Lack of Inspiration

Sometimes a place just doesn’t talk to me. I’m never sure in these cases whether I’m just having an off day, or if the place is just not photogenic. Maybe the light is not matching up with the subjects I’m thinking of, maybe things are great but I just can’t see them. I still take photos, and work that much harder to try to get a good photo, but in the end I still feel let down. Ironically, some of my better images come from these outings, but I usually don’t find them until I’ve had a chance to distance myself from the experience.

Last week I went out to Ministik Bird Sanctuary. I’ve been there a few times before, but this time I tried a new access point (it is a pretty huge area) recommended to me by a friend. I had a good hike, but struggled with the photos. As it turns out, you don’t have to be inspired to take photos.

Finding Peaceful Spots

People seem a little out of place in the forest. We make trails to have a place that is not quite so wild and easier to navigate. We rush to complete a loop, or reach a destination. I find it very different to pick my way through an unknown forest to no particular destination. You can go 10 feet or 10 miles, there’s not much difference. There’s variety on every scale, from the moss to the trees to the elevation of the land. It’s always a little jarring to run into other people when I’m in this environment.

One of the benefits of doing craft sales is that I get to talk with people who enjoy similar activities. At Kaleido, I talked with a lady who pointed me to a couple new spots that I haven’t been to before. They’re out of the way, not many people know about them, and of course they are beautiful. I like sharing places I discover, because I think we’re better off when we’re more aware of and connected to nature. But when other people confide in me with their favorite spots, I feel it’s not my place to let the world know – I’ll let them do that. I went to one of these places a few days ago, and these photos are the result.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Lately there’s been a lot of filling out forms, delivering prints, setting up and taking down displays, and just way too much business stuff in general. I was starting to get tired of it all and questioning this whole photography thing. Then on Wednesday I got the chance to take the day and drive out to Cadomin. Spending the day alone in a beautiful and fascinating place, for me, cures a multitude of ills. This is what I signed up for, and what I love.

This coyote was fun to watch. I first saw him tearing around throwing something in the air and snapping at it. I assumed he’d caught some supper, but it turned out to be a scrap of paper he was playing with. In the middle of his racing around, he stopped for a few seconds, looked at me, smelled the bush next to him, and then took off as fast as he could go. My favorite capture was this one – a peaceful moment in the middle of an energetic playtime.


There has been a lot of rain this summer, and the rivers are higher than normal. This makes for some interesting photos as the water is rushing through the forest.

These were taken in Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba. Anna and I were out there for a family camping trip with my side of the family, and we really enjoyed it. We only got to see a small part of the park so we’ll definitely have to go back sometime.

Cool Moose

Elk Island is packed with wildlife. Most of it is pretty skittish. The whitetail deer bound off before you notice them so all you see is a their tail waving at you. The wood buffalo keep a wary eye on you and stay far away (unless you’re driving of course). The moose though are a different story. The moose are calm, cool, and collected. They’re like “S’up? I’m busy eating. You want me to pose? Sure. How ’bout I turn this way? Mmmm, tasty twigs on this side.”

First in a Series of Self-Critiques

This post is the first in a series of photo critiques I plan on doing with my own pictures. My goals for this are to improve my photography by conscious analysis and to give other photographers ideas for creating better images. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot in my analysis, and I welcome any questions, comments, corrections or additions.

Here is a recent picture of a poplar forest after sunset at Chickakoo Lake. It was taken at a focal length of 300mm at f5.6. The shutter speed was only 1/80 of a second, so I used a tripod and mirror lockup to get a sharp picture. This is the original with only some white balance corrections applied to the raw file:

What works:
My aim is for the photo to be simple and striking, evoking a sense of quiet unknown. The main, almost only, element in the photo is the repeating tree trunks disappearing into the forest. The narrow field of view from the 300mm lens helps crop out distracting elements: the sky, the treetops, the underbrush.

I kept the leafy tree in the bottom left. It does break up the repeating tree trunks, but works to stop some of the strongest lines in the image from dropping off the bottom edge. Instead the viewer’s eye gets briefly trapped in the subtle detail of the leaves before being snapped back to the high contrast tree trunks.

1. Compression – I used a 300mm telephoto lens. One of the effects of a telephoto lens is to compress the foreground and background into a single plane. There is no vanishing point: parallel lines do not converge. This makes the picture look flat – things that are actually separated by a lot of space appear to be right next to each other.
2. Depth – The evening light highlights the first few trunks of the poplar trees. These are very high contrast and grab the eye quickly, even if you just glance at the photo. Deeper into the forest, the trunks are darker, but still visible. This adds a subtlety and depth that can draw the eye in and hold it longer. There’s a sense of mystery as the forest is only partially revealed.

I find it interesting to play with depth through color and contrast in an image which has very little depth from foreshortening. Extreme wide angle is very popular for landscape photographers these days, and it often works very well, but good landscape photos are also possible at telephoto focal lengths and are a little more unusual.

What doesn’t:
I don’t particularly like the original colors in this image. The soft yellows, greens, and pinks take away from the high contrast, mysterious effect. They could be useful for a different goal, but I really like the dark brooding forest of the edited version. So I played with the curves a little bit to add contrast and converted to black and white. I can’t quite decide if the contrast is too strong now. Are there too few details left in the background?

On the left edge of the image is a dimly lit tree trunk beside a large dark area. I find that tree distracting. I may crop out the tree to give the image a little more balance, but it’s too bad because I really like that large dark void.