Techniques

Swans into the air

I was excited to find tundra swans on a small pond west of Mossleigh last weekend.  The bird migrations north are underway and these are among the most elegant of the travelers.  As sunset approached, small bevies of swans took flight so I had several opportunities to photograph their takeoffs where they run along the water as they gather speed before lifting into the air.  On one of these launches, I dropped the shutter speed to 1/20th of a second and panned with a pair in order to blur the background and their wings.  I find swans in motion to be beautiful and I always think of ballet choreography when I watch them.

 

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Light painting: Experimenting with sparklers, steel wool and a glowing ball

My friend Jeff and I spent some time experimenting with different light sources last night.  Generally referred to as light painting, this is an area of photography that is drawing a lot of people’s creative energy right now.   We confirmed how much fun this can be both to photograph and to play with the light.  We wanted to play around with some of the common tools and see how they worked in practice.  We took turns being the subject (and consequently light-wielder) – Jeff presented great symmetry in his movements which created interesting imagery. By the end, we had learned some things, definitely had fun and now we’re scheming about the images we really want to create.

Note: If you want to see this images larger you can visit this web gallery on my website.

A chaotic globe traced out by a sparkler

This suggested one of the dark creatures from the fantasy genre.  For those who may have played Dungeons & Dragons, this seemed like a Nightshade to me.

Gloves with green, red and blue lights on the fingertips allowed Jeff to trace out arcs that reminded me a little bit of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing .

The photographs are presented in reverse chronological order (because the fiery ones look so cool so I wanted to put them up first).  However, we approached this session with a measure of sanity and worked up from this glowing ball (one of the many balls in my children’s collective inventory) to the more exciting (read: burning) props.  The image above is one of the first in the shoot where I was looking at ambient light in the area, the brightness of the ball and what flash added to (or detracted from) the scene.

The ball illuminates with red and blue LEDs that alternate creating purple tones in a long exposure.  When Jeff was looking at the ball here it was hard not to be reminded of Gollum and “My Precious” from The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings.

Definitely my favourite photograph of the evening was with the sparks carving out lines of light.  I converted it to black and white below and that changes the image in a different but, to me, equally interesting manner.


Motion Pictures: Trains, Horses, Buses and Blurs

I love to show movement in my photographs.  One of my favourite techniques to achieve this is to pan with my subject as it moves in front of me.  I like the effect of the blurred elements stretching and wrapping around a train, horse or any number of other things in motion.  The actual shooting is great fun too and I enjoy interacting with the scene to create the image I have in mind.

Standing on a street corner, a forest’s edge or along the fence at a rodeo, I will slow my shutter speed down either by using a smaller aperture or lowering my camera’s ISO setting.  With the camera ready, I then focus on the subject in motion and shoot it as goes.  When the panning of the camera matches the speed of the train, animal or athlete, the subject will remain sharp while the static elements and those moving in another direction or at a different speed will blur.

It is this blurring that frames the subject and creates the sense of speed. I like to play with the shutter speed to adjust how much blur there is and to affect how sharp the subject is.  An abstract quality can be found in some images where the details are soft allowing patterns and colors to step ahead of the subject in importance.

There are numerous techniques to improve the success rate of sharp subject’s in a motion blur image including keeping the camera parallel to the subject’s path, starting to shoot as the vehicle approaches and following through as it passes, locking arms, shoulders, knees and feet and pivoting at the hips and many more.  I try to practice these and incorporate as many as possible when I am panning.

The results can be really interesting and create compelling images.  The web is your friend for specific details on these and many other ways to pan effectively.  It is worth mentioning that while the slower the longer the shutter speed, the harder it is to keep the subject sharp, the payoff can be more interesting blur and consequently a more dynamic image.  I often set my shutter speed as low as 1/10 of a second, which can result in more misses (blurry, unusable pictures) but when everything comes together there is a chance for something magical.

If you have an interest, give it a try and see if you like the photographs you create.  It can be a great way to see a common scene in a new way or to pass a few minutes waiting for the bus.  I would love to see any results you would like to share.


Summer Storm Breaking Up

I was in a great location to watch the storm that had rolled in Friday night and dropped many, many buckets of rain through Saturday afternoon start to break up.

The drama in the clouds west of Calgary was beautiful to watch build and fall away for a few minutes.

Certainly a different feel in black and white.  In the version above I wanted to bring the weathered barn to greater prominence.  I ended up shedding the color and adding a little grain to create a more historical, antique feel.


Silhouettes: Elk on a Ridge


 The Sibbald Herd is a large group of elk that forage west into the front range of the Kananaskis mountains and east to Springbank near Calgary.  They move within a relatively thin band along the eastern part of their land and are often in the scrub brush that edges the farmland along Highway 22 between Highway 8 and the Trans Canada Highway.  They often graze behind this ridge in a shallow valley but on this morning I found them lined up among the trees and the rocks.  They were quite interested in my for a couple of minutes and then resumed grazing and wandered back behind the hill. 

 I photographed these animals about an hour after sunrise with the sun still below the crest of this ridge.  The strong backlighting made for wider range from dark to light than my camera can capture so I chose to work with the structural elements within the scene.  Reduced to black and white, there is an interesting relationship between the land and the elk highlighted in these pictures.

  Playing around on this last one.  I like how the white bushes look like splatter paint.


Downtown Train: Centre Street Station

The city was still fairly dark when I was downtown early on Wednesday.  I dragged the shutter, using long exposures mixed with some panning to capture the motion of the commuter trains coming into and heading out of the core.  Many of the trains were sparsely populated with passengers with the rush of people yet to start building.  This afforded the opportunity pick out individual riders and follow them through the exposure to give the illusion of freezing the person while surrounding them with movement.

The station matched the trains at that hour – both were pretty quiet.

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In this image


Art Wolfe: April seminar in Calgary

I’m very excited to share the news that Art Wolfe is leading a photography seminar here in Calgary on April 16, 2011.  Art has earned great respect from photographers, artists, conservationists and humanitarians around the world.  I am constantly amazed by Art’s work and have loved learning from him and his images for a long time.

The seminar is part of a series that Art is presenting across North America.  It is titled, “The Art of Composition” and the emphasis is on building the photographer’s eye.  Art builds the artistic and technical skills to help the photographer create compelling imagery.

The link to Art’s webpage is www.artwolfe.com.  Information about the Art of the Composition seminar in Calgary is available on his site here.

I have traveled with Art in Myanmar and there is no exaggeration when I say he is a fantastic teacher.  He has an ability to engage people and present subjects like composition, color, inspiration and light in ways that are relevant to photographers.  He not only shares his approach to photography but teaches people how to incorporate these skills into their own work.

Art usually presents this seminar in a large venue but for the Calgary seminar, we have booked a great location with a more intimate setting.  The seminar will be held at the Naturbahn Teahouse in Bowness in the Canada Olympic Park. It is a beautiful location for a world-class event!

My wife and I helped out Art’s team with some of the logistics as eyes on the ground here in Calgary so it is very exciting to be only a month away from the seminar.  I hope to see you there!


The view from my chair


I was in Birmingham Alabama a couple of years ago for a ceramics technology seminar and got out for an evening of street shooting.  I had supper at this diner and the view from my table was interesting and raised a few questions that stuck with me.

I processed this image in Adobe’s Lightroom and Topaz Adjust to create a vignette around the edges of the frame.  The color treatment was to work with the garish fluorescent lighting in the restaurant and create the mood that I felt in the scene.


Banff Landscapes: Lines into Patterns

In several spots along the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park there are sections of open water despite the sustained cold that has frozen over all three lakes this winter.  These breaks in the ice are due to runoff from underground hot springs that ring the lakes.  The warmer water attracts birds and the occasional mammal in the winter.  On the weekend, I saw an American Dipper and followed it flitting amid the reeds and diving for bits in the water.  Following that, I turned my attention to working with patterns created by the sticks and reeds and their reflections in the water along the shoreline.

Here are two that I liked in particular.  One presenting dominant vertical lines and the other creating horizontal movement across the frame.  I enjoy working on these type of compositions while waiting for the dramatic landscapes to fill with clouds, light or anything else of interest.  Sometimes those come, other times they don’t.  Having a list of different types of images I want to create helps avoid a strikeout when things aren’t cooperating.


The C Train in Motion

Here, I panned with the one of Calgary’s C Train cars as it moved out of downtown towards the southern reaches of the line.  I used a longer exposure, 1/4 of a second, to really stretch the lines of light and dark in background.  Usually I pan the trains at between 1/10 and 1/20 of a second as that allows for decent blur streaks in the background and achieving a sharp subject (the train or sometimes its occupants).  Longer exposures can end up a blurry mess quite easily.  In this image, my panning matched the train’s movement pretty well so outline at the front of the vehicle is clearly that of a train.  Not sharp but I think there is a good balance between the background blur and the lines and edges of the train.  I think there is a lot of movement in this photo which was my intent.


Bel Air Wreck on the Prairie

This beaten down shell is on a salt pan in the middle of a barren stretch of prairie near Gull Lake, Saskatchewan.  The country roads that connect all parts of the Canadian prairie hold many long forgotten photographic treasures like this car, farmsteads and weathered buildings.  I love finding these great locations and try to re-visit them whenever I can.  I have visited this car and a neighboring broken down farm several times over the past five years.

With a little down time so far this holiday, I have been working with some different software to test them out.  Here, I’m using Topaz Adjust 4 to process the photos for a saturated, over the top look.  The software integrates seamlessly into Adobe’s Lightroom (my main developing and cataloging software) and is reasonably priced at $50.  I am usually less garish in my post processing but it is nice to try some different looks.

 

In these images I have started with the Topaz Spicify preset as a starting point, then adjusted some of the levels to my taste within each picture and then re-imported into Lightroom to adjust some of the color channels and the edge smoothness.


The Crazy Lunar Eclipse

Before Earth’s shadow started to march across the face of the moon last night, I photographed the full moon as it climbed above the trees in Redwood Meadows.  You can see the mist around the moon and I was a little concerned that clouds and haze may obscure the visible signs of the direct alignment of the sun, Earth and moon.  I didn’t know then that the clouds would largely stay clear or that I was in for a very interesting performance.

The solstice lunar eclipse started normally last night and I was out in the freezing cold photographing the progression towards totality.

Then, things started to get very strange… as the moon started racing around like an excited puppy.

I went to bed as the moon settled back down, slipping behind the Earth and into deep shadow.

I saw it looming large on the horizon this morning so it seems to have emerged from shadow and appears to be behaving predictably once more.

I enjoyed the lead up to the eclipse and the morning after was spectacular as well.  The odd bit during the actual eclipse was very fun too although I’m still looking for a reasonable explanation.

Please note: the moon trails were created by moving the camera around slightly during longer exposures up to two seconds long.  I wrote the story for a bit of fun not to be mistaken for an actual phenomenon observed.