(Please click any image to open a higher resolution version)
Following an unusually warm Hallowe’en, the temperature dropped below freezing. That low pressure system was accompanied by heavy clouds and snow flew for the first and second days of November in southern Alberta. On Sunday, I left Bragg Creek early in the morning with the snow still falling fast. By the time I was in Banff, the cloud ceiling was much higher and the snow falling much softer. Before noon, the sun was out and the winter wonderland was starting to melt away quickly at the lower elevations. I went down to the Vermilion Lakes to see how things looked and check if any of the wild residents were wandering about. I didn’t find much wildlife, but the landscape looking beautiful with the shoreline’s snow gone but the belt of white starting only twenty or so metres above. When the long chain of freight cars riding the rails on the far side of the second lake came into view I stopped to take a few photographs.
Trains in the Rockies raise mixed feelings for me. There is a majesty to travel by rail, especially through the mountains. And, the railway certainly played a role historically in binding this country together that continues today. The wildlife deaths from train collisions on the tracks that wind through the Banff National Park is an issue that has improved but has a long ways to go before the animals are safe. Wildlife photographers like John Marriott and Peter A. Dettling are among those stakeholders who are raising awareness and making positive changes. Hopefully increasing awareness and engagement by the public and those on all sides of the equation will continue to reduce deaths of wolves, bears and other wildlife on the railways in the Rocky Mountains. It will be good when the trains and their rich history can be enjoyed without the dark shadow that currently hangs around them.
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.
With the regular excitement leading up to Stampede amplified by the attendance of the young royals during their honeymoon tour across Canada, Calgary is in great spirits right now. The Stampede Parade this morning kicks off the crazy ten day party. Rick Hansen is the Parade Marshal which is an inspiring choice. Canada’s Man In Motion will no doubt add more fuel to the fire in the city.
As the Stampede gets closer, more people start to don their Western attire and businesses deck their store fronts (and walls, alleys, staff, windows, etc.) with fanciful cowboy characters, horses and chuckwagons (mostly artwork but there are living embodiments if you go to the right bar or corporate lobby). One of my favourite decorations is this cowboy that Canadian Pacific Railway perches on top of their black locomotive that is set along 9th Avenue in front of their offices in the Gulf Canada Square building on 4th street.
This year I have a few framed prints showcased at the Western Photo Gallery which is one of the five areas of the Western Art Show at the Stampede. I was there for an opening party on Wednesday night and the artwork on display was incredible. Some of the paintings and sculptures are truly incredible. If you visit the Western Showcase in Halls D and E in the BMO Centre at the Stampede Park you will have a great opportunity to see the work of some incredible artists – and a couple of nice photographs too!
I have been accredited to photograph the rodeo and the chuckwagon races for the second time this year. Thank you to Dwayne Zaba and Roy Anstey at Bragg About the Creek magazine for your sponsorship. I can’t wait to get on the rail to watch these events – I didn’t grow up competing but had a number of cousins who did so I appreciate the level that both the animals and the people perform at during the Stampede. I’m sure I will be posting a few images over the next couple of weeks.
If you are in Calgary and make it to the Stampede this year, I hope you have a great time. If you aren’t, try to visit sometime down the road, I don’t argue with their slogan, “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”.
I panned with this train as it slid through downtown Calgary, working to keep the front sharp. When I reviewed the photograph, I liked the driver’s wave to his counterpart on the just passed train. A detail I didn’t see in the moment.
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.
In this image
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.
Working with a slow shutter speed, I wanted to see what kind of detail I could of the commuters riding into the downtown core on one of Calgary’s light rail transit trains. For this image I panned with the train as it sped past, trying to pivot quick enough to briefly match the rail car’s velocity. The goal being to capture the detail inside the train while blurring the scenery outside. This technique has been applied to all types of motion by many photographers and creates an interesting effect.
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Exposure details: 1/13 second, f/4.0 at ISO 400 using a Canon 1D Mark III with 70-200 lens at 200mm.