January Blog Post

Photography Tours

You’ve seen the ads for the photography tours. They all look cool, whether you are talking about a quick day trip to a nearby location or some exotic land far away. But, then you start talking to yourself: I might not like it; what if everybody is better than me?; It’s probably too much money anyway. So you think about it for a while and decide that you’ll keep it on your list until the next time.

I’d been doing that for a while too, and this last Fall I decided that it was time to stop talking myself out of a trip and finally experience one. I chose a 3 ½ day tour to the north shore of Lake Superior on a tour run by photographer Andrew McLachlan. On the appointed day, I loaded up my SUV and headed 10 hours north, not sure what I was getting myself into.

I spent three great days getting to know some new people. It was pretty easy because we all had at least one common interest – photography. The group’s skill ranged from professional (our leader), to advanced hobbyists (gear bag as big as my suitcase), intermediate and even a beginner. Everybody was willing to help and I found it fascinating that I was able to learn by teaching somebody who was newer at this amazing hobby.

Most days we shot from sunup to sundown. Andrew was there when we needed advice and left us alone when we got comfortable. He knew some incredible locations that I never would have found on my own, and that was almost worth the price of admission all by itself.

Here’s a few things that you might want to consider if you are thinking about signing up for your own first photography tour:

  • Pick something within your budget, and be aware that many of the tours are not all-inclusive. Be sure you know what is included before you go.
  • Make sure that you are choosing a tour with a leader who will instruct as well as lead you to locations
  • Make sure you are aware of the physical requirements for the tour you choose; some are far more strenuous than other
  • Don’t worry if you aren’t normally the most sociable person in the crowd. You all have something in common and that makes it easy to connect with others in the group

For me, my first trip was definitely not my last. I had a great time and met some people that I’ve stayed in touch with over the last couple of months through social media and I hope to meet up with them in person again in the future. I learned more than I could have hoped for, not so much because of the great instruction I received (although that was good), but because I spent three days concentrating on my hobby with no distractions; things that I had always struggled with suddenly came quite naturally. 

The next time you see an ad for a photography tour that catches your eye (and fits your budget), take the plunge and click on the button to register. You won’t regret it.

by Scott Powers

A Christmas Wish List

December Blog Post

Jolly old St. Nicholas
Lean your ear this way

Christmas is just around the corner, and sure, we’re busy shopping for loved ones, but perhaps, just perhaps, we’re also thinking about what new photographic toy we’d love to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

We asked the PACN Board of Directors to tell us 2 items from their Christmas Wish List. First, we said, if money was no object, what would you like Santa to bring you. Then we said, “Okay, be reasonable now. What do you think Santa might bring you. Here are the answers we received.

Scott Powers, our organizer of image evaluation nights said:
“As my photography skills have progressed this year, I’ve realized that landscape photography is what I like best. To help me get even better, a new Canon 16-35mm f4 L series lens would be really nice. Those panoramic views would be within my reach. But if Santa can’t bring me a new lens, then a graduated neutral density filter complete with holder would really help to make those contrasty photos look fabulous in 2020!”

Jim Spurgeon, our Co-chair, shared the following:
“I would love to find an Olympus M. Zuiko 12-100mm F4.0 IS Pro zoom lens under the tree. But that’s a bit pricey. I think there’s a good chance of finding an Wacom Intuos Graphics Drawing tablet which comes in at about $80.00.”

Bruce Carmody, our webmaster who is only getting around on crutches these days, said:
“I probably own more lenses than any one person should have. Yet there is still one more that I sometimes covet. That’s the Canon MP-65 f2.8 Macro Lens. Yes, I already own two macro lenses, but the MP-65 is capable of magnifying an object up to 5 times life size. Imagine the detail that becomes possible! But there is the price – $1500 for a new copy and about $900 for a good used copy. And then, it’s a very specialized lens that can be tricky to use I hear. At 5-times life size, every little vibration shows and the lens would have to be so close to the subject that lighting could become an issue. So maybe I’ll just rent one some day, just to see if I like it, and instead, I’ll ask Santa for a $40 Lightbox so I can practise some still life images while waiting to be free of these darned crutches!”

Competitions Chair, Steve Ansell, who obviously no longer believes in Santa said:
“I swore I would never buy any more camera equipment, so a wish list seems a bit self-defeating, but here goes.

Over the top items:
Brand new 70-200 f 2.8 ED FL VR . Cost, $3700
Nikon D5. It’s too heavy to use but it is very high on the cool scale. Cost, $8500.

Within reach:
Repair my Sigma 8-14 zoom. Again. Cost, zero.
Used Nikon 70-300 f 2.8 VR. Because it’s built like a tank. Cost unknown.

Treasurer Ann White replied:
“To add to my wish list: a tilt/shift lens approx. price ? Don’t know but they say if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it! Santa says “stop asking!”
Second ask, a trip to the north to see the glaciers before they are gone completely.”

Wendy Holden, our Co-chair, in the true spirit of giving, wants nothing for herself, but shared a few ideas of reasonably priced items that you might consider for the photographer on your Christmas list.
“Christmas is only a few days away so if you’re still looking for that special gift for your favourite photographer or are finishing your note to Santa here are some fun ideas.

Light Pad: Great for backlighting images like flowers or other translucent items and only $20-50 dollars depending on screen size

Crystal Photography Ball: Make images special with inverted images just like working with water drops. Can make an ordinary image something extraordinary.

Photo Paper: Special paper textures can add that extra element to your special image and who doesn’t need that extra incentive to get that print up on the wall.”

We hope that Santa is good to all our photography friends out there!

Merry Christmas!

AI Comes to Speed Lights

November Blog Post

Artificial intelligence seems to be everywhere these days. Photography is no exception. A number of software programs, including those from Topaz and Adobe boast of using AI to help simplify and speed up your photo editing. But now AI is entering the world of hardware, most recently with a new speed light from Canon, the 470EX-AI.

A few months back I purchased a Canon 5D Mark IV, upgrading from my very old Mark II version. Part of the incentive from Canon was that I would receive a free speed light. Enter the 470EX-AI. 

Now I really didn’t think that I needed another speed light; I already owned 3 so why did I need another? I even asked the dealer if I might trade the speed light for something more useful to me. No luck. So, I came home with my new camera and a new speed light which sat for a long while still in its box on my desk.

But, finally curiosity got the best of me and I began to play with my 470EX-AI. The flash features an auto bounce mode. Now I’ve used bounce flash for years whenever I am shooting with flash indoors. Ceilings and walls can easily become giant soft boxes eliminating the “deer in the headlights” effect that you get from direct flash. And I know from my high school days, angle of incidence equals angle of reflection, so I would point my flash at the ceiling at an angle to create an isosceles triangle between camera and subject. And generally it worked. But this new artificial intelligence built into the 470EX-AI is teaching this old dog some new tricks.

Image taken with direct, on-camera flash. Note the harsh shadows behind the head and sleeves

The flash has 3 settings. First you can turn off the AI-Bounce feature entirely and use it just as you would any other flash. Then there’s the fully automatic mode. When set to this position, a touch of a button on the back of the flash causes it to fire two quick flashes: one straight up to measure the distance to the ceiling and one directly ahead to measure the distance to your subject. Then it calculates the “perfect bounce angle” to generate an image with no harsh shadows. And you know what? It’s right most of the time! I’ll admit that I was blown away by the results. What’s more the flash often didn’t choose a spot on the ceiling mid-way between camera and subject. Often, especially when the subject was quite close, the flash pointed behind me and the results were great.

Image with full automatic bounce. Note the shadows are much reduced even though the doll was very close to the background.

But here’s the real magic! If I decide to change the camera orientation from landscape to portrait, I simply double tap the shutter button and the flash head rotates to maintain the same flash angle.

There is also a semi-automatic setting, in which I choose the bounce angle and set it by pushing a button on the flash head. Now, if I change my position relative to the subject or the subject moves, double-tapping the shutter button will cause the flash head to move to maintain the bounce angle that I chose. I can’t wait to try this with my grandchildren who never sit still.

Camera rotated to portrait mode. Double tap of shutter button and flash head rotates to keep the same relative position.

Apart from the AI Bounce features, the 470EX-Ai looks much like any other speed light, allowing the user to choose between  ETTL and manual, add or subtract flash compensation and most other custom functions that we have come to expect.

Now I am not trying to get people to run out and buy a new speed light in order to have AI Bounce at their disposal, but If you need a new flash, and are a Canon shooter, this one might be worth considering. At this time, only Canon offers a speed light with AI, but, if this catches on, I expect we’ll see other makers put their own versions on the market. And I have no doubt we’ll see other new products boasting of artificial intelligence. I, for one, will be less skeptical in future when such products reach the market. I’m not about to quit using off-camera flash when I can, but for those occasions when it’s easiest to work with an on-camera flash, I think I’ll keep my 470EX-AI.

Bruce Carmody

To Adobe Or Not To Adobe

With apologies to the bard.

October 2019

Most advanced digital photographers shoot in RAW. The advantages of using RAW format are well documented in the literature.  However, the question “What is the best RAW converter?” often comes up. As is often the case, the answer is “It depends”.  It is even more complicated because things keep changing.  Photo processing software is in a constant state of evolution.

There is a view that Adobe, the market leader in photo processing software, is inhabited by Canon shooters and therefore, LR (Lightroom) and ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) are in some sense optimised for Canon RAW files.  Even if that is not the case, given that Canon is the market leader in ILC’s (Interchangeable Lens Cameras), it’s completely logical that Adobe would be able to handle Canon files very well.  Further, given the market position of Nikon, it’s not surprising that Adobe would make sure that LR and ACR can handle Nikon RAW files as well. But what if you don’t use Canon or Nikon cameras?

On March 19, 2019, Thom Hogan published an article on his website, sansmirror.com, entitled “Is There a Preferred RAW Converter?” (http://www.sansmirror.com/newsviews/is-there-a-preferred-raw.html).  In this article the authour provides the following list of his recommended RAW converters:

Canon Adobe
Fujifilm Iridient Developer
Nikon Capture NX-D or Adobe
Olympus DxO PhotoLab 2
Panasonic DxO PhotoLab 2
Sony Capture One

On July 24, 2019, Robin Whalley published an article on his website, lenscraft.co.uk, entitled “RAW Format Photography for Maximum Quality” (https://lenscraft.co.uk/photo-editing-tutorials/tutorial-understanding-raw-format-photography/).  The article includes a link to a video entitled “Tricked into Changing Cameras” in which Whalley relates that over the years he has sold cameras that he believed were providing poor image quality.  He had used LR and ACR to perform the RAW conversions.  More recently, he used DxO Photolab 2 to open the same RAW files and found the image quality was very good after all.

So, if you don’t use Canon or Nikon what do you do?  If you are like me and have spent years learning LR and PS (Photoshop) you likely don’t want to switch to another photo editor and face another steep learning curve.  In addition, there is the license fee for the recommended software.  I use Olympus cameras.  The recommended software is DxO Photolab 2.  The license fee is US$129.99.

At the conclusion of his article, Hogan wrote “there’s something to be said for choosing a converter that fits your workflow and sticking with it. Moreover, choose one that has plenty of tutorial instruction and instructor support”.  For most photographers, that means Adobe software products.

What is the next step if any?  Since I use Olympus cameras, I can install the trial version of DxO Photolab 2.  I can open some .ORF (Olympus Raw File) files using that product and export them in .TIFF format.  I’ll compare them to the same files opened directly using LR and see if there is an appreciable difference.

If I believe there is a significant improvement in the conversion of Olympus RAW files, I will need to consider whether a change to DxO Photolab 2 would be worthwhile. More likely, I’ll devise a way to integrate the DxO product into my post processing workflow and continue to use PS and LR for photo editing.

Jim Spurgeon

Fall Photography in Ontario

The new season for PACN has started! I’m noticing that the days are getting shorter since it’s much easier for me to get up at sunrise and nights are crisper when I’m out walking. I’ve even noticed some trees are blushing with fall colour. If you’re like me, you’ll want to take advantage of this golden time to grab your camera and head out for fall images. I’m making my list of new and favourite places where the season brings that added impact to the landscape or where amazing seasonal migrations for birds and butterflies. 

The Torrance Barrens is a fantastic place I’m just starting to explore where I can take advantage of the crisp clear autumn nights to do some night sky photography. The Torrance Barrens are a dark sky preserve perfect for great images of the stars. I’m looking forward to the fun in creating images of fall colour, shimmering sunsets and twinkling stars silhouetting the treeline or lakes.

I recommend using your fastest wide-angle lens wide open to capture stunning Milky Way images. To reduce noise in an image photo stacking is a great technique (e.g. 5-10 images of about 10 seconds). The 500 Rule below is the exposure time that will give a sharp star image. For great Star Trail images you can use a zoom lens or wide angle lens (zoom lens=shorter exposure time for trails). I’ve included some helpful links below for night sky photography tips.

500 Rule: Exposure Time (s) = 500/lens focal length

https://www.davemorrowphotography.com/
Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve
http://intothenightphoto.blogspot.com/2017/04/creating-natural-nightscape-photographs.html

 York Regional Forest has 2,300 hectares of protected land located across 18 properties with more than 120 kilometres of trails. The site link provides trail maps so I can find my way easily although I’ve explored just a few of the sites so far. I love how they’re just minutes away I can head there anytime

York Regional Forest Trails

Cheltenham Badlands are a fun spot to photograph just a short drive away. I just stopped by recently now that they’ve reopened with a boardwalk/lookout for viewing the formations (and parking close by). Be prepared with a wide angle and a longer lens to compress the ridges into the frame. Note: Parking is only allowed in the parking lot. There is no vehicle stopping, standing or parking permitted along the road.

Cheltenham Badlands

  Wilson’s Falls near Bracebridge, though farther from home, are well worth the drive and easy access. I had fun last year capturing fall colour reflections.

Wilsons Falls

 Point Pelee National Park becomes a layover for Monarch Butterflies a few days each fall during their migration crossing Lake Erie heading 3000 km further south to their winter ground in the mountains of central Mexico! The Park has a number of butterfly events September 13-20. 

Point Pelee National Park

Author: Wendy Holden