My Life with our Cat, (and photo pal) Peaches

Peaches the cat posing

My life with Peaches (sometimes referred to as that damn cat) started a little over fifteen years ago when she moved into the hay shed one cool fall day.

We would get cats living there from time to time, and I bought cat food and would feed them when I fed our horses. Here in the wooded hills where I live it is pretty common to find cats that heartless humans from nearby towns have pushed out of their cars along the road with the misguided belief that domestic cats will survive the wilderness.

I don’t know how but that little mess of calico fur made it to our shed, and survived the raccoons, hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats, other cats, and neighborhood dogs that all prey on helpless cats that only knew the comfort of some home until they were coldly discarded.

Peaches got her name when I told my wife I was feeding four cats. She came out and asked me if I had named them; I pointed to the black long hair and said “Furry”. The grey and black-striped cat I named “Furry”. The orange I called “Furry”. And pointing at the calico long hair, I finished with “Furry”.

That worked fine for me, and the cats only cared about the occasional rub on their head and food anyway. My wife was not having that, named them on the spot and told me to call them by their names. I promised to do that, but mostly I just whistled at them. I expect they liked being named by that unknown person that cuddled and talked softly to them, but seeing me meant food.

An owl got the furry black that got to be called Miss Furry. The neighbour’s had a town friend who came out with his dog who promptly killed the orange cat named Earless, so named because her ears had been frostbitten down to short little stubs. After the neighbours moved away, the striped cat she named Trixie, moved into the new people’s garage and was eventually taken in. Finally she called the calico cat Peaches.

One very cold snow covered morning I discovered that longhaired, calico cat almost lifeless after what might have been a struggle with a coyote and brought it into the house to mend. Peaches became our house cat and with a single-mindedness that I later was forced to tolerate, became to be my wife’s lap cat.

Peaches also filled an important role in our household as my ever-present photography subject. Is there a better poser than a cat? I had dogs for years. Sure, dogs will do anything to please and I constantly photographed them, but dogs get bored easily and unless they were tired would move. If you photograph your dog be prepared to continually wipe the drool off your camera. But a cat, the consummate poser, will hold one position without moving for a long time.

Peaches didn’t mind waiting for multiple light setups, close-ups, or even an occasional repositioning. She would just sit there, soft orange-ish fur glowing in the light, and look at me waiting for the next release of the shutter.

What could be better for a portrait photographer than to have an ever present and willing subject? And her modeling fees were reasonable.

I don’t know how old that cat was when she wandered, cold and hungry, into our barn fifteen years ago. She certainly wasn’t a youngster. This last year she had been getting old fast like the rest of us, and this week, after a couple visits to the vet for medicine that was of little use to curb her failing health, Peaches died.

My wife, of course, will miss that cat purring on her lap and I am going to miss my ever-willing photography partner.

Revisiting Film and Twin Lens Camera

Using a Ikonoflex TTL camera

Photographic film is a strip of transparent material coated on one side with light-sensitive silver halide crystals called emulsion. The emulsion gradually darkens when exposed to light forming an image when light passes through the lens to reach it, creating a latent image in the light sensitive emulsion. This is then chemically developed as a negative image, and eventually printed as a positive image seen as a photograph.

Using film was a time consuming, and for many, an imperfect way to document the world. Nevertheless, for nearly two hundred years photographers have persevered and in spite of sometimes days, weeks, or even months between the initial exposure and the final print, learned to minimize the errors and present exciting examples of the craft, or art, to an appreciating public.

The good thing about shooting film is how it forces one to learn what each part of the camera is for before making a photo. Mistakes can get pretty expensive with a film camera so this forces photographers to learn quickly.

After about 30 years of earning a living using film I embraced the technological change to digital and had no intention or ever handling another roll of film. So when my wife informed me she was planning to get a medium format film camera and was going to begin shooting film I must admit to mixed feelings.

However, my wife’s reasons had little to do with film and more to do with finding a way to slow down the process of image making. She talked about getting more involved in the act of photography than the process of taking a picture. I knew exactly what she meant; many modern photographers seem to be more about the technology of photography, and instead of studying a subject for that perfect shot, will take the machine gun approach. And when asked why they released the shutter 300 times on their subject the answer is, “to be sure I got it”.

Linda will be limited to 12 exposures in her lightweight, German made, Ikoflex camera with a waist level finder. We’re all guilty of getting a little bit snap happy with our cameras, and taking loads of useless photos of nothing in particular just because we can. That’s not really an option with film (unless there’s more money then sense); one doesn’t thoughtlessly take a bunch of photos and transfer them to a computer.

There is the requirement for a decision making process before releasing the shutter – it can’t just be of anything. The added pressure of not wanting to waste money and time on film and developing forces a photographer to become much more careful in considering how to make the photo before releasing the shutter.

I welcome readers comments. Thanks, John

Street Style Photography at the Fall Fair

Royalty and Attendants

Country singers

Cowboy in slicker

Mobile staff

Wooden Horse listening

Waiting against the wall

Clydsdales

Umbrella guy

Your cartoon

First Aid

Monster Cones

“Every year when summer comes around

They stretch a banner ‘cross the main street in town

You can feel somethin’s happenin’ in the air…”

“County fair, county fair,

Everybody in town’ll be there

So come on, hey we’re goin’ down there…”

Bruce Springsteen – Country Fair

 

Where I live in British Columbia, the months of August and September see communities’ large and small hosting end of summer fairs. This year, same as last, I drove north to the small town of Barriere, parked my car, gave the smiling lady at the gate a couple bucks and strolled into the excitement of the Barriere Fall Fair packed with exhibits of local produce, poultry, livestock, all sorts of arts and crafts, lots of outdoor shows that included a rodeo, trick riders, several different horse competitions, an action packed midway with amusement rides, challenges for the children like wall climbing, and even a motorized bull that quickly dislodged even the most athletic of riders. There were all sorts of people selling cowboy hats, clothing, jewelry and too much more to list here. And one lady almost accosted me, demanding I try out her boot wax and leather preservative. (I will say my boots never looked better.)

Oh, and the food. The inviting and punishing, yep, that’s the word I am going to use for the smell of all kinds of mouthwatering foods that one confronts as far away as the entrance gate. Enticing everyone to make the next stop at one of the food venders.

The picture making possibilities immediately assaults those of us with cameras. What to photograph? Well, it’s all exciting.

Last year I spent most of my time photographing the rodeo, but after discussions and encouragement from the many photographers I have met online that excel in street photography, I decided to dedicate my time this year to photographing the people I saw wandering or performing in the midway.

I have written before about my admiration of those that are proficient at wandering city streets creating stories with the way they photograph the people. Readers will recall I discussed my frustration last summer in Anacortes, Washington when I tried using a DSLR with a big 24-70mm lens mounted on it. People saw me coming with that big package and when I got close enough to grab a picture they almost leaned towards me to see what I was photographing. No chance of being inconspicuous or assuming stealth mode.

This time I brought a cropped frame DSLR and 105mm lens and extended my camera strap so I could point and shoot from the hip as I released the shutter. I think I can hear the laughing coming from some of those more skilled and experienced at this type of photography than I. Yep, I had little control over what I was aiming at. I did get some viewable shots, but I also got lots of images that showed the top of people’s heads and a great quantity of sky. How did those gunslingers in the old west hit their target?

Maybe I need to put some beer cans on a fence rail and practice like I saw actor Alan Ladd do in a movie I watched last week. Or better yet, I have a friend with one of those exciting little Fuji 100 cameras. I wonder if I took beer cans (full) over to his house instead of putting them on the fence, I could convince, or bribe, him to lend that camera to me next time I want to try.

I searched online for some street photography tips. Here are a few I could find.

  1. Use a wide-angle lens.
  2. Get close.
  3. Look for juxtaposition.
  4. Focus on the essential.
  5. Look for the light and shadows
  6. Look at the foreground and the background.
  7. Tell a story.

Street photography, whether at an event like a country fair, in a bustling city, or on some quiet back lane, is about photographing society around us. Some photographers’ shoot for the challenge, and some wander the city as a release of stress from everyday existence, and others because of their need to make some statement about the world in which they live. I wonder at the “Decisive Moment” of prolific French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, or the journalistic style of Leica toting Robert Doisneau, or the harsh images of marginalized people by Diane Arbus. They, and many others have left us with their own styles of street photography that affect each viewer on an emotional level.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

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.

Water as a Photographer’s Subject.

Arrow lake crossing

Ocean ready

Gig Harbor waterfront

Valley stream

Under the falls

Framed in Green

Water sculpture

What it is about water that has such a magnetic effect on photographers who wander ocean shores, the watersides of lakes and ponds, and river and stream edges in spite of slippery footing, and the occasional splash of water as they search of the perfect mood?

Whether crashing waves or clear reflections, water always adds interest to one’s images, and including a view of a flowing stream in a mountain landscape adds a great feeling of movement and mood.

The other night was one of those times that sleep would not come. I was tired, but thoughts just kept poking into my head and no matter what I tried, sleep evaded me.

I got up, turned on the computer, and manipulated a few images beyond recognition. That’s my usual recipe for putting myself back to sleep. However, this time that wasn’t working and after the fourth of fifth image I was bored, but not sleepy. So I decided I would start going through the list of photographer-bloggers I am connected to on WordPress. There are very few things I enjoy more than looking at other photographers’ work and the diverse circle of bloggers I regularly interact with are, if anything, entertaining and inspiring.

Street scenes, landscapes, cityscapes, wildlife, archaeology, and so many other genres, I read and viewed so many excellent photographs.

As happens to many of us when wandering the seemingly endless galaxy of the internet, I started searching “photographing water”, not so much for information, but to find the Google page that I knew would be filled with creative images of water.

There were photographs of water dropping into water, droplets on plants, or glass, and all sorts of surfaces, and wonderful images of waterfalls, streams, seashores, lakes and much, much more. I viewed page after page of excellent images, read lots of how-to advice and pondered many experienced photographers’ personal thoughts on pretty much everything related to photographing water.

Fall is coming fast here in British Columbia and with that the colours of the landscape will change. This is probably my favorite time to mount my camera on a tripod and wander to the waterside and start creating pictures.

I am really looking forward to doing lots of scenic/landscape photography in the upcoming months, and water will be playing a major part in what we will be photographing, I will be visiting nearby waterfalls and streams. There is the South Thompson River that flows along the valley I live in, and my wife and I are hopeful of a driving trip on the Washington/Oregon coast in October.

Regarding water, I found this quote by American novelist , “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”

 

As always I look forward to reader’s opinions. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

 

Is it Time to Upgrade my Camera?

1. Cameras

getting the shot

Tripod & Hat

 

In the era of film cameras serious photographers would come to a point when they would consider upgrading from a 35mm SLR cameras to a medium format 120mm, or make the climb to a 4×5 view camera.

It was all about the size of the film and bigger really was better. I recall feeling bad for couples that had friends photograph their wedding with tiny 35mm cameras. Only those photographers wielding medium format cameras would be assured of quality final prints. If one wanted a colourful, sharp, grain free enlargement then 120mm or a larger format was a must.

What do I now say to photographers like the one I talked with recently who are considering a more serious approach to photography?

I always begin with the question, “what are your interests and what subjects do you like to photograph?”   My short answer for that digicam user was, if you want to shoot sports, wildlife, or even scenics and want enlargements bigger than 8×10, then, yes, get a DSLR.

I think printing quality 11×14, or bigger, enlargements are best produced with sensors that are considerably larger than what digicams provide.

I like digicams. They are perfect for intimate, candid shots. The compact size lets one put them in a pocket and go, and if used within their limits they can produce excellent images.   However, if one feels, like that fellow I talked with, they have reached their camera’s limits then it is time to move on.

I must add at this point, that with the entry of mid- and full-size sensor mirrorless cameras there are new and exciting choices. I would like to discuss those at another time, and hope for plenty of advice from readers on their preferences.

To simplify my discussion with him I put DSLRs into two categories, amateur and professional. However, the difference between amateur and pro cameras isn’t as easy as it was with film.

The most significant difference, in my opinion, is durability. Pro cameras feel sturdy, are heavy, and are sealed against the elements. When dropped, they bounce and usually don’t break, and even with hard use, the shutters will last a long time.

When the first DSLRs came onto the scene there was definitely a difference in the quality of the images between entry level and professional level cameras, but that is not as distinct now. The technology for sensors and in-camera processing has rocketed. The latest entry-level model may well have the same sensor as the previous summer’s expensive pro model as the technology is transferred over. The obvious difference may only be the weight and controls and debating megapixels has become just plain silly.

I know many are willing to argue about cropped frame vs. full frame, but I wonder if that’s more a personal preference than an upgrade.

For those, like the photographer I talked with, interested in purchasing used equipment; there will always be opportunities to purchase at reduced prices.

Whatever the camera availability, my advice to that fellow and others asking the “upgrading” question is to consider what kind of photography they want to do. Talk to other photographers about cameras that are interesting, go online and check out the many photography forums to find out what others with their same interest are using, and absolutely attend some classes.

Using a different camera is always fun and I believe learning how to control the technology a new camera offers is like a shot in the arm that gets the excitement going and helps ultimately to make better photographers.

Any comments on this subject, or mirrorless cameras are very welcome.

Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

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