Interview: Joshua Holko

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko

Polar Photographer

Tell us a little about yourself (who you are, where you are based, what you shoot, etc.)

I was born in Melbourne, Australia, but nowadays I spend most of the year overseas. As a specialist polar photographer, I am usually either down in Antarctica or up in the Arctic. I like to photograph in winter or on the cusp of winter the most. When temperatures are in the serious minus area and the snow is flying, that is when I like it the most. I do photography, both landscape and wildlife, but really think of myself first and foremost as a nature photographer working within a very niche genre of the polar areas.

How did you get into landscape photography?

I first developed an interest in landscape photography in my teens when I was doing quite a bit of rock climbing photography. It was a natural progression at the time, as photographing climbers put me out in nature and often in beautiful landscape environments. When I was growing up as a boy, my dad would also drag me around on weekends as he pursued an interest in his own photography.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

What do you wish to convey with your imagery? How do you make sure your images convey this properly?

For me it is absolutely all about emotion. If I can successfully generate an emotional response in the viewer of my work, then I feel I have succeeded. Conveying emotion in a still photograph is a very difficult thing to do and the success rate is extremely low. You have to be your own harshest critic and be truly objective when editing your work.

I often ask myself - Is it really a great photography? Or is it just the best I was able to do on the day?

There is a very marked difference. Being objective about your own work is a real skill and being able to edit thousands of shots down to the one or two that are truly excellent is really critical to successfully conveying a message and emotion with your photograph.

What does photography mean to you?

Photography is really a way for me to express my interpretation of the natural world as I see it. I am a firm believer in ‘in camera’ artistry. I do not do heavy manipulation, HDR, composites or heavy cloning work. My aim is to capture the natural world in its pure state. I have quite a detailed ethics statement on my website about postproduction and my photography.

I also have a deep and passionate love for the world’s polar regions. My photography is very much a vehicle for me to spend time in these areas. It allows me to work in an area that I am extremely passionate about. And if you are passionate about what it is you are photographing, then you absolutely always do your best work.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

If you could only take one more picture, what do you think it would be of? How would you begin to make that decision?

It’s an easy decision for me - My kids.

What is more important: social media presence or in-person interactions?

I personally find much of social media hollow and lifeless. It can be a useful tool for client engagement, but I think overall social media has a lot to answer for. It has certainly spawned a culture of narcissism that I find destructive and detrimental to photography. In-person interactions are often far more constructive and are a far better tool for improving and growing as a photographer.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Why do you choose to work more in color than in black and white?

Actually, I don’t work in black and white at all, although I often do work in a limited color palette. I do love good black and white photography, but I see the world in color and feel that converting to black and white removes some of the feeling for me of the place or subject.

Have you had any formal training in photography?

Yes, I studied Fine Art Photography with Honours at the Australian Photography Studies College in Melbourne, and I have a Diploma in Photo Journalism. I also started quite young as my dad was pursuing an active interest in photography in his free time and I learned the basics of the craft from him.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

How do you go about getting noticed?

I don’t actively go about trying to get noticed. That’s a bit too narcissistic - LOL. I just try and produce the best work I can for myself. If people like it and notice my work, that’s fantastic. If not, that’s ok as well.

Ultimately you have to photograph what you truly love if you want to produce outstanding work. I believe it’s important to focus on photography for oneself and not as a tool to try and impress others or to get noticed. Those photographers who are well-known are known because of the standard of their work and not because they set about creating a plan to get noticed.

How do you recommend getting over G.A.S.? (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

There really isn’t a better cure for GAS than actually getting out into the field and working with your gear.

Before I buy a new piece of gear I ask myself if it will really improve my photography, or if I would be better off working on my technique. It is almost always the latter that is better value for money. Far too many (and I mean the great majority) of photographers are hung up on having the latest and greatest gear; but they typically have little clue how to use it. Ask them to change F-stop or shutter speed with their eyes closed and many can’t do it.

The reality is that unless your camera controls are muscle memory and you can change them without thinking, then your brain is too busy being focused on being a technician instead of being an artist.

You have to learn the tools you have and learn them back to front, inside out, to free yourself from the technology so that you can be truly creative. If I have to learn a new camera every 6 months, that’s not a productive use of my time. If I can spend that time using a tool I know intimately and that is muscle memory for me to control, then I can focus on creating images and not on equipment.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Do you travel far from home or stay close more often?

Being a polar photographer and a specialist in that genre means I have to travel an awful lot. Last year I did over one hundred flight segments and flew around the world more than seven times (I do try and fly carbon neutral). It would be nice to live closer to one of the poles, but for now I just have to travel.

How do you feel about drone photography? Do you believe it should be banned in less places?

I am not a fan of drone photography for a multitude of reasons. More often than not its simply because they are used irresponsibly around wildlife or in areas where they should not be being used. Whilst I appreciate the perspective drone photography can bring to a location, I find that the images on the whole leave me a little flat. I guess they are sort of a one trick pony that is currently the raging trend.

Several years ago, it was HDR and I expect drone photography will eventually settle down and find its niche. Drones themselves can be very useful for video and when they are used to add scale and drama to a movie shot is when I feel they are at their best. As part of a still image project they can also have a useful place.

The reality is I see a lot of drones in my travels and much of the time they are being used irresponsibly. Many are crashed in unrecoverable areas and become nothing more than man-made pollution.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

What draws you to a scene which leads to a photograph?

I am often drawn to simplicity in a scene.

Simple lines and shapes and geometry in nature frequently draw me on a subconscious level to make a photograph. I dislike clutter and chaos in my imagery and therefore I find myself attracted to simple lines and clean compositions. Soft light and scenes that evoke emotion and drama draw me to photograph them the most.

Where do you find inspiration to keep shooting, even when things get tough?

I am a big believer in studying the work of other photographers. I am constantly buying photography books, and looking at the work of other photographers in my field. I not only draw inspiration from looking at the work of others, but I also get to see where the bar is set in terms of the standard of work being produced. It can give me ideas for compositions I had not considered and it shows me how other photographers interpreted a scene or subject.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Should artists sell prints?

Not necessarily.

It really depends on whether you want or need to monetize your photography. Selling work is one way to get it out into the world, but it’s not the only way and there are more efficient ways to share your work.

I get asked by photographers all the time how they can start selling their work and prints and my answer to them is always the same:

Why do you want to?

I think it’s an important question to answer, as trying to monetize ones passion can very quickly take the passion out of it.

I think it’s a good idea to simply start by making prints for oneself and for the sheer enjoyment of it. Share them with friends and family and start to get them out into the world. If people start asking to buy them, then you can worry about selling them as a going concern. In the meantime, print purely for the passion and love of it.

For me, the print is the ultimate expression of my photography. I never truly feel like I have finished with an image until I make a print. And the print is the legacy. The digital file is nothing more than 1’s and 0’s on a hard drive somewhere.

In terms of recommendations for printing…

It really depends on the output, the work, the intended audience etc.. Print size is also determined to some degree by the resolution of your file. If you are lucky enough to find yourself creating a show for a gallery then the gallery will know its clientele well and should be able to advise edition type, size and price to suit the local demographic.

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

Joshua Holko - Polar Photographer -

If you have enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out Joshua's website and go buy one of his beautiful portfolio books!

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