Photographing the seafront

 

Last week I wrote about photographing the waterfalls at Whatcom Park. I also mentioned that Jo and I took some time after spending most of the day at the park to visit the waterfront.

When one lives in the British Columbia’s dry mountainous interior a trip to the ocean is always stimulating. Sure we have a big wide river where I live, but there are no large ocean going ships, big fishing boats or air that smells of saltwater. Oh, and Jo doesn’t get to spend time wandering the beach looking for seashells.

The coast along the large city of Bellingham is well built up with marinas, people packed piers and buildings of all sorts that makes it perfect for someone meandering with a camera that wants to experience the city’s seafront.

We drove around a lot trying to find places on the map. Some of the streets began with one name and suddenly change to another, and Google maps seemed to be for another planet. However, my “car-rule” is to always stop when something looks like it should be photographed. The driving isn’t as important as the picture.

I used my 24-70mm for everything and Jo stayed with the 28-300mm. There is always the temptation to carry every lens you own, but I think it’s best and easier when one is visiting a new place to stick with just one lens.

When we arrived we chanced on an area that was in the process of being redone. There are old brick buildings and some tall metal structures that look like they must have been for some kind of storage still standing, but it was obvious that the large area was under some kind of massive renovation.

I met a fellow from Idaho who told me that part of the coast park renovation will include a bicycle park and some of the old brick buildings will be for retail and some for art. He walked with me as I photographed a sailboat moored near some buildings, the remnants of a pier and a strange giant metal ball that he said was once a storage tank that is now a sculpture called the Acid Ball.

After leaving the waterfalls we eventually found the long metal pier that extends along Bellingham Bay that was packed with photo opportunities. Men and women with long poles catching crabs, kids jumping off it into the ocean, boats of all kinds, people that I’ll bet were from all over the world, and also, to Jo’s delight, a small sandy beach to hunt seashells.

It is fun visiting places with the goal in mind to take photographs. I suppose now days most people have their tiny cell phones to grab memories with, but in my opinion, having a DSLR with different focal length lenses, a tripod, and an assortment of filters and the knowledge serious photographers have to have to use all that equipment is a prescription to get creative.

Bellingham was a grand photographic adventure that I might just repeat some day. That park was an exciting find and photographing the coast was a pleasant way to spend our last afternoon and night in that busy city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography trip to Whatcom Falls Park.    

 

When most of us that live in British Columbia think of Bellingham Washington it’s usually about the shopping. Bellingham is the closest major US city that we can drive to for better prices on just about everything. Filling up our cars, buying clothing, food and dairy products to name a few items are still less expensive than here in Canada.

Some years ago I stopped overnight on my way back from my annual sojourn to the Anacortes Shipwreck festival and while out to supper I noticed a flyer with the words “Things to do in Bellingham”. Browsing through I noticed it mentioned a place called Whatcom Falls Park.

There are lots of waterfalls in British Columbia so that shouldn’t have been a big deal. However, what grabbed my attention was a picture of a stone bridge with a waterfall behind it. I have always been intrigued with the many stone structures built in the 1930s by the WPA (Work Projects Administration). I remember my father pointing out stone bridges and walls along mountain highways and talking about how the government employed men needing work during the Great Depression.

I have wanted to go back to Bellingham for an overnighter so I could have plenty of time to photograph that wonderful stone bridge and the park’s waterfalls. When I mentioned to my friend Jo that I wanted to go there this summer her excited response “Lets go” was all I needed.

I booked two nights at a hotel that included breakfast and we headed off to cross the border to Bellingham to photograph Whatcom Park and the city’s waterfront.

We had a lazy morning and arrived around 9:30 to an almost empty park and were so excited that we ran down the wide dirt walkway to the bridge. Gosh, what a beautiful place.

The park was only a fifteen-minute drive from our hotel and we were surprised to find that the stone bridge and falls that were only a couple minutes walk from the parking lot.

We photographed from the bridge then climbed down the well-worn trails under the bridge so we could take photographs at the base of the falls.

Creatively photographing waterfalls is pretty easy and the long exposures that are popular with water are no big deal.   All one needs is a good camera, a sturdy tripod, and some ND filters. I shot with my trusty 24-70mm and Jo used both a 28-300mm and 14-24mm.

There were two waterfalls, the large and impressive one near the stone bridge and a smaller more intimate one just up the creek a bit. We photographed both of them trying different exposures and filters.

My favourites are square filters that I hold in front of the lens as I make the time exposure. I prefer to hold the filter and slightly shake it up and down so any marks on them won’t be visible.

We stayed at the park way past noon and sat in my car talking for a while before leaving to check out the coast.

What a fun way to spend a weekend.

The best word I could use to describe how that colourful park seemed is “magical”.

I didn’t want to disturb anything and even though there were sounds of happy people coming from all around, everything became quiet when I looked through my camera.

I found this quote by American photographer Diane Arbus that perfectly describes the way Jo and I felt as we each pushed the shutter.

“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.”

Try something different from the usual vacation photos.  

 

I hadn’t picked up my infrared camera since spring, and it was a last minute addition when I was loading the car for my trip to the Washington coast.

Now as I sort through the pictures I took on my short four-day junket I am glad I did.

The low, late afternoon coastal light is great for infrared. The trees become an iridescent white, the sky a deep black and anything painted a light colour glows.

I suppose most of the pictures one takes on vacation are little more than documents of the places visited and end up filed away in hopes that future generations will eventually find the volumes of unmarked computer files and excitedly relive the experience.

Somehow I doubt that actually happens very much.

Just as the closet full of boxed slides from the film generation will likely be discarded when age forces them to downsize, I expect the terabytes of image files stored on memory cards, cell phones and the illusive cloud will follow a similar fate.

I don’t have an answer to that, I guess what will be will be. However, modern digital technology at least allows us to be a bit more creative with the images that come out of our cameras. I don’t know if the memories they retain will last any longer than I will when I am just dusty ashes in some old jar, but what the heck, if anyone does take the time to look through the volumes of photographs I leave I am sure they won’t be bored because very few of my vacation photos fit easily under the heading, “document”.

My vacations, for many years have centered around my interest in photography. My wife used to call them “photo vacations” because everywhere we visited and everything we did when traveling revolved around taking the time to get creative with our cameras.

Now with modern digital technology that creative photography is not only “during the excursion” but goes on for many enjoyable hours at the computer when all the gear has been put away at home and the trip is only memories.

Enter infrared.

Infrared files are waiting to be manipulated. In my opinion the need to preserve or enhance the beauty of what was experienced on one’s latest adventure doesn’t apply. Infrared is a different light and different statement about the world we experience.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling for me. When I discussed my infrared photos last May I wrote that when I see a black and white photograph it makes me think about how a subject looks in a particular light and the mood it creates.

Infrared makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject.

The pictures one makes with an IR camera are always an exploration, a discovery, and are very different from the usual vacation photos.

Scenic photography on Fidalgo Island        

Last week was my second article about my trip to the coast. I wrote that there were three very different photographic opportunities that I took advantage of on my four-day stay, the street photography during the festival, the architectural photography on a quiet Sunday morning and the scenic photography.

Jo and I wandered the beaches early in the morning. Walked along wooded paths during the day. Climbed the rock-covered breakwater beside a deteriorating wreck in the afternoon, and stood on a darkened pier at night.

We trudged to each location carrying equipment filled backpacks with tripods on our shoulders talking about, and making decisions concerning the photographs we would take.

As I sat down in the sand that first afternoon I thought about how hard it is for most people to do photography with me. Jumping out of the car, running to a view point, taking a picture, then jumping back in the car and driving to the next view is not my style.

I have to think, ponder and sit for a while. I am never in a hurry when it comes to scenic photographs. I have a need to experience the place. And, of course, I like to use a tripod.

On this trip we had my new 14-24mm and 28-300mm lenses to try out.

I have never been a fan of really wide photos, so using the 14mm was quite an experience. I purchased a 150mm polarizing filter and filter holder for that wide lens, and although that seemed to be a good setup the protruding front lens glass is vignetted by the filter holder resulting in a disappointing 19mm view.

The 28-300mm was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to like it after trying it in a dimly lighted studio. In the studio it had a hard time finding focus. However, I think the problem might be the lack of contrast in the studio because in that bright coastal light I was stopping birds in flight and getting sharp, colourful pictures.

I’ll hang on to both lenses. Like cameras, they are just tools and not every tool fits every job.

I had visited most of the places we photographed many time before. But all I have to do to make them different from past years is to place my tripod in a new location, crop my view and change the center of interest.

Even after all the years going there I still don’t have a favourite place, Although there are locations that I like to stop at depending on the time of day.

I always choose Cap Sante Park with its high lookout over Anacortes when I first arrive. During the day there are several rocky beaches that are waiting to be re-explored and photographed, and I always make time to walk out on the high Deception Park Bridge for a photo of the Deception Pass as it connects with the sea.

The evenings usually find me in Washington Park photographing both the leaning tree (it was still alive when I started visiting in the mid 1990s) that hangs out over the sea, and the island filled ocean from a high lookout as we complete the parks winding ring road on the way back to the city center.

The best place to stand a tripod after dark is the beachside Seafarers Park for a long exposure night photograph across Fidalgo bay of the Marathon refinery’s lights.

I do enjoy my yearly excursions to Anacortes and plan on many more. I was having dinner with several people this past week and was asked about my trip to the coast. And as with many times before I talked about what I did, but I didn’t have any photographs to make clear as to why I return there year after year.

The famous American scenic photographer, Ansel Adams, explained it best when he said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

A photographer’s holiday at the Shipwreck festival      

 

Each year the month of July brings two of my favourite photography events.

The first is the Pritchard Rodeo and the second is the Anacortes Shipwreck Festival. Gosh, what an exciting month July is for photography.

The preceding week had been cool and a bit rainy on the Washington coast, but when we reached the festival my friend Jo and I were met with a warm day that had just enough clouds in the sky to make it comfortable to walk around the 9 block street market filled with 400 interesting booths.

We had arrived in the town of Anacortes at the tip of Fidalgo Island after a pleasant drive the day before the annual Shipwreck Festival.

The locals say that the Shipwreck Festival began thirty-eight years ago when fishermen sold their used gear on the town’s main street. Since then the event has evolved into a giant garage sale/flea market that includes vendors that seem to be from as far away as Mexico.

Last year I wrote, “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 she ate and I agree that both my food and the two beers I drank were the refuelling I needed.”

Well I can write that again this year, we again got to see, touch and even purchase unusual treasures, and I had a fun time photographing people on the crowded street.

Jo got to have that bowl of the crab & corn chowder she had been dreaming about since last July and I enjoyed two very dark beers while I rested my old legs. Then just as last year we were off for another look around and a few more pictures of the crowded street of happy bargain hunters.

I do like the treasure shopping as much as anyone, but watching the people and photographing everything on that island is what brings me back each year.

I have tried different cameras. When I first came in mid-1990s I used a Nikon F3 film camera. Then when digital arrived I used several different DSLRs until last year when I changed to a tiny Nikon 1 mirrorless.

What I like about the (recently discontinued) little interchangeable lens camera is it’s small size and quick focusing. I carry it in an old army bag that allows me to pull it out fast for street photos without getting attention from those around me.

The Nikon 1 doesn’t have the large higher quality sensors of the big and more expensive mirrorless cameras like the Fuji or Sony, but like any other tool that one might select for a specific job the little Nikon is great for the internet or even 8X10 prints.

This was the kind of vacation trip that I like, wandering the Shipwreck festival looking for treasures, (I bought a handmade flit blade knife) doing photography on the crowded avenue, meeting new people and getting to eat fresh seafood at local restaurants. All less than a day’s drive to from the very different environment where I live.

Eliminate the Irrelevant from your Photographs  

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company put out a series of photography pamphlets packed with great advice and information that I collected and studied.

Recently I thumbed through one I still had entitled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”. And although meant for medium format film cameras it’s filled with information that is still appropriate for modern digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like “Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and light colour, Types of exposure measurement, X synchronization, Double exposure and Polaroid film”. All an interesting read if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in the modern digital world.

One topic entitled “We see far to much” says, “The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

That paragraph is worth thinking about. Most successful photographers “tighten up” on their composition, and by that, I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual statement of a photograph. Beginners mostly just aim their cameras with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to additional unimportant stuff captured by the sensor.

Photographers often look at their final image and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items that really should be to be cropped out. If they just took their time to move closer, or zoomed-in the lens they would have had an attractive composition in-camera.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers must train themselves to be specific with a subject only showing the viewer what is important. Gosh, how do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release?

I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only employed rickety, inexpensive models. My comment to anyone that says they don’t like a tripod is “You’ve never used a good one”.

Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about the composition. I agree with Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and the need to eliminate irrelevant items in our compositions.

When that neat and interesting subject is seen stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window and take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk and as you do think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made.

Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph. Not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything, and take my advice and use a tripod for scenics.

 

 

 

 

A spring drive with my infrared camera.

The bright sunny spring day was perfect for infrared photography.

I hadn’t used my old camera that I had converted to infrared for quite a while. The last time it was used was by my friend Jo last February. The images Jo made in on that winter day were a fun change for her from the colourful photographs she was used to with her big 36mp Nikon.

Infrared is always a crowd pleaser and using an infrared camera is the best way to step away from what other photographers are doing.

After my failures at finding and photographing those tricky geese I figured it was time to get that IR camera out. I charged the batteries, set the white balance, made sure I had an empty memory card, mounted my ever-so-sharp Sigma 20-40mm lens on it, finished my cup of coffee and finally sat it on the seat beside me as I drove off to see what there was waiting for me to photograph in the next few hours.

I drove the rural roads around my home for a while, and then decided to check out the waterfall a bit down the highway.

There was lots of fast spring runoff water coming over the falls, but the little canyon was still in too much shade. To get dramatic infrared photographs of the falls I prefer a wide shot that includes vegetation. But on this day the shade made my unaltered infrared image mostly brown with only a few slashes of bright light drifting down to make some features blue. Without strong light the there won’t be bright white foliage and the final image wouldn’t be much different than a normal black and white picture. So I gave up and crossed through the small town of Chase to the lakeside.

The lakeside was in bright morning sun with blue sky and was perfect for infrared. There weren’t many people and the small grassy beach park was empty.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling. I have written before that using a modified camera is an exploration that moves a photographer far from the usual camera image and the final effect is quite unworldly. The bluer the sky, the greater the likelihood of that unworldly effect; and things that are white or have been turned white (like trees) can glow with an ethereal brightness.

My camera produces images that are limited it colour range. Unlike many modern infrared conversions that give many dramatic colours, the original pictures from my old 6mp camera are mostly shades of brown and blue. By altering the colour channels I can get a few different colours, but much of the time I prefer B&W.

At his writing I am thinking it might be time to see what Lifepixel.com has for sale with a newer, higher megapixel camera.

Black and white makes me think about the subject first and then the light, or how a subject looks in a particular light. Infrared, on the other hand, makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject. Of course the subject, and how it is composed and framed is important, but some things don’t look very different (depending on how the IR light is absorbed) than a colour image converted to black and white. With my old camera I must be thinking about the light first and then choose subjects that I think will look like they are photographed with infrared.

To me using an IR camera is always an exploration and certainly a discovery. And the best think about using infrared is how it allows me to create photographs “that are far from the usual.”