A tease of Aurora Borealis and then it’s gone…

•September 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Prairie Church and Aurora

Last night was interesting to say the least. It was predicted that there would be a great display of the aurora borealis (northern lights) on Thursday night, September 17. With clear skies I anxiously awaited the moment to hop in the Rav and head for the hills.

Time ticked. Hours passed. Nothing. Off to bed I went. The next day on the spaceweather website an article mentioned about how the aurora had missed earth. The predictions were incorrect.

With nothing forecast for a few days I had no plans of doing any aurora forecast but last night around nine-thirty p.m. local time I checked the Ovation Aurora website and saw a huge swath of green covering the eastern part of North America. Wow! This looked promising but the weather forecast was for cloudy skies overnight with a chance of rain. Pfffft.

Out of curiosity I opened the back door and walked onto our deck. Looking up between the tall maples in the yard I could see stars twinkling. Should I go? I could see a few faint clouds low on the western horizon.

I quickly set the camera up. I have a small scratch on the lens barrels of the lenses that I use for night photography. The scratch marks infinity. It’s difficult to focus at night. This is a time saver. The camera exposure was set to manual. From previous shoots I found that ISO 1000, F2.0 at 8 seconds is a good starting point. If the display on the back of the camera is too light or dark it is easily adjusted by changing the aperture or increasing/decreasing the exposure. I use ISO 1000 because with my camera body I find that it is easy to reduce and eliminate almost all image noise.

Cemetery and Aurora

I grabbed my little headlamp and phone and headed off.

We have had unseasonably warm September weather reaching the low 20’s Celsius during the day. It was also warm during the evening.

Half an hour later and I was pulling off the highway to the little churches and cemetery by the side of the road. A hundred meters in front of me was the second church. I thought that I saw the reflection of tail lights as I pulled up and sure enough as I got out I could hear voices in the distance. Probably photographers doing the same as I. A minute later they were in their vehicle and driving away leaving me the church and cemetery to myself.

Already clouds were starting to fill the sky. Should I stay and hope the skies cleared? I decided to shoot what I could. The aurora seemed to be more obscured by the clouds than making themselves visible but that’s nature photography. You take what you can get.

Half an hour later the skies were completely overcast and I was on my way home.

Another day on the prairie,

Happy shooting,


This, that and the other thing…

•September 13, 2014 • 12 Comments


You might ask what a picture of a yet to be released lens is doing at the top of this blog because I seldom write about camera equipment.

Samyang is among other things a company based out of South Korea. Since 1972 they’ve been manufacturing all manner of optics. It has only been in the last ten years that they have begun to specialize in camera lenses, specifically designing and manufacturing their own.

I remember ages ago when I first heard about Datsun, now Nissan, Toyota and Honda. Their cars weren’t the best. My youngest sister had all kinds of problems with her then new Honda. Fast forward 40 years and these once fringe auto manufacturers are now mainstream and considered to be the “establishment”. Now it is THEY who are expensive and fraught with problems just like North American vehicles used to be. In step a few companies like Kia from South Korea and what they are doing seems similar to what happened many years ago with the Japanese autos. Built as good and more affordable they are stealing business from the Japanese, North American and European vehicle makers.

That is exactly what is happening to camera lenses. I’ve used Canon equipment exclusively for over thirty years. I have no particular allegiance to them. Their gear was as good as Nikon and at work we got a great professional discount from Canon. A few years ago I bought my first Nikon lens, a 14-24 and with an adapter used it on my Canon camera body. I bought the lens because there was nothing comparable to it made by Canon. It was a bit of a hassle to not have autofocus or to have to manually stop the lens down but the lens was so much better than my Canon 16-35 that it was worth the extra effort. I am not a camera equipment fanboy. I use what I find is the best compromise between quality and price.

A short while back my interest in astrophotography was piqued. When shooting the night skies it is best to have wide lenses with fast maximum apertures. When photographing points of light like stars lens quality is quickly noticeable. Round stars become elongated or fuzzy. The solution? Buy a fast Canon or Nikon lens that is well corrected for around $2000. The problem is that Canon or Nikon for that money can’t seem to make well corrected lenses for that or any amount of money.

In steps Samyang also marketed as Rokinon or Bower. Doing what the Japanese automakers did in the seventies they are producing lenses that are equal in optic to the mainstream biggies, Nikon and Canon at about a THIRD to a QUARTER of the cost!

I now have three of these lenses. They don’t have autofocus, that would bump up the price but autofocus isn’t needed when shooting at night. The quality although not perfect is equal to or in some cases better than those made by Nikon or Canon. Go figure, a two thousand dollar Canon lens that is NOT as good optically as a South Korean lens for four hundred dollars.

Samyang has just teased this lens and already I know that I will be buying it before I even know the price. Why? Because based on past experience it will be cheaper and as good or better as Canon or Nikon’s lenses. There is always something better like the recently released Zeiss 85mm f1.4 but FOUR FREAKING THOUSAND DOLLARS for a lens that doesn’t even have autofocus? Crazy. Just like high end stereo equipment there will always be someone who will buy it and good on them.

I blogged a while ago about how slow Canon and Nikon have been to adapt the new economics of photography. Their businesses are suffering. Everyone seems to take pics with their phones these days, same with video so like newspapers who buys the larger, clunkier and more expensive gear? Less and less of us. Canon seems to be more into video these days and the lens that I was always waiting for a version of Nikon’s legendary 14-24 has still not been even teased this many years later. You’ve got to adapt and give the customer what they want or they will move on just like I did. I am waiting for the day that Samyang starts producing their own camera bodies. :)


What was probably the most impressive display of northern lights in the past few years was obscured by clouds last night. Again! It seems that almost every time a great night is forecast for the aurora, clouds seem to make their appearance. That’s what makes shooting them so appealing. If it was too easy, it wouldn’t be as desirable.


The foothills and mountains of Alberta are forecast to be warm and sunny next week and I am finally taking off to the mountains. My next post will probably be with pics from then. I am finally getting interested in getting out for some old fashioned Alberta landscapes.

Till then,

Happy shooting,


Finally a golden autumn in Alberta

•September 8, 2014 • 3 Comments

Alberta highway camera

You wouldn’t ever know it by looking at the photo taken by the Alberta Government’s highway camera this morning but we will be having a splendidly colorful autumn here in Alberta.

The last few years have been disappointing when it came to fall. We have had such warm Septembers without cool and frosty temperatures that whatever the triggering mechanism that stop trees from producing chlorophyll never really got it’s start. Instead, foliage seemed to dry up, turn brown and fall off.

That won’t be the case this year. The next few evenings have forecasts below freezing for most of our province. All of the fallen snow will have melted except for that high up on the mountain tops. In all my sixty years living in Alberta I don’t remember seeing so much snow this early not at least by a week in the mountains.

With temperatures forecast in the low twenty degrees Celsius for the weekend and sunny skies it is only a matter of days before the poplars and aspens go golden.

Enjoy autumn because it is officially here!

Happy shooting,


It’s in the air… you can feel it

•August 26, 2014 • 8 Comments


You can feel and see the changes. Subtle changes. It’s getting dark earlier. The sun isn’t up before me anymore. There is a chill in the morning air.

The crows that were raising the young of the year and making an ungodly racket when feeding have moved on now that their babies are mobile. Flecks of gold and red dot the cotoneaster hedge that lines our back yard. All of these things are signs of summer coming to an end.

Autumn is almost upon us. In rural Alberta canola crops are being harvested their yellow blossoms long gone. Fields of wheat have turned golden. For farmers autumn is here. For the rest of us it is only a few short weeks away.

I don’t have much to say so this will probably be the shortest post I have made since I started blogging a few years back.

I’m starting to develop a love/hate relationship with the internet and photography. All of the horn blowing and “look at me”, “if you like my pictures, click like my Facebook page”, is turning me off from posting. I intend to keep a lower profile. Photography has become an introspective thing for me. I don’t seek to become famous or rich because of it. In fact I shun publicity and the attention that comes with it. What does that say about me? Maybe I’m weird or strange? Maybe, but I’ve never been happier or more at peace with who I am.

Happy shooting,



Leader or follower? Which one are you?

•August 5, 2014 • 4 Comments

The road less traveled

I am a fiercely competitive person. Not in everything just things that are important to me.

Being competitive means different things to different people. With the arts it’s hard to quantify success. In business it means the most profit. In sports, the quickest, the strongest, etc.

In the arts what does it mean to be successful. To some it’s recognition. Having the most followers on Facebook or Twitter is a gauge for some. For others including me that is the farthest thing from my mind.

Getting thousands of followers is not something that usually happens by accident. It’s work to get recognized by the public at large. Maybe I’m too lazy? Maybe I just could care less about being popular?

Perhaps we’re born one way or the other because I have always chosen the path less traveled. My music was never mainstream. My clothing was for a while let’s just call it different. LOL

I have always wanted to do my best. That is what makes me competitive. Seeing others photos has always been a great motivation. For all the photos that have had me do a double or triple take I can’t think of one that I made a conscious effort to emulate. There are a few landscape shooters whose body of work I admire but the last thing I will ever do is outright try to photograph the same thing the same way they do. A very creative fellow that I worked with many years ago was blessed with the gift of creativity. In the space of a few minutes he could come up with a half dozen great concepts. That’s the hard part. Executing any kind of photo when it comes down to it is mechanical. There is a formula that if understood and followed makes it easy to get “great looking” images.

Making your “great looking” images different from everyone else is the difficult part. Every once in a while when shooting outdoors I get struck with one of those eureka moments. It’s like wow, why have I never done/thought of this before?

The leaders are usually the ones who aren’t afraid to be different and try to NOT be like everyone else. The risk, it’s not really a risk is that you won’t become popular. To that I say, big deal.

The road less traveled has always been the one that has welcomed me.

Happy shooting,


Seeing what others fail to appreciate…

•July 30, 2014 • 10 Comments

Pasture Fantasy

I have written before that wherever I lived would be where I would be taking pictures. When I was just out of my teens and serious about photography I had considered applying to the Banff School of Fine Arts to take their photography course. Had I done that I probably wouldn’t be living in Edmonton and would definitely NOT be photographing the prairies.

Banff National Park like it’s northern sister Jasper National Park is one of the most beautiful and photogenic places on earth. Had I spent my two years in Banff I no doubt would have found a way to live there and make a career. I also would probably NOT be the photographer that I am today. You’ve heard the old saying that it takes steel to sharpen steel? I think that applies to photography and life in general.

A long time ago I used to shoot fashion. I worked with all kinds of talent. From those who got their first editorial photo assignment ever to those who came back home for a few weeks to say hi to family and fly off again to Europe or Asia.

I learned to photograph people by working with those also starting out in the business. There was a lot of trial and error. Lots more of teaching or coaxing models into poses to get over their nervousness or awkwardness. It was challenging and the results weren’t always the greatest but I tried to learn from my mistakes and move forward. Then one day my editor told me about the shoot for the day and the very well traveled model that was returning from overseas. She’s only be in town for a few days and we had a chance to work with her while she was still in town.

Her name was Sara or Sarah and when we arrived together at the old mansion with the stylist I was not sure what to expect. Camera in hand and model styled and dressed I quickly mentioned the idea I had for the mood of the shoot. Camera to eye and the magic happened.

Sara was chameleon like. Instantly her body, her face and her eyes fluidly moved from one pose to the next. I went through roll after roll of film amazed that fashion photography could be so easy. Getting back to the lab and going through the proofs my eyes did not deceive me. Everything looked fantastic. Wow! Was I ever a great photographer!

Nope. I was the same photographer that was working with great talent.

It’s like that when photographing the national parks here in Canada or the US. It’s easy to get addicted to the magnificent vistas but those vistas don’t need much in the way of help and we get fooled into thinking that we’re farther along in our photographic learning than we really are. We are only fooling ourselves when all that we capture are the stunning landscapes that we see regularly on photo websites.

Maybe I’m too lazy to make the four hour drive to take pictures every time I get the urge? I’ve become enamored with photographing close to home and then being home to edit my pictures before most of us are getting out of bed.

There is a special beauty where you live. It doesn’t matter where it is on earth but you do have the ability to capture those magic moments that few ever see or appreciate. Don’t make that mistake. There are too many good photos only minutes from you.

Happy shooting,


Steal photos online and you just might get caught

•July 29, 2014 • 1 Comment

Barley and grain bins

I’ve been out a few times since I last posted on here. That’s quite a change in pace from having not taken any photos for over half a year. I just might be getting back into the swing of things. The skies seem more interesting the weather more promising.

You probably know that weather is the icing on the cake when it comes to landscapes. Landscapes might be the wrong term for the kind of photos that I take, weatherscapes might be more accurate. When you live in a part of Alberta that isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking scenery, it is the weather and not the features of the landscape that are prominent.

A few days ago we had almost a month’s worth of rain in a couple of days. Now we’re experiencing hot and cloudless days. With clear skies at night and very little wind all of that humidity starts to appear in the atmosphere. That means fog. This morning it was more hazy than foggy and that isn’t a bad thing. The foggy/haze actually diffuses the light making things look more painterly than usual.

I got up at 4:30 a.m. again to make sure I was in a fair place for photos when the sun rose at 5:45 a.m.  Fifteen minutes before sunrise things weren’t looking good and I started driving in the direction of home a half an hour away. Just as I was about to get onto the highway the sun broke above the horizon and a barley to my left caught my eye. Near the side of the road next to the field were a couple of metal grain bins. In a few seconds I was hopping out of the Rav and framing my shot. The next fifteen or so minutes provided a few other photo opportunities before the sun got too high in the sky and I was soon at home drinking the rest of the coffee that I had brewed a few hours earlier. Another day on the Alberta prairie!

Theft of photos, music, movies and anything digital is common on the internet. Some people download intellectual property for personal use. Others steal for financial gain.

Over the years I’ve had people write to me online to tell me where they saw some of my photos. Some of them were used with permission and some others not. It isn’t only private individuals that recognize stolen or possibly stolen photos on the net. There are companies like Picscout that scan the internet and match photos against a database of rights managed images. When the computer gets a possible match the image is flagged for a human being to follow up and sometimes the perpetrator of the theft gets a nice legal notice not only demanding that the photo get taken down but a hefty bill and the threat of legal action if the bill for illegal infringement isn’t paid.

This morning when checking my royalty statements I noticed a nice bonus, not from a sale but from, you guessed it, a thief that stole one of my photos. I no longer get upset when I find a stolen photo because I know that there is probably another nice royalty payment on the way. The amount that the offender has to pay to the agency is always much much more than if they had gotten the image legally. So I guess you could say crime does pay, for the victim sometimes. :)

Happy shooting,



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