Focus shifts to Mount Robson in September

Oh, the weather was glorious for the Coast in Focus Photography workshop last weekend here on the Upper Sunshine Coast of BC. Although the group was a smaller one (in numbers, not collective height :)), an amazing time was had by all the participants. Some of the locations changed this year, which worked out incredibly well given that this was our first year of the workshop without rain. Most notably was our visit on Sunday to Heisholt Lake (Quarry Lake) on Texada Island. The group seemed rather keen to make this amazing locale the grand finale shoot of the weekend. I am very excited to see some of the imagery produced by the workshop participants.

But now, we put Coast in Focus behind us and get ready for our Mount Robson Photography Workshop in September! This one is filling up quickly, so if you are interested in improving your imagery through professional (and experiential) instruction, be sure to book your spot soon! Kelly Funk and I will also have details coming fairly soon on our newest workshop for 2012….the incredible Purcell Mountains ūüôā Stay tuned.

Coast in Focus participant sets her focus on the Palm Beach tidal pools

Sweetwater Creek was the location for our water shoot

Sea Fair was on - great opportunity for creative scenes like this 30 second exposure

We took advantage of some unreal cloud formations that looked like jellyfish - how fitting!

 
 

Sunday's Heisholt Lake shoot was the perfect ending to a great weekend of learning

 

Participant Gabe joined me in an 80 ft plunge into the lake to finish off the weekend

Put on your Mask

I keep getting asked how¬†I get¬†my images¬†to look¬†as¬†“crisp” and “sharp”¬†as they appear to¬†be. First, I point them to my workshops page and ask them to consider professional instruction. After all, that is exactly how I started several years back. Then, I let them know that proper focus is the most critical element of crisp, sharp imagery. I know, duh right. But, without proper focus right at image capture, your image is dead in the water. Period. So start by having a good read of your camera manual and get to know its capabilities with respect to focus (focus points, auto vs manual modes, etc). My good friend and Discover BC Photo Tours co-founder Kelly Funk has done a great two-part¬†tutorial on the topic of focus, so I will simply recommend you¬†have a look here.

So, you’ve signed up for¬†a workshop AND you have read Kelly’s blog¬†so many times that you¬†could recite it blindfolded, while standing on your head,¬†if so¬†asked.¬†You¬†are now¬†creating images that are properly focused (and properly exposed of course). But, your images still aren’t smoking sharp and crisp. What now?¬†Two words that should from this point forward be forever entrenched in your brains: Unsharp Mask.

Contrary to its name, the Unsharp Mask tool in Photoshop is an application used to sharpen images. It helps to emphasise texture and details and I use the Unsharp Mask tool (to varying¬†degrees) to finish almost every image I create. It is usually the last step in my work flow before I consider an image done. How does it work? Who cares. But, if you find you do care, then you can learn more about the science of the application right here. In the meantime, for those that just want to see how to apply it and what immediate results it can produce, let’s move on. Unsharp Mask can be found in most photography editing software, but I’ll use Photoshop for the¬†sake of this tutorial.

Start¬†Photoshop and open up an image that is properly exposed and in focus. In the top tool bar, click on “Filter” tab and under the drop down menu, hover your mouse over “Sharpen”. A list of sharpening options will appear, select “Unsharp Mask.”

The Unsharp Mask window will come into your screen view. You will see three options; Amount (%), Radius (pixels) and Threshold (levels). For me, Radius is always at 1.0 pixels and threshold at 0. It is the Amount lever that I play with depending on the intensity of sharpening I want. I usually add at least 50%, but normally I would add about 100 % to most images. I have gone as high as 175 % in rare cases. Play around and see what results you get. The Preview button lets you see the results before applying the Mask.

Now, you may not see dramatic changes (especially at 50 %) to your image in full view. Where you will really see the difference is when you are zoomed into a particular scene within your image.

Before Unsharp Mask

After Unsharp Mask

You can really notice new detail on the leaves in the forest foreground after the Unsharp Mask was applied.

So have fun with the tool. It may take a little time and practice to really understand the full dimensions of it, but you will notice immediately that your images appear sharper, crisper and more rich in texture and detail.

Now, about that workshop you need to sign up for… ūüôā

Summer workshops to get you shooting…better!

I love spring. It provides me with much needed hope that summer is just around the corner. It¬†means the beginning of¬†more favourable “keeper-to-loser” image ratios, warmer light, new blooms, bluer skies and¬†longer shooting days. In great anticipation of the short (seems shorter anyways) season, I eagerly plan shoots and workshops that will keep me shooting as much as possible while the weather is delightful rather than frightful.¬†

With this in mind, I have now put together¬†the new Inspired By Nature photo workshop series here in Powell River.¬†The new series consists of four, four-hour evening workshops spanning the glorious summer/fall months on BC’s Sunshine Coast. The workshops are geared towards those that wish to vastly improve their photography skills, but¬†are limited due to¬†time restraints and unforgiving commitments called life. Topics include: All About Light, Composition 101, Intimate Sunshine Coast (macro/close-up photography), and The Magic of Water. Each workshop begins with a recap of camera basics to ensure that everyone is in the know when it comes to their basic camera functions.¬†I will email a camera basics worksheet a¬†couple of weeks before each workshop for all participants to review for homework (darn rights there’ll be a test…it’s called the field shoot :)). Then once we are done our recap, we will start putting that new knowledge into practice in some of the most spectacular locations on the upper Sunshine Coast. Here’s the catch. To ensure everyone gets as much attention as possible, I am capping each workshop at¬†10 people. So make sure you contact me as early as possible if you would like to reserve your spot. Each workshop is only $75 per person!

If you are the kind of person that doesn’t want to wait to learn…there is also Coast in Focus, a weekend chalked full of classroom and field instruction, fun and unforgettable photographic experiences in Powell River. My good friend Kelly Funk hosts this weekend workshop with me as part of our Discover BC photo tours. Stay tuned as we continue launching more experiential photography workshops throughout our beautiful province. To steal an old cinematic cliche, it won’t be long until¬†we’re “coming soon to a theatre near you.” Or something to that effect. Coast in Focus is now 1/4 of the way booked, so contact me right away¬†to book!

Coast in Focus weekend workshop is confirmed for 2011!

The Sunshine Coast of British Columbia is undoubtedly one of the most stunning areas of Western North America. On July 22-24, 2011 Kelly Funk and myself will teach you how to capture all that this place has to offer.

See the pdf here

We‚Äôll start the weekend with a ‚Äėcamera basics‚Äô lesson and a meet and greet on Friday night.¬†Saturday will be a mixture of field time and informative classroom lessons.¬†We‚Äôll work in the field for a half-day on Sunday in order to give enough time for people to travel home.¬†Last year, the format seemed to work very well, and we had 14 happy participants leave this beautiful part of the province.

Along with the nature aspect of the weekend, Kelly and I will answer questions and showcase techniques that include: utilizing the human form in your imagery, how to make your pictures stand out from the rest, story-telling, impact, color balance, movement techniques for effect, artificial light and the list goes on. This is truly a unique workshop that brings you a combined 25 years of professional experience.

We‚Äôve moved the date from last year as well, as we were hit with torrential rain throughout most of the weekend.¬†We should (cross fingers) have great weather and fantastic sunrises and sunsets.¬†This will be a ‚Äėbang for the buck‚Äô workshop, so we want everyone to come out with their hard-hats and steel toed boots on, because we not only intend to have a hoot but to work you like rented mules as well!

If you have any questions about the weekend please contact either myself or Kelly here right away as this weekend will book fast.

Kelly and I both share the same informal, non-stuffy nature with our workshops, so if you’re looking to learn a ton and have some laughs this is the place to be in July! Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Hey is that a new lens, baby?

I love discovering new tricks in Photography. Especially tricks that save me money by not having to purchase new equipment. Case in point is this constant nagging in my consumer-driven psyche to purchase a Lensbaby lens to capture that dreamlike, selective focus effect that I fall for every time. I know that the lens would have been quite fun to play with…for about a week. After which, it would likely stay buried deep¬†in my camera bag talking about its glory days with my never-again-used Armageddon Red ND Filter that I just had to have when I first started photography. A filter that would turn any sky¬†a deep, unrealistic¬†red. Good impulse buy Robinson. Real good. That filter rendered one good image in the several years I have owned it and the¬†minimal times I even used it.

Aliens are coming...to get my red filter

So here I was contemplating another ridiculous spend, when my good friend and pro photographer Kelly Funk passed on a great tip in¬†Photoshop that will produce the same effect as a Lensbaby…when¬†applied correctly. It gives¬†you that dreamy, hallucinogenic-mushroom, Disney Viewmaster type of look and feel. Basically allowing you to keep one¬†element of your image in sharp focus (subject), while blurring the rest of the image elements to look like you just put in eye drops. This effect is used¬†mostly in wedding photography. I don’t see it too often in nature photography, so I thought I would give it a try.

Here is an intimate shot of Lois River near Eagle Falls in Powell River. The colour of the main rock in the image jumped out at me when I captured this shot last year. I thought I would apply the selective focus technique to really make the rock pop. Nothing against the original image, but adding this new application made me fall for this shot in a new way.

As captured in camera

After applying Selective Focus effect in Photoshop

Here’s one of my favourite shots of Saltery Falls, the very first bit of eye-candy you get when you start the 180 km Sunshine Coast Trail. I set up this shot on my tripod and used my self timer to add the human element to a magnificent natural scene. By placing a person in the shot, me, the image becomes more appealing to tourism marketers. Again, I like the original shot just fine. But there is something so cool about the new and improved shot post-effect.

Mushrooms anyone?

Here’s one last example of the effect as applied on this panoramic interior shot of Powell River’s historic Patricia Theatre. Once again, the sharp-as-a-tack image is commercial ready in itself, but considering it is like a time-warp inside the theatre I would try that effect here.

As shot

I woke up and it was 1930

The selective focus method has made me go back into some of my old files for some reworking. It is¬†a lot of fun to see images you¬†forgot you had and bring them back¬†onto your desktop.¬†I¬†anticipate a whole lot of experimental fun with this new technique….for about a week ūüôā

But that is ok, because this kind of fun cost me nothing.¬†I am completely¬†guilt-free and¬†I didn’t have to add any more weight to¬†an already¬†back-cramping camera bag. And my Armageddon-enducing Death Filter? It is now a lovely¬†colourful beer coaster for my cold bottle of Miller. Reduce, Re-use, Re-cycle.

Cheers!

PS. For those that want to know how to apply the selective focus effect in post, visit http://www.elementsvillage.com/forums/showthread.php?t=47882

Tunnel vision to the extreme

See things differently

See things differently. This was our theme for the Fall Photography Workshop which happened over the past¬†weekend. Technical and artistic knowledge aside, I really wanted to stress to my workshop participants the importance of seeing things differently. With so many images in the world and so little time to appreciate them all, as a budding photographer, this is how you best get your images noticed. Start seeing things that others might have missed. Look at your subject from a¬†different angle. Climb a tree for a bird’s eye view. Hit the ground and¬†compose upwards. Shoot that stunning mountain meadow through a pair of mirrored sunglasses.¬†Challenge yourself to constantly see things differently. By doing so, you will become a better photographer, blowing your audience away with your fresh perspectives on¬†subjects¬†they have likely seen time and time again.

Looking up into the towering trees at Haslam Lake

Zooming into the eye of a bighorn sheep

Sir Donald through the sunglasses

Contrary to the Coast in Focus workshop earlier in the year, the weather that we experienced this past weekend was outstanding. Dramatic clouds, vibrant early fall colours and flat lighting only when we needed it Рshooting the many waterfalls of Appleton Creek. This was the ideal workshop setting and I had the ideal group of participants.

I was instructing a very geared and excited group of individuals. After¬†some “inside time”, covering topics ranging from camera basics, exposure, lighting techniques and the rules of composition we hit some of the most amazing locales¬†where participants were able to put what they just¬†learned into action.

And did they ever.

What I love most about these weekend warrior workshops is that I get to witness some very amazing transformations in my students in a very short period of time. During the first few field shoots, most participants tend to stick close by me, ask a ton of questions and timidly wait for subject matter to smack them in the face. But as the weekend goes on,¬†their confidence levels¬†increase dramatically as they take in knowledge and they become¬†unstoppable image hunters in the field. This group was very much the same. By the time Sunday’s Appleton Creek waterfall shoot came around, my students were self-sufficient, waterfall shooting maniacs. I was excited to see them climbing waterfalls (safely of course), shooting low, shooting high, eagerly attacking the beautiful¬†scenes from all angles. I actually had to pull them out of the field against their will so we¬†could cover post-production techniques before the weekend ended. I love creating monsters.

My students, no…friends,¬†are now well-armed with the knowledge and confidence to take their¬†respective photo¬†sectors by storm. I had an amazing time with each of¬†them and wish them all the best in their future photographic endeavors.

Participant Carolee Penner's shot of Gorge Falls

My view of participant Candace Roadknight getting low and shooting the creek

Fall Photography Workshop in Powell River – October 1-3, 2010

Want to learn to improve your imagery in beautiful Powell River, BC? Here’s your chance!

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Kelly and I had decided to postpone Coast in Focus in Pender Harbour until next year. However, I am offering an intimate workshop here in Powell River from October 1-3. It is a more condensed version of the Coast in Focus workshop, arming you with the neccessary knowledge and skills to vastly improve your imagery in one of the most picturesque locations in British Columbia.

The workshop takes place October 1-3, a great time to catch the beautiful colours and textures of fall. Because of the small group size, one on one instruction is maximized and tailored to just about ever level of shooter.

Space is limited, so book your spot now by emailing me at darren@darrenrobinsonphotography.com

Click here for more details!

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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!