Rainy Day Photography

Last drop

Wet fir tree

Spring bud

Oregon grape

Rain drops

Reflection

Too many springs

Monday was another day of rain. It is spring here in the hills of Pritchard, earlier than usual, but it is spring and rainy days go with spring.

Rain doesn’t bother me much and had I thought about getting my camera and going for a drive up into the hills to see what I could find. However, as I walked through my wife’s garden on my way to the car I noticed all the drops of water hanging from branches and those leaves that made it through winter. The wet and foggy hills would have been interesting, but all those droplets were just waiting to be photographed.

How does one prepare to do photography in the rain? Put on a hat with a brim if, like me, you wear glasses. I also like rubber boots. Bring an old tea towel in your pocket to wipe the rain off your camera, and you are ready. Oh, and remember to keep the camera lens pointed down.

When the garden is dry I would usually put a couple of flashes on light stands, and add umbrellas so I can control the direction and quality of light. But when it is raining I prefer using my ring flash.

A ring flash fits tightly around the front of my 200mm macro lens and is perfect for building reflections on the droplets of water that were clinging to branches and sparse foliage that I wandered around photographing.

I expect many photographers prefer waiting out the rain and the unappetizing low, flat light on rainy days. I can understand that. Rain is such a hassle, and getting wet is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, that flat light, slight breeze, and wet conditions forced me to approach my subjects differently and I like that challenge.

In the low light of a rainy day we don’t think about light in the same way as we do on a sunny day. Everything is usually about colour, and how to deal with the contrast, especially on a bright spring day.

When the light is low one needs to see tonality and shape, and raindrops are a challenging element to add. In this instance there was also a slight, intermittent breeze.

I chose a setting that without a flash everything would be underexposed. That means I would only see my subjects when they were properly exposed and a flash is the best way to do that. Using my camera’s manual mode I selected 1/250th of a second and I kept my aperture at f/11 so I would have as much depth of field as possible when and if a branch shook back and forth in the breeze. I also switched my flash to a manual mode. The flash power would always be the same putting out the same amount of light. I then could control exactly how much light I wanted for each location.

I could have increased my ISO and shutterspeed if I had decided to only use natural light, but then everything would have been flat and it would have been hard to get a sparkle in the raindrops.

I know it can be disappointing to see those gray clouds on your day off when you had made plans to be out shooting. However, keep a positive attitude, remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

I always look forward to everyone’s comments. Thanks, John

About Black and White Photographs

Sax player

Cups and a mirror

Windows

 

Bronc rider

 

Tree

Sentinal after the fall

One of the fun things I like about photography is the endless conversations I get to have with both long time and beginning photographers, as they explore and re-explore this exciting medium. Last week I talked to photographers that wondered if reverting back to film would help them become more creative. And in the past few days more than one person has stopped by wanting to talk about converting their images to black and white.

When I started out with photography I spent most of my time shooting with B&W. I studied Ansel Adams’ books on his zone system, and Richard Zakia’s writings on tone control, and I read or looked at everything I could find to understand black and white photography and printmaking.

I began to understand exposure as of shades of grey, and got used to thinking about the subjects I photographed in tonal values instead of only bright colours. I remember a trick that one of my photography instructor’s suggested for those students that had trouble “seeing” contrast. He said we should “squint down to f/16 when we looked a subject”. I expect other students on campus wondered about the camera-toting students squinting up at the college’s clock tower after class.

I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I might adjust the exposure rating and developing, as with the Zone system, and select different papers and alternate chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print. Nowadays I do the same, but think about what I will need to do to enhance my image file with Photoshop.

Modern cameras capture images in colour, but that doesn’t mean we can’t previsualize the outcome; and converting a RAW colour file is really easy with programs like Photoshop, and my favourite, Silver EFex Pro. Converting that image to B&W stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms.

A black and white image is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers, overwhelmed by colour, just push the shutter seeing nothing deeper in a scene than the colours. A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate; it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its visual presentation.

Black and white images don’t attract with a play of colours. To me they are subtle and make viewers think about the picture. The B&W image demands close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context in which the image is shot

A 1950s photographer named Paul Outerbridge, once said, “In black and white you suggest. In color you state.”   And I remember another photographer saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing.

I am of the belief that those photographers that are good at black and white photography learn to exploit the differences in tonal elements in a scene and present viewers with successful B&W portrayals that make excellent use of shapes, textures, light and shadow, and the loss of those original colours becomes irrelevant.

For those that haven’t tried B&W image making, converting an image is really easy with programs like Photoshop and Silver Efex. Readers will find a new way of displaying work. Black and white will have readers visualizing the world in new and creative ways and who knows, like me I expect they will enjoy black and white photography.

 

I look forward to comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Does Film Lend Itself Better to Creativity Than Digital?

Digital VS Film

Where does a photographer’s creativity come from?

 

This past week I received the following question, “is film a better creative format than digital?”

I admit that the discussion regarding film vs. digital isn’t really that common anymore. Yes, I talk with high school students that are using film in photography classes. Those discussions are mostly about how film works, about processing, and printing, or using different chemicals.

Sometimes an older person who stopped taking pictures in the 1980s will loudly tell me digital is unnatural, doesn’t look good, and is cheating. Cheating? That conversation is always humorous. However, it is one-sided and not really worth getting into because any opinion but theirs is going to be ignored.

However, this question wasn’t about which is better as a way of making photographs, it was about creativity, and that intrigued me. Creativity is about imagination, originality, and art.

My quick answer to that was that I liked both film and digital images. To me, film is a more “tactile” medium than a digital image, and I like the extreme tonality that a good photographer can achieve. I believe digital image files can have more sharpness and a lot more detail. Sometimes that is good, sometimes not. That also depends on the photographer.

In my opinion creating an image is what the photographer does. It involves deciding upon the kind of camera and medium one might use, but the camera and medium is just the vehicle for a photographer’s creativity. It is really all about the final image, and how one decides to produce that image for the best visual effect.

I think some times that too much is made about the process. The process is just that, a series of actions or steps that one takes to achieve a particular end. I guess what a photographer does to create that show-stopping photograph is truly interesting, but in the end it is really only about the photograph.

The idea that there might be something more creative in making an image with film than with digital doesn’t make much sense.

I remember all the possibilities we had with film. Imaginative photographers would select different types of film and change the way they exposed and process it. Photographers probably had shelves of different chemicals for both developing film and making prints, as well as cabinets filled with photographic papers, and all as part of their process to bring out personal creative vision.

Now photographers can shoot with cropped or full frame cameras, and instead of dedicated rooms filled with equipment, they load their computers with software programs to help them with their personal creative project.

When using film one would previsualize (a term coined by Minor White) how one wanted to produce the final image before releasing the shutter. And I think many still do that to reach their vision, except now photographers are thinking of programs like Photoshop or Lightroom instead of the chemical processes required with film.

There are some photographers that only know film, there are some photographers that only know digital, and there are those that are competent in both. And although they might use film, digital, or both, to produce an image, creativity comes from the photographer and not the process.

Maybe I should have just replied to that question about creativity with photographer Ansel Adams’ words, “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

I look forward to any comments readers have. Thank you, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

March is Here Again

The train goes by

Notch Hill Church

 

From winter's storm

Lost during winter’s storm

 

Lakeshore in spring

Desolate beach

 

Just before spring

Waiting for planting season

 

ReConstruction

Reconstruction

 

Winter tree in spring

Winter tree waiting for spring

 

Yes, March is here again. Those who have been reading my posts for a while know that I approach this month with a foreboding feeling. The optimism of January and the hopefulness of February have now passed.

Last year I wrote about the uninspiring landscape of this month and the frustration of photographers who are ready for something other than falling snow and icy roads. I quipped about useless forays into the countryside to photograph hungry coyotes, wandering deer, or sad little birds that hung about through the winter.

However, just when I was ready to be moody and join others gloomily complaining about the weather, Mother Nature has thrown a wrench in the spokes with spring-like weather.

I traditionally expect March to come “In like a lion and out like a lamb”, but not so this year. February 2015 is being heralded as the second warmest ever recorded here in British Columbia. What is a guy to do? I wasn’t ready for spring.

The landscape is mostly snow-less, but I know there is green growth beneath that drab, lifeless end of winter brown. So with that in mind, my wife, Linda, and I decided in spite of that lingering pale hue that we would pack our cameras and take a drive along the ice free Thompson River to see if we could find something worth pointing our cameras at.

I had decided to mount my trusty 18-200mm lens on my camera. I like that easy to use lens. It may not be the sharpest lens in many collections, but it is versatile, lightweight, and doesn’t take up much room. Besides that I can always tweak its slight lack of sharpness in Photoshop.

As we drove up the river valley I wondered if I would find anything in the lifeless landscape to photograph. We are so conditioned to search for colour when we set out to do scenics that we forget to look at the structure as the scene unfolds in front of us.

We talked and drove without finding anything to photograph and eventually stopped for lunch in the small lakeside town of Sorrento. I just couldn’t get motivated and after that big meal was about to resign myself to just returning home to sleep it off. But as I paid for our lunch, Linda talked to some local people who suggested we check out the old church at Notch Hill. I was surprised when they said that decrepit 1920s church was still there. Well, it was just barely there, and under some slow restoration.

As I selected different angles to photograph that decaying building I realized I should be photographing its transition in the landscape. I was seeing things wrong and falling prey to words of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar who said, “beware of the ides of March”. It’s what is changing and emerging that I should capture, not try to photograph the bloom of spring when it isn’t here yet.

I began to look for the story that happens between one season and the next, the shoulder season. I realized my photographic goal should be to select subjects that visually talk about that moment just after winter and just before spring.

I am sure one could still wander up into the mountains and continue photographing winter or search for some hot location in the city with early growth. But for those that are always creating photography challenges for themselves, I suggest that as with that old Notch Hill church, this year’s March photography challenge should be about something between the seasons.

I look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing Falkland in the afternoon

Falkland afternoon

Falkland, British Columbia

 

Ranch cafe

afternoon pub

street shadow

Falkland is one of the many small towns nestled along winding highway 97 that drivers almost miss if there weren’t signs posted at both ends of the village requiring them to slow down. Although I pass through there regularly, the only time I stop is when locals hold their roadside market during the summer. Usually I just reduce my speed to 50 km, watch for pedestrians and approaching vehicles from covered side streets, then resume speed without even thinking.   Falkland has about 600 residents, and is notable because each year on Victoria Day they host the Falkland Stampede (one of Canada’s oldest rodeos); and they also claim to have the biggest Canadian flag in western Canada.

My wife recently purchased a 24mm wide-angle lens and we were looking forward to checking it out. We had spent the day in Kelowna, about an hour south of Falkland and I thought that with the drive there would be lots of opportunity to see how her new lens would perform. I had read mixed reviews online, and I was anxious for my own results. I had made a few shots of the fence in front of our home, and allowed some side-lighted images to catch sunlight to check lens flare, but I hadn’t made any practical images.

I know reviewers can be very strict with their lens testing and even go so far to include charts and exaggerated enlargements when they evaluate a lens. However, in my opinion, all that most users care about is if a new lens is reasonably sharp and consistent in how it reproduces a subject; and regarding wide angles, if there is any unflattering distortion.

The day had been long and I wasn’t thinking about much of anything except getting home and out of that car before we lost daylight. I don’t mind winter very much, but I do mind driving that narrow, slippery, winding road after dark. However, traffic had been light and we hadn’t got stuck behind any big trucks. So we were making good time when we approached Falkland.

Photographers talk about that “Golden Hour” just before sunset when the light is warmer and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky. I doubt there is much of a golden “hour” in canyon towns like Falkland, but the light certainly was inviting at the moment and we had my wife’s camera and 24mm lens waiting for testing.

Linda was tired from our long day and was only willing to make a couple of shots of an old shop before handing me her camera. She said, “You walk around”. So I did. In Falkland it doesn’t take much time to see everything on the main street.

I like buildings, shop signs and afternoon deep shadows and the narrow street was perfect for testing that lens and anyway, I was happy to finally make a few pictures while the light was exciting in that interesting little town.

I only walked around for about ten minutes and had so much fun that I forgot I was supposed to be testing that lens. I have lived in this part of British Columbia for over 30 years, and as I walked around I wondered why the only pictures I have ever seen of Falkland were a few of cowboys being bucked off at the rodeo. I guess it is hard to stop and look. And some photographers might feel locals would be uncomfortable with outsiders intruding. I doubt that unless someone stuck a lens in a local’s face they wouldn’t even notice a person standing along the street, like I was, taking a few pictures in that neat little town.

Oh, and that Nikon 24mm was just fine. For those that wanted a review, I think my aperture was mostly at f8, f11 and f16 because I was interested in getting as much depth of field as I could get. So I can’t comment on how well it performs wide open.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

Studio Portraiture Workshop

Class Portrait 1  Class 2

This past Sunday I lead the first day of a two-day workshop discussing posing and lighting. I hadn’t planned on undertaking any workshops this early in the year, but I had been getting requests from several excited photographers who are out there getting ready for spring and summer portrait sessions.

I finally made the decision to proceed when my friend Dave Monsees, owner of the Versatile Photography Studio near Kamloops, mentioned that photographers renting his studio told him they needed help in lighting couples. They lamented that most tutorials available were only about photographing one person.

I am sure if they browsed the internet they would have found what they were looking for, but working with live models is a lot more fun than reading articles and looking at pictures, so I hired two up-and-coming local models that fit that request perfectly.

In previous posts I have stated how I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when students of photography participate in active learning. So when I started getting requests that I offer  another session I crossed my fingers and hoped for an early spring, booked that large local studio, and hired two models.

During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and I rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead, unless it is to take a snapshot or two of photographers in action. And besides, when I finally let the workshop participants apply what we had discussed, there wasn’t room for me anyway.

The workshop dealt with modifying and placing light. We employed one, then two, and then three lights; and modified the light first with umbrellas, then changed to a softbox and reflector to create shadow, and, of course, that classic and compelling “Rembrandt lighting” effect.

This was an advanced workshop and I limited participation to seven photographers. As with all my workshops, my main goal is to help participants gain an understanding of how to use light. I want them to consider the “quality” of light instead of the “quantity” of light. I lecture to them that they should use light to “flatter” their subjects as opposed to only “illuminating” them.

I think that studying the mechanics of lighting includes two additional aspects, which are (1) experience, and (2) the willingness to step beyond lazily pointing a camera in a light filled room or out in the sunshine. Posing a model, or in our case, two models, seems to me to be more about engaging with the subject and being comfortable with telling someone how you want them to look. I once heard a photographer say that he never posed people because he thought is was rude to tell adults what to do. I can’t comment on that fellow’s work, maybe he was really lucky, but I expect there were lots of missed shots. I suppose he would disagree, or just plain ignore the words of award winning Dallas, Texas photographer, Caroline Mueller when she says, “What I look for in pictures (that) I take: eyes, hands, head tilt, body language, background, and use of space.”

I believe those photographers that are successful at portrait photography don’t hide behind their camera, but they start with a plan and are good at engaging, explaining, and demonstrating what their vision for the session is.

Now I am really looking forward to next Sunday. The few images I have seen so far are great and I am certain spending another day (this time with speedlights out-of-doors in the failing afternoon light) helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

class 3  class 4

 

Thanks in advance for your comments, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Judging Photography

Ben-&-Dave-judging

Exhibition judges Ben and Dave.

 

I have written about judging photography previously, and I have also used the following quote by John Loengard, who worked as a photographer for Life, for Time, and for People magazines.                         “It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting”.

I agree with that statement and when I was asked to be part of the jury committee for a local exhibition by members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club it was Loengard’s words that I first thought of.   I looked forward to a firsthand look at submissions and wasn’t let down by the interesting and creative work.

They entitled the upcoming juried exhibit of photographs taken within British Columbia as “Wild and Wet” and described it as displaying the impact of water on the environment and residents of this region.

To me, the poorest photographs are those that don’t speak to us, it’s those photographs appear boring. I think the viewer should feel something, should feel a level of emotion when they look at the images. A good photograph is one that creates an emotional response.

As I looked at the photographs I asked myself the following five questions that I think are questions any serious photographer should think about, as they are about to press the shutter.

  1. Is there a clear center of interest? In a successful photo, the viewer can immediately identify the subject.
  1. Is the image composed well? There should be a sense of overall organization.
  1. Is the focus tack sharp and is the exposure appropriate? With the exception of photos that intentionally show motion or soft-focus images (both should be obvious), tack-sharp focus is the first thing viewers’ notice about an image.
  1. Does the photo tell a story? The difference between a photograph one remembers and one that is easily forgotten depends on whether the photo tells a story.
  1. Is the approach creative? Creativity in an image involves more than predictable techniques and perspective. The creative photographer handles the subject in extraordinary ways that the viewer normally would not have seen.

I joined photographers Dave Snyder and Ben Verwey in an interesting discussion of the images as we reviewed the photographs. All the show’s photographs are worth taking the time to view and I look forward to the exhibition that will be held from March 12 until April 1, 2015. As this was to be a juried show, we ranked each submission and selected those that, in our opinion, stood out from the rest.

Whether readers attend this exhibition or any other, my suggestion to take along my guidelines and see how they apply. Then think about how the photographs appeal you. Are the photographs interesting and engaging? Do they capture a moment in time and what do they communicate to you the viewer.

I look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com