Thoughts about Neutral Density Filters for Photography

Chase falls in August

Cool waters

White water

A neutral density filter is a clear, colourless, filter that reduces the intensity of all wavelengths, or colours of light, equally. It is usually a colorless (gray) filter that reduces the amount of light entering the lens. A photographer can select exposure combinations that would otherwise produce overexposed pictures. Using a ND filter allows a photographer to achieve a very shallow depth of field, or motion blur.

I’ll begin by saying quality ND filters have always been expensive. During the days of film, the exposure you made was the exposure you got. And when one used colour film one didn’t get a second chance if there was a colour shift, usually a purple cast, with less expensive filters. Some cheap filters weren’t all that sharp either.

I thought about that when during a workshop the leader loaned me a couple Lee filters (over a hundred dollars each) to try on long exposures of the waterfall we were photographing. He indicated if I were to order through him I could get a discount.

I’d already spent a bundle on costs including travel and lodging, and owned ND filters that worked well so I passed on the deal and came home thinking about maybe a future purchase.

My memory of ND filter problems were from the time of film. Film has a permanence that data files created in our modern digital camera don’t have.

Colour balance in film means colour correction filters. Where as, with digital I mostly leave my camera on auto white balance, and fix any shift when I open my RAW files in Photoshop.

A photographer could somewhat help a soft image when shooting black and white film by increasing the contrast, but with colour it was permanent. Nowadays, we have a number of software possibilities that can almost (well, almost) fix a not-quite-in-focus image.

With all that in mind I thought that unless I was making very large prints that those cheap ND filters might be usable. So I ordered several very inexpensive, no-name ND filters thinking the $60.00 or so I spent might be foolish, but I’d have some fun and discard them if they didn’t work.

I bought them, put them away and forgot about them. Then this past week as I sat looking at the overcast sky after a much-needed shower in the parched hills around my home, I decided to give those filters a try. I grabbed my camera, tripod, and the bag of filters, talked my wife into coming, and drove to a local waterfall.

The Chase Creek falls weren’t the raging torrent of spring or early summer. This year’s long, hot, dry spell has had an effect and capturing an exciting waterfall wasn’t possible. I tried a couple different angles, scrambling around the rocks and down to a now sandy shore, and then a group of young people came to splash in the cold water so I moved downstream in the creek. I was getting bored anyway and didn’t mind giving up my spot to those kids and their blanket.

Returning home, I loaded my RAW files in the computer, easily corrected the white balance, added contrast and sharpened the image in Photoshop.

My conclusion is those inexpensive ND filters are great if one is willing to shoot in RAW and make post-production corrections. I think an out-of-the-camera JPG would be disappointing.

I expect there will be opinions by experienced photographers who read this. However, the images look pretty good on my calibrated 30-inch Mac display screen. I haven’t made any prints, but I expect 8×10’s might be just fine, and if just sharing images on-line I think inexpensive ND filters will be fine.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Thoughts on Street Photography

Thrift shop

Great shopping

Bakery

Rope guy

Waiting at the Festival

Of all the recent trends that has increased in popularity since digital cameras, it is street photography that intrigues me the most. Street photography is not a new phenomenon and has been around since the beginnings of photography. Just check out the work of French photographer Eugene Atget in the late early 1800’s, or Fred Herzog’s photos in 1950’s and 1960’s Vancouver, Canada. In spite of the long history the pastime is still a niche in the broad spectrum of interests that photographers have. However, I am spending more and more time viewing intriguing images of life on streets around the world captured by talented modern day photographers.

Wikipedia says, “Street photography is an art photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment…The origin of the term ‘Street’ refers to a time rather than a place, …when workers were rewarded with leisure time…and people engaged with each other …more publicly and therein the opportunity for the photographer.”

I’ve never been good at street photography. I have made a few pictures worth viewing, but I become more occupied with man-made things and get side tracked with some building’s shadow and miss those interesting people shots captured by photographers adept at seeing what I pass by.

On my recent visit to Anacortes, Washington, I did try a bit, but I quickly realized that with my big DSLR camera I was attracting too much attention. Whenever I stopped people slowed, turned to face me, and watched.

Since I started discussing photography on-line I have come in contact with some very skilled street photographers and regularly visit their blogs and websites to view their creative work. Those photographers don’t usually add comments, letting their work speak for itself, however, I found a discussion by Los Angeles street photographer, Eric Kim, and the following are some of his thoughts on being a street photographer.

Mr. Kim writes, “…When you start off in street photography you will be inspired by all these other photographers you see. You will look at their work and be amazed by their photos…my advice is this: start off copying the photographers whose work you admire. All the great renaissance painters started off as apprentices. They copied their masters for years, and learned all the basics and fundamentals. And once they mastered the basics, then they were able to go off and find their own voice.”

He counsels us to, “Follow your curiosity.” and says, “As a photographer you are a scientist. You experiment to find new results.”

Kim continues, “When I started photography I always thought it was my gear which held me back. I felt my camera or lens wasn’t good enough…but what I realized is that I was simply lacking education…I didn’t dedicate myself to learn enough about photography. I simply thought that buying gear would help me become inspired, and therefore become a better photographer.” I couldn’t agree more with him when he writes, “…education is the best investment money can buy. Education is something that will always stay with you, in your mind, thoughts, and actions.”

While writing this I thought about all the advice I could have gotten just by asking the talented street photographers I have come in contact with in the last few years. Those interested will find that a quick search will show many photographers to look at and from whom to learn. There is also “The International Collective of Photographers” at http://www.street-photographers.com/

I’m not ready to start roaming city streets yet, but there is a local Fall Fair coming up in September. That environment, with its festive participants, might be the perfect place to search for that decisive moment.

I always appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

Problem Solving Approaches to Photography

The procession 1

The procession 2

The procession 3

 

There are times when all photographers end up with faulty photographs. Once in a while it can be blamed on the equipment, or processing, although certainly not as much now as when film was used. However, in my opinion, even today most of those faulty photographs are because of poor techniques.

A friend stopped by my shop last week to tell me about his trip to Mexico. He complained that his daughter’s cheap little point and shoot camera got better pictures than he had with his son’s expensive DSLR. I don’t think he was happy when I told him the problem was most likely with his technique. I was certain that little point and shoot’s tiny sensor or it’s lens didn’t match the quality of a DSLR.

I listened to a local photographer grumble about how local photo labs are failing to make her prints the way she thinks they should be. I expect she totally relies on her camera’s programs and is one of those of the belief that if the camera they have been using doesn’t give good pictures then they should buy a newer or different manufacturer’s offering to make it so. In her opinion, that latest camera is advertised as producing wonderful images and when she doesn’t get the correct colour balance or sharpness it can’t be the camera or her fault, it must be the labs.

Years ago I was asked by the Abbotsford Photo Arts Club to give a lecture about problem solving in photography during their annual session. That was long before any of us even thought of the amazing control computers in our cameras or on our desktops now give us. However, at that time I felt, and still do, that the responsibility for a good photograph belongs to the photographer and not the film companies, camera manufacturers, or some poor, overworked lab technician. The point of that lecture, so long ago, was that photographers should look at each photograph as a problem to be solved, and go through the process of correcting faults before releasing the shutter.

Photographers used to say that it was all in the negative; that a properly exposed and developed negative gave the best possibilities of a fine quality print. I still agree with that principle only now it isn’t an image about to be developed on film.

By the time I arrive on the scene to photograph my subject of choice I have already made several decisions and I try to do as the famous photographer, Ansel Adams would do and “previsualize” the image or in my words, “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 final 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?   If one considers depth of field a decision must be made how much is wanted to be “in focus”. Continuing on, in a landscape photograph, photographers will probably want everything from the foreground to far off distance to be crystal clear; whereas, for a portrait the photographer may want the background to be “out of focus”. Another consideration is what is the lighting like and will its direction be flattering?

The sun and its direction is always very important when photographing people. I prefer to have it coming from behind my subject and as readers know, I like to use off-camera flash. Although, if for whatever reason that isn’t possible, I problem solve my way into a photograph that works.

Photographers don’t need to see problems as a deterrent or bad thing. When I suggest to photographers to take a problem solving approach to photography I am really just saying that every element in any creative photographic composition is important, and from start to finish if a photographer uses a system of photographic problem solving there will be less faulty and more successful images.

With digital technology one can easily determine what went wrong or is going wrong and take the time to problem solve before downloading to the computer or relying on technicians at the local photo lab and hoping they are equipped with PhotoShop wizardry.

I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Anacortes, the Shipwreck Festival, and Photography

Welcome Seagull

Just waiting

Bargan hunters

 

What a crowd

Patriotic Hydrant

Fireman,armadillo,H2O bar

Red door

Red Crown gas

three windows

Calm ocean

Cormorants

Kayaks away

Tree at Washington park

 

Any excuse I can find to visit the coastal town of Anacortes in Washington State is good. An easy four to five hour highway drive from my home in Pritchard to what is referred to as the homeport of the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands, is the town of Anacortes and an annual event called the Shipwreck Festival.

Since 1981, the Shipwreck Festival is actually a giant community garage sale that on the third weekend of July each year occupies about nine blocks of the town’s main street, offering, I suppose, “plunder” or “treasure,” which are the favorite local words from over 200 or more businesses, organizations, antique dealers, small vendors, and families for all the neat stuff they have for sale.

As I wrote, any excuse I have to visit Anacortes is good, and although my main goal is the photographic opportunities I can find in that old town’s architecture and the rugged coastline, I do enjoy wandering through the giant flea market while on my way and always, always meeting interesting people.

And this year was no exception. Just as I finished parking my car and was getting my camera out of its bag I chanced to meet, talk, and exchange emails with local photographer Dan Codd. Although we were both in a rush to get going, my wife and I to begin our journey into the street market and Codd to do some street photography, Codd (from what I can see online is prolific wildlife and scenic photographer) took the time to make some suggestions on places to photograph.

Later my wife Linda and I, met and had coffee with a couple that were spending the week sailing with a group on a very large two masted schooner. We talked about Anacortes, sailing and photography, and coincidently, they were named John and Linda.

Upon arriving the first night we chanced on a downtown bar, “The H20,” and behold, they had live music. The place was packed, but a friendly waiter said, “Just wait”. And after a moment talking with the performers, “Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble”, who smiled from the stage area and waved, we moved to the front and sat at the table that had been set-aside for them. And naturally, later that evening, the lead singer, Mr. Taylor, slid in beside us to say hello.

I have to say a that late night at the bar and a day walking and poking through the street market tires a guy out, nevertheless, after a late lunch as my wife took a break back at the motel I grabbed my camera and headed out to prowl the alleys, marina, and eventually the rugged coast of the nearby Washington State park. I started out about at 3pm and got back when I began loosing the light several hours later.

This was not the first time I have strolled through the neighborhoods of Anacortes. I like the bright colours owners have painted their doors, windowsills and porches. Along the main streets there are many buildings still standing that I expect must be from the late 1920s or 1930s. There is a shipyard filled with large vessels, a boat filled marina and, just a short drive away, the wonderful rocky, and easily accessible coastline that surrounds the park, all just waiting for me to photograph.

This was the kind of vacation that I like – the opportunity to photograph, within less than a day’s drive to a completely different environment then the one I live in, a chance to meet new people, great seafood restaurants, and, I almost forgot, the Shipwreck Festival.

I like your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

A Fun Day Photographing the Pritchard Rodeo.

 

 

 

A family event

Ride 'em

 

Doesn't look safe

 

Excellent riding

 

Horse 1 cowboy ?

 

JRE_6489 copy

 

Trick rider

 

Take-off

 

Bronco

 

Barrel horse & Rider

 

Barrel Rider

 

Leaving the shute

Every year I look forward to spending a dusty, fun-filled day pointing my camera lens thru the arena rails at the Pritchard Rodeo in Pritchard, British Columbia Canada.

My wife dropped me off and I walked down the dirt road to the arena. Events had already begun, and as I looked around at lots of familiar faces I spotted Karl Pollak, his Nikon cradled in one arm waving at me. Karl had driven four hours that morning from the large metropolis of Vancouver to attend our small rural community rodeo.

He had brought another photographer, Meko Walker, and this was her first time at a rodeo. As we were introduced, happy as I was to see Karl, meet Meko, and shoot with the two of them, I wondered how these photographers from the moderate humid climate of a coastal city were going to cope with the sunny, cloudless, windless, extremely dry, 40 degree Celsius day.

There was a lull in the action as we talked and the Pritchard fire department’s water truck drove around the arena spraying water. We moved aside continuing our conversation (protecting our cameras from the water), but two young girls ran rail side laughing as they danced around in the wet, cooling spray.

While we waited, sitting on the edge of the hill that ran down from the bandstand, I asked Karl why he would come all the way when there were other rodeos closer to Vancouver. He replied, “I like the wild location. Look at the hills, and trees, and all the open space.” And after snapping a wide angle shot of the arena the added, everyone is so friendly, they say hello even though they don’t know me, and there is a beer garden with people drinking, but no one is getting drunk, being loud, or causing trouble.”

The Pritchard Rodeo grounds are perfect for photographers. The arena is enclosed with a strong metal fence that’s safe to stand close to and doesn’t restrict the view. Of course, one has to be careful when excited horses are getting ready for the Barrel Race, but heck, it is a rodeo and one must remember that the animals, like any other athletes, are focusing on what they are about to do, not some silly person with a camera.

I like that rodeo, and as I wrote, every year I look forward to photographing it. I like capturing things that move fast, it challenges me to think and I enjoy the test of wills between animals and riders. Photographing any action event is fun, and one can be sure there will be action at a rodeo.

This year they added children’s sheep riding. I don’t know who is more bewildered, the poor kids being coaxed along by their parents, or the sheep trying to figure out why there is something on their back and why some big human is trying to persuade them to leave the enclosure they were just herded into. When the sheep finally were cajoled to move, the young rider would usually slide off, and fall to the ground pretty quickly. After all wool is slippery.

Another addition this year was the trick riders. Although I really like the Saddle Bronc, Bareback, Bull Riding competitions and, of course, Barrel Racing, I must admit those trick riders were amazing. I was actually requested to stand center arena so I could photograph them as they performed in a wide circle around me. Gosh, it doesn’t get much better than that.

When they beckoned Meko and I into the riding arena I was briefly worried that my 70-200mm lens would be too long, but as it was I had lots of room to move around and it was just fine.

Rodeos are easy to photograph. One just has to pay attention to where the action is coming from and take up a position that allows everything to move towards the camera.

Then choose a fast shutterspeed and start shooting. I prefer to use shutter priority; I select the shutter, and the camera chooses the aperture. All I need to do is follow the action as the camera’s computer handles the rest. Yep, it’s all pretty easy.

There should be a note saying, “No animals, cowboys, cowgirls, or photographers were hurt during the process of having a great time.”

I appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographers Must Remember to Consider the Background

Brewster copy 2  Spirit

Gracie 1

Fat Cat

chuck port copy

Looking Scout

Rikkonna 1

Much of the time photographers get so excited about the subject before their camera that they don’t pay any attention to anything else that is captured by the camera’s sensor when the exposure is made. Of course, things can be cropped out during postproduction, but what if the background is so busy that it obscures the intended subject of the photograph? The background can impact a subject in many ways and much of the time it interferes with the subject.

In the past I have written about composition, depth of field, and even bokeh. Composition can be as simple as creating an interesting photograph by using basic guidelines or compositional strategies for a balanced image. Depth of field is that area in front of and behind the subject that is acceptably clear, and bokeh refers to that portion of an image that is out of focus. Using those three mechanisms or strategies as a way to isolate a subject help photographers increase the impact their photographs have for viewers.

A serious wild life photographer once told me that it is important to have a background that is neutral and non descript. I had one experienced birder giving me tips on photographing Loons, explain that soft green water made better pictures than contrasty blue water. I think that this may be his personal opinion, but I have to agree that of the photos I took that day I liked way the green water looks better.

I recall a photographer who had exhibited his photograph in a local exhibition being angry because he didn’t get a mention by the judges on his photograph of an eagle posing on a branch. He had exposed it properly and displayed it sharply. He was so proud of his photograph of that bald eagle that he was unable to see the busy background and how it negatively impacted on the overall photograph. I believe the judges did see that.

My advice to that photographer would be to curb his excitement and spend some time examining his subject and its surroundings. Using the term, coined by Ansel Adams, that I mentioned in my 26 June 2014 article, he should “previsualize” the image for its best impact.

Compose and isolate the center of interest, and decide how to use the background to the best effect; whether the background should be in, out, or partially focused, or to have it clear or cluttered, and if it is appropriate for inclusion or to be excluded. A busy background distracts viewer’s attention.

Backgrounds present both opportunities and challenges to photographers. Here are four very simple suggestions other photographers have told me take into consideration to make the background work.

1. Check your background before pressing the shutter;
2. Pay attention to your shooting angle;
3. Use the aperture or the focal length to blur the background;
4. Fill the frame with your subject.
They are all great tips, or thoughts for us all to remember, and I personally like the words of Ansel Adams that fits well,  “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” And I’ll add, remember to consider the background.

I enjoy all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at http://www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing a home’s interior

 

a. front room  B. front room  c. Kitchen  d. dinning suite  g. kitchen wine  h. dinning room

The past month has seen me spending hours and days painting a rental property that my wife and I own. The tenant had lived in it for the seven years since we purchased it and was already there for about four years when we purchased the duplex, so needless to say, when that nice, old lady finally decided it was time to leave the place showed plenty of wear.

I loaded my truck with tools and pretty much moved in to change a worn out house back into an inviting home. Finally, after what seemed to this lone-painter, to be a never-ending job has reached an end. I have painted the complete interior for the one side and all the exterior trim for both sides. Whew!

We have decided to sell and relinquish the job of landlord to other investors, and that means after I pick up all the ladders, paint cans, brushes, and vacuum the place; my fun days will begin. It’ll be time to get out my camera, tripod, and flashes, and produce images of that shining place that will make it easy for a realtor to find buyers for us.

I suppose pointing a camera inside a building to take a few pictures has never been easier than it is today, and I have seen some interior work where a photographer saw and worked with the existing light, without any additional flash units, and was able to produce excellent images. But I like using flash, and any chance I have to modify a room’s ambient light I am going to take. Yep, I just like using flash.

I remember the difficulty of trying to hide my lighting unit’s power cords before we had the benefit of Photoshop, and then after Photoshop was available the extra time it took to clone out those ugly flash cords. However, now everything is wireless, the cords are gone, and I no longer pack in large studio type lights. Gosh, other than the light stands, my whole lighting “kit” of four-hotshoe type flashes fits into a small seven by ten inch bag.

Later this week I’ll show up at the renovated rental unit with two flashes on light stands and start taking pictures. I don’t like to use lenses that are too wide angle. Everything gets distorted, so I will be using my full frame D800e and a 24-70mm lens. I prefer the zoom rather than a fixed focal length (prime) lens because it gives me a bit of in-camera perspective control. And although I use a tripod, I find much of the time I end up jamming my shoulder into a corner, or sitting on the floor, or standing on a stool to get the most interesting view of the small rooms. The neat thing about using a wireless sender/receiver on one’s camera and flash is that the flash can be positioned in another room to illuminate a hallway or give the effect of light coming through a window.

I’ll arrive in the late afternoon and stay till late morning. There’s lots of food and drink in the refrigerator and I’ll stick some CDs in my portable player and start having a great time, listening to music and doing my photography.

Photographing any interior space presents a variety of photographic challenges and coming up with interesting ways to light the indoor space to show texture and form, and solving the challenges that windows and exterior lighting introduce is time consuming and enjoyable.

Adding light to a portrait is probably one of the best ways to improve the mood, emotion, contrast, and impact for viewers. And the same applies for interiors and architecture.

I welcome comments. Thanks, John

My website is at http://www.enmanscamera.com