Dogbane Explorations

Below are a series of photos exploring a field of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). These are all taken from the same place, at the same time of day. As I’m taking photos, I often move from the literal – capturing a scene as one would usually see it (hopefully with a pleasing composition) and move towards the abstract. Often what I’m after is the abstract photo, but sometimes the original, more traditional landscape is the one that wins out when I’m evaluating them afterwards. It often takes me months to discover if I’m happy with a photo or not. And blogging them is part of this process. I blog photos that I initially think are pretty good, and the ones I’m still happy with in a couple months will likely go in my portfolio.

Thursday. Show Opening. Come.

You are invited to the opening of 3, where I will be one of three featured artists, along with David Shkolny and Marjorie Thomson! I’d love to see any and all of you there! Featuring landscapes in photography, pastel, and watercolour.

6pm to 8pm
Thursday, June 16th
The Daffodil Gallery
10412 – 124 Street
Details on Facebook

If you can’t make it Thursday, I will also be there on Saturday June 18 between 12 and 4pm.

Photos at Elm Cafe (and other news)

If you go to the Elm Cafe (on 117 Street just north of Jasper Ave) in the next couple weeks, you’ll be able to enjoy a few of my photos! And you’ll get to enjoy their awesome coffee!

And, as always, you can see my art at The Daffodil Gallery (on 124 Street at 104 Ave).

After a great camping trip in the mountains, I’m back with lots of photos to share. Turns out that with the heavy snowfall this year, we were a couple weeks too early to do a bunch of the hikes we wanted to, but it was a great trip anyway. Apparently I’m starting to become a bit of a birder, but I’m not quite sure how that mixes with my photography yet. I really enjoy being aware of what’s going on around me and knowing what all the sounds are — it makes me feel just a little more connected and less like an outsider when I’m “alone” in the woods. Maybe one of these days, if people are interested, I’ll post some of my bird photos that I took mostly for identification (being a photographer and not a real birder, I have a fairly long lens, but no binoculars). But for now I’ll be posting photos I’m happy with for their aesthetic qualities.

Taken near Sofa Mountain, in Waterton National Park.

Beaver Pond

I find wildlife photography difficult — not necessarily the photographing of an animal, but the photographing of an animal artistically. I’ve been watching these beavers (Castor canadensis) doing all sorts of interesting things over the last couple of weeks. I’ve watched them chew through trees, drag them down to the water, talk to each other, slap their tails on the water, and all sorts of beaver behaviour. But photos of these fascinating activities often end up as a standard photo of a beaver. Even in beautiful evening light, a lot of shots seem to be average or only mildly interesting shots.

I’ve been trying to challenge myself to take an artistic wildlife photo. To mix my landscape aesthetic with animal subjects. This is what I’ve come up with so far. This beaver created some beautiful sunset reflections in his pond for me.

Motion and Shutter Speed

Today’s post is something a little different for me. A friend is interested in practicing her photography skills, and specific assignments are much easier to be motivated about than some abstract notion of trying to get better at photography. So today we start with the shutter speed assignment. These assignments are very loosely based on some of the photography assignments we had in Design 390 at U of A. Since I’m predominantly a nature photographer, my examples will mostly be nature. These concepts apply to any type of photography, and if you apply them to the kind of photography you want to do, you’ll learn more than if you try to duplicate these.

The goal of this little photography lesson is that when you come across something moving in your photographic adventures, you are equipped to make creative and smart decisions about how to capture it. If you just read through this and think about it, you’ll be able to make the decision. If you do the assignment, you’ll be able to follow through and actually get the shot you’re hoping for.

Shutter speed is a pretty basic concept, but the situations in which it has an effect can be pretty complicated. The shutter speed is the length of time that light can hit the sensor (or film). The shutter (in most SLRs) is made up of two curtains (one connected to the top, one connected to the bottom) that control this length of time. The longer that light hits the sensor, the brighter the picture will be — this is how shutter speed affects exposure (there are two other things that affect exposure—aperture and ISO, but we’re just focusing on shutter speed for now). If the scene changes while the shutter is open, you will get a blurred image. This is where it starts to get interesting.

Sharp Photos

Usually, people want an image they’ve taken to be sharp. This requires one of two simple measures.

1. Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough by manipulating your ISO and Aperture.

“Fast enough”, if nothing is moving, is generally considered to be 1/the focal length of your lens if you’re holding the camera as still as possible. So with a 300mm lens you want at least 1/300 of a second, for a 24mm lens you want at least 1/24 of a second. Image stabilization can occasionally save your photo if you can’t get shutter speeds quite this fast, but it’s not smart to rely on it.

If you have fast moving subjects like cars or flying birds, you’ll probably need even faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion.

Shutter Speed: 1/1000 of a second
Shutter Speed: 1/800 of a second – this didn’t totally freeze the tip of the wing or the snow flakes, but pretty close.
Shutter Speed: 1/100 of a second – in this case, fast enough to freeze the motion of the water.

2. Put your camera on a tripod, and make sure nothing in the scene is moving.

Shutter Speed: 1.3 seconds on a tripod – the moose stood perfectly still

Blurred Photos

Sometimes though, sharp pictures are boring. If you’ve got something moving, why not show it moving? This is where you start to get into the art of shutter speed. How much you want to blur things is completely up to you. And you have to experiment a lot to know how much something is going to blur.

There are two main ways to show motion.
1. Let the object that is moving blur and keep the scene sharp.

For this you probably need a tripod. If you’re keeping your shutter speed slow enough to blur motion, it is often too slow to hand hold the camera and get a sharp background. If the camera is locked down on a solid tripod, your shutter speed can get as long as you want, and the still things in the scene will be sharp

Shutter Speed: 1.6 seconds on a tripod.
Shutter Speed: .7 seconds on a tripod – even though there are no still parts in this image, the pattern of the flowing water was constant enough that it gave me smooth lines. Without a tripod, these lines would not have been so defined.
Shutter Speed: 20 seconds – the long exposure blurred the clouds
Shutter Speed: 1/4 of a second – the water blurred quite nicely at this shutter speed.
Shutter Speed: 3.2 seconds – during a pretty crazy wind storm
Shutter Speed: 30 seconds

2. Move your camera with the moving subject to try to get it sharp, and let the background blur. Depending on the circumstances, this can range from fairly easy to completely impossible.

Shutter Speed: 1/125 of a second – This was at highway speeds, so this shutter speed was slow enough to blur. On the other hand, it was taken with a 150mm lens and the road was bumpy, so I wasn’t able to get the people perfectly sharp.
Shutter Speed: 1/6 of a second – I had my camera on a tripod to try to keep my camera still vertically while panning horizontally with the motion of the moose.

More Blurred Photos

You can also create motion by moving the camera even when everything in the scene is unmoving.

Shutter Speed: 1/25 of a second.
Shutter Speed: 1/2 a second.
Shutter Speed: 2.5 seconds.

The Assignment

Find or create a moving subject — all photos should have the same subject. This could be absolutely anything. You can cause it to move, nature could cause it to move, other people could be moving it. Then start taking photos. I know this adds pressure, but try to make the photos interesting: well composed, well lit, with an engaging subject. It is possible that you’ll end up taking a lot more time thinking of moving things that would make awesome photos than actually taking the photos. This is the way it should be.

The deliverables are:
1. Sharp photo that shows motion. But it should be obvious that the object is moving. A ball in the air is obviously moving, where a ball on the floor could be moving or could be still.
2. A photo that blurs the subject.
3. A photo that blurs the background, and has the subject relatively sharp.

Something to think about:
What are the implications of each shot? Is the subject or the environment highlighted? Is one more important than the other? Does one photo seem more active than another? Are you caught up in the action, or are you a bystander?

More Highlight Experimentation

Which do YOU like better? I’ve been going back to some of my older photos and trying this blowing-out-the-highlights thing. It’s a little different, and I’m still not completely sure what I think about it. So today I’m going to post two photos—from the same place, same time, and slightly different compositions.

Here’s the new one that I’m still getting used to:

Here’s the old one—this is the way things are usually done for landscape photography. I actually put my camera on my tripod, fully extended the tripod, and held it up as high as I could to get some perspective in this shot.

What do you think?

Ethereal Landscapes

Often in landscapes I try to get all the details visible – lots of contrast, but with the blacks never going totally black and the whites never getting so bright they lose detail. Sometimes though, it pays to blow out the highlights. This is one of those things that’s irreversible in an image, and can look bad, so you have to be sure about it. But when it works it can add a mood to a photo that won’t be there otherwise. This is something I’ve seen done in lomo photography, wedding photography and some fashion photography for a long time, but I’ve never really tried it for landscapes. Curtis Round, another photographer who I’ve often had the pleasure of shooting with, has inspired me over the last few years. He often does this kind of thing in his wedding and engagement shoots, and it looks great.

Taken in Johnston Canyon, Banff.

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.