Sometimes a good photo strikes the imagination.

Sometime in early 1968 I was moving a bunkhouse bed that belonged to another soldier who had served his required time in the Army and left for home.

Under the mattress was a book I had never seen before called “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. About four years later after I too had left that bothersome military chore me and many other young men were forced into, I was wandering through a huge used book sale and came across three books tied together; “The lord of the Rings”. I was so excited with that find that I hid myself away and in a non-stop session read them all. (I will say that my girl friend at the time was not at all understanding with my three-day disappearance)

Like any good story “The Hobbit” often comes to mind when I am in some creative outdoor setting.

This past weekend I joined my friend Jo McAvany and four costumed friends at a cold waterfall surrounded by ice and snow. My main job was to move the large wireless flash around, but I was able the get some photographs of our subjects when they were not posing for the planned portraits. I wasn’t especially trying for anything in particular, mostly just some outtakes that included Jo directing and photographing people.

Most of my photos were not shot with that flash. I was using a 70-200mm and a 24-70mm. I would set the light up for the person Jo was photographing and either wait for someone to randomly look at me or quickly choose a place where I could get a good shot.

I wasn’t expecting much, just some usable individual photos that were different than Jo’s that she could add to those she was giving to her friends.

“My imagination take over”

When I loaded my photos on my computer and selected those I would edit to pass on to Jo I began to see characters that could fit in Tolkien’s wonderful tale. In my imagination I saw water sprites, fairy queens, elves, and wandering heroes. Gosh, there was even the mysterious Tom Bobadil standing in the white snow in front of raging falls with soft green backgrounds and foreboding rock walls.

I didn’t see any of that when I was trudging through the snow and cautiously testing my footing on the slippery ice beside the turbulent icy water when I was photographing our models. Nevertheless, there the story of the Hobbit was as I looked at the images on my computer display. All I had to do was employ some creative and subtle editing to bring the story to life.

Philosopher, writer and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing Pumpkins

 

Halloween is on its way. It’s usually a fun time with costumes, candy, spooky displays, parties and more candy.

This year will probably be a bit calmer and in some places maybe not at all.

Talking with my friend Jo and her husband Shaun. We thought it might be fun to have our own get together. Our safe “Bubble” for Halloween will be Jo, Shaun, their two children, probably our friend Drew and me.

What do we need for party decorations? Well to begin with pumpkins.

That meant a short hour and a half road trip to the town of Ashcroft and a visit to the huge Desert Hills Ranch farm market. I was sure that Desert Hills would not only be a great place to get pumpkins, but also a place that would be packed with photo opportunities, and if we went mid-week we would miss the crowds and be much safer during this blasted and darned inconvenient pandemic.

Jo chose to bring the versatile Nikon 28-300mm lens and, as usual, I mounted my 24-70mm on my camera.

The Desert Hills staff had made acres of different displays using pumpkins that presented endless photo opportunities. Upon arrival I got out of my truck and immediately wandered off pressing my camera’s shutter.

Jo was more goal oriented and headed to the large tents filled with vegetables and grabbed a wagon to fill. I eventually caught up and easily talked Jo’s photogenic children, Emit and Evinn, into running, pulling the wagon, and posing in front of the displays.

I put three big pumpkins in one of the wagons Jo had filled with all sorts’ of fresh vegetables, parked it in the shade and continued on with my photographic adventure.

We were only there for a little more than two hours, but I could have stayed all day. There was so much to photograph and the October pumpkin theme was fun, creative and addictive…I didn’t want to stop taking pictures.

American Photographer Annie Leibovitz once wrote, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

It was a good day for photography, not to hot and a good combination of sun and high clouds that held back that photo ruining harsh contrast.

As we had hoped, there weren’t a lot of people there. That gave Jo and I lots of room to do photography and it also wasn’t at all dangerous for Emit and Evinn to run around anywhere they wanted.

I’ll slowly go through my image files from that day and convert some into black and white. Black and white Pumpkins look good.

I think, even in this confusing and disturbing time we are struggling through, that there are excellent opportunities for creative and interesting photography. Now that our Desert Hill Ranch Market trip is past and the images are safely waiting on my computer for me to get inventive and imaginative with, I am wondering what I should plan for next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography at any age.

 I think the first camera that I could call my own was a Kodak easy-load 126 cartridge film Instamatic in the early 1960s.   I received that simple plastic Instamatic “snapshot” camera (that had no adjustments other than the setting for flash cubs and one for natural light photographs) in the sixth grade and saved money I earned at odd jobs to buy the 20 shot cartridges. 

It was so much easier to use than my parent’s awkward folding camera. All one had to do was point and shoot. Sure some shots were over exposed, some were under exposed and there were the expected blurry photos because the subject was moving to fast or because of camera shake, but I didn’t really care I just wanted a picture to remember. 

I’d take my film to a drive-through Fotomat kiosk located in a nearby shopping center parking lot and return the next day for an envelope filled with pictures that I would glue in a photo album.  

I still have a couple tattered old albums with wavy edged 4X6 inch, unglued photos stuffed between the pages because the little black adhesive corners became useless many years ago.

I thought about all that as I sat watching Jo’s five-year-old daughter walk around my yard with a modern DSLR I gave her to use so she could take pictures like her photographer mother. 

This was Evinn’s first chance at being left alone to make pictures with a big camera. She is always joining her mother for photo sessions, so all I had to do was set the camera on P mode. Put the zoom focal length at 18mm and show her where the shutter release is on the camera…then step away as she pointed the camera just like mom. 

We wandered around and she photographed anything that caught her eye.  (There must be 50 or so exposures of Bailin the cat)   When her mother returned they sat on the porch and scrolled through the pictures on the LCD.   That instant reinforcement is great for building confidence and creating a young artist. Even at five years old.

I saved her 198 images in a file on my computer and will transfer the file to Jo’s computer so Evinn can look at the pictures she made again.  I will also go through her files with her and pick out a couple to make 8X10 prints she can show to people.

 Gosh, modern digital cameras are so much better and way easier to use than those old film cameras, especially for a child.  The cost alone would scare a parent away from getting a camera for their young son or daughter.  

Photo By Evinn
Dad and Emit

Photography as an Art

Ever since I became interested in photography there has been this discussion that photography isn’t really a true Art.  Sure everyone thinks photographers are creative, but is a Photographer an artist in the same way as a Painter or Sculpture is?

Some years ago I was asked to give a talk on “Photography as Art” to the local chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists.  I had been talking with a couple chapter members and had “aggressively” vocalised my displeasure when someone said they didn’t think anyone but painters were serious artists.  A couple of days later I got a call asking me to give a talk at their meeting.

There used to be an Arts organization that held a yearly “Festival of the Arts”.  They said that the festival was for all types of artists, but the judges usually thought little of photographers and showed it in the way they gave out their ribbons for excellence. 

For years it was usually painters that I would argue with when they said that because photographers relied on technology photography wasn’t a true art. And if that isn’t enough to bother those of us dedicated to the Art of Photography, this week I was told by a photographer that only used film say that those using digital cameras weren’t true photographers. (I have herd that before) 

I suppose there will always be those that will be quick to criticize anything new. I can imagine some ancient Egyptian that grew up carving figures into stone with a stone chisel thinking that young guy with those newfangled finger paints shouldn’t be decorating pyramids. 

When I discovered the enjoyment of photography I was hooked. Over my college years I had taken all sorts of courses in Fine Arts. But when I took my first classes in photography everything changed for me.  There was the ever-evolving technology of the camera and lenses. There were all the different types of film and chemicals and there were enlargers and printmaking. It was all so new.

I had learned about light and shadow in painting classes, but with photography understanding and using light was so much more real.  There was natural light and there was electronic flash. Flash excited me the most. (And still does)  

Then after about forty years of using film photography equipment, Digital cameras appeared and photography again changed for me as my creative opportunities exploded far beyond anything I could imagine.

When I would explain Photography as an Art to a painter I would discuss techniques that would relate to making an image that would make sense to someone that applied paint to a canvas.  I remember a fellow saying, “Painters don’t talk about the equipment they use like photographers do”.   My response to that is, “so what?” and “gosh, that’s too bad its so much fun.”

With regards to that photographer that thinks film is the true way to create a photograph I began by saying that most of the time I use my digital camera the same way he would use his old film camera.  However, he must choose different kinds of film, paper and chemicals to create some special effect, whereas I not only have an amazing sensor that can record more information than his film, I also have a computer and specialized programs that allows me way more control over detail and subject tonality than his film and chemicals ever will. 

I mentioned that if he wanted to make a print to sell or he wanted a photograph that his grandchildren could enjoy he would be limited to a Black & White image so he could “double fix” it for preservation.  A colour print would need to be handled carefully and kept out of direct sunlight or it will fade.   I use a pigment printer that is not uncommon no days and so much more environmentally friendly than film and film chemicals – that ink based image will also allow me to display the photography in direct sunlight for close to a hundred years.

Digital technology has made photography much more available for those that want to document their world. (Without damaging the environment I might add)  And for those of us that enjoy creating personal statement photography and love the opportunity of the growth this exciting technology offers, Photography is the perfect medium.

Spring Pond

 

I finally got a chance to visit the local pond.   

The day was perfect with a slight overcast and the morning breeze had finally died down. I had been stacking lumber from the deck I have been dismantling all morning and decided a rest and trip to the pond was in order.

After stopping to check that my exposure was good, setting my 150-600mm lens to 600mm and placing it on the bean bag I had resting on the open window I slowly drove along the pond to a spot that gave me a good view of one of the geese families.   

I prefer shutter-priority for this kind of shooting. That’s the S mode for Nikon and TV for Canon.  With shutter-priority I select the shutterspeed and the camera choses the aperture.  I follow that old photographer’s “rule” that advises to always choose a shutterspeed that matches, or is a larger number than the longest focal length of the lens to reduce camera shake.  I only change to Manual  mode if I want to decrease the depth of field with a wide aperture for a tight portrait shot with an out of focus background of a single bird.

I have tried all sorts of contraptions to help me keep my camera from moving when I am shooting from a car.  There are vices that connect the camera to the window, extensions with tripod heads that will fit tightly from the driver’s door to the passenger door, tiny tripods, and steering wheel holders.

I even set up a tripod that had one leg on the floor, another under my left arm and the last extended out the passenger side window.  

There are more creative devices available that I am sure will work, but the most successful for me has been a beanbag that I set on open car window. (Or like the one I use that is filled with rice) 

I have two “beanbag” supports that permanently reside with my tripod and a couple monopods (oh and an umbrella) in the trunk of my car.  

The geese weren’t too spooky on the quiet morning and only one car passed as I was waiting for the geese and goslings to wind their way down to the water 

I stayed until the two families paddled their way to the far side of the pond, then moved to see it there were any turtles sunning themselves on the dead tree that has been laying half submerged for the past forty years I have been visiting that pond.  There were only three or four, but the day was cool and I’m sure that old tree will be covered with all sizes of turtles when it gets sunny and hot.

There are a couple more small ponds that I plan on visiting in the next few weeks, It’s always fun to get out the long lens and photograph the critters that live there.

Close-up photos in the last snow of February

I was darned happy when I got up and looked outside on the last morning in February. 

There was two inches of snow covering my yard and the temperature was just touching the freezing mark.  Oh, and it was Sunday and I had nothing that I was supposed to do but enjoy February 28th.

The morning had a slight overcast and there was a faint breeze. I thought the breeze might be bothersome, but the overcast was the ideal condition for photographing my garden. I mounted my large wireless flash on a sturdy light stand. That flash would give me control over subject brightness and direction of the light and allow me do reduce background light. Additionally, the flash stopped the movement caused by that slight breeze. 

I rarely walk out in my garden with a plan. I just wander and photograph whatever catches my attention. On this day the snow clinging to plants and rocks and other objects that reside in my garden created the perfect subjects.

I’ll mention that my sprawling garden isn’t just a place where plants grow. My garden is also a place that contains things I have found. Plants climb over old chairs, stepladders, wooden wheels, pieces of fence, old doors and windows, and many other discarded objects that I think might be fun to photograph along with the plants.

Regular readers know that I employ a flash whenever I can.  Using a flash means I choose the direction of the light that touches my subject. And as I just mentioned, a flash allows me to determine the brightness of the subject and the environment it’s in. 

Natural light is so restricting and if I didn’t have a flash I wouldn’t have bothered trying to be creative on that breezy, flat, overcast morning.  However, all I had to do was choose my subject, underexpose by two or more stops, position the flash so the direction of the light is where I want it and push the shutter.  (If my subject is to bright or the direction of light isn’t good I move the flash and try it again.) I usually test more than one aperture depending on the background and what depth of-field works best.  Lenses that are designed for close-up photography usually produce a pleasing bokeh and don’t always need the widest aperture.

For those that don’t know what “Bokeh” means, Wikipedia’s definition is. “Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image

For me, there really aren’t any rules for close-up garden subjects other than keep the camera steady and the center of interest sharp. And regarding the photos we can find in a snowy End-of-February (or March) garden I’ll finish this with a quote by the English novelist William Thackeray, 

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

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Photography in the month of February

The month of February has been darned cold, wait, I think uncomfortably cold is a better word choice. Despite that, I have spent a lot of my time out walking around.

The days have been bright, painfully bright for me in fact. I have been experiencing a new and colourful world this month.  For the last few years everything I saw has had a warm brown tinge, colours were not brilliant, shadows lacked detail, and it was never very bright.  Even the correct calibration on my computer’s display always looked dim.

Two weeks ago I had my final cataract surgery. (That’s both eyes now) and the world is bright and colourful, and I can’t get enough of it.   My camera’s new storage location is on my kitchen table to be always ready when I want to rush outside. I must admit that many of my photos in the last couple weeks are of nothing more than shadows or colours along the road that I didn’t see before, but I am having fun. 

This past week my friend Jo called and said she had to go to the small town of Falkland and asked if I wanted to get my IR camera and go with her.  The day was cloudless, sunny, very cold and, of course, perfect for photography. 

Fortunately she wasn’t in a hurry, because I kept making her stop so I could photograph everything. Its not that I haven’t taken that forty-plus-minute drive to Falkland a thousand times before in all kind of weather. But I had forgotten how colourful it was.

We stopped to photograph at a quiet roadside church in Westwold, a small community that borders the road along the way.   It was the middle of the week and the snow on the pathway wasn’t even disturbed. I think churches are struggling with the pandemic lockdown.

The church was an excellent subject. Although not very distinctive with it’s non-descript wooden walls. But there are trees near it and hills in the background and I wanted to work with the IR to get strong contrast, luminous trees, a black sky and the white window edging and stark white cross would glow with the reflecting infrared conversion.

That was in the late morning. We continued on to Falkland so Jo could talk with a dog breeder for her Mastiff and I had plenty of time to wander through the trees along a frozen stream.

Before we returned we stopped at the Falkland Pub for a late lunch. I have never been in that place before, its parking lot is usually full of pickup trucks in the winter and any day in the summer one will carefully need to wind their way through rows of Harley Davidsons. But on this day there was only one car and when we went in the human total was only seven including the waitress (That’s a sign of the times I guess) Nevertheless, it was a welcoming place with music and the lunch with beer was good.

The afternoon light had changed and we stopped again at the Westwold church. There were a few more shadows and a slight breeze. Brrr…I didn’t stay for long.

Never mind the cold, the weather will change again soon and all of us that like wandering with our cameras will continue to have fun photographing the changes that happen.

I’m being forced to finish this article. My two cats that are normally running around outside are not very pleased with the drop in temperature and have been staying in the house. Now, at the end of the day they are full of energy and have decided a good place to play is between my computer display and me and after all the running and jumping outbursts are stopping to sit on the keyboard and demand attention.

A good hobby for this lonely and frustrating

Gosh, the provincial government is asking us to restrict our movements and converging with people we know. I am not complaining, not at all…I’m sure we will look back on this frustrating time and know that everything has been for the best, but gosh.

Today the sun came out and I decided it was a good time to go out for a few photos. I have been wandering around my yard trying to get creative everyday in spite of the cold overcast, flat lighting. However, my success rate has been going down.  I suppose I’m getting tired of photographing in the same dim flat light.  I have been waiting for a weather change, any change. Rain, snow, fog or as today, some sun poking through the clouds.

I grabbed my camera with a plan to stroll down the street to photograph things poking through the snow, but when I got as far as my gate then realized my choice of camera and macro lens was wrong.  I ran back in and got my infrared camera with a 20-40mm.

I could see the light at the end of the road was illuminating the trees and thought this would be a good time to (again) photograph that old car the neighbours moved down by their driveway. 
I was glad I had decided to use my IR camera. I have photographed that car many times and after my drab week I needed the creative push that Infrared and the 20-40mm lens gave me.  I don’t know those neighbours and always stay outside their fence, but I can still get creative with different lenses without trespassing.

The light started to change so I walked back home, got my 70-200mm in case I saw any wildlife, stuck a CD titled, “Big Band Christmas” in the car player and drove up the road following the light.

The only wildlife I saw were cows in a field and a dog that barked at me to keep moving as I slowly drove past his property.  I don’t have a dog anymore, but if someone walks on my property two geese and seven ducks will loudly, very loudly, give them their opinion.

I was able to get some great shots of field with hills and clouds in the distance and I stopped many times to just shoot down the tree lined road.

I keep saying that photography is one of the best hobbies one could have in this precarious time.  And for someone that is alone the creative hunt for pleasing photographs absolutely wards off the depression that I understand some people are experiencing.

I’ll finish this with a quote from a documentary photographer I read about. Alec Sloth is known for his photography of small midwestern rural communities.  

“Photography is a very lonely medium. There’s a kind of beautiful loneliness in voyeurism. And that’s why I’m a photographer”

Photographing Halloween witches    

October is the month of witches and ghosts and all things spooky. So when my friend Jo McAvany showed me a photo of a witch posing in the woods and said, “I want to do something like that, but with lots of witches” my enthusiastic reply was “great, what can I do to help”.

Jo started texting her friends asking them to wear spooky makeup and get black outfits that would fit the witchy theme and we made plans for where and how the photograph should be made.

Jo’s idea was to have a coven type scene and thought that including one male amongst the witches would be a good idea.

That would be closest to the writings of Margaret Murray in her 1921 work, “The Witch Cult in Western Europe”. According to her a coven consists of twelve witches and a devil as leader. A Coven is a group in which witches gather.

We didn’t get our twelve witches, but Jo was happy that there were eight women were willing to get dressed in black and make time to be photographed as witches.

I brought speedlights on stands and Jo had a flash trigger on her camera. We originally had the idea to place one flash behind, but one flash wasn’t enough to illuminate everyone so we decided to use only two lights form the front. One placed was off to the side and another directly behind Jo with her camera. However, with many of the shots Jo just cranked the ISO and shot with the fading natural light.

For the later after dark photos where the only light was coming from witches holding candles we didn’t use a flash at all.

Jo did start by trying both a 14-24mm and 24-70mm, but ended up using the longer 70-200mm lens for most of her shots.

I mostly was moving the lights around and making sure they were connecting to the sender. I also wanted to take a few photographs of the participants getting ready and of Jo taking the group photos.

I did take some after dark photos of the witches holding candles on the beach. I used my 24-70mm.

Jo invited another photographer, Bob Clark, to join us.  Bob showed up just as we were finishing, grabbed a light stand, put his flash on it, and whisked some witches off into the dark treed area to take pictures.

The photo session was defiantly a success with some good photos for all the participants to have. Everyone had worked hard to make the witchy Halloween theme.

I am thinking the group photo might make a good Halloween greeting card. Greeting card? Sure, send a friend a card that says, “Have a happy Halloween”.

Next time I want to use a lot more flashes and maybe have coloured gels. I might set some flashes out in my yard next week and try some lighting ideas. Now if I can just find a tiny witches hat and get one of my chickens to sit still while wearing it.

Fall Garden Photos

 

In spite of the chokingly thick, monochromatic, overpowering smoke that is pushing it’s way up from California, Oregon and Washington I can still see that the colours are changing with the coming of fall here in BC.

It has been so hot and dry for the last month that most of the plants are looking rather water starved. I decided this morning was the time to take my camera out in the garden before everything changes again. The first day of Fall is Tuesday September 22nd.

I grabbed my camera, mounted my 70-180mm macro lens on it, placed an off-camera flash trigger on top and put my flash in my jacket pocket.

Even with the murky grey haze there was enough sunlight hacking it’s way through to take pictures without my having to increase my camera’s ISO over 400.

I usually like to have a tripod and even a stand for my light, but this time I thought a leisurely stroll around the yard would be fun.

The Fall garden is so different to photograph than the Spring garden. Spring is so easy with its fresh deep colours and new growth that leaves nothing to the imagination, whereas the Fall garden demands so much of a photographer’s imagination.

It’s the colour and shape that I look for.   Well… maybe more the shape.

English Renaissance statesman and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “There ought to be gardens for all months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may be then in season.”

I like that quote, His words fit in with how I see my garden. It always is, in every season, a place that I like to walk through and photograph.

Sometimes I get out my backdrop, tripod, lights and lightstands. But this time I just wanted to see what I could find. It had been a lazy morning and I suppose I wasn’t as serious about getting creative images, and I know hand holding a camera for macro photos rarely produces images as sharp as when one uses a tripod. Nevertheless, I thought I should at least photograph some of the yellow leaves and as long as I could keep my shutterspeed up I would reduce camera shake.

I had been working in my garden for the last several days and kept thinking that I should spend some time with my camera. I actually haven’t been working “on my garden” just in it. I have the first 20 of about 30 boards on sawhorses that I brushed sealer brushed on. I decided this would be the summer to put a roof on the last part of my deck. I cut down a couple trees to use as posts and built the roof, now I just have the 14X14 foot ceiling to finish. Then I will be able to sit comfortably rain or shine and enjoy the cool Autumn days.

The days are changing fast and this may be the last chance I get to photograph the garden before its next seasonal change. The weather report predicted much needed rain and as I write I think I can hear it starting, and if it keeps up most of the night I think it might be worth my time to go out with my camera again in the morning. There is always another opportunity for photos in that ever-changing garden.