Category: Locations

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!

    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!

    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.

     

    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!

     

    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.

    Gatineau in November – Beautiful

    We’re up in Ottawa visiting our daughter who is attending U of Ottawa and spent today in Gatineau doing two hikes with a nice café lunch between.

    Gatineau Park is a real gem for anyone wanting to get outside in nature. The trails are extensive, well-marked and mapped, and take you up and down through beautiful forests. While hiking near Meech Lake, it was great to come across the Thomas “Carbide” Willson Laboratory ruins along with a river and waterfall that, due to the recent heavy rains in the region, was spilling over its banks and filling the whole gorge below. Of course, Willson’s nickname is the result of his invention of calcium carbide, a patent he later sold to Union Carbide.

    Towards evening, we were up on the aptly-named Skyline Trail with great views south towards Ottawa. The two close-ups of downtown near sunset and at dusk were made with the Sony RX-10iii at 600mm (equivalent), ƒ4 and ISO 400. They were, believe it or not, hand-held at 1/60 and 1/10 of a second respectively. Now, the dusk photo was made sitting on a bench with my elbows braced on my knees, but still – 1/10th of a second using a 600mm (equivalent) lens – phenomenal image stabilization. Sure the photo’s a bit grainy, but it would print well in a large-format book – which is the kind of quality I’m looking for in a travel camera. Even the waterfall detail was hand-held at 1/10th of a second.

    Yes, if I was truly serious about these photos, I would have made them on a tripod. But, hey, I was out with my family for some hiking – today, the photography was secondary.

    If you find this post or others helpful, please share them on Facebook. Feel free to add a comment or questions as well. Thanks for reading!

    Halton Hills Camera Club – Nov. 1st

    On Wednesday, November 1, I will be visiting the Halton Hills Camera Club to present “My Own Backyard”.

    As regular readers will already know, I’m a strong advocate for photographers becoming experts in the places they know best – those that are close to home. First of all, your own backyard is a great incubator and test location for equipment, ideas and techniques. But around your home, you’ll have your favourite haunts – the places you return to throughout the year: downtown areas for street photography or local conservation areas for nature and landscapes. Even commuting to work and back may open up opportunities. The thing is, you can get to these places when you anticipate the light or weather conditions to be just right for the style of photograph you’re looking for.

    Any way, I don’t want to give it all away. The club meeting starts at 7pm at St. George’s Church, 60 Guelph Street in Georgetown. Hope to see you there!

    London Camera Club – Field & Screen

    This past week I was in London, Ontario enjoying the hospitality and good will of the London Camera Club. This is a vibrant and welcoming club that successfully offers programs to a wide range of photographers from beginners to highly experienced shooters – a tall order, well-achieved. Have a look at their website for some truly excellent and creative photography.

    On Thursday evening…

    …I spoke about exploring “My Own Backyard”. Despite having travelled and lived in many exciting locations around the world, I always come back to the importance of each of us being “experts” in our own backyards. After all, we are surrounded by landscapes and nature here in southern Ontario and we have four seasons in which to make very different and unique photographs.

    Photographed two weeks ago on my way in to work.

    Quite literally, our backyards become our “playground” for trying new equipment, new techniques and new ways of seeing. One can dash out, take a few shots, with a new lens or trying focus-stacking for example, then head back in, upload and being working on images within minutes. Or, simply, spend a few hours exploring shapes and colours in the garden at various points through the year. But, your backyard can also be stretched, and should be, really, to local conservation areas, country roads and, if you prefer cityscapes in your city’s downtown. Every city now has a few dilapidated buildings waiting for an empathetic eye. Over the years, I’ve made some very memorable photographs on my drive to work and have been visiting the Arboretum at the University of Guelph for 30 years of photographic inspiration.

    Saturday…

    was devoted to a “Field and Screen” workshop: a few hours in the morning out at Westminster Ponds followed by a few more hours in the afternoon processing images from the morning. It was pleasing to see a number of photographers using tripods – cumbersome, but necessary, as we had a slightly dull, humid, misty morning with the constant threat of rain as well as some fall colours to accent our photographs. I was also encouraged by the comments from participants who had never explored close to home like this. So often, we get comfortable with the views and scenery around us and we stop seeing them for their uniqueness. We forget that although they are the “same old, same old” to us, they are new for others, especially when we apply our photographic eye to bringing out the details others have stopped seeing. This is the beauty of working close to home.

    I’ve posted a gallery of photographs I made during the workshop. I’ve added a couple of Before/After screenshots to show the initial imported “from the camera” raw image versus the “finished” screen image. I’ve also included some “Detail” photographs; these are cropped portions of larger photographs which, in themselves are engaging views I would have liked to spend more time exploring.

    Thanks to Matt Litwinchuk for organizing the evening presentation and Saturday’s workshop and to Bill Niessen for his technical troubleshooting duirng the afternoon Screen session.

    If you have any questions about the shooting or processing – please ask! As well, comments are always welcome. If you want to keep in touch regarding workshops, just subscribe to my blog using the panel to the right.