2019: Memorable Moments

I have been reflecting on memorable moments for the last couple years in my photography journey on my Facebook page. However with the goal of blogging more, I wanted to start 2020 off with a look back at 2019. 

I finally started doing some Self Portraits this Year.

1/Photography Workshop Grant

To start off, one of my most memorable moments of the year happened right at the start of 2019. I was invited to participate in a 5 day photography workshop in the mountains!

I was on a night bus coming back to Canada from a family trip to Disneyland when I got an email, Rachel Jones Ross, Sony Alpha Collective member and  Astro landscape photographer, and someone I look up to and totally inspires me, asked me if I would accept a learning grant to attend her 5 day Alpha Ladies Photography workshop! It was a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it. I was on a bus traveling all night and instantly could not sleep. I was so excited, overwhelmed and honoured. It was less than 2 weeks away.

Emerald Lake Lodge – Base Camp for the Photography Workshop

I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. It was this moment I realized I must be doing something right to get started. I’ve learnt a lot on my own by trial and error and a lot of hard lessons. But I had been given an opportunity of a lifetime to learn amongst other photographers from one of the best in the industry.

It all happened so fast, I felt so unprepared. Looking back, I was. Not even a year ago seems life forever, I’ve learnt so much since and wish I could relive that opportunity over and over, but everything happens for a reason. And  I learnt a lot that I’ve been able to work on and implement just in the past several months. This important opportunity will have lasting effects into my photography career. 

So for that, I have to thank Rachel and B&H Photo for sponsoring the workshop and travel for me to attend. I will be forever grateful for the things I learnt and experience I gained. And for one of the most memorable moments of 2019!

2019 Goal Achieved: Learn More!

2/Aurora in the Mountains

STEVE. A newly studied phenomenon with a beautiful display. A scientific paper explaining STEVE was officially released in 2018 if you want to learn more. It’s an aurora-like phenomenon but it appears further south than the Aurora, flowing east-west and doesn’t last very long. Usually purple & green and it can get super vivid and bright. Some of the contributors to the scientific research are photographers from Alberta & Saskatchewan so it’s pretty neat to read about the recent advancements.

It’s a distinctive sight, strong bands of purple and green reaching up from the eastern horizon totally separated from the aurora arc to the north. I’ve captured it several times in Saskatchewan, but I couldn’t believe my first time seeing Aurora in the mountains, and such a strong band of STEVE joined the show!

Steve in the Mountains

It was all by chance and total luck. I wrote about the trip here.

I captured the movement for almost an hour before it mostly faded behind the mountain. I quickly learnt it’s not like the prairies where you can see horizon to horizon, the mountain was blocking my view! It didn’t matter, I was in total amazement having whiteness and captured one of the few moments the lights would be visible from that area this year.

2019 Goal Achieved: Aurora in the Mountains!

3/The Technical Journey 

I almost got into photography backwards. I started out by focusing on learning a more advanced form of photography: Night Photography. It’s been 3 years, and my love for photography has grown and expanded.

Yes I have always taken photos, I remember when I was 10 and my auntie and grandma took me on a trip to BC, I took over 5 disposable cameras worth of shots.. I think I was hooked at a young age. I’ve always had a camera, from the film days to the digital era. I always loved taking snapshots but never thought to much about the technical aspects of a photograph.

As far as the technical side to photography, I’ve been on a steep, and at times, frustrating learning curve. Night Photography can be challenging, and it has unique differences in its difficulty. But I focused on learning that, I was absolutely in love after the first shot i took of the northern lights. 

Northern Lights – Saskatchewan – Canada

But this year is memorable because I took a step back and worked on my photography skills in different ways. I learnt manual mode in the day time, daytime long exposure, worked on composition, depth of field, star trails, macro, portrait, moonlight, light painting, wildlife, and I learnt to blend photos and focus stack for sharper images and post processing raw files. I also finally got a new computer just to be able to process the thousands of photos I take in a year and ease my frustrations with technology. This year was really my year to step back and focus on the basics, expand my knowledge, processing equipment and technical ability.

My hobby has grown more than I could imagine in such a short period. I am by no means a pro, I’m still learning and I’ll be the first one to tell you that. My photos aren’t perfect, and I know there’s always room for improvement.  I don’t always follow the classic rules to photography, but that’s ok to. I am eager to keep learning, exploring and capturing. 

2019 Goal Achieved: Learn all the basics. And get a new fricken computer finally!

Blue Hour Blend – Port Renfrew – B.C.

4/Dark Sky Preservation 

A memorable moment for me is more of an interest I’ve gained. I’ve mentioned this in my memorable moments before but it’s so important to me it has to be included again. Dark Sky Awareness. It’s really become an unintended interest through my photography journey. The dark sky around the world is fading into the light every single day with light pollution out of control. 

In the past few years I have learnt a lot about the science behind the northern lights and astronomy. I’ve learnt to watch the data and indicators. With this comes learning about space news in general, being more aware of the sky,  solar activity, moon phases, weather patterns and dark sky areas. Quickly realizing I have access to a lot darker sky than most people and finding out there are designated areas and organizations dedicated to protecting the night sky and raising awareness. 

Did you know light pollution is increasing at alarming rates each year? There’s a huge percentage of the worlds population that doesn’t even have access to dark skies. It’s something that can easily be taken for granted living in rural Saskatchewan. Of course I’m biased, but Hudson Bay is geographically in a good location for so many things, and access to dark sky is just one of them! 

This summer I was camping in BC trying to take night shots. I couldn’t believe the light pollution. I couldn’t get many stars without them being hazed out. The photos came out ok, but nothing I was used to. Even far away from the major centres, the glow lingers, and hazes out the sky. It’s a growing problem, spreading each year. Dark sky preservation and awareness is part of what I want to try promote through my photography.

On a side note – Light can be beautiful and has its place, and I enjoyed capturing the colourful Osoyoos skyline. 

2019 Goal Achieved: Joined Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to show my support for dark sky preservation.

5/Aurora Photos Explained

As my photography and knowledge has grown, I’m asked a lot of questions and I’m always happy to answer and excited to share my interest of the night sky! 

The most asked question: do the lights really look like that? The short answer. Yes! The long answer. A camera will make a bad show look better and a good show look worse – I’ll explain.

A hazy show in the Boreal Forest produces beautiful colours.

A good show that is bright vibrant colours and that’s dancing is hard to capture. Between constantly changing settings, and watching the show in total excited amazement, it’s hard to get really good shots. On the flip side, a mediocre show that looks like a white haze to the naked eye, produces a beautiful green glow in the sky in photos, these types of shows are easier to shoot both because the excitement level isn’t crazy, and you can keep fairly constant settings allowing you to focus more on composition. And of course there’s a happy balance somewhere in between where it’s both vivid colours to your eye and keeping consistent enough to create only minor setting adjustments.. those are my favourite. So the northern lights to the naked eye can appear anywhere from a white haze to the brightest, fastest moving colours you can imagine. It all depends on the solar activity and the atmosphere for viewing. 

A fast moving bright Aurora display – December 2019

Second most asked question: when’s the season? Around the world people think there is a ‘season’ for aurora, and that is a bit of a misunderstanding. It can happen at anytime, it’s the hours of darkness available that either allows you to see it or not. People tend to think they can’t be seen in the summer and that it has to be winter and freezing. Yes summer isn’t ideal because of the limited darkness, but I’ve seen some amazing shows during June & July, these summer shows have their own special feeling. 

Even though I may see the northern lights more often then others, I always take the time to stop and enjoy the show and appreciate the outstanding phenomenon in front of me. I still get shaky excited and somehow forget how to operate my camera when the shows get really good! Just staring at it in total awe and disbelief of what I’m seeing.

And for my Top Goal Achievement of 2019: Canadian Geographic

Northern Lights in the Canadian Boreal Forest

This photo is my own personal achievement and honour of 2019. When I started in photography it was the one publication featuring Canadian landscape photography that I would think of and aspire toward. Being Published in Canadian Geographic’s ‘Ultimate Canadian Instagram Photos’ special publication, you can find this shot on page 49. To have my photo in this amazing book that was for sale across Canada from spring – fall 2019 was a huge accomplishment for me.

That wraps up some of my most memorable moments of 2019. Looking back, I have come a far ways in this past year, it excites me to see what 2020 will bring!

Happy New Year! -j.h.

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