9 May

Getting a Little More Green (by selling our vehicle and biking for photos)

©Darwin Wiggett - shot with the forgotten fifty!

Samantha and I have two vehicles but 90% of the time we only need one. It’s rare that we aren’t together for photo shoots or road trips. And if we’re not together, whoever is left home can relatively easily bike or walk to the store or to do errands. Although we live in the ‘burbs all our needs are less than a 20-minute bike ride away. And the great thing is Cochrane has  fabulous walking and bike paths.

We plan to do a lot more local photography this year as part of our ‘green stock’ program. Biking for photos leaves less of a footprint and makes more sense to us creatively and environmentally than motoring around burning carbon fuels chasing ephemeral photos (we’ve all done it!). Plus biking fits perfectly into our  FAT project (an update on that later).

So… I am selling my my main ride, a 2006 Nissan X-trail SE, named Sandy. Sandy is looking for a good home. She has a few kilometres under her belt (but she is in great shape) and she knows all the good photo locations in the Rockies. This vehicle is perfect for photographers; it’s good on gas, can hold a lot of gear and you can sleep in the back of it. Sandy is now sold!

Sandy the 2006 Nissan X-trail SE

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Darwin about to go biking for photos

Check out the video below giving a quick look at the Cochrane bike paths in early May. See how fast Darwin rides his bike under the influence of Red Bull!

Stay tuned for more updates and sample photos from our human-propelled photography adventures!

27 April

Destination Travel Workshop: Pay What It’s Worth To YOU

Darwin and I like to experiment. And we’d like you to join us in an experiment that might seem a little crazy at first (or an incredible deal!). For this year’s Destination Travel Photography Workshop June 25-28, 2012 at Island Lake, we’re going to take our professional fees out of the cost and let participants pay what they think the workshop is worth at the end of the weekend. We know times are tough, and sometimes you can’t afford to take that class or book that holiday or buy that special vacation for your significant other. Well, we still have space in this exciting workshop, so if cost has been a factor for you, now’s your chance! Here’s how it works:

Darwin and I are going to run the workshop no matter what. Participants who have already registered will get the same deal; all you have to pay are your accommodation and meals charged by Island Lake, who is giving us an great deal. You could attend this four-day workshop for as little as $433! That’s just over $100 per day and includes all your meals and accommodations plus a wine tasting event  in a luxury lodge on a private reserve. You can’t beat that! Check out the updated prices here.

The program is the same, and I’ll go into a few more details below, but this is definitely an opportunity that we can’t do with every workshop we offer, so don’t miss out. The lodge is located just outside Fernie, British Columbia, on a 7000 acre private forest. From old growth cedar to lush undergrowth, the place is very private and ecologically unique. Here are a few more images from the lake just below the resort:

The Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Last year when we were scouting the place and arranging the details of the workshop, we saw a black bear on this lake at the far end of the picture here. Apparently a mother moose and her calf are also frequent visitors to this tranquil scene! And fresh flowers are coming up and everything is so green and lush!

Forest trail, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Forest trail, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou - same scene, horizontal framing. It's lush in June!

You might be wondering why we’re attempting such a crazy project. Well, we’ve found that the photography industry is in a constant state of flux. New products are entering the market all the time, and it’s hard to know how to price your offerings. For example, more and more eBooks are being made by photographers teaching you how to make pictures, yet no can even agree yet on how to call them — is that ‘eBook’, ‘ebook’, ‘e-book’ or ‘E-Book’? By doing this little experiment, we hope that we’ll have a better idea at the end of this workshop how much people feel is fair value for this style of photography instruction. By the way, if it seems a bit intimidating to price your own workshop, don’t worry; we’ll put our original pricing (with percentage breakdowns like 75%, 50%, 10% etc.) at the front desk as a guideline at checkout. You pay us only what you think the value of our instruction was worth and your ‘donation’ will be anonymous to us!

Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

So what are some of the classes that we’ll be teaching? This is a really comprehensive workshop designed to get you quickly on your feet as a photographer when traveling. We start out with Story Trumps Technique and show you why a story with impact will survive minor technical faults. We’ll also be going over practical, hands-on skills such as using your camera controls creatively, effective lens choice to tell a story and basic outdoor lighting for portraits. And because we’re at a resort with incredibly talented chefs who source a lot of their produce from nearby farms, the workshop wouldn’t be complete without a quick and dirty lesson on food photography on the fly! All this work is bound to make you thirsty, so a little wine tasting will help rejuvenate any tired energies! In all, this package of photography skills will have you bringing home memorable images from your future travels so that friends and family will be able to grasp the spirit of your adventures. Head to the information page here.

Island Lake also has a beautiful cookbook of their recipes (which you get as part of the price), and Darwin and I are going to pick a few dishes to make and photograph for the blog, so watch for that if you’re a foodie!

We hope that you will be able to join us June 25 – 28, 2012 (coming up soon!) for our little experiment. It’s a terrific opportunity to participate in an intensive, educational but fun workshop that is also programmed to be like a little holiday — and you’re in charge of the price! See you at the workshop. If you can’t come, tell a friend, this is a fantastic deal. We believe in it so much we are willing to do the event for free!

Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Natural spring, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

©Samantha Chrysanthou

Lizard Range, Island Lake, British Columbia, Canada

©Samantha Chrysanthou

25 April

Community Supported Agriculture: Know Your Roots!

“Meet your farmer!” exclaims Aleah Krahn of Sundance Fields in her welcoming email. Aleah’s family owns and operates Sundance Fields in a multi-generational effort at raising healthy, naturally-grown produce and livestock. They are an increasing rarity in Alberta as Big Agribusiness eats up the landscape, driving economies of scale impossible to match by the average family-farm operation. But the Krahns have found a niche called Community Supported Agriculture, and this is how we met the farmers who would be supplying us this summer with fresh-picked garden produce and farm eggs.

Website for Sundance Fields Farm

Farm Fresh!

 What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? The premise is basically what humans used to do before the invention of the steam engine — buy local. You as a consumer of food pair up with a local farmer participating in CSA by buying a share in that season’s produce. This way, the farmer knows how much to grow and is guaranteed a market for what is grown so she can concentrate on growing rather than sourcing and marketing. And you get fresh, seasonal, healthy food delivered every week for several months! In the partnership, you share risks inherent in all food production (like crop failure) but not usually reflected in food costs. A hail storm ruins the berry crop just before harvest? That’s life! But with CSA, the cost is spread out among all those who participate in program.

Half section of a tomato

See What It's Made Of

 While CSA programs are great for farmers, they are also ultimately about consumer control. The more information you have about how your food is made, from what goes into food products to the environment in which food is cultivated or raised, the better you are able to decide if it’s healthy to eat or not. CSA programs are transparent: the farmers are listed and known and many encourage you to visit and view their operations for yourself. Some even want you to pick a few weeds! (When was the last time you were invited to preview a feedlot?)

Wide angle image of a curious cow at the fence

© Darwin Wiggett -- Are You Bringing Lunch?

We’re not saying that food in the grocery store is bad or unhealthy, but we do have many concerns about the hidden costs of ‘cheap’ food. These range from the environmental costs of transporting food from foreign countries to food security to living wages for workers. Food is Big Business because food is the perfect product; we all have to eat. But there are serious ethical issues that we all need to think about when we allow corporations to patent life-creating processes like seeds. Can you imagine a world where science creates our food, and control of food is held by a few major corporations? Watch the film Food Inc. if you think that is a laughable prospect cooked up by conspiracy theorists. It’s reality, here and now. There’s a lot of potential in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be beneficial for humans. But there are also many unanswered questions about GMOs and the long-term implications for our health and the health and diversity of natural ecosystems. Given past experiences (DDT on your salad, anyone?), I just can’t seem to muster the requisite faith that the government is prioritizing my health above a corporation’s bottom line. What is also disheartening is that knowledge is stifled in Canada on these issues; Canada refuses to mandate GM products be labelled as such (unless they are exported to Europe where consumers have demanded greater transparency.) In other words, we’re already consuming them without choice. Last time I checked, that wasn’t very ‘free market’. Do you trust the government to pick only the best food for your children? Let’s hope so, because we’re already engaged in a great big experiment right now!

Ornamental Cabbage

© Darwin Wiggett -- Cabbage...Or is it?

These are scary topics, but the point is not to turn away but turn to where you do have some control especially while we wait to see what the long-term impacts of all this genetic splicing is going to be. The more farm operations such as Sundance Fields have support from families in the cities, the more these kinds of programs will thrive, and the greater the pressure on government and industry to be transparent and accountable for how food is grown and regulated. We’re incorporating our weekly produce delivery from Sundance Fields into our FAT Project since we’ll probably have more fresh produce than we know what to do with. So we’ll keep you posted on what we’re getting and what we’re cookin’ up this summer. There are lots of farms in Alberta participating in CSA and selling directly from their farm gates with a wide range of produce and products, so make sure you seriously consider whether buying your food direct from the producer is a healthy choice for you and your family. And if you don’t live in Alberta, tell us if your community supports its farmers, and how!

Some further links:

CSA Alberta

GMO debate: Article on ProQuest, April 2000; Institute for Responsible Technology; a balanced CBC March, 2011 article; CBC 2004 article on GMO labelling.





1 April

Thinking about Grace

Lately I have been thinking about my grandmother Grace Wiggett who passed away last November. Today (April 1st) is her birthday. Grace was spirited, witty and and sharp as a Leica lens right up to the end.

But the Grace I have been thinking about the most is the grandma of my youth. The one that took me on long nature walks on the Kootenay Plains and taught me the names of all the flowers. I remember how we would spend hours  ambling with no destination in mind except for the next rock, knarled stump or ant hill that captured our attention. We poked sticks into the river, watched the sparkle of light on the water, and craned our necks to look at the eagle fly overhead. Animal tracks fascinated her, the rattling sounds of blowing grass grabbed her attention, the distant howling of wolfs thrilled her. In short, she was tuned into nature and she taught me to tune in as well. She would have been a fine photographer or painter. She had the eye, and she knew how to see. One of the reasons I am a nature photographer probably had much to do with Grandma’s nature walks.

So today I am going to be a small boy once again. I am going to amble and shuffle and look and listen and let nature show me her intimate little worlds. I am going to slosh about in puddles, get my knees dirty and let the world fill me with wonder.  I am going to celebrate grandma with a nature walk with no destination or plan or goal or time limit. I am going exploring for my grandma. She would approve and she’ll be there with me. Thanks, grandma! You’re forever in our hearts.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

6 March

Personal Style: Is Your Camera Determining Yours?

We’ve found that there are several advantages to shooting with different brands of cameras including helping people with their gear during our photo workshops. But another intriguing side effect that we’ve noticed but never really thought more about is how the cameras record a scene differently. We often shoot side-by-side but of course have our own interpretations of the same subject matter. Darwin would be the first to say he is attracted to warmer, more contrasty scenes and my images always seem to be more moody, quieter and flatter. We’ve always chalked it up to differences in our personal style, and certainly there is some truth to that idea. On the recent winter photo tour on Abraham Lake, Darwin was showing me an amazing shot he’d just taken. The image on his Canon 1ds Mark III was gorgeous! In fact, it almost looked like he was on a different lake compared to what I was capturing. I had a bad case of LCD-envy.

“Darwin,” I whined, “Your pictures always look great on the LCD! I’ve been photographing the lake all morning and my images look nothing like that. Where is that spot?” We walked back to the location on the ice where Darwin had been shooting. We decided to see how differently the two cameras would render the same scene. We set our jpeg settings to ‘vivid’ (Nikon) and ‘landscape’ (Canon), chose auto white balance, and roughly composed the same image with our different cameras. So here are my photographs of Darwin’s Canon 1ds Mark III LCD playback of the scene:


Canon 1ds Mark III camera on Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Camera displaying an image on Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

And here is Darwin’s capture of my Nikon D300s playback of the image:

Camera displaying an image on Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

You can see in the LCD of the cameras that there is some difference to the jpeg displayed. Darwin’s camera displays a warmer, more contrasty file than the monochromatic, cool image displayed on the Nikon. We figured the difference was probably due to variation in the cameras’ algorithms churning out the jpeg for the LCD, and this is not very surprising. But the raw files should be essentially similar if all camera settings are comparable — right? We actually didn’t expect to see much difference in the raw files; after all, raw data is raw data! But, surprisingly, there were some differences in the raw files. Here is Darwin’s unprocessed jpeg of the raw file:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

And here is mine:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

As you can see, Darwin’s raw file seems more contrasty and warmer in temperature than the Nikon file. When we inspected the files in Camera Raw, we saw that the Canon file set to ‘auto’ white balance came up at 6000k while the Nikon on ‘auto’ white balance came up at 5000k. In other words, the auto white balance for the two cameras returned different results: ‘auto’ for one camera is not the same ‘auto’ for another. This matters a lot if you shoot jpeg and matters less if you shoot raw, because of course you can alter the temperature of the raw file to be whatever you like. Why would anyone care about this? Well, we think that, unless you have a strong vision in mind, what your camera captures influences how you process. This would be especially true if there were differences in the raw files. Could there be an insidious side effect? Could the raw file actually influence how you process? I tend to spend less time processing images than Darwin and usually end up with cooler, flatter images. Darwin favours warm hues and higher contrast and steers his images more in this direction. But is this a result of our artistic vision…or are we being secretly led by our cameras to deliver a particular result? We processed our two shots (without peeking at the other person’s image!) to see if the final, processed result would be very different. Here is Darwin’s:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

And here is mine:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

What a difference! The subtle differences captured in the raw files are even more apparent in the final, processed results. By the way, the dark green-black colour in Darwin’s photograph is closer to the real colour of the ice (although of course Darwin’s shot is more saturated and contrasty) than in my photograph. This is by no means a scientific study, and of course there are some limitations when comparing different cameras and lenses, but we do find this relationship of Canon=warm/contrasty and Nikon=cool/flatter consistent across our photography. So, what do you think? Is Darwin really a warm/contrasty photographer or is he just following the lead of the Canon files? Do I really favour moody, flatter scenes or just suffer from lack of artistic vision to deviate from the raw file? Have you ever noticed a consistent ‘look’ to your camera’s files even on automatic settings?

13 February

Raw vs. JPEG: Take the Quiz!

In general, advanced photographers are pretty confident about which file format, raw or JPEG, to use when making images.  But does that confidence have any foundation?  Listening to some shooters spouting off on this topic makes us cringe; there are so many myths and misconceptions around these two settings that beginner photographers must feel overwhelmed.  Well, we’re going to sort through this mess on Saturday at our oopoomoo Talk, Raw vs. JPEG:  Which One is Right for You? This talk is for both beginners and advanced amateurs.  In fact, this talk is for anyone who has told another shooter, “shoot in raw format if you want to be a good photographer”.  Take the quiz below to see if you know as much as you think you do!

Q: Professional photographers only shoot in raw format, and everyone should aim to photograph in this format.  True or False?

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Is this scene better captured in raw or JPEG format?

A: False on both fronts.  Knowledgeable pros photograph in the format that works best for the occasion; part of being a pro is knowing how to get the most out of your camera.  For example, wedding photographers often photograph in raw + JPEG format because this allows them to quickly send hundreds of proofs, the JPEGS, to clients for review.  The pro then processes those raws that are the final selects.

We know numerous pros who only shoot in JPEG format because the images are finished in-camera, and the final results of the shoot are instantly ready to send to the client (who always seems to have a pressing deadline!) Most photo journalists only shoot in JPEG, not only for concerns about immediate deadlines, but also for veracity — the image was captured in-camera and not subjectively massaged in raw conversion software.  Like many pros, we shoot in either raw or JPEG format depending on the context.  When we are shooting for ourselves and want the flexibility to process our images according to our artistic vision, we shoot in raw format. When we are shooting for clients who need fast delivery of accurate results of their products, we shoot in JPEG format. Rarely do we shoot both at the same time because each format requires very different approaches behind the viewfinder.

©Darwin Wiggett

The photo above is from the Talyn Stone photo shoot and Darwin shot in raw format. A large part of the creativity in this shot is done at the time of capture (model pose, lens, location and lighting choices) as most good photos should be, but the flavor of the image has been enhanced in the processing of the raw file (see the unprocessed photo below).

The RAW capture of Talyn

Q: Raw is a superior file format to JPEG. True or False?

A: It depends. There is a myth floating in photography cyberspace that raw is a ‘superior’ format and that only amateurs shoot in JPEG format.  It’s time to leave behind this kind of ego-stroking mentality.  The fact is that there are pros and cons to both formats.  Whether you shoot in raw or JPEG is going to depend on your personality, your interests, your skill level with the camera, your skill with processing software and the final output or goal of an image.  In other words, it’s a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. For example, even if a raw capture gives you more and ‘better’ data to work with, if you captured poor data to begin with, then you’re still going to have a poor output even if you shoot raw. If your processing attempts can’t rival your in-camera jpeg, then why would you shoot anything other than JPEG?

©Darwin Wiggett - JPEG capture

©Darwin Wiggett - raw capture of the same scene

Q: You should bias your histogram to the right to get the best data possible no matter what format you shoot.  True or False?

A: False. The ‘expose right’ guideline is very helpful when shooting in raw format and trying to capture the best data possible. But always ‘exposing right’ for JPEGS is just a bad idea. The reason to shoot JPEG in the first place is to have the camera process the image so you don’t have to do so later at the computer. So, shooting JPEG means you have to capture the best possible data in-camera so the camera can use its processing algorithm to deliver a great result that needs no more processing after the fact. If you are post-processing your JPEGs, then you are not doing all you need behind the lens to give your camera the best data possible. JPEG shooters should not have to do image manipulation after the fact.

The funny thing about shooting JPEGs over raw is that JPEG format demands that you be a better photographer than a shooter using raw format. In short, shooting decisions  such as white balance, picture style, choice of lighting, and use of filters are more critical when the image is finished in-camera than when the data is simply harvested (raw) to be processed later.

Getting a great in-camera, finished JPEG means the photographer actually has to know the fundamentals of photography; raw shooters, on the other hand, can get away with knowing less about basic photographic principles. (We’re not advocating for photographic laziness though!  The more you know, the better your file quality regardless of file format.) So who says JPEG is for amateurs! If you don’t know just how differently you need to expose raw versus JPEG images, then come and learn more at our talk!

©Samantha Chrysanthou- Middle-toned scenes should have an average exposure, right?

Q: If you are just learning how to process raw images, you should shoot in raw + JPEG mode.  True or False?

A: By now, you should guess the direction we’re heading here by debunking these rumours.  This is also false.  Yet we hear photographers advising the hapless beginner to shoot in both modes as a ‘hedge your bets’ kind of mode.  The argument is that, if you shoot in raw + JPEG, someday when you are skilled at processing raw files, you’ll be glad you had that raw file from a year ago because now you can go back and rescue it from the bowels of your hard drive, process it, and win a contest!  There is an exception that proves every rule, so we won’t say that having just this situation happen is an impossibility.  But, realistically, as we’re learning, most of our early efforts are crap…or worse.  (Some of our early images make great instructional slides on what not to do!)

There are some big disadvantages to shooting raw + JPEG when you aren’t skilled enough to process a raw file.  For example, you’ve increased your file storage costs in this duplicate system and, unless you have a very organized file numbering/naming system, you run the risk of de-coupling the raw and JPEG files and losing one or the other of them.  Not only have you increased the cost of storing your images, you’ve also given yourself a headache after spending hours trying to find that darn raw file of your favourite JPEG image!  And how often do we actually go in and play with a raw file after the fact?  For most of us, the answer is probably ‘not often’.  Shooting raw + JPEG also acts as a crutch:  if you really want to learn the control of raw processing, then kick away the JPEG crutch and get processing.

©Darwin Wiggett - raw capture processed in Camera Raw and Photoshop

©Darwin Wiggett - the unprocessed raw file

Q: If you do HDR (high dynamic range) imaging, then raw is the only format to use. True or False?

Of course false. JPEGs captured well in-camera will make great HDR photos. Raw images not exposed well or processed poorly can look terrible:  just check out the garish HDRs polluting Flickr, for example. We constantly see ‘advanced’ photographers who tout the ‘quality’ of raw format yet feed their HDR programs terrible raw captures resulting in noisy, banded, and artifact-laden HDR outputs. Garbage in is garbage out no matter what format you orginally started with!

©Darwin Wiggett - 10 image HDR/Pano from raw files

Finally, there are very different considerations to be made in the field when shooting in raw vs. JPEG format.  The big issue is:  are you exposing for the raw file or the JPEG file?  What is the best capture in the field for one is often not ideal for the other.  Shooting both formats at the same time is problematic. As we mentioned in question 3, if you’re shooting in raw format, you’re going to try to bias your exposure slightly to the right.  But this may leave your JPEG image looking bleached and over exposed.  Yech!  Sure, you can try to darken the picture a bit on the computer, but you won’t be able to play with it too much before seeing a loss in quality.  And if you expose for the JPEG image so that it looks good on your LCD (which is what most JPEG shooters do), chances are the raw image is either underexposed or metered to an ‘average’ of the tones in the scene, and this is non-optimal for a raw file.  Why shoot raw when you come away with poor data?

These myths above are only the most common.  On Saturday, we’ll be discussing:

  • how to figure out which format will work best for your style of shooting and skill-set
  • the pros and cons of raw and JPEG formats
  • how to obtain optimal capture for each format
  • how to best expose for high contrast scenes for both raw and JPEG
  • how to shoot for the best data for HDR images

So if you are puzzled by the raw vs. JPEG debate, then come out on Saturday, Feb. 18th when we will set the record straight!  Please help us spread the word if you know of anyone who would be interested in this topic.  (And if you got any of the quiz questions wrong, come along too so that, next time you hear a photographer spreading these vile rumours, you can correct them!)

9 February

A Season for All Things: When to Turn Off Your Camera

Even though it is not yet even close to spring here in Alberta, we’ve been lulled into hoping that spring is just around the corner by recent warm, dry temperatures.  Here is an image made last year in April west of Cochrane; I suppose we’ll just have to wait a little longer to photograph the fuzzy heads of crocus, but I was a little nostalgic so I decided to post an image ‘out of season’.

Crocus in dry, grassy field

Speaking of ‘seasons’, I was reminded not too long ago of that 1960s song made famous by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn” which put to music scripture from the Bible:  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  What got me humming a tune with roots dating back to King Solomon’s time?  Well, a music concert, actually.  In January, Darwin and I saw Jim Cuddy and his band play at the Eric Harvie Theatre in Banff.  It was a terrific show with Cuddy in fine form rockin’ the packed (and cramped) hall.

The only aggravating part to the event was the number of people who had their smartphones out either taking pictures or recording parts of the concert.  I’m probably an old curmudgeon (and one of the last remaining dinosaurs without a cell phone let alone a smartphone–yes, it’s true!), but the practice struck me as distracting and rude.  I’m going to outline three reasons why I think we should realize when to put the cameras and phones away, and I want to hear from the oopoomoo community on what you guys think about all this.

It Interferes with the Performers’ Performance

At the beginning of the show, we were asked to turn off our phones and that recording the performance was not allowed.  People must not speak English very well as this request was promptly ignored as soon as Cuddy smiled his way onstage.  And it’s not just the ‘young people’ who are to blame!  Cuddy attracts a primarily middle-aged crowd judging by the greying pates and carefully re-constructed coiffures of those seated around me.  So none of this Generation X vs. Generation Y stuff.  It was Uncle Bill in urban jacket and cowboy boots who was constantly tapping on his damn digital device this time.  It wouldn’t be so bad for the performers if people would turn the flash off on their cameras and phones.  Alas, it appears that this is very difficult thing to figure out how to do.  Once the first flash blasts the backs of the heads of the row immediately in front, and the owner abashedly and hurriedly squirrels the device back into pocket or purse, it is almost as if a certain mentality grows…if she can do it, why not me!  Poor Jim; hopefully he was blinded by the stage lights and not put off too much by the flash of phones and cameras winking in the dark.

In Interferes with Your Neighbours’ Enjoyment

That would be me, the grumpy lady flashing nasty, withering looks to the back of your head.  See, before devices had such nice, bright LCDs (the better with which to light up a concert hall, my dear!), the occasional flash probably wasn’t such a big deal for the audience’s enjoyment of a concert.  But when you are trying to watch a live performance over a sea of floating glaring, white screens, well, it’s hard to concentrate, is all.  All that shuffling and dithering with the devices is quite distracting.  If you are guilty of trying to photograph or record anything except your child’s first kindergarten concert, then yes, I am here to tell you that the bright light of your phone lights up not only your face and lap but shoots white rays into my eyeballs as well.  Put it away.

It Interferes with Your Enjoyment

 Don’t believe me?  Some say that the human mind (contrary to what we all secretly believe) is only capable of giving real attention to one thing at a time.  Maybe two, if you are a mother.  Hence Alberta’s Distracted Driving Law.  We just don’t multi-task very well.  So, when you are busily trying to stuff a 3-D, live performance into your three-inch monitor “for later”, you are obviously not much in the present moment enjoying the very thing you paid good money to come see — Jim Cuddy, live in Banff.  And that’s a shame.  I have my theories on why we feel compelled to do this, from a growing inability to take in the world in bytes longer than a tv commercial to our strong desire to ‘contain’ and share an experience even if by attempting to do so we ruin our ability to fully take in the actual experience itself.

One More Thing

Now, I don’t want to come across as a Luddite incapable of understanding and appreciating the wonders of modern technology, and I also am not driving at the tired debate of what is a polite vs. impolite use of digital devices in society (It’d better be an emergency when you answer your cell phone during dinner with me, though!).  So I’m going to situate this within a larger context and one that I see as a teacher of the art of photography.  A good photographer makes images; a great photographer knows when NOT to make an image.  We all need time to replenish our creative batteries.  Shooters who are constantly photographing experience burnout just as overworked doctors, teachers or any person stressed with the task of repeatedly trying to do something well.  And that time is, essentially, ‘downtime’.  It is time spent reading a great book, playing with your kids or engaging in an actual conversation.  It is time spent listening to a great Canadian musician play live in concert.  So my final reason why there is a season to taking pictures, and a time to put the device away, is that — ironically, it’s going to make you a better person.

Okay, oopoomoo community, what do you think!

6 February

How to Make oopoomite (the Photographer’s Power Granola)

Samantha and I make home-made granola that gives us a boost in the mornings and keeps us going on our photography hikes. In the video below I show you how I make oopoomite (the photographer’s power granola). Thanks to our friend Nikayla who gave us this recipe that we adapted for our photographic endeavours. And we have another videos in this post that is definately ‘food for thought’.  Hmmmm.

Be sure to check out this really cool video on The Story of Food as well. Thanks to Scott Dimond for the link.

Do you have any interesting granola recipes or ‘food stories’ to share with everyone?

Samantha powered by oopoomite on the Rockwall Trail!

15 December

Glacier Discovery Walk in Jasper – What Do You Want?

There is a proposal by Brewster to build a a 400-metre interpretive boardwalk and a glass-floored observation platform extending 30 metres out over the Sunwapta Valley at Tangle Ridge Viewpoint just north of the Icefields Centre. According to Brewster, “The Glacier Discovery Walk will enable visitors to engage with this dramatic landscape in a way that was not previously accessible to the majority of Jasper Park visitors”.  Their illustrations of the proposed structure are intriguing.  To learn more about this proposal click here or on the photo below:

Brewster says the function of the walk is so that “visitors will experience a guided interpretive walk… [that] will contain interpretive stations highlighting the ecology, geology, glaciology, Aboriginal history and social history of the area.” Of course, there will be a charge to walk the glass walkway (visitors will be bused from the nearby Icefields Centre.)

Some people are very excited about this proposal (meaning more revenue for the park and for travel companies — mostly Brewster).

Environmental groups such as The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is opposed to the development for the following reasons:

  • It would set a dangerous precedent for renewed commercial development in our mountain national parks.  If this goes ahead, what will be next?
  • The long term impact on wildlife, including mountain goats and big horn sheep, cannot be predicted with confidence: there just isn’t enough data.
  • It would contravene Parks Canada’s own policy that says that “Only outdoor activities which promote the appreciation of a park’s purpose and objectives, which respect the integrity of the ecosystem, and which call for a minimum of built facilities will be permitted.”(Parks Canada Guiding Principles and Operational Policy, section 4.1.3). Read entire policy here.
  • There is no evidence that this would meet the objective of connecting Canadians with the natural heritage in their national parks.
  • There is little evidence that this infrastructure-focused development is what Canadians want for their national parks. The survey the company conducted was not representative of the views of all Canadians, but focused primarily on bus tour customers.

If you want to have a say in whether this project goes ahead or not then please drop a line by December 16, 2011 to:

THE HONOURABLE PETER KENT – Minister of the Environment
email: Minister@ec.gc.ca
819-997-1441 (tel) or 819-953-0279 (fax)

Jasper National Park, Parks Canada Agency
Fax: (780) 852-6229
email: Greg.Fenton@pc.gc.ca.

Sheep at Tangle Viewpoint using the already spectacular natural view!

What do we think? Well, we have grave concerns about these kinds of ‘theme park’ developments.  We go to Jasper (and all our natural areas) to get away from man-made structures and human-altered environments.  We also try to minimize our impact on the Parks as much as our business allows.  To get great views, we hike the wonderful trails in the Park.  While we appreciate that Parks Canada may be under pressure financially and searching for ways to make the Parks more profitable, we believe some things have inherent value that can’t be measured by how much they make some company rich.  We have heard that this area is important for critters like mountain goats and bighorn sheep which might be displaced so that humans can get a better view.  There just doesn’t seem to be enough information for us to measure the benefits of this development against its potential costs.  What are your views?

10 December

Paralyzed by Choice

©Samantha Chrysanthou

Photography asks us to make too many decisions. What aperture should we use, what lens, what camera, what ISO, what filter, what angle of view etc. etc. All of these choices can become confining! We often need constraints to keep us creative. That is why we love to reduce our choices. When we do, we seem to make better art.

A common way that we make it easier to be creative is to leave most of our camera gear behind. Often we’ll just take one camera with one lens. Even more restricting but liberating is restricting yourself by only using a prime focal length lens like a 50mm or a 24mm. Reducing choices forces you to use your tools more creatively. The more creative you are, the better your art.

One of the cameras we love the most is the Holga. A Holga is a plastic camera that uses medium format film (remember film?). It has only two exposure settings (sunny or shade), two shutters speeds (1/60th of a second or bulb), and four focus settings (infinity, group, couple or portrait). The camera forces you to really see by limiting your technical choices. Once past the hurdles of technique we are free to really ‘see’!

If you don’t like film, then a point-n-shoot digital camera or even a smart phone camera can also very liberating. It seems that when we put away the ‘serious’ cameras and bring out the ‘play’ cameras that we immediately get creative simply because we put less pressure on ourselves to perform. Point-n-shoots free you to try things, experiment and just be silly. Surprisingly the results are often more refreshing than anything our big expensive, menu-driven top-end cameras give us. So… be brave, reduce your choices and free your creativity.