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.

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.

 

Infrared photography is a refreshing change                          

 

I just like to make pictures.

When I retired from pointing my camera for money I was reminded how much fun it is to photograph everything for my personal entertainment.

The past two weeks I have stayed close to home with my cameras and, yes I’ll say it, “focused’ on subjects that are within ten to fifteen minutes drive from my front door.

My subjects aren’t necessarily exotic and there aren’t troves of photographers traveling long distances to set their tripods up in anticipation of those once-in-a-lifetime photographs. But, for me the things I pass along the local roadside are always interesting and sometimes even stimulating.

This spring I was unsuccessful in my attempt at photographing the geese and their goslings, but I easily pointed my camera in a different direction and had a good time photographing turtles instead. I then (driving along the same road) decided to photograph my way to work on a rainy day.

This week staying dedicated to Duck Range Road I dusted off the camera I had converted to infrared some years ago.

My previous trip around the countryside with it was in September of last year, so it was about time to create some images in a different light.

Infrared is always fun, and this time I’ll be able to compare four versions. I’ll have those I made last week that were colour and black & white, and then this weeks colour and black & white from infrared.

The first time I drove and photographed that route was back in 1977. I had just moved and had hooked up the electricity to a 20’ X 9’ trailer on a couple acres of heavily wooded land, I didn’t know anyone and was curious to see what I could find along the dusty dirt road.

I loaded my Pentax Spotmatic II with a roll of Ilford black and white film, jumped in my yellow 1962 International Scout 4X4 that I had recently changed the California licence plates to British Columbia plates, and slowly drove along the bumpy road in search of photographs.

Well, here it is 41 years later. I no longer reside in that cramped trailer, or use film for that matter, and there is no longer need of that 4X4 because the road is paved. However, I still slowly drive along that road in search of photographs.

I don’t need infrared to keep me excited with the photos I make along that road I know so well, but as I wrote in my title, “Infrared is a refreshing change”.

I thought about reusing last week’s quote by Elliott Erwitt. However, I wanted to find words by a photographer that described how I feel about pointing my camera at subjects I have photographed (hundreds of times?) before.

I searched some and found this quote by German photographer Helmut Newton.

“Look, I’m not an intellectual – I just take 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.”