Photographing fire spinning.   

This past week one of the women my friend Jo McAvany recently photographed told Jo she was going to do some “Fire Spinning” on the beach in Kamloops Friday evening and wondered if she would come along and take photographs.

Jo told me and we joined the two Fire Spinners and photographer Jennifer Tyler just before sunset along the north shore of the Thompson River across from down town Kamloops.

Oh, and with regards to our current need for “social distancing”. There was no necessity for any warning signs or circles on the ground to remind Jo and I to keep our distance, the spinning hot flaming batons were enough of a warning.

Jo chose to use her 24-70mm lens and I had my 16-35mm. I was happy with the close wide-angle shots I was getting, but Jo told me she wished she had brought her 70-200mm lens so she could crop in tight without having to move in close to our subjects. I had to agree that the longer lens would have made for easier shooting. (And less cropping later)

We both started by slowing our camera’s shutterspeed way down. That gave us good shots of the fire movement, but the person holding the flame came out blurry. We then added flash on a few shots, tried increasing our ISO and had fun experimenting every way we could. I haven’t seen Jo’s photos, but my experience was a bit hit-and-miss.

I want to try again with an off-camera flash. There is a well-known picture of a Hawaiian Fire Dancer on the cover the book, “The Hot Shoe Diaries” by photographer and writer Jo McNally. The image shows flame spinning and a relatively sharp dancer with a black underexposed background. McNally says he used his Nikon Speedlight off-camera and positioned it close to the subject.

I originally hadn’t planned on going with Jo and quickly grabbed a speedlight from my shop at the last minute and only tried it on-camera. (Obviously the wrong place to put the flash almost anytime)

I also now know that I should have used a faster shutterspeed. My slow shutter time would work great for night cityscape photos where there is no subject movement other than the ocean, but the setting was to slow for the constant moving women doing the fire spinning. And I now know I need not have worried about depth-of-field. McNally chose wider apertures for all his low light shots of the Fire Dancers with excellent success.

I have done some reading and critical thinking about my photos and I am sure I will be able to correct the mistakes I made.

I’m not totally disappointed with the photographs I took of the two Fire Spinners, Jessika and Kristen, and there are some very usable shots that with a bit of modifying in post will surely be worth showing to others. I have no doubt the Fire Spinners will like some of the photos I took, but I can do better. I hope I can get an opportunity to photograph them again.

One of the (many) things that has kept me interested in photography for all these years is there is always something else to learn.

Social distancing           

 

I looked up some definitions. Distance is, “interval, space, span, gap, length, width, breadth, depth; range, reach, remoteness, closeness.” And Social is, “community, collective, group, general, popular, civil, public.”

Ok, I am fine with those definitions.   Most Governments are demanding that we practice “Social Distancing”.   So when my friend Jo and I were exchanging texts about some close to home areas we wanted to photograph now that the weather is changing we had no problem figuring out how we could both stay safe and do photography together while still abiding by the current rules.

We would each drive our own car. So for the past two days we have enjoyed going out to the same nearby locations at the same time. Gosh, other than being in different vehicles not much has changed.

Stop the car because the is something good to photograph, ignoring everything but the subject, jump out of the car camera in hand, rush to a good personal vantage point and excitedly talk loud. Everything is the same as usual. Landscape photography is not a shoulder-to-shoulder activity and keeping to the “six-foot-distance” rule isn’t even a conscious action. Its what we usually do.

We slowly drove down the dusty rural road. Our first stop was to photograph a church built in the 1800’s. Then in just a short distance we walked through a large culvert that passed under the highway to the river. I used my flash to photograph Jo at the other end of the underpass, and then went down to the river.

This is a good time to wander with a camera along the river. The spring runoff hasn’t started yet so there are lots of photo opportunities because the river is so low.

Jo brought two cameras. One with a 70-200mm attached and the other was the old infrared converted Nikon D100 I am no longer using. She had a 14-24mm on that.

Until the frozen pond thaws so I can again attempt to photograph the ever-illusive geese nesting there I have been using the infrared converted camera I got to replace that old D100. On my new camera I had a 20-40mm lens. I like using a wide-angle lens when I shoot infrared. I have tried longer focal lengths, but the exaggeration I can get with a wide-angle lens compliments the creative look of infrared.

The first day of spring has passed. Where I live there still is snow in the shade, but where the sunshine’s the plants are really starting to bud.

When the trees on the mountain-side start to grow leaves they will show up as a stronger yellow in my colour infrared images and whiter in the B&W infrared images. However, it is the growing garden right out my front door that will get my photographic attention. Soon I’ll be out with a black backdrop and an off-camera flash setting up with a macro lens on my camera to get creative with the first spring blooms.

I sometimes wonder at my continuing excitement with photography after all these years. It has been, as my friend Jo says, “A long story”.

Here is a quote I found by Peruvian photographer Mario Testino,

“My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. If you are curious, you create opportunities, and if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”

 

Bored during this time of self-isolation? Not a chance.  

I followed the other stores and eateries in my area and closed my shop last week.

This Covid-19 has us all worried about getting close to other people and I wasn’t seeing any customers anyway. Adding to that both the provincial and national government health officials are telling us, especially those my age, to stay home.

So I have stayed home almost two weeks. I don’t mind being alone that much, and anyway my close friend and photo-partner has come up a couple times. Jo walks around my house to my back deck (She and her family have been staying home too.) and with our chairs distanced a bit over 6 feet we sit bundled up from the cold and share a bottle of red wine and talk about anything and everything.

I sat watching the TV this morning and there were lots of discussions about how the forced isolation would make everyone bored and lonely and there were also all sorts of advice and even advertising for things to do. I’ll say that I am not lonely or bored, and the only thing that I find boring is people telling me I should be.

I finished my coffee and went outside to look at the clear blue sky. There is still snow covering most of my frozen yard, but I didn’t think I’d need to worry about more snow and put my snow blower away.  Then I walked out to my car with my camera in my hand thinking about how it is for those of us with hobbies like photography. Oh, and “social distancing” wasn’t even on my mind as I drove down to the river to take some pictures.

I am sure most readers have discovered the easy joy of just walking around with their cameras with no purpose other than photographing anything that looks interesting.

I began with my little Nikon V1. Then as I waited for my car to warm up after the freezing -11 degree night I changed my mind and got my Nikon D7000 Infrared camera instead.

The blue morning sky would be perfect. And anyway, I thought it would be fun to manipulate the odd coloured images on my computer.

I walked around the yard-photographing things with the sun at my back. That angle of light makes for a stronger IR effect. I took some pictures of my house, wandered out on the street to take some pictures of the valley below and walked to the end of the road photographing anything that I thought might work as IR subjects. Then I got in my car and drove down to the river.

I could see a person walking their dog in the distance and there was a couple sitting in their car enjoying the view. I roamed the riverfront quite alone happily taking pictures till I got cold from the breeze blowing off the river.

I think most hobbies are time consuming and will easily ward off boredom and loneliness.

Photography… Well photography to me anyway, captures my mind and makes me think about the subjects I am photographing and the environment I am in at that moment.  Just the act of finding and photographing something is a mental reward in itself. And whether one plays with their images on the computer like I do, stores them on their computer, or posts the pictures on something like Facebook for others to enjoy, photography is the perfect stimulant for those of us hiding out from this pandemic.

 

Black and White Photography 

chrysanthemum

Red Crown Gas

Fat Cat on a warm spring morning

Granville street bridge

Thompson River by Jo McAvany

Country street

Spring is on the way and with it is blossoming colour.

Only a week ago the walk from the driveway to my home was frozen with snow still clinging to the rocks that hold the garden back. However, yesterday morning the walk was almost dry with grass beginning to frame the border.

One would think that the talk from photographers stopping by my shop would be about spring colours. Ahh…but there was not even a word about how nice it would be to photograph all that springing colour.

The first phone call of the morning was from a frustrated student that needed to complete an assignment asking me if I sold Ilford black and white film. I don’t.

A bit later a fellow I hadn’t seen for a while stopped to say hello and we talked about shooting infrared. He was hoping I could help him find an infrared camera.

I had just this past week missed out on a good deal on a converted camera, but the spring used camera sale will be at the end of next month in Vancouver and I suggested he join me there.

That conversation continued when he showed me some black and white infrared photographs that he had found online.

Later that afternoon my friend Drew showed up just as another photographer and I were admiring some of the excellent images made by members of a Facebook black and white photography group.

The three of us looked at pictures and talked about B&W until closing time.

One would think with the ease that modern DSLRs make colourful photographs that there would be little serious interest in black and white. After all, to make a good B&W image one should use some kind of editing program that allows adjustment of the different colour tonality.

I am sure the numbers of photographers that actually produce B&W are few compared to colour, but there are many avid groups on Facebook and Flickr that are dedicated to what has become to be called “monochrome” photography.

I pick and choose which of my images gets converted. Sometimes the subject deserves to be shown as B&W. And when I mentioned to my close friend and photo-partner, Jo McAvany that I was going to write about black and white she insisted that I stop by to get a B&W photo of the river she had taken earlier in the day.

I still remember the time when colour was almost non-existent. Once in a while someone would have the money and shoot a roll of colour, but most of the families in the neighbourhood I grew up in only could afford black and white film. Some people didn’t like colour pictures. I remember my aunt critically looking at some pictures at a family gathering that they “just didn’t look natural”. And as I have written before, when I first got into photography I preferred B&W.

I strongly believe a successful black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate. It doesn’t depend on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to light, shadow, composition and perspective.

Ted Grant, widely regarded as the father of Canadian photojournalism wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

I think that black and white photography is far from being left behind, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and printing papers black and white image-making will continue to be an option for many serious photographers.

 

 

 

 

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.”

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Photographing the 2018 Pritchard Rodeo       

 

The Pritchard rodeo has come and gone once again.

Gosh, its 2018. I need to dig though my storage of photographs to find out how long I have been attending and photographing that fun filled tournament.

I will say that it is a much smaller event than it was years ago. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The numbers of participants has declined dramatically and so has the crowd.

There are so many opportunities for people to attend each weekend that spending the day at a hot, dusty rodeo may have become low on many peoples list. Nevertheless, for anyone, especially photographers, that want to see great action, our local rodeo is still a worthwhile way to spend the day.

I arrived an hour early expecting to beat the crowds. However, there were already several photographers ready and waiting ringside for the action to begin.

It’s always so much fun saying hello and trading quips with photographer friends I only get to see once a year. As I looked at the cowboy hatted gaggle of photographers I noticed that every dang one of them were sporting Canon cameras, all to evident by the large white lenses attached to their cameras. So I was ready and waiting for the Canon vs. Nikon jokes that never end.

That said, when the dust and the jokes clear, those that I stopped to talk to were experienced, talented and certainly dedicated rodeo photographers.

The first bronco-riding event started at 1AM and I comfortably positioned myself along the metal railing. I checked my camera and set my ISO to 400 so I could get a reasonable depth of field, selected Shutter Priority Mode and placed my shutterspeed at 1/500th of a second to stop the action.

My lens of choice for sports is the 70-200mm. There are longer focal lengths available, but my well used 70-200mm is easily hand holdable and quick focusing.

I like photographing any kind of action, and that especially goes for rodeos. Small venues like the one a few minutes drive from my home in Pritchard are photographically accessible and the organizers haven’t put restrictions that limit photographers. And for those new to rodeos, it’s a friendly and easy place to practice and, of course, experiment.

This hometown rodeo makes it easy for local participants to get quality photographs of themselves that can be made into wall prints. All they have to ask some one with a camera as they pass by.

I began this article with the words, “The Pritchard rodeo has come and gone once again”. As always, that fun packed rodeo was, well gosh, fun. I got to talk with other photographers and renew friendships with neighbours that I rarely see. And, of course, had a great time taking pictures.

 

Infrared photography is a refreshing change                          

 

I just like to make pictures.

When I retired from pointing my camera for money I was reminded how much fun it is to photograph everything for my personal entertainment.

The past two weeks I have stayed close to home with my cameras and, yes I’ll say it, “focused’ on subjects that are within ten to fifteen minutes drive from my front door.

My subjects aren’t necessarily exotic and there aren’t troves of photographers traveling long distances to set their tripods up in anticipation of those once-in-a-lifetime photographs. But, for me the things I pass along the local roadside are always interesting and sometimes even stimulating.

This spring I was unsuccessful in my attempt at photographing the geese and their goslings, but I easily pointed my camera in a different direction and had a good time photographing turtles instead. I then (driving along the same road) decided to photograph my way to work on a rainy day.

This week staying dedicated to Duck Range Road I dusted off the camera I had converted to infrared some years ago.

My previous trip around the countryside with it was in September of last year, so it was about time to create some images in a different light.

Infrared is always fun, and this time I’ll be able to compare four versions. I’ll have those I made last week that were colour and black & white, and then this weeks colour and black & white from infrared.

The first time I drove and photographed that route was back in 1977. I had just moved and had hooked up the electricity to a 20’ X 9’ trailer on a couple acres of heavily wooded land, I didn’t know anyone and was curious to see what I could find along the dusty dirt road.

I loaded my Pentax Spotmatic II with a roll of Ilford black and white film, jumped in my yellow 1962 International Scout 4X4 that I had recently changed the California licence plates to British Columbia plates, and slowly drove along the bumpy road in search of photographs.

Well, here it is 41 years later. I no longer reside in that cramped trailer, or use film for that matter, and there is no longer need of that 4X4 because the road is paved. However, I still slowly drive along that road in search of photographs.

I don’t need infrared to keep me excited with the photos I make along that road I know so well, but as I wrote in my title, “Infrared is a refreshing change”.

I thought about reusing last week’s quote by Elliott Erwitt. However, I wanted to find words by a photographer that described how I feel about pointing my camera at subjects I have photographed (hundreds of times?) before.

I searched some and found this quote by German photographer Helmut Newton.

“Look, I’m not an intellectual – I just take pictures.”

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.