Cooper & O’Hara Photograph Alan Nursall for Avenue Edmonton

Edmonton-Editorial-Photographers-Avenue-Tearsheet-Alan-Nursall-fixed (more images to be found at the bottom of this post)

 The Background 

The Telus World of Science has been one of Edmonton’s best youth-oriented attractions since it was opened in 1984. I remember going on a field trip in elementary school, when it was still called The Odyssium, and was floored by all of the incredibly fun science stuff. I was always into Science, sure (hence my personal background in biochemistry before I went full-time with photography), but the way I was captivated was a different experience than reading about theories in a book. Science was literally creating thunderstorms and trying to understand why that balloon full of oxygen and hydrogen made such an awesome explosion! Let’s look at that explosion again… for science!

The world is full of wonder with so many fascinating natural phenomenon that can be explored. That spark of wonder and curiosity fosters growth and intelligence in children and adults alike. Now, if anyone knows about captivating an audience with science it’s Alan Nursall. Who else do you know that has bungee jumped with a watermelon, beach ball, and volleyball in order to show how the gravitational constant works equally on items of different mass?

From Alan’s personal Youtube Channel

You can view segments of the Alan Nursall Experience, an on going series that he stars in that runs on the Discovery Channel, by following that link.

The Job

Avenue Magazine – Edmonton has an excellent article on Alan (who was just appointed The Telus World of Science CEO this January) in their June issue. The science centre has gone through quite a rejuvenation, especially since Alan signed on. Be sure to check out some of the adult nights TWoS hosts!

Cooper & O’Hara was asked to create the photos for the spread and table of contents for the story. The magazine can be found at newsstands and locations around the city, or the digital issue is also available here if you gotta see it this very second. Here are some of the images we shot before being put into layout:

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The Nitty Gritty Photo Stuff

This photo, used in the spread at the top of the post, was taken in the planetarium at the Telus World of Science. It provided an amazing backdrop as we could play around and put up tons of interesting imagery such as a panorama of Mars, the Aurora Borealis, and, of course, the earth – at any angle and any time of day we wanted!

What with it being a giant projected screen, the relative brightness of the image that makes up the background was much harder for a camera to pick up than you might even think. We had to shoot on a tripod at as slow as 3 or more seconds per exposure! How is Alan not all blurred from motion? Well for one thing, Alan was a consummate gentleman, standing very still in place for us as we tweak the technical stuff and composition through multiple photo iterations. Secondly, what appears to mimic the stage lighting that was present in the planetarium is also/actually a professional lighting strobe with a gridded octabox on it.

We subscribe to the idea that the lighting of a portrait, when possible, should make sense for the situation and not distract from the mood of reality. Sometimes there are situations where you want to just make really, really cool light, but more often than not we try to work with what already exists and supplement it. In this case, the position of the octabox lighting Alan from camera right provided better illumination to shape his face and the strobe goes off in the fraction of a second, therefore it freezes Alan’s motion (save for a little bit of blur at the edges of his body which you can notice if you look closely).


For the shots meant for the Table of Contents we went for dramatic, eye-catching colour and a warm and welcome pose from Alan.

The Lighting Info:

This shot was also more difficult than it appears from a technical viewpoint. After finding our great backdrop in the science centre we discovered the wall’s surface was actually rather reflective. If you tried to light it evenly with direct light (like you would usually like a backdrop) ugly hotspots of reflection would show up. With reflective surfaces you have to delicately light the area around so that the reflection is evenly bright, and also doesn’t cause you to lose the true detail and colour in the surface – which was especially important here.

Here’s a diagram of how we did it:


to the right: An alternative that we made with the help of Vance Avery, science presenter at TWoS, who has a serious arsenal of gadgets and science at his disposal – including a heavy duty smoke machine and a super strong laser pointer. Thanks Vance!


We hope you enjoy the images and pick up a copy Avenue to get the full story and more. It’s a wonderful magazine.

Shoot us any questions or comments in the discussion section below!


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