What is the best lens for scenic photography?    

With all its colours fall is creeping into onto the hills in my part of British Columbia photographers are grabbing their cameras, tripods and jackets to wander out to record the beauty.

This past week a young couple visiting my Kamloops shop asked my opinion of the best lens to take along on their next excursion to photograph BC’s inspiring landscapes.

That’s a good question, especially from those new to photography that are spending hard earned money on pricy modern lenses. Personally, I like versatility and convenience, and there are a lot of great zoom lenses available for someone that doesn’t want to carry a heavy bag.

I might suggest lenses like 16-85mm, 24-70mm, or even 18-200mm. Gosh, there are so many lightweight and easy to carry choices. However, instead of recommending a particular lens for scenic photography, I’d rather think about perspective.

My decision after stepping out of the car to photograph some grand vista would be whether I wanted a wide angel or a telephoto. A wide-angle lens has a curved front surface allowing for a wider view. A telephoto has a flatter front surface and a narrower view.

For example, using a 18mm focal length lens when photographing along a fence will make the first post big and the succeeding posts smaller and smaller. Whereas, a 200mm focal length will give a tightly compressed view, and distances between the fencepost in the foreground and those further back won’t seem as distant as with the wider lens.

In a more practical example, when one is photographing a boat on the lake shore with mountains in the background a long focal length like the 200mm will be compress everything in the final image with no subject gaining significance over another. Yet, an18mm lens will make the boat large, and mountains in the background small and distant. Both may be good photographs of that scene, just different interpretations.

The most appropriate lens depends on the perspective and how the photographer wants to interpret the final image, and because the focal length adjusts the visual relationships of the objects within the picture, one must think about the image front to back and how much of the scenic is important as a wide, or a narrow final image.

It comes down to the personal vision of the photographer and what he or she wants to say about the landscape. Famous photographer, Ansel Adams said, “problem solve for the final photograph”.

Like Adams, photographers should be thinking about how the final photograph will be used and how to accomplish that.

If one thinks of a photograph as a series of problems to be solved there will be a smooth transition from initial idea to final print. For example one could begin by thinking about the subject and its environment. What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?

I don’t believe that there is one lens that can be termed a “scenic or landscape” lens. Any lens might be used as long as it meets the photographer’s vision. That might be to include a wide vista with a wide-angle lens, or on the other hand, a tighter cropped image created with a telephoto lens might be visually more powerful. The choice of lens for scenics comes down to what the photographer wants the viewer to feel and see.

 

 

 

 

I like Black and White Photographs   

 

I have always been drawn to Black and white photography.

At one time I even believed that B&W was the only medium serious photographers worked in. To me a black and white photograph has a mood and conveys a tactile quality. That’s why many of my personal image files get converted to B&W.

During film’s reign photographers had to decide whether to use black and white film, colour film or slide film. Most of us carried at least two camera bodies, but today the decision to make a black and white image is best left to post production; there is no need for that second camera. Post-production is the intricate combination of computer programs, printers and papers that now rivals the quality of chemical-based, traditional black and white photography.

Traditional black and white depended first on the brand and type of film, for example, Kodak Tri-X, or Ilford Delta 400, etc., then the camera’s initial exposure, how the film was developed (what chemicals were to be used), and finally the choice of paper for final printmaking.

The digital sensor has more latitude than film and getting a usable exposure is very easy. If one over-exposes it usually isn’t a problem. An poor exposure with digital does equal a loss in image information, but much of the time its still a usable photograph.

With film we used to hear “shoot for the shadows”. With digital all that has changed, and of course we can check our exposures using the histogram.

Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu, but I don’t recommend using that, it does nothing more than create identical red, green, and blue channels in the final picture file. Just de-saturating a colour data file in-camera will give a monochrome image, but it doesn’t include control of the different tonal values that make up a true to reality black and white image.

When I first started making black and white pictures years ago with Photoshop I used a B&W conversion process that used the channel mixer. To do that I first opened the image, then I went to the menu and selected adjustments, then in the drop down list I selected Channel Mixer. I checked the monochrome box at bottom left; I changed the red channel to 60%, changed the green channel to 40%, ignored the blue channel, and changed the constant to +4. Finally I clicked ok and I had a black and white image.

Those days are long gone with modern programs like ON1 and Luminar with their many pre-set Black and White offerings. Making a good B&W is as easy as choosing the tonal value that one prefers. And, of course, there are many more, just do a search.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, as it doesn’t attract with eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to lighting, composition and perspective.

Black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past, and in my opinion, 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 serious photographers.

 

 

 

Memories of past photography adventures.   

 

We all experience instant memories when we hear some song. That’s what happened when I heard a 1970’s song by the Bee Gees as I drove to town this week.

In July 1978 my friend Alan Atterton and I traveled (with me constantly playing a Bee Gees cassette on the 4 track player) to a place in Wyoming’s Teton Mountain range called the T Cross Ranch.

There was a photography class put on by the University of the Wilderness’ instructor, photographer, and writer, Boyd Norton.

Atterton had found Norton’s book “Wilderness Photography”. We poured over that book with its instructions, and ideas about photographing the great out-of-doors.

I don’t recall how we found out about the class, but I was so determined to attend that I sold my jaunty VW bug to pay for it. The cash not only paid my tuition and expenses to Wyoming, it also helped pay for an airline ticket so my girl friend (later my wife) could fly to Salt Lake City, Utah to meet there and then spend time photographing Arches National Monument, Zion Park and the Grand Canyon.

The T Cross Ranch was just outside of Dubois, Wyoming, and our class was comprised of photographers from Germany, New York, Florida, Idaho, Colorado, Tennessee, and two of us from Kamloops.

Getting together with other photographers, in my opinion, not only creates excitement, but also is the best thing one can do to become a better photographer.

We hiked and wandered, photographed everything in front of our lenses, and had lectures in a large wonderful 100-year-old antique-filled log house.

Our instructor wanted to provide instant feedback for the participants and had come across a state of the art three-chemical-process for developing slide film.

The first morning I noticed him reading the instructions and without thinking I volunteered, becoming the official class technician and while my classmates were sitting around the fire talking about the day’s events, I was in an abandoned walk-in cold room removing film from cassettes, rolling them into large processing tanks, then developing and hanging the rolls for overnight drying.

We were excited that we could have our images for critique so quickly. I thought that film technology had finally become the best it could be.

I preferred using a huge Mamiya RB67 at that time. The RB used 120mm medium format film and the negatives were 2¼x2¾ inches.

One morning we trucked up to a mountain plateau and Norton said, “There is a lightning storm to the west and we’ll see antelope coming this way to stay out of the storm. Find yourself a good position for some great shots.” I waited behind an old salt lick as several antelope came bounding our way.

The lens on the Mamiya RB67 racked back and forth on a rail instead of turning like modern lenses. I tried to keep the antelopes in focus as they ran toward us, but to my dismay I couldn’t. I didn’t get a shot!

I returned home and within weeks I sold it and purchased a compact little medium format Hasselblad that I used, until, coincidentally, I attended another wilderness class in the late 1990s, that time in Washington State, and was introduced to digital.

Shortly after that I bought my first DSLR. Both instances were because of the influence of other photographers. Technology changes constantly for those of us dedicated to this medium and holding on to out-dated equipment stops growth.

Reminiscing about that trip has reminded me was how important it is to interact with other photographers and participate in workshops, classes, and photo tours.

 

 

 

 

A performance of the Photographic idea 

 

Ansel Adams, in the Forward to his popular selling 1950’s book “The Print” wrote,

“Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles. But, unlike most arts, it seems complex at the initial approach. The seeming complexity can never be resolved unless a fundamental understanding of both technique and application is sought and exercised from the start. Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art. Therefore emphasis on technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I have flipped through “The Print” many times since I got into photography. I think that it was almost required reading for photographers at one time. Especially those of us dedicated to hours of time in dimly lit rooms, peering at paper prints as they slowly materialized in smelly, (and somewhat toxic) liquid-filled trays.

“The Print” by Adams is from a period when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a quality final print (image). Concepts that are all but forgotten in this age of hi-tech computerized image making.

We don’t worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t perfect RAW files are easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened. Contrast can be decreased or increased and the final picture doesn’t show any sign of resizing or noise reduction. And in my opinion, sadly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make prints at all.

I believe Adams’ forward in “The Print” is as worthwhile now as it was in 1950.

Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process and technique should be important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the method used to develop the negative, and then finally the printing procedure.

He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the RAW files in post-production, and outputting to a personal printer for the final print.

I thought about that as he continues, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes.”

“So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative (RAW image file) (my remarks in parentheses) follow technical patterns selected to achieve the qualities desired in the final print, and the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.” I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

Those words always remind me, as Adams put it that, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

Modern photographers appear to be obsessing with each new offering manufacturers place on the table, and the obsession with technology may often seem to be what photography is really about. Although I will admit that it is fun, I think photographers need to remember that, “The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera.”

That seemingly out-dated book is still on my bookshelf, and I regularly flip through its pages.

After all the prattle about what the newest camera, or lens, or computer program is capable of, I like to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.

Anacortes Shipwreck Festival 2018   

On July 20th I made another six-hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard, British Columbia to the town of Anacortes at the tip of Fidalgo Island nestled in the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands to their annual Shipwreck Festival. It’s certainly one of my favourite places and events of the year.

Again, as last year, long time friends Dave and Cynthia Monsees came along, and I was also very pleased that my photography partner Jo McAvany had decided to come along this year.

We arrived early enough so I could give Jo a quick tour of some of the places we would be photographing on Sunday, then drove down the main street of town to meet up with the hard working Fidalgo Island Rotary Club volunteers.

The Fidalgo Island Rotary Club organizes the Shipwreck Festival and again this year I volunteered to get a few pictures of them as they marked street locations for the next day’s vendors and also to take this year’s group photograph.

I’ll repeat what I wrote last year and say that over the many years I have been attending that popular festival in Washington State I have never heard or met with a sour word from anyone in the town. The people one encounters are always warm and generous and after a short time I always get the feeling they are old friends. Although I’m an out of town stranger, and a Canadian to boot, I immediately felt that way as I joined that group decked in their Rotary Volunteer vests.

I can’t remember what year I first started attending the annual Anacortes Shipwreck Festival, but it was some time in the mid-1990s I think, and although I have missed a few over the years, I am determined to make at least the next dozen plus. (Or at least till the Provincial Driver Licence Authority decide I am too old to be in charge of a vehicle)

After I photographed the festival committee, Jo and I set off for a picnic and pictures at the beach. After a quick stop at a close by grocery store and a short drive to Washington Park we spent the evening photographing everything, and of course each other, as we waited for the sun to sink into the ocean.

The next day was not only an exciting wander through the nine-block flee market on the main street of town, it was an excellent opportunity for us to try some “street photography” on the people packed avenue.

Whew, what a day. We saw, we touched, we photographed, and we talked to people from 9AM to 3PM. Then we stepped into a popular Commercial Avenue Alehouse called the Brown Lantern for a late lunch and I gladly got to rest my tired legs. I am sure Jo will recommend the crab and corn chowder and I agree that both my food and the two beers I drank were the refuelling I needed.

Then we were off for another quick look around and a few more pictures of the crowed street of happy bargain hunters.

Leaving the street festival we drove up to the high overlook at Cap Santé Park that offers a command view of the marina and city. We climbed over the large, smooth, flat rocks and photographed the city, ocean islands, and the many bright red Arbutus trees.

The next morning and for the rest of the day we drove around the island photographing many of the places I have visited in past years. The island location may be the same, but the image one creates in a different time is always a new creation.

I enjoy photographing just about anything. The Anacortes Shipwreck festival is always a good excuse to get me to the cool damp Pacific coast and away from what usually is a hot and dry July where I live in British Columbia.

Another Anacortes Shipwreck festival photography excursion has passed. We had fun and got creative and made lots of photographs. Now we are left with the memories and the photographs until next year. However, I am planning another trip in the fall, so the memories only have to last about three months because I’ll be back on the island and in Anacortes to make a few more.

 

Photographing a July garden.  

 

I waited all day for the bright harsh sun to dim. It was just after 8PM I was finally able to walk into my garden with camera and flash to photograph the July flowers.

June was, as usual, pretty wet and full of bloom, but I was waiting for the hot summer to present a change in the plants and flowers so I could continue with my photographs of the garden in all seasons.

I am not so much impressed by flowers as I am by the shapes of them. To me the colour is only part of what I want to capture with my camera, and I don’t really care if I am photographing in the spring, the summer, and fall or in the cold of winter. Dry, wet, or covered with snow. It’s the shape and plays of light that intregues me.

I don’t like bright, contrasty sunlight. I prefer overcast or, at the least, the lower light at day’s end.

I wandered out with my camera, macro lens attached, tripod, light-stand and flash fitted with an umbrella in the still bright, but certainly not as glaring as mid-day or early afternoon light.

Regular readers know that I always employ a flash. The flash gives me control over direction and intensity of the light. Some photographers my say they prefer “natural light”. I will just say, “naturally, I add light.”

With digital came high-speed sync. High-speed sync gives me the opportunity to increase my shutter’s speed dramatically when using a flash. Even up to 1/8000th of a second. That increase in shutter speed means I can use a wide aperture even in the direct sun.

It also means that I can control flash exposure with the shutter speed instead of the normal way photographers control their flash power, the aperture.

I choose my well-used old 200mm macro. It’s from the time of manual cameras and doesn’t have the option of auto focus. I like it because I can select any point along its focal length when photographing flowers.

My flash was a big 800w battery powered, wireless off-camera strobe. I use it in manual power mode and, of course, High-Speed sync.

I under exposed the ambient light 4 or 5 stops so the proper illumination would come from my flash.

The garden, designed by my wife when she was alive, continually blooms from spring to fall. It colours, shapes change with the season.

All I have to do is choose what interested me all year long.

I have never talked to my neighbours about all the photography I do in my yard, but I wonder what they must think about the bursts of light coming from my bushy property at all times of the year.

My garden photo session ended as the light dropped at about 9:30, but by that time I had wandered all over and photographed shapes of flowers, some alive and some only memories of their glorious and colourful spring blooms.

The hot, drying July heat is now with us and I wonder what will survive till next spring for me to photograph.

First spring visit to photograph Chase Falls  

I have been keeping close to home with my last few posts.

With that in mind I decided a quick fifteen-minute highway drive to a waterfall that feeds a creek running through the small town of Chase would still fill that objective.

I try to visit that local falls for a few pictures every season and this past week was the first time I ventured there since I trudged to those falls through the deep snows last February.

On that excursion to the falls the deep snowy path was untouched except for small footprints made by some lonely racoon. This time there had been lots of people evidenced by discarded hamburger wrappers, plastic cups and the scattered remains of a styrofoam carton.

There was lots of spring water coming over the falls and by the looks of all the huge logs, boulders and the dangerously eroded path, it’s obvious that the early June melt must have produced a torrential flood of water in the small creek.

As with last February, I asked my photographer pal, Jo, to accompany me. She had remembered our last Chase falls adventure and mounted a 24-105mm on her camera while I had my trusty 24-70mm on mine.

Like that cold winter day it was cloudy and flat with just a bit of sun poking through to lighten up the forested creak a bit. Fortunately it was not enough to create shadows, although at times there were highlights on protruding rocks, tree limbs and the churning water.

I chose the day because of the slight overcast. On a bright day one will struggle with overexposure on the white, reflective waterfall. As I wrote in February, I prefer a slight overcast or a foggy day. Bright sun and deep shadows create too much contrast.

With our cameras tightly secured to tripods we set our lenses to apertures that would give us plenty of depth of field. Selected shutterspeeds over two minutes and placed neutral density filters in front of our lenses to reduce the amount of light so our slow shutterspeeds wouldn’t overexpose the scene.

We set and used the camera’s self-timer so as to reduce camera shake and started taking pictures from every angle we could get to. That meant a lot of climbing over the jumble of large stones.

Photographing waterfalls are easy and no special talent or equipment is needed. I use a DSLR, tripod and ND filters. There’s nothing that most serious scenic photographers won’t already have.

We had a great time and I will absolutely be back in another month or two. I like to photograph that little waterfall with my infrared converted camera. July and August will be perfect for that. I’ll also be back in September or October when the volume of water is dramatically decreased. Then winter, and everything starts over again.

Photography is like that to me, and pointing my camera at the same subjects over and over year after year is just plain fun. This past month I have been sticking close to home. However, I plan to go a bit further from home now that summer is here. My goal, no matter where I am or what the subject is, is the enjoyment of making photographs.

There was a 1950’s street photographer named Leon Levinsein that wrote, “I walk, I look, I see, I stop, I photograph.”

I suppose it’s as simple as that.