Tag: landscape photography

St. Catharines Photographic Club

On Tuesday of last week, I “opened the season” at the St. Catharines Photographic Club, St. Catharines, Ontario. With the Niagara Escarpment wine country and Niagara Falls so close, the topic of my presentation, ‘Landscape Photography as Artistic Expression’ seemed appropriate for a good many in the audience of about 75 or so.

From my perspective, we can be greeted with a beautiful scene in front of us and capture it in an ‘ƒ8 and be there’ way, but there is so much more we can do as artists to accentuate the scene. For better or worse, as photographers our ‘canvas’ (our viewfinder) is always filled with a scene. It’s a blessing as it gives us a starting point; but it’s also a curse in that we now must work hard to ensure all the elements contribute to the final photograph we see in our mind’s eye.

The Landscape Photographer's Toolkit - copyright Terry A. McDonaldEssentially, we are ‘assembling’ a photograph to represent our vision of the scene by using the various elements provided to us:

  • the Ambient Conditions provided by the weather, time of day and time of year;
  • the Aesthetic Elements of camera position, leading lines and other compositional elements; and
  • the Technical Controls at our disposal: choice of lens, filter, aperture, shutter speed; using a tripod, shooting in panoramic or making an HDR exposure blend.

But that only gets us as far as, what I like to call, a ‘machine file’ generated by the camera. From there, we continue our artistic explorations by applying ‘subtle and discreet’ post-capture processing techniques to further enhance and re-create the scene as we experienced it.

If all we do is reproduce what was there, are we truly adding anything of ourselves to the final work? This is the crux of my goal as a photographer: “to interpret the art inherent in nature’. Nature is spectacular just at is, but sometimes it needs some help to clarify and accentuate the beauty that exists. That’s where the astute and passionate eye of a photographer comes in. For me, the ‘interpretation’ is my take on the what nature provides as art for us everyday.

Overall, it was an excellent evening with many thoughtful questions from the audience. It was also great to see the level of involvement of many members and the high quality of images as evidenced by their website.

I hope to return to St. Catharines in the future to work with Club members on a landscape photography workshop or two. If that’s something you would find helpful – hands-on instruction in the field – then be sure to let the Club know. Alternatively, I am more than happy to lead small groups in ‘field and screen’ workshops where we spend the morning out shooting and the afternoon editing. Just drop me an email if you’re interested.

In the meantime – get out and get shooting. It’s autumn and the colours are arriving. And, if you get out early enough into the rural areas, you will capture some of the wonderful foggy mornings we’re having.

iPhone 8 Plus Initial Test Shots

Three years ago, I shot everything on full frame. Since moving to digital from 35mm and 4×5, it had been my “quest” to reach the same level of image quality as my 4×5. With the Nikon D800E, image quality was finally there and well surpassed that of 4×5, although I did not have access to the tilts and swings of the larger format, bellows camera.

Two years ago, after hefting my full frame D800E and lenses around the Galápagos Islands with 23 students, I decided a change was needed. That’s when I began exploring 1″ sensor “bridge” cameras: first the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000, followed by the Sony RX-10iii, which I have happily settled on. I’ve now travelled with it to Iceland twice and to England, not to mention numerous day hikes here in southern Ontario. I am very pleased with the IQ and can easily make fine photographic prints up to 13″ and 17″.

iPhone 8 Plus

Last week I (finally) entered the mobile phone era with an iPhone 8 Plus. (BTW – Check out Freedom Mobile: over the two year contract, I will only be charged $600 for my $1095 iPhone 8 Plus! Use the link here and you and I will earn a $10 credit!)

A small gallery of photos from Christmas Eve Day, down by the Speed River, Guelph.

Why the iPhone 8 Plus? Why, its camera, of course! It has a two-lens camera system: one is a nice wideangle (for smartphones) f/1.8 28mm lens; the other, a f/2.8 56mm lens. It’s portrait mode creates beautiful photographs, artificially blurring the background, and, with the right app (in my case, I’m using the ProCamera app) I can save the photo in RAW format, using Adobe’s DNG format. Imagine, raw from a phone. Is it any good, though? I’ll let you be the judge. You can learn more about the camera in this article in Popular Science.

These were shot over the last couple of days while we’ve had beautiful, but cold, wintry days here in southern Ontario. The stark lighting is a real test for any camera system as the dynamic range is extreme. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the iPhone handled the contrast. From what I understand, the camera now always does exposure blending by taking three exposures almost simultaneously then automatically combining them into a single photograph, commonly called HDR.

The photo below was made along one of the many backroads we took driving down to Burlington on Christmas Day. The late afternoon sun was made hazy by the falling snow – a scene that was begging to be photographed. I took a number of different shots and settled on this one, slightly cropped from the full photograph. I saved it as a raw file, to ensure maximum latitude while processing. That being said, Apple’s new HEIF file format (PhoneArena review), which iOS 11 now uses instead of JPEGS ticks many of the boxes for advantages: up to 16-bit colour (jpeg is 8-bit) including animation and transparency, yet a smaller file size (about ½ compared to jpeg) and far superior compression with fewer artefacts.

Web version with border and white framing from Lightroom and LR/Mogrify
This is the initial raw file, cropped, but not processed. It appears dark as the emphasis was on retaining the highlights. The full-size image is linked for you to view pixel-level quality.
Here is the full-resolution (linked) processed version of the same file.
Lightroom Before/After comparison with processing values to the right.
Portrait mode, no flash

So far, I’m pleased with the results. Even the Portrait mode is well worth the additional cost of the “Plus” version of the iPhone 8. And the Slow-Synch flash, which doubles as a flashlight/torch, is a bonus which provides very pleasing fill light. Why not an iPhone 10? The additional cost pushed it over my budget. Besides, the iPhone 8 Plus is built on tried and tested technology.

I’ll be shooting more with it over the next few days, so if you have any questions or comments, fire away.

Will it replace my other photo gear? For walking around, yes, but for serious photography, not yet. Who knows, though, the iPhone 8 Plus might still have a few tricks up its sleeve.

Iceland Map & Photos

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

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

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

GRIPS K-W Presentation follow-up

Many thanks to the folks at the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society for hosting my presentation tonight. There are many excellent photographers whose questions and discussion added well to the evening.

A few people inquired about the “Nature Photographer’s Toolkit” I created to help organize ideas around how to approach scenes and subjects in nature photography. I’ve added a copy of the slide below. I hope it serves as a useful guide and reminder to explore a number of different avenues when in the field and in front of a screen.

Remember: Three-quarters of the effort in making photographs is done in the field before the shutter is released and half again occurs on-screen, for every compelling photo is greater than the sum of its parts.

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!

Halton Hills Camera Club – Nov. 1st

On Wednesday, November 1, I will be visiting the Halton Hills Camera Club to present “My Own Backyard”.

As regular readers will already know, I’m a strong advocate for photographers becoming experts in the places they know best – those that are close to home. First of all, your own backyard is a great incubator and test location for equipment, ideas and techniques. But around your home, you’ll have your favourite haunts – the places you return to throughout the year: downtown areas for street photography or local conservation areas for nature and landscapes. Even commuting to work and back may open up opportunities. The thing is, you can get to these places when you anticipate the light or weather conditions to be just right for the style of photograph you’re looking for.

Any way, I don’t want to give it all away. The club meeting starts at 7pm at St. George’s Church, 60 Guelph Street in Georgetown. 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.

Lake Superior VI: Chutes, again

I hate those shirts that say, “Been there. Done that.” That’s the problem with tourism these days – too many people choking up incredible places just so they can tick their list of things they’ve “done” – once – never to return, never to really experience the place. That’s not travel, it’s listing, like so many birdwatchers adding to their Life Lists.

My other peeve with this, is the word “do” in association with visiting a place. “Oh, we did Stonehenge” or “Oh we’ve done Machu Picchu”. Most of the time, they didn’t do anything but sit on a coach, get out, walk around for a few minutes, buy their souvenirs then off to the next place to “do”. Again, that’s not travel, it’s listing. Oh, am I repeating myself? There’s a message there!

Okay – rant over…

To break up the drive back to the hamster cage of southern Ontario, we decided to stop at Chutes Provincial Park again. Yes, we were there on the way up – what could there possibly be to photograph if we’ve “done” it already?!? 🙂 As a photographer, I know how important it is to return to places I’ve already visited. Things change: the light, the time of day, my frame of mind, my way of seeing; and, over a year or many years, the seasons. I can’t count how many times I’ve “done” the Arboretum at the University of Guelph over the 35 years since I first attended Uni, and I think I can confidently say, I’ve never come home without seeing something new and with a photograph I’d be happy to post or frame.

Having visited and experienced a place once, gives you “insider” information about what that place is like and where the light will fall at different times of the day. Hopefully, on your first visit, you consciously made notes (literally or figuratively) about what isn’t working that time and may work better in different conditions. Or, perhaps there’s a part of it you didn’t fully explore. These all factor into returning to places. This second time, Chutes proved to be well worth the stop.

The evening we arrived didn’t amount to much. We mostly scouted for the next morning. I felt moved to make one serious photo (right), but I knew it would be repeating the theme of a waterfall at dusk; a different waterfall, but nothing really new. However, our scouting hike gave us the opportunity to envision places to photograph tomorrow.

The next morning dawned clear and we headed straight out, each to slightly different locations. That’s one of the reasons I like working with Kerry: we are both independent in our thinking and our photography, rarely working the same scene or, if we do, usually from different angles. We can be on the same trail, yet not see each other for an hour or more.

In the gallery below are photographs from the three different set-ups I worked on in the morning; two are similar, from the same set-up; I just can’t decide yet which framing I prefer. I’ve also included the one from the previous evening.

Making Cascade was a lengthy process of working with different shutter speeds to get just the right flow of water. While “chimping“, I noticed this one photo had a wash of water over the foreground rock – the only one like it. I tried replicating this with a slightly longer shutter speed, but the flow of water only did this every 5 minutes or so and my timing just wasn’t as good as the serendipity of the initial frame like this.

The photographer Weegee is credited with the phrase “ƒ8 and be there” as the first rule of photography. I couldn’t agree more, because once you’re there, serendipity has a chance to play its role. As a family, we came to recognize the importance of serendipity during our travels when we lived in Africa. Going out on “game drives” was all about timing: a Cheetah on a termite mound; hyenas gathered at kill; a wildebeest giving birth; elephants wandering amongst our tents. So we’ve continued to be open to serendipity and, more importantly, being out there to experience it. You just never know when things might go from exciting to magical.

You can lview all the photos I’ve posted from Lake Superior 2017 on my Flickr account. Please share the link and this post, and feel free to comment, question and add constructive criticism.

Thanks for reading.

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 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!