Photography at that year’s end party.

 

I’ll be having some friends over to my house to bring in the New Year with me and I want to make sure I get some fun photographs that I can give them to remember the end of 2018.

With that in mind I decided to repost this article I wrote back in 2013 about photographing parties.

I can hardly believe how fast this year has gone by, wasn’t everyone just complaining about the unforgiving summer heat? Now, here we are bundled up in the -6c cold and snow with snow tires mounted on our cars. Gosh, there is even an advertisement on television about what wine to bring to upcoming New Years Eve parties.

Don’t get me wrong I like this time of year and everything that goes with it, but I am not ready for winter’s snow yet, and neither is all the stuff in my yard that will get covered if I don’t get off my-lazy-whatever and pick them up.

Even though it seems early, the year’s end is here and that means photographic opportunities as we join family, friends, and co-workers at all the festive events.

Photographer friends are going to dive in, digital cameras in hand, happily filling memory cards with candid photos.  Picture taking has become so easy and so much fun as photographers rush over to take a picture, look at the LCD, and quickly slide back to show others those tiny images.

Photography for many has become more about the process of picture taking than it is about creating art, or even documenting the party; it seems its more about standing in front of people, taking lots of quick snapshots, than it is about making memorable photographs.

Most images made in this fashion never become more than space-taking files stored on computers or phones that after quickly being looked at, laughed at, or just smiled at, are tucked away with good intentions to be used in some fashion in the future. But after that initial viewing they loose their value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

How should readers approach photography at the next party?  I do think we should continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, one might also think about making pictures that tell a story, capture an exciting moment, and importantly, flatter the subjects.

Most people don’t mind seeing a picture of themselves being silly or having fun, but they don’t like pictures that make them look stupid or unattractive.

My approach is to take a moment to look at the room in which I intend to make photographs, make a couple of test shots with longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include some ambient light when making exposures using a flash mounted on-camera (bounce flash of course) so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

When taking group shots with two or three people, get them to position themselves so they are squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast, steady the camera, and select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light.

Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that is 1600, and some go a lot higher.

Shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, or less, don’t always work for children playing in the snow during the day because moving subjects will be blurry, but, with limited indoor lighting moving subjects will only be exposed properly when the flash goes off.

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great. However, the occasion would become more about the photography than about the fun and festivities.  I use an on-camera flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as its enjoyable and I want pictures that show them having a good time. So, along with those quick candids I make posed portraits with smiling faces, and if I select some prints to give away later I want people to like the pictures and honestly thank me.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad Holiday train 

 

Every year the CPR holiday train chugs its colourful way across Canada from east to      west. The train makes stops at cities along the route where there are crowds of people waiting.

Those of us in rural Canada might miss assembly with all the festivities in the city, but we get to watch and, in my case, photograph that brightly lighted Christmas train as it winds its way through the wooded Canadian countryside.

As I drove from my home down to the river valley to again photograph the Holiday train I passed people waiting in their cars parked in the area between the little Pritchard store and the train tracks just off the highway.

I have tried that location in the past, but it’s so close to the train that the only shots are on an angle. And to make it worse this time, a long freight train was waiting in the perfect position to block the view of the train after only a couple minutes.

My favourite place to photograph the train is from across the river. I drove past my neighbours, crossed the bridge and stopped along the river and walked out on the wide beach to set my tripod up.

I like the long wide view across the Thompson River that even using my 70-200mm lens lets me photograph the whole train at 70mm or just a few cars at 200mm.

That beach location allows me to capture that locomotive and it’s bright boxcars in a scenic view.

The train usually passes through Pritchard when there still is enough light to see the train. I saw a few pictures that were taken after it stopped in Kamloops 30 minutes later, and they only showed neon lights with an empty black background.

I chose an ISO of 800 when I first got there and took a few test shots. I walked around to choose a nice flat place where I didn’t have to stand in the mud. Gosh, mid December and no ice.

I will say that, although I had a better location than those on the other side of the river, I envied the fact that those waiting at the Pritchard store had hills that blocked the unpleasant, cold wind that blew at me across the flat wide river.

I joined by my friends and their children out on the beach. Jo had her stocking hat pulled down over her face and was crouching with her camera trying to get out of the wind.

I covered my ears and set up my tripod as I watched her 3 and 4 year olds running around on the muddy beach, oblivious to the cold, as they excitedly waiting for the train.

They had been to town earlier in the day to meet Santa and now running on the beach and seeing the brightly lite Holiday train was like the icing on the cake.

By the time the train came I had to push my ISO up to 1600. I was using my tripod, but with the all movement I decided the higher ISO would let me keep my shutter at a safer speed.

I think this will be the last photos of Christmas lights for this year. As always, it’s been fun. There isn’t any snow yet, but the snow will come soon I am sure, and I’ll be out again with my camera to make some pictures of that white playground.

I can hardly wait for the snow. But for now I’ll wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing the lights of Christmas  

I like Christmas. I like the gaudy colours, the music, and especially the lights.

Regular readers might remember that last December I wrote that as a child my parents used to bundle my brothers and I into the family car and drive up along the high avenues around Salt Lake City so we could look down on all the decorative lights in the valley.

We even got hot chocolate from my dad’s beat up old thermos that my mother would pour for us when we finally stopped on a hill high over the city to view the lights. Although these days my drink of choice is usually wine or beer, when Christmas rolls around I have a yearning for hot chocolate, and I’ll shamelessly admit to being a Christmas light junky.

Last year I also wrote that for years I had business in Kelowna, British Columbia. And during December I always made sure I brought my camera so I could go out at night and then again at morning’s first light to photograph the Christmas lights along the city streets and waterfront.

I no longer have work to do in that lakeside city, but on the weekend of December 8th I packed my camera into my car and headed south to what I suppose will become my overnight Christmas light photography sojourn for years to come.

I left early enough, wait…that’s not right. “We left” is more the accurate.

Last week when visiting my friends Jo and Shaun I mentioned that I was planning on spending Saturday night and Sunday morning photographing Christmas lights.

I had barely returned home when I received a text from Jo telling me that she had talked her husband into letting her go and could I get her a hotel room because she would be joining me if I didn’t mind. So “We” left early enough to stop for some quick shopping, check in to our hotel and walk down the street to the eatery I had spent my evening at last year before going out to photograph the lights.

Last year I was disappointed that the weather was to warm and they wouldn’t be opening the outdoor skating rink until after I was gone. However, this time the days were colder and it was packed with people.

I don’t like choosing auto modes on my camera unless there is a good reason. Shutter Priority for a fast moving event like a rodeo, or Aperture Priority for subjects field like flowers that require controlling depth of field.

On dark nights with moving subjects I prefer the Manual mode. I can be in complete control of how I want my subject to look by changing the ISO, the Shutter and the aperture depending what I want. That way I can balance the light so the final image doesn’t look unnatural.

With the Skaters I wanted to see some movement. I knew there would be people stopping, moving slow, and of course passing very fast. All I had to do is work with those three controls to create the photograph I wanted.

We spent the night photographing the streets, decorated boats moored along the lake, the lakefront walkway, lighted trees, buildings and just about anything in front of our cameras.

We were up before dawn waiting on a highway overpass for there to be just enough daylight to give buildings some definition. We were there to photograph Kelowna’s 120 foot tall Tree of Hope.

For 20 years, the Tree of Hope made up of about 25,000 LED bulbs has been a symbol of inspiration, giving, and hope to the community.

I like to photograph that light bulb tree. Most photos I see of it either shows no background because it is photographed after dark or too much background because it is photographed after the sun has come up.

I want to barely see beginning blue of the sky. To see buildings with the tree reflecting in their windows and I want the light to vivid and colourful. So we stood in the dark and waited for the early morning sun. This time we lucked out with a cloudy sky.

All we had was about 30 minutes of shooting before the sun came up. Then it was back to our hotel to eat breakfast, warm up, pack our gear and head home.

Repeating my words from last December, “Night photography (well actually, early morning photography) gives a city such a nice mood that isn’t really manifest during the day. I like the mystery and, of course, this time of year the frosting on the cake is the wonderful Christmas lights.”

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.

 

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.

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.