Photographing my way to work on a rainy day          

 

Last week I wrote about my frustrations with trying to photograph the young geese at a nearby pond. At the time I was so fixated on those blasted birds that I ignored the scenic country drive I take every day when I leave my rural home and head for the highway.

The geese were a bust, and I decided that on my next trip to town I would do some scenics no matter what the weather was like. I will say that I am not all that fond of sun-filled blue sky, and prefer fog, heavy clouds or even rain to an uninspiring sunny day.

I was pleased when I woke to rain pounding my cedar-shake roof. As I sat drinking my morning coffee and looking out the window I knew that there would be little chance that I’d be opening my shop on time.

My camera of choice on this day was my little Nikon V1 that easily sits on my lap while I drive. The small sensor doesn’t compare with the big full frame 36mp camera I prefer for serious photos, but for posting online or if I don’t mind limiting my prints to 8X12, it’s just great. And I have used it many times in the rain without problems.

As I walked to my car I was pleased that the rain had lightened a bit. One could still get wet if standing for a time, but I’d be quickly in and out of my car.

On this day I was interested in the contrast between the green fields, trees, the blue hills, the slowly brightening sky and the white billowing clouds. It would be impossible to get a bad exposure, as I just metered for the green fields.

As usual there were lots of deer, horses and cows, but the turtles I photographed last week were hiding under water, and those blasted geese were even further on the other side of the pond. So I put on a wide-angle lens and made a scenic of the pond.

I liked the wet, winding road and the blue cloud covered hills and the fields were so green.

Neighbours would drive around my parked car and shake their head at me standing out in the rain. People that have lived here for a while are used to seeing me standing alongside the road pointing my camera at the distance. Long time residents don’t even bother to slow down to see what the heck I am photographing.

I doubt they would be “seeing’ the same way that I (or any other photographer) would. Photographers look “into” the landscape instead of “at” the landscape.

I only got a bit damp on my way to work.

Of course I opened my shop late and had damp hair after continually stopping to photograph things on my way to town (that I have photographed many, many times before)

Here is a fun quote by famous American photographer Elliott Erwitt, which seems perfect for those of us that carry our cameras to work.

“ Nothing happens when you sit at home. I always make it a point to carry a camera with me at all times…I just shoot at what interests me at that moment.”

 

 

 

 

Photos of turtles will have to do.   

 

For the past month I have been visiting a little pond just up the road from my place hoping to get photos of geese and their chicks.

I have been going there with my camera equipped with long-lenses for years. Some times have been great with lots of geese near the road, like there were last year, but all to often they were too far away.

Last June the hill across from the pond was covered with geese. I am pretty sure that would be called a gaggle. (I have also heard people refer to a group of photographers as gaggle) Parents and goslings were everywhere and really didn’t mind my car after I parked and sat quietly for a few minutes.

This year I made trip after trip in the morning, at noon, then in late afternoon and finally evenings before I lost the light.

There are a lot of geese at the pond, but for some reason they are staying low to the pond and so far on the other side that even my 600mm lens isn’t doing them justice.

I wonder what caused them to stay such at such a distance this year. The road isn’t any busier than normal. They aren’t acting skittish, so I don’t think anything has been bothering them. Nevertheless, they are wild birds and I expect the first one there must have decided on a good spot and the rest nested nearby as they arrived. Good for them, disappointing for me.

I could have turned around each day and gone home for a beer, but the rural area I live in is filled with life in the spring. So instead I just moseyed along and keeping on the lookout along the roadside.

There are many old dilapidated buildings slowly dissolving into farmer’s back yards and I could have pointed my camera any of the many deer that are always munching grass in fields at anytime of the day. But, since I couldn’t photograph the geese I decided that deer and old buildings would be off my list and I should search for other wild things.

I wasn’t doing to well, and in frustration after my latest trip to the pond I chose a couple blackbirds and actually stopped to photograph a deer that peered out of the long grass as I passed. However, when my friend Jo stopped by, as I was about to leave on what I expected to be another fruitless trip, I invited her to join me on the drive.

Sometimes it’s a fresh pair of eyes that is needed. Each day I passed a neighbour’s slough. I had seen turtles there before, but like the geese, they were eluding me. I drove slowly and Jo looking out the window suddenly yelled, “stop, there’s turtles”! Sure enough the wily little critters were sunning themselves all along a half sunken moss covered tree in the swamp. There were seven of them near one end and three resting midway down.

I finally did reach out with my long lens to photograph the distant geese, and I captured a couple shots of blackbirds, and there was that deer hiding in the ditch. I was bound to my goal of photographing anything wild, and have been keeping at that for days, but I wasn’t all that happy and maybe a bit bored with my subjects.

However, the septet of turtles changed that. I was pleased to have turtles for my subjects, so for this week the photograph of the turtles will have to do.

Photographing behind the scenes at a movie.   

 

My first full time job as a photographer was to document events for the Office of Education, Los Angeles California. Years later, after moving to Canada, I became a photographer for a University’s Public Relations Department.

During my 40 plus years earning my living as a photographer I pointed my camera at quite an array of exciting subjects, but it was those two early jobs that fashioned my approach.

This past week I was asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair, if I would act as a staff photographer for her movie, “The Bench”, for a couple of the shooting days.

I am retired and stay away from anything that demands that I be on time. But the thought of taking behind the scenes pictures intrigued me.

Although I have many, many times enjoyed watching movies being made, I have never actually been part of the film crew. “Film crew”, that can’t be correct. I wonder what they call themselves now? Nevertheless, I was sure the photography would be much the same as any public relations exercise.

Public Relations photography in my experience is physically active, there is never a chance to sit and one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects. I never saw or presented myself as being important as those I was photographing, and always preferred to sneak voyeuristically around. And although my photographs were used by news sources and much of the time were in publications, I never thought of myself as a photojournalist. Photojournalists tell a story, whereas my job was to document the interaction and hard work of the people in the event.

It was with that attitude that I quietly walked on to the set the morning of my first day.

I guess I forgot how small Kamloops is, one would think that in a city of over ninety thousand people there would be some anonymity, but alas, that was not to be. A complete stranger said, “John, right? They are around the corner.”

I photographed everything that happened behind the scenes for two days. I am sure that many star-struck, first time photographers might think, “what a great chance for me to photograph a movie”.   However, at this production there were three trained, creative, cameramen operating a two hundred thousand dollar camera, whose job it was to photograph the movie’s action. Taking pictures of the movie isn’t what I think my position as a still photographer needs to be doing. My job was to photograph the people that were actually making the movie and I did just that.

I shot for two tiring days. From time to time I was able to lean against walls, and once or twice even tried to sit down. But of course, as soon as I thought I could relax, I would see crewmembers doing something interesting and rushed to get that shot.

Mostly I wanted those classic images we see in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the lead, or working with the cameramen. The crew wasn’t huge and I got to talk to and photograph everyone working on “The Bench” at some point over the two days.

Photographing on a movie set was a new and certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and now that I have had first hand experience being around them as they worked, I absolutely believe that.

 

Stop being lazy and use a Tripod    

      The discussion on whether to use a tripod just keeps returning. One would think photographers doing scenics would realize the value. Oh well, after another time talking with some photographers about why they should, I thought I’d repost this.                                           

In his book, “Backcountry Journal, Reminiscences of a Wilderness Photographer,” Dave Bohn, mountain and wilderness photographer writes, “The trouble with photographers, and anyone else attempting anything creative, and in fact doing anything, is that they get addicted…(and)…I was addicted to the tripod as a necessity for the photography of large landscapes.”

I will admit that there are times when I lazily release the shutter after having aimed my camera at some interesting landscape without using a tripod. After which I usually step back and remind myself that if I really care about that subject and want the best quality enlargement, I should definitely stop being lazy and use my tripod.

This past week I picked up my tattered old copy of Bohn’s book and read for a while. I have had my copy since it was printed in 1974, and I like to reread a few pages every so often.

Photographers that know me are aware that I like using a tripod for landscape photography, and often heard me say, “ If you don’t like using a tripod it means you never have used a good one”.

Today it’s popular to spend extra money on “vibration reduction,” or “image stabilizing,” lenses with the notion that this technology allows one to do scenic photography without needing a tripod. Many modern photographers are of the belief that the difference between a blurry and a sharp enlargement is megapixels or vibration reduction lenses.

I disagree and say the difference is a good, stable tripod.

I’m not saying photographers shouldn’t get image stabilizing lenses. They are great to use in certain situations and conditions when a tripod might be in way of unexpected action. Nevertheless, using a good tripod that allows one to stand up straight, take time to analyze the scene, problem solve, compose, and contemplate, is an excellent experience. In addition, it keeps the camera from moving.

When I select a tripod I want one that extends above my head so I can use it on hills. I don’t like bending over to peer through my camera’s viewfinder. I prefer tripod legs that can be extended out horizontally when the ground is uneven. I don’t want a crank to raise the center column as that is just added weight, and becomes one more thing to get caught on things. I like a column lock so I can easily move it up or down.

I also want a sturdy-enough tripod that is capable of supporting my camera, and I am always amazed when someone buys a cheap, little tripod to hold his or her camera and lens, which are worth well over the thousand dollar plus mark.

The tripod head is another subject completely and my advice is get one that has a reasonable size ball surface and is lightweight. A tripod shouldn’t be so heavy that it’s a bother to carry up and down the hills and backwoods.

I suggest buying from people that have used, or at least can discuss, the tripods they sell. The department store outlets will allow you to bring it back if you aren’t satisfied, but I am sure they are not interested in paying for the damages to your camera and lens that crashed to the ground while using their flimsy bargain tripod.

In recent years more and more quality tripods have become available. All one needs to do is spend some time researching and checking reviews.

Just as photographers spend time researching selecting cameras and lenses, my advice is to also take the time choose a good tripod to go along with them.

Photographing flowers.    

 

Just after I got to my shop this morning I received a text on my phone that read. “ Hi, How’s your shop today? I hope you sell something. What’s your article going to be about this week?”

To tell the truth, at that moment I was walking down the street to get a coffee from Tim Horton’s and I hadn’t thought about my shop, impending sales or my article.

Just coffee. However, when I got to the coffee shop there was a line, so to keep from being rude I returned a text that said, “I dunno, me too, dunno.”

I’ll shorten this story by saying that about four or five hours later I received another text from my friend Jo that said, “I have pictures for you of flowers in your yard. Stop by on your way home tonight and get the USB drive. They’ll be edited to PSDs and ready for your article.”

So the images I am posting this week are again from my photography pal Jo. However, this time she didn’t have to wander around in the rain.

Spring is just beginning and there are many plants in the process of poking out of the ground and blooming. I haven’t taken the time to photograph anything anywhere in the garden yet.

Maybe next week.

For me, photographing my wife’s garden is quite a time consuming process that includes a tripod, an off-camera flash or two, reflectors, and sometimes even a backdrop.

My wife used to complain that I enjoyed the photography more than her garden.

That may be so.

When I opened Jo’s images on the USB drive it was obvious that she was of the same mindset as my wife, and enjoyed the spring garden as much as she was enjoyed pointing her camera’s 70-200mm lens at everything growing there.

I have been noticing more and more flower pictures being shown on our local photographer’s page. I suppose Jo, like most of those that are posting flower pictures, could wander the mountain meadows around Kamloops, British Columbia. However,most of the pictures I see are of the same one or two early blooming wild plants, whereas the large fenced garden at my place has lots of different shapes and colours to choose from and if one is, like me, more interested in the image then the flower, a colourful garden is a great choice.

This is a good time to get out with one’s camera. Whether it’s to photograph plants and flowers in the rain or on a sunny day the growth and colours that spring brings is so stimulating.

The famous Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson, in his book, “Photography and the Art of Seeing” wrote, “ 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.”

 

And thanks again to my good friend Jo McAvany.

 

 

 

Photography in the rain     

 

 

Last Sunday was cool and rainy. I had wandered a bit outside, but only long enough to feed my chickens and move some wooden chairs under a canopy so they wouldn’t get wet in the downpour.

Mostly, I just wasn’t interested in the rain or the cool light breeze and by noon I was content to just sit listening to music, and had just started a beer when there was a knock and my door and my friend Jo McAvany’s smiling face appeared through the window.

Some years ago one might have heard, “Can John come out and play?”   I really didn’t, I was enjoying the blues music and my beer on that rainy day. However, Jo had her camera and I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. She said, “How about we wander around, I want to take some pictures in the rain.

Ten minutes later we were ambling around pointing our cameras at features that on a sunny day might not have given us as interesting and creative photographs.

There are some cameras that are almost waterproof. A Nikon advertisement I once read stated that some models are, “splash proof’. Nevertheless, my main accessory for a rainy day is an old kitchen T-towel for wiping the rain off my camera. Every now and then I give my camera a wipe so the rain doesn’t accumulate, and continue on.

Shooting in the rain is one time that I enjoy a modern camera’s ability to use high ISO. Back in the painful days of film we were limited to 400ISO with colour film. There were a few black and white films that were rated at 3200, but their ability to give photographers reasonable image quality wasn’t all that good.

Wide scenic photos aren’t very pleasing in the overcast flat lighting, so we concentrated on more intimate and close-up subjects. Both Jo and I were using 70-200mm lenses that focused reasonably close. Not macro close, but close enough for us to confine and restrict the view.

Cloudy days always seem to be more colourful for plant photography, and there is something about green leaves and grasses on rainy days that attract me.

I once read, “one should embrace the rain’s infinite photo opportunities”. I like that. Photographing in the rain gives the photographer the chance to explore a whole new world that on a sunny, shadow filed day is invisible. The raindrops and the wet subjects are so inviting.

I know those gray clouds can be disappointing. However, keep a positive attitude. Sure there is a strong possibility that your hair and the knees of your pants are going to get wet, but in my opinion, wet knees are certainly worth the voyage. And remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

 

The photographer told me, “I have never use a flash”.     

“I have never used a flash.” That was a statement from a young photographer just starting to photograph weddings of her friends. She had stopped by to purchase a lens hood (very good idea for any lens) and while we talked she asked about how I dealt with contrasting shadows on sunny days and if a polarizing filter might help her get rid of them.

Polarizing light with a polarizing filter will reduce glare in the sky and on reflective surfaces like water and windows, but it doesn’t reduce shadows or contrast. It will decrease the amount of overall light coming through a lens. A polarizing filter light will polarize light reaching the lens from any angle, but directly in front of, or behind the photographer. However, using a polarizer won’t noticeably affect her wedding photographs other than to maybe darken the sky behind the wedding couple.

I told her that I always use a flash indoors and outdoors when photographing people and she said “even in bright sunlight?” I use the flash to fill or reduce the shadows caused by bright sunlight. Modern TTL (through the lens) flash technology is easy to use and almost fool proof and the days of calculating flash power are long gone.

Many photographers mistakenly think the only time to use a flash in a darkened room. And even then rely on high ISO settings when shooting low light. ISO stands for International Standards Organization and determines the sensitivity to light for which sensor is set.

I think relying on high ISO settings is great for those long shots inside the gym during basketball games or when capturing wide church interiors, but closer pictures of people with mixed lighting coming from overhead leave unflattering shadows and odd colours.

My camera is fitted with a flash bracket that lifts the flash about six inches above the lens. The camera hotshoe places the flash close and directly over the lens. A close proximity that usually causes an effect called “red eye” – the appearance of red pupils in the eyes, as well as harsh unbecoming light. Moving the flash away from the lens helps to reduce that effect, and when I move in close for photographs I place a diffuser over my flash to spread and soften the light.

I have control to balance the light over my subject with the shutter, aperture and ISO.  Balancing the light so those individuals are slightly brighter than the surrounding area and without the background to go black.

My flash is connected to the camera with a power cord that fires it when the shutter is released. I can remove it and point the flash in any direction I want; bouncing the light off walls, the floor and, if I want, higher than the people sitting in front of me. I can leave them in low light while the flash is at arms length, from an angle to the side or from above the individuals I am photographing.

When I learned to use a flash many years ago it changed the quality of my photography. I no longer had to rely only on uncontrollable ambient light and I began to notice my subjects had more “pop” and seemed sharper than those without the flash as I learned to add light to subjects.

Just like the control I gain by using different focal length lenses, the flash allows me to add light to what would otherwise be a flat image, improving the quality of my photographs and separating my photography from those who do not to use flash.