22 March

Art and Craft of Photography – Using Technique to Enhance Mood

Art is about personal expression. How do you feel about a subject? What is your connection to what you see? Why are you attracted to a particular subject? What do you want to tell the world? Who are you? These are the bigger questions we need to ask when making our art.The desire to paint, to sculpt, to make music, or to create photographs should be motivated from within and be an expression of you. External motivations like making money, getting likes, or pleasing others will only spoil your artistic expression.  Create for yourself.

Once you are creating for yourself and not others AND you are photographing from your feelings and a connection with a subject, then you can think of which camera technique and post processing methods will enhance your message. Whenever I go to the old coal mine in Nordegg (Brazeau Collieries) I immediately feel a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality. Where some people see a hulk of rusty industrial power, I see a romantic dream of the past. It took me a visit or two to honour my inner feelings about the mine but once I let those feelings out, then I could make the images I wanted to make about the mine.

For example, there is a spot in the mine called the bone yard where random pieces of equipment lay scattered about in the grass. I wanted to show a sense of the passage of time and the static nature of the rusting equipment among the living world. To do this I used a solid ND filter on my camera lens to lengthen exposure time so the grasses moved as a ghostly blur around the rusting pieces of metal. This painterly look was enhanced in processing by using the Orton technique. The end result gave me a wistful look.

©Darwin Wiggett - Gears in blowing grass.

©Darwin Wiggett – Gears in blowing grass.

©Darwin Wiggett - Long exposure using an ND filter and enhanced with Orton processing.

©Darwin Wiggett – Long exposure using an ND filter and enhanced with Orton processing.

The selective use of aperture to have parts of the scene rendered sharp and parts of the scene a dreamy blur was also effective for me in translating my dream-like feeling for the mine. I used apertures such as f1.4 or f2.8 to give me a thin slice of sharpness.

©Darwin Wiggett - Mood was enhanced by using a thin slice of focus at f2.8 and then painting then enhancing the blur with the Orton Technique.

©Darwin Wiggett – Mood was enhanced by using a thin slice of focus at f2.8 along with the Orton Technique.

©Darwin Wiggett - An aperture of f1.4 returns an image with a thin slice of focus to give a more dream like image.

©Darwin Wiggett – An aperture of f1.4 returns an image with a thin slice of focus to give a more dream-like image.

©Darwin Wiggett - Peeling paint at f2.0

©Darwin Wiggett – Peeling paint at f2.0.

Another technique I used to enhance the nostalgic mood was to convert the images from colour into sepia-toned black and white. Many of the scenes inside of the buildings at the mine site are contrasty with bright light coming in through the windows and cavernous shadow areas. To capture the entire range of bright to dark in the image I used HDR exposure blends (multiple images blended together at different exposures) to create one image with complete tonal detail. The final exposure blend is then converted to sepia to give a historic looking image.

©Darwin Wiggett - an HDR exposure blend converted to sepia.

©Darwin Wiggett – an HDR exposure blend converted to sepia.

©Darwin Wiggett - A sepia converted HDR image.

©Darwin Wiggett – A sepia converted HDR image.

©Darwin Wiggett - Old cars in sepia HDR.

©Darwin Wiggett – Old cars in sepia HDR.

If you would like an opportunity to see and photograph the Nordegg mine and find out how this location makes YOU feel, come join me and Samantha along with Royce Howland for our Coal Mines, Canyons, and the Canadian Rockies: the HDR Photography Workshop this May. I know I’m excited to return to this unique industrial landmark…maybe my creative vision will be different this time…who knows!

©Darwin Wiggett - What is YOUR vision of the mine?

©Darwin Wiggett – What is YOUR vision of the mine? 

24 January

Think you know HDR? Are you exposing ‘right’ during field capture?

Do your HDR (high dynamic range) exposure captures from the field look like this?

An HDR sequence which will result in a noisy, poor quality HDR output

An HDR sequence which will result in a noisy, poor quality HDR output.

If they do, then you are not getting the best quality possible in your HDR imagery. Sure, the finished HDR image will look great especially on the web….

©Darwin Wiggett - the finished HDR image

©Darwin Wiggett – the finished HDR image

But when you make that great big print, the noise in the shadows will be very noticeable:

Noisy shadows!

Noisy shadows!

To prevent noise in the shadows you have to make exposures that push the shadows into the upper 1/3rd of the histogram. Often it takes five photos at 2 EV (exposure values) apart to get the shadows bright enough.

To place the full range of highlight and shadow in the upper third of the histogram took five exposures.

To place the full range of highlight and shadow in the upper third of the histogram took five exposures.

The dark exposure hold the tail of the highlights in the upper third of the histogram whereas the lightest exposure moves the bulk of the shadows into the upper third of the histogram.

The dark exposure holds the tail of the highlights in the upper third of the histogram whereas the lightest exposure moves the bulk of the shadows into the upper third of the histogram.

The final result looks great and when enlarged it has no noise in the shadows!

©Darwin Wiggett - The finished HDR image

©Darwin Wiggett – The finished HDR image

Noise free shadows in the finished HDR.

Noise-free shadows in the finished HDR.

Thanks to Royce Howland for teaching us about proper HDR capture techniques. We have enlisted Royce to help us teach our first HDR Photography Workshop in the Canadian Rockies. And to make our learning experience even more complete we have secured special access to the Nordegg Coal Mine which offers fantastic HDR opportunities. And of course we’ll also do fine landscapes in the secret canyons of the Kootenay Plains. Coal Mines, Canyons, and the Canadian Rockies: An HDR Photography Workshop is sure to expand your HDR knowledge and delivers access to unique image-making opportunities. If you sign up before January 31, 2014 you’ll also get our entire oopoomoo eBook library for FREE ($200 value)!

If you can’t make it out to this intense HDR and processing workshop, we also reveal our dirty little shortcut for HDR processing in our new eBook, 7 Quick and Dirty Processing Shortcuts for Lazy Photographers. But relying only on shortcuts is like biking with training wheels on…it’s out in the field, getting hands-on feedback from three instructors where the real investment in your photography is!

To whet your appetite for all the creative possibilities at the coal mine, check out a few of our photos below:


©Royce Howland


©Royce Howland


©Darwin Wiggett

Brazeau Colleries, Nordegg, Alberta, Canada (gear and chain detail)

©Darwin Wiggett


©Darwin Wiggett

Brazeau Colleries, Nordegg, Alberta, Canada

©Darwin Wiggett

Old Building in Nordegg, Alberta, Canada

©Darwin Wiggett

Nobody At the Wheel, Nordegg

©Royce Howland


©Samantha Chrysanthou


©Samantha Chrysanthou


©Samantha Chrysanthou


©Samantha Chrysanthou

6 January

New Workshop – Coal Mines, Canyons and the Canadian Rockies HDR Workshop

We are excited to announce a very special workshop with guest instructor Royce Howland that is all about HDR photography highlighting special access to a huge, historic coal mining site and the virgin canyons of the Bighorn Wildland. This HDR workshop gives photographers rare and special access to Nordegg’s unique non-operational coal mining plant at the Brazeau Collieries. No need to be rushed along by tour guides: you’ll have a day and a half to explore one of the most intact charcoal briquette mines in North America. The Brazeau Collieries is a photographer’s dream jam-packed with intriguing artifacts, dilapidated buildings and the skeletal remains of equipment and vehicles rusting away in a lonely, industrial boneyard. As well, we’ll visit the lesser known canyons and secret spots of the Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake to practice our refined HDR techniques. This workshop is a structured learning opportunity with a combination of classroom time and plenty of practice time in fantastic field locations. Come and join us May 28 – June 1 2014 for this unique and fun photo workshop! To learn more simply click here.

Early booking bonus! Anyone who signs up for this workshop by January 31st, 2014 will receive the entire oopoomoo eBook library on CD at the workshop! That’s 19 eBooks and a total value of $195.00 — an incredible collection! (Read the small print: this bonus can only be collected upon attendance at the workshop and is limited to those eBooks published by oopoomoo at the date of this post.)

Leveraged Acquisition, Nordegg

©Royce Howland

Cline River Canyon, Bighorn Wildlands, Alberta, Canada

©Darwin Wiggett

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou


©Samantha Chrysanthou

Cable Coils - Brazeau Colleries, Nordegg, Alberta, Canada

©Darwin Wiggett

©Royce Howland

©Royce Howland

10 June

Turning Point – Royce Howland sees the Big Picture

©Royce Howland

©Royce Howland – click on image to see larger version!

Royce Howland tells us this about his Turning Point Image:

The story:
2004 – 5 were a tough couple of years in a lot of different ways. Because of some of what had been going down, I had a bunch of time on my hands and used it to get outdoors more than any time since childhood. I took the camera along and finally got focused on what I was doing with it.
Christmas of 2005 was the turning point. I was in Banff, having seriously needed to get away from it all. Dawn of December 25 found me standing all by myself on the shoreline of frozen Lake Minnewanka, receiving a providential gift of light. 🙂 As I looked out over the dark emerald-coloured ice, daybreak lit up the clouds with a rich warm glow. I felt both energized and at peace, and I took some exposures that resulted in a photograph substantially as I actually meant to make it. Looking back, I later realized this was a defining moment for a couple of reasons.
First, I finally had enough craft that I could capture, develop and present something that I felt did more than feebly hint at the wonderful world I had seen before me. All the hours I’d spent trying to sort out tools and techniques reached a point where the final results of the work clicked. I’ve progressed further in my craft since then, and know I could do a better job of the technical stuff now. But this image was the first significant example of what has come to be my preferred way of working… a combined field and digital creative process by which I’m making my photographs come out how I want them and see them in my head, rather than what previously felt like coming up short in a battle with my tools.
Second, I experienced what has become an even more important purpose in photography for me — making something creative through a blend of seeing, experiencing, interpreting and expressing my view of the world. For all the fact that I’m still a gearhead and value what craftsmanship brings to the table, I’ve realized that the path of the artist is so much more challenging and fulfilling than just developing mechanical or technical skills. On December 25, 2005 I realized not only that I could pull together tools and techniques, but in fact I could pursue photography as a form of artistic work. I could do it, and I wanted to do it. Everything that has happened with my photography since then stems from that day.
This will be a life-long pursuit, one that’s never fully realized, but is all the more exciting for that reason. So this image “Sunrise Over Deep Emerald Ice” is not my best or most important, because those photographs are yet to be made. But it was the first photograph — mile marker 0 — where I knew for sure I had set foot on a new path. I can’t wait to keep exploring it…
13 July

Create Your Own Photography eBook

For those of you thinking of making your own photography eBook, Samantha and I have a full length feature article called Create Your First eBook and Publish it with Confidence in the latest issue of Outdoor Photography Canada MagazineAlso in the same issue, the topic of my regular column is Self-Awareness as a Barrier to Seeing. Grab a copy of the magazine at newsstands or better yet subscribe! Each issue is packed full of great articles by top Canadian nature photographers and there are few ads to distract from the content.

And by the way, if you want even more details on how to make your first photo eBook be sure to sign up for our talk, The Art and Craft of the Photography eBook which will be held November 3 in Cochrane, Alberta. Whether you are interested in compiling your wedding photos into a special digital album or showcasing your once-in-a-lifetime trip — or even if you plan to market and sell your eBook to a larger audience — we’ll have loads of practical advice on how to do it right. Benefit from our experiences both positive and negative on the ‘meat and potatoes’ (and even the chocolate pie!) of making an eBook. Trust us we learned the hard way the things not to do!

Speaking of eBooks and a great way to make a better one (through story), we’re really excited to head into Calgary tomorrow (July 14) for a talk featuring some of our favorite photographers and good friends Colleen Miniuk-SperryPeter CarrollRoyce Howland, and Ken Ross who are presenting a talk entitled Travel Photography: Stories Instead of Snaps. There is no better way to make a powerful eBook of your travels than through the power of story. Come and learn from the experts on how to do story well!

Also be sure to stop by The Camera Store tomorrow (Saturday July 14 from 10am to noon) to gab with Colleen and grab a copy of her excellent book, Wild in Arizona; Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers which she will be signing for everyone. We reviewed her book here on oopoomoo and we thought it was amazing (it’s also available as an eBook (wow we have a theme going on here)!

And we’ll just leave you with a freshly pressed photo from our travels out and about. Hope to see you at the event on Saturday!

©Darwin Wiggett – The Horse Creek Road near Cochrane

21 February

Noise Free, Natural Looking HDR Images

Samantha and I just finished our talk, Raw versus JPEG: Which one is Right for You? on the weekend, and participants asked some really great questions. One of the topics we covered in the presentation in detail was how to get great HDR images no matter what format, raw or JPEG, you choose. The first question we were asked was,  “What software do you recommend for natural-looking  HDR (High Dynamic Range) images?” The answer to that question is easy. Out of all the software for HDR that we have tried, we find Oloneo HDRengine to be the easiest and fastest to use for natural looking results. If you want the ‘Pro’ version of the software then choose Oloneo PhotoEngine, but really HDRengine will cover most everyone’s needs and at $59 it’s affordable! (BTW, we make no commission nor gain any benefit from Oloneo for this recommendation; we just think it’s a great product). Mac users: sorry, but this software is only available for Windows for now. For Mac users we recommend Photomatix.

3 image HDR processed in Oloneo PhotoEngine

The second question was whether it’s better to use JPEG or raw to make HDR photos. In the talk, we went over the reasons why we prefer raw for our HDR imagery, but you can use JPEG format and get great results if you expose the images correctly. We find that most people don’t expose their images correctly for HDR and as a result get noisy, chunky and un-natural looking images.

The most common approach when shooting for an HDR is to make at least three different exposures based around the camera’s meter reading of a scene. So, you would have three shots: one for the mid tones, one for the highlights and one for the shadows. The HDR software takes these three images and blends them all together into a single exposure. An easy way to get three quick exposures is to set your camera to auto-bracketing and have the camera snap the different photos. A common bracketing sequence used by photographers is 0 EV, -2 EV, +2 EV as shown below:

This histogram is typical of a high contrast scene. This mid tone exposure (0 EV) records the mid tones in the middle of the histogram but the shadows and highlights are clipped on the left and right side of the histogram.

The -2 EV exposure captures the highlights without any clipping.

The +2 EV exposure captures the shadows without clipping.

An HDR image can be made from these exposures but the file likely will end up being noisy and a bit crunchy looking.

We are firm believers in the idea of ‘expose right’ or ‘expose to the right’ as it is sometimes called. In this scenario, you push the histogram as far to the right as possible without clipping highlights. Doing so gives you better data that can be manipulated in software without getting noisy. The trick, though, is to apply the principles behind exposing right to HDR images. To get better HDRs without noise, you simply need to make three exposures where the mid tones, highlights and shadows each get shoved, in separate exposures, over to the upper right half of the histogram where the best data resides.

The darkest exposure should place the highlights into the upper right of the histogram without clipping (this is a -1 EV exposure).

The mid tone exposure should move the mid tone information over to the right side of the histogram (this is a +1 EV exposure). The red areas show highlight clipping but we aren’t concerned about them as we already have the best exposure for the highlights in the -1 EV exposure.

The exposure for the shadows should push the darkest area of the photo into the right half of the histogram like we see here. This is a +3 EV exposure. Most people would think this highly washed out image is of no use at all!

The HDR software maps the well-exposed information for the mid tones, the highlights, and the shadows into a final noise-free and natural image.

The final HDR

Shadow details

The idea here is to make your darkest capture no darker than is needed to expose for the highlights in a scene. Then expose the mid tones and shadows in accordance with the ‘expose right’ maxim, pushing this data to the right side of the histogram as well. Looking at washed out, extremely over-exposed photos is kind of tough to take, but once the HDR’s from these files are made you will be surprised by how clean and natural the final results are. Try it for yourself and see if it works for you! See you on the ‘light’ side!

A big thanks to Royce Howland who introduced us to Oloneo software and to this expose right technique for HDR photos!