Category Archives: Stories

Cultivating Creativity

It’s a privilege to be in the role of instructor for these workshops. We both learn hugely from each group. But one of the greatest privileges is to hear back from the photographers who attended and realize how our efforts are received. Here are a few responses from our June 2019 workshop in Bella Coola.

I’ve always believed that the best teachers are the ones who not only teach me new skills but expand my mind, prompting me to ask questions I didn’t know to ask before, and to seek my own answers using what I learned as a springboard to go further. Chris and Dennis are that kind of teacher. They are generous in sharing their knowledge with their students, so that you come away with an armload of new techniques and skills to make better pictures. But more importantly: their love of photography and all its possibilities is so infectious that you can’t help stretching yourself into a whole new realm of creativity that you couldn’t have imagined a week earlier! Thank you, Chris and Dennis, for truly helping me expand my creative vision. I’m excited to build on what I learned in the workshop and take the next steps in my photographic journey!


Chris and Dennis make a great team, each contributing to a whole that is more than the parts. Their willingness to help when needed and answer questions, yet leave us on our own to explore our own creative pursuits was the perfect combination. I would recommend this workshop to anyone wanting to explore and go deeper with their creative photography pursuits.


When I signed up I thought it was to better express myself with “documentary” style shooting. So, when I realized it was more about truly being creative, I have to admit I wondered if I’d made a mistake (abstracts? Expressionism? Yikes!), as I didn’t think I was creative at all. But I am! I am so enjoying experimenting with multiple exposures now. I also used some of the tools we learned while photographing a rodeo the other day. Cool!
The workshop itself was fantastic – it was a good balance of tutorial/shooting/review. The “visual challenges” were spot on as they forced you to think and for some of us, to dig deep and find our creativity. Chris and Dennis are a great team – extremely knowledgable, fun, and always available for questions or extra coaching. They love the topic, and it shows.


A Creative Journey

One of the participants at our recent Bella Coola workshop, Chris Wright, wrote about his experience on his blog. He includes 10 amazing pictures with a description of each. Have a look. And thanks, Chris, for the shout out.

A Creative Journey, by Chris Wright.

abstract photo by Chris Wright

Creativity Found

Photographic workshop on Gabriola Island inspires.

Earlier this month we completed our first workshop on Gabriola Island. It was a smash hit!

The island is beautiful, unique and filled with photographic opportunities. Our accommodations at The Haven were excellent. And our group of photographers broke through to seeing in new ways.

But as we discover over and over, it really doesn’t matter where you go to break through the barriers we all encounter to seeing. Creativity can happen anywhere, when we take the time to slow ourselves down and really see.

To get the full story, have a look at these two blog posts:

photographic creativity found on Gabriola Island
Creating Art is a Love Affair, a response to the Gabriola workshop by Chris Harris.
creative photography workshop on Gabriola Island
Photography Changes Lives, a response to the Gabriola workshop by Dennis Ducklow.

To be notified of future Develop Your Creative Vision workshop, click here.

The Anatomy of an Image

My Thought Process in Image Making.

Recently, while walking my dog beside a small frozen lake near my house, I saw snow patterns on the ice. I immediately thought of the visual design possibilities, so I set a small photographic assignment for myself.

I’m going to take you through my ‘thought process’ as I approached my assignment.

Stage I. The Period of Imaginative Bliss.

My first perception was of lines, shapes, patterns, and divisions of space. The more intently I looked, the more elements I saw. There was colour, textures, movement, and the possibility to emphasize rhythm, harmony, and balance. This is the stage I find most exciting, as it all comes to life in my imagination. Within my inner world, the possibilities are endless, and the images I visualize are all masterpieces!

Stage II.  The Period of Photographic Reality.

This is the stage when I collect my physical tools (camera and lenses), and draw on my inventory of making 1000’s of images over the years. I go to work. At this point, knowledge of visual design and experience with one’s tools takes over. The very act of creating imagery is all-consuming. I enter a zone, exploring and experimenting with the various elements of composition. 

Similar to stage I, I also find this stage exciting, but rather than being in my imagination, I am now dealing with a reality.

Stage III.  The Period of Completion and Imaginative Loss. 

Eventually the weather changes, the ice melts, and the elements disappear. My photographic assignment is over, and I experience an actual sense of loss. I can’t go back to seek new compositions, use different tools, or camera techniques. 

There is, however, that rewarding sense of completion. I did the best that I could with the time, the knowledge, and the subject I had. I feel satisfied. It was an artistically rewarding experience. I learned from that experience, and I will take that new knowledge to my next photographic assignment.

In Retrospect:

In contemplating my entire assignment experience, the most challenging part is stage II. Although stage I is imaginatively exciting and mentally stimulating, stage II requires real action; physically getting your tools, going on location, and doing the work.  

Just as a painter must make that first brush stroke, we photographers must also make that first image. In the end, all artists must simply ‘do the work’. That’s the challenge of art.

All images were made ‘in-camera’ using single or multiple exposures combined with camera movement when desired. Editing is minimal, pertaining mostly to colour balance and contrast.

Story and photos by Chris Harris

Photographic Art Comes Alive in Barkerville

A photographer in Barkerville BC during a creative photography workshop

Concentrating on creating: a photographer in the zone during a workshop.

We came to stretch our vision beyond what we thought was possible. And we succeeded.

We rolled along through the Cariboo foothills enroute to Barkerville, eyes peeled for wildlife. The leaves had just started to turn golden-yellow. Regular life gradually ebbed away on the long drive as we headed into a week of seclusion with just our cameras, rain gear and each other for company.

Most of us were skeptical about spending a week in Barkerville. Some of us had been before, and honestly, two hours in the mud seemed like more than enough. What would we photograph at a tourist attraction for seven days? But Chris and Dennis were teaching, so we signed up.

Each day we breakfasted in the parlour of a historic hotel, hosted by the storied James Boyce. His tales animated Barkerville’s milieu so much that our images became haunted by unseen things. In the schoolhouse across the street, Chris and Dennis led mini seminars inspiring and directing our work for the week—and if we stick with it, for life.

“There’s a connection between your spirit and that scene that draws you,” Chris told us, encouraging us to articulate the connection, the thing that draws us to photograph, and then to use our bevy of tools to express it. So much more than a fresh take on the rule of thirds, there’s a spirituality to this kind of photographic art.

“It’s life-giving, when you make the images that speak to you,” Dennis added. “That’s why it’s important to discover what it is.”

Out we went into the solitude of our cameras. We wanted more than to document Barkerville—that’s already been done within an inch of its life. We wanted to make images that sang. Some of us focused on one window all afternoon; some wandered the breadth of the town and back. No subject was off limits. We photographed flowers, walls, roads, the historical interpreters, animals, each other, door mats and items that became unrecognizable through multiple exposures and intentional camera movement. We photographed at morning in glimpses of sunshine, and at night in the pouring rain. We wandered around nearby Wells, hacked through the forest, and some of us climbed into an old mine drift.

Back we came every day to review, commiserate, celebrate, learn, critique, express and process.  “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that!” Buzz exclaimed at one session. We laughed, but it truly encapsulated the reason we’d come to the workshop: to stretch our vision beyond what we thought was possible. Joan’s goal was to “See the unseen in the seen.” Sounds a bit like a riddle, but when you see her images, you get it. This kind of photography is so much more than what you see. You can knock out a hundred good documentary images, and what will you do with them? But if you get ten artistic images that you wrestled and waited and worked for, you’ll be able to convey the spirit of a place.

After seven days of photographing Barkerville, none of us was at a loss for why we were there. The variety was enough so no one was bored, but we were forced to use discipline to get deeper on one theme. It wasn’t easy, but like Chris said, “No one can escape the fear of failure.” If you want to develop your  photographic art, you have to push yourself. There’s still gold to be found in Barkerville, if you’re willing to put in the work.

This article, written by Zoë Ducklow, a journalist, is the result of our request to have her write about the major shifts we see in people every time we complete one of our 7-day workshops. She spent a week with us in Barkerville. She also happens to be Dennis’ daughter.  Below is one picture that sings from each of our Barkerville photographers. We could have picked so many more.

creating photographic art

©Bea Carlson

photographic art from Wells, BC

©Betty Johnston

photographic art

©Buzz Denroche

photographic art with a blacksmith


photographic art from Develop Your Creative Vision workshop.

©Kathy Martin

photographic art in a window montage

©Leslie Duffy

photographic art in the Barkerville Daily News

©Dave Williams

Creating photographic art with a simple door way

©Ruth Steer

creating layers of photographic art

©Louise Pollock

photographic art out of painted boards in Barkerville BC Canada

©Lois Wittenberg


Changed by a Photographic Workshop

After another week of pushing our photographic limits with a great group of people at Develop Your Creative Vision, we have two blog posts to share. These were written on our respective websites so the links to them are here. Congratulations to the amazing photographers who worked so hard in Bella Coola, June 2018.

Transformational! Seven Days in a Photographic Workshop Changes You!,
by Dennis

Our Tallheo Workshop:  A Week of Discovery and Creative Image-Making,
by Chris

And a few photos from Dennis’ camera during the same week, just for fun.


Boost your Creativity with Double Exposures

Have you tried making in-camera double exposures? It’s worth the effort.

garden gate and flowers create a double exposure

A garden’s gate is combined with the flowers inside to create a new image.

I get to visit groups of photographers often and when I ask them if they’ve ever tried making a double exposure in their cameras, most have not. Many don’t even know if their camera has this feature. 

A double exposure simply refers to two images combined in one frame on your camera. The bonus is that you’ll often get a joyful surprise because the result may not be quite what you expected.

First, take a look through your camera’s shooting menu (or manual) and look for multiple exposures. Set it to two. If you have the choice of turning on Auto Gain, do it. This automatically adjusts the exposure of each image so that the final result is correctly exposed.

Then, plan which two images to combine. This can be the hardest part.  Here are three different ways to think about how to choose.

1. Combine related subjects.

In the image above, I was impressed with a beautifully made garden gate. I photographed the gate first and then some of the flowers inside.  Thinking of two related subjects simplifies the job of choosing what to combine. 

Here’s another example of two related subjects combined into one image. While visiting a seaside community on the Isle of Skye, I used the gull watching the scene from a roof top and the reflection of the village in the water.

 2. Add a texture layer.

Another way I like to make a double exposure is by adding a texture layer. Exploring the wonderful city of Edinburgh, I was drawn to the building with all its intricate features. But, with a plain blue sky, I felt it needed something more. So, the texture layer was simply the sidewalk at my feet. Suddenly, the addition of the texture changes the image completely.

a double exposure of a building with a texture layer added.

In the image below, the headstone and flowers in an old cemetery received a layer of texture from a weathered stone nearby. 

3. Add an out of focus layer.

Here’s one more idea. Add a second layer that is out of focus. 

calla lilies with a soft glow

These beautiful Calla lilies were growing near a stone wall in Ireland. My first image was sharp and the second one, with the aperture wide open and the camera in the same position, was out of focus, creating the soft glow around the subject. This is based on the work of Michael Orton and his well known Orton Effect. This works best in soft light and can be used with many subjects.


double exposure with window and fish nets

This image was made at the Tallheo Guest Cannery. The first step was to create an ICM. The subject here is a pile of old fishnets, which have different colours for different seasons. The second layer is simply a nearby window frame.

Creating double exposures is one of the many valuable tools you can use to express yourself more effectively through photography. And of course, doing that is what our workshops are all about. Have a look at the Gallery page and see how many examples of double exposures you can find.

~ Dennis

Artistic Photography


rain forestWhenever I go for a walk, as I did in the above rainforest, I see the world around me as it is. The world as it is, however, is not necessarily based on realism, it is also based on imagination. That’s the reason for enjoying the arts and being an artist; to stimulate our senses and imagination.

As a photographic artist, as I visually absorb landscapes, I begin to imagine them differently. They become ‘mindscapes’. I see what is visual, then imagine what is invisible.

On this particular forest walk, I began to visualize the rainforest in ways that took me beyond realism. Below are some examples.

artistic photography

Artistic Interpretation I

I feel there is less and less call for images that depict the world as it is. We know what the Eiffel Tower looks like; do we need yet another look-alike photograph? Let’s try and go deeper, and try to express how we see the Eiffel Tower as no one has ever seen it before. We can do this as expressive photographic artists.

Artistic Interpretation II

When we study the history of painting, for example, we read about artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and Kandinsky who were courageous enough to break away from the establishment. They believed in their new work, they valued it, and they brought about tremendous change.  We too can become creative and expressive photographers.

Artistic Interpretation III

In our photographic workshops, we encourage photographers to take a broader perspective about the art form of photography and ourselves as artists. We encourage our participants to practice new ways of expression in order to communicate their visual narratives. We do this through illustrated talks, in the field art projects, and evaluation sessions.

Join us. It’s exciting!

~ Chris

Seeing Beyond the Literal

sun and water drops on a winter day

The sun shone through the tress and created magical highlights as the snow flakes turned to water droplets.

Normally when snow falls in the Vancouver area, it’s quickly followed by rain. This winter day, however, it was followed by bright, beautiful sunshine. I found myself in a local park, busy with my camera.

I made a few photos that documented the beauty of the fresh snow in the park but really enjoyed working with my lenses wide open, creating soft, out of focus highlights in the background. 

The image above is my favourite. There’s only one thing in focus to give the viewer a clue to what is going on, an ice-encrusted twig. The circular highlights are water drops, falling from the trees as the sun melted the snow. The rich colours of the forest create the backdrop. 

This images illustrates what we try and help people accomplish in our Develop Your Creative Vision workshops. Find something that interests you, photograph it, and then photograph it again, differently, seeing beyond the literal.

If I had been a beginner photographer, I doubt that I would have found this image in the park. But, with experience and knowledge of the photographic tools available to me, as well as time and patience and a willingness to play, I came home with an image I just may want to hang on the wall. It reminds me of the joyful time I had when a Vancouver snowfall was blessed with sunbeams.

~ Dennis

Why Take a Photographic Workshop?

impressionistic view of a road

Why Take a Photographic Workshop?

Teaching a photographic workshop is a privilege, not because of f-stops, shutter speeds, and secret techniques to produce ‘wow’ images, but because we discuss photography as art. In our workshops the emphasis is on art, and creativity, because this is what provides us with a meaningful and rewarding life.

Whether we compose music, draw etchings, or make photographic images, creativity is based on original thought which originates in our imagination. This means every image we make is highly subjective and original; never to be duplicated by anyone, not even ourselves. That to me is exciting!

In the workshops which Dennis Ducklow and I teach, we assist and encourage everyone on their creative journey of discovery. It’s what we enjoy doing the most.

~ Chris Harris

sunset scene with man on dock

You may create images that are expressively documentary.

impressionistic view of a road

You may create images that are artistic.

abstract image with red and white

Or, you may create images that are purely abstract.