Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, No.... It's Photographer Guy!

      "" I have repeated those words in my head numerous times during the darkest part of the morning, trying to convince myself to leave the comfort of a warm bed, for the chance to capture images of the night sky. Every time I have this internal back and forth debate with myself, I can't help but think of the old Spiderman cartoons on TV when I was a kid. I'm pretty sure there was an episode when Spidey was struggling to return to his feet after he was knocked out, and uttering the above words, he willed himself up to defeat the villain. The Lizard, Dr. Octopus and Mysterio had no chance when the Webcrawler was motivated.
      Staying out late, getting up early. Sunset, sunrise. Why does the best light happen at the most inopportune time? Why does the Milkyway galaxy only show up at night, (which I happen to believe  is the best time for sleeping btw)? Aurora borealis, Perseid meteor showers? Yep, all at night, in the dark, when it's colder........and scarier. Super human powers would definitely come in handy when I battle that villain in my head, Lazy Photographer Man, who makes pretty convincing arguments that are anti- get up and pro- stay in bed.

      Actually, when you think about it, being a motivated night sky photographer mimics superhero exploits in a number of ways. Much like Superman, a landscape photographer has to be ready at all times. Supe always had his tights and cape on, even under his suit as his alter ego, Clark Kent. Running to the nearest telephone booth when trouble called, he would start to rip his shirt off, displaying a bold 'S'. So quick to respond, he risked revealing his true identity before he even found a telephone booth. That guy cared. I wished I cared that much about the northern lights.
       Batman did most of his work at night. Sitting in his bat cave, he would scan Gotham City with the most up to date technology to locate crime in action. He was no Joker. Night time was the best time for fighting crime simply because that's when most crime happened. Smart guy. The Dark Knights of photography are not much different. Computers, tablets and digital devices of all kinds are tuned in to aurora watch websites that give alerts. Scanning weather forecasts and patterns to plan the best place and time to find the action. Downloading the best night sky apps to see where the stars are positioned at any given time. Add in the photography equipment itself and we are talking Bruce Wayne money here.

      I don't know how many times while I'm relaxing with a cup of tea, watching Youtube videos on how to get the best out of your landscape photography, when my wife yells downstairs: "There's some pretty crazy light out there!" "Those clouds are pretty impressive!" "Looks like a storm is coming!" Doesn't she realize I'm trying to improve my photography! She's like Batman sitting on the edge of a tall city building, looking for the bat signal reflecting off a cloud.
     I need to work on my superhero attitude. The northern lights may be green, but it's not Kryptonite. Superheros can't afford to be lazy. Usually, crime happens while the world sleeps. So do stars, galaxies, meteors, planets and auroras. If I want to create images from the astro-photography world then I better be Astroboy and get my astro out of bed!
      "!"  Remember those words. Remember Spidey. And remember his day job.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016


       I can't believe how long it has been since I have posted. My apologies to the hundreds of faithful followers of this blog. Alright, lets be serious. I know there are only a handful of you out there that visit from time to time, and I really do appreciate the time you take to visit and comment. Hopefully I won't let as much time pass between posts in the future.
      Over this past winter and spring, I haven't been out photographing as much as I would like. But I did manage to take the camera out a few times and over the next few posts, I will try to share with you some of the images I came up with.
      Over the last few winters, I have been wanting to shoot at Abraham Lake near Nordegg, Alberta. It is famous for its ice bubbles that form when methane gas from decaying matter becomes trapped in the ice. It is about a 2-1/2 hour drive for me to get there, and after getting skunked the previous winter, I had to try again.
     As usual, I was hoping for a great sunset to add drama to the scene but unfortunately, shortly after I arrived, the weather started to roll in. It may have stolen the light but the clouds did add to the moody atmosphere. The wind was impressive. I had crampons on my boots which is definitely a must. Without these it would have been impossible to set up to take pictures. The wind would literally blow you across the ice if you didn't have these sharp cleats digging into the frozen water.
     What made this outing even more special was bumping into a couple of other photographers who had come all the way from Texas to shoot, not only this frozen lake, but many other amazing sights in the Alberta Rockies. It reminded me how fortunate I am to live so close to tremendous scenery. Hope you enjoy a few of the scenes I managed to capture and, as always, thanks for looking!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

6 min and 59 sec

         How long should it take for a photographer to come away from a scene with a great photograph? For example, this past summer in the mountains, I set up my camera within sight of another photographer. Both of us were shooting the same mountain and lake looking for great light during sunrise. After getting my shot, I wandered to another spot and composed another photograph. After one hour I had taken approximately 10 shots that consisted of bracketed images, single shots and long exposures with a variety of compositions in differing light. The other photographer didn't move once!  Was I being impatient or was the other photographer lazy? Did I miss a few fleeting seconds of amazing light by moving around or did I find a unique composition that screams creativity? Which technique is the best way?
       I don't really think there is a 'best way'. Everyone is different and each shooting situation is unique. Personally, I like to move around and try different viewpoints of a scene if possible. It feels more creative and artistic to me. Sometimes I don't know when I will be back in the area again so I want to get the most out of my photo session. Scouting an area ahead of time can be really helpful to find your compositions and then return in good light. You can really spice up your photography if you spend a little time trying different things. The photos below (a different mountain and lake) were all taken in 6 minutes and 59 seconds. Actually I took 5 photos in that time and these three were my favorites in that time frame.
       But the fun doesn't end there! Creativity comes alive in the editing process. In these images, not only did I compose the shots differently but I processed them differently as well. Changing compositions, changing light and changing editing. Right or wrong it's lots of fun!

Thanks for looking!

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Search For Light

     A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to return to one of the most beautiful areas of the Canadian Rockies: Mount Robson. Or more precisely: Berg Lake at the foot of Mount Robson. This mountain is just a hair under 13,000 ft tall and is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. It is often referred to as the 'Monarch of the Rockies' and as you can see, this mountain deserves its regal nickname. Camping next to Berg Lake, many times throughout the day and night you can hear the thunderous rumblings of Berg Glacier across the lake calving huge chunks of ice into the icy, cold water.
     For much of this trip, the weather was less than desirable. A landscape photographer is always in search of great skies and amazing light to surround their subject. This quite often is the key to dramatic landscape imagery, but unfortunately these things are very unpredictable. Sometimes you only have a very small window of opportunity to find what you are looking for. Fortunately, I had one evening where there were snippets of great light during a mostly grey sky.
     The two images below were taken in the evening and help to illustrate the type of light that most landscape photographers are in search of. The first one was taken, during what photographers call the 'golden hour'. Just after sunrise or just before sunset the light is very soft and has a very golden look, and can really enhance an image. The second one was taken during what is known as the 'blue hour'. This is the time just before sunrise or just after sunset where the dominant color surrounding us is blue and sometimes clouds will catch some residual purples and reds from the rising or descending sun. These two 'hours' at both ends of the day usually provide the best light for landscape photographs and with the unpredictable nature of weather, patience and adaptability is very important. Thanks for looking!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Mighty Bighorn

      Not too far from where I live is Ya Ha Tinda located in the front ranges of the Alberta Rocky Mountains. A relatively short drive west and you can find yourself in very picturesque country. Along the way you may come across some of the famous wild horses that roam the area. Many people come out here to camp, fish, raft and trail ride with horses.
     The picture below is of Bighorn Falls. After parking your vehicle, a short walk up the creek in the canyon will get you to the bottom of these beautiful falls. Although well known to locals, these falls fortunately, still feel relatively secluded not being over run with tourism. Thanks for looking!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mountain Madness

      The mountain landscape is, for many people, the most beautiful type of scenery on the planet. I personally really enjoy being out in the mountains. The unpredictable weather, the rugged geography and the immense size of some of these pointy rocks make for amazing landscape imagery. Couple these grand vistas with great light, calm lakes, and fast flowing rivers and waterfalls, you'll have photographs that will make all your friends ooh and aah.
     That being said, many photographers want to take it to another level. Hanging out of helicopters, kayaking over waterfalls, and being attached to sheer cliff walls by thin ropes tied to small screws, photographers are able to record scenes that few will ever witness with their own eyes. As a photographer, I am constantly amazed and inspired by these photo explorers; adventurers; nutcases. While I am all for exploring and finding new ways to photograph our wonderful planet, I will only go so far. Will I take a risk? Absolutely! The one mistake and your dead kind of risk? Never! Make a mistake and break bones? Not likely! Fall down and scrape up your butt? I could handle that.
     That takes me to the image below. Bow Lake and Crowfoot Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. Easy to get to and easy to photograph. There is a lodge that you can stay in just steps away from the shores of the lake. My car was about a 2 minute walk away from where I took this shot. Search the internet and you will find all kinds of images from this beautiful location......... but not like mine!
      When I photograph a scene I will usually try to find various ways to create unique compositions. Getting higher, lower, changing my angles and finding foreground interest are just a few things that I try to do to make the image more interesting. But after locating this particular spot I knew I needed to up my game.
      Reaching in to my pack to find my 50 foot nylon rope, I surveyed the scene above my head to find a strong branch on one of the many spruce trees along the shore (know where I'm going with this?). Rather than bore you with the details and give away some of my secret compositional techniques, let's just say that by using a complicated system of ropes, pulleys and carabiners, I was able hang upside down and find a unique view of a very popular scene. After a few minutes of swaying (note to self: do not use this technique on windy days), I was able to dial in my settings and focus point and nail the shot! About 45 minutes later, a passerby reached into his pack to find a knife,cut a few ropes and then help me back to my car (note to self: do not use this technique alone).

    If you would like to learn more about how to achieve great photographs using this rare and amazing compositional technique, sign up for my work shop. Oh, and bring a knife. Thanks for looking!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why Process?

           When looking over your digital files do you sometimes wonder why you took the shot in the first place? When sharing photos with others, it's not uncommon to hear the words: "You had to be there to really appreciate the scene" or "A photograph really doesn't do it justice." Have you ever said that? I know I have.
         Even though modern cameras have amazing capabilities and are improving at a rapid pace, they just can't match the abilities of the human eye/brain combination. When we go about looking at various aspects of a scene in front of us, our eyes and brain work flawlessly together and make lightning fast adjustments so that we are able to record a picture or memory that is perfectly exposed. Whatever we look at in the scene is in focus and has enough detail and color so that we can really appreciate the beauty and mood that is conveyed. Not so with a camera. Generally, the camera is trying to find a balance, a middle ground so to speak, to try and gain an even exposure. This can often result in over exposed highlights, under exposed shadows with little detail or just an overall image that lacks the drama that actually caused you to take the shot in the first place. Now there are ways to minimize these deficiencies when composing your photographs but one thing that can also help is to have a good post processing program and learn to use it well. It can save many an image as the examples below will show.
        This shot was taken with a good quality DSLR. It was at a beautiful time of day with great color and cloud formations in the sky reflecting in the river below. We were rushing to dinner and I didn't bring my tripod but I wanted the shot. Hopefully my camera would do a decent job at metering the scene and maybe I could fix the deficiencies later in my go to processing program, Lightroom. Let's see:

Actually, for a single shot, the camera did a pretty good job. The sky is not blown out and there is detail both in the highlights and in the shadows. But trust me, this is not even close to what I witnessed that evening. Mood, color, drama? There was more to this scene, wasn't there? Absolutely! Look below:

This is more like it! The mood, color, drama is all there. I took this shot in RAW format and in doing so I gave myself the best chance to capture what unfolded before my eyes and to bring it all back later in my processing program. These images really impress upon me the benefits of shooting in RAW, investing in good processing software and learning how to use it. Thanks for looking!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Making the Case for Easy

       There are many ways to improve your photography. One simple way is to take photographs of more interesting subjects. Take a picture of a deer and you have a nice photo. Take a picture of a deer crossing a creek, you have a great photo. Take a picture of a deer crossing a creek at sunrise in the early morning mist, you have an amazing photo.
      While I firmly believe this, I don't subscribe to the 'snobby' photographers idea, that if the scene is easy to get to, it is not worth photographing. I am amazed at how many 'pro' photographers out there seem to belittle the 'amateur' photographers who take pictures of well known, easy to get to, sites. Now, I am all for getting off the beaten path. Photographing locations that few people get to see is one of the reasons I carry my gear when hiking and backpacking. I have many images of scenes that you would be hard pressed to find online. But I don't think it is reasonable to assume that because a particular scene is popular with tourists, or if pictures of a certain area glut the internet, that it is somehow demeaning to the craft to photograph it.
      If a magazine asked me to photograph a famous model, I would be crazy to say " No thanks, they have been photographed thousands of times." If a large corporation asked me take a photo of a city skyline for their offices, would it make sense to refuse based on the fact that the internet has hundreds of these shots posted? If a bride and groom want a picture of themselves posed a certain way, would it be reasonable for a wedding photographer to say no, because they have seen that pose far too many times?
      All of the images below have four things in common: they are just minutes away from a parking lot, they have been photographed many times, they are all popular with tourists and they are all found in the Alberta Rockies.  Google these locations on the internet, as I have done, and you will most likely come to the same conclusion that I have: no matter the popularity, take the shot!

                               Lake Minnewanka

                               Moraine Lake

                               Lake Louise

                                           Wedge Pond

                               Two Jack Lake

                               Mistaya Canyon

Thanks for looking!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cut and Polish!

      In one of my earlier posts I likened photography to mining for diamonds. A lot of time, expense and effort can be put out finding beautiful and interesting subjects to photograph not to mention trying to find great light. Just like mining, you usually have to dig through a lot of dirt to find that rare diamond in the rough.
     Finding your perfect subject is only part of the equation. Straight out of camera images rarely convey the beauty and emotion you experienced while at the location. Cameras just are not able to pick up the dynamic range that the human eye can. There is no emotional impact button on the camera. This is where post processing of images come in, the cutting and polishing of your diamond..   
      The vast majority of photographs you see in magazines and travel brochures have been edited to enhance the beauty of a scene. Some a little, some a lot. The point is, if you want to create a photograph with impact, they need to be enhanced. This is especially true if you shoot in RAW format as I usually do. In RAW format, as opposed to JPEG, the camera applies no enhancements to the file, so the photos are usually flat looking. They are bigger files, containing much more information which are to be processed to the liking of the photographer.
     I would like to share with you an example of how the 'cut and polish' portion of creative photography can be really beneficial. The photograph below was taken about six years ago when I was starting to get a little more serious about my photography. I had a small camera that was able to shoot RAW but it was not a DSLR. Unable to change lenses, limited f-stop values and a small sensor made it a challenge at times. But great results were still possible if I spent a little time with this 'diamond'.

photo #1

       What I liked: The subject- This mountain is known as the Monarch. It is in B.C. but I am standing on a rarely used trail in Alberta. Lot of effort went into this viewpoint, I had the blisters to prove it. The composition- The rocks, the forested slope and the mountain itself create triangles, which are great compositional elements. The story- I called this shot "Outcast" because the foreground tree was alone in this rock debris field far away from the densely treed slope below.
      What I didn't like: The crop- It's too tight. It looks a little bottom heavy to me and there should have been more room on the left hand side of the image. The emotion- It just doesn't seem to convey the feeling I had when I was standing on this small trail high in the Rockies. It looks a little cooler than I remember. The sky was more dramatic. I remember the light was more brilliant. Good thing I shot in RAW and am able to work on some of these deficiencies.

photo #2

      Using Lightroom, I made adjustments in contrast, clarity, highlights, exposure, and shadows that really started to make the image 'pop'. This formed a great base for my next phase of polishing.

photo #3

      This is where the image really started to take shape and become more dynamic in my opinion.  Unfortunately, I couldn't do much about the tight crop on the left. Lesson learned. Get it right in the field! In Photoshop, I used the transform tool to stretch the photo up. It looked more balanced to me. I could have cropped the sky but it would have changed the aspect, making it more square. Tougher to frame a print. I also warmed the image up, and using brushes, I brought in more 'light' from the right side because in reality, the mountain did seem lit up.

photo #4

       Now all I wanted to do was fine tune the photo. Using clarity, color saturation and sharpening I tried to add a little more impact. These adjustments were small but can be noticed when the photo is enlarged. This is definitely more like what I had in mind when I took the shot. I am happy with this result and usually would stop here. But sometimes you just get on a roll and have to push it just a bit more.

photo #5

     I added a little glow to the shot and also a texture. The image is a little softer but the colors seem richer and deeper. Maybe a little less realistic from the last one but some may find it more 'artsy'. It may be pushing the limits for some people but it's fun to try different things when you process and edit your images. After cutting and polishing diamonds, they don't all look the same. There is variety, appealing to different tastes. It's really no different in fine art photography. Thanks for looking!

Monday, January 26, 2015

One Location- 4 Stories

       We recently returned from another trip to Mexico. This time we went to San Jose del Cabo and I managed to squeeze off a few shots while there.
       As I have mentioned before on this blog, it can be a good idea to take numerous photographs in one location during one session. While the camera freezes a moment in time, the reality is, things are constantly changing all around us. If you leave a spot after just one shot, you may have missed a great opportunity to capture something.
       It is also beneficial to go to the same location at a different time. This will allow you to see things, literally, in a whole new light. Your first attempt may not have produced what you had hoped for. But what if you went there in the morning or at night?  What would it look like if there were more or less people there? You get the picture.
      So lets look at 4 images from San Jose del Cabo that illustrate these points. All of these shots were taken at the exact same location.

Image #1

   The first thing I noticed while standing on the beach in front of our resort were the waves. They were very powerful. I composed the shot so that the different elements of the scene divided the frame into fairly equal portions. The sky, the wave, the retreating surf and the sand. Using burst mode allowed me to take many shots of a fast moving wave. Then I could choose my favorite.

Image #2
    Turning to the left I noticed an interesting cloud formation. I liked the way the angle of the cloud and the angle of the shoreline created lines to lead your eye to the hills in the distance. Having my lens fully zoomed out, capturing a wider viewpoint, helps to show the viewer the surroundings of the wave of the first image. Now you have a better idea of where we were and the atmosphere around us.

Image #3

     If you look closer in the previous shot, there are people on the beach way off in the distance. Zooming in we see that they are fisherman. Now we have a picture that has a more specific subject and can tell a story. While still a landscape photograph, it has a bit of a journalistic feel. Its documenting a common activity in the area. I waited until a wave came crashing in before pressing the shutter button in the hopes of adding a little more drama to the scene.

Image #4

       You may have noticed in the three previous photographs that while there was atmosphere in the area, the light was very boring. I decided that I had to come back to the same spot when the light was different to get another take on the area. So, a few days later, I dragged myself out of bed early to capture the sun rise. If there were no clouds in the sky, I probably would not have got up. I went to the same location with my tripod and set up. Wanting as many elements in the scene as possible, I included sky, water and sand. Composing the scene so that the shore was angled made the foreground a little more interesting and using a long exposure here to soften the waves helped the texture of the sand to stand out more. And obviously, the sunrise creating the amazing color in the sky is the main reason this shot is so different from the rest.
        So there you have it. Hopefully these photographs help to illustrate the benefits of taking numerous photographs from one specific location. Thanks for looking!