Fall Garden Photos

 

In spite of the chokingly thick, monochromatic, overpowering smoke that is pushing it’s way up from California, Oregon and Washington I can still see that the colours are changing with the coming of fall here in BC.

It has been so hot and dry for the last month that most of the plants are looking rather water starved. I decided this morning was the time to take my camera out in the garden before everything changes again. The first day of Fall is Tuesday September 22nd.

I grabbed my camera, mounted my 70-180mm macro lens on it, placed an off-camera flash trigger on top and put my flash in my jacket pocket.

Even with the murky grey haze there was enough sunlight hacking it’s way through to take pictures without my having to increase my camera’s ISO over 400.

I usually like to have a tripod and even a stand for my light, but this time I thought a leisurely stroll around the yard would be fun.

The Fall garden is so different to photograph than the Spring garden. Spring is so easy with its fresh deep colours and new growth that leaves nothing to the imagination, whereas the Fall garden demands so much of a photographer’s imagination.

It’s the colour and shape that I look for.   Well… maybe more the shape.

English Renaissance statesman and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “There ought to be gardens for all months in the year, in which, severally, things of beauty may be then in season.”

I like that quote, His words fit in with how I see my garden. It always is, in every season, a place that I like to walk through and photograph.

Sometimes I get out my backdrop, tripod, lights and lightstands. But this time I just wanted to see what I could find. It had been a lazy morning and I suppose I wasn’t as serious about getting creative images, and I know hand holding a camera for macro photos rarely produces images as sharp as when one uses a tripod. Nevertheless, I thought I should at least photograph some of the yellow leaves and as long as I could keep my shutterspeed up I would reduce camera shake.

I had been working in my garden for the last several days and kept thinking that I should spend some time with my camera. I actually haven’t been working “on my garden” just in it. I have the first 20 of about 30 boards on sawhorses that I brushed sealer brushed on. I decided this would be the summer to put a roof on the last part of my deck. I cut down a couple trees to use as posts and built the roof, now I just have the 14X14 foot ceiling to finish. Then I will be able to sit comfortably rain or shine and enjoy the cool Autumn days.

The days are changing fast and this may be the last chance I get to photograph the garden before its next seasonal change. The weather report predicted much needed rain and as I write I think I can hear it starting, and if it keeps up most of the night I think it might be worth my time to go out with my camera again in the morning. There is always another opportunity for photos in that ever-changing garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all about the glass  

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.”   Most will also say that 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 have written about this topic before and I discuss lenses every time I lead a photography workshop.

This past week I got a call from a photographer that was planning on starting a photo business and was wondering about what new equipment she should purchase.

The lure of new photo equipment is almost overwhelming. Most of us are willing to add new photo paraphernalia to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

Each season camera manufacturers come out with new cameras. There is lots of advertising, many reviews to read and there are hours of youtube programs by previously unknown experts talking about how each new camera made them better photographers.

I must admit that I read and watch as many programs as I can about the new cameras.   But as exciting and tantalizing as each manufacturers offering is my belief still is that “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”   So when I talked to that soon-to-be professional photographer my suggestion was not to change her camera, but to keep it and start researching the kind of lenses that would work best with the kind of photography she would be doing.

My advice would be to buy the best lens she could afford. I know that the lens that came with the camera seems to do a great job when viewed on a 16-inch computer monitor. But what if a client wanted to publish or print that image?   And there must be a reason that one might be able to purchase a camera complete with an 18-300mm lens for well under two thousand dollars, yet a 24-70mm or 70-200mm will cost over two thousand dollars each.

I say, Yes, read and drool over that expensive new camera, but for now begin with putting the best lens you can on the camera you presently own.

I have been told that the camera will capture a subject’s personality. However, the lens in my opinion allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer. The photographer uses the lens to alter the visual personality of the image and I suggest that photographers are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

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.

 

Photographing fire spinning.   

This past week one of the women my friend Jo McAvany recently photographed told Jo she was going to do some “Fire Spinning” on the beach in Kamloops Friday evening and wondered if she would come along and take photographs.

Jo told me and we joined the two Fire Spinners and photographer Jennifer Tyler just before sunset along the north shore of the Thompson River across from down town Kamloops.

Oh, and with regards to our current need for “social distancing”. There was no necessity for any warning signs or circles on the ground to remind Jo and I to keep our distance, the spinning hot flaming batons were enough of a warning.

Jo chose to use her 24-70mm lens and I had my 16-35mm. I was happy with the close wide-angle shots I was getting, but Jo told me she wished she had brought her 70-200mm lens so she could crop in tight without having to move in close to our subjects. I had to agree that the longer lens would have made for easier shooting. (And less cropping later)

We both started by slowing our camera’s shutterspeed way down. That gave us good shots of the fire movement, but the person holding the flame came out blurry. We then added flash on a few shots, tried increasing our ISO and had fun experimenting every way we could. I haven’t seen Jo’s photos, but my experience was a bit hit-and-miss.

I want to try again with an off-camera flash. There is a well-known picture of a Hawaiian Fire Dancer on the cover the book, “The Hot Shoe Diaries” by photographer and writer Jo McNally. The image shows flame spinning and a relatively sharp dancer with a black underexposed background. McNally says he used his Nikon Speedlight off-camera and positioned it close to the subject.

I originally hadn’t planned on going with Jo and quickly grabbed a speedlight from my shop at the last minute and only tried it on-camera. (Obviously the wrong place to put the flash almost anytime)

I also now know that I should have used a faster shutterspeed. My slow shutter time would work great for night cityscape photos where there is no subject movement other than the ocean, but the setting was to slow for the constant moving women doing the fire spinning. And I now know I need not have worried about depth-of-field. McNally chose wider apertures for all his low light shots of the Fire Dancers with excellent success.

I have done some reading and critical thinking about my photos and I am sure I will be able to correct the mistakes I made.

I’m not totally disappointed with the photographs I took of the two Fire Spinners, Jessika and Kristen, and there are some very usable shots that with a bit of modifying in post will surely be worth showing to others. I have no doubt the Fire Spinners will like some of the photos I took, but I can do better. I hope I can get an opportunity to photograph them again.

One of the (many) things that has kept me interested in photography for all these years is there is always something else to learn.

Photography along the waterfront on a warm summer evening.

Last week I wrote about my photo walk along Vancouver’s streets and I ended by saying that after taking a refreshment break in the afternoon I photographed buildings across the water until I got a text from my friend Jo.

That didn’t end my day of photography.

I picked up Jo and after stopping at a market for some snacks we picnicked on the grass in a small park, then spent some time in a fun store called Rocking Cowboy Clothing. To quote their sign,“Boots, Belts, Brims, New, Used, Vintage.” However, for a photographers enjoyment there were many large B&W photographs of past western movie stars. I wandered looking at the exceptional quality of the large prints that I expect were shot with 8×10 format cameras.

We were waiting for the sun to go down so we could spend the evening photographing things along the waterfront. Its fun to visually play with reflections and the pools of light on the walkway and with long exposures people walking in front of our cameras made no difference at all. Their movement made them invisible.

I’d choose and area to focus on and release the shutter. Then wait and watch not only my subject, but also the response some people had. People sometimes would even apologize. Some would duck and quickly walk to the side. Two guys stopped to tell me how neat it is to photograph from that location in the early morning and pointed to where they shot from. There was an older fellow who noticed us and walked past very slowly, then turned around and walked even slower back the way he had come. I am not sure what he expected. I’m sure he thought he would be in my photograph, but alas he was just an indescribable soft blur.

Just before the sun went down completely I made a few exposures with my infrared camera, then when it got dark I changed cameras to capture the lights normally. Hmmm…”normally” I’m not sure that is the right word.

The night on the waterfront was cool in contrast to the hot day as Jo and I bumped our tripods up and down stairs along the concrete walled walkway, and in the brightly coloured area in front of the 2010 Olympics Caldron.

I am not sure how long we were there. We were absorbed trying to get as creative as possible with the lights.

On this evening I was using a filter with a slight purple cast that would somewhat correct the warm building lights. A tripod is a necessity for sure and a cable release for exposures longer than thirty seconds.

There is the opinion that night photography requires us to be more methodical than shooting in daylight and it is a must to bracket.  I wont argue with that, but personally I have too much fun to be that serious. After I reach the location and select my subject I look for mid-tones where details begin to disappear and meter the brightest lights. Then choose an exposure in between that I think will give me the effect I want and press the shutter, if it is to light or to dark I choose another and do it all again.

Sometimes I choose Manual mode and sometimes Aperture priority. My way might seem a bit hit and miss, but after a couple exposures I usually have it and can creatively adjust as I continue on. It’s much the same whether one is photographing a waterfall or lights along the ocean.

Long exposure photography is enjoyable and if you haven’t tried it be sure to. (We all have the extra time now)

Stay safe and be creative.

The more stable your camera is, the sharper the photos.               

 

The slightest camera movement can ruin a landscape image and I am sure most serious photographers know that. Yet, for some reason, a good tripod isn’t high on some photographers’ list of priorities. I expect that’s mostly because of our constant wanting to have more money to spend on quality lenses or camera bodies. And of course the misconception of a few that they don’t kneed a tripod.

I opened my shop for the first time in over a month and, of course, there were local photographers that had problems with their cameras and lenses that stopped by, but some seeing my Open sign just came in to say hello and tell me what they had been doing.

I didn’t open the till much, but I had a good day talking about photography.

I started this article with some words about tripods because yesterday I was asked about calibrating lenses.

The photographer was thinking about replacing her lens because some of her photos were not sharp. She was in a hurry, I explained a bit about calibration and I told her we could do it sometime when she had time and she left.

As she walked out the door I turned to my friend Drew and said, “I wonder if she only used program modes”. He replied, “ You should sell her a tripod”.

I didn’t even think of that. Sometimes the simplest solutions escape us.

Tripods give your camera the stability it needs to perform at its best. That’s not really a groundbreaking statement. My opinion is, even if one has steady hand, it’s still not as good as the stability that a good solid tripod can provide.

And the more stable your camera is the sharper the photos it can capture.

Blurriness is one of the primary culprits of a bad scenic photo, so the more one uses a tripod, the better the photos will be.

I wonder how many times I have said, “If you don’t like using a tripod it means you never have used a good one, and I stand by that statement.

In today’s market it is very acceptable to spend extra money on “vibration reduction” or “image stabilizing” lenses in the belief that this technology will allow the photographer to do photography without the use of a tripod.

The difference between a blurry and a sharp enlargement isn’t megapixels or vibration reduction lenses; it is a good stable tripod. I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t get image stabilizing lenses as they are great to have and use in certain situations and conditions when you can’t use a tripod and must use slower shutter speeds, but using a good tripod that allows you to stand up straight and take your time to analyze, problem solve, compose and contemplate is an excellent experience.

In recent years more and more quality tripods have become available and are worth owning and using. There are many brands available and all one needs to do is spend some time researching to find one that suits them.

A Saturday drive for some photos.  

The rain has been coming down steadily for the past few days. I did get a bit of an afternoon to cut the grass meadow beside my house, but not much else.

The weather report said there would be showers in the South Thompson today. However, the morning was mostly sunny, so instead of sitting in the house listening to the ever so gloomy news on my television I decided to have my morning coffee and bagel out on my porch.

Just as I was feeding my cat, Pippen, another piece of my bagel when I received a text from my friend Jo wishing me a happy 4 of July and “if you could have anything for your 4th of July supper what would it be”. I am not good at making that kind of decision about food. I like most anything. (Especially if someone else makes it) I replied that I was going to take a short drive on the back road to Armstrong, then through Enderby, and return by way of Salmon Arm and asked her wanted to join me.

I would figure out what food and pick up the makings on route.

I like to take my camera on that winding drive through Falkland, to Armstrong, on through Enderby and finally turning to go past Salmon Arm, then back to my home in Pritchard. The route is scenic with photo opportunities and all the towns are small and usually quiet this time of year.

There is a lot to see, make pictures of, and there wasn’t much traffic. How long the trip is depends on how many stops I make. This time I planned on stopping in Armstrong to wander and photograph buildings. Armstrong has a quaint feeling. The town center has retained most of the older buildings from it’s past with little shops and to Jo’s delight an ice cream emporium.

We left Pritchard just after 12PM. our first stop was along Monty Lake. There were lots of rock hunters climbing and hacking away on the steep red slope along the far end on the lake. While I made a few photos of the lake Jo crossed the road to talk with a fellow that had just come down from a ledge. He was finding lots of different things in the rocks, but was mostly looking for fossils.

Our next stop was at a small store in Falkland where Jo purchased some of the local sausage.

We got to Armstrong and after ice cream cones we wandered the streets photographing the buildings. I haven’t stopped there for a couple years and this time I was wishing I was there either earlier or later in the day. The high sun didn’t give me the shadows and definition I like for photographing buildings. I think I’ll try a morning trip next time.

I was using the 16-35mm lens I wrote about last month. I have decided to keep it for now. It is lighter than the 14-24mm, just as sharp, and takes 77mm filters. That’s a plus for sure. I like it’s wide angle for buildings. I still need to give it a good testing on some long exposures. If the weather holds I will take a day trip to Wells Grey Park and see if I like it on waterfalls. I might go to Vancouver for some night photos of the ocean and cityscape, but I think I will wait for the Covid-19 to calm down a bit more before I face the crowds in that city.

Today’s leisurely drive lasted about four hours and other than stopping for Nacho makings (I finally made my decision) we didn’t come in close contact with other people.

I expected rain, but there were only a few white clouds and the temperature was comfortable for walking around with our cameras.
Both Jo and I got a bit creative with our photos (I also used my IR camera for some)

In spite of the life-changing virus I expect this will be a good summer for short photo adventures.

 

 

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.”