We were very fortunate to have been invited on an 18-day cruise with One Ocean Expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula with stops at the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as part of a Photographic Symposium. We thought we would share with you some lessons learned from this adventure to the bottom of the world.
Nature is Awe-Inspiring!
We all need nature in our lives and the more we connect with nature, the more we feel whole. We could see the impact that this wilderness had on people… many were moved to tears by the overwhelming enormity of the place or by the interaction they had with the wildlife. While we were not to approach wildlife, if we were quiet and still, it would eventually pass close by. Even the most hardened among us will melt when a penguin waddles up for a face-to-face encounter or an elephant seal pup snuggles near your leg. For most people, Antarctica is one of the most intense direct encounters with nature they will ever have. This place leaves its mark!
Yet the World is Smaller than We Think
For modern humans, traveling to the end of the world is really no big deal. What used to be epic and dangerous and scary is now just a little inconvenient. The hardest part of the journey is waiting in lines at airports and deciding what movies to choose while you jet across the stratosphere at 600 MPH. Even in Antarctica, where one might think travel is extreme, our toughest choices were whether we should skip the bacon for breakfast and eat the healthy selection of fruit instead. Excursions ashore were safely negotiated in zodiacs with rarely a drop of water splashing us in our expedition wetsuits. The only danger we really faced was that of our own making when we got so carried away with photography that we forgot to watch our step and slipped in some penguin guano. We were impressed (or depressed) by just how accessible the Antarctic wilderness is. Humans are everywhere on this small planet and you can see our ‘footprint’ no matter where you go. Can this wilderness survive the sheer demands and impact that humans have on this planet?
When it Comes to Gear, Less is More
Big cameras, big lenses and travel just don’t mix. This trip was full of photographers with the latest full-frame dSLRs and large, fast telephoto lenses. The amount of camera gear weighing down the zodiacs was astounding. Giant bags of gear and bulky expedition wetskins meant most photographers’ walks on shore maxed out at 100 meters. Hauling all that gear made people tired and soon they had no energy to be creative. Some of the best photos we saw on the trip were made by the spouses of more ‘serious’ photographers: with just a point-n-shoot in hand, the spouses could be more spontaneous in the changing conditions and grabbed great photos while their gear-laden partner fiddled with their equipment. A small lightweight and responsive kit is the way to go. It wasn’t long into the trip when photographers with two systems (e.g. dSLR versus small mirrorless camera or a point-n-shoot) were leaving the big guns behind in the boat for the joy of a small camera.
Speaking of Cameras, They Sometimes Get in the Way
This trip was full of photographers. They take pictures, constantly. A camera is always in front of their face. Some photographers never really saw Antarctica except through the filter of the camera. They interacted more with the box than the environment. In fact several of the staff who have done dozens of trips to Antarctica told us that this group was the most disconnected from nature of any group they have ever seen. Nature photographers disconnected from nature? But it was true – to really appreciate this place, we learned that you had put the camera down and just look and be in the moment. In our busy lives, we have forgotten how to just take things in… we are so programmed to do and to produce. Some of our favorite memories are not the photos but the quiet moments of observation.
Speaking of Observation, Fur Seals are Scary!
We admit it’s hard to concentrate on photos or quiet nature observation when you are fearing for your life! Fur seals love to charge and bite humans. We can’t blame them, we are passing through their territory and they want to chase us out. But dodging fur seals can be stressful. Take us back and put us in the Canadian Rockies with a few grizzly bears and we’ll feel much safer!
Being Offline was Awesome!
We were offline for over three weeks and we loved it. The constant barrage of email and social media is just so much noise in the modern world. Being disconnected so we could fully connect with nature was just so great! We highly recommend at least one sabbatical away from the internet per year!
And Finally…You Don’t Have to Travel Far to be Inspired
For us, our trip to Antarctica reinforced something we already know. Here in Canada we live in a country of awesome natural beauty. There is a lifetime of inspiration here… let’s not take what we have for granted. No matter where you live there is little need to travel far if inspiration is what you crave.
Samantha and I love to help people unleash their creative vision. We all have our own unique visual voice but sometimes we unwittingly tamp it down with barriers to seeing. In our workshops we try to point out these barriers and get people to release themselves to allow creativity to flow. We discuss the barriers to seeing extensively in our eBook, Learning to See, but in our workshops it’s our assignments to our participants that really kick start personal expression. We are always blown away by the great images produced by our students on assignment. Below is a small sampling of images made by our talented students on our Buicks, Badlands and Old Building Workshop held in August.
If you are interested in challenging yourself to be more creative we would love to have you come to one of our remaining workshops in 2014. We have our weekend Creative Landscape Photography class in September, Beyond the Icon, Intimate Landscape of the Canadian Rockies in October, and Fire and Ice in the Canadian Rockies in November.
And now onto the student photos!
For July’s Creative Assignment we asked you to take your least used lens (or least used focal length if you only own one zoom lens) and head out four times in the month, using just that lens/focal length. Well it seems everyone had a busy July and few managed to get the assignment done. We are extending our assignment until the end of August to give you more time to do this valuable exercise. Below are some results from our blog readers who made the time to do the assignment. We hope their results provide you with inspiration to do the assignment for yourself. For August share your story of your least used lens and the images you make on our oopoomoo Facebook group for feedback or comments! We’ll pick our favourites and feature them here on the blog. Sam and I will get out there as well with Sam using her 60mm macro lens and me using my Sigma 85mm f1.4 lens. Happy photography.
Results from Carl Heino
I do a lot of landscape and macro photography. I seldom use the long end of a zoom lens. The attached image was shot just beyond (112mm) the mid-range point of my 18-200mm lens. I chose this image because I tried to frame the scene using the Second Narrows bridges (rail and road) and because I thought the wake of the tug could act as a leading line causing the viewer’s eyes to go first one way and then shift the opposite way before, hopefully, looking through the gap in bridge pillars to the downtown core beyond. Unfortunately, due to the position and speed of the vessel from which I shot and the speed of the tug, I was able to snap only three frames before the opportunity was gone!
Results from Frances Gallogly
I took up your challenge to photograph with my least used lens on four occasions.
My least used lens is my Tamron 16-28. This may seem odd as this is a range that is used frequently by many landscape photographers. However, I find I use my 24-70 a great deal more. I think there are two reasons for this. First, I live in the Northeast and don’t do grand landscapes very much. My photos are generally more intimate landscapes like rural barns and meadows. When I am in Florida during the winter I tend to do fishing piers and beach sunrises. The 24-70 seems a better fit for this. Secondly, ever since I took your Landscape Photography class, my Lee filter system has been an important part of my kit and I can’t use these filters on the 16-28.
So out I went with nothing but my 16-28 on four occasions. It was a challenge and a good learning experience. I’ve attached some of the photos. The first occasion was a day in New York City in which I photographed around Rockefeller Center and Grand Central Station. The second occasion was an afternoon I spent in the historic seaport town of Southport, Connecticut. I took a photo of an old Victorian house and a photo at Fairfield Beach and converted these into digital paintings. The third occasion was a trip to Weir Farm. This is a National Park in Branchville, Connecticut, where the Connecticut Impressionist painter, J. Alden Weir, painted en plein air in the 1800s. I photographed his studio, the Visitor’s Center which is an old farm building, and some of the barns and the Sunken Garden. The last occasion was a trip to Dover Plains, New York, where I photographed some farm scenes. I doubt that the 16-28 will supplant my beloved 24-70, but I now have a much better feel for its capabilities and will undoubtedly use it more frequently.
The concept of printing actual objects is fascinating. Something that would be otherwise impossible to find or buy might now be possible to create with your home printer.
A future of printing our own solutions to meet our workflow needs is very exciting. Printing your own ideas introduces a market that eliminates factory production costs. Instead of manufacturers producing inventory, followed by packaging and shipping it all around the world to only sit in warehouses or on store shelves, in theory, they could just provide a blueprint file that you give your printer at home. Especially useful for simple replacement parts but maybe even a complete house or a prosthesis arm.
Like all new technologies, it’s still not perfect and has room for improvements but it is however going to be very interesting as the technology becomes more accessible to everyone.
Here’s Where 3D Printers Relate to Camera Gear
With the use of a 3D printer (Stratasys Object 30Pro), 3DPideas has designed an adapter for use with Cokin or Lee filter holders that I believe is brilliant and a problem solver to how I wish to use filters.
I personally prefer to use a screw in 77mm polarizer filter on the front of my lens and, if I want additional filters, I screw the filter holder onto the front of that polarizer.
This creates two problems. The first is vignette because of the extra extension the polarizer creates from the lens and the second is the added challenge of rotating the polarizer independently to the holder. It has worked for me but can be frustrating on many levels.
The Cokin-Z holder works best with sprocket filters (watch Darwin in this video) and proper management of light leak. The Lee alternative requires the purchase of a large 105mm filter. My shooting habits do not match either intended use because both require the large filter holder to use the polarizer.
What 3DPideas has created and printed is an adapter ring that attaches to the hood mount of your lens. It allows me to shoot all day with the polarizer and lens hood but when I want to use an ND filter, I can replace the hood with the filter holder. It has no frustrating screw in threads and it keeps my polarizer rotating independently free. Most importantly, I don’t have to buy a new expensive polarizing filter for a holder I only want to use on occasion.
My initial tests of the adapter proved to be very sturdy and strong enough to endure daily use. However printing materials are still new and while this product continues to be improved and refined, expectations of this rubber-like plastic should be reasonable.
It will take the next couple months to really judge how the material holds up but so far, I really like it. Designing and printing your own solutions to specific problems opens a new door on creativity that can only get better. A+ for thinking outside and beyond manufacture limitations.
Samantha and I have spoken many times about being ruthless in editing your work. Keep only the good stuff, toss the rest. Easier said than done though!
Of course, the longer you wait to edit your images, the more likely you’ll be objective and really clean the clutter. I finally got around to editing and processing my images from The Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies Workshop held in, wait for it… 2011! So after two and a half years of sitting on the hard drive it was easy to look at the images objectively. Of the 500 photos I took, most of them seemed pretty pedestrian. I narrowed the selects down to about 50 images with ‘potential’ and in the end kept only 25 photos. I wonder if I waited another 2 years if I would keep any at all! Hmmmm… I just found several folders of images from the fall of 2005, the more time passes, the more ruthless I get.
Below are the 16 images I liked the best from the 2011 workshop. It remains to be seen if any of these images make it to my top 100 list over time. It will be interesting to see if I have anything at all to share from the 2005 trip!
Well, they did it! This year’s winter workshop was a record breaker: coldest sustained temperatures (dipping below -30C a few times), most international crew with photographers traveling from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Spain and, ironically, the most crystal clear skies with lots of sun for most of the week. But the shooters soldiered on, working the bubbles on Abraham Lake (where they weren’t hidden under the snow) but in the end, coming away with incredible images revealing their unique creative vision. We asked the students at the beginning of the workshop to think of the ‘why’ question: why do you take pictures? What in a particular scene inspires you to snap the shutter? Then we peppered them with tough assignments (to take their minds off the cold, of course!) which they completed with aplomb.
We may head out for the bubbles on Abraham Lake, but it’s the glory of the Kootenay Plains region — perhaps because of the sunny, -30C weather — that inspired the following images from the group. Great work guys, and so glad you survived!
Join the discussion! Check out the oopoomoo workshop page on Facebook.
This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada Magazine.
Most of us have an outdoor environment where we feel at home; a place that is soul-settling. It could be an old farm or a city park, the ocean shoreline or the vast boreal forest, but it is a place where we seem to be able to reconnect with ourselves both physically and spiritually. For example, I love both the prairie and the mountains equally and feel a strong sense of belonging in both environments. But it’s where these two environments merge that I really feel a sense of connection and where the energy of a place runs through my veins. In particular, the Kootenay Plains in the Bighorn Wildlands near Nordegg, Alberta is a special place for me, not only for the confluence of plain and peak, but also because of the indelible stamp of childhood memory.
I spent my sixth summer running wild in the Kootenay Plains under the caring eyes of my grandparents. At the time, the area was undergoing a radical change with the approval and eventual construction of the Big Horn Dam on the North Saskatchewan River. Sasquatch sightings were plentiful that summer as the Stoney people tried to protect their sacred lands and grave sites from being lost under a flood of water. I remember seeing the ‘sasquatch’ almost daily and still have fond memories of the mythical sightings which for me were as common as seeing a raven or a blue jay.
My grandfather was a grader operator maintaining the gravel roads in the area and he also fostered close relationships with the Stoney people. We were often invited to participate in traditional ceremonies celebrating the Stoney’s connection to the land that they loved. I remember dancing under clear blue Kootenay skies dressed in leather, feather and bead and feeling part of the sacred Sun Dance ceremony. The sound of rhythmic drumming and ululating singing still echoes in my mind every time I return to the Kootenay Plains. These early experiences took deep root within me. They are the reason why, whenever I return to the Kootenay Plains, my troubles seem to fall away and artistic expression comes more naturally than at other places.
I think the reason why I always feel at ease when I return to the Kootenay Plains is because part of me has never left. There is still a blonde-headed, tanned little boy whooping through the aspen stands, dressed in his moccasins and pelts, making the acquaintance of every rock, tree and stream in his path. Getting back in touch with the freedom I experienced in that summer, the freedom to be myself and be a part of nature, is a huge fuel for my creative drive. Even if you can’t think of a special place off the top of your head, you may want to consider investing the time to find your own small scrap of paradise. The artistic soul drinks thirstily when you do.
Rather than try and pick our best images for the year (what does ‘best’ mean anyway?), we thought we would share with you images that reinforced lessons for us:
Lesson 1: Film is still fun and nothing beats getting it right in the camera!
Lesson 2: Toy cameras such as the Holgas give unpredictable but funky results. Forget Instagram, this is the real thing! 😉
Lesson 3: Short telephoto lenses are perfect for intimate landscape photography!
Lesson 4: Wildlife does not have to fill the frame to make interesting environmental portraits.
Lesson 5: The object doesn’t really matter — but composition and light are king. There’s magic in the everyday!
Lesson 6: We love long exposures during the day.
Lesson 7: Sometimes having fun and experiencing nature is way more important than photography!
Lesson 8: Shoot a variety of things to avoid a creative rut and keep working on your photo skills.
Lesson 9: The value of projects is not to be underestimated for feeding your creative soul!
Lesson 10: Shoot what’s important to you.
What’s in a top 10? Are they the best of the year? And if so, how do you define best? Everyone has their own set of standards on what justifies a great image and everyone is unique in what visually pleases their eyes. For my year in review, I’m going to honour that title and simply talk about the past 12 months.
Brace yourself, summarizing my year is going to take many more than a selection of 10. The following are surely not all winners but here are my most memorable photographs of 2013. More often than not, the memory is triggered heavily around the story that accompanies it.
Story #1: Mount Rundle, Banff National Park
It took me over 2 months to get away from the desk and creating images this year. The start of 2013 for me was kick started by a planned trip to Alberta to visit with the rest of the oopoomoo contributors. Our first stop with a camera was at Vermilion Lakes – low hanging fruit for some – but overwhelming for me. It took some time to ignore the iconic mountains but eventually, I found myself focused on the patterns in the snow.
Story #2: Abraham Lake Bubbles
It’s late in the season for crystal clear bubbles but Darwin, Sam, Catherine and I traveled up to Aurum Lodge at Abraham Lake. It was my first visit to this popular place and glimpse into the home base of oopoomoo workshops. The scratches and cracks in the ice looks like some type of deep space warp speed.
Story #3: Castle Mountain
Is Castle Mountain too easy? Maybe, but as I traveled up and down the highway alone in my rental car, I really had no idea of where I should be. Castle Junction is where I stopped the car, squeezed through the frozen fence and walked along the ice cold water. I live on a sand bar with no true wilderness. The feeling of being so small and surrounded is hard to explain.
Story #4: Missing Tulips at Parliament Hill
This is more of a lesson than anything else. I was in Ottawa during the tulip festival and on my first day, I made the decision to travel light and scout tulip patches. Walking from Ottawa to Gatineau is no quick stroll but I found this great full-of-colour tulip garden with Parliament Hill as the backdrop. It was in the shade and the range of brightness was just too much for a handheld photo. I made a note to return the next day but obviously an opportunity passed, is an opportunity lost. After swearing a bit, I made the image anyway.
Story #5: Stanhope Beach, Prince Edward Island
This was my only black and white image of 2013. I don’t know why I don’t do this more often because I do fall in love with the results. The deep blacks work much better than the dull blues of the day. I’m working on seeing past the colours.
Story #6: Misty Morning Sunrays
Chasing mist and fog early in the morning on side country roads can require a bit of luck. Completely soaked from the tall unmaintained grass, my focus was on a field of buttercup flowers with patches of lupins. This image was created as I was packing up for the morning and about to call it quits.
Story #7: Prince Edward Island Erosion
Thundercover beach is a popular location. Both for photographers because of the unique sea stacks and for teenagers and their beach parties. I have visited this location – codenamed teacup rock – many many times, but it was this time that I found these recently fallen sandstones that I feel really shows the effects of erosion. They were gone on my next visit. We lose an average of 0.5 metres (1.6 feet) on the south shore and 1.5 metres (5 feet) on the north shore per year.
Story #8: A Bee in Flight
At the end of 2012, I said I wanted to capture a bee in flight. It was a challenge that felt both impossible but achievable. I was completely shutout this year for island wildlife but am fairly satisfied with my first attempts at insects in flight.
Story #9: Rotting Abandoned Pier
PEI has many piers that most would consider an eye sore. Actually, everyone should. Photographically speaking, they can be quite interesting.
Story #10: Northern Lights, PEI National Park
The further north you live, the less impressive the aurora borealis may be but for PEI, it’s a very rare occurrence. During a very active season, you might be lucky enough to see them off the north shore once or twice. If you happened to be there on one of those special nights, it’s a real treat.
Story #11: Victoria Range Light
This range light visible from the highway is not accessible to the public. It’s at the edge of a farmers field and surrounded by residential properties that I’m not willing to trespass across. I was full of excitement when I learned that one of those properties was a relative of a relative by marriage. Permission granted and a checkmark on the bucket list.
Story #12: Turbine Power
Prince Edward Island is covered with power generating turbines on both ends of the island. There are just shy of 100 turbines across 6 wind farms and as of 2013, 20% of our energy is generated by the wind. A local developer created this cool little tool that compares live current wind speeds against energy generated. I have seen it as high as 80%.
Story #13: Rough Coastal Surf
Most island days are windy and wind can create violent surf conditions. If you’re willing to get wet, anchor yourself down in knee deep high tide water, some interesting illustrations of erosion can be made. I could do this for hours and hours. No two waves are the same and it’s hard not to think the next one will be ‘the one’. It takes real effort for me to leave a location like this.
Story #14: Island Fishing
I hired a fisherman to take me out so I can view the island from their perspective. I didn’t really know what to expect but while we were there – he asked if I would be bothered by him doing a little bit of fishing. Sure, why not, it’s an experience, how bad can it be? Well, it turns out those mackerel jigger’s are brutal.
Story #15: Hay Bale Sunset
PEI is small and getting lost is an accomplishment in and of itself. With no set goal in mind, I was chasing a particular cloud and the fading light up and down back dirt roads of farmers’ fields. It’s not too often I need a gps to figure out where I am.
Story #16: Storm over Covehead
Chasing storm clouds requires a bit of luck. You can see them developing but it’s hard to predict where they will be. Weather moves very quickly across the island and after originally driving in the wrong direction, by the time I got ahead of this one, I only managed to frame 5 shots before it was all over. I love the cotton candy sky. The speed boat coming back in to port is just a bonus.
Story #17: North Shore Tides
Playing at the edge of a moving tide is so much fun with so much potential. Angles, directions, different shutter speeds and the unpredictable crashing waves has so much excitement and anticipation of what will the camera record next.
Story #18: Aerial of Confederation Bridge
I have had the opportunity to fly several times this year. A mix of personal work, tourism work and commercial work has kept me in the sky. I love flying and looking at the geography from above. What’s difficult, is predicting good flying days for photography. Some days, the visibility is pure awful. On this particular day, visibility was not ideal. It actually kind of sucked but even though you can’t see the buildings and landscape, the fog and shapes were attractive. I was frustrated at the time but this one is growing on me.
Story #19: Aerial of Fishing Boat
Intimate details from the air is a rush. Hanging out an opened window and zipping over a fishing boat at low altitudes is wild. Having a pilot that is well experienced with photographers is a bonus and can get you in the correct position before you even have the thought to ask for it. Did I already mention how much fun it is to fly?
Story #20: Linking PEI to New Brunswick
The Island’s Tourism Commission had given me an open assignment for the summer to photograph a wide variety of subjects that highlighted touristy type things. New bridge images was on that list. It’s just a bridge and although it’s something I see on a very regular basis, it is still a structure that impresses me every time I see it, 16 years after it first opened. Walking along the rocky beach below never gets boring.
Story #21: Battling the Crowds at Covehead
This is an image all about the story. I can plan for a full moon. I can plan for sunset. I can scout a location. But I can not predict a tour bus full of people. Having the full moon rise while the sun is still setting only happens once per month and in late September, the tour buses should be long gone. Not today. After arriving and setting up a tripod, I looked behind me and saw a bus load of American tourists walking up the beach behind me. I wish I had a photo of me standing there behind a tripod with a large crowd of iphone shooters on both sides.
Story #22: Charlottetown’s Busiest Cruise Ship Season
With 69 calls to port and 139,476 crew members and passengers, 2013 was our busiest season for cruise ships. On this particular morning, 3 ships were arriving between 7:30 and 8:30am. It was a good morning to have a backup plan if for some reason, you mess up the first arrival. It’s hard to believe that from the cool morning fog coming off the water, I couldn’t even see the first two ships. I could hear them but there was a white blanket between us. It cleared up quickly.
Story #23: Island Rolling Hills
Strathgartney provincial park has a parking lot that looks over the rolling hills in central PEI. It’s a great view of the west river on any clear day but add some fog, fall colours and some morning light, and the level of excitement rises.
Story #24: Fall Heritage Roads
2013 had a dark shadow of a new but very controversial highway at the expense of some of the few remaining old growth wood lots. It’s a mess but has created a new access point to a single lane dirt road I had not previously traveled. I still don’t have a fall heritage road that I’m completely happy with but I now have a new and closer to home road to explore.
Any photographer who shoots a lot will tell you that trying to narrow down to their strongest images in a given time frame is a really tough job. I’m no exception. In 2013 I photographed I would say approximately 75,000+ images across pretty much every genre of photography one could imagine, from landscape to creative portraiture to commercial to wedding to photojournalism.
I always hesitate to call any body of work my “best” from a given time frame – as I know my own tastes will change and what I like today I may not like so much a year from now. That said, in pulling together this collection, I pulled out what either struck me, challenged me, or generally made me feel more complete as an artist in 2013. I hope you enjoy!