Tag Archives: coast

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.



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.


I had been looking forward to this weekend for some time. A chance to go sailing on a friend’s yacht (29 feet long) for a day on Georgian Bay. As the day approached, it became evident that it would be one beautifully sunny day.

I had also been thinking about what to bring. As a photographer, that means camera gear, not suncream or clothing. I knew we would be confined to narrow spaces and unlikely to leave the boat for the day (beyond diving off the back into warm, refreshing water).

Oh, and there is the whole thing about mixing water with camera gear, even if it is freshwater. I can imagine waking up in a cold sweat from a nightmare where I watch my lens roll over the side with an final splash. Besides, this was meant to be a relaxing time among friends, so I wanted to be able to capture the experience without annoying everyone.

I took a small camera bag with my 24-120mm f4 and put the 10-24mm on my 300S and left it at that. I thought that the ultra-wide angle might give me some interesting shots in the tight spaces so long as I tried to keep people away from the edges (distortion with people is not quite as nice as with inanimate objects – and they complain less). Also, I thought that once I had taken a number of shots with the 10-24mm, I could limit switching lenses to this one time.

We set sail around 11:30am with a brilliant sun and all the contrasty light that it brings (no HDR on a bouncy boat). The wind was still at first and we thought for a while that we would have to use the engine for the entire trip but just after lunch the wind picked up and eventually allowed us to sail close to our maximum speed.

Despite being attracted to large bodies of water, I have generally experienced them from land. I took a sailing course about 25 years ago, went deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida (got very ill), have been on a couple of ferries and a three day cruise), but never experienced sailing like this. I can’t remember having more fun helping out, being in the sun with the wind in my face and being able to take photographs.

There were a lot of other boats out that day of all types and sizes. We were tacking back and forth the mirror opposite of another vessel about the same size as ours and at least once we passed quite close to each other as the photo above shows. With the bright sun, I was able to use a high shutter speed and get great depth of field even though I had a narrower dynamic range than I would have liked. I took a lot of people shots in the shade of the sail, which helped.

On the return trip we had the wind right at our back. We were at our fastest speed but because we were pacing the wind and the waves, it felt like we were moving quite slow. The sun was getting low and creating those “sparkles” on the water so lovely to look at but difficult to photograph. I’m looking forward to another opportunity.

Long weekends are too short

It’s a tradition now. Each year my wife and I head up to our friend’s cottage on the Canada Day long weekend, three and a half hours away from the noise and daily routine of Toronto to a small lake shared by two cottages. My friend Heather, the owner of what she calls Kamp Krusty, has pretty much left the land to take care of itself, but does boast a house boat perched on a hill playing the role of guest house.

Early in the morning, and I mean at 5:30am, the lake is still. Each morning there was a mist over the lake, practically a fog on our last day there. I would quietly make my way to the water and set up my tripod, taking photographs and then heading back to bed. One edge of the lake is covered with reeds with several openings and channels. My intention was to take the kayak and venture into these secluded areas to take photographs from a different angle. For a couple of days, the bugs, particularly the deer flies, kept me at bay, but by the third day, covered in “Off,” I pushed the kayak into the water and retrieved my camera from the dock and headed off for an early morning adventure.

There is something special about being alone on the lake early in the morning in the still water. Taking photographs from a kayak takes a little patience and care. First you get into position and then wait for the water to go still again. By then you have drifted out of position, so you learn to drift into the target location while the water calms down. This kayak was all open allowing me to rest the camera, securely around my neck, on my leg. Traditional kayaks offer a little more protection, but with the still water, there was little concern beyond swatting a fly too enthusiastically.

I used my 24 – 120mm zoom – I have no intention of trying to change lenses while adrift. I can hear the kerplunk even as a write and it makes me shudder. The lighting was good and allowed me to use an aperture for some decent depth of field. I’ve been out later in the day and the dynamic range overwhelms the camera  fairly quickly, so being early not only brings nice lighting, but is more manageable.

While I come back lumpy from bites, often a little too red from the sun, hauling a huge bag of empty beer and wine bottles, I always come back more refreshed and relaxed. And yes, with a picture or two.

The Amalfi Coast

I could see straight down the side of the cliff to the water crashing against the rocks about 1,000 feet below. I’m sitting on a bus driving along the Amalfi coast and I can see my smile reflected in the window. The one I have when I go on a roller coaster ride. I can’t take my eyes off the things that have been built as if they are emerging from the side of the hills or terraced on a cliff. Swimming pools seem suspended over the water below me.

My wife and I spent five days in Sorrento and though we had a car, opted to take the bus to Amlfi so we could relax and enjoy the view. It was cloudy but clear without much traffic so our progress was about as good as it could be given that I was sure some of the turns and tunnels would not accommodate our bus.

We were a little disappointed with Amalfi. The town levels out at the shore, so there is more room than Positano for buses to park, so more tourist groups end up here. This makes for a much more touristy and busy area, lacking in the charm we thought we would find. Sitting at a café at the edge of town you have to look past rows of buses to see the water. A short shower drove us under an umbrella for some wine and pizza followed, of course, by gelato. We decided to follow a path to the neighboring town of Atrani rather than stay in Amalfi.

The walk is mostly up, followed my mostly down to reach Atrani. We emptied into a piazza with a little café and a couple of local residents enjoying a coffee and some conversation. The piazza opened up to a beach through a gate in the wall. We sat down and ordered wine and enjoyed the ambiance. Realizing we didn’t have enough time, we decided to come back to Positano the next day.

The return trip the next day by bus was just as much fun; you get to see all the things you missed the first time. Positano turned out to be the far better destination. The bus dropped us off at the “high” part of town and we walked down towards the beach area, visiting the shops selling linen goods and several of the outstanding art galleries. It has a very different feel than Amalfi; more relaxed; more real.

At the beach, we encountered another splash of rain, practically a daily occurrence on this trip but easily weathered with a glass of wine. When the sun returned we picked up a pizza and sat on the beach having lunch. From here we wandered along the shore to a more secluded beach, sharing a few moments with a couple from Texas. On the return trip, I spotted a number of young women lining up at the water’s edge anticipating a wave. Camera ready, I waited and caught them, laughing as they were splashed by a bigger wave than I think anticipated.

We slowly made our way up to the bus stop for our return trip to Sorrento, both of us adding Positano to our must-come-back-to list.

I see better in the fog

Foggy Day at Indian Point, Nova Scotia

When you travel, you just have to take what you get. I mean about the weather. Instead of a beautiful sunrise, I was faced with thick fog. I mean really, thick fog on the east coast? Should have seen that one coming.

I like the fog. It creates an atmosphere, hinting at things in the distance through a veil. Everything is a little (or a lot) muted. Distracting backgrounds disappear or fade in a way that enhances the focal point. I feel I can almost see better; at least see differently, photographically speaking. A little post processing to bring up the contrast of the main feature and you can have some interesting pictures.

In hindsight I am grateful for the fog. It created something different, and different is good. The fog lasted well into the day, so I was able to wander around and see the area in a different light (or lack of) than I had in the previous clear, but overcast days.

I even revisited a number of sites to see what they looked like with a little mist floating around. Despite the fog, it was one of my more productive photo-taking days. It reminded me that a site, or view, can look very different at other times of the day or year or in different weather. I sometimes forget that, always looking far afield for a new view rather than to revisit one nearby.

Bored but not idle

Nova Scotia South Shore

The weather has been dreadful. Not just today, which has been a cold drizzle that make everything damp, including my bones. It seems like it has been wet and drab for the last month. So, if I can’t play outdoors, then I will play indoors.

Last August we went to Nova Scotia for a vacation. My wife has a close friend who lives there, so we drove out to see them – me the wife and Molly the Doodle. As I recall, the weather we had there was much like the weather now. I thought that I had processed all the photos from that trip, but as I went through my work-in-process file, I discovered a number of photos that, while OK, were not quite good enough. Time to play.

I decided that if the photo couldn’t stand on its own, then I would have to make some big adjustments to give it some character. I did some tight cropping and then made huge movements with the controls to compress the range of colours. I blew out a lot of the highlights and dragged up the shadows slider, then used the fill and recover sliders to get something pleasing. Some photos I brought into Photoshop to do some selective sharpening using the high pass filter. The results are either poster-like or have a painting quality (which is good because I can’t draw anything; that’s why I take pictures).

What’s interesting is that photos that have a high contrast, like those taken at mid day, seem to work well with this tampering. So bad photos may have some potential. Yes, they can get garish, but I’m just having fun, and every so often, something really magical happens and I love the result. I recommend saving the “bad” shots for weird experiments. You never know what you may get.


The long road home

Garage Doors

Catching up on last year’s photos. I usually create a yearbook and I’m starting the process, which usually takes me until April to complete. Each year I promise I will stay on top of the photo editing and each year I find I’m spending most of the first few months of the new year on the previous year. So be it.

Anyways, I came across these photos I took on a trip along the north shore of Lake Erie returning from a stay with family in Windsor. One of the things I like to do is wander the coast and see whatever presents itself.


Instead of taking the direct route along Highway 401, we took the slow road along the coast, at least for as long as my wife allowed me to (she is very patient with this self-absorbing hobby of mine).

I like to take photos of graffiti or signs on walls as well. Getting in close. Sometimes it’s the graphics that attract me, sometimes the colour or contrast.

Fish Market Sign

Finally we ran out of lake, or patience, I can’t remember. My photographic fix fully sating me, we headed home. I have made a conscious effort to not take my camera everywhere I go, but it still feels funny.