Tag: landscape photography

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…

Chutes, Evening, River aux Sables, Ontario

Lake Superior I – Chutes

I have just returned from 10 days in northern Ontario, eight of which were spent along the coast of Lake Superior at Lake Superior Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park. Both of these parks are exceptional examples of how wild and spectacular the Canadian Shield can be with fast-flowing, rocky rivers, waterfalls, rich forests, dramatic coasts and beautiful granite sculpted by glaciers, water and over a billion years of time.

The weather? Well, it was too nice. Not once did we put on raincoats, although we did have enough rain one night to close the Trans-Canada due to a washout. Other than that one day, everyday was blue sky with few or no clouds and daytime temperatures in the low 20s – perfect summer weather for hiking up and down headlands and through forests, but for landscape photographers who would prefer a few “Ansel Adams” or ” Arthur Lismer” clouds, not ideal!

The bugs? Despite it being the height of mosquito season, neither of us even once put on bug dope – and we were up at dawn and out after sunset, hiking through damp forests and alongside rivers. It’s not that there were no bugs, believe me there were, but they never go to that threshold level that demanded a dose of DEET.

I travelled and photographed with Kerry Little. Kerry and I go back to my few years at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) when I worked in photography, just out of university. Kerry is now a commercial photographer specializing in agriculture photography and aerial photography. Our two families travelled to Superior together two or three times back in the 1990s when our kids were young. He has a trailer that was itching to travel and, like me,  Kerry was in need of a dose of northern Ontario.

There’s something about being north and remote that gives perspective to the rat race of southern Ontario. Everything slows down. There’s no internet connection or cell service in the parks which alters the focus from screen to reality. Neither of us are the type to be tied to a device in the first place, so it wasn’t a difficult switch, but it was still refreshing to be immersed in nature, not worry about what day it was, and worry only about being in the right place at the right time, which meant being on-site to take advantage of the golden hours of morning and evening.

As the drive to Lake Superior Provincial Park, when pulling a trailer, is over 10 hours (almost 1000km), we decided to spend our first night at Chutes Provincial Park in Massey, Ontario. Although we had both visited the park previously for quick overnight stays, we didn’t realize that beyond the falls there was a trail that followed the River aux Sables for a short distance, taking us to more cascades and pools. Beautiful! We spent the evening at the falls and the next morning along the west bank of the river, catching the morning light. We both thought Chutes would be a great place to return to on our homeward journey.

Much of my photography on this trip was done using my Nikon D800E, not, as I’ve done in the last year, with the Sony RX10iii. There are two reasons why:

  1. I have always put a premium on quality for my landscape photographs. The Sony takes high quality photographs – ideal, really for on-the-go travel photography – but, this trip was not that kind of a trip, it was one dedicated to photography. So, when I have the time to slow down, work on a tripod and really concentrate on photography, I prefer the D800E. The additional dynamic range (14.3 vs 12.6) and pixels (36mp vs 20mp) also help ensure that whatever I point the camera at, I have a better chance of a higher quality image (even if I fail in the composition and execution!) (DxOMark Comparison)
  2. I also love working with super-wideangle and the widest on the Sony is 24mm (full-frame equivalent). Using the D800E meant I could use my 18-35mm zoom. In fact, 60% the “keeper” photos I made this trip were made using this lens; and over half of those at 18mm. Could I have made the same photos at 24mm? Yes, and they would have been similar, but 18mm adds that additional near-far exaggeration that, to me, recreates the drama of me being there.

I will be posting photos and elaborating on them over the next few days, so stay tuned! And, enjoy the new, updated gallery – click on a photo and you can now use the navigation buttons to scroll through all of them, one by one (thanks, AngieMakes).

Be sure to share this with your photo- and nature-geek friends and take a moment to leave a comment, ask questions or add some constructive critique. Thanks for reading.

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.

HCC – a great evening!

Last night I presented “Creating Compelling Landscapes” to a wonderful crowd of close to 100 photographers at the Hamilton Camera Club. It was also great to see a number of former students from my days at Mohawk College, as well.

Bucking what is often seen as a trend, the HCC is an active and growing club with members of all ages. With photography having become so ubiquitous, now that everyone has a phone in their pocket, it’s encouraging to see so many people dedicated to creating more than just snapshots.

I look forward to working with the Hamilton Camera Club in the future and, perhaps, seeing the results of my presentation in some great landscape work.

Hamilton Camera Club – Monday

Wild Ginger covers the ground in a foggy deciduous woodland in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada along the Bruce Trial on the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve

If you’re in the Hamilton area on Monday evening join me at the Hamilton Camera Club meeting for my talk on Creating Compelling Landscapes.

The evening starts at 7:30pm and ends at 9:30.

Landscapes always seem simple enough; take one outstanding view, raise the camera to your eye or point the cellphone and “click” – done. That will certainly get you a snapshot, but what can you be doing to capture more than just the scene? How do capture the mood, the atmosphere, the feeling of being there in the stifling heat or the bitter cold?

That’s where you start thinking about the Photographer’s Toolbox: the Ambient Conditions, Visual Design Elements, Technical Controls and Post-capture Processing techniques to answer the question:

How can I creatively use the elements in the landscape and my equipment & skills as a photographer to recreate the compelling scene before me as well as the experience of being there?

Intrigued? See you Monday at 7:30pm at

Mount Hamilton Christian Reformed Church, 1411 Upper Wellington Street, Hamilton.

Another Spectacular Autumn

We have had our share of beautiful weather this autumn here in southern Ontario although lately, it has “normalized”.  At the same time, Laura and I have been out hiking almost every weekend rain, shine or, in the case of last weekend, snow. I’m really working hard at capturing at least one truly worthwhile photograph from each outing. So far, so good, but I also know that won’t always be the case.

Here is a gallery of the best from the last two months. All are made with the Sony RX-10iii which has become my go-to camera as of late, particularly because of its ease of use while hiking. On the last few outings, I’ve taken with me the monopod leg of the MeFOTO tripod. This has been a fantastic addition, allowing me to make photos that would be otherwise impossible late in the afternoon. Yes, I could be hefting a tripod and my D800E kit, but really, these photos will stand up to the needs of cards, photo books and fine art prints. I’m loving this change. Anyone interested in a used D800E and lenses?  🙂

Okay – so I have been trying for an hour to load photos into a gallery as I’ve done countless times before, but I keep getting a WordPress HTTP error – very frustrating!! So I will direct you to my Flickr Photostream to see the most recent photos. Enjoy!

Guelph Photography Guild – Wednesday

Relic RhododendronI’m looking forward to speaking this Wednesday 18 May at the Guelph Photography Guild meeting at 7pm.  I will be sharing recent landscapes and discussing the merits of shooting “Into the Light” and shooting locally.

The GPG meets at 611 Silvercreek Parkway North in the UNIFOR Building. Hope to see you there.

The Magic Hours

Autumn Dawn, HaiburtonIt’s late summer…As I prepare for another school year, my drive through the countryside each morning becomes pure magic.

If you’re in southern Ontario and you’ve been up and out of the city anytime before 8am these past few days, you may already have a notion of what I mean by “The Magic Hours”. It’s not only a southern Ontario phenomenon, though; as the lakes of northern Ontario and, I’m sure, the sloughs of the Prairies, exhibit the same beauty.

The early hours of morning, from an hour before sunrise to an hour afterwards, are already known to landscape photographers as the “Golden Hours”, but the “Magic Hours” are something more. They start in August when the warm, even hot, days contrast with the cool nights. Highs of 25 to 30°C or more during the day create an abundance of evaporation and humidity. So when the night “plunges” to 15°C or so, the humidity comes out as spectacular ground fog the next morning.

Ellis Creek, late SummerUnfortunately, that means getting up and out early – before sunrise. Hopefully, you already have a few ideas of where to go to capture some great landscapes. Think about the wide open farm fields with perhaps a hill or two; or a river valley, a creek bed or a pond. These are all great places to consider. The air is golden and, as the sun rises, it lights up the ground fog creating creating an ethereal landscape. The contrasts between the warmth of the sun and coolness of the shadows are high accentuated making it a magical moment.

It really is a mystical time of day. But it’s tends to be a rural phenomenon; urbanites will need to get out f the city. The Magic Hours are also ephemeral as the effect lasts only a few moments to perhaps an hour. With sunrise, the humidity of the ground fog dissipates into the air with the blue of the sky becoming milky again as the heat of the day sets in   Of course, if you need more time, you can always go out the next morning, and the next!

No snow – what to do?

November Morning, Vance RoadI know many people, despite calling themselves Canadian, abhore the snow and can’t say anything good about it. Not me! I love the snow and the complete change in reality it brings each year. Sure it’s messy to get around in and, if you’re not careful, it can be dangerous. But, as the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing!”

But without any snow…what’s a landscape photographer to do?!? Not to worry – just refocus on what is around us. There are still many details, subtle hues, textures and tones to photograph.

Frosty mornings bring dead and dried wildflowers to life with a coating of beautiful crystals. WIth the frost comes bright, clear skies and brilliant sunrises – great lighting creating long, cool shadows in contrast with the warmth of early morning. Large scenes come alive with highlights; close-ups become a whole new world of intricate shapes and contrasts.

Speed River, NovemberAt the opposite end of the spectrum are the dreary, overcast days, depressing enough made even more so without snow to brighten them. A walk along a river may just awaken your landscape instincts. Try ignoring the sky and put your efforts into looking for smaller-scale landscapes which avoid the blank starkness above. Shapes, patterns and textures amongst the trees, grasses and wildflowers become apparent when one looks more closely.

Along river banks, the patterns and colour in the willows and grasses come alive when set against the dark water in front and the darker forest behind. The dark water itself can reveal details in flow patterns we might not notice on a sunny day. Ice along the water’s edge adds a further bonus of details to explore.

Flurries, Starkey Hill, Arkell

Lately, when we do get snow, it’s been nothing more than a skiff, like icing sugar on Christmas baking. But that in itself can create magical scenes, outlining each branch and stem. Hues and contrast will be muted under an overcast sky, but an increase in Clarity (in Lightroom) will help to bring back the crispness of the day.

Of course, dreary days are also a good time to spend indoors working on, for example, printing projects. When was the last time you looked through your photographs from the past 12 months, edited a few, then made some selections to print or have printed? I find I learn a lot from my photography when I stop to ask myself “why this image and not that?” Spending time editing also hones those skills. After all, photography isn’t just the capture of images in the camera – there is much to be explored in the digital darkroom, to enhance the scenes you’ve captured. Grey, dreary days might just be the time to do it.

Although Christmas is this week, is there someone who would enjoy receiving one of your photographs? There’s still time!

Autumn Photos

I’ve been remiss lately, not just in my photography, but in posting the few photos I’ve had a chance to make this fall. As you well know, autumn is perhaps my favourite season for photography. I love the warm hues of ochres and yellows and burnt umbers and browns. However, September and October are also the busiest times at school, although I’m not sure any time of years is less busy; perhaps it’s the ramp up after summer that makes the fall seem manic. That being said, I’ve also taken on more projects this year at school.

But enough excuses… here are some photos. There is a balance of images from our annual Gr 10 6-day residential field study at Bark Lake Leadership Centre and some from ’round ‘ere. Bark Lake was difficult this year as it rained for most of the week. I was looking forward to doing more astrophotography but the stars just couldn’t burn through the cloud! However, one brief, windy late afternoon walk along the Lakota Trail yielded a few beauties.

As I always maintain, if I can manage just one masterpiece photograph for each outing then I am pleased.