Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What I See. Part 1 - The Streets of Oslo.

Street Sights 2I didn't set out to do street photography. I just wanted to shoot, but I was in the middle of a city. No landscapes to be hand, just streetscapes.

I had flown to Amsterdam from Canada and I woke up in the middle of the night, bug-eyed with jet lag. Rather than watch TV for a couple of hours, in a language that seems to involve doing unnatural things with the back of your throat, I decided to go out and see what I could photograph. On the way out the door, camera and tripod in hand, I passed a very surprised hotel night manager.

Happy with the images I made that night, I continued to shoot the streets, even when I didn't travel. While out on the street I have seen many unusual sights, met many wonderful people, and heard many interesting stories. That I even managed to remember to take the occasional photograph along the way is a bonus.

Nowadays, most of my street shooting is done during "normal" hours. But no matter if it is night or day, the process is the same: I go with camera in hand and try to open my mind to my surroundings. If I am lucky, the world pours through my soul and The Voices pick out the interesting bits, which I then try to photograph in a way that lets you see what I see.

You would think that Palaces would be a great place to shoot, what with their attendant crowds of people and colourful guards. But it is hard to avoid the cliche shots at Palaces; The Voices can be annoyingly silent when I am there.

Sometimes, though, what I see is a curious guard who just has to have a look at something over there!

Street Sights 20

Other times, when there are no tourists around to pose for, what I see is a lonely guard with nothing to do but bide his time marching back and forth on his small, empty parade ground.

Street Sights 6

In the grand tradition of street photography, many of my images are shot in black in white. The tradition may come from the fact that the fathers of the style only had B&W film to work with, but I like it because of how it emphasizes geometries, textures, and relationships. Colour sometimes gets in the way of all of this.

So when I see something, I sometimes see things in black and white, such as these flowers growing out of a car*.

Street Sights 200

Sometimes I will see things in colour, such as when I am pondering the question "Why anyone would put orange flowers in a blue car?*"

Street Sights 18

I usually carry a camera around with me. My little Fuji X10 can do a wonderful job. It is small and unobtrusive. As long as it is already on (it is very slow to start up), then I can grab images that I couldn't with a larger camera, which often calls attention to me and can therefore kill an opportunity before it unfolds. A case in point is when I was waiting in a crowded lobby to get in to see a Baroque concert and I saw an oblivious man and a flirty woman.

Street Sights 14

Of course with a smaller camera you can make your own luck, just by having it with you when fortune deals you special moment. One such time was when I was lucky enough to see one of nature's wonders: a double rainbow.

Street Sights

If you have ever walked with me while I have a camera in my hand (and even when I don't), you will know that I am often fully absorbed in my surroundings. I try to be fully aware of my environment, because I never know where I will see my next image. Sometimes I hear The Voices say, "In the words of The Friendly Giant, Look up. Look waaaaay up!"

And sometimes when I look up, I see a bicycle hanging from a lamp post.

Street Sights 2

While out walking, I saw a single house with sixteen numbers on a fence, almost hidden by bushes, trying to tell me where the other 15 houses were hidden.

Street Sights 3

While watching the May 17th parade wrap up, I saw a guy selling balloons who looked quite worried that he was not going to be able to unload all of his stock.


One day I noticed that there were heavy storm clouds rolling in. I love shooting in the rain, so I headed downtown to see what I could see.

I tried to stay dry by walking down a tree-lined street. A street hawker selling tourist brochures was also taking shelter under the same trees. What I saw was how well she had matched her shoe colour to the flowers where she was working.

Street Sights 10

Further along, I saw an overly protective dog owner who thought nothing of wrapping a poor dog up in a rain coat, even though it was quite warm out**. But then, I also saw she was the type of person who doesn't understand the futility of tucking her rain pants into her rain boots. What? You have wet feet? Duh!

Street Sights 12

Speaking of futility, that's also what I thought when I saw this guy watering plants in the rain! Or maybe it was another word I thought of!

Street Sights 13

At the end of the street, I saw how nicely this newsstand was tucked under the trees, giving a natural protection from the weather to both the newspapers and the customers.

Street Sights 11

By then the rain was coming down so hard I had to take refuge in a bandstand. I was joined by a little bird. Together we watched the rain come pouring down.

Street Sights 5

Other posts about Norway are here. Use the "Older Posts" and "Newer Posts" buttons and the bottom to scroll through the list.

Other posts in the "What I See" series are here:
What I See. Part 1 - The Streets of Oslo.
What I See, Part 2 - Snap!
What I See, Part 3 - A Short Walk Through Paris
What I See, Part 4 - The Streets Of Paris Redux

My photographs are for sale as fine art prints and fine art greeting cards on my web gallery.

* This car is a Simca 1000, I believe.
** Dogs don't sweat, they have to pant to keep cool. This little guy might actually have benefited from the rain.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Friends In High Places

Mountain PostcardsAs much as I enjoyed the impressive expanse of The Prairies, I was very much looking forward to being in the mountains again.

When I moved to Calgary with my kids, we spent a lot of time camping in the mountains. My daughter particularly loved being in the mountains, whom she referred to as her "friends". I thought by immersing myself in the extraordinary colours of the mountains, I could wean The Voices of their fixation with prairie skies and hopefully get some Postcards for her.

If you need to feel the mountains envelop you, but you can't go for a hike (I didn't have enough time), then the only solution is to drive the Icefields Parkway. This highway, part of a World Heritage site, runs from Lake Louise to Jasper. It is a drive like no other in the world. The best bit is north of Lake Louise, heading towards the Columbia Icefields. With restrooms and a cafe, the visitor centre at the Athabasca Glacier makes for a good turn-around point.

There are a couple of good spots along the road where you can get a good perspective of just how massive the Canadian Rockies are. I stopped at one, only to find it overrun with tourists from a charter bus.

Mountain Postcards 16

Elbowing the newbies out of the way, I took out my camera and woke up The Voices; after the exhausting work on The Prairies, they had napped during the drive up from Calgary. Slackers.

I wanted to show the size of the mountains and they suggested including the highway in the composition. If you look closely, you can see cars and trucks on the road. Tiny. To the right of the highway is the headwater of the North Saskatchewan River; the meltwater of the nearby Saskatchewan Glacier gives it life and its name.

Mountain Postcards 15

Mount Saskatchewan is on the right, its impressive bulk hiding the Saskatchewan Glacier from our view. If you go back to the shot with the charter bus, you can see it hanging in the "V" notch gap in the mountain that is viewed near the back of the bus.

Mountain Postcards 17

The Canadian Rockies are part of the same mountain chain as the American Rockies, but they do not look the same at all. While the American Rockies are a bit higher, their height comes from their high base and not from their vertical gain; the Canadian Rockies are taller base-to-top. They are also more rugged, largely due to heavier glaciation.

Mountain Postcards 18

Mountain Postcards 7

The entire ecosystem is different, too. It is colder and much wetter in the Canadian Rockies. The extra moisture makes for more lakes and rivers, some of which are very interesting. Take this river, for example. Even as I write this, I can still hear the roar and feel the power of all that water rushing past.

Mountain Postcards 11

Despite the massive volume of water flowing in this river, it seems to totally disappear just a bit further downstream.

Mountain Postcards 14

And it does, in a fashion: it has carved a slot canyon into the rock and the only way to see the river is to look down at it from directly above.

Mountain Postcards 13

When you look at the entrance to the slot canyon, you can see how deep it is. The deepness of the canyon is what allows all that fast-moving water to disappear so quickly.

Mountain Postcards 12

Not all mountain water is rough. Much of it sits in tranquil lakes like this one.

Mountain Postcards 20

Here you can see the effect of a polarizer filter. When you turn 90 degrees to the sun, the saturation of the colours becomes intense when using one. In this case, I used a Singh Ray Gold N Blue polarizer for a touch more emphasis.

Mountain Postcards 19

The green hue of mountain water comes from rock flour. The water is bitterly cold and not much usually grows in it. When you look into a mountain lake you can usually see the bare rocks at the bottom. If you take a close look at the bottom of the above photographs,you will see what I mean.

I did noticed that these plants were making some headway and were starting to encroach on the lake.

Mountain Postcards 21

On my return back down the Parkway, I decided to stop at Lake Louise. There is a little sports store there that brings in very high-end gear for the tourists. Sometimes they overstock and I can score some deals at the end of the season. This time I came up dry.

Empty-handed, I was on the way out the door when I noticed a flyer for the Lake Louise Gondola ride. I had never been up the gondola in the summer, so I decided to check out.

Trying to eke out as much use of their ski lifts as possible, the Lake Louise Ski Resort operates one gondola during the summer to take hikers up Whitehorn Mountain. I had never been here in the summer and was surprised to find it looked very different from what it does in the winter.

Mountain Postcards 10

While the view in the summer is different (the air has a lot more haze than in winter which gives the mountains a bluish hue), it is spectacular in its own right.

Mountain Postcards 22

In this panorama photo, you can see the opposite side of the valley. Many a time I dropped the kids off at the alpine hill and headed over to Lake Louise to do some cross-country. We kept in touch by walkie-talkies and they would let me know when they were ready to pack it in for the day. I was always amazed at how clear the reception was, given how far I had to drive to get them. But as the crow flies, it's only about 1 km.

Lake Louise is on the right of the image above. It is barely visible as a small, blue area in a gap between two mountains. Using some rather heavy glass, I was able to zoom in on it.

Mountain Postcards 8

I enjoyed shooting from this perspective. I was able to photograph the mountain tops by shooting across at them and not up at them.

Mountain Postcards 9

I absorbed as much of the alpine greatness as I possibly could, but time was short and I had a flight out early the next day. So back down I went.

Park wardens had banned hiking down, as there was a bear in the area, so the lift was the only way down. Despite my acrophobia, I shunned the closed gondola and took the open chair. The open chair allows for much better photography because the windows in the gondola are often scratched too much to permit clear shooting. My only concern was about how I was going to shoot if I had my eyes closed.

Mountain Postcards 6

I was in the process of testing both the compression and torsion strength of the safety bar on my chair, when I noticed that there was a commotion in the chair ahead of me.

Mountain Postcards 5

Reluctantly releasing my death grip on the safety bar, I picked up my camera with its big lens to see what it was about. Zooming in, I could see the people in the chair pointing to something.

Mountain Postcards 4

Even the people in the chair ahead of them were going on about something in the woods.

Mountain Postcards 3

Since preparedness is the key to making great photographs, I quickly set my camera to "auto-everything" and waited. Then, through the trees, I saw a grizzly bear!

I raised my camera and fired off a long burst at 8 frames per second in a special and highly technical method called spray and pray. Maybe I didn't pray loud enough, because my autofocus thought I wanted to shoot the trees, which were closer to me.

Mountain Postcards 2

This is a great example of why I normally shoot "manual-everything": I don't like leaving decisions to what some engineer in a lab 10 years ago thought would be a good picture in the field today.

Somewhat disappointed, I headed over to Lake Louise for a final magnificent-alpine-ambiance-soaking-up exercise. While there were no steamships heading off into the sunset, I was able to capture the cliche red canoe for my closing photograph.

Mountain Postcards

I hope that these Postcards bring to my daughter lots of good memories of her friends in high places.

To see more of my blog posts from Western Canada and the U.S., click here. and use the "newer" and "older" links at the bottom to move through the posts.

To see my fine art prints that are for sale on my web gallery, click here.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Water, Water, Every Where...

Prairie Sky 11... nor any drop to drink!*

If you have ever been to Calgary, or anywhere else in central and southern Alberta, you notice it right away: your hair is dry moments after stepping out of the shower; you see humidifiers on the furnaces; you see salt stains on your clothes after a run; and you notice that you are always drinking water.

Yes, central and southern Alberta are very dry regions. Calgary gets only 413 mm of moisture from the sky each year. Drumheller receives 368 mm. Medicine Hat, a paltry 334 mm. This is dry enough for the U.S. Geological Survey to classify these areas as a semi-desert.

So why are there so many clouds over The Prairies?

No matter what meteorologists might tell you, those clouds are there for one purpose only: to satisfy The Voices!

Irrigation from mountain run-off and wells is what allows The Prairies to blossom as farmland. The farmland is in stark contrast to areas that are not irrigated. As are the fat, plump clouds that are often floating overhead. Juicy clouds floating over an infinite expanse of prairie land makes for some very interesting visual eye candy. Mix in a bit of setting sun and not surprisingly, I had to stop while returning from my visit to the Hoodoos.

I find it very interesting that on The Prairies, what you see depends on where you look. For example, looking to the southwest I saw rolling farmland basking in the golden glow of the sun. The clouds were high and sparse, reflecting the first hints of the reds of sunset.

Prairie Sky

When I looked north, I saw the clouds starting to build into sterner stuff. There were no reds here, but lots of blues and purples.

Prairie Sky 10

Doing a 180 degree turn, I looked due south and saw the boundary where the clouds had built up, reflecting an odd combination of blues, purples and reds.

Prairie Sky 9

Due east was a field of wheat. The clouds over it were mostly untouched by the setting sun. Both The Voices and I were silent as we took in the incredible scenery. I managed to take a quick snap. This is, for me, the definition of a prairie sky.

Prairie Sky 11

I crossed the road to try my hand at a close-up black and white (most of my images of praire clouds are black and white), but as much as I like this photo it does not improve upon the previous one. Some things are just meant to be seen in colour.

Prairie Sky 7

There was a track through the wheat and I walked along it for a bit. There is nothing in this world like standing in a wheat field, with only the sound of the wind rustling through the wheat. Nothing.

Prairie Sky 5

With that sound as the score, I watched a Technicolor display of the sun painting an ever changing picture in front of me.

Prairie Sky 4

Prairie Sky 3

3-D Imax be damned! I will take a front-row seat to a natural show like this over a movie every time!

The Voices cursed me for not bringing popcorn.

These images are better seen at a higher resolution, which you can get over on my web gallery, here.

To see more of my blog posts from Western Canada and the U.S., click here and use the "newer" and "older" links at the bottom to move through the posts.

* With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his Rime of the Ancient Mariner.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Who Knew The Hoodoos?

Hoodoos 3Leaving the Royal Tyrrell Museum, I decided to take the "southern route" which would take me past some hoodoos before ascending out of the river valley and back onto the prairie. There is a little pull-out on Highway 10 where you can get out and walk around some hoodoos. It's been a while since I had seen hoodoos, and I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity.

The best area for seeing hoodoos is just south of Drumheller. On the way there, The Voices demanded a "pit stop". For them, this means at least 5 minutes of looking around and taking photos. I couldn't really afford the time, but once they start whining there is just no shutting them up. So I pulled over to make a couple of captures of some hay bales in a farmer's field. As usual, their first effort was sophmoric.

Hoodoo 21

I did like their second effort, though.

Hoodoo 20

As I mentioned above, the heavy erosion by what is now the Red Deer River makes for good fossil finding. But because the erosion occurs at different rates (the rates depend upon the hardness of the rocks), some very interesting formations are made. Look closely at this pic and you will see some people in it; kids of all ages love to run around on these rocks.

Hoodoos 7

A hoodoo is a rock spire caused by erosion. Specifically, they form when a much harder rock sits on top of a softer rock, resulting in a mushroom-like structure. But there is a big but: the erosion has to ease up, else the hoodoo quickly erodes away and there is nothing left to see. That's why we usually find hoodoos in places like the Badlands. These are areas that were once wet (lots of hoodoo-forming erosion!), but are now quite arid (so there is something for us to see!).

Hoodoos 4

Hoodoos 10

These hoodoos are now fenced off to keep people from further damaging them. Accidentally, of course. This would be yet another example of the tragedy of the commons.

Hoodoos 9

The fence restricted my movements to a few viewpoints. As if that wasn't bad enough, there were enough visitors crowding these viewpoints to make it quite hard to get a good composition. At one point I noticed that the shadows we cast were similar to prehistoric cave paintings. While I am feeling old now that I am over 50, this was not quite the look I was going for.

Hoodoo 23

In the end I settled for a silhouette that looks like a steam train: a hoodoo plays the part of the stack and clouds above it play the part of puffs of smoke from the stack.

Hoodoos 3

Speaking of trains, it was time for my train to leave the hoodoos. I jumped in my car and headed up out of the valley and back up on the prairie. I needed to get back to Calgary in good time in order to head up to the mountains.

But The Voices had other ideas...

To see more of my blog posts from Western Canada and the U.S., click here. and use the "newer" and "older" links at the bottom to move through the posts.

To see my fine art prints that are for sale on my web gallery, click here.