Photographing the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train 

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how much I like Christmas lights.

Well, the Christmas holiday season isn’t over yet and to prove it I got a chance to set my tripod up on the cold, winter’s river beach a few minutes down the hill from my home to photograph Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Holiday Train.

CP Rail’s website says, “The CP Holiday Train program launched in 1999 and has since raised more than $13 million and four million pounds of food for communities along CP’s routes in Canada and the United States…. The holiday season is the best time of the year, and we look forward to bringing together thousands of Canadians and Americans this season for this incredibly important cause and a great time.”

As I have in past years, I positioned myself on the beach across the river so I could get a wide shot of the brightly lighted train passing on the opposite side with the dark hills and forest behind.

I arrived an hour in advance while there was still plenty of light and made a few test shots. The schedule put the train at our location a bit after 4PM, just as the sun was going down. The time was about right for my preference of shooting just while there is still that cool, blue light illuminating the sky and I have enough light in my photograph to define the train from its surroundings.

I set my camera at ISO 3200. That allowed me to keep my aperture at f/5.6 for plenty of depth-of -field. I was a bit under exposed, but a stop or two really didn’t bother that kind of low light image. After all, the train’s lights were very bright.

As with past years there was a strong, cold wind blowing down river. In past years it was colder and I had bundled in the car drinking hot chocolate till the train arrived, but this year was warmer and I just stood there enjoying watching my neighbours children running around on the beach. When the train finally arrived the three year old boy and I both yelled, “The Christmas Train” I am sure his mother, shivering in the cold wind, just shook her head thinking, “Boys”.

A young fellow purchased a 1980s film camera from my shop today and we talked for some time about how interesting prints made from film are. He was really thrilled to begin capturing the world around him with film.

As I selected the images that I had edited and worked over using several computer programs for this article I thought of that young photographer and the journey he is beginning with film.

I am sure he will have fun, but the photographs I made of the Holiday train would have been beyond the ability of most popular films he will find at local outlets, and I had the unfair advantage of computer programs with which I could squeeze every bit of data there was in the digital file I made.

Photographing the Holiday train was fun and I am always surprised that there aren’t carloads of photographers joining me on the beach when the train comes by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Prefer Using Flash

Bonnie, Monica & Patti

Bonnie, Monica & Patti

Flash & Reflector

Flash & Reflector

Off Camera flash

Off Camera flash

Lighting fun (2)

 

I like using flash. I know that really isn’t surprising to regular readers. Like most beginning photographers there was once a time that I thought the only circumstance to use a flash on my camera was when it was too dark to take a picture.

When I first began taking pictures for others I dreaded late afternoon events that forced me to shoot in low light. And when Kodak and Ilford introduced their 1600 & 3200 ISO films I joined others in applauding, and ignorantly thought I could forgo ever having to attach a flash on my camera again. However, although those amazing films would let us capture our subject in limited light, the side effect was nasty grain that was almost as bad as push developing film.

For those that don’t know what the term “pushing developing film” means, photographers would, for example, rate their 400ISO at 800ISO and double the development time to achieve a more sensitive emulsion – grainy as the outcome was.

When I looked into what successful portrait photographers were doing with flash I knew I needed to move out of the natural light rut. And I began the struggle to learn how to employ flash any time I photographed people. However, it was noted photographer, Dean Collins’, whose writings and classes opened the doors to using off-camera flash. He was the first that pulled me out of what he called the “artist” mode, and got me thinking about photography as a craft. He wrote, “Anybody who says that photography is 95 percent feeling and five percent technique is a coward.”

Before I learned about wireless flash, I would connect and splice wires together so I could use my flash on a light stand at some distance. To get the proper off-camera light one would go through lots of calculations. (There wasn’t a digital LCD on the back of a film camera) With trial and error I came to know that my old manual flash, with a folded men’s white handkerchief covering it, would give me a nice soft, diffused light at 10 feet.

Olympus introduced the first TTL (through-the-lens) flash metering in the 1970s and other manufacturers followed soon after. I began using Nikon’s early TTL, the SB16, on a Nikon F3 and my world changed – no more clumsy calculations. I have been a fan of TTL since then and with every camera upgrade I also upgraded to the latest technology in TTL flash.

When using manual flash, there is no control by the flash or camera; the light is simply a constant amount of light that’s emitted from the flashgun. With TTL flash, the output is controlled by the camera’s metering system, and is not a constant amount of light emitted from the flashgun.

I have used TTL flashes on and off-camera since the late 1970s. Taking nothing for granted I read everything I could find, and took as many classes as I could get to figure out the best way to use TTL flash, and after all these years I am pretty comfortable using TTL in any condition.

I constantly try to convince and help others to stop being lazy and to include flash when they make portraits indoors or out, and for many years I have lead sessions for those photographers that decide to take the step to using off-camera flash.

The included images are of participants in my last one-day workshop on using TTL and manual flash off-camera in daylight. I will steal the words of probably the most famous teacher, lecturer, and author, Joe McNally, and say that the best part of spending the day with those willing photographers that joined me on their adventure into shooting under the sun with flash is realizing, “The moment it clicks” for them.

I do enjoy all comments. Thank you, John

Studio Portraiture Workshop

Class Portrait 1  Class 2

This past Sunday I lead the first day of a two-day workshop discussing posing and lighting. I hadn’t planned on undertaking any workshops this early in the year, but I had been getting requests from several excited photographers who are out there getting ready for spring and summer portrait sessions.

I finally made the decision to proceed when my friend Dave Monsees, owner of the Versatile Photography Studio near Kamloops, mentioned that photographers renting his studio told him they needed help in lighting couples. They lamented that most tutorials available were only about photographing one person.

I am sure if they browsed the internet they would have found what they were looking for, but working with live models is a lot more fun than reading articles and looking at pictures, so I hired two up-and-coming local models that fit that request perfectly.

In previous posts I have stated how I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when students of photography participate in active learning. So when I started getting requests that I offer  another session I crossed my fingers and hoped for an early spring, booked that large local studio, and hired two models.

During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and I rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead, unless it is to take a snapshot or two of photographers in action. And besides, when I finally let the workshop participants apply what we had discussed, there wasn’t room for me anyway.

The workshop dealt with modifying and placing light. We employed one, then two, and then three lights; and modified the light first with umbrellas, then changed to a softbox and reflector to create shadow, and, of course, that classic and compelling “Rembrandt lighting” effect.

This was an advanced workshop and I limited participation to seven photographers. As with all my workshops, my main goal is to help participants gain an understanding of how to use light. I want them to consider the “quality” of light instead of the “quantity” of light. I lecture to them that they should use light to “flatter” their subjects as opposed to only “illuminating” them.

I think that studying the mechanics of lighting includes two additional aspects, which are (1) experience, and (2) the willingness to step beyond lazily pointing a camera in a light filled room or out in the sunshine. Posing a model, or in our case, two models, seems to me to be more about engaging with the subject and being comfortable with telling someone how you want them to look. I once heard a photographer say that he never posed people because he thought is was rude to tell adults what to do. I can’t comment on that fellow’s work, maybe he was really lucky, but I expect there were lots of missed shots. I suppose he would disagree, or just plain ignore the words of award winning Dallas, Texas photographer, Caroline Mueller when she says, “What I look for in pictures (that) I take: eyes, hands, head tilt, body language, background, and use of space.”

I believe those photographers that are successful at portrait photography don’t hide behind their camera, but they start with a plan and are good at engaging, explaining, and demonstrating what their vision for the session is.

Now I am really looking forward to next Sunday. The few images I have seen so far are great and I am certain spending another day (this time with speedlights out-of-doors in the failing afternoon light) helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

class 3  class 4

 

Thanks in advance for your comments, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com