In my first year of ‘real’ photography (by ‘real’ I mean trying it as an art form rather than just my point-n-shoot tourist mentality of before) I made this image of a canola field lit by late afternoon sun under an approaching storm.
This is image number eleven in my catalogue — the eleventh photo I shot and kept that first year. There are a few compositional flaws that are obvious in hindsight, like the big ‘hole’ in the sky in the upper left and the breakdown in the pattern of dark green in the bottom of the frame (leading to another ‘hole’ of darker tones in the bottom right corner — hey, at least the two holes are counterbalanced!).
But it remains one of my favourite shots because it reminds me of the fields I knew growing up…those vivid yellows under brooding summer skies are quintessential rural. Sometimes it’s good to peruse through your first early attempts at photographic expression; it reminds you of where you started and the root of your efforts now. What are some of your early images that still resonate with you today?
In late October of this year we hosted Utah photographer Guy Tal at Aurum Lodge to give his intensive Creative Landscape Photography Workshop. Guy’s knowledge of all aspects of photography is immense and he shared an overwhelming amount of information that was extremely useful in the development of creative vision. Thanks to Guy for coming all the way to Canada to treat us with his expertise and vision. And thanks to a wonderful group of eight eager participants who really immersed themselves in the experience. Below are some of the participants’ favorite images from the workshop (six of the eight participants submitted photos for this blog post). For those interested in experiencing a similar immersive workshop in 2014, be sure to check out Samantha and my offering in October with Beyond the Icon: Intimate Landscapes of the Canadian Rockies
In the Abraham Lake area for our fall photo workshops, Darwin and I came away with an image each of the effects of the high water from the June 2013 floods. This summer the reservoir was the highest we’ve ever seen it: the retreating water left a clear warning on the shoreline vegetation. Coincidentally, last night we also went and saw the thought-provoking film, Watermark co-directed by Edward Burtynsky. I would like to believe otherwise, but I’m afraid human memory is short, and short-term solutions tend to take priority over long-term issues. Maybe films like Watermark will help keep evidence of a possible future in our present memory.
In the last two weeks, we’ve wrapped up our final photo workshops of the season held at Aurum Lodge: Creative Landscape Photography with our guest instructor, Guy Tal, and the Fire & Ice photo tour. In a little while, we’ll be sharing participants’ images from these two educational events on the blog — and we’re stoked to showcase the talent and vision of their work! But for us, now is a good time to reflect back on a busy year and digest all that we’ve learned. One thing that stands out is just how much we appreciate visiting the Canadian Rockies to photograph, and how lucky we are to live near such an incredible region. Although October and November are often not considered ‘prime’ shooting months in Canada, we find endless inspiration when we head out to the mountains at this time of year.
Although the weather can be unpredictable, really that just adds to the excitement! Expect to be harried by a furious blizzard one day and warmed by winter-sun the very next.
Surprisingly, we don’t come here just for the mountains (lovely as they are). For me, the charm in this season lies in the subtleties. Muted lavenders, soft greys, sandy tans and silvery blues layer the landscape, pearlescent hues that reflect the low, liquid light of early winter and become snagged by the grasping branches of barren trees and dry grasses.
Because I love this time of year, I’m really looking forward to our new workshop, Beyond the Icon – Intimate Landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, October 21-26, 2014. We’ll be focusing on a style of photography that intrigues me: intimate landscapes may be more challenging to see as a photographer, but I think the rewards of finding them are great. It’s often in the quiet moments that we discover the most about our subject matter…and ourselves.
We are super excited to be heading off to St. Ann Ranch in Trochu for our annual Buicks, Badlands and Old Buildings: The Prairie Photo Workshop. Our photo romp through the Alberta prairie leads us through undulating crops, down into the Red Deer River badlands, across the history of early settlement in the region and to bone yards of metal and wooden relics. This year the workshop sold out far in advance… stay tuned for possible 2014 dates. If you’re really keen on coming next year drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you on the pre-announcement list. For now here is a new location of rusted wrecks on private land that we have added as a bonus for returning workshop attendees. Thanks to Lisa Couldwell for introducing us to this location and the land owner!
As many of you know, Samantha and I have decided to stop doing photo tours. Tours are about guiding photographers to the most scenic locations given the light and the weather, and also trying to bag the big trophy locations in sweet light. Although tours are fun and have a function, Samantha and I are much more interested in teaching people to be better artists no matter where you find yourself. Tours by design just don’t teach creative expression: they aim to get you pretty photos for your portfolio. While our workshops will still be held in the stunning Kootenay Plains of Alberta, we think you’ll come away with a more diverse set of images that demonstrate depth and creativity with our new workshop format. But… if you want one last kick at my final Canadian Rockies ‘big game hunting’ landscape photography tour, then there are two spots left in the 2013 Fire and Ice Photo Tour. If you are interested in our workshops that tease out your personal expression then check out our 2014 schedule. Below are 20 of my favorite ‘trophies’ from Fire and Ice over the years.
Below, Ian McGillvrey, Samantha and I present a few ‘alternative’ or unexpected images we made in Waterton during our 5-day backpack trip. These shots go beyond the obvious and show the little things that captured our eyes while out nature trekking.
The beauty of the Canadian Rockies is legendary among nature photographers. Not only is the scenery stunning and the wildlife abundant, it’s all easily accessible by highway. To whet your appetite, and for those just passing through, we offer you three scenic drives that we consider the best of the Canadian Rockies. And if you’re looking for more than a quick scout, we have many ‘where to’ guides on these parks for those of you wishing to experience the area in more depth. Watch for the next installment in this topic, Three Amazing Secret Drives in the Canadian Rockies.
The Canadian Rockies form a jagged spine along the western border of the province of Alberta and the eastern border of the province of British Columbia in Canada. For fastest access to the roads described in this article fly into Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, rent a car and drive west from Calgary on the Trans Canada Highway (highway 1). In just over an hour you’ll be swinging left onto highway 40 which leads you into Kananaskis Country where you’ll find a memory card full of photos.
I gotta confess, I have a bad case of the Chinook blues. For those of you not familiar with a chinook, it’s a dry, forceful wind created in the downward sloping, rain shadow east of the Canadian Rocky mountains. (I always believed that ‘chinook’ meant snow eater, but wikipedia informs me that this is not true; instead, the screaming winds are named after an aboriginal people further west. What would we do without wikipedia?) See, the thing with Chinook winds is that they can eat chunks of snow in an hour, raising temperatures and hopes that spring is just around the corner. But this is Alberta. If we forget our special geography, February is lurking with -30C days just around the corner, stealing our breath in one quick, icy hand as soon as we step out our front door.
But now, it feels like spring…the Earth is warm and brown, and it is hard to be in the office in front of the very synthetic glow of my computer screen when the promise of seasonal change whispers outside.
This article was previously published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada. If you don’t want to wait nearly 2 years to see these articles then subscribe to this great magazine 😉
Photographers are their own worst editors. We are simply too emotionally invested in our images to be objective about them and, as a result, we keep a lot of images that really should have seen the deep end of the trash bin. A critical skill to develop is to remove our bias toward our work and look at our images with a healthy skepticism.
For me, the ultimate test of a photo’s value is the test of time. Does it still excite you and have meaning a week, month, year and even ten years after you snapped the photo? If it does, then the image is a keeper. But in a practical sense we simply can’t let our images age like wine and come back ten years later for a taste test to pick out the keepers. What we need is a system that lets us be objective in the shorter term.
Many of us come back from a shoot and then edit immediately looking for the ‘killer shots’. Often we use a rating system and rank our favourites as 5-star images. These 5-star images get processed right away; we quickly share them on the web and show them to friends. The 4-star and lower rated images we store on hard-drives, forgotten about until maybe (a big maybe) we revisit them many months later and cherry-pick a couple of ‘over-looked’ images. The remaining images gather pixel dust languishing in a library of forgotten hard-drives. We vow at the beginning of each new year to ‘deal’ with these languishing images but probably never will. Possibly we hope that like wine, the longer these images are ‘aged’, the better they will get. They don’t.
I find if I process images immediately after a shoot that I keep more images than I would if I returned to edit the images at a later date. As well, some of the 5-star images in my initial pick aren’t really that good after all! And surprisingly some images that I initially rank low actually end up being my favorite images. Time removes my emotional attachment and lets me edit more objectively. For instance in a recent shoot from the Cypress Hills in October of last year, I immediately went through the 500 images I shot in four days and kept nearly 100 images. If I had processed all these keepers right away I would have ended up with a whole bunch of filler images and only a few really worth hanging onto. Recently I went back and looked at those 100 ‘keepers’ and tossed away 80 of them I initially thought were great! In the end, time proved to me that there were really only 20 images worthy of adding to my files.
So the moral is that I try to build time into my editing workflow. Immediately after a shoot I will do a preliminary edit. In this edit, I delete obvious errors: photos that have poor focus, bad exposure and flawed compositions are removed. All the rest of the photos I keep and back up on an external hard-drive. Then, and this is the critical key, I wait at least a month before I return to final editing of the photos. After a month all the excitement of the shoot is gone; I have moved on emotionally, and I can be objective and ruthless. I become a machine on the delete key!
In this final edit, the images I initially thought were killer have lost a lot of lustre and some overlooked gems emerge. I see the shoot with fresh eyes and I can quickly pull out images that have lasting impact and clarity of message. In the end, I keep ten percent or less of the images that I shot. The rest are permanently deleted. My system is lean and mean and my image library is filled with only my best work. Time is your best friend when it comes to objective photo editing: use it wisely! To learn more about how Samantha and I use time and the delete key to make better editing choices be sure to come to our Enhancing Story and Mood in the Digital Darkroom talk on January 21, 2013 in Cochrane, Alberta (NOTE: this talk is only offered to Persistent Vision workshop participants, so don’t delay if you were planning on coming to that event March 15-17, 2013.)