Weekend roadtrips

Santa’s helper, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Every November for 9 or more years, our family – grandparents, brothers, nieces and nephews, has gathered in the same spot on St. Joseph Blvd in Orleans, at the same time, 5:30pm to watch the Santa Clause parade of lights. This year the weather was kind to us, so those who came prepared stayed warm for the 2.5 hours it takes for the parade to run its course.

Photographing parades like these calls for preparation, good timing and a bit of luck. The lighting is mixed with street lights, assorted coloured lights on the floats, and truck lights both front and back. Shooting RAW is almost essential if you want to have maximum control over the WB later in LR.

As for lens selection, I went with a short telephoto for maximum flexibility. My ISO was at 800 and my f-stop was as wide as I could get it, around f/4. Then it gets interesting.

As the floats move by, you have to pick the right spot for focus and exposure, I usually went with the middle focus point and took a reading off either a face or a tone that would prevent the highlights from blowing out. Panning is usually needed too but in the picture above it looks like I grabbed the shot during a moment when the float paused. That’s the anticipation bit. You need to be aware not only of what’s coming but also what’s happening in the front as well. This way you can adjust your focal length, and decide on what part of the action you want to capture.

Keep your framing in mind as well. Its true that you can shoot wider and crop out some unnecessary details but try to keep that to a minimum so as not to end up with too much noise in the dark areas. This is part of the preparation. Take the time to examine your location, what will you need to exclude (the bright Tims sign perhaps or the nicely decorated sex shop not far from the church. These are all important decisions.

I enjoyed the night very much. I tried shooting into the floats as they went by. When I had the focus and exposure right, luck gave me a moment when a couple kids were clearly enjoying the ride. The best part is that at the parade, I wouldn’t normally be able to see these moments.

November is over and Santa has arrived at the malls. Hum, have I been good enough this year to get that Wacom tablet?

too soon for winter, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Seasons change, people change, our needs change.

On November 5th my brother and I headed out at 6:30am. The air was crisp and the skies were clear. Our destination was Blakeney Rapids located just under an hour’s drive west of Ottawa. This trip represented a return to regular weekend outings for Dave after a difficult year for him on a personal level. I’m glad to have him back as frankly morning outings are not quite the same when you go solo. The gap in active photography had an impact for Dave, in a sense he’s relearning stuff he knew quite well in 2010. I’m going to help fill that gap as a mentor of sorts. We’re still working out the details but I’m already discovering the role of a mentor can be beneficial in two ways. One way is for the recipient and you’ll find lots on that subject on the web, the other is for the mentor him/herself – besides the satisfaction of seeing someone grow in confidence and skill but also I think it helps keep the mentor current on the craft and challenged to be innovative with problem solving.

I am close to deciding that it would be a good idea if I had a mentor. The first step, of course, is knowing what my needs and expectations are. I’ve given some thought to that, and doing some research as well. David DuChemin writes about the concept in his book Vision Mongers and his advice has helped me focus on some personal goals.

I have at times thought of my involvement with photography as being like some one who is late to the game. I’m a couple years from retirement and only a few years into learning this craft. I know if I’d kept at photography over the years and learned more about art and business I’d be in a very different place right now and I don’t think I’m that different from a lot of people my age; office workers and family men who find they have more time and disposable cash available to begin pursuing something new – taking and selling quality pictures, perhaps ones that could be considered art. This part of the baby-boom wave has helped grow a new industry of on-line photography lessons, workshops, weekend retreats, books etc all offered by people with varying levels of skill as writers, photographers and teachers. I suspect the quality or those offerings may have inspired a recent post by Ray Ketcham when he wrote about the Myth of the Muse. I believe his message is inspiration grows from work and not from some divine or other mystic intervention. But what about time, and the lack thereof?

How does the middle aged person make up for decades of missed opportunities to learn the arts, to be observant and creative? I can’t accept that it’s too late. Perhaps a mentor can help fill that gap, can help guide me across the river to that distant shore. That’s what I hope to explore next.

The picture at the top was taken at Blakeney Rapids with a Canon Xsi. ISO 100, f/22 and a 13 second exposure with a focal length of 36mm. I used ND filters to achieve a long exposure.

in motion, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Sunday was overcast, the sky so full more than a few drops spilled over as we drove downtown.

My photo-partner and I were headed to the 2011 edition of Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walk. Not being hard-core photographers, we were feeling more than a little doubtful about the day and wee prepared to leave at any moment. The rain held off, at least until we parked. With 40 mins. before the scheduled start, we decided the only proper thing to do was stop at Bridgehead’s for a coffee and a cookie. We’ll give her 30 mins was the agreement.

Coffee and cookies gone, and there not being a stain of rain on the road, we headed on and met our group just before 3PM. Introductions had just finished when a late arrival bumped my shoulder with a flirty “hi Charlie”. This was Sue whom I quickly learned worked with Dad in St. John’s many years ago. “Wrong Udle, I’m Ken. But I do have Mom with me. Shirley, meet Sue, she knows Dad.”

Leader Henry interrupted the reminiscences with words of safety and a map. Mom and I knew we would not be able to complete the circuit in 2 hours. In fact we had to stop just over an hour in – on account of rain and tired feet.

This was my second WWPW and I have to admit it was more successful for me. We took our time, avoided including the drab sky and looked instead for patterns, reflections and texture.

We’d see Sue from time to time, once when she was balanced precariously on a bench, I stood quietly next to her just in case. Mom was so absorbed in shooting one building that she hardly noticed the street person approach with suggestions on how to enlarge the picture. A quick intervention and deflection and he was on his way.

We didn’t see much of the rest of the group, and that was the case last year too. My suggestion for anyone considering the 2012 edition is to bring a friend and some water. Carry just a camera and one or two lenses. Get lost in the possibilities, but don’t wander too far off the route.

My shots are on Flickr. You can get there with the link on the bottom left.

Meeting place, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Time was my brothers and I would spend one morning or evening each week photographing the same place at the same time. The fun was in the banter, the common interests, and yes the sense of competition. The reality was more than the bonding but also the sense of learning together.

I shouldn’t speak fro them but I know I picked up on their different perspectives the exploration of darker tones and the need to slow things down – in process and in exposure times.

Having drifted apart for about a year, last weekend we got together again to explore Dick Bell park just off Carling Avenue in Ottawa.

It was funny though not surprising, how we picked up right where we left off. We arrived just before dawn, got our gear ready and started shooting from the same spot – really though we were getting a sense for the place, possible subjects and the lighting. Eventually we drifted off in our own directions exploring subjects at a slow pace.

No one watches the clock but eventually we all end up in the same place at about the same time an hour to 90 mins later. This time we didn’t discuss our results over a breakfast sandwich and Tea, Perhaps that will come later. The great thing is how we produced three different shots from the one place. Scott chose B&W reflections.

Dave has a flare for the dramatic.

As for me, I’m tending more towards the minimalist side of things. My best shot is at the top of this post. The lesson for groups is to go your own way, explore what appeals to you and in the end everyone wins.

I had a basic SLR camera when I was 16. I had saved money from my babysitting jobs and birthday money, I remember going to a department store and choosing the best one that I could afford – Canon Tlb with a 50mm prime lens. I loved that camera and used it all the time. I didn’t take any courses, I was self-taught from books and magazines. I bought a set of Time Life Photography books, one per month for a year and subscribed to both “Modern Photography” and “Popular Photography” magazines. These were my main sources of information on how to use the camera.

A couple years later, Canon introduced the AE1 and along with it a flashing advertising campaign about how this camera was faster and more advanced than other cameras. I’d been setting my exposure settings manually for years, my camera didn’t have a hot-shoe or a self-timer nor the ability to use a motorized film advance option. Mostly, though I felt that having the camera automatically set the exposure was something I really needed. It didn’t take too long before I began not to enjoy my own camera as much. It was inferior and worse limited my own potential – I was 18, what the heck did I know?

Fast-forward almost 45 years. I have a Digital SLR does it all. It’s fast, auto everything if I want to use that but I don’t, and feeds the need for instant gratification with its LCD screen and freedom to shoot as many shots of the same scene as I want. Maybe its nostalgia, maybe its part of being aging I don’t know but recently I felt the need to go back to the basics, get away from the automation and shoot film. I still have my first SLR but finding a battery for the light meter is nigh impossible. At the local camera store, however, I did fine a suitable replacement – an AE1 Program in primo condition, and a 28 mm wide-angle lens in good shape (tick off two long-time goals). This weekend was the first time using the new gear and I had a few surprises.

1. Auto exposure is not the be all to end all. Well, I already knew this from my digital camera, I never shoot fully automatic. Instead I shoot Aperture Priority probably 90% of the time. The AE1 doesn’t have that feature, at least not directly. It’s designed to rely on Shutter Priority instead.

2. I can adjust the ISO for exposure compensation. I always assumed with film you set the ISO once and left it that way for the entire roll. No, the AE1 (and probably the other film cameras) will permit changing the ISO for individual frames effectively allowing you to compensate for backlighting.

3. Shooting the scene once and getting it right that first time is both a challenge and a rush. I had forgotten what that was like. Looking at a scene I’m forced to pay more attention to the composition, what aperture setting I want, and where to focus. I don’t know yet if I got those things right – I have to process the film first, but it was a reminder how back in the day I worked more slowly and in a sense got lost in the moment.

4. The view-finder on the AE1 blows the viewfinder on my XSi away. I had no idea there would be such a difference. Looking through the AE1 the entire scene fills just about all my vision, there’s a minimal black border around the edges. Looking at the same scene with my digital camera is like looking down a black tunnel. Is this a feature of the full-frame cameras? I hope so. Will I get a similar effect by upgrading to the 5D Mark 1? Maybe. I’m going to try and get a look the 5D soon to verify this. If the difference is that significant, my next upgrade will be to that camera body.

I did take both film and digital shots of the same scene. The one above is a digital copy. The version taken on film will be posted later and will be black and white. I’ll write about it then. I haven’t changed my mind about digital; I will try to apply some of what I learned on Sunday to my digital shooting though.


Decorleans, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

David DuChemin is a photographer, blogger and author I admire. I have a number of his books, both print and eBooks, and I follow his blog religiously. Not too long ago he set off on a one year photographic journey across North America in a 1993 Land Rover Defender – his home for the next 12 months.

There are lots of details and pictures on his blog:

I know that I’m not alone in thinking, wishing I could embark on such an adventure. Just pack it all up and hit the road for months on end. Besides the obvious financial roadblock, I’ve discovered there are physical limitations to consider as well – well, truth be told I wouldn’t want to take the trip solo as David is doing. I’d want my sweetie with me of course.

Of course I fantasize about being a traveling photographer. My compromises include a Cooper Mini instead of a Land Rover, staying in B&Bs or Inns instead of sleeping in a tent. Rather than deserts, mountains and rivers, I imagine visiting small towns, talking with some older residents and hopefully capturing in print something of the spirit of each place. I have even gone so far as to consider weekend excursions to places within 2 hours dive of Ottawa. It all sounds feasible especially since Sandi says she’d like to go with me.

Then there’s the physical aspect. You may or may not know that 2007 and 2008 were challenging years for me with a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, major surgery, and chemotherapy. This May marks 3 years cancer free (insert happy face here), but there is something all the doctors don’t tell you about during the treatment. After the healing, after gaining back the weight, after returning to work and long after feeling normal again, other issues begin to appear and more often than not they can be traced back to the surgery and the Lymphoma. I don’t think anyone wants to read a list of personal grievances – suffice it to say the doctors should have prescribed physiotherapy, I’m paying the price for that today.

This past weekend we drove to Peterborough, 4 hour trips each way. It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Well it kind of was, and sleeping in a different bed was an issue too. So big surprise, I need to do some serious conditioning if I want to realize my dream of travel photography. I figure it is still feasible and in fact we’re thinking of giving it a try during April or early May just to see how things go. First stop? Perth is high on the list of possibilities.

Crooked path, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

This shot was taken early one morning just 25 mins drive from home. I live in a suburb of Ottawa, cookie-cutter homes, green spaces that tend to look the same, buses and traffic. This doesn’t mean we can’t find interesting places for landscape photography. During the past year my brothers and I have explored the parks and protected green spaces around our city, recently we have expanded our search to include Gatineau, a Quebec city a short drive over the river. The photo at the top was taken at the Deschenes Rapids. There used to be a dam at this site, now it’s part of a bike path for residents.

We arrived just before sunrise and took some twilight shots of the rapids. I wandered down the path and found this spot while the sun was still low on the horizon. I love the golden side light and the textures in the rock and tree.

In a way, travel photography doesn’t always mean traveling a long distance. Sometimes a drive of 30 mins or less is all it takes.

Opeango Reflections, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

I’m not in a happy place today.

Yesterday our group of four photographers abandoned plans to pursue a month long exhibit and sale of our photos, at least for a year anyway. The idea hatched, so to speak, in September when we decided to create a partnership, apply for permission at the park to show our pictures, then work on taking a variety of shots and gathering a collection for show sometime during 2011. I was quite pumped about the project and in fact have been too distracted to make more regular updates on this blog.

Things came undone last night. Motivations for carrying through on the project were different for each of us. Risk tolerance too was different for each one too. And maybe this is what you might take from this, It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional appeal of a new project, eventually though you have to move into the dirty details and here’s where the real costs and risks become apparent. In our case I’m happy that we made an honest decision early on before we made commitments and spent more money.

I thought I was okay with things at the time but to be honest, last night and all day I’be been feeling down about this turn of events – as logical as they are. I’ve already taken steps to ward off the funk though. I registered for two courses at SPAO, helped my Mom with her early steps into digital photography and put the OmniFocus project on hold, for now anyway.

Cool August Morning, originally uploaded by ken.udle.

Capturing a sunrise has been a bit of a challenge during the spring and summer. The biggest issue has been time – not finding the time but actually being able to get up out of bed in time to see the sun come up. I did manage it during the May 24th weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park and came close during July as part of a class assignment. For the most part though, rising at 4 or 4:30 for a 5 or 5:15 sun rise has been a bit more than this tired body could manage.

It’s August now and the day starts a little later. On Saturday I was out walking the dog at 6am and even though it was cloudy, I could tell the sun was still very low in the sky. This was a nice surprise as I’d arranged to meet my brother Dave just before 7 for a morning shoot. We decided to stay relatively close to home on account of a golf date with my nephews at 10 but that’s another story.

I hadn’t been to the Mer Bleue (located south of Ottawa in the NCC Greenbelt) since last November – search Flickr for Morning Glow. Dave had never been there before. Ecologically, this is an important and sensitive part of Ottawa. It is the largest bog in Southern Ontario and is home to a wide variety of plant, aquatic and wild-life. Of interest to bird watchers and photographers is the 1.2 km boardwalk that begins at the parking lot, loupes through the bog back through a forested area to the parking lot again. I’ve been there a few times of the years and each visit brings something different.

Capturing the sun rise is not convenient though, even if you’re able to rouse yourself out of bed as early as that. No the parking lot is gated about a km down the road and doesn’t open until 8 am. In November I ignored the no parking signs (if they were there) along the road and walked into the boardwalk. Dave was driving this time and preferred to obey the signs. No matter, the light was still good just after 8 when we arrived on the scene.

We stayed there for about an hour. We both captured the sun’s rays in the distance but from different vantage points. I then switch to a few Marco shots but I don’t know how they turned out just yet. It was good to spend the time with Dave again – it had been a while due to busy schedules and other commitments. We’re nine years apart but share a common interest in photography. Along with our other brother Scott and a cousin Tom in the Toronto area, we’re able to motivate one another to get out there with a camera. We’re all competitive too. We have a year long challenge (Project 52) plus other weekend challenges and I don’t mind admitting that it’s all about winning. No one really cares how hard the others tried, having the best shot is what it’s all about.

There are no stated prizes but you can bet when one of us posts a Macro shot only to find another got closer or produced a tack sharp picture, there is some clenching of teeth, maybe privately but it happens nonetheless. What’s this got to do with early morning sunrises? Tom is killing us with his spectacular sunsets, I’m hoping it’ll be harder for him to get up early in Toronto to catch the sun but knowing him, he’ll just go to Algonquin Park and catch something awesome there.

Well, guess where I’m going in September?

For the May 24th weekend, Sandi and I decided to meet up with my cousin and fellow photographers Tom and Tara in Algonquin park. I’ve only been to the park once before, Sandi camped there often as a child. Tom and Tara, as members of Friends of Algonquin Park, have been there many times. Tom graciously offered to be our guide.

We arrived Friday afternoon and met our friends at the East Gate Motel, which provides basic but clean and friendly accommodations. After settling in and getting a bite to eat we headed into the park for the first night of shooting – and to experience first hand just how bad the black flies are this year. In a word, Stupid.

Rock lake was our first destination. The view and sunset was really nice but paled compared to what was to come. Saturday morning I met Tom at 5 am when we headed into the park for sunrise, and moose. We were not disappointed. Saturday evening was the big show – I’ll add the name of the lake later as I don’t remember which one it was. We set up around 7:30 and got a few nice shots. We didn’t actually expect much but then the sky exploded with colour. As if on cue, the bugs in the distance increased the intensity of their singing as if synchronized with the drama taking place in the sky. I found it all very exciting. The bugs were at their worst that night but the images we were capturing more than made up for the annoyance.

Sunday was another 5 am start this time we were greeted by cooler temperatures, fewer flies and mist on the water. Sunset that night was nice but not nearly as good as on Saturday. I’m not used to those hours and that much walking so it wasn’t a surprise that I was really quite spent by Sunday evening and not able to greet a third sunrise on Monday. I’m not complaining though, I filled two 4 GB cards. I have lots to work with over the next week.

While we were there, Tom talked about running workshops for people interested in landscape photography but not familiar with Algonquin Park or perhaps the proper techniques. From my own experience, he should definitely carry through on those plans. Anyone signing up is sure not to be disappointed.

Some examples of Tom’s work is here.