Backroads and roadside photography      

I’ll begin this article with this quote by photographer Steve McCurry,  “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.”

As I began to write this week’s article I thought about his words. I have been hoping to do some traveling this summer, but with the government in British Columbia still telling us not to take unnecessary trips I have been thinking I should just continue to wander nearby back roads.

Maybe it will be a summer that sees those of us with cameras to take a creative and appreciative look at what is out our front door.

This week Jo and I decided to venture a bit further than Pritchard and although we slowed to look for geese paddling in the pond we didn’t bother to get our cameras and continued on down the rural road looking for something new to photograph. Or at the least, something neither of us has photographed in a while.

Jo called me and said she had to make a quick trip to Kamloops and asked if I wanted to go. She suggested we could return home by one of the many back roads and could take the time to make some photos. Of course I wanted to go, I was doing yard work and any excuse to stop doing yard work is good for me. I don’t like mowing, trimming, digging, pulling or driving to the local dump with a loaded truck. I know all that stuff has to be done or my yard would just be a bushy forest with a mostly hidden house.

I had just enough time to pack my cameras in a bag when Jo drove up. I think she was already on the way when she called, she knows me pretty well. I put my 16-35mm lens on one camera and grabbed my Infrared camera that was mounted with 20-40mm.

I haven’t owned the 16-35 very long and am trying to decide if it should replace the 14-24mm I have. Yes, I am still struggling with that wide-angle lens. There are lots of opinions in online forums, but I have plenty of time to make that decision and short trips like the one with Jo would be perfect.

We made the stop Jo had in Kamloops then pulled through the drive-thru at the Dairy Queen. I am glad places like that have continued to stay open through this crisis and after we got a cotton-candy dipped cone for Jo and a milkshake for me I commented that there must be a lot more work for the staff with all the extra sanitizing they must do before and after each customer.

We left Kamloops turned off the highway and as with the trip we took a couple weeks ago to Kelowna, there weren’t too many cars so driving slowly and continually stopping to take pictures was easy.

Spring is always colourful and the day was sunny with lots of white clouds. It was excellent for photography of the country landscape we slowly drove through and it was exciting for IR photography and although I played some with that 16-35mm, most of the photos I made were with my IR camera with the 20-40mm.

Maybe this will be a summer of short excursions. My advice to all those readers that haven’t been beyond their front doors with a camera is; There is always something to photograph and there are a lot of rural roads that aren’t a long drive from home that are waiting to be explored and re-explored. I expect this year the spring will be wet here is BC and there will be lots of new growth and changing environments to point our cameras at. It is also fun to find a new and imaginative way to photograph things we have photographed before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social distancing           

 

I looked up some definitions. Distance is, “interval, space, span, gap, length, width, breadth, depth; range, reach, remoteness, closeness.” And Social is, “community, collective, group, general, popular, civil, public.”

Ok, I am fine with those definitions.   Most Governments are demanding that we practice “Social Distancing”.   So when my friend Jo and I were exchanging texts about some close to home areas we wanted to photograph now that the weather is changing we had no problem figuring out how we could both stay safe and do photography together while still abiding by the current rules.

We would each drive our own car. So for the past two days we have enjoyed going out to the same nearby locations at the same time. Gosh, other than being in different vehicles not much has changed.

Stop the car because the is something good to photograph, ignoring everything but the subject, jump out of the car camera in hand, rush to a good personal vantage point and excitedly talk loud. Everything is the same as usual. Landscape photography is not a shoulder-to-shoulder activity and keeping to the “six-foot-distance” rule isn’t even a conscious action. Its what we usually do.

We slowly drove down the dusty rural road. Our first stop was to photograph a church built in the 1800’s. Then in just a short distance we walked through a large culvert that passed under the highway to the river. I used my flash to photograph Jo at the other end of the underpass, and then went down to the river.

This is a good time to wander with a camera along the river. The spring runoff hasn’t started yet so there are lots of photo opportunities because the river is so low.

Jo brought two cameras. One with a 70-200mm attached and the other was the old infrared converted Nikon D100 I am no longer using. She had a 14-24mm on that.

Until the frozen pond thaws so I can again attempt to photograph the ever-illusive geese nesting there I have been using the infrared converted camera I got to replace that old D100. On my new camera I had a 20-40mm lens. I like using a wide-angle lens when I shoot infrared. I have tried longer focal lengths, but the exaggeration I can get with a wide-angle lens compliments the creative look of infrared.

The first day of spring has passed. Where I live there still is snow in the shade, but where the sunshine’s the plants are really starting to bud.

When the trees on the mountain-side start to grow leaves they will show up as a stronger yellow in my colour infrared images and whiter in the B&W infrared images. However, it is the growing garden right out my front door that will get my photographic attention. Soon I’ll be out with a black backdrop and an off-camera flash setting up with a macro lens on my camera to get creative with the first spring blooms.

I sometimes wonder at my continuing excitement with photography after all these years. It has been, as my friend Jo says, “A long story”.

Here is a quote I found by Peruvian photographer Mario Testino,

“My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. If you are curious, you create opportunities, and if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”

 

I’ve never been a fan of wide-angle lenses. 

 

Back when I began earning my living pointing a camera the widest lens I would use was a 35mm on my 35mm camera and a 50mm on my medium format camera. Both were as wide as I could tolerate because I disliked the perspective.

I have tried fisheye lenses in the past, and although the photos I took might have been called creative, I was never tempted to keep the lens.

This past year I acquired a 14-24mm. I bought it to sell, but after reading several positive reviews about that lens I ordered a filter holder with both an ND and a polarizing filter deciding to give the wide angle a try before selling it.

I wrote about using that lens this past spring to photograph a waterfall on a rainy day.

I loaned the 14-24mm to my friend Jo McAvany and she loves it. Her photos from our trip to Bellingham Washington last October were great. I only tried it once while we were there when I wanted to include two waterfalls in the same shot, it worked perfectly for that, but I changed back to my familiar 24-70mm after only a couple shots.

Jo plans on using it for her Santa pictures this weekend. She has set up a small studio in my shop and will be photographing people’s dogs with Santa. I’ll be interested to see if she ends up changing to her 24-70mm.

The 14-24mm is a different beast, like any ultra-wide lens it has that unique perspective and some distortion at the edges. It’s built like a tank with over 2 pounds to carry (969 grams). A reviewer wrote, “It must be held level and flat to avoid distortion. However, It will focus within a foot of the sensor from 18 to 24 mm, allowing very wide close focus shots.”

I found one photographer that said, “For those who know how to use it effectively a 14-24 can be spectacular.” And the prolific writer and photographer (bythom.com) Thom Hogan wrote, “The 14-24mm is a fantastic lens. Optically, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a wide angle.”

Well in spite of my feelings about wide angle photographs, I decided any lens receiving reviews like those deserved a chance.

This past weekend I finally took that lens out for a good workout. It is sharp and does give very wide scenic views like most wide lenses I have tried. It focuses very close, is sharp wide open and like my 70-200mm easily locks on to birds in flight. (I decided to try some birds even though it’s too wide for that type of photography.

Most of the day I was photographing bridges and trees along the water thinking that might be a good way to test how I liked the wide perspective. I even spent some time with Jo’s three year old at a local playground to see how the lens performed up close.

Wide-angle lenses are interesting and, I think, a bit hard to use. I was continually trying to fit the subject into a wide-angle scene. Normally I would select a lens to match the subject, but with the 14-24 I was always looking for a subject that would match the wide lens.

There is also the need to correct some of the pictures in post. That’s not a complaint as I work on every image I take. But unless one wants the curved exaggeration of a wide-angle lens the edges require alignment. I guess that’s what using a ultra wide-angle lens is all about.

One reviewer wrote, “if you’re willing to roll with the punches, you’ll capture truly outstanding images…once you feel as if your creativity is starting to outgrow the confines of your gear, you might consider adding an ultra wide lens to your arsenal.”

I have never been comfortable with wide-angle photography so I am not convinced as of yet. However, I have this big lens so for the time being I intend to put it in my bag every time I go out.

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.”