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2 Horse Open Sleigh

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When chuck wagon racing season is over and winter rolls around… your life gets 17% more fun! We had a blast today going out with Ross & Lee for a 2 Horse Open Sleigh ride! What made it even more fun was tying on some sleds to pull the kids behind. They had an absolute riot! The weather was really perfect for the ride, no wind and a reasonable winter temperature, if slightly below normal.

I threw in the X-PRO2 (which hasn’t left my hands since I got it) with the 35mm f/2 and decided to shoot straight up Provia film simulation. You know, for a simple colour JPEG, it really rocks. Every time I look at the photos, the Fuji just nails colour. Little nuances of colour. Big bold colour. Colour of any kind, Fuji wins. The redness of the cold cheeks, the fluorescent yellow, the skin tones… bang on. I love the look of standard Provia!

I have been shooting ACROS since I got the X-PRO2 and I LOVE it big time. But even converting a Provia JPEG to black and white works. The X-Trans has oodles of dynamic range even in the JPEG. I shot this one of Ross with a backlit sky and then pushed the levels and upped the clarity in Lightroom. It makes a for a cool gritty portrait.

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These colour Provia shots have basically no editing other than resize for web. All shot auto white balance. To my eye, the colours rock the set. I’m always blown away with how great the files look straight out of camera. They are contrasty, colourful and have a metric tonne of pop! In camera settings were H Tone -1, S Tone -1, Colour 0, Sharp +1. That’s it! The last tree shot did have some colour tweaks to bring out the sky and see how far I could push a JPEG. But I’m still over the moon about the X-PRO2! It’s an amazing camera with incredible results!

 

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X-PRO2

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I pulled the trigger on getting a FujiFilm X-Pro2. Sight unseen. But I had been coveting one since it was announced. But I thought “nah, I’ve got loads of Nikon gear. What do I need an X-PRO2 for? It’s not a need. It’s a want.”

YOU NEED AN X-PRO2

From the very first moment I picked the camera up, while it was still in the protective shipping plastic bag yet, I loved it. The camera is big and solid, hefty even. It feels perfect in the hand. I threw in a charged batter from my X-E2 (which are the same by the way) and slapped on the 35mm f/2 lens. What a dream. The camera is blazing fast to autofocus & accurate. I shot the normal test shots we all do of our keyboards to test focus and it was bang on.  I quickly put the camera into ACROS film simulation. Wow.

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The photos have this alive/organic/analog quality to them. The transfer from shadows to highlights is out of this world. The ACROS grain is so smooth and film like even at higher ISOs my jaw dropped when viewing the files. They seemed to jump off the screen at me.

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I just kept shooting the kids. Shot after shot through the EVF, the shots were sharp, and had the same filmic quality. I was hooked from the very first few frames!

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The shadows are so rich and the highlights are buttery perfectly. I was shooting the camera wide open at f2 and the files are sooo sweet. I always knew that the fuji JPGs were great, my X-E2 files are wonderful. But the X-PRO2 files are just that much better. I can’t wait to actually put the camera through it’s paces.

20171025-XPRO2-048These quick shots here are straight from camera, no editing other than a resize for the blog. Again, I’m totally blown away by the camera. The tonality of the files is wonderful. I’ve never ever felt this way about a camera before or the photographic results. If you’ve ever been thinking of getting an X-PRO2, do it. I can already see how this camera is going to change my photography going forward. More to come!

Waskesiu

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2017 has been an amazing year of travel and travel photography opportunities! This last venture took us to Waskesiu to stay in Prince Albert National Park at the tail end of September. It’s Saskatchewan’s favourite park (read BUSIEST) and so it was great to go there and not have any crowds and enjoy minimal bugs! We stayed in an oTENTik – which was nice but severely overpriced. They wanted $120 a night for a tent with no bathroom or lights. A bit of a rip. But the location is worth the money. The fall colour peaked a few days before we arrived but it was still absolutely glorious! I brought along the big Nikon gear to sop it all up in the dynamic range of the D800. 24mm 1.8G lens & 85mm 1.8G are all I took. I was hoping to get some cool flash shots of the kids in the colour but it rained too much and put a kibosh on my off camera flash dreams.

The Elk rut was still on too which meant raspy bugles could be heard throughout the park. We managed to approach one bull and a harem of cows but they were hanging out on the golf course. It makes for pretty crappy wildlife photos to have them eating fairway  grass! So we continued on our way and did a hike through the Boundary Bog. It was incredible! Tiny Tamarack trees were everywhere in a brilliant display of yellows and reds. I can only imagine how insane the mosquitos would be here during the summer months. Very glad to hit up the location in the fall!

We were able to do one more hike down by the Waskesiu River before the next big rain storm hit. It really hampered the photo opportunities but I was able to snag a few more shots along the boardwalk before having to head for the hills.

Our last night cleared off quite nicely and I was able to get some cool milky way shots through the trees in the campsite. That’s where the 1.8 lenses really shine. Prime Time baby! [cool]

We had a good time in Waskesiu, taking advantage of the Canada 150 no entrance fee perk. It was a great time to be in the north, dodging the crowds and the bugs. We could have probably stayed another couple of days which would have been great to maybe avoid the rain. But you get what you get and you don’t get upset! On to the next adventure!

On Photowalks

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The importance of photo walking cannot be over emphasized.

Grabbing your camera and going for a walk. How much simpler can it be? Do it frequently. Do it often. There is so much right out your back door. In my case, there is a big glorious pasture that is rapidly changing to fall colours and textures. I went out back on the 30th of August, some 15 days ago, and everything has changed drastically. A lot of the leaves are gone already. This tree pictured below is completely bare now. We had precious few days to capture it.

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Besides the time aspect, it’s also ultra relaxing. Just walk around and shoot. Whatever tickles your fancy. Whatever you see. Just shoot it. I’m a huge fan of the stopped-down, slow-shutter-speed, zoom lens trick. Everything becomes a big abstract streak of colour! It’s a metric tonne of fun and can be done anywhere you have colour or texture.

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You can always photo walk. Do it frequently. Do it often. 😎

Grasslands National Park: A Photo Essay

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2017 has been the year of the road trip! Not only did we do our big epic Waterton/Montana/Cypress Hills trip, we also did a few other smaller trips, including our inaugural visit to Grasslands National Park. For Canada’s 150th birthday, all the Federal Canadian parks have their exorbitant entrance fees waved. We tried to take advantage of that as much as possible this year. I had been wanting to go to GNP for quite some time. But it’s a really different park experience. There is hardly any development in the park, let alone the region. We might associate things like playgrounds, swimming spots and beaches, ice cream stores and the like as “attractions” that will draw people to an area. Grasslands has none of these typical things. Instead, the park itself is the attraction.

The interesting (untold) history behind the creation of Grasslands is documented in the book “Dams of Contention” by Bill Redekop. The book centres around the creation of the Rafferty & Alameda Dams in South East Saskatchewan. The only reason I read the book is that I knew/know Ed and Harold Tetzlaff personally. I have a signed copy of the book in fact. As I read the book, Grasslands National Park was mentioned. In a convoluted and heavily political deal, GNP basically was created as a consolation prize for Saskatchewan after agreeing to translate Saskatchewan’s laws into French & appease/make a good impression for Quebec to sign the Canadian Constitution. This was all during the Mulroney days & the Meech Lake accord (p.131, 165).  What a mouthful! When I went to Grasslands, I talked with one of the landowners who had sold their land to the government at the time of the creation of the park.  She had no knowledge of this untold back story of the park’s creation.

Regardless of what actually took place in the park’s creation, it is one amazing place. For years it was a ranchers paradise. And by that, I mean it was a darn tough place to make a living. The land is dry and to sustain livestock you need a metric tonne of land. So the ranches in the area go on and on as far as the eye can see. Now the park does too. You feel about 2 inches tall walking around as the landscape is absolutely enormous and unruly. As you drive around and hike, the magnanimous quality of the area becomes abundantly clear.

The park exists in two blocks, West and East. The West has more development but the East is rapidly catching.  The park has a very free quality about. Most National parks are tightly regulated. You can’t go off trails. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Grasslands is free-for-all. You can go hiking. You can go horseback riding. You can drive. You can go where you like. In fact many of the hikes aren’t on trails of any kind. You can blaze your own trail which is refreshing. It’s a glorious dark sky preserve as well with no light pollution to speak of. We had rain every night we were there though. No stars for us. But the blessings of this wild and untamed landscape are also a bit of a double edged sword. Development and services are very scarce. If you go to Val Marie, I STRONGLY SUGGEST you fill up your gas tank. On our way to the East block we though we could fill up at Wood Mountain. Nope. We were panicking on our way to Rock Glen to get fuel!

One of the hikes we did with the family was the 70 Mile Butte hike. What a glorious walk it was. Of course we were on high alert so that the children didn’t get eaten by rattlesnakes. But the scenery is fantastic and well worth it! It was ridiculously hot but as you climbed the butte trail, the winds picked up and it was excellent! Apparently the aboriginals used the top of 70 Mile Butte for get togethers rather than the valley where there is no wind and insects galore. I stitched a panorama together of the view from the top in Lightroom. The photos still don’t do the view justice.

For accommodations, we stayed in the oTENTiks that the park has. You can bring a tent or camper but we elected to stay in the permanent structure. Glad we did. A heinous storm with gale force wind hit that night. The whole time I had visions of the oTENTik being carried off like Dorothy to the magical land of Oz! With no trees on the horizon to slow down the wind, it comes at you with full force!  The park also has Wigwams that you can rent and camp in as well. All the sites are primitive camping and you need to bring your own water.

Grasslands National Park is a photographer’s paradise. The landscapes are vast and the perfect place for ultra-wide lenses. But even they fail to capture it all. Also, the opportunities for wildlife photography are endless. There are many unique species of animals from Bison to Prairie Dogs to Ferrets to Rattlesnakes and many others. It’s almost like being on a foreign safari shooting photos in GNP. My gear of choice with the family in tow was just my Nikon Df camera and my 24mm f/1.8 AF-S lens and the 70-200 f/4 AF-S lens. That’s it. It was a simple kit but I wanted to be as light as possible and still use full frame. It did the job admirably. I probably could have brought the 16-35 f/4 though for some extra wide angle goodness.

On our last day we decided to head over to the East Block and check it out. As mentioned previously, FUEL UP when you can! Otherwise there is basically nothing along the way. This aspect of non-development is an obstacle that tourism Saskatchewan should really look at addressing in the near future. The East Block has a lot more badlands than does the West. It was more reminiscent to Big Muddy to us. There are many cool hikes we would have liked to pursue but will have to wait until our kids are a bit older. The Valley of 1000 Devils will definitely be a must see!  Grasslands National Park truly is another Saskatchewan diamond in the rough. Get off the beaten trail and goto Grasslands. It’s scenery and landscape are one of a kind. They define the wild spirit of the Land of the Living Skies! 😎

Road Trip 2017: Day 9

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Day 9 saw us travel home from our epic Road Trip. But first, we made one last stop in Eastend, Saskatchewan!

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Road Trip 2017: Day 8

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Day 8 saw us travel from West Glacier, Montana USA to Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan Canada. We got searched at the Canadian border (of course) but the border guard took one look at our vacation-smelling mini-van and let us go. LOL. 😎 Read the rest of this page »

Road Trip 2017: Day 7

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Day 7 was laden with awesome water-based adventure! It all began around 11:15AM with a scenic float down the flathead river, courtesy of Montana Raft Co! It involved one excited 7 year old jumping overboard to his heart’s delight!

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Road Trip 2017: Day 6

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Every day of this incredible road trip just got better and better. We thought we had seen the most incredible stuff the day before and then we encounter more mind-blowing scenery and unbelievable vistas. That was Day 6 in a nutshell!

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Road Trip 2017: Day 5

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Day 5 took us from West Glacier to Whitefish. Normally a winter tourism skiing snowboarding mecca, there is actually a lot to do there in the summer!  Read the rest of this page »