Nature photographers like their landscapes pristine; generally, we don’t want to see any ‘hand of man’ in our pictures but rather we want to present nature in her purest and finest form. So we venture forth in hopes of recording clean and crisp mountain, desert, and forest landscapes. When nature photographers encounter atmospheric haze it dampens their enthusiasm for making pictures like chores ruin the day of a kid on summer holidays. We know of many photographers who have cancelled trips to areas like the Canadian Rockies when they heard that forest fires have obscured the clear alpine skies. It’s a shame that our preconceptions of what’s good and what’s bad colours what and how we take photos. Atmospheric haze can offer up unique opportunities for stunning photography if we’re open to seeing beyond our expectations.
Atmospheric haze results when smoke, dust and other dry particles accumulate in relatively dry air. Most of the time we blame human activity on atmospheric haze and consider it un-natural. For example, in the fall, activities from the harvest of cereal crops stirs up dust and particulates that results in hazy conditions. Fires burning, dust from gravel roads and particulate pollution from industry also creates atmospheric haze. But atmospheric haze has been around longer than humans. Lightning strikes burn vast tracts of forest, volcanoes spew out tonnes of particulate matter, wind storms churn up dust from dunes… the list goes on. So rather than fight or avoid haze, embrace it! Haze is a natural part of nature.
Atmospheric haze does several interesting things that can be used by the creative photographer. First, it reduces contrast in the scene due to the scattering of light by the particulate matter. These low contrast scenes look moody, ethereal and even painterly. Second, haze selectively scatters light waves with shorter wavelengths, like blue, being scattered more than red wavelengths. This is why haze and smoke look blue – the blue wavelengths bounce off and are recorded by our eyes (and cameras). Red wavelengths tend to pierce through the particulate matter and so in backlit situations we see warm colours coming through the haze. Anyone who has seen the sun through thick smoke knows the sun appears as a reddish ball even at mid-day because only the red wavelengths of light are passing through the smoke. As photographers, we can use this natural filtering effect of light bouncing off of or moving through haze to add further mood to our photographs. Indeed, atmospheric haze creates incredible mood and ambience. Just ask anyone who has travelled to India or China whether haze has added to the mood of their travel photos. You’ll get a resounding yes!
And so, when it’s hazy, don’t give up. Your expectations of clear, crisp, and contrasty nature scenes has evaporated. Advanced shooters see the potential in the murky skies. Look for scenes where the blue, low contrast light works with the subject to give a dream-like mood. Or, find situations where the glowing warm backlight creates an ethereal glow. Some of my favorite images have been created when nature (or human activity) created atmospheric haze and I was open to possibilities beyond my expectations. Rather than the haze being a nightmare that destroyed my nature outing, it became a dream that allowed me to create memorable images. Happy hazy shooting!
As many of you know, Samantha and I started League magazine and the League of Landscape Photographers as an outlet for photographic creativity with a conscience. League members photograph the world around them in accordance with high ethical standards and they make imagery with purpose, meaning and integrity. League photographs engage, question and challenge the viewer. League and the League of Landscape Photographers seek to raise landscape photography to a personal expressive art that comments on the world around us.
Samantha and I always acknowledge and reward those in the photographic community who are doing exceptional work and who inspire and teach others to do the same. We can think of no other photographer in Canada (or the world, for that matter) who has done so much to raise landscape and nature photography to an art form and to encourage photographers to express their creative vision than Freeman Patterson. Many of you will know Freeman and will have been influenced, inspired and moved by his work. Freeman’s influence weaves through both Sam and my work and our teachings. Indeed, we think that subconsciously Freeman’s influence germinated the seed which became League. So who better to honour with the inaugural Best of the League Award than Freeman Patterson?
For those photographers not familiar with Freeman’s work, we highly recommend you head to your nearest library or book store and pick up at least one of his many books on photography, creativity and seeing. Our three personal favorites and a must read for all expressive photographers are Photography and the Art of Seeing, Photographing the World Around You – A Visual Design Workshop and Embracing Creation. We also highly recommend any of his life-altering (no exaggeration) workshops – anyone who has been on a Freeman workshop will talk and talk and talk your ear off about how amazing it was!
Talking creative expression is all the rage in photography right now especially in the wake of all the fascination with the gear of digital capture. But Freeman laid the foundation long ago by teaching photographers to embrace their creative self. So much of what is in vogue today by those teaching ‘creative vision’ is based directly or indirectly on Freeman’s early teachings. Thanks to Freeman we can all finally move away from gear and technique into what truly matters, create self-awareness and develop personal expression.
For all of Freeman’s influence, his respect for people and the environment, his tireless sharing and mentoring of photographers, and for his lifetime body of artful, thoughtful images, we are honoured to award Freeman the Best of the League Award! We are thrilled that Freeman shared with us a moving story and portfolio of images that will be published in League this September. Subscriptions to League end June 30 so if you want this collectible magazine on your book shelf subscribe now!
We’re excited to share with you something we’ve been working on for awhile now. Introducing the League of Landscape Photographers! It’s a new community of like-minded photographers drawn together by similar interests, beliefs and values such as:
- the belief that photography is an art form not a craft, and that photographers are artists and not mere technicians
- a passion for the workings and integrity of the natural world which is expressed not only through artful, mindful photography projects, but also adherence to a personal code of ethics
- the belief that photography should be valued at the same level as other arts when it achieves high quality expression – photographers should be paid for their work
It’s too easy to look around the world and only see destruction and displacement. It’s much harder to focus on all the positive efforts that are being made to counter and contain some of the huge problems of the day. It’s too easy to engage in trophy travel in pursuit of social media ‘likes’. It’s much harder to turn your lens toward capturing changes happening in your own backyard. And it’s too easy to throw up your hands, shrug helplessly, and declare nothing will ever change when photographers, especially landscape and nature photographers are out there on the land, cameras in hand…making a difference with their art!
What the League is Not
The League of Landscape Photographers is a bit different from other groups.
The League is not a charity, society or non-profit but a grassroots, self-identified, loose collection of people who have posted their own code of ethics or value statement about how they conduct themselves. To join, you post to the world your own code of ethics and a statement that you are a member of the League of Landscape Photographers. That’s it. There’s no gate-keeping based on your level of photography skills. There is no one collecting fees from you to join. You are a League member when you act like a League member.
The League is not a conservation group. Political agendas of all stripes have pushed public discourse into simplistic, zero-sum debates. The world is not black and white – it’s full of colour. Similarly, while League photographers may engage with environmental issues, they do so to challenge attitudes and push assumptions not provide either/or documentaries or knee-jerk reactions. The League of Landscape Photographers is a group of artists who use their art as a window into their personal landscape.
The League is not a calendar publishing company. One thing landscape and nature shooters have done well is bring to us stunning photos of the most glorious, enchanting and pure places on earth. The internet is crammed full of beautiful images with scenes apparently untouched by man. It’s gotten to the point where such images are almost dismissed, and the pursuit is on for the next best ‘wow’ image. But how helpful is this parade? League of Landscape Photographers dig deeper by directly addressing how humanity intersects and connects with the landscape. Instead of sanitized scenes devoid of reality, League members open their hearts to the realities in their communities and share with the world what their eyes are seeing.
It’s a Movement
We believe photographers, and especially nature and landscape photographers, are uniquely placed as artists to add thoughtful dialogue about contemporary woes. But they need a reputable platform for their work. Enter Part II of this announcement…we will be crowdfunding this spring to publish a high quality, art magazine featuring photography portfolios and projects of League members. This is it! This is the Big One for League members! Simply called League, this annual will be the vehicle of expression for many aspiring artists who have something to say about the world with their photography.
- Visit the League of Landscape Photographer’s website to learn more about the League, League magazine and for ideas on creating your own code of ethics.
- Post your code of ethics and join the League! Then get involved in the community by joining the League Facebook group or sharing on Instagram.
- Attend one of the upcoming events to help fundraise for League – or organize your own and donate to the campaign.
- Tell your friends! While not everyone is a photographer, we all love art. Be a patron of the arts by donating to the campaign. You can read more about the cost of publishing a magazine here. Join the League Newsletter for news and announcements – like the date sales open for League! Only a limited number of copies will be printed of the inaugural issue…make sure you get yours.
If you’ve been in photography long enough you’ll get a request from someone to use your pictures in exchange for ‘exposure’. What that means is they want the benefits of your fine photos but don’t want to pay you. Having the privilege of them publishing your photo is reward enough… or so they say. The funny thing is whenever we get these requests they are usually from large multi-national corporations with deep pockets… and a big advertising budget… and yet they won’t pay for quality images. The promise of them exposing your work to a wide audience is often hard to resist but we have found from experience that such exposure always falls flat.
On the other hand, when it comes to small community groups with no budget for photography they will often bend over backwards to try and pay you and give exposure that is respectful and meaningful. These groups need great visuals and they know the value of the image. Samantha and I love working with local groups who have causes we believe in because they offer the best kind of exposure. We get to meet real people, develop friendships and feel like we make a difference in the community. And of course we are happy to provide our services for free because we feel great helping them do good work. And feeling great charges up our creative juices and we get excited about photography all over again! Now that is the best kind of exposure!
What do you do in for ‘exposure’ and how has it worked out for you? We love to hear about it!
Camera clubs are excellent places for photographers to learn and share photography. In my own development as a photographer I owe much of my early inspiration, learning and excitement about photography to time spent in Images Alberta Camera Club in Edmonton. The friendships developed and the lessons learned have stayed with me through life. I have an abiding fondness for camera clubs, but there can be a dark side to belonging to a camera club….
As with any group effort, sometimes a little herd mentality may surface. And this way of thinking can stifle innovative or fresh ways of photographing – especially when it comes to image competitions. Over time, critiques of submitted images become increasingly formulaic; images that follow the ‘accepted’ rules of competition will score higher than those images that do not abide by these, dare I say it, sacred rules. Putting aside whether competitions are even healthy outlets for creativity, it seems that the ‘rules of photography’ espoused by most camera clubs reward conformity. In my experience, not much creativity happens when the first priority is conformity.
Let’s take a look at four ‘rules’ commonly trotted out during image critique sessions by camera club members.
What is the Subject?
It seems that every photo must have a centre of interest (watch yourself though – placing an object in the centre of your frame violates the superior rule of thirds). According to camera clubs an image needs to have something that we, the viewers, can define as a ‘subject’. No obvious subject? Then the image has failed. Abstract images that are simply about pattern, texture, graphic design or mood do not do well in photo clubs. Abstract painters like Kandinsky, Pollock and Miro would have a difficult time thriving under a regime that forces them to have an obvious subject.
Fill the frame!
One of the ways that camera clubs reinforce the idea of subject is to tell photographers to fill the frame with the subject. This rule makes sense in that many beginning photographers make pictures where it’s not clear what the photo is about or why they took the photo in the first place. Having photographers fill the frame with their desired subject of interest is an easy way to get photographers to make better images. If you fill the frame with the subject, then we will know what the photo is about – all other stuff is excluded. But if all we ever do is fill the frame with the subject, there is no room left to explore placing our subject in a broader environment to tell a contextual story. Many of the great environmental portraits we see in National Geographic or Life magazine do not ‘fill the frame’ but have a small subject in a sea of context. Try that in a camera club and you will hear, “Get closer and fill the frame!”
Make it Sharp!
In camera clubs there is a fascination with sharpness and detail. Much time is spent talking about the best sensors, the sharpest lenses and esoteric things like circles of confusion and hyper-focal distance. If an image is not tack sharp, it won’t win a competition. Period. I think this fascination is partly about gear and partly because most camera clubs are populated with the over 50 crowd who long for the 20-20 vision of their youth (trust me, I know, I also fall into this camp)! Some of the most recognized and historic photos of all time have not been sharp. Just think of Robert Capa’s World War II D-Day photos. These gritty photos succeed because the blur and grain give them the mood of being there. Ansel Adams famously said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Of course we can reverse this idea and state, “There is nothing better than a fuzzy shot of a sharp concept.”
Shoot in Good Light
And finally, there is the fascination with light in photography. This makes sense because photography is literally ‘writing with light’. Light is our tool; the cameras and lenses just capture the light. So a pre-occupation with light is an occupational hazard in photography. Camera clubs tend to classify light as good or bad. Good light is the ‘sweet’ light of the ‘golden hour’ (the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset). Any other light is bad. The reality is, as my partner Samantha likes to say, “There is no such thing as bad light!” There is either light that flatters your subject or concept or light that detracts from the subject or concept. Your job, as a photographer, is to choose the light that best enhances your idea for the photo.
The rules of photography that camera clubs follow are generally useful ‘guidelines’ for making stronger images. But like any rule, followed religiously the rules become constraints and shackles to creativity. You obviously need to know why rules work so that when you break them you do so for creative effect. I wish that camera clubs would look beyond the rules and just look at the heart of each image. If it resonates in spite of ‘flaws’ it is a good photograph. I’ll end this article with another Ansel Adams quote which nicely sums everything up: “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
It’s funny how our expectations and biases colour how we see the world. Sam and I spend much of our time teaching photographers to shed their visual biases and see the world as it is instead of how they think it should be. By being open you’ll get inspiration anywhere and not be shut down by the tunnel vision of expectation.
As much as I know the lesson of being open in photography, I recently discovered that I am much less keen to shed biases in life. In August of 2014 we lost our beloved dog Brando to cancer. It took us a long time to heal from the loss and even consider the idea of a new furry friend.
For the last 14 months I have been working part-time at the Cochrane and Area Humane Society and literally hundreds of adoptable dogs have crossed my path. We get dogs of all sizes and breeds and personality types but I found the ones that I were attracted to all had similar qualities. First of all, the dogs that caught my attention were almost always working or sporting dog breeds or mixes. This is not a surprise because the last five dogs that I have owned or co-owned have been a Shepard/Rottie cross (Brando), a Malamute, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and an Australian Shepard cross. I like responsive, active dogs that are happy to please.
And so, possible candidates for adoption were categorized as acceptable or not acceptable by me simply based on looks and general disposition. In short, I was not open to seeing the dogs for who they were but instead for what I wanted them to be. I think I’m not alone…many people I know and work with have a ‘soft spot’ for a certain type or breed of dog. Of course, I thought I was being ‘open’ because I never picked the same breed twice but of course I was biased… unless it was a working/sporting dog it was simply not a candidate. For example, I was really interested in adopting the cattle dog cross below.
And then… something happens you don’t expect. On November 7, a 2-month old puppy came into the shelter with sarcoptic mange. The poor little fellow was under high quarantine procedures for most of the time until the mange could be cured and he was not contagious. Caring for the little fart allowed me to get to know him, in spite of the severe restrictions placed on him for minimal contact. I never imagined him as a candidate for adoption (he was not my ‘type’). He was just a fun guy that I helped take care of while he got better. And he was cute….
It was not until he was out of quarantine and Sam met the little dude that the wheels started to turn. I suggested we take him for an overnight visit and, except for a bit of bossy pants barking, I began to realize that he was a pretty awesome little man. I began to see him for who he was as he wormed his way into my heart. Of course, Sam saw him for himself right away and did not foist expectations on who he should be (she is good that way). Sam was open to adopting the littler bugger. And so, the latest member of the oopoomoo team is a pug/beagle cross (a Puggle) that we have dubbed Charles Affables Puggles the Third or “Affie” to his friends (which is everyone).
Thanks Affie (and Sam) for reminding me that our biases can get in the way of us truly seeing, whether that be in photography or in judging others.
Here at oopoomoo we are interested in people who have carved their dreams out of the impenetrable bedrock of societal structure. One local person who has done just that and who is a huge inspiration to us is Jackie Skrypnek. For years Jackie has quietly volunteered behind the scenes in the local food, environment and social sustainability movements. Jackie puts in the work because she believes a better world is possible. She is not looking for accolades or awards; she is looking for results.
Jackie, Samantha and I all have Permaculture Design Certificates (PDCs) from Verge Permaculture in Calgary. Part of the mandate or being a “permie” is to take action and do something that makes a difference in the world. Jackie has done just that. She has transformed her backyard from lawn into an ecologically sustainable food production centre which provides fresh, organic food for her family and friends. And she and her husband, Bryan, have built a passive solar tiny home in their backyard that will operate as an educational B+B teaching people about passive solar design, smaller footprint living and permaculture gardening principles.
The tiny home is only 247 sq feet but packs in sleeping, bathroom, kitchen, living, and dining areas. Jackie designed the tiny home and Jackie and Bryan built it themselves — it’s a work of art! Jackie battled the town bureaucracy to make the first tiny home B+B in Cochrane happen and now, through her perseverance, Jackie’s dream is ready to share with the world. On December 4, from 1 – 3 PM, Jackie is having an open house in Cochrane so you can see the tiny home for yourself and maybe even win a one night stay (there is a draw!). For details on the open house just download this PDF. If you can’t come, we’ve taken a few photos to show you this amazing little tiny home. Congratulations Jackie and Bryan! Cochrane is proud of you!
The Hereabouts Tiny Home website is now live for bookings!
Anyone who has been to oopoomoo seminars or workshops will be familiar with one of the most common compositional flaws in photography – the dreaded pokie.
What is a pokie? No, it’s not a friend of Gumby but rather it’s:
Little objects that stick into the edge of your frame accidentally.
Pokies are not purposeful parts of the composition. Instead they sneak into the frame like unwelcome guests and ruin the party by drawing attention to themselves. In short, they weaken your images. In the image below, can you spot the pokie?
Pretty obvious, eh? That little spruce branch in the upper right corner of the frame just screams out, “Look at me!”
Sometimes we are so fixated on our subjects while shooting that we don’t notice pokies until later when we look at the images on the computer screen. But once you are aware of pokies you’ll start to notice them all the time and you’ll learn to adjust your composition right away to get rid of those pesky buggers.
In some cases you can clone or crop out the offending pokies but sometimes you can’t. Rather than fix compositional errors in post, you’ll be a better photographer and you’ll save time at the computer later if you learn to spot and eliminate pokies in the field.
Show us your best pokie shot and win a spot in one of our January 2017 Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self eCourses. Post your image or images to our oopoomoo Facebook group or email us your entry (info at oopoomoo.com) before midnight MDT November 16, 2017. Below are some ideas of the kinds of images to enter.
- The Annoying Pokie – Show us a great shot that you made that was ruined or marred by an uninvited pokie.
- The Pokie Eliminator – Show us how you zapped away a pokie by changing your composition while shooting (we’ll need to see a before picture showing the nasty pokie, and then the fixed, pokie-free photo). No Photoshop fixes please!
- A Famous Pokie – Show us an annoying pokie in an iconic photograph from a famous photographer (yes, pokies have learned how to be published!). Be sure to credit the photographer and provide a website link to where you found the photo (comment and criticism on published pieces are allowed as fair use). Note: we can only award the pokie prize to a photographer who submits their original work so this last category is more for fun, education and discussion than for prize consideration.
Be sure to tag your images with #thepokieawards to ensure we consider your entry.
We’ve all heard the old saying: “It’s not the camera that makes the picture, it’s the photographer.” Why in music isn’t there a similar refrain? “It’s not the piano that makes the music, it’s the musician.” Or in art? “It’s not the brush or the paint, but the painter.” We rarely care about what brand of brush an artist uses; we care about the art produced. So why is it that, invariably, the first question asked of photographers is, “what kind of camera do you use?”
We think the problem with photography is that photographers use a tool that records images directly from reality. There is no implied ‘interpretation’ in using a camera. It’s seen as a device which objectively records the ‘real’ world. As such, we think that the better the recording device (the camera), the more accurate the reality, and therefore the better the photograph. And so it goes. As photographers we become obsessed with getting better and better gear. Our camera, lenses and accessories become the ends to the means and the means to an end. We become slaves and lovers of the technical aspects of the endeavour. Art is forgotten if even acknowledged at all.
In photography we are less likely to think like an artist. An artist uses his or her tools as a means of inner expression. Art is about telling the world who you are and what you think. Art is not reality; it’s an interpretation of your personal reality. Photographers mistakenly believe that the more they know about gear, tools and technique, the more accurate their representation of reality. Of course, nothing is further from the truth. Obsession with gear and goodies only gets in the way of communicating any message whether that message is journalistic or artistic. In photography we spend precious little time developing vision and voice. Mostly we just want to play with goodies.
For photographers who want to advance beyond gear obsession into the realm of artistic expression, we recommend several approaches:
- Take a bare minimum of gear with you on photo outings. We have written about this before but remind you about taking only a camera and one prime lens like a 50mm lens to help you hone your ability to see and express yourself with a single tool.
- Think of your photography not as a hunt for single trophy shots but instead in terms of a project. Pick a topic (e.g. garbage, trees, puddles) or a conceptual theme (isolation, power, contrast) and develop a body of work that speaks to the topic or theme. Project-based photography will help you concentrate more on the message than the medium. Gear quickly becomes secondary and diminished in importance compared to artistic expression.
- Take a course in photography that is about leaning to see and expression. Avoid courses that discuss technique or gear. You want to exercise your creative expression and not your wallet. Buying more gear, software or camera goodies will not help you. Invest in discovering your creative eye. One option is our Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self eCourse which is targeted so that you discover what makes your creative clock tick.
- Instead of reading on-line reviews of cameras and lenses, book off a day a month to go to art galleries and check out paintings, sculptures and visual installations. Take a notepad and jot down why the art appeals to you or not. Relax and really look at the pieces. What is the art telling you about the artist?
- Don’t try too hard; let your subjects speak to you. Don’t force a technique or a conscious attempt at style. Just respond and soon your photos will be created from within and not as a result of blindly jabbing at the shutter of your high-priced optical recording device.
- Get off the camera control crutch. Go back to fully auto or program mode in your camera and just shoot intuitively. Don’t think, just respond.
Of course there is a lot more you can do, but hopefully these little exercises will get you off the obsession with gear and on to the discovery of your self!