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!

New Zealand South Island Masterclass 2018 – Final Year

In late April / early May next year I will be running my final Masterclass workshop in the South Island of New Zealand for the foreseeable future. The workshop runs from the 30th of April until the 11th of May and is fully inclusive of all in country transport (private 4WD’s), food, helicopter flights (lots of them), tuition and more. Strictly limited to just six participants this masterclass is really designed to capture the best of the South Island. If you are interested in travelling to New Zealand and photographing in the spectacular South Island you can register you interest in one of the last available places by dropping me an email. Like the 2015, 2016 and 2017 workshops, the 2018 Masterclass workshop also includes extensive use of helicopters for accessing some of the most remote and spectacular country as well as aerial photography of the spectacular Southern Alps and glaciers. If you want to get an idea of the sort of photographs you can make on this masterclass be sure to check out the New Zealand portfolio on my website at www.jholko.com. Full details of the workshop are available on my website as a PDF HERE. You can read a trip report from the 2017 Masterclass HERE and client feedback HERE.The South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the most spectacular scenery and landscapes in the world. Perhaps nowhere else in the world can one see and photograph precipitous mountains plunging into temperate rainforest and wild ocean beaches in so short a space. New Zealand is home to an unbelievably diverse range of subject matter, all packed together in a very small land area. Glaciers, majestic mountain ranges, moss-covered rain-forests, hidden valleys, and ocean-beaten coastlines are among the incredible array of natural wonders found there. It is an island of ever-changing weather and spectacular light conditions. To quote myself, it is a country made for photography.

Major Workshop / Expedition Update 2017 / 2018

With August almost behind us (just where is the year going?) I felt it time for an update on workshops and expeditions for the remainder of 2017 and into 2018 (with a sneak peak into 2019).

In a little under two weeks time I will be heading north to Greenland for two back-to-back expeditions to the remote east coast of Greenland. These expeditions into the remote and wild Scoresby Sund fjord system have been in planning for more than two years now and I am really looking forward to setting sail from Constable Point in Greenland to start our photographic expedition. Both of these expeditions have long been sold out, but I will be returning to Greenland in 2019 and will have more details on that expedition later this year.After I finish in Greenland I am heading down to Antarctica for my White Nature expedition. Timed as the first of the season we have planned our expedition to take advantage of dramatic and variable weather as well as giant icebergs and lots of snow and ice. I have been travelling to Antarctica annually for many years now and have found early November to consistently offer the best photographic experience for all aboard. I recently published a full guide on how to choose the right photographic expedition to Antartica and it can be downloaded for free HERE. This expedition is sold out.

2018 will kick off with sold out expeditions to Lofoten for Winter landscapes and Iceland for Arctic Fox in winter. My last workshop to Lofoten was in 2016 and I am looking forward to returning to this incredible archipelago. The rising and precipitous mountains that climb directly out of the sea and the rugged coastal landscapes make for a photographers paradise. And of course, the chance of Aurora Borealis (northern lights) only sweetens the pot and adds that magic element to what is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been fortunate to visit and photograph.My annual expedition to photograph Arctic Fox in winter in the remote and wild Hornstrandir reserve in Iceland has also long been sold out (Read the 2017 Expedition Report). I will be returning to Iceland in 2019 for this expedition and am now taking expressions of interest from those interested in photographing this incredible survivor. I will have full details including dates and costs for 2019 soon.After Iceland I will travel to Svalbard to lead a winter expedition north of Longyearbyen in search of polar bears and dramatic winter landscapes. Svalbard in winter is an absolutely breathtaking location. With newly formed sea ice, snow and ice covered mountains and chance encounters with the worlds largest land predator in a stunning white environment this expedition rates as one of my absolute all time favourites (Be sure to check out the Expedition Trip Report from March this year). At this stage there are still a few places remaining before the expedition will be sold out. If you are interested in joining us and exploring the winter white wonderland of this Arctic archipelago you can register your interest by dropping me an email. The remaining places are filled strictly on a first come, first served basis. To get an idea of what winter is like in Svalbard be sure to check out the new Ghosts of the Arctic short film by clicking on the image below.In late April / Early May I will lead my annual New Zealand South Island Masterclass workshop. This will be the last year I offer the South Island workshop as I plan to switch gears in 2019 with a brand new Van Diemens Land Tasmania Landscape workshop that will also include an optional extension to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria Australia (more details on this to come at a future date). The New Zealand South Island Masterclass has been an eagerly anticipated workshop over the last few years. For the final year my co-leader Phillip and I are including even more helicopter time over the spectacular southern alps with doors off photography to enable us all to capture some truly stunning imagery. Strictly limited to just six participants there are now only a few places remaining before the workshop will be sold out. Earlier this year, Daniel Bergmann and I completed a brand new workshop to photograph Atlantic Puffins and other Arctic birds at several different locations in Iceland that included the remote northern Grimsey Island, inside the Arctic circle. (Read the trip Report). The workshop was a great success and as such we have decided to offer a new workshop in May next year that will take us back to Grimsey Island to photograph both the wildlife and incredible landscape of this remote island. As well as Grimsey Island we will also spend time in Myvatn in the north of Iceland – One of the best places in the world to photograph Arctic birds. Grimsey Island in particular is one of the most spectacular locations I have visited in Iceland with towering cliffs that rise hundreds of feet out of the ocean and incredible basalt columns. It is a wild and primordial landscape that is rarely visited and even less rarely photographed. If you are interested in photographing the loveable and comical Atlantic Puffin and other Arctic bird species this workshop is not to be missed. Only two places remaining before the workshop will be sold out.In July I will return to Svalbard for my annual summer Polar Bear expedition. This expedition has been designed from the ground up to provide the very best possible opportunities to Photograph Polar Bears in their natural environment. With the reduction in Arctic sea ice the Polar Bears in Svalbard are dwindling in number and the number of years left to photograph them is unfortunately now extremely limited. Late July and August are the ideal times to photograph Polar Bears north of Svalbard due to the dwindling ice around the archipelago. On this expedition we will be carrying a naturalist/biologist who specialises in locating Polar Bears and an expedition leader and captain who have years of experience in placing us in the ideal position to make the best photographs. Their expertise will allow us to approach the king of the Arctic as closely and safely as possible and make incredible photographs under the spectacular midnight sun. To get an idea of what this workshop entails be sure to read the 2016 trip reportIn October I will return to the gigantic sand dunes of Namibia for a new Desert Fire Safari. This will be my fourth visit to Namibia to photograph the ancient sand dunes of the worlds largest and oldest desert. It is the perfect juxtaposition to my usual polar landscape and wildlife photography and offers an alternate landscape of extremes. Our workshop will sea us visit the giant red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, the eerie ghost town of Kolmonskop as well as the relentless Skeleton coast and the Etosha wildlife reserve. Places are now limited. For more information please send me an email.Finally in November 2018 I will return to the sea ice of Gould Bay in Antarctica for my Emperor Penguin expedition (Read the 2016 Expedition Report). There are plenty of species the world over that are much harder to find than Emperor Penguins.  To my knowledge however, none is as difficult or as expensive to reach as the Emperor Penguin; and thats the conundrum of Emperor Penguin photography. We know exactly where they are located, we just cant get to them without great difficulty and significant expense. Living on the sea ice in remote and difficult to reach areas of Antarctica the Emperor Penguin is therefore as difficult to reach as the enigmatic snow leopard is to locate in the wilds of its mountainous territories. This expedition will see us fly to Union Glacier deep in the Interior of Antarctica where we will set up our base camp before we take smaller twin otter aircraft out to the sea ice for our advance camp where we will live with the Emperor Penguins during our time on the sea ice. Strictly limited to just eight photographers there is only one place remaining before the expedition will be sold out (Read the 2016 Expedition Report).Peaking into 2019 I will be leading a brand new workshop to the north of Finland in February in search of Golden Eagles, Hawk Owls, Wolves and wolverine (full details coming very soon). The workshop is going to include a significant amount of photography from private hides and will afford opportunities to photograph rare species not often seen and even less often photographed. I am not quite ready to start taking bookings for this new workshop but you are welcome to register your interest by dropping me an email.

A final sneak peak into 2019 includes a new workshop to photograph the landscapes of Van Diemens land (Tasmania) with an optional extension to the Great Ocean road in Victoria Australia. More details to come soon….

New Zealand South Island Masterclass Workshop Report 2017

It has been more than two months now since my South Island New Zealand masterclass workshop and I have been a little remiss in writing up my trip report. Extensive travels and life have conspired against me and it has taken far longer than I would have liked to complete the report (I still have only processed a couple of images from the workshop and I am heading overseas again in just two weeks – Up to Svalbard for my Polar Bear summer expedition).Rather than give a day-by-day account of the trip this time (as I have done in the past) I felt it better to instead talk a bit about a typical day and what it is that we do other than take photographs during this sort of masterclass workshop. Whilst the physical act of photography is at the core of this workshop it is important impart that there is a lot more going on that just the act of setting up a tripod and pressing the shutter in great locations and beautiful light. In fact, I believe that some of the best learning that comes from these workshops actually happens away from the camera during meal time discussions.

A typical day on my New Zealand masterclass workshop usually kicks off extremely early with a pre-sunrise call to action to try and capture some of the best light of the day. Typically, in my experience sunrise is my preferred time to photograph and I find (at least for my own style of photography) that the conditions are usually at their optimum just before the sun rises. Depending on the location we may have some driving and or/walking to arrive at our sunrise session. Typically we have chosen to stay close by to minimise early morning travel and maximise photography time. We also use helicopters extensively in New Zealand to access back country areas and high mountain areas that would otherwise take many hours (if not days) of hiking to reach. On mornings where we are using helicopters we often run two choppers so that we can move our small group of eight (including myself and my co-leader) simultaneously into position. This way we all arrive at the same time and all experience the best light and conditions. There is a fantastic benefit of helicopters (outside of saving hours of hiking) and that is we can land just about anywhere in the high country and this provides incredibly unique opportunities. A key feature of this trip is to experience and photograph some of the most spectacular landscape that is all but inaccessible without helicopters. In addition, it provides an opportunity to photograph landscape that is not only rarely photographed, but also rarely visited. Iconic easy to reach locations can be fun, but it’s equally important to have opportunities in new areas that few others will ever experience.

Depending on the conditions we experience on our early morning shooting session we may be out for anywhere from a couple of hours too a session that might run close into lunchtime. We work with the weather and light we experience and if conditions are ideal we do not shut down until we have made the best of the them.Whilst we are photographing myself and Phillip (my co-leader) like to work with each of the participants on an individual basis as required. We help with everything from basic camera settings to filters, composition, focal length choice etc… Often, we wont even set up our own cameras until such time as everyone is well and truly up and running with many photographs ‘in the can’.

With the morning session complete we wrap for a hot cooked breakfast or brunch with coffee and tea at one of New Zealand’s many great cafe’s. This is a time for us to not only enjoy some great food after a solid mornings work, but also to reflect on our mornings photography, discuss the conditions and location and reflect on what we felt worked and perhaps did not work for each of us. Typically there is quite a bit of ‘gear-talk’, but importantly there is also a lot of discussion about composition and the art of seeing photographs beyond the obvious. Depending on where we are located at a given point in time in the South Island we may have some down time after breakfast / brunch to either download and work on our photographs or we may have some transit time to our next location.  The key to our daily program is to try and maximise our photography in as many great locations as possible so in some areas we spend multiple days whilst in others we may only have one day before moving on.

After lunch (and a lot more photography talk!) we have an afternoons photography session. Our afternoon session locations are always chosen based on prevailing weather, conditions and light. Since our aim is to be photographing in the best light of the day in the best locations we are constantly assessing the weather and light and making location choices to maximise our opportunities. Local knowledge is absolutely critical to the success of this approach. Much like Iceland, the South Island of New Zealand is a land of micro climates and local knowledge goes a long way to being able to take advantage of prevailing weather and light. On this particular masterclass we made a decision at one point to head up to location in Lindas pass where we new we could capture some stunning landscape in afternoon breaking light; whilst it was raining either side of the pass. This proved a very fruitful decision and some stunning images were captured by all.

If weather and light permit we will stay out in the field (although we often move locations) right through until sunset and last light. We don’t rush from location to location, but rather try and maximise the opportunities in a given location before we move on to a new area. If we are working with aerial photography from helicopters over the mountains and glaciers of the Southern Alps we will wait until we feel the light is at its absolute optimum before spending time with the doors off over some of the most spectacular scenery in the southern hemisphere. We work with experienced pilots with whom we have built a relationship over many years so that we can position our helicopters exactly where we want to capture stunning landscapes in superb light.  Everyone gets a doors off position to photograph whilst Philip and I direct the pilot on where and how we want the helicopter positioned. These sort of high mountain photographs cannot be achieved any other way.

With our afternoon and evening photography session complete its time for some more wonderful New Zealand food at one of the many fantastic restaurants around the island. We work hard on these masterclass workshops so the meals and quality of food is really important to us. We play as hard as we work! Our dinner conversations can revolve around everything from the days photography to discussions on composition, the art of seeing, post production and more. The key take away for me is that these sort of discussions almost always serve to educate and I never stop learning myself from those around me.

For those that wish there is evening time post dinner to edit and process images from the days photography before a good nights sleep and onto another busy packed day.

The workshops are always jam packed with photography and provide an outstanding vehicle for sharing and learning. Our workshop this year was blessed with great weather and some superb light and it was an absolute pleasure to share it with all of those who participated.

New Zealand South Island Masterclass Feedback 2017

A little under a week ago I completed my 2017  Masterclass workshop in the South Island of New Zealand with my good friend and co-leader Phillip Bartlett. This workshop was extremely productive  in terms of the sheer number of shoots we were able to squeeze in (as well as the locations we visited) and I wanted to share some feedback I just received from those who participated on the workshop.

Dear Josh and Phillip, I’m going over my images while waiting to depart from the Christchurch airport – what an amazing trip!  Thanks so much for your instruction, sherpa and guiding, my images are so much better due to y’all.  I really enjoyed my time spent with everyone, I could not have asked for better traveling companions.  Please keep in touch, I would love to see everyone’s future photographic adventures.  Y’all take care and let me know if you ever need a guide around the Bayou State! – Suzanne

I also want to thank everyone, in a group we made this class an unforgettable experience. In a group you learn all the time, even by just seeing what the others are doing, and how. I learned a lot about camera settings, composition, light and right moment and much more. I also learned something about the difference between a good picture, a postcard picture, art and fine art – this is essential on my way to artist! It’s nice to return home with all these good feelings and memories, – Matti 

Dear Josh and Phillip, Now it is time for me as well to “saddle my horses” again, but only to move further up north towards St. Arnaud, Nelson, Takaka (Golden Bay), before then moving on to the North Island. While having another look at the images taken on our voyage together and thinking about the excellent time we had with our group I cannot help my eyes welling with tears (again). It was indeed worthwhile to have taken the “plunge” to come to the other end of the world and to put the travel schedule into your hands. Your careful planning and knowledge of this beautiful island we explored together, paired with your professional know how has given us invaluable memories for a long time to come. I enjoyed the time together immensely, could take home pictures and experiences I could never have made without you. The food was good, our vehicles an excellent choice, and I especially liked the cameradie with you all. The tips you gave to me/to us were incredibly helpful, not just for my future undertakings, but already for the rest of my time here (although without having you looking over my shoulder 🙂 ). I wish all of you still on the road save travels and yes, let us keep in touch. – Best and hugs, Angelo

Twas an adventure with you all! It was a pleasure getting to know everyone and having the opportunity to experience some pretty magical places together. Thank you Josh and Phillip for putting on a first class expeditionand leaving me with new tools and memories to treasure. – Julia

If you are interested in travelling and photographing in the majestic South Island of New Zealand then I am now taking bookings for the 2018 Masterclass (limited places remaining only). 2018 will be the last year I run the South Island Masterclass workshop for the foreseeable future so if you have been considering adding this workshop to your calendar now is the time to get on board. This workshop is strictly limited to six participants and due to initial registrations there are already only a couple of places remaining before it will be sold out.