Photo of the Month January 2020 – The Grumpy Cat

The photograph of the month for January 2020 comes from my recent trip to Mongolia in winter (Read the trip Report) to photograph the rare and elusive Pallas Cat. Known affectionately as the ‘Grumpy Cat’; this Pallas cat did indeed seem quite moody when I took its photograph in the late afternoon winter light. It was a very deliberate creative decision to frame this photograph with angled back light as I wanted both the benefit of the golden rim light on the fur of the cat, but also to retain all of the detail in the cat and not send it to silhouette. It seems even when the light is at its most stunning the Pallas cat is still grumpy…

Happy New Year 2020!

I would like to thank all the readers and followers of my blog, those who follow my work on social media, who have purchased prints and workshop participants for your continued support throughout 2019. I wish all of you a very happy and safe New Year and all the very best for 2020. If you are travelling with me in 2020 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.

2019 A Retrospective and 2020 Whats in Store?

As is tradition on my blog, every year I do a “What’s in Store” 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). 2019 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 many superb photographic destinations and some really incredible experiences (Cuba and Mongolia were an incredible way to finish the year).

In equipment terms 2019 was relatively quiet for me with no major changes to my camera body line-up; although I did update several lenses including the 600mm f4L IS MKII to the MKIII version and the 400mm f2.8L IS MKII to the MKIII. I had not planned to update either lens, but the significant weight savings (and redistribution of that weight) offered in the new MKIII versions was too much for me to resist. This year I did supplement my two Canon EOS 1DX MKII’s with a mirrorless EOS R for my landscape photography. I really feel that the mirrorless offering from Canon is just fine for landscape and general work, but falls well short of my needs as a wildlife tool. Of course, we are now staring down the barrel of the new Canon EOS 1DX MKIII and I expect to take delivery of this new camera early in the new year.

My gear pick for the 2019 year (I always choose something I actually own) is the Canon 600mm F4L IS MKIII. The new MKIII offers very considerable weight savings over the MKII. Perhaps more importantly though is the way in which the weight has been redistributed with the bulk of the weight now at the rear of the lens. This makes the entire lens much easier to handhold for extended periods. 2019 will be very interesting in the equipment arena.  As above, I expect to take delivery of the new Canon EOS 1DX MK3 early in the new year. I think it is safe to say that I expect the majority of new lenses Canon releases in 2019 to be in RF mount only. We are also likely to see a new mirrorless camera from Canon – either a replacement for the EOS R, or a higher specification machine. I suspect we will get a high mega pixel mirrorless offering.

Last year I am gave the nod to Inherit the Dust by Nick Brandt for my book pick of the year. For 2019 I am giving the guernsey to Vincent Munier’s  Tibet. Vincent has continued to produce absolutely superb imagery that is subtle, yet powerful. His photographs are highly emotional and Tibet contains some beautiful work that will be enjoyed across countless viewings. 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.

In competition terms, 2019 was a great year for me with the overall win as the Victorian Nature Photographer of the Year. This was the third year in a row I have taken out either the Documentary or Nature category. I was also a finalist in the 2019 Documentary and Landscape categories as well we being a finalist  in the AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards – Nature Photographer of the Year.  As I have written before I have stopped entering competitions that judge only the digital image and instead have focused my efforts only on print competitions.

2019 was also another massive year for me both with destinations visited and the huge number of international miles travelled. The year kicked off in mid January with a winter scouting trip for Snowy Owls to Canada (Read the Trip Report).  This scouting trip proved extremely fruitful with fantastic photographic opportunities of these magnificent owls in a winter setting. As a result of this scouting trip I will be leading a sold out workshop to this part of Canada early 2019 (I am actually leaving for Canada December 28th).

At the completion of my Canada trip I had a few days at home before I made my way up to Finland for my winter wildlife workshop (Read the Trip Report). Winter in Finland is an absolutely wonderful time of year to visit and photograph in this region of Scandinavia. On this workshop we had really fantastic encounters with Golden Eagle, Otters, White-tailed Eagles, and more. One afternoon alone we spent several hours photographing wild Otters as they played and fished in the partially frozen lake. This was a shoot none of us are likely to quickly forget as it was extremely cold with temperatures hovering around -35ºC as we lay on the frozen lake.  We also took advantage of the snow covered landscape.

From Finland 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 the third 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 small group snow mobile expedition to photograph Polar Bears and other wildlife on the sea ice in Winter (Read the Trip Report) and to subsequently lead my annual winter workshop in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and dramatic Arctic landscapes (Read the Trip Report). For the Snow Mobile expedition we spent around a week exploring the archipelago of Svalbard in winter via snow mobile in temperatures as low as -30º Celsius in search of Polar Bears. As well as our encounters with Polar Bears we also photographed Arctic Fox and Reindeer.

From Svalbard I travelled much closer to home and lead two back to back workshops to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria and onto Tasmania (Read the Trip Reports). 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 photographed the fantastically varied landscape of these two locations and also enjoyed the fantastic fresh food and produce both of these locations are well known for. To those of you who have enquired about future Tasmania workshops – the short answer is ‘yes’, but not in the next couple of years.

After Australia 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. This was the first time I witnessed an actual Polar Bear kill and it was incredibly exciting. The stalk and kill happened right in front of our ship as we were parked alongside a large ice-flow. It was a magical moment rarely witnessed and even less rarely photographed.

After a short break I travelled to the Faroe Islands (Read the Trip Report) where I led my first landscape workshop to this wonderful series of remote islands. The Faroe Islands offer some of the most rugged and beautiful sea cliffs I have been fortunate to experience and photograph. During this workshop we explored many of the islands and hiked many kilometres as we explored the region. We also took the opportunity on several occasions to photograph Puffins along the cliff edges. 

From the Faroe Islands I returned to Australia to re-equip before I returned to Iceland where I led two back-to-back expeditions to the East Coast of Greenland with Daniel Bergmann (Read the Trip Reports). For these two expeditions we flew by private charter flight from Reykjavik in Iceland to Constable Point on the East Coast of Greenland where we boarded our sailing ship, the Donna Wood. For both our expeditions we chose to sail north to the rugged and scenic Bjørneøer Islands (Bear Islands) where we made landings at both sunset and sunrise for contemplative landscape photography. Along the way we photographed many of the gigantic icebergs that drift as giant sentinels silently through the fjord system. For our landings in this area we were blessed with a magnificent iceberg with a full arch that was grounded against a stunning mountainous backdrop and we spent many hours in this location with the late afternoon and early evening light. The landscape topography in these islands is a landscape photographers paradise with beautiful boulders and stunning back drops in every direction. The East coast of Greenland remains, in my experience, one of the most incredible locations on earth for landscape photography. I will be returning to the East Coast of Greenland in both Winter and Summer 2020 and 2021. Look for  more details on my website at www.jholko.com

From Greenland I travelled to Finland for my October 2019 Wolverines and Wolves of Finland workshop. This workshop was dedicated to the photography of Wolves, Wolverines and Bears. I arrived a week early to pre-scout many of the locations I wanted us to try to photograph in order to ascertain which hides (and in what locations) were having the most activity and at what time of the day. By pre scouting I ensured we had the best possible opportunities with the most action for our time in this beautiful part of Finland. This was well worth the effort and time as everyone who participated in this trip came away with a spectacular portfolio of photographs. In particular, we had absolutely outstanding opportunities with a wild wolf pack and I will be sharing some of these photographs over the coming months both here on my blog and in the Finland portfolio on my website.

After Finland I travelled to Camaguey in Cuba to open my new exhibition ‘Antipodas’ with friend Paul Murray.  Thanks to Paul’s and our curator Juan Carlos’s extensive preparations the opening was a smash success and the the exhibition has now moved into its next phase and location in Santiago de Cuba. From Santiago de Cuba the exhibition will move to Havana before it concludes late February 2020. This was my first visit to Cuba and I found it a fascinating melting pot of cultures and an absolute street photographers paradise.

I then wrapped up the year with a personal trip to Mongolia to photograph the Pallas Cat (Read the Scouting Report). This was most likely the most difficult shooting of my career with extreme cold and many hours and days spent searching for this elusive wild cat. During the two plus weeks I spent searching the vast lunar-like landscape of Mongolia in winter I had less than half a dozen photographic opportunities with the Pallas Cat. Nevertheless, I was able to capture some photographs that I am extremely happy with and I will be sharing them online here over the coming months.

All up I led a total of twelve separate international workshops and expeditions in 2019  spread across the globe (not including personal work such as my trip to Cuba and Mongolia as well as one-on-one Print workshops). A quick count tallies up well over sixty plane segments and over sixty thousand exposures (not all keepers unfortunately!) It was a fantastic (although frenetic) 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.

2020 is ready to get underway and I am really excited about whats in store. In late December I will be returning to Canada to lead my sold out workshop to photograph Snowy Owls in winter. This workshop has long been sold out, but there are still a couple of spaces left for 2021 if you are keen to join me to photograph this beautifully majestic owl in a winter setting.

From Canada I return to Australia for just a few days before I leave for the South Island of New Zealand where we will depart on my thirty day sold out Antarctica Ross Sea Expedition. During this expedition we will also be visiting some of the sub-Antarctic islands including Snares Island (home to the Snares penguin) and MacQuarrie Island. This will be my first visit to the Ross Sea region of Antarctica and I am really excited about what opportunities we will have during this expedition. In particular, it is my hope that we may encounter and have the opportunity to photograph Emperor  Penguins on icebergs!

After the Ross Sea I will have a few days at home before I head north for Iceland and my annual Arctic Fox expedition to the Hornstradir Nature reserve. For this expedition 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. The 2020 expedition has long been sold out, but there are still a few places on the 2021 expedition – just drop me a note to register your interest.

From Iceland I will travel directly to the east coast of Greenland to lead two brand new SOLD OUT expeditions via snow mobile for both Polar Bear and Musk Oxen in a stunning winter setting. I have been utilising snow mobiles in Winter in the Arctic for quite a few years now and have found the opportunities afforded by exploring via snow mobile to be truly unique and very special. This year I am moving my operations for Snow mobile from Svalbard to Greenland specifically to take advantage of the opportunity to photograph Musk Ox in winter.  Due to the continued expressions of interest I will likely have a similar offering for 2021 – details to come soon.

At the conclusion of the snow mobile expeditions I will lead my SOLD OUT annual winter ship expedition in Svalbard 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 April the light conditions in Svalbard are magical. The 2020 expedition is long sold out and places are already limited for the 2021 expedition. If you would like more information or would like to reserve one of the remaining places for 2021 please drop me an email at any time.

After I finish the winter season in the Arctic I will have a few weeks break back in Australia before I head back north for my midnight sun Summer Svalbard expedition. We will depart from the small town of Longyearbyen and sail up to the edge of the permanent pack ice where we will spend our 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.  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. There are still a few places available if you would like to join us.

From Svalbard I will return to Australia for a brief respite before I head to Russia for my first expedition to Wrangle Island. I am really excited about the opportunity to travel and photograph in Wrangle Island. Reports from expeditions earlier this year included sightings of up to fifty Polar Bears on several expeditions.  I will be offering Wrangle Island again in 2021 from August 16th until August 30th 2021 and details will be on my website very soon. Drop me an email for further details or to register your interest.

After I complete Wrangle Island I will head back to Australia and onto Greenland where I will lead a ship based expedition to Scoresby Sund on the East coast of Greenland.  This expedition is a ‘fly-in, sail out’ trip 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 and means we have more time for exploration and photography. We will then sail back to Iceland at the conclusion of our expedition. This 2020 expedition has long been sold out, but there are still a few places available on the 2021 expedition. Be sure to check out the Adobe Spark presentation HERE.  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 two years ago and found it to be an absolutely superb time of the year for both Wildlife and Landscape 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.

 In November I will again return to Union Glacier, deep in Antarctica to lead a sold out expedition to photograph Emperor Penguins. This will be my fifth expedition to Gould Bay and it remains one of the most amazing and incredible experiences I have had anywhere on earth.  I was last in Gould Bay back in 2018 (Read the Trip Report) and next years expedition will be my fifth sojourn to Union Glacier and the remote sea ice at Gould Bay. This is a region of Antarctica that is extremely remote and that is home to one of the largest Emperor Penguin colonies in Antarctica.  It is an absolutely incredible place to visit and photograph these remarkable birds. Due to rising costs this may well be my last expedition to the sea ice of Gould Bay.

And finally to round out the 2020 year I will return to Mongolia in December to lead a small group of just five photographers on an exploratory expedition in search of the enigmatic Snow Leopard.

For those of you that have managed to make it this and would like a hint of what else is further down the track: I am working on a new expedition to South Georgia in October of 2021. At this time of year there will be heaps of snow to photograph the King Penguins, the Elephant Seals will be fighting and importantly the pesky and ferocious fur seals will not yet have arrived en mass. I am not quite ready to start taking bookings as yet, but you can pre-register (no obligation) now if you want to secure a place.

Lastly and certainly not least, I want to wish all of you a very safe and happy New Year and may 2020 be one of amazing light and experiences for all of you. See you in the New Year!

Pallas Cat Mongolia Winter Portfolio now Online

Today I am releasing my portfolio of photographs of the Pallas Cat from my recent winter shoot in Eastern Mongolia. Photographs can be seen in high resolution HERE on my website in the Mongolia Portfolio. There is also extensive behind the scenes video and field notes HERE on my blog. A few select photographs from this collection will be included in my upcoming Frozen in Time exhibition in June next year here in Melbourne and Sydney Australia.

Happy Festive Season 2019!

Somewhere between January and now the year has just about vanished and we find ourselves yet again in the middle of the festive season holidays. So I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of you who I met, travelled and photographed with this year as well as all of you who read my blog, and or follow my photography – thank you for your friendships and continued support. Wishing all of you a safe, wonderful and happy Christmas and festive season. I hope Santa brings you good health, good times and perhaps some new photographic toys!

As is customary I will be reflecting back on 2019 and laying out my plans for 2020 and beyond in a coming post in the next few days. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and perhaps even managing to squeeze off a few frames on the shutter.