Shoot Your Way to Work

Going to work  Passing a neighbor  Just passing  Watching me go  Field view  Into the valley  On to Kamloops

It seems like several lifetimes ago when I worked as an instructor in California, and my students, were mostly inner city in third, fourth, and fifth grades, and in many cases, were not interested in anything other than getting through the day, so they could do something more enjoyable.

My job in the Alternative Education Program of the US Office of Education at the time was finding more creative methods for teaching children that would bring some excitement to learning the basics that seemed boring to young minds.

This story is going to get around to cameras, just bare with me.  At the time I wanted to involve photography, so when one of the lead instructors complained that young students couldn’t discuss the neighborhoods they walked through on the way to school, and he wanted to work on that as a project. I took the opportunity to insert photography into his project.

We started by giving the kids a pad and pencil and asked them to write about their trip to school. Some days later we all made pirate eye patches and gave them the centers from toilet tissue rolls. Students wore the patch on one eye, and used the roll tubes to look at things as they walked to school, and then later wrote about the trip to school. They saw more and more and wrote pages about the things they originally ignored.

On the final week of the project we gave them all Diana F cameras to take photographs along the way. The Diana F is a blue and black plastic, 120mm, roll film camera with a fixed shutterspeed, and, as I remember, a three-stop aperture. Actually, since then the Diana F has become a kind of “cult camera”.  Who knew? At the time it was just an inexpensive camera that the school didn’t mind loosing.

Some helpful parents had made double-layered, lightproof developing bags, that cameras and Kodak apron-type developing tanks were put into, and then tied to the student’s arms to keep out the light. After what seemed a painfully long time the tanks would emerge with the film safely inside.

We processed the film and the kids would run around the schoolyard with film flying high till it was dried in the warm California air. I once had to prove to an administrator that the developer was safe by drinking a little paper cup full. OK, I did have an upset stomach later, but I never told.

I made little cardboard and glass contact printers and everyone would place their film on Studio Proof paper and sit in the sun on the sidewalk till purple images appeared. Now long discontinued, Studio Proof paper was once used by portrait photographers to make sure the customers returned for their pictures. The deep purple pictures would fade to a solid colour in a few weeks.

Purple pictures of their neighborhood in hand the students would sit and actually write stories about the now memorable walk to school. Sure they had the pictures, but the viewfinder heightened the process of seeing.  There is something about photography and the act of image making that helps and reminds us how unforgettable and exciting it is to be in the place we live.

I recently thought about that long ago episode with photography. So for a fun thing for myself one day I thought I should try, as I had those students do, to shoot my way to work. I am always rushing at the last minute when heading to work in the morning and that makes taking pictures a rushed thing.  For my trip to work I used the spy it, stop-the-car, jump out, shoot fast and drive off method. Not my usual way, but I admit I had fun, got lots of interesting pictures, and wasn’t too late getting to my shop, and I had fun.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures of my way to town….

Please don’t hesitate to comment.

My new website is at

Taking Pictures at the Party

Tree Planter's 122  Tree Planter's 095  Tree Planter's 102  Tree Planter's 047   Tree Planter's 076  Tree Planter's 071

I can hardly believe how fast this year has gone by!  Wasn’t I just complaining about the unforgiving heat during a wedding I photographed on a cloudless +35C day?

Now, here I am bundled up in the +1c cold and snow, with new snow tires mounted on my car. Gosh, there is even an advertisement on television about what wine to bring to upcoming Christmas parties. Yikes!  Don’t get me wrong I like Christmas, and everything that goes with it, but I am not ready for winter’s snow yet, and neither is all the stuff in our yard that will get covered and damaged if I don’t get off my-lazy-whatever and pick them up.

Even though it seems early the Christmas season is coming up fast and that means photographic opportunities as we join family, friends, and co-workers at all the year-end festive events that are going to begin in December.

Photographer friends are going to dive in, digital cameras in hand, happily filling memory cards with candid photos.  The act of picture taking has become so easy and so much fun as photographers rush over to take a picture, look at the LCD, and quickly slide back to show others those tiny images.

For many photography has become more about the process of picture taking than it is about creating art, or even documenting the party; it is more about standing in front of people, taking lots of quick snapshots, than it is about making memorable photographs.

Most images made in this fashion never become more than space-taking files stored on computers that after quickly being looked at, laughed at, or smiled at, are tucked away with good intentions to be used in some fashion in the future, but after that initial viewing they loose their value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

How should readers approach photography at the next party?  Yes, readers should continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, they should also think about making pictures that tell a story, capture an exciting moment, and importantly, flatter the subjects.

Most people don’t mind seeing a picture of themselves being silly or having fun, but they don’t like pictures that make them look stupid or unattractive.

My approach is to take a moment to look at the room in which I intend to make photographs, make a couple of test shots with longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include some ambient light when making exposures using the on-camera flash so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

I suggest taking group shots with two or three people. Get them to position themselves so they are squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast, steady the camera, and select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light. Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that is 1600, and some go a lot higher.

Shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, or less, doesn’t always work for children playing in the snow during the day because moving subjects will be blurry, but, with limited lighting moving subjects will only be exposed when the flash goes off.

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great, but that would ruin the party for everyone. The occasion would become more about the photography than about the fun and festivities.  I use an on-camera flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as its enjoyable and I want pictures that show them having a good time. So, along with those quick candids I make posed portraits with smiling faces, and if I select some pictures to give away later I want people to like the pictures taken of them and honestly thank me.

I always enjoy everyones comments, John

My website at

Using a Camera Modified for Infrared on vacation.

Infrared lightInfrared tree  construction IR  Cupola IR  Waterfront IR  Infrared and brick  Marina in IR    Infrared in street  Tower IR  IR light on clock  Flag & Building in IR

When on vacation I always bring along my camera. Actually most of the trips I take are for the purpose of relaxing and making pictures. If I couldn’t bring a camera I would suffer because I would see shots I wanted to take and wouldn’t be able to do it.

I enjoy wandering about with my camera wherever I go and for the short vacation my wife and I took to the coast of Washington state at La Conner.  For this trip I wanted to make a real change from my everyday shooting, and decided to spend each late afternoon making exposures with the well-worn Nikon D100 I had modified many years ago to only “see” infrared light.

Digital camera sensors are as sensitive to infrared light as to visible light. In order to stop infrared light from contaminating images manufacturers placed in front of the sensor what they call “a hot filter” to block the infrared part of the spectrum and still allow the visible light to pass through. My infrared modified D100 has had that filter removed and replaced with a custom filter for infrared only.

The first day we had lodging in the town of La Conner.  I began walking the town in the morning with my Nikon D800e, and then returned in the late afternoon walking the streets and waterfront with my Modified D100 for infrared images.

On the second day, after a leisurely drive sight-seeing unsuccessfully trying to get close to the annual snow geese migration, we went a bit further to some big stores at an outlet mall near Seattle my wife wanted to check out.  Next day we moved about 20 miles down the road to a motel in Anacortes and again I roamed the streets, alleyways, and oceanfront with my infrared camera in a new location.

There is nothing quite like infrared (IR) Photography. Making an image with a modified camera is an exploration.  I like the contrasty tones that I can obtain when I convert the image to black and white. I suppose, like any form of photography, or art, it’s all a matter of taste.

Reflected IR light produces an array of surreal effects. Vegetation appears white or near white. Black surfaces can appear gray or almost white depending on the angle of reflected light. And the sky is my favorite part; it will be black if photographed from the right direction. The bluer the sky, the more the chance there is for a dramatic appearance.

Get everything right and there will be a “crispness” that’s rarely seen in regular photography, with everything looking very different from a normal black and white conversion.

The low-angled, late afternoon coastal light created lots of deep shadows on the buildings and trees, and it was that light and the contrasting effects that I was able to capture.

I like photographing architecture and other human-made structures. Well, actually, I like photographing just about anything. But on a trip when my goal is to photographically discover, or in this case, rediscover a small town or city, I let myself be as creative as possible with the many architectural structures, and a camera that sees only infrared does help. In addition, the colourful coastal architecture is very different from what one finds in the usually very dry, forested interior of British Columbia where I live.

I walked and walked. I photographed and re-photographed. I talked to people I met in the alleyways, along the street, and on the waterfront. My only goal was to capture the way the infrared light touched things and to be back at the motel before dark.

Life Pixel, writes on their website, “Are you tired of shooting the same stuff everyone else is shooting?  Then be different & shoot infrared instead!”

I don’t think I care whether I’m shooting the same stuff as others, but I sure do like to change how other photographers sees the stuff I do shoot, and infrared works perfectly for that.

Of cours….I am always happy when someone comments. Thanks, John

Visit my website at

Discovering a Small Town with my Camera

19th century view   Green window    Texaco 1      the boats   control pannel    Red Bricks  Hippies use back door  Phillips 66 twenty five cents a ride

I usually like to have a plan when I go out to photograph a subject. However, this past weekend when my goal was to photographically discover a small town or city like I did in La Conner, Washington, USA, the unusual and unknown becomes the accepted rater than the exception. The experience was one of those rare times when I just wanted to wander about and let the unexpected observations rule the day.

The distance from my lodging at the Wild Iris Inn in La Conner to the waterfront was about six blocks and that photographic stroll took me nearly two hours. I spent another hour photographing the buildings, and the boats moored along the boardwalk, and then approximately another hour roaming the adjacent neighborhood on my way back.

I to like wander, and yes, that’s the word that works best. I mounted a 24-70mm on my new (to me) full-frame sensor camera, stepped out of the room and let the historic, western architecture, and the coastal lighting, determine my path. I wasn’t on any direct course by any intent, and spent a lot of time backtracking when I decided to see how the light affected an interesting door, or window, from a different perspective than I had just photographed it.

I checked out the La Conner on-line gallery and it shows lots of scenics and wide images of street side buildings, but my photographic captures didn’t always show the whole. I chose to photograph those parts that caught my attention; signs, doors, railings, roof supports, or the moulding, and sometimes just the window frame, cornice or decorative lintel, and how the light touched them, was what peaked my interest and filled my the memory card of my camera

La Conner is a coastal town of Washington State and received its current name in 1870 from the owner of the area’s first trading post, J.S. Conner to honor his wife, Louisa Ann Conner.  One of my favorite writers, Tom Robbins, author of such great books as “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”, ”Life with the Woodpecker”, and “Another Roadside Attraction” is supposed to be a long-time resident. Each spring, La Conner attracts thousands of visitors to view the wide array of tulips at the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

Here is a humorous note about La Conner: in 2005, the town named the wild turkey as their official Town Bird, however, a debate in 2010 declared the turkeys to be a nuisance and they were removed from the town limits because of “complaints about noise, fecal matter, and ingestion of garden materials”.

This is one that is closer to my heart because it is a story about a dog.  There is a statue of a dog whose name was “Dirty Biter” and he once freely wandered the town. One of his favorite hangouts was an1890’s tavern, where a bar stool was always reserved for him. When he was killed in a dogfight, the heartbroken townspeople named a small park next to his beloved tavern for Dirty Biter and installed a bronze statue of the dog.

I didn’t see any turkeys, or writer Tim Robbins, but I took the time to stop in that tavern before continuing on my photographic stroll and I drank a pint to all of them; Mr. Robbins, the turkeys, poor old Dirty Biter, and of course, the subject of my photographic excursion, the historic town of La Conner.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at