Local photographer helps viewers see the big picture

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 1, 2009 

For this wide-angle view of hang gliders and paragliders above Cochrane’s Big Hill, local photographer John Hall digitally stitched together seven context images and used Photoshop to insert fliers from several other separate shots to create this montage. Photo illustration by John Hall. Click here to see the picture in larger format.

You know how it is when most photographers want to show you their latest snapshots. They pull out a small stack of 4×6 prints – or if they’re in a really good mood, a few 8×10s – and take you on a visual journey through the eye of their camera.

Not so with Cochrane photographer John Hall. He walks into the coffee shop with a wallpaper-size roll of photographic paper under his arm and stretches it out across several tables to share with his admiring onlookers his latest super-sized panoramas of mountains, lakes, deserts and ranchlands.

Just the other day, John topped all his other achievements by unrolling a breathtaking view of hang gliders and paragliders soaring above Cochrane’s famous Big Hill, the town and Bow Valley stretching off to the south. But more about that in a moment.

Born in the U.K. and now in his mid-70s, John has been part of our community for the past 30 years. When he retired from the information technology industry, he returned to his childhood passion for photography.

“One of my earliest visual memories is of my dad shooting my third birthday picture with a brass and mahogany 4×5 glass-plate camera,” John recalls. That 4×5 camera played an important role in his youthful experiments with image-making, along with miniature theatres he created out of cardboard boxes with tissue-paper screens, illuminated by a candle.

He’s gone completely digital these days. His current equipment includes a Canon EOS  5D camera with a wide selection of lenses, and an Epson Stylus Pro 7880 printer, which prints with pigment-based inks on paper or canvas up to 24  inches wide by any reasonable length.

“My primary subject interest is landscapes, with patterns-in-nature and unusual viewpoints as strong alternatives, or perhaps complements,” he says.

Although he is exploring “spherical panoramas” which require viewing on a computer screen and allow the viewer to drag the image in every direction from the camera’s viewpoint, his local fame is derived from wide, single-row panoramas, such as his image of the paragliders on Big Hill.

The stunning ultra-wide-angle landscape is made from seven images he shot a year ago from the Muller Windsports location and digitally stitched together. John photographed the fliers separately over a three-year period and Photoshopped them onto the background vista.

“This is a fantasy edition,” he says. In reality, “there were never more than three fliers in the area at the same time.”

The completed 94×16-inch print is on display now at the town offices at the Cochrane RancheHouse, a gift from John to our community. To see more of his imaginative imagery, visit his website, naturalwestphotoramas.smugmug.com.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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