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Honest Image Critiques

We live in a world that’s politically incorrect to be negative. In this world where we can do no wrong, you’ll often see complaints among photographers about how Facebook and Flickr, etc are a celebration of everyones work. It has the maximum encouragement because every single photo is the best and those that break that trend are looked down on. Which is totally fair because it’s all personal preferences. There is a reason there is no dislike button. It’s how these sites were designed to work. Negative commenting just looks bad.

I’m not suggesting this type of commenting is wrong and the support is needed but if it were all true, we’d all be fantastic and if we were all fantastic, how does one feel the need to improve? Finding critiques is hard and receiving qualified critiques is even harder. The two local competitions that I know of are held by the PPOC and PEI Photo Club. While at different levels, the live judging is a great experience to watch. You can learn so much even on the prints that are not your own. And whether I agree with the comments or not, I want to hear the negatives just as much, if not more than the positive ones. After all, I already liked the photo enough to share it.

For the past two years, I have volunteered my time to help organize the photo print show for the PEI Photo Club and part of the exhibit involves hiring judges to provide constructive reviews for each and every print. Judges range from photographers, painters, instructors, designers and gallery owners. I don’t remember all of the positive comments but I do remember all of the negative ones still 3 years later. They have forever greatly impacted my opinions on the specific elements the comments were referring to.

This years show will be opened to the public in downtown Charlottetown from July 9th – 30th at The Guild Gallery. Full details can be found at



Earth Hour

Show your support by turning off your lights tonight March 31st from 8:30 to 9:30. The Big Picture always has a great series of images of big city support but it begs the question – Why do we need to light up the outside of buildings at night or keep office lights on all night long? Images from 2011, 2010 and 2009 (click on photos for before and after)


Photographically Speaking

I’ve been slowly reading the latest book from David duChemin since Christmas (it’s been a busy year) and he never fails with his ability to start an internal discussion to critique ones work. The message is always well beyond the many how-to step-by-step guides and much more about aesthetics. His suggestions may not have clearly defined answers but are always based on a solid foundation.

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images is the fourth book in the series following Within the Frame, Vision Mongers and Voice & Vision. This latest book is all about why a photograph was made and being able to describe in details the purpose or intent the photographer had. David challenges you to defend every element that makes up that single frame. It’s an interesting discussion and a slow read with each page making me pause to think or read again.

The readers of your photograph make an assumption. They assume that you know what you are doing, that you meant to say the things you did by including or excluding elements and making certain decisions, whether technical—that is, optics, shutter speed, and aperture—or artistic—that is, your point of view and use of perspective or your framing. The reader believes you meant to do it. So whether or not the idea of intent works for you, it is assumed by your readers. And because they believe this, all content—whether we intended it or not—has meaning.

As I continue to read through this book and think about my own work, it reinforces and reminds me of the one tool I use the most. I’ll spend a long time positioning the tripod and camera over and over making small adjustments again and again until I think I’m happy. And then I’ll adjust everything one more time. But back at home later that day, week or month when I’m looking at those 2×3 files, I’ll spend just as much time playing with the crop tool debating even more what should be removed from or aligned to the frame. It’s easily the most used tool in my workflow – everything else is secondary.

Sonora Hills

Today’s Image – Rolling Hills Near Sonora

Last fall, I spent a couple days renting a house in the hills near Sonora (N 37 56.768 W 120 23.026) and each morning I would venture out in the unfamiliar place, down the hill and work with the chaos of nature and the rising sun. It has now been several months since this day and I’ve revisited the many images from this location several times. Each time adjusting it but ultimately deciding something just wasn’t right. I’ve fussed over the small details but now believe I’m finally satisfied. So I’m not sure if it actually does work or I’ve convinced myself that it does because I so badly want it to. I can still hear that rooster.


Prince Edward Island Photography Workshops

I have no business relationship with John Sylvester or do I have any incentive to promote his work but I do very much enjoy it. A few years ago during a book launch, the topic of workshops came up and I suggested that PEI could use one from a local photographer. I ensured that I could fill the class from the PEI Photo Club members alone to make it worth John’s time to organize. Not only did the weekend limited to 8 participants fill up quickly, the following 2 weekends sold out as well. That success and support continues to show 3 years later.

As I write this, there are only a couple spots remaining for 2012, but even if you have no interest in this weekend adventure (which I do recommend after attending one myself), the following video about Prince Edward Island is still a joy to watch. Photography has really changed my opinion of this island I’ve ignored and taken for granted all my life.

Video produced by Foulkes Productions


Northern Lights over PEI

The Aurora is something we rarely see on Prince Edward Island but for the past week it feels like it has been routinely in the news due to high CME activity. Some of the images coming out of Iceland and western Canada have been incredible but despite all – I have not heard of anyone local to PEI witness the show this week.

Landscape and nature photography can often be rewarding but also very frustration with one trip after another to the same location time and time again – only to return without what you went for. We chase weather and we chase light. Two forces that are hard to predict and over the past 7 days, I have fallen asleep more than once parked in my car staring at the sky in the early hours of the morning on the north shore.

As rare as it may be – the lights can be seen when all the stars align. This is an image from last summer in the National Park. The posts you see next to the road are the relatively new don’t park here along the Gulf Parkway. This particular night remains to be the first and only night I have witnessed the show in person.

Prince Edward Island Aurora


A Round Sprocket Cokin P173 Blue Yellow Filter

I originally shared this on the now retired How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies weblog but it has enough value to publish again. The following steps may help you better use Cokin’s Blue/Yellow Polarizing filter.

If you are like me, you bought the Cokin P173 Polarizer and received it in a square plastic casing. You placed this filter into the Cokin-P holder, rotated the polarizer to the desired strength and then found yourself scratching your head because it was now near impossible to add a graduated filter. This limitation alone was a primary reason why my P173 filter found a permanent home in the camera bag. I actually had it listed for sale until I told Darwin Wiggett my frustrations. He happens to know a thing or two about photography and suggested this fantastic solution, but first, let’s pause to talk about today’s photo.

Prince Edward Island

A thin strip of Prince Edward Island coastline intersects two equal halves of the clean and competing colors in the sky and water. In the distance are the sand dunes of Cavendish. I’m not typically a fan of a clear sky but sometimes no clouds can be acceptable and for a very windy location like this, it takes a long 20 second exposure to make even the best of days look calm.

Back to the filter mod.



How Much Resolution Do You Need?

If you’re a photographer, the internet has been polluted with people eager to spend money on either the new D800 or 5D. Both are reasonable upgrades but for the most part, Nikon and Canon has a similar fan base to Apple in which everyone complains what’s missing, but they’ll still line up to buy it. But that’s beside the point.

The D800 comes with a resolution of 38 million pixels and while there are for sure people that can use and need every bit of that, those people are not the average user. I don’t even think Canon makes an slr under 18 MP now. Marketing tells us bigger is better.

I’ll go on record by saying that I want as much resolution as I can possibly get. You never know when an agency will call and in the stock world, pricing is determined by use and size. But regardless of what the market desires, how much is actually necessary for most use cases?

Star Trails over PEI National Park

Today’s Image – Covehead Lighthouse

Here is an image that I’ve shared before on my old blog as well as in my portfolio. It’s special for a couple reasons. For starters, it was made at 3:30am in the National Park during a meteor shower. It was a great all night marathon that I remember well. To top that off, Parks Canada eventually requested a license to use this image for their 100th anniversary campaign featuring a different National Park across Canada for each hour of the day. Shockingly, the 2am to 5am slot was hard to fill. :-)

The point about resolution is that this photo was created with the original Canon 5D. It has a total of 12 MP of resolution but I lost some of that due to cropping and horizon straightening. The final print still measured 5 feet wide and found it’s home in both Ottawa and Toronto with a very close viewing distance.

Here are a few photos from that exhibit.



Summerside Storm of the NBL

This is primarily a nature and landscape blog and will remain my subject of choice because it is what I enjoy photographing the most. But that doesn’t mean I need to be exclusive and very much enjoy event photography in the form of concerts and sports. Similar to a great sunset or a perfect storm, there is no second chance.

#10 Al Stewart - Summerside Storm

Today’s Image – Al Stewart Protecting The Ball

The National Basketball League of Canada was new for 2011 and made up of 7 teams from the eastern provinces. One of those teams ended up in my hometown of Summerside. For a very small city, the support was surprisingly good with several games selling out at 4000 plus and an average attendance of 2000. It’s hard to believe that hockey was bumped to #2 in a hockey focused province.

This Friday March 2nd will be the last home game of the season.

Here are 18 more photos from the season.


Reply Finalist – Best Photography of a Weblog

Announced tonight, Focused on Light is officially a runner-up finalist in the 12th Annual Weblog Awards (The 2012 Bloggies). Congratulations to The Pioneer Women for your 3rd win and thanks to all those that voted as well as the mysterious person that nominated this site. The increased traffic from the nomination was noticeable.

If you’re interested in landscape photography, occasional event photography and some random design talk, I’d love to have you stick around and visit again. The best way to stay in touch will be to receive email updates by subscribing to Google’s Feedburner. You’ll receive an email only with each new blog post. Approximately 1 or 2 emails per week with images primarily from Prince Edward Island.

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Cavendish, Prince Edward Island

Today’s Image – Cape Turner, Cavendish, PEI

An old and classic shot of Cape Turner in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island from 2010 but it remains to be one of my all time favorites. I’ve made it a bit of a signature shot of mine.