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.”

Kelowna’s October waterfront  

 

 

My friends Shaun and Jo McAvany decided to join me on a on a two-day trip to Kelowna.

Their anniversary had just passed and they had spent their honeymoon 9 years ago in Kelowna so I guess the trip was appropriate for them.

For me it was a chance to spend some time in a bigger city with it’s fancy eateries and, of course, to wander Kelowna’s waterfront with my camera before winter’s snow and ice covered everything.

They dropped off their kids at their grandma and grandpa’s place, found a friend to take care of the menagerie of dogs, cats, rabbits and what ever other animal they have rescued the weekend and jumped into my car to join me for the scenic two hour drive.

Although the Kelowna lake waterfront doesn’t have exactly the same feeling as Vancouver’s seaside, it’s pretty close. And the last days of summer are a perfect time to photograph the colour and mood of the freshwater foliage that mixes with city structures dedicated to tourism.

For this photographic trip both Jo and I carried our little Nikon mirrorless cameras. The Nikon 1 series doesn’t have a very big sensor, but if one isn’t going to be printing 11X14 or 16X20 enlargements, it’s the perfect interchangeable lens travel camera.

The weekend was sunny and it was light jacket weather. In the morning we shopped at 2nd hand stores, then ate lunch at a restaurant called Memphis Blues. (One of my favourite dinning establishments in that city) then spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures along the waterfront.

One might say that my goal is to experience a different aspect of photography each week. I’ll admit I try very hard. Last week I was at a wondrous wilderness park with few people and this week at one of British Columbia’s premier vacation cities with lots of people.

I am not sure if it’s those changing opportunities that called me to photography, but the range available to those that answered the call of photography is certainly a grand side effect.

Doing photography with another person is fulfilling. One might be at the same location, and even with the exact same camera, but how each person chooses to creatively photograph that location, in my experience, is always very different.

Well that photography adventure is over, I have looked at Jo’s photographs and she has looked at mine. Yes we were at the same place, but our view was very different.

 

October photographer’s drive through Wells Grey Park   

 

 

 

My friend Jo and I decided to test out a big 400mm lens that came in to my shop.

I had brought it home to test and had tried couple shots in my yard, but decided it needed distance subjects for a realistic workout.

Jo had stopped by one evening and after a couple glasses of wine I flippantly said, “if we took it to Wells Grey Park we might find some bears”.

I was joking. Jo always tells me she would be afraid if she saw a bear wandering in the woods where we live. However, in an uncharacteristic comment she took a sip of her wine and said, “can we do that?”

A week later we drove into the wilderness park and Jo had that big six-pound lens attached to her Nikon D800. We had began by stopping at Spahats Creek Falls 400mm lens for some wide angle shots, then wandered around a long deserted homestead and were heading to Helmkin Falls when we spotted the bears.

In the forest town of Clearwater, just before the park, I talked to a local that mentioned there had been a sow and two cubs hanging around a large meadow on the way to the park’s entrance, so we were watching and as we turned a corner there were cars parked on the roadside. And there in a farmer’s mowed field were the three bears.

I stopped, placed my beanbag on Jo’s open door and stepped back as she rested that big lens 400mm f3.5 on it and began pressing her camera’s shutter.

After that exhilarating event we drove on into the park.

We couldn’t have chosen a better day. The temperature was cool enough for a light jacket and the fall colours were inviting so we stopped and stopped and stopped again to take pictures.

The park is a favourite of hikers, boaters, trucks towing large trailers for overnight camping and for anyone, like Jo and I that want to do roadside photography.

Like most photographers, we over packed. We had our cameras, tripods, lots of lenses, a bag of filters, two flashes, extra memory cards and enough food for two or three days.

We didn’t eat very much of the food, use the filters, flashes or tripods and had no need to mount a flash on either of our cameras. I only used my 24-70mm and other than when she photographed the bears with that 400mm Jo stayed with her 20-40mm. But although the need never arose for us to employ that trunk full of equipment we were well prepared.

October is my favourite time of year for scenic photography and as last year at this time, Wells Gray Park is always on my list for fall nature photos.

When the shadows grew and the temperature began to drop we knew it was time to head home. Clearwater to our homes in Pritchard is about two hours and for us that meant two hours of talking about the photos we took, photos we plan to take and places we want to go with our cameras.

I looked for a quote to end with and found this by the most famous scenic photographer of them all, Ansel Adams.

Everybody now has a camera, whether it is a professional instrument or just part of a phone. Landscape photography is a pastime enjoyed by more and more. Getting it right is not an issue. It is difficult to make a mistake with the sophisticated technology we now have. Making a personal and creative image is a far greater challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the best lens for scenic photography?    

With all its colours fall is creeping into onto the hills in my part of British Columbia photographers are grabbing their cameras, tripods and jackets to wander out to record the beauty.

This past week a young couple visiting my Kamloops shop asked my opinion of the best lens to take along on their next excursion to photograph BC’s inspiring landscapes.

That’s a good question, especially from those new to photography that are spending hard earned money on pricy modern lenses. Personally, I like versatility and convenience, and there are a lot of great zoom lenses available for someone that doesn’t want to carry a heavy bag.

I might suggest lenses like 16-85mm, 24-70mm, or even 18-200mm. Gosh, there are so many lightweight and easy to carry choices. However, instead of recommending a particular lens for scenic photography, I’d rather think about perspective.

My decision after stepping out of the car to photograph some grand vista would be whether I wanted a wide angel or a telephoto. A wide-angle lens has a curved front surface allowing for a wider view. A telephoto has a flatter front surface and a narrower view.

For example, using a 18mm focal length lens when photographing along a fence will make the first post big and the succeeding posts smaller and smaller. Whereas, a 200mm focal length will give a tightly compressed view, and distances between the fencepost in the foreground and those further back won’t seem as distant as with the wider lens.

In a more practical example, when one is photographing a boat on the lake shore with mountains in the background a long focal length like the 200mm will be compress everything in the final image with no subject gaining significance over another. Yet, an18mm lens will make the boat large, and mountains in the background small and distant. Both may be good photographs of that scene, just different interpretations.

The most appropriate lens depends on the perspective and how the photographer wants to interpret the final image, and because the focal length adjusts the visual relationships of the objects within the picture, one must think about the image front to back and how much of the scenic is important as a wide, or a narrow final image.

It comes down to the personal vision of the photographer and what he or she wants to say about the landscape. Famous photographer, Ansel Adams said, “problem solve for the final photograph”.

Like Adams, photographers should be thinking about how the final photograph will be used and how to accomplish that.

If one thinks of a photograph as a series of problems to be solved there will be a smooth transition from initial idea to final print. For example one could begin by thinking about the subject and its environment. What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?

I don’t believe that there is one lens that can be termed a “scenic or landscape” lens. Any lens might be used as long as it meets the photographer’s vision. That might be to include a wide vista with a wide-angle lens, or on the other hand, a tighter cropped image created with a telephoto lens might be visually more powerful. The choice of lens for scenics comes down to what the photographer wants the viewer to feel and see.

 

 

 

 

Memories of past photography adventures.   

 

We all experience instant memories when we hear some song. That’s what happened when I heard a 1970’s song by the Bee Gees as I drove to town this week.

In July 1978 my friend Alan Atterton and I traveled (with me constantly playing a Bee Gees cassette on the 4 track player) to a place in Wyoming’s Teton Mountain range called the T Cross Ranch.

There was a photography class put on by the University of the Wilderness’ instructor, photographer, and writer, Boyd Norton.

Atterton had found Norton’s book “Wilderness Photography”. We poured over that book with its instructions, and ideas about photographing the great out-of-doors.

I don’t recall how we found out about the class, but I was so determined to attend that I sold my jaunty VW bug to pay for it. The cash not only paid my tuition and expenses to Wyoming, it also helped pay for an airline ticket so my girl friend (later my wife) could fly to Salt Lake City, Utah to meet there and then spend time photographing Arches National Monument, Zion Park and the Grand Canyon.

The T Cross Ranch was just outside of Dubois, Wyoming, and our class was comprised of photographers from Germany, New York, Florida, Idaho, Colorado, Tennessee, and two of us from Kamloops.

Getting together with other photographers, in my opinion, not only creates excitement, but also is the best thing one can do to become a better photographer.

We hiked and wandered, photographed everything in front of our lenses, and had lectures in a large wonderful 100-year-old antique-filled log house.

Our instructor wanted to provide instant feedback for the participants and had come across a state of the art three-chemical-process for developing slide film.

The first morning I noticed him reading the instructions and without thinking I volunteered, becoming the official class technician and while my classmates were sitting around the fire talking about the day’s events, I was in an abandoned walk-in cold room removing film from cassettes, rolling them into large processing tanks, then developing and hanging the rolls for overnight drying.

We were excited that we could have our images for critique so quickly. I thought that film technology had finally become the best it could be.

I preferred using a huge Mamiya RB67 at that time. The RB used 120mm medium format film and the negatives were 2¼x2¾ inches.

One morning we trucked up to a mountain plateau and Norton said, “There is a lightning storm to the west and we’ll see antelope coming this way to stay out of the storm. Find yourself a good position for some great shots.” I waited behind an old salt lick as several antelope came bounding our way.

The lens on the Mamiya RB67 racked back and forth on a rail instead of turning like modern lenses. I tried to keep the antelopes in focus as they ran toward us, but to my dismay I couldn’t. I didn’t get a shot!

I returned home and within weeks I sold it and purchased a compact little medium format Hasselblad that I used, until, coincidentally, I attended another wilderness class in the late 1990s, that time in Washington State, and was introduced to digital.

Shortly after that I bought my first DSLR. Both instances were because of the influence of other photographers. Technology changes constantly for those of us dedicated to this medium and holding on to out-dated equipment stops growth.

Reminiscing about that trip has reminded me was how important it is to interact with other photographers and participate in workshops, classes, and photo tours.

 

 

 

 

Another day with infrared        

The days here in Pritchard, British Columbia have been hot, dry, with air that has barely moved. A cloudless sky and constant sun that beats down on my head as I walk around my parched property, None of which has been that inspiring for photography.

So when I woke up to an overcast day this week I hurried through my morning chores with the thought of going off somewhere with my camera, and by the time I had finished my coffee I had decided to pull out my infrared converted camera and travel out along the dusty Stony Flats road to see how the overcast sky would show off the tall Fir trees that line it.

I drove along stopping for pictures every now and then, but I started feeling I was having a “photographer’s block”. It was then that I thought about the Chase falls.

I had been there only a couple months ago and thought about how nice it would to photograph the falls on a flat day without having to struggle with the hash contrast that accompanies a sunny day.

I knew the light would be unusual in that tight little canyon. It always is with infrared. Colour photos are so much easier there with the light is reflecting off the canyon walls.

This time of year the path along the creek is overgrown and narrow. And in my opinion, was a perfect subject for infrared with the subtle changing shades of green to a tonal range of whites.

The most dramatic infrared photographs of the falls need to be wide enough to include vegetation. An unaltered infrared image turns out mostly brown with a few slashes of light drifting down to make some features blue. Without foliage converting the image to black and white that isn’t much different than a normal black and white picture.

To get the otherworldly effect of infrared one must find and angle that includes foliage that turns white.

When plants reflect infrared light the effect will show them as glowing white, and its that tonal change that one is after when using infrared.

My favourite photographs were not the falls. This time it was the tightly treed creek and the overgrown path leading to Chase falls. However, the falls will always be the focal point of any photographs and one needs to work with that so viewers have a feeling from that location

Patience is part of any scenic/landscape photographer’s tool kit. And anyone that has accompanied me knows that I don’t become annoyed or anxious if I have to wait.

On this outing as I waited for over a half and hour for a fellow poking a stick into the water moving dirt, then digging with his hands and sifting though the particles. I never talked to him. I was up along the rocks for wide shots and he was perched on rocks near the falls. I assume he was hoping to find gold in the streambed.

He was finding small bits of something because he kept putting his findings in his shirt pocket. I have never searched for gold along that creek, but I have noticed a lot of iron pyrite clusters glowing in the shallow water. Maybe “fools gold” was what he wanted. Or, who knows, maybe he actually was finding something valuable.

To me the value I find in that canyon stream is the photographs I get to make.