22 February

Hot Off the Press! The Kootenay Plains & Abraham Lake ‘Special Places’ eBook

Hello everyone! Darwin and I are very excited to announce a new ‘Special Places’ eBook series here on oopoomoo. As many of you know, we have a deep fondness for our dwindling natural spaces here in Alberta, and a particular love for the Kootenay Plains region near Nordegg. Tucked up against the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Kootenay Plains is an example of the rare Montane ecotype that is critical to all kinds of flora and fauna. Many of our tours and workshops are held here in part because of its incredible diversity of scenery but also because the region is relatively free of the increasing commercialization (despite public protest) that we are now seeing in our national parks.

Ice bubbles on Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada
© Samantha Chrysanthou

Unfortunately, that lack of development is not from governmental design but a side effect of neglect. The region is becoming increasingly popular with outdoor enthusiasts, campers and also photographers which means more pressure on this fragile landscape. Some of the problems faced by the Kootenay Plains include pressure for more Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails or illegal touring, increased random camping from visitors not trained in Leave No Trace principles and increased pressure by industry for access to the resources in the area.

Camping garbage and debris along the shores of Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada
© Darwin Wiggett
OHV tracks along the North Saskatchewan River, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Here’s where the oopoomoo community comes in! We thought long and hard whether to keep this place ‘to ourselves’ as much as possible or share some of its secrets with the world. We decided to share because dialogue and engagement are two underlying principles of oopoomoo. You see, we think photographers are uniquely placed to be stewards of the land, visiting rare and endangered places like the Kootenay Plains and returning with stunning pictures and a deeper appreciation of these kinds of natural spaces. And we believe photographers can do this without destroying the very place they come to visit.

So we are proud to publish the first in a series of eBooks devoted to helping photographers learn about natural places that are every inch worth visiting yet may be facing pressure for development or destruction from overuse. The Kootenay Plains & Abraham Lake Winter Edition dishes up our favourite spots for winter photography and is loaded with the kind of tips you would expect to find from our popular How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies series: tips on time of day to type of flora or fauna you may find in a given location are throughout the book. We’ve also thrown in informational sidebars on some of the unique cultural and ecological features of the area; there is something here for every photographer! Finally, we’ve included some of the key areas that need special protection from overuse. Please follow our guidelines and refrain from further damaging these sensitive locations.

Ice chunk on Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildlands, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

One more thing…Abraham Lake is the stunning, man-made reservoir responsible for the now infamous ‘bubble’ shots you may have seen here and there on the internet. While the ice features of the lake are astounding, the lake can be very dangerous all year-round. Abraham Lake does not act like a ‘normal’ lake. It is a man-made creation for hydroelectric power and its surface levels change dramatically. Never forget that high winds, variable ice conditions and river currents through the lake make photography a dangerous proposition. When we visit the lake on our tours, we are very careful of ice conditions and advise participants of unsafe areas. At some level though, you are responsible for your own safety. If you are not knowledgeable of the area and how to read ice, we recommend you photograph from the shore. There is so much more to the Kootenay Plains than ice bubbles, so don’t limit your creativity!

Shoreline, Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

We hope that this eBook enriches your photographic visit to the area. With enough photographers appreciating this special region, perhaps we will be able to ensure its preservation as a park for future generations.

Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake Winter Edition

The new eBook!

21 February

Noise Free, Natural Looking HDR Images

Samantha and I just finished our talk, Raw versus JPEG: Which one is Right for You? on the weekend, and participants asked some really great questions. One of the topics we covered in the presentation in detail was how to get great HDR images no matter what format, raw or JPEG, you choose. The first question we were asked was,  “What software do you recommend for natural-looking  HDR (High Dynamic Range) images?” The answer to that question is easy. Out of all the software for HDR that we have tried, we find Oloneo HDRengine to be the easiest and fastest to use for natural looking results. If you want the ‘Pro’ version of the software then choose Oloneo PhotoEngine, but really HDRengine will cover most everyone’s needs and at $59 it’s affordable! (BTW, we make no commission nor gain any benefit from Oloneo for this recommendation; we just think it’s a great product). Mac users: sorry, but this software is only available for Windows for now. For Mac users we recommend Photomatix.

3 image HDR processed in Oloneo PhotoEngine

The second question was whether it’s better to use JPEG or raw to make HDR photos. In the talk, we went over the reasons why we prefer raw for our HDR imagery, but you can use JPEG format and get great results if you expose the images correctly. We find that most people don’t expose their images correctly for HDR and as a result get noisy, chunky and un-natural looking images.

The most common approach when shooting for an HDR is to make at least three different exposures based around the camera’s meter reading of a scene. So, you would have three shots: one for the mid tones, one for the highlights and one for the shadows. The HDR software takes these three images and blends them all together into a single exposure. An easy way to get three quick exposures is to set your camera to auto-bracketing and have the camera snap the different photos. A common bracketing sequence used by photographers is 0 EV, -2 EV, +2 EV as shown below:

This histogram is typical of a high contrast scene. This mid tone exposure (0 EV) records the mid tones in the middle of the histogram but the shadows and highlights are clipped on the left and right side of the histogram.

The -2 EV exposure captures the highlights without any clipping.

The +2 EV exposure captures the shadows without clipping.

An HDR image can be made from these exposures but the file likely will end up being noisy and a bit crunchy looking.

We are firm believers in the idea of ‘expose right’ or ‘expose to the right’ as it is sometimes called. In this scenario, you push the histogram as far to the right as possible without clipping highlights. Doing so gives you better data that can be manipulated in software without getting noisy. The trick, though, is to apply the principles behind exposing right to HDR images. To get better HDRs without noise, you simply need to make three exposures where the mid tones, highlights and shadows each get shoved, in separate exposures, over to the upper right half of the histogram where the best data resides.

The darkest exposure should place the highlights into the upper right of the histogram without clipping (this is a -1 EV exposure).

The mid tone exposure should move the mid tone information over to the right side of the histogram (this is a +1 EV exposure). The red areas show highlight clipping but we aren’t concerned about them as we already have the best exposure for the highlights in the -1 EV exposure.

The exposure for the shadows should push the darkest area of the photo into the right half of the histogram like we see here. This is a +3 EV exposure. Most people would think this highly washed out image is of no use at all!

The HDR software maps the well-exposed information for the mid tones, the highlights, and the shadows into a final noise-free and natural image.

The final HDR

Shadow details

The idea here is to make your darkest capture no darker than is needed to expose for the highlights in a scene. Then expose the mid tones and shadows in accordance with the ‘expose right’ maxim, pushing this data to the right side of the histogram as well. Looking at washed out, extremely over-exposed photos is kind of tough to take, but once the HDR’s from these files are made you will be surprised by how clean and natural the final results are. Try it for yourself and see if it works for you! See you on the ‘light’ side!

A big thanks to Royce Howland who introduced us to Oloneo software and to this expose right technique for HDR photos!

17 February

Tilting on Abraham Lake

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of tilt-shift lenses. There are so many advantages to these lenses for outdoor photographers that I couldn’t image photographing without them! Indeed, my landscape photography kit is currently made up of four Canon tilt-shift lenses (17mm, 24mm, 45mm, and 90mm). Last week I was out on Abraham Lake in the Kootenay Plains and I was a tilting and shifting fool using all four lenses equally! To illustrate one of the benefits of tilt (altering the plane of focus) check out the sample photos below:

©Darwin Wiggett

The photo on the right was taken with the Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens at a wide open aperture of f4. The leaf was only inches from the front of the lens. As expected, there is only one, thin slice of focus in the photo (the near foreground). Traditionally, I could use an aperture like f22 to extend the depth-of-field to a wider slice of apparent sharpness but with the leaf this close to the lens and the mountain so far back even at hyperfocal distance there would not be enough depth-of-field to render both the leaf and the mountain sharply.

Enter tilt. With tilt I can simply bend the plane of focus so that it falls on the leaf and the top of the mountain simulataneously — cool eh? Image taking a giant piece of cardbard and laying it with one end touching the leaf and the other end touching the top of the mountain. Everything in the plane of the cardboard will be rendered sharp when the lens is focused on this plane. So in the photo on the right, also shot at f4,  both the leaf and the mountain are sharp because I have tilted the lens so they fall in the same plane of focus. Some things are still out of the plane of focus (like the base of the mountain) but here is where traditional depth-of-field can come in and sharpen up the stuff that does not fall into the plane of the tilt. For the final shot below, I used f11 to give me just the depth-of-field I needed to get the entire scene sharp.

The final photo which was a raw capture was processed using Camera RAW in Photoshop 5.1 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.0 (to add some contrast and snap — more on how to do this in a future post).

To learn more about processing raw photos, be sure to check out our talk tomorrow (Feb. 18, 2012) on raw vs JPEG. And to learn more about using Tilt and Shift (which can be tricky!), be sure to sign up  for our talk on that subject March 10, 2012.

©Darwin Wiggett - The finished image of Abraham Lake

1 February

Talyn Stone Model Shoot with Dave Brosha

On January 28, 2012 Dave Brosha and a few of our photography friends went out on a windy Alberta day to make some environmental portraits of Talyn Stone. Wayne Simpson led the charge by making some Gothic-themed photos of Talyn along a line of silhouetted trees on a country road. While Wayne was shooting, the wind was totally epic and Peter Carroll and Samantha had to put some backbone into keeping Wayne’s light from blowing into Saskatchewan!

Once Wayne was ‘winded’, Dave took over. I’m sure purely for safety purposes only, he asked Talyn to go without clothes — you don’t want buttons and buckles and such banging about in the wind injuring people. Right Dave?

Peter Carroll continued photographing Talyn in the trees but he went for a softer, more romantic look. Samantha was up next creating some of her trademark ‘small person in the big landscape’ images. Branimir Gjetvaj documented the whole adventure and I ended the session doing fisheye portraits of Talyn on a lonely, dead end road.

Check out the video below for all our adventures and the finished images. If you want to see the video larger go to the oopoomoo TV video channel.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

Peter Carroll gives Wayne Simpson a ‘hand’ while Dave Brosha assists with the light.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

I show Talyn how it’s done. She never ended up using this pose. I wonder why?


25 January

Four New oopoomoo Photo Talks

Darwin and I am happy to announce four new oopoomoo Talks in Cochrane, Alberta for the spring of 2012. Check out the talks below and if any of them interest you just click on the title for a detailed description. And anyone who knows about our talks, tours and workshops will tell you that the first person to sign up always gets a great prize (hint, hint; don’t delay!)

Raw vs JPEG: Which One is Right for You? – Feb 18, 2012

Think you know raw and JPEG? Well think again! In this talk Samantha and Darwin will demystify the myths surrounding raw and JPEG. They will show how these different image formats require vastly different approaches to get optimal results. Even the most advanced shooter will come away with a new appreciation for how raw and JPEG serve different needs.

Country Road, Cochrane, Alberta

©Darwin Wiggett

The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photographers – March 10, 2012

Discover why Tilt-Shift Lenses are the hottest lenses in nature and landscape photography! Learn the benefits of tilting for precise control over the plane of focus and learn how using shift gives you awesome control over perspective correction. Tilt-Shift lenses also open up the world of panoramic and stitched image photography without need for specialized accessories (because the lenses cost enough!)

©Darwin Wiggett

Essential Filters for Digital Nature Photography – March 24, 2012

In this day and age of HDR imagery and sophisticated processing software, you may think that the lowly filter is a thing of the past.  But some filters are just as important as ever! Darwin and Samantha will show you which camera filters you can use to create evocative imagery and save time in post-processing.  As well, find out which filters deliver effects that can’t be replicated in software no matter how talented you are at the computer. Come see why every digital photographer should still be using filters!

Fall colours near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

©Samantha Chrysanthou

Easy Outdoor Dog Photography – April 28, 2012

Being good at making great images of your dog requires only a few key skills. You don’t need fancy equipment, expensive gear or the patience of an angel but you need a basic understanding of dog behaviour and some basic camera and lighting knowledge. Come and learn from Samantha and Darwin what it takes to make fun, story-telling photos of your pooch!

©Samantha Chrysanthou

We hope to see you at a Talk!


1 January

Happy New Year! Self-Improvement, Photography Style

‘Tis the season of self-improvement, and what better way to improve oneself than setting a creative goal like becoming a better photographer!  But ‘better photographer’ is pretty vague, isn’t it?  Sometimes it helps to come at these kinds of things sideways.  We often advise our students to try a project for a set period of time if they feel like their photography is in a rut.  The project should be as detailed as possible, with a finite time and a measurable goal.  You also want your project to be realistic so that it is achievable.  Many shooters were inspired by the ‘Daily Snap’ project Darwin took on at his old blog in 2010 but photographing every day may not be realistic for all of us.  A good project that is very effective but a bit less time-intensive might be to choose a nearby location and visit this spot once a week for several months, making images at different times of day, in various weather and when you are in different moods.  This kind of a project helps you learn to see by challenging you to find something worth photographing even after you become familiar with (and often desensitized to) a location.  It also improves your self-awareness of what motivates you to click the shutter and how your state of mind influences your photography.  By keeping your images, you’ll have a ‘photographic record’ of your evolution through the project…and maybe even an image or two that you are proud of taking and that is worth sharing.

How do you continue to develop your artistic skill as a photographer?

McDougall Church near Morley

© Samantha Chrysanthou


McDougall Church near Morley, Alberta

© Samantha Chrysanthou