Eulogy for Chuck the Rooster

This past week Chuck the rooster died. I don’t think my neighbors will feel too sad because, if that rooster was anything it was a loud talker. I called it talking and everyone else called it crowing. But, to me he seemed like he had something to say and anyway I am going to miss him and his point of view.

Why would I write a eulogy for a silly bird? It should go something like, “Chuck kept the hens together, crowed lots, and then he died.” Surely a rooster isn’t worth more words of praise than that. He had a good pedigree; he was a Buff Orpington rooster with striking colouring and handsome spurs.

In May I wrote an article titled “Pets make Great Photography Models”.  In that I wrote, “Got a new camera or lens? Want to try out that studio lighting technique? Or just bored and want someone ever ready and able to pose for a photograph? Call the dog, or coax the cat. I can’t even begin to count the pictures I have taken of the horses, dogs, cats, parakeets, hamsters, chickens, fish, and frogs I have taken in my life”.

Those pets never complained when the pictures didn’t work out, and even waited for another blast of the flash without blinking. And I continued saying that Chuck, my rooster that guards the hens, doesn’t seem too interested in standing still for his portrait.

So, other than not having Chuck to keep a bunch of chickens on the straight and narrow, I’ll miss having an ever ready, constantly moving subject to practice my photography on. That rooster never stood still for long. He was always guarding, herding, searching for interesting stuff on the ground, then telling us all about what he found, flapping a lot and was always running around.

Sometimes I would set the lenses I wanted to try out on the rickety old wooden picnic table that sits in the back meadow and then open the gate to the chicken pen so Chuck and the girls could get out. They always want to get out, and eyeing my wife’s flower garden would clumsily run out and across the unmowed field grass with Chuck guarding the perimeter like some soldier on patrol.  I would sit, crouch, and lay in the tall grass, making exposure after exposure until they trundled past and into the overhanging bushes of the garden. In retrospect I should have been more serious about the pictures I took, and now I wish I had kept more of that silly old bird. But I seem to only have one or two stashed on my hard-drive.  Anyway, who wants a picture of a chicken hanging on their wall?

I tested cameras, lenses, flashes, and my ability to light with flash outdoors, stop movement and focus properly on quick moving subjects. I would walk out in the yard, find Chuck and the chickens, try something out, dump the images from my memory card to the computer, check them out, make a decision about what I wanted to try next, then delete them and go out and start again.

I couldn’t have thought of a better photographic test subject. Yep, that rooster never stopped moving and I am going to miss our time together.

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Planning a Photography Excursion to the tulip festival.


Now that the February blahs are over, and March has come and gone bringing warmer days (regular readers know how I feel about March, “Ides of March. 15 March 2012”), I am thinking about planning a spring photography excursion.  I am hoping the weather will be cooperative as I don’t enjoy photography in the rain, and don’t want to get my camera equipment wet.  I think I should include some protective rain gear in the event of bad weather.

I would like to go on spring excursion heading west and south and that should give me the best opportunity for photography that will not include snow or cold temperatures.  I want to go somewhere along the coast I think, as spring comes earlier along the west coast and I should have my choice of flowers, landscapes, or any possible wildlife.  A friend phoned last night from Vancouver saying there was green grass, and flowers, and the temperature was 12 degrees, and expected to get warmer.

I just received an email reminding me of the spectacular blooming events along Washington State’s northern coast.  I could attend the 29th Annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival from the 1st to 30th of April.  I know I could link up with other photographers going there from BC, or I could just head to LaConner or some other town on the coast of Washington, find a place to sleep, and join the festivities.  I am not so much a flower person, but like so many other subjects I photograph, I think multicolored fields of tulips would be an interesting photographic challenge. Choices ranging from extreme close-ups to landscapes would be just plain fun.

I don’t tent or RV so I will start browsing the internet for reasonable lodging. I have found fun places to stay in the past by checking out lodging websites, however, I have also ended up by chance in neat places just by going where I want to be and looking around.

If this brings up the question, “Have you ever had bad luck finding a place without advance reservations?”  Oh, yes!  I remember pulling our tiny Suzuki Sidekick off the highway at a roadside rest stop late at night because every hotel and motel was full.  My wife, Linda, and I tried unsuccessfully to spend the night sleeping in that cramped car. Morning came early (4am) and because nothing in the nearby small town was open we drove off tired and hungry. We finally ended up gobbling donuts and coffee hours later at a Tim Horton’s, then later collapsed on a sandy beach beside a lake and slept much of the day away.  Oh well, we will never forget that excursion!

I like to plan and organize such events to include preparing the vehicle, so when the time comes I will ensure the car is tuned up, and the winter tires are changed.  I like lists because I always forget stuff, and so I’ll begin making several brightly colored checklists of the items I will bring, and then I will start looking forward to the photography excursion, and have fun just thinking about the pictures I want to take.

That brings up the best part of planning.  What camera equipment do I bring?  I could bring every lens and camera I have, but that’s just silly as I wouldn’t have any room for a change of clothes.  Too much of the time I over pack my camera gear and end up stashing equipment in the car because it isn’t being used, so I will make an effort to minimize this year.

I don’t like to venture very far with only one camera, so I always carry a backup camera.  Cameras can malfunction and I don’t want to take the chance of reaching my distant destination and not being able to do the photography I went there to do.

Next on the list are the lenses I think I’ll need.  If I attend the tulip festival I’ll need a macro lens for close-up photography and a wide-angle lens for those colourful, flowered landscapes. There will be other opportunities and I’ll bring my 70-200mm and for wide low light opportunities will include a 24-70mm f2.8.  And very important, I will pack lots of memory cards.  By now the camera pack is getting full. That’s three lenses, two camera bodies, and I haven’t yet included my infrared camera that I think I’ll also bring. Oops, there is also my wife’s camera gear. Add her camera, macro lens, and favorite zoom lens, a 70-300mm.

Of course we will take our tripods, that’s a given.  Ahh, the decisions we must make. I just think it is so much fun.  The planning and anticipation of any photographic excursion is as much fun as the actual trip.  Whether I make it to the Washington coast or have to pull back my plans and stay closer to home, I will soon be venturing out camera in hand.


The basics to photographic Composition

Much of the time the photographers I meet and talk to really have only one interest in photography and that is to discuss equipment.  Nowadays, especially, they are very excited about the newest products.  Photographers should be building a selection of equipment that will allow them to do photography the way they like and that works effectively for the subject they want to photograph.

As much as I do like talking about cameras, lenses, and other assorted equipment, what I really like to talk about is photographs.  So, last week, when a photographer stopped by my shop with some nice enlargements, I was pleased to say the least.  We talked about how successful her photographs were at capturing the viewer’s attention, where the photos were taken, her objectives for each, the colors, and why she cropped them the way she had.  They were good photographs and looking at good photos sometimes lets you know a bit about the person who took them.  We started talking about photographic composition; not so much of the photos we were looking at, but just a general discussion.  So today I thought I’d put some thoughts down that people could think about when composing a photograph.

A person painting or drawing can truly compose an image; they have total freedom to place, arrange and alter the appearance of visual elements.  Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subject being photographed and depend on using camera position, point of view or the perspective created by different focal lengths of their lenses.  With photography we try to produce exciting, well balanced images, depending on the subject and how we want to communicate with those elements in the photograph.

What is your photograph about?  Instead of shooting right away, stop to decide which part of the scene you really want to show. Let the content determine the size and importance of the objects.   Try what I call the apple technique:  You are driving along and see an inspiring scene. Don’t just point your camera out the car window!  

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in your bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as you are looking at that inspiring scene.   Think about what you like about it. Make some choices. What would you like to say to the viewer?

5. Then get your camera and make the picture.

As you are making your basic choices and deciding on what visual elements are important think about what the famous War photographer Robert Capra, known for the intensity and immediacy of his images, said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”  Getting closer eliminates distracting objects and simplifies the contents of a picture. It reduces busy backgrounds and focuses attention to the main subject or center of interest.

Another consideration is whether to photograph horizontal or vertical.  I listened to a discussion by successful magazine photographer, Scott Bourne.  He asked the question, “When do you take the horizontal?”  His answer was, “After you take the vertical.”

A final thought is to think about important visual elements and how best to arrange them in your photograph. The Rule of Thirds – Draw imaginary lines dividing the picture area into thirds horizontally, than vertically. Important subject areas should fall on the intersections of the lines.  For example, a photograph of an old barn in a field; move your viewfinder around to see how it would look placed in the upper right intersection the each other after that. If you take the time to decide and compose, your photographs will be much more successful.

What are your thoughts and opinions?