3 March

Your Junk Our Treasure

Whew! Lots of great images from February’s newsletter challenge posted in the oopoomoo Creatives’ Facebook group. We’ve compiled our faves here in this blog post. Ha! It seems the ladies smoked the guys on this assignment! Remember to sign up for our Newsletter if you wish to get the monthly challenge delivered to your inbox.

©Barb Kreutter

©Barb Kreutter

©Barb Kreutter

©Barb Kreutter

©Brian Hayward

©Brian Hayward

©Carol James

©Carol James

©Cheryl Wallach

©Cheryl Wallach

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Christian Van Schepen

©Christian Van Schepen

©Cindie Fearnall

©Cindie Fearnall

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Drake Dyck

©Drake Dyck

©Gerry Ambury

©Gerry Ambury

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

©Janice Braud

©Janice Braud

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Kyle McIntosh

©Kyle McIntosh

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Michelle Wilson

©Michelle Wilson

©Phyllis Fitzsimons

©Phyllis Fitzsimons

©Ralph A. Croning

©Ralph A. Croning

©Riana Vermaak

©Riana Vermaak

©Riana Vermaak

©Riana Vermaak

©Sherry Christensen

©Sherry Christensen

©Shirley Davis

©Shirley Davis

©Veronica Reist

©Veronica Reist

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31 January

The Best of oopoomoo Creatives 2016

We are thrilled to showcase the best work of our oopoomoo Creatives Facebook group. This group of our students, friends and colleagues have produced creative and thoughtful work over the course of 2016. We are proud of their creative vision… most of the pictures were not taken at far off places or in iconic locations but rather were taken locally of everyday scenes. These 70 images confirm that it’s vision and individual expression that pushes art and not technique, gear or even location. Whether it’s the sweep of curtains across a carpeted floor or blades of grass in a sidewalk crack there is art everywhere if we are open to seeing. We want to thank all the oopoomoo Creatives out there for your continued inspiration and passion. Your great work deserved to be seen and we plan to provide even more opportunities to share your images with the world – stay tuned!

©Al Dixon

©Al Dixon

©Andrew Barron

©Andrew Barron

©Anita Vermaak

©Anita Vermaak

©Ann Nickerson

©Ann Nickerson

©Anna Ferree

©Anna Ferree

©April Henrikson Daly

©April Henrikson Daly

©Bill Warmington

©Bill Warmington

©Bill Warmington

©Bill Warmington

©Brian Hayward

©Brian Hayward

©Carol James

©Carol James

©Carol James

©Carol James

©Carolyn Steingard

©Carolyn Steingard

©Cheryl Wallach

©Cheryl Wallach

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Baird

©Chris Bone

©Chris Bone

©Chris Greenwood

©Chris Greenwood

©Chris Greenwood

©Chris Greenwood

©Chris Hayward

©Chris Hayward

©Christian Van Schepen

©Christian Van Schepen

©Connie Quinton

©Connie Quinton

©Connie Quinton

©Connie Quinton

©Dave Benson

©Dave Benson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dave Williamson

©Dominic Byrne

©Dominic Byrne

©Dominic Byrne

©Donna Caplinger

©Donna Caplinger

©Drake Dyck

©Drake Dyck

©Drake Dyck

©Drake Dyck

©Edwina Podemski

©Edwina Podemski

©Elaine Delichte O'Keefe

©Elaine Delichte O’Keefe

©Fran Gallogly

©Fran Gallogly

©Fran Gallogly

©Fran Gallogly

©Frank Schortinghus

©Frank Schortinghus

©George Clayton

©George Clayton

©George Clayton

©George Clayton

©Gerry Ambury

©Gerry Ambury

©Gord Campbell

©Gord Campbell

©Hank Broomfield

©Hank Broomfield

©Heather Donauer

©Heather Donauer

©Huw Jenkins

©Huw Jenkins

©Jane Chesebrough

©Jane Chesebrough

©Janelle Evans

©Janelle Evans

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janice Kretzer-Prysunka

©Janet Barclay

©Janet Barclay

©John Foehl

©John Foehl

©Kat Enns

©Kat Enns

©Kathy Stinson

©Kathy Stinson

©Keith Walker

©Keith Walker

©Kelly Kitsch

©Kelly Kitsch

©Kristin Duff

©Kristin Duff

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Liz Forrester

©Lorraine McNeely

©Lorraine McNeely

©Lynn Smith

©Lynn Smith

©Lynn Smith

©Lynn Smith

©Pam Jenks

©Pam Jenks

©Philip Cote

©Philip Cote

©Priya Biswas Miller

©Priya Biswas Miller

©Ralph Croning

©Ralph Croning

©Riana Vermaak

©Riana Vermaak

©Ryan Crouse

©Ryan Crouse

©Shaun Conarroe

©Shaun Conarroe

©Steve Poole

©Steve Poole

©Sue Olmstead

©Susan Olmstead

©Susan Ashley

©Susan Ashley

©Tom Nevesely

©Tom Nevesely

©Tracy Hindle

©Tracy Hindle

14 December

Love is Blind

It’s funny how our expectations and biases colour how we see the world. Sam and I spend much of our time teaching photographers to shed their visual biases and see the world as it is instead of how they think it should be. By being open you’ll get inspiration anywhere and not be shut down by the tunnel vision of expectation.

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As much as I know the lesson of being open in photography, I recently discovered that I am much less keen to shed biases in life. In August of 2014 we lost our beloved dog Brando to cancer. It took us a long time to heal from the loss and even consider the idea of a new furry friend.

NMP.tif

For the last 14 months I have been working part-time at the Cochrane and Area Humane Society and literally hundreds of adoptable dogs have crossed my path. We get dogs of all sizes and breeds and personality types but I found the ones that I were attracted to all had similar qualities. First of all, the dogs that caught my attention were almost always working or sporting dog breeds or mixes. This is not a surprise because the last five dogs that I have owned or co-owned have been a Shepard/Rottie cross (Brando), a Malamute, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and an Australian Shepard cross. I like responsive, active dogs that are happy to please.

Imacon Color Scanner

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And so, possible candidates for adoption were categorized as acceptable or not acceptable by me simply based on looks and general disposition. In short, I was not open to seeing the dogs for who they were but instead for what I wanted them to be. I think I’m not alone…many people I know and work with have a ‘soft spot’ for a certain type or breed of dog. Of course, I thought I was being ‘open’ because I never picked the same breed twice but of course I was biased… unless it was a working/sporting dog it was simply not a candidate. For example, I was really interested in adopting the cattle dog cross below.

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And then… something happens you don’t expect. On November 7, a 2-month old puppy came into the shelter with sarcoptic mange. The poor little fellow was under high quarantine procedures for most of the time until the mange could be cured and he was not contagious. Caring for the little fart allowed me to get to know him, in spite of the severe restrictions placed on him for minimal contact. I never imagined him as a candidate for adoption (he was not my ‘type’). He was just a fun guy that I helped take care of while he got better. And he was cute….

The shelter's intake photo

The shelter’s intake photo of the mange puppy.

It was not until he was out of quarantine and Sam met the little dude that the wheels started to turn. I suggested we take him for an overnight visit and, except for a bit of bossy pants barking, I began to realize that he was a pretty awesome little man. I began to see him for who he was as he wormed his way into my heart. Of course, Sam saw him for himself right away and did not foist expectations on who he should be (she is good that way). Sam was open to adopting the littler bugger. And so, the latest member of the oopoomoo team is a pug/beagle cross (a Puggle) that we have dubbed Charles Affables Puggles the Third or “Affie” to his friends (which is everyone).

Thanks Affie (and Sam) for reminding me that our biases can get in the way of us truly seeing, whether that be in photography or in judging others.

nmp17588

18 March

Who Are You Creatively?

This article was first published in Outdoor Photography Canada just over a year ago, to get these articles fresh from the press be sure to subscribe to the magazine!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Who Are you Creatively?

Why do you make photographs? Some people will answer that they make photographs because they want to document their travels or important events in their lives. Others are inspired by nature and want to capture this inspiration. And many use photography as a positive escape from the hectic rat race of life (a kind of meditation or mental yoga). But if we dig even deeper I think there is a universal desire, if not a need, for creativity. As kids we are all naturally curious and creative. Unfortunately, these traits get sapped out of us early on as we are taught the ‘values’ of practical education, work, consumption, and conformity. Many of us picked photography as a creative antidote for the homogenous pressures put on us by society.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

But as we learn and practice photography, the ‘ought tos’ start to rear their ugly heads. We are taught about subjects we ought to photograph, locations we ought to visit, compositional rules we ought to follow. In short, over time, the very hobby we took up to express our creativity is stuffed into a box and turned into formula. We suppress our creativity and shoot just what others deem acceptable.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Every so often we need a reset, a reminder to get in touch with who we are and what our inner voice wants to say but that gets drowned out by the yelling of the outside world. Lately, I was feeling out of touch with my creative voice and felt that I was just repeating photographic formulas. My partner, Samantha suggested a little exercise for me to do that would help me determine who I am creatively. She showed me a variety of visual arts from painting to collage. She asked me to pick out pieces that I really liked and then had me write out answers to these questions about each piece:

  1. What do you think this picture is about?
  2. What do you respond to or find interesting in the picture? Why?
  3. Looking at the shape, line, form, texture and colour etc. used by the artist, how do these compositional and material choices help convey the essence of the picture?
©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Together we looked at my art choices and my detailed answers to her questions. We began to notice some themes, ideas, visual elements and even colours common to each piece. Sam suggested that these commonalities were the seeds of my creative voice. Frankly, I was surprised by the results because the imagery I liked was very different than the images I have become known for. But when I looked at my most recent work, there were little hints of this new voice trying to emerge; I was already beginning to use the themes, ideas and visual design elements that I had chosen in Sam’s exercise. It became obvious that I no longer knew myself creatively. Indeed, I had changed significantly but was still trying to force myself to shoot in my old ‘style’. No wonder photography was feeling strained lately. Now that I have discovered with Sam’s help who I am as a creative, the world has opened up for me again. Photography is a playground and I have given myself permission to play once again.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

So if you are feeling a bit lost with your photography, try Sam’s exercise and share and discuss the results with a good friend or fellow photographer. Better yet use the exercise on each other. Often someone else can see easier patterns in your choices that you may subconsciously deny or that you may not want to see. What often emerges from this exercise is the discovery of who you are as a visual creative. That is a powerful revelation. Now go discover your creative voice.

For those wanting more direction on creativity be sure to download our free Born Creative eBook or better yet get our 5 eBook Creative Photography Bundle! Happy shooting!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

2 December

Working the Scene to Find Your Voice

Photographer at Rampart Ponds - Banff National APrk - Alberta

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

The great thing about photography (or any visual art) is that no two photographers see the world in exactly the same way; give ten photographers the same scene to photograph and you’ll most often get ten (or more) different results. Even a single photographer will produce multiple interpretations of the same scene. Often our subconscious notices the scene; there is something there that we like. If we respond with our cameras right away then often we capture that flash of subconscious interest and come away with a photo that honours what we feel about a subject. But just as often, our conscious brain kicks in and overrides our subconscious to make judgments, and to categorize and analyze what we see. The more we think, the further we get from what attracted us in the first place. However, we can often get back to our original ‘attraction’ if we let go of our noisy thoughts and begin to explore the subject more from the heart than the mind. Let’s look at both of these scenarios in turn.

©Darwin Wiggett - Do you just respond or do you think your way through a composition?

©Darwin Wiggett – Do you just respond or do you think your way through a composition?

Sometimes, your heart’s eye gets it right first thing and further explorations take you further from your visual truth. For example, this past October I went on an outing to the Cochrane Ranchehouse, a lovely natural area park near our home. There, while walking around, I found a curved aspen tree in full colour. I immediately stopped where I was, dug out my camera and because the tree was far away, I put on my 300mm lens and made this photo. In hindsight this image perfectly captures what attracted me to the tree in the first place. I like the bent shape and the contrast of bright yellow against a darker subdued backdrop.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

But then, of course, my brain kicked in. Stupid brain! What if I got closer and used a shorter lens? What if I tried different angles on the tree and different framing and aspect ratios? All of these ‘what ifs’ were intruding on the purity of my expression.

And so I worked the scene further to answer these conscious questions. All of these mental explorations took me further from what attracted me to the tree in the first place. Sure, the resulting photos (below) are still pleasing but none honoured my heart’s view of the tree like the initial image. I have learned that if I make a photo as soon as something stops me that often that image is the most ‘true’ to my original attraction.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

Cochrane Ranchehouse scenic, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada ©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

Cochrane Ranchehouse scenic, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada ©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

In the next example, I was driving in the country near Cochrane when I noticed a big snow drift over a grass seed head. I stopped the car, got dressed up and got out the camera gear. In the time it took me to prepare for the cold photography experience, I lost the germ of what attracted me to this scene. The first picture I made was more a document of the overall scene.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

I felt the image above was interesting but then I had leading lines of the snow drift and the fence that went nowhere so I zoomed out to take in more of the scene and to have the lines lead to a vanishing point.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

Now the lines of the snowdrift and the fence all converge in the distance to take us visually to the part of the fence with the horizontal cross bar. I immediately realized that the fence was not the reason that I stopped the car so I should not include it in the photo.

In the next picture, below,  I concentrated only on the snow and the grass. I thought of the tenuous existence of the grass seed head under the big snow drift and I made the next image to tell that dramatic story.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

I like the image above a lot and it tells a story of tension but it’s not why I stopped the car. I finally realized that what grabbed me was pure graphic appeal of the lines of the grass and drift. My mind saw lines and that’s what it wanted to show in the final photograph.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

This image above is closer to the reason I initially stopped but as anyone who follows oopoomoo composition teachings will know, there are two areas where the line of the snowdrift is ruined from underlying ‘mergers’. A simple shift to a higher viewpoint and slight change in aspect ratio (slightly more panoramic) eliminated the merger problems and gave me the result I had intended from the beginning.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – oopoomoo.com

This final image, above, honours what I initially saw in my flash of subconscious. I just needed to work the scene to get back to my original vision. I blame it all on the cold.

The value of working a scene can either confirm that you had your voice in the first place or that you needed to rediscover your voice. The creative process is exactly that, a process. Don’t be afraid to work it! Let us know what your creative process is and if you get what’s in your mind’s eye right away or if you have to work hard to get a result that is in line with your creative vision.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sam working a scene to get to her creative vision.

©Darwin Wiggett – Sam working a scene to get to her creative vision. Actually she is looking back at me asking if the coffee is still warm in the thermos!

25 May

Debunking the Myth that Gear Makes the Photographer: Part II – Level the Playing Field

(This is Part II; click here to read Part I first!)

In this article, we discuss why classroom seminars AND field sessions are synergistic learning tools – don’t skip one in favour of the other! Remember we are using our upcoming Montreal weekend event as a case study to exemplify our point.

Level the Playing Field

So you arrive at your photo destination. As you come into the present moment, you tune into your senses and your mind is engaged. Photographic possibilities start to jump out at you. You take out your camera and begin exploring.

Or…you arrive and have no idea where to start, what to shoot. If this is you, make sure you read Part I and get thee to a seminar on Learning to See, like the one we are giving in Montreal on June 6! Taking a course on perception is your top priority. Don’t register for any field session photography workshop until you practice learning to see!

Are you ready for the field? Have you honed your ability to 'learn to see"?

Are you ready for the field? Have you honed your ability to ‘learn to see”?

©Darwin Wiggett - There are alwys photos beyond the obvious if you know how to see.

©Darwin Wiggett – There are always photos beyond the obvious if you know how to ‘see’.

Ok, you’ve arrived, you’re starting to get in the photographic groove…and you’re struggling with the assignments we’ve given you after our seminar. That’s good! We believe in helping cement the information provided in the full day seminar with targeted assignments designed to develop the three key skills that make a good photographer. Since we concentrate on field technique over digital darkroom work, we ask everyone to shoot JPEG (either raw + JPEG or just JPEG). This levels the playing field in that everyone is working on the same skills at the same time. We want to know if you’ve understood everything we discussed about seeing the nature and quality of light and how it affects tone in, for example, our Montreal seminar Harnessing the Power of Tone. And we want to see you build advanced compositional patterns to convey your photographic idea as demonstrated in Montreal’s Working Advanced Compositional Patterns talk (we are also giving this seminar in Black Diamond, Alberta, May 31). There’s usually a bit of whining when we make photographers hand in their JPEGs without benefit of digital processing. But the danger to be aware of is that ‘fixing’ your images on the computer makes you lazy. If you do most of your creative work on the computer, then you’re a digital artist, not a photographer. There’s nothing at all wrong with this. But we are teaching a photography course, so we want to see your field skills. You might be surprised and invigorated after a session spent focusing on your field skills! And the good news is that when everyone is shooting in-camera JPEGs it really shows that equipment does not matter; great images are often made with the simplest and least expensive cameras.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Shooting JPEGS is hard, you need to get everything right in the camera - are you up for the challenge!

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Shooting JPEGs is hard; you need to get everything right in the camera. Are you up for the challenge?

There’s a reason why we encourage photographers to attend our seminars as well as our associated field sessions and that is because it’s a two-part strategy to learning. You receive the information and then you head out and test your learning. Attending just a field session without the benefit of the Saturday seminar puts you at a disadvantage. This is true for all our workshops, and we structure them this way because we’ve found that people learn the most with this format.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett – You learn most by stretching yourself!

So if you have registered for a field session in Montreal but are saving money by skipping the seminar (you know all that stuff, right?) we strongly advise you to register for both. Did you take the quiz in Part I? Seriously, compared to what most photographers spend on their gear, this seminar costs pennies compared to most photographers’ gear expenditures but will give you more than a year’s worth of education.

And this goes for any photo educational offering you’re considering…how much instruction is offered? How large are the class sizes? The field sessions? Is there a constructive feedback session afterwards to review your learning? Does the instructor build upon concepts taught in class or does the instructor just ‘show up’ to the field sessions? Does the instructor actively engage with you after the seminar either through social media commentary or answers to your email questions? Also, remember photo tours are about location and being guided to photogenic spots, whereas workshops should teach you to be creative no matter where you find yourself. Are you up for being creative?

North Saskatchewan River, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada - Rokinon 85mm lens at f11

©Darwin Wiggett – Always evaluate your instructors in terms of their care in follow-up.

Nourishing Feedback, not Pablum, Please!

Speaking of feedback, let’s make it count. While it can be gratifying to get ‘likes’ on social media, these are vague and unhelpful. What did the viewer like? What did the viewer even think the image was about? What could be improved?

In our field sessions, we always try and schedule a feedback session after each outing. This not a time of criticism but rather a chance for you to see your work on the big screen and receive suggestions from your peers as to ways to improve and what they liked about your image. We also provide our comments but encourage class participation. Many students have told us that they learned the most during this constructive session. It’s a perfect way to cap off a full and fun weekend of photography!

Investing in a photo event like Montreal’s Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision is about you getting the best value for your buck. It’s about truly becoming a better photographer. So consider your educational options the next time you are thinking of upgrading your gear.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett – Sam says Get yer creativity on June 5-7 in Montreal!

7 May

Self Awareness as a Barrier to Seeing

This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada – subscribe to the magazine to get my articles years before they appear here 😉

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome as a photographer was me. I was constantly sabotaging my own progress in photography by worrying about how I looked to others. This wasn’t about fashion (I have none) or the gear I owned (I have too much) or whether my hair looked good (when I had hair); it was about my preoccupation with what others might think of my photos.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – The more self aware you are when you make images, the less likely you’ll make original work.

Whenever I went out shooting with others, I was always watching to see what they were photographing instead of concentrating on my own work. Were they seeing something I was missing? Were they using a lens I had not thought of? “What are those filters they are using?” “That is a weird angle of view, maybe I should try that!” In short my head was full of constant distracting chatter and my insecurities had me watching everyone else instead of concentrating on just making images. I was in a self-imposed competition.

©Darwin Wiggett - oopoomoo.com

©Darwin Wiggett – This photo was made in direct competive response to the presence of a famous American photographer who was looking for Abraham Lake bubble photos. “I’ll show him – there is more here than just bubbles!”

Even when I shot alone, I was still thinking things like, ‘If I do this funky thing with the flash then people will think I am amazing” Or, “This is awesome! I can’t wait to show people this image; they’ll love it”. In short, I was still worried about my audience. I was shooting for other people and not shooting for myself! And of course I never grew as artist.

©Darwin Wiggett - this image of Balancing Rock, Nova Scotia was made specifically to wow! The audience was considered first, my needs as an artist were put way don the priority list.

©Darwin Wiggett – this image of Balancing Rock, Nova Scotia was made specifically to wow! The audience was considered first, my needs as an artist were put way down the priority list.

Only in moments when others were not around, when I was not in ‘trophy’ photography territory (the grand landscape in iconic locations) and when I didn’t have a camera with me did I start to notice things beyond my preconceptions of what a good photograph should be. I started to see the light and shadow patterns of the window blinds, the play of light through a water glass, the brush of light across the carpet. In short, in quiet moments, and in forgetting about how my photos would appear to others, I started to see.

©Darwin Wiggett - There are amazing images everywhere if you just close your mid to yourself and start to really see.

©Darwin Wiggett – There are amazing images everywhere if you just start to really see.

In my nature photography, I still searched for the grand landscape and the big light and the rewards of accolades by others, but more and more that pursuit was ringing hollow. I was finding more pleasure in making images that were softer, quieter and more introspective. I found great pleasure in making something from nothing and that pleased my sensibilities the most. As soon as I let go of self I became a better photographer.

©Darwin Wiggett - This picture is not about getting 'likes', it is about making an image that pleases me.

©Darwin Wiggett – This picture is not about getting ‘likes’, it is about making an image that pleases me.

Now I just shoot for me and worry little what others will think of my photos. As long as the photos are true to my vision and represent who I am and what I saw, then the photos are a success for me. Letting go of self, competition, and concern for audience is really about letting go of insecurities. Finally, I can fully pursue my creative vision. And in doing so the joy of creation has come back full force.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett – personal seeing at Abraham Lake

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett  – personal seeing in the Canadian Rockies

©Darwin Wiggett - personal seeing in the Antarctic Sound

©Darwin Wiggett – personal seeing in the Antarctic Sound

If like me, you suffer from a bad case of ‘yourself,’ then maybe it’s time to let go and make pictures purely for you and not with others in mind. Stop submitting so many images to online forums, stop hoping that others will love your work and start shooting for you. In the end you’ll be a better artist for it. Happy shooting! (Thanks to Freeman Patterson and Samantha Chrysanthou for valuable lessons in ‘barriers to seeing’.)

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

14 March

Why I Still Love Photography – 30 Years Later

When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was to head out in the woods alone and sit quietly and look around. I would see and hear birds and squirrels going about their daily business. I would watch ants carry loads three times their body size. I would marvel at the architectural wonder of a spider web. The miniature world of the forest floor came alive when I lay down and looked at it at ground level. In short, everything around me was fascinating and magical. As a six-year-old it seemed the perfect job for me would be a forest ranger so I could watch and guard all the animals and plants I loved.

©Darwin Wiggett - Nothing beats the joy of amazement.

©Darwin Wiggett – Nothing beats the joy of amazement in a child!

I followed a path of learning about nature through school and university and got a Master’s degree in biology. But making a living as a biologist was more about people and politics than it was about being in the field with the animals. The dream of the six-year old was shattered. Why couldn’t I just hang out in the woods and watch critters and get paid for it?

The best part of being a biologist was working with the animals. Here i Am in the 80's doing a ground squirrel study.

The best part of being a biologist was working with the animals. Here I am in the 80’s doing a ground squirrel study.

In university, as part of my studies, I needed to take pictures to add visuals to my presentations on my studies to obtain grants. I soon discovered that photography allowed me to be that wonder-struck six-year-old once again. With photography I could photograph the birds and the squirrels and the ants and the lichen-covered forest floor and take home that amazement in the form of photos. I was hooked! This ability to record my amazement of the natural world remains at the heart of why I still love photography today. Photography is a way I connect with myself in the natural world. I don’t need photography to be amazed, but photography allows me to record my amazement and relive it every time I look at my photos.

©Darwin Wiggett - One of my early photos from the biology days.

©Darwin Wiggett – One of my early photos from the biology days.

The other thing I love about photography is that to do it well you need to learn how to see. You learn to remove labels from things and just see the way that light plays across a subject. You learn how to organize this interplay of light into an aesthetic display of design and composition. In short, learning to see helps you be an artist and being an artist gives you the depth to see the beauty in the everyday.

©Darwin Wiggett - The abstract beauty of empty bottles casting shadows and colours on the kitchen counter.

©Darwin Wiggett – The abstract beauty of empty bottles casting shadows and colours on the kitchen counter.

The longer I am in photography, the better I learn to see and the less I need novel or fresh experiences to feed my amazement. Indeed, I get more amazed now by being able to artistically render ‘something from nothing’. I love discovering the magic in the mundane, and seeing amazement in the overlooked. I am less interested in the obvious and the easy grab shot. I am keen to continue to explore seeing deeper and more personally. And so photography for me has not lost its challenge because photography is so much more than equipment or technical mastery. I think those who get bored with photography were in it for the wrong reasons (the gear, the cool factor, the technical challenge) and not for deeper ‘feeding the soul’ reasons.

©Darwin Wiggett - The world is full of beauty and interest every where if we are just open to seeing.

©Darwin Wiggett – The world is full of beauty and interest everywhere if we are just open to seeing.

I also like that photography with all the advancements in technology has made it easier to make photos that are about personal expression. If you shoot from your heart and are true to yourself then you can make images that truly represent your connection with the world. More and more the cameras are taking care of the technical stuff so we need less concentration on that aspect of the craft and we can have more concentration on the artistic side of photography. For many photographers, the love of gear and technique gets in the way of personal expression but once that geek adoration is outgrown, then we can move on to make images that reflect who we are and what we are interested in. I like that photography can become art if we allow ourselves to become artists. And I am enjoying becoming an artist as an adult just like I was when I was six-years old!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

What is it that keeps you in love with photography? Share your thoughts below in the comments!

©Darwin Wiggett - Nature constantly gives us gifts if we are receptive to receive them.

©Darwin Wiggett – Nature constantly gives us gifts if we are receptive to receive them.

20 October

Chasing the Icon; a Checklist for Failure?

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.

©Darwin Wiggett - Niagara Falls

©Darwin Wiggett – The daily rainbow at Niagara Falls

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?

©Darwin Wiggett - At most icons dozens of photographers line up every sunrise to make the same image.

©Darwin Wiggett – At most icons dozens of photographers line up every sunrise to make the same image. Even lesser known spots are now attracting photographers who search farther and wider to get another icon checked off their life list.

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.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

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?

©Darwin Wiggett - Ho Hum, not another Moraine Lake photo at sunrise.

©Darwin Wiggett – Ho Hum, not another Moraine Lake photo at sunrise.

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.

©Darwin Wiggett - Great photography should not be location dependent but should be photographer dependent.

©Darwin Wiggett – Great photography should not be location dependent but should be photographer dependent.

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.

©Darwin Wiggett - Just like the Raven in its territory, get to know one or two areas really well and you'll find the juiciest morsels to sink your dip your beak into for Creative sustenance.

©Darwin Wiggett – Just like the raven in its territory, get to know one or two areas really well and you’ll find the juiciest morsels to sink  your beak into for creative sustenance.

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.

©Darwin Wiggett - The transition from fall to winter is a spark that fuels creative expression.

©Darwin Wiggett – The transition from fall to winter is a spark that fuels creative expression.

18 July

What Makes a Photographer a Photographer?

If you gave someone a scalpel, does that qualify that person as a surgeon? If you handed the keys to a Maserati to your best friend, would she become a race car driver? Then why does the mere act of pressing the shutter button on a camera make one a photographer?

smoky forest from wildfire

The Spreading Creek Fire this July. ©Darwin Wiggett

I think there IS a difference between Someone With A Camera (SWAC) and a photographer. Or in today’s world, a SWAP (Someone With A Phone) or even a SWAT (Someone With A Tablet). Ok, I have to admit I still find it a bit strange to see a SWAT taking a picture. That giant screen held aloft, a giant barrier between the person and the very thing he came to see… talk about stepping out of the moment! Gives a whole new twist on the phrase ‘reality tv’. But I digress.

It’s not that I believe photographers are superior even if I am being a bit cheeky with my descriptions here. Really, we’re all SWACs at some point. I think there are two things that make a photographer a photographer. No, it’s not at all about the gear (SWACs can have the most advanced and expensive systems), it’s not about the subject matter the person is shooting, or where she is, and it’s not about how much money she makes. A photographer is a photographer because she intends to make something expressive with her image and because of her ability to see the world around her as, in essence, light. Let’s take a closer look at the first distinction, intent.

A Photographer is a Photographer Because of Intent

What is your intent when you press the shutter? Are you recording a precious moment as your child celebrates a birthday? Is it a selfie of you and your spouse at a romantic dinner? Have you finally snapped a full-frame shot of that buck who steals from your backyard bird feeder? If your intent is to make a record, then you are not a photographer. You are engaging in the important role of preserving moments in time – you’re an historian and explorer and family preservationist. Always be proud to be a SWAC because these kinds of images produce a link between people and between generations.

dappled light on lodgepole forest

Mid-morning light turns golden from the forest fire haze. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

A photographer is a SWAC with a different intent. A photographer is not interested in obtaining a record exactly, although documenting may be part of the intent. A photographer inserts more of himself into the expressive act of making an image. It’s not about records or objective truth; it’s about an idea, emotion or germ of a story that the photographer felt when he observed an object for what it truly looked like. This may sound confusing, so let’s move to the second factor that differentiates a photographer from a SWAC – seeing light.

fiery reflection

The world is a study in light. ©Darwin Wiggett

A Photographer is a Photographer Because He Sees Light

Photographers work with real objects existing in real time. Even a photographer in a studio controlling the lights, directing the model and moving props, only has that one capture, that one moment plucked from the stream of time, to work with. Even a re-take on a shot taken seconds before is terra nova: in subtle ways, the model and photographer have moved on, been affected by the interaction with each other, and are different than they were a second ago. Outside of the movies, no moment in time ever repeats.

So how do photographers interpret this reality, then? By seeing an object for how it actually is rather than how she thinks or believes it is, a photographer becomes intensely present, stepping away from her conscious mind and existing at a level of pure, sensory interpretation. Andy Karr and Michael Wood in The Practice of Contemplative Photography call this moment the flash of perception. In that moment, the human tendency to name, categorize, and judge is suspended and the photographer sees not an apple, but a reddish-green mottled sphere with a waxy, reflective skin. Seeing this way is seeing light. We can only observe the world in light, and it is light that creates tones and colours and all the other secondary visual elements that make up an image such as pattern, texture, lines, shapes. A photographer is someone who sees these elements existing, shifting, morphing and evolving in real time, all times, and tries to express her subjective experience of such seeing.

smouldering forest fire

Before rejuvenation, there is destruction. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

The reason why I think it’s important to make this distinction is because we live in a world of unprecedented access to visual media. We are documenting every second of our day, from what we choose to wear to work, to our lunch with friends, to a selfie during a night out. We are making records of data at incredible rates which is a fascinating process to observe and ponder: where will our fascination with record-making take us?

smouldering forest fire

Diffused expression. ©Darwin Wiggett

For photographers, and for those who wish to become photographers, all you have to do is take your camera, phone or tablet, and think about why you are making an image. What is your intent? Can you see the world before you for how it actually is, and how does that make you feel? What can you and your camera say about this world of light?

A Note About the Images in this Post

As many of you know, shortly after Darwin and I arrived at Aurum Lodge for our Photographers in Residence creativity program, a wildfire erupted not far from the Banff National Park border where highways 93 and 11 meet. The Spreading Creek fire, as it’s being called, has tossed up billowing clouds of smoke, obscuring the mountains and turning the fresh mountain air into a smoky screen.

mountain lodge and smoke in the distance

Aurum Lodge with the Spreading Creek wildfire in the distance. ©Darwin Wiggett

For a SWAC, this is a disaster. Recording the iconic peaks and lakes of the Canadian Rockies will be difficult in this grey soup! But for a photographer, there is no judgment. There is only this filtered light, turning the world into a murky nightmare-world of indistinct shapes and dying trees. We spent some time photographing the area, and these images are our interpretations of the light and how we felt about it.

yellow green grass

Fiery green light. ©Samantha Chrysanthou

 

 

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