Last week we posted Lynn Schwehr’s project about ‘seeing’ the incredible diversity and beauty of flowers. Today we want to share Erin La Place’s project from the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse. We are excited to introduce Erin’s work in part because she engages with subject matter close to our own hearts – the prairie.
Erin works at a fulfilling but demanding job in health care in a busy city. Calling herself a prairie girl at heart, Erin heads out, camera in hand, to Alberta’s backroads and secondary highways whenever the strains of work pile up. We guided Erin to take on a challenging project theme: develop a visual narrative that brings the viewer along on her journey from stressed to discovery, healing and transformation. Here is how Erin described her project:
My project is about how I, this big city girl, when overwhelmed by the stressors of life, retreat to the Prairies to calm my senses and soothe my soul. This series of images will reflect my personal journey towards peace and healing, as I travel the roads less traveled in South and Central Alberta.
It was a pleasure to review Erin’s images which were all well-composed. Not a pokie, merger or black hole in sight! Because of Erin’s superior composition skills, she was able to successfully tackle an advanced project theme that was refreshingly original and unique. It takes bravery to put deeply personal work out there, and we salute Erin for doing so. So, here is a tightly curated series illustrating Erin’s journey. A stressed out city girl finds comfort, peace and discovery through visual meditation on the prairies, allowing her to return home transformed and healed.
Darwin and I are constantly impressed with the work of our students. It truly is a pleasure to see photographers gain confidence under our tutelage and pursue wholeheartedly their unique ideas. We’ve wrapped up the first week of our brand new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. And before we begin our second course, we just had to brag a little about our first week’s students.
Lynn loves flowers. Oh sure, we all like to sniff a rose or admire a bouquet of colourful carnations. But Lynn takes appreciation of flowers and plants to a whole new level. Lynn sees flowers. With whatever tool comes to hand, be it a smartphone or dSLR, Lynn leans in close, capturing the sprinkling of pollen on a stamen or the elegant sweep of a petal. Lynn’s images are rooted in reality – we know we are looking at flowers, after all. But the everyday magic of the details of flowers is what Lynn adeptly reveals with her camera.
As part of the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse, students are asked to define the project they wish to work on in one or two sentences. Here is what Lynn had to say:
I want to discover ways of photographing flowers to show what I can now see and to try to portray the excitement I now have.
Why is the world of flowers revealed anew for Lynn? Because, as she references in her project statement, Lynn can “now see”. A recent operation on her eyes has given her back the gift of clear and close sight. And what better blessing for a photographer! So, lean in and look closely at the world of flowers cleverly brought to life through Lynn’s eyes. We expect to see more beautiful work from this budding photographer in future.
What is the value of one week of your life?
What is the value of that week if you were doing something creative that you loved?
We believe firmly in the value of self-directed projects for artistic growth. Certainly we have been busy pursuing our own this year! But as we spent more time nurturing our photographic inclinations, we kept thinking how helpful a small mentored project might be for other photographers who wanted to get a creative idea out there in the world or even looking toward exhibiting their work. As much as we love doing our photographic thing, we kept wanting to share our happiness with you!
So our question is, do you have a photo project in you that’s itching to get out?
It may not be a big project (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be). It might even be a little strange or funny or weird. But you know that feeling you get when you’re out and about, and you see something and you think, “I wonder…” What if you had the time to pursue that little idea or spark of interest? Better still, what if you had two professionals invested in seeing your idea come to light, providing goal-setting materials, helping with planning and coaching you along the way?
We get those weird inspirations too. Now, we know better than to judge them. We call them our little orphan babies – orphan because there really is no home for them in what we do as professional photographers. They aren’t going to sell a workshop or print or calendar. No photo magazine wants them. They might even be such ugly little things that people turn away from their Facebook page! But they won’t let us go, these half-formed, raw and squirming intuitions. We have to bring them to the light and find a home for them.
Where should these little orphan ideas go? Well, what better place to try original ideas than our website, oopoomoo? Over the last year, we’ve moved our business toward a direction we find exciting; oopoomoo is more than ever a platform for sharing inspiring, talented and fresh photography, and we hope to have more stories behind living a creative life on the blog in future. We want to help you bring your orphan ideas to the world through a one-week, mentored photo project. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even find a home on the oopoomoo website through a published portfolio review!
If you have a photo project in you, then consider our new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. It will take only one week of your time, but we bet you reap the rewards of seeing your project through the rest of your life. The satisfaction of bringing your unique way of seeing to the world is what every artist strives to achieve.
Resolve students! This new eCourse is a logical extension of 2016’s Resolve: Discovering Your Creative Self. You have the foundation for this next level of artistic development. To acknowledge your accomplishment, we have a special Early Bird discount for the month of July and August for all Resolve 2016 students – but space is limited! Use the appropriate monthly discount code provided to you in the June 17, 2016 Resolve Newsletter at checkout.
Our students may not believe it, but sometimes Darwin and I torture – ahem! – teach each other through guided assignments. Relatively recently we experimented with small, mentored projects. Here’s how it worked: one of us picked a topic to shoot – that person was the mentee – and the other developed a series of linked assignments within an overall goal for the project – that person was the mentor. We took the projects seriously with concrete deadlines – that was the torture part – and managed to complete the projects between and sometimes during other work events. We then swapped roles. My project was about trees, of course!
When you know most of your partner’s strengths and weaknesses, you learn to be diplomatic in your critiques for the sake of your personal relationship and, in our case, our business relationship as well. But you also benefit from the deep interest you take in your partner’s creative development. It’s something we strive to bring to our work through oopoomoo as well. Here’s Darwin’s instructions to me to fit my art in “snippets of time” between working with students at a workshop.
I decided to fit my project, which was all about capturing the essence or soul of tree personalities in nature, into a scrapbook. I put the assignments and the images in the book. The project was a combination of drawings, musings, assignments and photographs.
What was the point, you may be wondering? Fun! Creativity! Just ’cause! Even though I have a larger, multi-year project underway called Pressed Landscapes, these ‘mini-mentorships’ were about shaking off the shackles of working as a commercial artist and just shooting some little idea that appealed to me, engaging in something that was stimulating and fun. As a mentor, I honed my skills at listening to my student’s interests and gently guiding him through blind spots. As a student, I reminded myself to be open to constructive feedback, ignoring the urge to defend a shot, and instead take a step away from the work to see it for how it really came across. It was good to be on both sides of the desk.
Watch for Darwin’s post about his small project mentorship this Friday!
What does an artist thief, a prairie-town wine bar, and El Niño have in common? The answer is a missed deadline that whooshed by so fast I got whiplash!
As a landscape photographer, weather plays an important part in my ability to get out and shoot – or should I say, my enjoyment of getting out to shoot – and informs the content of my images. With my rejuvenated Pressed Landscapes project, I saw a gap in terms of winter coverage. Did I want seasonal imagery for this project? It was pretty surprising to discover so few wintry whites in my collection to date considering I live in Canada where it can snow every month of the year (and did in the Calgary area in 2005).
I was influenced in restarting this project by Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. Mr. Kleon’s not really advocating copyright infringement and theft of course, more so that learning to be creative involves imitation and research and practice towards making something worthy that is all your own. But that kind of sentiment is not as cool a book title. A point I took away from the book was how much being creative is truly a slog. It’s hours of your time and energy. Hours of doubt, hours of failure. Hours of doing and re-doing with no hope of seeing the other side of things. Published creatives know about this reality, about the hard work never seen behind the scene. It was really brought home to me by Austin Kleon’s daily task list. In order to succeed, he broke down major projects into hundreds of tiny, achievable chores that he had to do every day as shown on a yearly calendar. After reading his book, I got out my trusty paper and pens and made my own calendar and posted it on the wall by my computer where unchecked tasks could reproach me with impunity. And then I waited for it to snow.
“Twiggy and brown” is how the owners, Simon Hunt and Alex Bourdes of Fieldstones Esspresso and Wine Bar described the landscape this winter. Darwin and I were in Nanton, south of Calgary, on business last week and stopped by our favourite little rooftop get-away-in-the-prairie. Their comments contrasted with the lush greenery growing in pots and window sills in the café and the cool whites and soft greys of their decorating palette. We were talking about the town of Nanton, a town that has retained its small-town feel while situated surprisingly close to the land-gobbling city of Calgary. The owners love the town but, being from the UK, had to bring a lift of greenery to the place to survive the long, dry winters. (Tangent: Fieldstones is a fabulous place. Great food, wine and coffee and a friendly, beautiful space. Next time you’re antiquing in Nanton, go there for a lovely foodie break.)
Twiggy and brown indeed. I feel like an idiot setting a goal for winter photography in one of the warmest winters I remember experiencing. In the foothills around where I live and wish to shoot for my project, there has been hardly any snow. I was confident we’d get a nice wet dump of the stuff in March as usual but instead people are walking around in T-shirts and sandals. The only cold stuff outside is the ice cream melting in the hundreds of cones held by hundreds of people visiting Cochrane’s famous Mackay’s homemade ice cream store.
Has El Niño scuttled my Pressed Landscapes project? I squint my eyes at that statement, taking personally a weather challenge that has everyone else dancing in the warm winter prairie streets. It’s April now, and my deadline for completing my winter portfolio for the project has come and gone. My blank, unchecked wall calendar mocks me. As a landscape photographer, the weather is forcing me to examine the goals of my project. Why did I want seasonal coverage, anyway? How does that serve the purpose of my project – or am I just falling prey to the nice rounded feel of four-season coverage?
In any case, it’s back to the drawing board for me. Hopefully unintended effects will force me to think more deeply about my project and result in a more thoughtful, creative outcome. Spring is early this year, so I’d better get out there and shoot before I miss it.
I think with shame that it has been more than two years since I first posted my Pressed Landscape project on this website.
How could this happen? Am I not passionate enough about my project? Is it not worthy of my time and care? Should I just call it quits and get on with more meaningful things? These kinds of questions rumble through my caffeine-deprived brain when I get up to do my ‘work before work’, my photography job here at oopoomoo, before I truck off to my day job. When time and resources are scarce, you are forced to question what is worth your time. Why should a personal project with no expected monetary outcome (just expense) justify my attention?
Back when I was in school, my Mom gave me a cool present. It was a photocopy of a cartoon struggle. A long-necked bird with a pointy beak was in the process of swallowing a frog. The frog’s head was engulfed in the beak, it’s legs dangling. But damn it, that frog had reached its arms out and was trying to strangle that bird’s neck for all it was worth! The caption was: “Don’t ever give up!” And that little cartoon, which I coloured in and hung in my locker during tough school times, has stayed with me all these years.
So, perhaps we should spin this debate around. Darwin and I are photographers and educators. There’s that first part…photographers…. To be a photographer, one must photograph. In other words, there would be no oopoomoo without me and Darwin pursuing and nurturing our creative talents in ourselves just as we do for other photographers through our talks, eBooks, workshops and the oopoomoo Creatives Facebook group. It’s an imperative, not an option. So I must not give up but continue with this project which in truth means a lot to me. What photo projects dear to your own heart must you never give up on?
You’ll be reading and seeing more of Pressed Landscapes as I try once again to prioritize and get this baby off the ground. The good thing with procrastination is that sometimes you refine and improve an idea…more on that later. For now, I have to go to work!
With more and more people getting into photography, we at oopoomoo think it’s timely to open a discussion about ethical behaviour and field etiquette. It’s also about time we post a code of ethics here on oopoomoo.com. Here’s our first kick at this; we might modify the code from time to time based on your input and changing cultural values.
Let’s start with an underlying assumption: most people get into photography because they love to take pictures of people, places or creatures – and not to destroy them. Sounds reasonable! So this means that any harm caused when people take pictures is probably incidental either through carelessness or ignorance. So that’s why it’s a good idea to revisit the concept of ethical shooting from time to time – and especially as the digital revolution has brought the joy of photography to more and more of us.
First, we need a guiding principle. This is going to be the yardstick against which we measure all our actions. “Do I or don’t I?” should be easily answerable if we get this main idea right. An obvious starting point is that old idea ‘do no harm’ which is something most of us understand even if we’re not doctors taking the Hippocratic Oath. We learn this one early on, usually because when we hurt someone else, something bad happened to us. I hit a kid in the sandbox, he punches me back, or the teacher gives me a time-out. We just don’t seem to get far ahead if we go around harming things!
But is it enough? It’s morally neutral, at least. The status of people, plants and animals is unchanged. If you think about it, causing no harm is actually really hard to do and is almost impossible to measure! Just by stepping out our door we crush insects underfoot, trample grass and compress microorganisms in the soil. And let’s not even talk about the effects on pollution we produce when we travel somewhere to take pictures!
Maybe it’s impossible to do no harm in its most literal sense. We might as well stay home in bed with hot chocolate and Pride and Prejudice for the rest of our lives (which might even harm our health and sense of reality). In any case, do as little harm as possible also seems apathetic and vague. Who decides what is ‘as little as possible’? Does this change day-to-day, place-to-place and person-to-person? And how do we meaningfully measure harm? Such a moving target is not going to be a good guiding principle.
Perhaps then we should take things up a notch. Perhaps we should take a moral stance. Perhaps we should promote the well-being of things as our guiding idea, leaving them better off than before we took our picture. This at least might help mitigate any unintentional harmful effects our mere presence might cause! Our guiding principle would then be: “If I do x, will I leave my subject matter better off?” If the answer is “no”, then we should not do x; if the answer is “yes, I think so”, well then fire away!
Now, we could get hung up on the same problems as with the ‘do no harm’ idea: how do we measure ‘better off’? There really is no way to be absolutely sure, so part of being an ethical photographer must involve some amount of educated judgment. Note the term educated. Part of a code of ethics has to involve some obligation to inform ourselves and a commitment to doing our best. These at least move us in the right direction and keep us from being crippled on the couch with carby snacks and historical romances.
So we have our guiding principle: promote the well-being of the things we photograph. This necessarily includes doing our best at not harming things, and it also puts a positive obligation on us to engage with our subject matter in a way that makes it better off after our interaction with it. This might be as simple as inspiring public appreciation of the person, place or critter photographed. Or it might be as involved as a raising critical awareness through a life-long project to protect an endangered habitat. But by following our guiding principle of promote the well-being, we’re going to be on the right track. Also, actively thinking about your positive obligation in advance will make your decision a lot easier about whether to take the photo or not.
Nobody’s perfect. We both confess to actions in the past in the name of “I gotta get that shot”, that we now would not do. Maybe it’s maturity. Maybe we grew a conscience. What we do know is that we’ve been trying to follow this guiding principle of ‘promote the well-being’ for some time, and we can tell you we are more comfortable making our images and more proud of them.
By the way, if imposing a positive obligation on ourselves feels onerous, consider this: we don’t have a right to make a photograph. It’s a privilege. So let’s ensure we get to keep this privilege for ourselves and others by avoiding careless or ignorant behaviour. Photographers have been getting a bad name lately mostly because we all think we have the right to photograph anything, anytime and anywhere. We don’t. Let’s rise to a higher standard. Let’s set the bar above the level of ‘everyone else is doing it’. Let’s put our subject matter first and ourselves second. We bet that if we do this, our images will sing with sincerity and the photo industry will be a role model in the art world instead of its poorer second class citizen.
Enough of the grand theorizing. So what kinds of specific behaviours might our guiding principle of ‘promote the well-being…’ entail?
We’ve surveyed some photo organizations for their ethical codes (see below for links to some prominent groups – there weren’t many which says something right there), and the bulk of the actions can be distilled into three main areas: environment, social and self. We’ve summarized them and tried to put them in terms of positive actions. So here’s our proposed Code of Ethics:
This category involves the world around us, especially the natural world.
- Inform yourself and follow all rules and regulations when visiting a natural area or public attraction. These might include shooting distance to subjects and refraining from using certain kinds of artificial light or even photographing an animal or plant at all.
- Receive permission before stepping on to private property even if the property appears abandoned.
- Stay on designated paths and trails. If there is no trail, follow proper field etiquette by educating yourself on the principles of Leave No Trace.
- Aim for authenticity: photograph plants and animals in their natural habitat engaging in their natural behaviours.
- Research and inform yourself about the plants and animals you intend to photograph. Be aware of their distress signals, times of physical strain or breeding seasons, and avoid photographing plants and animals during these times. If you see any signs that your presence is causing stress, move back until the stress signals end or leave the area immediately.
- Leave the environment in a better way than you found it by picking up trash you find when in the field.
- Improve your photography composition skills by using your full arsenal of tools to make a great composition rather than moving objects, pulling plants or otherwise ‘tidying’ a scene for your composition.
- Move your position or patiently wait rather than attempt to influence an animal’s posture with catcalls, hoots or whistles.
- Remove all artificial attractants you find in wild places that were placed there by people to attract animals and refrain from baiting or placing attractants to entice wildlife to move to you. This is especially important with some large animals since they tend to be relocated or killed when they become habituated to humans.
- Refrain from sound baiting if its use may cause stress to the animal.
- With animals living in an urban environment such as songbirds, consider not putting out seeds as bait. If you do, research the proper natural organic food and follow proper procedures to ensure cleanliness of the feeder to minimize risk of disease. Place the feeder such that the birds will not be exposed to hazards such as predators under cover or at danger of flying into reflective house windows.
- Keep rare species safe and intact by not broadcasting the location of a fragile area, plant or animal. Remove GPS data from your images and refrain from sharing the location to others after the shoot.
- If by stopping to photograph, you are likely to start a chain reaction of other visitors crowding the area, do not stop but find another time or place to continue photographing.
This arena is about relationships with other people. So some sample situations are going to be interactions between photographer and client, photographer and tourists and photographer and photographer.
- Ask permission before photographing an identifiable person.
- Treat all people with respect.
- Treat your professional models with professional courtesy, repaying them with prints or fees for their work. Do not reimburse people where to do so would take advantage of their social or economic position or unduly influence them to pose for your picture.
- If you see someone violating the Code of Ethics, diplomatically attempt to educate them about the effects of their behaviour. If that person continues with their improper behaviour, document the situation and report them to the appropriate authorities.
- Be patient and courteous with non-photographers visiting a scene. Be creative by adjusting your expectations of the images you hoped to make and be open to new ideas as they present themselves.
- Be aware of your position and how it may interfere with the ability of the photographers and non-photographers around you to enjoy a scene.
- If someone inadvertently wanders into your scene, be courteous and wait if possible for them to move, adjust your own position, or kindly ask them to move their own when they are ready.
This category relates to how you personally internalize and live the Code of Ethics.
- Adopt a Code of Ethics and post it somewhere conspicuous to remind yourself to follow these important principles. Strive to adhere to the Code and commit to a lifelong education of these principles.
- Be an ambassador of ethical conduct in the industry through your own behaviour and by educating other photographers and the public about ethical photography.
- Know and respect your physical limitations and keep yourself out of harm’s way by avoiding situations where your health and safety or the health and safety of others could be put at risk because of your actions.
- Educate yourself about the weather, terrain, culture and possible hazards before visiting a new area.
- If you are leading a photo group, whether commercially or not, ensure that the group members are informed about the Code of Ethics, hazards and safety concerns and that the group size is appropriate to the sensitivity of the place you are visiting.
- Always be forthcoming about your processing and refrain from representing your photographs as something they are not.
Suggest a link to a good Code of Ethics in a comment on this post!
It seems we have touched a nerve with our latest eCourse offering “Resolve:Discover Your Creative Self”. Our first run of the eCourse sold out in three days and our second offering sold out in a single day! We have decided to add a third and final session of the eCourse to run January 31 to February 6, 2016. To learn more about this unique photography offering please go to this link. May you have a creative 2016! (sorry now sold out!)
This year, Darwin and I decided to curate each other’s images to select what we felt was that photographer’s oopoomoo best for 2015. Just as we stipulated in the oopoomoo Newsletter announcing the challenge, an oopoomoo best had to meet three criteria:
- represent who they are photographically as an artist or demonstrate something they learned this year
- be as well-composed as they can do at their learning level, and
- be taken ethically.
You can see what Darwin picked as my oopoomoo best here. And here is the image I’ve chosen as Darwin’s best image of 2015.
In pouring over Darwin’s work for this year, I’ve noticed a shift in his usual subject matter. Instead of photographing grand landscapes, Darwin has started to concentrate more on intimate studies and abstractions. Some of the same elements of style are present in his work, making them a ‘Darwin shot’, such as a fascination with light and shape and an attraction to colours and tonal contrast. But I sense with this image a refinement perhaps of ‘seeing’, an engagement with the mind rather than just senses. There is many layers to this image and it is quietly intriguing.
This image was taken at Lake O’Hara, probably one of the most iconic of places in the Canadian Rockies. We were standing far uphill on the trail to Opabin Plateau and Mary Lake was being covered by a giant shadow cast by Oderay Mountain as the sun set behind it. Darwin had to work fast to frame and make this shot before the light was gone and the lake covered in shadow. When photographers say that they refuse to photograph iconic places, I feel sorry for them; I suspect they are insecure and may suffer from a lack of imagination. A great photographer can always make a place his own as Darwin does here.
We’re excited to announce a new course on oopoomoo! Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self is a self-directed eCourse all about YOU!
There are plenty of ‘how to’ courses in photography – heck, we’ve taught our fair share of ’em! – but what seems to be missing is a backgrounder course that explores your inspirations and motivations behind pressing the shutter. What are your photographic strengths and weaknesses? What are you most terrified of photographing? What new heights could you reach artistically if you were able to peek under the hood and understand the why of photography for you?
By parts fun-silly and brutally direct, the Resolve Photography eCourse is a little like a self-help course complete with its own straitjacket. There’s no empty fluff here! Expect to dig deeper with daily challenging assignments designed to peel back the comfortable complacency we often settle into as artists. It’s like that paternalistic Polonius guy said to Laertes, “to thine own self be true” because then you can’t be false to any man – or your photographs! Something like that.
So is 2016 the year you invest in your photography? Then it’s essential you start off on the right foot by understanding who YOU are as a photographer and the talent that underlies your images.
Intrigued? Are you ready to soar creatively? Then check out our Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self eCourse. Our first session sold out in three days. We are offering a second session this January but again with limit spaces.