Light is Everything!

Travel Photography

Spruce Woods, MB – A Photo Essay at 35mm

Our Family took an extended May Long Weekend to go to Spruce Woods Provincial Park in Manitoba. It just so happened to be only 2.5 hours from where we live so no big deal, even with the near 1 year old baby in tow. I brought along my Fuji Film XPro-2 and all three “Fuji Cron” lenses (23, 35, 50 ~ 35, 50, 76). But I shot the whole trip with only the 23mm (35mm) lens. Mainly because I am used to that focal length from my X100s fixed lens camera. But also because I believe that 35mm is the most versatile focal length for travel photography.

What makes Spruce Woods awesome is that it is a gorgeous sandy desert . . . that happens to have an incredible forest of Spruce, Aspen and Juniper trees growing out of it! As I surveyed the landscape, I was bombarded with “How can this place exist?” It seems like a twilight zone time warp walking around there! We took a Belgian horse drawn wagon tour which was really neat and then did some hiking the next day around the dunes. The two main natural attractions are the dunes and the little spring fed lake called “The Devil’s Punchbowl.” But the whole place truly is something to see.

Back to the Fuji kit. The XPro2 is my fav camera of all time. So compact and versatile in and of itself and when coupled with the little 23mm lens offers a perfect mix of portability and capability. I shot primarily in JPG as I always do with Fuji because the files are THAT good. I switched to RAW for a couple shots where I wanted extended dynamic range if I wanted to make a print later. But the JPGs are so brilliant I usually only shoot that format. There’s quite a bit of latitude for editing even the JPGs but I nearly never have to do anything to the files. They come out of camera so, so sweet. Colours are amazing. Detail is crisp and clear. What’s not to love?

So 35mm. It’s truly a versatile place to live when shooting travel (especially with kids in tow). It’s a ‘pretty wide’ way to the view the world without being toooooo wide, although if you were going for straight landscapes you’d want to be wider perhaps. I’d highly recommend this one lens/one focal length approach for your next trip. See what the restriction brings! 😎


Viva Las Vegas!

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Back in early December we took a family trip to Las Vegas. It was my in-laws’ 40th wedding anniversary and we commemorated the milestone by spending a few days in the wild metropolis of Las Vegas. It was an awesome trip!

Photographically it was the first chance I had to really concentrate on the X-Pro2. It never left my side and I shot it all day everyday. I brought the 18-55 “kit” lens (which, despite my lack of liking zooms, is a really versatile travel lens) and the 35mm. That’s it. Everything fit in a pocket. I didn’t carry around my bag at all. Couple of extra batteries and away you go. I really didn’t miss a full frame camera for other than a few instances in the dark where perhaps it would have been advantageous. I love that people don’t take you seriously when you shoot the X-Pro2. I shot photos inside the casinos and nobody once questioned me or harassed me because it didn’t look like a giant “professional” DSLR.  That’s sweet. You can shoot incognito all day long.  Also on this trip I concentrated on shooting street photography – a genre I have zero experience with as we don’t really have “street” in the small town I live in. It was a metric tonne of fun looking for light, colour and gesture on the streets.

Also, we took a day trip to the Grand Canyon which was really exciting. Most notably, my youngest sister in law got engaged at the Hoover Dam! It really made the trip 17% better! 😉

The kit lens was on the camera pretty much the whole time at the Grand Canyon giving the versatility of pretty wide to modest telephoto. I was very happy with the results of the photos when I got home and had the chance to look at them on the big screen. Of the 1554 shots I took, here’s around 70.  Cheers!


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!


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. 😎 (more…)


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!  (more…)


Road Trip 2017: Day 4

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Day 4 was jam packed with awesome! After learning about the free shuttle on Day 3, we decided to get up early (around 5:30AM) and drive to the Apgar visitor centre so that we could get on the first express shuttle going to Logan’s Pass. This is basically the summit of the Going to the Sun Road and there is a parking lot and visitor centre up there as well. We were very, VERY thankful we got an early start!

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Road Trip 2017: Day 3

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So Day 3 of our epic road trip took us from Waterton, Alberta to West Glacier, Montana. The route took us over the most incredible drive I’ve ever done the Going to the Sun Road. It was created in 1932 solely for tourism. The road only has one switchback and follows the contour of the mountain the whole way. It’s absolutely majestic and words can’t describe how incredible the view is. It is an absolute MUST SEE bucket list trip! (more…)


Road Trip 2017: Day 2

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So Day 2 of our epic road trip took us to Waterton Park. It was only a few minutes from our campground and we spent the whole day there taking in the sights. Pictures and story after the jump.

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Road Trip 2017: Day 1

Everyone knows that you don’t go on vacation when you have small kids. You go on trips. For the elaboration on the topic, read this essay. 😉 So our Road Trip this year was exciting and elaborate! The big picture trip was from Oxbow, SK to Waterton Park, Alberta then to Glacier National Park, Montana, then to Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Saskatchewan, Eastend, Saskatchewan and then home again! We were gone for a total of 12 days and they were all amazing! For the entire trip I used only the FujiFilm XE2 camera with the 18-55 f/2.8-4 lens. And then also the iPhone7 for a few water-based photos. Travelling light is the only way to go when you are on a trip like this with the kids. Bringing all my heavy Nikon DSLR gear would have been a real drag. The super light weight of the Fuji mirrorless was the cat’s PJs. I shot the bulk of the trip in Velvia simulation because I love that ultra saturated look for landscapes. But without further adieu, heres the pictures from the first leg of the trip. (more…)


Composition in Travel Photography

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I’m always on the look out for photography gems and insights. This is one such gem! Very cool video. Worth the watch.


Big Muddy

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Things have been exceedingly chaotic for the last little while but are now starting to even out again. I’m quite behind in blogging and have lots of posts upcoming, even though they will be slightly delayed. I thought I would start the catch up practice with a post on a mini “stay-cation” we did back in the first part of July.

Enter: The Big Muddy. What a sensational place! It’s a lesser known gem of Saskatchewan. In fact, when we asked people in our area if they’d ever made the 300km trip west, it was largely a big No. It’s a provincial treasure though. Really different badlands style terrain and really cool history! Outlaws, live stock thieves, Native heritage sites. This stuff should be taught in school! We took an 8 hour van ride tour out of Coronach, SK. There were 9 different stops along the way. Our kids 3, 5, & 7 did amazingly well. There is lots of terrain to cover but so much cool stuff that it kept them entertained the whole time. The tour gives you a scenic view of the region as well as the ability to look at sites not publicly accessible.

We admired that the place hadn’t largely become “touricized” – turning the natural beauty of the place into a fools paradise of fences and signage. You can access some sites, like Castle Butte, just by driving up to it. You can climb all over it, go to the summit, take pictures and have a  grand ol’ time. It’s fantastic! Other places you have to have permission to access. Or, take the tour we did because they are on fenced private land. The tour is the way to go because you get the low down on the area from local people. They leave out of Coronach, SK and have a variety of options to choose from. Check them out on this website. 

Besides the “non-stereotypical Saskatchewan flat landscape” of the area, there is such cool history from the NWMP to the horse thieving outlaws who used the region to steal and sell livestock. Tamela Burgess of the Circle Y Ranch does an incredible job of highlighting the Outlaw Stories through her amazing artwork and story telling. By far this was one of the most interesting aspects of the tour. And, they’ve filmed a couple episodes of ManTracker on the ranch! It’s a very beautiful location.

If you haven’t gone and seen the Big Muddy, I highly recommend it. It’s a seldom seen provincial treasure! Check it out! The gallery contains a few photo highlights of the area all shot on the FujiFilm X100s.


#Camping2014

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It’s been quite busy as of late! We’ve been campin’ up a storm all over Saskatchewan and most recently Manitoba. Child’s Lake has a really terrific campground, as well as tons of other cool stuff. It’s been my in-law’s campground of choice for years. This year we had great weather but the bugs were heinous verging on horrendous. Lots of water = lots of mosquitos. Our poor children looked like walking mosquito bites, despite slathering them down with all manor of DEET bearing spray known to mankind! 👿 But we always have a good time. Weather was good. There was only one rogue black bear in the campground to worry about so that’s not bad either. 😎

My favourite shot from the trip was the banner image from this post. I was really wanting a nice sunset image of Child’s Lake. But the sunset was quasi-lackluster. And boats galore were chopping up the lake for some last minute water skiing and tubing. So I had to with them out until it was almost too late. Plus I was getting eaten alive by the winged vampires – despite the army of dragonflies eating them by the metric truck load above my head. I had the Nikon Df on a tripod and made the 13 second exposure with the 24mm AFS f/1.4 lens. That lens is a cracker jack piece of glass! When I’m travelling I only ever bring a prime kit (24, 50, 85), or just my FujiFilm X100s if I want to be truly ultralight. I opted for the Df because I knew I wanted to make this image that required a bit wider of a lens than the X100s has. The super long exposure turned the water into a polished mirror. As the seconds ticked by the haunting call of loons filled the lake. One notch off of paradise I’d reckon. 🙂


The Black Hills

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Danish Soldiers at Mt. Rushmore at Dusk

We just got back from a mini vacation to the Southern State of South Dakota. 🙂 It was an amazing journey! We were able to do lots of fun stuff as a family, taking in some great attractions but also soaking up the beautiful South Dakota country side. I’m not going to write about all the gory details of our family trip, but rather I’m going to focus on the only camera I took on the journey, the FujiFilm X100s. (Small caveat: we also had our Nikon 1 V1 in tow but only for family video). As a dad of 3 kids 5 and under, I don’t get to actually “do photography” whilst on holidays. It’s more of a taking photos as you go and do things as a family. There’s a huge difference. If I was going to Yellowstone to take photos vs. going to Yellowstone for a family vacation, it’s a completely different mindset. For dedicated photography, I’d want my D800 with full array of lenses. For family stuff, I want as minimal a kit as possible but still be ready for mostly anything. The X100s fits that bill perfectly. As a travel camera, this thing is a boss. It’s size alone makes it super convenient for travel and taking shots on the fly with the kids in tow. But the image quality means I don’t have to sacrifice images like I would with a crappy point and shoot. The f/2 lens and sweet high ISO performance mean that even in the low light of Rushmore Cave, 1 mile underground, I still got shots I was totally happy with.

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Rushmore Cave

The camera totally gets out of the way. Its truly a photographic experience unlike any other. And the best part is of course the color. Fuji has the best color reproduction of any camera I’ve used. I shot the majority of the landscape shots from the trip in Velvia film simulation. I love that super saturated look that really brings out all the subtleties of tone.

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Vista from the Needles Highway

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The glorious Sylvan Lake

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Beads at the Crazy Horse Monument

With only 1 focal length, you are forced to be creative with your shots. The camera pushes you at the same time as it makes taking photos a breeze. It’s an odd juxtaposition that I love! The macro capabilities mean you can get great up close shots without having to switch to a different lens like you would on a DSLR system. As a travel camera, it’s ideal. It’s truly ready for anything you can throw at it, even some off camera flash photography at the spur of the moment!

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OCF Kids. SB-900 in an umbrella triggered by Pocket Wizard Plus X.

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Slow Water via internal ND Filter

 

Another thing that is tremendous as a travel camera is having that built in 3-stop ND filter to kill ambient light. It makes shots like this possible to capture smooth water. Stopping down to f/16 with the filter engaged means I could get shutter speeds of over a second to really get dreamy water and maximum detail. 😀

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I never once missed a DSLR. Ever. The fact that the camera is a compact powerhouse of image quality and ability more than makes up for the fact that I did miss a few shots due to limitations. But I just don’t care! I used to think travel photography had to be a big gear gong show. And carting around all that stuff on hikes with the kids was a total pain. Now, I sling the X100s over my shoulder and I actually enjoy travel photography! It’s fantastic and I can’t recommend it enough. I have a whole set of images up on flickr if you want to check ’em out. There’s a wee smidge posted here. 😎


Travel Photography

I stumbled across an excellent podcast on iTunes yesterday that was talking all about travel photography. The gist of the topic is taking photos when you travel to different places. Well, duh. That kind of goes without saying. But the podcast had an excellent resource and idea to keep in mind. The idea was to have a list of various photos one should attempt to take to get a wide variety of photos. The concept being, if you have a whole different range of images, you can put together more exciting slideshows, more engaging photo books, etc. than if you have the same old, same old shots over and and over again. The same idea can be applied to any kind of photography too. Recently, my dad and I shot my grandparent’s 60th Wedding Anniversary. It was a family function that took place one night, in one location. I decided to put together a photo book of the event to give to Granny and Grandpa for Christmas. We had several hundred shots to work with while putting the book together and thankfully, we subconsciously put this list technique to work without knowing it. We had a wide range of portraits, action shots, “landscape” wide angle room shots, and I brought along my macro lens so we had some fun up close shots to give added interest. Putting the book together was far more fun with a wide range of different photos and made for a much nicer finished product.

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I thought I would post the list from the podcast here for future reference and to anyone who might like to give this “type-a” technique a whirl. Even if you’re not a list type person, this is a handy way of making sure you’ve got variety in your photography when travelling, on assignment or whenever.

Basic Shot List in a Notebook in your Camera Bag.
– views of a city (vantage points?)
– Landscapes – Wide to Macro
– Time of year
– Icons (in interesting ways — what an area is typically known for)
– Architecture (old & new)
– Economy of the region (how do people make $?)
– Transportation
– Education
– Sports
– Art & culture (artists, galleries, museums)
– History (different periods)
– Religion
– Food (eat and drink)
– People (young, old, poor, rich)
– Socialization
– Night time/sunset & Sunrise
– Signs
– Writing
— Combine as many elements into one shot as possible
— Do online research of these things prior to going to the location
— Use the list as a checklist at the end of the day to see which of the shots you got.
List taken from: The Photography Guild Podcast Episode 6 on Travel Photography 6/26/09