These are some of my personal favourite photographs from throughout each calendar year – one for each month. Higher resolution versions of all of these photographs can be seen on my portfolio website at www.jholko.com. None of my photographs are HDR (High Dynamic Range) or composite images. All photographs are captured from single exposures in the field. The majority of my photographs are processed in Adobe Lightroom.
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The photograph of the month for July 2021 comes from my last expedition to photograph Arctic Fox in February of 2020 (Read the Trip Report). This was a fabulous expedition and with the benefit of hindsight probably one of the best Arctic Fox photographic experiences I have ever been fortunate to have and share. It was the combination of co-operative wildlife and the sheer drama of the wild winter weather day-after-day that provided such wonderful and ongoing photographic opportunities.
This particular photograph works for me on multiple levels. The wonderful contrast of the snow sticking to the foxes fur and face (one of the reasons I actually prefer to photograph the blue morph fox in lieu of the generally more sought after white morph). The clean white snow background with the gentle shadow on the snow and the overall shape and gesture of the foxes position. With the foxes tail tucked up there is a very pleasing geometric shape to the fox. Finally, the direct eye connection with the fox adds the much needed viewer connection. Because the shadow under the fox does not extend all the way to the frames edges I was able to tilt the camera slightly and add just a little bit of tension to the frame by offsetting what the eye would otherwise expect to be a perfectly level horizontal line.
The photograph of the month for June 2021 comes from my 2020 winter workshop to Canada to photograph Snowy Owls. This was my second last workshop before the COVID pandemic that has ground travel more or less to a complete halt. This particular photograph was taken with the Canon EOS 1DX MK2 (I had not yet taken delivery of the 1DX MKIII) and the Canon EF400mm f2.8L IS MK3. Shot at f6.3 at 1/1000th of a second at ISO800 the key to making this photograph work is the blur in the wing tips that gives us the feeling and impression of movement. Focus on the owls eyes was critical given the shallow depth of field.
The photograph of the month for May 2021 is my winning image from the Natural World category in the 2021 AIPP Silver Lining Awards. Photographed in Canada in Winter in early 2020, I spent a lot of time experimenting with different shutter speeds to capture blur in the wings, but maintain sharp eyes and focus on the face. The ideal shutter speed ended up being 1/800th of a second at f5.6 in combination with panning with the subject. The key was try and keep focus on the eyes and not on the wings (which are the highest point of contrast). This photograph is pretty much straight out of camera with only a white and black point tweak and a slight white balance adjustment.
The photograph of the month for April 2021 comes from my scouting trip to Mongolia in Winter of 2019 to photograph the Pallas Cat (Read the Trip Report). One of my main goals for this field trip was not only to find the Pallas Cat, but to be able to photograph it in the snow. Generally, Pallas Cat do their best to stay out of the snow when possible. Their short legs makes it difficult for them to move quickly in deep snow. This photograph was taken right at the very end of the expedition on my very last day. When exposed and out in the open like this, Pallas Cat will often make itself very flat on the ground to make itself as inconspicuous as possible. Although the Pallas Cat is a predator, it is not at the top of the food chain and can end up as prey for some of the large Eagle species found across the country.
The photograph of the month for March 2021 comes from ‘no-mans’ land between northern Finland and Russia and is of a young wolf slinking across the water logged landscape during a late Autumn snowfall. This photograph appeals to me on multiple levels. There is a wonderful ‘hunters’ glean in the wolfs eyes that has both purpose and focus. The soft grasses in the foreground and the out of focus forest area in the distant background really add wonderful context and the first snows of winter add that wonderful touch of drama. Ultimately, this photograph works because it was taken at eye level with the subject, which draws the viewer into the wolfs world. Anytime you can photograph wildlife at eye level you have a strong chance of creating a far more intimate photograph than would otherwise be possible.
The photograph of the month for February 2021 comes from my last Emperor Penguin expedition to Gould Bay in Antarctica (I am really looking forward to returning in late 2022). One of the challenges with Emperor Penguin photography is being able to effectively isolate one or two penguins from the main colony (often easier said than done). As I have often quipped, Penguins have little respect for composition.
In this photograph, an isolated adult was in the process of feeding its young after returning from a fishing expedition. This was one of the photographs I was really hoping to capture during my last expedition. This is a moment that only lasts a few seconds and was something I made a very concerted effort to capture. Typically, one of the adults walks miles across the sea ice before spending its time fishing and subsequently returning to feed its chick. The actual feeding process lasts just a second or two before the other parent takes their turn to take the long walk across the sea ice to go fishing.
I want to kick off my photo of the month series for 2021 with an image I shot in January of 2020 of an Emperor Penguin on the sea ice in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica (Read the Trip Report). This was one of the very few Emperor Penguins we encountered on this expedition and the only Emperor we were actually able to photograph on the ice at eye level. Although we saw quite a few during the expedition almost all of them were either in the water or were at to great a distance to photograph. In this example, we landed on the frozen sea ice with our zodiacs for evening drinks and serendipity stepped in and provided a wonderful photographic opportunity. The Emperor penguin, curious about all the people on the ice, jumped out of the water onto the ice and proceeded to provide us a wonderful half hour session on the ice.