Why I like Multi-focal (Zoom) lenses.        

 

The first SLR I owned came with three lenses. Gosh I was pleased, it had a 35mm, 50mm and a 135mm. The years passed and I started working as a photographer documenting many of the alternative approaches to learning that were happening at that time in Southern California’s Education system.

At that time my gear was an SLR, a 50mm and a 200mm lens. Equipment that I quickly found lacking in the fast moving events I was expected to document. Sure, sometimes I photographed students sitting down, but more often than not, those grade schoolers were bouncing around coastal rocks while searching tide pools, excitedly running on board whale watching boats, dashing through city parks and even racing up stairs in some Los Angeles high-rise.

Changing lenses on the go, better yet “on the run”, was a hassle and awkward in a crowded space.

Then a company named Vivitar started advertising their 70-210mm zoom lens. I can remember talking with other working photographers about the magazine advertisements showing a page of postage stamps with perfectly in line perforations.

I’ll make this short by saying, it wasn’t long before I owned one, and wow, could I work a crowded street, schoolyard, site seeing-boat or any other people-filled event. The fact that it wasn’t a wide angle and I was forced to stand back was a minor inconvenience. I shot tight. I got faces, hands, feet, children talking up close, and was able to capture those quick ever-changing expressions.

I was sold on the versatility of that first multifocal length lens. I shot thousands of slides and black and white prints for my employer until I left, deciding to wander up the coast and settle in British Columbia, Canada.

Digital had yet to be invented or thought of by those of us earning our living with cameras, and the bigger the negative was the better. I remember feeling bad for those unfortunate brides and grooms that chose some pal to record their wedding with the family 35mm.

Serious photographers were using medium format cameras and there were very few zoom lenses for medium format. So I was stuck changing lenses again. Lenses that like the big cameras they fit, took up space and made the camera burdensome.

Finally after many painful and expensive years of carrying big formats, Kodak began offering a 35mm professional film that maintained a neutral and true to life colour and was great for enlargements. The film, called “Portra” came in ISO160, ISO400 and ISO800. So with that I was back to using 35mm and zoom lenses again.

I would pack two camera bodies to an event like a wedding, one for black and while and one for colour. I had my choice of mounting a 35-105mm or a 70-200mm multi-focal length lens on which ever I needed at the moment. That flexibility gave me an edge on those photographers that were struggling as they tried to keep up during quickly changing events.

Zoom lenses allowed me to choose the crop I wanted and gave me versatility and speed in any situation.  That Versatility and speed is lacking when I am forced to change lenses and gosh, moving back and forth to widen or narrow framing is just tedious. Having many focal lengths all-in-one keeps me from missing those once in a lifetime shots.

Present day zoom lenses have become sharper, quicker and lighter than those I used with my film cameras. And for those, like me, that have a vacation planned for the upcoming summer. One lens that has the ability to capture and change the world’s perspective at a multitude of focal lengths is so much easier to carry around than several (prime) lenses with focal lengths that are fixed.

 

Spring-cleaning and plans on Summer Photography.        

I am such a hoarder.

I knew I had an old tripod mount stashed away somewhere, but when I started searching (unsuccessfully I might add) through years of bits and pieces randomly stockpiled in unmarked containers I came to the conclusion that it might be time to do some spring-cleaning. I’ll call it that because it’s spring here in British Columbia.

No doubt there are other photographers that hold on to all-things-photographic as much as I do, so here are some thoughts that I had that might be helpful. I am sure there are many additions readers can think of, but I am starting with just a couple.

  1. This should be the year to get rid of all that old film camera equipment. I know it is hard to part with favourite old cameras. The pictures they produced were so great, and gosh, they initially cost so much money, but sadly there isn’t much resale value currently. The fact is today’s camera technology has progressed far beyond those old film cameras and most individuals that have embraced the high quality digital world will never return to film. If you haven’t, my recommendation is remove the batteries that are probably leaking, clean the camera up with an old toothbrush, and sell it to someone interested in playing with “retro” equipment or donate the camera to a student still using film in their photography classes. Don’t put it off, film cameras only loose value as time passes and very few ever become valuable collectibles.
  2. Might this be the year to “finally” organize all those old prints and slides? There are many ways to copy photographs and slides. For prints I use my camera, a tripod, and a level. For slides a scanner works best.

Regarding scanners, my recommendation is to do some research, and not purchase too cheap (or to          expensive) of a model. Find out which scanners produce quality resolution scans. A space saving and cost  saving idea would be to share one with other photographers.

  1. A couple years ago my wife and were evacuated as a fire raged down the hills above our home. Linda and I rushed through the house photographing everything before we left. I think spring is a perfect time to make the effort to photographically inventory household goods. I have to admit I am as lax as anyone when it comes to a photographic inventory. Nevertheless, when faced with that fire approaching my door I sloppily needed to do it in a hurry. Its not very hard, and I think worth the time.

I’ll add two spring goals that have nothing to do with photo house cleaning. However, I have made them part of the spring planning process for the summer to come. And anyway, these are way more fun.

  1. There are several of us that meet once a week to talk about photography. It’s not a club, there are no rules, everyone has strong opinions, and this spring we are all filled with energy and photography projects. Joining up with others that have different interests in photography to talk about or accompany on photo outings is fun and always instructive.
  2. It’s time to plan photography a trip. I am planning a July photography excursion down the coast of Washington State for a few days with my friend Dave, his wife Cynthia. I know we’ll be up early with our cameras and, I am sure, still up late talking about our day’s photography.

Those, like me, that that enjoy lists will delight on writing out their spring goals. It’s a good way to begin thinking about photography projects and goals for this year. I have only included a few from my personal list. Some might not get done, but it’s a start. I try to be realistic and I’ll hang my list on the wall next to the calendar I print each month and attempt what I can. That might help me keep it a spring instead of a summer project.

 

 

An excellent tool for a roadside photographer           

I live in a wooded rural location just short of an hour from the city of Kamloops in British Columbia, and it’s so easy to hop in my car to drive along the winding back roads. I suppose I could hike or climb, but truth be told I have the most fun as a roadside photographer.

For years, each spring, my wife and I looked forward to seeing geese hatchings at a near by pond. There are normally two, or sometimes three adults with six or eight goslings hiding in the long grass just across the reed filled pond. However, this spring there are at least eight adult geese and maybe twenty soft yellow goslings residing at the pond.

To photograph them we would stealthily slow the car down and ease to a prolonged stop. Coming to a sudden stop spooks the apprehensive geese causing them to dash away. Do geese “dash”?   Anyway the fearful gaggle of geese would quickly move from sight. And opening the car door to try photographing them is a waste of time.

Having decided on the time of day that gives me the best light, I first slowly drive by so as to determine where I want to stop for the best photos and I shoot from the car. The geese are usually far enough away that anything shorter than a 300mm lens isn’t close enough. Actually, 300mm isn’t really close enough.

In the past twenty plus years Linda and I used countless kinds of equipment to stabilize our lenses. And the best, in my opinion, is a beanbag. A beanbag fits nicely on the car’s windowsill and allows the photographer to nestle down and rest any size lens on it for shake free shooting.

This year I purchased, after months of research and selling off some of my other lenses, the latest Tamron 150-600mm lens. The lens weighs just over four pounds and although it does have vibration control, shooting from a seated position in a car isn’t the best for sharp, shake free photographs. So out comes the beanbag. However,  I quickly realized that big lens demanded a larger beanbag than the one I hastily stitched together years ago.

With a bit of online searching I found a company called Movophoto.com that makes a large and unique beanbag that fits like a saddle over the car window. With my limited sewing skills I could never have made such a perfect beanbag for that big lens. I ordered it, and when it finally arrived I filled it with rice, and although it’s heavy it resides in the car and stays put on the window, so the weight is a good thing. There are a lot of gadgets that I could spend my money on, but for now that beanbag is my favourite.

I slowed my car to a stop next to the pond, shut the engine off, positioned my camera on the large beanbag, and waited for the geese to resume their browsing along the grassy hill beside the pond. At 600mm I was able to frame pretty darn close. Then, when I wanted a different position, I’d just move the car a bit, and take more pictures. I photographed those geese (and some nearby turtles) for about thirty minutes.

Suddenly I heard loud honking from some unseen goose that must have been hiding in the tall pond reeds, and, like a crowd scene from a movie, they all turned at once and rushed into the pond.

I am sure there are experienced photographers that would have set up a blind and waited for hours to get the perfect shot. There is no doubt they will get my respect. But I know where those geese are and what time of day is the best to photograph them. And anyway my car is really comfortable and when I am done I just drive home. I guess I am just a roadside photographer.