This article was previously published in Outdoor Photography Canada (OPC) one year ago. The newest issue of OPC is a visual treat and we highly recommend a subscription if you love outdoor and nature photography!
We know a lot of photographers who only dig out the camera when they travel. It’s easy to understand why. Most of us are inspired by a change in scenery and travel gives us that needed change plus a good dose of visual novelty. Fresh views open our eyes. We are no longer blinded by our contempt for the familiar like we are at home. We see photos everywhere!
But relying on novel experiences to bring out the creative eye is like relying on drugs to make you happy. Once the drug wears off you are miserable… and then to feel good again you need an even higher dose of the drug. For travel-addicted photographers one exotic trip begets another even more exotic trip. To see ‘fresh’, the travel-addicted photographer needs a higher dose of novelty. Soon the photographer gets jaded because they have seen it all.
To get off the roller coaster rush of travel as a forced way of seeing, my partner Samantha and I think that photographers should adopt the 100-Mile diet. Just like the food version where you try to source most of your nutrition locally, the 100-Mile Diet for Photographers asks you to source the bulk of your visual inspiration locally. Doing so will force you to see the magic in the mundane, make something from nothing and grow as a visual artist. You’ll learn to make compelling images of things most people would not even notice. And here is the hidden perk: if you can make evocative images of the everyday world around you, then what will happen when you travel to a new location? Your images will soar because you already have the skills to make great images anywhere. You’ll see the travel destination with the freshest eyes making images that go beyond the clichéd and predictable. Your images will have your unique stamp on them. What could be better?
So how do you start the 100-Mile Diet for Photographers? Easy. Just get out into your neighborhood, local parks, natural areas, the mall, the main street of town or wherever your life takes you day to day. Pretend you are a visitor from a foreign country or an alien from outer space. What you used to take for granted visually, now becomes inexplicable and intriguing. Don’t judge; just shoot anything that catches your eye. Keep it to the details. Visit frequently. It helps to have a small portable camera like a digital point-n-shoot or even your smartphone. You won’t want to be lugging around your giant bag of lenses to the local coffee shop!
A 100-mile Diet helps you develop the essential skills of ‘learning to see’ that seem to elude so many photographers. Both Samantha and I have travelled around the world and photographed incredible places. But it wasn’t until we gave the same respect and attention to our own neighbourhoods that we saw improvement in our creative skills. We believe this skill is so essential (yet so overlooked) that we created a workbook called Learning to See with plenty of fun exercises to get you flexing your artistic muscle! So don’t rely on ‘exciting’ subjects or iconic destinations to make images that in the end have often been done before. Learn to ‘see’ the wonders in your own backyard for a lifetime of creative photography.
Many of you know Michael Orton for the Orton Effect which he originated in the film days by sandwiching an overexposed sharp slide with an overexposed blurry slide of the same subject to create a painterly looking image. This can easily be replicated in digital during post-processing or by using the multiple exposure capabilities of many of the newer digital cameras. We use the Orton Effect regularly in many of our images (see recent example here) and we have instructions on how to do it in Photoshop here. Users of Photoshop Elements have the Orton Effect built right into the software!
But Michael has moved on from his popular effect and now is using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create amazing ‘e-motional’ photographic art. Check out the article, images and videos below from Michael!
The Magic of Intentional Camera Movement
Imagine yourself walking in the pre-dawn, up a winding trail to an elevated overlook. You weave your way through the forest, and as you near your destination, an ethereal glowing light begins to filter through the trees. Stepping into the clearing you witness one of the most incredible sunrise skies you have ever or may ever see again. Crimson, gold, magenta, orange, for as far as the eye can see, and for a moment you just stand, awestruck, speechless. These moments are what photography is about, but as we all know they don’t happen every day, that is until now. Working with ICM, this same sense of wonder is what I can experience nearly every time I step out with my camera. The difference is that instead of waiting and searching for these moments I can now create them. ICM photography is like a continuous voyage of discovery, that allows you to travel in one direction today, and then a completely different direction tomorrow.
If you sense that your photo life could use some element of creative discovery, and you are open to wherever this might take you, here are some beginning pointers to get started. While the actual process is moving the camera, “seeing” like all photography is really the key. ICM is only as successful as the photographers ability to recognize lines, forms, and tonal differences within the subject. Some situations , like a stand of parallel trees, are easy to attach a compatible camera movement to. Start with these obvious subjects to begin with and mimic the apparent line with a movement. I shoot at my lowest ISO setting with a polarizer and 2 stop ND filter on my 18-70 99% of the time. I use handheld only because I move the camera as if it where a movie camera on a track and not pivoting from a fixed point. Use manual focus to prevent the camera from focus searching during the exposures. Cradle the camera with one hand with your arm into your chest as support for smooth long lines. I use shutter speeds of 1/60 to 4 seconds and numerous actual camera movement speeds for example, slow, medium or fast. Rehearse your chosen action or movement while looking through the viewfinder, then begin making exposures while the camera is moving and continue moving after the exposure is complete.You can move your camera any way you wish. Lines, arcs, circles, ovals, the decision is yours based on what you choose as subject matter. In the past years I have developed what I describe as compound movements which are two combined and then to add a twist I will alter focal length (zoom) or change focus during the exposure. These take practice, but yield diverging lines when the subject matter is appropriate. ICM is not unlike solving a puzzle that when you do, you have an “Aha” moment, followed by “So that is how it works.”
Give yourself enough time to honestly get some results, not just one outing, take a few weeks. It takes patience, this isn’t another “App”. Stay with it and you will know what I am talking about. Marko Kulik has experienced this and now has a wonderful gallery of Montreal streets at night. I use landscape, but any source of lines, form, colour and light can be a starting point. When you have had some successful results you will begin to realize how many combinations of choices of movements and camera speeds there are. Add to this the ability to actually blend and mix colours at the same time, and ICM becomes a process where the given subject matter and your response to it are constantly changing. Unlike going to a favorite landscape I have no preconceptions as to what the outcome will be when I walk into the world armed with ICM. It almost feels like my first few years when everything surprised and excited me, which after 35 years of carrying a camera , is exactly what I needed at this time.
If you are travelling or photographing on Vancouver Island, contact us to view our prints.These new images make impressive prints, especially in larger sizes and are available in very limited edition (10) prints, on canvas or watercolour paper. The video ” The Liquid Landscape ” features some recent work, while the video “A Walk in the Palm Grove” demonstrates the use of ICM in just one location.
When Sam first told me about her self-imposed deadline of June 30, 2014 to have all of her image backlog either processed or deleted I was shocked. She has so many great images just waiting for processing (many of them multiple image stitches or HDR sequences) how could she dare even think about deleting all that great work? It deserves to be seen! She is destroying art – how can she?
But I totally understand her need to kill the clutter so she can move on with creating new work. The problem arose because both Sam and I have precious little time for processing our image files in our backlog because other aspects of our photo business have higher priority. It’s weird, but as photography instructors, our own creative work most often gets the least priority. But because we are headed off on a creative sabbatical this year it would be great to start off our personal journey with absolutely no backlog from the past. In fact, I think it is mandatory that we start off our artistic journey with no baggage! And so… with a big, big dose of courage garnered from all the support that oopoomoo readers have given Sam, I am going to make the same resolution to have my image backlog processed or deleted by June 30, 2014.
How big of a job is it? I have 199 folders (each one representing a shooting day) to sort, edit, process and mostly delete from my hard drive. Some folders go back to 2005!!! It’s hard to think of letting go of many, many hours of shooting but really out of all those folders how many great images are there? Even if I only keep 10%, I should be able to get it all done (he tells himself hopefully)… so here it goes….
I am starting off by processing my folders of images from the Nordegg Mine (Brazeau Collieries) in advance of our Coal Mines and Cantons in the Canadian Rockies; an HDR Workshop starting this Thursday (we still have a spot or two available if anyone has time off this weekend – we have no plans to run this next year). The photos below were from a September 21, 2011 when we spent a full 8 hours at the mine.
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.
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!
Art is about personal expression. How do you feel about a subject? What is your connection to what you see? Why are you attracted to a particular subject? What do you want to tell the world? Who are you? These are the bigger questions we need to ask when making our art.The desire to paint, to sculpt, to make music, or to create photographs should be motivated from within and be an expression of you. External motivations like making money, getting likes, or pleasing others will only spoil your artistic expression. Create for yourself.
Once you are creating for yourself and not others AND you are photographing from your feelings and a connection with a subject, then you can think of which camera technique and post processing methods will enhance your message. Whenever I go to the old coal mine in Nordegg (Brazeau Collieries) I immediately feel a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality. Where some people see a hulk of rusty industrial power, I see a romantic dream of the past. It took me a visit or two to honour my inner feelings about the mine but once I let those feelings out, then I could make the images I wanted to make about the mine.
For example, there is a spot in the mine called the bone yard where random pieces of equipment lay scattered about in the grass. I wanted to show a sense of the passage of time and the static nature of the rusting equipment among the living world. To do this I used a solid ND filter on my camera lens to lengthen exposure time so the grasses moved as a ghostly blur around the rusting pieces of metal. This painterly look was enhanced in processing by using the Orton technique. The end result gave me a wistful look.
The selective use of aperture to have parts of the scene rendered sharp and parts of the scene a dreamy blur was also effective for me in translating my dream-like feeling for the mine. I used apertures such as f1.4 or f2.8 to give me a thin slice of sharpness.
Another technique I used to enhance the nostalgic mood was to convert the images from colour into sepia-toned black and white. Many of the scenes inside of the buildings at the mine site are contrasty with bright light coming in through the windows and cavernous shadow areas. To capture the entire range of bright to dark in the image I used HDR exposure blends (multiple images blended together at different exposures) to create one image with complete tonal detail. The final exposure blend is then converted to sepia to give a historic looking image.
If you would like an opportunity to see and photograph the Nordegg mine and find out how this location makes YOU feel, come join me and Samantha along with Royce Howland for our Coal Mines, Canyons, and the Canadian Rockies: the HDR Photography Workshop this May. I know I’m excited to return to this unique industrial landmark…maybe my creative vision will be different this time…who knows!
All around us, from our screens to print magazines to giant billboards, there’s a constant stream of images. It’s easy to feel a little lost in terms of our own contribution. Do you ever post a favourite shot to facebook, Flickr or your website, and wonder why you’re bothering? Will anyone even see it? Will they like it?
I know at times I feel like my work is just a drop in the ocean, a tiny sound in an endless void. A voice in the wilderness. So why do we do it? Why do we doggedly share, show and reveal our images in a world already bursting with incredible visual imagery?
Not only is there a surplus of photographs but, if you think about it, we must be CRAZY to open ourselves up in this way! When we post and pin our images, we’re revealing some pretty personal information about ourselves: we’re shouting out what we like, what moves us, what we feel is special, what we think is important. We’re showing our unique artistic impulses and demonstrating our level of technical skill (or our embarrassing lack thereof in both categories). We open ourselves up to the risk of ridicule from complete strangers! Remember that dream everyone has, where you show up at school completely naked!?! On one level, throwing your work out there into a cold, uncaring world can make you feel the same shivery level of exposure.
So when we share our images, we’re either crazy or really brave — or both. I think we continue to post our images, despite the risks, because it’s the human condition to seek connection with others. We were motivated to make something — an image — and we want to share what touched us in hopes it might reach someone else’s heart. And here’s the good news. We have to keep up this crazy, brave, foolish pursuit of connection. Because images can effect change. Because images do have an impact. Because images do connect.
Darwin and I have always taught photography with a firm emphasis on creativity and the uniqueness of vision of every one of our students, regardless of their so-called ‘level’ or ‘professional’ ability. Guy Clark has an amazing song about trusting your cape… sometimes, you just have to make a leap and hope that your belief in yourself will see you through. I firmly believe that everyone’s artistic voice is needed in this world. It’s only through sharing and connection, communication and discussion, that we may be able to fumble our way toward some solutions to the problems of this day-and-age. No lone voice in the wilderness will amount to much of a song, but a beautiful chorus of heart-felt, artistic expression…now that just might change the world.
Well, they did it! This year’s winter workshop was a record breaker: coldest sustained temperatures (dipping below -30C a few times), most international crew with photographers traveling from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Spain and, ironically, the most crystal clear skies with lots of sun for most of the week. But the shooters soldiered on, working the bubbles on Abraham Lake (where they weren’t hidden under the snow) but in the end, coming away with incredible images revealing their unique creative vision. We asked the students at the beginning of the workshop to think of the ‘why’ question: why do you take pictures? What in a particular scene inspires you to snap the shutter? Then we peppered them with tough assignments (to take their minds off the cold, of course!) which they completed with aplomb.
We may head out for the bubbles on Abraham Lake, but it’s the glory of the Kootenay Plains region — perhaps because of the sunny, -30C weather — that inspired the following images from the group. Great work guys, and so glad you survived!
Join the discussion! Check out the oopoomoo workshop page on Facebook.
Quick and Dirty Processing Tips – Retro Photoshop Technique Using Quick Mask for Making Great Skies!
If you saw our last blog post you learned how we used the retro technique of using Quick Mask in Photoshop to paint on local selections. In this video we’ll show you how we use Quick Mask in conjunction with the gradient tool in Photoshop to make more dramatic skies. To learn more about our processing tips be sure to see our eBook; 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers.
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 😉