Calgary through the lens

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‘Safety third’ – that’s pro-photographer Neil Zeller’s golden rule when taking photographs. And his eye-catching images of Calgary suggest that this might be a good rule to follow.

I spent a day with Neil seeing Calgary through the eyes of local – but one who perhaps sees things a little differently than most of us. We didn’t do a tour of museums, galleries, craft brewers or fancy restaurants – instead he took us to bridges, urban ponds, corporate sculptures, and roadside trees.

Jaume Piensa Sculpture, Calgary

First stop was a giant ‘wire’ sculpture of a young girl’s head. This corporate piece was created by Spanish artist Jaume Piensa for the forecourt of The Bow Building – and is a good example of how a photography tour of a city will show you items you may not consider looking at on a traditional tour. Handily this art-piece is easy to photograph and looked dramatic from a number of angles – so it was a good way to give the group some comfort and confidence when clicking.

Peace Bridge, Calgary

Next stop was Calgary’s architecturally photogenic Peace Bridge where we learnt about the rule of thirds (position the key items of interest in your photo in one of the horizontal or vertical thirds of the image) and the importance of symmetry. As a beginner these are really good rules to follow – stick to them and you can’t go far wrong. Once you’re more confident you can start to play around and develop your own style. I am seldom happy with the photographs I take but could immediately see that by applying these rules the aesthetic of the image was improved.

Neil is a fan of rules – but also a fan of breaking them. I often spotted him just pointing his camera in the general direction of something and taking a few shots without even looking at what the camera was seeing. And he still managed to get an image I’d be proud to call mine.

Having got the shot (Neil’s rule number one) of the Peace Bridge, we then had some fun (his number two rule) with distorted reflections and a group photo before our guide suggested a ‘safety third’ image from under the bridge. Although safety is the last of Neil’s three golden rules, with ‘getting the shot’ and ‘having fun’ being more important, even he was a little dubious about climbing over rocks coated with a thin layer of ice to get below the bridge, so we decided we’d move on and leave the safety third shot for another location.

Calgary skyline

We didn’t have to wait long. After warming up with a coffee at Simmonds and crossing the Skipping Stone Bridge (officially called The George C. King Bridge) to St Patrick’s Island we were encouraged to lie on our bellies and hang over the side of a pond, dangling just millimetres above the icy water. It was worth it – the resulting image of the reflected city skyline was like an elaborately detailed Rorschach; beautiful, symmetrical and full of hidden depths.

Having spent the morning seeing Calgary through Neil’s eyes we headed out of the city; it was time to shoot some of Alberta’s natural beauty. At Elbow Falls we captured pale aquamarine water tumbling over the rough grey rocks, throwing up a fine spray against a backdrop of deep green trees. A roadside stop at a field with large bales of hay was a lesson in perspective, and ancient gnarled trees added interest to a rolling landscape.

Elbow Falls

Our tour was punctuated with laughter as Neil recounted stories from his life as a photographer – including being ordered out of his van and pinned to the ground by the local police (a case of mistaken identity he assured us).

With stops for hot coffee, a delicious packed lunch (not a soggy sani in sight) from Hotel Arts, plenty of helpful advice and a unique perspective of what Calgary has to offer – this tour was refreshingly different from the usual tourist offering.

So, if you’re looking to see a city through different eyes – and go home with a few snaps that will wow your friends, then book yourself in for a photo tour.

across the Skipping Stone bridge

Chantal Cooke is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster and co-founder of PASSION for the PLANET. Chantal is passionate about tourism being used as a force for good. You can follow her adventures on Facebook and Twitter @chantalcooke and on Instagram @Chantaldcooke

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