Photographing behind the scenes at a movie.   

 

My first full time job as a photographer was to document events for the Office of Education, Los Angeles California. Years later, after moving to Canada, I became a photographer for a University’s Public Relations Department.

During my 40 plus years earning my living as a photographer I pointed my camera at quite an array of exciting subjects, but it was those two early jobs that fashioned my approach.

This past week I was asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair, if I would act as a staff photographer for her movie, “The Bench”, for a couple of the shooting days.

I am retired and stay away from anything that demands that I be on time. But the thought of taking behind the scenes pictures intrigued me.

Although I have many, many times enjoyed watching movies being made, I have never actually been part of the film crew. “Film crew”, that can’t be correct. I wonder what they call themselves now? Nevertheless, I was sure the photography would be much the same as any public relations exercise.

Public Relations photography in my experience is physically active, there is never a chance to sit and one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects. I never saw or presented myself as being important as those I was photographing, and always preferred to sneak voyeuristically around. And although my photographs were used by news sources and much of the time were in publications, I never thought of myself as a photojournalist. Photojournalists tell a story, whereas my job was to document the interaction and hard work of the people in the event.

It was with that attitude that I quietly walked on to the set the morning of my first day.

I guess I forgot how small Kamloops is, one would think that in a city of over ninety thousand people there would be some anonymity, but alas, that was not to be. A complete stranger said, “John, right? They are around the corner.”

I photographed everything that happened behind the scenes for two days. I am sure that many star-struck, first time photographers might think, “what a great chance for me to photograph a movie”.   However, at this production there were three trained, creative, cameramen operating a two hundred thousand dollar camera, whose job it was to photograph the movie’s action. Taking pictures of the movie isn’t what I think my position as a still photographer needs to be doing. My job was to photograph the people that were actually making the movie and I did just that.

I shot for two tiring days. From time to time I was able to lean against walls, and once or twice even tried to sit down. But of course, as soon as I thought I could relax, I would see crewmembers doing something interesting and rushed to get that shot.

Mostly I wanted those classic images we see in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the lead, or working with the cameramen. The crew wasn’t huge and I got to talk to and photograph everyone working on “The Bench” at some point over the two days.

Photographing on a movie set was a new and certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and now that I have had first hand experience being around them as they worked, I absolutely believe that.

 

Photography in the rain     

 

 

Last Sunday was cool and rainy. I had wandered a bit outside, but only long enough to feed my chickens and move some wooden chairs under a canopy so they wouldn’t get wet in the downpour.

Mostly, I just wasn’t interested in the rain or the cool light breeze and by noon I was content to just sit listening to music, and had just started a beer when there was a knock and my door and my friend Jo McAvany’s smiling face appeared through the window.

Some years ago one might have heard, “Can John come out and play?”   I really didn’t, I was enjoying the blues music and my beer on that rainy day. However, Jo had her camera and I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. She said, “How about we wander around, I want to take some pictures in the rain.

Ten minutes later we were ambling around pointing our cameras at features that on a sunny day might not have given us as interesting and creative photographs.

There are some cameras that are almost waterproof. A Nikon advertisement I once read stated that some models are, “splash proof’. Nevertheless, my main accessory for a rainy day is an old kitchen T-towel for wiping the rain off my camera. Every now and then I give my camera a wipe so the rain doesn’t accumulate, and continue on.

Shooting in the rain is one time that I enjoy a modern camera’s ability to use high ISO. Back in the painful days of film we were limited to 400ISO with colour film. There were a few black and white films that were rated at 3200, but their ability to give photographers reasonable image quality wasn’t all that good.

Wide scenic photos aren’t very pleasing in the overcast flat lighting, so we concentrated on more intimate and close-up subjects. Both Jo and I were using 70-200mm lenses that focused reasonably close. Not macro close, but close enough for us to confine and restrict the view.

Cloudy days always seem to be more colourful for plant photography, and there is something about green leaves and grasses on rainy days that attract me.

I once read, “one should embrace the rain’s infinite photo opportunities”. I like that. Photographing in the rain gives the photographer the chance to explore a whole new world that on a sunny, shadow filed day is invisible. The raindrops and the wet subjects are so inviting.

I know those gray clouds can be disappointing. However, keep a positive attitude. Sure there is a strong possibility that your hair and the knees of your pants are going to get wet, but in my opinion, wet knees are certainly worth the voyage. And remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

 

The April 2018 Vancouver Camera Swap Meet 

 

The time seems to move so darned fast, has it really been six months since I just wrote about one of my favourite yearly photo events, The Vancouver Camera Swap Meet?

There was a three-day break in the heavy snow that has frequently blocked the high mountain road between Kamloops and Vancouver, and we snuck through. As I am writing this, the news report is predicting heavy snowfall and recommending extreme caution for anyone that absolutely must drive the Coquihalla highway to coastal cities.

We made it, and in spite of three days of pouring rain my friend Laurie and I had a great time. As always, we ate and drank too much and stayed up too late the night before. Nevertheless, we were up early, ate a good breakfast (with lots of coffee) and arrived by 8:00AM to spread out our array of camera equipment on the table we had rented, walked around for a quick visit with long time friends that I have been meeting once or twice a year for the past twenty years, and looked at and drooled over all the exciting photographic equipment waiting for the doors to be open to the public at 9AM.

As usual there was a rush of people as they vied for positions at each table. I will say that there is never rude pushing and shoving, those avid photographers are quite adept at peering between those in front and somehow are able to reach with long arms to pick up the camera or lens they spied.

I have never had anything stolen, but I will admit to being on edge when there is a rush of excited photographers at my table. Keeping an eye on something picked up off my table and answering questions about six different items all at the same time is unnerving.

That said, what actually happens is I get to make a lot of new friends very fast. And there are always those that come up with a wide grin and say hello as they remind me about something they bought from me last year. My feeling is that I am in a large, noisy room filled with a thousand friends.

I have written before that the Vancouver Camera Swap is filled with a diversity of human beings that I enjoy. Photography brings people of all kinds of lifestyles, interests, and photographic specialties together. Everyone is interested in photography, whether film and vintage cameras, or modern digital technology, it’s just all about photography and can be found set out on someone’s table.

Twenty years ago it was really a good old boys club at these camera sales. However, I am delighted to say that those days are long gone in a forgotten past.

Ok, I guess there are a few like me that somehow are still hanging around.

It is now over until this fall, and was no different than the last that I had an exhilarating day with other photographers, and even got time to wander when the crowd cleared at days end.

As I wrote last fall, “a good word to describe the Vancouver Camera Swap meet? Invigorating, energizing, stimulating, exhilarating? Or maybe I should just say it was just good fun.”

 

Leading another class on photography         

The first class I ever taught on photography was sometime back in 1976. I think.

I had just moved from Los Angeles to Kamloops, British Columbia and a coordinator from the local Parks and Recreation Association asked me if I would teach a class for beginning photographers.

He had talked to some friends and found out that I had worked as a photographer for the Los Angeles office of Education and also spent time teaching grade school age children in private schools, so he thought I would be a perfect fit in their community education program.

I always liked sharing my knowledge of photography with those that, like me, were excited about this exciting medium and always enjoyed hanging out with other photographers. I had trained to teach grade school, but I wasn’t sure about adults.

Well, here I am all these years later. Gosh, 1976 seems so darned long ago. And I have shared my knowledge with so many people. I taught classes all over the province and was even employed as a college photography instructor for many, many years. So when a friend’s mother; who works for the Ashcroft community association asked me get up early on a Sunday morning and travel two hours to teach a photo class to fifteen eager photographers, lazy as I am, I couldn’t say no.

I designed the sessions I lead for busy adult beginning photographers that have lots of other stuff on their plate. I break my presentations into four separate headings that allow me to add information as I go along. I begin with Modes and give participants my opinion as to why they should only use and how to use, Shutter priority, Aperture priority and Manual modes. The terminology varies with different manufactures, but the discussion is the same. I can then easily plug in all sorts of tips and directions regarding their camera menus without loosing track of our exploration of Modes.

Naturally my next heading is Understanding Exposure, how could it not be after examining their camera’s Modes. Then as they scribble notes on the handouts I have given them I turn on my projector and begin my talk about Depth of Field.

Depth of field is, “that area in front of and behind the subject that is acceptably sharp”. Treating DOF as a main topic helps to show learners how the Aperture and Shutterspeed have a use other than just choosing a way to make sure their image isn’t under or over exposed.

Finally, and my favourite discussion of the day, I present Composition. The word composition gets thrown around a lot. I’ll read forums where members might say something like, “great capture, good composition,” or sometimes, something as meaningless as “I love your composition”.

I know they don’t actually mean composition as a photographic technique. I think it’s become an alternative word that means, “Picture”. They want a more modern word, and I suppose using the word “composition” instead of “picture” has sadly and ignorantly become that word.

Photographic composition is defined as, “the selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area.” And my discussion is about using composition and compositional guidelines to enhance a photograph’s impact.

Those four topics allow me to interject all sorts of information about using their cameras and I can sum every thing up as I finish discussing Composition.

I always hope that those in attendance take the time to reread the handouts I gave them, browse their notes, practice their photography when they leave the same way one would when learning a musical instrument and when the opportunity arises, take another class on photography.

In my opinion the learning never should end.

What about Black and White photography?    

A fellow stopped by my shop this past week to see what kind of film cameras I was selling. I don’t think he was planning on a purchase as much as he was interested to see if there were still film cameras available and, likely, just wanted to kill some time in a warm shop after wandering along the freezing street.

He began by saying he missed the days when he would load his camera with Black and White film and go out for the day. I laughed and said there is no reason you can’t still do that. “You just have to set your digital camera to black and white only mode. ” Then added, “of course I prefer to convert my images to Black and White in post.”

I remember those days (Not so fondly I may add) when I would always carry two cameras to photograph a wedding or a family. One would be loaded with colour film and the other with black and white.  I placed a bright sticker on one camera so I would remember which had which film. And when I went on vacation I also would carry two cameras, one with black and white and one with slide film.

Always toting two cameras, and always changing lenses! Gosh, what a hassle lugging a big case with two cameras, lenses and bags of film.

I knew that fellow was just being nostalgic so I didn’t say any of that, but I sure thought about it and how much easier I have it now.  He commented how much he liked black and white photographs and said he still has enlargements he made years ago hanging on his walls.

I also share is love for black and white prints. There are eight framed photographs that my wife and I made hanging on my walls. Including one that’s 3 feet by 4 feet. And there is even a B&W framed poster by Alfred Stieglitz on the wall behind the computer.

I agreed with him when he said that he thought that, black and white photographs, “convey a mood that stretches the imagination” and he mentioned that he admired several of the B&W portraits I have hanging in my shop.

That was a perfect time for me to quote Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

In an article in June of 2014 I wrote. “A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand and pass the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. And it stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms.”

I wouldn’t want to be limited to shooting black and white any more than I would want to be limited to only using one lens. Some images just seem stronger in colour. However, if I can again repeat what I also wrote in that 2014 article, “I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A snowy walk to Chase Falls

 

The day was grey, flat and cold. but, I was bored with watching TV and wanted to get out and put some footprints in the snow.

I lazily thought about wandering the deep snow in my yard or just taking a drive on the slushy roads above my home. However, I hadn’t visited the nearby Chase falls since a hot day in July and I thought it would be fun to see if there was any water coming over the falls.

When I visited the falls last summer I was joined by my photographer friend, Jo McAvany. I remember Jo loudly complaining about the mosquitos on that hot dry summer day. So I called her and asked if she wanted to trudge through the two-foot deep snow up to the falls and promised the mosquitos wouldn’t be too bad this time of year.

I don’t know what kind of deal she made with her husband on his day off work, but she said, “sure I want to go”.

As I thought, the trail into the falls hadn’t been tramped down by people, and other than foot prints of a lonely racoon that I expect has a warren somewhere in the river canyon to hide in when he’s not marauding garbage cans in the tiny town of Chase, we were breaking trail.

Last July Jo complained about the mosquitos. However, this time it was me complaining that I should have worn high top boots because the snow that filled my short-topped boots left little room for my feet.

I would have liked to climb down to the falls, but the snow hid all the boulders and caution said venturing beyond the trees might end in a very cold bath.

Jo had mounted a 24-105mm on her camera and I had my trusty 24-70mm on mine. We both had put longer lenses in my backpack, but the wide-angle lenses were the most comfortable to use.

The day was mostly cloudy and flat, but every now and then things lightened up just a bit. Not enough to create shadows, but at times there were highlights on protruding rocks, tree limbs and the water.

On a bright day one always struggles with overexposure on a waterfall. I prefer a slight overcast or a foggy day, and I did get some reasonable photographs of Chase Falls this time. Bright sun, deep shadows, a scene with too much contrast or mosquitos didn’t bother me this time. But just a bit more light (and less freezing snow in my boots) would have been nice.

Over the past forty years have visited those falls at least once in every season, and I can’t begin to count or even remember all the different cameras I have pointed at the falls and the surrounding area in that small canyon.

There has been lots of change as the canyon errodes, logs and boulders are swept over the falls and trees and foliage grow taller and denser. I am hoping to be making that short walk each season for at least ten more years.

Thoughts on upgrading to a better camera.     

 

In the previous era of film cameras many serious photographers would come to a point when they would consider whether to upgrade from an automated point and shoot type camera to a 35mm interchangeable lens SLR or to trade in the their well used 35mm SLR for a medium format 120mm camera, and maybe even to take the climb to a 4X5 view camera.

For film-based cameras it was all about the size of the film and bigger was better.  I recall feeling bad for those people that had friends photograph their wedding with a 35mm camera. The only way to get quality-wedding photographs was really only by photographers using larger film in their 120mm medium format cameras.  If one wanted a colourful, sharp, grain free enlargement then 120mm or larger was a must.

What do I now say to a photographer that is considering a more serious approach to photography?   I will always begin with the question, “what are your interests and what subjects do you like to photograph?”

My short answer for digicam and iPhone users is, if sports and fast action, wildlife or quality print enlargements are the goal, then, yes absolutely get a DSLR.    DSLR cameras don’t have shutter lag so sports photography is easy and action demands a camera (and quality lenses) that can adjust shutter speed and aperture. Wildlife photographers prefer a selection of telephoto lenses that can be changed at will, and obviously the best images are produced with sensors that are considerably larger than digicams and iPhones.

Digicams & iPhones are convenient for candid shots. Most of us have ’em in our pocket anyway. However, for photographers that are aware of the huge limitation of those tiny sensors and cheap little lenses the next question is, what is the best choice for a first time DSLR?

For this discussion I will put DSLR cameras in two simple categories, amateur and professional.  The difference between amateur and pro cameras has surely become hazy. If I were to offer a short comment I would say the most obvious difference is durability.  Pro cameras feel sturdy, are heavy and sealed against the elements. When dropped, they usually don’t break, and even with hard use will last a long time.  The amateur camera generally has lighter weight and smaller size.

When the first DSLRs came onto the scene there was definitely a difference in the quality of the images between entry level and professional level cameras, but that is not as distinct now. The technology for sensors and in-camera processing has rocketed.  The latest entry-level model may well have the same sensor as the previous year’s expensive pro model as the technology is transferred over.  The main difference is in the weight, substance, durability, and controls.

The new models are always being introduced, with that many previously great camera models will be reduced in price, discontinued and there are opportunities to purchase at reduced prices.  As always there will be a flurry of megapixel chasers that change their camera with every new model upgrade, making used cameras available.

Whatever the camera availability, my advice to those photographers asking the “upgrading” question is to consider what kind of photography they want to do. Talk to other photographers about the cameras that are interesting, go online and check out the many photography forums to find out what others with that same interest are using, and attend some classes.

So what are my thoughts on upgrading to a better camera? If it’s affordable, don’t hesitate, do it. Using a new camera is always fun, educational, and I believe the process of learning how to control and effectively use the unfamiliar technology a new camera offers is like a shot in the arm that gets the excitement going and ultimately helps one become a better photographer.