A Land Filled with Meaning

Bright Colors in the Belly Buttes

Being in the Belly Buttes was an interesting experience. They are on land owned by the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta, and I had to get special permission to hike here. On the one hand I felt at home – it felt open and free and the chance of running into random people was small. The only trails were deer and cow trails. On the other hand, I definitely felt I was travelling on someone else’s land, through someone else’s past, which holds a significance that I can only begin to understand. I wonder if this isn’t a feeling that should be more familiar to me – the sense of past and future people living with and on the land, the sense of the land meaning more than just a place to hike.

Little Flashes of Light

Fireflies in a Manitoba Meadow

These fireflies seemed to like the swampy areas, but as the night went on they spread out to fly through the trees and around the meadows.

Taken in central Manitoba.
21mm, f5, 13 seconds

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse Over the Prairies

During the lunar eclipse of the super moon last fall I was out taking photos for the Royal Alberta Museum. After sunset I was still way out on the crest of a big open ridge, and the moon started to rise. This is just the beginning of the eclipse. By the time of the total eclipse, the moon looked much smaller and was high in the night sky.

There are a couple of ways to paint this experience. I was in a historically and spiritually significant place where I got to spend the day alone and watch the sun set and the moon rise. I got to experience the shadow of the earth creeping across the moon as the stars circled. It was absolutely breathtaking. Although I’m not part of the culture that has a connection to this place, the idea of people over thousands of years being in this spot to find meaning and direction is powerful.

On the other hand, I was sleep deprived from days of having to be at one location before sunrise, and then having to drive and hike to another location for evening light. For 6 hours I had been blasted by a gusting but never-ending gale which continued on into the night. I couldn’t hear anything because of the constant wind in my ears and my face was raw. The wind posed problems for my work. The photos had to be such a high resolution that I was stitching hundreds of them together, and if any one of those was blurry, the final result would be ruined. Trying to stabilize my tripod in the strong gusts of wind was tricky and occasionally futile. The mental exhaustion of having to pay such careful attention to each photo over the course of hours was getting to me. To add to this, it was getting dark and I was alone kilometers away from my vehicle in an area frequented by bears and cougars.

All together it made for an overwhelming experience.

210mm, f4, 1/250 of a second

Beauty and Endings

Fall is here, and I’m not ready for it. As much as I love fall I feel like I didn’t get enough summer yet. I’ve just started to go running fairly regularly, but the cold air isn’t great for my lungs. I haven’t gone backpacking yet this summer. That is a travesty. On the other hand, I’ve done lots of things to get out of my comfort zone, and they’ve been going well. I started teaching photography classes which have been great! I started doing a lot of studio / model photography and that’s awesome! I’m also doing a bunch of video work. So I can’t complain too much.

But this tree, a single tree standing in for all fall trees, holds a lot of excitement and disappointment, all bundled up in beauty and endings.

Folk Fest this Weekend!

I’m getting super excited for Folk Fest in a few days! I’ve got lots of new prints and jewelry, so make sure to come visit in the craft tent. Also for the first time, we’ll have information about the photo classes I’m teaching and information on the promotional shoots I’m doing with Eric Beliveau from Threaded Studio.

The photo is from a soggy morning near the east block of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. We camped there overnight and it rained the whole time. We barely made it out — all the roads around there turn to mud as soon as it rains.

7mm, f4, 1/250 of a second

Rays of Light

Just taking a small break from matting, signing and bagging prints to share a photo I took a few days ago. Enjoy!

60mm, f8, 1/400 of a second

Summer Storms

We’ve had some spectacular storms here this summer, and I finally got out to enjoy one last week. Fortunately here in Edmonton they haven’t had the devastating effects they’ve had in the south of the province.

These days I’m busy getting ready for Folk Fest, and all my supply orders are starting to trickle in. I just got a shipment of a few hundred prints that I haven’t finished inspecting yet – I need to get the mats, bags, and backing for all of them yet. Pendants, earrings and cufflinks are starting to be assembled on my worktable as I’m waiting for a shipment of fresh resin. Despite a brief lull of activity due to sickness, things at the humble headquarters here are humming along. Looking forward to seeing all of you who can make it to Folk Fest – it’s always a great time!

7mm, f5, 1/640 of a second

Panasonic G1X Impressions

The Panasonic G1X is a great little camera. I got to use it for a short trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park a few weeks ago. I used it with the Olympus 12mm f2.0 prime, the old Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens, and Panasonic’s 100-300 telephoto lens. Carrying this kit was a welcome change from carrying around a Canon 5d with 4 fairly heavy lenses. I found the Panasonic very comfortable to use, and all the controls were well thought out. Not quite perfect, but no camera is. I was very curious to see if the image quality of this 4/3 sensor could get anywhere close to the 5d (a 7 year old full-frame digital slr).

Panasonic G1X with 14-42 lens
14mm, f9, 1/400 of a second

Remarkably, to me, it was close (it should be noted that I only shot raw photos, not JPGs). There is definitely a different characteristic look between a full-frame and a 4/3rds sensor, but that is not necessarily bad, just different. You get greater depth of field with the Panasonic, which I think accounts for much of this look. Dynamic range was surprisingly good from this little sensor — it didn’t seem to blow out highlights any quicker than my 5d. High iso pictures also looked better than I expected, and the grain, when it did show up, had a fairly pleasing quality to it.

12mm, f4.5, 1/40 of a second

Autofocus was a mixed bag. It is very fast, and I really enjoyed the touch screen to select autofocus points. The problem was that the autofocus areas are actually quite large, and you can’t tell what the camera is focusing on in that square. I did try the pinpoint autofocus mode, but it didn’t work that well for me. It could be that with further investigation and custom settings I could get this to work better.

Color was one of my biggest problems. Part of it is just getting used to the color response of a new camera — every camera is different, and this means that you have to process the colors differently. But the G1X didn’t seem to have the color depth I am used to from my 5d. It was actually quite similar to the Rebel XSi I had for a few months — I had trouble getting the color and color transitions to look the way I want. This meant desaturating some photos to get the colors to look good to my eye. I’m sure I could get more comfortable with this over time, but I’m also sure the colors are not quite as good as I’m used to. And I didn’t even get to try it with greens. Greens are my biggest problem color – trying to get greens to look natural to me can take many tries, even with the best cameras I’ve tried.

252mm, f6.3 1/500 of a second

My other complaint — and this really is the big one — is with the 100-300 lens. It is a sharp lens. It is a beautiful lens. The problem is stability with this long of a lens. WHY COULDN’T THEY PUT A COLLAR AND TRIPOD MOUNT ON IT???? This would fix everything. Putting a quick release plate on this camera works pretty well, but it is a small camera. The plate only has a small surface area that touches the camera, and this introduces some degree of instability. Add a relatively large lens like the 100-300 on the front and the tripod is now doing almost nothing. So this lens works fine for shooting at fast shutter speeds with bright light, but otherwise is useless. All because of the omission of a tripod mount.

275mm, f6.3, 1/4000 of a second

Small cameras have always been tempting to me. I don’t like carrying a lot of weight while I’m out hiking around, but image quality is most important to me, and at this point my old 5d is still a bit better. And new full-frame cameras (with even better quality sensors) are likely where I’ll be going once I can afford something new. But I do really like the trend towards small, light, fairly high-end cameras. I’m very curious to try out the Sony NEX-7, as this should be significantly better image quality and has an intriguing control layout.

So, is the G1X a good camera? Definitely. Is it a great camera? Possibly. Can it replace a full-frame camera for professional use? Not really, although I suppose that is obvious. Micro 4/3 is the most mature compact system at this point, with lots of good lens selection. But Sony’s NEX system has great cameras just waiting for lenses. And Fuji’s X-Pro1 looks fascinating. Things are changing fast.

Beaverhill Lake Grass

Warm sun and cool breeze: a beautiful fall day. The wind had matted the grass into interesting patterns in some places.

This was taken before all the snow hit. Looking out my window now, from the 12th floor, I can only see a couple blocks before the deluge of falling snow obscures everything. This snow would actually be perfect weather for photography but I really need to get winter tires on the van before I feel comfortable driving out to a natural area.

Stand of Aspen on an Elk Filled Fall Evening

This photo was taken in Cooking Lake Provincial Rec Area. Actually the name is “Cooking Lake – Blackfoot Grazing, Wildlife Provincial Recreation Area”, but that’s a ridiculously long name, and I don’t intend on typing it out every time I mention it. Anyway, this is the area just south of Elk Island National Park. It’s almost exactly the same, except it has a few fields and no bison. And you don’t have to pay to get in. All in all, a great area to go hiking.

This was an overcast day, and a little misty. There were water droplets on the grass and a bit of a breeze rustling the leaves too. It was in this muffled darkening atmosphere that I first noticed the elk. The bull was watching me, with his herd off to the side, behind a copse of apsen.

I crouched down and watched them for a while. A calf was still nursing, and many of the elk were grazing, but the bull kept watching me. As the light faded along with my vision, the herd moved off into the trees. That first photo was taken in the trees where the elk disappeared into, after it had become quite dark.