Photographing a November garden   

 

For years I have made sure to wander my garden with my camera in every season.

I know most photographers are only interested in the bloom of spring or glorious colours or fall, but to me it’s as much how the yearly changes shape the plants as it is the colourful presentation of spring and fall.

I like to walk around the garden that hides my home from the country road that borders my property. Spring, summer, fall or winter. I enjoy it.

It was on a late afternoon just after 4PM. I walked out on my porch to listen to the coyotes serenading the neighbourhood. Or maybe they were complaining loudly that the wet cold weather was making it hard to find food that normally scurries in the meadows.

Friends have commented that it must be nice to live away from the noise of the hustling city. However, at that moment it wasn’t only the coyotes that were disturbing my supposedly quiet rural life. Three roosters, fourteen chickens and five ducks were all making sure I knew they were as important as the coyotes in their forest home.

As I lazily kicked some fir tree branches out of my path I thought about how the cold plants looked interesting and decided to get my camera.

I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and attached the ring flash and walked along the little pond to take some pictures. After about five not-so-sharp captures I chastised myself for being lazy and returned to my house to grab a tripod.

A photographer I met that worked for a couple magazines once asked me, “What is the difference between using a tripod and not using a tripod?   “The shot with the tripod is the one the editor chooses for the cover.”   I am not sure if that’s always true, but I am sure using a tripod (and a flash) when photographing plants and gardens give me more keepers.

The ring-flash creates a smooth direct light that is very different from the flash mounted top of the camera. There is a sparkle to the subjects.

I always use a flash for plants.

I begin by metering the ambient light as if I were about to photograph the flower without a flash. Then I stop the aperture down to under expose the picture. In the low, bright November light I wanted to darken everything but my subject.

Sure one could open the aperture to reduce the depth-of-field and soften the background. But the closer the lens is to the subject when doing a macro or close-up photograph the less the field of focus in front of and behind the subject will be anyway.

I want as much sharpness as I can get around the flower. So instead of relying on the aperture to separate my subject from a busy background, I reduce the ambient light.

My ring-flash is set to manual so all I need to do is experiment with flash distance. I move forward and back to give the plant the light I want.

The ring-flash has a diffuser and I use a 200mm macro lens. The magnification is the same as with a 50mm or 105mm macro. I just get to be further away and that distance is more effective for the ring-flash.

There isn’t much more relaxing photography than garden photography because the subjects usually cooperate.

December has just overtaken me and I have no doubt that festive Canadian month will bring a totally different garden to photograph.

 

“It no longer matters if a person knows anything about photography, anyone can take a picture”      

I met a young creative photographer that is working hard to make sure his photographs stand out amongst the legions of picture-takers in this popular and expanding medium. He leaned on my counter and gestured into space as he made that seemingly painful statement to me. “It no longer matters if a person knows anything about photography, anyone can take a picture”

His goal is to produce images that are visual statements of how he feels about the subjects he photographs. He has studied and studied and wants his work to be seen as more than just documents of the world around him.

The medium of photography has become very accessible for everyone. The days when most serious photographers actually went to school to learn about photography and had to be an engineer and chemist are long gone.

With today’s supercharged and computerized cameras many photographers get away without any knowledge whatsoever of photography.

Historically, photographers had to understand the combinations of shutter and aperture for a properly exposed image, and worried about camera shake and film choice. Photographers would carry more than one camera because they wanted the resulting photographs to be in both color and black and white.

One must remember that a few short generations ago photography needed large glass plates, hazardous chemicals, bulky cameras and wagons to carry everything.

I am not sure that the photographers of the late 1800’s or early 1900’s were actually interested in photography as a creative medium as much as a way to document reality of their unknown world.

Whether trying to convince some person to sit as still as possible for long time periods or setting up unwieldy photographic equipment on a cold mountaintop to photograph the view, photography was once a challenge that most of today’s photographers would shy away from.

There are those that are intent on complaining that with the end of film comes the end of photography. Personally, I don’t think film is going away any time soon. (Film is just one way to make a photograph.) The big box outlets may not carry it much longer, but there are lots of specialty items artists use that are only available in specialty stores, and I think film is still available at some small shops. However, the chances of getting the correct advice from the person behind the counter doesn’t seem likely.

Yes, anyone can take a picture nowadays. That’s a good thing and not something to complain about. There are lots of good photographs being taken and although most of them fall into the category of documentary or snapshot photography. People want visual memories of their world and the many camera incarnations are perfect for that.

I look forward to seeing more photographs made by that young photographer and others like him. My advice to him would be to embrace all the exciting technological advancements he comes across as he strives to make his photographs stand out in. After all photography has always been about technology.

I am sure he will work at producing images that will be technically perfect visual statements about what he feels or wants to say.

There are many, myself included, who are interested in the viewing good photographs. It doesn’t matter how the image is produced as long as the final photograph has something to say and is visually exciting!

That critical comment “anyone can take a picture” shouldn’t make any of us worry as we look forward to the future of this exciting medium.

Home studio Lighting set-ups for Beginning Photographers      

 

I am always pleased when I know that someone has actually read my articles.

Twice this past week I was visited by different aspiring photographers, that had read my last article on using lights and stopped by to ask advice on setting up home portrait studios.

For them and others that missed my past article on setting up a home studio, here it is again:

In each instance the photographers were quite troubled by the kind of lighting equipment other photographers were advising them to purchase and how much it was going to cost to get large and expensive studio lights.

They complained that they would have to wait till they had the money before a home studio lighting situation could be set up. I believe they were paying attention to those that included expensive manufacturer’s names for their studio type lighting setups.

One might be able to locate used studio lights with a bit of searching online. However, there will be shipping costs, plus there is a chance that they will arrive not working.

There usually isn’t lot of quality studio lights locally, and to confuse new photographers more there will be lots of those cheap, inadequate, constant light kits that were purchased by other unsuspecting beginners for sale.

My opinion is they don’t really need to go to the bank just yet, and would be better starting out with the smaller speedlight type flashes.

With the money they save by not purchasing those big studio type lights they could buy a couple inexpensive light stands, umbrellas and maybe even a softbox and backdrop.

Most small home photography studios are in the basement with equipment stored to the side until the photographer quickly sets up for a portrait session.

And if the room is less than twelve feet high, thirty feet long and only used for children, small groups or single person portraits, those big powerful and expensive studio lights may be overkill, and a real hassle when one wants to soften the background by shooting a wide aperture because there is just too much light power for small spaces.

Photographers intent on setting up small home studios for portraits and small groups don’t need to go to the expense of the brawny, studio type lights. They can easily, and without much initial cost, set up a studio with what I personally use, and call my “portrait kit”.

My portrait kit is four older hotshoe type flashes, each with it’s own wireless receiver and two stands. I can choose a shoot-through umbrella, a reflector umbrella, or once in a while a softbox, and might include a reflector. It’s an inexpensive and easily stored “portrait kit” that I would recommend for most first-time, home studio photographers.

Wireless senders and receivers come in all sorts of inexpensive incarnations, and it’s the same with lightstands and flash to umbrella mounts.

All of this is much less expensive, and a lot easier to store and/or move around than the big studio-type flash units.

Even if there were a wad of cash burning a hole it your pocket, my advice would be to proceed slowly, and learn how use light to best photograph a person first.

I have been using multiple flashes off-camera since the 1970s. I prefer inexpensive used units that I can cheaply replace if they get knocked over or I wear them out.

Hotshoe type speedlights off-camera will be perfect for that educational process, and when they are no longer a good fit with one’s creative growth, the choices as to the next step in lighting equipment will be educated decisions.

Photographing behind the scenes for a movie.

This past week I was again asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair if I would be the “stills photographer” for another movie she was directing.

Ms. Boisclair was this year’s winner of the WIDC (Women in the Director’s chair) “short award”. That award allowed her to hire a cast and crew for her latest movie called, “Stood Up”.

When I wrote about my experience as a movie stills photographer last June I said that I drew on my background in Public Relations photography. PR photography is physically active, with never a chance to sit and where one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects to be successful.

So at 7:30AM I was lurking at the edge of the action voyeuristically capturing behind the scenes activity, and documenting the interaction and hard work of the people in that were making that movie happen.

I like tight shots that force the viewer to get involved with the subjects. I also like my subjects to be well lighted. I see no use in wide shots that have dimly lit people in the distance.

The beauty of my full-frame, large mega-pixel, camera is I can shoot wide and decide how the action and subjects are cropped in post-production with out any loss in detail or image noise in my final photograph.

I stay with a 24-70mm lens because I don’t get the edge and corner distortion of wider-angle lenses.

Modern TTL flashes offer the opportunity not only to bounce the light in any direction, and also allow one to increase or decrease flash power depending on the environment and proximity of the subjects.

When I give beginning wedding photographer’s advice on photographing receptions in large low lighting rooms, I always tell them to slow down their shutterspeed to increase the ambient light. Those “deer-in-the-headlight” type photos that are painfully common in beginner’s photos are so easy to correct by just moving the shutter dial to 1/125th or even slower.

Its that technique I used when photographing the behind scenes action. Indoors I would shoot wide with a slow shutter and outside I use the high-speed sync feature to increase the shutterspeed as needed to balance the flash in the daylight.

As with the last time I photographed for the movie’s director, I am after those classic images I have seen in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the actors, or working with the cameramen.

Photographing on a movie set is certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and again this time, my first hand experience with the actors and the crew as they creatively worked, more than proved that to me.

Outdoors flash photographer’s workshop        

Last August I wrote about setting up an outdoors studio in the meadow on the south side of my home for my friend Joleen McAvany. Readers will remember that Jo wanted to do a “Disney Princess” session with some of her friends.

Jo posted her studio-like photographs from that day online. Her photos were so successful that I decided to offer another how-to workshop.

I limited participation to four interested photographers and Jo easily talked two of her friends into braving the cool October day to be our models.

I like flash and never pass by an opportunity to introduce photographers that normally would only use flash in dimly lighted rooms, to the advantage of employing flash in the daylight.

Jo and I set up both a white canvas backdrop and a painted blue/grey canvas backdrop. I had purchased the painted canvas, but the white canvas was formally a large painters ground cloth spattered with paint that I got for free.

I attached several older 1970 vintage flashes on light stands with umbrellas. All were connected to wireless receivers and I gave a trigger to each photographer.

My lecture was about balancing the light from the flash with the ambient light. The key light (main light) that modeled the features of our ever-patient subjects, Morgan and Cora came from the flashes, not the sun.

Jo gave a posing demo using a 60mm, then a 70-180mm and finally a 400mm lens as she positioned each model in turn. Then after showing everyone how effective the long lenses were, and how easily it is to control the flashes, I positioned each depending on the light.

I then let the attending photographers experiment and learn as I showed them how great their photos could be using flash in the daylight.

Most had seen some of Jo’s “Princess” photos and I reminded them that she had originally asked me, “can I do this out-of-doors and still create flattering studio kind of light portraits?”

Now I have introduced four more photographers to using flash as a creative tool instead of just something that brightens a dimly lighted room or gives a flat light on some subject’s face that is standing in the shade.

I am left wondering if they will start using flash. It is so easy to be lazy and leave the flash at home on a sunny day. However, the resulting photographs where one controls the light and is able to place it to flatter and model a subjects face should be enough to convince any serious photographer.

I would like to think I was successful in convincing those four photographers that adding the light from a flash will make their photographs stand out among photographers that depend on the inconsistent light from the sun.

Note: Photos by Joleen McAvany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kelowna’s October waterfront  

 

 

My friends Shaun and Jo McAvany decided to join me on a on a two-day trip to Kelowna.

Their anniversary had just passed and they had spent their honeymoon 9 years ago in Kelowna so I guess the trip was appropriate for them.

For me it was a chance to spend some time in a bigger city with it’s fancy eateries and, of course, to wander Kelowna’s waterfront with my camera before winter’s snow and ice covered everything.

They dropped off their kids at their grandma and grandpa’s place, found a friend to take care of the menagerie of dogs, cats, rabbits and what ever other animal they have rescued the weekend and jumped into my car to join me for the scenic two hour drive.

Although the Kelowna lake waterfront doesn’t have exactly the same feeling as Vancouver’s seaside, it’s pretty close. And the last days of summer are a perfect time to photograph the colour and mood of the freshwater foliage that mixes with city structures dedicated to tourism.

For this photographic trip both Jo and I carried our little Nikon mirrorless cameras. The Nikon 1 series doesn’t have a very big sensor, but if one isn’t going to be printing 11X14 or 16X20 enlargements, it’s the perfect interchangeable lens travel camera.

The weekend was sunny and it was light jacket weather. In the morning we shopped at 2nd hand stores, then ate lunch at a restaurant called Memphis Blues. (One of my favourite dinning establishments in that city) then spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures along the waterfront.

One might say that my goal is to experience a different aspect of photography each week. I’ll admit I try very hard. Last week I was at a wondrous wilderness park with few people and this week at one of British Columbia’s premier vacation cities with lots of people.

I am not sure if it’s those changing opportunities that called me to photography, but the range available to those that answered the call of photography is certainly a grand side effect.

Doing photography with another person is fulfilling. One might be at the same location, and even with the exact same camera, but how each person chooses to creatively photograph that location, in my experience, is always very different.

Well that photography adventure is over, I have looked at Jo’s photographs and she has looked at mine. Yes we were at the same place, but our view was very different.

 

October photographer’s drive through Wells Grey Park   

 

 

 

My friend Jo and I decided to test out a big 400mm lens that came in to my shop.

I had brought it home to test and had tried couple shots in my yard, but decided it needed distance subjects for a realistic workout.

Jo had stopped by one evening and after a couple glasses of wine I flippantly said, “if we took it to Wells Grey Park we might find some bears”.

I was joking. Jo always tells me she would be afraid if she saw a bear wandering in the woods where we live. However, in an uncharacteristic comment she took a sip of her wine and said, “can we do that?”

A week later we drove into the wilderness park and Jo had that big six-pound lens attached to her Nikon D800. We had began by stopping at Spahats Creek Falls 400mm lens for some wide angle shots, then wandered around a long deserted homestead and were heading to Helmkin Falls when we spotted the bears.

In the forest town of Clearwater, just before the park, I talked to a local that mentioned there had been a sow and two cubs hanging around a large meadow on the way to the park’s entrance, so we were watching and as we turned a corner there were cars parked on the roadside. And there in a farmer’s mowed field were the three bears.

I stopped, placed my beanbag on Jo’s open door and stepped back as she rested that big lens 400mm f3.5 on it and began pressing her camera’s shutter.

After that exhilarating event we drove on into the park.

We couldn’t have chosen a better day. The temperature was cool enough for a light jacket and the fall colours were inviting so we stopped and stopped and stopped again to take pictures.

The park is a favourite of hikers, boaters, trucks towing large trailers for overnight camping and for anyone, like Jo and I that want to do roadside photography.

Like most photographers, we over packed. We had our cameras, tripods, lots of lenses, a bag of filters, two flashes, extra memory cards and enough food for two or three days.

We didn’t eat very much of the food, use the filters, flashes or tripods and had no need to mount a flash on either of our cameras. I only used my 24-70mm and other than when she photographed the bears with that 400mm Jo stayed with her 20-40mm. But although the need never arose for us to employ that trunk full of equipment we were well prepared.

October is my favourite time of year for scenic photography and as last year at this time, Wells Gray Park is always on my list for fall nature photos.

When the shadows grew and the temperature began to drop we knew it was time to head home. Clearwater to our homes in Pritchard is about two hours and for us that meant two hours of talking about the photos we took, photos we plan to take and places we want to go with our cameras.

I looked for a quote to end with and found this by the most famous scenic photographer of them all, Ansel Adams.

Everybody now has a camera, whether it is a professional instrument or just part of a phone. Landscape photography is a pastime enjoyed by more and more. Getting it right is not an issue. It is difficult to make a mistake with the sophisticated technology we now have. Making a personal and creative image is a far greater challenge.