Sometimes a good photo strikes the imagination.

Sometime in early 1968 I was moving a bunkhouse bed that belonged to another soldier who had served his required time in the Army and left for home.

Under the mattress was a book I had never seen before called “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. About four years later after I too had left that bothersome military chore me and many other young men were forced into, I was wandering through a huge used book sale and came across three books tied together; “The lord of the Rings”. I was so excited with that find that I hid myself away and in a non-stop session read them all. (I will say that my girl friend at the time was not at all understanding with my three-day disappearance)

Like any good story “The Hobbit” often comes to mind when I am in some creative outdoor setting.

This past weekend I joined my friend Jo McAvany and four costumed friends at a cold waterfall surrounded by ice and snow. My main job was to move the large wireless flash around, but I was able the get some photographs of our subjects when they were not posing for the planned portraits. I wasn’t especially trying for anything in particular, mostly just some outtakes that included Jo directing and photographing people.

Most of my photos were not shot with that flash. I was using a 70-200mm and a 24-70mm. I would set the light up for the person Jo was photographing and either wait for someone to randomly look at me or quickly choose a place where I could get a good shot.

I wasn’t expecting much, just some usable individual photos that were different than Jo’s that she could add to those she was giving to her friends.

“My imagination take over”

When I loaded my photos on my computer and selected those I would edit to pass on to Jo I began to see characters that could fit in Tolkien’s wonderful tale. In my imagination I saw water sprites, fairy queens, elves, and wandering heroes. Gosh, there was even the mysterious Tom Bobadil standing in the white snow in front of raging falls with soft green backgrounds and foreboding rock walls.

I didn’t see any of that when I was trudging through the snow and cautiously testing my footing on the slippery ice beside the turbulent icy water when I was photographing our models. Nevertheless, there the story of the Hobbit was as I looked at the images on my computer display. All I had to do was employ some creative and subtle editing to bring the story to life.

Philosopher, writer and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close-up photos in the last snow of February

I was darned happy when I got up and looked outside on the last morning in February. 

There was two inches of snow covering my yard and the temperature was just touching the freezing mark.  Oh, and it was Sunday and I had nothing that I was supposed to do but enjoy February 28th.

The morning had a slight overcast and there was a faint breeze. I thought the breeze might be bothersome, but the overcast was the ideal condition for photographing my garden. I mounted my large wireless flash on a sturdy light stand. That flash would give me control over subject brightness and direction of the light and allow me do reduce background light. Additionally, the flash stopped the movement caused by that slight breeze. 

I rarely walk out in my garden with a plan. I just wander and photograph whatever catches my attention. On this day the snow clinging to plants and rocks and other objects that reside in my garden created the perfect subjects.

I’ll mention that my sprawling garden isn’t just a place where plants grow. My garden is also a place that contains things I have found. Plants climb over old chairs, stepladders, wooden wheels, pieces of fence, old doors and windows, and many other discarded objects that I think might be fun to photograph along with the plants.

Regular readers know that I employ a flash whenever I can.  Using a flash means I choose the direction of the light that touches my subject. And as I just mentioned, a flash allows me to determine the brightness of the subject and the environment it’s in. 

Natural light is so restricting and if I didn’t have a flash I wouldn’t have bothered trying to be creative on that breezy, flat, overcast morning.  However, all I had to do was choose my subject, underexpose by two or more stops, position the flash so the direction of the light is where I want it and push the shutter.  (If my subject is to bright or the direction of light isn’t good I move the flash and try it again.) I usually test more than one aperture depending on the background and what depth of-field works best.  Lenses that are designed for close-up photography usually produce a pleasing bokeh and don’t always need the widest aperture.

For those that don’t know what “Bokeh” means, Wikipedia’s definition is. “Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image

For me, there really aren’t any rules for close-up garden subjects other than keep the camera steady and the center of interest sharp. And regarding the photos we can find in a snowy End-of-February (or March) garden I’ll finish this with a quote by the English novelist William Thackeray, 

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

.

A good hobby for this lonely and frustrating

Gosh, the provincial government is asking us to restrict our movements and converging with people we know. I am not complaining, not at all…I’m sure we will look back on this frustrating time and know that everything has been for the best, but gosh.

Today the sun came out and I decided it was a good time to go out for a few photos. I have been wandering around my yard trying to get creative everyday in spite of the cold overcast, flat lighting. However, my success rate has been going down.  I suppose I’m getting tired of photographing in the same dim flat light.  I have been waiting for a weather change, any change. Rain, snow, fog or as today, some sun poking through the clouds.

I grabbed my camera with a plan to stroll down the street to photograph things poking through the snow, but when I got as far as my gate then realized my choice of camera and macro lens was wrong.  I ran back in and got my infrared camera with a 20-40mm.

I could see the light at the end of the road was illuminating the trees and thought this would be a good time to (again) photograph that old car the neighbours moved down by their driveway. 
I was glad I had decided to use my IR camera. I have photographed that car many times and after my drab week I needed the creative push that Infrared and the 20-40mm lens gave me.  I don’t know those neighbours and always stay outside their fence, but I can still get creative with different lenses without trespassing.

The light started to change so I walked back home, got my 70-200mm in case I saw any wildlife, stuck a CD titled, “Big Band Christmas” in the car player and drove up the road following the light.

The only wildlife I saw were cows in a field and a dog that barked at me to keep moving as I slowly drove past his property.  I don’t have a dog anymore, but if someone walks on my property two geese and seven ducks will loudly, very loudly, give them their opinion.

I was able to get some great shots of field with hills and clouds in the distance and I stopped many times to just shoot down the tree lined road.

I keep saying that photography is one of the best hobbies one could have in this precarious time.  And for someone that is alone the creative hunt for pleasing photographs absolutely wards off the depression that I understand some people are experiencing.

I’ll finish this with a quote from a documentary photographer I read about. Alec Sloth is known for his photography of small midwestern rural communities.  

“Photography is a very lonely medium. There’s a kind of beautiful loneliness in voyeurism. And that’s why I’m a photographer”

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.

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.