Tag Archives: Landscape

Scottish Scenes

Some of these images are exercises in poor-weather photography. Overcast sky. Threat of rain. Absence of shadows. The last image stands as proof that the sun can indeed shine in Scotland, though not reliably. All these images, regardless of weather & lighting conditions, have at least one thing in common. They all break a basic “rule” of photography: don’t run the horizon line through the centre of your image; place it on one of the lines dividing the image into thirds. It’s a tiresome rule and I recommend breaking it. The reason for the rule is valid enough: a horizon line through the middle of a photograph can make it look static and bland. But there are plenty of other ways to introduce a dynamic feeling into a photograph without manipulating the horizon line.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Tree on Milarrochy Bay, Loch Lomond

Detail of valve on steamship, Sir Walter Scott

Detail of valve on steamship, Sir Walter Scott, on Loch Katrine

Shot near Kirkintilloch, Scotland

View from towpath, Forth & Clyde Canal, near Kirkintilloch

Beach south of Dunure, Scotland

Rock In Water, beach south of Dunure, Scotland

Near Maidens, Scotland

Culzean Castle

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Sunrise In Thunder Bay

I’m not usually one to post photos that evoke sentiment and tug at heart strings, which is what seems to happen with sunrise images especially over water. Personally, I’m less into sentiment and more into fart jokes. Nevertheless, when a gigantic fiery fusion reactor explodes over the horizon, who am I to argue with a little sentiment? Below are four photos shot from Prince Arthur’s Landing in Thunder Bay. The first two I shot last September. The last two I shot this May. I’ll introduce the photos with some technical info about each of the four different lenses I used. If technobabble doesn’t kill sentiment, I don’t know what will.

For the first, I used a 24mm F 1.4 prime lens (Sigma Art). The wide angle accounts for the distortion to the edges (e.g. the leaning grain elevator). Note that the “bloody sky” is emphatically not the result of colour enhancement in post-processing. What you see is what I saw.

Sunrise In Thunder Bay

The second photo looks a bit like a cropped detail from the first. In a way it is. I shot the same sailboat with a 100mm F 2.8 IS USM macro lens. Who says you can only use a macro lens for close-ups and portraits?

Sunrise In Thunder Bay

I shot the 3rd photo with a 50mm F 1.4 prime lens (Sigma Art). There is far less distortion to the edges than in the 1st shot. I also used a polarizing filter to tame the light a bit.


For the final shot, I used a Canon 70-200mm F 2.8 L USM telephoto lens to capture the grain elevator and its reflection in the harbour while the sky was still washed in pink hues.

Also, I should mention that for each shot, I froze my ass. To be factual, I froze my fingers. Freezing one’s ass is just an expression. My ass was quite warm.


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Katherine Cove

When I drive up the eastern shore of Lake Superior, I usually pull into Old Woman Bay. With its wide vista stretching out into Superior, it’s a perennial favourite with the tourists. However, photographically speaking, she’s a bitch. Maybe not a bitch. She’d be interesting as a bitch. Mostly, she’s boring. It’s all very beautiful, scenic, expansive, colourful, etc. But so what? Far more interesting, to my mind, is Katherine Cove which lies a little to the south on the same shoreline.

I first stopped at Katherine Cove in May of last year. There were chunks of ice still washing ashore, as I documented in an earlier post. This year, I visited at the same time, but the winter had been too warm. There was no ice. In fact, the water was much lower, and more of the granite outcropping was exposed.


As an urban soul, I don’t do a lot of landscapey stuff, not unless it supports my general aim of exploring the divide between the natural world and our cultural accumulations (e.g. Tim Hortons cups discarded in the forest). I think these shots qualify if I anthropomorphize the scenes. The granite (ancient lava flows later worked over by glaciers and waves) has a sensuous quality. Where it’s worn smooth, it suggests a form that’s vaguely human. Where threads of hardened magma remain, they look sinuous, like exposed muscle.



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The Hand Of Man

Three times a year, the Toronto Camera Club accepts submissions for its internal “Nature” competition. Members can submit under one of three categories: botany, zoology, and general. The general category is for nature-themed images where the main subject is neither plant nor animal e.g. a landscape, or seascape. There is one proviso: the submitted images cannot include any evidence of the “hand of man.” This isn’t an arcane proviso that a single club has imposed; it’s a requirement found in almost all nature-related competitions. Personally, I find the proviso annoying, not just because of the gendered language used to articulate it, but because it makes an assumption about our world that’s almost as quaint. The proviso assumes there is such a thing as a natural world. Experience suggests otherwise. For example, below is a shot taken from a rocky outcrop on the Finger Point Trail in Pigeon River. The birch trees are in bud, but the leaves haven’t come out yet, so it produces an interesting white against green effect. However, near the top, roughly a third of the way from the right side, there’s a slight break in the trees where you can see the road to the trail head.


Or how about the shot I took in Katherine Cove on the east shore of Lake Superior. Mid-May and there was still ice on the water. At first glance, the image seems to comply with the proviso. It looks perfectly natural. Until you start examining the colour of the ice. It’s covered in a layer of grime: a winter’s worth of airborne pollutants that circle the globe and gently settle back to the surface. Hand of man, indeed!


There are times when I just say: fuck it. What’s the point even pretending this is natural. Here, we have a lovely vista. In the foreground is a sign pointing the way to the place where we can best view the vista which, presumably, includes the sign. What a beautiful sign, and the background’s nice too.


Viewed as a pure abstraction, human elements can enhance the formal properties of a photograph that might otherwise count as a landscape. Here, it’s more of a highwayscape.


And what photo north of Superior would be complete without a discarded Timmies cup in the foreground.


Posted in Head

Victoria’s Shoreline

The 6th of 10 posts featuring photos of Victoria, B.C.

Today: photos taken while walking alone the shore below Dallas Road between Cook Street and the breakwater. Although most of my time in Victoria involved an umbrella in one hand while shooting with the other (the rainy season is from November to February), nevertheless, the sun was sometimes kind to me.


Continue reading »

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Lion’s Head

Last weekend, I went to Lion’s Head on the Bruce peninsula which extends out between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It’s part of the Niagara escarpment so there are spectacular limestone cliffs along the water’s edge and, of course, the Bruce Trail, winding its way along the summit and, sometimes, down to the water.

Niagara Escarpment at Lion's Head

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Shooting Lightning

Lightning StrikeThis is my first and, so far, only experiment with lightning. I feel like Benjamin Franklin. Technically, lightning isn’t that hard to do. Use a wide lens to take in a good swath of the sky (you never know where the flash will happen). Focus on something, like a tree or a building. Since focusing in the dark is difficult, set your aperture to something narrow, like f22. Leave the shutter open for 30 seconds. Tripod is essential. Repeat again and again and again until lightning strikes in a way that makes you happy. The challenge of lightning is that it’s inconvenient. I don’t like inconvenient, so I have to rely on luck. In this case, I was lucky because I was standing on a porch, sheltered from the rain. And I was in the middle of nowhere so I didn’t have to contend with light pollution. As a city-dweller in a condo, I don’t have a porch. I don’t even have a balcony. I barely have windows. The only time I’m standing on a porch in the country is … well … um … almost never. So like I said, I have to rely on luck.

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Tips For Early Morning Shooting

The best way to get early morning shots is to shoot early in the morning. Sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism. Nevertheless, if you want the best light — long shadows for high contrast, colourful (saturated) hues in the sunlight, and atmosphere — then you have no choice but to get up early in the morning and force yourself outside. For most of us, that’s a tough slog. I’m not naturally a morning person. When the alarm clock goes off, typically I groan, roll over, and fall back to sleep. But on the mornings when I do force myself outside, the rewards justify the groaning. Here’s an example from two days ago on a farm north of London, Ontario. The exif file tells me I shot this at 6:36 am i.e. 36 minutes after my alarm went off.

Barn At Sunrise

Some tips for getting up at first light:

1) Set more than one alarm. Make sure they’re out of reach so you have to get out of bed to turn them off.

2) Organize your gear the night before so you can just grab it on your way out the door. Make sure it includes a water bottle and a snack. Along the same lines, shower the night before. You want to get out of bed and be off as soon as possible.

3) If you absolutely must have a caffeine fix before you go out, adjust your alarm clock accordingly so you have a few extra minutes to make yourself a coffee. Alternatively, have the butler make it for you. Keep your coffee in a sealable thermos because there’s nothing worse than spilling hot coffee over your camera.

4) Depending on when you wake up, pack a small LED flashlight. This is especially true if you have to hike any distance to your location.

5) If dew is an issue at your location, wear rubber-soled hiking shoes/boots. Even with the hiking shoes, I got a soaker taking this shot. I should have worn wellies.

6) Bring a tripod. This may seem kind of obvious, but if you’re shooting in low light, you need to open things up, which means you need to steady your camera.

7) Organize your location the night before. This is the mental part of the exercise. Know beforehand where you’re going and anticipate the conditions you’ll encounter. Early light is fleeting. Just hoping to catch something probably means that by the time you’ve composed your shot, it’s gone.

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Ogden Nash wrote:

I think that I shall never see
a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.


If Nash were alive today, he might update his poem:

I think the billboard’s here to stay
with its products on display.
If you want to see a tree,
try Home Depot, aisle three.

Posted in Spleen Also tagged , |

The Ghost Ranch Narrative

I spent last week on a photo workshop with Richard Choe at the Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, NM, a 75 minute drive northwest of Santa Fe. You can view a larger selection of my photos in my New Mexico flickr album. The official Ghost Ranch narrative goes something like this:

Years ago, the land was a 21,000 acre dude ranch. Arthur and Phoebe Pack bought the ranch in 1936 and later severed a small parcel which they sold to Georgia O’Keeffe who had a strong affinity for the land. As the Packs grew older, they began to think of how best to dispose of the land. Georgia O’Keeffe wanted to purchase the ranch, but the Packs deeded it to the Presbyterian Church in 1955. They wanted to keep it out of “private” hands so that it could be enjoyed by everyone. That’s the official narrative.

It’s easy to see why Georgia O’Keeffe would be drawn to the land. It practically paints itself. She was particularly drawn to Mount Pedernal which glows in low light at dawn and dusk.

Mount Pedernal

An image is a kind of narrative. I produced a photo of Mount Pedernal which gives a narrative of raw natural beauty. But my narrative is only possible if I leave out certain information. I have deliberately framed the photo to exclude human encroachment on the natural space. I’ve left out the wires, buildings, cell tower, gravel. I think all of us are tempted to do this when we produce images.

Painting Pedernal

More than 50 years later, the Ghost Ranch includes a Welcome Centre, Museum, Corral, Dining Hall, Arts Centre, countless sleeping cabins, and a camping ground. That’s a lot to exclude if you want to tell a narrative of raw natural beauty.

Ghost Ranch Campground

Ghost Ranch Cell Tower

The official narrative is one of inclusion. The Packs didn’t want the Ghost Ranch to end up in private hands with a big “No Trespassing” sign by the entrance, so they gave it to a church.

Tree cholla

I have nothing against Presbyterians. Hell, some of my best friends are Presbyterians. I spent my week with friendly down-to-earth church folk. Here’s what I found in my frame: white, middle-class, Protestant. Nevertheless, as a photographer, I can’t help but wonder what was excluded from the frame. I didn’t have to go far for an answer.

Taos Fiesta

No Trespassing

San Francisco de Asis Mission, Taos, NM

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