We started our Artists in Residence program at Aurum Lodge last week on July 1 (Canada Day). After two weeks of intensive packing and cleaning our house for the renters, we packed up Betty-Tina (our 1976 Trillium travel pod) and planned to be on the road by noon. But our trailer lights did not work and so one of our nice neighbours in Cochrane, an electrician, came over to help us out. A couple of hours later we were ready to go and the last thing we packed from the house were Sam’s home-made rhubarb juice popsicles!
In hindsight, travelling on Canada Day was probably not the best choice especially because we plodded along with our RAV-4 pulling Betty-Tina at 80-90 km per hour. I’m sure we were the cause of a few muffled expletives but we were happy sucking on the popsicles and enjoying the scenery. Canada Day was the start of a crazy hot week here in Alberta with high temperatures and dry conditions after a rainy June. Once at the lodge we settled into our wee cabin in the woods that lodge-owners Alan and Madeleine had pimped out for our arrival. Betty-Tina is parked in the trees ready for us should we need to give up our cabin for guests. It took us two days to unload and get settled. On day 2 we were sitting outside our cabin enjoying coffee and a scone slathered in honey that we’d brought from the Farmer’s Market in Cochrane when a black bear meandered around the corner of the cabin units. This was a big surprise more for us and our dog than the bear which was eventually shooed away by Alan. Alan managed to snap a few photos while we retreated into the safety of the cabin. We now look twice before opening the door with scone in hand.
The great thing about hanging out in a lodge is that you meet awesome people. On day 5 Sam and I had our first private instruction clients, Rob and Michelle Avis. Rob and Michelle booked a full day with us and they were a delight to hang out with (and both were quick studies so the lessons went quickly!) The Avis’ are leading edge permaculture instructors and have been a force in the permaculture movement in Alberta. They offer a two week permaculture design course complete with a certificate at the end. Sam took the course last year and it changed her life. I am taking this two-week course starting in a few days myself and I look forward to being charged about this exciting learning prospect! Personally Sam and I think that permaculture is the biggest bang for the buck if we want to heal the planet. Here at oopoomoo we’ve always looked for ways to minimize our impact on the planet – plus we would love to learn how to grow more of our own food in a challenging climate like Cochrane.
The other thing of note is that on day 3, a wildfire (likely caused by lightening) erupted about 30km west of Aurum Lodge. The billowing, dirty smoke was striking to look at as it rose behind the mountains. We got a few shots of a blood-red sun through curtains of smoke before the ashy air settled through the entire lake valley. It’s a bit challenging to breathe at times until the wind picks up, but with a wildfire there’s a lot to photograph including the golden light reflected through the orangey clouds and the misty look to the forest. The fire is now under control so we’re not threatened at present except for our lungs when the wind changes directions.
Being out here is busy. There’s always lots to do, and we help Alan and Madeleine out from time to time as well (except maybe me who is likely banned from serving after I dropped an entire tray of dishes). Even though we are in a unique situation living in a mountain lodge, we still need to carve out precious creative time. For everyone creative time needs to be scheduled just like anything else. Make it a priority and make sure you get it done first thing everyday!
So, we’d like you to join us in a creative challenge every month. This month the task is to take your least used lens (or focal length if you only own one zoom lens) and head out four times this month, using just that lens/focal length. Sam’s least used lens is her 60mm macro lens. She always leaves it out of her pack so I told her she needs to go out this month and make some photos with it. My least used landscape lens is my 85mm f1.4 lens. I always use it for portraits but rarely for landscape and so I will be sure to get out at least four times this month doing landscape work with this lens. Share your story of your least used lens and the images you make in July on our oopoomoo Facebook group for feedback or comments!
Many of you know Michael Orton for the Orton Effect which he originated in the film days by sandwiching an overexposed sharp slide with an overexposed blurry slide of the same subject to create a painterly looking image. This can easily be replicated in digital during post-processing or by using the multiple exposure capabilities of many of the newer digital cameras. We use the Orton Effect regularly in many of our images (see recent example here) and we have instructions on how to do it in Photoshop here. Users of Photoshop Elements have the Orton Effect built right into the software!
But Michael has moved on from his popular effect and now is using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create amazing ‘e-motional’ photographic art. Check out the article, images and videos below from Michael!
The Magic of Intentional Camera Movement
Imagine yourself walking in the pre-dawn, up a winding trail to an elevated overlook. You weave your way through the forest, and as you near your destination, an ethereal glowing light begins to filter through the trees. Stepping into the clearing you witness one of the most incredible sunrise skies you have ever or may ever see again. Crimson, gold, magenta, orange, for as far as the eye can see, and for a moment you just stand, awestruck, speechless. These moments are what photography is about, but as we all know they don’t happen every day, that is until now. Working with ICM, this same sense of wonder is what I can experience nearly every time I step out with my camera. The difference is that instead of waiting and searching for these moments I can now create them. ICM photography is like a continuous voyage of discovery, that allows you to travel in one direction today, and then a completely different direction tomorrow.
If you sense that your photo life could use some element of creative discovery, and you are open to wherever this might take you, here are some beginning pointers to get started. While the actual process is moving the camera, “seeing” like all photography is really the key. ICM is only as successful as the photographers ability to recognize lines, forms, and tonal differences within the subject. Some situations , like a stand of parallel trees, are easy to attach a compatible camera movement to. Start with these obvious subjects to begin with and mimic the apparent line with a movement. I shoot at my lowest ISO setting with a polarizer and 2 stop ND filter on my 18-70 99% of the time. I use handheld only because I move the camera as if it where a movie camera on a track and not pivoting from a fixed point. Use manual focus to prevent the camera from focus searching during the exposures. Cradle the camera with one hand with your arm into your chest as support for smooth long lines. I use shutter speeds of 1/60 to 4 seconds and numerous actual camera movement speeds for example, slow, medium or fast. Rehearse your chosen action or movement while looking through the viewfinder, then begin making exposures while the camera is moving and continue moving after the exposure is complete.You can move your camera any way you wish. Lines, arcs, circles, ovals, the decision is yours based on what you choose as subject matter. In the past years I have developed what I describe as compound movements which are two combined and then to add a twist I will alter focal length (zoom) or change focus during the exposure. These take practice, but yield diverging lines when the subject matter is appropriate. ICM is not unlike solving a puzzle that when you do, you have an “Aha” moment, followed by “So that is how it works.”
Give yourself enough time to honestly get some results, not just one outing, take a few weeks. It takes patience, this isn’t another “App”. Stay with it and you will know what I am talking about. Marko Kulik has experienced this and now has a wonderful gallery of Montreal streets at night. I use landscape, but any source of lines, form, colour and light can be a starting point. When you have had some successful results you will begin to realize how many combinations of choices of movements and camera speeds there are. Add to this the ability to actually blend and mix colours at the same time, and ICM becomes a process where the given subject matter and your response to it are constantly changing. Unlike going to a favorite landscape I have no preconceptions as to what the outcome will be when I walk into the world armed with ICM. It almost feels like my first few years when everything surprised and excited me, which after 35 years of carrying a camera , is exactly what I needed at this time.
If you are travelling or photographing on Vancouver Island, contact us to view our prints.These new images make impressive prints, especially in larger sizes and are available in very limited edition (10) prints, on canvas or watercolour paper. The video ” The Liquid Landscape ” features some recent work, while the video “A Walk in the Palm Grove” demonstrates the use of ICM in just one location.
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!
This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography Canada magazine – subscribe to get these articles years before they appear here 😉
The Art of Practice
Musicians have scales, actors have lines, painters have sketches, and athletes have workouts. Photographers have what? While all other artists have a daily routine to practice their craft, most photographers only dust off the camera when they go on a planned shoot. Imagine if musicians only played whenever they had a gig and did not practice in the time in between? Why, as photographers, do we expect that we will perform wonderfully every time we go out even without practicing in between?
Nothing will sharpen both your technical skills and your artistic eye faster than daily practice. Visual ‘scales’ do for the photographer what musical scales do for the musician; we constantly stay ‘tuned’ up and ready to express our art.
I know we all have really busy lives, so who has time to shoot every day? You might think it’s easy for me as a professional photographer to shoot daily–after all that is my job isn’t it? But to make it as a pro, you need to do some heavy marketing and selling. I only get to go on photo shoots about 1/3rd of the time, the other 2/3rd is spent doing the business part of photography. In the past, I found that between shoots I was not practicing with my camera and that my art was suffering. It often took 2 or 3 days into a trip to get back into ‘seeing’. I was not practiced and ready.
For the last five or six years I have carried a small point-n-shoot digital camera with me everywhere I go. By doing so, I don’t have to carve out special time to shoot daily; I just take a snapshot here and there in my day as I see something interesting. I might be walking the dog, or standing in line at the bank, doing dishes or visiting the washroom. But if something catches my eye in a flash of perception then I’ll make an image. I’m doing a little photography almost every day and the differences I have seen in my ability to see and be creative is amazing. I no longer have any ‘photographer’s block’ and I no longer need to ‘warm up’ before going on a serious photo shoot. I see photos everywhere! Many of you own and carry a smartphone and I know many of you make quick snaps with this convenient little tool. Congratulate yourself for doing visual scales daily… you’ll see big differences in your ‘serious’ photography by practicing everyday with a smartphone or wee point-n-shoot.
Even though I’m a nature photographer, anything that catches my eye can become a photo. The great thing about shooting daily is that soon you’ll begin to remove labels from subjects and just learn to see light, pattern, form and design. You’ll see beauty in the mundane, and you’ll be inspired anywhere you go from the park to the parking lot. The better you become at photography in general, the better you’ll be at outdoor photography in particular. So don’t restrict yourself to pretty nature scenes.
Although I’ve mentioned the wonders of a point-n-shoot camera here before, I really think anyone who is serious about becoming a better photographer should invest in one and carry and use it. If you have a smartphone with a camera start using it for your daily visual push-ups. The quality of the image is not as important as you practicing the art of seeing. Practice for the joy of discovery. Happy shooting!
Anyone who was born and raised on the prairie knows that prairie summers are filled with hot sun, big sky and grass-rustling wind. I wanted to capture that feeling in a photo but also show nature reclaiming itself from the assault of modern society. This photo taken on our annual Buicks, Badlands and Old Buildings: The Prairie Workshop hit the mark for me and says everything I felt at the time of making the photo. I used camera technique (long exposure with a polarizer and ND filter) and post processing techniques to add to the message I was trying to make with this image.
We think that good photographs illustrate more about how the photographer feels about the subject and less about documenting the actual subject. After all, we all ‘see’ the subject in different ways and there probably is no way to make a purely objective representation of a subject. Somebody else taking photos of this exact scene might concentrate on other aspects that interest them more. For example, one of the participants in the workshop made a photo that showed just the top of the car in the air with nothing grounding it. It was awesome and made the car look like a diving bird. One of the powerful things about a workshop is the inspiration and surprise we get when we see how others interpret the same scene we have photographed. Are you thinking about how you feel and why you are attracted to a subject before you press the shutter button? If you are, then you are well on your way to making interpretive images!
This week is the eighth anniversary of my first date with Samantha. Our first date was a comedy of errors, all of my best laid plans went south fast – think of me as a male version of Bridget Jones, only more hairy. Looking back all I can do is shake my head and laugh. Frankly I am surprised Sam agreed to a second date!
So what does all this have to do with photography? A lot… trust me it will all come full circle.
When Samantha and I went out to do photography together I noticed something kind of weird. Sam spent a lot of time not shooting. She seemed to be just standing around. I would ask, “How’s it going?” “Perfect,” she would reply. I would continue madly scurrying about shooting this and that and Sam would still be in the same spot looking around. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh, I’m just watching the clouds roll by.” I thought to myself that she just was not into photography that much. But back home, I would see her photos and they were amazing. She found stuff I never even noticed (were we in the same spot?) and she made images that were so uniquely hers. No one could ever copycat a Sam image. There was something about her images that showed a deeper connection between her and the scene. Something at times I’ve felt missing in my photos. What’s going on?
Over the years I’ve learned that Sam standing around does not mean she isn’t doing photography. On the contrary, it means she is actually looking around, connecting with the scene first and only then capturing that connection with her camera afterwards. Most photographers I know, myself included, rush headlong into the world with their face buried behind the camera. The camera comes out first, questions are asked later. Sam approaches a scene the opposite way. The questions are asked first. “Why I am attracted to this spot? How does this subject make me feel? Why is that animal doing that? What is it like to be grass in this windy field?” Sam asks a lot of whys and only after really looking and pondering a subject will she pull her camera out.
What I have learned from Sam is that the act of photography is not really important; actual seeing and understanding the subject is the key. Immerse yourself into the subject and not into the mechanism of making a photo. Too often photographers are so worried about the gear, the technique, and the results they hope to get that they forget about asking themselves about the subject and about how they feel about the subject. To make meaningful images there has to be a connection between you and the subject you are photographing. Too often that connection is not made and superficial meaningless images are the result. Once I started to actually look at and think about my subjects and stopped just rushing in to make photos, my photography improved significantly. The slow, thoughtful approach really works. I started watching the clouds roll by too.
So back to our first date… although almost everything was a disaster (from the meal to the movie) Sam just sat back and watched (and laughed). But she took the time to watch the clouds go by. She liked the potential in the scene and so she revisited the location many more times and finally decided that she could make a meaningful photo there. 🙂
To learn more about learning to see check out our eBook on the subject.
All around us, from our screens to print magazines to giant billboards, there’s a constant stream of images. It’s easy to feel a little lost in terms of our own contribution. Do you ever post a favourite shot to facebook, Flickr or your website, and wonder why you’re bothering? Will anyone even see it? Will they like it?
I know at times I feel like my work is just a drop in the ocean, a tiny sound in an endless void. A voice in the wilderness. So why do we do it? Why do we doggedly share, show and reveal our images in a world already bursting with incredible visual imagery?
Not only is there a surplus of photographs but, if you think about it, we must be CRAZY to open ourselves up in this way! When we post and pin our images, we’re revealing some pretty personal information about ourselves: we’re shouting out what we like, what moves us, what we feel is special, what we think is important. We’re showing our unique artistic impulses and demonstrating our level of technical skill (or our embarrassing lack thereof in both categories). We open ourselves up to the risk of ridicule from complete strangers! Remember that dream everyone has, where you show up at school completely naked!?! On one level, throwing your work out there into a cold, uncaring world can make you feel the same shivery level of exposure.
So when we share our images, we’re either crazy or really brave — or both. I think we continue to post our images, despite the risks, because it’s the human condition to seek connection with others. We were motivated to make something — an image — and we want to share what touched us in hopes it might reach someone else’s heart. And here’s the good news. We have to keep up this crazy, brave, foolish pursuit of connection. Because images can effect change. Because images do have an impact. Because images do connect.
Darwin and I have always taught photography with a firm emphasis on creativity and the uniqueness of vision of every one of our students, regardless of their so-called ‘level’ or ‘professional’ ability. Guy Clark has an amazing song about trusting your cape… sometimes, you just have to make a leap and hope that your belief in yourself will see you through. I firmly believe that everyone’s artistic voice is needed in this world. It’s only through sharing and connection, communication and discussion, that we may be able to fumble our way toward some solutions to the problems of this day-and-age. No lone voice in the wilderness will amount to much of a song, but a beautiful chorus of heart-felt, artistic expression…now that just might change the world.
I used to pride myself on being a photographer who could visualize a photo in my head and then go out in the field and make it happen. When it all came together I felt really creative. For example, the cover of our latest eBook 50 at 50 features a canoe at sunrise on George Lake in Killarney Park in Ontario. I had the idea of a sunrise photo of a canoe on a lake in the Canadian Shield for long time. Once I saw George Lake, I knew this was the place to make the image I had in my head. So I rented a canoe and scouted the shoreline for a spot that lined up with sunrise and the next morning I paddled out to the location in the dawn light and made two compositions of my idea.
Much of my photographic career was based on expectations. I made trips planned around flower blooms, full moons, prime fall colours or spring thunder storms. There was always something I expected and wanted to capture. If the flower bloom failed, the moon was hidden by clouds, the leaves had blown off the trees, or the storm cell never formed, I felt personally affronted… might as well pack up and go home… it ain’t gonna happen! Of course, if it all came together I took full credit for the result and patted myself on the back for being so clever.
But of course over the years I learned that where one opportunity is taken away a myriad of new ones are given to you, if only you are open to seeing them. And the latter really only happens if you can let go of expectations. It took me awhile to learn this lesson but once I did, I found a whole new world opened up to me and the creative energy flowed. No matter what the light or the conditions, there are always great things to photograph everywhere if we just learn to see beyond our expectations.
The rise of photo sharing on the internet has really ramped up photographer’s expectations. Now we see amazing images from everywhere and when we go to visit these places we expect we are going to see and capture images like we see on the net. I was reminded of this phenomenon this past weekend when a slew of photographers descended on Abraham Lake to make images of the famous ice bubbles. Well nature did her thing and deposited a covering of fresh snow on the lake. The bubbles were buried; the photographers were bummed out. Many went home dejected that the weekend trip was a waste.
For photographers who let go of expectations, the fresh snow magically transformed otherwise mundane scenes into magic. Now we had sugar-frosted river shorelines, pen and ink etched mountain tops and a canvas of white laid out beneath the forest. The new opportunities were exciting. The creative photographers in the crowd came away with cards bursting with fresh images, the photographers with expectations left with only disappointment. I am glad I finally learned the lesson that expectations kill creativity. I hope this post gets you thinking about your expectations.
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.
I started to love photography with the idea of portraying the “small perfections of nature,” small exhibitions that leave you stunned, and that too many times you are likely to trample on rather than to photograph. In recent years, moreover, besides this motto, I chose another, “See and Photograph”, which represents better than many others the way I do photography: when I think of photography as I like it, I think of a set of things, including carefully observe what surrounds me and possibly photograph it. The vision, seen as its ability to figure out how to make a photograph as the ability to identify the right subjects, it is the turning point of my photography.As on other occasions, walking in the woods, my gaze fell on the location of this small flower, which showed its B-side from the meandering stem, representing the beauty of the little things in nature and allowing me to fully enjoy the pleasure of being able to see the subject. This was followed by long periods of careful composition, then the joy of shooting and so on all the rest: the impatience to get home to see the result, the first adjustment the final processing and the completion of a photograph from the my favorites.