Try something different from the usual vacation photos.  

 

I hadn’t picked up my infrared camera since spring, and it was a last minute addition when I was loading the car for my trip to the Washington coast.

Now as I sort through the pictures I took on my short four-day junket I am glad I did.

The low, late afternoon coastal light is great for infrared. The trees become an iridescent white, the sky a deep black and anything painted a light colour glows.

I suppose most of the pictures one takes on vacation are little more than documents of the places visited and end up filed away in hopes that future generations will eventually find the volumes of unmarked computer files and excitedly relive the experience.

Somehow I doubt that actually happens very much.

Just as the closet full of boxed slides from the film generation will likely be discarded when age forces them to downsize, I expect the terabytes of image files stored on memory cards, cell phones and the illusive cloud will follow a similar fate.

I don’t have an answer to that, I guess what will be will be. However, modern digital technology at least allows us to be a bit more creative with the images that come out of our cameras. I don’t know if the memories they retain will last any longer than I will when I am just dusty ashes in some old jar, but what the heck, if anyone does take the time to look through the volumes of photographs I leave I am sure they won’t be bored because very few of my vacation photos fit easily under the heading, “document”.

My vacations, for many years have centered around my interest in photography. My wife used to call them “photo vacations” because everywhere we visited and everything we did when traveling revolved around taking the time to get creative with our cameras.

Now with modern digital technology that creative photography is not only “during the excursion” but goes on for many enjoyable hours at the computer when all the gear has been put away at home and the trip is only memories.

Enter infrared.

Infrared files are waiting to be manipulated. In my opinion the need to preserve or enhance the beauty of what was experienced on one’s latest adventure doesn’t apply. Infrared is a different light and different statement about the world we experience.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling for me. When I discussed my infrared photos last May I wrote that when I see a black and white photograph it makes me think about how a subject looks in a particular light and the mood it creates.

Infrared makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject.

The pictures one makes with an IR camera are always an exploration, a discovery, and are very different from the usual vacation photos.

Photographing the 2019 Pritchard Rodeo  

 

Jo and I were comfortably positioned along the rail at 1PM ready for the first bronco-riding event. I had my camera set at ISO400 so I could get reasonable depth of field and be able to use the Shutter Priority Mode with a 1/500th of a second to stop the action.

Both of us were using 70-200mm lenses. There are longer focal lengths available and I was asked this week if I ever tried my 150-600mm. I haven’t used that lens at a rodeo, but I did shoot some years ago with a 150-500. It was pretty good and brought the action so darned close. But the rodeo grounds aren’t that big and I like the 70-200mm. It’s light, not that big, handholdable and delivers great quality.

I have mentioned before that I like photographing any kind of action and especially the rodeo that is only a few minutes drive from my home in Pritchard. I always look forward to standing there along side other photographers that, like me, enjoy capturing the fast moving test of wills between animals and riders. Photographing any action filled competition is fun and there’s always lots of action at a rodeo.

My favourite events are the bronc and bull riders. I like the fast moving explosive action that moves uncontrollably across the arena.

I always try to get that first moment, especially with the bull riders. There is so much happening when the gate is opened and bull, rider, and all the faces behind those two show the excitement. I continue to follow the activity to capture that perfect moment that shows the athletic prowess of the rider. However, I must admit my favourite photos are those that show the rider getting thrown through the air. Sure I feel for them and never like it when someone looses or gets hurt, but it’s that explosive moment when everything in moving at it’s own speed, in its own direction, that tells the exciting and dangerous story for me.

This hometown rodeo is darned convenient and really accessible without restrictions placed on ringside photographers, and it’s easy for participants to get quality photographs of themselves that can be made into wall prints just by asking any one of the many people with a camera standing along the rail.

For those new to rodeos or even photographing action, put a rodeo on your bucket list to attend, it’s a friendly and an easy place to practice and experiment.

A photographic discussion.     

Photographer Jo McAvany’s loose goal was to create a visual contradiction (artists might call it a “juxtaposition”) that discussed a time when early photographers wandered cities documenting scenes of urban life for weekly newspapers and the modern era for women that gained momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jo wanted that look one might see newspaper reporters/photographers wearing in those early black and white movies. The fedora, a pinstriped shirt with rolled up sleeves, suspenders and an early 1940s 35mm film camera.

She came up with the white swimsuits after seeing a picture of Hugh Heffner surrounded by Playboy magazine playmates. When she sent me the picture my comment was “the robe?” She said, “no your Heff look.” I wasn’t sure about that, but I did like her idea about the 50s.

She chose to have women wearing white swimsuits to represent the modern era that was propelled, or at least gained momentum in the late 1950s, in part, do to Heffner’s magazine.

Jo put the call out and immediately had 14 or 15 replies. We had eleven at 9AM on the day of our shoot. I had no doubt that Jo could control and pose all those women. For my part, all I had to do was stand there, as a prop for them to pose against.

My main concern was the lighting. As regular readers know, I don’t much like flat, uncontrollable natural light. I brought two speedlights on stands with 40”umbrellas and asked my friend Drew Vye to assist with the lights when I was detained as a model.

The biggest problem was the bright morning light and clear blue sky. I quickly realized the speedlights weren’t powerful enough to balance the painful light at the first location. Drew, Jo and I started wandering, and after yelling back and forth down the sidewalk we chose the middle of the street location.

We would need to move when some car came through, but it was early and during the two hours we were there only one car angrily honked. Most drivers were amused to see all the attractive women in swimsuits and drove by smiling and waving.

The changing light from there wasn’t that much of a problem. Drew and I just kept moving the lights so there wouldn’t be ugly shadows and make sure Jo’s subjects had depth and were separated from the background.

The street location couldn’t have been better place to show the city. And when Jo used the 70-200mm the perspective was excellent.

I know the women all had fun. We even had them pose in front of a nearby restaurant with the reluctant manager that I dragged out. Oh, and when I suggested that they pose with Drew they all hooted and waved him over. He now wants enough prints to send to every relative he has in Canada.

As I stood in the street holding that old camera and tipping the brim of my hat down I thought about a press photographer from New York’s 1940s named Weegee, known for his stark, black and white photographs of urban life and hoped Jo would capture some of that feeling.

A photographer can make all kinds of statements. Jo’s visual discussion is about the changing times we live in and, in my opinion, how photographers have been playing an important role documenting those changes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Event Photography   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lastly, I have to get to the equipment part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A spring drive with my infrared camera.

The bright sunny spring day was perfect for infrared photography.

I hadn’t used my old camera that I had converted to infrared for quite a while. The last time it was used was by my friend Jo last February. The images Jo made in on that winter day were a fun change for her from the colourful photographs she was used to with her big 36mp Nikon.

Infrared is always a crowd pleaser and using an infrared camera is the best way to step away from what other photographers are doing.

After my failures at finding and photographing those tricky geese I figured it was time to get that IR camera out. I charged the batteries, set the white balance, made sure I had an empty memory card, mounted my ever-so-sharp Sigma 20-40mm lens on it, finished my cup of coffee and finally sat it on the seat beside me as I drove off to see what there was waiting for me to photograph in the next few hours.

I drove the rural roads around my home for a while, and then decided to check out the waterfall a bit down the highway.

There was lots of fast spring runoff water coming over the falls, but the little canyon was still in too much shade. To get dramatic infrared photographs of the falls I prefer a wide shot that includes vegetation. But on this day the shade made my unaltered infrared image mostly brown with only a few slashes of bright light drifting down to make some features blue. Without strong light the there won’t be bright white foliage and the final image wouldn’t be much different than a normal black and white picture. So I gave up and crossed through the small town of Chase to the lakeside.

The lakeside was in bright morning sun with blue sky and was perfect for infrared. There weren’t many people and the small grassy beach park was empty.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling. I have written before that using a modified camera is an exploration that moves a photographer far from the usual camera image and the final effect is quite unworldly. The bluer the sky, the greater the likelihood of that unworldly effect; and things that are white or have been turned white (like trees) can glow with an ethereal brightness.

My camera produces images that are limited it colour range. Unlike many modern infrared conversions that give many dramatic colours, the original pictures from my old 6mp camera are mostly shades of brown and blue. By altering the colour channels I can get a few different colours, but much of the time I prefer B&W.

At his writing I am thinking it might be time to see what Lifepixel.com has for sale with a newer, higher megapixel camera.

Black and white makes me think about the subject first and then the light, or how a subject looks in a particular light. Infrared, on the other hand, makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject. Of course the subject, and how it is composed and framed is important, but some things don’t look very different (depending on how the IR light is absorbed) than a colour image converted to black and white. With my old camera I must be thinking about the light first and then choose subjects that I think will look like they are photographed with infrared.

To me using an IR camera is always an exploration and certainly a discovery. And the best think about using infrared is how it allows me to create photographs “that are far from the usual.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography after the Vancouver Camera Swap and Sale.                   

Last October I wrote, “There was a discussion. For a photographer; Granville Island rain or shine was the prefect place to wander with a camera”.

“Buildings filled with expensive artwork, a food fair, farmer’s market, artist studios and, of course the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, are all exciting places to take pictures”.

The Camera Swap and Sale was a success and we tried to sleep in the next morning. But Jo was up with the seagulls, full of energy and rearing to go to Granville Island. I was lucky she even gave me the time to eat the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.

I had told her we would spend as much time as we could doing photography on Granville Island. We had stopped for a short time on Saturday night (before Sunday’s event) so Laurie could photograph buildings across False Creek in the setting sun with his big 4X5 sheet film camera.

That night the light was dropping fast when we got there and we spent most of our time setting Laure’s camera up in different locations. There wasn’t much time for Jo to wander so she was excited to go back when the island was packed with people in the bright sun.

It rained the two last times Laurie and I were there.

Parking was tight on Sunday and it was a chore for Laurie to squeeze his truck into a parking space meant for small compact cars. But after what seemed like a lifetime he finally did, and without hitting the cars parked tightly on both sides. Hey, Laurie was a Canadian farm boy. I am sure he was driving a truck as soon as his feet could touch the gas pedal.

The place was packed with all kinds of people, and the colors were wild, inviting and perfect for photography. Seagulls posing on benches, street performers, fascinating buildings, an exotic and animated farmer’s market, the scenic Granville street bridge with snow capped mountains in the distance behind it, a cityscape of Vancouver across a boat filled waterway, and, of course, the four of us laughing and posing for each other.

For those that didn’t read my last article, “Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in VancouverBritish Columbia. It is located across False Creek from Downtown Vancouver. It was once an industrial manufacturing area. However, now it is mostly comprised of remodelled warehouses and has become a hotspot for tourism and entertainment. The area was named after Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville.”

We wandered and lost the world as we discovered and photographed everything on that cool, clear, coastal spring day.

American photographer, Harold Feinstein, referred to as the “Unsung chronicler of Coney Island” wrote what I think is in the thoughts of many photographers.“I love this life. I feel like I am always catching my breath and saying, ‘Oh! Will you look at that?’

Photography has been my way of bearing witness to the joy I find in seeing the extraordinary in ordinary life.

You don’t look for pictures. Your pictures are looking for you.”

Black and White Photography 

chrysanthemum

Red Crown Gas

Fat Cat on a warm spring morning

Granville street bridge

Thompson River by Jo McAvany

Country street

Spring is on the way and with it is blossoming colour.

Only a week ago the walk from the driveway to my home was frozen with snow still clinging to the rocks that hold the garden back. However, yesterday morning the walk was almost dry with grass beginning to frame the border.

One would think that the talk from photographers stopping by my shop would be about spring colours. Ahh…but there was not even a word about how nice it would be to photograph all that springing colour.

The first phone call of the morning was from a frustrated student that needed to complete an assignment asking me if I sold Ilford black and white film. I don’t.

A bit later a fellow I hadn’t seen for a while stopped to say hello and we talked about shooting infrared. He was hoping I could help him find an infrared camera.

I had just this past week missed out on a good deal on a converted camera, but the spring used camera sale will be at the end of next month in Vancouver and I suggested he join me there.

That conversation continued when he showed me some black and white infrared photographs that he had found online.

Later that afternoon my friend Drew showed up just as another photographer and I were admiring some of the excellent images made by members of a Facebook black and white photography group.

The three of us looked at pictures and talked about B&W until closing time.

One would think with the ease that modern DSLRs make colourful photographs that there would be little serious interest in black and white. After all, to make a good B&W image one should use some kind of editing program that allows adjustment of the different colour tonality.

I am sure the numbers of photographers that actually produce B&W are few compared to colour, but there are many avid groups on Facebook and Flickr that are dedicated to what has become to be called “monochrome” photography.

I pick and choose which of my images gets converted. Sometimes the subject deserves to be shown as B&W. And when I mentioned to my close friend and photo-partner, Jo McAvany that I was going to write about black and white she insisted that I stop by to get a B&W photo of the river she had taken earlier in the day.

I still remember the time when colour was almost non-existent. Once in a while someone would have the money and shoot a roll of colour, but most of the families in the neighbourhood I grew up in only could afford black and white film. Some people didn’t like colour pictures. I remember my aunt critically looking at some pictures at a family gathering that they “just didn’t look natural”. And as I have written before, when I first got into photography I preferred B&W.

I strongly believe a successful black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate. It doesn’t depend on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to light, shadow, composition and perspective.

Ted Grant, widely regarded as the father of Canadian photojournalism wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

I think that black and white photography is far from being left behind, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and printing papers black and white image-making will continue to be an option for many serious photographers.