A Tribute to a Lens – Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L (Podcast 471)

A Tribute to a Lens – Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L (Podcast 471)

This week we continue with our tribute to a lens series, with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. Once again, I’m going to share 10 photos made with this lens over the last six years, with some commentary on why I found this glass to be so very special.

To give you a bit of background before we start, I feel that I need to give an honorable mention to this lens’ two predecessors. When I bought my first digital SLR camera back in 2001, the line I used to my wife to get spousal approval to buy such an expensive piece of kit, was that I already had lenses. I just needed to buy the body and I was set.

At the time I owned a 24mm prime lens, a 35-105mm zoom and a 100-300mm zoom lens. The 24mm was actually pretty good, but the 35-105 and 100-300 were absolutely crap lenses, and I was only able to see this when I started shooting digital. Even at 3 megapixels I quickly saw that these lenses weren’t up to scratch, and also, because my D30 was a crop factor camera, even my widest 24mm lens was only the equivalent of a 38mm focal length, so I needed something wider, and with good image quality.

To the delight of the camera manufacturers, I’m sure this is what happened with a lot of people, but I turned my sites to the L series lenses, which had until that point been strictly for pro use. Hobbyists just didn’t seem to buy L lenses, but when digital camera along and showed us the flaws in regular lenses, people started looking at L lenses, whether they were pros or not, and at the time, I definitely was not.

With my promise of spending no more money still fresh on my lips, I decided to pass over the new 16-35mm lens that had just been released, and went for the cheaper 17-35mm f/2.8L lens, which had been released five years earlier. If you’ve been following this podcast for any length of time, you’ll probably have already guessed that this was a mistake on my part. The original 16-35mm seriously played on my mind.

I should give myself some credit as I was able to hold off for four years, but in 2005 I finally broke down and replaced the 17-35mm with the original 16-35mm, but that turned out to be another mistake, as Canon replaced the original 16-35mm with the Mark II just 18 months later, and the image quality was significantly better, so I ended up replacing it again, with the lens that we’re paying tribute to today.

I didn’t want to jump into this without first mentioning these two lenses though, as they played a big part in my development as a photographer. Having the ability to go so wide, way before I bought the 14mm prime lens that we looked at last week, and being able to zoom in this ultra-wide range was liberating. Of course, progress continues and I’m now finding myself liberated again by the incredible new 11-24mm f/4 lens that we also looked at recently, and this is why I have just sold my 16-35mm Mark II lens and 14mm lens, and why we are paying tribute to them today.

So, let’s jump in and start to look at our ten photos from the 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. We’ll go through these in chronological order, and this first photo was made in 2009, a few years after I bought the new Mark II version of this lens, in the Oirase Mountain Stream area. Shot at 24mm, it was the middle of the zoom range, but I have always really enjoyed being able to zoom in and out to get what I consider the ideal framing for any particular scene.

Oirase Choushi Ootaki (Big Falls)

Oirase Choushi Outaki (Big Falls)

As I mentioned last week, I don’t subscribe to the popular zoom with your feet mantra. There is a track that runs along the valley side at this location, and it’s about a meter wide. If I moved forward, I’ll fall off the edge, and to move backwards I’d have to start boring into the rock behind me. Sure, if it was a 24mm prime lens, I’d have been fine, but with image quality as good as it is with modern zooms, I just find the ability liberating.

Stick on Arid Riverbed

Stick on Arid Riverbed

Once again, I’ve tried to select images that not only show what the 16-35mm lens enables us to do, but that also played a part in my history as a photographer.

This next image was shot in Miradores de Darwin in Patagonia, at the end of my first voyage to Antarctica. We’d come back to Argentina from the peninsula, and spent a few days photographing in the area before the end of the tour.

In this image, I used the wide angle to accentuate the cracked riverbed foreground by getting down very low, and included the dried twigs as additional elements of interest.

The middle ground is punctuated by the dark patches around other dried plants, and I placed the valley side along the top edge, and the black and white conversion helped me to bring out some texture and detail from what was otherwise a slightly uneventful sky.

I remember feeling so fortunate to be in this place having just given up my day job to pursue photography full time. I have always loved to travel, and this was really very much a dream come true, to be in a place that carries Darwin’s name on my way back from Antarctica, one of my bucket list locations.

One of the things I love about wide angle lenses is how they distort reality. In this next photo of the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba here in Tokyo is a good example of this. By zooming out to 17mm, and getting in close to the statue, I made the feet look huge, and enhanced the look of the size of this sci-fi spectacle. This actually moves and blows smoke etc. so it isn’t really a statue, but the movements are limited, so it isn’t really a robot either. It’s pretty cool either way.

The Power of Gundam!

The Power of Gundam!

The next photo represents another milestone in my own photography career, as I shot this photo of the Golden Gate Bridge during my first visit to the US after incorporating Martin Bailey Photography, to run my sort of semi-world tour, of Pixels 2 Pigment workshops. This is a great memory shot as well, as I was spending valuable time with friend Jack Andrys in this popular but iconic location.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

I also recall receiving a silk wallet from my brother when I was a kid, with an illustration of the Golden Gate Bridge on the front. My brother had just joined the army and was traveling the world. I remember being a little bit envious, but mostly very proud of my big brother.

I mentioned earlier that the 17-35mm lens that I initially bought was my first Canon L lens, but since those early years of digital, I’ve really learned to value the weatherproofing of Canon L glass. I’m not one for mollycoddling my gear, and I have in fact had moisture inside my 16-35mm lens a few times, but in general, I allow it to get wet when necessary, and fewer places on the planet will put your gear to the test as much as Antarctica. We quite often find ourselves being splashed with sea spray, which doesn’t do gear much good, but generally a wipe with a damp cloth when you get back to your cabin is enough to keep things working well.

This photograph is from Cierva Cove, as we sailed around the cove in our Zodiac. This was during my fourth expedition down there, and third in a row in 2012. Again, this photo is very special to me, not just because I love the photo, but it reminds me of how fortunate I am to be leading this life. Here I opened up the lens to 16mm, to really accentuate the foreground water and monolithic icebergs.

Monumental Icebergs

Monumental Icebergs

I do like using wide angle lenses in places like the Tokyo International Forum building too, as we see in this next image. I included this image not only because I like it, but I am finding more and more that I enjoy images like this more when I’m able to include a human figure. As a nature photographer, I often wait quite a while to get a scene with no people in it, but quite often this is just what an image needs to really give it some context, as I believe was the case with this image.

Salaryman

Salaryman

The human figures in this next image are so small that you can hardly make them out, but then I didn’t need them here, in this photograph from my first Iceland Tour. Again, a testament to the weatherproofing of this lens, the spray from the waterfall here was literally pounding down on me as I shot this. I was literally rotating the camera towards me, away from the mist, for long enough to wipe the front of the lens clean, and then covering it with a cloth as I rotated the camera back around to face the scene, then I’d get one shot having whipped the cloth away, before the mist covered the front of the lens again.

Gullfoss (Falls)

Gullfoss (Falls)

I actually generally recommend using an air blower to remove droplets of water from lenses in the field, but when you are being constantly spritzed you have to wipe the lens with a cloth, which quickly becomes soaked through, but it’s workable to get the shot. The people by the way are the tiny dots along the ridge at the top right, to give you an idea of the scale of this amazing place.

Still in Iceland, but on my second tour there last year now, when I shot this side angle of the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik. We do kind of a bonus day on the first day as people make their way into town, and go for a walk to the church and a few other locations in town. Reykjavik is a beautiful place, and this church, actually the third highest structure in Iceland, stands proud at the top of the hill behind the main street.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Hallgrímskirkja Church

I love the design of this architecture, with it being made up of pillars like the basalt columns that we see over at Vik during the tour. I thought this was a fun angle too, although it was not that wide, as I’d zoomed in to 35mm for this one. Still, I thought it worked well with the columns leading down towards the camera and out the right side of the frame.

In this next photograph, we go back to the Oirase Mountain Stream here in Japan, to the same waterfall, Choushi Outaki, that we looked at in the first photograph today. That photo was more about the beautiful lush greens of course, but this one is from last October when the fall color was painting the valley gold.

Choushi Outaki Waterfall

Choushi Outaki Waterfall

This is from a slightly higher perspective than the first shot, and I zoomed out to 17mm for this one, to include more of the fall foliage, which is obviously more important for this photograph. I’m always in awe of waterfalls. They pour millions of tons of water continuously, year in year out, and there’s just so much power in them, yet they are so beautiful.

I also really like the cyclic nature of our photography. There is just over five years between these two photographs, and in many ways I feel my photography has changed and hopefully improved in that time, but I had to chuckle to myself when I checked the EXIF data and saw that I shot both image with a 0.8 second shutter speed, so I’ve been pretty consistent on how I approach photographs like this too. 🙂

The last photo that we’ll look at today is a little bit sad in a couple of ways. Firstly, it’s of a seven old boats, shot during my Hokkaido Landscape Tour in January this year, and these boats all had holes in their hulls or for some other reason had been left here in what I called the boat graveyard. It also saddens me somewhat that this tour was probably one of the last times that I would really, really use the 16-35mm until I sold it this month. I’m happy though that it was able to join me on this adventure, as we had a pretty amazing time together.

Boat Graveyard #2

Boat Graveyard #2

I know I’m a big softy when it comes to this stuff, and that’s fine. I’d rather think of my gear in this way. We go through a lot of experiences together, and that in many ways helps to bond us together like old buddies, until the time comes to cut the cord and move on of course.

By the way, if you didn’t notice this already, this last photograph is up for grabs in our current Fine Art Print giveaway, so if you’d like to be in with a chance of receiving a copy of this on Breathing Color’s amazing Pura Smooth fine art media at 17×24″, visit our giveaway page at mbp.ac/giveaway.

You know, our gear comes and goes, and I know that I get too sentimental about this stuff, but I really do like to pay tribute to the tools that enable our craft and art to be what it is. Yes, it’s only gear, and it’s not all about the gear, but with photography being such a technical pursuit, it can’t be ignored either. Neither can we ignore the fact that sometimes we have to put our gear through a lot, and if you select well, it will bear the strain, and deliver the goods, assuming that we are doing what we need to do behind the camera of course. It’s a partnership, after all. Neither of us can do much without the other.


Show Notes

Fine Art Print Giveaway: https://mbp.ac/giveaway

Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Adventure 2016: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Incredible Antarctica 2012 (Podcast 369)

Incredible Antarctica 2012 (Podcast 369)

Following on from last week’s look at some images from South Georgia, this week I’m going to walk you through some photos from the three consecutive voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula, working with Aurora Expeditions in November and December 2012.

Picking up the story after we left the breath-taking South Georgia, we spent three days on the Drake passage, before starting off with a great landing on Penguin island. It was here that I got my first chance to photograph the amazingly cute Chinstrap Penguins. I included almost too many shots of these guys in the video that I released a few weeks ago, so I’m going to keep the numbers down a little here. Over artistic merit for this first one, I wanted to show you a shot of a Chinstrap with its brooding pouch open. I honestly didn’t even know that penguins had these slits in their feathers so that they can warm their eggs with direct skin contact, so this shot fascinates me. I also like the slight tilt in the penguins neck, almost as though he or she is showing me something a bit naughty.

Open Brooding Pouch

Open Brooding Pouch

I personally think the chinstraps are probably one of the cutest looking penguins. That strap looks like they have a big broad smile on their face of course, but they also just move around in such a way that you have to smile yourself. The movie Happy Feet probably helped with their image a lot too. I was actually traveling with a naturalist called Gary Miller the first time I was in Antarctica, and he was a consultant on penguins for the movie. He of course absolutely adores these little guys too.

Next up, is a shot from a couple of days later, when we were in a place aptly named Paradise Harbour. This shot was from just before 7:30am, during an early zodiac cruise around the harbor. I have other shots from closer up, but to give you an idea of the scale of the scene, when another Zodiac cruised along the front of the glacier you can see running across the horizon of the water, they weren’t much more than a pin-prick. It was hard to see them in fact. The only reason we knew they were there, was because they’d sped across the harbor disturbing our perfectly calm mill pond shortly after this.

Glacier in "Paradise"

Glacier in “Paradise”

That of course is one of the nice things about being in the photography group, and therefore in my Zodiac. We can basically call the shots on where we go, and how much time we spend there, rather than just ploughing through the harbor taking everything in at a much faster pace. This suits the general passengers of course, and on the odd occasion when we end up mixed, they usually complain that the photographers take too much time, so it’s great to keep us apart with the photography option that I was providing on these voyages.

Shortly after the last shot, we returned to the Polar Pioneer, our ice strengthened Russian ship that I mentioned briefly last week. I have to say again though, that I love this ship. She’s big enough to keep us relatively comfortable in rough seas, and small enough to get into parts of Antarctica that the larger 150 passenger cruise ships simply can’t get.

Polar Pioneer in "Paradise"

Polar Pioneer in “Paradise”

These last two shots have both had a little bit of Color Efex Pro run against them, to bring out the texture and detail a little more. I actually rarely use Color Efex on wildlife shots, but I did use it on the next shot too, to enhance the falling snow as this Chinstrap penguin battles uphill in a storm. Although I like to really add punch to some images with Color Efex, with wildlife shots especially, I really like to keep the effect subtle. I don’t think you’d know I even used it here unless I told you. A bit of Pro Contrast or Tonal Contrast can really bring out snow in a scene like this though, as can a very small amount of Detail Extractor, or a subtle mix of all three.

Snow Return

Snow Return

Note too that although I had a pretty productive time, to save going through each of these three expeditions in too much detail, I’ve really tried to keep the number of images I talk about down to a minimum. The day we left Paradise was actually the last day of Expedition one, and this shot was after we’d crossed the Drake Passage, back and forth to Ushuaia, to pick up a new ship full of passengers. This is a place called Two Hummock Island, at the start of the second expedition.

This next shot from the following day at Curverville Island, is straight out of the camera though, and one of my favorites from the trip. These are Gentoo Penguins hurrying along there penguin road along the snowy beach, after a fishing expedition. Here of course I timed the shot so that they were all in line like this, looking like they’re doing one of those swirly rotating dances. Because they were moving relatively fast towards me, I’m pretty sure that for this one, I had focussed on the snow just in front of them, and then snapped a few frames as they progressed to that spot. AI Servo focusing might have worked too, but in the heat of the moment as I turned and saw this cute scene, prefocus seemed like the best option, and I’m happy with the results.

Syncronized Gentoos

Synchronized Gentoos

The follow day, as we flipped the calendar into December, we were at Port Lockroy, with the wonderful museum and even a gift shop at the old British base. It was nice to actually be somewhere that we could meet other people, and even spend a bit of money. Many people write postcards as you can post them right from the base. This next shot is a yacht that was moored in the port, with the snow covered glacier behind it making a wonderful backdrop for this shot.

Yacht at Port Lockroy

Yacht at Port Lockroy

Here I actually added a +38 post-crop vignette in Lightroom, to brighten the corners and enhance the dreamy feel of the image. I rarely do positive vignettes, but I think it works nicely here. The only thing I regret is that there wasn’t enough room in the foreground before this side of the port started, so I had to cut off the reflection of the yacht’s mast, but it doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve already tried printing this one too, and it looks pretty impressive. One of my favorites, for sure.

Starburst Reflection

Starburst Reflection

The weather was treating us quite kind during the second expedition, and we found ourselves at Enterprise Island the following day with the most incredible calm sea again, and I got another shot that will probably remain a favorite. With the abandoned whaler at the back of this cove, and the sun lowish in the sky, I put the horizon smack in the middle of the frame, and mirrored the sun in the mill pond water, and because I was stopped down a little, I got this lovely sunburst effect as well, caused by the aperture leaves in the lens. This was shot at f/11, but I get a nice sunburst effect even at f/8 with my 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, so I like to play with this on the rare occasion that I’m shooting on a clear day like this.

As we left the Antarctic Peninsula on the last day of the second expedition, because we weren’t able to get into the caldera of Deception Island, our last scheduled stop before returning to Ushuaia, our landing at Elephant Island became our last landing, and it was a pearler. To start with, it was a tough call for the expedition leader as to whether or not we would even be able to land, because the sea was so rough. I’d been asked to wear waders, instead of my usual knee high overshoes, as it was possible I’d be in some nasty waves as I helped people in and out of zodiacs on the beach.

The crossing from the Polar Pioneer, that would wait over a mile out to sea as we went ashore,  was pretty nasty. Swell was probably around 3 meters, which is a lot when you are in essentially a rubber boat. On the way ashore though, the sea was working with us. When we got ashore, it became obvious that the zodiacs weren’t going to get back to the ship to pick up more passengers without a little ballast to stop them flipping as they sailed into the wind. I was to be the ballast on one of the zodiacs. Doctor John, the ships physician and highly skilled zodiac driver asked me to sit near the front on the pontoon, but pretty much as soon as we left the shore it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be possible to just sit on the pontoon. I was thrown all over the place, and ended up spending most of the trip back to the ship crouched near the box at the front hanging on to the anchor rope, like some sort of an insane aerobic teacher come rodeo rider. Once every two or three waves the icy sea water would come flooding over the  front of the zodiac and over my head mostly too. It was a pretty rough ride, to say the least.

We picked up another load of passengers, and made our way back out to Elephant island again, for our landing. When I got there, rather than art photographs, I was documenting a rescue mission, as there was a series of potholes, with groups of six week old elephant seals in them, that had dropped through the snow. The staff debated briefly about the ethics of what we were about to do, because if we were not there, these young elephant seals would surely perish. We figured that us humans had been responsible for the deaths of enough of these seals already though, so set about the task of rescuing them, another good reason for the staff being in waders on this particular day.

Here we can see James and Santiago, two of the Aurora staff, in a pot hole with five elephant seals. These seals are fed for about four weeks or so after they are born, and having grown to around 60 – 100 kg in that time, they are then left on the beach as their mothers go to see for a few weeks to feed on fish, and come back to give their pups one last feeding before they are left to fend for themselves. Conditions this year though had for some reason had caused the seals to melt through the snow in these potholes, and there were groups of them all over the beach.

Aurora Staff Rescuing Elephant Seals

Aurora Staff Rescuing Elephant Seals

It was a relatively dangerous job, as every so often a seal would crank its head back around and try to bite someone, but after an hour or so, the last pup was released from the last pothole. We used ice picks to dig further out around the holes, so if more pups dropped in after we’d gone, they’d hopefully be able to climb back out again.

Aurora Staff Rescuing the last Elephant Seal

Aurora Staff Rescuing the last Elephant Seal

One could argue that we shouldn’t have helped the pups, interrupting the course of nature, but I’ll never forget the look on their eyes as we found the first few groups. I’ll find it a lot easier to live with the decision to help them, than I would have if we’d decided to leave them to perish.

Stranded Elephant Seal Pups

Stranded Elephant Seal Pups

We’d been back to Ushuaia, and picked up our passengers, and were half way through the third and last expedition, when I shot this next image. We were in Cierva Cove, with beautiful light, and relatively good weather again. We’d spent the morning zodiacing around the cove, exploring some magnificent icebergs. This one was recently printed and handed out to guests at the OFFSET launch. Offset is a new stock agency that Shutterstock have launched to provide a better class of stock photography, and I’m proud to have been invited to join them. There’ll be more on that in the coming weeks, as they open the doors more and more to the public, but if you are a buyer of stock photography, then you can request an invite to browse the galleries at www.offset.com. Again, I popped this a little with a run through Color Efex Pro, but I just love the iridescent blues of the underwater part of the iceberg here. I also see a roman centurion calved out of the ice to the right, but a quick poll on Google Plus recently, tells me that not many other people actually see that.

Magic Palace

Magic Palace

Next, I once again have to apologise to my friend Ade, because we’d been hoping for a chance to shoot a leopard seal the entire time we were together on the first expedition, but it didn’t happen. Finally, now towards the end of the third voyage, we found one sitting up on a small iceberg, having a rest, probably after eating a penguin or two for breakfast. He had a mouth full of foam, but did open up his big fierce jaws to give us a look at his teeth a few times, and that is what I shot here. I had to crop a passenger’s shoulder out of this to the left mind, as my photography has to take a back seat when something special happens and there is limited space to shoot it.

Foaming Leopard Seal

Foaming Leopard Seal

This next shot, still from that morning in Cierva Cove, is one that I included in my 2012 best ten images, and seemed to go down pretty well with you listeners as well as people that follow me on Google+. It remains a favorite, though I have to admit, at the time of shooting this, I didn’t think I was going to like it quite this much. These two monumental icebergs really were magnificent though. Still pretty much tables of ice, that had probably broken away from one of the large ice tables found around Antarctica. The texture in the sky adds a lot, and once again I pumped this up a little in Color Efex Pro. I think using a wide angle lens here, shooting this at 16mm, gives us a feeling of the water and the sky kind of radiating out from the icebergs, or maybe that we’re rushing towards them.

Monumental Icebergs

Monumental Icebergs

Remember, as I said last week, if you are thinking of picking up Nik Software’s complete package, Google have now made it available for just $149, and for another short while, you can use my code MBP15 to get a further 15% discount, taking the price to just $126.65. If you enter my short-link https://mbp.ac/mbp15 (Sponsored by Google) into your browser, the code should be entered for you automatically, but otherwise, try entering MBP15 on checkout. I’m pretty sure this won’t work after June 2013 mind, so don’t hang around if you want to use the code.

It really was an amazing morning in Cierva Cove, and shortly before we had to go back to the ship, we found these three Adelie Penguins on top of a growler, which is actually the proper term for a small iceberg about the size of a family saloon car. The name comes from the sound they make as they rattle along the side of a ship. We circled these lovely penguins a few times in our zodiac, and this is a shot from shortly before they made their exit, diving into the sea, probably to get away from a group of ten annoying photographers in a zodiac.

The Three Adelies

The Three Adelies

We called in at Elephant Island once again, as we left the Peninsula for the third time. I apologize in advance if this last photo disturbs you, but unfortunately when we got there, we found a few groups of dead Elephant seals on the beach. They’d obviously fallen into potholes again, though there weren’t the numbers that we’d rescued less than two weeks earlier, which was good. I chose to include this image in my slideshow, and here today, as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life down here in Antarctica. It only takes a bit of strange weather, maybe overly warm sun causing the dark seals to warm up enough to melt a hole in the snow, and their lives can be put in danger incredibly easily. It was sad to see, but I felt I had to shoot this, especially as the pelt that is left around the bones of the seal almost look like the hood of the Grim Reaper that took this poor little soul away.

Death

Death

We were able to get into the caldera at Deception Island before we left the peninsula though, finally, on my fourth chance. Apparently there are rocks just below the surface on one side of Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance to the mouth of the mostly underwater volcano that forms the island. In stormy weather, the ship can be blown across to the rocky side of the opening, which is why we need pretty good conditions to be able to get inside.

The beach, made of black volcanic sand is warm, and the water is apparently warm enough to bath in, in places. We weren’t invited to do so this time, as time was against us, but we had a wonderful couple of hours inside here. I did some long exposure shots, like this one of two small abandoned boats half buried in the black sand. I cropped this down to a 1:2 aspect ratio too, as the foreground and sky weren’t adding much here, and I wanted to accentuate the long structure of the boat.

Whalers Bay Boats - Deception Island

Whalers Bay Boats – Deception Island

In the slideshow that I released a few weeks ago, also included a couple of shots of another less than proud human legacy, the whale blubber boilers that were behind me as I captured this shot. Deception island was unfortunately a whaling station for some time, before we moved away from that horrible practice. We’ll finish here for today though, and I do hope you’ve enjoyed these photos, and sharing some of the experiences that I had on these three expeditions. I would like to thank Aurora Expeditions for giving me the opportunity to work these three voyages, and I’d like to thank any of the passengers that joined the photography option, also making it possible for me to spend this very special time with you.


Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Antarctica and South Georgia 2012 (Video – Podcast 367)

Antarctica and South Georgia 2012 (Video – Podcast 367)

For this week’s Podcast episode, here’s a slideshow of images from three consecutive expeditions to Antarctica and South Georgia, in Nov-Dec 2012, while working with Aurora Expeditions. Grab a coffee, kick up your feet, and make sure you have audio turned up. Once you’ve watched this, I try to answer some of the questions you might have below.

Oh, and this is full 1080p HD video, so if you have enough bandwidth, hit the cog wheel and make sure you’re watching the highest quality, and go full screen. The usual Podcast feed will download an iPhone optimized version via iTunes if you are subscribed.

First off, before anyone asks, no, there was no ice in the sea on the way to South Georgia, this was my artistic license. The initial footage of us breaking through sea ice was shot in Antarctica a few weeks into the expeditions.

The big blue ship that appears at around six minutes is the Polar Pioneer, the ice strengthened Russian vessel that was home for the five weeks I spent on these expeditions. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled in her, and it won’t be the last. She’s a beautiful ship, full of character and fond memories.

What was my role on board? I was running the Photography Option, with a group of 10 to 12 photographers on each voyage. We did lectures while on board, and travelled in the same Zodiac so that A) we could spend more time photographing than other Zodiacs, and I could work with the group to help them with their photography, and B) so we didn’t annoy the hell out of normal passengers, that don’t typically use such long lenses and spend so much time on their photographs.

Why did I make a point of calling out “The Albatross” at Cape Horn? Here’s what’s inscribed on a monument down there:

“I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world… I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world. But die they did not in the fierce waves, for today towards eternity in my wings they soar in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds” – Sara Vial

Why did I include the shot of the dead elephant seal? Well, that’s life! Or death… I deliberated on this one, and I apologize if it shocked you, but these things happen. The first time we visited Elephant Island as we left the Antarctic Peninsula on the way back to Ushuaia, there were many baby elephant seals, maybe four or five weeks old, stuck in holes were they’d dropped through the snow, and couldn’t get out. We made a decision to help them, and released about 10 to 15, which hopefully lived. When we went back a second time, there were circles of dead pups, that had obviously dropped through the ice again, but no-one was there to help them this time. It’s saddening, even heart-breaking to see, but it happens all the time, and I felt fortunate to have witnessed this harsh truth, so I left this shot in.

The two shots after the dead seal are boilers or storage for whale blubber, at Deception Island. Something that we should not be proud of, but again, these are a legacy that we cannot ignore. There are a few shots earlier than that of wrecked ships. These are also old whalers that were run aground when they were no longer needed. It was apparently less expensive to just leave them down there than sail them back to their base countries to be broken down.

How did I get the end roll video? I lay on the anchor box at the front of the Zodiac, as expedition leader Don McFadzien navigated deftly around the sea ice. The resulting footage was bumpy as hell, as we roll over chunks of ice, but I stabilized the footage in Adobe After Effects, and the result looked almost as though we were flying over the surface of the sea, rather than sailing, that’s all.

What software did I use to create the slideshow? I used Boinx Software’s Fotomagico 4.2.1 to create the bulk of the slideshow, but although it’s easy to set out the slides and manipulate the animation/zoom effects, I can’t recommend this software to anyone, at all. It crashed constantly on my MacBook Pro Retina, and if I hadn’t invested so much time to begin with, I’m sure it would have been quicker in the end to just do the whole thing in Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro. I created the end credit roll in Premiere Pro, because there’s no way to do that kind of scrolling credit easily in Fotomagico. Also, aligning audio in Fotomagico is like pulling teeth. Very tedious and painful. Unless you want just a very quick simple slideshow, look for other software. [UPDATE: Boinx Software just released a free app called SandboxCleaner that they say will prevent FotoMagico and other video and photo related software from crashing. I’ll use FotoMagico again soon and update you if it appears to work. Fingers crossed!]

Can I buy any of the images in the slideshow? Of course! For commercial use, go to www.offset.com and search for “artist: Martin Bailey”. For now, you’ll have to request an invitation, as the service is not fully public yet, but once you are in, you can buy and use these images commercially at a very reasonable price point. For prints, I’ve also just updated my Portfolios site, with 100 of these photos available for viewing at your own pace, and I’ve added these image for print sale here, under Antarctica. In the meantime, if there is an image that you would like a print of, but can’t find, just contact me with the time that the image appears in the video, and a brief description, and I’ll get back to you.

Am I doing any more Photography Expeditions to Antarctica? You bet, but nothing I can talk about right now. Subscribe to our Tour & Workshop Newsletter to receive information as it’s released. We will never spam you or share your information with third parties.

Podcast 318 : Martin’s Top Ten Images from 2011

Podcast 318 : Martin’s Top Ten Images from 2011

Having skipped selecting my 2010 Top Ten images at the start of 2011, because I was simply too busy, I really missed going through the exercise, so this year, I was sure to make time to reflect on 2011, and select my favorite images. The act of looking through a year of photos is always a learning experience. Especially when you compare your image from previous years, you often start to see new patterns emerging, which I’d also like to touch on today as well.

The Selection Process

To start, let’s go over my selection process, and recap on a few workflow details. If you recall from my Lightroom Digital Workflow Podcasts, when I finish a shoot, I initially work through all of my images in a Year > Month > Day folder structure, in what I call my Photo Originals folder. I star rate to bring the best images from the shoot to the top, usually using 4 stars at the point, then once I have been through all the images, I show only the four stars to get rid of anything that wasn’t selected in the first run, then single out batches of images of similar subjects, and try to narrow the selection down to just one or two of each, by giving them five stars, and at the same time, I demote anything that doesn’t make the cut to 2 stars, my “once great” rating. I also hit the X key to mark anything that is technically flawed and now even anything that is just a duplicate or insurance shot of the same thing.

As my five stars float to the top, I start to look at the entire selection, to see if anything stands out as not really fitting, and continue to try to get to as few images as possible, hitting the number two key every so often to demote images out of the selection. By now if there’s something that needs to be done like working on the images in Silver Efex Pro 2 or Color Efex Pro 4, I’ll do that and leave a copy in my originals folder. The resulting TIFF or PSD file becomes the five star, and the orginal RAW file becomes a 3 star. That’s just my way of keeping the originals with the final processed version that I’ll take and put onto my Stock site or my gallery. If I don’t need to edit the image at a pixel level, the original RAW file is what I use. I only create a copy when necessary.

I then add titles and keywords, and change the filter in Lightroom to display 3 stars or above, to reshow my original RAW files as well as the modified files, select them all, and select an Export Preset that sends my selected images to my @Finals folder for that particular year. This does mean that I end up with a copy of the RAW or any PSDs etc. in both my originals and my @Finals directly, but I like that redundancy. Of course, I also make other backups locally and in the cloud, but we won’t go into that today. I generally end up with 300 to 500 @Finals each year, and last year I finished up at 491.

So, I then created a 2011 Top Tens Collection in Lightroom, and made that the Target Collection, so that when I hit the B key, the images is added to that selection. I then selected my @Finals > 2011 folder and started to go through my year of images. As you work through the year doing your photography, you start to create a mental list of images that really stand out, so my first pass was just a case of hitting the B key as I saw these images, but once done, I had 48 images in my list, roughly 10% of the year’s best shots.

I now selected my new 2011 Top Tens Collection, and went through again, thinking to myself, “if it was a toss-up between this and another favorite, which would I chose?” and that usually makes it easier to hit the B key again, and trim down the selection. After doing this a few more times, I got my list of candidates down to this 28 images (click on the image to view larger).

My Initial Selection Drilled Down to 28 Images

My Initial Selection Drilled Down to 28 Images

From this point on, you have to start to get pretty ruthless to drill down to just ten images from a year. I cut my driftwood camel, horse, cow shot because although I really like it, it was a man-made object, and I was still trying at least to reduce this selection down to my nature and wildlife work. Similarly, I removed the following boats in the Souya Harbor shot, though I couldn’t bring myself to remove the shot of the wrecked minesweeper that we came across on New Island in the Falkland Islands on our way back from Antarctica.

As we can see in the following screenshot of my now 15 selects, at this point, I also still had one shot of the Cocoon Tower in Shinjuku from the Gyoen Park, that I really love as a photograph. To the right of that I also still had a shot of a Airship flying over the main street in Ginza, in the center of Tokyo. I begrudgingly hit the B key to remove these two shots, and was down to thirteen, though two of these were now slotted to get an honorable mention, so I was aiming for twelve, just one more to go.

Drilled Down to 15 - Getting Very Tough to Remove Shots!

Drilled Down to 15 – Getting Very Tough to Remove Shots!

Continuing to weed out the weakest, the last shot I decided to remove was my “Get the Flock Outta Here” shot from just a few weeks ago, when I’d traveled over to Kotokunuma, a pond where a large group of Whooper Swans winter, and I captured a number of swans in a bit of a ruckus, which I really like too. I removed this because it’s a very busy shot, with water flying everywhere, and maybe more an action shot than anything, but it was a very tough decision.

Get the Flock Outta Here!

Get the Flock Outta Here!

I was now down to twelve shots, but two of these alone were not in my top images. Before we move on to the Top Ten, I wanted to talk about a new pattern that I’ve noticed in my work, or at least my way of thinking about my work in 2011.

New Pattern – Synergetic Image Sets

A number of times throughout the year I found myself treating multiple shots as a group of images, where the synergy between two or more photographs raises the group of images above the sum of the individual shots alone. I’ve started to see more beauty in these small sets of images, such as the two iceberg shots from Antarctica that I made into gallery wraps to hang on my studio wall.

Two Iceberg Gallery Wraps

Two Iceberg Gallery Wraps

In this case, the top image did make my top ten, but the bottom image did not, but as a pair, or set of images, I find this to be much more than just two images. It works really well, and I enjoy having them both of my wall.

An even more powerful example in my opinion is the two photographs of Whooper Swans in flight that are left in my Collection of Top Ten images, pushing the count to twelve. These really do stick in my mind as two images that I love to look at together. Neither of these images individually would make the cut, as a set, they blow my socks off. The pale background with the white birds appeals to me a lot, and I did select both of these images for upload to my gallery after my first visit to Hokkaido in 2011, from the end of January to the start of February, before I went back with my workshop group in mid-February.

New Pattern – The Appeal as a Print

As you all know, I’m an avid printer, and I’ve found myself more and more being attracted to these sets, not so much as a Web offering, but as a printed set. The subtle shades of grey and pale blue with the white of the swans in these images make an absolutely beautiful set of prints. In this case, I don’t necessarily think that either image alone would look that great as a solo print, but two prints together, slightly off set on the wall looks incredible, and I’m finding myself drawn towards looking at and selecting images and these sets of images based on their appeal as a printed set.

Four Whooper Swans  in Flight

Four Whooper Swans in Flight

Four Whooper Swans  in Flight

Four Whooper Swans in Flight #2

This can also be said of the single print to a degree of course. Some images sing as a print, when they might not be appreciated as much on screen, especially at the size that we share images online in. I’ve had this appreciation for a long time though, and so today really just wanted to talk about my new appreciation for a set of images, and the printed set, in addition to individual prints.

Top Ten

OK, so having covered my selection process, and my growing love of the photograph set, let’s take a look at my top ten images of 2011. This first image happens to have been the first chronologically as well, though I have ordered this list in my favorite order, and we’ll count down from ten to number one.

#10 – Given in to the Elements

Given in to the Elements

Given in to the Elements

This first shot, “Given in to the Elements”, was shot on January 29, during a solo trip to Hokkaido when I pretty much circumnavigated the island. I don’t think I talked about this trip in a Podcast, but basically I traveled by Ferry, which takes about 20 hours, up to the port of Tomokomai, and then drove across to near Sapporo in the south-west corner of Hokkaido, and the drove up the west coast over a couple of days, across the very top, down the east coast, and then over to the where we photograph the Red-Crowned Cranes in my Hokkaido tour that we’ll be starting this year in just a month now.

I noticed this derelict house with the collapsed roof from the weight of the snow as I drove along, just after stopping for another few shots just a mile or so back. There’d been a heavy snow over night, so the white pristine snow coupled with the still heavy sky made for what I consider to be quite a nice image. I worked the scene for some time, with some shots with the house framed more tightly, but this one remained a favorite because we still see that heavy sky. I purposefully framed the shot almost half and half for balance, and love looking at the detail in this shot in a print. This really stands out to me as one of my favorite shots of 2011.

#9 – Shower Me!

At the other extent of the timeline, the next shot is the most recent, shot on December 28. I’d driven over to the Kotokunuma Pond in the Ibaraki Prefecture, as I do as most year’s draw to an end, and spent a couple of days photographing the Whooper Swans that winter there.

This year was especially poignant as I learned that the quake of March 11 had cracked the embankment of this pond, and most of the water had ran off in March, leaving not much more than a puddle. The Swans that had probably intended to stay for a few more days or weeks left, flying back to Siberia for the summer and there was concern that this experience might have caused them to find somewhere else to winter this year, but the crack was fixed around October time, and the water levels are slowly rising, though still about 1.5 meters or five feet lower than usual.

Shower Me!

Shower Me!

As you can see in this image though, as they splash around, the water is still quite muddy, but the swans did come back. I counted 75 on my second day there. This shot is very dynamic, and although this was a show of superiority from the swan to the right, it almost makes me feel as though they’re frolicking, and the guy at the back is enjoying his shower in the relative warmth as the ice that was on the pond just a few hours earlier thawed away.

#8 – Swans’ Attension

Number eight is a simple shot from Hokkaido on February 18, and you may recall the story of this shot from my Hokkaido Tour update episodes. We’d just been photographing a tree just down from the beach, where the hot springs that flow into the Kussharo Lake keep the sand warm and the water from freezing just enough for some of the swans that fly down from Siberia for the winter to make this their home until Spring.

Swans' Attention

Swans’ Attention

I saw these swans all looking in the same direction, off to camera left, and grabbed a shot. My friend Graham Morgan asked what I was photographing, and I got one of those affectionate expletives that Graham does so well as he saw the image on my LCD, and looked up to see that the scene was gone.

I like this shot for its simplicity, another trend that I’m finding in my work. The swans are just close enough that the snow storm doesn’t remove much of their clarity, but the rest of the image up to the copse in the distance is gradually hidden by the snow fall.

#7 – QI #2

On our third day in Hokkaido, it was snowing heavily after breakfast back at the hotel, and although we were scheduled to go over to the Kussharo Lake where a couple of hours later I’d shoot the last image that we looked at, I made the call to first go back to the Akan Crane Center, because we hadn’t had any decent snow there over the first few days, and I was unhappy that the group hadn’t been able to get any shots with a beautiful white background.

QI #2

QI #2

As if it had been prearranged, shortly after we got there and the group had all set up their tripods and long lenses, there was about thirty minutes or so of frenzied mating dances where pairs or birds like this did their Kyuuai dance in the heavy snow that pretty much blotted out the dark top half of the frame that had been getting in the way on previous days, and now with the fresh snow cleaning up the field that had become somewhat soiled, the scene was set for us all to get some shots of a lifetime. This is my favorite from this thirty minutes or so.

#6 – Wrecked Minesweeper

On our way back from Antarctica, we traveled around a few of the Falkland Islands, and this Wrecked Minesweeper had been run up onto the beach at New Island.

Wrecked Minesweeper

Wrecked Minesweeper

We’d seen the ship when we first arrived, but I wasn’t overly thrilled with the scene as the tide was much further in, and it wasn’t obvious that the ship had been run aground. After spending a magical few hours photographic albatross on the other side of the island though, I set up for a few long exposures of this ship with the tide now further out, as we waited for some others in the group to get back.

You might recall that I did a color version of this shot in my Color Efex Pro 4 video, which I also like a lot, but again, the simplicity of this shot wins me over for my top ten.

#5 – Gentoo Point – Antarctica

When I first got back from Antarctica, I’d have said that this shot, from Gentoo Point, was going to be my favorite for the year. I still love it a lot, and have a print of this at 24×36″ on my studio wall, but it kind of got pipped at the post by the next four images in the larger scale of things throughout the year. Part of it is most certainly a heightened appreciation for the simpler image, but this shot is still in my mind a kind of classic scene, even though I say it myself.

Gentoo Point - Antarctica

Gentoo Point – Antarctica

This too is a long exposure at just under two minutes, which gave the sea a cotton candy feel to it in the bottom right side, but also made the clouds flow a little, which coupled with the magic of Silver Efex Pro 2, created a beautiful dramatic sky. The distant peaks add to the drama and then the seven penguins that had stayed almost perfectly still for two minutes top this off, especially in a large print.

#4 – Deception Island Iceberg

As we sailed home, past Deception Island, this beautiful blue iceberg caught my eye, and with the help of a bit of Lightroom processing then later some Color Efex Pro, I was able to really bring out the heavy sky and blue of the ice to surprisingly to me, bring this shot ahead of the Gentoo Point shot in my ranking for the year.

Deception Island Iceberg

Deception Island Iceberg

This is one of the pair that we looked at earlier, that I do believe stands well on its own too. Note that this wide 2:1 ratio is something else that I’ve found myself doing quit a lot this year too. The gallery wraps that I have on my wall here are 13×26 inches, and another size of these that I’d like to do is 20×40. That would be impressive, if I had the room left on my wall. 🙂

#3 – Reverence

Shot number three is from February 13, on the Snow Monkey leg of my Winter Wildlife Wonderland Tour. I’m still enjoying this shot so much, despite the fact that the young monkey’s face is very slightly out of the depth of field.

Reverence

Reverence

This was a bit of a grab shot as I saw the youngster watching adult snow monkey shaking the snow of his mane, and I didn’t quite get it lined up squarely enough to get both of their faces sharp. Still, the expression on the youngsters face was enough for me to not only keep this in my selection, but to secure their place in my top ten for the year.

#2 – Journey Begins

Number two was a bit of a surprise, almost like a present. On the fifth of May my wife and I went for a walk in the Shinjuku Gyoen park here in Tokyo, and we’d been trying for a while to time it so that I could capture a macro photo of the seeds of a dandelion puff-ball as my wife blew them away. The timing of this was incredibly difficult, and she was starting to get frustrated, and this was one of the last shot that we made.

Journey Begins

Journey Begins

When we got home, I went through the images, and in the original color version, I wasn’t really taken with this shot at all, so left the images in my library as they were too good to throw out, but not good enough to process.

Journey Begins (original)

Journey Begins (original)

Then, towards the end of August, as I recuperated from my surgery in June, to remove that pesky brain tumor, I went back through my library and these images jumped out at me. I figured that if the color version wasn’t working, it was at least worth trying a black and white version, so I threw this into Silver Efex Pro 2 and immediate fell in love with what I saw.

A little bit of selective darkening on the right side and the bottom below the seeds as they fly away, and a color filter to darken the background even more really brought this shot out for me, and this is one of those that made the hair on the back of my head stand up when I held a print of it.

#1 – Tanchou Study #7

Tanchou Study #7

Tanchou Study #7

At the end of my first trip to Hokkaido, after circumnavigating the island doing landscape work, I hooked up with a friend and went to the Akan Crane Center for a few more days before sailing home again on the ferry.

During those few days, I made a number of close-up crane shots that I call my Tanchou Studies. Tanchou is just the Japanese word for the Red-Crowned Cranes. I’ve been making these studies each year when I go, and always like the results, despite them starting out as a way of killing time while we wait for the birds to dance or fly in or out of the field at the center.

This particular shot though became an instant favorite of this year’s series of studies, and has pretty much stayed at the top of my list for favorite shots of this year, and may even be my favorite shot of my own, of all time. I just love it.

Again, the simplicity is appealing, to me and the fact that the white along the left side of the bird as we look at the photo is darker than the background, but then the right side, being hit by the light from a slightly overcast sky, is just a bit brighter than the background, giving us just enough separation to make us think.

The angle of the head and the eye, even though it doesn’t have much of a catch-light, has reflected just enough of the white of the snow to separate it from the black of the feather on the crane’s face. To top it off for me, the crane has that beautiful splash of red on its crown, giving us a nice color contrast. This to me really portrays this beautiful bird at it’s best, despite it not being a dancing shot like the one we looked at earlier.

2012

So, there you have it. That’s my Top Ten shots from 2011, a year that came with its fair share of challenges too. As I mentioned earlier, and as many of you already know, in June we found that I had a sizable brain tumor, and by the time we found it, I’d started to have funny turns and then as we started to work on some plans for the surgery, it caused a kind of a mild stroke that caused a change of plans, and semi-emergency surgery.

Of course, the fact that I’m still here, now working again and Podcasting each week, shows that not only was the surgery successful, but I’ve recovered well, thanks to the amazing staff at the Jikei University Hospital in Shimbashi, Tokyo.

You might also recall that although most of the tumor over my pituitary gland was removed, the surgeons decided that it was too dangerous to also remove the cyst that was the size of a golf ball in the right side of my brain, knowing that they had a good chance of shrinking that down with medication later. Despite the fact that I had an allergic reaction to the planned medication that almost killed me from liver failure a week later, I started on some new medication that would hopefully shrink the cyst a month after the surgery.

An MRI scan after two months of taking the medication, and three months after the surgery, showed that the cyst had shrunk to around 1/10th of it’s original size. Then, last weekend, I went back for another MRI, almost six months after starting on the new medication, and as the neurosurgeon, Dr. Joki, flicked through the MRI images with the wheel of his mouse, he had to do a double take. He went right past the only two images that showed anything at all. He was jumping up and down with delight as he exclaimed “We’ve won!”.

He sat down again and we shook hands, with our other hands cupped around the back of each others, and he smiled a broad smile as I fought back the tears and we looked back at the screen to see a tiny slither of soft tissue that is what’s left of the cyst. I tiny bit of membrane. That’s all there is now. The MRI also shows a bit of space above the slither of membrane, which means that it is no longer putting any pressure at all on my brain.

My wife was with me, and the three of us couldn’t believe our eyes really. Dr. Joki had thought it would take much longer to get rid of the cyst, and he’d beaten himself up about having to leave it in, in the first place. He told us though that I’d lost a lot of blood, and every time they went after the cyst, I bled so much that I any more would have meant a blood transfusion. Also, he feared that had they gone after it, they would have damaged my optic nerve, or something else, maybe causing paralysis, and he knew that I’d just given in my day job and started out as a full time professional photographer, and thought that a photographer without his eyesight might as well be dead, so he decided to stop there, again, knowing that they could probably shrink the cyst with medication.

It was touch and go for a while, with the allergic reaction and everything, but his decision turned out to be perfect. I’m so grateful to not only have come out of this alive, but to have no side affects that we are yet aware of at least. I’m grateful to Dr. Joki, the neurosurgeon, for his skills as a surgeon but also for having the wherewithal to stop when he did. I’m also grateful to Doctors Matsuwaki and Mori on the ENT department  for their part, making it possible to do the operation through my nose, and then taking care of me afterwards. I’ve been washing the back of my nose out with salt water every morning and night for the last six months, but that also stopped last week, as things are now cleared up enough for that to no longer be necessary.

Of course, there’s a whole plethora of other people that cared for me in the hospital during that time, and none of it would have been possible without the entire infrastructure, but I’m just so grateful for the way things went.

As we welcome in 2012, a number of friends online said that they bet I was happy to see the back of 2011, but that really isn’t the case. For sure, I was unlucky to get the tumor in the first place, but I was so lucky to have been here in Tokyo at this point in time, and to have been almost miraculously channeled through to these amazing doctors from the first few hospitals that I visited. It’s almost a miracle that I came out of 2011 at all, but I truly feel that I’ve come out of it stronger than ever, so to me, 2011 was not a bad year. I’m still able to do what I love, and love what I do.

I wanted to also once again thank my brother Sean and his wife Zena for coming over to support us, and of course my wife Yoshiko, for their support during that traumatic time. Finally I once again want to thank each and every one of you for your friendship and support, and thank you for sticking around. That was my 2011, and here’s to what I think will be an amazing 2012, and beyond.


Show Notes

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Podcast 287 : Antarctica, the Falklands and Patagonia Slideshow (Video)

Podcast 287 : Antarctica, the Falklands and Patagonia Slideshow (Video)

Here’s a video slideshow of most of the photographs from my recent Photography Expedition to Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and Patagonia.

I will be doing a series of Podcast episodes on the expedition in the coming weeks, but I thought I’d get the photos into the feed now, as they are already available. I’ll relay our experiences and talk in detail about a selection of images in the Podcast as we progress.

You can also view the embedded video right here on your iPad, thanks to Vimeo!

Don’t forget to hit the full-screen button Full-Screen Button in the video window to view the video, erm, full-screen.

Note that there is an iPod/iPhone version of this video in iTunes, which is good for portability, but if you’re watching on a computer, the video above is better.

Music

The music in the video is “Swarm” by Charlie McMahon & Gondwana. Used with kind permission from Sound Foundation. Thank you!

Get “Swarm” or other tracks from the album Travelling here: http://www.soundfoundation.com.au/artists/gondwana/travelling/

See Travelling and other Gondwana albums here: http://www.soundfoundation.com.au/artists/gondwana/