Character Development

Photographing Characters in the Badlands:

Last week I attended a photography workshop in Drumheller, Alberta with Dave Brosha and Wayne Simpson called Character. It was so worthwhile to take my understanding of portraiture and lighting to a higher level with these two inspiring and humble photographers. We worked for three days in the Badlands with a variety of models. The imagery that came from our group of creative photographers was more than inspiring. I’ve come home pumped with new ideas and energy, not to mention some new gear, and can’t wait to get out there and do some more. Here are a few of my favourites from the worskhop.

And, I’d be delighted to hear from you if you or someone you know would be interested in a portrait shoot.

bearded man in the badlands

Lothar, what a guy! His face just screams “character” and we were so lucky to work with him.

Bearded man gazes into the future.

Into the Mystic, with Lothar.

Bearded man with pipe

Layne is a pipe smoker, motorcyclist and very sociable bearded model! He was fun to work with in any situation.

Ray had to be coerced into modelling for us but what a great job he did. He’s not even posing, he really is a rancher.

Woman rancher throws a lasso.

Irene is a photographer, rancher and the wife or Ray (above). She’s responsible for getting Ray to model for us.

Hunter concealed by camouflage.

This is Ray, one day later. As well as a rancher, he’s a hunter and he was all decked out in camouflage gear including face paint.

 
Woman cowgirl against a stormy sky.

This is Jane, a woman who has lived on a ranch in Alberta all her life. Jane was a little shy about modelling for us (who wouldn’t be?) but opened up with such a beautiful smile when asked about important things, like chocolate. Caught this moment just before the rain came.

Meet Grizz, the most characterly of all our characters. The guns were loaded when he arrived and he enjoyed just being himself with us.

woman character in the Badlands

Dancing in the Wind

bearded cowboy smiling

The joy you see on Lawrence’s face was always close to the surface. I think he was really honoured that we wanted to make photos with him.

About the Photography

As an experienced photographer, I had a pretty sound understanding of portraiture and lighting before attending the workshop but it’s always so valuable to hear from others about their process, their struggles and their successes. It’s also reaffirming to learn that they do so many things in a similar way. What really struck me the most was how a little thing like adjusting the soft box just a tiny bit makes such a big difference. So, the approach for each of these photos was:

  • Choose your background as well as a starting point for your composition.
  • Expose for the ambient light and decide if and by how much to under or over expose. This contributes to the mood of the image. In most of the images above, the background is underexposed.
  • Add your light. All of these images were lit by just one studio strobe in a 2×3′ soft box. The light is a Strobepro X600II HSS M Battery Powered Wireless Strobe  which is a really great unit. No wires, great battery that lasts all day, and light powerful enough to light a subject in full sun. The soft box was a 24×36 Inch Rapid Pro Folding Umbrella Softbox. I mentioned above that I bought some new gear; this is it.
  • This is where the fine tuning happens. It takes time and several trials to determine the right amount of light on the subject and this is controlled by the power settings on the light as well as the placement and direction of the soft box. Also, which side of the subject do you want the light coming from? Every decision adds to the message of the photo.
  • Once this is worked out, then it’s time to work with the subject to try and bring out the expression you’re after. As Dave says, “Emotion trumps light!”. This might be the hardest part of the process. 

Now it’s time to have fun creating character portraits!

Stories from Peru

Having just returned from two weeks of adventure and many stories from Peru, my original thought was to share one photo from each day. However, with thousands of photos and dozens of stories, that became an impossible task. So, here are a few photos of our time in Lima, followed by an account of our work with students at Picaflor House, our visits to Machu Picchu,  and finally some of our encounters with remote island communities.

A. Life in Lima

Lima is a city of ten million, perched on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean. With the Andes mountains on one side and ocean currents on the other, Lima is actually a desert region. As well, for eight months each year, it experiences continuously overcast skies, so much so that the highrise buildings face inland because there is seldom a view over the ocean.

People flock to the beaches of Lima on a sunny day

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, residents of Lima flock to the beaches for family picnics and play time.

pelicans and people flock to the beaches of Lima

At the marina, markets sell the latest catch while the pelicans wait for handouts.

woman selling products on the streets in Lima

A smile from a street vendor in Lima. Although the economy forces people to work for minimal amounts, often at 2-3 jobs, there is no shortage of smiles.

happy vendors in Lima

Street vendors at a market in Lima ham it up for the camera.

A man dives off a steep cliff into the ocean.

Legend tells us that a monk fell in love with a woman and, when her father heard of it, sent her away by boat. The monk dove off these cliffs to swim after her. Today, the legend is kept alive by this man diving in monk’s robes to the cold and turbulent waters of the Pacific.

a park with water fountains attract crowds.

One of Lima’s many parks has dozens of water fountains, especially beautiful at night with colourful lights.

waves relentlessly pound the beaches.

The never ending rhythm of waves on the beach create beautiful patterns … but not if they consume your car.

flowers bloom year round in Lima

Lima’s warm climate means flowers bloom throughout the year. Amazing to see this in autumn.

Buildings of Lima reflect Spanish architecture.

Spanish architecture is evident throughout the city.

Street vendors on every corner of Lima.

Even in a city the size of Lima, street vendors provide friendly meeting points for neighbours to pick up a few groceries.

paraglider travel on the winds

With the bluffs next to the ocean, the wind currents are ideal for paragliding.

sun sets after a sunny day in Lima.

Rare clear skies gave us a beautiful sunset.

Sun sets in Lima.

Palm trees and a lighthouse create a beautiful foreground to a colourful sunset.

heavy traffic in Lima.

Below the cliffs, the freeway never stops moving high volumes of traffic through the city. Driving anywhere in Peru is the craziest, most dangerous encounter I have ever seen. Pedestrians literally have no rights.

Mother Mary in a park of Lima.

A Catholic nation, Peru has many symbols to remind people of their spiritual heritage.

B. The Reason for the Trip

Well, really, there were two reasons. We definitely wanted to visit Machu Picchu but a huge reason to travel to Peru was the chance to meet and work with children at Picaflor House, an after school program for at-risk children in a small village one hour from Cuzco.

The children attend public school from about 8:30 am to 1:30 pm. At 2:00, they walk a couple of blocks to Picaflor House, where they are greeted warmly, fed well and given opportunities to play and learn until 5 pm. Students attend on a voluntary basis and there is no charge. The program has three paid staff and several volunteers to work with the children. The children learn English, practice school concepts like Math and Reading, and get help with homework. There are about 80 children in regular attendance.

A girl entering PIcaflor House

Picaflor is a Spanish word for hummingbird. These beautiful birds are thought of as bringers of love, joy and healing. The uniform is from their public school.

The reason for the trip: the opportunity to work with children and teach them a little about photography. These two 9-year-olds were my photo students during our visit. Lucky me!

On our first afternoon together, we went on a treasure hunt, looking for things to photograph in their community. It was a great chance to build bridges in spite of the language barrier. Their English was much more useful than my Spanish!

young children photograph an old woman

One of the items on our treasure hunt was to photograph a stranger. The girls (with Tracy, a volunteer) asked to photograph this woman, resulting in a very happy exchange.

students eat a meal together at Picaflor House

When students arrive for the afternoon, they are given a hearty meal. It seems to be appreciated!

students brush their teeth after lunch

Can’t have a meal without brushing your teeth!

Children play soccer

After lunch, playtime is the priority. 

Children play marbles.

Marbles are a very popular play activity. After laying down in the dust to get this picture, I was surrounded by kids who were eager to brush the dust off me!

Manager of the program plays with children.

This is Laura, the manager of Picaflor House. A native of Britain, her vision for the program is clear. She does everything possible to bring the best experiences possible to the children.

Children's playground at Picaflor House.

A view of the playground from one of the second floor windows. This place is ‘home’ to the children and they make full use of every bit of it. The murals on the walls were painted by the students with help from previous visiting groups of helpers.

Children love to play in the sandbox.

The sandbox is always busy. Kids play is universal!

Children play at races.

Play has many forms and can be quite inventive!

A children's library.

The program has a library and a few classrooms for children to practice their skills and get help.

Visiting a child's home in Peru.

One of the highlights was a visit to the home of one of the children. The parents graciously invited us in and showed us around their home.

A family poses for a portrait.

This family has four children plus an older brother who joined the military. A few days later, the family received a large family portrait.

Teaching photography to children.

My friend Buzz and I enjoying the interest of the kids in photography. Thanks to Chandler for the photo of me.

Teaching photography to children

Misty (l) and Janet, two of the participants with The Giving Lens, share photography with their children.

student intent on photographing a shape.

Taking it seriously! Star students abound.

Happy children have fun with photography

You just never know what will appear on the other side of your lens when you’re surrounded by happy children!

Children are given a snack at the end of the day.

Each afternoon ends with a healthy snack for the walk home.

Traditional Peruvian dancing.

On our last day, we were honoured with a performance by some the students of traditional Peruvian dancing.

smiling children in Peru.

Our reason for being there. Children deserve every opportunity for success. For more about Picaflor House, click here. And for more about The Giving Lens: Travel Photography with a Purpose, click here.

a child and a llama in the Andes mountains.

A beautiful child plays with a Llama while her mother offers her hand made goods for sale. Scenes like this were not unusual as we travelled back and forth to Picaflor House.

 

C. On to Machu Picchu

Our group of 7 participants and two leaders with The Giving Lens were very excited to add to our stories from Peru while visiting Machu Picchu. Who doesn’t have this place on their bucket list? We planned on two consecutive days at the site, just in case weather interfered with our photographic plans. It turned out to be a great idea. 

 

The moon shines on the mountains over Machu Picchu

We got up very early on our first morning to get up to Machu Picchu before the crowds. We hoped to catch good light without hordes of people all over the site. It was amazing how many people had the same idea. The line up for buses was blocks long.

Early morning light on Machu Picchu.

Success! Early morning light skimming over the mountain tops lands right in the heart of Machu Picchu. When we first arrived, I was so struck with the magnificence of the scene, I just sat and soaked it in for several minutes before I could think of making a picture.

Early morning light on Machu Picchu.

A short time later, the scene is flooded with light on a beautiful morning. Translated from the Quechuan language, Machu Picchu means Old Mountain. The peak in the background appears like a sentinel, watching over the site, with outstretched, protective arms.

Different scenes of Machu Picchu in morning light.

Walking around the scene, it’s hard not to make dozens of similar photographs, just to take it in. This city of about 2000 was built in the 1400s and abandoned one century later, when the Spanish conquest took place. It is theorized that the inhabitants died of smallpox, brought over by the Spanish.

A stone window frames the site of Machu Picchu.

The city remained untouched but overgrown for centuries until rediscovered in 1911. Restoration work followed and, in 1983, UNESCO designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

A llama guards over the Machu Picchu site.

Llamas wander the site and can be aggressive with photographers and others that take their liberties. This one quietly takes in the scene.

A jungle atmosphere around Machu PIcche in the rain.

For our second visit to the site, we planned to climb one of the adjacent mountains for an overview. However, heavy rains changed our plans and gave us a different scene to photograph. The vegetation in the area feels like a jungle.

Machu Picchu surrounded by rain clouds.

Viewing the site through the mist from a different vantage point offers a unique perspective on Machu Picchu.

Inca engineering stands the test of time.

The Incas were master engineers. The stones fit so tightly together it’s no wonder they are still standing, even in a region prone to earthquakes. Windows were trapezoidal to gain strength and walls leaned inward slightly to add stability.

Inca stone structures were built to last.

The stone structures have survived seismic activity and torrential rains over the centuries.

The Inca stone quarry at Machu Picchu.

Looking back from the heart of the site, the quarry where the stones were cut and shaped is looks like a pile of rubble.

Terraces were for agriculture as well as managing runoff from heavy rains.

Terracing is evident over much of the site. Although it may have been for agriculture, it also was used to prevent erosion during heavy rainfalls. The terraces are layered with stones and gravel to facilitate the drainage of water.

A restored hut overlooks the site of Machu Picchu.

A restored hut overlooks the site of Machu Picchu.

vegetation grows well around Machu Picchu

Thick vegetation is always ready to take over the site.

Our group of nine in front of Machu Picchu

Our intrepid team of adventurers with The Giving Lens. Jeff Bartlett Photo.

D. Stories from Peru:  Lake Titikaka

After saying good bye to our new friends with The Giving Lens, my friend Buzz and I traveled to Lake Titikaka, the world’s highest navigable lake at 12,000 feet. The lake is between Peru and Bolivia and includes three distinct island communities. 

Mountain roads through the Andean highlands.

Heading east toward Lake Titikaka, our bus took us through the Andean highlands.

After a night in the city of Puno, we travelled by pedicab to the shore of Lake Titikaka. While we enjoyed the ride, the traffic had our hearts in our mouths with the constant onslaught of honking, lane crowding and crazy, aggressive driving. I’ll never criticize Canadian drivers again!

islands made of reeds on Lake Titikaka.

Our first stop was the reed islands of the Lake. These people make their own islands out of the reeds which grow abundantly in the lake. The reeds are also used for food and shelter.

duck hunters

This duck, known as the chicken of the sea, is hunted by the locals and used for food.

The women of the reed islands make beautiful garments for tourists, an important part of their income.

Reed islands let 300 years.

This hand made island will last 300 years with the maintenance provided by the residents. Each island includes a community of several families. There is no electricity or plumbing but recently, the Peruvian government provided solar collectors for each family so they have electric lights in their huts.

Hand made reed boats ferry tourists.

The hand made reed boats are used to ferry the passengers and provide income for the communities.

Our second stop on Lake Titikaka was to Amantini Island. Pictured here is Alejandro, waiting to welcome us to his home for an overnight stay.

An elderly couple prepare a meal for their guests.

As Alejandro serves soup for lunch, his wife Grassiela prepares the next course of corn. We felt so privileged to share a table with this gracious couple.

Grassiela preferred her spot on a tiny stool next to the oven and food preparation area while the rest of us sat at the table. To her left is the wood fired oven with chimney above.

After lunch, we hiked to the top of Amantini Island, to visit the temple of Mother Earth. It was a hike of 2000 feet in altitude, getting us to 14000 ft. It was such a challenge at those altitudes that a local on horseback arrived, offering his horse with the word, “Taxi!” Along the way, many women and children were set up to offer us their hand made products for sale.

Rock walls designate areas for farming on the island.

Nearing the top of the island, rock walls are used to separate plots used for growing or grazing.

Terracing is evident everywhere to maximize the agricultural potential.

Sunset on the top of Amentini Island. The next island, Taquile, is our stop for the next day.

After a delicious dinner with Alejandro and Grassielas, we joined other visitors and locals to enjoy live music and dancing.

Everyone enjoyed dancing to the sounds of the local band.

The next morning, we had a delightful visit from their 5-year-old granddaughter who also performed a special song for us.

Our homestay with Alejandro and Grassiela was a highlight of our entire trip. Although we had no common language, we sensed a deep bond between us.

 

Taquile Island on Lake Titikaka

Our final stop on Lake Titikaka was the island of Taquile. A UNESCO world heritage site, the island is famous for its high quality textiles.

Steep hills on the island of Taquile.

Our first encounter with the island was the impossibly steep hill we had to walk up. We felt sheepish, however, when we saw the locals walking up with heavy bags on their backs. All I could think of is why they didn’t have a conveyer system.

A 94 year old man knits on the island of Taquile

Ninety-four years old and still knitting! This man sitting in the sun and visiting with his neighbours, commented that his hearing is not so good anymore but his vision is just fine. The island was recognized by UNESCO for creating textiles that are among the world’s best. And guess what? All of the knitting is done by the men, starting in boyhood. The women spin the wool (even while walking around) and use vegetable dyes to colour it. They also weave many products such as colourful belts and hats.

Clothing on Taquile Island is strictly controlled.

Clothing worn by the residents follows strict guidelines. The marital status of men and women is indicated by the colour of their dress. This woman is married but the young man is single.

A man checks the clothing worn by the locals.

This man is one of several agents who ensure conformity to the island’s dress code. If a resident leaves the island, their clothing is checked upon their return and a fine may be levied if they do not conform.

A figure of Chris overlooks the city of Puno.

The city of Puno overlooks Lake Titikaka.

In Closing

There are so many more pictures and stories from Peru that could be included. Peru is a wonderful destination, a country filled with colour, culture and history. We loved seeing and learning about the rich traditions of Peru. And, in spite of an economy that forces people to work 2-3 jobs and live with so much less than we can imagine, there is no shortage of smiles and friendly people. We’ll always feel a special connection to the many wonderful friends we made in Peru.Peruvian smiles

 

 

 

 


Hobiyee: More than a Celebration

An aboriginal dancer in full regalia under a model of the crescent moon, a sign of good harvests to come

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this year, we have much to be thankful for and proud of. But we also have our dark stories and grievous errors. One of the biggest was the attempt to assimilate our native people through the use of residential schools to solve the “Indian Problem”. Thank goodness, it didn’t work! Our First Nations culture was on full display earlier this month in Vancouver at the Hobiyee, a celebration of the Lunar New Year. And what a privilege it was to be asked to be their photographer!

When the first crescent moon of the year appears, its upward pointing bowl represents the coming abundant harvest and the end of the winter’s reliance on dried food. For generations, this is a time of great celebration. And so it was on February 3 & 4 as native groups from all over BC came together in Vancouver and shared their songs, dances and friendship. 

As a non-aboriginal, I was aware that this was not my party. Yet, I was warmly welcomed and treated as an insider. I saw, heard and felt the profound joy of honouring one’s tradition and culture and the freedom in being true to one’s spirit. It was more than a celebration of abundance to come. It was the outward expression of a highly prized culture and comes from deep within.

When it was all over, these words came from one of the organizers: My voice is shot, my legs are sore, my brain is dead, but I would do it all again. Just so I can be surrounded by my people and my culture. (Laura Lewis)

 

Dancers enter the auditorium with drums and loud voices.

The Grand Entry is a parade of all the dance groups into the auditorium, accompanied by singing and drumming.

Squamish dancers with paddles enter the dance floor.

Dancers from the Squamish First Nation enter the arena.

An aboriginal dancer dressed as an eagle to represent his family's clan.

This dancer proudly represents his family’s Eagle clan.

An aboriginal dance leader

The staff indicates this woman is the leader of the dance.

Young aboriginal dancer pauses

Pride in his culture.

Fierce warriors chant and drum.

Fierce looking warriors chant their songs and beat their drums

Dancers in regalia appear to be ready to fight.

As part of a dance, Hobiyee warriors face off.

Warriors toss a cedar ring without using their hands.

In an unbelievable act of skill, these warriors, without use of hands, fling the cedar ring that is around their neck to the other, who catches it on his shoulders, no hands. During the dance, this happened flawlessly many times.

Down feathers released by aboriginal dancers

The culmination of one of the dances is the release of down feathers, a sacred act.

Children and elders love the Hobiyee celebration

The joy of the Hobiyee transcends the generations. This little guy watches and learns.

An infant sleeps on her mother's back while she prepares to dance.

Children from a very early age enjoying, or sleeping through, the celebrations.

Children play at the Hobiyee.

children dance and play at the Hobyee.

While her mother danced, this little one played at her feet.

Regalia is elaborately adorned with artwork

Beautiful details of the elaborate regalia

Regalia is adorned with beautiful carvings.

Laughter among the dancers at the Hobiyee 2017

A dancer enjoying a light moment, reflecting the mood of the day.

Beautiful regalia worn by the dancers.

There was beauty in every direction.

Dancers watching and waiting for their cue.

Dancers watch and wait for their turn to entertain.

Two woman hug in celebration of friendship.

Genuine affection was on display.

People of all ages drum with joy at the Hobiyee.

Embracing the culture, enjoyed by everyone.

Drummers in a line hold up their drum

Drummers from all nations join together as the Hobiyee draws to a close.

everyone gathers under the crescent moon to bring the Hobiyee to a close.

With all the participants and audience invited to the floor, the Hobiyee comes to a glorious close, under the crescent moon and a scattering of down feathers.

About the photographs

In less than two months I will be in Peru, enjoying the amazing scenery there and the people, hoping to capture a sense of their culture with my camera. And then I wonder, why do I need to go so far to photograph a unique culture? It’s right here! I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to photograph events like this.

This was my second visit to a Hobiyee. In 2015, I also attended and made many photographs. In each case, my photos were made with a deep respect for the people involved. In every shot, my goal is to portray the joyful celebration of coming together, the emotion, the passing on to the younger generation, and the connections between them. One of the greatest challenges of such an event is not knowing what is coming next or where it might be, so that I can be in a good vantage point. Two things are very helpful: one is a little luck and the other is knowing my camera inside and out so that I can quickly respond to the changing positions.

A Dozen Photos from 2016

With the calendar flipping over to a New Year, I’ve taken on the personal challenge of reviewing my photos from 2016 with a critical eye and selecting a dozen that represent my most satisfying work.  I’ve  limited myself by picking from only three genres: nature, people and impressionistic. As well, I’m not including any photos that I’m hired to take or any family photos. It’s much harder to be objective about family photos because there are such strong emotional ties. 

It’s no easy task to go through 25000 photos and pick a dozen. So, I had to settle on some criteria for selection. First, there needs to be a strong emotional connection to the photo. Even though I may have a perfect image of an apple, if it isn’t meaningful to me, it doesn’t make the cut. Second, the image needs to be successful in terms of meeting my goal for the shot. Third, the image needs to tell a story. So here goes.

 

  1. Nature

When the Perseid meteor shower entertained us in July, I travelled to Mt Baker to get a few shots and ended up photographing until the sun came up. A wonderful and memorable night. This one shows Mt Baker with the Milky Way looking a little like a steaming volcano. And, thankfully, with a meteor showing up. Capturing a meteor is pure luck, you just have to have your shutter open and hope one streaks across your scene.

arbutus tree in sunset

Our family’s annual summer holiday, this year at Saturna Island, offered many opportunities to capture beauty. This Arbutus tree, always one of my favourite trees, added a perfect silhouette to a stunning sunset.

An old Model T Ford lies in a garden, rusting.

Out on my motorcycle one summer day, I happened upon this rural scene in Langley. It looked like a winner so I turned around and got permission to photograph. I love how the car is sloping downward, on its descent to oblivion while the tree, with its much longer life span, frames and guards over it. The white fence adds to the country feel. 

close up of a spider web, creating an abstract image.

With a macro lens on my camera, I crouched just a few centimetres away from a spider’s web. A gentle breeze created the curved lines of silk and the deep shade is responsible for the blue tone. I made many images of the spider’s intricate work but this one shows the simplicity yet complexity of the amazing design.

2. People

I was delighted to photograph these two sisters in Fort Langley. The doorway provided just the right space for them to interact in a friendly, sisterly way. Later in the computer, I added a painterly effect to the background.

At a photographic workshop in Bella Coola, we asked Bonnie to demonstrate how she repaired nets for fishermen. Having learned the skill from her grandmother, she is now one of very few people left who knows how to do this. The fabric artwork that superimposes the portrait was a design on her handbag, also made by her. As a child, Bonnie played at the cannery where the workshop was held. Being there again opened a flood of memories for her and helped put that smile on her face.

violinist and his violin

Just weeks before this young violinist headed to Toronto to attend music school, I had the chance to photograph Royce. An accomplished musician already, Royce is looking toward a promising future. The concentration and dedication that has propelled him this far seems to be revealed in his expression.

a photographer poses with this tripod.

Meet Chris Harris, my friend and teaching partner, on the eve of the publication of his latest book, subtitled ‘A Photographer’s Journey’. I made this photo at one of our workshops and love how it captures his spirit of joy, passion and enthusiasm for life.

3. Impressionistic

trilliums in forest

The forest is a favourite place to visit when the trilliums are blooming. Getting low and using a fisheye lens, I wanted to emphasize the flowers in their forest habitat. A little post processing to add the painterly effect made it come alive.

One of the highlights of our trip to Rome this fall was a visit to the Pantheon, a 2000 year old place of worship. As we walked though this historic building, we felt such a peaceful presence. Although there was a steady stream of visitors, there was a reverent hush. This double exposure of people passing through the building represents to me the journey of so many of the millennia who worshiped here.

impressionistic view of tree and lupines.

In the Bella Coola valley, we found a grassy field filled with lupines. On their own, the tree and lupines made an appealing photo. But, by I twisting my camera as the shutter was open, I was able to create an effect that reminds me of the seasonal cycles.

On a rainy day in October, I saw this beautiful tree on a residential street in North Vancouver. I was drawn by its intense colour and carpet of leaves underneath, like a reflection on the grass. I walked all around the tree, taking a picture every few steps. At home, I combined the 20 images on my computer to create this impressionistic view of autumn.

 

A Photographer’s Journey

Photographer Chris Harris shares images with the crowd.

In Chris’ words, the book launch was the ‘evening of a lifetime’ for him and Rita. Here, he pauses to let his appreciation show.

My good friend Chris Harris enjoyed the evening of a lifetime recently when he and his partner Rita launched the last of 13 self-published books about the Cariboo Chilcotin, in BC’s central interior. The celebration took place in 100 Mile House, where Chris and Rita live. They threw quite a party for a few hundred people who came to celebrate Chris’ remarkable achievements as a photographer and publisher.

Chris has done something that makes him stand apart from many other photographers. He has riveted his photographic focus on one area, the Cariboo Chilcotin. Because he feels so deeply connected to the land, he has explored and photographed more of this beautiful, vast and relatively unknown region than anyone else. He has hiked, paddled, ridden on horseback and flown in helicopters and airplanes to access places where no one else has been. 

At the book launch, Chris and Rita showed a series of slide shows, with music inspired by and created for the images by the talented Ken Marshal, that allowed us to go with them to these special places. You too can be swept away by these presentations if you catch one of the stops on his book tour during the next few months.

The pictures below show a few of the highlights of the evening and, at the end, there is a slide show to illustrate their ‘evening of a lifetime”.

woman serving food

Every party has food and drink and this one was no exception!

Chris Harris thanks Ken Marshal for music

Chris and Rita made a point of thanking each of the many people who assisted with the photographic endeavours over the years, from helping them get access to remote locations to sharing their knowledge of secret locations. Here, Chris thanks Ken Marshal for creating the music that accompanies the slide shows.

Chris with his sister at book launch

A very special and important guest at the book launch was Chris’ sister, Jane O’Malley, who came from Ireland for the event.

Woman speaks at book launch celebration

Rita shared the stage with Chris and provided background and insight on many of the slide shows.

Celebrating the gift of a First Nations carving

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of Rita’s Lifetime Achievement Award, acknowledging Chris’ incredible dedication and spirit.

The crowd cheers for Chris Harris

The evening ended, appropriately, with a standing ovation for a photographer who has dedicated his life, with his whole heart and mind, to showcasing the beauty of the land he loves.

 

A Photographer’s Journey from Double Exposure on Vimeo.

Notes on the photography

There was a considerable challenge in photographing this event: the auditorium was very dark. For many of the photos, my ISO was forced to the maximum  of 12800 while my aperture was opened all the way to f/2.8. And, shooting with a 70-200 lens, my shutter speed fell as low as 1/20 sec for several shots. I was incredibly impressed with how well my Nikon gear served me in this challenge. The Vibration Reduction on the lens obviously made a huge difference when I was so far below the recommended minimum of 1/200 sec. Also, shooting at such a high ISO, I was totally impressed with the absence of digital noise in the images. None of the images on this page have had noise reduction applied to them. A few of the images in the slide show did received NR.

 

Developing Creative Vision

Going Deeper with Photography

What a privilege to work with Chris Harris and ten photographers for a whole week of photography in a remote location! Develop Your Creative Vision, a photography workshop at the Tallheo Cannery Guest House in Bella Coola, is now complete for the second time this year. The week ended on a high as our students described personal breakthroughs in their creative vision and asked to do it all again! A few highlights from our week:

  • We had rain every day! This may sound like a low light but the rain didn’t matter!  Working under cover of the cannery buildings is no problem and helps us to discover new visual treasures.
  • At the end of the week, someone suggested we repeat the workshop at a ‘graduate level’! When we asked how many would attend, every hand went up!
  • Our hosts, Garrett, Skye and Colleen once again created a warm, hospitable and well fed (!) venue and made us feel just like family.
  • The real learning took place when we shared our images with each other and talked about our ideas and how to achieve them. As one student wrote, This week was an invaluable experience for me. The relaxed, non-critical, non-competitive atmosphere has restored my enthusiasm in photography… . I’m so grateful!

Just to give you a taste of what we were sharing all week, here is a selection of images from our ten participants. Each one represents their own unique impression. And we’re proud of their work.

Develop Your Creative Vision Bea CarlsonConnectedDevelop Your Creative Vision Buzz DenrocheDevelop Your Creative Vision Gerry BorettaDevelop Your Creative VisionDevelop Your Creative Vision Leslie DuffyDevelop Your Creative Vision Brian BeeversDevelop Your Creative Vision Michael SinclairDevelop Your Creative Vision Joan LoekenDevelop Your Creative Vision Betty Johnson

And a few of my own …

In between our sessions, I found it was very important for me to photograph, just for myself, to maintain a creative edge. With so much inspiration coming from our students each day, I was propelled to get out there and push myself.

The night before our students arrived, I made this joyful image. Looking forward to sharing the visual treasures of the location with them, the lines of the tree are leading us up to success!

The night before our students arrived, I made this joyful image. Looking forward to sharing the visual treasures of the location with them, the lines of the tree are leading us up to success!

 

Woman repairs fishnets

We were honoured to have Bonnie join us for an afternoon. When the cannery was in operation, Bonnie played as a child while her grandmother repaired fishnets. Bonnie learned the craft from her and today is one of the only people in Bella Coola who can do that. She also creates textile art. The eagle crest superimposed on the image is her own design, which she stitched on her handbag.

a photographer pauses during a photography session

After working hard with her camera for some time, one of our students pauses to reflect and wait for inspiration.

Old paint brushes still have beauty.

An old tray of stiff and useless paint brushes still has value. The colourful handles create a bright and cheerful image.

salmon waiting to spawn

Next to the cannery is a fast flowing creek with beautiful deep pools. The water swirls in a back eddy, hiding the salmon who are waiting to spawn.

salmon spawning

A closer view of the hundreds of salmon, waiting to trade their lives for the future.

stars in the Bella Coola sky

The stars shine brightly over the Bella Coola valley.

 

As part of our celebration of learning on the last evening, we created a slideshow to showcase our fun throughout the week. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Book Available

Have a look at the book created by and for our participants.

For Photographers

Many photographers today have developed considerable competency with their cameras and created many successful images. After doing this for some years, some hit a road block. They begin to lose interest because they have photographed just about every scene and situation they can think of and may respond to new opportunities with a “been there, done that” attitude.

Others may be looking for a way to more deeply express their inner thoughts and feelings with their cameras but don’t know how to ‘go deeper’.

One problem is that many of us, when photographing, spend just a few moments working on an image and then move on. Our fast-placed culture dictates that we don’t have enough time or patience to really work the subject until our vision is fulfilled with the camera. We’re just not in the habit of spending the time we need to see the possibilities. And, when our pictures don’t really match our vision, we feel discouraged.

If you can see yourself in any of these descriptors, then Develop Your Creative Vision is just right for you. The workshop reviews the fundamental tools we have to work with as photographers and inspires you to realize that photography can help you release your artistic creativity. In a 7-day workshop, you are immersed in a creative mindset with others for long enough that the ideas and habits will stick. You practice with new ideas, share them in the group and receive honest, constructive feedback and then do it again. As one participant said, “This is a 5-star course. There is so much inspiration every day. The lecturers and participants are so positive and enthusiastic. One week of total photographic immersion is extremely valuable.”

Are you wanting to move to a deeper level with your photography? Course dates for 2017 have been set:

  • May 28 to June 4
  • August 27 to September 3

Registration opens in late October. For more information, or to be notified when registration opens, click here and follow the links at the bottom of the page.

All Night with a Meteor Shower

Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower from Mt. Baker

A joy ride on our motorcycles to Mt. Baker last week with my friend Bob resulted in a chance encounter with another photographer. He was preparing for the Perseid meteor shower which was supposed to be at its peak that night, with 200 meteors per hour. With a little nudging from Bob, we rode our bikes home and I jumped in the car with my photo gear and headed right back up to Mt. Baker. With a beautiful mountain foreground and the absence of light pollution, it was the perfect place to photograph the action in the sky.

I knew I wouldn’t be alone that night but was not prepared for the packed out party in the parking lot! There was constant motion of flashlights everywhere including all the trails up, down and around the mountains. A half moon kept the scene dimly lit until midnight. Whenever a large meteor zoomed overhead, there was a loud chorus of WhoooHoo echoing throughout the hills. Everyone I encountered was enthusiastic, friendly and helpful.

I started shooting at about 10 pm and took the last of 500 photos when the sun came up, at 5:40 am. Of those 500 shots, I might have captured a meteor in about a dozen. It was just pure luck to have your camera pointed in the right direction with the shutter open when a meteor streaked magically across the sky. I did see a few amazing streaks that generated the  WhoooHoo chorus and although I wasn’t lucky enough to capture them, I did get a few shorter ones.

So, here’s a collection of images from my all nighter. Was it worth it? Definitely! It was a humbling adventure to witness God’s amazing handiwork throughout the night.

Mt. Shuksan illuminated by the moon.

My first shot of the night. This is Mt. Shuksan from the parking lot, an area known as Artist’s Point. The moon provided the light on the mountain.

Mt Shuksan illuminated by moonlight.

A few hours later, my patience was rewarded with three at once! Can you find the third one?

Mt. Baker, time exposure, with stars and moon light

After a short climb up a trail, I had a clear view of Mt. Baker. This is a 40 minute time exposure, taken just after the moon went down. The orange light is from the setting moon. The trees were illuminated by a passerby with a flashlight. A couple of planes passed through the scene as well.

Mt Baker with Milky Way

Another view of Mt. Baker with the Milky Way and a meteor.

flashlights illuminate a night parking lot at Mt Baker

A view of the parking lot near midnight. It was in constant motion throughout the night. The lights on the hill are flashlights from campers and midnight hikers. And yes, there are still patches of snow on the ground at this elevation.

Mt Shuksan and Picture Lake with meteor.

Mt. Shuksan beautifully reflected in Picture Lake at 3 am.

The Milky Way, seen with a fisheye lens.

A fisheye view of the sky, showing the Milky Way.

Dawn on Mt. Shuksan

A panoramic view of Mt. Shuksan at dawn. Definitely worth the wait.

Mt Shuksan at dawn.

My final shot of the night was back to Picture Lake with Mt. Shuksan reflecting on the misty water.

This 5 second time lapse was created with 123 images taken over a 40 minute time period, ending at 4:40 AM. You’ll see a few meteors flying by as the sky brightens up. The flashes of light are caused by people walking by with flashlights.

For Photographers

I love night photography! Things look so different at night and the camera sensor often reveals things we cannot see.

For these photos, I used a starting point for my exposures of f/2.8 at ISO 2000 for 15 seconds. After making a test exposure, I then adjust the camera settings as needed.  Most of the images were shot with my 24-70 f/2.8 lens. I also like to use my fisheye lens at night because I can include more of the sky with it.

To make the time exposure (third image from top), I set up the intervalometer in the camera. This allows me to program the camera to take a series of shots for any period of time I choose. I made 135 images, each with a 15 second exposure. Then, the images were combined with a program called Startrax, which quickly and easily created the final image.

To make the time lapse movie at the end, I set up the camera in a similar way and created 122 images, ending with a brightening sky at 4:40 am. These photos, taken over a 40 minute period, were assembled with a program called Time Lapse Assembler into the five-second video above.

One of the challenges of night photography is focusing. How do you focus on a distant mountain when it is dark? Your autofocus system won’t help you when there is not enough light. One solution is to focus manually but you need to know where the infinity focus point on your lens is. The best way to determine where this point on your lens is located is to practice in daylight on a distant subject. When focus is achieved, remember the mark on the distance scale so you can set it there in the dark with a flashlight.

Photography at night is one of the topics taught in my Intermediate Photography courses. All of the solutions to the challenges of night photography are taught and practiced on our outings. This course is generally offered in the spring.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost and Found


abstract of grass

My first discovery was a hummingbird in the grass. He was playing tricks on me though, along with the multiple exposure setting on my camera, and made me think I was seeing triple.

Get lost with your camera to find creativity.

On a road trip in our camper van last month, my wife and I decided to take a break from driving and enjoy a relaxing morning at our campsite near Quesnel. She settled in with a book while I grabbed my camera. Looking around, there appeared to be absolutely nothing calling for my attention. Not a problem.

With my macro lens attached to the camera, I walked to the edge of the campsite and sat in the brush. And got lost.

And that’s when I found so much more than expected.

Getting lost is my favourite place to be. Just me, my camera and whatever I find. You know you’re lost when you lose track of time, are oblivious to the activity nearby and continue to discover new, exciting things as you explore through the lens. It’s a joyful time.

So, without having a subject in mind, I poke my camera into the chaos of grass, weeds and wildflowers, just looking. With a macro lens on, everything takes on a new view and I see things not visible to the casual eye. And then the gifts appear before me. And ideas come and creativity grows.

Here are a few of the things I found while lost.

abstract image of dead blooms

These dried up old blooms didn’t seem too photogenic until I created a pattern with the multiple exposure setting.

up close with a dandelion

A common dandelion is a scourge to gardeners but a beautiful site when seen up close.

close up of a fly

My exploration was interrupted by this neighbourly fellow who dropped in for a visit. And then he buzzed off.

I had another visitor, this one from outer space. He was quite cooperative and held very still for the camera.

I had another visitor, this one from outer space. He was quite cooperative and held very still for the camera.

spider web abstract

Deep in the shade, which contributed the blue cast, was an abandoned spider’s web. Thanks to a little breeze, the lines had a beautiful curve. Such a delightful find.

Light patterns on spider web

The spider web kept me busy for a while, looking at it from every angle and enjoying how the light refracted through the silk.

Who knew that a rainbow could be found on an old spiders web. Great things are to be found when you're lost.

Who knew that a rainbow could be found on an old spiders web. Great things are to be found when you’re lost.

abstract of web

To celebrate all the joyful discoveries while lost, some fireworks seemed appropriate.

bunchberry multiple exposure

Not everything needed a macro lens. A gift of bunchberry flowers is always welcome.

Wild Rose multiple exposure

Wild roses are so common in the summer and this one hoped it wouldn’t be overlooked.

A space with nothing to photograph yields photographic treasures.

And this is the space beside the campground that had nothing to photograph! Until, of course, one looks a little deeper.

For Photographers

When I first began to learn about photography, in the film days, I always used a tripod for my macro photos. Probably it was the cost of film that had me trying to get every picture right with just a couple of frames. I still use a tripod for many things but I seldom use one anymore for macro photography. Instead, lying on the ground and poking my lens into the growth offers so much more freedom to discover the treasures.

My other useful tool is a set of extension tubes. For most of these shots, I used the smallest of the three rings that come with my extension tubes. These allow me to focus much closer to the subject and fill my frame.

And finally, I’m so addicted to the look of a shallow depth of field. Most of the time, my aperture is at f/2.8, creating a beautiful soft blur in the background.

Stories of British Columbia

After three weeks on the road, exploring northern British Columbia and a little of Alberta, what sticks in my mind is not so much the beauty in the landscape, although it was abundant, but the beauty in the people. Chance encounters along the way led to these photos and stories of some of the beautiful people of our province.

 

An aboriginal woman in Fort St. James has stories of personal success.

Nicole: A leader in her community.

Nicole is a Dene woman living in Fort St. James, 60 km north of Vanderhoof. Nicole is a bright shining light in her community. After falling into the trap of alcohol and drugs, she proudly told us she has been clean for 15 years. Now, her mission is to help young people in her community avoid the same trap. She leads a group of 23 promising youth, helping them find a positive lifestyle with constructive alternatives to the despair of drugs. Sadly, she does this pretty much on her own with little support from her own community of elders.

 

An aboriginal fisherman in Moricetown, BC., with stories that cross three generations.

Fabian: Fishing for the generations.

Fabian lives in Moricetown, which is just a little way down the Bulkley River from Smithers. The river flows by Moricetown with tremendous force and power because the banks come together here to create a deep and narrow canyon. Fabian fishes the river almost every day, putting away salmon for his family and community. As Fabian fished, his father watched from the riverbank while he looked after his 4-year-old grandson. All three generations of Fabian’s family were born and raised in Moricetown and all of them are deeply connected to the run of salmon.

 

Aboriginal woman, proud of her Tahlten heritage

Nancy: Dancing for her culture.

Not far south of the Yukon border on Highway 37 is a turnoff to Telegraph Creek. It’s 2.5 hours on a steep (20%) dirt road through the Stikine River canyon to the tiny village which is surrounded by the Tahlten First Nation. We were warmly received by everyone we met there and Nancy was no exception. We encountered her twice, fishing on the the river with her husband. The board in the image that holds the freshly caught fish has her name clearly marked on it, a sign to all the locals that this is her traditional fishing spot. Nancy had many stories to share about the people and wildlife in the area. When I asked her if I could take her picture, she quickly grabbed the sticks in her hand, which she uses when she dances for her people. Nancy is proud of her Tahlten heritage and eager to share it with others.

 

Aboriginal motorcyclist and feministJoan: Freedom for her people.

I met Joan Jack in a tiny, roadside grill at Muncho Lake in northern BC. She was enroute to Niagara Falls from Atlin, BC on her motorcycle to attend the Assembly of First Nations. Joan’s enthusiasm was contagious as she told bits of her personal story. When she came to the realization that spousal abuse did not have to be part of her destiny, it stopped. “I was freed by this oppression as soon as I knew I could say no.”

I began to realize that the tattoo on her arm, ‘Freedom’, had deep significance for her.

Now, as an indigenous feminist lawyer, Joan’s mission is to bring freedom to her people. The Indian Act, written generations ago, “contributes to the oppression of my people”. There is, and needs to be, political and cultural change and her ride to Niagara is a step on the way.

“I love my life!” Joan says. Fulfilling her mission is a big part of why she feels that way.

Stop the Site C Dam

Poul & Esther: In a battle they don’t want.

Poul and Esther Pederson are ranchers, living on an acreage on the banks of the Peace River, in Fort St. John. Behind them is the construction site of the controversial Site C Dam. The dam will flood the valley and cause the river banks to erode, destabilizing their land, making their home unusable. The dam will also destroy farmland that could provide fruits and vegetables to the Peace River region as well as the Yukon. The government pushes ahead with the biggest mega project in our history even though there is no evidence that we need the power it will generate. For more information about this project watch Disturbing the Peace.

For Photographers:

Each person photographed above was a stranger to me. But what happened before the shot with every one was lots of conversation. I was genuinely interested in their story and enjoyed talking with them. As we spoke, I always had, in the back of my mind, thoughts about how to photograph the person, lighting, location, pose, etc. In the case of Nicole (at the top), we had beautiful light coming in from windows on both sides of her. When she talked with us, she leaned her elbow on the counter and I knew I wanted that. But I waited for the opportunity and when I asked her, she smiled and readily agreed.

Each of the people above readily agreed to having their photos taken because, I suppose, they recognized my genuine interest in their story. I could have tried to grab a shot without their permission but that would have felt like a violation. Instead, I left each encounter with a positive connection, an insight into their life and a collaborative photograph with their permission to share. And I’m thankful to each person.

A Bella Coola High

Photographers celebrating their success at Develop Your Creative Vision workshop.

We had a feeling something special was happening from the very first day. At the end of the second day, our students were saying things like, “I’ve already learned so much! How can we keep up this pace?”.

Develop Your Creative Vision, the first workshop offered by myself and Chris Harris, came to a celebratory end last week. We marked the end of seven days of learning, sharing and pushing our boundaries in a supportive environment with a salmon feast, a showing of everyone’s top ten images, and a slide show featuring a few highlights. And some wine!

Ten photographers came together with the goal of slowing ourselves down, thinking deeply about our photographic journey and creating images that more profoundly express our vision. We all worked hard, broke through barriers and came away with a sense of accomplishment. A few comments from our students say it best:

  • I can’t thank Dennis, Chris and everyone enough for the workshop. It was a life changer for me. (Dave)
  • First off, thank you so much for the unforgettable photography workshop!  I can’t thank you enough for coming up with the idea initially and then putting it on.  I learnt so much and very much enjoyed the environment, my fellow participants.  As the leaders and coordinators, I / we couldn’t have asked for more! You were always there guiding, explaining, coaching motivating, inspiring, etc. I am so appreciative. (Terry)

Tallheo Cannery Guest Lodge was the perfect venue for our workshop. Just a five minute boat ride from the Bella Coola harbour, we were isolated from the distractions of the world. The setting provided an infinite array of subject material.  Our hosts were beyond gracious and the food was exceptional. All the conditions needed to develop our creative expression were set.

Here’s the video we made to celebrate our week together. And below that, a few of my favourite images.

Reflection of a fish boat in an old lamp at Develop Your Creative Vision workshop.

A retired fish boat is reflected in an old ship’s lamp.

A woman reflects on her childhood at Tallheo Cannery. DoubleExposure Photography

Bonnie was a child, playing while her grandmother repaired nets at the cannery in the 1960s. She visited the cannery for her first time since then and demonstrated for us the skills passed down from her grandmother.

Reflections of the cannery in an old window at Develop Your Creative Vision.

The cannery windows are mostly glazed with old style glass that is wavy, allowing for impressionistic reflections.

A night view of the Tallheo Cannery , Double Exposure Photography.

From the net loft at night, the ghosts of old cannery buildings rise up, with the Coast Mountains and town of Bella Coola in the background.

Multiple exposure of a propellor at Develop Your Creative Vision workshop.

The cannery machine shop and store are filled with relics from the past, including this boat propellor. A multiple exposure was used to create a sense of its motion.

A wedding bouquet, dried and preserved. Dennis Ducklow Photography.

After her wedding at the Cannery last year, a bride left her bouquet behind.

A rusted can waits patiently. Dennis Ducklow Photography

As the tides come and go, this abandoned fuel can slowly slides back into its basic elements, reminding us that nature always outlasts the things we make.

an abstract view of a fish net, Dennis Ducklow Photography

Even though the cannery has been closed to the fish operation for decades, nets still hang in the loft. This abstract view reveals its beauty in a different way.

A river flows endlessly into the harbour at Tallheo Cannery. www.doubleexposure.ca

A river beside the cannery flows endlessly into the Bella Coola harbour. A long exposure was used to show the movement in the clouds and water. In the fall, we expect to see salmon fighting their way through the rapids.