Turning the Lens to the Present to Build the Future — Wayne Simpson Photographs Phoenix of Sarnia Reserve
Wayne Simpson is a professional wedding, portrait and landscape photographer based out of Owen Sound, Ontario. Wayne’s creative work graces our home, and we feel privileged to consider Wayne our friend. When we saw his most recent project, we knew we couldn’t keep Wayne’s work to ourselves — we had to share this original series with oopoomoo readers. Wayne’s project has deeply touched us as we are about to embark on our own creative journey. Read on to discover Wayne’s personal connection to a disturbing reality for Sarnia Reserve First Nation residents in Ontario.
Q: You are known for your landscape, wedding and family portrait shots, but this series is a little different from some of your work. Where did the idea for the project originate?
A: I’ve actually been thinking about this project for over a year and was only recently able to pull it together. There are several factors that play into why I wanted to do this shoot:
I grew up visiting my Mom on the reserve as a small kid (about 8 or 9 years old). I still remember driving through there at night and seeing all the lights and flare stacks with flames burning – it felt like we were driving through hell and it scared me as a kid. Part of me wanted to make an image that got some of that feeling across.
I still have lots of family living in the middle of all these refineries and I fear for their health and the future of the youth. Just google “Sarnia Reserve” and you will find all kinds of troubling information.
It also really hurts to see the land/water turned toxic. There are small rivers that the kids used to swim in that are now marked as toxic with signage… it’s just so sad.
Q: How did you visualize this scene/story in your mind?
A: This shot was taken on a concrete island between a major 4 lane intersection and an off-ramp. If you were to look in the opposite direction, the reserve starts about 15 meters from here.
I’ve always been amazed by the close proximity of several of the refineries, but I chose this particular spot because I liked the busy hydro lines and old cracked asphalt and also knew that the sun would be rising in exactly the right spot. Knowing the location well and figuring out the direction of light allowed me to communicate the mood I wanted with the introduction of supplemental lighting. It’s not often that I can say a shoot went exactly as planned, but in this case it did!
Q: Tell us a bit about the girl in the picture. Who is she?
A: This little girl’s name is Phoenix Sky Cottrell. Phoenix is 6 years old… but I think her soul is much older! She has a certain mature and quiet manner about her which really draws you in. We left it up to Phoenix to decide if she wanted to do the shoot at 5:30 am to use the best light and she was all in! She was actually excited about the idea! I’m 100 percent certain that she is destined for great things!
Phoenix and her mother have taken part in several Idle No More demonstrations and care deeply about the environment and health of the people, so they have given me permission to share these images.
Q: What kind of lighting set up are you using? Why?
A: In this shoot I wanted to keep the lighting very simple and practical. I used my elinchrom Ranger with a deep octa as a modifier. I wanted to keep things simple, fast and easy so I didn’t waste any time messing around with gear and risk loosing the interest of Phoenix.
I wanted to show the refinery as a dark and ominous presence behind her and utilize some of the early morning colour in the sky. To accomplish what I visualized the shoot looking like, lighting was a must in this particular case.
Q: Describe the morning of the shoot. How did you decide to place your model?
A: The morning of the shoot was quite chilly and very calm. It was very refreshing to not have to deal with harsh light and high winds blowing my light over! I wanted to showcase the great natural light behind Phoenix but also keep my light at least a little bit natural looking. I made a conscious decision to put my light on the same side of her as the sun to keep things as natural looking as possible.
Q:Any tips you want to share about working with ‘real’ people (as opposed to models) in shooting a personal portrait project?
A: I believe that if your personal project is meant to communicate a specific idea which is affecting actual people, it’s best to use those affected people in the images to make it authentic. The images will lack depth if the subject is not personally invested in your project as well. If the project is meant more as a creative release then models are great!
Q: Where do you hope to see this project going?
A: I’m hoping to come up with a series of images depicting environmental challenges facing local reserves, but who knows… it could turn into more than that! After seeing the attention that this work has already received, I’m really hoping to use my vision to bring awareness on more of an emotional level. I could be wrong, but I feel that pulling at people’s emotions with images would garner more long-lasting attention than numbers on a page.
Stay tuned to Wayne’s website for further work in this inspiring series!
I often wish I was a photographer who could specialize in a specific genre of photography and really focus my energy, however that simply is not the case. I photograph a bit of everything really… the truth is I love pretty much all photography! So, since I work in multiple genres of the craft, I thought I would submit two important turning points for me.
Before creating this image, I mostly mimicked photographs that had already been done. I was trying to understand the technical aspects of photography and basically copied the creativity of others before me. This image marks the first time that I knowingly stepped outside of the box and joined my own creativity with my newly learned technical skills. I zeroed in on this little scene, framed up the shot I wanted, made the camera do what I wanted, and was able to foresee how to bring two shots together in post-production to accomplish my vision. This shot was created by turning my polarizing filter to cut the reflection of the sky in one image, then allowing the reflection to show in the second image by rotating the filter the opposite way. The two where blended in post-production to allow the cracked ground to show under water at the bottom of the image and the sky, sun and trees to show in the rest of the image.
This recent image of Griz was a huge turning point in my portrait photography. Griz was the first stranger that I had approached out of the blue and asked if I could make their portrait. This was also my most successful attempt at creating light that conveyed a definite mood. This image was actually a little more complex than it looks, so it was quite satisfying when everything came together! I basically killed all the ambient light, added a backlight to give subtle separation and skipped it across the tree roots behind Griz. I then carefully positioned the main light so that it just caught the far eye and put a nice catch light in both eyes. I also had to use a three stop solid neutral density filter on my 50mm lens to allow me to use a large aperture of f2 (to blur the background) and stay within my flash sync speed.
After our success with yummy Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter, there followed a couple of duds of flavoured beer. But we thought it important to try another flavoured seasonal beer (we’re always ready to give beer a chance). And what better beer to try than the 2011 Gold Medal Canadian Brewing Award Winner – Sapsucker Maple Porter from the Fernie Brewing Company. Of course, winning a prestigious award raises our expectations… mmmmm can’t wait to taste!
This rich, reddish brown porter is chocolaty, sweet, and mild with a hint of maltiness. The taste sits forward in the mouth and does not linger in the throat. Darwin said that ‘the aftertaste lies in the roof of the mouth’ — I’m not sure what that means but it sounds interesting! Darwin was also reminded of the smell of old railway ties (he likes railways so that is a good thing). Overall, I thought a hint of maple could be found in the sweetness but it had less of a maple flavour than I expected. Wayne Simpson bought us this beer. Thanks Wayne! Next time a six pack is on order 😉
Two day ago, good friends Wayne Simpson, Ian McGillvrey and I went out to Kananaskis Country to camp for the night with plans to shoot sunset and sunrise. After setting up Ian’s giant circus tent complete with elephant ring and a trapeze we headed up over Highwood Pass where I introduced Wayne and Ian to a hidden little beaver pond near Mount Lipsett. We had fun bushwhacking through thick willow fresh with bear sign. We were less worried about the bears than we were the helicopter-sized mosquitoes! The Red Cross takes less blood each visit than one of these hungry girls (yes only the female mosquito draws blood). In the end we balanced our tripods on the lip of a beaver dam and made classic sunset reflections of the Canadian Rockies under glorious sunset light. What a great night! Photos from that night will follow in an unpcoming blog post.
Pumped from the amazing light show, we headed off to the tent for a good night sleep. Well… Wayne didn’t sleep at all; apparently one of us (I can’t say who) snores ‘lightly’ and gives off more fumes than an Alberta sour gas well! Gee, those artist types are so sensitive!
Anyway, we woke to thick fog (outside the tent, thankfully) and our hopes of a glorious sunrise were dashed. We started driving highway 40 looking for a crack in the sky but alas the photo Gods failed to deliver and nary a coloured cloud could be found. Ian suggested we just go walk the shore of Wedge Pond because maybe we could make some nice detail shots along the shoreline.
Once we got to Wedge Pond it was obvious that no trophy light was in store so we settled into looking around for what was actually there and not what we wished or expected from the place. All three of us began to see the potential of a lake with a flooded shore of still waters under an overcast sky. Three hours later only the grumbling of our angry stomachs reminding that time had sailed by! Each of us made very different and personal images that morning. If the sky and the peaks had lit up as expected I’m sure we’d have like the photos but they would not be nearly as meaningful and personal as the images captured once we let the place speak to us! Stay tuned on Wayne’s Blog and Ian’s Blog for their images.
A couple of weeks ago, Samantha and I along with our friends Lori Maloney and Wayne Simpson went out to Hamish Kerfoot’s place to photograph model Talyn Stone messing around with some of the old cars on the property. Hamish gave us a tour of the ranch and volunteered to hold our reflectors but, more importantly, Hamish was the ‘official’ spider wrangler to keep the eight-legged beasts away from Talyn.
Below is a wee video of the proceedings followed by a few photos that Sam and I took of Talyn. To see more photos of the talented Talyn see our Flickr Set.
After you scroll past the photos, you can check out our first impressions of Canon’s latest camera. Thanks as always to The Camera Store for letting us play with the camera. We are big fans of that store as our credit card statements can attest!
First Impression of the Canon 5D Mark III
The Camera Store lent us the Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 24-105 f4L lens to use for two days. On the first day I took the camera out and along with my Canon 300 f4L I went searching for moving subjects to test Canon’s new and ‘improved’ autofocus system.
For anyone who has been sleeping for the last 5 years and didn’t know, Canon has had a ‘few’ issues with autofocus on their pro line of bodies since the release of the Canon 1D Mark III and 1Ds Mark III in 2007. Autofocus foibles followed with the releases of the 5D Mark II, the 7D and the 1D Mark IV. Canon lost a large number of sports, photojournalist and wedding photographers to Nikon as Canon shooters became frustrated with the finicky autofocus of these high end Canons.
With the release of the 5D Mark III, reviews began circulating that finally Canon had corrected the auto-focus issues. I mostly shoot landscape photos and use manual focus and so the autofocus problems are not an issue for me. But lately Samantha and I have been returning to photographing more people and pets and so we are searching our options (Canon or Nikon) for an autofocus speed demon.
To cut to the chase I am super happy to report that the 5D Mark III does what it is supposed to do! I spent a few hours photographing cars on the Trans Canada Highway as well as photographing running cows, jumping deer and flying birds. I had hoped that at least 50% of the action photos would be sharp, but I was giddy that the camera locked focus every time on the moving subject as long as I had a focus point or a small number of focus points covering the subject I was tracking.
The verdict is still out on this one for us. Mostly we used the Canon 24-105 f4L lens for the Talyn shoot the following day and in hindsight this was a mistake. We had never tested the lens before and so it becomes hard to dissect how much of the ‘ready-processed’ files we saw from the 5D Mark III were from the lens or from the camera. The images shot with the 300f4L were better than the images with the 24-105 so we suspect the lens was part of the problem. Keep in mind we are used to seeing files from my EOS-1ds Mark III shot with a 24mm tilt-shift lens. The tilt-shift lens is amazing in the sharpness department, so we are spoiled with detailed files. As an aside, after seeing all the haloing and fringing of the 24-105 f4L we would never buy this lens ourselves; it’s a decent go-to product but we’re searching for something with better returns.
Even in spite of the poor performance of the 24-105 f4L, the raw images with the 300mm f4L (which is a pretty good lens) seem a bit ‘cooked’ somehow. It’s like Canon gives you a raw file but there is still some elixir going on behind the scenes. We are not sure we like that ‘Canon hidden magic’. Further testing is in order. For now let’s just say we were not overly impressed by what we got out of the camera in terms of file quality. We’ll go out with a 5D Mark III and our 24mm TS-E and shoot it side by side with the 1ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II to do a real comparison. Stay tuned!
According to many reviews, noise is well controlled in this camera and high ISOs like 3200 and 6400 are totally useable. It’s easy to impress people by showing sample photos of incredibly low noise at high ISO with the 5D Mark III, but these images are always derived from bright areas of the photo. Look at the image below: it was taken at ISO 12800. First, I was blown away that the camera focused so fast in such low light. Second, when you look at the bright areas of the photo, noise is amazingly low given the ISO.
Once you start peering into the shadows, noise is going to get worse. And if you manipulate your files at all (e.g. process them) then the shadow areas will be even more noisy. This camera (like all digital cameras) will be pretty noise-free even at high ISOs as long as you keep all your data in the upper half of the histogram.
Where we see a real test of image noise is in the blue channel. I did a quick test using the dusk scene below and exposing the image to the right side of the histogram for the best data possible. Here is the minimally processed raw capture.
And here is the image as I would process it in Adobe Camera Raw.
I took the same photo at different ISO settings and then ran the resulting images through the exact same processing regime. I checked the sky for noise (dusky blue skies really show noise if there is any) and the cropped results are below.
If you’re going to do any normal processing of your image and if your image has a histogram that is anything but highlight capture, you are going to get noise at higher ISOs especially in the blue channel. The promise of amazing ISO performance is only a theoretical possibility (highlight capture of the upper third of the histogram, and minimal processing). In the real world (and this is what we care about), we think the 5D Mark III works for us up to 1600 ISO.
Finally, we loved the handling and control of the camera (it handles like a 7D). Users of the 5D Mark II will need to get used to the new layout but overall it is intuitive and easy to understand.
So far we love the handling and the quick and accurate autofocus (finally!). We are not overly impressed with the noise at high ISO (but we rarely use high ISO anyway). The real clincher is the file quality. We are not sold at this point because the raw files look crunchy and a little ‘souped up’ somehow. We need to test the 5D Mark III against other cameras to see if what we saw in our first test is just us or the camera or both. Stay tuned!
On January 28, 2012 Dave Brosha and a few of our photography friends went out on a windy Alberta day to make some environmental portraits of Talyn Stone. Wayne Simpson led the charge by making some Gothic-themed photos of Talyn along a line of silhouetted trees on a country road. While Wayne was shooting, the wind was totally epic and Peter Carroll and Samantha had to put some backbone into keeping Wayne’s light from blowing into Saskatchewan!
Once Wayne was ‘winded’, Dave took over. I’m sure purely for safety purposes only, he asked Talyn to go without clothes — you don’t want buttons and buckles and such banging about in the wind injuring people. Right Dave?
Peter Carroll continued photographing Talyn in the trees but he went for a softer, more romantic look. Samantha was up next creating some of her trademark ‘small person in the big landscape’ images. Branimir Gjetvaj documented the whole adventure and I ended the session doing fisheye portraits of Talyn on a lonely, dead end road.
Check out the video below for all our adventures and the finished images. If you want to see the video larger go to the oopoomoo TV video channel.
Peter Carroll gives Wayne Simpson a ‘hand’ while Dave Brosha assists with the light.
I show Talyn how it’s done. She never ended up using this pose. I wonder why?