Whew! Lots of great images from February’s newsletter challenge posted in the oopoomoo Creatives’ Facebook group. We’ve compiled our faves here in this blog post. Ha! It seems the ladies smoked the guys on this assignment! Remember to sign up for our Newsletter if you wish to get the monthly challenge delivered to your inbox.
We are thrilled to showcase the best work of our oopoomoo Creatives Facebook group. This group of our students, friends and colleagues have produced creative and thoughtful work over the course of 2016. We are proud of their creative vision… most of the pictures were not taken at far off places or in iconic locations but rather were taken locally of everyday scenes. These 70 images confirm that it’s vision and individual expression that pushes art and not technique, gear or even location. Whether it’s the sweep of curtains across a carpeted floor or blades of grass in a sidewalk crack there is art everywhere if we are open to seeing. We want to thank all the oopoomoo Creatives out there for your continued inspiration and passion. Your great work deserved to be seen and we plan to provide even more opportunities to share your images with the world – stay tuned!
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!
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.
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!
Usually, but not always, I’ll have a plan for post-processing an image while I’m setting up to take that shot in the field. The image below is a good example.
Out in the mountains this past fall, Darwin and I were meandering along my favourite highway, the Bow Valley Parkway. The bright overcast light was turning the forest into a magical realm, highlighting the skeletal branches and brightening up the underbrush. The bright yellow caught my eye, but even as I worked this stand of pine, I wondered if this might be a candidate for conversion to black and white later on the computer. The reason I thought this might work better than the lovely colour which first attracted me is that I didn’t like the green colour of the trees in the background. Converting to black and white would preserve the bright tones in the yellow leaves but strip away the interest in the dark green background. So did it?
Creativity and vision are tough concepts to define sometimes. They’re even a little overused. When Darwin and I think of creativity, we think of original expression, as in, something you made yourself from your interests and passions. In a world saturated with images, it can be tough at times to even know what our interests are! That’s why getting out by yourself to photograph what catches your eye is such an important part of being a photographer. And when you are more comfortable with knowing what motivates you to press that shutter, that vision is going to carry you through the process in three parts: ‘seeing’ the image, making the image and processing the image.
What do you think? Is your creative vision a three-act play?
I recently had the chance to go camping with family. Now, I have chosen not to have children, but I have lots of nieces and nephews so I can easily get my ‘kid fix’ when I need it. I’m always amazed by parents. It seems to me a tough job some days.
Unlike photography, there’s really no manual to guide you. But it struck me that, in some ways, parenting and photography are alike. Using some of the things I’ve learned from my parents, and from watching other parents, I’m going to make the case that photography is like parenting…so here goes.
Eat Your Broccoli
Remember how your parents were always telling you to eat that healthy, green stuff on your plate? “It’s good for you,” they’d explain. Well, even though we knew they were right, it was still hard sometimes to choke down those veggies. Photography has veggies too – those things you should do to become a better photographer that you don’t really enjoy doing. Like, for example, photographing frequently around home rather than planning exotic photo trips. Sure, traveling some place new is exciting, but you’ll have stronger skills if you practice often in your local area.
Don’t Stay Up Too Late
We know that staying up late and watching TV is bad for us, but we do it anyway (until we get told to turn off the light and go to bed). It can also be tempting to go hard, guns blazing, with your photography. Chasing the sweet light can mean you’re up late photographing star trails after sunset and still upright when sunrise burns up the sky. You don’t want to miss anything of course, but one thing I’ve learned from long photo trips is the need to pace yourself. There’s nothing worse than hitting that creative wall and having no energy to stand up let alone make a good image. Stay in it for the long haul and respect your body and mind’s need to recharge.
Respect Your Elders
There are many, many talented photographers out there and so much to learn from studying the work of artists who have created before us. In the photo industry I’ve seen a tendency to self-aggrandizement, the belief that you and your work is unique and ‘never been done before’. True creative vision is actually pretty rare, so it’s a good idea to stay a little humble and maybe take some time to review the images and art works of photographers and artists whose work has stood the test of time.
Mind Your Manners
One of the tasks of parenting is to teach your children how to behave with other people. Sure you want that toy, but pushing that other kid out of the way and stealing it from your sister is not going to make you many friends. Parents succeed at teaching manners to varying degrees. But as adults, we really have no excuse for bad behaviour. Why is it then that some photographers feel it is just fine to trespass on private property to get a better position? Or scare wildlife away by getting too close? Or yell at tourists who get in their way? I think one of the most remarkable stories from Darwin’s 50 at 50 eBook relates to the incredibly bad behaviour of a bunch of photographers at iconic Delicate Arch. It seems some photographers need to go back to kindergarten to learn some manners.
Pick Good Friends
We’ve all seen this…a nice, sweet kid falling in with ‘the wrong crowd’ and turning into a swearing, pierced, slouched creature. How does this happen? Apparently, parents are right to feel concern over who their children hang out with. Your peers will either elevate you – or bring you down. Finding a mentor in photography can be one of the best things you can do to take your images to a higher level. Consistent, clear, caring feedback can do wonders for your artistic ability. So make sure you pick good friends who not only support your creative efforts but also give you a little challenge sometimes.
Well, I’ve come up with five points. Can you think of some ways in which photography is like parenting?
In one week, it will be one year since we finished packing our bags, squeezed Brando in the back seat and pulled out of Cochrane with our red-and-white Trillium trailer in tow. We were heading off on our Creative Sabbatical, venturing forth into unknown territory with a goal of evaluating our business, our lifestyle and our roles as creatives on this wobbly globe called Earth. So, a look back at our year wherein we try and tackle the big question that many of you might be wondering: But Did They Learn Anything?
Artists in Residence
For the first half of the year, we were stationed out of Aurum Lodge, an eco-lodge in the Canadian Rockies. We have partnered with and supported Aurum Lodge and its owners and proprietors, Alan and Madeleine Ernst, for years. We believe it is important to have hospitality-based businesses in the national and federal parks that emphasize low-impact enjoyment of nature, and this eco-lodge certainly conveys that message. We rounded out over ten years of tours and workshops at Aurum with a full slate of private mentorship and workshops last fall, meeting many keen photographers eager to refine their ability to make images from the world around them. Despite a tough summer of hot, dry, smoke-filled weather, our time spent in this natural region was, as ever, magical. The Kootenay Plains will always have a special place in both our hearts.
Brando Goes to His Happy Hunting Grounds
As many of you who follow oopoomoo adventures know, our beloved companion, film star and chowhound Brando passed away last August at Aurum Lodge. Many people ask us if we are planning on getting a new dog, but we feel that there is not room yet in our hearts for a new friend. Brando was not replaceable. Maybe in the future a furry friend will pick us, but for right now, we think about him often. He must have touched the hearts of others, especially in the instructional videos he starred in on our YouTube channel, because when we played the Lens Choice video during this past April’s Toronto photo workshop, Brando received a spontaneous round of applause at the end of it. He was a special dude. Read our tribute here (with Darwin’s original music – but turn up your speakers because the recording is low volume) for lessons in how to be your own dog.
Penguins and Polar Landings
Next up – the bottom of the Earth! We traveled to Antarctica on a photo symposium expedition and visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and spent a brief time on Antarctica. One of the perks of being photography instructors is that sometimes you get to travel to exciting destinations to teach others photography – something we wouldn’t be able to afford ourselves. The south pole does everything large – instead of a handful of penguins, let’s have thousands! Grass grows on South Georgia in giant clumps creating weird mazes that are hard to navigate. On the continent itself, craggy mountains crowd a skimpy, fur seal-coated beach making landings a challenge. Building-sized icebergs sail serenely past. Antarctica is an incredibly fragile place, protected for most of human history by its inaccessibility. That has now changed, and the region now features on many photographers’ bucket lists. Here on oopoomoo, we strive to teach ethical photography. So please, if you find yourself somewhere beautiful, either Antarctica or a small urban park, join us and set the level of care high for our vulnerable and shrinking natural areas.
Adventures in House Sitting
The final leg of our journey has found us house sitting in various homes across Alberta. A sort of ‘try it on for size’, our house sitting has allowed us to discover new communities and ponder the question of what makes a great community, and how do you build one? We did learn a couple of valuable lessons, including ‘more’ is not better, and always turn off the power when testing a shock collar (newsletter subscribers will know what we’re talking about here). During this time, we also embarked across Canada teaching multiple workshops to eager learners in, among other places, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. The support and positive feedback from participants from these events had been almost overwhelming and definitely very gratifying! We are happy that so many of believe in yourself and your creativity.
Some of you have noticed that we don’t have any workshops lined up for the fall or winter. Or spring, for that matter. Some of you have made requests for special workshops which we have turned down. This is very strange behaviour for a photo education-based business like oopoomoo. The truth is, our Creative Sabbatical was an incredible success in so many ways. We made new friends. We ended toxic relationships. We refined our business focus and our priorities. We inspired photographers to be true to their own creative vision. We sold a slate of highly successful workshops and increased our eBook sales. We traveled Canada from British Columbia to Quebec and to the bottom of the world. In short, business is booming.
The truth is, the Creative Sabbatical was a success in all ways but two: it wasn’t creative for us, which means it wasn’t a sabbatical. We worked our cans off. We aren’t complaining! But in twelve months, we delivered over 18 events – a record, even for us. We moved house and office 9 times with one more to go. There was no time for us to pursue our own creative projects and once again another year passed in which we did not do what so many of you do which is invest in your own creative development. So the truth is, we are easing up on the oopoomoo workshop gas pedal and pressing down on the oopoomoo creative publisher pedal. We hope to publish some more of our own photography projects – maybe some new eBooks! – and to continue a dialogue with all of you about what makes your creative life fulfilled. The discussion is hopping on the oopoomoo facebook group where we’d be happy for you to join in, and of course we will continue to publish thoughtful and (hopefully) artful work here on oopoomoo central.
So onwards and upwards to all good things oopoomoo!