By: Christine Hogg
A few weeks ago, I found myself inside a quaint and cozy art gallery in Northern Ontario, in a small town called Dwight. Surrounded by incredible artisans who crafted everything from ceramic pottery, to breath-taking oil paintings, to blown glass decorations, I made my way into one room, which housed a series of paintings and photography. Immediately, my eye was drawn to an image of a solitary, grey lake with flashes of red, orange and yellow light streaking across the water's surface. Looking closer, I found the name of the artist, Stephen Orlando, and learned that the streaks of light were actually a canoe, slicing across the water, and captured by a technique he likes to call "motion exposure".
There's something about the photo that tells a unique story about Canadian landscapes and our connection to nature. On one hand, you have a beautiful shot of the perfect recipe for a Canadian wilderness photograph-- bending pine trees, rocky shores, clear water and that sense of peace and silence that is all too familiar for those of us who have experienced it. On the other hand, this incredible manipulation of light and motion shows the human presence in nature. "People are always impressed that each photo is what comes out of the camera and is not Photoshopped," Orlando said.
With such vivid, stunning colours, it's easy to see why one might think so. An aerodynamics engineer graduate, Orlando credits his study of fluid flow to the photographic process. "A lot of what I learned and still use today is related to describing and showing motion," Orlando said. "I combined my aerodynamics background with my love of canoeing and photography to show the paths of paddles."
While his photographs may look challenging, Orlando explains that the secret to any photo that plays along the lines of abstraction is your lighting. "I attach a strip of programmable LED lights to the paddle and before the shoot I program the lights to be a specific colour pattern," Orlando said. For photos like these, the shutter remains open for approximately 10 to 30 seconds, allowing the camera's sensor to register and collect the light.
Since the photos are taken in such low light conditions, the only objects that will show up in the photo – the only things emitting enough light to be picked up by the sensor – are either very bright, or stationary. The trees in the background are dark but stationary, so they get exposed in the photo. The LED lights are very bright so they emit a large amount of light for every point in space and get exposed in the photo. "The kayaker and the canoeist do not emit much light and since they’re moving, they’re not in the same spot long enough to be exposed on the camera’s sensor," Orlando said. "For the images where the subject is visible, I used a flash to light up the subject."
As for his choice of backdrop, Orlando enjoys the accessible remoteness that is unique to Northern Canada. An avid paddler himself, it was an easy match to create these images without being interrupted in the creative process. "I see my photography as half art and half visualization of data," Orlando said. "It's both an aesthetically pleasing image and a depiction of the path in space. When people see my photos, I want them to imagine themselves going through the motions they see."