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.

Shooting infrared on a quiet spring evening.     

This week had one of those nice quiet evenings that are all so common here in British Columbia. By 7:30PM the sun was starting to go down giving the landscape dramatic shadows and a day’s end glowing light.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty lazy after tearing the tile out of our shower wall so I could fix the tub taps, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the TV so I decided a short drive around my wooded neighbourhood might clear the tile dust out of my eyes and hair.

Over the many years I have been shooting with first, infrared film, and then for the past 10 plus years, a digital camera converted to only capture infrared, I have found that late afternoons give me the most impressive effects.

So, I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.

That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside. For a while I called it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.

Then I read about infrared conversions. I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab. I sent that camera away and a few hundred bucks, and about a month later I had an infrared camera.

The images I get are a fun change from the colourful pictures or the sharp black and whites I am used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

I have a book by William Reedy titled, “Impact–Photography for Advertising”. It begins with the words, “To stop the eye… To set the mood… To start the sale…”

Those are great words for any photographer hoping to create visual impact with his or her photography. I think there is no doubt about it that those words ring true when one looks at the surreal effect of an infrared photograph. So I set off on that quite evening with my camera waiting on the empty seat beside me and made stop after stop to create infrared photographs of the rural neighbourhood that I know so well.

I have written about infrared photography before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

The Lens –“its all about the glass”.  

 

I had a discussion with a photographer this week about whether she should buy a new lens or not. At the time I wished we were close to my computer so I could bring out this article I wrote back in November of 2014. With that, here it is again for the few that didn’t get to read it back then.

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will still give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Most of us are willing to add a new lens to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few that are content with the short zoom “kit lenses” they got with their camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but when we change the lens it alters the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is an exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were other words that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing in the garden on a stormy day                                   

 

During my many years enjoying the exciting medium of photography I have photographed all most anything that happened to be in front of my camera.

I haven’t bothered with restrictions or claimed specialties. Sure, I have worked for all kind of clients, and most of the images I produced included people. That was how I put bread on our table for years. But when it came to my personal photography I always have been, and still am, an opportunist.

The process of creating an image on a roll of film or capturing data on my camera’s sensor excites me. Thinking the picture through, capturing a feeling and making technical decisions stimulates and excites me. However, I will admit all that also drains me. Photography has never been relaxing.

When I go out to photograph something it’s hard for me to think about anything else. Back when I when I spent almost every weekend photographing weddings my wife learned to just leave me alone. Nevertheless, over the past 40 plus years I did find a way to relax. No, not getting drunk.

No matter how wired I am or how mad something (or someone) has made me, if I pick up my camera and wander my wife’s garden the tension drifts away. I suppose any garden or quiet wooded area would work as well.

My wife could find enjoyment walking, smelling and looking at her flowers, but I don’t really care about the flowers unless I am pointing my camera at them. Where the colours would have mesmerized her, I would be thinking about how some plant’s tonality would look as a black and white photograph.

This week the storm clouds have been coming at me from all directions, not just the sky. Some photographers might chose to search out large birds that frequent the river or lakeside, while others would select the nearest sporting event to work out frustrations. I have friends that seek out the camaraderie of others and spend time in their studio creating masterful portraits. But for me a solitary walk, searching out shapes in a garden always lifts my mood or at least helps me cope with the storm clouds in my head.

Wednesday was as stormy as my mood and the clouds were darkening the landscape. There was a time when low light was bothersome for photographers, but with the technological marvels we now hang around our necks, low light is no problem at all. I just selected ISO 800, (I could easily have gone to ISO1600 or higher) and kept my shutterspeed at 1/250th to reduce camera shake and started taking pictures.

As readers know I prefer to use a flash to balance the overall exposure. In this case I mounted a ring flash on my wife’s 70-180 macro lens. I usually like to use a tripod, but I needed to walk and besides I was pretty sure I was going to get wet.

On flat overcast days it isn’t the colours that attract me, it’s shapes, interesting locations and the position of the plants. I spent a lot of time lying on the ground shooting at plant level.

The nice thing about using a flash is one can easily brighten or darken the background by either slowing down or speeding up the shutterspeed. And when the background has fewer details I stop down my aperture to disguise elements by under exposing them.

An afternoon garden is quiet, the plants are just there waiting and unlike locations with people one doesn’t have to engage in conversation.   How does it work for me? I like this quote by American photographer Annie Leibovitz, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

 

Used Cameras                

 

Spring is here again and with the colours of the first plants poking up from the ground comes the annual speculation of what camera manufacturers are going to do in 2017.

The forums are also speculating with members guessing what Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Pentax will offer this year. Yes, it is so intoxicating for anyone that has money to spend in his or her pockets.

With the digital camera revolution came a new kind of photo enthusiast that seems to be as excited about changing their camera model as they are about photography.

The good thing for those consumers is that by summer time the prices on new cameras will start to drop. The bad thing for those that decide to sell off the cameras they have been using for the last year or two is they will join thousands of others doing the same thing and the price of their 2015 and older cameras will be much less than they were new.

As manufacturers compete and put sales on 2017 models, 2015 models will take a sharp drop, and the photographer wanting to sell his or her 2013 or 2012 camera will loose even more. And like a stone rolling down a steep hill those that have held on to cameras that have reached five years (considered old in this digital world) are having a hard time selling.

However, for those that just want a newer model than what they have been using, spring camera prices are as welcome as the green grass on the hills and the fields of flowers I see along the roadways on my drive to town.

Now it is the time for those of us that don’t mind a two-year old model that comes without a warranty. Sure, there might be some scratches on the bottom where the tripod is attached, but as long as the memory card door isn’t broken, and the rubber isn’t pealing off, it’ll be just fine.

Buying used is a great way to participate in the yearly new camera frenzy. One might be a couple years behind, but the money saved can be put towards that used dream lens.

Cameras aren’t like cars. Used cars might hide worn out parts, but that’s hard to do with a camera. My quick advice is to bring a memory card when testing that “new” camera. Take some pictures inside with a high ISO and then some outside with a low ISO.

One should always take the time to do some research before purchasing. I remember spending months reading magazines when I wanted to buy my camera back in the 1970s. But now I can find out everything I need to know about any camera in 10 minutes by searching online.

Read the reviews and join some forum and just ask the question. “I am buying X-00 camera what do you think?” It’s as easy as that to have a good understanding of what used camera to buy and which ones to avoid.

And lastly another reason to buy used is instead of loosing hundreds of dollars when selling the loss (and there is always a loss), the loss on that used camera won’t be as painful because it was purchased for a lot less than it would have cost new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fun day photographing Granville Island      

 

After an enjoyable Sunday at the Vancouver Camera Swap Linda and I decided it would be nice to spend another day just wandering around and we selected Granville Island.

The peninsula & shopping district of Granville Island has been a popular destination for both local Vancouverites and tourists since the 1970’s. There is an excellent public market where one can find almost any type of food, the ever-popular Granville Island Brewery and a thriving artist community.

I can’t recall the number of times I have wandered that amazingly exciting visual location, camera in hand, photographing the architecture, the seafront, and the people. Gosh, the list of the many different cameras I have used to photograph that location goes back (like Granville Island) to the 1970’s.

This time I decided to bring my little Nikon J1 CX-format mirrorless camera. On previous outings I usually choose a DSLR, and before digital I used SLRs, and I had even spent days there with different large and medium format cameras.

I am not one to review cameras, but I will say that the small interchangeable lens Nikon V camera’s, in spite of their small sensors, are a pleasure to use and I have no trouble making sharp large prints. The focus is extremely fast; they deliver a blazing 10 fps, and are surprisingly consistent in program mode.

I rarely hold it up to focus with the LCD. I just lazily estimate how I want my subject composed, hold the camera out and shoot. It’s small and easy to carry in my pocket if I want to shop.

Linda and I got there early enough so that similar to the characters Merry and Pippen in the novel, “Lord of the Rings” would say, “to have second breakfast”. The public market has a great food court where if one is lucky there is actually a place to sit, eat, view the waterfront, and of course, people watch. People can also step outside, sit on the benches, and share their food with the birds.

The day was sunny, warm and perfect for wandering the many shops filled with amazing artwork, and of course, also perfect for photography.

Granville Island is so colourful. Any way a person looked there was a picture waiting to be taken. I did notice a couple of other photographers setting up for scenics of the Granville Island bridge, one woman was crouching very low, with a wide angle lens, to photograph one of the many street performers. I am sure there were more, but Linda was intent on viewing as much artwork as she could, and she and I were having such a good time looking at and talking about things that I passed up many a shot.

I think a photographer has to work any environment with dedication. I have done that in the past, spending hours searching out subjects on Granville Island to photograph. (Not that one has to do much searching.) I read once that the best thing about Granville Island is it’s wonderful sense of imagination. I think that is so. And to quote another line from another movie, “I’ll be back.”