Category: Seeing Photographs

HCC – a great evening!

Last night I presented “Creating Compelling Landscapes” to a wonderful crowd of close to 100 photographers at the Hamilton Camera Club. It was also great to see a number of former students from my days at Mohawk College, as well.

Bucking what is often seen as a trend, the HCC is an active and growing club with members of all ages. With photography having become so ubiquitous, now that everyone has a phone in their pocket, it’s encouraging to see so many people dedicated to creating more than just snapshots.

I look forward to working with the Hamilton Camera Club in the future and, perhaps, seeing the results of my presentation in some great landscape work.

Vieux Port de Montreal

New folio: Vieux Port De Montréal

A short project, I spent an afternoon working on back in June of 2016, was a series of photographs along Rue de la Commune in Old Montreal. I had a couple of hours “off” from shepherding my Grade 7s through Montreal on a school trip.

As I walked along this area of “Vieux Port de Montréal” I became intrigued by the barely visible signs painted on the brick and stone faces of the buildings – ghostly reminders of the past. It’s not ancient history, nor is it particularly significant to the world at large. What it is, though, is classic, vernacular history; the history of a local population.

I found it creatively intriguing, so I spent the afternoon photographing what little there was left of these painted store/shop signs, directions and directives in these few blocks, trying to find the best way to reveal them without the more modern obstructions and changes. There are also photographs of a few architectural and design details that caught my eye as being complementary to the signs.

Also of interest to me, as a photographer, was the colour palette in this area. Dingy is one way of looking at the dirty-looking grey blocks of stone, but there are also subtle, worn-looking greens, as you can see in the photo above, worn-looking reds. The colours are real, not “photoshopped”, but in their faded appearance, they give this real-life area a natural, faded-image look.

Of interest to photographers, at the time I was using a Panasonic FZ1000, a more-than-capable camera for this kind of street work, with its very flexible 25-400mm Leica zoom and high quality 1″ sensor. As you may know, I’ve since transitioned to a Sony RX10iii: a similar, but slightly more capable camera. If interested, you can read about that decision here.

I have purposely kept people to a minimum in these photographs. My point was not to show how the street and buildings have been transformed; rather, the photographs are a record of a rapidly fading past – I wanted the painted signs and the surrounding architecture to speak of that past. Photography has the ability to preserve that history, albeit in 2-dimensions.

The folio is available online on and at my Flickr account. The complete folio is also available for purchase as a set of hand-printed, 9½x 13″ fine art photographs made on the beautiful Moab Entrada Natural Rag watercolour paper, printed with pigment inks. They come in an acid-free presentation folder with title page, artist statement and colophon. The folio of 21 photographs is $350 (shipping included) and is limited to the number of orders received.

Most importantly, though, enjoy this vignette of vernacular history.

Bruce Trail Photo Contest Announced


Head over to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website for details of their 2016 Photo Contest. The Conservancy is providing maps of nine Nature Reserves – the focus of this year’s contest.

Wild Ginger covers the ground in a foggy deciduous woodland in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada along the Bruce Trial on the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
Wild Ginger covers the ground in a foggy deciduous woodland in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada along the Bruce Trail on the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
My family and I are keen supporters of the Bruce Trail and have been for decades now. Growing up on Hamilton’s East Mountain, I remember when the Bruce Trail was first being routed. We hiked it as kids from the end of Fennell Ave. to Albion Falls.

If you aren’t already a member, I encourage anyone who is photographing in southern Ontario to purchase a membership. You probably don’t realize how often you are using the Bruce Trail or one of its many side trails: Webster’s Falls, Tews Falls, Rattlesnake Point, Hilton Falls, Crawford Lake, Mono Cliffs, Kolapore Uplands, Bruce Peninsula … the list of places accessed via the Bruce Trail goes on and on.

You don’t need a membership to hike the trail, but, being a volunteer-driven organization, buying a membership helps with “the upkeep” and keeps you informed of club events. Better yet, consider making a donation; the Bruce Trail Conservancy is currently seeking donations to assist with the creation of a new nature reserve between Hogg’s Falls and Eugenia in the Beaver Valley.

So, if you’re looking for a project, a reason to photograph, consider visiting the Bruce Trail Conservancy Nature Reserves – and get our photographing!

The Magic Hours

Autumn Dawn, HaiburtonIt’s late summer…As I prepare for another school year, my drive through the countryside each morning becomes pure magic.

If you’re in southern Ontario and you’ve been up and out of the city anytime before 8am these past few days, you may already have a notion of what I mean by “The Magic Hours”. It’s not only a southern Ontario phenomenon, though; as the lakes of northern Ontario and, I’m sure, the sloughs of the Prairies, exhibit the same beauty.

The early hours of morning, from an hour before sunrise to an hour afterwards, are already known to landscape photographers as the “Golden Hours”, but the “Magic Hours” are something more. They start in August when the warm, even hot, days contrast with the cool nights. Highs of 25 to 30°C or more during the day create an abundance of evaporation and humidity. So when the night “plunges” to 15°C or so, the humidity comes out as spectacular ground fog the next morning.

Ellis Creek, late SummerUnfortunately, that means getting up and out early – before sunrise. Hopefully, you already have a few ideas of where to go to capture some great landscapes. Think about the wide open farm fields with perhaps a hill or two; or a river valley, a creek bed or a pond. These are all great places to consider. The air is golden and, as the sun rises, it lights up the ground fog creating creating an ethereal landscape. The contrasts between the warmth of the sun and coolness of the shadows are high accentuated making it a magical moment.

It really is a mystical time of day. But it’s tends to be a rural phenomenon; urbanites will need to get out f the city. The Magic Hours are also ephemeral as the effect lasts only a few moments to perhaps an hour. With sunrise, the humidity of the ground fog dissipates into the air with the blue of the sky becoming milky again as the heat of the day sets in   Of course, if you need more time, you can always go out the next morning, and the next!

Would you like a coffee with those hummingbirds?

It’s not often I get to enjoy a cup of coffee or a good book while photographing. Usually I’m on the trail or in the canoe swatting at mosquitoes or horseflies. But, today, rather than being in the field, I’m on the deck at the family cottage watching hummingbirds.

For some years now, our neighbour and my parents have put up hummingbird feeders for the summer. We’ve enjoyed watching their antics as they zip back and forth across the lawns, twittering away at each other. At times,it becomes violent as males defend their territories. It’s amazing how a hummingbird can fly almost silently, like a librarian humming a tune under their breath so as not to disturb their patrons. Then, they spot a rival male, and turn up the volume of their flight to sound intimidatingly ferocious. We’ve watched them swoop in on another male, straight down from above and actually make contact with him, driving him downwards. Imagine! Hummingbirds! It’s been interesting to watch the juvenile hummingbirds these last few days. They are much more tolerant of us and will come to the feeder when we are sitting too close for the adults. Ahhh, the cockiness of youth, throwing caution the wind!

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)So, as I was sitting reading the other day, enjoying the afternoon sun, I realized how perfectly lit the hummingbirds were as the visited the feeder. This got me thinking photography. Now, I’m not much of a wildlife photographer; I’m more of an opportunist. The photos I’ve made this year of “our” local heron and osprey were the result of canoeing in the evening with my wife Laurie. Rather than being a determined effort, we happened to be in the right place at the right time, stealthily approached and photographed. This is true of all of my wildlife photographs. One gets lucky over the years, and with enough years, accumulates a few good photographs.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)I realized early on I didn’t have the patience of the professional wildlife photographers. Their determination of watching wildlife for days before choosing a location for a blind, then spending days setting up the blind so as not to spook their subject, then sitting for hours, even days, in the blind to get that perfect photograph. Nope, not for me. Robert McCaw once related his story of waiting days in a blind through all kinds of weather until he finally captured the photograph of Golden Eagles. I have a lot of respect for photographers like him.

Me, I need to have my mind occupied with something more than watching wildlife or I’d fall asleep! I can spend hours reading a book or tweaking photos or building a website, but not sitting in a blind. So, back to the deck on a summer afternoon…

With the lighting so good, I took a closer look and noticed two other important factors working in my favour:

  1.  The hummingbirds would often hover a few centimetres away from the feeder before and, sometimes after, feeding. To me, this is important because I didn’t want a photo of the hummingbird on the feeder, but rather off-feeder hovering.
  2. The cedars behind the feeder are a good 5m away and in shade, providing an ideal, soft, green background to the birds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird II (Archilochus colubris)A few minutes later I was set up. The 300mm was on the tripod with camera attached. I added the polarizer, which did a beautiful job reducing glare on the feathers, and set the Exposure Compensation to –2 as the background, which filled all of the frame, was significantly darker than the lit hummingbird. The –2 was an estimate which proved to be correct. I decided against using spot metering as the hummingbird wouldn’t necessarily be in the centre of the frame.

I pre-focussed on the plastic “rest” where the birds would alight to feed. It seemed to be in about the same plane as the hummingbird would be as it hovered in front of the feeder. I was about 2-1/2m away, close enough to get a shot with enough pixels to keep it sharp (I would definitely need to crop – the beauty of 36mp!), but far enough not to spook the adults.

The one setting that would have helped me right away, but being an inexperienced wildlifer only thought of later, was switching the AF mode from single-point to 3D-tracking. (I should have thought of it from my sports photography, but I had stopped using it as it would sometimes pick up other players nearby, rather than the main subject.) What an improvement! Once focussed on the bird, the AF point followed it around keeping amazing focus.

After my first twenty minutes of sitting, I had a series of photos. Not using the 3D-tracking yet, meant that all were blurry except for the last two, which were bang on. Success, at least for the juvenile who has not yet developed the ruby throat of the males. The next day was less successful. Perhaps it was because as I was waiting for the hummers (they appear about every 15 to 20 minutes) I was reading a book. But really, I just couldn’t keep the focus on the bird moving in and out of such a narrow depth-of-field. That’s when I remembered the 3D focus.

My third afternoon out was much more successful. The male’s ruby throat was showing nicely and the 3D focus was great – not perfect, but definitely better than not using it. Exposure worked out to be near-perfect so only mild tweaking was needed. All tolled, I spent about three hours waiting and another hour or so importing and processing. Each frame required capping to about 3000×2000 pixels – plenty large enough for most uses. Maybe I could get into making wildlife photographs….Naaa – I still prefer landscapes and the odd wildlife photograph.

No snow – what to do?

November Morning, Vance RoadI know many people, despite calling themselves Canadian, abhore the snow and can’t say anything good about it. Not me! I love the snow and the complete change in reality it brings each year. Sure it’s messy to get around in and, if you’re not careful, it can be dangerous. But, as the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing!”

But without any snow…what’s a landscape photographer to do?!? Not to worry – just refocus on what is around us. There are still many details, subtle hues, textures and tones to photograph.

Frosty mornings bring dead and dried wildflowers to life with a coating of beautiful crystals. WIth the frost comes bright, clear skies and brilliant sunrises – great lighting creating long, cool shadows in contrast with the warmth of early morning. Large scenes come alive with highlights; close-ups become a whole new world of intricate shapes and contrasts.

Speed River, NovemberAt the opposite end of the spectrum are the dreary, overcast days, depressing enough made even more so without snow to brighten them. A walk along a river may just awaken your landscape instincts. Try ignoring the sky and put your efforts into looking for smaller-scale landscapes which avoid the blank starkness above. Shapes, patterns and textures amongst the trees, grasses and wildflowers become apparent when one looks more closely.

Along river banks, the patterns and colour in the willows and grasses come alive when set against the dark water in front and the darker forest behind. The dark water itself can reveal details in flow patterns we might not notice on a sunny day. Ice along the water’s edge adds a further bonus of details to explore.

Flurries, Starkey Hill, Arkell

Lately, when we do get snow, it’s been nothing more than a skiff, like icing sugar on Christmas baking. But that in itself can create magical scenes, outlining each branch and stem. Hues and contrast will be muted under an overcast sky, but an increase in Clarity (in Lightroom) will help to bring back the crispness of the day.

Of course, dreary days are also a good time to spend indoors working on, for example, printing projects. When was the last time you looked through your photographs from the past 12 months, edited a few, then made some selections to print or have printed? I find I learn a lot from my photography when I stop to ask myself “why this image and not that?” Spending time editing also hones those skills. After all, photography isn’t just the capture of images in the camera – there is much to be explored in the digital darkroom, to enhance the scenes you’ve captured. Grey, dreary days might just be the time to do it.

Although Christmas is this week, is there someone who would enjoy receiving one of your photographs? There’s still time!

Autumn Photos

I’ve been remiss lately, not just in my photography, but in posting the few photos I’ve had a chance to make this fall. As you well know, autumn is perhaps my favourite season for photography. I love the warm hues of ochres and yellows and burnt umbers and browns. However, September and October are also the busiest times at school, although I’m not sure any time of years is less busy; perhaps it’s the ramp up after summer that makes the fall seem manic. That being said, I’ve also taken on more projects this year at school.

But enough excuses… here are some photos. There is a balance of images from our annual Gr 10 6-day residential field study at Bark Lake Leadership Centre and some from ’round ‘ere. Bark Lake was difficult this year as it rained for most of the week. I was looking forward to doing more astrophotography but the stars just couldn’t burn through the cloud! However, one brief, windy late afternoon walk along the Lakota Trail yielded a few beauties.

As I always maintain, if I can manage just one masterpiece photograph for each outing then I am pleased.

Winter, so far…

We’ve had quite a winter – one of the best in years for photography. The early snow combined with the ice storm followed by still more snow have created near ideal winter conditions for photography. It’s easy to complain about the snow (and those who have lost power and are still losing power, certainly have a right to complain!), but we  really have had some beautiful days of sunshine and snowy weather. Cold, yes, but sunny. The crunch of snow under foot always beats the splatter of slush.

I’ve done a bit of shooting, but to be honest, I don’t relish getting our little car stuck in some rural snowbank, so all of my shooting has been local. That being said, there is no lack of beautiful scenes here in the Guelph area. Just keep looking!

On Monday, February 24th at 7:30pm, I’ll be speaking at the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society (GRIPS) about “My Own Backyard”. GRIPS meets at the Kitchener East Presbyterian Church at 10 Zeller Drive, Kitchener, ON. While they have me down as a “lecture”, I like to think of it as a workshop for the brain as we won’t actually be photographing, but rather I’ll be stimulating the desire to get out and make great photos in our own backyards. Guests are welcome for a GRIPS fee of $5 (see this page).

So, here is that selection of photographs I promised. Click on a photo for a slightly larger version. Feel free to add your comments in the form at the bottom.

Golden Winter Evening Winter Fields and Sky Winter Vacancy Highbush Cranberries, Winter Etchings in Snow and Ice Whites of Winter Red Osier, Ice, Snow & Light Snow and Ice, Arboretum _D8E2865-WEB Highbush Cranberries, Winter Redbuds, Winter Trembling Asepn, Last Light Sumac Sketch Design by Nature I Corridor Design by Nature II

Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density

If you haven’t already seen some of Michael Wolf’s work then head over to his website for some amazing urban views. I keep thinking what great jigsaw puzzles these photographs would make. Go there now…

Must see: “Time is a Dimension”

I love it when photographers venture into new territory and have the technical skills and vision to really make an impact. And it is important for every artist to constantly work towards renewal. Photographer Fong Qi Wei has produced a series of unique photographic collages, but rather than stitching together photographs taken at the same time, he combines images taken over a period of time. This is a must see for landscape photographers – something to try yourself. No doubt Fong had many technical and visual hurdles to overcome – and he does so with great success. Here is an example below – but do click through to his website for a more thorough visual feast.

Tiong Bahru Sunset, 2013. All Rights Reserved – Fong Qi Wei