Sticking close to home for garden photography 

 

 

Another week has seen me safely sticking close to home watching the spring growth.

The nights haven’t been as cold and this past week has been a mixture of bright sunny warmth and cool rainy overcast days. Just what one should expect of the end May’s spring weather.

This morning I got up to a very wet yard. I didn’t hear the rain last night, but it looked like it rained a lot and the wind hadn’t picked up enough to dry the plants.

Ha, that meant another good day for photography. I got my camera with a 200mm macro lens, my Benbo tripod, fastened a flash on a light stand, pulled on my rubber boots, jacket and a hat and went out to photograph wet plants in my spring garden.

I knew I would need to work fast because there was a slight breeze. I don’t mind getting rained on, but a wind makes it hard to get sharp photos.

I would choose I flower, place the flash and then get my camera. On this morning I didn’t bother with my black backdrop, it would just get wet. I was planning on shooting with a wide aperture so the background would be soft anyway. I like to darken the ambient light when I use a flash and I could keep the wide aperture and balance the light by increasing my shutterspeed.

I have written before that I control the ambient light by using high-speed sync.

HSS means I can use very high shutterspeeds and not be limited to the low default shutter/flash sync of 1/250th second.   The higher shutterspeed would also make it easier to photograph the flowers that might move slightly from the because of the morning’s breeze.

The last time I ventured into the garden to take pictures there was very little growth, but this past week has really changed things. Of course everything is green and there are flowers, but the most noticeable thing is the Lilacs. The Lilacs are in full bloom and have filled in along the path from my car to my door and what I like best is how the whole front of my yard is now a solid wall of purple and white.
I remember 20 plus years ago planting Lilacs along the fence with my wife and wishing they would grow fast. We looked forward to being able to sit on our deck without being seen from the road. It took years because there isn’t a lot of water available and the summers are dry so growth is slow. As I looked around the yard for small subjects to photograph I thought about how I now have the seclusion I yearned for back then.

I ignored plants that didn’t have water droplets and focused tightly so I would have a soft background with limited depth of field. I wasn’t making a record of the plants I have. Identifying a type flower has never been my interest. My wife liked flowers and could name every plant, but I just care about the colour, texture or shape and the photographs I can make.

An overcast day with a bit of rain is excellent for flower photos. The colours are stronger, there are no harsh reflections and with a flash as the key light instead of the sun one can be very creative. I know that walking through a field on a sunny day is so much fun, but when it comes to photographing that same field I prefer an overcast and sometimes rain.

After all its really about the photography and as American photographer Annie Leibovitz once said, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

A good day to wander with my camera      

 

The clouds started moving in this morning and I thought it would be a good day to wander with my camera and see what kind of photos I could get. I like a cloud filled sky, clear blue or heavy overcast grey doesn’t make as interesting backgrounds for scenics.

In the past forty plus years I have walked, ridden horses and motorcycles and this morning drove my car along the winding country road that passes my home. When I first moved to Pritchard the roads were bumpy, rut filled, dusty (or muddy) dirt roads. But that’s in the past and now there is asphalt paving.

I slowly drove up Duck Range road watching for interesting subjects with interesting light. Sometimes the lighting is the only element in a photo that makes it different from those I have taken a hundred times before. I had my IR camera with a 20-40mm attached and because I decided to go past some ponds I had another with my 150-600mm on it.

This morning I kept stopping and switching cameras and as I selected angles to shoot from that I hadn’t tried before. However, the morning was nice and I sometimes I just stopped and looked.

I saw turtles out sunning themselves and the ponds finally had a few ducks paddling around. Roadside reeds were filled with small birds and I could see geese on the warm sunlit hill in the distance. No goslings yet, it is a lot cooler there than down in the valley, where there are already families of geese along the river and photographers from Kamloops, only 40 minutes away, have started posting their shots of geese with goslings from the local park.

As I do every spring, I make regular trips along the road to photograph the fields, turtles, ducks and geese. I am hopping that this will be a good year for gosling photos. I’ll soon see and as I have for so many years, I’ll keep wandering along the backwoods roads, cameras at the ready to see what I can photograph.

I think it was good luck that I went out early this morning. The wind has started and it’s getting dark out. My three kittens just came in and one, Pippin, seems to be explaining why and I am pretty certain some of what she is saying includes directions as to what I am supposed to do for them.

There will be a Canadian Snowbirds flying from Alberta on the way to Kamloops at 1PM to thank all the doctors and nurses that are keeping people alive. I’ll join other residents and the fire trucks down by the Pritchard store. Ha, another photo op! I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer and photojournalist (known for his photo “Afghan Girl”) Steve McCurry,  “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.

It is good to do photography with another photographer.            

 

I have written about this in the past, but I want to revisit that topic after my friend and photo-pal Jo McAvany, and I made a quick trip to a local waterfall.

As with most waterfalls in British Columbia this time of year Chase Falls is a muddy, raging, roaring torrent. My goal was make a photograph that showed that raging torrent. I wanted to capture the mood and show the great force and intensity of the spring water coming over the falls.

Jo and I were to meet at the falls. I was a bit late and she had walked down to a location where the path to Chase Falls went under the highway and was just setting her tripod up.

I stopped and we talked then I wandered on to the falls. It was as I expected and I was glad I wore a hat and had brought a small towel to wipe the spray off my camera and lens.

I set up as close as I could safely get at a couple different locations and used different shutter/aperture combinations as I worked to photograph the feeling I wanted from the waterfall.

I was there for some time before Jo finally showed up. I was just collapsing my tripod and preparing to go. She said she was finding some great photos along the fast moving creek. I think she only took one photo of the waterfall before complaining about the cold wind and very wet spray.

We walked back to our cars talking about the photograph and were deciding what time we should leave on Monday morning for a short trip to pick up some film I wanted to stock in my shop when this pandemic finally lets us get back to some kind of (new) normal.

What made me think about how I enjoy doing photography with my friend wasn’t the short trip to the falls and much as it was seeing the photographs she had made.

Jo worked that location so very different than I. Her photos of the fast moving stream reminded me how each photographer sees and visually interprets the world.

Of course I am familiar with being with another photographer at the same location where each of us produces very different images. That was the usual for the 40+ years I spent with my wife Linda. Now it’s my friend Jo that is demonstrating how creatively different two photographers can be, so I am posting two of her images.

I titled this article “It is good to do photography another photographer.” I think that is not only an enjoyable way t enjoy this exciting medium, but also great way to keep oneself fresh and creative.

I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer Jay Maisel, “If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.”

Lighting flowers with off-camera flash   

I intended to spend some time this week photographing the spring garden.

Last week I was sure that the days and nights would warm and I would have lots of colour to point my camera at. However, as with all the other surprising changes this year has brought the weather turned cold and although there is a lot of green in my yard there isn’t much else. With that I thought I’d repost this article I wrote in April 2014.

“The snow has finally, and at last, left the north side of our house. It’s barely been gone two weeks; nevertheless, that means two weeks of new growth in my wife’s garden.

My wife mentioned the crocuses were coming up everywhere I thought I’d check to see if there were any left after a weekend visit with our two granddaughters who like to pick flowers. As it turned out the girls hadn’t got them all and there were many more coming up everywhere. So I decided I should select a couple plants to photograph before the bloom was over.

I had been making notes in preparation for a workshop on using flash outdoors that I planned on leading the May.

I thought why not photograph the flowers just as I would do a portrait of a person. I got out a small 2’x2’ backdrop and placed it behind some of the flowers. That small backdrop, especially constructed for flowers and other small items, is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.

I mounted two wireless flashes on light stands, and put a 40-inch umbrella on one placed shoulder height to my right and a 30-inch on the other positioned low to the ground on the left.

Needing to shoot low, I used my favourite garden tripod, the uniquely flexible Benbo. The Benbo tripod allows each leg to be independently positioned, and instead of a vertical center column configuration that most tripods have, the Benbo has a column that fits off center and when the legs, which go in almost any direction, are splayed out flat, the camera can be positioned just off the ground.

I mounted my 200mm macro lens on my camera. That focal length let me situate the camera several feet away from the crocuses so I wouldn’t have to put an end to the new growth coming up everywhere in my wife’s garden while still letting me have a close focus.

The exposure was made exactly the same way I would have made it if photographing a person in an outdoor studio. Slightly underexpose the ambient light, reposition the flashes for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got lighting that would flatter my subject.

Lighting a subject with off-camera flash is fun, and putting up a backdrop ensures that it is even more so. It doesn’t matter who or what the subject is because I like to use a flash.

For me portraiture is all about adding light. It was also really nice to spend some time outdoors in the garden and see it coming to life in the spring.

 

 

 

Black and White Photos with Infrared  

 

My last two articles discussed using black and white photography and I’d like carry on with that topic this week.

This past week when there was one of those almost rare sunny clear blue sky February days I decided take a drive around my neighbourhood to make some pictures with my infrared camera.

That camera gives me scenes of colourfully altered reality when the light is right with results that are often unusually deep blue skies, and trees that are yellow or white instead of green. However, continuing on with what I have been writing and thinking about when and loaded the day’s files on my computer I converted the colourful images to black and white.

I like the striking effects I can sometimes get that are contrasty with dark skies and white vegetation when I make a black and white infrared photographs. They seem to have what some photographers call an “otherworldly” look.

I like converting my digital files to black and white and I enjoy the creative manipulation available to me.

Scenic photographer Nathan Wirth explains that creativity, “I wanted something different to experiment with, and I saw the potential to experiment with those infrared whites that come from the greens and the infrared blacks that come from the blues…and manipulate them until I found the stark contrasts that I was interested in.”

Infrared is a different way to visually discuss a subject, and a black & white photograph communicates in a subtle way. To me the combination of those two allows a photographer to stretch his or her creativity and show our world in different terms.

Digital and infrared gets me involved in the complete process from picking up the camera, the fun of doing photography, to completing the image on the computer. I enjoy the creativity of the infrared process that includes the computer. And wandering the neighbourhood on a sunny winter day with any kind of camera is so darned fun

A snow-covered landscape   

 

I looked out my window and the sun was poking in under the clouds creating deep shadows on the cold white snow after being dark and gloomy all day.

It made me think about the quote I used in my article last week by Paul Outerbridge, “in black and white you suggest; in color you state.” and thought, everything is so contrasty and monochromatic, it’ll give me a perfect opportunity to do a follow up on my last article about black and white photographs.

I rushed to get my coat and boots, attached my 70-200mm lens on my camera and went outside intending to get some interesting black and white photos of the shadows being cast in the yard.

As I trudged into the deep snow I looked around at the flat, overcast, shadowless landscape of my yard and thought of that verse by Robert Burns, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  The clouds had drifted lower to cover the bright light of the sun.  I was disappointed, but I spied a planter poking out of the snow and almost in desperation I focused on it and released my cameras shutter. Struggling through the snow a bit further I saw and photographed an old wooden wheel that was leaning against a lilac.

This time of year lots of photographers take advantage of the snow-covered landscape to create minimalist images and I thought, what the heck I’d walk down the street and see what I can find.

I could see a bicycle waiting for summer against my neighbour’s fence, and some wire plant holders in my garden. Boulders jutted out, sharp branches protruded, the snow falling off my green house made interesting shapes, and the handle of a rusty old snow blower my friend Shaun stuck along the road in front of my house on a hot day last summer to remind me that winter snow is only a few months away.

I just needed to “think in black and white” and remember to meter the darkest areas of each subject so I would not loose detail.

I wondered if I should drive down to the river or up along the road to find some deep snow drifts. Maybe I was just lazy, but with a bit of thought one never has to go very far from home to find subjects to photograph and anyway the road had very little snow so walking was easy. All I needed to do was go for a slow stroll along the road.

Even without the bright sun making shadows everything still could work as black and white photographs and that’s what I wanted. Sometimes I think flat overcast light isn’t worth my time, but when I returned home and loaded my pictures on the computer I was satisfied that this time it was.

In an article I wrote some years ago I said that a photographer I once met saying that he believed “shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing.”   That’s an intriguing thought, and if it is so, there wasn’t a much better time to visualise in black and white and exploit tonal elements in a scene as when one is viewing a snow-covered landscape.

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.

Photography at the Bloedel conservatory

 

The Vancouver used camera sale was last weekend and I always attend.

This time I thought it would be fun to go a day early to do some night photos of the city.

We had chosen the locations that we wanted to go at day’s end. But we would have a whole day to do photography and the first daunting question we faced was, what to do with our morning?

Jo was looking at “places to visit” as we sat at a seafood restaurant the evening we arrived. It was overcast and raining so we decided stay out of the weather. She found an advertisement for the Bloedel Floral Conservatory. The info said that the conservatory is “a lush, domed tropical paradise at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park — the highest point in the city of Vancouver”.

The next morning we ate breakfast at our hotel, (I always try to find hotels that include breakfast) jumped in my car and followed the GPS through Vancouver’s busy traffic to what I assumed would be just a big garden overlooking the city.

We arrived at Queen Elisabeth Park, that park was so much more than what I thought, wandered around the photographing the city below, the narrow winding paths, the beautiful ponds, fountains, and rock bridges that were spread out around the grounds. What a photogenic place.

What I had missed reading in the advert was, “Bloedel Floral Conservatory is a conservatory and aviary at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park.” So after nearly an hour wandering the grounds we walked over to the large dome that sat at the top of the park, paid the admission and entered into “the lush, domed tropical paradise” described in the advertisement.

There were birds everywhere in the exotic greenhouse. Flying high in the air, zooming past our heads and hopping everywhere at our feet. Then I saw a colourful parrot, and then another and another and another.

We photographed the plants, colourful small birds, and big parrots in the humid dome.

I had fun talking with other photographers and people sitting with their dogs as we roamed around the park. I am pretty sure we were at the park for over three hours.

How had I missed that place in all my visits to Vancouver? It seemed to be made for those of us that like to carrying cameras.

That was part one of our October Vancouver adventure. We were yet to photograph the crowds of Granville Island, take long night exposures of the lights across the bay and spend Sunday at the Vancouver Camera Sale and Swap.

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.