Category: Field Techniques

Field techniques for photography

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.

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.

Autochromes: How potato starch made the first colour photographs

imagePhenomenal when you think about it. Imagine carrying around a box of glass plates lightly covered with potato starch died red, green and blue coated with an emulsion. To make a photograph, you would set up your large wooden camera on an equally large, wooden tripod then everyone and everything to “freeze” for a few moments while you expose a glass plate. Whew – photography was hard work back then.

Have a look at a news story from National Geographic – Beautiful antique photos made with potato starch about the autochrome process and the gallery of images presented there.

What an amazing transition we’ve made over the decades from glass plates to film sheets to 35mm to full frame digital, APS digital and now mirror less cameras – all managing to maintain a high level of image quality. Now, think about how much we still complain, even today, about carrying all the “stuff” we do to make great photographs!

Grand River – AM and PM

Yesterday was one of those ideal August days for photography: cold overnight and warm during the day, not to mention a super moon in the evening!

Grand River Morning – On a cool, foggy summer morning, the Grand River valley between Elora and West Montrose is filled iwth mist in this view from Pilkington Overlook in Inverhaugh in southern OntarioI was down to my favourite location along the Grand a few days ago, about ½ an hour late for the mist rising, so I kept my eye on the weather for another cold night and Saturday night was just that – down to 10°C overnight. This meant Sunday morning would dawn with great mist over the water and the Grand River did not disappoint.

I started at Pilkington Overlook (between Elora and West Montrose) spending about 15 minutes looking for just the right view with fog filling the valley. I never did find it (I always have trouble there finding just the right view), however, I did come away with one (shown at right).

Sunrise and Mist, Grand River - On a cool summer morning, mist fills the moist, floodplain of the Grand River between Elora and West Montrose in southern OntarioThen, I moved down to the flats below by the Eighth Line bridge. Spectacular. Although the sun had already risen above the valley, it was just coming over the valley edge by the time I drove down there – a golden sunrise with mist swirling around. Having been there just a few days before, I knew exactly where I wanted to set-up each photograph. It was just as well, for within 30 minutes, the show was over – the mist had evaporated. There was still beautiful sunshine that would make lovely summer morning photographs, but without the mist, it just seemed lifeless. Again, just as well – our daughter had promised to make Sunday breakfast and I didn’t want to be late!

In that 30 minutes, I managed a few different set-ups, looking up and down river, each with a different focal length from very wide through to short telephoto (105mm). I disdain straight lines in nature photos, so I always worked to incorporate the curving, leading line of the river bank. I was also able to make a few long exposures to blur the water, using the NDx8 and ND500 filters. The air was so still – nothing moved! Wonderful.

Summer Sunshine, Grand River - Sunrise over the wildflowers along the banks and floodplain of the Grand River at Inverhaugh, between Elora and West Montrose in southern OntarioOne thing I am always startled by is how well the Nikon D800E handles exposures made with the sun in them when processed in Lightroom. (The lenses also behaved with only one small flare spot, daily removed in LR.) For example, the photo above was made at the exposure recommended by the camera (i.e. I did not add exposure compensation). Lightroom successfully brought the highlights of the sun down to something manageable. They don’t have any detail, but then again, there is no detail in the sun to be had! Also, the foreground was not so dark that it couldn’t be brought back to life by increasing the Blacks and the Shadows – all without introducing scads of grain, which is often the case with raising shadow areas.

It was a similar case for this photograph to the right, made a little later. Although I reduced the in-camera exposure by 1 stop, the shadows were still recoverable and still have lots of life.

Super-Moon Rising, Grand River - In August of 2014 the Moon was closer to Earth than at any other point in the year - a supermoon or perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. This view is over the Grand River between Elora and West Montrose.In the evening, I was back again, for the light around sunset, the super moon and the light after dusk – this time with Laura, . It’s funny how long it takes for the sun to set when you are waiting for it. I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris app (for Desktop, iOS and Android) to determine where the moon would rise and the time it would rise. In fact, earlier in the day, I spent about an hour examining different locations within an hour’s drive of home to determine which would be best. At first, we were going to Spencer Gorge for the view (and I would try that next time, for sure), but having been to the Grand River earlier in the day, I thought, what the heck – why not return.

The moon rose as planned, but I was not altogether satisfied with the foreground arrangement. I made the best of a difficult situation and came back with one. The tricky part is exposing for the moon, while trying to capture some of the detail in the foreground (without, of course, resorting to making a photo montage by using a moon layer and a foreground layer in Potoshop). The photo at right was exposed for 1/30th at ƒ4 at ISO400. The shutter speed has to be high enough to stop the motion of the rotating Earth (the “movement” of the Moon). To keep some detail in the foreground, I had to use ƒ4. I could have (and perhaps should have) gone to ISO800 to get an aperture of ƒ5.6. The earlier you shoot in the evening, ideally just after moonrise, the more brightness there is to light the foreground. I made a more wideangle photograph that works well composition-wise, but, for me anyway, the moon is too small to be effective.

I did enjoy shooting some different set-ups, though, as the sun set and for about an hour afterwards. Afterglow provides and interesting cool and low contrast light. Combined with the complete lack of a breeze and shutter speeds of 30 seconds or more are no trouble.

The next super moon – not quite as super as last night’s – is on September 9th, a Tuesday. Mark it on your calendar and try to find the best location near you.

Here is a gallery of the photos I made yesterday, both in the AM and PM.

Photography in Bruce Peninsula National Park

Georgian Bay Coast, Bruce Trail, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, CanadaBack at the end of July, Kerry Little, his son Michael and I spent some time backpacking in to Stormhaven for a couple of nights then camping at Cyprus Lake. Our goal: serious photography (for Michael is was downtime and reading). The result: Success.

I was looking forward to putting the 18-35mm zoom through its paces to see just what it would do under real shooting conditions. It did not disappoint. In fact, looking over my LR uploads from the trip, 93% of the photos I made were with that lens; 55% of all photos were at 18mm. I can’t say enough about having this focal length available to me. It is so creative and gives an even stronger sense of “being there”.

Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Pegasus and the Milky Way over Cyprus Lake, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, CanadaI was also looking forward to being in a place dark enough for some astrophotography. Originally, our plan was to be at Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park, but that fell through due to brake trouble. So, Bruce Peninsula, being a Dark Sky Preserve, was a great second option. Having an 18mm focal length was part of my motivation, but pushing the D800E to its limit with long exposures was also a goal. You see, I think it is important to push our equipment to the limit not just to learn what it is capable of, but also to break new ground in our own photography. I didn’t go as far as doing a few hundred exposures to get star trails (that’s for another time when I have access to my laptop for uploading full cards!), but I did enjoy the results from single exposures of 25 to 30sec at ISO3200. I read up on it ahead of time at Dave Morrow’s site – very helpful! Also, the iPad add Sky Guide was helpful.

Ideally, I would have done this from Stormhaven – a hike-in only site – due to its distance from the lights of Tobermory. Despite this old body, I made it in with a 30kg pack with energy to spare. Stormhaven is a great location; from the beach there is a clear view to the north with sunrise (and Cave Point) to the right and sunset to the left. Unfortunately, we had rain to deal with. After a clear start to our second day, it teemed rain the rest of the day until late in the afternoon. We were under the tarp for our brunch (we’re up at 5:30am before sunrise for photography, so it’s brunch at 10am or so) and in our tents for much of the day until the rain finally stopped at about 4:30pm. Cloud obscured the sky each night making astrophotography impossible. However, from the shore of Cyprus Lake, it turned out quite well.

Still Water, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, CanadaMy third goal for the trip was to spend some time doing long exposures of Georgian Bay. As it turned out, Kerry had an NDx3.0 (10 stop neutral density) filter which reduced exposures 1/30 all the way to 30 seconds (the rather unfortunate limit on a D800E without using the Bulb setting – I don’t wear a watch and my “on-board metronome” from my black and white darkroom days is a bit rusty! 🙂 I often used ISO50 to achieve this long exposure and sometimes used a polarizing filter as well, although the polarizer was primarily used to enrich the colours of foliage, rock and water by reducing glare. Success, again. I have since ordered a Hoya Pro ND500 (9-stop ND) as well as the Pro1 NDx0.8 (3 stops), more commonly used for slowing shutter speeds along rivers. I’ll write more about working with long exposures sometime soon.

The Trail, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, CanadaAfter Stormhaven, we camped at Cyprus Lake. Car camping is always so depressing after wilderness camping. It’s loud and dusty with car traffic and the toilets are never as nice as they are in wilderness settings! That being said, the first evening I had a wonderful few hours of hiking and photography. Starting out from Tamarack campground, I had no expectations of what I would find, given how crowded the park was with partiers who only wanted to get to the Grotto. I hiked to the coast and began taking advantage of the beautiful evening light. I went from set-up to set-up completely losing track of time until I realized my shutter speeds were getting rather long (see The Trail – 13sec at ƒ16 – which I made at 9pm). It was one of those blocks of time I get about 3 times a year when practicalities go out the window in favour of pure creativity.

Here is a gallery of photographs to peruse from the trip. A few, and perhaps my favourites, are black-and-whites. As well, I put in colour versions of similar set-ups to some of the B&Ws for comparison purposes.

If you have any comments or questions about the photos, Bruce Peninsula or about photography in general, please I’d love to hear them – don’t hesitate to add a comment or email me directly. Enjoy!

 

Must see video of how one photographer used a D800E and 18-35mm zoom…

Take a moment to enjoy this very creative use of a camera and a remote car…
http://www.interestingfunfacts.com/watch-what-happens-when-you-put-a-camera-on-a-toy-car-and-drive-it-into-a-pride-of-lions.html