earnest work

Serious Training

sleepless storms

I was exhausted from the weekend, having volunteered to work the late shift at a fundraising casino that kept me up beyond 3am two nights in a row, but the prospect of a rare geomagnetic storm wrestled me away from the siren-song of my fluffy duvet.

I drove north.  North, because I always imagine this will somehow get me closer to the ethereal green wilderness, and north, because it’s my speediest exit from the orange glow comforting a million city dwellers in the night.

I had procrastinated going out, waiting to see whether my bed’s call would convince me, but once in my car I could no longer wait for dark country skies and stopped to grab a test shot that confirmed the intensity of the green despite the urban interference.

I cruised back roads and clusters of homes too small to merit village titles seeking the perfect merger of liquid light with landscape form.  What I hadn’t anticipated was a layer of cloud reminiscent of the gentle bed covering awaiting me, blanketing every view.  I made frustrated test shots, just to have something of this rare storm, my overtiredness damping my thinking enough to prevent me from scanning the sky for the holes in the sheet that would have pointed me southward.

It was as I returned home, just emerging from the cover, that I determined that one shot might be worth the effort.  For three hours on the road, this was only 15 minutes from home:
The Aurora Borealis over grain silos in Alberta.

ready for the Stampede?

Calgary certainly is!
A small girl peeres behind the scenes of The Calgary Stampede rodeo

fire-y lion

A wild male lion in Botswana, processed with a fractal filter.

I come from a science background so documenting things accurately, as they are, is deeply set in my nature. This, however, appeals to me. I don’t know why but if pressed to answer, I would suppose that it’s because the modifications are based in fractal geometry — more science.

Does it add character to the lion? Does it detract from his natural beauty? I suppose that when an image goes beyond a more objective journalistic look at things, the perception becomes more subject to… subjectivity. Um… yeah.

Do you like it? No? Is it art? Is it an Instagram-like fad that will be very dated in short order? What do you think?

night light

This past spring I travelled well away from city lights on a few nights hoping to get some photographs of the aurora borealis.  They had been particularly strong, displaying pinks normally seen only at significantly more northern latitudes.  Whether I had chosen the wrong nights, or even the wrong time of night, I don’t know, but I missed them.

Last Friday, I happened to catch in the news that a solar flare had been ejected from the sun and was headed in our direction.  I wondered briefly whether it would lead to any light displays, but didn’t think more of it.  On Sunday evening, as I was headed with my family to spend the night on our farm an hour north of the city, I remembered the little solar flare and may have unnerved my husband a bit with my frantic remembering of whether I had packed a wide lens or not.  I had had one in my hand — twice — and put it back both times certain that I wouldn’t need it.  The only lens with me for the day was a 100-400mm.

I awoke at 2:30am to see whether there really were any lights resulting from that flare, hoping that there weren’t because I wasn’t ready for it, but the green glow upon stepping outside was unmistakable.  I couldn’t not make use of the opportunity, but I grumbled that I had three lenses sitting at home infinitely better suited to the task.

The hill behind the north side of the house would at least help to give me some high landscape to anchor the image, but at 100mm, all I had were trees and glow without end.  I could have taken any silhouetted shot of that hill and simply given it a green cast.  No good.  Toward the west where the lights seemed to taper to black, there was still only indistinct green in the sky.  On the eastern edge I had sheds and some of the less pretty scenery of the farm which wasn’t going to work either.  My compromise came in shooting northeast.  There, there were trees, aurora, black sky, and even a grain bin to lend a sense of place.  The clouds in the sky added character too.  That pink glow under them however, was the light pollution I had worked to escape all spring with my long drives.  Not the big city mind you, but a town only 20km away.

So there’s my handicapped aurora.  The light on the silo is the waning gibbous moon high over my right shoulder, and the warm light low on the left is a planet, I believe.  This was shot just after 3am if that tells you astronomy enthusiasts more.  I just had to share this ethereal green forest we see now and again.

aurora borealis

ice-cream-eating scenery

I’ve just changed up the prints hanging at the coffee shop in my neighbourhood. With the summer solstice I decided something new was in order there too.

My extremely popular hedgehog “bad boy!” is now there. Another image of him will appear in the children’s book on which I’m currently working.
A hedgehog stands in timeout with his nose in the corner.

There is also a Cibachrome* (a print made onto a type of plastic instead of paper) of a small portion of Victoria Falls in the dry season.

Other images include some small framed architectural images, as well as more wildlife.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, drop into The Bullet Cappuccino Bar (near Northmount and 14 Street NW). They’ve got ice cream for the summer days ahead too!

 

 

* What’s a Cibachrome?
 
Cibachrome prints are created from colour transparencies by a system that is completely different from regular colour prints. The sharpness, colour intensity, clean whites, and critical accuracy to the original slide are stunning. Cibachrome prints are made on a dimensionally stable tri-acetate polyester base (i.e. plastic, not paper). In plain English, that means that your print will not fade, discolour or deteriorate for a very long time.
The Cibachrome process was developed by the Ciba-Geigy Corporation of Switzerland in the 1960s. The process was subsequently purchased by Ilford, now part of International Paper, and renamed “Ilfochrome” – but almost everyone still refers to it as Cibachrome or even “Ciba”.
 
The Cibachrome process is completely different from the other methods of printing from slides, such as the “Type R” processes offered by Kodak, Fuji and others. In these other processes, the chemistry contains colour dyes that interact with the developer to place the colours onto the paper.
 
The reverse is true of Cibachrome in that the dyes are imbedded in the paper, and are selectively bleached out during processing. The dyes used are called Azo-dyes, which are known for their exceptional stability and colour purity. Cibachrome prints are known among artists, curators and art collectors for both their archival qualities (best of any common colour printing material) and their rich, saturated colours. When you compare them to other prints, they are also noticeably sharper – this is a direct result of the dyes being in the paper, not in the chemistry. Because the dyes are in the paper’s emulsion, they act as an anti-light scattering layer. This keeps the projected image from spreading out as it penetrates and exposes the emulsion.
 
Cibachromes are also more environmentally friendly. Other processes release greater quantities of toxic dyes into the environment. With Cibachrome’s, since most of the dye stays in the paper, there are less dyes in the waste chemistry. It’s nice to find something that’s both better for the environment and more pleasing to the eye.
 
Finally, Cibachrome prints are archival. Museums and art collectors insist on Cibachrome prints because they don’t fade in normal light. Unlike regular colour prints, which fade even when stored in a dark closet, Cibachrome’s will last a lifetime. That means that your investment will be around for a long time to come.
 
(Thanks for the lay explanation Dianne!)

big projects

I’ve been so busy with outside projects that I’ve had to put my own aside for a while, but today, despite my somewhat zombie-like state after chasing the aurora last night, I was finally able to start on one of the bigger, longer-term ones.

I still need some models, so if you’ve got a cute little critter you’re willing to share, please send me an email.

peeking through the window

Large events can pose challenges in creating a group photo. It could be that not everyone is present at the same time, individuals are reluctant to be photographed, or are not prepared to be photographed at the time the image is to be made. The sheer size of the group can preclude a good image of everyone together. My solution is simply to not photograph everyone together.

I have four children. Getting the four of them to appear in one image (nevermind getting them all to look good) is a near impossibility. In order to have a family photo of sorts, what I have done is to take them somewhere to snap photos as they allow. From these sessions, I have chosen the best image of each child and framed or hung the resulting group together. It is a clearly cohesive set as the lighting and location are consistent from image to image, and each child looks his or her best — no cajoling required.

Having been asked to shoot a couple of weddings recently, I put this strategy to use. It’s not that the couples expected to get a group shot of everyone at the receptions, but I thought it would be a great way to remember all the attendees. A newer technique, referred to as a Jarvie window, let me make the images fun for the bride and groom, and also for the guests as we could chuckle over the silly results displayed on the back of my camera. Tiling the resulting ‘windows’ into a large print creates a fun group picture and memory of a special event.

iPhoneography for natural subjects

When I plan to photograph, I dutifully lug many pounds of camera equipment, especially if my intended subject is a wild animal (you know how heavy big glass can be). So I’m happy to put it all down from time to time. This is Mr. Murphy’s cue to action.

I didn't make it back in time with a 'real' camera.

I do, however, always have a camera at hand. It took me a couple of years to discover it, but over the course of the last half year I have gained tremendous appreciation for it. It’s my iPhone; an older model too: the 3GS. This 3.2 megapixel quick draw marvel generally resides in my pocket, providing me with helpful (photographic!) information like GPS coordinates, and the precise time and location of a sunset or moonrise anywhere in the world. It’s even capable of remote-releasing the shutters of some cameras.

I don’t generally intend to take photographs with my phone, but you’ve heard that the best camera is the one you have at hand. I have images that would only be memories had my silicone-ensconced umbilical cord to the world not been attached. Internet groups and coffee table books already exist, brimming with beautiful images that might otherwise never have been made.

It’s fun, too. There are powerful and inexpensive apps like Nik Software’s SnapSeed that can turn your image into art with a few quick swipes.

The sunflowers on my first-grader's school playground.

The current 4S model has 8-megapixels. Do you recall how many megapixels your first digital camera had? My husband’s shot 640×480 and saved files to a floppy disk! In addition to a faster processor, the 4S also has an LED flash. Autofocus (and tap-to-focus/expose) simply doesn’t get easier, and images are all geotagged, so even if you don’t use the image from your phone, you can make a reference shot for the images from your big cameras and add the information to the metadata later. Add-on lenses are even available to give you telephoto capability from the built in 4mm up to 12x that focal length.

The biggest drawbacks? The operating temperature is only down to freezing and it has a maximum operating altitude of 3000m — not so good for the mountaineers — but I happily snap through the summers when I have my family in tow as it can be real work to pull out the heavy equipment. I really enjoy adding these images to digital albums, and my kids love paging through the resulting books.

And I now take photos when before I would never have thought to shoot. This image of a storm over Canmore was shot while speeding by on the highway. I wasn’t driving. I promise.

I even have images I snapped with my phone that I quickly revisited with one of my SLRs yet I still prefer the phone image to my attempted recreation of it.

So don’t discount the camera in your pocket. While you may not capture the exact position of every whisker on the coyote’s face as it leaps to catch a mouse, an aerial coyote can still make for an interesting image.

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This article was originally published by The Canadian Nature Photographer. See it here.

seriously

He cracks smiles all the time. His mom says so. But today,…

Does this mean something?