Backroads and roadside photography      

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are strange times                                                    

One would think with all the pictures of the crowds of people at parks and beaches on the news that many folks have decided that the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t a big deal, but take a drive on any country side-road and it is very evident that something has changed.

This week I had to make a short trip to pick up supplies for my shop.  I have made the two-hour drive south on that double lane road for years and there is always lots of traffic any day of the week at any time of day, but for the first time it was almost devoid of the usual large trucks, passenger cars and motorcycles.

As readers know I like wandering the back roads with my camera. I will place my cameras and lenses ready to use on the backseat of my car and go for short drives to photograph anything and everything that seems interesting.

When I return home I load the images into my computer and spend hours having fun seeing what I can do with them. With jazz music blaring and a glass of wine I sit at my computer and get creative. I always will have one image opened with several different versions. Some manipulations stray pretty far from reality, but heck its fun doing anything with photography.

I remember when I would return home with several rolls of exposed film. I would process the film then wait for an overnight dry and print photographs all the next day. I guess I haven’t changed very much, its fun doing anything with photography.

My friend Jo and her family have been isolating themselves from other people for just over two weeks and I haven’t been near anyone since I closed my shop a month ago. So we figured it was safe when I asked Jo if she wanted to join me for the drive. We each have been driving our own cars and it is good to be able to go together again.

The drive along the mostly deserted road was filled with good photo opportunities, and we could pull off the road almost anywhere without worrying about other vehicles. I wonder how long that will last.

When we got to our destination I knocked at the door and stepped back off the porch. A fellow opened the door and placed my package on the steps and moved back so I could get it. We said hello from the government recommended, “social distancing” and I commented that I hope we can get together at the next Vancouver Camera Swap Meet. (If there is one in October and it is safe to attend)

These are strange times.

On our drive home we made several stops to make photos and even took a quick turn through a fast food drive through. We returned home with some good photos and had a nice easy and very safe drive on the almost deserted roads. These are strange times.

As I sit to write this I am thinking about how addictive this wonderful medium so many of us are dedicated to actually is – in spite of the crisis we are enduring.  With that thought here is a quote by the famous American photographer Richard Avedon, “If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Photographing a spring garden     

Finally…finally the spring warmth has crept in and we are getting the rain, sun, rain kind of days that are usual this time of year.

I think the plants in my garden that were holding back because of the cold days and nights last week will be exploding in bloom in no time.  I knew I would miss the beginning growth if I hesitated.

I sent a text to my friend Jo inviting her to join me and she showed up a few hours later ready to photograph the garden with me.

In my article last week I wrote, “why not photograph the flowers just as one would do a portrait.” So for our photos I got out two small 2’x2’ backdrops that Jo and I could place behind some of the flowers. Remember that I wrote that I used a small backdrop for flowers and other small items that is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.

This time I mounted one wireless flash on a light stand, but decided not to use an umbrella. We took turns moving the flash for each other.

Jo shot with my 70-180mm AF macro and I used my 200mm Manual macro.

I also used the uniquely flexible Benbo tripod I wrote about last week. There was a slight intermittent breeze that was possible for Jo to overcome with her AF lens, but my manual lens had to have support, so the tripod was a must for me.

We were fortunate that the day was overcast. That made it easy to use a wide aperture to soften the background while still being able to underexpose the ambient light.

As I wrote last week, “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, position the flash for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got lighting that would flatter my subject.”

We wandered the garden looking for those flowers and plants that are early blooming and those that are just showing buds at the end of their branches.

For me, photographing my garden is a time consuming process that includes a tripod, an off-camera flash, a backdrop and a lot of walking around to find the right shape in the right location.

I met a biologist that decided to take up photography. He mostly used natural light and occasionally one of those inexpensive constant light kits. He would cut the plant that he wanted to photograph and use a clamp to position it. For me the process of photographing a flower usually includes its life cycle from the cool days of early spring to snowy winter days. So plant clippers, clamps and lights that plug into an electric outlet don’t work for me at all. I photographed the garden a few days ago. There has been rain and warm sun since then and I think it’ll rain again tomorrow. That mean I can expect may garden to have gone through a transition and photographing it will be a new experience. Spring, summer, fall and winter. It always is.

I will admit that I am not a gardener. I rarely remove weeds unless the get in the way of something I am doing. I don’t go through plant catalogues in the spring and can’t begin to name the plants that grow in my garden. But I do like to photograph those things that grow or just reside in my yard. My wife used to complain that I enjoyed the photography more than her garden. I disagreed. I like the garden because I like to photograph it.

Photographing the garden is calming and can be creative for those that take the time. That said here is a quote by Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson that I have used before.

In his book, “Photography and the Art of Seeing” he wrote, “ Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, you intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

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.

 

 

 

Social distancing           

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bored during this time of self-isolation? Not a chance.  

I followed the other stores and eateries in my area and closed my shop last week.

This Covid-19 has us all worried about getting close to other people and I wasn’t seeing any customers anyway. Adding to that both the provincial and national government health officials are telling us, especially those my age, to stay home.

So I have stayed home almost two weeks. I don’t mind being alone that much, and anyway my close friend and photo-partner has come up a couple times. Jo walks around my house to my back deck (She and her family have been staying home too.) and with our chairs distanced a bit over 6 feet we sit bundled up from the cold and share a bottle of red wine and talk about anything and everything.

I sat watching the TV this morning and there were lots of discussions about how the forced isolation would make everyone bored and lonely and there were also all sorts of advice and even advertising for things to do. I’ll say that I am not lonely or bored, and the only thing that I find boring is people telling me I should be.

I finished my coffee and went outside to look at the clear blue sky. There is still snow covering most of my frozen yard, but I didn’t think I’d need to worry about more snow and put my snow blower away.  Then I walked out to my car with my camera in my hand thinking about how it is for those of us with hobbies like photography. Oh, and “social distancing” wasn’t even on my mind as I drove down to the river to take some pictures.

I am sure most readers have discovered the easy joy of just walking around with their cameras with no purpose other than photographing anything that looks interesting.

I began with my little Nikon V1. Then as I waited for my car to warm up after the freezing -11 degree night I changed my mind and got my Nikon D7000 Infrared camera instead.

The blue morning sky would be perfect. And anyway, I thought it would be fun to manipulate the odd coloured images on my computer.

I walked around the yard-photographing things with the sun at my back. That angle of light makes for a stronger IR effect. I took some pictures of my house, wandered out on the street to take some pictures of the valley below and walked to the end of the road photographing anything that I thought might work as IR subjects. Then I got in my car and drove down to the river.

I could see a person walking their dog in the distance and there was a couple sitting in their car enjoying the view. I roamed the riverfront quite alone happily taking pictures till I got cold from the breeze blowing off the river.

I think most hobbies are time consuming and will easily ward off boredom and loneliness.

Photography… Well photography to me anyway, captures my mind and makes me think about the subjects I am photographing and the environment I am in at that moment.  Just the act of finding and photographing something is a mental reward in itself. And whether one plays with their images on the computer like I do, stores them on their computer, or posts the pictures on something like Facebook for others to enjoy, photography is the perfect stimulant for those of us hiding out from this pandemic.

 

Another morning photographing the garden in March  

Early in the morning I got a text message from my friend Jo that said, “Good morning, it’s snowing down here.” I told her it was up at my place too with big flakes.

Her reply was, “ if I come up when its light can I borrow your macro lens? I want to take some pictures of the snow in the garden”

I said of course, and an hour later when Jo and her daughter showed up it had stopped snowing but there was still some left on the plants.

I got my 70-180mm macro lens out, mounted a flash on a light stand, and gave her my TTL flash trigger so she could use the same High Speed Sync technique I wrote about in my last article. We then set up a video game for her daughter because she said it was “to cold for me” and went out in the snowy morning looking for some interesting subjects for Jo to photograph.

The sky had cleared up and the snow was melting fast.

Whenever Jo found something to photograph I would position the flash to one side. After the first few tests we knew how far away I needed to locate the flash so as not to under or over expose her subjects. Then as the day got brighter all she had to do was decide how bright she wanted the background and increase or decrease the shutterspeed to achieve it.

I had my camera just in case, but Jo had some good ideas and I enjoyed being the “lighting guy” moving the flash around to see what kind of effect she could get so I didn’t bother using it.

The snow was deep and more than once we filled our boots. However, there was lots to photograph and although we both complained we didn’t really care. And for me it is always interesting to watch how and what another photographer does in a location that I have photographed.

I just remembered that I wrote about Jo and I photographing the March garden snow a couple years ago and at that time I said, “I know there are many photographers that only take pictures of plants when they are in bloom and prefer colourful representations. However, spring, summer, fall, winter, snow, rain, sunny, or overcast, my garden is filled with ever changing subjects that always offer something new.”

My advise to photographers was then and still is, if they wait for inspiring weather before that next garden safari they are missing a good opportunity. There’s always something to photograph no matter the weather or the season, just get up close and look for the small stuff.

Photographing the waterfront on a snowy February morning    

Last weekend was my close friend and photography companion Jo McAvany’s birthday.

Remembering how much fun we had in December photographing the waterfront in Kelowna I suggested that for her birthday present we should make the two-hour drive to Kelowna, have dinner, stay overnight, and then spend the morning photographing the snow covered lakefront.

Of course Jo said yes and I booked some rooms, and Saturday’s cold overcast afternoon saw us packing our cameras and driving the wet, winding road to Kelowna.

I like how the snow-covered waterfront looks and if Vancouver was closer I would have suggested we go there to photograph an ocean harbour, but the weather report said the mountain road between Kamloops and Vancouver might see icy conditions and possibly snow, so Kelowna it was.

We lucked out and had a balcony at our downtown hotel and braved the cold to spend some of the first afternoon taking pictures there and walking around. Then after dark we went out to my favourite Greek restaurant in Kelowna, watched the belly dancer and had way too much to eat.

The next morning we awoke to snow on the balcony. I know some photographers might have been displeased, but Jo and I couldn’t have been happier, and after a leisurely (complimentary hotel) breakfast we grabbed our coats and cameras and headed for Okanagan Lake.

The snow was beginning to come down in huge flakes by the time we got there, but here were a people walking along the waterfront and a few were skating on the snow coverer ice skating rink.

I began by to photographing people on the skating rink and then moved down to photo a bonfire where people sat in it’s warmth drinking hot chocolate and getting their skates on.

I was using my 24-70mm and wanted to stop the action as well as see the snowflakes. For those that haven’t shot in a snowstorm, the trick is simply to use a flash. The purpose of the flash was to stop the snowflakes.

The popup flash on my camera was perfect. I didn’t need to illuminate my subjects; anyway they were to far away.   I was using an ISO of 800, so I could keep my shutterspeed 1/250 and my aperture at f8 or f11 for lots of depth of field.

We wandered the shoreline photographing people, boats, ducks and anything else that caught our attention on that snowy morning. Jo was using her favourite 28-300mm travel lens. Gosh, we had a fun time and got some great photos.

We could have spent the day there, but the snow stopped, and the cold damp breeze coming off the lake was getting uncomfortable . I noticed that most of the people that had been ice-skating were now huddled around the big fire. It was time to go home.

The weekend was a perfect photo adventure and Jo said it was a very good birthday present.

Other than a few bundled up people strolling along the waterfront and those ice-skating or sitting by the fire we had the waterfront to ourselves. We saw no other photographers enjoying the photogenic lakeshore while we were there.

I expect local photographers must get their fill of photographing the lake and marina in the summer and fall when everything is so beautiful along the water and might not be interested enough to look for things to photograph on a cold snowy February morning. However, I like to remember the words of the famous Photojournalist, Robert Capa when he said, “the pictures are there you just take them.”

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.