Category Archives: Nature

Photographic Challenges from a Kayak


Despite the obvious perils, kayaking with a camera gives me an interesting close-to-the-water perspective and allows me to explore areas not easily reached otherwise. In the two shots here, I was able to nudge my kayak through very shallow waters in a boggy area of a lake.

You have to fiddle a bit to get the right position. It’s not like I can put the kayak in park and grab my camera. It keeps moving, slowly. I look at the camera to make some adjustments and when I look I find I have floated away, or twisted facing another direction and need to re-position myself. As I’m focusing and composing, I can be on a gentle “spin” and need to twist to compensate. At times, I use the paddle as a brace in the soft soil to help limit the motion. Each adjustment can send ripples through the water, preventing me from shooting until they subside and, of course, I am once again out of position. Patience helps.

KK-1I can’t “plant” my feet in a kayak; the motion of my body is transferred to the kayak, so faster shutter speeds are preferable. A polarizing filter is often helpful when the sun is out and I want to cut through the reflections on the water and the lily pads.

And of course, the very thought of changing lenses in a kayak sends shivers down my back. I’m still looking at alternatives to my D600, perhaps the Nikon AW1 waterproof camera with the zoom lens would be better for overnight adventures.




Toronto Walk-1

We hadn’t intended to buy kayaks. We threatened to do so for several years, wondering where to store them in our small downtown house or using them enough to justify no longer renting. It dawned on us that, living 10 minutes from Ashbridges Bay on Lake Ontario, our use would increase. So, at an outdoor show we had never intended to visit, we bought two kayaks to be picked up in May.

I started canoeing in my teens and did several 2-week wilderness “voyages” through lakes and down the Spanish River before returning to university at the end of summer. We camped on small islands and slept under our canoe or tarp. We saw all kinds of wildlife and at night the magnificence of the Aura Borealis and more stars than I have ever seen since.

A few other images flash through my mind. A flashlight bobbing in the water at night, marking the spot my now swimming friend had slid into the water cleaning the night’s dinner plates.  The smack of a canoe hitting a tree in the forest as another portaging paddler, canoe on his shoulders and pack on his back walked with determination,  blissfully unaware he had left the trail and marched into the woods. The laughter as florescent-colored ponchos lashed to paddles propelled us across the lake.

Kayak at Outdoor ShowAnd the rapids. Walking alongside, planning a route. The excitement, the spray and the elation of making it to the other side. Oh, and hanging from a rock in the middle of the Spanish River, holding a pack too heavy to lift out of the water waiting to be rescued by my companions, the current too swift to paddle against.

Then life got in the way and except for a vacation or visit to a friend’s cottage, I canoed very little. My wife enrolled us in a 2-day kayaking course and that was it – I was back and loved kayaks.

My challenge is photography. We are planning several overnight kayak backcountry paddling trips this summer and I have been looking at various camera alternatives. At the moment, I’m leaning towards a GoPro to create video and time-lapse photography and since it is waterproof and small, would suit me. I’m looking for a good still-shot alternative even though the GoPro does still photos, too.

Ripley’s Aquarium

Ripley's Aquarium-3“We’re going to the aquarium.”

We had guests for the weekend and the new Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto was on the Saturday afternoon agenda. Something new to photograph always gets my attention.

I grabbed my camera along with my 50mm f1.4 and 105mm f2.8 macro and joined what turned out to be a line that extended out the door and around the corner. Both new and getting great press, I would recommend buying tickets online for a specific entrance time and by-passing the line.

Ripley's Aquarium-1The aquarium has a route you follow and despite the crowd (start of March break, Saturday afternoon) we were able to approach each tank with a little patience. The ambient light is very low, accenting the light in the tanks and I had to shoot at ISO3200 to get the shutter speed I wanted, foregoing depth of field.

As we wandered through the “path,” we came to a slow moving sidewalk, which takes you right through a large tank, surrounded by sharks, mantas and all sorts of fish. There were times I felt I could just reach up and touch one moving overhead. This is quite a big, winding “ride” and allows you to experience the tank without waiting for people in front to move along. There is a separate walkway should you wish to return and explore at a slower pace.

Ripley's Aquarium-2I cleaned up the photos using NIK Define to reduce noise and fussed with the color temperature – some tanks have changing colored lights – and the rest was done in Lightroom.

I highly recommend a visit, though for the experience more than for the photo opportunities. It was a fun day and after close to three hours, we were never bored or put off (much) by the crowd.




Snow, beaches and the Doodle

Doodle Shoeing

We recently got a dumping of snow. The most in a number of years. Parts of the Greater Toronto Area got towards 40cm, though we here in the east part of town only received 20 to 25cm. Falling on a Thursday evening through Friday, it gave us an opportunity we hadn’t been able to explore all season – going snowshoeing without driving anywhere.

We layered up, grabbed the snowshoes out of the basement and made the short walk to a park that leads to the beaches. It felt funny snowshoeing on the beaches, but it was great. Molly the Doodle loves snow and sand equally, so she was in her element.

I’ve been playing around with HDR and managed to grab a quick burst of three photos. The latest software deals well with ghosting and small movement well and this photo seemed to come successfully.


20110213_mono mills_0040

I have a fondness for isolating an element in my photographs. The use of “white space” if you will, which in this case is literally the white of the snow. My interior work, working with people at events, uses mostly “black space” as a way of isolation. Two different approaches to the same end – directing the eye.

I came across this tree at the top of a small hill as I exited Mono Mills park on a hike. The weather had deteriorated over the course of a few hours decreasing visibility and as I neared the parking lot, I noticed how this lone tree stood out. With a little help from Photoshop, I increased the contrast (levels) and ensured the background was a stark white. I prefer this colour version to the black and white because of the strong green of the tree.

Mono Mills Snow Reeds

This second shot of grass in the snow is another way I have isolated the subject, in this case using more contrast against a white background. I cropped it to be wide and thin to give a panoramic effect and left it in colour as I prefer the brown tones to black and white, though it does provide a different visual. I general use the levels control after selecting based on colour to make adjustments, and is how I manage the “white space” in both photographs.

It seems to be a method of getting creative photographs in less than ideal conditions. In the bright mid-day light with snow all around, isolating a subject and letting the rest over expose still creates an interesting photograph.


A splash of colour

Mono Mills Barn

Winter, at least in snowy regions, can bring a monochrome look to the world, making a splash of colour stand out that much more. I was hiking through an area known as Mono Mills when I came across this barn with very colourful red doors. Couldn’t resist, despite the deep snow and the cold weather. Molly the Doodle, who loves the snow and to go hiking was thrilled with the little “off-trail” side trip to get a better angle.

Pictures like this remind me why I like walking with my camera, particularly in areas that are new to me. You never know what is around the next corner.

Snow Shoeing

Collingwood Golf Course

I’ll take my camera just about anywhere. Snowshoeing is a good example. I like to hike, so this is a natural extension when the snow is too deep to wade through, which it can be in Collingwood. It is a great place to snowshoe as there are a lot of trails and some of the golf courses allow cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – they even have marked trails, which is good as it is easy to loose your bearing in all the trees and white.

This shot was on a golf course. It had started to snow, but wasn’t too cold that I couldn’t take my gloves off and take a few pictures. The lighting was good; nice and diffused, but the snow was “bright” and I had to make some exposure adjustments. I’ve processed this photograph in black and white as well, but prefer the muted colours against the white and bare trees. It prints well.

I think I will do a series of “winterish” photographs for a while, in keeping with the season – it is very, very cold and snowy today in Toronto.

Rondeau Park Thanksgiving


Each year our family gathers at a campsite to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend. A celebration started by my brother-in-law who “hosts” the event, the twenty-odd family and close friends all gather at Rondeau Park on Lake Erie to enjoy the outdoors.

In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving over a month earlier than our neighbours to the south, so mid-October can be iffy when it comes to the weather. The last couple of years we have had warmth and sunshine. Unfortunately, this year we had rain on the Friday, followed by cold days (and even colder nights). While we managed sleeping in the tent with a space heater (got to love those electrical camp sites), we generally had a fire started early afternoon to warm up.

We cheated a little on the way up. After a gruelling 5 1/2 hour drive (normally 3 hours) in the rain and traffic, we decided to borrow a spare room at my in-laws cabin just outside the park (not everyone likes sleeping in a tent) and avoid the all too predictable fight that would come from putting up a tent in the dark and the rain.

Rondeau Park is essentially a peninsula extending into Lake Erie, but mostly parallel to the shore. It is a haven for birds and the inevitable duck hunters who’s guns you can hear go off very early in the morning. There are a number of trails in the 8km park including one along the marsh (shore) side. The lake side is primarily beaches with a number of private residences that pre-date the park. Many of the older houses have the dates they were built. The oldest I saw was 1907, not too far from the garage photo below.

Despite the cold, I did my usual wandering with Molly the Doodle and took in some pretty descent sunsets. Nope, never made it up for the sunrises across the Lake this year, but the bed was just too warm and the air just too cold.

Another tradition at the campsite is an early Hallowe’en. All the kids at the camp site get dressed up on the Saturday and go from campsite to campsite collecting goodies. The campsites are often decorated more than many houses are back home. One camper created a haunted maze for the kids to go through. I guess it keeps everyone warm. It’s a lot of fun as the adults join in the casual walk around the colourfully-lit sites with the kids.

Most of the shots I took this year were with the 24-120mm f4.0 lens. I brought my 50mm f1.4 for some night shots but only took a couple with it. Last year I experimented with daylight flash as there was a strong, direct sun blasting everything and felt it worked pretty well. I didn’t bring it this year and with mostly overcast days, the lighting was pretty good and even. I mostly used ISO 400 to give a little boost on those kids that just won’t stop moving.



Tommy Thompson Park

View of Toronto over the outer harbour from Tommy Thompson Park

Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto forms part of the Leslie Street Spit, a 5km finger extending out into Lake Ontario originally built to protect the outer harbour. I live nearby, so on the holiday Monday of the Labour Day weekend, I set out on my bike, camera in my saddlebag, to make the round trip on another beautiful sunny day.

Debris Art

The park is really a construction site so it is only open to the public during the weekend. What I mean is that it is used as a place to dump clean landfill from construction sites to continue building the spit, making for a steady stream of vehicles during the week. A funny thing happened since it started in the 1950’a – nature started to move in and now it is a conservation area for wildlife. Although on this particular day, the only wildlife I saw was the heavy traffic of families out enjoying the ride/walk to the lighthouse at the end of the paved road.

When you reach the end, you see a shore littered with large pieces of concrete and rebars (those metal bars used to reinforce concrete). A stark contrast to the beaches not too far away. The families that make the trip have made the best of the situation and have created all sorts of statues and artistic displays of the debris making it a rather interesting “artistic” view.

At the tip of the finger

It is a nice trip, experiencing the breeze from the lake, the sailboats all around the spit and a rest at the tip. You can wander off the path and explore some of the marshes, birds and wildflowers.

Point Pelee

Walkways through the marshland.

I finally managed to get to the most southerly spot in Canada – Point Pelee. This peninsula tapers into Lake Erie ending in a sand bar with a sharp point, which falls further south than the northern border of California. Funny, but I am not equally compelled to visit the most northerly point – I prefer ice in a glass.

My wife and I were visiting family in the Windsor area and brought our bikes along for a Saturday morning excursion with her sister and husband. Since I had never been to the point (funny how you don’t visit the places you grow up around but crave more distance attractions) we decided to make the short drive to the national park and ride our bikes the 8 kilometers to the point. Since it was mid-day by the time we arrived in strong, bright light, I didn’t think I would be taking any fine art photos but scouting for a future, more relaxed trip.

Point Pelee is a bird sanctuary (I am not a bird photographer), is host to many butterflies and, as the noise in the trees proved, home to wild turkeys. Marshy on one side and a beach on the other, it is a pleasant, flat ride under trees with many points to stop and take in nature.

The “point” of Point Pelee

I love cycling. Combining it with photography is a little tricky. I used to wear my camera around my neck and take pictures on the fly. Still do occasionally. I use a black rapid strap that connects to the tripod socket of the camera and goes across your body rather than around your neck (the camera hangs upside down but is instantly accessible). Most times this is perfect and much more comfortable than a traditional strap, but I noticed that riding a bike wearing the camera can cause it to unscrew – not good! So I either keep my camera in a sling bag on my back or in the panniers. It’s not as accessible, but it is much safer.

Even if you are not into birds, this is an interesting place to visit and we are already planning a time to go back and spend the day exploring the area.