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! 😎
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.
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.
You can always photo walk. Do it frequently. Do it often. 😎
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! 😎
I was going through some junk today and at the bottom of the pile was this long forgotten red Nikon filter from back in Dad’s film days. 52mm thread. My old 50mm 1.8 AF-D lens fits it as well as my sweet 28mm 2.8 manual lens. There also happened to be this ginormous storm rolling in. Black and White + Red filter. Very cool Ansel Adams setup. I drove around town doing some ad hoc landscape/cloudscape/street stuff. Shot in JPEG today too, rather than RAW. Not sure why. Felt like a JPEG kinda day. [cool]
There was some pretty neat fog out this morning when I was out and about. It gradually lifted but still hung on for a bit. I threw the X100s in the car. The black and white images are all just FujiFilm JPEGs with a bit of extra contrast dialled in. I’m really excited about the release of the X-Pro2 in that it has an Acros film simulation. I already love Fuji B&W so much that the Acros will be icing on the monochrome cake! Can’t wait for that camera! 😎
There are truly only very few moments in a person’s life when you enter a room and instantly know that you are surrounded by giants. People so incredibly bright and knowledgable that they have already forgotten more than you will ever know. Being in a room with Dr. Hamilton Greenwood is one of those such moments. He is a brilliant biologist, educator and photographer and he has been a family friend for many years.
Recently he did a TEDx talk in Saskatoon, SK. His talk is perfectly woven together with his own stunning wildlife and nature photography from our great province of Saskatchewan. Check out the talk here, it is totally worth your time and you will be highly rewarded!
Description from the TEDx Talk:
Educator and Wildlife Photographer | Hamilton Greenwood is an adult educator and wildlife biologist with a passion for using photographs to inspire. He is the department head at Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Natural Resource Technology Programs, and a sessional lecturer for both the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP). With an undergraduate degree in Biology from Queen’s University and a PhD from McGill, he has taught a generation of people who contribute to Natural Resource Management in Western Canada. As a teacher, he is known for the passion and commitment which be brings with him to his classrooms. Hamilton’s personal and professional life has found a wonderful bridge in landscape, wildlife and still-life photography. His images are widely published and freely shared with many non-governmental organizations. These photographs, and countless hours in the wild, are the canvasses from which he works.
Hello blogosphere! Contrary to popular belief, I’m not dead! I’m alive. Busy but alive. The days are just packed! (That’s an old Calvin & Hobbes comic book that I still have on my shelf). Between church life, family life, Estate executor life and professional photography life, I haven’t had time to have a blog life! Better late than never!
We took an amazing family get away in the first part of October to Cypress Hills and stayed at the Resort. We rented cabins which were perfect for us, two bedrooms, kitchenette, beautiful setting. We had the run of the place as there weren’t any other people booked in. The temperatures were crisp in the evening and a bit windy but the days were glorious. Sunny & warm! We had such a blast. Grandma & Grandpa got to hang out with the grandkids, we all got to go on some beautiful hikes and of course, take pictures!
For this trip I brought my full Nikon setup. Usually I’ve replaced the whole kit with my Fuji X100s for family trips because of the versatility, small size and awesome image quality. But for this trip, I wanted to shoot the forest in full frame with my D800. Also I knew I’d be doing some family portraits that showed the glorious fall colour that was still there (Thank the Lord!). So I brought out the dynamic range duo of the D800 & the Df. It’s the best of both worlds for low light performance and resolution.
We went to Conglomerate Cliffs the first day there. It was incredibly windy but still breathtakingly beautiful. I shot some family photos there with flash. I brought along my Alien Bee 1600 and battery pack. It’s such a great light. Super value for the money and I love the volume of light it produces. Quick Photoflex soft box and there you go. Instant Christmas Card photo magic.
We also had some fun doing light painting with the kids and their glow sticks. They had fun whirling them around and seeing the cool streams of colour.
Cypress Hills also has a dark sky preserve with an observatory. We had a decent night but the clouds were rolling in. Were able to nab some northern lights though, and I think I caught a falling star too.
All in all it was a fantastic trip. I cannot recommend Cypress Hills enough. If you’ve never been, you’ve gotta go check it out. It’s provincial treasure! 😎
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.
It is Cold.