Tag: landscapes

More on Ethiopia

My recent trip to Ethiopia has left an impression that will last for quite some time. Aside from the spectacular landscapes and the simple beauty of the rock-hewn churches (read Indiana Jones meets National Geographic!), I am reminded of how complicated we have made our lives compared to many of the Ethiopians I met along the way. Our collective love affair with ‘stuff’ and our societal belief that ‘more is better’ is simply overwhelming. As I look around my neighbourhood, I see a clear indication of this, by how few of us can actually put our car in our garage.

Miriam Korkor rock-hewn church, Gher’Alta, Tigray, Ethiopia

I am and always have been a ‘stills’ photographer, primarily capturing natural landscapes and nature’s intimate details. However, since first using iPhone, I have also been drawn to capturing ambient sounds and video. In my short travels through northern Ethiopia, I made a number of videos which I have combined with some stills, ambient sounds and Tigrayan music into single video using iMovie. It’s my first ‘go’ with iMovie and while I think I’ve done a fair job at mastering transitions and overlaying sound, I think some of my clips may still be a little long. Perhaps, I’ll go back one day and rework this, but for now, here it is: Ethiopia 2019 Video.

I’ve also been asked, by a few people, for any tips I have for travelling to and photographing in Ethiopia. The following is an updated version of what I wrote on the Luminous-Landscape forum website last week:

Photo Tips: Work on convincing your drivers/guides to start early. Earlier than 8-8:30 was a struggle. I don’t think they quite understand the needs of photographers for the early morning light. As I was mostly travelling alone in a Land Cruiser, the drivers were very accommodating for photo stops.

There is an element of zooification when travelling to a low-income country. It’s something we discuss at length in the tourism unit of the IB Geography course I teach. I also introduce the term to my Grade 7s when we discuss the benefits and challenges of World Heritage Sites. I, for one, am intrigued by the markets and street life: the bustle of life lived on the streets, the sounds and colours and busy-ness of it all. But there is an element of voyeurism, too, that I am highly self-conscious of. At times, I felt this way when photographing the nuns, priests and monks at the churches, as a small payment is typically expected.

Don’t be afraid to walk the streets/markets to shoot, bút it’s better with your driver or guide as they can explain why you wish to photograph. Many people did NOT want their photos taken – respect that and move on because many did not mind at all, especially if you show them the photo afterwards and/or make a purchase from them.

Shop-owner, student and guide, Tsega Gebru, village of Megab, Ethiopia

A bigger camera system will definitely be more intimidating for candid portraits and street photography. It will also make you an bigger target. Being a westerner, ups the chances for theft, but I had no issues as my phone always went back in my front pocket and my Sony camera always back in my small hip case (one I bought decades ago to hold 4×5 film holders – my have times changed!)

I used ETT – Ethio Travel & Tours. Sunight was fantastic at organizing. All via email, she put together my two-week itinerary according to my requests, that included all accommodations (w/WiFi and private bathroom), all breakfasts, all internal flights (I had three) and transfers, all drivers and guides, and all entrance fees for USD 1750 – cash, paid on arrival. This kind of payment may scare off some who want the security of having everything booked and paid for ahead of time, but it is Africa, and, short of the much higher priced escorted tours, there are never any guarantees. That being said, everything went off without a hitch. As it is, ETT does most of the work for Erta Ale and the Danakil Depression, if not directly, then subcontracted to them. 
NOTE: If you fly in/out using Ethiopian Airlines (as good as many, better than most), all of your internal flights are significantly cheaper. And flights are the way to get around the country. 

The busy season is Dec-Jan for Christian observances and festivals (and into Feb) when up to to 10,000 will be in Lalibela, Aksum and the various churches. These are great opportunities for capturing the mood/feeling, but more expensive and frankly far too many tourists, especially for getting up/down the remote Tigray Churches. The rock-hewn churches of Gher’Alta Tigray – Miriam Korkor, Daniel Korkor, Abuna Yemata Gur – are only one way up and down. Any more than ten people will really slow things down and, for me anyway, completely ruin the experience of being in a quiet, inaccessible place of peace.

Prayer niche for monks, Daniel Korkor, Gher’Alta, Tigray, Ethiopia

March seemed to be ideal as it is the tail end of the main season and was not busy, but still with worshippers for cultural depth to photos. July-Aug is the rainy season – more difficult to get around but with much greener landscapes. 

I did not get to Gondor, Lake Tana / Blue Nile Falls, Simien Mtns or the southern Rift Valley for the Oromo cultures, but all are highly recommended – especially trekking in the Simien Mtns – according to tourists I spoke to there. However, visiting the Oromo cultures in the south is rife with zooification. Many French, German, Brits, Japanese and Chinese. I met only 1 other Canadian and only 1 American. Clearly, Ethiopia is not on the North American radar (not surprising, though).

Any other Qs, let me know. As I said at the beginning, tourism is just starting; while there is luxury, it somehow seems out of place in a low-income country. But it also means there are fewer tourists overall and the ones there are not the coach tour/cruise tourists.

Woodstock next week!

On Wednesday evening next week, the 14th of November, I’ll be heading down the 401 to present “Creating Compelling Landscapes” for the Woodstock Camera Club.

As you may already know, I’m a “big picture” guy. I enjoy the details, but I’m always looking for context and perspective; trying to place those natural details in their larger habitat, preferably with a horizon and perhaps some of that big sky. So we’ll talk about how to do that, more successfully and more consistently. It’s all out there; sometimes it’s just a matter of being inspired to see the forest and the trees.

The meeting starts at 7:30pm at the Quality Inn and Suites, just north of Hwy 401 exit 232, on Bruin Blvd near Juliana and Norwich. See you there!

Winter photos à la iPhone

Some of you might think I’ve gone over to the dark side, but really, I’m celebrating the fact that great photos are now just an iPhone away. It’s not just iPhone, though, as Google Pixels 2 and Samsung Galaxy phones, amongst others, are now capable of producing amazing photographs.

In iOS 11, iPhones now shoot HDR images as the default, and the image quality is greatly improved. It also has a fantastic Portrait mode which, through software, blurs the background. And, the “Plus” models like the iPhone 8 Plus I’m using, has both a 28mm lens and a 56mm lens.

But the real bonus for me is RAW capture. Shooting in RAW permits processing for the highest image quality possible. While the candid photos I take, the snapshots, are made using the iOS camera app that comes with the phone, the landscapes – my more serious work – is all done using one of few different RAW camera apps. I’ve written an article on this that will be published in Lumnious-Landscape.com, but for now, suffice it say, I’m loving using Lightroom Mobile and ProCamera. There are really only three of four mobile phone apps that are useful for shooting raw and these are the two best.

Lr Mobile is free and you do not need to subscribe to Adobe’s “cash grab” Creative Cloud to make use of it. ProCamera is $5.99 and well worth the cost. While I prefer ProCamera’s histogram approach to showing clipped highlights, I love using Lr Mobile’s HDR-RAW feature: it takes three shots in succession at +2, 0 and –2 EV and automatically aligns, merges, deghosts, and tonemaps the photo. While it’s a whopping 43mb in size, it is all set for full-bit-depth editing in Lightroom. Fantastic!!

Anyway, enough blabbering – here are the photos. I’ll update the blog when Luminous-Landscape publishes my iPhone Raw article. Enjoy!

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.

Gatineau in November – Beautiful

We’re up in Ottawa visiting our daughter who is attending U of Ottawa and spent today in Gatineau doing two hikes with a nice café lunch between.

Gatineau Park is a real gem for anyone wanting to get outside in nature. The trails are extensive, well-marked and mapped, and take you up and down through beautiful forests. While hiking near Meech Lake, it was great to come across the Thomas “Carbide” Willson Laboratory ruins along with a river and waterfall that, due to the recent heavy rains in the region, was spilling over its banks and filling the whole gorge below. Of course, Willson’s nickname is the result of his invention of calcium carbide, a patent he later sold to Union Carbide.

Towards evening, we were up on the aptly-named Skyline Trail with great views south towards Ottawa. The two close-ups of downtown near sunset and at dusk were made with the Sony RX-10iii at 600mm (equivalent), ƒ4 and ISO 400. They were, believe it or not, hand-held at 1/60 and 1/10 of a second respectively. Now, the dusk photo was made sitting on a bench with my elbows braced on my knees, but still – 1/10th of a second using a 600mm (equivalent) lens – phenomenal image stabilization. Sure the photo’s a bit grainy, but it would print well in a large-format book – which is the kind of quality I’m looking for in a travel camera. Even the waterfall detail was hand-held at 1/10th of a second.

Yes, if I was truly serious about these photos, I would have made them on a tripod. But, hey, I was out with my family for some hiking – today, the photography was secondary.

If you find this post or others helpful, please share them on Facebook. Feel free to add a comment or questions as well. Thanks for reading!

A few more from Iceland

For last few days and for two more, we’re staying on a farm about 10 minutes outside of Akureyri, in Iceland’s north. It’s snowing right now and we’ve had snow off and on over the last few days. Not a lot, but road conditions yesterday morning were a bit dicey. However, when the weather cleared, we had beautiful sunshine and more spectacular scenery of dramatic mountains, blue ocean, white snow and puffy clouds.

We drove up the coast of Eyjafjörður from Akureyri through Dalvik and three tunnels (one of which was a single lane for 3km!) to the northern village of Siglufjörður. If you watched “Trapped” – an Icelandic mini-series on Netflix – this was the town the story was based on and partially filmed in – a beautiful location surrounded by mountains and the sea. But the most dramatic scenery yesterday was just outside of Ólafsfjörður. Just off the point a brewing snow squall was lit by the afternoon sun.

We ended the day photographing a farm just south of Dalvik. The problem in Iceland is that the roads have no shoulders (and no guard rails except on a few, very few, choice curves!). In other words, there is no where to stop the car to photograph the great scenery except at farm lanes (they don’t like that!), pull-offs and picnic areas. The picnic areas are scattered along the road, some well-placed or photographers, others less so. A few hundred metres up the road from the farm there was a picnic stop – snowed in at the is time of year, but accessible, thank goodness. It was worth the trek back down the road to capture this beautiful view. It sums up the kind of day we had.

We went aback to Akureyri for dinner. Eating out is expensive in Iceland: fish and chips for two plus a couple of pints totalled about $75. Understandably, most of our meals we make ourselves, easy breakfasts of muesli and skyr (Iceland “yoghurt-like” milk product), sandwiches for lunch and dinners back at our AirBnB.

We ended the day the best way possible – soaking in hot pool. Each village and town has outdoor public pools, heated with geothermal heat. Each complex typically has a gym attached plus at lest one lane-swimming pool and at least two, often three of four, hot pools of varying degrees of warmth. This pool, near our AirBnB, is set in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, so sitting outside in a not pool at -2°C surrounded by the evening light with these great views was a real treat.

Here are more photos from the day…

 

Iceland in March

Right now, Laura and I are travelling through Iceland, mostly in the north. We rented and are staying at AirBnBs. It’s a great time of year as there is a dusting of fresh snow each night – not enough to obliterate detail, nor enough to make driving hazardous, but just enough to accentuate the detail of the mountains and volcanic rock.

I’m using the Sony RX10iii for all the shots. I’ve brought along my D800E with the 18-35mm lens, specifically to capture the Aurora borealis, when it makes its appearance (higher image quality at the higher ISOs needed). Otherwise, everything you see is using the RX10iii using raw capture and processing through Lightroom.

New Book! Super-Natural South Florida

Super-Natural South Florida
Super-Natural South Florida

Following on from our trip in March, I have published a fine art, limited-run monograph of 31 colour and black-and-white photographs: Super-Natural South Florida (ISBN 978-0-9813705-3-8). It is available on Amazon for USD$109.95, but for a limited time, I am making the book available directly to family and friends for CDN$87.50 (hand-delivered or shipped for $12.50 more).

The easiest way to make this purchase is by either sending a cheque for the full amount (there is no tax) to:

Terry McDonald
79 Vanier Drive
Guelph, ON  N1G 2K9

or by directly making a deposit to my PayPal account (you do not need PayPal to do this):

For one book, no shipping Buy Now Button with Credit Cards     or for one book + shipping Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

The photographs in Super-Natural South Florida are beautifully presented, one photograph per page, in a large, 12″x12″ format hard-cover book with dust jacket. Included are landscapes from dawn to dusk and photographs of the myriad unique wildlife of South Florida.

Why “Super-Natual” South Florida?

Florida is well-known for its abundance of beach-front condos and hotels and all the touristy sites of the Orlando area, not to mention the hundreds of tourist traps across the state. Equally well-known but often ignored, though, are the beautiful natural features. Laurie and I were planning this trip, it dawned on us that the South Florida region is unparalleled in the eastern US for its wilderness and wildlife value – not just the well-known Everglades, but all the protected areas around them:

  • Fakahatchee Strand,
  • Corkscrew Swamp
  • Big Cypress National Preserve
  • Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve
  • Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge

amongst many others. More importantly, these areas have been made reasonably accessible from trails, boardwalks, even the road.

When we started exploring these areas on foot, we were amazed by how accessibility the wildlife really is: birds, reptiles and flora were all “right there”. It was like being back in Tanzania with the wide-open landscapes and the sense of serendipity, never knowing what we would find around the next bend. The photographs depict this rich and diverse natural beauty: the landscapes, the wildlife and many of the details that make this sub-tropical paradise so unique.

If you enjoy the beauty of Florida, you will enjoy the photographs in this book. Have a look at this Blurb preview and consider purchasing a copy for yourself, for your favourite Snow-Bird or for your favourite Floridian!

Killarney

Morning, George Lake, KillarneyNow that the bulk of my “day job” has wound down, I have a bit more free time to write and share (and to complete the jobs on this summer’s “honey do” list!) It also means some time to do the things we most love to do… travel, camp, hike, canoe and, for me, photograph. So, in the last week of June, Laurie and I packed up the car and made our way up to Killarney.

Killarney Shield from Granite Ridgeif you’ve never been to that part of Ontario, then you are missing a real gem. You can either choose among the 20 best rv rentals in Florida – rvrentalscout.com or take your minivan but travelling to Killareney Provincial Park by road is a must things to do. Killarney Provincial Park is uniquely located on the Canadian Shield where a 1.5-billion-year-old batholith is up against the eroded roots of 2.25-billion-year-old mountains that were once the height of the Himalayas – they are now the white quartzite ridges of the La Cloche Range. What makes for spectacular photography, though, also makes for difficult hiking. The 87km La Cloche Silhouette Trail (which we did not do!) is one of the most difficult in eastern Canada.
OSA Lake and Killarney RangeInstead, we opted for car-camping at George Lake combined with day-hikes along the Cranberry Bog Trail, the Chikanishing Creek Trail and the Granite Ridge Trail. We also spent the better part of day canoeing and portaging the 23km round-trip to OSA Lake. OSA (Ontario Society of Artists) Lake is a gorgeous vermillion blue colour set against the deep green of the boreal forest and the white quartzite of the La Cloche Range. Its moniker comes from the fact that AY Jackson and the Group of Seven painted extensively in the area and had a hand in having the area protected from logging. In fact, one of my favourite places is AY Jackson Lake – a 15-minute hike from the George Lake Trailhead.

We camped in the eastern part of the campground in the radio-free (but not necessarily noise-free or idiot-free) part of the park. The idiots I refer to are the twenty-something “guys weekend” group who were not only loud, but also messy campers, leaving food, etc. out which ended up attracting a young bear. Luckily it was one of their tents that was trashed, not ours.

_D8E8724-WEBOur second full day was rainy – a perfect time to spend photographing the wonderful lupines along the Hwy 637 corridor. They were an unexpected splash of gorgeous colour we could not pass up. Given the beautiful, soft light and the light rain, Laurie’s photos from the iPad rival mine made with the D800E! I went to Killarney expecting wonderful landscapes, but came home with some lovely wildflower shots as well.

One of the styles I’m working on with wild flowers is replacing my 105mm macro lens with a wideangle lens, typically my 24mm. It takes just the right set of conditions since the wideangle shows so much more background. I think I was successful with the blue flag iris and the harebell, but less so with the bunchberry.

20mm
20mm

Of course, in landscape mode, I love working ultra-wide with the 20mm. Given a detailed foreground, the 20mm is unrivalled for giving the feeling of being able to walk into the scene. The 24mm also had a good workout. For both the AY Jackson Lake and George Lake morning ‘scapes, I used my Dawn, AY Jackson Lake, KillarneyND400 filter to get much slower shutter speeds of five to 15 seconds which removed slight ripples on the lake providing a glossy surface for reflections.

Needless to say, it was a fruitful trip, photography wise, and it re-invigorated our love of northern Ontario. The sad part was returning to the bustle of southern Ontario – and the NOISE! It’s really surprising how much noise we put up with down here – and don’t even realize it becasue we’ve become to used to it. The noise of the city becomes painfully obvious after being in a place devoid of that white noise.

For more photos of Killarney, head on over to my Flickr album

Thanks for reading.

Landscapes of Wellington County

For a while now, one of the projects I’ve been working on is a series of landscapes of Wellington County. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, Wellington County is an hour west of Toronto and surrounds the city of Guelph (about 120,000) and the towns of Erin, Fergus and Elora with a hodge-podge of townships trending northwest from there. Predominantly farmland with few natural areas, Wellington County is bisected by the Grand River and some of its tributaries, namely the Speed and Eramosa Rivers. It’s not exactly Madison County with its various bridges, but, there are a few places where the river courses are quite photogenic. As well, Elora Gorge offers some great photographic potential.

There is not much in the way of topography, though, with the highest point being Starkey Hill, just east of Arkell (southeast of Guelph) atop the Guelph Moraine, part of the Galt-Paris Moraine complex left over from the last glacial period. The Grand River valley also provides some topography, but with most of the land being private and the natural areas being either wetland or forest, there are few “vistas” ideal for landscapes.

If I could photograph only one thing, it would be landscapes – those broad, sweeping, three-dimensional vistas filled with  detail that start at my feet and extend to the horizon. However, to really work, they require just the right combination of timing for vegetation and lighting – that dramatic moment that says something more than “I was here”. And, more often than not, landscapes are at their most stunning when I’m on my way somewhere else and can’t stop to photograph. Such is life… Needless to say, my landscapes of Wellington County continues to been a long-term project.

Yesterday morning I made a point of doing some exploring to re-familiarize myself with some spots I hadn’t been to in some time. It was a fine summer morning still fresh after Sunday’s rain. Thank goodness for the rain over the last week, otherwise the river courses would have been nearly dry. I worked in the area just north and east of Guelph – the Eramosa Township area.

Field techniques included, as usual, a Nikon D800e mounted on Manfrotto 055 legs and head, mirror lock-up and an electronic release. Shooting data for each photograph is in the caption. The raw image files were processed using Lightroom 4.1

Here are a few from yesterday…