Photographing Halloween witches    

October is the month of witches and ghosts and all things spooky. So when my friend Jo McAvany showed me a photo of a witch posing in the woods and said, “I want to do something like that, but with lots of witches” my enthusiastic reply was “great, what can I do to help”.

Jo started texting her friends asking them to wear spooky makeup and get black outfits that would fit the witchy theme and we made plans for where and how the photograph should be made.

Jo’s idea was to have a coven type scene and thought that including one male amongst the witches would be a good idea.

That would be closest to the writings of Margaret Murray in her 1921 work, “The Witch Cult in Western Europe”. According to her a coven consists of twelve witches and a devil as leader. A Coven is a group in which witches gather.

We didn’t get our twelve witches, but Jo was happy that there were eight women were willing to get dressed in black and make time to be photographed as witches.

I brought speedlights on stands and Jo had a flash trigger on her camera. We originally had the idea to place one flash behind, but one flash wasn’t enough to illuminate everyone so we decided to use only two lights form the front. One placed was off to the side and another directly behind Jo with her camera. However, with many of the shots Jo just cranked the ISO and shot with the fading natural light.

For the later after dark photos where the only light was coming from witches holding candles we didn’t use a flash at all.

Jo did start by trying both a 14-24mm and 24-70mm, but ended up using the longer 70-200mm lens for most of her shots.

I mostly was moving the lights around and making sure they were connecting to the sender. I also wanted to take a few photographs of the participants getting ready and of Jo taking the group photos.

I did take some after dark photos of the witches holding candles on the beach. I used my 24-70mm.

Jo invited another photographer, Bob Clark, to join us.  Bob showed up just as we were finishing, grabbed a light stand, put his flash on it, and whisked some witches off into the dark treed area to take pictures.

The photo session was defiantly a success with some good photos for all the participants to have. Everyone had worked hard to make the witchy Halloween theme.

I am thinking the group photo might make a good Halloween greeting card. Greeting card? Sure, send a friend a card that says, “Have a happy Halloween”.

Next time I want to use a lot more flashes and maybe have coloured gels. I might set some flashes out in my yard next week and try some lighting ideas. Now if I can just find a tiny witches hat and get one of my chickens to sit still while wearing it.

Photographing Pumpkins

 

Halloween is on its way. It’s usually a fun time with costumes, candy, spooky displays, parties and more candy.

This year will probably be a bit calmer and in some places maybe not at all.

Talking with my friend Jo and her husband Shaun. We thought it might be fun to have our own get together. Our safe “Bubble” for Halloween will be Jo, Shaun, their two children, probably our friend Drew and me.

What do we need for party decorations? Well to begin with pumpkins.

That meant a short hour and a half road trip to the town of Ashcroft and a visit to the huge Desert Hills Ranch farm market. I was sure that Desert Hills would not only be a great place to get pumpkins, but also a place that would be packed with photo opportunities, and if we went mid-week we would miss the crowds and be much safer during this blasted and darned inconvenient pandemic.

Jo chose to bring the versatile Nikon 28-300mm lens and, as usual, I mounted my 24-70mm on my camera.

The Desert Hills staff had made acres of different displays using pumpkins that presented endless photo opportunities. Upon arrival I got out of my truck and immediately wandered off pressing my camera’s shutter.

Jo was more goal oriented and headed to the large tents filled with vegetables and grabbed a wagon to fill. I eventually caught up and easily talked Jo’s photogenic children, Emit and Evinn, into running, pulling the wagon, and posing in front of the displays.

I put three big pumpkins in one of the wagons Jo had filled with all sorts’ of fresh vegetables, parked it in the shade and continued on with my photographic adventure.

We were only there for a little more than two hours, but I could have stayed all day. There was so much to photograph and the October pumpkin theme was fun, creative and addictive…I didn’t want to stop taking pictures.

American Photographer Annie Leibovitz once wrote, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

It was a good day for photography, not to hot and a good combination of sun and high clouds that held back that photo ruining harsh contrast.

As we had hoped, there weren’t a lot of people there. That gave Jo and I lots of room to do photography and it also wasn’t at all dangerous for Emit and Evinn to run around anywhere they wanted.

I’ll slowly go through my image files from that day and convert some into black and white. Black and white Pumpkins look good.

I think, even in this confusing and disturbing time we are struggling through, that there are excellent opportunities for creative and interesting photography. Now that our Desert Hill Ranch Market trip is past and the images are safely waiting on my computer for me to get inventive and imaginative with, I am wondering what I should plan for next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Garden Photos

 

In spite of the chokingly thick, monochromatic, overpowering smoke that is pushing it’s way up from California, Oregon and Washington I can still see that the colours are changing with the coming of fall here in BC.

It has been so hot and dry for the last month that most of the plants are looking rather water starved. I decided this morning was the time to take my camera out in the garden before everything changes again. The first day of Fall is Tuesday September 22nd.

I grabbed my camera, mounted my 70-180mm macro lens on it, placed an off-camera flash trigger on top and put my flash in my jacket pocket.

Even with the murky grey haze there was enough sunlight hacking it’s way through to take pictures without my having to increase my camera’s ISO over 400.

I usually like to have a tripod and even a stand for my light, but this time I thought a leisurely stroll around the yard would be fun.

The Fall garden is so different to photograph than the Spring garden. Spring is so easy with its fresh deep colours and new growth that leaves nothing to the imagination, whereas the Fall garden demands so much of a photographer’s imagination.

It’s the colour and shape that I look for.   Well… maybe more the shape.

English Renaissance statesman and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “There ought to be gardens for all months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may be then in season.”

I like that quote, His words fit in with how I see my garden. It always is, in every season, a place that I like to walk through and photograph.

Sometimes I get out my backdrop, tripod, lights and lightstands. But this time I just wanted to see what I could find. It had been a lazy morning and I suppose I wasn’t as serious about getting creative images, and I know hand holding a camera for macro photos rarely produces images as sharp as when one uses a tripod. Nevertheless, I thought I should at least photograph some of the yellow leaves and as long as I could keep my shutterspeed up I would reduce camera shake.

I had been working in my garden for the last several days and kept thinking that I should spend some time with my camera. I actually haven’t been working “on my garden” just in it. I have the first 20 of about 30 boards on sawhorses that I brushed sealer brushed on. I decided this would be the summer to put a roof on the last part of my deck. I cut down a couple trees to use as posts and built the roof, now I just have the 14X14 foot ceiling to finish. Then I will be able to sit comfortably rain or shine and enjoy the cool Autumn days.

The days are changing fast and this may be the last chance I get to photograph the garden before its next seasonal change. The weather report predicted much needed rain and as I write I think I can hear it starting, and if it keeps up most of the night I think it might be worth my time to go out with my camera again in the morning. There is always another opportunity for photos in that ever-changing garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all about the glass  

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”   Most will also say that a bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will still give the photographer good results.

I have written about this topic before and I discuss lenses every time I lead a photography workshop.

This past week I got a call from a photographer that was planning on starting a photo business and was wondering about what new equipment she should purchase.

The lure of new photo equipment is almost overwhelming. Most of us are willing to add new photo paraphernalia to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

Each season camera manufacturers come out with new cameras. There is lots of advertising, many reviews to read and there are hours of youtube programs by previously unknown experts talking about how each new camera made them better photographers.

I must admit that I read and watch as many programs as I can about the new cameras.   But as exciting and tantalizing as each manufacturers offering is my belief still is that “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”   So when I talked to that soon-to-be professional photographer my suggestion was not to change her camera, but to keep it and start researching the kind of lenses that would work best with the kind of photography she would be doing.

My advice would be to buy the best lens she could afford. I know that the lens that came with the camera seems to do a great job when viewed on a 16-inch computer monitor. But what if a client wanted to publish or print that image?   And there must be a reason that one might be able to purchase a camera complete with an 18-300mm lens for well under two thousand dollars, yet a 24-70mm or 70-200mm will cost over two thousand dollars each.

I say, Yes, read and drool over that expensive new camera, but for now begin with putting the best lens you can on the camera you presently own.

I have been told that the camera will capture a subject’s personality. However, the lens in my opinion allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer. The photographer uses the lens to alter the visual personality of the image and I suggest that photographers are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

It is all about the glass and there is an exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium.

 

Photographing fire spinning.   

This past week one of the women my friend Jo McAvany recently photographed told Jo she was going to do some “Fire Spinning” on the beach in Kamloops Friday evening and wondered if she would come along and take photographs.

Jo told me and we joined the two Fire Spinners and photographer Jennifer Tyler just before sunset along the north shore of the Thompson River across from down town Kamloops.

Oh, and with regards to our current need for “social distancing”. There was no necessity for any warning signs or circles on the ground to remind Jo and I to keep our distance, the spinning hot flaming batons were enough of a warning.

Jo chose to use her 24-70mm lens and I had my 16-35mm. I was happy with the close wide-angle shots I was getting, but Jo told me she wished she had brought her 70-200mm lens so she could crop in tight without having to move in close to our subjects. I had to agree that the longer lens would have made for easier shooting. (And less cropping later)

We both started by slowing our camera’s shutterspeed way down. That gave us good shots of the fire movement, but the person holding the flame came out blurry. We then added flash on a few shots, tried increasing our ISO and had fun experimenting every way we could. I haven’t seen Jo’s photos, but my experience was a bit hit-and-miss.

I want to try again with an off-camera flash. There is a well-known picture of a Hawaiian Fire Dancer on the cover the book, “The Hot Shoe Diaries” by photographer and writer Jo McNally. The image shows flame spinning and a relatively sharp dancer with a black underexposed background. McNally says he used his Nikon Speedlight off-camera and positioned it close to the subject.

I originally hadn’t planned on going with Jo and quickly grabbed a speedlight from my shop at the last minute and only tried it on-camera. (Obviously the wrong place to put the flash almost anytime)

I also now know that I should have used a faster shutterspeed. My slow shutter time would work great for night cityscape photos where there is no subject movement other than the ocean, but the setting was to slow for the constant moving women doing the fire spinning. And I now know I need not have worried about depth-of-field. McNally chose wider apertures for all his low light shots of the Fire Dancers with excellent success.

I have done some reading and critical thinking about my photos and I am sure I will be able to correct the mistakes I made.

I’m not totally disappointed with the photographs I took of the two Fire Spinners, Jessika and Kristen, and there are some very usable shots that with a bit of modifying in post will surely be worth showing to others. I have no doubt the Fire Spinners will like some of the photos I took, but I can do better. I hope I can get an opportunity to photograph them again.

One of the (many) things that has kept me interested in photography for all these years is there is always something else to learn.

Photography along the waterfront on a warm summer evening.

Last week I wrote about my photo walk along Vancouver’s streets and I ended by saying that after taking a refreshment break in the afternoon I photographed buildings across the water until I got a text from my friend Jo.

That didn’t end my day of photography.

I picked up Jo and after stopping at a market for some snacks we picnicked on the grass in a small park, then spent some time in a fun store called Rocking Cowboy Clothing. To quote their sign,“Boots, Belts, Brims, New, Used, Vintage.” However, for a photographers enjoyment there were many large B&W photographs of past western movie stars. I wandered looking at the exceptional quality of the large prints that I expect were shot with 8×10 format cameras.

We were waiting for the sun to go down so we could spend the evening photographing things along the waterfront. Its fun to visually play with reflections and the pools of light on the walkway and with long exposures people walking in front of our cameras made no difference at all. Their movement made them invisible.

I’d choose and area to focus on and release the shutter. Then wait and watch not only my subject, but also the response some people had. People sometimes would even apologize. Some would duck and quickly walk to the side. Two guys stopped to tell me how neat it is to photograph from that location in the early morning and pointed to where they shot from. There was an older fellow who noticed us and walked past very slowly, then turned around and walked even slower back the way he had come. I am not sure what he expected. I’m sure he thought he would be in my photograph, but alas he was just an indescribable soft blur.

Just before the sun went down completely I made a few exposures with my infrared camera, then when it got dark I changed cameras to capture the lights normally. Hmmm…”normally” I’m not sure that is the right word.

The night on the waterfront was cool in contrast to the hot day as Jo and I bumped our tripods up and down stairs along the concrete walled walkway, and in the brightly coloured area in front of the 2010 Olympics Caldron.

I am not sure how long we were there. We were absorbed trying to get as creative as possible with the lights.

On this evening I was using a filter with a slight purple cast that would somewhat correct the warm building lights. A tripod is a necessity for sure and a cable release for exposures longer than thirty seconds.

There is the opinion that night photography requires us to be more methodical than shooting in daylight and it is a must to bracket.  I wont argue with that, but personally I have too much fun to be that serious. After I reach the location and select my subject I look for mid-tones where details begin to disappear and meter the brightest lights. Then choose an exposure in between that I think will give me the effect I want and press the shutter, if it is to light or to dark I choose another and do it all again.

Sometimes I choose Manual mode and sometimes Aperture priority. My way might seem a bit hit and miss, but after a couple exposures I usually have it and can creatively adjust as I continue on. It’s much the same whether one is photographing a waterfall or lights along the ocean.

Long exposure photography is enjoyable and if you haven’t tried it be sure to. (We all have the extra time now)

Stay safe and be creative.

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.