Photo of the Month June 2019 – Golden Eagle Landing

The photograph of the month for June 2019 is of a magnificent Golden Eagle coming into land on the snow in northern Finland in winter. Photographed from a private hide during my Finland workshop in February earlier this year (Read the Trip Report); the image was captured with a Canon EOS 1DX MKII and 600mm F4L IS MKII Lens (I had not yet updated to the MKIII). The key to capturing really sharp, powerful moments of birds in flight such as this is a combination of anticipating the animals behaviour and having everything set and ready on your camera so that once the action starts you are immediately shooting and not fumbling with settings. In this case, I knew it would be really difficult to accurately track the eagle with a single focus point  (even with surrounding focus points) as it came in to land at high speed, so I used multiple points with ‘Case 3’ Auto Focus (telling the camera to instantly focus on objects as they came into frame). I also ensured I stopped down the lens enough for adequate depth of field in case the focus points grabbed the tip of the wing (as they are prone to do) to give me the best possible chance. I set my cameras shutter speed to at least 1/1000th of a second and to high speed capture at 12 frames per second which meant as long as I could keep the eagle in frame I was going to get sharp images.

Tasmania II Workshop Departure and Packing List 2019

A week of R&R has quickly rolled past and tomorrow I am starting the second of two back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean road in Victoria and World Heritage Forests and Wild Coasts of Tasmania. Although I have been to Tasmania countless times in the course of my life I never tire of returning to this wonderfully quiet corner of the world. Smattered with primordial old growth forest, pristine rivers and wild and rocky coastlines the landscape opportunities are as fantastic as they are varied. Perhaps best of all, there are still many opportunities to create strong and unique photographs that transcend those captured in the many over touristed locations found around the world today – it is in many ways virgin ground. I have been so taken with the untapped potential on offer in Tasmania that I have decided to return in May next year 2020 and offer one more landscape workshop to Van Diemens land and its primordial forests and coastlines. I will have full details soon, but you can pre-register your interest by dropping me an email at info@jholko.com

Shifting gears somewhat, and hot on the heels of my recent (and somewhat controversial as it turns out) post on ‘Why the DSLR is here for many years to Come *’ are some more thoughts on where mirrorless cameras actually fall into action for the working professional (and serious amateur). Despite what some might believe, I am not against mirrorless cameras (I actually just purchased one – A Canon EOS R). I believe mirrorless cameras hold some significant advantages over traditional DSLR cameras for certain applications and in certain situations. Firstly, mirrorless cameras (the bodies anyway – For some reason mirrorless lenses are often bigger and heavier than their mirrored cousins) are generally much smaller and lighter than their traditional DSLR counterparts. This makes them ideal for hiking and travel. EVF’s (Electronic View Finders) also offer some added additional capability not found in a traditional SLR Mirror camera. Features such as a live histogram in the viewfinder, zebras (for blown out areas) and focus peaking are all really useful features.  The problem with EVF’s to date is their tendency to simply shut down and stop working once they are exposed to temperatures below -10º Celsius for extended periods. Granted, this isn’t going to be an issue for most people, but if you plan to photograph in the world’s Polar Regions at any stage it bears serious consideration. Battery life is also a serious problem in cold weather. The extra current draw required for EVF’s results in dramatically shorter battery time in sub zero temperatures. I have watched photographers struggle with mirrorless battery life on recent cold weather workshops in the Arctic and the necessity to swap batteries in and out on a regular basis is a royal pain in the rear end. By comparison I can get multiple days out a Canon EOS 1DX MKII battery in temperatures as low as -35º Celsius and shoot thousands of frames. No mirrorless camera can do that (yet). Nor, can any mirrorless camera match the focus speed and accuracy of a 1DX MKII in the sort of conditions in which I frequently find myself shooting. I know much of the mirrorless hype would have you believe otherwise, but actual real world experience in the field has shown me it simply is not the case. Nor can any mirrorless camera yet match the rugged build and reliability of a 1DX MKII. That time may come, but today the weapon of choice for serious wildlife work in inclement conditions has to be the Canon EOS 1DX MKII (and its Nikon equivalent).  That said, mirrorless cameras most definitely offer some significant advantages for landscape photography (in all but the harshest of conditions) and that is why I decided to add a Canon EOS R mirrorless to my arsenal.  I did seriously consider the Fuji GFX50 (and its new big brother the GFX100), but ultimately decided the lack of native tilt shift lenses was a deal breaker for me. Especially since the larger sensor in the Fuji results in even shallower depth of field.

For my second Great Ocean Road and Tasmania workshop I am packing the following:

  • 1 x Canon EOS R Mirrorless w/ Really Right Stuff L Bracket (with spare batteries)
  • 1 x Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • 1 x Canon 24-70mm F4L IS Lens
  • 1 x Canon 24mm F3.5L TSE Lens
  • 1 x Canon 100-400mm F3.5-5.6L MKII Lens
  • 1 x Canon 1.4 TC MKIII
  • 1 x Gitzo GT3533S Carbon Fibre Tripod with an Arca Swiss D4 Geared Head
  • 1 x Set of Nisi Graduated Filters w/ V6. Holder and Polariser
  • 1 x Set of Lee Neutral Density Filters

This will be my first foray into serious landscape photography with my own personal mirrorless camera and I am really looking forward to seeing how it performs in the field. I decided to opt for the EF adapter with the added functionality of the control ring (which I have left at its default setting for Aperture control). Since I primarily plan to use this camera for tripod landscape photography I decided not to purchase any native RF lenses, but rather adapt my current EF lenses (especially my TSE lenses). The addition of the 1.4 TC MKIII is mostly for use on the 24mm TSE lens (turning it into a 35mm TSE Lens).  The keen eyed amongst you might also note the addition of a suite of Nisi Filters. Yes, I recently upgraded from my rather scratched, much loved, but well and truly worn out ‘LEE resin filters’. See you in Tasmania!

* Addendum – It seems Ricoh agrees with me. The DSLR is here for many years to come.

Polar Bears of the High Arctic 2020 Expedition Announcment

Bookings are now open for my 2020 Polar Bears of the High Arctic expedition to Svalbard in July next year. (Read the report from last years expedition). The expedition runs from the 6th of July until the 15th of July and is strictly limited to twelve participants (some places already spoken for).

The High Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination. Nowhere is it more accessible than the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located deep within the Arctic Circle. Nowhere else can the Polar Bear be seen more reliably in its natural habitat, and photographing these magnificent animals will be our main objective. We will also search for walrus and the other wildlife of the region. Dramatic glaciers, plunging cliffs and beautiful drift ice formations will be present as well.Our intention is to sail directly north from the small town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard to approximately 80o degrees north, to the very edge of the permanent pack ice. At our northerly most point we will likely be less than 600 miles from the North Pole and depending on the sea ice we may get even closer. We will be using the ice hardened expedition ship M.S Freya that will enable us to skirt the edge of the pack ice searching for and photographing Polar Bears. M.S Freya is widely regarded as the best ship in the Arctic for Polar Bear Photography. With low-lying decks and operable portholes a mere 60cm above the water line we can photograph at eye level with wild Polar Bears. Our expedition ship is also equipped with sufficient zodiacs (2 x Zodiac MKV models) and crew for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment – So bring what you need!Watch the expedition video ‘Kingdom of the Ice Bear’ to get an idea of what this expedition entails.If you are excited by the idea of traveling to the edge of the permanent pack ice to photograph Polar Bears in their natural environment with a small group of dedicated photographers now is the time to secure the very last place. You can download a detailed PDF itinerary HERE. You can check out testimonials from previous participants HERE.

Why use Super Fast Telephoto Lenses for Wildlife?

Why use an f2.8 (or other super fast) telephoto lens for your wildlife work when modern cameras are so good at high ISO?

It’s a good question; and one I get asked on a frequent basis on the workshops and expeditions I run in the world’s polar regions. The truth is, super fast telephoto lenses do weigh more than their f4 or slower equivalents and that can be an issue schlepping them through airports; especially if you are unfortunate enough to run into any airport staff having a particularly bad day. Just as an aside,  the latest generation MK3 super-telephoto lenses from Canon are now much lighter than their predecessors, so the issue of weight is starting to disappear. Super fast telephoto lenses also cost more than their slower, smaller and lighter brethren; but there are some BIG advantages that far outweigh the extra weight (and cost) if capturing something special and unique is your goal. The most obvious advantage a super fast telephoto lens brings to the party is the shallow depth of field obtainable with a wide open aperture; which for wildlife can be a real boon in isolating the subject from its background. In addition, a wide aperture gives you a faster shutter speed; which in low light can make the difference between a sharp shot and a blurry one. A very good friend of mine recently waxed-lyrical, ‘Which would you rather? A sharp grainy image, or a soft blurry one? Well, truth be known I want to eat my cake and as such I want a sharp shot with a soft background free from excessive grain! And thankfully you and I can have it with a super fast telephoto lens strapped to a modern digital camera.

The third and probably the most useful (although vastly underrated) feature of a fast super telephoto lens (after creative DOF control) is you gain access to a lot more cross-type auto focus points and thus significantly faster and more accurate auto focus. The benefit of cross type points is more than considerable with moving wildlife and is in my experience often the difference between a sharp capture and one that doesn’t quite make it. The photograph above of a polar bear on the sea ice in Svalbard was shot with the Canon 400mm f2.8L IS MKII wide open at f2.8 in low light (I recently updated to the MKIII version of this lens, but have not yet had a chance to use it in the field). You just cant replicate this creamy bokeh and ‘look’ with a significantly slower lens. Nor could I have achieved the shutter speed I wanted and needed in the light conditions I was shooting in with a slower lens. If you are not familiar with cross-type auto focus points then its well worth your time to either break out your manual (that paper book thing that used to ship with a new camera) or read up online about the differences. Cross types are one of the best ‘guns’ in any wildlife photographers arsenal.

Why the DSLR is Here to Stay for Many Years to Come

Very recently F-Stoppers published a short article titled ‘Why the World’s Best Photographers are sticking with DSLR’s‘. Whilst I find the articles title to be nothing more than a poorly veiled ‘click bait’ effort; the nuts and bolts of the article are both accurate and profound (and I find myself in full agreement with the articles conclusions based on my own experience in the field). The article is well worth five minutes of your time if you want to understand why the DSLR is still the weapon of choice for a great many professional photographers, why photographers (myself included) still choose a DSLR for our serious photography and why the DSLR is going to be around for many years to come (as a matter of supplementary evidence Canon has stated several times in recent weeks it is not finished with EF lens development!) You can read the full article over at F-Stoppers HERE.