28 December

Best of 2015 – oopoomoo Best for Darwin Wiggett

This year, Darwin and I decided to curate each other’s images to select what we felt was that photographer’s oopoomoo best for 2015. Just as we stipulated in the oopoomoo Newsletter announcing the challenge, an oopoomoo best had to meet three 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.

You can see what Darwin picked as my oopoomoo best here. And here is the image I’ve chosen as Darwin’s best image of 2015.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

In pouring over Darwin’s work for this year, I’ve noticed a shift in his usual subject matter. Instead of photographing grand landscapes, Darwin has started to concentrate more on intimate studies and abstractions. Some of the same elements of style are present in his work, making them a ‘Darwin shot’, such as a fascination with light and shape and an attraction to colours and tonal contrast. But I sense with this image a refinement perhaps of ‘seeing’, an engagement with the mind rather than just senses. There is many layers to this image and it is quietly intriguing.

This image was taken at Lake O’Hara, probably one of the most iconic of places in the Canadian Rockies. We were standing far uphill on the trail to Opabin Plateau and Mary Lake was being covered by a giant shadow cast by Oderay Mountain as the sun set behind it. Darwin had to work fast to frame and make this shot before the light was gone and the lake covered in shadow. When photographers say that they refuse to photograph iconic places, I feel sorry for them; I suspect they are insecure and may suffer from a lack of imagination. A great photographer can always make a place his own as Darwin does here.

8 December

NEW! – Resolve Photography eCourse

We’re excited to announce a new course on oopoomoo! Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self is a self-directed eCourse all about YOU!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

There are plenty of ‘how to’ courses in photography – heck, we’ve taught our fair share of ’em! – but what seems to be missing is a backgrounder course that explores your inspirations and motivations behind pressing the shutter. What are your photographic strengths and weaknesses? What are you most terrified of photographing? What new heights could you reach artistically if you were able to peek under the hood and understand the why of photography for you?

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

By parts fun-silly and brutally direct, the Resolve Photography eCourse is a little like a self-help course complete with its own straitjacket. There’s no empty fluff here! Expect to dig deeper with daily challenging assignments designed to peel back the comfortable complacency we often settle into as artists. It’s like that paternalistic Polonius guy said to Laertes, “to thine own self be true” because then you can’t be false to any man – or your photographs! Something like that.

So is 2016 the year you invest in your photography? Then it’s essential you start off on the right foot by understanding who YOU are as a photographer and the talent that underlies your images.

Photographer, Kootenay Plains, Alberta, Canada

What will you find? ©Samantha Chrysanthou

Intrigued? Are you ready to soar creatively? Then check out our Resolve: Discover Your Creative Self eCourse. Our first session sold out in three days. We are offering a second session this January but again with limit spaces.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

11 April

And the Winner of our Spring Photo Portfolio Is…

Gerry Hiebert!

It was a tough decision – so many inspiring, unique images entered into our March oopoomoo Newsletter challenge! But we felt there was one portfolio that really gave us hope that spring might be finally here, and that was Gerry Hiebert’s impressionistic, interpretative take on this the season of new beginnings.

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

What colours do you envision when you think of spring? The fresh green of new grass pushing through the golden straw of yesterday? The blush of fruit blossoms against the purple willow of winter? In a sense, spring and fall are seasons perhaps best described not as entities into themselves but times of transition. That is part of their excitement, the juxtaposition of what is with what is coming.

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

So that is why we get kinda excited around here when we see an artist working with themes that also explore contrast in such an original way. Using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) in most of his images, and a soft, bejeweled colour palette, Gerry’s collection perfectly captures the hint of new growth overlaying the old. We are given an impression of what might be left behind and what is yet to come. And isn’t that the bittersweet hope of spring?

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

©Gerry Hiebert

Gerry wins one of oopoomoo’s Personalized Portfolio Reviews and we look forward to seeing more images from this creative artist. If you want to be informed about our next photo challenge be sure to sign up for the oopoomoo newsletter.

31 October

Happy Halloween – Spiritual Prayer Flags

Before there was the crazed hunt for candy, Halloween was a celebration of life before the dark and decay of winter. Like all good ancient holidays, its a nuanced tradition which reminds us to keep close and treasure our loved ones and while remembering and honouring the spirits of our ancestors – lest they become peeved and spoil our morning cereal milk. In a world of uncertainty, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets (you never know who may be lurking about). So, in the sense of paying a little homage to that which we don’t always understand, we are sharing a couple of images made on public lands of the prayer flags ceremoniously placed by the First Nations people in the area. Without knowing the prayers behind the placement of the strips of cloth, we can still appreciate and respect the haunting and lovely nature of the objects themselves.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


©Darwin Wiggett - Do the faces in my head bother you?

©Darwin Wiggett – Do the faces in my head bother you?

ribbons and prayer flags in field

©Samantha Chrysanthou – Little Lost Soul

22 November


In the Abraham Lake area for our fall photo workshops, Darwin and I came away with an image each of the effects of the high water from the June 2013 floods. This summer the reservoir was the highest we’ve ever seen it: the retreating water left a clear warning on the shoreline vegetation. Coincidentally, last night we also went and saw the thought-provoking film, Watermark co-directed by Edward Burtynsky. I would like to believe otherwise, but I’m afraid human memory is short, and short-term solutions tend to take priority over long-term issues. Maybe films like Watermark will help keep evidence of a possible future in our present memory.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - The forest was visited by the lake.

©Samantha Chrysanthou – The forest was visited by the lake.

©Darwin Wiggett - Watermarks on willows on the shore of Abraham Lake

©Darwin Wiggett – High water lines on willows on the shore of Abraham Lake.

30 August

Leaving the Scrapyard…Or Not

Darwin and I rarely shoot for ourselves during a workshop. I find it hard to switch gears from being a photo instructor to a photographer. But we had four hours at an autowrecker’s yard at last weekend’s Badlands, Buicks and Old Buildings photo workshop, so I found myself with time to make a few images. Part of the challenge of working in the junkyard was being able to isolate subject matter from the overall clamour of the place. I felt rather sad for this car here which was in pretty darn good shape compared to the other vehicles. It seemed to me that the car was just driving out of the yard after perhaps picking up a spare part or two…although of course this old Delta 88 is never leaving and will soon join the rows of rusting hulks being slowly scraped clean by wind and sun in the boneyard.


Old car in a scrapyard, Alberta

Dreams of Escape ©Samantha Chrysanthou

26 May

Food Photography Can Be Easy!

In preparation for our photography Destination Photography workshop at Island Lake (remember, we’re experimenting with pricing and this workshop is now ‘Pay What It’s Worth’!), Darwin and I decided to cook up something from the Island Lake Lodge cookbook. Here is an image of the appetizer on page 60, Wild Sockeye Salmon Tartare with Spicy Guacamole and Taro Chips:

Salmon Tartare Tower appetizer

© Samantha Chrysanthou - Salmon Tartare Tower appetizer

I cheated a little since I couldn’t find any taro root (what is that, anyway?) so yams had to do. And I swear I thought we always had a jar of capers lurking in the fridge but darned if the little caper-goblin didn’t get to them first! My attempt of this recipe lacks the artful touch of the chef; my salmon tartare is a dumpy, sullen hill of goop rather than the artful tower it’s supposed to be. But blame me, not the recipe! Luckily, on Wednesday, June 27 we’ll be learning how to quickly and easily photograph delicious appetizers prepared by the talented chefs at the Lodge (who will do a better job at food styling than me, I think). You can download the schedule for the workshop here. The good news is, although stacking guacamole and raw fish takes skill, we photographed this tasty snack in just a few minutes with minimal gear. And that will be the focus of the talk on June 27, “Basics of On-Location Food Photography” because you want to eat your delectable delight before it collapses! Or, if you’re at a farmer’s market or bazaar, you need to be able to capture quick moments on the fly. For this shot, I mounted the camera on a tripod but with a high ISO you can often get enough shutter speed to hand-hold in well-lit areas (especially if your lens has a setting that reduces vibrations). And that is one secret to appetizing food photography: sit by a bright window and work with natural light to eliminate all manner of problems photographing indoors. We bounced a little light into the shadowed side of the appetizer by holding up a raincoat with a white, plastic interior to the left of the dish. (If no one is looking, and your spouse isn’t glaring at you yet, those little side plates also make good reflectors!) Here is the same scene but shot with a polarizer to reduce some glare off the saucy juices  (and without the napkin for a cleaner comp):


Salmon Tartare Tower

© Samantha Chrysanthou - Tartare Tower with Polarizer

Easy-as-pie! And the appetizer was deee-licious! Did I mention workshop attendees receive a complimentary copy of this beautifully photographed cookbook? If you can’t join us in Fernie for this workshop, we’re pleased to announce that the Foothills Camera Club has invited us to teach a special workshop created just for the Club in September, 2012. The Club has kindly opened the doors to this workshop to members of the public — and we’ll be in Cochrane at the historic RancheHouse! Check out the weekend schedule here; it’s an intensive weekend with class time balanced by practice in the field. Dates are September 7 – 9, 2012, and the price for Club members is $300 and for non-members only $350! If you can’t swing the cost of the Destination Photography workshop — even at a Pay What It’s Worth discount — then this is your chance to catch a great program here at home. The Man in Charge is Dana Naldrett so please email him (dana@mountainladdiephoto.com) for more information or to register. Limited spots!

Now, what else can I cook up from that cookbook….




13 February

Raw vs. JPEG: Take the Quiz!

In general, advanced photographers are pretty confident about which file format, raw or JPEG, to use when making images.  But does that confidence have any foundation?  Listening to some shooters spouting off on this topic makes us cringe; there are so many myths and misconceptions around these two settings that beginner photographers must feel overwhelmed.  Well, we’re going to sort through this mess on Saturday at our oopoomoo Talk, Raw vs. JPEG:  Which One is Right for You? This talk is for both beginners and advanced amateurs.  In fact, this talk is for anyone who has told another shooter, “shoot in raw format if you want to be a good photographer”.  Take the quiz below to see if you know as much as you think you do!

Q: Professional photographers only shoot in raw format, and everyone should aim to photograph in this format.  True or False?

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Is this scene better captured in raw or JPEG format?

A: False on both fronts.  Knowledgeable pros photograph in the format that works best for the occasion; part of being a pro is knowing how to get the most out of your camera.  For example, wedding photographers often photograph in raw + JPEG format because this allows them to quickly send hundreds of proofs, the JPEGS, to clients for review.  The pro then processes those raws that are the final selects.

We know numerous pros who only shoot in JPEG format because the images are finished in-camera, and the final results of the shoot are instantly ready to send to the client (who always seems to have a pressing deadline!) Most photo journalists only shoot in JPEG, not only for concerns about immediate deadlines, but also for veracity — the image was captured in-camera and not subjectively massaged in raw conversion software.  Like many pros, we shoot in either raw or JPEG format depending on the context.  When we are shooting for ourselves and want the flexibility to process our images according to our artistic vision, we shoot in raw format. When we are shooting for clients who need fast delivery of accurate results of their products, we shoot in JPEG format. Rarely do we shoot both at the same time because each format requires very different approaches behind the viewfinder.

©Darwin Wiggett

The photo above is from the Talyn Stone photo shoot and Darwin shot in raw format. A large part of the creativity in this shot is done at the time of capture (model pose, lens, location and lighting choices) as most good photos should be, but the flavor of the image has been enhanced in the processing of the raw file (see the unprocessed photo below).

The RAW capture of Talyn

Q: Raw is a superior file format to JPEG. True or False?

A: It depends. There is a myth floating in photography cyberspace that raw is a ‘superior’ format and that only amateurs shoot in JPEG format.  It’s time to leave behind this kind of ego-stroking mentality.  The fact is that there are pros and cons to both formats.  Whether you shoot in raw or JPEG is going to depend on your personality, your interests, your skill level with the camera, your skill with processing software and the final output or goal of an image.  In other words, it’s a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. For example, even if a raw capture gives you more and ‘better’ data to work with, if you captured poor data to begin with, then you’re still going to have a poor output even if you shoot raw. If your processing attempts can’t rival your in-camera jpeg, then why would you shoot anything other than JPEG?

©Darwin Wiggett - JPEG capture

©Darwin Wiggett - raw capture of the same scene

Q: You should bias your histogram to the right to get the best data possible no matter what format you shoot.  True or False?

A: False. The ‘expose right’ guideline is very helpful when shooting in raw format and trying to capture the best data possible. But always ‘exposing right’ for JPEGS is just a bad idea. The reason to shoot JPEG in the first place is to have the camera process the image so you don’t have to do so later at the computer. So, shooting JPEG means you have to capture the best possible data in-camera so the camera can use its processing algorithm to deliver a great result that needs no more processing after the fact. If you are post-processing your JPEGs, then you are not doing all you need behind the lens to give your camera the best data possible. JPEG shooters should not have to do image manipulation after the fact.

The funny thing about shooting JPEGs over raw is that JPEG format demands that you be a better photographer than a shooter using raw format. In short, shooting decisions  such as white balance, picture style, choice of lighting, and use of filters are more critical when the image is finished in-camera than when the data is simply harvested (raw) to be processed later.

Getting a great in-camera, finished JPEG means the photographer actually has to know the fundamentals of photography; raw shooters, on the other hand, can get away with knowing less about basic photographic principles. (We’re not advocating for photographic laziness though!  The more you know, the better your file quality regardless of file format.) So who says JPEG is for amateurs! If you don’t know just how differently you need to expose raw versus JPEG images, then come and learn more at our talk!

©Samantha Chrysanthou- Middle-toned scenes should have an average exposure, right?

Q: If you are just learning how to process raw images, you should shoot in raw + JPEG mode.  True or False?

A: By now, you should guess the direction we’re heading here by debunking these rumours.  This is also false.  Yet we hear photographers advising the hapless beginner to shoot in both modes as a ‘hedge your bets’ kind of mode.  The argument is that, if you shoot in raw + JPEG, someday when you are skilled at processing raw files, you’ll be glad you had that raw file from a year ago because now you can go back and rescue it from the bowels of your hard drive, process it, and win a contest!  There is an exception that proves every rule, so we won’t say that having just this situation happen is an impossibility.  But, realistically, as we’re learning, most of our early efforts are crap…or worse.  (Some of our early images make great instructional slides on what not to do!)

There are some big disadvantages to shooting raw + JPEG when you aren’t skilled enough to process a raw file.  For example, you’ve increased your file storage costs in this duplicate system and, unless you have a very organized file numbering/naming system, you run the risk of de-coupling the raw and JPEG files and losing one or the other of them.  Not only have you increased the cost of storing your images, you’ve also given yourself a headache after spending hours trying to find that darn raw file of your favourite JPEG image!  And how often do we actually go in and play with a raw file after the fact?  For most of us, the answer is probably ‘not often’.  Shooting raw + JPEG also acts as a crutch:  if you really want to learn the control of raw processing, then kick away the JPEG crutch and get processing.

©Darwin Wiggett - raw capture processed in Camera Raw and Photoshop

©Darwin Wiggett - the unprocessed raw file

Q: If you do HDR (high dynamic range) imaging, then raw is the only format to use. True or False?

Of course false. JPEGs captured well in-camera will make great HDR photos. Raw images not exposed well or processed poorly can look terrible:  just check out the garish HDRs polluting Flickr, for example. We constantly see ‘advanced’ photographers who tout the ‘quality’ of raw format yet feed their HDR programs terrible raw captures resulting in noisy, banded, and artifact-laden HDR outputs. Garbage in is garbage out no matter what format you orginally started with!

©Darwin Wiggett - 10 image HDR/Pano from raw files

Finally, there are very different considerations to be made in the field when shooting in raw vs. JPEG format.  The big issue is:  are you exposing for the raw file or the JPEG file?  What is the best capture in the field for one is often not ideal for the other.  Shooting both formats at the same time is problematic. As we mentioned in question 3, if you’re shooting in raw format, you’re going to try to bias your exposure slightly to the right.  But this may leave your JPEG image looking bleached and over exposed.  Yech!  Sure, you can try to darken the picture a bit on the computer, but you won’t be able to play with it too much before seeing a loss in quality.  And if you expose for the JPEG image so that it looks good on your LCD (which is what most JPEG shooters do), chances are the raw image is either underexposed or metered to an ‘average’ of the tones in the scene, and this is non-optimal for a raw file.  Why shoot raw when you come away with poor data?

These myths above are only the most common.  On Saturday, we’ll be discussing:

  • how to figure out which format will work best for your style of shooting and skill-set
  • the pros and cons of raw and JPEG formats
  • how to obtain optimal capture for each format
  • how to best expose for high contrast scenes for both raw and JPEG
  • how to shoot for the best data for HDR images

So if you are puzzled by the raw vs. JPEG debate, then come out on Saturday, Feb. 18th when we will set the record straight!  Please help us spread the word if you know of anyone who would be interested in this topic.  (And if you got any of the quiz questions wrong, come along too so that, next time you hear a photographer spreading these vile rumours, you can correct them!)

22 January

Fave Photos from Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

A big, hearty thanks to all who came out yesterday to our talk, “Winter Photography in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park”.  We also want to thank park steward Ken Wright for his excellent contribution of images and information and park steward Heather Simonds for loaning us some of her lovely images for the show.  Both stewards are talented shooters and their photographs greatly added to the value of the talk.  As we mentioned in the talk yesterday, we hope to bring many of these talks to Cochrane throughout the year so watch for announcements soon on our next dates!  Speaking of dates, there are just a few spots left in Dave Brosha’s talk next Saturday; we’re really pleased with the turnout since Dave’s a great photographer (and a nice guy!)  If you are coming to the talk, you might want to come for the day because the 28th is WinterFest in Cochrane!  That’s right, crazy Cochranites rejoice in the cold by lighting fires and sipping hot chocolate.  Apparently there’s pony rides, wagon rides, human curling (you’ll have to see it to believe it), arts and crafts, snow sculpting and a giant, 10,000 square foot maze.  I’d like to hang out in the Lumberjack Zone (sorry, Darwin!)  WinterFest is at the Cochrane Lions Rodeo Grounds (109 5th Ave West) and runs from noon until 6pm.  Admission is only $5!  If you’re interested, phone 403-542-5538 or go to www.cochraneevents.ca.

Here are a few of Darwin and my favourite images of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park from the talk:

©Darwin Wiggett


The rolling hills of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett


Grassy slope, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou


Pathway, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

And here are two shots of the same area that reveal our varied approaches and styles.  Who do you think is the ‘drama queen’ of the relationship? 😉

Backlit Fence, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett


Fenceline, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou