Photography on a snowy day

After days of overcast weather, British Columbia’s February skies dropped lots and lots of snow of light, fluffy, wet snow. Who would have guessed?  Certainly not the celebrities that read the news to us.  Nevertheless, there were several inches of fresh snow in the morning that wasn’t there the day before and the white landscape was a grand opportunity for photography. The foggy, white, crystallized, hoarfrost-decorated vegetation I wrote about two weeks ago was gone and replaced with soft billowy snow.  Everything was white, and with the increase in temperature I didn’t even need to wear gloves. It’s hard to turn the dials on my camera with padded fingers, and not fogging up my LCD was nice also.

 I wrote about the previous week’s damp, bothersome cold, however, this day it was comfortable wandering through the snow covered woods and fields. I was quickly reminded that I had to be careful not to get covered with that snow while I trudged through that landscape, I didn’t even get past our garden path before both my camera and I was covered with snow. However, I had a hat, and my camera was easily wiped off with the old dishrag I stuck in my pocket. As always, I also had a lens hood and clear filter on the lens.  A lens hood is good under any condition. Not only will a lens hood shade the front lens element from image softening cross light, and protect the lens from front impact, it shelters the lens from snow. And a filter can always be removed after bumping a lens into a snow-covered branch.

 Unlike my last cold day session when I used a flash and saw no need for a tripod, this time I opted to use a tripod. In my excitement I tried some handheld photographs, but the close, low-lit macro images weren’t very sharp. I expect photographers with image stabilizing lenses might have been more successful, but the combination of a long, manual-focusing lens, and my not so sharp eyesight left much to be desired. So I lugged along my tripod. I’m not complaining, as I like using a tripod and those that know me have surely heard me say, “If you don’t like using a tripod, it’s because you have never used a good one.”

 I was in no hurry and didn’t know what to expect, so I took two lenses with me. I hoped for some good landscape shots and stuck a 20mm in my pocket and mounted my 200mm macro on the camera. As it was I quickly exchanged lenses and took pictures of our house, the view down the street and photographed the somewhat bushy wooded area across the road from my place. 

 Although I initially began with landscapes, it was the intimate snow covered vegetation that demanded my photographer’s attention and having a telephoto lens designed for very close photography helped with that. Put a wide angle lens on a camera and we tend to miss what is happening up close, but a telephoto narrows our view and the 200mmm macro kept me looking closer and closer as I isolated parts of plants or drops of water on a wire fence.

 I wandered around for quite a while and took lots of pictures as the light changed. But, when I got back and loaded the image files into my computer I quickly realized those I liked best were from my wife’s garden, but I had enjoyed the long walk in the deep snow anyway. It’s always fun taking pictures even if all you do is delete them in the end.

 I know that snowy overcast days, or cold foggy mornings, like we have had recently put many photographers off going out and taking pictures, and they wait for the sun thinking there can’t possibly be anything worth photographing in flat light. Obviously, I don’t agree.

My wife reminded me about a lecture we once attended given by internationally renowned Canadian photographer Sherman Hines. Hines said, “ I don’t force myself on the environment, I let it manipulate me. There’s no confrontation with nature because I give in to it. I let myself be seduced completely.”

 I am embarrassed to write that I did not fill my obligation with regards to a previous Versatile Blogger nomination. I do have lots of excuses, but I hope readers accept my apology.

 I have again been nominated and will begin with thanks for the nomination by

 I understand that I now should make 10 nominations, so here are bloggers I have began to read and enjoy –  the following are my nominations:

RL Photography                          


Shutter bug                                  

Clumsily Kathy                   

I Go My Way                                

Indian Wedding Photographer  

Claire Atkinson                   

Mike Moruzi                        

Tim Cash                             



I also read that being nominated I must say seven things about myself……..Hmmm….Ok:

 1. I have been an active photographer since the 1970’s.

2. I taught college photography credit courses for about 20 years.

3. Writing isn’t so much a struggle – the struggle is choosing and placing the words in a   coherent fashion.

4. I am one of those that having learned photography using film – will never ever return to using it.

5. I earn my living photographing people. However, in spite of being very good making pictures of people, given the choice, I would photograph plants and buildings.

6. I have a small shop that on most Thursdays is filled with other photographers drinking coffee and talking photography. I don’t get much done on Thursdays.

7. My wife says I pay rent on my small shop so I can have a place to talk to other photographers.



Photography on a Frosty Morning

 Daybreak was foggy within a white, crystallized wonderland of hoarfrost-decorated trees and vegetation.  That scene is what I have been waking up to every day this past week. The damp cold has been bothersome, but what photographer could pass up such a creative opportunity to wander through frosty woods and fields trying out different lenses and locations. I like the search and the discovery.

This morning I talked my wife, Linda, into venturing out into the cold to photograph the hoarfrost in her garden. For that we each mounted macro lenses on our cameras and I included a flash mounted on a light stand for both of us. There was a time when we would have been burdened with wires running from the flash to camera, but those days have passed now that wireless flash technology has become the standard.

The morning was overcast and foggy, so the addition of flash was a must in the dim light.  I have a ring flash that I like to use when I photograph plants, but the white crystalline hoarfrost would have been easily over exposed with the direct light from a flash mounted around my lens and I wanted to preserve as much of the delicate details as possible. All we had to do was position our flashes for the best light angle.

Our cameras allowed us to sync the shutterspeed above 1/250th of a second. Many modern cameras have a feature in their menus called “Hi-Sync” or something close to it and I recommend readers check their manuals on how to select and use a high flash synchronizing speed so they won’t be limited to 1/250th of a second shutterspeed.

Handholding at 1/500th of a second (or greater) reduces camera shake and with the addition of flash it is easy to stop any plant movement. Whenever I use a flash outside I like to reduce the ambient light by a stop or two so that if I didn’t use a flash the scene and subject would have been under exposed, consequently, I add the flash to illuminate the main subject, and those elements that the flash doesn’t affect are under exposed, and that flash is off camera sending light from the side or the rear, not limiting us to the on camera flash directly in front of the subject, or forcing us to position ourselves dependent on the sun.

We had a lazy morning and got out late, so although we both prefer to use tripods for close-up photography, we needed to working fast as the temperature rose. We could hear and see the crystals falling with the morning breeze. I suppose if we had a warm outside couch and been bundled up, just sitting on the porch would have been nice. Nevertheless, we got right into photographing our frosty subjects only stopping when we had to reposition our flash.

I approach and light a plant the same way I would a person. I begin by checking the exposure with my camera meter. I always use manual mode so in today’s foggy low light and because I was using hi-sync I could keep my shutterspeed at 1/650th and sometimes higher. Next I chose the best angle of view for my subject, and as always pay attention to what’s in the background. Lastly, I move the light around making exposures until I am satisfied with the highlights and shadows on my subject just as I would if I were doing portraiture of an individual.

I like foggy, frosty mornings and the last few days have been a great time to wander around with my camera. Soon everything is going to change. The frosty vegetation will be replaced with green buds and the cold, foggy, overcast days will be filled with sunny days and blue sky. Yes, I am looking forward to that, but for now winter is a creative challenge and I wouldn’t change it.

And thanks to 96arley ( for the nomination.



Talking about cameras

I am still a bit surprised when people inform me they have decided to keep using film cameras in this day and age of high-quality digital camera image output, and that is just what I was told by a couple last week.  Of course, my response was that they should use whatever makes them comfortable. 

 I find that many photographers using film want to offer a rationale for using film and make statements like “this camera has always taken very good pictures”. I suppose that’s a rational statement, however, but the difference between digital and film is like driving an old 1970 Ford sedan and the newest Ford hybrid model across Canada.  There is a lot more performance, comfort and options available for the operator of the newer model so that the experience can be more pleasurable and certainly more efficient.

 This couple were so emphatic about how great their old film cameras produced pictures that I assumed they do their own darkroom work, but they take their film into a lab that processes it, then scans it to a computer, then with predetermined settings the computer makes the desired print sizes. Hmm, not much photographer input there and most of the process seems to be digital technology. Oh well, at least they are taking pictures.

 I do believe that digital camera users become better photographers faster because of the instant reinforcement of their camera’s LCD, then again because it is so easy and quick to check images on a computer display.  Last Thursday my shop was filled with people discussing equipment. I have to mention that just before I talked to the film camera couple, I had been discussing digital cameras, but the question was “ What’s the best digital SLR camera, what do you like?”  Well, I like them all.  I haven’t had the chance to try every new camera out, but from my reading I think Nikon, Canon, and Pentax all have excellent products.

 My advice was they should first decide what they had available to spend, and then decide on how they like to shoot: sports, landscapes, family and so on. Of course any camera will do everything, but some are better for sports and some won’t hold up to the elements if packed on your horse or bounced around getting cold on the back of a snowmobile. My suggestion was before they choose to do some research before they buy.

 But film? Well if one is into “retro” or likes to experiment with technology from the past picking up an old film camera and the equipment for processing and printing doesn’t cost much and might be lots of fun.  However, for those like me that are dedicated to producing quality photography I would, of course choose a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera.



Class was about Demystifying the digital camera.

 The scenic hour-long drive from Kamloops to Barriere always has me wanting to pull off the road and take pictures, but for the two previous Sunday mornings stopping would have made me late for the two-session class I was leading and 18 enthusiastic photographers who would have been left wondering.  I remembered being told, “Once photography enters your bloodstream, it is like a disease”, and I am sure they would have patiently smiled if I loaded my morning’s images into the projector and said, “I couldn’t help my self”, after all they had “photography in their bloodstream” too.

The class wasn’t so much about photography as it was about “demystifying” the digital camera. My goal for the two-day session was to help participants become comfortable and familiar with their cameras. I wanted them not to be afraid to push all the buttons, scroll through menus and change default settings as they explored each function.

We discussed controlling exposure, understanding the histogram, and manual metering.  Then we talked about the relationship between the aperture and the shutter to better understand depth of field. For those interested in scenic photography I included a section on photographic composition, and finally there was time set aside to consider selecting lenses, tripods and presenting information about other accessories that enhance the photographic experience.

I know that some felt overwhelmed as we examined the myriad of features available on their modern cameras. As camera technology advances and more options are added new users will certainly feel intimidated, but as they use their cameras and become more familiar with the possibilities they realize the added options give more and more control over picture making.

Interactive lecture classes like this one are more demanding than the usual photography classes that assume participants already know how their camera functions. In my opinion that assumption often has participants going home without understanding camera basics, and although they can read their notes on panorama, portraiture and scenic photography most revert to using the camera in it’s point and shoot Program modes. What a waste!

I always enjoy these types of sessions where eager learners ask lots of questions and are demanding of information that will help them to pursue their particular interest in photography and I get to really delve into the mechanics of this amazing pastime. To me there is more than just aiming the camera at some subject, and, depending on technology, to magically transform that passive action into a photograph.  And that was what I wanted the two sessions to be about.

In this study group I was fortunate enough to have active photographers Jill Hayward and Shelly Lampreau sitting in. They were not only were responsible for organizing and advertising the two-day class, but jumped to help when I wasn’t able to get to someone right away.  It’s people like Hayward and Lampreau that make an interactive workshop all the more valuable to learners and I extend my appreciation to them.

The class was filled with serious people that really wanted to learn about photography. I had a great time and I thank everyone for inviting me, and there is a plan to get together again in the spring and do a day of scenic photography in Wells Gray Park.

During the class there was an announcement that Barriere photographers will shortly be starting their own photography club.  Those interested can now connect with others on the Barriere photography club’s Facebook page.

This photographer’s thoughts on Composition

Much of the time the photographers I meet and talk to really have only one interest in photography and that is to discuss equipment.  Nowadays, especially, they are very excited about the newest products.  Photographers should be building a selection of equipment that will allow them to do photography the way they like and that works effectively for the subject they want to photograph.

As much as I do like talking about cameras, lenses, and other assorted equipment, what I really like to talk about is photographs.  So, last week, when a photographer stopped by with some nice enlargements, I was pleased to say the least.  We talked about how successful her photographs were at capturing the viewer’s attention, where the photos were taken, her objectives for each, the colors, and why she cropped them the way she had.  They were good photographs and looking at good photos sometimes lets you know a bit about the person who took them.  We started talking about photographic composition; not so much of the photos we were looking at, but just a general discussion.  So today I thought I’d put some thoughts down that people could think about when composing a photograph.

A person painting or drawing can truly compose an image; they have total freedom to place, arrange and alter the appearance of visual elements.  Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subject being photographed and depend on using camera position, point of view or the perspective created by different focal lengths of their lenses.  With photography we try to produce exciting, well balanced images, depending on the subject and how we want to communicate with those elements in the photograph.

What is your photograph about?  Instead of shooting right away, stop to decide which part of the scene you really want to show. Let the content determine the size and importance of the objects.   Try what I call the apple technique:  You are driving along and see an inspiring scene. Don’t just point your camera out the car window!

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in your bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as you are looking at that inspiring scene.   Think about what you like about it. Make some choices. What would you like to say to the viewer?

5. Then get your camera and make the picture.

As you are making your basic choices and deciding on what visual elements are important think about what the famous War photographer Robert Capra, known for the intensity and immediacy of his images, said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”  Getting closer eliminates distracting objects and simplifies the contents of a picture. It reduces busy backgrounds and focuses attention to the main subject or center of interest.

Another consideration is whether to photograph horizontal or vertical.  I listened to a discussion by successful magazine photographer, Scott Bourne.  He asked the question, “When do you take the horizontal?”  His answer was, “After you take the vertical.”

A final thought is to think about important visual elements and how best to arrange them in your photograph. The Rule of Thirds – Draw imaginary lines dividing the picture area into thirds horizontally, than vertically. Important subject areas should fall on the intersections of the lines.  For example, a photograph of an old barn in a field; move your viewfinder around to see how it would look placed in the upper right intersection the each other after that. If you take the time to decide and compose, your photographs will be much more successful.

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