The Importance of Balance in Imagery; Achieving Visual Zen

Balance. Such a pleasing word isn’t it. We live our lives in search of it, whether it be a work/life balance, or perhaps a well-balanced diet. Sometimes, we simply strive for balance when standing, depending on how many wobbly pops we’ve that night. Look up balance in the thesaurus and you can instantly see why we yearn for such a thing. Harmony, peace, stability, poise, composure, even steven (yup, it’s in there); these are all things we as humans tend to strive for. When balance is acheived, we tend to be at one with the world, far away from the vaccum-sucking power of chaos.

Ohmmmmmm.

Okay, I’m back. My point here is that there lies deep within our psyche, a yearning for…balance. We then could assume, that we seek the same controlled outcome within our imagery. One thing that myself and Kelly Funk stress within our Coast in Focus photography workshops, is the importance of a balanced composition. Time to bring in the visuals.

Haslam Lake in Powell River, BC

So, what does balance mean within the realm of photographic imaging? It means that the image is evenly weighted within its borders. Take the image of Haslam Lake here. Balance is achieved thanks to some pre-thought elements found within the environment. First of all, the clouds are a bit more vibrant and fluffy on the left side of the image. Offering a sense of counter-weight on the right side are those two rocks protruding from the lake shallows. Zenfullness (couldn’t find this on dictionary.com, but it sounded right) is present within the vertical split of the image (left vs right). Now, to achieve a similar state of  higher Zendom within the horizontal split (top vs bottom) I needed a foreground anchor balance. Something that even-stevens the weight of the upper half of the image in the clouds, mountains and blue sky. My solution was to make that rock on the lower left side of the image the anchor.

Voila! The image can now be hung safely on the walls of yoga studios everywhere without disturbing even the shakiest Downward Dog pose.

So what does an imbalanced image look like? When the image doesn’t successfully keep your eyes moving within it, and instead drives your attention to one side vs the other, the image is unstable and may self-destruct without ample warning. Not really, but hopefully you get my point. Imbalanced images tend to create uneasiness in the viewer, if you feel that, chances are balance is missing from the image. The easiest way to achieve imbalance, is with a crooked horizon line. Watch those very closely.

Straight horizon line

Crooked horizon line tipping the image

The yellow line was drawn in Photoshop to show how important a straight horizon line is to achieving visual balance. The second image with the crooked horizon line, tends to pull on your chakra, giving the image a heavy left side.

There are times when a crooked horizon line and imbalance offer pleasing results. These are not the norm and are usually the result of trial and error. Wedding and fashion photographers are usually very good at this and the results can render very dynamic and impactful imagery. As with anything, photographic rules should really be considered guidelines. Challenging them can truly be half the fun. Just know that most viewers are effected by balance and tend to appreciate images of the stable variety, over ones that tend to cause neck strain.

Cheers!

Dragon Boat team in Powell River for a calendar photo shoot

Coast in Focus II ~ The Lower Sunshine Coast

It’s official! The Coast in Focus photography weekend workshop is coming to the Lower Sunshine Coast on October 1-3, 2010. Fall on the Sunshine Coast is an amazing experience. Not only are the colours beautiful and the light warm, there is also lots of room to move and explore as tourist season winds down dramatically in this region. This is my favourite season to get out and explore, shoot and enjoy this stunning region I call home.

This past May, we welcomed sixteen incredible individuals to join us in gorgeous Powell River for the first Coast in Focus workshop. Although the weather was extremely challenging (my hiking boots are still a little damp) the weekend was a tremendous success and I am still seeing dramatic improvements in the imagery our participants are producing. What an experience for all of us.

Coast in Focus participants after shoot at Stillwater Bluffs

There was great demand to see this workshop series come down south to the Lower Sunshine Coast…….and we concur.

So if you didn’t get the chance to join us in Powell River, now is your chance to learn how to vastly improve your imagery and photography skills in one of the most spectacular settings in British Columbia, or the world for that matter. We will cover topics including composition, lighting (natural and artifical), working with subjects, storytelling, essential gear, camera basics, aperture and exposure, and my favourite subject….how to infuse creativity into your image making.

Kelly and I are very excited for October. New this time around, is the proud sponsorship of Outdoor Photography Canada magazine, Canada’s coolest publication for all things nature photography! And best of all, included in this year’s package is a free subscription to the magazine for every participant!

Interested?

Click here for the full details. A little hint: this PDF is 4 mb, so please be patient as it downloads for you, might take about 1-2 minutes. While you let it download, you could always visit www.darrenrobinsonphotography.com or www.naturalwonders.ca and learn some more about the instructors. Or you could play Farmville. Whatever your pleasure 🙂

Coast in Focus 2010 ~ That’s a Wrap

The Coast in Focus photography weekend is now officially over. But for the fifteen students that took part in the workshop, the learning has just begun. First, I wish to thank and congratulate the budding photographers on muscling through the endless rain that challenged us all weekend long, and they still showed up eagerly at every shoot with smiles on their faces. It was brilliant to see and to be a part of. We can control our compositions and exposures…..we cannot control the weather 🙂

We started the weekend at the Town Centre Hotel here in Powell River with a Friday night welcome session and Camera Basics workshop. After some intro presentations from the three pros, Kelly Funk led a session on Camera Basics, a hands-on session aimed at understanding exposure, lighting, camera functions, shooting modes, ISO, composition basics, etc. The biggest challenge we threw out there was that all participants shoot in only Manual mode from here on out. Although some were admittedly a bit intimidated by this at first, the Camera Basics workshop armed them with the right knowledge to achieve this goal. Goodbye Auto Mode!

Everyone was ready to get some sleep and head out into the field bright and early on Saturday morning.

The rain continued to hammer us on Saturday as we headed out to beautiful Stillwater Bluffs south of Powell River, a location that offers some incredible vegetation, vistas and wildlife….when the weather cooperates (see image of the bluffs below from two short weeks ago).

Stillwater Bluffs

The group was told to “find their vision first” and start capturing it in-camera by applying some of their newly acquired knowledge. The pros spent the next few hours one-on-one with the participants, helping them to achieve their image objectives. We got soaked, but wow was it ever fun. And we quickly saw a vast improvement in quality of imagery from this group.

Coast in Focus group shot at Stillwater Bluffs ~ by Kelly Funk

 Off to the next location ~ Eagle Falls. Some of the group opted to go dry off, while the rest of us ventured up the highway to iconic Eagle Falls to learn the art of shooting water. The wet weather created an ideal lighting situation for long exposures and high apertures. The group really enjoyed this leg of the shoot. Below is a photo of Eagle Falls in happier (sunnier) times.

Eagle Falls - Darren Robinson Photography

After a quick lunch, we headed back into the classroom for a more in-depth look at lighting and exposure with Kelly, followed by a workshop session on compositions led by myself. The group really started to get a firm hold on the elements that comprise great imagery during these sessions. Then it was time to apply these elements to their own works. Before the event, the participants sent us what they believed were their three best images for a professional critiquing. During this session, the group really started to see what they would change about their images and their techniques.

After dinner we headed out for our….ehem….sunset shoot. Okay, so there was no sun around to set, but that didn’t stop us from playing with lightpainting. Lightpainting is an artifical lighting technique that, if done properly, can render some very surreal and impactful images. Basically, while shooting in low-light situations, you use long exposures and “paint” light on your scene (or scene elements) using a bright artificial light source, in our case a 10 million candle spotlight. An example is my image below. The exposure was 20 seconds just after dusk as I painted the log for the duration of the exposure. Again we got soaked. Again we had a blast and learned a lot!

Log Lightpainted at Palm Beach

Sunday turned out to be the highlight of the weekend, location-wise and weather-wise. We went to the Appleton Creek trail north of Powell River to shoot a series of captivating waterfalls.

Bandit Falls headwaters on Appleton Creek ~ Darren Robinson Photography

CIF participant reviewing image at Appleton Creek waterfall

The group starting producing some great imagery here and got really inspired by the overwhelming beauty of the area. We spent about three and a half hours here and in all honesty I had to pry many away to our next endeavor…..Willingdon Beach. We wrapped up with some field demonstrations on action photography by having them capture Kelly and myself taking turns swinging through the air on a zunga (rope swing).

All in all, the weekend was a tremendous success and we look forward to next year. We are currently evaluating the possibility of offering a fall workshop series on the lower Sunshine Coast, stay tuned for details as we iron them out!

Cheers!

Capturing the Essence of History

Powell River celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2010 and as such, so does one of my favourite local icons, the Patricia Theatre, Canada’s oldest continuously operating movie theatre. I have shot the theatre before with some success, but I wanted to do a reshoot there in honour of this upcoming milestone. So last week, I did.

The Patricia Theatre in Powell River's Historic Town Site

The warmth and grandeur of the theatre has changed dramitically since I last shot it, completely for the better. The room’s new/old seats (recently purchased from Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre) added a whole new dynamic to the iconic movie house. The red seats added a richness and allure that one would expect to find in the historic district of a major city centre. Being in the theatre alone, with nothing more than a camera and my vision was a little surreal. The Patricia Theatre surely has amillion stories to tell, and I simply wanted to showcase it in a new perspective. I started out shooting wide. I wanted to showcase the entire room in all its glory. Something that they could use to promote the theatre in their marketing endeavors.

Inside the Patricia Theatre

After a few compositions, I yearned to go REALLY wide from the back of the theatre. The following image is a panoramic composite of 3 vertical shots. The key to any good merging of images is doing it right, in camera at the moment of capture. As always, a sturdy tripod is essential to pulling this off. For more on creating panoramics from multiple images, visit http://digital-photography-school.com/creating-a-panorama-with-photoshop-and-photomerge, or just google “how to create panoramic images.” A final alternative would be to enroll in Coast in Focus May 28-30 where we will demonstrate this in the field.

The Patricia in Pano

Immediately after capturing the images to create this pano, I really started to warm to the room. I felt like the details were calling out to me, which I aimed at exploring closer. Imagine the stories. Oh the things this old movie house has seen. I immediately headed towards the stage, drawn to the organ sitting directly below it. I re-composed and snapped what has become my favourite shot of the day. This intimate shot screams of a different era. If I were to age it with some effects and photoshop tricks, you’d never guess when this shot was taken, which is kind of cool.

The Stage - The Patricia Theatre

Somtimes it takes the finer details in order to successfully capture the essence of places of historic value. Check out the detail in the curtain.

The Details

I look forward to shooting many more of Powell River’s icons as its centennial celebrations fast approach!

Twenty-five days till Coast in Focus!

Well, here we are in May and summer is fast approaching on the appropriately-named Sunshine Coast. For those of you that choose to put your cameras and tripods on the shelf over the off-seasons, now is the time to dust them off and recharge those batteries. And why not brush up on some of your skills and knowledge of the art form by joining us in Powell River for the first ever Coast in Focus workshop, May 28-30. Outdoor Photography Canada magazine contributor, Kelly Funk and myself will be leading our particpants on a weekend of extraordinary field shoots, informative workshops and a straight-up, old-fashioned good time. Our mission is to help you “Unleash Your Creative Side” and we will do so by covering an array of photo topics including Camera Functions, Lighting (natural and artificial), Creative Compositions (the rules and when to best break them), working with subjects, ISO, F-stops and Histograms (demystifying the technical-side), essential equipment (filters, tripods, etc) and working in the field.

We have capped the event at 20 people to ensure optimal one-on-one time for our participants. Join us in some of the most captivating locales (and some of the best places to learn) in the Powell River area for the west coast photography event of the year! E-mail me at darren@darrenrobinsonphotography.com or call (604) 485-4427 to book.

See you soon!

Shooting Eagle Falls

A shot of Appleton anyone?

Up until this point, the word Appleton has meant nothing more to me than as the brand name of a certain Jamaican rum. A very YUMMY brand of rum indeed. Little did I realize that it is also the name of a very yummy two kilometer (or so) trail just north of Powell River, along BC’s infamous Sunshine Coast. The trail is vastly rich in rewards and challenging enough to justify mixing the night’s tea with an ounce (or two) of the finer liqueur.

Finding the trail head wasn’t easy. Driving up to it almost cost me my Hyundai. Overstatement? Yes. But it could easily had happened if I had been going fast enough. Glad I wasn’t.

The road was great until the first of two washouts jumped out at me like sniper ninjas, my poor Santa Fe catching its first taste of air, at least since we’ve owned it anyways. It shouldn’t be too difficult to remember those hazards on the way back.

And then there’s the signage. Or rather, the lackthereof. Oh wait, there is one sign, it’s just doesn’t offer any clarity or definitive direction. It’s standing well away from the trail head and doesn’t point anywhere. I know. Where do you sign up for this hike, right?

But hey, it’s all an adventure and the best is still to come.

Yes, I’m kind of weird about waterfalls. There are worse things to be weird about. I don’t know, they just move me. They make me happy. And this trail is chalked full of them.

The Appleton Canyon trail head is marked by aging pink ribbons waving mysteriously over a narrow trail in the gravel pit parking lot just before the less-than-helpful trail sign that sits on the main road. All things good are worth hunting for. I recommend adopting this mentality if finding the trail doesn’t come easily for you either.

The trail begins as a gradual climb beside the torrent Appleton Creek. The creek remains unseen for the first ten to twelve minutes of the hike, but you can definitely hear it. I found it difficult to resist sliding down the embankment in anticipation of what I have heard about this trail. But I knew easier views would soon come my way. As the climb continues on, the rainforest becomes more beautiful, if that is at all possible. A dense green carpet of moss blankets the ground while the giant ceders tower above, acting as nature’s umbrella from the sun, or in my case the spring rain.

Fifteen minutes into the trail comes the first accessible waterfall. A narrow trail to the left guides hikers down to the creek for a view of the top of the waterfall. If you are hiking with kids, watch them closely as a fall into the creek from this vantage point would likely warrant unfavourable circumstances. The image here is of the headwaters leading up to the fifteen foot falls.

Appleton Creek - First Falls

Back on the main trail the silence of the forest on the right is harmoniously in sync with the rushing creek on the left. Carry onward and upward another eight or so minutes until you descend down towards the creek. I chose this opportunity for a glug of water and a photo. No waterfall here, but beautiful nonetheless.

Appleton Creek Pit Stop

The awaiting waterfalls are now screaming. Their sound is unmistakeable. A brief uphill climb along the main trail introduces the next waterfall trail on the left. Unlike most of the other later falls along this trail, this one appears to be nameless. My three year old daughter has since named it Gold Falls. The yellow/golden hues of the tannin-rich water is what I am guessing was the inspiration behind the name.

Gold Falls

 The trail then begins a solid climb upward for a good several minutes until you reach one the bigger falls along the trail. Again, hold on to your kids tightly here as you soak in the amazing views from high atop the canyon walls. The falls seem to get more impressive as this hike goes on.

Wide Angle of Falls

Close up of Falls

As the trail continues, each waterfall vantage point is separated by incredible forest tranquility. Unlike getting to the falls, it’s pretty difficult to get lost once on this trail. The only lead away trails are the ones that guide you to each set of waterfalls for viewing pleasure. But, much like any trail system in rugged BC back country, take caution, you never know when an encounter with a waking black bear or cougar could possibly occur. Be alert and prepared.

Sylph Falls, Bandit Falls and Gorge Falls round out the waterfalls awaiting discovery along this remarkable trail. The headwaters to Bandit Falls are literally straight out of a fairytale. One could almost expect to see Hansel and Gretel frolicking amidst the vibrant greens and earthy browns surrounding the rest bench provided by PRPAWS, a local trail group that deserves national recognition for their contribution to the area’s trails and treasures.

Headwaters to Bandit Falls

Touching Gorge Falls

The end of the trail is marked by a recreation campsite eagerly awaiting its next spring inhabitants. Maybe it will be you?

For more information on the Appleton Creek trail, or any of Powell River’s extraordinary trail systems, visit www.discoverpowellriver.com or call the Visitors Centre at (604) 485-4701. Happy trekking.

Confessions of a Waterfall Junkie

Anybody else feel incredibly moved by the power of a waterfall? Anybody feel more connected, whether it’s to nature, to a partner or loved one, or perhaps to something bigger than us when in the midst of water crashing to the ground right before your eyes? If you are familiar with, and yearn for this connection, then Powell River should be your destination of choice in 2010.

Eagle Falls

It was this passion for falling water that fuelled my love for photography. Shooting waterfalls can be fun, challenging and rewarding, but arguably the best part of the mission for me is getting there. The fresh smells of the rainforest trail, the sound of plunging water getting louder by the second, the anticipation of that connection I spoke of earlier, each moment contributes to the overall journey. I’ve seen, and shot, many waterfalls in my time, from iconic ones like Athabasca Falls in the Canadian Rockies, to some lesser-known gems like Saltery Falls right here in Powell River.

Athabasca Falls Winter Dance

Upper Eagle Falls

No matter the waterfall, the connection is always the desired end-result. And in some cases, it is these lesser-known waterfalls that offer the more enriching experience. Although Athabasca Falls is thunderously captivating, with its blue-green hues and towering mountains as its backdrop, the journey is not much more than a 5-minute walk from the parking lot. You certainly feel the falls when you get to it, just don’t expect to feel it in privacy.

Waterfall in Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

In my many treks to the iconic falls of Jasper, I have never seen it stark of tourists, not even in the winter. This is where those less iconic waterfalls fill the emotional gap, and they do it extremely well here on the upper Sunshine Coast.

Saltery Falls along the Sunshine Coast Trail in Powell River

The Blackwater Trail, in rural Powell River is a prime example of how the experience effectively works as a whole, how a perfect connection is achieved. As part of an awe-inspiring circuit of interconnected trails that make up the Duck Lake/Mud Lake Trail system, the Blackwater Trail is a 4-km loop that offers some of the best rugged rainforest terrain, climaxing with not one breathtaking waterfall, but two. This hike is so diverse that even the drive up to the trailhead is rewarding, passing through aspen groves, alongside beautiful lakes and powerful rivers. Once at the trail head, the trek begins with an unmistakable attack on your senses. Every turn reminds you that you are in the heart of BC’s west coast rainforest. The rich greens and browns provide a wild sense of peace and tranquility. As the trail continues along the Blackwater Creek, the anticipation continues to build as the terrain becomes slightly steeper and the sound of the creek begins to intensify. At about 1.5 km, the trail delivers its first stunning waterfall; Kelly Falls.

Taking in Kelly Falls along the Blackwater Trail

Although it’s easy to mistake the waterfall site with the rainforest oasis found in the Endor Village, home of George Lucas’ Ewoks, make no mistake this is Powell River. The twenty (ish) foot waterfall plunges through open terrain, offering many inspiring vistas and perspectives to consider.

Best of all, hikers are led straight to the heart of the waterfall by a rustic, yet immaculately built boardwalk that crosses the creek. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Powell River’s own BOMB (Bloody Old Men’s Brigade) Squad, these boardwalks are common to this trail system and greatly enhance the enjoyment of, and accessibility to trail highlights. Complete with a walk-in campsite and picnic table, Kelly Falls is a must-see for those that enjoy experiencing the unmistakable pulse offered by such rugged nature. But your day of discovery does not end here, time to get back on the trail and ascend towards the second waterfall, David Lam Falls.

Spectacular David Lam Falls along Blackwater Trail

Standing at an impressive sixty (ish) feet tall, David Lam Falls is considered one of the tallest of its kind on the upper Sunshine Coast. The trail winds down towards the base of the falls complete with a standing platform for optimal viewing (and feeling). The invigorating spray of this falls is a reminder of just how powerful this wilderness is and how nature can rock the very foundation of one’s soul, at least the soul of an admitted waterfall geek anyways.

For more information on the Duck Lake/Mud Lake Trail System and for an online map, visit http://www.discoverpowellriver.com and click the maps tab. The Coast in Focus photography workshop is now half full, so be sure to contact me today to secure your spot for the May 28-30 event. We’ll definitely get out to one, if not several of these Sunshine Coast waterfalls to shoot!

Flooded River near Duck Lake Trails