Category: Fine Art Photography

An open letter to Freeman Patterson regarding jpegs and raw files

Freeman Patterson is one of the most renowned and respected natural environment and outdoor photographers in Canada and around the world. Many photographers have learned greatly from this master of seeing, some of us from as far back as the 1970s. His work is equally remarkable when done in his own backyard of Shamper’s Bluff, New Brunswick or in the drylands of Namaqualand, South Africa.

Periodically through the year, Freeman sends out a newsletter in which he discusses life and philosophy and photography. I find them meditative and inspirational and read them when I have an opportunity to sit and ponder and enjoy.

So, it was with some shock, and a little dismay, that I read the following in his last paragraph of his most recent newsletter, dated May 2019, Images, Ideas and Reflections:

1/ It’s my long-term observation that most digital cameras have far too many functions and are far too complicated for the needs of most amateurs and, in fact, many professionals. 2/ In my view, always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time. Although some very well-known Canadians professional photographers agree, many amateurs seem shocked when I say this. When do I shoot RAW? Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print, which is extremely rare. For me, the old K.I.S.S. principle still applies – keep it simple, stupid. Never let your equipment or the way you use it interfere with your spiritual life!

(Underscores are that of the original author).

Now, far be it for me to take on a legendary photographer such as a Freeman Patterson, but I simply could not sit by silently with a blanket statement such as “always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time” and “When do I shoot RAW? Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print, which is extremely rare.”

Here is my response…

Dear Freeman,

I’m just wondering if what you wrote in the last paragraph of your most recent letter – the part about jpegs vs raw files – was put there to see how many people have read to the end, you can download them with  sodapdf.com!

I very much enjoyed reading your letter, as I always do, as much as I have enjoyed your photographs and teachings since the 1970s, that is, until I read the last paragraph.

While I agree “most digital cameras have far too many functions and are far too complicated”, and “Never let your equipment or the way you use it interfere with your spiritual life!”, I am rather dismayed by your blanket statement in support of jpegs over raw files: “always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time”, with little explanation beyond “Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print”. Limiting the creative potential of a photographer is deceptive, limiting and, frankly, unprofessional as an educator.
While your notions of less is more deeply resonate with me, the limitations created by a machine-created digital file may be helpful for simplifying photography in the short term, a decision to only shoot jpegs can be unnecessarily restricting in the long term.
A jpeg is like a Polaroid print or a machine print from Blacks or a Kodachrome transparency. While each could be considered fine enough quality for display as artwork, they are, essentially, end points, with much less ‘room’ for further enhancements once they are created. A photograph should represent the photographer’s complete vision – one realized through field techniques and processing techniques – not only field techniques and that of a machine with ‘under-the-hood’ computer algorithms. 
So, I can only wonder if you were addressing those photographers who believe that what the camera spits out is the end product. Is this a remnant of your transparency days when the slide was very much an end product? One can alter a Polaroid, machine print, transparency or jpeg, but it will only lead to further image degradation – fine if that’s your style, but not as a blanket end result.
Polaroids aside (they were a niche art market unto themselves, pursued beyond snapshots by only a small minority of photographers), transparencies and machine prints would have been a suitable end product to non-darkroom workers. But stop for a moment and try to imagine an Adams black-and-white as a machine print?!? While his field techniques were legendary, his printing of each negative is what made each scene “sing”. A jpeg would never stand up to the modern-day equivalent of an Adams darkroom session.
Digital image files today are the negatives of before: an opportunity for a photographer to refine and/or extend their vision beyond what the camera machine produces. And, given the ubiquity of digital editing apps, and photographers willing to pursue the technology, it hardly seems appropriate to limit their future potential growth by recommending bog-standard jpegs. Again, I’m not referring to whole scale digital manipulation, stretching photographs beyond the recognizable; rather, I’m speaking of the myriad subtle enhancements to already finely crafted images that breathe life into the product of a machine – the same manipulations I once enjoyed working with in a wet darkroom (colour and b&w).
When it comes to digital editing, working within the confines of the colour space and compression of a jpeg is like playing tennis (or basketball or football/soccer) on a court with cement walls for out-of-bounds lines. In severely limiting a player’s freedom of movement, racquet swings become much more conservative and the game much different! Due to a jpeg’s limited 8-bit colour space, even tweaking it a little may drive colours out of gamut during processing. Furthermore, subtle highlight details also suffer due to file compression algorithms in jpegs. Granted, printing processes and screens are also 8-bit, but with raw files, the photographer has the option to adjust colours during the editing process, within the larger colour space of a raw file (Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB), then bring them back to the once again limiting 8-bits of the printing process (or screen visualization) in ways they see fit, not an algorithm.
Creativity can start from a finished product, but the potential is limitedWorse, the decisions regarding colour, sharpening and compression are not made by the photographer, but by an automated process, pre-determined by a committee of software engineers, to produce the best possible average of averages. It’s not looking at the content, the scene the colours and is ignorant of end use. While the product of these software decisions, the jpeg, is of high quality, it is still handcuffed into only reduced quality through editing, not improved quality.
Granted, you know this already, which makes it even more surprising you would recommend it. I see the role of teachers as ones who inspire students to go beyond, to encourage exploration and discovery, not to hamper them with built-in algorithms. The books and prints of your work are not the product of blind acceptance of the decisions of software engineers, neither should a photographer’s photographs.
I shoot with a full frame sensor camera, a 1” sensor camera, and an iPhone. Believe you me, the 1” sensor files definitely benefit from being captured in raw format; the iPhone files even more so. The image quality difference between processed raw files and jpegs from all three cameras is significant on screen and in print. As sensor size is reduced, that difference becomes even more obvious. For example, even subtle image processing on a jpeg can result in obvious and unacceptable banding across otherwise clear blue skies.
So, I can’t help wondering what, exactly, you were getting at by endorsing jpegs for all photos that are not likely to end up being printed to  20”x30” or larger. I’ve been successfully photographing and selling for decades and I still don’t always know when a photograph might be printed large like that. I would rather err on the side of caution and spend a little more of my time capturing in raw then making a few quick edits to it (even automated edits!), knowing that I still have the raw file that, at some later time, I can take to the next level if I should choose to go back to it to further improve it.
I’m just very thankful that I can go back to the raw files I made 18 years ago in Tanzania with an early digital camera – a 5mp Minolta 7hi – and still make improvements with today’s editing apps, something I cannot achieve in the same way even from high quality jpegs made with the same camera. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but they are not nearly as good as what I can do with the raw files. I can also go back to my 4×5 negatives and make silver gelatin prints, if I choose, or scan them into digital files.
You see, that’s the difference between raw files and jpegs – raw files have the potential for further improvements jpegs, not so much. One never knows what the future holds.
With great respect,
Terry McDonald
www.luxborealis.com

St. Catharines Photographic Club

On Tuesday of last week, I “opened the season” at the St. Catharines Photographic Club, St. Catharines, Ontario. With the Niagara Escarpment wine country and Niagara Falls so close, the topic of my presentation, ‘Landscape Photography as Artistic Expression’ seemed appropriate for a good many in the audience of about 75 or so.

From my perspective, we can be greeted with a beautiful scene in front of us and capture it in an ‘ƒ8 and be there’ way, but there is so much more we can do as artists to accentuate the scene. For better or worse, as photographers our ‘canvas’ (our viewfinder) is always filled with a scene. It’s a blessing as it gives us a starting point; but it’s also a curse in that we now must work hard to ensure all the elements contribute to the final photograph we see in our mind’s eye.

The Landscape Photographer's Toolkit - copyright Terry A. McDonaldEssentially, we are ‘assembling’ a photograph to represent our vision of the scene by using the various elements provided to us:

  • the Ambient Conditions provided by the weather, time of day and time of year;
  • the Aesthetic Elements of camera position, leading lines and other compositional elements; and
  • the Technical Controls at our disposal: choice of lens, filter, aperture, shutter speed; using a tripod, shooting in panoramic or making an HDR exposure blend.

But that only gets us as far as, what I like to call, a ‘machine file’ generated by the camera. From there, we continue our artistic explorations by applying ‘subtle and discreet’ post-capture processing techniques to further enhance and re-create the scene as we experienced it.

If all we do is reproduce what was there, are we truly adding anything of ourselves to the final work? This is the crux of my goal as a photographer: “to interpret the art inherent in nature’. Nature is spectacular just at is, but sometimes it needs some help to clarify and accentuate the beauty that exists. That’s where the astute and passionate eye of a photographer comes in. For me, the ‘interpretation’ is my take on the what nature provides as art for us everyday.

Overall, it was an excellent evening with many thoughtful questions from the audience. It was also great to see the level of involvement of many members and the high quality of images as evidenced by their website.

I hope to return to St. Catharines in the future to work with Club members on a landscape photography workshop or two. If that’s something you would find helpful – hands-on instruction in the field – then be sure to let the Club know. Alternatively, I am more than happy to lead small groups in ‘field and screen’ workshops where we spend the morning out shooting and the afternoon editing. Just drop me an email if you’re interested.

In the meantime – get out and get shooting. It’s autumn and the colours are arriving. And, if you get out early enough into the rural areas, you will capture some of the wonderful foggy mornings we’re having.

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!

 

iPhone 8 Plus Initial Test Shots

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

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

iPhone 8 Plus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Lake Superior VI: Chutes, again

I hate those shirts that say, “Been there. Done that.” That’s the problem with tourism these days – too many people choking up incredible places just so they can tick their list of things they’ve “done” – once – never to return, never to really experience the place. That’s not travel, it’s listing, like so many birdwatchers adding to their Life Lists.

My other peeve with this, is the word “do” in association with visiting a place. “Oh, we did Stonehenge” or “Oh we’ve done Machu Picchu”. Most of the time, they didn’t do anything but sit on a coach, get out, walk around for a few minutes, buy their souvenirs then off to the next place to “do”. Again, that’s not travel, it’s listing. Oh, am I repeating myself? There’s a message there!

Okay – rant over…

To break up the drive back to the hamster cage of southern Ontario, we decided to stop at Chutes Provincial Park again. Yes, we were there on the way up – what could there possibly be to photograph if we’ve “done” it already?!? 🙂 As a photographer, I know how important it is to return to places I’ve already visited. Things change: the light, the time of day, my frame of mind, my way of seeing; and, over a year or many years, the seasons. I can’t count how many times I’ve “done” the Arboretum at the University of Guelph over the 35 years since I first attended Uni, and I think I can confidently say, I’ve never come home without seeing something new and with a photograph I’d be happy to post or frame.

Having visited and experienced a place once, gives you “insider” information about what that place is like and where the light will fall at different times of the day. Hopefully, on your first visit, you consciously made notes (literally or figuratively) about what isn’t working that time and may work better in different conditions. Or, perhaps there’s a part of it you didn’t fully explore. These all factor into returning to places. This second time, Chutes proved to be well worth the stop.

The evening we arrived didn’t amount to much. We mostly scouted for the next morning. I felt moved to make one serious photo (right), but I knew it would be repeating the theme of a waterfall at dusk; a different waterfall, but nothing really new. However, our scouting hike gave us the opportunity to envision places to photograph tomorrow.

The next morning dawned clear and we headed straight out, each to slightly different locations. That’s one of the reasons I like working with Kerry: we are both independent in our thinking and our photography, rarely working the same scene or, if we do, usually from different angles. We can be on the same trail, yet not see each other for an hour or more.

In the gallery below are photographs from the three different set-ups I worked on in the morning; two are similar, from the same set-up; I just can’t decide yet which framing I prefer. I’ve also included the one from the previous evening.

Making Cascade was a lengthy process of working with different shutter speeds to get just the right flow of water. While “chimping“, I noticed this one photo had a wash of water over the foreground rock – the only one like it. I tried replicating this with a slightly longer shutter speed, but the flow of water only did this every 5 minutes or so and my timing just wasn’t as good as the serendipity of the initial frame like this.

The photographer Weegee is credited with the phrase “ƒ8 and be there” as the first rule of photography. I couldn’t agree more, because once you’re there, serendipity has a chance to play its role. As a family, we came to recognize the importance of serendipity during our travels when we lived in Africa. Going out on “game drives” was all about timing: a Cheetah on a termite mound; hyenas gathered at kill; a wildebeest giving birth; elephants wandering amongst our tents. So we’ve continued to be open to serendipity and, more importantly, being out there to experience it. You just never know when things might go from exciting to magical.

You can lview all the photos I’ve posted from Lake Superior 2017 on my Flickr account. Please share the link and this post, and feel free to comment, question and add constructive criticism.

Thanks for reading.

Lake Superior V: B&W

I love black-and-white. Perhaps it’s because, like every photographer of my age, I “cut my teeth” on black-and-white. Thank goodness digital has not changed that. In fact black-and-white is better now than it ever has been. We are no longer tied to using colour filters – yellow, orange, red – to enhance tones of the same colour over their opposites. Nor are we tied to buying, mixing, storing, using and breathing in the chemicals needed for a darkroom. Then, there’s the water use: hours of washing negs and prints with constantly running water? I can’t even conceive of it anymore.

Figure 1

The conceptual part of making of a black-and-white photograph is perhaps a bit more difficult today. As we live in a colour world and digital cameras produce colour files, I find it more difficult to switch my brain into “black-and-white mode”. As we no longer put a roll or a sheet of B&W film into the camera, and we no longer use the colour filters, there isn’t that physical “trigger” to ignore the colour and concentrate on the tones, the shapes, the textures. Having been schooled in B&W, I find I can make the switch, but it’s definitely more difficult. I imagine those who have never worked in a B&W world may find it considerably more difficult. Often, though, it’s the scene that tells me, “I’m a black and white!”

Figure 2

Without colour, a scene must speak through tones, textures and contrast. It doesn’t need to start off monotone, but the photographer must carefully understand how colours will translate to shades of grey. Two very different colours; the orange and blue in a sunset, for example, will often become a single or two very similar grey tones (Fig 1). Back in the film days, when colour filters were used, a yellow or orange filter would be selected to brighten the yellows and oranges and darken the blues. This is now done in the digital processing stage using an app such as Lightroom (see Fig 2). While virtually any scene can be photographed and processed for black-and-white, as was the case for decades before colour film was commonly available, some scenes “work” better than others.

More so than colour, light plays a key role in black and white. Under soft lighting conditions of an overcast day, it can be difficult to properly separate the middle tones to prevent them from becoming “muddy”. That’s where the “darkroom” work comes in. Previously, we would boost the film by giving it N+1 or N+2 development and, perhaps use a higher contrast paper. In harshly-lit conditions, we would process film at N-1 or N-2 and/or use lower contrast paper. Now, in Lightroom, we adjust a combination of tone curves, contrast, clarity, white and black points, shadows and highlights to recreate our vision from the field. We’re doing the same thing as before, but using tools that allow for finer adjustment.

Some of the black-and-whites below you may recognize from previous posts as colour photos. Try not to compare them to the colour photos as too often, colour “wins” if only due to familiarity. Try to see the B&W photographs as something different. Black-and-white photographs encourage you to look beyond the obvious to see the textures and shapes that create a scene.

After viewing the gallery, please leave a comment, ask a question or offer constructive criticism; and take a moment to share this post with others. Thanks for reading.

Lake Superior IV: Pukascapes

The undulating, uneven, irregular profile of the Canadian Shield is iconic and unique. It’s the result of a couple of billion years of erosion. To put it into perspective, that’s billion, as in 2,000,000,000 years – long before anything we see today as life had evolved: before the dinosaurs, before the reptiles and fish and long before plants – before there were any multicellular organisms. All there were 2 billion years ago were bacteria and eukaryotes – single-cells with just the mere basics of even being a cell. No protozoans, no amoebas.

Making a photograph that portrays the nature of the Canadian Shield is, for me, a quest. In fact, the photographic goal I set for myself in anyplace I visit is to find that quintessential image that captures the essence of place. But what aspects of the Shield must be considered for the photograph to reflect the quintessence of the place? The distinct profile, for one; the rock itself, the boreal forest and, because water has played such a huge role in shaping the Shield, a lake. A tall order, and one I didn’t quite achieve in a single photograph, but I think I came close. Judge for yourself.

I think my more insightful photographs are those of the details of the rock and vegetation of Pukaskwa showcased in my previous blog, Lake Superior III. But the eye candy is in the sunrises and sunsets you’ll see below. I know, I know. ABS – Another Bloody Sunset. It’s not like I don’t already have 56,000 of them. But, what can I say; they truly are wondrous. And the final ones, shot from the Headland Trail, capture the essence of the Lake Superior coast.

Enjoy! And please consider sharing this post with others who enjoy photography.

 

Lake Superior II – LSPP

LSPP – Lake Superior Provincial Park – is a large, 1556km2 natural environment park along the eastern shore of Lake Superior, 200km north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The Trans-Canada Highway (Ontario Hwy 17) passes through it north-south, about ½ along the coast and ½ through the interior. (Note: A “natural environment” park means Ontario Parks allows limited natural resource extraction. In the case of LSPP, only hunting is permitted as commercial trapping, forestry and mining have been discontinued. This is unlike Algonquin Provincial Park, where “sustainable” forestry is still permitted in 65% of the park. But that’s another issue for another day!)

Our base for this part of the trip was Rabbit Blanket Lake, a smaller, quieter campground of 60 sites in the northern part of the park. With access to the Peat Mountain trail from the campground, the South Old Woman River Trail across the road and Rabbit Blanket Lake itself, there were plenty of photo ops without having to drive. That being said, we spent a few hours further south along the Pinguisibi River (Sand River) Trail, just because we like photographing waterfalls. But there are plenty of hiking opportunities in the park – too numerous for the short four days we were there. There is also the Coastal Hiking Trail which Kerry and I completed part of back in 2008 (Flickr Album). Given our earlier trip, we decided to concentrate on the interior places including rivers, small lakes, waterfalls and rapids.

The beauty of LSPP, beyond the raw nature and hummocky landscape of the Canadian Shield, lies in the moist forests. This whole area was logged up to about 100 years ago, so the forests are still quite immature. They may seem like a climax forest, but they are still far from it; give them another couple of hundred years to fully mature into the huge behemoth trees that were so desired by the loggers.

Being adjacent to what amounts to an inland sea, the mixed but mostly coniferous forests along the Lake Superior coast, receive plenty of precipitation – about 1000mm per year – on the cusp of a true maritime climate. But, given its low evaporation rates, that moisture stays in the soil producing a rich diversity and abundance of beautiful ferns, mosses and lichens covering logs and rocks under the canopy of mostly spruce trees. Years ago, I spent a number of hours in a light rain along the South Old Woman River Trail and I was excited to be back there again. It seemed different this time, but lush, green and beautiful. It was like being in a miniature version of a BC temperate rainforest.

On our final morning, we were up at dawn and were greeted with beautiful mist on Rabbit Blanket Lake that persisted for almost two hours. The best part for us: we were the only ones around! Every campsite was occupied, but not one person came down to the lake that morning. At 8:30am, walking back to our campsite, which was not by the lake, people were just getting going. To my mind, they missed the most beautiful part of the day. But, then again, perhaps that’s why people find photos like these so compelling.

Here’s a gallery of my photographs from Lake Superior Provincial Park…

Chutes, Evening, River aux Sables, Ontario

Lake Superior I – Chutes

I have just returned from 10 days in northern Ontario, eight of which were spent along the coast of Lake Superior at Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park. Both of these parks are exceptional examples of how wild and spectacular the Canadian Shield can be with fast-flowing, rocky rivers, waterfalls, rich forests, dramatic coasts and beautiful granite sculpted by glaciers, water and over a billion years of time.

The weather? Well, it was too nice. Not once did we put on raincoats, although we did have enough rain one night to close the Trans-Canada due to a washout. Other than that one day, everyday was blue sky with few or no clouds and daytime temperatures in the low 20s – perfect summer weather for hiking up and down headlands and through forests, but for landscape photographers who would prefer a few “Ansel Adams” or ” Arthur Lismer” clouds, not ideal!

The bugs? Despite it being the height of mosquito season, neither of us even once put on bug dope – and we were up at dawn and out after sunset, hiking through damp forests and alongside rivers. It’s not that there were no bugs, believe me there were, but they never go to that threshold level that demanded a dose of DEET.

I travelled and photographed with Kerry Little. Kerry and I go back to my few years at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) when I worked in photography, just out of university. Kerry is now a commercial photographer specializing in agriculture photography and aerial photography. Our two families travelled to Superior together two or three times back in the 1990s when our kids were young. He has a trailer that was itching to travel and, like me,  Kerry was in need of a dose of northern Ontario.

There’s something about being north and remote that gives perspective to the rat race of southern Ontario. Everything slows down. There’s no internet connection or cell service in the parks which alters the focus from screen to reality. Neither of us are the type to be tied to a device in the first place, so it wasn’t a difficult switch, but it was still refreshing to be immersed in nature, not worry about what day it was, and worry only about being in the right place at the right time, which meant being on-site to take advantage of the golden hours of morning and evening.

As the drive to Lake Superior Provincial Park, when pulling a trailer, is over 10 hours (almost 1000km), we decided to spend our first night at Chutes Provincial Park in Massey, Ontario. Although we had both visited the park previously for quick overnight stays, we didn’t realize that beyond the falls there was a trail that followed the River aux Sables for a short distance, taking us to more cascades and pools. Beautiful! We spent the evening at the falls and the next morning along the west bank of the river, catching the morning light. We both thought Chutes would be a great place to return to on our homeward journey.

Much of my photography on this trip was done using my Nikon D800E, not, as I’ve done in the last year, with the Sony RX10iii. There are two reasons why:

  1. I have always put a premium on quality for my landscape photographs. The Sony takes high quality photographs – ideal, really for on-the-go travel photography – but, this trip was not that kind of a trip, it was one dedicated to photography. So, when I have the time to slow down, work on a tripod and really concentrate on photography, I prefer the D800E. The additional dynamic range (14.3 vs 12.6) and pixels (36mp vs 20mp) also help ensure that whatever I point the camera at, I have a better chance of a higher quality image (even if I fail in the composition and execution!) (DxOMark Comparison)
  2. I also love working with super-wideangle and the widest on the Sony is 24mm (full-frame equivalent). Using the D800E meant I could use my 18-35mm zoom. In fact, 60% the “keeper” photos I made this trip were made using this lens; and over half of those at 18mm. Could I have made the same photos at 24mm? Yes, and they would have been similar, but 18mm adds that additional near-far exaggeration that, to me, recreates the drama of me being there.

I will be posting photos and elaborating on them over the next few days, so stay tuned! And, enjoy the new, updated gallery – click on a photo and you can now use the navigation buttons to scroll through all of them, one by one (thanks, AngieMakes).

Be sure to share this with your photo- and nature-geek friends and take a moment to leave a comment, ask questions or add some constructive critique. Thanks for reading.