Sometimes a good photo strikes the imagination.

Sometime in early 1968 I was moving a bunkhouse bed that belonged to another soldier who had served his required time in the Army and left for home.

Under the mattress was a book I had never seen before called “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. About four years later after I too had left that bothersome military chore me and many other young men were forced into, I was wandering through a huge used book sale and came across three books tied together; “The lord of the Rings”. I was so excited with that find that I hid myself away and in a non-stop session read them all. (I will say that my girl friend at the time was not at all understanding with my three-day disappearance)

Like any good story “The Hobbit” often comes to mind when I am in some creative outdoor setting.

This past weekend I joined my friend Jo McAvany and four costumed friends at a cold waterfall surrounded by ice and snow. My main job was to move the large wireless flash around, but I was able the get some photographs of our subjects when they were not posing for the planned portraits. I wasn’t especially trying for anything in particular, mostly just some outtakes that included Jo directing and photographing people.

Most of my photos were not shot with that flash. I was using a 70-200mm and a 24-70mm. I would set the light up for the person Jo was photographing and either wait for someone to randomly look at me or quickly choose a place where I could get a good shot.

I wasn’t expecting much, just some usable individual photos that were different than Jo’s that she could add to those she was giving to her friends.

“My imagination take over”

When I loaded my photos on my computer and selected those I would edit to pass on to Jo I began to see characters that could fit in Tolkien’s wonderful tale. In my imagination I saw water sprites, fairy queens, elves, and wandering heroes. Gosh, there was even the mysterious Tom Bobadil standing in the white snow in front of raging falls with soft green backgrounds and foreboding rock walls.

I didn’t see any of that when I was trudging through the snow and cautiously testing my footing on the slippery ice beside the turbulent icy water when I was photographing our models. Nevertheless, there the story of the Hobbit was as I looked at the images on my computer display. All I had to do was employ some creative and subtle editing to bring the story to life.

Philosopher, writer and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good hobby for this lonely and frustrating

Gosh, the provincial government is asking us to restrict our movements and converging with people we know. I am not complaining, not at all…I’m sure we will look back on this frustrating time and know that everything has been for the best, but gosh.

Today the sun came out and I decided it was a good time to go out for a few photos. I have been wandering around my yard trying to get creative everyday in spite of the cold overcast, flat lighting. However, my success rate has been going down.  I suppose I’m getting tired of photographing in the same dim flat light.  I have been waiting for a weather change, any change. Rain, snow, fog or as today, some sun poking through the clouds.

I grabbed my camera with a plan to stroll down the street to photograph things poking through the snow, but when I got as far as my gate then realized my choice of camera and macro lens was wrong.  I ran back in and got my infrared camera with a 20-40mm.

I could see the light at the end of the road was illuminating the trees and thought this would be a good time to (again) photograph that old car the neighbours moved down by their driveway. 
I was glad I had decided to use my IR camera. I have photographed that car many times and after my drab week I needed the creative push that Infrared and the 20-40mm lens gave me.  I don’t know those neighbours and always stay outside their fence, but I can still get creative with different lenses without trespassing.

The light started to change so I walked back home, got my 70-200mm in case I saw any wildlife, stuck a CD titled, “Big Band Christmas” in the car player and drove up the road following the light.

The only wildlife I saw were cows in a field and a dog that barked at me to keep moving as I slowly drove past his property.  I don’t have a dog anymore, but if someone walks on my property two geese and seven ducks will loudly, very loudly, give them their opinion.

I was able to get some great shots of field with hills and clouds in the distance and I stopped many times to just shoot down the tree lined road.

I keep saying that photography is one of the best hobbies one could have in this precarious time.  And for someone that is alone the creative hunt for pleasing photographs absolutely wards off the depression that I understand some people are experiencing.

I’ll finish this with a quote from a documentary photographer I read about. Alec Sloth is known for his photography of small midwestern rural communities.  

“Photography is a very lonely medium. There’s a kind of beautiful loneliness in voyeurism. And that’s why I’m a photographer”

Photographing Pumpkins

 

Halloween is on its way. It’s usually a fun time with costumes, candy, spooky displays, parties and more candy.

This year will probably be a bit calmer and in some places maybe not at all.

Talking with my friend Jo and her husband Shaun. We thought it might be fun to have our own get together. Our safe “Bubble” for Halloween will be Jo, Shaun, their two children, probably our friend Drew and me.

What do we need for party decorations? Well to begin with pumpkins.

That meant a short hour and a half road trip to the town of Ashcroft and a visit to the huge Desert Hills Ranch farm market. I was sure that Desert Hills would not only be a great place to get pumpkins, but also a place that would be packed with photo opportunities, and if we went mid-week we would miss the crowds and be much safer during this blasted and darned inconvenient pandemic.

Jo chose to bring the versatile Nikon 28-300mm lens and, as usual, I mounted my 24-70mm on my camera.

The Desert Hills staff had made acres of different displays using pumpkins that presented endless photo opportunities. Upon arrival I got out of my truck and immediately wandered off pressing my camera’s shutter.

Jo was more goal oriented and headed to the large tents filled with vegetables and grabbed a wagon to fill. I eventually caught up and easily talked Jo’s photogenic children, Emit and Evinn, into running, pulling the wagon, and posing in front of the displays.

I put three big pumpkins in one of the wagons Jo had filled with all sorts’ of fresh vegetables, parked it in the shade and continued on with my photographic adventure.

We were only there for a little more than two hours, but I could have stayed all day. There was so much to photograph and the October pumpkin theme was fun, creative and addictive…I didn’t want to stop taking pictures.

American Photographer Annie Leibovitz once wrote, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

It was a good day for photography, not to hot and a good combination of sun and high clouds that held back that photo ruining harsh contrast.

As we had hoped, there weren’t a lot of people there. That gave Jo and I lots of room to do photography and it also wasn’t at all dangerous for Emit and Evinn to run around anywhere they wanted.

I’ll slowly go through my image files from that day and convert some into black and white. Black and white Pumpkins look good.

I think, even in this confusing and disturbing time we are struggling through, that there are excellent opportunities for creative and interesting photography. Now that our Desert Hill Ranch Market trip is past and the images are safely waiting on my computer for me to get inventive and imaginative with, I am wondering what I should plan for next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all about the glass  

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.”   Most will also say that 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 have written about this topic before and I discuss lenses every time I lead a photography workshop.

This past week I got a call from a photographer that was planning on starting a photo business and was wondering about what new equipment she should purchase.

The lure of new photo equipment is almost overwhelming. Most of us are willing to add new photo paraphernalia to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

Each season camera manufacturers come out with new cameras. There is lots of advertising, many reviews to read and there are hours of youtube programs by previously unknown experts talking about how each new camera made them better photographers.

I must admit that I read and watch as many programs as I can about the new cameras.   But as exciting and tantalizing as each manufacturers offering is my belief still is that “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”   So when I talked to that soon-to-be professional photographer my suggestion was not to change her camera, but to keep it and start researching the kind of lenses that would work best with the kind of photography she would be doing.

My advice would be to buy the best lens she could afford. I know that the lens that came with the camera seems to do a great job when viewed on a 16-inch computer monitor. But what if a client wanted to publish or print that image?   And there must be a reason that one might be able to purchase a camera complete with an 18-300mm lens for well under two thousand dollars, yet a 24-70mm or 70-200mm will cost over two thousand dollars each.

I say, Yes, read and drool over that expensive new camera, but for now begin with putting the best lens you can on the camera you presently own.

I have been told that the camera will capture a subject’s personality. However, the lens in my opinion allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer. The photographer uses the lens to alter the visual personality of the image and I suggest that photographers are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

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.

 

Photographing fire spinning.   

This past week one of the women my friend Jo McAvany recently photographed told Jo she was going to do some “Fire Spinning” on the beach in Kamloops Friday evening and wondered if she would come along and take photographs.

Jo told me and we joined the two Fire Spinners and photographer Jennifer Tyler just before sunset along the north shore of the Thompson River across from down town Kamloops.

Oh, and with regards to our current need for “social distancing”. There was no necessity for any warning signs or circles on the ground to remind Jo and I to keep our distance, the spinning hot flaming batons were enough of a warning.

Jo chose to use her 24-70mm lens and I had my 16-35mm. I was happy with the close wide-angle shots I was getting, but Jo told me she wished she had brought her 70-200mm lens so she could crop in tight without having to move in close to our subjects. I had to agree that the longer lens would have made for easier shooting. (And less cropping later)

We both started by slowing our camera’s shutterspeed way down. That gave us good shots of the fire movement, but the person holding the flame came out blurry. We then added flash on a few shots, tried increasing our ISO and had fun experimenting every way we could. I haven’t seen Jo’s photos, but my experience was a bit hit-and-miss.

I want to try again with an off-camera flash. There is a well-known picture of a Hawaiian Fire Dancer on the cover the book, “The Hot Shoe Diaries” by photographer and writer Jo McNally. The image shows flame spinning and a relatively sharp dancer with a black underexposed background. McNally says he used his Nikon Speedlight off-camera and positioned it close to the subject.

I originally hadn’t planned on going with Jo and quickly grabbed a speedlight from my shop at the last minute and only tried it on-camera. (Obviously the wrong place to put the flash almost anytime)

I also now know that I should have used a faster shutterspeed. My slow shutter time would work great for night cityscape photos where there is no subject movement other than the ocean, but the setting was to slow for the constant moving women doing the fire spinning. And I now know I need not have worried about depth-of-field. McNally chose wider apertures for all his low light shots of the Fire Dancers with excellent success.

I have done some reading and critical thinking about my photos and I am sure I will be able to correct the mistakes I made.

I’m not totally disappointed with the photographs I took of the two Fire Spinners, Jessika and Kristen, and there are some very usable shots that with a bit of modifying in post will surely be worth showing to others. I have no doubt the Fire Spinners will like some of the photos I took, but I can do better. I hope I can get an opportunity to photograph them again.

One of the (many) things that has kept me interested in photography for all these years is there is always something else to learn.

Wandering Vancouver’s City streets   

This past weekend I spent a day wandering Vancouver with my camera. 

A couple weeks ago my friend Jo McAvany mentioned that she had a tattoo appointment in Vancouver and wondered if I’d mind sharing the drive with her. I said yes, of course, and suggested we make a weekend of it. Gosh, it’s a 4 plus hour drive so why not?

Saturday morning at 11AM I dropped Jo off at her appointment grabbed my camera and started my walk down the street.

We were going to spend our evening photographing lights along the coast, but I thought I might spend the day doing cityscapes and thought it might be fun to use my infrared converted camera. Infrared would give me an unusual perspective.

I started by walking along the street Jo had her appointment on. That took me about two hours. Once I start searching with a camera I forget about time, there is so much too photograph and I was looking for trees and interesting advertising along the street. Fortunately I had set my iPhone’s alarm to two hours so I wouldn’t get a parking ticket. Then I put my GPS in action and drove to a small park along the ocean. The city has made a small park named Habitat Island that jetted out in to an inlet called False Creek. I chose that place because I knew there would be trees and a small pond filled with reeds that would give me some unusual views of the large city and would add interest with infrared.

There were lots of people enjoying the cool coastal air on the hot British Columbia summer’s day. My practice when meeting people on the street or on a path in the park is the same as when stepping in to a restaurant or hotel, step back and choose a wide route around them. Everything is so strange and unusual these days with the Covid-19 thing.

I stopped at a place known for it’s grand selection of beer called Craft Market and as I walked across the street after parking I saw a young woman with a black mask spraying the hand rail. I took up my place on a circle marked with a bright 6’ at the top of the stairs and when it was my turn I was motioned in by another masked young woman who asked for my name and phone number.

Then a third masked woman walked me to my place at the bar that had clear plexiglass on each side and was then waited on by a fourth masked woman. I guess that is what they call the “new norm”.

Oh well the beer was good.

I walked out of the bar and down along a walkway and photographed buildings across the water until I got a text from my friend Jo saying she was finished.

I don’t know how many miles I walked, but my legs were tired at day’s end. I’m not sure if walking for hours on hard pavement is exercise or punishment. Nevertheless, I got a lot of great pictures and saw interesting buildings and people.

Vancouver is truly an international city with a healthy mixture of all types of architecture, people and things to buy. 

 And it is always fun and inspiring to photograph different environments. All we have to do is…..

Stay Safe and be Creative.

What? Shooting photos with film again?   

 

Over the years I have been writing these articles I have mentioned more than once that I couldn’t see myself ever using a film camera again. When someone asks me why, I complain that film is such a hassle to deal with and takes to long get back from a lab. Digital is immediate and cost nothing unless one decides to make a print. I would always say that I am not the least interested in film.

The Dictionary defines “Eat (one’s) words.” as, “to retract, regret, or feel foolish about what one has previously said”

Last summer I purchased a 300mm lens for the Pentax 67. In 1965 Pentax introduced the Pentax 6×7, a SLR medium format camera for 120 and 220 film that produces 6cm x 7cm image. That’s about a 2 ¼ by 2 ¾ inches negative.

Photographers that were doing work for clients back then preferred medium format film cameras because the larger negatives produced higher quality enlargements.

I owned a Pentax 6×7 camera years ago. It was easy to carry around for close-ups in the garden and although the 67 is a large medium format camera weighing just over five pounds, it is shaped and used like the much smaller 35mm cameras of the day.

It has a variety of interchangeable lenses, prisms and assorted viewfinders that allow one to use the camera at waist level or eye level. And as with 35mm manual cameras, the lens can be reversed with an adapter that made the normal lens work like a macro lens. And a waist level finder made close-up plant photography very comfortable.

I had planned on selling the Pentax 300mm lens, but after showing it to my photo pal Jo I decided to get a body for it. Jo not only had never imagined such a camera existed, but had only come into contact with film when her parents took family photos.

I searched eBay and found some sellers that had Pentax 67 camera bodies, waited for a good price and a couple of weeks ago exposed a roll of 400 ISO Ilford film and a roll of 160 ISO Fuji film with my new 6X7 and 300mm lens.

Getting the film processed wasn’t the easiest task. The local store that sends film out for processing and printing does not handle 120 film. I checked and the lab I used (ABC Photocolor in Vancouver) back in the 1980s and 1990s that still does and will “process only” if I ask so I can scan the film myself.

I also found a lab (Canadian Film Lab) in the small town of Hope, BC that specializes in film. They will process 120 film, scan, correct density and colour balance then post the images for clients on their website. They also have other services to help film users optimise film to personal specifications.

Canadian film lab is more expensive than ABC Photocolor, but I wanted to see what they could do so I sent the two rolls to them.

I now have my image files loaded on my computer and they did such a good job that am looking forward to exposing another roll to send to them.

I would never have thought I’d be shooting with film again.   Jo will be exposing her first roll of colour film with that camera very soon. I have about 30 rolls of film in my freezer and expect Jo and I will be getting used to lugging that heavy beast around and having a great time working the film.

I had forgotten the latitude a roll of B&W film has. Yes my 36mp Nikon’s sensor gives me glorious files, but there is something positive to be said about the quality of a 120 film negative.

A Saturday drive for some photos.  

The rain has been coming down steadily for the past few days. I did get a bit of an afternoon to cut the grass meadow beside my house, but not much else.

The weather report said there would be showers in the South Thompson today. However, the morning was mostly sunny, so instead of sitting in the house listening to the ever so gloomy news on my television I decided to have my morning coffee and bagel out on my porch.

Just as I was feeding my cat, Pippen, another piece of my bagel when I received a text from my friend Jo wishing me a happy 4 of July and “if you could have anything for your 4th of July supper what would it be”. I am not good at making that kind of decision about food. I like most anything. (Especially if someone else makes it) I replied that I was going to take a short drive on the back road to Armstrong, then through Enderby, and return by way of Salmon Arm and asked her wanted to join me.

I would figure out what food and pick up the makings on route.

I like to take my camera on that winding drive through Falkland, to Armstrong, on through Enderby and finally turning to go past Salmon Arm, then back to my home in Pritchard. The route is scenic with photo opportunities and all the towns are small and usually quiet this time of year.

There is a lot to see, make pictures of, and there wasn’t much traffic. How long the trip is depends on how many stops I make. This time I planned on stopping in Armstrong to wander and photograph buildings. Armstrong has a quaint feeling. The town center has retained most of the older buildings from it’s past with little shops and to Jo’s delight an ice cream emporium.

We left Pritchard just after 12PM. our first stop was along Monty Lake. There were lots of rock hunters climbing and hacking away on the steep red slope along the far end on the lake. While I made a few photos of the lake Jo crossed the road to talk with a fellow that had just come down from a ledge. He was finding lots of different things in the rocks, but was mostly looking for fossils.

Our next stop was at a small store in Falkland where Jo purchased some of the local sausage.

We got to Armstrong and after ice cream cones we wandered the streets photographing the buildings. I haven’t stopped there for a couple years and this time I was wishing I was there either earlier or later in the day. The high sun didn’t give me the shadows and definition I like for photographing buildings. I think I’ll try a morning trip next time.

I was using the 16-35mm lens I wrote about last month. I have decided to keep it for now. It is lighter than the 14-24mm, just as sharp, and takes 77mm filters. That’s a plus for sure. I like it’s wide angle for buildings. I still need to give it a good testing on some long exposures. If the weather holds I will take a day trip to Wells Grey Park and see if I like it on waterfalls. I might go to Vancouver for some night photos of the ocean and cityscape, but I think I will wait for the Covid-19 to calm down a bit more before I face the crowds in that city.

Today’s leisurely drive lasted about four hours and other than stopping for Nacho makings (I finally made my decision) we didn’t come in close contact with other people.

I expected rain, but there were only a few white clouds and the temperature was comfortable for walking around with our cameras.
Both Jo and I got a bit creative with our photos (I also used my IR camera for some)

In spite of the life-changing virus I expect this will be a good summer for short photo adventures.

 

 

Backroads and roadside photography      

I’ll begin this article with this quote by photographer Steve McCurry,  “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.”

As I began to write this week’s article I thought about his words. I have been hoping to do some traveling this summer, but with the government in British Columbia still telling us not to take unnecessary trips I have been thinking I should just continue to wander nearby back roads.

Maybe it will be a summer that sees those of us with cameras to take a creative and appreciative look at what is out our front door.

This week Jo and I decided to venture a bit further than Pritchard and although we slowed to look for geese paddling in the pond we didn’t bother to get our cameras and continued on down the rural road looking for something new to photograph. Or at the least, something neither of us has photographed in a while.

Jo called me and said she had to make a quick trip to Kamloops and asked if I wanted to go. She suggested we could return home by one of the many back roads and could take the time to make some photos. Of course I wanted to go, I was doing yard work and any excuse to stop doing yard work is good for me. I don’t like mowing, trimming, digging, pulling or driving to the local dump with a loaded truck. I know all that stuff has to be done or my yard would just be a bushy forest with a mostly hidden house.

I had just enough time to pack my cameras in a bag when Jo drove up. I think she was already on the way when she called, she knows me pretty well. I put my 16-35mm lens on one camera and grabbed my Infrared camera that was mounted with 20-40mm.

I haven’t owned the 16-35 very long and am trying to decide if it should replace the 14-24mm I have. Yes, I am still struggling with that wide-angle lens. There are lots of opinions in online forums, but I have plenty of time to make that decision and short trips like the one with Jo would be perfect.

We made the stop Jo had in Kamloops then pulled through the drive-thru at the Dairy Queen. I am glad places like that have continued to stay open through this crisis and after we got a cotton-candy dipped cone for Jo and a milkshake for me I commented that there must be a lot more work for the staff with all the extra sanitizing they must do before and after each customer.

We left Kamloops turned off the highway and as with the trip we took a couple weeks ago to Kelowna, there weren’t too many cars so driving slowly and continually stopping to take pictures was easy.

Spring is always colourful and the day was sunny with lots of white clouds. It was excellent for photography of the country landscape we slowly drove through and it was exciting for IR photography and although I played some with that 16-35mm, most of the photos I made were with my IR camera with the 20-40mm.

Maybe this will be a summer of short excursions. My advice to all those readers that haven’t been beyond their front doors with a camera is; There is always something to photograph and there are a lot of rural roads that aren’t a long drive from home that are waiting to be explored and re-explored. I expect this year the spring will be wet here is BC and there will be lots of new growth and changing environments to point our cameras at. It is also fun to find a new and imaginative way to photograph things we have photographed before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sticking close to home for garden photography 

 

 

Another week has seen me safely sticking close to home watching the spring growth.

The nights haven’t been as cold and this past week has been a mixture of bright sunny warmth and cool rainy overcast days. Just what one should expect of the end May’s spring weather.

This morning I got up to a very wet yard. I didn’t hear the rain last night, but it looked like it rained a lot and the wind hadn’t picked up enough to dry the plants.

Ha, that meant another good day for photography. I got my camera with a 200mm macro lens, my Benbo tripod, fastened a flash on a light stand, pulled on my rubber boots, jacket and a hat and went out to photograph wet plants in my spring garden.

I knew I would need to work fast because there was a slight breeze. I don’t mind getting rained on, but a wind makes it hard to get sharp photos.

I would choose I flower, place the flash and then get my camera. On this morning I didn’t bother with my black backdrop, it would just get wet. I was planning on shooting with a wide aperture so the background would be soft anyway. I like to darken the ambient light when I use a flash and I could keep the wide aperture and balance the light by increasing my shutterspeed.

I have written before that I control the ambient light by using high-speed sync.

HSS means I can use very high shutterspeeds and not be limited to the low default shutter/flash sync of 1/250th second.   The higher shutterspeed would also make it easier to photograph the flowers that might move slightly from the because of the morning’s breeze.

The last time I ventured into the garden to take pictures there was very little growth, but this past week has really changed things. Of course everything is green and there are flowers, but the most noticeable thing is the Lilacs. The Lilacs are in full bloom and have filled in along the path from my car to my door and what I like best is how the whole front of my yard is now a solid wall of purple and white.
I remember 20 plus years ago planting Lilacs along the fence with my wife and wishing they would grow fast. We looked forward to being able to sit on our deck without being seen from the road. It took years because there isn’t a lot of water available and the summers are dry so growth is slow. As I looked around the yard for small subjects to photograph I thought about how I now have the seclusion I yearned for back then.

I ignored plants that didn’t have water droplets and focused tightly so I would have a soft background with limited depth of field. I wasn’t making a record of the plants I have. Identifying a type flower has never been my interest. My wife liked flowers and could name every plant, but I just care about the colour, texture or shape and the photographs I can make.

An overcast day with a bit of rain is excellent for flower photos. The colours are stronger, there are no harsh reflections and with a flash as the key light instead of the sun one can be very creative. I know that walking through a field on a sunny day is so much fun, but when it comes to photographing that same field I prefer an overcast and sometimes rain.

After all its really about the photography and as American photographer Annie Leibovitz once said, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”