Author: Terry

Hummingbird at feeder

Photographing Hummingbirds

If you have hummingbirds around your garden, you should set yourself a project to photograph them. It’s surprisingly easy. In fact, hummingbirds may be the easiest of all birds to photograph. Interested? Read on…

Maybe you don’t have hummingbirds around, but are they in your neighbourhood? Check with the gardener in your neighbourhood. There’s always someone on the block who spends a little more time planting colourful flowers – they’ll know if there are ‘hummers’ around. If there are, you’re in luck!

It’s too late in the season to plant hummingbird-friendly flowers (do that next year!), so start by setting up a hummingbird feeder. They are inexpensive and easy to maintain. We bought ours at Wild Birds Unlimited who have very helpful information about attracting hummers’ and looking after your feeder. As far as nectar goes, you can buy the commercial nectar, but really a 1:4 sugar-to-water mixture is fine (even Audubon recommends it). That’s 1 cup refined white sugar in 4 cups of tap water. The water does not need to be boiled or boiling as sugar dissolves in room temperature water. Mix it up and store it in the fridge because you want to change it every few days, especially when it’s hot out. And remember – do not use food colouring! It is not necessary and could be harmful.

You’ll need to find a way to suspend your hummingbird feeder. At my parents’ cottage, dad simply screwed a cup hook to the underside of the deck railing and the hummers’ come by the whole time we are out there. We can’t do that in our back garden, so we purchased a ‘shepherd’s hook’ from Wild Birds Unlimited to hang our feeder. Note: WBU also offers a window feeder.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male (Archilochus colubris)With your hummingbird feeder hung, all you need now is a bit of patience as there’s no guarantee they’ll come. In past years, we’ve had great success, but this year not so much. We saw hummers at our flowers early in the summer, so put out the feeder and we’ve not seen them since. Go figure! So, why am I telling you this discouraging news? Well, it’s important to be reminded that nature can be fickle!

While waiting for the hummers to show up, you can be getting your gear ready. You can shoot hummers with just about any lens of 200mm or longer. That would mean something longer than the average “kit” lens that may have come with your DSLR (typically a 14-42mm, 18-55mm, 16-80mm, or 24-120mm). If you’re shooting 4/3s then you’ll need at least a 100mm; 140mm or longer for APS and 200mm or longer for full-frame. You may have success with a point-and-shoot with longer lens, but the problem then becomes shutter delay – the delay between pushing the shutter release and the camera activating the shutter. With more professional ‘bridge’ cameras (Sony RX-10iii and iv or the Panasonic FX1000 or 2500), you will not have that problem. This is the time to test things out to ensure they work for you.

Hummingbirds will tolerate you getting fairly close (2 to 3 metres, sometimes closer) as long as you are not moving. I typically sit in a deck chair to photograph them, but they don’t like me raising the camera to my eye. Either I set the camera up on a tripod or I hand hold my rig with my arm resting on the armrest of the chair.

Don’t try to fill the frame with the hummingbird as that will give you less tolerance for catching quick movements. What I’ve found is that hummingbirds will often pause and hover just off the feeder before going in to sip. Often they will rest on the feeder while drinking, then back off, hover and go. I try to capture them when they are hovering, I pre-focus on the “rest” or on the edge of the feeder.

I also carefully watch where in the frame the hummingbird is typically positioned then set my focus point for that location. There is less ‘hunting’ so focus is acquired instantly. Note: I also use back focus, having set the focussing to the AE-L/AF-L button where my thumb is, pre-focussing then shooting. This can be tricky without the hummingbird there, but consider the first few visits to the feeder as chances to set focus as the hummers are very predictable in how they return to the feeding port. Photos look more natural without the feeder, though you may want a few with the feeder to show your friends.

Some may deem this to be unacceptable, but one trick is to cover the ports with cling film except for the port you want the hummingbird to feed at. This will allow for many more successful shooting opportunities in the same amount of time.

If you are photographing hummers at flowers, then you’re patience quota will need to be raised considerably as you will never know which flower the hummer will go to next. This will mean fairly rapid re-framing and focussing each time a hummingbird comes by.

Typically, hummingbirds will visit your feeder quite regularly – possibly every 5 to 10 minutes. Early in the season they are feeding their young. Once the young fledge, you will have both adults and juveniles at the feeder. So, over the space of an hour, you should have plenty of opportunities to capture that ideal pose. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out the first time. Analyse what you did capture and make adjustments. Were you too close? Too far? Did you have difficulties focussing? Composing? Was your shutter speed too slow or did you not have enough depth of field?

As is always the case with photography, there is a technical side, which is often at odds with what we want. With my set-up, I aim to have a shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/500 at, ideally, f/11, with an ISO no higher than 400 on the APS camera and 800 on the full-frame, to avoid too much ‘grain’ from pixels. 1/250 to 1/500 freezes the body of a hovering hummer, but gives the wings some motion; f/11 provides the necessary depth of field for this kind of magnification (f/16 would be even better). A smaller aperture of f/22 soften the image due to defraction and make the background too busy.

Setting exposure may take a few trial-and-error shots, particularly if the bird is sunlit with a darker background. Check for blinking highlights and the histogram then use exposure compensation to reduce those highlights.

What about flash? Yes, by all means try it. I have used flash, but find the birds look unrealistically static. There is also the difficulty of balancing the exposure of the flashlit hummer with the background. There are many photos of hummingbirds with a black backgrounds, but they look unrealistic and lack depth.

The few times I have used flash, I’ve set my exposure using the background then applied –1 exposure compensation to mute it. Then I’ve set up the flash also with a –1 setting to tone down the highlights. BUT – the lighting considerations are different in each case and your rig will differ from mine, so I encourage you to experiment. The other recommendation is to get the flash off-camera to provide some directional side lighting, something that I am not an expert on, so I will defer to photographers like Nate Chappell.

At times, you will see aerial acrobatics and aerial ‘dogfights’ between competing males. This is not unusual and can be quite exciting to watch. Good luck photographing it, though Nate Chappell has had some great successes. Check out his photos.

So, give it try! If you’re successful, add a comment below and email me photo to add to this post. You could also ‘Buy Me a Coffee‘ using this link or the handy Ko-Fi link to the right.

Happy summer!

Helpful Links:

Astrophotography

Night sky and Milky Way over George Lake, Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, CanadaEvery once in a while, I get the urge to try some astrophotography. There really are some amazing examples on the web, but try as I might, I’m never quite satisfied with my efforts. Either there is too much ambient light (even in Killarney in mid-winter!!) or the image is too grainy for my liking, even with my D800E. I will keep trying, though.

The biggest impediment for me is leaving a nice warm bed and going out into the cool night air at 2am or thereabouts. But, once I’m out, I revel in the quiet and stillness of the night. It’s actually therapeutic and takes me back to the my 4×5 days of slow, methodical set-up, especially in winter.

Night Sky over Bark Lake, Halliburton, Ontario, Canada If you want to pursue astrophotography, Rob Wood over at Lightstalking.com has an excellent tutorial to get you started. There are some particular settings that will help increase your success rate, not the least of which are high ISO, a wide angle lens and, most importantly, getting infinity focus correct. This is difficult to do if you are unfamiliar with working with your lens in the dark, as lenses focussed to the max are not at infinity. Somehow, lens designers have done us the dis-service of being able to focus beyond infinity, if that’s even possible! 😉 Also, don’t forget your headlamp with a red light setting; no sense blinding your night vision with white light.

The other helpful piece of equipment is an iPad or phone with one of the Night Sky apps on it. Again – set it to night mode with red highlights to avoid blinding your night vision. I use Sky Guide and SkyView Lite. Oh, and be sure to check the cloud forecast; I like ClearDarkSky.com.

Additional resources:

AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

A long telephoto lens like the Nikon 200-500/5.6 is a significant piece of kit. It has the potential to open up areas of wildlife and landscape photography not previously encountered. But it also requires some fine and careful technique to get the most out of the lens. High magnifications mean greater potential for unsharp images, particularly in less-than-ideal lighting situations. The additional size and weight also demand a commitment to photography beyond casually walking around with a camera slung over the shoulder. So it is with trepidation that one considers such a significant addition to one’s lens collection.

For me, photography is a passion, not a vocation nor anything close to a full-time job. As my day job does not generate enough extra cash to finance this passion, I fund it through the sale of photographs, running workshops, and giving presentations. Recently, I made a fairly significant sale of photographs to Saatchi Art in the US which has provided the funds to purchase the AF-S Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 lens. Why am I telling you this? Well, for many of us, money doesn’t grow on trees. We scrimp and save, hoping to upgrade our equipment. Some photographers work as I do: sell a bit, buy a bit, gradually building up their equipment “arsenal’. We don’t take our equipment for granted. When you’ve had to work and save, it certainly raises the appreciation and value of the equipment you are able to purchase.

I checked online for pricing and found Henry’s to be competitive with Amazon with the added bonus of being a Canadian company with bricks-and-mortar stores. To me, this makes a difference. How many people walk into a store, check out the goods and the prices then walk out and purchase the same things from different online sources such as Amazon? Me? I’d rather give my business to Canadian companies that employ the people who live around me. So, on Wednesday evening I checked the availability of the lens at my nearest Henry’s – in Kitchener. Sadly, it was out of stock, so I ordered the lens from Henry’s online, chose the free shipping option, and on Friday it arrived! Talk about quick service!

Bluebird @ 100%. Perhaps slightly ‘crunchy’; I’ll work on my Lightroom sharpening technique.

Saturday morning, Laura and I were up and out by 6:30am to her favourite local birding haunt – Ignatius Jesuit Centre just north of Guelph – to try out the new lens. While walking there over the past couple of weeks, Laura has seen all the regular birds – cardinals, robins, blue jays, various sparrows and tree swallows – but also species we don’t regularly see at the Arboretum or the Little Tract, including bluebirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks. Ignatius Jesuit Centre has a great diversity of habitats including an organic farm, community plots, unmowed fields (critical to bobolinks and meadowlarks), cedar forests, deciduous forests and wetlands, and is open for walking at all times. BTW: In winter, it’s also a great local area for Nordic skiing with trails formed by the Guelph Nordic Ski Club.

Now, there’s no getting around the fact that the 200-500mm is a big lens. It weighs in at 2.3kg (5 pounds) and has a 95mm front filter size. At 200mm, with the lens hood on, it is 34cm long (13½”). When zoomed out, add another 8cm or 3 inches. Thankfully, it comes with a sturdy tripod collar allowing me to attach it to my ages-old monopod. It’s not a lens I could hand-hold confidently for any length of time, at least not without a few trips to the gym! Although, that being said, I will try it as I want to see how well the VR works. It is reported to be excellent.

Tree Swallow @ 100% (click to open)

Despite it’s relatively low price (CAD $1600) – compared to typical Nikkor lenses of this focal length – the quality is top notch. No, it won’t compete with Nikon’s finest telephotos like the 300/2.8, 400/2.8 or the 500/4, but they are also 4 to 9 times the cost. Even the new 300/4 VR is a $1000 more. So, what the 200-500/5.6 gives up in speed, price and quality it more than makes up for in versatility. And it really hasn’t given up much despite it’s price. I was very careful to check this out in some detail before hand with some of the most honest reviewers online (Thom Hogan, Will Nicholls, and Dan Carr)

In the field, the lens did not disappoint. It focussed smoothly, quickly and quietly with just a bit of extra sound from the VR. I shot front lit, sideline and backlit shots and all had crisp contrast with fine feather detail, which is what counts. I was able to quickly raise the camera+lens, focus and shoot, although Recognize, I still need to work on my technique. Was it heavy to carry around? Yes, and no. I found carrying it by the tripod collar the easiest and well-balanced, but I did feel the extra weight. Except for the 300/4 PF lens (at CAD $1000 more expensive), there is no avoiding the weight of any significant telephoto lens.

So with a summer free of international travel, I will be spending my time capturing Ontario wildlife in ways that I’ve always wanted to: quietly, at first light and with a proper telephoto lens. I still have much to check out and learn about this lens so stay tuned.

An open letter to Freeman Patterson regarding jpegs and raw files

Freeman Patterson is one of the most renowned and respected natural environment and outdoor photographers in Canada and around the world. Many photographers have learned greatly from this master of seeing, some of us from as far back as the 1970s. His work is equally remarkable when done in his own backyard of Shamper’s Bluff, New Brunswick or in the drylands of Namaqualand, South Africa.

Periodically through the year, Freeman sends out a newsletter in which he discusses life and philosophy and photography. I find them meditative and inspirational and read them when I have an opportunity to sit and ponder and enjoy.

So, it was with some shock, and a little dismay, that I read the following in his last paragraph of his most recent newsletter, dated May 2019, Images, Ideas and Reflections:

1/ It’s my long-term observation that most digital cameras have far too many functions and are far too complicated for the needs of most amateurs and, in fact, many professionals. 2/ In my view, always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time. Although some very well-known Canadians professional photographers agree, many amateurs seem shocked when I say this. When do I shoot RAW? Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print, which is extremely rare. For me, the old K.I.S.S. principle still applies – keep it simple, stupid. Never let your equipment or the way you use it interfere with your spiritual life!

(Underscores are that of the original author).

Now, far be it for me to take on a legendary photographer such as a Freeman Patterson, but I simply could not sit by silently with a blanket statement such as “always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time” and “When do I shoot RAW? Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print, which is extremely rare.”

Here is my response…

Dear Freeman,

I’m just wondering if what you wrote in the last paragraph of your most recent letter – the part about jpegs vs raw files – was put there to see how many people have read to the end, you can download them with  sodapdf.com!

I very much enjoyed reading your letter, as I always do, as much as I have enjoyed your photographs and teachings since the 1970s, that is, until I read the last paragraph.

While I agree “most digital cameras have far too many functions and are far too complicated”, and “Never let your equipment or the way you use it interfere with your spiritual life!”, I am rather dismayed by your blanket statement in support of jpegs over raw files: “always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time”, with little explanation beyond “Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print”. Limiting the creative potential of a photographer is deceptive, limiting and, frankly, unprofessional as an educator.
While your notions of less is more deeply resonate with me, the limitations created by a machine-created digital file may be helpful for simplifying photography in the short term, a decision to only shoot jpegs can be unnecessarily restricting in the long term.
A jpeg is like a Polaroid print or a machine print from Blacks or a Kodachrome transparency. While each could be considered fine enough quality for display as artwork, they are, essentially, end points, with much less ‘room’ for further enhancements once they are created. A photograph should represent the photographer’s complete vision – one realized through field techniques and processing techniques – not only field techniques and that of a machine with ‘under-the-hood’ computer algorithms. 
So, I can only wonder if you were addressing those photographers who believe that what the camera spits out is the end product. Is this a remnant of your transparency days when the slide was very much an end product? One can alter a Polaroid, machine print, transparency or jpeg, but it will only lead to further image degradation – fine if that’s your style, but not as a blanket end result.
Polaroids aside (they were a niche art market unto themselves, pursued beyond snapshots by only a small minority of photographers), transparencies and machine prints would have been a suitable end product to non-darkroom workers. But stop for a moment and try to imagine an Adams black-and-white as a machine print?!? While his field techniques were legendary, his printing of each negative is what made each scene “sing”. A jpeg would never stand up to the modern-day equivalent of an Adams darkroom session.
Digital image files today are the negatives of before: an opportunity for a photographer to refine and/or extend their vision beyond what the camera machine produces. And, given the ubiquity of digital editing apps, and photographers willing to pursue the technology, it hardly seems appropriate to limit their future potential growth by recommending bog-standard jpegs. Again, I’m not referring to whole scale digital manipulation, stretching photographs beyond the recognizable; rather, I’m speaking of the myriad subtle enhancements to already finely crafted images that breathe life into the product of a machine – the same manipulations I once enjoyed working with in a wet darkroom (colour and b&w).
When it comes to digital editing, working within the confines of the colour space and compression of a jpeg is like playing tennis (or basketball or football/soccer) on a court with cement walls for out-of-bounds lines. In severely limiting a player’s freedom of movement, racquet swings become much more conservative and the game much different! Due to a jpeg’s limited 8-bit colour space, even tweaking it a little may drive colours out of gamut during processing. Furthermore, subtle highlight details also suffer due to file compression algorithms in jpegs. Granted, printing processes and screens are also 8-bit, but with raw files, the photographer has the option to adjust colours during the editing process, within the larger colour space of a raw file (Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB), then bring them back to the once again limiting 8-bits of the printing process (or screen visualization) in ways they see fit, not an algorithm.
Creativity can start from a finished product, but the potential is limitedWorse, the decisions regarding colour, sharpening and compression are not made by the photographer, but by an automated process, pre-determined by a committee of software engineers, to produce the best possible average of averages. It’s not looking at the content, the scene the colours and is ignorant of end use. While the product of these software decisions, the jpeg, is of high quality, it is still handcuffed into only reduced quality through editing, not improved quality.
Granted, you know this already, which makes it even more surprising you would recommend it. I see the role of teachers as ones who inspire students to go beyond, to encourage exploration and discovery, not to hamper them with built-in algorithms. The books and prints of your work are not the product of blind acceptance of the decisions of software engineers, neither should a photographer’s photographs.
I shoot with a full frame sensor camera, a 1” sensor camera, and an iPhone. Believe you me, the 1” sensor files definitely benefit from being captured in raw format; the iPhone files even more so. The image quality difference between processed raw files and jpegs from all three cameras is significant on screen and in print. As sensor size is reduced, that difference becomes even more obvious. For example, even subtle image processing on a jpeg can result in obvious and unacceptable banding across otherwise clear blue skies.
So, I can’t help wondering what, exactly, you were getting at by endorsing jpegs for all photos that are not likely to end up being printed to  20”x30” or larger. I’ve been successfully photographing and selling for decades and I still don’t always know when a photograph might be printed large like that. I would rather err on the side of caution and spend a little more of my time capturing in raw then making a few quick edits to it (even automated edits!), knowing that I still have the raw file that, at some later time, I can take to the next level if I should choose to go back to it to further improve it.
I’m just very thankful that I can go back to the raw files I made 18 years ago in Tanzania with an early digital camera – a 5mp Minolta 7hi – and still make improvements with today’s editing apps, something I cannot achieve in the same way even from high quality jpegs made with the same camera. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but they are not nearly as good as what I can do with the raw files. I can also go back to my 4×5 negatives and make silver gelatin prints, if I choose, or scan them into digital files.
You see, that’s the difference between raw files and jpegs – raw files have the potential for further improvements jpegs, not so much. One never knows what the future holds.
With great respect,
Terry McDonald
www.luxborealis.com

Adobe Portfolio – a LrM pleasant surprise!

Adobe PortfolioSince drinking the Adobe Kool-Aid and succumbing to their monthly subscription for Lightroom CC Mobile, I’ve discovered that it is, in fact, a pretty good deal. It may be that I’m trying to self-justify my decision, but the skeptic in me is beginning to see the value in this purchase.

Lightroom CC Mobile – NOT Lightroom CC and NOT Lightroom Classic

To be clear, I purchased the CAD 6.49/month (USD 4.99) subscription to Lightroom CC Mobile (LrM) – essentially Lightroom for iPad and iPhone. This is different from what Adobe shows on their website. They have the…

  • Lightroom plan (USD 9.99/mo) which is an emasculated version of Lightroom Classic with 1TB of storage. This allows you to do everything in the cloud, but with a stripped-down version of Lr;
  • Photography Plan (USD 9.99/mo) – the full version of Lr Classic (or Lightroom CC) with the full version of Photoshop, but with only 20GB of storage. (Note: This might actually be worth it if it came with 100GB of storage instead of the paltry 20GB); and
  • Photography Plan with 1TB of storage (USD 19.99/mo) – a bit too rich for my blood as that translates to over $25/month Canadian!

At half the base price, I think I’m getting a deal with Lr CC Mobile when combined with my old standalone version of Lightroom 6 (more on that below). As you may have seen from my photographs of Ethiopia, using the raw and hdr-raw capture built into LrM results in nothing short of excellent photographs. Being able to edit those raw files on the fly using iPhone or iPad is a tremendous advantage when travelling. LrM on iPad is also a very comfortable and productive way of editing photos sitting in my living room. Although not quite as fast as working on my laptop and not as precise when using the sliders, holding an iPad and using my finger or an Apple Pencil is simply more comfortable.

As somewhat of a bonus, along with my subscription came Adobe Portfolio and 100GB of cloud storage, neither of which I thought much of when I first signed up. Over the last few weekends, I have been working with Portfolio. Through trial and error, a few trips to the Help site and a few minutes of Terry White’s YouTube videos (give me print that I can skim read, not videos that I have to wade through!!), I’ve managed to create a Portfolio website I’m proud of. Creating and editing the pages not as ‘intuitive’ as they indicate, but once I got the hang of it, I can now create pages confidently and creatively, even if I do forget where ‘this toggle’ and ‘that setting’ are.

The 100GB? I thought, “Ya right, as if I’d need all that.” Well, I’m now at 86GB of my 100 with about 2,500 raw photos. It has allowed me to put my best photos into the cloud for easy access at any time. I find it much more intuitive than Flickr or SmugMug, especially as they are full-resolution files served to my iPad and online as Smart Previews. This is key as my iPad is only 64GB; the Smart Previews stored locally only take up 1.3GB.

It’s actually pretty amazing. The photos I shoot on my iPhone using LrM are automatically loaded to the Cloud. Almost instantly, they are available in my LrM catalogue served to iPad and online on my Lightroom site (different from my Portfolio).

Lightroom 6 Standalone integrationHow does all this work with my old and out-of-date standalone version of Lr – Lightroom 6?

This is the $64,000 question (or $6.49/month question!) The answer: surprisingly well! I say surprisingly, because I didn’t think there would be any integration at all. However, all the iPhone photos I shoot with LrM show up in my Lightroom 6 standalone app on my laptop in a Folder called ‘TerryMcDonald’s iPhone’. Wow – it couldn’t be simpler!

Where the integration shines, though, is in Collections. I can designate any “Collection” to “Synch with Lightroom mobile”. Note: this cannot be done for Smart Collections or Collection Sets – but that’s fine because I don’t want everything on Lightroom Mobile, only the best of the best. Since my standalone Lr 6 desktop app has access to all 60,000+ digital photos in my Lightroom Catalogue, I used it to prepare content for my Portfolio site by creating a series of Collections of only my best photographs.

While scanning through photos from years gone by took a bit of time, it was actually a great review of many hundreds of my best photographs. The Lr Library module, as a digital asset management tool, makes finding photos quick and easy. I can set the Attribute to ‘Flagged’ and/or ‘3 stars and higher’, add in come keywords and voila, I have a set of my best photos to choose from.  As I selected photos, it gave me chance to update the processing and editing of a number of older photographs that now look better than ever. It’s important to remember, a portfolio website is not a catch-all of thousands of photos, it is meant to showcase the best of the best, so it’s good to be picky. 

Creating a Portfolio websiteView of Portfolio page - T McDonald - luxBorealis.com

With individual Collections automatically showing up in LrM (on my iPad and iPhone), importing individual Collections as Galleries into my Portfolio is easy as clicking on a few buttons. I can also Import all the photos in the Collection or choose the ones I want shown in my Portfolio. Also, within each Gallery page, I can re-order and re-title photographs or, I can make the updates permanent by going back to LrM, making the necessary corrections to the order and titles, then simply choose “Reset to Lightroom” from within Portfolio. This is easy! I can also toggle off and on individual Gallery Pages.

There is also integration with Behance – Adobe’s ‘free’ clearing house for ‘Creatives’ who wish to share/display their work online. I added a few multimedia projects to Behance (my Ethiopia video, Spark photo essay and a folio) that were supposed to automatically populate my Portfolio site but, frustratingly, that didn’t seem to work. Instead, I put them onto Portfolio directly and can share them to Behance. As Behance is really not important to me, perhaps this is the better way of doing it.

Suffice it to say, there is still much for me to discover within Portfolio. I’m sure there are more creative ways for me to display by work online, but this simple, straightforward approach seems to be time-saver compared to SmugMug and Flickr. Now, that being said, I’ve sold a number of photographs to people who saw my work on SmugMug and Flickr, so I’m not quite ready to ditch them. Time will tell if Portfolio is a better site for visibility. One further integration I noticed was with Adobe Stock. I can add my photos from Portfolio to Adobe Stock and potentially earn income. However, after reading a few reviews of Adobe Stock, I’ve learned that the pennies they pay may not be worth it. We’ll see.

If you have any questions, queries or comments please use the Comments box below or drop me an email. Also, please feel free to share this post with others through Facebook, Twitter or whatever other social media you have connections with. Thanks for reading!

More on Ethiopia

My recent trip to Ethiopia has left an impression that will last for quite some time. Aside from the spectacular landscapes and the simple beauty of the rock-hewn churches (read Indiana Jones meets National Geographic!), I am reminded of how complicated we have made our lives compared to many of the Ethiopians I met along the way. Our collective love affair with ‘stuff’ and our societal belief that ‘more is better’ is simply overwhelming. As I look around my neighbourhood, I see a clear indication of this, by how few of us can actually put our car in our garage.

Miriam Korkor rock-hewn church, Gher’Alta, Tigray, Ethiopia

I am and always have been a ‘stills’ photographer, primarily capturing natural landscapes and nature’s intimate details. However, since first using iPhone, I have also been drawn to capturing ambient sounds and video. In my short travels through northern Ethiopia, I made a number of videos which I have combined with some stills, ambient sounds and Tigrayan music into single video using iMovie. It’s my first ‘go’ with iMovie and while I think I’ve done a fair job at mastering transitions and overlaying sound, I think some of my clips may still be a little long. Perhaps, I’ll go back one day and rework this, but for now, here it is: Ethiopia 2019 Video.

I’ve also been asked, by a few people, for any tips I have for travelling to and photographing in Ethiopia. The following is an updated version of what I wrote on the Luminous-Landscape forum website last week:

Photo Tips: Work on convincing your drivers/guides to start early. Earlier than 8-8:30 was a struggle. I don’t think they quite understand the needs of photographers for the early morning light. As I was mostly travelling alone in a Land Cruiser, the drivers were very accommodating for photo stops.

There is an element of zooification when travelling to a low-income country. It’s something we discuss at length in the tourism unit of the IB Geography course I teach. I also introduce the term to my Grade 7s when we discuss the benefits and challenges of World Heritage Sites. I, for one, am intrigued by the markets and street life: the bustle of life lived on the streets, the sounds and colours and busy-ness of it all. But there is an element of voyeurism, too, that I am highly self-conscious of. At times, I felt this way when photographing the nuns, priests and monks at the churches, as a small payment is typically expected.

Don’t be afraid to walk the streets/markets to shoot, bút it’s better with your driver or guide as they can explain why you wish to photograph. Many people did NOT want their photos taken – respect that and move on because many did not mind at all, especially if you show them the photo afterwards and/or make a purchase from them.

Shop-owner, student and guide, Tsega Gebru, village of Megab, Ethiopia

A bigger camera system will definitely be more intimidating for candid portraits and street photography. It will also make you an bigger target. Being a westerner, ups the chances for theft, but I had no issues as my phone always went back in my front pocket and my Sony camera always back in my small hip case (one I bought decades ago to hold 4×5 film holders – my have times changed!)

I used ETT – Ethio Travel & Tours. Sunight was fantastic at organizing. All via email, she put together my two-week itinerary according to my requests, that included all accommodations (w/WiFi and private bathroom), all breakfasts, all internal flights (I had three) and transfers, all drivers and guides, and all entrance fees for USD 1750 – cash, paid on arrival. This kind of payment may scare off some who want the security of having everything booked and paid for ahead of time, but it is Africa, and, short of the much higher priced escorted tours, there are never any guarantees. That being said, everything went off without a hitch. As it is, ETT does most of the work for Erta Ale and the Danakil Depression, if not directly, then subcontracted to them. 
NOTE: If you fly in/out using Ethiopian Airlines (as good as many, better than most), all of your internal flights are significantly cheaper. And flights are the way to get around the country. 

The busy season is Dec-Jan for Christian observances and festivals (and into Feb) when up to to 10,000 will be in Lalibela, Aksum and the various churches. These are great opportunities for capturing the mood/feeling, but more expensive and frankly far too many tourists, especially for getting up/down the remote Tigray Churches. The rock-hewn churches of Gher’Alta Tigray – Miriam Korkor, Daniel Korkor, Abuna Yemata Gur – are only one way up and down. Any more than ten people will really slow things down and, for me anyway, completely ruin the experience of being in a quiet, inaccessible place of peace.

Prayer niche for monks, Daniel Korkor, Gher’Alta, Tigray, Ethiopia

March seemed to be ideal as it is the tail end of the main season and was not busy, but still with worshippers for cultural depth to photos. July-Aug is the rainy season – more difficult to get around but with much greener landscapes. 

I did not get to Gondor, Lake Tana / Blue Nile Falls, Simien Mtns or the southern Rift Valley for the Oromo cultures, but all are highly recommended – especially trekking in the Simien Mtns – according to tourists I spoke to there. However, visiting the Oromo cultures in the south is rife with zooification. Many French, German, Brits, Japanese and Chinese. I met only 1 other Canadian and only 1 American. Clearly, Ethiopia is not on the North American radar (not surprising, though).

Any other Qs, let me know. As I said at the beginning, tourism is just starting; while there is luxury, it somehow seems out of place in a low-income country. But it also means there are fewer tourists overall and the ones there are not the coach tour/cruise tourists.

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.