NEW GURA GEAR BATAFLAE BACKPACK REVIEW – IMPROVING ON PERFECTION

How do you take what is widely regarded by many photographers as one of the finest camera bags on the market and make it even better?

I was pondering this when the guys at Gura Gear first told me that they were working on an update to the very popular Kiboko 30L camera bag along with a range of new accessory storage bags called the ‘Et Cetera’ range.

A view to the East at Landmannalaugar

I was an early adopter of Gura Gear bags. After I returned from my first expedition to Iceland I realized how unhappy I had become with my then current camera bag (whose name shall remain anonymous). For a variety of reasons it was no longer satisfying my needs and I was on the lookout for a new lightweight bag that met airline carry-on restrictions for size but enabled me to carry more equipment comfortably into the field.  Anyone who has travelled domestically or internationally with camera equipment understands the importance of being able to carry equipment onto the airplane to avoid the risk of damage or theft in checked luggage. I therefore needed a bag that could not only hold all of my equipment, but that was light, robust, suitable for moderate hiking, and still enabled me to glide through airport check -in with a smile and a wave. My search led me to the Kiboko which, after several years of photographic travel, has become my number one camera bag of choice for all of my photography.

Fast forward to 2012 – With a four week photographic trip to Europe and a workshop in Iceland in July and August this year it was the perfect opportunity to field test the new Gura Gear Bataflae camera bags and Et Cetera range. The good folks at Gura Gear agreed and a shipment of the new product range was soon winging its way to me.

I admit to being very excited when I opened up the boxes from Gura Gear and saw the new products. You know you have purchased a quality product when you open the box and are greeted by the super slick black dust covers bearing the Gura Gear logo. Whilst the addition of a dust bag might seem superfluous it does in fact prove very useful for long-term storage and can even serve as a pretty cool laundry bag when travelling.

Widely regarded as being capable of swallowing copious amounts of camera equipment with room to spare (the Kiboko 30L will hold just about everything you can throw at it) the new Bataflae 32L adds even more space. Overall, it is larger and deeper than the original. This extra space proved a real blessing during my field tests as Canon’s new 1DX camera with a really right stuff L bracket is a very tight fit in the original Kiboko, but slides perfectly into the new bag thanks to the extra head room. Users of professional DSLR’s, medium and large format camera gear will really appreciate the extra height available.

Those of you familiar with the original Kiboko will already be sold on the benefits of the unique butterfly openings that avoid that unwieldy large flap that most camera bags provide for internal access.  There are, however, times when it would be nice to be able to open the bag right up for packing and full access. Well, the new Bataflae gives you the best of both worlds with the traditional butterfly openings but adds the ability to open the entire bag up by releasing a simple clasp at the top of the bag. This really makes packing much simpler as well as providing full access to both sides simultaneously when required in the field. The centre divider contains extra strengthening to maintain rigidity even when the bag is fully loaded. In use, I found this to work very well.

New Batflae Bags

The rain cover has been relocated from inside one of the butterfly pockets to outside the bag in a small zippered pocket, which has freed up more room in the butterfly pocket. The rain cover now also utilizes a draw string which is an improvement over the original elastic cover because it can now also serve as a ground sheet if required.

Like the original bags, the new range is manufactured from highly durable materials, although the new material has more bling. The stitching, zippers and internal fittings of the new bags are improved in every respect. Even the finger zipper pulls are easier to use.  Additional padding has been added to the backpack harness, which makes the bag noticeably more comfortable when hiking. There are yet more refinements to be found in the way of improved clasps for carrying tripods which can even accommodate items such as crampons. Like its predecessor, the new range comes with a considerable number of extra dividers so that its internal storage space can be customized to one’s own particular needs. All of this amounts to a very compelling reason to upgrade to the new models.

When the new Bataflae is fully loaded with my camera equipment it was significantly over the normal carry-on luggage allowance during my Europe and Iceland expeditions, yet I had no issues on any of the five international and domestic flights, including several long haul flights. With the increase in size, the new Bataflae still fits in the overhead lockers on the aircraft I travelled and still retains its understated appearance. I am utterly convinced that the Bataflae is the best camera bag on the market for photographers who fly and travel.

During my four weeks in Europe I used the new Bataflae everywhere, from the bustling streets and Cathedrals of Paris to the more subdued provincial countryside and wine regions of France where I travelled by hire car. I took it mountaineering at 13,000 feet at Mont Blanc in Chamonix where it was -15 degrees Celsius, and trod the myriad of canals in Venice Italy during the peak summer season. I then travelled to Iceland for my 2012 summer Workshop where I spent time on the Snaefellsness Peninsula, the highlands of Landmannalaugar and the stunning Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to name but a few locations. I undertook some fairly arduous hiking in the Landmannalaugar region and subjected the bag to everything from waterfall spray, rain, salt spray, sand and dust. I threw just about everything I could at the new bags and found them an improvement in every way over the originals.

The design changes and refinements to the new bags are in many cases subtle but they add up to a significant overall improvement that makes for a very compelling reason for existing Kiboko owners to upgrade. If, on the other hand, you haven’t already pampered yourself and your camera gear with Gura Gear then you are about to be presented with a fantastic opportunity with the release of these new products. They are highly recommended for their robustness and overall design.

The new product range takes everything that was great about the original bags and improves on it in just about every respect. I would argue that, outside of the camera and lens, there are few pieces of equipment that can have as much impact on your photography as your camera bag. If you travel or frequently change locations (and which photographer doesn’t!) you owe it to yourself (and your expensive equipment) to check out a Gura Gear camera bag.

Part Two – The Et Cetera and Tembo Range

As photographers we are constantly adding accessories to our equipment arsenal. Additional batteries, chargers, color checkers, CF and SD cards and card readers, adapter rings – the list goes on and on and there is only so many of these that can be shoehorned into a camera bag already overflowing with bodies and lenses. I am sure many of us have thrown all manner of photographic accessories loose into our suitcases before we travel because our camera bag was already overweight with bodies and lenses and at risk of airport check-in destruction.

The Et Cetera and Tembo Range

Solving this problem could well be Gura Gear’s masterstroke. Its new Et Cetera and Tembo line of products is designed to solve that annoying problem of finding a home for some of those accessories. The range is perhaps best thought of as the ‘Tupperware’ of camera storage and provides a range of different storage options for different accessories. I found these storage containers invaluable on my recent European trip and Iceland workshop and far more convenient than throwing items loosely in my checked luggage.

There is a range of different sizes and shapes from which to select and photographers will likely choose those models that best suit their needs and requirements.

CANON ‘GEAR IN ACTION’ INTERVIEW – THE 1DX IN FRANCE, ITALY AND ICELAND 2012

CANON: I was recently interviewed again for Canon Australia’s CPS ‘Gear in Action’ website and the content of the interview is now online at CPS Australia. Unlike my previous interview HERE which primarily focused on Fine Art Printing this time the emphasis was on cameras and my experience with Canon’s new tour-de-force 1DX camera during my recent travels through France, Italy, Venice and Iceland. There is also a small gallery of images– which I have not yet even uploaded to my website. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Brewing Storm

For CPS members there are also details of the expedition I am leading to Antarctica with Daniel Bergmann on Canon Australia’s website HERE. This expedition is of course open to all photographers. You don’t have to shoot Canon or be a member of Canon’s Professional Services. :-)

PHOTOKINA: If you are heading over to Germany for Photokina later this month be sure to stop past the Moab and Legion Paper stands where some of my prints from my Iceland series will be on display on my favourite paper: Somerset Museum Rag.

A small disclaimer: Although I both shoot and print exclusively with Canon cameras and printers I am not sponsored by Canon. I pay for all of my own equipment with my own hard earned money. I choose to use Canon cameras and printers because I have found them to offer outstanding results and reliability in my photography – not because I am incentivised by the manufacturer. I am a Canon CPS Gold Member and rely on CPS to assist me with sensor cleaning and loan equipment from time to time.

ANTARCTICA WORKSHOP 2013 – AVAILABILITY UPDATE

A quick availability update of remaining places on the Antarctica Photographic Expedition I am leading with Daniel Bergmann in November next year. There is currently only one triple share male space remaining and two triple share female places. There are still a few Twin Share spaces available and Twin Privates. There is one mini-suite remaining and the Captains Suite is sold out. If you are interested in joining us on what is going to be a unique and wondrous expedition to Antarctica then please drop me an email to secure your spot. Places are secured on a first come, first served basis. Once they are spoken for and booked thats it.

  • Triple Share Cabin Male (One space left)
  • Triple Share Cabin Female (Two spaces left)
  • Twin Share Cabin (Six spaces left)
  • Twin Private (Eleven cabins left)
  • Mini-Suite  (One cabin left)
  • Captains Suite (Sold Out)

EXPERIENCE ANTARCTICA

SEPTEMBER PHOTO OF THE MONTH : MOON BEAMS – ICELAND

Unfortunately I am a few days late again updating the photograph of the month for September (I will do my best to break this bad habit next month). I have been snowed under with email and paperwork in the office and have been otherwise head down in some reviews of some very exciting new products that are soon to be announced at Photokina in Germany. I had the opportunity to extensively field test them in Europe and Iceland in July and August and I am very impressed. I hope to have a review finished and ready to co-incide with their official announcement at Photokina later this month.

The photo of the month for September is from my recent Iceland workshop and was taken at the black sand beaches near the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon around 11pm at night. This wondrous natural landscape never ceases to disappoint  and is one of those amazing locations that seems to produce great photographs even when the  sky isn’t exploding in a fireball of pinks and reds. Ice that carves off the Vatnajokull glacier is washed out to sea through a narrow channel where the tide then deposits it on the beach. The area is constantly changing and is never the same from day-to-day as the ice comes and goes in a myriad of shapes and sizes. This location is a personal favourite of mine and I am very much looking forward to visiting it again on my Winter workshops in March next year.

Moon Beams

ANTARCTICA EXPEDITION 2013 – REGISTRATION NOW OPEN

Registrations are now open for a very exciting and unique expedition I am co-leading with Professional Nature and Wildlife Photographer Daniel Bergmann to Antarctica in November 2013.  This has been a trip more than 8 months in the planning and has been designed and structured to provide the very best possible photographic opportunities. It also includes some truly unique features and opportunities that I am really excited about.

EXPERIENCE ANTARCTICA

The expedition is for a strictly limited number of 50 participants plus leaders and expedition guide and will offer an extended period in Antarctica (15 Day / 14 night Expedition). You will get more time amongst the ice and wildlife in Antarctica than any other photographic trip offers. Whilst most trips to Antarctica take 100+ tourists we are capping the trip at a maximum of 50 dedicated photographers in order to ensure the best possible experience and photographic opportunities. We will be using an ice hardened expedition ship with a highly experienced crew in order to ensure we can get as close as possible to big ice and place you in the best locations for making photographs. Our expedition ship the ‘Polar Pioneer’ is equipped with sufficient zodiacs and crew for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment.

On the way to the End of the World – Antarctica

The expedition departs on the 9th of November 2013 and returns on the 23rd of November 2013 and includes very special access into areas normally restricted to scientific research, as well as taking in amazing locations such as the breathtaking Lemaire Channel, the Gerlache Strait and the surreal geothermal Deception Island, to name but a few. There is a fly return from the Falkland Islands; which avoids the worst of the Drake Passage and allows us more time in Antarctica as well as the opportunity to visit and photograph in the the wildlife rich Falkland Islands. There is also an option to stay on in the Falklands for each person for as long as they wish. Flights run once a week out of the Falklands with LAN Chile.

KEY FEATURES OF THIS EXPEDITION

  • Strictly Limited to a maximum of 50 participants (much smaller than most other trips to Antarctica, more personal space and the ability for everyone to go ashore and work from zodiacs simultaneously)
  • Ice Hardened Expedition Class Ship
  • 15 Day Trip (Most trips are only 10 days), which means more time for photography
  • Access to areas of Antarctica dedicated to scientific research
  • The expedition is dedicated to photography first and foremost; which means we will be spending the maximum amount of time possible shooting from ship, shore and zodiac.
  • Added experience of Wildlife in the Falkland Islands and the ability to stay on after the trip in the Falklands.

The Fortress – Silver with Distinction APPA 2012

PRICE

Prices quoted are in US Dollars, per person, twin share. Single Occupancy is 1.7 times the twin share price. No single supplement applies if you are willing to share your cabin (triple and twin cabins only).  Deposit to secure your place is $1,250 USD with balance not due until 90 days before date of departure.

  • Triple Share Cabin $9,990 per person (Only One Left)
  • Twin Share Cabin $11,500 per person
  • Twin Private $13,200 per person
  • Mini-Suite $14,200 per person (Only One Left)
  • Captains Suite $14,900 per person
  • Flight to Punta Arenas from the Falkland Islands $660

Positions are strictly filled on a first come, first served basis and once they are filled thats it (some berths and cabins are already booked and spoken for). If you are excited by the idea of travelling to Antarctica with a small group of dedicated photographers you may register your interest by contacting me via email. To get an idea of the sort of photographs you can take on this expedition please visit the Antarctica portfolio on my website at www.jholko.com

ICELAND 2012 WORKSHOP DEBRIEF

This expedition report is different from the norm in that I need to preface it with the fact that I was not just visiting Iceland on this trip. Before departing for Iceland I spent three weeks touring France and Italy with my wife. During this time we spent a week immersing ourselves in the wonderful café culture of Paris before driving through provincial France where we spent time in Champagne, Burgundy, Amboise, Beaune, and the mountaineering Mecca of Chamonix, before heading for Milan and the canals of Venice. I therefore packed lenses such as the 85mm F1.2L MKII for my time in Europe. I would not have normally taken this lens to Iceland. I will endeavor to write up a separate report on what worked and what didn’t during my time in France and Italy, as these locations are worlds apart from the pristine Iceland wilderness and require a totally different approach (not necessarily different equipment) to make the most of the photographic opportunities.  I did not pack a flash for this trip, a deliberate decision as I wanted to see what the Canon 1DX was capable of at high ISO in real world shooting. More to come on this in future blog posts. Suffice to say for now that I foresee my flash gun gathering significant dust over the coming months, or more likely making its way to eBay.

This expedition workshop to Iceland included several locations that I had not visited on previous trips (as well as some favorite locations) and really ticked the remaining boxes for me in terms of Iceland’s major landmarks. Location highlights included the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Landmannalaguar, Hveravellir, Jokulsarlon and Veiðivötn, to name just a few. In order to ensure we maximized our time in the field when the light was good, we camped or stayed in hotels, depending on the location. This combination of accommodation worked very well and is a departure from the usual hotel-only trips. I may well run future workshops that include a mixture of both hotel accommodation and camping. Not only does it help with being in the right place at the right time but it also reduces costs – Iceland in summer can be very expensive.

Gatklettur

As was to be expected, Iceland served up a mixed bag of weather and light on this trip. With fickle and constantly changing arctic weather, Iceland’s climate is never stagnant or boring. We encountered the best light of the trip one early morning (2:00am) in Veiðivötn (the crater lake area) where a fog was hanging over the black volcanic tephra craters. For a period of around 30 minutes the light was magical as the rising sun slowly burned off the fog, revealing a wonderful play of light (those photographs will come later). We also had beautifully soft light on the Snaefaelsness Peninsula late in the evening, around midnight, and a fiery sunrise at the geothermal Hveravellir. This was a nice contrast for me because my last visit to Hveravellir was under overcast skies in windy conditions.

Arnastapi

Although I packed both the Canon 1DX and 1DS MK3 on this trip, I shot exclusively with the 1DX throughout my travels in Europe and Iceland. The 1DS MK3 never made it out of the bag. I am ecstatic with the quality of the files from the 1DX and it has surpassed my expectations as a camera in all respects. The auto focus is blisteringly fast and accurate and the metering is as good as anything I have previously encountered. Technologically, the Canon 1DX is a tour de force game-changing camera that not only allows for shooting handheld in virtual darkness with near noiseless files, but also produces superb results for landscape and wildlife at more moderate ISO ranges. I was skeptical when Canon announced the 1DX as a direct replacement for both the 1DMKIV and 1DSMK3 but will happily eat my fill of humble pie, because the results speak for themselves. After shooting with the 1DX in Europe and Iceland, my 1DS MK3 has now been relegated to a back-up only body and may well be replaced with another 1DX in the future. When I get time I will update my equipment page as I have added a number of different lenses since the last update.

In terms of lenses, I used almost everything I bought with me (which was considerable). The exception was the 90mm TSE, which was a last minute inclusion and, in the end, not needed. My most utilized lenses were the 24mm F1.4L MKII and the Canon 35mm F1.4L, closely followed by the 70-200mm F2.8L IS. I also shot quite a lot of frames with the 17mm F4L TSE and the 300mm F2.8L IS. Other participants shot with the Zeiss 21mm, Canon 24mm TSE MKII, 70-200mm F4L IS and other similar focal length lenses on their Canon 5D MKIII’s, 1DsMKII’s and 1DMKIV’s.  After hauling my 70-200 F2.8L IS all over Europe, I am now considering selling it and replacing it with the much lighter F4L IS version. Since I rarely shoot this lens wide open it makes little sense to carry the extra weight. In terms of image quality the two lenses are virtually identical when they are stopped down to F5.6, so the decision is purely a matter of weight.

The inclusion of a Leica M9 and Nikon D800E by one participant proved quite interesting. The Nikon seemed to require fairly regular battery drops to reset it after what can only be described as ‘irregular activity’. At one point the camera displayed a ‘rainbow’ across its LCD screen when switched off. Fortunately, none of these glitches proved fatal and all were easily rectified by dropping the battery. These hiccups did not fill me with confidence in the camera and hopefully Nikon can resolve them with future firmware updates. It was interesting to compare the LCD screens of the Canon 5DMKIII and 1DX against the Nikon D800E. There is no question that the Nikon is decidedly green in tinge and not in the same league as the Canon screens. This really made a big difference when using ‘live view’ to compose and frame. The Leica is now a generation or two old and its LCD screen is the worst of the bunch, good for little more than histogram exposure confirmation.

Workshop Participants at Play in the Sulphur at Hveravellir

On the trip through Europe I travelled with both the Gura Gear Kiboko and Chobe camera bags and never had any issues with carry-on luggage on any of my long haul or short hop flights. In total, I took eight international flights, using carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways, and Iceland Air. My thanks to both British Airways and Iceland Air for the upgrades to Business Class – very much appreciated!

Considering my Kiboko fully loaded with camera gear weighed in at nearly 24 kilograms and my Chobe at just under 8 kilograms, I consider this a significant achievement and a testament to Kiboko’s ability to hold copious amounts of equipment in a compact, unobtrusive size. I did quite a bit of hiking at Landmannalaugar and the Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon with the fully loaded Kiboko and never found the bag uncomfortable. Most hikes averaged around 5-6 kilometers over rough, uneven and steep terrain. It is worth remembering that the Kiboko is first and foremost a bag designed for travel and not hiking and therefore its harness system (although excellent) is perhaps not as good as those found in dedicated mountaineering and hiking packs. Nevertheless, it is a testament to the quality and design of the bag that it can be worn and carried as a backpack full of gear on long hikes without discomfort. I am confident that this bag would serve just fine for all but multi-day hikes.

A view to the East at Landmannalaugar

I shot over 4000 frames on this trip and hope to start editing and processing over the coming weeks. I am currently putting the finishing touches on a very exciting expedition to Antarctica in November 2013 and will be formally announcing the trip very shortly. This has been a trip more than eight months in the planning and includes some really unique features about which I am very excited.

In previous reports I have neglected to mention that the quality of food in Iceland is outstanding. Having been fortunate to spend time in many parts of the world, I have found that Iceland consistently serves up the best quality fresh foods I have experienced anywhere. Whether it’s lobster bisque, hamburger, or the local delicacies of smoked puffin or Minke whale (if that floats your boat), it is always excellent. The only other country I know of that can match Iceland for consistency and quality of food is my home city of Melbourne.

As is typical for me, I required copious amounts of coffee plus my favorite energy drink Magic (its probably just as well this isn’t available in Australia) to keep me pepped and focused during the long shooting hours. I would estimate we averaged a total of 3-4 hours sleep per day, which was squeezed in between photography, grabbing a meal, and driving to different locations. The hours of a photographic workshop expedition to Iceland are punishing, but the rewards are well worth the effort under the spectacular midnight sun.

Overall, this was a wonderfully successful trip to both Europe and Iceland. As always, special mention to my good friend and guide Daniel Bergmann for his guidance and local knowledge during the expedition. With Iceland 2012 now complete, my attention is turning to March next year when I am leading two Winter workshops to Iceland for frozen waterfalls, ice covered geothermal areas, the Aurora northern lights and with a little luck (OK, a lot of luck) perhaps even an erupting volcano. For anyone who is interested there are only two remaining positions on the 2nd Winter trip that kicks off on the 22nd of March until the 31st of March with Andy Biggs and myself.

I also wish to make special mention of those friends and colleagues who took the time to meet with me in Reykjavik before the expedition including Dagur from my favorite outdoor clothing label 66 North and A’sgeir from press photo www.pressphotos.biz.

ICELAND 2012 WORKSHOP EXPEDITION COMPLETE

I have just returned from my 2012 Iceland expedition and am currently recovering from jet lag after the more than 34 hours of travel and layovers (including 4 plane rides) from Iceland to Australia. This was an extremely successful workshop trip and it was wonderful to again be photographing under the midnight sun in the spectacular Icelandic landscape. I shot over 3000 frames on this trip and plan to tackle the extensive editing and processing of all the images over the coming weeks. In the meantime, this particular photograph for me summarises the beauty of the Icelandic rural landscape along the main Highway One ring road and is my photograph of the month for August 2012. I will be writing up a complete ‘what worked and what didn’t work’ debrief report over the coming days.

Room with a View in Iceland

CANON 1DX IN THE FRENCH ALPS

One of the real highlights of my trip through France was the opportunity to visit the alpine town of Chamonix. Widely regarded as the mountaineering Mecca of France, Chamonix is a magnet and playground for mountaineers and alpinists from around the world. With its high altitude mountains, precipitous and jagged peaks, and high quality granite spires it is easy to see why.

The town itself is filled with all manner of outdoor clothing, mountaineering and adventure shops. The only other place I can recall seeing such a collection of stores and brands in such a small a geographical area was in Ushuaia at the bottom of South America from where the majority of Antarctica expeditions depart. In short, if you can’t find it in Chamonix you probably don’t need it (although the prices might leave you reeling).

With a day free in Chamonix before heading for Venice, I jumped at the opportunity to take the two cable cars up to the Aiguille Du Midi at just over 12,600 feet for some mountaineering photography.

Exposed

With no real mountains to speak of in Australia, I am not used to high altitude climbing and suffered from constant lack of breath, light-headedness and a severe headache after twelve hours at nearly 4000 metres. Whilst my Austrian companion seemed unaffected by the altitude I was forced to stop every few minutes to try and catch my breath as we made our way up the ridgeline. It was worth the pain, however, as the opportunity to photograph climbers returning from Mont Blanc along a very exposed ridge provided breathtaking views and photographic possibilities. We were taking a little bit of a chance with this climb as it was very windy and the pressure was dropping, with the possibility of a forecast storm. Spindrift was whipping off the peaks and, with eleven people loosing their lives on Mont Blanc in the last few weeks, I was less than thrilled at the thought of getting caught in an exposed position.  I was, however, very keen to get some photographs, because the wind was whipping clouds and fog across the mountain at a rapid rate which was creating a lovely play of light. In the end, I climbed only a relatively short distance up the ridge as the conditions were just too dangerous for my experience at that altitude.

Ridge Line

This was the first opportunity I had to use the Canon 1DX at high altitude in cold weather and it did not disappoint. At -15 degrees Celsius the Canon 1DX performed flawlessly and I was able to squeeze out nearly 600 frames without any effort, finding no need to warm the battery or swap it for another from a warm pocket. This is remarkable performance in such a hostile environment and is consistent with my experience with the 1DS MK3 and 1D MKIV cameras in Antarctica.

I hope to return to Chamonix in the future and spend more time in the stunningly beautiful French Alps. Along with the Andes mountain range in South America, they rate as some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains I have seen.

For now, I have arrived in Iceland and am looking forward to heading out into the wilds tomorrow morning.

CANON 1DX AND FRANCES NOTRE DAME CATHEDRALS

Paris is, of course, well known for its magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, the sheer scale and majesty of which is biblically awe-inspiring. Photographing the Notre Dame, however, is a challenge. By break of day the building is surrounded by thousands of tourists streaming through its grand doors and climbing its towers, and the numbers do not waiver until nightfall. There is simply no opportunity to capture the building free from visitors. Because I wanted to do more than merely walk away with the usual tourist postcard photograph, I was left searching for alternatives.

In an effort to make a better photograph I decided I would get up before sunrise and try a long exposure from one of the bridges across the river Seine in the hope of capturing the Cathedral in a more peaceful and serene environment.  This viewpoint is one I had not seen before and one in which I could utilize the river to place the Cathedral in context. Although the Cathedral is partially obscured behind the trees I like the angle for the added mystery. I used a ten stop ND filter to obtain a 4 minute exposure to soften the sky and create a sense of movement in the clouds and water.

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

As much as I enjoyed indulging myself in Parisian café culture it now feels good to be out in the countryside and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This has been my first visit to France and it has been as picturesque and scenic as I was led to believe. With its manicured fields and gardens the French countryside is beautiful and its many small villages quaint and adorable.

Over the last few days I have spent some time in the Champagne region (where healthy portions of fine Champagne were sampled and keenly devoured), Reims and the small town of Ambois located in the Loire valley where I have visited a number of spectacularly opulent chateaus located nearby.

I was not aware that there is in fact a second Notre Dame cathedral located in Reims and was fortunate to stumble across it whilst driving though the town. The choice of how to photograph this gothic Cathedral struck me as I stood below its imposing form and leering gargoyles. I wanted to make this Cathedral appear to be both rooted to the earth and soaring toward the heavens in order to do justice to its gothic architecture and imposing stature. I accomplished this using Canon’s 17mm wide angle lens and pointing the camera up toward the towers to create an exaggerated perspective. This photograph was handheld since the use of tripods, even on the external grounds, is strongly discouraged. The key to making this work was a combination of the wide angle lens, camera angle and symmetry to create the desired effect. I was also fortunate to have some dramatic clouds and lighting which add to the atmosphere and enhance the Cathedral’s foreboding presence.

Notre Dame Cathedral Reims

This trip has been a wonderful opportunity to shoot with the new 1DX camera which is continuing to surpass my expectations. It has the best metering and autofocus of any camera I have used. Tomorrow I will be heading for Dijon where I look forward to more photography with this remarkable new camera and of course some more “boudoir the grape.”

CANON 1DX – MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE

Paris has been the first opportunity I have had to shoot with Canon’s new 1DX multi-media powerhouse camera. I had only limited opportunity to test the camera before I departed for Europe because the camera arrived only a couple of days before my flight departed. With all the delays since its announcement in September last year I was having serious doubts whether Canon were going to deliver. I managed some initial tests to ensure there was no immediate problem with the camera and these proved very promising, with excellent results.

 After two days in Paris and around 500 frames I can now report that the Canon 1DX has exceeded my expectations for low light and autofocus performance in every respect. One of the real highlights in Paris for anyone interested in history and architecture is its incredibly impressive cathedrals and churches. The sheer scale, grandeur, and majesty of Notre Dame, and others, make them wonderfully impressive subjects for photography. They can be hard to capture in their entirety as there is a fine balance between placing the structure in context and the creation of a mere postcard. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the challenge and I could happily spend many days prowling the streets and cobblestone alleys for new and different angles.

As impressive as the Cathedrals are externally, they are equally awe-inspiring on the inside. Unfortunately, all of them are extremely dark inside and tripod photography is forbidden (as is the use of flash – although, this last ‘law’ seems very poorly enforced) necessitating the use of high ISO photography to ensure sufficient shutter speeds and depth of field. It is not uncommon to have to push the ISO as high as 10,000 or even 25,600 in some cases to obtain 1/40th of a second at F4 in the darker areas.

This photograph was taken inside the Eglise Saint Eustache cathedral with the Canon 1DX and 17mm F4L TSE, handheld at ISO 6,400, 1/60thof a second, F 4.5. I want to emphasize that it was extremely dark inside the cathedral and that the light streaming through the stain glass windows was extremely hot. The dynamic range far exceeds the capabilities of any camera to record; yet the 1DX has managed to produce an excellent exposure without intervention from me. This photograph simply would not have been possible with such low noise with any previous camera I have owned or tested. The image has had only minimal post processing and noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom 4.1. There is virtually no appreciable noise of consequence in the RAW file, at least nothing that is not easily corrected with a small amount of noise reduction (a modest setting of 25 in Lightroom was used in this example to reduce the luminance noise grain – no color noise reduction was required). The results are simply astonishing and I am very much looking forward to the new opportunities created by the amazing capabilities of the 1DX. Although in this example I utilized the 17mm F4L TSE which is a manual focus lens I also shot several frames with the 24mm f1.4L MKII and 35mm F1.4L lenses, and in all cases the 1DX was able to immediately nail focus in near total darkness, center of frame. The era of shooting in the dark has truly arrived.

Cathedral Geometry

Although street and city photography is not my preferred landscape, I have very much enjoyed my time in the city of romance and rate it as one of the most beautiful and charming cities I have visited.  There is a wavelength and ambience in Paris that I can immediately harmonize with. Its cobblestone streets are steeped in history and charm and this, combined with my love of the café culture, make it a city I could easily call home. I am looking forward to wandering its streets over the next few days before I head for Venice.

Au revoir for now…

PARIS, VENICE, ICELAND AND AN ARCTIC FOX…

In a few days from now I am heading to Iceland for my 2012 Summer expedition. It has been well over a year since I was last in Iceland and I am very much looking forward to returning to its amazingly varied and ever changing landscape. Before I make my way to Iceland however, I am going to be spending some ‘quality time’ travelling through France and Italy with my better half. We will be spending a week in Paris, where I will be dragged kicking and screaming from landmark to landmark before we make our way (by car) through the French provincial countryside visiting some of the more famous wine regions on our way to the canals of Venice.

Now, I am normally not in the slightest bit interested in cities. I find them generally polluted, overcrowded and unpleasant places to be. I much prefer to be out in nature’s wilderness. However, I need to earn  a few brownie points and spend some time engaged in activities that my significant other finds appealing before I can escape to the wilds of Iceland. C’est la vie. Secretly, I am looking forward to some photography in the French countryside and around the canals of Venice (but don’t tell my wife!).

On arrival in Iceland I am going to spend a couple of days in Reyjkavic where I will meet up with my good friends Daniel, Martyn and Bruce before we make for the Snaefellsnes peninsula; which is an area of Iceland I have not yet visited. After spending a few days in the Snaefellsnes region we had been planning to head to Hornstrandir Nature reserve to photograph arctic foxes in the extreme northwestern part of Iceland (weather permitting). This is true expedition territory as no one lives there permanently  and it is quite easy to end up stranded there for days if the weather turns bad. At this stage the plan is to wait and see what the weather forecast is and to decide at the time if it is worth the risk. Since the region is so remote it is strictly camping only and all supplies must be carried with us. There is a ferry that travels to the area from Isafjordur and again weather permitting we were thinking of spending a day or two out at Latrabjarg which is one of the best places in Iceland to photograph Puffins. At this time of year the parents should be bringing the chicks fish in their beaks which would make for some excellent wildlife opportunities.

Room with a View in Iceland

In terms of equipment I am planning to take almost my entire line-up of cameras and lenses on this trip. With my wife in toe for the first part of the trip I can easily offload some of my gear into her carry on luggage if required. My compliment of cameras and lenses is going to include:

  • Canon EOS 1DX w/ Really Right Stuff mounting plate from a Canon 70-200mm F4L lens (the L bracket is not yet released for this camera)
  • Canon EOS 1DS MK3 w/ Really Right Stuff L Bracket
  • Canon 17mm F4L TSE Lens
  • Canon 24mm F1.4L MKII Lens
  • Canon 35mm F1.4L Lens
  • Canon 50mm F1.2L Lens
  • Canon 85mm F1.2L Lens
  • Canon 90mm F2.8 TSE Lens
  • Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS Lens w/ Really Right Stuff Mounting Plate
  • Canon 300mm F2.8L IS Lens w/ Really Right Stuff Mounting Plate
  • Canon 1.4 Tele-Converter MKII
  • Gitzo GT350 LSV 6X Carbon Fibre Tripod w/ Really Right BH55 Ball Head
  • MacBook Pro 15″ w/ 8 Gig RAM and 256 Gig SSD running Lightroom 4.1 and Photoshop CS6
  • Sufficient CF and SD Cards, Card Readers, Back-Up Hard Drives (2x IOMEGA dual Firewire 800 1TB Hard Drives), My LEE ND grad filter kit, Camera Batteries, Chargers, Lens cleaning equipment etc…
All of the above (excluding the tripod) will be stored in my Gura Gear Kiboko and Gura Gear Chobe camera bags and carried onto planes. I will check my tripod inside my Helly Hanson duffle roller bag. A year or so ago I would also likely have packed my pocket Canon S90 both as a back-up and for snapshots. However, the camera in my iPhone now serves this purpose and saves me a few grams of weight; whilst adding oodles of convenience.

This trip will be the maiden voyage for my new Canon 1DX camera; which Canon promised me on a handshake I would have before I left. Since it literally only arrived yesterday I was getting very nervous that they were actually going to deliver (especially after all the delays). Ideally, it would have been beneficial if the camera was delivered a week or so earlier so that I had an opportunity to at least put a few hundred frames on it under test. As it is I have not had time to do much more than shoot a few frames in the backyard and local park to ensure the camera is operating properly. My initial impressions are very positive (the new autofocus system and high ISO performance are truly phenomenal) and I have high hopes for the Canon 1DX. It has been a long time since it was announced back in September last year and I am now very keen to get out into the field to put it through its paces.

I plan to update my blog as regularly as possible throughout the trip and both Bruce and I will also be writing a blog for Moab paper of our experiences in Iceland. Bruce will be travelling with both Canon and Nikon equipment including a Canon 5DMKII and Nikon D800E with lenses for both, as well as a Leica M9 and a large selection of their very finest glass (including some rare and ‘little’ LEE ND graduated filters made specifically for Leica lenses). It is going to be very interesting to see how the little Leica performs in Iceland’s elements. My friend Martyn is bringing a 5D MK3, a 1DS MK3 and his Sony Nex all of which should add to the melting pot of brands and models on hand to compare and contrast. It should be a lot of fun.

See you in Paris.

GREAT OCEAN ROAD WORKSHOP OCTOBER 12th – 15th 2012 NOW OPEN FOR REGISTRATION

I am very excited to announce a brand new photographic workshop to the icons of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria Australia. Perhaps best known for its mighty sea stacks at the iconic 12-Apostles, the Great Ocean Road is one of the worlds leading tourist attractions and is packed with fantastic photographic opportunities. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there coastline as unique and spectacular as that found along this stretch of Victorian coastline.  Location highlights for this tour include Gibson’s Steps, the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, Lochard Gorge, and Hopetoun Falls. We will also visit quite a few lesser known locations including a Californian Red Wood forest plantation, the shipwreck coast and Cape Otway lighthouse. If you are interested in improving your photography along the spectacular Great Ocean Road then now is the time to register. This expedition is strictly limited to a maximum of ten participants, plus leaders and places are reserved on a first come, first served basis. A copy of the information, registration and booking form can be downloaded HERE. This workshop is CPD accredited and points are accrued for AIPP members attending this workshop.

Brewing Storm

BATTLE OF THE BIG STOPPERS – LEE vs. HI-TECH PRO 10 STOP ND FILTER SHOWDOWN

The LEE 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter, which is affectionately known as ‘The Big Stopper’, has been a staple part of my filter and photographic kit since it was released by LEE back in 2010. I was fortunate to receive one of the very first production units and have subsequently found ten stops of neutral density extremely useful in the creation of dramatic landscape photographs. The ability to slow shutter speeds down to minutes instead of seconds can really add a lot of drama to fast moving clouds and flowing water. It’s addition to a photograph can often be the difference between the recording of something otherwise banal and the creation of something truly extraordinary.

London Bridge

There are a number of different options from which to choose for photographers looking to add ten stops of Neutral Density filtration to their filter kit. As well as the LEE ‘Big Stopper’, there are options available from B+W, Sing Ray, Hoya and Hi-Tech (and there may well be more I am not aware of). Each of these is designed to achieve the same thing – provide ten stops of ‘neutral’ density (emphasis on ‘neutral’).  It turns out however, that at least one of these filters (sample as tested) is anything but ‘neutral’.*

One of the participants on my upcoming expedition to Iceland in a few weeks time recently contacted me and asked if I would mind doing some testing with them of 10 Stop ND filters before we leave. They had been experiencing a severe (and virtually uncorrectable) colour caste with their brand new Hi-Tech Pro and were concerned that the filter may be faulty. Never one to shy away from an invitation to play with camera gear I quickly agreed and we set up a time to test the LEE Big Stopper against the Hi-Tech 10 Stop ND filter in a head to head comparison. We also had a B+W 10 Stop screw in filter for the Leica M9 and took the opportunity to also compare it. For our subject we had to hand a factory car park – crude, but nevertheless convenient. The day was overcast so no shenanigans were required to obtain acceptable exposures.

Control – No Filter White Balance as shot: 5350 +4

LEE Big Stopper White Balance as shot: 6450 -4

HiTech 10 Stop PRO Filter White Balance as shot: 7800 +80

In order to make the comparison fair we used the same camera and lens (my Canon 1DS MK3 21.1 mega pixel camera with a Zeiss 21mm lens on my Gitzo GT3530 LSV tripod with a  RRSBH55 ball head) to test both filters. Although its somewhat irrelevant the photographs were taken with the mirror locked up with 2 second self timer at F5.6. We then proceeded to take three photographs. The first is our control without any filter. The second is with the LEE Big Stopper in place and the third is with the Hi-Tech 10 Stop filter. The results are inarguable and consistently repeatable regardless of the exposure time or aperture. The LEE Big Stopper provides outstanding performance in terms of neutrality as can be seen in a direct comparison with the ‘control’ image. The Hi-Tech on the other hand is nothing short of a complete disaster. It is in fact more ‘blue’ than an equivalent exposure with the LEE Sky Blue Graduated filter and its performance is simply unacceptable. Even on the LCD screen on the back of the camera I could immediately see that there was a major problem with this filter.

In order to ensure that we were not actually seeing things or that something went wrong during our test we repeated the test with both a Leica M9 and Nikon D800E (each with an equivalent lens) with the same results. In both cases we used the same camera and lens for comparison and only ever varied the filter. I suspect that the particular sample we tested may have come from a bad batch and that there may well be others out there with defective copies.  Hi-Tech have subsequently offered to replace the filter (which was actually brand new and purchased less than a month ago).

As a side note, the LEE filter is glass (sometimes referred to as Black Glass or BG) and the Hi-Tech is resin and the procedure for adding neutral density to these surfaces is very different. Resin filters are dipped in a dye bath where as glass filters (according to my understanding) use a glazing process. In the case of the sample Hi-Tech we tested I suspect that something has gone wrong during the dye process giving the filter a blue caste. It is worth noting that LEE’s Graduated Neutral Density filters are also resin (as are Hi-Techs) and effectively exhibit no colour caste.

I also took this opportunity to test the new LEE 3 Stop Pro Glass Neutral Density filter I purchased last week and its performance proved excellent. It is well worth taking the time to test any new piece of photographic equipment before an expedition. Time invested before hand can save many hours of work and frustration down the line. In this case it has saved this participant what would have been many hours of possibly uncorrectable post production work.

* Footnote: In my experience all ten stop filters have some degree of colour caste. The idea however is to be as close to neutral as possible.

RETAIL THERAPY – PHOTOGRAPHER STYLE

I admit to being a complete shopaholic when it comes to photographic accessories. I just keep on buying different brands and models of ‘things’ until I finally settle on a product I am completely satisfied with. Online reviews are useful and aid me in making a purchase decision, but it is really my own use and experience in the field that ultimately determines my level of satisfaction with a product.

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I get frustrated when a product comes up short of my expectations and convince myself that I can do better. This inevitably leads me to my next purchase. Camera bags and cold weather gloves for photography are two accessories that I have continually purchased in the quest for ultimate satisfaction. I finally reached the end of the camera bag road shopping spree when I purchased the Gura Gear Kiboko after my 2010 Iceland expedition. I had finally found the perfect camera bag for my needs. Gura Gear followed this in 2011 with the Chobe which solved my laptop and accessory bag dilemmas in one go. It is quite literally the perfect bag combination and I no longer feel the need to even visit the camera bag section of a photography store.

Kiboko

I feel I am also close to the end of my journey for cold weather photography gloves with the Helly Hanson sailing gloves I discovered late last year. I shot extensively in Antarctica with these gloves and found they provided a high degree of tactile feel for operating camera equipment while supplying sufficient warmth, making them (almost) ideal for my sort of photography. If someone would manufacture this glove in a waterproof (or even water-resistant) version I would be at the end of my search.

Outdoor clothing is part of my photographic accessories since I do the majority of my landscape and nature photography in remote locations and often in inclement weather. I have a cupboard full of inner and outer layer jackets which have been accumulated over a number of years from a wide range of manufacturers. I used to find it very difficult to walk into an outdoor clothing store and not walk out with a new jacket of some description. I believe I can lay the blame for this vice squarely at my father’s feet since I recall in my youth his tendency to purchase jackets on a more than regular basis. I have strong recollections of his cupboard being full of beautiful outdoor jackets and I guess it more than rubbed off on me. However, I think I finally cured myself of the ‘jacket addiction’ when I discovered the 66 North Eldgja mid layer jacket and their Gylmur eVent outer waterproof jacket and pants. This combination works for me – it’s extremely light-weight, breathable and waterproof. I have now worn this clothing from Iceland to Antarctica, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand across a wide range of weather conditions and it has met my needs across all elements. I no longer feel the need to purchase anything else. (Although I did just order another Eldgja jacketbecause I like to have one to wear when the other is in the wash, so perhaps the addiction is not quite at an end yet!)

66 North Glymur eVent Jacket and Pants

This brings me to another product that has multiplied in my closet: Photography vests. My first photography vest was a Domke and it served me very well for many years before I finally caught it on one-too- many rural barbwire fences and it met a grizzly, though probably not untimely end. At the time I did not really consider any other options and simply purchased another one. It took me quite a long time to realize that I was never truly happy with the Domke. For starters, it’s made from cotton, which means when it gets wet (and it isn’t waterproof) it gets heavy (and it takes a long time to dry). Secondly, large lenses placed in the front pockets tend to dangle low and bang around the knees the moment I crouch down. And lastly, the Domke really isn’t very practical for travelling on and off airplanes as it draws too much attention to itself – it doesn’t actually scream ‘photographer – I’m carrying an overweight camera bag!’, but it certainly speaks in a loud voice and in today’s age of airport clamp-downs it is less than ideal.

Domke

In the search for a replacement for my Domke, last year I purchased an Xtrahand photo vest (somewhat in frustration) as I could not find anything else on the market that I thought would be suitable for field work. To be clear, I never had any intention of using this vest for anything but remote wilderness work. It is just too ‘tactical’ for any public appearance and it most definitely screams at the top of its lungs: ‘I’m a photographer with huge amounts of heavy equipment and I don’t mind looking like Rambo!‘ The Xtrahand vest is the ideal solution for the photographer walking into the wilderness who does not wish to carry a camera bag. It holds ridiculous amounts of photography equipment (and I do mean ridiculous) and manages to spread the load palatably on arduous hikes. It meets its design criteria perfectly. What I did not know at the time was that I prefer to carry my Kiboko camera bag rather than wear the vest. It’s just a personal preference based on my habit of dropping my backpack on the spur of the moment. Whilst the vest is easily removed, it was somewhat tiresome to put it back on and difficult to extract gear from when it was on the ground. I also prefer the layout of the Kiboko for my equipment.

XtraHand Photo Vest

Thus, the photo vest saga turned out to be one of those examples where I did not realize my needs until I had tried something different. After some months with the Xtrahand vest I became aware that it simply wasn’t for me and it has gathered dust alongside a multitude of camera bags and my Domke vest since. I am going to be clearing house over the coming weeks and many of these items will find their way to eBay where I hope they will meet someone else’s needs.

With my trip to Paris, Venice and Iceland now only a couple of weeks away, I visited my local photography store a few days ago to grab a coupe of last minute items, including yet another LEE Neutral Density filter (more on filters in another blog post, but I clearly also have some sort of addiction to purchasing filters) and other various small, but necessary accessories. As I am prone to do, I wandered the store (dangerous decision for a shopaholic like me) whilst the salesperson checked the items and totaled the bill.  Wandering up and down the aisles, my eyes were drawn to a vest made by Italian tripod company Manfrotto that I had read about over a year ago – The Pro Photo Vest. At the time, I remember reading that it had been designed specifically by photographers in conjunction with an Italian design company in Milan – it was stylish, understated (in photography vest terms) yet very practical looking – and I was told at the time that they were probably a good six months away from production and likely longer than that before they reached Australia. I subsequently put them out of my mind and had completely forgotten about them.

Manfrotto Pro Photo

Fifteen minutes later, after trying one on and getting my head around the typical Manfrotto price tag, I purchased one. What got me over the line was exactly what I recalled about the vest when I read about it more than a year ago – stylish, understated, and practical (incidentally those are three characteristics that my Gura Gear camera bags and 66 North clothing all have in common). Much like my beloved 66 North Eldgja jacket, it ‘just felt right’ the moment I slipped it on. I won’t wax lyrical about it here as clothing is a very personal item and really needs to be tried on to appreciate. Suffice to say, at this point I am quite excited with this new vest and very keen to test it out on my coming trip. There was never a question of the Xtrahand vest travelling to Paris, Italy and Iceland with me since the Gendarmes would be very quick to swoop on anyone sporting such a military style vest. I was also loathing the thought of taking the venerable Domke with me (yet again) and the thought of it getting wet in Iceland was giving me the shivers.   Now with the Manfrotto vest, I feel I have this problem licked and I am keen to see if this new accessory meets my expectations and needs. Given that it ticks my three boxes of stylish, understated, and practical, I have high hopes that it will.

Or, perhaps this will turn into yet another step in a jacket and vest addiction that will never go away!

FUJIFILM HIJACKER ACTIVITY – ‘AUSTRALIAN SUNSETS’

Camera manufacturers are working hard these days through the myriad of social networking websites to raise their brand awareness and promote their products to both professional photographers and consumers. In an interesting twist on social media FujiFilm Cameras Australia is offering photographers an opportunity to hijack their Facebook page for a week. Each month Fujifilm will choose a different theme and your challenge (should you choose to accept it), is to photograph something that relates to the nominated theme and upload your photographs to the Fujifilm Facebook page. If your photograph is selected, you get to Hijack Fujifilm Camera Australia’s Facebook page for a week.

This months theme is ‘Australian Sunsets’ and with my new ‘Great Ocean Road workshop’ about to be announced I could not resist the opportunity to upload a recent photograph of the spectacular London Bridge sea stack near Port Campbell on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Should I be successful in hijacking their Facebook page with my photograph I intend to hand the page over to a suitable charity to help promote their cause for a week. If anyone has any suggestions for a suitable charity please let me know.

London Bridge – The Great Ocean Road

By way of full disclosure: An Australian digital media agency representing Fujifilm Australia approached me directly and requested my assistance in the promotion of their Facebook hijacker activity. At their suggestion I was provided with a point and shoot Fujifilm camera to submit photographs to their Facebook page. I agreed to help with the intention of handing the page over to a charity and I am donating the camera to my local pre-school to use for their class projects.

 

HOW TO: USE LEE GRADUATED ND FILTERS ON THE CANON 17MM F4L TSE LENS

One of my favorite lenses is the Canon 17mm F4L Tilt and Shift, an optically superb lens and one of the sharpest in the Canon wide angle range (along with the 24mm Tilt and Shift). With stellar optical performance and perfect tilt and shift movements, it is the ideal tool for wide-angle landscape photography.

Except that there has been a problem: a big problem.

Because of its bulbous front element, it is more or less impossible to use filters with this lens. I use neutral density graduated filters extensively and frequently find I cannot use the 17mm F4L TSE effectively because of the inability to use a filter to tame the dynamic range of the scene. This has sometimes left me frustrated with this lens for landscape work.

LEE designed and developed a solution for a similar issue with the Nikon 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens (which also has a bulbous front element) and that solution has been widely available for some time now. Unfortunately, no such solution has been forthcoming for the Canon 17mm F4L TSE lens, leaving many of us who rely on filters left out in the cold.

I know many photographers who have abandoned their filter kits in favor of multiple exposure HDR (High Dynamic Range) composites and for those photographers there is no longer a requirement for an effective bracket for using Graduated filters. However, I dislike HDR photography and prefer to capture my images in a single exposure without the need for digital blending during postproduction in Photoshop.

Consequently, I have often had to reject the 17mm TSE lens because of the scene’s dynamic range and the inability to use filters, which has more or less relegated that lens to internal architectural photography or occasions such as Antarctica (where I shot with the 17mm Lens extensively). In Antarctica, dynamic range was simply not an issue and I was able to capture the scene without use of a graduated filter (thank goodness for overcast conditions!). I shot extensively with this lens both from the deck of the Ocean Nova and from Zodiacs and I really came to appreciate the benefits of the lens when shooting handheld from ships. What was particularly useful was the ability to shift the lens down to get closer to water level when shooting from the deck of a tall ship.

With my trips to Paris, Italy and Iceland looming, I have been agonizing over whether to pack the 17mm F4L TSE lens in my kit, as its weight is not inconsiderable. The thought of carrying this lens around Europe and not being able to use it effectively for a significant amount of my landscape photography work gave me serious cause to consider its usefulness. That was until I stumbled upon a possible solution to my problem.

It turns out an enterprising photographer from Germany has cleverly solved the ‘filter problem’ using regularly available off the shelf parts from both Canon and LEE. I subsequently discovered (thanks to a user on the Luminous Landscape forum) that Fred Miranda had also constructed one of these adapters and had posted in his forum about his own experiences. After some further reading and research, I acquired the necessary parts and began constructing my own custom adapter that would enable me to use filters with the 17mm F4L TSE lens. This custom adapter bracket allows for the standard LEE foundation kit to be used with this lens. And, unlike the LEE solution for the Nikon 14-24mm lens, you do not need to purchase a new set of larger filters.

I cannot take the credit for this ingenious solution, but I can report that construction is relatively straight forward and that the finished product looks for all intents and purposes like it was manufactured by Canon or LEE. I followed the clear instructions laid out on the German website and found them straight forward and easy to follow and as such have not re-documented the construction process.

There are limits to both the tilt and shift mechanism, due to vignetting with the custom adapter and LEE kit in place, but this does not pose a significant issue for me as I am usually only tilting the lens by a very small margin and rarely use the extreme shift functionality. In any case, the custom holder can be further modified to improve both tilt and shift by removal of the inside of the LEE adapter ring with a Dremel as documented in the Fred Miranda link.

Canon 17mm F4L TSE with Custom Bracket and LEE Foundation Kit

JUNE PHOTO OF THE MONTH – ‘BLACK DAWN’

Time has really slipped away from me over the last few weeks and I realised this evening that I am already a week late updating my photo of the month for June. This photograph of the Andes Mountain range near Ushuaia in South America was taken from the deck of the Ocean Nova ship as we cruised up the Beagle Channel on our way to the Drake Passage and Antarctica. It is somewhat ironic for me that my favourite photograph of this mountain range should be taken from the deck of a rolling ship with a 300mm lens rather than the chartered helicopter I spent a dedicated hour shooting from with wide angle lenses. It just illustrates how you don’t have to use a wide angle lens from a helicopter to get an evocative shot of a mountain range. The Andes is a spectacular snow capped mountain range with precipitous and towering peaks with countless rugged and jagged ridges that is evocative of a more primordial earth. Being able to see it up close and personal from a helicopter with the door off was really a very special experience. Being able to photograph it from the deck of a ship as it cruised slowly past was equally satisfying. A higher resolution version of this photograph  can be seen on my portfolio website at www.jholko.com under South America. This photograph was awarded with a Silver award at the 2012 APPA Australian Professional Photography Awards.

Black Dawn – Silver APPA 2012

ADOBE LIGHTROOM 4.1 UPDATE NOW AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD

2012 APPA AWARD WRAP-UP

Once  a year the annual APPA Australian Professional Photography Awards are held in Australia. This year they were conveniently held in my home state of Victoria. The event is sponsored by Canon Australia and is run by the AIPP Australian Institute of Professional Photography. Widely regarded by many as the toughest photographic competition in the world today APPA remains one of the few world wide competitions where the finished ‘print’ is judged (in the vast majority of categories) by a panel of professional photographers who are each considered experts in their chosen specialities. The five judges score each print out of 100 points under strictly controlled lighting conditions. The judges scores are then averaged to give a final overall score out of 100.  Prints of a professional standard that score between 75 and 79 points are not considered of award standard but are considered to be a good example of solid professional practice. Prints between 80 and 84 are considered examples of photographs above professional practice and worthy of recognition and are subsequently classed as a Silver Award. Prints between 85 and 89 are of exceptional standard and are awarded with a Silver with Distinction. Prints judged 90 – 94 and 95 – 100 are Gold and Gold with Distinction awards respectively that are reserved for prints that are considered to be of the highest calibre. Judges are often heard to wax lyrical about a Gold award print needing to be one that is never forgotten.   It takes a print of exceptional quality to be awarded with a Silver or Gold award.

Last year (2011) was my first year entering the APPA awards as a full member of the AIPP. Full members of the AIPP are allowed to enter a maximum of four prints across any of the categories and I was thrilled to receive a Gold award with my very first print in the landscape category. My subsequent three prints in ‘landscape’ each scored Silver awards. This year I was equally thrilled to receive two Silver with Distinction awards and two Silver Awards for two photographs from Antarctica and two from Iceland respectively. Each of these prints was printed on my personal favourite paper – Moab Somerset Museum Rag, Higher resolution versions can be seen on my portfolio website at www.jholko.com and limited edition prints are available through Source Photographica in Brighton.

The Fortress – Silver with Distinction APPA 2012

Lone Penguin – Silver with Distinction APPA 2012

Black Dawn – Silver APPA 2012

Iceland Pastels - Silver APPA 2012

Iceland Pastels – Silver APPA 2012

THE DIGITAL SHOW – GICLEE AND MOAB

If you are in Melbourne tomorrow and willing to brave the current spell of bad weather  I will be at the Digital Show at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre for the APPA (Australian Professional Photography Awards). I have a selection of some of my favourite prints on display on a range of  different Moab papers at the Giclee / Moab stand (right behind the Canon stand) . Please feel free to come and say hello and chat all things photography!

Moab Prints at The Digital Show

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