Newsletter No. 99: October, 2013
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
Theme: The stories behind eight print images.
3. Snow Storm
4. Ancient Forest
5. After the Burn
6. Whispering Grasslands
7. Fishing Rod
8. Sunset over Ptarmigan Lake
In a few days, the season for Christmas artisan shows gets under way in many towns across the country.
Here in central British Columbia, I have attended these shows in Prince George, Quesnel, and Williams Lake every year since 1991 when I published my first book, The Bowron Lakes: British Columbia’s Wilderness Canoe Circuit.
Over this period, I have met so many fabulous people, and I have always deeply appreciated both their friendship and support for my work. I always look forward to re-acquainting with familiar faces.
This year, the backdrop to our booth will display eight prints, a mixture of new and old. In this Newsletter, I will share the story behind each of them. They all represent special moments in this land we call ‘home’.
If you live in the area and can make it to one of these shows, please drop by our booth. We would love to see you.
Chris & Rita
Our goal at the Chris Harris Gallery is to share the creative process. Please share this Newsletter with friends. Thank you.
It was mid August and I was teaching a photographic workshop to members of the Langley Camera Club. It was a beautiful day and we were all scattered about the garden in front of our home. We were chatting and laughing, and we were enjoying the search for light, colour, form, and texture.
Then, with no warning, a strong wind swept in from the north and a deluge of rain, like few I have ever experienced here, emptied from the sky. We all ran for cover beneath the roof of the Gallery.
It was exciting. We were all crammed together trying to stay dry while chatting up a storm. I yelled over the noisy pitter-patter, “photograph, try a slow shutter speed”. A few people found room to set up a tripod but most couldn’t, including me.
Realizing how visually powerful the storm was, I raised my camera, chose a shutter speed (1/250 sec.), hand held the camera, made the above composition, and pressed the shutter.
Had I been able to use my tripod, I probably would have tried a much slower shutter speed. In retrospect, with the intensity of the downpour that may not have worked. As it turned out, hand holding at a faster shutter speed was a blessing. It enabled me to capture the feeling of the word ‘deluge’.
I posted this image in Newsletter #97, with the surprising result of an immediate print order. When printed, we hung it in the Gallery for a closer look. Everyone we showed it to was overwhelmed. It is packed with emotion and hangs as a beautiful print.
|Notes on composition & technique: I decided to include part of our house to give context to the garden. Although I did not think of this at the time, the bird house aptly speaks to the concept of shelter from the storm. Obtaining a sense of balance using the colour and tonal contrasts, was key to making this composition.
EOS 50D; iso 400; shutter speed 1/250 sec; f-8; 70-200mm lens; handheld
Two weeks ago, I was riding through the Itcha Mountains with my guide-outfitter friend, Roger Williams. He was guiding a caribou hunt; I was there to photograph.
I had never been on a hunt before, but throughout the expedition, I imagined what it would have been like in the day when we were all hunter-gatherers.
My goal was to capture the essence of the ‘hunt’; some of the many feelings the hunter would have experienced.
Fortunately I was blessed with just about every type of weather. I followed Roger through most of the week, looking for some of those special moments when deeper thought prevails.
Positioning my horse for a chosen composition, and photographing from a horse was not easy. Every situation was very dynamic. Nothing stayed still. I had to be very opportunistic.
Firstly, there is choosing the right equipment and figuring out how to carry it on the horse for quick and easy use.
Secondly, there is the very important element of anticipation; where Roger might go, what Roger might do, and where I must position my horse to capture what might happen.
Thirdly, there is weather to contend with; biting cold wind, rain, or as in the case of this image, snow. One flake of wet snow on my lens would make photographing impossible.
Fourthly, I must think about how to arrange the various elements of composition in order to communicate my message; all this while both horses are moving.
Lastly, there are the technical aspects to making an image of the highest quality.
|Notes on composition & technique: I recognized the opportunity, moved my horse to the right so I could place Roger in the left third of the image, and waited for the horse to turn its head to the right.
EOS 5D Mark III; iso 500; shutter speed 1/200 sec; f-7.1; 24-105mm lens; handheld
3. Snow Storm
In March of 2012, I was the photographer on a back-country ski hut-to-hut expedition in Bowron Lake Park. It was a trip led by one of BC’s great guides, Dave Jorgenson of Whitegold Adventures.
It was the last day of our trip and we were pushing through heavy wet snow. The feeling generated by skiing in absolute silence amidst huge snowflakes forced me to stop and appreciate the moment.
When my eyes left the trail, I looked left, and was immediately captured by three main shapes; the snow covered lake, the darker trees, and the lighter forest that had all but vanished in weather. There was the complete tonal range, pure white to pure black. The muted colour of the hybrid spruce trees was a bonus.
My biggest challenge was keeping my lens dry. As always, one large wet snow flake on my lens and the shot would be ruined. I examined the composition, decided to place the tallest tree to the right of centre, raised my camera, and quickly made this image before a snow flake touched my lens.
|Notes on composition & technique: Note the size of the 3 shapes. The bottom shape says the least, so receives the least attention and space.
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III; iso 400; f-9; 1/400 sec; 24-105mm lens.
4. Ancient Forest
This year I visited the ‘Ancient Forest’, a unique wet-temperate rainforest in the Robson Valley, 115 km east of Prince George on Highway 16. With western redcedar trees up to 2000 years in age, this inland rainforest is unique to the Planet.
While walking through an old growth rainforest is a powerful experience, trying to capture that feeling in photographs is a challenging endeavor. With its dense vegetation, making a strong composition often has more to do with what elements to leave out rather than what to include.
My friend Mike and I were up early to photograph the forest in stillness and diffuse light. Fortunately, I had explored the forest the previous day in poorer light, so when a light morning mist rolled in, I knew exactly where I wanted to make photographs.
Leaving Mike, I ran as fast as I could to my chosen place, hoping to get there before the mist burned off. Within 10 minutes I was there; what I saw before me was pure magic.
At first I recognized the tonal contrast between the small tree trunks in the foreground and the giant cedars in the background. Then there was colour contrast; the light green of the foreground compared to the yellow lichen-covered bark, which was starting to illuminate as the sun penetrated the mist. Even the yellow leaf in the lower right seemed to call for attention. It seemed to know it was perfectly positioned for my composition. It was!
Notes on composition & technique: My thoughts are described above.
EOS 5D Mark III; iso 200; shutter speed 5 sec; f-22; 24-105mm lens; tripod
5. After the Burn
An extremely hot fire had swept through this forest the previous day, leaving a most eerie landscape. It was the most emotionally packed three hours of photography I have ever experienced.
Smoke still lingered in the air as the sun burnt through a light cloud illuminating the ground with an iridescent golden glow.
I was sure that Mike and I were the first people to enter this forest after the fire, but when I saw this beautiful pattern of burnt trees lying on the ground, I had my doubts. Surely, an artistic minded person had created this, I thought to myself.
Not so. After finding other similar occurrences, I realized that three trees had fallen over each other, and where they touched, they had burned, leaving a lustrous glow in the centre.
For me, this image is given deep meaning by my emotions at that moment.
After the Burn
|Notes on composition & technique: To capture the centre of interest within the context of the entire burnt forest, I used my widest angle lens; a 14mm rectilinear lens. By aiming the lens down to within centimeters of seeing my boots, and using a small aperture for maximum depth of field, I was able to include the entire forest. From a compositional perspective, I created a sense of balance by placing the brightly glowing circle to the left of centre and the largest standing tree trunks to the right of centre.
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III; iso 200; f-22; 1/20 sec; 14mm lens. Tripod
6. Whispering Grasslands
This grassland print was released in 2007, the year Spirit in the Grass was published. It has been a perennial seller ever since.
The beauty of the grasslands is unlike the ‘super natural’ beauty that Destination BC uses to brand our tourism industry. The grasslands offer a soft and gentle beauty that eventually consumes you; given time, it becomes a part of who you are.
Grassland images such as this, make me want to walk through it for hours. Grassland scientists say that a hectare of prime uncultivated grasslands contain more flora and fauna than a hectare of any other ecosystem on the Planet. When I walk through this landscape, experiencing the sounds, sights and smells, I begin to understand the truth of that statement.
|Notes on composition & technique: When planning the composition of a panorama, it is important to have strong elements on the far left and right. These elements help contain the viewers attention, preventing their eyes from leaving the picture space at either end. In this image, the well lit grass in the foreground draws us into the image while the darker sky on top contains our attention. The same is true for the well lit humps on the left and the brightly lit cloud on the right.
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III; panorama; Tripod
7. Fly Rod
Fishing rods, based on stone inscriptions dating back to 2000 BC, go back to ancient Egypt, China, Greece, and Italy. Before synthetics, rods were generally made from materials such as Tonkin bamboo, Calcutta reed, malacca cane, and a variety of woods such as ash, maple or hickory.
While sitting around a campfire one evening, my eye caught the glimmer of a modern fly rod leaning against a tree; tall, thin, strong and highly flexible. I borrowed it, went to the river, and with my macro lens, began to explore the beauty of its form, and thus its function.
While focusing on the large-diameter line guide, I paid special attention to lines and the shapes of space between them. Look closely and you will see circles and several triangles.
After an in-depth visual exploration of the rod and line, I have a new and deeper appreciation for the fly rod. In so many ways, it is a piece of artwork.
|Notes on composition & technique: By using a very shallow depth of field, I felt I was able to produce a more thought provoking image of the fly rod.
Canon EOS-5D Mark III; iso 500; f-2.8; 1/1000 sec; 100mm macro lens. Handheld
8. Sunset over Ptarmigan Lake
This summer, Rita and I invited friends Tiffany Edwardsen and Mike Duffy to join us on a fly-in hiking expedition to Ptarmigan Lake in South Tweedsmuir Park. We flew with Tweedsmuir Air out of Stewarts Lodge on Nimpo Lake.
After setting up a base camp near the lake, we spent a week day-hiking and exploring the surrounding mountainous landscape.
Day three was by far our longest, most arduous, and most spectacular hike. It was 8:30 p.m. as we descended over rocky terrain into camp, after a nine hour hike. What you see in this image is the reward we experienced at the end of that day. It was one of the most dramatic sunsets any of us had ever witnessed.
As exhausted and hungry as we were, this dazzling sunset seemed to make it all worthwhile.
Sunset over Ptarmigan Lake
Notes on composition & technique: I gave two-thirds of the picture space to this wondrous sky
Canon EOS-5D Mark III; iso 200; f-8; hdr at various shutter speeds; 16-35mm lens. Tripod
Let us know how you like these.
Making the choice of which images will make a wall-print is one of our most challenging discussions. We will see how the audience feels about our selections this month at various shows.
We would love to hear your thoughts; let us know if you like any of them, and which are your favourites.
As always, we look forward to this process.