Long exposure workshop at Chase Falls                               

Two weekends ago Jo and I hosted a long exposure workshop at the nearby Chase Falls.                  In the rain I might add.

After returning from Vancouver my photo partner Jo McAvany posted some of the long exposure night photographs she took of the Vancouver lights. Those images garnered quite a bit of interest and Jo was fielding questions from more than one local photographer about how she made them.

We decided to pick a date and offer a workshop that would allow participants to try long shutterspeed photography and also to use neutral density filters.

I like my classes to be strong learning experiences and as with all that teach I included handouts, and this time I also included a set of six ND filters for each photographer to use. All they had to bring was their camera with a fully charged battery, their favourite lens, and a tripod.

We chose the Chase waterfall because it was close, easy to get to and, this time of year, extremely safe if one has good enough balance to climb through and over the big rocks.

What we weren’t expecting was a rainy day… fortunately some of the photographers in attendance had the forethought to bring umbrellas. I also had two that I always keep in the trunk of my car and I brought a few towels that I handed out to wipe the rain off cameras.

Jo began the day when everyone was gathered at the parking lot, while I was passing out filters and handouts, by telling people that after our trip to Vancouver she has absolutely become hooked on long exposures, and I have no doubt that we now have a few more dedicated converts.

Most photographers understand their shutter, but using shutterpeeds longer than 1/30th of a second, and adding ND filters is often new territory.

The rain was only a slight inconvenience as the excited group started seeing their results of the waterfall. The light on that wet rainy day was, as I had hoped, perfect at the falls. Rainy days are usually like that.

We worked as teams in the rain. With one partner holding the umbrella keeping the camera, lens and filter dry as the other set up the tripod and camera at each location.

It was a great day for learning something new. Yep, I am sure there are now a few more photographers that have Jo’s passion for long exposures.

I am looking forward to the trip we are planning to Kelowna in December to photograph the Christmas lights. I think we may go a bit early so we can do some long exposures near the marina along Okanagan Lake. I’ll finish with this great quote I found by German artist Dieter Appelt.

“A snapshot steals life that it cannot return. A long exposure creates a form that never existed.”

 

Night photography from Stanley Park  

 

 

 

After the great time we had at the Bloedel Conservatory and the aviary we wandered the city for a fun place to eat and then spent the rest of the day photographing the crowds of people on Vancouver’s Granville Island.

We then drove around Stanley Park to make sure the place we wanted to set up to photograph the lights across the Burrard Inlet after dark would still be ok.  Stanley Park is a 405-hectare public park that borders downtown Vancouver and is mostly surrounded by water.

We returned to our motel to pickup my friend Laurie that had just arrived from Kamloops, and our tripods and drove back through the city to Stanley Park as the light was going down. We took a meandering coastal route in case there were other opportunities – that had me continually getting lost as I drove the darkened streets.

However, as luck would have it we happened on an empty parking lot directly across from the iconic Canada Place with it’s brilliantly lit fabric roof that resembled five sails.

During the day that location would be packed with cars and, I have no doubt, securely guarded against those without an expensive parking pass. But except for a lonely pickup the lot was empty and there wasn’t even the usual chain link fence to block our view of Canada place.

We jumped out with our tripods and excitedly started taking long exposures. Both Jo and I had 10 stop ND filters on our cameras.

After making as many exposures as we wanted of that colourful building we turned our cameras on the skyscrapers across the street then jumped back in the car and drove on to Stanley Park where we would be looking across the water from the other side of Canada place at the city and shipping terminals.

Our chosen location was across from a dark parking lot along the ocean. There was only occasional lights were from cars quickly passing on the park’s ring road and bicyclists that had to be watched out for as they zoomed out of the unlit forest with only tiny lights warning us to stay out of their way.

We wandered along the dark sea wall taking pictures across the inlet of the many bright city lights. I think both Jo and I were making mostly 30 second exposures of the bright lights, calm ocean and the moon high in the black night sky.

What a great way to end the day. We began in the bright morning light at the highest location in the city and ended in the dark night at it’s lowest location, and today as I write over a week later we are still talking about the fun photography adventure we had in Vancouver.

I suppose many might use the words, “trip to Vancouver” instead of a “Vancouver photography adventure”. But my dictionary defines adventure as “excitement, thrill, and stimulation”. So Adventure is the description the fits the best for that day and the next at the exhilarating Vancouver Camera sale and swap meet.

Another trip to Chase Falls             

                   

When I suggested to my friend, photographer Jo McAvany that we should drive over to nearby Chase Falls I imagined we’d be walking up a water filled creek to an overflowing falls and expected to be spending as much time wiping the water spray off my camera as I was taking pictures.  However, to my surprise the water coming over the falls was really diminished from its usual early summer flow.

The narrow stream canyon had been assaulted by a lot of water at sometime in the last month or so because there were lots of large rocks where there once was sand and my usual place for wide pictures was covered by a large pile of washed out trees.

3PM on a hot, cloudless July afternoon was definitely the wrong time to photograph the falls. The bright sun was cutting its way across the left side of the canyon leaving the right side in deep shade.  Even with graduated ND filters, trying to balance the scene’s high contrast was impossible.  Nevertheless I scrambled up and over the scattered boulders to find a better position, while Jo chose to work along the bank under the trees accompanied by, as she soon noticed, an ever-growing swarm of mosquitoes.

I guess there were enough breezes coming from the falls to push the mosquitoes away from my position, or maybe I was so fixed on my struggle to get some kind of image out of the contrasty scene that I didn’t notice their feasting.

I stacked ND filters over my lens and pointed my camera either into the sun or into the shade. It was one or the other if I didn’t want over or under exposures in my captures.

When I clambered back to where Jo was I found she had all but given up on the harsh lighting and was photographing people zip-lining above us. Well, that and giving her self up to the blood sucking hoards. She mentioned to me that she was being bitten everywhere, but dedicated photog that she was she still stood waiting for another zip-liner to zoom by screaming over-head.

I climbed down the bank and got a few more shots of the fast moving water and, of course, I just had to snap a couple shots of the people flying by.

Jo had just about had it with the mosquitoes and I finally began to notice the pesky creatures, so even though it was cooler by the creek than back at the car, we tore ourselves away from the falls with a promise to come back covered with repellent on an overcast day.

I will admit that what I like best about Chase Falls is they are only a few minutes drive from my home. It’s a cool location to scramble around and even though I have photographed it multiple times in every season during the last 40 years I have lived nearby I still enjoy making the trip there with my camera.

I guess there are lots of us photographers that have photographed local subjects over and over and over again.

I remember a long time old friend complaining. (Well he seemed to be) about a high mountain place we had climbed to countless times before. As we waited for the sun to rise he said, “I have taken every photograph that can be ever taken here”.  I quietly continued to drink my coffee without replying.

I am sure he knew I disagreed.

 

Thoughts about Neutral Density Filters for Photography

Chase falls in August

Cool waters

White water

A neutral density filter is a clear, colourless, filter that reduces the intensity of all wavelengths, or colours of light, equally. It is usually a colorless (gray) filter that reduces the amount of light entering the lens. A photographer can select exposure combinations that would otherwise produce overexposed pictures. Using a ND filter allows a photographer to achieve a very shallow depth of field, or motion blur.

I’ll begin by saying quality ND filters have always been expensive. During the days of film, the exposure you made was the exposure you got. And when one used colour film one didn’t get a second chance if there was a colour shift, usually a purple cast, with less expensive filters. Some cheap filters weren’t all that sharp either.

I thought about that when during a workshop the leader loaned me a couple Lee filters (over a hundred dollars each) to try on long exposures of the waterfall we were photographing. He indicated if I were to order through him I could get a discount.

I’d already spent a bundle on costs including travel and lodging, and owned ND filters that worked well so I passed on the deal and came home thinking about maybe a future purchase.

My memory of ND filter problems were from the time of film. Film has a permanence that data files created in our modern digital camera don’t have.

Colour balance in film means colour correction filters. Where as, with digital I mostly leave my camera on auto white balance, and fix any shift when I open my RAW files in Photoshop.

A photographer could somewhat help a soft image when shooting black and white film by increasing the contrast, but with colour it was permanent. Nowadays, we have a number of software possibilities that can almost (well, almost) fix a not-quite-in-focus image.

With all that in mind I thought that unless I was making very large prints that those cheap ND filters might be usable. So I ordered several very inexpensive, no-name ND filters thinking the $60.00 or so I spent might be foolish, but I’d have some fun and discard them if they didn’t work.

I bought them, put them away and forgot about them. Then this past week as I sat looking at the overcast sky after a much-needed shower in the parched hills around my home, I decided to give those filters a try. I grabbed my camera, tripod, and the bag of filters, talked my wife into coming, and drove to a local waterfall.

The Chase Creek falls weren’t the raging torrent of spring or early summer. This year’s long, hot, dry spell has had an effect and capturing an exciting waterfall wasn’t possible. I tried a couple different angles, scrambling around the rocks and down to a now sandy shore, and then a group of young people came to splash in the cold water so I moved downstream in the creek. I was getting bored anyway and didn’t mind giving up my spot to those kids and their blanket.

Returning home, I loaded my RAW files in the computer, easily corrected the white balance, added contrast and sharpened the image in Photoshop.

My conclusion is those inexpensive ND filters are great if one is willing to shoot in RAW and make post-production corrections. I think an out-of-the-camera JPG would be disappointing.

I expect there will be opinions by experienced photographers who read this. However, the images look pretty good on my calibrated 30-inch Mac display screen. I haven’t made any prints, but I expect 8×10’s might be just fine, and if just sharing images on-line I think inexpensive ND filters will be fine.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com