Photographing behind the scenes for a movie.

This past week I was again asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair if I would be the “stills photographer” for another movie she was directing.

Ms. Boisclair was this year’s winner of the WIDC (Women in the Director’s chair) “short award”. That award allowed her to hire a cast and crew for her latest movie called, “Stood Up”.

When I wrote about my experience as a movie stills photographer last June I said that I drew on my background in Public Relations photography. PR photography is physically active, with never a chance to sit and where one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects to be successful.

So at 7:30AM I was lurking at the edge of the action voyeuristically capturing behind the scenes activity, and documenting the interaction and hard work of the people in that were making that movie happen.

I like tight shots that force the viewer to get involved with the subjects. I also like my subjects to be well lighted. I see no use in wide shots that have dimly lit people in the distance.

The beauty of my full-frame, large mega-pixel, camera is I can shoot wide and decide how the action and subjects are cropped in post-production with out any loss in detail or image noise in my final photograph.

I stay with a 24-70mm lens because I don’t get the edge and corner distortion of wider-angle lenses.

Modern TTL flashes offer the opportunity not only to bounce the light in any direction, and also allow one to increase or decrease flash power depending on the environment and proximity of the subjects.

When I give beginning wedding photographer’s advice on photographing receptions in large low lighting rooms, I always tell them to slow down their shutterspeed to increase the ambient light. Those “deer-in-the-headlight” type photos that are painfully common in beginner’s photos are so easy to correct by just moving the shutter dial to 1/125th or even slower.

Its that technique I used when photographing the behind scenes action. Indoors I would shoot wide with a slow shutter and outside I use the high-speed sync feature to increase the shutterspeed as needed to balance the flash in the daylight.

As with the last time I photographed for the movie’s director, I am after those classic images I have seen in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the actors, or working with the cameramen.

Photographing on a movie set is certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and again this time, my first hand experience with the actors and the crew as they creatively worked, more than proved that to me.

The best lens (for the price) to photograph wildlife.    

In my experience, any image can be altered (sometimes dramatically) when one changes lenses.  A subject can be isolated and the perspective in front of, and behind, the subject flattened with a telephoto lens. And landscapes are changed using a wide-angle lens as the field of focus increases the view around the subject.

To add a bit more to my last article, “what is the best lens for scenic photography” I thought I’d continue with a discussion I had with a budding wildlife photographer.

I select my lenses depending on what I want my photograph to say about the subject. And to me, control over my image is important so I ask my self two questions.

What lens will show my subject best? And second, what final result do I want?

This past week I spent some time talking about lenses with a photographer after he read my last article and said, What about the best option for the price to photograph wildlife here in the interior of British Columbia.

I suggested starting with a zoom that can reach 300mm and then purchase a 150-600mm in the future. Each of those lenses has a narrow angle of view and plenty of magnification for wildlife photography.  I thought he might start with a lens that is inexpensive, lightweight, easy to pack around and hand holdable. The smaller multifocal length lenses are generally lightweight and excellent for vacations or just walking around.

He told me he is hesitant to dig into his savings for a super zoom at the present, so I thought moderately priced lenses like the might do for his introduction to long lens photography.

There are interesting lenses like the 300mm and more impressive lenses like a 400mm, 500mm and even the favourite of bird photographers, the 600mm. But for an introduction I thought a zoom might be more versatile until he was ready to make the financial commitment to a large prime or zoom.

When he gets serious and willing to spend a bit more there are big lenses with maximum apertures of f/2.8. Those large high quality lenses give the user lots of light gathering capability and the ability to use higher shutter speeds for reducing camera shake, and help stop fast moving subjects.

To explain that, there is an optimum amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor for a correct exposure. When the aperture is closed down it lets in less light and one must slow the shutter speed.  With large aperture lenses the shutter opening can be increased and let in a lot more light, therefore one has the ability to increase the shutter speed for less camera shake and still get a proper exposure.

All this also affects “depth of field”.  Depth of field is best defined as “that area around the main subject, in front of and behind, that is acceptably sharp”.  Photographers like to blur non-essential elements in the background by reducing the depth of field, and do that by increasing the size of the lens aperture.  In addition, letting in more light makes shooting in low light conditions less difficult.

And to that photographer’s question:  What lens do I need?  There are lots of other choices that will better help him visually discuss his subject. I don’t think there is one lens that fits all.

Each year manufacturers introduce more lenses with different technology, which improves imaging capabilities, and naturally, increases the price.

One of the favourite sayings in photography is “it’s all about the glass”.

Photographers I know that spend their free time photographing birds tend to stay with long fixed-focal length, or prime lenses. However an opportunist like myself will prefer the versatility of a multifocal length (zoom) lens.

With regards to that soon to be wildlife photographer, I expect to see him with more than one lens choice as he pursues his hobby and selects different lenses that meet his photographer’s vision. I know he will be cautious with his purchases, but ultimately his choice of lens comes down to what he wants viewers to feel and see.

Photographing the 2018 Pritchard Rodeo       

 

The Pritchard rodeo has come and gone once again.

Gosh, its 2018. I need to dig though my storage of photographs to find out how long I have been attending and photographing that fun filled tournament.

I will say that it is a much smaller event than it was years ago. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The numbers of participants has declined dramatically and so has the crowd.

There are so many opportunities for people to attend each weekend that spending the day at a hot, dusty rodeo may have become low on many peoples list. Nevertheless, for anyone, especially photographers, that want to see great action, our local rodeo is still a worthwhile way to spend the day.

I arrived an hour early expecting to beat the crowds. However, there were already several photographers ready and waiting ringside for the action to begin.

It’s always so much fun saying hello and trading quips with photographer friends I only get to see once a year. As I looked at the cowboy hatted gaggle of photographers I noticed that every dang one of them were sporting Canon cameras, all to evident by the large white lenses attached to their cameras. So I was ready and waiting for the Canon vs. Nikon jokes that never end.

That said, when the dust and the jokes clear, those that I stopped to talk to were experienced, talented and certainly dedicated rodeo photographers.

The first bronco-riding event started at 1AM and I comfortably positioned myself along the metal railing. I checked my camera and set my ISO to 400 so I could get a reasonable depth of field, selected Shutter Priority Mode and placed my shutterspeed at 1/500th of a second to stop the action.

My lens of choice for sports is the 70-200mm. There are longer focal lengths available, but my well used 70-200mm is easily hand holdable and quick focusing.

I like photographing any kind of action, and that especially goes for rodeos. Small venues like the one a few minutes drive from my home in Pritchard are photographically accessible and the organizers haven’t put restrictions that limit photographers. And for those new to rodeos, it’s a friendly and easy place to practice and, of course, experiment.

This hometown rodeo makes it easy for local participants to get quality photographs of themselves that can be made into wall prints. All they have to ask some one with a camera as they pass by.

I began this article with the words, “The Pritchard rodeo has come and gone once again”. As always, that fun packed rodeo was, well gosh, fun. I got to talk with other photographers and renew friendships with neighbours that I rarely see. And, of course, had a great time taking pictures.

 

Photographing my way to work on a rainy day          

 

Last week I wrote about my frustrations with trying to photograph the young geese at a nearby pond. At the time I was so fixated on those blasted birds that I ignored the scenic country drive I take every day when I leave my rural home and head for the highway.

The geese were a bust, and I decided that on my next trip to town I would do some scenics no matter what the weather was like. I will say that I am not all that fond of sun-filled blue sky, and prefer fog, heavy clouds or even rain to an uninspiring sunny day.

I was pleased when I woke to rain pounding my cedar-shake roof. As I sat drinking my morning coffee and looking out the window I knew that there would be little chance that I’d be opening my shop on time.

My camera of choice on this day was my little Nikon V1 that easily sits on my lap while I drive. The small sensor doesn’t compare with the big full frame 36mp camera I prefer for serious photos, but for posting online or if I don’t mind limiting my prints to 8X12, it’s just great. And I have used it many times in the rain without problems.

As I walked to my car I was pleased that the rain had lightened a bit. One could still get wet if standing for a time, but I’d be quickly in and out of my car.

On this day I was interested in the contrast between the green fields, trees, the blue hills, the slowly brightening sky and the white billowing clouds. It would be impossible to get a bad exposure, as I just metered for the green fields.

As usual there were lots of deer, horses and cows, but the turtles I photographed last week were hiding under water, and those blasted geese were even further on the other side of the pond. So I put on a wide-angle lens and made a scenic of the pond.

I liked the wet, winding road and the blue cloud covered hills and the fields were so green.

Neighbours would drive around my parked car and shake their head at me standing out in the rain. People that have lived here for a while are used to seeing me standing alongside the road pointing my camera at the distance. Long time residents don’t even bother to slow down to see what the heck I am photographing.

I doubt they would be “seeing’ the same way that I (or any other photographer) would. Photographers look “into” the landscape instead of “at” the landscape.

I only got a bit damp on my way to work.

Of course I opened my shop late and had damp hair after continually stopping to photograph things on my way to town (that I have photographed many, many times before)

Here is a fun quote by famous American photographer Elliott Erwitt, which seems perfect for those of us that carry our cameras to work.

“ Nothing happens when you sit at home. I always make it a point to carry a camera with me at all times…I just shoot at what interests me at that moment.”

 

 

 

 

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 behind the scenes at a movie.   

 

My first full time job as a photographer was to document events for the Office of Education, Los Angeles California. Years later, after moving to Canada, I became a photographer for a University’s Public Relations Department.

During my 40 plus years earning my living as a photographer I pointed my camera at quite an array of exciting subjects, but it was those two early jobs that fashioned my approach.

This past week I was asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair, if I would act as a staff photographer for her movie, “The Bench”, for a couple of the shooting days.

I am retired and stay away from anything that demands that I be on time. But the thought of taking behind the scenes pictures intrigued me.

Although I have many, many times enjoyed watching movies being made, I have never actually been part of the film crew. “Film crew”, that can’t be correct. I wonder what they call themselves now? Nevertheless, I was sure the photography would be much the same as any public relations exercise.

Public Relations photography in my experience is physically active, there is never a chance to sit and one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects. I never saw or presented myself as being important as those I was photographing, and always preferred to sneak voyeuristically around. And although my photographs were used by news sources and much of the time were in publications, I never thought of myself as a photojournalist. Photojournalists tell a story, whereas my job was to document the interaction and hard work of the people in the event.

It was with that attitude that I quietly walked on to the set the morning of my first day.

I guess I forgot how small Kamloops is, one would think that in a city of over ninety thousand people there would be some anonymity, but alas, that was not to be. A complete stranger said, “John, right? They are around the corner.”

I photographed everything that happened behind the scenes for two days. I am sure that many star-struck, first time photographers might think, “what a great chance for me to photograph a movie”.   However, at this production there were three trained, creative, cameramen operating a two hundred thousand dollar camera, whose job it was to photograph the movie’s action. Taking pictures of the movie isn’t what I think my position as a still photographer needs to be doing. My job was to photograph the people that were actually making the movie and I did just that.

I shot for two tiring days. From time to time I was able to lean against walls, and once or twice even tried to sit down. But of course, as soon as I thought I could relax, I would see crewmembers doing something interesting and rushed to get that shot.

Mostly I wanted those classic images we see in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the lead, or working with the cameramen. The crew wasn’t huge and I got to talk to and photograph everyone working on “The Bench” at some point over the two days.

Photographing on a movie set was a new and certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and now that I have had first hand experience being around them as they worked, I absolutely believe that.

 

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.