Newsletter #127: February, 2016
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
1. Why Take a Photographic Workshop?There is a reason. I’d like to share that story with you.
2. How to Meet a Photographic Challenge?Look in your toolkit!
3. Photographic Workshops:2016Hi everyone,The good news is my computer is up and running; the bad news is my new website won’t be ready to launch until March! I guess if that is the ‘bad’ news, life is pretty good!In this Newsletter, I’d like to share a story with you. It changed my life.So here we go; the 127th consecutive monthly Newsletter! Enjoy.
1. Why Take a Photographic Workshop? There is a reason.
I’d like to share a story with you.
In 1974 I took my first and only photographic workshop. It was with Freeman Patterson, held at his home at Shampers Bluff, New Brunswick.
In 2013, I rode out of the Rainbow mountains by horse to catch a plane, and with my partner Rita, flew across the country to accept an invitation. The Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton, and several supporting organizations had created and hosted a retrospective exhibition; book launch and a gala evening at the convention centre in Saint John. It was a significant event, and I wanted to pay my respects and say thank you.
Before I left for the retrospective, I was asked to write a story for the Saint John newspaper. I think it expresses my gratitude, and explains why taking that workshop has meant so much to me.
Freeman, Rita and I
As a mountaineer from British Columbia, I headed east to Shampers Bluff in 1974, to attend a week long photographic workshop with Freeman Patterson. Most challenges at that stage of my life were physical, pushing my limits, as I climbed the highest peaks.
After arriving at Freeman’s, I realized I felt a bit nervous and apprehensive. For the first time, I was about to be challenged visually.
Within the first hour of the course, we were sent off on our first assignment. We had to walk down his driveway, choose a subject within three meters of the road, and shoot 36 exposures of that subject.
I choose a fern. Enthusiastically I began to make images. After about 10 shots, however, I began to draw blanks. I was on the ropes, searching for new perspectives when Freeman conveniently appeared and asked me how I was doing. He asked me if he could take a look through my viewfinder. I obliged.
He then asked, “do you mind if I move your camera a bit?” Once again, I obliged.
After moving my tripod a few inches, and changing the angle of my camera, he asked me to take a look. I did, and my life shifted.
The week went fast. I thoroughly enjoyed every challenge, and I, along with all the other participants, grew visually in leaps and bounds. I felt so completely immersed in all the various aspects of this craft, that I could not eat my bowl of corn flakes in the morning without seeing shapes, contrast, and textures in every spoonfull.
I had not yet realized that I had been provided with an undoubting confidence to photograph any subject, at a level in which I could use the resulting images successfully in whatever endeavour I wished. That experience had given me the confidence to use the power of photography in a way that changed my life.
I returned to BC with a new exhilaration to follow my two passions of outdoor adventure and photography. I have continued along that very path ever since.
Now, some forty years later, I continue to photograph with passion and purpose. I have used my photography to successfully initiate and market two different adventure eco-tourism companies. In the last fourteen years, I have once again taken my photography to a higher level. As well as photographing for several stock agencies, I opened my own photographic gallery. I also started my own independent publishing company, and today, I am working on my thirteenth photographic publication.
I feel strongly that these successes date back to that week long workshop with Freeman, and in particular, to that defining moment when Freeman showed me a fresh perspective to photograph that fern. As I have told Freeman on several occasions, that experience gave me the confidence to be able to photograph any subject well, and to become a full time professional nature photographer.
Today, I live my dream. Along with my wife, I explore and photograph the natural world, I operate a photographic gallery, I teach photographic workshops, I publish my own books, and environmentally, I advocate for the land.
Thank you Freeman.
As you can see, taking that photographic workshop influenced my life, and I am grateful for that. Learning about visual design and adding more creative tools to my toolkit, gave me the confidence to be the photographer I am today, and to live the life I am thankful to live.
That afternoon, with a ‘point & shoot’ camera, Rita and I walked out into Freeman’s back garden; part of which is a beautiful wooded area. It was the place where I met some of my visual challenges. These are three images I made.
If any of my readers have experienced a workshop with Freeman, and would like to share them with me, please write me a letter at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
Freeman still teaches photography workshops at various places around the world. You can visit him at his website.
2. How to Meet a Photographic Challenge? Look in your toolkit!
Last fall, my friend Shayne Middleton and I were visiting Catherine Wright, a photographer friend near the town of Likely. We were to meet her near Quesnel Lake but we took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt track beside a swamp; a tangled mess of deadfall, half submerged stumps, and various forms of vegetation. From a photographer’s perspective, it was ugly!
Seeing we were lost, I said to Shayne, “why don’t we stop here for 30 minutes and challenge ourselves. Let’s try and make some great compositions out of this mess”. “Great”, said Shayne; “30 minutes it is”.
I walked slowly down the road, looking through my lenses, searching. I have always prided myself at being able to see something appealing within any subject, something I could compose. However, after 15 minutes, I starting to seriously doubt myself. Nothing was working for me.
|Thoughts, feelings & information: Try looking at the above image for a strong composition. See any? I did eventually; a half-submerged stump in the upper right corner of the lake. I saw tonal contrast between the lit stump and the darker background in shade. That was all I needed to know. Where there is contrast, tonal or colour, I know there are possibilities.|
A Photographers’ Toolkit: Much like a painters’ toolkit comprising paint, paint brushes, and canvas, a photographers’ toolkit comprises camera bodies, lenses, and sensors. It’s great to have good tools; however, we need to learn some ‘creative techniques’ on how to use them well. Also like a painter, photographers require ‘creative vision’ based on the knowledge of visual design, or composition. The more tools we have in our toolkit, and the more knowledge we have on how to use them, the better the odds of creatively expressing ourselves as artists.
|Thoughts, feelings & information: You can see here how tonal and/or colour contrast provide opportunities for strong compositions. I think I look for contrast more than any other element when searching for compositions. .
By making multiple exposures while zooming, I made this image at f-5.6, 1/80sec.; on a tripod.
Based on my knowledge of composition; the ability to arrange visual elements such as light, contrast, line, form, and perspective, I made a few documentary images of the stump. None of them, I felt, communicated what I wanted to convey.
I then tried a number of ‘creative techniques’ to portray the stump in a more expressive way. I tried different lenses, multiple exposures, and slow shutter speeds combined with various camera movements. Eventually I made ‘Deadhead I‘, an image I was happy with. I was actually quite excited! It was only made possible, however, because of the tools in my toolkit, and the knowledge of how to use them.
|Thoughts, feelings & information: Once again, by seeing high tonal and colour contrast, I knew there would be possibilities for good compositions. It then became a matter of which elements to include, and which to exclude. A sense of balance is very important here.
I made this image at f-9, 1/30 sec; on a tripod.
I was slowly returning to the car when I noticed the light had changed. The tree stump in the centre of ‘the swamp’ image above, now contained areas of high contrast. I changed to a telephoto lens to simplify the overall composition. I then went about my work of juxtaposing the areas of contrast and colour. Considerable attention was paid to positive and negative spatial arrangements and a sense of balance.
Back in the car, Shayne and I chatted about our experiences. We both felt richer for having challenged ourselves. In retrospect, I feel I am a better photographer for the experience. It made me realize how important it is to study composition, have enough tools in my kit to do the job, and the knowledge on how to use them well.
The influence of Freeman’s workshop is still with me.
3. Photographic Workshops:2016
My photographic workshops for 2016 are on my website.