We recently made a call out for images for Sleeper Sundays showcase on our oopoomoo Facebook group. Below we present some of the favorite images we’ve seen to date. If you want to participate in our showcase and maybe have your images featured here on the oopoomoo blog for a future best of showcase then just check out this link for more information. Thanks to the wonderful photographers in our group for submitting such inspiring work!
A cornerstone of what we do at oopoomoo is to teach the art and craft of photography through our eBooks, talks and workshops. In the last year we were fortunate enough to speak at over 18 events and visit interesting and diverse places, from Antarctica to Saskatchewan. We learned a few things in this past year’s journey…. First and foremost, Canada’s natural areas are world-class and rival any so-called ‘exotic’ destination (and deserve our unswerving protection) and second, Canadians are awesome in their outlook on photography and life! Lest this article descend into a back-thumping, self-congratulatory affair on how cool Canada is, we do need to raise a point of concern. After speaking at all these events in one year, well, you’re bound to spot common patterns emerging as your students learn how to be better photographers. What we found is that, no matter where you call home, there are five mis-steps most photographers make that keep their images from being great. We’ve distilled down a year’s worth of teaching into five fatal flaws that keep your photographs ho-hum rather than huzzah! So read on to learn how to avoid these five mis-steps so you can get your own, unique ‘photography groove’ on.
Yes, this is an official photography term. (In fact, we’re thinking of trademarking the idea because it appears to be so ‘popular’ in so many photographers’ images!) What on earth is a pokie, you ask? Think of those teeny little bits that jut just barely into your image frame. They commonly take earthly form as twigs, stones or even small, bright or dark blobs. You clearly didn’t see them at the time you made the shot because they are just as clearly detracting from your image. Pokies always appear accidental. Sure, you can crop a pokie out…except when a crop will ruin the balance of your composition. In the end, we tell our students that it’s always best to catch and kill a pokie in the field by recomposing your image rather than opt for surgery to remove the foreign growth in post-processing.
Mergies are pokies’ evil twin. Except mergies are much harder to get rid of – and this is why we don’t recommend the ‘easy out’ of cropping away your mistakes later on at the computer. Mergies exist where two visual elements connect or meet by touching or overlapping in some way. Humans are wired to find and perceive connections where visual elements like shapes or lines meet. Note we’re not talking about when you deliberately overlap objects, for example to establish perspective, but an accidental joining of two separate visual elements. Mergies are perceived by your viewer as a mistake and, just like pokies, they call attention to themselves when they really aren’t worth looking at. So keep them out of your images!
Colour over Content
How many of you have somewhat recklessly swung the hue and saturation sliders in Photoshop or Lightroom, or upped the grunge factor in an HDR program? Five months later, are you still as impressed with yourself? If not, you may be suffering the problem of relying on colour saturation over compositional prowess. Images with bold colour are beautiful, but they should still have coherent compositions. Does your image ‘Stand the Test of Time’? Of course, ‘art’ can be very subjective – if you like it, keep on doing it! But if you like to share your images with others, the photograph should have a sound compositional basis; while humans are physiologically wired to respond to vibrant colour, a great image is still free of compositional flaws. If you’re guilty of a heavy trigger finger on ‘ornamental’ tricks that are more about the processing technique than the actual subject matter of the image, consider giving everyone’s eyes a break and learn a little restraint. You will be forced to compose better if you do.
So far, so good right? You’ve graduated beyond pokies, have navigated your composition successfully around mergies, and passed through the adolescent phase of psychedelic colours over sound compositions. You are a master! But wait… what is that? A viewer, lost, wandering without hope or GPS in your image’s midground! Oh no!
All too often – and this mostly applies to wide angle landscapes – we invite our viewers into our image with a big, fat WELCOME mat of a foreground and entice them to move toward a pretty mountain or looming canyon in the distance. But we forget to pack a map, and they end up lost in a jumbled pile of rock or fall through a watery hole in our image’s midground. A finely composed image takes into account fore, back and mid ground and ties the three together using elements of visual design such as line, pattern and shape. This is what we tell our students: “Every single speck of dirt in your photo, every grain of sand, should belong there – and not one particle more.” Reach for this in your compositions.
And finally, the Big One. You clicked the shutter because you saw something (literally and figuratively). But that photograph will have a life of its own: it’s going to leave home and grow up to be a big, Grownup Image. Ideally, it should be able to stand on its own two feet without you there, hovering at its shoulder, explaining what the image is supposed to be about. We’ve felt the pain of workshop participants who can’t help but jump in to explain their shot after a puzzled silence during class critiques. But whether viewers find what you hoped they would (and part of letting go is allowing people to find their own meaning in your images), they do have to find something. The ‘story’ or idea can be simple – the delicate curve of a rosebud can be a complete idea – or quite layered and complicated. But having the message of your image fail is another common conundrum as we learn how to convey complete ideas with only the rough tools we have at hand – plastic, glass, light… and our creative force. You don’t want your child to be the misfit that no one understands! Listen to feedback from others. Often, we’re trying to tell too many things in one image and the viewer ends up confused or, worse, bored. Simplify. Keep throwing things out of your image until only one, clear message comes across. Never underestimate the power of one grain of sand.
So there you have it! If you eliminate these five, common mis-steps along the path of creative development, you can focus more on honing your skill at telling truly unique and memorable stories or ideas in your images. Eliminate these five fatal flaws and you’ll be well on your way to artful compositions with meaning!
(This is Part II; click here to read Part I first!)
In this article, we discuss why classroom seminars AND field sessions are synergistic learning tools – don’t skip one in favour of the other! Remember we are using our upcoming Montreal weekend event as a case study to exemplify our point.
Level the Playing Field
So you arrive at your photo destination. As you come into the present moment, you tune into your senses and your mind is engaged. Photographic possibilities start to jump out at you. You take out your camera and begin exploring.
Or…you arrive and have no idea where to start, what to shoot. If this is you, make sure you read Part I and get thee to a seminar on Learning to See, like the one we are giving in Montreal on June 6! Taking a course on perception is your top priority. Don’t register for any field session photography workshop until you practice learning to see!
Ok, you’ve arrived, you’re starting to get in the photographic groove…and you’re struggling with the assignments we’ve given you after our seminar. That’s good! We believe in helping cement the information provided in the full day seminar with targeted assignments designed to develop the three key skills that make a good photographer. Since we concentrate on field technique over digital darkroom work, we ask everyone to shoot JPEG (either raw + JPEG or just JPEG). This levels the playing field in that everyone is working on the same skills at the same time. We want to know if you’ve understood everything we discussed about seeing the nature and quality of light and how it affects tone in, for example, our Montreal seminar Harnessing the Power of Tone. And we want to see you build advanced compositional patterns to convey your photographic idea as demonstrated in Montreal’s Working Advanced Compositional Patterns talk (we are also giving this seminar in Black Diamond, Alberta, May 31). There’s usually a bit of whining when we make photographers hand in their JPEGs without benefit of digital processing. But the danger to be aware of is that ‘fixing’ your images on the computer makes you lazy. If you do most of your creative work on the computer, then you’re a digital artist, not a photographer. There’s nothing at all wrong with this. But we are teaching a photography course, so we want to see your field skills. You might be surprised and invigorated after a session spent focusing on your field skills! And the good news is that when everyone is shooting in-camera JPEGs it really shows that equipment does not matter; great images are often made with the simplest and least expensive cameras.
There’s a reason why we encourage photographers to attend our seminars as well as our associated field sessions and that is because it’s a two-part strategy to learning. You receive the information and then you head out and test your learning. Attending just a field session without the benefit of the Saturday seminar puts you at a disadvantage. This is true for all our workshops, and we structure them this way because we’ve found that people learn the most with this format.
So if you have registered for a field session in Montreal but are saving money by skipping the seminar (you know all that stuff, right?) we strongly advise you to register for both. Did you take the quiz in Part I? Seriously, compared to what most photographers spend on their gear, this seminar costs pennies compared to most photographers’ gear expenditures but will give you more than a year’s worth of education.
And this goes for any photo educational offering you’re considering…how much instruction is offered? How large are the class sizes? The field sessions? Is there a constructive feedback session afterwards to review your learning? Does the instructor build upon concepts taught in class or does the instructor just ‘show up’ to the field sessions? Does the instructor actively engage with you after the seminar either through social media commentary or answers to your email questions? Also, remember photo tours are about location and being guided to photogenic spots, whereas workshops should teach you to be creative no matter where you find yourself. Are you up for being creative?
Nourishing Feedback, not Pablum, Please!
Speaking of feedback, let’s make it count. While it can be gratifying to get ‘likes’ on social media, these are vague and unhelpful. What did the viewer like? What did the viewer even think the image was about? What could be improved?
In our field sessions, we always try and schedule a feedback session after each outing. This not a time of criticism but rather a chance for you to see your work on the big screen and receive suggestions from your peers as to ways to improve and what they liked about your image. We also provide our comments but encourage class participation. Many students have told us that they learned the most during this constructive session. It’s a perfect way to cap off a full and fun weekend of photography!
Investing in a photo event like Montreal’s Learning to See: Developing Your Creative Vision is about you getting the best value for your buck. It’s about truly becoming a better photographer. So consider your educational options the next time you are thinking of upgrading your gear.
One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome as a photographer was me. I was constantly sabotaging my own progress in photography by worrying about how I looked to others. This wasn’t about fashion (I have none) or the gear I owned (I have too much) or whether my hair looked good (when I had hair); it was about my preoccupation with what others might think of my photos.
Whenever I went out shooting with others, I was always watching to see what they were photographing instead of concentrating on my own work. Were they seeing something I was missing? Were they using a lens I had not thought of? “What are those filters they are using?” “That is a weird angle of view, maybe I should try that!” In short my head was full of constant distracting chatter and my insecurities had me watching everyone else instead of concentrating on just making images. I was in a self-imposed competition.
Even when I shot alone, I was still thinking things like, ‘If I do this funky thing with the flash then people will think I am amazing” Or, “This is awesome! I can’t wait to show people this image; they’ll love it”. In short, I was still worried about my audience. I was shooting for other people and not shooting for myself! And of course I never grew as artist.
Only in moments when others were not around, when I was not in ‘trophy’ photography territory (the grand landscape in iconic locations) and when I didn’t have a camera with me did I start to notice things beyond my preconceptions of what a good photograph should be. I started to see the light and shadow patterns of the window blinds, the play of light through a water glass, the brush of light across the carpet. In short, in quiet moments, and in forgetting about how my photos would appear to others, I started to see.
In my nature photography, I still searched for the grand landscape and the big light and the rewards of accolades by others, but more and more that pursuit was ringing hollow. I was finding more pleasure in making images that were softer, quieter and more introspective. I found great pleasure in making something from nothing and that pleased my sensibilities the most. As soon as I let go of self I became a better photographer.
Now I just shoot for me and worry little what others will think of my photos. As long as the photos are true to my vision and represent who I am and what I saw, then the photos are a success for me. Letting go of self, competition, and concern for audience is really about letting go of insecurities. Finally, I can fully pursue my creative vision. And in doing so the joy of creation has come back full force.
If like me, you suffer from a bad case of ‘yourself,’ then maybe it’s time to let go and make pictures purely for you and not with others in mind. Stop submitting so many images to online forums, stop hoping that others will love your work and start shooting for you. In the end you’ll be a better artist for it. Happy shooting! (Thanks to Freeman Patterson and Samantha Chrysanthou for valuable lessons in ‘barriers to seeing’.)
We just returned from a 3-day photo seminar with field workshops in Toronto where we met wonderful people and received some very positive feedback about our content, presentation and teaching style. John Weatherburn, past president of the Toronto Digital Photography Club related this to us:
Thanks again for spending the weekend with us. It was a very informative seminar and set of workshops. I have received very positive feedback from our members. I would say more so than with any other speaker!The two of you working together works perfectly. Your complimentary interests illustrate clearly that there is no wrong way. Even using different equipment works well (always a debate in the club: Canon vs. Nikon!).
We love it when we can impart the oopoomoo values of create, inspire and educate to photography. The great thing is we learn just as much from our students as they do from us; it’s truly a collaborative adventure. Thanks, Toronto, for your hospitality and warmth and open hearts!
Next up on our schedule are the following events – we’d love to meet you and help you take your photography to a new creative and artistic level. To learn more about each event just click on the title for the event that interests you.
Winnipeg, Manitoba – May 2 and 3, 2015
Black Diamond, Alberta – May 9, 2015 – Sold Out – wait list only
Edmonton, Alberta – May 22 – 24, 2015 – Sold Out – wait list only
Black Diamond Alberta – May 31, 2015
Montreal, Quebec – June 5 – 7, 2015
It’s hard to believe but it was 10 years ago this week that my guidebook How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies was released!
In 2004, my career as a photographer was suffering because my main source of income, stock photography, had taken a big hit after the market shocks following 9/11 in 2001. I needed something to rejuvenate my career. So I came up with the idea of writing a photographers’ guide book to the Canadian Rockies, a region I knew and loved well. I pitched the idea to a publisher and in April of 2004, with an advance from the publisher in my pocket, I headed to the Rockies to shoot new images and do on-the-ground research for the book. I finished shooting and writing in September of 2004 and turned the manuscript over to publisher who released it in April of 2005. Once the publisher saw the photos I submitted for the guide book, they asked if I would also be willing to do a coffee table book as a companion piece. They called the book Dances with Light – The Canadian Rockies and it was released at the end of April 2005. Both books became Canadian best sellers and each went through three sucessive printings. I’m sure the books would have sold even more copies but the publisher went bankrupt because they expanded too big, too fast. Unfortunately, both books are now out of print. New copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies now sell on Amazon starting at $250.oo! It’s original price was $14.95. Crazy.
Once the publisher went out of business, I bought the remaining copies of How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies (HTPTCR) and sold them through my website – sales were brisk! Once those books were gone, I asked Stephen DesRoches to help me update and design the content as eBooks for specific regions of the Canadian Rockies – we called these eGuides. I took the original content of HTPTCR, added new locations, more photos and updated the descriptions and sold the eGuides by park and by season. Later, when Samantha and I formed our joint company, oopoomoo, we added new locations (the Kootenay Plains) that were not in the original book. And finally, we asked John Marriott, the premier wildlife photographer of the Rockies, to write a title on wildlife photography for the HTPTCR series of eGuides. The result is our eight title library on the Canadian Rockies. Many, many photographers have used our eGuides over the years and our inbox is full of high praise from photographers grateful to us for saving them time and getting them to awesome locations in the right light. In fact, we know of several photographers who have used our eGuides to help them take people on Canadian Rockies photo tours. You know you did a good job when others can take your information and successfully design a photo tour!
To celebrate 10 years of guiding photographers to the right place at the right time either through our eGuides or through our tours and workshops, we are bundling our complete collection of Rockies eGuides into one specially priced package. To buy these eGuides individually costs $80, but now you can buy all eight eGuides for only $60 (basically, you get two eGuides for free). Happy Anniversary!
Stay tuned to this blog because Sam and I will be celebrating this milestone by sharing some of our unpublished Canadian Rockies photos. It’s still a place that makes my heart swell with happiness. We would only add one little plea to this post…please, as Albertans, Canadians and passionate photographers from all over the world, let’s take care of this region and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Any long-time follower of the oopoomoo blog will remember the adventure of our Chain Mail Chickens. We sent four, very brave rubber chickens out into the big, wide world to experience a life of adventure and bring fun and joy to our free-spirited photography friends. We were amazed at the response from both feathered friend and photo buddy. Apparently, photographers are just as corny as us (did you get that sly innuendo, just there, about corn? And chickens? No? Ok. Read on, – you can still get valuable information here.). The journeys of our intrepid fowl were documented by the skilled hands of many photographers and you can catch up their back stories here. Three of our feathered friends, Stu Pott, Cluckin Chuck, and Peter Pecker made safe returns to our chicken coop back home in Cochrane, Alberta. But somewhere out in the big barnyard of the world, Larry Lays-Two-Eggs, most sadly, went M.I.A. Last we heard he was in transit between British Columbia and Florida… we suspect he may have been fried somewhere in Kentucky but we held out hope he escaped the 11 herbs and spices! We secretly hoped that he’d defected, a la Edward Snowden on some kind of crackdown on the inhumane reality of chicken battery coops.
But now we’re not sure.
Well, it seems we are not the only ones who are concerned for the safe return of Larry-Lays-Two Eggs. We have this updated report from Drake Dyck of an interesting encounter he had related to our missing chicken. Drake’s report follows below:
It’s been a while since I have been in touch with oopoomoo, but something happened today while I was out taking photos in my neighbourhood that I thought I should pass on. It was one of those days where the weather was changing from overcast and breezy, to clear, sunny skies. I decided to take advantage of one of the sunny breaks by taking some pictures of our flowers. Just as I was snapping a photo of a lone tulip, an intruder appeared!
Well, this is the first time that I’ve heard of a flower being photobombed, but there it was, a crazed looking chicken. Immediately, my Golden Retrievers gave chase, and one of them, Meva, caught the culprit before she could fly the coop.
I persuaded Meva to turn her over to me for a little chat and I learned that her name was Henrietta and she was here searching for a long lost member of the Chain Mail Chicken clan. She said that family lore had it that one of her uncles went missing a couple years back when he was on a grand adventure visiting photographers across the country. According to the story she heard, one of the last destinations that her dearly departed uncle had planned to go to, was Sooke, on Vancouver Island. That’s what she was doing in my garden; she was searching for her uncle. After hearing her sad tale, I decided to help her in her quest. First, we searched the rest of the yard and she stopped for a drink from the hummingbird feeder.
Then we walked to the nearby pond, where the search continued.
Despite looking high and low, we didn’t see her kin anywhere.
Henrietta was in a foul mood, even for a fowl. She was getting hungry from a full day of travel all the way to Sooke and then trudging through the cattails. As she crossed the bridge, she called back to me that she was going to grab a bite to eat.
Seeing what looked plump and tasty, she jumped at the chance to fill up. She told me later that it was the worst hotdog she ever ate and it was no wonder someone had left so many of them on sticks all around the pond.
Before I could explain her mistake, she was off filling up on some mushrooms.
The cattail and mushrooms must have made her very thirsty, because the next thing I know, she’s crawling over to nearby stream and wading in. She found a bottle and was drowning her sorrows.
I fished her out and reassured her that her uncle would be proud of her for going to such great lengths to try and find out what happened to him. This seemed to buoy her and she decided to take a brief rest under a nearby tree to collect her thoughts before continuing.
Feeling refreshed, Henrietta decided the area around the pond had been thoroughly searched and that she should walk me home. On the way, she saw a gentleman watering a garden and stopped to talk to him. Unfortunately, he didn’t say a word and remained stone faced the entire time we were there, even when Henrietta cuddled up to him.
Henrietta was disappointed that we didn’t find a trace of her long lost uncle and she said she wants to keep searching around the area. She said that she didn’t have a plan as to what to do next, so she’d have to wing it. When I invited her to stay as long as she wanted, she was overjoyed and insisted I take one more photo when we got home, where she told me she was going to make sure to stop and smell the roses!
I have a feeling that Henrietta will be joining me on some more of my local adventures, but I hope that when I’m taking photos, she’ll keep a little lower profile… at least most of the time. If the missing link from Henrietta’s flock is ever spotted, she will make sure to send him straight back to his family with the clan at oopoomoo.
If anyone else has information about our missing Larry-Two-Eggs let us know. Below is a portrait of of beloved chicken!
To see more of Drake’s photography be sure to visit his website!
Hot off the press! Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond, Alberta, has asked us to teach a photography course at their gallery. We are flattered they approached us since we think Bluerock Gallery is one of the best venues showcasing amazing art – many from talented locals. For our topic, Samantha and I decided on one of our most popular and requested topics: camera controls. All too often, photographers vastly under utilize the power of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the impact these humble settings have on the look and feel of your image. Camera controls are commonly taught by people who love jargon and math…we don’t really care for either, so we teach you how to get creative with camera controls in a simple, intuitive way.
So, want to go from confused to creative in just four hours? Even advanced shooters have told us they see the world in a fresh way after we explain the magic of camera controls! There are two dates to choose from, April 12 or May 9. See this link for more. These are our only local workshops scheduled so far for this year, so locals, grab your camera, and a tripod if you have one, and come out to our hands-on, informative and fun workshop!
Below are a few photos illustrating the creative power of camera controls!
Here at oopoomoo we love to showcase inspiring portfolios from photographers around the world. This week we want to showcase a local Alberta photographer, Debra Garside, who we got to know well during our recent trip to Antarctica. Not only is Debra a wonderful person, she is also a fantastic photographer of wildlife, landscapes and horses. Debra has been photographing the wild horses of Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, for years and she just got back from an extreme, adventurous and exciting winter trip to the island. Be sure to check out her Sable Island portfolio! Debra will be giving a video presentation on her adventures in Longview, Alberta on March 28th at 3 PM at the Lost American Art Gallery and Museum. Be sure to come and check out Debra’s fine images!
Here is an excerpt from her January 2015 journal:
“January is a month of incredible extremes and the raw forces of nature are transforming the fragile landscape almost before my eyes. I seek to capture the everyday activities of the animals and how they cope, survive and thrive within this most inhospitable of environments. The co-existence of grey seals and horses seems bizarre and yet at the same time completely natural within the context of this place. As each of these species plays out their life cycles, their struggles for dominance and food, the care of their young and seeks shelter from the elements, I become an honoured observer. “
For a small glimpse of Debra’s experience please check out the video below:
In our last newsletter, we asked you to share your inspiring images. This assignment obviously struck a chord since we received a boatload of submissions over on our oopoomoo Facebook page! Thanks to everyone for making our day brighter with your amazing images. It’s always difficult to select photos to share when there are so many honourable mentions, but below are some standouts from the submissions we received.
It takes talent to take a much-photographed subject and present it in a fresh way. We felt that the photographer of the following image (with its deceptive simplicity and sweet charm) should take home our Mastering Composition and Visual Design eBook bundle: