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Learning

Hurdman Station, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

I had an idea recently that I’d start posting iPhone pictures on a mini blog (ken’s other place). These would represent things I see while in transit to work or anywhere else. As its turned out, I’m not taking near as many shots as I thought I would. Why is that you’re wondering.

Accessibility. I have learned that keeping the phone in my pants pocket, especially when wearing a winter coat, makes it difficult to retrieve when I see a moment that I like. Add to that having to remove tight-fitting gloves, and navigate through the steps to get to the camera option. Solution? Keep the phone closer at hand, turn off the pass-code, and either don’t wear gloves or get looser ones.

Sameness. Not surprisingly, after thirty four years of commuting to an office each and every weekday I’ve developed some very well established habits to combat the dreariness. My head is either down as I walk or looking towards the people at the bus stop for signs the bus is approaching. At the stop I watch the traffic, the sky, the newspaper box anything but the people – that way I don’t end up stuck with a “talker” sitting next to me on the bus. During the ride, I’m reading books, email, news articles. Looking out the window seems pointless, not because they are dirty, which they are, but because most of the ride is on a bus-only road with concrete walls on either side. At the transfer points, sometimes one, other days two, I watch for buses and crazies. The latter I avoid if I can. The the former arrives, I have limited time to avoid having to stand for the next leg of the trip. Mostly though, I’m looking at the same scenes in almost the same lighting conditions every day and that hasn’t been too inspiring. Solution? Lift the head, don’t worry about missing the bus or meeting the talkers. Maybe I can change my transfer points or my route from time to time. That would introduce variety.

I suppose I could make other trips too. The point of all this is that for every excuse, there’s probably 2 or more solutions.

Look for more photos soon.

Santa’s helper, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Every November for 9 or more years, our family – grandparents, brothers, nieces and nephews, has gathered in the same spot on St. Joseph Blvd in Orleans, at the same time, 5:30pm to watch the Santa Clause parade of lights. This year the weather was kind to us, so those who came prepared stayed warm for the 2.5 hours it takes for the parade to run its course.

Photographing parades like these calls for preparation, good timing and a bit of luck. The lighting is mixed with street lights, assorted coloured lights on the floats, and truck lights both front and back. Shooting RAW is almost essential if you want to have maximum control over the WB later in LR.

As for lens selection, I went with a short telephoto for maximum flexibility. My ISO was at 800 and my f-stop was as wide as I could get it, around f/4. Then it gets interesting.

As the floats move by, you have to pick the right spot for focus and exposure, I usually went with the middle focus point and took a reading off either a face or a tone that would prevent the highlights from blowing out. Panning is usually needed too but in the picture above it looks like I grabbed the shot during a moment when the float paused. That’s the anticipation bit. You need to be aware not only of what’s coming but also what’s happening in the front as well. This way you can adjust your focal length, and decide on what part of the action you want to capture.

Keep your framing in mind as well. Its true that you can shoot wider and crop out some unnecessary details but try to keep that to a minimum so as not to end up with too much noise in the dark areas. This is part of the preparation. Take the time to examine your location, what will you need to exclude (the bright Tims sign perhaps or the nicely decorated sex shop not far from the church. These are all important decisions.

I enjoyed the night very much. I tried shooting into the floats as they went by. When I had the focus and exposure right, luck gave me a moment when a couple kids were clearly enjoying the ride. The best part is that at the parade, I wouldn’t normally be able to see these moments.

November is over and Santa has arrived at the malls. Hum, have I been good enough this year to get that Wacom tablet?



too soon for winter, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Seasons change, people change, our needs change.

On November 5th my brother and I headed out at 6:30am. The air was crisp and the skies were clear. Our destination was Blakeney Rapids located just under an hour’s drive west of Ottawa. This trip represented a return to regular weekend outings for Dave after a difficult year for him on a personal level. I’m glad to have him back as frankly morning outings are not quite the same when you go solo. The gap in active photography had an impact for Dave, in a sense he’s relearning stuff he knew quite well in 2010. I’m going to help fill that gap as a mentor of sorts. We’re still working out the details but I’m already discovering the role of a mentor can be beneficial in two ways. One way is for the recipient and you’ll find lots on that subject on the web, the other is for the mentor him/herself – besides the satisfaction of seeing someone grow in confidence and skill but also I think it helps keep the mentor current on the craft and challenged to be innovative with problem solving.

I am close to deciding that it would be a good idea if I had a mentor. The first step, of course, is knowing what my needs and expectations are. I’ve given some thought to that, and doing some research as well. David DuChemin writes about the concept in his book Vision Mongers and his advice has helped me focus on some personal goals.

I have at times thought of my involvement with photography as being like some one who is late to the game. I’m a couple years from retirement and only a few years into learning this craft. I know if I’d kept at photography over the years and learned more about art and business I’d be in a very different place right now and I don’t think I’m that different from a lot of people my age; office workers and family men who find they have more time and disposable cash available to begin pursuing something new – taking and selling quality pictures, perhaps ones that could be considered art. This part of the baby-boom wave has helped grow a new industry of on-line photography lessons, workshops, weekend retreats, books etc all offered by people with varying levels of skill as writers, photographers and teachers. I suspect the quality or those offerings may have inspired a recent post by Ray Ketcham when he wrote about the Myth of the Muse. I believe his message is inspiration grows from work and not from some divine or other mystic intervention. But what about time, and the lack thereof?

How does the middle aged person make up for decades of missed opportunities to learn the arts, to be observant and creative? I can’t accept that it’s too late. Perhaps a mentor can help fill that gap, can help guide me across the river to that distant shore. That’s what I hope to explore next.

The picture at the top was taken at Blakeney Rapids with a Canon Xsi. ISO 100, f/22 and a 13 second exposure with a focal length of 36mm. I used ND filters to achieve a long exposure.



Walkway on the Bog, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

My parents introduced me to photography at the impressionable age of 12 with my first camera and a basic darkroom kit. It became and still is a significant part of my life. Last year I had the chance to share what I’ve learned, and to give back some of the magic that comes with translating how you see the world into something that’s uniquely yours.

Mom has always been a creative person with hobbies ranging from blending coloured pencils to give depth and life to sketches of English country scenes, to decorating cut glass bottles with lead, and gluing dried flowers in tiny arrangements on notepaper, to the more traditional knitting and quilt-making. In recent years, though, I hadn’t heard talk of any new hobbies. When she mentioned last spring that she’d like to get a better camera, the glimmer of an idea formed. I talked with her about camera features and the differences between point and shoot, bridge and SLR cameras and was pleased when she decided to get a very nice bridge camera for their pending trip to NL. Before the trip, she asked if I’d give her a few tips. There was my opening.

Over the following months we talked about taking pictures and digital workflows and post processing. I gave her a couple of essential but not too technical books and was thrilled to learn she was reading them and trying the exercises. I have to admit too that I was surprised to see that not only had she been listening to what I said a week or more earlier, but was actively putting what I said to use. A milestone was reached recently when she told me she was bracketing her shots but didn’t find there was much difference with the results and that she was getting used to using the exposure compensation option. It struck me that she knew more about her camera and exposure than my brothers did at the same point in learning the craft.

We invited her to participate in our weekly photo challenges where we’ve seen her pictures get progressively better. A long forgotten energy was developing with this new creative outlet and I think it’s been fantastic for her. I don’t want to give away her age, but I’ll be 52 this month and I think it’s wonderful that she’s been able to adapt so quickly to digital photography and computers (a Mac of course).

Unbeknownst to her, Saturday past was like a final exam for year one of the course. We headed out to the Mer Bleue (a protected bog near Ottawa) just as the sun was coming up. There I watched a bit then left her to her own devices photographing reflections, landscapes (in tricky lighting mind you) and frost on the plants. Later over tea at Tim Hortons, we talked about compositions and depth of field. When I saw her pictures I could tell she was light years away from where she was last year. My picture above of the boardwalk isn’t as nicely composed as hers. I wrote to her that night to tell her she had passed year one with flying colours and was being promoted to year two where she’ll learn about shooting RAW and hopefully will be introduced to a DSLR.

The message for parents and their children – it’s never too late to learn, nor is it ever too late to give something back. In my case it was simply time, conversation and encouragement. Easy Peasy.

Meeting place, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Time was my brothers and I would spend one morning or evening each week photographing the same place at the same time. The fun was in the banter, the common interests, and yes the sense of competition. The reality was more than the bonding but also the sense of learning together.

I shouldn’t speak fro them but I know I picked up on their different perspectives the exploration of darker tones and the need to slow things down – in process and in exposure times.

Having drifted apart for about a year, last weekend we got together again to explore Dick Bell park just off Carling Avenue in Ottawa.

It was funny though not surprising, how we picked up right where we left off. We arrived just before dawn, got our gear ready and started shooting from the same spot – really though we were getting a sense for the place, possible subjects and the lighting. Eventually we drifted off in our own directions exploring subjects at a slow pace.

No one watches the clock but eventually we all end up in the same place at about the same time an hour to 90 mins later. This time we didn’t discuss our results over a breakfast sandwich and Tea, Perhaps that will come later. The great thing is how we produced three different shots from the one place. Scott chose B&W reflections.

Dave has a flare for the dramatic.

As for me, I’m tending more towards the minimalist side of things. My best shot is at the top of this post. The lesson for groups is to go your own way, explore what appeals to you and in the end everyone wins.



beach bums, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

My dog dreams. Sometimes I see him lying in a comfortable spot and his leg will twitch, or he’ll be making quiet sounds. I imagine he’s dreaming of food, or playing. What ever it is, I’m certain it’s not some long-term goal like eventually making a break out the door and scaring the neighbor’s cat so badly that she’ll never come back on our porch. Nope, I’m sure charlie is dreaming of treats.

I’ve been dreaming too but unlike charlie, food doesn’t figure too prominently in my dreams. In my dreams I’m searching for something or trying to make people understand something important. If there’s a resolution to these dreams, I never remember it when I wake. This isn’t anything particularly deep of course. I’ve been trying to answer some out some important questions and until I do, I’ll keep having these dreams.

Until recently, I had a plan, a set of goals that seemed reasonable,attainable even. My retirement years were to be spent pursuing photographic art. The plan included formal training, an aggressive timeline to purchase the right equipment, and rough ideas for places to document in pictures. We’re told to visualize having attained a major goal. I did that often – I’d see me heading down the road in a Cooper mini towards some small town where I’d stay a few nights in a B&B exploring the area and capturing its spirit in a digital file. Later those great shots would be turned into an ebook or an article in a magazine. I’ll have left my mark by creating something useful.

Life happens and sometimes dreams have to change. (I have to admit that as soon as I typed that, I wondered did I really want it that badly in the first place? I don’t know, I thought I did). I don’t need to lay out the details why, what’s key is that recent events made me realize that particular dream wasn’t as reasonable or attainable as I’d thought. My son says “art requires sacrifice”. He is an artist and so knows from personal experience. I realized I wasn’t as prepared for the struggle as I thought I was. When faced with a choice of Fight or Flight, I followed my dog’s lead and chose Flight (or as I prefer to say avoidance) which of course was the easiest option.

“Easy! Seriously, the easy way?” Well, yes.

However, another way to look at it is that a change of course was necessary, if not essential, and that elements of that earlier dream are still feasible. I simply need to replace the small town B&B with mountain vistas, the Cooper Mini with a 4-wheel drive, and Art with well-made thoughtful pictures that someone may choose to hang in their home or office.

I haven’t figured all this out just yet and I have to admit the transition wasn’t an easy one. I sincerely appreciated the positive feedback to my last blog and in particular the subsequent notes from Sabrina. For now, I think I’ll join charlie in the bedroom. He can dream of tasty treats, I’ll see if I can’t answer those remaining questions.



Sauble Beach, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Recently my work was described as looking too much like postcards – too many sunsets and saturated colours. I found myself at a loss for words.

The portfolio had pictures I was proud of and which represented some of my best work. In truth I’d asked for the feedback, but it turns out I wasn’t quite ready for the truth. My immediate reaction was to step away from photography. Plans to attend other courses were suddenly up in the air, motivation to take new pictures was hard to find. Until I began to wonder who am I trying to please – artists, consumers or me?

I should be trying to please me, but what do I want, art or commercial product? I thought I wanted to create art, I thought that I was creating art. What is art?

I like the picture on this post. Is it another postcard, does it have artistic merit? I can’t tell anymore.

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My photo education continues. I recently started an 11-week course on the Art of Photography at SPAO. Our first assignment was to take 5 out of the ordinary shots of tulips. John, our teacher, wanted something more than a typical snapshot of the flowers. Why Tulips? That Friday was on the last weekend of the Tulip Festival here in Ottawa.

I knew from the start that I wasn’t interested in shooting the flowers on site in one of the many flower beds around town. I thought a lot about what I wanted and drawing on a process I learned in my last course, I sketched out five images that evolved into a bit of a story with commercialism of tulips as the theme. I decided I wanted a series that would show flowers for sale, the purchase, and their display, not in a vase but rather in a colder scientific way. This would be juxtaposed with one or two color shots highlighting the beauty of the flower.

The sketches helped by directing me towards a certain type of picture. In reality, finding tulips for sale was more difficult than I had anticipated, I eventually found the last two bunches available in the By-Ward market area. These two pictures were taken in a more rushed way than was planned but I knew I’d have something to work with.

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Back at home, I set up in the kitchen where I’d have natural light. One shot I hoped to get was a blurred shot of a flower falling, several attempts didn’t work out the way I wanted so I discarded those. Next was the sectional or exploded view, my inspiration was the cover of the book Lucy, the 4 million year old ancestor of humans.

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Next were the macro shots, I added the water drops to create more interest. The better of the two photos is at the top of this post. We looked at everyone’s shots at the next class and I was pleased that mine didn’t seem out of place. Some, I have to say were quite stunning. From my group, John had a preference for the two color shots. I can’t blame him actually.

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I had a basic SLR camera when I was 16. I had saved money from my babysitting jobs and birthday money, I remember going to a department store and choosing the best one that I could afford – Canon Tlb with a 50mm prime lens. I loved that camera and used it all the time. I didn’t take any courses, I was self-taught from books and magazines. I bought a set of Time Life Photography books, one per month for a year and subscribed to both “Modern Photography” and “Popular Photography” magazines. These were my main sources of information on how to use the camera.

A couple years later, Canon introduced the AE1 and along with it a flashing advertising campaign about how this camera was faster and more advanced than other cameras. I’d been setting my exposure settings manually for years, my camera didn’t have a hot-shoe or a self-timer nor the ability to use a motorized film advance option. Mostly, though I felt that having the camera automatically set the exposure was something I really needed. It didn’t take too long before I began not to enjoy my own camera as much. It was inferior and worse limited my own potential – I was 18, what the heck did I know?

Fast-forward almost 45 years. I have a Digital SLR does it all. It’s fast, auto everything if I want to use that but I don’t, and feeds the need for instant gratification with its LCD screen and freedom to shoot as many shots of the same scene as I want. Maybe its nostalgia, maybe its part of being aging I don’t know but recently I felt the need to go back to the basics, get away from the automation and shoot film. I still have my first SLR but finding a battery for the light meter is nigh impossible. At the local camera store, however, I did fine a suitable replacement – an AE1 Program in primo condition, and a 28 mm wide-angle lens in good shape (tick off two long-time goals). This weekend was the first time using the new gear and I had a few surprises.

1. Auto exposure is not the be all to end all. Well, I already knew this from my digital camera, I never shoot fully automatic. Instead I shoot Aperture Priority probably 90% of the time. The AE1 doesn’t have that feature, at least not directly. It’s designed to rely on Shutter Priority instead.

2. I can adjust the ISO for exposure compensation. I always assumed with film you set the ISO once and left it that way for the entire roll. No, the AE1 (and probably the other film cameras) will permit changing the ISO for individual frames effectively allowing you to compensate for backlighting.

3. Shooting the scene once and getting it right that first time is both a challenge and a rush. I had forgotten what that was like. Looking at a scene I’m forced to pay more attention to the composition, what aperture setting I want, and where to focus. I don’t know yet if I got those things right – I have to process the film first, but it was a reminder how back in the day I worked more slowly and in a sense got lost in the moment.

4. The view-finder on the AE1 blows the viewfinder on my XSi away. I had no idea there would be such a difference. Looking through the AE1 the entire scene fills just about all my vision, there’s a minimal black border around the edges. Looking at the same scene with my digital camera is like looking down a black tunnel. Is this a feature of the full-frame cameras? I hope so. Will I get a similar effect by upgrading to the 5D Mark 1? Maybe. I’m going to try and get a look the 5D soon to verify this. If the difference is that significant, my next upgrade will be to that camera body.

I did take both film and digital shots of the same scene. The one above is a digital copy. The version taken on film will be posted later and will be black and white. I’ll write about it then. I haven’t changed my mind about digital; I will try to apply some of what I learned on Sunday to my digital shooting though.

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