Tag: summer

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.

Lake Superior IV: Pukascapes

The undulating, uneven, irregular profile of the Canadian Shield is iconic and unique. It’s the result of a couple of billion years of erosion. To put it into perspective, that’s billion, as in 2,000,000,000 years – long before anything we see today as life had evolved: before the dinosaurs, before the reptiles and fish and long before plants – before there were any multicellular organisms. All there were 2 billion years ago were bacteria and eukaryotes – single-cells with just the mere basics of even being a cell. No protozoans, no amoebas.

Making a photograph that portrays the nature of the Canadian Shield is, for me, a quest. In fact, the photographic goal I set for myself in anyplace I visit is to find that quintessential image that captures the essence of place. But what aspects of the Shield must be considered for the photograph to reflect the quintessence of the place? The distinct profile, for one; the rock itself, the boreal forest and, because water has played such a huge role in shaping the Shield, a lake. A tall order, and one I didn’t quite achieve in a single photograph, but I think I came close. Judge for yourself.

I think my more insightful photographs are those of the details of the rock and vegetation of Pukaskwa showcased in my previous blog, Lake Superior III. But the eye candy is in the sunrises and sunsets you’ll see below. I know, I know. ABS – Another Bloody Sunset. It’s not like I don’t already have 56,000 of them. But, what can I say; they truly are wondrous. And the final ones, shot from the Headland Trail, capture the essence of the Lake Superior coast.

Enjoy! And please consider sharing this post with others who enjoy photography.

 

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!

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.

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!

Would you like a coffee with those hummingbirds?

It’s not often I get to enjoy a cup of coffee or a good book while photographing. Usually I’m on the trail or in the canoe swatting at mosquitoes or horseflies. But, today, rather than being in the field, I’m on the deck at the family cottage watching hummingbirds.

For some years now, our neighbour and my parents have put up hummingbird feeders for the summer. We’ve enjoyed watching their antics as they zip back and forth across the lawns, twittering away at each other. At times,it becomes violent as males defend their territories. It’s amazing how a hummingbird can fly almost silently, like a librarian humming a tune under their breath so as not to disturb their patrons. Then, they spot a rival male, and turn up the volume of their flight to sound intimidatingly ferocious. We’ve watched them swoop in on another male, straight down from above and actually make contact with him, driving him downwards. Imagine! Hummingbirds! It’s been interesting to watch the juvenile hummingbirds these last few days. They are much more tolerant of us and will come to the feeder when we are sitting too close for the adults. Ahhh, the cockiness of youth, throwing caution the wind!

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)So, as I was sitting reading the other day, enjoying the afternoon sun, I realized how perfectly lit the hummingbirds were as the visited the feeder. This got me thinking photography. Now, I’m not much of a wildlife photographer; I’m more of an opportunist. The photos I’ve made this year of “our” local heron and osprey were the result of canoeing in the evening with my wife Laurie. Rather than being a determined effort, we happened to be in the right place at the right time, stealthily approached and photographed. This is true of all of my wildlife photographs. One gets lucky over the years, and with enough years, accumulates a few good photographs.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)I realized early on I didn’t have the patience of the professional wildlife photographers. Their determination of watching wildlife for days before choosing a location for a blind, then spending days setting up the blind so as not to spook their subject, then sitting for hours, even days, in the blind to get that perfect photograph. Nope, not for me. Robert McCaw once related his story of waiting days in a blind through all kinds of weather until he finally captured the photograph of Golden Eagles. I have a lot of respect for photographers like him.

Me, I need to have my mind occupied with something more than watching wildlife or I’d fall asleep! I can spend hours reading a book or tweaking photos or building a website, but not sitting in a blind. So, back to the deck on a summer afternoon…

With the lighting so good, I took a closer look and noticed two other important factors working in my favour:

  1.  The hummingbirds would often hover a few centimetres away from the feeder before and, sometimes after, feeding. To me, this is important because I didn’t want a photo of the hummingbird on the feeder, but rather off-feeder hovering.
  2. The cedars behind the feeder are a good 5m away and in shade, providing an ideal, soft, green background to the birds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird II (Archilochus colubris)A few minutes later I was set up. The 300mm was on the tripod with camera attached. I added the polarizer, which did a beautiful job reducing glare on the feathers, and set the Exposure Compensation to –2 as the background, which filled all of the frame, was significantly darker than the lit hummingbird. The –2 was an estimate which proved to be correct. I decided against using spot metering as the hummingbird wouldn’t necessarily be in the centre of the frame.

I pre-focussed on the plastic “rest” where the birds would alight to feed. It seemed to be in about the same plane as the hummingbird would be as it hovered in front of the feeder. I was about 2-1/2m away, close enough to get a shot with enough pixels to keep it sharp (I would definitely need to crop – the beauty of 36mp!), but far enough not to spook the adults.

The one setting that would have helped me right away, but being an inexperienced wildlifer only thought of later, was switching the AF mode from single-point to 3D-tracking. (I should have thought of it from my sports photography, but I had stopped using it as it would sometimes pick up other players nearby, rather than the main subject.) What an improvement! Once focussed on the bird, the AF point followed it around keeping amazing focus.

After my first twenty minutes of sitting, I had a series of photos. Not using the 3D-tracking yet, meant that all were blurry except for the last two, which were bang on. Success, at least for the juvenile who has not yet developed the ruby throat of the males. The next day was less successful. Perhaps it was because as I was waiting for the hummers (they appear about every 15 to 20 minutes) I was reading a book. But really, I just couldn’t keep the focus on the bird moving in and out of such a narrow depth-of-field. That’s when I remembered the 3D focus.

My third afternoon out was much more successful. The male’s ruby throat was showing nicely and the 3D focus was great – not perfect, but definitely better than not using it. Exposure worked out to be near-perfect so only mild tweaking was needed. All tolled, I spent about three hours waiting and another hour or so importing and processing. Each frame required capping to about 3000×2000 pixels – plenty large enough for most uses. Maybe I could get into making wildlife photographs….Naaa – I still prefer landscapes and the odd wildlife photograph.