— Dane Creek

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Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200 f/2.8 IS II. 200mm, ISO 100, 1/200 sec. @ f/4.5.

We were driving down a back road somewhere around Colfax, WA, when I saw a hill. I can’t remember if we were driving at the time, or if we’d stopped to shoot some of the fields, but it didn’t matter. As soon as I saw the hill I smiled and took a picture.

What’s so special about the hill? Well, it reminded me of this shot from the Lemaire Channel in Antacrtica that I took in January 2009:

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Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200 f/2.8 IS. 95mm, ISO 400, 1/500 sec. @ f/7.1.

I’m not quite sure what it is about that shape but I see it everywhere. In fact, I shot a third copy of it while we were in the air flying over Steptoe Butte. I just didn’t realize it until I was back in the motel room doing image review.

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Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200 f/2.8 IS II. 95mm, ISO 125, 1/500 sec. @ f/2.8.

Perhaps I should print all three of them and hang them on a wall together!

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Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200 2.8 IS II @ 200mm. ISO 100, 0.8 sec. @ f/32.

Whenever I go on a photo trip I find it takes me a decent period of time to get into the groove of shooting. This is especially true when it’s been a while since I picked up the camera.

Lately I’ve been trying to jumpstart the creative process by literally messing around with the camera early in the trip. The photos I take are never meant to be anything special. I’m just shooting to try and get my head back into photography.

On the trip to Eastern Washington this weekend we stopped at Denny Creek. David, Teresa, and I did some long exposure handheld shooting. It was all about coming up with interesting patterns and textures. No stress about getting perfect composition in camera. No worries about nailing the exposure. Just carefree shooting for the fun of it.

The whole trip to Eastern Washington was hugely successful (as you’ll see in a series of upcoming blog entries). I like to think it was because we stopped for some mindless fun at a creek.

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Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-200 2.8 IS + 1.4x extender @ 125mm. ISO 100, 1/500 sec @ f/5.6.

The above shot is from my trip to Antarctica back in January of 2009. I never planned to shoot much wildlife when I was there, and the shots I did take of penguins were halfhearted attempts just so I had a few to show people when I got back.

When we were on Petermann Island I forced myself to take a few minutes to photograph penguins. At one spot I noticed a curving glacier in the background with penguins and rocks in the foreground. I shot a few photos, and then back on the boat found the above image. I was thrilled. Between the glacier, the rocks, and the cute little penguins, I thought I had a spectacular image.

Then I showed it to Seth Resnick. His immediate comment? “Why the %(*! is that penguin sleeping?”

Sigh.

He’s right, and he taught me a valuable lesson. When you come upon an interesting composition it’s useful to just sit and wait for a while. Just because it looks nice now doesn’t mean that’s the most awesome you can capture at that location. If I had waited another 5 minutes there was a good chance the sleeping penguin would have woken up and reached his beak to the sky. Then I would have had an awesome photograph.

This doesn’t just apply to animals, by the way. If you are shooting landscapes pay close attention to the clouds. Very often a 10-15 minute wait means the difference between clouds that are just there vs. clouds that add awesome movement and energy to the image.

The lesson has stuck with me over the last year. It’s a tough one for me to apply, since my natural inclination is to “go go go” and not really stop and take in the overall scene. I’m getting better at it though!

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Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, 2006
Canon EOS 5D, 17-40 f/4.0L @ 25mm. ISO 640, 1/640 sec @ f/16.

Recently I had the honour and pleasure of sitting on a committee of photographers selecting images for a photo book that will help support the United Way this fall. I reviewed over 1900 images and got to see some truly awe inspiring photography. Along the way I coined a new term: “tulip shot”.

I must have seen 50 different variations of photos of tulips in the submissions. Warnings were given prior to submissions about the perils of submitting a tulip photo, but alas, they came in anyway. What’s the problem with a tulip shot? Well, it may be your best tulip shot ever, but when you submit it to a juried show or book competition, it is going head-to-head against the other 50 tulip shots that were submitted. You better be darn sure that your tulip shot is the super duper awesome best ever of those 50, because chances are if a tulip shot does make it into the show/book/whatever there will only be one.

There are many other types of photos that fall into the “tulip shot” bucket. Some that come to mind are: sunsets, mountains reflected in water, flowers, bugs, cute kids, I-used-a-lensbaby-look-at-my-out-of-focus-edges-!, waterfalls, leaves, anything shot in HDR, animals in zoo cages, etc. In the Pacific Northwest some regional variations are “tulip shots” as well: Canon Beach/Ruby Beach/Rialto Beach/Second Beach, cherry blossoms, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, and the Palouse region of Eastern Washington.

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Cherry Blossoms, 2007
Canon EOS 5D, 100mm f/2.8 macro. ISO 100, 1/250 sec @ f/4.5.

If you are ever submitting to a competition and your image contains any of the above you should think long and hard about what separates your variation of that particular scene from the rest of the pack. It is exceedingly difficult to stand back and take a critical view of your work, but it’s an important skill to learn.

Can’t decide whether your photo separates itself from the rest of the pack ? No worries: ask a photographer that’s better than you for their candid feedback. I do it all the time and while it can hurt my underbelly a bit I always find it hugely valuable.

This post has two “tulip shots” in it. I throw the comments open to everyone… any of them separate themselves from the pack?

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It’s been almost a year and a half since I was in Antarctica, and a mail thread today with some photo friends about stitching software reminded me I had a massive panorama I’d only stitched once and was never happy with. I figured I’d take a few minutes tonight to see what I could come up with using some new technology.

A quick download of Microsoft Research’s Image Composite Editor, an export of 51 images from Lightroom, two attempts at adjusting exposure levels, and an upload to Photosynth… and voila. Amazing!

Image stats: 27514 pixels wide by 9858 high, 246.47 megapixels total. The exported HD Photo version is 20MB. Nice!

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Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 14mm f/2.8L. ISO 400, 1/80 sec @ f/4.0.

It rained a lot this weekend. With the help of terrific weather reports from Weather Underground we made the most of it. Careful timing meant that we were on beaches exposed to the elements when the weather was (somewhat) drier. For the heavier periods of rain we retreated to the cover the forests around the coast.

The Hoh Rainforest is a very popular area for tourists to visit, but a very difficult place to photograph well. The forest floor is incredibly messy and finding shots that aren’t just a jumble of garbage is tough. It’s even harder when you decide in the parking lot to only take along a 14mm lens!

The vine maple above is the one worthwhile image from my trip in the rainforest. But man, what an image. I was grinning like a fool when I saw it on-screen, as I immediately knew it would be come B&W. But what kind? B&W images, at least when printed, are never truly black and white. The paper selection will add a warmth or coolness to the image, and the toning options are limitless.

My first pass at printing the image is much like you see above. A slight bronze tone to the highlights, with the shadows left as black. I printed on the new Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, Epson Exhibition Fiber, and Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk to which I preferred, and the Ilford GFS was the clear winner. The Metallic was wicked cool, but just not right for the image, and the EEF wasn’t quite warm enough.

There’s more to come though. At some point I will print this as a digital negative and do a lith print of it to see what happens. David has also invited me to come over to his place to do a platinum/palladium print as well. I can’t wait!

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Keyboard box camera, magnifying glass lens, textured plexiglass “ground glass”. ISO 500, 1/100 sec.

As part of the long weekend I’m back on the Washington Coast, hoping to finish a series of photos from Second Beach, WA. At the moment the weather is not so promising: lots and lots of rain today. Outlook for tomorrow and Sunday is slightly better, which hopefully translates into some decent shooting opportunities.

On the drive over to the coast I took my new Canon S90 for a spin, but in a somewhat unconventional way. David brought along a keyboard box with a piece of textured plexi and a magnifying glass lens. I stuck the camera into the box and started shooting.

This is going to be a very, very, fun trip.

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Canon 5D Mark II, Lensbaby Composer with Zone Plate. ISO 800, 1/125 sec. @ f/19.

From a photographic experience the trip back to Manitoba was largely a non-event. As I’m sure many of you can relate, often times hanging out with family takes precedence over photography. Such was the case with this trip :)

I did manage to take a whole bunch of photos of new birds, but none of them were really interesting from a photographic perspective.

About the only “real” photographs I took were six quick shots from the Halfway Tree. What is the Halfway Tree? Well, it’s the tree that’s halfway between Brandon and Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway. Anyone who ever grew up in Brandon knows the tree.

Is the photo spectacular? Nah. Does it have sentimental value? Yes, definitely. Sometimes those are the most fun photos to shoot.

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Canon 5D Mk II, Lensbaby Composer with Zone Plate. ISO 2500, 2 seconds @ f/19.

This is another photo from LongShot 2010. It was, as I mentioned previously, cold and rainy to start the evening. I was shooting some of the neon lights in Georgetown with my friend Sabrina and we’d pretty much decided to bail and go somewhere else. We called the other half of our group to let them know, and they said they’d stumbled across a cool vintage furnishing shop just up the road. Even better, they said the owner was staying open late for them to shoot, and that we should come by.

We drove up and went in. It was neat, but I left my camera in the car because I didn’t really think inside a vintage furnishing shop would be that interesting. Ha. That didn’t last long :)

A big thanks to Kirk Albert at Great Stuff Vintage Furnishings for staying open long so we could shoot random cool objects somewhere warm and rain-free. You rock, Kirk!

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Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200 2.8 IS II w/ 1.4x extender @ 135mm. ISO 400, 1/125 sec @ f/16. 

We have several bird feeders in the backyard, strategically placed near our livingroom window so we can watch and take pictures up close. I’ve been home sick with a cold for the last three days (all because of LongShot!) so I’ve had a good chance to just sit and watch.

The parade of birds is amazing this time of year. I counted 15 different species at the feeder on Monday morning in the span of a few hours. One of them was a random hummingbird which meant it was time to get the hummingbird feeder out.

The hummingbirds are a tad skittish, and their feeder isn’t very close to the livingroom. Then I remembered I had a remote camera trigger that I bought for cheap off eBay. Found it, put the camera on the deck right near the feeder, and fired away. The shots were decent, but depth of field was a problem.

Then I remembered the studio strobes that I never use :) Found them, set them up, and voila. Rufous hummingbird in its splendid glory. I can take credit for the lighting setup, but my wife fired the shot when she saw it at the feeder.

We’ll definitely set this rig up this weekend next to the big feeder to see what else we can catch. And yes, I should have taken the extender off now that I see the mm reading in the EXIF. It was on from another shoot before. I’ll take it off next time and see if the image quality is even better.

Anyone else using strobes to catch birds feeding?

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