Each month we send out a newsletter to our oopoomoo newsletter subscribers with an assignment for the month. In March, we wanted photographers to show us a non-iconic view of an iconic location. We themed the assignment #league_landscape in honour of our new publishing project League magazine (which is now open for subscriptions and submissions). There was a lot of fabulous non-iconic assignment images shown by photographers in our oopoomoo Facebook group but one photographer, Janice Kretzer-Prysunka, really stood out with her portfolio of personal takes at iconic locations. Great work Janice!
We’re excited to share with you something we’ve been working on for awhile now. Introducing the League of Landscape Photographers! It’s a new community of like-minded photographers drawn together by similar interests, beliefs and values such as:
- the belief that photography is an art form not a craft, and that photographers are artists and not mere technicians
- a passion for the workings and integrity of the natural world which is expressed not only through artful, mindful photography projects, but also adherence to a personal code of ethics
- the belief that photography should be valued at the same level as other arts when it achieves high quality expression – photographers should be paid for their work
It’s too easy to look around the world and only see destruction and displacement. It’s much harder to focus on all the positive efforts that are being made to counter and contain some of the huge problems of the day. It’s too easy to engage in trophy travel in pursuit of social media ‘likes’. It’s much harder to turn your lens toward capturing changes happening in your own backyard. And it’s too easy to throw up your hands, shrug helplessly, and declare nothing will ever change when photographers, especially landscape and nature photographers are out there on the land, cameras in hand…making a difference with their art!
What the League is Not
The League of Landscape Photographers is a bit different from other groups.
The League is not a charity, society or non-profit but a grassroots, self-identified, loose collection of people who have posted their own code of ethics or value statement about how they conduct themselves. To join, you post to the world your own code of ethics and a statement that you are a member of the League of Landscape Photographers. That’s it. There’s no gate-keeping based on your level of photography skills. There is no one collecting fees from you to join. You are a League member when you act like a League member.
The League is not a conservation group. Political agendas of all stripes have pushed public discourse into simplistic, zero-sum debates. The world is not black and white – it’s full of colour. Similarly, while League photographers may engage with environmental issues, they do so to challenge attitudes and push assumptions not provide either/or documentaries or knee-jerk reactions. The League of Landscape Photographers is a group of artists who use their art as a window into their personal landscape.
The League is not a calendar publishing company. One thing landscape and nature shooters have done well is bring to us stunning photos of the most glorious, enchanting and pure places on earth. The internet is crammed full of beautiful images with scenes apparently untouched by man. It’s gotten to the point where such images are almost dismissed, and the pursuit is on for the next best ‘wow’ image. But how helpful is this parade? League of Landscape Photographers dig deeper by directly addressing how humanity intersects and connects with the landscape. Instead of sanitized scenes devoid of reality, League members open their hearts to the realities in their communities and share with the world what their eyes are seeing.
It’s a Movement
We believe photographers, and especially nature and landscape photographers, are uniquely placed as artists to add thoughtful dialogue about contemporary woes. But they need a reputable platform for their work. Enter Part II of this announcement…we will be crowdfunding this spring to publish a high quality, art magazine featuring photography portfolios and projects of League members. This is it! This is the Big One for League members! Simply called League, this annual will be the vehicle of expression for many aspiring artists who have something to say about the world with their photography.
- Visit the League of Landscape Photographer’s website to learn more about the League, League magazine and for ideas on creating your own code of ethics.
- Post your code of ethics and join the League! Then get involved in the community by joining the League Facebook group or sharing on Instagram.
- Attend one of the upcoming events to help fundraise for League – or organize your own and donate to the campaign.
- Tell your friends! While not everyone is a photographer, we all love art. Be a patron of the arts by donating to the campaign. You can read more about the cost of publishing a magazine here. Join the League Newsletter for news and announcements – like the date sales open for League! Only a limited number of copies will be printed of the inaugural issue…make sure you get yours.
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!
Camera clubs are excellent places for photographers to learn and share photography. In my own development as a photographer I owe much of my early inspiration, learning and excitement about photography to time spent in Images Alberta Camera Club in Edmonton. The friendships developed and the lessons learned have stayed with me through life. I have an abiding fondness for camera clubs, but there can be a dark side to belonging to a camera club….
As with any group effort, sometimes a little herd mentality may surface. And this way of thinking can stifle innovative or fresh ways of photographing – especially when it comes to image competitions. Over time, critiques of submitted images become increasingly formulaic; images that follow the ‘accepted’ rules of competition will score higher than those images that do not abide by these, dare I say it, sacred rules. Putting aside whether competitions are even healthy outlets for creativity, it seems that the ‘rules of photography’ espoused by most camera clubs reward conformity. In my experience, not much creativity happens when the first priority is conformity.
Let’s take a look at four ‘rules’ commonly trotted out during image critique sessions by camera club members.
What is the Subject?
It seems that every photo must have a centre of interest (watch yourself though – placing an object in the centre of your frame violates the superior rule of thirds). According to camera clubs an image needs to have something that we, the viewers, can define as a ‘subject’. No obvious subject? Then the image has failed. Abstract images that are simply about pattern, texture, graphic design or mood do not do well in photo clubs. Abstract painters like Kandinsky, Pollock and Miro would have a difficult time thriving under a regime that forces them to have an obvious subject.
Fill the frame!
One of the ways that camera clubs reinforce the idea of subject is to tell photographers to fill the frame with the subject. This rule makes sense in that many beginning photographers make pictures where it’s not clear what the photo is about or why they took the photo in the first place. Having photographers fill the frame with their desired subject of interest is an easy way to get photographers to make better images. If you fill the frame with the subject, then we will know what the photo is about – all other stuff is excluded. But if all we ever do is fill the frame with the subject, there is no room left to explore placing our subject in a broader environment to tell a contextual story. Many of the great environmental portraits we see in National Geographic or Life magazine do not ‘fill the frame’ but have a small subject in a sea of context. Try that in a camera club and you will hear, “Get closer and fill the frame!”
Make it Sharp!
In camera clubs there is a fascination with sharpness and detail. Much time is spent talking about the best sensors, the sharpest lenses and esoteric things like circles of confusion and hyper-focal distance. If an image is not tack sharp, it won’t win a competition. Period. I think this fascination is partly about gear and partly because most camera clubs are populated with the over 50 crowd who long for the 20-20 vision of their youth (trust me, I know, I also fall into this camp)! Some of the most recognized and historic photos of all time have not been sharp. Just think of Robert Capa’s World War II D-Day photos. These gritty photos succeed because the blur and grain give them the mood of being there. Ansel Adams famously said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” Of course we can reverse this idea and state, “There is nothing better than a fuzzy shot of a sharp concept.”
Shoot in Good Light
And finally, there is the fascination with light in photography. This makes sense because photography is literally ‘writing with light’. Light is our tool; the cameras and lenses just capture the light. So a pre-occupation with light is an occupational hazard in photography. Camera clubs tend to classify light as good or bad. Good light is the ‘sweet’ light of the ‘golden hour’ (the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset). Any other light is bad. The reality is, as my partner Samantha likes to say, “There is no such thing as bad light!” There is either light that flatters your subject or concept or light that detracts from the subject or concept. Your job, as a photographer, is to choose the light that best enhances your idea for the photo.
The rules of photography that camera clubs follow are generally useful ‘guidelines’ for making stronger images. But like any rule, followed religiously the rules become constraints and shackles to creativity. You obviously need to know why rules work so that when you break them you do so for creative effect. I wish that camera clubs would look beyond the rules and just look at the heart of each image. If it resonates in spite of ‘flaws’ it is a good photograph. I’ll end this article with another Ansel Adams quote which nicely sums everything up: “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
What is the value of one week of your life?
What is the value of that week if you were doing something creative that you loved?
We believe firmly in the value of self-directed projects for artistic growth. Certainly we have been busy pursuing our own this year! But as we spent more time nurturing our photographic inclinations, we kept thinking how helpful a small mentored project might be for other photographers who wanted to get a creative idea out there in the world or even looking toward exhibiting their work. As much as we love doing our photographic thing, we kept wanting to share our happiness with you!
So our question is, do you have a photo project in you that’s itching to get out?
It may not be a big project (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be). It might even be a little strange or funny or weird. But you know that feeling you get when you’re out and about, and you see something and you think, “I wonder…” What if you had the time to pursue that little idea or spark of interest? Better still, what if you had two professionals invested in seeing your idea come to light, providing goal-setting materials, helping with planning and coaching you along the way?
We get those weird inspirations too. Now, we know better than to judge them. We call them our little orphan babies – orphan because there really is no home for them in what we do as professional photographers. They aren’t going to sell a workshop or print or calendar. No photo magazine wants them. They might even be such ugly little things that people turn away from their Facebook page! But they won’t let us go, these half-formed, raw and squirming intuitions. We have to bring them to the light and find a home for them.
Where should these little orphan ideas go? Well, what better place to try original ideas than our website, oopoomoo? Over the last year, we’ve moved our business toward a direction we find exciting; oopoomoo is more than ever a platform for sharing inspiring, talented and fresh photography, and we hope to have more stories behind living a creative life on the blog in future. We want to help you bring your orphan ideas to the world through a one-week, mentored photo project. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even find a home on the oopoomoo website through a published portfolio review!
If you have a photo project in you, then consider our new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. It will take only one week of your time, but we bet you reap the rewards of seeing your project through the rest of your life. The satisfaction of bringing your unique way of seeing to the world is what every artist strives to achieve.
Resolve students! This new eCourse is a logical extension of 2016’s Resolve: Discovering Your Creative Self. You have the foundation for this next level of artistic development. To acknowledge your accomplishment, we have a special Early Bird discount for the month of July and August for all Resolve 2016 students – but space is limited! Use the appropriate monthly discount code provided to you in the June 17, 2016 Resolve Newsletter at checkout.
Every month here at oopoomoo we send out our newsletter with a themed photography assignment. For the month of May our assignment was “Creative Clouds” open to any interpretation. We had a lot of great entries over on our oopoomoo Creatives Facebook page. Thanks everyone for your participation!
Below is a selection of our favourite images submitted. Stay tuned for our June newsletter which will be sent out in a day or two with June’s photo assignment. To sign up for our newsletter click here and get our Born Creative eBook for free.
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.
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.
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:
- What do you think this picture is about?
- What do you respond to or find interesting in the picture? Why?
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
Each month in our oopoomoo newsletter we announce an assignment theme; for January it was shadow and light (#shadowandlight). Below are our selected favorites from the images submitted to our Facebook group or by email. The February theme will be announced shortly so be sure to sign up for our newsletter to get a head start!
Samantha and I have curated what we think are the top 15 images submitted by our awesome Newsletter subscribers. To be considered, subscribers tagged their image with #myoopoomoobest2015 as a request to be considered in this blog post. Some sent their image by email and some posted to the oopoomoo Creatives Facebook group. We encouraged people to submit one image that represented their best work based on the following criteria:
- represent who they are photographically as an artist or demonstrate something they learned this year
- be as well-composed as they can do at their learning level, and
- be taken ethically.
We kept these guidelines in mind when choosing the photos for display here on the blog. It was a tough choice with over 100 images to choose from but the ones below best represented fresh seeing, original creative vision and good story-telling. So many images ‘almost’ made the cut and Sam and I wrestled and argued and debated the final 15. So, bruised and beaten, we present our choices. Enjoy and happy 2016!
Chris F Payant
Nathalie Kulin Greenwood