Photographing the Holiday Train   

Here come the train

Train 2

Holiday Train 3

Passing Train


Last week I wrote about how I enjoy everything about the Christmas holidays; the bright colours, the gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, the silly TV programs, and especially the festive city lights.

To that fun list I must add the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Each December, for the past 17 years, the CP Holiday train has travelled east to west across Canada. And fortunately for my wife, Linda, and I the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls along the railroad tracks that follow the wide South Thompson River a short distance from our home in Pritchard, British Columbia.

As with last year, the train passes by just as the light begins fading around 4PM. The timing could not be better. There is still some illumination in the sky, but not enough to ruin the bright coloured Christmas lights on the train’s engine and cars.

Last year we positioned ourselves across the river for a wide panorama of the train. However, this year because of the construction and repositioning of the highway, we were able to choose a location very near the tracks that gave us plenty of time to prepare when the train first came into view and an interesting three-quarter perspective as it rushed towards us.

When we were across the river last year the long focal length lenses worked best, but this because we were so close this year we chose wide-angle lenses. Linda had her 24mm and I used my 24-70mm. Both were perfect.

We arrived about ten minutes early, made some test shots to check the fading late afternoon light, then waited with our hot chocolate to keep warm.

With the train’s movement I knew we would need fast shutterspeeds. I selected ISO 3200, which let us both use 1/350th of a second.

Linda said, “There it is!” When the train roared into sight, we jumped out of the car into the cold wind that was coming at us off the river and took pictures as it passed. The engineer tooted the horn at us but we didn’t have time to wave back and take pictures too. The whole event was over in about 40 seconds. Ha, what a rush! Then we got back in the car and ten minutes later we were sitting in our warm home finishing up our hot chocolate.

Well, one more holiday photographic occasion is over, but I know there will be more opportunities between now and January 1st. This is such a grand time of the year.



There is Nothing Like Photography  

White church

Fraser River view

Anacortis Oil Refinery


Coastal tree view

Hay Field


“In visual terms there has been nothing like photography in the history of the world. There is no vocabulary for it. Photography literally stops something dead. It’s the death of the moment. The second a picture is taken that life is held, stopped and over. That moment is over.”

I found this quote by photographer Richard Avedon that I had tucked away years ago into the pages of a book of photography by Eliot Porter entitled, “Intimate Landscapes”.

Photography is powerful that way. There has never been a medium that has captured the interest of so many people like photography. When it became popular in the 1800s, no one could have envisioned how important to the world and to our personal lives photography would become.

For those of us in Canada the first known photograph was by an Englishman named Pattinson, here on a business trip in 1840. He was a student of an early form of photography perfected by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre and had stopped at Niagara Falls to produce the now cherished historical Daguerreotype photograph.

The Daguerreotype would have taken more than 20 minutes for the scene to expose on a silver-coated plate inside his camera. Later he would surround the plate with warm mercury fumes that would slowly make the image visible.

I begin to think about photographing the landscape near my home this morning and I almost headed out, but the flat light and icy cold rain made me change my mind.

To keep myself in the mood I decided Eliot Porter’s book of photographs from northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah would be perfect to review with a cup of coffee. I find Porter’s photography stimulating.

Porter wrote, “The natural world has always attracted my eye: associations of living and inanimate phenomena, from the tropics to the poles and from rain forests to deserts, have been favourite photographic subjects for almost half a century. Grasses and sedges, especially, appeal to me – an appeal like disordered hair across a face, or a windblown field of hay before the mowing…”

Reading his or any other book on photography for that matter, helps me examine the way I make photographs and try to photograph things differently.

I do think photographic ideas and opportunities sometimes happen in a moment that once passed will never be the same. Many times I just want to make a photograph for no other reason than it is fun to make.

Here is another quote from Porter’s book that I endorse as well. Porter says, “I do not photograph for ulterior purposes. I photograph for the thing itself – for the photograph…” I like that. Sometimes just the process of making a photograph for no other reason than doing it is enough.

Photography in this digital age has become so very easy, but I think good photography can be as time consuming as it ever has been, requiring practice and education by those that take it seriously.

As I turned the pages of Porter’s book I thought about how nice it would be if the hills above my home get lots of snow in the coming winter. If you have a moment check out landscape photographer Eliot Porter in your local library, or on-line, and hopefully his photographs will inspire you as he does me. You might also look up Richard Avedon.




Christmas Lights are Here Again         

Street Lights

PalmTree Decor

Tree of Hope

Xmas bear

SKating rink

Beach walk

December is upon us again and the visual presentation of bright, festive lights has begun. Yes, the Christmas holidays are coming. The bright colours, the gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, the silly TV programs, and, for me especially, the Christmas lights in the city.

This past week my wife and I had to journey for a late afternoon meeting to Kelowna, which is two hours south from our home, however, that winding country road can be treacherous on dark, snowy nights and so we decided to stay overnight in Kelowna.

For some that means dinner out and just waiting the night out in a motel, but for me it’s an opportunity to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling lights. In anticipation I had packed my camera with a 24-70mm lens and, of course, my tripod.

My preference for evening photography is to select a location before it gets dark, and to begin shooting when the lights are first turned on, when there is still some light in the sky, yet dark enough for the lights to be bright. However, our meeting lasted until after dark and I had lost the light.

I have been fascinated by Christmas lights since before I picked up my first camera, and remember family outings this time of year when my parents would pack us up in the old 1954 Ford station wagon for after dark drives along the high roads above the Salt Lake City valley. We would drink chocolate milk and look down on the colourful city lights. At that time my father was in charge of the awkward, accordion-like Kodak camera, that I doubt ever used anything but black and white film.

In spite of the late hour we drove by the downtown Kelowna lakeshore past the Yacht Club. I was sure the city would have lights along the sidewalk and hoped that some of the boats might be lit up. I had also heard that a public skating rink was opening and I wanted to experiment with a slow shutterspeed.

During the time when ISO ratings were limited, photographers who shot after dark ended up exposing for only the lights, and the resulting photographs would show lots of colours, but didn’t say anything about the location, or environment. Nowadays most modern cameras have no trouble with ISO 800 or 1600, with some even 3200, and don’t show the random speckles, which indicate degraded image quality.

Making some test shots I quickly found that the city lights were bright enough to allow me to use ISO 800. I also tried 1600, but I lost Christmas lights detail, and the buildings and walkways didn’t look like they were photographed after dark.

As usual Kelowna had lit up its tall “Tree of Hope”. I photographed that very tall electric tree last year and knew from experience that the best time to get pictures of it was early in the morning. When I left my hotel room at 6am the next morning I was greeted by a couple inches a fresh wet snow. Perfect. More light reflection.

I shot with my camera set to “aperture” priority. When I use aperture priority for this kind of photography I also employ the camera’s exposure compensation feature. If one just used the aperture priority mode the camera will, as it is programed to do, try to correct the lighting and that makes the sky too bright. This time I think I used -1.7 to darken the sky.

A drive this time of year through any town or city neighbourhood is an exciting visual presentation of bright, festive lights, and an opportunity for at least a few weeks, to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling subjects.