31 December 2012

Back from Patagonia

We're back home again. We had a good time in Patagonia, but we had clearly used all our luck for good weather in Antarctica. In Chili we got one decent day where we could actually see the mountains, and the same thing in Argentina. As a result I didn't take many shots with spectacular mountain backdrops, unfortunately. The scenery was stunning though and we really enjoyed driving and walking around. Our 16km hike in total darkness to get to the perfect location for sunrise on Mt. Fitzroy was a complete failure - low clouds and no mountain to be seen - but it was good fun and good exercise. We'll probably go back there next year and hope for better conditions.

17 December 2012

Back from Antarctica

We're back in Ushuaia. Antarctica was awesome. The weather was extremely good - as a matter of fact a bit too good. Lots of sunshine and blue skies, not something I would pick for this place. But I guess it's better than being stuck on the ship because of storms. We got none of that. Temperatures were mild, not a lot of wind, and we didn't miss a single landing. We saw penguins, whales, penguins, leopard seals, penguins, dolphins, and lots of penguins. One of the highlights was cruising between giant icebergs in a small zodiac - can't wait to start processing the images. But I'll have to, because the next two weeks we will spend in Argentina and Chili.

View from the ship on yet another calm and sunny day.

06 December 2012

Double Success In Travel Photographer Of The Year!

I just got an email from the Travel Photographer Of The Year Awards with some great news: I won two First Prizes in this year's competition!

In the landscape category (Wild Planet) I won First Prize for a series of four images from Namibia. All images were shot at night and feature quivertrees and stars, lots of stars.

This is what the judges said about the images:
'The sky is often overlooked when thinking about the wildness of this planet but what better example is there than the sky at night and the heavens filled with stars? Marsel's images were shot using small flashlights and natural starlight to illuminate quiver trees in the Namibian desert.'

One of the four winning shots from Namibia.

The second First Prize is for our timelapse video 'Namibian Nights'. We started working on this timelapse project in 2011 and we put a lot of time and effort in to get the results we were after. This summer I selected and processed all the images for all the different scenes, and after that Daniella did all the editing. We are really happy with the results and we're even happier winning First Prize in this prestigious competition!

The winning images and videos from 2012 will be exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society in London next year. After that, the images will form part of a new TPOTY international touring exhibition.

We will put the video online as soon as we're back home.

Update 15/11: The winning 'Namibian Nights' timelapse video is now online. Check it out here.

28 November 2012

Drake Passage

Ok, this is it. We're aboard the ship, heading towards Antarctica. The weather is calm, and so is the sea. That's nice, because the next two days we'll be crossing the infamous Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage. Boring when it's calm, scary when it's not.

The 800 kilometres (500 mi) wide passage between Cape Horn and Livingston Island is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to the rest of the world's land, and it's known as the roughest sea on the planet. We don't particularly like rough seas, so let's just hope we don't get into the same problems as the Antarctic vessel Clelia II had to deal with a few years ago:

Video courtesy of Pazzo Per Il Mare

If it stays as calm as it is today, then there won't be much to see other than a whole of water and sea birds. The lower deck at the back of the ship is actually quite nice to photograph the birds that are following the ship.

No, that's not me.

27 November 2012

Buenos Aires

Instead of flying straight to Ushuaia, we decided to spend some time in Buenos Aires first - getting used to the (minor) time difference and do some sight seeing. And steak eating.

Today we visited a church and a cemetary in the city, both very photogenic. I didn't want to bring any serious cameras, so I used my iPhone for all photography. And some iPhone filters.

25 November 2012

Antarctica, here we come!

We're off to Antarctica. Last year was fun, but this time Daniella will join me, so she can carry my gear. Just kidding, she's got loads of stuff herself - mostly video gear. We'll be starting from Ushuaia and sail straight down to the Antarctic peninsula for hopefully some great landings.

There will be little or no internet facilities, so if you send us an email it may take us a little longer than usual to respond.

24 November 2012

Seminar Workflow in Belgium

Today we spent the whole day in Antwerp, Belgium, where I gave another Squiver seminar: Nature Photography - From the basic idea to the final print. A big thank you to all participants!

23 November 2012

Presentation at VNFE

Yesterday I gave a presentation at VNFE, a well known nature photography camera club in The Netherlands. Lots of people showed up, and it was nice to finally meet some of the people behind the names that I knew only from photography fora and Facebook. Thank you all for showing up, it was fun!

16 November 2012

AF-S 24-70/2.8 to the Emergency Room

Something weird happened to my 24-70. On the Wildlife Bootcamp in Spain last month I first noticed that the zoom ring was not moving as smoothly anymore. I thought it was probably the weather and didn't pay much attention to it. But every time I used the lens, it was getting more and more stiff.

Then suddenly one day there was a new symptom: the zoom ring got stuck somewhere around 50mm. I could still zoom out to 24, but when zooming in, the ring stopped at 50mm. As a result I didn't use it as much on this trip, but every time I did, the zoom ring got stuck at a different focal length. Yes, very weird. And when I say stuck, I mean really stuck as if something mechanical on the inside of the lens stopped it.

When I got back home, I brought it to Nikon Service Center for repairs. Today it was ready to be picked up again. Obviously, my first question was what was wrong with the lens and what caused it. Their answer: the lens had been dropped or something had hit the lens. Right. I knew that I hadn't dropped the lens, nor that anything had hit it. But they insisted that they could see damage that could only have been caused by some sort of heavy impact. I still don't believe this is what has caused the defect, but what do you do?

They replaced: Guide Roller T=4.99, Rubber Ring, 1st Lens Lead Ring, Lens Hood Fixed Ring Unit. Total costs: 335 Euros! That's roughly the price of a brand new Nikon D3100 body and an extra battery...

Update 28/12: On my trip to Antarctica I met a German photographer who had exactly the same problems with the same lens. He also said that he had not dropped or bumped his lens. What's going on?

07 November 2012

Double Light

A couple of weeks ago I posted an image here of Turret Arch shot through North Window, and I included Daniella to add some scale to the shot and to make it slightly different from the kazillion other images that have been shot at this location.

But I knew that it would take a lot more to create something truly different, so I gave it some serious thought and made a plan. I decided to shoot at night, hope for snow, and use a combination of moonlight and flashlight as I had never seen that before. I thought: night shot + moonlight + stars + snow + flashlight = not very likely to have been shot before :-)

There was only a very small window (sorry) of time to do this, because I wanted a low moon and it needed to rise at a certain angle or else there would be large shadows of the rocks behind me creeping into the shot. The inside of the arch was lit by Daniella during part of the exposure with a Surefire Invictus, the flashlight of the gods.

31 October 2012

New Tour In South Africa: Tigers & Leopards

Earlier this year I was on assignment for National Geographic Traveler in India to shoot for an article on tiger safaris. I was there for a week and visited both Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore, their most famous tiger parks. It turned out to be a very frustrating experience - only on our very last game drive did we see a tiger. One tiger. After sunset. On the road. Hardly the ideal conditions for a good photograph.

Tigers are indigenous to Asia and there are many companies that offer photo tours to India, where they visit the same two parks which are supposed to be the best. But chances of you actually seeing a tiger are small, and seeing one in good photography conditions are even smaller. Unfortunately, chances of seeing a tiger in the wild are diminishing further every year, as tiger conservation on the Asian continent does not seem to be very successful. Numbers are decreasing rapidly and necessary measures, like properly fencing the national parks, are not taken.

This has always been the main reason we have never organized a tiger photography tour before - you simply can't promise good tiger sightings in those parks if you only have limited time. Another reason is that the famous tiger parks are heavily overcrowded with tourists and vehicles, and that you have to be extremely lucky to be in a good position for photography when you arrive at a sighting. Been there, done that.

And the fact that I saw just one tiger during that whole week does make one wonder how many tigers are actually still left in the national parks. Once the tiger is lost to the parks, so is the tourist potential and so too is the vital income needed to save the tiger from poachers. It’s a downward spiral.

But even though my first tiger encounter was short and far from ideal, I was impressed with this incredibly pretty cat and I was determined to get better pictures.

Tigers in South Africa?

This year we met John Varty, also known as JV. A man who has been wild about big cats most of his life. He came up with a highly controversial plan to do something about tiger conservation. His idea was to create a free-ranging, self-sustaining tiger population outside Asia. In South Africa, to be precise.

This tour impression video was shot & edited by Daniëlla

Because of his vast knowledge of wildlife conservation and his success with leopards in Londolozi, JV was invited to visit India and he offered his advise on how to improve the living conditions of the tiger. When it became clear to JV that nothing was going to change in the way tiger conservation was handled in India, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

In 2000 JV came up with the idea to buy huge stretches of farmland in South Africa and start a new game reserve - one where tigers could roam in the wild, hunting on their own, living free while protected by a huge fence; to keep the tigers in and the poachers out.

In the beginning he was criticized by conservationists, who questioned the value of what he was doing, but he hung on and continued to work with his two original tigers that came from a zoo in the USA. Two additional captive bred tigers were added to the mix and were rehabilitated to the wild, and soon the first litters were born.

In December 2010 there were already 16 tigers in the sanctuary, and it is currently the most successful tiger conservation project in the world when it comes to rapidly increasing numbers of tigers.

Meanwhile, things are changing and the world has caught up a bit with JV’s wild thinking and his “Just do it” approach. Recent news that all the tigers have disappeared from Panna, one of India’s leading reserves, when just 2 years ago there was still a healthy population of 24, has somewhat vindicated Varty’s big idea. Maybe he was not so crazy after all.

We visited JV earlier this year, spent a few days with the tigers, and we were very impressed. The tiger sanctuary is huge, the tigers have loads of space, they can hunt for themselves, and they are well protected from the outside world by a state of the art fence. We had so many good photo opportunities with the tigers, that we were instantly convinced that this is the place to go if you want good tiger images. So we decided to organize a tour to this remarkable place.

The sanctuary offers us a unique view into the life of the tiger. As the tigers are used to vehicles, we will be able to see them up close in the African landscape, allowing us to make stunning pictures of these beautiful big cats. And there will be no other tourists, just our group.

You are virtually guaranteed to see tigers on every drive. There are lots of open areas and we are allowed to drive off-road (landscape permitting) to follow a tiger when we find one. The landscape is beautiful and very diverse. There are open plains, hills, rocks, reeds, small streams and ponds. This offers us the opportunity to photograph tigers in all kinds of surroundings and situations: walking, hunting, playing, relaxing, sun bathing, jumping and swimming.

The Leopards Of Sabi Sand

The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is a collection of private game reserves that share unfenced borders with each other and Kruger NP. This allows the free movement of wildlife over more than 2 million hectares of pristine bush.

We stay at Londolozi, one of the most exclusive lodges in the park. You will experience exceptional cuisine and the very best game viewing with some of Africa’s finest rangers and trackers.

But the main reason for choosing Londolozi for our leopard tour is because of the photographic opportunities it has to offer: if you want to get good images of leopards, it just does not get any better than this! We have 2 private vehicles for our group, where you will each have your own row of seats. This allows you to move freely from side to side in the car, with ample room for your gear, and without being bothered by someone sitting next to you, blocking your view.

With over 16,000 hectares of traversing wilderness, no two game drives are ever the same. Trackers sit up at the front of the Land Rover looking for fresh animal tracks, while rangers drive with great skill through ravines and thickets in pursuit of elusive animals. Although the focus of this trip is on leopards, we are a Big Five area, so you may expect to encounter lion, rhino, buffalo and elephant as well.

Breeding herds of elephant and buffalo roam throughout the Londolozi area, while white rhino and lion concentrations are amongst the highest recorded on the African continent. However, it is the truly remarkable relationship between wild free ranging leopards and ranger & trackers which has developed over three decades that has made Londolozi world famous.

There is no disputing that viewing the leopards of Londolozi is one of life’s truly treasured experiences. And it is exactly the reason that we chose this amazing camp to photograph leopards. It is simply the best!

The tour includes daily briefings, in the field instructions, image reviews, and post processing tips.

If you want to join us on this spectacular tour, don't wait too long because the trips are filling fast! We have several departure dates in June and July 2013, but there is limited space available per tour, as we travel in very small groups of just 6 guests.

Check out the Tigers & Leopards Photo Tour page for more information and a detailed PDF.

Hope to see you there!


29 October 2012

Nature's Best Awards 2012

This year's results of the 2012 Nature’s Best International Photography Awards have been announced, and the hippo shot that I took on the Beyond The Great Rivers tour in Zambia (see previous blog post) was chosen as a Highly Honored winner. 

It was also picked as one of the cover images for the Fall/Winter issue.

Selected from nearly 20,000 images from photographers in 46 countries, some 500 photos made it into the semi-final round of judging and only 129 images made it to the finals. A selection of Highly Honored winners will be displayed in the annual photo exhibition at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. opening June 2013.

12 October 2012

Back from Zambia

Just returned from Zambia for this year's Beyond The Great Rivers tour - it was awesome. Great group, great sightings (leopards!) and great scenery.

We've been on safaris in most African safari countries, and Zambia is easily one of our favorites. It's not as crowded as the Masai Mara, the Serengeti or Kruger, not as expensive as the Okavango, you can drive off road, you're not limited to opening or closing times of the parks, you can get out of your vehicle, and there's lots of water. During the hot dry season that's where all the animals will be so that's where most of the activity will be.

We used small boats to photograph the wildlife on the shore (elephants, crocs, buffalo, etc.) and in the water. One of my favorite animals in and around the Zambezi is the hippo. They're big, dangerous, often shy, and very photogenic - that is, when they're not submerged :-)

I haven't had time to select or process any images from this year's trip yet, so here's one from last year. Shot while sitting on the bottom of a small boat to get the low angle. We banked the boat at a safe distance from a pod of hippos, an hour or so before sunset.

The key to success when photographing hippos, is patience. The moment you stop near a pod they usually submerge and only show themselves every now and then to take a deep breath. After a while however, they get used to your presence and get more relaxed. Hippos are very territorial and can be ill-tempered - a dangerous mix. They can be aggressive towards people, but also towards other hippos. And when hippos have an argument, there's always a lot of noise and splashing involved.

This hippo had a brief conflict with one of its neighbors, which resulted in a series of intimidating big head and teeth displays. This shot is basically the end of that little quarrel, and I liked the profile, the expression and the soft directional light.

If you would like to join us on our next Zambia workshop, please check out our website for more information, pictures and tour impression video clips.

Hope to see you there!


24 September 2012

Awesome video footage from our Ultimate Bears photo tour

We have some awesome footage to share with you, shot by Daryl Godkin, one of our participants on this year's Squiver photo tour to Alaska. We are happy to tell you that both Daryl and the GoPro survived this close encounter :-) You can view the video on my Facebook page or by clicking the image below. Want to join us next year? You can find more information about our bear photo tour on our website.

19 September 2012

Eye to Eye

Icons. Most people love them, many landscape photographers hate them, and both groups for the same reason: because they're icons.

Arches NP in Utah is full of icons, and most of them have been photographed to death by millions of people who were all equally excited when they were standing right next to one of them. Especially the ones close to the parking of course ;-)

I like photographing these iconic places, because they're usually worth seeing with your own eyes, and because they provide a challenge to any serious photographer: how on earth am I going to create something different here? I've been to many places that few people have ever visited before, and to shoot something original in those places is very easy - just point your camera in any direction, and you're done. Well, maybe not like that, but you know what I mean. When you're standing in a spot from where many thousands, or even millions of photographs have been taken before you, it makes you think a little more about what you're going to do.

Before my first visit to Arches I had seen many pictures of Turret Arch shot through North Window, and never had I noticed that North Window was actually this big. It wasn't until I walked towards this giant opening and noticed it's position relative to Turret Arch that I realized that I had been completely wrong. It's a way more impressive scene than the photographs I had seen ever suggested.

The first thing I therefore did was to add a human element (who else?) to the shot to give a sense of scale to the image. It's still the same icon that's been shot to death, but the combination of the human element and the snow in the background make it just a little more different from the rest, which was all I was after.

I also shot another version of this scene without the person and with very different lighting conditions that I will post later.

If you would like to join us on our next Utah workshop, please check out our website for more information, pictures and tour impression video clips.


12 September 2012

Nature Photographer Of The Year - again!

I am very proud to announce that, for the second year in a row, I won the title Nature Photographer Of The Year at the prestigious International Photography Awards (IPA), as well as several other prizes.

My entry The Valley Of Death was awarded 1st Prize in the Nature-Trees category at this year’s edition of the competition, and it was chosen as the overall winner of the Nature category. The winning series consists of five landscape photographs that I shot in my favorite country, Namibia.

When we first visited Namibia many years ago, few people had heard of the country, let alone seen pictures of it. Countless times I've heard comments like 'is this for real?' or 'that must have been photoshopped' every time I showed the pictures that I had shot of the surreal Namibian landscapes. But things change. Over the past years, Namibia has become a popular destination amongst landscape photographers from all over the world. As a result, there is a steady growth of images of this stunning country, and each year I visit Namibia it's getting more and more difficult to return with original shots. And that's a good thing. It has pushed me to try harder, to find new viewpoints, new perspectives, and to experiment with different techniques. This winning series is the result of that hard work, and I am extremely happy that it all paid off. I consider the IPA to be the most inspiring photographic competition on this planet, and I am honored to see my name amongst those of many great artists who have all raised the artistic bar with their photography.

One of five images from the series 'The Valley Of Death', featuring dead camelthorn trees in Deadvlei,shot on a rare foggy morning in Namibia. 1st Prize in the Nature category and the overall winning entry.

But that's not all - I also won 1st Prize in the Nature-Other category for my entry Dwarfed, a series of landscape photographs shot at various locations, featuring small human figures in awe-inspiring scenery. I like to do this in my wildlife photography as well, and as a result an English photo magazine once called me 'a wildlife photographer who thinks like a landscape photographer'. And although I don't consider myself a wildlife photographer, I see what they mean, and I think they're right. It's the landscape that I often value more than the subject itself. The winning shots were taken in Libya, Iceland, Algeria and the US. Special thanks to Daniella for posing for me in three of the five pictures - you may only be a few pixels high in each shot, but they wouldn't have been the same without you.

Bizarre rock structures in the Algerian desert are towering over Daniella after sunset.
1st Prize in the Nature-Other category.

And it doesn't stop there, because I also won 2nd Prize in the Travel category for my entry ‘Iceland’. Earlier this year Daniella and I spent quite some time in Iceland to set up a new photo tour there, and we were amazed by the untamed beauty of this incredible island. It is a landscape photographer's paradise, and it's basically impossible to take a bad photograph when you're surrounded by so much awesomeness. No matter where you point your camera, there is always enough potential for a great shot. My winning series consists of five photographs that were shot in the South and the North of Iceland.

A large chunk of ice on a black lava beach near Jökulsárlón, shot at sunrise. 2nd Prize in the Travel category.

And the good news continues, because I also won 3rd Prize in the Wildlife category for my entry ‘Close Encounters’, featuring a series of 5 images of, well, close encounters with various wildlife. And I received two Honorable Mentions - one for a black and white pano landscape shot from Namibia, and one for a black and white series of elephant shots. This puts me in the top of the most awarded photographers in this year’s competition, and it's a surreal experience.

African elephant, photographed from a few feet away. Part of a series of
five images, and 3rd Prize winner in the Wildlife category.

As a category winner, I am still in the race to win the title International Photographer Of The Year. During the tenth Annual Lucie Awards gala on October 8, one of the eight finalists will be crowned overall winner, earning one of the coveted Lucie statues and a cheque for 10,000 USD. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the event as we will be in Zambia hosting our Beyond The Great Rivers tour, but please wish me luck!

All the winning photographs are available as fine art prints. For prices and sizes, please have a look at the shop section on our website.

And if you would like to learn how to shoot images like this yourself, why not join us on one of our photo tours? For an overview of the tours we currently offer, please visit the photo tours section on our website.


02 August 2012

Article in Digital SLR Photography Magazine

The August issue of Digital SLR Photography Magazine now features an article called The Complete Picture, in which several of the world's top photographers (their words!) give their tips on how to master travel photography. Marsel's famous Victoria Falls image was used as the opening spread, as well as 8 other wildlife images. In the wildlife section Marsel talks about how to plan for your trip and about his favorite places to shoot wildlife.

13 July 2012

Serenity In White

This was shot on our last White & Wild Japan tour.

On this trip we visit the main island Honshu to photograph the snow monkeys, and we visit the Northern island Hokkaido to photograph Japan's spectacular birdlife; white-tailed eagles, Steller's sea eagles, the endangered Japanese cranes, and whooper swans. These swans can also be photographed outside of Japan, but nowhere do you get to shoot them with such stunning scenery and backdrops as on Hokkaido. We visit this great lake that freezes over in winter, except for a few parts close to shore where warm water from natural hot springs runs into the lake. Obviously, the swans like to swim there, and as the rest of the lake is frozen, there are many swans in a few relatively small areas - perfect for photographers.

On this particular morning the conditions were very good - a crystal clear sky with a good view of the mountains in the background, fog, some soft sunlight, and a lot of swan activity. We got flocks flying low over our heads, fly-by's, landings, take-offs, wing flapping and dancing.

What I like about this shot are the different activities all in one image; sitting, sleeping, flying, landing and calling (the one on the far right in the distance). It's a shame there's no sound with this picture, because that can be pretty impressive.

If you would like to join us on our next White & Wild Japan workshop, please check out the White & Wild Japan page on our website for more information, pictures and tour impression video clips.


10 July 2012

At The Gates

Of all the National Parks that I have ever visited in the US, Arches NP is without a doubt the most iconic one. Millions of photographs have been shot here, and to come up with something different is not easy. That does not mean one shouldn't try though, and I personally greatly enjoy thinking of new possibilities to photograph iconic subjects.

Double Arch is one of them. When you're standing below this imposing marvel of nature, it's hard not to be impressed by the size and the beauty of this amazing structure. From my research before my visit to Arches, I learned that 99.9% of all the images of this arch are more or less taken from the same viewpoint. I'm sure one of the reasons for this is that you need some distance to get the whole thing to fit inside your frame - standing inside the arch is not going to work. Unless of course you have a 14mm on a full frame camera. :-) But even then it was tough to find a position where I could get all the openings and the lines at the right places - it only worked with a vertical composition. And I was perfectly fine with that, because the vast majority of images taken of this arch are all horizontals.

I also decided to photograph the arch at night and to bring out the details and colors by using a flashlight. The advantage of doing this also meant that there would be stars, and stars are nice. I wanted to include part of the Milky Way, which meant that I had only a very short window of time to take the shot. These decisions were all very important in order to create something original, but the most important one for me was to include a human figure. As always, Daniella was so kind to risk her life by climbing into the arch Her presence really brings the shot to life and it acts as a vital scale element. The fact that most landscape photographers don't like humans in their pictures is always a nice bonus when you're trying to create something original. :-)

This was shot three years ago as a double exposure - one for the sky with my lovely assistant, one for the light painting. We tried to shoot it again with our group on this year's Arches Under The Stars workshop, but the weather gods did not want to cooperate. They gave use snow the next day though, so that made up for that.

If you would like to join us on our next Arches Under The Stars workshop, have a look on our website for more information.


30 June 2012

Interview in N-Photo Magazine

We just returned from Africa - without our luggage of course. What else is new?

We started 7 weeks ago in Namibia with this year's Namibia Untamed tour, after that we spent two weeks in South Africa scouting for a new (and still top secret) tour, we then returned to Namibia to try some new ideas for a personal project I've been working on since last year, and we finished it all off with a week in the Kalahari desert.

Life goes on, so there are some things we missed while we were away. One of them was Holland getting kicked out of Euro 2012, another one was my interview in N-Photo magazine. N-Photo is the world's only independent magazine for Nikon DSLR photographers, and their June issue featured an extensive article on my photography with lots of pictures to go with it. If you're a Nikon user and have never read the magazine - give it a try.

05 June 2012

Silent Remains

We just returned from this year's Namibia workshop - great as always. Even though this was already our 9th or 10th visit, I still consider it a huge privilege to be able to walk around in the incredibly stunning landscapes this amazing country has to offer. What surprises me every time, is that even though I know most of the locations we visit by heart, and have taken thousands of images there, I still see new compositions that I missed on previous visits. This changes from year to year. Last year for instance, I suddenly saw way more possibilities than the years before, and I still wonder what caused that. One day you're really struggling to get anything decent, the next you see nothing but great shots to be taken all around you. Anyway, this is one from last year's visit to Namibia's most iconic location: Deadvlei. Shot early morning during pre-glow.

If you would like to join us on next year's Namibia Untamed tour, please check out our website for more information, images, dates, prices and tour impression video clips.


01 May 2012

Review: RainCoat Pro by LensCoat

For years I've been using rain covers from StormJacket for a number of reasons: they're compact, lightweight, quick and easy to put on, effective, and cheap. But you can't get all that without making some compromises. The StormJackets are not breathable, not quiet, and offer no easy access to the controls. Although this is not necessarily a problem, there are occasions where it is.

Most 'serious' rain covers however, are complicated, bulky designs that take forever to put on, and are often expensive. Some of those designs require you to use a dedicated eyepiece. My first serious rain cover was one from Kata. I don't recall the exact name, but it must have been the most time-consuming and complicated rain cover ever. We were going to visit Kenya during the rainy season, and I needed something to protect my 600 mm so that I could continue shooting in the rain. Bad weather is good weather for a nature photographer, so a rain cover is a standard item in my bag. But this one was designed by a hamster, so it made absolutely no sense - I literally had to take the lens off to be able to put the cover on. Not something you want to do in pouring rain. Needless to say that it took too much time and hassle to use it, so I ended up using a towel or a rain jacket instead. 

Enter the RainCoat by LensCoat. You probably know LensCoat from the neoprene covers they offer for lenses and tripod legs, as well as a range of pouches for various photography items. They now also offer a rain cover, and from looking at the specs, I was interested enough to give it a try.

The RainCoat is best described as something between a StormJacket and the more bulky, complicated and expensive covers.

There are two versions: the RainCoat Standard and the RainCoat Pro. The standard version fits DSLRs with small lenses up to 100-400/400mm f5.6., whereas the Pro version is designed for DSLRs with lenses from 200-400/300mm f/2.8 - 800mm. I have the Pro version to fit my 600/4.0.

The RainCoat is available in different designs; three solid colors and four camo patterns. At the time when I got mine, the Realtree Max4camo version was the only option, so that's what I use now. I always think the camo gear looks a bit silly, especially when you're not hiding underneath a ton of branches. You're not fooling anyone - the animals will notice you.

The Fabric
The first thing I noticed, was the fabric - it's different from all the other rain covers I have used and seen. The fabric is called poly tricot, and it is much softer to the touch, less plasticky. The most obvious advantage of this is that the rain cover is super quiet. Sound may not be an issue when you're shooting landscapes, but when you're shooting some shy animal, you don't want sound like a bag of crisps every time you try to access your rain cover.

Another advantage of this fabric is that it is breathable. Both my StormJacket and Kata rain covers are not, and this often leads to condensation inside the cover. The moment you access the rain cover with your warm, wet hand(s), this can already happen. It's nothing serious for the camera, but it usually fogs up your viewfinder - not something you want to happen when you're about to shoot those two snow leopards fighting in the rain.

Obviously, a rain cover needs to be waterproof. Based on my short field test, I'd say it is. Every time I used the RainCoat, the camera and lens stayed completely dry.

Shooting sea birds: wind, waves and sea spray

The Design
Even though the quiet material and the breathability are important features, the design is the most important one for me. I don't want to waste valuable shooting time figuring out how to put my rain cover on. When it's too much hassle, it's very likely that I won't use it, or too late. That means that the camera will already be wet from the first drizzle and condensation will occur when you put the rain cover on then. Luckily, the RainCoat is extremely simple to put on, and it only takes a few seconds. 

At the bottom of the RainCoat is a large velcro opening - you simply shove the lens in there and then the rest of the set up. You'll be able to do this very fast, and when you've done so, your gear is already protected from the rain. What follows is just a matter of fine tuning the cover to get a tight fit. You can either close the velcro at the bottom, or you can leave it open for even better breathability. This will also give you easy access to the focus or zoom ring.

As always, the difference between a good product and a great product, is in the details. The front end of the hood section has a thin rubber coating that will prevent it from moving or slipping off. A big improvement over my StormJackets that don't have this. The RainCoat uses a velcro strap to tighten this part of the cover, and it does the trick quickly.

At the other end things are just as simple. The RainCoat is not a completely closed system - the part where your body is, is open and can be closed with a drawstring. You might think that this is not the most waterproof solution, and it isn't. But, I greatly prefer this over the closed designs that necessitate a dedicated eye piece. Those covers take way more time to put on, they condensate easily and often fast, and each camera requires a different eye piece. On our tours and workshops I've seen many different systems, and without exception the eye piece designs took ages to put on, and to take off again. It's just not for me. The drawstring works fine. I can leave the whole thing open when there's not a lot of rain or when I want quick and easy access to the buttons, and I can close it in a second by pulling the drawstring. This is the same way the StormJackets work, but the RainCoat has something extra.

The RainCoat features an integrated pocket with a foldaway arm sleeve, located next to where the grip of your camera is. You simply open the pocket, and the arm sleeve appears. The sleeve gives easy access to the camera controls, and I see no reason not to use it. The alternative is to keep it closed and access the controls from the back. This works, but it means you have to keep the opening rather wide, which might not be what you want when there is a lot of rain or wind. Inside the pocket there is a small compartment where you can keep a lens cloth and cards - good thinking.

Another great feature of the RainCoat is the cinch straps. With these straps you can adjust the cover length by folding the material over itself, and keep cover snug. This is particularly useful when there is a lot of wind - no flapping of loose material.

The Pro version comes with a hood extension sleeve for 600mm and 800mm lenses that I have not used yet, but it seems very simple to attach.

Shooting in areas with geothermal activity, means shooting in sulphuric steam. No problem with the RainCoat.

In The Field
I have used the RainCoat on my recent trip to Iceland, the perfect country for testing a rain cover. One of the things that Iceland is famous for, is horizontal rain. Especially in the Southern part of the country the wind can be pretty wild. It was because of those strong winds that I quickly learned to appreciate the cinch straps.

But in Iceland there is more to worry about than only rain, snow and wind. It's an island, so it has plenty of coast, and some parts are incredibly beautiful. Strong winds mean high waves, and high waves mean lots of spray. Sea spray may resemble drizzle, but the difference is that sea spray contains salt. Salt is corrosive and therefore bad for your gear, so you don't want it on your camera or lens.

On dry days, away from the sea, I still ended up using the RainCoat for very specific circumstances I hadn't thought of before. Iceland has 180 volcanoes, of which 18 are known to be active. As a result, there are a lot of places with geothermal activity where shot steam rises from deep inside the earth. These locations are extremely photogenic, but the steam is something to watch out for. Not only will your cold camera condensate in a second when you walk through it, the steam also contains a lot of sulphur - really bad for your gear. I felt much more comfortable walking around with my gear protected by the RainCoat.

At the end of a shoot, removing the LensCoat is as easy as putting it on. It's not really important how you fold the thing, the mesh storage pouch is big enough for it to fit. And the fact that it's mesh, means that it will continue to dry inside the pouch.

This is a great rain cover. It's tape seam sealed, so completely waterproof, but that's what you expect from a rain cover. The RainCoat may be larger, heavier and more expensive than my StormJackets, it also has a lot more to offer. At the same time, the RainCoat is still much more compact, more lightweight, more quiet, more flexible, easier to put on and less expensive than most of the competition. For me, that makes the RainCoat the rain cover of my choice for all my long lenses. For shooting with lenses up to a 70-200, I will continue to use my StormJackets.

Highly Recommended.


25 April 2012

New Iceland photo tour now online!

As most of you will know, we have traveled in Iceland extensively last month to set up a new photo tour there. It was a truly spectacular experience and we're excited that we can now officially introduce the Iceland Winter Wilderness Tour 2013.

We already got so many enthusiastic reactions on the iPhone shots that Daniella posted on her Facebook page when we were still in Iceland, and on the awesome video impression she made soon after, that the first tour was already fully booked before it even officially existed. Which is why we set up a second tour that will start a few days after the first one:

Iceland Winter Wilderness: 14-23 March 2013

Here's the introduction text from the Iceland photo tour page on our website:

Iceland is a country of boiling mud pools, spurting geysers, vast glaciers and countless waterfalls. Its breathtaking landscape is even more spectacular in winter. Snow accentuates the black lava fields, and in the evening we may marvel at the dancing lights of the aurora in the night sky. We will photograph magnificent waterfalls, vast glaciers and seascapes, and along the way pass lava fields, craters, volcanoes, and fields of volcanic ash. One of the highlights is Jökulsárlón, the largest glacial lagoon in Iceland with floating icebergs and surreal ice-covered black beaches. This tour offers you more photography and less driving; a chartered plane will fly us to the North for some of Iceland’s most scenic landscapes.

If you want more information, please visit the Iceland page on our website. You can also download a 14 page PDF with even more info there.

This trip is suitable for photographers of all experience levels. There will be daily briefings, in the field instructions, and image reviews. You'll return with spectacular images!

Spouses and non-photographing travel companions will also enjoy this amazing trip!

If you're interested, don't wait too long with your booking - the second tour is filling up very fast as well...

Marsel & Daniella

Interview on 500px

Marsel has been interviewed by 500px. You can read the entire interview here.

Marsel's Images Featured on WeTransfer

Ever since they first started, WeTransfer has been our favorite way to transfer large files. Their interface is the cleanest and easiest around, they allow you to send files up to 2GB, and best of all: it's free!

We're proud that WeTransfer has chosen two of Marsel's images to be featured as a wallpaper on their website. When you're going to use their services in the next days, you should see either his star trail shot or his running oryx shot, both from Namibia.

16 April 2012

New video: Iceland Winter Wilderness

The video impression of our Squiver Photo Tour is ready! On 23 April the tour will go live on our website. And when it does, you will be able to find detailed information and make a booking for this spectacular tour.

We noticed when posting the new video for Turkey, that subscribers to our blog receive an email where the embedded video is not visible. We apologize for this - something is not going well between Blogger and Vimeo. So for all of our subscribers: please have a look at the video on Vimeo.

10 April 2012

Iceland - Part III

(all shots made by Daniëlla with her iPhone and some funky iPhone post-processing apps)
We have returned from Iceland and it was absolutely wonderful. Can't wait to go back again! So let me share with you our last ten days.

In the north there was still a lot of snow, which prevented us from visiting some of the places we had in mind. We wanted to go to a nice waterfall, but it was located along a treacherous small road. When the road turned into a trail through a grassland, we decided not to test the car again as there was no other traffic around to pull us out of the mud. But there were some nice Icelandic horses. They stay out in the open all year round, so they get this beautiful furry coat. Really fluffy and good looking. And they are very docile too. So Marsel picked his target and decided to lie flat on his tummy in the snow. Brave man :-) The horses however were so curious, that they constantly came too close to get a sniff at us and they even followed us around when we went walking. They make nice subjects, looking very handsome in the snow. 

Although they are small in size, the Icelandic horse is very strong and can handle the cold weather very well.
But don't make the mistake of calling them ponies. They will start kicking & screaming!
For our last week in Iceland we wanted to return to the south again, because we skipped a lot of good spots there at the start of the trip. They say about Iceland that the wind always blows and the rain always falls horizontally - well... they are right! It was raining so hard when we were there early March, that it was not possible to make any shots at the time. 

We rented a small cottage, so we did not have to adjust to a schedule for breakfast or dinner at a hotel. Luckily for us, the weather around Vik was dry, so we were able to scout the area very well and take some nice shots.

We went back to Skogafoss, one of the well known waterfalls in Iceland. Although we were there in the middle of the day and the sun was out, we had a great time. Funny how you can shoot in Iceland practically all day long. As long is it is relatively dry, it works. The sun played with the spray of the waterfall and gave us a gorgeous rainbow. Did you know, that if you move closer to the waterfall, the rainbow becomes smaller and changes shape? I didn't. For one of the pictures Marsel took, he wanted me to stand really close to the waterfall. I got very very wet from all the spray, but also saw a circular rainbow. No, no picture. My iPhone would not have survived all that water.

Skogafoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in the south of Iceland.
There are a number of very well known sea scapes in the south as well, which make nice subjects for sunrise or sunset.... provided there is one :-) But we also discovered some very nice caves on the beach with beautiful basalt columns. Always wonderful to work with and to shoot details. You have to watch out for the tides in order to ge there, so it involves some planning to go.

When driving in Iceland, it is hard to keep going and not stop for something that you see along the way. One thing we noticed is that there are a lot of abandoned or run down farm houses. Here I have included one, while taking a picture of a waterfall, just to show you some of the surroundings and the atmosphere of the country. 

Another absolute highlight of our trip were the glaciers. There are many of them and Europe's largest glacier is in Iceland. Although it is very tempting to go and walk on them to get a closer look, it is very dangerous. At one of the glaciers there was a plaque mentioning two men that went for a walk and never returned. So if you'd like to do some glacier walking, book a guided tour!

When the sun is gone, the blue ice of the glacier can give the clouds a blueish tint.
All the blue colors in the ice and the sky reflect nicely in the still water.
If you have never seen a glacier with your own eyes (like me) it is quite overwhelming. The size, the colors, the shapes, the high mountains in the background. Really impressive. It makes you feel very small and humble. 

At the end of a glacier, there are usually lakes formed by the melting water and chunks of ice that break off where the glacier ends. The glaciers recede each year, so it will all be different next year. But I am sure it will be just as spectacular!

We will show you some of Marsel's images from Iceland and my video in our next post, when we announce the Squiver Photo Tour in Iceland, which will start end of February 2013. Are you ready to go to Iceland? Join us! A PDF with a detailed tour schedule, tour photos and a video impression of the trip will all be posted on our website and this blog within the next two weeks. So keep your eyes open and make sure to make a booking - we expect the tour to fill really quickly!

18 March 2012

Second post from Iceland

(all shots made by Daniëlla with her iPhone and some goofy post-processing apps)
We spent a number of days at the glacier lake, hoping to get some good shots of the northern lights with the huge blocks of glacier ice that were lying on the beach. But it was very hard. The weather in Iceland can change in 5 minutes from clear to completely overcast with a blizzard blowing right into your face. And there were a lot of clouds hiding the northern light from our view. During the day we visited the glacier that produces all the ice blocks in the glacier lake. The colors on the glacier were beautiful.

It is amazing to see the blue and black ice of the glacier Breidamerkurjokull
that expands into the glacier lake Jokulsarlón.  
During our stay at the glacier lake it was full moon, which helped a lot with bringing out the ice blocks on the beach at night. As the northern light seems to come and go really quickly here, we didn't want to miss anything and decided not to have dinner in the guesthouse, but to take hot water with us and have noodle soup in the car. When the moon was out, we started working on a composition, hoping the northern lights would cooperate and appear at the right spot. It was freezing cold and the wind was blowing hard, and we had to wait a long time in the cold, but in the end we got the shot we were looking for. Patience is key. Oh, and lots of warm layers to avoid you from freezing :-)

Speaking of freezing.... we are so glad we came to Iceland at this time of year. The frozen water on all the waterfalls really adds character and makes this beautiful country even prettier to photograph! The spray of the water clings to the rocks and the most interesting ice formations and patterns are formed on the rocks. A real feast!

The half frozen Selfoss waterfall had amazing ice sculptures on both sides.
Last week we traveled to the northern part of Iceland, to well known places like Lake Myvatn and some of Icelands most iconic waterfalls: Dettifoss and Selfoss.

It is always nice to see a location from various sides, as it clearly changes your view on it. In most cases, you just walk to the other side, but with a waterfall.... hm... different story! Below you can see Dettifoss from the east side. You can see the full scale of the waterfall, but the view is somewhat obscured by the snow on the side. But you can also use it to frame your shot :-)

Dettifoss from the east side, where they made a new road in order to give easy access for everyone.
Visiting Dettifoss on the west side was another story. It was quite difficult to get there, as there was a lot of snow. But it was interesting to see it from both the east and the west, as the perspective on the waterfall was quite different. Below is a small movie clip that I made with my iPhone, showing you the view from the west side, where you can get very low and close to the waterfall.

There are several craters in the Myvatn area that you can visit. It is not easy to climb to the rim when the tracks are covered with snow and ice, but the view is worth the effort; both on the crater and the surroundings. Unfortunately, Marsel didn't know I was photographing him, and the distance was too great to shout at him and ask him to stand still, so he is a bit blurry in the shot. But it does give you an idea of how big this crater is. 

Apart from the beauty of the ice and snow, another advantage of traveling here in winter, is that there are hardly any tourists around. In summer it can be really busy in Iceland, because all the roads are easily accessible during the milder summer months. This means that you can visit the highlands of Iceland, which are in the center of the island. However, we prefer the current weather conditions and solitude. We often had the most spectacular locations all to ourselves. A very nice experience.

The only time we were extremely happy to see other people, was when we got stuck! 

We were exploring the back country to look for interesting locations off the beaten track for next year's photo workshop in Iceland, when we suddenly sunk deep into the snow. Hidden underneath it was a large pool of mud that was way too deep for our jeep. Reversing only resulted in spinning wheels and mud being thrown up into the air and onto the car. After various attempts with floor mats, we gave up. Luckily, there was a nice Icelandic man that spotted us waving for help and he offered to pull us out with his big jeep with huge tires. That did the trick. 

The lava from age-old eruptions has solidified and left interesting formations and rock arches behind.
 I swear the arch in the middle is trying to imitate Turret Arch - one of the most iconic arches in Utah :-)

We are glad we have taken the time to do the scouting, because it is actually quite difficult to stick to our plan of getting somewhere around a certain time when we travel. We see so many interesting things along the way, that we stop after driving for just 10 minutes for something that we want to photograph or have a closer look at. No, I am not complaining about it - it just shows how beautiful this country is.

As we were traveling north, the river next to the road gave us a spectacular sight: once frozen over, the water level had risen and all the ice broke. At the curves it was all pushed on the shores by the force of the water, forming two more rivers of ice :-) We drove back and tried a small road that was on the other side of the river, which came much closer and lower to the river than the main road. We asked a farmer for permission to walk on his land and went down to the river. The blocks of ice where huge and stacked up about 3 meters high. We had to be careful walking on the ice, as there were big gaps in between them. And needless to say - the ice was quite slippery.

We are currently staying in a wonderful guesthouse near Godafoss and had another great morning shoot. We left before sunrise and made our way to one of the most impressive waterfalls Iceland has to offer. In order to get a good perspective of the waterfall, we had to climb down, which was a huge challenge. The snow made it difficult to see where we were putting our feet, and at some parts the snow had accumulated, so it was extremely deep and our legs sank right in at times. Getting down to the river's edge was very steep, but we made it... and it sure was worth all the trouble! 

Godafoss is one of the waterfalls in the Skjálfandafljót river.
It runs across a lava field, which is approximately 7000 years old. 

The canyon just below Godafoss is about 100m wide.The waterfall is shaped in the form of a horseshoe and divided into two main falls and a few smaller ones, depending on the amount of water flowing through the river. 

Tonight we are going back to shoot Godafoss after sunset. Northern light predictions are good, so we are planning to stay out for a long time, hoping for the sky to clear a bit later in the evening. I am already looking forward to it :-) 


08 March 2012

First post from Iceland

We are currently in Iceland, where we will be setting up a photo tour for next year, to photograph this amazing country in winter time. 

Marsel photographing an artistic viking ship at sunset.

We started our trip with a few days in Reykjavik. It is a very small city and the old center has some interesting buildings. There are a number of nice locations to shoot in and around the city. 

Left: the big church in Reykjavik is set up high on a hill in the old city centre.
Right: When the tide is high at night, the shallow edges freeze, forming white cracked ice balls where rocks and seaweed are, when the tide gets low again.

The third night we already saw the northern lights, so we headed out to a location we had photographed earlier that day: a nice site with white houses and water in front of it. We were very happy we bought insulated rubber boots at a local fishing store, so we could stand in the water while shooting and not get cold feet! The aurora borealis turned up really early and the spectacle started at 8 o'clock at night. It was quite static, but in the perfect position and we could make a really nice composition with the green band of light framing the houses and reflections in the water. 

This photo was taken with my iPhone, photographing the back of Marsels camera.
Weather conditions can be quite harsh, with lots and lots of wind, clouds, rain, snow - we have had it all in our first week. But it is worth it, because if you can shoot, the landscape is just wonderfully rough and the snow really adds to the beauty of the scenery. 

You can't go to Iceland and not visit the many waterfalls it has to offer. There are some that are really spectacular when it comes to their height, width or the amount of water that goes through them with great force. Impressive to see them. 

At the moment we are staying at a glacier lake, with a black sandy beach. The lake itself is probably more impressive in the summer, when more pieces of ice break from the glacier and icebergs float around in the lake. 
Unfortunately the panorama app on my iPhone had some glitches, so it's not perfect, but MAN... what a surreal place!!!

Now it is more ice plates that flow with the tide in and out of the lake, but the blueish chunks of ice that are scattered around on the black sand of the beach make it all very pretty! Now only if that aurora will come back tonight and do it's thing at the right spot :-)

Daniella (all photo's in this post were shot by me on my iPhone)