Sticking close to home for garden photography 

 

 

Another week has seen me safely sticking close to home watching the spring growth.

The nights haven’t been as cold and this past week has been a mixture of bright sunny warmth and cool rainy overcast days. Just what one should expect of the end May’s spring weather.

This morning I got up to a very wet yard. I didn’t hear the rain last night, but it looked like it rained a lot and the wind hadn’t picked up enough to dry the plants.

Ha, that meant another good day for photography. I got my camera with a 200mm macro lens, my Benbo tripod, fastened a flash on a light stand, pulled on my rubber boots, jacket and a hat and went out to photograph wet plants in my spring garden.

I knew I would need to work fast because there was a slight breeze. I don’t mind getting rained on, but a wind makes it hard to get sharp photos.

I would choose I flower, place the flash and then get my camera. On this morning I didn’t bother with my black backdrop, it would just get wet. I was planning on shooting with a wide aperture so the background would be soft anyway. I like to darken the ambient light when I use a flash and I could keep the wide aperture and balance the light by increasing my shutterspeed.

I have written before that I control the ambient light by using high-speed sync.

HSS means I can use very high shutterspeeds and not be limited to the low default shutter/flash sync of 1/250th second.   The higher shutterspeed would also make it easier to photograph the flowers that might move slightly from the because of the morning’s breeze.

The last time I ventured into the garden to take pictures there was very little growth, but this past week has really changed things. Of course everything is green and there are flowers, but the most noticeable thing is the Lilacs. The Lilacs are in full bloom and have filled in along the path from my car to my door and what I like best is how the whole front of my yard is now a solid wall of purple and white.
I remember 20 plus years ago planting Lilacs along the fence with my wife and wishing they would grow fast. We looked forward to being able to sit on our deck without being seen from the road. It took years because there isn’t a lot of water available and the summers are dry so growth is slow. As I looked around the yard for small subjects to photograph I thought about how I now have the seclusion I yearned for back then.

I ignored plants that didn’t have water droplets and focused tightly so I would have a soft background with limited depth of field. I wasn’t making a record of the plants I have. Identifying a type flower has never been my interest. My wife liked flowers and could name every plant, but I just care about the colour, texture or shape and the photographs I can make.

An overcast day with a bit of rain is excellent for flower photos. The colours are stronger, there are no harsh reflections and with a flash as the key light instead of the sun one can be very creative. I know that walking through a field on a sunny day is so much fun, but when it comes to photographing that same field I prefer an overcast and sometimes rain.

After all its really about the photography and as American photographer Annie Leibovitz once said, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

Photographing the waterfront on a snowy February morning    

Last weekend was my close friend and photography companion Jo McAvany’s birthday.

Remembering how much fun we had in December photographing the waterfront in Kelowna I suggested that for her birthday present we should make the two-hour drive to Kelowna, have dinner, stay overnight, and then spend the morning photographing the snow covered lakefront.

Of course Jo said yes and I booked some rooms, and Saturday’s cold overcast afternoon saw us packing our cameras and driving the wet, winding road to Kelowna.

I like how the snow-covered waterfront looks and if Vancouver was closer I would have suggested we go there to photograph an ocean harbour, but the weather report said the mountain road between Kamloops and Vancouver might see icy conditions and possibly snow, so Kelowna it was.

We lucked out and had a balcony at our downtown hotel and braved the cold to spend some of the first afternoon taking pictures there and walking around. Then after dark we went out to my favourite Greek restaurant in Kelowna, watched the belly dancer and had way too much to eat.

The next morning we awoke to snow on the balcony. I know some photographers might have been displeased, but Jo and I couldn’t have been happier, and after a leisurely (complimentary hotel) breakfast we grabbed our coats and cameras and headed for Okanagan Lake.

The snow was beginning to come down in huge flakes by the time we got there, but here were a people walking along the waterfront and a few were skating on the snow coverer ice skating rink.

I began by to photographing people on the skating rink and then moved down to photo a bonfire where people sat in it’s warmth drinking hot chocolate and getting their skates on.

I was using my 24-70mm and wanted to stop the action as well as see the snowflakes. For those that haven’t shot in a snowstorm, the trick is simply to use a flash. The purpose of the flash was to stop the snowflakes.

The popup flash on my camera was perfect. I didn’t need to illuminate my subjects; anyway they were to far away.   I was using an ISO of 800, so I could keep my shutterspeed 1/250 and my aperture at f8 or f11 for lots of depth of field.

We wandered the shoreline photographing people, boats, ducks and anything else that caught our attention on that snowy morning. Jo was using her favourite 28-300mm travel lens. Gosh, we had a fun time and got some great photos.

We could have spent the day there, but the snow stopped, and the cold damp breeze coming off the lake was getting uncomfortable . I noticed that most of the people that had been ice-skating were now huddled around the big fire. It was time to go home.

The weekend was a perfect photo adventure and Jo said it was a very good birthday present.

Other than a few bundled up people strolling along the waterfront and those ice-skating or sitting by the fire we had the waterfront to ourselves. We saw no other photographers enjoying the photogenic lakeshore while we were there.

I expect local photographers must get their fill of photographing the lake and marina in the summer and fall when everything is so beautiful along the water and might not be interested enough to look for things to photograph on a cold snowy February morning. However, I like to remember the words of the famous Photojournalist, Robert Capa when he said, “the pictures are there you just take them.”

Long exposure workshop at Chase Falls                               

Two weekends ago Jo and I hosted a long exposure workshop at the nearby Chase Falls.                  In the rain I might add.

After returning from Vancouver my photo partner Jo McAvany posted some of the long exposure night photographs she took of the Vancouver lights. Those images garnered quite a bit of interest and Jo was fielding questions from more than one local photographer about how she made them.

We decided to pick a date and offer a workshop that would allow participants to try long shutterspeed photography and also to use neutral density filters.

I like my classes to be strong learning experiences and as with all that teach I included handouts, and this time I also included a set of six ND filters for each photographer to use. All they had to bring was their camera with a fully charged battery, their favourite lens, and a tripod.

We chose the Chase waterfall because it was close, easy to get to and, this time of year, extremely safe if one has good enough balance to climb through and over the big rocks.

What we weren’t expecting was a rainy day… fortunately some of the photographers in attendance had the forethought to bring umbrellas. I also had two that I always keep in the trunk of my car and I brought a few towels that I handed out to wipe the rain off cameras.

Jo began the day when everyone was gathered at the parking lot, while I was passing out filters and handouts, by telling people that after our trip to Vancouver she has absolutely become hooked on long exposures, and I have no doubt that we now have a few more dedicated converts.

Most photographers understand their shutter, but using shutterpeeds longer than 1/30th of a second, and adding ND filters is often new territory.

The rain was only a slight inconvenience as the excited group started seeing their results of the waterfall. The light on that wet rainy day was, as I had hoped, perfect at the falls. Rainy days are usually like that.

We worked as teams in the rain. With one partner holding the umbrella keeping the camera, lens and filter dry as the other set up the tripod and camera at each location.

It was a great day for learning something new. Yep, I am sure there are now a few more photographers that have Jo’s passion for long exposures.

I am looking forward to the trip we are planning to Kelowna in December to photograph the Christmas lights. I think we may go a bit early so we can do some long exposures near the marina along Okanagan Lake. I’ll finish with this great quote I found by German artist Dieter Appelt.

“A snapshot steals life that it cannot return. A long exposure creates a form that never existed.”

 

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.

Photography on an overcast day

I have been trying to get outside to wander in the snow the past week with my camera, but everything kept getting in the way. So when Jo told me she had to take her daughter to a doctor appointment I asked her to drop me off at my favourite wandering place, Chase Creek Falls.

I figured that would give me at least an hour to take some photos and I was hoping to be alone in that snowy canyon on the cold, overcast Monday morning.

I like storms and I like the mood one can get in a photograph on an overcast day.

Jo dropped me off along the road and I walked down along the well-worn path through the snow. I picked a good day. From the looks of all the trodden snow, Sunday must have been pretty active.

Stopping along the creek to take a long exposure of a rock glowing golden in the cold water I thought about why I like digital cameras and all the photographic creativity that goes along with modern technology.

I continually meet people that assume someone my age would still be using film. Gosh, I could fill page writing about why I don’t bother photographing anything with a film camera. At that moment as I mounted my camera on my tripod to photograph that glowing gold rock I thought about how hard it used to be to make pictures on overcast days and was glad for the modern equipment I have.

I mounted my 24-70mm lens on my camera and selected an ISO of 1600. Then set my shutterspeed to eight seconds, chose an aperture of f/11 and with the camera’s self-timer activated, I pushed the shutter release.

I refocused on a couple different rocks in the creek besides the golden centre of interest to make sure my depth of field would cover everything in my viewfinder. Then I released the shutter a few time and moved on down the stream.

Sunny days are such a struggle for a photographer wanting to photograph a waterfall.

Sure one can get a pretty, bright landscape, but I like to have contrast in the water when I use a long exposure, so overcast is great. And on this day I wanted to capture the cold winter mood and if I really needed to highlight a particular feature like a rock or log or foliage I’d just do that in later in post.

The Chase Falls is always a perfect subject. All I had to do was poke around in the snow with my tripod to make sure there weren’t any spaces between the rocks or soft spots in the ice as I moved around photographing the falls from different locations, eventually I sat on a bare rock to listen for a while and look at the monochromatic January landscape.

I am fortunate not to have to drive and hike hours to enjoy such a photogenic location. Now I am waiting for more snow so I can collect winter photographs in the garden that hides my home from the road. Today there is a light covering of snow, but it’s been so warm that the snow isn’t clinging to the plants.

Ah, but its January and there’s a few more months of snow to come and more winter photography.

Photographing the lights of Christmas  

I like Christmas. I like the gaudy colours, the music, and especially the lights.

Regular readers might remember that last December I wrote that as 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.

We even got hot chocolate from my dad’s beat up old thermos that my mother would pour for us when we finally stopped on a hill high over the city to view the lights. Although these days my drink of choice is usually wine or beer, when Christmas rolls around I have a yearning for hot chocolate, and I’ll shamelessly admit to being a Christmas light junky.

Last year I also wrote that for years I had business in Kelowna, British Columbia. And during December I always made sure I 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 and waterfront.

I no longer have work to do in that lakeside city, but on the weekend of December 8th I packed my camera into my car and headed south to what I suppose will become my overnight Christmas light photography sojourn for years to come.

I left early enough, wait…that’s not right. “We left” is more the accurate.

Last week when visiting my friends Jo and Shaun I mentioned that I was planning on spending Saturday night and Sunday morning photographing Christmas lights.

I had barely returned home when I received a text from Jo telling me that she had talked her husband into letting her go and could I get her a hotel room because she would be joining me if I didn’t mind. So “We” left early enough to stop for some quick shopping, check in to our hotel and walk down the street to the eatery I had spent my evening at last year before going out to photograph the lights.

Last year I was disappointed that the weather was to warm and they wouldn’t be opening the outdoor skating rink until after I was gone. However, this time the days were colder and it was packed with people.

I don’t like choosing auto modes on my camera unless there is a good reason. Shutter Priority for a fast moving event like a rodeo, or Aperture Priority for subjects field like flowers that require controlling depth of field.

On dark nights with moving subjects I prefer the Manual mode. I can be in complete control of how I want my subject to look by changing the ISO, the Shutter and the aperture depending what I want. That way I can balance the light so the final image doesn’t look unnatural.

With the Skaters I wanted to see some movement. I knew there would be people stopping, moving slow, and of course passing very fast. All I had to do is work with those three controls to create the photograph I wanted.

We spent the night photographing the streets, decorated boats moored along the lake, the lakefront walkway, lighted trees, buildings and just about anything in front of our cameras.

We were up before dawn waiting on a highway overpass for there to be just enough daylight to give buildings some definition. We were there to photograph Kelowna’s 120 foot tall Tree of Hope.

For 20 years, the Tree of Hope made up of about 25,000 LED bulbs has been a symbol of inspiration, giving, and hope to the community.

I like to photograph that light bulb tree. Most photos I see of it either shows no background because it is photographed after dark or too much background because it is photographed after the sun has come up.

I want to barely see beginning blue of the sky. To see buildings with the tree reflecting in their windows and I want the light to vivid and colourful. So we stood in the dark and waited for the early morning sun. This time we lucked out with a cloudy sky.

All we had was about 30 minutes of shooting before the sun came up. Then it was back to our hotel to eat breakfast, warm up, pack our gear and head home.

Repeating my words from last December, “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.”

Photographing a November garden   

 

For years I have made sure to wander my garden with my camera in every season.

I know most photographers are only interested in the bloom of spring or glorious colours or fall, but to me it’s as much how the yearly changes shape the plants as it is the colourful presentation of spring and fall.

I like to walk around the garden that hides my home from the country road that borders my property. Spring, summer, fall or winter. I enjoy it.

It was on a late afternoon just after 4PM. I walked out on my porch to listen to the coyotes serenading the neighbourhood. Or maybe they were complaining loudly that the wet cold weather was making it hard to find food that normally scurries in the meadows.

Friends have commented that it must be nice to live away from the noise of the hustling city. However, at that moment it wasn’t only the coyotes that were disturbing my supposedly quiet rural life. Three roosters, fourteen chickens and five ducks were all making sure I knew they were as important as the coyotes in their forest home.

As I lazily kicked some fir tree branches out of my path I thought about how the cold plants looked interesting and decided to get my camera.

I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and attached the ring flash and walked along the little pond to take some pictures. After about five not-so-sharp captures I chastised myself for being lazy and returned to my house to grab a tripod.

A photographer I met that worked for a couple magazines once asked me, “What is the difference between using a tripod and not using a tripod?   “The shot with the tripod is the one the editor chooses for the cover.”   I am not sure if that’s always true, but I am sure using a tripod (and a flash) when photographing plants and gardens give me more keepers.

The ring-flash creates a smooth direct light that is very different from the flash mounted top of the camera. There is a sparkle to the subjects.

I always use a flash for plants.

I begin by metering the ambient light as if I were about to photograph the flower without a flash. Then I stop the aperture down to under expose the picture. In the low, bright November light I wanted to darken everything but my subject.

Sure one could open the aperture to reduce the depth-of-field and soften the background. But the closer the lens is to the subject when doing a macro or close-up photograph the less the field of focus in front of and behind the subject will be anyway.

I want as much sharpness as I can get around the flower. So instead of relying on the aperture to separate my subject from a busy background, I reduce the ambient light.

My ring-flash is set to manual so all I need to do is experiment with flash distance. I move forward and back to give the plant the light I want.

The ring-flash has a diffuser and I use a 200mm macro lens. The magnification is the same as with a 50mm or 105mm macro. I just get to be further away and that distance is more effective for the ring-flash.

There isn’t much more relaxing photography than garden photography because the subjects usually cooperate.

December has just overtaken me and I have no doubt that festive Canadian month will bring a totally different garden to photograph.