Catherine’s Beginners Tips: Sticks and Stones Are in My Bones

Hi there! My name is Catherine. I’m Sam and Darwin’s photo slave (er… assistant). If you come to a workshop or talk done by oopoomoo you’ll probably meet me. Don’t tell Sam and Darwin I told you, but I’m really the brains behind the operation over here! 😉 I will be writing some beginner’s tips here and there; I hope you enjoy them!

In September, Sam, Darwin and I spent a fantastic weekend with the Grande Prairie Camera Club. During our weekend workshop, we met lots of great people from Grande Prairie, nearby Peace River and even as far away as Vancouver! It was a great crew, and we shared many laughs (and some tears after Darwin stomped on my foot! I’m going to start asking for danger pay!)

I know I promised a blog post about buying a tripod, but right now another topic is closer to my heart. On Sunday, during the Q&A time in Grande Prairie, the words “believe in yourself” were spoken several times, both by the oopoomoo team and the workshop participants. Here is my unabridged Believe In Yourself story I shared with the group that day.

Grande Prairie Museum Garden – © Catherine Byram

As you read in my first blog, I mentioned that I have been interested in photography for many years taking pictures of my boys, special occasion shots and vacation snaps. I have no formal photography training. That changed about two years ago when I attended a SNAP Workshop in Canmore, Alberta and was mesmerized by Darwin, Sam and John Marriott. After that weekend I knew I wanted to include ‘hobbyist photographer’ in my retirement plans.

Off I went to some photo workshops and tours. As my photography knowledge base grew, my camera bag bulged and my bank balance shrank. I participated in the Extreme Saskatchewan Tour with Sam and Darwin in 2010 and I absolutely loved all the venues our trusty leaders had previously scouted (even though everyday we had to dress like east coast fishermen on a stormy day since we experienced the worst flooding conditions in 100 years!) The prairie landscape is very appealing to me. Old buildings, rusty machinery, crumpled car relics, grasses gently bending in the breeze, a single sunflower in a wheat field, and ladybugs on flower petals are like gifts just waiting to be unwrapped and played with.

Last September I attended Darwin’s Fall in the Rockies Tour. The fall colors were at their prime. The weather and skies couldn’t be better and, with those majestic Rockies as the backdrop, I had to take time to stand on the deck at Aurum Lodge just to soak it all in. For almost forty years I have lived within one hour of the Rockies and I never fail to look to the west and soak in the view. I would observe the increasing amount of snow in the winter, the beginnings of green tinges in the spring, the golden carpet in the fall and the awesome pink skies. Before I retired, it was truly a challenge to get work done in my office since I had a window looking west with an unobstructed view of the mountains. In the summer, on Sunday after church, my boys and I would pack a lunch and drive west to have a picnic, fish, tour Nordegg or hike. I LOVE the Rockies! So why did I have so much trouble making images while on the Fall Tour?

Marsh Lake Fireweed – © Catherine Byram

Darwin took us to some astonishing places during the tour. The first morning we were at Abraham Lake waiting for the sun to show its glowing face. The clouds were playing their role perfectly. Filters were being slipped out of their covers and placed in front of lenses and cameras started to click. I was once again blown away with the sight of a sunrise in the Rockies. But I wasn’t feeling happy or fulfilled with my images. I previewed them and thought, “Yeah, they’re okay, but….” I looked around and saw that other photographers were still taking photos of the mountains. Smiles on faces, tripods being moved around, different lenses, filters and angles of view being tried out.  I hung my head and thought, ‘So what am I going to do for the next hour?’

Suddenly…WHOA! My eyes widened and a smile spread over my face. Little pebbles, twigs, sticks and yellow leaves were right under my feet and calling to me. I took my camera off the tripod and was in my glory making images of the earth’s carpet. I was moving all around the shoreline making images that made me feel good! ‘Yeah, this is neat!’ Then a photographer walked by me and said, “You’re taking pictures of sticks and stones!?!?!” and shook her head as she carried on. ‘Umm’, I thought. ‘Maybe I do look stupid doing this. Maybe it is kinda crazy making images of tiny little objects when I’m in a prime location to make images of iconic mountains. The mountains are why we are here so I better get with it.’ I reluctantly put the camera back on my tripod and tried to find images of grand mountains. My smile and good feelings were gone. For the rest of the tour I continued to make big landscape images but often went off to places where I couldn’t be seen and did ‘my thing’.

Sticks, Stones and Leaves on Gravel Path – © Catherine Byram

After working with Sam and Darwin for the past eighteen months, I hear a recurring message. BELIEVE IN  YOURSELF and make images that please you. Don’t spend time in the field worrying what you look like as you crawl along in the dirt with your nose to the ground and your behind raised in praise to the sky!   Find your style and don’t be afraid to share and display your images. Everyone may not appreciate your work but hey, differences make the world go  ‘round!

Therefore, for now, I am continuing to make images of sticks and stones…and leaves, single feathers, berries on the forest floor, sea shells, footprints in sand and cracks in the dirt. Guess what! I’m having a ball! Currently, I’m playing with impressionistic images of the world. If you see me shaking my camera up and down in a forest or twisting and turning my lens while it is aimed downward, don’t fret….I’m just doing my thing and lovin’ life! Impressionism is the type of art that you either ‘love it or hate it’. I have included a few of my images in this post; all effects are achieved in camera.  Let me know what you think, or if you have a ‘sticks and stones’ memory to share!

Island Lake Old Growth Trees – © Catherine Byram

Gwen’s Garden – © Catherine Byram

Always Look for the Little Gifts – © Catherine Byram

 

About the Author

I am a retired school teacher and enthusiastic photographer and traveler.

17 Comments

  1. eremophila
    October 8, 2012

    I love your impressionist work Catherine! I do a bit of dabbling in that style at times, and find it most rewarding. Yes, it is the smaller gems that can call the loudest – yet not everyone is gifted enough to hear them 🙂

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 10, 2012

      Thanks for your reply. It is a fun style to play around with! I am looking forward to going into the winter forest and trying this.

  2. David
    October 8, 2012

    You’re right about the Grande Prairie workshop being a fantastic experience. Definitely gave me a personal booster shot for believing more in myself as a photographer. Thanks for this blog and photos.

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      You’re welcome David! Remember to keep sharing your images with others!

  3. Ron
    October 8, 2012

    Catherine, I think these are beautiful. You say all the effects were done in camera. Can you give some additional information on how you did these?

    I would love to be able to do something like your ‘Island Lake Old Growth Trees’.

    Many thanks for sharing.

    Ron

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks for your inquiry! I am still learning this style myself but here are a few notes on how I have achieved the style in camera.
      When I took the Island Lake photo I had my camera on a tripod in the vertical position. A slow shutter speed was selected. The image was composed in the viewfinder, trying not to have any sky in the photo since it can leave a white space at the top of the photo, which I do not like. I did not move the camera immediately upon pressing the shutter button, but slowly moved the camera downwards during the last half of the exposure. The settings for this image were F11, 1.3 sec, an ISO of 200 and a cable release was used. I took MANY images before I finally got the one shown in the post. It really is trial and error.
      For the other style, as seen in Gwen’s Garden, I once again set up as mentioned above but rather than moving the whole camera I rotated the zoom ring on the lens. Different speeds of rotation give different results.
      Have fun!

  4. Christine Bertschy
    October 8, 2012

    Thank you for this post, it was awesome! I love your impressionistic images, and your style spoke to me in many ways. Do what you love, make apologies to none… and thank you for inspiring us all to do the same!

    Christine

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks Christine!

  5. Kenneth Schneider
    October 8, 2012

    Love your photo… Congratulations on your sharp eye and willingness to experiment

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks Kenneth! It is so easy to experiment with a digital camera in hand. I have some more ideas I want to try out such a vaseline on an old filter and patterned nylon stockings covering the lens. Don’t worry, I will make sure I cut a small enough piece of stocking to put over the lens so that my camera does not look like an elephant with a humongous trunk!

  6. Laurel
    October 8, 2012

    Thanks for coming to Grande Prairie. Want to thank you (and of course Sam and Darwin) for all your help. Hopefully you guys will be back soon.

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      You’re welcome Laurel. It was great meeting you and being so well looked after by the Grande Prairie Camera Club.

  7. Rakesh Malik
    October 8, 2012

    Great post! We just had a class in film school where our instructor showed us how you can convey the feeling of a place entirely with close-ups.

    I love your pictures. They show a part of the wilderness that most people overlook, yet can show the spirit of the place sometimes even more than the epic vistas do.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Btw, your photographs remind me on Tony Sweet’s. 🙂

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks Rakesh! Next summer I am hoping to experiment with this style using a macro lens and capturing bugs on flowers.

  8. Faisal` .
    October 8, 2012

    Hi Catherine, these images are beautiful. Mountains, lakes and the sceneries are there for everyone to see and capture; what you present here speaks to a few only. I can connect to your images here in a number of ways, they somehow artistically satisfy me and give a sense of elegance.

    Like an earlier poster asked, would you mind sharing your style and technique in the making of these impressionistic images ? How do you produce this controlled painterly blur in the camera ? I love the result but it’s new for me in photography. I wish I could join you guys in a workshop in the Rockies.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful work.

    Greetings from Pakistan.

    Reply
    • Catherine
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks for your comments!
      Check out my response to Ron, where I explained how I get the results in camera. It takes me several shots to get one I am pleased with and sometimes I am totally surprised with the results …but aren’t surprises one of the greatest things in life?!
      Hope you can join us in the Rockies one day!

  9. Chris Smith
    October 8, 2012

    As info, one of the best tripod articles I’ve ever read can be found here…

    http://bythom.com/support.htm

    Reply

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