Cold Weather Photography

Snowy vineyard Jim Vineyard pruning Vineyard tractor  John

It’s beginning to be a long, cold winter. Lots of snow, wind, crappy roads, and well, I suppose that’s just winter in British Columbia.

I have been getting out with my camera (chasing the light as it were) whenever I can and just having fun photographing as many different subjects as I can.  Sometimes, however, I have to remember to make a living. So I packed up my camera and flash when I received an email from the owners of a vineyard I have been photographing since spring reminding me it was time to get pictures of the seasonal pruning.

I have written about my excursions in the winter snow, but on those I could take my time. I would wait for, or follow the sun, and when the weather got too windy or too cold all I had to do was go inside.  On this occasion I couldn’t do that. The day was very overcast, flat, and gray. The temperature on the high, flat, plain along the river wasn’t painfully cold, but even at minus 5 degrees Celsius the constant wind made fingers and ears uncomfortable quickly.

The vineyard workers slogged through sometimes knee deep snow and were all bundled up against the wind and cold as they pruned the acres of vines. My job was to make pictures that were more than just documents of people working at a local winery.

I put on my warm winter boots, several layers of clothes, and my convertible fingerless mitts. My biggest problem wasn’t the weather; my concern was the light, or at least, the lack of it. I didn’t want to be limited to a wide aperture. Limiting my depth of field would put foreground and background out of focus, and I wanted vines and/or people on both sides of my subject to be in focus.

To compensate, I increased my ISO to 800, selected 1/250th shutter speed, and tried to keep my aperture at F8 or smaller. For any close shots of the vineyard workers pruning vines I had a flash mounted on a flash bracket attached to my camera. I like that bracket. It positions the flash about ten inches above my camera so it doesn’t get shadow from my big lens hood like the pop-up flash, and I can easily move the flash off-camera to light subjects from different directions.

I didn’t have to worry about the vineyard people being camera shy because by now they are pretty used to me, and most have an easy smile and are happy to discuss their work and don’t seem to mind me joining into a conversation and even pose a bit to make my pictures better. That’s my style anyway. I’m not one to hide behind a camera. Whenever I am involved in an event I change my position a lot, and am never concerned with getting my clothes dirty or wet. I work to keep everyone relaxed and I quickly lift my camera to make an image, and just as quickly lower it do keep contact with my subject.

After the cold, windy hours of photography I hitched a ride on a tractor back to the barn. Those fellows were happy to get out of a long day in the cold snow and wind, returning to their warm homes to relax and pack ice on their sore, right hands. The hours of pruning comes at a cost.

For me it was a productive day. And, even though I now have lots of images for my clients I’ll keep an eye on the light for the next week and return to the vineyard hoping to get a few more shots.

I do appreciate any comments, Thanks

My website is at

Infrared Photography on a winter day

old truck in infrared Infrared roadside Farm in Infrared

Photographers always tell me that they are participating on some kind of photo challenge or another: a photograph-a-day for a year, or once-a-month for some specific time, or some have even decided to follow a particular subject through each season. I like the idea, however, I expect dedicating time to making a photograph every day (unless one works in a busy studio and is doing it as part of the work day) could become quite a chore.

Personally, I have tried projects that require that kind of stick-to-it dedication, but I get side tracked easily and rarely complete what I started. Last February I thought I might photograph a bridge a month. I live near a big river so how hard could that be? I did get a few and then I just forgot.

When it comes to my personal photography fun stuff just happens. For example, it was one of those days when I was too lazy to do the stuff around the house that I should have been doing.  I was reading some and just thinking about photography in general. OK, for me thinking about photography isn’t that unusual, it is actually what I prefer to do.

I was lazy, reading and thinking about how I should have a photo project. OK, the project: drive up the road a couple miles and photograph neighbour’s places poking out of the snow and do it with my infrared camera which is fun.  Criteria: Hope for some sun.

I have an older digital SLR camera (Nikon D100) that has been modified to only see infrared light. Infrared (IR) light is light that has longer wavelengths on the red edge of the spectrum and is invisible to human eyes.

The sensors for digital cameras are sensitive to more than just the visible light spectrum. This causes problems with colour balance, so camera manufacturers place a filter in front of the sensor that blocks the infrared part of the spectrum that only allows visible light, and not infrared, to pass through. The modification for my D100 was accomplished by removing that filter, and installing one instead that blocks visible light, allowing mostly infrared light to reach the camera’s sensor.

The camera still functions normally with full autofocus and autoexposure, except that it’s now able to record the infrared wavelengths that are just beyond what the human eye is capable of seeing.  When infrared photographs are produced as black and white the photographs show trees with glowing white leaves and black skies opening up new visual opportunities for photographing the world around us.

Many think of infrared photography as the stuff of military night reconnaissance, or, as frequently portrayed in movies, as aerial thermal imaging that finds the bad guys. With thermal imaging one sees the heat the subject is producing, however, infrared as photographers use it, with our modified cameras, is about capturing the light or radiation that is reflected off a subject and doesn’t involve thermal imaging at all.

In 1800 Sir Frederick William Hershel described the relationship between heat and light and let the world know about the existence of infrared light in the electromagnetic spectrum.

I don’t know how conversions are accomplished with modern sensors. With my old D100 I need to preset the white balance and be aware of a meter that is easily tricked with the white snow. I must check my camera histogram after every release of the shutter and usually make two or three exposures just in case. However, everything appears normal through the camera’s viewfinder.  Also, because so much light reaches the sensor one can use high shutter speeds and so it is easy to hand hold while exposing a photograph.

I would have liked a clear sky with more sun to increase the infrared effect, but the high clouds let in just enough light to make things interesting and challenging. Some subjects don’t work very well with infrared, so I just experiment, take lots of pictures and hope for the best. I knew on that not-so-bright-day my images would take some work with PhotoShop and NIK’s SilverEfex.

Infrared photography is fun. I was only out wandering my neighborhood for a little over an hour before I hurried home to work on what I got. Everything changes when one is working with infrared, forcing even the least creative among us to think creatively. I can leave my images with blue trees the LCD displays or move the white balance off the preset to cloudy and get red and black pictures instead. Opening an image file in PhotoShop is always a bit of a surprise and from there on its all experimenting and personal vision. Yes, infrared is fun.

As always, I appreciate your comments.

My website is at

A Good Day of Roadside Photography

River view copy   REd pier copy Horse running copy

I recently talked to a long time photographer that said the landscape photography in early advertisements by the American Automobile Association was what got him into photography. That organization was once the best place to get maps for road trips in North America. They sent their employees out, with cameras and mapping instruments, across the continent finding the best and most scenic routes. I remember seeing pictures of their big, four-door cargo vehicles with people poised on platforms on top of the vehicle with large tripod mounted 8×10 cameras on some obscure dirt road in the middle of North America. It all looked very exciting.

We both remembered pictures of Ansel Adams standing on a platform on top of a vehicle very much like those used by the American Automobile Association with his large camera making wonderful photographs that scenic photographers still admire.  I actually sold my jaunty, little, two-seater MG that was so easy to get around the streets of Los Angeles, and bought a bright yellow International Scout 4×4. Underpowered, poor turning capability, uncomfortable on long trips with back seats that were only accessed by climbing over a metal barrier behind the front seats, it was perfect in my young mind and meant that I, like Ansel Adams and the folks from the AAA, could gleefully travel the back roads in a cool looking vehicle with my camera capturing the natural world on film.

Years have passed, and technology has changed, and so have I.  There are still lots of back roads to explore and photograph, but the days of climbing on my car roof are long gone.  The American Automobile Association no longer explores the country, and today I check maps on line or my cell phone. I don’t need a large 8×10 view camera like Ansel Adams used with the accompanying long hours working in a chemical darkroom to make good enlargements, and certainly don’t want to drive around in that uncomfortable, gas guzzling International anymore.

I thought about that conversation and the many scenic photographs I have made while driving along the South Thompson River towards Kamloops, British Columbia as I pulled off the road to meet up with fellow photographer Peter Evans. Evans and I were hoping the sun on the gray, overcast day would poke through the clouds enough for us to make some worthwhile pictures. We had headed out on the snow-covered roads without a plan. Not the best way to success, but both of us just wanted to get out.  We drove along the highway photographing horses, snow covered trees, and Evans even jumped out trying for some photos of distant deer bounding through a meadow. There were lots of opportunities in spite of the flat light, but our main problem was getting my car far enough off the snow lined highway so as not to be clipped by large passing transport trucks.

We stopped and wandered along the Shuswap Lake in the small town of Chase , and photographed the pier, reflections in the water, and trees along the white icy shore.  When the sun finally peaked though and we dashed back to the car, our goal to catch the sun along the river near a bridge that crosses the Thompson River a few miles from where we were. Chasing the sun seems to be part of roadside photography sometimes.

By the time we reached the Pritchard river crossing the sun was creating diagonal shafts of light that slowly illuminated some features in the landscape, and then in minutes moved leaving them absent of light.

We parked and rushed on to the bridge, yelling at each other, “look, look, look”. Then in spite of cars crossing the narrow bridge, we stood by the railings and shot away. The river scene was exciting, and I constantly altered my meter trying to keep the exposure under the fast moving light. Then in about ten minutes the sun moved into the clouds and dropped behind distant hills and the sky, hills, and river were back to unexciting flat light. However, we were like two happy young kids as returned to the car talking about our luck with the light.

That’s what I call a good day of roadside photography. Pictures of running horses, reflections on the lake, cool shots of the Chase pier, all capped with luminous pictures of the river and I didn’t even need a platform mounted on a gas guzzling vehicle, a big heavy camera, or back roads.

I appreciate your comments. thanks

My website is at

Ten Resolutions for Photographers for 2013

When I wrote about New Year’s my resolutions last year I said they weren’t so much resolutions, as they were things I’d been thinking about for some time. This year they could be just as accurately called my photography goals for 2013 rather than my New Year’s resolutions.

I also asked members of for their resolutions. So here are some of the best from them, a couple from other photographer’s blogs I liked, and some of mine.  I kept the number at ten and mixed them into no real order. Too many goals don’t seem to work for me.

1.    This is the year to concentrate on personal strengths. So the first resolution might be called  “growth”.

2.    Plan a trip or photographer’s vacation this year.  Be sure to make it about photography, not one of those    rushing trips where one hopes for a snap shot or two. For me the resolution would be, a photographer’s excursion that allows and inspires me to use the equipment, knowledge, and talents I have.

3.     Photographers should always make the effort to learn new techniques. Maybe by taking a class, or at least buying some books, or CDs, written by accomplished photographic writers. This resolution can be called “education”.

4.    I will continue my ongoing quest to organize my old prints and slides.  I make this resolution every year. This never-ending struggle has been ongoing for years and may never end. I want to place as many as possible on archival CDs. I suppose this resolution is “organize”.

5.    My shop is a great place to interact with others interested in photography; I have a few chairs available, and it is fun to talk about photography. My advice for those that don’t have my convenience is to get together with other photographers with the only goal being to talk about, or do photography. How about searching out photographers interested in the kind of subjects one might like to photograph, for example, collaborate with like-minded enthusiasts and plan an outing, or just get together for refreshments and talk at some local spot. This resolution is “get involved with other photographers”.

6.    I could add a lens or maybe get a newer camera body this year, but I am never really searching. New equipment just happens, there isn’t any one camera or lens that I require.  However, because I prefer to purchase used equipment, I am always on the look out for bargains that fit the kind of photography I do. So the resolution for this year should be to sell something that I am not using and buy something that I will use.

7.   Many photographers are participating on “photographic challenges”. Anything that gets us out with our camera has got to be good. Whatever the challenge may be, whether about some specific subject like photographing all the bridges in one’s area, or a photo-a-day for some period of time. As I’ve stated before anything that gets us out with our camera has got to be good. So this resolution might be “take on a challenge”.

8.   Study famous photographers and look at lots of photos. When I am interested in a new subject I begin by doing an internet search on photographers that worked in that specific area. Then I find their books or photographs and choose an image and try to figure out why it works. This resolution will be to “look at lots of photographs” this year.

9.   “Out of Chicago” blogger, Chris Smith, wrote, “Slow down. This was my resolution two years ago and it changed my photography. I decided to buy that new tripod.” And he continues by saying, “Before this I was taking too many pictures.”  He explains that by reducing his captures, “I actually had many more keepers. So take your time with each shot.” I like what he wrote so this resolution will be “slow down and take more time”.

10. The last is from photographer, Ming Theinb, “(Be) More ruthless with the seeing and editing process; conditioning oneself to throw out the crap is the only way to keep improving.” This resolution is “quality not quantity”.

I am sure readers will make their own resolutions for the year we have just begun.

What could  they be? I can only imagine.