Arctic Fox 2019 Expedition Underway

A few days ago I arrived back in Iceland (wonderful to see Reykjavik blanketed in snow) and have now made my way up north to the small town of Isafjord in the west fjords. Tomorrow we will begin my Arctic Fox expedition with a private charter boat ride out to the remote cabin in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve where we will be based for the next week. Unlike the hide I was photographing from in Finland there is no internet access in this part of northern Iceland and as such this will be my last update for the next week or so until we return at the conclusion of the expedition.

I have been photographing, leading and guiding Arctic Fox expeditions in this part of Iceland for many years now and it never gets any less exciting to be poised on the eve of this expedition. The opportunities to photograph this tenacious little predator in a beautiful, peaceful and quiet winter setting is unmatched in my experience. This years workshop has long been sold out and there are now only two places remaining on the 2020 expedition before it will also be sold out. If you are keen to photograph one of Nature’s greatest feats of engineering in its natural environment then drop me an email to register your interest.

Gura Gear Pro Team Re-Launch 2019

Late last year Gura Gear re-launched their much loved brand of camera bags. After a roughly year long hiatus our favourite camera bag maker is back with new and refined versions of the bags so many of us have come to love for our photographic travels.  With the re-launch of the Gura Gear line comes the re-launch of the new Pro Team and I am proud to again be among the founding members of the new Pro Team.

Full Press Release: GuraGear, LLC, an industry leader in ultra lightweight, innovative carrying solutions for photographers and videographers, announced today the launch of its newly updated website. This new website provides users with detailed information about current product offerings and will feature information about upcoming products as Gura Gear updates its product lines. The new website goes live today, February 13th, 2019 and is located at: http://www.guragear.com

The new website details the technical innovations on the recently updated Kiboko line of camera backpacks and includes product comparison charts for each of the backpacks in the Kiboko 2.0 line. Also featured is the newly updated Et Cetera 2.0 line of accessory cases and pouches, designed specifically for the modern, global traveler.

The Gura Gear website will feature the work of our Pro Team members – a select group of highly accomplished photographers that help develop and evaluate new products. “We are very excited to reconnect with the Gura Gear community and create a platform to present compelling content,” Andy Biggs, Gura Gear co-founder. Currently, our Pro Team members include Andy Biggs, Joshua Holko and Jodie and will expand in 2019.

Gura Gear’s website will be regularly updated with new product announcements and fresh, exciting content from our Pro Team partners. Visitors can sign up for direct emails from the Company at https://www.guragear.com/contact/

My Ethos to Judging Photography Competitions

With Australasia’s Top Emerging Photographer competition closing in just a few days time I thought I would take a few moments to discuss my approach and ethos to judging photographic competitions (since I was recently asked and seeing as I am one of the Professional Judges in Capture’s competition). My thoughts on judging photographic competitions are quite different to entering them (since I no longer enter competitions that do not judge the print) and it should be said that the below criteria is not definitive; but is rather a rough sketch outline of what I look for when judging photographic competitions. Just as an aside, part of the reason I personally no longer enter most competitions is I have grown to dislike the consideration of photography as a competitive sport.

Right off the bat, it should also be said that there are important key differences between judging print and digital competitions. Given the luxury of choice, I will opt to judge print competitions every single time (to those of you who follow my blog that should be no surprise). I am a huge fan of the printed image and at least for me the online jpeg is nothing but a poor facsimile by comparison. I wont wax lyrical anymore on this subject in this post, but I do wish more competitions went to the effort to judge the printed image.

Before we even dive into the criteria by which I consider any entry in a photographic competition it is important to clarify that to a very large degree photographic competitions are subjective. Photography competitions are definitely not a one hundred metre sprint with a clear timed winner. Rather, they are subjective and open to judges opinions and interpretation. All judges bring their own bias to the table – what is important for judges to remember at all times though is to try and minimise those biases and respect the entrants work; even if it does suffer from multiple flaws or even if the judge doesn’t like the subject. Being truly impartial is not easy, but its mandatory as a judge if we want to be fair to all entrants.

On first view of any competition entry image the very first thing I assess is the emotional impact of the photograph (assuming it has one as many don’t!). Does the entry immediately grab me and does it trigger an emotional response? It had better if it wants to make it to the next round of judging. An emotional response to an image doesn’t have to be powerful and jaw dropping either, it can be a very subtle calming feeling that is bought on by just the right subject that has been delicately and carefully handled and crafted. During this initial viewing, I like to ask myself how the photograph makes me feel and if the photograph evokes feelings or communicates a clear and concise message. If the photographs message is confused, without clear meaning or emotion then it usually fails to make it past the first round. Triggering an emotional response in a viewer with a two dimensional photograph is far from easy, but it is one of the most important elements and cornerstones to any great photograph. Emotional impact is far more important than any technical aspects, such as how sharp or soft the photograph might be.

Just as an aside, many entrants fall into the trap of over saturating their photographs to try and wow judges. This sledgehammer cliché is a bound to win a one way ticket to the trash heap. Judicious use of colour is key to any successful and powerful photograph. Each colour should enhance the subject; not slam the viewer across the head. Giving the viewer a sense of colour and letting the imagination fill in the blanks is a far more powerful mandate that many would do well to adopt.

Regardless of wether the competition is print or digital there are certain key technical criteria that need to be met in any entry. Firstly, the image or print needs to be properly exposed. An entry can be under or overexposed, provided that it is a deliberate creative decision by the photographer and that their decision enhances the subject and final image (High Key images are a great example). Any entry that should have been correctly exposed, but is not is never going to make it past the first round of judging.  Likewise an image with blown highlights or crushed shadows is also destined for the trash heap in the first round of judging unless the same creative caveat above applies. Any entry that has had an overly heavy handed approach to its post production is also likely to win an early exit. Post production should be utilised to enhance the subject and should not end up ‘being’ the subject. Setting just the right white balance with just the right amount of contrast, colour and other correction is a vital skill for photographers to master (irrespective of wether they compete in competitions).

The entry also needs to be sharp where required and if required (not all images need to be sharp!) A great many entries I have judged across multiple competitions are either over or under sharpened. The right amount of sharpening is an absolutely key element in post production and is one a great many photographers make a complete mess of.

When it comes to composition the entry needs to be thoughtfully well composed. The eye should not be led immediately out of the frame, or left to wander aimlessly around the print. Instead, the eye should be guided through the photograph before coming to rest on the key element/s. It should be a pleasurable experience for the eyes (even if its a difficult subject) to view the photograph. If I have the opportunity I will often turn the entry upside down. Turning the image upside down often reveals problems with a photographs composition that may not have been immediately obvious in a quick viewing.

In the case of print judging, the technical quality of the print needs to be assessed. Is the print sharp where it needs to be? Is the colour rendition accurate and / or pleasing? Are there any obvious flaws in the print such as posteriztion, blocked up shadows or blown highlights? Are the tonal transitions smooth and does the print have a sense of depth? These, along with other print specific criteria make up a large part of judging the printed image. Print judging is really its own seperate post as even the lighting under which the print is viewed plays a key factor.

Once I get past the technical aspects I then have a final look over the photograph to see if there is anything I have missed. Occasionally at this point I will pick up an easter egg (something not immediately obvious that really adds to the photograph) or a flaw I missed earlier. It is also often at this point that I might find a dust spot that has been missed during post production or some other issue that I did not catch at first.

When it comes to degree of difficulty judges have to be extremely careful not to act on assumptions about the photograph or how they believe it may have been captured. Unless clear and concise information is provided by the entrant on exactly how the photograph was made and any difficulties encountered to make the photograph it is virtually impossible for a judge to accurately gauge an images degree of difficulty. Judging degree of difficulty is therefore a very slippery slope that needs to be traversed with extreme caution by all judges.

Certain competitions lay down guidelines on what the judges should look for and these rules (for lack of a better word) have to figure heavily in a judges scoring. As a judge if you are provided a set of guidelines and disagree with them you should respectfully bow out from the judging (I have had to do this in the past on two occasions). Personally, I prefer it when I am not railroaded by a set of guidelines as it means the competition is truly open and that the organisers have open minds to the winning entries. They are not visualising a certain subject or style as the winning entry (never a good thing). Thankfully most competitions set the judges free to use their professional experience and judgement to the best of their ability.

Lastly, if you are an entrant you should always keep in mind that your score in a competition reflects nothing more than one (or more) judges subjective opinion/s. Given a different judge on a different day you might well score a different result.  Generally speaking though if a competition has chosen its professional judges carefully then there should be a general consensus across most entries.  It does however never cease to amaze me how professional photographers who frequently judge competitions can have such differing views and scores on a single image. Its this individual opinion that makes competitions so subjective and at least in my view is why photography should not be considered a competitive sport.

Photograph of the Month February 2019

The photograph of the month for February 2019 is from my 2018 private snow mobile expedition to photograph Polar Bears on the frozen sea ice in Svalbard. Some of you may recall from my trip report, I travelled around 3000km on snow mobile over a period of three-weeks last year in search of Polar Bears on the sea ice. During that time I was able to find just one Polar Bar – this one. Fortunately for me he was nestled nicely in amongst some pressure ridge ice.

Australasia’s Top Emerging Photographers 2019 Pro Judge

This year I will be judging both the landscape and travel categories for Capture Magazines ‘Australasia’s Top Emerging Photographers’ competition. Australasia’s Top Emerging Photographers recognises, encourages, and promotes talented photographers in the early stages of their careers. Winners and runners-up will be showcased in the May/June 2019 issue of Capture and will share in more than $26,000 in cash and prizes. If you fit the bill for an emerging photographer be sure to get your entries in soon!