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…
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!
I 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).
Then, 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.
One 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.
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.
Something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, is provide a “look under the hood” describing the photography techniques I use to make some of my photographs, both in the field and in post-capture processing on computer. This is the first, using a recent photo from Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario’s near north. I chose it because it was made NOT during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, but rather in the mid-afternoon (2:39:57PM according to Lightroom!) when many people are active with a camera.
My wife Laurie and I had stopped for lunch on a quiet bay on OSA Lake – perhaps the most beautiful lake in Killarney with its vermillion blue colour. And, as you can see from the photo, it was a perfect summer day. What is particularly fetching about this part of Killarney are the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Range, the 2.5-billion-year-old eroded roots of mountains once higher than the Himalayas. As a photographer, it was the contrast of these rugged hills against the deep blue sky and lake with the rich green of the early summer coniferous forest that caught my creative eye. My goal in photography is to “reveal the art inherent in nature” and this seemed an ideal opportunity.
When working on any set-up, my mind is constantly going over four key aspects of photography – what I’ve come to call the Photographer’s Toolbox:
How can I use the Ambient Conditions to my advantage? e.g. weather, time-of-day, season and lighting angle, quality and colour of light
What Elements of Visual Design are at my disposal? e.g. foreground anchor, leading lines and pathways, shapes such as diagonals, S-curves, C-curves and triangles, camera angle (high vs. low), horizontal or vertical format and rule of thirds (or not!)
What Technical Controls will enhance the scene before me? e.g. lens, filters, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation
How might Post-capture Processing be used to reproduce what I visualized in the field? e.g. cropping, contrast, clarity, graduated masks, cloning, etc.
It works like a continually-scrolling flight checklist as I assess the scene and its potential, choose a location and camera angle, set-up the tripod, select the lens and settings on the camera and, ultimately, make the initial exposure and subsequent exposures as I assess the image on the LCD. Granted, the LCD is small, but it is better than what we had in the film days, which was nothing! I enjoy working with the LCD as it is reminiscent of my 4×5 days viewing the (upside-down and backwards) image on a ground glass.
Ambient Conditions: On this fine sumer day, I had a perfectly blue sky and high overhead lighting – not the ideal for landscapes – but I did have the colour contrasts working for me. The sun was behind me providing rather flat lighting, but again the colour contrasts help make up for it.
Elements of Visual Design: The real work began with the all-too-common problem of landscape photographs: foreground. Although we often think of landscapes as being the “grand vistas”, every compelling landscape is anchored with a detailed foreground that invites the viewer to participate in the landscape. Without a decent foreground, everything else simply looks far away and unreachable. A detailed foreground also introduces movement into and around the photograph – very important if you want to keep the viewer’s interest for more than a few seconds.
In this case, there was some of the pink granite that also graces Killarney’s shores and ridges. But, the photograph needed something more to engage the viewer. Wait a moment… the canoe. I know, it’s a Canadian cliché, but at least it’s not red! Actually, if it was red, it may have been too much with the vivid blues and greens already present. Rather then “place” the canoe in the centre, it kept it to one side to create movement and on a slight angle pointing in the direction I want the viewer’s eye to follow. This is critical (and may sound contrived), but it is done all the time in art: subliminal pathways which cause the viewer to follow a certain path.
In this case, your eye first lands on the bright bow of the canoe – the viewer’s eye always lands on the brightest part of the photo first. From there your gaze is guided by the canoe back to the ridges on the left, then it swings across the ridges towards the right, back down to the foreground rock then along the angled shoreline back to the canoe. The tree shadow in the bottom left helps to point your way into the photo again. You will notice the movement around the photo is clock-wise – a natural and intuitive movement for people. If I had placed the canoe on the right side of the scene, there would have been similar movement, but because we, in western cultures, read from left to right, your eye would not as likely be drawn to the empty left side of the photo.
When composing a photograph, work with the camera off-tripod. This gives you the freedom to move up-and-down, side-to-side, forwards-and-back to find the exact point, as American photographer Fred Picker once said, “where the scene is looking back at you”. For me, that’s when all the elements are aligned to provide a flow through the scene – difficult to describe in text (which is why hands-on “live” workshops are so helpful). I keep in mind the Rule of Thirds but work with it as a guide to remind me to keep things off-centre. Notice the horizon line, where the hills meet the lake, the foreground shore and the canoe itself – nothing is in the centre. This helps create the movement shown.
Technical Controls: For most landscapes, I use a wideangle lens; in this case a 24mm ƒ2.8 Nikkor-D. With the camera tilted down and a small aperture (in this case ƒ11), everything from the foreground to the background will remain in sharp focus. I try to keep my aperture to ƒ11 as it is the “sweet spot” for this lens: it provides the maximum depth of field with the minimum softening of details due to diffraction (excessive bending of the light around the edges of a small aperture). I also used a circular polarizing filter. Often I don’t use a polarizer (a) with digital because the resulting blue skies are too saturated; and (b) with a wideangle lens because one part of the sky becomes more polarized than other parts. In this case, however, the polarizer pulled the greens and bright white quartzite from the hills and there was no obvious variation in the polarization from left to right (probably because the sun was directly behind me, lighting the sky more or less evenly).
I used the exposure recommended by the matrix metering in my camera, then reduced it by 2/3 of a stop. At full exposure, the canoe was showing blinking highlights on the LCD, telling me it was being recorded as pure white. Using exposure compensation to reduce the exposure kept those highlights in check. It made the rest of the photo appear under-exposed, but that’s irrelevant as it is easily corrected in post-processing.
Post-capture Processing: So here is the initial raw file opened in Lightroom. By the way – I use Lightroom for all my post-capture processing. I have yet to find a reason to use Photoshop except to blend images for focus-stacking or panoramas, neither of which I do much of.
My first step is often to click the “Auto” button, just to see what Lightroom does with the file. Its algorithms are usually pretty good, and while never perfect, they give me some ideas about how to adjust the image. Surprisingly, LR recommended increasing the White point, but then controlling the Highlights with reducing them. It may sound counter-intuitive, but LR “sees” the whites as the brightest 5%, and the highlights as the next 15% or so of the brightness scale. This tells me there was a little headroom to raise the Whites – a good thing for clean, crisp-looking photographs.
The opposite is true for Blacks and Shadows. There was room at the bottom to further drop the Black point. Raising the Shadows adjustment is always helpful for pulling detail out of the shadows. I raised the Clarity slightly to 10 as I found it gave better separation in the small wavelets on the water and better edge to the foreground rock. One thing you will notice (on the original LR view above) is that all my values are round numbers. I know I’m being pedantic about this, but I find the sliders to be ridiculously gross in their adjustments, therefore I use the cursor keys. By holding down the Shift key when “cursing” the values jump by 10 instead of 1. Rarely do I notice a difference of 1 or even 5, but, when I do, I use it.
Now for the adjustment masks and brushes. I use the Graduated Mask (M) frequently. I excepted to use it for the sky, but found that after the Tone adjustments, the sky was fine and natural-looking. I did add a Graduated Mask to the bottom 1/3 of the image, up to the base of the canoe. I often do this to help “contain” the viewer so they don’t go wandering out of the image. It is subtle (even subliminal), but it works. In this case, I adjusted the Exposure to –0.80. After doing so, the pink granite seemed a bit grey, so I increased the Saturation by 30. In this photo, there was no need for the Adjustment Brush (K).
Next, comes Cropping (R). For this, I made a Virtual Copy (Cmd+’), leaving the Master File as is – fully “processed” but uncropped. When envisioning this scene in the field, I saw it as a long and wide scene, similar to a panorama (2:1 ratio), but not quite, so I chose a 16:9 ratio. Some photographers are loath to crop – I’m not one of them. I feel that the engineer who came up with the 3:2 ratio in the 1920s (Oskar Barnack of Leica cameras) shouldn’t dictate to me how the world should be viewed. I see in squares (1:1), sometimes in 4/3s (4:3 ratio), sometimes in 4×5 and sometimes in 3:2 as is the original aspect ratio of my camera. There are other times when the prescribed ratios just don’t work – and that’s okay, too.
As I am working through the process, I am always looking for distractions that might catch the viewer’s eye, pulling them away from the point of the photograph. (I’m also looking for dust spots, usually in the sky, that need cloning out!) In this case, there are very few distractions, just some waves in the bottom right of the photo. I used the Spot Removal (Q) tool to clone three small areas as shown in Snapshot 4.
Lastly, I often add an Effect called Post-Crop Vignetting. This reduces the exposure in the corners and edges of the photograph. When used to a high degree, your photo can look like it was shot through a telescope. In this case, I want to apply just a little for the same reason as the bottom Grad Mask – to subliminally keep the viewer within the photo, away from the edges. It’s a technique that’s been used for decades – way back to the darkroom work done by Ansel Adams. When used correctly it is not overtly noticeable, but works.
So, now it’s finished! Well, almost. Often, after doing some editing (processing), I will put the photo away for a while and come back to it a few days or a week later. With fresh eyes, I will often see something I didn’t notice before because I was too involved in the details of the image. So far, I haven’t done this; when I do, I will add those steps to this workflow and let you know.
Note: I’ve made a black-and-white version of this photograph which I think I prefer over the the colour. Here it is: you decide…
If you have any questions about this process and/or the techniques used, let me know by adding a comment below. When looking through my photos either here, on Flickr or at QuietLight.ca, if you see one you are wondering about, suggest it for a future Before and After column.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign up to be notified of additions to my blog. This can be done in the side panel to the right.
It’s been a busy September for me – too busy to even write a post.
For the past week, I’ve been up at Bark Lake Leadership Centre with a group of Grade 10s from St. John’s-Kilmarnock School. It is the first of two intensive weeks of a locally designed Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems science course. We have the students working outdoors and in right from our 7:30am microclimate data gathering session to the end of evening case studies at 10pm – which, for me, leaves precious little time to capture the spectacular beauty around Bark Lake.
Each morning I had about 40 minutes of light prior to the microclimate study I supervise. With sunrise around 7am, that meant most of my dawn shooting was before sunrise. I also got out one evening for some night photography plus another morning of landscapes. However the beauty and accessibility of spectacular views more than made up for the limited time I had. Below you’ll find a small gallery of images from the week. I think the over-riding factors for success this week was the wonderful lighting and the almost complete lack of wind. There’s nothing that spoils a great landscape like wind and having consistently beautiful mornings made the few minutes of photography I had a complete pleasure. In fact, I probably had more minutes of ideal conditions in this week than I had all year long!
All images are shot with a Nikon D800e with Nikkor primes and are processed in Lightroom 4. The D800e performed magnificently – especially with the night photos. Combined with Lightroom 4, I was surprised with what could be brought out of the shadows with virtually no grain or noise, just a few hot pixels after 4 to 8 minutes of exposure. I will work some more on this to determine if it is better to have a shorter exposure with higher ISO (more grain) or a longer exposure at a lower ISO to reduce grain.
The new adjustments of LR4 were really stretched as I often used -100 Highlights with +100 Shadows to reduce the contrast of the bright autumn sunshine. I am continually amazed at what LR can do with images to tweak them to what I pre-visualized in the field.
My 24mm was the workhorse with the Micro-Nikkor 105mm also a favourite. Less-used were the 20mm, 50mm and 300mm. Although all were needed at some point, I could have lived with only the 24 and 105.
I left early for work Thursday morning to capture this landscape. I was probably 1/2 hour later than I should have been, but here is what moved me.
Nikon D800e w/ Nikkor 20mm AF-D lens; ƒ/22 @ 1/30; ISO100; Lightroom 4.1 post-capture processing
Between household chores today, I’ve managed to spend some time working with the D800e photographs I made early this morning. “The sound of jaws hitting the floor” is an understatement. The results are fabulous – more fabulous than my Nikkor 20mm lens and more fabulous than the now apparent diffraction at small apertures with the Micro Nikkor 105mm. Oooops! What they’ve said all along is absolutely correct: the D800e will show all the flaws like you’ve never seen them before.
My shooting technique involves sturdy Manfrotto 055 tripod legs with a head heavy-duty enough for my 4×5 wood field camera. I religiously use mirror lock-up and an electronic release. I also expose to the right to drive exposure up into the most valued area of the histogram (so that signal is significantly greater than noise resulting in cleaner images once processed).
This morning was designed for nature photography – beautiful soft light before sunrise and after, with not a breath of wind. I could take my time to look and compose and look again then set up for the exposure. I didn’t use LiveView for focussing this time, but instead made use of the hyperfocal distance markings on the 20mm – the markings limited (up to ƒ11), but still helpful. I should have used LiveView for focussing the milkweed flowers with the 105mm as I notice I am few millimetres out of perfect focus.
Presented below are four photographs from today I’ve spent some time working on. They were processed through Lightroom 4.1 using any and all of the tools necessary to recreate the scenes as I experienced them and wish to portray them. They are not “finished” by any means; no doubt when I re-vist these photographs a week or a month from now, I will look at them differently and make the necessary improvements, but here they are as they exist now. While I’m not the expert in LR as are others like Michael Reichman, Jeff Schewe, et. al., as an LR Instructor at Mohawk College In Hamilton, I think I have a fair command of it. I have made various and best use of adjustments in the Basic Panel (including Gard Filters, Adjustment Brushes and Spot Removal as needed), as well as sharpening in the Detail panel and Lens Corrections built in for the Nikkor 20mm AF-D lens.
Paired with each photograph is a 100% crop of the centre of the frame. This will be useful for those interested in seeing what the D800e is capable of under near ideal conditions. I’ve provided the centre crop only as this is a review of the camera, not the lenses. That being said, the flaws with the 20mm including chromatic aberration towards the corners, become readily apparent. As well, the effects of diffraction begin to appear (as you will see in the milkweed flowers at 100%), but that’s for another post. In the meantime, have a look. If you want to see the photos at maximum size, when in “gallery mode” (dark screen), right-click and choose “Open Image in New Window” or “Open Image in New Tab”.