Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Finding Your Inspiration

published in the South Shore Breaker - June 29, 2016
We live in such a beautiful part of Nova Scotia, Canada, and even the world, that it's difficult to understand sometimes why a photographer or artist might run out of inspiration. But it does happen. Sometimes we just get stuck creatively. I have a bulletin board beside my desk that is filled with cards and photographs, things to help feed my artistic soul. Some are just doodles I have done, some are some inspirational photos I've put together, but most are cards and photos from other artists who inspire me.

One of the cards is an image of a tree and birds in flight (two of my favourite things to photograph), a creation called "January Morning" by photographic artist Kas Stone (the card is shown in the above photograph of the newspaper article). Kas is a local photographer who has a studio in Dublin Shore, and she's also a member of the Bridgewater Photo Club, so I can get a fix of her beautiful images quite often.

Kas earns a living by selling her images and conducting photography courses at the NSCC and workshops at her studio, so those are pretty obvious motivations for her to get out and take photographs. She does have to pay the rent and put food on the table! But I got to wondering what inspires someone who inspires me.  

Kas gets her inspiration from other photographers, as well as printmakers, potters, musicians, writers, and other artists focusing on landscape and the environment. Aside from beautiful scenery, Nova Scotia is blessed with many, many talented and creative artists. Take a look around. Visit galleries, and your local library and museums. Join a club of like minded people. Inspiration is everywhere.

We may sometimes take the beauty around us for granted. But one thing that Kas has discovered over her years photographing landscapes is that she makes her very best photographs close to home in landscapes that she is intimately familiar with. She prefers locations that she can experience repeatedly in all seasons and weather, high and low tide. She doesn't consider it a hardship to go out with her camera in storms, fog or snow. In fact she finds her best images usually come from these so-called ‘bad’ conditions.

I mentioned that Kas is a photographic artist. To most people the word photographer suggests someone who takes pictures of real things and places. But Kas agrees with whoever it was who said that "reality is highly overrated", so she uses techniques that transform her photographs into more artistic works, sometimes straying a long way from the original reality that was captured by her camera. Her hope is always to evoke memories and emotions which will connect with people who share her love of our beautiful natural spaces. 

Today I'm sharing two images that are special to Kas. The first image is "Breakers" and was taken in February 2014 at Little Harbour in Lunenburg County, the day after a fierce midwinter storm and just 3 months after she moved home to Nova Scotia from Ontario. She was thrilled to be back on the Atlantic coast, so it seemed appropriate that she celebrated Valentine's Day by slithering around the seaweed with her camera at the edge of the ocean. This is a favourite spot for her to go for pictures of waves during a gale, because at low tide it reveals a group of jagged rocks.
Breakers by Kas Stone (
The second image is called "Above and Beyond" and was taken in early April this year at the Rissers Beach boardwalk. It has deep meaning for Kas because Rissers Beach holds a special place in her heart. It was her home base during her scouting trips while she was researching her move back to Nova Scotia. It's just a five minute drive from where she now lives, so she walks the beach-boardwalk loop almost every evening to clear the cobwebs after a day's work. Being able to go there so often gives her the opportunity to explore the same location with her camera in various conditions. This image is an example of how inclement weather can transform a familiar place into an unfamiliar one and make it more interesting for photographs. In this case, fog obscured the usual background and made the scene mysterious with the yellow winter grasses more saturated.
Above and Beyond by Kas Stone (
Since Kas earns a living doing something she also loves to do as a hobby, she sometimes finds it challenging to achieve a balance between the artistic and the business parts of her business. She usually interprets a scene in different ways, the more realistic images that tourists prefer, and the more creative interpretations that typically appeal to other artists and that she finds personally rewarding.

Perhaps we can take a lesson from this when we're out with our own cameras. When you see something that inspires you to take a photograph, take a look around and try to create several different images from the same scene. Learning about other artists
can be inspiration for us to focus on in our own photographic journeys.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Change in Plans

South Shore Breaker - June 22, 2016 - A change in plans
We’ve all had those days that we thought would go a certain way, and then life chooses to throw us a curve ball and we end up having a completely different day than planned. We had one of those days just a short while ago. Weather forecasts were for all day rain, so we planned to get the things done around the house that tend to add up and not get done during the good weather season.

I glanced out the window after a morning of computer work, and there was blue sky and shining sun. I decided that it wasnt a day to stay inside after all, and proposed an unexpected trip further down the South Shore. Half an hour later, we had the dogs organized, camera equipment loaded and were headed down the road. Despite the weather forecast, sunny blue skies were our companion for the full two hour drive. A quick debate decided that it was time to visit West Pubnico, where we enjoyed a mid afternoon lunch at Dennis Point Café. Their special of the day was parmesan haddock, a light batter on the freshest fish you can find...after all, it comes from the wharf right across the street. We both ordered the special. I opted for the conscience easing side salad, and my husband chose the home cut fries. The only disappointment was that they had just sold their last piece of coconut cream pie. Its our mission to find the best coconut cream in Nova Scotia (we set lofty goals for ourselves), and the home made pie at Dennis Point is our favourite so far. We were told that the pies are made on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we made a mental note to return on one of those days in the future.
fishing boats at Dennis Point Wharf
Aside from the food, its a pleasure to sit and listen to the local fishermen. Their conversations in both French and English gave us a sense of being away on vacation, even if wewere just a short drive from home. We had a nice talk with a retired lobster fisherman, who told us that "back in the day" a good catch for the year was 10,000 pounds. He told us that now the average catch each season is 200,000 pounds per boat. I have no idea if these numbers are true or not, but it sounds impressive. The Dennis Point Wharf is home to over 100 vessels and is Atlantic Canadas busiest fishing port. Lobster season is over and the new season starts again at the end of November so the wharf was filled with boats and lots of photo opportunities. Not only the boats, but also the colourful buoys and nets are always a treat for someone with a camera.
buoys, ropes, and nets around the wharf are always interesting subjects to photograph
When we were leaving the restaurant, my husband mentioned to the waitress that we were on our way to Cape Sable Island to visit the beach at The Hawk. She asked if we ever went to Stoney Island Beach, and explained how to get there. This beach isnt marked on the tourism map, or in the Atlantic Canada Back Road Atlas. As far as we could tell, there were no road signs either. Its a constant amazement to me that a province driven by tourism doesnt promote its natural wonders more. The beach is long and sandy and very beautiful. 
Mindful of the nesting piping plovers, we kept the dogs away from the dunes. The beaches of Cape Sable Island are home to about 20% of Nova Scotias piping plovers. Because their numbers are so small, they are classified as endangered. We have seen them at The Hawk, but didnt see any on this outing. We did keep the dogs from the dunes, but we didnt manage to keep one of them away from a huge dead fish. Our dog Charlie spent some joy filled minutes rolling on the fish before we could lure him away.
pausing to reflect on the beauty of the surroundings on Stoney Point Beach
It took us over an hour to walk the full beach and back, with just us and our dogs alone on the beach. Several other beachcombers and walkers joined us on the beach towards the end of our walk. There arent too many places in the world that are as beautiful where you can feel absolutely alone enjoying the wonders of nature.

We ended our excursion by fortifying ourselves with ice cream before the drive back home. Im sure those calories will stay away from my hips after all that beach walking! Our day didnt turn out as we planned, but my oh my, what a day it was. Well have to make some difficult decisions when we travel to Cape Sable Island in the future...which beautiful beach walk to take? But thats a focus for another day.
beachcombers behind the dunes at Stoney Point Beach

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Morning Glory

published in the South Shore Breaker - June 15, 2016
In my mind, early mornings should involve lots of relaxation and coffee in bed. In reality, early mornings involve letting dogs outside, letting them back in, and feeding them. Feeding the cat, and cleaning the litter box. Making coffee and completing the sudoku in the morning paper. Sometimes early mornings involve jumping out of bed from a sound sleep to the sound of a dog barfing. Not exactly the relaxing moments of my dreams.

In a photographer
s life, early mornings are one of the best times for capturing images. The soft light brings life to subtle details, and often there is a gentle mist to help make dreamy landscapes and seascapes. The golden hour lasts about an hour after sunrise, but changes depending on where you live and the season.

But my theory is that the best time to take a photograph is when you actually have the time. My time with my camera doesn
t usually fall into the golden hour. I guess I could set my alarm clock and drag myself out of bed to look after the animals and get out of the house to a choice location before the golden hour hits. But lets face it, thats not me and its not my lifestyle. If you can’t get out during the golden hour, you can still capture beautiful moments at any time of day.

Some mornings, I do head out a little later than what falls under the golden hour definition. I put some coffee into a travel mug, grab my camera, and head out in my car.  The inspiration doesn
t hit often, but I try to take advantage of it when it does. A couple of weeks ago, I headed to my old stomping ground and to "the country". Living in such a beautiful coastal community leads to many spectacular water scenes, but there is beauty in the country too.

My first stop was along the road beside a farmer
s field. A lone apple tree standing in a field caught my eye. I was mostly enthralled with the striped patterns that the spring plowing had made, and I can never resist taking photos of standalone trees. A couple of ducks flying by added an extra touch that I was very happy to capture. Oddly enough, just two days after I took the photo I found out through the grapevine that the field is being prepared for a planting of haskaps, a thriving industry on the South Shore.
a farmer's field on Lower Branch Road - rumour has it that it has been prepped for haskap planting
A little farther down the road, I found a marshy area where the grasses are just beginning to grow. I missed the early morning mist and glow, but it was spectacular nonetheless. Part of the joy of photography is not just the picture in itself, but in the experience of capturing the moment.
marsh on Veinot Road in New Canada
My marsh photo will bring back memories of spring peepers, a blackbird at the top of a dead tree in the marsh trilling its lovely song, a squirrel jumping just barely over my head as I ducked under a tree to get closer to the marsh, and a goose somewhere in the background constantly honking. The flies werent too bad, and concerns in the back of my mind about ticks had me tucking my pants into my socks. I didnt say everything was a good memory, but its all part of the experience. I will remember the joy of finding two beaver dams on the pond, and the disappointment of not seeing a beaver at work. I will remember being dive bombed by the goose who decided I was getting too close for comfort, and then turning to see a mother duck and ten ducklings swimming to safety behind some reeds. Moments to treasure, and they will all be brought back to me when I look at the photograph I created.
detail of marsh grasses and reflections of the early morning clouds
Back in the car again, I headed to a back road that I had been down several years before. The road was in much rougher shape, and much longer than I remembered. Slowly, slowly, I inched along trying not to mistreat my car too badly. I had photographed a clear cut in this area several years ago, and I was interested to see how the land looked now. I discovered that nature is more forgiving than me, and the land was starting to heal. Further down the road, a new clear cut had begun. Theres a line from a song by Bruce Cockburn, "if a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?". My version runs, if a forest falls in a clear cut does anybody see? But this is a column about photography, not about politics and environmental concerns. My impromptu excursion ended on a melancholy note, but thankfully I got back to the paved road with my car none the worse for wear other than needing a wash job.

s my version of the morning golden hour photo shoot. Lets not forget the other golden hour at sunset, but thats a focus for another day. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Candid vs. Posed

Published in the South Shore Breaker - June 8, 2016

We've probably all had that moment when we're doing something and a family member with a camera has said " that again" so they can get a photo. The spontaneous moment has come and gone, and we have to recreate the scene so the photographer can capture it with their camera.

Or there's the group photo moment when the photographer shouts out for everyone to gather together for one photo. I am guilty of this big time. I'm sure I drive my family crazy with this tradition. Well, not only my family, because I always insist on this when our photo club is on field trip outings as well. I offer up my apologies, but I am unrepentant and will continue to do this. Some traditions shouldn't be changed.

Aside from regular daily life things, we all have those big moments in our lives that need to be captured. Birthdays, weddings, new babies, anniversaries, family vacations, and at this time of year...graduations. There is a great debate in our house. Which is better? Posed portraits or spontaneous candid photos? My husband likes to fire off a series of photos of people just doing their thing. I like to pose people and have them look at the camera and smile. There is no right or wrong way to capture the big moment, but I am glad that our household covers both ways because the results are very different, and both are important for family memories.

Coke may own the tagline "it's the real thing", but candid photos are the real thing when it comes to recording how we actually live. They capture the moment and our homes as they really are. Clutter on the tables, food and drinks, the clothing we wear - all the small details that we would forget over time. Anyone who looks at old photo albums will know that half the fun is looking at the hair styles, fashions and decorating styles of times gone by. We see details that we forgot over time....a shirt, or a toy, or even a person that we wouldn't remember without the visual aid of a photograph. Looking at those old photos brings lots of laughter, and sometimes a wistful melancholy for the way things used to be.
John took his favourite "candid" type of photo while Sara was trying to set up the dogs for a portrait at Beach Meadows Beach
But I think we also need to have some "on purpose" photographs of our special times. Photos where people are looking at the camera, photos that show off our pretty smiles and shiny new clothes without distractions in the background. The trick is to capture those posed photos and still make it look natural. You can capture nice portraits even with a point and shoot style camera and without fancy equipment. Keep it simple. Keep your foregrounds and backgrounds uncluttered and work with natural light if you can. Focus on the eyes. Even if other parts of the photo are slightly blurred, a sharp eye will make the portrait. Most important of all, try to capture a genuine smile or emotion. A cheesy smile will not connect with the viewer.

We took a drive down to Beach Meadows a couple of weeks ago. It definitely wasn't a watershed moment in our lives, but it was a fantastic day and a glorious walk on the beach with our dogs. Moments to remember. I am the photographer in the family, which usually means that we have photos of everything and everyone but me. Sometimes I hand the camera to the better half of our family so I won't totally be forgotten in our yearly photo books. He takes many, many of his favoured candid style photos, but he also takes a few of my favourite...the posed portrait. We all know that a happy wife means a happy life!  

John humours me by taking my favourite type of photo...the posed portrait!
The two types of photo tell two different stories. Which style of family photo do you prefer to focus on?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Colour vs Black&White

Our son from Toronto visited us last week. While he was here, he graciously co-operated in a couple of photo shoots. We made a trek to a local abandoned satellite station site...a place I have heard about for a number of years but have never gone to. I had directions from a member of my local photo club. She failed to mention that we had to walk about 1 kilometer to reach the site...good thing I had my walking shoes on!

I took quite a few photos, and have only processed some of them.  Of course, the whole point of graffiti is the beautiful colours...a great backdrop for photographs. 

However, I wanted some photos that had a lonely and moody feeling, so I lean toward the black and white.
same photo in black and white
I'm not sure my son was thrilled with the location...we picked 5 ticks off him...4 at the site, and 1 when we returned home. The pleasures of shooting on location!