Photo of the Month June and July 2018

Somehow I managed to let June slip past without a photograph of the month update. Either I am getting old and forgetful or just had too much on my plate (I am hoping its the later). Either way this update is both my June and July Photograph of the month (I will try not to forget August!).

The June photograph of the month was taken on my recent New Zealand South Island Masterclass (Read the Trip Report). We were driving from the small town of Fox Glacier to Greymouth on our last full day and had just left town after breakfast. We rounded a bend in the road when I noticed the wonderful cloud and mist swirling amongst the trees and mountains. We immediately pulled over for a drive by shooting session and the following image resulted. The great thing about this sort of cloud and mist is it is constantly changing as it swirls amongst trees and mountains. I made a number of different exposures over a period of perhaps two minutes, but this is the one that best captures the feeling and drama of Middle Earth. In print this image absolutely swings with wonderful delicate tones in the clouds, mist and trees.The July photograph of the month was taken on my Winter Svalbard expedition this March (Read the Trip Report) and is of the full moon rising over the snow and ice covered Arctic mountains. I almost missed this opportunity – or rather, it is perhaps more accurate to say I owe a debt of thanks to Chris who remained outside to watch for the rising moon whilst the rest of us went inside for a warming drink. We had waited outside for over an hour for the moon to rise and had all but completely given up when Chris came inside to alert us that the moon was finally making an appearance over the mountains (thank you Chris!).

New Zealand South Island Masterclass Workshop 2018 Report

This years Masterclass workshop report is going to be a departure from previous years reports (its also my last New Zealand South Island Masterclass for the next few years). Rather than write my own report I am instead going to publish the report from Sebastien who documented our Masterclass on a day-by-day basis. My sincere thanks to all who participated on this workshop with extra special thanks to Sebastien for allowing me to post a summary of his report here. Be sure to check out his full report (including videos) and more of his photography from our workshop on his website HERE.

New Zealand South Island Masterclass Workshop

I’ve experienced a once in-a-life time photo expedition to New Zealand. This has been a dream come true and thus, I decided to document every location and photo session to share with everyone what this beautiful country has to offer. Every day, I made three to four minute-videos for each day.

It’s a long way from home

I don’t handle long flights very well. I can’t sleep upright and I get a bit claustrophobic after a while. I knew New Zealand was far from Toronto. What I didn’t know is that it was going to be a 23 hour journey to Christchurch. I’m bringing with me all sorts of ridiculous pillows, an eye mask, earplugs and every single gadget you can imagine to keep myself entertained.

Still no passport

My flights departs in less than 24 hours (Friday) and I still don’t have a (Canadian) passport to travel. I’m seriously stressed. You see, only two days ago (Tuesday) I became a Canadian Citizen (hurray) and right after the ceremony, the government takes away any travel documents you may have had earlier (Visa, Permanent Resident card…). They explicitly ask you during the ceremony to wait two business days before you can apply for the passport. Well, I can’t wait two business days or I’ll have to reschedule my flights. No way! I decided to wait one business day and apply for it today at 7 am (Thursday). Phew! I am in their system… I paid a hefty sum to get it as soon as possible and I’m getting my passport Friday morning, only hours before I board. I can breath. It’s sinking in. I’m going to New Zealand.

Itinerary & format

I’m going for 12 days to a place I’ve never been, with people I’ve never met, to do an activity that I’ve never done. In case you were wondering, I’m not going on my own and I didn’t plan this trip on my own. I’m going with a small group of six people led by two professional photographers: Phillip Bartlett and Joshua Holko;  I highly encourage you to take a look at their breath-taking portfolios. I’m always a bit nervous of traveling with strangers, but in this case, I already know all these people share a passion for photography, the outdoors, the adventure and that is comforting in a way.

The workshop starts Monday the 30th of April at Christchurch and we’ll be staying in the South Island for the rest of the trip. Some of the places are not accessible by foot or car, so there will be two helicopter trips involved and the opportunity to do some arial photography.  

I made it!

I’m exhausted, but excitement is keeping me alive. If you’re reading this on a Saturday, I’m writing you from the future; here at Christchurch it’s already Sunday.

  • Toronto -> Vancouver = 5 hours
  • Vancouver -> Auckland = 14 hours
  • Auckland -> Christchurch = 1 hour

I arrived at my hotel around 9 am, took a one hour nap and now I’m off to explore the town. The group will be meeting after 5 pm, if I make it until then. The adventure begins tomorrow…

Day 1- Christchurch to Twizel

I woke up at 4:30 am, but had a good sleep. We meet at 8:45am at the hotel lobby to drive close to four hours to Twizel where we’ll stay for the next two nights. Time to get a cup of coffee and some food at the Black and White Coffee.

2:00 PM – After making a quick stop at an iconic and very touristy landmark called the Church of the Good Sheppard, we made it to a little village called Twizel where we will stay for two nights. We’ve checked in at out our hotel and we’re off to catch the sunset. The drive was amazing, full of colours and contrasts. There is a mix of autumn foliage and snow which I’ve never seen before and apparently is very rare, so I’m looking forward to shooting some amazing photos. It’s a bit overcast but it’s starting to clear up.

8:00 PM – It’s been a long day and productive day. We went to lake Ohau… A crystal clear turquoise lake surrounded by mountains and despite not having any sunlight, I was able to get a few good shots . I will share a few of them with you tomorrow but for now, I’ll post this one below. We ended up the day going to a restaurant near the hotel where I ate what could very well be the best lamb curry I’ve ever had in my life. Tomorrow we start at 6 am so goodnight for now!Day 2 – Twizel / Mt. Cook

Sunrise is at 7:35 am so we meet at 6:00 sharp to drive to an undisclosed location near Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. It was still dark and for 45 minutes I could barely see where we’re heading but I can see the sky covered in clouds and I’m concerned we’ll even get a sunrise at all.  The road is infested with wild rabbits and near the end of our trip, we came close to hitting a dear. I’m awake now.

We finally arrive around 6:50 am but the sky is still covered in clouds, it’s cold and I still have some doubts we’ll see anything spectacular… but then, the mountain peaks start to appear out of nowhere…

I did most of my shots with the 70-200mm lens, mostly at 200. My intention was to get a portrait of the mountains; get up close and personal. This turned out to be a phenomenal morning. No wind, great clouds and beautiful light.

Day 3 – Twizel to Moeraki

Today must have been one of the most challenging shoots so far. By now you may have figured that we’re doing sunrise and sunset shoots and today was no exception. A fifteen minute drive from Twizel at 6:30 am to a secret location to get a fantastic photo of the mountains and their reflection. Setting up our gear was quite challenging as it was not only dark but it was in a “swamp”. The peak of the mountains lit up with a pink glow as the sun started to rise.

Once done, we went for breakfast at 10:00 am and made our way South East to the coast. We’re spending the night at a famous location called Moeraki, known for its beach boulders. It’s a well known place which means you’ll inevitably find the occasional tourist bus, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. According the their official website, “the Moeraki Boulders are a group of large spherical ‘stones’ on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki on New Zealand’s Otago coast. They originally started forming in ancient sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago, and the largest boulders are estimated to have taken about 4 million years to get to their current size. We’re spending the night here to take a few pictures at sunset and another session at sunrise at a time where we should have the place to ourselves.

The afternoon session was the most challenging so far due to the high tide, the waves crashing, the tripod legs sinking in the sand, my bare feet freezing in the cold water and nailing the exposure and shutter speed to get that silky smooth water effect. Without a doubt, this has been one of my favourite sessions so far and I look forward to doing it again tomorrow morning. Here’s one of my favourite photos of the afternoon shoot.

Day 4 – Moeraki to Te Anau

We started our day at the Moeraki Boulders at 6:30 am to photograph them during the sunrise. Unlike last night’s shoot, this time the sun would rise from the sea which will make a completely different photograph with an impressive sky on the background. Luckily for us, the weather was cooperating, there was little to no wind and there were enough high clouds in the sky to add texture and retain the colours. The high tide has passed and this time I was able keep my shoes on.

By 9:00 am it’s over, the sun’s out, the hordes of tourists are in. It’s time for breakfast and to head out for a four and a half hour drive for a completely different challenge. Te Anau which will be our base for the next three days.

We arrive at Te Anau at 3:00 pm sharp, take a break and we head out at 5 to a quick photoshoot. It’s a bit overcast so take a different approach to photographing sunsets and we go for a (4 minute) long exposure. with the help of Joshua and Phillip, I’m able to capture this photo.

We finished the day by going to the Redcliff caffe for an amazing dinner. Tomorrow morning we’ll take our first helicopter ride up to the mountain to a location that is not accessible by car. Should be a good one!
 
Day 5 – Te Anau (Helicopter #1)
 
We depart this morning at 6:30 am to take our first helicopter ride to the mountains to get a different perspective. This is a 5 to 10 minute ride just to takes us to the top, but unlike the coming helicopter, this one is closed doors and only meant to get us up there. Once up, it’s starting to rise and we have a stunning 360 degree view. Everywhere I look is a different photo, different light and different composition. It’s a bit overwhelming and need to make a decision before the sun rises. I stick to a composition for a few minutes and work my way from there. One hour later, the photo opportunities are over; the light is flat,  but the view is still gorgeous, it’s so peaceful and calm.
 
Day 6 – Milford Sound
 
My alarm goes off at 5:00 am. We hit the road at 5:30 and head to Milford Sound, one of the most iconic places in the South Island of New Zealand carved by glaciers. This was one of the places that actually made me come to New Zealand. It rains 99% of the time which makes a very dark and moody shot; and that’s what I’m trying to go for. However, the sun starts creeping in and the sky starts to gain some colour. After I try different angles and walk around a bit, we head to take a two hour boat tour that takes you around the fiord. All of a sudden I’m surrounded by high peaks with waterfalls, fur seals and heavy rain. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
 
On the way back to Te Anau, we stop a couple of times to photograph the crystal clear rivers and waterfalls next to the road. It’s now pouring and it’s hard to keep the lenses clean.
Day 7 – Te Anau to Wanaka
At 10 am leave Te Anau and depart to Wanaka where we’ll spend the night to photograph the Wanaka tree in the morning. After breakfast we’ll depart to Fox Glacier where we’ll spend our last three days and will be taking the second helicopter ride. We’re saving the best for last.
 
Day 8 – Wanaka to Fox Glacier
 
At 6:30 am we head towards the Wanaka Tree to get a prime spot before the rest of the tourists arrive. We’re the first ones there, it’s still dark and I immediately setup my trip and start shooting some long exposures (2 minutes). The Wanaka Tree is one of the most photographed icons in New Zealand so it’s hard to get an original shot but that doesn’t make it any less aesthetic. The tree has lost all its leaves and there are some birds resting on it; the scene has an eerie style to it so I go for that look.
We depart to Fox Glacier for the last three nights of our photography trip. At Fox, we’ll be waiting for the right conditions to take an open-door helicopter for thirty minutes to photograph the glacier from the top. This is the cherry on top, but it could very well not happen if we get rain and gust winds for the next three day.

During the road trip, the scenery and landscape quickly change and we begin driving through winding road surrounded by layers of mountains covered by a dense conifer forrest. Rain doesn’t stop and there are waterfalls everywhere you see. We make a few stops on the way to Fox to break the trip. Around 5:00 pm we finally make it to our destination. It’s raining so we call it a day, take some rest and we go for dinner where we celebrate my birthday :).

 
Day 9 – Fox Glacier
It’s pouring rain in the morning so we get to sleep in. Around noon, the rain seems to stop and while it’s still overcast,  we take a chance and we drive about 20 minutes to a couple of place. With little light in the sky, the idea is to work with tonalities, low clouds and local trees and vegetations which makes it a great challenge.
 
It hasn’t stoped raining so at 2 pm we call it a day. We gather around 4 pm at a local coffee place to review some of our best shots and get some critique by professional photographers Joshua Holko and Phillip Bartlett. At 6 pm we regroup for dinner and we get instructions on how to setup our camera settings for tomorrow’s helicopter shoot over the glacier. It’s trickier than I though due to the fast movement, the brightness of the ice and the vibration and movement of the helicopter. I can’t wait, I’m so very excited about this!

Day 10 – Fox Glacier (Over the Glacier)

Today, to say the least, is the cherry on top, the climax of this trip. Just today, I shot a little over 800 times and that should tell you everything. But without a nice, clear morning, this wouldn’t have happened, so let me start there.

I’m in the final stretch of my trip and I’m just getting used to the timezone, bummer. I woke up at 7:00 and noticed there was more light than usual. I looked outside my window and there wasn’t a single cloud. The grass was covered in frost, there was some mist in the fields and everything looked calm so I decided to grab my camera and get out. That meant changing all the setting I had set the night before to get ready for the helicopter. I don’t have much time before we need to leave so I walk around 10 minutes from our motel to stumble upon this gorgeous sunrise.

At 9 am we head to the helicopter pad which is only a ten minute drive from our hotel. I make sure to wear a lot of layers as we will be flying as high as 9000 ft with no doors so we can get a clear shot, so it’ll get chilly. At 10:30 am, it’s lift off time. It takes us another five minutes to get to the top of the glacier, it’s swift. The pilot takes his time so that we can get the right shots and he is directed by Joshua and Phillip to make sure he has the right altitude and distance. Twenty five minutes later, we come down. I’m overwhelmed.

We go out again at 5:30 pm and the light changes, it is softer…warmer. This time around I try to leave the emotions behind and think a little more about composition, leading lines, textures and abstract shots but it’s not easy.

Day 11 & 12 – Fox Glaciar to Greymouth to Christchurch

Our time at Fox Glaciar has come to an end and for our last photo shoot at this location we head to Lake Matheson at 6:15 am. This requires a 35 minute hike with our headlamps as it is still pitch dark.  Once there, we setup our tripods and wait for the light to happen but it’s overcast, and starts to rain. The sunrise never arrives but I’m still able to capture this with a 120 second exposure in the complete darkness.

At 11 am we pack our things and start making our way back to the East. This is a two day drive with a one night stop at Greymouth. We arrive on location at 4:30 pm, set our tripods, look for a composition and wait for the high tide to bring some big waves. What you want is for the water to climb up the the rock formations, into an upwards spray. We wait for about an hour but the tide is not high enough, it’s not happening. I get a “nice shot” but nothing more than a souvenir. Still, we enjoy the view and the weather .
Day 13 – Thoughts and closing remarks. 

It’s been a week since I arrived back home to Toronto and I’m still going through more than 2000 shots. Yes that’s a two with three zeros to the right. The variety of landscapes, the changing light and weather conditions and the helicopter rides justify it. This has been an intense two weeks, constantly thinking about composition, shutter speed, aperture priority, exposure compensation, filter options (…) to try to get the perfect shot. It’s hard to make this country justice with just still shot and that’s why I thought of making these videos that hopefully give you a better picture (pardon the pun) about the experience, the landscapes, the vegetation, the winding roads… [Edit – Check out Sebastiens website for the videos].

I’m back with a different perspective on landscape photography and a broader and more refined skills that I will be applying in other photography styles such as street and cityscapes.

What now? In the next week or two I’ll be selecting a dozen or so photos that I will add to my portfolio and that would look stunning hanging on my or anyone’s walls. I will be updating this blog as soon as that happens. In the meantime, I leave you with one last video that sums up the best moments of this phenomenal trip. Thank you for letting me share this with you; farewell.

Sebastien Le Calvez

Departing for New Zealand South Island Masterclass 2018

Tomorrow evening I am making the short hop across the pond to New Zealand where I will guide my 2018 Masterclass workshop in the South Island with friend Phillip Bartlett. This is the last year I am offering and guiding this masterclass in New Zealand for the foreseeable future. Next year I will have a brand new offering to the Great Ocean Road and Tasmania for a small group of just six photographers (more details on that later).As a few of you are aware I am currently nursing a torn lateral tendon in my right elbow which precludes me from lifting or carrying anything heavy (including cameras). As such, I am sort of restricted to shooting on a tripod at the moment and will be travelling quite light (by my standards anyway). Since this workshop is predominantly all about landscape there is no need for big fast (and heavy) telephoto lenses so I can cut down my luggage quite considerably. I am going to take my two tilt and shift lenses as I find I really love these for landscape work on the tripod, as well as my 100-400mm lens for any long lens requirements. I am sure it is going to be quite liberating to travel this light.

F-Stop Red Bull Anja (Carry on Luggage)

– 1 x Canon EOS 1DX MKII body (with spare battery)
– 1 x Canon 17mm TSE F4L Lens
– 1 x Canon 24mm TSE F3.5L Lens
– 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS Lens
– 1 x Canon 100-400mm F4.5 – F5.6L MKII IS Lens
– 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
– 1 x LEE Filter Kit with Assorted Filters
The South Island of New Zealand is always a spectacular place to visit and photograph and my hope is that this year we have timed our trip perfectly with the peak of Autumn colour. There was a large dump of snow over the last few days so it should be at its most picturesque! See you in New Zealand…

New Zealand South Island Masterclass Workshop 2018 SOLD OUT

My 2018 Masterclass workshop to the South Island of New Zealand next month is now sold out. This will be the last year that I offer this workshop for the foreseeable future. As much as I love New Zealand and its ‘middle-earth’ landscapes I will instead be focusing my efforts from 2019 forward on Tasmania and certain carefully chosen locations with Australia (on top of my usual Polar expeditions). The Australian offerings are going to be few and will fit between my Polar trips where possible. To those of you who have asked in recent months about a future New Zealand trip the short answer is ‘yes’ – but not in 2019 , or 2020. 

2017 A Retrospective and 2018 Whats in Store?

As is tradition on my blog, I like to do a “What’s in Store” post for the coming 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. 2017 was a jam packed 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 fantastic photographic destinations and some really incredible experiences.

In equipment or ‘gear’ terms 2017 was relatively quiet for me with no major changes to my camera line-up. To date, I haven’t bothered with the 5D MK4; quite honestly (and as I wrote last year), the Canon EOS 1DX MKII remains the best DSLR camera I have ever used regardless of price, brand or model. In resolution terms the the 1DXMKII is more than sufficient for the vast majority of my work and my only justification for a 5DMKIV would be a lighter weight body for hiking (and I already own the 5DSR for that purpose). I did add the excellent Canon 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS MKII lens to my arsenal; primarily for ship based photography where I wanted something lighter and easier to hand hold than the Canon 200-400mm F4L IS. More recently I also purchased the outstanding Canon 400mm F2.8L IS MKII. I have been on the fence about purchasing the 400mm F2.8L IS MKII for some time and finally decided to pull the trigger and add this lens to my wildlife kit. My hope is it will prove more versatile than the 600mm f4L IS MKII with the addition of the 1.4X and 2X teleconverters. I was also lusting after that creamy bokeh of the f2.8 aperture.

My gear pick for the 2017 year (I always choose something I actually own) is somewhat of a tough choice. I am torn between the 400mm f2.8L IS MKII and the 100-400mm MKII lens. Both offer outstanding optics and both are industry leading in their categories. Both are also relatively recent purchases so its hard to be definitive as I have not spent a lot of time in the field with either as yet. Certainly both are destined to become long term keepers for me with specific needs for each piece of glass.

2018 should be a very interesting year in equipment terms. It is an Olympic year which means I expect to see several new L series lenses from Canon (although I highly doubt we will see any new pro bodies). Rumours remain persistent of a new 600mm F4 DO lens (a patent has been filed by Canon and they have shown a prototype) and I am starting to think it may actually eventuate in the later half of 2018 (just my gut feel).

Last year I gave my book pick of the year to the very deserving Adelie by Vincent MunierAdelie was an absolutely superb presentation that deserves a place in any Nature photographers library. If you don’t yet own a copy you should pick one up immediately. This year I am giving the nod to Ragnar Axelsson’s excellent Faces of the North. Although I haven’t had time to review it, I definitely recommend you check it out and consider adding it to your library.

2017 also marked the year I published the open soft cover edition of Melrakki. The culmination of three years of winter photography in the extreme north-west of Iceland, Melrakki is available now as a soft cover (Limited Edition hard bound fine-art book is long sold out). Copies can be ordered online HERE.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 photographs I made in Svalbard in Winter. Be sure to check out the full portfolio of images at my website www.jholko.com in the Winter Svalbard Portfolio.In competition terms, 2017 was a solid year for me with the overall win as the Victorian Documentary Photographer of the Year. This year I was also a finalist  in the Epson 2017 Professional Science, Wildlife and Wild Places Photographer of the Year. I was also short listed in BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and was also a semi-finalist with multiple photographs in Natures Best Photography 2017 Polar Passion Category. Overall, it was a solid year and I am very pleased with the results.

2017 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 scouting trip to Kuusamo in the North of Finland (my first visit to Finland). The purpose of this trip was to scout out the opportunities and set up a future workshop for both winter wildlife and landscape. The trip was a great success with some superb wildlife and landscape and as such I will be offering a new workshop to the north of Finland in the winter of 2019 (I will have full details next year – but you can get a sneak peak now on my website at www.jholko.com).

From Finland I travelled to Iceland where I lead my annual winter workshop with Daniel Bergmann (Read the Trip Report). This was actually the last year for the foreseeable future that I will be running this workshop. Iceland has in recent times become over run with general tourism and much of the magic of the south coast has been lost (perhaps when the next economic collapse hits or a major volcano explodes tourism may drop off again). In order to minimise the tourist factor we chose to base ourselves predominately in the north-east of Iceland which provided us with some  great photographic opportunities.At the conclusion of my Iceland landscape winter workshop I travelled north to the remote Hornstrandir Nature reserve  in the extreme north-west of Iceland where I lead my annual expedition to photograph Arctic fox in winter. Unlike most of Iceland, the Hornstrandir Nature reserve is only accessible by boat in winter and as such it is mercifully free from tourists. During our expedition we stayed in a small cabin on the remote peninsula and had fantastic encounters with several arctic fox over the course of our stay (Read the Trip Report).In March I travelled to Svalbard where I spent a week with my good friends Abraham and Dom from Untitled Film Works photographing and filming Ghosts of the Arctic. The short film on the hunt for Polar Bears in the winter landscape has subsequently been a runaway success and has been screened at film festivals all around the world. In addition it has been featured on countless news sites including Daily Mail, National Geographic, Peta-Pixel and many more.After the filming of Ghosts of the Arctic I lead my new winter expedition in Svalbard for stunning ice covered landscapes and Arctic Wildlife (Read the Trip Report). Svalbard in winter is nothing short of breathtaking (Its not just the cold that steals your breath away either!). The landscape is plastered in snow and ice and the low angle of the sun bathes the landscape in sublime golden light.From Svalbard I travelled to the South Island of New Zealand (with only a brief stop in Australia in between) to lead my annual South Island Masterclass (Read the Trip Report). I have been leading this workshop to the South Island for quite some years now and the landscape in this part of New Zealand never disappoints. In late May I returned to the north of Iceland and Grimsey Island to lead a new workshop dedicated to the photography of Atlantic Puffins and other Arctic birds (Read the Trip Report). We actually had over fifty species of birds during the workshop and Grimsey Island (located north of Iceland, inside the Arctic Circle) proved to be a fantastic location for both Puffins, Razor Bills and landscape and I am looking forward to returning again next year.In July I returned to Svalbard to lead my annual summer Polar Bears of Svalbard expedition (Read the Trip Report). Svalbard has become one of my absolute favourite places in the world to photograph. With everything from Polar Bears to Walrus, Arctic Fox, Reindeer, countless bird species, many different species of whales and incredible landscape there is just about something for every genre of outdoor photography. Garnish it all with fantastic light and you have photographic nirvana.In late September and October I lead back-to-back expeditions with Daniel Bergmann to Greenland and the Scoresby Sund fjord system (Read the Trip Reports).There are few places on our planet as spectacular as the remote and wild east coast of Greenland. Its precipitous and towering glacier scarred mountains that line the many divergent fjords have created an otherworldly landscape that is just about photographic paradise. The entire primordial setting is festooned with a plethora of gigantic icebergs that drift slowly on currents through the system and that provide an endless and ever-changing series of subject matter for the photographer. These two expeditions were a runaway success and Daniel and I will be returning to Greenland and Scoresby Sund in September 2019. We will have further details on this expedition early in the new year.I finished up the 2017 year with back-to-back expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula (Read the Trip Report) – Antarctica White Nature. The expeditions were deliberately timed as the first of the season as typically this is when the weather is still quite unstable in Antarctica and there is the greatest chance of dramatic weather and light. Expeditions later in the season (December, January and February) typically have more settled weather and far less snow coverage on the ground. For wildlife photography this can be problematic as it can be difficult to find clean snow backgrounds for the penguins (Read my guide on how to choose a photographic expedition to Antarctica).

I had planned to have a week in Atacama at the end of the expeditions, but quite honestly I was pretty exhausted by the end of the second expedition and was glad of my decision to put down the cameras for a while and have the extra week at home.All up I led a total of ten separate international workshops and expeditions in 2017 spread across the globe (not including some local private workshops to the Great Ocean Road as well as one-on-one Print workshops). A brief count tallies up well over fifty plane segments and just over fifty 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.

2018 is shaping up to be pretty full on and I am really excited about whats in store. In February I will be heading back to the Lofoten Islands in Norway to lead my second (SOLD OUT) workshop in this picturesque location. I was last in Lofoten in 2016 (Read the Trip Report) and found it to offer amazing opportunities for landscape photography. In fact, Lofoten is very much landscape paradise and the combination of precipitous mountains, dusted with fresh winter snow and the stunning Aurora Borealis can make for incredible photography.From Lofoten I will travel directly to northern Iceland where I will lead my annual (SOLD OUT) expedition to the Hornstrandir Nature reserve to photographic wild Arctic Fox. 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.After Iceland I will spend the remainder of the Arctic winter in Svalbard where I am going to be working on a combination of personal work from snow mobile and a SOLD OUT ship based expedition. The Arctic in Winter is a place to inspire the imagination. It is a white landscape bathed in golden light. The ship based expedition is unique and is the only one of its type to venture north of Longyearbyen by ship in winter.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. Usually winter to Svalbard are limited to day trips on snow mobiles quite close to the town of Longyearbyen. With our expedition ship we will explore a much bigger area including the western and northern areas of Spitzbergen. This expedition has been sold out for some time, but I am now starting to take bookings for 2019. You can register your interest by dropping me an email.

This expedition has been designed to provide the very best possible opportunities to experience and photograph Svalbard in winter light. We expect to meet wildlife such as Polar Bears, Walruses, Seals, Arctic Foxes and Reindeer. At this time of year the sea birds will also be returning to their breeding grounds. Its a very exciting time to be in Svalbard and I am looking forward to it very much.

In May I am going to make the short hop across to the South Island of New Zealand to co-lead a Masterclass workshop with friend and New Zealand local, Phillip Bartlett. We have some really exciting locations lined up for this trip that include extensive helicopter access into the remote back country and aerial photography over the spectacular Southern Alps. I always look forward to any chance to photograph in this beautiful country. We only have two places remaining before the trip will be sold out and this will be the last year that I offer this workshop for the foreseeable future. Please drop me an email if you are interested in joining us. There are more details on my website at www.jholko.comIn early May I will be based in Australia and will be the keynote speaker on both Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th at VAPS  – The Victorian Association of Photographic Societies – convention in Warrnambool. I will have more details on this convention next year, but am very much looking forward to presenting at the conference.

After the VAPS conference I will be heading straight back to Iceland to co-lead my Arctic Wings of Iceland workshop with Daniel Bergmann. The workshop is dedicated to photography of the Atlantic Puffin and other birds of Iceland including Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots (Murres), Arctic Terns and Razorbills (Read the 2017 Trip Report). Iceland is one of the best places in the world to photograph Puffins and other Arctic birds in their natural environment. We will visit a number of different locations during this workshop where we will have outstanding access to the Puffins living in burrows on the edge of sea cliffs. We have timed our 2018 workshop to ensure we are in the best locations at the best times to photograph these wonderful birds. We will have hours of golden light under the spectacular midnight sun – ideal conditions for photography of the Atlantic Puffin. We still have a few spots available before the workshop will be sold out. Please drop me an email if you have any queries or are interested in joining us. In July I will head back to the Svalbard archipelago to lead my annual summer Polar Bears of Svalbard Expedition (only a couple of places remaining before it will be sold out). 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.In September I will be travelling to Finland as guest speaker at the international Finnish Nature festival in Kuusamo. I will be speaking both about my polar photography in Antarctica as well as the landscape and wildlife opportunities in Australia. Whilst there I will also take some extra time and maximise the opportunity to try and photograph Bears, Eagles and Wolverine.

In October I am heading back to Africa and the epic desert sands of Namibia. I was last in Namibia in 2016 (Read the Trip Report) and very much look forward to returning to this incredible country. I have lead three workshops to Namibia in recent years and have absolutely fallen in love with the desert and wildlife found across this dramatic country. We will be visiting the surreal ghost town of Kolmonskop, the massive dunes and seemingly endless sand dune landscape of Sussesvlei as well as the wildlife rich region of Etosha. There are already only a few places remaining before the workshop will be sold out. Drop me an email if you are interested in reserving one of the remaining places. After Namibia I will be heading back to New York to speak at the Photo Plus convention (more details to come later). I was last in New York in 2016 and am looking forward to returning to the big apple and catching up with friends in the states.

Finally, I will finish up in November with my third visit to the remote sea ice at Gould Bay in Antarctica to photograph the mighty Emperor Penguins .We will be travelling by privately chartered transport jet deep into Antarctica where we will land on a pre-prepared ice-runway at Union Glacier. From our basecamp only 600 miles from the South Pole we will then take a privately chartered Twin-Otter ski aircraft to the remote Emperor Penguin colony on the sea ice. We will establish a field camp on the sea ice and spend our time photographing the Emperors and Emperor Penguin Chicks on the sea ice against a backdrop of incredible mountains, icebergs and pressure ridges. We will photograph throughout the night when the light is soft and golden in an expedition opportunity dedicated to photography of Emperors. If you are excited by the idea of travelling to one of the remotest regions in Antarctica to live and photograph with the majestic Emperor Penguins now is the time to register for the last available place.  On top of all of the above it is my hope that 2018 will be the year I publish my new fine-art book on Antarctica. The preliminary layout is mostly complete and I hope to finish most of the text and final details early next year with a view to publication in the later half of 2018. It 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 2019 includes brand new workshops to the Faroe Islands and Finland as well as new expeditions to the remote east coast of Greenland and possibly something new and special to Greenland in winter. More on this later.

Lastly and certainly not least, I want to wish all of you a very safe and happy New Year and may 2018 be one of amazing light and experiences for all of you. See you in the New Year!