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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography on a Winter Beach    

beach-abbott

waters-edge-tree

 

Bootprints in the sand

beach-boat-docks

beach-bench-solitude

the-only-vacationers

February found Linda and I spending a couple weeks in the lakeside town of Kelowna. Linda had 10 days of appointments so we decided rather than commute for four hours a day (it’s two hours each way) we would take accommodation.

Kelowna in the summer is packed. Parking is always at a premium, the cost of lodging anywhere near the beach is prohibitive and the traffic is, well the traffic is what one would expect in a city filled with vacationers. However, the days and nights in February are below freezing, and that pretty much reduces the beach crowd.

Linda’s appointments vary through out the week, but Tuesday’s was early so after a big lunch when she decided to relax with a couple magazines, I took the opportunity to grab my camera and headed to the beach.

I know that beach area pretty well. I have never seen a parking space during the summer, and any photographer wanting to capture photos of the beach, the lake, or distant mountains has to be content with lots of people included in their photographs.

My thought was to build a series of images that discussed the cold, empty winter lakeside. And I decided no matter what I saw I would limit myself to only photographs of the waterfront.

That meant to ignore the extravagant architecture of the beachfront homes, expensive cars and, of course, people. However, I was tempted to get shots of a guy eating a cup of ice cream while walking with his dog, and later on, two women slurping milk shakes while walking along on the breezy minus 6 Celsius day. There’s something to be said about Canadians.

I even declined when two tattered guys came up to me and suggested they would make good photo subjects. One fellow was waving a broken golf club handle and I stepped back saying, “I am not doing people today”. We all laughed and they ambled on leaving me alone on the beach.

The winter beach is interesting. Shoeprints in the sand instead of bare feet, the hordes of sun worshippers and swimmers are absent and the lake that’s usually a waterscape of boats has only ducks and geese this time of year.

I walked for two hours along the waterfront before deciding to turn back. And when I found a deserted bench I just sat enjoying the solitude. There is something about wandering alone along a big lake that is bordered by a large active city. I guess there is some isolation, but the noise never stops. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent opportunity to creatively point a camera without any interference.

Infrared Photography On A Cold Winter Day   

blue-horizon

frozen-pond

winter-grass

tracks-and-cliffs

orange-sky

Gosh, this cold weather is uncomfortable! Mostly I have been huddling inside except to feed my chickens, and dig through the latest snowfall so I can get my car out of the driveway. However, the morning’s sky was so clear and blue that, in spite of the negative -19C, I just had to bundle up against the cold and head outside with my infrared camera.

The contrast of clear blue against the fresh white snow would make for a colourful scene, but there is something about infrared that has always intrigued me.

Maybe it’s the black sky against the brighter foreground. There is a word I remember my art instructors would sometimes use in their discussions and it is, “juxtaposition”, or elements in an image placed together with a contrasting effect.

In the summer infrared turns the trees to white, the sky a strange shade of magenta, and everything else a slight blue. But in the winter one can create an image with magenta tinted snow and clouds, with a blue cast to the sky by adjusting the colour channels in Photoshop, or convert to a striking black and white image. B&W is always my favourite. I guess that it is from the many years of exposing rolls of Kodak infrared film. And as I said, I like the black skies.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling. I have written before that using a modified camera is an exploration that moves a photographer far from the usual setting with the effect being surreal and unworldly. The bluer the sky, the greater the likelihood of that unworldly effect; and white surfaces can glow with an ethereal brightness.

I haven’t used my IR camera since last October when I decided to try out a fisheye lens.

Since then I acquired an 18-35mm, so I took that and my favourite, a 24-85mm lens out to see what I could get. I prefer a plan as opposed to just driving around, but this time I wouldn’t venture very far from my warm car. Besides the cold I was too lazy to get my shoeshoes and the snow was too deep to go off the plowed road.

I am not a prolific shooter. I guess that’s an oddity in this day of shotgun style photography when it’s not unusual for photographers to return with a hundred or so images from only a few hours of shooting. I spent a lot of time just standing and looking, and as was the case this time, freezing my fingers.

The low-angled light from the afternoon created lots of deep shadows on the drifts of snow and from fence posts, train tracks, and stark, leafless trees. All are excellent subjects for infrared.

If there was a goal for this outing it was to get a picture for next month’s calendar. My wife Linda and I alternate monthly as to who’s picture is displayed for each month’s calendar, and one of my infrared captures should work perfectly for February.

Photographing a Late Fall Garden   

oregon-grape

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thistle

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thorns

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I try to wander about in our garden with my camera each and every time the season changes; spring, summer, fall and winter.

I have photographed the changing garden throughout the years and, although it always seems very familiar and comforting, I find myself discovering different ways to capture the life that begins, grows, blossoms and then retreats into sleep. There are times when I have constructed elaborate sets with reflectors to capture and control the light. I have built mini studios much like the controlled indoor setups that portrait photographers are familiar with. I’ve lain in the snow and employed umbrellas on rainy days. However, on this particular day I wanted light, and waited all day for sunlight that seemed reluctant to bring me one day of fall warmth I wanted to photograph before the snow that was predicted in a day or two.

When 3pm rolled around I worried that if I didn’t get something done in the quickly dropping light, other than look out the window, I wouldn’t get any pictures at all.

My camera was waiting with a manual 200mm macro, wireless sender and two light stands with a flash and umbrella mounted on each. However, when I finally walked outside (yep, I already said “quickly dropping light) I realised I was doomed to failure if I relied on taking the time to set up that equipment.

Years ago I was asked to give a lecture to the Abbotsford Photo Arts Club. I won’t go into that long discussion, but the title I chose was, “A problem solving approach to photography”. And I realised that this was the time to move into a problem-solving mode.

I removed the 200mm macro from my camera and replaced it with my wife’s 70-180mm macro. I prefer my old manual lens for close up photography, but that Auto focus zoom macro is really easy to use.

I also put aside the light stands and attached a single flash to an eight-foot TTL flash cord. I could have set things up wireless, but I was going for quick and easy and with the TTL cord I just let the flash hang off my shoulder until I wanted it.

I could have used a high ISO, a wide aperture, and just popped a bit of light for a proper exposure. But a high ISO would increase the ambient light and show the lifeless colours of surrounding foliage. A wide aperture would limit my depth of field, and TTL is fast and easy to light, compose and relight a subject.

I under-exposed my exposure by several stops, and let the dedicated TTL flash (with a diffusor cup) do what it was designed for, to deliver just the right amount of light on my subject.   That gave me a dark background that I could later make completely black by adjusting the contrast in Photoshop.

I didn’t have a lot of time before more clouds moved in making an already dark afternoon even darker, but my portable set-up made things easy and even gave me a moment to pause and watch our three legged, feral cat flee as it ran out from the cover of the shrubbery. Gosh, in spite of the damage to her one back leg, she sure can move.

I had been trying for three days to get some pictures, but unpleasant weather and life in general got in the way. However, with a bit of problem solving and the will to finally get out and do something, a person can end up with a few photographs worth keeping.

 

March is a month of considerable frustration.

March camera

Gosh, March is here again.

I don’t have a problem with January. January is filled with optimism for a new year with new things and, for someone like me that really likes Christmas; there is still a cheery residue from that festive time. February is a hopeful month. Snow or shine I get outside with my camera and wander the low hills and icy riverside. I don’t expect much out of February and enjoy the days with their promise of warmer weather.

Then comes March. March is a transition period. Most photographers I know are ready, really ready, for something to photograph other than falling snow and icy roads. March is not a month that photographers embrace. Well, maybe a foray or two to photograph some hungry coyote, or deer, wandering the countryside. Or birds that hung about through the winter. But even for those subjects one has to hunt in an uninspiring landscape.

I would like to go out and search for some subject that demands to be photographed, but I can’t rouse any creativity as I stand staring out the window at the falling snow.

I have written before that my foreboding for March began when as a child I read “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. I do remember that until my teacher made us delve into the imagery of the novel, line by line, I had just enjoyed it as another adventure story. “Beware of the ides of March,” said the soothsayer, and poor ole Captain Ahab gets himself pinned to a whale and dies in the end. Even at that young age I wondered, why March? Then to my dismay came the same words when I read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and there is was again, he was told to beware of the ides of March. And to make things worse there is, “In like a lion and out like a lamb.” Does it never end, these disturbing warnings of March? I just want to wander around in a photogenic landscape taking pictures. I don’t care if there is lots of snow, or lots of grass; I just want one or the other and an end to the cold temperatures that have been plaguing this country.

The “ides of March” is just a way of saying March 15 in Roman times, but this month always frustrates me and I want it to be over soon. March doesn’t give much it just makes me wait.

The host of the British public television program “Making Things Grow,” Thalassa Cruso, once quipped, “March is a month of considerable frustration – it is so near spring, and yet across a great deal of the country the weather is still so violent and changeable that outdoor activity in our yards seems light years away.”
 And prolific writer Ogden Nash said “Indoors or out, no one relaxes in March, that month of wind and taxes, the wind will presently disappear, the taxes last us all the year.”

I suppose we could put our heads down and get up earlier because of the time change (one more problem with this month), in anticipation of a better season and friendlier months, and just march onward, (ya, March) awaiting a time to do photography again. But for me, I just think about poor Caesar and poor Ahab. March doesn’t work for me either.

I enjoy all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

A photographer walks along the frozen riverside.

Ice & Pritchad bridge 1

  Oil can 2

Pier studs 3

Noisey Geese 4

Ice art 5

Clamshell 6

Goose down 7

Last breath 8

 Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”

      Walking along the frozen riverside.

There is something mysterious about the end of winter when the weather climbs to just around freezing. The snow is only just there. We can’t see the whole story, but it is letting us know that something waits beneath.

The Thompson River meanders along the valley basin not far from my woodland home and it’s on days like I just described that call me to wander the ice-covered shore. I like the solitude and although I carry my camera and I suppose I should be searching for something important to photograph, I usually don’t have much of a plan. I look for, as Cartier-Bresson said, ”a composition or an expression” that is interests me at that moment.

I would like to say it’s a quiet walk along the river side, but there is the constant din from the Trans-Canada high way that runs along one side of the river. However, this time, as I walked across the snow-covered ice and slogged through the emerging mud, an urgent alarm went up from several (actually, a lot more than several) sentinels stationed along the river’s beach up where the sand had dried. I had been so intent on looking along the ice edge that I hadn’t noticed all the resting geese, but they saw me and weren’t very happy at my intrusion and their honking was so loud that I no longer could hear the road noise.

I have friends that would have quickly moved into action and captured image after image of the geese loudly taking off and flying overhead. They also would have photographed the splashing of those heavy feathered birds coming back down in smooth backwater under the bridge. I did raise my camera to release the shutter a couple times, but I enjoyed watching them and liked the honking sound, so I turned away so as not to disturb them more. Besides, I am sure they appreciated that warm sand on the cold winter’s day and there will always be another opportunity to photograph geese.

I regularly see people prowling the river shoreline during the summer in search of treasures and I guess that is what I sort of do too, although I rarely do it in summer. Unlike them, I don’t touch the treasures. I just point my camera at something I am curious about and take the picture. I don’t move or change anything. My camera and I do the moving instead, as I choose the appropriate angle for each subject poking out of the sand and ice.

I never have seen another camera-equipped person walking that shoreline in the winter. I guess most find the place boring. The traffic keeps larger animals away, the low angles aren’t that favorable for grand landscape shots, there are no bridge lights that would encourage anyone to plant a tripod after dark, the sand and river water aren’t that inviting and this time of year the river is lined with stark, leafless trees.

For me it is perfect. I’ve walked along the frozen sand many times and I am sure many of my photographs over the many years look a lot alike. I expect someday I’ll get a really unique picture of a neat boot, a carcass of a really big fish or even some broken and discarded boat. Who knows?

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

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing a late winter garden.

Oregon Grape birch  golden leaves  dry&frozensedum

Last September I wrote about how I like photographing my wife’s garden in every season and I didn’t really care about the weather conditions. I mention here that the more uninviting the elements better I like the photography.

The day here in the interior of British Columbia wasn’t really cold, it was only about -3 Celsius. With a slightly overcast sky I knew it would be perfect for photographing things poking out of the snow. I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and connected a ring flash on that and stepped out into the snow-covered garden.

We had lots of snow this winter and if one digs down the soil is damp and unfrozen. The images I made last September were of dried out faded plants with a golden hue. But as I wandered around this time I found more than one green plant sticking out of the slowly melting snow. The deep, powdery snow that I had been photographing in all winter had turned crusty and no longer clung to the trees. There had been enough of a melt that I even could see some of the garden hose I forgot to put away last fall.

I mentioned that the overcast day was perfect for my subjects. Bright sunny days increase the contrast of scenes, especially snow covered ones, making it hard to capture details in the extremes and I wanted to retain what details I could. The diffused daylight reduced the number of f/stops from black to white.

I used a ring flash. That is a flash that mounts around the front of a lens and can emit a soft direct light towards small subjects. When I add flash to a daylight scene I usually underexpose the ambient light and create fill light with the flash. My ring flash doesn’t have the TTL technology with which modern flash users are familiar.  I must first determine the exposure, remembering that the shutter controls ambient light and flash intensity is controlled by the aperture. The flash is constant power, but can be full, quarter or sixteenth power output.

I began by photographing tall plants, but the small features poking out of or just above the snow seemed more interesting and instead of looking eye level I wandered searching the snow covered ground at my feet. I wandered around with my tripod searching the snow-covered garden for intriguing shapes.

I again ignored what books on garden photography recommend. I shot late in the day, not in the fresh morning light. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography, but that is still months away, and, as I have written before, I doubt presenting winter photographs of shriveled lifeless plants to garden or photography clubs would be acceptable. However, my photographs are more about colour and shape than of a garden environment

Just about anytime is good for a dedicated photographer to make photographs. My advice is to be creative, have fun, and don’t worry about failures. Open them up on the computer, learn something from them then quickly delete.
Of course, some tweaking with PhotoShop always helps and, for those photographers that like me are trying for something different, anytime, and any conditions will be just fine.

I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com