As part of our regular monthly Newsletter, this December we asked our subscribers to share with us their best picture of 2015. But the photo could not be just any predictable best, it had to be their ‘oopoomoo best’. To be an ‘oopoomoo best’ the image had to follow these criteria:
- represent who they are photographically as an artist or demonstrate something they learned this year
- be as well-composed as they can do at their learning level, and
- be taken ethically.
If you want to see all the amazing results so far log into your Facebook account and do a search for #myoopoomoobest2015
In the spirit of year-end sharing Sam and I will be showcasing our oopoomoo best image here on the blog but with a twist. Instead of picking our own image to share we are going to chose what we think is our partner’s best image of 2015! Scary stuff to have someone else curate your work.
And so here is my pick of Sam’s best image of 2015. Drum roll please!
I chose this image for several reasons. First, it perfectly represents Sam’s creative vision. Sam loves grass and trees and she has both in spades in this picture. Second, Sam creates compositions that are personal and intimate and that drill down to the essence of what attracted her to the scene. We were out shooting in the Rockies and I was photographing a distant lone spruce in a sea of yellow aspens with my 300mm lens (an obvious and easy subject). Sam asked if she could borrow my camera and lens for a minute. She swung the camera away from the obvious fall colours, away from the big peaks in the background and over to a grassy slope just above the road. I could not for the life of me figure out what she was making a picture of! Of course now I see… a quintessential Sam photo, but at the time I thought she had gone mad photographing away from all the big beauty surrounding us. I’m always impressed by how Sam can make ‘something from nothing’ and how she always photographs true to her vision no matter what others are doing around her. So the biggest reason I picked this image is because Sam continues to surprise and delight me with her creative vision. No one can make Sam images, they are unique to her. And so, for me, this image represents Samantha’s answer to the #myoopoomoobest2015 December Newsletter challenge.
When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was to head out in the woods alone and sit quietly and look around. I would see and hear birds and squirrels going about their daily business. I would watch ants carry loads three times their body size. I would marvel at the architectural wonder of a spider web. The miniature world of the forest floor came alive when I lay down and looked at it at ground level. In short, everything around me was fascinating and magical. As a six-year-old it seemed the perfect job for me would be a forest ranger so I could watch and guard all the animals and plants I loved.
I followed a path of learning about nature through school and university and got a Master’s degree in biology. But making a living as a biologist was more about people and politics than it was about being in the field with the animals. The dream of the six-year old was shattered. Why couldn’t I just hang out in the woods and watch critters and get paid for it?
In university, as part of my studies, I needed to take pictures to add visuals to my presentations on my studies to obtain grants. I soon discovered that photography allowed me to be that wonder-struck six-year-old once again. With photography I could photograph the birds and the squirrels and the ants and the lichen-covered forest floor and take home that amazement in the form of photos. I was hooked! This ability to record my amazement of the natural world remains at the heart of why I still love photography today. Photography is a way I connect with myself in the natural world. I don’t need photography to be amazed, but photography allows me to record my amazement and relive it every time I look at my photos.
The other thing I love about photography is that to do it well you need to learn how to see. You learn to remove labels from things and just see the way that light plays across a subject. You learn how to organize this interplay of light into an aesthetic display of design and composition. In short, learning to see helps you be an artist and being an artist gives you the depth to see the beauty in the everyday.
The longer I am in photography, the better I learn to see and the less I need novel or fresh experiences to feed my amazement. Indeed, I get more amazed now by being able to artistically render ‘something from nothing’. I love discovering the magic in the mundane, and seeing amazement in the overlooked. I am less interested in the obvious and the easy grab shot. I am keen to continue to explore seeing deeper and more personally. And so photography for me has not lost its challenge because photography is so much more than equipment or technical mastery. I think those who get bored with photography were in it for the wrong reasons (the gear, the cool factor, the technical challenge) and not for deeper ‘feeding the soul’ reasons.
I also like that photography with all the advancements in technology has made it easier to make photos that are about personal expression. If you shoot from your heart and are true to yourself then you can make images that truly represent your connection with the world. More and more the cameras are taking care of the technical stuff so we need less concentration on that aspect of the craft and we can have more concentration on the artistic side of photography. For many photographers, the love of gear and technique gets in the way of personal expression but once that geek adoration is outgrown, then we can move on to make images that reflect who we are and what we are interested in. I like that photography can become art if we allow ourselves to become artists. And I am enjoying becoming an artist as an adult just like I was when I was six-years old!
What is it that keeps you in love with photography? Share your thoughts below in the comments!
As many of you know I started a Weekly Walk in January to make a connection with my surroundings. Sam and I have been house sitting in various locations since we left Aurum Lodge in November where we were artists in residence. The weekly walks let me explore the area around the house sitting locations and discover visual surprises by using the ‘gift of paying attention‘ (something that’s hard for guys to do!)
In February we continued our house and pet sitting in Bragg Creek, Alberta. One of the two dogs that we were pet sitting happened to cut her paw and required vet care. This meant three weeks of rehab and care for the dog. Needless to say my weekly walks were less about photography and more about walking and caring for the dogs (which was totally fine by me). Fortunately, Sam and I could shift off the duties. Thanks Sam!
Sometimes as artists we are less productive and need ‘internal processing’ time. For me, February was less about getting out and taking pictures and more about trying out other art forms. Samantha and I experimented with drawing and painting and I spent time playing guitar and composing music. I find that concentrating on other art forms helps my photography when I return to it (which I always do). And so, my February walks yielded little in the way of photos, but I sure had a great time producing new kinds of art and being in nature and absorbing the experience. I know the muse ebbs and flows and spending time worrying about my level of inspiration is a waste. Art comes internally, it can’t be forced and I have learned to allow myself to produce through creative feast and creative famine. I am finding now in March a recharged creative interest in photography!
My interests in photography keep moving from the big grand landscape and theatrical light to more abstract imagery. And so the few photos I made in February were about this ‘quiet vision’
This article was previously published in Outdoor Photography Canada (OPC) one year ago. The newest issue of OPC is a visual treat and we highly recommend a subscription if you love outdoor and nature photography!
We know a lot of photographers who only dig out the camera when they travel. It’s easy to understand why. Most of us are inspired by a change in scenery and travel gives us that needed change plus a good dose of visual novelty. Fresh views open our eyes. We are no longer blinded by our contempt for the familiar like we are at home. We see photos everywhere!
But relying on novel experiences to bring out the creative eye is like relying on drugs to make you happy. Once the drug wears off you are miserable… and then to feel good again you need an even higher dose of the drug. For travel-addicted photographers one exotic trip begets another even more exotic trip. To see ‘fresh’, the travel-addicted photographer needs a higher dose of novelty. Soon the photographer gets jaded because they have seen it all.
To get off the roller coaster rush of travel as a forced way of seeing, my partner Samantha and I think that photographers should adopt the 100-Mile diet. Just like the food version where you try to source most of your nutrition locally, the 100-Mile Diet for Photographers asks you to source the bulk of your visual inspiration locally. Doing so will force you to see the magic in the mundane, make something from nothing and grow as a visual artist. You’ll learn to make compelling images of things most people would not even notice. And here is the hidden perk: if you can make evocative images of the everyday world around you, then what will happen when you travel to a new location? Your images will soar because you already have the skills to make great images anywhere. You’ll see the travel destination with the freshest eyes making images that go beyond the clichéd and predictable. Your images will have your unique stamp on them. What could be better?
So how do you start the 100-Mile Diet for Photographers? Easy. Just get out into your neighborhood, local parks, natural areas, the mall, the main street of town or wherever your life takes you day to day. Pretend you are a visitor from a foreign country or an alien from outer space. What you used to take for granted visually, now becomes inexplicable and intriguing. Don’t judge; just shoot anything that catches your eye. Keep it to the details. Visit frequently. It helps to have a small portable camera like a digital point-n-shoot or even your smartphone. You won’t want to be lugging around your giant bag of lenses to the local coffee shop!
A 100-mile Diet helps you develop the essential skills of ‘learning to see’ that seem to elude so many photographers. Both Samantha and I have travelled around the world and photographed incredible places. But it wasn’t until we gave the same respect and attention to our own neighbourhoods that we saw improvement in our creative skills. We believe this skill is so essential (yet so overlooked) that we created a workbook called Learning to See with plenty of fun exercises to get you flexing your artistic muscle! So don’t rely on ‘exciting’ subjects or iconic destinations to make images that in the end have often been done before. Learn to ‘see’ the wonders in your own backyard for a lifetime of creative photography.
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.
Is it just me, or did we seem to have more open, free time as kids than children do today? Likewise, are our adult lives filled to the brim with activities and distractions? When was the last time you took a moment — on purpose — to just sit? No phone, no computer, no spouse and no kids. When was the last time you just spent some time with yourself and your own thoughts?
Maybe for some people, the possibility of being alone without the umbilical cord of the internet tying them to their friends, family and the world yawns ahead like a sentence of doom. But I’m going to put out there that we should schedule more unscripted free time for both ourselves as adults and for our kids. It’s seems like such a rat race today where you must be the first to post something pithy, or you don’t want to miss a second of the stream of data bytes coming from your smartphone. But there’s plenty of research out there that, ironically, to be healthy, creative and happy we must have downtime for our brains and bodies. We must ‘check in’ with ourselves, take the temperature of our emotional health, and hopefully create space to relax. For kids, not having everything scheduled (or over-scheduled) lets them figure out how to entertain themselves (especially if there are blocks of time when they aren’t allowed to plug in to their devices). For adults, we get to play again, maybe even finding weird universes at the bottom of our coffee cups.
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.
The Something from Nothing series is about making compelling images of subjects that most people would overlook or pass by. The other day while hiking in the Kootenay Plains in the Canadian Rockies, I came across a burned out car in a ceremonial area . On seeing the car my heart raced and my brain said, ‘Cool, that is so awesome!” I am sure most photographers reading this blog would love to stumble upon a visual gem like this one! Yet, there might be some of you that have a hard time seeing the beauty in a derelict, flame roasted car. For those of you in the latter camp here is my “something from nothing” on an object which really is “wow, ain’t that something!”
For Allison George, a walk through her neighborhood yielded a harvest of intimate details of the neighborhood houses. Lovely work, Allison!
Mike Dickie tells us that this post on oopoomoo is the first place he has ever displayed a photo on the internet! He is an internet virgin(!)… but we are happy he took the courage to do a Something from Nothing assignment and give it to us to publicly display. Welcome to the big world of sharing on the web Mike!