Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Some recent posts in the Landscapes forum at NSN have discussed the issue of disclosure of shooting details. There is certainly a range of options for what people actually disclose about shooting. I'm talking here about the technical details, not things like locations. (That could be a separate topic...)

Some people say nothing about how they took the shot. Others seem to dump the entire EXIF meta data from the file into the post. Most fall somewhere into the wide continuum between these extremes. Personally, I'm usually posting from a machine where I don't have access to the EXIF data (which is stripped when I save for the web), so I don't usually have all the details at hand. But even if I did, I probably wouldn't include everything, anyway. I usually know which lens and camera I used, so I'll say that much. If I remember if I used a polarizer, I'll say that, too. (I almost never use any other kind of filter.) I'm not trying to hide anything, but I just don't see the value in posting everything. General exposure information is pretty much useless to anyone--the light is never the same twice, and you can't see what the light really was like in a picture, so knowing the exposure really doesn't do much for anyone.

But, the exposure information consists of three things: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. There are times when one or more of these might be especially important, so I'll say so. If I'm shooting at a high ISO, it's probably worth saying so. (Really, I shoot almost everything at 100, 200, or 400. I really doubt anyone could tell the difference between these in a web-sized shot.) For landscapes, unless there's flowing water, shutter speed is practically irrelevant. But if there's water, it can have a huge impact on the shot. If I'm trying for a certain effect, requiring an extra long (or short) speed, I'll generally say so. Most of my landscape shots use an aperture of f/8 to f/11. I might use a bit smaller (higher f number) if I want more depth of field (knowing that it's at the expense of a loss of detail to due to diffraction). Or if I'm trying to reduce DOF, I'll go the other way. For birds and animals, though, I'll often shoot with a wider aperture (smaller f number) to get more light and a faster shutter speed to capture any motion. Again, if I'm doing something different than the usual, I'll generally say so.

But in general, I don't think there's much to learn from knowing someone else's settings, so I don't bother to post mine, unless, as I said, I did something different from my normal routine for a specific reason.

On the other hand, I think people who are new to the forums and don't have professional experience in photography, can probably get better critiques from people when they do post their settings. For example, some people shoot at f/22 with a wide angle lens and nothing really near the camera. There's no need for f/22 in that situation (unless you are trying to get a slow shutter speed for some specific reason). But f/22 introduces diffraction (which probably won't be noticeable in a web-sized image, but may reduce detail and sharpness in a larger print), and the longer shutter speed may result in some objects blurring from their motion, or that of the camera (if it's not on a sturdy tripod). Or there could be the opposite problem, where someone has low DOF due to a wide aperture. Knowing the aperture and shutter speed allows people to make comments to help the new shooter improve. Likewise ISO--normally you don't want to shoot with a higher ISO than necessary (as it introduces noise), and I've seen people comment on it.

So including this information can help people give you better critiques, when you're new to getting critiques, or are trying a new area of photography. But outside the "special" situations, I really don't think posting your details will help *other people* take better shots.

I do think posting camera and lens information (including actual focal length for zooms, if it's known) is useful. And I do like to see general locations where pictures were taken. (Avoid the specifics if you want to keep a secret, but something like "Banff National Park" is useful without giving anything away.) And I do try to include this information on my posts.

Now if you're out shooting with someone, sharing information can indeed be helpful, since you're shooting in the same light. But that's different...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Deja vu all over again

I hadn't planned on shooting at that same spot on Medicine Lake on my recent trip there. (See my earlier blog post titled "Deja Vu?") The sun comes up in the wrong place at this time of year for sunrise work. (People who don't live this far north might not realize that there is about a 90° variation in the position the sun rises at the two solstices--pretty close to NE in summer and SE in winter. The sun only really rises in the east near the equinoxes in March and September.)

But despite the mid-afternoon light, I decided to stop and shoot anyway. This is what I got. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Canon 5DMkII, 17-40L, HDR

I think the HDR really worked well in taming the harsh afternoon light and giving me something worth posting. But really it's the sky that makes this stand out (I think).

Dam it!

I was in Jasper NP last weekend. As usual (for summer) I camped at Wabasso on the 93A. In the morning, I was driving north towards the town, when I crossed the Astoria River, as I've done so many times before. This time, though, I decided I'd see if I could have a look at the dam I knew was upstream of the bridge. The penstock from the dam is visible under the bridge, and I'd always known the dam was there, but I'd never gone to see it.

Incidentally, the Astoria River doesn't have a sign on the bridge--I'm sure the name must be on a map somewhere (I just checked, and it *is* named on the GemTrek map), but I learned the name as a whitewater kayaker. The Astoria is a difficult--class V--run that I've never personally done, but I've watched some friends run the section under the bridge. It is located right beside the turn-off to Cavell Meadows on the 93A. The Astoria River drains the entire Tonquin Valley, including the Amethyst Lakes, as well as the smaller (but oft-photographed) Cavell Lake. Click here for a Google Map (aerial view).

So I started on what a kayaker would call "river right", which is actually on the left when you look upstream. (Kayakers are thinking more about how they see things heading downstream, and even when looking upstream at features, for example when scouting a rapid, will say "River Right" and "River Left" so that everyone knows which right and left they mean.) There's a path there, following a power line going up to the dam. (Since there's no powerhouse at the dam--it's at the bottom end of the penstock--these lines actually send power to the dam to operate whatever equipment and lights the small building there might have.) Anyway, I soon found that path didn't lead much further than a spot for kayakers to access the river. So back to the road, over the bridge, and up the access road on river left. I felt pretty sure that a gated access road would lead to the dam itself--the reason I had tried the other side first was that I thought there might be a better view from there. Sure enough, after a short walk, I was at the dam, and able to find a decent view. Here's what it looked like (click on the image for a larger view):

(Canon 5DMkII, 17-40L, polarizer, HDR)

The dam is built right on top of a waterfall. I might complain about this, but you can't really see it from the road. This is what's called a Run-of-the-River hydroelectric facility. The key thing about this type of facility is that there's no reservoir. Some of them don't even have penstocks that go beyond the dam--the whole facility (dam and turbines) is in one spot. This one does have a penstock, though, which goes a kilometre or two down to the powerhouse located on the banks of the Athabasca River.

Our society has an insatiable need for energy, and unfortunately, there's really no perfect source. Coal and gas have the carbon emissions (and sulphur if the coal isn't really good quality), plus there's the environmental issues of obtaining it. Nuclear seems nice, until you consider the waste. When I read Alan Weisman's The World Without Us, it was the chapter on nuclear waste that really made me take pause, more than anything else in the book (which was fascinating, BTW).

Traditional hydroelectric is often considered "green", but there's the fact that huge tracts of land must be flooded for the reservoirs. This displaces people who live there, unless it's in really remote locations--in which case there are issues with transporting the power. There are problems with mercury accumulations in fish living in such reservoirs, as well. Sediment can build up in the reservoir, causing various problems, too. Also, the large reservoirs end up losing vast quantities of water to evaporation--especially when they are located in arid regions (like Lake Mead, for example). Wind is another "greener" power source, but many people do not like having the towers near their houses, considering them an eyesore. There are also reports of birds and bats being killed by the rotors. Solar is nice, but also needs huge areas of land, which is essentially useless for other purposes then (unlike wind--the land under the towers can still be farmed). It works best in desert regions.

The run-of-the-river hydroelectric facilities are one of the greenest power sources we've got, I think. With one caveat--the operators must ensure there is enough water still flowing in the stream bed (for those with penstocks, that is) to ensure that the ecosystem in the stream is not overly damaged. Generally, these are located in places--like waterfalls--where there wouldn't be fish swimming upstream, so we're only really worried about invertebrate life and the birds and animals which feed on it.

There are still NIMBY-types who don't want to see these facilities, though. (And another acronym I learned recently: BANANA. Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.) I know some kayakers in the Vancouver area are concerned that some planned facilities will destroy some of their favourite rivers. I can sympathize with their concerns--where rivers are used for recreational purposes, the operators should ensure that there remains sufficient water in the stream bed for those--at least during daylight hours. But as long as we continue to use vast amounts of energy, green sources of power like this should be encouraged. Especially where they are tucked out of the view of the general public, so that our mountain views aren't unnecessarily spoiled.

It's certainly not perfect, and I would encourage energy conservation as much as possible, but so long as we need the energy, we might as well get as much of it as we can from the greenest possible sources.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Deja vu?

Each time I return to a particular spot to take (or make?) a photograph, the result is completely different. The time of year, the time of day, and the weather can all make the scene look very different. And on top of that is the processing. I don't just let the camera make the decisions for me--I shoot in RAW and do all the processing myself back on the computer. And the decisions I make in doing that can have a significant effect on the results. (This can even happen when I process two shots taken at the same time!)

I'll come back to this idea a few times over the next while, but I'll start with an illustration using one of my favourite spots--the upper end of Medicine Lake, in Jasper National Park. I call it the upper end, rather than using a compass direction, since I find compass directions are not intuitive in Jasper. The main highway through the park does not run N-S or E-W, so it gets confusing. The upper end of Medicine Lake is the end further from the town of Jasper, and closer to Maligne Lake.

While I had driven past this spot many times before, it was only after seeing some shots taken by Steve Mason and E.J. Peiker in the fall of 2002 (I think) that I decided I needed to visit this spot for photography. I've been back countless times since--usually in the early morning. This place is special to me for more than just the photographs. I've seen, and heard, wolves here on several occasions. Many years ago, as white water kayaker, I emerged from the Maligne River into Medicine Lake at this spot. (This is now illegal, but I did it at the end of the last summer in which it was legal, 1999 IIRC. I had paddled the upper part of the river, from Maligne Lake to the rafter's take-out many times over the previous three or four summers, but I only did the bottom section the one time, and I haven't been on the Malgine River since.) It was on reaching the lake on that trip that my group leader pointed out a rock arch towering above the river on one of the mountains. That arch is not visible from most of the road (I think there are one or two spots where it can be seen, though) and I suspect the vast majority of tourists have never seen it. I've also watched my favourite passerine (song bird), the American Dipper, diving in the waters of the lake, even in the dead of winter. I saw my first caribou at this spot, too, being chased by a wolf--that was certainly memorable!

This spot is accessed from a pullout off the Maligne Lake Road, just up from the end of the lake. I park there (not blocking the gate, of course), and walk in to the lake, near the spot where the Maligne River flows into the lake. In much of the year, the lake is more river than lake--the level drops so low that the river just runs across the lake-bed to the holes where it disappears, only to reappear miles away. No surface water flows out of Medicine Lake most of the time--I've never seen it happen, but I've seen pictures taken in the early '90s. I usually get right down to the shore at this spot, and point my camera at the Colin Range--that's the mountain ridge that towers above the road along entire length of the lake. I hope for some good sunrise light kissing the peaks with some nice clouds above it. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes not.

Enough blather. Now for some pictures. Click on them to see them bigger.

The footprints in this one were from wolves.

The light may not be spectacular in this one, but this morning has special memories for me, as I passed a wolf pack (twice) on the road--the alpha letting me take as many pictures as I wanted of him from maybe 50 ft away--and then saw another couple of wolves further up the road, too!

This one's an HDR treatment that I've never been totally happy with--I really should go back and reprocess it. But it's so different from those above, that I thought I should include it. This was taken from within a few feet of all the ones above (except the one with the wolf prints--that one was taken from further up the bank), and yet the lake level is vastly different. This one is, of course in summer, while the rest are in the other three seasons. (I learned the hard way that summer is not the best time to come here for sunrise--the sun rises at the wrong place at that time of year. This was mid-day on a family trip.)

Those were all shot from the same spot (with the one exception I mentioned), pointing in the same direction, with similar focal lengths. And yet none look the same.

Perhaps another time, I'll post some other shots from this spot (or nearby), but looking at other things...


Thanks for dropping by. This is my start of a blog on my thoughts on Nature Photography in general. Sometimes, I'll post whatever happens to be on my mind, other times I might just post a photo of the day (or week, or month, or whatever). Drop by every once in a while to see what's new, and go ahead and leave a comment.