Infrared photography is a refreshing change                          

 

I just like to make pictures.

When I retired from pointing my camera for money I was reminded how much fun it is to photograph everything for my personal entertainment.

The past two weeks I have stayed close to home with my cameras and, yes I’ll say it, “focused’ on subjects that are within ten to fifteen minutes drive from my front door.

My subjects aren’t necessarily exotic and there aren’t troves of photographers traveling long distances to set their tripods up in anticipation of those once-in-a-lifetime photographs. But, for me the things I pass along the local roadside are always interesting and sometimes even stimulating.

This spring I was unsuccessful in my attempt at photographing the geese and their goslings, but I easily pointed my camera in a different direction and had a good time photographing turtles instead. I then (driving along the same road) decided to photograph my way to work on a rainy day.

This week staying dedicated to Duck Range Road I dusted off the camera I had converted to infrared some years ago.

My previous trip around the countryside with it was in September of last year, so it was about time to create some images in a different light.

Infrared is always fun, and this time I’ll be able to compare four versions. I’ll have those I made last week that were colour and black & white, and then this weeks colour and black & white from infrared.

The first time I drove and photographed that route was back in 1977. I had just moved and had hooked up the electricity to a 20’ X 9’ trailer on a couple acres of heavily wooded land, I didn’t know anyone and was curious to see what I could find along the dusty dirt road.

I loaded my Pentax Spotmatic II with a roll of Ilford black and white film, jumped in my yellow 1962 International Scout 4X4 that I had recently changed the California licence plates to British Columbia plates, and slowly drove along the bumpy road in search of photographs.

Well, here it is 41 years later. I no longer reside in that cramped trailer, or use film for that matter, and there is no longer need of that 4X4 because the road is paved. However, I still slowly drive along that road in search of photographs.

I don’t need infrared to keep me excited with the photos I make along that road I know so well, but as I wrote in my title, “Infrared is a refreshing change”.

I thought about reusing last week’s quote by Elliott Erwitt. However, I wanted to find words by a photographer that described how I feel about pointing my camera at subjects I have photographed (hundreds of times?) before.

I searched some and found this quote by German photographer Helmut Newton.

“Look, I’m not an intellectual – I just take pictures.”

Photographing my way to work on a rainy day          

 

Last week I wrote about my frustrations with trying to photograph the young geese at a nearby pond. At the time I was so fixated on those blasted birds that I ignored the scenic country drive I take every day when I leave my rural home and head for the highway.

The geese were a bust, and I decided that on my next trip to town I would do some scenics no matter what the weather was like. I will say that I am not all that fond of sun-filled blue sky, and prefer fog, heavy clouds or even rain to an uninspiring sunny day.

I was pleased when I woke to rain pounding my cedar-shake roof. As I sat drinking my morning coffee and looking out the window I knew that there would be little chance that I’d be opening my shop on time.

My camera of choice on this day was my little Nikon V1 that easily sits on my lap while I drive. The small sensor doesn’t compare with the big full frame 36mp camera I prefer for serious photos, but for posting online or if I don’t mind limiting my prints to 8X12, it’s just great. And I have used it many times in the rain without problems.

As I walked to my car I was pleased that the rain had lightened a bit. One could still get wet if standing for a time, but I’d be quickly in and out of my car.

On this day I was interested in the contrast between the green fields, trees, the blue hills, the slowly brightening sky and the white billowing clouds. It would be impossible to get a bad exposure, as I just metered for the green fields.

As usual there were lots of deer, horses and cows, but the turtles I photographed last week were hiding under water, and those blasted geese were even further on the other side of the pond. So I put on a wide-angle lens and made a scenic of the pond.

I liked the wet, winding road and the blue cloud covered hills and the fields were so green.

Neighbours would drive around my parked car and shake their head at me standing out in the rain. People that have lived here for a while are used to seeing me standing alongside the road pointing my camera at the distance. Long time residents don’t even bother to slow down to see what the heck I am photographing.

I doubt they would be “seeing’ the same way that I (or any other photographer) would. Photographers look “into” the landscape instead of “at” the landscape.

I only got a bit damp on my way to work.

Of course I opened my shop late and had damp hair after continually stopping to photograph things on my way to town (that I have photographed many, many times before)

Here is a fun quote by famous American photographer Elliott Erwitt, which seems perfect for those of us that carry our cameras to work.

“ Nothing happens when you sit at home. I always make it a point to carry a camera with me at all times…I just shoot at what interests me at that moment.”

 

 

 

 

Photos of turtles will have to do.   

 

For the past month I have been visiting a little pond just up the road from my place hoping to get photos of geese and their chicks.

I have been going there with my camera equipped with long-lenses for years. Some times have been great with lots of geese near the road, like there were last year, but all to often they were too far away.

Last June the hill across from the pond was covered with geese. I am pretty sure that would be called a gaggle. (I have also heard people refer to a group of photographers as gaggle) Parents and goslings were everywhere and really didn’t mind my car after I parked and sat quietly for a few minutes.

This year I made trip after trip in the morning, at noon, then in late afternoon and finally evenings before I lost the light.

There are a lot of geese at the pond, but for some reason they are staying low to the pond and so far on the other side that even my 600mm lens isn’t doing them justice.

I wonder what caused them to stay such at such a distance this year. The road isn’t any busier than normal. They aren’t acting skittish, so I don’t think anything has been bothering them. Nevertheless, they are wild birds and I expect the first one there must have decided on a good spot and the rest nested nearby as they arrived. Good for them, disappointing for me.

I could have turned around each day and gone home for a beer, but the rural area I live in is filled with life in the spring. So instead I just moseyed along and keeping on the lookout along the roadside.

There are many old dilapidated buildings slowly dissolving into farmer’s back yards and I could have pointed my camera any of the many deer that are always munching grass in fields at anytime of the day. But, since I couldn’t photograph the geese I decided that deer and old buildings would be off my list and I should search for other wild things.

I wasn’t doing to well, and in frustration after my latest trip to the pond I chose a couple blackbirds and actually stopped to photograph a deer that peered out of the long grass as I passed. However, when my friend Jo stopped by, as I was about to leave on what I expected to be another fruitless trip, I invited her to join me on the drive.

Sometimes it’s a fresh pair of eyes that is needed. Each day I passed a neighbour’s slough. I had seen turtles there before, but like the geese, they were eluding me. I drove slowly and Jo looking out the window suddenly yelled, “stop, there’s turtles”! Sure enough the wily little critters were sunning themselves all along a half sunken moss covered tree in the swamp. There were seven of them near one end and three resting midway down.

I finally did reach out with my long lens to photograph the distant geese, and I captured a couple shots of blackbirds, and there was that deer hiding in the ditch. I was bound to my goal of photographing anything wild, and have been keeping at that for days, but I wasn’t all that happy and maybe a bit bored with my subjects.

However, the septet of turtles changed that. I was pleased to have turtles for my subjects, so for this week the photograph of the turtles will have to do.

Photographing behind the scenes at a movie.   

 

My first full time job as a photographer was to document events for the Office of Education, Los Angeles California. Years later, after moving to Canada, I became a photographer for a University’s Public Relations Department.

During my 40 plus years earning my living as a photographer I pointed my camera at quite an array of exciting subjects, but it was those two early jobs that fashioned my approach.

This past week I was asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair, if I would act as a staff photographer for her movie, “The Bench”, for a couple of the shooting days.

I am retired and stay away from anything that demands that I be on time. But the thought of taking behind the scenes pictures intrigued me.

Although I have many, many times enjoyed watching movies being made, I have never actually been part of the film crew. “Film crew”, that can’t be correct. I wonder what they call themselves now? Nevertheless, I was sure the photography would be much the same as any public relations exercise.

Public Relations photography in my experience is physically active, there is never a chance to sit and one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects. I never saw or presented myself as being important as those I was photographing, and always preferred to sneak voyeuristically around. And although my photographs were used by news sources and much of the time were in publications, I never thought of myself as a photojournalist. Photojournalists tell a story, whereas my job was to document the interaction and hard work of the people in the event.

It was with that attitude that I quietly walked on to the set the morning of my first day.

I guess I forgot how small Kamloops is, one would think that in a city of over ninety thousand people there would be some anonymity, but alas, that was not to be. A complete stranger said, “John, right? They are around the corner.”

I photographed everything that happened behind the scenes for two days. I am sure that many star-struck, first time photographers might think, “what a great chance for me to photograph a movie”.   However, at this production there were three trained, creative, cameramen operating a two hundred thousand dollar camera, whose job it was to photograph the movie’s action. Taking pictures of the movie isn’t what I think my position as a still photographer needs to be doing. My job was to photograph the people that were actually making the movie and I did just that.

I shot for two tiring days. From time to time I was able to lean against walls, and once or twice even tried to sit down. But of course, as soon as I thought I could relax, I would see crewmembers doing something interesting and rushed to get that shot.

Mostly I wanted those classic images we see in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the lead, or working with the cameramen. The crew wasn’t huge and I got to talk to and photograph everyone working on “The Bench” at some point over the two days.

Photographing on a movie set was a new and certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and now that I have had first hand experience being around them as they worked, I absolutely believe that.

 

Photography in the rain     

 

 

Last Sunday was cool and rainy. I had wandered a bit outside, but only long enough to feed my chickens and move some wooden chairs under a canopy so they wouldn’t get wet in the downpour.

Mostly, I just wasn’t interested in the rain or the cool light breeze and by noon I was content to just sit listening to music, and had just started a beer when there was a knock and my door and my friend Jo McAvany’s smiling face appeared through the window.

Some years ago one might have heard, “Can John come out and play?”   I really didn’t, I was enjoying the blues music and my beer on that rainy day. However, Jo had her camera and I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. She said, “How about we wander around, I want to take some pictures in the rain.

Ten minutes later we were ambling around pointing our cameras at features that on a sunny day might not have given us as interesting and creative photographs.

There are some cameras that are almost waterproof. A Nikon advertisement I once read stated that some models are, “splash proof’. Nevertheless, my main accessory for a rainy day is an old kitchen T-towel for wiping the rain off my camera. Every now and then I give my camera a wipe so the rain doesn’t accumulate, and continue on.

Shooting in the rain is one time that I enjoy a modern camera’s ability to use high ISO. Back in the painful days of film we were limited to 400ISO with colour film. There were a few black and white films that were rated at 3200, but their ability to give photographers reasonable image quality wasn’t all that good.

Wide scenic photos aren’t very pleasing in the overcast flat lighting, so we concentrated on more intimate and close-up subjects. Both Jo and I were using 70-200mm lenses that focused reasonably close. Not macro close, but close enough for us to confine and restrict the view.

Cloudy days always seem to be more colourful for plant photography, and there is something about green leaves and grasses on rainy days that attract me.

I once read, “one should embrace the rain’s infinite photo opportunities”. I like that. Photographing in the rain gives the photographer the chance to explore a whole new world that on a sunny, shadow filed day is invisible. The raindrops and the wet subjects are so inviting.

I know those gray clouds can be disappointing. However, keep a positive attitude. Sure there is a strong possibility that your hair and the knees of your pants are going to get wet, but in my opinion, wet knees are certainly worth the voyage. And remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

 

Composing a photograph includes eliminating the irrelevant   

 

 

 

 

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company published a series of photography pamphlets. While I had my Hasselblad I collected and studied the information contained in them.

Recently I thumbed through one titled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”.  Although meant for medium format film cameras it’s filled with information that is still appropriate for digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and colour balance, Types of exposure measurement, Double exposure and Polaroid film, all are interesting reads if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in our modern digital age.

However the topic, “We see far to much” caught my attention and it said,

“The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

In my experience, most successful photographers want to “tighten up” on their composition, by that; I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual discussion of a photograph. Beginners are apt to aim with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to other additional features captured by the sensor.

Photographers printing or posting their photos are surprised when they look and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items they wished they hadn’t included.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers should train themselves to be specific with a subject, only showing the viewer what is important. How do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release? I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only experienced rickety, inexpensive models. Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about composition.

I agree with Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and need to eliminate irrelevant items in our photos.

When an interesting subject is seen, stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window to take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk; and as you do that think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made.

Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

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To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph, not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything seen in the viewfinder, and take my advice, use a tripod.

Thoughts on Camera Handling   

The act of taking pictures and doing photography has become so easy that many of today’s up-and-coming photographers have come to rely completely on their camera’s tiny computers and are sure that the automated programs will always deliver wonderful results. All one has to do is put the digital camera up to the eye, or shakily extend arms, push the shutter release, and count on modern technology to make all the necessary decisions.

Last week a photographer proudly showed me some enlargements and asked how I liked them. They were reasonable images and the printing was ok, but as I looked at them closely I could see they weren’t very sharp, lacked depth of field, and contained tiny spots in the sky.

If I had been in a classroom environment it would have been a perfect time to break into a discussion on camera handling techniques. Using a camera effectively includes more than just moving a camera body around in front of one’s face and pushing the shutter. Camera handling means understanding how to use and control a camera in the most effective way.

Carpenters, cabinetmakers, mechanics, quilters, and cake decorators, to name a few professions, would nod their heads knowingly if I mentioned how important it is to learn how to control and use the tools of their trade correctly. However, when taking photographers and their tools of the trade into consideration, many believe that owning a feature-loaded camera is more than adequate, and if the photos from one’s camera aren’t great, they think the answer is to buy another camera.

With that in mind I have a few very basic camera-handling suggestions that would have helped that photographer to produce better pictures than those he showed me.

  1. Examine the picture and if there are lots of tiny dark spots, clean the sensor.  Cleaning the sensor is fairly easy and all that is usually required is a few minutes with an air-blower.
  2. Vibration reduction features only helps with shaking hands, not subject movement.   He should practice following subject movement and try to keep the camera as close as possible to his body to reduce shake.
  3. When handholding the camera, faster shutter speeds will produce more “keepers” than slower shutter speeds. For example, shutter speeds like 1/125th or higher are probably the safest to control both camera shake and subject movement. And follow that old rule to match the shutterspeed with the lens focal length.
  4. The current infatuation with wide aperture lenses is great, but the larger the aperture  opening is, the less the depth of field will be, and that will mean areas in front of and behind the selected subject will probably be out of focus. That photographer must understand that the smaller the aperture is the more chance the area in front of and behind the subject will be sharp.
  5. Using “program” or “auto mode” leaves exposure decisions to in-camera computers and takes creative and intellectual control away from the photographer. Some digicams and all DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras have manual exposure modes. My advice is to experiment and practice to find out when manual mode is most effective.