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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eliminate the Irrelevant from your Photographs  

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company put out a series of photography pamphlets packed with great advice and information that I collected and studied.

Recently I thumbed through one I still had entitled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”. And although meant for medium format film cameras it’s filled with information that is still appropriate for modern digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like “Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and light colour, Types of exposure measurement, X synchronization, Double exposure and Polaroid film”. All an interesting read if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in the modern digital world.

One topic entitled “We see far to much” says, “The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

That paragraph is worth thinking about. Most successful photographers “tighten up” on their composition, and by that, I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual statement of a photograph. Beginners mostly just aim their cameras with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to additional unimportant stuff captured by the sensor.

Photographers often look at their final image and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items that really should be to be cropped out. If they just took their time to move closer, or zoomed-in the lens they would have had an attractive composition in-camera.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers must train themselves to be specific with a subject only showing the viewer what is important. Gosh, how do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release?

I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only employed rickety, inexpensive models. My comment to anyone that says they don’t like a tripod is “You’ve never used a good one”.

Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about the composition. I agree with Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and the need to eliminate irrelevant items in our compositions.

When that neat and interesting subject is seen stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window and take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk and as you do think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made.

Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph. Not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything, and take my advice and use a tripod for scenics.

 

 

 

 

Event Photography   

When some photographer asks me my thoughts about photographing an event that comes with lots of people I tell them that, for me, the most important three things that make successful photos come with the letters: P.P & F.

The capital letters PPF stand for, have ‘Patience”, always “Pay Attention” and absolutely use a “Flash”.

These days everyone has a camera in his or her pocket.

When anything happens they quickly grab their phone and awkwardly start recording. That’s great and I am so pleased that kind of technology is readily available for everyone. However, for those that want photographs large enough to make the rare print, or sharp enough to withstand the inexpensive material that a newspaper is printed on, or even the quality of most in-house magazines, the tiny sensors of phone will be inadequate.

That’s when the call comes from knowledgeable organizers for those photographers I will call “event photographers” who are willing to spend long hours photographing that special occasion.

My PPF begins with “Patience”. Many untested photographers whose experience is family gatherings or short weddings may be willing, but are unaware that it’s their job to photograph anything their client deems important. Most of the time that means one or two photos of a speaker or award recipients or the recognition of that person of organizational importance.

The event photographer’s job is to patiently stand there at-the-ready, without blocking the audience’s view and get that picture.

“Paying attention” doesn’t need much description, because it’s simple. The photographer is always “Patiently Paying Attention” to everything that happens. Even if that means standing back out of the way poised to rush up for that important moment. So I’ll just leave it there.

Lastly, I have to get to the equipment part.

Most of today’s modern cameras are capable of high ISO. Basically, ISO means that the camera’s sensor sensitivity can be set to make exposures in very low light and for many cameras that low light capability is part of the manufacturers selling point.

What the manufactures don’t discuss is the quality of light. Sure the image can be made bright enough to make out someone way up on a stage, but the light always comes from overhead. And that light never balanced to what most of us consider as pleasant skin tones. The usually dim yellow or purplish overhead meeting hall or gymnasium light makes unflattering shadows everywhere.

Having a flash, no not the tiny little thing that pops up when the light is low. But a flash that one connects on DSLR camera’s hotshoe.

With a modern dedicated flash it doesn’t matter what camera mode is selected the flash will always release a properly programed amount of light. Light that comes from the cameras and is in front of the subject, illuminating the face of everyone in that location. Light that dissolves the shadows. (Except for those directly behind someone or something) And finally light that is much more flattering than the off-coloured lights attached to the ceiling.

My mother used to tell me that “anything worth doing is worth doing right”.

Being more interested in some guest than the list of speakers, or missing that crucial shot because it’s uncomfortable (or embarrassing) to run across the hall to catch that important moment, or being to lazy to first learn how the flash works, or worse not even bothering to use one, is not doing something that should be “worth doing right”.