An excellent tool for a roadside photographer           

I live in a wooded rural location just short of an hour from the city of Kamloops in British Columbia, and it’s so easy to hop in my car to drive along the winding back roads. I suppose I could hike or climb, but truth be told I have the most fun as a roadside photographer.

For years, each spring, my wife and I looked forward to seeing geese hatchings at a near by pond. There are normally two, or sometimes three adults with six or eight goslings hiding in the long grass just across the reed filled pond. However, this spring there are at least eight adult geese and maybe twenty soft yellow goslings residing at the pond.

To photograph them we would stealthily slow the car down and ease to a prolonged stop. Coming to a sudden stop spooks the apprehensive geese causing them to dash away. Do geese “dash”?   Anyway the fearful gaggle of geese would quickly move from sight. And opening the car door to try photographing them is a waste of time.

Having decided on the time of day that gives me the best light, I first slowly drive by so as to determine where I want to stop for the best photos and I shoot from the car. The geese are usually far enough away that anything shorter than a 300mm lens isn’t close enough. Actually, 300mm isn’t really close enough.

In the past twenty plus years Linda and I used countless kinds of equipment to stabilize our lenses. And the best, in my opinion, is a beanbag. A beanbag fits nicely on the car’s windowsill and allows the photographer to nestle down and rest any size lens on it for shake free shooting.

This year I purchased, after months of research and selling off some of my other lenses, the latest Tamron 150-600mm lens. The lens weighs just over four pounds and although it does have vibration control, shooting from a seated position in a car isn’t the best for sharp, shake free photographs. So out comes the beanbag. However,  I quickly realized that big lens demanded a larger beanbag than the one I hastily stitched together years ago.

With a bit of online searching I found a company called Movophoto.com that makes a large and unique beanbag that fits like a saddle over the car window. With my limited sewing skills I could never have made such a perfect beanbag for that big lens. I ordered it, and when it finally arrived I filled it with rice, and although it’s heavy it resides in the car and stays put on the window, so the weight is a good thing. There are a lot of gadgets that I could spend my money on, but for now that beanbag is my favourite.

I slowed my car to a stop next to the pond, shut the engine off, positioned my camera on the large beanbag, and waited for the geese to resume their browsing along the grassy hill beside the pond. At 600mm I was able to frame pretty darn close. Then, when I wanted a different position, I’d just move the car a bit, and take more pictures. I photographed those geese (and some nearby turtles) for about thirty minutes.

Suddenly I heard loud honking from some unseen goose that must have been hiding in the tall pond reeds, and, like a crowd scene from a movie, they all turned at once and rushed into the pond.

I am sure there are experienced photographers that would have set up a blind and waited for hours to get the perfect shot. There is no doubt they will get my respect. But I know where those geese are and what time of day is the best to photograph them. And anyway my car is really comfortable and when I am done I just drive home. I guess I am just a roadside photographer.

A fun day photographing Granville Island      

 

After an enjoyable Sunday at the Vancouver Camera Swap Linda and I decided it would be nice to spend another day just wandering around and we selected Granville Island.

The peninsula & shopping district of Granville Island has been a popular destination for both local Vancouverites and tourists since the 1970’s. There is an excellent public market where one can find almost any type of food, the ever-popular Granville Island Brewery and a thriving artist community.

I can’t recall the number of times I have wandered that amazingly exciting visual location, camera in hand, photographing the architecture, the seafront, and the people. Gosh, the list of the many different cameras I have used to photograph that location goes back (like Granville Island) to the 1970’s.

This time I decided to bring my little Nikon J1 CX-format mirrorless camera. On previous outings I usually choose a DSLR, and before digital I used SLRs, and I had even spent days there with different large and medium format cameras.

I am not one to review cameras, but I will say that the small interchangeable lens Nikon V camera’s, in spite of their small sensors, are a pleasure to use and I have no trouble making sharp large prints. The focus is extremely fast; they deliver a blazing 10 fps, and are surprisingly consistent in program mode.

I rarely hold it up to focus with the LCD. I just lazily estimate how I want my subject composed, hold the camera out and shoot. It’s small and easy to carry in my pocket if I want to shop.

Linda and I got there early enough so that similar to the characters Merry and Pippen in the novel, “Lord of the Rings” would say, “to have second breakfast”. The public market has a great food court where if one is lucky there is actually a place to sit, eat, view the waterfront, and of course, people watch. People can also step outside, sit on the benches, and share their food with the birds.

The day was sunny, warm and perfect for wandering the many shops filled with amazing artwork, and of course, also perfect for photography.

Granville Island is so colourful. Any way a person looked there was a picture waiting to be taken. I did notice a couple of other photographers setting up for scenics of the Granville Island bridge, one woman was crouching very low, with a wide angle lens, to photograph one of the many street performers. I am sure there were more, but Linda was intent on viewing as much artwork as she could, and she and I were having such a good time looking at and talking about things that I passed up many a shot.

I think a photographer has to work any environment with dedication. I have done that in the past, spending hours searching out subjects on Granville Island to photograph. (Not that one has to do much searching.) I read once that the best thing about Granville Island is it’s wonderful sense of imagination. I think that is so. And to quote another line from another movie, “I’ll be back.”

 

 

 

Movies about Photography              

 

This past week my wife commented to some evening guests that I always have something to say about any camera that one appears in a TV show.

Yes, I do that. I can tell her I am sorry for interrupting movies she is watching, but I’ll just do it again the next time I see an actor with a camera.

I enjoy watching movies about photographers. I guess the number one classic was “Blow Up” in 1966, staring Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings. The plot was about a fashion photographer that takes some casual shots of people while he walks through a park. However, when he blows up his prints he realizes he’s also photographed a murder. It is a worthwhile “time period” movie to watch if one is interested in what was “hip” in 1966 and likes symbolism.

I have seen it several times and enjoy critiquing the photography, and the cumbersome way the lead actor uses his Nikon. The stylish photographer kept enlarging, cropping, and enlarging the prints from his 35mm camera. Impossibly, the prints were always sharp and without any grain.

Another of my favourites was an awkward movie called “Nights in White Satin”. The story line was weak, but one has to watch a movie with a title and lead song by the Moody Blues. The music throughout was pretty good, and made up for the simplistic story revolving around a photographer who gets involved with a homeless woman.

The photographer tooled around on a Harley Davidson, used a Leica rangefinder, and, in spite of hurriedly taking pictures in dimly lit flophouses and back alleys the resulting pictures were always perfectly exposed with studio lighting. Of course, the woman living on the street was beautiful, well washed, and used makeup.

The third and last movie I’ll mention was packed with delightful clichés. It would be forgetful if not for those.

It was a made-for-TV British show entitled “Midsomer Murders”. The director sets his main characters, a couple of detectives, investigating the murders of camera club members.

The members were at odds over which technology is better, film or digital. The club members who used film had old Rolleiflexes, Leicas, and wooden 4×5 cameras, and all wore those campy, khaki-coloured, photography vests with all the pockets we occasionally see from time to time. The club members that preferred digital DSLRs had electronic flashes, and wore black leather jackets with black pants.

The directors must have had fun searching out every photo cliché imaginable, and, those of us old enough to remember film processing will laugh at the darkroom scene, where one fellow developed and printed colour film in a brightly lit room with what could only have been black and white chemicals in a tray.

I am a sucker for any movie or TV show that involves photography. They usually are poorly done, and I am sure I ruin it for anyone unfortunate enough to be in the same room because I am so vocal about everything photographic.

I do have a great time and can’t resist outbursts pointing out everything right or wrong (gosh, my wife is so patient) however, I expect some readers may share my enthusiasm and I am sure are thinking of movies with cameras that they critiqued out loud.

I wonder if there is a group called Photography Movie Addicts Anonymous?

Roadside Photography in February   

   

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February is finally done. Gosh, that month always seems so darn long. Yes, I know it is the shortest month in actual days, but it hasn’t seemed that way for me. This past February was a bleak, grey, and lifeless time that one must endure. And try as I did during the past few weeks since my Kelowna beach walk, I just couldn’t garner the energy to wander the frozen landscape with my camera. However, when the sun finally made an unusual appearance on the last day of the month it didn’t take much coaxing to get me out.

All my wife had to say was, “Its nice out, let’s take a drive.” That sounded good to me. It’s always relaxing to take a drive around our rural neighbourhood. There still is a few feet of snow covering everything but the roads were clear.

I selected my 70-200mm lens. When I use one of my wide-angle lenses I am looking over the landscape, with a telephoto I get to look into it.

Mid-week is a perfect time to drive around, we had the roads to ourselves and I could drive slowly, stop to look around, or back up and get out just about any location to take a picture.

If it were just me, I would have headed down to the river. I like prowling the riverbank, but as we got into the car my wife said, “I don’t want to go down to the river.” I guess she didn’t want me taking chances tromping on the not-so-stable ice along the edge of the river.

My term for drive-around kind of picture taking is, “roadside photography”. The good thing about driving and looking for things to photograph is you cover a lot of distance and see a lot of stuff. The bad thing about driving around is once you are in motion it’s hard to stop. I am sure that without my wife reminding me, and at times, demanding I stop I’d just motor by many good subjects.

I don’t like to shoot from inside my car. A quick search on the Internet will bring up article after article explaining how easy it for those that don’t want to get out of their car to take pictures.

I can’t get comfortable. Everything is in the way and it’s hard to turn around with a steering wheel restricting my movements.

I prefer to stop, get out, close the car door, get my camera off the back seat, close that door, look at my subject for a while, and think about how I want to take the picture (remember “Previsualization” from my last article) then release the shutter.

Nevertheless, I expect I will be a roadside photographer for years to come. And I’ll keep getting in and out of my car and depending on my wife, Linda, to keep reminding me to stop.

I think sitting in the back seat would be a better and roomier place to take pictures from. My long-range plan is to have my granddaughters to drive me around. I mentioned this to the oldest at her last birthday, but I’ll have to wait a while because she’s only ten and can’t reach the pedals yet.

Photography on a Winter Beach    

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February found Linda and I spending a couple weeks in the lakeside town of Kelowna. Linda had 10 days of appointments so we decided rather than commute for four hours a day (it’s two hours each way) we would take accommodation.

Kelowna in the summer is packed. Parking is always at a premium, the cost of lodging anywhere near the beach is prohibitive and the traffic is, well the traffic is what one would expect in a city filled with vacationers. However, the days and nights in February are below freezing, and that pretty much reduces the beach crowd.

Linda’s appointments vary through out the week, but Tuesday’s was early so after a big lunch when she decided to relax with a couple magazines, I took the opportunity to grab my camera and headed to the beach.

I know that beach area pretty well. I have never seen a parking space during the summer, and any photographer wanting to capture photos of the beach, the lake, or distant mountains has to be content with lots of people included in their photographs.

My thought was to build a series of images that discussed the cold, empty winter lakeside. And I decided no matter what I saw I would limit myself to only photographs of the waterfront.

That meant to ignore the extravagant architecture of the beachfront homes, expensive cars and, of course, people. However, I was tempted to get shots of a guy eating a cup of ice cream while walking with his dog, and later on, two women slurping milk shakes while walking along on the breezy minus 6 Celsius day. There’s something to be said about Canadians.

I even declined when two tattered guys came up to me and suggested they would make good photo subjects. One fellow was waving a broken golf club handle and I stepped back saying, “I am not doing people today”. We all laughed and they ambled on leaving me alone on the beach.

The winter beach is interesting. Shoeprints in the sand instead of bare feet, the hordes of sun worshippers and swimmers are absent and the lake that’s usually a waterscape of boats has only ducks and geese this time of year.

I walked for two hours along the waterfront before deciding to turn back. And when I found a deserted bench I just sat enjoying the solitude. There is something about wandering alone along a big lake that is bordered by a large active city. I guess there is some isolation, but the noise never stops. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent opportunity to creatively point a camera without any interference.

Photographer’s resolutions for 2017  

The snows and drab colours of 2016 with the growth and bright colours of 2017.

The snows and drab colours of 2016 with the growth and bright colours of 2017.

So many people are saying they are relieved 2016 is over. I don’t know if I am really ready for this year to be over yet, there are lot of things I have enjoyed. That said, this year, 2016, like so many before it has passed by like a rocket. And there surely are new and exciting opportunities in the year to come, so I asked some friends if they had any resolutions or personal photography goals for 2017.

I knew they would struggle a bit knowing I wanted more than the usual simple ones we read about on some forums like, use a tripod more, turn off Auto mode, shoot RAW, make a photo-a-day challenge, and so on.

These first five are from my friends. I have edited them a bit, but the following is what I liked best from their resolutions for 2017.

  1. “This year my approach to photography is going to be to romance the simple things.” I like that. So much of the time photographers get so involved with the latest technology and spread themselve’s over everything while forgetting about the small stuff. And I think adding a bit of romance (whatever that means to each of us) is always a good thing.
  1. “I’ll be learning lots, I just got lights an they’ll give me plenty of opportunity to develop my own style. I want my knowledge to show in my work.” There is nothing like education. I can’t think of a better goal for any photographer.

3. “To grow and improve, as a photographer.” Now that is a good resolution.

  1. “Try new techniques and explore new places”. I could also use words like “examine” and “research.”

5.   “Despite how busy things get, make the time to shoot.” That is a great resolution for any one that enjoys this                                                  exciting medium.

I want to finish by adding two from previous years so as to give us a “Lucky Seven” for a lucky year for 2017.

  1. “Be more ruthless with the seeing and editing process; conditioning oneself to throw out the crap is the only way to keep improving.” This resolution is “quality not quantity”.

And I’ll suggest a final resolution number for everyone:

  1. “That they should take risks photographically and move away from always trying to please, and fitting in with what everyone else is doing.”

Make this the year to push beyond the comfort zone without being concerned with other’s opinions, to be pleased  first for oneself. Make this the year to put “me” in the photograph.   Linda and I are wishing everyone a Happy and eventful New Year.

Do you have a resolution for your photography for 2017 you’d like to share?

Photography at the Christmas Party   

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I talked to a person this week that has been asked to be the staff photographer at an upcoming event. With that, I thought I would revisit an article I wrote December 2014.

The Christmas season is here and that means photographers will happily begin filling memory cards with photographic opportunities as they join family, friends, and co-workers at this month’s festive events.

The act of picture taking has become easy and so much fun as people rush over to take a picture and then quickly show other partyers the images from the LCD. Some seem more interested in that quickly snapped candid than what is actually happening at the moment. For many, it is more about the activity of picture taking than it is about making memorable photographs of the party.

Images made in this fashion rarely become more than stored files on computers and cell phones. People have good intentions, but after that initial viewing, most photos loose value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

What is my advice for photography at the next Christmas party? Yes, continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, think about making pictures that tell a story, capture an exciting moment, and importantly, flatter the subjects. Most people don’t mind seeing a picture of them being silly or having fun, but they don’t like pictures that make them look stupid or unattractive.

My approach is to take a moment to look at the room in which I intend to make photographs, make a couple of test shots using longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include the room’s ambient light. And I always use a flash so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

I suggest taking group shots with two or three people. Get them to position themselves squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast. Steady the camera. Select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light. Use a flash. Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that can be set to 1600, and some can go a lot higher.

Shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, or less, doesn’t always work for children (or adults) playing in the snow during the day because moving subjects will be blurry, but, with limited indoor lighting, moving subjects will only be properly illuminated when the flash goes off.

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great, but that would ruin the party for everyone. The occasion would become more about the photography and less about the fun and festivities. I use a hotshoe mounted flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, blend in, and not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as it’s enjoyable and I want pictures that show them having a good time. So, along with those quick candids I make posed portraits with smiling faces, and if I select some pictures to give away later I want people to like and not be embarrassed by the pictures taken of them.