Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tribute to Polar Bears

I have had the great honour of working as a eco-tour leader introducing people polar bears in the wild. They are utterly dependent on ice as their hunting platform. Global warming is reducing arctic ice cover at an alarming rate. Who knows how much longer they have to exist on this earth? I have put together this show of my images to celebrate them.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bringing Depth to Your Images

Chinstrap Penguin Colony, Deception Island, Antarctica
We see a world with depth because our two, forward-looking eyes each perceive a slightly different picture. Our brains merge them together to form a three-dimensional interpretation. It is the amount of overlapping information that each eye perceives that is the secret to our depth perception. It would not work nearly as well if our eyes were placed more on the sides of our head, say, like a horse, which has traded strong depth perception for a much broader, wide-angle view. However, an animal with forward-looking eyes, like an owl, has excellent depth perception.

Close one eye and your depth perception is almost non-existent. Try it. Hold a pencil out in front of you in your left hand with the tip pointing towards your right. Now try to touch the tip of the pencil with the outstretched finger of your right hand. Yes you can do it, but you might miss the first time or two.

What’s the photographic connection? Most cameras only have one eye. (Stereoscopic cameras have two.) They cannot perceive depth. When we look out over an inspiring landscape with our eyes, the sense of distance and perspective is self-evident. When we make an image of it with our cameras, something very important is missing: the sense of depth. That’s why you need to help the camera simulate a sense the depth by using one or more simple techniques.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Photography in Winter

Winter Opportunities and Challenges
In photography, winter is the great simplifier. Details, like grass and leaves, are hidden, contours and edges are rounded, and the landscape is rendered to its most fundamental elements: line, shape, texture and colour. Even colour is more subdued and reduced in range from the vibrant green of summer, or the red, yellow and orange of fall, to the subdued blue of snow, sky and ice, or the browns of bark and dried leaf.

On overcast days in winter, the sky tends to be rendered as a large patch of bright, featureless nothingness. Landscapes are flattened because the diffuse light from the sky is reflected also from the snow reducing the overall contrast that we need in order to discern shape and line.

On sunny days the opposite is true. With the sun lower in the sky than in the summer, shadows are long and discernable all day long. In summer you may not consider shooting at high noon, but it's grand in the winter. The shadows help create line, shape and depth and impart visual interest to any object projecting above the snow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 Photo Tours/Workshops

Port Rexton, one of our destinations on the Eastern Newfoundland tour
This year we are leading two Newfoundland tours and I will be along on two Adventure Canada expeditions in the north as well. You will find the detailed info here.

This is the first year that we have offered a western Newfoundland tour and it has been gobbled up by past travelers who had been wait-listed. It's fully booked! However, there is still space remaining on the eastern Newfoundland tour.

By the way, the Avalon Peninsula, which is included in the eastern Newfoundland tour, was recently ranked by the National Geographic Traveler Magazine as the world's #1 coastal destination!

These are small group (6 people plus two guides) tours for people interested in photography. As we say on our website:
We specialize in select tours designed to enhance our connection with the natural world. We explore places rich in wildlife and natural beauty that broaden the traveler's horizons and inspire creativity. Our trips usually feature strong photography components but they are designed for all who love nature and have an appetite for discovery.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are You Ready for a DSLR?

Dennis shooting in New Zealand. Photo: Antje Springmann
I was asked yesterday by one of my tour participants for some advice on switching from a compact digital camera to a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. Even though, there are many websites and blogs that offer advice on this topic, I thought I'd add my perspective here so others could share my answer.

When moving from one camera type to the other, you will be trading-off the small size, light weight and convenience of a compact camera for the bulkier, heavier and more demanding DSLR. There is also some new, middle-ground: the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras represented by Samsung NX11 and the Sony NEX cameras and their ilk. I haven't handled one of these fascinating new cameras so I can't say much about them, but if were I upgrading from a compact digital camera, I would certainly consider one of these.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Malcolm Gladwell Taught Me About Photography

Baobab Tree, Tanzania, shot from the back of a moving pickup truck.

A couple of years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell's wonderful book "Blink". It makes the case that we should put greater faith in our instincts, especially our initial, intuitive responses to a person, object, or event. Even though these assessments might happen in a few milliseconds, they can be, and often are, better than those based on more protracted deliberation. According to Gladwell's research, this ability is based on the way the human brain has evolved to assess stimuli (largely visual) subconsciously  and render trustworthy judgments very quickly. Of course, this is not always true, and Gladwell also talks about certain factors, like biases and prejudices, that can impede our subconscious ability. Nonetheless, he makes a very strong case for the power  of quick, intuitive assessments that can happen in a "blink".

So what does this have to do with photography? Just this: your first visual impressions are important and reliable. The photographs you make based on them may not be your best shots in any given circumstance, but they might be. So, I say, "shoot first and ask questions later". Rather than thinking very much about why you like something, just dive in. We have all heard or said "I know what I like, but I don't necessarily know why".  That's OK. To record your first impressions, you don't necessarily have to know why something attracts you, but you do have to recognize that it does. You have to feel it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Two Kinds of Shooters (at least)

Perry's Cove, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Canada, Dec. 28, 2010

In your reading about photography have you come across the idea of pre-visioning or imagining your shot in advance and then going after it? Sometimes it is treated as a prerequisite for good image-making. Certainly it is a valid method and one practiced by many excellent photographers, but rarely do I practice it, and I certainly don't see it as a "essential secret" to making strong images.

I think its closely connected to your ability to imagine visually. Some are very good at it, others less so. For example, my wife might suggest that we move the couch from here to there, or to paint the walls a particular shade of whatever. She can actually see the change in her mind's eye. She can make a disturbingly (to me) accurate guess at how it will work out. It's a gift, but one that is not as strong in me. I have to move the damn couch to its new location and then assess whether it works or not. She can do the whole thing in her head, which is a whole lot easier on the back.

So some photographers have this gift and others lack it, or have a weaker capacity for it. My point is that there are two kinds of photographers: one that pre-visions the image and then proceeds to create it, and the other (like me) that is more reactive to the world around us. In my (perhaps self-serving) opinion, one is not necessarily any better than the other.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Grandson Peter

I'm very proud today. Peter created a touching tribute to his friend Zach and posted it on youtube. Zach died tragically last Christmas in a car accident. His favourite song was Wagon Wheel so Peter and a gang of his friends collaborated to make their own version of the song and present it to Zach's family this year. Peter sang, played all the instruments, except the drums, recorded all the tracks separately and mixed the final audio. There was never more than Peter and one other singer in the studio at one time. The project certainly shows off some of Peter's talent but more than that...it shows his big, caring heart. Well done Peter.