Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hiking Rock Dunder - Training Day #1

In less than three months, I will be facing one of the biggest physical fitness challenges of recent years.  A fellow photographer, Jim Lamont has asked me to join him on one of his upcoming expeditions. Jim is known for his travels to remote locations in search of amazing landscapes.  Decades of wilderness travel has taken him deep into the Rocky Mountains and into the extremes of nature with places like Baffin Island.  Though we won't be fending off icebergs with sea kayaks, we will be dropped into the Rockies by helicopter.  The expedition will involve living with what I can carry on my back and hiking to just under 10,000ft.  This will be home while we set up our equipment to capture the changing lighting on the incredible snow-covered rock faces that will surround us.  Overnight temperatures will drop to about zero and our shelter from storms will consist of a small tent that weighs in at five or six pounds...small enough to carry on our backs along with all of our gear and food.
The race is on now to get myself into adequate shape to carry 50 pounds of gear on my back across raging streams and up rocky slopes.  I have three months.  

In this blog post, I share the experience of a short journey.  I am doing this as training but it tuns out to be a great photo day.

With my gear packed heavy, I head out.  Though it feels like I'm carrying 50 pounds, it's probably only 30...and another six or seven with tripod in hand.  I will be hiking the rocky path at Jones Falls to the top of Rock Dunder, at about 250 ft above the lake.  Along the way, I make every excuse to use my camera (and to keep my heart from over-revving and suddenly stopping).

Just south of the town of Morton, Ontario there is a small gravel road that takes me to a parking lot where to my surprise, I find a few other cars.  I gear up, strapping my bag to my back, getting my camera and tripod ready and then I hit the trail.  Bright sunlight quickly turns to shaded forest.  Though the treetops are still without foliage, there is still a significant reduction in light from the dense trees.  Wood chips make for a welcoming entrance but soon pass and are replaced by dirt and rock.  The trail reaches the lake and then turns to follow the shoreline.  I am a good 50ft above the water and the combined sights, sounds and smells are a treat.  Birds are whistling.  A light wind shakes the lingering fall leaves that still cling to the odd branch.  The smell of spring that I can only describe as "mud" is thick in the air along with the indescribable smell of a forest.  The blue sky is reflected in the lake below along with sparkling diamonds from the afternoon sun.

At one of my first stops, I sit low with my camera, shooting a stump coming out of the water.  As I turn back, my eye is caught by this little tree with an almost painted rock backdrop.  I quickly drop what I am doing and reposition myself for this shot.

Along a narrow trail that runs about 50ft over the water, small clusters of tiny little flowers are catching the sunlight. I change out my lens to a macro (remember I had 30 lbs of gear on my back), and drop to my belly.  I am sheltered from the ground dampness by a layer of dried fall leaves that crunch beneath me.  I shift for relief from a small stump that is poking me in the side then close in on these delicate flowers that rise up only a few inches from the forest floor.  I think I'll try something different here!  Often, flowers are shot from the top down; especially when they are tiny and on the ground.  But a more unusual side shot results in beautiful bokeh and an image that looks to me like it belongs on a greeting card.

Further along the trail, a steep rock wall is covered in carpet-like moss.  The beautiful glow of green is too much to pass by and I once again make an excuse for a break!  

After a few hours of hiking, I arrive at the summit.  This is my first time to Rock Dunder and I have to say the view is spectacular.  My heart is pounding after the steep ascent and I look forward to sitting for a while and just listening.  There it is...silence; nothing but the sound of a light breeze through the tree tops.  The air is cool but the setting sun still provides enough warmth that I needn't add layers.  

The air is fresh and the scent much lighter than the musky smell of the forest.  There is little up here but rock and sparse trees.  It is peaceful.

It's about 7pm now and the setting sun provides a warm side-lighting that a photographer waits all day for.  My uncertainty of the trails ahead causes me to make use of this light quickly and be on my way.  I'd prefer not to be hiking down the side of a mountain in the dark, and I have to remember that while it might remain light up here, it will soon be dark in the forest below.

Spectacular visibility provides for great photographic opportunities.  I only wish I had a tent to stay for the morning light.  Ah, who am I kidding .. I'd probably sleep right through it!

Turkey vultures circle the area looking for a meal.  They glide effortlessly for huge extents with their wings spread out, catching the rising warm air.  These birds are absolutely huge and incredibly graceful.

With time working against me, I grab my gear and hike down the mountain.  As I pass through the now darkening forest, I am treated to an unbelievable view.  The setting sun, long out of my view, is lighting up the trees along a pond and creating an almost fiery glow that is reflected in the pond.  Darkness or not, I am not missing this!  I hike off the trail and over to the edge of the pond.  I extend the legs of my tripod and set them into the soft black mud that now squishes under my boots.  In only a few minutes, my camera is mounted.  I choose the 35mm Zeiss lens for this job.  Wide enough to capture the scene along with superb colour and sharpness.

As it always is, a photograph is only a hint of the experience.  This scene was pure magic to my eyes and really topped off the day.  

A few minutes later, the gear is again stored and I push on.  I am quite certain that every bend in the trail hides the parking lot just beyond sight...but that was just wishful thinking.  As darkness arrives, I am thinking, "I hope that nobody has messed around with the trail markers!  It could be a long, cold night out here!"

After about an hour of fairly steady moving, I find the welcoming seat of my truck.  I drop my gear into the back seat and then sit.  For just a moment, I just sit.  It feels so good to sit.  Hike number one completed.  A great day and many more to go if I'm going to be able to handle twice the weight, much steeper conditions, a much, much longer hike, not to mention high elevation where oxygen depletion becomes a real problem for someone that isn't conditioned.

Coming up soon on the blog --- If you're interested in tripods, I'll be doing a short review of the Really Right Stuff TVC-34L carbon fibre tripod and the matching BH-55 ball head in the next few days. Check back soon!


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Leica M9 - Still a heavyweight contender

Once again I'm breaking out the studio lights for a little bit of still photography.  Seen here is my beloved Leica M9.  I have a love / hate relationship with this camera....well maybe hate is too strong a word.  Mostly love with a side serving of frustration.  

Not much has changed in the Leica world in the past 50 years - even with the onset of digital.  This camera feels like an old school film camera but with a digital sensor and a screen on the back to review images.  Its rangefinder focusing is all manual and can be a real challenge when you're shooting with longer lenses like the magnificent 75mm Summilux with a wide-open aperture of f1.4.  In cases like this, the depth of field is just a few hairs deep; focusing can be a real hit and miss affair.  All of that said, when you nail focus and exposure with great subject matter, this camera will blow you away with what comes out of it.  It's just about as good as it gets with a 35mm full frame camera.

Holding this camera is an experience in itself.  I remember the very first time that I held one; my friend Raaj handed me his and I thought, "this thing feels like a brick!"  It's extremely solid, it's quite heavy for its size, and the build quality is better than any other camera I had ever held.  There's just nothing plastic, or cheap on this camera.

When it comes to image quality, part of the reason for the quality that this thing puts out is the amazing glass that you attach to it.  Leica has long been known for producing some of the best glass in the world.  In this image, I have attached one of the world's sharpest lenses, the Leica 50mm f2 Summicron.  Though the M9 has a pretty robust 18MP full frame 35mm sensor, some would argue that it's falling a bit behind the newer generation of full frame DSLR's.  However, with superb Leica glass attached, this camera will give my D800E with the best Zeiss glass a run for its money.  Technoids and pixel peepers might dispute that, but the results in real-world use are very impressive.  Creating 30" prints from this camera is never a problem!

Though the Leica M9 is often thought of as a street-shooter's camera, for the person that won't compromise on image quality, the M9 is also a great travel camera .  You can carry your camera and a few of your favourite lenses in a small bag; light enough to carry around all day and small enough to tuck away just about anywhere. I can't even begin to compare that to the weight of my D800E and a few lenses which could easily put 20lbs on my back.

If you're an avid photographer, you owe it to yourself to try a Leica at some point.  It's an all together different experience in photography.

This following images were shot with my M9.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ottawa in the failing light

I had an opportunity to do a night shoot with a few friends last week.  A group of us dropped in on the National Gallery and then broke out the gear for a shoot from Major's Hill Park.  
While waiting for the gang to assemble, I was looking at the giant spider sculpture in front of the museum.  This is a tough subject because almost any way you shoot it, you end up with a lot of city, cars and people in the frame.  It's also difficult because it's photographed by virtually everyone that goes by with a camera.  So doing something unique and interesting is a challenge.  To me, the sculpture is creepy and I wanted to capture an almost, "War of the Worlds" kind of image.

The gang then went around the back to shoot the city in the failing light.  I have shot the Alexandria bridge from this vantage point before using a wide angle lens, and thought it would be fun to shoot it again doing something different, this time shooting with a 100mm prime lens for a very different look.  A fun night of shooting and a reminder of what a beautiful city we share.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Eight Ball

In this shot, the Zeiss ZF 100/f2 makro-planar demonstrates incredible sharpness coupled with very shallow depth of field.  Focusing at f2 takes some careful attention but is easily done, even with the stock D800E focusing screen and viewfinder.

Painterly images

A little play on words as I share a few photos of an artist at work.  Captured with the Nikon D800E and the amazing Zeiss ZF 100/f2 Makro-planar.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rainy afternoon photography

Heavy grey skies, rain and ice on a Saturday afternoon; sometimes the weather outside just isn't inspiring for a photographer!  Days like this are great opportunities to do some creative indoor shooting.  Almost anything can become a good subject if you give it some interesting light.  In my case, my beloved Zeiss lens is my subject.  I confess having a bit of a lust for beautiful glass and my Zeiss ZF 100mm f2 is right up there on my all time favourites list.  A spectacular lens that is a magnificent piece of engineering; it is a treat to hold and use.

These images were shot with my Bowens 500 studio lighting, the Nikon D800E and the little brother to my Zeiss 100, the Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f2 Macro Planar; equally as nice as it's big brother.  The shoot took me a few hours to setup.  Lighting and stands, backdrop, a few trials with different light positioning, metering, and then finally the shots.  The first one (close up) is shot with only natural light, while the second was shot with a mix of strobe and natural. 

Lighting gear is still out, might do a bit more shooting!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Featured on

Hi folks,
I'm very pleased to announce that my recent portrait titled, "Gold Rush" was accepted through the curating process to be featured on For those not familiar with, it is an online gallery of work that has inspired me to aim higher, one that I have been striving to be published on for some time. Browsing through the works on that site can be a humbling experience for a photographer.

To be published, photographers submit a piece of work to the gallery curators who assess it for worthiness. 97% of submissions are rejected. When I saw yesterday that my portrait was accepted and published, I was quite thrilled. It's been a goal of mine for a while and accomplishing it was a real treat.

You can find my work on their site at this URL:

Have a look around at the amazing works published there; it's been very inspiring for me and I'm sure you'll also enjoy it.