Mushroom a Day (1 of 6)

Mt Edith Cavell is one of the more spectacular mountains in Jasper. It is the home to Angel Glacier, a lake with icebergs floating in it, and many relatively tame pikas, marmots, and chipmunks. When I was in Jasper recently, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning so I could hike up Cavell Meadows in the dark to catch the sun rising on Mt. Edith Cavell. What did I come away with? A bunch of mushrooms. They’re just so cute.

I’m posting a series of tiny mushroom shots here over the next week. This one starts it off.

Spring – A Great Time to Learn Composition

I’ve been enjoying the warmer weather lately and, despite the lack of ice to photograph, I’ve enjoyed coming up with compositions of what is available. Being able to go out in a t-shirt is just a bonus.

On June 25th from 6:30 – 8:30pm in St. Albert, I’ll be teaching a composition class. This is open to anyone — whether you only use your cell phone or you regularly haul around multiple SLRs. The class will cover a wide variety of techniques for composition and should be enlightening and fun. Although I mostly show nature photography professionally, I’ll have examples of everything from studio sessions and weddings to wildlife and of course lots of nature as well. So if you want a painless way to drastically improve your photos, come join me! You can sign up at St. Albert Photo Classes. You’ll notice I’m also teaching a “Mastering Your SLR” course, which is very helpful for the technical side of photography, but composition is my favorite subject—learning to compose thoughtfully is an easy way for anyone to set their photos apart.

The photo is a grass curl over a burnt log near Landslide Lake in a forest fire affected area.
90mm, f2.5, 1/1000 of a second

Photo Classes

I’m excited to announce that I’m teaching photo classes in St. Albert. What will you learn? The principles of photography necessary to get awesome photos out of your camera. You’ll also get to practice with your camera with me and Eric there to answer any questions. It should be a fun day of trying new things and learning tons. We’re looking forward to it, and hope you can make it. The first one is on April 20th. More details are on the website:

And because you’re probably expecting a photo of one sort or another, I won’t disappoint. Spring is coming, and I can’t wait till all the new greenery appears!

Taken in pouring rain near Abraham Lake. 150mm, f2.8, 1/400 of a second.

When There Was No Snow

Sometimes the light hits an un-extraordinary subject in just the right way and creates an extraordinary scene. My favorite part of this photo, though, is going to depend on your monitor being a reasonable brightness. In a print this is something you can easily control but online it gets harder — I love the dark fall tones and subtle evening light in the background.

Taken in Elk Island National Park, 150mm, f2.8, 1/800 of a second.

Wild Asters

150mm, f2.8, 1/1250 of a second

150mm, f2.8, 1/640 of a second

Interesting Macro Fact of the Day:
These pictures were taken a few seconds apart at the same iso, aperture, and in the same lighting conditions. So why the different shutter speeds? Macro lenses, when they start focusing really close are actually a lot darker than the aperture suggests. If we measured the amount of light coming into this lens when it’s focused really close, it is probably about half the light (around an f4 value), even though the aperture blades haven’t moved from their open position. This happens with all macro lenses.

There Will Come Soft Rains

It seems like all my favorite photos lately are taken during storms or on rainy days. Looking back through my photos from this spring, none of the photos from sunny hikes grab me, and I gravitate towards softer, rainier photos. I think water adds a dramatic element to photos (as well as stories – yes, I’m a Ray Bradbury fan) — it sets a mood.

The first photo was taken near Beaverhill Lake on a blustery day with my Sigma 150mm Macro at 1/125 of a second and f5.0. The second was at Chickakoo Lake – 1/800 of a second at f2.8.

Shy Alder Leaf

A honeysuckle vine wrapping around an alder branch, with an alder leaf peaking out from behind.

Taken with a Canon 5d, Sigma 150 macro at f4 and 1/200 of a second.

Is Your Photography Art?

Ice on the Sunwapta River
Canon 5d with Sigma 150 macro
150mm, f5.6, 1/160 of a second

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking about the relationship between photography and art. It seems a lot of photographers define what they do as art and what many other photographers are doing as “not art”. Occasionally they try to soften it by saying that this is not a value judgement, but it’s impossible to remove that implication. Some say you have to pre-visualize the shot for it to be art, some claim there has to be a meaning, some claim that it has to involve creativity or originality. I say whether your work is art (or has artistic value) will not be decided by you. You only have a small amount of influence over the perception of your work. The best you can do is do what you love and let the chips fall where they may (unless you have an unusually large influence on a large number of people).

Guy Tal, a great inspiration and talented photographer, has  been  writing  about photographers who go to commonly photographed natural icons and take photos similar to those taken thousands of times before. While I agree with most of his points (and I don’t find these photos very interesting), I think their value is not for me to decide. I tend to value the unusual (combined with beauty and/or story), as I think a lot of people do. The problem with valuing the unusual is that, for example, the rock arches in Utah are very unusual — until you’re looking at a photo that looks the same as 500 others you’ve seen. So even though 20,000 photos of this exact subject may exist, the first one you see will strike you as an incredible work of art. And as a photographer the same applies. If you haven’t seen a single photo of the arches before, you’re going to take one and think it’s incredible.

Unintended cliches are a common hazard for any artist. This is why it’s important, if you want to be considered an artist, to be aware of other work going on in your field. The problem of dishonesty is a much bigger issue. If a photographer is pretending their work is unique to an uneducated audience, then this is (possibly) a brilliant business strategy but has little to do with art. And of course trying to exactly copy another photographer’s picture and claim it as your own is completely unethical.

Artists over the centuries have stolen ideas, compositions, color schemes, and all sorts of things. This is common practice and good practice — as long as you have a unique perspective on it, ideally one that is recognizably yours. I’m constantly thinking about what defines my perspective (you do need an artist statement after all). While thinking about your perspective or statement is important, I’m not sure the conclusions are an essential part. In the end, your perspective will either show up in your work or it won’t, whether or not you’re aware of it. I think your perspective shows more when you feel free to be yourself than when you chase the idea of being someone else.

What I do is take photos that come from my own unique curiosity and interest in our world. I don’t plan this out (which may rule me out of the art world for some people). I don’t always make challenging political or societal statements with my photos. I take the photos that interest me most and that I enjoy taking. Other people can decide if it’s art — I’m too busy doing what I love (and editing that pesky artist statement).