WINTER

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.

 

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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!  

 

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SLOW MOTION PERSPECTIVE

I've been thinking about time this week.  Partly because I was working on a photo challenge with that theme, but also because I found the slow motion video feature on my phone and have been trying it out.    

It's amazing how your perspective changes when you slow things down. You suddenly see stuff you never noticed before. Like snow. Falling up. 

The music that plays here is a track called Rolling Stone by Passenger (Available on iTunes and Soundcloud).  It's on one of my favourite playlists right now and when I watched the way the snow was falling in slow motion, the music and words of the first few lines just seemed to fit perfectly.

Sometimes I feel I’m going nowhere
Sometimes I’m sure I never will
She said it’s ‘cos I’m always moving
I never notice ‘cos I never stand still

Sometimes I feel like I’m falling
Falling fast and falling free
She said my darling you’re not falling
Always looked like you were flying to me

I look forward to exploring more of nature's beauty from this new perspective.  How about you?  What could you see differently if you slowed down?

I wish you a beautiful weekend with extra time my friends.

 

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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 - 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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FINDING THE MAGIC - trusting the creative process

The creative process is wonderfully mysterious don’t you think?

Take this image for example.  When I began, to edit the raw data I had the intention of completing this as a very sharp and realistic image.  One that would demonstrate the wonderful natural phenomena I recently witnessed - heaps of ice stacked up along the shore of a very frozen Georgian Bay.  Millions of beautifully shaped, glacial-hued ice shards back lit by the pink setting sun.  Divine!  But somehow when I finished the processing yesterday, the resulting image just didn’t seem to convey the “magic” of the original scene.

I had a hunch this was due to poor composition choices in the field but of course I couldn't change that now.  I decided to leave it for a bit, hoping that perhaps all was not lost.  It percolated in my mind overnight and when I sat down again this morning I allowed myself to explore other options and play around with applying a few filters.  I used Topaz Lens Effects motion blur filter selectively on the edges of the image to remove some of the distracting details and discovered the sense of movement also eluded to the power of nature to create and shape the liquid of the bay into something so solid and immense.  Bam - suddenly I felt the magic come back to the image.  The magic is the feeling and without it the image is flat.

I love that so often that creating the magic in an image is the result of play and unplanned discovery.  

Ahh - the mysteries of the creative process.

 

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COMPLETELY LOST

This image was made from photos I took last week.  It was bitterly cold but the sun rose and bathed the frigid scene in a warm, golden orange light.  

I stayed out longer than I should have.  At -28C my hands and feet were frozen sore after only about 30-40 minutes.  Good gear helps, but cold is cold.  

The thing that continues to astound me is that I don't even notice the pain until I stop and step away from the camera.  I am so completely absorbed with the process of image making that I am lost in it.

And for that I am grateful. Grateful that I have finally found something that I love so completely that I would loose a limb for it without even noticing.  

Ok - that's probably a bit dramatic.  Perhaps I should have pursued the stage... 

Have a wonderful weekend my friends. I hope you have a chance to get lost in something you truly love doing. 

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PHOTO TIP - Can studying old paintings improve your photography?

I love when the same idea or piece of information comes at me from multiple places.  I don’t know what this phenomenon is called - ("multiple discovery" was all I could find on wikipedia) but I have noticed it many times. Studying the works of master painters for clues on how to improve your photography is certainly not an new idea.  But the concept has recently hit my radar enough times from various sources that I'm compelled to investigate it further.

I’ve started with the work of Canadian landscape painter and member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris.  Why Harris?  Two simple reasons; he painted Canadian landscapes and I like his paintings.  

I love to travel and shoot exotic locations but I live in Canada so 90% of the time that’s the landscape I photograph.  It made sense to me to start close to home.  Joe McNally confirmed this wisdom in a recent interview on The Grid saying “You don’t have to go to Afghanistan or Tibet or Siberia to get good pictures.  Identify things that are accessible to you, that are near to you, that you love or that are you are interested or curious about and then start to make that happen.  Even on a simple level.”  (@ 30:10)  Lawren Harris and in deed all the members of the Group of Seven were dedicated to showcasing Canada and their art conveys so appealingly the beauty of the wilderness that is in my backyard.

But more importantly, I like his work.  It wows me. Stops me in my tracks.  And this is the quality I want my images to have.  

So the investigation begins... what is it about his paintings.   My favourites depict winter scenes.  They are minimalistic in detail and have a restricted colour palate.  They have dramatic skies and light.  There are strong contrasts -  the land is silhouetted while the light is almost white.  The shapes are graphic but the lines of the natural elements are smooth and rounded.

When I headed down to the frozen shores of Lake Ontario the other day it was these components that I love about  Lawren Harris’ landscapes that I held in my mind’s eye.  
And while I don’t believe for a moment that the images I came away with hold a torch to Harris’ masterpieces… mine are at least informed by his work. Certainly they share some similarities - the natural colour palate of winter in canada - blue, white and black/grey. Dramatic light and high contrast. Obviously the subject of the lake, ice, snow and rock.   Finally, the composition - a bit of shore line in the foreground to ground it.  Our mediums may be different but our goal is the same -  to stun our audience with the beauty that can still be found even in the cold Canadian winter climate.  

Do you have a favourite artist or piece of artwork?  Have you ever explored what it is you like about that piece?  Perhaps there is a clue in it that which could help your own photography.  

Have a lovely weekend my friends.

 

Morning, Lake Superior, by Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) around 1921.
Lawren Stewart Harris
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Purchase, William Gilman Cheney Bequest
c. 1921
oil on canvas
86.3 x 101.6 cm
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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BETTER LANDSCAPE PHOTOS - two simple tips

There are a lot of things you can do to that will help you take better landscape photos, but I am going to suggest that there are two simple things you can do today that will start to have immediate impact.

1.  GET OUTSIDE FOR SUNRISE AND SUNSET
Have you taken a close look at the landscape images you like the most?  You may have noticed that many of them (if not all) are taken at either sunrise or sunset.  It's not a coincidence.  These times of day serve up some beautiful light.  So why not stack the odds in your favour and plan to take your landscape photos at these times.  They don't call it "magic hour" for nothing.  The trick though is not to just arrive at sunrise ... the hour or so right before and the hour afterwards can be really lovely.  It's all about the light.  I find it has a "softness" to it that can almost be felt... that's when I know the time is right for making good photos.  There are reasons why these hours make produce good results and if you are curious about understanding it try a google search of "magic hour photography" - loads of better folks than I can tell you all about them.

2.  DO IT OFTEN
So this is old advice - no secret here - just a reminder really.  Get out and take photos at sunrise and sunset or whenever you can, as often as you can.  Getting good at something requires practise.  I've looked back at my images from even just a year ago and it's shocking to see the effect practise has had.  I can barely stand some of my earlier images now.

Time is the key.  My two tips are all about time; showing up at the right time and repeating that many times over.  And while I claim these are simple, I mean simple in concept. In practise is a whole other thing.  Trust me, I have no illusions about how difficult it can be to find/make/claim time.

I've recently managed to free myself from parental commitments to photograph the sunrise one morning a week.  Sunrise (and sunset for that matter) occurs at a very civilized hour here in the winter but unfortunately those coincide with my mom taxi hours.  Some day my kids will have a great laugh recalling how often their drives to school were punctuated with "Look at those clouds over there!" and "Do you see those colours? "

But now I have one day a week to capture those clouds and colours.  Of course the clouds and sunrise don't seem to know that yet.  In the end the image I was hoping for this week didn't materialize.  But no matter... for now I will take what I can get.  I am out and I am practising. 

So my friends, a whole weekend stretches before you now.  May you find yourself inspired to get out there and chase down that goal - of making better landscape photos or something else - all it takes is time.

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WHY PLAY IS IMPORTANT

Play.

I wonder what image comes to mind when you read that word. For me it's a small child with a red bucket and shovel crouched in the sand at the beach.  A child.  I picture a child. Do you? 

Play is something that I find I have to remind myself to do now that I am an adult. Especially when I'm creating images.  Setting aside time to experiment and create art without worrying about the outcome. That seems to be when I have the biggest break-throughs and produce the most satisfying work.  I wonder... is it because I lower my expectations? Or perhaps I raise my creative power? Many would say it's because that's when the muse visits (hey Karen Hutton)!   

Whatever the reason, I find the most interesting things are found when I'm not looking and are created when I'm not trying too hard. 

Recently I've been having a lot of fun playing around with my iPhone photos lately. Turning them into watercolour art!  So fun!  Some are recent photos - like the one below that I snapped just this week on the sunrise photo shoot down at the lake.  And then there are others that have been sitting quietly waiting for their big debut.  I've a new column right over there on the right that displays some of them but if you hang out on instagram and want to see the latest you can find me there.  Elle_Bruce... if you search or use the easy link button at the bottom of this page.

Have a great weekend everyone.  Get out there and play a bit!

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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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LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK

 PURCHASE PRINT

PURCHASE PRINT


I'm starting to look forward to winter.  We are just on the cusp of it.  There is no snow here yet, but in many places nearby the flakes are falling.  I dug this image out of my archives.  It was taken over two years ago up at Blue Mountain. My original blog post described that day as a rare but memorable one.

"The snow came down and it came down in generous amounts. My boys were giddy Saturday morning as we all piled onto the first ski lift to catch some powder (which is a rarity even in a cold winter).  And then - the sun came out.  These are the kinds of winter days that remain in my memory." 

So here's to making more snowy memories in the future - if that makes any sense.


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DECEMBER - A MONTH OF SHADOWS AND MAGIC


There is something magical about December.  Perhaps it's because here in the northern hemisphere the days are getting shorter.  Or rather more to the point, night comes earlier and lasts longer.  

Candles, twinkle lights, fire light  - they all owe their enchantment to the dark.  Without shadow the light would would be undefined.  It's the contrast that makes things interesting.

The Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District is charming.  We arrived around 4pm and wandered around enjoying all the displays and poking in the stores.  But as night fell and the shadows grew, the lane ways lined with glowing gas lamps and twinkling lights morphed into a more captivating world.  Even the horses on the brightly lit carousel seemed to come to life.

As  photographer, I find I'm always paying attention to the light... but my newest discovery is that there is magic in the shadows.

Of course I'm not the first to consider this.  I recall Trey Ratcliff talking about this with regards to processing HDR photos.  A side effect of producing photos with a high dynamic range of light is that often the shadows can be completely eliminated.  This is what allows one to see greater detail in an image.  Trey cleverly recommends making adjustments to bring some of that shadow back into your image.  And I agree it makes a big difference... you need a bit of shadow to define the light and to bring the magic.  (By the way if you haven't already - check out Trey's latest magical endeavour www.thearcanum.com)

So embrace the shadows of December my friends and have a magical weekend.  


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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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better something

Elle Bruce - Winter Sunset Over Apple Fields - 20120219-1093

The sun sets on the other side of the escarpment from our place.  The other weekend I drove around for 2 hours as the sky was turning that warm peachy colour looking for a nice vantage point for a capture.  I couldn’t seem to find anything that fit what I had in mind and as the sun dropped below the horizon I was feeling frustrated.

I finally pulled out the camera and snapped this shot off through the front windscreen.  Better something than nothing I rationalized.

Turns out I rather like this little bit of something.

 

Image Details:
Apple country at sunset.  
Thornbury, Ontario, Canada.  
February 2012


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