Wandering Vancouver’s City streets   

This past weekend I spent a day wandering Vancouver with my camera. 

A couple weeks ago my friend Jo McAvany mentioned that she had a tattoo appointment in Vancouver and wondered if I’d mind sharing the drive with her. I said yes, of course, and suggested we make a weekend of it. Gosh, it’s a 4 plus hour drive so why not?

Saturday morning at 11AM I dropped Jo off at her appointment grabbed my camera and started my walk down the street.

We were going to spend our evening photographing lights along the coast, but I thought I might spend the day doing cityscapes and thought it might be fun to use my infrared converted camera. Infrared would give me an unusual perspective.

I started by walking along the street Jo had her appointment on. That took me about two hours. Once I start searching with a camera I forget about time, there is so much too photograph and I was looking for trees and interesting advertising along the street. Fortunately I had set my iPhone’s alarm to two hours so I wouldn’t get a parking ticket. Then I put my GPS in action and drove to a small park along the ocean. The city has made a small park named Habitat Island that jetted out in to an inlet called False Creek. I chose that place because I knew there would be trees and a small pond filled with reeds that would give me some unusual views of the large city and would add interest with infrared.

There were lots of people enjoying the cool coastal air on the hot British Columbia summer’s day. My practice when meeting people on the street or on a path in the park is the same as when stepping in to a restaurant or hotel, step back and choose a wide route around them. Everything is so strange and unusual these days with the Covid-19 thing.

I stopped at a place known for it’s grand selection of beer called Craft Market and as I walked across the street after parking I saw a young woman with a black mask spraying the hand rail. I took up my place on a circle marked with a bright 6’ at the top of the stairs and when it was my turn I was motioned in by another masked young woman who asked for my name and phone number.

Then a third masked woman walked me to my place at the bar that had clear plexiglass on each side and was then waited on by a fourth masked woman. I guess that is what they call the “new norm”.

Oh well the beer was good.

I walked out of the bar and down along a walkway and photographed buildings across the water until I got a text from my friend Jo saying she was finished.

I don’t know how many miles I walked, but my legs were tired at day’s end. I’m not sure if walking for hours on hard pavement is exercise or punishment. Nevertheless, I got a lot of great pictures and saw interesting buildings and people.

Vancouver is truly an international city with a healthy mixture of all types of architecture, people and things to buy. 

 And it is always fun and inspiring to photograph different environments. All we have to do is…..

Stay Safe and be Creative.

What? Shooting photos with film again?   

 

Over the years I have been writing these articles I have mentioned more than once that I couldn’t see myself ever using a film camera again. When someone asks me why, I complain that film is such a hassle to deal with and takes to long get back from a lab. Digital is immediate and cost nothing unless one decides to make a print. I would always say that I am not the least interested in film.

The Dictionary defines “Eat (one’s) words.” as, “to retract, regret, or feel foolish about what one has previously said”

Last summer I purchased a 300mm lens for the Pentax 67. In 1965 Pentax introduced the Pentax 6×7, a SLR medium format camera for 120 and 220 film that produces 6cm x 7cm image. That’s about a 2 ¼ by 2 ¾ inches negative.

Photographers that were doing work for clients back then preferred medium format film cameras because the larger negatives produced higher quality enlargements.

I owned a Pentax 6×7 camera years ago. It was easy to carry around for close-ups in the garden and although the 67 is a large medium format camera weighing just over five pounds, it is shaped and used like the much smaller 35mm cameras of the day.

It has a variety of interchangeable lenses, prisms and assorted viewfinders that allow one to use the camera at waist level or eye level. And as with 35mm manual cameras, the lens can be reversed with an adapter that made the normal lens work like a macro lens. And a waist level finder made close-up plant photography very comfortable.

I had planned on selling the Pentax 300mm lens, but after showing it to my photo pal Jo I decided to get a body for it. Jo not only had never imagined such a camera existed, but had only come into contact with film when her parents took family photos.

I searched eBay and found some sellers that had Pentax 67 camera bodies, waited for a good price and a couple of weeks ago exposed a roll of 400 ISO Ilford film and a roll of 160 ISO Fuji film with my new 6X7 and 300mm lens.

Getting the film processed wasn’t the easiest task. The local store that sends film out for processing and printing does not handle 120 film. I checked and the lab I used (ABC Photocolor in Vancouver) back in the 1980s and 1990s that still does and will “process only” if I ask so I can scan the film myself.

I also found a lab (Canadian Film Lab) in the small town of Hope, BC that specializes in film. They will process 120 film, scan, correct density and colour balance then post the images for clients on their website. They also have other services to help film users optimise film to personal specifications.

Canadian film lab is more expensive than ABC Photocolor, but I wanted to see what they could do so I sent the two rolls to them.

I now have my image files loaded on my computer and they did such a good job that am looking forward to exposing another roll to send to them.

I would never have thought I’d be shooting with film again.   Jo will be exposing her first roll of colour film with that camera very soon. I have about 30 rolls of film in my freezer and expect Jo and I will be getting used to lugging that heavy beast around and having a great time working the film.

I had forgotten the latitude a roll of B&W film has. Yes my 36mp Nikon’s sensor gives me glorious files, but there is something positive to be said about the quality of a 120 film negative.

The more stable your camera is, the sharper the photos.               

 

The slightest camera movement can ruin a landscape image and I am sure most serious photographers know that. Yet, for some reason, a good tripod isn’t high on some photographers’ list of priorities. I expect that’s mostly because of our constant wanting to have more money to spend on quality lenses or camera bodies. And of course the misconception of a few that they don’t kneed a tripod.

I opened my shop for the first time in over a month and, of course, there were local photographers that had problems with their cameras and lenses that stopped by, but some seeing my Open sign just came in to say hello and tell me what they had been doing.

I didn’t open the till much, but I had a good day talking about photography.

I started this article with some words about tripods because yesterday I was asked about calibrating lenses.

The photographer was thinking about replacing her lens because some of her photos were not sharp. She was in a hurry, I explained a bit about calibration and I told her we could do it sometime when she had time and she left.

As she walked out the door I turned to my friend Drew and said, “I wonder if she only used program modes”. He replied, “ You should sell her a tripod”.

I didn’t even think of that. Sometimes the simplest solutions escape us.

Tripods give your camera the stability it needs to perform at its best. That’s not really a groundbreaking statement. My opinion is, even if one has steady hand, it’s still not as good as the stability that a good solid tripod can provide.

And the more stable your camera is the sharper the photos it can capture.

Blurriness is one of the primary culprits of a bad scenic photo, so the more one uses a tripod, the better the photos will be.

I wonder how many times I have said, “If you don’t like using a tripod it means you never have used a good one, and I stand by that statement.

In today’s market it is very acceptable to spend extra money on “vibration reduction” or “image stabilizing” lenses in the belief that this technology will allow the photographer to do photography without the use of a tripod.

The difference between a blurry and a sharp enlargement isn’t megapixels or vibration reduction lenses; it is a good stable tripod. I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t get image stabilizing lenses as they are great to have and use in certain situations and conditions when you can’t use a tripod and must use slower shutter speeds, but using a good tripod that allows you to stand up straight and take your time to analyze, problem solve, compose and contemplate is an excellent experience.

In recent years more and more quality tripods have become available and are worth owning and using. There are many brands available and all one needs to do is spend some time researching to find one that suits them.

A Saturday drive for some photos.  

The rain has been coming down steadily for the past few days. I did get a bit of an afternoon to cut the grass meadow beside my house, but not much else.

The weather report said there would be showers in the South Thompson today. However, the morning was mostly sunny, so instead of sitting in the house listening to the ever so gloomy news on my television I decided to have my morning coffee and bagel out on my porch.

Just as I was feeding my cat, Pippen, another piece of my bagel when I received a text from my friend Jo wishing me a happy 4 of July and “if you could have anything for your 4th of July supper what would it be”. I am not good at making that kind of decision about food. I like most anything. (Especially if someone else makes it) I replied that I was going to take a short drive on the back road to Armstrong, then through Enderby, and return by way of Salmon Arm and asked her wanted to join me.

I would figure out what food and pick up the makings on route.

I like to take my camera on that winding drive through Falkland, to Armstrong, on through Enderby and finally turning to go past Salmon Arm, then back to my home in Pritchard. The route is scenic with photo opportunities and all the towns are small and usually quiet this time of year.

There is a lot to see, make pictures of, and there wasn’t much traffic. How long the trip is depends on how many stops I make. This time I planned on stopping in Armstrong to wander and photograph buildings. Armstrong has a quaint feeling. The town center has retained most of the older buildings from it’s past with little shops and to Jo’s delight an ice cream emporium.

We left Pritchard just after 12PM. our first stop was along Monty Lake. There were lots of rock hunters climbing and hacking away on the steep red slope along the far end on the lake. While I made a few photos of the lake Jo crossed the road to talk with a fellow that had just come down from a ledge. He was finding lots of different things in the rocks, but was mostly looking for fossils.

Our next stop was at a small store in Falkland where Jo purchased some of the local sausage.

We got to Armstrong and after ice cream cones we wandered the streets photographing the buildings. I haven’t stopped there for a couple years and this time I was wishing I was there either earlier or later in the day. The high sun didn’t give me the shadows and definition I like for photographing buildings. I think I’ll try a morning trip next time.

I was using the 16-35mm lens I wrote about last month. I have decided to keep it for now. It is lighter than the 14-24mm, just as sharp, and takes 77mm filters. That’s a plus for sure. I like it’s wide angle for buildings. I still need to give it a good testing on some long exposures. If the weather holds I will take a day trip to Wells Grey Park and see if I like it on waterfalls. I might go to Vancouver for some night photos of the ocean and cityscape, but I think I will wait for the Covid-19 to calm down a bit more before I face the crowds in that city.

Today’s leisurely drive lasted about four hours and other than stopping for Nacho makings (I finally made my decision) we didn’t come in close contact with other people.

I expected rain, but there were only a few white clouds and the temperature was comfortable for walking around with our cameras.
Both Jo and I got a bit creative with our photos (I also used my IR camera for some)

In spite of the life-changing virus I expect this will be a good summer for short photo adventures.

 

 

Backroads and roadside photography      

I’ll begin this article with this quote by photographer Steve McCurry,  “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.”

As I began to write this week’s article I thought about his words. I have been hoping to do some traveling this summer, but with the government in British Columbia still telling us not to take unnecessary trips I have been thinking I should just continue to wander nearby back roads.

Maybe it will be a summer that sees those of us with cameras to take a creative and appreciative look at what is out our front door.

This week Jo and I decided to venture a bit further than Pritchard and although we slowed to look for geese paddling in the pond we didn’t bother to get our cameras and continued on down the rural road looking for something new to photograph. Or at the least, something neither of us has photographed in a while.

Jo called me and said she had to make a quick trip to Kamloops and asked if I wanted to go. She suggested we could return home by one of the many back roads and could take the time to make some photos. Of course I wanted to go, I was doing yard work and any excuse to stop doing yard work is good for me. I don’t like mowing, trimming, digging, pulling or driving to the local dump with a loaded truck. I know all that stuff has to be done or my yard would just be a bushy forest with a mostly hidden house.

I had just enough time to pack my cameras in a bag when Jo drove up. I think she was already on the way when she called, she knows me pretty well. I put my 16-35mm lens on one camera and grabbed my Infrared camera that was mounted with 20-40mm.

I haven’t owned the 16-35 very long and am trying to decide if it should replace the 14-24mm I have. Yes, I am still struggling with that wide-angle lens. There are lots of opinions in online forums, but I have plenty of time to make that decision and short trips like the one with Jo would be perfect.

We made the stop Jo had in Kamloops then pulled through the drive-thru at the Dairy Queen. I am glad places like that have continued to stay open through this crisis and after we got a cotton-candy dipped cone for Jo and a milkshake for me I commented that there must be a lot more work for the staff with all the extra sanitizing they must do before and after each customer.

We left Kamloops turned off the highway and as with the trip we took a couple weeks ago to Kelowna, there weren’t too many cars so driving slowly and continually stopping to take pictures was easy.

Spring is always colourful and the day was sunny with lots of white clouds. It was excellent for photography of the country landscape we slowly drove through and it was exciting for IR photography and although I played some with that 16-35mm, most of the photos I made were with my IR camera with the 20-40mm.

Maybe this will be a summer of short excursions. My advice to all those readers that haven’t been beyond their front doors with a camera is; There is always something to photograph and there are a lot of rural roads that aren’t a long drive from home that are waiting to be explored and re-explored. I expect this year the spring will be wet here is BC and there will be lots of new growth and changing environments to point our cameras at. It is also fun to find a new and imaginative way to photograph things we have photographed before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

A good day to wander with my camera      

 

The clouds started moving in this morning and I thought it would be a good day to wander with my camera and see what kind of photos I could get. I like a cloud filled sky, clear blue or heavy overcast grey doesn’t make as interesting backgrounds for scenics.

In the past forty plus years I have walked, ridden horses and motorcycles and this morning drove my car along the winding country road that passes my home. When I first moved to Pritchard the roads were bumpy, rut filled, dusty (or muddy) dirt roads. But that’s in the past and now there is asphalt paving.

I slowly drove up Duck Range road watching for interesting subjects with interesting light. Sometimes the lighting is the only element in a photo that makes it different from those I have taken a hundred times before. I had my IR camera with a 20-40mm attached and because I decided to go past some ponds I had another with my 150-600mm on it.

This morning I kept stopping and switching cameras and as I selected angles to shoot from that I hadn’t tried before. However, the morning was nice and I sometimes I just stopped and looked.

I saw turtles out sunning themselves and the ponds finally had a few ducks paddling around. Roadside reeds were filled with small birds and I could see geese on the warm sunlit hill in the distance. No goslings yet, it is a lot cooler there than down in the valley, where there are already families of geese along the river and photographers from Kamloops, only 40 minutes away, have started posting their shots of geese with goslings from the local park.

As I do every spring, I make regular trips along the road to photograph the fields, turtles, ducks and geese. I am hopping that this will be a good year for gosling photos. I’ll soon see and as I have for so many years, I’ll keep wandering along the backwoods roads, cameras at the ready to see what I can photograph.

I think it was good luck that I went out early this morning. The wind has started and it’s getting dark out. My three kittens just came in and one, Pippin, seems to be explaining why and I am pretty certain some of what she is saying includes directions as to what I am supposed to do for them.

There will be a Canadian Snowbirds flying from Alberta on the way to Kamloops at 1PM to thank all the doctors and nurses that are keeping people alive. I’ll join other residents and the fire trucks down by the Pritchard store. Ha, another photo op! I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer and photojournalist (known for his photo “Afghan Girl”) Steve McCurry,  “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.

These are strange times                                                    

One would think with all the pictures of the crowds of people at parks and beaches on the news that many folks have decided that the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t a big deal, but take a drive on any country side-road and it is very evident that something has changed.

This week I had to make a short trip to pick up supplies for my shop.  I have made the two-hour drive south on that double lane road for years and there is always lots of traffic any day of the week at any time of day, but for the first time it was almost devoid of the usual large trucks, passenger cars and motorcycles.

As readers know I like wandering the back roads with my camera. I will place my cameras and lenses ready to use on the backseat of my car and go for short drives to photograph anything and everything that seems interesting.

When I return home I load the images into my computer and spend hours having fun seeing what I can do with them. With jazz music blaring and a glass of wine I sit at my computer and get creative. I always will have one image opened with several different versions. Some manipulations stray pretty far from reality, but heck its fun doing anything with photography.

I remember when I would return home with several rolls of exposed film. I would process the film then wait for an overnight dry and print photographs all the next day. I guess I haven’t changed very much, its fun doing anything with photography.

My friend Jo and her family have been isolating themselves from other people for just over two weeks and I haven’t been near anyone since I closed my shop a month ago. So we figured it was safe when I asked Jo if she wanted to join me for the drive. We each have been driving our own cars and it is good to be able to go together again.

The drive along the mostly deserted road was filled with good photo opportunities, and we could pull off the road almost anywhere without worrying about other vehicles. I wonder how long that will last.

When we got to our destination I knocked at the door and stepped back off the porch. A fellow opened the door and placed my package on the steps and moved back so I could get it. We said hello from the government recommended, “social distancing” and I commented that I hope we can get together at the next Vancouver Camera Swap Meet. (If there is one in October and it is safe to attend)

These are strange times.

On our drive home we made several stops to make photos and even took a quick turn through a fast food drive through. We returned home with some good photos and had a nice easy and very safe drive on the almost deserted roads. These are strange times.

As I sit to write this I am thinking about how addictive this wonderful medium so many of us are dedicated to actually is – in spite of the crisis we are enduring.  With that thought here is a quote by the famous American photographer Richard Avedon, “If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing a spring garden     

Finally…finally the spring warmth has crept in and we are getting the rain, sun, rain kind of days that are usual this time of year.

I think the plants in my garden that were holding back because of the cold days and nights last week will be exploding in bloom in no time.  I knew I would miss the beginning growth if I hesitated.

I sent a text to my friend Jo inviting her to join me and she showed up a few hours later ready to photograph the garden with me.

In my article last week I wrote, “why not photograph the flowers just as one would do a portrait.” So for our photos I got out two small 2’x2’ backdrops that Jo and I could place behind some of the flowers. Remember that I wrote that I used a small backdrop for flowers and other small items that is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.

This time I mounted one wireless flash on a light stand, but decided not to use an umbrella. We took turns moving the flash for each other.

Jo shot with my 70-180mm AF macro and I used my 200mm Manual macro.

I also used the uniquely flexible Benbo tripod I wrote about last week. There was a slight intermittent breeze that was possible for Jo to overcome with her AF lens, but my manual lens had to have support, so the tripod was a must for me.

We were fortunate that the day was overcast. That made it easy to use a wide aperture to soften the background while still being able to underexpose the ambient light.

As I wrote last week, “The exposure was made exactly the same way I would have made it if photographing a person in an outdoor studio. Slightly underexpose the ambient light, position the flash for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got lighting that would flatter my subject.”

We wandered the garden looking for those flowers and plants that are early blooming and those that are just showing buds at the end of their branches.

For me, photographing my garden is a time consuming process that includes a tripod, an off-camera flash, a backdrop and a lot of walking around to find the right shape in the right location.

I met a biologist that decided to take up photography. He mostly used natural light and occasionally one of those inexpensive constant light kits. He would cut the plant that he wanted to photograph and use a clamp to position it. For me the process of photographing a flower usually includes its life cycle from the cool days of early spring to snowy winter days. So plant clippers, clamps and lights that plug into an electric outlet don’t work for me at all. I photographed the garden a few days ago. There has been rain and warm sun since then and I think it’ll rain again tomorrow. That mean I can expect may garden to have gone through a transition and photographing it will be a new experience. Spring, summer, fall and winter. It always is.

I will admit that I am not a gardener. I rarely remove weeds unless the get in the way of something I am doing. I don’t go through plant catalogues in the spring and can’t begin to name the plants that grow in my garden. But I do like to photograph those things that grow or just reside in my yard. My wife used to complain that I enjoyed the photography more than her garden. I disagreed. I like the garden because I like to photograph it.

Photographing the garden is calming and can be creative for those that take the time. That said here is a quote by Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson that I have used before.

In his book, “Photography and the Art of Seeing” he wrote, “ Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, you intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

Lighting flowers with off-camera flash   

I intended to spend some time this week photographing the spring garden.

Last week I was sure that the days and nights would warm and I would have lots of colour to point my camera at. However, as with all the other surprising changes this year has brought the weather turned cold and although there is a lot of green in my yard there isn’t much else. With that I thought I’d repost this article I wrote in April 2014.

“The snow has finally, and at last, left the north side of our house. It’s barely been gone two weeks; nevertheless, that means two weeks of new growth in my wife’s garden.

My wife mentioned the crocuses were coming up everywhere I thought I’d check to see if there were any left after a weekend visit with our two granddaughters who like to pick flowers. As it turned out the girls hadn’t got them all and there were many more coming up everywhere. So I decided I should select a couple plants to photograph before the bloom was over.

I had been making notes in preparation for a workshop on using flash outdoors that I planned on leading the May.

I thought why not photograph the flowers just as I would do a portrait of a person. I got out a small 2’x2’ backdrop and placed it behind some of the flowers. That small backdrop, especially constructed for flowers and other small items, is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.

I mounted two wireless flashes on light stands, and put a 40-inch umbrella on one placed shoulder height to my right and a 30-inch on the other positioned low to the ground on the left.

Needing to shoot low, I used my favourite garden tripod, the uniquely flexible Benbo. The Benbo tripod allows each leg to be independently positioned, and instead of a vertical center column configuration that most tripods have, the Benbo has a column that fits off center and when the legs, which go in almost any direction, are splayed out flat, the camera can be positioned just off the ground.

I mounted my 200mm macro lens on my camera. That focal length let me situate the camera several feet away from the crocuses so I wouldn’t have to put an end to the new growth coming up everywhere in my wife’s garden while still letting me have a close focus.

The exposure was made exactly the same way I would have made it if photographing a person in an outdoor studio. Slightly underexpose the ambient light, reposition the flashes for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got lighting that would flatter my subject.

Lighting a subject with off-camera flash is fun, and putting up a backdrop ensures that it is even more so. It doesn’t matter who or what the subject is because I like to use a flash.

For me portraiture is all about adding light. It was also really nice to spend some time outdoors in the garden and see it coming to life in the spring.