Anacortes Shipwreck Festival         

After an easy six or so hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard British Columbia and I pulled into the picturesque town of Anacortes, referred to as the homeport of the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands, for an annual event called the Shipwreck Festival. Gosh, it had been two years since my return to the enjoyment of what is certainly one of my favourite places and events. The last time was when my wife, Linda, and I made two trips to that area in 2014, the first in July to Anacortes and a second the week before Halloween for a short stay in the neighbouring small town of La Connor.

The Festival’s website says that some thirty years ago commercial fisherman would gather to sell their used gear on Anacortes’ Commercial Avenue. That popular event expanded to what is now called the Shipwreck Festival, a giant community garage sale that on the third weekend of July each year occupies about nine blocks of the town’s main street, offering, unique treasures from over 200 or more businesses, organizations, antique dealers, small vendors and local families.

The Fidalgo Island Rotary Club organizes the Shipwreck Festival and this year I was fortunate to be included with the Rotary Club volunteers as photographer.

I am sure there was a lot of behind the scenes work that went on before I arrived the Friday afternoon before the big event, but I was greeted by a fresh and enthusiastic group that were gearing up to mark street locations for the next day’s deluge of vendors that I was told began happening at 4AM.

I will say that over the many years I have been attending that festival I have never heard or met with a sour word. The people I encountered are always warm and generous and after a short time one gets the feeling they are old friends. And I immediately felt that way as I joined that group decked in their Rotarian vests.

When they were finally all prepped with measuring poles, blue chalk and “street closed” signs, they fanned out onto the town’s main thoroughfare redirecting traffic and marking the street with me running around documenting everything with my camera.

I have been attending the festival for years; I don’t remember when I started. I am pretty sure I first learned about the Shipwreck Festival when joined some friends that were there for the Fidalgo Island crab festival. I also remember stopping in Anacortes with some Army buddies back in 1967. I was stationed at Ft. Lewis Washington and we set off to see as much of the state as we could on our weekend pass. I seem to remember sleeping (jammed uncomfortably) in the car. These days I sleep comfortably in motels and don’t drink as much beer as I did then.

I will say that I don’t get to make the trip every year, although I’d like to. So this year’s opportunity to join the festival’s local volunteers will stand out as one the most memorable.

I had a great time creating images that the festival committee will be able to use for next years advertisements and my fun didn’t end with just taking pictures of their efforts that afternoon. I spent the next day taking photographs and shopping.

This was the kind of vacation that I like – the opportunity participate as an event photographer, to try my hand at “street photography” on the packed avenue and to spend time photographing the coastal landscape. All less than a day’s drive from a completely different environment then the one I live in, and with a chance to meet new people, eat at great seafood restaurants, and, of course, wander the Shipwreck Festival looking for treasures.

Pritchard Rodeo 2017    

A whole year has past and once again I joined my friends and neighbours for a dusty, fun-filled Sunday at the Pritchard Rodeo.

Now that the rodeo has come and gone and I am sitting at my computer looking through the many pictures I took, it is easy to see that I had a great time. Actually I am pretty sure everyone that attended, participants, organizers, spectators and photographers, had a great time.

This year’s event was a little sparse. Not when it came to all the spectators, the stands were full. But the numbers of cowboys and cowgirls participating was way down because of the wildfires across the province. I expect many were either evacuated and were struggling to safeguard their homes and livestock or they couldn’t get to the rodeo with all the road closures.

The days leading up to this weekend have been smoke filled and the sky has been grey. But by 10AM on Sunday blue sky with a few clouds. My friend Dave Monsees stopped by my house and ten minutes later we were ringside with our cameras, Dave with his 100-400mm and me with my 70-200mm.

At 1PM the Rodeo Chairman, Pritchard Rodeo stood center ring and waved his hat, the announcer called out the first event, a bronc rider burst into the arena, and all the photographers along the rails started shooting.

I’ve written before how suitable the Pritchard Rodeo grounds are for photographers. There’s a strong metal arena railing that makes it safe to stand close to the action without restricting the view. And every year I look forward to standing there along side all the other photographers that, like me, enjoy capturing the fast moving test of wills between animals and riders. I think that photographing any action event is fun and there’s always action at a rodeo.

This year I met two well-known British Columbia rodeo photographers, Elaine Taschuk from Vancouver and Tony Roberts from Kelowna. They talked about other rodeos in BC and their favourite lenses for capturing the action, and naturally the Canon vs. Nikon quips were flying.

Pritchard is the only rodeo I attend. Its close by, easy to get to, and easy to photograph. All one has to do is pay attention to where the participants are coming from and take up a position that allows everything to move towards the camera. Then I select shutter priority, choose a fast shutterspeed and start shooting. I prefer to use Shutter priority (“TV” on Canon and “S’ on Nikon) so I can select the shutter’s speed and let the camera choose the aperture. Yep, it’s darned easy.

This year’s rodeo (or any rodeo for that matter) was a great way to spend the day. When I got home I downloaded my images and quickly edited out those that didn’t look good, then cropped and balanced the exposure on those I chose to keep.

There will be lots of rodeos over the summer and into the fall that are well worth any photographer’s time. My advice is to grab that camera and mount any zoom lens that, at least, goes to 200mm. Then enjoy a day that will fill your computer with some great action photographs.

Another trip to Chase Falls             

                   

When I suggested to my friend, photographer Jo McAvany that we should drive over to nearby Chase Falls I imagined we’d be walking up a water filled creek to an overflowing falls and expected to be spending as much time wiping the water spray off my camera as I was taking pictures.  However, to my surprise the water coming over the falls was really diminished from its usual early summer flow.

The narrow stream canyon had been assaulted by a lot of water at sometime in the last month or so because there were lots of large rocks where there once was sand and my usual place for wide pictures was covered by a large pile of washed out trees.

3PM on a hot, cloudless July afternoon was definitely the wrong time to photograph the falls. The bright sun was cutting its way across the left side of the canyon leaving the right side in deep shade.  Even with graduated ND filters, trying to balance the scene’s high contrast was impossible.  Nevertheless I scrambled up and over the scattered boulders to find a better position, while Jo chose to work along the bank under the trees accompanied by, as she soon noticed, an ever-growing swarm of mosquitoes.

I guess there were enough breezes coming from the falls to push the mosquitoes away from my position, or maybe I was so fixed on my struggle to get some kind of image out of the contrasty scene that I didn’t notice their feasting.

I stacked ND filters over my lens and pointed my camera either into the sun or into the shade. It was one or the other if I didn’t want over or under exposures in my captures.

When I clambered back to where Jo was I found she had all but given up on the harsh lighting and was photographing people zip-lining above us. Well, that and giving her self up to the blood sucking hoards. She mentioned to me that she was being bitten everywhere, but dedicated photog that she was she still stood waiting for another zip-liner to zoom by screaming over-head.

I climbed down the bank and got a few more shots of the fast moving water and, of course, I just had to snap a couple shots of the people flying by.

Jo had just about had it with the mosquitoes and I finally began to notice the pesky creatures, so even though it was cooler by the creek than back at the car, we tore ourselves away from the falls with a promise to come back covered with repellent on an overcast day.

I will admit that what I like best about Chase Falls is they are only a few minutes drive from my home. It’s a cool location to scramble around and even though I have photographed it multiple times in every season during the last 40 years I have lived nearby I still enjoy making the trip there with my camera.

I guess there are lots of us photographers that have photographed local subjects over and over and over again.

I remember a long time old friend complaining. (Well he seemed to be) about a high mountain place we had climbed to countless times before. As we waited for the sun to rise he said, “I have taken every photograph that can be ever taken here”.  I quietly continued to drink my coffee without replying.

I am sure he knew I disagreed.

 

A Convocation of eagles                                                

 

 

I have always liked eagles.

I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah where the state bird was the California gull. There were seagulls everywhere and one couldn’t go anywhere without lots of them overhead. We affectionately called them “Mormon Bombers”. But eagles weren’t all that common and there were only I few times that I can remember ever seeing an eagle near the city, and on those rare occasions they were high and off in the distance. At that time one had to be somewhere high in the mountains that circle Salt Lake City, and even then, spotting one wasn’t that common.

I lived in many places, but until moving to British Columbia my eagle sightings were a rarity. Imagine my excitement I when found that no matter where one lives in the province I came to call home there seemed to always be eagles. Gosh, go to any fishing town and the skies and wharfs will be crowded with eagles.

Where I live, spring, summer or fall, and even sometimes in the frozen winter, while on my 45-minute drive to Kamloops along the Thompson River there are eagles watching from the trees.

This spring the water has been unusually high in the small streams and lakes in the countryside around Kamloops, and now that the rains have ceased and the drying summer heat is here, the once flooded farmlands, lakes, and meandering streams have trapped fish.

All one has to do is drive up into the farmlands out of town, pull the car over, wait a bit and there will be eagles. Until I stopped I hadn’t noticed how many were sitting on fence posts and in the trees along the road taking turns eating hapless fish caught in shallow creeks along the road.

They were spooky, eagles usually are. I pulled over and waited as other people excitedly stood by their cars pointing, talking loudly, and holding their cellphones at arms length to snap pictures of the many eagles flapping low to the ground and eating.

I positioned my car so I could open the door with my beanbag lens rest on the window ledge. I knelt comfortably, put my 150-600 on the bag and drank my coffee as I waited for the big birds to calm down and return after all the cellphone photographers left.

And return they did. I have seen larger convocations of eagles (yes. That’s the right word, “convocation”) when I visited towns on the coast, but that many eagles sitting, eating and flying around a few feet off the ground so darn close to a busy road was a bit unusual.

I haven’t had my big zoom lens very long, so this was my first experience using it to photograph flying birds. It took me a few shots to get comfortable with all the movement. There was a lot of commotion around one big trout, with several adults and youngsters demanding their turn. Nevertheless, the eagles were easy to photograph, their movements are slow and predictable. That excited gathering ignored my big lens poking over the car door, and they only flew off when another car stopped and people got out. When that happened I just relaxed, had another drink of coffee, and waited till I could start taking pictures again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden photography during the first days of summer          

 

 

 

Last Wednesday was the first day of summer here in Canada and I finally made time to wander our garden for my monthly photo session with the flowers growing there.

I had photographed the garden in May and although there were some early blooming roses and tulips, not much was going on.   However, since then the cool spring days here in the interior of British Columbia lengthened and warmed and the summer heat is coming.   Everything was in bloom and waiting for my first-days-of-summer photographic expedition.

The sky clear with a slight breeze as I walked around in the cool morning.   It was comfortable, but neither worked for me. I was hoping for some clouds and didn’t like the breeze at all, so I waited.

About 2pm slight clouds started gathering and the breeze quieted.  I attached a flash on a lightstand, mounted my 70-180mm macro on my camera and started searching the garden.

It doesn’t matter if I am photographing a person or a flower, I like to use an off-camera flash.   Sure there is nice natural light once in a while, but it is so much easier to control the light with a flash then to hope and wait for the sun to be just right.   Normally I like using an umbrella, but there was that intermittent breeze that didn’t bother my waiting subjects too much, but the tiny gusts could easily blow my flash over with the large umbrella, so I left the umbrella on the porch and instead employed the diffuser that came with the flash.

A flash lets me control the ambient light using the shutter speed and I stop down my aperture to disguise background distraction by under exposing or open up the aperture to reduce depth of field.

I thought about getting in the car and driving over to the pond to check out the geese, or maybe make an attempt at photographing a nearby waterfall that I am sure was loudly crashing into Chase creek. Those are more exciting subjects than flowers, but I promised myself I’d get a good record of the flowers this year. Anyway the afternoon garden and the surrounding neighbourhood was quiet, the plants were patiently waiting, and I was too lazy to go for a drive.

Summer is here and the flower’s bloom won’t last long. The mountains around here have ticks, snakes, and maybe hungry bears (well, probably not hungry bears and I haven’t seen a rattler in years). The water is to high to get good shots of the waterfalls and anyway if one waits another week I expect there will be plenty to photograph on Canada day.  So for now I suggest one more leisurely and safe foray, with camera and flash, into the garden before summer’s heat takes the bloom’n colour away.

Why I like Multi-focal (Zoom) lenses.        

 

The first SLR I owned came with three lenses. Gosh I was pleased, it had a 35mm, 50mm and a 135mm. The years passed and I started working as a photographer documenting many of the alternative approaches to learning that were happening at that time in Southern California’s Education system.

At that time my gear was an SLR, a 50mm and a 200mm lens. Equipment that I quickly found lacking in the fast moving events I was expected to document. Sure, sometimes I photographed students sitting down, but more often than not, those grade schoolers were bouncing around coastal rocks while searching tide pools, excitedly running on board whale watching boats, dashing through city parks and even racing up stairs in some Los Angeles high-rise.

Changing lenses on the go, better yet “on the run”, was a hassle and awkward in a crowded space.

Then a company named Vivitar started advertising their 70-210mm zoom lens. I can remember talking with other working photographers about the magazine advertisements showing a page of postage stamps with perfectly in line perforations.

I’ll make this short by saying, it wasn’t long before I owned one, and wow, could I work a crowded street, schoolyard, site seeing-boat or any other people-filled event. The fact that it wasn’t a wide angle and I was forced to stand back was a minor inconvenience. I shot tight. I got faces, hands, feet, children talking up close, and was able to capture those quick ever-changing expressions.

I was sold on the versatility of that first multifocal length lens. I shot thousands of slides and black and white prints for my employer until I left, deciding to wander up the coast and settle in British Columbia, Canada.

Digital had yet to be invented or thought of by those of us earning our living with cameras, and the bigger the negative was the better. I remember feeling bad for those unfortunate brides and grooms that chose some pal to record their wedding with the family 35mm.

Serious photographers were using medium format cameras and there were very few zoom lenses for medium format. So I was stuck changing lenses again. Lenses that like the big cameras they fit, took up space and made the camera burdensome.

Finally after many painful and expensive years of carrying big formats, Kodak began offering a 35mm professional film that maintained a neutral and true to life colour and was great for enlargements. The film, called “Portra” came in ISO160, ISO400 and ISO800. So with that I was back to using 35mm and zoom lenses again.

I would pack two camera bodies to an event like a wedding, one for black and while and one for colour. I had my choice of mounting a 35-105mm or a 70-200mm multi-focal length lens on which ever I needed at the moment. That flexibility gave me an edge on those photographers that were struggling as they tried to keep up during quickly changing events.

Zoom lenses allowed me to choose the crop I wanted and gave me versatility and speed in any situation.  That Versatility and speed is lacking when I am forced to change lenses and gosh, moving back and forth to widen or narrow framing is just tedious. Having many focal lengths all-in-one keeps me from missing those once in a lifetime shots.

Present day zoom lenses have become sharper, quicker and lighter than those I used with my film cameras. And for those, like me, that have a vacation planned for the upcoming summer. One lens that has the ability to capture and change the world’s perspective at a multitude of focal lengths is so much easier to carry around than several (prime) lenses with focal lengths that are fixed.

 

Spring-cleaning and plans on Summer Photography.        

I am such a hoarder.

I knew I had an old tripod mount stashed away somewhere, but when I started searching (unsuccessfully I might add) through years of bits and pieces randomly stockpiled in unmarked containers I came to the conclusion that it might be time to do some spring-cleaning. I’ll call it that because it’s spring here in British Columbia.

No doubt there are other photographers that hold on to all-things-photographic as much as I do, so here are some thoughts that I had that might be helpful. I am sure there are many additions readers can think of, but I am starting with just a couple.

  1. This should be the year to get rid of all that old film camera equipment. I know it is hard to part with favourite old cameras. The pictures they produced were so great, and gosh, they initially cost so much money, but sadly there isn’t much resale value currently. The fact is today’s camera technology has progressed far beyond those old film cameras and most individuals that have embraced the high quality digital world will never return to film. If you haven’t, my recommendation is remove the batteries that are probably leaking, clean the camera up with an old toothbrush, and sell it to someone interested in playing with “retro” equipment or donate the camera to a student still using film in their photography classes. Don’t put it off, film cameras only loose value as time passes and very few ever become valuable collectibles.
  2. Might this be the year to “finally” organize all those old prints and slides? There are many ways to copy photographs and slides. For prints I use my camera, a tripod, and a level. For slides a scanner works best.

Regarding scanners, my recommendation is to do some research, and not purchase too cheap (or to          expensive) of a model. Find out which scanners produce quality resolution scans. A space saving and cost  saving idea would be to share one with other photographers.

  1. A couple years ago my wife and were evacuated as a fire raged down the hills above our home. Linda and I rushed through the house photographing everything before we left. I think spring is a perfect time to make the effort to photographically inventory household goods. I have to admit I am as lax as anyone when it comes to a photographic inventory. Nevertheless, when faced with that fire approaching my door I sloppily needed to do it in a hurry. Its not very hard, and I think worth the time.

I’ll add two spring goals that have nothing to do with photo house cleaning. However, I have made them part of the spring planning process for the summer to come. And anyway, these are way more fun.

  1. There are several of us that meet once a week to talk about photography. It’s not a club, there are no rules, everyone has strong opinions, and this spring we are all filled with energy and photography projects. Joining up with others that have different interests in photography to talk about or accompany on photo outings is fun and always instructive.
  2. It’s time to plan photography a trip. I am planning a July photography excursion down the coast of Washington State for a few days with my friend Dave, his wife Cynthia. I know we’ll be up early with our cameras and, I am sure, still up late talking about our day’s photography.

Those, like me, that that enjoy lists will delight on writing out their spring goals. It’s a good way to begin thinking about photography projects and goals for this year. I have only included a few from my personal list. Some might not get done, but it’s a start. I try to be realistic and I’ll hang my list on the wall next to the calendar I print each month and attempt what I can. That might help me keep it a spring instead of a summer project.