Photographing dogs and using flash outdoors.  

When my friend Jo McAvany told me she wanted to do something the combined her love of photography and love of large breed dogs I was intrigued. She said she was planning to make a photograph book of big dogs that live in the Kamloops area.

Jo intends to spend the next year photographing the dogs in all seasons and at different locations throughout the year.

For the past two years that I have known her I’ve been pushing her to use lighting when photographing people indoors and out. She began by attending my lighting workshops and eventually became my ever-helpful teaching partner.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she said. “Will you help me with the lighting on my project”. I readily said I would.

Flash technology made quite a leap from the manual settings we once used to when Nikon added TTL in the early 1980s. That was when I sold all my Pentax and Canon equipment and “jumped” to Nikon. (I am pretty sure all modern cameras have TTL flash capability)

Flash took another large step when digital cameras became the norm. TTL was already almost foolproof and digital technology offered added control. Then it again matured and “High-speed Sync” was introduced and mastery over light in any environment and condition became easy.

Manufacturers began offering portable wireless units that, unlike the dedicated speedlights a photographer usually purchases with their camera, are much like those powerful units used in serious studios.

For readers that aren’t familiar with flash, High-speed sync means a photographer is no longer limited to the normal 1/200th or 1/250th second flash sync most speedlights use. HSS allows a sync speed up to 1/8000 of a second.

When I teach workshops on Flash I tell participants that the Shutter controls the ambient light and the Aperture controls the flash power. And remind them that increasing the shutterspeed allows us to widen the aperture.

When Jo walked out in the white, painfully reflective snow on a bright cloudless day to photograph those dogs this past week the contrast between the shadows and highlights were enough to ruin the pictures. However, I added flash and moved around to change the direction of the light fell on her subject. All she had to do was reduce the ambient light by increasing her shutterspeed and change the flash brightness by stopping down or opening up her aperture. Our goal was to balance the light on the dogs as evenly as possible without Jo’s final image showing that a flash was even employed.

Jo worked with the owners to pose the dogs. She’s very precise when it comes to how she wants them to be for the photograph. My job was to pay attention to the flash-to-subject distance and keep checking to make sure the light wasn’t to bright or to dark.

Confining oneself to only natural light means there will be elements beyond control. Natural light limits when and where one can shoot during the day. With the sun high in the sky at noon, there will either be a backlit silhouette, or the bright light will blind the subject and create black shadows. And if it starts snowing or raining, there usually won’t be enough light to shoot indoors.

Flash gives a photographer 100% control over the lighting. Whether completely doing away with the ambient light in the studio or adding flash with natural light outdoors, the photographer is in charge and can get the light to look exactly the way he or she wants it at any time of day.

Enman’s Camera     

Gosh, sometimes I have a hard time with the realization that I opened my little shop to sell used cameras over 21 years ago. The time has sure zoomed by.

I had just left the University College of the Cariboo (Now called Thompson Rivers University) and was looking for something interesting to do during the week when I wasn’t making photographs for clients.

In those days wedding and family photographers worked pretty much only on weekends.

After photographing a wedding or family my time was mostly taken up packaging and mailing the rolls of film I had exposed to a custom lab. Then I’d wait about a week for the finished prints, and after putting them in an album I would again wait, this time for the wedding couple to return from their Honeymoon.

I had spent almost 20 years at UCC employed as a public relations photographer and as a part-time photography instructor. After leaving I plunged head first into the business of wedding photography.

I enjoyed photographing people, and I liked the money, but the frantic business of weddings almost every weekend during the year was tiring and could certainly be frustrating at times.

I regularly attended the Vancouver Camera Sale and had made friends with many of the sellers. So when a fellow named Brian Wilson approached me with a proposition to become one of several used camera shops he was setting up around the province I was easily persuaded.

Each of the shops would be part of the “Mr. Camera” group that would exchange and sell used photography equipment. Wilson wanted to start with three shops, one in Penticton another on Vancouver Island and “Enman’s Mr. Camera” in Kamloops.

To make a long complicated story short. After a few years Brian Wilson decided he could do better as a custom print maker. Andrew, the owner of the shop on Vancouver Island, quit to sell Real Estate and Enman’s Mr. Camera became Enman’s Camera. (Although I never bothered changing the sign)

The building I rented a storefront in changed owners over the years, but I stayed.

My shop is unique. There are always photographers hanging out and the layout changes depending what I have for sale and I sell anything photographic.

I have never been much of a salesman. I try to keep the prices low with the thought, “What would I be willing to pay” and price everything with that in mind.

I’ll never get rich with that philosophy, but I do have fun. And at this point in my short life that’s my most important goal.

I live and breathe photography. I sell photography equipment, teach classes in photography, how to use flash, studio lighting and when not doing all that I wander with my camera and write my articles on photography.

I decided to retire from being a paid photographer some years ago. Photographing weddings, families and accepting commercial work and working 6 days a week at my shop came to a happy end. I changed Enman’s Camera hours to only Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons.

Now I get to just enjoy pointing my camera.

That shop is packed with twenty years of photography stuff and it’s always fun to go on a hunt to see if I have what someone is looking for. The years seem to have zoomed by, but I am still having a great time making pictures and selling anything for photography.

 

 

Photographing my winter garden.   

I hadn’t photographed my garden yet this winter. So when my yard got a good dump of snow this past week I decided it was time to grab my camera and see what there was of interest in the five-inch deep snow.

I have three Nikon macro lenses. Yes, I know readers are immediately thinking, “Why the heck does anyone need three lenses that all do the same thing?”

Well, I have a 60mm macro that is short, light weight and easy to use on a sunny day. But when the snow is deep it means getting knees, elbows, and even my face wet trying to get close enough.

I have a 70-180mm. It is very versatile because unlike other zoom lenses, it’s a true macro at all focal lengths. Sometimes it’s the perfect lens to take on a short trip when I expect a variety of subjects.

However, my favourite is an old 200mm manual focus macro lens from the 1970s that I have been using for about 30 years. It’s great as a 200mm telephoto and also as a close-up focusing macro lens.

It’s always fun to set all three on the table and try each out as I decide which will be the one to use.

Actually the 60mm and the 70-180 lenses get used more for portraits than close-up photos. Both are very sharp and the 70-180mm is light to carry around for outdoor portraiture, while the 60mm is a great lens when in limited space.

I mounted the 200mm on my camera, attached my ring flash to the lens and headed out into the afternoon light.

It was cold enough that the snow still clung to the plants and the sunny sky had clouded over so I didn’t have to struggle with the contrast between reflective snow and deep shadows. My timing was perfect.

It was trying to snow. I hoped for more, but all I got was scattered flakes.

I never know what to photograph as I wander around and around intrigued by everything. I had to keep reminding myself to pay attention to the background. A busy background runs the simplicity I prefer when shooting close-up.

I want my subjects to be “graphic” and to stand out with nothing interfering. The ring light flash helps.

I under expose the ambient light a bit so the flash becomes the most important light on my subject. A ring light is on the same axis as my lens and very directional. Someone that has never used one might think it would be overpowering. But placing a light close to my lens and being aware of its output power at different distances is more flattering for close subjects than a TTL flash sitting on top of the camera.

I could have used a couple flashes mounted on stands for even more creativity, but the deep snow would have been a struggle to move the stands through so I decided on the versatility of the ring flash so I could easily change camera position. (Winter work coveralls are also helpful when lying in the snow)

I like the garden in the winter. It forces creativity. Even a dull, lifeless subject becomes interesting in the snow.

Infrared in the winter

 

My friend and photography partner, Jo McAvany, has been asking me to loan her my infrared converted camera for a while now.

Jo texted me when she went out to use it this morning.

She had hoped for a blue sky after the recent snowfall, but the sun was only peaking out slightly when she drove off along the frozen back road up into the low hills above her home at 8AM.

Infrared and the snow always give a creative photographer a lot to play with. I would have wished for a bit more sun so the infrared effect would have been stronger, but she got some neat images in spite of the overcast cloudy morning.

I was glad it was her wandering along the roadside on the -12c degree morning instead of me. I thought about how many times, in all sorts of weather I have photographed the roads around my home in the past 40 years and how it’s about time for someone else to take that up. Doing it with infrared is perfect.

I looked back over some of the articles I wrote about infrared and saw this entry,

“I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.”

“That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside calling it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.”

“I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab.”

When I read about infrared conversions for digital cameras I sent that old Nikon away and about a month later for a few hundred bucks I had an infrared camera.

Jo has never shot with film. She began her photographic journey after digital took over. Now she gets to move into a different kind of light by using my IR camera.

There is not much difference between one digital and the next. Sure the sensors keep getting better and one can choose a full frame over a cropped frame, but if printing a large photograph isn’t part of the process its pretty hard to tell one camera from the next.

The images Jo got are a fun change from the colourful pictures or sharp black and white photographs she is used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

Using an infrared camera is the best way to step away from what other photographers are doing.

I have written about infrared photography many times before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

 

Camera Predictions from 1974.  

                                                        

My friend Drew, who had worked with me in a camera shop over 40 years ago stopped by my shop this week and mentioned he browsed through and old second hand store book that discussed the future of film photography.  We spent the afternoon talking about the cameras we owned back then that were the “state of the art”. 

We never could have imagined the amazing transformation photography has taken place since then.

With that in mind I dug out an article I think might be an entertaining re-read. 

In the May 1974 issue of Photo World Magazine was an article entitled “Tomorrow’s Camera: Report from Japan.”  The article by author Tony Chiu first discussed what would be the “next major technological breakthrough in Japanese-manufactured SLRs…a solid-state shutter, which would make cameras less prone to jamming,” and praised that breakthrough. One must remember that in 1974 cameras were mechanically pulling film off a roll, and in front of the shutter.

On miniaturization, he wrote that, “The manufacturers had misgivings about reducing the current dimensions of their SLRs because the decreasing weight reduced protection against shutter vibration.”

On lenses Chiu commented that, “It is conceivable that 10 years from now a compound lens (like zoom lenses have now) may weigh more than the SLR body. Although light weight, plastic lenses have long been an industry dream, there is today no major research toward their development.”

In the article he mentioned also that electronic shutter cameras “in the next decade” would be an  “expensive option available only to top-of-the-line models.”  I am amazed at the changes that have occurred since 1974.  Is it conceivable that the writer of that article would have been astonished at modern developments, and would the thought have crossed his mind that even inexpensive cameras would have electronics?

This next part is really interesting because each of the major companies was asked what their predictions for cameras of the future would be:

Canon – Suichi Ando visualized a portable camera small enough “to be carried in the pocket”, and capable of using 35mm film. Such an instrument would have a “universal lens, which can be changed by the flip of the finger from microphotography to telephotography.”

Nikon – Takateru Koakimoto said that the perfect camera would be one that excludes the chance of human error: “It will be fully automatic, perhaps with a small computer to control the exposure.”  I say that he wasn’t far off in his prediction.

Olympus – Yoshihisa Maitanni believed the ideal camera would have a universal lens and one button will wind the film, focus the picture, frame the image and make the perfect exposure.  He also thought that “Images will be projected directly on to a sensitized material,” fully edited, and enlarged.

Ricoh – Tomomasu Takeshita predicted that major advances in the film industry would reduce the film size. “Within 20 years the 16mm camera will replace today’s 35mm camera.” Such an instrument, as he saw it, would be considerably smaller and simpler – it would have a one-piece plastic lens in a partial return to the “pinhole concept” as well as an “electronic crystal” shutter.

Yashica – Nobukazu Sato’s dream was one that would not utilize film. “Just put the paper into the camera, make the exposure, pull the paper out and spray it.” Such a camera would make use of ultraviolet rays, and would also feature a universal lens and a fully automatic focusing system.  Both Ricoh and Yashica are no longer manufacturing cameras.

The writer of the article continues to say “Will we see such marvels in or lifetime?”

“Perhaps by the end of this century” a photographer’s choice could be  “For the amateur, a single lightweight, compound (today we use the word “zoom”) lens will replace three or four of today’s standard lenses. And price – as it is today (1974) – will remain just within reach at the upper end of your budget.”

Will the cameras that we think are amazing today even be around in 20 years? I wonder what the future will bring?

The first Flash-How-To workshop of 2019    

I had planned to write about photography in the snow. After all it’s January here in western Canada and it should be snowing.

There isn’t much snow in my neighbourhood and it isn’t that cold out. So instead I’ll write about what I did on my first weekend on the New Year.

I decided that a good way to begin another year of photography would be to host a Flash (speedlight) workshop to help those photographers that are planning to photograph people in 2019.

While I was preparing for the class I found an article by California based photographer Jason Shelton tilled, “5 Reasons to Use Flash”. He continued, “Flashes are more than just Fill….Reason 1: Flash is Awesome. Reason 2: Flash is Awesome. Reasons 3, 4 and 5: Flash is Awesome.” Although I absolutely agree with Mr. Shelton, I needed a bit more to tell the photographers in attendance than that.

So many of today’s modern photographers have become lazy with the amazing camera technology we have. Without a thought about controlling the light, it’s direction, or the light’s quality. They point their cameras and hope their cameras will make good pictures.

The one-day session I lead was about speed lights (hot shoe type flashes) and how to use them on and off-camera.

This class filled up so quickly that I almost forgot how hard it is to convince photographers that a flash isn’t only for darkened rooms. When I passed handouts about using flash to everyone I watched people begin to read and some even nodded as if agreeing with what they were reading.

I use handouts so participants don’t need to take notes.

For those that didn’t have their own flash I had several lying on the table. There were also flashes with wireless receivers mounted on light-stands topped with umbrellas ready and waiting around the large room.

I began with my thoughts on why I think everyone should have a dedicated TTL flash and how we can balance the light in a room without giving our subjects that “deer in the headlights” look.

I moved on to high-speed sync and after everyone set his or her cameras up we moved outside to give that exciting feature a try. When I tell people their cameras can sync at 1/8000th of a second I always get looks of knowing disbelief because camera and flash manuals usually show a sync speed of 1/250th or slower.

After that, lets call it “awakening”, I gave everyone triggers to place on their cameras and we moved to the light-stands and spent the rest of the day using off-camera flash.

Although I talked a bit about posing, I was mostly interested in showing participants how to position the light.

It’s gratifying to have a group of photographers sit listening to one’s lecture on any subject, that’s great for the ego. But what makes me smile and reinforces my desire to continue is the excitement in the room.

In this case it was when 8 photographers, all competent at using their cameras, suddenly discovered how wonderful and creative using flash instead of natural light is, They may have bought a flash because the salesperson said they’d get a good deal if the purchased it with the camera. Or possibly they worried their camera’s ISO might not go high enough and needed a flash at a friend’s wedding reception.

As I was showing a quick, easy and flattering way to pose an uncomfortable subject I realized that the room was noisy with loud talk. I stepped back while a photograph was taken using an off-camera flash and I listened to the many excited discussions.

I realized I had a room full on converts.

Photography at that year’s end party.

 

I’ll be having some friends over to my house to bring in the New Year with me and I want to make sure I get some fun photographs that I can give them to remember the end of 2018.

With that in mind I decided to repost this article I wrote back in 2013 about photographing parties.

I can hardly believe how fast this year has gone by, wasn’t everyone just complaining about the unforgiving summer heat? Now, here we are bundled up in the -6c cold and snow with snow tires mounted on our cars. Gosh, there is even an advertisement on television about what wine to bring to upcoming New Years Eve parties.

Don’t get me wrong I like this time of year and everything that goes with it, but I am not ready for winter’s snow yet, and neither is all the stuff in my yard that will get covered if I don’t get off my-lazy-whatever and pick them up.

Even though it seems early, the year’s end is here and that means photographic opportunities as we join family, friends, and co-workers at all the festive events.

Photographer friends are going to dive in, digital cameras in hand, happily filling memory cards with candid photos.  Picture taking has become so easy and so much fun as photographers rush over to take a picture, look at the LCD, and quickly slide back to show others those tiny images.

Photography for many has become more about the process of picture taking than it is about creating art, or even documenting the party; it seems its more about standing in front of people, taking lots of quick snapshots, than it is about making memorable photographs.

Most images made in this fashion never become more than space-taking files stored on computers or phones that after quickly being looked at, laughed at, or just smiled at, are tucked away with good intentions to be used in some fashion in the future. But after that initial viewing they loose their value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

How should readers approach photography at the next party?  I do think we should continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, one might also 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 themselves 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 with longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include some ambient light when making exposures using a flash mounted on-camera (bounce flash of course) so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

When taking group shots with two or three people, get them to position themselves so they are squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast, steady the camera, and select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light.

Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that is 1600, and some go a lot higher.

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

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great. However, the occasion would become more about the photography than about the fun and festivities.  I use an on-camera flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as its 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 prints to give away later I want people to like the pictures and honestly thank me.