Departing for Emperors Expedition 2018

It is hard to believe it has already been two years since I was last camped on the sea ice of Gould Bay in Antarctica to photograph the mighty Emperor Penguins (Read the Trip Report). Time has simply evaporated and in less than two days now I am really excited to again be starting the trek over to the bottom of South America to begin my 2018 expedition to the Emperor Penguins. Camping and living with the Emperors on the sea ice is one of the most amazing experiences I have been fortunate to have in my photographic travels. Like the previous expedition we will be flying down to land on the naturally occurring blue ice runaway at Union Glacier. From there will be taking a smaller twin-otter aircraft several hours out to the sea ice where we can establish a remote tent camp.

I am planning to try and shoot a bit of video this trip and will be taking a new Go Pro Hero 7 Black as well as an extra Canon EOS1DX MKII (just for video) as well as a dedicated microphone. I don’t pretend to be a videographer and I wont be shooting the sequel or follow up to Ghosts of the Arctic, but I would like to capture enough video to show just what its like to camp with the Emperor Penguins on the frozen sea ice in Antarctica.

My equipment for the Emperors expedition will be all too familiar to those of you who regularly follow my travels, workshops and expeditions. I am teaming up with a friend of mine for the video component (who is also a Canon shooter) so between us we will have just about everything covered. I will re-pack my camera gear on arrival into Punta Arenas into a back pack that will travel down to South America in my checked luggage. If you are wondering why the 300mm 2.8 and 400mm 2.8 its so I can share both lenses with the other Canon shooters.

Lightroom Roller(Carry on Luggage)

2 x Canon EOS 1DX MKII bodies (my friend is bringing a third for video)
1 x Canon 16-35mm F4L Lens
1 x Canon 11-24mm f4L Lens
1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS Lens
1 x Canon 70-200mm F2.8L MKII IS Lens
1 x Canon 400mm F2/8L IS MKII Lens
1 x Go Pro Hero7 Black w/ various accessories and spares
1 x Rhode Microphone

Gura Gear Chobe (Carry on Luggage)

1 x Apple MacBook Pro 15″ Retina
1 x Apple laptop charger
1 x Canon 300mm F2.8L MKII IS Lens
2 x USB 3 2TB external portable Sandisk SSD Drives
1 x  Thunderbolt CFast card reader and CF card Reader
1 x Sunglasses and sunglasses case

Etcetera Case #1 (Inside checked luggage)

1 x Canon 1-Series camera charger
1 x Power Adapter
2 x Canon 1DX spare Batteries
3 x Go Pro Spare Batteries

Other #1 (Inside checked luggage)

1 x Sachtler Flowtech 75 Carbon Tripod
1 x Sachtler FSB-6 Fluid Head

I had thought that this would be my last expedition to the Emperor Penguins but due to multiple requests I am confirming that I will have another expedition to the sea ice of Gould Bay for Emperors in November of 2020 (exact dates TBA – but it will be going ahead with several spots already spoken for). For those of you keen to get the jump and pre-register you can drop me an email to secure one of the remaining places. For now, I am keen to get my final packing done and get the long haul travel out of the way.

There will be minimal to no updates (other than a couple of scheduled posts) whilst I am in Antartica as there is no internet access out on the sea ice. Camped on the sea ice of Gould Bay we are about as remote and disconnected from civilisation as its possible to be. See you in South America and then onward to Antarctica!

 

Travel Photographer of the Year Finalist 2018

I received some exciting news early this morning that I have again been selected as a finalist in the 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year competition. As final judging has not yet taken place I am unable to share the photographs at this point, but will do so once judging is complete.

I remain continually inspired to enter the Travel Photographer of the Year competition as it is one of the few photographic competitions remaining today that still judge the ‘print’ (in the finals) rather than a compressed jpeg. I wrote several years ago now of my disillusionment with so many of the photography competitions that make their judgements solely on a jpeg file. The craft of producing a beautiful fine art print is one of the most enjoyable aspects of photography for me and is how I prefer to have my work viewed.

Master the Craft Step Two – What Makes a Great Photograph

In Part One of this series of articles on Mastering the Craft we talked about getting past the camera and mastering the tool you already own. We talked about the importance of freeing up your brain to create instead of being bogged down being a technician and we also discussed why you should not update your camera all the time; specifically, the benefit of using muscle memory to control your camera. If you have not as yet read Part One I strongly encourage you to go back and give it a read. Of even great importance though is that you put it into practice (if you are not already). Not only will it save you money, but I guarantee your photography will improve.

In step two of this series of articles we are going to look at the importance of educating yourself on what is a  great photograph. This is something I have touched on briefly before but I believe its worth taking a deeper dive on this topic as understanding what makes a great photograph is an absolutely critical skill to taking better photographs. Perhaps even more so, its an essential skill to master if you want to take your own photography taken to the next level. On the surface it sounds such an incredibly simple thing to recognise the ‘great’ from the ‘good’. The truth is though, its a learned skill and not an innate talent. You would be surprised how many photographers have little to no idea how to differentiate between the good and the great when it comes to their own work.

Before we get too far into what makes a great photograph I want to take a moment and share a fascinating observation that recurs time and time again whenever I watch someone who is relatively new to photography. Almost without exception those new to serious photography universally believe that their photographs are excellent (Canon actually did a survey on this in the USA a couple of years ago and found that more than 95% of people out there believe they take great photographs!). The truth is of course the complete opposite. Henri Cartier-Bresson perhaps said it best “Your first 10,000 photographs are your Worst“. It has been my experience that there does seems to be a lengthy period of time in which beginning photographers have little to no insight into their own work. Its not because they lack the intelligence. Rather, I believe that this  phenomena is due in large because they lack the education and knowledge to understand what it is that makes a great photograph. New photographers seem to be on the whole, far more interested in taking photographs than in acquiring the knowledge to understand the difference between a competent photograph and a great one. The cart is unfortunately very much before the horse in this instance. To use an analogy, they are trying to bake the cake without a recipe. They might get it right from time to time but they are unlikely to realise when without the recipe to tell them what it is supposed to look and taste like.

There is a very important distinction between a good photograph and a great one. A competent photograph is just that. Its ‘good’, but not great. As a good photograph it will likely be of an interesting subject, have been well exposed, hopefully well composed and will be sharp where it needs to be. It will be appropriately cropped, suitably processed and likely well presented. So why is this photograph only good and not great?  The short answer is because it (and most photographs) fails to fully engage the viewer and because it lacks the ability to convey or provoke a meaningful emotional response. It likely also fails to say something worthwhile about the subject or fully engage the viewer in a meaningful, thoughtful and intellectual capacity. In other words it fails to communicate with the viewer. A great photograph is much more than a pretty picture; a great photograph transcends the 2-dimensional medium of photography. As Ansel Adams said, “A great photograph is about depth of telling, not depth of field“. When we stop and closely analyse these very high requirements for a truly great photograph we quickly realise why the greats are so few and far between. In Paul Nicklen’s book Photographing Wild he talks briefly about one in ten thousand being truly outstanding. It has been my experience that  this is generally a pretty accurate ratio. [Addendum – if you want to read more about getting Emotion into your photographs be sure to check out the series of Articles I penned on this topic HERE.]

Realising that only one in ten thousand is truly great is the first step to understanding the difference between a good photograph and a great one.  You have to realise the truly greats are a very rare commodity and reset your expectations accordingly. The next step is a bit trickier and thats knowing which photograph amongst the many thousands is the one that transcends all others. The only way to achieve this is through education (it can be self education) because it is highly unlikely to be the photograph you have most emotional investment in (See Part Three of this series of Master the Craft to be published shortly).

I believe the best way to learn the distinction between a good photograph and a truly great one is to study art and to study the works of the great photographic masters – both historical and contemporary. In short, education is the key and there is no shortcut on this journey. You have to carefully study the work of great photographers (and artists). You have to read and study photography books from photographers in your chosen genre and learn from their compositions, techniques and styles (and not just emulate them). You have to understand how and why they approach their subject like they do. You also have to take the time to understand what it actually is about their photographs that make them great. You have to have insight into their work which means you have to connect with it not only from a technical perspective, but on an emotional level as well. The process of acquiring this knowledge is going to be different for everybody. In my case I like to sit down late in the evening when all is quiet with a good photography book and spend some quality time fully digesting the photographs. Its not about flicking through the book in a haphazard fashion (there is no benefit in doing that). Rather it is about taking the time to properly absorb and internally process the photographs. For me this usually means spending an hour or so with a book; during which time I can probably take in no more than around sixty photographs (and that is quite a lot). After that, I need a break or a change of pace (or bed).

I would like to give an example of a well known photographer friend of mine (their name doesn’t matter) who I know for a fact has spent many hours studying the intimate landscape work of Elliot Porter along with several other contemporary masters of the intimate landscape.  I have watched quietly from the sidelines over a period of perhaps five years as he put into practice what he learned from studying the work of these accomplished photographers. He worked hard in the field putting into practice what he learned and as a direct result I have watched his photography not only improve significantly, but arguably transcend his chosen mentors. In summary, this person made the effort to educate themselves in their preferred genre and style and to teach themselves what it was that differentiated the good from the great. They are now a master of the intimate landscape in their own right.

Perhaps the best way to sum up Part Two of this series is with a quote (although I cannot remember who first said it or exactly how it went) that I feel perfectly sums up the great divide between the good and the great photographs; “You don’t take a great photograph with just a camera. You bring to the act of great photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have listened to and the people you have loved.”

In Part Three of this series of articles on Master the Craft we are going to take a look at how and why you need to divest yourself of your own emotional investment in your photography. This critical ability to self analyse (and thus edit) is one of the biggest factors that holds back a great many photographers.

Photo of the Month November 2018 – Emperor Colony

The photograph of the month for November 2018 comes from my 2016 expedition to the remote sea ice of Gould Bay in Antarctica to visit and photograph the Emperor Penguins (Read the Trip Report). This particular photograph remains one of my favourites from  this expedition. It includes the main Emperor colony  with the small fluffy chick leading the line of penguins that recedes off into the distance.

I am very excited that in less than two weeks now I will be returning to Gould Bay in Antarctica to lead my sold out 2018 expedition to the Emperor Penguins.  I am planning to shoot a bit more video this time and hope to have some behind the scenes snippets to show just what its like to participate in this expedition to one of the most remote and hard to reach places on the planet.

EmperorsExpedition2016-20102-Edit

In other news my blog has just gone through a fairly major behind the scenes update over the last few days. Most of the changes that needed to be made are ‘under the hood’, but there are a few cosmetic changes. As a result of these necessary upgrades you may need to re-subscribe if you want to be kept updated (apologies for that – it was unavoidable).

Lastly, to those of you who asked about Part Two of the Master the Craft series of articles, I am hoping to have Part Two ready late next week and will publish as soon as possible. Website updates, printing and life have just got in the way this week…

Namibia 2018 Desert Fire Safari Report

In October of 2018 this year I lead my semi-annual landscape and wildlife workshop to Namibia in Africa. This was my fourth workshop to the desert of Namibia and the first time I had ventured north into the wildlife rich region of Etosha.

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It was also the first time I have scheduled this workshop for October (instead of April / May when there is often more cloud). October was a deliberate choice for this safari as it is the end of the dry season in Etosha. Water is at its most scarce and the wildlife is thus forced to congregate around the last few remaining watering holes whilst they wait for the rains and the start of the wet season. It can be very hot this time year but I personally found it no worse than April / May and as it turned out we had the added bonus of clouds during our morning sessions at Deadvlei.

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We began our workshop in the capital city of Windhoek with a short one hour flight down to the coastal town of Luderitz where we spent the next three days photographing the Ghost town of Kolmonskop and the abandoned diamond mine at Elizabeth Bay. For 2018 I made the decision to fly the group from Windhoek down to Luderitz to save two days driving in the heat of the desert. This gave us more time for photography during our trip and saved many hours on the hot and dusty roads. The short one hour flight also gave us some absolutely spectacular aerial views of the landscape.

Namibia

Kolmonskop remains one of the most fantastic places I have yet found to photograph abandoned buildings. Although this location is heavily photographed and frequently visited we had special permission to enter before sunrise and stay late until after sunset, meaning we had the entire location to ourselves for each and every visit. With its shifting sands Kolmonkop is an ever changing location that is never the same between visits. Despite having visited this location no less than a dozen times now I am still finding new and interesting compositions amongst the sand filled ruins and we spent many hours combing the buildings in search of interesting photographs.

Namibia

One of the real highlights of this trip for me was a first time visit to Elizabeth Bay (located near the coast not far from Kolmonskop). I have been trying to get permits and access into Elizabeth Bay for four years now and it was absolutely fantastic to finally be granted access to this remarkable location. I had first heard about Elizabeth Bay from Michael Reichmann more than a decade ago now. Two years ago I was finally able to get permits to enter, which were subsequently cancelled and withdrawn just two weeks before we were due to enter (no explanation given). This time luck was on our side and our permits held up and we were able to spend half a day exploring the many ruins of this now abandoned mine.

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Elizabeth Bay is one of the most remarkable locations I have ever visited for rusted relics and abandoned buildings. Unlike Kolmonskop, Elizabeth Bay is far more industrial in nature. The entire site is littered with rusted and abandoned mining equipment that would keep any ‘rust-hound’ photographer happy for days on end. The size and scale of the abandoned mining operation needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. We spent the better part of half a day in this area but could have easily made repeat visits.

From Luderitz we drove up to the Namib desert where we visited the Sossusvlei region that included several trips into Deadvlei and the spectacular dune corridor. During our time in this area we stayed inside the actual park so that we could access both Deadvlei and the dune corridor at first light. Both Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are extremely popular sites and the benefit of being able to be first on site is not to be underestimated. We were fortunate to have Deadvlei to ourselves on several occasions at first light.

Namibia

Whilst in Sossusvlei we also took the opportunity for multiple helicopter flights (doors removed) over the dunes at both sunrise and sunset. Helicopter flights over the dune sea are an absolute highlight with limitless compositions to be found in the gigantic dune sea. We were also fortunate to encounter some fog as we approached the coastline which added even more interest to an already superb landscape. During several flights we also photographed Oryx in the dunes.

Namibia

From Sossusvlei we headed north to Etosha with an overnight stop at the scenic Erongo wilderness lodge. Erongo is a page out of the Jurassic era with its giant granite boulders and its mountainous surroundings. There is a limitless amount of landscape potential to be found in this area and it can also be a fantastic place for star trails and astro photography.

During our time in Etosha we stayed on both the Eastern and Western ends of the park in order to give us maximum variety across this huge area. Our accomodations were private high end lodges equiped with fantastic views, air conditioning and much more. We had both morning and afternoon game drives with great photographic sightings that included both White and Black Rhino, Lions (including lions on a kill), Lion cubs, Hyena, Elephants, Giraffe, Leopard (although this was a nice sighting it was not a photographic opportunity as the Leopard was heavily obscured by scrub), Zebra, Springbok, Oryx and much more. Of course there were also many fantastic birds of prey including Marshall Eagles, Tawny Eagles, Brown Snake Eagles, Pale-chanting Gosshawk and many more on top of all the other bird species. The personal highlight for me was the Leopard sighting; even though I did not get a photograph this time.

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This was my first visit to Etosha and I found the white earth / sand of this region to be absolutely superb for wildlife photography (Etosha literally means ‘Great White Place’). The combination of dry white earth, dust and a parched landscape is highly complimentary to the wildlife and I personally found it really helped in the creation of evocative imagery. The irony of the similarities to a snow covered landscape was not lost on me. Etosha itself is one of Southern Africa’s finest and most important game reserves. The park itself is dominated by a massive white mineral pan (hence its name) that provides a fantastic backdrop for wildlife imagery.

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One of the frustrations with all safari wildlife photography is the inability to get out of the vehicle to best position yourself and to get as low as possible. Etosha (and indeed all game parks in this region) is no different in this regard; however, I found the best solution for this was to shoot with a long lens. The long lens minimises the ‘top-down’ look and can be used very effectively to give the illusion that the photograph was taken from much lower down than it actually was. As a result I shot almost exclusively with the Canon 400mm f2.8 L IS MKII with and without a 1.4 extender when I was in the safari vehicle. This approach worked well for me and it was a rare occasion when I felt the need to go wider. In addition I had organised for a second safari vehicle so that we had heaps of room for each person and their equipment. The second vehicle meant it was also possible to shoot from both sides of the 4-wheel drive without having to turn the car for each side.  If you are planning any sort of safari to Africa I strongly recommend you make sure your chosen company has made similar arrangements. There would be nothing more frustrating than being on the wrong side of the vehicle during a fantastic sighting and photographic opportunity. Note: All GPS metadata for the Rhino photograph below with full horn has been stripped. This very rare white Rhino was photographed in the wild in Namibia – but not at a location I have mentioned.

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Once finished in Etosha we wrapped up our return journey to the capital Windhoek and concluded with a farewell dinner in one of Windhoeks best restaurants.

This workshop was in many ways a ‘best-of’ Namibia and from what I have seen of the photographs taken by all who participated there have been some absolute gems. We had some wonderful light and moments throughout the trip that will make this one I will remember for a very long time.

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To those of you who have already asked about a future Namibia trip: I have tentative plans at this stage to possibly return in October of 2020. I hope to have more details early next year once I have a clearer picture of my schedule for 2020. Of course, if you want to get the drop on it and be amongst the first to be notified please just drop me an email.