Landmannalugar Iceland

Casting off for Jewels of the Arctic

The time has come to cast off for Jewels of the Arctic.  I sit here writing this post from a hotel in Reykjavik after spending 2 weeks travelling to select locations in Iceland with my good friend and colleague Joshua Holko.  Two weeks of immense beauty and amazing light.  

Landmannalugar stands out as my favourite location in Iceland if I had to pick any one place. The light was absolutely amazing and the location is simply stunning.

Landmannalugar Iceland  

Now as I take a pause to catch up on correspondence, to talk to my family and repack my gear for the next expedition its hard not to feel a little trepidation along with the building excitement.  Two weeks discovering the East Coast of Greenland, Scoresby Sund, Kaiser Franz Josef Fjord, up to the Polar ice pack and across to Svalbard is something I look so forward to every year. The ounce of trepidation I feel is for the escalating geological activity with the Bárðarbunga Volcano that we patiently observed for a number of days whilst here in Iceland.  The most recent seismic activity report lists 2002 tremors within the last 48hrs.  

As much as it would have been ideal to have an eruption to shoot whilst here in Iceland, I have a gut feeling it will erupt whilst we're out at sea and incommunicado over the next two weeks.  

Putting the Photographer in me aside, a part of trepidation is the effect such an eruption will have on the landscape and people of Iceland.  The Bárðarbunga Volcano is ten times the size of the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano that erupted in 2010 and is under 700m of ice.  The devastation of a massive eruption will be unfathomable; both the physical and financial.  

For me now the focus is on the Jewels of the Arctic Photography Expedition ahead to ensure our clients and ourselves have another amazing Arctic experience.  

 

Travel Insurance and delayed luggage

I've always been an advocate of travel insurance. Actually its mandatory for any one participating in my expeditions.   As I've said in the past, travel insurance can be the difference between having an unfortunate event on an expedition and having an unfortunate event with a big bill!   For me, this is the first time I've had to claim on travel insurance and to be honest I've been left a bit out of pocket.  Travelling to Iceland for 2 weeks of camping in the Highlands and then onto the fjords of Greenland and Svalbard meant I had packed a lot of cold climate and wet weather gear.  To cut a long story short, I arrived in Keflavik, Iceland but my luggage didn't.   Delayed luggage happens. And it happens more than you think.  Normally it arrives a  few days after you.  Sadly for me, my luggage went AWOL.  The airlines could only tell me it was lost somewhere between Qatar and Oslo.   Given that I had a schedule for my trip, I couldn't sit around waiting for luggage so I had to buy the gear I needed and borrow from a friend that which he had available. I didn't go out and buy expedition class gear as I expected my luggage could arrive anytime soon.  Upon calling my insurance company I soon realised I was only covered for $500 of delayed luggage allowance.  $500 doesn't go far.  Actually a good outer shell jacket is $500.  And then theres pants, an insulated jacket, undergarments, thermals, gloves etc etc.   After waiting 2 days only to be told the airline had no idea where my luggage was, I got out the credit card and started shopping.  My bill for even for mediocre wet weather garments, thermals, wind stopper, tops etc well and truly exceeded by insurance allowance by 200%.  If I couldn't have borrowed a sleeping bag I'd be up for another $500.   Be sure you check what your travel insurance does and doesn't cover especially with regards to delayed luggage allowances.   If you're travelling to South Georgia and Antarctica or Jewels of the Arctic, the ship will not wait for your delayed luggage (or mine).  You'll need to buy new gear for your expedition at local prices as it is impossible to travel without the right gear unless you intend to sit on the bridge for 2-3 weeks.   Iceland is far from reasonable with regards to pricing whilst Svalbard is bordering on obscene whilst insurance allowances depending on your insurance, may leave you significantly out of pocket.   When purchasing travel insurance make sure:
  • the delayed luggage coverage meets your needs if you need to buy gear

  • fly in early and give yourself a few days leeway and absorb some local culture for a few days before commencing an expedition

  By doing the above two steps you could avoid being significantly out of pocket and without the gear you need for your expedition.   I've been informed by the airline baggage service than my luggage has been found 9 days later. It has an incorrect airline tag, it had been taken by someone who had mistaken my bag for theres and has been returned to the airport.  Minus a padlock and minus my luggage tag with my contact details but luckily the airline found one of my business cards inside and called me.   As to what remains of the contents of my bag its yet to be seen....

Packing Camera Gear for Iceland and Jewels of the Arctic

Once again I am packing camera gear for an expedition.  At times I do wonder if I should leave my bags packed and not bother unpacking them!   This time I'm packing camera gear for a personal two week 4WD and camping photography expedition in Iceland  followed by a two week  photography expedition with clients into the Arctic Circle up the East Coast of Greenland to the Polar ice pack and across to Svalbard.   Being two distinctly different styles of expeditions has meant I've had to pack quite a lot of extra equipment.   First and foremost is camping gear.  Camping out for 2 weeks in a tent means I'm packing things like bedrolls, sleeping bags, thermal bag liners and other camping goodies.  Luckily my travel companion has sourced a lot of camping equipment locally from a friend negating the need to pack all things camping.  Thank goodness as my excess luggage is already excessive!!! Being out in the field for days on end we've got an Inverter in the 4WD which ensures we have electricity available to use for charging batteries, power laptops etc when we return to our 4WD and tents to sleep. That said, we'll be day hiking to quite a few locations where our trusty suped-up 'Iceland style' 4WD just can't go which will see me out in the field for extended periods of time, so I'm loading up on the batteries.  Whilst I may not use all the batteries I'm packing in a day, with the long charging time of the batteries I do have, I figure its best to have at least 2 days worth of batteries available.  Shooting video as well as stills, my battery consumption will be significantly higher than shooting stills alone. Along with AC battery chargers, I've also got a couple of 12V cigarette lighter fed battery chargers so I can get as many batteries charged as possible. With my goal of shooting lots of video footage during both expeditions, my portable HDD count has gone through the roof.  Last year just shooting stills I took my laptop and 1 portable HDD so I had two copies of all my media.   Most of the video content I capture is done directly to an SSD in my Atomos Ninja in ProRes 422 which requires a considerable amount of storage per minute of footage and given my nearly religious dedication to making duplicates of all media shot during an expedition I am now equipped with a plethora of  of portable HDDs.  I'd love to be able to store a single copy of my laptop and a 2nd copy on my portable HDD but unfortunately Apple doesn't offer the Macbook Pro with a 8TB SSD option nor could I justifying the financial outlay of buying one should they exist. But portable HDDs are not the bane of my efforts in packing camera gear.  My collection of tripod heads I will use of these two expeditions are a weighty amount of gear in their own right. My trusty Really Right Stuff BH-55 comes everywhere. I love it. Its perfect for landscapes and combined with my RRS L-Brackets and even my 4th Generation designs replacement lens feet. It just works and it works well.  My Jobu Design Jr. 3 Deluxe Gimbal head is in my bag. It works perfectly for shooting with my Canon 500mm f/4 IS MkII. (Look for a review coming soon on the Job Design Jr. 3 Deluxe Gimbal head). And to round out my my heads I have  Manfrotto 502HD Pro video fluid head.  This fluid head is great for video work. Its a good balance of features vs. price vs. weight and a welcome part of my kit when it comes to video work.  I'd love if I could get a tripod head that would be perfect for video, long lenses and landscapes and work with my L brackets and wasn't too bulky or heavy but I'm not sure if the perfect utility head exists. Along with my tripod, a DSLR Video cage and a slider the sheer bulk of camera equipment support gear I'm amassing as I look at my gear is worrying when I consider my weight restrictions.  I'm well into the excess luggage realm and pre-purchasing an extra luggage allowance for my return flights. With a selection of Canon 35mm lenses covering from 17mm to 500mm, extenders  and two Camera bodies my 'carry-on' luggage is getting up there.  I'd love to be able to check in my camera gear in a couple of locked Pelican cases but after all the footage circulating on the internet of baggage handlers treating luggage akin to throwing out the trash I have zero confidence of any of my camera gear arriving at Iceland in the same state as I packed it in Australia. For trips later in the year, I'll investigate sending my gear via priority shipping to my hotel so its there when I arrive rather than trying to do the luggage shuffle with way too much gear! For more information of what to pack for an Arctic Photography Expedition have a look at my Arctic Circle Photography Packing List recommendations

Limited Berths Available – Spirit of Antarctica

All our other Antarctic expeditions sold out for 2014 but luckily we have a limited few places left on the amazing Spirit of Antarctica Expedition.If you have been hanging to visit Antarctica, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to there!   Less than 10,000 people get to see Antarctica per year. The majority of these people are on scenic flights or on large ocean liners viewing Antarctica from afar. They never get to set foot on Antarctica itself, let alone get up close and personal with what the Antarctic has to offer.   On the Spirit of Antarctica Photography Expedition you will set foot on the continent itself,  see antarctic wild life up close,  skirt around mammoth icebergs in zodiacs and if you're up for it,  camp a night on Antarctica itself!! This is an amazing opportunity to be one of the very few people on our great planet to see Antarctica and to be one of the extremely small minority of people who get to really experience the true spirit of Antarctica.  
Antartica Expedition

Spirit of Antarctica Photography Expedition

There are limited berths available so please contact me directly to see if we have a berth left that suits you.    If you'd like more details and the itinerary for the Spirit of Antarctica Photography Expedition, please visit the trip page here.

Once you’ve gone Mac you’ll never go back …

Once you've gone Mac you'll never go back ... or so the saying goes.  I've been a PC guy for many years, decades in fact.

My life started with my first PC, an IBM Clone XT with 640KB of RAM an 5 1/4" floppy drive, 10MB hard disk and a 16 color EGA screen.  It was the best thing in the world back in the 80s.

Over the years there have been numerous PCs in my life. I'm quite well versed in PC hardware with each of my upgrades being an evolutionary upgrade of an existing machine. I've bought branded desktops and I've bought components.  In my previous life working as an IT professional I've used every brand of laptop know to man whilst working in the finance and telecommunications industries.  I've worked with numerous brands of Desktops and I've worked with Microsoft Windows in all its incarnations as well as nearly ever flavour of UNIX and I've also used Mac desktops.  So there was no fear of the unknown.

So the time had come around once again to replace my laptop.  My trusty ASUS was due for retirement  (or rather handed over to my wife to use as the worlds most over specc'd laptop for web browsing and email) so I was in the market for a new laptop.  I did the rounds, I looked at a variety of manufacturers including Lenovo, Asus, HP, Gigabyte, Dell, Toshiba as well as Apple.

In the end after testing out a variety of laptops, comparing specifications, comparing bang for bung charts and reading reviews I made my choice. I bought a new Macbook Pro 15" Retina.

So why buy an Apple Mac after years and years of being a PC man?

Well its simple.  I wanted a good clear screen, it had to be 15" screen, 16GB+ RAM, 512GB of SSD, Wireless 802.11ac, I wanted something that was a good weight and size, with a good clean finish, minimal exposed components on the side rear and top of the laptop body and excellent battery life.  The Macbook Pro embodied all that I was after which no other laptop did.  Price aside it was a simple choice.

I'm now coming up to 5 days on the Macbook Pro.   I've moved over my Creative Cloud subscription, installed all my apps. Migrated my LR catalog. Setup Time Machine and I'm editing photographs, making blog posts, writing invoices and generally back to being productive.

My favourite parts of the Mac experience so far

  • Battery life - when I'm web browsing and website designing and getting 6 hours+ from a full battery thats impressive.
  • Magsafe power connector - what a dream. This is what all laptops should have.  I've had to repair a number of previous laptops due to damage to power sockets.  And I've already caught a power cable on my foot and didn't pull my laptop off the table as the connector disconnected safely.  (Yes the change has paid for itself already)
  •  OS X - it has so many great features (though i do fear more iOS gimmicks are coming over to OS X)
  • Automator - I've written a few Automator workflows already. Mainly for handling media from my Atomos Ninja.  Whilst its not the most intuitive tool by any means it can get the job done.
  • Track pad. So many new gestures to learn, but Im getting there and they make navigating easier.
 

My least favourite parts of the new Mac experience so far

  • Finder - After years of working with Windows File Mangler now known as Explorer I find using Finder to be the biggest usability frustration of OS X.
  • I think Apple has a lot to learn from Microsoft with regards to full screen, maximise and minimising windows and docking windows to left and right.  Microsoft got this right. Apple in their latest WWDC has slated this will change in OS X Yosemite.
  • The built in Mail App crashed way too many times when setting up my IMAP email accounts but seems to have settled. Its on notice!
  • Keyboard shortcuts.  Command+ left/right arrow takes you to the start/end of line.  Option+left/right arrow takes to the previous/next word.  The next key across Control+Left/Right Arrow takes you to the next full screen app.  Logically where one place that short cut. Needless to say when navigating through this blog post to correct typos etc has me switching between full screen apps rather than between sections of text in Wordpress.
  • the looming notion in the back of my mind that I cannot upgrade the SSD in this laptop...  yet... C'mon Other World Computing make it happen!


So once you've gone Mac you'll never go back ... is it true?   Well it was pretty darn easy to jump over to the land of Apple, so I envisage I could just as easily go back to the land of PC.  But would I give up the comfort and safety of a Magsafe charger connection, awesome battery life, OS X and the finish on the Macbook Pro?

At this point its a' No'.

New Exclusive Antarctic Photography Expeditions for 2016

Its with great pleasure I can publicly announce two new Antarctic Photography Expeditions for 2016!  The Weddell Sea Explorer and Across the Antarctic Circle Photography Expeditions.

Across the Antarctic Circle

© Joshua Holko



The Weddell Sea Explorer Photography Expedition will be led by Moab Master Joshua Holko, Pro Nature Photography Daniel Bergmann and myself.  This Photography Expedition will embark on Tuesday 9 February 2016  and disembark on  Saturday 20 February 2016.   Sailing across the Bransfield Strait to the Antarctic Sound dawn where we'll encounter large tabular icebergs riding currents from the Weddell Sea. The Peninsula’s wild side, welcomes us with a contrasting landscape being  an ice-free landscape hiding renowned fossil beds and vast penguin colonies.

We will explore the Prince Gustav Channel, known for its fossil-rich Seymour Island. In stark contrast to the Weddell Sea’s wild isolation, the Peninsula’s west coast offers glaciated peaks rising from a maze of islands and waterways alive with seals, penguins and whales.

More details are coming.  Please look here for a full itinerary which will be published soon.

The second newly announced Photography Expedition is the Across the Antarctic Circle Photography Expedition.  This Photography Expedition led by Moab Master Joshua Holko and myself ventures into the Antarctic circle where very few Photography Expeditions have ventured before.  Heading down to to 66° 33’ South or even further. This Photography Expedition enters this frozen area of extraordinary beauty where powerful orcas and leopard seals patrol the waters whilst ethereal snow petrels grace the skies against a background of bristling mountain ranges and surreal icebergs. Threading our way through an intricate system of icy waterways, we sail for the glorious Crystal Sound at the mouth of The Gullet.

More details are coming. Please look here for a full itinerary which will be published soon.

These two new Photography Expeditions offer unparalleled access to some of the most remote parts of Antarctica travelled to by sea.

If you'd like more information with regards to these two exclusive Photography Expeditions, please contact me.

Photography Competitions – 5 Things To Consider Before Entering

We all love entering Photography Competitions but do we really sit back and look at the merits of each competition?   When entering photography competitions, here are the five things you really should consider before entering:
  •     Credibility
  •     Terms and Conditions
  •     Judges
  •     Cost
  •     Motivation
 

Credibility

The more credible, longer running and the more prestigous the competition the better.  Sadly today there are more photo competitions than you can poke a stick at and all too often the photography competitions are firmly aimed at getting free images to use for other purposes (travel companies and airlines are notorious for this).  I always recommend that you enter the more credible competitions especially the ones highly regarded within the photographic and press industries.  

Terms & Conditions

Just what exactly does entering this photography competition mean with regards to the use of your photographs?  By entering are you agreeing to give the organisers full perpertual exclusive rights usage for your image? Unlimited Rights Usage? Or do you only confer rights to only use the image in relation to the promotion of the photography competition?  It's good to know exactly what you are agreeing to when you enter a photo competition as all too often we hear about photography competitions that are just a rights grab to get your photos for free.  

Cost

Some photography competitions  are expensive, requiring matted prints, or if you're selected as a finalist prints to be delivered for assesment.  Make sure you know the costs up front before you decide to enter.  We all have a budget regarldess of size.  How you chose to spend your money is up to you.  But theres also a time consideration.  Entering 12 matted prints into a competition is not only an out of pocket expense, its a big time investment too.   Entering a large number of competitions is costly on both fronts so you really want to make sure you pick the best of the bunch to maximise your investment!  

Judges

Many photography competitions publish a list of who makes up their judging panels.  Do some research. If you're never heard of them and noone else has it can be a warning sign.  Highly regarded photographers and experienced judges hopefully will result in more consitent judging and hence a score that presents a more valuable tool to measure your photo.  That said many highly regarded competitions do no list their judging panels so do not fear when the World Press Photo, Australia Professional Photography Awards, Nature's Best or the likes of other extremely credible competitions don't publish a complete list of judges.  

Motivation

So what is your motvation for entering photography competitions? It may seem like a funny question to ask, but really what is in it for you? Are you entering the competition to compare your photographs with those of your peers? Are you hoping to win the grand prize?  Are you entering it because you are required to to seed into another competition? Are you entering it for exposure? Everyones motivations are different so its good to take a step back and ask yourself why you are entering each competition and whether each competition will be suitable.   Photography Competitions can be have many benefits, but there can also be quite a few downsides. So by taking a step back and considering the above 5 things before entering a photography competition should help you to ensure you make the most of your financial and time investment.