Photo of the Week: Week 50

This week’s photo of the week is something quite different for me… a portrait. It should be pretty apparent from the usual content here on the blog that I don’t do a lot of this type of shooting. When my good friend Wayne Simpson asked me if I would do some shots of him, I was both excited and a little terrified at the same time. Being that he is such and excellent portrait photographer himself, I knew that it would be a great learning experience for me but I also knew that his expectations would be high and that I would be working well outside of my comfort zone. I suppose it helps that we are close friends and can handle each other’s insults… I mean… criticism pretty well. This shot is the one Wayne chose as his favourite and I agree that it’s one of the best of the bunch from the afternoon’s shoot. It was a joint effort with us both providing input and ideas into the details of the lighting, composition, etc. and I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with.

I did spend a nice day out in the mountains doing some landscape shooting as well this week, but I think I like this shot more than anything I brought back from that day. While landscapes are still what I love to shoot, I’m finding more and more that I just enjoy photography, period. One of the things I love about it is that there are so many different genres and styles out there, but it’s all still photography, and it’s all fun! I also love that there is always so much more to learn. This was a great experience for me and something I look forward to doing again. Thanks Wayne for being a great subject and being so patient with me!

I should also mention that if you’re interested in hearing more on Wayne and his work, make sure you watch Canon Rumors in the next couple days. I’m excited to share that he is being featured in a profile interview which I’m told should be published any day now.

Photo of the Week: Week 49

This week’s photo of the week was taken just moments ago in my kitchen. The last couple of weeks have been awfully busy for me and I just haven’t been able to make it out to do any landscape shooting. In order to keep in line with the rules of my assignment of posting only images that have been shot within two weeks prior to each week’s post, I had to come up with a new image and couldn’t post anything from previous shoots. Today was my deadline and in a rush this evening, I got to work trying to find an image. This was taken just using some found objects in the kitchen and available light. I used my macro lens and a very shallow depth of field to reduce the image to just be about the lines and colours. This isn’t really my usual fare, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Thanks for stopping in!

Photo of the Week: Week 48

This week’s photo of the week is another image taken on my trip up to Jasper a couple weeks ago. I’ve been sharing a lot of wide angle landscape scenes from the trip since I got back, so I thought I should show something a little different for this week. When the mid day light get harsh and less conducive to capturing the big scenes, I often switch up to my macro or telephoto lens and start looking around on the ground for details like this one. In this case, I was using my 105mm f2.8 macro lens and got down pretty close to the ground to frame up this leaf within the lines in the ice. The leaf is maybe only about an inch long, to give you an idea of how small this little scene was. The biggest challenge was probably just not wrecking the shot by breaking the thin fragile ice with my tripod legs while getting into position!

It’s a pretty simple one really, just a leaf on some ice, and I liked the way it looked. Hope you do too.

Working a Scene

As I mentioned earlier this week, I just returned from a multi day shooting trip last week in Japer National Park. After 4 full days of shooting, I came away with quite a few images to process and have been working my way through them this week. Those of you following along on Google+ and Facebook (if you aren’t, why not?) have already seen a few of these as I’ve been posting them there over the last few days. Wayne has been sharing some great stuff as well (follow him of Facebook and Google+ too) and also on his blog so be sure to check that out. I thought I’d share some of those images here along with a few new ones and take a minute to talk about working a scene.

As you may have noticed, most of these images appear to have some of the same mountains, river, and other features in them. That’s because they do! Of the 4 mornings we were out shooting at sunrise, we spent 3 of them at the same place. After our first morning at this spot where we really didn’t have very good conditions at all, we realized there was a lot of potential there and figured it was worth coming back to. The following morning we had uniquely different conditions from the first morning with some broken clouds and colour in the sky, and then on the last morning things were different yet again and we had perfectly clear skies. As the conditions changed, so did our images. Even those that were composed very similarly have a completely different feel and look to them. A good lesson here is that it pays to repeat a visit to a promising location, especially as you build familiarity with the area and know what you have to work with.

Another thing to mention is that it pays to really look around and explore the area. So often I see photographers pull up to a scene and unload their gear, only to set up their tripod at eye level right next to the car and then just stay in that one spot as the light changes. Now, I understand that in some (rare) cases, maybe that is the shot, or the one most worth taking, but most of the time it’s far from it. Taking the time to have a good look around before you start shooting, and continuing to explore as you work, is a great way to get beyond the obvious shots and really find the gems of a scene.

In the case of these images, we walked about 100 meters down towards the river from the roadside turnout (where most people stop to take the “tourist shot”), and then explored up and down the shoreline. All of these were taken within just a couple hundred meters of each other over the course of two mornings of shooting for a couple hours each day. By moving ourselves around, up, down, looking different directions, changing focal lengths, mixing up horizontal and vertical orientations, over or under exposing for mood, changing shutter speed for the effects on the water, using filters, etc. we were able to create quite a variety of images in just a short time. Even with that said, all of these images are still just basically wide angle landscapes and were shot with the same lens. There’s even more that could have been done by switching up to a longer telephoto or macro lens for example.

So, do I consider all of these to be 5 star images that will end up in my portfolio? Probably not. But there are definitely a few I like in there and a couple I’m actually pretty proud of. Others may be more suited to stock sales, advertising, instructional material, etc. The point is that by exploring and working the scene, I was able to bring home a nicely varied collection of images that will serve a few different purposes for me.

There’s still more to come from the trip, so stay tuned!

Photo of the Week: Week 47

This week’s photo of the week is the first of my images from a trip up to Jasper last week with my good friend Wayne Simpson. We ended up spending most of our time shooting at various places along the Athabasca River along the Icefields Parkway. The views of the peaks along this stretch are particularly impressive and the rushing river combined with the ice formations on the shore provided plenty of potential for images. This image was taken on the very last morning of the trip and after 4 overcast days, we were pumped to see a clear sky and some sunlight for a change!

This shot was taken with my Nikon 14-24 lens with a Lee 2 stop hard edge grad filter and a 3 stop solid ND filter. Using the solid ND filter allowed me to get a 6 second exposure which smoothed out the water as you see it here. Because I was so close to the foreground ice and achieving enough depth of field to render the entire scene in sharp focus was nearly impossible, I blended two exposures together after focusing on the foreground and background separately.

I have lots more to share from the trip so stay tuned over the next few days to see more.

Thanks for stopping in and having a look, I hope you enjoy this one.

Photo of the Week: Week 46

This week’s photo of the week is a little different for me, in that it was taken right in my house, at the kitchen table. I just wasn’t able manage any time away to get out to do any shooting and was forced to get creative much closer to home. This was just a simple macro shot of one of the leaves of a plant we have that sits on our kitchen table. I’ve always liked the combination of green and purple on the leaves and thought it might make for a pretty image. There really isn’t a whole lot more to say about this one, I hope you like it!

I finally have some time set aside this coming week to get out to the Rockies again so stay tuned for some new images in the next couple weeks.

Photo of the Week: Week 45

Conditions around Calgary have been interesting for the last week or so with an unusually long string of foggy, overcast days with heavy frost clinging to everything. Normally when we see conditions like this around here, they’ll only last for a few hours, not several days. The fog usually doesn’t stick around for long and the frost is either quick to melt or be blown off by the wind. I was struggling all week with a very busy schedule to try and get out with the camera to take advantage of these wonderfully photogenic conditions. Thankfully, at the end of the week when I was finally able to squeeze in a couple hours of shooting time, the fog and frost were still hanging around. I took a quick drive up on the back roads north west of the city Friday morning and came back with a couple nice images. Unfortunately, my time was quite short and I was rushed with the commitments of the rest of the day’s schedule. I find it to be quite a creative challenge in those type of situations, especially when I haven’t been shooting at all for the last several days and don’t have my head and eyes fully engaged. Maybe for those people who do this more often, and much better than I do, this isn’t quite such a struggle, but for me it’s still pretty tough to be very creative in a rush. Despite the challenge though, I was relatively pleased with some of the results of my efforts (emphasis there on some of the results… the rest were pretty embarrassingly bad!) from the morning.

This week’s photo is one of the last images I made as I was working my way back towards town. I was first drawn to this single tree, nearly all alone in the field and started by making a few shots where I excluded any other trees from the background. Then I noticed the second tree off in the distance and really liked the way the shape and proportions of the second tree kind of echoed those of the first tree. Using the rule of thirds as a rough guide, I framed up a composition that included both of them. As with my image from last week’s post, this image is very minimal and makes use of a great deal of space and simplicity. For some reason I’ve really been drawn to these type of images lately. Maybe it’s just a mental escape from how busy the rest of my life has been lately!

Photo of the Week: Week 44

This week’s photo of the week is another shot from the cool morning I spent at Spray Lakes in Kananaskis Country just over a week ago. After first making the wide scenic shot from last week’s post along with a few other poor attempts (which I won’t be showing you!), I honed in on a couple of details from within the larger scene. I had to move pretty quickly to get these last few images because the falling snow was coming down very thick and heavy by this point. I had spotted this little scene earlier and had the image in mind that I was going for so thankfully, it was pretty quick to set up. The biggest challenge of the morning was probably the task of changing lenses in the heavy snowfall. I’d been shooting the wider images with my 14-24 and needed to switch up to some longer glass for the detail image. It was quite a trick to remove one lens from the camera and then uncover the rear element of the other and make the switch without getting any snow on the elements or inside the camera body. I was very close to not even attempting the switch and abandoning the image altogether, but my better judgement (which might be debatable) kicked in and I went for the shot.

Technically and compositionally this is a pretty simple image, and that’s exactly what I was going for. I used a longer exposure to smooth out the rough water and reduce the falling snow to more of a fog, (in this case 10 seconds did the trick) and set the white balance to daylight to retain the blue colour of the scene. The composition was intentionally kept very minimal with the stumps on the lower left, placed using the rule of thirds, pointing up and into the scene. The horizon line was also placed at roughly a third of the way up the frame. I tried a couple variations on this one, first without including the horizon line, but then as I noticed the fog had totally obscured the opposite shoreline, I decided to include it as another layer of tonality. Looking back at them now, I much prefer this composition to the others. I didn’t use any filters and the processing was also very minimal with the final result looking very close the the raw capture from the camera.

I really like being able to say something about a scene using as little as possible in the frame. Simplifying a grand scene down to just a few elements is quite a challenge but I find this process very rewarding. I realize it may not be for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t deliver much of a “wow” factor, but more and more I’m coming to appreciate the space and simplicity in this type of image. As it is in so many creative fields (I can certainly relate to this in my musical background), less really is more.

Thanks for looking, I hope you enjoy this one!

What a Day!

Fall is one of my favourite times of the year to be out shooting here in Alberta. We’re fortunate enough as it is any time of the year to have such a varied landscape with everything from the Rocky mountains to the expansive prairies, but even more so during that time between summer and full on winter. Autumn brings with it shorter days (as in sunrises you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to see!), crisp frosty mornings, colourful leaves, great skies, and weather conditions that can change from one season to the next in the blink of an eye.

On a recent trip to Cypress Hills in southern Alberta with Samantha Chrysanthou, Darwin Wiggett, and Peter Carroll we experienced some truly classic Alberta fall conditions. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts from the trip, we had quite a mixed bag of weather conditions and it seemed like Mother Nature threw just about everything she could at us during those few days. There was one particularly interesting day that I spent out shooting together with Peter that really summed up what shooting in Alberta in the fall is all about.

Let me take you through our day:

We started off making images along the shoreline of Elkwater Lake. The snow had let up overnight and we were treated to heavy fog and wonderfully moody light.

Here’s a shot of Peter patiently holding still on the boardwalk for me:

From there we headed out from the town of Elkwater, not really knowing where we were going but optimistic as to what we’d find. Fortunately for us, the gates leading into the park (which had previously been closed due to the high forest fire danger) had been opened and we were able to make our way in and explore. The fresh dusting of snow on the coloured leaves in the soft overcast light was pretty hard to pass up. We stopped at several different spots in the park to make images of the frosty forest.

As the sun made its way higher in the sky and the clouds began to break up we decided to move on beyond the park and explore some more of the surrounding area. The broken clouds, dappled light, and and soft colours of the prairie fields sparked an idea from Peter to try some abstract motion blur images. The idea was to just to convey more of a feeling of the prairies as opposed to a more literal interpretation. We had some good fun seeing what showed up on the LCD after swinging our telephoto lenses back and forth! The keeper rate on these was pretty low, but I did find a couple that I liked.

From there we made the decision to visit Red Rock Coulee and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening there. After a cup of warm soup and some hot chocolate in the parking lot we got to work making images. This is one of the most unique and interesting landscapes I’ve ever seen. Having never been there before, we wandered around for quite a while just taking the place in and eyeing up the potential for images as sunset approached. Here is one of the earlier images I made:

Here’s another one of Pete looking much warmer this time. It’s hard to believe this was taken just less than 10 hours later than the last shot of him above.

As the sun made it’s way down towards the horizon, we were treated to some really nice evening light and sunset colour. A great way to finish off the day!

As the last of the light faded, we made our way back towards the campground in Elkwater feeling tired, hungry, and yet very satisfied with where the day had taken us. So much of the enjoyment in landscape photography for me comes from the adventure of never knowing exactly how things are going to go or what you’re going to end up with. This day was all about the unknown for us, working in locations we’d never been before, and under such a variety of conditions. It truly was a challenging and rewarding day, and a ton of fun too!

Thanks for coming along on this one!

Photo of the Week: Week 43

I finally managed to get back out to the Rockies for some shooting this week, and boy did it ever feel good. It had been about a month and a half since my last trip out west which, as far as I’m concerned, is much too long to go between visits. I’ve been juggling a pretty busy schedule lately, and even this week it was quite a challenge to squeeze in some shooting time, but I was glad to make it work. Joined by my good friends Wayne Simpson and Brad Anderson we headed out to Spray Lakes early one morning to see what we could find to put in front of our lenses. While we didn’t have much of a dramatic sunrise light show, the low clouds, fog, and fresh snow provided a wonderfully calm and moody atmosphere. It was such a peaceful and quiet morning, the kind that just reminds you how awesome it is just to be out there and taking it all in. We didn’t have a whole lot of time there with the quickly changing weather, but it was certainly enjoyable for the time we did. As the snow started to come down more heavily, and at a rate faster than we could keep it off our lenses, we realized we were done and hit the road.

This week’s photo is one of the few images I made in the pre-dawn light on the shoreline that morning. I hope you enjoy this one, I certainly enjoyed making it.

Photo of the Week: Week 42

This week’s photo is another image made on the trip to southern Alberta with Peter Carroll, Darwin Wiggett, and Samantha Chrysanthou about a week and a half ago. As I mentioned in my last post we had quite a variety of weather conditions in the few days we were there which is just part of what makes this time of year such and exciting time to be out shooting here in Alberta. Even over the course of just one day that Peter and I spent out shooting together, we saw 3 distinct seasons in the span of about 12 hours (more on that in an upcoming post).

On Friday morning, the 4 of us spent the first part of the morning shooting along the shore of Elkwater Lake which was just a short walk from our campground. Thankfully, the rain and snow from days before had let up and we had some really nice conditions to work with on this that would be my final shoot of the trip. I made several images that morning, starting with some wide scenes of the sunrise over the lake and slowly working my way down to more intimate details. While I started off relatively pleased with what I was capturing, as the morning went on, I was feeling less and less satisfied with my efforts and found myself struggling to come up with anything very interesting. Many times I put the camera to my eye and simply didn’t see any reason to take the shot. It felt as though I was trying to force it and I found myself just getting frustrated. At one point I realized the rest of the gang had moved on well away from where I was and decided since I wasn’t making a whole lot of progress anyway, just to take a walk and catch up. I’d only just taken a few steps down the boardwalk along the shore of the lake when I noticed the heavy frost on the surface of the decking and all of these tiny yellow leaves laying around. Aha, finally something had caught my eye! That brief little break in my train of thought and struggle to force some kind of creativity out of me was all I needed to get back into the creative groove. I quickly gave up on finding the group and opted to pull out the macro lens and stare at the ground for a while. I got to work framing up different compositions with the frosted leaves on the wooden boards and when I got to this little scene, I made the image… then stopped. This was my final image of the shoot and I knew that I had found what I’d been looking for that morning.

From there it was off to the local coffee shop where we met up for some much needed hot coffee and a great time of laughs and hanging out. Thanks to Sam, Darwin, and Pete for a great trip even if our time together did only overlap for a couple days.

Also, be sure to check out the latest post on oopoomoo to see some of what Sam and Darwin were up to in the next couple days of the trip.

Photo of the Week: Week 41

I just returned from a few days of shooting down in the Cypress Hills area of south eastern Alberta with good friends and fellow photographers Peter Carroll, Darwin Wiggett, and Samantha Chrysanthou. We had a genuine mixed bag of weather and conditions on the trip which kept things both interesting and down right challenging at times. I arrived a day earlier than the rest of the gang and was rewarded for my promptness with heavy cloud cover, rain, blowing snow, and my personal favourite, sideways slush. I was also lucky enough to discover that all of the gates to the roads leading into the Cypress Hills park were closed to all traffic due to the extreme forest fire hazard. After a windy and stormy night in the tent, I woke up to a thick coat of wet slush blanketing the world and felt like I’d been thoroughly skunked. I did my best to stay optimistic and productive with my time and after a warm breakfast (thank you Tim Horton’s in Medicine Hat!), spent the better part of the first day and a half scouting and getting to know the area from the comfort of the heated seats in my truck. As Darwin, Sam, and Peter pulled in late on Wednesday, it was as though the light followed right behind them and things improved significantly. For those of you who don’t know Darwin or is work, he is just that good. He doesn’t have to look for great light anymore, it chases him!

This week’s photo of the week was made early on in the day Thursday while Peter and I were out shooting together. The gates to the park had since been opened and we were able to get in to explore and shoot some of the awesome fall colour of Cypress Hills. This shot is a pretty good representation of the conditions we had with the fresh snow blanketing the forest and the colours of fall still hanging on. This was just the beginning of what turned out to be a very interesting and rewarding day of shooting for us. I’ll have more to share on this in the next few days as I make my way through processing the images so stay tuned for more!