Shooting infrared on a quiet spring evening.     

This week had one of those nice quiet evenings that are all so common here in British Columbia. By 7:30PM the sun was starting to go down giving the landscape dramatic shadows and a day’s end glowing light.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty lazy after tearing the tile out of our shower wall so I could fix the tub taps, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the TV so I decided a short drive around my wooded neighbourhood might clear the tile dust out of my eyes and hair.

Over the many years I have been shooting with first, infrared film, and then for the past 10 plus years, a digital camera converted to only capture infrared, I have found that late afternoons give me the most impressive effects.

So, I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.

That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside. For a while I called it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.

Then I read about infrared conversions. I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab. I sent that camera away and a few hundred bucks, and about a month later I had an infrared camera.

The images I get are a fun change from the colourful pictures or the sharp black and whites I am used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

I have a book by William Reedy titled, “Impact–Photography for Advertising”. It begins with the words, “To stop the eye… To set the mood… To start the sale…”

Those are great words for any photographer hoping to create visual impact with his or her photography. I think there is no doubt about it that those words ring true when one looks at the surreal effect of an infrared photograph. So I set off on that quite evening with my camera waiting on the empty seat beside me and made stop after stop to create infrared photographs of the rural neighbourhood that I know so well.

I have written about infrared photography before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

Judging Barriere 4H Photography

The Judge

On the Sunday of the September long weekend I spent an enjoyable day judging the Barriere 4H club members photography presentations at the North Thompson Fall Fair.

Although I have taken on the role of judge many times before, I am still slightly uncomfortable in a formal critique. Just looking at a photograph and discussing it, even placing a grade on it, as I did for years as a college instructor, is easier because everyone is competing with themselves. But when choosing a first, second, and third place is a competition about who is better, one has to work very hard not to be influenced by personal feelings, taste, and opinions on the subject.

Most photographers seem to think a photographic “critique” means “to find fault with.” I don’t think that’s right. When one critiques another’s photograph they should be analyzing its strengths and successes. What doesn’t work is important and should be part of the discussion, but the main concern is what works, not, what doesn’t work.

This was my first time with the 4H club. Photography in this instance was set apart from the other events at the North Thompson Fall Fair that included animal husbandry, and the judging was, in my opinion, more about the young member’s personal development in photography and how well they could adhere to the guidelines than how good their individual photographs were. Although unusual, the process was interesting, and I think valuable.

I will say that the quality of the photography was surprising for such young individuals. I was able to pick out specific interests and strengths in each of the young photographers. Yes, like all photographers, I expect those that are serious about the medium will undergo growth as they become more experienced with their cameras, and experiment with the medium of photography in general.

What is a good photograph?

“Life” magazine, “Time” magazine, and “People” magazine photographer, John Loengard, said, “It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting”.

Anyone who wants to take better pictures should focus on the fundamentals, and a successful photographer must have an understanding of composition and lighting because what is important for the viewer is how the photographer composes (or arranges) the image, and how the light is captured, both which sets the images apart.

William Reedy, in his book, “Impact Photography for Advertising” writes about how the successful photographer must, “…stop the eye…(and)…set the mood…” I have liked that quote for years. And I am pleased to say that there were some of those young 4H photographers that were able to accomplish that and I hope I get to see their again photography in the future.

Critiquing Photography at the Kamloops Photo Arts Club

At the club critique

This past week I was invited to be the guest critic at the Kamloops Photo Arts Club.

Although I like discussing photographs, I was at first hesitant with that request. Organized photography clubs in Canada are accustomed to using specific competition rules of The Canadian Association for Photographic Art. Those rules are, of course, specific and must be very stringent.

Unlike that credible and important organization, my critiques of photographs tend to be filled with feedback, I am not selecting the best of the crowd, and I am more interested with what works than what doesn’t. However, the request came from photographer and club member, Linda Davidson, who wrote in the clubs newsletter about having me as a photography instructor in university, “The thing that Linda remembers from her classes with John were his critiques. He had the ability to see things that you may not see in your own work, look at images from a different perspective, not the usual point of view. He was always helpful and inspiring.” So with kind words like that I had no choice.

I remember a quote from the book “Impact – Photography For Advertising” by William Reedy, that puts into words how I view those photographers that are making good photography when he wrote, “To stop the eye, to set the mood, to make the sale.”  I believe that successful photographs must be interesting and thought provoking.

There is a general perception that “critique” means “to find fault with.” When I discuss a photograph I am not seeking to find fault. To me, the word critique means to respond to something, either positively or negatively, or both. The success of an image is how is works for the viewer.

Personally I prefer to use the word “Feedback”. Feedback is information-specific and based on opinion and observation. I have found that the best way to turn someone off is to find fault with their photograph. When I give feedback on a photograph I prefer to discuss what I like, or would like.

When a photographer seeks to make themselves better at their craft they, of course, need input from others about technical control like Exposure, Depth-of-Field and Composition. All those are important in creating a technically correct image. However, things like the mood the photographer set, and the story within the image, are what makes the viewer pay attention, and may not be so technically significant, but those are important all the same. Yet many critics fail to respond to those aspects.

Regarding the critique I provided for the Kamloops Photo Arts Club; I walked into a large meeting room with lots of people sitting around tables in conversation (catching up on each other’s photography I’m sure). The hall was set up with screen and digital projector, and after the club’s president quickly covered business and some announcements about future events I was introduced, handed a remote, the room darkened and I began to scroll through member’s images.

As I began I got a flashback of the years I spent teaching photography. I remember the slow growth as learners struggled with not only the concepts of photography and getting used to their cameras, but the long hours in the busy, darkened and sometimes smelly developing and printing labs. And I mentioned to those in attendance how much more I liked the shorter learning curve of digital image making and the amazing creativity one has with modern photographic post-production.

As I expected, the photography I was to discuss was a top-notch selection of quality images that crossed into all interests of photography. I felt like I should just sit back and clap as I scrolled through the selections and thank those present for the invitation. What a nice way to spend an evening.

I did discuss each image as it was presented on the large screen, and suggested a tighter crop on several, gave my perspective on what I liked about each, and asked questions about several. I think it would have been hard indeed to give negative feed on most of the photography I was fortunate enough to view.

I like to look at pictures. After all the dialogue about photographic equipment and where and what to take on that next photo excursion, what is really left is the final product of everything, the image. Whether in print form, on the computer monitor or, like that evening with the Photo Arts Club, on a large screen, everything comes down to that photograph “stopping the eye, setting the mood, and making the sale.”

I welcome readers comments. Thanks, John

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