PHOTOGRAPHY

WHERE TO FIND YOUR ARTISTIC VOICE - HINT: IT'S IN THE WORK YOU CREATE DAILY

I wonder if all artists (i.e. anyone who creates - we'll leave the discussion of my definition of an artist for another day) reach the point in their work where they question what the heck they are doing... and why they are doing it.

My hunch is the answer to why in the end must boil down to some variation of personal satisfaction. Ultimately the answer must be "it brings me joy" or perhaps "I can't NOT do it." Otherwise certainly the critics and the fact that for most humans art remains in the "want" not "need" category would drive anyone to eventually hang up the smock or put down the camera.  To paraphrase Ted Forbes - nobody is interested in seeing your photographs. 

But the what... well the answer to that one is perhaps a bit more elusive.  No matter where you are on your artistic journey I imagine this question is familiar.  What do I want to create? What do I want to say, express or inspire with my creations? What can I make/do that is meaningful?

SEEKING
Grasse, France.

I'm not sure I have a clear answer for my own work yet and I must admit that bothers me.  But I am starting to believe that the answer will come not from thinking but rather from doing.  Just doing the work.  Creating.  Often.  Repeatedly.  Stacking up the experiments and mistakes and pushing through towards making work that matters.

DISTILLED ESSENCE
Grasse, France

I recently discovered this speech by Arno Rafael Minkkinen referred to it as the Helsinki Bus Station Theory... and found it to be an inspiring support for my own thoughts.  If you haven't read it before, here's the link for you.  

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory

My take from Minkkinen's message is keep on doing the work.  Keep on creating.  Keep being an artist.  Do it for yourself first, because it brings you joy and out of this joy, out of your passion the what will emerge.  The work that matters will emerge.  Your voice will become clear, your artistic expression will take shape and in time you might discover that what you create not only fulfills you but inspires others and makes a difference.

Rest if you need to.  Take a sabbatical to recharge your energy when you must, but whatever you do... don't stop doing the work

 

UNSOLICITED RECOMMENDATION:
My own search for the answer to what propelled me to make the journey to France last spring and join Karen Hutton's THE ARTIST'S VOICE photography retreat. She is offering this retreat again in the Fall of 2016.  If you are curious you can find out more here.

 

OTHERS WHO MAY HAVE SAID THIS BETTER:
In the past few weeks since I've been preparing this post, I've been fed or rather "discovered" (if you prefer to think the universe works in synchronistic ways) similar posts/articles/commentaries by at least three other people who have far larger followings than I do.  So it wouldn't surprise me in the least if you have already had exposure to their take on the same issue.  However, just in case you missed them here are a few links you might enjoy:

CHANGE THE WORLD: 12 Ways To Make Work Meaningful - No Matter What You Do - Marie Forleo

Does art really make a difference in the world? I hear from tons of artists who feel insecure that what they do just amounts to "making something pretty." Art is SO MUCH MORE than that. In this video you'll learn 6 reasons why art really matters.


NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY - Ted Forbes, The Art of Photography

Nobody cares about your photography. The world doesn't need any more photographers. It doesn't need anymore musicians, writers, filmmakers, artists or actors either. We have enough. Its over-saturated. BUT The world's survival is completely dependent on work that matters. Subscribe for more videos!


VISION IS BETTER, Ep 54 - What if Nobody Cares About Our Photography - David DuChemin

On the heels of hearing Ted Forbes (The Art of Photography podcast) say that nobody cares about our photography, I have some ideas about why beginning with that assumption is a good thing, and sets us up to make photographs people have a better chance at caring about.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

DO YOU CRAVE SHARPER IMAGES?

I haven't paid too much attention to sharpening my images to date.  Which is rather odd because I am a huge fan of beautifully sharp landscape images.  In fact, I recall pestering everyone I could at the very first photo workshop I attended with my burning question of "how do they (they being the big name landscape photographers I admired) get their images so wonderfully detailed and crisp?"  No one seemed to have an answer for me so I back burnered the issue.

Until this week when I serendipitously discovered Mark Metternich (via his guest posts at Visual Wilderness) and his positively stunning images.  Even better, I've found that he has some wonderful tutorials (a few free and even more available for purchase) on sharpening that I found really really good.

I watched both his Raw Sharpening and Ultimate Web Sharpening video this week and selected an image I made in Banff recently to try out what I learned.  All I can say is WOW and bless you Mark Metternich!  I am so thrilled with the result I got using his raw sharpening method.  Of course I still have much to learn but I am excited to finally have the knowledge to achieve the look I've been chasing for the last 3 years!

BANFF MOUNTAIN TIMBRE - Eureka!  Break through! I finally know how to get the sharp detail I've been pining for!

Since I am no expert, I will not even try to give you details on how to do this but instead will happily refer you to Mark.  Be sure to check out his website and videos if sharpening is something you'd like to learn more about.  

And mind you don't slice your eyeballs on those mountains up there ;) 
Happy image making folks!

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

MAKING STRONGER PHOTOS - Learn How To Exclude

As children, most of us were taught that it is not nice to exclude but in the quest to make stronger images excluding is essential.

 

YOUR BRAIN EXCLUDES, YOUR CAMERA DOES NOT

Sometimes we don’t realize that visual exclusion is something our brains do for us automatically. When you look at a scene your brain knows what you want to focus on, very swiftly analyzes all of the visual details and blurs or eliminates that which it deems unimportant.  Your camera regardless of how complicated a device it may seem is not as sophisticated. It doesn't know what you want the focus of a scene to be - it simply records the entire scene.  So when we lift the camera to our eye, everything included in the frame is given equal importance.

 

STRONGER IMAGE = CLEAR FOCUS = EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS

It’s up to the photographer to make the subject or focus of an image clear.  One simple way (and there are others) to start making better photos is to ask yourself - what is it about this scene that made me want to take a photo in the first place? Then make sure that whatever you answered, fills the frame.  Cut out all the rest either in camera or in post-production.

 

EXCLUDE BY GETTING CLOSER

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Robert Capa

I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before.  It's another way of saying cut out the clutter and focus in on the subject.  Getting closer will help to fill the frame with the subject, making it the focus and allowing the audience to see what moved you.

This image is not bad... but it could be stronger.

I took the image above last week at the sailing club where my son trains.  I was there to photograph him, but the light was lovely and while I was waiting I noticed that there were some beautiful reflections of the red metal dock in the inky blue water.  I made this photo.  The beautiful reflections are there but so are several distractions, including the "legs" of the dock and the pattern of ripples on the water.  The beautiful painterly part of the reflection is what caught my attention but in the image, the lake and the rusty red dock take up the bulk of the frame and distract from the focus .

In this second version I have cropped out all of the distractions. Even though it becomes an abstract image, it is stronger than the first version because it does a better job of highlighting the beautiful reflections in the water that caught my eye and made me want to take a photo in the first place.

Here is another image I made at the same location on the same day.  In this case it was the beautiful red, blue and white colours and the reflective quality of the lake that caught my attention.  Having learnt from the first example I immediately cut out the surrounding environment in the field by zooming in (with my feet) on the buoy and its reflection in the glassy surface of the water.

 

EXCLUDE DISTRACTIONS = CLEAR FOCUS = STRONGER IMAGE

Next time you are out shooting, give this simple tip a try. Be ruthless and exclude. Be mindful of what caused you to want to take a photo in the first place and then make sure to make it the focus of the frame - even if that means leaving other things out. If this makes you nervous then go ahead and start out by shooting wide and including everything. Just don’t stop there. Zoom in (either with your lens or your feet) and take another shot, and then another.  Try filling your frame with what caught your attention in the first place.  If that still feels uncomfortable then play with cropping in post production. Either way, I bet you'll notice that the more you exclude, the stronger your images will become. 

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

GO WITH THE FLOW - DISCOVERING A PASSION FOR ABSTRACT LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

 CLICK TO OWN

CLICK TO OWN

Have you ever noticed that sometimes things work out better when you stop struggling and instead go with the flow?  That's a sweeping statement - let me explain.

I was an early joiner on the mirrorless camera bandwagon. If truth be told though, I have struggled ever since to get the darn thing to reliably produce the sort of images that come easily to me with my more robust (and weighty) Nikon gear.  

Now, before I go any further let me state that I have no doubt that the issue is not the camera… but rather the user.  Plenty of other photographers are producing wonderful images using the very same mirrorless system that seems to trouble me.

My biggest issue has been focus.  I can’t get an in focus image with the mirrorless to save my life.  Well - that’s not entirely true - I have had a few - but most often they are happy accidents rather than planned.  The majority of images I’ve taken with this new lightweight media darling are complete blurry messes.  Bah! 

One day as I was reviewing another collection of fuzzy missed shots I discovered one that I rather liked in spite of its lack of focus.  And BOOM, it hit me.  Since I seemed to be able to capture blurry shots with this camera so easily - why not explore that? If you can't beat them...

For some of you this will make no sense. I can hear you asking "why would you want to purposefully make out of focus images?"  Well here's the thing - I’ve always been fascinated by abstract images and the camera as a tool to create them. 

Many photographers might take to the soapbox and proclaim that abstract photos are just a way of “saving” a bad photo - which may be true in some cases - but when the intention is to make abstract images, blurry photos are not mistakes saved but rather art created. In fact the technique has a name ICM - intentional camera movement and there are plenty of photographers creating these sorts of images in a genre of art often referred to decades ago as pictorial and more recently as abstract or impressionist photography. 

 CLICK TO OWN

CLICK TO OWN

Given that I have the tool in hand which I seem predisposed to create these sorts of images with… I thought I would give the genre a go. I have learned that creating abstract images intentionally is every bit as challenging as creating any other sort of image.  But I am hooked and it's kindled a love for a camera that used to cause me grief!

Have you ever found that your photography took a turn for the better when you stopped struggling? Or have you ever turned a negative into a positive in your art? Maybe it's time to consider trying to go with the flow. 

If you wish to see my (ever growing) collection of abstract landscape images sign up for my newsletter to be notified when new ones are added.  

 
 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

PLANNING VS. IMMERSION

 PRINT AVAILABLE

PRINT AVAILABLE

I always work from inspiration.
Roy Henry Vickers


As a photographer, every trip is an opportunity.  Before I travel, like many, I research my destination ahead of time.  I consider the season, I look at the weather, I even do a pinterest and google image search to get a sense of what I might find upon arrival.  In other words, like a good girl scout - I plan.  But lately, I have discovered that no amount of planning can replace the simple act of immersing yourself in a place.

My recent trip to Tofino BC was planned specifically.  November is the start of storm season in that part of the world.  As I boarded the plane heading west, my mind was filled with all of the beautiful and dramatic images of stormy beach fronts and misty forests that I would make.  We arrived to glorious sunshine and for the first few days I found myself strangely reluctant to pick up my camera.  The moody images I had envisioned were nowhere to be found… so I suppose in a way, I was waiting.  Until finally one beautiful afternoon we went for a walk on the beach and I decided to take my camera just in case the weather should turn (it sounds absurd to me now but that’s truly where my mind was).  Luckily as we walked I began to immerse myself in what was happening on the beach and started to see the beauty all around me.  I stopped looking for the images I had created in my mind and I started to SEE what was there.

Silvered Signs

Thank goodness.  For I honestly believe these images not only tell the story of what it is like to experience a beautiful November day on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, but these are some of the most impactful images I have ever made.

They come from a place of inspiration.  As Roy Henry Vickers (a wonderful local west coast artist with a stunning gallery in Tofino) points out, inspiration is derived from the latin word inspiratos - which means breath.  When you breathe and immerse yourself, the spirit of a place comes into you and through you.

I still believe that planning is important and can yield some wonderful results.  But immersion - the act of allowing yourself to remain open to what a place has to offer - for me never fails to result in inspired images.

David DuChemin (another west coast of Canada local) is known for his quip “gear is good, but vision is better.”  If could borrow his format I would say “planning is good, but immersion is better.”  For while planning might help you find beauty, immersion will inspire you see it surrounds you.

 PRINT AVAILABLE

PRINT AVAILABLE

The next time you head out on a trip - be it to your backyard or further afield - give immersion a try. I'll wager you make some beautiful images as a result.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

SEE THE LIGHT - THE CRUCIAL ELEMENT IN GREAT IMAGES

I have to admit something.  I’ve been stubborn.

Ever since I picked up my camera a few years ago and started to pursue the art of making compelling landscape images I have been following the experts in the field, watching tutorials and taking workshops.  One thing that always comes up is how important light is.  Yes, yes, yes - of course light is important I would say to myself and then I would return to learning another post processing technique to unlock the hidden potential of my images.

But the subject of light would resurface.

It seems I am a slow learner.  Or perhaps I had just not experienced the difference light can make enough times to become a believer.

The other day that changed.  Late in the afternoon a storm rolled over the hills and down towards the bay.  I had checked the weather forecast earlier in the day and was expecting it.  I had also checked the Photographer’s Ephemeris to see just where the sun might be positioned when this storm came through and had picked a location that I thought might have a favourable view.  The one thing I didn’t anticipate though was in the end the one thing that made the biggest difference.  

The light.  It was extraordinary.

Great light can’t be missed.  You'll know it when you see it.  When you stand on site and can’t help but pause to stare at the beauty of the scene, when you look at your shot on the back of the camera lcd and it looks fantastic, when you snap a shot with your iPhone because it needs no filter and when you upload your photos to your computer and they require little to no editing... that’s great light at work.  Great light is powerful.

And now I’m a believer. 

Great light is a crucial element of great images.  Its’ not the only element but it is absolutely key.
Now that I've been converted, will I only take photos when the light is right?  No - for me there is still value in taking photos as often as I can - any practise time is good time.  But when the light is good, you can bet I will be making good use of it.

So if you are still looking for that magic post processing secret... let me just save you a bit of time... look for great light!

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

LEARNING TO PHOTOGRAPH THE SEA OF STARS - ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY WITH A TWIST

For most of our short summer we spend our free weekend time as a family sailing on Georgian Bay to quiet overnight anchorages. Away from the city lights, we are able to see the stars very clearly.  I have been trying to capture our experience of the beautiful night sky for a few years now.  It is a tricky thing. When you are on a boat - there is so much movement.  Wind and waves make it difficult to get a solid platform on which to shoot.  The conditions are usually anything but ideal.

Occasionally we get a windless, waveless & moonless, clear night - as we did this past weekend.  You could say the “stars aligned.”  I waited until everyone had gone to bed (people moving rocks the boat too) and then set up to experiment. 

The last time I tried this I missed the focus completely in the dark and the images came out soft. But I noticed in those first images that if I shot directly up the mast, the stars appeared to rotate around it.  I guessed that it had something to do with our rotation on the anchor line… but that didn’t quiet make sense… so I thought I would try it out again to see if the same thing would happen.  It did.  And I still don’t know why.  If you have any ideas or explanations (physics was never my thing) please let me know. 

I usually only share images I consider to be portfolio pieces.  This one is not one.  But I'm hoping that by sharing it you might be able to help me.  

My main complaint is the noise.  I don't like the noise which came as a result of using a high ISO and long shutter speed.  As you can see from the processing notes below I used both Lightroom and Noiseware Pro filter in Photoshop to try and reduce it.  I am not a fan of the way noise reduction makes the mast look “plastic.”  I'd rather not have to do any noise reduction work.  Not sure how to solve that problem - better camera? different settings?  Maybe I could take a series of images and stack them instead of doing a long exposure to get the star trails.  If anyone has suggestions I am all ears - leave me a comment below  

So while it's not technically well done, I think the subject matter resonates.  One step closer on the journey to getting an image that captures the real beauty we feel so lucky to witness on our family sailing trips.

TECH DETAILS:
Nikon D700
14-24mm Nikon Lens
ISO 1600
14mm
f/2.8
25.0 sec

PROCESSING:
Lightroom:
- exposure adjusted
- white balance set to Fluorescent
- Dehaze tool used to get rid of some of the haze (it was a humid and hazy night)
- Luminance smoothing, detail and contrast adjusted
- Highlights, shadows, white and black clipping & clarity adjusted
- Colour noise reduction and smoothing
- Vignetting added
Photoshop:
- Color Efex Pro - pro contrast (dynamic) added & lighten/darken center added
- Noiseware Pro - nightscene noise reduction filter added

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

MULTITASKING AND COMPROMISING - two odd strategies to help you protect your passion

I’ve been pressed for time lately.  Too many things on the plate and not enough time to give every one of those tasks it’s due.  What?  Did you say you can’t relate? No - I didn’t think so.  I am not complaining.  In fact I am grateful because it’s teaching me something.  It is forcing me to find new ways to make sure I still get out to do what I love most which is take photos.

What’s my solution? Multitasking and compromising. It’s a one-two punch that I never would have endorsed before.  Let me give you a bit more detail - you might find my strategy could work for you.

MULTITASK
The first is multitasking.  I can hear your protests.  Trust me, I recognize that when I multitask I rarely do as good a job of anything compared to when I am focused.  But you know what… sometimes sacrificing perfection is not only justified but the best solution to protecting the time you need to pursue your passion.  So here’s what it looks like for me  - instead of making time to go for a walk every day to uphold my commitment to better health AND finding a separate time to go out and shoot daily to keep my commitment to improving my photography I multitask.  I carry my camera with me on my morning walks.  This has never worked for me before… until now.  So what has changed?  

This is where part two kicks in - I’ve made some compromises I can live with.  

COMPROMISE
Finding Challenge in Monotony
My walk takes me along the same route. It’s one I like and I’m not willing to change it.  So that means I am presented with the same views and subjects (mostly) everyday.  I used to think this would produce boring results, but I now look at it as a challenge.  I have to really be present in order not to miss the new little scenes of beauty that are there every time.  And for the things that don’t change, I rationalize that getting very familiar with this landscape allows me to capture it at it’s best.  And though the landscape in my neighbourhood seems mundane to me, there’s a good chance it seems exotic to someone who doesn’t see it every day.

Carrying Less Gear - Testing Creativity Not Mobility
When I used to go out shooting, I would take my entire kit; all the lenses and both camera bodies.  Setting aside time to do photography is a commitment and to honour that I was not going to miss any shots because I didn’t have the right lens.  But my full kit of gear is cumbersome and I knew that carrying it all on my walk would make me start to hate my walk.  Which would be counter productive.  So the compromise is I take one camera and one lens.  Sometimes it’s just my iPhone, other times it’s my mirrorless and an 85mm or 55mm prime lens.  Both are light but limiting. Which forces me to get creative.  I have to use only what I have to make the photo.  I’ve rationalized that this compromise and challenge may just help make me a better photographer in the end.

Embrace the Pace - Thinking Long Term
There is no way to reconcile the pace required for these two activities.  They sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. Moving fast enough to raise my heart rate is incompatible with slowing down enough to explore the landscape to get a good shot.  My solution has been to accept that I don’t have to have it all in the same day.  Some days I will get a better work out and other days I will get better photos, the key is to remember that over time they will balance out.

I’ll admit there is nothing ideal about multitasking and compromising. But if you are like me and photography is a part of who you are and not just something that you want to do “sometimes," then finding ways to include in your life daily is essential.  Why not give it a try - you may find you are pleasantly surprised by the results.  

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

Landscape photography (like life) is unpredictable.  Sometimes you are presented with weather and conditions that are neither what you expected or hoped for.  I ran into this last weekend.  My hopes were high for capturing the Northern Lights.  The forecast was promising but sadly nothing materialized in my area.  Fortunately I didn't come away completely empty handed. 

With no new images to work on today I found myself digging back through my archives.  As I worked on this image of Toronto my hopes of catching the aurora in action must have seeped into my subconscious (cue the Rolling Stones).  

While the universe didn't present me with the aurora images I wanted, it did provide me with heaps of inspiration.  

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

WAIT A MINUTE - NATURE'S SIMPLE LESSON FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

Every time I head out with my camera I learn something new.  Each and every time - without fail.  One recent wintery morning, the lesson was a simple one.

It's to wait.  Wait for a few minutes.  And then wait for a few minutes more.  When you first arrive at a location the beauty of the moment may not be immediately recognizable.  I was early for sunrise on this particular morning and it looked like it was going to be unremarkable. It was cold and I was tempted to head home but I recalled a quote and decided to wait.

Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I'd left I would have missed the scene above.  The storm rolled in fast and furious and thank goodness... I waited for it.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES - the true beauty of photography

One of the things I find most appealing about photography is that an infinite number of choices are required to create the final product. Of course this is no different from any other creative endeavor. 

Yet some still don’t think of photography as a true art medium.  This is evident from the compliment many photographers have received that runs along the lines of  “wow that’s a great photo - you must have a good camera.”   

Yes, it's true, the camera and lens a photographer chooses has an impact on the final image in much the same way the brush a painter chooses has an impact on the final painting.  I wonder, would one ever suggest that the quality of a painting was due solely to the brush?

You see, the camera choice is only the start.  It was just one of the many decisions made along the way. The subject or location you chose, time of day, the place you chose to stand, the mode you put the camera in, the shutter speed, aperature, and ISO settings you picked, the number of shots you took - did you decide to bracket them?, the height of the camera, angle of the camera, did you use a tripod?… these are just a few of the choices you made in the field… then when you got home you began a whole new chain of choices as you decided what shot, which software (or perhaps none) to use to and how to process it.

The number of choices are so numerous it would be near impossible to make a complete list - but as stated at the outset, that’s exactly the beauty of photography and why it is indeed truly an art form.  I LOVE having so many choices.  It means I have the opportunity to create something unique.  My DNA is in each and every image I create because the combination of all those unique and random choices produces an outcome nearly unrepeatable.

Here is a example of how I made a few different post processing choices to create three final images from the same initial photo.

So the next time you wonder if it's really possible to make a great unique image - remember - what camera you use is only one of an infinite number of choices.  No one else can create exactly what you do!  

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW - how to get a great night shot of a city from your hotel room

I’m not much of a city girl (I’ve said it before) but I do love the way a city looks at night.  When I travel to a city I do my best to try and get at least one night time image that captures it’s sparkling features.  Sometimes (often) it is from the hotel room window.  I’ve not always been successful but I have learned a few techniques that have helped me improve my hit rate.  Here are few tips you might find helpful when making your own sparkling city images.

 

PICK A ROOM WITH A VIEW

You can use google maps to locate a hotel that might have a good view.  Perhaps one that overlooks the skyline or a well lit landmark of interest. Once you have chosen your hotel you can check trip advisor to get suggestions from previous guests as to what rooms have good views.  To narrow down your choice further, try www.room77.com to actually see and compare one room’s view to another.  

 

GET A CRISP SHOT

Shooting through glass at night can present some difficulties.  Here are a few things you can do to ensure you get the best shot possible;

  • Turn off all of the lights in the room and try closing the curtains behind you to block out the light and get rid of your reflection in the glass.  Take a few shots and look at them closely before proceeding to see if you have any unwanted reflections.
  • Stabilize your camera.  Either bring a tripod or be sure to place your camera on something stable - sometimes the window ledge is deep enough other times you may need to get creative with furniture or use your luggage to prop the camera up on. Be careful.  Damage is not the goal.
  • Get as close to the glass as you can with the end of the lens. (But please don’t lean against it - I’ve heard terrible tales of glass breaking).  If you are using auto focus, mind that the focus is on the city and not on the glass - you may have to flip it to manual focus to stop the camera from “hunting" for focus.  Once you get the focus right, if you haven’t already, lock it in by carefully (without bumping the focus ring) switching the camera to manual focus so that it doesn’t shift back when you depress the shutter button. 
  • No flash please.  You may need to open up the aperture (low f-stop number) and or increase the ISO to get the exposure right.  To start, I place the camera in manual mode, with my aperture at f9,  ISO at 100 and shutter speed in bulb mode.  I then press and hold the shutter button and start counting. At 8 seconds I let it go and check the shot to see if I am getting what I want. I adjust the length of time I hold the shutter open either up or down to get the right exposure.

 

HAVE FUN 

It’s actually not that hard to get some interesting shots… and you have the added benefit of being warm and dry so take your time and experiment.  For example:

  • try zooming the lens out on a long exposure shot for an interesting effect
  • try long exposures to get light trails on a busy street (as I did in the image at top)
  • take some at sunset and catch the reflections off the buildings
  • try creating some abstract images by zooming in on a building with interesting patterns
  • busy intersection below you? take a few images and process them using a tilt shift filter (or do it in camera if you have one of those lenses) 
  • try bracketing -  take multiple shots at different exposures and then blend these later using photo editing software
 TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE  Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.   (click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

TRY TAKING A DOUBLE EXPOSURE 
Some cameras will let you do this in camera.  If not take two photos - the first in focus and and the second one purposely out of focus then combine them in post processing.  
(click the image above for my post on creating this NYC image)

So the next time you find yourself in a city don’t forget to have a look out the hotel window and consider trying to make a few sparkling city night shots. Have fun my friends.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

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:

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

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.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

HOW TO HANDLE THE CREATIVE EBB AND FLOW

I have been pondering the way of things again.

I've noticed there is a constant ebb and flow to my photography passion.  During the "ebbing" (is that a word?) I am swept up in doubt which leaves me feeling lost and discouraged.  It's an uncomfortable place to be.  Not one I like to linger in. 

But serendipitous discoveries await in those moments.  In the pause lies the opportunity to take stock.  

Stop, look back, mark progress, recognize the accomplishment, then look forward, fix sights on the new horizon... and with patience and persistence the flow returns.

I hope this week finds you enjoying a positive flow of creativity my friends...  but if not perhaps a look back will help you to move forward.

 

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • Mykal Hall
    Mykal's post Looking Back to Move Forward on the Visual Wilderness site really helped me to clarify my strategy for moving forward after a period of quiet.
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things
    There is nothing like a work of fiction that simultaneously transports you to another world and shifts your view of the real world.  Patrick Rothfuss' The Slow Regard of Silent Things introduces us to an endearing character that knows there is a natural way of things and that aligning oneself with the ebb and flow of life is to be at peace.  This book is a companion to his Kingkiller Chronicles (The Name of The Wind, The Wiseman's Fear) which I advise you read first  in order to tap into the richness of his latest work.
  • Black and White Photo 5 Day Challenge
    The ever inspiring Gage Salyards has nominated me to take part in a 5-day black and white photo challenge and I am going to give it a go. Since black and white is not something I've done for a while I've been searching online for some inspiration.  I came across a stunning image made by  Peter Zéglis and followed it to a collection of his Iceland images featured at twistedsifter.com.  Inspiration a plenty!
  • Silver Efex Pro
    There are many ways to make a digital black and white image.  For this one above I used Silver Efex Pro from NIK.  Of course this was only one step of many taken to get to the final image.  If you would like to know them all leave me a comment below and I'd be happy to share it with you.  Be warned though - I am the sort of editor (and cook incidentally) who likes to add a dash of this and a sprinkle of that - exact measurements are rarely recorded.
 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

LIVING LIGHT - Drawn Towards Minimalism

After spending 5 days on a sailboat you start to appreciate living light.  In limited space, anything needless becomes a burden.  To my delight, I discovered I actually enjoy life more when there is less clutter.

Now I find I crave simplicity in my life.  It is a theme that is informing my every move these days.  I want less to maintain, I want less to carry, I want less to worry over, I want less complications… I even want less detail in my photos.

Could this be a natural outcome of my boating experience? Or perhaps of aging? Have I finally lived long enough to realize that there is a freedom that comes not from having more in my life but rather from having less?

Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever felt lighter after a period of time away from “all the stuff of life?”

Thoughts to ponder as we stretch into the last hours of our final long summer weekend here in Ontario.  

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • driving home the other day we listened to Stuart McLean on The Vinyl Cafe Podcast as we often do.  On the episode entitled “Defibrillator” he spoke of simplicity in his opening monologue.  If you haven’t listened to McLean before, you are in for treat - his stories and musical guests, available only in audio version are a change from the visually stimulating world.  Also perfect company on a long drive back home.
  • I have posted about how to increase the impact of an image by simplifying it (here) and so have others, including Varina Patel who recently reposted a link to this blog post at the Visual Wilderness website.
  • and finally I LOVE the simplicity of the artwork by creativeflip.  I think the Yoda is my favourite. You can see it here at www.crated.com - a fantastic place to find lots of artists, art and inspiration!  Even better - if you like what you see there, you can purchase it in poster, canvas or framed print form.  
 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

QUINTESSENTIAL MOMENTS

Summer is so fleeting. These days I greedily savour every warm fresh air moment I can.  Calm mornings at the water’s edge are among my favourite quintessential Ontario summer moments.  Getting up in time to make sunrise images means a very early start and though I am often still sluggish as I set up my gear, on calm mornings there is a peaceful energy that radiates from the quiet of nature and recharges my soul.  Perhaps it’s the promise of a sunny day ahead just waiting to be filled with warm weather pastimes.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and had a chance to get out and enjoy your own quintessential moments. 

 

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • I found myself wondering if my image above was a good example of "golden hour" but wasn't certain how that was defined.  The article by Germán Marquès at petapixel.com "Understanding Golden Hour, Blue Hour and Twilghts" was perfect for helping me out with that.

  • When it comes to quintessentially Canadian landscapes, round pink rocks and still clear waters definitely scream Ontario to me, but the Rockies must come to mind for many.  The mini film Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies from The Upthink Lab does an amazing job of showcasing them.

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

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.
 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

ROSE COLORED VIEW - using filters real or digital to enhance the beauty

I have a pair of sunglasses with lenses tinted the perfect shade of rose.  When I wear them my view of the world is fantastic.  Everything looks picture-worthy.   These glasses are ridiculously big on me and my kids have informed me they lend me a certain air of wackiness but vanity and sanity be dashed - I’m hooked on the way they make my world look beautiful.

This enhanced outlook got me thinking about lens filters and my image making.  I don’t typically use filters on my camera. I tend to like to keep things rather simple when I’m out there - in fact sometimes I don’t even like to use my tripod or change the lens as much as I should.  But I figure if my world can look this good through a pair of sunglass lenses then perhaps I should try applying this rose-brown colour to some of my images.

So I spent a bit of time playing around with a few images I took recently, adding colour filter effects in post processing to see what I might be able to get. I found I liked the simplicity of using some presets I have from Trey Ratcliff’s collection right in Lightroom.  I always start with my images in Lightroom so testing out different ideas there was really simple and fun.  For the image below I started with Trey’s “Fading into the Red” and tweaked the sliders until it started to look like what I was after.   I then moved the image over to Photoshop to clean things up and make some final refinements (spot removal, Noiseware, Color Efex Pro and sharpening).  

I love the way that creative inspiration can come from the most unusual places sometimes.  Anyhow, hope you have something fun planned for the upcoming weekend. And if you find yourself in need of a bit of inspiration or a rosier view, perhaps consider trying out some filters (digital or real).  Or maybe just treat yourself to a pair of cheap wacky sunglasses.

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION FOR THIS WEEK:

  • This image from Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn.  I got to watch as Kerry-Ann tried out her new ND filter at sunset over on our Toronto G+ Photowalk a few weekends back.  In addition to the ND filter, she was also experimenting with what is called a black-card technique.  Here is a link to understand how this works.  
  • The rosy hues of this image posted by National Geographic Travel caught my eye and the article got me dreaming of travelling to a place where midnight safaris are possible.  
 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.

PHOTO TIP - Simplicity is the golden ticket to high impact images

One Rock One Bird One Sunrise
“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” - Frederic Chopin

I'm beating the minimalism drum again.  One thing many high impact images have in common is simple composition.  In high impact visual story telling "less is more" seems to be the golden ticket.  It's not a new concept but it's not always easy to execute.   Here are a few tips I’ve picked up that might help you move your images towards greater simplicity.

DETERMINE WHAT THE VISUAL STORY IS
In it’s most basic sense this can be described as a feeling.  In the field this means being aware of what moved you to pick the camera up in the first place. What do you feel when you look at the scene and what do you hope others will feel when they look at your image of it.  In the image above I wanted the sense of serenity and peace I felt to come through.  

SELECT THE LEAD TO TELL THE STORY
What is the detail or subject here that conveys that feeling and tells the story best? Find the lead and compose the image so that it is central (not necessarily centered - but most important)  In my image above the story of a peaceful sunrise is told by the lead - the smooth water and the smooth blend of colour in the sky.  It is the prominent feature.  

HIGHLIGHT THE LEAD
There are several ways to do that both in the field and in post processing… here are a few that I use.
Crop - sometimes it's not always clear what that main focus is when you are out in the field but you instinctively know there is something and you may only have a fleeting moment to capture it.  Go ahead and take the shot and then don't be afraid to use your crop tools later in post to help highlight it.  Many times I end up cropping down to a much smaller final image in order to simplify it and to place the lead that tells the story in a spot of focus.
Give Space - let the lead of your image stand on it's own with a bit of space around it.  In the field try moving around until you can isolate the subject.
Selectively Blur/ Sharpen - Sometimes it is impossible to give the lead space, so in that case I try to give it importance and make it stand out in other ways.  This can be done by selectively blurring everything else, giving slightly increased detail to the lead (through HDR or sharpening).
Keep Away from the Edges - a small detail on the edge of an image can draw the eye away so I am often careful to either crop unwanted things out (like the rocky shoreline that was in the bottom left corner of the above image).  If it is a small distraction use the clone or healing brush in post to remove it.  You can also use vignetting (darkening the edges and/or lightning the centre or subject) to bring the eye away from the edges.

CREATE SUPPORTS FOR THE LEAD
This can be leading lines, framing elements, or objects that help to direct the attention to the lead. Again in the image above, the silhouetted shoreline and rock are the supporting anchors for the colourful sunrise giving a sense of place.  With their lack of detail they play a supporting role - more of a frame than a distraction.

Editing out, and boiling down a scene to a minimalist aesthetic takes a bit of extra time both in the field and in post processing.  But the results can be an image with a strong lead that really sings the clear visual story and has incredible impact.  That’s the prize I’m after and if you are too then hopefully you’ll find these tips useful.  

As I work on improving my own images I find inspiration and pick up photo tips from lots of different resources.  If you follow me on G+, Facebook or Twitter you may have seen my links to some of these articles already.  If you'd like to follow along with my discoveries then be sure to circle, friend or follow me at any of those places.

Here some of the articles I've read recently and photographers work that has helped inform my ideas about simplicity: 


Do you have any others to add to this list?  Please share them with us in the comments below.  Have a simply beautiful weekend my friends.  

 

MISSED A POST? Rats. SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss any more.