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Polar Bears Up Close!

If you had to choose a position from which to photograph a polar bear, it would be down low (rather than from up high looking down, so you feel the power of the animal), and with an uncluttered background (so the polar bear stands out). So you can imagine my excitement when this polar bear decided to go for a stroll along the edge of Storoya, a tiny island in the Svalbard Archipeligo.

I've recently returned from two trips, the first in Svalbard. I travelled with Kevin Raber from Luminous Landscape and a group of keen photographers, some of who outgunned me with their high end telephotos - 500mm f4 and 400mm f2.8 optics were also trained on the above polar bear, but I did have the advantage of shooting it with two cameras.

This image is shot with the Phase One XF and the 100MP Trichromatic back, using a Schneider Kreuznach 240mm lens. It's not the ultimate wildlife camera outfit because the telephoto isn't long enough and the frame rate is too slow, but the shots that I did get are AMAZING. There is no comparing a Phase One file, especially on the new Trichromatic back and I'm loving the way I only need to caress the colour saturation in Capture One to get a colour palette that I'm in love with! Yes, I'm a convert. And yes, all hand-held from a zodiac (as you can see in the photo at the end of the article).

And the other camera? A much more sensible rig: the new Fujifilm X-H1 with its 100-400mm telephoto. Fast frame rate, 24-megapixels, image stabilisation, long telephoto and lots of bells and whistles. No, the results aren't as sharp as my Phase One files, but if you were comparing images on a website, a little bit of clarity and structure in Capture One creates incredibly crisp and impressive photos from the Fujifilm files. However, what really struck me as being quite amazing was the image stabilisation - I was able to shoot incredibly steady video at 400mm from a moving zodiac. It's not locked off like you'd expect from a tripod, but when the foreground is tracking along with the lumbering polar bear, it looks really cool!

To see my novice video efforts from Svalbard, shot with the Fujifilm X-H1 and a GoPro, search Youtube for 'Eastway' and 'Svalbard' or click this link: https://youtu.be/69rP-qnNHjg

And below, check out the photo of the zodiac with the polar bear in the background! It was a great photo opp!

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Trying Something New?

Bhutan mountain landscape.
Phase One XF, 100MP Trichromatic back, 240mm Schneider-Kreuznach lens.

After three trips to Bhutan, I thought it was time to try something different. In the past, I’ve taken a DSLR or CSC as being a sensible camera for travel photography – and they are. This time, I thought let’s give it a go on medium format (and there is a complete article on my thought process coming up in the September issue of Better Photography).

There are challenges with medium format, especially if you’re going to shoot hand-held as is so often demanded in a travel photography context. So I pushed the ISO to keep my shutter speeds high and it all worked remarkably well.

Then it came to post production and on this particular day, I thought a desaturated look with lots of grain could be appropriate. Interestingly, the day was so grey that I have actually saturated the colours to get the desaturated look, but I am digressing.

I love the way mountains stack themselves one on top of the other, especially if you view them with a telephoto lens because it adds to the compression and isolates the shapes and patterns that are so easily seen with the eye.

So, from 100-megapixel, tripod mounted perfection to a hand-held, high grain rendition. I’m certainly not the only photographer to have used this technique, but it’s always good to try something that is new for you.

The (Mini) Photo Essay

The Boss is getting cold.
Phase One XF, 100MP Trichromatic back, 55mm Schneider-Kreuznach mid-telephoto lens.

Before you read the rest of this blog, check out the four photos. You’ve seen the first up above and the other three are at the end of the article.

What do you know about these photos? What can you tell from the photos alone?

High up on a mountain pass in Bhutan, it was quite chilly. A couple of construction workers stood next to the mandatory chorten, keeping a fire going.

This was the story. It’s a simple story, but it gives you more information to understand what’s happening, but perhaps not quite enough…

The boss had noticed the fire was going out. He sent his assistant across the road to find more wood. Colourfully attired in blue Wellington boots, the assistant grabbed a small tree and dragged it down the hill and back across the road, where he trimmed it ready for burning. He even paused long enough to have a portrait taken.

So, now there’s a story, do the photos have more meaning? Are the photographs more interesting? Do the four photo work better collectively than any one image alone?

Not every photograph we take has to stand alone. I’d suggest none of these photos are brilliant, but together with a little story, they create a mini photo essay.

Before television and video became so prevalent, photographers would create photo essays to better tell a story. They were often documentary in nature and generally very popular with magazine readers.

We can do the same. Whether we publish in a magazine or on a blog doesn’t matter, but I do think it’s important to add a few words, to flesh out the story, to allow your viewers to correctly understand what is happening.

So, on your next photography outing, think about creating a mini photo essay and putting it together. I’d be interested to see what you create – maybe we’ll even publish one or two on this blog?

See the other three images here...

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