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!
As many of you know, Samantha and I started League magazine and the League of Landscape Photographers as an outlet for photographic creativity with a conscience. League members photograph the world around them in accordance with high ethical standards and they make imagery with purpose, meaning and integrity. League photographs engage, question and challenge the viewer. League and the League of Landscape Photographers seek to raise landscape photography to a personal expressive art that comments on the world around us.
Samantha and I always acknowledge and reward those in the photographic community who are doing exceptional work and who inspire and teach others to do the same. We can think of no other photographer in Canada (or the world, for that matter) who has done so much to raise landscape and nature photography to an art form and to encourage photographers to express their creative vision than Freeman Patterson. Many of you will know Freeman and will have been influenced, inspired and moved by his work. Freeman’s influence weaves through both Sam and my work and our teachings. Indeed, we think that subconsciously Freeman’s influence germinated the seed which became League. So who better to honour with the inaugural Best of the League Award than Freeman Patterson?
For those photographers not familiar with Freeman’s work, we highly recommend you head to your nearest library or book store and pick up at least one of his many books on photography, creativity and seeing. Our three personal favorites and a must read for all expressive photographers are Photography and the Art of Seeing, Photographing the World Around You – A Visual Design Workshop and Embracing Creation. We also highly recommend any of his life-altering (no exaggeration) workshops – anyone who has been on a Freeman workshop will talk and talk and talk your ear off about how amazing it was!
Talking creative expression is all the rage in photography right now especially in the wake of all the fascination with the gear of digital capture. But Freeman laid the foundation long ago by teaching photographers to embrace their creative self. So much of what is in vogue today by those teaching ‘creative vision’ is based directly or indirectly on Freeman’s early teachings. Thanks to Freeman we can all finally move away from gear and technique into what truly matters, create self-awareness and develop personal expression.
For all of Freeman’s influence, his respect for people and the environment, his tireless sharing and mentoring of photographers, and for his lifetime body of artful, thoughtful images, we are honoured to award Freeman the Best of the League Award! We are thrilled that Freeman shared with us a moving story and portfolio of images that will be published in League this September. Subscriptions to League end June 30 so if you want this collectible magazine on your book shelf subscribe now!
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!
Whew! Lots of great images from February’s newsletter challenge posted in the oopoomoo Creatives’ Facebook group. We’ve compiled our faves here in this blog post. Ha! It seems the ladies smoked the guys on this assignment! Remember to sign up for our Newsletter if you wish to get the monthly challenge delivered to your inbox.
Camera clubs are excellent places for photographers to learn and share photography. In my own development as a photographer I owe much of my early inspiration, learning and excitement about photography to time spent in Images Alberta Camera Club in Edmonton. The friendships developed and the lessons learned have stayed with me through life. I have an abiding fondness for camera clubs, but there can be a dark side to belonging to a camera club….
As with any group effort, sometimes a little herd mentality may surface. And this way of thinking can stifle innovative or fresh ways of photographing – especially when it comes to image competitions. Over time, critiques of submitted images become increasingly formulaic; images that follow the ‘accepted’ rules of competition will score higher than those images that do not abide by these, dare I say it, sacred rules. Putting aside whether competitions are even healthy outlets for creativity, it seems that the ‘rules of photography’ espoused by most camera clubs reward conformity. In my experience, not much creativity happens when the first priority is conformity.
Let’s take a look at four ‘rules’ commonly trotted out during image critique sessions by camera club members.
What is the Subject?
It seems that every photo must have a centre of interest (watch yourself though – placing an object in the centre of your frame violates the superior rule of thirds). According to camera clubs an image needs to have something that we, the viewers, can define as a ‘subject’. No obvious subject? Then the image has failed. Abstract images that are simply about pattern, texture, graphic design or mood do not do well in photo clubs. Abstract painters like Kandinsky, Pollock and Miro would have a difficult time thriving under a regime that forces them to have an obvious subject.
Fill the frame!
One of the ways that camera clubs reinforce the idea of subject is to tell photographers to fill the frame with the subject. This rule makes sense in that many beginning photographers make pictures where it’s not clear what the photo is about or why they took the photo in the first place. Having photographers fill the frame with their desired subject of interest is an easy way to get photographers to make better images. If you fill the frame with the subject, then we will know what the photo is about – all other stuff is excluded. But if all we ever do is fill the frame with the subject, there is no room left to explore placing our subject in a broader environment to tell a contextual story. Many of the great environmental portraits we see in National Geographic or Life magazine do not ‘fill the frame’ but have a small subject in a sea of context. Try that in a camera club and you will hear, “Get closer and fill the frame!”
Make it Sharp!
In camera clubs there is a fascination with sharpness and detail. Much time is spent talking about the best sensors, the sharpest lenses and esoteric things like circles of confusion and hyper-focal distance. If an image is not tack sharp, it won’t win a competition. Period. I think this fascination is partly about gear and partly because most camera clubs are populated with the over 50 crowd who long for the 20-20 vision of their youth (trust me, I know, I also fall into this camp)! Some of the most recognized and historic photos of all time have not been sharp. Just think of Robert Capa’s World War II D-Day photos. These gritty photos succeed because the blur and grain give them the mood of being there. Ansel Adams famously said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Of course we can reverse this idea and state, “There is nothing better than a fuzzy shot of a sharp concept.”
Shoot in Good Light
And finally, there is the fascination with light in photography. This makes sense because photography is literally ‘writing with light’. Light is our tool; the cameras and lenses just capture the light. So a pre-occupation with light is an occupational hazard in photography. Camera clubs tend to classify light as good or bad. Good light is the ‘sweet’ light of the ‘golden hour’ (the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset). Any other light is bad. The reality is, as my partner Samantha likes to say, “There is no such thing as bad light!” There is either light that flatters your subject or concept or light that detracts from the subject or concept. Your job, as a photographer, is to choose the light that best enhances your idea for the photo.
The rules of photography that camera clubs follow are generally useful ‘guidelines’ for making stronger images. But like any rule, followed religiously the rules become constraints and shackles to creativity. You obviously need to know why rules work so that when you break them you do so for creative effect. I wish that camera clubs would look beyond the rules and just look at the heart of each image. If it resonates in spite of ‘flaws’ it is a good photograph. I’ll end this article with another Ansel Adams quote which nicely sums everything up: “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
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 our last blog post, Samantha talked about recent ‘mini-mentorship’ projects that we gave each other. Sam’s project was about personalized tree portraits, mine was about discovering artful design in nature and capturing that design in-camera. For me, the mentorship was incredibly valuable because it helped me recognize and articulate where I was and where I wanted to go as an artist. Once that was clear, the world opened up to infinite possible further project ideas. One of the main reasons that many photographers get in a visual rut and are not inspired is because they simply do not know who they are creatively. Knowing what your inner voice wants to say frees you from external constraints that hold you back.
As a mentor I learned to see the biases and expectations and self-doubt on the part of the mentee. Making assignments that addressed these issues forced the mentee to face the roadblocks to her creativity. Through teaching another you learn just as much about yourself and your own creative roadblocks. For both of us we emerged from the small mentored project with stronger artistic voices and renewed creative drive. Plus, we liked the results of our fun little projects! And now we just want to do more, both as mentors and as mentored artists.
Our students may not believe it, but sometimes Darwin and I torture – ahem! – teach each other through guided assignments. Relatively recently we experimented with small, mentored projects. Here’s how it worked: one of us picked a topic to shoot – that person was the mentee – and the other developed a series of linked assignments within an overall goal for the project – that person was the mentor. We took the projects seriously with concrete deadlines – that was the torture part – and managed to complete the projects between and sometimes during other work events. We then swapped roles. My project was about trees, of course!
When you know most of your partner’s strengths and weaknesses, you learn to be diplomatic in your critiques for the sake of your personal relationship and, in our case, our business relationship as well. But you also benefit from the deep interest you take in your partner’s creative development. It’s something we strive to bring to our work through oopoomoo as well. Here’s Darwin’s instructions to me to fit my art in “snippets of time” between working with students at a workshop.
I decided to fit my project, which was all about capturing the essence or soul of tree personalities in nature, into a scrapbook. I put the assignments and the images in the book. The project was a combination of drawings, musings, assignments and photographs.
What was the point, you may be wondering? Fun! Creativity! Just ’cause! Even though I have a larger, multi-year project underway called Pressed Landscapes, these ‘mini-mentorships’ were about shaking off the shackles of working as a commercial artist and just shooting some little idea that appealed to me, engaging in something that was stimulating and fun. As a mentor, I honed my skills at listening to my student’s interests and gently guiding him through blind spots. As a student, I reminded myself to be open to constructive feedback, ignoring the urge to defend a shot, and instead take a step away from the work to see it for how it really came across. It was good to be on both sides of the desk.
Watch for Darwin’s post about his small project mentorship this Friday!
It seems photographers fall into two camps; those who shoot Raw and those who shoot JPEGS. Few photographers shoot both. Raw shooters want to capture the most data possible from their cameras so they have the most information available to tweak in post-production. In the film days the negative was the analog data base used to make expressive prints in the darkroom; in the digital era the Raw file is the equivalent to the film negative. Raw shooters generally want to take control and expressive processing is as important (and sometimes more important) than image capture.
Photographing with JPEGS is like photographing with slide film. With slide film, the images did not go into the darkroom, the slide (the positive) was the finished product to be projected or published. Slides shooters were photographers first; they were not darkroom artists. Digital photographers who shoot JPEG need to get it right in the field because the image is processed and finished in camera. Any further processing in the computer will degrade the image information plus defeats the purpose of finishing the image in camera. JPEG shooters either don’t want or need (or are allowed) to do post-processing or are under tight deadlines and don’t have the luxury of post-production.
Why not have the best of both worlds? Until recently the main reason that photographers did not shoot both is that Raw and JPEG required different approaches in image capture that often were incompatible. Raw shooters want the most data possible and to get that data requires ‘exposing to the right‘ to capture more pixel information. Essentially this means ‘over-exposing’ the image without clipping important detail to have more pixel information to massage in post-production. Superficially these images look washed out and pale on the LCD and Raw shooters use their histograms to judge appropriate exposure and not the look of the image on the camera display. The final image density is set later in the computer. JPEG shooters, on the other hand, want images that are finished in-camera looking appropriately exposed for the photographer’s taste. As well, JPEG shooters must decide on the appropriate picture style (vivid, standard, monochrome etc), colour space and white balance to set on their cameras before pressing the shutter. With Raw, you just capture the data; camera settings like white balance, colour space and picture style have no effect on the information captured. And so shooting Raw or shooting JPEG often meant two different shooting mindsets. Photographing with both at the same time didn’t really work well for most people.
In the last five years or so, improvements in camera sensors have made the need to ‘expose to the right’ to get high quality data more a matter of theory and less a matter of necessity. If you’re really anal and a pixel peeper you may see small quality differences in files processed from ‘expose right’ versus ‘exposed to taste’ Raw files. But really, the differences are now so small that for practical applications exposing right just doesn’t matter that much anymore. And so now we could shoot Raw plus JPEG and have the best of both worlds… but why bother?
The biggest problem with shooting Raw is the fact that it’s easy to make images in the field but the real work and time involved is in post-processing. Almost all the photographers I know that shoot Raw have years of back-logged images that are not processed and this backlog constantly haunts and taunts them. You can’t print, email or publish unprocessed Raw images; they need to be run through a Raw image convertor, even if minimally processed, before they can be used. Piles of unprocessed files languishing on hard drives are more than just an inconvenience they are a liability. Years later, looking at backlog of Raw images, you may have forgotten your initial creative vision for a particular image. Maybe you initially envisioned the finished image as a high contrast B+W but now looking at the pale milky looking Raw file you wonder why you even took the photo in the first place.
To solve both problems (the image backlog and remembering your creative vision) why not shoot Raw plus JPEG? Photograph with appropriate white balance, colour settings, exposure, aspect ratio and picture style to honour and represent want you want the final image to look like. These settings will be recorded on the JPEG as a final processed image that you can catalog and share right away. The RAW version of the file will serve as the negative for that JPEG and is always available should you want to tweak the image later or try a different treatment. Using this system gets your images into your catalog faster, allows you to see a rough representation of what you had in mind for your finished image and still provides you with a Raw image to manipulate if you need it. Also shooting JPEG will make you a better photographer because you’ll have to think in advance about what you want the final image to look like. You actually have to visualize and that’s what good artists do! They don’t just take a Raw file and wiggle sliders until something ‘cool’ emerges. If you worried about hard drive space, then just shoot small JPEGS with your Raws since the former is really only used as a visual reference of your digital negatives.
The Raw plus JPEG workflow is not for everyone. If you shoot lots of HDR imagery, focus-stacking, or multi-image panoramas then you might as well stick with Raw because you’ll need to process your images anyway. If you have a camera older than 5-years old you might also want to stick to Raw as well for quality reasons. But if you mostly shoot single in-camera images and have a newer camera with a great sensor, then maybe the Raw plus JPEG workflow might work for you. Try it and let us know what you think.