Photographing in the garden on a stormy day                                   

 

During my many years enjoying the exciting medium of photography I have photographed all most anything that happened to be in front of my camera.

I haven’t bothered with restrictions or claimed specialties. Sure, I have worked for all kind of clients, and most of the images I produced included people. That was how I put bread on our table for years. But when it came to my personal photography I always have been, and still am, an opportunist.

The process of creating an image on a roll of film or capturing data on my camera’s sensor excites me. Thinking the picture through, capturing a feeling and making technical decisions stimulates and excites me. However, I will admit all that also drains me. Photography has never been relaxing.

When I go out to photograph something it’s hard for me to think about anything else. Back when I when I spent almost every weekend photographing weddings my wife learned to just leave me alone. Nevertheless, over the past 40 plus years I did find a way to relax. No, not getting drunk.

No matter how wired I am or how mad something (or someone) has made me, if I pick up my camera and wander my wife’s garden the tension drifts away. I suppose any garden or quiet wooded area would work as well.

My wife could find enjoyment walking, smelling and looking at her flowers, but I don’t really care about the flowers unless I am pointing my camera at them. Where the colours would have mesmerized her, I would be thinking about how some plant’s tonality would look as a black and white photograph.

This week the storm clouds have been coming at me from all directions, not just the sky. Some photographers might chose to search out large birds that frequent the river or lakeside, while others would select the nearest sporting event to work out frustrations. I have friends that seek out the camaraderie of others and spend time in their studio creating masterful portraits. But for me a solitary walk, searching out shapes in a garden always lifts my mood or at least helps me cope with the storm clouds in my head.

Wednesday was as stormy as my mood and the clouds were darkening the landscape. There was a time when low light was bothersome for photographers, but with the technological marvels we now hang around our necks, low light is no problem at all. I just selected ISO 800, (I could easily have gone to ISO1600 or higher) and kept my shutterspeed at 1/250th to reduce camera shake and started taking pictures.

As readers know I prefer to use a flash to balance the overall exposure. In this case I mounted a ring flash on my wife’s 70-180 macro lens. I usually like to use a tripod, but I needed to walk and besides I was pretty sure I was going to get wet.

On flat overcast days it isn’t the colours that attract me, it’s shapes, interesting locations and the position of the plants. I spent a lot of time lying on the ground shooting at plant level.

The nice thing about using a flash is one can easily brighten or darken the background by either slowing down or speeding up the shutterspeed. And when the background has fewer details I stop down my aperture to disguise elements by under exposing them.

An afternoon garden is quiet, the plants are just there waiting and unlike locations with people one doesn’t have to engage in conversation.   How does it work for me? I like this quote by American photographer Annie Leibovitz, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

 

Used Cameras                

 

Spring is here again and with the colours of the first plants poking up from the ground comes the annual speculation of what camera manufacturers are going to do in 2017.

The forums are also speculating with members guessing what Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Pentax will offer this year. Yes, it is so intoxicating for anyone that has money to spend in his or her pockets.

With the digital camera revolution came a new kind of photo enthusiast that seems to be as excited about changing their camera model as they are about photography.

The good thing for those consumers is that by summer time the prices on new cameras will start to drop. The bad thing for those that decide to sell off the cameras they have been using for the last year or two is they will join thousands of others doing the same thing and the price of their 2015 and older cameras will be much less than they were new.

As manufacturers compete and put sales on 2017 models, 2015 models will take a sharp drop, and the photographer wanting to sell his or her 2013 or 2012 camera will loose even more. And like a stone rolling down a steep hill those that have held on to cameras that have reached five years (considered old in this digital world) are having a hard time selling.

However, for those that just want a newer model than what they have been using, spring camera prices are as welcome as the green grass on the hills and the fields of flowers I see along the roadways on my drive to town.

Now it is the time for those of us that don’t mind a two-year old model that comes without a warranty. Sure, there might be some scratches on the bottom where the tripod is attached, but as long as the memory card door isn’t broken, and the rubber isn’t pealing off, it’ll be just fine.

Buying used is a great way to participate in the yearly new camera frenzy. One might be a couple years behind, but the money saved can be put towards that used dream lens.

Cameras aren’t like cars. Used cars might hide worn out parts, but that’s hard to do with a camera. My quick advice is to bring a memory card when testing that “new” camera. Take some pictures inside with a high ISO and then some outside with a low ISO.

One should always take the time to do some research before purchasing. I remember spending months reading magazines when I wanted to buy my camera back in the 1970s. But now I can find out everything I need to know about any camera in 10 minutes by searching online.

Read the reviews and join some forum and just ask the question. “I am buying X-00 camera what do you think?” It’s as easy as that to have a good understanding of what used camera to buy and which ones to avoid.

And lastly another reason to buy used is instead of loosing hundreds of dollars when selling the loss (and there is always a loss), the loss on that used camera won’t be as painful because it was purchased for a lot less than it would have cost new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roadside Photography in February   

   

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February is finally done. Gosh, that month always seems so darn long. Yes, I know it is the shortest month in actual days, but it hasn’t seemed that way for me. This past February was a bleak, grey, and lifeless time that one must endure. And try as I did during the past few weeks since my Kelowna beach walk, I just couldn’t garner the energy to wander the frozen landscape with my camera. However, when the sun finally made an unusual appearance on the last day of the month it didn’t take much coaxing to get me out.

All my wife had to say was, “Its nice out, let’s take a drive.” That sounded good to me. It’s always relaxing to take a drive around our rural neighbourhood. There still is a few feet of snow covering everything but the roads were clear.

I selected my 70-200mm lens. When I use one of my wide-angle lenses I am looking over the landscape, with a telephoto I get to look into it.

Mid-week is a perfect time to drive around, we had the roads to ourselves and I could drive slowly, stop to look around, or back up and get out just about any location to take a picture.

If it were just me, I would have headed down to the river. I like prowling the riverbank, but as we got into the car my wife said, “I don’t want to go down to the river.” I guess she didn’t want me taking chances tromping on the not-so-stable ice along the edge of the river.

My term for drive-around kind of picture taking is, “roadside photography”. The good thing about driving and looking for things to photograph is you cover a lot of distance and see a lot of stuff. The bad thing about driving around is once you are in motion it’s hard to stop. I am sure that without my wife reminding me, and at times, demanding I stop I’d just motor by many good subjects.

I don’t like to shoot from inside my car. A quick search on the Internet will bring up article after article explaining how easy it for those that don’t want to get out of their car to take pictures.

I can’t get comfortable. Everything is in the way and it’s hard to turn around with a steering wheel restricting my movements.

I prefer to stop, get out, close the car door, get my camera off the back seat, close that door, look at my subject for a while, and think about how I want to take the picture (remember “Previsualization” from my last article) then release the shutter.

Nevertheless, I expect I will be a roadside photographer for years to come. And I’ll keep getting in and out of my car and depending on my wife, Linda, to keep reminding me to stop.

I think sitting in the back seat would be a better and roomier place to take pictures from. My long-range plan is to have my granddaughters to drive me around. I mentioned this to the oldest at her last birthday, but I’ll have to wait a while because she’s only ten and can’t reach the pedals yet.

Photography lessons with Black And White Film 

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I have recently been talking with many photographers that are very interested in the process of black and white film photography. Most had their introduction to photography in high school using film and although they moved forward to iPhones and digital cameras, they were pulled back to film by memories of the unique “hands-on” experience they had with film.

With all that interest I thought I would revisit an article I wrote in June 2014,  “What I Learned About Photography by Shooting with Black /White Film”.

I began using black and white film because it was cheap and it’s what we used in my first college photography class. After I began to understand the medium as being creative instead of just a way to records things, I grew to like B&W and for years refused to shoot with anything else.

With film, once the camera’s shutter was released what one got was, well, what one got was-what-one-got. There were no second chances as enjoyed today. Photographers were left with only a memory of that moment until the film was printed.

We used a term called “Previsualization”. Previsualization is attributed to photographer and educator Minor White. While studying their subject a photographer predetermines how the final image would be processed and printed. Ansel Adam referred to that as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.

There was also the Zone System. American photographers Fred Archer and Ansel Adams collaborated on the technique for determining optimal film exposure and development for a method to precisely define the relationship between the way one visualized the subject and the final results.

Those techniques helped us determine how the final print could look. Colour film had to be printed in an almost lightless room, whereas labs for printing B&W were quite bright allowing us to see the image and control an image as it was printed.

With B&W film I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I could alter the exposure rating, as with the Zone system, and depending on which chemicals I planned on using, how I would develop the film. I would select different papers and chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print.

Shooting with black and white film taught me to think about tonal shifts from black, to mid grey, and finally, to white with detail. Managing the process of developing and printing taught me that the camera and film (now the sensor) are just the starting point to making a photograph match my personal vision, and my personal vision is much more important than the camera’s.

A B&W photograph is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers are overwhelmed by colour, rarely seeing anything of importance in a scene other than the colours.

Because black and white images don’t attract with a play of colours, they seem subtle and demand close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context the image is shot in as important factors.

 

The Excitement Of A New Camera   

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I could tell that the camera a customer had just purchased was going to inspire him in new and exciting ways. He held the camera up to his eye and talked fast about what he was going to photograph on his next day off. As I watched and listened to his excitement with that used DSLR I contemplated how photographers like to make additions and changes to their equipment inventories. There are different needs for different types of photography, and personal growth within the medium changes the kinds and types of cameras and accessories needed.

I really like to be around other photographers. I recall when I first started seriously making pictures in the early 1970s that my friends and I did lots of backpacking in the rolling hills of southern California, but my fellow backpacker’s adventure goals were different than mine. While they would begin the journey with the goal of reaching a particular the location, I was more interested in what I could photograph along the way. Much of the time I lingered behind somewhere on the trail and wandered into camp near dark, and in the mornings while they were enjoying breakfast over the campfire I was off in the search for some intriguing photo.

I doubt that artists using mediums other than photography get as excited about equipment as photographers do. Photography has been a succession of inventions and technological advancements. The first practitioners like Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 using surfaces like pewter for one-of-a-kind positive photographs and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and his announcement of the Daguerreotype in 1896 were making continual advancements in photography similar to what is occurring today. Those advancements were exciting for would be photographers of that time much as advancing technology excites those of us serious about photography today.

Keeping up with the changing technology of photography has always been a struggle, and also expensive, as photographers change camera equipment completely or upgrade their systems to get the maximum benefit and enjoyment in the medium. I know there are those that will say, ”Just learn to use the camera you have. It’s the photographer, not the camera.”

That is certainly right, however, the thrill of learning to operate and use a new camera is, (can I use the word?) cathartic.

I can remember in 1972 being just as excited with my new Pentax Spotmatic II as that customer was with the camera he just purchased. It came with a 50mm lens that I quickly discarded for a versatile 70-210mm Vivitar zoom. Gosh, I felt fortunate to be getting such an advanced camera and lens. In 1970s it was all about the increasing availability of quality lenses and cameras with built-in light meters.

There are many used DSLR cameras that would work just fine for the kind of photography this person would be doing. In the used camera market it always comes down to condition and price, and of course, the brand that suits the buyer. He looked until he found one at a bargain that met his criteria.

Now that he has his new camera, I suggested he join the local photographers Facebook page and I look forward to the pictures he posts, and of course, watching his growth in as a photographer.

Photography on a Winter Beach    

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February found Linda and I spending a couple weeks in the lakeside town of Kelowna. Linda had 10 days of appointments so we decided rather than commute for four hours a day (it’s two hours each way) we would take accommodation.

Kelowna in the summer is packed. Parking is always at a premium, the cost of lodging anywhere near the beach is prohibitive and the traffic is, well the traffic is what one would expect in a city filled with vacationers. However, the days and nights in February are below freezing, and that pretty much reduces the beach crowd.

Linda’s appointments vary through out the week, but Tuesday’s was early so after a big lunch when she decided to relax with a couple magazines, I took the opportunity to grab my camera and headed to the beach.

I know that beach area pretty well. I have never seen a parking space during the summer, and any photographer wanting to capture photos of the beach, the lake, or distant mountains has to be content with lots of people included in their photographs.

My thought was to build a series of images that discussed the cold, empty winter lakeside. And I decided no matter what I saw I would limit myself to only photographs of the waterfront.

That meant to ignore the extravagant architecture of the beachfront homes, expensive cars and, of course, people. However, I was tempted to get shots of a guy eating a cup of ice cream while walking with his dog, and later on, two women slurping milk shakes while walking along on the breezy minus 6 Celsius day. There’s something to be said about Canadians.

I even declined when two tattered guys came up to me and suggested they would make good photo subjects. One fellow was waving a broken golf club handle and I stepped back saying, “I am not doing people today”. We all laughed and they ambled on leaving me alone on the beach.

The winter beach is interesting. Shoeprints in the sand instead of bare feet, the hordes of sun worshippers and swimmers are absent and the lake that’s usually a waterscape of boats has only ducks and geese this time of year.

I walked for two hours along the waterfront before deciding to turn back. And when I found a deserted bench I just sat enjoying the solitude. There is something about wandering alone along a big lake that is bordered by a large active city. I guess there is some isolation, but the noise never stops. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent opportunity to creatively point a camera without any interference.

Modern TTL Flash    

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Attaching a flash to one’s camera has been, and still is, a hot topic of discussion that was going on long before I got serious about photography in the 1970’s.

I remember being confused, well actually, really confused, and read everything I could find trying to understand how a flash attached to my camera’s hotshoe worked, and how adding light from a flash (on and off camera) could be used to enhance my photography.

Early flashes produced a constant amount of light no matter how close the subject was, and over or under exposures were common. The most frequent way of controlling flash power was to use exotic technology like a white handkerchief, a translucent soap holder, or attaching a white bounce card to the flash.

Later technological development included light measuring sensors in the flash that read the light reflected back from the subject and shut off the flash when a predetermined amount was reached.

Then TTL (through-the-lens) flash came along and small computers in the camera controlled the flash. The reflected light was read by the camera, making the lens focal length, the aperture, and the distance all part of the exposure equation.

Today’s hotshoe connected flash is nothing short of amazing, and there is absolute control over the flash.

Subtracting light intended for the subject no longer needs some translucent material placed over the flash head.

Using devices like white cups, and bounce cards with a TTL flash have become all about softening or diffusing the light instead of only reducing it.

The latest flashes easily control power output, and can be comfortably used with wireless off-camera technology. Alternatively, the flash can also be connected by a dedicated cord and still remain off-camera allowing the photographer to point the flash toward the subject at flattering angles without time consuming calculations.

A photographer can, while shooting, easily select the exposure in camera, or dial the flash power output up or down. It is now so simple to reduce or increase the ambient exposure while maintaining or brightening the subject alone for more natural looking photographs than it was with early flash photography.

When I began using a flash many years ago it changed the quality of my photography. It became just like the image change I gained by using different focal length lenses.

I no longer had to rely on ambient light and I began to notice my subjects had more “pop” than those without the flash and I was pleased at being able to fill unflattering shadows coming from overhead lighting and reduce deep shadows caused by sunlight.

The modern speedlight (hotshoe) flash gives a photographer control over the quality of light and using a flash (or several flash units off-camera) when photographing people is more than just brightening up subjects in a darkened room.