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.

The Black and White Photograph  

 

Today my friend Jo McAvany showed me a book of black and white portraits she had made for a client.

Black and White has always been my favourite photographic medium so, of course, I was really pleased to see that she was willing to take the step away from what most local photographers are doing and create the portrait collection in black and white.

Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Black and white photographs (in my opinion) seem to create moods and convey an almost tactile quality.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. I think a B&W image stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms. I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.

In spite of the many modern photographers that don’t bother with anything more than just accepting what comes out of their camera, black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past and with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and the latest in printing papers, black and white image-making will continue to be an option for a host of serious creative photographers.

Those photographers that are good at black and white photography learn to exploit the differences in tonal elements in a scene and present viewers with successful B&W portrayals that make excellent use of shapes, textures, light and shadow, and the loss of those original colours becomes irrelevant.

For those that haven’t tried monochrome (another word applied to B&W) image making, I will mention that it is easier than ever. Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu. However, I would suggest trying one of the many great programs available on the Internet that can be downloaded to test for free. Who knows, you might, like I do, really like black and white photography.

Readers by now must know how much I like quotes from famous photographers. So I’ll finish this up with some words from a turn of the century fashion and commercial photographer, Paul Outerbridge who wrote, “One very important difference between color and monochromatic photography is this: in black and white you suggest; in color you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty… absolute certainty.”

Photographing Christmas lights    

I have always liked Christmas. I won’t go as far as saying that it’s my favourite time for year. Gosh, anytime time of year that I get to point my camera at something is my favourite time.

Christmas is special. I like the music. (Don’t ride in my car or visit me at my home if you expect any other kind of music till January 2nd) I also like the festive spirit of those people that remember this is a time of caring, giving and friendship. And, of course, I really like Christmas lights.

My last article was about using my ultra-wide lens Saturday morning to photograph the Tree of Hope, but the night before found Jo and I wandering in the cold photographing the city lights.

Jo used a 28-300mm and I used my 24-70mm and we both carried tripods. I think the lowest ISO I used was 800. Jo said she kept hers set at 100 ISO most of the time.

There were the usual strings of lights along the city streets, but it was the cheerful holiday lit Okanagan Lake waterfront that we wanted to photograph.

Kelowna goes all out and even has a skating rink that is open till 11PM and this year there was a big fire at one end for people to gather around.

Everything was perfect for two prowling photographers hunting for interesting and creative photos. I was hoping for snow. I like how the white covering reflects light at night.

We were ready for the cold and the snow and we even went shopping when we first arrived in Kelowna for a pair of insulated boots that Jo got for an early Christmas present.

What a fun overnight trip we had. We checked in to our downtown hotel, went Xmas shopping, had dinner at my favourite Kelowna restaurant (That plays blues music as you eat) were out till 9:30ish photographing the lights and got up early the next morning to photograph the 250,000 bulb Christmas tree.

As Jo and I drove home after that exhilarating time we talked about how we each found our own personal views of the lights. Would that be Perspective?

Photographing in low light or after dark helps to slow us down. One employs a tripod and most of the shutterspeeds are slow.

I think those photos that visually work usually take some forethought.

I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer Elliott Erwitt that I have used many times before because it fits so well, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

 

 

 

 

I’ve never been a fan of wide-angle lenses. 

 

Back when I began earning my living pointing a camera the widest lens I would use was a 35mm on my 35mm camera and a 50mm on my medium format camera. Both were as wide as I could tolerate because I disliked the perspective.

I have tried fisheye lenses in the past, and although the photos I took might have been called creative, I was never tempted to keep the lens.

This past year I acquired a 14-24mm. I bought it to sell, but after reading several positive reviews about that lens I ordered a filter holder with both an ND and a polarizing filter deciding to give the wide angle a try before selling it.

I wrote about using that lens this past spring to photograph a waterfall on a rainy day.

I loaned the 14-24mm to my friend Jo McAvany and she loves it. Her photos from our trip to Bellingham Washington last October were great. I only tried it once while we were there when I wanted to include two waterfalls in the same shot, it worked perfectly for that, but I changed back to my familiar 24-70mm after only a couple shots.

Jo plans on using it for her Santa pictures this weekend. She has set up a small studio in my shop and will be photographing people’s dogs with Santa. I’ll be interested to see if she ends up changing to her 24-70mm.

The 14-24mm is a different beast, like any ultra-wide lens it has that unique perspective and some distortion at the edges. It’s built like a tank with over 2 pounds to carry (969 grams). A reviewer wrote, “It must be held level and flat to avoid distortion. However, It will focus within a foot of the sensor from 18 to 24 mm, allowing very wide close focus shots.”

I found one photographer that said, “For those who know how to use it effectively a 14-24 can be spectacular.” And the prolific writer and photographer (bythom.com) Thom Hogan wrote, “The 14-24mm is a fantastic lens. Optically, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a wide angle.”

Well in spite of my feelings about wide angle photographs, I decided any lens receiving reviews like those deserved a chance.

This past weekend I finally took that lens out for a good workout. It is sharp and does give very wide scenic views like most wide lenses I have tried. It focuses very close, is sharp wide open and like my 70-200mm easily locks on to birds in flight. (I decided to try some birds even though it’s too wide for that type of photography.

Most of the day I was photographing bridges and trees along the water thinking that might be a good way to test how I liked the wide perspective. I even spent some time with Jo’s three year old at a local playground to see how the lens performed up close.

Wide-angle lenses are interesting and, I think, a bit hard to use. I was continually trying to fit the subject into a wide-angle scene. Normally I would select a lens to match the subject, but with the 14-24 I was always looking for a subject that would match the wide lens.

There is also the need to correct some of the pictures in post. That’s not a complaint as I work on every image I take. But unless one wants the curved exaggeration of a wide-angle lens the edges require alignment. I guess that’s what using a ultra wide-angle lens is all about.

One reviewer wrote, “if you’re willing to roll with the punches, you’ll capture truly outstanding images…once you feel as if your creativity is starting to outgrow the confines of your gear, you might consider adding an ultra wide lens to your arsenal.”

I have never been comfortable with wide-angle photography so I am not convinced as of yet. However, I have this big lens so for the time being I intend to put it in my bag every time I go out.