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.

What? Shooting photos with film again?   

 

Over the years I have been writing these articles I have mentioned more than once that I couldn’t see myself ever using a film camera again. When someone asks me why, I complain that film is such a hassle to deal with and takes to long get back from a lab. Digital is immediate and cost nothing unless one decides to make a print. I would always say that I am not the least interested in film.

The Dictionary defines “Eat (one’s) words.” as, “to retract, regret, or feel foolish about what one has previously said”

Last summer I purchased a 300mm lens for the Pentax 67. In 1965 Pentax introduced the Pentax 6×7, a SLR medium format camera for 120 and 220 film that produces 6cm x 7cm image. That’s about a 2 ¼ by 2 ¾ inches negative.

Photographers that were doing work for clients back then preferred medium format film cameras because the larger negatives produced higher quality enlargements.

I owned a Pentax 6×7 camera years ago. It was easy to carry around for close-ups in the garden and although the 67 is a large medium format camera weighing just over five pounds, it is shaped and used like the much smaller 35mm cameras of the day.

It has a variety of interchangeable lenses, prisms and assorted viewfinders that allow one to use the camera at waist level or eye level. And as with 35mm manual cameras, the lens can be reversed with an adapter that made the normal lens work like a macro lens. And a waist level finder made close-up plant photography very comfortable.

I had planned on selling the Pentax 300mm lens, but after showing it to my photo pal Jo I decided to get a body for it. Jo not only had never imagined such a camera existed, but had only come into contact with film when her parents took family photos.

I searched eBay and found some sellers that had Pentax 67 camera bodies, waited for a good price and a couple of weeks ago exposed a roll of 400 ISO Ilford film and a roll of 160 ISO Fuji film with my new 6X7 and 300mm lens.

Getting the film processed wasn’t the easiest task. The local store that sends film out for processing and printing does not handle 120 film. I checked and the lab I used (ABC Photocolor in Vancouver) back in the 1980s and 1990s that still does and will “process only” if I ask so I can scan the film myself.

I also found a lab (Canadian Film Lab) in the small town of Hope, BC that specializes in film. They will process 120 film, scan, correct density and colour balance then post the images for clients on their website. They also have other services to help film users optimise film to personal specifications.

Canadian film lab is more expensive than ABC Photocolor, but I wanted to see what they could do so I sent the two rolls to them.

I now have my image files loaded on my computer and they did such a good job that am looking forward to exposing another roll to send to them.

I would never have thought I’d be shooting with film again.   Jo will be exposing her first roll of colour film with that camera very soon. I have about 30 rolls of film in my freezer and expect Jo and I will be getting used to lugging that heavy beast around and having a great time working the film.

I had forgotten the latitude a roll of B&W film has. Yes my 36mp Nikon’s sensor gives me glorious files, but there is something positive to be said about the quality of a 120 film negative.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sticking close to home for garden photography 

 

 

Another week has seen me safely sticking close to home watching the spring growth.

The nights haven’t been as cold and this past week has been a mixture of bright sunny warmth and cool rainy overcast days. Just what one should expect of the end May’s spring weather.

This morning I got up to a very wet yard. I didn’t hear the rain last night, but it looked like it rained a lot and the wind hadn’t picked up enough to dry the plants.

Ha, that meant another good day for photography. I got my camera with a 200mm macro lens, my Benbo tripod, fastened a flash on a light stand, pulled on my rubber boots, jacket and a hat and went out to photograph wet plants in my spring garden.

I knew I would need to work fast because there was a slight breeze. I don’t mind getting rained on, but a wind makes it hard to get sharp photos.

I would choose I flower, place the flash and then get my camera. On this morning I didn’t bother with my black backdrop, it would just get wet. I was planning on shooting with a wide aperture so the background would be soft anyway. I like to darken the ambient light when I use a flash and I could keep the wide aperture and balance the light by increasing my shutterspeed.

I have written before that I control the ambient light by using high-speed sync.

HSS means I can use very high shutterspeeds and not be limited to the low default shutter/flash sync of 1/250th second.   The higher shutterspeed would also make it easier to photograph the flowers that might move slightly from the because of the morning’s breeze.

The last time I ventured into the garden to take pictures there was very little growth, but this past week has really changed things. Of course everything is green and there are flowers, but the most noticeable thing is the Lilacs. The Lilacs are in full bloom and have filled in along the path from my car to my door and what I like best is how the whole front of my yard is now a solid wall of purple and white.
I remember 20 plus years ago planting Lilacs along the fence with my wife and wishing they would grow fast. We looked forward to being able to sit on our deck without being seen from the road. It took years because there isn’t a lot of water available and the summers are dry so growth is slow. As I looked around the yard for small subjects to photograph I thought about how I now have the seclusion I yearned for back then.

I ignored plants that didn’t have water droplets and focused tightly so I would have a soft background with limited depth of field. I wasn’t making a record of the plants I have. Identifying a type flower has never been my interest. My wife liked flowers and could name every plant, but I just care about the colour, texture or shape and the photographs I can make.

An overcast day with a bit of rain is excellent for flower photos. The colours are stronger, there are no harsh reflections and with a flash as the key light instead of the sun one can be very creative. I know that walking through a field on a sunny day is so much fun, but when it comes to photographing that same field I prefer an overcast and sometimes rain.

After all its really about the photography and as American photographer Annie Leibovitz once said, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

A good day to wander with my camera      

 

The clouds started moving in this morning and I thought it would be a good day to wander with my camera and see what kind of photos I could get. I like a cloud filled sky, clear blue or heavy overcast grey doesn’t make as interesting backgrounds for scenics.

In the past forty plus years I have walked, ridden horses and motorcycles and this morning drove my car along the winding country road that passes my home. When I first moved to Pritchard the roads were bumpy, rut filled, dusty (or muddy) dirt roads. But that’s in the past and now there is asphalt paving.

I slowly drove up Duck Range road watching for interesting subjects with interesting light. Sometimes the lighting is the only element in a photo that makes it different from those I have taken a hundred times before. I had my IR camera with a 20-40mm attached and because I decided to go past some ponds I had another with my 150-600mm on it.

This morning I kept stopping and switching cameras and as I selected angles to shoot from that I hadn’t tried before. However, the morning was nice and I sometimes I just stopped and looked.

I saw turtles out sunning themselves and the ponds finally had a few ducks paddling around. Roadside reeds were filled with small birds and I could see geese on the warm sunlit hill in the distance. No goslings yet, it is a lot cooler there than down in the valley, where there are already families of geese along the river and photographers from Kamloops, only 40 minutes away, have started posting their shots of geese with goslings from the local park.

As I do every spring, I make regular trips along the road to photograph the fields, turtles, ducks and geese. I am hopping that this will be a good year for gosling photos. I’ll soon see and as I have for so many years, I’ll keep wandering along the backwoods roads, cameras at the ready to see what I can photograph.

I think it was good luck that I went out early this morning. The wind has started and it’s getting dark out. My three kittens just came in and one, Pippin, seems to be explaining why and I am pretty certain some of what she is saying includes directions as to what I am supposed to do for them.

There will be a Canadian Snowbirds flying from Alberta on the way to Kamloops at 1PM to thank all the doctors and nurses that are keeping people alive. I’ll join other residents and the fire trucks down by the Pritchard store. Ha, another photo op! I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer and photojournalist (known for his photo “Afghan Girl”) Steve McCurry,  “My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.