Another morning photographing the garden in March  

Early in the morning I got a text message from my friend Jo that said, “Good morning, it’s snowing down here.” I told her it was up at my place too with big flakes.

Her reply was, “ if I come up when its light can I borrow your macro lens? I want to take some pictures of the snow in the garden”

I said of course, and an hour later when Jo and her daughter showed up it had stopped snowing but there was still some left on the plants.

I got my 70-180mm macro lens out, mounted a flash on a light stand, and gave her my TTL flash trigger so she could use the same High Speed Sync technique I wrote about in my last article. We then set up a video game for her daughter because she said it was “to cold for me” and went out in the snowy morning looking for some interesting subjects for Jo to photograph.

The sky had cleared up and the snow was melting fast.

Whenever Jo found something to photograph I would position the flash to one side. After the first few tests we knew how far away I needed to locate the flash so as not to under or over expose her subjects. Then as the day got brighter all she had to do was decide how bright she wanted the background and increase or decrease the shutterspeed to achieve it.

I had my camera just in case, but Jo had some good ideas and I enjoyed being the “lighting guy” moving the flash around to see what kind of effect she could get so I didn’t bother using it.

The snow was deep and more than once we filled our boots. However, there was lots to photograph and although we both complained we didn’t really care. And for me it is always interesting to watch how and what another photographer does in a location that I have photographed.

I just remembered that I wrote about Jo and I photographing the March garden snow a couple years ago and at that time I said, “I know there are many photographers that only take pictures of plants when they are in bloom and prefer colourful representations. However, spring, summer, fall, winter, snow, rain, sunny, or overcast, my garden is filled with ever changing subjects that always offer something new.”

My advise to photographers was then and still is, if they wait for inspiring weather before that next garden safari they are missing a good opportunity. There’s always something to photograph no matter the weather or the season, just get up close and look for the small stuff.

Black and White Photos with Infrared  

 

My last two articles discussed using black and white photography and I’d like carry on with that topic this week.

This past week when there was one of those almost rare sunny clear blue sky February days I decided take a drive around my neighbourhood to make some pictures with my infrared camera.

That camera gives me scenes of colourfully altered reality when the light is right with results that are often unusually deep blue skies, and trees that are yellow or white instead of green. However, continuing on with what I have been writing and thinking about when and loaded the day’s files on my computer I converted the colourful images to black and white.

I like the striking effects I can sometimes get that are contrasty with dark skies and white vegetation when I make a black and white infrared photographs. They seem to have what some photographers call an “otherworldly” look.

I like converting my digital files to black and white and I enjoy the creative manipulation available to me.

Scenic photographer Nathan Wirth explains that creativity, “I wanted something different to experiment with, and I saw the potential to experiment with those infrared whites that come from the greens and the infrared blacks that come from the blues…and manipulate them until I found the stark contrasts that I was interested in.”

Infrared is a different way to visually discuss a subject, and a black & white photograph communicates in a subtle way. To me the combination of those two allows a photographer to stretch his or her creativity and show our world in different terms.

Digital and infrared gets me involved in the complete process from picking up the camera, the fun of doing photography, to completing the image on the computer. I enjoy the creativity of the infrared process that includes the computer. And wandering the neighbourhood on a sunny winter day with any kind of camera is so darned fun

A continuing quest to photograph the geese hiding at Fallis pond.        

I am getting frustrated. I visited Fallis pond yesterday afternoon for another attempt at photographing the geese.

I know there are lots of geese because I can see their wily heads peaking over the hills above the pond before they quickly and stealthily disappear from sight.

This time I asked my friend Jo McAvany to go with me. Her eyes are 40 years younger than mine and I had hopes that she would see geese that I could not.

She had my Tamron 150-600mm lens mounted on her Nikon and I was trying a Sigma 150-500mm that had just come into my shop. I figured there’d be a better chance to get some photographs with two of us.

My friend Ken Tiessen says about geese, “they don’t like us” and I guess he may be right when it comes to those that nest along that pond.

We slowly drove my Honda beside the pond. It was quiet except for a few ducks playfully splashing along the far shore and there were pleasant welcoming sounds from a few Yellow-Headed black birds perched in the reeds. But no warnings or welcomes from the geese.

Both Jo and I had our super zooms at f/8 and we upped our ISO so we could follow that old photographer’s telephoto lens rule that says, “Match your shutterspeed with the longest focal length of your lens”. Jo was crouched in the passenger seat using a beanbag on the window to rest her lens. And I would slowly sneak out and hide behind the car and shoot over the roof.

As I read what I just wrote I am thinking we were absolutely ready to get some great shots. Ahh…but here is the rub. The geese have to cooperate and actually let us take their photographs.

We waited and watched. Then suddenly Jo spotted two adults with some goslings swimming just behind some reeds on the far side. (I knew I could depend on her young eyes) Those geese were partially hidden, but we pointed our cameras in their direction and released our camera’s shutters anyway.

More waiting.

Finally, they came out for a swim as if there was nothing in the world to bother them. They paraded on the pond for a short distance and then were again hidden by the thick pond reeds. But we got some photos. Not many, but some.

To finish the evening we each took a few pictures of the ducks and birds on and around the pond, then headed home to load out images on our computers.

Jo stopped at my place on her way home and we celebrated our limited success with a glass of wine while listening to the Bee Gees on my CD player.

Ok, that was not such a big deal. But I like wine and I like the Bee Gees, and we each got a couple good photos.

In my opinion it doesn’t get much better than that.

My first geese photos of the year.  

The ice has been melting along the river all week long and I wondered if the pond up on Duck Range had melted enough for the geese to return.

The days have been warm, but the nights were staying at freezing or near freezing. However, in spite of the day’s constant drizzle of cool rain I was curious to see if there were geese on the pond and if there were any goslings yet.

I suspected I was early, but grabbed my camera, put the ISO up to 800, then mounted my 150-600mm on it, tossed the beanbag on the front seat of my car and headed out up the road to see.

I slowed down just before getting to the pond and rolled my window down. Hmmm, there is a hint that I am from a past generation. I haven’t seen a car that one must actually turn a crank to “roll down” a window in years. Anyway I pressed the switch and the window slowly and quietly sank out of sight.

I drove very slow hoping I wouldn’t disturb the geese. Ha, fat chance! From the rise above the pond there began a loud racket of honking sound. There went my attempt at sneaking up on the anything near that pond. I’ll have to check my Honda’s manual to see if there is a stealth mode.

The pond was filled with ducks and geese, but no ducklings or goslings yet.

I photographed the three sentinels before they could find cover. Then drove past and turned around so I could stop and shoot from the cover of my car.

Much of the pond still had a smooth cover of ice and there were more than one kind of duck paddling along the edge or just standing enjoying the slight drizzle that had been going all day.

I photographed the ducks and what geese I could see on the pond and tried to get some good photos of the geese that noisily flew off.   I didn’t do badly, but I think some of the avid bird photographers I know in Kamloops would have been better prepared than I was when the pond exploded with splashing water and flapping feathers.

I stayed for a while and the pond calmed down and became quiet giving me at least a chance to photograph the ducks and geese that finally decided to ignore me.

Those that read my articles about trying to photograph the pond’s geese last year will remember my disappointment because they were nesting and feeding on the opposite side of the hill. This was my first trip to the pond to photograph the geese and I am determined to get some good shots this year and plan on a weekly visit.

I left the beanbag in my car just in case.

Photography is an art of finding something interesting.  

Gosh, the first day of spring (has passed) and the temperature is climbing.

I stood out on my porch looking at the melting snow along the walkway to the driveway thinking that winter seems to have come and gone in a rush this year.

It was a lazy day for me and I really didn’t want to do anything except have another cup of coffee and maybe snooze on my chair listening to music. However, I do like pointing my camera at things and this would probably be my last chance to photograph things poking out of the snow. And if this year is like most I expect the cool spring rains will be pounding on my roof in short order.

So, as hard as it was I ignored the waiting coffee grinder and went off get my camera.

My latest acquisition is a 300mm lens. I like that focal length and have had several since the first Pentax I owned back in the 1970s. This latest lens came with a 1.4 telextender that gave me a 450mm of reach.

I have a longer 150-600mm lens, but the 300mm takes up less room in a bag or on my car’s seat, it focuses very fast and is just darned fun to use.

Although I sometimes photograph wide landscape vistas my preference is tight close shots. It’s the intimate, close cropped “parts” of a scenic that catch my eye. So after making sure I had an empty memory card and charged battery I mounted the 300mm lens on my camera and set off to see if I could make some interesting photographs of things resting on, or poking out of the snow.

By the time I drove down the road the sun was high in a bright blue cloudless sky. My choice was to head up into the hills or down to the river. But I wondered if the small pond was still frozen over so I went up.

The pond was frozen without a footprint or even a lonely bird in the tall lifeless reeds that circle the pond. I was disappointed, but as it has for the past 40 years, this rural place where I live, always offers something that catches my eye. The long lens was the perfect tool to isolate and exclude as I focused on the remains of a tree poking out of the snow. That broken and rotted stump in a desert of white snow was crossed with neat long thin shadows that made up for the boring pond.

I stopped to photograph what was left of an old log building that once might have been for storage or maybe living quarters for some ranch hand. When I first drove down what was then a bumpy dirt road many years ago it still had a glass window and roof, but now only the decaying log walls remained.

I drove around getting out of the car and trudging through the wet snow trying to photograph subjects I have photographed before in a new way.

I often wonder what the people in the cars think when they, once again as they have many times before, pass me pointing my camera at some subject. Most are not photographers, making the things I am photographing of little interest to them.

It always seems new to me. A bit familiar for sure, but this was the first time I photographed anything in my neighbourhood with this particular lens.

So yes, new.

I know I’ll be back photographing everything again when it rains or maybe when the grass begins to grow or when there are geese in the pond or anytime I am in the mood.

I know I have included this quote from American photographer Elliott Erwitt before but it just seems to fit.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

The Canadian Pacific Railroad Holiday train 

 

Every year the CPR holiday train chugs its colourful way across Canada from east to      west. The train makes stops at cities along the route where there are crowds of people waiting.

Those of us in rural Canada might miss assembly with all the festivities in the city, but we get to watch and, in my case, photograph that brightly lighted Christmas train as it winds its way through the wooded Canadian countryside.

As I drove from my home down to the river valley to again photograph the Holiday train I passed people waiting in their cars parked in the area between the little Pritchard store and the train tracks just off the highway.

I have tried that location in the past, but it’s so close to the train that the only shots are on an angle. And to make it worse this time, a long freight train was waiting in the perfect position to block the view of the train after only a couple minutes.

My favourite place to photograph the train is from across the river. I drove past my neighbours, crossed the bridge and stopped along the river and walked out on the wide beach to set my tripod up.

I like the long wide view across the Thompson River that even using my 70-200mm lens lets me photograph the whole train at 70mm or just a few cars at 200mm.

That beach location allows me to capture that locomotive and it’s bright boxcars in a scenic view.

The train usually passes through Pritchard when there still is enough light to see the train. I saw a few pictures that were taken after it stopped in Kamloops 30 minutes later, and they only showed neon lights with an empty black background.

I chose an ISO of 800 when I first got there and took a few test shots. I walked around to choose a nice flat place where I didn’t have to stand in the mud. Gosh, mid December and no ice.

I will say that, although I had a better location than those on the other side of the river, I envied the fact that those waiting at the Pritchard store had hills that blocked the unpleasant, cold wind that blew at me across the flat wide river.

I joined by my friends and their children out on the beach. Jo had her stocking hat pulled down over her face and was crouching with her camera trying to get out of the wind.

I covered my ears and set up my tripod as I watched her 3 and 4 year olds running around on the muddy beach, oblivious to the cold, as they excitedly waiting for the train.

They had been to town earlier in the day to meet Santa and now running on the beach and seeing the brightly lite Holiday train was like the icing on the cake.

By the time the train came I had to push my ISO up to 1600. I was using my tripod, but with the all movement I decided the higher ISO would let me keep my shutter at a safer speed.

I think this will be the last photos of Christmas lights for this year. As always, it’s been fun. There isn’t any snow yet, but the snow will come soon I am sure, and I’ll be out again with my camera to make some pictures of that white playground.

I can hardly wait for the snow. But for now I’ll wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing a November garden   

 

For years I have made sure to wander my garden with my camera in every season.

I know most photographers are only interested in the bloom of spring or glorious colours or fall, but to me it’s as much how the yearly changes shape the plants as it is the colourful presentation of spring and fall.

I like to walk around the garden that hides my home from the country road that borders my property. Spring, summer, fall or winter. I enjoy it.

It was on a late afternoon just after 4PM. I walked out on my porch to listen to the coyotes serenading the neighbourhood. Or maybe they were complaining loudly that the wet cold weather was making it hard to find food that normally scurries in the meadows.

Friends have commented that it must be nice to live away from the noise of the hustling city. However, at that moment it wasn’t only the coyotes that were disturbing my supposedly quiet rural life. Three roosters, fourteen chickens and five ducks were all making sure I knew they were as important as the coyotes in their forest home.

As I lazily kicked some fir tree branches out of my path I thought about how the cold plants looked interesting and decided to get my camera.

I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and attached the ring flash and walked along the little pond to take some pictures. After about five not-so-sharp captures I chastised myself for being lazy and returned to my house to grab a tripod.

A photographer I met that worked for a couple magazines once asked me, “What is the difference between using a tripod and not using a tripod?   “The shot with the tripod is the one the editor chooses for the cover.”   I am not sure if that’s always true, but I am sure using a tripod (and a flash) when photographing plants and gardens give me more keepers.

The ring-flash creates a smooth direct light that is very different from the flash mounted top of the camera. There is a sparkle to the subjects.

I always use a flash for plants.

I begin by metering the ambient light as if I were about to photograph the flower without a flash. Then I stop the aperture down to under expose the picture. In the low, bright November light I wanted to darken everything but my subject.

Sure one could open the aperture to reduce the depth-of-field and soften the background. But the closer the lens is to the subject when doing a macro or close-up photograph the less the field of focus in front of and behind the subject will be anyway.

I want as much sharpness as I can get around the flower. So instead of relying on the aperture to separate my subject from a busy background, I reduce the ambient light.

My ring-flash is set to manual so all I need to do is experiment with flash distance. I move forward and back to give the plant the light I want.

The ring-flash has a diffuser and I use a 200mm macro lens. The magnification is the same as with a 50mm or 105mm macro. I just get to be further away and that distance is more effective for the ring-flash.

There isn’t much more relaxing photography than garden photography because the subjects usually cooperate.

December has just overtaken me and I have no doubt that festive Canadian month will bring a totally different garden to photograph.