Tuesday, 19 March 2019



Jeff Thomas is a 2019 winner of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts. Directed by Pixie Cram.
Co-production of the Canada Council for the Arts and Saw Video Media Arts Centre. Presentation of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Independent Media Arts Alliance

Monday, 25 February 2019

THE POWER OF LIGHT COURSE - some comments by students

“Michael O’Brien’s “The Power of Light” course gave me a deep appreciation how important the elements of light and exposure are to photography.  Michael taught me how to seek out interesting light and use it properly in my composition. Now my photos have more emotional and visual impact.”…….from Lee-Ann Richer  

“I really like the structure of the lessons and the examples that you show us to help us understand the concepts. I also like the assignments. After the shadow and reflection assignments it made me look differently at incorporating these details to make a more interesting picture. I'm a "big" picture person and don't focus on the little details but it made me realize that these things can make a picture more interesting. So I'm enjoying the content, the context you provide via examples and on-site shooting with all the tips you provide.” …….. from Priscilla Yu

An excerpt from a letter to GBC administrators:
“I especially wanted to mention how much I enjoyed the Power of Light course. The material taught in this course is critical for any photographer to understand. It is not limited to any specific type of photography. Understanding light is vital in any photographic situation. It is for this reason I feel very strongly that this course should be a required course for the program. I can't imagine anyone completing the current requirements, and attaining the certificate without ever having taken a course dedicated to understanding light and then calling themselves a photographer.”……..from Deepak Verma

“Hi Michael - thank you for the great course you gave on the Power of Light. It really helped me understand the potential of light in photography, and how to deal with light in the digital age.
   The course was a great motivator to get out and shoot pictures - it really gave me an opportunity to experiment and grow as a photographer, all under your expert guidance.
   It was clear to me that you have great passion for your craft and I found that contagious.  I know it is important to share the experience and expertise in photography that you have, and the passion that you show. There are lots more photographers out there who can benefit from your great POL course.”
from Mike Campbell

CLICK HERE for course description and enrollment information. 

Thursday, 23 August 2018


As seen in the KOSMOS JOURNAL click here to see article

"O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web....."  
by Patrick Kavanagh from Canal Bank Walk

I use photography as a tool to explore the raw elemental power of the natural world by visiting and re-visiting places I’m drawn to in order to be touched by their spiritual essence. I try to capture images that convey this essence to share with others. 
 Humanity has historically looked to trees for their healing properties and medicines. While we’ve made preparations from the leaves, bark or roots, humans have also known that to simply be in the presence of plant beings can be healing and can be ‘plant medicine’.  We have a long and deep relationship with trees.
      Trees are potent living sources and symbols of spiritual and physical healing, regeneration, immortality and salvation.  Tree medicine also works on us at a deep psychological level beyond our awareness; trees have been seen as channels for divine energy for millennia.  I believe we are still touched by that ancient world view even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. This can be seen in the recent phenomenon of Japanese ‘forest bathing’ now reaching the West, where people are guided into forests so they may be washed, cleansed and purified by the spiritual forces that pulsate through the woods in an all-encompassing unity – like a green baptism.

Friday, 20 April 2018


High Park - Spring, Toronto
©Michael O'Brien

Four ways to find good ideas

Good photographs are usually based on good ideas, concepts or viewpoints. The methods we employ to craft these photographs are called techniques. Much is written about technique and too little about concepts. Quite often the ideas find us. Although there's no single way to do this, I'm offering four steps to get started.
Once in motion, a good idea will keep us engaged with our photography. Of all the skills that keep highly creative people producing works, the ability to find inspiration and then act on it ranks very high.

1.) Open yourself to the possibility of creating something 

Something a bit different than you have done in the past; or to go deeper. Acknowledge your desire to do so. Put the intention out there. Read things like the book 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' by Betty Edwards -  it's a classic on the inner workings of the creative process.

2.) Figure out what you love to photograph 

It doesn't have to be forever, but what interests you right now? Is it people, bugs, mountains, or cats? What are you drawn to photograph? Some people say 'everything' - it's worth the effort to reduce that huge list down to a few things. Many aren't sure. That’s okay - just look at earlier photographs you've made or images by others that you like. Is there something that keeps showing up? Ask someone who knows you. Ask an expert to help you see the hidden themes and threads woven through your photographs – this is what my pathfinder sessions are for. 
Some people find writing helps to bring out ideas. You are in the exploratory phase – there is no such thing as a mistake. Start planning, organising, researching, and inspiring yourself. Try looking at images you see in magazines or onlineon sites like 500px. You may say 'I'm drawn to Bali' - then put off working on your idea right now because you have neither time nor money to get to Bali. Remember, you are trying to find something you can work on now, not when you have the right equipment, the planets are in alignment etc. etc. To do that, ask what it is about Bali that draws you. Is it the ocean, the lifestyle, or is it the creative spirit that flourishes there. Is it the fact it is far from your daily grind? Whatever it is try to find those qualities in subjects near to you now so you can start working right away. Start planning, organising, researching, and inspiring yourself with examples of photos you love. Find and study the masters. Some people find movies to be a wellspring of ideas for their still photography – allow yourself to be moved.

3.)  Immerse yourself in your subject

If you are truly called to go to half way around the world to create, then make a plan and get going on it. In the meantime find something close to home that you can work on. Keep using your camera all the time so that, in this instance, you aren’t rusty when you get to Bali. Keep the juices flowing; research books, online resources etc and immerse yourself in your subject. Research possible locations, events, people or landmarks that are a must for you to work on. If traveling, why not try to be more than a tourist? Volunteering to help in your host country deepens the experience and your pictures….all of a sudden, doors open. “At first you carry the idea, then the idea carries you…” Give yourself permission to start and to make whatever it is you’d like to create. Give yourself the green light. Commit to action and keeping moving ahead so you gain momentum. At first you carry the idea, then the idea carries you. If you have to start by making straight imitations of images that inspire you, just do it with passion – don’t worry no one does anything completely original. Just keep making pictures without being too critical of them – do your best. At first, only share the resulting images with people who encourage you to make more photos. No ‘helpful critics’. 

4.)  Display and share your photos

Finally, enjoy the images you've made, print the images, hang them on your walls, make a Blurb or iBook, then share them online with whoever you wish. Now that you are finished go ahead and evaluate the work. Interestingly enough, at this point you may be flooded with many fresh ideas and inspirations – write then down and act on the one’s that feel right to you.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Creative Techniques of 100 Great Photographers: by Paul Lowe

Cast Iron Confessional, Paris
by Eugene Atget
one of the photographers talked about in 'Behind The Camera'

This book by Paul Lowe is a well written, very ambitious project that involves looking at the work of 100 photographers across several genres and periods throughout the history of photography. 

Lowe shows examples of their work to highlight the technical and aesthetic approaches each photographer uses in their creative process. Lowe covers a lot of ground here. His insights and observations into working methods and approaches of each photographer offer valuable teaching moments and demonstrate the real depth of understanding he has of his subjects. 

From looking at the work of the great Nadar to Richard Misrach and Laura Pannack, Paul Lowe has produced a useful reference tool that will inform and inspire students of photography at any level. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018


“Artistic work is spiritual; a personal meditation that provides food for the soul of others. Creative work connects us to what is fundamental, enduring, and eternal.”

Carol Eikleberry
author of ‘The Career Guide 

for Creative and Unconventional People’

"I don't think that art comes from art. A lot of artists apparently think so. I think it comes from the awakening person. Awakening is what you might call the spiritual. It is a linkage to something flowing very rapidly through the air, and I can put my finger on it and plug in, so to speak. Do artists need a spiritual way or do they need art? You can say one is the same as the other. Everything tends toward awakening, and I would rather use the word awakening than a word derived from some system - because there are many systems."

quote from Adamu Noguchi

From the HORIZONS portfolio
©Michael G. O'Brien


These images of Lake Ontario grew out of the ongoing work that I have done for an Indigenous organization here in Canada. During the time I have spent with this group, I have been fortunate to hear teachings that resonated with me while simultaneously revealing to me a worldview quite different from my own. This worldview was one centered on the primacy of relationships and connections.

The teachings have given me a roadmap that has helped me find a way back to, a return to, the ancient memories of what it meant for me to be a human in relationship with a creation more vast then anything that I could imagine.

In light of this new perspective, making this series of photographs became a process of return - of returning repeatedly to the same place by the Lake so that I could experience deeper levels of meaning, of relationship, of observing the light, water, clouds and the earth that make up the visual and spiritual aspects of the environment.

The Lake took on a new meaning to me, as I now wanted to explore the spiritual essence of the place rather than construct an abstract 'narrative'. It became important for me to work in one place close to home and to sink roots as deeply as possible while immersing my heart and soul into the process. I became-fully engaged. My commitment to showing the subtle and sometimes dramatic changes of the lake organically became a reflection and symbol of my shifting worldview. I want to share with viewers the sensations of seeing nature without, concepts or filters; letting her speak and providing an opportunity for us to connect directly with what is. The series is ongoing.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

F.A.Q. What kind of photography do you do?

Lake Ontario
©Michael G. O'Brien 2017

Some of the most FAQs I get in Toronto are: 

1. What do you do? 
     answer - photographer

2. What kind of photography do you do?  
     answer - that depends

There's many projects going at any given time - often in different genres of photography. Some on the back burner, some on the front. Some that make money, some that might. I love photographing WATER. It's alive, ever-moving, ever-changing. Shorelines are boundaries and edges where two worlds overlap, blend and create a third. Where do humans belong in this?
The photo above is the result of my ongoing exploration of the Lakeshore in Toronto - it's a long term project that's already resulted in a whole series. Click to see series. Thanks for looking. 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017


The “One Planet: Harnessing Hope” project contains an exhibit, a thirteen minute stand alone video and a three minute trailer video about the exhibit, all regarding what some multicultural and multi-faith individuals and organizations are doing to help the environmental situation we are all experiencing.

I partnered with the “Faith and the Common Good Greening Sacred Spaces program” in this endeavour. The entire project is educational, inspirational and hopeful providing what many diverse groups are doing in a difficult time.

There will be an exhibit at the Toronto City Hall Rotunda, date TBA with a large launch attended by people that reflect the diversity of Toronto and there will be dignitaries and politicians in attendance. The exhibit is being proposed to be hung at “The Parliament of World Religions” in Toronto, 2018 and there will be around 10,000 people of all faiths there.

Irene Borins Ash


Thursday, 9 February 2017


Two Worlds
Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, B.C.
This image, from near Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, was made on a special trip to honour the memory of a dear friend who lived in that community. It reminds me that some of our best work comes when we dedicate it to someone or something else. It can be an entirely internal and personal act, or it can be more public. The choice is ours.

To feel the power of dedication, try this exercise the next time you're a bit stuck or bored with your photography (or anything else) and want to go deeper. Before going out, take a minute to hold your camera and start thinking about to whom or what you might like to dedicate your photos. It can be a friend, a mentor, a hero, a value, or an idea such as 'freedom' or 'joy....it can be your pet. 

Set the intention to dedicate to them the photos from that day, week or month. The results are not always immediate; however, if you stay with this practice for awhile you may be led to make some of your deepest, most heart-felt work.

Friday, 20 January 2017


Click here to see more of the 'CLOUDS' series by Michael O'Brien

Click here to go to the January 2016 Edition of my monthly Newsletter where you can download your free copy of 'The Creative Gift' desktop/screensaver or read about recent findings that illustrate the importance of personal work for our growth as photographers; I got goosebumps reading this research which shows that what we knew all along in our guts is true;  acting on what we are deeply interested in and curious about is really important.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


Nature provides endless opportunities to 'see' the world around us in black and white. This cloud image is finished in NIK software Analog Efex which is one of the approaches that I'll share during the Black and White Digital Photography Workshop in 10 days. Its being held at the Centre for Social Innovation near the vibrant Kensington Market/ Spadina neighborhood on Sept. 24 - 25. CLICK HERE for workshop information.

Summer Clouds
©Michael G.O'Brien

Sunday, 11 September 2016


The way B&W accentuates shapes, form and texture makes it perfect for exploring architectural detail like this handle found on one of the the front doors of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, at 42nd St and Fifth Ave. It's one of the four research branches of the NYC Public Library system.
Although there was directional light coming in from camera right, also present was enough light bouncing off the surrounding white marble walls to provide the perfect amount of fill light that softened the shadows slightly. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016


My passion for photography is fueled by a thirst for

exploration and a curiosity to discover the world around me. It's an inner quest that can unfold in my back yard or half-way around the world. This quest helps me to steadily develop new narratives and subject matter. 

That being said, there are themes woven through my photography. For instance, nature based work has been my main focus over the last ten years, as seen in my DISTANT HORIZONS sequence which explores the elemental forces of Nature that are at work even at the edges of a big city like Toronto. Prior to that people were my main subject.

Teaching and mentoring others is equally important to me. It helps bring my creative process full circle and allows me to give something back for all the richness and meaning photography has given me; all my life I've trained and led people, in one form or another, and I love it. 

I teach privately and at a local college in downtown Toronto. My passion for teaching initially came as a surprise to me given that I'm completely self taught. But really it comes down to this; it's taken me years to learn things that could've been acquired in months with the right guidance. My goal is to help others move along the learning curve as quickly as possible. 

Whether it's delivering one-to-one training or working with groups, my approach emphasizes the ‘art of seeing’, perceptual skills, and the creative use of digital technology in pursuit of photographic expression.


  • Portraits (with digital and/or film) 
  • My photoworks as inkjet, silver or platinum prints  click here
  • Workshops (e.g. The Art of Black and White, The Photo Project)
  • Private Camera Training on any subject or technique read more
  • Private Lightroom® Training - for refining vision
  • Private Portfolio building/review sessions see more
  • Individual Creative Direction and Coaching Sessions
  • Custom Individual Mentoring Programs click here 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016


Private camera training lessons vary from session to session but, usually combine explanations and exercises to help deepen one's mastery of camera controls and photographic concepts thus helping you become a better photographer. This is sometimes done along with guided, focused, hands-on practice in the field and often combined with coaching on approaches, styles and individual problem spots.

Here is a few words from Mary (last name with held by request) describing her private session.

"I have known Michael over several years, having taken two photography courses with him, and recently reconnecting when I signed up for one of his private camera training sessions in preparation for a wedding shoot. In fact my first wedding shoot.

"Michael is patient teacher; knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, he clearly approaches it on a deep level that comes from experience. I have always been impressed with the way he pursues his craft, searching it out broadly through exposure to art, film and through his clear love of interacting, teaching, and sharing with others.

"On the wedding prep outing he introduced me to the concept of location portraiture in open shade. He also pointed out that, no, you don't always want the sun behind you, you want it behind your subject (when shooting in bright sunlight). His attention to the particulars of my shoot was marked and I was, again, impressed with the urgency he clearly felt about me nailing down several issues before the shoot.

"After watching Michael, I can see that in addition to helping others he is committed to steadily improving his own understanding of photography. This dedication translates to and permeates his teaching and lends itself to an environment that is truly conducive to learning. It has been a pleasure having the chance to look at photography together with Michael."