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Discovering a Better Picture #3

There are many things to consider when creating an image of a landscape.  They include the camera settings, the technical part, then there’s the ‘soft’ stuff like composition, lighting, colour, atmospherics, and, of course, aesthetics.  Most importantly is the personal part—do I like the result?  This story is about one of those times when I was able to make an image that, for me, was above and beyond what had in my mind when I started.

Recently, I was driving on a road near Cochrane on my way to a meeting.  As I passed an old barn that I’d photographed before, I saw a new composition that interested me.

I had made a photograph of that barn back in 2021 when I was wandering around Cochrane-and-beyond during the Covid lockdown.  I made that photograph into an image that looks like a pencil sketch.  The result was a neat experiment, but it’s clearly not a real pencil sketch by a proper graphic artist.

A week after I had spotted that new, potential image of the barn, I was back with my camera and searching for a composition that interested me.  The sun was masked with cloud so the lighting was dull and the few compositions I tried were boring.  Experimenting with black and white didn’t offer any improvement.

Discouraged, I packed up my camera and tripod, and headed towards home.

On the way, I passed the Coop Liquor store and decided it was time for a new bottle of Scotch.  I took my time looking at their selection, which is large.  I finally settled on a 12 year Glen Grant, one of my favourites.

I returned to my car and prepared to drive away, but then looked up through the front window.    The sun was not far off the horizon, and just about peeking out from behind the cloud bank that had made my last images so dull.  Instead of turning for home, I turned north and drove back to where I had tried to capture a photo of the barn.  As I approached it I was having second thoughts.  Even with improved lighting, the scene was still ordinary.  I stopped and looked around, carefully scanning 360°.

On the other side of the road from the barn was a pile of topsoil that had been stripped off the land in preparation for the construction of a new development.  I thought, if I could get up on top of that pile it would give me a vantage point that wasn’t there in the past and wouldn’t be there in the future.  I had to try.

After some searching, I found an access road which got me close to the base of the pile.  I grabbed my tripod and camera, then struggled up to the top.  That was the moment that the sun poked out from behind the cloud and cast a wondrous light not only on the barn, but on the foothills in the distance.  I thought the scene was spectacular.

I knew I only had a short time before the sun set over the horizon.  I took some photos of the barn itself, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the ambience given to the scene by the foothills in the background.  The long shadows and golden light from the late day sun skimming the ground were providing a unique landscape image.  The barn had become the foreground, rather than the whole picture, and the contrasting light on the foothills peaks and valleys finished the rest of the image  They were necessary.  I had found a image that helped me describe a scene not just of the aesthetics at end of the day, but, in the near future, might be thought of as the end of a time in the west.

I decided the scene would be best captured as a panorama.  The result was what I hoped for and here it is.

(Don't forget to use the freatures of my website to make this as big as possible on your screen.)

As I enjoy this image on my my wall at home, I can’t help but reflect on the moment when my enjoyment of good Scotch had led me to a landscape photograph that I probably would have completely missed.  Success always makes me feel good.  Slàinte.


An Afterthought - The Farm

When I published my essay, Discovering a Better Picture 3, Dave Beattie, a chap in our mens’ walking group, wrote to tell me that he used to play in that barn with his friend Leonard Jenkins when he and Leonard were in school in Cochrane.

Dave has lived in Cochrane most of his life.  More than that, he is one of the original members of CHAPS (Cochrane Historical and Archival Preservation Society), which means he not only lived here but has been involved in preserving Cochrane and area history for more than twenty years.

Dave and I sat together and talked for a couple of hours about his memories associated with Jenkins’ barn.

The barn and out-buildings were the centre of the Jenkins family’s life.  They farmed on that quarter section from about 1956 to 1959.  Dave and Leonard went to the Andrew Sibbald School in Cochrane.  Dave remembers the days when he and Leonard walked from his home in Cochrane to Leonard’s farm home in the country, a distance of 2 miles, cross country.

The Jenkins farm operation was typical for the early 1950’s.  The family’s home had no running water nor electricity.  In those days it was common to get water from a hand dug well, often down as far as 50 feet.  A hand pump was at the top.  Any light used in the evening was from naphtha gas lamps or kerosene lamps.  In the winter months their home was heated with coal and wood.

Dave spent time at the Jenkins place.  He and Leonard played around the farm.  Dave remembers helping to milk the cows, gather eggs from the chicken coop and load hay from a wagon up to the top floor of the barn.  The hay would be forked down several chutes around the edge of the barn that would channel the hay to the horses and cows feeding trough.

Evidently, Leonard had a unique skill.  He knew how to suck an egg.  Not only that, he had no trouble sucking twelve eggs at a time.  He taught Dave how to suck an egg, but Dave said it was all he could do to get one down.

The Hewitt family lived on the property before the Jenkins and probably built the barn and out-buildings.  The barn was exceptionally well built, as evidenced by the fact that it is still standing.  If it had a new roof covering it could still be used.  The walls are probably built with 2” x 8” rough timbers, meaning that the wood was an actual 2” x 8” and hadn’t been milled down.  Dave thought that the wood probably came from the Brooks Sawmill that is still in operation west of Cochrane near the Griffin Valley.

The barn was set up to hold work horses, one or two riding ponies, milk cows, and pigs.  All the animals, except for the pigs, were kept in stalls.  The pigs had a small pig pen.

The chickens had a separate chicken-coop shed.  The family were able to supply their own eggs, pork, and milk.

All farms had large gardens where their vegetables were grown.  Iceboxes were used for storing some perishables, but they also had shelves dug into the side of their well and down near the bottom where they could keep some foods cool.

The top floor of the barn was where hay for the horses and cows was stored.  The cut hay was brought to the barn and then raised up to that storage floor.

The farm buildings in 2023. Not much has changed since the Jenkins years (1956-1959) and the house is still occupied.



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Jan 14

The image is gorgeous. I also appreciate the “artist statement”…

Makes me wish I had some of your scotch while viewing 😉


Dec 11, 2023

Jack, I remembered you and I slugging through snow drifts in the dead of winter to get a look at the farm buildings and equipment that are very important elements of this photograph; at the time I saw nothing but dilapidated structures and junk, without which in this image would have resulted in a so-so photograph. This image is definitely a keeper. Congratulations!


Lloyd Manning
Lloyd Manning
Dec 09, 2023

Great photo of a classic barn from yester year, it and the property beyond will soon become our new "Horse Creek Sports Park".

Lloyd Manning - previous member of Cochrane's Parks & Recreation Committee.


Ed Strickland
Ed Strickland
Dec 08, 2023

Evokes a sense of calmness in me. I explored many abandoned homesteads in my travels and always thought and wondered about the hard working folks who made their home and livelihood there, what memories these places must hold!

Slàinte, Ed

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