Scenic photography on Fidalgo Island        

Last week was my second article about my trip to the coast. I wrote that there were three very different photographic opportunities that I took advantage of on my four-day stay, the street photography during the festival, the architectural photography on a quiet Sunday morning and the scenic photography.

Jo and I wandered the beaches early in the morning. Walked along wooded paths during the day. Climbed the rock-covered breakwater beside a deteriorating wreck in the afternoon, and stood on a darkened pier at night.

We trudged to each location carrying equipment filled backpacks with tripods on our shoulders talking about, and making decisions concerning the photographs we would take.

As I sat down in the sand that first afternoon I thought about how hard it is for most people to do photography with me. Jumping out of the car, running to a view point, taking a picture, then jumping back in the car and driving to the next view is not my style.

I have to think, ponder and sit for a while. I am never in a hurry when it comes to scenic photographs. I have a need to experience the place. And, of course, I like to use a tripod.

On this trip we had my new 14-24mm and 28-300mm lenses to try out.

I have never been a fan of really wide photos, so using the 14mm was quite an experience. I purchased a 150mm polarizing filter and filter holder for that wide lens, and although that seemed to be a good setup the protruding front lens glass is vignetted by the filter holder resulting in a disappointing 19mm view.

The 28-300mm was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to like it after trying it in a dimly lighted studio. In the studio it had a hard time finding focus. However, I think the problem might be the lack of contrast in the studio because in that bright coastal light I was stopping birds in flight and getting sharp, colourful pictures.

I’ll hang on to both lenses. Like cameras, they are just tools and not every tool fits every job.

I had visited most of the places we photographed many time before. But all I have to do to make them different from past years is to place my tripod in a new location, crop my view and change the center of interest.

Even after all the years going there I still don’t have a favourite place, Although there are locations that I like to stop at depending on the time of day.

I always choose Cap Sante Park with its high lookout over Anacortes when I first arrive. During the day there are several rocky beaches that are waiting to be re-explored and photographed, and I always make time to walk out on the high Deception Park Bridge for a photo of the Deception Pass as it connects with the sea.

The evenings usually find me in Washington Park photographing both the leaning tree (it was still alive when I started visiting in the mid 1990s) that hangs out over the sea, and the island filled ocean from a high lookout as we complete the parks winding ring road on the way back to the city center.

The best place to stand a tripod after dark is the beachside Seafarers Park for a long exposure night photograph across Fidalgo bay of the Marathon refinery’s lights.

I do enjoy my yearly excursions to Anacortes and plan on many more. I was having dinner with several people this past week and was asked about my trip to the coast. And as with many times before I talked about what I did, but I didn’t have any photographs to make clear as to why I return there year after year.

The famous American scenic photographer, Ansel Adams, explained it best when he said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

Photography on a quiet Sunday morning     

 

Saturday’s Shipwreck festival in the seaside town of Anacortes was a hive of activity.

I won’t begin to guess how many people there were, but I didn’t have much of a chance to include the architecture of that coastal town in the midst of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. I understand the population in that area may be over 16,000 and if one of the many store-keeps I met had said, “everyone’s here” I probably would have believed them.

From what I have read, a railroad surveyor named Amos Bowman moved his family to the northern tip of Fidalgo Island in 1877 and promoted the area as a terminus for the Northern Pacific Railway that was being built to the Pacific ocean. The name “Anacortes” is an adaptation his wife’s name, Anne Curtis Bowman.

Jo and I had chosen to spend another day. And as we sat on the beach watching the sun slowly sink into the ocean after the busy festival we decided that an early morning stroll through the town would be fun.

Sunday mornings at 8:30AM in most towns and cities allow photographers ample opportunity to stand almost anywhere to take pictures. Traffic is usually sparse and slow moving so standing in or walking across the street is pretty safe.

The day had clear blue skies and strong shadows that made for some creative architectural photography.

Jo was using a 14-24mm lens and I had my 24-70mm. Both our cameras are full frame so we could capture some very wide photos as we wandered back and forth totally intent on the buildings around us.

I noticed a couple walk out of a street side coffee shop and just before the woman got in the car she stopped to hold her cell phone at arm’s length to take a picture of the big arch over the street that said, “Thanks for visiting Downtown Anacortes”. I thought good for her and stepped into the street and made one of the few wide town photos I took that day. Most of my shots were closer and cropped tightly on the buildings I was photographing.

It’s fun looking at the designs and different types of construction that buildings have. I don’t know the history of how Anacortes grew, but there are all kinds of styles. Some, I have no doubt, are turn of the century.

I like the photographic opportunities that costal town offers me, the street photography during the festival, the architectural photography, the scenic photography of the wooded areas close to ocean and, yep, the beautiful beaches.

We spent four days having a great time pointing our cameras at anything and every thing. I will say that I was a bit worried last year that Jo would get bored when she asked me if she could come with me on my annual Shipwreck Festival pilgrimage, but she didn’t and there was no way under the sun that she was getting left behind this year, so there we were having the best of times on the coast of Washington for a second year. Its now only three weeks past and we are already talking about next year.

What is better than fresh seafood, a giant street market filled with treasures, sitting on the beach watching the sun sink into the ocean and, of course, four days of unrestricted photography. Hmmm…not much that I can think of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A photographer’s holiday at the Shipwreck festival      

 

Each year the month of July brings two of my favourite photography events.

The first is the Pritchard Rodeo and the second is the Anacortes Shipwreck Festival. Gosh, what an exciting month July is for photography.

The preceding week had been cool and a bit rainy on the Washington coast, but when we reached the festival my friend Jo and I were met with a warm day that had just enough clouds in the sky to make it comfortable to walk around the 9 block street market filled with 400 interesting booths.

We had arrived in the town of Anacortes at the tip of Fidalgo Island after a pleasant drive the day before the annual Shipwreck Festival.

The locals say that the Shipwreck Festival began thirty-eight years ago when fishermen sold their used gear on the town’s main street. Since then the event has evolved into a giant garage sale/flea market that includes vendors that seem to be from as far away as Mexico.

Last year I wrote, “Whew, what a day. We saw, we touched, we photographed, and we talked to people from 9AM to 3PM. Then we stepped into a popular Commercial Avenue Alehouse called the Brown Lantern for a late lunch and I gladly got to rest my tired legs. I am sure Jo will recommend the crab and corn chowder she ate and I agree that both my food and the two beers I drank were the refuelling I needed.”

Well I can write that again this year, we again got to see, touch and even purchase unusual treasures, and I had a fun time photographing people on the crowded street.

Jo got to have that bowl of the crab & corn chowder she had been dreaming about since last July and I enjoyed two very dark beers while I rested my old legs. Then just as last year we were off for another look around and a few more pictures of the crowded street of happy bargain hunters.

I do like the treasure shopping as much as anyone, but watching the people and photographing everything on that island is what brings me back each year.

I have tried different cameras. When I first came in mid-1990s I used a Nikon F3 film camera. Then when digital arrived I used several different DSLRs until last year when I changed to a tiny Nikon 1 mirrorless.

What I like about the (recently discontinued) little interchangeable lens camera is it’s small size and quick focusing. I carry it in an old army bag that allows me to pull it out fast for street photos without getting attention from those around me.

The Nikon 1 doesn’t have the large higher quality sensors of the big and more expensive mirrorless cameras like the Fuji or Sony, but like any other tool that one might select for a specific job the little Nikon is great for the internet or even 8X10 prints.

This was the kind of vacation trip that I like, wandering the Shipwreck festival looking for treasures, (I bought a handmade flit blade knife) doing photography on the crowded avenue, meeting new people and getting to eat fresh seafood at local restaurants. All less than a day’s drive to from the very different environment where I live.

Photographing the 2019 Pritchard Rodeo  

 

Jo and I were comfortably positioned along the rail at 1PM ready for the first bronco-riding event. I had my camera set at ISO400 so I could get reasonable depth of field and be able to use the Shutter Priority Mode with a 1/500th of a second to stop the action.

Both of us were using 70-200mm lenses. There are longer focal lengths available and I was asked this week if I ever tried my 150-600mm. I haven’t used that lens at a rodeo, but I did shoot some years ago with a 150-500. It was pretty good and brought the action so darned close. But the rodeo grounds aren’t that big and I like the 70-200mm. It’s light, not that big, handholdable and delivers great quality.

I have mentioned before that I like photographing any kind of action and especially the rodeo that is only a few minutes drive from my home in Pritchard. I always look forward to standing there along side other photographers that, like me, enjoy capturing the fast moving test of wills between animals and riders. Photographing any action filled competition is fun and there’s always lots of action at a rodeo.

My favourite events are the bronc and bull riders. I like the fast moving explosive action that moves uncontrollably across the arena.

I always try to get that first moment, especially with the bull riders. There is so much happening when the gate is opened and bull, rider, and all the faces behind those two show the excitement. I continue to follow the activity to capture that perfect moment that shows the athletic prowess of the rider. However, I must admit my favourite photos are those that show the rider getting thrown through the air. Sure I feel for them and never like it when someone looses or gets hurt, but it’s that explosive moment when everything in moving at it’s own speed, in its own direction, that tells the exciting and dangerous story for me.

This hometown rodeo is darned convenient and really accessible without restrictions placed on ringside photographers, and it’s easy for participants to get quality photographs of themselves that can be made into wall prints just by asking any one of the many people with a camera standing along the rail.

For those new to rodeos or even photographing action, put a rodeo on your bucket list to attend, it’s a friendly and an easy place to practice and experiment.

Photographing a summer garden   

 

This year has been a good year for my garden. There has been lots of heat and just the right amount of rain since the beginning of June. I have sat on my porch enjoying the changes as plants bloomed, then withered, while others renewed the colour with their new blooms.

It is the middle of July here in British Columbia and last evening I watched the light drop with cooling clouds moving in making it perfect to wander the garden for some photographs of the mid summer blooms.

I mounted my old manual focus 200mm macro lens on my camera and placed my big 800w flash on a c-stand and started taking pictures.

This time of the year I see so many point-and-shoot flower photos by photographers that are so excited with the beauty around them that they forget about building the photograph and just, well…point and shoot.

Their close-up snap shots might even be sharp if they remembered that the closer the lens is to the subject the less the depth of field and selected a small aperture. However, in most cases the final images lack interesting light and the background detracts from their chosen subject because it’s the same exposure or sometimes brighter.

I always use flash. A flash allows me to underexpose the background and any other features that I don’t think are important. I know I unapologetically keep harping on using flash. That’s because flash will make one’s subject, whether it’s a flower, person or pretty much anything, even in the dullest environment look better.I also select “high speed flash sync” on my camera (most modern cameras have that) so I can use a fast shutter speed if there is a slight breeze.

Photographers use flash to create highlights and shadow with pleasing results when they do portraits of people in their studio, but seem forget to use flash when making portraits of flowers.

An off-camera flash allows me to control the light’s direction and moving a light stand with a flash mounted on it slows me down and makes me think about the portrait.

The time of day doesn’t matter and the brightness of the environment is just ambient light that, inside or outside, is easily controlled when one uses flash. And on that overcast afternoon light adding flash made it easy for me to underexpose the background.

I’ll sum up by saying that I like photographing my garden. The garden is a soothing place and even when something has stressed me it’s calming there and creating photos allows me to time to sort though anything that has been bothering me. Or like the day I am writing about, lets me have fun discovering and photographing the remarkable world around me.

Photography in the rain.   

 

There is nothing like a rainy day to bring out the colours when photographing the great out-of-doors.

This past week my friend Jo and I headed to the nearby Chase falls on a rainy day to try out my new 14-24mm lens. It’s a really wide and many suggest that it is one of Nikon’s sharpest.

When I got the lens I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s damn neat lens, but the protruding front glass and permanently fixed hood made me wonder what one would do for a filter on a sunny day. I began searching and found out that although Nikon ignored the possibility that photographers might want a polarizing filter. However, there are several filter holders made by other companies that are specifically for that lens. All I needed to do was add to that holder and get a both a 150X150mm polarizing filter and a Neutral Density filter.

I had talked about taking that lens to our local falls for its first test, so when I woke to rain I knew it might be a good time to check the lens, filter holder and ND filter out.

I was procrastinating though till I go a text from Jo. saying her husband had seen several vultures along the road.

That was all it took, I put my 150-600 and the 14-24 in the car, picked up Jo on the way, and drove out on the highway towards the small town of Chase.

We could see several vultures circling and as we got closer and there were a couple sitting on fence posts beside the remains of a deer that must have been killed by traffic at night. It was hard to pull off the freeway with all the big trucks zooming by, but Jo rolled down the window and ignoring the rain photographed the vultures first on the posts and then as they took off.

When we arrived at Chase Falls I grabbed a couple umbrellas from my car trunk and we walked along the path to the falls.   I always store umbrellas in my car along with a couple monopods. Doesn’t everyone?

The light on that wet rainy day was, as I had hoped, perfect at the falls. Rainy days are often like that.

We worked as a team in the pounding rain. Jo held one umbrella keeping the camera, lens and filter dry as I set up the tripod for each location.

We metered and made some test exposures. The ND filter was a very dark 10X so we had to set the lens to manual focus and pre-focus each photograph.

As always with any scenic I prefer lots of depth of field and want the sharpest aperture available. We set the exposure at f10 for 5 seconds.

Shooting in the rain is fun and rewarding. One has to be prepared with a tea towel or handkerchief to wipe excess moisture off the camera, lens and, in our case, big ND filter. Some photographers prefer special camera and lens covers, but I have always liked umbrellas.

I suppose most people might hold up beside the window on a rainy day with a cup of hot chocolate and watch the rain, but once in a while its great fun to go out in the diffused light that makes everything so colourful and create a few photographs.

A photographic discussion.     

Photographer Jo McAvany’s loose goal was to create a visual contradiction (artists might call it a “juxtaposition”) that discussed a time when early photographers wandered cities documenting scenes of urban life for weekly newspapers and the modern era for women that gained momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jo wanted that look one might see newspaper reporters/photographers wearing in those early black and white movies. The fedora, a pinstriped shirt with rolled up sleeves, suspenders and an early 1940s 35mm film camera.

She came up with the white swimsuits after seeing a picture of Hugh Heffner surrounded by Playboy magazine playmates. When she sent me the picture my comment was “the robe?” She said, “no your Heff look.” I wasn’t sure about that, but I did like her idea about the 50s.

She chose to have women wearing white swimsuits to represent the modern era that was propelled, or at least gained momentum in the late 1950s, in part, do to Heffner’s magazine.

Jo put the call out and immediately had 14 or 15 replies. We had eleven at 9AM on the day of our shoot. I had no doubt that Jo could control and pose all those women. For my part, all I had to do was stand there, as a prop for them to pose against.

My main concern was the lighting. As regular readers know, I don’t much like flat, uncontrollable natural light. I brought two speedlights on stands with 40”umbrellas and asked my friend Drew Vye to assist with the lights when I was detained as a model.

The biggest problem was the bright morning light and clear blue sky. I quickly realized the speedlights weren’t powerful enough to balance the painful light at the first location. Drew, Jo and I started wandering, and after yelling back and forth down the sidewalk we chose the middle of the street location.

We would need to move when some car came through, but it was early and during the two hours we were there only one car angrily honked. Most drivers were amused to see all the attractive women in swimsuits and drove by smiling and waving.

The changing light from there wasn’t that much of a problem. Drew and I just kept moving the lights so there wouldn’t be ugly shadows and make sure Jo’s subjects had depth and were separated from the background.

The street location couldn’t have been better place to show the city. And when Jo used the 70-200mm the perspective was excellent.

I know the women all had fun. We even had them pose in front of a nearby restaurant with the reluctant manager that I dragged out. Oh, and when I suggested that they pose with Drew they all hooted and waved him over. He now wants enough prints to send to every relative he has in Canada.

As I stood in the street holding that old camera and tipping the brim of my hat down I thought about a press photographer from New York’s 1940s named Weegee, known for his stark, black and white photographs of urban life and hoped Jo would capture some of that feeling.

A photographer can make all kinds of statements. Jo’s visual discussion is about the changing times we live in and, in my opinion, how photographers have been playing an important role documenting those changes.