Ripples, copyright Shirley Udle

It’s a warm, sunny April day. The cul-de-sac is filled with kids who last fall seemed half the size and half as loud as they are today. My morning chores completed, I head out for a walk with my dog charlie and my camera – this week’s Project 52 theme is “breaking the rule of thirds”.

Charlie’s an understanding photo companion, for the most part anyway. Generally he sits beside me patiently while I frame up my subject. It’s when people walk by that we sometimes have a problem. Charlie is fond of the sneak rear attack which means he pretends not to notice or care about the approaching human. At the moment she passes, he enters stealth mode making a swift approach from behind so as to get a good sniff. If I’m not paying attention, which can be often, someone gets startled, I have to apologize and of course I lose the shot.

Charlie’s other trick is to verbally challenge other dogs no matter the number or size. I think his intent to to warn them to keep their distance. Mostly they look at him in mild amusement because Charlie happens to be a cute but small Shih Tzu . Today he tried to intimidate a pair of German Shepherds, happily for him and me they were very well trained.

Some 45 mins later we’ve returned to our street. Ahead of me are two boys on bikes. They’re peddling like mad in obvious danger. The boy in the rear shouts something about Zombies, he’ll shoot them while his friend races off to safety. I’m smiling, I played this game as a kid although in my case rather than zombies I was fighting off a band of outlaws. The first boy breezes by on the far side of the street, charlie looks confused. The rear guard approaches, his gun blazing at me as he slips by. I’m the zombie! Mom will be so proud.

The feeling by the way is mutual. Mom’s birthday was on April 1st. I won’t give away her age, but I’m 52 the oldest of 4 children all of whom were born before Mom’s 38th birthday. Last year she decided to buy a new camera, on our advice she got a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera – a nice compromise between point and shoot and DSLR. I’ve been working with her for a number of months now offering some basic and intermediate picture taking advice.

I’ve been so thrilled to see her really working hard at learning this new hobby In January or February she joined our Project 52 photo group with predetermined themes for the pictures. It’s fair to say that her creativity and natural eye for detail has surprised the rest of us in the group. It’s not that we didn’t think she was capable, rather I think we’re surprised both at how hard she’s working at it. All her work is paying off in some great pictures, like the one at the top of this post. This wonderful shot was taken on a nature walk near Orleans. She found this reflection in a pool of water at the base of a picnic table. I probably would have walked right on by.

Good for you Mom and a very happy birthday. You’re solid proof there’s no reason to avoid starting something new.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Orleans, ON, Canada


Fallowfield station, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

“I’m heading out to a bead store south of town, want to join me?”

This was Sandi’s invitation on Saturday morning. If you haven’t been to one, a bead store is four walls lined with various beads, wires, hooks and everything one might need to craft wonderfully creative pieces of jewellery. Turn around and in the centre you find a rectangle of cabinets with even more gems, probably the more precious ones. I’m always amazed at how anyone can find inspiration in the midst of what seems to be chaos. Sandi is particularly good at it.

“I’d love to go, let’s take the van this time.” I reply. My motives are different and she knows that. I too am in search of inspiration; in place of trays and strands, I’m searching the city for a Franchised Landscape.

I borrowed this idea from Jeff Brouws’ book “Approaching Nowhere”. My take on it was a typical landscape style picture that includes some element of enterprise. In some sense, the buildings replace the trees or mountains that I’d normally shoot, the pavement substitutes for the rivers and lakes. The Franchised Landscape was our Project 52 theme for the week and my earlier ideas on the subject had not produced results. So off I went with Sandi, both of us in search of inspiration.

We head out during the middle of the day. I knew the light was too harsh, so for me this was very much a scouting expedition. Sandi doesn’t normally travel in the van and I only mention that because it was that change in routine that got us lost. The maps were in her car. She knew the general area but as we later discovered, after buying a new map for the van, that we were one main street West of where we needed to be. Our mapless search, however, took us along several roads I’d not been on before including Fallowfield Road and the Via Rail station that I didn’t realize even existed. Looking at it from the distance, I figured this would be ideal for this week’s photo, open, likely to have lights on at night with an expanse of field in the distance. A quick check of the weather confirmed there would be a clear night, and that sunset would be around 7 PM.

We did find the bead store and Sandi found inspiration there, although I believe she went in with a rough concept in mind. I headed back to the station some hours later arriving just as the sunset colours were fading. I found a spot near the tracks, got lower to the ground than I usually do, framed the scene and took one shot before another photographer approached asking if a train was coming, was I there to photograph the moon, and so on. Soon the light was gone.

I did take a few shots of the moon but nothing really that good. I’m pleased with this one though. It is close to what I’d pre-visualized. The framing came more naturally this time, as did the exposure settings. There was some post-work in LR3 but not too much. Hey, maybe those courses at SPAO are beginning to pay off.

wait up, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Last Saturday night was cold. Very cold. Too cold to be out in the By-ward Market trying to capture that critical moment on my digital sensor. But that’s exactly what I was doing. Session 4 of my Photography class was moved from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell everyone else – there was not much happening that night.

The objective was to position yourself where you’d see people passing by, blend into the background, observe, and capture that exact moment when something significant, moving, or exciting happens.

I was dressed in at least 4 layers of clothing, my camera is set to ISO 1600, cause there’s not much light happening. Aperture is around f4.0 and my focus spot is set to the middle. I check my exposure, everything looks good so I position myself near a corner where I hope to see people moving from the parking garage towards the Rideau Centre, or McDonald’s. So I wait. cars drive by, some slow down like I represent some other kind of street corner action. They drive on, probably confused.

Eventually a group approaches. Dad is skipping along the sidewalk, kids in hand. I figure the children are getting restless. They get a red light, I’m all set, green light they go, Dad and kids are skipping – I fire off 3 shots in that brief moment.

Right behind them comes another group, this time they’re running to catch the light before it changes. Click, click, click. Three more shots. and then nothing. So I move on to a new spot only to discover my camera has decided it’s too cold or something – my card is full. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I have to call it a night – no I didn’t bring a spare card.

Back at home I don’t have much hope for the night’s efforts. In fact I don’t even look at the results on the computer for a couple of days. As it turned out, I had two useable shots. Both are in my Flickr stream, one is at the top of this post.

I still don’t know why my SD card acted the way it did. I did a low-level format this time and it seems to be working again. I’ll see how it handles on Saturday when I try the exercise again. This time I’ll bring a second card.

Originally uploaded by ken.udle.

It has been a while since my last formal photography course. I registered for my next course way back in November and I’ve been anxious for February 6th to arrive as that’s when I return to SPAO (School of Photographic Art, Ottawa) for Cedric Pearson’s course The Creative Eye – Vision & the Frame, a six week workshop that will explore vision through the photographic frame.

I was excited to receive the course outline and suggested reading list by email last week, and like an kid at the start of a new school year, couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new text books (I love books by the way). Showing great restraint, I only ordered 5 of the books from Chapters; two of them arrived on Tuesday.  Roland Barthes’ “Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography” is a short book so I started with it. I very quickly discovered this would not be an easy read.

I’m only 10 pages in so this is not a review of the book. My point here is to speculate why it was included on the reading list. It begins with the author asking What is Photography, and equipment and process aside, does it really exist as something unique onto itself? Later we read he’s not a photographer at all. So what has this to do with a photography course? Of course Photography exists as a unique craft. An entire industry has developed around it, through photography we create art, documentary records, aid research and diagnosis and investigation. Seems to me it exists, it is unique.

Barthes observes that a “Photograph reproduces something that has occurred only once, it mechanically reproduces something that could never be repeated existentially.” I imagine this concept is even more profound in the digital age where the event is captured in great detail by a sensor and recored as an electronic file only usable with more technology.

Further still, a photograph cannot exist without something or someone. Photography is the act of choosing to capture that thing or that event among the multitude of things and actions occurring around us at a particular moment. A photograph can be the object of 3 practices – taking the picture, looking at the picture, and being photographed. And, the resulting photograph will have unique meanings to each person. Now perhaps we’re getting closer to the reason for including this book. Why do we take a photograph? What makes one more appealing than another? What triggers that emotional impact, if there is one.

For me this is fascinating stuff, at the same time, because I’m late to the game, so to speak, I’m realizing just how much I’ve missed all these years. With each discovery of some aspect of the arts I feel a sense of running out of time and a twinge of regret that I didn’t take the risk all those years ago. Of course, I don’t dwell too long on this, it is much better to make the best use of the years ahead. I want to see where this takes me.

A Church on Cumberland avenue, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

We had a party on Saturday. It was Sandi’s birthday and we were celebrating her 50th; by the way, she won’t be annoyed that I mentioned her age as she doesn’t even look like she’s 40, and besides she says it’s just a number anyway. But that’s really not the point of this blog.

The party ended around 11:30. I was driving 3 people home, two of them live downtown near an interesting church. It’s interesting because our photography theme this week was architecture and the idea that an evening shot would be different from what my brothers were posting. But that’s really not the point either.

After a day with lots of snow, I was happy to see that the evening sky was clear save for a few wispy clouds. I brought my tripod and camera, but of course forgot to tell Sandi what my plans were. Now we’re getting closer to the point.

By 12:30am, the last of our guests were home and I was headed back up Cumberland Avenue towards that church I’d seen earlier. In case you’re not familiar with downtown Ottawa, Cumberland Avenue is on the eastern edge of the By-ward market. It is moderately busy as far as traffic goes. There is a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and has a few shelters for people who aren’t fortunate to have a home to go to at night. Probably by now you can guess what the point is.

So there I am, the introverted photographer in a darker section of the avenue (so as to avoid street lights in the photo) tripod and camera set up for 30 second exposures of the church. I’d taken 3 shots when I heard a group of spirited young men come round the corner. “hey cool camera, want to take our picture, come on man just one picture” I’m thinking this isn’t a good scene but I agree and take a picture as they dance around in a group pose. “you going to post that man?” “Sure” all the while thinking, don’t ask to look at the picture, don’t ask to use the camera. “Hey, if you ever want to take pictures in the Library of Parliament, just ask, cause you know I work there”. “Hey, thanks”

They go on their way, I return to photographing the church but I’m so unnerved by that brief exchange that I decide to pack it in and get back to the suburbs.

At home just after 1am, I’m reminded that I neglected to tell anyone what I was doing. And that’s the point. I’ve often gone out late at night or early in the morning to take pictures but always with at least one partner. This time I forgot. but I won’t do that again.

The picture, by the way, was my last shot and is a 30 second exposure at f/6.3, ISO 100 using my IS 17-40mm L lens. I fixed the WB tweaked the colour and did a little dodging and burning in LR3. The angles are intentional. I like the end result, despite it all.

Opeango Reflections, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

I’m not in a happy place today.

Yesterday our group of four photographers abandoned plans to pursue a month long exhibit and sale of our photos, at least for a year anyway. The idea hatched, so to speak, in September when we decided to create a partnership, apply for permission at the park to show our pictures, then work on taking a variety of shots and gathering a collection for show sometime during 2011. I was quite pumped about the project and in fact have been too distracted to make more regular updates on this blog.

Things came undone last night. Motivations for carrying through on the project were different for each of us. Risk tolerance too was different for each one too. And maybe this is what you might take from this, It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional appeal of a new project, eventually though you have to move into the dirty details and here’s where the real costs and risks become apparent. In our case I’m happy that we made an honest decision early on before we made commitments and spent more money.

I thought I was okay with things at the time but to be honest, last night and all day I’be been feeling down about this turn of events – as logical as they are. I’ve already taken steps to ward off the funk though. I registered for two courses at SPAO, helped my Mom with her early steps into digital photography and put the OmniFocus project on hold, for now anyway.

Reflections on a bog

Google Photography Personal Vision and you’ll find more that 1.3 million hits for pages that contain all three words. Search for the exact phrase and you’ll see more than 14,000 hits. Either way the Net contains lot of discussion on the subject.  Some blogs I follow confirm that finding one’s personal vision takes much more time than you might expect but without it, you end up with a lot of nice properly exposed and composed pictures along with a few accidental ones that seem to carry a message. Is It accidental, or intuitive, who can say?

I’ve been pursuing this craft for a while but really only a few years as an adult in the digital age. Like many amateurs my focus has been on the technical side with lots of reading, and lots of practice. My usual approach has been to pick a site and time of day, then head out with no particular goal in mind except to capture a compelling sunset or sunrise. If the light and the sky cooperate, I’ll have those shots within the first 30 mins. After which I turn my attention to my surroundings, trying different lenses, seeking out interesting subjects. What I haven’t done too often is go out with a specific purpose in mind and that, I believe is where I need to change.

Is it possible that Personal Vision means Shooting with a Purpose? I think so. In fact this may be the way to achieving a personal vision. On one of my recent visits to the Mer Bleue Bog near where I live, my intention was to capture reflected light from what I expected would be a colourful sunset. I knew from past visits that there would not be a clear view of the Northeastern sky. The storm clouds to the Southwestern sky and the sheltered water in the bog I figured would have potential. The result is the photograph you see at the top of this post. This wasn’t my first attempt to shoot this scene although it was my first evening trip there. It was, however, the first time that I went with a specific goal in mind and that, I believe helped me capture the mood I wanted –  reflective, contemplative.


This idea didn’t come all at once. During August my brother and I were on our way to the bog to take some morning shots. Along the way we stopped by a corn field, the pattern in the field caught Dave’s eye. While we were there I took some time to take-in the scene starting first with the grand vista, then moving in to the medium view and finally exploring the closer details. I took a few pictures, none of which were very good. Eventually my eye caught an old fence post, neglected, overgrown and replaced with metal and wire. The landowner didn’t bother to remove the old post, he simply built around it. I wanted to capture that sense neglect, the passage of time, maybe even replacement. My shots were taken with black & white in mind to help accentuate the effects of time. Of the pictures I took that day, this shot the one where I had a specific purpose in mind, is the one that worked best. Certainly it sparked the most conversation from from my friends.

This weekend I’m off to Algonquin Provincial Park with my photographer friends. Some will say the goal is to capture marketable landscapes with Fall colours and hopefully moose a plenty. I admit that would be nice but I’m going to try a different approach. I’m not sure yet what I’ll want the pictures to say, I’ll contemplate that on the drive to the park. I do know I won’t be looking for something commercial nor will it be contrived. I hope it’ll be something more than just a pretty picture. Wish me luck.

Pipes, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Scott Kelby’s third annual World Wide Photowalk took place this past Saturday If you have never heard of this, you can find all the details at The short version is that one day each year, groups of up to 50 people in cities all over the world gather on the same day to walk a pre-planned route, take pictures and “geek out” with like-minded people for a couple of hours. Besides the inspiration and chance to meet new people, there is a contest component to this but really that’s not the point.

I learned of the walk last year through Scott’s blog but was too late to join a walk in Ottawa. I was better organized this year. Saturday morning was perfect for photography. My brother and I met up with the group leader in the By-Ward Market area just before 10 am. I’m guessing close to the full 50 turned up that morning. Interesting fact number 1, judging from the amount of grey hair and general physical condition, most of the photographers seemed to be close to or over 50 years of age.

The route was relatively short, down one side of the market, up the other, West to the US embassy, East for a kilometer to a coffee shop. The leader thought this would take an hour, in reality it was close to 2 hours before the core of the group made it to the cafe.

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, probably I thought I’d be inspired by a new location, that I’d meet some interesting people or learn something new. Some of this turned out to be the case. The big surprise, however, should not have been as unexpected. When 50 people move en-mass through a public the results are predictable.

The locals notice the group so candid shots, if that’s what you’re looking for, are harder to get. We started at a street corner and right on cue crossed as if invading the already busy outdoor market with our digital weapons at the ready. Of course the shop owners and tourists stopped to wonder what on earth was taking place. This is where our army began to disperse, infiltrating the area each of us intent on our mission.

We became gatherings of 3 or 5 people moving in tandem or sometimes 2 people mostly chatting, and of course the individual sharpshooters. I tended to move along quietly pursuing my own targets. Every now and then I’d meet up with the others at the check points, chat and then move on. I did find it hard to take pictures and talk at the same time, multi-taking isn’t my thing.

Some of the check points were in a quiet courtyard or street corner. Imagine the surprise for those residents enjoying a quiet shade when a squad of 10-15 stormed the area, quickly staking out strategic points snapping pictures at all angles, and sharing recently gained intelligence before moving one. I found, when everyone around you is taking pictures of the same or similar subjects, it gets harder to be original but then maybe that’s the point. Anyone can walk into a courtyard, frame up a fountain or the side of an old building. Not everyone would think to zoom in close on the water spout or sit on the ground to capture the symmetry, texture and lines of the steps. There’s the challenge.

I believe I took around 60 pictures during the two hours. A quick review revealed 5-6 possible keepers but that’s a normal ratio for me. I had other commitments that day and so couldn’t stay at the cafe, instead I headed home where I transferred the shots to the computer and posted the one at the head of this post – the contest part has a deadline of this Friday and I was leaving town on vacation on Sunday.

Would I do this again? I’m not sure. My brother said he wouldn’t, I’ll reserve my decision until later so that I can reflect on the experience some more. I wonder where next year’s route will be?

At the end of the day

Almost three months has past by too quickly it seems and soon I’ll be saying farewell to some classmates and John the teacher.  Each Friday for the past 11 weeks I’ve rushed home from work a little earlier than normal, checked my email for any last minute changes in the program, grabbed my gear and headed back down town for a 6PM photography course. There I’d spend the next three hours discovering some new aspects of the craft and being challenged to step outside my comfort zone.

“Beyond the Basics” as the name implies, promised to take us a little further than basic photography. The intent of the course was to venture into composition and the elements design that contribute to more powerful pictures. We were introduced to a few types of photography – landscapes in and out of the urban environment, documentary photography, and portraiture. On the technical side we covered digital workflows, processing in Lightroom, and studio lighting. With eleven weeks, it wasn’t possible to cover each topic in great detail. We spent more time on some, less on others. This approach suited me fine. For others in the class, that didn’t seem to be the case. At the start there were 10 or 11 students. The low point was in class 9, an outdoor shoot, where 4 students showed up and two of them left early. Class 10 saw 5 students. Why?

I’m not a great judge of age but it seemed at the start that we had a mix of people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I expect I was the oldest student. The thing is, i have to imagine they were all motivated to commit the time and  money to learn something new.  Some likely didn’t click with John or the course outline and chose to leave with refunds after the first night. Others just seemed to drift away. For the remaining few, the benefit was a much smaller student/teacher ratio – always a good thing. On the down side though it has to be discouraging for an instructor to be faced with a non-responsive and ultimately diminishing number of students.

The final assignment is to compile a slideshow of 20 photos taken since the start of the course. This will take some time and I sincerely hope enough people show up to make it worthwhile.  I consider my time and money well spent. At the start I’d really only ever taken landscapes and was beginning to feel stuck in rut. During the course I embraced each new assignment, Wandering the downtown streets during twilight or at night generally isn’t my thing nor is photographing people – my Flickr group is named “We don’t shoot people” for a reason – none the less, I explored the concepts. Sometimes I liked the results, sometimes not so much. I plan to pursue those I liked in a little more detail either through other courses or through books.

It comes down to expectations doesn’t it?  John didn’t ask us at the start what our expectations were and perhaps if he had, it might have alerted him that there may be problems. Then again, he’s an experienced teacher so not asking may have been intentional.  Either way, I’m happy with the results and I’ll certainly take another course at SPAO.

Mind’s eye, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Friday’s class introduced us to documentary photography. Unlike studio or landscape work with their contemplative processes, this is more immediate, more spontaneous. Here the object is to capture images of life as it happens. You might even be making a statement on an issue that’s important right now. The thought process is very different and as I found not nearly as easy as I thought.

With landscape I can stand there, take in the scene, consider the light and choose the best location for my camera. Once the tripod is set up, and the settings set. Sometimes I just stand and wait for the best light. I don’t care if people see me with my gear. Often an hour or two can pass without notice from the same scene.

With documentary photograph, the advice was keep the camera away from your face, hanging around your neck is good. Aim from the waist, use a remote cable release. Use semi-automatic and allow room for editing. On my first attempt at this type of photography, I took 126 pictures 110 of which were either too blurred or were not framed to capture anything of use. After a while, maybe at the computer, I realized the people around what I thought was the subject are as important if not more important to the image.

I have two weeks before the next class – time to get out and try this again. I have to admit though I enjoyed taking these pictures much more than I expected.