Photographing the waterfront on a snowy February morning    

Last weekend was my close friend and photography companion Jo McAvany’s birthday.

Remembering how much fun we had in December photographing the waterfront in Kelowna I suggested that for her birthday present we should make the two-hour drive to Kelowna, have dinner, stay overnight, and then spend the morning photographing the snow covered lakefront.

Of course Jo said yes and I booked some rooms, and Saturday’s cold overcast afternoon saw us packing our cameras and driving the wet, winding road to Kelowna.

I like how the snow-covered waterfront looks and if Vancouver was closer I would have suggested we go there to photograph an ocean harbour, but the weather report said the mountain road between Kamloops and Vancouver might see icy conditions and possibly snow, so Kelowna it was.

We lucked out and had a balcony at our downtown hotel and braved the cold to spend some of the first afternoon taking pictures there and walking around. Then after dark we went out to my favourite Greek restaurant in Kelowna, watched the belly dancer and had way too much to eat.

The next morning we awoke to snow on the balcony. I know some photographers might have been displeased, but Jo and I couldn’t have been happier, and after a leisurely (complimentary hotel) breakfast we grabbed our coats and cameras and headed for Okanagan Lake.

The snow was beginning to come down in huge flakes by the time we got there, but here were a people walking along the waterfront and a few were skating on the snow coverer ice skating rink.

I began by to photographing people on the skating rink and then moved down to photo a bonfire where people sat in it’s warmth drinking hot chocolate and getting their skates on.

I was using my 24-70mm and wanted to stop the action as well as see the snowflakes. For those that haven’t shot in a snowstorm, the trick is simply to use a flash. The purpose of the flash was to stop the snowflakes.

The popup flash on my camera was perfect. I didn’t need to illuminate my subjects; anyway they were to far away.   I was using an ISO of 800, so I could keep my shutterspeed 1/250 and my aperture at f8 or f11 for lots of depth of field.

We wandered the shoreline photographing people, boats, ducks and anything else that caught our attention on that snowy morning. Jo was using her favourite 28-300mm travel lens. Gosh, we had a fun time and got some great photos.

We could have spent the day there, but the snow stopped, and the cold damp breeze coming off the lake was getting uncomfortable . I noticed that most of the people that had been ice-skating were now huddled around the big fire. It was time to go home.

The weekend was a perfect photo adventure and Jo said it was a very good birthday present.

Other than a few bundled up people strolling along the waterfront and those ice-skating or sitting by the fire we had the waterfront to ourselves. We saw no other photographers enjoying the photogenic lakeshore while we were there.

I expect local photographers must get their fill of photographing the lake and marina in the summer and fall when everything is so beautiful along the water and might not be interested enough to look for things to photograph on a cold snowy February morning. However, I like to remember the words of the famous Photojournalist, Robert Capa when he said, “the pictures are there you just take them.”

Photographing the seafront

 

Last week I wrote about photographing the waterfalls at Whatcom Park. I also mentioned that Jo and I took some time after spending most of the day at the park to visit the waterfront.

When one lives in the British Columbia’s dry mountainous interior a trip to the ocean is always stimulating. Sure we have a big wide river where I live, but there are no large ocean going ships, big fishing boats or air that smells of saltwater. Oh, and Jo doesn’t get to spend time wandering the beach looking for seashells.

The coast along the large city of Bellingham is well built up with marinas, people packed piers and buildings of all sorts that makes it perfect for someone meandering with a camera that wants to experience the city’s seafront.

We drove around a lot trying to find places on the map. Some of the streets began with one name and suddenly change to another, and Google maps seemed to be for another planet. However, my “car-rule” is to always stop when something looks like it should be photographed. The driving isn’t as important as the picture.

I used my 24-70mm for everything and Jo stayed with the 28-300mm. There is always the temptation to carry every lens you own, but I think it’s best and easier when one is visiting a new place to stick with just one lens.

When we arrived we chanced on an area that was in the process of being redone. There are old brick buildings and some tall metal structures that look like they must have been for some kind of storage still standing, but it was obvious that the large area was under some kind of massive renovation.

I met a fellow from Idaho who told me that part of the coast park renovation will include a bicycle park and some of the old brick buildings will be for retail and some for art. He walked with me as I photographed a sailboat moored near some buildings, the remnants of a pier and a strange giant metal ball that he said was once a storage tank that is now a sculpture called the Acid Ball.

After leaving the waterfalls we eventually found the long metal pier that extends along Bellingham Bay that was packed with photo opportunities. Men and women with long poles catching crabs, kids jumping off it into the ocean, boats of all kinds, people that I’ll bet were from all over the world, and also, to Jo’s delight, a small sandy beach to hunt seashells.

It is fun visiting places with the goal in mind to take photographs. I suppose now days most people have their tiny cell phones to grab memories with, but in my opinion, having a DSLR with different focal length lenses, a tripod, and an assortment of filters and the knowledge serious photographers have to have to use all that equipment is a prescription to get creative.

Bellingham was a grand photographic adventure that I might just repeat some day. That park was an exciting find and photographing the coast was a pleasant way to spend our last afternoon and night in that busy city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography trip to Whatcom Falls Park.    

 

When most of us that live in British Columbia think of Bellingham Washington it’s usually about the shopping. Bellingham is the closest major US city that we can drive to for better prices on just about everything. Filling up our cars, buying clothing, food and dairy products to name a few items are still less expensive than here in Canada.

Some years ago I stopped overnight on my way back from my annual sojourn to the Anacortes Shipwreck festival and while out to supper I noticed a flyer with the words “Things to do in Bellingham”. Browsing through I noticed it mentioned a place called Whatcom Falls Park.

There are lots of waterfalls in British Columbia so that shouldn’t have been a big deal. However, what grabbed my attention was a picture of a stone bridge with a waterfall behind it. I have always been intrigued with the many stone structures built in the 1930s by the WPA (Work Projects Administration). I remember my father pointing out stone bridges and walls along mountain highways and talking about how the government employed men needing work during the Great Depression.

I have wanted to go back to Bellingham for an overnighter so I could have plenty of time to photograph that wonderful stone bridge and the park’s waterfalls. When I mentioned to my friend Jo that I wanted to go there this summer her excited response “Lets go” was all I needed.

I booked two nights at a hotel that included breakfast and we headed off to cross the border to Bellingham to photograph Whatcom Park and the city’s waterfront.

We had a lazy morning and arrived around 9:30 to an almost empty park and were so excited that we ran down the wide dirt walkway to the bridge. Gosh, what a beautiful place.

The park was only a fifteen-minute drive from our hotel and we were surprised to find that the stone bridge and falls that were only a couple minutes walk from the parking lot.

We photographed from the bridge then climbed down the well-worn trails under the bridge so we could take photographs at the base of the falls.

Creatively photographing waterfalls is pretty easy and the long exposures that are popular with water are no big deal.   All one needs is a good camera, a sturdy tripod, and some ND filters. I shot with my trusty 24-70mm and Jo used both a 28-300mm and 14-24mm.

There were two waterfalls, the large and impressive one near the stone bridge and a smaller more intimate one just up the creek a bit. We photographed both of them trying different exposures and filters.

My favourites are square filters that I hold in front of the lens as I make the time exposure. I prefer to hold the filter and slightly shake it up and down so any marks on them won’t be visible.

We stayed at the park way past noon and sat in my car talking for a while before leaving to check out the coast.

What a fun way to spend a weekend.

The best word I could use to describe how that colourful park seemed is “magical”.

I didn’t want to disturb anything and even though there were sounds of happy people coming from all around, everything became quiet when I looked through my camera.

I found this quote by American photographer Diane Arbus that perfectly describes the way Jo and I felt as we each pushed the shutter.

“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.”

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Lights are Here Again         

Street Lights

PalmTree Decor

Tree of Hope

Xmas bear

SKating rink

Beach walk

December is upon us again and the visual presentation of bright, festive lights has begun. Yes, the Christmas holidays are coming. The bright colours, the gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, the silly TV programs, and, for me especially, the Christmas lights in the city.

This past week my wife and I had to journey for a late afternoon meeting to Kelowna, which is two hours south from our home, however, that winding country road can be treacherous on dark, snowy nights and so we decided to stay overnight in Kelowna.

For some that means dinner out and just waiting the night out in a motel, but for me it’s an opportunity to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling lights. In anticipation I had packed my camera with a 24-70mm lens and, of course, my tripod.

My preference for evening photography is to select a location before it gets dark, and to begin shooting when the lights are first turned on, when there is still some light in the sky, yet dark enough for the lights to be bright. However, our meeting lasted until after dark and I had lost the light.

I have been fascinated by Christmas lights since before I picked up my first camera, and remember family outings this time of year when my parents would pack us up in the old 1954 Ford station wagon for after dark drives along the high roads above the Salt Lake City valley. We would drink chocolate milk and look down on the colourful city lights. At that time my father was in charge of the awkward, accordion-like Kodak camera, that I doubt ever used anything but black and white film.

In spite of the late hour we drove by the downtown Kelowna lakeshore past the Yacht Club. I was sure the city would have lights along the sidewalk and hoped that some of the boats might be lit up. I had also heard that a public skating rink was opening and I wanted to experiment with a slow shutterspeed.

During the time when ISO ratings were limited, photographers who shot after dark ended up exposing for only the lights, and the resulting photographs would show lots of colours, but didn’t say anything about the location, or environment. Nowadays most modern cameras have no trouble with ISO 800 or 1600, with some even 3200, and don’t show the random speckles, which indicate degraded image quality.

Making some test shots I quickly found that the city lights were bright enough to allow me to use ISO 800. I also tried 1600, but I lost Christmas lights detail, and the buildings and walkways didn’t look like they were photographed after dark.

As usual Kelowna had lit up its tall “Tree of Hope”. I photographed that very tall electric tree last year and knew from experience that the best time to get pictures of it was early in the morning. When I left my hotel room at 6am the next morning I was greeted by a couple inches a fresh wet snow. Perfect. More light reflection.

I shot with my camera set to “aperture” priority. When I use aperture priority for this kind of photography I also employ the camera’s exposure compensation feature. If one just used the aperture priority mode the camera will, as it is programed to do, try to correct the lighting and that makes the sky too bright. This time I think I used -1.7 to darken the sky.

A drive this time of year through any town or city neighbourhood is an exciting visual presentation of bright, festive lights, and an opportunity for at least a few weeks, to have fun experimenting and photographing the season’s sparkling subjects.

Photography in the Fog

Farm & Pond in fog 2

Moving cows in fog 2

Horse in Snow 2

Owl on wire 2

 

Pritchard above the fog 2

The past snowfall gave us a grand depth of a bit over two feet. That exciting event included hours of shoveling and roads that were pretty much closed to driving for a while. I wonder why we “dig” dirt and “shovel” snow? Hmm…I remove the dirt from the hole and remove the snow from the walk. Yep, it’s the same thing as far as I can tell.  Both activities use the same tool and make my back tired.

Our yard now has deep three-foot deep trenches dug out and shoveled clear by me that lead to all the important locations. Basement door to chicken coops, front door to the car, and car to the road; however, I also made trails for the feral cats so they can come to the door for the food we leave them.

When the days of soft, cold snow finally ended, everything quickly warmed up and a suddenly a thick, damp fog settled in.

My first thought was to get out my snowshoes and head up into the hills surrounding our home. I mentioned that to my wife, but not in the mood for trudging through the snow she suggested we get our cameras and go for a drive around the now foggy neighborhood in Pritchard instead. So we bundled up, grabbed our cameras and took off.

Our car is perfectly equipped for photography with beanbags. Just set them in the window and nestle the lens on them to reduce camera shake when using our long lenses. However, on this day my wife set aside her 150-500mm, and decided her light weight 70-300mm would be better suited for the foggy landscape, and I chose my 24-70mm. But it’s good to always have the beanbags in our car even if we don’t need them.

Fog is a tricky business because contrast is all but lost and the moving mist reduces sharpness. Everything is so flat that it’s hard to get definition.

I enjoy fog and recall the imagery of a poem from Carl Sandburg.

“The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.”

I think that description is pretty good and I enjoyed how the fog obscured my view of things in the distance and created a mystical looking world as I drove along our snow covered rural road.

Years ago when photographers were making exposures of foggy landscapes with film the best way to increase contrast was to use yellow, orange, or sometimes red filters. We could also over-develop the film, or as a last resort process it in hot chemicals. There were also filters that could be used while printing to reduce the tonal values, and some specialized chemicals would help also increase the contrast. All that was lots of work and if you screwed up the negative…well, you were screwed.

Today we have software like Photoshop (and lots of other programs available that are just as good) to help us out in those flat, foggy conditions, and when Linda and I drove off into the whispering fog I knew I would be spending a short time sitting at my computer increasing the contrast and reducing the grey tonal values.

It is now all so easy and it doesn’t take much time. As I sat manipulating the hazy images I thought about all the hours I used to put into producing our photographs. We have it pretty good these days.

Fog is fun in which to shoot. All one has to do is find subjects that are distinctive enough to be understood through the quietly creeping and silent fog. My suggestion is instead of drinking your chocolate and staring out the window on the next foggy morning waiting for the sun to come out, get your camera, go out, and see what you can do.

As always, I really appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com