Tag: Seeing Photographs

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 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…

Summer Morning

On Tuesday, I set aside the early part of the morning specifically for photographing a field of summer wildflowers between Water Street and Municipal Street here in Guelph. My wife Laura and I walk by here regularly as we (mostly she!) completes our 6km loop from home to the Boathouse on Gordon Street (no, we don’t stop for ice cream!) and back again, along the Speed River for most of the way. It’s been interesting to watch how this field has evolved since, amidst much controversy, this forested area was razed by the Hydro One crews two years ago. They seeded it with a wildflower mix which, at this point anyway, seems to be successful. Right now it is ablaze with flowers: Queen Anne’s Lace, Rudbeckia, Evening Primrose, Mullen, various thistles, daisies, and grasses.

When I walked along the trail early Saturday morning, I was struck by the colour, the light and simply how “full” the field was with wildflowers. As I walked, I got thinking about returning with my 100mm macro lens on the D800E first thing in the morning, hand-held, just to see what I could capture, ideally at ƒ2.8 only. I specifically chose my full-frame camera because I wanted to minimize my depth of field, so ƒ2.8 was also my goal. This is a complete departure from my regular shooting style of using a wideangle lens, getting close and using a small aperture to maximize depth-of-field; this allows me to create the environmental portraits I love so much – putting the main subject in its natural context. When I began shooting, though, I quickly realized how shallow the DoF is at ƒ2.8; I just couldn’t come to grips with the limited depth-of-field, so I “slipped up” to 5.6 and even 7.1 for a few shots.

Here are six of the photos I made.

These photos represent another goal of the morning, which was to capture light. I was fortunate that it was cool enough overnight for dew to settle on the flowers, so at 7am they were sparkling, adding another dimension to the morning. However, I can tell I’m a bit out of practice. Some of the parts I wanted in focus are not and despite using shutter speeds over 1/250, my hand-holding is not quite steady enough with high magnification shots like these. The problem is, I’ve become too used to the excellent image stabilization of the Sony RX10iii. Next time, I’ll consider using a monopod, although, to be honest, for these more spontaneous shots, even a monopod would be a hindrance.

Please add your comments, questions and critique using the “Comments” below and be sure to share this post on Facebook. And get out photographing!

Marsh Reflections

Earlier last week I was up on the Rideau Lakes in eastern Ontario, part of the series of lakes created when the Royal Engineers built the Rideau Canal back in the early 19th century. Our family has been cottaging on Lower Rideau Lake for over 70 years; I think I’m on year 52 or so up there. Needless to say, it’s a lake I know well and have often photographed.

On my first morning up there, I was out before breakfast, canoeing in the marsh behind the cottage. I was glad to see (and hear!) how healthy the frog population is this year! We had been quite worried the last few years; last year, in particular, we didn’t really hear or see any bullfrogs. Well this year, there are plenty, and green and leopard frogs as well. It seemed to be an especially productive morning as I was able to photograph (again!) a great blue heron and a bullfrog in addition to watching and photographing a muskrat diving down to pull up the root of a cattail, peel and eat it.

After all these years, I was also able to photograph a bullhead lily flower. It’s funny because there are always thousands of them out in flower, yet I’ve never spent the time to photograph one. Often they are looking worse for wear and they are always covered in flies of some kind. Today was no different, but I spent some time cloning out the flies for a finished photograph (see below).

While photographing the flower, it occurred to me that it looks rather ‘textbook’, so I started looking for other ways to “see” the flower and came up with Marsh Reflections, the photograph you see at the bottom. I also learned, while looking up the actual species, that (as far as I can tell, anyway), this flower is, indeed, a Bullhead Lily, not, as I thought and grew up with, a Yellow Pond Lily. From what I can tell, the Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea) is the European equivalent of North America’s Bullhead Lily, Nuphar variegata. If I’m wrong on this, could someone please let me know!

What is especially thrilling is that all the photos were made at the 600mm (equivalent) setting on the Sony RX-10iii and were hand-held. I’m always surprised at how well the image stabilization works and the lens is beautifully sharp, even at f/4! For a couple of the shots, I used the pull out LCD and held the camera down near water level –a feature I’m using more and more, particularly because the image stabilization is so good.

This coming week, I’m hoping to get some long-overdue printing done. Perhaps I’ll have a report about that later this month. Then it’s off to Lake Superior and the north country!

“Before” – this is what the original photo looked like before I went to work on the flies.

Enjoy the summer, and get out shooting!

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.

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!