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May 2014 HDR Photography Workshop — Coal Mines, Canyons and the Canadian Rockies

January 8, 2014
Gearing Down From Some Hot Work, Brazeau Collieries

Gearing Down From Some Hot Work, Brazeau Collieries

My good friends Samantha Chrysanthou and Darwin Wiggett are the creative team behind oopoomoo. They’re a fun and inspirational duo — photographing, writing and leading instructional photo events, and doing it all with their own brand of down-to-earth humour. This coming Spring, May 29 – June 1, they’ll be running a unique photo workshop located up in David Thompson Country. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve written about this area before, and I love it there. It’s a special place where the Alberta prairies meet the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies, and human history of various kinds goes back a long ways. No surprise that it’s also a region where opportunities abound for creative photography!

The workshop is based at Aurum Lodge a little to the west of the town of Nordegg. I’ve written about the lodge many times before, as well. It’s a fantastic accommodation, very much in harmony with the surroundings. The lodge was designed and continues to be operated by Madeleine and Alan Ernst, and their hospitality is reason alone to visit the lodge. 🙂 If the mission is photography, or just kicking back for a break, there’s no better place.

This workshop is called “Coal Mines, Canyons and the Canadian Rockies“, and that sums up the nature of the photography locations. The coal mine is the defunct Brazeau Collieries operation in Nordegg, shut down and abandoned in the mid-1950’s. It’s now operated as an historic site, and the group will have special access to photograph in this industrial wonderland. When not photographing at the mine, there will be plenty of beautiful surrounding landscape locations including vistas of lakes, canyons, rivers, mountains, forests and plains.

Foxtail Sunset, Abraham Lake

Foxtail Sunset, Abraham Lake

Since this is a workshop, and not just a tour where the group photographs at all times, instruction is a big part of the schedule. The main topic will be High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique. Sam and Darwin are the principal instructors, and I’m happy to say they’ve invited me on board as a guest instructor. I’ll be available to work with the group while we’re in the field. Within the framework that Sam & Darwin introduce, I’ll also lead one of the hands-on lab sessions including demonstration of what I call photorealistic HDR work.

A good subtitle for this event would be “master your tools to master light”. That’s because the group will be introduced to the HDR capture and processing technique that helps make great photographs in conditions of really challenging lighting. Many things in photography involve making trade-offs. Historically one of the biggest trade-offs involved working in lighting situations where the bright highlights, dark shadows or both outstripped what the camera alone could handle. Whether in an outdoor location such as a canyon or mountain-side sunset, or in an indoor architecture setting like an old briquette processing plant, there are many times when the lighting is tough enough that making great images just in the camera (or with optical filters) is difficult if not impossible.

Keeping a Weather Eye, David Thompson Country

Keeping a Weather Eye, David Thompson Country

HDR is a digital technique that was evolved to deal with this challenge. By taking multiple exposures of the scene and blending them together in software, a photographer can create photographs in all kinds of lighting that was too difficult to work in before. That sounds great, but many photographers who are familiar with HDR may have found it difficult to get images looking the way they want because the software is often not straight forward to use. Some photographers may have been put off using HDR altogether, because a certain “HDR look” associated with images posted around the internet is not something that appeals to them.

Well, Sam, Darwin and I all share the idea that images should look the way the photographer makes them look, and so the tools have to be mastered and used appropriately. We’re going to break it down on the technical side in a way that takes out the mystery and complications, and provides an approach that’s straight forward to use. Once the technique is under control, photographers can then concentrate on developing their own personal style of work.

I’d go so far as to say there is no particular “HDR look”, rather there is (or should be!) a particular “photographer look”. Many of my photos make use of HDR techniques, but most don’t look like what most photographers think of when I say “this is an HDR photo”. That’s because I control the tools and make the photos look the way I envision them, not the way a software developer or camera designer decided. While my primary goal is to creatively express the subjects I photograph, I do tend to go for a more “photorealistic” style in my HDR. In other words my photographs don’t look like surrealistic illustrations, which is what most photographers think HDR always means. Instead they look more like what we expect from photographs… but with my own creative interpretation of the light, a little something extra. 🙂

If you’d like to visually explore beautiful outdoor locations, photograph at a fantastic industrial site, and learn about how to master light with HDR technique, I invite you to join Samantha Chrysanthou, Darwin Wiggett and me. Along with a small group of photographers, we’re going to have a lot of fun starting this coming May 29!

For more information, including pricing and registration details, see the workshop post at the oopoomoo blog and the official ooopoomoo workshop page.

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