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.
Samantha and I realized that 2013 marked the tenth year for our photo tours and workshops in the Canadian Rockies! Time for a wee celebration!
So as we embark on Bubbles and Lace 2014, we leave you with this short video. And we remind you that spaces are filling in our remaining Canadian Rockies 2014 dates. Spots are limited to ensure everyone has access to instruction and the amazing scenery; we are based out of a fantastic eco-lodge in the heart of the stunning scenery in the Canadian Rockies. We hope to meet you soon at a mountain near us 😉
Samantha and I have been busy making final image selections and doing the stories behind the images so we can launch the 50 at 50 eBook in a few weeks. Stay tuned for that.
I got my start in ‘serious’ photography when I joined Images Alberta Camera Club in Edmonton in 1986. That club was dynamic and had many instructional outings and workshops and I learned a lot from the dedicated members. At the time I was a member, I was honoured to learn from such luminaries as Daryl Benson, Mark and Leslie Degner, and Larry Louie. I thank Images CC for being such a huge influence on my work; I can see that influence reflected over the years in my imagery.
Below are some outtakes that won’t make it into the 50 at 50 eBook but that I thought might be fun to share for the lessons learned from making the photos.
1989 – Spruce trees emerging from fog at Victoria Glacier, Banff National Park
Lesson: This image taught me that telephoto lenses are great for making ‘extractive’ landscape photos that emphasize graphic compositions. I learned that a 300mm lens was a very useful focal length to make compelling landscape photos. As a side note, this image was made with a camera that I absolutely loved and for which I saved many pennies over a long time — the Canon T90. Never before and never after have I had a love affair with a piece of camera gear such as I had with the T90. The photo was made using a Canon 300mm f5.6 FD lens and Fujichome Velvia 50 slide film.
1996 – Canoe on George Lake, Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario
Lesson: If you can imagine it, you can make it happen. I envisioned a shot of a canoe on the rocky shore of a lake in Ontario. I traveled across Canada for nine months in 1996 to photograph for my book Darwin Wiggett Photographs Canada. I didn’t have a quintessential image of Ontario for the book so I set out to Killarney to make it happen. I rented a canoe one afternoon and scouted with my compass the shore of George Lake for a perfect location to line up with sunrise. I found one about a 30 minutes’ paddle from my campsite. I convinced the rental company with a $50 bill to let me keep the canoe overnight, and early the next morning I paddled to the spot chosen and made two images both of which have become best sellers for me. This one was an IKEA poster for many years. The other photo appears in the 50 at 50 eBook. The image was shot on a Mamiya 645 Pro camera with a 35mm lens and Fujichrome Velvia 50 slide film and a grad filter.
2002 – Cowgirl at Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park
Lesson: Photoshop makes anything possible, but you gotta tell people when things are not real! In the transition days while I was still shooting film and waiting for digital cameras to become a contender in terms of quality to my medium format camera, I did a lot of Photoshop composite work in the digital darkroom. I would scan my slides into digital format and then mess with them in the computer making scenes that did not exist except in my imagination. In this image I took a cowgirl and her horse from a shot I did in British Columbia and put her into Wilcox Pass in Jasper National Park (where horses are not allowed, by the way). After people viewed the image and found out it was a composite, they often felt really betrayed. So after that, any time I posted one of my composite images I made mention of the fact. I used to mark composite images on the thumbnails on my website so people could decide if they wanted to view ‘fake’ images or not. No one really seems to care much any more if an image is real or not especially since most photos out there today look fanciful with all the digital darkroom work done to them. Even so it is still important to let people know about composite images so they can decide the value of the image to them as viewers. Samantha and I talk about this idea of ‘how far is too far in post processing’ in a recent podcast interview over at Photography.ca
2010 – Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta
Lesson: Everyone wants big light and colourful sunrises and sunsets but dreary grey days at dusk and dawn make really great moody images. As a side note, it seems that good old Abraham Lake has become an iconic destination for photographers looking for frozen methane bubbles. The lake in winter is dangerous at the best of times but this year the lake is especially treacherous not only because the floods in June have carved out new river channels and eroded shores but also because there have been several cold spells followed by warm chinooks that have caused a cycle of freeze and thaw that makes the shoreline ice (where the bubbles are) fragile. As well, numerous snowfalls have put piles of snow along the shoreline ice seams hiding the weak ice. We do not recommend wandering around Abraham Lake without a guide or photo buddy at any time, but we especially warn against the lake this year. While we do have an eGuide on the area, including some spots where bubbles have appeared in the past, the lake has changed a lot this year so we recommend that those shooters unfamiliar with photographing on ice stay on the gravel shoreline where it is safer. If you feel you have enough experience and do decide to go on the ice, only go where the ice is absolutely clear and you can see the thickness of the ice you are walking on (6 or more inches is recommended by some guidebooks). Absolutely stay off the snow-covered, sloping shoreline and any foggy, milky or fragile ice. Crampons or icewalkers are also a must – see my guide to winter shooting to learn more about winter gear.
I’ll have some more stories about my favourite images made over my 25+ year career in the eBook, but for now, here’s a blast from the past: a group photo of my fellow field researchers during grad school!
I am headed out to the Canadian Rockies for a week of photographing wonderful scenery and hanging out with terrific people! Every autumn, for almost a decade, I’ve run a photo tour in the Rockies, guiding participants to the best locations given the light and weather. We’re still going to be your guides in 2014, but Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies will be much more than just a trophy tour. Based on feedback we’ve had from many participants, we’ve altered the format of this event to that of a workshop — essentially, you will be getting more out of your experience in the future! So what’s new? Structured lessons on key topics, tailored assignments so you can benchmark your progress and the benefit of in-class critique are all combined with lots of field time, making these workshops unique in the area. Plus, I have a secret reason why I’m excited about these changes…Samantha is joining me in co-leading these workshops! You get the benefit of two instructors, and I get the company of my sweety. To see why we’re both pretty stoked about the Glory of Autumn workshops, check out the schedule here.
Until we meet one fall day in the glorious Canadian Rockies, we’ll leave you with a few helpful articles for creating great images no matter where you live.
There are two highways in the Canadian Rockies that get overlooked by most photographers. Both highways have stunning scenery and abundant wildlife yet few photographers spend any time there. The first secret drive is Highway 11 from Nordegg, Alberta to the Saskatchewan Crossing in Banff National Park. The second drive is Highway 93 South (the Kootenay Parkway) from Castle Mountain in Banff National Park through Kootenay National Park in British Columbia ending at Radium Hot Springs.
We wanted to report back on the results of our ‘Pay What It’s Worth’ experiment for the Destination Travel Photography Workshop, but unfortunately, Island Lake Lodge didn’t hold up its end of the deal. Darwin and I do a lot of workshops held in different hotels, and quite frankly, this was the worst experience we’ve ever had. The Four L Hotel in Leader, Saskatchewan (the middle of nowhere, but pretty!) runs circles around this place! We quickly ran into all sorts of problems, some of which were:
- The resort was disorganized, with huge delays over meals (two hours plus for dinner!) We had requested a buffet style since, in our experience, chefs never get plate service done in time. We were told that because there were other people in the Lodge (a few couples), they couldn’t do buffet style.
- Some servers were incompetent, not knowing how to serve coffee, remove plates without dropping forks, forgetting orders, and just generally ignoring us. At a resort that bills itself as ‘white linen’ (and charges accordingly), I don’t expect any guest to have to go up and ask for water or a drink because it’s taking so long for the server to come back.
- Despite having all charges included in the rate from the Lodge, bills were given to each guest at the end of dinner our first night. Even if you purchased nothing outside of the meal package, you still owed over $6 for taxes and tip! When we went to sort out this confusion, the restaurant manager had serious attitude and did not apologize for the improper charge and general confusion at the dinner table. Meanwhile, we missed last light on the lake.
- Some guests complained that the rooms were not comfortable or were not cleaned (for check in!). Again, this is very embarrassing from such a classy resort.
- Staff at the Lodge were overheard saying that we were a demanding group. If it’s demanding to expect a hotel to provide basic service, so be it; but it’s unprofessional to air your gripes loudly enough for guests to overhear.
On day two, we did meet with the CEO, Doug Freely and Mike McPhee, the Sales and Marketing manager who had been our point of contact in organizing the event. They listened, Doug took notes and we were hopeful that things were going to improve. While meals were turned around on time (a major improvement), unfortunately more problems with poor service at meals continued. As well, we were denied a late checkout despite our request (the Lodge was ‘short-staffed’) but when people went to checkout, we were told our bills from the previous night’s dinner were lost and front desk staff were unable to interpret the hotel’s own bills to tell participants how much the workshop actually cost! What a disaster!
Well, Darwin and I were so embarrassed and disappointed with how things were going that, by day two, we told everyone we wouldn’t accept any payment for our part of the workshop; participants were already over-paying for the terrible service they were experiencing. Maybe Island Lake Lodge should offer to our participants a ‘Pay What It’s Worth’ option from their end; we’re sure they wouldn’t fare too well!!
So we’ll have to try our ‘Pay What It’s Worth’ experiment another time…stay tuned!
Feedback on OUR part of the workshop has been really positive and the photography part was a lot of fun with us doing everything from landscape, food, portrait and macro photography. To give the Lodge its dues, the surroundings were beautiful (lots of close-ups with moose and waterfowl) and the food tasted delicious…when it arrived. Also, the Lodge did give people $100 off their bill as an apology for the rough start. We still think people over-paid, but unless the Lodge takes action on any negative press it may be receiving, that is probably the only apology participants will get.
And just in case anyone is scratching their heads and wondering, “Why on EARTH did you go there in the first place??” our first visit a year ago to scout the Lodge went really well with first rate service! And the reviews from past visitors were very complimentary. We are not sure what happened this time, but it was an expensive learning experience for us! We apologize to our participants for taking them to this Lodge and, unless things change, we don’t recommend anyone else visit.
We know we won’t be back.
It seems Iceland is a popular place these days for photographers! We’re jumping on the bandwagon by going with a group of friends on a photo tour of this incredibly picturesque country. Our photo guide is Tim Vollmer with Esja Travel, so this is a vacation for us! And since we’re on vacation, we decided not to bring our laptop which means things are going to be silent here on the oopoomoo blog until we get back June 17. No email, no business administration no endless lists of ‘must dos’…just experiencing Iceland. Wow, it’s going to be great!
We’re leaving you with a few things to read/think about while we’re gone. First, highlights of the spring have definitely been:
- our little experiment with the Destination Travel Workshop in Fernie, British Columbia (June 25-28, 2012) — Read about our crazy ‘Pay What It’s Worth’ idea here. There’s still space!
- announcing that David duChemin is coming to town next March, 2013. Last word was the All Inclusive Passes are more than half gone so don’t delay if you’re interested in this great event! And if you enter the photo contest while we’re away, don’t worry; you’ll hear from us when we’re home. (Two days left for the May contest…)
- publication on oopoomoo of our 11th eBook, Essential and Advanced Filters for Creative Outdoor Photography — phew! Our brains hurt.
In case you get lonely here at oopoomoo without us around, here are a whole bunch of free articles to browse through. We hope you find something to tickle your shutter button. We’ll share our adventures and images with you when we get back. ‘Till then, happy shooting!
In preparation for our photography Destination Photography workshop at Island Lake (remember, we’re experimenting with pricing and this workshop is now ‘Pay What It’s Worth’!), Darwin and I decided to cook up something from the Island Lake Lodge cookbook. Here is an image of the appetizer on page 60, Wild Sockeye Salmon Tartare with Spicy Guacamole and Taro Chips:
I cheated a little since I couldn’t find any taro root (what is that, anyway?) so yams had to do. And I swear I thought we always had a jar of capers lurking in the fridge but darned if the little caper-goblin didn’t get to them first! My attempt of this recipe lacks the artful touch of the chef; my salmon tartare is a dumpy, sullen hill of goop rather than the artful tower it’s supposed to be. But blame me, not the recipe! Luckily, on Wednesday, June 27 we’ll be learning how to quickly and easily photograph delicious appetizers prepared by the talented chefs at the Lodge (who will do a better job at food styling than me, I think). You can download the schedule for the workshop here. The good news is, although stacking guacamole and raw fish takes skill, we photographed this tasty snack in just a few minutes with minimal gear. And that will be the focus of the talk on June 27, “Basics of On-Location Food Photography” because you want to eat your delectable delight before it collapses! Or, if you’re at a farmer’s market or bazaar, you need to be able to capture quick moments on the fly. For this shot, I mounted the camera on a tripod but with a high ISO you can often get enough shutter speed to hand-hold in well-lit areas (especially if your lens has a setting that reduces vibrations). And that is one secret to appetizing food photography: sit by a bright window and work with natural light to eliminate all manner of problems photographing indoors. We bounced a little light into the shadowed side of the appetizer by holding up a raincoat with a white, plastic interior to the left of the dish. (If no one is looking, and your spouse isn’t glaring at you yet, those little side plates also make good reflectors!) Here is the same scene but shot with a polarizer to reduce some glare off the saucy juices (and without the napkin for a cleaner comp):
Easy-as-pie! And the appetizer was deee-licious! Did I mention workshop attendees receive a complimentary copy of this beautifully photographed cookbook? If you can’t join us in Fernie for this workshop, we’re pleased to announce that the Foothills Camera Club has invited us to teach a special workshop created just for the Club in September, 2012. The Club has kindly opened the doors to this workshop to members of the public — and we’ll be in Cochrane at the historic RancheHouse! Check out the weekend schedule here; it’s an intensive weekend with class time balanced by practice in the field. Dates are September 7 – 9, 2012, and the price for Club members is $300 and for non-members only $350! If you can’t swing the cost of the Destination Photography workshop — even at a Pay What It’s Worth discount — then this is your chance to catch a great program here at home. The Man in Charge is Dana Naldrett so please email him (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information or to register. Limited spots!
Now, what else can I cook up from that cookbook….
At the end of May, Samantha and I will be heading to Iceland with a bunch of friends to soak up the sights of this beautiful country. Part of Iceland’s natural attractions are waterfalls so we thought it was a good time to pass on a few waterfalls tips not only to remind us of what we should be doing but also to help out any of you that are planning some outings near roaring water. Even though photographers and waterfalls go together like peanut butter and jam or beer and pizza, the images that result are often less than palatable. Below are a few common mistakes that are easy to avoid and some simple tips that will take your waterfall photos to the next level. And if you want to learn where some of the waterfalls in the photos below are located just click on the photo and you’ll be directed to one of our location eBooks.
The most common error we see with waterfall photography is that the photographer paid no attention to the lighting on the subject. The vast majority of beginners shoot waterfalls in bright mid-day sun with part of the waterfall in shade and part in direct sun. Digital sensors can’t record such extreme detail in tonality well, and the resulting image is often a mixed bag of blown out highlights and cavernous shadows. Yech!
The easiest way to overcome contrast problems is to shoot waterfalls under even light. Overcast days are perfect for waterfalls because the flat light reduces contrast so that everything from the shining droplets of water to dark rocks and deep canyons is rendered with detail. The image below of Cline Canyon shows how grey overcast days are perfect for waterfall photography because the sensor can capture the detail in the entire scene. Come here on a sunny day and the results would look terrible!
The image of Mary Ann Falls in Nova Scotia also shows the power of overcast light for rendering rich detail. Be sure to use a polarizing filter even on overcast days to remove reflective highlights off of leaves and water for richer photos!
But hey, what if it’s a sunny day when you get to your favorite waterfall? Well then you can still get good photos if you photograph the falls when they are entirely lit by the sun with little or no part of the falls in the shadows like we see in the photo of the American Falls at Niagara Falls below.
Or better yet, if its sunny, shoot the waterfall when the sun is low on the horizon and the range of contrast across the scene is further reduced. A side benefit to shooting waterfalls when the sun is on the horizon is that you will get rainbows. Rainbows form in the mist of frontally lit falls when the axis of the sun to the falls is less than 30 degrees. This happens most often when the sun is low on the horizon. So if the waterfall you plan to shoot faces east or west, plan to be there in early morning or late afternoon respectively to get rainbows.
One of our favorite lighting schemes for waterfalls is backlighting. If we can get behind the falls and have the sun shine through the water, or if we can get the rising or setting sun to skim over the water and light the mist from the falls, then we can come away with images that are different from the standard photos taken of waterfalls.
Shutter Speed Effects
When shooting waterfalls it is helpful to keep these three guidelines in mind. A shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/125 of a second will render the movement of water similar to what the human eye sees. Faster shutter speeds like 1/1000 of a second or higher will usually show the water captured as suspended droplets while shutter speeds slower than 1/8 of a second will render the falls as a delicate veil (obviously for slow shutter speeds you’ll need a tripod). Your job as a photographer is to decide which shutter speed to use to get the feel and look you desire. As a general rule, delicate small waterfalls benefit from slow shutter speeds for the soft lacy look while big thunderous falls look great at stop-action speeds.
The photo of Panther Falls (above) was shot using 1/100 of a second to show the water movement like the human eye perceives it while the photo of water spraying over a rock (below) was taken at 1/1000 of a second to suspend the water drops in time.
In the next photo of Decew Falls, a slow shutter speed of 1/8 of a second was used to make the waterfall look more delicate with strands of falling water.
Filters for Waterfalls
A warming polarizer is an essential filter for waterfall photography. It is best used on overcast days not only to remove reflective glare but also to counteract the blue cast of overcast light. In the two photos below, the left image shows a waterfall scene (Cat Creek Falls in Kananaskis) photographed without a polarizer while the photo on the right shows the same scene photographed with a warming polarizer. The differences are remarkable! And a polarizer is simple to use: just spin it around on your lens and what you see is what you get. Warming polarizers are available from almost every filter manufacturer so check with your local camera store.
Gold-N-Blue or Blue-Yellow Polarizer
Rather than remove reflective glare, these filters colour reflections either blue or gold depending with the rotation of the filter. On overcast days, water and wet rocks take on a grey sheen which suck the life out of the photo. The Cokin Blue-Yellow Polarizer or the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer can bring the life back by adding colour to the scene. We can see the effects in the image below; the top version is without any filter while the second and third versions are with the Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer rotated to gold and then to blue.
We especially like to use this filter in scenes where the spray from the waterfall has soaked the surrounding rocks so that these wet rocks take on a dramatic sheen of gold or blue depending on how you rotate the filter.
Neutral Density filter
This filter simply reduces the amount of light coming into your camera so you can use a longer shutter speed for special effects. For example, on a sunny day at ISO 100, proper exposure for front lit waterfalls is 1/60 at f22. But what if you want to use ¼ of a second for misty effects? You are already stopped down to f22 and you can’t lower your ISO any more. The solution is a neutral density (ND) filter. These come in strengths of 2 to 8 stops. Let’s say you have a 5-stop ND filter with you. Pop it in front of your lens and magically your exposure of 1/60 of a second at f22 becomes ½ second at f22! Fortunately, you won’t have to do the math to get your filter to work; your camera meter will figure it out for you. We use an ND filter whenever we want to create a misty ethereal look to our waterfall photos. The photo below of Tangle Falls in Jasper National Park was made using a 5-stop ND filter to give a shutter speed of two seconds.
To learn more about filters stay tuned for our new eBook on Essential and Advanced Filters for Nature Photography that will be released before the end of May!
Putting it all together
Good waterfall photos are not just off-the-cuff endeavours; it takes planning and hard work to create strong images. Our first visit to a new waterfall is really about scouting for the potential in the scene. Is this spot best at sunrise, mid-day, sunset, or under overcast light? What shutter speed will render the falls the way we want to portray them? Do we need filters to enhance the scene? Once we decide how we want to portray the falls then we put all our techniques together to give us images that are strong and attractive. We hope to bring back some wonderful waterfall images from our time in Iceland – stay tuned!
Beyond the Rectangle
When we think of a photograph, we envision a rectangular image. We capture our photographic vision constrained in rectangular frames with an aspect ratio of 3:2 (dSLR’s) or 4:3 (point-n-shoots). It’s a rare photographer that strays from the rectangle. Even the few photographers who use square format cameras most often crop their images after the fact to present the final work as a rectangle.
Scientists have determined that humans’ natural view of the world is a horizontal oval and as such a horizontal rectangular frame best approximates our world view. No wonder the vast majority of images are composed in horizontal format — this is naturally the way we see the world.
The point of this article is simple: if you want to shake things up with your photographs, one of the easiest things to do is stay away from the everyday horizontal rectangle.
The image above shows the standard 3:2 format of most dSLR cameras.
Vertical images are less natural and less comfortable for us to view than are horizontal images. A vertical rectangle just by orientation creates visual tension so subjects that work with this tension will make the vertical photo all the more powerful. Most people prefer vertical images that are not too elongated; for example, the 4:3 ratio of the point-n-shoot or medium format camera better lends itself to vertical presentation than does the 3:2 format of 35mm. To really make a vertical image from a 35mm camera sing compositionally, you either need a naturally occurring vertical subject (human figure, trees, or tall buildings) or you need to have strong elements of design that take your eye through the picture space in a dynamic fashion.
For example in the photo below, the gravel path and the handrail create a line leading down the lake and to the large spruce tree on the left. The sense of movement in this image is amplified by the vertical rectangle which lends a powerful resonance to this photo.
The square is one of the most difficult formats to successfully make a composition within because it is a very stable and symmetrical shape. If you have a subject matter that lends itself to perfect symmetry like a mirrored reflection of a lake or a perfectly circular and symmetrical flower, then a square frame works well to amplify this symmetry.
It’s hard to escape a square’s powerful geometry which forces viewers into the center of the frame. One of the ways around this problem is to use two different portions of the composition like the right side of the frame and the left side of the frame to bring the photo into symmetrical balance.
For example, in the photo bel0w, the square frame is split in the middle vertically with the canoe on the right side balancing the mountain on the left side. As well the big portion of sky in the upper right balances the big portion of water and rocks in the lower left.
The most obvious way to make square images is to crop your rectangular images to a perfect square. We prefer not to crop away pixels but build them up into a square. To do this, we take two rectangular photographs and stack them together to make a square. For example, in the canoe photo above, we made one horizontal image of the canoe and reflections and another horizontal image of the mountain and sky. In Photoshop it was easy to stitch the two images together using layers and blending the two layers together in the reflection along the far shoreline of the lake. Sometimes we will use panoramic stitching software to get the same result. We find that “Photo Merge” in Photoshop CS5 or CS6 work amazingly well to bring together two overlapping images. The key for a successful square stitch is to pay attention to the overall composition and then in getting the technical details of the two frames the same (use the same exposure and overlapping the two shots as precisely as you can).
In the photo above, the foregrounds rocks in the lower right visually balance the weight of the mountain peaks in the upper left of the photo.
Long and Thin Rectangles – the Horizontal Panorama
Many photographers make panoramic images which are photos that have a rectangular frame at least 2:1 or longer in format. The horizontal panorama replicates how we see the world by restricting our view vertically and forcing us to scan the horizon from side-to-side. For a panorama to work successfully, the composition has to pull the eye across the frame in one direction or another. For instance, in the three photos below there are variations in tones and subject that pull the eye through the frame in a horizontal flow either from left to right or from right to left.
Long and Thin Rectangles – the Vertical Panorama
A novel use of the panoramic rectangle is to use the format in vertical orientation. It takes a powerfully elongated subject to make a successful vertical panorama. Look for strong vertical lines in the landscape or sky to make a successful vertical pan. For example, in the photo below, the leading lines of the railroad tracks pulls the eye to the horizon and then up to the line of clouds in the sky.
In the next image the foreground, the leaning tree and the clouds form a zig-zag shape bouncing the eye through the frame from bottom to top.
To create vertical panoramas, we mostly use the shift feature on tilt-shift lenses to create these kinds of panoramic images. We have the camera in vertical (portrait) format and shift the lens down to make one image of the foreground followed by shifting the lens up to make another photo of the background and the sky. The two images need to overlap by 20% to 30%. We then take these two overlapping images and merge them into one final image using the Photo Merge command in Photoshop.
Like the square, the circle works best with symmetrical and centred images and with subjects which have a circular shape to begin with. We also like using circles on images of texture to imply a sphere-shape like we see in the photo below. Most image software programs do not allow circular crops but many programs do allow circular selections. For example, in Photoshop we use the circular marquee tool to make a circular selection (hold down the shift key while using the tool to constrain the proportions to a perfect circle). One we have our circle selected, we simply invert the selection and delete the rest of the image and fill the empty space with pure white. When the image is printed onto paper or in a magazine, the pure white area takes on the colour of the print or magazine paper and the image looks like a circular crop.
Look at your body of photographic work; if the vast majority of your photos are horizontal rectangles, then it might be time to shake up how you present your work to the world. Moving beyond the rectangle might help move your work beyond the predictable. Give it a shot; hey, it’s cool to be a square!