Here at oopoomoo HQ we are getting set for a busy season of teaching, talking and taking (photos of course).
First up, we are thrilled to be part of a photo print exhibition on September 8 at Resolve Photo in Calgary. The print show is called RAÐLJÓST and the show features the work of fifteen local photographers who’ve traveled to — and fallen in love with — Iceland. Inspired by the Icelandic word “raðljóst” (which translates to “enough light to navigate”) the photographs seek to show Iceland interpreted creatively by each artist. Sam and I got a sneak peak at some of the prints going into the show and we are thrilled to report that you’ll discover an Iceland unlike anything you’ve seen before. And seeing these finely crafted prints in person reminds us that a key aspect of photography is not only posting photos to the web but also the tangible pleasure of viewing them as works of art in the form of prints. Some may even argue that the pinnacle in photography is a finely created print! Rather than show off the works here on the website we encourage you to come in person and enjoy the surprising views and luscious nature of fine art photographic prints of Iceland. For more information please check out this link.
Second, speaking of creative vision and personal expression, we want to remind you that oopoomoo will be in Abbotsford BC on October 22 to present our new show, “The Visionary Photographer”. In this show we’ll cover topics designed to take you into the realm of photographic artistry:
- The Confident Artist and The Art of Visual Perception
- Creative Lens Choice and Camera Controls for Visionary Photographers
- Advanced Compositional Patterns for the Visionary Photographer
- Personal Style and Creative Vision: The Metamorphosis of an Artist
Early bird pricing on this show ends August 31, so be sure to register soon if you plan to go. Plus we’d love to reconnect and meet BC friends old and new.
And finally, you may have noticed the fine work coming from students completing our 7/365 – The Mentored Photo Project eCourse. We are thrilled with the inspiring work of our students and have shared their July results. Watch for more awesome projects from our August students coming soon to the blog! If you have a photo project in you bursting to be seen, we have four private mentorships available this September.
In advance of our Scaretography: Halloween Light Painting Event on October 25, we thought we’d have a little tutorial on light painting so that you can try some spooky effects on your own at any time. We’ll be doing more fun things with flash at Scaretography than just light painting, but this should get you started!
What is Light Painting?
Light painting is a photographic technique in which pictures are made by moving a hand-held light source onto a subject while taking a long exposure photograph. The results are unpredictable and different each and every time which adds to the joy of discovery! I use a few simple steps to set up for light painting.
Back in the good ‘ole film days, getting around the reciprocity problem (the degradation of the film’s sensitivity with loss of light during exposure) required more advanced knowledge of exposure calculation. With today’s digital cameras, you can “guesstimate” your exposure and adjust as needed without having to expertly calculate exposure. Although knowing more about exposure will always make you a better photographer, here is your cheat sheet for easy light painting.
There are only a few simple steps I follow to set up for light painting. First, determine an appropriate subject. You will have to visualize how it will look lit up at dusk. It’s often best to select a single, prominent subject with a clean background. The point is to highlight the lit subject, not to capture a full landscape! Old vehicles in a grassy field, a lone skeletal tree, or a small barn work well for light painting. Often, I will only subtly paint the subject or select certain parts of the image (old tail lights on vehicles work well for this) to bring to life with the flashlight.
Second, buy appropriate flashlights. You will need at least one, and often two is better. Click the flashlight on and evaluate the type of light it provides. Is it a hot, small white light from a compact handheld? Or is it a yellow, larger, less focused light from a big tungsten flashlight? I like to shoot with warmer hued lights with one-million candle power or more. With newer LED lights take a yellow or orange gel and tape it over the light to give a warm glow against the cobalt blue dusk. Having your white balance set to ‘daylight’ or ‘sunny’ will also return a pleasing warm/cool contrast. Ensure that your flashlights are fully charged! (Everyone makes this mistake at least once.)
Third, head out to your subject in the evening before it becomes dusk. You want plenty of light so that you can walk around your subject and determine the most interesting composition. Usually, depending on how early you start and on how light the sky stays during the shoot, only one or two compositions will be taken. It is very difficult to compose and focus as it gets darker, so determine the best composition and set up your camera before it’s dusk. Once focus is achieved, switch to manual focus so your camera will not hunt to focus in the dark. Use a polarizer to help darken the sky. A polarizer will also allow you to start shooting a bit earlier as they remove one to two stops of light. Your camera must be on a tripod for such long exposures, and using a cable release will help prevent any camera movement. If you want to blend parts of several exposures of the light painted image into a final image, then don’t move the camera or tripod during the session!
How do you know when to start taking pictures? Ideally, you will want to take pictures when the ambient light is the same intensity as the sky. But what does this look like? First, determine which direction you are shooting. If your camera is pointing away from the sunset, you may notice that the sky in that direction is darker than the sky just above where the sun went down. This means that you will be able to start shooting sooner if your camera is pointing in that direction than if your camera was pointing toward the sunset. If you have no sky in your picture, then you will need to evaluate the ambient light compared to the sky in general. One trick is to look at your subject and squint your eyes a bit. If the light on your subject seems as bright as the sky, then it’s time to take your first exposure. If the light around your subject still seems a bit brighter than your subject, it may still be too early for a light painting.
When the ambient light and the sky seem about equal in intensity, set your camera to bulb function so that you can have exposures longer than 30 seconds (the longest the shutter will stay open on a camera on shutter or aperture priority setting). Leave your aperture at f16 or f11 to start, although you may have to select a wider aperture like f8 later as it gets darker. Take an exposure at 30 seconds, and press playback to check your histogram (if you don’t know how to view the histogram of the image, refer to your camera’s manual). A histogram is a graph that shows the tonal values of a photograph. Knowing how to read the histogram is the most important part of light painting! You want the image to be properly exposed so that you have enough data when you process the image to avoid noise that results from an underexposed file. A ‘good’ histogram should have most of the data in the centre or centre-right of the graph without any data jamming up against either end of the graph. This is because digital cameras record more information in the brighter tones of the spectrum (represented by the right hand side of the graph) and record less data in dark tones. If your histogram shows data jammed at one or both ends, then data is being lost through clipping: the tonal range of the exposure is too great for the camera to record. If all the data is in the graph, but appears to be concentrated on the left side of the graph, the image is likely slightly underexposed. The actual shape of the graphed data does not matter for our purposes, and it also does not matter if data spikes through the top of the histogram.
The biggest mistake most photographers make when light painting is to take the image, look at the back of their LCD and determine that the exposure is fine because the LCD display looks good. But don’t be fooled! The display you are seeing is not the actual photograph you just took; it’s your camera’s best guess, represented in a small jpeg image, of what your final image will look like. This is why it’s critical to look at the histogram to determine if you have not underexposed your dusk image. On the LCD, the image may look too bright, but ignore this. When you process the image, it will come out looking as your eye saw it at the time.
If at 30 seconds, the data is jammed to the right on the histogram, wait until it gets darker and take another test shot. If the data is contained within the histogram and centre or centre-right, then you are ready to start light painting. Take another exposure of 30 seconds but this time aim your flashlight on your subject. You will want to pass the beam of the flashlight in an even manner over the areas you wish lit up in the 30 second time frame. (If 30 seconds is not enough time for you to pass the flashlight over the areas you wish to cover, wait until it gets darker for a longer exposure time). To avoid hot spots where the flashlight was held too long in one spot, twist your wrist in small circles as you paint and wiggle the beam over the entire surface to be painted. When your 30 seconds is up, check your histogram to ensure all the data is in and slightly balanced to the center or center right without going off either end of the graph. If the subject is too brightly lit by the flashlight, then paint for less than the full exposure time. Continue a few exposures at 30 seconds to get a variety of images to work with back home. The beauty of a light painted image is that no two are the same!
As the light dims, you will quickly find that 30 seconds is not enough time to expose your subject properly. Since you are on the bulb setting, you can keep the shutter open as long as you like (either on timer or with a locking mechanism on a cable release). As soon as 30 seconds produces a histogram that is becoming biased to the left (that is, underexposed), you will need to let in more light. A handy rule of thumb is to double your exposure time. Try a 60-second exposure and check your histogram. As the light continues to dim, double your exposure time if needed for the next photograph. There is no hard and fast rule; the trick is to interpret the histogram and adjust your exposure time as the histogram shows the image is becoming underexposed. When you are up to 4 minutes exposure time, you may wish to dial your aperture to f11 or f8 (if depth of field is not critical) to let even more light into the camera. You can keep shooting as long as you like, but keep in mind at some point the ambient light will not be strong enough to record behind your subject and separate it from the background. This is why light painting works best at dusk or dawn and not when it’s dark out. For long-exposure effects, look for wind-blown grasses or moving clouds. With this easy method, I get consistent results without having to bother with calculations (math is nasty!) or lugging around extra gear.
(This is Part II; click here to read Part I first!)
In this article, we discuss why classroom seminars AND field sessions are synergistic learning tools – don’t skip one in favour of the other! Remember we are using our upcoming Montreal weekend event as a case study to exemplify our point.
Level the Playing Field
So you arrive at your photo destination. As you come into the present moment, you tune into your senses and your mind is engaged. Photographic possibilities start to jump out at you. You take out your camera and begin exploring.
Or…you arrive and have no idea where to start, what to shoot. If this is you, make sure you read Part I and get thee to a seminar on Learning to See, like the one we are giving in Montreal on June 6! Taking a course on perception is your top priority. Don’t register for any field session photography workshop until you practice learning to see!
Ok, you’ve arrived, you’re starting to get in the photographic groove…and you’re struggling with the assignments we’ve given you after our seminar. That’s good! We believe in helping cement the information provided in the full day seminar with targeted assignments designed to develop the three key skills that make a good photographer. Since we concentrate on field technique over digital darkroom work, we ask everyone to shoot JPEG (either raw + JPEG or just JPEG). This levels the playing field in that everyone is working on the same skills at the same time. We want to know if you’ve understood everything we discussed about seeing the nature and quality of light and how it affects tone in, for example, our Montreal seminar Harnessing the Power of Tone. And we want to see you build advanced compositional patterns to convey your photographic idea as demonstrated in Montreal’s Working Advanced Compositional Patterns talk (we are also giving this seminar in Black Diamond, Alberta, May 31). There’s usually a bit of whining when we make photographers hand in their JPEGs without benefit of digital processing. But the danger to be aware of is that ‘fixing’ your images on the computer makes you lazy. If you do most of your creative work on the computer, then you’re a digital artist, not a photographer. There’s nothing at all wrong with this. But we are teaching a photography course, so we want to see your field skills. You might be surprised and invigorated after a session spent focusing on your field skills! And the good news is that when everyone is shooting in-camera JPEGs it really shows that equipment does not matter; great images are often made with the simplest and least expensive cameras.
There’s a reason why we encourage photographers to attend our seminars as well as our associated field sessions and that is because it’s a two-part strategy to learning. You receive the information and then you head out and test your learning. Attending just a field session without the benefit of the Saturday seminar puts you at a disadvantage. This is true for all our workshops, and we structure them this way because we’ve found that people learn the most with this format.
So if you have registered for a field session in Montreal but are saving money by skipping the seminar (you know all that stuff, right?) we strongly advise you to register for both. Did you take the quiz in Part I? Seriously, compared to what most photographers spend on their gear, this seminar costs pennies compared to most photographers’ gear expenditures but will give you more than a year’s worth of education.
And this goes for any photo educational offering you’re considering…how much instruction is offered? How large are the class sizes? The field sessions? Is there a constructive feedback session afterwards to review your learning? Does the instructor build upon concepts taught in class or does the instructor just ‘show up’ to the field sessions? Does the instructor actively engage with you after the seminar either through social media commentary or answers to your email questions? Also, remember photo tours are about location and being guided to photogenic spots, whereas workshops should teach you to be creative no matter where you find yourself. Are you up for being creative?
Nourishing Feedback, not Pablum, Please!
Speaking of feedback, let’s make it count. While it can be gratifying to get ‘likes’ on social media, these are vague and unhelpful. What did the viewer like? What did the viewer even think the image was about? What could be improved?
In our field sessions, we always try and schedule a feedback session after each outing. This not a time of criticism but rather a chance for you to see your work on the big screen and receive suggestions from your peers as to ways to improve and what they liked about your image. We also provide our comments but encourage class participation. Many students have told us that they learned the most during this constructive session. It’s a perfect way to cap off a full and fun weekend of photography!
Investing in a photo event like Montreal’s Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision is about you getting the best value for your buck. It’s about truly becoming a better photographer. So consider your educational options the next time you are thinking of upgrading your gear.
We’ve probably all heard it at some point when showing our images, that insidious insult dressed up as a compliment, “Wow, you must have a really good camera!” Why is it that people think a good photo is the result of good gear? And why do photographers rush out to upgrade to the latest camera body yet drag their feet when it comes to investing in photo education?
We think it’s a big fat myth that buying more and better gear will make you a better photographer, and yet that myth is alive and well out there. We are going to try and debunk this myth using our final photography workshop this spring, Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision in Montreal, June 5-7 as a case example. Tell us if we’ve convinced you. So here goes.
The Camera vs Your Brain
A camera is really just a black box made up of plastic, glass and metal. Your brain, on the other hand, is a marvel: coils and folds of squiggly grey matter are infiltrated with a network of delicate neurons that charge and fire and create – thought! Your life experiences shape your thoughts and interests, and your interests and thoughts create your images. A camera is by nature inert. It takes you, the photographer, to point the camera’s eye to something you deem worth photographing. It is you who decides which settings to use to portray your subject and it is you who pinpoints the split second to press the shutter.
In other words, the camera is like a helpful slave that carries out your bidding. True, a camera can help the photographer by ‘guessing’ at some of the settings required to make certain photos such as is found with certain program modes, but even if you shoot on Auto Everything, you are the one who decides what to photograph. There is always a mind behind the shot, so insinuating that it is the camera that makes a good photo ignores the mind behind the photo.
Three Things Make a Good Photographer
What then makes a good photographer if not gear? Essentially, there are three skills that make a good photographer, and we’ve built our Montreal seminar around all three. First, a skilled photographer is one who can translate his thoughts, interests and experiences about a subject matter into an image. Remember that squiggly grey matter perched atop your spine? The germ of an image starts there, in those firing synapses. For example, in Montreal this June, our first topic in the Saturday seminar is Learning to See: The Art of Perception. This talk covers that crucial skill of being able to quickly perceive photographic potential in a moment in time. If you sometimes think there’s nothing to shoot here, then this is the skill you need to work on. Quite frankly, in our experience teaching photography for years, this is an area where many photographers are weak. No amount of gear is going to tell you what is a good moment to capture. In fact, we sometimes see an inverse relationship between the amount of gear a photographer carries and his ability to see! Gear can be a barrier in the way of true seeing.
Second, not only do you have to be able to recognize the photographic potential in a split second, but you also then need to use every tool at your disposal to churn that moment into a final, complete image. This means understanding the creative power of camera controls such as aperture and shutter speed, and are fluent in the language of photography – composition. Do you know what the elements of visual design are? If not, get thee to an educational seminar! And guess what we teach in Montreal…you guessed it: Harvesting the Power of Tone for Compelling Images and Working Advanced Compositional Patterns in the Landscape.
Third, photographers need to understand themselves, what makes them tick. This is the key to developing personal style. If you don’t know and understand what motivates you to shoot, how can you follow your own creative vision? Do you find yourself copying other photographers’ work? Or are you comfortable with your own way of looking at the world? Creative Vision and Personal Style, our final talk on Saturday, addresses this important topic. By the way, in this talk, we reveal which is more important, vision or style, and why.
Take the Quiz
We’re going to end Part I of this topic with a little test. Grab all your camera gear and accessories and lay ‘em out. Make a list of your gear and its retail value at time of purchase. Now make a list of any dedicated computer equipment and software (e.g. special, high resolution monitors, photo processing software, extra hard drives etc.) and note the cost of this equipment at time of purchase. Tally it all up.
Now think back to this year. What photography talks, seminars or workshops have you attended? Write them down and note their cost. Write down any educational eBooks you’ve purchased and their cost – but only if you’ve read them! Unread educational material does not count nor do photo tours with no educational component. What about the year prior? Tally up the amounts you’ve spent on photo education in the last several years.
Compare the two columns. Does the gear/software column greatly outnumber the photo educational column? Have you spent more than $2000 in gear over the last year or so? More than $5,000? $10,000? If so, perhaps it’s time to invest in yourself, and stop lining retailers’ pocketbooks. The only way to be a better photographer is to invest in quality education. The Montreal weekend ranges from $75 – $95 per event. That’s a steal, folks.
Stay tuned for Part II where we level the playing field in our outdoor sessions and get serious with photo feedback.
We just returned from a 3-day photo seminar with field workshops in Toronto where we met wonderful people and received some very positive feedback about our content, presentation and teaching style. John Weatherburn, past president of the Toronto Digital Photography Club related this to us:
Thanks again for spending the weekend with us. It was a very informative seminar and set of workshops. I have received very positive feedback from our members. I would say more so than with any other speaker!The two of you working together works perfectly. Your complimentary interests illustrate clearly that there is no wrong way. Even using different equipment works well (always a debate in the club: Canon vs. Nikon!).
We love it when we can impart the oopoomoo values of create, inspire and educate to photography. The great thing is we learn just as much from our students as they do from us; it’s truly a collaborative adventure. Thanks, Toronto, for your hospitality and warmth and open hearts!
Next up on our schedule are the following events – we’d love to meet you and help you take your photography to a new creative and artistic level. To learn more about each event just click on the title for the event that interests you.
Winnipeg, Manitoba – May 2 and 3, 2015
Black Diamond, Alberta – May 9, 2015 – Sold Out – wait list only
Edmonton, Alberta – May 22 – 24, 2015 – Sold Out – wait list only
Black Diamond Alberta – May 31, 2015
Montreal, Quebec – June 5 – 7, 2015
Hot off the press! Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, Alberta, has asked us to teach a photography course at their gallery. We are flattered they approached us since we think Bluerock Gallery is one of the best venues showcasing amazing art – many from talented locals. For our topic, Samantha and I decided on one of our most popular and requested topics: camera controls. All too often, photographers vastly under utilize the power of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the impact these humble settings have on the look and feel of your image. Camera controls are commonly taught by people who love jargon and math…we don’t really care for either, so we teach you how to get creative with camera controls in a simple, intuitive way.
So, want to go from confused to creative in just four hours? Even advanced shooters have told us they see the world in a fresh way after we explain the magic of camera controls! There are two dates to choose from, April 12 or May 9. See this link for more. These are our only local workshops scheduled so far for this year, so locals, grab your camera, and a tripod if you have one, and come out to our hands-on, informative and fun workshop!
Below are a few photos illustrating the creative power of camera controls!
Please note: the organizer, Dave Pattinson has suffered a stroke. Please send him your well wishes for a speedy recovery! In the spirit of Dave’s ‘passion for photography’ the show will go on!
Samantha and I will be giving a two hour presentation on The Advanced Grand Landscape this Thursday April 11 at 7:30 PM in Calgary for the Passion for Photography group. Cost is only $20 for members and $30 for non members. To register go here or contact naveedshariat
Grand landscapes can be beautiful to view, but tough to compose well. We’ll be discussing lighting considerations, construction of panoramas and stitches and processing to enhance story among a whole swack of other timely tips. To see a detailed outline simply click on this link! We hope to see you there!
Our job as photographers is to capture the best possible image in the camera – an image that captures mood and the message we want to tell about the subject. Post processing of this image should always enhance or supplement the ‘story’ of the image and should not detract in any way. For example, in the photo of a leaf on Abraham Lake, I made a careful composition that showed the story of the leaf, the ice and the wind. It took me several attempts to pull out the best photo possible from this scene. Once I captured what I wanted in the camera, I turned to the digital darkroom to enhance the message. First, I converted the image to black-n-white to selectively manipulate contrast to bring out the snow and ice patterns. I then added back the original colour information in the photo from a duplicate colour image and then I shifted the colours slightly in the scene to enhance the cold mood but bring out the warmth of the leaf. In the end I think my processing choices enhanced the mood and feel of the photo. To learn how I did the processing on this photo be sure to come to our talk Enhancing Story and Mood in the Digital Darkroom to be held this Monday, January 21st in Cochrane (Note: There’s a catch to this one! You gotta be registered for the Persistent Vision Photography Seminar first!)
These days with all the funky software plug-ins out there most of us tend to go a little gimmicky with our processing choices adding ornamentation over function. If the processing is obvious, your story will be diluted. Samantha and I find that most people fall into the over processing trap especially with HDR photos. For example, in the first pairing of images below the left side of the frame shows one of the five exposures captured for HDR processing . The right side of the frame shows a typical ‘overcooked’ HDR image. This image was not overly exaggerated from the kind of results we commonly see! Yech!
Usually when we process HDR images we try to make the final result look more like our eye saw the photo (see the image below). There is a time and place for grungy, cartoonish, HDR images but we don’t think that place is with the subject above. Why? Because our ‘story’ was not a fake, shiny plastic landscape but a beautiful, natural landscape. We’ll also be talking about our HDR processing workflow in our talk this coming Monday.
In the end, we always ask ourselves: does our processing bring out our story, or is the processing starting to become the main attraction? If our processing doesn’t add, or worse if it detracts from the story, we’ll go back to the drawing board and try again.
This article was previously published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada. If you don’t want to wait nearly 2 years to see these articles then subscribe to this great magazine 😉
Photographers are their own worst editors. We are simply too emotionally invested in our images to be objective about them and, as a result, we keep a lot of images that really should have seen the deep end of the trash bin. A critical skill to develop is to remove our bias toward our work and look at our images with a healthy skepticism.
For me, the ultimate test of a photo’s value is the test of time. Does it still excite you and have meaning a week, month, year and even ten years after you snapped the photo? If it does, then the image is a keeper. But in a practical sense we simply can’t let our images age like wine and come back ten years later for a taste test to pick out the keepers. What we need is a system that lets us be objective in the shorter term.
Many of us come back from a shoot and then edit immediately looking for the ‘killer shots’. Often we use a rating system and rank our favourites as 5-star images. These 5-star images get processed right away; we quickly share them on the web and show them to friends. The 4-star and lower rated images we store on hard-drives, forgotten about until maybe (a big maybe) we revisit them many months later and cherry-pick a couple of ‘over-looked’ images. The remaining images gather pixel dust languishing in a library of forgotten hard-drives. We vow at the beginning of each new year to ‘deal’ with these languishing images but probably never will. Possibly we hope that like wine, the longer these images are ‘aged’, the better they will get. They don’t.
I find if I process images immediately after a shoot that I keep more images than I would if I returned to edit the images at a later date. As well, some of the 5-star images in my initial pick aren’t really that good after all! And surprisingly some images that I initially rank low actually end up being my favorite images. Time removes my emotional attachment and lets me edit more objectively. For instance in a recent shoot from the Cypress Hills in October of last year, I immediately went through the 500 images I shot in four days and kept nearly 100 images. If I had processed all these keepers right away I would have ended up with a whole bunch of filler images and only a few really worth hanging onto. Recently I went back and looked at those 100 ‘keepers’ and tossed away 80 of them I initially thought were great! In the end, time proved to me that there were really only 20 images worthy of adding to my files.
So the moral is that I try to build time into my editing workflow. Immediately after a shoot I will do a preliminary edit. In this edit, I delete obvious errors: photos that have poor focus, bad exposure and flawed compositions are removed. All the rest of the photos I keep and back up on an external hard-drive. Then, and this is the critical key, I wait at least a month before I return to final editing of the photos. After a month all the excitement of the shoot is gone; I have moved on emotionally, and I can be objective and ruthless. I become a machine on the delete key!
In this final edit, the images I initially thought were killer have lost a lot of lustre and some overlooked gems emerge. I see the shoot with fresh eyes and I can quickly pull out images that have lasting impact and clarity of message. In the end, I keep ten percent or less of the images that I shot. The rest are permanently deleted. My system is lean and mean and my image library is filled with only my best work. Time is your best friend when it comes to objective photo editing: use it wisely! To learn more about how Samantha and I use time and the delete key to make better editing choices be sure to come to our Enhancing Story and Mood in the Digital Darkroom talk on January 21, 2013 in Cochrane, Alberta (NOTE: this talk is only offered to Persistent Vision workshop participants, so don’t delay if you were planning on coming to that event March 15-17, 2013.)