Memories and photography   

 

 


I joined a friend for lunch last week and he began reminiscing about his long ago trip to Japan. We hadn’t been talking about that place, but something in the restaurant (could it have been the sushi?) brought his memories on. With that in mind I thought I’d revisit this article from 2011.

I am sure many of us experience that flash of instant memories when some song comes on the radio. That happed to me this morning as I drove to town. A 1970’s song by the Bee Gees came on the radio, and suddenly I was thinking about July 1978 when I played their tape over and over during my journey to a place in Wyoming’s Teton Mountain range called the T Cross Ranch. I was there attending a photography workshop lead by photographer, and writer, Boyd Norton.

I had been given Norton’s book “Wilderness Photography”. I poured over that book with its instructions and ideas about photographing the great out-of-doors. I don’t recall how I found out about his class, nevertheless I was so determined to attend that I sold my VW to pay for it. The cash from that sale was enough for my tuition and expenses to Wyoming, it also helped pay for an airline ticket for my girl friend (later my wife) to Salt Lake City, Utah. Our plan was to meet up there after my course and spend time photographing Arches National Monument, Zion Park and the Grand Canyon.

The T Cross Ranch was just outside of Dubois, Wyoming, and our class was comprised of photographers from Germany, New York, Florida, Idaho, Colorado, Tennessee, and two of us from Kamloops British Columbia.

We hiked and wandered during the days, photographed everything, and in the evenings had lectures in a wonderful 100-year-old antique-filled log house.

Our instructor wanted to provide instant feedback for us and had a new three-chemical-process for developing slide film. The first morning I noticed him reading the instructions and without thinking I said I could figure it out and immediately became the official class technician. So each evening while my classmates were sitting around the fire talking about the day’s events I was in an abandoned walk-in cold room removing film from cassettes, rolling them into large processing tanks, then developing and hanging the rolls for overnight drying. Hmm…me and my big mouth! We were excited that we could have our images for critique so quickly. I thought that film technology had finally become the best it could be.

I preferred using a huge Mamiya RB67 at that time. The RB used 120mm medium format film and the negatives were 2¼x2¾ inches.

One afternoon we trucked up to a mountain plateau and Norton said, “There is a lightning storm to the west and we’ll see antelope coming this way to stay out it. Find yourself a good position for some great shots.” I waited behind an old salt lick as several antelope came bounding our way. The lens on the RB67 racked back and forth on a rail instead of turning like modern lenses. I tried to keep the antelopes in focus as they ran toward us, but to my dismay I couldn’t. I didn’t get a shot!

When I came back within weeks I sold the RB and purchased a jaunty little Hasselblad that I used for years, until, coincidentally, I attended another wilderness class in 1999, that time in Washington State, and was introduced to digital. I returned to Kamloops after that class and bought my first DSLR. Both instances were because of the influence of other photographers. Getting together with other photographers, in my opinion, not only creates excitement, but also is the best thing one can do to become a better photographer.

Reminiscing about that trip while I listened to the Be Gees was fun. However it also reminded me was how important it is to interact with other photographers and participate in workshops, classes, and photo tours. The other thing I thought about as I sat rewriting this article is how dramatically and constantly, technology changes for those of us dedicated to this exciting medium of photography.

“All this digital isn’t real photography”        

I talked to a confused young photographer that wondered if he should do as a friend that was using a 1970’s film camera and discard his DSLR for a film camera. His friend told him, “all this digital isn’t real photography”,

I doubt his opinionated pal even thought about or was aware that it has only been a bit over a century ago that photographers needed large glass plates, hazardous chemicals, bulky cameras and wagons to carry everything. And I wonder if there were some photographers that, when roll film first became available, said about the same thing when they saw people hand-holding their little box cameras.

The medium of photography has become very accessible for everyone. The days when a photographer had to be an engineer and chemist are long gone. With modern technology, today’s supercharged cameras with their machine-gun-like shutters and seemingly speed of light focusing allow many photographers to get great pictures on their first try. Photographers once had to understand the combinations of shutter and aperture for a properly exposed image, and worried about camera shake and film choice. Gosh, it’s only around 20 years ago that photographers carried more than one camera if they wanted black & white as well as colour prints of some subject.

I am not sure that the photographers of the late 1800’s or early 1900’s were really interested in photography as a creative medium as much as they were striving to document reality. No doubt they struggled to convince their subjects to sit as still as possible for long time periods while they set up unwieldy photographic equipment. And I am convinced that many people that tried photography “pre-digital” would not be shooting if it had remained like that.

There are those that are intent on complaining that with the end of film came the end of photography. Personally, I don’t think film is going away any time soon. I expect most outlets may not carry film or offer processing much longer, but there are lots of distributers that still supply film. I’d like to see the return of film to larger camera shops, along with people capable of giving the correct advice to users.

I rarely shoot with film these days, but I still have a film camera and I did put a roll thru it this past year and had fun. Nevertheless, I will admit to being frustrated at all the work it took to get to the final images. Digital is easier.

I am afraid I couldn’t give that photographer any advice. Although I disagreed with his friend’s comment, I told him I’d look forward to seeing his photographs and be there to help what ever his choice.

Photography has always been about technology. I hope that photographer works at producing images (digital or film) that are good visual statements about what he feels or wants to say. Most people viewing his photography will only be interested in the resulting photos and won’t really care how his images were produced as long as the final photograph has something to say, shows control over the technology used, and is visually exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

Practicing Street Photography      

I have read that Street photography is the practice of photographing chance encounters and random incidents in public places, Well, like the street.

In an article about my experiences in Vancouver BC some time ago I wrote, “I think that successful street photography captures a moment from the society around us. It’s a moment in time that is an important for the present and future.”

I am fascinated with this kind of candid photography that has been around since people began to carrying cameras in public, and I am always up to any occasion that allows my somewhat reserved and not so confident approach to photographing strangers going about their life on any public street. So when that opportunity presented itself at the giant outdoor flea market in Anacortes Washington I was excited.

Most modern street photographers seem to be recommending small, inconspicuous mirrorless cameras. However, in spite advice posted on many of the forums I have visited I still wondered if I could again try using my big DSLR with a battery grip and 24-70mm attached. I admit that’s a huge and very noticeable combination that the last time I tried at this event had curious by-passers looking right at me.

I remembered a 1969 Algerian-French movie, called “Z”, about some foreign dictatorship and a photojournalist who helped to uncover evidence about a murder. The photographer, wielding a big camera with a loud motor drive, continually shot from his hip. So I thought, what the heck, lets see if I can get away with that. Also, knowing I could easily crop, I moved the lens to its widest 24mm and photographed everything holding my camera at my waist.

I also figured that people at the street sale would be so absorbed with their treasure searching that if I didn’t hold my camera up to my eye, like I did last time, they would be oblivious to my photography.

My results were much better than last time. I wandered releasing the shutter anytime I observed people doing something interesting. There were a few camera conscious people that remarked about how big and nice my camera was, and one guy even asked the model I had. Nevertheless, none of my pictures showed people turning to look at me as I was taking a picture, except for those times when actually I asked someone to pose.

The big street market made things easy, and my new “stealth” photography technique made me more comfortable. And as I said, my results were much better this time. Whether it will work when I am not at an event that distracts people’s attention away from me remains to be seen.

Anacortes Shipwreck Festival         

After an easy six or so hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard British Columbia and I pulled into the picturesque town of Anacortes, referred to as the homeport of the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands, for an annual event called the Shipwreck Festival. Gosh, it had been two years since my return to the enjoyment of what is certainly one of my favourite places and events. The last time was when my wife, Linda, and I made two trips to that area in 2014, the first in July to Anacortes and a second the week before Halloween for a short stay in the neighbouring small town of La Connor.

The Festival’s website says that some thirty years ago commercial fisherman would gather to sell their used gear on Anacortes’ Commercial Avenue. That popular event expanded to what is now called the Shipwreck Festival, a giant community garage sale that on the third weekend of July each year occupies about nine blocks of the town’s main street, offering, unique treasures from over 200 or more businesses, organizations, antique dealers, small vendors and local families.

The Fidalgo Island Rotary Club organizes the Shipwreck Festival and this year I was fortunate to be included with the Rotary Club volunteers as photographer.

I am sure there was a lot of behind the scenes work that went on before I arrived the Friday afternoon before the big event, but I was greeted by a fresh and enthusiastic group that were gearing up to mark street locations for the next day’s deluge of vendors that I was told began happening at 4AM.

I will say that over the many years I have been attending that festival I have never heard or met with a sour word. The people I encountered are always warm and generous and after a short time one gets the feeling they are old friends. And I immediately felt that way as I joined that group decked in their Rotarian vests.

When they were finally all prepped with measuring poles, blue chalk and “street closed” signs, they fanned out onto the town’s main thoroughfare redirecting traffic and marking the street with me running around documenting everything with my camera.

I have been attending the festival for years; I don’t remember when I started. I am pretty sure I first learned about the Shipwreck Festival when joined some friends that were there for the Fidalgo Island crab festival. I also remember stopping in Anacortes with some Army buddies back in 1967. I was stationed at Ft. Lewis Washington and we set off to see as much of the state as we could on our weekend pass. I seem to remember sleeping (jammed uncomfortably) in the car. These days I sleep comfortably in motels and don’t drink as much beer as I did then.

I will say that I don’t get to make the trip every year, although I’d like to. So this year’s opportunity to join the festival’s local volunteers will stand out as one the most memorable.

I had a great time creating images that the festival committee will be able to use for next years advertisements and my fun didn’t end with just taking pictures of their efforts that afternoon. I spent the next day taking photographs and shopping.

This was the kind of vacation that I like – the opportunity participate as an event photographer, to try my hand at “street photography” on the packed avenue and to spend time photographing the coastal landscape. All less than a day’s drive from a completely different environment then the one I live in, and with a chance to meet new people, eat at great seafood restaurants, and, of course, wander the Shipwreck Festival looking for treasures.

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.

 

Spring-cleaning and plans on Summer Photography.        

I am such a hoarder.

I knew I had an old tripod mount stashed away somewhere, but when I started searching (unsuccessfully I might add) through years of bits and pieces randomly stockpiled in unmarked containers I came to the conclusion that it might be time to do some spring-cleaning. I’ll call it that because it’s spring here in British Columbia.

No doubt there are other photographers that hold on to all-things-photographic as much as I do, so here are some thoughts that I had that might be helpful. I am sure there are many additions readers can think of, but I am starting with just a couple.

  1. This should be the year to get rid of all that old film camera equipment. I know it is hard to part with favourite old cameras. The pictures they produced were so great, and gosh, they initially cost so much money, but sadly there isn’t much resale value currently. The fact is today’s camera technology has progressed far beyond those old film cameras and most individuals that have embraced the high quality digital world will never return to film. If you haven’t, my recommendation is remove the batteries that are probably leaking, clean the camera up with an old toothbrush, and sell it to someone interested in playing with “retro” equipment or donate the camera to a student still using film in their photography classes. Don’t put it off, film cameras only loose value as time passes and very few ever become valuable collectibles.
  2. Might this be the year to “finally” organize all those old prints and slides? There are many ways to copy photographs and slides. For prints I use my camera, a tripod, and a level. For slides a scanner works best.

Regarding scanners, my recommendation is to do some research, and not purchase too cheap (or to          expensive) of a model. Find out which scanners produce quality resolution scans. A space saving and cost  saving idea would be to share one with other photographers.

  1. A couple years ago my wife and were evacuated as a fire raged down the hills above our home. Linda and I rushed through the house photographing everything before we left. I think spring is a perfect time to make the effort to photographically inventory household goods. I have to admit I am as lax as anyone when it comes to a photographic inventory. Nevertheless, when faced with that fire approaching my door I sloppily needed to do it in a hurry. Its not very hard, and I think worth the time.

I’ll add two spring goals that have nothing to do with photo house cleaning. However, I have made them part of the spring planning process for the summer to come. And anyway, these are way more fun.

  1. There are several of us that meet once a week to talk about photography. It’s not a club, there are no rules, everyone has strong opinions, and this spring we are all filled with energy and photography projects. Joining up with others that have different interests in photography to talk about or accompany on photo outings is fun and always instructive.
  2. It’s time to plan photography a trip. I am planning a July photography excursion down the coast of Washington State for a few days with my friend Dave, his wife Cynthia. I know we’ll be up early with our cameras and, I am sure, still up late talking about our day’s photography.

Those, like me, that that enjoy lists will delight on writing out their spring goals. It’s a good way to begin thinking about photography projects and goals for this year. I have only included a few from my personal list. Some might not get done, but it’s a start. I try to be realistic and I’ll hang my list on the wall next to the calendar I print each month and attempt what I can. That might help me keep it a spring instead of a summer project.

 

 

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.