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.

 

 

 

Social distancing           

 

I looked up some definitions. Distance is, “interval, space, span, gap, length, width, breadth, depth; range, reach, remoteness, closeness.” And Social is, “community, collective, group, general, popular, civil, public.”

Ok, I am fine with those definitions.   Most Governments are demanding that we practice “Social Distancing”.   So when my friend Jo and I were exchanging texts about some close to home areas we wanted to photograph now that the weather is changing we had no problem figuring out how we could both stay safe and do photography together while still abiding by the current rules.

We would each drive our own car. So for the past two days we have enjoyed going out to the same nearby locations at the same time. Gosh, other than being in different vehicles not much has changed.

Stop the car because the is something good to photograph, ignoring everything but the subject, jump out of the car camera in hand, rush to a good personal vantage point and excitedly talk loud. Everything is the same as usual. Landscape photography is not a shoulder-to-shoulder activity and keeping to the “six-foot-distance” rule isn’t even a conscious action. Its what we usually do.

We slowly drove down the dusty rural road. Our first stop was to photograph a church built in the 1800’s. Then in just a short distance we walked through a large culvert that passed under the highway to the river. I used my flash to photograph Jo at the other end of the underpass, and then went down to the river.

This is a good time to wander with a camera along the river. The spring runoff hasn’t started yet so there are lots of photo opportunities because the river is so low.

Jo brought two cameras. One with a 70-200mm attached and the other was the old infrared converted Nikon D100 I am no longer using. She had a 14-24mm on that.

Until the frozen pond thaws so I can again attempt to photograph the ever-illusive geese nesting there I have been using the infrared converted camera I got to replace that old D100. On my new camera I had a 20-40mm lens. I like using a wide-angle lens when I shoot infrared. I have tried longer focal lengths, but the exaggeration I can get with a wide-angle lens compliments the creative look of infrared.

The first day of spring has passed. Where I live there still is snow in the shade, but where the sunshine’s the plants are really starting to bud.

When the trees on the mountain-side start to grow leaves they will show up as a stronger yellow in my colour infrared images and whiter in the B&W infrared images. However, it is the growing garden right out my front door that will get my photographic attention. Soon I’ll be out with a black backdrop and an off-camera flash setting up with a macro lens on my camera to get creative with the first spring blooms.

I sometimes wonder at my continuing excitement with photography after all these years. It has been, as my friend Jo says, “A long story”.

Here is a quote I found by Peruvian photographer Mario Testino,

“My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. If you are curious, you create opportunities, and if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”

 

Bored during this time of self-isolation? Not a chance.  

I followed the other stores and eateries in my area and closed my shop last week.

This Covid-19 has us all worried about getting close to other people and I wasn’t seeing any customers anyway. Adding to that both the provincial and national government health officials are telling us, especially those my age, to stay home.

So I have stayed home almost two weeks. I don’t mind being alone that much, and anyway my close friend and photo-partner has come up a couple times. Jo walks around my house to my back deck (She and her family have been staying home too.) and with our chairs distanced a bit over 6 feet we sit bundled up from the cold and share a bottle of red wine and talk about anything and everything.

I sat watching the TV this morning and there were lots of discussions about how the forced isolation would make everyone bored and lonely and there were also all sorts of advice and even advertising for things to do. I’ll say that I am not lonely or bored, and the only thing that I find boring is people telling me I should be.

I finished my coffee and went outside to look at the clear blue sky. There is still snow covering most of my frozen yard, but I didn’t think I’d need to worry about more snow and put my snow blower away.  Then I walked out to my car with my camera in my hand thinking about how it is for those of us with hobbies like photography. Oh, and “social distancing” wasn’t even on my mind as I drove down to the river to take some pictures.

I am sure most readers have discovered the easy joy of just walking around with their cameras with no purpose other than photographing anything that looks interesting.

I began with my little Nikon V1. Then as I waited for my car to warm up after the freezing -11 degree night I changed my mind and got my Nikon D7000 Infrared camera instead.

The blue morning sky would be perfect. And anyway, I thought it would be fun to manipulate the odd coloured images on my computer.

I walked around the yard-photographing things with the sun at my back. That angle of light makes for a stronger IR effect. I took some pictures of my house, wandered out on the street to take some pictures of the valley below and walked to the end of the road photographing anything that I thought might work as IR subjects. Then I got in my car and drove down to the river.

I could see a person walking their dog in the distance and there was a couple sitting in their car enjoying the view. I roamed the riverfront quite alone happily taking pictures till I got cold from the breeze blowing off the river.

I think most hobbies are time consuming and will easily ward off boredom and loneliness.

Photography… Well photography to me anyway, captures my mind and makes me think about the subjects I am photographing and the environment I am in at that moment.  Just the act of finding and photographing something is a mental reward in itself. And whether one plays with their images on the computer like I do, stores them on their computer, or posts the pictures on something like Facebook for others to enjoy, photography is the perfect stimulant for those of us hiding out from this pandemic.