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

Trio In Ice



On my latest trip to the Rockies, Eric and I found some pretty great ice. This is where we found it — under snow.


Ice may not have the same movement as water, but it still causes the light to dance.

Icicles Forming – Low Key Nature Photography

A couple weeks ago I posted a shot of icicles forming against the sky – it was a pretty high key shot (composed mostly of light tones). This last week I went back to the same place and caught the same scene from a different angle with very different lighting. Instead of the icicles being backlit by a bright sky, they were front-lit with a dark overhang behind them. With this contrast in lighting it was fairly easy to get lots of detail in the ice while completely getting rid of the small amount of ambient light behind the waterfall.

300mm, f5.6, 1/800 of a second

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)

Visual Design in Abstract Nature Photography

In some ways this is very similar to my previous post. (You may need to click on the photo to see the entire photo more easily) This photo was taken very close to where the last one was on Abraham Lake. They are both abstract photos of nature using very strong design principles. They both play with positive and negative space, but instead of being very organic, this is very angular. The composition is almost entirely based on the rule of thirds — the dark line in the ice is about 1/3rd of the way down and protrudes about 2/3rds of the way into the photo. The ice in the photo covers about 1/3rd of the area, and the snow covers the other 2/3rds. This visual weighting based on the rule of thirds generally works very well, even if the dark and light areas of a photo are not seperated by a straight line (although here they are clearly seperated by a horizontal line). So, while the rule of thirds is almost over-popularized, it is still effective for creating interesting and new compositions.

Abstract Geometric Nature Photography

Finally starting to make my way through photos from the last few trips. This is from Abraham Lake, which has been extensively photographed by many Alberta landscape photographers. It’s easy to come up with the standard compositions here, but it’s also easy to come up with new stuff. There’s just so much variety in the ice, water and rocks. These are methane bubbles from decomposing organic matter. The bubbles form in the ice as the water freezes layer by layer.

In a shot like this, composition is everything. It has to balance the visual weight of light and dark. The three smaller bubbles on the left have to balance with the two larger bubbles on the right. The negative space and positive space both have to be interesting — here the textures in the ice and bubbles add visual interest. And because it’s nature and you can never control it completely, there will always be random elements to deal with. In this picture, the shadow of something deeper lies near the top of the frame. I like the visual reminder that in photography, art is created between the artist and the subject: you never have complete control.

Inside an Ice Cave

There are some places on this earth that seem a little surreal. Ice caves are one of those places. And in these strange and beautiful places, I find it really hard to take photos. I’m often overwhelmed with the experience, and focusing on composition becomes impossible. Everywhere I look there is something new. I have to slow down, let the surroundings soak into me, and then I can start to express my response to a place.

Although I would have loved to spend more time here (it’s kind of scary with the falling rocks and ice), I’m pretty happy with how the photos turned out. The lines of the photo lead into a dangerous unknown.

Dirty Snow

The wind picks up soil from the windward side of this hill, and deposits it here, on the leeward side. It also creates these fantastic swirls on the snow here at the edge of the ice. Taken beside Abraham Lake.