In the heart of David Thompson Country along the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies, join instructors Royce Howland and Olivier Du Tré, with special guest Costas Costoulas of Calgary’s Resolve Photo, for an unforgettable time. From concept to capture, from development to printing, this five-day masterclass is dedicated to improving your mastery of digital black-and-white photography and printing.
Summary of Key Details
- Instructors: Royce Howland and Olivier Du Tré, with Costas Costoulas of Calgary’s Resolve Photo
- Dates: January 15 – 19, 2015
- Fee: $1,995 CDN early bird price for all registrations with deposits made by November 30, 2014; $2,245 CDN after Dec. 1, 2014; 5% GST added to prices
- Group size: 4 – 7 participants
- Photography background: Intermediate to advanced photography experience with a strong interest in digital B&W and print
- Highlights: 5 days / 4 nights at Aurum Lodge, covering Abraham Lake & David Thompson Country; hands-on learning with guidance from instructors who are passionate about B&W and printing
- Travel on location: Car-pooling with the group
- Included: All instructor fees, printing supplies, accommodations & meals
- Not included: travel to the lodge
- Registration: Now open! Space is limited; to reserve your spot, contact Alan at Aurum Lodge, +1-403-721-2117
- More information: Contact Royce Howland (royce at vividaspect dot com), Olivier Du Tré (olivier at olivierdutre dot com) or Alan Ernst (info at aurumlodge dot com)
If you would like to improve your mastery of digital black-and-white photography and printing, the Winter 2014-5 Monochrome Masterclass is for you! We have the combination of location, learning format and instructors to give your digital B&W print work a great kickstart in 2015.
We start with the base for our workshop: Aurum Lodge an award-winning eco-tourism lodge on the flanks of Abraham Lake in David Thompson Country. The lodge is ideally positioned to enable our group to make the most of each day. Our hosts Madeleine and Alan Ernst create a warm, friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
The Canadian Rockies are one of the most beautiful mountain regions in the world. Beyond the familiar Rockies locations, David Thompson Country is a particularly wonderful area of Rockies front range terrain — lesser known but incredibly rich in photography potential. We will spend most of our field time along Highway 11 at locations close to the lodge, ranging west to Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Winter time in this area offers much to photographers: fantastic clear light during short days; evening skies far from any light pollution; frozen lake ice and waterfalls; snow-covered mountains, canyons and forests; “interesting” weather; and much more. This is a perfect environment for black-and-white photography.
Note: This is winter in the mountains, so be prepared to work within the cold and potentially windy conditions. Proper winter gear will be very important. We can advise group members accordingly; ask for details if you are not used to winter photography in the outdoors.
To our fantastic locations, we add a masterclass format where each day presents a combination of instructional seminars, field photography work, lab time to apply the learning, and hands-on printing to see the results. We will look at the aesthetics of B&W, and cover the full workflow: conception and capture in the field, B&W development using a variety of digital darkroom techniques and tools, and making prints with standard and alternative digital inkjet printing. Printing options will include Epson printers with both OEM K3 inks and Jon Cone K7 carbon-based inks, on a variety of fine art papers. As a take-away from the masterclass, participants will receive a comprehensive digital B&W printing workflow guide.
The schedule will be intensive. Between the field work, seminars and hands-on lab work, we will be eating, drinking and breathing B&W photography and print each day. Transportation to field locations will be based on car-pooling amongst the group. We avoid excessive road miles, since the purpose is to learn, photograph and print, not to drive. Still, time in the vehicles (as well as our daily meals together) is a great chance to chat about everything photography with the workshop leaders and other group members.
Come prepared for a time of singular focus on digital black-and-white.
Royce Howland is a Calgary-based fine art photographer, specializing in landscapes and travel. He also writes and instructs on photography. For the past several years he has been bringing black-and-white increasingly into his personal fine art work. He describes much about his approach as “high-tech old-school”. Despite being a product of the digital age, he is also passionate about printing photographs on paper, and seeks to introduce as many others as possible to the experience of photographs outside the digital monitor. An accredited member of the Professional Photographers of Canada and a juried member of the Alberta Society of Artists, Royce has been leading highly regarded photography events, including masterclasses on creative photography topics, since 2010.
Olivier Du Tré is a Belgian/Canadian traditional fine art landscape photographer living in Cochrane, Alberta. He specializes in photographing the Alberta Prairies and the majestic Rocky Mountains around him. Olivier’s work has been published in multiple online magazines, on numerous photography blogs and in printed magazines. This year alone, his work got shortlisted in the FotoFilmic ’14 competition, won a Merit in the Black & White Magazine 2014 Portfolio contest, received an honorable mention in the 2014 Stark Awards and 4 large prints were selected for the 2-year traveling show “Symbolic Landscapes”, organized by the Alberta Society of Artists.
Costas Costoulas is a master printer and the creative mastermind behind Resolve Photo, the premier large format photographic and fine art digital printing service in Calgary. Black-and-white printing is a particular specialty at Resolve, using Epson printers with both the OEM K3 inkset and several variations of the Jon Cone K7 carbon inkset.
The final essential ingredient is you! Our group size will range from a minimum of 4 to a maximum of 7 photographers of intermediate to advanced skill — photographers who want to more deeply explore the art and craft of what it takes to produce exceptional B&W prints.
You do need to have good command of your camera equipment and exposure. Beyond that, who will get the most benefit from this event? Those who strongly identify with statements like these:
A photograph that has not been shared or at least printed is almost an unexistent photograph, is almost an untaken picture. ~Sergio Garibay
To see in color is a delight for the eye but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul. ~Andri Cauldwell
You may be looking to re-connect with something first experienced photographing on film and printing in the chemical darkroom, or newly exploring B&W with the creative power of the digital darkroom. Either way, we are looking forward to working with a small group of photographers who are passionate about taking black-and-white photography and print to a new level. Join us for the Monochrome Masterclass!
Registration is now open, and spaces are available but group size will be limited. Please contact Alan at Aurum Lodge (+1-403-721-2117) for registration, including making your deposit by Nov. 30, 2014 to qualify for the special early bird pricing.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Royce Howland (royce at vividaspect dot com), Olivier Du Tré (olivier at olivierdutre dot com) or Alan Ernst (info at aurumlodge dot com).
I wrapped up my June trip to Iceland and returned home already missing the place. Even though it rained cats & dogs for almost the entire 3 weeks I was there, I still had a great time exploring Reykjavik for a few days surrounding the 12-day South Iceland photography tour that Tim Vollmer and I co-led. We were joined by a great group of photographers from Canada, the USA and Australia. I’ll have more to show and share from the trip later. For now, I enjoyed looking back at this photo of the Noodle Station, one of my favourite Reykjavik lunch spots. I took it from the 2nd-floor outside balcony of Cafe Babalú, another good eating spot. :)
I’ve been busy as a bee in prime flower season since getting back, with big chunks of time going into all kinds of things, most of which haven’t yet come to fruition. One thing I did finish was finally completing part 3 of my article series on photography and interestingness, published as a guest post over at The Camera Store Blog. I invite you to check it out. If you have any thoughts about what I’ve written there, whether you agree, disagree or have a different spin on things, feel free to comment here. I’d love to get your feedback.
In the first two parts of the article series I put out some ideas on ways to put interestingness into your photographs. But what is “interestingness” itself actually about, anyway? In part 3, the wrapup of the series, I look at that question in the form of several contrasts that I see going on with photographers and photography these days.
- First there’s the contrast of popularity vs. longevity. A photograph can attract immediate attention and make a splash on social media or somewhere else, but is it really interesting? If so, it will have the more important characteristic of longevity — an audience will maintain a sustained level of interest in the photograph over time.
- Then there’s the contrast of style vs. substance. A photograph can be stylish in the sense that it’s got evidence of cool or au courant technique in its making or its visual look. But styles can be temporary and faddish; the true kind of style that means more than simply application of technique is something that emerges over time from a photographer’s body of work. And the thing that makes each photograph really interesting is not just its style, but its substance — the cake that’s there under the icing.
- Finally there’s the contrast of novelty vs. authenticity. I personally feel in some quarters there’s an over-emphasis on trying to capture or show something new, because things that are new attract attention. But interestingness is about more than attracting attention, it’s about keeping it. I think a better consideration for building and maintaining interest is to do work that’s authentic… something the audience can understand is genuine to both the photographer and the subject, and not concerned primarily with being popular, stylish or novel.
To see the full article, I hope you’ll click through this link. At the top of the article, you’ll also find links back to parts 1 and 2. If you haven’t read them before, perhaps take a few minutes to go through the series. :)
One of the things I’ve been working with to add interest to my own photography over the past few years is the idea of visual storytelling. I believe most people naturally gravitate towards telling their stories and wanting to hear the stories of others. It’s a thing that binds together families, friends, communities and cultures. And it establishes meaningful connections from one of those groupings to another. When we tell our stories and hear the stories of others, we understand things that are truly interesting to them and to ourselves. So putting storytelling into the frame, rather than relying too much on things like style or novelty, can be a great way to add interest to the right audience of viewers.
Of course there are all kinds of storytelling. It doesn’t have to be some complicated or philosophical thing. It can be simple, fun, quirky, or whatever. :) But there are elements of visual storytelling that go beyond just the composition and aesthetics of a photograph.
Interested in exploring how visual storytelling could apply to your own photography? My good friend Peter Carroll and I will be running a photography masterclass this coming September 5 – 10: Storytelling in the Cypress Hills. This is a small group intensive event focused on adding visual storytelling into your way of creative expression in your photography. We’ll be based at Historic Reesor Ranch the whole time, and will spend each day in a combination of seminars, photo reviews and of course lots of field work at the ranch and across locations in beautiful Cypress Hills country.
What’s your take on the matters of popularity, style and novelty? Are they non-issues, or have we gone overboard on them in some ways? Do you focus on alternatives like longevity, substance and authenticity in your own work? Or do these factors not really affect why you photograph? Feel free to comment here…
I’m currently in Iceland, where the locations are incredible, the light is magical and the weather can be volatile. :) The forecast has been calling for cloud, showers and rain. Yesterday, the cloud was heavy over Reykjavik, and it seemed like the odds were slim for any colourful light at sundown. However, as afternoon turned to evening turned to dusk, patches in the cloud were breaking up and shifting around, so there was a chance something might happen.
Sometime after 10:00 PM I took up my camera, left the guesthouse and went down to the harbour. My plan was to hang out at Sólfar (the Sun Voyager), a striking work of sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. A few other intrepid night owls were there as well, and we all hung around to see what would develop. The air was relatively still and the temperature was mild, so it was a pleasant time to just wait and watch. Gulls flew around squawking, the occasional boat crossed the bay, and people would come and go around the sculpture. Many had cameras, but many others were there just to take in the view by eye, and make memories the old-fashioned way.
As midnight approached, we were rewarded by the low sun warming different layers of cloud with varying shades of yellow, orange and red. At the peak, part of it looked something like the photo shown here, though this is just a rough cut done quickly on my travel laptop.
Tonight our photo group assembles together for the first evening of our 2014 Icelandic Summer Light tour. We will begin 12 days of experiencing and photographing this special land and its light. Just about anything can happen, and it should be a great adventure!
Co-leaders: Royce Howland & Alan Ernst
Group size: 7 participants maximum, intermediate to advanced photography experience
Dates: January 24 – 28, 2015
Highlights: 5 days / 4 nights at Aurum Lodge, covering Abraham Lake, David Thompson Country & the Icefields Parkway
Travel on location: Car-pooling with the group
Fee: $1,525 CDN early bird price for all registrations with deposits made by October 31, 2014; $1,695 CDN thereafter; 5% GST added to prices
Included: All accommodations & meals; not including travel to the lodge
Registration info: Contact Alan at Aurum Lodge
Contact: Royce Howland (royce at vividaspect dot com) or Alan Ernst (info at aurumlodge dot com)
I’ve been planning towards this for a couple of years, and today I’m pleased to announce my first winter photography tour at Aurum Lodge. I love the Canadian Rockies, and especially the front range territory of David Thompson Country. This is one of the most beautiful regions in the world, and there is no bad time of year to visit and photograph. But truly the winter season is one of the most spectacular times to explore the area.
Why go out with the camera in winter? Wouldn’t a sensible person stay indoors where it’s warm, perhaps with a fire going, a hot drink and a good book? Perhaps. But intrepid photographers know that nothing beats a compelling subject in beautiful light. Light is one of the things that sets apart winter in the Rockies. The days are shorter, which means blue hour and the potential for colour around sunrise and sunset occur at a little more civilized time than normal. Throughout the day, the light is often possessed of a remarkable crystal clarity. It’s well-matched to the subject matter — leaves have fallen from deciduous trees, while snow and ice are prevalent. This adds highlights and contrast to the land, while the snow and ice often take shapes that are interesting in their own right. The combination of light, snow and ice reveals more of the bones and structure of the surroundings. It’s great for both colour and black-and-white photography, and this is why I love winter up here.
This is winter in the mountains, so weather is always a variable and can add tremendously to the compelling subjects at hand — clear blue skies, storm fronts, snowfall, wind, and temperatures from comfortably chilly to downright deep-freeze. While great for photography, winter also demands that we be prepared to work with it. So proper winter gear is very important; we can advise group members accordingly.
For 4 nights and 5 days, the base for our small group tour will be Aurum Lodge. I’ve described the lodge previously; it’s one of my favorite places to stay anywhere in the Rockies. The lodge is ideally set up to allow our group to make the most of our photography opportunities each day, and our hosts Madeleine and Alan Ernst create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. From the lodge, we’ll cover locations along Highway 11, also known as the David Thompson Highway. This is front range territory and includes frozen Abraham Lake, pictured above. It also includes mountain views, forest stands, river outlets, smaller ponds, canyons, icefalls and more. We’ll also reach into the main Rockies along the world-famous Icefields Parkway, traveling reasonable distances to reach spots north or south of Saskatchewan River Crossing. This will bring us to many more landscape opportunities, both grand and intimate.
We call this a photo tour which means our primary goal is field-intensive photography. We’ll be in the field using any & all available light each day, giving everyone the best chances to build out a great portfolio of images. Even though this is a tour, rather than a full-on workshop with specific teaching or learning goals, we will provide hands-on “learning by doing” in the field, focused on any participant’s needs. If the event leaders photograph for themselves while in the field, it will only be as a #2 priority after first ensuring that the group is firing on all cylinders.
Added to this, since the daylight hours are short during winter, we will have the opportunity to cover some topics each evening, back at the lodge. These can range from photo critique or general processing work, to specific techniques such as HDR, black-and-white or tilt-shift lens use. We do expect everyone to be suitably equipped and to know the basics of using their camera gear, but we can cover a range of topics for anyone who’d like to pick up extra approaches to highly productive field photography.
We will also provide site orientations as we hit each new or different type of location, because part of getting good photographs is always improving how to see and respond to the unique opportunities at each location based on the subject material, weather, light and other conditions. Landscapes will include both grand and intimate views of mountains, frozen lakes & ponds, rivers & icefalls, canyons, plains, aspen & pine forests, and more. We’ll cover a spectrum of subjects and locations that tell the story of a region as diverse as the Canadian Rockies.
As on every tour, for the most part we don’t have a fixed, clock-driven itinerary each day. Instead, we’ll be very dynamic in arranging where we go after considering locations, weather, local conditions, and participant interests. Transportation to locations will be based on car-pooling amongst the group. We avoid excessive road miles whenever possible, since the purpose is to photograph, not drive. Still, time in the vehicles (as well as our daily meals together) is a great chance to chat with tour leaders and other group members about anything & everything photography!
There you have it. Next winter, a small group will get to experience guided access and photography in some great locations. This will be a bracing taste of the real Canadian Rockies — the Rockies in winter. It should satisfy anyone with a taste for working outdoors with a camera. If you’re looking for a great winter photography experience, I hope you’ll join us!
Registration is now open, and spaces are available. Please see the event page at the Aurum Lodge web site (coming soon) for registration details. Also see the Vivid Aspect blog Workshops & Events page for information including links to past tour announcements and participant photo results. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me (royce at vividaspect dot com) or Alan Ernst at Aurum Lodge (info at aurumlodge dot com).
Update: The post below describes a specific fundraiser event we did back in May. But some of the equipment is still available. If you’re interested in any of the items not flagged as “sold”, contact me for more information. Thanks!
Spring has finally arrived in Calgary! Or has it? I have to admit, I’m not entirely convinced yet. A couple of days ago the forecast called for afternoon rain and I watched yet another snow flurry come down instead. But no matter, spring is at least partly a state of mind rather than a date on the calendar or a condition of the weather.
With that in mind, I’ve decided it’s time to do some spring cleaning of my photography gear. For some time now the nature of my work has meant that I’ve been using my Pentax 645D digital medium format system for the majority of my creative output. Pentax — under new ownership by Ricoh Imaging — has recently upped the ante by announcing the follow-on 645 camera, addressing the most important of the very few things I wished were different about the award-winning 645D. The new camera is the Pentax 645Z and it looks like a major improvement, so I’m going to double down on the 645 digital system and order one. I don’t write about gear that much here on the blog, which is deliberate. But I will cover some thoughts on this new Pentax camera once I’ve been able to get my hands on one and used it for awhile.
I’ve been maintaining a kit of Canon 35mm digital gear: several bodies; a number of Canon, Sigma and other lenses; and various flashes and other accessories. But the simple fact is for the majority of work I do, I reach for the Pentax rig if the Pentax can shoot that work. For the work where the Canon system is significantly better, e.g. long-lens or action, I’m doing a lot less of that type of work. And when I’ve really needed something lighter than the Pentax rig, increasingly I’ve been going with something really small, like my Panasonic LX7, Sony RX100 or even my Samsung camera phone! (Although I did recently pick up a Sony A7R for situations when I need something in between; that will be another story in its own right.)
The upshot is that I’ve decided to clear out almost my entire kit of Canon 35mm digital equipment. It’s a big decision; even though I got off the hamster-wheel of upgrading to every new body or lens to keep costs down, I still shot Canon for over 10 years. That’s a lot of miles, frames and memories, and a lot of us do get somewhat attached to certain gear. :) But it feels like the right thing to do at this point. Equipment should support creativity and vision; since my work has shifted and I’m going to continue pushing this direction, it’s time for a change.
Several of my colleagues in The IRIS Photographic Society of Alberta also have decided to do some spring cleaning of their equipment. And of course, as a non-profit group, fundraising is always something that’s a part of our thinking in order to maintain our ability to do projects that will help accomplish IRIS’ goals.
So — two birds, I’d like to introduce you to one stone. :) We’ve put together a Gear Sale and IRIS Fundraiser. Of the equipment we sell, at least 10% of the proceeds will go to support IRIS. Click through the link for more info, but here are the details of when & where:
Sunday May 18, 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Lofts on the Bow
44077 George Fox Trail
I’m going to have almost all of my Canon equipment for sale at this fundraiser, plus a few other odds & bits that I may round up during my spring cleaning through the photo equipment storage cases. Other photographers will be there, too, with some other things on offer. If you’re looking for something specific, like to browse for new ideas, or even just want to find out what we’re up to, feel free to drop by Cochrane and check out our gear tables at Lofts on the Bow!
Here’s a sampling of the main items I’ll have:
- Canon EOS 30D camera with battery grip, 4 batteries and RRS “L” plate. Low shutter count, upgraded to latest firmware (1.0.6). A good starter camera or perhaps useful for IR conversion. $150.
- Canon EOS 30D camera with battery grip, 4 batteries, no “L” plate. Low shutter count, upgraded to latest firmware (1.0.6). A good starter camera or perhaps useful for IR conversion. $125.
- Canon EOS 5D (Mk I) camera with battery grip, 5 batteries and RRS “L” plate, upgraded to latest firmware (1.1.1). Canon’s original category-killer full frame digital 35mm, which redefined what digital 35mm cameras could do. Even today this camera produces great quality files; it’s an excellent starter for landscape or other general use. $550.
- Canon EOS 7D camera with battery grip, 4 batteries and RRS “L” plate, upgraded to latest firmware (2.0.5). Very low shutter count. This is Canon’s “serious” 1.6 crop camera for when the action is hot and fast; there’s really nothing else like it in the Canon lineup, before or since. $850.
- Canon EOS 5D Mk II camera with battery grip, 4 batteries, and a pair of RRS “L” plates (for use with and without battery grip attached). Upgraded to latest firmware (2.1.2). This is Canon’s highly successful followup to the original 5D, another mould-breaking full frame 35mm digital body adding digital video to high resolution stills. An excellent all-around camera. $1650.
- Canon G10 point & shoot camera with and RRS “L” plate. A durable, high-resolution compact camera. $100.
- SOLD Panasonic LX3 point & shoot camera with 2 batteries, missing lens cap. A versatile, lightweight pocket camera. $50.
- Panasonic LX5 point & shoot camera with 2 batteries. An update of the LX3 with improvements all around; a fun and versatile pocket camera with a great lens. $125.
- SOLD Canon 580EX flash and external AA battery pack. $175.
- Canon MT24EX Macro Twin Lite flash and lens ring. $600.
- Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. This is the widest angle zoom lens made for full-frame 35mm, and provides a highly rectilinear image with minimal barrel / pincushion distortion. $650.
- SOLD Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens with adapter for Canon EOS mount (or use it on a Nikon I guess). Arguably the best ultra-wide angle zoom for 35mm ever made by anyone, great for landscape and architecture use. $1700.
- SOLD Canon 17-40mm f/4 lens, a versatile and compact wide angle lens. $550.
- Olympus Zuiko 21mm f/2 lens with Canon EOS lens adapter. This is a rare find — a tiny, gem-like fast wide prime adaptable to Canon, great for landscape work. $600.
- Olympus Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 PC shift lens with Canon EOS lens adapter. Another rare find — a tiny, fast, lightweight lens that shifts in both axes, great for architecture work and doing shift-stitches for landscape work. $600.
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens, one of the best “nifty fifties” made for Canon, incredibly bright and crisp. $450.
- Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens (the non-IS version), one of the best macros for Canon. $450.
- Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS lens, a very versatile walk-around lens. $600.
- SOLD Canon 70-200mm f/4 non-IS lens. This is one of Canon’s best ever mid-range zoom lenses — light weight & compact, sharp, and decently fast aperture. Excellent for all around use. $500.
- Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 non-stabilized supertelephoto zoom lens. One of the best mid-range zoom lenses for Canon in terms of versatility; until the Canon 200-400mm came out there was nothing else remotely like this level of performance in a supertele zoom. Great for indoor & outdoor sports, wildlife and more, comes with a 1.4X converter. $1500.
- Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 supertelephoto zoom lens, excellent optics and the king of versatility for Canon long zooms, fantastic for wildlife & birds; comes with a 1.4X converter. $6000.
- Lots of miscellaneous stuff like lens teleconverters, right-angle finders, remote cable releases, extension tubes, some ThinkTank bags & pouches, Manfrotto tripod heads, etc.
If you’re interested in one of the cameras, bring your own lens if you would like to try out some test shots. I’ll have a laptop on the site to load up test images and check them out on the spot. Likewise if you’re interested in any of the lenses, bring your camera body and flash card to try them. Sample images, again, can be checked on the laptop.
If you ask nicely, prices are negotiable within reason. Since this is a fundraiser, cash sales are preferred for the cheaper items. For the higher value items, I can process credit card transactions on site, if you prefer to go that route. No cheques, please — cash or credit only. All sales will be final, so please come prepared to evaluate the equipment at the time.
From the equipment cases of IRIS photographers, to your hands! :) It’s a good opportunity for good prices on a range of kit. Drop on by, and we’ll see you there…
A couple of months ago I started a new category of posts called Behind the Scene. (Here’s a link to the first in the series.) Today I’m technically on vacation in Barbados with my wife; she’s down on the beach right now. But since I have only two states — pale and sunburnt — I thought I’d take a bit of time in the hotel to make a new BTS post, rather than grilling myself like the nice Mahi Mahi I had for supper last night. :)
The photograph I’ll talk a little about today is a newly developed one from my on-going series made at the Brazeau Collieries abandoned mine site in Nordegg, Alberta. One of the things I really like about this site is the play of light across the industrial subject matter found inside the buildings. There’s little or no artificial light inside, however; these buildings are mostly relics. What natural light exists tends to be either a diffused light that seeps over surfaces while still leaving everything pretty dim, or else very strong, bright light that blasts directly through openings onto interior surfaces. There’s very little in between.
Visiting the mine and making photographs one day, I came across the situation pictured here. Since I love angular lines and repeating patterns, I was instantly taken by this patch of wavy bright light shining on a grime-covered corrugated tin sheet wall. There was a bunch of other chaotic material immediately surrounding the spot, but I waited until the light moved a little bit with the changing angle of the sun. Combined with my choice of focal length, I was able to isolate the pattern of light but still have enough of the surroundings to convey some kind of industrial location.
One other thing I often try to do in my compositions is to have “something else”, not just strictly the literal detail of what’s on view. As I prepared this composition in the field, and then later worked on developing it, I was turning around several ideas in my head. There’s the literal subject matter of the metal surfaces, covered in rust, dirt, coal dust, and tar. There’s the fact that coal comes from ancient biological matter, with the possibility that the coal mined at Nordegg came from vegetation associated with a prehistoric sea that left fossilized beds of rippled sand in various strata of rock that can be found in the surrounding area. There’s the fact that light itself has properties of both particles and waves.
All of these things knocking around in my head were making my imagination play with a contrast of the dusty, coal grime-covered surfaces vs. the wave-like shapes made by the light falling over the corrugated tin wall. So I knew I wanted to show both the light waves and also the gritty grime of the metal. Problem — the building itself was largely very dark, while the light creating the wave pattern was extremely bright. The contrast ratio was extreme, and a single exposure could not capture both the light and dark tones with very useful detail in both.
So as I often do, I used High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique, or what I really prefer to think of as high fidelity imaging. Making a series of separate exposures at different shutter speeds, I captured frames that accurately sampled the light from darkest shadows to brightest highlights. I used Oloneo PhotoEngine to merge these together into a single master file giving clean detail across the (compressed) tonal range. From this, I could create a final version of the image… which I titled “Breath of Dust, Memory of Waves”.
None of the photography or digital darkroom process stuff matters as much to me as the ideas that I’m trying to put together to create a final image. I don’t expect the vast majority of viewers to know, think or care about the creative process. The technique is simply in service to the ideas, not the other way around. But in many ways, I don’t even necessarily expect viewers to “get” the mix of ideas that I was thinking of when I created the image. I put the ideas and the work into the photograph not so that an audience will definitely see all of it… but so that there is at least something more than just the obvious, literal details for viewers to see if they want to look for it. And occasionally a fun thing happens when somebody sees something that I didn’t realize was there… but that’s a topic for another day. :)
If you’re interested in visual story-telling, photographing old industrial sites, learning HDR photo technique, or all of the above, I’ll be a guest instructor at a photography workshop that may interest you. From May 29 – June 1, my good friends and colleagues Samantha Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett of oopoomoo are putting on the “Coal Mines, Canyons and Canadian Rockies” workshop. We’ll introduce a small group to the Brazeau Collieries mine site, the surrounding front ranges of the Canadian Rockies in David Thompson Country, and our techniques for working with HDR. Click this link for details on how to join us!
What do you think — are industrial sites cool places to photograph, or should they all be scrapped out and reclaimed? Is HDR just a fad that will pass (the sooner the better) or do you think some form of it is here to stay? Do you create your images primarily in the camera, or also in some version of the darkroom? Is light a wave or a particle? Feel free to share your thoughts…
Here’s the darkest frame from the exposure sequence, pretty much “as is” with minimal processing. This one is exposed for the highlights, but there’s such strong contrast in the scene that most of the frame is virtually blacked out. It’s far too dark to rescue, even from a high-end medium format digital camera that produces excellent tones across the range. If I tried to pull up these shadows, they would be swamped in digital noise, totally obscuring the actual detail I want to show in those dark shadow tones.
Here’s the brightest frame from the multiple exposure sequence, again pretty much “as is”. This is 5 1/3 stops brighter exposed than the darkest frame shown above. It’s bright enough to see and work with the texture and detail on the metal wall of the building, but the highlights and surroundings are completely blown away. Blown highlights are not always bad, it’s all about artistic intent. But these are too bright for what I wanted to do.
Following the basic HDR merging and toning work, this is the result. I now have a rendition of the scene that compresses the full range of tonality from darkest shadows to brightest highlights into a workable range. It’s not finished, but from here I can finish it.
Finally, this is the finished version. To the basic HDR treatment, I added more tonal work via Curves adjustments and some dodging & burning; a bit of cropping and cloning to tighten up the frame and remove minor distractions; and a B&W conversion including corner vignetting and sepia toning.
The good folks at The Camera Store blog recently published part 2 of my article series on “photography and interestingness”. In part 1, I put out some ideas about how to add interest to your photographs. (You can find a link to part 1 if you click here.) In part 2, I carry on with one idea I mentioned in passing in part 1 — asking questions.
Did you know that young children typically ask hundreds of questions per day, while by adulthood the number of questions drops to perhaps a couple of dozen a day? The nature of the questions changes as well. Children are naturally inquisitive, curious and imaginative, and their questions show it. Whereas often by adulthood many of us lose that spark, replacing it with a focus on facts and pragmatic tasks. Creativity requires us to re-ignite the spark of curiosity; asking questions is a good way to add interestingness to photography.
In part 2, I also talk a bit about thinking about the audience for your photographs. If you make photographs as a form of art or more generally as a means of creative expression, then a key audience is yourself. If you’re highly engaged or not that interested in something you’re photographing, it will come through to viewers either way.
If you’re making work that’s entirely personal — and many do just that — you can stop after considering your own response. But if you make work for others, you may wish to add their interests to the mix because you hope for your work to connect with them. Many authors and other artists think about their intended audience as part of creating their work. You can do the same by considering what’s interesting to a desired audience, and balance that with your own interests without “selling out”.
To read the full article, please click through the link to Photography and Interestingness Part 2.
Speaking of making work that better strikes a balance of being interesting to both myself as the creator and to audiences, as part of my membership in the Professional Photographers of Canada I submit photographs to various judged events. I do some of these to achieve professional accreditations in various genres of photography, while others are more like competitions.
The best competition, I believe, is rarely against someone else but rather against oneself. Looking to push my own work further is exactly why, this year, I submitted a set of 4 images to the PPOC’s national Image Salon. I’m quite happy to say 2 of the photos were awarded by the judging panel.
From the PPOC salon summary: “The first level is simply known as ‘Accepted’ and denotes that the image is of a high enough level to warrant being displayed in a prestigious national display of photography by the members of PPOC. The next level is known as ‘Merit’ and indicates a clear step above the first level of Accepted. The highest level is known as ‘Excellence’, which really says it all. Excellence images are a very small and elite group of images that have risen to the top. These are simply remarkable images.”
Relating this back to my ideas in part 2 of the article series on photography and interestingness, clearly a panel of professional photography judges is different than fine art print buyers, who are different in turn from my friends & family or commercial stock photography clients. And more. Each type of audience bears some consideration, because they’re looking for something. While I make work for myself, and always try to do the best I can based on my own drive and purpose, I also want to understand what any particular audience is looking for as well. Photography judges are particularly interested in both technical and artistic qualities that go into photographs, and so can be more critical in their view of a given photograph. It’s important to understand this and be prepared to handle the feedback appropriately. :)
Since 2 of my submitted photos were awarded, that means 2 were not. Do I take that as a crushing blow? Not at all; in fact I still like both non-awarded images a great deal on a personal level, and feel they have potential for success in other ways. (In fact, one of the non-awarded images took a blue ribbon in our monthly PPOC branch photo shoot-out just after it failed to appeal to the national judging panel.) But I also take the judges’ input under consideration in terms of potential improvements to these and future images. Part of that relates to improving my craft at image-making, but more so it relates to creating images that better connect with my chosen audiences.
Do you photograph for yourself, for an audience, or for both? Do you know or think about what different audiences find interesting about your work? What about judged, competition-style events — do you participate in them, or think they have no bearing on your work? Feel free to share your thoughts on the question of audiences and interestingness…