Tag: landscape

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.


Lumix FZ1000 in print

I am thrilled to be shooting with the Panasonic LUMIX FZ1000 camera. Its features are quite remarkable:

  • 25-400mm (equivalent) Leica ƒ2.8-4 lens
  • 20mp 1″ sensor
  • Hull HD and 4K video
  • lots of customization for shooting both raw and jpegs

Winter SquallI’m impressed, too – impressed enough to have purchased one for travel photography. Lately, I’ve been putting it through its paces, really trying to push it to the limits. Of course, the limits I’m comparing it with are those of my full-frame D800E and associated optics.

So why bother with a “bridge” camera when I’m using a D800E? It all comes down to travel. I wanted something I could take with me “where ever” I go. I know I can do that with the D800E, but if I want anything beyond normal, I’m stuck carrying extra lenses with me, and full-frame zoom lenses aren’t exactly lightweight! What about prime lenses? True, they are lighter, but then I’m changing lenses more frequently than I prefer to. I want something I can pick up and head out shooting with that will give me decent quality raw photos for printing and decent-quality family snapshots for jpegs for sharing. Something I can walk around and hand-hold without compromising too much quality. I would still use my D800E for my fine art work where time allows me to slow down and use a a tripod. But it just seems to be overkill for many of the travel-type grab shots I also enjoy making – photos that will rarely see the inside of a printer, so to speak.

Winter Morning, Bark LakeNeedless to say it’s an unfair comparison, given the D800E’s state-of-the-art 36mp sensor with class-leading dynamic range, but still, I’m impressed by what the FZ1000 can do. So impressed, that it was the only camera I took with me on my annual sojourn into a Canadian winter up at Bark Lake Leadership Centre with our Grade 10s for their 6-day field course.

I made a number of jpeg images of the students skiing, building fires, augering down through the ice to collect lake water samples – those images are nothing short of fantastic. The flash did an amazing job of filling in shadows on sunny days and indoors. Actually the light from the flash is better than I get from the D800E’s pop-up flash – less contrasty and better balanced. ISOs up to 800 were perfectly fine for web and print media (e.g. 300dpi for yearbook).

FZ1000-100%Since returning, I have also taken some basketball photos at ISO3200. Not as clean and crisp as the D800E w/ ƒ2.8 70-200mm zoom, but certainly printable for web and yearbook (just). Even the team photos I took at ISO400 and 800 in the gym with the pop-up flash were plenty good enough once processed through Lightroom.

While up at Bark Lake, I made some fine art photos as well, shooting in raw at the base ISO of 125. They are terrific, indeed – quality enough for printing this past weekend as 10.5 x15″. They would even stand up well as full 13×19″ prints. And, since that’s the title of this post, here they are.

I’be also included a 100% screen capture of part of the upper pholograph. In all fairness, there is a fair amount of snow flying around that appears, in the 100% crop, to be dust, but it isn’t!

_1030085And, lastly, here is a female cardinal shot at ƒ5.6 400mm (equivalent) at ISO125. By the way, this was shot through our kitchen window. It is a 1200×1800 pixel crop from the full 5472×3648 frame. Not bad at all!


Long Weekend = Time Printing


A winter sky with thin clouds lit magenta by the rising sun over a farm field with rows of corn stalks and a light dusitng of snow
A winter sky with thin clouds lit magenta by the rising sun over a farm field with rows of corn stalks and a light dusting of snow

Dusk, Inner Bay, Long Point

As a bonus of working in the private sector, I had Friday as a holiday as well as Monday making a 4-day weekend. Finally, some time to spend printing. How satisfying!

I am working through a backlog of print-ready photographs from the last few years, partly to satisfy me need for a sense of completion, but also to select prints for my upcoming show in September. Perhaps it’s a sign of my four decades in photography, but I never feel quite photographically “complete” until my work is actually printed on fine paper as a fine art print.

On screen and on the web is good, and, in fact, very helpful for feedback inthe forums (I can highly recommend the Luminous Landscape Forum), but the smaller size and backlit display just don’t have the same appeal. There is also the feeling of impermanence; printing on fine paper, on the other hand, is a commitment to longevity, a statement that says “I’m finished”.

Of course, what do I immediately do after printing? I scrutinize the print for improvements – so much for the “I’m finished” bit.

I’ve been very pleased with the results as of late. I don’t colour manage (I know, heretical), but I do use test strips, a technique leftover from my darkroom days. But you know what? It works. Running a 2″ test strip of a key part of the photograph printed on my paper of choice allows me to see it as it will exist – not as a softproof on monitor, but as a living, breathing front-lit print. One of two text strips allows me to nail the colour balance and exposure before committing a whole piece of ($5 to $10) paper plus about the same in ink.

My paper of choice is (and has been for a few years now) MOAB Entrada Rag Natural. It is a lovely, lightly-textured matte paper made from 100% cotton with no optical brightening agents (OBAs), thus the “natural” designation. Why matte paper? While it bucks the rend to some extent, I love the feel and look of this paper. No, I do not get super dark blacks (high Dmax), but I get what is, to my anyway, a more authentic view of the natural world I am photographing. It’s real, but not quite real. To me, there is no modern technical aspect between the viewer an the image on the paper. I hate the word “organic” in its use now-a-days, but it seems fitting in this case.

Once I’m in the groove, and have calibrated my brain to the computer and print results, I can successfully make a number of different prints without text strips. This is the zen of printing – a state which only happens once or twice a year. This weekend was one of those times.

Here are some of the prints I made this past weekend. If there is one you happen to like enough to buy, it’s yours for $75, shipped free anywhere in Canada. You will receive the print on 13×19″paper, matted and ready for a 16×20″ frame, with a certificate of authenticity.


More from Wellington County

More scouting trips around Wellington County. Last Friday, it lead to a wonderful piece of pie at Marj’s in Alma. If you haven’t been, it’s a must! Marj’s is a classic village diner with great service, great food and, most important of all, great, home-made pies.

The photos I’m showing you are not final cuts, but rather works in progress. Some will never see the light of day as they are location “snaps”. I find it helpful to shoot a location when I know it’s not the ideal time, but want to keep a record of what it looks like and its exact location using Lightroom Maps module and the GPS unit on my camera.

You will notice that some of the photos are “blurred”. They are the product of the work I am doing with motion landscapes – photographs that capture varying degrees of motion to give us fleeting glimpses of shapes, colours and textures. They, too, are a work in progress! Final note: all photos are processed in Lightroom 4.1


Golden Summer Morning

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

The Nikon D800e and ISO

In various reviews, one of the “jaw dropping” features of the Nikon D800e that has been identified is its amazing image quality, not just at ISO200 and 400, but all the way up to ISO 3200. I thought I would put it to the test under conditions that are, for a nature and landscape photographer, somewhat “normal” to ideal. Yesterday morning was one of those perfect early summer mornings with soft lighting and no wind. It would have been nice to have a little more dew, but hey, when it comes to nature, you take what you can get and say “Thank you!”

The photographs were made using a Nikkor 20mm ƒ2.8 AF-D lens mounted on sturdy Manfrotto 055 legs with a heavy duty head. They were exposed using mirror lock-up and an electronic release. They were shot at ƒ22 – typical for landscape work where I want everything from the immediate foreground to the “far hills” in focus. ƒ22 does introduce diffraction issues, but more on that in my next post.

The 100% crops were all taken from the centre of each frame as I am trying to show how the camera performs, not the lens. The 20mm is a great all-around wideangle – a focal length I love for landscapes – but it does have chromatic aberration issues in the corners that need a bit of TLC to correct.

Shown below is a series for each of the ISO200, 800 and 3200 shots. The images have been processed in Lightroom 4.1, all in the same way at default sharpening. The values are shown for each photo in theLR  panel at the right of each screen capture. You will see Full image views of each photo plus a view at 100% for the pixel peepers and a view at 50% for the realists. I then applied what I would call “appropriate” sharpening to each image to bring out its best qualities and there is a 100% view of each. Yes, the sharpening is different for each, but that’s what one would expect when working to achieve highest image quality at each ISO.

So, now you can be the judge. How well does the D800e hold up at different ISOs? While you can click on an image and scroll through the gallery one at a time, once you are in the gallery, you can also right-click on an image and select “Open Image in New Window” or “Open Image in New Tab”. That way you can do direct comparisons right in your browser. Alternatively, from within the gallery, you can right-click and choose “Save Image As…” (or whatever the equivalent is in Windows).

If you’re like me, you just might be somewhat astounded at what the D800e can do at ISO3200. Under ideal conditions (“normal contrast”, properly exposed images with no excessive recovery of lost detail in shadows which generates noise) and with appropriate sharpening, it is possible to achieve truly printable images at high ISO. In this case, “truly printable” includes large format prints as ISO3200 at 50% and even 100% is pretty amazing.

Finally, a winter photography day

I just came back from 5 great days up at the family cottage – great days for family and down time, absolutely lousy for photography. Dull grey skies, bitter cold followed by rain but with no snow to “clean” things up. So today I went out to try and make up for it. I figured that after the cold night we’ve had, there might be some interesting ice up around the small limestone gorge around through which the

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

Eramosa River passes at Everton. There wasn’t, but here’s what I came up with over a period of 70 minutes or so.

The first photograph is of the general area I was working in. Dull green cedars, dull rock, dull sky, but dynamic water. So I de-emphasized the sky and composed and shot knowing I would be turning everything into black and white. What I found, as the afternoon progressed, was that my journey started with the obvious and gradually morphed into the abstract. The more time I spent looking, the more I began to see.

So here is the obvious – a small waterfall, but a wonderful dynamic created by the rushing river below the waterfall. I wanted to keep the birch on the right side as it provided a sense of depth so I knew I would need at least ƒ8, probably ƒ11. Also, due to the brightness of the “white” water, I would also need to increase my exposure to +1 stop above “normal” (using exposure compensation).

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario; photo by Terry McDonald
Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

However, with these settings at ISO 100 my shutter speed was only 1/15th – too fast to really capture the swirling movement of the water. Adding an NDx8 and my polarizer slowed the shutter speed to 1 second at ƒ11 and, at ƒ16, 2 seconds. As it turned out, ƒ/11 was enough depth-of-field. The concern with ƒ16 and small sensors is that diffraction will reduce sharpness, so ƒ11 was used for most shots. However, a 2-second exposure produced the best water patterns, so I used ƒ16 knowing that stinger capture sharpening would be needed . One thing I’ve learned about moving water shots is that the patterns in the water are different with each exposure. I ended up exposing 8 frames before I had one with a pattern I was satisfied with. I photographed the same scene to produce a square composition – one that I am equally pleased with.

In Lightroom,  I converted the raw file to B&W then used the basic controls to bring out the contrast between white water, dark water, white snow and dark rock. I ended up toning down the snow in the  bottom right using a graduated mask and increased the brightness of the birch using a adjustment brush. Lastly, I worked with an adjustment brush at 50% flow to build up some of the exposure and contrast in the water flowing downstream.

This is a very pleasing image for me, given the dull day. Using increased contrast, I was able to extract from the flat lighting a three-dimensional dynamic image portraying the beauty hidden by the initial dullness.

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario; by Terry McDonald
Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

With the “grand scene” finished, I began looking at some of the details. I worked on capturing that great flow of water. In this case, I kept the photo in colour and, in fact, increased the saturation significantly (100% – a first time for everything!). I found the increase in saturation gives the water and the flowing streams of white greater depth – a three dimensionality below the water that added to the three dimensionality across the water and from upstream to downstream. After a few ‘sketches”, I determined that a 2-second exposure gave the most dynamic water pattern, so set the aperture to ƒ14 accordingly. This is in combination with ISO 100, a polarizing filter, an NDx8 filter and +2 exposure compensation.

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario; photo by Terry McDonald
Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

For about half the time I spent there, I worked on another small waterfall downstream of the original. In this case, I was looking down on it from above, and became intrigued with the interplay of water and ice, foreground and background. The water seemed to disappear into a nothingness. I had a terrible time with some cedars that kept creeping into the bottom of the frame and some snow that was on the rock in the upper right. This made composition critical. I could have cropped them out, but I would rather make full use of the sensor and spend a few extra minutes nailing down precise composition. Originally, I composed this a horizontal photograph due to the right left movement of the water. While it “works”, when I changed to vertical, everything seemed to fall together more precisely due to the natural shapes and lines in the image.

Again, a 2-second exposure gave the most dynamic water pattern, so I adjusted the aperture to ƒ8 along with the polarizer, NDx8 and an exposure compensation of +1.3 stops. In Lightroom, the raw file was converted to B&W and additional contrast was added to the water and the ice. Exposure was carefully controlled so as not to lose detail in the bright lower left. Finally, I added a split tone preset I created called “Subtle Sepia” which I find adds depth and life to the otherwise quite grey-looking scene.

Everton is a place I will return to throughout the winter. I must thank Alan Norsworthy’s Flickr page for introducing me to this photographic gem. There are many more wonderful images here awaiting just the right snow, ice and light.

For more on Winter Photography, sign up for one of my Winter Nature Workshops in Guelph on January 21st and in Dundas (near Hamilton) on January 28th. To learn more about Lightroom, attend the Introductory Lightroom workshop on February 18th followed by Advanced Lightroom on the 25th – both in Guelph. More information can be found on the Workshop page of my website: luxborealis.com

Pushing Yourself – Visually

This past Saturday morning I led my Landscape Photography class on a morning field session down in the hamilton Beach area. We started off right under the Skyway Bridge at the canal leading from Burlington Bay to Lake Ontario – not the prettiest place at the best of times and this was October 30th: grey skies with the temperature at about 3°C, and few leaves left on the few trees in the area which was mostly aged cement and steel.

“Why are we here?” was the first and often-repeated question.

I believe that if you want to stretch your vision, you must work in visually challenging places. Once you have the technique down, it is relatively easy to make great landscapes in beautiful places. But are they visually dynamic images? Perhaps, if you have learned to create visually dynamic images. That only happens when you have truly challenged yourself.

What do I mean by “visually dynamic images”. These are images that visually “pop”. Images that show a different perspective, a different way of seeing. Images that make use of visual elements in the landscape and portray them in a creative way.

You can do all this in pretty places, but often we don’t because we are not forced to. There are plenty of beautiful photos that you can take just by standing there. Visually dynamic images often require a different perspective, a perspective that we may not consider if we are busy capturing the obvious.

I try to get photographers to think in terms of good, better and best. In a beautiful place, you can take good to better photos without working very hard, but what about the best photos – they are the ones that require a new and different perspective.

Going to a location that is visually challenging to begin with forces you to go beyond the obvious because the obvious is not very photogenic. Consider it a “sketching” outing: you may not come away with a photo contest winner, but what you are doing is exercising your brain, forcing it to see beyond the obvious. I tell my students that this is the practice that allows you to hone your visual skills so that when you get to that grand location, your images will be well beyond the snapshots everyone else is taking.

While I generally prefer to photograph alone, in this case it helps to go in a group so that you can feed off the different ideas and perspectives that others think of.

So, find a nearby location that is not visually stimulating and see what you come up with. Try going back more than once at different times of day and throughout the seasons.After a couple of years of this I will bet that you have more than few images worthy of showing.

Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario

Just back from 5 days of canoeing in Algonquin this past week with my daughter Allison. WAe canoed in to Biggar lake via North Tea and the Kawawaymog (Round) Lake access point. Great views of moose, sunrise mist, clouds, thunderstorms, etc. Check out the pics at my Flickr site (for now). Here’s one to get you started: