(This is Part II; click here to read Part I first!)
In this article, we discuss why classroom seminars AND field sessions are synergistic learning tools – don’t skip one in favour of the other! Remember we are using our upcoming Montreal weekend event as a case study to exemplify our point.
Level the Playing Field
So you arrive at your photo destination. As you come into the present moment, you tune into your senses and your mind is engaged. Photographic possibilities start to jump out at you. You take out your camera and begin exploring.
Or…you arrive and have no idea where to start, what to shoot. If this is you, make sure you read Part I and get thee to a seminar on Learning to See, like the one we are giving in Montreal on June 6! Taking a course on perception is your top priority. Don’t register for any field session photography workshop until you practice learning to see!
Ok, you’ve arrived, you’re starting to get in the photographic groove…and you’re struggling with the assignments we’ve given you after our seminar. That’s good! We believe in helping cement the information provided in the full day seminar with targeted assignments designed to develop the three key skills that make a good photographer. Since we concentrate on field technique over digital darkroom work, we ask everyone to shoot JPEG (either raw + JPEG or just JPEG). This levels the playing field in that everyone is working on the same skills at the same time. We want to know if you’ve understood everything we discussed about seeing the nature and quality of light and how it affects tone in, for example, our Montreal seminar Harnessing the Power of Tone. And we want to see you build advanced compositional patterns to convey your photographic idea as demonstrated in Montreal’s Working Advanced Compositional Patterns talk (we are also giving this seminar in Black Diamond, Alberta, May 31). There’s usually a bit of whining when we make photographers hand in their JPEGs without benefit of digital processing. But the danger to be aware of is that ‘fixing’ your images on the computer makes you lazy. If you do most of your creative work on the computer, then you’re a digital artist, not a photographer. There’s nothing at all wrong with this. But we are teaching a photography course, so we want to see your field skills. You might be surprised and invigorated after a session spent focusing on your field skills! And the good news is that when everyone is shooting in-camera JPEGs it really shows that equipment does not matter; great images are often made with the simplest and least expensive cameras.
There’s a reason why we encourage photographers to attend our seminars as well as our associated field sessions and that is because it’s a two-part strategy to learning. You receive the information and then you head out and test your learning. Attending just a field session without the benefit of the Saturday seminar puts you at a disadvantage. This is true for all our workshops, and we structure them this way because we’ve found that people learn the most with this format.
So if you have registered for a field session in Montreal but are saving money by skipping the seminar (you know all that stuff, right?) we strongly advise you to register for both. Did you take the quiz in Part I? Seriously, compared to what most photographers spend on their gear, this seminar costs pennies compared to most photographers’ gear expenditures but will give you more than a year’s worth of education.
And this goes for any photo educational offering you’re considering…how much instruction is offered? How large are the class sizes? The field sessions? Is there a constructive feedback session afterwards to review your learning? Does the instructor build upon concepts taught in class or does the instructor just ‘show up’ to the field sessions? Does the instructor actively engage with you after the seminar either through social media commentary or answers to your email questions? Also, remember photo tours are about location and being guided to photogenic spots, whereas workshops should teach you to be creative no matter where you find yourself. Are you up for being creative?
Nourishing Feedback, not Pablum, Please!
Speaking of feedback, let’s make it count. While it can be gratifying to get ‘likes’ on social media, these are vague and unhelpful. What did the viewer like? What did the viewer even think the image was about? What could be improved?
In our field sessions, we always try and schedule a feedback session after each outing. This not a time of criticism but rather a chance for you to see your work on the big screen and receive suggestions from your peers as to ways to improve and what they liked about your image. We also provide our comments but encourage class participation. Many students have told us that they learned the most during this constructive session. It’s a perfect way to cap off a full and fun weekend of photography!
Investing in a photo event like Montreal’s Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision is about you getting the best value for your buck. It’s about truly becoming a better photographer. So consider your educational options the next time you are thinking of upgrading your gear.
We’ve probably all heard it at some point when showing our images, that insidious insult dressed up as a compliment, “Wow, you must have a really good camera!” Why is it that people think a good photo is the result of good gear? And why do photographers rush out to upgrade to the latest camera body yet drag their feet when it comes to investing in photo education?
We think it’s a big fat myth that buying more and better gear will make you a better photographer, and yet that myth is alive and well out there. We are going to try and debunk this myth using our final photography workshop this spring, Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision in Montreal, June 5-7 as a case example. Tell us if we’ve convinced you. So here goes.
The Camera vs Your Brain
A camera is really just a black box made up of plastic, glass and metal. Your brain, on the other hand, is a marvel: coils and folds of squiggly grey matter are infiltrated with a network of delicate neurons that charge and fire and create – thought! Your life experiences shape your thoughts and interests, and your interests and thoughts create your images. A camera is by nature inert. It takes you, the photographer, to point the camera’s eye to something you deem worth photographing. It is you who decides which settings to use to portray your subject and it is you who pinpoints the split second to press the shutter.
In other words, the camera is like a helpful slave that carries out your bidding. True, a camera can help the photographer by ‘guessing’ at some of the settings required to make certain photos such as is found with certain program modes, but even if you shoot on Auto Everything, you are the one who decides what to photograph. There is always a mind behind the shot, so insinuating that it is the camera that makes a good photo ignores the mind behind the photo.
Three Things Make a Good Photographer
What then makes a good photographer if not gear? Essentially, there are three skills that make a good photographer, and we’ve built our Montreal seminar around all three. First, a skilled photographer is one who can translate his thoughts, interests and experiences about a subject matter into an image. Remember that squiggly grey matter perched atop your spine? The germ of an image starts there, in those firing synapses. For example, in Montreal this June, our first topic in the Saturday seminar is Learning to See: The Art of Perception. This talk covers that crucial skill of being able to quickly perceive photographic potential in a moment in time. If you sometimes think there’s nothing to shoot here, then this is the skill you need to work on. Quite frankly, in our experience teaching photography for years, this is an area where many photographers are weak. No amount of gear is going to tell you what is a good moment to capture. In fact, we sometimes see an inverse relationship between the amount of gear a photographer carries and his ability to see! Gear can be a barrier in the way of true seeing.
Second, not only do you have to be able to recognize the photographic potential in a split second, but you also then need to use every tool at your disposal to churn that moment into a final, complete image. This means understanding the creative power of camera controls such as aperture and shutter speed, and are fluent in the language of photography – composition. Do you know what the elements of visual design are? If not, get thee to an educational seminar! And guess what we teach in Montreal…you guessed it: Harvesting the Power of Tone for Compelling Images and Working Advanced Compositional Patterns in the Landscape.
Third, photographers need to understand themselves, what makes them tick. This is the key to developing personal style. If you don’t know and understand what motivates you to shoot, how can you follow your own creative vision? Do you find yourself copying other photographers’ work? Or are you comfortable with your own way of looking at the world? Creative Vision and Personal Style, our final talk on Saturday, addresses this important topic. By the way, in this talk, we reveal which is more important, vision or style, and why.
Take the Quiz
We’re going to end Part I of this topic with a little test. Grab all your camera gear and accessories and lay ‘em out. Make a list of your gear and its retail value at time of purchase. Now make a list of any dedicated computer equipment and software (e.g. special, high resolution monitors, photo processing software, extra hard drives etc.) and note the cost of this equipment at time of purchase. Tally it all up.
Now think back to this year. What photography talks, seminars or workshops have you attended? Write them down and note their cost. Write down any educational eBooks you’ve purchased and their cost – but only if you’ve read them! Unread educational material does not count nor do photo tours with no educational component. What about the year prior? Tally up the amounts you’ve spent on photo education in the last several years.
Compare the two columns. Does the gear/software column greatly outnumber the photo educational column? Have you spent more than $2000 in gear over the last year or so? More than $5,000? $10,000? If so, perhaps it’s time to invest in yourself, and stop lining retailers’ pocketbooks. The only way to be a better photographer is to invest in quality education. The Montreal weekend ranges from $75 – $95 per event. That’s a steal, folks.
Stay tuned for Part II where we level the playing field in our outdoor sessions and get serious with photo feedback.
We just returned from a 3-day photo seminar with field workshops in Toronto where we met wonderful people and received some very positive feedback about our content, presentation and teaching style. John Weatherburn, past president of the Toronto Digital Photography Club related this to us:
Thanks again for spending the weekend with us. It was a very informative seminar and set of workshops. I have received very positive feedback from our members. I would say more so than with any other speaker!The two of you working together works perfectly. Your complimentary interests illustrate clearly that there is no wrong way. Even using different equipment works well (always a debate in the club: Canon vs. Nikon!).
We love it when we can impart the oopoomoo values of create, inspire and educate to photography. The great thing is we learn just as much from our students as they do from us; it’s truly a collaborative adventure. Thanks, Toronto, for your hospitality and warmth and open hearts!
Next up on our schedule are the following events – we’d love to meet you and help you take your photography to a new creative and artistic level. To learn more about each event just click on the title for the event that interests you.
Winnipeg, Manitoba – May 2 and 3, 2015
Black Diamond, Alberta – May 9, 2015 – Sold Out – wait list only
Edmonton, Alberta – May 22 – 24, 2015 – Sold Out – wait list only
Black Diamond Alberta – May 31, 2015
Montreal, Quebec – June 5 – 7, 2015
It’s hard to believe but it was 10 years ago this week that my guidebook How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies was released!
In 2004, my career as a photographer was suffering because my main source of income, stock photography, had taken a big hit after the market shocks following 9/11 in 2001. I needed something to rejuvenate my career. So I came up with the idea of writing a photographers’ guide book to the Canadian Rockies, a region I knew and loved well. I pitched the idea to a publisher and in April of 2004, with an advance from the publisher in my pocket, I headed to the Rockies to shoot new images and do on-the-ground research for the book. I finished shooting and writing in September of 2004 and turned the manuscript over to publisher who released it in April of 2005. Once the publisher saw the photos I submitted for the guide book, they asked if I would also be willing to do a coffee table book as a companion piece. They called the book Dances with Light – The Canadian Rockies and it was released at the end of April 2005. Both books became Canadian best sellers and each went through three sucessive printings. I’m sure the books would have sold even more copies but the publisher went bankrupt because they expanded too big, too fast. Unfortunately, both books are now out of print. New copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies now sell on Amazon starting at $250.oo! It’s original price was $14.95. Crazy.
Once the publisher went out of business, I bought the remaining copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies (HTPTCR) and sold them through my website – sales were brisk! Once those books were gone, I asked Stephen DesRoches to help me update and design the content as eBooks for specific regions of the Canadian Rockies – we called these eGuides. I took the original content of HTPTCR, added new locations, more photos and updated the descriptions and sold the eGuides by park and by season. Later, when Samantha and I formed our joint company, oopoomoo, we added new locations (the Kootenay Plains) that were not in the original book. And finally, we asked John Marriott, the premier wildlife photographer of the Rockies, to write a title on wildlife photography for the HTPTCR series of eGuides. The result is our eight title library on the Canadian Rockies. Many, many photographers have used our eGuides over the years and our inbox is full of high praise from photographers grateful to us for saving them time and getting them to awesome locations in the right light. In fact, we know of several photographers who have used our eGuides to help them take people on Canadian Rockies photo tours. You know you did a good job when others can take your information and successfully design a photo tour!
To celebrate 10 years of guiding photographers to the right place at the right time either through our eGuides or through our tours and workshops, we are bundling our complete collection of Rockies eGuides into one specially priced package. To buy these eGuides individually costs $80, but now you can buy all eight eGuides for only $60 (basically, you get two eGuides for free). Happy Anniversary!
Stay tuned to this blog because Sam and I will be celebrating this milestone by sharing some of our unpublished Canadian Rockies photos. It’s still a place that makes my heart swell with happiness. We would only add one little plea to this post…please, as Albertans, Canadians and passionate photographers from all over the world, let’s take care of this region and treat it with the respect it deserves.
It was a tough decision – so many inspiring, unique images entered into our March oopoomoo Newsletter challenge! But we felt there was one portfolio that really gave us hope that spring might be finally here, and that was Gerry Hiebert’s impressionistic, interpretative take on this the season of new beginnings.
What colours do you envision when you think of spring? The fresh green of new grass pushing through the golden straw of yesterday? The blush of fruit blossoms against the purple willow of winter? In a sense, spring and fall are seasons perhaps best described not as entities into themselves but times of transition. That is part of their excitement, the juxtaposition of what is with what is coming.
So that is why we get kinda excited around here when we see an artist working with themes that also explore contrast in such an original way. Using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) in most of his images, and a soft, bejeweled colour palette, Gerry’s collection perfectly captures the hint of new growth overlaying the old. We are given an impression of what might be left behind and what is yet to come. And isn’t that the bittersweet hope of spring?
Gerry wins one of oopoomoo’s Personalized Portfolio Reviews and we look forward to seeing more images from this creative artist. If you want to be informed about our next photo challenge be sure to sign up for the oopoomoo newsletter.
Hot off the press! Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, Alberta, has asked us to teach a photography course at their gallery. We are flattered they approached us since we think Bluerock Gallery is one of the best venues showcasing amazing art – many from talented locals. For our topic, Samantha and I decided on one of our most popular and requested topics: camera controls. All too often, photographers vastly under utilize the power of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the impact these humble settings have on the look and feel of your image. Camera controls are commonly taught by people who love jargon and math…we don’t really care for either, so we teach you how to get creative with camera controls in a simple, intuitive way.
So, want to go from confused to creative in just four hours? Even advanced shooters have told us they see the world in a fresh way after we explain the magic of camera controls! There are two dates to choose from, April 12 or May 9. See this link for more. These are our only local workshops scheduled so far for this year, so locals, grab your camera, and a tripod if you have one, and come out to our hands-on, informative and fun workshop!
Below are a few photos illustrating the creative power of camera controls!
Many of us only do photography when we have something to take pictures of: a birthday party, a vacation, an iconic destination, a portrait, an owl in a tree etc. We take pictures of things… we rarely make images of our ‘feelings about things’.
Our feelings are always trying to emerge in our photography but are often suppressed by our obsession over gear, concerns about technique, and worries about what others will think of our photos. Our egos often get in the way of expressive image making. And so the results of our photography are impersonal, predictable and clichéd. After a while we are not even sure why we take photos and we become bored with our work.
To remedy the boredom and get back in touch with why we take photos, Samantha and I recommend doing a personal photography project. It’s best if the project is something simple and achievable. Don’t try some grand epic project or you’re bound to fail – start small and make it fun. And give yourself a deadline and an outcome: when will you finish and how are you going to collate or present your work?
For example, my personal photo project for the next six months will be a weekly photo walk. Once a week, starting with the week of January 12, I will pick up my camera and head out on a two to three hour walk and make images of things I find interesting. I might walk in my neighborhood, meander in a city park or stroll in nature.
Why a walk?
I chose a weekly photo walk for three reasons. First, walking is environmentally friendly. I just walk from wherever I am. No driving involved! Second, walking is healthy for body and spirit. Third, walking slows you down giving you time to look around and see; I’ll get to know an area much more intimately which is important because for the next six months Samantha and I will be house and pet sitting in different locations in Alberta. What better way to learn about a new place than by walking in it? After each walk I’ll write a short journal entry about the experience and process any images I made.
What is the outcome?
Once a month I’ll share a story or two of my walking journeys here on the blog. The final result of the weekly walks will be a hand-made, hand-bound journal of my photos and writings that will be completed by July 30.
What’s in it for you?
So… we encourage you to come up with a project that excites your creative spirit. If you like the idea of the weekly photo walk, then feel free to lace up your boots and join me on the journey. Glad to have you along!
If you have a different project in mind then we encourage you to share your idea and your deadline for the output (e.g. a book, print show, eBook, or online gallery). Feel free to post your project idea and photo results from your project, or the weekly walk, at any time over on our oopoomoo Facebook group. There you’ll get encouragement and advice from fellow oopoomians. If you’re not on Facebook feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about your project or just share images from your weekly walk. Samantha and I will select some of your project ideas or weekly walk results to highlight here on the oopoomoo blog, with your permission of course. As well, we may give out a prize or two just to keep things interesting, hint, hint 😉
Good luck with all your projects. We are excited to see what you come up with!
Early in December we called for you to make winter abstracts and upload them to our oopoomoo Facebook group for comments and a chance to win my 50 at 50 retrospective eBook. We have been getting really great images. But some people think that because they don’t have snow or ice where they are, then they can’t do winter abstracts. Not the case… if you are in the northern hemisphere it’s winter; shoot anything you want as long as it’s an abstract (we even leave that open to interpretation but here is our definition). And it does not have to be nature. If you’re stuck in the house or office great abstracts can be made there as well. So get shooting if you haven’t already and upload your photos before midnight December 31, 2014.
Below are a few early results from intrepid photographers in Winnipeg that don’t use Facebook and who went out together on a winter abstract photo shoot and came away with inspiring results. Anyone not using Facebook can send me their pictures for consideration by emailing them to darwin at opoomoo.com.
Speaking of Winnipeg if you’re in the area May 2, 2015 be sure to come and see Samantha and me giving our full day seminar on Creating Story and Mood in Photography. Also the good people organizing this event will billet people coming from out of town so you can save money on hotels. Just email us if you are coming from out of town and we’ll put you in touch with an organizer. And now onto the photos….
As many of you know, Samantha and I are taking a sabbatical from our busy workshop teaching schedule to concentrate on our own photography and projects in 2015. We do have a limited number of teaching seminars in the spring but we won’t be doing field workshops out of Aurum Lodge in the Canadian Rockies in 2015. Our final field workshop ended with November’s Fire and Ice workshop and we had a great time. We had a group of dedicated and talented photographers who made the most of this year’s unseasonably warm weather. Ice was hard to find and the only fire we got was from overheating in our winter gear! Nevertheless, our crew was open to what nature gave us and we think you’ll agree based on the photos below that no matter what the light or the weather there is always something amazing to photograph if you are open to seeing.
As a photographer, have you ever visited a destination and afterwards wished that someone would have told you about all the cool places you could have went to but did not know about? I remember going to the Maritime Provinces back in 1996 when I was shooting for my book Darwin Wiggett Photographs Canada. I spent more time driving around scouting than I did shooting. Sure, I did research in advance from various sources to find ‘must-do’ areas but many of the resources were based on tourist travel and not photography. If only there was a guide book for photographers to help distill things down to visually interesting locations and advice of time of year and day to visit each location.
Fortunately with the rise of the internet there has been a plethora of location information, but often you have to visit numerous sources to piece together something cohesive. And sometimes the sources of information are dated or of questionable veracity. We know of a few photographers who are putting out quality location guides to various national parks, provinces and states (us included) but we have also seen some really, really bad location guides.
When we heard that oopoomoo designer and contributor, Stephen DesRoches was teaming up with stock and assignment photographer John Sylvester to make a photography guide to Prince Edward Island we had high expectations of great images and awesome information. And after having been to PEI twice and seeing the information in this eBook, I’ll hand it to these two PEI residents – they have come up with a jam-packed eBook full of useful information and inspiring images.
The guide is simple to use with easy directions, GPS coordinates and suggestions on when to go and hints on making stronger images. Each image has complete camera data captions which many photographers find helpful in learning technique.
The only thing I think is missing from the guide is knowing who took which pictures. Stephen wrote the forward and John the rest of the eBook but both photographers contributed images. Who took which image I have no idea. I wish in the image captions they would at least put the initials of the photographer who took the image. I guess in the end it does not matter because every image is strong and the images tug at my wanderlust and make me want to go back and see all those locations I missed when I went to PEI on my own. Thanks to Stephen and John for an inspiring eBook full of useful information – all for a low, low price of $10! You can download your copy here.