When Less Is More

With better and better sensor technology and better software for HDR processing we can capture an incredible dynamic range in our images where we have an incredible details in highlights and in shadows.

Would photographers of the past be amazed with amount of details we can capture? Maybe. But I really miss silhouetted photos that have become such a rarity. They reveal very little leaving a lot of room for imagination.

The photo can be not about what is said but about what is not said, or to be more accurate about what is not shown and not about what is shown. It can be about mystery left in the shadows.

Ask Locals

To Dmitri and Marina: Thanks to you guys for pointing some beautiful places in Banff.

On my trip to Alberta I met my friends Dmitri and Marina who live in Calgary. First, we met in Banff where they were celebrating 25th Anniversary of their marriage. They suggested to me a few places to see in and around Banff.

On of those places was Johnson Canyon. It sounded interesting and I went there. It is a small canyon with a stream running at the bottom. The trail is well-setup and quite active with hikers. There is a guard rail that keeps hikers of falling into canyon. For me it was an obstruction. I did not want to look at the bottom of the canyon from a distance. I’d rather be down in the canyon, close by water, to be participant not observer, to be in the scene and be part of it.

My only photo from the first trip was a photo of frozen lower waterfall:

A few days later I visited my friends at their lovely home. Sure enough we shared some photos. It turned out they went to Johnson Canyon too the next day after me. It looked to me like they were photographing close to water, just like I wanted too. I asked how they got their and they told me that there was one spot where one could climb over guard rail and get down to the bottom of the canyon.

The next day I went to Johnson Canyon again. That time I was closely watching over the guard rail for footprints in the snow and I found the spot my friends had talked about. The walk down was very steep but manageable. At the bottom I found a throve of photo opportunities. There was a small cave covered with icicles, there was clear snow not covered in footprints, , there was a stream in the snow.

Moving Water

There is an old joke that a human being can look indefinitely at three things: fire burning, water running and another human being working. I whole heartedly agree with each of those. Today’s post is about the second one. That’s why every spring I run around looking at waterfalls.

Especially in spring when the snow is melting in the mounting filling waterfalls with water making them more powerful. Most of all I love water running thru a forest making a new path for itself. There is something raw and uncontrollable about this.

I like photographing water because it changes its face constantly. No two image of the same place can be the same. I can take image after image and each of them is different. It keeps changing direction as a long body of an animal.

Playing with shutter speed from powerful streaks during short shutter to silky smooth during long shutter creates even more different images.

Here is a selection of images from last spring.

 

 

Melakwa Lake to Pratt Lake

This is a kind of interesting blog post: a trip report. Something that I have not done before. Another thing that is unique to this blog post is how fast I did post-processing of photos. Typically, it takes me days if not months after an actual trip. This time I’ve done it in a day.

Yesterday with a good company I went on a one way hike starting at Melakwa Lake trailhead and finishing at Pratt  Lake trailhead. It was an interesting and challenging hike, slightly over 14 miles long (not counting the side trips we took). Just walking it would take us 7 hours. 5 more hours we spent photographing and taking side trips. Overall the trip took us 12 hours. We started hiking at around 6am and finished around 6pm.

Not far from trailhead the trail passes under I-90 viaduct with its nice curve:

In 40 minutes we got to the first waterfall without a name. We just passed by since we tried to get to Keekwulee Falls by sunrise. It was another 30 minutes before we got to Keekwulee Falls and we missed sunrise which turned out to be not a big problem since there was no beautiful sunrise and the light was not aligning with the waterfall either.

It was still great that we got there so early. The early morning sun was lighting up granite wall across the waterfall reflecting back soft warm light while waterfall itself stayed in shadow with water reflecting deep blue of the sky. Keekwulee Falls was a great destination for photography: it has so many intricate streams, cascading water, emerald pools, that provide endless opportunities for images.

We spent one and a half hours by Keekwulee Falls. I could easily spend there even more making more images. Once we left this waterfall we went on climbing even steeper higher to a pass. Doing this early morning with air still cool after night definitely made it easier. At some point we passed one more waterfall but it had no close approach. We could barely see it thru trees. Once over the pass we quickly got to the first alpine lake on our hike: Melakwa Lake with Upper Melakwa Lake just a short distance away. At this point the sun was high. The light was flat – the kind of landscape photographers don’t like. I was not discouraged by that since the main goal was exploration. Still I made it a goal to take at least one interesting photo on each lake. So here the go in the order of appearance.

Melakwa Lake:

Lower Tuscohatchie Lake:

Near Pratt Lake:

Pratt Lake:

Pratt Lake was the last alpine lake on our trail. Once we passed it the trail went up steeply to a pass that would get us over the ridge closer back to civilization. Unfortunately I must say I did not find lakes very picturesque. The all elongated north to south with approaches from south or  north end surrounded by tall granite walls on both west and east side. This means that there is no photo opportunity at sunrise or sunset.

Once we got to the top of the ridge I saw this tree covered with bright orange mushrooms. Just had to take a picture of it:

Over the ridge and on the way down to Pratt Lake trailhead the trail was uneventful: monotonically old growth forest. It was an easy walk down but I was not surprise to see tired faces of people walking up. For them it was long, steep and boring hike. There were occasional small streams but they were lacking enough water to become interesting. It has been a very dry week here and it was a sunny side of the ridge. Still there was one interesting waterfall which I’d like to return back to after rain:

Close by

Do I really need to travel far to make photos? Just last weekend I’ve discovered a hike which is only half an hour of driving from my house and yet it has some beautiful waterfalls, creeks and alpine lakes. Well, I have not got to the lakes yet. The two times I went to that hike I got caught up too much with the waterfalls. There are four(!) waterfalls in just the first two miles of the hike.

I still see several image to be made even with closer waterfalls and with the furthest I’ve got to so far I’ve just scratched the surface so to speak. Now I plan to make it all the way just to see everything that it has to offer.

I’m still in awe if the beauty of the place I live in.

A Dream About Water

I’ve wrote about light painting before and I’ll likely write more again as this really fascinates me in photography. For me it is a lot of fun playing with lights, a lot of creativity as I create something that was not there in the first place, and a lot of surprise as most of the time what I get is unexpected.

Here is an image that got me very excited about light painting again. I spent a day photographing fall foliage in Kubota Gardens in Seattle (I’m still working on post-processing those photos). At dusk as it got dark enough for exposures to go up to 30 seconds I started playing with light painting with two waterfalls I found in the gardens.

I found the upper waterfall to be more interesting of the two because it had red leaves caught in the stream and I could get a more dynamic image with foreground and background.

There were two new things I played with this time. First, I brought two different flashlights: one had cool light and the other one had warm light. So, I could do not only light painting but also color painting. The other thing that I played with was focus, shifting focus in the middle of light painting. This created dreamy effect.

For those interested in more technical details here is how I took this image. The camera was on a tripod, aperture wide open (f/4 for the lens that I used), shutter was 30 seconds. It was pretty dark already, my camera was not able to focus just using ambient light. First I would use very powerful warm flashlight. I would point to a rock in the middle of the frame and focused the camera using auto focus. I would turn off auto focus then. Turn off the flashlight, so it does not light up something accidentally, and release shutter. Then quickly with the same powerful warm light I would trace the waterfall and the creek back and forth a few times to ensure that individual spots or streaks of light a now visible. That was taking me about 5 seconds. Then I would turn off flashlight and defocus the lens. The rest of 25 seconds I was using weak cool flashlight to light up sides of the frame while the camera was out of focus. I did this ten times or more, every time getting a different image – I love the element of surprise. This I think is the best out of the series.

A Dream About Water
A Dream About Water

Imagination

This photo is just for fun. If you let your imagination run wild it can help you see interesting shapes around you. Like I saw a shape of a humanoid caught in a frozen waterfall.

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