Light the Portrait workshop        

 

 

This past weekend I lead the first day of a workshop titled “Light the Portrait”. My goal during the two sessions was to help photographers understand how to use light, indoors or out, when they photograph people.

Fear-of-Flash has always been a topic of discussion for photographers photographing weddings, and portraits both indoors and out.

American photographer and author of the Strobist.com blog David Hobby said,  “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist.”  He continues, ” What I hear is, I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it.”

It’s with those words that I began the workshop that would discuss using both studio lights and speed lights. Adding that personally, I always use a flash when I make a portrait of someone inside or outside. I don’t care if the ambient light is bright or dim.

My goal is to not only help photographers gain an understanding of off-camera lighting, but to also convince them that using flash will separate their photography from those that rely on natural or as I prefer calling it, “ambient light”.

The first session was about the big studio lights and accompanying light modifiers like, umbrellas, softboxes and reflectors, to name a few we employed during the day.

Those of us in Kamloops British Columbia are fortunate to have a local portrait studio that is not only large enough for a class, but also is packed with all sorts of lighting equipment, backdrops and change rooms for models. The portrait studio, Versatile Studio, also comes complete with a kitchen and dining area. And there are all sorts of props for posing.  All I needed to do was write up my lesson plan, print some handouts, book the studio, hire a model and show up in time to start leading participants into the exciting world of off-camera lighting.

I enjoy leading; I like that word better than “teaching”. I know to teach “is to show or explain to people how to do something”, but most of those that attend know a lot about photography and have already been shooting portraits for some time. All I need to do is build a bridge for them between what they already know and what I am presenting.  And as I stand with them in the studio/classroom I get watch that quick tightening of shoulders, widening of eyes and smiles when they suddenly get it. When that happens I can’t help but smile too.

Well, the first day is over and, as usual, they tired me out. However, I am already looking forward to next week with those enthusiastic photographers (and our energetic model). I wonder if I should begin next week’s session with the words of legendary filmmaker from the 1920s, D.W. Griffith. “Lights camera action”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Camera Show and Swap Meet     

 

 

There wasn’t a better way to end this year’s dry, hot, smoke filled summer than hanging out in a large air-conditioned hall filled with cameras and other camera enthusiasts.

The year-end Vancouver Camera show and Swap meet was on the first Sunday in October and, of course, I was there!

I had convinced my friend Laurie Patmore to join me for the big camera sale. Actually it didn’t really take much convincing. If I remember right all I said was, “Do you want to go with me to the October 1st Camera sale?” And without hesitation he replied “yes”. Then I slide in, “If we take you all-wheel drive I won’t have to change to my snow tires.” I was glad he said yes to both, because I was too lazy to change my tires.

We didn’t need snow tires for the beautiful dry 4-hour drive through the mountains, even though they were required by October 1st.   With that notethe next morning we woke to a cool, clear, coastal, (also dry) autumn day, and by 8AM we were at our table setting out everything we had to sell.

I always wonder what will be popular with photographers I meet there. Last spring the trend was for vintage equipment and although I could see lots of older photographers walking through the door, the majority were a younger crowd. However, as usual, I’ll use the word “diversity” here to describe the mixed bag of photographer types with different interests, specialties in photography, some preferring film, others digital. There were collectors of both past technology, and some that were looking for the latest digital had to offer. Nevertheless when the doors opened they all rushed in to find sweet deals that I am certain they got.

I spent an exhilarating day talking non-stop with other photographers about, hmm…just about everything photography. They readily showed me their cameras and told me stories about places and subjects they photographed. There were long time friends that stopped by to say hello, new friends to keep in touch with, and to my delight, local Vancouver blogger Michael Hoffmann (michaelhoffmannphotography.com) took time out of his busy day to show up and say hello. Gosh, in spite of a great day of selling the cameras and lenses I had on my table I even got time to wander around to check out all the neat photography equipment at other tables.

I know my main goal at the Vancouver Camera Swap and Sale is to “swap and sell”, but I must admit meeting people from all over the province, and finding out about their different interests means just as much to me.

I guess I finish with some words as I do every time to describe my day at Vancouver Camera Swap meet. It was, as always, invigorating, energizing, stimulating, entertaining, exhilarating and educational. Or maybe I could shorten that to just good fun.

The Vancouver Camera Swap Meet is an excellent way to meet and exchange information with other photographers, and to look at, check out, and buy an impressive selection of used photographic equipment that would not be so accessible anywhere else in Canada.

Photographing a late summer garden.   

 

I woke up to a wet day.

There was a light shower overnight, not the strong rain everything is dying for here in the southern part of British Columbia, but it did dampen things down the most since those rainy weeks last June. However, any rain is good and if I had better hearing I surely would have heard happy sounds coming from the garden outside my door.

The drizzle ended and as I lazily finished my morning coffee, like any serious photographer, I knew there was an opportunity waiting.

Many photographers that are excited with all the brilliant colours of spring ignore the dry plants at the end of summer. Sure the reds, blues, purples, bright yellows and greens have mostly gone, but there is still an abundance of colours if one just takes a moment to look.

I like photographing the garden. As that well-worn quote attributed to Mark Twain goes, “ I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like”, I admit that I have no memory for plant names, but I like all the flowers, trees and bushes one finds in a garden.

With me, it’s not really the colour as much as it is the shapes. My approach to a spring, summer, fall and winter garden is much the same. I search for the shapes, differing tones and, of course, the light.

My favourite accessory for rainy days is my ring-flash. As I would with any portrait, person or plant, I always use flash. I usually operate my flash off-camera using light stands and light modifiers. Sometimes just holding my flash at arms length works at the end of the day. But after a rain I like the sparkling direct light a ring flash produces.

The ring flash is a flash that fits around the front of a lens instead of on the camera. I prefer keeping the flash at some distance by employing longer focal length macro lenses. My macro lens, a true macro, is a 200mm. That lens keeps me out of the garden ensuring that I don’t step on other plants.

I photographing the garden, spring, summer, fall and winter, calming. Maybe that’s because I am looking into and at the small details of a landscape ignoring the world around me

When my wife and I photographed the garden together her final images were about space, design and how all the bushes and flowers fit together and how the colours interacted. Linda’s visuals discussed the landscape rather than individual flowers. Mine are more intimate. As I wrote, I am always, “looking into…at the details” when I wander our garden.

As with any portrait, I am rarely satisfied with natural light and almost always add light from a flash. And during those hours of low light as the storm slowly drifts away adding a bit of light to makes a normally flat subject come to life.

That garden just outside my door is always waiting. I never ignore it and am always looking to see what it offers.

I found this quote by the famous Canadian nature photographer and writer Freeman Patterson, “Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, you intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

Infrared photography is always a fun change.      

 

The wind came and the choking smoke from the fires in British Columbia and Washington State has disappeared. Gosh, it seems strange to see the hills across the valley again. I opened all the windows and doors to let the breeze reduce the smell of smoke in my home.

Well there it was waiting, a sunny day with only a few clouds in the otherwise clear blue sky, for any photographer with the time and energy to walk out for a few pictures of the golden fields and green forests that weren’t being burned by the wildfires.

I grabbed my camera, hopped in the car, and drove up the dirt road across the river from my home. I wanted a wide shot with lots of sky, but as I walked along the dusty road to make the photograph I began thinking how easy and boring my photo was. So with that thought in mind I got back in my car, drove home, dropped off that camera, and got our my infrared camera to start over again.

Black and white makes me think about the subject first and then the light, or how a subject looks in a particular light. Infrared, on the other hand, makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject. Of course the subject, and how it is composed and framed is important, but some things don’t look any different with a camera converted to infrared than a colour image converted to black and white. Those of us using infrared always must be thinking about the light first and then choose subjects that we think will look like they are photographed with infrared.

I stopped to photograph a landscape around a neighbour’s barn, and then hiked up the road a ways for a shot of an old car that has been rusting on a hill for a lot longer than I have lived in British Columbia. Then drove down to the river. The far bank was lined with campers and boats for the annual Salmon run and Pritchard is a favourite fishing location.

I drove across the bridge, got out and walked along the beach then back over the bridge. I won’t begin to count the number of times in the last 40 years that I have stood on that bridge and pointed my camera at the scenery along the Thompson River. I always find something worth photographing.

Using infrared gives me images that are a fun change from sharp colourful pictures I get with my DSLR. The glowing white foliage and black sky create an otherworldly mood.

I’ll finish this with what I wrote about infrared last May. “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

 

 

Memories and photography   

 

 


I joined a friend for lunch last week and he began reminiscing about his long ago trip to Japan. We hadn’t been talking about that place, but something in the restaurant (could it have been the sushi?) brought his memories on. With that in mind I thought I’d revisit this article from 2011.

I am sure many of us experience that flash of instant memories when some song comes on the radio. That happed to me this morning as I drove to town. A 1970’s song by the Bee Gees came on the radio, and suddenly I was thinking about July 1978 when I played their tape over and over during my journey to a place in Wyoming’s Teton Mountain range called the T Cross Ranch. I was there attending a photography workshop lead by photographer, and writer, Boyd Norton.

I had been given Norton’s book “Wilderness Photography”. I poured over that book with its instructions and ideas about photographing the great out-of-doors. I don’t recall how I found out about his class, nevertheless I was so determined to attend that I sold my VW to pay for it. The cash from that sale was enough for my tuition and expenses to Wyoming, it also helped pay for an airline ticket for my girl friend (later my wife) to Salt Lake City, Utah. Our plan was to meet up there after my course and spend time photographing Arches National Monument, Zion Park and the Grand Canyon.

The T Cross Ranch was just outside of Dubois, Wyoming, and our class was comprised of photographers from Germany, New York, Florida, Idaho, Colorado, Tennessee, and two of us from Kamloops British Columbia.

We hiked and wandered during the days, photographed everything, and in the evenings had lectures in a wonderful 100-year-old antique-filled log house.

Our instructor wanted to provide instant feedback for us and had a new three-chemical-process for developing slide film. The first morning I noticed him reading the instructions and without thinking I said I could figure it out and immediately became the official class technician. So each evening while my classmates were sitting around the fire talking about the day’s events I was in an abandoned walk-in cold room removing film from cassettes, rolling them into large processing tanks, then developing and hanging the rolls for overnight drying. Hmm…me and my big mouth! We were excited that we could have our images for critique so quickly. I thought that film technology had finally become the best it could be.

I preferred using a huge Mamiya RB67 at that time. The RB used 120mm medium format film and the negatives were 2¼x2¾ inches.

One afternoon we trucked up to a mountain plateau and Norton said, “There is a lightning storm to the west and we’ll see antelope coming this way to stay out it. Find yourself a good position for some great shots.” I waited behind an old salt lick as several antelope came bounding our way. The lens on the RB67 racked back and forth on a rail instead of turning like modern lenses. I tried to keep the antelopes in focus as they ran toward us, but to my dismay I couldn’t. I didn’t get a shot!

When I came back within weeks I sold the RB and purchased a jaunty little Hasselblad that I used for years, until, coincidentally, I attended another wilderness class in 1999, that time in Washington State, and was introduced to digital. I returned to Kamloops after that class and bought my first DSLR. Both instances were because of the influence of other photographers. Getting together with other photographers, in my opinion, not only creates excitement, but also is the best thing one can do to become a better photographer.

Reminiscing about that trip while I listened to the Be Gees was fun. However it also reminded me was how important it is to interact with other photographers and participate in workshops, classes, and photo tours. The other thing I thought about as I sat rewriting this article is how dramatically and constantly, technology changes for those of us dedicated to this exciting medium of photography.

“All this digital isn’t real photography”        

I talked to a confused young photographer that wondered if he should do as a friend that was using a 1970’s film camera and discard his DSLR for a film camera. His friend told him, “all this digital isn’t real photography”,

I doubt his opinionated pal even thought about or was aware that it has only been a bit over a century ago that photographers needed large glass plates, hazardous chemicals, bulky cameras and wagons to carry everything. And I wonder if there were some photographers that, when roll film first became available, said about the same thing when they saw people hand-holding their little box cameras.

The medium of photography has become very accessible for everyone. The days when a photographer had to be an engineer and chemist are long gone. With modern technology, today’s supercharged cameras with their machine-gun-like shutters and seemingly speed of light focusing allow many photographers to get great pictures on their first try. Photographers once had to understand the combinations of shutter and aperture for a properly exposed image, and worried about camera shake and film choice. Gosh, it’s only around 20 years ago that photographers carried more than one camera if they wanted black & white as well as colour prints of some subject.

I am not sure that the photographers of the late 1800’s or early 1900’s were really interested in photography as a creative medium as much as they were striving to document reality. No doubt they struggled to convince their subjects to sit as still as possible for long time periods while they set up unwieldy photographic equipment. And I am convinced that many people that tried photography “pre-digital” would not be shooting if it had remained like that.

There are those that are intent on complaining that with the end of film came the end of photography. Personally, I don’t think film is going away any time soon. I expect most outlets may not carry film or offer processing much longer, but there are lots of distributers that still supply film. I’d like to see the return of film to larger camera shops, along with people capable of giving the correct advice to users.

I rarely shoot with film these days, but I still have a film camera and I did put a roll thru it this past year and had fun. Nevertheless, I will admit to being frustrated at all the work it took to get to the final images. Digital is easier.

I am afraid I couldn’t give that photographer any advice. Although I disagreed with his friend’s comment, I told him I’d look forward to seeing his photographs and be there to help what ever his choice.

Photography has always been about technology. I hope that photographer works at producing images (digital or film) that are good visual statements about what he feels or wants to say. Most people viewing his photography will only be interested in the resulting photos and won’t really care how his images were produced as long as the final photograph has something to say, shows control over the technology used, and is visually exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

The Photographic idea

This past week I got into a discussion with two local photographers about photography as Art. Their opinion was that photography has become mostly a point-and-shoot process that is really all about documenting one’s personal life.

I think defining Art has always been “in the eye of the beholder”.  

I remember a friend chastising me when I was too critical of a photographer’s image, by saying that all to familiar phrase, “I may not know about Art, but I do know what I like.” 

Ansel Adams, in the forward to his popular 1950’s book “The Print” said, “Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles…” and he continued, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art…technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I remember the series of books by Adams when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a good final print.

We don’t need to worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t satisfactory it’s easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened later. Contrast can be changed and increasingly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make large prints at all. 

That said, I still think that Adams’ forward in “The Print” may be as worthwhile now as it was in 1950 for a photographer’s Art. Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process is still important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the negative, and the printing procedure. He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the files, and outputting to an online portfolio.

Adams wrote, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes. So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative…” He continues by saying, “the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print (image file?) itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”   Those words remind me not to be as critical of other photographers work, if as Adams put it, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

I think what my friend meant when he said, ““I may not know Art, but I do know what I like.”   Was that I should be paying attention to what a photographer might be saying with his or her image and remind myself to think about “interpretation” and the “performance of the photographic idea.”

That is why its good that I still have that somewhat out-dated book, and why I should regularly open it up. After all the prattle about the newest camera, or lens, or computer programs, I need to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.