Bridge Lake Workshop Wireless Off-Camera Flash              

OffCamera Workshop 1

OffCamera Workshop 2

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OffCamera Workshop8

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OffCamera Workshop11


Last Sunday saw me making the scenic two-hour drive north to join the Bridge Lake Photography Group. I have been following that creative and talented group of photographers, ( since a long time friend, Derek Chambers, got in touch with me about a year ago. On Sunday I led a full day workshop for them about using off-camera speedlights indoors and out-of-doors.

There is so much that I want to tell photographers when they first attempt to use flash as a tool to create better photos instead of the flash being an uncontrollable device photographers perch on the top of the camera when it’s too dark in a room to take a photo.

In my opening presentation I had to hold myself back as I sometimes realize I am talking too fast. But I get excited and I really want to move from lecturing in front of students, and go to the studio setup where the learners, not me, are center stage. That’s where my fun, and, assuredly, the participants’ fun begin.

I always enjoy the enlivened interaction that occurs when a student of flash photography takes that first shot with one of the flash set ups. Usually, no one ever wants to be first. Everything is strange. The flash that usually is attached to their camera is now attached to a softbox or an umbrella. I always have to prod and coax the students to begin, but I can hardly wait for the first “oohs and aahs” that happen when they see the results of their first photos.

My job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead. That is left to the participants, and watching them learn is the fun part for me. After everyone crowds around that first volunteer’s camera and sees the picture it is all I can do to hold them back.

Our ever-patient model was overwhelmed as she tried to pose for everyone at the same time. She pleaded, “Where do I look?”   I laughed and loudly said to that excited scrum of photographers, “If you want her to look at you yell, ’Me! Me! Me!’”

We spent the morning shooting in the inside studio. For that session I had the flashes set to manual mode so their output would always have the same power. That is the easiest way. If more light is wanted on the subject move the flash forward. Less? Move the flash away.

After lunch we moved outside and I set up one flash with a shoot-through umbrella, however, this time the flash was set to TTL mode. When using flash in an indoor studio one synchronizes the camera’s shutterspeed to the studio flash, and uses the aperture to determine the exposure of the light reflecting off a subject. Progressing, however, to an out-of-doors situation with TTL a photographer must balance the natural, ambient light with the off-camera flash; and using flash effectively is more about creating and controlling shadows than about filling them.

We walked out into the bright day and our model had barely reached a location in the meadow before 15 excited photographers got down to business. By then they weren’t at all shy about getting shoulder to shoulder in the process of experimenting, exploring, and learning about outdoor lighting.

I just received an email from Chambers saying, “You’ve definitely added a whole new dimension to our photographic adventures. Thanks a lot.” Gosh, a whole new dimension to their photographic adventures. That is one of the best “thank you’s” I have ever received.

I Like Calendars     



I remember a life drawing class in which we would all have to hang our assignment for each week on the classroom wall. Then we would all noisily sit around and wait for our colourful instructor, Mario, to make his grand entry. Mario was a tall, dark, flamboyant Italian that always talked loudly while waving his hands around in the air for effect.

As we held our breath he would slowly walk along the exhibition of our talent and skill. Then he would suddenly stop and with a wide sweep of his arm gesture to someone’s drawing and in his thickest accent declare, “This, this, this, belongs on a Los Vegas Hotel room wall!” I remember more than once watching a fragile classmate moved to despair or with a bowed head rush from the room in disgrace. As cold hearted as that life drawing coach was I did get his point regarding art.

We rarely look at the artwork that is always hanging in the hotel room. It is just there to fill space on the otherwise blank wall, and if we did notice, that framed art was quickly forgotten when we left. I can honestly say that although my friends or family might have remarked at the cleanliness of a room, it’s location or the softness of the bed. I can’t remember anyone ever saying, “Gosh, the artwork in our room was marvellous.”

Good art is enduring. We live with it, cherish it, and the longer we do the more we take pleasure in it.

Now comes my delight with calendars. It is not that I need to know what day it is; that is a utilitarian benefit. I like those with pictures.

Calendar pictures must immediately have an impact. A successful calendar picture grabs our attention and quickly tells a simple story. However, unlike the art my instructor was demanding, calendars only have to endure for about thirty days at the most. Each picture only has to artfully work to capture our attention and give us the proper date for one month. Then we get to start all over, and we get to enjoy a different picture with more information on important dates for another month. Hmm…functional art, what could be better.

November is my month to start seeking calendars. I hate searching for calendars in January. There is something wrong in hanging a calendar mid-month. My wife and I have the perfect approach for photographers. We each choose from the photos we have taken during the month and I print a new calendar each month. No rules, no themes. We select a picture we each like and I make an 11×14 print that is half picture and half calendar – side by side, or up and down.

That’s not to say that I don’t get other calendars. If one grabs our fancy while shopping we’ll get that also. Then there are those we receive as gifts. I can’t have too many calendars. Getting to view lots of new pictures each month, it doesn’t get much better than that. We also choose images and have calendars made for us that we give away at Christmas.

My advice to readers like me, that enjoy having their pictures hanging on their walls, is to start putting your own calendar for 2016 together now. Stop by the local business supply store or look online. And remember calendars make great Christmas gifts.

Photographing Chase Creek Falls  

Chase Falls 1

Chase Falls 2

Chase Falls 3

Chase Falls 4

The third season of the year is here, and it is my favourite season of the year for photography. Fall or autumn, it doesn’t matter which word is used, is so darn colourful here in British Columbia; and I really enjoy the cooler air, a welcome relief from the heat of summer.

This week I drove the short distance down the road to Chase Creek Falls. I was in April just after the spring runoff when the high water began to subside. April is the second best time to go there, October the best. October has low water that makes scrambling along the colourful creek side easy, and lets photographers position their tripod and cameras close to the falls without getting wet.

In my April article I wrote that I have been photographing Chase Creek Falls since sometime in 1976. I have used 35mm, medium format, large format, film, and digital to photograph those falls every season of the year in every type of weather using black and white, colour, and even polaroid film.

I have gotten wet, walked away muddy after sliding down the steep bank, and bumped into the large river rocks a bit to hard. I’ve lost lens caps, a lens hood and even a polarizing filter on my visits. I have used the Chase Creek Falls once as a background for a large family reunion and another time for wedding portraits.

Photographing waterfalls is very easy and almost as relaxing as wandering around a garden. Modern digital cameras have improved the ease of taking photos by removing the requirement of much of the technical information that photographers once needed to know.

The equipment doesn’t need to be expensive or special. Select your favourite DSLR, a lens that has a wide enough focal length to see the falls, a tripod, and a neutral density filter. When I remember, I also like to use a cable release; but if forgotten the cable release isn’t a big deal, just use the camera’s self-timer instead.

Setting up the camera to get that soft looking water coming over the falls is very easy. Just choose a low ISO and a small aperture. The low ISO allows a slow shutter speed, and the small aperture gives lots of depth of field.

An ND, or neutral density, filter reduces the light going through the lens to the sensor and is the most trouble free filter for making long exposures. I prefer the square or rectangle ones that I can hold in front of my lens. I don’t use the fancy filter holder as that just gets in my way when I want to add additional ND filters to reduce the light.

I prefer shutter speeds of three or more seconds, and adjust the ISO, aperture and ND filters to accommodate that. Next, point the camera and start making pictures decreasing the shutter speed and checking the LCD as one goes along. It is all so easy.

This is a perfect time of year (here in British Columbia anyway) to spend some time photographing local waterfalls. They don’t have to be large and exotic, just have a bit of water going over them. And like me, after a dozen or so shots, put the camera back in it’s bag and sit quietly in the sand and lean back on a big smooth river rock so you can enjoy the sound of the water. Life is good.


Photography in the October Garden       


Echinops 2

grass 3

Yellow leaf 4

Oregon grape 5

Pink leaf 6

Salvia 1

I have written before that I find wandering around our home garden with my camera relaxing. Unlike photographing people, animals, scenics, sports, or almost any other subject, garden plants are just waiting to be looked at, and it’s not necessary to pack the car with equipment to search for some secluded or exotic location. Most of us can find an easily accessible and welcoming garden close by.

I know that spring’s brightly coloured plants, or the mature flowers bathed in light on a damp morning in early summer are what most photographers are interested in. I admit that I am not very savvy when it comes to the names of flowers. Plants are more my wife’s interest than mine. Her time is spent designing, planting, and coaxing her sprawling garden. Sure, I do much of the heavy lifting, but my time in her garden is mostly with a camera and unlike those photographers that I mentioned that do most of their gardens’ photography in the spring and early summer, I don’t really care about the season, weather, or the condition of the flowers for that matter.

My intention is to find something unexpected in the familiar plants. When I’ve chosen my subject, I look at it from all angles paying attention to the background so that whatever is behind won’t interfere, and I want the shadows, colours, and other plants to add interest to my composition.

I think some people get all tied up with a need to have inspiring subjects, and ignore the commonplace subjects just outside the door. I just walk out in my yard and make pictures of anything and everything. I guess the difference is between making and taking pictures.

My sojourn into the October garden was a bit about the colour and a whole lot about the shapes. I waited for late afternoon and lucked out when the sky clouded over just a bit. I like what photographer, John Sexton calls, “quiet light”, that as he says, “fades toward the darkness of evening.”

The light at day’s end allows me to underexpose the background and to add a “pop” of light on a specific subject from an off-camera flash.

I don’t really have a plan or a specific subject that I want to work on. I just wander and look. Figuring out the exposure and balancing the fading light with my flash only takes a moment as I choose an interesting plant and search for a creative angle.

It is that quiet and calming time on an October afternoon that welcomes me to the garden, and to quote Sexton again, “I feel quiet, yet intense energy in the natural elements of our habitat. A sense of magic prevails. A sense of mystery – It is a time for contemplation, for listening – a time for making photographs.”

Patience and Photographs  

Along Duck Range 2015

Falis Pond 2015

Ducks Falis Pond 2015

“The land does not flee the photographer’s lens like a deer or jackal, nor spoil a picture with an untimely blink or yawn….Relying on technique, patience, and timing, he works in reaction to the environment, searching for a situation that can be creatively explored.”

That was a quote by Tim Fitzharris from his book, “Nature Photography”.

I really like what Fitzharris says about photographers and how we differ from those who work in other creative mediums that allow them to make it up as they go.

Photographers are always at the mercy of the environment, and those photographs that have lasting value depend upon the technique and skill of the photographer. They also are a combination of timing and, of course, patience.

I think “patience” is my word for this month. This past summer has been hot and dry, with only a bit of rain to bring life back in our environment in the last few weeks. I drive to work marveling at how clear and beautiful the early fall days are and I try to make plans to take some time for photography.

However, every time I begin planning I end up doing something else, put away my gear and start into those things around the place that need to be worked on. Oh well, I still have years of photography ahead of me, and with patience I‘ll get the photographs I have been planning.

My wife and I have decided to at least give some time on Sunday mornings to photograph a small pond not far from our home that sometimes has geese and ducks paddling around it. I know that doesn’t seem like an excitement packed excursion, but it’s not far and with patience we might eventually get a good picture ore two.

We drive the short distance along Duck Range Road, (yep that’s the name of the road that meanders past my house) and stop beside the small pond.

Sometimes we see ducks, geese swimming, once even a muskrat, and occasionally owls perched there. However, if we get out of our car they just paddle to the far end or fly off out of our vision. So we come prepared to shoot from the car. One of us sits up front in the drivers seat while the other sits in the back seat and shoots out the window.

We use beanbags to rest our cameras on. If you haven’t tried a beanbag it is an invaluable tool that is a great, inexpensive camera rest, and excellent to use to take photographs from your vehicle. I made mine using an old canvas bag. I filled a discarded bread bag with beans (I think maybe lentils) then stuffed it inside the canvas bag and stitched that closed. I leave it permanently in the car.

A long-time-ago local photographer, Fred Billows, first introduced me to the concept of using a beanbag for camera support. Billows swore by beanbags and always kept a couple (that way he could share) in his car as he cruised around British Columbia, Alaska, and Washington in preparation for that elusive shot of wildlife.

In our preparations we move the car very slowly to where we want to park alongside the pond, and if there is anything on the water we sit quietly for a while as we let the waterfowl get accustomed to us being there. If we are not successful with wildlife we still get lots of fun photos anyway that I can sort through and discard later if they are boring. Maybe this weekend the light will be right and the pond will be interesting. If not I’ll just have to be patient.