50 at 50 Project – Choices, Choices, Choices… and Lessons from Over 25 years of Photography

Samantha and I have been busy making final image selections and doing the stories behind the images so we can launch the 50 at 50 eBook in a few weeks. Stay tuned for that.

I got my start in ‘serious’ photography when I joined Images Alberta Camera Club in Edmonton in 1986. That club was dynamic and had many instructional outings and workshops and I learned a lot from the dedicated members. At the time I was a member, I was honoured to learn from such luminaries as Daryl Benson, Mark and Leslie Degner, and Larry Louie. I thank Images CC for being such a huge influence on my work; I can see that influence reflected over the years in my imagery.

Below are some outtakes that won’t make it into the 50 at 50 eBook but that I thought might be fun to share for the lessons learned from making the photos.

1989 – Spruce trees emerging from fog at Victoria Glacier, Banff National Park

Lesson: This image taught me that telephoto lenses are great for making ‘extractive’ landscape photos that emphasize graphic compositions. I learned that a 300mm lens was a very useful focal length to make compelling landscape photos. As a side note, this image was made with a camera that I absolutely loved and for which I saved many pennies over a long time — the Canon T90. Never before and never after have I had a love affair with a piece of camera gear such as I had with the T90. The photo was made using a Canon 300mm f5.6 FD lens and Fujichome Velvia 50 slide film.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

1996 – Canoe on George Lake, Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario

Lesson: If you can imagine it, you can make it happen. I envisioned a shot of a canoe on the rocky shore of a lake in Ontario. I traveled across Canada for nine months in 1996 to photograph for my book Darwin Wiggett Photographs Canada. I didn’t have a quintessential image of Ontario for the book so I set out to Killarney to make it happen. I rented a canoe one afternoon and scouted with my compass the shore of George Lake for a perfect location to line up with sunrise. I found one about a 30 minutes’ paddle from my campsite. I convinced the rental company with a $50 bill to let me keep the canoe overnight, and early the next morning I paddled to the spot chosen and made two images both of which have become best sellers for me. This one was an IKEA poster for many years. The other photo appears in the 50 at 50 eBook. The image was shot on a Mamiya 645 Pro camera with a 35mm lens and Fujichrome Velvia 50 slide film and a grad filter.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

2002 – Cowgirl at Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park

Lesson: Photoshop makes anything possible, but you gotta tell people when things are not real! In the transition days while I was still shooting film and waiting for digital cameras to become a contender in terms of quality to my medium format camera, I did a lot of Photoshop composite work in the digital darkroom. I would scan my slides into digital format and then mess with them in the computer making scenes that did not exist except in my imagination. In this image I took a cowgirl and her horse from a shot I did in British Columbia and put her into Wilcox Pass in Jasper National Park (where horses are not allowed, by the way).  After people viewed the image and found out it was a composite, they often felt really betrayed. So after that, any time I posted one of my composite images I made mention of the fact. I used to mark composite images on the thumbnails on my website so people could decide if they wanted to view ‘fake’ images or not. No one really seems to care much any more if an image is real or not especially since most photos out there today look fanciful with all the digital darkroom work done to them. Even so it is still important to let people know about composite images so they can decide the value of the image to them as viewers. Samantha and I talk about this idea of ‘how far is too far in post processing’ in a recent podcast interview over at Photography.ca

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

2010 – Abraham Lake, Kootenay Plains, Alberta

Lesson: Everyone wants big light and colourful sunrises and sunsets but dreary grey days at dusk and dawn make really great moody images. As a side note, it seems that good old Abraham Lake has become an iconic destination for photographers looking for frozen methane bubbles. The lake in winter is dangerous at the best of times but this year the lake is especially treacherous not only because the floods in June have carved out new river channels and eroded shores but also because there have been several cold spells followed by warm chinooks that have caused a cycle of freeze and thaw that makes the shoreline ice (where the bubbles are) fragile. As well, numerous snowfalls have put piles of snow along the shoreline ice seams hiding the weak ice. We do not recommend wandering around Abraham Lake without a guide or photo buddy at any time, but we especially warn against the lake this year. While we do have an eGuide on the area, including some spots where bubbles have appeared in the past, the lake has changed a lot this year so we recommend that those shooters unfamiliar with photographing on ice stay on the gravel shoreline where it is safer. If you feel you have enough experience and do decide to go on the ice, only go where the ice is absolutely clear and you can see the thickness of the ice you are walking on (6 or more inches is recommended by some guidebooks). Absolutely stay off the snow-covered, sloping shoreline and any foggy, milky or fragile ice. Crampons or icewalkers are also a must – see my guide to winter shooting to learn more about winter gear.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

I’ll have some more stories about my favourite images made over my 25+ year career in the eBook, but for now, here’s a blast from the past: a group photo of my fellow field researchers during grad school!

Darwin in the mid 1980's _ the naked blonde dude (with hair!) on the far left of the photo.

Darwin in the mid 1980’s – the mostly naked blonde dude (with hair!) on the far left of the photo.

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.


  1. Fran Gallogly
    January 3, 2014

    Love the photos and the stories behind them!

  2. Robert
    January 3, 2014

    Wonderful stories and the photos are beautiful!!
    I met Daryl Benson in the family Treasured Memories store and was amazed at the talent this man possesses besides his incredible photography skill and knowledge.
    A conversation with him is a time well spent.
    I can see the same photography skills in your work.

  3. Michele Roy
    January 4, 2014

    I really like to read your blog. I learn a lot and appreciate that you share your experience.

    I wish you the best in 2014 to you and your team!

  4. Daryl L. Hunter
    January 12, 2014

    Thanks to your Banff, Jasper and Icefields ebooks I kicked but on a six day mad dash through the Canadian Rockies. I wouldn’t have had this much success without your helpful books. Darwin, if there is a better place to post a rave review let me know.


    The Canadian Rockies where superlatives of grandeur become mute


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