Photographing a late winter garden.

Oregon Grape birch  golden leaves  dry&frozensedum

Last September I wrote about how I like photographing my wife’s garden in every season and I didn’t really care about the weather conditions. I mention here that the more uninviting the elements better I like the photography.

The day here in the interior of British Columbia wasn’t really cold, it was only about -3 Celsius. With a slightly overcast sky I knew it would be perfect for photographing things poking out of the snow. I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and connected a ring flash on that and stepped out into the snow-covered garden.

We had lots of snow this winter and if one digs down the soil is damp and unfrozen. The images I made last September were of dried out faded plants with a golden hue. But as I wandered around this time I found more than one green plant sticking out of the slowly melting snow. The deep, powdery snow that I had been photographing in all winter had turned crusty and no longer clung to the trees. There had been enough of a melt that I even could see some of the garden hose I forgot to put away last fall.

I mentioned that the overcast day was perfect for my subjects. Bright sunny days increase the contrast of scenes, especially snow covered ones, making it hard to capture details in the extremes and I wanted to retain what details I could. The diffused daylight reduced the number of f/stops from black to white.

I used a ring flash. That is a flash that mounts around the front of a lens and can emit a soft direct light towards small subjects. When I add flash to a daylight scene I usually underexpose the ambient light and create fill light with the flash. My ring flash doesn’t have the TTL technology with which modern flash users are familiar.  I must first determine the exposure, remembering that the shutter controls ambient light and flash intensity is controlled by the aperture. The flash is constant power, but can be full, quarter or sixteenth power output.

I began by photographing tall plants, but the small features poking out of or just above the snow seemed more interesting and instead of looking eye level I wandered searching the snow covered ground at my feet. I wandered around with my tripod searching the snow-covered garden for intriguing shapes.

I again ignored what books on garden photography recommend. I shot late in the day, not in the fresh morning light. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography, but that is still months away, and, as I have written before, I doubt presenting winter photographs of shriveled lifeless plants to garden or photography clubs would be acceptable. However, my photographs are more about colour and shape than of a garden environment

Just about anytime is good for a dedicated photographer to make photographs. My advice is to be creative, have fun, and don’t worry about failures. Open them up on the computer, learn something from them then quickly delete.
Of course, some tweaking with PhotoShop always helps and, for those photographers that like me are trying for something different, anytime, and any conditions will be just fine.

I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

Photographing Small Towns

1.The main street 2. town clock 3. out to dinner 4. barber shop 5. gallery 6. church

The pictures I see of cities and towns are usually of exotic locations, and show glamorous and architecturally interesting buildings. I admit that I enjoy photographing cityscapes and easily loose track of time when I am left to wander about on my own in just about any high-building packed city.

Recently, I have been fortunate enough to view the colorful building photography by Australian photographer, Leanne Cole, at and French photographer, Mathias Lucas’ architectural work at  Both photographers got me to think about winter building photography, but, for me, it is a drive of many miles from my rural home to a city with tall buildings.

I wondered about small communities that are scattered along the Thompson River valley. Most aren’t glamorous, or exotic, and although there might be some architecturally interesting buildings left from bygone times, they are often treated by most travelers as convenience stops on the way to somewhere else.

Not far from my backwoods home is the small lakeside town of Chase. When photographers go there they pass through the town center  with barely a glance on their way to the park beach and boat pier. The single-street town isn’t really significant to view with its single story, flat-topped, mostly featureless buildings, and I go to Chase as a place to get something forgotten from my main shopping trip to the larger city of Kamloops where I work.

I sat looking at Lucas’ and Cole’s engaging building images, and even searched out some of my recent files from my October trip to Victoria, British Columbia, and wondered if I might be able to make some interesting photographs of that little village up the valley.

The day had climbed above freezing with some patches of blue sky. I mounted an 18-200mm lens on my camera and headed off on the short drive along the Thompson River to Chase.

My choice of an early afternoon, midweek day was perfect. There were a few vehicles parked at the city curbs, the traffic (unlike on a weekend) was light, and I could easily walk across the street anytime, and I even stood center-street for a few shots.

I took my time wandering along trying different angles, exposures and took more than one shot of each scene choosing different cars, trucks, people and buildings in my quest to make interesting images of the village. I always can tell local residents. They are the ones that don’t mind a photographer, smile, and say hello as they pass. Tourists seem impatient, avert their gaze, and quickly walk past as if my camera is stealing something.

Photography in larger centers is easy, sometimes overwhelming, and always exciting. However, one has to get in the mood and culture when photographing small towns like Chase. I suppose it’s all about trying to observe the town with a thoughtful attitude.

I found a quote by iconic documentary photographer Elliott Erwitt that seemed to fit what I hoped to accomplish as I made images in that small town, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

I made lots of pictures of that small town for this article and included only those that showed the village in its valley location. In any event, I was pleased with the results of my adventure in Chase. In my experience going over ones pictures with a fresh look days later is always a good idea and I intend to do that and may post them sometime later.

I know there are many photographers living in the towns along the British Columbia, Thompson River valley; yet, I rarely see creative work showing the places they live. For years I have attended local art shows that always include local photographers who try their best to produce art-worthy images, but I can’t remember seeing any depicting Chase or any other small city here in the interior. I suppose we become too familiar with our homes and don’t take the time to observe and photograph an interesting view that comes from an ordinary place.  I encourage readers to take a new look.

I always appreciate your comments, Thanks

My website is at

Some Thoughts on Portrait Photography

Model 2portrait by Enmanm

Photographers have been making portraits since the first camera was invented. In spite of the popularity of landscape, wildlife, and sports photography, I believe that most of the pictures that have been made, and still being made, are portraits of people.

Peter Bunnell in Creative Camera International Year Book 1977 wrote,  “There is no single form or style of portraiture. Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity, self-expression, private point of view. The most successful images seem to be those which exist on several planes at once and which reflect the fantasy and understanding of many.”

I like that because I recall being bothered by my college photography instructor’s contention that we should always follow what he referred to as rules for portraiture. Guide lines possibly, but rules? When I examined the great portrait photographers like Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, Bert Stern, Richard Avedon, Eve Arnold, and Annie Leibovitz, to name a few, in my opinion they are anything but rule followers.

One might be able to recognize the photographic work of Penn, Avedon, or Leibovitz and casually use the words “that’s their style”. However, what marks their work, as Brunnell says, is “individualism .…..self-expression, (and a) private point of view.”  That is a lot to aspire to for mortal photographers as we struggle to make our portraits something more than mere documentaries.

When I approach portraiture I try to create portraits that are, well, creative. Sometimes everything works and sometimes it doesn’t.  I want something different in each.

Of course, one must be aware of how a person sees themselves and the circumstances and conditions under which the portrait is made, and I always (using a word coined by Minor White) previsualize the final portrait.  In Ansel Adam’s writings on photography he defined previsualization as, “The ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.”

I know that for a successful portrait the person I am photographing needs to be the main point of interest. I am aware that a way to capture the attention of the viewer one could fill the frame with the subject’s face so there’s really nowhere else to look.

Sometimes it’s the expression on a subject’s face that makes the image. And to get that expression the photographer and subject may need to experiment with different moods and emotions.  Portraitists spend much time putting people at ease and making them comfortable in front of a camera. I think it’s all about gaining a person’s trust that we are going to help them look the best they can.

Some photographers get stuck in a rut by only shooting either horizontally, or vertically, or always from the same angle. To them I suggest mixing up framing in each portrait session so there will be a variety of images.

The internet is packed with “How to” advice on portraiture photography. Some of it is worth thinking about and some is bewildering. Those serious about bettering his or her portrait photography will select what works best and is the most comfortable.

Everything comes down to one’s personal definition of what a portrait is. According to Wikipedia, “it is a picture of a person, a description. It can be a photograph, a sketch, a sculpture, but a portrait is so much more than that. It is collaboration between the subject and in this case the photographer.”  Collaboration is the key word for me in that description, and in my experience those portraits I have made that I think are the most successful, is because the person who was in front of the camera was willing to work, or collaborate, with me towards the final image.

Following up on last week’s column there has been lots of discussion by the photographers that attended the strobist meetup. What lens worked, thoughts and suggestions on the lighting, and on posing models. We have been looking at each other’s pictures from that day, and a good critique among friends on what worked and what didn’t is always welcome and fun.

As always, I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

Another Strobist Meet-up for Photographers

Demetra Koutsopdiotis  Monica Nicklas   Monica Nicklas 2

My friend, Dave Monsees, decided to host another Strobist Meet-up at his photography studio, and I was definitely up for that. I like trudging around photographing snowy scenics, but, the thought of spending a photo-filled day in a warm, wood-heated studio was enticing, and when he extended the invite I didn’t hesitate to accept.

My request to the other photographers was to continually change the two lighting setups  that we were using. I had participated in past meets, and, they were fun and photographers got to make lots of pictures of models; however, even though the resulting pictures were great, the lighting remained basically static for every image. For this day I wanted to change the modeling lights and modifiers every hour.

That meant photographers and models had to rethink what they were trying to do, but after the first change everyone got into the swing and began to get really innovative. Photographers changed lenses, shooting angles, helped each other out by moving the lighting around, and our models went through several clothing changes and were as involved in the creative process as the photographers.

The studio had lots of lighting equipment set up with wireless camera connectors for each photographer. There were two different backdrop set-ups, and we had our choice of lights and modifiers like softboxes, umbrellas, snoots, barn doors, and reflectors.

When I wrote about the last studio meet-up I attended I said that photographers always need to explore and experiment, and get-togethers like this are perfect for practicing off-camera lighting in a studio (that most photographers don’t have access to) without the pressure of actual clients, and it is a fun way to refine one’s skills. Monsees commented that he liked being around fun people with a true passion for photography, and dedicated to off-camera flash.  He also said that he enjoyed himself so much that he intends to try to have photographer and model get-togethers in his studio every month if he can.

Although photographers have been using off-camera light nearly as long as they have been making portraits of people, that practice has really been limited to a few that owned studios. Recently all that has been changing what with quickly advancing camera technology, and the word “strobist” now refers to a photographer who uses off-camera flash to take pictures, instead of the usual pop-up flash, or hotshoe flash attached on top of the camera.

I am often asked, “Why use off-camera flash?” Instead of using just a camera, one must lug around a light stand and a flash. That means carrying extra weight. Sometimes a photographer would require an assistant since weather conditions might knock over the light when shooting outdoors.  My response to the question is, “Better pictures.” Light is the language of photography. Without light there are no photos. With off-camera light one adds light and control over the final image. Adding light might introduce drama in a picture and can increase detail or hide it. The extra work greatly affects the output.

I like quotes and here is one regarding light from George Eastman, American innovator and entrepreneur, who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film. He summed it up for me when he said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”

I always appreciate your comments, Thanks

My website is at