Tag: guelph

AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

A long telephoto lens like the Nikon 200-500/5.6 is a significant piece of kit. It has the potential to open up areas of wildlife and landscape photography not previously encountered. But it also requires some fine and careful technique to get the most out of the lens. High magnifications mean greater potential for unsharp images, particularly in less-than-ideal lighting situations. The additional size and weight also demand a commitment to photography beyond casually walking around with a camera slung over the shoulder. So it is with trepidation that one considers such a significant addition to one’s lens collection.

For me, photography is a passion, not a vocation nor anything close to a full-time job. As my day job does not generate enough extra cash to finance this passion, I fund it through the sale of photographs, running workshops, and giving presentations. Recently, I made a fairly significant sale of photographs to Saatchi Art in the US which has provided the funds to purchase the AF-S Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 lens. Why am I telling you this? Well, for many of us, money doesn’t grow on trees. We scrimp and save, hoping to upgrade our equipment. Some photographers work as I do: sell a bit, buy a bit, gradually building up their equipment “arsenal’. We don’t take our equipment for granted. When you’ve had to work and save, it certainly raises the appreciation and value of the equipment you are able to purchase.

I checked online for pricing and found Henry’s to be competitive with Amazon with the added bonus of being a Canadian company with bricks-and-mortar stores. To me, this makes a difference. How many people walk into a store, check out the goods and the prices then walk out and purchase the same things from different online sources such as Amazon? Me? I’d rather give my business to Canadian companies that employ the people who live around me. So, on Wednesday evening I checked the availability of the lens at my nearest Henry’s – in Kitchener. Sadly, it was out of stock, so I ordered the lens from Henry’s online, chose the free shipping option, and on Friday it arrived! Talk about quick service!

Bluebird @ 100%. Perhaps slightly ‘crunchy’; I’ll work on my Lightroom sharpening technique.

Saturday morning, Laura and I were up and out by 6:30am to her favourite local birding haunt – Ignatius Jesuit Centre just north of Guelph – to try out the new lens. While walking there over the past couple of weeks, Laura has seen all the regular birds – cardinals, robins, blue jays, various sparrows and tree swallows – but also species we don’t regularly see at the Arboretum or the Little Tract, including bluebirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks. Ignatius Jesuit Centre has a great diversity of habitats including an organic farm, community plots, unmowed fields (critical to bobolinks and meadowlarks), cedar forests, deciduous forests and wetlands, and is open for walking at all times. BTW: In winter, it’s also a great local area for Nordic skiing with trails formed by the Guelph Nordic Ski Club.

Now, there’s no getting around the fact that the 200-500mm is a big lens. It weighs in at 2.3kg (5 pounds) and has a 95mm front filter size. At 200mm, with the lens hood on, it is 34cm long (13½”). When zoomed out, add another 8cm or 3 inches. Thankfully, it comes with a sturdy tripod collar allowing me to attach it to my ages-old monopod. It’s not a lens I could hand-hold confidently for any length of time, at least not without a few trips to the gym! Although, that being said, I will try it as I want to see how well the VR works. It is reported to be excellent.

Tree Swallow @ 100% (click to open)

Despite it’s relatively low price (CAD $1600) – compared to typical Nikkor lenses of this focal length – the quality is top notch. No, it won’t compete with Nikon’s finest telephotos like the 300/2.8, 400/2.8 or the 500/4, but they are also 4 to 9 times the cost. Even the new 300/4 VR is a $1000 more. So, what the 200-500/5.6 gives up in speed, price and quality it more than makes up for in versatility. And it really hasn’t given up much despite it’s price. I was very careful to check this out in some detail before hand with some of the most honest reviewers online (Thom Hogan, Will Nicholls, and Dan Carr)

In the field, the lens did not disappoint. It focussed smoothly, quickly and quietly with just a bit of extra sound from the VR. I shot front lit, sideline and backlit shots and all had crisp contrast with fine feather detail, which is what counts. I was able to quickly raise the camera+lens, focus and shoot, although Recognize, I still need to work on my technique. Was it heavy to carry around? Yes, and no. I found carrying it by the tripod collar the easiest and well-balanced, but I did feel the extra weight. Except for the 300/4 PF lens (at CAD $1000 more expensive), there is no avoiding the weight of any significant telephoto lens.

So with a summer free of international travel, I will be spending my time capturing Ontario wildlife in ways that I’ve always wanted to: quietly, at first light and with a proper telephoto lens. I still have much to check out and learn about this lens so stay tuned.

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!

Winter, so far…

We’ve had quite a winter – one of the best in years for photography. The early snow combined with the ice storm followed by still more snow have created near ideal winter conditions for photography. It’s easy to complain about the snow (and those who have lost power and are still losing power, certainly have a right to complain!), but we  really have had some beautiful days of sunshine and snowy weather. Cold, yes, but sunny. The crunch of snow under foot always beats the splatter of slush.

I’ve done a bit of shooting, but to be honest, I don’t relish getting our little car stuck in some rural snowbank, so all of my shooting has been local. That being said, there is no lack of beautiful scenes here in the Guelph area. Just keep looking!

On Monday, February 24th at 7:30pm, I’ll be speaking at the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society (GRIPS) about “My Own Backyard”. GRIPS meets at the Kitchener East Presbyterian Church at 10 Zeller Drive, Kitchener, ON. While they have me down as a “lecture”, I like to think of it as a workshop for the brain as we won’t actually be photographing, but rather I’ll be stimulating the desire to get out and make great photos in our own backyards. Guests are welcome for a GRIPS fee of $5 (see this page).

So, here is that selection of photographs I promised. Click on a photo for a slightly larger version. Feel free to add your comments in the form at the bottom.

Golden Winter Evening Winter Fields and Sky Winter Vacancy Highbush Cranberries, Winter Etchings in Snow and Ice Whites of Winter Red Osier, Ice, Snow & Light Snow and Ice, Arboretum _D8E2865-WEB Highbush Cranberries, Winter Redbuds, Winter Trembling Asepn, Last Light Sumac Sketch Design by Nature I Corridor Design by Nature II

Spring 2011 Photography Workshops

With the cardinals calling and our first robin sighting, spring is in the air which means a whole new season of images awaits us. I have a tentative line-up of workshops in different formats coming up. If you’re interested in any of them send me an email to reserve your spot (terry@luxborealis.com)or give me a call at 519-265-4151. Note: Photo Editing courses are held at my home studio. All other locations are still to be finalized, but will be “live on-location” in the Guelph, Ontario region.

Photo Editing: Lightroom – Sat. Apr 16th $45 each or take both for $80

  • Intro to Lightroom: 9 to 11:30am
  • Advanced Lightroom: 1 to 3:30pm

Photo Editing: Photoshop – Sat. Apr 23rd $45 each or take both for $80

  • Intro to Photoshop Elements
  • Advanced Elements

Spring Nature Photography Workshop: All day Saturday, May 7th; Location TBA;

This is a full-day advanced field experience concentrating on nature and outdoor photography close-ups, landscapes, lighting, composition, reading histograms and working on a tripod; $85

Point & Shoot Photography: Sat. May 14th $45 each or take both for $80

  • Starter: 9 to 11:30am;
  • Advanced: 1 to 3:30pm

DLSR Photoaphy: Sat. May 21st$45 each or take both for $80

  • Starter: 9 to 11:30am
  • Advanced: 1 to 3:30pm

Evening Photo Talks I:  Learning Photography – 6:30 to 8:30pm each Tuesday in May; $35ea; or pre-register for $30 each or take all 5 for $135

  • Getting to Know Your Camera: May 3rd
  • What is Correct Exposure? – May 10th
  • Making Best Use of your Lenses – May 17th
  • Dynamic Lighting – May 24th
  • Creative Composition – May 31st

Evening Photo Talks II: Focus on Nature and the Outdoors – 6:30 to 8:30pm each Wednesday in May + June 1st; $35ea; or pre-register for $30 each or take all 5 for $135

  • Nature Basics: Exposure – May 4th
  • Nature Basics: Lighting – May 11th
  • Creative Composition – May 18th
  • Close-up & Flower Photography – May 25th
  • Living Landscapes – June 1st

Discover the Grand Day: An all-day workshop in various locations along the Grand River, Saturday,  June 4th; Travel to various great locations along the Grand River for a full-day advanced field workshop concentrating on landscape and nature photography, dynamic lighting, creative composition and working on a tripod; $85 per persson

Autumn is alive with colour


Autumn Colours – Red

Just because the leaves have dropped and the trees are bare, doesn’t mean the colour is finished. We’ve been out in the

garden over the past few days using the electric mower we found on https://www.lawnmowery.com/best-lawn-mowers/electric/ to clean a few things out and plant some recently acquired plants. i couldn’t help but grab my camera and make some images. The sun broke through for a little adding some additional texture, but it was the subtle ochres and oranges and hints of scarlet that made the day – sun or not.


I found that the key to stronger images was getting close-up to eliminate the distractions of bare skeleton-like twigs. I looked for textures and shapes in the leaves I photographed as well as colours unique to autumn. In my search for perfection i was constantly distracted by the rot that

Autumn Colours – Gold



started – small holes and disturbing wilting – definitely outside of my comfort zone. So i stopped looking for perfection (that didn’t take long) and began to ignore the ravages of death.  Once I got over it, I found strangely liberated and began actively seeking examples of how nature recomposes itself. I’m not sure I succeeded as well as I hoped, but I have come away with new confidence in showing a different side of

nature. As well, I have a number of sketches that have helped me learn to see differently.

But that’s part of the reason I spend time photographing – to discover new things about nature and to discover new ways of seeing. I need to challenge myself more in different situations and with different expectations.

Leaves on Rhubarb

Get Out and Photograph!

For too many days this autumn I have had commitments which have kept me indoors. I’ve caught “glimpses” of

autumn  through the lens while conducting workshops and when out for family hikes, but I’ve not had the chance to move slowly and think about the images I’ve made. I’m that kind of photographer – slow and purposeful, working on a tripod, waiting for the light and the wind. I need to spend time with my subject familiarizing myself with its nuances, changing my composition inching closer, slightly to one side and a little lower. American photographer Fred Picker looks for the place where the subject “is looking back at me”.

I’ve come to learn exactly what he means. The composition needs to feel right. I need time to photograph without distractions and this morning is just that time.

As I got out of the car, I suddenly realized how quiet it was here. I could hear the morning rush of the city over to the west, but here at Starkey Hill,  I could hear the birds sing and the wind rush through the now brown goldenrod. The grey sky seemed to be keeping the sound in .

Autumn is now weeks old, and the best of the colour long-past, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m want to celebrate the subtle ochres, yellows and browns that grace the latter part of autumn. The wind won’t help things, though. I like small apertures and long exposures. Shooting at ISO200 will help. This is a recent change up from the base ISO of 100. On the E-30, dynamic range is about 2/3s of a stop greater at ISO 200. I want to take advantage of that. I’ve also reduced the contrast to allow the histogram to show me every detail.

It’s so easy to ignore colour after the peak yellows, oranges and reds of the maples and birch throughout Ontario. There is still plenty of colour in herbaceous plants and wildflowers that fill the fields, There is even the odd purple aster to provide contrast to palette of warmth that is everywhere. The goldenrods first catch my attention. The warmth of the various browns contrasts nicely with the cold grey of the leafless shrubs in the background.

As I hike along, stopping to set up and make a few photographs, the path transitions from field into pine plantation. Finally I crest the moraine and look down into a sea of golden yellow. Of course, the maples have all dropped, but the beech trees are now broadcasting their autumn glory. Soon the sun starts peaking through the morning cloud and the forest becomes a fireworks show of colour. The subtle colour I came out today to photograph have erupted. What a treat.

After a few more images, I realize that it is about noon. At this time of year, here at this latitude, the sun is low enough that one can photograph all day and still have great light. But other commitments beckon. These three hours have been the most artistically productive three hours in months. It’s a rare day for outdoor and nature photographers to have all the elements woking together in one;s favour. Of course, that being said, if I get out more often, then I just might be surprised at what I can make of the ambient conditions on any given day.