New Zealand coast has the most! Some of the coolest and varied topography awaits the photographers eye as you trip around and explore. I was lucky enough to see a lot of interesting things throughout the South Island, but then again I drove something like 3,000 km in 1.5 weeks. But I’m addicted to the chase of finding something new or known, and to view it with my eye while lining up all the elements, and then walking away like “holy shit, got it”…there’s no other feeling in the World.
Stoked to watch this live today…coverage begins at 2PM EST for a 3PM EST landing. Watch it live by clicking the link below.
Now this would be cool. My knees however would disagree. Painful! Although I could never do this because my body is too old, I commend Aaron Rice and his amazing ability to achieve what seems impossible.
Found this beautifully tranquil stream in Short Hills Provincial Park by St. Catherine’s. The last color of Autumn gleamed brilliantly off the sugar maple leaves which created yellow reflections in the rushing water. An amazing morning in Southern Ontario!
Feeling the itch to explore more on my relaxing honeymoon (almost too much relaxation for my insatiable adventurous appetite) I chartered a small boat to Drawaqa Island. Kissing the wife goodbye, I jokingly said see you at 7 pm, which was an hour after sunset. At this latitude near the equator, the sun rises and sets fast, resulting in very short twilight, and darkness descends within an hour of the sun going down. Hence the laughter of my funny joke to my wife, which wasn’t so funny in her mind. Did I mention she worries too much?
I was dropped off at the only resort on the island and found my way to the island track trail. I slipped into meditation mode and began sauntering up the trail looking for shots to take while concentrating on my surroundings…it’s the little things that matter, like the birdsong of the Fiji parrot finch.
Arriving at a promontory, a beautiful view unfolded down to the ocean. Adjacent to the cliff was a wild garden of flowers growing around some dead trees…a beautiful sight to behold life and death together as one. Although the view and subsequent compositions were somewhat compelling, I decided to search for something better but would come back if I found nothing else.
Walking further up the trail I became enraptured by the plethora of ferns growing beside the trail. Standing nearly 10 ft high, they stood like giants beside me. It felt like I was walking through a fern tunnel so overgrown with soft petals that when they caressed my skin as I brushed past, it was as if the plant was saying “come through…we allow your passage”, beckoning me forward. The only interruption from fern to fern was the periodic bushels of flowers replete with colorful butterflies fluttering from stamen to stamen sipping their favorite libation. I was walking through the land before time when dinosaurs roamed free and plants stretched their limbs unabated. I knew right then and there I wanted to capture some kind of landscape with ferns in it.
As I approached the end of the trail, I found the shot I was looking for. There was a long unbroken line of ferns stretching from the left to the middle of the frame, and another solitary patch growing on the right side. I loved the leading line the left side ferns made into the image. I placed the camera very close to the patch of fern on the right, enabling a more intimate relationship with the plant. The added bonus of this composition was the big tree on the left (I attempted to identify it but couldn’t discover it’s name) that was illuminated beautifully by the setting sun.
As the light became more oblique, the many ridges began glowing brightly which created dimension and leading lines. The spectrum of light from left to right was very dynamic, requiring 5 to 7 frames to have everything properly exposed in the image.
I also wanted to emphasize the feeling of being on an island by capturing the ocean around the islands on both sides. Channels of water between the islands provide further separation.
After taking many images the sun began moving over the edge of the horizon and I knew it was getting close to 6 pm when the boat was scheduled to pick me up. It was time to wrap up…I took the camera off the tripod, closed my tripod legs, took the filters off, packed up and began running down the trail to make the boat in time.
I made it to shore at 5:55pm for my 6pm boat pickup. As couples gathered to see the waning sunset, I ruminated on the ecstasy of my experience (I always feel that way after a good photo session). After 30 minutes however, I began to worry a little. Did they forget about me? Will I be stuck here for the night? What will I eat? But Pate, the dive shop guy at my resort, said 6pm Fiji time. No worries…they’ll get me. Suddenly someone from the resort on the island asked if I was being picked up. “Yes of course” I said, “they must be running late”. They phoned my resort to inquire. After much confusion and communication deficiencies, my rescue boat finally came, 45 minutes late.
I arrived back home at the comfortable resort and strolled up the beach to the front door. My wife was sitting on the patio in front with a big smile on her face…she was upset by something, that much I could tell. I looked at the time on my phone and realized her disappointment – 7:02…I was 2 minutes late
There are two ways to know when Summer is over and Autumn begins. The first involves a calendar…the second is to go outside and feel the chill settle in around the land. I prefer the second method, to be in touch with nature and feel her ebb and flow, just like the natives before us and other long forgotten and extinct cultures that used seasonal changes as their time table.
Looking at the temperature forecast, the first deep cold since last Winter was arriving early this morning. The arrival of the drastic change in temperature was already causing lots of steam to rise from the water by 11 pm the night before. As I was stargazing, I knew I was going to attempt an early morning fog photograph, and since I had already been thinking of going to “The Hole in the Wall” here in Pointe Au Baril, it seemed the stars were aligning just perfect.
The next morning the alarm turned on and I sprang out of bed eager with anticipation. I put on as many clothes as possible to thwart the near freezing cold outside. I jumped on the boat, hit the starter, turned the ignition, and the engine roared to life, obliterating the morning solitude and probably scaring the crap out of any wildlife within a half kilometer. I eased off the dock and along I went…into the foggy cold.
I drove through massive plumes of fog almost immediately and was grateful I remembered bringing my headlamp. I cut the throttle to be safe, as passing logs or debris were nearly imperceptible to my eyes. At least I didn’t need to worry about other boats…there’s not many crazy people like me driving a boat around in midnight blackness!
I quickly made my way to “Hole in the Wall” but discovered, much to my chagrin, that there was no fog there. Of all places to not have fog when everywhere else I looked was ridiculously socked in with the stuff, and I had zero, zilch, nada. I couldn’t believe it…but I still wanted to check out the narrow passage way so I parked the boat on a beach and hiked the short trail leading to the 50 ft cliff tops. As I walked around looking for compositions and interesting details, I discovered nothing that merited a shutter snap, thus I made a quick decision to leave as the seconds clicked by getting closer to sunrise. I made a hasty retreat back to the boat to search for other photo opps.
I knew of a couple scenes in the area that I previously scouted which might make for nice images with the fog, but upon landing, disembarking, and vetting the area again, I decided that those spots also did not warrant an image. My hopes began to fade…I literally had minutes to make a clutch decision otherwise I wouldn’t have an image to capture on this most glorious foggy morning.
I was out of location options and I needed one NOW! I propelled the boat through narrow waterways and swung the bow around the buoys’, almost in a frantic search for something, anything really. The first time I saw the rock I almost passed by thinking it wasn’t good enough, but luckily I was moving slowly, so I threw the engine in reverse, made a three point turn, and parked the boat on the glaciated landing of stone. Hopping up on top of the rock, I immediately saw potential. I began unloading my gear with a feverish pace because the sun was beginning to touch the tree tops.
My first step is always detaching the lashed tripod from my bag. The tripod I’ve been using for 6 years is the Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber Tripod. It’s an amazing tripod that’s been put through every weather condition conceivable…it’s super lightweight, very rigid, durable, and dependable. But like I said, these legs are 6 years old now, and even though I maintain it pretty well with annual conditioning, they are literally beginning to fall apart. And thus begins the saga…as I was quickly pulling the first tripod leg from collapsed to fully extended, the lower leg shot off from the whole tripod leg, and I wasn’t holding the lower leg as it flew off the tripod and away from my hand, which at this point was like slow motion. I can see the replay in my head, tumbling down the rock to certain disaster. The leg bounced on the rock, rolled a little, and fell off a ledge which resulted in the most unbelievable swan dive a tripod leg could ever take. Apparently it wanted to play hide and seek because it dove right into a small crevice, falling 6 ft between the cracked rock. The slit was slightly larger than 2 inches, so if you know an infant with extremely long arms please contact me so I can retrieve my leg!
All this was unfolding as the sun inexorably rose, creating shafts of orange light that pierced through the translucent foggy haze. I had to ditch the leg for now and improvise. “I know…hand hold”, I told myself…however, after snapping several frames and reviewing the images I knew that wouldn’t work…it was too shaky and blurry. “Damn…what now…I’ve got the perfect comp but the shot requires full extension on the legs…what can I use to support the gimped leg”. I searched frantically, grabbing my backpack and putting it under, but it wasn’t high enough. “I need a rock, or something solid and substantial”. I looked back at the boat…“what about the anchor? But the rope tying it off might be too short. Whatever…let’s try it out”. Holding the anchor in my hand, I slowly saw the slack get tighter as I eased my way up to the shooting site. Without looking back and holding my breathe, I placed it down in the exact position I wanted it to go. I then looked backward and the anchor was a foot away from resembling a tight rope. I rejoiced! Shot saved. This time I carefully extended the other legs and used the cinder block to rest the legs and camera. I began taking photo stacked images.
As the images clicked by, the color of the fog grew more intense, as did the green and orange of the trees and rocks in the scene. Not a single person was awake…no human presence anywhere…the only noise and sights were from the animals of the forest, like the many pileated woodpeckers calling while flying and perched, their voices piercing the silence, along with the loud drumming noises their beak makes when pounding trees. A most serene morning punctuated by the seasonal changes that are slowly but surely coming.
The life a photographer isn’t always filled with glorious forays into the landscapes of the World. Most of my time is spent in “the lab” creating these images using creative techniques to enhance the true feeling of the scene. Many of the truly wild places around Toronto are at least 1.5 hours away, thus my reluctance to hop in the car and drive off during the weekdays…including traffic, which Toronto is notorious for, I’ll be extremely frustrated sitting in the car for hours – not exactly the zen moments in life I look forward to.
Instead, I focus my efforts during the weekdays by firing up the computer and developing a new piece of artwork. I use Lightroom and Photoshop exclusively – they are the best programs for post-processing on the market. After many years of use, I’ve developed very advanced techniques of how to convey feeling into the image. There is almost nothing I cannot achieve using these programs…the only limit is my imagination!
Attached is a photo of what that post-processing looks like. Layer after layer are created, with masks concealing and revealing specific areas of interest. Explaining every process is something I will do in the future – I will likely create a processing video! But for now, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me
I have been thinking more and more that I shall always be a lone wanderer of the wilderness. God, how the trail lures me. You cannot comprehend its resistless fascination for me. After all, the lone trail is best. I hope I’ll be able to buy good horses and a better saddle. I’ll never stop wandering. And when the time comes to die, I’ll find the wildest, loneliest, most desolate spot there is.
Interesting how my last post was about being creative without distraction, and I feel Everett Ruess would agree with what I wrote. Although Ruess would eventually complain about being alone in the wilderness without a faithful companion, he wrote frequently of the loner lifestyle and the solo trail.
Unlike Ruess, I’ve never been truly alone for more than several days. I’ve tramped around the Adirondack Mountains by myself, however other hikers and park personnel were a daily occurrence. Ruess was sometimes alone for months at a time, with zero human contact.
For myself I feel that the lone road is wonderful but in small doses. I cherish alone time, but after several days I begin to miss my wife. If I grew more accustomed to having more free time i.e. vacation time, and using that time alone in the wilds maybe my perspective would change. But for the moment I enjoy coming back home to recharge the batteries, which is usually 1 day of being home. Too bad the week days are so long!
Whenever I go out and explore new areas, sometimes the scenery is stunning and other times there is nothing to photograph. Obviously I always hope that a new area piques my creativity and I end up capturing a scene that is breathtaking, but when all the planning comes to fruition, more often than not the scene does not warrant pressing the shutter. It can be irksome spending all that time developing plans to discover new places and then getting there and realizing it isn’t that special. But hey, it’s part of the job! Sometimes it could simply be a creativity block that inhibits your mind’s eye from seeing a fabulous image.
I couldn’t find a single image this weekend while camping at the Queen Elizabeth Wildlands II wilderness area. My camping partner Roberto and I hiked all over the Northern part of the park. We walked past rivers and rapids, rock cliffs and lakes, bogs and many beaver dams, but nothing seemed to spark an interest in taking an image. The weather conditions were great too, with slow moving banks of fog surrounding several lakes and rivers. But I couldn’t see anything wonderful.
After the trip ended Sunday afternoon, I began questioning why I couldn’t find any images even though the conditions were pretty good. Although the quintessential big landscape images did not exist from what I saw, sometimes something else is a hindrance too. And there was no denying the other reason why I walked away with no images – I was distracted! Even though my buddy and I have been on many trips before, I couldn’t meditate and focus on my surroundings. I was constantly being distracted by discussion. Not that I don’t enjoy talking, but there’s a time and a place for loquaciousness. My creativity was sapped, and I knew I couldn’t get my mind back in the game without going down the trail solo, which I wasn’t about to do! No man left behind!
It was an interesting revelation. I’ve never been able to pinpoint this dynamic before. I still want to continue our adventures together, but maybe some quiet time or free time to reflect on my surroundings is important. Most of my favorite pieces I’ve created have occurred when I was alone and one with nature. I believe concentrating on the now helps create better images and is something I learned about myself and my process of capturing fabulous photos.
Getting away for the weekend is a must. Without being in the wilderness at least once per week, I begin to feel the grind of civilization encroaching my sanity. I begin thinking of the next weekend adventure immediately after the previous trip concludes – I’m a habitual head in the clouds, head for adventure person – and usually begin planning trip details the Monday I’m back at work.
I’ve been scoping out the Queen Elizabeth Wildlands II wilderness area in Ontario several years ago and made a trip there twice with my wife. We hiked around a bit and explored some unbeaten trails, but after leaving the area, my unsatiable thirst for adventure kept calling me back to this place.
So finally, I will be spending more than 1 day there and will be camping this weekend with my cousin and good friend Roberto. The weather doesn’t look too promising but we’ll make the most of it. I hope to get some photos of leaves that are still clutching the branch, and I’m excited for the unexpected opportunities the Wildlands will bring!