Ontario

INSPIRATION NOT IMITATION - HOW TO CREATE ORIGINAL IMAGES

Creating original images can seem like an elusive goal in a world saturated with visual content. To that end, I’ve read several articles recently discussing whether or not photographers should look at the work of other photographers. More specifically whether photographers heading to a shoot location should look at images made by others of that place before they travel there themselves.  

The concern is that doing so may influence you to make the same images, even though your intention might be to do the exact opposite.  The worry is that the images of others will remain in your subconscious, hindering you from seeing the place with fresh eyes and preventing you from making images from your own point of view.

Try to go out empty and let your images fill you up.
Jay Maisel

AWAKENING ©Elle Bruce
My own experiments with creating abstract landscape images have certainly been inspired by my love of the sparkling waterscape paintings by Canadian artist Lisa Free.  

While I applaud the goal of originality, I prefer to take a different approach to reach it. 

BE INSPIRED
My opinion is life is too short to cut yourself off from the beauty that others have created.  As long as you are out there with the intention of making YOUR art… I’m not too fussed about what inspires you.  In fact my thought would be to let MORE things inspire you.  The paintings of great masters, the graffiti on the side of the freight train, your neighbour’s garden, jazz music, the colours in a maki roll, the photos of others in your field that you admire… take it all in, absorb it and let it fuel you to create something wonderful of your own.  Open yourself up to ALL the beauty and art in the world as opposed to closing yourself off from it.  Inspiration not imitation.

inspire |inˈspī(ə)r|
verb [with object]
fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative: [with object and infinitive] : his passion for romantic literature inspired him to begin writing.
Apple Dictionary Version 2.2.1 (194)

WARM MORNING GLOW ©Elle Bruce
Abstract images made using the Intentional Camera Movement technique are hardly my invention.  If I had not seen and been inspired by the works of photographic artists such as Josh Adamanski  I may never have explored creating images such as the one above.

CREATE DON'T IMITATE
The goal of the artist is to create not copy. Creating is a process that starts with observation and inspiration but ends with the forging of something new and original.  The intention is to be creative.  

creative |krēˈādiv|
adjective
relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work: change unleashes people's creative energy | creative writing.
Apple Dictionary Version 2.2.1 (194)
NORTHERN DAWN ©Elle Bruce  The soft and gentle nature of this image I created of the North Channel in Ontario reminds me of images I have seen made by  Christopher Armstrong  (known as christofink on Instagram).

NORTHERN DAWN ©Elle Bruce
The soft and gentle nature of this image I created of the North Channel in Ontario reminds me of images I have seen made by Christopher Armstrong (known as christofink on Instagram).

So I implore you, don’t rob yourself.  Enjoy and appreciate the beautiful work of others.  Let their work inspire you to create not imitate.  To do anything less is to rob the world of your own original creations. 

UNDULATE ©Elle Bruce
Though Ursula Abresch uses a different technique to create her images of colourful undulating waves, no doubt her work could be compared this detail pulled from one of my much larger images created using ICM (Intentional Camera Movement)


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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.  

 
 

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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!

 

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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

 

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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.  

 

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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.  

 

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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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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.

 

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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 - 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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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.
 

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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.  
 

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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.

 

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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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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.  
 

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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.  

 

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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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