In October 2017, on a road trip to North Carolina from my home in Calgary, Canada I made an overnight stop in 'small town America'. I had considered stopping in Kansas City, but I much prefer the small towns so I carried on for an hour or so heading south east until I reached Clinton.
Once I had found a hotel and refreshed myself from the journey, I set out to locate a venue for dinner and was pleasantly surprised to find the most picturesque town square. The red brick buildings were adorned with awnings fighting a losing battle with the setting sun, their colours so vibrant against the cobalt blue sky. I really enjoyed the moment of just being there, and I made a nice shot capturing the extended perspective of the shop fronts leading down to the town water tower.
I have always enjoyed the shot I made here, I enjoyed this little town, the warmth of the setting sun, and the vibrant colour of the buildings. But, as the Covid 19 lock in continues and I trawl my hard drive for images to share, I decided to try a black and white conversion which I think turned out well. I don't really have a preference for either one, I really do like them both, but more than that, I like the memory of this little town and another fantastic road trip.
Still in self isolation as a result of the Corvid 19 pandemic, I'm raiding my image stores to find something interesting to share on the blog. Today I have selected this shot of an old cannery on the waterfront in Astoria, Oregon. I chose this one to share a 'miss'. It's easy to share our good or best shots but there are lessons in a 'miss' that make them almost as valuable.
Taken during a storm in October 2016 I was perfectly placed when the sun broke through the cloud. The high bank behind me cast a long shadow onto the water which combined with the storm clouds overhead to make a natural vignette of sorts. The sun caught the top of the grasses clinging to life on the old foundation pillars, before bursting onto the cannery and bouncing back off the beautiful red and rust patina.
I remember I had moved several times, attempting to make leading lines of the old foundation timbers, but somehow it didn't quite work. I did have some reasonable rule of thirds going by crouching low to the ground, and an almost perfect colour palette with the splashed red/rust onto a blue/grey canvas. The foreground of pillars and accompanying grasses was not quite as close as I would like, but I thought at the time that the middle ground of the cannery, and background of mountains were strong enough to carry the shot.
Ultimately, I was wrong. It's a nice shot, perhaps even suitable for a local news story or magazine but as a stand alone image it's not quite there. I have no doubt that if I lived locally I would be here many more times, the location is great, access is excellent, the topic is strong and it's situation almost perfect. I'm sure there are some wonderful shots to be had here, unfortunately, as is often the case this one didn't quite make the cut.
Just a month ago I was flying back to the UK contemplating the crowded streets and packed venues across the country. I was bemoaning the fact there the roads we're always busy and there was never enough space, I had to travel to Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and London. Then the world changed, by the time I made the London trip the streets were emptying.
As we flew back to Canada the borders closed to all but Canadian residents. The entry was a two hour wait through heavily congested areas before we we're finally leaving the airport heading back to our home. We are now through the first week of self isolation and looking forward to it ending.
Once the isolation is complete, my social distancing will consist of trips to the mountains for sunsets and starlight shoots until winter ends and expands the available opportunities. We know this crisis will pass and that, in a month or two, the worst will be over and life will begin returning to normal.
It's an incredibly difficult time for many people, but it will pass. Obviously I will not be running photo tours or workshops until this issue is contained. In the mean time, do all you can to help and protect yourselves, your family, and all others around you.
My image today is taken from a mountain tour prior to the UK trip, it shows Mt Rundle in Banff National Park as a snow squall passes overhead.
My wife Sarah and I spent a wonderful two weeks over Christmas and New Year in Las Vegas Nevada. The trip was not about photography, but obviously I made a few shots whilst we were there. In particular I enjoyed the one single rainy evening that provided the most wonderful reflections along the strip.
The neon lights themselves are a nice topic at night but after rain they really come alive. I found this puddle beside the highway at a crossing point. As the last car drove through making a soft ripple on the surface; I crouched down in the crowds waiting to cross and fired off two frames. I think it's the best image I made over the two weeks and have added it to the Night portfolio page as a result.
There's a page on shooting reflections in my basic composition tutorial here. Reflections are always on my radar, in any surface that provides them, and few surfaces provide a better reflection for image making than gently rippled water. So next time it's raining don't sit at home bemoaning the fact you can't get out to shoot, think about where you can go to catch some great reflections.
Yesterday, during one of my regular instructional tours in Kananaskis we came upon a series of stunning ice formations. the ice had been broken, raised and then softened by warm winds through the valley leaving a myriad of softened shards poking up in all directions.
The light was not great, it was late afternoon and low cloud pushed shadows across the area, but we managed to find a number of good shots in the tangle of splintered ice. One in particular that I liked was this simple frame using both ice and the mountainside to make a window through which a little colour appears in the sky. The trapped methane bubbles lifted to the skies make for a great addition and the clarity of the ice allowing the late afternoon colour to shine through is perfect.
Framing is a great way to enhance an image and natural framing is often the very best way. It leaves us feeling we have stolen a view, peeping through a closing aperture to the vista beyond. We need to decide if we are going to have the frame and the subject in focus or just the subject, often just the subject is preferable, or enough but in the case below the frame was the shot. So, I made an exposure with focus on the foreground ice frame and then another focusing on the mountain in the background.
In shot framing is a very simple technique that really can help make an image, or add to an uninteresting image in such a way as to make it more interesting. You can learn more about in shot framing as part of my free basic composition tutorials available here.
Who can resist a sunset? None of us is the answer, it doesn't matter how many or how often we shoot them, if there is a nice sunset occurring and we have our gear we'll be shooting it. When heading out to shoot sunset I always try to get to the location very early, not necessarily to select my shooting spot, I always have a rough idea and don't take long narrowing down my options.
I go very early, often a couple of hours early to practise my composition, Not for the sunset shot but just general practice. I never stop working on composition and find the best time to do so is in daylight because then you have no crutch to lean on. Great light will always help, layers of light and dark as in the image below shot at Kananaskis Lakes in Alberta, Canada just last night are easy pickings. I used a 3 stop ND soft graduated filter to maximise the colour of the sunset and allow a longer exposure to better catch the shadows.
Such images are easily made, everything is aligned from the dark mountain in the front of the image through the beautiful golden peaks behind and then the vast empty slate grey sky providing the last of three layers. I was careful to ensure the light doesn't run out of the frame at either end because this changes the image greatly, it suggests you didn't quite 'capture' your intended topic and detracts from the overall aesthetic. If you do have the light escaping at one side then try to ensure it is escaping the other side equally to provide balance (not in every case obviously, but as a general guide). I placed the sunset high in the frame to reduce the amount of empty sky and increase the amount of shadow below. Doing this adds height to the mountains, first by giving more of the frame to the dark foreground and secondly by pushing the peaks closer to the upper edge of the frame.
It's a nice shot, no world beater but it would sit comfortably in a calendar or magazine, in short it works. However, it works because of the light, in daylight this would be an uninteresting composition with very limited commercial potential.
So, back to my initial point; I go early and I practice shooting in daylight. I shoot almost anything and try to make an interesting image in the harsh light of day. I practice like this every single week because if you can master the basics of composition in harsh light you can always find an image in the wonderful light of sunrise, sunset, the blue hour, night, storms etc. There's an abundance of 'good light' for photography, but finding your shots in poor light will really help you make more of the good stuff when you get it.
I have 18 basic composition elements in my Tips & More section, you can go directly to it from here. I promise you that learning these basic tips will help improve your image making. As always, composition is about knowing the rules so you know when to break them, nothing is 'set in stone' after all it's your image. But, knowing the basic elements will help you make images in all situations and all lighting conditions.
Since the clocks went back I have been waiting for the the right moon phase to return to Kananaskis at night and capture a milky way image. 'Done it before' I hear you cry, and you are right to say so, but I still don't feel I have made a great milky way shot. I've made a few good ones now but not a great, stand out, stunning milky way shot and to be honest, after tonight I still haven't.
The right moon phase was earlier this week when a new moon would mean perfectly dark skies, but low cloud washed out each of the three options, but tonight the moon was at 1/8th and low enough to get away with it. Even though some of that hazy cloud from earlier in the week ultimately stuck around beyond predictions and washed over the Milky Way it was well worth the trip. I had a wonderful time all alone in Kananaskis. Fresh snow and a week of temperatures below freezing meant a night in the mountains at -22 was not very high on other peoples agenda, and for me, that's what makes it so great.
I arrived at the upper lake in good time and wandered around grabbing shots of the beautiful hoar frost on the snow covered ice. Sunset was curtailed for the most part thanks to a thin cloud that passed through, not only killing sunset but bringing moisture that caused lots of frost on my lenses and camera, and worse still, misting of the glass.
I did a little 'wool spinning' through the blue hour and this time I added lights along the cable to fill some of the black hole that normally remains in the centre of the spin. I chose differing blues to compliment the orange glow of the sparks. As it was the Milky Way images were just 'OK' tonight so not really worth posting, but I did like a few of the spinning shots so included one of those instead.
Quite often we don't always get what we set out to get, wouldn't it be boring if we did. But we can always try to get something even if the intended shot isn't available, just keep on trying because if nothing else, you'll still be learning.
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