Archive for the Photographer of the Month Category

Photographer of the Month – Kelly Pape

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , on November 17, 2011 by sabrina

© Kelly Pape

Darwin: Kelly, you seem to photograph almost everything. It’s often said that to be good you need to specialize, but your work shows that you can be really good and still shoot a variety of subjects. What are the benefits to creativity in being a generalist photographer?

Kelly: I love photography and the best way to learn it is to throw yourself into a variety of different situations and figure out how best to shoot it. For me it is about making exciting photographs regardless of the subject matter.  Every shoot requires the understanding of the location, assessing the light, finding good vantage points and being able to make quick decisions on camera settings.

The more I work in photography, the more completed images I see in my mind before taking the camera out of the bag. There has to be something special like a ray of light or contrasting tree line in which to start shooting. From there, in the field I determine whether it would work best as a black and white, HDR, adding a special effect or by taking several shots and stitching them together to create a pano. Each decision dictates how you shoot the image.

Darwin: You seem to have an ability to use the Orton Effect with a sensitive eye so that the technique enhances the photo without drawing your eye to the effect. Any hints on how you manage to control or blend the effect into your photos so well?

Kelly: Visually I enjoy the Orton Effect and read with interest when you recently featured Michael Orton on your blog. There is something about the dreamy, almost painterly feel that really appeals to me. Years ago I attended a Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant workshop where this technique was first shown to me.  Andre’s method was taking a shot in focus and overexposed by 2 stops and the second one slightly out of focus and overexposed by one stop and sandwiching them together. Today there are many plug-ins that can give you that desired result.

Darwin: Recently you have delved into the world of commercial photography by doing some commercial shoots and also by making prints for décor. Do you enjoy doing photography commercially or have you found it stifles your creativity and personal vision?

Kelly: One of the areas that I have been shooting lately is real estate photography which requires capturing the architecture as accurately as possible while maintaining good composition. It is mostly documentary shooting and doesn’t require a lot of creativity. Another project right now is supplying several images for a Showhome as part of a fund raising event. That is more challenging as you have specific spaces that need to be filled by sometimes a list from the client of miscellaneous shots from your website. Trying to put together a theme, enlarge the photos to fit different frame sizes and do it all within a deadline can be stifling. Whatever the job is, I always look at it as a way to challenge myself and improve.

Darwin: You are an active member of a camera club; for you what are the benefits to being part of a camera club. Any drawbacks?

Kelly: About 26 years ago, I was one of the few members in our camera club and we shot slides exclusively. Work commitments forced me to quit for a number of years and now I am back as an active member for the past 7 years and taken on various director roles. The benefits of being part of a club are every week you pick up something new as well as get exposed to a variety of ideas and styles. Clubs can also bring in great speakers like Darwin and Sam 🙂  Last year our club grew to 100 members and each member brings their own world of creativity.

Darwin: Many women that are nature photographers find it scary to shoot alone (few are worried about nature per sae but more about the ‘bad’ nature of other humans). Do you find that as a woman, you seek safety in numbers for photography or do you go out and photograph on your own?

Kelly: I have no problem going out on my own and dusting up the gravel roads. When I have a couple of hours to spare, you will find me off exploring new territories. Having said that, I am very aware of my surroundings and try not to get myself into difficult situations. A lot of times you find yourself outside, alone in the dark, which requires you to be hyper sensitive to what is nearby.

Having other people around definitely allows me to be more at ease and enjoy the camaraderie of others. There is something to be said for having a planned outing which forces me to get out the door in the freezing cold where I might otherwise not bother and miss the best light. The flip side is you are then dependent on other people’s schedules and preferences for shoot locations. Either way… just get out and shoot!!

You can find Kelly on the web at: www.kellypapephotography.com.

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

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Photographer of the Month – Michael Orton

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , on October 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Michael Orton

Darwin: Michael, the ‘Orton Effect’ or ‘Orton Imagery’ is now in the lexicon of photography as a creative artistic technique (whether done the old fashioned way with film or now using digital tools). I hear that soon there will be an Orton Filter in Photoshop Elements. How does it feel to have a process you refined become so popularized?

Michael: To be honest, up until a couple years ago I had no idea how widespread the use of this technique had become. The opportunity to replicate the original approach digitally, rather than with a camera and zoom lens, increased its popularity . It certainly lifts my day when I hear from someone who is using this , and who also seems to “get it”, and by get it I mean the idea behind its conception (Imitating pen and ink / watercolour technique).  As for Adobe , they contacted us and said they would like to use my name and  the effect in this falls  Photoshop Elements Version 10 . This exposure should bring our new website to an expanded audience. The website slideshow “Earth Symphony” (viewable 1080p full-screen) Is loaded with “Orton Effect” images from the beginning years to the present.

Darwin: Your new artistic direction involves motion blur with your camera. When I first heard about this I thought to myself that you would just be repeating the motion blur effects that Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant have made popular. But I was wrong! I am impressed by how you made a technique that is relatively simple and available to anyone into your own vision. To me that is like taking a C chord on the guitar and somehow making it your own. The lesson here is to take any technique and use it to express your inner vision. How did you motion studies evolve into their current form?

Michael: I have been using camera motion , along with many other photographers , since the late 80’s, so this is not new to me. There are several examples of these, used in different ways in the book “Photographing Creative Landscapes”. This last year while away I  began to “play” again, and take this basic concept of moving the camera to a place I had not been. I had used some compound movements in the past but now I really began to explore and combine them. Things started to happen . It was  as exciting to me as seeing that first “Orton Effect” years and years ago. Every day I seemed to discover another path , to the point where I was moving the camera in two or more directions and changing focal length or focus at the same time. I started to recognize potential in subject matter that a week before I would have walked right past. I had not been this pumped in years. When I saw these images on a monitor the colours and blending where simply amazing to me. I was hooked.  Technology is great , but creativity does come first . The slideshow “Freedom” on our website is completely camera motion.

Darwin: This new motion work you are doing is so distinctive that I think we may have an ‘Orton Motion Effect’ Again I want to congratulate you on turning whatever technique you try into you own unique form of expression. What is it about your personality that so clearly brings out your voice (it isn’t those special BC mushrooms is it?).

Michael: Oddly enough I have actually asked myself this question these last few years. How did I get here?  In my case I would say  a real sense of curiosity and an inquisitive  problem solving  mindset. I am constantly questioning not only what I am seeing but what my choices are in response .  This I call my inner or creative conversation and this was the basis of the ideas put forth in “Creative Landscapes”. In my world the tools of photography are far outweighed by the multitude of choices we have in using them . At this point what pushes me on is the need to create something that surprises me, to find what I haven’t seen or done in the past. Where it goes from here , we will see. I am just grateful to pick up a camera and make it happen. ( I do spend a lot of time in the rain-soaked woods , hmmm ! )

Darwin: You have been a successful stock photography and now you are entering the fine art print market. How different are the two disciplines and which do you prefer?

Michael: Stock has been a very good ride for Mary and I . It certainly changed our lives in the monetary sense. I tried to be as creative as possible  and still produce marketable “concepts” which was no easy task. There is no doubt that this does change the way one creates imagery. With the recent swing in the stock world I have been given the freedom to return to my days of “play”, and just make images for  myself. ( Is there a better reason? ) .  Where the fine art work goes from here is something I cannot predict as the world economy is so precarious . So far we have had very encouraging responses to the new work, many saying they have not seen  comparable imagery before and that these images are more visually exciting than the “effect” from years ago.. The prints done on canvas and watercolour paper in large sizes have some amazingly intricate colour blending . I cannot believe some of the hues made possible simply by blending existing colours. We will see what happens.

Michael:  By the, funny that you should mention the C chord. Not being able to obtain / license the music / soundtracks I would have liked for the slideshows (Vangelis and Kitaro didn’t answer the phone!)  I set about creating them myself last year. I used acoustic , and electric guitars, a synthesizer, and a multitrack recording studio to lay the tracks and then mixed down from these. Since the 80’s I have loved working with what I refer to as the “third image” , the one created as two slides blend in the dissolve, and when you add music to this it becomes magic for me. If I can share only one experience I would chose these slideshows. If you can find some time to watch them in a darkened quiet room , this is as close as I can come to recreating what photography feels like to me. ~ Michael

To see more of Michael”s new work and slideshows visit his website:  www.michaelortonphotography.com

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

Photographer of the Month – Xavier Nuez

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , on September 19, 2011 by sabrina

© Xavier Nuez

This month I’m excited to share the work of artist and photographer Xavier Nuez. Born in Montreal and now living in Chicago, Xavier’s work has been featured in both galleries and museums and is included in numerous corporate, public and private collections.

Darwin:  I notice that many of what I consider the best photographers are also musicians or musically inclined and that these photographers have some of the most evocative visual compositions. What is it about music and photography that gel so well?

Xavier: I’ve never considered the relationship between my music and my photography, so this is a new puzzle. There is something very meditative about the two, both in the production of the art and also in the appreciation afterward. When I’m shooting or playing music I can focus so intensely that nothing else exists, while I find it hard to concentrate most any other time!

They both seem to be art forms that require both left and right brain. In both cases you are channeling emotion through a mechanical instrument, an instrument that requires years and years of practice to master. And I must say here that I’m hardly a master with my guitar. I play just well enough to enjoy myself. There has always been a different level of passion and dedication to perfection with my photography.

It requires patience to master any instrument, and while I think most people understand that to be true with a musical instrument – that it takes years and years to develop the muscle memory and dexterity – I think most people underestimate the commitment required to master the technical skills required in photography, which includes not just the camera but the lighting equipment.  So I guess another relationship is patience.

Lastly, creativity and expression are muscles that need to be exercised for you to be a good artist. Musical and visual art are just different muscles, and I do believe there are intangible benefits to my images, having more than one creative outlet.

Darwin: Besides being a fine photographer and musician, you do things like glaze and paint china and then make stunning detailed macro images of your work. I love the fact that you create art and then make additional art by photographing your first creation. What other art forms do you practice?

Xavier: Funny you should ask! For 15 years I was an avid sketch artist (mainly pencil) and occasional painter, but this passion has waned. Coincidently last week I bought a sketch pad because I miss drawing.

And for some years in my teens and twenty’s I loved writing short stories. I still enjoy writing but I haven’t written fiction in years.

I’ve always loved improv comedy and for a couple of years I studied with a group in Toronto. I wish this had been a bigger part of my life because it’s clear to me that through improv you smash down so many barriers to self expression.

Darwin: Your alleyway work is mind-blowing! What is the worst thing that has happened to you while making your forays in the dark and dangerous heart of the city? And what is the best thing that has happened to you while making alleyway photos?

Xavier: Well thank you very much! When I look at this series, it’s a little hard to believe how often I’ve put my life on the line. But the older I get the more cautious I become.

I just got back from Saint Louis where I just added a new image to the series. I spent hours during the day roaming through rundown areas, looking for something to shoot later at night. I had a long list of prospects, but I kept wondering if I should hire a cop for some of these – something I’ve never done. In the end I didn’t, but I did bring several friends with me, unlike just one the way I usually do.

I’ve had many heart-pumping moments, and I’ve come close to becoming a casualty too many times, but the worst and best story has to come from Compton, CA. First, its Compton – made famous by the dueling gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. While in the middle of a shoot, a gang – 12 guys in black hoodies – chase me and my 2 friends back to my van. We have time to throw the gear in and lock the doors but then the gang surrounds the van and tells us to get out. It’s surprising how organized they were – they were literally standing all around the van. I get the impression that if I try to leave, bullets will fly. Also, and this shows you how truly insane I can be, I’m holding out for the slim chance of actually going back to re-do the shot I was working on!!

It’s a Latino gang and I speak Spanish so I lower the window a crack and try to explain what I’m doing, emphasizing that I meant no disrespect. We have a tense conversation for several minutes, until the gang leader (the only one without a hoodie) asks me if I’m Luis, the friend of a friend. I say, “Yes! Of course I am!” He then starts waving to the gang saying, “I know this guy! He’s cool he’s cool!”

In an instant I go from being a target to being part of the family – it was just a mind-blowing turn of events. I step out of the van and half the gang hugs me. They tell me I can go back to taking pictures, and that I’m safe within certain streets – I’m beyond thrilled that I can return to my photograph. Several of the gang members including Jorge, the leader, decide to hang out with us and I set up again for the earlier photo.

Ten minutes later a cop car appears around the corner skidding to a halt. Two cops jump out with laser guided hand guns and because I’ve jumped in front of the camera to protect the shot, I find myself staring at a vibrating red dot on my chest.

A minute later, we’re all standing with our hands on the hood of the cop car. I’m waiting for the cops to relax before starting to explain what I’m doing, but Jorge jumps in and says “Do you officers know lieutenant Menendez? He’s a friend of mine.” The cops turn white and wide-eyed. They stare at each other and quickly return to their car, saying “We’re sorry we thought something was going on here. Have a nice day.” They get in the car and drive away and we never see them again. This gang has been paying off the lieutenant and you don’t mess with his revenue stream.

Jorge then comes up to me and says, “You’re not Luis, are you.” I say, no, I’m not, and we both laugh. I ended up getting 2 of my best shots that night.

Darwin: You make fine art images and you do assignment work, which do your prefer or do you like both for different reasons?

Xavier: Assignment work was 90% of my income for 20 years. I haven’t done a commercial gig in a long time – I’m not opposed to it but my art keeps me very busy. I’m thrilled that I can thrive by creating the images I’m truly passionate about. It’s no longer something I have to squeeze in at the end of the day.

I enjoyed being a commercial photographer – being paid to create photographs was a dream come true. Shooting architectural interiors for magazines and interior designers was the bulk of my work, with fashion, industrial and product filling in the rest.

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

Photographer of the Month – Michael Levin

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Michael Levin

Darwin: Congratulations on a fine looking website. I love the elegant, classic and simple design which really accents you spacious and experiential photography. Did you design your website, or did you use a customized template or hire a designer?

Michael: Thank you, I worked closely with a designer and programmer on the site. I had a number of ideas that I wanted incorporated into the site and it was suggested to me that I start from ground up. It’s still a work in progress with some  interesting interactive elements being added soon, including a zoom feature to see the detail.  I think the majority of people that view my work see it on the web and I wanted the viewer to have a more personal experience. I’ve included outtakes and videos of some of my better known images and I think this helps better connect with my audience . What I’m most proud of is the newest video “Ki” that Brad Kremer shot while we were in Japan earlier this year. I think he did a fantastic job  and we’re working together on other projects now.

Darwin: You are also a talented musician. I know several other photographers who are musicians and each one of them has a simplicity and ethereal feel to their work. What is it about  being trained at music that leads photographers to be more personally expressionistic and less documentary?

Michael: “Talented” is a little to generous! I was always interested in rhythm guitar and that’s what initially attracted me to the flamenco guitar. It was the subtleties and dynamic qualities of the music that helped inform me on how to approach photography. When I first picked up the camera in 2003 I realized that capturing simple and sparse imagery would not be as easy as it looked, it would require a commitment  to evoke that same feeling that I enjoyed with music. Just as in music you practice all the time to pull off the one great performance and photography would be the same. Using long exposures also helps transform a scene from the literal into something more and this opens the image up for a more personal expression.

Darwin: Many fine art photographers seem to gravitate to shooting themes or projects yet you cover a variety of topics yet still keep the ‘look’ or ‘style’ of your work consistent. It seems that you work is more about what you feel and less about the subject. Is this ability to capture your emotions the key to developing personal style?

Michael: That’s completely what photography is about for me: being in a given space and capturing the emotion of the scene. Of course I don’t think this way when I’m out shooting, I’m just enjoying the places I visit. I think my images may have a similar look because of the effects of long exposures and I gravitate towards “clean spaces”. It seems my eye just extracts these elements from the scene and as I continue to practice I’m able to find it in more diverse locations.

Darwin: Water, sky and earth feature prominently in your work. Often these elements are simple graphical elements that are reduced to mere line and form. How do you reduce the busy, chaotic real world into such pure forms of expression?

Michael: Photography is a great way to see a country and I prefer the smaller villages and quiet moments, it’s here where I think my best images come from. Setting up a large format camera requires that you slow down and really consider the scene and I tend to have the most clarity at this point.  Having grown up on the Prairies I have an affinity for open spaces and that idea of space has always played a role in my images.  The challenge is making a singular object balance with the sky and water and it happens much less than I’d like.

Darwin: Of course because photographers are so tool-centric, we all want to know what your ‘brushes’ of choice are; what camera and medium do you use to create your work?

Michael: My camera gear has really been all over the place these last couple of years. I started out with medium format and then moved to 4×5 and 8×10. I scan everything on a Imacon 848 scanner and have the 8×10 negs drummed scanned. At the beginning of 2011 I finally went digital with the Hasselblad H4D. I do all my printing in my studio on the Epson 11880 and primarily use Epson/Hahnemuhle papers.

To see more of Michael Levin’s work, please visit his website. In October, Michael is teaching a “Art of Black and White Landscape” Master Series Workshop in Victoria, BC. There are still a few spots left!

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

Photographer of the Month – Eric Kruszewski

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Eric Kruszewski

This month I’d like to introduce you to Eric Kruszewski, an up and coming photographer from the Pacific Northwest. His work was most recently recognized by PX3 (Prix de la Photographie Paris) where he was awarded a Gold Medal for “Cowboys’ Rodeo” and a Silver Medal for “Haitian Despair”.

Darwin: Eric, from your bio it appears that you just started photographing in 2008, yet your portfolio has a richness to it that suggests someone with much more experience. Why do you think you have made such progress in developing your craft and your art when others stuggle for much longer before seeing the returns you enjoy?

Eric: While living overseas in Former Soviet Union countries and traveling to other distant places, I wanted to capture what I was so fortunate to witness and share it with family and friends in my homeland.  So in late 2008, I decided that I wanted to learn how to capture profound imagery; to do so, I participated in a hands-on photography expedition through India with three amazing professional photographers.  After soaking up information and practicing photography for the 18-day journey, I became hooked with the camera.

After returning from India, photography became an integral part of my life.  Everyday I devoted as much time as I could to some aspect of the craft – shooting, editing, reading, attending exhibitions, surrounding myself with other photographers and people who respect what I did, studying others’ work, etc.  I literally left my camera hanging on the doorknob so I could grab it as I left home.  I certainly do not know what the “normal” or “average” timeframe is for developing, and no longer struggling in the field.  Seeing progress in photography, just like with anything, comes down to working hard, having a vision, having the passion for it, embracing the received “no” and striving for the desired “yes.”  As an artist, I will always challenge myself; that, combined with dedication and hard work, motivates me to develop and hone my vision as a photographer.

Darwin: How has your “New Talent “win in the prestigious TPOTY contest affected your audience and opportunities for new ventures in photography?

Eric: The Travel Photographer of the Year “New Talent” Award was an amazing surprise for me – not only winning the award, but also communicating with the contest’s creators / organizers, fellow winning photographers and experienced judges.  Fortunately, I was able to attend the ceremony and exhibition opening in London, where so many lovers of travel and photography came together.  The contest truly was about the imagery, the story behind the pictures and the artist behind the camera.  The organizers went to great lengths in creating a top-notch website, a wonderful exhibition experience with such a high profile and reputable gallery and showcasing the images for industry personnel, the public and the press to enjoy.

Since the Travel Photographer of the Year contest was open to all international photographers, it brought together imagery and followers from all over the world.  Therefore, after winning the “New Talent” Award, there was definitely more interest in my photography and how I have developed.

Darwin: How did you manage to get access to the street people depicted in your Blocks Apart, Worlds Apart portfolio?

Eric: A photographer or passerby could come across the imagery and street people seen in my Blocks Apart, Worlds Apart story by walking down the streets and alleyways of Downtown Eastside.  One of the amazing things about “Ground Zero” in Vancouver, BC is that drug use, drug deals, prostitution and sex are practiced so openly and commonly on the streets, and they are all concentrated within several square city blocks.  Access, and getting close to the people, was accomplished by asking their permission to observe them, learn what they do and respect their practices.  I let them do their thing and they let me do mine.  Of course, there are plenty of bystanders in the streets that warn a wandering photojournalist of potential trouble while in their territory.  Fortunately I did not encounter anything serious while developing the story.

Darwin: You seem to travel extensively, how do you finance your travel photography?

Eric: I am an engineer by degree and a photographer by heart.  Since graduating from university about 10 years ago, I have been working as a mechanical engineer for an international engineering-construction company.  It was this engineering work that took me overseas to the Former Soviet Union, allowed me to travel internationally at a relatively young age and eventually drove me to begin photographing the cultures and societies in which I was immersed.

Currently, I still perform the 40-hour-a-week engineering job and spend all my free time and vacation time photographing and developing stories that motivate me.  Most times it feels as if I have two full-time jobs, and all of my family and friends support my endeavors as I continue to strive in pursuit of making the transition to full-time professional photographer.

Darwin: You are in the ‘thick of things’ with your images, making it feel as if we, the viewer, are right there on the street with the subjects you photograph. How do you achieve this narrative point-of-view?

Eric: Being around people, capturing their stories and sharing those stories captivate and motivate me as a photographer and storyteller.  In order to do this effectively, I feel that being close and intimate with the subjects is necessary; it allows me to communicate openly with them, build a rapport, truly learn the subjects and then relay their story and voice in imagery.  However, it takes trust on the subjects’ part to allow a camera into their lives and it takes trust on my part that I will be received openly, thus being able to tell the story correctly and accurately.

For most of my work, I use a lens with a short focal length.  It forces me to approach people, to concentrate on and work with main subjects that are practically within arms reach and to not worry about what is happening a mile away; I can always move and get closer.  This “in the thick of things” approach allows the viewer to feel as if they are a part of the scene and immersed in the same story that I had the privilege of witnessing.

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

Photographer of the Month – Örvar Þorgeirsson

Posted in Inspirations, Photographer of the Month, Techniques with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

Darwin: You have an eye for images that are contextual (tell a story) but are full of mood and drama and a sense of the pulsating of life. In short you are a cross between a documentary journalist and an expressionary artist. The combination is rare. What advice do you have for photographers interested in developing their own signature style?

Örvar: I believe you will get your best results photographing things that interest you in an environment that you enjoy. I started out trying to photograph various things like street photography, events and even still life but I quickly found out that landscape photography was where I enjoyed myself the most and got the best results. Looking back I think it was inevitable that I would end up in this part of the photography spectrum as the outdoors and wilderness have always fascinated me and the photography is really an extension of that. I study the work of other photographers a lot for inspiration. There are a lot of good photographers out there and getting input from the ones you like and applying it to your field of photography for the environment where you shoot will help develop your own signature style.

Darwin: You live in Iceland, which over the last decade has become the place to go for evocative landscapes. What is it about your country that appeals to so many photographers?

Örvar: I think the variety of different landscapes in a relatively small area is what makes Iceland interesting as a photographer’s destination. Volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, deserts, deep green valleys and rugged coastlines can be found at many places elsewhere in the world but all these features in an area the size of a small US state is what makes Iceland appealing. For most people being located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, near the Arctic Circle is not an ideal place to be but for landscape photographers this has two major advantages.

The biggest one is probably that the turbulent weather combined with often hours of continuous low angled sun (specially around summer and winter solstice when the sun travels horizontally just under or above the horizon) creates some really colorful and interesting light on top of the scenery found here. The other one is that the open landscape of this windy island, lacking much forest, makes interesting features easily visible from a distance. These two advantages combined, will enable traveling photographers to spend more of their hard earned free time shooting and less time on hanging around waiting for the right light and finding locations. Our recent total economic meltdown also means that Iceland went from a very expensive travel destination to being affordable.

Darwin: I am sure everyone wants to know a few technical tips and making great Aurora. What camera settings, lens choice, etc. are good starting points for beginners shooting the Aurora?

Örvar: The basic technical principle behind Aurora photography is to capture as much light as your gear can without degrading your image quality too much. This means high ISO settings, larger aperture lenses and fairly long exposures. In a typical shot, I use ISO 800 at f/2.8 for 20-30 seconds. This works well for low intensity and static displays of Aurora, which are the most common ones. When things start to heat up and the Aurora really lights up and starts dancing around the sky, I shorten my exposure time as much I can, going 3 to 5 seconds to avoid blurring the Aurora by its movement during the exposure. This means that I have to increase my ISO up to 3200 on my Canon 5D MKII.

If one plans a trip to shoot Aurora then the best time is to do so during half moon. The full moon will render daytime-like light for the long exposures and the new moon makes the foreground too dark. Very wide-angled lenses with large apertures work best for Aurora shooting. I have tried many of them including Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L, Canon 14mm f/2.8L and adapted Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lenses. Although the Nikon is much better than the Canon lenses, they all suffer from bad to really bad corner sharpness at f2.8. Recently I a friend recommended I try a little known 14mm lens from Samyang. To my surprise in Aurora photography, it outperformed all the above-mentioned lenses by far. And the best part yet–at 350USD it cost only a fraction of what the Canons and Nikons do. The lens is fully manual including aperture but it does not really matter anyway for nighttime shooting. And no, I am not sponsored by Samyang.

Darwin: How many years have you been shooting? It seems like you have accomplished a large number of top tier images in a relatively short time. What’s your secret?

Örvar: I have been into photography for 5 years now. Before that, during my mountaineering years, I loved documenting my adventures through a camera but I really did not know what I was doing back then. During these years I read through hundreds of magazines and books often beautifully illustrated by mountain scenery. Unaware of it but soaking up in all those images and beautiful scenery probably helped my development as a photographer. I am also one of those that really dives into things once I get interested in them. I have put a lot of time and effort into photography during these 5 years. But also having relatively easy access to varied landscapes here in Iceland helped build my portfolio quickly.

Darwin: One part of your signature style is the dramatic use of near/far perspective. It is difficult for many photographers to make a cohesive composition with a wide-angle lens because there is so much of the environment taken in. How do you make such clean cohesive compositions with a wide-angle lens?

Örvar: This is a difficult question. As you say the wide angle grabs a lot of the environment and much of that will often be in your foreground. One therefore needs to find places with a simple foreground that does not clutter the image. Some locations work better for wide angles than others. Seascapes and water surfaces, frozen lakes, deserts, snowfields and rivers are where you most often find those uncluttered foregrounds. Most of my portfolio is from Iceland, which suits wide angles very well. I quickly run into trouble shooting wide when traveling abroad in areas with forests and heavy vegetation. So I guess it might be more the environment where I shoot mostly rather than a special skill that I have.

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

Photographer of the Month – Denis Smith

Posted in Art of Photography, Inspirations, Photographer of the Month, Techniques with tags , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by sabrina

© Denis Smith

Darwin: Denis, your Ball of Light movie is incredibly inspiring. Many people feel anxious and trapped by the the pressures of society. And for many of us photography and especially nature photography is one of the ways we connect with our spiritual sides. But you chose light-painting and night photography – why? What is it about this particular genre of photography that appeals to you most?

Denis: When I first picked up a camera a couple of years ago I found myself on an incredibly steep learning curve having no formal training at all. I discovered light painting early on and found it stretched me, forcing me to think way outside the square. This was a time in my life when the time alone, exploring at night gave me space to work on myself. The amount of time I spend waiting for the light, the moon, or for the shutter to close is spent relaxing and learning more about myself. I certainly have become a more spiritual person. In the dark, looking up, you learn very quickly how massive everything is, and how small we are.

Light painting is a form of photography that has massive creative scope. But I think the real appeal to light painting was the ability to stretch myself constantly, and it is a pretty niche space too.

Darwin: Your movie documents well how the ball of light came to be and how it is an outgrowth of your inner world. Do you think that symbolically the subjects we photograph, and the types of compositions we make are really just external expressions of our needs, wants and turmoils in life? If so what does the ball of light symbolize for you?

Denis: The Ball of Light has become an extension of my emotions. In so many ways it represents the freedom I now have in my life. The amazing array of locations I visit to shoot the Ball of Light have opened my eyes to the wonderful world we live in. My photography grew from a basic desire to be alone to work on myself as a human. I felt like I just wanted to walk, explore and experience the freedom that offers. The freedom was addictive, I quickly was looking for more extreme and distant places to be. Bringing the Ball of Light into the mix took it to another level. The images I enjoy the most are the open spaces where the Ball of Light seems free to just be!

My wife often remarks how the Ball of Light reflects how I am at the time. If I am in a relaxed mood and feeling chilled, the outcome reflects this. If I am a bit wound up, or feeling a bit crazy we end up with some weird locations surrounded by chaos!

Darwin: What about the practical aspects of the commerce of art? You now sell limited edition prints of your work. Is this endeavour enjoyable to you, or does it drag you away from the creative aspects of your work?

Denis: Selling limited edition prints just seemed a natural progression for me. There was no structured plan to make the Ball of Light a commercial project. I was asked to do a couple of local markets so I prepared some small prints, A3, for this. The reaction form the public was really amazing. I became addicted to watching peoples faces as they realised what they were looking at was real, and not some photoshopped mish mash. Explaining the process of creating the Ball of Light became an automatic part of interaction with people. The quicker people understood the process of creating the Ball of Light they could immediately enjoy the piece.

I made the conscious decision to try and make the Ball of Light available as easily as possible, and priced everything accordingly. So doing the large format prints was easy. I thoroughly enjoy seeing my work large. I now realize that I have not really seen an image until it is printed in large format. On the computer you simply do not see the colours or richness. I sit and stare at them myself, for ages! I now take large format prints to shows with me, and they create a real stir. I just did a 3 day show here in Adelaide and the thrill I get watching people enjoy the work is only amplified having the large prints there.

Managing this side of the business certainly does not detract from the creative side. But I now think a bit more about the shot with printing and size in mind. This has benefited the work considerably though. I think more about composition. I have “learned” more about photography since selling work and am just really excited about people sharing the work. Experiencing and feeling it.

Darwin: You and your work have become ‘famous’. Does this fame and attention risk putting you in the same position that you were in before or does the ‘success’ open more doors for you to do more of what you love?

Denis: Famous? That sounds really strange, but sits pretty easily with me. What I am realising is that in the Ball of Light film we have created a short film that has inspired people to look at themselves and what they are doing. I hope it has inspired others to realise that internal happiness is so much more important than external things. I get constant feedback that my photography has inspired others to stretch themselves creatively and try something outside their comfort zone. If these two things results in some type of “fame” then so be it.

I will never return to the place I was in. One of the biggest changes I have made in my life is living within my means financially. We live a humble, and much happier, life now. What this means is that if my photography really takes off I will simply be able to do more of what I have grown to love. Travel, learn, experiment and share. Any “success” my photography has will not be wasted on the frivolous and excessive things I did on the past.

I still dream of packing a bag and heading to locations outside of Australia.

Darwin: Because your work is fairly well-defined by a unique technique, does it worry you that others will simply learn your technique and replicate your ideas and soon flood the world with clones of the ‘ball of light’?

Denis: Since the Ball of Light project really took off, and especially since the release of the film there has been a massive influx of “orbs” on Flickr. I am also inundated with questions of  “the how do you do it” type. In the beginning I was quite protective of the process. I am still a little cagey about the “rig” I use as this is the result of long nights at the end of a soldering iron. But I have really embraced the influx of people having a crack at it. I think it is wonderful that others are making the effort to stretch themselves with the camera. It is interesting though how many people have come back to me after realising how difficult it is to create the “bigger picture” with all of the elements in one shot. A tight orb combined with a killer location and good exposure control takes a bit of practice.

I often think to myself, if I have encouraged one teenager to get of the couch, turn off the playstation and get outside into the air and run around exploring like a fool there is nothing more exciting than that. There are some pretty amazing results coming from some corners of the globe. One of the nice things about the Light Painting community is there is plenty of sharing and recognition. I had a young guy and his mate come and see me at the show I did this weekend. They were so excited showing me an Orb they had created. These guys would have been about 18, and they had their girlfriends out with them, and in the photos. It felt amazing that I might have encouraged them to do this.

From a commercial point of view I do keep an eye on people using the term Ball of Light, but this doesnt come up very often. I also think to myself, Peter Lik makes millions of dollars a year taking photos of trees and water. What make his images special? He just makes water and trees look incredible. I have many projects, and ideas on the boil but The Ball of Light will always be a project close to my heart. And I really want to take it further with more amazing locations.

You can find Denis on the web here and see more of his images on Flickr.

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith