FLORA

ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Simplicity

This is my 5th and final image for the Black and White Challenge. 

It’s entitled WINTER'S ICY GRIP. Last December for two days mist and rain fell as temperatures hovered in the perfect zone for precipitation to freeze on contact, coating everything with a 3cm layer of ice.  Many trees were unable to withstand the ice load but those that did were beautifully encased resembling a scene out of “Frozen.”  For this image I isolated the branch by moving until the background was a simple dark colour and set the aperture to a low f-number (2.8) so that branch was in focus and the background was blurred.  Check out my tip here for more on shallow depth of field.  

The image worked in colour, but when I converted it to black and white the details in the ice suddenly popped.  The story in this image IS the ice and the black and white version tells it best. 

High impact monochrome images have a simplicity about them.  The subject is clear and distracting elements are removed.  Many photographers will tell you that when they shoot for black and white they purposefully look for simple subjects and isolate them in the composition.  But sometimes, converting a colour image to black and white can also have the effect of simplifying.  As is the case with my image.

Participating in this challenge has taught much more than just the technical process of making a monochrome image.  I’ve enjoyed how the challenge has impacted my thoughts on creativity, making art and photography. I now know that:

  • making art and posting every day takes discipline and commitment
  • doing something completely different from what you normally do can boost your creativity across the board
  • good black and white images are not made from poor colour images
  • the elements of contrast, texture, pattern and simplicity play a key role in producing high impact mono images
  • the elements of good art are the same as for good photography (not sure why this is such a surprise)

Have a wonderful week my friends - may you find your own challenges are ones that inspire.

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Pattern

This is my 4th of 5 images for the Black and White Challenge.  I have taken some liberties and stretched a few days of rest in between so technically I am not following the rules which say I am supposed to post one image a day for five days.  But rules are just guidelines right?

Regardless, along with a new image, today I offer you another element of effective black and white - patterns.  It seems that pattern plays a very big role when colour is absent - providing interest and helping to move your eye through the frame.  Repeating patterns often show up in architecture and nature and without colour to distract us their beauty really shines in black and white.

I call this image “INTO THE WOODS.”  I joined a group of photographers on a hike in search of waterfalls but along the way came across several captivating miniature scenes like this fern vortex.  A collection of miniature frond ladders appeared and beckoned me to climb down the dark centre to another world. 

Again if I were following the rules, I would nominate another person to participate in the challenge but in this case would like to simply mention the gifted photographer and all round great guy who organized and led the hike that day.

+Mike Goodwin has long completed the Black and White Challenge (plus the Split Tone Challenge at roughly the same time) and his image “Looking Inward” inspired my own consideration of the million little worlds full of beautiful patterns that one can find if you dare to go hunting with the camera. 

Only one more image (and one more Michael to nominate) and my challenge will be complete.  I hope you find some fun things to challenge you this week my friends.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Texture

Sometimes it's ok to flip things upside down.  

This is day 3 (or more accurately photo 3) of the Five Day Black and White Challenge for me. Though perhaps I should call it the white and black challenge today.  I've always thought that impactful black and white images skewed to the dark side but the image I made today proves this is not always the case.  Sometimes the exact opposite can be just as impactful.

ELEMENT #2 - TEXTURE
Monochrome is perfect for highlighting textures.  A smooth white space surrounding the rough base of the trees creates visual interest.  In the original photo above, the snow was littered with little bits of dirt which I carefully erased so that the eye can travel smoothly over the snow and linger on the coarse ridges in the cedar bark.

TIP:
There are many ways to clean up spots on an image - be it from dust on your lens or small bits of dirt or debris on the ground.  I like to start by removing any easy spots in Lightroom with the spot removal tool.  Sometimes this tool won't work on a particularly tricky spot so I then move the image into Photoshop and give it another go with the Spot Removal tool in the Camera Raw filter.  If I am still unsuccessful with that then I will give Photoshop's Spot Healing Brush tool a go.
If all this sounds like too much work, then I invite you to just stare at the image above for a bit and relax (if you click on it you can see it bigger).  However if dust or spot removal has plagued you and you long for more detail on how to out out those damn spots, Pye at SLRLounge.com has a tutorial that should get you moving in the right direction.

 

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WARM SUN COOL RIVER - How to convey feeling in landscape photography

I've been absent from the online world lately - spending my precious warm summer days in, on and near the water.  Waterfalls, rivers, creeks and lakes beckon loudly to me when the mercury climbs.  

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to join several very talented Google+ photographer friends on a hike to Tew's Falls in Dundas, Ontario.  It was a hot and humid day but we kept cool in the dappled light along the forrest path and sloshing around in the water of Spencer Creek.  

The hike to the main falls is moderately difficult. There is a path - but it weaves up and down the embankment, can be hard to find at times and is muddy and slippery in parts. With so many small falls along the way to photograph though, even if you didn't make it to the mighty ribbon falls at the end it would still be a rewarding outing.

The image here is from the lower falls.  A fair bit of post processing went into this one.  Mostly balancing out the dappled light and getting rid of hot spots.  I also warmed the light ever so slightly on the rocks in the foreground.  The contrast between the cool water on my feet and the warm sun on my shoulders was a strong sensation and I wanted that feeling to come across in the final image.

Conveying "feeling" in an image is often sited as one thing that can make the difference between a good and a great image. I heard Varina and Jay Patel speak about this once, and they called it the "emotional appeal" of an image.  When it comes to making images that have impact, sometimes if the emotional appeal is strong it can even compensate for poor technical and creative merit of an image.  

HOW does one convey feeling in a landscape image with no people?  I focus on making the viewer believe they are in or want to be in the image.  Sometimes, as in the case with the waterfall image above, it's a matter of enhancing the light and the mood.  Warm light, cool water, lush green, earthy forrest tones, silky water and strong textured rocks all of these contrasting elements enhance each other and help to transport us to the waterfall in the forrest on a summer day.  Getting right down in the water and placing rocks in the foreground helps to draw the viewer in and invites them to dangle their feet to cool off.

Can you feel it? Can you imagine sitting on those rocks?  I hope the answer is yes.  If you have other suggestions on how to convey "feeling" in landscapes then do be sure to share them with the rest of us in the comments below.

 

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR THIS WEEK:

  • Jay and Varina Patel have lots of great information on their website, including some tips on photographing waterfalls.  Which you can check out here.
  • Fellow Ontario Photographer Wesley Liikane of Cowboy with a Camera was also out photographing a waterfall this week.  You can see his image on Google+ here.
  • I LOVE this article on how to connect with your subject from John Davenport at Digital Photography School.  He says "to truly capture powerful images we have to learn how to translate our emotions from the scene we’re photographing through the camera and into a still image."  Exactly!!  Best part is he offers more ideas on how to do that.
 

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IN THE WEEDS ... IN A GOOD WAY

I had a lovely little "microadventure" last week.  And while I didn't end up sleeping on a river bank as Alastair Humphreys might recommend in his book Microadventures, I did end up at the water's edge at sunrise.  "In the weeds" in fact, though not in a bad way at all.  

Do you ever find that sometimes the best view is not a grand one, but rather something quite small and perhaps right in front of you?  On the shores of Georgian Bay I found just such a treat.  The beautiful gradation of sunrise colour reflected in the water, the quiet lapping of tiny waves illuminated by the sun and an interesting pattern of silhouetted weeds breaking the smooth surface of the water - all right at my feet.  

Have a great week my friends.  Perhaps this is the week to make space for a micro adventure!  Don't forget to look down - you just might find your own grand little view!  Be sure to let me know what you find won't you?

 

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EVERY IMAGE TELLS A STORY - daring greatly

Often when I make an image the story it tells is inspired by something I've read, heard or a song I've listened to.  I see the scene and it triggers the words.  Do you ever find that?

I came across this willow tree last week which seemed to be "daring greatly."  I imagined it's story to be one of risk and resilience.  Perhaps it got an unlucky start too close to the water's edge or was the unfortunate casualty of a summer storm.  Whatever the reason, this lone willow is now stretched precariously out beyond the safety of solid ground.  With its roots lashed to the ever shifting and rocky shoreline it seems to be... "daring greatly."  

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

THEODORE ROOSEVELT
Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910 

I was recently (yes I realize I am late to the party) introduced to these words while watching Chase Jarvis interview Brene Brown on his show.  It's a long format interview but I found it terrifically inspiring.  When it comes to making my art, I am inspired to be the "one in the arena"  the "doer of deeds" the one "striving valiantly."  Creating is risky - you have to be vulnerable.  But nothing risked, nothing gained.  In fact in the case of un-used creativity - perhaps much lost!

If you are curious or in the mood for a bit of inspiration I would encourage you to watch the interview or look up Brene Brown.  She has written several books, done Ted Talks and runs Creativity Workshops through Oprah's website.  

I hope you've had a wonderful weekend my friends... and if you are not daring greatly in your own life already, perhaps something you found here will inspire you.

 

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PHOTO TIP - FUZZY DETAILS - using shallow depth of field to make subjects pop

A bit of spring for you today.

I pulled this image out of my archives.  It was taken two years ago in March. Spring was in full swing this time two years ago.  Not so this year.  Although my allergies seem to be saying otherwise.

I remember we ran some errands that Saturday morning and I thought I saw a large bunch of willows go by in a blur as we drove across a bridge over a ravine.  Later that afternoon I decided to take a walk with the camera in tow and check it out.

Turned out it was a group of pussy willows, and since the sun had finally come out, the colour on them was lovely and golden.

For this image I wanted to really emphasize the fuzzy nature of the pussywilow. And though the big bunch made an impressive sight, the wide shots I took were busy and the buds were so little that the fuzzy detail was getting lost.  So I isolated one of the nicest branches, opened my shutter up (small f-stop number) and used that shallow depth of field to get the one branch to pop against the blurred background. 

I was using an old lens that came with my first Nikon film camera - a Nikkor AF 35-70mm 1:3.3-4.5.  It was not the lens of my dreams, but it seemed to do a fair enough job.  Though there was always something odd about the way it blurred backgrounds.  They were never as “creamy” or “fuzzy” as I wanted. But that was easily remedied in post - I just added a blur filter to the background of the images to get them the way I like.

If you are waiting on spring like I am, I hope you see some signs of it this weekend.  And if you do spot some consider capturing it up close in way that highlights all the fuzzy detail.  Have a good one my friends.

Feeling out of your depth with depth of field?  Here are a few links to articles I found that you might find helpful.

http://jaypatelphotography.com/tutorials/aperture-and-depth-of-field-a-simple-comparison

http://www.lightstalking.com/dof/DOF.pdf

 

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WINTER'S ICY GRIP - a forced time of reflection

Nature has thrown some fierce winter weather at us here in Southern Ontario.  Freezing rain storms, snow squalls, sub zero temperatures - all this and the season is less than a month old!

With the weather conspiring to keep me inside the result has been a forced pause in "doing" and a distinct increase in "thinking."  I don't usually do my dreaming/ scheming/ planning at this time of year. Normally I'm like a kid in school and break out the goal setting in September.  

But who am I to argue with Mother Nature?  She has her icy grip on me and I am frozen - stilled.

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PLAN A SPARKLING NEW YEAR

We are still only a few days into it. I hope that before life in 2014 starts to gather momentum, you have a chance to take a deep renewing breath.  That you get some space to consider, dream and plan something wonderful for the upcoming year. 

Here's to making 2014 spectacular.

PHOTO DETAILS:

Like many areas of North America, the part of Ontario I live in has seen some pretty intense winter weather lately.  The photo above was taken in December 2013, two days after a terrible ice storm covered the land in up to as much as 15 mm of ice.  The tree damage has been significant.  Downed power lines knocked power out for 15 hours for us and unfortunately much longer for many others.  But always there is a bright side. When the storm had passed, the setting sun lit up the trees in my backyard as if they were decorated with sparkle lights.  The beauty was awe-inspiring - I fear my image only hints at it.  

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PHOTOGRAPH AND ABSTRACT ART - walking the fuzzy line between

Do not adjust your screen.  This image is out of focus on purpose.  I've been experimenting again.  Having some fun walking a fuzzy line between photography and art.  Abstract art in this case.  

When you were a kid, did you ever stand still and squish your eyes half closed to look at a scene?  It makes everything blurry and simple.  That kind of visual play seemed pretty normal to me as a kid - I did it all the time. I look back on it now and wonder if I did it instinctually as a way of eliminating excess detail in a scene that seemed too cluttered.  A simple way of making visual art perhaps.

I still think it's a valuable technique for finding the beauty in a scene. It has the effect of distilling things down to the basic elements - composition, colour, line and shapes etc. 

The image above was taken on a road I drive along often that runs alongside a field.  There has always been something about it that I find beautiful. Strangely the photos I've taken of it for the most part I find unappealing.  The other day I realized that perhaps it's because what I see as I zoom along it in the car is not the same thing as what my camera captures when I stand still at the edge of it.  Flying past/through a scene in a car has a similar effect to squishing your eyes shut.  So for fun, I stopped and decided to try taking a photo out of focus.  

It worked! Suddenly I can see the beauty again.  The image becomes all about the colour palate (cool winter blues, white and tans), the lines (of the road, telephone poles and the bushes at the edge of the field) and the shapes (lovely round and layered bokeh from the sparkling ice on the tall grasses and bushes).

I know this image doesn't fit with the others I usually post and I would be the first to admit it is unpolished - falling rather haphazardly someplace between art and photography.  But there is something about this that appeals to me.  

If photography is an art form, why should photos only be in focus?  

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THE PHOTOGRAPHERS CHALLENGE - finding beauty

It's November and the colour palate of the landscape in southern Ontario has shifted. The vibrant reds and yellows of autumn leaves have been replaced by muted hues of ochre, tan and grey. These are the colours of tall dried grasses, the bare bark limbs of the deciduous trees and heavy overcast skies. It's a big shift and frankly a bit of a let down. 

Add to this cold and damp weather and shorter daylight hours and it is easy to see why finding beauty out of doors in November around here is a bit more challenging.

Instinctively I find myself drawn to doing one of three things; cozying up inside with a cup of tea looking at photos from warmer times, dreaming of making sparkly holiday images or fantasizing about escaping to some place more temperate to make new images. 

But I like to believe that there is beauty even in the most unlikely of landscapes, so the truth is I must not be looking hard enough for it.

A few morning ago as I passed a fallow field, I did just that.  I looked harder.  And indeed, I think I found some in the muted, late november, cold and damp southern Ontario landscape.

Ironically in the time it has taken me to process the image for this post, mother nature has decided to change the colour of her wardrobe yet again.  This morning we woke up to discover she is wearing a crisp white blanket.  It's her prerogative I suppose.

How do you manage when beauty seems hard to find?

 

 

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ONE IN ONE HUNDRED - the photographers learning curve

I took some advice and purchased a new 85 mm lens a few months ago.  I am a landscape photographer for the most part, but occasionally I find myself dabbling in portrait work. I had high hopes of making dreamy images with this new lens. The man at the camera store assured me as I paid for the lens that I would not regret the purchase. But I have to admit - I am suffering some buyers remorse - just a little bit.

Perhaps because despite practicing with it, I just can't seem to make those beautiful images I see in my mind. I'm back to getting one keeper out of 200-300 shots taken. Ugh. It's so disheartening and now I'm in this terrible self fulfilling cycle - I don't get good shots with the darn lens, so I don't use it, so I don't get better - you know how it goes.

The easy solution would be to just sell it and use the money to buy number two on the lens list but I don't give up easily.  So the other day I decided I would try a new approach with this elusively fabulous lens and use it only when the pressure is off - when I can just play.  And bam. I got one. One. Out of one hundred. Just enough of an improvement to convince me I can't give up yet.

Have you got a stick with it story? I'd love to hear it!  I could use some inspiration.  Or maybe you've already been down this path with an 85mm and you could share the secrets to unlocking its potential. 

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refreshing vantage point

AHHH!

Being here again is like breathing fresh mountain air.  Refreshing, cleansing and almost sweet.

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer which began with a family trip to Scotland.  Our boys had never visited and we were eager to share the home of our family roots with them. We packed all manner of foul weather gear (it rains a bit in Scotland) but fortuitously we were graced with mostly sunshine and moderate temperatures.  This seemed to make the process of falling in love with that wee country of stunning landscapes even easier.

The photo above was taken from the Nevis Range.  Ben Nevis itself is the highest peak in all of the UK, standing at 1,344 metres (4,409 ft) above sea level.  After a gondola ride part way up the mountain range you can take a short hike to a lookout that offers wonderful views of both the mountains above and the valley below.  Unlike most of the days on our holiday, this one did require us to don the rain gear - but luckily the clouds remained at an elevation high enough not to obscure the view.

I quite liked the short little mountain daisies that lined the pathway and so for this shot I laid my camera on the ground to capture the view from their vantage point.

Have you been to bonnie Scotland? Perhaps I can persuade you to chance falling in love with this rugged place.

Check back here again for more images in the coming days, and as always feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment here.

Until then - deep breath - Sigh.

 

IMAGE DETAILS:
Ben Nevis Range
Fort William, Scotland, UK
56°47′49″N 5°00′13″W
June 2013

 

GEEK DETAILS:

  • Nikon D700, 28-300 mm, f/3.5-5.6
  • Single raw, hand held,  processed in Lightroom
  • then over to Photoshop for polishing
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not forgotten


It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.  My sincerest apologies. Life throws curve balls, and while you are sorting out the fall out, time marches on.  Quickly it seems.

My mother unfortunately suffered a stroke in April and while she is doing well now, things have been anything but normal. Ironically the first thing I gave up when the time crunch hit was my photography.  It brings me such joy, yet I dropped it like a stone.  A curious thing.  One I am still pondering.

In the mean time, my first post “back at it” is of a long time beloved subject - flowers.

The photo above was taken this week on a hike at Kelso Conservation Area.  We have had some lovely cool weather (much cooler than normal for this time of year) which not only made the trek up the escarpment quite comfortable but has also meant a later spring and delayed bloom times.  This bank of poppies growing near the old Alexander farmstead at the foot of the hills were nearly finished but still lovely enough for a photo. I just adore the vibrant colour and tissue paper texture of the petals.  And the purple black colour of the stamen... the perfect accent.

Of course poppies always make me think of  Remembrance Day, and ironically today is the 69th anniversary of D-Day.  The turning point of World War II.  How fitting then that the photo I chose to process and post today would be of a poppy - the symbol of remembrance.

So time may pass, and change may cause a distraction, all is not forgotten.  I’m thrilled to be back. Hope you’ll join me again soon for more posts.

 

IMAGE DETAILS:
Poppies
Halton Regional Museum, Kelso Conservation Area
Ontario, Canada
June 2013

GEEK DETAILS:
Nikon D700, 28-300 mm, f/3.5-5.6Single raw, hand held,  processed in Lightroom then over to Photoshop for polishing with Color Efex Pro & Noiseware.


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