Tag Archives: Hiking

A Walk Close to Home

Toronto Walk Part 2-1Toronto is a large, diverse city and every so often I remind myself that not all photographic adventures require me to leave town. I pick a part of the city and go for a walk, often with no destination in mind but with a general idea of how I will meander around the area.

Toronto Walk Part 2-2I start with some basic research on what’s going on in the city at the time. In the summer there are generally local activities in a variety of neighborhoods I can visit. Also, I like to visit art galleries and photographic expositions at the same time. I find they provide creative energy and I appreciate the works of others. So I end up with a rough plan for the walk, but often veer off as something catches my eye.

Toronto Walk-2I travel relatively light. Usually my 24-120mm f4.0 with the 50mm f1.4 tucked away somewhere, though it is unusual for me to change lenses unless I want the extra speed with reduced light.

Toronto Walk-3On this particular trip, a rather long walk through town and along the lake, I started at the Ryerson Image Centre to see the most recent photographic exhibits. Outside is a large pool where I sat down with a coffee and captured the man using a spare chair on the table to shade his laptop. From here I walked to Nathan Philips Square at the City Hall, home to a weekend music festival and found some patrons sheltering themselves from the sun.

Toronto Walk Part 2-4I carried on to the waterfront and walked along the boardwalk eventually coming across people leaving the end of the Caribana Parade. Not quite tired, I headed back towards home and came across buskers in the distillery district.

When I get the itch to take photos, I remind myself there is a ton to photograph right outside the door.



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.

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.

New Paltz, New York

It’s been a busy fall. Last weekend my good friend Heather Pollock (see the links to the right) and I photographed a wedding in New Paltz, about an hour outside of New York City. Sixteen hours of driving from Toronto and back in a three-day weekend didn’t leave much time to explore the area, but we had a little time on the Saturday morning before the wedding. I’ll get to the wedding in another post.

New Paltz isn’t too far from Woodstock and some say the hippies wandered here after the concert and never left. It certainly reflects the times with health food and tie-dye clothing competing equally. The town itself is quite old and has an historic area with houses dating in the late 1700’s. Huguenots, fleeing persecution in France founded the town and gave it the name of their refuge on the Rhine. There is an old section where you can see the original buildings. The area seems focused on outdoor activities and seems to have a wide range of excellent bike and hiking trails. A couple we met at our bead and breakfast had spent the entire day cycling. And yes, the were sore.

We found an interesting store that sold a wide variety of olive oils. I had been looking for something to replace the lemon olive oil I brought back from Sorrento, Italy and found a bottle here. I also found a rosemary infused olive oil. The owner introduced us to U.S. olive oil from California now winning international awards. A little bit more of a bite, but really good. Got some of that, too!

We continued our tour of the small town and found two book stores, strangely across the street from one another and off the main drag. My wife and I can spend hours looking through books and the helpful staff showed us some gifts for our nieces.

The reason we were here, the wedding, was being held at a local resort called the Mohonk Mountain House. At the top of a small mountain, it is a self contained resort with everything you need for that outdoor adventure (e.g., a world class spa). It’s a little pricey for my taste (though it includes practically everything) so we stayed at a local bed and breakfast called the Hungry Ghost, which I highly recommend should you find yourself in the area. When we arrived at Mohonk, we really didn’t have time to explore the area or the massive establishment, dating back to the 1880’s.

I would like to go back and spend some time in the area, especially in fall when the colours are so good. We were about two weeks late for the best colours I think. But a pink cadillac is still very pink all year round.

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.



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.

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.