Nature photographers like their landscapes pristine; generally, we don’t want to see any ‘hand of man’ in our pictures but rather we want to present nature in her purest and finest form. So we venture forth in hopes of recording clean and crisp mountain, desert, and forest landscapes. When nature photographers encounter atmospheric haze it dampens their enthusiasm for making pictures like chores ruin the day of a kid on summer holidays. We know of many photographers who have cancelled trips to areas like the Canadian Rockies when they heard that forest fires have obscured the clear alpine skies. It’s a shame that our preconceptions of what’s good and what’s bad colours what and how we take photos. Atmospheric haze can offer up unique opportunities for stunning photography if we’re open to seeing beyond our expectations.
Atmospheric haze results when smoke, dust and other dry particles accumulate in relatively dry air. Most of the time we blame human activity on atmospheric haze and consider it un-natural. For example, in the fall, activities from the harvest of cereal crops stirs up dust and particulates that results in hazy conditions. Fires burning, dust from gravel roads and particulate pollution from industry also creates atmospheric haze. But atmospheric haze has been around longer than humans. Lightning strikes burn vast tracts of forest, volcanoes spew out tonnes of particulate matter, wind storms churn up dust from dunes… the list goes on. So rather than fight or avoid haze, embrace it! Haze is a natural part of nature.
Atmospheric haze does several interesting things that can be used by the creative photographer. First, it reduces contrast in the scene due to the scattering of light by the particulate matter. These low contrast scenes look moody, ethereal and even painterly. Second, haze selectively scatters light waves with shorter wavelengths, like blue, being scattered more than red wavelengths. This is why haze and smoke look blue – the blue wavelengths bounce off and are recorded by our eyes (and cameras). Red wavelengths tend to pierce through the particulate matter and so in backlit situations we see warm colours coming through the haze. Anyone who has seen the sun through thick smoke knows the sun appears as a reddish ball even at mid-day because only the red wavelengths of light are passing through the smoke. As photographers, we can use this natural filtering effect of light bouncing off of or moving through haze to add further mood to our photographs. Indeed, atmospheric haze creates incredible mood and ambience. Just ask anyone who has travelled to India or China whether haze has added to the mood of their travel photos. You’ll get a resounding yes!
And so, when it’s hazy, don’t give up. Your expectations of clear, crisp, and contrasty nature scenes has evaporated. Advanced shooters see the potential in the murky skies. Look for scenes where the blue, low contrast light works with the subject to give a dream-like mood. Or, find situations where the glowing warm backlight creates an ethereal glow. Some of my favorite images have been created when nature (or human activity) created atmospheric haze and I was open to possibilities beyond my expectations. Rather than the haze being a nightmare that destroyed my nature outing, it became a dream that allowed me to create memorable images. Happy hazy shooting!
Here at oopoomoo HQ we enjoy helping people become better photographers (e.g. hone their craft) but what truly gets us excited and what we LOVE to do is help photographers become artists. We are all creatures born to create, and in photography the image is the conduit for personal expression. Channeling your vision through that conduit is easy if you know how to use your tools (the technical part of photography) AND if you are in touch with yourself, honour who you are and know what you have to say (the visionary part of photography). To help with both these aspects of photography, we are offering small group mentorships this summer designed to immerse you in the technical craft and artful expression of photography. Where will your personal vision take you?
For us, no other other tool in the camera bag offers as many technical and creative advantages as the tilt-shift lens. With a tilt-shift lens you can correct keystoning in-camera, make seamless horizontal and vertical panoramas, create giant, megapixel monster images, alter the plane of focus for incredible apparent sharpness independent of aperture, and manufacture dreamy, blurred and miniaturized-looking images. And, best of all, every one of these techniques is created in-camera with nary a pixel altered by less capable software substitutes! The possibilities are almost endless. In the hands of an artist, a tilt-shift lens is a superhero paintbrush! To create art you still must master the brush, but once you do, your creativity will be unleashed and your photography will never be the usual ho-hum. This three-hour hands-on workshop will have you the master of the Tilt Shift lens so that you can use its potential to express your creative vision!
The Mentored Photo Project is a week of intense self-discovery through photography. With the guidance of us, your mentors, Sam and Darwin, you will conceive of, plan and execute a small photography project. A mentored photo project engages many different creative skills and is a rewarding way to transform your ideas into a guided, published reality. Several of our past mentored students have gone on to expand their projects in a way that has positively influenced their development as creative artists. Limited dates available! Register before May 31 and save 40%!
This full day seminar in Medicine Hat, Alberta covers The Language of Light in Landscape Photography, Harnessing the Power of Tone for Compelling Images, Working Advanced Compositional Patterns in the Landscape, and Putting it all Together: Creative Landscape Imagery. We have a special announcement regarding this seminar…we’ve opened up a special offering of our popular online course, Resolve: Discover your Creative Self for seminar attendees! We’re also pricing this informative and insightful course at $95 (regular price $150) to encourage everyone to participate in this unique course! See you at the seminar!
Each month we send out a newsletter to our oopoomoo newsletter subscribers with an assignment for the month. In March, we wanted photographers to show us a non-iconic view of an iconic location. We themed the assignment #league_landscape in honour of our new publishing project League magazine (which is now open for subscriptions and submissions). There was a lot of fabulous non-iconic assignment images shown by photographers in our oopoomoo Facebook group but one photographer, Janice Kretzer-Prysunka, really stood out with her portfolio of personal takes at iconic locations. Great work Janice!
If you’ve been in photography long enough you’ll get a request from someone to use your pictures in exchange for ‘exposure’. What that means is they want the benefits of your fine photos but don’t want to pay you. Having the privilege of them publishing your photo is reward enough… or so they say. The funny thing is whenever we get these requests they are usually from large multi-national corporations with deep pockets… and a big advertising budget… and yet they won’t pay for quality images. The promise of them exposing your work to a wide audience is often hard to resist but we have found from experience that such exposure always falls flat.
On the other hand, when it comes to small community groups with no budget for photography they will often bend over backwards to try and pay you and give exposure that is respectful and meaningful. These groups need great visuals and they know the value of the image. Samantha and I love working with local groups who have causes we believe in because they offer the best kind of exposure. We get to meet real people, develop friendships and feel like we make a difference in the community. And of course we are happy to provide our services for free because we feel great helping them do good work. And feeling great charges up our creative juices and we get excited about photography all over again! Now that is the best kind of exposure!
What do you do in for ‘exposure’ and how has it worked out for you? We love to hear about it!
Darwin and I have a secret photo place we go to. It’s close by, it’s easy to access and it almost always delivers something. Here are some images from an outing to the historic Cochrane Ranche site made last spring.
We only spent just over an hour, but had a much higher ‘keeper rate’ than usual from a photo outing. Normally, we delete around 90% of the images from a photo shoot. (Yes, DELETE, as in permanently toss. Hey, junk is junk! By now we usually appreciate the difference between a good image and a mediocre one – and we still have those “what was I thinking?” stinkers that also end up in the digital trash can.) But our keeper rate from this last spring visit was over 80%! This makes us very happy. Here’s the breakdown:
Darwin: 46 exposures, 16 unique compositions, 13 keepers
Sam: 42 exposures, 18 unique compositions, 15 keepers (ahem, note my slight edge in quantity if not quality…)
Notice also that, even though we are sometimes standing shoulder-to-shoulder, we still come away with our own unique style with the same subject matter (Darwin always warms things up!) Good honeypots offer a variety of ways to interpret a place for the creative shooter.
Do you have a local photo honeypot? Where do you head when you have limited time but are hoping for good returns?
Here at oopoomoo we are interested in people who have carved their dreams out of the impenetrable bedrock of societal structure. One local person who has done just that and who is a huge inspiration to us is Jackie Skrypnek. For years Jackie has quietly volunteered behind the scenes in the local food, environment and social sustainability movements. Jackie puts in the work because she believes a better world is possible. She is not looking for accolades or awards; she is looking for results.
Jackie, Samantha and I all have Permaculture Design Certificates (PDCs) from Verge Permaculture in Calgary. Part of the mandate or being a “permie” is to take action and do something that makes a difference in the world. Jackie has done just that. She has transformed her backyard from lawn into an ecologically sustainable food production centre which provides fresh, organic food for her family and friends. And she and her husband, Bryan, have built a passive solar tiny home in their backyard that will operate as an educational B+B teaching people about passive solar design, smaller footprint living and permaculture gardening principles.
The tiny home is only 247 sq feet but packs in sleeping, bathroom, kitchen, living, and dining areas. Jackie designed the tiny home and Jackie and Bryan built it themselves — it’s a work of art! Jackie battled the town bureaucracy to make the first tiny home B+B in Cochrane happen and now, through her perseverance, Jackie’s dream is ready to share with the world. On December 4, from 1 – 3 PM, Jackie is having an open house in Cochrane so you can see the tiny home for yourself and maybe even win a one night stay (there is a draw!). For details on the open house just download this PDF. If you can’t come, we’ve taken a few photos to show you this amazing little tiny home. Congratulations Jackie and Bryan! Cochrane is proud of you!
The Hereabouts Tiny Home website is now live for bookings!
Highway 762 is different things to different people; just another road on their way to somewhere else, a destination for cyclists and motorcyclists, a place to drive slowly while viewing the scenery, the route for an annual cattle drive; and probably more besides. I intend to peel back my familiarity with the subject in an attempt to reveal what I see as the essence of this short, 22 km highway.
Meet Chris Bone. Chris is someone who travels Highway 762 a lot – whenever he wants to get anywhere from his home, in fact. While there may be more iconic stretches of pavement in the world, 762 has its own particular charm. But if you are setting a mentored project for yourself, and you want to push yourself to see something… deeper than scenery, more unexpected than cliché, is a road a good subject matter to choose?
It’s certainly not an easy choice! That’s Chris’ project statement above, and his portfolio of ten images below. In some ways, Chris was easy to mentor: he needed little guidance on goal-setting, articulating his idea or curating a final collection. We think he has come up with a very thoughtful story about Highway 762 as portrayed in his photo essay below. We suspect Chris will continue to travel everyday roads and come away with something unique to say about the experience.
For previous students’ mentored projects, click here.
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.
We love it when photographers get creative.
We also love making mentorships a weeny-teeny bit challenging for our students. Pam Jenks confessed at the outset of this mentorship that she loves “big, spectacular landscapes” but when in the field struggles a bit to see compelling leading lines or interesting foregrounds. Her initial idea involved layers. We liked that concept, but wanted to make things a bit more interesting…Pam’s job was not to photograph just simple layers, but to make an image where layers were paramount and the first impression…overlaid upon what on second look is straightforward, raw nature. No post-processing props, no glory light or dazzling colour (ok, a little colour)…Pam’s images required careful, objective seeing in the field and strong composition work.
Here is Pam’s project statement:
I want to create a collection of images where the viewer first notices layers (lines/rectangles) and then secondly sees what was used to create those layers. I’ll do this by creating abstract images; the realism of the landscape or natural scene will be hidden in those layers.
Ten of her images are below. We think she did very well, don’t you?
In fact, we think more photographers should delve as deeply into their subject matter as Pam did in this mentorship – Shrek and Donkey think so too – because everybody loves parfaits!
From the movie, Shrek:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. CAKE! Everybody loves cake! Cakes have layers!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait.”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!
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.