Before there was the crazed hunt for candy, Halloween was a celebration of life before the dark and decay of winter. Like all good ancient holidays, its a nuanced tradition which reminds us to keep close and treasure our loved ones and while remembering and honouring the spirits of our ancestors – lest they become peeved and spoil our morning cereal milk. In a world of uncertainty, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets (you never know who may be lurking about). So, in the sense of paying a little homage to that which we don’t always understand, we are sharing a couple of images made on public lands of the prayer flags ceremoniously placed by the First Nations people in the area. Without knowing the prayers behind the placement of the strips of cloth, we can still appreciate and respect the haunting and lovely nature of the objects themselves.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
We just wrapped up our Glory of Autumn photography workshop in the Canadian Rockies. We had a great group of photographers with diverse interests – watch the blog for a sampling of their photos from the workshop coming soon! Here are a few shots that Darwin and I made during the workshop.
A little scouting before the workshop began seemed a good idea.
Abraham Lake was full! The shoreline scattered with leaves made for unique shots.
We had fun playing with the glorious aspen colour.
We each tried to shoot beyond the ‘classic’ landscape image.
Anyone who follows the oopoomoo blog probably knows about our dog, Brando, who starred in several of our photo instructional videos including Proper Use of Zoom Lens for Story-Telling Photos. Brando left us on August 26 for fields filled with ground squirrels, rabbits and jars of peanut butter and no one to tell him ‘leave it’ 😉
Anyone who has had a dog knows how they wag and wiggle their way into your hearts. But even more so dogs teach us important lessons about life and Brando was no exception. Below are twenty life lessons we learned from Brando:
Lesson 1: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially if you only get fed breakfast!
Lesson 2: Be adaptable… where ever you are is the best place to be.
Lesson 3: Be direct, tell people what you need and want.
Lesson 4: Good hygiene is important; keep your privates parts in order!
Lesson 5: Leave your mark every where you go.
Lesson 6: Puppies are annoying but they deserve patience.
Lesson 7: Always stand up for yourself and your ideals.
Lesson 8: Protect the ones you love.
Lesson 9: Only dumb dogs work for free!
Lesson 10: Don’t look a food gift in the mouth.
Lesson 11. Always lick the hand that feeds you.
Lesson 12: Always lick little kids; they are often covered in food residue.
Lesson 13: Parking lots are gold mines for tasty snacks!
Lesson 14: Everything is an opportunity.
Lesson 15: Don’t waste your time with the wrong people!
Lesson 16: Never complain about things you must do for those you love.
Lesson 17: Stop and smell… everything!
Lesson 18: Trust your instincts.
Lesson 19: There is no bad time for a nap (except at breakfast!)
Lesson 20: Be patient; rewards will come your way.
Going forward in our life, we’ll take Brando’s lessons to heart. If your dog has taught you important life lessons, let us know in the comment section below.
We started our Artists in Residence program at Aurum Lodge last week on July 1 (Canada Day). After two weeks of intensive packing and cleaning our house for the renters, we packed up Betty-Tina (our 1976 Trillium travel pod) and planned to be on the road by noon. But our trailer lights did not work and so one of our nice neighbours in Cochrane, an electrician, came over to help us out. A couple of hours later we were ready to go and the last thing we packed from the house were Sam’s home-made rhubarb juice popsicles!
In hindsight, travelling on Canada Day was probably not the best choice especially because we plodded along with our RAV-4 pulling Betty-Tina at 80-90 km per hour. I’m sure we were the cause of a few muffled expletives but we were happy sucking on the popsicles and enjoying the scenery. Canada Day was the start of a crazy hot week here in Alberta with high temperatures and dry conditions after a rainy June. Once at the lodge we settled into our wee cabin in the woods that lodge-owners Alan and Madeleine had pimped out for our arrival. Betty-Tina is parked in the trees ready for us should we need to give up our cabin for guests. It took us two days to unload and get settled. On day 2 we were sitting outside our cabin enjoying coffee and a scone slathered in honey that we’d brought from the Farmer’s Market in Cochrane when a black bear meandered around the corner of the cabin units. This was a big surprise more for us and our dog than the bear which was eventually shooed away by Alan. Alan managed to snap a few photos while we retreated into the safety of the cabin. We now look twice before opening the door with scone in hand.
The great thing about hanging out in a lodge is that you meet awesome people. On day 5 Sam and I had our first private instruction clients, Rob and Michelle Avis. Rob and Michelle booked a full day with us and they were a delight to hang out with (and both were quick studies so the lessons went quickly!) The Avis’ are leading edge permaculture instructors and have been a force in the permaculture movement in Alberta. They offer a two week permaculture design course complete with a certificate at the end. Sam took the course last year and it changed her life. I am taking this two-week course starting in a few days myself and I look forward to being charged about this exciting learning prospect! Personally Sam and I think that permaculture is the biggest bang for the buck if we want to heal the planet. Here at oopoomoo we’ve always looked for ways to minimize our impact on the planet – plus we would love to learn how to grow more of our own food in a challenging climate like Cochrane.
The other thing of note is that on day 3, a wildfire (likely caused by lightening) erupted about 30km west of Aurum Lodge. The billowing, dirty smoke was striking to look at as it rose behind the mountains. We got a few shots of a blood-red sun through curtains of smoke before the ashy air settled through the entire lake valley. It’s a bit challenging to breathe at times until the wind picks up, but with a wildfire there’s a lot to photograph including the golden light reflected through the orangey clouds and the misty look to the forest. The fire is now under control so we’re not threatened at present except for our lungs when the wind changes directions.
Being out here is busy. There’s always lots to do, and we help Alan and Madeleine out from time to time as well (except maybe me who is likely banned from serving after I dropped an entire tray of dishes). Even though we are in a unique situation living in a mountain lodge, we still need to carve out precious creative time. For everyone creative time needs to be scheduled just like anything else. Make it a priority and make sure you get it done first thing everyday!
So, we’d like you to join us in a creative challenge every month. This month the task is to take your least used lens (or focal length if you only own one zoom lens) and head out four times this month, using just that lens/focal length. Sam’s least used lens is her 60mm macro lens. She always leaves it out of her pack so I told her she needs to go out this month and make some photos with it. My least used landscape lens is my 85mm f1.4 lens. I always use it for portraits but rarely for landscape and so I will be sure to get out at least four times this month doing landscape work with this lens. Share your story of your least used lens and the images you make in July on our oopoomoo Facebook group for feedback or comments!
From time to time, we receive inquires about what is included in our instructional photography workshops and what a participant can hope to achieve by attending. Actually, I made that up. Hardly anyone asks us those questions (see here for why). But since each workshop is different, we have started this new series to go into a little more depth about a particular oopoomoo workshop. If you’ve been considering one of our current workshop offerings, here is a little more information that should help you make your decision.
Not all workshops are created equally. Choose wisely.
So, if you didn’t click that link we provided in the first paragraph, may we gently suggest you take the time to do so now. oopoomoo photography workshops aren’t the usual run-of-the-mill, ‘everyone line up and shoot’ event; our focus is on you and your learning. We also throw in some helpful criteria to evaluate any workshop. Past participants have told us that oopoomoo workshops are special. Read this article first to discover why.
Getting Bad in the Badlands
Whether something is worth visiting depends not on where it is, but your interests and goals in heading there in the first place. Yes, we are about to make the argument that the Alberta prairie is just as exotic and extreme a place as the Amazon (and interestingly, just as endangered from climate change). Just think: if you were so unfortunate as to have lived your entire photographic life in the tropics, caressed by warm breezes and drinking coconut milk all day, well, things would be pretty boring!
Ok, maybe that’s a stretch. We could all enjoy more coconut.
But what the jungle doesn’t have is that herby, sweet, clean, crisp prairie spirit. You haven’t really felt insignificant until you’ve looked to the horizon and seen nothing but a strip of rippling grass bending under a sky at once benevolent and maleficent. Everything under that sky gets stripped to its basic compositional elements of bone, wire, steel. Under a sky like this, a photographer finds out what he or she is made of.
So if it’s location you’re after, this is it. As Darwin frequently puts in his blog posts (and Sam frequently edits out) it just doesn’t get any better than this! In this case, we both agree. The prairie is the bomb. During this workshop, we dream the nights away in a family-owned, treasured, historical mansion. We journey to Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park to photograph the sun cresting (or descending) the lip of a cliff so sudden and unexpected it was used as a tool to trap stampeding bison to their deaths so that First Nations tribes could survive the harsh winter to come. (Did we mention this workshop is in August during some of the prairies’ most clear, beautiful skies, and NOT during the stark, harsh winter? Jus’ sayin’.)
Sure, you can find an old car or two, hulking in the grass near a back road somewhere. But have you ever approached the property owner for permission to photograph said vehicle? Can be scary. Rest assured you are welcome at this junkyard delight! Wander at will for a few hours in the autowrecker’s boneyard (just avoid the crushing machine).
Old Buildings (Not Just any Old Stuff)
Along with staying in an historic (and possibly haunted by a friendly ghost??!) mansion, we are also situated on the grounds of the old Trochu townsite complete with a handful of preserved buildings (including a hospital and school – not haunted to our knowledge). Explore these during your downtime, but save energy for our trip to an historic town east of Trochu to lightpaint the train station and character buildings of this unique gem of a town! Bring your flashlight to experiment with light painting these period structures.
Meet Your Fellow Participants!
This all sounds pretty good so far, but a key benefit to oopoomoo workshops is the learning opportunity available to participants from each other. With such a small group and two photo instructors, you get the benefits of private mentorship with the bonus of feedback from your fellow shooters. No two photographers see and experience the same location in the same way. How do you quantify the value of your peers’ feedback during the workshop? We don’t know, but we have heard time and again how helpful it was to see another photographer’s interpretation of the same place. With such an intimate group, you won’t have shooters in your way but you’ll still have new friends to be able to share your work for constructive feedback and creative inspiration.
oopoomoo Workshops – Join the Crew!
If we haven’t covered your concerns in this post or on our description of the workshop, feel free to email us at email@example.com. Or scout past participants’ work in our facebook group, oopoomoo Photography Workshops, (it’s an open group; send your request to join).
And now, to whet your appetite…the awesome work of some of our past past participants!
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!
This week is the eighth anniversary of my first date with Samantha. Our first date was a comedy of errors, all of my best laid plans went south fast – think of me as a male version of Bridget Jones, only more hairy. Looking back all I can do is shake my head and laugh. Frankly I am surprised Sam agreed to a second date!
So what does all this have to do with photography? A lot… trust me it will all come full circle.
When Samantha and I went out to do photography together I noticed something kind of weird. Sam spent a lot of time not shooting. She seemed to be just standing around. I would ask, “How’s it going?” “Perfect,” she would reply. I would continue madly scurrying about shooting this and that and Sam would still be in the same spot looking around. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh, I’m just watching the clouds roll by.” I thought to myself that she just was not into photography that much. But back home, I would see her photos and they were amazing. She found stuff I never even noticed (were we in the same spot?) and she made images that were so uniquely hers. No one could ever copycat a Sam image. There was something about her images that showed a deeper connection between her and the scene. Something at times I’ve felt missing in my photos. What’s going on?
Over the years I’ve learned that Sam standing around does not mean she isn’t doing photography. On the contrary, it means she is actually looking around, connecting with the scene first and only then capturing that connection with her camera afterwards. Most photographers I know, myself included, rush headlong into the world with their face buried behind the camera. The camera comes out first, questions are asked later. Sam approaches a scene the opposite way. The questions are asked first. “Why I am attracted to this spot? How does this subject make me feel? Why is that animal doing that? What is it like to be grass in this windy field?” Sam asks a lot of whys and only after really looking and pondering a subject will she pull her camera out.
What I have learned from Sam is that the act of photography is not really important; actual seeing and understanding the subject is the key. Immerse yourself into the subject and not into the mechanism of making a photo. Too often photographers are so worried about the gear, the technique, and the results they hope to get that they forget about asking themselves about the subject and about how they feel about the subject. To make meaningful images there has to be a connection between you and the subject you are photographing. Too often that connection is not made and superficial meaningless images are the result. Once I started to actually look at and think about my subjects and stopped just rushing in to make photos, my photography improved significantly. The slow, thoughtful approach really works. I started watching the clouds roll by too.
So back to our first date… although almost everything was a disaster (from the meal to the movie) Sam just sat back and watched (and laughed). But she took the time to watch the clouds go by. She liked the potential in the scene and so she revisited the location many more times and finally decided that she could make a meaningful photo there. 🙂
To learn more about learning to see check out our eBook on the subject.
I used to pride myself on being a photographer who could visualize a photo in my head and then go out in the field and make it happen. When it all came together I felt really creative. For example, the cover of our latest eBook 50 at 50 features a canoe at sunrise on George Lake in Killarney Park in Ontario. I had the idea of a sunrise photo of a canoe on a lake in the Canadian Shield for long time. Once I saw George Lake, I knew this was the place to make the image I had in my head. So I rented a canoe and scouted the shoreline for a spot that lined up with sunrise and the next morning I paddled out to the location in the dawn light and made two compositions of my idea.
Much of my photographic career was based on expectations. I made trips planned around flower blooms, full moons, prime fall colours or spring thunder storms. There was always something I expected and wanted to capture. If the flower bloom failed, the moon was hidden by clouds, the leaves had blown off the trees, or the storm cell never formed, I felt personally affronted… might as well pack up and go home… it ain’t gonna happen! Of course, if it all came together I took full credit for the result and patted myself on the back for being so clever.
But of course over the years I learned that where one opportunity is taken away a myriad of new ones are given to you, if only you are open to seeing them. And the latter really only happens if you can let go of expectations. It took me awhile to learn this lesson but once I did, I found a whole new world opened up to me and the creative energy flowed. No matter what the light or the conditions, there are always great things to photograph everywhere if we just learn to see beyond our expectations.
The rise of photo sharing on the internet has really ramped up photographer’s expectations. Now we see amazing images from everywhere and when we go to visit these places we expect we are going to see and capture images like we see on the net. I was reminded of this phenomenon this past weekend when a slew of photographers descended on Abraham Lake to make images of the famous ice bubbles. Well nature did her thing and deposited a covering of fresh snow on the lake. The bubbles were buried; the photographers were bummed out. Many went home dejected that the weekend trip was a waste.
For photographers who let go of expectations, the fresh snow magically transformed otherwise mundane scenes into magic. Now we had sugar-frosted river shorelines, pen and ink etched mountain tops and a canvas of white laid out beneath the forest. The new opportunities were exciting. The creative photographers in the crowd came away with cards bursting with fresh images, the photographers with expectations left with only disappointment. I am glad I finally learned the lesson that expectations kill creativity. I hope this post gets you thinking about your expectations.
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.