Nature

Flashback Friday: Pelicans flying over the Sea of Cortez

It has been a couple of years since I went to Cabo San Lucas.  Thinking about an image for Flashback Friday, one from a spectacular sunrise there came to mind.  The fiery sky had me thinking about where to set up for a landscape shot when I saw a brief of brown pelicans flying low over the water.  I switched to my camera with a telephoto lens attached and watched as they rose off the water.  This let their silhouettes contrast sharply from the background.  That got me excited and I squeezed off a couple of photos before they dropped down again and continued southwards.

If you are interested in seeing a few more images like this one, here is another photo from the same flight which I posted that morning in December 2014.  And, another post where one pelican flew very close to me a couple of days later and I isolated the lone bird against the sky and the rising sun.

A few minutes later, I returned to landscape hunting and was not disappointed in any way with what nature laid out before me.

 


Snowy flight over the Prairie

I found this snowy owl perched along a forgotten fence line north of Lyalta (which is east of Calgary).  After a trek across the field to get to about 60 meters away, I leaned against a post and waited.  I set my exposure so that I would have a slower shutter speed at the start.  I wanted to show some motion in the wings and estimated that 1/200th of a second would allow for that.  Fifteen minutes later something drew his attention and he launched perpendicular to me and the fence.

 

I had two nice images of him flying towards the sun before he was past me.  The first had a soft blur in the wings as they were near level.  The other caught the wings at their full extension upwards.  Both images kept the head sharp so luck played to my hand when I was panning with the bird.  The shutter speed worked out well.  I continue to try slower speeds but have yet to nail one of those with a sharp face.  I will share those when I do.


My favourite landscape photographs from 2017

It was fun to look back over the past year’s photographs recently and recall the story behind them.  I’ve created a gallery of my favorite images you can check out here (or click on any image to open that page in a new window).  I moved in new directions with my landscape work which, through trial and error, yielded some work I really like.

I practiced a technique where I change the focal length (zoom) the lens during a long exposure which creates a variety of effects that I have had great fun exploring.

I walked into some of my images, to provide scale in some and interest in others, which I want to continue to explore and build on.  I also hope my children will join me for some of those in the coming year – if I can wake them up early enough!

I had a lot of fun scrambling around valleys and peaks in Banff and Kananaskis.  I wanted to hike more in the warmer months and was happy with the images I made from those outings to new locations.  I photographed through many nights along the lakes there and enjoyed seeing these amazing places under the stars.  I have always loved the mountains and that love continues to deepen.

A trip to the Palouse in Washington in May was a definite highlight.  The agricultural geometry laid over the rolling hills is beautiful.  Exploring the area and searching for interesting compositions filled a long weekend and a couple of memory cards.

Excursions on the Prairies, searching for snowy owls in winter and a long list of other birds in the other seasons, were regular for me in 2017.  These are often solitary travels for me and I find the landscape imagery often reflects that.  Lone subjects, standing as islands on endless fields, stand defiant under the massive skies in one image and vulnerable in the next.  I have much more that I want to create out there in this new year.

There were many pieces of last year that bring a smile when reflecting back.  And a few that well some tears up.  They combined to make for a good year.  For me, this gallery reflects that.  Thank you for following the visual journey I share here.


Snow flying at night in Redwood Meadows

The snow flew many times in December.  This was one of the nights where I went out to enjoy one for a little bit.  Owing to the falling snow blurring the street lamps were diffused balls of light.  The snowflakes also played with the shadows, leaving some sharp while making others soft.  This storm felt like there was a good-natured mischief-maker involved.


A snowy owl flight

The deep freeze across southern Alberta has curtailed some of our outside activities over the holidays – but I’ve still managed to head out photographing a few times. I have been longing to see snowy owls again so on the 28th, I drove to the prairies east of Calgary in pursuit of these beautiful birds.  I left the house at 6am and it was -29°C.  That kind of chill saw me bundled up in heavy winter gear from top to bottom.  I drove the back roads between Delacour and Lyalta scanning telephone poles, fence posts and any other high points for the owls.  The heavy snowfall that has accompanied the cold made for a true winter wonderland so I enjoyed the drive immensely.  A short time later, I found a snowy perched on a telephone pole.

I parked and stepped out with my camera and then waited.  After 40 minutes the owl found something that was worth checking out and he flew across a field landing on a fence post a couple hundred meters away.

I trudged that way and waited to see what happened.  Five minutes later he flew back to the line of telephone poles.  I had a great view from the launch and until he flew past me.

With a great flight under the belt, and some very cold extremities, I returned to my car.  I watched the owl from its new perch on another pole while I warmed up.  The owl was alert, looking around steadily, but did not fly and I left a short while later.


A morning at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

A couple of weeks ago, I walked with a friend down to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  Canada geese were massed along the Bow River in and around the cold water. Flights of these birds came in and out all morning.

I dragged the shutter and panned with the birds as they flew past to create blur and lend motion to the images.

A very enjoyable couple of hours went by and then my friend had to leave.  I elected to stay and walked down the iced over path that parallels the Bow along the eastern edge of the bird sanctuary.

A young stag trotted along the rocky beach right in front of me at one point.  He stopped for a few seconds out of mild curiosity before skipping around the corner and quickly going out of sight.

An immature bald eagle alighted in a tree across the water a few hundred meters away.  It was watching the geese that congregated near the water intently.  After half an hour it launched into the air, crossed the river and flew directly overhead.  I love eagles so this was a highlight of the morning for me despite the somewhat harsh lighting.

The day was close to noon by then and I headed towards the ponds.  A couple of magpies were making a terrific racket which drew my attention.  Looking in the dense stand of trees I spied a great horned owl calmly perched a couple of meters off the ground.  She stayed mostly oblivious to the angry birds and they soon moved on.  I returned to check on the owl a couple of times in the afternoon but she was napping for the most part so I didn’t photograph much.  It was unseasonably warm so I enjoyed spending time with the owl with no expectation for more.

 


Continuing through dawn at one of the Vermilion Lakes

When I arrived at the second Vermilion Lake and scrambled down to the shoreline I was alone and in darkness.  Once I turned off my headlamp my eyes adjusted and a thin line brightening to the east.  Mount Rundle stood resolutely across the water and I started to make out clouds as they slid toward the horizon.

 

The image above was a 25 second exposure on f/10 and ISO 800 taken at 7:25 AM.  I used that to get a feel for how the scene looked as it was still too dark to make out much of the details and color in the sky with my eyes alone.

I didn’t mind the grass but I chose to focus on the sky and its reflection so a few steps to the right and setting up closer to the waterline was the next step.  The clouds in the image above made a great frame around Rundle and the pre-sunrise colors intensified considerably by the time that I made this photograph at 7:35 AM.

The pre-dawn light’s color faded out before 8 AM.  The lull before the fire came into the sky did not last long and I soon caught the first hints of pink catching in the clouds.  The photograph of Tunnel Mountain, Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain above was taken at 8:10 using a 2 second exposure on f/16 at ISO 50.  The light soon caught the clouds hanging low above the mountains in the image below (8:13 AM; 0.8 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).  From there the reds and oranges started to splash across the sky above the Bow Valley.

By 8:16, the pinks had been driven off completely.  Now the trick was to hold the really bright circle of sky left of Mount Rundle (in the centre of the image below – 0.6 seconds; f/16; ISO 50)).  I was exposing off of that circle so that the highlights weren’t completely blown knowing that the RAW file captured by my camera would hold detail in the shadows elsewhere which I could recover in post.

I played with the focal length of several images during the exposure.  This created streaks in the photograph which served as interesting leading lines into the sunrise and Mount Rundle.  I shared my favourite one of these on the weekend (here) and below is another that I really liked as well.  This one has more brightness in the foreground so it has a different feel for me (8:20; 0.5 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).

 

By 8:20, the fire was waning and only golds and oranges outlined the silhouette of the mountains.  The photograph below being one of the last from my shoot (8:22; 0.3 seconds; f/16; ISO 50).

I jumped into a last frame just before the sun came over Rundle’s flank.   I had wanted to catch a sunstar as it crested the mountain but the clouds got in the middle as can happen.  That exposure was taken at 8:50 AM with a 4 second exposure (f/16 and ISO 100) using a heavy neutral density filter to get the extended shutter speed.  A beautiful morning in one of those places I love returning to again and again.  It’s rare that it doesn’t share a new look, or a few of them, with me each time.

 

 


Streaks of sunrise in Banff National Park

 

Sunrise streaked around Mount Rundle over the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada yesterday. I arrived in darkness and had time to find a great spot that I have not photographed from before.  The clouds picked up the earliest light in the pre-dawn and the color in the sky continued to intensify.  For this image, I zoomed the focal length of the lens slightly during the 1/2 second exposure to create the lines of light leading to Rundle.


Flashback Friday – squabbling geese on Two Jack

The ice started to recede on Two Jack Lake in late April this year.  Waterfowl was drawn to the open water as they migrated back to Banff National Park.  Some birds were resting briefly before continuing further north.  For a small gaggle of Canada geese, they seemed to be planning for a longer stay.

At one point, one goose decided to chase another.  The target flew off and was joined by his mate and they landed at another opening.  Perhaps this was a territorial “discussion”.  For me, it yielded a series of images with the aggressor splashing, flying and skimming across the water.  The bird banked around the small cove towards me so I was in a great position to photograph him.




The remaining couple settled down quickly and returned to paddling on the water.  A little while later one laid don near a stand of trees while the other went to the edge of the ice that still covered most of the lake.


Flashback Friday – a loon shakin’ on the Vermilion Lakes

This past summer I spent a lot of time at the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park.  I was drawn there by a pair of common loons who nested on the third lake this year.  This photograph was from May 27th at 5:41 am on a morning when I was alone with the loons and their beautiful, haunting calls to one another.  After diving, they preen their feathers and eventually lean back, unfold their wings and vigorously flap them to shed water.  This process always fascinates me and I love the way the still images look.   It starts slowly, with the bird shifting their weight and then stretching out the wings while raising their bodies off the water.  The flapping then starts and builds to a crescendo with the loon’s head pointing straight up, wings blurring furiously and water drops spraying off in all directions.  And then it ends with the bird dropping back into the water and carrying on preening, diving or paddling along.  The whole cycle lasting roughly 3-5 seconds.  The image below is that peak in the cycle where it seems the bird itself might fly apart.

 


A family of moose in Kananaskis Country

This was easily one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen when this bull moose nuzzled with his calf.

The bull is likely mating with the cow again this year which brings him into the same area as the calf. I didn’t expect them to have a bond but when this tender moment happened on the weekend, I was obviously wrong.

 

This calf was born in 2016 and still stays close to his mother. The three moose have been hanging around each other again during this year’s rut. I don’t know how long they will stay together as a little family before the bull returns to the solitary life.

When I started watching them, the calf was laying down while the parents grazed separately nearby.  Over the next hour they all moved slowly around the small meadow and the edge of the forest.  It was a relaxed atmosphere which I think is reflected in the photographs.

Eventually the big fellow laid down and was soon napping.  The cow and calf continued grazing.  And I headed home.


A few vignettes of autumn

Fall has rushed in quickly this year and I wanted to share a few photographs from this season before it has moved on. Above, I was photographing the Northern Lights along the Elbow River and used a flashlight to illuminate one tree’s fall colors.

The golden leaves can blow away at any point so I stopped as often as I could when I found a scene that captured a little of the season’s soul.

The forest, recovering from the controlled burn at Sawback Ridge in Banff National Park, exploded into a riot of fall color in September.  An abandoned farm building in Springbank was similarly surrounded.

The fields in the foothills were ready for the final harvests by the end of September.  The view across the fields and on to the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains is beautiful.

The snow is falling again this morning so who knows how long autumn will linger.  It’s all good, I enjoy each season as they come and go.