A Special Night on the Prairie

•September 28, 2016 • 5 Comments

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016, and I woke up to cloudy, rainy skies.

The astronomy website spaceweather.com was predicting a good night for the northern lights aka the aurora borealis.

My favourite weather forecast website cleardarksky.com which is usually very accurate to the hour was predicting that by late afternoon the skies would be completely clear and cloudless. The moon would not be rising above the horizon where I live til 3:41 a.m.  All the ducks were lining up so to speak.

I haven’t done any night photography for a year at least. Something always seemed to come up or I would get too sleepy when it was time to head out and sleep seemed the better idea over taking photos. Tonight would be different.

To prepare for the northern lights I charged my camera batteries and put my tiny headlamp in its charger. A headlamp like the ones spelunkers use is handy for night photography. It beats fumbling in the dark to find something that has dropped or to make your way through a field and not trip on something that you can’t see.

Next thing I did was to put my two favourite night lenses in my backpack, a 14-24 f2.8 zoom and a 24mm f1.4 lens. The memory cards were formatted, the car was topped up with gas and I was ready to go, when it got dark enough.

As the evening progressed I kept checking aurorawatch.ca to see how the aurora were. Aurorawatch is great for me because it predicts the possibility of viewing the northern lights at my latitude and it kept looking better and better as time went on.

By 9:30 p.m. I made my mind up to hop in the car and head out. Only ten minutes out of town and I could see a faint band of green on the northern horizon stretching from east to west. The sky was crystal clear. Stars were sparkling and a light fog covered the road as I drove north.

Twenty minutes later I arrived at a favourite spot. There are two churches and a graveyard here. Ahead of me I could see a couple of cars parked on the side of the road. Already there were a few photographers out to see the lights.

Grabbing my gear I walked near the first old church and started taking pics. The sky was awash with the colour green. When I exhausted all angles back into the car I went and drove to the next church down the highway.

This one has much more elegant lines to it but the aurora were starting to fade so I put my camera down and just sat under the starry night sky.

Photography is so much more than taking photos. Driving out here I passed many farmers getting their crops off the fields. Lights flashing in fields of canola. Dust hanging heavily in the air and the smell of freshly cut hay was in the air.

Sitting and waiting for the aurora to appear I heard the faint honk of geese overhead as they migrated south thinking of how beautiful it must appear to them to see the stars high above and the northern lights swirling across the sky.

One coyote started yapping in the distance then another answered and then another. Soon there were the sounds of coyotes all around me yapping and howling and letting each other know where they were.

It was magical. A 360 degree Imax experience. All of my senses were bathed in the sights, sounds and feelings of the cool autumn night. And it was cool. The Toyota thermometer said that it was only a couple of degrees above freezing. Frost was forecast overnight where I was and I could already hear it as I walked on the crunch, frosty grass.

The lights magically reappeared. First in the eastern horizon then swirling and dancing west ward til they were almost overhead.

I grabbed a few more frames and head off to a few more favourite places before turning back home.

Getting home I never even looked at the photos I had taken. The dog greeted me as he always does when I take photos, sniffing all the strange scents that I bring home and in a few minutes both of our heads were on our pillows and asleep to dream.

The beauty of an autumn night on the western Canadian prairies. A dream indeed.

Happy shooting,

Dan

In a world where everyone looks the same…

•September 20, 2016 • 7 Comments

The Barn Beside The Road

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet.

I love that information and ideas can be so easily shared. Everyone can have a voice on the ‘net. We are free to express ourselves however we like. Too often for worse rather than better. The hate and bigotry that is rampant on the internet is sad really and says a lot about human nature. Some of us need police and prisons to keep ourselves in check. Happily I think that is the minority rather than the majority.

Expression comes in many forms. Political. Religious. Morality. I choose to express myself for lack of a better word and without trying to sound pretentious, artistically.

The internet has changed me as a photographer. I think that it has probably made me a better one. Digital photography, camera/phones, etc. have made photography more accessible than it has ever been. Everyone is a photographer or wants to be one it seems.

For the last couple of years I have noticed a homogenization in landscape photography. What do I mean by that? Every freaking picture looks like it was taken by the same person.

A visit this morning to the photo sharing website 500px only served to reinforce that. When I look under popular landscapes there is more similarity than uniqueness among the first few pages of photos and I think that is a  bad thing rather than a good thing.

Why does it seem that everyone at least everyone who is “popular” looks the same? What was popular twenty years ago is now outdated and old. What is now popular was once new and beyond the bounds of what is “normal”.

We all want to be liked. We all want the pat on the back that says, well done. Some of us chase it more than others and to what end?

Why is it important to be “popular” on the internet? It takes hard work to be popular. It just doesn’t happen on its own. I see photographers on Flickr and 500pix with thousands of friends. That means every time they log on they get hundreds and thousands of photos in their feed.

Can you really be their “friend” when they are one of thousands of anonymous people you have friended? I don’t think so.

For my whole life I have made a conscious effort to be different. To step apart from the crowd. To speak my own voice.

Maybe it’s more important to have two or three real friends than thousands of “friends” on the internet?

In a world where everyone looks the same I want to look different.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

Time Passages

•September 4, 2016 • 3 Comments

Time Passages

“All round the day was going down slow
Night like a river beginning to flow
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages” – Al Stewart

Friday was indeed dark and cloudy but it wasn’t dreary, at least not to me.

There is something about photography that gets me excited about all kinds of weather. The kind of weather that keeps people indoors or depressed gets me outside and invigorates me.

Driving back from Elk Island National Park I zig zagged home in a most indirect way all the while looking around at the low, dark and fast moving clouds.

In Strathcona county which is just outside of Edmonton they must have lots of extra tax dollars because all of the side road, roads which anywhere else in Alberta would be gravel are paved in the county.

I turned the corner on this desolate looking day and started driving up a broad hill. Power lines to the left and nothing to the right it might seem as if there were no photo to be taken but the line of the road diminishing as it went uphill drew me in.

Out I stepped and immediately a cold wind cut through my jacket. The weather here in September can be so variable. Hot short and t-shirt weather one day and looking for a parka the next.

The routine was the same as it usually is for long exposure photos. Take the ND filter off the lens, open the eye piece cover on the back of the camera, place tripod on ground, compose, undo first three steps and wait four or eight minutes for the exposure then move on.

I did this a few times before arriving home cool and refreshed from having been out in the cold wind. A hot pot of coffee was soon brewing and I was deleting the unwanted images that I had taken earlier.

Happy shooting,

Dan

 

Plain And Simple

•September 3, 2016 • 6 Comments

Plain And Simple

Friday morning I was up around 6:00 a.m. like I usually am.  It’s funny how as we get older we become more like our parents.

My dad died when I was six years old so my memories of him are few but I have plenty of my mother. She was always up early. Me on the other hand, if I could sleep in till one in the afternoon I could easily do so.

Now 62 years of age I have become my mother, kind of. Without any alarm clock or radio to wake me from my slumber around 5:30 or 6:00 the brain becomes alert and it’s up and at em.

The forecast for Friday and most of this weekend in fact is gray, dreary and drizzly weather. As the morning coffee was brewing I did what I have done for years, check the local forecast and have a peek at the provincial highway webcam website. The province of Alberta like most states and provinces have webcams posted on various highways that usually refresh every ten or fifteen minutes.

With autum approaching and the days rapidly shortening it was still dark. The webcams weren’t showing much yet. But the forecast looked grim. Grim for those that like it sunny and hot but enticing for me.

The skies gradually lightened, the webcams showed mucho rain to the west, the direction we usually get our weather from but that rain was at least one hundred kilometers away. To the east it was heavily overcast but dry. My decision was made, I poured myself a last cup of coffee to go, grabbed my backpack with camera gear and attached the camera to its tripod.

The highways were already empty as I drove out to Elk Island National Park with the morning commute almost over. When I arrived at Elk Island thirty minutes later it was apparent that summer was over and school was in. The main campground was deserted and the one public beach in the park was empty with only a couple on the floating pier taking a morning selfie. Oh yeah, and lots of sea gulls and griebes in the water.

With the sun behind my back and hidden behind a bank of clouds I aimed the camera at the lake and did a test exposure. Rather than use a meter I usually place a 16 stop on the lens and expose for two minutes at f8. The result was almost black. So I doubled the exposure to eight minutes. A little dark but usable.

Last year I picked up a 13 stop filter that I hardly ever use. The three extra stops of light would be helpful in the early morning light so I switched filters. F11 at four minutes and it was perfectly exposed. The curious sea gulls watched me and ducks swam into and out of the image but none of that matters with a long exposure. They all disappear not staying still long enough to register. The same applied the waves on Astotin Lake. The combination of reflected light from the clouds above and smoothing of the waves resulted in a nice, even light tone to the water.

On the horizon were two kinds of clouds. Dark storm clouds interspersed with a bank of low, white clouds moving quickly across the image right to left. At four minutes the light clouds provided enough movement and separation against the dark sky to make it interesting.

I stayed at the lake for another forty minutes trying various angles including the floating pier which you will never see hear. Apparently the pier moves just enough over four minutes that it was blurred and unusable.

I drove home in a very indirect route taking the side roads, zig zagging towards Edmonton amazed at the low flying dark skies and best of all it was still dry outside.

Processing this was very simple. A quick conversion to black and white, adjusting brightness and contrast and a little burning of the sky at the top and water at the bottom to hold the eye in the frame.

Plain and simple. Just the way I like it.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Inspiration and Motivation… get out there with your camera

•August 30, 2016 • 4 Comments

Lac St. Anne Rocks

Creativity doesn’t only apply to photography. It is relevant to almost everything in our lives. From how we dress to how our homes are decorated and even how we prepare meals, creativity is involved.

Sometimes we get the creative doldrums. At least I do. Just when it seems like I have run out of ideas or don’t feel like getting outdoors with camera in hand I have a little secret. There resides on the desktop a folder with the name, “long exposure”. I had forgotten about it and while doing a little computer housekeeping came upon it.

I opened the folder to reveal a couple of dozen screen captures from the internet of drop dead, gorgeous landscapes from around the world. Beautifully toned black and whites, brilliantly coloured prairie landscapes with old, wooden grain elevators stading amongst towering storm clouds. As I scrolled through the screen captures something magical happened to me. My heart started beating a little harder. My breathing became faster and shallower. My imagination ran wild.

Why wasn’t I driving the country roads this morning and looking for photos to take I thought to myself. Could I make the four hour drive to the mountains to do some long exposures I had been thinking about and be back later tonight?

That is all that it took. I only needed to see someone else’s creative works to get that flame lit inside me. For me it can be that simple.

So here is what I do to help me fired up.

I usually don’t save photos from websites. I have a fair understanding of html coding so I can usually get around the various ways to prevent downloading photos but I don’t care to steal someones pics to use elsewhere. I only want something to help me “remember” what I saw inspired me. No, instead of trying to download photos I do a simple screen capture.

A screen capture is a simple “snapshot” of the screen. There are various programs for Windows computers that make it very easy. I use a Mac and with the Mac there are two easy ways to do captures. I don’t want to capture the whole screen. I just want a copy of the picture that I like for future reference. If I hold down the keyboard keys SHIFT+OPTION+4 the cursor changes to a tool that allows me to drag out the shape of a rectangle. I only draw out the shape over the photo that interests me and it is saved to the desktop. I drag that screen capture to my inspirational folder and it is saved for a later viewing.

Is it legal? Since I am only saving a low resolution grab for my own personal viewing I think that it is.

I strongly believe in protecting photographers rights to their images. I have many out there on the internet and would hope that others respect my rights as I respect theirs.

That isn’t always the case as I have gotten a few nice cheques from companies that have ripped off my photos for free, without my permission. The images that I have with stock agencies are compared to images on the internet with a special program that crawls the internet and compares files to the ones in their database. If there is a hit, a human will then compare the photos, get in touch with the stock agency which then sends out a legal takedown notice along with a bill for illegally using the picture. I think that I have gotten a few thousand dollars over the years that way. If you steal a photo from the internet and use it on your own website you’re taking the chance that you will get a take down notice and a bill that is actually higher than if you had legally purchased the photo.

Having said that… off I go.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Nothing to see here… move along

•August 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Nothing To See Here

Sunday morning was blustery and overcast.

I had been thinking of photographing water for a few weeks and tried to think of a location that might lend itself to photography. An hours drive from where I live is a lake that when I was a youngster had a long cement pier that you could walk out onto. That would be perfect for the Sunday morning shoot or so I thought.

Off I drove late in the morning. Shooting black and white it doesn’t require that you be there at the tail ends of the day to get the nice beautiful colors that color landscapes require. With black and white it’s much more simple. As the miles/kilometers passed I kept an eye on the sky watching the clouds blow by and with increasing frequency there were blue spots between the clouds.

Fall is definitely knocking on the door in central Alberta. It was 10 Celsius or about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and with the wind it actually felt cool. More poplar trees are fringed with yellow leaves. Most crops are now golden/yellow and waiting to be harvested. The scenery has definitely shifted colors from greens to golds, yellows and browns.

Arriving at the summer village which lies on the edge of the lake I was glad that it was relatively cool. Hardly any people were about and the pier would probably be empty. I continued to drive along the road that edges along the lake looking for the pier or at least where I remembered it to be. No pier. At the end of the village I turned around and drove back the way that I came. Maybe I missed it?

No pier. I found a long cement boat launch where I thought the pier used to be. Photogenic it wasn’t. Try as I might I couldn’t find an angle that looked good to me. As the wind whipped across the lake and big waves crashed against the boat launch I figured I should at least try and come home with some kind of photo to play with so seeing a large boulder placed on the edge of the concrete launch I planted camera on tripod and eight minutes later walked around looking for other angles to shoot.

Nothing seemed to work. A few more angles, more like desperation  photos and I headed home.

Instead of taking the highway which is a quicker and more direct route the side roads might surprise me, I thought. Half an hour later the scenery wasn’t the wide open spaces that I am used to photographing but instead lots of bush interspersed with a few small open fields. Try as I might I couldn’t find anything that caught my eye.

A disappointing morning? Not at all. Driving on country roads in the fall is magical. The combination of colors and seasons changing, the cooler air and even a sure sign of fall, hearing speckle belly geese (which summer by the arctic circle) overhead does something to my soul. Memories from early childhood come to mind. Coming home from a weekend of camping or fishing and sitting in the back seat of the car watching the scenery go by. Kind of like what I am doing now. Watching the scenery and the years go by.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Photo Contests… Should You Enter?

•August 25, 2016 • 8 Comments

Infrared Home

Photography for some is a giant competition.

Do I have the latest camera body? Is my lens the sharpest out there?

You only need to browse a few of the photography forums to see how competitive some people are. Brand X makes the shapest lens, has the best bokeh, has the fastet autofocus and on and on and on.

It’s pretty funny really because anytime I have googled one of these forum warriors to see what their photos look like I quickly realized that their photographs didn’t come close to meeting the expectations that they had painted in my mind.

We watch the Olympics every four years to see who is the fastest or best at their sport. Take sprinting for example, the winner really is the winner. You cannot deny that the person who crossed the finish line first is the winner. So what about photo contests?

It’s not the same for any kind of art competition. There really isn’t a definitive best picture for one simple reason, my idea of best might be different than your idea but both of our ideas are equally valid.

Many years ago where I worked they had an annual photo awards for western Canada. I entered them for a couple of years not because I needed or wanted to be labelled best or worst photographer in western Canada but because it was an effective way of getting your name out there. Again who can say this photographer or that is the best? There isn’t any such thing in my mind.

I am long retired and haven’t entered one of those work related awards/contests in many, many years but the idea of a photo contest is kind of appealing to me still.

For a few years it was difficult to enter any contests at all for the simple reason that almost everything that I shot went to stock photo agencies and with it the rights to those photos. It would be impossible for me to enter a photo and have it used by the contest in some kind of promotion and yet have exclusivity with the stock agency when selling to a client.

I have not submitted any photos for stock for a few years now. One of the agencies that I used to submit to seems to be on the verge of bankruptcy and I still have money owing to me from a couple of years ago. Why then would I submit more photos to them? I would be crazy to do so. The other agency? They pay regularly but stock fees have become so low compared to what they used to be I make more money selling prints than I do through stock for the past couple of years. My main reason for selling prints/stock these days is because it provides me with a tax break on photo equipment and related expenses.

I entered a contest last year, a very well known one with a few black and whites and had completely forgotten about it until I got a reminder in email last week that they deadline for the current years contest is about a month away. Because the last few years of photos I own exclusively I am able to enter without any restrictions but the question is WHY ENTER?

I am certainly not entering to become famous. Fame is something that I could not care less about. In fact, I do all that I can to remain semi-anonymous. I am about as low profile as can be on the internet.

No fame is not the reason. Being retired I’m not looking to get my name out there and garner more work. So then why?

I am only entering because there is a nice cash reward. I am not losing the rights to the photos that might place or win. No one is going to use the contest as a cheap way to get photos. It’s just the cash.

So, having said that what should you look for before deciding to enter a contest?

Rights. Usage.

NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. Never give up the rights to your photos.

Make sure that if you do win and only if you win that the company can use your photo for promotion for a limited time.

Lastly, remember that this isn’t the Olympics. There really isn’t a true winner only someone that the judges chose based upon their tastes. Given a different set of judges or a different year, this years winners might be losers in any other year. Don’t let your ego get tied up with winning or losing and for God’s sake DON’T go placing the little badges that you get for winning or placing in the contest all over your web site. Nothing is tackier than that.

On another note, the weather here has been foul for photos and I have been itching to get out. My creative fire is burning and I am going to explode. Soon.

Happy shooting,

Dan