Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pan Am Games at the Whitewater


One of the first attractions I discovered after moving to the Highlands 8 years ago was the Minden WildWater Preserve. A project spearheaded by Claudia van Wijk, and Heinz and Dieter Poenn over a decade ago has transformed this part of the Gull River into something virtually unique in the world, a natural waterway made suitable for Olympic-class whitewater canoeing and kayaking. All of the other venues in the world are constructed of cement and plastic and don’t have a trace of the natural beauty of the Gull River.

Dieter, Heinz and Claudia: the people responsible for making the MWP happen. Whitewater Ontario actually owns the property on the East side of the river.

 I always love to spend time there, sometimes watching the kayakers on the water, other times alone by the riverside, just drinking in its majesty, the waters crashing by just a few feet away even in winter. I’ve even brought my 93-year old mother there and stood back as she sat lost in its emotional tranquility. I’ve attended, and photographed almost every event on the waters since then. 

So when I heard that the Pan Am Games were to be held there, I knew I had to find a way to be part of it. One of my first thoughts was to wonder what they were going to do to accommodate the slew of people who would participate in, organize, manage and view the event. The parking lot on the west side of the river could only hold about 8 cars!

Note: all of the action images here and in the gallery follow journalistic rules: cropping, exposure adjustment and dodge/burn were the only tools I used.

I knew that getting permission to shoot the event would not be easy so I set out to take the steps to get the necessary accreditation as a press photographer. It was quite a journey.

You can look at the way this event was carried out in a couple of ways. I decided to be a “glass-half-full” kind of guy so I let myself understand why some things were the way they were. Inconvenience, road closures, stringent security… these were things that were necessary in these times. But not once did I meet anyone – management, staff, police, security, volunteers, coaches, athletes – who did not have a smile on his or her face or a good reason for their decisions. Bravo, TO 2015 Pan Am team!

Tania Fernandez, second from the left was in charge of the entire site. She's Portuguese but hails from England and was brought in to manage the event due to her international experience. 

The Whitewater Rescue Team comprised mostly highly trained firefighters.  

Here’s an example: when I showed up on the first day of practice, some areas were still designated as construction sites, so I couldn’t go in. The site manager herself (Tania, above) took me on a tour and let me in areas that would eventually be restricted (athletes only) later in the week. Another: partway through the training week, a security supervisor told me I was not allowed to cross the ribbon barrier onto the rocks near the river. I pointed out that I was press accredited and that those were designated photographer areas. He checked, found out I was right, but expressed concern for my safety. Right action. Eventually they made me wear a life vest. They were right to do that (wouldn’t let me keep it, though! It was actually big enough and said “Rescue” on the back!).

Me, on the rocks at the start line, with the life vest they insisted I wear!
The grey vest underneath was the one I had to trek all the way down to the CNE to pick up.

Sure, there were some glitches. For instance, why did they set up the media centre on the East side of the river (we could only shoot on the West), basically a 2km walk (uphill both ways, just like when I trudged to school when I was little), and no water or food for us where we were working? We adapted. No bib number cross-references during the training days, so I had to guess who was whom. And I still don’t know who the 8 or 12 “Forerunners” were who made sure the course was working (If you were one of them or related, email me. I have pictures of pretty well all of them!). And who could have predicted the crashing thunderstorm that rolled through on Sunday afternoon?

Spectators had a good view of the action, almost as good as we had. Tom and Diane Dawson from Wintergreen kept everyone fed and happy, running at high efficiency with great food at reasonable prices, unlike their big city counterparts! There were almost more staff and volunteers than spectators, but each had a role! 

Tom Dawson (red shirt) tending the BBQ that produced all that delicious food. 

Since the lunch break was short, everyone had to be fed in one massive surge! Tom was efficient, the lineup moved quickly. Meantime, Diane was feeding the athletes and officials across the river! Wintergreen rocks! 

Kudo’s to the paramedics whom I saw caring for a spectator who had succumbed to the heat. And to the whitewater rescue guys and gals – mostly highly trained firefighters who wore those suffocating life vests and wetsuits all day long. Thankfully, they had nothing to do (as far as I know), which is as it should be. Even the Police were super friendly (well there was one guy, not in uniform but with the tell-tale curly cord leading to his ear, but I’m pretty sure I know what his job was…). The Canadian Press guys (you could identify them by their special blue vests and the 100 lbs of camera gear they were carrying around) kind of looked down on us local types, but hey!

A lot of the staff and volunteers were locals. I met some great people, made some new friends, convinced one or two to come out to the camera club and keep in touch. There was Liz (“Leeez!”) a gate judge I spent the better part of the day with, from Mexico, and Jen and Ruth and Duncan in his yellow tie…

Duncan was primary judge on the middle gates (from about 7-13) on the course

Liz was on the rocky spit where I spent most of the day. She was responsible for a series of gates, as backup to Duncan. I was the one who insisted she wear a life vest, she stood precariously on the rocks, right on the edge!

Congratulations to our Canadian athletes: Jazmyne Denhollander (GOLD medal, women’s K1 kayak), Cameron Smedley (SILVER medal, men’s C1 canoe), Ben Hayward (BRONZE medal, men’s K1 kayak) and Haley Daniels (BRONZE medal, women’s C1 canoe). Also to the other Canadian athletes who did exceedingly well in the Olympic Trials held simultaneously. See you in Rio in 2016!

Jazmyne Denhollander, Gold Medal winner, K1 Women

Cameron Smedley, Silver Medal, C1 Men 

Haley Daniels, Bronze Medal, C1 Women 

Ben Hayward, Bronze Medal, K1 Men 

So kudo’s (or “Props” as the kids say today) to the organizers and everyone associated with this terrific event. Y’all did good!

Here are a few more images that I liked from the event. Enjoy!

American C2 Olympic hopefuls Tyler Smith and Ted Dennis run the Olympic Qualifier. 

Canadian K1 Women's hopeful Jessica Groeneveld "in the zone", visualizing her run in the Olympic Qualifier 

You know me! I like to shoot abstracts. This is NOT Photoshop (except the frame and signature!) it was all done in camera. 

There are 156 images currently uploaded for your viewing pleasure on my SmugMug Gallery. On SmugMug, click any picture to blow it up fullscreen. Hover your mouse over the bottom of the screen for the description. Use the arrow keys to go to the next image.

PS: here’s the thing: apparently I’m not allowed to sell any of my pictures for commercial purposes. So if you want any of my pictures, either as digital downloads or prints, we’ll have to find a way to do that for free. I’ll figure out something. Send me an email at and tell me what you’re looking for. 

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Life in the Fast Lane

What's the definition of being "retired"?

I know that some retired people can't find a way to keep busy and bemoan the fact that their days are not productive, but I think a good retirement is one where you do the things you WANT to do, not the things you HAVE to do. I think it's important to continue to strive towards goals. The problem is, the word "retired" has the word "tired" in it. That's how I feel a lot of the time and I wish I had taken better care of myself physically, but I've certainly found enough to challenge me mentally and emotionally. 

I don't mean to lecture (OK, maybe I do...) but if you don't have something you feel passionate about you're going to be bored and unfulfilled when you reach that point in your life. I know several people at my age and beyond who continue to challenge themselves. My best example is 90-year-old Stu Freedman who's still shooting bird pictures down in Florida. 

My passion is to express my creativity, whether in photography and digital art, or painting or music. I practice my guitar every day and paint at least once/week, although I'm really bad at it and trying to learn! And sharing my experiences through teaching and through my writing. The physical stuff – the motorcycling, the skiing, playing sports, these can all go away at some point when you can't do them any more. I'm glad I have some things to fall back upon and I hope you, my dear readers, will think about it and plan accordingly.

Enough proselytizing. Just something to think about.

The Fast Lane

Living up here in the Highlands cannot be considered "Living in the Fast Lane" by any stretch of the imagination. I grow more and more frustrated by the frenetic pace of the big city – it took me 10 hours to go down to the CNE (actually the "CIBC PanAm Sports Park" to get my press credentials validated and pick up the famous photo vest, without which I would not be able to get in to any of the Games venues. Good thing I went when I did – the roads are now completely closed: when I went I could drive in but not park anywhere (I won't tell you how I managed to park outside the Media Centre! Let's just say a little extra limp in my walk didn't hurt). And the signs "No Left Turn" and "HOV Lane Only" were the bane of my existence that day. But I got it:

I'll shoot the Canoe/Kayak slalom event for sure. If I have enough energy, I'll possible go to the shooting venue in Innisfil as well. But I have ZERO desire to go to any of the big sports events in Toronto. OK, I shouldn't say "zero": it would be fun to shoot some of those, but you won't see me going down to that frantic city.

Up here in the Highlands, we have more rural activities!

For instance, there was a Miniature Horse Show and a Rodeo in Minden!

Here are three different horse pictures, all shot at the Minden Fairgrounds.

This one was at the Miniature Horse Show a week or two ago. I didn't know that these animals existed. That's not a young 'un, it's fully grown.  

Forgive me, Cathy, but every time I think of the words "miniature horses" I can hear Amy on Big Bang Theory telling Penny about her pretend boyfriend, "Armin the Miniature Horse Breeder". Funny episode...

At the Minden Rodeo yesterday. This rider was practicing her skills in the corral in preparation for the event later in the day (which I missed due to another commitment. I also didn't go on Sunday because it was pouring rain!).

I painted over the existing background (fence, people, trailers, stuff) with dust from the lower part of the image. Then I applied Topaz Impression's "Cave Dweller" preset for the texture and added the horse and rider back in (using Topaz Remask to select them), also with a weak Cave Dweller treatment so it would blend in better. 

Here's what it looked like before I processed it

I didn't know these existed either! The're Belgian Draft Horses and yes, that's how big they are. These guys weigh in at over 2000 pounds each! They hooked them up to a weighted sled which they had to pull over a 20' distance. The sled weighed upwards of 6,000 pounds.

This image was a 5-shot HDR blend using NIK software. The background was toned back using several techniques, including the new deHaze filter in Adobe Camera Raw.
Time for a new banner! 

As usual, to archive it in the blog itself, I'll reproduce the new one here. Some can't see it (on mobile devices or through RSS feeds), and it goes away retroactively every time I change it. 

I shot this at Carden Plain a couple of days ago. I was there with Dr. Ron, Linda Cresswell and Cheryl Goff (although Ron had already left for Algonquin Park. Linda and Cheryl and I were on the "Sedge Wren Marsh walking trail" when we came across this "Fritillary" butterfly sitting on a milkweed flower (thanks, Linda!)

I shot this with my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted on a TC17e 1.7x teleconverter. I can't wait for the extension tubes I ordered to show up so I can do real macro shots! 

Speaking of Carden Plain

I'm hooked. I love the place. I go there every chance I get: and since it's right on the route between Minden and Toronto, that's at least once/week! I'm stuck in a rut, photographically, but it's a good rut! I wish I had one of those king sized lenses – someone suggested I sell my car and buy one! My birthday's coming up in a few months, that 500mm f/4 looks pretty good. I saw one on eBay for only $6000...

I don't want to swamp this blog with Carden bird pictures, so I've created a gallery on Smugmug where I'm accumulating images. It's here: I have a little under 100 images on there as I write this. Go have a look, I'll wait right here until you get back! Here's a couple of samples from Sunday:

Bluebird with Spider. S/he was bringing it to the nest for the young 'uns. 

And this Eastern Phoebe was doing the same thing with a grasshopper for her kiddies. Her nest was inside the blind so our presence made her wait, posing, outside until she could get in! 

By the way, it's not just birds at Carden. I met this fellow and his buddy when I was there last week. Keep your eyes open...

Black Rat Snake. Well over 4' long. Not venemous but I heard they bite when provoked! He was sunning himself on the little bridge on Wylie Road. 

Photo Assignment

The group "F.O.G." (it stands for "Four Old Guys") has recorded their second CD "Goin' Slow", and I shot some images for the CD cover. This one won't be used, it's too 'serious' but I thought I'd share it because it was technical:

I stacked four images, focusing on each of the faces. Then I added the blur effect, toned it and added some grain to give it a vintage feel. From near to far, that's Francis, Steve (my cousin), Al and Weiman (also a "Steve"!) 

The CD will be out soon and it will be worth adding to your collection. I'll tell you where you can get it as soon as I know.

Parting Shot...

Last week in Minden, I came across this Model "A" Ford Racer.

It took about an hour to finish this image. First, I had shot 5 bracketed images and merged them to an HDR. I selected out the car for separate processing, then I added texture to the background, and then brought the car back in and used Impression/Palette Knife and Oil preset to finish it. There was a lot of detail to clean up, including removing the "For Sale" sign that was on the car.

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