An outdoor studio for photography     

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago Jo stopped by to tell me she and 8 friends wanted to do a “Disney Princess” shoot. She came up with that creative idea and posted a call for women that wanted to do modern interpretations of those cartoon characters from the Disney movies.

Her question to me was, “can I do this out-of-doors and still create flattering studio kind of light portraits?”

Absolutely! was my reply. Sure one could go through the expense and trouble of renting a studio, but it’s pretty easy to duplicate the indoor studio type lighting out-of-doors.

Gosh, the movie people have been doing it for years. I jumped at the chance to show Jo how easily it is.

We hadn’t had rain for almost a month so I decided to create an outdoor studio in the meadow on the south side of my home. The “princesses” would be showing up just after noon so I chose a location to set up the backdrop that had shade from several tall fir trees. I also planned to put up a canvas gazebo with a table for the makeup artist to work.

“The best laid plans”.

Actually, those aren’t the words I used as I looked out my bedroom window at the rain the morning of the event. The local weather reporter had suggested there might be some spotty rain in our area, but the pounding deluge outside my window wasn’t what I expected.

However, because of the possibility of rain Jo and I had set up one of my backdrops under my canvas carport the night before.

I got a “good morning I’ll be right over” text from Jo as I sloshed out to set up the lights under the carport. The rain was a hindrance that dampened the yard (and I am sure the spirits of the soon to be princesses) but “Light is Light” and all I had to do was balance my off camera lighting.

The larger backdrop we had set up was for blocking the wind, rain and what limited daylight there was. We then erected a black paper background and I used two lights mounted on stands with umbrellas to model our subjects.

I am sure there are those that would have just upped their camera’s ISO and hoped for the best on that dismal flat day. But I like the modeling, depth and control over a subject’s features a flash adds. Heck, we might as well have been in a dimly lighted room. The ambient light was that good for adding flash.

When Jo’s subjects arrived they turned my house into a makeup and change room. There were costumes and clothing everywhere. I just stayed out of everyone’s way and concerned myself with the outdoor studio except for an occasional quick trip to my kitchen for another coffee.

The rain lightened a bit, but never really stopped all that much. Nevertheless, those excited Princesses were all about creating a modern day reality or personal version of the Disney character they were supposed to be. There was a lot of laughter and running back and forth along the bushy wet path from the carport to the house.

American photographer and author of the Strobist.com blog, David Hobby said,  “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist.”

He continues to say, ” What I hear is, I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it.”

I will add that I have, personally, always felt that photography is a series of problems to be solved, and rain or shine it’s really the goal of flattering portraiture.

I think that many people viewing the pictures Jo took outside on that rainy day will, unless told, think that the portraits were made inside a well-equipped indoor studio. I guess it doesn’t really matter where they posted for their Disney Princess portraits, only that they are good.

In all the commotion I forgot to begin the day with the words of legendary 1920s filmmaker, D.W. Griffith as Jo pointed her camera on that rainy day, “Lights camera action”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for an eagle to photograph, but I guess any bird will do.   

 

Last week a Canon 300mm lens was brought into my shop by an owner had decided to downsize her equipment. By “downsize” I mean that she was changing from her big DSLR to a much smaller and lighter mirrorless camera.

I thought I’d entice buyers by showing photographs of birds using that neat telephoto lens with a 1.4 Canon telextender that I also had to sell.

Everyone likes eagles, and I had noticed a few clinging to trees along the river on my drive home. I was sure a couple shots of eagles in the dismal valley smoke would be proof as to the quality of that 300mm.

I don’t have a Canon DSLR so I called my friend Jo McAvany and suggested that I’d drive along the river as she looked for eagles. I could pull over for her to use the 300mm and the 1.4 telex on he cropped frame DSLR. That meant she could shoot from the open window with what would effectively be around a 550mm lens.

Jo showed up at my house around 9AM as I was having my morning coffee. (Jo is one of those strange people that don’t eat breakfast or drink coffee…Ya, I know)

Anyway, as we were going to my car, Jo called to me to wait. I could see her sneaking slowly through my bushy garden.

She had spotted five or six grouse sitting on her truck. They must have been drawn to the warm metal on the cool morning. I heard her say, “I wish I had my wide angle so I could get them all in”.

The first shot of the day was not an exotic eagle, but I think that a couple grouse standing on the top of he truck’s cab is pretty darned good.

Talking and laughing about the silly grouse, we drove along the winding country road that leads down to the river from my home. I slowed down when I saw a hawk taking off from a fence post beside an open field.

That hawk is always hanging around there. It must watch for mice feeding where the cows dig up the pasture. I have never been able to get a shot of it, but I slowed and Jo got out to photograph it landing on a treetop across the field.

No eagles yet.

We drove down into the gloomy smoke settled motionless in the river valley and then as slowly along the highway as the big transport trucks speeding along would let us.

One eagle. Yep, we only saw one blasted eagle on a distant tree. I pulled over onto a train crossing and ignored the “No Trespassing” sign to get close enough for Jo to get a shot. Just as she got out to position herself the big bird took off, I yelled, “shoot” and she did. One out of the three was perfect! I think that’s a good ratio. We left and continued down the highway with out seeing another eagle.

Disappointed, we turned to take the back road to my place hoping to see a few ducks at the pond I had tried unsuccessfully all spring to get photos of geese at.

The reeds along the edge blocked most of the shots. But Jo was determined, and ran across the road to photograph ten or so ducks resting on a log. By the time she got a shot there were only three left.

Well no eagles, and no more birds waiting to be photographed. We did stop for a photograph of a deer. Big deal, there are hundreds of those.

We got back to my house and as I brewed myself another cup of coffee, my never-say-die friend went out to take pictures of my chickens. Chickens.

We didn’t prove that lenses’ quality with pictures of eagles. Well one. Nevertheless, Jo got some neat bird photographs, and we had fun.

Making up a reason, like testing a lens, is a pretty good excuse to get out with your camera if you actually need one. However, I think what it is really about is being enthusiastic about photography and, of course, stimulated and excited by just about anything one points their camera at.

Anacortes Shipwreck Festival 2018   

On July 20th I made another six-hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard, British Columbia to the town of Anacortes at the tip of Fidalgo Island nestled in the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands to their annual Shipwreck Festival. It’s certainly one of my favourite places and events of the year.

Again, as last year, long time friends Dave and Cynthia Monsees came along, and I was also very pleased that my photography partner Jo McAvany had decided to come along this year.

We arrived early enough so I could give Jo a quick tour of some of the places we would be photographing on Sunday, then drove down the main street of town to meet up with the hard working Fidalgo Island Rotary Club volunteers.

The Fidalgo Island Rotary Club organizes the Shipwreck Festival and again this year I volunteered to get a few pictures of them as they marked street locations for the next day’s vendors and also to take this year’s group photograph.

I’ll repeat what I wrote last year and say that over the many years I have been attending that popular festival in Washington State I have never heard or met with a sour word from anyone in the town. The people one encounters are always warm and generous and after a short time I always get the feeling they are old friends. Although I’m an out of town stranger, and a Canadian to boot, I immediately felt that way as I joined that group decked in their Rotary Volunteer vests.

I can’t remember what year I first started attending the annual Anacortes Shipwreck Festival, but it was some time in the mid-1990s I think, and although I have missed a few over the years, I am determined to make at least the next dozen plus. (Or at least till the Provincial Driver Licence Authority decide I am too old to be in charge of a vehicle)

After I photographed the festival committee, Jo and I set off for a picnic and pictures at the beach. After a quick stop at a close by grocery store and a short drive to Washington Park we spent the evening photographing everything, and of course each other, as we waited for the sun to sink into the ocean.

The next day was not only an exciting wander through the nine-block flee market on the main street of town, it was an excellent opportunity for us to try some “street photography” on the people packed avenue.

Whew, what a day. We saw, we touched, we photographed, and we talked to people from 9AM to 3PM. Then we stepped into a popular Commercial Avenue Alehouse called the Brown Lantern for a late lunch and I gladly got to rest my tired legs. I am sure Jo will recommend the crab and corn chowder and I agree that both my food and the two beers I drank were the refuelling I needed.

Then we were off for another quick look around and a few more pictures of the crowed street of happy bargain hunters.

Leaving the street festival we drove up to the high overlook at Cap Santé Park that offers a command view of the marina and city. We climbed over the large, smooth, flat rocks and photographed the city, ocean islands, and the many bright red Arbutus trees.

The next morning and for the rest of the day we drove around the island photographing many of the places I have visited in past years. The island location may be the same, but the image one creates in a different time is always a new creation.

I enjoy photographing just about anything. The Anacortes Shipwreck festival is always a good excuse to get me to the cool damp Pacific coast and away from what usually is a hot and dry July where I live in British Columbia.

Another Anacortes Shipwreck festival photography excursion has passed. We had fun and got creative and made lots of photographs. Now we are left with the memories and the photographs until next year. However, I am planning another trip in the fall, so the memories only have to last about three months because I’ll be back on the island and in Anacortes to make a few more.

 

First spring visit to photograph Chase Falls  

I have been keeping close to home with my last few posts.

With that in mind I decided a quick fifteen-minute highway drive to a waterfall that feeds a creek running through the small town of Chase would still fill that objective.

I try to visit that local falls for a few pictures every season and this past week was the first time I ventured there since I trudged to those falls through the deep snows last February.

On that excursion to the falls the deep snowy path was untouched except for small footprints made by some lonely racoon. This time there had been lots of people evidenced by discarded hamburger wrappers, plastic cups and the scattered remains of a styrofoam carton.

There was lots of spring water coming over the falls and by the looks of all the huge logs, boulders and the dangerously eroded path, it’s obvious that the early June melt must have produced a torrential flood of water in the small creek.

As with last February, I asked my photographer pal, Jo, to accompany me. She had remembered our last Chase falls adventure and mounted a 24-105mm on her camera while I had my trusty 24-70mm on mine.

Like that cold winter day it was cloudy and flat with just a bit of sun poking through to lighten up the forested creak a bit. Fortunately it was not enough to create shadows, although at times there were highlights on protruding rocks, tree limbs and the churning water.

I chose the day because of the slight overcast. On a bright day one will struggle with overexposure on the white, reflective waterfall. As I wrote in February, I prefer a slight overcast or a foggy day. Bright sun and deep shadows create too much contrast.

With our cameras tightly secured to tripods we set our lenses to apertures that would give us plenty of depth of field. Selected shutterspeeds over two minutes and placed neutral density filters in front of our lenses to reduce the amount of light so our slow shutterspeeds wouldn’t overexpose the scene.

We set and used the camera’s self-timer so as to reduce camera shake and started taking pictures from every angle we could get to. That meant a lot of climbing over the jumble of large stones.

Photographing waterfalls are easy and no special talent or equipment is needed. I use a DSLR, tripod and ND filters. There’s nothing that most serious scenic photographers won’t already have.

We had a great time and I will absolutely be back in another month or two. I like to photograph that little waterfall with my infrared converted camera. July and August will be perfect for that. I’ll also be back in September or October when the volume of water is dramatically decreased. Then winter, and everything starts over again.

Photography is like that to me, and pointing my camera at the same subjects over and over year after year is just plain fun. This past month I have been sticking close to home. However, I plan to go a bit further from home now that summer is here. My goal, no matter where I am or what the subject is, is the enjoyment of making photographs.

There was a 1950’s street photographer named Leon Levinsein that wrote, “I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph.”

I suppose it’s as simple as that.

 

Photos of turtles will have to do.   

 

For the past month I have been visiting a little pond just up the road from my place hoping to get photos of geese and their chicks.

I have been going there with my camera equipped with long-lenses for years. Some times have been great with lots of geese near the road, like there were last year, but all to often they were too far away.

Last June the hill across from the pond was covered with geese. I am pretty sure that would be called a gaggle. (I have also heard people refer to a group of photographers as gaggle) Parents and goslings were everywhere and really didn’t mind my car after I parked and sat quietly for a few minutes.

This year I made trip after trip in the morning, at noon, then in late afternoon and finally evenings before I lost the light.

There are a lot of geese at the pond, but for some reason they are staying low to the pond and so far on the other side that even my 600mm lens isn’t doing them justice.

I wonder what caused them to stay such at such a distance this year. The road isn’t any busier than normal. They aren’t acting skittish, so I don’t think anything has been bothering them. Nevertheless, they are wild birds and I expect the first one there must have decided on a good spot and the rest nested nearby as they arrived. Good for them, disappointing for me.

I could have turned around each day and gone home for a beer, but the rural area I live in is filled with life in the spring. So instead I just moseyed along and keeping on the lookout along the roadside.

There are many old dilapidated buildings slowly dissolving into farmer’s back yards and I could have pointed my camera any of the many deer that are always munching grass in fields at anytime of the day. But, since I couldn’t photograph the geese I decided that deer and old buildings would be off my list and I should search for other wild things.

I wasn’t doing to well, and in frustration after my latest trip to the pond I chose a couple blackbirds and actually stopped to photograph a deer that peered out of the long grass as I passed. However, when my friend Jo stopped by, as I was about to leave on what I expected to be another fruitless trip, I invited her to join me on the drive.

Sometimes it’s a fresh pair of eyes that is needed. Each day I passed a neighbour’s slough. I had seen turtles there before, but like the geese, they were eluding me. I drove slowly and Jo looking out the window suddenly yelled, “stop, there’s turtles”! Sure enough the wily little critters were sunning themselves all along a half sunken moss covered tree in the swamp. There were seven of them near one end and three resting midway down.

I finally did reach out with my long lens to photograph the distant geese, and I captured a couple shots of blackbirds, and there was that deer hiding in the ditch. I was bound to my goal of photographing anything wild, and have been keeping at that for days, but I wasn’t all that happy and maybe a bit bored with my subjects.

However, the septet of turtles changed that. I was pleased to have turtles for my subjects, so for this week the photograph of the turtles will have to do.

Photographing flowers.    

 

Just after I got to my shop this morning I received a text on my phone that read. “ Hi, How’s your shop today? I hope you sell something. What’s your article going to be about this week?”

To tell the truth, at that moment I was walking down the street to get a coffee from Tim Horton’s and I hadn’t thought about my shop, impending sales or my article.

Just coffee. However, when I got to the coffee shop there was a line, so to keep from being rude I returned a text that said, “I dunno, me too, dunno.”

I’ll shorten this story by saying that about four or five hours later I received another text from my friend Jo that said, “I have pictures for you of flowers in your yard. Stop by on your way home tonight and get the USB drive. They’ll be edited to PSDs and ready for your article.”

So the images I am posting this week are again from my photography pal Jo. However, this time she didn’t have to wander around in the rain.

Spring is just beginning and there are many plants in the process of poking out of the ground and blooming. I haven’t taken the time to photograph anything anywhere in the garden yet.

Maybe next week.

For me, photographing my wife’s garden is quite a time consuming process that includes a tripod, an off-camera flash or two, reflectors, and sometimes even a backdrop.

My wife used to complain that I enjoyed the photography more than her garden.

That may be so.

When I opened Jo’s images on the USB drive it was obvious that she was of the same mindset as my wife, and enjoyed the spring garden as much as she was enjoyed pointing her camera’s 70-200mm lens at everything growing there.

I have been noticing more and more flower pictures being shown on our local photographer’s page. I suppose Jo, like most of those that are posting flower pictures, could wander the mountain meadows around Kamloops, British Columbia. However,most of the pictures I see are of the same one or two early blooming wild plants, whereas the large fenced garden at my place has lots of different shapes and colours to choose from and if one is, like me, more interested in the image then the flower, a colourful garden is a great choice.

This is a good time to get out with one’s camera. Whether it’s to photograph plants and flowers in the rain or on a sunny day the growth and colours that spring brings is so stimulating.

The famous Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson, in his book, “Photography and the Art of Seeing” 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.”

 

And thanks again to my good friend Jo McAvany.

 

 

 

Photography in the rain     

 

 

Last Sunday was cool and rainy. I had wandered a bit outside, but only long enough to feed my chickens and move some wooden chairs under a canopy so they wouldn’t get wet in the downpour.

Mostly, I just wasn’t interested in the rain or the cool light breeze and by noon I was content to just sit listening to music, and had just started a beer when there was a knock and my door and my friend Jo McAvany’s smiling face appeared through the window.

Some years ago one might have heard, “Can John come out and play?”   I really didn’t, I was enjoying the blues music and my beer on that rainy day. However, Jo had her camera and I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. She said, “How about we wander around, I want to take some pictures in the rain.

Ten minutes later we were ambling around pointing our cameras at features that on a sunny day might not have given us as interesting and creative photographs.

There are some cameras that are almost waterproof. A Nikon advertisement I once read stated that some models are, “splash proof’. Nevertheless, my main accessory for a rainy day is an old kitchen T-towel for wiping the rain off my camera. Every now and then I give my camera a wipe so the rain doesn’t accumulate, and continue on.

Shooting in the rain is one time that I enjoy a modern camera’s ability to use high ISO. Back in the painful days of film we were limited to 400ISO with colour film. There were a few black and white films that were rated at 3200, but their ability to give photographers reasonable image quality wasn’t all that good.

Wide scenic photos aren’t very pleasing in the overcast flat lighting, so we concentrated on more intimate and close-up subjects. Both Jo and I were using 70-200mm lenses that focused reasonably close. Not macro close, but close enough for us to confine and restrict the view.

Cloudy days always seem to be more colourful for plant photography, and there is something about green leaves and grasses on rainy days that attract me.

I once read, “one should embrace the rain’s infinite photo opportunities”. I like that. Photographing in the rain gives the photographer the chance to explore a whole new world that on a sunny, shadow filed day is invisible. The raindrops and the wet subjects are so inviting.

I know those gray clouds can be disappointing. However, keep a positive attitude. Sure there is a strong possibility that your hair and the knees of your pants are going to get wet, but in my opinion, wet knees are certainly worth the voyage. And remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.