Author: Terry

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!

 

Miss the darkroom? There’s an app for that!

Apple’s App of the Day today (28 Dec ‘17) is Darkr. I don’t usually look too closely at the AotD, and sometimes not for days or weeks, but, as a photographer and former large format and darkroom enthusiast, this one certainly caught my eye.

Select your camera format or work in the darkroom

Darkr takes me back to simpler times, at least that’s what my heart is telling me. It is both a large format camera (and medium and “pocket” format camera) and a Darkroom all built into an app. What a thrill it was for me to lie in bed this morning and have an upside-down-and-backwards view camera image on my iPhone (also available for iPad, but my iPad Air has only a 5mp Camera), complete with etched grid lines and a loop for focusing. Anyone who has ever worked with a large format camera would appreciated this view.

When I say “large format, l’m referring to the old-style cameras with a leather bellows in front. For years, I used a beautiful Zone VI cherry wood field camera that made beautiful 4×5″ negatives. Yes, that’s inches – about half the size of the iPad screen I’m writing on right now. But 4×5″ was just the beginning; large format included 5×7″, 8×10″ (one of Angel Adams favourites) and 11×14”. There were even 16x20l versions that shot Polaroids! It was a huge industry through the late 19th century and right through the 20th century. I bought my “old-style” 4×5 camera in the 1990s! Working with negatives and transparencies that large meant the image quality was untouchable.

But alas, that era is behind us. My Nikon D800E captures more detail than my 4×5 could and my Sony RX-10iii isn’t far behind. The methods of working on a tripod may still be there, but the mystique of working under a dark cloth with a loupe around your neck and a pocket full of yellow, orange and red filters is gone, along with developing negatives, making test strips, changing contrast grades, and burning and dodging to make prints. BUT…

Darkr brings it all back again…

Yellow filter selected. Yes, it’s upside-down and backwards – it’s large format, after all!

…without the dark cloth and tripod, darkroom chemicals and water usage. As I said, as I lay in bed this morning, I set up my large format camera, selected ILFORD HP-5 film, put on a yellow filter, used my loupe to select the focus point, chose my shutter speed, tilted as needed, and “click” made my first exposure.

4×5 neg, complete with notches in top left.

This first exposure became a beautiful and classic 4×5 negative, complete with cut notches in the top left! From there, I entered the Darkroom where the immersive experience continued sans red light and chemicals. Honestly, I do miss the other-worldly experience of entering a darkroom with the acrid smell of stop bath and the earthy smell of developer (but not the mixing and washing).

In the Darkroom, I was presented with a series of horizontal test-

Test strips. Scroll up and down to change time; scroll left and right to change contrast.

strips. Swiping up increased the time, swiping down, the opposite. Swiping left and right changed the contrast, just like a multi-contrast head on an enlarger or multi-contrast filters. The filters are even coloured correctly – the level of detail the creators of the app have included is amazing, but not without some need for improvements (see below).

Toning options are available once you have a good-looking “print”.

Once you have a basic print, there are a variety of typical darkroom options: Crop, Dodge, Burn, Blur and Tone. The dodge and burn options take a little getting used to, but are great once you do. The best part, though, is how each option you use is stored as a layer. This digital advantage lets you revisit what you’ve done and change things about, although cropping really must be done first.

Final print – my first darkroom print in over 17 years!

So, why bother? As one commenter said, “I did darkroom processing for real…and I now realise I don’t miss it at all.” While I, too, am in this category, Darkr seems to retain well the methods and thought behind using film and darkroom processing, without the hassle of chemicals and water use.

Can you make “better” black and whites in other apps? Perhaps, especially with the near-endless sliders and options of apps such as Photos, Polarr and high-end apps like Lightroom. But there’s something about simplifying options that clarifies the process. For example, test strips: rather than constantly “playing” with sliders until things “look good”, going back and forth between whites and blacks and shaows, exposure and contrast, with Darkr, you are using a combination of exposure and contrast – two options – to attain your base print.

From there, you can apply dodging (selective lightening) or burning (selective darkening), just like using adjustments brushes in Lightroom. Lastly, you may (or may not) tone the image – selenium, cyanotype or sepia – in varying degrees.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia speaking more than practicality, but I feel apps don’t always need to be pragmatic and efficient to be useful. If anything, this simplification teaches one to be more observant. To the observant, the varying times of the test strips offer insights 8nto the relationships between light and dark, as does the switching of contrasts.

Perhaps this is my own darkroom experience talking and these nuances are not readily apparent to newbies, but I see this as not only nostalgic fun, but a good training ground of sorts, from the upside-down-backwards view presented by the Large Format  option to the selections of time and contrast. The limiting factor is the 12mp camera on the iPhone. If this system could be used with a 20mp+ camera, it would certainly be more enticing. That being said, you can import photos from Photos to work on them in the Darkroom.

The best part, though, is the price: Darkr is only $3.99. Actually, it’s free, but paying the $3.99 does two things: it supports the developers to keep refining the app (I have some improvements I’d like to see, and it unlocks some of the refinements that make Darkr so much fun.

Some of the improvements I would like to see include:

  • Spot metering – I would like to read my highlight and shadow areas to allow me to use…
  • Zone system placements; shadows with detail on Zone II – the “West Coast, Ansel Adams” way or highlights with detail on Zone VIII as Fred Picker invented on the East Coast;
  • Orange filter, for when yellow is too little and red is too much;
  • Cold and warm-tone papers options would be nice, even different paper bases;
  • Adding a cold-tone selenium effect of slight purple cast would be welcomed;
  • Vertical test strips are needed to accommodate checking different parts of a print. Making the print above would have benefitted from seeing the bright white of the duvet in the same strip
  • Lastly, the app needs a way to maintain the proportions when cropping (or select an aspect ratio).

I should note that these “improvements” may already be built into the app and I missed them. I’ll be spending more time with Darkr over the next few days and hope to discover more of it’s secrets.

iPhone 8 Plus Initial Test Shots

Three years ago, I shot everything on full frame. Since moving to digital from 35mm and 4×5, it had been my “quest” to reach the same level of image quality as my 4×5. With the Nikon D800E, image quality was finally there and well surpassed that of 4×5, although I did not have access to the tilts and swings of the larger format, bellows camera.

Two years ago, after hefting my full frame D800E and lenses around the Galápagos Islands with 23 students, I decided a change was needed. That’s when I began exploring 1″ sensor “bridge” cameras: first the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000, followed by the Sony RX-10iii, which I have happily settled on. I’ve now travelled with it to Iceland twice and to England, not to mention numerous day hikes here in southern Ontario. I am very pleased with the IQ and can easily make fine photographic prints up to 13″ and 17″.

iPhone 8 Plus

Last week I (finally) entered the mobile phone era with an iPhone 8 Plus. (BTW – Check out Freedom Mobile: over the two year contract, I will only be charged $600 for my $1095 iPhone 8 Plus! Use the link here and you and I will earn a $10 credit!)

A small gallery of photos from Christmas Eve Day, down by the Speed River, Guelph.

Why the iPhone 8 Plus? Why, its camera, of course! It has a two-lens camera system: one is a nice wideangle (for smartphones) f/1.8 28mm lens; the other, a f/2.8 56mm lens. It’s portrait mode creates beautiful photographs, artificially blurring the background, and, with the right app (in my case, I’m using the ProCamera app) I can save the photo in RAW format, using Adobe’s DNG format. Imagine, raw from a phone. Is it any good, though? I’ll let you be the judge. You can learn more about the camera in this article in Popular Science.

These were shot over the last couple of days while we’ve had beautiful, but cold, wintry days here in southern Ontario. The stark lighting is a real test for any camera system as the dynamic range is extreme. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the iPhone handled the contrast. From what I understand, the camera now always does exposure blending by taking three exposures almost simultaneously then automatically combining them into a single photograph, commonly called HDR.

The photo below was made along one of the many backroads we took driving down to Burlington on Christmas Day. The late afternoon sun was made hazy by the falling snow – a scene that was begging to be photographed. I took a number of different shots and settled on this one, slightly cropped from the full photograph. I saved it as a raw file, to ensure maximum latitude while processing. That being said, Apple’s new HEIF file format (PhoneArena review), which iOS 11 now uses instead of JPEGS ticks many of the boxes for advantages: up to 16-bit colour (jpeg is 8-bit) including animation and transparency, yet a smaller file size (about ½ compared to jpeg) and far superior compression with fewer artefacts.

Web version with border and white framing from Lightroom and LR/Mogrify
This is the initial raw file, cropped, but not processed. It appears dark as the emphasis was on retaining the highlights. The full-size image is linked for you to view pixel-level quality.
Here is the full-resolution (linked) processed version of the same file.
Lightroom Before/After comparison with processing values to the right.
Portrait mode, no flash

So far, I’m pleased with the results. Even the Portrait mode is well worth the additional cost of the “Plus” version of the iPhone 8. And the Slow-Synch flash, which doubles as a flashlight/torch, is a bonus which provides very pleasing fill light. Why not an iPhone 10? The additional cost pushed it over my budget. Besides, the iPhone 8 Plus is built on tried and tested technology.

I’ll be shooting more with it over the next few days, so if you have any questions or comments, fire away.

Will it replace my other photo gear? For walking around, yes, but for serious photography, not yet. Who knows, though, the iPhone 8 Plus might still have a few tricks up its sleeve.

Iceland Map & Photos

I’m working on a map of Iceland showing a number of my better photographs. This should be particularly helpful for people planning a trip to this fabled and most-photographic island. It opens with what I consider to be my best/favourite landscape. What I find interesting from a tourism point-of-view, these landscapes are not entirely of the typical views we see of Iceland. For example, while we visited Geysir, Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, none of these sights are in my “best/favourites”, partly due to weather, partly due to the number of tourists. They are shown in the “All Photos of Iceland” layer which you can toggle on further down the left panel of the map (when you open it in its own window using the [ ]  in the top right of the map below). If you are planning a trip to Iceland, let me know and I may be able to help with some questions you have.

I’ve visited Iceland on two occasions: June 2016 and March 2017 – very different times of year and very different photo ops. During both trips, we spent sometime in Reykjavik. In June we were on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Golden Circle, Landmannalaugar, and the south coast as far east as Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. In March, we rented a small car and spent most of our time in the north around Akureyri, east to Þingeyrar then south to Þingvellir and Laugarvatn.

Enjoy and please share with others who might be interested in Iceland and/or photography. Feel free to comment and ad questions below.

GRIPS K-W Presentation follow-up

Many thanks to the folks at the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society for hosting my presentation tonight. There are many excellent photographers whose questions and discussion added well to the evening.

A few people inquired about the “Nature Photographer’s Toolkit” I created to help organize ideas around how to approach scenes and subjects in nature photography. I’ve added a copy of the slide below. I hope it serves as a useful guide and reminder to explore a number of different avenues when in the field and in front of a screen.

Remember: Three-quarters of the effort in making photographs is done in the field before the shutter is released and half again occurs on-screen, for every compelling photo is greater than the sum of its parts.