28 January

Photography with Meaning – What Do You Do for Exposure?

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.

Exposure - Is it worth it!

Exposure – Is it worth it!

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!

Chef Darren MacLean at rooftop veggie garden, Calgary, Alberta

Chef Darren MacLean at rooftop veggie garden, Calgary, Alberta

Portraits of local musicians

Portraits of local musicians

Passive solar tiny home - Hereabouts B+B, Cochrane, AB

Passive solar tiny home – Hereabouts B+B, Cochrane, AB

Local CSA farm portraits

Local CSA farm portraits – Seeds to Greens

Permaculture 'permablitz' in Calgary, Alberta

Permaculture ‘permablitz’ in Calgary, Alberta

Local organic farming practices

Local organic farming practices

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

Portraits at the local humane society

Humane Society dog portrait

Humane Society dog portrait

30 November

The Urban Tiny House

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!












28 January

Behind the Scenes on the Creative Sabbatical

Attention locals! If you want to catch up with some of our adventures on our Creative Sabbatical so far, including a candid presentation about a personal project we’ve been working on during our sabbatical, we’ll be speaking at this event in Calgary, January 31.

Cabin Fever 2015As many of you know, we are on Creative Sabbatical until summer, 2015. Along with developing our personal creativity through photography projects, we’ve also been searching for ways to align our business and lifestyle even further with sustainable principles. Despite having teal as its dominant colour, oopoomoo has always been green at heart. Currently, we live in the ‘burbs and aren’t sure if we want to stay there. Our presentation shares the highs (and lows!) that occur when you boot yourself out of your comfortable routine in order to evaluate your life and life’s work.

Lace yer boots and get questin'!

Lace yer boots and get questin’!

This event isn’t just for greenies: most of us with a pulse will admit that we’re in some challenging times. With Alberta’s economy welded to the price of oil, all our fortunes are tied to a carnival ride of market luck. Many people we’ve spoken to over the last few years feel the need for more control over their time and health and are searching for ways to get there. Well, there’s loads of practical info at this event presented by some of Alberta’s most forward-thinking, solutions-based entrepreneurs. The presentations vary in scope from specific and skill-based, such as wielding sharp hand tools (safely!) to big-picture design like siting and building your own home. Stomp down the winter blahs with music, food and dance in the evening!

This event is put on by the Permaculture Calgary Guild. We’ve written about permaculture before, and how we think its systems-based, ‘start-small’, principled approach to the massive problems facing humanity might actually work. Rob Avis over at Verge Permaculture does a good job of debunking some of the misconceptions surrounding permaculture on his blog. If you smell unwashed hippies when you hear the word ‘permaculture’, you’re behind the times. Read Rob’s post.

You don’t have to want to change the world to enjoy this event. You just have to realize that this world is all we’ve got. Maybe see you there!

And finally, we have 2 free tickets to give away for both the workshops and the party ($70 value). All you have do is make a comment below about what you have done in your life to make things a little softer on our good old Earth. We’ll do a random draw and award our winner on this Friday, January 30 at 2 PM MST.

Permaculture is so much more than just gardening!

Permaculture is so much more than just gardening!

3 July

Online Shopping. For Better or Worse?

One of my recent blog posts about having the ability to print your own accessories or replacement parts raised some more questions about its impact on the environment and how our culture is built around the shopping mall.

I have worked for two retail companies. One was a small specialty computer store and the other a large big box store. The owner of the small electronics store would display visible anger when you didn’t buy and support locally. Although I understand the logic of keeping the money locally, at what point does this argument to support local business begin to break down?

Competing on price is tough and I’ll not argue the value of having a good relationship with a small service company. It’s nice to have someone to call that you trust. Or beneficial to have a place to try before you buy. But for the purpose of this post, my focus is on the big box store model. Fifteen years ago when I was working in retail, the complaint was the big box stores moving into town. Today, we could compare to the growing popularity of shopping online.

My question is raised from a debate from guilt for having everything shipped to my door. My argument and all things considered, if they are not shipping an item directly to me, a much bigger shipment is going to a warehouse with the hopes it will be sold. If it is not sold, it will be discarded or shipped back.

Today we can have just about anything shipped right to our door but from an environmental point of view, is it better that we have buildings in every town stocking inventory, providing heat and electricity to this building, shipping back or trashing what doesn’t sell, and having thousands of visitors drive to the store every day… or is it better to have several courier trucks who will deliver exactly what you wanted from much fewer warehouses? Case in point, Amazon only needs 49 buildings spread across 8 countries — 2 of which are in Canada.

Hypothetically, if we were not required to maintain inventory in every town and city across the country with every possible product you may or may not want…

  1. Would it reduce traffic? How many drive from store to store looking for items or sales?
  2. Would it reduce the required energy with fewer buildings?
  3. Could it reduce how much is being shipped around the world? So much product is moved that will never be sold.
  4. Would it slow down the development of new buildings due to constant expansion?
  5. And would we all purchase less?

So many questions without any answers.

©Darwin Wiggett -Shopping is just a connection away!

©Darwin Wiggett -Shopping is just a connection away!

18 January

Building Community through Food

Think about how important food is in our culture. We court over food. We donate food to those in need. Food factors into gift-giving and takes a special role during holidays and gatherings. We gather as a family over a common dinner table. (In my house growing up, the TV went off during dinner and we didn’t answer the phone.) We teach our children an elaborate set of rules and mannerisms that govern the world of food. As we learned in school, food, shelter and clothing are the three basic human needs of pure physical survival.

©Darwin Wiggett - Yummy!

©Darwin Wiggett – Yummy! 

What does food have to do with photography? Here at oopoomoo, we donate every year to a charity or non-profit to support the efforts of these organizations in creating a healthy, sustainable and diverse planet. This past year, we donated our photography services to the Cochrane Cookhouse in recognition of the incredible work that this organization performs for the community. While we could just have handed over cash, it seemed a good opportunity to meet and engage with Cookhouse staff and volunteers by offering our photography and editorial services. The experience was awesome! We’d already attended some of the excellent classes offered by the Cookhouse, such as learning how to can and preserve, make your own cheese and yogurt, and cook up a mean (and healthy) ethnic meal. But by donating our time and skill, we got to learn more about the talented and hard-working people who bring such fun and educational programs to our town.

©Darwin Wiggett - Craig Westhaver of gourmetfoodstuff.com

©Darwin Wiggett – Craig Westhaver of gourmetfoodstuff.com

Let’s face it: food security and the quality of our food and water are going to be (some would argue they already are) defining issues in Canada in coming years. Certainly the plentiful bounty we experience, and the copious food waste we produce, are already trends pointing to an unsustainable food production cycle that will be reset, whether we plan for it and manage it or it just happens to us. That’s why entities like the Cochrane Cookhouse are so important: not only do they offer opportunities to learn the lost art of producing and storing your own healthy food, but they also provide opportunities to connect with your neighbours. In a political climate of short-sighted economic policy and ‘business as usual’ backroom deals, it’s even more important for citizens to directly engage with such grass-roots groups. If you’re lucky enough to have one in your community, support it, share information about it and above all treasure it.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sam on dish duty at the Cookhouse

©Darwin Wiggett – Sam on dish duty at the Cookhouse

7 October

Vote for Your Favourite Green Business — Maybe oopoomoo?

Did you know that oopoomoo is a member of REAP, a non-profit organization of local businesses committed to making ethical business decisions and operating in environmentally sustainable ways? The photo industry is not exactly known for being a visionary when it comes to conservation, moderation and reducing impact so it’s important that we all use our skills as photographers — and businessmen — to set an example and share what we value. As nature photographers, we value nature. We try to reduce the impact of our work by investing in wind power for our home, recycling like crazies, and refraining from buying the latest and greatest gear that is released. (That last one can be hard.) We also shoot a whole lot locally so we can bike or walk to photo shoots. We base our workshops out of sustainable lodges where possible and reduce out impact by treading lightly where ever we go.

reap awards

As a way to showcase the great things that local, conscientious businesses are doing, and to prove that the profitable way forward is to work within a community context, REAP is having a little competition where you can vote on your favourite local business. Be sure to peruse the REAP members listings…I’m sure if you live in the Calgary area, you’ll see some familiar faces! Take a little time to share your opinion by voting for your favourite (here’s our link, hint hint) and share with friends.

Tell us what you do to make this world a better place!

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!

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.





13 March

Get Dirty at Down to Earth Week, March 14-19

As you all know, part of what we’re trying to do differently here at oopoomoo is run a business without running the planet into the ground. Despite a lot of doom and gloom on the internet, there are quite a few groups out there doing great work and proving that being sustainable doesn’t mean being poor in any sense of that term. From time to time, we’ll be talking more about that on the blog and hoping to hear your thoughts, too. While there may not be any easy answers, there can be guiding principles that create a framework for all of us to move forward in positive directions.

Boy with spider on his shoulder

© Darwin Wiggett

What are some of the things that we’ve done? It’s been gradual, so far (much as we’d like to capture the powerful sunlight our house is bathed in almost every day, we haven’t put up solar panels yet). But incremental changes start to sum up to a lot. You may have noticed the leaping frog in the blog sidebar — that’s the logo for Bullfrog Power, a company that allows consumers a chance to ‘green’ their energy consumption. The way it works is, for the amount of electricity and/or natural gas that you use, Bullfrog Power will inject into the energy grid an equivalent amount of energy from renewable sources. You pay an additional monthly fee for this, and the amount depends on useage. For us to green oopoomoo HQ (our home) costs around $30 per month. Since we are already pretty conscientious energy users, this doesn’t significantly add to our utility bill. In other words, it’s a pretty cheap way to brag about how oopoomoo aims toward sustainability. No matter which way you slice it, we’re going to have to get creative with our energy sources and useage, so it’s important to support technologies that are taking steps in that direction. If you want to read a thoughtful book that dispels the rumours that renewable resources are too small of scale or too expensive, check out Calgary’s own Chris Turner’s book, The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy.

Wind turbine near Pincher Creek

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Another step we’ve taken is to try to learn more about how to run a sustainable business and live a sustainable lifestyle by joining other like-minded groups. REAP (Respect for the Earth and All People) is one such non-profit based in Calgary that we’ve recently joined. A collective of businesses that are profitable in the ‘now’ while keeping an eye on a sustainable future, REAP members are locally owned and contribute more to their economies than your average chain store. We have to be honest here…one of the coolest things about REAP is that it connects people to great businesses such as those related to food! Restaurants, farms, grocery stores…you name it! And this week, REAP is hosting its Down to Earth Week with events across Calgary relating to living the good local and sustainable life. Darwin and I will be at Boxwood restaurant tomorrow to sample delicious wine from Birds & Bees Organic Wine Farm and Meadery and hors d’oeuvres prepared by Boxwood chef Andy Love and sourced from Top of the Mountain Beef and Greens, Eggs and Ham. Yum! As we nibble our goodies, we’ll hear the inspiring stories behind these producers and how, by choosing local and sustainable farms, Calgary restaurants like Boxwood and River Cafe are making a difference.

Red tomato

© Samantha Chrysanthou

We’ll also be volunteering at the REAP table from 1-4pm on Sunday, March 18 at “Naturally – Mother Nature’s Trade Fair“. The trade fair is free-admission and family-friendly, so come learn more and make sure you stop by and say hi! There’s lots more events, including a screening of the award-winning film, “And This Is My Garden”, so do check out Down to Earth week March 14-19 if you are in the Calgary area, and pass along the opportunity to friends and neighbours who may be interested. Even if you’re not in this area, post a comment about what your community is doing to build resilient, healthy communities!

Round Leafed Orchid, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

Speaking of healthy, resilient communities, tomorrow evening (March 14, 6pm) the Town of Cochrane is having an informational meeting on the question of bringing transit to town. This issue has caused quite a stir with some prominent town folk being quite vocal in their refusal of any form of transit. Transit was a key part of Cochrane’s Sustainability Plan that was derived from public survey, so this is an important question to this community. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation put out by a small but organized group of naysayers. Whether you think transit is right for Cochrane or not, this is a great opportunity to hear the facts. So we encourage Cochranites (and Calgarians who work in Cochrane) to come to this meeting to hear and be heard. This is what democracy is about!

Whew, what an exciting week!

Children walking away down a road

© Darwin Wiggett

22 February

Hot Off the Press! The Kootenay Plains & Abraham Lake ‘Special Places’ eBook

Hello everyone! Darwin and I are very excited to announce a new ‘Special Places’ eBook series here on oopoomoo. As many of you know, we have a deep fondness for our dwindling natural spaces here in Alberta, and a particular love for the Kootenay Plains region near Nordegg. Tucked up against the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Kootenay Plains is an example of the rare Montane ecotype that is critical to all kinds of flora and fauna. Many of our tours and workshops are held here in part because of its incredible diversity of scenery but also because the region is relatively free of the increasing commercialization (despite public protest) that we are now seeing in our national parks.

Ice bubbles on Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada
© Samantha Chrysanthou

Unfortunately, that lack of development is not from governmental design but a side effect of neglect. The region is becoming increasingly popular with outdoor enthusiasts, campers and also photographers which means more pressure on this fragile landscape. Some of the problems faced by the Kootenay Plains include pressure for more Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails or illegal touring, increased random camping from visitors not trained in Leave No Trace principles and increased pressure by industry for access to the resources in the area.

Camping garbage and debris along the shores of Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada
© Darwin Wiggett
OHV tracks along the North Saskatchewan River, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Here’s where the oopoomoo community comes in! We thought long and hard whether to keep this place ‘to ourselves’ as much as possible or share some of its secrets with the world. We decided to share because dialogue and engagement are two underlying principles of oopoomoo. You see, we think photographers are uniquely placed to be stewards of the land, visiting rare and endangered places like the Kootenay Plains and returning with stunning pictures and a deeper appreciation of these kinds of natural spaces. And we believe photographers can do this without destroying the very place they come to visit.

So we are proud to publish the first in a series of eBooks devoted to helping photographers learn about natural places that are every inch worth visiting yet may be facing pressure for development or destruction from overuse. The Kootenay Plains & Abraham Lake Winter Edition dishes up our favourite spots for winter photography and is loaded with the kind of tips you would expect to find from our popular How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies series: tips on time of day to type of flora or fauna you may find in a given location are throughout the book. We’ve also thrown in informational sidebars on some of the unique cultural and ecological features of the area; there is something here for every photographer! Finally, we’ve included some of the key areas that need special protection from overuse. Please follow our guidelines and refrain from further damaging these sensitive locations.

Ice chunk on Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildlands, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

One more thing…Abraham Lake is the stunning, man-made reservoir responsible for the now infamous ‘bubble’ shots you may have seen here and there on the internet. While the ice features of the lake are astounding, the lake can be very dangerous all year-round. Abraham Lake does not act like a ‘normal’ lake. It is a man-made creation for hydroelectric power and its surface levels change dramatically. Never forget that high winds, variable ice conditions and river currents through the lake make photography a dangerous proposition. When we visit the lake on our tours, we are very careful of ice conditions and advise participants of unsafe areas. At some level though, you are responsible for your own safety. If you are not knowledgeable of the area and how to read ice, we recommend you photograph from the shore. There is so much more to the Kootenay Plains than ice bubbles, so don’t limit your creativity!

Shoreline, Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

We hope that this eBook enriches your photographic visit to the area. With enough photographers appreciating this special region, perhaps we will be able to ensure its preservation as a park for future generations.

Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake Winter Edition

The new eBook!