Why I like Multi-focal (Zoom) lenses.        

 

The first SLR I owned came with three lenses. Gosh I was pleased, it had a 35mm, 50mm and a 135mm. The years passed and I started working as a photographer documenting many of the alternative approaches to learning that were happening at that time in Southern California’s Education system.

At that time my gear was an SLR, a 50mm and a 200mm lens. Equipment that I quickly found lacking in the fast moving events I was expected to document. Sure, sometimes I photographed students sitting down, but more often than not, those grade schoolers were bouncing around coastal rocks while searching tide pools, excitedly running on board whale watching boats, dashing through city parks and even racing up stairs in some Los Angeles high-rise.

Changing lenses on the go, better yet “on the run”, was a hassle and awkward in a crowded space.

Then a company named Vivitar started advertising their 70-210mm zoom lens. I can remember talking with other working photographers about the magazine advertisements showing a page of postage stamps with perfectly in line perforations.

I’ll make this short by saying, it wasn’t long before I owned one, and wow, could I work a crowded street, schoolyard, site seeing-boat or any other people-filled event. The fact that it wasn’t a wide angle and I was forced to stand back was a minor inconvenience. I shot tight. I got faces, hands, feet, children talking up close, and was able to capture those quick ever-changing expressions.

I was sold on the versatility of that first multifocal length lens. I shot thousands of slides and black and white prints for my employer until I left, deciding to wander up the coast and settle in British Columbia, Canada.

Digital had yet to be invented or thought of by those of us earning our living with cameras, and the bigger the negative was the better. I remember feeling bad for those unfortunate brides and grooms that chose some pal to record their wedding with the family 35mm.

Serious photographers were using medium format cameras and there were very few zoom lenses for medium format. So I was stuck changing lenses again. Lenses that like the big cameras they fit, took up space and made the camera burdensome.

Finally after many painful and expensive years of carrying big formats, Kodak began offering a 35mm professional film that maintained a neutral and true to life colour and was great for enlargements. The film, called “Portra” came in ISO160, ISO400 and ISO800. So with that I was back to using 35mm and zoom lenses again.

I would pack two camera bodies to an event like a wedding, one for black and while and one for colour. I had my choice of mounting a 35-105mm or a 70-200mm multi-focal length lens on which ever I needed at the moment. That flexibility gave me an edge on those photographers that were struggling as they tried to keep up during quickly changing events.

Zoom lenses allowed me to choose the crop I wanted and gave me versatility and speed in any situation.  That Versatility and speed is lacking when I am forced to change lenses and gosh, moving back and forth to widen or narrow framing is just tedious. Having many focal lengths all-in-one keeps me from missing those once in a lifetime shots.

Present day zoom lenses have become sharper, quicker and lighter than those I used with my film cameras. And for those, like me, that have a vacation planned for the upcoming summer. One lens that has the ability to capture and change the world’s perspective at a multitude of focal lengths is so much easier to carry around than several (prime) lenses with focal lengths that are fixed.

 

An excellent tool for a roadside photographer           

I live in a wooded rural location just short of an hour from the city of Kamloops in British Columbia, and it’s so easy to hop in my car to drive along the winding back roads. I suppose I could hike or climb, but truth be told I have the most fun as a roadside photographer.

For years, each spring, my wife and I looked forward to seeing geese hatchings at a near by pond. There are normally two, or sometimes three adults with six or eight goslings hiding in the long grass just across the reed filled pond. However, this spring there are at least eight adult geese and maybe twenty soft yellow goslings residing at the pond.

To photograph them we would stealthily slow the car down and ease to a prolonged stop. Coming to a sudden stop spooks the apprehensive geese causing them to dash away. Do geese “dash”?   Anyway the fearful gaggle of geese would quickly move from sight. And opening the car door to try photographing them is a waste of time.

Having decided on the time of day that gives me the best light, I first slowly drive by so as to determine where I want to stop for the best photos and I shoot from the car. The geese are usually far enough away that anything shorter than a 300mm lens isn’t close enough. Actually, 300mm isn’t really close enough.

In the past twenty plus years Linda and I used countless kinds of equipment to stabilize our lenses. And the best, in my opinion, is a beanbag. A beanbag fits nicely on the car’s windowsill and allows the photographer to nestle down and rest any size lens on it for shake free shooting.

This year I purchased, after months of research and selling off some of my other lenses, the latest Tamron 150-600mm lens. The lens weighs just over four pounds and although it does have vibration control, shooting from a seated position in a car isn’t the best for sharp, shake free photographs. So out comes the beanbag. However,  I quickly realized that big lens demanded a larger beanbag than the one I hastily stitched together years ago.

With a bit of online searching I found a company called Movophoto.com that makes a large and unique beanbag that fits like a saddle over the car window. With my limited sewing skills I could never have made such a perfect beanbag for that big lens. I ordered it, and when it finally arrived I filled it with rice, and although it’s heavy it resides in the car and stays put on the window, so the weight is a good thing. There are a lot of gadgets that I could spend my money on, but for now that beanbag is my favourite.

I slowed my car to a stop next to the pond, shut the engine off, positioned my camera on the large beanbag, and waited for the geese to resume their browsing along the grassy hill beside the pond. At 600mm I was able to frame pretty darn close. Then, when I wanted a different position, I’d just move the car a bit, and take more pictures. I photographed those geese (and some nearby turtles) for about thirty minutes.

Suddenly I heard loud honking from some unseen goose that must have been hiding in the tall pond reeds, and, like a crowd scene from a movie, they all turned at once and rushed into the pond.

I am sure there are experienced photographers that would have set up a blind and waited for hours to get the perfect shot. There is no doubt they will get my respect. But I know where those geese are and what time of day is the best to photograph them. And anyway my car is really comfortable and when I am done I just drive home. I guess I am just a roadside photographer.

Shooting infrared on a quiet spring evening.     

This week had one of those nice quiet evenings that are all so common here in British Columbia. By 7:30PM the sun was starting to go down giving the landscape dramatic shadows and a day’s end glowing light.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty lazy after tearing the tile out of our shower wall so I could fix the tub taps, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the TV so I decided a short drive around my wooded neighbourhood might clear the tile dust out of my eyes and hair.

Over the many years I have been shooting with first, infrared film, and then for the past 10 plus years, a digital camera converted to only capture infrared, I have found that late afternoons give me the most impressive effects.

So, I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.

That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside. For a while I called it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.

Then I read about infrared conversions. I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab. I sent that camera away and a few hundred bucks, and about a month later I had an infrared camera.

The images I get are a fun change from the colourful pictures or the sharp black and whites I am used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

I have a book by William Reedy titled, “Impact–Photography for Advertising”. It begins with the words, “To stop the eye… To set the mood… To start the sale…”

Those are great words for any photographer hoping to create visual impact with his or her photography. I think there is no doubt about it that those words ring true when one looks at the surreal effect of an infrared photograph. So I set off on that quite evening with my camera waiting on the empty seat beside me and made stop after stop to create infrared photographs of the rural neighbourhood that I know so well.

I have written about infrared photography before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

The Lens –“its all about the glass”.  

 

I had a discussion with a photographer this week about whether she should buy a new lens or not. At the time I wished we were close to my computer so I could bring out this article I wrote back in November of 2014. With that, here it is again for the few that didn’t get to read it back then.

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will still give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Most of us are willing to add a new lens to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few that are content with the short zoom “kit lenses” they got with their camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but when we change the lens it alters the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is an exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were other words that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Used Cameras                

 

Spring is here again and with the colours of the first plants poking up from the ground comes the annual speculation of what camera manufacturers are going to do in 2017.

The forums are also speculating with members guessing what Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Pentax will offer this year. Yes, it is so intoxicating for anyone that has money to spend in his or her pockets.

With the digital camera revolution came a new kind of photo enthusiast that seems to be as excited about changing their camera model as they are about photography.

The good thing for those consumers is that by summer time the prices on new cameras will start to drop. The bad thing for those that decide to sell off the cameras they have been using for the last year or two is they will join thousands of others doing the same thing and the price of their 2015 and older cameras will be much less than they were new.

As manufacturers compete and put sales on 2017 models, 2015 models will take a sharp drop, and the photographer wanting to sell his or her 2013 or 2012 camera will loose even more. And like a stone rolling down a steep hill those that have held on to cameras that have reached five years (considered old in this digital world) are having a hard time selling.

However, for those that just want a newer model than what they have been using, spring camera prices are as welcome as the green grass on the hills and the fields of flowers I see along the roadways on my drive to town.

Now it is the time for those of us that don’t mind a two-year old model that comes without a warranty. Sure, there might be some scratches on the bottom where the tripod is attached, but as long as the memory card door isn’t broken, and the rubber isn’t pealing off, it’ll be just fine.

Buying used is a great way to participate in the yearly new camera frenzy. One might be a couple years behind, but the money saved can be put towards that used dream lens.

Cameras aren’t like cars. Used cars might hide worn out parts, but that’s hard to do with a camera. My quick advice is to bring a memory card when testing that “new” camera. Take some pictures inside with a high ISO and then some outside with a low ISO.

One should always take the time to do some research before purchasing. I remember spending months reading magazines when I wanted to buy my camera back in the 1970s. But now I can find out everything I need to know about any camera in 10 minutes by searching online.

Read the reviews and join some forum and just ask the question. “I am buying X-00 camera what do you think?” It’s as easy as that to have a good understanding of what used camera to buy and which ones to avoid.

And lastly another reason to buy used is instead of loosing hundreds of dollars when selling the loss (and there is always a loss), the loss on that used camera won’t be as painful because it was purchased for a lot less than it would have cost new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fun day photographing Granville Island      

 

After an enjoyable Sunday at the Vancouver Camera Swap Linda and I decided it would be nice to spend another day just wandering around and we selected Granville Island.

The peninsula & shopping district of Granville Island has been a popular destination for both local Vancouverites and tourists since the 1970’s. There is an excellent public market where one can find almost any type of food, the ever-popular Granville Island Brewery and a thriving artist community.

I can’t recall the number of times I have wandered that amazingly exciting visual location, camera in hand, photographing the architecture, the seafront, and the people. Gosh, the list of the many different cameras I have used to photograph that location goes back (like Granville Island) to the 1970’s.

This time I decided to bring my little Nikon J1 CX-format mirrorless camera. On previous outings I usually choose a DSLR, and before digital I used SLRs, and I had even spent days there with different large and medium format cameras.

I am not one to review cameras, but I will say that the small interchangeable lens Nikon V camera’s, in spite of their small sensors, are a pleasure to use and I have no trouble making sharp large prints. The focus is extremely fast; they deliver a blazing 10 fps, and are surprisingly consistent in program mode.

I rarely hold it up to focus with the LCD. I just lazily estimate how I want my subject composed, hold the camera out and shoot. It’s small and easy to carry in my pocket if I want to shop.

Linda and I got there early enough so that similar to the characters Merry and Pippen in the novel, “Lord of the Rings” would say, “to have second breakfast”. The public market has a great food court where if one is lucky there is actually a place to sit, eat, view the waterfront, and of course, people watch. People can also step outside, sit on the benches, and share their food with the birds.

The day was sunny, warm and perfect for wandering the many shops filled with amazing artwork, and of course, also perfect for photography.

Granville Island is so colourful. Any way a person looked there was a picture waiting to be taken. I did notice a couple of other photographers setting up for scenics of the Granville Island bridge, one woman was crouching very low, with a wide angle lens, to photograph one of the many street performers. I am sure there were more, but Linda was intent on viewing as much artwork as she could, and she and I were having such a good time looking at and talking about things that I passed up many a shot.

I think a photographer has to work any environment with dedication. I have done that in the past, spending hours searching out subjects on Granville Island to photograph. (Not that one has to do much searching.) I read once that the best thing about Granville Island is it’s wonderful sense of imagination. I think that is so. And to quote another line from another movie, “I’ll be back.”

 

 

 

The Portrait   

The conversation – a Portrait.

For most photographers a portrait is an artistic representation of an individual or individuals, with the goal of capturing some likeness as to who they are.

Famous American photographer, Richard Avedon carried this further when he said, “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”

Popular American painter Jamie Wyeth wrote, “Everything I paint is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

For years most of the photography I did was portraiture, whether wedding pictures for a family, or private sessions. My opinion is that portraits are pretty narcissistic and because of that, can be much harder to do properly than many other photographic pastimes.

Make a bad landscape and no one will really care, capture a bird flying poorly and it’s no big deal; however if you give someone an unflattering photograph of themself and you have might make an enemy for life.

A portrait can be a representation of anything and doesn’t necessarily need to only be of people. Years ago my wife and I had show dogs and would regularly attend and participate in events in hopes of having the judges select our dog as best from some group; and when we did win, we would walk our dogs to a photography booth set up by a skilled dog portraitist to have a portraits taken that day when they looked so good and performed so well.

As I watched a TV show earlier this week I noticed framed pictures of the owner’s cat hanging on the wall, and I have seen all types of pet portraits in friends’ homes. I suppose a picture of a favourite or special car, motorcycle, boat or even treasured holiday snapshot, might be called a portrait.

I wonder if many photographers might agree with the painter Wyeth’s contention that, “Everything I paint (or photograph) is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

Some time ago I went for a slow drive along the winding roads high above my place in Pritchard hoping to find some cows, horses, or deer to photograph. I wanted head and shoulder compositions (or portraits), not animals in the landscape.

I leisurely drove around, passing lots of roadside deer; cows quietly chewing the cud, and finally stopped near two horses standing very close to a fence. My choice was to compose of portrait of them instead of just a pleasing documentary of two horses in a field. So I mounted a 24-85mm lens on my camera, walked through the wet grass to the fence to take their picture, and worked angle after angle for a portrait.

I suppose the words “artistic representation” and “goal of capturing some likeness” are appropriate when a photographer captures human-like qualities in animal portraits. I wanted a picture that included me, or at least inferred some conversation between the horses about me. My image is, as Avedon said, “….an opinion”.