much of the lower mountains covered with green pines and cypress. Crystal clear lakes reflect the mountains early in the morning and should make for outstanding photography. We will visit the Wuerhe Ghost City where centuries of howling winds have eroded and weathered the multi-faceted rock formations into eerie and unusual shapes that are known for creating ghostly light at sunset. There are thousands of gorges and crisscross gullies winding through the multitude of colored rock formations. This scarcely visited area provides a unique opportunity to photograph the amazing rock formations and we plan to shoot here at both sunrise and sunset when the light will be at its best. We will also head into and photograph the mighty Gobi desert. The Gobi desert spans half a million square miles and is the fifth largest desert in the world. It is most notable for being part of the Mongol Empire and the Silk Road. Primarily consisting of exposed bare rock formations (rather than sand like most deserts) the Gobi desert should provide literally limitless opportunities for landscape and wilderness photography.

This photograph was taken by  Chen Zhao and was licensed under the creative commons on the 11th December 2009 and shows the Tian Shan mountain range with Khan Tengri (6995 m) in the center.We will travel to Hemu and photograph the birch tree forests, the Hemu river and the Hemu grasslands. Special access has been arranged for us to visit a small remote village populated by scattered wooden framed houses built by the Tuva Mongols; believed to be descendants of the troops of Genghis Khan. Whilst in the grasslands we hope to encounter the rare red deer as well as other wildlife.

When we have finished in Hemu we will travel to Kanasi whose name means ‘rich and mysterious beauty’ in Mongolian. This area promises to be one of the most alluring parts of Northern Xinjiang. We will visit the Kanasi Nature Reserve, which is home to Kanas Lake.  The lake fills from the Kanasi river which originates from the Kanasi glacier in the Altay Mountains. Kanasi lake is 4500 feet above sea level and covers an area of 28 square miles so the opportunities for photography should be limitless. The lake is perhaps best known for its amazing turquoise color in spring and autumn. We will spend a couple of days in this area before we head to Burqin along the Ergsi River and then Karamay. We hope to see and photograph wild horses along the way as well as the spectacular natural landscape.

Finally we will photograph The Devil City which encompasses hills and valleys and is perhaps best known for its yardang landscape.  The term “yardangs” comes from the Uygur language, meaning “steep hill”, and now it refers to a landform of wind-eroded hollows, mounds and unusual formations. The name ‘The Devil City’ comes from the eerie and strange sound the wind makes in spring and autumn as it whistles through the rock formations. From here we will head back to Ürümqi and catch a flight to Beijing before returning home.

If all goes well the trip and itinerary we are taking will form the basis for a future workshop to this remote provincial region of China. In the meantime, this exploratory trip promises to be quite the adventure and will prove a nice counter point to the time I will be spending in the Polar regions. Internet access is more or less unknown in many of the areas where we will be photographing; but we do hope to post some dispatches from the field whenever possible.

Canons New 200-400mm F4L IS Lens

I find myself getting very enthusiastic about photographic equipment again lately with the pending release of Canon’s new 200-400mm F4L IS lens with inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter. This new super telephoto zoom lens promises to be a game changer for photographers who shoot at these kinds of focal lengths thanks to its inbuilt 1.4x teleconverter and reported superb optics. Canon claims that this new lens “will offer an unsurpassed combination of versatility, first-class optical performance and an enhanced weather-proof construction.” They also claim it will be just shy of a wallet smashing eleven thousand dollars MSRP; which is going to give a lot of photographers serious cause to stop and consider whether this lens is going to be worth the price of admission. The good news is that Canon had a slew of prototypes of this new lens at the London Olympics a few months ago and by all reports and feedback this lens is an outstanding performer and lives up to Canon’s claims.

For Photographers who need a super-telephoto zoom in the 200mm – 560mm range with superb optics this lens is likely to be worth every cent. After spending time shooting from the deck of ships I have come to the realisation that there is no substitute for a high quality super telephoto zoom lens. For shooting wildlife such as penguins, seals, polar bears, walrus and birds from the deck of a ship where the required focal length is always different I expect this lens will likely prove the ultimate no compromise choice for ‘getting the shot’. It is the lens I have decided to take with me on the expeditions I am running to the Arctic and Antarctic in August and November next year. I will also take it to Iceland in March and China in May.

With a focal length of 200mm – 400mm or 280mm – 560mm with the 1.4 TC in place this lens will also be very popular with sports photographers simply because of the extreme versatility it will provide. It is not quite as fast as a 300mm or 400mm F2.8 but I expect this small sacrifice in speed will be a small price to pay for the added flexibility this lens will bring to many sports shooters. I expect this lens to be in hot demand with sports and wildlife photographers when it is released early next year; even with its horrendous price tag. I am hoping to take delivery of this lens in late January next year and will be doing some extensive testing with it before I head to Iceland in March. Look for a full review early in the New Year.