Volunteering your photography and using a flash           

 

This Christmas I volunteered to be a helper and photographer for a neighbourhood community friendship group.

Each year Dale Northcott, owner operator of Northcott’s New and Used, joins other local help organizations to put on a Christmas Meal for anyone in Kamloops that would like a big home cooked meal during Christmas.  This year Northcott asked me if I would take a few pictures of the event.

For those that might wonder about photographing a large room full of people, I’ll remind them that I use flash. I always have a flash attached to my camera when I photograph people close up, indoors or out. However, I never use the ineffective little pop-up flash that is part of the most modern digital cameras and I also don’t just slide a flash on the hotshoe.

I have never liked that bright directional light created by being inches away from the center of the lens. It is harsh and unflattering. The best would be to carry an off-camera flash mounted on a stand, but in crowded circumstances that doesn’t work very well. So the next choice is to have the flash mounted on a bracket that puts the flash up and off camera at least four or five inches.

That flash bracket is my choice. Most of the time it puts the subject’s shadow down and behind them and its slight distance from the lens makes a more flattering light. My Nikon flash comes with a frosted diffusion cup fitted over the flash head that modifies and softens the harsh, direct light of the flash.

I always test my location and try for a balanced light. Fortunately, in this location I was able to adjust the room lights to get plenty of ambient light bouncing off the walls and the ceiling so I wouldn’t get that “deer-in-the-headlights” effect.

I think sometimes photos are of the organizers and volunteers get overlooked, and those were the people I approached as soon as I got to the hall. I am not one of those that nervously says, “Hi my name is so and so, can I please take your picture”?  I walk right up to the person and start talking as if we’ve always been friends. I rarely have to ask questions, because my new friends usually tell me about themselves, their organization and how important the event is. Then all I have to say is, “I gotta get a picture of you, hey grab that bowl or how about you wash some dishes…this is going to be a great picture.” And in this case I also said, “ I’ll be giving the pictures to Dale Northcott so you can get one.”

There was another photographer that knew many of the people sitting down to eat and I let him take their pictures. As I was about to leave he commented that one person asked him to delete their picture. I said, “and of course you did”, and he smiled and said, “yes I did”.

It was a fun event to attend, I liked taking pictures of the volunteers and organizers, and I got in great conversations with people that finished eating. My favourite comment was “did you get enough to eat” and “can I get you more”?

I know there are those that seem to believe their cameras are too valuable to be used for free, and the photographs they make are also too valuable to be given away. In the forty plus years I earned a living in this exciting medium of photography, I have never been one of those people.

My best wishes to readers on this festive season. And I hope everyone has a Happy New Year.

Photographing the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train 

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how much I like Christmas lights.

Well, the Christmas holiday season isn’t over yet and to prove it I got a chance to set my tripod up on the cold, winter’s river beach a few minutes down the hill from my home to photograph Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Holiday Train.

CP Rail’s website says, “The CP Holiday Train program launched in 1999 and has since raised more than $13 million and four million pounds of food for communities along CP’s routes in Canada and the United States…. The holiday season is the best time of the year, and we look forward to bringing together thousands of Canadians and Americans this season for this incredibly important cause and a great time.”

As I have in past years, I positioned myself on the beach across the river so I could get a wide shot of the brightly lighted train passing on the opposite side with the dark hills and forest behind.

I arrived an hour in advance while there was still plenty of light and made a few test shots. The schedule put the train at our location a bit after 4PM, just as the sun was going down. The time was about right for my preference of shooting just while there is still that cool, blue light illuminating the sky and I have enough light in my photograph to define the train from its surroundings.

I set my camera at ISO 3200. That allowed me to keep my aperture at f/5.6 for plenty of depth-of -field. I was a bit under exposed, but a stop or two really didn’t bother that kind of low light image. After all, the train’s lights were very bright.

As with past years there was a strong, cold wind blowing down river. In past years it was colder and I had bundled in the car drinking hot chocolate till the train arrived, but this year was warmer and I just stood there enjoying watching my neighbours children running around on the beach. When the train finally arrived the three year old boy and I both yelled, “The Christmas Train” I am sure his mother, shivering in the cold wind, just shook her head thinking, “Boys”.

A young fellow purchased a 1980s film camera from my shop today and we talked for some time about how interesting prints made from film are. He was really thrilled to begin capturing the world around him with film.

As I selected the images that I had edited and worked over using several computer programs for this article I thought of that young photographer and the journey he is beginning with film.

I am sure he will have fun, but the photographs I made of the Holiday train would have been beyond the ability of most popular films he will find at local outlets, and I had the unfair advantage of computer programs with which I could squeeze every bit of data there was in the digital file I made.

Photographing the Holiday train was fun and I am always surprised that there aren’t carloads of photographers joining me on the beach when the train comes by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about Christmas cards?

 

I like all the festive celebration and excitement of Christmas, and truly enjoy all the colourful decorations, the lights and listening to Christmas music for a whole month.  Yes, I do like Christmas music.  I have also written about Xmas cards before.

All year long the photography social media sites on the Internet that I belong to have been filled with photos made by members, but images posted on the Internet quickly become faded memories and are easily forgotten when an hour later someone else posts theirs.

I like photographic prints. Prints have a life, whether framed and hung on a wall in our home, taped on the refrigerator, or thumbtacked in an open space in the workroom. To me a print of any size has more importance and life than a digital image on my computer or iPhone screen.

Christmas is a great time for photographers, and besides than just having fun taking pictures of anything and everything they now an opportunity to give friends and family their photographs.

I suppose that could mean a big framed photograph, but what I am writing about today is Christmas cards. Cards are easier and less expensive than framed prints, and any card of a photographer’s work is more personal as a gift than an email or little picture tagged to a text message.

I don’t want to believe that any photographer would ever be satisfied with mass produced generic Christmas cards. Personally, I want people enjoy my photography, even if it’s only as a 5×7 card.   A card to someone I care about is so much better than having my pictures left languishing as image files deep in some computer hard-drive that hasn’t been backed up.

Right now I am going through my many files from this year’s photographs selecting those I want for Christmas cards. I’ll print up different subjects and place all sorts of greetings on them. It is rare that I give the same picture to more than one person. And not all the cards say Merry Christmas. Although I like “Merry Christmas” what wording goes on a card doesn’t really matter to me. Happy Holidays, Seasons greetings, Have fun, A good New Year, and anything else I think fits a particular picture. It’s about the card, never the words.

I have written before that I always produce a new monthly calendar. My wife and I used to alternate our months.   Doing a calendar is a neat way to personally enjoy my photography, but cards are a lot more fun because they are for others to enjoy. I also make cards for all occasions, like birthday’s, Valentine’s, Mother’s day, etc., My family has come to expect me to share my photography. Sometimes it’s only a picture of something we’ve done, but if it’s a special occasion they always will get a card. Even when would I go to my granddaughter’s school Christmas concert, I always took their pictures, made a card and send it to them through the mail.

For those photographers that don’t have their own printer, it’s as easy as having a 4×5 print made at a local lab. Then get some construction paper, glue a picture on it, fold the paper, write something like Merry Christmas inside and give it away. And don’t make all the cards the same.

What would be the fun in that?

I have always liked Christmas lights.   

 

When I was a child my parents used to bundle my brothers and I into the family car and drive up along the high avenues around Salt Lake City so we could look down on all the decorative lights in the valley. And we even got hot chocolate, so needless to say I am a Christmas light junky.

For years I have had business in Kelowna, British Columbia during December and I always brought my camera so I could go out at night and then again at morning’s first light to photograph the Christmas lights along the city streets.

This year I had to come down much earlier, on the last day of November. It was an early day for me and I finished just before lunch, so I wandered around looking through the store windows near my hotel until It had started to rain, no not the snow I was hoping for, but I had hours to wait till sundown so I went into an eatery called the Memphis Blues.  When I entered the place was filled with wonderfully loud southern blues music. I was delighted to find they had the perfect food for a damp cool day, southern barbecued chicken. Gosh, I am sure somewhere it might get better than that, but to me it was the perfect place to pass the time till evening and could photograph the bright Christmas lights in the city.  In spite of the rain, when I finished I decided to wander a bit with my camera for some low light afternoon photos. The last light of the day is always interesting, even on a drizzling over cast day.

Last year I photographed decorated boats moored along the lake harbor and people skating on the outdoor rink. However, to my dismay the barkeep gave me the bad news that the Kelowna winter light festival was days away and it was too warm to use the skating rink. Gosh, I might just be forced to make the winding two-hour drive again in a few weeks. Blast my bad luck.

I snapped a few from my hotel room. My room was on the 5th floor above the street so I had an excellent shot with my 70-200mm down the street towards the lake and after that I meandered along the street and beside the lake making photographs. There weren’t a lot of people, but those I did pass must have already been in a holiday mood because every person either smiled and nodded or said hello. Maybe they just liked seeing an old grey haired guy enjoying himself taking pictures of the city they lived in.

The cold wind coming off the lake finally worked it’s way in and I decided to return to my hotel room to warm up till night fall.

By 7PM the light had gone down. I began by again taking a photograph down the street toward the lake, then grabbed my tripod and camera and went out for another ‘bout with the lake’s cold wind. I photographed many of the same things I had in the afternoon light, except this time the Christmas lights were sparkling in the dark sky.

Sun-up is at 7:30 here in southern British Columbia. I like the light just before that when I am photographing city lights. I want just enough to give the feeling of nighttime without covering building details.

There I was waiting at 6:30 in the cold morning air, and by 7ish I was sadly done. I always have to tear myself away. When I was back at my hotel some time later drinking coffee and having my morning yogurt I got a text from my friend Dave. He wondered how it was going and I replied that standing alone at 6:30 AM on a cold, windy, dark deserted overpass with frozen fingers while taking pictures of street lights is damned enjoyable, Gosh, it doesn’t get much better than that. The only thing that could have made it better was if it started snowing.

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

Another Year Is Just About Over

 

This year's adventure is about over.

This year’s adventure is about over.

 

Another year has gone by and I guess its time to put the old baggage away and get out the new. Christmas is here and I’m sure the year to come is going to be filled with fun photography.

I hope that the thoughts and experiences I have written about this past year have been interesting and worth reading. My goal is to write articles that are, at the least, a bit different from the exotic location photos in magazines, and that complicated on-line how-to.

I will admit that just posting a couple of pictures with a how I-did-it recipe would be easier, but this damn medium of photography is so damn exciting that I can’t help but talk about why I like it.

As I wrote last year, there are so many people writing about photography that I do wonder if I can add anything worth viewing and reading.

I try to stick with a technique that worked during the many years I taught photography and that is to tell a story that includes photo information I want to discuss.

Something else that I learned during my years teaching was to keep the subject fresh. That meant introducing something new each class and that is how I choose my topics, something different each week.

Changing the subject each week does get hard, and (I wish I could say it wasn’t so) there are other things in life than photography and it isn’t unusual for me to say Linda, “Gosh, I have no idea what am I going to write about this week.”

Fortunately, with Linda’s help it usually works out and I come up with something to say each week.

Linda reminded me that last year I mentioned those subjects that I enjoyed writing about the most. Well, looking back here are my personal favorites.

My article in August, “Two Photographers Are More Fun” was very personal because my wife Linda is the best photo-partner I could ask for. Throughout the year I wrote several times about the Lighting workshops I lead. I enjoy watching others learn about photography and in my articles I try to explain a little about that process and adventure. I also wanted to let people know how much fun I had in September photographing a little location at Vancouver’s Denman Street and Stanley Park. Those are a few. I generally liked all the subjects I photographed and wrote about.

I’ll keep this short and wish all photographers out there a very Merry Christmas.

Twelve Gifts for a Photographer’s 12 days of Christmas     

xmas-tree

night-porch

We finished setting up our Christmas tree, and sat down to celebrate with a glass of eggnog, while listening Christmas music coming from the TV music station. As we rested Linda just asked me that question that I had been side tracking, “You haven’t told me yet what you want for Christmas. Do you want something for photography?”

I hadn’t thought about what I wanted. And regarding anything to do with photography, if I thought I could afford it, I would usually just get it for myself.

I had been enjoying the tree, and the Christmas music, but as far as a gift for me, especially, “something for photography” left me at a loss of what to say, so I replied, “I suppose I want everything and anything that will fit my camera.”

I watched the train go round the tree, and I listened to the music, but I am still thinking about what I should tell my wife.

In keeping with that subject, I decided to pose that question to some photographers I know. There are so many different genres of photography with different ideas on what would be the perfect photography gift for each. I edited them and selected twelve in keeping with the tradition of twelve days of Christmas.

I am sure readers have their own Christmas list, however, here are some items that I picked out for this year.

(1) I had more than one person say, “I would like to move up to a newer model.” And their discussion for preferring full or cropped frame is always fun. The first on this list is one of many that wanted a particular camera. I think a photographer would have to have been real good to deserve this.

(2) I wasn’t surprised with this one, “I asked Santa Claus for the new Tamron 150-600mm lens.”

(3) When I heard this from a very serious photographer I thought, “me too”, “There is a new program called Aurora I would really like to try out over the Xmas Holidays.”

(4) More than one photographer upon retiring has gone this way so I wasn’t surprised with when some said, “After all these years of packing around a big DSLR, I would really like Santa to give me a small, lightweight Mirrorless camera.”

(6) Hey, this idea is just smart, “I’ve asked for gift cards, better chance of getting some of those than the Nikon D500 I really want.”

(7) “A new graphite tripod would be great to find under the Christmas tree.”

(8) I have my fingers crossed for this person, “A new camera backpack to hold the 70-200mm lens I hope I am getting.”

(9) A budding portraitist said, “I am hoping for several things this Christmas. A flash, a wireless off-camera trigger and a light stand with a softbox.”

(10) This is a great choice, “I really would be happy if I could get a macro ring flash for Christmas.”

(11) And I thought, “well of course” with this, “I think I’ll request that Santa Claus puts a couple of good quality, 32GB memory cards in my stocking.”

(12) This last one is practical for both portraiture and garden photographers “I’d be happy with a 5-in-1 collapsible reflector.

Personally, I could suggest many of the previous, but there are two photographers in our household and there needs to be some money left for my wife. So I’ll to put more thought into this before I reply.

There is still time to get your list to Santa. Good luck and Merry Christmas.

Time To Print Christmas Cards 

xmas-geese

santas-workshop

winter-christmas-view

xmas-chicken-1

xmas-chickens

holiday-train-2016

November isn’t even over and stores and television commercials are filled with Christmas advertising. Oh well, it always sneaks up on me, and anyway, I like all the festive celebration and excitement of Christmas. The early start means I get to enjoy all the colourful decorations, and listen to the Christmas music for a longer time. Yes, I like Christmas music.

All year long those photographer social media sites I belong to have been filled with photos made by members, but images posted on the internet quickly fade into memories and are easily forgotten when an hour later someone else posts theirs.

I like photographic prints. Prints have a life, whether framed and hung on the wall, taped on the refrigerator, or thumbtacked in an open space in the workroom. To me a print of any size has more importance than a digital image on my computer or iPhone screen.

Christmas is a great time for photographers that now have and an excuse (and an opportunity) to give our friends and family our photographs.

I suppose that could mean a big framed photograph, but what I am writing about is Christmas cards. Cards easier and less expensive than framed prints. Nevertheless, any card of a photographer’s work is more of a statement as a gift than an email.

I don’t want to believe that any photographer would be satisfied with mass produced generic Christmas cards. Personally, I want people enjoy my photography. Even if it’s only as a 5×7 card, and that’s better than having my pictures left languishing in some hard-drive.

Right now my wife, Linda and I are going through our many image files from this year’s photographs selecting those we want for Christmas cards. I’ll print up lots of different images and place all sorts of greetings on them. It is rare that we give the same picture to more than one person. And not all the cards say Merry Christmas. Although I like “Merry Christmas” what goes on a card doesn’t really matter. Happy Holidays, Seasons greetings, Have fun, A good New Year, and anything else I think fits a particular picture.

I have written before that my wife and I always produce a new monthly calendar, doing alternating months. I always get December even if it’s Linda’s turn. Doing a calendar is a neat way to enjoy our photography, but cards are a lot more fun because they are for others to enjoy. I also make cards for all occasions, like birthday’s, Valentine’s, Mother’s day, etc.,

My family expects me to share my photography. Sometimes it’s only a picture of something we’ve done, but if it’s a special occasion they always get a card. For those photographers that don’t have their own printer, it’s as easy as having a 4×5 print made at a local lab. Then get some construction paper, glue a picture on it, fold the paper, write something like Merry Christmas inside and give it away. And don’t make all the cards the same.                                 What would be the fun in that?