Darwin and I have a secret photo place we go to. It’s close by, it’s easy to access and it almost always delivers something. Here are some images from an outing to the historic Cochrane Ranche site made last spring.
We only spent just over an hour, but had a much higher ‘keeper rate’ than usual from a photo outing. Normally, we delete around 90% of the images from a photo shoot. (Yes, DELETE, as in permanently toss. Hey, junk is junk! By now we usually appreciate the difference between a good image and a mediocre one – and we still have those “what was I thinking?” stinkers that also end up in the digital trash can.) But our keeper rate from this last spring visit was over 80%! This makes us very happy. Here’s the breakdown:
Darwin: 46 exposures, 16 unique compositions, 13 keepers
Sam: 42 exposures, 18 unique compositions, 15 keepers (ahem, note my slight edge in quantity if not quality…)
Notice also that, even though we are sometimes standing shoulder-to-shoulder, we still come away with our own unique style with the same subject matter (Darwin always warms things up!) Good honeypots offer a variety of ways to interpret a place for the creative shooter.
Do you have a local photo honeypot? Where do you head when you have limited time but are hoping for good returns?
Out of all our students who took the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project this summer, George Clayton is the one who appeared determined to torture himself the most. Not only did he choose a topic that was challenging in interpretation, it also came along with obstacles of access! Luckily, George demonstrated a fabulous “can do” attitude, a skill that will serve him well in all his endeavours. Here’s George’s project statement:
My project is about advancing the positive public perception of Canadian agriculture and the men and women who shape the landscape one casually sees driving on any prairie highway. These images will hopefully reflect the care and stewardship they passionately practice year after year to produce healthy food for millions at home and abroad.
George’s passion for telling the story of farmers and agricultural families is palpable. We were fortunate enough to meet George over coffee after his project was complete and discuss in more detail the importance of creativity, daily practice and the pursuit of excellence. George will continue to work on his project over time as this is a topic near and dear to his heart and is fueled by his past work in the agricultural industry. So without further ado, here is a collection of George’s images representing the care and stewardship rural folk have for their lands.
We’ll give George the final word:
The images may not show what was to be captured with a lens during this week. But the lessons, the encouragement and the place You, Sam and Darwin took me will not be lost. I can take that year, that summer and try to capture something that could be, for me, easy to avoid. I ask for the challenge and have accepted it. There is more work to do.
Highway 762 is different things to different people; just another road on their way to somewhere else, a destination for cyclists and motorcyclists, a place to drive slowly while viewing the scenery, the route for an annual cattle drive; and probably more besides. I intend to peel back my familiarity with the subject in an attempt to reveal what I see as the essence of this short, 22 km highway.
Meet Chris Bone. Chris is someone who travels Highway 762 a lot – whenever he wants to get anywhere from his home, in fact. While there may be more iconic stretches of pavement in the world, 762 has its own particular charm. But if you are setting a mentored project for yourself, and you want to push yourself to see something… deeper than scenery, more unexpected than cliché, is a road a good subject matter to choose?
It’s certainly not an easy choice! That’s Chris’ project statement above, and his portfolio of ten images below. In some ways, Chris was easy to mentor: he needed little guidance on goal-setting, articulating his idea or curating a final collection. We think he has come up with a very thoughtful story about Highway 762 as portrayed in his photo essay below. We suspect Chris will continue to travel everyday roads and come away with something unique to say about the experience.
For previous students’ mentored projects, click here.
We love it when photographers get creative.
We also love making mentorships a weeny-teeny bit challenging for our students. Pam Jenks confessed at the outset of this mentorship that she loves “big, spectacular landscapes” but when in the field struggles a bit to see compelling leading lines or interesting foregrounds. Her initial idea involved layers. We liked that concept, but wanted to make things a bit more interesting…Pam’s job was not to photograph just simple layers, but to make an image where layers were paramount and the first impression…overlaid upon what on second look is straightforward, raw nature. No post-processing props, no glory light or dazzling colour (ok, a little colour)…Pam’s images required careful, objective seeing in the field and strong composition work.
Here is Pam’s project statement:
I want to create a collection of images where the viewer first notices layers (lines/rectangles) and then secondly sees what was used to create those layers. I’ll do this by creating abstract images; the realism of the landscape or natural scene will be hidden in those layers.
Ten of her images are below. We think she did very well, don’t you?
In fact, we think more photographers should delve as deeply into their subject matter as Pam did in this mentorship – Shrek and Donkey think so too – because everybody loves parfaits!
From the movie, Shrek:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. CAKE! Everybody loves cake! Cakes have layers!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait.”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!
Last week we posted Lynn Schwehr’s project about ‘seeing’ the incredible diversity and beauty of flowers. Today we want to share Erin La Place’s project from the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse. We are excited to introduce Erin’s work in part because she engages with subject matter close to our own hearts – the prairie.
Erin works at a fulfilling but demanding job in health care in a busy city. Calling herself a prairie girl at heart, Erin heads out, camera in hand, to Alberta’s backroads and secondary highways whenever the strains of work pile up. We guided Erin to take on a challenging project theme: develop a visual narrative that brings the viewer along on her journey from stressed to discovery, healing and transformation. Here is how Erin described her project:
My project is about how I, this big city girl, when overwhelmed by the stressors of life, retreat to the Prairies to calm my senses and soothe my soul. This series of images will reflect my personal journey towards peace and healing, as I travel the roads less traveled in South and Central Alberta.
It was a pleasure to review Erin’s images which were all well-composed. Not a pokie, merger or black hole in sight! Because of Erin’s superior composition skills, she was able to successfully tackle an advanced project theme that was refreshingly original and unique. It takes bravery to put deeply personal work out there, and we salute Erin for doing so. So, here is a tightly curated series illustrating Erin’s journey. A stressed out city girl finds comfort, peace and discovery through visual meditation on the prairies, allowing her to return home transformed and healed.
Darwin and I are constantly impressed with the work of our students. It truly is a pleasure to see photographers gain confidence under our tutelage and pursue wholeheartedly their unique ideas. We’ve wrapped up the first week of our brand new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. And before we begin our second course, we just had to brag a little about our first week’s students.
Lynn loves flowers. Oh sure, we all like to sniff a rose or admire a bouquet of colourful carnations. But Lynn takes appreciation of flowers and plants to a whole new level. Lynn sees flowers. With whatever tool comes to hand, be it a smartphone or dSLR, Lynn leans in close, capturing the sprinkling of pollen on a stamen or the elegant sweep of a petal. Lynn’s images are rooted in reality – we know we are looking at flowers, after all. But the everyday magic of the details of flowers is what Lynn adeptly reveals with her camera.
As part of the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse, students are asked to define the project they wish to work on in one or two sentences. Here is what Lynn had to say:
I want to discover ways of photographing flowers to show what I can now see and to try to portray the excitement I now have.
Why is the world of flowers revealed anew for Lynn? Because, as she references in her project statement, Lynn can “now see”. A recent operation on her eyes has given her back the gift of clear and close sight. And what better blessing for a photographer! So, lean in and look closely at the world of flowers cleverly brought to life through Lynn’s eyes. We expect to see more beautiful work from this budding photographer in future.
What is the value of one week of your life?
What is the value of that week if you were doing something creative that you loved?
We believe firmly in the value of self-directed projects for artistic growth. Certainly we have been busy pursuing our own this year! But as we spent more time nurturing our photographic inclinations, we kept thinking how helpful a small mentored project might be for other photographers who wanted to get a creative idea out there in the world or even looking toward exhibiting their work. As much as we love doing our photographic thing, we kept wanting to share our happiness with you!
So our question is, do you have a photo project in you that’s itching to get out?
It may not be a big project (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be). It might even be a little strange or funny or weird. But you know that feeling you get when you’re out and about, and you see something and you think, “I wonder…” What if you had the time to pursue that little idea or spark of interest? Better still, what if you had two professionals invested in seeing your idea come to light, providing goal-setting materials, helping with planning and coaching you along the way?
We get those weird inspirations too. Now, we know better than to judge them. We call them our little orphan babies – orphan because there really is no home for them in what we do as professional photographers. They aren’t going to sell a workshop or print or calendar. No photo magazine wants them. They might even be such ugly little things that people turn away from their Facebook page! But they won’t let us go, these half-formed, raw and squirming intuitions. We have to bring them to the light and find a home for them.
Where should these little orphan ideas go? Well, what better place to try original ideas than our website, oopoomoo? Over the last year, we’ve moved our business toward a direction we find exciting; oopoomoo is more than ever a platform for sharing inspiring, talented and fresh photography, and we hope to have more stories behind living a creative life on the blog in future. We want to help you bring your orphan ideas to the world through a one-week, mentored photo project. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even find a home on the oopoomoo website through a published portfolio review!
If you have a photo project in you, then consider our new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. It will take only one week of your time, but we bet you reap the rewards of seeing your project through the rest of your life. The satisfaction of bringing your unique way of seeing to the world is what every artist strives to achieve.
Resolve students! This new eCourse is a logical extension of 2016’s Resolve: Discovering Your Creative Self. You have the foundation for this next level of artistic development. To acknowledge your accomplishment, we have a special Early Bird discount for the month of July and August for all Resolve 2016 students – but space is limited! Use the appropriate monthly discount code provided to you in the June 17, 2016 Resolve Newsletter at checkout.
Our students may not believe it, but sometimes Darwin and I torture – ahem! – teach each other through guided assignments. Relatively recently we experimented with small, mentored projects. Here’s how it worked: one of us picked a topic to shoot – that person was the mentee – and the other developed a series of linked assignments within an overall goal for the project – that person was the mentor. We took the projects seriously with concrete deadlines – that was the torture part – and managed to complete the projects between and sometimes during other work events. We then swapped roles. My project was about trees, of course!
When you know most of your partner’s strengths and weaknesses, you learn to be diplomatic in your critiques for the sake of your personal relationship and, in our case, our business relationship as well. But you also benefit from the deep interest you take in your partner’s creative development. It’s something we strive to bring to our work through oopoomoo as well. Here’s Darwin’s instructions to me to fit my art in “snippets of time” between working with students at a workshop.
I decided to fit my project, which was all about capturing the essence or soul of tree personalities in nature, into a scrapbook. I put the assignments and the images in the book. The project was a combination of drawings, musings, assignments and photographs.
What was the point, you may be wondering? Fun! Creativity! Just ’cause! Even though I have a larger, multi-year project underway called Pressed Landscapes, these ‘mini-mentorships’ were about shaking off the shackles of working as a commercial artist and just shooting some little idea that appealed to me, engaging in something that was stimulating and fun. As a mentor, I honed my skills at listening to my student’s interests and gently guiding him through blind spots. As a student, I reminded myself to be open to constructive feedback, ignoring the urge to defend a shot, and instead take a step away from the work to see it for how it really came across. It was good to be on both sides of the desk.
Watch for Darwin’s post about his small project mentorship this Friday!
What does an artist thief, a prairie-town wine bar, and El Niño have in common? The answer is a missed deadline that whooshed by so fast I got whiplash!
As a landscape photographer, weather plays an important part in my ability to get out and shoot – or should I say, my enjoyment of getting out to shoot – and informs the content of my images. With my rejuvenated Pressed Landscapes project, I saw a gap in terms of winter coverage. Did I want seasonal imagery for this project? It was pretty surprising to discover so few wintry whites in my collection to date considering I live in Canada where it can snow every month of the year (and did in the Calgary area in 2005).
I was influenced in restarting this project by Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. Mr. Kleon’s not really advocating copyright infringement and theft of course, more so that learning to be creative involves imitation and research and practice towards making something worthy that is all your own. But that kind of sentiment is not as cool a book title. A point I took away from the book was how much being creative is truly a slog. It’s hours of your time and energy. Hours of doubt, hours of failure. Hours of doing and re-doing with no hope of seeing the other side of things. Published creatives know about this reality, about the hard work never seen behind the scene. It was really brought home to me by Austin Kleon’s daily task list. In order to succeed, he broke down major projects into hundreds of tiny, achievable chores that he had to do every day as shown on a yearly calendar. After reading his book, I got out my trusty paper and pens and made my own calendar and posted it on the wall by my computer where unchecked tasks could reproach me with impunity. And then I waited for it to snow.
“Twiggy and brown” is how the owners, Simon Hunt and Alex Bourdes of Fieldstones Esspresso and Wine Bar described the landscape this winter. Darwin and I were in Nanton, south of Calgary, on business last week and stopped by our favourite little rooftop get-away-in-the-prairie. Their comments contrasted with the lush greenery growing in pots and window sills in the café and the cool whites and soft greys of their decorating palette. We were talking about the town of Nanton, a town that has retained its small-town feel while situated surprisingly close to the land-gobbling city of Calgary. The owners love the town but, being from the UK, had to bring a lift of greenery to the place to survive the long, dry winters. (Tangent: Fieldstones is a fabulous place. Great food, wine and coffee and a friendly, beautiful space. Next time you’re antiquing in Nanton, go there for a lovely foodie break.)
Twiggy and brown indeed. I feel like an idiot setting a goal for winter photography in one of the warmest winters I remember experiencing. In the foothills around where I live and wish to shoot for my project, there has been hardly any snow. I was confident we’d get a nice wet dump of the stuff in March as usual but instead people are walking around in T-shirts and sandals. The only cold stuff outside is the ice cream melting in the hundreds of cones held by hundreds of people visiting Cochrane’s famous Mackay’s homemade ice cream store.
Has El Niño scuttled my Pressed Landscapes project? I squint my eyes at that statement, taking personally a weather challenge that has everyone else dancing in the warm winter prairie streets. It’s April now, and my deadline for completing my winter portfolio for the project has come and gone. My blank, unchecked wall calendar mocks me. As a landscape photographer, the weather is forcing me to examine the goals of my project. Why did I want seasonal coverage, anyway? How does that serve the purpose of my project – or am I just falling prey to the nice rounded feel of four-season coverage?
In any case, it’s back to the drawing board for me. Hopefully unintended effects will force me to think more deeply about my project and result in a more thoughtful, creative outcome. Spring is early this year, so I’d better get out there and shoot before I miss it.