Remembering those Great Portrait Photographers that influenced me.

Mike and Shannon Moyer's wedding in Kamloops.

Mike and Shannon Moyer’s wedding in Kamloops.

I had been editing images from a wedding (pictured) I photographed on the weekend and decided to take a break, and settled down to watch a documentary that my wife had recorded on television about photography-great Annie Leibovitz.

Leibovitz made a name for herself with her collaborative style of portrait photography in the 1970s as a photographer for the Rolling Stone magazine and, of course, if you’re my age you may remember the incredible photos she made while touring with the actual Rolling Stones rock band.

The program was a walk down memory lane for me, and I thought about how she and other successful photographers had influenced my approach to photography, and as I watched I considered some other great photographers that impacted my view of portraiture.

The first photographers I became aware of while living and beginning my study of photography in Los Angeles so long ago were the co-founders of Group f/64, an association of west coast photographers.  I would go to exhibitions of their work and irritate my friends because I would ignore them to sit for long periods viewing each photographer’s work; I was amazed with the way they dealt with light and shadow. Ansel Adams and Imogene Cunningham, although not especially portrait photographers, were among those that changed the way photography was approached. Adams is well known to most, but Cunningham’s controlled photography of patterns, detail, and texture is worth viewing not only for her portraiture but also in her botanical work.  On portraiture she was known to comment, “The thing that’s fascinating about portraiture is that nobody is alike.”

Discovering Arnold Newman stopped me in my tracks. Newman photographed the world’s most influential people and his portraiture was termed “environmental”.  Unlike many of his contemporaries at the time, he might include tables, pianos, and other elements he deemed structurally important to a portrait and when interviewed about his style he said, “I am always lining things up, measuring angles…. I’m observing the way you sit, and the way you fit into the composition of the space around you.”

Another woman that challenged the way photographers approached portrait photography at that time was Sarah Moon. Her photographs were mysterious and surreal, sometimes in weirdly muted colours, or nostalgic with diffused grain. Her comment as to her portraiture was, “I never photograph reality.”

One of my favourite portraitists that I have mentioned and quoted many times is Richard Avedon, and his minimalist style with stark white backgrounds. The provocative three-foot high photographs from his exhibition entitled “In the American West” were an important hallmark in 20th century portrait photography. When talking about photography he said, “if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible.”

There are many more that made me want to spend time making portraits in my early days with this medium, but the last I’ll mention is Irving Penn.  Truly an artist, his portraits are more than images depicting beautiful people and his prints take on the mantle of works of art in themselves. He said, “I myself have always stood in the awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.”

Photographing people and stopping their lives for a fleeting moment is pure enjoyment, and for those photographers that want to become more proficient I recommend spending time searching out the famous photographers I have mentioned, viewing their works, and applying the lessons learned to their own portrait photography.

To complete my tribute to those portrait photographers that affected my photography, and that of many others. I will end with Imogene Cunningham’s famous quote “Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

Don’t hesitate to leave me your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

Photography at the Pritchard Rodeo

This father and son are watching the action at the Pritchard Rodeo.

This father and son are watching the action at the Pritchard, British Columbia Rodeo.

I never know who is going to win.

I never know who is going to win.

I think that horse is smiling.

I think that horse is smiling.

Root for who ya want...

Cow one, cowboy zero.  Root for who ya want…

I called this "Defying gravity"..I have never seen 'em fall..

I called this “Defying gravity”..I have never seen ’em fall..

Concentrating and holding on.

Concentrating and holding on.

I don't think riding sidesaddle is appropriate.

I don’t think riding sidesaddle is appropriate.

I'll call this, "Quick Dismount"

I’ll call this, “Quick Dismount”

Maybe this is why they call bull riding dangerous. Ya wouldn't this that big fell could jump that high.

Maybe this is why they call bull riding dangerous. Ya wouldn’t this that big fell could jump that high.

Thats what I call a high kick !

Thats what I call a high kick !

“When photographing fast-paced, erratically-moving subjects like those at a rodeo I would select Shutter priority. I like shutterspeeds of 1/500th or more and one always needs to be aware of depth-of-field, and balancing the shutter speed and aperture for that. Wide apertures reduce the field of focus in front of and behind your focus point, so leave room for the moving subject; something like f/8 or better yet, f/11 would be safest.”

That was part of a discussion I had with a fellow photographer while standing beside the arena at the Pritchard, BC Rodeo last Sunday.  I had been laughing about the not-so-successful attempts two wranglers were having as they tried to lasso a wily bronco.  As we talked I was quickly pointing my camera at the action, and the other fellow wondered why I wasn’t paying attention to my settings in the changing daylight.

I asked how he set his camera and his response was he first tried his camera on Manual mode and had just switched to Aperture priority.  I am sure either of those would work well, and I have no doubt that some photographers who shoot rodeos professionally will have their own advice to him.

I was there to have fun, socialize with friends, and still get as many shots (that were keepers) of the rodeo as I could. Shutter priority assured that I’d always have a shutterspeed that would stop the action.

My first goal was to get the light correct and keep it correct without constantly resetting the camera. The only “chimping” (a term used to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera LCD immediately after capture) I would do was to check my camera’s Histogram every now and then.

Shutter priority was as close to point-and-shoot as I could get in an environment where my attention might stray. Fortunately this was a local rodeo and I was very familiar with the grounds and where the action would take place. When an event was about to change I would casually walk around the arena to where I had in the past found the best place to photograph that particular activity.

My favorites to photograph are Saddle Bronc, Bareback, Steer and Bull riding.  The action is explosive and I think the participants (horse and rider, or bull and rider) pitted against each other are well matched and one can never be sure who will win. I am of the opinion that both animals and humans know it’s a game. For example, I watched a large black bull crashing around in the bucking chute, giving the handlers a hard time as the rider tried to get mounted. The gate opened, rider and bull exploded into the arena with the bull bucking, rearing, kicking, spinning, and twisting. Although he did his best to hang on for the required eight seconds, the contest ended with the cowboy being thrown.

Bullfighters rushed to help the rider, possibly expecting additional aggression from the bull, but at that moment that large, black, dangerous bull’s attitude immediately seemed to change from “death incarnate” to, well, a nice fellow out for a stroll. And that’s exactly what he did, casually walked back to exit the arena to brag to his buddies.

My photographs didn’t show that mellow conclusion, that’s not what we expect at the rodeo. Instead they are great action photos of what has been called, “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports”.

The Pritchard Rodeo grounds are perfect for photographers. The arena is enclosed with a strong metal fence that’s safe to stand close to and doesn’t restrict the view.  Of course, one has to be careful when excited horses are getting ready for the Barrel Race, but heck, it is a rodeo and one must remember that the animals, like any other athletes, are focusing on what they are about to do, not some silly person with a camera.

I’ll mention that Barrel Racing is also a great subject to photograph, and trying to perfectly capture what seems like a gravity-defying moment as horse and rider, fast and furiously, circle the barrel is exciting.

I know there are more rodeos scheduled for the British Columbia rodeo circuit ahead and interested photographers can expect an enjoyable, energy-packed day of photography that, at times, will test their skills.

I always appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

Photography in Wells Gray Park

Helmkin Falls  LLW_6435a BailysShoot(1)  Clearwater falls  Homestead WellsGrey shed WellsGrey Infrared                                                                                                       The very first time I visited Wells Grey Park was back in the early 1970’s. The road wasn’t the wide, smooth, asphalt-surfaced thoroughfare, with lots of easy viewing pullouts that it is now. At that time it was a rough, winding, sort-of maintained, dirt passage with narrow, metal bridges reminiscent of those quickly constructed by military engineers during the Second World War.

I had been traveling across Canada east to west and was told by a fellow traveler that there was a mountain park somewhere in British Columbia that was great for hiking. Gray Provincial Park.  I had no information at that time about the park, and all I could get out of the few people I asked about the park was that there is a big waterfall there, and I could camp there. So with a map I had purchased at a gas station along the way that first lead me first to the small town of Clearwater, after which I turned at a sign that said Wells Gray Provincial Park.

The first thing I recall about that trip along the dusty route into the park was a blockade across the road. There may have been ten or more women, and although friendly, they had a look that said, “We are serious and you better do as we ask”. We stopped, and were presented with a petition, and asked to sign, to the government to have the road paved.  I guess it worked, because by the time I moved to Kamloops five years later, and started to frequent Wells Gray Park, there was the well-maintained road that park visitors now enjoy.

Our rural home in Pritchard is a two-hour drive from the park. Just after breakfast on Sunday morning, when my wife, Linda, suggested we go to Wells Gray for lunch, I got the cooler out, made some sandwiches, and packed our cameras and tripods in the car.

My excursions into Wells Gray these days are pretty much as a roadside photographer.

I could dig out my back pack and tent and head off on one of the well-used trails up into the lush alpine meadows of the Cariboo Mountains, or I could borrow my son’s comfortable travel trailer and stay at one of the excellent campsites along the fast moving Clearwater river or at Clearwater lake itself.  However, there are lots of places to stop and photograph the park that don’t include the need for hiking attire, and anyway, as I wrote, Wells Gray is perfect for roadside photography.

There is so much to photograph; waterfalls, majestic river views, mountain vistas, old homesteads and, of course, lake panoramas. There is lots of wildlife there, but the park has so many visitors that other than a few birds and chipmunks, most forest inhabitants prefer to hide from view, although I have, on occasion, seen a bear or two, and one snowy winter I saw moose after moose walking along the road.

On Sunday’s lazy excursion we first stopped at a dilapidated, old building with amazing longevity, that I have photographed many times over the years. Each time I visit I expect it to be gone, but it just rests in a grassy meadow alongside the road waiting for another photographer to make a picture. This time I wondered if there was an angle, or season, that I haven’t pointed a camera at that once proud home. I have made pictures of it using every type of film and camera format, as well as infrared. I also expect I am one of those rare visitors that has never ventured inside that old house in the past 30 years. I guess I like to keep some mystery.

Our next stop was for lunch at the Helmcken Falls picnic area. As we sat talking and eating lunch I could overhear people at the nearby tables and along the guardrail speaking different languages. Wells Gray gets tourists from all over the world and I will say that it is a rare park visit that I don’t meet people from other countries.

Linda and I didn’t join the happy picture takers on the viewing platform. It is a nice place to sit, or stand, and enjoy that impressive waterfall, but for me it’s the wrong angle for a good shot. After lunch we picked up our cameras and tripods walked through the windfalls to my favorite spot, although this year there were so many downed trees that it was harder to get to our favourite spot along the canyon edge, Neither of us could use a very wide focal length without including a foreground of dead trees, however we persevered and finally left the Falls after a good half hour of photography, satisfied with what we were able to photograph.  All in all it was a very good day.

Wells Gray Provincial Park is a great place to wander about with a camera and worth the short drive from Kamloops. A summer photo excursion is fun, but my favorite time is the fall and readers can be sure this roadside photographer will be there again in a few short months.

Don’t hesitate to comment – I always appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

Deadman Junction Photographs – A Great Time

view of deadman junction buildings

view of deadman junction buildings

mining office and jail

mining office and jail

an old mining cart

an old mining cart

an old cargo wagon in the street

an old cargo wagon in the street

view from deadman's main street to buildings.

view from deadman’s main street to buildings.


a wall with saws and a photographer's sign

a wall with saws and a photographer’s sign

an old cargo wagon in the street

an old cargo wagon in the street


Cigar store sculpture in front of saloon

Cigar store sculpture in front of saloon

  walking down Deadman Junction main street

walking down Deadman Junction main street

Photographers driving about an hour west of Kamloops British Columbia, along the Trans Canada Highway 1, past Savona, and past the turn to Deadman’s Creek, will discover a neat, little gem situated just off the road.  All they have to do is watch for a big, home-made sign positioned on the side of the road, amidst the wide, low, rolling-hilled, sagebrush-filled landscape that declares, “Deadman Junction”.

At first glace that sign marks what looks like the remnants of an old town. There are already plenty of decrepit structures left decaying along that stretch of highway and travelers might be hesitant to stop because it looks like it might be, like so many others, private property, and I expect many readers have been run off occasionally by landowners intent on preserving their privacy. However, my suggestion is to slow down and stop because this is a camera-waiting, ready-made, western movie set that is definitely not restricted to private invitation and where everyone will be welcome.

Owned by dedicated wild-west enthusiast Matt Sandvoss, the partially constructed old-west replica is a perfect place for any respectful photographer that wants to work with western lore and old buildings.

Sandvoss, an enjoyable storyteller, guide, and visionary in his pursuit to construct this copy of an Old-West town in a remote part of British Columbia, is an eager, willing, and immediately likeable host.

When I arrived there were motorcycle travelers from Alberta, and a family from England, with both groups enjoying his commentary on the movies that had been filmed there and his ideas for the town’s future. He was pointing out features, western items he had collected, and was adding interesting anecdotes on each.

Although I was mostly involved in my personal photographic quest through the photogenic location, I did hear him mention the movie “The A-Team”, and that actor Harrison Ford had been there. I think that is great, having just found the place I’d hate to see in fall into disrepair, and movies will give Mr. Sandvoss the funds to not only maintain it, but also to add more buildings (for us to photograph).

Photographically the location is almost captivating. The landscape is wide and rolling with almost none of the modern trappings like wide parking lots, concession stands and electrical power poles that usually come with roadside attractions, and when one does see a power pole or something else that gets in the way, it is easy to find a different view.

I wandered back and forth, there was so much to photograph that I found myself continually returning for another look or angle. I was able to capture wide, picturesque images of a row of buildings with appropriate sagebrush and tumbleweed in front of, and around, rickety-looking old wagons, and even iron works close-ups on what I am sure were authentic mining carts.

Those travelers of Highway 1 between Kamloops and Cache Creek might want to stop to cool off at the Juniper Beach Provincial Park nestled in a shady, treed spot along the river, and if the Skeetchestn Indian Band rodeo is in progress, that’s a neat event also. However, for me I know I’ll be taking the scenic drive again along the mighty, winding Thompson River to spend some time listening to Sandvoss’ stories and a whole bunch of time photographing Deadman Junction.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at