Joshua Holko’s passion for fine art landscape and nature photography, that relies on natural light for its otherworldly beauty, regularly takes him to remote wildernesses, from Iceland to Antarctica and continents in between. A photographer for more than 20 years living his passion, Joshua prints all his work in-house to keep his studio going strong. In this interview he shares his tips for success.
Q: Tell us a little about your style of photography; what sets your work apart?
Joshua: My photographs tend to be very structured in their nature and I am always looking for order in nature. Nature is inherently messy and it is the job of the landscape photographer to extract and simplify. That also comes across in how I finish my work; I do very little image processing.
I’m also my own harshest critic when it comes to editing. It’s not uncommon for me to shoot twenty or thirty frames of a subject, or different compositions while I wait for the light to improve. And I might end up binning all of them, or I might end up with one. For a landscape photograph to be successful, I look for three things: great subject, great composition and of course great light.
Q: Natural light is important to your work. How do you set up for that; how much post-production do you apply?
Joshua: I don’t rely on Photoshop to create a strong image. What I do however, is spend a lot of time in the field waiting for the right light. One of my better known photographs is Blue Berg. I returned to that beach in Iceland many times waiting for the right light. I literally waited until the sun dropped behind the iceberg to make it look like it was lit from within, and I used a graduated filter to help darken the sky. Then I framed and fired using a tripod. I probably shot a thousand frames at that location, and I’ve released maybe two or three. That image never made it into Photoshop. I did some basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom and that’s it.
Q: Tell us about your business and what’s your biggest earner - commissions, exhibitions, licensing etc?
Joshua: I think you have to specialise these days; certainly that’s worked for me. And do whatever it is you’re passionate about. Because at the end of the day, you have to make the investment in time and money to go somewhere like Iceland or Antarctica, and hopefully come back with good files to spend time processing and making prints, long before you do an exhibition to sell the work. So it takes time to build a revenue stream if you're creating photographs as collectible art.
My income comes from selling limited edition fine art prints through gallery representation. I no longer sell my work online. I sell solely through galleries because ultimately the gallery owner is the expert in marketing, and they can do a better job of it than I can; I prefer to focus on producing the work. I sometimes license images although I do less of that these days.
Q: So for your business, printing is vital. Do you print all your own work?
Joshua: I print everything in-house, and I do that because I want to have complete control over the end result. I think that’s critical to getting a really good quality print that matches your vision. I use Canon’s Large Format Printers, primarily the iPF6350 24-inch but I also use the iPF8300 44-inch and the iPF5100 17-inch. I print solely on Canon printers because they’re easy to use and extremely reliable. I’ve never had a single issue with them.
Q: Do you have to be a print expert to get a top result?
Joshua: My formal training is in traditional darkroom printing but I’m self taught in inkjet printing. The best way to get good at it is to practice.
Q: Is that costly?
If I make a mistake in my studio, I can screw it up and print another one on the spot without wasting too much time and money. The cost per print is significantly lower than going out to a lab. So there are real advantages to printing yourself. And there’s no question that I’ve gotten a return on my investment with Canon.
Q: What are some of your tips for achieving outstanding prints?
Joshua: The best way to get good at it is to practice and to stick to a paper. There’s a tendency to look for a magic bullet when it comes to printing by jumping from paper to paper - don’t! Stick to one paper and practice. By printing in my studio I have choice of paper and I also have control over colour-managed work flow, which I don’t have if I go into a lab.
With outsourcing printing, you might do a huge amount of work processing a file, getting it just the way you want it on your monitor. Then once in the lab there might be a profile mismatch and the net result is a poor quality print. One of the best ways to avoid this colour management issue cost effectively is to soft proof the image in Photoshop. With a high-quality profile, I can get a simulation on-screen as to what the photograph will look like on paper. Then I can adjust the file to the paper to get an exact match to the image on the screen.
Q: If someone is looking to invest in a photographic print as art, what should they look for?
Joshua: Technical excellence is extremely important but it’s not going to ensure your work will sell. People, who buy my work, buy on emotion. The photograph makes them feel a certain way. That said, a gallery will ask a new photographer before they take them on “how do you make your prints?” With Canon’s LUCIA EX pigment ink set on archival acid free cotton rag paper you have well in excess of 100 years durability. So if you’re looking to sell your work in a gallery you need to get serious about printing yourself, so you can produce on demand and not be reliant on an external lab!
Q: Your work has taken you to some of the most remote places in the world; your gear can't let you down when you've travelled that far.
Joshua: I can honestly say I’ve never had a problem with my gear; I’ve never had a camera failure. I’ve actually dropped my Canon 1Ds Mark III out of a helicopter in New Zealand from more than six feet. It bounced across the ground, I picked it up and I kept working. I’ve shot in pouring rain and in blizzards and they keep working; they’re bullet proof! I know there are cheaper camera’s out there but when you’re in that kind of weather, that’s not the sort of camera you want to have. You need something that’s rugged and weather sealed.
Q: Has seeing and experiencing the natural world so intimately had any effect on your view of how we treat the environment? – Does that play on your mind when you shoot?
Joshua: That’s a large topic, but yeah I do feel very strongly about what we do the environment. It’s sometimes difficult coming back to the city after spending time in remote places. And it is sometimes a struggle to exclude the hand of man from photographs.
Q: Let’s talk about gear. You’re heading to Antarctica later this year and I’ve read that you don’t travel light. If you had to take only three lenses what would they be and why?
Joshua: I’d be very upset if I could only take three lenses. If I had to choose, my staple go-to lenses are my Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 wide angle fixed lens, the EF 70-200mm because it covers a wide focal length and my TS-E 17mm tilt shift. That’s if I could only take three lenses! But I don’t travel light. I prefer to take everything with me and not need it, than need it and not have it. When I went to Iceland last year I actually booked a second seat on the flight from London to Iceland for my gear. It’s cheaper than buying excess baggage!
Q: What cameras are you taking with you?
Joshua: The EOS-1D Mark IV and the EOS-1Ds Mark III – I use both!
COLORS OF ICELAND by Joshua Holko opens 2 December 2011 at The Wilderness Gallery, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. To contact Joshua view his CPS Profile or visit www.jholko.com