The Portrait   

The conversation – a Portrait.

For most photographers a portrait is an artistic representation of an individual or individuals, with the goal of capturing some likeness as to who they are.

Famous American photographer, Richard Avedon carried this further when he said, “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”

Popular American painter Jamie Wyeth wrote, “Everything I paint is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

For years most of the photography I did was portraiture, whether wedding pictures for a family, or private sessions. My opinion is that portraits are pretty narcissistic and because of that, can be much harder to do properly than many other photographic pastimes.

Make a bad landscape and no one will really care, capture a bird flying poorly and it’s no big deal; however if you give someone an unflattering photograph of themself and you have might make an enemy for life.

A portrait can be a representation of anything and doesn’t necessarily need to only be of people. Years ago my wife and I had show dogs and would regularly attend and participate in events in hopes of having the judges select our dog as best from some group; and when we did win, we would walk our dogs to a photography booth set up by a skilled dog portraitist to have a portraits taken that day when they looked so good and performed so well.

As I watched a TV show earlier this week I noticed framed pictures of the owner’s cat hanging on the wall, and I have seen all types of pet portraits in friends’ homes. I suppose a picture of a favourite or special car, motorcycle, boat or even treasured holiday snapshot, might be called a portrait.

I wonder if many photographers might agree with the painter Wyeth’s contention that, “Everything I paint (or photograph) is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

Some time ago I went for a slow drive along the winding roads high above my place in Pritchard hoping to find some cows, horses, or deer to photograph. I wanted head and shoulder compositions (or portraits), not animals in the landscape.

I leisurely drove around, passing lots of roadside deer; cows quietly chewing the cud, and finally stopped near two horses standing very close to a fence. My choice was to compose of portrait of them instead of just a pleasing documentary of two horses in a field. So I mounted a 24-85mm lens on my camera, walked through the wet grass to the fence to take their picture, and worked angle after angle for a portrait.

I suppose the words “artistic representation” and “goal of capturing some likeness” are appropriate when a photographer captures human-like qualities in animal portraits. I wanted a picture that included me, or at least inferred some conversation between the horses about me. My image is, as Avedon said, “….an opinion”.

Photographing the Holiday Train   

Here come the train

Train 2

Holiday Train 3

Passing Train

 

Last week I wrote about how I enjoy everything about the Christmas holidays; the bright colours, the gaudy decorations, the sentimental music, the silly TV programs, and especially the festive city lights.

To that fun list I must add the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Each December, for the past 17 years, the CP Holiday train has travelled east to west across Canada. And fortunately for my wife, Linda, and I the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train rolls along the railroad tracks that follow the wide South Thompson River a short distance from our home in Pritchard, British Columbia.

As with last year, the train passes by just as the light begins fading around 4PM. The timing could not be better. There is still some illumination in the sky, but not enough to ruin the bright coloured Christmas lights on the train’s engine and cars.

Last year we positioned ourselves across the river for a wide panorama of the train. However, this year because of the construction and repositioning of the highway, we were able to choose a location very near the tracks that gave us plenty of time to prepare when the train first came into view and an interesting three-quarter perspective as it rushed towards us.

When we were across the river last year the long focal length lenses worked best, but this because we were so close this year we chose wide-angle lenses. Linda had her 24mm and I used my 24-70mm. Both were perfect.

We arrived about ten minutes early, made some test shots to check the fading late afternoon light, then waited with our hot chocolate to keep warm.

With the train’s movement I knew we would need fast shutterspeeds. I selected ISO 3200, which let us both use 1/350th of a second.

Linda said, “There it is!” When the train roared into sight, we jumped out of the car into the cold wind that was coming at us off the river and took pictures as it passed. The engineer tooted the horn at us but we didn’t have time to wave back and take pictures too. The whole event was over in about 40 seconds. Ha, what a rush! Then we got back in the car and ten minutes later we were sitting in our warm home finishing up our hot chocolate.

Well, one more holiday photographic occasion is over, but I know there will be more opportunities between now and January 1st. This is such a grand time of the year.

 

 

Infrared, A Completely Different Feeling….

Pritchard Station

Riverside

Monty Creek church

Fence along a dirt road

Pritchard Bridge

Back Porch

Infrared, A Completely Different Feeling

In my last article I discussed how easy it is to make creative changes in one’s photography by using a camera converted to infrared. I wrote that photographers have the option to creatively challenge themselves by selecting different lenses, choosing to produce black and white images, electing to use highly manipulative post-production techniques, etc., or any combination just to mention a few. Then I added one more creative tool to the list that I use, a camera converted to only capture images of the world around me in infrared.

Infrared allows a photographer, and gives the viewer, a completely different feeling of a subject. Making an image with a modified camera is an exploration and a discovery that moves a photographer far from the usual. I like the sometimes-surprising tones that I can obtain when I convert the image to black and white. Like any form of photography, or art, it’s all a matter of taste.

Reflected IR light produces an array of surreal effects, vegetation sometimes appears white or near white. Black surfaces can appear gray or almost white depending on the angle of reflected light, and if the sky (my favourite part of the infrared image) is photographed from the right direction it becomes black. The bluer the sky, the greater the likelihood of an unworldly effect; and white surfaces can glow with an ethereal brightness.

The response I received from readers got me thinking about how much I like shooting infrared. That’s been a long relationship. My first forays with infrared during the 1970’s were began with infrared colour transparency film and then with infrared black and white film.

Now that I have set film aside I am more than content to use a converted digital camera. Besides it’s much easier with digital than the arduous process we had to contend with when we used film. Infrared film had to be loaded and unloaded in complete darkness, then processed in metal tanks that kept the film from getting fogged. We attached a deep red filter to the lens. The deeper the red the better the effect, and because of the dark red filter things become very hard to see. Oh, and the exposures were long if the sun wasn’t bright.

In spite of that infrared photography has had a strong following of creative photographers for as long as I have been involved in photography. And now with the light gathering ability of modern sensors I think that following is stronger than ever.

In an article I wrote about using infrared film titled “Photographing a Different Kind of Light” I said, “There are those who believe a fine art photograph must represent reality, but reality doesn’t necessarily take into account that there are differences between what one sees, what the photographer’s camera produces, and what the photographer was trying to capture.” I think a photograph is only a representation of a particular vision of reality.

Infrared allows us to photograph a world illuminated by infrared light, that part of the colour spectrum we can’t normally see, and produces intriguing, exquisite and sometimes unearthly photographs that can’t be captured in any other way.

Infrared is a good way for me to change the way I make photographs.

Cattleguard 1

Martin Mountain 1

Fence 1

One of the things I like about the exciting medium of photography is how easy it is to change the tools with which we use to create photographs.

I suppose painters can change their brush to a different size, or use a pallet knife to apply paint on their canvas. They can step away from a canvas surface altogether and apply paint to any number of other materials. I guess photographers aren’t alone in the ability to change tools in pursuit of making an interesting picture.

However, photographers have the option to creatively challenge themselves by selecting different lenses, choosing black and white images, electing to use highly manipulative post-production techniques, etc., or any combination just to mention a few.

For myself, I’ll add one more item to that list: using a camera converted to only capture images of the world around me in infrared.

I have mentioned before the old Nikon that I had converted to infrared many years ago. I enjoyed using that old 6 mega pixel camera, it served me well. I purchased it in 2001 and it was my first DSLR, however, when the time came to move to a camera with a newer and better sensor, instead of selling it off like I have with many cameras since, I opted to have it converted to a dedicated infrared camera.

Infrared cameras like blue cloudless sky, and I think many of my most successful images have been late in the afternoon on sunny days. Nevertheless, this week I decided to wander the roads near my rural home in hope of getting some dramatic skies on the heavily clouded afternoon.

My experience on cloudy days has been that one has to pick subjects carefully. There are some objects that, in spite of a sensor that only sees infrared, look pretty much the same as they would if photographed with a roll of black and white film. Instead of taking on a light coloured, or white glow, trees might go black and meadows look normal.

With that in mind, my goal, as I drove along the snowy dirt roads was to find a camera angle that would do the most for the vegetation and still give me lots of dramatic sky.

Life Pixel, http://www.lifepixel.com/ writes on their website, “Are you tired of shooting the same stuff everyone else is shooting? Then be different & shoot infrared instead!”
I don’t think I care whether I’m shooting the same subjects as photographers, but I sure do like to change how other photographers see the stuff I do shoot, and infrared works perfectly for that.

The infrared camera allows me to change my tools and way of visualizing and capturing the world around me. It makes me think about my photographs in a different and challenging way.

Photographing Eagles along the Highway       

Eagle of all atitudes

Young eagles

Young eagle

Waiting eagle

In the warm sun

Watching young ones

Fly, there's a photographer

Fly away

 

Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes.” I don’t think British economist, E. F. Schumacher was really discussing the kind of eagles my wife and I saw perched in trees along the river, but his quote perfectly describes a picture Linda took of three eagles

Winter is on its way and eagles have been moving west along the South Thompson River towards the warmer feeding grounds on the pacific coast.

My commute to Kamloops from my home in Pritchard is on the Trans Canada highway that runs parallel with that wide river and this year it has been fun to see how many eagles we can count before reaching Kamloops.

After counting 35 eagles on our way to town the previous week Linda mentioned that she’d like to try taking some pictures. So after waiting until the sun was high to the south last Wednesday we made the drive to see what we could find.

The traffic on the Trans Canada is constant and fast moving with lots of big, transport trucks. But with some preparation it isn’t that big of a deal to quickly pull a safe distance off the road to photograph eagles in the tall, dead trees along the river in which the eagles like to perch to watch for fish. In one tree alone we counted fourteen eagles, some mature but mostly adolescent.

My job is to drive and my wife’s is to photograph eagles. I pull over, stop and turn off the car to reduce vibration caused by the engine, and Linda rolls the window down, plops a beanbag on the frame and positions her heavy 150-500mm Sigma lens out the window and starts shooting.

It would have been nicer if we had a way to get closer. However, even if one got out of the car, struggled through a deep ditch, crossed the railroad tracks and climbed over farmers’ wire fences, I am sure the skittish eagles would just fly off anyway.

Linda had a pretty easy time of photographing those eagles from the car anyway. She had selected Shutter Priority on her camera with a shutter speed of 1/650th of a second and 650 ISO. Yes, there were some shots that didn’t turn out, the car would shake when big trucks passed by and every so often clouds would block the sun. But she got some great keepers.

As exciting as it is for those of us here in the BC Interior to see 40 or 50 eagles in the trees along the river, in a few days lots of those big birds will be making their way down the river to join many, many more eagles congregating on the Harrison River to feast on spawning salmon.

The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival began 20 years ago and this year it will begin on November 28th at Harrison, British Columbia. This is an annual event with the migration of thousands of Bald Eagles returning to the Harrison Mills area to take advantage of the spawning salmon.

For photographers the place to be is where the Harrison River widens with shallow gravel bars for the returning salmon to spawn. Organizers say it is possible to see up to 10,000 Bald Eagles feasting on salmon.

Rainy Day Photography

Last drop

Wet fir tree

Spring bud

Oregon grape

Rain drops

Reflection

Too many springs

Monday was another day of rain. It is spring here in the hills of Pritchard, earlier than usual, but it is spring and rainy days go with spring.

Rain doesn’t bother me much and had I thought about getting my camera and going for a drive up into the hills to see what I could find. However, as I walked through my wife’s garden on my way to the car I noticed all the drops of water hanging from branches and those leaves that made it through winter. The wet and foggy hills would have been interesting, but all those droplets were just waiting to be photographed.

How does one prepare to do photography in the rain? Put on a hat with a brim if, like me, you wear glasses. I also like rubber boots. Bring an old tea towel in your pocket to wipe the rain off your camera, and you are ready. Oh, and remember to keep the camera lens pointed down.

When the garden is dry I would usually put a couple of flashes on light stands, and add umbrellas so I can control the direction and quality of light. But when it is raining I prefer using my ring flash.

A ring flash fits tightly around the front of my 200mm macro lens and is perfect for building reflections on the droplets of water that were clinging to branches and sparse foliage that I wandered around photographing.

I expect many photographers prefer waiting out the rain and the unappetizing low, flat light on rainy days. I can understand that. Rain is such a hassle, and getting wet is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, that flat light, slight breeze, and wet conditions forced me to approach my subjects differently and I like that challenge.

In the low light of a rainy day we don’t think about light in the same way as we do on a sunny day. Everything is usually about colour, and how to deal with the contrast, especially on a bright spring day.

When the light is low one needs to see tonality and shape, and raindrops are a challenging element to add. In this instance there was also a slight, intermittent breeze.

I chose a setting that without a flash everything would be underexposed. That means I would only see my subjects when they were properly exposed and a flash is the best way to do that. Using my camera’s manual mode I selected 1/250th of a second and I kept my aperture at f/11 so I would have as much depth of field as possible when and if a branch shook back and forth in the breeze. I also switched my flash to a manual mode. The flash power would always be the same putting out the same amount of light. I then could control exactly how much light I wanted for each location.

I could have increased my ISO and shutterspeed if I had decided to only use natural light, but then everything would have been flat and it would have been hard to get a sparkle in the raindrops.

I know it can be disappointing to see those gray clouds on your day off when you had made plans to be out shooting. However, keep a positive attitude, remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

I always look forward to everyone’s comments. Thanks, John

Photography in the Fog

Farm & Pond in fog 2

Moving cows in fog 2

Horse in Snow 2

Owl on wire 2

 

Pritchard above the fog 2

The past snowfall gave us a grand depth of a bit over two feet. That exciting event included hours of shoveling and roads that were pretty much closed to driving for a while. I wonder why we “dig” dirt and “shovel” snow? Hmm…I remove the dirt from the hole and remove the snow from the walk. Yep, it’s the same thing as far as I can tell.  Both activities use the same tool and make my back tired.

Our yard now has deep three-foot deep trenches dug out and shoveled clear by me that lead to all the important locations. Basement door to chicken coops, front door to the car, and car to the road; however, I also made trails for the feral cats so they can come to the door for the food we leave them.

When the days of soft, cold snow finally ended, everything quickly warmed up and a suddenly a thick, damp fog settled in.

My first thought was to get out my snowshoes and head up into the hills surrounding our home. I mentioned that to my wife, but not in the mood for trudging through the snow she suggested we get our cameras and go for a drive around the now foggy neighborhood in Pritchard instead. So we bundled up, grabbed our cameras and took off.

Our car is perfectly equipped for photography with beanbags. Just set them in the window and nestle the lens on them to reduce camera shake when using our long lenses. However, on this day my wife set aside her 150-500mm, and decided her light weight 70-300mm would be better suited for the foggy landscape, and I chose my 24-70mm. But it’s good to always have the beanbags in our car even if we don’t need them.

Fog is a tricky business because contrast is all but lost and the moving mist reduces sharpness. Everything is so flat that it’s hard to get definition.

I enjoy fog and recall the imagery of a poem from Carl Sandburg.

“The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.”

I think that description is pretty good and I enjoyed how the fog obscured my view of things in the distance and created a mystical looking world as I drove along our snow covered rural road.

Years ago when photographers were making exposures of foggy landscapes with film the best way to increase contrast was to use yellow, orange, or sometimes red filters. We could also over-develop the film, or as a last resort process it in hot chemicals. There were also filters that could be used while printing to reduce the tonal values, and some specialized chemicals would help also increase the contrast. All that was lots of work and if you screwed up the negative…well, you were screwed.

Today we have software like Photoshop (and lots of other programs available that are just as good) to help us out in those flat, foggy conditions, and when Linda and I drove off into the whispering fog I knew I would be spending a short time sitting at my computer increasing the contrast and reducing the grey tonal values.

It is now all so easy and it doesn’t take much time. As I sat manipulating the hazy images I thought about all the hours I used to put into producing our photographs. We have it pretty good these days.

Fog is fun in which to shoot. All one has to do is find subjects that are distinctive enough to be understood through the quietly creeping and silent fog. My suggestion is instead of drinking your chocolate and staring out the window on the next foggy morning waiting for the sun to come out, get your camera, go out, and see what you can do.

As always, I really appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com