Category: Landscapes

Woodstock next week!

On Wednesday evening next week, the 14th of November, I’ll be heading down the 401 to present “Creating Compelling Landscapes” for the Woodstock Camera Club.

As you may already know, I’m a “big picture” guy. I enjoy the details, but I’m always looking for context and perspective; trying to place those natural details in their larger habitat, preferably with a horizon and perhaps some of that big sky. So we’ll talk about how to do that, more successfully and more consistently. It’s all out there; sometimes it’s just a matter of being inspired to see the forest and the trees.

The meeting starts at 7:30pm at the Quality Inn and Suites, just north of Hwy 401 exit 232, on Bruin Blvd near Juliana and Norwich. See you there!

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.

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.

 

Winter photos à la iPhone

Some of you might think I’ve gone over to the dark side, but really, I’m celebrating the fact that great photos are now just an iPhone away. It’s not just iPhone, though, as Google Pixels 2 and Samsung Galaxy phones, amongst others, are now capable of producing amazing photographs.

In iOS 11, iPhones now shoot HDR images as the default, and the image quality is greatly improved. It also has a fantastic Portrait mode which, through software, blurs the background. And, the “Plus” models like the iPhone 8 Plus I’m using, has both a 28mm lens and a 56mm lens.

But the real bonus for me is RAW capture. Shooting in RAW permits processing for the highest image quality possible. While the candid photos I take, the snapshots, are made using the iOS camera app that comes with the phone, the landscapes – my more serious work – is all done using one of few different RAW camera apps. I’ve written an article on this that will be published in Lumnious-Landscape.com, but for now, suffice it say, I’m loving using Lightroom Mobile and ProCamera. There are really only three of four mobile phone apps that are useful for shooting raw and these are the two best.

Lr Mobile is free and you do not need to subscribe to Adobe’s “cash grab” Creative Cloud to make use of it. ProCamera is $5.99 and well worth the cost. While I prefer ProCamera’s histogram approach to showing clipped highlights, I love using Lr Mobile’s HDR-RAW feature: it takes three shots in succession at +2, 0 and –2 EV and automatically aligns, merges, deghosts, and tonemaps the photo. While it’s a whopping 43mb in size, it is all set for full-bit-depth editing in Lightroom. Fantastic!!

Anyway, enough blabbering – here are the photos. I’ll update the blog when Luminous-Landscape publishes my iPhone Raw article. Enjoy!

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.

Iceland Map & Photos

I’m working on a map of Iceland showing a number of my better photographs. This should be particularly helpful for people planning a trip to this fabled and most-photographic island. It opens with what I consider to be my best/favourite landscape. What I find interesting from a tourism point-of-view, these landscapes are not entirely of the typical views we see of Iceland. For example, while we visited Geysir, Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, none of these sights are in my “best/favourites”, partly due to weather, partly due to the number of tourists. They are shown in the “All Photos of Iceland” layer which you can toggle on further down the left panel of the map (when you open it in its own window using the [ ]  in the top right of the map below). If you are planning a trip to Iceland, let me know and I may be able to help with some questions you have.

I’ve visited Iceland on two occasions: June 2016 and March 2017 – very different times of year and very different photo ops. During both trips, we spent sometime in Reykjavik. In June we were on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Golden Circle, Landmannalaugar, and the south coast as far east as Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. In March, we rented a small car and spent most of our time in the north around Akureyri, east to Þingeyrar then south to Þingvellir and Laugarvatn.

Enjoy and please share with others who might be interested in Iceland and/or photography. Feel free to comment and ad questions below.

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!

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 III: Potholes and Puk

After that glorious morning photographing in the mist along the shore of Rabbit Blanket Lake, we packed up and headed north. Having backpacked, canoe-tripped and car camped with a tent, it has been downright luxurious to be trailer camping. It’s quick to set-up and take down and, with electricity, it’s meant we could download and begin processing photographs each night or during mid-day when the light is harsh. The added bonus is having a coffee maker on a timer!

Between Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park are the towns of Wawa and White River, remote by southern Ontario standards, and a bit depressed. In fact, all along the Trans-Canada we saw signs of deterioration. Many gas stations, tourist motels and shops were not just closed, but long-abandoned. After returning home, we noticed a CBC feature on a photographer who had chronicled just this. Kerry and I put it down to the changing taste of tourists: “rustic” is now passé. More and more families want and have the money for more upscale places where they (and, more importantly, their kids) will be entertained at “name-brand” places rather than Mom-and-Pop places. This, combined with people retiring out of the business without anyone to buy them out or hand it down to is also part of the problem. Sad really.

At Wawa, we took the 101 east towards Chapleau to visit a place the geographer in me has always wanted to see: Potholes Provincial Nature Reserve. It’s just a small place with a 300m trail, but it leads to some beautiful, large, but slightly underwhelming potholes and carved rock features. I think the potholes at Rockwood Conservation Area are far more numerous and interesting, but these, carved out of much harder granite, and with interesting water flow features make it worth a stop if you’re ever in the area. Potholes are huge, cauldron-sized and larger, round holes bored into the bedrock when rocks were caught in a vortex of a large sub-glacial or post-glacial river. The swirling rock and grit literally drilled down creating the pothole. Here are three photos from Potholes. Continue reading below.

So, now were in Puk – Pukaskwa National Park (pronounced Puk-a-saw). It is a gem of a park with the raw beauty of the Canadian Shield and its forests meeting the cold waters of the Lake Superior. It’s great for kayaking and hiking with the rugged, “physically demanding” Coastal Hiking Trail. Kerry and I experienced that 21 years ago when we chartered a boat down to the southern end and hiked the 60km back to Hattie Cove. Being younger and more foolish, in addition to our camping gear, we each had a 35mm system, a 4×5″ camera system and a tripod (not the lightweight carbon tripods of today, that I still can’t afford!). But now, we return with a trailer; age has its privileges, one of them being wisdom!

For me, the goal was to capture the essence of the Lake Superior Coast and its rocky details; the Hattie Cove campground area and trails offer many options to do so. There are three beautiful sand beaches (if only the water temperature was swimmable!), with tons of driftwood, forest edges and great rock features. Each morning and evening we “worked” a different area or trail. Again, the weather was “too nice” most of the time with clear blue skies and not enough wind to create decent waves – good for kayaking, I guess. We had one morning of fog which added another dimension, but really curtailed our shooting to the golden hours with a few snaps along scouting hikes during the day.

I made a number of significant photographs while at Pukaskwa, significant to me, anyway. In this post, I’ve added a couple of photos to give a “sense of place” and some of the “detail” photographs I so enjoy making. At this point, I’m making interchangeable use of the Sony RX-10iii and the Nikon D800E, although most of these, shot during “scouting” hikes, were made with the Sony. In the next post, I’ll follow up with some landscapes. Dawn and dusk were spectacular!

After reading and viewing, please take a moment to comment, question, add critique and share this post with others.

This is the third in a series of blogs about my recent photo trip to Lake Superior. The first two blogs are I. Chutes PP and II. Lake Superior PP. Thanks for reading!