We are excited to announce a very special workshop with guest instructor Royce Howland that is all about HDR photography highlighting special access to a huge, historic coal mining site and the virgin canyons of the Bighorn Wildland. This HDR workshop gives photographers rare and special access to Nordegg’s unique non-operational coal mining plant at the Brazeau Collieries. No need to be rushed along by tour guides: you’ll have a day and a half to explore one of the most intact charcoal briquette mines in North America. The Brazeau Collieries is a photographer’s dream jam-packed with intriguing artifacts, dilapidated buildings and the skeletal remains of equipment and vehicles rusting away in a lonely, industrial boneyard. As well, we’ll visit the lesser known canyons and secret spots of the Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake to practice our refined HDR techniques. This workshop is a structured learning opportunity with a combination of classroom time and plenty of practice time in fantastic field locations. Come and join us May 28 – June 1 2014 for this unique and fun photo workshop! To learn more simply click here.
Early booking bonus! Anyone who signs up for this workshop by January 31st, 2014 will receive the entire oopoomoo eBook library on CD at the workshop! That’s 19 eBooks and a total value of $195.00 — an incredible collection! (Read the small print: this bonus can only be collected upon attendance at the workshop and is limited to those eBooks published by oopoomoo at the date of this post.)
Rather than try and pick our best images for the year (what does ‘best’ mean anyway?), we thought we would share with you images that reinforced lessons for us:
Lesson 1: Film is still fun and nothing beats getting it right in the camera!
Lesson 2: Toy cameras such as the Holgas give unpredictable but funky results. Forget Instagram, this is the real thing! 😉
Lesson 3: Short telephoto lenses are perfect for intimate landscape photography!
Lesson 4: Wildlife does not have to fill the frame to make interesting environmental portraits.
Lesson 5: The object doesn’t really matter — but composition and light are king. There’s magic in the everyday!
Lesson 6: We love long exposures during the day.
Lesson 7: Sometimes having fun and experiencing nature is way more important than photography!
Lesson 8: Shoot a variety of things to avoid a creative rut and keep working on your photo skills.
Lesson 9: The value of projects is not to be underestimated for feeding your creative soul!
Lesson 10: Shoot what’s important to you.
Many times we’ve been requested to share our processing workflow. And we never formally did. It’s not that what we do is a top secret or anything. It has more to do with the fact that we weren’t sure if our workflow would actually be useful as an example to anyone. See, we have a secret…we’re lazy when it comes to processing our images. We don’t want to spend lots of time on the computer fiddling with sliders and moving pixels around. We prefer making as many creative choices in the field as we can without sacrificing image quality. As nature and landscape photographers, we really like spending time outside!
So what’s changed, you may be thinking. Well, after reading lots of books and watching how other photographers teach processing, we realized that one key message wasn’t really getting out: there is no right or wrong way to process your images. There is only right or wrong for you and your goals. Which means you must take what everyone says with a grain of salt. Just because someone else says you ‘ought’ to manage your images a certain way doesn’t mean that is useful advice for you! Like us, study what other photographers do. Read books. Try things out. Take what makes you happy and achieves your creative vision, and dump the rest. For example, some of our goals are:
- spend as much time as possible making creative decisions in-camera rather than on the computer (we like being outside, right?)
- easy and simple is better than long and complicated if both paths lead you to the same point
- in photography, creative vision begins in the field when an image is conceived and should inform your processing choices – we only move sliders to further this vision, not for ‘cool’ effects that really just amount to ornamentation
These goals inform our processing. When we took a step back and considered our processing, we realized that, in most cases, we followed seven steps with our images. Because there’s a dozen ways to get to your end goal in processing (but not many books written with the express purpose of shortening your time on the computer through unorthodox shortcuts), we thought we would share what we do with you. A warning though! These shortcuts are not safe, typical or even necessarily recommended: but they work for us, and might work for you.
So here it is, Sam and Darwin’s 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers.
This Book is For:
- photographers who shoot in raw format and use Photoshop
- shooters who want to minimize their time spent processing in their workflow
- skeptics who want to make up their own mind on what works for them
- photographers looking for a key shortcut or two to add to their processing repertoire
- anyone interested in the way we process our pictures (for better or worse)
This Book is Not For:
- commercial photographers with clients who may demand changes to a processed file at any time
- photographers who enjoy and spend a lot of time processing their work (if you love being creative on the computer, your goals are different from ours)
- photographers seeking a detailed, step-by-step guide to processing your images
- beginners (or anyone who shoots JPEG format only) wanting to understand the pros and cons of various editing programs
- photographers who want to learn processing in an ‘industry-approved’ and standardized workflow
- anyone happy with their digital darkroom workflow
- people who don’t have or intend to learn Adobe Photoshop (or for that matter, anyone who does most of their work in Lightroom)
So… if we’ve whet your appetite and you think there might be a sneaky processing shortcut or two that would work for you, check out our eBook now! We’re heading outside to make images…
This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine in 2008 – subscribe to see our article sooner than 6 years wait 😉
To delve deeper into this topic see our Mastering Composition and Visual Design eBook
Do you feel that your photographs are starting to become predictable? If so, then perhaps you need to move beyond the basic elements of composition. The following ‘guidelines’ may help take your images to the next level.
Beyond the Rule of Thirds
Almost every photographer is aware of the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds divides the frame of an image up into three equal portions both vertically and horizontally, and the photographer generally places the subject of the photo at the intersection of the one of the horizontal and verticals thirds (photo 3 -below). Notice how the lighthouse is placed on a line of the thirds and the red cap of the house is at an intersection of the thirds. The horizon line is also placed near a line of the thirds. The rule of thirds works well to create pleasing and balanced photos.
If you want a little more dynamism in your images, try composing using the points along the “golden spiral”. The golden spiral is derived from the golden mean where each succeeding number after one is equal to the sum of the two preceding numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc). The ratio formed from these numbers is 1.618 and is called the golden mean. If you take a 35mm frame (2:3 format) and successively divide the picture frame into 1.618 rectangles you will ultimately spiral down to a smaller rectangle that is a powerful point of attention (photo 4). This point can move to any of the four corners of the photo (photo 5) and often images created using points derived from the golden spiral are more exciting and energetic than images created using the rule of thirds. If we return to the lighthouse photo and recompose the image so the red cap of the lighthouse sits on one of the power points of the golden spiral we produce an image that is much more dynamic (photo 6).
So how do I know where the power points of the golden spiral are when I compose through the viewfinder? Well, I don’t know precisely, but I can compose approximately knowing that the power points are closer to the corners than if I followed the rules of thirds. Also, note that each golden spiral power point is unequally spaced from the edges of the photo (see photo 5). It is this unequal spacing that makes the composition more dynamic. When composing in the field, put your main subject a little closer to the edge of the frame–making sure it is not symmetrically placed in the corner–and you will have something close to the perfection of the golden spiral (Photo 7).
Composing with Triangles
An offshoot of the golden mean is something called the golden triangle. Here, the frame is divided diagonally, corner to corner, and then further divided in one of the main triangles by intersecting the opposing corner with a point derived from the 1.618 ratio (see photo 8). The red lines in photo 8 are the three main triangles that divide up the picture area; the blue line is the 1.618 ratio line. Any photo with diagonal lines and strong shapes will be more pleasing if the shapes and lines follow the layout of the golden triangle. If we go back to the golden spiral version of the light house (photo 9) we notice that the main elements within this photo form obvious shapes that fit nearly perfectly into the triangles defined by the golden mean. Notice also that within the main triangle are sub triangles that further help to add interest to the composition.
For me composition is all about shape: I do not look at objects within my frame as ‘subjects’ but rather see their form. And my task is to distribute the shapes in my picture-space in a pleasing manner. The golden mean, golden spiral and golden triangle give us a good foundation for the layout of the shapes and lines in our photographs. For example, in photo 10, a dusk shot of the Lunenburg Academy in Nova Scotia, I distributed the shapes in the photograph according to the rules of the golden triangle with the tree branches making up one triangle, the building filling most of the second triangle and the sky as the subject of the third triangle. Notice also how the most important part of the photo, the steeple, lies at the intersection of the three triangles.
The Power of Shapes
Now that we know how important implied lines and shapes are to composition, we can explore the emotional meaning to the shapes that we distribute in our pictures. The basic shapes are rectangles, triangles and circles. Rectangles are familiar, safe and comfortable and imply stability and truth but also rigidity and conformity. Triangles suggest action and power because of the pointed nature of the shape. A triangle on its base is powerful but stable but can represent growth. A triangle on its point is unstable and often threatening. Circles suggest infinity, softness, spirituality and security.
Freeman Patterson has pointed out that photographers are often drawn to different shapes at different times over their evolution as artists. During periods of change and growth many photographers find an affinity towards triangles. Circles are often sought by those photographers seeking peace, harmony and well being. Rectangles appeal to those who long for comfort and familiarity. I have seen the shapes change in my composition over time as I go through different phases in my life. Lately I am on a huge triangle kick – I don’t know why, maybe it’s a mid-life crisis! I guess it is better to go out and photograph triangles than buy a Porsche or try to climb Everest! Even in a forest scene where you would think that triangles are not prevalent, I find triangles (photo 11). The scene is divided diagonally into two triangles and the clumps of trees on both the right and left sides of the frame form triangular shapes. Even the centred rock is almost triangular. Did I know I was organizing the picture space into triangles at the time? No, the composition just ‘felt right’ to be organized in the way it is presented.
‘Gestalt’ is from the German word for ‘form, pattern or configuration’. Gestalt theory tells us that the whole can’t be seen by looking at the individual elements. Only when the final product is assembled do we see how the components make up the whole. The same happens in photography. I don’t necessarily recognize the shapes, lines and forms in the scene before me as I am photographing. What I do recognize is that when the composition comes together in the viewfinder it just feels ‘right’. After the fact, I can analyze my photos and then understand why the composition worked so well. It definitely helps to understand the theory behind composition because the more you understand things, the more intuitive or subconsciously things will ‘click’ in the field. I found the more I studied why my pictures were successful or why they failed the better I developed my sense of “gestalt”.
Based on the lesson in this article, see if you can figure out why the composition in photo 12 is successful. If you need a hint, remember to apply what you know about the golden spiral, golden triangles and the power of shapes.
The photo of the pathway follows the rules of the golden triangle very closely with the boardwalk dividing the image into two triangles and the smaller triangles containing distinct areas of the photograph. The vanishing point of the boardwalk is right at one of the power points of the golden spiral and the s-curve of the boardwalk snakes it way through the photo connecting the three main triangles.
We hope you enjoyed this wee article on composition and can start to apply these principles to your own work.
One of our favorite workshops is the Fire and Ice in the Canadian Rockies which is held in early November of each year. We love the transition season of fall giving way to winter when the lakes and rivers are fringed with ice and the low sun fires up the sky. Peppered with snow, wildlife, icicles, and big light the Fire and Ice Workshop continually surprises us each year. Below are two favorite photos from each of our intrepid participants.
Johann Van Der Merwe
And here are a couple of photos from Alan Ernst of Aurum Lodge showing the photographers at work.
Below are the results of this year’s Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies photo tour. I must say this was one crazy and zany group and I never hurt so much from laughing! Thanks to all who came and made this a memorable adventure (the group photo is at the end).
For anyone interested in next year’s event we are already halfway full and it will be an intense learning and creative experience with our new workshop format and the addition of Samantha as a co-instructor. Looking forward to it!
The Crew along with Alan and Madeleine of Aurum Lodge
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.
This year’s Badlands, Buicks and Old Buildings: The Prairie Workshop was a roaring fun event with our participants coming back with awesome and surprising images! Below are each person’s results along with some thoughts on the making of the image. For those interested in the 2014, event click here for more information.
A salvage yard emits a certain type of melancholy. Not only do you sense the physical waste of industrialization – – one can imagine some dreadful wrecks associated with the leftover scraps. These jewel tones of shattered glass laying on the dashboard could have left a hole in someone’s heart.
I keep coming back to this photo when I look at my BBB 2013 photos, because it is just such a majestic shot of a stately and robust old work truck. The colours are attractive, with the rusted paint, green grass, blue sky and field in the background. The headlights, the chrome “necklace” around the front, and my favourite is the mirror. It just proudly sticks right out there, and isn’t symmetrically offset by one on the other side. Even the dilapidated wood box shows up a little. It is so classic old farm Alberta.
So this flowering bulb stood out among the native grasses and the fields, it was begging to be photographed. I carefully took a position over top and tried not to disturb the bulb as it looked like it may fly apart with the slightest touch, so I didn’t dare touch it. I shot this with a 100mm macro lens and took several images, each image a little bit deeper into the bulb as shown here. In the last image, though slightly out of focus due to the gentle breeze, I noticed a small green grasshopper was staring back into the lens !!
I came to the workshop to improve my vision and techniques for landscape photography. I was prepared with my tripod, filters, cable release and level bubble. As I was set up and geared up to photograph the cool old falling down barn, I was also half watching one of the horses that was nearby. I noticed that it was purposefully walking from yellow flower to yellow flower to eat them. Camera comes off tripod, cable release disconnected, ND grad pulled and level bubble not necessary. I pre-focused on the next flower victim and when the horse came into the frame I got the shot. I like the simplicity of it. The horse eating yellow flowers.
For three days, we were all captivated in the subject of photography, from short informative seminars and sun rise picturesque opportunities, to prairie sunsets with windmill backdrops, captivating light painting and of course non-stop photography talk from equipment to technique all filling our bottomless toolbox of knowledge. I really liked this ‘retired truck’ at the auto wrecker’s yard.
It was a very hot afternoon on the Central Alberta prairie, spent walking up and down rows of ‘seen better days’ vehicles at an auto wrecker’s. I decided to stretch out on the grass between two of the neatly arranged rows. My eyes were drawn to an off white station wagon. Hey, that’s not just a station wagon – it’s a hearse! Oh, I bet if it could talk it would have lots of stories to tell. Other vehicles in the compound could perhaps talk about trips to a family farm, the big city zoo, grandma’s house or exciting shopping trips. The hearse would have no such stories. My goal when I made this photo was to have viewers think solemnly about the many trips this vehicle made down busy city streets or quiet rural roads to the local cemetery. Maybe it would evoke memories within the viewer. I don’t want to make viewers sad, just contemplative . I have several different shots of the vehicle but I like this one the best because I could imagine people standing on the street watching the hearse go by and seeing through this window, wondering who was going to their resting place. I set the camera on a tripod and composed the picture so that the grasses were not merging with the curtains. In order to keep my reflection out of the window I had to use the cable release. The photo was taken as a colour jpeg. I changed it to black and white because it reflects the mood I am trying to portray.
I am a very novice photographer and have become interested in the way light can influence an image. After an evening of painting several objects and small buildings with light, I enlisted the help of my wife Catherine and friend Darwin to assist me in the light painting of a historic Alberta ranch home. Catherine shone a light on the house allowing me to focus properly. I put the camera on bulb setting and had Catherine and Darwin run around and paint the house with their flashlights. With their help I obtained my ‘best painting with light’ image.
Being able to immerse the dark cabin in a sweep of light from a flashlight helped to create this moody historic scene.
I certainly enjoyed my time in Alberta. Hard to pick only one picture but this one from Dry Island Buffalo Jump was a personal favorite.
Join Samantha, Peter Carroll, Ian McGillvrey and myself as we teach you about the finer points of asking permission and getting a property release from car owners at the Cochrane Classic Car Club Show and Shine this September 15. The video below shows you what not to do and has a few tips on how to properly approach a car owner for permission to photograph. We have pre-negotiated a few owners to sign releases for participants who sign up (we have made the process a little less scary for first time street photographers). As well, we discuss in detail issues of copyright, model and property releases before we head to the streets. And finally we’ll give your images a detailed critique at the public showing of participant’s favorite photos. Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes photographers make when taking pictures of public events, and learn what your rights are as a photographer when it comes to your images. If you enjoy taking and sharing pictures of parades, rodeos or other public events, the skills taught during this unique workshop are not to be missed!
To top it off, this great event is a fundraiser to support the IRIS Photographic Society of Alberta! So come out and have some fun and learn the ins and outs of street photography. For more information about the event please check out this link!
Thanks to Dave Lovell of Gone Wild Kennels for his great job as the car owner in the video!
As many of you know, Samantha and I have decided to stop doing photo tours. Tours are about guiding photographers to the most scenic locations given the light and the weather, and also trying to bag the big trophy locations in sweet light. Although tours are fun and have a function, Samantha and I are much more interested in teaching people to be better artists no matter where you find yourself. Tours by design just don’t teach creative expression: they aim to get you pretty photos for your portfolio. While our workshops will still be held in the stunning Kootenay Plains of Alberta, we think you’ll come away with a more diverse set of images that demonstrate depth and creativity with our new workshop format. But… if you want one last kick at my final Canadian Rockies ‘big game hunting’ landscape photography tour, then there are two spots left in the 2013 Fire and Ice Photo Tour. If you are interested in our workshops that tease out your personal expression then check out our 2014 schedule. Below are 20 of my favorite ‘trophies’ from Fire and Ice over the years.