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!
It’s hard to believe but it was 10 years ago this week that my guidebook How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies was released!
In 2004, my career as a photographer was suffering because my main source of income, stock photography, had taken a big hit after the market shocks following 9/11 in 2001. I needed something to rejuvenate my career. So I came up with the idea of writing a photographers’ guide book to the Canadian Rockies, a region I knew and loved well. I pitched the idea to a publisher and in April of 2004, with an advance from the publisher in my pocket, I headed to the Rockies to shoot new images and do on-the-ground research for the book. I finished shooting and writing in September of 2004 and turned the manuscript over to publisher who released it in April of 2005. Once the publisher saw the photos I submitted for the guide book, they asked if I would also be willing to do a coffee table book as a companion piece. They called the book Dances with Light – The Canadian Rockies and it was released at the end of April 2005. Both books became Canadian best sellers and each went through three sucessive printings. I’m sure the books would have sold even more copies but the publisher went bankrupt because they expanded too big, too fast. Unfortunately, both books are now out of print. New copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies now sell on Amazon starting at $250.oo! It’s original price was $14.95. Crazy.
Once the publisher went out of business, I bought the remaining copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies (HTPTCR) and sold them through my website – sales were brisk! Once those books were gone, I asked Stephen DesRoches to help me update and design the content as eBooks for specific regions of the Canadian Rockies – we called these eGuides. I took the original content of HTPTCR, added new locations, more photos and updated the descriptions and sold the eGuides by park and by season. Later, when Samantha and I formed our joint company, oopoomoo, we added new locations (the Kootenay Plains) that were not in the original book. And finally, we asked John Marriott, the premier wildlife photographer of the Rockies, to write a title on wildlife photography for the HTPTCR series of eGuides. The result is our eight title library on the Canadian Rockies. Many, many photographers have used our eGuides over the years and our inbox is full of high praise from photographers grateful to us for saving them time and getting them to awesome locations in the right light. In fact, we know of several photographers who have used our eGuides to help them take people on Canadian Rockies photo tours. You know you did a good job when others can take your information and successfully design a photo tour!
To celebrate 10 years of guiding photographers to the right place at the right time either through our eGuides or through our tours and workshops, we are bundling our complete collection of Rockies eGuides into one specially priced package. To buy these eGuides individually costs $80, but now you can buy all eight eGuides for only $60 (basically, you get two eGuides for free). Happy Anniversary!
Stay tuned to this blog because Sam and I will be celebrating this milestone by sharing some of our unpublished Canadian Rockies photos. It’s still a place that makes my heart swell with happiness. We would only add one little plea to this post…please, as Albertans, Canadians and passionate photographers from all over the world, let’s take care of this region and treat it with the respect it deserves.
As many of you know, Samantha and I are taking a sabbatical from our busy workshop teaching schedule to concentrate on our own photography and projects in 2015. We do have a limited number of teaching seminars in the spring but we won’t be doing field workshops out of Aurum Lodge in the Canadian Rockies in 2015. Our final field workshop ended with November’s Fire and Ice workshop and we had a great time. We had a group of dedicated and talented photographers who made the most of this year’s unseasonably warm weather. Ice was hard to find and the only fire we got was from overheating in our winter gear! Nevertheless, our crew was open to what nature gave us and we think you’ll agree based on the photos below that no matter what the light or the weather there is always something amazing to photograph if you are open to seeing.
November is the month that has the least visitors coming to the Rockies. It is too cold to camp, no ski hills are open yet, and most photographers prefer the big colours of September and the winter wonderland of February. But I love November because it’s an awesome transition season from autumn to winter. The lakes are fringed with ice but still have open water. The light is low and sweet most of the day. Fresh snow can sugar-frost the peaks and the forests. There are a lot of opportunities to find little surprises suspended in ice and the day length is so civilized (no early rising for sunrise and sunset happens before supper time). Plus there are just so few people, you have the place to yourself. It was for all these reasons that I have been doing Fire and Ice tours in the Rockies since 2007. This year, 2014, Samantha and and I are running the Fire and Ice outing as a workshop which means it’s an intensive learning, shooting and critique-based experience where we will hone the participants’ creative vision. We have a couple of spots left in this workshop November 4 – 9, 2014. Come out and see what you can do with this crazy time of seasonal transition. Below are 20 favorite images I have made on Fire and Ice outings.
This article was originally published in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine several years ago. Be sure to subscribe to see the latest work from great photographers across Canada.
Chasing the Icon
Photographers are like birders. For a lot of birders, what matters most is the sighting of a species so you can check off that bird from your list. The more species sighted the better. The same is true for many photographers; the number of iconic locations captured adds notches to your photography belt. Taj Mahal? Got it! Delicate Arch? Nabbed! Niagara Falls? You bet! But does a portfolio full of the grand wonders of the World make you a better photographer? I doubt it.
The internet has made finding, knowing and sharing information about photo locations very easy. Do a little research, look at a few photos online and you’ll know exactly where and when to go get the best sighting. And once you get to an icon you’ll line up with hundreds of other photographers all trying to make the same shot. What’s the point?
In the past, the portfolios of photographers were full of work from lesser known local areas, and the images showed more creative vision because people were shooting for themselves and not trying to copy someone else’s iconic image. In short, there was a personal stamp on each photographer’s work because they were reacting to the scene personally.
Fast forward to the app-driven ‘iPhotography’ world of today and everything looks the same. In the portfolios I review, I see all the same trophy locations, with similar compositions, all processed with the same software plug-ins. The results are homogenous and boring. What has happened to personal expression?
I think what’s happened is that we’ve lost touch with why we go out to make photos in the first place. For most of us who do nature photography, we go out because we want to connect with nature. The more we actually take the time, look around and be in nature, the better our photography will be. A National Geographic photographer once said that the way to get good enough to work for the magazine was to choose one subject or location, preferably close to home, that you can revisit over and over again and really get to know well. The better you know the subject or location, the deeper you’ll dig to create unique images with your personal stamp. And the more your personal style emerges, the more likely you’ll be sought after by the magazine.
For me, I’ve found that when I travel if I just visit one or two spots and concentrate on getting to know those locations, then my photography soars. If I chase icons and try to capture as many locations as possible, then my photography and the experience of the trip is unremarkable. So, just like the birder who specializes in one or two species and has a depth of knowledge and personal experience with those species, so too will the photographer who moves beyond the icon checklist encourage a deeper engagement and portrayal of their subjects.
This week we are hosting our Beyond the Icon: Intimate Landscapes of the Canadian Rockies photography workshop where we’ll help our participants bring out their creative vision. I am sure we’ll be blown away by the images made during this workshop as each photographer digs into their well of personal seeing. If you have time this November and you are interested in an intensive creative learning experience we do have a couple of spots left in our Fire and Ice in the Canadian Rockies workshop where we’ll visit the edges of fall and winter in a time when few photographers visit the Rockies. Nothing inspires creativity more than having to look beyond the obvious and November always pushes us to see deeper.
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!
Hey everyone! Darwin and I are really excited to announce that, starting July 1, we are going to be Artists in Residence at Aurum Lodge! This is the same eco-lodge which hosts many of our photography workshops and is located within one of our favourite landscapes on planet Earth...the Canadian Rockies! This Artists in Residence program is part of a larger commitment to creativity for oopoomoo, and we want you to share in the journey – please join us! Read on to learn more about why we’re making this move and how we hope to share our experience with you.
A Passion for Photography
As many of you know, last June Alberta (the province in which we live) was struck by some of the worst flooding in Canadian history. After days of pounding rain, many towns situated near mountain-fed rivers and creeks were inundated by surging, raging waters. The economic heart of the city of Calgary was shocked into abandoned stillness by the frothy anger of a changeling river; it was surreal to watch the incoming footage as a normally placid, rippling blue Bow River turned into an insatiable, banks-crumbling maw in just a few bare hours. Costly clean up is ongoing.
We weren’t directly affected by flooding in our neck of the woods but, for many Albertans, the flood devastation served a visceral reminder of the power of nature and spurred a dialogue about how climate change impacts our communities and our future. It also raised the issue of whether the fast pace of resource extraction pursued by Alberta needed to be re-examined – and interestingly many people we spoke to mentioned an interest in slowing the pace of their own lives and living a more fulfilled, healthy, creative life.
These conversations really resonated with us. We started oopoomoo to encourage photographers to invest in their artistic development within the larger context of a healthy planet and vibrant communities. We’ve frequently written about the need to balance work and life and the importance in investing in your creativity in ways that minimize the impact of the pursuit of photography on the earth’s resources. The flood of 2013 sparked awareness in our community about the hidden costs of our fast-paced, consumptive lifestyle… and reminded us personally that we hadn’t been paying as much attention to our own creative goals as we should.
We decided it was time for that to change. For one year, we would rent our house in Cochrane and would run oopoomoo from our field base at incredible Aurum Lodge, on creative sabbatical as Artists in Residence free to explore our own creative goals but with a keen interest in sharing our journey and, as far as possible, opportunities for artistic growth with oopoomoo fans and readers.
Journey With Us
We appreciate that not everyone can take a year off to pursue their artistic goals. But you can carve out one more hour a week for your own creative development. And you owe it to yourself. Get up an hour early. Skip that hour of TV. Turn your lunch break into an artistic fiesta. It’s really about taking a good, honest look at the priorities in life and latching on to what is important to you. Family, friends…your passions…why should they take a back seat? You’ll always remember those times when you were happy and present. You won’t remember, and won’t be remembered for, those sacrificial extra hours at your job.
We want you to whisper your secret creative dreams in our ear. How are you hoping to achieve them? What can you do right now to take a step toward those dreams?
We’re going to share our journey with you, and we encourage you to pick up your camera and start your own exploration this summer. There’s plenty of ways to be involved, and we’d love to hear from you! Join us in our Creative Assignments Project, and share your inspiring work and photographic inspirations in the oopoomoo community on Facebook. And of course, if you ever find yourself in our neck of the woods consider staying awhile to learn with us in this, one of the most stunning natural places on Earth. We look forward to embarking on this creative journey together!
Samantha and I am pleased to partner with Aurum Lodge in January and February of next year (2015) to offer two, small-group Winter Discovery Photo Adventures at Abraham Lake in the Kootenay Plains of the Canadian Rockies. We’ll spend extensive time in the field photographing the incredible beauty of this unspoiled region. From the iconic methane bubbles trapped in the ice of Abraham Lake to the rugged peaks towering over the quiet winter highways of Canada’s world-famous mountain parks (Banff and Jasper), there’s so much to photograph and share!
We’ve tramped around photographing this area for years and we love it so much we literally wrote the book on the area! No matter what the weather or conditions, there’s a variety of locations to challenge all creative photographers, and a few additional assignments here and there provide creative support for those interested in firing up their artistic muse. The small group size of 4 to 7 participants is a rare thing on photo workshops and tours in the Canadian Rockies, but we chose a favourable student to instructor ratio to ensure lots of elbow room at all locations and access to us for all your photography questions. Another rare thing: our packages are all-inclusive (instructor and accommodation fees including all meals, beverages and room tax) so there’s no hidden or additional fees when you get here. For those looking to extend their learning experience, NEW this year is the opportunity to book private, one-on-one instructional outings before or after the Photo Adventure at a special discounted price! Join us! Discover your own vision of the magic of winter in Canadian Rockies. Click here to learn more.
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!
In honour of the fact that spring is delayed this year in Alberta, here is a wintry shot from this year’s winter photography workshop at Abraham Lake. Speaking of winter photography…we are just putting the finishing touches on our 2015 offerings at the Lake. We will announce the full details to our newsletter subscribers first (hint! hint!) so they get first dibs at the very limited number of spots available. In other news, Darwin and I have an exciting announcement to make soon (no, we’re not pregnant) so stay tuned!