So this post is going to be a long one, but the good news is, it’s mostly pictures! On October 7, a group of photographers descended on the sleepy little town of Manyberries in southeastern Alberta.
The town didn’t know what hit it! Luckily, though, no one seemed to be at home (except for the bugs…those teeny black dots on the post office building are beetles. There was some kind of hatch and bug party going on). Ed and Catherine Byram, Parnell Legg and Darwin and I embarked on the Manyberries Challenge. We are all given an assignment to photograph in a way that was contrary to how we usually shot a scene. Each photographer had one hour. Their assignment and reaction to it is listed below…at the end of the post, ask yourself: would you be up to the Manyberries Challenge?
Ed wasn’t allowed to take any photos of machinery. His wife, Catherine, came up with this assignment for beginner-photographer, Ed. Catherine is a retired teacher. She helped Ed get into the spirit of things with her words of advice: “Don’t pout, there are lots of other subjects to capture!!”
PS: Ed says the snowmobiles are toys – not machines.
Many of you have met Catherine at our workshops and talks, or maybe you’ve ‘met’ here here on the blog. The great thing about these kinds of assignments is they really rely on your photo skills (not your processing skills) – you have to capture something in the field. Catherine did a great job! And we didn’t make it easy on her…. Darwin came up with her challenge.
Darwin: Catherine, you have so many cameras… but can you shoot for an hour with just one camera and one lens? No smartphone!
Catherine: But, but…I can’t go on a photo outing with just my Canon 50D and 17-50mm lens! I’d better check with Sam.
Sam: Well, my original idea was for you to photograph only people, but since we can’t find any people here in Manyberries during lunch hour, you’re going to have to suck it up and just use the one camera and zoom lens. At least we didn’t restrict you to one focal length! Oh, and by the way, you have until the end of the year to do the people-only photo challenge.
Catherine (under her breath): Man, you guys are tough cookies.
We met Parnell at the ill-fated Destination Travel Photography workshop this past June. In fact, this assignment originated during that workshop. Beer may have been involved. In any case, we’re glad that Parnell is up for further fun times with of Darwin & Sam! I came up with Parnell’s assignment which is to shoot just one, single image in the hour allotted. Parnell says he usually takes many images, so slowing down seemed a great way to torture him. Here is what he says about the assignment:
My initial reaction to my one photo challenge was to try and capture the essence of Manyberries in one fantastic shot. One photo in an hour was like I was hamstrung and it railed against my better judgment. Looking around there was a plethora of opportunities to be captured at every turn and it was agonizing to choose the best to represent it all. The Manyberries sign with the twinkle of the sun, the complacent church alone in the field, the overgrown asphalt leading to nowhere. I struggled to see the best composition of the scenes that caught my eye but instead I became aware they were much the same. Looking through the viewfinder I saw echoes of similarity in the way I was interpreting the scenes. I then tried to look objectively and consider better angles, reject common ideas and push past a few personnel barriers. The exercise then became self-enlightening to a degree and I was able to step back and let myself react to the scene with thought rather than reflex. By the end did I feel that I captured the best scene I could? I ended up with a photo of dirt, which speaks for itself, but it is a photo I see merit in. More importantly it was a surprisingly useful tool to refine my eye and will be something I will try several more times. The old adage aptly applies here: short term pain, long term gain.
Way to go, Parnell! Here is Parnell’s single image.
Speaking of torture, Parnell and I came up with Darwin’s assignment which was to make images that did not have high colour contrast or high tonal contrast. Here is what Darwin had to say about it:
I am attracted to colour and contrast and my photos usually have both in abundance. Sam and Parnell came up with a ‘mean’ assignment: I was to make images that had low colour and low contrast. What the heck? How is that possible? And to make matters worse, the day was sunny when we started! I wandered around Manyberries for a full half hour before making a single photo. “Hey guys this is hard!” All I saw everywhere was colour and contrast! Finally I made a couple of photos in the shade of a building and that got me started.
Wow, what a whiner! I thought his results were pretty good….
Here’s Darwin again:
Luckily it clouded over towards the end of the shoot which made my job a little easier, but it was surprising to me how well I have trained my eye to see contrast. I made an image in the overcast light of the top of a building but even then, the image relies on contrast to work. I argue that this picture is ‘low’ contrast so hopefully I am not disqualified.
I thought one way to help reduce the contrast was to make blurry photos either by moving the camera or by defocusing the image. I had just learned of a technique that Peter Carroll uses in the prairies. He pans his camera horizontally along the horizon using a slow shutter speed. So the next two images is me getting desperate – er, creative.
Obviously, given the amount of moaning and crying, the assignment was pretty challenging for everyone. But I think I had the hardest assignment. Since I usually hang back and look around a lot before even taking my camera out of the bag, I was given the assignment of shooting SIXTY images in one hour. Yikes! Things went pretty well until near the end of the hour when I had to shoot 16 images in 9 minutes. Thank goodness no one seemed to be around to witness me scuttling around town trying to find decent images to make! While there are some stinkers in the bunch, I did have a handful of shots that I rather liked. It was fun to be tripod and filter-free too — there was definitely no time to fuss with gear! Here are nine of my faves (I get to show a few extras since my assignment was the hardest).
So there you have it – Manyberries in one hour. Do you find yourself always photographing a certain subject matter or drawn to using the same visual elements? What would be your ‘Manyberries Challenge’? And finally, one more of my images…that Ed fella has a good eye!