Category: Field Techniques

Field techniques for photography

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.

 

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.

KW-GRIPS: Monday, Nov. 13

Join me at the regular Monday meeting of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society where I will be presenting Shaping Landscape and Nature Photographs.

Much of the “shaping” of photographs begins in the field with the assembling of various compositional elements to take the scene from a simple snapshot to a thoughtful creation by the photographer. As artists, it’s important to at least take into consideration angle of light, perspective and angle of view, all the while making active use of visual design elements in the scene, such as leading lines and framing elements, to create dynamic compositions that guide viewers through the scene.

Shaping continues in post-capture processing with the use of selected processing adjustments including graduated masks and adjustment brushes. My sincere belief is that ¾ of the work happens before the shutter is released and ½ the work happens afterwards because every good photograph is, in fact, greater that the sum of its parts, the difference being the effort and visual skill the photographer adds in the making of each photograph.

I hope you can join me Monday evening at 7:30pm for some inspiration and perhaps a new way of looking at photography. Meetings are held at the Kitchener East Presbyterian Church at 10 Zeller Drive, Kitchener. I hope to see you there!

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!

It’s Fungus Time in Southern Ontario

Beware – there’s fungus among us! The mushrooms are out in the forests of southern Ontario! Get out your tripod and your knee pads and get down in the leaf litter from some great close-up photography. But don’t forget your bug repellent, because the mosquitoes are still out there!

The last two weekends, my wife Laura and I have been out along the Bruce Trail. If you’re not familiar with the Bruce Trail, it is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath travelling from Niagara Falls in the south along the Niagara Escarpment some 890km to Tobermory in the north. There are dozens of places along the trail to park and hike for a day, often associated with the various conservation areas and provincial parks along the Escarpment, but also along roadsides and at car parks built expressly for Trail users. I would encourage you to make good use of the Bruce Trail for access to some of the most photogenic sites in southern Ontario. But, being a volunteer-maintained trail, consider also becoming a member of the Bruce Trail Conservancy, purchasing the Reference Guide book or Trail app (iOS and Android) or making a contribution to the Conservancy so they can continue their good work keeping the trail up and acquiring more parcels of land to protect the optimum route of the trail.

Our first hike was the Speyside section (east of Guelph, north of Milton, just east of former Hey 25), where we saw the first few mushrooms. Between Bruce Trial hikes, we’ve also been to the Arboretum at the University of Guelph where there are a few different types of fungus. I hesitate to call them all mushrooms as some of what you’ll see are cup fungus, coral fungus, puffballs and slime moulds. Don’t they sound delightful? Beyond that, I’m not at all familiar with the various types of fungus and know very little about the names except for the ones I have looked up.

Saturday was a fungus bonanza, though. We were northeast of Shelburne along a stretch of the Bruce Trail between Boyne River Provincial Park and the Mulmur Hills. The summer has been on the cool and wet side which seems ideal for fungus as well as various species of moss and lichen. There were over a dozen different kinds of fungus and, as our intent was to hike, I only stopped to photograph a few.

So if you have a couple of hours to spare and don’t mind getting your knees dirty, head out to a local woodlot or forest and try your hand (and your patience) with photographing fungus. The nice thing is, they don’t move, so the long exposure times needed for the dark forest floor are not a problem as long as you are using a tripod and cable release or self-timer. Take your time, though, as the set-up and precise focussing can sap your patience.

If you are into trying new techniques, mushrooms are also a good subject to practice the technique of focus-stacking (excellent tutorial here). The files are not something you can process in Photos or Lightroom – you’ll need Affinity Photo (video tutorial) or Photoshop to finish the job. I’ve been experimenting with the technique and may start to use it more, but, for now, I’m still making the majority of my close-up shots the regular way by choosing a small aperture (ƒ22 for full frame; ƒ5.6 to 8 for 1″ sensor) and making a single shot.

Setting up low to the ground and with a tripod is not easy. Before going out, work with your tripod to learn what it’s capable of, and what it cannot do. Some tripods allow the legs to spread out completely, but then you are limited by the centre post. The Manfrotto 055 tripod I recently purchased has a centre post that can be set at a 90° angle – ideal for shooting close-ups near to the ground – and it really works well!

When I’m out hiking, as I was yesterday, rather than bringing the whole kit with D800E, lenses and 055 tripod, I often bring my Sony RX10iii with the monopod portion of my MeFoto RoadTrip tripod. This is a good set-up, but not ideal as I end up having to use ISO 400 and some pretty slow shutter speeds along with the excellent stabilization, to shoot close-up. The Chanterelle above was shot at ƒ5.6 @ 1/13, ISO 400 with a polarizer on the RX10iii on the monopod. It took a few shots to ensure everything was sharp, but I sure wish I had my tripod for this. I think next time I’ll at least have the full MeFoto tripod with me for just a situation like this.

If you can’t get down lower than the shortest leg setting, then think about using a telephoto lens and shooting from further away. As it is, the best close-up/macro lenses for this kind of work are in the 90mm to 150mm range. If you can focus closely enough, a 200mm focal length lens makes an ideal working distance for close-up photography. Again, set this up at home – try practicing on some flowers or even chess pieces. When out in the field, be aware of branches and leaves that may be between the lens and the mushroom that may not be visible in the viewfinder.

Once you’ve found the ideal mushroom in the forest – before you set up the tripod – hand-hold your camera and spend some time finding just the right angle and view. Composition is best done off the tripod; once you’ve found that perfect angle, set up the tripod “under” that point and attach your camera. Adding a polarizing filter will help reduce the glare off wet foliage or smooth bark and leaves.

One cautionary note: Do not pick and eat any of the mushrooms. As delectable as they may look – and they may even look exactly like a mushroom you remember eating – don’t take the chance. There are too many “look-alikes” that might just send you to Emergency!

If you have any questions or comments, please add them below. And I invite you to share this post with others. Thanks for reading!

Gallery
Click on any image and use the > < arrows (or your cursor keys) to navigate through.

Summer Morning

On Tuesday, I set aside the early part of the morning specifically for photographing a field of summer wildflowers between Water Street and Municipal Street here in Guelph. My wife Laura and I walk by here regularly as we (mostly she!) completes our 6km loop from home to the Boathouse on Gordon Street (no, we don’t stop for ice cream!) and back again, along the Speed River for most of the way. It’s been interesting to watch how this field has evolved since, amidst much controversy, this forested area was razed by the Hydro One crews two years ago. They seeded it with a wildflower mix which, at this point anyway, seems to be successful. Right now it is ablaze with flowers: Queen Anne’s Lace, Rudbeckia, Evening Primrose, Mullen, various thistles, daisies, and grasses.

When I walked along the trail early Saturday morning, I was struck by the colour, the light and simply how “full” the field was with wildflowers. As I walked, I got thinking about returning with my 100mm macro lens on the D800E first thing in the morning, hand-held, just to see what I could capture, ideally at ƒ2.8 only. I specifically chose my full-frame camera because I wanted to minimize my depth of field, so ƒ2.8 was also my goal. This is a complete departure from my regular shooting style of using a wideangle lens, getting close and using a small aperture to maximize depth-of-field; this allows me to create the environmental portraits I love so much – putting the main subject in its natural context. When I began shooting, though, I quickly realized how shallow the DoF is at ƒ2.8; I just couldn’t come to grips with the limited depth-of-field, so I “slipped up” to 5.6 and even 7.1 for a few shots.

Here are six of the photos I made.

These photos represent another goal of the morning, which was to capture light. I was fortunate that it was cool enough overnight for dew to settle on the flowers, so at 7am they were sparkling, adding another dimension to the morning. However, I can tell I’m a bit out of practice. Some of the parts I wanted in focus are not and despite using shutter speeds over 1/250, my hand-holding is not quite steady enough with high magnification shots like these. The problem is, I’ve become too used to the excellent image stabilization of the Sony RX10iii. Next time, I’ll consider using a monopod, although, to be honest, for these more spontaneous shots, even a monopod would be a hindrance.

Please add your comments, questions and critique using the “Comments” below and be sure to share this post on Facebook. And get out photographing!

Marsh Reflections

Earlier last week I was up on the Rideau Lakes in eastern Ontario, part of the series of lakes created when the Royal Engineers built the Rideau Canal back in the early 19th century. Our family has been cottaging on Lower Rideau Lake for over 70 years; I think I’m on year 52 or so up there. Needless to say, it’s a lake I know well and have often photographed.

On my first morning up there, I was out before breakfast, canoeing in the marsh behind the cottage. I was glad to see (and hear!) how healthy the frog population is this year! We had been quite worried the last few years; last year, in particular, we didn’t really hear or see any bullfrogs. Well this year, there are plenty, and green and leopard frogs as well. It seemed to be an especially productive morning as I was able to photograph (again!) a great blue heron and a bullfrog in addition to watching and photographing a muskrat diving down to pull up the root of a cattail, peel and eat it.

After all these years, I was also able to photograph a bullhead lily flower. It’s funny because there are always thousands of them out in flower, yet I’ve never spent the time to photograph one. Often they are looking worse for wear and they are always covered in flies of some kind. Today was no different, but I spent some time cloning out the flies for a finished photograph (see below).

While photographing the flower, it occurred to me that it looks rather ‘textbook’, so I started looking for other ways to “see” the flower and came up with Marsh Reflections, the photograph you see at the bottom. I also learned, while looking up the actual species, that (as far as I can tell, anyway), this flower is, indeed, a Bullhead Lily, not, as I thought and grew up with, a Yellow Pond Lily. From what I can tell, the Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea) is the European equivalent of North America’s Bullhead Lily, Nuphar variegata. If I’m wrong on this, could someone please let me know!

What is especially thrilling is that all the photos were made at the 600mm (equivalent) setting on the Sony RX-10iii and were hand-held. I’m always surprised at how well the image stabilization works and the lens is beautifully sharp, even at f/4! For a couple of the shots, I used the pull out LCD and held the camera down near water level –a feature I’m using more and more, particularly because the image stabilization is so good.

This coming week, I’m hoping to get some long-overdue printing done. Perhaps I’ll have a report about that later this month. Then it’s off to Lake Superior and the north country!

“Before” – this is what the original photo looked like before I went to work on the flies.

Enjoy the summer, and get out shooting!

Hamilton Camera Club – Monday

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

If you’re in the Hamilton area on Monday evening join me at the Hamilton Camera Club meeting for my talk on Creating Compelling Landscapes.

The evening starts at 7:30pm and ends at 9:30.

Landscapes always seem simple enough; take one outstanding view, raise the camera to your eye or point the cellphone and “click” – done. That will certainly get you a snapshot, but what can you be doing to capture more than just the scene? How do capture the mood, the atmosphere, the feeling of being there in the stifling heat or the bitter cold?

That’s where you start thinking about the Photographer’s Toolbox: the Ambient Conditions, Visual Design Elements, Technical Controls and Post-capture Processing techniques to answer the question:

How can I creatively use the elements in the landscape and my equipment & skills as a photographer to recreate the compelling scene before me as well as the experience of being there?

Intrigued? See you Monday at 7:30pm at

Mount Hamilton Christian Reformed Church, 1411 Upper Wellington Street, Hamilton.

Guelph Photographers Guild – Going strong!

The Boyne River has its headwaters in the Dufferin Highlands of Ontario and makes its way, largely undisturbed and wild, to join the Beaver River at the head of the Beaver Valley, along the Niagara Escarpment in Grey County, Ontario
The Boyne River has its headwaters in the Dufferin Highlands of Ontario and makes its way, largely undisturbed and wild, to join the Beaver River at the head of the Beaver Valley, along the Niagara Escarpment in Grey County, Ontario

On Wednesday evening of this week I spoke to an enthusiastic and engaging audience at the Guelph Photographers Guild. My two-hour presentation revolved around a series of recent landscapes, all shot here in southern Ontario, mostly within less than an hour of Guelph.

Those of you familiar with my work know of how much I enjoy travel. Having lived in Tanzania, England and Germany, and having travelled to Canada’s east and west coasts, Florida, South Africa, most European countries and the Galápagos, I am most passionate about the photography I do here “in my own backyard”. These are the places I know best, but more importantly, they are the places I can return to when the light and atmosphere are peaking.

The other main ideas I was discussing included:

  • Arrive before the light; stay after the light
  • Shoot into the light
  • Find a different perspective
  • Return to the same places
  • The performance is in the processing.

One can be the finest photographic technician in the world, but if you aren’t putting these ideas in place, you might find your photographs flat and lifeless. The opposite is true, too: no matter what camera you are using, your photographs will always be better earlier in the morning, close to home, in a place you are intimately familiar with, shot from a different perspective.

I also brought with me a number of recent prints, still artist proofs, to help demonstrate the process of working towards a final print. I make my prints on Moab Entrada Rag Natural matte paper with no OBAs witch a slight warmth to it. To me, being able to hold prints in hand gives them a new life, a vibrancy that is not possible behind glass.

If you want to pursue or discuss any of these ideas feel free to comment below or send me an email. I’m presently not organizing workshops, but if you would like to arrange something privately, let me know. Or, if your photography club is looking for a guest speaker, I would be happy to help you out.

Most importantly, get out shooting! Thanks for the warm welcome, GPG!

BTW: Their next meeting is Wednesday, June 15 at 7pm at the Guelph Unifor building, 661 Silvercreek Parkway North (north of Woodlawn). They will have a rep from Panasonic, showing the Lumix line of products. As an FZ1000 user, I can heartily recommend Lumix. You can read my recent blog post about it.

Guelph Photography Guild – Wednesday

Relic RhododendronI’m looking forward to speaking this Wednesday 18 May at the Guelph Photography Guild meeting at 7pm.  I will be sharing recent landscapes and discussing the merits of shooting “Into the Light” and shooting locally.

The GPG meets at 611 Silvercreek Parkway North in the UNIFOR Building. Hope to see you there.