Photographing the seafront

 

Last week I wrote about photographing the waterfalls at Whatcom Park. I also mentioned that Jo and I took some time after spending most of the day at the park to visit the waterfront.

When one lives in the British Columbia’s dry mountainous interior a trip to the ocean is always stimulating. Sure we have a big wide river where I live, but there are no large ocean going ships, big fishing boats or air that smells of saltwater. Oh, and Jo doesn’t get to spend time wandering the beach looking for seashells.

The coast along the large city of Bellingham is well built up with marinas, people packed piers and buildings of all sorts that makes it perfect for someone meandering with a camera that wants to experience the city’s seafront.

We drove around a lot trying to find places on the map. Some of the streets began with one name and suddenly change to another, and Google maps seemed to be for another planet. However, my “car-rule” is to always stop when something looks like it should be photographed. The driving isn’t as important as the picture.

I used my 24-70mm for everything and Jo stayed with the 28-300mm. There is always the temptation to carry every lens you own, but I think it’s best and easier when one is visiting a new place to stick with just one lens.

When we arrived we chanced on an area that was in the process of being redone. There are old brick buildings and some tall metal structures that look like they must have been for some kind of storage still standing, but it was obvious that the large area was under some kind of massive renovation.

I met a fellow from Idaho who told me that part of the coast park renovation will include a bicycle park and some of the old brick buildings will be for retail and some for art. He walked with me as I photographed a sailboat moored near some buildings, the remnants of a pier and a strange giant metal ball that he said was once a storage tank that is now a sculpture called the Acid Ball.

After leaving the waterfalls we eventually found the long metal pier that extends along Bellingham Bay that was packed with photo opportunities. Men and women with long poles catching crabs, kids jumping off it into the ocean, boats of all kinds, people that I’ll bet were from all over the world, and also, to Jo’s delight, a small sandy beach to hunt seashells.

It is fun visiting places with the goal in mind to take photographs. I suppose now days most people have their tiny cell phones to grab memories with, but in my opinion, having a DSLR with different focal length lenses, a tripod, and an assortment of filters and the knowledge serious photographers have to have to use all that equipment is a prescription to get creative.

Bellingham was a grand photographic adventure that I might just repeat some day. That park was an exciting find and photographing the coast was a pleasant way to spend our last afternoon and night in that busy city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography trip to Whatcom Falls Park.    

 

When most of us that live in British Columbia think of Bellingham Washington it’s usually about the shopping. Bellingham is the closest major US city that we can drive to for better prices on just about everything. Filling up our cars, buying clothing, food and dairy products to name a few items are still less expensive than here in Canada.

Some years ago I stopped overnight on my way back from my annual sojourn to the Anacortes Shipwreck festival and while out to supper I noticed a flyer with the words “Things to do in Bellingham”. Browsing through I noticed it mentioned a place called Whatcom Falls Park.

There are lots of waterfalls in British Columbia so that shouldn’t have been a big deal. However, what grabbed my attention was a picture of a stone bridge with a waterfall behind it. I have always been intrigued with the many stone structures built in the 1930s by the WPA (Work Projects Administration). I remember my father pointing out stone bridges and walls along mountain highways and talking about how the government employed men needing work during the Great Depression.

I have wanted to go back to Bellingham for an overnighter so I could have plenty of time to photograph that wonderful stone bridge and the park’s waterfalls. When I mentioned to my friend Jo that I wanted to go there this summer her excited response “Lets go” was all I needed.

I booked two nights at a hotel that included breakfast and we headed off to cross the border to Bellingham to photograph Whatcom Park and the city’s waterfront.

We had a lazy morning and arrived around 9:30 to an almost empty park and were so excited that we ran down the wide dirt walkway to the bridge. Gosh, what a beautiful place.

The park was only a fifteen-minute drive from our hotel and we were surprised to find that the stone bridge and falls that were only a couple minutes walk from the parking lot.

We photographed from the bridge then climbed down the well-worn trails under the bridge so we could take photographs at the base of the falls.

Creatively photographing waterfalls is pretty easy and the long exposures that are popular with water are no big deal.   All one needs is a good camera, a sturdy tripod, and some ND filters. I shot with my trusty 24-70mm and Jo used both a 28-300mm and 14-24mm.

There were two waterfalls, the large and impressive one near the stone bridge and a smaller more intimate one just up the creek a bit. We photographed both of them trying different exposures and filters.

My favourites are square filters that I hold in front of the lens as I make the time exposure. I prefer to hold the filter and slightly shake it up and down so any marks on them won’t be visible.

We stayed at the park way past noon and sat in my car talking for a while before leaving to check out the coast.

What a fun way to spend a weekend.

The best word I could use to describe how that colourful park seemed is “magical”.

I didn’t want to disturb anything and even though there were sounds of happy people coming from all around, everything became quiet when I looked through my camera.

I found this quote by American photographer Diane Arbus that perfectly describes the way Jo and I felt as we each pushed the shutter.

“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.”

Try something different from the usual vacation photos.  

 

I hadn’t picked up my infrared camera since spring, and it was a last minute addition when I was loading the car for my trip to the Washington coast.

Now as I sort through the pictures I took on my short four-day junket I am glad I did.

The low, late afternoon coastal light is great for infrared. The trees become an iridescent white, the sky a deep black and anything painted a light colour glows.

I suppose most of the pictures one takes on vacation are little more than documents of the places visited and end up filed away in hopes that future generations will eventually find the volumes of unmarked computer files and excitedly relive the experience.

Somehow I doubt that actually happens very much.

Just as the closet full of boxed slides from the film generation will likely be discarded when age forces them to downsize, I expect the terabytes of image files stored on memory cards, cell phones and the illusive cloud will follow a similar fate.

I don’t have an answer to that, I guess what will be will be. However, modern digital technology at least allows us to be a bit more creative with the images that come out of our cameras. I don’t know if the memories they retain will last any longer than I will when I am just dusty ashes in some old jar, but what the heck, if anyone does take the time to look through the volumes of photographs I leave I am sure they won’t be bored because very few of my vacation photos fit easily under the heading, “document”.

My vacations, for many years have centered around my interest in photography. My wife used to call them “photo vacations” because everywhere we visited and everything we did when traveling revolved around taking the time to get creative with our cameras.

Now with modern digital technology that creative photography is not only “during the excursion” but goes on for many enjoyable hours at the computer when all the gear has been put away at home and the trip is only memories.

Enter infrared.

Infrared files are waiting to be manipulated. In my opinion the need to preserve or enhance the beauty of what was experienced on one’s latest adventure doesn’t apply. Infrared is a different light and different statement about the world we experience.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling for me. When I discussed my infrared photos last May I wrote that when I see a black and white photograph it makes me think about how a subject looks in a particular light and the mood it creates.

Infrared makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject.

The pictures one makes with an IR camera are always an exploration, a discovery, and are very different from the usual vacation photos.

Scenic photography on Fidalgo Island        

Last week was my second article about my trip to the coast. I wrote that there were three very different photographic opportunities that I took advantage of on my four-day stay, the street photography during the festival, the architectural photography on a quiet Sunday morning and the scenic photography.

Jo and I wandered the beaches early in the morning. Walked along wooded paths during the day. Climbed the rock-covered breakwater beside a deteriorating wreck in the afternoon, and stood on a darkened pier at night.

We trudged to each location carrying equipment filled backpacks with tripods on our shoulders talking about, and making decisions concerning the photographs we would take.

As I sat down in the sand that first afternoon I thought about how hard it is for most people to do photography with me. Jumping out of the car, running to a view point, taking a picture, then jumping back in the car and driving to the next view is not my style.

I have to think, ponder and sit for a while. I am never in a hurry when it comes to scenic photographs. I have a need to experience the place. And, of course, I like to use a tripod.

On this trip we had my new 14-24mm and 28-300mm lenses to try out.

I have never been a fan of really wide photos, so using the 14mm was quite an experience. I purchased a 150mm polarizing filter and filter holder for that wide lens, and although that seemed to be a good setup the protruding front lens glass is vignetted by the filter holder resulting in a disappointing 19mm view.

The 28-300mm was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to like it after trying it in a dimly lighted studio. In the studio it had a hard time finding focus. However, I think the problem might be the lack of contrast in the studio because in that bright coastal light I was stopping birds in flight and getting sharp, colourful pictures.

I’ll hang on to both lenses. Like cameras, they are just tools and not every tool fits every job.

I had visited most of the places we photographed many time before. But all I have to do to make them different from past years is to place my tripod in a new location, crop my view and change the center of interest.

Even after all the years going there I still don’t have a favourite place, Although there are locations that I like to stop at depending on the time of day.

I always choose Cap Sante Park with its high lookout over Anacortes when I first arrive. During the day there are several rocky beaches that are waiting to be re-explored and photographed, and I always make time to walk out on the high Deception Park Bridge for a photo of the Deception Pass as it connects with the sea.

The evenings usually find me in Washington Park photographing both the leaning tree (it was still alive when I started visiting in the mid 1990s) that hangs out over the sea, and the island filled ocean from a high lookout as we complete the parks winding ring road on the way back to the city center.

The best place to stand a tripod after dark is the beachside Seafarers Park for a long exposure night photograph across Fidalgo bay of the Marathon refinery’s lights.

I do enjoy my yearly excursions to Anacortes and plan on many more. I was having dinner with several people this past week and was asked about my trip to the coast. And as with many times before I talked about what I did, but I didn’t have any photographs to make clear as to why I return there year after year.

The famous American scenic photographer, Ansel Adams, explained it best when he said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

Photography on a quiet Sunday morning     

 

Saturday’s Shipwreck festival in the seaside town of Anacortes was a hive of activity.

I won’t begin to guess how many people there were, but I didn’t have much of a chance to include the architecture of that coastal town in the midst of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. I understand the population in that area may be over 16,000 and if one of the many store-keeps I met had said, “everyone’s here” I probably would have believed them.

From what I have read, a railroad surveyor named Amos Bowman moved his family to the northern tip of Fidalgo Island in 1877 and promoted the area as a terminus for the Northern Pacific Railway that was being built to the Pacific ocean. The name “Anacortes” is an adaptation his wife’s name, Anne Curtis Bowman.

Jo and I had chosen to spend another day. And as we sat on the beach watching the sun slowly sink into the ocean after the busy festival we decided that an early morning stroll through the town would be fun.

Sunday mornings at 8:30AM in most towns and cities allow photographers ample opportunity to stand almost anywhere to take pictures. Traffic is usually sparse and slow moving so standing in or walking across the street is pretty safe.

The day had clear blue skies and strong shadows that made for some creative architectural photography.

Jo was using a 14-24mm lens and I had my 24-70mm. Both our cameras are full frame so we could capture some very wide photos as we wandered back and forth totally intent on the buildings around us.

I noticed a couple walk out of a street side coffee shop and just before the woman got in the car she stopped to hold her cell phone at arm’s length to take a picture of the big arch over the street that said, “Thanks for visiting Downtown Anacortes”. I thought good for her and stepped into the street and made one of the few wide town photos I took that day. Most of my shots were closer and cropped tightly on the buildings I was photographing.

It’s fun looking at the designs and different types of construction that buildings have. I don’t know the history of how Anacortes grew, but there are all kinds of styles. Some, I have no doubt, are turn of the century.

I like the photographic opportunities that costal town offers me, the street photography during the festival, the architectural photography, the scenic photography of the wooded areas close to ocean and, yep, the beautiful beaches.

We spent four days having a great time pointing our cameras at anything and every thing. I will say that I was a bit worried last year that Jo would get bored when she asked me if she could come with me on my annual Shipwreck Festival pilgrimage, but she didn’t and there was no way under the sun that she was getting left behind this year, so there we were having the best of times on the coast of Washington for a second year. Its now only three weeks past and we are already talking about next year.

What is better than fresh seafood, a giant street market filled with treasures, sitting on the beach watching the sun sink into the ocean and, of course, four days of unrestricted photography. Hmmm…not much that I can think of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A photographer’s holiday at the Shipwreck festival      

 

Each year the month of July brings two of my favourite photography events.

The first is the Pritchard Rodeo and the second is the Anacortes Shipwreck Festival. Gosh, what an exciting month July is for photography.

The preceding week had been cool and a bit rainy on the Washington coast, but when we reached the festival my friend Jo and I were met with a warm day that had just enough clouds in the sky to make it comfortable to walk around the 9 block street market filled with 400 interesting booths.

We had arrived in the town of Anacortes at the tip of Fidalgo Island after a pleasant drive the day before the annual Shipwreck Festival.

The locals say that the Shipwreck Festival began thirty-eight years ago when fishermen sold their used gear on the town’s main street. Since then the event has evolved into a giant garage sale/flea market that includes vendors that seem to be from as far away as Mexico.

Last year I wrote, “Whew, what a day. We saw, we touched, we photographed, and we talked to people from 9AM to 3PM. Then we stepped into a popular Commercial Avenue Alehouse called the Brown Lantern for a late lunch and I gladly got to rest my tired legs. I am sure Jo will recommend the crab and corn chowder she ate and I agree that both my food and the two beers I drank were the refuelling I needed.”

Well I can write that again this year, we again got to see, touch and even purchase unusual treasures, and I had a fun time photographing people on the crowded street.

Jo got to have that bowl of the crab & corn chowder she had been dreaming about since last July and I enjoyed two very dark beers while I rested my old legs. Then just as last year we were off for another look around and a few more pictures of the crowded street of happy bargain hunters.

I do like the treasure shopping as much as anyone, but watching the people and photographing everything on that island is what brings me back each year.

I have tried different cameras. When I first came in mid-1990s I used a Nikon F3 film camera. Then when digital arrived I used several different DSLRs until last year when I changed to a tiny Nikon 1 mirrorless.

What I like about the (recently discontinued) little interchangeable lens camera is it’s small size and quick focusing. I carry it in an old army bag that allows me to pull it out fast for street photos without getting attention from those around me.

The Nikon 1 doesn’t have the large higher quality sensors of the big and more expensive mirrorless cameras like the Fuji or Sony, but like any other tool that one might select for a specific job the little Nikon is great for the internet or even 8X10 prints.

This was the kind of vacation trip that I like, wandering the Shipwreck festival looking for treasures, (I bought a handmade flit blade knife) doing photography on the crowded avenue, meeting new people and getting to eat fresh seafood at local restaurants. All less than a day’s drive to from the very different environment where I live.

Photographing the 2019 Pritchard Rodeo  

 

Jo and I were comfortably positioned along the rail at 1PM ready for the first bronco-riding event. I had my camera set at ISO400 so I could get reasonable depth of field and be able to use the Shutter Priority Mode with a 1/500th of a second to stop the action.

Both of us were using 70-200mm lenses. There are longer focal lengths available and I was asked this week if I ever tried my 150-600mm. I haven’t used that lens at a rodeo, but I did shoot some years ago with a 150-500. It was pretty good and brought the action so darned close. But the rodeo grounds aren’t that big and I like the 70-200mm. It’s light, not that big, handholdable and delivers great quality.

I have mentioned before that I like photographing any kind of action and especially the rodeo that is only a few minutes drive from my home in Pritchard. I always look forward to standing there along side other photographers that, like me, enjoy capturing the fast moving test of wills between animals and riders. Photographing any action filled competition is fun and there’s always lots of action at a rodeo.

My favourite events are the bronc and bull riders. I like the fast moving explosive action that moves uncontrollably across the arena.

I always try to get that first moment, especially with the bull riders. There is so much happening when the gate is opened and bull, rider, and all the faces behind those two show the excitement. I continue to follow the activity to capture that perfect moment that shows the athletic prowess of the rider. However, I must admit my favourite photos are those that show the rider getting thrown through the air. Sure I feel for them and never like it when someone looses or gets hurt, but it’s that explosive moment when everything in moving at it’s own speed, in its own direction, that tells the exciting and dangerous story for me.

This hometown rodeo is darned convenient and really accessible without restrictions placed on ringside photographers, and it’s easy for participants to get quality photographs of themselves that can be made into wall prints just by asking any one of the many people with a camera standing along the rail.

For those new to rodeos or even photographing action, put a rodeo on your bucket list to attend, it’s a friendly and an easy place to practice and experiment.