Branches, Roots, and Me

For the month of January I’m holding a contest based around trees. To enter all you need to do is link a photo you’ve taken that fits the theme to my Facebook page and on the last day of the month, I’ll be putting together a little parcel with all sorts of tree goodies and mailing it off to one lucky winner!

I’m a bit late on explaining why I chose trees as my contest theme (of which I plan to do more) but better late than never right!?

I grew up and still live in a rather small town, built in a valley between two mountain ranges that seemingly go on forever, I never noticed growing up how much I valued all of the nature that surrounded me, I just took it for granted and kept doing my homework and watching cartoons. Then once I hit my late teens and early 20’s something changed. I started to look at the endless expanse of green in a new light. I travelled to bigger cities and saw them in a new light too, I saw all the grey….all the glass and concrete and cars and all I wanted to see was green again. Once while on a cross-country road trip, I remember looking out the window to see the prairie fields and the endless sky and not a tree in sight…for hours it seemed I didn’t see anything that even resembled a tree, that was the first time I felt homesick.


I remember the exact day that I realized that the forest would be a place of solitude, reflection, and inspiration for me. I was jobless and had found myself feeling depressed and frustrated and getting sucked in to watching horrible daytime television in the comfort of my air conditioned basement suite. Then all of a sudden, I felt a sudden urge to just be out in nature, anywhere…just out. I grabbed my journal, a granola bar and apple and hopped on my mountain bike and within a few minutes I was away from everything manmade and surrounded entirely by nature. I sat in the warm summer grass and wrote. I wrote about how mad I was that I couldn’t find my passion, how disconnected I felt from the rest of the world, and how I just wished I could feel alive again. I went back the next day and rode a little longer, and then the day after that I tried some new trails and pretty soon I was spending hours every evening exploring every inch of the 9,000 acre community forest adjecent to my town. I found my place to be free.

A few years later when I started training for my first marathon I was looking for long stretches of running routes to carry me through the 20km runs I was doing every weekend. I remembered the community forest and the old logging road that winds it’s way from one end to the other and pretty soon it became once again, my nightly ritual. I’d run from one end to the other and back and when I turned my music off all I could hear was the crunch of my feet on the dirt, smell the wildflowers blooming in the fields and feel the warmth of the sun hitting my arms and neck through the breaks in the trees. Again I found myself thinking about my future, planning what I wanted to do with my life and feeling my body changing physically and mentally. The forest became yet another place for me to be free.

When I started to become interested in photography I would venture out into the forest, which is now about a 50metre walk from my door. When I step off the pavement and into the trails I feel like I’m leaving the outside world and entering into a space that I’m supposed to be in. It’s hard for me to explain but I look out at the trees and grass and birds (and sometimes bears) and I feel more inspiriation in that simple glance than I do spending days at home thinking. I feel that my thoughts are linked to the leaves and pinecones and that when I’m in the midst of all that organic goodness I’m recharging my brain and soul.


So yes….that’s why I chose trees. Because they make me feel alive and they make me feel like I’ve taken a deep breath of inspiration.

What do you consider to be your place of inspiration?


Sameness vs Style

Last week I received a comment through Formspring from an anonymous person letting me know that they thought that all of my work has the same look to it; “you doing something in the middle of a bunch of grass against the skyline”.  At first I was a little offended and kind of embarrassed but then after I got over it, I started to think about it.

This person hit the nail on the head and brought my attention to something that I had been neglecting in the last few months, trying new things and putting my creativity to the test. It’s no secret that I like to shoot in wide open vistas with lots of space and nice backdrops. I have a favourite field that I visit often for photographs and I kind of rely on it a little too heavily at times. While thinking about this whole topic I was trying to find ways of defending my “sameness”. The field is close (about a 5 minute walk), its nice to shoot in (well, yes but so are other things), it’s familiar (ah yes it is, but when was photography about being familiar?).  I tend to want my photos to turn out exactly as I see them in my mind, which I think is a normal desire for any photographer, and typically my mind pictures these images in familiar settings and that’s where I end up shooting them, and returning over and over again.


It’s a balancing act to develop a style without becoming boring and to try new things without losing your own vision. I think in the past few months I’ve become a little complacent with shooting in the same locations. I go to these spots because I know that they work, it’s like a favourite recipe that you make every week because you know that it tastes good. Well, sometimes you need to dust off the cookbooks and try something new, which is what I think I need to start doing in my photography. Granted it’s easier to fall back into the “field” or “bunch of grass” photos, I need to try to let my mind create images that allow me to explore more of my natural surroundings, to develop new areas of my photography and to not get stuck in the same old photo.

I might argue that it’s in my style as a photographer to shoot in wide, grassy spaces with the subject in the centre and while that may be true on some level, I want to be known for more than just that. I want to try to express my ideas or thoughts in new ways that people might not have seen before and that lights a creative spark in themselves and in me. I don’t want my portfolio to look like the same photo over and over, but in that breath I also want to develop a style that people can see as “Joel’s style”. The trick I suppose is learning how to do both. To walk both lines without leaning heavily onto one side.

What are your thoughts about developing your own style versus being too similar?

Patronus Tutorial!

It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a big Harry Potter fan, I’ll admit that it took me a while to actually read the books but once I did, I was hooked! It’s a story that has so much visual goodness that it’s easy to get inspiration from it and create art based on it’s characters, words, and themes. Back in July when the final movie was being released I did a few photos based around the books/movies and one of my favourites was one based around the Patronus Charm mentioned in the books.

Patronus Charm:  “Conjures an incarnation of the caster’s innermost positive feelings, such as joy or hope, known as a Patronus. A Patronus is conjured as a protector, and is a weapon rather than a predator of souls: Patronuses shield their conjurors from Dementors or Lethifolds, and can even drive them away.”

When I was coming up with a list of tutorials I’d like to do on my blog, the patronus tutorial was one that jumped right to the top. Last week I wanted to work on the image and thankfully my dear friend Sabby agreed to my model! Hopefully the tutorial is easy to understand, I’d LOVE to see you guys create your own Patronus images 🙂

Step 1 (optional) –
I’m starting from the very beginning of the photo, this is the “bare” image straight out of the camera. Because I used a fixed focus lens, I always expand my frame which essentially means that I take the main photo you see here, and then change my focus to manual and then take about 20 photos of the background. Then in photoshop, I expand the canvas size (for some reason 300cmx300cm is my number, and then add each photo onto a new layer and work at getting them all to match up.  You don’t have to worry about this step, but I thought I’d start from the very beginning.

you can click on the images to make them bigger 🙂

^—– before expansion

^——- after expansion

Step 2 (Flying Scarf)
This is another optional part, but I think it adds a bit of dramatic flair to the final image. While taking the main photo of Sabby, I also took another one of her scarf in the air, just by using my timer and flipping the scarf up to catch it flying. Then I just added the scarf on as new layer and matched it as closely as I could to the original photo.


Step 4 (Light)
This is where the fun part comes in, and the part that you can start to be creative. To achieve the “bright light” that a patronus charm would give off, I use a series of “fractal brushes” from deviant art (link below). The brushes are used on a new layer with screen as the blending mode. I use a light bluish green tone, but really you could any vivid colour, play with what looks best for you. Same with the brushes, you can use a variety of different brushes to get different effects.

In this layer, I also added a dark gradient (add a new fill layer and set it to radial gradient and then to forground to transparent mode). Then you just drag and click to add the gradient to the part of the image you’d like to be a little darker, for this type of image I usually like to make the outer part of the photo quite dark to highlight the lightness of the spell. Play around with this step and you can create neat effects.

Step 5 (Adding your patronus)
This is another creative part! Sabby chose (well, actually I chose based on our conversation) to have a white horse be the animal that is coming out of her wand. Once you choose your animal, locate a silhouette image of that animal. Add it into your image on a new layer. Invert the image so that the animal is now white (CTRL-I) and then get rid of the black (I use the magic brush and delete). Then duplicate this layer and blur the duplicate using a Gaussian blur, you dont’ want a large blur but enough that it takes away the rough edge of the silhouette.

Step 6 (Fancy Stuff)
Now, duplicate your animal layer again and this time colour it in (paint bucket is fine) with the same hue as your lights/brushes from step 4. You should have a blue/green animal. Set the blending mode to screen and blur this layer to give the silhouette a coloured-hue around it. As you did in step 4, play with different brushes (on screen mode and using a bright colour) and try new things. I like to give off little trails of light so I use brushes that give that effect. You can find links to all the brushes I used at the bottom of the post. I usually end up applying a soft blur to this layer as well just to get rid of any harsh lines.

Step 7 (Final Touches)
Now that you have the hard part out of the way, it’s time to have some more fun. It looks like a big jump from the last image to this one but it’s really only a few small steps. First a couple of radial gradents, the first was that same blue/green colour that should match your other colours from the last steps, I use this just to create a nice radial blur of colour, set this layer to screen mode and have the gradient  positioned over the wand/brush/animal . Then I add another radial gradient set to muplitply mode and with a darker tone, this radial gradient should cast a darker tone over everything but the wand/brush/animal. Blur both these layers.

In my image I played with the curves, levels and colour tones of the image but you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. It’s interesting to use the colour balance tool to give everything an even hue but you certainly don’t need to do this. I also added some cloud textures to enhance the sky, but again not necessary. To add another dimension to the sky I painted over the clouds with a pink brush set to “soft light” and on a low opacity just to give it some colour.

Final Image:

Fractal Brush
Sparkle Brush

– Sihouette-

How to Load Brushes