Feb 072013
 

During February,I’m thrilled to be participating in the month-long “Alberta-Arizona: People and Places” exhibition at the Calgary Public Library in support of the prestigious “Exposure 2013 Photography Festival” in Alberta, Canada.  Presented by the Calgary-based IRIS Photographic Society and Phoenix-based Through Each Others Eyes non-profit organizations, this photographic show features a mix of work from exchange photographers Peter Carroll, Royce Howland, Ken Ross and yours truly.

In celebration of this exciting inaugural show with IRIS and TEOE in Calgary, I’m pleased to share that one of our photographs currently on display at this exhibition, titled “Reflections at Moraine Lake” from Banff National Park, Alberta is our CMS Photography Print of the Month for February 2013!

Now thru February 28, 2013, visit our website and use coupon code FEB13POTM01 to receive 30% off any size or style of this print. As with each Print of the Month within the collection, in addition to your print, you’ll also receive a one-page write-up on the story behind the photograph, which will include specific location information, technical details, and photography tips.

If you’d like to see the print in person (and Calgary happens to be a close-by destination), be sure to stop by the Calgary Public Library!  To learn more about this exhibition, please visit IRIS website at irisphotoalberta.ca/events/2013-events/exposure-2013-exhibit-calgary-public-library/.

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Nov 152012
 
The RCMP Musical Ride

The RCMP Musical Ride from the 2012 Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Prints available – click on photo to order!

I’d have to look it up in the rule books, but it’s potentially sacrilegious to visit Canada and NOT photograph the world-renowned Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  Keeping this in mind as I prepared for my July 2012 visit to Alberta in support of the first Through Each Others Eyes Arizona-Alberta exchange, I naturally put photographing a Mountie in a flashy “Red Serge” uniform towards to the top of my shot list.

But it wasn’t just a portrait of these fine servicemen and women I was seeking.  No, no, the photograph needed to tell an intriguing story about the RCMP.  But what did that mean?  Hmmmm….

After some pre-trip research, different ideas danced in my head until we arrived at the Calgary Stampede Stadium in July 2012.  There, I had the honor of seeing my first RCMP Musical Ride during the 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, thanks to the efforts of our hosts and fellow photographers Peter Carroll, Royce Howland, and Kerry Smith.

To open this historic rodeo, thirty-plus RCMP members – each riding an elegant horse  – flawlessly moved through an artistically choreographed series of formations and traditional movements within the dirt arena.  With obviously much precision, skill, and teamwork, the galloping horses and straight-backed riders holding stately flags somehow didn’t get tangled!

As I clicked away with fast shutter speeds during the event, I couldn’t help but feel all my frames were too static.  And there was absolutely nothing static about what I was experiencing!

Hastily, I visualized a new approach, one that would allow me to record the impressive formations but yet include a distinct sense of motion.  Within seconds, I set my ISO to its slowest setting (ISO 50), spun my aperture dial to its smallest (f/36), and added a polarizing filter to the front of my 100-400mm lens to slow my shutter speed down as much as possible in the mid-day light.  The result was 1/10th of a second, which in my opinion seemed a little too fast to capture the sense of movement I desired for the scene.

I tried holding the camera still during the slower exposure while allowing the riders to create red streaks and patterns.  Didn’t like it.  I tried panning – a technique where you move the camera from left to right (or vice versa) – to help freeze the riders while blurring the background.  Didn’t like it.  I was quickly running out of tricks…and time!

Then, towards the end of the performance, the troop gathered into the “Dome” formation, where all the riders form a circle and then lower their flags into the center.  Keeping my settings the same, I focused on a single rider in the front with my lens zoomed all the way out, then physically pulled the lens back during the 1/10th of second exposure (referred to as a “zoom pull” or “lens pull.”  You can also recreate this effect in Adobe Photoshop under Filter/Blur/Radial Blur).

Luckily, the combination of the slow shutter speed and zoom pull technique allowed me to capture more energy AND enough structure to provide much-needed context in this more abstract view of the RCMP Musical Ride.  Though my visualizations evolved over time, I felt this perspective successfully told an intriguing story about the RCMP Musical Ride and decided to include this photograph as one of my 20 selected prints to display during the recent Through Each Others Eyes Exhibition at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona. (Exhibitions in Alberta, Canada coming your way in early 2013 – stay tuned for more details!)

Technical info:  Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm lens at 285mm zoom-pulled, f/36 @ 1/10th of a second, polarizer, basic post-processing.

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Oct 242012
 

“Wait, why are there so many stars out?” I murmured to myself as I stepped out of our Lake Louise-based hotel door and into the darkness.

Just a mere six hours before our 4 am wake-up call, Royce Howland and I had dashed around Banff National Park in his 4Runner, watching mammatus clouds form overhead as we chased violent, fast-moving thunderstorms whirling through the scenic valley.  Serendipitously, we found ourselves capping off a thrilling evening with our cameras in the perfect position along the Bow River as the northern sky exploded into a fireball of color.  After experiencing such a spectacular show by Mother Nature, we asked ourselves, “What would the morning bring?!”

As I peered at the speckled sky out the car window, my hopes for capturing moody storm clouds at Moraine Lake – our sunrise destination – disappeared as fast as the coffee did that morning…

Image #1:  Though arguably half-asleep, I dragged my gear up the pathway to the top of the rock pile overlooking this gorgeous lake and found a high point to perch my camera.  I started the morning with the classic, ho-hum, “everybody’s got it” composition as the sun broke through a small sliver of clouds on the eastern horizon.  I normally try to avoid cliche shots, so what was my excuse for kicking off the shoot like this?  I’ll take “Photography While You’re Still Half-Asleep” for $500, Alex!  Jeopardy jokes aside,  this image is definitely not what I wanted to say about this iconic place, but it served to get the creative juices flowing in what I considered to be less than desirable conditions...at o-dark-thirty…

Sunrise at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Image #2: I needed some new ideas and inspiration – image #1 wasn’t going to cut it.  Immediately after snapping this shot, I noticed a small canoe leaving the dock (located on the bottom right hand side of the frame in the image above).  Since the broad landscape scene wasn’t evolving to my tastes, I hiked down the hill to see if I could record people interacting with nature instead.  Seemed like an easy way to capture something different here!  But as I approached the dock, I quickly acknowledged that finding people awake, active, and super excited about the papparazzi at 5 am is sometimes hard to come by…but there were lots of colorful canoes willing to pose for me!  With the sun tucking behind another cloud, the subdued conditions afforded me more time to undauntedly play and practice different wide-angle compositions along the shoreline, including this one of the resting boats:

Image #2

Image #3: The diffused lighting helped the colors of the canoe stand out, but I was less than enthusiastic about the boring clear blue sky and the lack of direct lighting on the peaks in the background.  Out they go!  To help eliminate the sky and background, I switched to my telephoto lens and repositioned myself onto a bunch of boulders lining the lake near the dock.

By taking the unimportant elements out of the frame, I was able to then emphasize the canoes and the mirror-like reflection, which resulted in image #3 below (just as the sun peaked out again!):

Image #3

Image #4:  My eyes widened with delight as I reviewed image #3 on my LCD – we’re getting warmer!  (At least the compositions were; this Arizona-based desert rat froze to death out there.  Just look at all that “weird” white stuff in the mountains!)  The reflected provided much needed context about where I was photographing without having to include a background I didn’t like.  That said, I felt the composition in image #3 was too tight, so I put my wide angle lens back on and stepped off and behind the rocks for a broader view to record image #4:

Image #4

Image #5:  At this point, I felt a little like a character in the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story – image #3 felt too tight but image #4 felt too broad.  I needed something “just right!”  By adding foreground, the scene appeared to have more depth, but the rocks didn’t really add to the story I was trying to tell.  The part I liked most fell right in the center of the composition of image #4, so I composed a little tighter with my wide angle zoom lens.   And voila!  Image #5 resulted and is the image I have selected to display in the 1st Through Each Others Eyes Arizona-Alberta Exhibition: (blog continues after photo)

Image #5:  “Reflections at Moraine Lake” to be featured in the upcoming 1st Through Each Others Eyes Arizona-Alberta Exchange Exhibition

Now that you’ve seen a sneak peek of one of the images I recorded from my time in Canada, I hope you plan to join us for the Artist Reception on November 7 from 7-9 pm at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona to see not only my 19 remaining selections, but also how my Through Each Others Eyes travel partner Ken Ross interpreted Alberta differently than I did and how Alberta-based photographers Royce and Peter Carroll viewed Arizona during their 10-day stay during our cultural photography exchange.  For more information about the exhibition and artist reception, please visit the TEOE website at www.teoe.org/?page_id=829.

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Oct 192012
 
Reflections of Calgary

Reflections of Calgary; Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

During my 10-day visit to Alberta, Canada last July to support the Through Each Others Eyes cultural photography exchange, my right pointer finger enthusiastically clicked the shutter over 4400 times.  While it was thrilling at the time to blast away at seemingly anything and everything that caught my eye, it created a gi-normous pile o’pixels I must now wade through to select a mere 20 photographs to display for the upcoming exhibition.  For the non-math majors in the crowd, that means picking out the top 0.5%!  YIKES!

Out of the thousands of images we might capture during a photographic outing, how do we decide which ones to keep and which ones to throw out?   No doubt, editing and critiquing our own photos can seem like an arduous quest – one that has no right or wrong answers – but here are some tips to help you identify your “keepers” in your collection:

  1.  Get organized.  Invest in an image management software like Adobe Bridge, Adobe  Lightroom, Apple Aperture, or the applications that arrived with your camera on a disc (e.g. Nikon Capture or Canon Digital Pro Photo) to help establish a centralized location to easily and consistently conduct your self-critique.
  2.  Bury your obvious screw-ups.  We all got ‘em, but the world doesn’t need to know about ‘em!  (Thank goodness we don’t track batting averages in photography!)  Once you’ve downloaded your images into your chosen software, liberally use the delete key to immediately eliminate frames that are out of focus, badly composed, poorly lit, unintentionally overexposed, and severely underexposed.
  3. Form a first impression.  Scan your images quickly for “keepers.” Simply make a snap decision as to whether your eyes enjoy the photograph or not.  Mark any frame you like (e.g. using the star rating in Adobe Bridge) to tag it for future in-depth analysis.
  4. Whichever Way the Wind Blows

    Whichever Way the Wind Blows; Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

    Unplug your emotions.  Like your mother told you growing up, first impressions aren’t always correct.  After doing an initial evaluation, let your images “rest” for a day, a week, or even a few months to disconnect emotionally from your photographs.  Once you’re back in the saddle, turn your flagged images upside-down so they are less recognizable to your brain and therefore less connected with your recollection of the influential experiences you had while making the shot.

  5. Get out the butcher knife.  Start hacking away on the technical aspects of your image.  Does the scene convey a sense of depth through the chosen depth of field?  Is the horizon level and positioned away from the middle of the rectangular box?  Could you simplify the composition withou

    t losing context?  Is the light illuminating the subject matter and helping to create shape, depth, and contrast?  Are there any overly bright areas or out of focus areas that are distracting to the eye?

  6. Say something different.  A technically-perfect image might feel boring and be ineffective in visually communicating your desired message.  Viewers will react to your images if they contain subjects and stories that are clear, fresh, intriguing, emotionally-charged, or even controversial.  Does your photograph showcase an unrepeatable moment?  Does it convey a specific mood?  Will your capture provoke thought, dig up memories, or spark new meaning with your viewers?
  7. Taking It All In

    Taking It All In; Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

    Remember, “To each their own.”  What may be the “best” photo for one audience may not be for another so you might find yourself keeping different photos for differing purposes.  For example, you may capture a pleasing iconic Grand Canyon shot good enough to hang on your wall because it reminds you of your last family vacation but not appropriate to send to a magazine who isn’t interested in publishing a story on the “big ditch” in the next 100 years.

  8. Get a brutally honest second opinion.  Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, hand your butcher knife to a trusted friend, family member, or photographer who will gladly use the blade on your work.  Listening to others’ insights can help trigger new ideas and highlight aspects you might not have previously considered.
Valve at Nordegg Mine

Valve at Nordegg Mine; Nordegg, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

While assessing your own work can be a time consuming, grueling task, being a harsh critic can help not only pick out the winners from your digital dump, but also refine your photographic techniques and polish your unique creative vision over time.

By using this process, my Alberta pixel pile yielded a 20-print story I can’t wait to share at my upcoming exhibition.  And the images in this post did NOT make the cut (even though I like them!)!  In my next blog post, I’ll give you a sneak peek into one photo that did!

If you’d like to see the other 19 I selected, as well as the photographs from my fellow Arizona-Alberta exchange partners-in-crime – Ken Ross, Peter Carroll, and Royce Howland – then please join us on November 7 from 7-9 pm at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona for our exhibition’s Artist Reception. For more information, please visit www.teoe.org/?page_id=829.

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