Enjoying Winter Again

Last weekend Anna and I finally got a chance to get out to the mountains, and it was a trip for trying new things. For the first time ever we tried snowshoeing together, cross-country skiing together, and winter camping. I was also giving my Olympus OM-D a torture test to see how much it could replace my Canon 5D kit for hiking.

Snowshoeing works great and is my new favorite way of getting around in winter. It lets me get wherever I want in any conditions with my hands free for photography, which is perfect for me. Skiing was a lot more fun as an activity, but I found it quite hard to mix with photography. Winter camping actually worked a lot better than expected and we slept cosily through the whole night!

I’ll post a review of my little OM-D in a bit, for now I’ll just start posting pictures from it. This photo is from Panther Falls — icicles forming against an overcast sky. I’m looking forward to printing this pretty large — the details in the ice are fantastic!

f7.1, 1/1600 of a second, 100mm
(I’ll be stating actual focal length here, not equivalent – more on this in my OM-D review)

Playing in the Snow

I just got some excellent snowshoes to make my winter excursions a little easier than in past years (I’m used to slogging it with just my winter boots). And hopefully I can get out to a bunch of new places. I tested them out in Elk Island National Park today and had a lot of fun. I came across this herd of bison hanging out with some unusual friends. Click on the image to make it larger to make it easier to spot them.

300mm, f5.6, 1/200 of a second

Birch Trees In a Spring Snow Storm

I got the chance to head out to Chickakoo Lake a couple weeks ago during a big spring snow storm. There was very little snow around at the beginning of the day, but by the end it was a few inches thick (I think Environment Canada said 10cm). This made for wonderful photo conditions and horrible driving conditions.

Birch (Paper birch around here — Betula papyrifera) trees always catch my attention. They can be so colorful or almost pure white, but they always have great contrast — light trunks and dark branches. They’re a lot less common than poplars around Edmonton, and often a forest will have a birch tree or two in it, but mainly consists of more common trees. At Chickakoo Lake the situation is almost turned around. There are still a lot of poplars around, but the birch trees outnumber them.

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).

After a Long and Barren Break

I’m finally back! With pictures! Happy New Year!

December was (as always) too busy, with far too little time for hiking and shooting. Thankfully I’m starting to recover, and last week I was able to go out to Jasper for a couple days, camp in the freezing weather, and completely enjoy it.

I also have some pendants back in stock after almost completely selling out at Christmas. I have many plans of updating websites and galleries, of taking lots of photos, of enabling online stores, and far too many more ideas to list here or ever complete. But I’ll work on stuff, and try to keep everyone updated.

Here’s a photo of a dry and dusty Jasper Lake from last week just after sunrise. I was getting blasted with a super cold wind, and even bundled up I had to run back to the shelter of the van after a few minutes.

Canon 5d with 17-40 lens.
Taken at 24mm, f8, 1/200 of a second

I’m planning to start adding these technical details below my photos. I know people are interested, and I’ve resisted for a long time because I believe they’re not really important. I think people place way too much emphasis on what the right settings are and way too little on getting a good composition. But to do photography well, you do have to at least know what all the settings do, and which are important in any particular instance. So for those learning, I hope this extra information helps, but know that the photo is the important part — the settings just help you get there. For example, I took this photo at f8. Would f5.6 have worked? Pretty well. Would f11 have worked. Yup, even a little better than f8. Did it ruin the photo that the aperture wasn’t as high as ideal to get everything perfectly in focus? Not at all, this will print beautifully at 20×30, and I’m really happy with it. Photography is about creating a feeling, not about an aperture. It would have mattered far more if I had angled my camera up or down a degree or two, or if I’d taken the photo from a foot lower or higher — those things could have easily turned it into something I wouldn’t look at twice.

At this point I think I’m rambling, and I’m impressed if anyone actually read this far. Cheers.

Thick Frost on Spruce Boughs

For the next couple of days I’ll be finding some new photos in the mountains. I’m pretty excited – I got some new crampons with a MEC giftcard I got from Uncle Jack for Christmas, so I should be coming back with ice photos of one sort or another. I’ve never used crampons before, and I don’t have an ice axe, so don’t expect anything too extreme, but I’m slowly expanding the places I can get to and photograph.

I’ve scheduled this to post automatically for today, and another for tomorrow, so for those of you who look forward to your daily fix – never fear.

Frost on spruce branches by Cave and Basin in Banff.

How I Love Creepy Trees

Taken on the Hayburger trail in Elk Island National Park while standing in snow above my waist. It was powdery snow, but still – hard to move. Makes me wonder how the animals survive the winter. It must take an incredible amount of energy to move anywhere at all, and food looks like it would be pretty scarce.