Why do photography?

No Loitering

Guitar

St. Andrews

Tall ships Victoria

Kamloops Lake 2

Sternwheel

Coca-Cola

Forgotten shops

Yellow & Red

Just Waiting

After a discussion with a fellow who told me he has become bored with photography I thought I’d revisit the following from an earlier post.

I once asked “Why do photography” to members of an online forum and received some unremarkable responses like, “because I can” and “because I have a camera”.  Well, I suppose it is all about the camera to lots of people. However, there were two responses that I really liked, the first from someone called Soenda who eloquently wrote,

“ Because taking pictures has helped me see better. Before, I was less aware or the way light strikes leaves. I didn’t notice the symmetry of birds on a wire. Sunsets were masses of agreeable colour; now they are gold, pink, lavender and blue”.

The second from someone named Laura who philosophically said,

“Because when I look at my life, I cannot say I have done nothing. The proof exists that I have seen at least a wee bit of the world. I take pictures because it is artistic expression, and I think when we repress our artistic nature, we do ourselves no good, no good at all. I take pictures because it is fun. I can spend the entire day taking pictures, and it could not be a day better spent…”

For me, photography changes. There are times when I just want to play and am interested in nothing more than experimenting, my goal just seeing how something works.   I enjoy photographing my friends, family and pets. Pictures that have meaning only to me, but might never go anywhere other than on my computer’s screen saver.  And of course, until I retired, photography was the way I earned my living.

There are those times when I try to visually create an image that says something to others about how I see and feel about something. I can’t really say that the medium of photography is a passion for me, but I am enthusiastic. It’s just something I think about a lot and do.

Many use photography as a way to express themselves artistically, of which I heartily agree. Expressing oneself through photography is easy, as it doesn’t require the trapping of other mediums like painting or sculpture, and merely requires a camera.

Photography, for those who first wanted to make photographs, became accessible during the 1800s. The first surviving image made by Jacques Daguerre was of some artistically arranged plaster casts resting on a window ledge in 1837, and a short 20 years later photographers were wandering the North American wilderness and newly constructed cities creating photographs with the same intensity, all though not in the same numbers, as we are today.

Why take pictures? For some it is to document history, we know about the civil war in the 1860s through the photographs of Mathew Brady and the Vietnam War in the 1970s by David Kennerly.   Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams, Elliott Porter, Imogene Cunningham, Bret Weston and others gave us their visual opinions of an early American landscapes.

There were those like Dorothea Lang and Walker Evens that during the great depression of the 1930s told us about the human condition. While Photographers Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon and Canadian Yousuf Karsh, celebrated the beauty of the human expression”  paving the way for modern portrait photographers.

For some the question “Why do photography?” may be very philosophical and for others practical. Soenda commented, “ Because taking pictures has helped me see better.” And Laura wrote, “I take pictures because, when I look at my life, I cannot say I have done nothing.”

I wonder what readers would answer.

A process of observation.       

Salmon Arm

Street rest art

Town sculpture

Shuswap Lake

Pier view

Dragon boat

Lakeside residents

Smugglers love

My wife, Linda, has been wanting to really put her new 135mm lens to the test.   Even though the 135mm focal length is normally used for portraitures, she wanted to give it a roadside work out and suggested we take a short drive. We decided a morning drive along the meandering South Thompson River ending in Salmon Arm, just short of an hour away, for coffee and some photographs.

The British Columbia city of Salmon Arm with it’s unique, picturesque downtown and what residents claim to be the longest, curved wooden wharf in North America is located on the Shuswap Lake, midway between Calgary and Vancouver on the Trans-Canada Highway. The lakeside city also became infamous in August of 1982 when then Canadian Premier Pierre Trudeau raised his middle finger at protesters from his seat inside a private rail car.

When I’m not making portraits I prefer zoom lenses. Using a multi-focal length lens when photographing buildings and other features that one finds along a busy city street makes photography easy to do because it’s simple to crop out people, cars and other unwanted elements. Nevertheless, Linda wanted to use her 135mm and I decided to follow suit and brought my 105mm.

We wandered the downtown photographing anything that caught our attention. It was Sunday and most shops were closed and the streets, other than a couple of people walking to the grocery store or, like us, driving to Tim Horton’s for coffee, were almost empty.

It was a perfect day to walk around, and there was plenty of room to step backwards on to the street or move around in front of shops with our prime lenses. We spent a leisurely hour or so just taking pictures in town before driving to the lakeside park to sit in the shade, take in the view, and talk about our pictures.

My preference would have been to use my 24-86mm and although Linda really liked the 135mm, she wished I had brought along her 70-300mm. However, we both thought using the long prime lenses was a good exercise. Placing a subject and composing the final image took longer than just zooming the lens length forwards or back. Our fixed focal length lenses required that we had to physically move about to get the image we desired. There was also a change in perspective because of the mid-range of our lenses.

I have been trying to think of some words that would sum up our experience. Maybe American documentary photographer and author, Elliott Erwitt, got the closest to what I was experiencing when he wrote, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Perhaps our exercise wasn’t so much, “an art of observation” as it was an “act of observation”.

Communicating Our Personal Photographic Vision  

 

 

I enjoy pretty much everything when it comes to photography. I am happiest when I get to talk about it, read about it, and look at other photographer’s work, and of course, any occasion where I get to point my camera at a subject.

Famous and influential photographer Edward Weston once wrote, “Photography suits the temper of this age – of active bodies and minds. It is a perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas, imagery, for a prolific worker who would be slowed down by painting or sculpting, for one who sees quickly and acts decisively, accurately.”

Weston most likely said sometime in the 1950s, but it aptly describes many of those taking pictures with all kinds of cameras in the 21st century. Yes, it is the, “perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas…”

As I looked at several images (several were from iPhones) that were proudly posted online I thought how those words fit many modern photographers. However, there I was looking at many pictures that, although quite creative and colourful, lacked the basic compositional guidelines I was taught              (I suspect Weston learned also) and are still being taught in almost any class on photography.

Photographic composition is the selection and arrangement of the subject within the picture area. However, what I saw seemed in many cases to be hastily captured images with little regard to the importance of any centre of interest that might help viewers identify what the photographer is trying to communicate.

Maybe it is the conditioning we get by clumsily pointing our cell phones at a subject, or the thoughtless reliance on a camera’s auto focusing device to select whatever is in the middle of the viewfinder for proper focus.

There is a compositional guideline called, “the rule of thirds”. This so-called rule is a simple principal that divides an image into thirds, horizontally and vertically, and tells us to position the most important elements in our scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect, and by doing so, adding balance and interest to one’s picture.

I subscribe to four components when I create a picture:

  1. The Centre of Interest: A strong center of interest helps the viewer identify the point of the picture, or what the photographer is trying to communicate.
  2. Angles: Begin by looking at the subject, move around – up and down, vertical or horizontal. Decide what should or should not be included.
  3. Distance: Don’t back away. Eliminate everything that does not add to the picture.  Close-ups convey intimacy, long shots build space and depth.
  4. Background: The background can make or break that photograph. Use the background to build interest in the center of interest.

There will be those photographers that in the interest of their own creative freedom will disregard anything that they believe will restrict their photographic independence and innovation or what they think might apply limits to their imagination.

I wouldn’t agree with that. I don’t think this is an argument of vision.

If our goal as photographers is to create an image that withstands the test of time and communicating a personal vision, then one must learn the        basics of composition in the same way as one would learn the basics of exposure, or how to make the camera actually work whether it’s a DSLR, or a feature of a cell phone.

My First Cameras   

 

Kodak 1

One of my first little 127 camera’s pictures secured in albums.

Instamatic 1

Even after swimming my little Kodak Brownie camera worked for a picture of a friend photographing a wet model in my car.

Taped 'em down 1

The sticky corners failed so I just taped the pictures from my Kodak Instamatic to the pages.     Note my early “selfie” wearing a gas mask.

Tape didn't work 1

I tried glue, but it wasn’t that successful.

Petri V6

Masking tap sort of worked, but my early attempts in the darkrooom processing film from my Petri V6 weren’t always very successful.

Spotmatic ii

A favourable outcome using the Spotmatic and processing the film at the “Free Venice” festival.  The pictures still fell out of the self-adhesive album.

 

This week a photographer stopped by to talk about the article I wrote last week about the popularity of 1970s cameras. We discussed cameras we had used over the years and eventually got around to the question, “What was your first camera?”

The very first cameras that I likely used to make snapshots of family and friends were probably 127 Kodak cameras made of dark brown Bakelite plastic and I remember little (I think 3×6) prints with wavy edges coming back from the department store lab.

My father had the more serious 120 format folding bellows camera and usually posed us with the sun behind his back with the resulting squinting and pained smiles on our young faces.

I snapped pictures for years with cameras that had little or no control over exposure or focal length. I glued the pictures into photograph albums with little sticky corners. Of course, the self stick holders didn’t last long, and the pictures fell out, so I glued the pictures directly to the pages, but the glue’s chemical reaction discoloured the images and eventually those that weren’t lost by falling off and out of the album just faded away.

My first serious camera was purchased in 1967 while I was in the US Army. I purchased it from the Army PX (post exchange) while stationed overseas. The location was visually spectacular and different from anything I had ever experienced and I wanted to have photographs for memories.

I looked at the limited selection in my price range and purchased a Petri V6 with two lenses, a 58mm and a 135mm.

When I got the Petri, I was so excited because it had an attachable light meter, used slide film and I purchased the 135mm lens because I was advised it was the perfect lens to take portraits of people.

My next camera was a loaner from a friend’s father so I could take a photography class in 1969 at Santa Monica College; the previous Petri had seen better days.  That neat Pentax H3V camera had a clip-on meter and came with only a 55mm lens, but my instructor said it would be perfect for his class.

Shortly there after, in 1971, a fellow student who worked for United Airlines purchased a camera for me during a trip he took to Japan. The photo magazines were talking about a new camera with “multi-coated” lenses, and an amazing through-the-lens spot meter. I then became the proud owner of a SLR Pentax Spotmatic II.

Although I used colour film for events like parties and Christmas I absolutely believed serious photographers only used black and white film. I added another lens, a Vivitar 35mm. Wow, a wide-angle lens! Then I got a 200mm. Gosh, I had everything I needed.

Those first three SLR cameras wetted my interest in photography. They were complex enough that I read magazines, books, and took classes to learn how to operate them effectively. In addition, I searched for opportunities to meet other photographers and talk about cameras, lenses, enlargers, photographic paper, and all sorts of picture making.

Before the Petri and two Pentax cameras, photography was only about documenting events around me, not creating a personal vision of the things that interested me. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to start making images with those three SLRs I expect my photography would never have advanced from anything more than just snap shots.

I am sure readers that used cameras before the digital onslaught remember their first camera(s) that helped their enthusiasm for photography grow and might even have great memories on prints or slides packed away in boxes.

I made fun of those old film camera wondering about the nostalgia some feel for them. I remarked that I personally wouldn’t want to return to film. But gosh, it was nice it was to hold those old metal cameras that were constructed so tight with shutters that clunked solidly instead of the high-pitched clatter most make today.

 

 

What’s Up With The Return Of Those Old 1970s Film Cameras?   

1970 Film cameras

 

When I wrote about this year’s Vancouver Swap in April I mentioned that I always go to the event wondering what the latest trends will be, or what is popular with the photographers that attend.

I didn’t discuss it in that article, but, this year those photo enthusiasts that turned up surprised me when they all but ignored the modern digital equipment sellers were displaying, and, instead seemed mostly interested in older 1970s manual cameras and lenses.

I commented about that this week to a photographer who came in to pick up an old Canon FTB camera she had left for light seal replacement. She had dropped it off a couple weeks ago saying it had been given to her. She also brought in an old cloth camera bag and pulled out three old Canon lenses she got with the camera and asking me my opinion.

Other than the 50mm that was mounted on the camera, there was a 28mm, a 135mm and a 200mm. All were Canon brand and, although very dirty from the dissolving foam inside the bag, very great lenses.

I remembered the time period, before zoom lenses, or automatic exposure, when cameras that actually had light meters like that old FTb were the pinnacle of technology. The original owner had chosen the most popular lenses of the day. And now a new owner was planning on putting the 45-year-old film camera and lenses to use again.

It’s been about 16 years since digital single-lens-reflex cameras became affordable and capable of making images equal to, and now surpassing, film cameras.

The photographer I talked to in my shop as well as those I met at the swap meet all owned modern DSLRs. I suppose there is a sense of nostalgia in holding and shooting those shiny, old metal cameras.

The local high schools whereabouts I live have photography programs where students use film cameras and learn to process and print photographs. I don’t know if the same happens in Vancouver where the swap meet was held. Nevertheless, those old film cameras are certainly popular.

There are many of us old enough to have used and even to have made a living with cameras during the 1970s who don’t for a moment regret the change in technology from film to digital. I sometimes wonder how we survived with that inefficient, cumbersome technology from a time period my friend Alex refers to as, “the days of click and pray”.

Digital cameras are a great way to learn photography, with instant reinforcement and no cost unless one wants to make prints; whereas, with film there is the initial cost of film, the cost to process, and the cost to print; however, one can easily and economically scan and download the image file to a computer. And unlike the cost of a DSLR those old cameras have become very inexpensive. That photographer’s whole kit, camera and three lenses here in BC should cost well under a hundred dollars.

I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia, or the low price, that has brought a return of popularity to those old film cameras. Even though I personally wouldn’t want to return to film I do remember how nice it was to hold those old cameras (there is a 1948 Olympus sitting on a shelf in my store that I keep eyeing) that were made by engineers instead of technicians and I will grudgingly admit there is something wonderfully tactile in the quality of an image captured on film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing the Annual Pritchard, British Columbia Rodeo  

 

There are always lots of photographers crowded against the fence to capture the action

There are always lots of photographers crowded against the fence to capture the action

Bronco 4

Barrel rider 1

Barrel Rider 2

Bronco 1
Bronco 2

Bronco 5

Bronco 6

Bull rider 1

Bull Rider 2

Another of my favourite events has come and gone.  Along with the sunny warmth of summer, I always look forward to spending a fun, action-packed afternoon of photographing the events at The Prichard Rodeo, and this year didn’t disappoint. What a good time for any photographer that enjoys fast action sport photography.

I have written before about how great the Pritchard Rodeo grounds are for photographers of every size and age.  The grounds have a strong metal fence and provides everyone with a safe, unrestricted view of everything that happens.

 The location itself, wild-like and tree lined, with the rolling hills in the background couldn’t be more pleasant. And this year our smooth talking Pritchard Community Association was able to get the worn-out, old viewing stand changed to a new grandstand with shinny metal seats instead of the rickety wooden ones and a roof that gives lots more shade.

Pritchard is a small rural community not far from the city of Kamloops. And as I usually do at these events, I spent as much time socializing with people I knew as I did photographing the action. And, of course, there are lots of photographers willing to talk.

I like photographing the bronco, and the bull riding the best.  Everything is explosive and the contestants, (I’ll include the horses and bulls as well as the riders) are pitted against each other and seem well matched enough that I can never be sure who will win. I feel for the riders when they hit the hard ground, but I must admit that I enjoy getting photographs of them flying wildly through the air.

However, as much as I like those events, I wouldn’t want to miss the barrel racing.  Trying to capture what seems to me like a gravity-defying moment of horse and rider as they fast and furiously circle the barrel is exciting.  Those young women riders are talented and must spend endless hours in training with their horses to do that.

For those that haven’t read my thoughts on shooting sports before, let me say again that when photographing fast, volatile subjects like those at a rodeo I prefer shutter priority mode where I select the shutter, and the camera chooses the aperture. I prefer shutterspeeds of 1/500th or more if possible. One also must be aware of depth-of-field, and I balance my shutterspeed and aperture taking that into consideration.

All I do is follow the action, choose a position that allows everything to move towards me, and let the camera’s computer handle the rest.  Sometimes the bright sun creates too much contrast, but contrast is easily handled in post-production. Nevertheless, this year we were really lucky with pleasant flat lighting because of high clouds, and even a bit of rain to cool things down.

It was all so easy for the many photographers at the edge of the arena, and I am sure that no matter their skill, most got lots of images worth framing.

As always, I’ll finish my article on the Pritchard rodeo by saying, “No animals, cowboys, cowgirls, or photographers were hurt during the process of having a great time.”

Commenting on Depth of Field     

D of F 3 women                                                                                                                                        

Depth of field is a seemingly elusive topic that I discuss in my classes and repeatedly explain to photographers who come to my shop complaining about problems with their lenses.  The problem is really just a lack of understanding of how the aperture controls the field of focus around the subject.

Long time readers might remember my many articles over the years discussing “depth-of-field”. Hopefully, I won’t bore those that understand how to use depth of field, but it is always a good thing to review this concept.  I will reuse an example I used a couple years ago about a photographer that showed me an image made during a wedding. The photographer showed it to me commenting that he had chosen that lens because it had a wide aperture which allowed for photographing in low light, but was bothered that the expensive lens wasn’t very sharp.

The image showed a view of the central aisle of the church with pews left and right, leading up to the bride in the distant centre, approximately 20 feet from where the photographer was located.  The overall exposure shot at an aperture of f/2.8 was fairly good, however, what bothered him was the guests around the bride standing in the aisle weren’t very sharp

The definition of depth-of-field is, “that area around the main subject, in front of, and behind it, that is in acceptably sharp focus”.  

Wide aperture lenses are very popular and using a lens at a wide aperture like f/2.8 when making a portrait isolates the main subject and produces a soft, out-of-focus background by reducing the depth of field.

The photographer was relying on the wide aperture to increase the exposure in limited lighting conditions.  That additional light allowed for a faster shutterspeed for handholding, but along with the benefit of additional light reaching the camera’s sensor the photographer forgot, or didn’t realize, that the resulting effect would also be a reduced depth of field.   

Using a wide aperture reduced the field of focus in front of the subject of a couple feet and the same behind the subject. That would be fine in a close-cropped portrait, but in that photograph of the church aisle, the guests in the foreground and guests in the background, appeared to be out-of-focus.

                        The further your subject is away the more the Depth of Field.  

                        The closer your subject the less the Depth of field.

                        The smaller the aperture the more the Depth of Field.

                        The larger the aperture the less the Depth of Field.

                        The Smaller your aperture the slower your shutter will need to be.

I prefer using a small aperture for scenic photography and, as in this instance, for interiors.  The answer to that example, and the examples I saw posted online, would be how to solve the low light problem not with a wide aperture, but by increasing the ISO so a smaller aperture could be used.

Depth of field is that area in front of and behind your subject that is acceptably sharp.  Practically, the depth of the field of focus will be 1/3rd in front and 2/3rds behind the subject.  Photographers who understand how to use depth of field will become progressively more successful in their photography.