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!
Many photographers have an agenda when they go out to photograph. Whether it’s to capture a portrait, a destination or a representation of a specific subject we often have a preconceived result in mind before we even press the shutter. We know exactly what we hope to capture and what we want the final result to look like. This is not necessarily good or bad; many of history’s best images came as a result of the photographer seeing the photo in their mind’s eye before the camera was ever lifted to the eye. When I look at my own favourite images, a significant portion were visualized in advance and my job was to make that visualization a reality on film or the digital sensor. But just as many of my favourite photos came about from serendipitous discovery and the most creative and refreshing of those discoveries came when I was just goofing around and playing with the camera, when I was experimenting with no serious intent in mind. I think many of us would benefit from not taking photography too seriously and just going out open-minded and ready to have fun. My best results at photographic play have happened when I leave the ‘serious’ gear behind and just respond with a point-n-shoot or small dSLR. I also abandon all the ‘should do’ photographic rules and techniques and just respond organically. It’s so freeing. Many times I just get junk photos, but just as often a gem emerges. I have no expectations either way but simply go out in the world in joyful play. Let me give a couple of examples.
Sam and I used to lead photographic workshops and tours in the Canadian Rockies based out of the Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake. In the early years most photographers were just happy to be in this amazing locale and make photos of all the things that inspired them. Later on, images of the methane bubbles on Abraham Lake started to circulate on the internet and all of a sudden making images of the bubbles was on the bucket list of most photographers. Our job then became one of leading photographers to the bubbles in sunrise and sunset light so that they could achieve their preconceived result. Amazing images resulted but frankly they all looked pretty much the same. There was a sudden loss of desire to explore the area for all the other visual delights there. Instead there was a fixation on getting bubble images. I also kept repeating the successful bubble formula images because it helped sell workshops.
One day in between winter workshops I went out for a mid-afternoon walk with just a camera and a zoom lens slung over my shoulder. I remember walking the shoreline of Abraham Lake just chilling. I was beach-combing, picking up stones, pieces of ice and pine cones just like a kid. I spent some time balancing myself on one leg on big stones and then rock-hopping stone to stone. In short, I was in goofing-off mode. I was not even remotely thinking about making pictures. In fact, I wanted to escape ‘having to make photos’. I saw some fins of ice along the shoreline and wondered if I could squeeze my way under them. I managed to get under the plate-like slabs of ice and just lay there looking up fascinated with the texture of the ice. Every slight move of my head revealed a new kaleidoscope of wavy distortions. It was mesmerizing. I must have spent twenty minutes just jostling my head around before it dawned on me that I had a camera. A couple of snapshots later and I had some of my favourite images I ever made of Abraham Lake ice. The power of play revealed its creative power.
Here is another example of the power of play. I am a huge fan of dogs and so as a photographer it was not a big stretch for me to end up photographing ‘man’s best friend’. Anyone who has photographed dogs knows it can be tough unless you have an obedience-trained dog that will take your directed commands. Most dogs are not well trained which says more about the owners than the dogs, but that’s another story. I had some early success with my own dogs that had basic obedience training and, when people saw the images, some of them asked me to photograph their dogs. My expectations of how a dog photo session should go, well orchestrated with trained dogs, went out the window fast. I was frustrated, the dog was stressed and the owner was not happy with the results. The whole thing was not fun. The solution to the problem came when I dropped expectations, and just started playing with the dogs. Forget the damn camera! I worked fun back into my time with the dogs. And then I tried something unorthodox. I put the camera on program mode, turned on the auto-focus and the motor drive and just pointed the camera in the general direction of the dog while we played together. Most of the results were terrible but occasionally magic happened! In the film days this was an expensive experiment, but once digital came along, the fun was cheap and I could play even more. Samantha and I refined this ‘play with the dogs’ photographic approach into a more predictably successful technique which we discuss in our dog photography eBook, Sit, Stay & Smile. In the end it was play and the loss of expectations that resulted in fresh imagery of the dogs.
So… the moral is not to take yourself and your photography too seriously. Make room for play and go out and act like a kid. If you want more exercises in play and in creative discovery be sure to check out our Learning to See Workbook and free Born Creative eBook.
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.
Darwin and I have been visiting our favourite mountain retreat, Aurum Lodge for the past couple of weeks. The weather has been crazy warm and not even that windy for almost the entire time. We did have one snow squall which meant waking up to a surreal, quiet, white world the next day. Both of us headed out with our cameras, going in different directions, and I was incredibly fortunate to spend a half an hour watching and photographing a raven that was observing the still morning.
Although I could have grabbed a shot and quickly left in search of something new, as soon as that thought entered my mind, I had to laugh at myself. What could possibly be more magical than the light, the sun and this dark creature right in front of me? I’m not a wildlife photographer, but I appreciate the patience it takes to learn the habits of animals in order to better photograph them.
And this raven rewarded my decision to stay and observe by preening, calling to a friend, and taking the scene all in before finally flying away. It was a magical experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of that snowy spring world.
Before there was the crazed hunt for candy, Halloween was a celebration of life before the dark and decay of winter. Like all good ancient holidays, its a nuanced tradition which reminds us to keep close and treasure our loved ones and while remembering and honouring the spirits of our ancestors – lest they become peeved and spoil our morning cereal milk. In a world of uncertainty, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets (you never know who may be lurking about). So, in the sense of paying a little homage to that which we don’t always understand, we are sharing a couple of images made on public lands of the prayer flags ceremoniously placed by the First Nations people in the area. Without knowing the prayers behind the placement of the strips of cloth, we can still appreciate and respect the haunting and lovely nature of the objects themselves.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
This article was originally published in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine several years ago. Be sure to subscribe to see the latest work from great photographers across Canada.
Chasing the Icon
Photographers are like birders. For a lot of birders, what matters most is the sighting of a species so you can check off that bird from your list. The more species sighted the better. The same is true for many photographers; the number of iconic locations captured adds notches to your photography belt. Taj Mahal? Got it! Delicate Arch? Nabbed! Niagara Falls? You bet! But does a portfolio full of the grand wonders of the World make you a better photographer? I doubt it.
The internet has made finding, knowing and sharing information about photo locations very easy. Do a little research, look at a few photos online and you’ll know exactly where and when to go get the best sighting. And once you get to an icon you’ll line up with hundreds of other photographers all trying to make the same shot. What’s the point?
In the past, the portfolios of photographers were full of work from lesser known local areas, and the images showed more creative vision because people were shooting for themselves and not trying to copy someone else’s iconic image. In short, there was a personal stamp on each photographer’s work because they were reacting to the scene personally.
Fast forward to the app-driven ‘iPhotography’ world of today and everything looks the same. In the portfolios I review, I see all the same trophy locations, with similar compositions, all processed with the same software plug-ins. The results are homogenous and boring. What has happened to personal expression?
I think what’s happened is that we’ve lost touch with why we go out to make photos in the first place. For most of us who do nature photography, we go out because we want to connect with nature. The more we actually take the time, look around and be in nature, the better our photography will be. A National Geographic photographer once said that the way to get good enough to work for the magazine was to choose one subject or location, preferably close to home, that you can revisit over and over again and really get to know well. The better you know the subject or location, the deeper you’ll dig to create unique images with your personal stamp. And the more your personal style emerges, the more likely you’ll be sought after by the magazine.
For me, I’ve found that when I travel if I just visit one or two spots and concentrate on getting to know those locations, then my photography soars. If I chase icons and try to capture as many locations as possible, then my photography and the experience of the trip is unremarkable. So, just like the birder who specializes in one or two species and has a depth of knowledge and personal experience with those species, so too will the photographer who moves beyond the icon checklist encourage a deeper engagement and portrayal of their subjects.
This week we are hosting our Beyond the Icon: Intimate Landscapes of the Canadian Rockies photography workshop where we’ll help our participants bring out their creative vision. I am sure we’ll be blown away by the images made during this workshop as each photographer digs into their well of personal seeing. If you have time this November and you are interested in an intensive creative learning experience we do have a couple of spots left in our Fire and Ice in the Canadian Rockies workshop where we’ll visit the edges of fall and winter in a time when few photographers visit the Rockies. Nothing inspires creativity more than having to look beyond the obvious and November always pushes us to see deeper.
Hey everyone! Darwin and I are really excited to announce that, starting July 1, we are going to be Artists in Residence at Aurum Lodge! This is the same eco-lodge which hosts many of our photography workshops and is located within one of our favourite landscapes on planet Earth...the Canadian Rockies! This Artists in Residence program is part of a larger commitment to creativity for oopoomoo, and we want you to share in the journey – please join us! Read on to learn more about why we’re making this move and how we hope to share our experience with you.
A Passion for Photography
As many of you know, last June Alberta (the province in which we live) was struck by some of the worst flooding in Canadian history. After days of pounding rain, many towns situated near mountain-fed rivers and creeks were inundated by surging, raging waters. The economic heart of the city of Calgary was shocked into abandoned stillness by the frothy anger of a changeling river; it was surreal to watch the incoming footage as a normally placid, rippling blue Bow River turned into an insatiable, banks-crumbling maw in just a few bare hours. Costly clean up is ongoing.
We weren’t directly affected by flooding in our neck of the woods but, for many Albertans, the flood devastation served a visceral reminder of the power of nature and spurred a dialogue about how climate change impacts our communities and our future. It also raised the issue of whether the fast pace of resource extraction pursued by Alberta needed to be re-examined – and interestingly many people we spoke to mentioned an interest in slowing the pace of their own lives and living a more fulfilled, healthy, creative life.
These conversations really resonated with us. We started oopoomoo to encourage photographers to invest in their artistic development within the larger context of a healthy planet and vibrant communities. We’ve frequently written about the need to balance work and life and the importance in investing in your creativity in ways that minimize the impact of the pursuit of photography on the earth’s resources. The flood of 2013 sparked awareness in our community about the hidden costs of our fast-paced, consumptive lifestyle… and reminded us personally that we hadn’t been paying as much attention to our own creative goals as we should.
We decided it was time for that to change. For one year, we would rent our house in Cochrane and would run oopoomoo from our field base at incredible Aurum Lodge, on creative sabbatical as Artists in Residence free to explore our own creative goals but with a keen interest in sharing our journey and, as far as possible, opportunities for artistic growth with oopoomoo fans and readers.
Journey With Us
We appreciate that not everyone can take a year off to pursue their artistic goals. But you can carve out one more hour a week for your own creative development. And you owe it to yourself. Get up an hour early. Skip that hour of TV. Turn your lunch break into an artistic fiesta. It’s really about taking a good, honest look at the priorities in life and latching on to what is important to you. Family, friends…your passions…why should they take a back seat? You’ll always remember those times when you were happy and present. You won’t remember, and won’t be remembered for, those sacrificial extra hours at your job.
We want you to whisper your secret creative dreams in our ear. How are you hoping to achieve them? What can you do right now to take a step toward those dreams?
We’re going to share our journey with you, and we encourage you to pick up your camera and start your own exploration this summer. There’s plenty of ways to be involved, and we’d love to hear from you! Join us in our Creative Assignments Project, and share your inspiring work and photographic inspirations in the oopoomoo community on Facebook. And of course, if you ever find yourself in our neck of the woods consider staying awhile to learn with us in this, one of the most stunning natural places on Earth. We look forward to embarking on this creative journey together!
Congratulations to Hiro Kobayashi – Photographic Artist of the Year – Professional Photographers of Canada
Samantha and I were so pleased to hear that our good friend Hiro Kobayashi just won the title of Photographic Artist of the Year from the Professional Photographers of Canada. Could not have happened to a nicer guy! Way to go Hiro! Hiro was also famously immortalized on our “what does oopoomoo mean” video. Below are the four pictures that garnered Hiro his award with descriptions in his own words.
Lights on Green
I found the beautiful moss while I was hiking in the morning. The day was quite rainy day in Lake O’Hara (Yoho National park), but after some hiking I came back to this location and fortunately the rain let up enough for me to take an image. The creek was running below the trail and if I had tried to access the moss, I would destroy natural habitat. I did not want to do that. So I kept walking until I found a path that came up the creek from lower down. Leica M8, Voigtländer UltraWide Heliar 12mm;when I took this photo, I was crazy about this lens. This is an HDR image processed to look like the human eye sees the scene.
I think everybody has a secret place. This location is my secret place, Goat Pond in Kananaskis country. I like visiting this place in the middle of May since I can see transitions from winter to spring. The reason I still use the Leica M8 even though the M9 has been my main camera for some time is that I can take infrared photography with the M8. The infrared filter gave relatively long exposure to this image. Leica M8, Leica Elamarit 21mm.
Sunrise on Abraham Lake
I had hesitated photographing Abraham Lake since I was afraid of not to being able to create original images. Actually, Darwin was the one who encouraged me to try. He mentioned “every image is different”. So I tried a winter scene of Abraham Lake last November. Driving in dark morning, I passed the location I planned to photograph and I missed beautiful red sky. The next day, I arrived at the spot on time but the sky was not as spectacular as the day before. So I changed my strategy. I waited until the sun was coming out from the summit of the mountain, and captured this photo. While I was shooting, I totally forgot about the dilemma I had from the day before. I am sure adrenalin was rushing into my blood stream. Kootenay Plains has been my favorite place since then. Leica M9, Leica Elamarit 21mm.
Touching You, Touching Me
Years ago, I saw TV show called “chasing wild horse” about Romanian photographer, Roberto Dustesco’s journey to Sable Island. I wished to make amazing horse images one day. About one year ago, a friend of mine allowed me to photography her horses. Since then, I fell in love with these gentle and beautiful animals. Photographing horses required a new set of skills so I could get good images. Although I expected more dynamic action shots all the horses were doing were eating and pooing. So I decided to focus on capturing their intimacy they occasionally showed. Nikon D800, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, 175mm, f/3.5, 1/500 sec. I added some textures to this image.
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!