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 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.
Samantha and I have spoken many times about being ruthless in editing your work. Keep only the good stuff, toss the rest. Easier said than done though!
Of course, the longer you wait to edit your images, the more likely you’ll be objective and really clean the clutter. I finally got around to editing and processing my images from The Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies Workshop held in, wait for it… 2011! So after two and a half years of sitting on the hard drive it was easy to look at the images objectively. Of the 500 photos I took, most of them seemed pretty pedestrian. I narrowed the selects down to about 50 images with ‘potential’ and in the end kept only 25 photos. I wonder if I waited another 2 years if I would keep any at all! Hmmmm… I just found several folders of images from the fall of 2005, the more time passes, the more ruthless I get.
Below are the 16 images I liked the best from the 2011 workshop. It remains to be seen if any of these images make it to my top 100 list over time. It will be interesting to see if I have anything at all to share from the 2005 trip!
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.
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!
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.
Anyone who follows our work knows that Sam and I are crazy for the creative advantages of Tilt Shift lenses for our nature and landscape photography. We are not crazy for the price we have to pay for these specialty lenses though. The Nikon 24mm lens sells for $2200 while the Canon 24mm lens sells for about $2400. Ouch!
Enter the Rokinon/Samyang lens squeezing in at under $900 (street value) and we have a serious alternative to consider. But do you get what you pay for? Is the Rokinon a lesser version of the Nikon and Canon both of which are top drawer lenses in terms of quality? I took the Rokinon out for an oopoomoo Real Life Review during a 4-day trip to the Canadian Rockies. Read below to find out my thoughts on this lens.
Taking the lens out of the box, I really was surprised by how light and ‘plastic-y’ the lens felt. I am used to the heavy and robust Canon Tilt Shift 24mm f3.5 L II lens which is built like a tank. The Rokinon felt like a plastic toy in comparison. I was also not impressed by the small tilt and shift knobs. I find the Canon knobs too small and the Rokinon knobs were much smaller than Canon’s! Not great for a working photographer from cold Canada where gloves are survival tools not shooting accessories! The version of the lens I received had small, grey post-like controls for tilt and shift and locking of these movements. Apparently newer versions of the lens have larger knobs (as shown above).
The one thing that did impress me a lot was the fact that the Rokinon lens has independent tilt and shift rotation which is totally cool. The Canon 17 and 24mm tilt shift (version II) lenses also have independent rotation of tilt and shift and I can’t stress enough how much I love and use that feature. The major drawback of Nikon’s suite of tilt shift lenses (and Canon’s older tilt shift lenses) is that the shift and tilt rotation are fixed to one another and this limits the creative effects you can do with these lenses. Kudos to Rokinon for adding this much needed feature to their budget priced lens. Also kudos to Rokinon for making a lens with a big image circle that has the same degree of tilt and shift capabilities as the Canon 24mm tilt shift lens. Awesome!
In the Field with the Rokinon
One of the reasons the Rokinon is a less expensive lens than either the Canon or Nikon tilt shift lenses is that it has a manual aperture ring that is not coupled electronically with the camera body. What this means in practice is that you need to open the lens to f3.5 to do precise focus and tilt movements and then stop the aperture down to the shooting aperture you desire. With a Canon camera and a Canon tilt shift lens, you can set your aperture in advance to whatever aperture you desire. The camera viewfinder or Live View always shows you the view at widest aperture number (e.g. f3.5) making precise focus easy. Simply get focus and shoot no matter what aperture you choose to use in the end. With the Rokinon the process is two step: focus and tilt at f3.5 and then stop down to your shooting aperture and adjust your shutter speed in manual to get proper exposure.
I didn’t mind the extra step in workflow, but what I did mind was the design of the aperture ring right up against the focus ring. Often when I turned the aperture ring to the aperture I wanted to use (mostly f8), I accidentally also moved the focus ring! Drove me crazy! You have to be really careful when turning the aperture ring or else you will nudge the focus and ruin your precisely tilted and focused image.
But is it Sharp?
I can live with a slightly slower workflow, and having to be extra careful with the aperture and focus ring… but if the lens is not sharp what’s the point? OK , so what the verdict?
Well.. the Rokinon is definitely as sharp or sharper than the older Canon 24mm TS-E version I plus it has independent tilt and shift rotation and a bigger image circle and more degrees of tilt and shift. A used Canon 24mm TS-E version I costs about $900. For the same price you could have the Rokinon new and gain many creative advantages over the older Canon Tilt Shift lens. A no-brainer for sure!
If you own a Canon 17-40 f4 or a Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom lens, the Rokinon easily matches or surpasses the sharpness of these lenses especially when tilt is used to bring the entire subject plane into focus and an aperture of f8 to f11 is used for the shooting aperture. For me, as a landscape photographer, if I had to make a choice between either of the two wide angle Canon zooms or the Rokinon, I would take the Rokinon any day of the week (it’s just as sharp or sharper when stopped down but with all the creative advantages of a tilt shift lens). Canon’s two wide zooms are disappointing performers in my opinion especially for the price paid – but that is another story!
But can the Rokinon compare with the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L II? In a word — no. The Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L II is my gold standard for sharpness in lenses. This lens continually amazes me with its sharpness throughout the aperture range; I rate the Canon lens as a 9.5 out of 10 in terms of sharpness and optical performance. The Rokinon is good but I would rate it as an 8 when used correctly and only when stopped down to f8 or f11. Check out the comparison shots below to see what I mean.
Everything is relative. If you are used to and happy with the sharpness of the Canon 24-105mm f4L or the 16-35mm f2.8L then you will be thrilled with the sharpness of the Rokinon especially when stopped down to f8 or f11. At wider apertures the Rokinon is not too impressive in terms of sharpness especially at the edges of the frame.
I have been spoiled with a really great lens in the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L which is tack at all apertures and from edge to edge. It’s hard for me to go to a lesser quality lens once you see just how sharp a great lens can be! the Rokinon is good but it just is not in the same league as the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5 L II lens!
The Rokinon is great value in a lens. You get all the benefits of tilt and shift in an affordable lens that is as sharp or sharper (when used at f8 to f11) than most lenses that photographers use already. You have to put up with stopped down metering but this is not a deal breaker for an already manual lens workflow. If you are on a budget and want to get into the advantages of tilt and shift for landscape photography, then I recommend the Rokinon.
If you are planning to use a tilt shift lens as your prime dedicated landscape lens then I would recommend you save your pennies for the Canon 24mm f3.5L II lens simply because it is sharper and better built than the Rokinon. You get what you pay for with the Canon lens! I am not sure how well the Rokinon will hold up in hard constant use. The Canon lens has proven to be tough in my constant use of it in harsh environmental conditions. I would spend money on lenses over an upgrade to a camera body
If you own a Nikon camera, you have a conundrum: should you buy the Nikon 24 mm tilt shift lens and have slightly sharper images and better build than the Rokinon or invest in the Rokinon because it has independent rotation of tilt and shift which I think is critical for landscape photography? Hmmm … a tough one to call for a Nikon shooter!
The good news is you can find used Rokinon tilt shift lenses out there for under $500 so you can dip your toes in tilt shift photography for relatively little cash giving you time to save up for the big name lenses if you decide you like tilt shift photography. Or maybe that Rokinon will meet all your needs. Like I said I have been spoiled by an exceptional lens in the Canon 24mm TS-E
About our reviews:
We don’t get paid, get kickbacks, affiliate fees or have any personal benefit to do reviews on camera and lenses. We do it only for the benefit of our audience and to try out gear for ourselves. If you like our reviews and want to see more in the future then consider buying one of our eBooks to help support the site. To learn more about tilt shift photography sure to see our article Seven Advantages of Tilt Shift Lenses.
Thanks to Amplis Foto for lending us the Rokinon lens for testing.
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.