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.

 

 

 

 

An outdoor studio for photography     

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of weeks ago Jo stopped by to tell me she and 8 friends wanted to do a “Disney Princess” shoot. She came up with that creative idea and posted a call for women that wanted to do modern interpretations of those cartoon characters from the Disney movies.

Her question to me was, “can I do this out-of-doors and still create flattering studio kind of light portraits?”

Absolutely! was my reply. Sure one could go through the expense and trouble of renting a studio, but it’s pretty easy to duplicate the indoor studio type lighting out-of-doors.

Gosh, the movie people have been doing it for years. I jumped at the chance to show Jo how easily it is.

We hadn’t had rain for almost a month so I decided to create an outdoor studio in the meadow on the south side of my home. The “princesses” would be showing up just after noon so I chose a location to set up the backdrop that had shade from several tall fir trees. I also planned to put up a canvas gazebo with a table for the makeup artist to work.

“The best laid plans”.

Actually, those aren’t the words I used as I looked out my bedroom window at the rain the morning of the event. The local weather reporter had suggested there might be some spotty rain in our area, but the pounding deluge outside my window wasn’t what I expected.

However, because of the possibility of rain Jo and I had set up one of my backdrops under my canvas carport the night before.

I got a “good morning I’ll be right over” text from Jo as I sloshed out to set up the lights under the carport. The rain was a hindrance that dampened the yard (and I am sure the spirits of the soon to be princesses) but “Light is Light” and all I had to do was balance my off camera lighting.

The larger backdrop we had set up was for blocking the wind, rain and what limited daylight there was. We then erected a black paper background and I used two lights mounted on stands with umbrellas to model our subjects.

I am sure there are those that would have just upped their camera’s ISO and hoped for the best on that dismal flat day. But I like the modeling, depth and control over a subject’s features a flash adds. Heck, we might as well have been in a dimly lighted room. The ambient light was that good for adding flash.

When Jo’s subjects arrived they turned my house into a makeup and change room. There were costumes and clothing everywhere. I just stayed out of everyone’s way and concerned myself with the outdoor studio except for an occasional quick trip to my kitchen for another coffee.

The rain lightened a bit, but never really stopped all that much. Nevertheless, those excited Princesses were all about creating a modern day reality or personal version of the Disney character they were supposed to be. There was a lot of laughter and running back and forth along the bushy wet path from the carport to the house.

American photographer and author of the Strobist.com blog, David Hobby said,  “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist.”

He continues to say, ” What I hear is, I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it.”

I will add that I have, personally, always felt that photography is a series of problems to be solved, and rain or shine it’s really the goal of flattering portraiture.

I think that many people viewing the pictures Jo took outside on that rainy day will, unless told, think that the portraits were made inside a well-equipped indoor studio. I guess it doesn’t really matter where they posted for their Disney Princess portraits, only that they are good.

In all the commotion I forgot to begin the day with the words of legendary 1920s filmmaker, D.W. Griffith as Jo pointed her camera on that rainy day, “Lights camera action”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for an eagle to photograph, but I guess any bird will do.   

 

Last week a Canon 300mm lens was brought into my shop by an owner had decided to downsize her equipment. By “downsize” I mean that she was changing from her big DSLR to a much smaller and lighter mirrorless camera.

I thought I’d entice buyers by showing photographs of birds using that neat telephoto lens with a 1.4 Canon telextender that I also had to sell.

Everyone likes eagles, and I had noticed a few clinging to trees along the river on my drive home. I was sure a couple shots of eagles in the dismal valley smoke would be proof as to the quality of that 300mm.

I don’t have a Canon DSLR so I called my friend Jo McAvany and suggested that I’d drive along the river as she looked for eagles. I could pull over for her to use the 300mm and the 1.4 telex on he cropped frame DSLR. That meant she could shoot from the open window with what would effectively be around a 550mm lens.

Jo showed up at my house around 9AM as I was having my morning coffee. (Jo is one of those strange people that don’t eat breakfast or drink coffee…Ya, I know)

Anyway, as we were going to my car, Jo called to me to wait. I could see her sneaking slowly through my bushy garden.

She had spotted five or six grouse sitting on her truck. They must have been drawn to the warm metal on the cool morning. I heard her say, “I wish I had my wide angle so I could get them all in”.

The first shot of the day was not an exotic eagle, but I think that a couple grouse standing on the top of he truck’s cab is pretty darned good.

Talking and laughing about the silly grouse, we drove along the winding country road that leads down to the river from my home. I slowed down when I saw a hawk taking off from a fence post beside an open field.

That hawk is always hanging around there. It must watch for mice feeding where the cows dig up the pasture. I have never been able to get a shot of it, but I slowed and Jo got out to photograph it landing on a treetop across the field.

No eagles yet.

We drove down into the gloomy smoke settled motionless in the river valley and then as slowly along the highway as the big transport trucks speeding along would let us.

One eagle. Yep, we only saw one blasted eagle on a distant tree. I pulled over onto a train crossing and ignored the “No Trespassing” sign to get close enough for Jo to get a shot. Just as she got out to position herself the big bird took off, I yelled, “shoot” and she did. One out of the three was perfect! I think that’s a good ratio. We left and continued down the highway with out seeing another eagle.

Disappointed, we turned to take the back road to my place hoping to see a few ducks at the pond I had tried unsuccessfully all spring to get photos of geese at.

The reeds along the edge blocked most of the shots. But Jo was determined, and ran across the road to photograph ten or so ducks resting on a log. By the time she got a shot there were only three left.

Well no eagles, and no more birds waiting to be photographed. We did stop for a photograph of a deer. Big deal, there are hundreds of those.

We got back to my house and as I brewed myself another cup of coffee, my never-say-die friend went out to take pictures of my chickens. Chickens.

We didn’t prove that lenses’ quality with pictures of eagles. Well one. Nevertheless, Jo got some neat bird photographs, and we had fun.

Making up a reason, like testing a lens, is a pretty good excuse to get out with your camera if you actually need one. However, I think what it is really about is being enthusiastic about photography and, of course, stimulated and excited by just about anything one points their camera at.

Another day with infrared        

The days here in Pritchard, British Columbia have been hot, dry, with air that has barely moved. A cloudless sky and constant sun that beats down on my head as I walk around my parched property, None of which has been that inspiring for photography.

So when I woke up to an overcast day this week I hurried through my morning chores with the thought of going off somewhere with my camera, and by the time I had finished my coffee I had decided to pull out my infrared converted camera and travel out along the dusty Stony Flats road to see how the overcast sky would show off the tall Fir trees that line it.

I drove along stopping for pictures every now and then, but I started feeling I was having a “photographer’s block”. It was then that I thought about the Chase falls.

I had been there only a couple months ago and thought about how nice it would to photograph the falls on a flat day without having to struggle with the hash contrast that accompanies a sunny day.

I knew the light would be unusual in that tight little canyon. It always is with infrared. Colour photos are so much easier there with the light is reflecting off the canyon walls.

This time of year the path along the creek is overgrown and narrow. And in my opinion, was a perfect subject for infrared with the subtle changing shades of green to a tonal range of whites.

The most dramatic infrared photographs of the falls need to be wide enough to include vegetation. An unaltered infrared image turns out mostly brown with a few slashes of light drifting down to make some features blue. Without foliage converting the image to black and white that isn’t much different than a normal black and white picture.

To get the otherworldly effect of infrared one must find and angle that includes foliage that turns white.

When plants reflect infrared light the effect will show them as glowing white, and its that tonal change that one is after when using infrared.

My favourite photographs were not the falls. This time it was the tightly treed creek and the overgrown path leading to Chase falls. However, the falls will always be the focal point of any photographs and one needs to work with that so viewers have a feeling from that location

Patience is part of any scenic/landscape photographer’s tool kit. And anyone that has accompanied me knows that I don’t become annoyed or anxious if I have to wait.

On this outing as I waited for over a half and hour for a fellow poking a stick into the water moving dirt, then digging with his hands and sifting though the particles. I never talked to him. I was up along the rocks for wide shots and he was perched on rocks near the falls. I assume he was hoping to find gold in the streambed.

He was finding small bits of something because he kept putting his findings in his shirt pocket. I have never searched for gold along that creek, but I have noticed a lot of iron pyrite clusters glowing in the shallow water. Maybe “fools gold” was what he wanted. Or, who knows, maybe he actually was finding something valuable.

To me the value I find in that canyon stream is the photographs I get to make.

Another evening of photographing along the river.    

Days like today remind me why forty plus years ago I chose to build my home in the hills of Pritchard.

The end of March sun has melted most of the snow and there was a slow warming that drew me to again, on a cool evening to one of my favourite places to wander; the barren Thompson River shore just minutes from my woodsy.

I set my camera bag on the car seat drove down into the river valley, crossed the wide river bridge, parked my car, and walked out on the river beach. I had to be careful where I stepped or I would be ankle deep in mud.

I like the river in the winter and early spring. The water is still low and its always fun to photograph rocks, broken clam shells, sunken posts, and all sorts of treasures that very soon will be covered with several feet of water.

I usually have a winter walk, but I guess I was lazy; this would be my first 2018 sojourn along the wet sand.

There is always a lot to photograph if one likes to get into the hunt. I look for stumps that were dragged along in the fast high fall water that now have become sculptural features. I like the sparkling late afternoon sun as it colours a long forgotten post sunk deep in the sand. And there’s so many of fresh water clamshells, now without life, that are always worth getting a wet knee while in search of a creative angle.

Soon the beach under the bridge will be under water and people with their excited dogs will be running everywhere. There will be boats lined along the bank and lots of trucks and trailers parked. Yep, in no time the small park will be filled with enthusiastic people enjoying themselves.

However, for me, it’s the enjoyment of a quiet peaceful walk with my camera.

I had decided to use my tiny little mirrorless Nikon V this afternoon. The small one-inch sensor doesn’t have the enlargement quality that my huge 36mp full frame camera has, I have two lenses for it and it is capable of Manual mode and shoots in RAW format.  And for the Internet and the occasional 8X10 print it’s perfect.

I call it my grandpa camera because I purchased it for those times when I go for high energy walks with my two granddaughters. At nine and eleven, “high energy” is the correct word and that pocket able little camera is convenient for the kind of animated photography I always seem to be doing when they are around.

The river beach on the late afternoon was beautiful. I know there are several serious photographers that also live in Pritchard, but I never see them wandering the beach. I sometimes think I should call them all and invite them down to my private winter beach. Well, private spring beach might be more correct at this point. I did send my friend Jo a text message hoping she had time to get her camera and join me. Heck, she only lives a couple streets away from the river.

I have often written about doing photography with another photographer, and I hope readers are fortunate enough to have like-minded camera owning friends.

I know this summer will be filled with excursions to distant visually interesting locations. We all yearn to for those away from home trips to recharge our fascination with this exciting medium. However, in my opinion, it would be such a waste not to photograph the wondrous world just outside our front door. I have met photographers that tell me they can’t find anything interesting around their home or town. They will say, “It’s all so familiar and boring.”

I doubt anyone will ever hear me say that.

Photographing the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train 

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how much I like Christmas lights.

Well, the Christmas holiday season isn’t over yet and to prove it I got a chance to set my tripod up on the cold, winter’s river beach a few minutes down the hill from my home to photograph Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Holiday Train.

CP Rail’s website says, “The CP Holiday Train program launched in 1999 and has since raised more than $13 million and four million pounds of food for communities along CP’s routes in Canada and the United States…. The holiday season is the best time of the year, and we look forward to bringing together thousands of Canadians and Americans this season for this incredibly important cause and a great time.”

As I have in past years, I positioned myself on the beach across the river so I could get a wide shot of the brightly lighted train passing on the opposite side with the dark hills and forest behind.

I arrived an hour in advance while there was still plenty of light and made a few test shots. The schedule put the train at our location a bit after 4PM, just as the sun was going down. The time was about right for my preference of shooting just while there is still that cool, blue light illuminating the sky and I have enough light in my photograph to define the train from its surroundings.

I set my camera at ISO 3200. That allowed me to keep my aperture at f/5.6 for plenty of depth-of -field. I was a bit under exposed, but a stop or two really didn’t bother that kind of low light image. After all, the train’s lights were very bright.

As with past years there was a strong, cold wind blowing down river. In past years it was colder and I had bundled in the car drinking hot chocolate till the train arrived, but this year was warmer and I just stood there enjoying watching my neighbours children running around on the beach. When the train finally arrived the three year old boy and I both yelled, “The Christmas Train” I am sure his mother, shivering in the cold wind, just shook her head thinking, “Boys”.

A young fellow purchased a 1980s film camera from my shop today and we talked for some time about how interesting prints made from film are. He was really thrilled to begin capturing the world around him with film.

As I selected the images that I had edited and worked over using several computer programs for this article I thought of that young photographer and the journey he is beginning with film.

I am sure he will have fun, but the photographs I made of the Holiday train would have been beyond the ability of most popular films he will find at local outlets, and I had the unfair advantage of computer programs with which I could squeeze every bit of data there was in the digital file I made.

Photographing the Holiday train was fun and I am always surprised that there aren’t carloads of photographers joining me on the beach when the train comes by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infrared photography is always a fun change.      

 

The wind came and the choking smoke from the fires in British Columbia and Washington State has disappeared. Gosh, it seems strange to see the hills across the valley again. I opened all the windows and doors to let the breeze reduce the smell of smoke in my home.

Well there it was waiting, a sunny day with only a few clouds in the otherwise clear blue sky, for any photographer with the time and energy to walk out for a few pictures of the golden fields and green forests that weren’t being burned by the wildfires.

I grabbed my camera, hopped in the car, and drove up the dirt road across the river from my home. I wanted a wide shot with lots of sky, but as I walked along the dusty road to make the photograph I began thinking how easy and boring my photo was. So with that thought in mind I got back in my car, drove home, dropped off that camera, and got our my infrared camera to start over again.

Black and white makes me think about the subject first and then the light, or how a subject looks in a particular light. Infrared, on the other hand, makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject. Of course the subject, and how it is composed and framed is important, but some things don’t look any different with a camera converted to infrared than a colour image converted to black and white. Those of us using infrared always must be thinking about the light first and then choose subjects that we think will look like they are photographed with infrared.

I stopped to photograph a landscape around a neighbour’s barn, and then hiked up the road a ways for a shot of an old car that has been rusting on a hill for a lot longer than I have lived in British Columbia. Then drove down to the river. The far bank was lined with campers and boats for the annual Salmon run and Pritchard is a favourite fishing location.

I drove across the bridge, got out and walked along the beach then back over the bridge. I won’t begin to count the number of times in the last 40 years that I have stood on that bridge and pointed my camera at the scenery along the Thompson River. I always find something worth photographing.

Using infrared gives me images that are a fun change from sharp colourful pictures I get with my DSLR. The glowing white foliage and black sky create an otherworldly mood.

I’ll finish this with what I wrote about infrared last May. “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”