Evening on the Prairies

One night last week I went for a drive north of Calgary to see what I could find for pictures in the evening light. The sky was looking promising and I was hopeful for a colourful and dramatic sunset over the greens and yellows of the fields.  Nature however, had other plans which did not include my photographic pursuits that night.  I watched as the clouds cleared away and the sun made it’s way toward the horizon in a very un-dramatic fashion. Despite the boring skies I still enjoyed the evening out and managed to make a few images I like.

Early on in the evening, I quickly realized the classic, big picture prairie scenes just weren’t going to happen so I began looking for some more details to shoot.  I threw on the 105mm macro lens and started getting in close to the canola flowers.  I love using this lens because of the shallow depth of field and how it so beautifully blurs out the background into smooth washes of colour.  Here’s a couple of these:

This last image was the last one I took but probably my favourite of the night. The sun had nearly set and the last rays of light were just skimming across the field with a beautiful warm glow.  I used the 70-300 all the way out to 300mm to get in tight and emphasize the rows of colour.

Thanks for looking!

Photo of the Week: Week 35

Last week I enjoyed attending the “Badlands, Buicks and Old Buildings: The Prairie Tour” workshop put on by Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou (collectively known as Oopoomoo) in the Trochu area of Alberta. Were based out of the wonderful St. Ann Ranch in Trochu and from there we visited a bunch of different nearby locations to shoot photos. Darwin and Sam are truly excellent at what they do on these workshops and I would highly recommend to any photographer of any skill level that they attend one of the many workshops they offer (see their website for more details). I’ve always known them to be excellent photographers and teachers (Darwin is probably one of my biggest influences) but to see them in action in this context as workshop leaders has even further increased my level of respect for them.

I have many images to go through and process and I’m excited to share some of this new material with you. Being that I normally spend most of my shooting time out in the mountains, this subject matter is quite different from what I’m used to. I’ll be posting some more images in the days to come, but for now here is this week’s photo of the week of a classic prairie scene.

I really liked the kind of crazy looking leaning fence post so I singled it out from the rest of the fence and tried to use it as an anchor and leading line into the image. I purposely tried to create triangles using the diagonal lines within the composition to lead your eye up and through the frame. To add a little more interest, I used a solid neutral density filter on this one to give me a longer exposure and blur the motion of the grass blowing in the foreground.

Thanks for stopping in, and stay tuned for more from the workshop coming soon!

Old Buildings on the Prairies

Here are some more images from the oopoomoo workshop last week, this time I’ve selected a few of my favourites of some of the old buildings we had a chance to photograph. The historic buildings from the original townsite of Trochu are actually on the site of the St. Ann Ranch where we stayed for the weekend so we had plenty of access to explore and shoot. I regret not making more images of these great old buildings actually, there was so much potential for great images with all of the historic furnishings, unique textures, colours, and character so well preserved. These weren’t the only cool old buildings we saw though, I also made some images of a couple of other old buildings we came across at some of the other shooting locations we visited.

This first one was a shot that Wayne Simpson and I worked on together. This is an 8 minute exposure of the old post office building that we light painted. Wayne lit the front of the building and walk way with a flash light and I ran in the back door with an off camera flash and popped flashes into the ceiling to light the interior.

This next one was the first shot I made on the first night of the trip. We had just a few moments of great low angled light and I was able to capture this old collapsing structure before the sun dipped behind the clouds. I got lucky, it’s not very often my first click on an outing is worth much… it’s almost always guaranteed to be a throw away!

Here’s another take on the same scene:

I really enjoyed working with some of the details of the wood grain, paint, and texture of these great old buildings:

This image was a bit of a surprise when the ghost of Darwin made an appearance!

Photo of the Week: Week 36

This week’s photo is yet another image from the oopoomoo workshop last week. On Saturday afternoon we spent a couple of hours at the Trochu Arboretum which was a very interesting and beautiful location. The manicured gardens, pathways, ponds, and colourful flowers held so much potential for images but surprisingly, this proved to be one of the most challenging shoots for us. We were there in the middle of the afternoon in harsh sunlight on a very windy day which made things very difficult. It was a real challenge to find and isolate subjects from within the overall scene and a great exercise in developing our eye for truly seeing. Right near the end of our time there, I found this group of lilies which happened to be in the shade of some trees above. I began by working on some images of the colourful petals of the flowers which were what originally caught my eye. I made a couple of decent looking shots but wasn’t totally satisfied with what I was getting. Eventually, I noticed the stamen hanging down below the body of the flower and really liked the curving lines they created. I decided on this composition which only showed a portion of the stamen and isolated the curving lines against the background. From there it was just a matter of focusing and waiting for a break in the breeze to make the shot.

I hope you enjoy this one, I think it’s probably one of my favourites from the trip.

Headlights, Tail lights, and Door Handles

Continuing along with the posting of my images from the oopoomoo workshop a couple weeks back, this instalment is all about the old cars we found at the auto wrecker’s. As I mentioned earlier, Darwin and Sam had lined up an awesome selection of shooting locations for the workshop and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. We were there after a rainy morning with overcast skies and a nice breeze. It was just the perfect light and conditions with the wet grass, soft even light, and saturated colours of the cars. After 4 hours of shooting, many of us were wondering where the time had gone and wishing we could stay longer! It was easy just to lose yourself wandering through the aisles of old abandoned cars making images. I ended up spending most of my time in just one small corner of the place with a small row of particularly old cars and had to remind myself to go look around some more and try to see what else I could find. While I’m pleased with the results, in looking back at my images now, I feel like I only just scratched the surface of what could be done there.

The Assignment

While on the oopoomoo workshop in Trochu last month, we were given a rather challenging assignment/contest to take part in. After getting rained out on our sunrise shoot one morning we were back at the St. Ann Ranch drying out and Darwin proposed the assignment to us as something to work on until the conditions outside improved. The assignment was to make and submit an image that was taken within the building, using only one camera and lens, no tripod, and only in camera processing. It was a great challenge for sure, and we saw a lot of very creative images come from it at the critique session at the end of the weekend. Sam and Darwin are so good at teaching and encouraging you to open up your eyes to what’s around you and to see creatively. It’s certainly an area they’ve challenged me on lately and something I really want to work to improve on in my own photography.

While I was only able to submit one image for the assignment, I did make a few that I thought were worth sharing.

I tried a few different ideas with some of the old heat registers on the walls. I really liked the repetitive lines and patterns in these as well as the texture of the metal.

This old typewriter made for an interesting subject as well:

One of my favourite photos, and the one I submitted for the assignment came from this lamp that was hanging in one of the rooms. This one was made by shooting through the hanging red tassels and focusing on the beads of the pull chain of the lamp. Using a very shallow depth of field with my macro lens, the foreground just turned into this beautiful wash of red. The outline of the tassels on the opposite side can be seen in the background in orange as they are lit up by the light bulb inside the lamp. I left my white balance set to daylight to bring out the really orange colour of the lamp light to work with the red colour of the shade.

This next one was made by shooting up into the same lamp, again using daylight white balance for that orange background behind the beads of the pull chain.

This last one was just a simple capture of the neatly placed napkin inside my wine glass at the table as we waited for breakfast to be served. And no, we weren’t drinking wine with breakfast… the glass was later filled with orange juice.

Photo of the Week: Week 39

This last week was a busy one for me and it was a bit of a challenge to squeeze some shooting time into the schedule. Given the limited time I had, I decided to stay a little closer to home and went out to Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park which is located just east of Cochrane, only about 30 minutes from where I live in north west Calgary. I had heard much about this new provincial park but had yet to spend any time exploring or shooting there so I thought I’d give it a shot. I was going in kind of blind that morning, arriving well before sunrise, and not having the slightest clue where I should go or set up for first light. Normally, this isn’t really the way you’re supposed to do it, but I wanted to challenge myself and just try to be as open as I could to what I was seeing around me and do my best to react to that. It was actually quite refreshing to look at a completely new area without any preconceived ideas of images I would make. I found that I was able to relax so much more and just focus on the scene as it presented itself and work on the images as I saw them. While there are certainly merits to pre scouting your locations ahead of time and planning out your shots (techniques I often use as well by the way), I find this type of blind approach to not only be a great creative exercise, but also a really enjoyable and relaxing way to work.

This image was taken just as the sun was making it’s way over the horizon and through the thin cloud cover in the east. I was really drawn to the beautifully soft, low angled light that was bathing the grass and trees in this scene. The low light also allowed me to use a longer exposure (5 seconds) and capture the motion of the grass blowing in the wind. I shot two horizontal images and stitched them together for the final result below.

I will definitely be visiting Glenbow Ranch again to do some more shooting and exploring. The park is much bigger than I first realized and I know now that there is much more to see. If you’re in the Calgary or Cochrane area, I’d encourage you to go check it out and take a walk or a bike ride on one of the many trails and pathways that wind through the park. Fall colour is in full swing out there right now and it’s absolutely beautiful!

Photo of the Week: Week 40

This week’s photo was taken on a calm and overcast morning out at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park last week when my good friend Wayne Simpson and I ventured out hoping to shoot sunrise and make the most of the beautiful fall colour. While we didn’t get much of a sunrise, the overcast skies and rain early on left us with fantastic light and conditions for detail images. We had a great time exploring with our telephoto and macro lenses looking for intimate scenes down in the valley bottom. This image was one of my favourites from the morning and was actually bit more of a challenge to make than you might think. Because I was working so close to the subject, even with my macro lens stopped down to f16, I didn’t have enough depth of field to render all of the leaves and drops in sharp focus. I ended up taking several exposures (5 in this case) and moving the point of focus for each one to capture everything in the scene sharply. I later combined the layers together in Photoshop using the auto align and auto blend layers commands. I haven’t done much of this type of focus stacking in the past or had a lot of success with the auto blend mode but I think it did a pretty good job on this one and I’m quite pleased with the natural looking results. I’ll definitely keep this in mind as an effective tool for future use on this type of image.
As always, thanks for stopping in to have a look. I hope you enjoy this one!

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!

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.

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 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!