Black and White Photography 

chrysanthemum

Red Crown Gas

Fat Cat on a warm spring morning

Granville street bridge

Thompson River by Jo McAvany

Country street

Spring is on the way and with it is blossoming colour.

Only a week ago the walk from the driveway to my home was frozen with snow still clinging to the rocks that hold the garden back. However, yesterday morning the walk was almost dry with grass beginning to frame the border.

One would think that the talk from photographers stopping by my shop would be about spring colours. Ahh…but there was not even a word about how nice it would be to photograph all that springing colour.

The first phone call of the morning was from a frustrated student that needed to complete an assignment asking me if I sold Ilford black and white film. I don’t.

A bit later a fellow I hadn’t seen for a while stopped to say hello and we talked about shooting infrared. He was hoping I could help him find an infrared camera.

I had just this past week missed out on a good deal on a converted camera, but the spring used camera sale will be at the end of next month in Vancouver and I suggested he join me there.

That conversation continued when he showed me some black and white infrared photographs that he had found online.

Later that afternoon my friend Drew showed up just as another photographer and I were admiring some of the excellent images made by members of a Facebook black and white photography group.

The three of us looked at pictures and talked about B&W until closing time.

One would think with the ease that modern DSLRs make colourful photographs that there would be little serious interest in black and white. After all, to make a good B&W image one should use some kind of editing program that allows adjustment of the different colour tonality.

I am sure the numbers of photographers that actually produce B&W are few compared to colour, but there are many avid groups on Facebook and Flickr that are dedicated to what has become to be called “monochrome” photography.

I pick and choose which of my images gets converted. Sometimes the subject deserves to be shown as B&W. And when I mentioned to my close friend and photo-partner, Jo McAvany that I was going to write about black and white she insisted that I stop by to get a B&W photo of the river she had taken earlier in the day.

I still remember the time when colour was almost non-existent. Once in a while someone would have the money and shoot a roll of colour, but most of the families in the neighbourhood I grew up in only could afford black and white film. Some people didn’t like colour pictures. I remember my aunt critically looking at some pictures at a family gathering that they “just didn’t look natural”. And as I have written before, when I first got into photography I preferred B&W.

I strongly believe a successful black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate. It doesn’t depend on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to light, shadow, composition and perspective.

Ted Grant, widely regarded as the father of Canadian photojournalism wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

I think that black and white photography is far from being left behind, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and printing papers black and white image-making will continue to be an option for many serious photographers.

 

 

 

 

Photographing dogs and using flash outdoors.  

When my friend Jo McAvany told me she wanted to do something the combined her love of photography and love of large breed dogs I was intrigued. She said she was planning to make a photograph book of big dogs that live in the Kamloops area.

Jo intends to spend the next year photographing the dogs in all seasons and at different locations throughout the year.

For the past two years that I have known her I’ve been pushing her to use lighting when photographing people indoors and out. She began by attending my lighting workshops and eventually became my ever-helpful teaching partner.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she said. “Will you help me with the lighting on my project”. I readily said I would.

Flash technology made quite a leap from the manual settings we once used to when Nikon added TTL in the early 1980s. That was when I sold all my Pentax and Canon equipment and “jumped” to Nikon. (I am pretty sure all modern cameras have TTL flash capability)

Flash took another large step when digital cameras became the norm. TTL was already almost foolproof and digital technology offered added control. Then it again matured and “High-speed Sync” was introduced and mastery over light in any environment and condition became easy.

Manufacturers began offering portable wireless units that, unlike the dedicated speedlights a photographer usually purchases with their camera, are much like those powerful units used in serious studios.

For readers that aren’t familiar with flash, High-speed sync means a photographer is no longer limited to the normal 1/200th or 1/250th second flash sync most speedlights use. HSS allows a sync speed up to 1/8000 of a second.

When I teach workshops on Flash I tell participants that the Shutter controls the ambient light and the Aperture controls the flash power. And remind them that increasing the shutterspeed allows us to widen the aperture.

When Jo walked out in the white, painfully reflective snow on a bright cloudless day to photograph those dogs this past week the contrast between the shadows and highlights were enough to ruin the pictures. However, I added flash and moved around to change the direction of the light fell on her subject. All she had to do was reduce the ambient light by increasing her shutterspeed and change the flash brightness by stopping down or opening up her aperture. Our goal was to balance the light on the dogs as evenly as possible without Jo’s final image showing that a flash was even employed.

Jo worked with the owners to pose the dogs. She’s very precise when it comes to how she wants them to be for the photograph. My job was to pay attention to the flash-to-subject distance and keep checking to make sure the light wasn’t to bright or to dark.

Confining oneself to only natural light means there will be elements beyond control. Natural light limits when and where one can shoot during the day. With the sun high in the sky at noon, there will either be a backlit silhouette, or the bright light will blind the subject and create black shadows. And if it starts snowing or raining, there usually won’t be enough light to shoot indoors.

Flash gives a photographer 100% control over the lighting. Whether completely doing away with the ambient light in the studio or adding flash with natural light outdoors, the photographer is in charge and can get the light to look exactly the way he or she wants it at any time of day.

Infrared in the winter

 

My friend and photography partner, Jo McAvany, has been asking me to loan her my infrared converted camera for a while now.

Jo texted me when she went out to use it this morning.

She had hoped for a blue sky after the recent snowfall, but the sun was only peaking out slightly when she drove off along the frozen back road up into the low hills above her home at 8AM.

Infrared and the snow always give a creative photographer a lot to play with. I would have wished for a bit more sun so the infrared effect would have been stronger, but she got some neat images in spite of the overcast cloudy morning.

I was glad it was her wandering along the roadside on the -12c degree morning instead of me. I thought about how many times, in all sorts of weather I have photographed the roads around my home in the past 40 years and how it’s about time for someone else to take that up. Doing it with infrared is perfect.

I looked back over some of the articles I wrote about infrared and saw this entry,

“I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.”

“That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside calling it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.”

“I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab.”

When I read about infrared conversions for digital cameras I sent that old Nikon away and about a month later for a few hundred bucks I had an infrared camera.

Jo has never shot with film. She began her photographic journey after digital took over. Now she gets to move into a different kind of light by using my IR camera.

There is not much difference between one digital and the next. Sure the sensors keep getting better and one can choose a full frame over a cropped frame, but if printing a large photograph isn’t part of the process its pretty hard to tell one camera from the next.

The images Jo got are a fun change from the colourful pictures or sharp black and white photographs she is used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

Using an infrared camera is the best way to step away from what other photographers are doing.

I have written about infrared photography many times before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

 

The Canadian Pacific Railroad Holiday train 

 

Every year the CPR holiday train chugs its colourful way across Canada from east to      west. The train makes stops at cities along the route where there are crowds of people waiting.

Those of us in rural Canada might miss assembly with all the festivities in the city, but we get to watch and, in my case, photograph that brightly lighted Christmas train as it winds its way through the wooded Canadian countryside.

As I drove from my home down to the river valley to again photograph the Holiday train I passed people waiting in their cars parked in the area between the little Pritchard store and the train tracks just off the highway.

I have tried that location in the past, but it’s so close to the train that the only shots are on an angle. And to make it worse this time, a long freight train was waiting in the perfect position to block the view of the train after only a couple minutes.

My favourite place to photograph the train is from across the river. I drove past my neighbours, crossed the bridge and stopped along the river and walked out on the wide beach to set my tripod up.

I like the long wide view across the Thompson River that even using my 70-200mm lens lets me photograph the whole train at 70mm or just a few cars at 200mm.

That beach location allows me to capture that locomotive and it’s bright boxcars in a scenic view.

The train usually passes through Pritchard when there still is enough light to see the train. I saw a few pictures that were taken after it stopped in Kamloops 30 minutes later, and they only showed neon lights with an empty black background.

I chose an ISO of 800 when I first got there and took a few test shots. I walked around to choose a nice flat place where I didn’t have to stand in the mud. Gosh, mid December and no ice.

I will say that, although I had a better location than those on the other side of the river, I envied the fact that those waiting at the Pritchard store had hills that blocked the unpleasant, cold wind that blew at me across the flat wide river.

I joined by my friends and their children out on the beach. Jo had her stocking hat pulled down over her face and was crouching with her camera trying to get out of the wind.

I covered my ears and set up my tripod as I watched her 3 and 4 year olds running around on the muddy beach, oblivious to the cold, as they excitedly waiting for the train.

They had been to town earlier in the day to meet Santa and now running on the beach and seeing the brightly lite Holiday train was like the icing on the cake.

By the time the train came I had to push my ISO up to 1600. I was using my tripod, but with the all movement I decided the higher ISO would let me keep my shutter at a safer speed.

I think this will be the last photos of Christmas lights for this year. As always, it’s been fun. There isn’t any snow yet, but the snow will come soon I am sure, and I’ll be out again with my camera to make some pictures of that white playground.

I can hardly wait for the snow. But for now I’ll wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing the lights of Christmas  

I like Christmas. I like the gaudy colours, the music, and especially the lights.

Regular readers might remember that last December I wrote that as a child my parents used to bundle my brothers and I into the family car and drive up along the high avenues around Salt Lake City so we could look down on all the decorative lights in the valley.

We even got hot chocolate from my dad’s beat up old thermos that my mother would pour for us when we finally stopped on a hill high over the city to view the lights. Although these days my drink of choice is usually wine or beer, when Christmas rolls around I have a yearning for hot chocolate, and I’ll shamelessly admit to being a Christmas light junky.

Last year I also wrote that for years I had business in Kelowna, British Columbia. And during December I always made sure I brought my camera so I could go out at night and then again at morning’s first light to photograph the Christmas lights along the city streets and waterfront.

I no longer have work to do in that lakeside city, but on the weekend of December 8th I packed my camera into my car and headed south to what I suppose will become my overnight Christmas light photography sojourn for years to come.

I left early enough, wait…that’s not right. “We left” is more the accurate.

Last week when visiting my friends Jo and Shaun I mentioned that I was planning on spending Saturday night and Sunday morning photographing Christmas lights.

I had barely returned home when I received a text from Jo telling me that she had talked her husband into letting her go and could I get her a hotel room because she would be joining me if I didn’t mind. So “We” left early enough to stop for some quick shopping, check in to our hotel and walk down the street to the eatery I had spent my evening at last year before going out to photograph the lights.

Last year I was disappointed that the weather was to warm and they wouldn’t be opening the outdoor skating rink until after I was gone. However, this time the days were colder and it was packed with people.

I don’t like choosing auto modes on my camera unless there is a good reason. Shutter Priority for a fast moving event like a rodeo, or Aperture Priority for subjects field like flowers that require controlling depth of field.

On dark nights with moving subjects I prefer the Manual mode. I can be in complete control of how I want my subject to look by changing the ISO, the Shutter and the aperture depending what I want. That way I can balance the light so the final image doesn’t look unnatural.

With the Skaters I wanted to see some movement. I knew there would be people stopping, moving slow, and of course passing very fast. All I had to do is work with those three controls to create the photograph I wanted.

We spent the night photographing the streets, decorated boats moored along the lake, the lakefront walkway, lighted trees, buildings and just about anything in front of our cameras.

We were up before dawn waiting on a highway overpass for there to be just enough daylight to give buildings some definition. We were there to photograph Kelowna’s 120 foot tall Tree of Hope.

For 20 years, the Tree of Hope made up of about 25,000 LED bulbs has been a symbol of inspiration, giving, and hope to the community.

I like to photograph that light bulb tree. Most photos I see of it either shows no background because it is photographed after dark or too much background because it is photographed after the sun has come up.

I want to barely see beginning blue of the sky. To see buildings with the tree reflecting in their windows and I want the light to vivid and colourful. So we stood in the dark and waited for the early morning sun. This time we lucked out with a cloudy sky.

All we had was about 30 minutes of shooting before the sun came up. Then it was back to our hotel to eat breakfast, warm up, pack our gear and head home.

Repeating my words from last December, “Night photography (well actually, early morning photography) gives a city such a nice mood that isn’t really manifest during the day. I like the mystery and, of course, this time of year the frosting on the cake is the wonderful Christmas lights.”

Santa Photos with dogs 

 

This past week my friend and photographer Jo McAvany phoned to tell me she had volunteered to do photographs for a local business called the “Brazilian Dog Guru”.

The owner, Fernando Silva, had a great idea to photograph people’s dogs with Santa Claus for donations to support a local dog rescue organization.

I wasn’t surprised when Jo said she jumped at the offer to be the photographer. As well as an avid photographer, Jo has opened her home to a lot of rescued dogs over the years.

I was delighted that she would be doing that, and wasn’t surprised when she first asked if she could borrow some of my lights and second, suggested that I come too.

I thought it would be an unusual and fun way to spend the day. After all, I like dogs and they usually like me, so there we were at 11am on the following Sunday setting up lights in a small room while saying hello to Santa.

Soon excited people and their best friends were lining up outside waiting for the elves to take them inside for their photographs.

During the Christmas shopping days I sometimes like to watch the Mall Santa photographers as they work. The technology has changed over the years. Its digital cameras tethered to computers so that parents can instantly see the pictures, make their choices, pay and walk off with a matted print.

For a few years I set up the photography for local malls. Although that was back in the 1990s, not much has really changed much. However, back then instead of the digital camera and computer, the photographer would take the rolls of film to the one-hour processing lab at the end of the day and parents would have to return to get their pictures.

Most of the dogs and owners that came for Jo to photograph with Santa were well behaved. Although like some of the children I saw at the mall’s Santa booth, they weren’t having anything to do with that stranger sitting on a bale of hay.

The owners would bring them in to meet Santa and their eyes would roll and they would almost pull their person over trying to get away. More than once that meant finding a human that wasn’t wearing a red costume. Sometimes the dogs ran back to their owners, but more than once Jo almost was knocked over when they chose her as a safe refuge from the scary man that was grabbing at them from high on a bale of hay that probably seemed dangerous when it moved under their feet.

After setting up the lights I had nothing to do but pet all the dogs and be entertained by the goings on in the room set aside for Santa and my friend Jo. (A tough job, but someone had to do it)

By the end of the day I am sure Jo not only had a sore back from bending over, (we decided a tripod might get in the way of dogs and dog leashes) and although she didn’t mention it, she probably had a bruise or two from the big dogs that thought she was there to jump on.

What a fun way to spend a day.

Dogs and photography, it doesn’t get much better than that, unless one includes that this event was for a very good cause; collecting donations for the “Pom and Pals Country Rescue” dog shelter.

Oh, and there are now over 50 dogs that have a picture of themselves with Santa. I think some people are going to get some great Christmas cards this year.

Outdoors flash photographer’s workshop        

Last August I wrote about setting up an outdoors studio in the meadow on the south side of my home for my friend Joleen McAvany. Readers will remember that Jo wanted to do a “Disney Princess” session with some of her friends.

Jo posted her studio-like photographs from that day online. Her photos were so successful that I decided to offer another how-to workshop.

I limited participation to four interested photographers and Jo easily talked two of her friends into braving the cool October day to be our models.

I like flash and never pass by an opportunity to introduce photographers that normally would only use flash in dimly lighted rooms, to the advantage of employing flash in the daylight.

Jo and I set up both a white canvas backdrop and a painted blue/grey canvas backdrop. I had purchased the painted canvas, but the white canvas was formally a large painters ground cloth spattered with paint that I got for free.

I attached several older 1970 vintage flashes on light stands with umbrellas. All were connected to wireless receivers and I gave a trigger to each photographer.

My lecture was about balancing the light from the flash with the ambient light. The key light (main light) that modeled the features of our ever-patient subjects, Morgan and Cora came from the flashes, not the sun.

Jo gave a posing demo using a 60mm, then a 70-180mm and finally a 400mm lens as she positioned each model in turn. Then after showing everyone how effective the long lenses were, and how easily it is to control the flashes, I positioned each depending on the light.

I then let the attending photographers experiment and learn as I showed them how great their photos could be using flash in the daylight.

Most had seen some of Jo’s “Princess” photos and I reminded them that she had originally asked me, “can I do this out-of-doors and still create flattering studio kind of light portraits?”

Now I have introduced four more photographers to using flash as a creative tool instead of just something that brightens a dimly lighted room or gives a flat light on some subject’s face that is standing in the shade.

I am left wondering if they will start using flash. It is so easy to be lazy and leave the flash at home on a sunny day. However, the resulting photographs where one controls the light and is able to place it to flatter and model a subjects face should be enough to convince any serious photographer.

I would like to think I was successful in convincing those four photographers that adding the light from a flash will make their photographs stand out among photographers that depend on the inconsistent light from the sun.

Note: Photos by Joleen McAvany