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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Is The Concept of Depth Of Field So Elusive?     

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The topic of Depth of Field just keeps coming up and I suppose it deserves a revisit for this year. There must be a reason why Depth of Field is so elusive to photographers.

I wonder if it is because modern cameras have computers that focus, balance the colour, and control the exposure. All are impressive functions that make new users believe all they need to get a good photo is to point and shoot.

I have discussed Depth of Field in my blog numerous times. And find myself constantly explaining how depth of field works to photographers that visit my shop. I must admit that many photographers just smile and nod like they understand what I am talking about. However, unfortunately, when I see their photographs I realize otherwise, and I expect most would have been much happier if I just told them the reason their picture wasn’t really sharp was because they needed a new lens. (Buying a new lens is so much easier than taking a class in photography.)

Understanding of the concept (and I guess technique) of depth of field will make their photographs better and save them money, as they did not really need a new lens.

This past week, I viewed an image a photographer posted online. He wrote that he was proud with his creative and unusual view. The overall exposure was fairly good, the colours were close to reality, and the centre of the picture was in focus. Nevertheless, other than that small, in-focus, central area the rest of his subject wasn’t in focus at all. The foreground was blurry and the background was blurry.

The definition of depth of field is, “that area around the main subject, in front of and behind, that is in acceptably sharp focus”. In application the wider the lens’ aperture is the less the depth of field, or that area of sharp focus, around the main subject will be. Practically, the depth of the field of focus will be 1/3rd in front and 2/3rds behind the subject.

Using a wide aperture can increase the exposure in limited lighting conditions; but, along with the benefit of additional light reaching the camera’s sensor, the resulting effect is reduced depth of field. Creating a field of focus behind the subject of 4 inches or so might look really good when making a portrait, but it is not effective in a scenic.

The smaller the lens aperture the more the area of focus around the subject will be. I prefer using a small aperture for scenic photography. I am concerned with all elements in the photograph, front to back, of being sharp and in “acceptably sharp focus”.

The Internet is packed with information on scenic photography, and there are thousands (millions?) of books on photography that are easy to read. I expect that any discussion on scenic photography will include a full discussion of Depth of Field.

Commenting on Depth of Field     

D of F 3 women                                                                                                                                        

Depth of field is a seemingly elusive topic that I discuss in my classes and repeatedly explain to photographers who come to my shop complaining about problems with their lenses.  The problem is really just a lack of understanding of how the aperture controls the field of focus around the subject.

Long time readers might remember my many articles over the years discussing “depth-of-field”. Hopefully, I won’t bore those that understand how to use depth of field, but it is always a good thing to review this concept.  I will reuse an example I used a couple years ago about a photographer that showed me an image made during a wedding. The photographer showed it to me commenting that he had chosen that lens because it had a wide aperture which allowed for photographing in low light, but was bothered that the expensive lens wasn’t very sharp.

The image showed a view of the central aisle of the church with pews left and right, leading up to the bride in the distant centre, approximately 20 feet from where the photographer was located.  The overall exposure shot at an aperture of f/2.8 was fairly good, however, what bothered him was the guests around the bride standing in the aisle weren’t very sharp

The definition of depth-of-field is, “that area around the main subject, in front of, and behind it, that is in acceptably sharp focus”.  

Wide aperture lenses are very popular and using a lens at a wide aperture like f/2.8 when making a portrait isolates the main subject and produces a soft, out-of-focus background by reducing the depth of field.

The photographer was relying on the wide aperture to increase the exposure in limited lighting conditions.  That additional light allowed for a faster shutterspeed for handholding, but along with the benefit of additional light reaching the camera’s sensor the photographer forgot, or didn’t realize, that the resulting effect would also be a reduced depth of field.   

Using a wide aperture reduced the field of focus in front of the subject of a couple feet and the same behind the subject. That would be fine in a close-cropped portrait, but in that photograph of the church aisle, the guests in the foreground and guests in the background, appeared to be out-of-focus.

                        The further your subject is away the more the Depth of Field.  

                        The closer your subject the less the Depth of field.

                        The smaller the aperture the more the Depth of Field.

                        The larger the aperture the less the Depth of Field.

                        The Smaller your aperture the slower your shutter will need to be.

I prefer using a small aperture for scenic photography and, as in this instance, for interiors.  The answer to that example, and the examples I saw posted online, would be how to solve the low light problem not with a wide aperture, but by increasing the ISO so a smaller aperture could be used.

Depth of field is that area in front of and behind your subject that is acceptably sharp.  Practically, the depth of the field of focus will be 1/3rd in front and 2/3rds behind the subject.  Photographers who understand how to use depth of field will become progressively more successful in their photography.  

 

Road Trip to Penticton  

SS Sicamous

Walking the beach at night

SS Sicamous Penticton

StearnWheeler

Penticton Waterfront

 

The month of November has began and my wife, Linda, and I thought it might be a good idea to take a drive south before the cold winds blow the last leaves of fall from the trees. Sometimes it’s just nice to go for a drive. So we decided on Penticton; a scenic three-hour drive from our home for a fun, fall, overnight getaway. Any pictures we could get would be a bonus.

During the summer the city of Penticton, situated at the southern tip of British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake, is a thriving tourist destination. And I didn’t doubt a friend’s statement when he suggested that Penticton, a city of 30,000 plus population easily doubles in the summer. However, everything changes in the lull between summer and winter. When I called a motel the clerk told me, “You don’t need to bother with a reservation as there are plenty of rooms.”

I like cities at night. The lights sparkle and beckon to those of us that have our camera and tripod ready. Arriving after dark and settling in to our room it was no time at all before we had bundled up against the cold lake breeze and rushed out into the dark to wander along the wide sandy beach.

It’s easy to get sharp, colourful night pictures. I was out to photograph the SS Sicamous, said to be the largest surviving sternwheeler in British Columbia. The SS Sicamous, now a museum, prowled Okanagan Lake until 1936, servicing the lakeside fruit growing communities of Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

The big stern wheeler had strings of lights that illuminated and outlined it bow to stern, and the lights were perfect for some night shots. As I mentioned, it is so easy. I selected Aperture priority, and chose a small aperture that would give me lots of depth of field, and with the camera securely mounted on my tripod, set it on self-timer to reduce camera shake, and released the shutter.

Then after four or five shots I turned around and shot down the beach toward the brightly lit, big casino hotel in the distance and walked back to our room to stow our gear so that Linda and I could go out for dinner. Even in the off-season the charming Italian style restaurant was filled with happy patrons.

In the morning I returned to the now sun-lit beach to photograph the SS Sicamous again.

I think fall is a great time to go for a two-day drive. We called it our end-of-summer, mini vacation. Most people are more interested in getting ready for winter, which leaves plenty of accommodation available and reasonable prices.

I expect Penticton will fill up again when the snows arrives, and vacationers that spent the summer boating, wind-surfing, playing golf, hiking and cycling will return for downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing adventures in the winter.

For my wife and I the cool autumn stay in that lakeside city was perfect. And I couldn’t ask for a nicer time to take pictures.

Photographing People   

Michael

Dave Monsees

By John 001

Monica

Bailea

Kevin

 

This week a friend asked me what my favourite photography subject is. After our talk I decided to post this rewrite of an article I wrote some time ago.

I enjoy photographing just about anything. Nevertheless, I’d have to answer that I probably take pleasure in photographing people the most.

I’ve been employed doing many types of photography since I began earning my living as a photographer in the 1970’s. I have done different kinds of photographic work for all types of organizations; however, I have found myself photographing people most of the time.

That’s not that unique; I think most photography is really about people. We take pictures of our family, friends, and people at celebrations and other events.

When I taught photography in the 1980s I would ask the question about a favourite subject of my students and “people” was a rare response. However, since the introduction of digital cameras and the relaxed point and shoot style many employ today, I’ll bet people photography ranks near the top as a reply.

If indeed, as I confessed to my friend, my favourite subject is people, I suppose I might put together a few tips for him and my readers on my favourite subject.

I quickly jotted down 10 suggestions to help readers be successful when photographing people.

  1. When you take pictures of people look at them and pay attention to their appearance so you ensure they look their best for the photograph. Don’t just rapidly snap away and realize later that you should have had your subject adjust something, e.g., a necklace, glasses, or especially that tie.
  2. Choose interesting and flattering angles or points of view. Also try three-quarter poses of single subjects. By that I mean that the person turns their body so that they view the camera from over their shoulder.
  3. Focus on the subject’s eyes. When we talk to people we make eye contact. There is a greater chance of your subject liking the photo if their eyes are sharp and not closed or looking away. Ensure that subjects smile or at least have a pleasant look. In my experience when subjects say they want a serious photo without a smile they appear sour or unhappy in the final photo. Do one of each as a compromise.
  4. I don’t like lenses shorter than 85mm. My favourite is 105mm. (Although recently I have been choosing my 70-200mm.) Longer focal length lenses always create a flattering perspective.
  5. For photographing one or two people an aperture of f/4 or wider will soften the background and make your subject stand out, but for group photos use an aperture of at least f/8 or smaller to increase the depth of field.
  6. Pay attention to your subject’s background especially when doing outdoor portraitures. You don’t want the photo to appear to have something growing out of a person’s head (e.g. like a stop sign), or have objects in your photograph that are distracting.
  7. Watch out for uncomplimentary shadows created by the sun, your flash, or other light sources.
  8. Get things ready first. Contemplate the poses before you photograph your subject. The best way to bore people and loose the moment is to make them wait.
  9. Tighten up the shot. Again, get rid of unwanted elements in the photograph that do nothing for it. If there is more than one person make them get close together.
  1. Talk to your subjects. The most successful portrait photographers are those who talk to and interact with their subjects. We are dealing with people and we communicate by talking. Don’t hide behind the camera.

And as always be positive about the photograph you are about to make. Get excited. Your excitement will be contagious and affect those around you.

Which Button is for the Composition Mode?        

Pritchard store

Open Gates bw

Forest path

Canon Beach 2

Palouse falls 2

Which button is for the composition mode?     Yes, I did get asked that question the other day, but it is not as silly as it first sounds. I’ll go back to the conversation from which it comes.

A customer stopped by my shop wanting to get a different camera other than the one he had been using for over 20 years.

I was showing him a couple of cameras and explaining the different modes like “aperture priority”, “shutter priority”, “program” and “manual” when he made the statement, “All that seems a bit complicated, just show me which button is for the composition mode because mostly I like taking scenics”.

The other customer in the store stopped her browsing, turned, and just looked at me. I’m not sure if she was troubled by his statement, or also wanted to know about this secret button.

I replied, “Composition is what you do, not the camera, to position your subject within the viewfinder frame,” and added; “composition also deals with perspective and the relationship you create between subjects in the foreground and background.”

Does all that seem too complicated of an answer? I was making squares and rectangles with my hand and moving things around on the counter as I explained it hoping to make it clear to him. Now, however, let us go back to his question of the “composition button” and what he was trying to achieve with his camera. Remember his last camera was from the 1970’s. Even auto focus was new to him.

Cameras programmed since the 1980s are pretty capable of getting the exposure correct in all but the most contrasty lighting conditions. If he were to get serious now that he was about to get a DSLR he would be trying to discover how other successful photographers compose a scenic. Or he would be doing some reading, joining a camera club, or taking some classes that would teach him composition. My impression was that he just liked to take pictures and capture memories of the places he has been. So I think either the mode with the “little mountains” or with the “running person” on the dial of the camera I was showing him would give him exactly what he was looking for and we could, if we wanted to, call them composition modes.

The exposure mode I feel most comfortable with is manual and I am continually thumbing through the different menus on my camera to reset things. I make my living using a camera so I have a camera in my hand a lot of the time. I think each of us needs to use our cameras in ways that make us comfortable so we won’t happen to be confused and experimenting with the settings at that moment when the action happens in front of our camera.

I used to call that a “Kodak moment”. Hmmm, I think I need to find a new phrase now that I am no longer using Kodak films and that company has pretty much disappeared.

In any event, I recommended that he not worry too much about composition and experiment with the different modes his camera has to offer other than “P”. Hopefully he’ll stop by again and I can get him using his DSLR as more than just a point and shoot camera.

In closing this article that started with thoughts of composition, I particularly like this quote of Alexander Lee Nyerges of the Art Institute of Dayton, Ohio, when discussing an exhibition of Ansel Adams of the American West.

“His landscapes were operatic in composition, complete with lighting, tragedy and drama—luring those who viewed his works to seek Nature and capture the spirit of the wilderness.” I am certain Adams had a special button for composition.