The Portrait   

The conversation – a Portrait.

For most photographers a portrait is an artistic representation of an individual or individuals, with the goal of capturing some likeness as to who they are.

Famous American photographer, Richard Avedon carried this further when he said, “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”

Popular American painter Jamie Wyeth wrote, “Everything I paint is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

For years most of the photography I did was portraiture, whether wedding pictures for a family, or private sessions. My opinion is that portraits are pretty narcissistic and because of that, can be much harder to do properly than many other photographic pastimes.

Make a bad landscape and no one will really care, capture a bird flying poorly and it’s no big deal; however if you give someone an unflattering photograph of themself and you have might make an enemy for life.

A portrait can be a representation of anything and doesn’t necessarily need to only be of people. Years ago my wife and I had show dogs and would regularly attend and participate in events in hopes of having the judges select our dog as best from some group; and when we did win, we would walk our dogs to a photography booth set up by a skilled dog portraitist to have a portraits taken that day when they looked so good and performed so well.

As I watched a TV show earlier this week I noticed framed pictures of the owner’s cat hanging on the wall, and I have seen all types of pet portraits in friends’ homes. I suppose a picture of a favourite or special car, motorcycle, boat or even treasured holiday snapshot, might be called a portrait.

I wonder if many photographers might agree with the painter Wyeth’s contention that, “Everything I paint (or photograph) is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

Some time ago I went for a slow drive along the winding roads high above my place in Pritchard hoping to find some cows, horses, or deer to photograph. I wanted head and shoulder compositions (or portraits), not animals in the landscape.

I leisurely drove around, passing lots of roadside deer; cows quietly chewing the cud, and finally stopped near two horses standing very close to a fence. My choice was to compose of portrait of them instead of just a pleasing documentary of two horses in a field. So I mounted a 24-85mm lens on my camera, walked through the wet grass to the fence to take their picture, and worked angle after angle for a portrait.

I suppose the words “artistic representation” and “goal of capturing some likeness” are appropriate when a photographer captures human-like qualities in animal portraits. I wanted a picture that included me, or at least inferred some conversation between the horses about me. My image is, as Avedon said, “….an opinion”.

Movies about Photography              

 

This past week my wife commented to some evening guests that I always have something to say about any camera that one appears in a TV show.

Yes, I do that. I can tell her I am sorry for interrupting movies she is watching, but I’ll just do it again the next time I see an actor with a camera.

I enjoy watching movies about photographers. I guess the number one classic was “Blow Up” in 1966, staring Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings. The plot was about a fashion photographer that takes some casual shots of people while he walks through a park. However, when he blows up his prints he realizes he’s also photographed a murder. It is a worthwhile “time period” movie to watch if one is interested in what was “hip” in 1966 and likes symbolism.

I have seen it several times and enjoy critiquing the photography, and the cumbersome way the lead actor uses his Nikon. The stylish photographer kept enlarging, cropping, and enlarging the prints from his 35mm camera. Impossibly, the prints were always sharp and without any grain.

Another of my favourites was an awkward movie called “Nights in White Satin”. The story line was weak, but one has to watch a movie with a title and lead song by the Moody Blues. The music throughout was pretty good, and made up for the simplistic story revolving around a photographer who gets involved with a homeless woman.

The photographer tooled around on a Harley Davidson, used a Leica rangefinder, and, in spite of hurriedly taking pictures in dimly lit flophouses and back alleys the resulting pictures were always perfectly exposed with studio lighting. Of course, the woman living on the street was beautiful, well washed, and used makeup.

The third and last movie I’ll mention was packed with delightful clichés. It would be forgetful if not for those.

It was a made-for-TV British show entitled “Midsomer Murders”. The director sets his main characters, a couple of detectives, investigating the murders of camera club members.

The members were at odds over which technology is better, film or digital. The club members who used film had old Rolleiflexes, Leicas, and wooden 4×5 cameras, and all wore those campy, khaki-coloured, photography vests with all the pockets we occasionally see from time to time. The club members that preferred digital DSLRs had electronic flashes, and wore black leather jackets with black pants.

The directors must have had fun searching out every photo cliché imaginable, and, those of us old enough to remember film processing will laugh at the darkroom scene, where one fellow developed and printed colour film in a brightly lit room with what could only have been black and white chemicals in a tray.

I am a sucker for any movie or TV show that involves photography. They usually are poorly done, and I am sure I ruin it for anyone unfortunate enough to be in the same room because I am so vocal about everything photographic.

I do have a great time and can’t resist outbursts pointing out everything right or wrong (gosh, my wife is so patient) however, I expect some readers may share my enthusiasm and I am sure are thinking of movies with cameras that they critiqued out loud.

I wonder if there is a group called Photography Movie Addicts Anonymous?

Looking Forward to Another Vancouver Camera Swap Meet          

 

just-buy-it

vancouver-swap-meet-find

viinage-cameras

check-that-out

“Hi John! I have been waiting for your call. The swap meet tables are completely sold out, and I have been holding a table for you.”

Those were the words I received when I finally got around to calling Tonchi Matinic, the organizer of this year’s (2017) Vancouver Camera Swap Meet. I had received his email reminder about the April’s swap meet, but the warm, wet weather of April seems so distant from the cold, snowing weather of February, that I just put it out of my mind.

I immediately sent in my table registration so now I can start getting excited about one of my favourite events of the year. As I put down the phone after talking to Tonchi (actually we talked for a while) Linda remarked that she could tell I was happy.

It isn’t just that I like selling camera equipment. Of course it’s fun matching an excited buyer with a new treasure, not to mention making a buck or two, but there is so much more that is involved with it.

In my opinion it doesn’t get much better than spending the day surrounded by a huge selection of cameras and other photography equipment. And it’s a great chance to talk with other photographers from all over British Columbia about their different interests. Gosh, it is just so invigorating. And, even after all these years I always learn something.

I have been attending the Vancouver Camera Swap meet since the 1980s, and I have written in my past articles that one may find photographers of every age group; from experienced elders to young people accompanied by their patient parents. This assemblage is a diverse fellowship that includes all kinds of lifestyles, interests, and photographic specialties. An observer will find there are those that are dedicated to film and vintage cameras, and processes of the past, walking alongside others carrying, and looking for, the latest and greatest in modern photographic technology.

Other than actually photographing some inspiring subject, a gathering like the Vancouver Swap is a superb way to meet and exchange information with other photographers, and to look at and check out the many kinds of photographic equipment that would not be so easily available anywhere else.

Yep, I am already thinking about how much fun Linda and I will have before, during, and after that event. We usually go down the day before so we can search out some fun dining experience that evening. There was a time when we partied late, but these days I want to be back before midnight so I will be raring to go for the early start-up.

As always, I plan to have an enjoyable time, busy for sure, but I enjoy every minute. I remember at the last swap that I forgot lunch until a friend stopped by and asked me if I was hungry. I told him I’d worry about food later, but handing me one of his sandwiches, he said “ya gotta have this then”.
This year’s show will be on Sunday, April 2nd. I hope to see long time friends, and those readers that are close enough should come down and get excited about photo-trinkets you have been searching for. Photography events where one can spend the day wandering, touching, handling, buying and, of course, talking with other photographers will leave anyone with new finds, friends, and lasting memories.

 

 

 

 

 

Modern TTL Flash    

ttl-flash-camera

Attaching a flash to one’s camera has been, and still is, a hot topic of discussion that was going on long before I got serious about photography in the 1970’s.

I remember being confused, well actually, really confused, and read everything I could find trying to understand how a flash attached to my camera’s hotshoe worked, and how adding light from a flash (on and off camera) could be used to enhance my photography.

Early flashes produced a constant amount of light no matter how close the subject was, and over or under exposures were common. The most frequent way of controlling flash power was to use exotic technology like a white handkerchief, a translucent soap holder, or attaching a white bounce card to the flash.

Later technological development included light measuring sensors in the flash that read the light reflected back from the subject and shut off the flash when a predetermined amount was reached.

Then TTL (through-the-lens) flash came along and small computers in the camera controlled the flash. The reflected light was read by the camera, making the lens focal length, the aperture, and the distance all part of the exposure equation.

Today’s hotshoe connected flash is nothing short of amazing, and there is absolute control over the flash.

Subtracting light intended for the subject no longer needs some translucent material placed over the flash head.

Using devices like white cups, and bounce cards with a TTL flash have become all about softening or diffusing the light instead of only reducing it.

The latest flashes easily control power output, and can be comfortably used with wireless off-camera technology. Alternatively, the flash can also be connected by a dedicated cord and still remain off-camera allowing the photographer to point the flash toward the subject at flattering angles without time consuming calculations.

A photographer can, while shooting, easily select the exposure in camera, or dial the flash power output up or down. It is now so simple to reduce or increase the ambient exposure while maintaining or brightening the subject alone for more natural looking photographs than it was with early flash photography.

When I began using a flash many years ago it changed the quality of my photography. It became just like the image change I gained by using different focal length lenses.

I no longer had to rely on ambient light and I began to notice my subjects had more “pop” than those without the flash and I was pleased at being able to fill unflattering shadows coming from overhead lighting and reduce deep shadows caused by sunlight.

The modern speedlight (hotshoe) flash gives a photographer control over the quality of light and using a flash (or several flash units off-camera) when photographing people is more than just brightening up subjects in a darkened room.

 

Photography at the Christmas Party   

tree-planters-4

tree-planters-1

tree-planter-5

tree-planters-7

tree-planters-6

I talked to a person this week that has been asked to be the staff photographer at an upcoming event. With that, I thought I would revisit an article I wrote December 2014.

The Christmas season is here and that means photographers will happily begin filling memory cards with photographic opportunities as they join family, friends, and co-workers at this month’s festive events.

The act of picture taking has become easy and so much fun as people rush over to take a picture and then quickly show other partyers the images from the LCD. Some seem more interested in that quickly snapped candid than what is actually happening at the moment. For many, it is more about the activity of picture taking than it is about making memorable photographs of the party.

Images made in this fashion rarely become more than stored files on computers and cell phones. People have good intentions, but after that initial viewing, most photos loose value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

What is my advice for photography at the next Christmas party? Yes, continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, 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 them 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 using longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include the room’s ambient light. And I always use a flash so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

I suggest taking group shots with two or three people. Get them to position themselves squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast. Steady the camera. Select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light. Use a flash. Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that can be set to 1600, and some can go a lot higher.

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

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great, but that would ruin the party for everyone. The occasion would become more about the photography and less about the fun and festivities. I use a hotshoe mounted flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, blend in, and not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as it’s 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 pictures to give away later I want people to like and not be embarrassed by the pictures taken of them.

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing a Late Fall Garden   

oregon-grape

thistle-2

thistle

grass

thorns

yellow

I try to wander about in our garden with my camera each and every time the season changes; spring, summer, fall and winter.

I have photographed the changing garden throughout the years and, although it always seems very familiar and comforting, I find myself discovering different ways to capture the life that begins, grows, blossoms and then retreats into sleep. There are times when I have constructed elaborate sets with reflectors to capture and control the light. I have built mini studios much like the controlled indoor setups that portrait photographers are familiar with. I’ve lain in the snow and employed umbrellas on rainy days. However, on this particular day I wanted light, and waited all day for sunlight that seemed reluctant to bring me one day of fall warmth I wanted to photograph before the snow that was predicted in a day or two.

When 3pm rolled around I worried that if I didn’t get something done in the quickly dropping light, other than look out the window, I wouldn’t get any pictures at all.

My camera was waiting with a manual 200mm macro, wireless sender and two light stands with a flash and umbrella mounted on each. However, when I finally walked outside (yep, I already said “quickly dropping light) I realised I was doomed to failure if I relied on taking the time to set up that equipment.

Years ago I was asked to give a lecture to the Abbotsford Photo Arts Club. I won’t go into that long discussion, but the title I chose was, “A problem solving approach to photography”. And I realised that this was the time to move into a problem-solving mode.

I removed the 200mm macro from my camera and replaced it with my wife’s 70-180mm macro. I prefer my old manual lens for close up photography, but that Auto focus zoom macro is really easy to use.

I also put aside the light stands and attached a single flash to an eight-foot TTL flash cord. I could have set things up wireless, but I was going for quick and easy and with the TTL cord I just let the flash hang off my shoulder until I wanted it.

I could have used a high ISO, a wide aperture, and just popped a bit of light for a proper exposure. But a high ISO would increase the ambient light and show the lifeless colours of surrounding foliage. A wide aperture would limit my depth of field, and TTL is fast and easy to light, compose and relight a subject.

I under-exposed my exposure by several stops, and let the dedicated TTL flash (with a diffusor cup) do what it was designed for, to deliver just the right amount of light on my subject.   That gave me a dark background that I could later make completely black by adjusting the contrast in Photoshop.

I didn’t have a lot of time before more clouds moved in making an already dark afternoon even darker, but my portable set-up made things easy and even gave me a moment to pause and watch our three legged, feral cat flee as it ran out from the cover of the shrubbery. Gosh, in spite of the damage to her one back leg, she sure can move.

I had been trying for three days to get some pictures, but unpleasant weather and life in general got in the way. However, with a bit of problem solving and the will to finally get out and do something, a person can end up with a few photographs worth keeping.

 

Snowshoes Are Perfect For Winter Photography         

Passing the shed

Afternoon sun

Melting snow

Barn View

Winter is here and there is enough snow for me to put on my snowshoes and make my first winter hike to the high meadow above my home. Last January my walk up into that meadow’s deep snow was on a cold, -3C day, under a bright, almost-cloudless, blue sky, and I remember I was shooting with a lightweight, 18-105mm lens on my cropped-frame camera.

Yesterday I had chosen to mount a lightweight 24-85mm on my full-frame camera. Both this year and last I incorporated a polarizer to darken the skies, increase the contrast in the scene, and suppress glare from the surface of the bright white snow, on the partly cloudy +1C day that had me wishing I didn’t wear the extra undershirt.

I trekked up the hill, and as I had so many times before, I photographed everything. There are rarely any animals in sight in that long meadow. If so they can hear my snowshoes crunching through the snow on the long hill and stay hidden just out of sight. As there usually is when I begin to cross the meadow, a crow cries out a warning to the silent watchers. Then it got quiet with only the sounds from my snowshoes and camera’s shutter as I tramped around photographing the hilltop meadow above the Thompson River Valley.

As I have done so in the past, and too many times to count, I wandered around the snow-covered grassland photographing the two remaining structures from an old homestead under the looming Martin Mountain. I don’t know how long ago that area was farmed, or how old the buildings are, but there is what’s left of an old car that appears to have been wrecked and left behind some time in the 1930s or 1940s. There is an abandoned cellar, a barn, a shed, a fruit tree, a garbage dump, the detritus of a family’s life, a family who shut down their farm and left.

I like the solitary walk. I closed the front gate to our yard and started out on the road following tracks a lonely coyote made during the early morning hours. The tracks led up the road to a lower field and headed uphill following snowshoe tracks that one of my other neighbor’s must have made. I always expect to be the only human making tracks up there, however, this time I followed someone that took much shorter strides than me, eventually crossing the creek at the far end of the meadow and to keep going out of sight through the trees without returning.

I like snowshoeing. When I was a youngster snowshoes were the perfect winter accessory. We’d snowshoe up the hill, change to our skis that had been strapped to our backs and ski back down. I remember a trip with my younger brother Rodger, and a friend named Alan. We traveled for three days sleeping in snow caves we made by digging into snowdrifts. Snowshoes got us up hills and skis got us down.

All these years later I am still wandering the winter backwoods, only now I always carry my camera. Snowshoes are perfect for the winter photographer. I have also skied with a camera, but there is always the chance of falling and covering the camera with wet snow. At my age snowshoes are safer and besides it’s easier to position and reposition oneself while composing a photograph. Skis would not work as well.