It’s Been a Long Road to Get Here

Posted on June 21, 2017

The last month has been weird. I had a pretty slow Spring, and it seems that all of a sudden people are calling me and suddenly I am pretty booked up for photo work. It took a long time for that to happen, and I will be honest here, there were times when I really doubted myself and thought that I was doing the wrong thing. That may very well still be the case, but for now the day is pretty bright. I have learned, a long time ago, to not really talk about potential successes until they are certain, but I am generally pleased at how things are going. There are cool things on the horizon.

Nine months ago, I decided to get out of tech and IT nearly completely. It was burning me out, I was unhappy, and I was making everyone around me pretty miserable too. I’ve been pursuing photography as a career choice for nearly 12 years now. I’ve had exhibitions, I’ve been published in magazines, and I have received grant funding to hone my craft. I’ve invested a lot of time, money, and sweat into this. And it has been a hard slog. The work was slow in coming, I heard ‘no’ a lot, but gradually things have improved. I’ve even been invited in to speak to classes of graduating photographers, presumably to help encourage them and let them know that it is actually possible to pay your bills with a camera. I was pretty blunt. I stayed optimistic, but did not sugar coat anything. I sold my last car to finance travel in order to build a portfolio. I told them about 20 hour road trips to get to rallies. Sleeping in the back seat in -20C because I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel. Noodles for days. Doing a whole lot of work for free, not because I thought my work wasn’t worth anything but because I needed to get my name out there.

About to spend the night in my car, for Rally of the Tall Pines in late November

So I worked for it. But really, that shouldn’t be news. That’s true for any endeavor that is basically self-propelled. If you want an office job, or a job with benefits, or regular hours, I bet you can find one of those pretty easily. If you’re still reading this, I bet you don’t want that though. You want to do your own thing. To be creative. You’re following your dream. Yes? Yes! Then get out there. Peter McKinnon, a photographer, cinematographer, and YouTuber I recommend you check out, had a video a little while ago where he says something similar. I wasn’t going to write this, and then I watched his video and decided to. His stuff is the bomb, and his advice is on point.

If you bang away at photography – or anything – long enough, things will happen for you. Recently I described the sensation sort of like creating ripples in an ocean. Eventually those ripples reach other things and interact with them. Then those ripples reflect back and eventually reach you again, if you’ve banged away at the water hard enough. Be persistent, be patient, drive hard at it every day, and good things will happen. Ask questions to people who have gone before you. They probably had a learning curve at one point and might be able to make your own less steep. Say “thank you” even if you hear “no”. “No” rarely means “never”. It usually means “Not right now”. Play the long game. Develop friendships with other creatives or people you would like to work with. I just finished a commercial shoot for the owner of a local business that I’ve known for years now. I hang my work in the establishment. I drink coffee there. We shoot the shit all the time. It’s great. And you know, I was pretty happy with that.

I think Bob Ross said it best. You know Bob, he’s the awesome dude who painted happy little clouds and big trees on PBS for years. He was once asked if he was ever satisfied with a painting he’d done. I remember him stopping in mid brush stroke and looking straight at the camera. “Never be satisfied,” he said. “Be happy with your work, but the day you’re satisfied is the day you may as well stop painting.”

So be happy. Be the person that everyone wants to work with because you’re a nice person be with. No one wants to work with an asshole no matter how good they are.

Things work out. Believe in yourself. And then push harder.

Sleeklens Landscape Workflow for Photoshop

Posted on March 7, 2017

I recently had an opportunity to take a look at the Photoshop workflows for landscape photos by Sleeklens, a company from Denmark that creates premium actions to help facilitate the process of creating final production-ready images.

Installation was very simple.  The zip file that I was sent contained a single Photoshop ATN file that I could install on my Windows laptop by just double clicking on it.  Photoshop will automatically import the actions and make them available for you.  There is also a set of workflows for Lightroom.  I did not try these because I do not use Lightroom.  If you decide to work with these workflows in Photoshop only, bear in mind that at this point you will have already exported your RAW file out of whatever RAW converter you are using.  It is getting harder for me to justify Photoshop as a last step for my landscape work because I find that I can do nearly everything I want in my RAW converter, but there are still times when I rely on Photoshop to get the job done.

I think that what I like most about the Sleeklens workflows is that most of the resulting modifications made to images are stored in grouped adjustment layers  This means that the workflows can serve as starting points for more work.  They can act as a creativity booster.  One notable exception to this is the “BASE Good place to start” workflow.  When it’s finished, you’re left with just your background layer and modifications have been made.  It would be nice to be able to adjust the individual steps in this case too.  I think that the “BASE Standard” workflow could be renamed, as I am not certain what Standard means in this case.  These are tiny quibbles and did not affect me that much. I also did receive some Photoshop messages about certain commands (like Set) not being available at times.  This didn’t seem to prevent the workflow from running to completion, but I wanted to mention it anyway.

I think my favorite workflows in the entire set were found in the TONE section.  Colour grading, or “toning” images is really one of the biggest hot ticket things right now, and certain applications of images really benefit from having a certain look, or tone, to them.  In this set, and for landscape images, I think the one I liked best was the Cinematic Tone workflow.  It created a pretty punchy image with lots of contrast and nice colour balance.  From that point, it’s easy to make finishing tweaks and get to something that is really pleasing to look at.  There are even workflows for sharpening and exporting your images out to various formats, and they include dialogs that will prompt you for the size you need.  This is very cool.

Overall, I found that the set of workflow actions provided in this set could act as an interesting foundation for further image enhancement. My biggest wish is that some of the actions included either ways to create luminosity masks, or ways to have them automatically generated to work only on highlights, or shadows.  Creating luminosity masks for things like exposure blending or image compositing is a staple of many landscape photographer’s work.  Being able to create masks quickly would be an asset here.

The Sleeklens Workflow panel showing just some of the available workflows provided.

If you’re a photographer who wants to be able to run a Photoshop workflow to get you most of the way to your final image, and you want a set of workflows that are specifically designed for landscape images, then the Sleeklens set might be just the thing for you.  I don’t think that I’d ever give up full control over my images to any workflow, but that isn’t the point here.  All in all, a pretty nice set.  If you’re interested in learning more, please visit their website at https://sleeklens.com/product/landscape-adventure-photoshop-actions/.  Sleeklens also offers some Lightroom Tutorials, and even a Professional Photo Editing Service if that’s more your thing.  Finally, they also offer Photoshop Actions for other types of images as well.

Thanks for reading!  If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you below.

Rallye Baie-des-Chaleurs

Posted on July 6, 2016

The weekend of Canada Day 2016 found me in the Gaspé part of Quebec, as part of the official media contingent for the Rallye-Baie-des-Chaleurs, one of the races in the Canadian Rally Championship series.  I was really stoked to be part of this, and drove up on Canada Day through all sorts of festive traffic in New Brunswick on my way to Quebec.

Mostly, I wanted to write about what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what I think I want to do differently next time.  The next rally for me will be Défi in Montpellier in September, and I am already thinking about what sorts of things I want to accomplish.

Before diving into this, the set of images I took from the event are available on my website at http://media.demitas.se/Rallye-Baie-des-Chaleurs-2016/.  If you’re looking for a copy of an image, just drop me an email.

Before photography, though, I need to mention my food and water situation. Mainly, the lack of it.  I seem to perpetually underestimate my food consumption when I do one of these.  Next time, more food in the car.  A man can’t live on delicious hotdogs alone.  Well, I guess a man can, but still.  I was filling water bottles out of streams and rivers between cars, which worked well.  Next time, large jugs in the car.  This just seems so dumb on my part.  I am an expedition photographer, so you’d think I’d know this by now.

Photographically, I think what I did worked out well.  The Nikon and Phase One IQ250 always perform exceptionally well.  There are times when I wish I had not traded frames per second for dynamic range, but when you get it right, it’s oh so sweet.  There are other times when a bit more reach would have been nice, but I think you get the reach you need by being patient.  I think I prefer being a bit short than not being able to zoom out when I need to.

One of the teams up from Mexico throwing up a ton of gravel in the first stage.

One of the teams up from Mexico throwing up a ton of gravel in the first stage.

I brought a fish eye but didn’t use it much.  In fact, I didn’t use a wide angle much at all, except for a bit of night time work with the 24-70/2.8.   I think next time I will bring even more radio triggers and set up some extra cameras.  Jaanus Ree does some cool stuff with laser triggers that sounds intriguing.  There were some other photographers shooting video through a variety of means, and that’s something I want to explore as well. The sound is what I really think makes rally ‘rally’, and perhaps an external recorder with an omnidirectional microphone would work well.

The ground was  really wet on the weekend, so shots I took during the rally proper didn’t have that cool dust factor.  The day before, during the shakedown, it was hot and dry.  Better!

Night time photography is always hard.  It is exceptionally so during rally because of a number of factors.  First, you are inevitably shooting at high ISO.  A big sensor helps.  If you are shooting at a car driving towards you, you will have a difficult time using autofocus because the glare will make your lens hunt.   You can get around this in a number of ways.  One is to shoot creatively.  Use strobes to illuminate the car as it goes by, instead of shooting head on.  I also like shooting the rears of the cars as they go by, because then you get tail lights, and the lit foreground from the car headlights.  It makes for a cool shot.  For focusing, I usually put my lens into manual focus.  Pre-focus for a set distance with a respectable depth of field, and then trap shoot when the car passes through it.

An example:

Joel Levac and Stéphanie Lewis, who won the event, ripping it up the first evening.

Joel Levac and Stéphanie Lewis, who won the event, ripping it up the first evening.

This would have been a tough shot for me using autofocus, so I prefocus on the ground and wait until the MINI was in the spot.  Pretty happy with this one.

Next time, more remote strobes!  I want to do cooler stuff, outside of line of sight.

I had a blast doing this.  I have a ton of respect for people involved in rally.  There’s just so much dedication involved.   The demand for concentration from drivers and co-pilots, and the relentless work ethic from team crews to keep cars on the track.  Insanity, and so awesome.  I already have my media accreditation for Defi and can’t wait.

Photo by Frédéric Senterre of PetrolHead HQ

Photo by Frédéric Senterre of PetrolHead HQ

Live Out There: Getting Travel Ready

Posted on May 18, 2016

My second article for Live Out There’s blog is now ready for your enjoyment.  The theme is travel preparedness, with a slant towards how to prepare for hiking when possible emergencies happen.    A quick preview:

For me, in particular, I’ve developed a passion for adventure traveling.  The more remote, the more wild, the better. But travel in general does require preparation, and there are at least a few basic things that everyone should be aware of when you decide to go somewhere. Staying healthy on the road is a good thing, and accidents and problems do occasionally occur. Being spontaneous and having fun is important, but it is good to plan ahead, especially if you want to be outdoors.

Go read!

Worlds Apart

Posted on May 17, 2016

My exhibit titled “Worlds Apart” has been running at Gallery 78 for nearly three weeks now, and I could not be more pleased with how things have gone so far. The opening night on the 29th of April blew me away. I was completely unprepared for the amount of support from the community.

I had an article in the Daily Gleaner the previous day about the opening, and “Shift” on CBC Radio had a spot with me leading up to the artist talk at the Gallery that I gave on May 15th, which went over really well. I was also stunned to find out that the Canadian Art Foundation named the show a “must-see” for the first week of May.

The show runs until May 22nd, and I continue to be humbled by the feedback I have received here. Thanks so much to all.

Live Out There: Durmitor National Park

Posted on April 25, 2016
Misty Mornings in Durmitor

Misty Mornings in Durmitor

I am stoked to mention that my first article for Live Out There’s blog is now live! The article is about my recent trip to Montenegro, and specifically, Durmitor National Park. Check it out, and enjoy the photos. A quick preview:

The Republic of Montenegro is one of six countries that made up the former Yugoslavia. It’s rugged and covered with mountainous terrain. Not so long ago, I had the opportunity to visit Durmitor National Park, situated in the Northwestern part of the country. The goal was to hike and climb Bobotov Kuk, the highest peak at 2553 meters, in the massif that is Durmitor itself.

Go read!

These boots were made for hiking

Posted on April 15, 2016

About five years ago, I went into the Radical Edge gear shop in Fredericton, New Brunswick, looking for a new pair of hiking boots.   I tried on several pairs of boots, debated things, and ultimately settled on a pair of Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots that I immediately started wearing everywhere.

And I mean everywhere.  I lived in these boots.  I broke them in a few weeks before my first trip to Iceland in 2011 and from that point on we were best friends.  Inseparable.    Every single expedition I did between 2011 and now, except for some winter ones in the Arctic, have been in those boots.  They have protected me, softened my footsteps, kept me dry, and caught me when by all rights I should have tripped and fallen.

Well, there was that one time.  I did go to Corsica in 2012 and wore a pair of trail runners on the plane.  Air France lost my luggage and I ended up doing the GR20 without my buddies, and I paid dearly for it.  Without getting too far into it, let’s just agree that tent repair tape does a horrible job at blister prevention.

But now, after thousands of kilometres of use, they are showing their age, and it was time to pick up a new pair.  So, I marched right in to where it all began and bought the exact same boot.  No questions asked. And now that I write this while wearing my new boots I can tell that this is the start of another long and beautiful friendship.

My old friends with my new friends

My old friends with my new friends

No one asked me to write this.  I’m just doing it because I think that my old pair deserve some recognition one last time.

A friend of mine once wrote a post on Facebook about why some gear costs so much.  “It’s worth it, that’s why”, was the reply.  I don’t remember what I spent on those original boots, but I’m pretty sure that I got my money’s worth. Heck, if I worked out my cost per day use, I bet Salomon owes me money.

“It’s a pair of boots, who cares?” I hear, already. Yeah, maybe. But I’ll be damned if I can find it in me to relegate them to some back closet. They’ll stick around, or else maybe I’ll donate them to a local charity. There’s life in them yet, of that I am sure. Perhaps they will help some other soul find new adventures.

Hiking in Iceland

Enjoying the view on the Laugavegurinn in Iceland

The top of Cerro el Calar in the Sierra Nevadas, Spaina

The top of Cerro el Calar in the Sierra Nevadas, Spain

The top of Bobotov Kuk in Montenegroa

The top of Bobotov Kuk in Montenegro

Grinning amongst the Redwoods in California

Grinning amongst the Redwoods in California

Gallery show and Artist Talk

Posted on March 31, 2016

I am super stoked about this, because it is a legitimate big deal for me.  On April 29th, at Gallery 78 in Fredericton, I will have a gallery show opening that will run from April 29 until May 22.  The title of the show is “Worlds Apart”, and will feature photographic work from some of my recent expeditions to Scandinavia, Patagonia, the former Yugoslavia, and Central America.    The opening will run from 5 pm until 7 pm on April 29th, so feel free to come by and say hello.

On May 15th at 2 pm, also at Gallery 78, I will be giving an artist talk where I will discuss what motivates me as a photographer, the sort of photographing I like to do, and who and what some of my influences are.  I’ll pepper the talk with ridiculous travel stories, perhaps involving dog slegs in the Arctic, and an old Serbian guy yelling at me while climbing a mountain.

I’d love to see you there.

Writing about Scandinavia

Posted on February 25, 2016

One of my favorite sites has published two photo essays of mine about my recent travels in Scandinavia.  Dogsledding in Northern Norway is an essay about my time in Øvre Dividal and Rohkunborri National Parks, and the second is about Reykjavik and the South East coast of Iceland.  I’m really happy with the images in the essays, and I’ve appreciate hearing from those who read them, because story telling is hard for me and I am trying to work on it.  

Arctic Norway Photography

Posted on January 28, 2016

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit and photograph in Dividal and Rohkunborri National Parks in the Arctic Norway area, exploring them on teams of dogsleds. I live in a cold climate in Eastern Canada, but with forecasted temperatures dropping below -30 Celcius, plus whatever the wind chill is, I knew that I was going to face challenges that I had not encountered before.

Sledging in Arctic Norway

Arctic Norway Tent

Complicating this trip was the fact that I was not simply going up there to do photography. There was the added challenge of preparing and taking care of (and being taken care of!) a team of Alaskan husky sled dogs. These dogs needed to be properly cared for, twice a day. This meant feeding them, putting them on a night line when we finished sledging for the day, and making sure that they were warm. Food needed to be made each night, water fetched from frozen lakes, and all of this in mostly complete darkness with headlamps. It was impossible to keep your hands and gloves dry. In temperatures below -30, this meant that things froze nearly immediately, especially if you took your gloves off for some reason. Grabbing anything metal with bare hands was always a painful experience, because skin sticks to cold metal. Camera bodies are made out of metal.

Equipment Choices for Arctic Norway

The image below is a photo I took a few days before I left. It shows, at the time, what I thought I would be bringing. It looks like a lot of gear, but it all fit inside of the Rab 80 litre kitbag, or my F-Stop 2015 Tilopa. After I took this photo, I swapped a few things out, just camera gear really, and was generally okay with my gear choices.

Arctic Norway gear

If I can concentrate on the photography gear first. The photo shows a Nikon D800 body, and several lenses, a Nikkor 20mm/1.8, a Nikkor 24-70/2.8, a Sigma 50mm/1.4 ART, and my Nikkor 105mm/2.8 Macro. After I took this photo, I swapped out a few things and instead replaced the Sigma and the Macro with my Nikkor 16mm/2.8 fisheye, and my Nikkor 70-200/2.8.

The 70-200 proved very useful. I used it quite often, and some of my favourite landscape images from the trip were taken with it. The fisheye, not so much. I also brought a GoPro Hero 3+, which saw almost no use whatsoever. More on battery life in a minute.

The non-photography gear was mostly perfect. I was completely happy with my choice of clothing, Taiga Works sleeping bag + ground pad, Rab Photon pants (protected by Taiga Works Gore-tex shell pants), and various types of gloves. The Taiga products are brilliant, well thought through, and I was never cold at night, or wet during the day. Rab makes some really warm down jackets, and with the Nexus shell over top of it, I never felt more than chilly. What didn’t work? Ski goggles, which I thought would be helpful while on the sledge, were useless. I wore them once, for about 20 minutes on the first day, and once they completely crusted over on the inside with a thick layer of frost because it was well below -30, they spent the remainder of the trip in the kitbag. My boots, despite being perfect for the -20 conditions found in the winter in Eastern Canada, did not do the job while standing on a sledge, not moving, when blasting across a frozen lake at 30km/hour completely exposed to the wind. I left them in the Kitbag and instead borrowed (and have subsequently purchased) a pair of Härkila Inuit 15″ GTX boots that are rated to -90C. These things are absolutely badass, completely waterproof, and I could have gone barefoot in them and stayed warm. Ridiculous, and recommended.

On the subject of headlamps for a minute. While I am normally quite happy with my Petzl headlamp that is quite powerful and rechargeable via USB (the USB came in handy, wait until the battery section), I found that I needed more light when driving the sledge in darkness. The sun sets very early in January in Arctic Norway, and even on high output mode I could not see the front of my dog team very well. The Petzl worked fine for task lighting like ice drilling and camp work, but I think a Led Lenser XEO 19R is in my future.

Battery Life in Arctic Norway

The frigid temperatures murder batteries. First off, the GoPro Hero 3+ batteries lasted literally minutes before completely dying. I am not sure if anyone makes a remote battery pack that can be kept close to your body, with a backpac on the GoPro itself, tethered with a USB cable or something, but that would be incredibly useful. As for the Nikon, it fared much better, but I kept all of my charged spare batteries in a chest pocket on my fleece, inside of my jacket. They spent the nights with me in my sleeping bag. I would periodically rotate the battery in the body out with a warm one. Once the cold one warmed up, it would revive quite a great deal. I was impressed. I knew it was probably going to be fine based on past experiences shooting in cold temperatures, but I was still careful. The Petzl headlamp, despite not really being bright enough for sledge driving, was very battery efficient and only needed to be recharged once, from an Outdoor Tech battery pack that I brought with me. The Outdoor Tech was able to recharge the headlamp once completely and my phone several times without dropping to less than half capacity. Another recommend.

Gloves for Photography and Dogsledding in Arctic Norway

For this trip, you really needed three pairs of gloves. While on the sledge, you needed a down filled mitten that blocked wind. There’s really no other way to keep your hands warm. Gloves don’t cut it. And pro tip — wearing a liner glove inside of a down mitten is a shitty idea. Your fingers need to touch. When dealing with the dogs, you need a thin glove because you’re handling chains, small clips, and getting fingers under tight fitting harnesses and collars, so you need dexterity. It’s a cold, wet job. The chains are buried in snow, the bowls of dog food are wet and your gloves get soaked, and it just isn’t fun. So you learn to work quickly, and (important part!) you rotate those gloves out with your down mittens to thaw your fingers out again. When not wearing my wet liner gloves I would put them in a small plastic bag and then put them in an insulated pocket. This keeps my jacket from getting wet from the inside, and keeps the glove from turning into a block of ice, which would happen in minutes otherwise. Don’t put the wet dog gloves inside of your mittens. That just gets the second pair wet and then you have no place to hide.

For photography, I used a pair of Swany Toaster gloves that were freaking awesome. The Toasters have a liner glove that is e-tip, with a side zip overmitten that is water proof. When you want to use the camera, you unzip the side of the overmitten, stick your hand out, do your thing, and then zip them back up again. Worked very well, but it was really important that I kept these gloves completely dry. That meant no digging around in the snow for dropped lens caps, or messing around with locks on my tripod that were covered in snow from being buried in the ground. Only quibble is that the zipper is hard to zip back up again with your hand because the glove flexes. For walking around in the deep snow carrying a camera on a tripod, I found them warm enough. Not sweaty warm, but “comfortable”.

So much of this comes down to thinking before you did something. Before every move, I would ask myself if I was about to do something that would cause problems with a shot, keep me from shooting afterward, or make me cold.

Coming in from the Cold

This is pretty important. If you find yourself about to go into a tent that is substantially warmer than it is outside, put your camera (and anything else you want to keep condensation free), in a sealed plastic bag. Don’t go inside and THEN do it. The minute warmer air with humidity hits the camera, it will condense. This includes snow that might have gotten into your camera bag and begins to melt, especially if the bag is closed. If your camera is covered in condensation and you go back outside with it, everything freezes solid and you’ll be scraping frost off of the front of your lenses, or worse, dealing with frost on the mirror or sensor inside the body. This happened to me, and I lost a whole day of shooting because I wasn’t careful.

That’s about it. I need to thank FStop Gear, Bardu HuskyLodge in Bardufoss, and Vertical Shot Expeditions for putting the voyage together. Also, thanks to Altitude Sports in Montreal for their help as well. They are a great resource. If you’d like to see more images, follow DemitasseMedia on Instagram, or Like my page on Facebook. Fine art prints from this trip will soon be available on my website, at www.demitas.se.

Arctic Norway and Trees

sledge and FStop Tilopa

Alaskan Husky dogs in Norway

A tired husky