Author: Terry

Ethiopia: Adobe Spark

A couple of firsts for me on this trip, besides the sites, scenery and experiences:

  • Adobe Lightroom Mobile: I finally succumbed to Adobe and have purchased a subscription to Lightroom Mobile CC (CAD 6.49/mo). This allows me full access for editing photos made using the raw and hdr-raw features of the LrM camera on my iPhone. And, once the photos are in the cloud, space is saved on my mobile devices by just keeping the Smart Previews on my phone and iPad.
  • After a day of shooting, I would go through my images deleting duplicates. As I am travelling, not knowing how things would visually develop, I tend to take more ‘lead up shots’: the best I could get at the time, not knowing if conditions or angles would improve. If they did, great, I would simply delete those ‘lead up’ shots.
  • At first I was editing on iPhone only. Given the very slow upload speeds here in Ethiopia, I couldn’t work on the iPad. The smaller screen size of my phone worked, but almost made me blind as even the bifocals didn’t help. I ended up taking off my glasses and holding the phone up to my face for my blind eyes to see clearly!
  • Once photos were in the cloud with Smart Previews on the iPad, editing became a breeze – even easier than with Lr on the laptop! I can’t wait to get home and try it with an Apple Pencil; it should be even easier.
  • I’ve been rather disappointed with the performance of the SanDisk iXpand flash drive I purchased prior to the trip. I was hoping it would be a reliable place to keep large files, especially videos. While it has worked in that I have removed videos from my phone, it often (three of four times per use) needed to be unplugged and rebooted, which, understandably, is annoying.

  • TrackMyTour: Each evening, I would add photos and narrative to Waypoints created in TrackMyTour, which you are most likely already aware of from this blog (Ethiopia 2019). It’s not quite the app I would prefer for this, but it seems to be the best option of the myriad travel blog apps out there.
  • Adobe Spark Page: I’m also trying out the free version of Adobe Spark Page. While I find its themes and options highly limiting, it can be used to create a dynamic (though not interactive) photo essay. I can pull photos in from a few different sources including Lr Mobile and Apple Photos. Adding videos is a pain though, as they need to be online via YouTube or Vimeo; not easy to do with limited bandwidth and time. You can see my Spark Presentation Ethiopia 2019 online.

    If you have any questions or comments, please add them below – and don’t forget to re-share this post.

    Ethiopia 2019

    Lalibela, EthiopiaI hadn’t planned on travelling to Ethiopia, but as circumstances would have it, here I am. (You can follow my travels via my TrackMyTour link.) It’s day 6 of a 14-day trip. Right now, I’m in Lalibela, home of the magnificent 11th-century rock-hewn churches. The view before me is stunning: a succession of plateaux and ridges receding into the distance lit by the early morning sun. The green is a mirage of light as the landscape hasn’t seen rain in months.

    Medhane Elem, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia But, in a slight departure for me, I’m travelling solo and I’m here more for the cultural landscapes than the natural ones. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the world’s oldest Christian sects, dating from the early 4th century. As a result, some of the churches and monasteries are some of the oldest in Christendom. The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela – free-standing buildings carved down into the solid rock – date from the 12th century. Some of the monasteries and churches I’ll be visiting in Tigray are significantly older.

    As a photographer, there is no end to the visually captivating scenes and experiences, from modern Addis to the very traditional countryside. I’m shooting with my Sony RX-10iii and iPhone 8 Plus. Stupidly, I brought my Nikon full-frame and 3 prime lenses and tripod, but have not put them to use; perhaps later, in the Danakil Depression.

    I didn’t realize how much I have missed Africa until I got out of Addis Ababa into the rural towns and villages. But even being the market in Addis was like coming home.

    I will do my best to share more experiences here, but I will update the TrackMyTour link more frequently. Please comment and share!

    Woodstock next week!

    On Wednesday evening next week, the 14th of November, I’ll be heading down the 401 to present “Creating Compelling Landscapes” for the Woodstock Camera Club.

    As you may already know, I’m a “big picture” guy. I enjoy the details, but I’m always looking for context and perspective; trying to place those natural details in their larger habitat, preferably with a horizon and perhaps some of that big sky. So we’ll talk about how to do that, more successfully and more consistently. It’s all out there; sometimes it’s just a matter of being inspired to see the forest and the trees.

    The meeting starts at 7:30pm at the Quality Inn and Suites, just north of Hwy 401 exit 232, on Bruin Blvd near Juliana and Norwich. See you there!

    St. Catharines Photographic Club

    On Tuesday of last week, I “opened the season” at the St. Catharines Photographic Club, St. Catharines, Ontario. With the Niagara Escarpment wine country and Niagara Falls so close, the topic of my presentation, ‘Landscape Photography as Artistic Expression’ seemed appropriate for a good many in the audience of about 75 or so.

    From my perspective, we can be greeted with a beautiful scene in front of us and capture it in an ‘ƒ8 and be there’ way, but there is so much more we can do as artists to accentuate the scene. For better or worse, as photographers our ‘canvas’ (our viewfinder) is always filled with a scene. It’s a blessing as it gives us a starting point; but it’s also a curse in that we now must work hard to ensure all the elements contribute to the final photograph we see in our mind’s eye.

    The Landscape Photographer's Toolkit - copyright Terry A. McDonaldEssentially, we are ‘assembling’ a photograph to represent our vision of the scene by using the various elements provided to us:

    • the Ambient Conditions provided by the weather, time of day and time of year;
    • the Aesthetic Elements of camera position, leading lines and other compositional elements; and
    • the Technical Controls at our disposal: choice of lens, filter, aperture, shutter speed; using a tripod, shooting in panoramic or making an HDR exposure blend.

    But that only gets us as far as, what I like to call, a ‘machine file’ generated by the camera. From there, we continue our artistic explorations by applying ‘subtle and discreet’ post-capture processing techniques to further enhance and re-create the scene as we experienced it.

    If all we do is reproduce what was there, are we truly adding anything of ourselves to the final work? This is the crux of my goal as a photographer: “to interpret the art inherent in nature’. Nature is spectacular just at is, but sometimes it needs some help to clarify and accentuate the beauty that exists. That’s where the astute and passionate eye of a photographer comes in. For me, the ‘interpretation’ is my take on the what nature provides as art for us everyday.

    Overall, it was an excellent evening with many thoughtful questions from the audience. It was also great to see the level of involvement of many members and the high quality of images as evidenced by their website.

    I hope to return to St. Catharines in the future to work with Club members on a landscape photography workshop or two. If that’s something you would find helpful – hands-on instruction in the field – then be sure to let the Club know. Alternatively, I am more than happy to lead small groups in ‘field and screen’ workshops where we spend the morning out shooting and the afternoon editing. Just drop me an email if you’re interested.

    In the meantime – get out and get shooting. It’s autumn and the colours are arriving. And, if you get out early enough into the rural areas, you will capture some of the wonderful foggy mornings we’re having.

    Ha Noi Streets

    Over the summer, my wife Laura and I accompanied our daughter Allison and her boyfriend Patrick while travelling through Southeast Asia. One of the many highlights for me was spending time walking the streets of Ha Noi, Viet Nam and photographing daily life there.

    People in Ha Noi really do live their lives on the streets, without being what we in the west think of as “street people”. Food is prepared, cooked and eaten on the streets. People take mid-day naps on the streets; they read the paper, sell their wares and entertain themselves on the street. At times, the streets have a carnival-like atmosphere, particularly during the Night Markets – markets that open after sun down and sell just about anything and everything. Streets are blocked off from cars entering and vendors set up tables (and tarpaulins as it does rain a lot there) and span the next few hours selling. Fascinating!

    To make my life easier, the people I photographed were very accommodating. For the most part, I was able to ask for permission before shooting, except, of course, those who were napping at the time or whizzing by on motorbikes. Some of the people I asked said no, and I respected that, but these are the ones who agreed. This made, for me, a very rich travel experience, interacting with people I could not converse with, but having a general and somewhat universal understanding of what each other was trying to say. I was able to get a local hotel from https://www.junglevistainn.com/, which helped me stay close to the people. Twice, I was offered pieces of fruit from ladies who were selling it. They would not take money from me when offered, but indicated it was a gift. How lovely. How truly genuine.

    You’ll notice, all of these photos are made using an iPhone. I have found using an iPhone to be revolutionary for me, especially in street photography, an area I have little experience or confidence in pursuing. However, It seems people are not as intimidated having their photo taken with a phone as they might be with a more substantial camera. Ha Noi is a very different place from Guelph or Toronto. I’m not sure I could or would be able to do the same thing here.

    Please take a moment to click through the images in the Gallery below (click on the first image to enlarge it, then scroll through to see the others). Note that I have only provided very general titles. Rather than explaining each photo in the title, I would rather leave it up to the viewer to look into the photo to see what’s happening and come to their own conclusions. Some are more obvious than others.

    Please leave comments (or questions) below and I encourage you to take a moment to share this page using the links at the bottom.

    Enjoy!

    Trekking in northern Vietnam

    Trekking in northern Vietnam

    My wife Laura and I are accompanying our daughter Allison and her boyfriend Patrick on an extended trip through Vietnam, and parts of Cambodia and Thailand. Allison spent 3 months+ in Hue, Vietnam last year on an internship for her course in International Development at the U of Ottawa. She graduated in June and we all thought this would be a great way of spending some family time time, doing what we love most: discovering new places.

    I have kept a chronicle of our journey using the app TrackMyTour, the link for which is below.

    We started off in Hanoi, visited Ha Long Bay, then travelled north by night train to Sa Pa, near the Chinese border, where this photo was made. From there, we went back to Hanoi then on to Tráng An (Ninh Bình), Hue, Da Nang and Da Lat. We are now in Phu Quoc for a few days before moving on to Cambodia. What an adventure Allison has prepared for (she’s done all the bookings for accommodations and transportation).

    We are on sensory overload, something photographs do not convey well: a cacophony of sounds and smells and tastes and textures and a riot of cultural visuals that are overwhelming. I will be adding more photos from the collection I’ve gathered over the last few weeks, so stay tuned!

    TrackMyTour.com/RVtFP

    Looking for inspiration?

    Freeman Patterson is one of Canada’s foremost artistic nature photographers – although that label doesn’t begin to describe the depth and beauty of his work. Every once in a while, he publishes a “Periodic Letter”, the link to the most recent is below:

    http://freemanpatterson.com/newsletters.htm

    I highly recommend it as required reading, along with his books, which date from the 1980s, or more recently: Photography and the Art of Seeing.

    BTW, he is 80 years old now and still leading workshops locally, nationally and internationally, including a two-week wilderness camping photo workshop in Namaqualand, South Africa. Now that would be amazing!!

    Killarney Provincial Park in Winter

    I just spent a beautiful long weekend with my friend Kerry Little up at Killarney for some winter photography. We first went up there 25 years ago and camped in a virtually empty park. It was cold (Kerry remembers it as -40C, I think it was -25C), but, despite the frozen boots each morning, it was magical. The low angle and warmth of winter light combined with later sunrises and earlier sunsets, makes winter landscape photography my favourite. And, it’s surprising how quickly your body adapts to the cold. Of course, we were 25 years younger, too, but even this year, after a day of -10C, having gloves off is bearable.

    A few years later, we upgraded, staying in Kerry’s trailer on two separate occasions. Still, the park was empty. The park staff were kind enough to leave the washroom open at the park entrance for running water and a flush toilet.

    Nowadays, Killarney is abuzz with people, some day users from Sudbury, a few campers and backcountry users, but most staying in the yurts. We trailered it again, staying up in the now greatly expanded car park.

    Seeing the park well used in winter is encouraging, but having it all to ourselves back in the 1990s was certainly a treat. Now, there are snowmobile tracks all over George Lake, which is unfortunate from a photography perspective. The tracks did make for easier walking, though. In fact, we didn’t end up needing our snowshoes, although we used them once. As the snow had a glaze of ice on it from rain the previous week, we couldn’t use our Nordic skis either. Just as well; the winter sports weren’t our end game, but means to an end: photography.

    Ontario’s Crown Jewel: Killarney

    If you’re not familiar with Killarney Provincial Park, it is considered Ontario’s crown jewel park. It is Canadian Shied at its most picturesque. Although the original forests dominated by huge coniferous white pine, hemlock and fir, mixed with some deciduous beech and a few oak are long gone, they were logged sufficiently long ago to allow for a semi-respectable mixed forest to have regrown creating a forest many would think is original.

    But Killarney’s most significant features are its rock and its lakes. Stretching east-west across the park are the truly ancient ridges of the La Cloche Range. These very rugged 300m hills of white quartzite are the ancients roots of mountains that were once higher than today’s Himalayas! But that was about 3.5 billion years ago, when Earth was still in its infancy, long before life as we know it existed.

    About 1.2 billion years ago, along what is now known as the Grenville Orogeny, two continents collided. Today, the pink granite along Killarney’s southern Georgian Bay shore stretches northwards past the park’s first line of lakes up to the base of the white quartzite La Cloche Range. The deep, almost tropical blue of the lakes along with the rocks and trees makes for a colourful and dynamic juxtaposition of space and time. The same scenery becomes magical in winter, with the blue water being replaced by white ice and snow. Hence, our delight at the co-operative weather providing the icing of blue skies at sunrise to this multi-layered cake.

    For me, all of this comes together in two places: George Lake with its iconic and monolithic cliff of pink granite and at the appropriately-named A. Y. Jackson Lake just a kilometre east. On our second morning we made a point of being out on George Lake before sunrise.

    George Lake Monolith, Dawn

    The day dawned with a spectacularly blue sky. Frost quickly accumulated on our tripod heads as we worked through that first hour of the sun lighting the distance ridges to the north then progressively adding its golden glow to more and more of the scene before us.

    After another hour or so of detail work along shorelines, it was time to head in for breakfast. A quick trip into the village of Killarney took us to the Sportsman’s Inn for hot coffee, a warm atmosphere and a delicious plate of eggs, peameal bacon, home fries and toast – and another two or three cups of coffee. The time also allowed me to upload the morning’s images to my laptop and begin working in them.

    Morning, A. Y. Jackson Lake

    The next morning was a repeat, except we snowshoed down the lake to pick up the Silhouette Trail near Cranberry Bog. Part way up the significant granite headland, we ditched the shoes for scrambling and hiking. At the peak, the sun was just starting to cast its brilliant glow across the treetops of the park – a great view but one we would have to leave for another day as the scene I had envisioned was still waiting ahead. A quick trip down the other side of the headland brought us to the southern shore of A. Y. Jackson Lake. The morning sun was just kissing the La Cloche Range while the pink granite and tree-lined lake was still in shadow – perfect timing.

    Each of us immediately set about negotiating strong foreground elements for this grand scene before us. What a fitting tribute to one of Canada’s pre-eminent landscape artists. As one of the Group of Seven, A. Y. Jackson painted frequently in the Killarney area some 80 years previously. Even without the semi-mature forest of today, Jackson’s paintings of Killarney are iconic with the white La Cloche Range, pink granite and blue lakes.

    We worked for about an hour, but much of it was spent waiting and waiting. I was particularly interested in capturing the shadows of the coniferous trees projected on the white canvas foreground of the snow-covered lake with its rim of forest and granite in the mid-ground and the La Cloche tucked in behind. The wait was worth it, but cold.

    Astrophotography…

    …is not my passion in photography, but it’s something I do when circumstances arise. Given the gazillion stars above on a clear and cold winter night, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Bundled up, I walked down to George Lake. i knew exactly where I wanted to shoot this, but it was on the other side of the lake. Imagine my trepidation, walking on the lake at 10:30pm, (almost) no one around, and hearing the moaning of the ice as it adjusted to the dropping temperatures of the day. Creepy is really the only word that truly describes it. All I needed was a wolf howl, but none were about that night.

    Staying warm

    Despite the felt lining of my Sorels, alpaca boot liners and thick Icelandic wool socks, my feet were becoming blocks of ice, mostly due to inactivity. The rest of me was toasty. I wore a Merino wool base layer followed by a cotton turtleneck. Fleece pants and a fleece pullover were covered with Gore-Tex pants and anorak. (On the coldest days, I switch out the fleece pullover for an Icelandic wool sweater – nothing beats it for warmth while still being light in weight.) While travelling and standing around, my fleece gloves were covered with Gore-Tex over-mitts; on my head, I wore my favourite fleece-lined knitted hat and, when the wind blew, the hood of my anorak. While the layers may sound complicated and bulky, they are neither. Some of the gear, like my Sorels, fleece and Gore-Tex pants are over 20 years old.

    The two keys to staying warm are insulation and blocking the wind; my preference has always been to make these separate layers rather than one thick parka-style coat, a combination that has worked for me for over three decades. In fact, the newest piece of my cold weather dress has been the Merino wool base-layer which replaced my favourite silk long underwear which has been in poor repair for a few years now. I tried polypropylene, but was never satisfied with its additional bulk and plasticky feel.

    Photos

    So here are the 15 photos I have selected from the trip. You will notice some repeats, as I have included photos from each of the three cameras I was using: Nikon D800E, Sony RX-10iii and iPhone 8 Plus (using raw capture from Lightroom Mobile). All were shot using raw capture and processed in Lightroom. I encourage you to flip through the gallery, ask questions, add comments and, by all means, share this post with others who might appreciate the winter beauty of Killarney.

     

    Winter photos à la iPhone

    Some of you might think I’ve gone over to the dark side, but really, I’m celebrating the fact that great photos are now just an iPhone away. It’s not just iPhone, though, as Google Pixels 2 and Samsung Galaxy phones, amongst others, are now capable of producing amazing photographs.

    In iOS 11, iPhones now shoot HDR images as the default, and the image quality is greatly improved. It also has a fantastic Portrait mode which, through software, blurs the background. And, the “Plus” models like the iPhone 8 Plus I’m using, has both a 28mm lens and a 56mm lens.

    But the real bonus for me is RAW capture. Shooting in RAW permits processing for the highest image quality possible. While the candid photos I take, the snapshots, are made using the iOS camera app that comes with the phone, the landscapes – my more serious work – is all done using one of few different RAW camera apps. I’ve written an article on this that will be published in Lumnious-Landscape.com, but for now, suffice it say, I’m loving using Lightroom Mobile and ProCamera. There are really only three of four mobile phone apps that are useful for shooting raw and these are the two best.

    Lr Mobile is free and you do not need to subscribe to Adobe’s “cash grab” Creative Cloud to make use of it. ProCamera is $5.99 and well worth the cost. While I prefer ProCamera’s histogram approach to showing clipped highlights, I love using Lr Mobile’s HDR-RAW feature: it takes three shots in succession at +2, 0 and –2 EV and automatically aligns, merges, deghosts, and tonemaps the photo. While it’s a whopping 43mb in size, it is all set for full-bit-depth editing in Lightroom. Fantastic!!

    Anyway, enough blabbering – here are the photos. I’ll update the blog when Luminous-Landscape publishes my iPhone Raw article. Enjoy!

    Brant Camera Club!

    Yesterday evening I presented “My Own Backyard” to the Brant Camera Club in Brantford, Ontario.

    Regular readers will know of my passion for shooting locally – starting literally right in your own backyard and using it as an exploratorium for testing new equipment, ideas and ways of seeing. Taking that one step further, you can explore local parks and conservation areas (or downtowns for street photography) throughout each of the four seasons, year after year. Over time, you begin to develop a deep knowledge of where potential subjects are and how far along they are in their annual growth, allowing you to predict just when to be out looking. As well, being nearby, you can become the “expert” and be on site when the light is spectacular.

    Part of my presentation also dealt with The Nature Photographer’s Toolkit ©, exploring the four realms of the craft of photography: Ambient Conditions, Aesthetic Elements, Technical Controls and Post-capture Processing. As promised, here is the graphic I use to illustrate the myriad options available to photographers each time you consider setting up a shot. Going through, in your mind, this “Rolodex” of ideas and perspectives helps you to consider different ways of capturing subjects and scenes.

    Thanks BCC for inviting me and I hope we can do this again sometime!