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!

Yellowstone Winter Workshop Trip Report 2015

In early February 2015 I led a small photography group to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons for an exploratory winter workshop. This was my first time to Yellowstone in winter and very much a preliminary scouting trip for future workshops in the area. Winter is a wonderful time to visit America’s first national park; tourist numbers are very low by comparison with summer and the combination of snow and geothermal features offers outstanding landscape photography opportunities. There is also an abundance of wildlife in Yellowstone and many opportunities to create really unique imagery in the snow covered landscape.Yellowstone-7096-Edit12015Our plan was to photograph both the landscape and wildlife found in the park and take advantage of the winter snowfall. When visiting Yellowstone in winter there is a sense that you have almost crossed to another planet. The landscape is hushed by a thick blanket of snow. The trees are wreathed in frost and loom like wraiths against the ominous winter clouds. The crisp, icy air enhances the effect of the geothermal features. There is an exotic combination of mist-shrouded hot pools, bubbling paint pots and steaming fumaroles that is the ideal setting for winter landscape photography.Yellowstone-7127-Edit22015During this trip we explored the northern part of Yellowstone in the Lamar Valley as well as Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Madison Valley and the Firehole River Basin. We also journeyed into the Grand Teton National Park. We had planned to also visit the national Elk Refuge, however the lack of snow this particular season worked against us and we decided to give this a miss and focus on areas with better snowfall instead.Yellowstone-726012015During our time in Yellowstone we spent several days in the Lamar Valley area photographing both the landscape and wildlife. We were fortunate to see and photograph the Lamar Valley wolf pack on several different occasions as well as Big Horn Sheep, Red Fox, Coyote and Moose. Although the wolves kept a respectful distance it was still a wonderful experience to watch wild wolves in the snow covered landscape. Just as an aside, It was almost as interesting to observe the cult of wolf watchers with their spotting scopes that prowl the Lamar Valley road in the hope of even a glimpse of these elusive animals. I am still sorting through the images I captured of the wolves and I hope to share a few in a future post.

Yellowstone-9034-Edit32015During the workshop we also spent several days in the Old Faithful area visiting and photographing many of the geothermal features. Geothermal features photograph extremely well with snow and ice. There is a wonderful contrast between rising steam and a snow covered landscape that adds that magic element and wonderful contrast to a photograph.Yellowstone-889112015

Travel inside the park during winter is restricted to snow coaches and snow mobiles and as of a few years ago you now cannot enter the park in winter without a guide provided by the parks service (Private vehicles are also not allowed in winter). This new requirement necessitated the need for us to hire a private snow-coach that enabled us to go at our own pace for photography free from the burden of regular tourists. A normal tourist visit just does not allow sufficient time at each location during the best light of the day.

Winter in Yellowstone can be brutally cold with temperatures plummeting well below -20 degrees Celsius.This year however was quite mild with little snow fall compared to past years. As a result we rarely saw temperatures dip below -10 Celsius with most days hovering around 0 Celsius. As a result of the unusually mild weather the wildlife was more active than usual and there were already clear indicators of bear activity in late February during our visit.Yellowstone-706712015

In terms of wildlife Yellowstone has a wonderful diversity and during our time in the park we saw and photographed Bison, Elk, Red Fox, Big Horn sheep, Moose, Coyotes, Bald Eagles, and Osprey. We also spotted and photographed the Canyon wolf pack alongside some of the geothermal features just after sunrise. We searched hard for both Bobcats and Great Grey Owls but did not see them despite a few recent reports of sightings along the Madison river. We did however photograph a Bobcat a few days prior to the workshop in the Montana area (But this was a controlled shoot).AnimalsMontana-474012015Yellowstone in winter was a fantastic experience and is a truly remarkable place that offers limitless possibilities for photography of both wildlife and landscape in winter. I will be leading a future workshop to Yellowstone for a small group of people in Winter in January of 2017. This workshop will also include an extension into the Grand Teton area that will also take us to the spectacular and iconic Mount Moran area. If you would like to get the drop on the option of securing a place when details are finalised then please just drop me an email to register your interest. There is no obligation at the point.Yellowstone-370312015

Yellowstone 2015 Winter Wonderland Workshop Complete – Heading to Iceland

Early this afternoon I wrapped up the 2015 Yellowstone Winter Wonderland Experience Workshop in Jackson Hole. We have spent the last ten days travelling through Yellowstone and the Grand Teton area photographing both landscape and wildlife by private snow-coach and it has been an incredible experience. We actually spent the last part of our workshop in the Grand Tetons  and it was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. There were many fantastic photographic opportunities and from what I have already seen some beautiful winter images have been created by all on the trip. The landscape of Yellowstone is stunningly beautiful in Winter with clean crisp air and stunning winter light. The combination of geothermal features, snow and wildlife is truly a miracle of Nature and has created a photographic paradise. Personally I took over a thousand images during the course of the trip and as always it will take me some time to sort, edit and process my favourites. Travelling and photographing in Yellowstone in Winter with a small group of good friends and talented, passionate photographers has been a wonderful experience that I hope to repeat in future years. In fact, I already can’t wait to return and do it all again and am planning another winter trip for early 2017. Watch for the trip report from our 2015 experience over the coming weeks if you would like to get an idea what a workshop to Yellowstone is like in Winter.

Tomorrow I am flying to Denver and onto Iceland for my 2015 Winter Aurora Workshop with my good friend Daniel Bergmann. It has been nearly six months since I was last in Iceland and I am itching to return to this wonderful country. Iceland is a country I hold very near and dear to my heart and feels very much like my home away from home. I am particularly fond of winter in Iceland – the streets of Reykjavik are quiet, and with a dusting of fresh snow there is wonderful fairy tale feel to the city. I am particularly looking forward to Kaffi (thats Icelandic for coffee) at my favourite cafe ‘C is for Cookie‘ cafe and a big bowl of seafood soup from the hipster restaurant Vegamote when I arrive in Reykjavik.

Whilst it will be nowhere near as cold in Iceland as it has been in Yellowstone during winter (actually it has been a very mild winter in Yellowstone) we should still see the mercury dip below 0º celsius on regular occasions – especially in the evening when we are out photographing the Aurora. I am personally looking forward to more ice cave photography during this workshop as well photographing the beautiful Snæfellsnes Peninsula in winter and of course the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón as well as many other excellent locations. We may even get up into the helicopter for some aerial photography of the fissure eruption near the Bárðarbunga volcano that has been ongoing for some months now. This last option is very weather dependant so we shall have to wait and see what Nature dishes up. The 2015 Winter Iceland Workshop has been sold out for many months now, but there are still a couple of places available on the 2016 Frozen North Workshop if you would like to join us. See you in Iceland.IcelandWinter2016

Update from Yellowstone February 2015

We are currently in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone on day three of our Winter Workshop to this amazing National Park. It has been unseasonably warm here in Yellowstone the past few days (actually, according to the locals it has been unseasonably warm for some time now) with temperatures hovering in the mid to high 40’s (Fahrenheit) during the day and really only dipping below 32 (Fahrenheit) during the night. There isn’t much snow around in the Lamar at present which has made access easy, but has somewhat limited our photographic opportunities to date. My own hopes of heavy snowfall to help isolate and add context to the animals in this area have not yet been realised. The weather is supposed to turn cold in the next two days with forecast snowfall in Yellowstone and we are hopeful this will add that missing magic element that brings photographs from this region to life.

We have had some good wildlife encounters in the first few days with the real highlight for me being a pair of wonderful Bald Eagles that we spent around an hour photographing by the side of the road. We were fortunate to stumble across the two eagles perched in trees deep in a canyon which put us at almost eye level by the roadside. Yellowstone-7710After a sunrise shoot tomorrow in the Lamar Valley we will pack up and head toward Old Faithful and spend several days exploring and photographing in this area. There have been reports of Bobcat activity along the Madison River and I am keen to see if we can find and photograph one of these elusive cats in the wild.

Arrived in Yellowstone for 2015 Winter Workshop

A few hours ago I finally completed the long journey from Australia and arrived in Bozeman for my Yellowstone Winter workshop. It is a very nice feeling to have abandoned the heat of the Australian summer for the snow and ice of a Yellowstone winter. Currently its quite a balmy 14 degrees Celsius outside and the air is dry and crisp. It is an even nicer feeling to have made it through American airport security more or less without hassle.

Tomorrow will be a rest day to recover from travel and jet lag before we commence our workshop into the park proper. I need to go shopping shortly for a new pair of winter boots for both Yellowstone, Iceland and the Arctic and have my eye on a pair of the new Baffin Expedition boots. I had considered using my Arctic Sport Muck Boots for this expedition but was concerned they may not be warm enough in the Yellowstone winter. They definitely would not be warm enough for the expedition I am doing into the Arctic after Iceland, so its time to add yet one more pair of boots to the wardrobe.

We have a pretty solid schedule planed out for the next ten days so I am unsure of how much if any time I may get to post updates to my Blog. We will just have to see what Yellowstone has to offer…