Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Newfoundland Journey 2018 — Phase 7

I'm on a two-month journey in Newfoundland. My goal here is to post some highlights, both in words and pictures, and to try to include some tips if you're planning to make the trek to the Rock.
 You can click on any picture in the blog to blow it up. Most of the pictures are available as large format prints at very reasonable cost. Contact me.



Bonavista is a great little town


As I mentioned last week, virtually everything in Trinity is dedicated to the tourist trade. While the centre of Bonavista is also comprised of 'heritage' homes and sites, there's actually a townful of people who work for a living in other fields. While the Bonavistonians share the same outgoing friendliness of the rest of Newfoundland, you have a sense that they have lives in the present, not just rooted in the past. It's bigger of course, and it actually has gas stations and grocery stores.


That said, when I arrived on Sunday, I was disappointed to learn that the grocery store was closed. Stores are open on Sundays everywhere, right? Aha. Turns out it was "Bonavista Days", a local holiday. No sweat, restaurants are open! And BONUS: fireworks scheduled for tonight.


We had rented a "saltbox house" in downtown Bonavista for the week: Trudy and Jeff joined me for 4 days before heading to Twillingate (we were going in opposite directions, ships passing in the night!).




Here's the house we rented, "Dorman's Manor". Only a couple of hundred yards from the harbour. It's a "Saltbox House", architecture that dates back to the 18th century. The house was very well decorated and kept. Strange layout, with a pullman car kitchen along the left side and characteristic low ceilings (apparently people were shorter in those days!).



Fireworks that night. Quite an impressive show. 



Something a little different from me: almost a street photo. It's about what you think is happening in the picture. I watched this girl tottering along the unsure footing of rhe stallykins that made up this flake (If you don't know those words, you didn't read my last blog post. Scroll down for it). 

Regrettably, I didn't shoot a lot of pictures of Bonavista itself, there were too many other things happening. Bonavista is about landscapes, lighthouses, whales and puffins.





We of course visited the Bonavista Lighthouse and the Dungeon Provincial Park. Everyone posts pictures of these sites, so I won't. Except this one:




Shot from the dungeons. That's the lighthouse in the distance. 



There was a herd of beautiful horses on the Community Pasture at the Dungeons. I couldn't get this mare to run towards me, mane and tail streaming in the wind. I leave it to your imagination.

The stallion that led this herd was less friendly. He actually bit Trudy to convince her to stay away from his brood. She was black and blue (and other spectacular colours!) from shoulder to elbow for a long time! 




I have hundreds of Puffin shots. These little airborne clowns are addictive to shoot. And if you're there at the right time... which, it turns out, is just before sunset. Probably also in the morning but I didn't get there that early. There are several places to watch them but the best one is the Puffin Viewing area at Elliston.




Puffins don't fly very well. Their wings are apparently designed for swimming not flying. They have to work like crazy to stay aloft and their takeoffs and landings are amazingly clumsy. 



My first visit there (this year) was during the day and the birds stayed on their nesting island, so these were long distance shots, with the 400mm and cropped. Tough to shoot them in flight!


Those aren't dust spots: they're other birds in flight in the background.



Not the only birds there: these were juvenile seagulls.

I came back there twice, both late in the day. The first time, I used a stuffed puffin toy I had bought to entice them — turns out I didn't need it, they were going to come over to our side of the water anyway.




Seriously, they did fly over to check the toy out.



You could shoot them from 10 or 20 feet away. 

BUT. Trudy and Jeff went over the next night and got shots of the puffins actually doing things, not just standing there and posing for pictures. I couldn't let that pass, so I went over the next night and got these shots. They're full high-resolution images and will make dandy prints (especially for a kid's room... hint!)












I also went out in search of whales. I really wanted to see a breach — when the whale comes head first out of the water. Didn't happen. It was an enjoyable morning on the water, though and we did get close to some whales. There's a new regulation that prevents boats from approaching whales too closely and harassing them. By the way, that's put those outfits like the one in Petty Harbour that fits people out with wetsuits and snorkels and lets them swim with the whales, out of business.








shot from the Bonavista Whale and Puffin Tours boat. 





I've been on the go for a month. 


When you have other people with you, you're somehow driven to keep doing things, just hanging out and doing nothing isn't an option. I did have some 'alone' time but in Trinity there was lots to do and see... In Bonavista I got tired out and did little the last day or two.


While Trudy and Jeff were there, for instance, we went to the Bonavista Social Club for lunch (highly recommended!), we drove out to Spillar's Cove and went on a short hike. It was supposed to be a short hike, Trudy said there was a spot where you could get even closer to Puffins. They went ahead: I'm a little slower and was being careful, using my cane. I lost them and gave up after an hour of walking. I'm glad I went, though. While they were there, I averaged over 8000 steps/day. When they left, half that!





A short hike indeed! 



However some OUTSTANDING scenery.




An amazing view. This is a composited panorama because I only had the 70-200mm lens with me. 






August 4th I travelled to Torbay, to this amazing house overlooking the ocean. I'm spending 3 weeks here, the last one with Amin when he comes back. I have lots of goals of things to see, places to go. 

It was a travel day but I made a point to stop in a couple of places along the way. One of them was Chance Cove: I had heard on the radio that the capelin were rolling on their beach. True, but not in huge numbers and there were no locals scooping them up.  




Capelin are dark green on top, so masses of them in the water appear black. But on the beach, you see their shiny silver sides. 


To paraphrase Michelangelo, "I saw the colours in the rocks and strove to let them out".


The other place I visited enroute was Cavendish, where there are some iconic huts, painted in primary colours. You really need to go there in the morning when the sun is on the pond side of the huts. 



To make the shot more interesting, I did some warping in Photoshop!

Just South of Cavendish is a town called Whiteway, home to a beautiful rock formation just outside the bay.




When I processed this image, I tried to remove the apparent 'noise' above the rocks. It was only then that I zoomed in and discovered it wasn't noise, it was thousands and thousands of seabirds in flight above the rocks. No idea what kind of birds or why they were there! I made this image the new header for the blog today.

Next week: Torbay. Wait for it!



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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Newfoundland Journey 2018 — Phase 6

I'm on a two-month journey in Newfoundland. My goal here is to post some highlights, both in words and pictures, and to try to include some tips if you're planning to make the trek to the Rock.
 You can click on any picture in the blog to blow it up. Most of the pictures are available as large format prints at very reasonable cost. Contact me.


"Stallykins" 


I had to write that word down so I wouldn't forget it. I'm guessing that most Newfoundlanders won't know what it means either, but I came across it and wanted to remember it.


In some areas, trees don't grow to full size in these harsh climates. So you couldn't cut full-sized firewood logs, everything was around the size of a broom handle. In the old days, people cut mountains of these 'stallykins' and used them to heat their houses. Being so small, apparently they "burned like candles".


They were also used to construct fences and support structures for 'stages' — fishing huts and docks and fish drying platforms called 'flakes'. Often the walkway to your stage was comprised of stallykins, not planed 1x6 or 2x4 boards.





A fence built of Stallykins.  

I'll bet you didn't know that!






Stranger than fiction...

In my last post, I commented on Carl Sharpe's book, and how everyone you meet in Twillingate has a surname that was mentioned in the book. I posted an excerpt chosen at random about a man named Gus Rideout. One day I stopped for some pictures on Robin's Cove road and had a chat with a fellow who told me his name was Mr. Rideout!  
He was a sturdy older man, wearing a tattered button-down plaid shirt, a pair of khaki slacks held up by a wide black belt around his ample middle and scuffed leather ankle-high shoes. His face was weathered and clean-shaven and he had a goodly supply of grey hair cut to brush-cut length, with hints of what used to be blond in it. He walked with some difficulty and at a slow pace. He seemed to think slowly too... taking his time before responding and he seemed to muse aloud: after completing a thought he went on a bit as if he was dredging up a mind picture from long ago and needed to verbalize it, sometimes talking over my comment or question as if he hadn't heard it or was lost in the past.
I asked him what it was like living here in winter, he got a faraway look in his eyes as if he were reliving hard times long ago and said it was tough "but you get used to it". He used the same words I heard from a resident in Bonavista last year, "you have to love the wind". His house, by the way, was on a spit of land with ocean on both sides, It was hot today and he was happy about the cool breeze off the water. 
Mr. Rideout couldn't remember Gus (who died in the 50's) but thinks it was his uncle. We had a 10 minute conversation during which I learned that this fellow (I never got his first name) had lived here his whole life, as did his father and grandfather and great-grandfather, he pointed to his house, the house where he grew up and the one his grandfather or great-grandfather had built. He showed me the old 'store' (as in 'storage', not a place where stuff is sold) which he now owns outright since the recent death of his brother. He said they subsisted on the vegetables they grew themselves (potatoes, carrots, cabbages) kept over winters in the root cellar, and on fish (cod) and seal meat. 
We talked about how hard life used to be back before they had electricity, indoor plumbing and all the amenities we're used to. I told him the story that Carl Sharpe had written about, walking 30 miles across the ice... and he pointed to Tizzard's Harbour, a town some 5 km away across the water and told me he regularly used to walk across the open sea pack ice in winter. He said he'd been a fisherman for 35 years, before that, working in the forests cutting wood into 4' lengths with a bucksaw just like Carl Sharpe (these were real trees, not stallykins). He said his brother once cut 7 cords (that's bush cords) in one day. By hand.  Sharpe said two or three was a very productive day for a man and a bucksaw, so perhaps Mr. Rideout was exaggerating for effect or because time had warped his memories.
He talked about being a seal hunter before that, going out in his 16' 'speedboat' that he built himself, and one day took 27 round seals one after the other and bringing them back in his boat. He bemoaned the death of the seal hunt and blamed the decline of fish stocks on the burgeoning seal population, now up over 10 million animals, all eating fish by the ton. Of course he knew John Gillett, the famous sealer; everybody knows everybody. He said he also owned a longliner which he had sold recently.
We shook hands, I got back in the car and he limped on down the road saying he had to walk every day so he could live to 92 like his brother had. I don't think he had far to go to get there.

It's not like me to have these conversations. To my regret. I need to do it more often.




This is what I had stopped to shoot when I met Mr. Rideout. 



Then I heard a shorebird behind me and it turned out to be this spotted sandpiper. 


Last image in the Twillingate area. I shot this from Wild Cove beach — the white sailboat caught my eye and the two seagulls on the rock added a dynamic element.  This is processed in Topaz Studio, calling up Impression. I had created a custom preset based on a combination of the palette knife and oil and the sketching presets that I very much like for some landscape and seascape images. 



Shooting in the Blue Hour
a quick tutorial

I've become enamoured with blue hour shoots, especially of small towns nestled in the hills, on water where the reflections of the lights add interesting patterns. The master of this technique is of course Ray Mackey with whom I spent some time last summer and with whom I hope to get together again when I get to the St. John's area. I think Ray is out iceberg chasing, but pickings are rather slim this year.

The blue hour happens after the sunset and the sky begins to darken (or before the dawn). City lights come on as do the lights in people's homes. The wind usually calms, leading to soft reflections in the water. But there are some tricks to shooting it, which I thought I'd share. I learned some of these things from Ray, some are my own.



I had driven out to the Fort Point Lighthouse earlier in the day and noticed this spot where the town wasn't too far away and presented a good aspect ratio. It was a "Subaru" quality gravel road, narrow in spots with no shoulders and a couple of first-gear washboardy steep sections. I came back just before dark and carefully turned the car around so I wouldn't have to do it later. Some time after I got set up, the 4 or 5 vehicles belonging to the Fort Point Heritage Site staff passed by on their way home. Their careful slow speed reminded me to be cautious when I drove out later.

Composition is important, just like any other landscape shot. In this example, I searched for a vantage point where I could frame the town with some trees. Also, some verticality in the subject helps; a narrow strip of lights is less compelling. For me, a sense of warmth makes the image. So I usually change the white balance to a high Kelvin number (in this one I used 8330°K, one or two steps less than the maximum on my D800). It doesn't really matter when you're shooting RAW, you can always change it in post-, but you get a better sense of things on the back of the camera.


By the way, the blue hour is also when the "critters" come out. Moose, perhaps, and fox... but no: I'm talking about the "nippers". Newfoundese for 'mosquitoes'. Make sure you're protected or you're not going to be a happy camper!

I shoot in MANUAL so I can choose all of the exposure parameters. I select a small aperture. Ray's magic number is "13" and that works for me too: f/13. When you're shooting closer to the subject and the lights are bigger, you get a star effect on brighter lights with smaller apertures. You want low noise, so I set the ISO to 100 (remembering to turn off the AUTO-ISO setting). It's important to make sure everything is in focus which I do manually (it's not hard to focus on lights). It goes without saying that you need to use a sturdy tripod and release the shutter carefully to prevent camera shake. There's more than one way to do that — I prefer one of two methods, either a cable (or wireless) release or to set the self-timer in the camera so that there's a 2 second delay from shutter activation to the actual photo. Other things to think about: make sure your horizon is level and cover the viewfinder window to prevent stray light from polluting your image from behind.

Now when you're standing there, trying different shutter speeds and settings, looking at the back of the camera, you'll be frustrated. "This isn't working for me, this really looks ordinary". PATIENCE. You keep shooting, as it gets darker you lengthen the exposure time, reviewing images as you shoot, and then suddenly — for no apparent reason — magic happens. Somehow the artificial lights and the natural light balances just so and you have your blue hour shot.

For me, and I think for Ray as well, the magic formula is


f/13
13 seconds
ISO 100

You can extend your shoot with longer exposure times as it gets darker, but the magic seems to happen at that point. 

When I post-process the images, I retain the warmth, and I usually slide the highlights and whites down, the blacks up a bit and increase the clarity and saturation or vibrance a touch. The DeHaze slider in Lightroom is a help too. With the clarity up, you can retain some structure in the sky and you can reduce the exposure value so the bright lights are not so overwhelming.

Here are a few more blue hour shots from last year, the ones in St. John's were together with Ray. The best way to look at these is on a dark background: click on an image and you'll see it full-screen.









Happy Blue Hour shooting!



Catching Up

I realized that I've fallen a bit behind in my blogging: amazing how time goes by even when you don't have a daily agenda! I'm trying to think of an excuse for procrastinating, I'll get back to you on that.

In addition to photography, I planned to paint, draw and write on this trip. Yeah, well... so far one painting, one sketch, and not a Hell of a lot of writing unless you count the blog. À propos of that, I ran into an interesting gentleman in New Bonaventure and thought it interesting. 

His name is Peter Turner and he's a 77-year old retired lawyer from Sutton, Quebec. After a bit of discussion, we do know a few of the same people. He's been summering in Newfoundland for 12 years and he's a writer. He told me that he's had an anthology of short stories published, and that he's working on a novel... which, coincidentally, he expected to finish that very day. He told me that as he nears the end of the project, he's beginning to feel a sense of emptiness, like when a child 'leaves the nest'. 

I told him that I can't seem to get that novel out. That I'm stuck on plot... and he gave me some great advice that I'm passing on to you, dear readers, in case you're in the same boat. Two things:

  • Write about the characters. The plot will come. Conversely, if you have a plot, write about it: the characters will develop.
  • Write every day. He made a rule to write 500 words minimum every day without fail. "It has to become a habit", he said.

Good advice. Hard to follow. Since then, I've written 4 out of the last 10 days. It's raining today, so after I finish this blog post... I have no excuses!




Highlighted Images

Here are some of my favourite images from the week I spent in the Trinity area. By the way, there are TWO "Trinity's" in Newfoundland. And two Goose Cove's and two... I can imagine how that happened but I can't suggest a solution! This is the town on Trinity Bay, not the one on Bonavista Bay, but it's on the Bonavista peninsula. Confused yet?

Trinity is a small town whose claim to fame is tourism. It was once a fishing port and they've maintained many heritage sites, original buildings with two- and three hundred year histories (interspersed with souvenir shops, cafés, B&B's and other businesses catering to tourists). Interestingly, like many other towns I've visited here, there is not one single gas station or grocery store in town. In fact the nearest one is a gas station/convenience store/liquor store about 10 km up the highway in Port Rexton.

It's a pretty little town: in fact they go out of their way to make it so. Property owners are forced to keep their places maintained and immaculate. What I didn't like was that you have to pay to get into most of the old buildings. They even have a 'pageant' on Saturdays where people parade around the town doing little skits and historical bits, but you have to pay to watch them. I refused.

If you visit Trinity, don't miss driving out to the lighthouse. It's a Subaru kind of road but worth it. Once you get to Fort Point (that's what it's called), of course you have to pay to get in... but just off the road enroute, you see things like this:


This is a huge pano and would make a dandy giant print, if anyone is interested. 

Here's a closer look.


This view is from the entrance to the Fort. 


Trinity has to be the Lupin capital of the world. I've never seen so many, nor such a colour variation!


 


 
I went out on a zodiac to see whales. We did, but it was really foggy and I didn't get great pictures. I managed to get these shots:


 

Showing us his pectoral fin. There are new regulations out there about how close you're allowed to sail to whales — not very! But you can't control how close they want to swim to us. This was shot with a wide angle, maybe 10m away. 

Zodiacs are very stable but they're small and react to the seas. Eco-tours ran two boats that morning, this was the other one. The one we were on didn't have a cabin like this one.


 

Here's the boat I was on. I shot it a couple of days later from shore. Everyone has to wear flotation suits, they're nice and warm and water- and windproof. That said, the ocean temperature is about -2°C so you wouldn't last long in the water anyway!


 
Last year, we saw whales up close from the shore in English Harbour — just around the bay. None this year, but...


People in Newfoundland like to live in isolated places. You see this everywhere. 




I heard a familiar sound down at the wharf in the harbour. Time to take out the "bazooka" for some pictures.
 


The wind and sun helped me make this compelling image.



Just outside of town, there's this place the neat-freaks in Trinity don't want you to see. It's an abandoned amusement park comprising a bunch of railway cars. Doesn't quite fit with their image!

This one does, though. This church dominates the town, it's by far the largest building. This all-wood structure dates back more than 200 years and it's maintained in immaculate condition.

And finally, I visited the "Random Passages" site in New Bonaventure, where they filmed the TV series. 



These are replicas of the 200 or 300 year old dwellings the Irish immigrants lived in.  


The schoolroom 


This building was also there but to me, it looks like 19th century, not 17th. I never saw the series, I suppose there's a reason. There's something in the picture that doesn't belong there... oops. You figure it out! 


From Trinity, on to Bonavista and the Puffin colony at Elliston. Until next time!

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