Tag: digital photography

Hummingbird at feeder

Photographing Hummingbirds

If you have hummingbirds around your garden, you should set yourself a project to photograph them. It’s surprisingly easy. In fact, hummingbirds may be the easiest of all birds to photograph. Interested? Read on…

Maybe you don’t have hummingbirds around, but are they in your neighbourhood? Check with the gardener in your neighbourhood. There’s always someone on the block who spends a little more time planting colourful flowers – they’ll know if there are ‘hummers’ around. If there are, you’re in luck!

It’s too late in the season to plant hummingbird-friendly flowers (do that next year!), so start by setting up a hummingbird feeder. They are inexpensive and easy to maintain. We bought ours at Wild Birds Unlimited who have very helpful information about attracting hummers’ and looking after your feeder. As far as nectar goes, you can buy the commercial nectar, but really a 1:4 sugar-to-water mixture is fine (even Audubon recommends it). That’s 1 cup refined white sugar in 4 cups of tap water. The water does not need to be boiled or boiling as sugar dissolves in room temperature water. Mix it up and store it in the fridge because you want to change it every few days, especially when it’s hot out. And remember – do not use food colouring! It is not necessary and could be harmful.

You’ll need to find a way to suspend your hummingbird feeder. At my parents’ cottage, dad simply screwed a cup hook to the underside of the deck railing and the hummers’ come by the whole time we are out there. We can’t do that in our back garden, so we purchased a ‘shepherd’s hook’ from Wild Birds Unlimited to hang our feeder. Note: WBU also offers a window feeder.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male (Archilochus colubris)With your hummingbird feeder hung, all you need now is a bit of patience as there’s no guarantee they’ll come. In past years, we’ve had great success, but this year not so much. We saw hummers at our flowers early in the summer, so put out the feeder and we’ve not seen them since. Go figure! So, why am I telling you this discouraging news? Well, it’s important to be reminded that nature can be fickle!

While waiting for the hummers to show up, you can be getting your gear ready. You can shoot hummers with just about any lens of 200mm or longer. That would mean something longer than the average “kit” lens that may have come with your DSLR (typically a 14-42mm, 18-55mm, 16-80mm, or 24-120mm). If you’re shooting 4/3s then you’ll need at least a 100mm; 140mm or longer for APS and 200mm or longer for full-frame. You may have success with a point-and-shoot with longer lens, but the problem then becomes shutter delay – the delay between pushing the shutter release and the camera activating the shutter. With more professional ‘bridge’ cameras (Sony RX-10iii and iv or the Panasonic FX1000 or 2500), you will not have that problem. This is the time to test things out to ensure they work for you.

Hummingbirds will tolerate you getting fairly close (2 to 3 metres, sometimes closer) as long as you are not moving. I typically sit in a deck chair to photograph them, but they don’t like me raising the camera to my eye. Either I set the camera up on a tripod or I hand hold my rig with my arm resting on the armrest of the chair.

Don’t try to fill the frame with the hummingbird as that will give you less tolerance for catching quick movements. What I’ve found is that hummingbirds will often pause and hover just off the feeder before going in to sip. Often they will rest on the feeder while drinking, then back off, hover and go. I try to capture them when they are hovering, I pre-focus on the “rest” or on the edge of the feeder.

I also carefully watch where in the frame the hummingbird is typically positioned then set my focus point for that location. There is less ‘hunting’ so focus is acquired instantly. Note: I also use back focus, having set the focussing to the AE-L/AF-L button where my thumb is, pre-focussing then shooting. This can be tricky without the hummingbird there, but consider the first few visits to the feeder as chances to set focus as the hummers are very predictable in how they return to the feeding port. Photos look more natural without the feeder, though you may want a few with the feeder to show your friends.

Some may deem this to be unacceptable, but one trick is to cover the ports with cling film except for the port you want the hummingbird to feed at. This will allow for many more successful shooting opportunities in the same amount of time.

If you are photographing hummers at flowers, then you’re patience quota will need to be raised considerably as you will never know which flower the hummer will go to next. This will mean fairly rapid re-framing and focussing each time a hummingbird comes by.

Typically, hummingbirds will visit your feeder quite regularly – possibly every 5 to 10 minutes. Early in the season they are feeding their young. Once the young fledge, you will have both adults and juveniles at the feeder. So, over the space of an hour, you should have plenty of opportunities to capture that ideal pose. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work out the first time. Analyse what you did capture and make adjustments. Were you too close? Too far? Did you have difficulties focussing? Composing? Was your shutter speed too slow or did you not have enough depth of field?

As is always the case with photography, there is a technical side, which is often at odds with what we want. With my set-up, I aim to have a shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/500 at, ideally, f/11, with an ISO no higher than 400 on the APS camera and 800 on the full-frame, to avoid too much ‘grain’ from pixels. 1/250 to 1/500 freezes the body of a hovering hummer, but gives the wings some motion; f/11 provides the necessary depth of field for this kind of magnification (f/16 would be even better). A smaller aperture of f/22 soften the image due to defraction and make the background too busy.

Setting exposure may take a few trial-and-error shots, particularly if the bird is sunlit with a darker background. Check for blinking highlights and the histogram then use exposure compensation to reduce those highlights.

What about flash? Yes, by all means try it. I have used flash, but find the birds look unrealistically static. There is also the difficulty of balancing the exposure of the flashlit hummer with the background. There are many photos of hummingbirds with a black backgrounds, but they look unrealistic and lack depth.

The few times I have used flash, I’ve set my exposure using the background then applied –1 exposure compensation to mute it. Then I’ve set up the flash also with a –1 setting to tone down the highlights. BUT – the lighting considerations are different in each case and your rig will differ from mine, so I encourage you to experiment. The other recommendation is to get the flash off-camera to provide some directional side lighting, something that I am not an expert on, so I will defer to photographers like Nate Chappell.

At times, you will see aerial acrobatics and aerial ‘dogfights’ between competing males. This is not unusual and can be quite exciting to watch. Good luck photographing it, though Nate Chappell has had some great successes. Check out his photos.

So, give it try! If you’re successful, add a comment below and email me photo to add to this post. You could also ‘Buy Me a Coffee‘ using this link or the handy Ko-Fi link to the right.

Happy summer!

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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!

London Camera Club – Field & Screen

This past week I was in London, Ontario enjoying the hospitality and good will of the London Camera Club. This is a vibrant and welcoming club that successfully offers programs to a wide range of photographers from beginners to highly experienced shooters – a tall order, well-achieved. Have a look at their website for some truly excellent and creative photography.

On Thursday evening…

…I spoke about exploring “My Own Backyard”. Despite having travelled and lived in many exciting locations around the world, I always come back to the importance of each of us being “experts” in our own backyards. After all, we are surrounded by landscapes and nature here in southern Ontario and we have four seasons in which to make very different and unique photographs.

Photographed two weeks ago on my way in to work.

Quite literally, our backyards become our “playground” for trying new equipment, new techniques and new ways of seeing. One can dash out, take a few shots, with a new lens or trying focus-stacking for example, then head back in, upload and being working on images within minutes. Or, simply, spend a few hours exploring shapes and colours in the garden at various points through the year. But, your backyard can also be stretched, and should be, really, to local conservation areas, country roads and, if you prefer cityscapes in your city’s downtown. Every city now has a few dilapidated buildings waiting for an empathetic eye. Over the years, I’ve made some very memorable photographs on my drive to work and have been visiting the Arboretum at the University of Guelph for 30 years of photographic inspiration.

Saturday…

was devoted to a “Field and Screen” workshop: a few hours in the morning out at Westminster Ponds followed by a few more hours in the afternoon processing images from the morning. It was pleasing to see a number of photographers using tripods – cumbersome, but necessary, as we had a slightly dull, humid, misty morning with the constant threat of rain as well as some fall colours to accent our photographs. I was also encouraged by the comments from participants who had never explored close to home like this. So often, we get comfortable with the views and scenery around us and we stop seeing them for their uniqueness. We forget that although they are the “same old, same old” to us, they are new for others, especially when we apply our photographic eye to bringing out the details others have stopped seeing. This is the beauty of working close to home.

I’ve posted a gallery of photographs I made during the workshop. I’ve added a couple of Before/After screenshots to show the initial imported “from the camera” raw image versus the “finished” screen image. I’ve also included some “Detail” photographs; these are cropped portions of larger photographs which, in themselves are engaging views I would have liked to spend more time exploring.

Thanks to Matt Litwinchuk for organizing the evening presentation and Saturday’s workshop and to Bill Niessen for his technical troubleshooting duirng the afternoon Screen session.

If you have any questions about the shooting or processing – please ask! As well, comments are always welcome. If you want to keep in touch regarding workshops, just subscribe to my blog using the panel to the right.

It’s Fungus Time in Southern Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallery
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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!

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…

Summer Morning

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

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

Here are six of the photos I made.

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

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

Marsh Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the summer, and get out shooting!

Tiffany Falls, May 2017

This morning, I led a one-on-one workshop for artist Susan Leite, a member of the Hamilton Camera Club, who missed my presentation of Creating Compelling Landscapes. Tiffany Falls Conservation Area in Ancaster, Ontario, is one of those near-ideal places to learn about landscapes. A well-maintained, and easily-walked side trail of the Bruce Trail leads up the valley, across two bridges to a platform in front of a class cascade waterfall – Tiffany Falls – some 21m (70 feet) high.

As the point of this morning’s workshop was specifically landscape photography techniques, we were looking for “classic” landscape views that would include a strong foreground element set in the context of the background, connected through the mid-ground with a leading line, a “pathway” that would help the viewer navigate through the photograph. Assembling these elements is the job of the photographer. They are “out there” far more often than many photographers realize; recognizing them and actively, purposefully composing the photograph to include them is what makes them work.

At times, though, it is a challenge: as we noted this morning, much of the valley and river bank has the scrubby-looking remains of cut trees. Trees that naturally fall have an organic look to them; cut trees have sharp, rather obvious and totally un-natural edges where they were chain-sawed. There were also many parts of branches left from the cuttings that have not decomposed as one might expect leaves and small branches would do over a season or a year, so they, too, left (to my eyes anyway) a bit of a slash-and-burn eye-soar to an otherwise beautiful valley. If you have ever felt the need to remove unwanted outgrowth of trees and plants, consider going for a removal service.

So, that’s a bit of the context of the location. The morning, itself, was overcast and still, making for near-ideal conditions for photographing in a forest. The contrast was easily managed; just the sky, filtering through the upper canopy, created difficult lighting. Photographers learn quickly, though, the importance of being flexible and working to the conditions provided by Mother Nature: when given a white sky, work to eliminate it from photos – and that’s we did.

This morning, thanks to the recent rain, Tiffany Creek had an excellent flow. It’s been a cool, wet spring – ideal for gardeners and photographers of nature and landscapes . So often, the rivers and waterfalls of southern Ontario suffer from a lack of water. Not this spring – the rivers have been well-flushed!

The Basic Set-up

Both Susan and I were using “bridge” style cameras – hers, a Lumix FZ-200 with an excellent Leica lens, and my Sony RX10iii – on travel-style tripods (both MeFoto Roadtrips). We had both come to the same conclusion regarding carrying equipment in travel-style conditions: less is more! We were both using ND filters and my Polarizing filter. The ND filters slowed shutter speeds to capture more movement in water; the polarizing filter reduced the glare off the water and foliage (see comparison photo).

We set our cameras to Aperture Priority, using Exposure Compensation to adjust exposure when clipped highlights showed in the histogram. In these situations, shutter speed is less important than the need for adequate depth-of-field to maintain sharpness from foreground through the background. Obviously, in breezy conditions, shutter speed matters, but with the still morning, we had some leeway. With small-sensor bridge cameras, this is achieved in the ƒ5.6 range. On the 1″ sensor Sony, ƒ5.6 is equivalent to ƒ15 on a full-frame system; with Susan’s FZ200’s 1/2.3″ sensor, ƒ5.6 is the same as ƒ31 on a FF system – plenty of depth of field for most landscapes! Any smaller than ƒ5.6 will result in increasingly unsharp edges due diffraction, the bending of light through the smaller aperture.

We also had a discussion about ISO. To maintain the highest image quality, I always recommend using the lowest ISO that will provide the maximum dynamic range (the difference between pure white and pure black). For many DSLRs, it’s ISO200. For the Sony RX10iii, it’s ISO64; the FZ200, ISO100.

Susan also set up her self-timer to delay each exposure by 2 seconds to eliminate camera shake from shutter activation by hand. Using tripods that were shorter than normal for comfortable viewing, we also chose to use the LCD for final compositions. However, working on a tripod can be very restrictive when composing, so I always recommend using the quick release to remove the camera and actively compose “free-hand” by moving in and out, up and down and side to side. You really need freedom of movement to find that compositional “sweet-spot”, then set-up the tripod to match that precise location.

In the field…

Now for some photos. We both agreed, the ferns and other greenery along the river bank were great foreground objects with lots of detail. As well, the river itself provided and natural pathway through the various scenes. When the river seemed rather straight, it was important to manouevre to “help” it into a more diagonal position; diagonals are always preferred for compositions as they create more dynamic movement than straight lines.

ƒ5.6 @ 1sec., EV-1, ISO64 w/ Polarizing filter and ND filter

Wandering up the trail took us to this point, where we could just begin to see the waterfall through the trees. The foreground element was in place with the greenery and rocks and the curve of the river became the natural pathway through the scene.

The 1-second exposure provided appropriate movement to the water while the -1 exposure compensation was required to prevent the highlights in the distant waterfall from clipping.

I highly recommend this method of exposure, where you expose as “high” as possible on the histogram without clipping the highlights – commonly referred to as ETTR or Expose To The Right. This allows more photos to be recorded in the shadow areas, reducing the amount of noise when the tonal values of shadow areas are lifted. Due to the beautiful, lower contrast lighting of the morning, this technique wasn’t absolutely essential, but it is good practice to get the most out of any sensor.

The overall appearance of this initial exposure is a bit on the dark side. The shadows are open, and the whites are near white, but the mid-tone greens appear drab rather than lively. That’s okay! The camera is simply a tool for recording a file that can then be processed – just like negatives were processed – into a final photograph that matches the way I saw the scene. The camera can’t do it all. Jpegs from many cameras are excellent, but there are still techniques that can be applied to further improve the photograph. This is way shooting raw files has become the default, especially amongst fine art photographers. It’s the difference between a “machine print” from a negative and a custom print, made by yourself or a professional printer. Learning a few simple manipulations in an app like Lightroom can go a long way to improving your photographs.

On Screen…

Back at home, in Lightroom, I made the following adjustments. Lightroom is designed to be handled “top down” starting with White Balance then moving through Exposure, Contrast, etc. I often start with Whites and Blacks, using Lightroom’s “Auto-Whites” and “Auto-Blacks” feature (NOT the “Auto” button you see there) to pin down the darkest and brightest pixels. Holding the Shift key and double-clicking on the word “Whites”, then doing the same on “Blacks” will do just that.

From there, I move to Exposure. Now, you might think “Wow, +1.20 in Exposure is a lot!”, but it really isn’t. Exposure in Lightroom lifts the mid-tones – exactly the tonal range that needed lifting. Rather than using the sliders, which can be rather clunky and imprecise, I use the number boxes and increase exposure using the cursor key while looking at the photo (not the adjustment slider!). The Cursor will raise the value by 0.10 each time; holding Shift and pressing the cursor will raise the value by 0.33. When making adjustments, it’s better to start out with big leaps and going past the “ideal”, rather than trying to creep up to it in small hops. Once you beyond what”looks good” you’ll know right away; you can then use the fine tuning of 0.10 increments to nail down the ideal increase.

This same principal is true for all the other adjustments: use the cursor keys for +/- 1; Shift-Cursor changes it by +/- 10. The Shadows improved with a small bump to +20. Clarity – the adjustment to raise or lower local contrast – is great for giving very fine separation between light and darks, such as the edges of leaves or the bright water agains the dark. But too much clarity can make the photograph look artificially etched, so +10 “worked”. Bumping the Saturation to +10 gave the leaves just a little more punch.

With the gross changes made, it was now time to look at how I might shape the photograph using graduated filters and local adjustment brushes. Here is the photo with those initial tonal adjustments. It’s bright and has a three-dimensional presence. But, to me, the foreground area in front of me seems just a bit too bright. Pulling in a Graduated Mask with decreased Exposure, seemed to work except the greens seemed dinghy, so I increased the Clarity and Contrast. This allowed the greens in the mask to better match the greens in the rest of the photograph.

This shows the area that was masked, followed by the resulting photo.

This is an improvement, but now the water in the river seems a bit dinghy. I felt the whites of the turbulence should have better separation from the darker river bed. Using an Adjustment Brush, I painted over the river water, adding additional contrast (30), reducing the shadow values by -30 and increasing the clarity by 40 to provide that local contrast separation. lastly, I made the tones cooler using the Colour Temperature adjustment. I find the rock of the river beds in this area to be rather yellow, often with algae; cooling it down a little helps to “restore” the river, if only photographically.

 This photo shows the area of that was “brushed”. These Grad Mask and Adjustment Brush features of Lightroom allow an almost infinite series of adjustments, that I find even more intuitive than Photoshop layers. As well, they add virtually nothing to the overall file size as they are simply instructions in a text file as opposed to pixel-level changes. To accomplish the same “feats” in Photoshop, would bloat the file to be 3, 4, 5, even 10x larger than the original. It’s the beauty, and simplicity, of non-destructive  editing.

Crop and Transform to straighten

Finally, the photograph was coming together, but needed a little more “massaging”. First, I’ll take you back to my printing days in the darkroom. Often we would introduce a very light vignetting of about 10%. It’s not apparent to the viewer, but it acts in an almost subliminal way to contain the eye within the photograph, especially in prints that would be matted in white then framed. The white mat draws the eye to the outside; the vignetting helps to pull it back in again. Lightroom has Vignetting under “Effects” and, really, -5 to -10 should be enough, but not too much to make it obvious.

Lastly, I felt the scene could use a little cropping and straightening, as shown in this photo. Ideally, this is done in the field and I lament having to do so on screen, but adding a slight “Transform” of -10 on the Horizontal and +20 in Aspect returned the image to what I remember of the scene. There is, now, a progression of light from the top, where one would expect it, gradually dimming to the bottom, where one would expect it to be darker, given the canopy of trees above.

In the gallery below, I’ve included the four progression images so you can see the subtle changes that may not be apparent looking at them separately as they are presented above. As well, you’ll find a few other photographs from this morning. If you have any questions, be sure to add them to the comments below.