Sunday, December 12, 2010

Don’t Believe Me? Let the Pros Tell You!

I have written and posted two articles on this site that promote the whole concept of “Quality” that both relate to my last post “Observations on Photography in the Digital Age” ( My first was “A Quality Affair” (, and then “Start to Finish ‘Tack’ Sharp”. In both these articles I stress the importance of Quality.

I also teach two workshops that also go hand-in-hand with this concept. I have presented both workshops in the last two weeks, one at ArtShots and the other at the Surrey Photography Club. At Artshots I did a workshop entitles “A Quality Affair: From Start to Finish” where I discuss how to achieve the optimum quality throughout your entire workflow. I will be posting notes from this workshop soon.

The other workshop is titled “Tripod-ology 101” and it is all about Tripods, why use them, how they improve your photographs and so on. I have posted the notes from this workshop here (

I was just reading Outdoor Photographer Magazine, the December 2010 25th Anniversary issue and I came across a great article called “25 Best All-Time Tips From Our Pros”. It’s a great article, but one that I found rather funny as it contains some tips that I often try to pass on, not always with success. I know some of you out there have listened to me because I have seen your work improve and also because many of you have thanked me for it.

I would highly recommend that you read all 25 tips in the magazine (Outdoor Photographer) but here are a few of my favorites. I have taken only short snippets of the quotes from some exceptional photographers, but they represent my thoughts very well.

#14 – Take Your Time: “This is the essential ingredient in every photograph” – Moose Peterson

#15 – Lose The “I’ll Fix It in Photoshop” Attitude: “Never photograph under the assumption that Photoshop will save you from sloppy work. Always think of Photoshop as a way to optimize the best image you can come back with. The better the content, composition and quality in the capture, the better the final result.” – George Lepp

#19 – Your Feet Make the Best Zoom: “It’s easy to get lazy when using zoom lenses.” – William Neill

And my absolute favorite. . .

#21 – Quality and the Tripod: “We now have image stabilization and vibration reduction to allow handholding of the camera at fairly slow shutter speeds. No matter how good you think you are at handholding, your quality and percentage of keepers will improve when you use a good tripod and head” – George Lepp

It is specifically followed by an Editor’s Note: “Almost everyone of the pros we asked to contribute to this article suggested using a tripod”.

So as I mentioned, you may have chosen not to listen to me, but, perhaps you’ll listen to all the pros that wrote in and to the excellent magazine called “Outdoor Photographer.”

And, a special note to the Editors of Outdoor Photographer, thanks for trying to teach us how to make better quality images.

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.00 - December 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Observations on Photography in the Digital Age

When I decided to return to Photography in late 2007 my first thought was that I would have a lot of new stuff to learn. I had all the basic to advanced photography skills from the days of film but now I would need to learn all there is in the digital world.

The reason for wanting to learn everything is because I wanted to create beautiful pictures. You wouldn’t think that creating beautiful pictures would require a lot of learning; especially considering all the skills I already had but the first step in creating an exceptional image is creating a perfect image in camera, on the sensor, right from the start. To accomplish that, there are a lot of things to learn, techniques to perfect, and processes to follow.

A few years have gone by and I am still learning and always trying to improve my images from both a technical and artistic perspective. A part of this process was taking the Canadian Association of Photographic Arts (CAPA) Judging Course and then spending a year doing a lot judging and studying so that I could become a CAPA Certified Judge. I continue to Judge to this day and I enjoy it tremendously. Being exposed to all the images and the wonderful creative work is a great way to learn and to keep up on new trends. It also, on occasion, shows you what can be achieved if you do everything right.

What I have noticed is that there are many good photographers out there that capture excellent images. What I do not see is a lot of excellent photographers as most good photographers lack the skills necessary to create exceptional images. My observations come from seeing many, many images, both digital and print, that are soft or outright out of focus, improperly exposed, have bad color balance or so digitally damaged by improper Post Processing because the original image was soft or improperly exposed or not White Balanced properly to start with.

Soft images are easy to spot in print, especially at 11 x 14 inches, but can be hidden and fixed up fairly well in digital format when done at 1024 x 768 Pixels and displayed on a projector. Exposure and color balance are also easier to fix and hide when digitally projected. In print however, it is much more difficult or even impossible at times. Finally, the digital defects (artifacts, ghosting, noise) caused by post processing images can often be seen even in digital images but are always apparent in print.

The results are that as a judge, I see a lot of technically bad prints and even bad digital images. I even know some excellent photographers that do this and I ask myself why?

Part or if not all the blame seems to come from the digital world. This comes from several factors; price, impatience and the attitude that it can all be fixed in Post Processing. I think a large part of this blame must go to the ‘now’ society we have created. Everyone wants instant results and with advanced cameras and some magical voodoo thing called “Image Stabilization”, they all expect their images to be perfect, all the time, no matter how bad the conditions or their skills are.

In the days of film, there was a cost associated with every click of the shutter. So, before we clicked we took our time. We looked at and observed our subject to make sure we had the very best angle to shoot from. We used a tripod to make sure we didn’t waste the shot. We composed our image and looked at all four corners and all four edges. When we were satisfied with what we saw, we calculated our perfect exposure based on lighting rules, in camera meters and if we were lucky enough to own a hand held light meter or better yet a spot meter we would use that in conjunction with the Zone System to calculate that perfect exposure. Digital has removed all this. People now take ‘snaps’ (word chosen carefully), many of them and only hope they have a good one. I keep hearing “I just shoot a bunch and I usually get something good”. Very often they only end up with a bunch of badly exposed soft images they need to fix. All this, because there is no cost associated with each click of the camera.

This new digital world has also helped create this “Now” generation. Everyone wants stuff now! I want to click once and see a perfect image. Cameras and their advertisements promise perfection and so perfection is expected, now. People just seem to be impatient and they just want to push that button. No sense walking around, taking your time, smelling the roses. You almost never see Tripods or people getting on their knees or, god forbid, laying down on their stomach. People will not even walk forward a few steps to get some foreground annoyances out of the way. Click, crop, edit, done!

So from these two things, price and impatience, we get a natural evolution into the digital world of “We can fix it in post processing”. We know for a fact that all the pros use Adobe CS5, or Lightroom, or Aperture or something equivalent and so, if we take any of our bad images and post process them the same way a pro does, we should end up with pro quality images. Right?

It wasn’t long before I started studying digital photography that I learned that the image coming out of the camera was the first and single most important step in creating a perfect image. In many ways, this is even more important now than it was in the days of film. This doesn’t mean it all starts with a quick ‘snap’ of the button, but rather, with a well-planned and perfectly executed ‘click’ of the shutter knowing and understanding the whole process from image capture to RAW image import to the final print. If that first step, the ‘capture’ isn’t perfect to start with, it won’t be exceptional by the time the print is created no matter how much work you do to the image. The final print may be made better than the original capture, but it will not be made perfect.

Lastly and not mentioned earlier is the digital world itself. Most people now view images on their Blackberries or iPhones and on occasion on their standard quality computer monitors at resolutions well below that of standard HD TV’s. These screens do not lend themselves to showing imperfections in images and so a lot of bad work flows from the process. Prints contain far more detail than what can be displayed by our monitors. Also, worse than the use on monitors is the use of Digital Projectors that are used by Photography Clubs including National Photography Associations, that still use the old archaic resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels.

Why would these National Associations promote such old archaic low resolution standards? Why would they not promote the use of the at least more modern day HD standard of 1920 by 1080 pixels that can be displayed on most modern televisions and projectors and almost all monitors? By keeping this old standard as ‘acceptable’ and even promoting this standard the National Associations are grossly doing a disservice to themselves and their members. They should be there to promote their art which includes promoting higher quality standards, not just acceptable mainstream standards set in the digital dark ages of almost twenty-five years ago.

Today, less than twelve percent of computer users still use the 1024 x 768 resolution set in 1987 and over half of those do so because of vision problems; not because of limits set by their current hardware. If the photography industry is to thrive and to prove itself as an art form to governments and the art society as a whole, it needs to wake up and promote better standards that will push its members to create better quality images; not standards that are designed to limit and stifle.

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.10 - June 15, 2011)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Monday, November 15, 2010


(This is a work in progress but posted here as is for people that have been asking for this. Check back for edits and sample images)

What makes a good photograph? Is it the incredible subject matter alone? Is it the perfect technical aspects of the images, exposures, sharpness, color and so on? Is it the angle of view and composition that makes a great image? Or, is it all of these elements along with great overall quality?

Composition has to do with layout, positioning and overall balance. It includes the rules of thirds and many aspects of a photo including, simplicity, contrast, framing, viewpoint, lines, movement, direction of movement, diagonals, ‘s’ shapes and paths, curves, leading lines (vanishing points), mirrored objects, patterns, textures, and even Depth-Of-Field and so on. Even how a model is photographed, i.e. position of limbs and such is part of composition.

Just because one follows any of the rules doesn’t mean the composition will be good. Lighting, direction, subject matter, surroundings and so on can make or break the images composition. The rules can however be applied in many instances.

There are even instances where ‘breaking’ the rules just works. Then that would also be a good composition.

Composition is something that can be learned by looking at many photos but a good study and understanding is best gained from experience. Having someone explain what compositional elements are in a photo (or what elements are broken) and trying out all the different aspects can also be a great tool.


Simplicity Rules! This is a statement. Simplicity is king. Even before the rule of thirds, I personally think that simplicity should be the first thing you think about when composing a photograph. Try to keep you image "clutter free". Remember that you want to draw your viewer to the main subject of the photo as quickly and instinctively as possible. Here are 2 tips to help simplify your composition.

1- Get in close. To easily remove some of the distractions around your subject is to zoom in on it. Once you think your close enough, zoom in even more! This is a simple yet very effective way to simplify your image.

2- Simplify your background. You don't always want to get in really close to compose your image so the next thing to do is to remove the "clutter" from your background so that the eye isn't distracted away from your main subject. You can do this with 2 different approaches. The first one is to choose an even background. This could be a single-colored piece of fabric or paper or an even-textured surface like a brick wall. The second technique is to have a blurred background where all the elements blend into each other to form a blur of colors. A blurred background is created by using shallow depth of field (DOF).

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is based on the fact that the human eye is naturally drawn to a point about two-thirds up a page. Crop your photo so that the main subjects are located around one of the intersection points rather than in the center of the image.

Golden Section Rule (Golden Mean)

It has been found that certain points in a picture's composition automatically attract the viewer's attention. Similarly, many natural or man-made objects and scenes with certain proportions (whether by chance or by design) automatically please us. Leonardo da Vinci investigated the principle that underlies our notions of beauty and harmony and called it the Golden Section. Long before Leonardo, however, Babylonian, Egyptian, and ancient Greek masters also applied the Golden Section proportion in architecture and art. The Chinese have applied this to Bonsai.

To get a clearer sense of these special "Golden" composition points, imagine a picture divided into nine unequal parts with four lines. Each line is drawn so that the width of the resulting small part of the image relates to that of the big part exactly as the width of the whole image relates to the width of the big part. Points where the lines intersect are the "golden" points of the picture.

Golden Triangles

Another rule is the "Golden Triangles". It's more convenient for photos with diagonal lines. There are three triangles with corresponding shapes. Just roughly place three subjects with approximate equal sizes in these triangles and this rule would be kept.

Golden Spiral or Golden Rectangle

And one more rule is a "Golden Spiral" or "Golden Rectangle" (you'll see why it's a rectangle in the tools section). There should be something, leading the eye to the center of the composition. It could be a line or several subjects. This "something" could just be there without leading the eyes, but it would make its job.

Diagonal Rule

According to the Diagonal Rule, important elements of the picture should be placed along these diagonals. Linear elements, such as roads, waterways, and fences placed diagonally, are generally perceived as more dynamic than horizontally placed ones

Point of Interest

Identify a primary point of interest before taking the picture. When you’ve determined which area is the most important to you, you can compose to emphasize it. (Studying advertising photographs is a good way to get acquainted with emphasis in composition.)


A "frame" in a photograph is something in the foreground that leads you into the picture or gives you a sense of where the viewer is. For example, a branch and some leaves framing a shot of rolling hills and a valley, or the edge of an imposing rock face leading into a shot of a canyon. Framing can usually improve a picture. The "frame" doesn’t need to be sharply focused. In fact if it is too sharply detailed, it could be a distraction.

Shapes (Circles, Areas, Triangles)

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Form is the illusion of 3 dimensions in a 2 dimensional image. It is achieved through the play of light on your subject in a way that brings out the depth of the object. Soft directional light is best at doing this.


Cropping is Key. A great photo that is improperly cropped can be ruined. Cropping can be used to control Balance and Summitry.


A light subject will have more impact if placed against a dark background and vice versa. Contrasting colors may be used for emphasis, but can become distracting if not considered carefully.


Hue: refers to the names of the primary colors, red, green and blue.

Value: lightness and darkness of the color - the amount of white or black added.

Intensity: the purity or saturation of the color

Monochromatic color: use of one color where only the value of the color changes

Analogous colors: colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel, e.g. yellow and green

Analogous colors next to each other on the color wheel "get along" and are referred to as being harmonious. Analogous colors are often used in visual design and have a soothing affect.

Complementary colors: colors opposite to each other on the color wheel, e.g. Blue-violet and yellow, represent colors positioned across from each other on the color wheel. Complimentary colors exhibit more contrast when positioned adjacent to each other - for example yellow appears more intense when positioned on or beside blue or violet.

Warm colors include: yellows, red and orange we associate these with blood, sun and fire.

Cool colors include: violet, blue and green because of our association with snow and ice.

Colors are called warm or cool because of our association with various elements in our surroundings. Red, yellow and orange are considered warm colors whereas blue, green and violet are considered cool colors. These contrasts are relative since yellow-green are cool next to red, orange or yellow, but would be considered warm next to blue-violet. Photographers can position different colors in an image to maximize contrast between them and also to provide perspective. Perceptually, cool colors tend to recede into the distance whereas warm colors appear to advance.

Viewpoint or Perspective

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Direction of Movement

When the subject is capable of movement, such as an animal or person, it is best to leave space in front of the subject so it appears to be moving into, rather than out of, the photograph.

Leading Lines

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Unity refers to an ordering of all elements in an image so that each contributes to a unified aesthetic effect so that the image is seen as a whole. Failing to accomplish this results in the premature termination of the viewer's experience - they look away. There are a number of ways to achieve unity to attract and keep the viewers attention.

Dominance and Subordination

An artist or photographer attempts to control the sequence in which visual events in the frame are observed and the amount of attention each element receives. Making an element dominant can be done through size and color. Large objects dominate smaller ones and warm colored objects dominate cooler pale colored objects. Another way of achieving dominance is through positioning various elements within the frame. A centrally located object will draw more attention then one at the periphery. However the center is not the best place to position the most dominant element - usually just to one side of the center is more effective.

Another method to achieve dominance is through convergence or radiation or lines. The eye tends to follow these lines to the point where they converge.

Dominance can also be achieved through nonconformity i.e. difference or exception. If all the elements are similar and one is different in color, tone or shape- it will stand out and become dominant. The brown cattail leaf below is dominant because it is different from those around it.


Coherence refers to the belonging together or the various parts of the artwork. In reality these parts may be unrelated, but within the confines of the image their color, shapes, and size form a sense of unity. Visual coherence can be achieved through the use of analogous color and color tonality. It can also be achieve through similarity of shape, color size or texture. However too much similarity can lead to boredom - we need some variety to add "spice" to the image.


Balance implies that the visual elements within the frame have a sense of weight. Large objects generally weigh more than small objects and dark objects weigh more than light colored objects. The position of the elements is also critical. We unconsciously assume the center of a picture corresponds to a fulcrum. A heavy weight on one side can be balanced by a lighter weight on the other side if the lighter weight is located at a greater distance from the fulcrum.

Another way to achieve balance is through symmetry. Reflections of the landscape in still water are an example of almost perfect symmetry. Reflections can take on an abstract quality that resembles a Rorschach inkblot used in a psychological testing. Rorschach inkblots are created by folding a piece of paper covered and filled with ink to form a symmetrical pattern.

Positive and Negative Space

Positive space is where shapes and forms exist; negative space is the empty space around shapes and forms. In the photo below the black area is negative space and it serves to balance the area in which the marmot and rock occupy. Areas of a picture that contain "nothing" are important visual elements that provide balance in an image.


Rhythm refers to the regular repeating occurrence of elements in the scene just as in music it refers to the regular occurrence of certain musical notes over time. In photography the repetition of similar shapes sets up a rhythm that makes seeing easier and more enjoyable. Rhythm is soothing and our eyes beg to follow rhythmic patterns. To be effective, rhythm also requires some variability - rhythm that is too similar or perfect may be boring. Therefore when composing your images look for repetition with variation. For instance if you are photographing a fence - one that is perfect will not hold a viewers interest for long, but one in which some of the posts are bent, broken, larger or smaller will generate more viewer interest.


Chaos is a disordered state of elements and it is found frequently in nature. The goal of many photographers is to take a picture that exhibits some underlying organization so the viewer sees what the artists intends for them to see, but leaves enough chaos within the frame of the image so the viewer has to put forth some effort to explore and fully appreciate the image. New photographers often include too many elements in their images and can often improve their composition by removing unessential elements. Beyond a certain point, however an image that is too simple fails to hold ones attention (e.g. single leaf above has interesting elements but after a few moments I find little to hold my attention). Compare this to an image I took with my 4 x 5 camera of the rainforest shot below, and I find the rainforest image has so many textures and patterns that I can look at and explore the image for extended periods of time and still continue to discover things I have not seen before. The ability to introduce and handle complex elements within the frame of an image and still produce an effective composition requires a maturation of seeing that takes time to develop. I have also found that larger film formats encourage compositions with more detail and complexity then using smaller digital and 35 mm film based cameras. In short, the size and format of camera you use will also influence what you shoot, and how you compose your images.

Final Thoughts

Understanding elements of visual design and how they can affect our emotions can also help us make our photographic images more effective. However, keep in mind that no rule or guideline can ever guarantee success. A successful image depends upon a multitude of things that must come together including: timing, lighting, color, composition, and an audience sensitive to what it is you are trying to communicate. It is likely that many artists carry out design intuitively and arrange elements so they "feel right" and since art is in part a way of expressing our feelings to others no other guiding principle may be required. As Freeman Patterson put it so eloquently "Good composition is always harmonious with the design of the material being photographed", Art of Seeing 1985. Elements of design can be compared to the scales in music, they are starting points around which music is made but the elements are by themselves only building blocks. In conclusion, an understanding of the elements of design will not by themselves make you a better a photographer, but they can provide a framework in which to evaluate images and their effectiveness.

Another way to improve composition is to compare your images with those of others whose work you admire or respect. Mimicry is one way to begin to develop your skills and learning to copy the styles of certain artists is in part the road to towards developing your own style, although many artists may not admit to it. Take those stylistic elements you like and then integrate them into your own point of view. Evaluate and compare your work both technically and aesthetically against those of other photographers. Be realistic and critical when you evaluate your own images and edit your images ruthlessly. The better you become the more critical you will become of you own work and those of others. Listen to what others have to say when they view your images, what they like, what they don't like but always be true to yourself and what your vision is. My wife may not be knowledgeable about design, but if she responds to image I know others will too.

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.01 - November 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pole Adapter

Since my post on the Magazine cover I have had several inquiries about how I took a self portrait from above so high.

Basically, the camera was mounted onto a pole and the pole is attached to the tripod head and extended about 25 feet or so. The pole I use is a standard painters/window washer's 40 foot fibreglass pole.

The hand grip is on the ground with a sand bag over it to keep it firmly down. About 5 feet up it is attached to the top of my tripod using a super clamp and at the end of the pole to attach to the camera I use a great little adapter made by Kacey Enterprises (

The adapter I used was the 'Kacey Pole Adapter' which is a very well made machined aluminum adapter that just screws onto the paint pole end. The other end of this adapter is designed for a standard Flash Head but using another adapter I can attach a Camera. All triggered wirelessly.

Now, Kacey has created a new adapter specifically for cameras called the 'DSLR Camera Paint Pole Adapter' which is better suited and will connect directly to a pole and a standard tripod head.

I like the one I have for Flash Heads and Umbrellas as that was why I purchased the adapter in the first place, but since creating that self portrait I have a few other ideas and will now order the actual DSLR Adapter... more photos to come.

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.00 - October 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Magazine Cover

I was going to add the Day 4 of the Cape Breton Experience here but while at the airport in St. John’s Newfoundland I saw the new Popular Photography Magazine had just been released. I had to pick it up as I had heard that my photo was going to be in there.

Digital Version

News Stand Print Version

On the cover of Popular Photography November 2010

As I grab the magazine I quickly notice my image on the bottom of the front cover! My first magazine cover! Anyways, here it is. You have seen the photo before . . . my self portrait on my little planet. I posted the blog as an ad for a Workshop on how to create the image.

My Little Planet - Self Portrait

It is times like this when you realize your passion, hours of shooting and editing and lots of trials and errors are finally paying off and improving your work.

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.02 - May 2012 (Nov 2012))

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Late Fall Photography and the Weather

Late fall travels can be a great time for photography but it also has it’s drawbacks. The largest of these can be the weather. I will discuss more drawbacks later but for now lets tackle some weather issues.

We had done some traveling in and around Cape Breton for several days and we did have a lot of off and on rain, mostly on. We were prepared for this as we both had our warm clothes, our Vancouver wet weather Gore-Tex parkas and pants and some waterproof hiking boots. If you are warm and dry, cold and rain are OK.

To keep my camera gear dry I use a LowePro AW-300 SlingShot All Weather Bag that has a built in Rain Cover and for my camera when I am shooting I use the Kata E-702 Large Rain Cover. I have previously posted an article on Rain Covers here: Shoot In the Rain with the Right Rain Gear.

Cape Breton Hillside Photographed in the Rain
With a lot of rain in Cape Breton and some very heavy wind-blown rain in St. Pierre and Miquelon, the Kata rain cover performed exceptionally well. Since my last review I have changed my camera strap to the excellent Black Rapid RS7 over the shoulder strap and the rain cover worked great with this new strap also. I still stand by my rave reviews of both the Black Rapid Strap and the Kata Rain Cover. Both excellent products.

So I mentioned that late fall can be good. Yes cold and wet but good nonetheless.  For starters the lighting is different this time of the year and it can add warmth to Landscape images. The early setting of the sun can also be advantageous. The fall colours of course are only available this time of the year and if it happens to be wet with good lighting it can make for exceptional colours. If you can catch wet leaves with some sunlight it will add another dimension to your image. Shooting on stormy days can also be a bonus! Always take advantage of whatever is thrown at you. Early snow fall? Bring it on!

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.10 - October 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Cape Breton Experience - Celtic Colours International Music Festival - Day 3 Continued

In the last post I forgot to mention that after that great performance we went to the After Hours Club at the St. Ann’s Gaelic College. We had heard that this was an exceptional experience not to miss. It’s an after hours club setup for the artists to meet and play and do some impromptu stuff. They have a lineup of artists playing but later as the evening wears on, anything can happen.

The After Hours Club is supposed to run from 11:00 PM to 3:00 AM but we had already heard rumors of it running until almost 7:00 AM the previous day. So, on our way home we stopped in to check it out. The cover charge was $20.00 but if you had a ticket stub from any of the events during that day, the cover charge was reduced to $10.00. A great deal, as you’ll see. This is also setup as a drinking facility and so wine, beer and highballs are available. This creates a much more festive atmosphere.

We acquired some drinks and sat down in the great hall that is very well designed for this type of musical event and sat down at a table. Live music was already playing. After the performers last set there was a break as the stagehands setup for a new show. The break was only seven minutes long and a new group was up on stage playing. Turns out it was the excellent duo of Chris Stout and Catriona McKay that we had seen earlier at the festival (see previous posts). They played four tunes and finished to a standing ovation.

Again a quick five to ten minute break and another band was on. This time, an excellent Bag Piper and an accompanying Violinist hit the stage. They were great and the crowd loved them. And so the evening went on. At around 1:45 AM when we decided we needed to head out, as we were both exhausted from our travels with little sleep, Natalie McMaster showed up. Seven months pregnant, played all day and here she was! We were not sure if she was going to play or when so we headed out anyways.

In the morning we did hear that she had in fact played and that many of the artist had stayed very late once again. What an excellent setup and what a great and inexpensive way to see so many great artists. Another cool thing about this setup is that all the artists themselves are milling about the joint chatting and mixing with the crowd. What a great opportunity to meet the artists.

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.00 - October 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Cape Breton Experience - Celtic Colours International Music Festival - Day 3

Irish Music, Cape Breton Music or Celtic Music can sound weird at first if you have never heard it before. The foreign sounding instruments can throw you off of your regular music haunts. But, once listened to, Celtic Music touches the heart. This music is why we came all the way to Cape Breton and specifically to the Celtic Colours International Music Festival.

Fort Louisbourg, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia - © 2010 François Cléroux
After a nice evening with Tracy and then a great show the following evening in Wagmatcook (Tunes gu leòr - see previous post), which was pre-ceded by some traditional Mi'kmaq drumming, we were anticipating another great evening of music.

It was another wet and cold day as we headed out to Fort Louisbourg before our evening concert. Along with the music we were trying to fit some photography in along with some touristy stuff. We had missed Louisbourg last year and so we fit it into this trip. Did I mention it was very cold and very wet. Fort Louisbourg was disappointing mostly because of the weather, and also because many aspects of the Fort were closed because we were visiting after tourist season ended.

Singer & Songwriter Lennie Gallant - © 2010 François Cléroux
What we did find was that another Juno award winning east coast singer and songwriter, Lennie Gallant, well know for both his English and French music, was doing a special one hour mid-day free concert at the Fort as part of the Music Festival. Lennie was a joy to listen to and he spent time talking to the crowd at the church about the music and some of the local history. Along with all his great music it was an excellent performance. Notch another autographed CD Purchase.

Our third evening brought us to the little town of Whycocomagh for 'Women In Tune'. This is what we had been waiting for. We couldn't purchase tickets for the opening act of the Festival which featured Rita MacNeil and the Men of the Deep but we did manage to get these tickets to see the great, and locally worshiped, Natalie MacMaster.

Laoise Kelly - © 2010 François Cléroux
The evening started off with an impressive performance on the Harp by the much celebrated Laoise Kelly. After hearing many harpist in my lifetime her performance was simply riveting as she made the harp do do things I had never experienced before. Just wonderful. Another CD, another autograph. We chatted a little and she even asked if I could send her a photo, which I will gladly do upon my return home.

An aside here on Photography at these types of events. Photography was strictly prohibited except by vetted Media. When attending these types of events always check if Media registration is required. Another point to consider is that these settings were very dark and poorly lit. Several of the musicians even commented as such and even for Media, flash was not permitted. Most of the photos were shot with a 200mm f/2.8 lens at f/2.8 using ISO 1600 or 3200. Always be ready.

Liz Doherty - © 2010 François Cléroux

Next up was a folk singer from Denver, Nevada, Mollie O'Brien. Perhaps she was part of the festival because of her last name but she was most definately not and Celtic musician. That aside, this woman has the voice of an angel and for those that love Folk with a hint of Jazz and Bluegrass, she is a must listen to. She has just released an excellent new album along with fellow musician Rich Moore titled, Saints & Sinners.

Before the break we were splashed with the sounds of Liz Doherty and Andrea Beaton. With the accompanying artist they were wonderful to listen to and their lively music was appreciated by everyone attending.

Niamh Ni Charra - © 2010 François Cléroux

After the break we returned to the sounds of Niamh Ni Charra. Although Niamh is a Fiddler, she started by playing the concertina, also known as a Ladies Accordion. What a beautiful sound this instrument makes when used by skilled hands. She then went on to play the fiddle.

Capping of the show was the musician everyone was waiting for, Natalie McMaster. Natalie started of her show playing a hard fast paced piece of music. Into her second tune she broke a string. An awkward moment at best for any musician but expertly handled by Natalie.

Natalie MacMaster - © 2010 François Cléroux

She went on to discuss current size as she is now seven months pregnant with her fourth child. She spoke about some personal life things and showed us a glimpse of who she truly is. In a sense we share a personal moment with her because she wanted to share this time, and to fill space while she replaced her broken string.

After replacing her string and tuning her fiddle she asked the crowed if they would mind if she started over? After much cheering she was able to continue her set. I have been a fan of Natalie's for many years now but even on this trip I heard a local stating she is so loved because she is so 'pretty and so wonderful'. You can always wonder as why someone is such a hit or celebrity, is it perhaps because of their looks, but when you hear her music and see the skills with which she plays, it's easy to understand why she has won so many awards. An incredible performance.

Natalie MacMaster - © 2010 François Cléroux

As with the previous evening all the cast were brought out on stage for a final few tunes. After the concert we had a change to speak with Natalie and since I already have her CDs, I had her autograph her new book about her, her life and Cape Breton titled "Natalie MacMaster's Cape Breton Aire: The Story of a Musical Life and Place". A beautiful book expertly photographed by Eric Roth that gives a great insight into her life and music. An excellent souvenir.

Coming up, days four through six . . .

© 2010 François Cléroux

(Version 1.01 - October 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cape Breton Experience - Celtic Colours International Music Festival - Days 1 and 2

Weddings, other peoples weddings, can seem obligatory, or even chore like at times. Weddings abroad however can be turned into great travel opportunities. That was the case last year when we travelled to Hubbard’s Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada. Not the ‘obligatory’ part but rather the ‘great opportunity’ part.

Catriona McKay - © 2010 François Cléroux

We used the wedding location as a base to visit all of Nova Scotia including the southern townships of Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove, Digby, Annapolis Royal and the Evangeline Trail. From there we headed over to circumnavigate Prince Edward Island and then back over to visit the northern end of Nova Scotia, or more appropriately, Cape Breton Island.

With only two nights to visit Baddeck, catch two caleidhs, do the Cabbot Trail and see a moose, we had little time for much else. We loved the music and the caleidhs, the Cabbot Trail was spectacular, the French District and its people on the West of the island was terrific as was the great sunset. The food was exceptional, can’t go wrong with Mussels and Lobster, but we never did see a moose. All in all the visit to Cape Breton was way too short and upon our departure we decided that what we loved the best, was its people. Nova Scotians are amongst the nicest people we’ve ever met. Cape Bretoners are even nicer!

Colin Grant - © 2010 François Cléroux

After such a wonderful 3 days in Cape Breton we decided we needed to return. After some quick investigation and seeing they had a music festival during the changing of the colours of the trees in the fall, it was a quick and easy decision to return to Cape Breton to attend the Celtic Colours International Music Festival. With Cape Breton in our hearts, plans and preparations were put into place.

A year and three weeks later we found ourselves in Baddeck once again. After a long flight in followed by a long drive in a new Lincoln MKV rental car we needed a rest. We were out for dinner and learned of a local musician playing at a local hangout and off we went, so much for rest. From here on we ended up seeing music every night we were in Cape Breton.

All the Artists - © 2010 François Cléroux

Our first evening of music was ‘Tracy’ at the Inverary in Baddeck. He is a local artist and was playing for a local crowd where he was known by everyone. Later into the evening we were joined by a new Groom and his best men. They had just snuck out of the wedding reception to go to the pub to do some shooters. Even Tracy commented n how lucky he was “Barely married and already allowed to go to the pub”.

We had four sets of tickets to different Celtic Colour’s events. Our first show was Tunes gu leòr with Troy MacGillivray, an excellent fiddler who then welcomed his sister on stage to do some Celtic Step Dancing. Then the Nuala Kennedy Trio entertained us followed by renowned and always exceptional Andrea Beaton who gave a stellar performance. Two internationally acclaimed and award winning musicians, Shetland Fiddler Chris Stout and the mesmerizing Harpist Catriona McKay made an appearance that was received by a well deserved standing ovation. Their new and very playable and enjoyable CD “White Nights” was released this June. A must have for any Celtic music collection! Our host Colin Grant then brought out his band, the  Colin Grant Band to entertain us. This young, energetic, vibrant band plays a fusion of Celtic, Rock, Funk and Jazz that is soulful and was in keeping with traditional Cape Breton Music. Everyone, young and old were well entertained. Rounding out the evening all the musicians were brought on stage to play a few Reels and Jigs. What a great way to end the evening.

Coming up, days three through six . . .

© 2010 François Cléroux
(Version 1.01 - October 2010)
Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Planning a Photo Trip - Part 2

Now that you have planned your trip, in concept, and booked all your tickets, accommodations and transportation it’s time to think about photography.

Flying is a great way to travel and depending on your destination perhaps the only way. When heading out locally it’s fairly easy dumping everything into the car along with all the extra gear. When boarding a plane it can be difficult bringing all your required personal belongings along with all your camera gear. Specific destinations and/or specific airlines can make this task even more challenging.

The security concerns of 9/11 along with higher fuel prices and a down turn in the economy, many airlines now only allow a checked bag and one carry-on. Checking in extra bags or overweight baggage can be costly. Luckily here in Vancouver with most airlines you can still have two checked bags up to 50Lbs each and two carry on bags (or rather one bag and one personal item?) up to 22Lbs each.

Another concern is what do you do with all your gear? Do you check it in risking never seeing your precious cargo again? Or perhaps receiving your gear neatly organized into a 100+ piece puzzle of broken pieces? Neither of these circumstances will be covered by most, if not all, airlines or even you home insurance policy.

The answer here is obviously carry-on. Only then can you ensure that you’ll have your camera when you arrive at your destination and also have it in one piece.

Carry-on baggage policies have limitations and restrictions on what, and how much stuff can be carried. For the ‘what’ portion, check with your local Aviation or Transport Regulatory Bodies in your area but rarely are cameras and gear on the list. I have heard of tripods or monopods not being allowed as carry-on but so far all your other gear is good to go. But again, check the rules.

Where you will run into problems is with the ‘how much’. There are size and weight restrictions and as mentioned before, the numbers of carry-on bags allowed. Here is where the fun starts.

First you need to check your airline’s baggage rules and regulations on limits and restrictions, but you need to check with all the carriers you will be using during your entire trip. Some small airline in a third world country may only allow one carry-on and NO checked baggage at all! You wouldn’t want to show up with four bags total?

So, check weight and size restrictions on all the airlines you will deal with. Note that many airlines will allow a little leeway in size but rarely in weight. Some airlines will not allow for ANY differences so it can pay to follow the rules. Note also, that with some airlines may have one set of rules when you leave home but the may have different rules when returning from a different country. This may be the airlines ripping travelers off but in most cases, these are regulations imposed by the country where you will be returning from.

Now that we have our weight and size requirements, you need to find a camera case, or two, that meet these requirements, meets your personal style photography work and organizational styles and a case that can carry all your equipment. This is no simple task.

For more on Travel Bags check out by blog post titled: Traveling With Photography Gear

Now I did say “all your equipment” but I should clarify that to be “all the equipment you want to bring”. And that is another whole question. What should you bring? This in part you will need to answer based on your gear, the type of photography you do and your photographic style.

I’ll discuss what gear I bring along in my next blog.

© 2010 François Cléroux
(Version 1.01 - October 2010)
Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Planning a Photo Trip - Part 1

There is often nothing more exciting than planning another trip. I have spent the last several weeks checking out photography locations, trying to contact local photography clubs to get some ideas on locations, checking out transportation and accommodations.

I will be attending the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton. This is part of the Cape Breton Colours Festival to celebrate the changing of the Tree Colours. Yes those beautiful yellows, oranges and reds we love to shoot in the fall. Along with the colours we get a full 10 days of wonderful Cape Breton music that includes the great Natalie McMaster.

Rounding out the trip will be several days in Saint Pierre & Miquelon (part of France) and then off to Newfoundland. Fitting all this in with 3 sets of round trips, multiple shows, a couple of photography workshops I will be teaching and a multitude of locations I want to shoot requires a well planned itinerary.

Book six flights, hotels, cars, some meal reservations, Ceilidhs (music shows) and a couple of special out of season tours. Lots of work. But its fun. And, doing a great job of it can make or break a trip.

Plan well, plan early, and cover all your bases. Lay it all out on paper and double check everything including dates, times and finance. Make sure you leave lots of time in place. Last minute trips usually do not work out so well. Once the plan is all laid out, time to check specifics.

Will you need a Passport? Will you need a Travel Visa? Both of these can take a bunch of paperwork and lots of time to acquire depending on your Nationality and your travel destination. Be ready.

Which Airline will you use? What times will you depart and arrive at your locations? Will you have time to get to and from locations? Should you get Cancelation Insurance? What about Medical Insurance?

Where will you pick up the rental car? What company will you use? Will you have time to get and return the vehicle? Will you require insurance? Does your credit cards have the insurance built in? If you “only think so” make sure you check it out and read all the fine print.

Check out all the available accommodations and select some based on price and affordability. Once you find what you are looking for, check it out on the internet. There are some excellent sites where other travelers may have left some good critiques or comments about the accommodations you may have selected. Try and/or some other sites.

If you plan on attending any shows, events or any special landmarks or points of interest, make sure that you know what dates these are open, what times they are open and most important, are tickets or reservations required? Just last year we were in Lunenburg Nova Scotia and were able to sail on the famous Blue Nose II. While picking up our reserved tickets there were several sets of un-happy tourists finding out they need to book ahead! This year, even though were are booking three months ahead of the festival, several shows have already sold out!

Now that everything is planned and laid out, it’s time to book everything. Use an agent or a reputable web site. Keep your fingers crossed and hope you can get tickets. I say this because many people use AirMiles and sometimes seats are not available for specific flights. (If you use AirMIles I would recommend booking tickets as the first thing you do before making any other plans.)

Bring all the information along with you and leave a copy with your non traveling spouse, a family member or a good friend.

Keep contact phone numbers for all your planes, trains and automobiles along with phone numbers for all lodging. You may need to make some calls if you run into trouble or just want to make some changes because you have found the most spectacular place to shoot and you want to stay an extra day or two.

In Part 2, I will discuss some Photography specific travel information.

Planning a Photo Trip - Part 2

© 2010 François Cleroux

(Version 1.02 - August 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Domain Hosting

People are always asking me who I use as a Domain Registrar. I give workshops titled "The Photographer on the Web" where I discuss the importance of Domain Names (try to have a good .com name), to Blog or not to Blog, Photographers websites and so on. I then note several different good registrars, three in fact, all of which I use but they still ask me which is my favorite? So, here it is.

I like to use 1&1 ( as my favorite registrar. They are the largest in the world, they have great service, excellent pricing and I like how their Control Panel works. Also, for a limited time they are offering a free Domain Name and Web Site for a full year. Free!!


© 2010 François Cleroux

(Version 1.0 - May 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Busy Time Of Year

Like most people this is a very busy time of the year for me. You have to balance work, personal life and mental balance while still finding time to fit in some photography. Here is a little I have been up to.

Island Open - I spent Friday April 9th, 2010 Judging the Nanaimo Vancouver Island Open Photography Exhibition with Allen Bargen and an other judge Lynn. This competition was held in the Nanaimo Art Gallery and was open to any photo medium including canvas. There was no size limitations and images could be mounted in any frame from large gold ornate frames to gallery wrapped canvas prints with no frames. This made for an interesting show and made for some great images to be properly displayed. It was a great competition with many incredible entries. I will try to tack down digital copies that I can post of the winning images. Overall it was a great day, sunny and clear seas for sailing to and from Vancouver Island.


Judging – I was awarded my official CAPA Judging Certificate. For those of you who do not judge, I would highly recommend taking the judging course, not just to help out or even not to help out at all if you do not want to but rather just to become a photographer. It opens up your eyes, mind and imagination to new techniques while always keeping an eye on technical skills.

Andre Gallant – Saturday April 1oth I spent at an Andre Gallant Seminar/Workshop where Andre promoted his new book ‘Expressionism’. During the workshop he showed attendees many tips and tricks he uses in his work including a technique he calls ‘DreamScapes”. He also discussed Travel Photography and showed us some great and inspiring images and slide shows. Afterwards I was lucky enough to get to go for dinner with Andre and three others. Overall a great day/evening. If you do not know who Andre Gallant is I would recommend checking out his site at Andre teaches classes in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with another famous photographer, Freeman Paterson.


New Series - Had fun playing with a new technique doing stills of plants. I have started to work on a series of images for B&W and some that will have a ‘slight’ color. My first image which I entered in the Delta Photo Club Competition was selected as one of the top six B&W Images and will be sent on to the Crescent Beach B&W Invitational competition. The 16x20 Print was done in B&W on Metallic Paper. If you do B&W work, make sure you try out this paper as it is remarkable. (2010-04-21 Update: This image won 1st place at this evenings Club competition as judged by an 'outside' judge.)

MUA Shoot - On Thursday just past I went out to help an MUA (Make-Up Artist) that wanted some shots done of a model. Had a great time and met a great model that I may use in the future. We all worked great together. Here is a sample image I have played with. Not the best choice for showing off the Make-up but one that I liked.

Workshop - Tonight I'm off teaching a workshop "The Photographer on the Web". So like I said, a busy time. Keep motivated, head out and do what you like. You can always work tomorrow : )

© 2010 François Cleroux

(Version 1.1 - April 2010)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.