Photos in the alleyways.  

 

 

This past week my friend Jo McAvany asked me if I would be willing to help her with using off-camera flash in daylight. I like controlled studio lighting, but I’ll admit that balancing flash lighting in the bright daylight is much more fun.

She texted me saying she had asked her friend Heather to be our subject. My question was “where do you want to do this”. I think I held my breath at that moment hoping she wouldn’t suggest wandering around in the woods to photograph our young model. If she had I probably would have feigned an attack of the flu or something just to get out of spending a boring day doing what every beginning photographer seems to be doing now days. However, Jo said, “I’d like to go downtown.”   My response was, “Great lets pose your friend in the alleys”.

I am not sure if it was because of the shopkeepers or random artists, but the alleyways in downtown Kamloops are damn colourful. There are murals, wildly painted back entrances and large brightly coloured signs that fill complete walls. One might expect to find trash, discarded store goods and rusting garbage bins. But nope, it was as if someone had said, “Hey, there might be a photographer or two that want photograph our alleys so lets make ‘em nice.”

We went from coloured wall to coloured wall, posing our ever-patient subject in doorways, against brightly decorated enclosures and behind fenced walkways. I think this was Heather’s first time posing for photographers, or at least having two cameras pointed at her. And yes, she had to endure my constant discourse about balancing light, shadows, exposure and off-camera flash.

Sunday was a good choice. Other than the cold breezy November day, it was quite pleasant. Well, except when the wind caught the umbrella that was attached to the flash and stand and sent everything crashing to the ground.

There was no traffic zooming down the ally and other than some fellows sitting out of the wind behind a building and a street cleaning machine quickly scrubbing by, we had the alley to ourselves.

The three of us ambled up and down the alleys. There were so many places that demanded Heather to pose for us in front of. We even tried adding her into one of the large murals that looked like a walkway into an Italian villa. There was a small green door that someone had painted, and both Jo and Heather agreed that it would be like Alice in Wonderland if Heather reached down for the doorknob. We could have spent the day wandering the alleys photographing Heather, but eventually the cold crept in and we decided it was time to finish photo session talking and warming up at a coffee shop.

We had a good day. We discovered a new place where we can do photography and we all worked together to produce some interesting photographs.  Heather is leaving town for a job in the fast paced coastal city of Vancouver, and our photos will surely give her some great memories of the city she has been living in for some time now.

I think Jo and I might invite a few photographers and models to join us another time to do a bit more exploring around the back alleys.

 

 

 

 

 

Light the Portrait workshop        

 

 

This past weekend I lead the first day of a workshop titled “Light the Portrait”. My goal during the two sessions was to help photographers understand how to use light, indoors or out, when they photograph people.

Fear-of-Flash has always been a topic of discussion for photographers photographing weddings, and portraits both indoors and out.

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, ” 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.”

It’s with those words that I began the workshop that would discuss using both studio lights and speed lights. Adding that personally, I always use a flash when I make a portrait of someone inside or outside. I don’t care if the ambient light is bright or dim.

My goal is to not only help photographers gain an understanding of off-camera lighting, but to also convince them that using flash will separate their photography from those that rely on natural or as I prefer calling it, “ambient light”.

The first session was about the big studio lights and accompanying light modifiers like, umbrellas, softboxes and reflectors, to name a few we employed during the day.

Those of us in Kamloops British Columbia are fortunate to have a local portrait studio that is not only large enough for a class, but also is packed with all sorts of lighting equipment, backdrops and change rooms for models. The portrait studio, Versatile Studio, also comes complete with a kitchen and dining area. And there are all sorts of props for posing.  All I needed to do was write up my lesson plan, print some handouts, book the studio, hire a model and show up in time to start leading participants into the exciting world of off-camera lighting.

I enjoy leading; I like that word better than “teaching”. I know to teach “is to show or explain to people how to do something”, but most of those that attend know a lot about photography and have already been shooting portraits for some time. All I need to do is build a bridge for them between what they already know and what I am presenting.  And as I stand with them in the studio/classroom I get watch that quick tightening of shoulders, widening of eyes and smiles when they suddenly get it. When that happens I can’t help but smile too.

Well, the first day is over and, as usual, they tired me out. However, I am already looking forward to next week with those enthusiastic photographers (and our energetic model). I wonder if I should begin next week’s session with the words of legendary filmmaker from the 1920s, D.W. Griffith. “Lights camera action”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Convocation of eagles                                                

 

 

I have always liked eagles.

I grew up in Salt Lake City Utah where the state bird was the California gull. There were seagulls everywhere and one couldn’t go anywhere without lots of them overhead. We affectionately called them “Mormon Bombers”. But eagles weren’t all that common and there were only I few times that I can remember ever seeing an eagle near the city, and on those rare occasions they were high and off in the distance. At that time one had to be somewhere high in the mountains that circle Salt Lake City, and even then, spotting one wasn’t that common.

I lived in many places, but until moving to British Columbia my eagle sightings were a rarity. Imagine my excitement I when found that no matter where one lives in the province I came to call home there seemed to always be eagles. Gosh, go to any fishing town and the skies and wharfs will be crowded with eagles.

Where I live, spring, summer or fall, and even sometimes in the frozen winter, while on my 45-minute drive to Kamloops along the Thompson River there are eagles watching from the trees.

This spring the water has been unusually high in the small streams and lakes in the countryside around Kamloops, and now that the rains have ceased and the drying summer heat is here, the once flooded farmlands, lakes, and meandering streams have trapped fish.

All one has to do is drive up into the farmlands out of town, pull the car over, wait a bit and there will be eagles. Until I stopped I hadn’t noticed how many were sitting on fence posts and in the trees along the road taking turns eating hapless fish caught in shallow creeks along the road.

They were spooky, eagles usually are. I pulled over and waited as other people excitedly stood by their cars pointing, talking loudly, and holding their cellphones at arms length to snap pictures of the many eagles flapping low to the ground and eating.

I positioned my car so I could open the door with my beanbag lens rest on the window ledge. I knelt comfortably, put my 150-600 on the bag and drank my coffee as I waited for the big birds to calm down and return after all the cellphone photographers left.

And return they did. I have seen larger convocations of eagles (yes. That’s the right word, “convocation”) when I visited towns on the coast, but that many eagles sitting, eating and flying around a few feet off the ground so darn close to a busy road was a bit unusual.

I haven’t had my big zoom lens very long, so this was my first experience using it to photograph flying birds. It took me a few shots to get comfortable with all the movement. There was a lot of commotion around one big trout, with several adults and youngsters demanding their turn. Nevertheless, the eagles were easy to photograph, their movements are slow and predictable. That excited gathering ignored my big lens poking over the car door, and they only flew off when another car stopped and people got out. When that happened I just relaxed, had another drink of coffee, and waited till I could start taking pictures again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excellent tool for a roadside photographer           

I live in a wooded rural location just short of an hour from the city of Kamloops in British Columbia, and it’s so easy to hop in my car to drive along the winding back roads. I suppose I could hike or climb, but truth be told I have the most fun as a roadside photographer.

For years, each spring, my wife and I looked forward to seeing geese hatchings at a near by pond. There are normally two, or sometimes three adults with six or eight goslings hiding in the long grass just across the reed filled pond. However, this spring there are at least eight adult geese and maybe twenty soft yellow goslings residing at the pond.

To photograph them we would stealthily slow the car down and ease to a prolonged stop. Coming to a sudden stop spooks the apprehensive geese causing them to dash away. Do geese “dash”?   Anyway the fearful gaggle of geese would quickly move from sight. And opening the car door to try photographing them is a waste of time.

Having decided on the time of day that gives me the best light, I first slowly drive by so as to determine where I want to stop for the best photos and I shoot from the car. The geese are usually far enough away that anything shorter than a 300mm lens isn’t close enough. Actually, 300mm isn’t really close enough.

In the past twenty plus years Linda and I used countless kinds of equipment to stabilize our lenses. And the best, in my opinion, is a beanbag. A beanbag fits nicely on the car’s windowsill and allows the photographer to nestle down and rest any size lens on it for shake free shooting.

This year I purchased, after months of research and selling off some of my other lenses, the latest Tamron 150-600mm lens. The lens weighs just over four pounds and although it does have vibration control, shooting from a seated position in a car isn’t the best for sharp, shake free photographs. So out comes the beanbag. However,  I quickly realized that big lens demanded a larger beanbag than the one I hastily stitched together years ago.

With a bit of online searching I found a company called Movophoto.com that makes a large and unique beanbag that fits like a saddle over the car window. With my limited sewing skills I could never have made such a perfect beanbag for that big lens. I ordered it, and when it finally arrived I filled it with rice, and although it’s heavy it resides in the car and stays put on the window, so the weight is a good thing. There are a lot of gadgets that I could spend my money on, but for now that beanbag is my favourite.

I slowed my car to a stop next to the pond, shut the engine off, positioned my camera on the large beanbag, and waited for the geese to resume their browsing along the grassy hill beside the pond. At 600mm I was able to frame pretty darn close. Then, when I wanted a different position, I’d just move the car a bit, and take more pictures. I photographed those geese (and some nearby turtles) for about thirty minutes.

Suddenly I heard loud honking from some unseen goose that must have been hiding in the tall pond reeds, and, like a crowd scene from a movie, they all turned at once and rushed into the pond.

I am sure there are experienced photographers that would have set up a blind and waited for hours to get the perfect shot. There is no doubt they will get my respect. But I know where those geese are and what time of day is the best to photograph them. And anyway my car is really comfortable and when I am done I just drive home. I guess I am just a roadside photographer.

The Excitement Of A New Camera   

camera-on-display

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.

A Rainy Day in Hope, BC – Photographing with Infrared

Wecome to Hope 1

bear crossing 1

Town clock 1

Animal totem 1

Driving thru Hope 1

After leaving the Vancouver Camera Show and Swap Meet last Sunday I decided that rather than make the long drive all the way back to Kamloops and then Pritchard, I would make a stop for the night in Hope along the way.

Hope, British Columbia, is usually just a location to make a quick pull off at a fast food restaurant, or coffee shop. as I drive between Vancouver and Kamloops.

I have always liked the appearance of the picturesque little town just off the highway along the Fraser River. That was first settled when explorer, Simon Fraser, arrived there in 1808. The Hudson’s Bay Company started a trading post in 1848.

In more recent history Hope received acclaim when it was the location for the Sylvester Stallone Rambo movie, “First Blood”, and then, “Shoot to Kill”, staring Sidney Poitier and Kirstie Alley. The area’s mountains also stood in for the Himalayas in the movie “K2″.

However, in spite of all that the main reason for my stop was I knew I’d be tired after my long day at the swap meet, and, in addition, I thought it would be fun to wander around town with my camera the next morning. I chose to bring the camera I had converted to infrared. I thought shooting infrared would bring a fresh and very different visual interpretation to the heavily forested setting.

There is a poem by Robert Burns wherein he writes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. I thought of his prophetic words as I checked out of my motel room the next morning under a pouring rain. Disgusted with my crappy luck I stopped for a coffee and doughnut before leaving town. I was resigned to just head home. But as I sat in my car sipping on my coffee texting my wife that I was heading out, the rain lightened up and I decided that in spite of the cloudy overcast I would try my infrared camera anyway. I thought, what the heck, any photography is fun and the worst that can happen is I’ll have wet hair for the trip back.

I meandered down to the riverfront and zigzagged back through town. I discovered that at some point town residents began erecting large chain saw carvings everywhere. So I took pictures of them along with those of the city streets until the rain picked up again and my glasses got too wet to see.

The best time to shoot infrared is on sunny days, so the rainy, heavily overcast environment wasn’t all that exciting. But I was intent on the pictures by this time.

I must say that I wasn’t really successful, but there were a few images, that with some postproduction help worked out reasonably well.

The rain won this time, but I think I might go back to that scenic little town nestled in the Fraser Canyon. It’s not that far from my home and a nice easy drive, and I’ll take Linda with me. However, we’ll wait for a sunny, dry day and I definitely will try infrared again.

Infrared is such a fun change from normal digital shooting. And similar to purchasing another lens, the cost of having an old camera converted is well worth it.

Photography Studio Workshop   

Studio 1a

Studio 3a

Studio 2a

Photographing Autumn 1a

My latest photography workshop, Posing and Lighting, occurred just outside Kamloops this past weekend at a local studio owned by Dave Monsees of Cherry Creek.

I will begin with a perfect quote I have used before by photographer and author Frank Criccho that goes with what I was wanted the participants to think about. Criccho stated, “The success of a photographic portrait depends as much on the photographer’s artistic and creative use of lighting techniques as it does on his or her skill with the camera.”

Much of the time photographers either prefer to photograph people in the daylight or, if forced to shoot indoors, just increase their camera’s ISO. And there are too many that when they do decide to employ On or Off-camera flash go for the easiest method of just filling the space with lots of light.

During these sessions I lead my goal is to get participants thinking about not only posing our model, but also about the using the flash light as more than just a device to brighten up the environment.

I want them to begin making decisions as to how to apply light on their subject in the same way they might decide to use a long focal length lens rather than a short focal length lens.

As always, when I lead a full day session like this one, I feel my task is to present information and keep things going. And I always leave plenty of time for the participants to engage with the model and experiment with techniques. Watching workshop participants grasp and learn photographic lighting is a fun and satisfying activity for me.

I began the workshop with a quick slide show. Hmm…I guess we don’t have slide shows any more and instead connect a computer to a digital projector to provide a PowerPoint presentation. In any event we started the day off with a presentation that showed how different modifiers affected the light on a subject. So when our model Autumn arrived it was, “lights, camera, action.”

We spent the majority of the day (barely breaking for lunch) using many different light modifiers, changing the angle of the lights, applying light in creative ways, employing different backdrops, and of course, studying posing.

I will say these kinds of workshops are really demanding on a very patient and hard working model as she constantly and quickly alters her outlook and holds any pose the excited photographers request; all the while giving each photographer time to apply what I was continually introducing.

I can’t really say much regarding those enthusiastic photographers, I expect they were filled with the energy most photographers get when they are learning and creating, but by 4pm Autumn and I were ready to wind down. A good day well done.

“A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound.” – Charles Baudelaire, Poet – 1859