Photographing the seafront

 

Last week I wrote about photographing the waterfalls at Whatcom Park. I also mentioned that Jo and I took some time after spending most of the day at the park to visit the waterfront.

When one lives in the British Columbia’s dry mountainous interior a trip to the ocean is always stimulating. Sure we have a big wide river where I live, but there are no large ocean going ships, big fishing boats or air that smells of saltwater. Oh, and Jo doesn’t get to spend time wandering the beach looking for seashells.

The coast along the large city of Bellingham is well built up with marinas, people packed piers and buildings of all sorts that makes it perfect for someone meandering with a camera that wants to experience the city’s seafront.

We drove around a lot trying to find places on the map. Some of the streets began with one name and suddenly change to another, and Google maps seemed to be for another planet. However, my “car-rule” is to always stop when something looks like it should be photographed. The driving isn’t as important as the picture.

I used my 24-70mm for everything and Jo stayed with the 28-300mm. There is always the temptation to carry every lens you own, but I think it’s best and easier when one is visiting a new place to stick with just one lens.

When we arrived we chanced on an area that was in the process of being redone. There are old brick buildings and some tall metal structures that look like they must have been for some kind of storage still standing, but it was obvious that the large area was under some kind of massive renovation.

I met a fellow from Idaho who told me that part of the coast park renovation will include a bicycle park and some of the old brick buildings will be for retail and some for art. He walked with me as I photographed a sailboat moored near some buildings, the remnants of a pier and a strange giant metal ball that he said was once a storage tank that is now a sculpture called the Acid Ball.

After leaving the waterfalls we eventually found the long metal pier that extends along Bellingham Bay that was packed with photo opportunities. Men and women with long poles catching crabs, kids jumping off it into the ocean, boats of all kinds, people that I’ll bet were from all over the world, and also, to Jo’s delight, a small sandy beach to hunt seashells.

It is fun visiting places with the goal in mind to take photographs. I suppose now days most people have their tiny cell phones to grab memories with, but in my opinion, having a DSLR with different focal length lenses, a tripod, and an assortment of filters and the knowledge serious photographers have to have to use all that equipment is a prescription to get creative.

Bellingham was a grand photographic adventure that I might just repeat some day. That park was an exciting find and photographing the coast was a pleasant way to spend our last afternoon and night in that busy city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try something different from the usual vacation photos.  

 

I hadn’t picked up my infrared camera since spring, and it was a last minute addition when I was loading the car for my trip to the Washington coast.

Now as I sort through the pictures I took on my short four-day junket I am glad I did.

The low, late afternoon coastal light is great for infrared. The trees become an iridescent white, the sky a deep black and anything painted a light colour glows.

I suppose most of the pictures one takes on vacation are little more than documents of the places visited and end up filed away in hopes that future generations will eventually find the volumes of unmarked computer files and excitedly relive the experience.

Somehow I doubt that actually happens very much.

Just as the closet full of boxed slides from the film generation will likely be discarded when age forces them to downsize, I expect the terabytes of image files stored on memory cards, cell phones and the illusive cloud will follow a similar fate.

I don’t have an answer to that, I guess what will be will be. However, modern digital technology at least allows us to be a bit more creative with the images that come out of our cameras. I don’t know if the memories they retain will last any longer than I will when I am just dusty ashes in some old jar, but what the heck, if anyone does take the time to look through the volumes of photographs I leave I am sure they won’t be bored because very few of my vacation photos fit easily under the heading, “document”.

My vacations, for many years have centered around my interest in photography. My wife used to call them “photo vacations” because everywhere we visited and everything we did when traveling revolved around taking the time to get creative with our cameras.

Now with modern digital technology that creative photography is not only “during the excursion” but goes on for many enjoyable hours at the computer when all the gear has been put away at home and the trip is only memories.

Enter infrared.

Infrared files are waiting to be manipulated. In my opinion the need to preserve or enhance the beauty of what was experienced on one’s latest adventure doesn’t apply. Infrared is a different light and different statement about the world we experience.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling for me. When I discussed my infrared photos last May I wrote that when I see a black and white photograph it makes me think about how a subject looks in a particular light and the mood it creates.

Infrared makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject.

The pictures one makes with an IR camera are always an exploration, a discovery, and are very different from the usual vacation photos.

Scenic photography on Fidalgo Island        

Last week was my second article about my trip to the coast. I wrote that there were three very different photographic opportunities that I took advantage of on my four-day stay, the street photography during the festival, the architectural photography on a quiet Sunday morning and the scenic photography.

Jo and I wandered the beaches early in the morning. Walked along wooded paths during the day. Climbed the rock-covered breakwater beside a deteriorating wreck in the afternoon, and stood on a darkened pier at night.

We trudged to each location carrying equipment filled backpacks with tripods on our shoulders talking about, and making decisions concerning the photographs we would take.

As I sat down in the sand that first afternoon I thought about how hard it is for most people to do photography with me. Jumping out of the car, running to a view point, taking a picture, then jumping back in the car and driving to the next view is not my style.

I have to think, ponder and sit for a while. I am never in a hurry when it comes to scenic photographs. I have a need to experience the place. And, of course, I like to use a tripod.

On this trip we had my new 14-24mm and 28-300mm lenses to try out.

I have never been a fan of really wide photos, so using the 14mm was quite an experience. I purchased a 150mm polarizing filter and filter holder for that wide lens, and although that seemed to be a good setup the protruding front lens glass is vignetted by the filter holder resulting in a disappointing 19mm view.

The 28-300mm was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to like it after trying it in a dimly lighted studio. In the studio it had a hard time finding focus. However, I think the problem might be the lack of contrast in the studio because in that bright coastal light I was stopping birds in flight and getting sharp, colourful pictures.

I’ll hang on to both lenses. Like cameras, they are just tools and not every tool fits every job.

I had visited most of the places we photographed many time before. But all I have to do to make them different from past years is to place my tripod in a new location, crop my view and change the center of interest.

Even after all the years going there I still don’t have a favourite place, Although there are locations that I like to stop at depending on the time of day.

I always choose Cap Sante Park with its high lookout over Anacortes when I first arrive. During the day there are several rocky beaches that are waiting to be re-explored and photographed, and I always make time to walk out on the high Deception Park Bridge for a photo of the Deception Pass as it connects with the sea.

The evenings usually find me in Washington Park photographing both the leaning tree (it was still alive when I started visiting in the mid 1990s) that hangs out over the sea, and the island filled ocean from a high lookout as we complete the parks winding ring road on the way back to the city center.

The best place to stand a tripod after dark is the beachside Seafarers Park for a long exposure night photograph across Fidalgo bay of the Marathon refinery’s lights.

I do enjoy my yearly excursions to Anacortes and plan on many more. I was having dinner with several people this past week and was asked about my trip to the coast. And as with many times before I talked about what I did, but I didn’t have any photographs to make clear as to why I return there year after year.

The famous American scenic photographer, Ansel Adams, explained it best when he said, “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

Anacortes Shipwreck Festival 2018   

On July 20th I made another six-hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard, British Columbia to the town of Anacortes at the tip of Fidalgo Island nestled in the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands to their annual Shipwreck Festival. It’s certainly one of my favourite places and events of the year.

Again, as last year, long time friends Dave and Cynthia Monsees came along, and I was also very pleased that my photography partner Jo McAvany had decided to come along this year.

We arrived early enough so I could give Jo a quick tour of some of the places we would be photographing on Sunday, then drove down the main street of town to meet up with the hard working Fidalgo Island Rotary Club volunteers.

The Fidalgo Island Rotary Club organizes the Shipwreck Festival and again this year I volunteered to get a few pictures of them as they marked street locations for the next day’s vendors and also to take this year’s group photograph.

I’ll repeat what I wrote last year and say that over the many years I have been attending that popular festival in Washington State I have never heard or met with a sour word from anyone in the town. The people one encounters are always warm and generous and after a short time I always get the feeling they are old friends. Although I’m an out of town stranger, and a Canadian to boot, I immediately felt that way as I joined that group decked in their Rotary Volunteer vests.

I can’t remember what year I first started attending the annual Anacortes Shipwreck Festival, but it was some time in the mid-1990s I think, and although I have missed a few over the years, I am determined to make at least the next dozen plus. (Or at least till the Provincial Driver Licence Authority decide I am too old to be in charge of a vehicle)

After I photographed the festival committee, Jo and I set off for a picnic and pictures at the beach. After a quick stop at a close by grocery store and a short drive to Washington Park we spent the evening photographing everything, and of course each other, as we waited for the sun to sink into the ocean.

The next day was not only an exciting wander through the nine-block flee market on the main street of town, it was an excellent opportunity for us to try some “street photography” on the people packed avenue.

Whew, what a day. We saw, we touched, we photographed, and we talked to people from 9AM to 3PM. Then we stepped into a popular Commercial Avenue Alehouse called the Brown Lantern for a late lunch and I gladly got to rest my tired legs. I am sure Jo will recommend the crab and corn chowder and I agree that both my food and the two beers I drank were the refuelling I needed.

Then we were off for another quick look around and a few more pictures of the crowed street of happy bargain hunters.

Leaving the street festival we drove up to the high overlook at Cap Santé Park that offers a command view of the marina and city. We climbed over the large, smooth, flat rocks and photographed the city, ocean islands, and the many bright red Arbutus trees.

The next morning and for the rest of the day we drove around the island photographing many of the places I have visited in past years. The island location may be the same, but the image one creates in a different time is always a new creation.

I enjoy photographing just about anything. The Anacortes Shipwreck festival is always a good excuse to get me to the cool damp Pacific coast and away from what usually is a hot and dry July where I live in British Columbia.

Another Anacortes Shipwreck festival photography excursion has passed. We had fun and got creative and made lots of photographs. Now we are left with the memories and the photographs until next year. However, I am planning another trip in the fall, so the memories only have to last about three months because I’ll be back on the island and in Anacortes to make a few more.

 

The Photographic idea

This past week I got into a discussion with two local photographers about photography as Art. Their opinion was that photography has become mostly a point-and-shoot process that is really all about documenting one’s personal life.

I think defining Art has always been “in the eye of the beholder”.  

I remember a friend chastising me when I was too critical of a photographer’s image, by saying that all to familiar phrase, “I may not know about Art, but I do know what I like.” 

Ansel Adams, in the forward to his popular 1950’s book “The Print” said, “Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles…” and he continued, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art…technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I remember the series of books by Adams when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a good final print.

We don’t need to worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t satisfactory it’s easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened later. Contrast can be changed and increasingly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make large prints at all. 

That said, I still think that Adams’ forward in “The Print” may be as worthwhile now as it was in 1950 for a photographer’s Art. Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process is still important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the negative, and the printing procedure. He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the files, and outputting to an online portfolio.

Adams wrote, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes. So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative…” He continues by saying, “the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print (image file?) itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”   Those words remind me not to be as critical of other photographers work, if as Adams put it, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

I think what my friend meant when he said, ““I may not know Art, but I do know what I like.”   Was that I should be paying attention to what a photographer might be saying with his or her image and remind myself to think about “interpretation” and the “performance of the photographic idea.”

That is why its good that I still have that somewhat out-dated book, and why I should regularly open it up. After all the prattle about the newest camera, or lens, or computer programs, I need to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.

Practicing Street Photography      

I have read that Street photography is the practice of photographing chance encounters and random incidents in public places, Well, like the street.

In an article about my experiences in Vancouver BC some time ago I wrote, “I think that successful street photography captures a moment from the society around us. It’s a moment in time that is an important for the present and future.”

I am fascinated with this kind of candid photography that has been around since people began to carrying cameras in public, and I am always up to any occasion that allows my somewhat reserved and not so confident approach to photographing strangers going about their life on any public street. So when that opportunity presented itself at the giant outdoor flea market in Anacortes Washington I was excited.

Most modern street photographers seem to be recommending small, inconspicuous mirrorless cameras. However, in spite advice posted on many of the forums I have visited I still wondered if I could again try using my big DSLR with a battery grip and 24-70mm attached. I admit that’s a huge and very noticeable combination that the last time I tried at this event had curious by-passers looking right at me.

I remembered a 1969 Algerian-French movie, called “Z”, about some foreign dictatorship and a photojournalist who helped to uncover evidence about a murder. The photographer, wielding a big camera with a loud motor drive, continually shot from his hip. So I thought, what the heck, lets see if I can get away with that. Also, knowing I could easily crop, I moved the lens to its widest 24mm and photographed everything holding my camera at my waist.

I also figured that people at the street sale would be so absorbed with their treasure searching that if I didn’t hold my camera up to my eye, like I did last time, they would be oblivious to my photography.

My results were much better than last time. I wandered releasing the shutter anytime I observed people doing something interesting. There were a few camera conscious people that remarked about how big and nice my camera was, and one guy even asked the model I had. Nevertheless, none of my pictures showed people turning to look at me as I was taking a picture, except for those times when actually I asked someone to pose.

The big street market made things easy, and my new “stealth” photography technique made me more comfortable. And as I said, my results were much better this time. Whether it will work when I am not at an event that distracts people’s attention away from me remains to be seen.

Spring-cleaning and plans on Summer Photography.        

I am such a hoarder.

I knew I had an old tripod mount stashed away somewhere, but when I started searching (unsuccessfully I might add) through years of bits and pieces randomly stockpiled in unmarked containers I came to the conclusion that it might be time to do some spring-cleaning. I’ll call it that because it’s spring here in British Columbia.

No doubt there are other photographers that hold on to all-things-photographic as much as I do, so here are some thoughts that I had that might be helpful. I am sure there are many additions readers can think of, but I am starting with just a couple.

  1. This should be the year to get rid of all that old film camera equipment. I know it is hard to part with favourite old cameras. The pictures they produced were so great, and gosh, they initially cost so much money, but sadly there isn’t much resale value currently. The fact is today’s camera technology has progressed far beyond those old film cameras and most individuals that have embraced the high quality digital world will never return to film. If you haven’t, my recommendation is remove the batteries that are probably leaking, clean the camera up with an old toothbrush, and sell it to someone interested in playing with “retro” equipment or donate the camera to a student still using film in their photography classes. Don’t put it off, film cameras only loose value as time passes and very few ever become valuable collectibles.
  2. Might this be the year to “finally” organize all those old prints and slides? There are many ways to copy photographs and slides. For prints I use my camera, a tripod, and a level. For slides a scanner works best.

Regarding scanners, my recommendation is to do some research, and not purchase too cheap (or to          expensive) of a model. Find out which scanners produce quality resolution scans. A space saving and cost  saving idea would be to share one with other photographers.

  1. A couple years ago my wife and were evacuated as a fire raged down the hills above our home. Linda and I rushed through the house photographing everything before we left. I think spring is a perfect time to make the effort to photographically inventory household goods. I have to admit I am as lax as anyone when it comes to a photographic inventory. Nevertheless, when faced with that fire approaching my door I sloppily needed to do it in a hurry. Its not very hard, and I think worth the time.

I’ll add two spring goals that have nothing to do with photo house cleaning. However, I have made them part of the spring planning process for the summer to come. And anyway, these are way more fun.

  1. There are several of us that meet once a week to talk about photography. It’s not a club, there are no rules, everyone has strong opinions, and this spring we are all filled with energy and photography projects. Joining up with others that have different interests in photography to talk about or accompany on photo outings is fun and always instructive.
  2. It’s time to plan photography a trip. I am planning a July photography excursion down the coast of Washington State for a few days with my friend Dave, his wife Cynthia. I know we’ll be up early with our cameras and, I am sure, still up late talking about our day’s photography.

Those, like me, that that enjoy lists will delight on writing out their spring goals. It’s a good way to begin thinking about photography projects and goals for this year. I have only included a few from my personal list. Some might not get done, but it’s a start. I try to be realistic and I’ll hang my list on the wall next to the calendar I print each month and attempt what I can. That might help me keep it a spring instead of a summer project.