Digital isn’t Real Photography!   

What about Film

The medium of photography has become very accessible for everyone. There was a time when photographers had to be an engineer, a chemist, and to be successful, serious practitioners needed to spend time educating themselves. Photographers actually had to understand the combinations of shutter and aperture for a properly exposed image, and worried about camera shake and, of course, film choice.

With modern technology, today’s supercharged cameras with their machine-gun-like shutters, and seemingly speed of light focusing, and amazing low light capability, many photographers are able to make great photos without any knowledge whatsoever of photography.

This week I talked to a woman that pulled her 1980’s film camera out of a well-worn canvas bag saying, “Digital isn’t real photography!” (I remember writing about another person upset with digital almost exactly a year ago.)

I let her rant for a while about how inferior digital is, and how one can’t get a good picture unless they used film. However, because I wasn’t in a mood to get into an argument I knew wouldn’t win, I just nodded and said that I do like the tactile quality one can get with a properly printed picture. And to smooth things out I mentioned that I have several enlargements hanging on the wall in my shop that I took with film years ago.

That conversation is becoming rather infrequent these days, but it still is kind of humorous when someone wants to complain about modern photographers and the high tech equipment available. Unfortunately, the argument is one-sided and not really worth getting into because any opinion but theirs is going to be ignored.

There are still a few people intent on complaining that with the end of film comes the end of photography. That’s just silly. Personally, I don’t think film is going away any time soon. Film is just one of many ways to make a photograph.

The big box outlets here in Canada may not carry it much longer, but there are lots of specialty items artists use that are only available in specialty stores, and I think there are still plenty of camera shops that handle film. And going to a store that specializes in photography makes the chances of getting the correct advice from the person behind the counter more likely.

It seems like everyone is taking pictures nowadays. (Another thing that lady complained about) But I think that’s a good thing and not something to complain about.

There are lots of excellent photographs being taken. People just want visual memories and the multitude of cameras that are available these days are perfect for that. Who cares what kind of camera or how the image is captured.

I think I might stop by and talk to that woman again. She has a small store down the street from mine. My conversation won’t really be to talk her out of film and into digital, She hasn’t used her camera in a while and I’d like her to start taking pictures again instead of complaining about young people with their digital cameras.

I hope she will start having fun with that old 35mm film camera. It doesn’t matter what camera she uses, film or digital, as long as she is happy with the photographs she makes. I’ll be sure to help her out, and with a bit of subversive work, I might get her using a digital camera after all.

Your comments? Thanks, John

 

Copying Photographs   

 

Violet Walch copy

This week I noticed some pictures that were posted on a Facebook page. They were old, family pictures that were low quality, which I thought were more from the poor copying techniques of the person who posted the photos than a problem with Facebook, and I am sure the person that added them to her FB page in spite of the shoddy reproductions thought she couldn’t do better. Seeing those poor quality images reminded me of an article that I wrote about copying old photos some time ago, and wanted to remind readers how to do this.

In the article, I had been asked if I could make quality copies of old photographs that a family wanted to use for a book of genealogy they planned on publishing. They required image files with enough quality for good enlargements, and reproduction, and had tried to copy several images using inexpensive home scanners meant for documents (not photographs), and thus far were only able to produce pictures that lacked detail.

I recall they told me they also tried copying the photographs with their little digicams, but that exercise resulted in bright, white reflection spots from it’s flash that obscured features giving them unacceptable results.  A camera with an on-camera flash will produce glare on reflective surfaces, and inexpensive document scanners rarely produce good facial identification of old family photos that have languished in boxes for years. The result was much the same as those old, family photos I saw on Facebook.

When I copy photographs I lay the photographs flat and mount my camera on a copy stand that I have had for years, (a sturdy tripod would also do nicely) and use a small level to make sure the camera lens and the photographs are parallel. I use two photographic umbrellas to diffuse the flash. If I didn’t have the umbrellas I could also get reasonable results by placing some translucent material in front of the flashes, or by bouncing the light off large, white cards.  Two umbrellas allow me to balance the light. Then I make a test shot to check the exposure for reflection. In any case, the light needs to softly and broadly, not sharply, expose the old photograph’s surface.

The wonder of digital technology is that it allows a photographer to quickly review the image and retake it if needed. I also recommend taking several shots at different apertures.  And, of course using the camera’s Manual Mode. I prefer working with slightly under exposed image files. That way I can bring the detail up in postproduction without loosing the highlights in the original photographs.

If the next question readers ask is, “What kind of camera?” my answer will be that it depends on what is the desired outcome. If the final image is going to be a print, or something that is to be big enough to identify a person in the background, the file needs to be reasonably large. I prefer a DSLR, but for a small website image, a digicam that will accept an off-camera flash will do just fine.

If there isn’t access to an off-camera flash then wait for the opportunity to photograph the picture on a “flat” overcast or cloudy day.

The final step for me is PhotoShop, (there are several other programs that will also work) which I use to colour balance (and change a sometimes faded old photograph), and then go on to use for cropping, increasing contrast, and sharpening.

One could purchase an expensive scanner that takes up more room on the desk. But photographers that have already invested in their camera and have lenses that work perfectly well, (which I think are faster to use than a scanner) are perfectly capable of producing very high quality final images.

Snowshoes Are Perfect For Winter Photography         

Passing the shed

Afternoon sun

Melting snow

Barn View

Winter is here and there is enough snow for me to put on my snowshoes and make my first winter hike to the high meadow above my home. Last January my walk up into that meadow’s deep snow was on a cold, -3C day, under a bright, almost-cloudless, blue sky, and I remember I was shooting with a lightweight, 18-105mm lens on my cropped-frame camera.

Yesterday I had chosen to mount a lightweight 24-85mm on my full-frame camera. Both this year and last I incorporated a polarizer to darken the skies, increase the contrast in the scene, and suppress glare from the surface of the bright white snow, on the partly cloudy +1C day that had me wishing I didn’t wear the extra undershirt.

I trekked up the hill, and as I had so many times before, I photographed everything. There are rarely any animals in sight in that long meadow. If so they can hear my snowshoes crunching through the snow on the long hill and stay hidden just out of sight. As there usually is when I begin to cross the meadow, a crow cries out a warning to the silent watchers. Then it got quiet with only the sounds from my snowshoes and camera’s shutter as I tramped around photographing the hilltop meadow above the Thompson River Valley.

As I have done so in the past, and too many times to count, I wandered around the snow-covered grassland photographing the two remaining structures from an old homestead under the looming Martin Mountain. I don’t know how long ago that area was farmed, or how old the buildings are, but there is what’s left of an old car that appears to have been wrecked and left behind some time in the 1930s or 1940s. There is an abandoned cellar, a barn, a shed, a fruit tree, a garbage dump, the detritus of a family’s life, a family who shut down their farm and left.

I like the solitary walk. I closed the front gate to our yard and started out on the road following tracks a lonely coyote made during the early morning hours. The tracks led up the road to a lower field and headed uphill following snowshoe tracks that one of my other neighbor’s must have made. I always expect to be the only human making tracks up there, however, this time I followed someone that took much shorter strides than me, eventually crossing the creek at the far end of the meadow and to keep going out of sight through the trees without returning.

I like snowshoeing. When I was a youngster snowshoes were the perfect winter accessory. We’d snowshoe up the hill, change to our skis that had been strapped to our backs and ski back down. I remember a trip with my younger brother Rodger, and a friend named Alan. We traveled for three days sleeping in snow caves we made by digging into snowdrifts. Snowshoes got us up hills and skis got us down.

All these years later I am still wandering the winter backwoods, only now I always carry my camera. Snowshoes are perfect for the winter photographer. I have also skied with a camera, but there is always the chance of falling and covering the camera with wet snow. At my age snowshoes are safer and besides it’s easier to position and reposition oneself while composing a photograph. Skis would not work as well.

Photographer’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2016    

2016 approaching

This month is half over already and I am thinking with all that’s happening in photography that 2016 is going to rush past like a freight train. The prospect of all the new opportunities for this year is exciting, and it may be worth jotting down a list of personal photography goals for this year, or a list of resolutions, as a good idea.

Every New Year I am interested in what plans other photographers will make for the year ahead and most respond with a usual list, for example, use a tripod more, turn off Auto mode, shoot RAW, make a photo-a-day challenge, and so forth. This year, however, I wanted more inspirational ideas for the year to come.

I revisited ideas from January 2015 that seemed to say a lot about ways to improve with this exciting medium and pulled these out. So for the future, for 2016 here is my “Lucky Seven” .

  1. Pay more attention to creative ideas. “This could be the year to begin evolving  creatively”.
  1. There is too much focus on what is the best camera. When we spend too much time worrying about the camera we forget about the story. “We should be concerned with making images that tell a story”.
  1. Take risks photographically and move away from always trying to please, to fit in with what everyone else is doing. Make this the year to push beyond the comfort zone without being concerned with other’s opinions, to be pleased first for oneself. Maybe this will be the year to put “me” in the photograph.
  1. Learn a new technique. Wonder about how the technique will impact your work and whether you will revert or continue to follow up in that direction. I think it’s as simple as experimenting, and definitely taking the time to “read up on something and then give it a try”. Photographers should always make the effort to learn new techniques. Maybe by taking a class, or at least buying some books, or CDs, written by accomplished photographic writers.
  1. Select new subjects to “get out of the rut of shooting the same thing over and over”. While practicing portraiture or landscapes is good, doing the same thing the same way over and over can result in a lack of inventiveness and creativity in our work.
  1. Make every shot count and stay away from the spray-and-pray shooting style. “It’s about quality photographs, not about the volume of pictures snapped during sessions”.
  1. Become viciously ruthless with one’s own photography and what is done in post-production, to be more critical, to keep “conditioning oneself to throw out the crap is the only way to keep improving.”

I’ll finish with a quote by award winning English author, Neil Gaiman.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

 

 

 

I’ve Been Robbed!

 

foot prints in the snow

A phone call at 3:30 in the morning is never good.  And sure enough the call I got last Monday morning met my worst expectations.

As I answered the phone I wondered, “Is this a call about a fire or a break-in”. Sure enough it was the latter. There was a break-in at my store.

Somehow three thieves gained entry into the main building from the alley door, and as the alarm blared, they made their way towards my storefront shop. Thereafter, they easily smashed the glass of the door entering my camera store, rushed to a display cabinet containing cameras and lenses; and because I found some lenses scattered on the floor, I think they rudely shoved equipment from two shelves into a camera case that contained my digital projector, and then ran back through the building to exit the rear door.

The tenant that resides on the second floor added her 911 call to the notification the security company was getting from the alarm, and looking through her window watched the burglars making off though the falling snow. Fortunately, the police arrived very soon after and using their tracking dogs easily followed the criminals to their hideout and apprehended them.

I give credit to the fast work of the local RCMP. They were certainly aided by the freshly fallen snow that at that time in the morning revealed the tracks of those thieves that entered and exited my shop. I would like to have watched those Mounties with their dogs chasing down the bad guys.

As I child of the 1950s radio shows like, “The Lone Ranger” and “The Green Hornet”, I listened with excitement as Sgt. Preston of the North West Mounted Police, and his dog, Yukon King, fought evildoers in the Northern Canadian wilderness.

I don’t want to make light of the excellent police force we have here in Kamloops, but as I stood outside the back door in the eerie, 4am light talking to the woman from the upstairs apartment I looked down the snow covered landscape and thought of that radio program of my childhood days from all those years ago. I cannot say the reason. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, or the stress of the break-in, but when she mentioned the police and their dogs following the tracks in the snow, that’s what came to mind.

I received a call from a constable regarding the photography equipment stolen from my shop, who told me they recovered cameras and lenses in a black case. I assume that’s the missing projector case.

There is a good chance that most of, or hopefully all, of my property will be returned. Now I just have to wait for the lead inspector to determine how long they need to keep things as evidence. After posting the incident on Facebook, I received lots of concern from local photographers. That was nice. I found it interesting when someone would write, “You must feel violated”. For me that isn’t the word I would use. “Irritated” was a much better word to fit my mood as I cleaned up the glass, covered the opening with wood, and now must wait for the police to return my camera equipment.

I will get through this incident, survive my disappointment, and today returned to selling good, used, photography equipment, but now I also have a story to tell of yet another of those stressful events. There are so many photographers out there that have, as me, been photography equipment and have lost their prized photography equipment to, as one officer I talked to called them, “rats that scurry around in the darkness looking for an opportunity”. As I am sure readers know, we must be vigilant against thieves.

As I write this I remember how Sgt. Preston would hug his dog at the end of each episode and say, “Well, King, it looks like this case is closed.”

Thank you to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for helping me recover my merchandise.

 

 

 

 

 

A Happy New Year with Lots of Photography     

Happy New Year

Horse in NewYear Snow

Home for New years

Happy New Year

Another year has gone by, and with that I want to wish all that take the time to read my blog a very Happy New Year. I am sure it’s going to be a year filled with fun photography.

I do try to keep my articles interesting. When I first began to write weekly about photography my goal was to write articles that were a bit different from those I saw in magazines and on-line.

I knew I could easily post a couple of pictures each week, and discuss them as I did for my students in my years as a photography teacher; or I could join with those that provided reviews on their favourite equipment, but I thought that would be easily forgotten.

There were so many people writing about photography that I wondered if I had anything to add, so I decided to use a technique that worked during the many years I taught photography and that is to tell a story that included photo information I wanted to discuss.

Something else that I learned during my years teaching was to keep the subject fresh. That meant introducing something new each class and that is how I choose my topics, something different each week.

I admit that changing the subject each week does get hard. Like most readers there are those who acknowledge that there are other things in life than photography (I wish I could say it isn’t so) and it isn’t unusual for me to say to my wife, “Ok, what am I going to write about this week?”

Fortunately, with Linda’s help it usually works out and I come up with something to say each week.

This year I reviewed by work and the following were among my favourites articles and included “Which Button is for the Composition Mode?”, “What Makes Photographers Happy?”, “There is Nothing Like Photography”, “Interesting and Unconventional Photography”, and “Two Photographers Are More Fun Than One”.

My wife suggested I mention those subjects that I enjoyed photographing most but to that I will quote famous photographer, Imogen Cunningham, who replied, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

I’ll keep this short and again wish all photographers out there a grand New Year filled with lots of photography.

Photographing the Holiday Train   

Here come the train

Train 2

Holiday Train 3

Passing Train

 

Last week I wrote about how I enjoy everything about the Christmas holidays; the bright colours, the gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, the silly TV programs, and especially the festive city lights.

To that fun list I must add the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Each December, for the past 17 years, the CP Holiday train has travelled east to west across Canada. And fortunately for my wife, Linda, and I the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls along the railroad tracks that follow the wide South Thompson River a short distance from our home in Pritchard, British Columbia.

As with last year, the train passes by just as the light begins fading around 4PM. The timing could not be better. There is still some illumination in the sky, but not enough to ruin the bright coloured Christmas lights on the train’s engine and cars.

Last year we positioned ourselves across the river for a wide panorama of the train. However, this year because of the construction and repositioning of the highway, we were able to choose a location very near the tracks that gave us plenty of time to prepare when the train first came into view and an interesting three-quarter perspective as it rushed towards us.

When we were across the river last year the long focal length lenses worked best, but this because we were so close this year we chose wide-angle lenses. Linda had her 24mm and I used my 24-70mm. Both were perfect.

We arrived about ten minutes early, made some test shots to check the fading late afternoon light, then waited with our hot chocolate to keep warm.

With the train’s movement I knew we would need fast shutterspeeds. I selected ISO 3200, which let us both use 1/350th of a second.

Linda said, “There it is!” When the train roared into sight, we jumped out of the car into the cold wind that was coming at us off the river and took pictures as it passed. The engineer tooted the horn at us but we didn’t have time to wave back and take pictures too. The whole event was over in about 40 seconds. Ha, what a rush! Then we got back in the car and ten minutes later we were sitting in our warm home finishing up our hot chocolate.

Well, one more holiday photographic occasion is over, but I know there will be more opportunities between now and January 1st. This is such a grand time of the year.