Sunday, June 04, 2017

Algonquin Park and Aurora. You choose.

Algonquin Park
a conversation with the staff

Some discussions have occurred regarding some apparent changes in AP policies and I decided to find out directly from the Park. At the same time I wanted to ask about an issue that's been bugging me. They were kind enough to give me clear and very reasonable answers and gave me permission to reproduce the correspondence here.

The two main questions were:
  1. How to shoot nighttimes (stars, aurora, etc) when the day pass clearly expires at 10 pm, and
  2. Access to the campgrounds with a day pass.
Here's the email correspondence in full, except that I had to retype the 'questions' because they got mixed up in the back-and-forth.

We corresponded last year on the subject of coming into the park to shoot star trails or milky way or aurora pictures. The issue was that the day pass expires at 10pm and the solution we came up with at the time was to buy two day passes (for the next day as well). I would have bought a camping permit except all the campgrounds were full and they wouldn’t sell me one. Anyway, that worked after the guy at the West gate figured out how to do it! By the way, a better solution might be to get an annual pass… but that carries the same 10pm limitation, I think.

The correct process for anyone wishing to be in an Ontario Provincial Park with a day use permit after 10 pm is to request permission from the Park Superintendent.  The easiest way to make application for this is by having you email directly to David Coulas ( explaining your request and  reason.  He will then be able to reply directly to you.  DVP’s and Annual DVP’s do all carry the same 10pm limitation.

Question # 2:
Sounds like there's been a policy change at AP. One of our members was denied access to Mew Lake because she only had a day pass. All she wanted to do was to photograph some birds at the Airfield, not to camp. In the past we've told them at the campground entrance that's all we were there for. In the paper I picked up at the gate the other day it says "a day permit does not allow access to campgrounds (unless specified otherwise; check at the park office at the point of entry)".

 With regards to day use visitors being denied access into campgrounds for day use areas ie, beaches, airfield, trails, etc., Mr. Nichols, who is the Zone Manager has sought clarification with Head Office and has confirmed that we cannot restrict people from coming in to the park or campgrounds if they have a valid day use permit in any Ontario Provincial Park.

The front page of our tabloid where it indicates that a day permit” does not allow access to campgrounds”, however it also states “unless specified otherwise, check at the Park Office at point of entry”.  This allows us to clarify to our park visitors.  You would continue to stop at the office and advise them of your intent and if you are unaware of parking space please ask at the office entrance.

If at any time, access to a campground with a day use permit becomes a safety issue, ie, campground is over maximum capacity during an extremely busy time and therefore becomes a safety hazard within the campground, then and only then may the Park Superintendent make a decision to restrict access to day use.  The park office will not be making that decision without the approval of Park Superintendent.

Glenn I hope this will clarify your questions for you and your group at this time.  

Topaz Studio
Different Strokes for Different Folks!

Topaz Labs has hit another home run. They have developed a new program which means different things for different people, depending where you are in your post-processing life. As far as I can tell, it will be valuable for three different groups:

  • You DO NOT have Lightroom or Photoshop or Elements. Studio is a post-processing workbench for you and it's FREE! (well the 'base' version is... see below). You're one of those who doesn't want to "rent" the Adobe CC suite: YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANYMORE.
  • You DO have one or more of the Adobe products. TS gives you a whole new set of adjustment tools that are effective, easy to use and quick.  You may decide to use them instead of ACR or in addition to it.
  • You have other Topaz products, perhaps the whole suite, and you want a way to use them in combinations, whether from within an Adobe product or standalone. This functionality is FREE.
Too many words. It's all explained much better on the Topaz site. But before I send you there, I have to tell you a couple more things.

You can download and use it for FREE. Forever. 
Or you can buy some enhancements if you want.

The FREE TS shell comes with 10 fully functional adjustments like "Basic Adjustments", "Tone Curves", "Blurs", and others; plus a whole whack of tools like support for RAW files, cropping, masking, lens effects, etc. There are also 14 other adjustments which have limited functionality (they work, you just can't control them much) such as dehaze, noise reduction, sharpening, texture, abstraction, etc. If you want full control of one of these you can buy it or you can get the whole pack of 14 for $99. 

Enough! Get thee over there and read about it. Download the free app. Try it. Here's the link to get you there. And if you decide to buy anything before the end of June, use the coupon code "STUDIO" to get up to $270 worth of adjustments for just $99.

PS: They produced a great introduction video which explains clearly what Studio is and how it works. Here's the video link. But use the other link in the paragraph above this one to log in and download in order to take advantage of the discounts (and, fair disclosure, give me my "brownie points"!).

I processed this image in Studio. The original was a soft HDR (testing the bracketing function on the new D5500) created in Lightroom. In Studio I used the built-in HDR preset which really just increases Clarity, but then I masked it back. I added a Gaussian Blur layer and painted a quasi-precise mask over the boat (not fine enough over the ski frame, I should go back over it) and a vignette and painted in some sky colour. I didn't use any Topaz plugins although in hindsight I should have tried Clarity. The masking brush is brilliant. And the fact that you can copy and paste the mask onto different "layers".

By the way this is NOT my boat. I wish. It's at the same marina and I'd be embarrassed to have mine in the same picture.

Gales of November
an update

If you're a new reader and you haven't heard about 'Gales' yet, here's a quick summary:

A 360° pano taken at the Rock Island Lodge 

On the weekend of October 26-29 (It's really called "The Gales of November come early"), we will be holding a four day low cost workshop in Wawa, Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior, for 12 lucky participants. The event is hosted by the Rock Island Lodge/Naturally Superior Adventures and the price includes all accommodations and food. The lodge rooms are first class (when they fill up, you'll stay at a nearby motel/cabin facility, maybe even better!) and the food is fresh, family-style and organic where possible. How much would you spend for food and accommodations in a first class facility? Think about that then check out the cost of our workshop!

This year, Ben Eby will be joining me in leading the workshop. Ben is more of a photo-realist than I am (I lean more towards impressionism and do a lot more post-processing). I'm still working on a "Ben-Bio" on the site but for now check out his website here.

The word "workshop" is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, we'll be challenging you with some themes and educational content, but if you just want to do your thing, you're welcome to do so, and enjoy one of the most picturesque nature venues in all of Canada in the company of a bunch of great photographers. You can even bring your dog and your spouse, as long as they're friendly! Check with us.

This scene was two minutes from the lodge, first thing in the morning one day last year. 

There's still some space available. But this is going to fill up and you need to stop procrastinating! Here's the link to the website and signup page (still a work in progress!): I dare you to check it out.

Newfoundland Trip
It's creeping up on me!

Less than 3 weeks from now, I'll be on my way to Newfoundland. My plan is to drive to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, then board the ferry to Port aux Basques, and spend a month in Newfoundland, primarily in three locations, where I've booked cabin/efficiency accommodations. I've left the last week open but I intend to spend a couple of days in the Cape St. Mary area, then board the ferry home from Argentia. Here's a map:

Obviously a month isn't long enough to explore the whole province and I'll be skipping some interesting spots: primarily the West coast including Gros Morne National Park and the northern peninsula. My goal is to shoot picturesque seascapes and outports, waterfalls, stars (aurora!), birds and other wildlife (including whales if possible). Icebergs are a bonus although I have to admit that I sort of have a "seen one, seen them all" kind of attitude. I'm following and have been in touch with some outstanding local photographers and hope to hook up with one or more on my trip. I have some friends there right now: in my opinion, they went too early. There's massive sea ice and even snow on land. It's been hugely foggy the past few days.

I'm hoping to "storyboard" each of the locations. I'm probably using the word wrong, but I want to present a picture of each spot in an attempt to capture its flavour. So while my focus is on the landscapes, I want to force myself to include other aspects of life there. "Work the scene" will be my operative phrase. My plan is to shoot during the golden and blue hours, so get up at ungodly hours, shoot, then relax and maybe nap during the day and go back out in the evenings. We'll see how that works out. I plan to bring my sketching and oil painting kits with me and force myself to draw and paint as well.

Aside from camera gear and my computer, I'm bringing too much stuff. It's not just a week-long vacation, I need kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, clothes, even food. I can't imagine flying there with one checked bag and my camera stuff. I'll be in touch over wifi but I'm going to try to wean myself off of social media. I have a big note in front of me to make a list of all the stuff I need and organize it.

Speaking of cameras, I  acquired a Nikon D5500 as a backup to my D800. It's got a crop sensor so technically I'll be able to reach out further with my long telephoto (not sure how much more than cropping on the D800 but we'll see). It seems to do a creditable job.

Here's an image from the landfill when I was there practicing on the birds. With the Tamron zoom on the D5500, this is like a 900mm lens on a full-frame.  This isn't cropped and it was handheld. I'm going to have to be really careful to keep the shutter speed up at these values. 

What's your favourite lens?

The obvious answer to that question is, "well, it depends on what I'm trying to shoot". I have 4 lenses that I use regularly and a couple of others... and if I were told "You can only have one lens. Choose." I would have to say, my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR. It's not even the new model. It's just so good, I can't imagine a better one. If I need to reach out further, I couple it with my TC-17e III teleconverter for a net 340mm at f/4.8, no discernable loss of sharpness. That's not enough for birds, though, so I find myself using the Tamron 150-600 a lot. It's "OK" but it could be sharper. I can't afford the Nikon big guns, so it'll have to do.

My Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 wideangle is very good. Landscapes and astrophotography. But the "favourite" label is a tossup between the 70-200 and the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro.

Here are a few shots with the macro when I loaded it on the D5500 for testing purposes.

Dandelion head. 

Don't ask me to name this flower and I won't have to lie to you. It's a wildflower growing behind my house. 

Dragonfly sitting on my car. 

Last weekend, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit for a couple of days. We had a great visit, I took them out in the boat, gave them the nickel tour of the Highlands, and then I said to my sister, go park my ATV in the garage. She said, "really"? Why not.

She's never driven one, or any bike for that matter. She started laughing hysterically to the point where she was wiping tears from her eyes. By the way, I think she was going 2 mph! Of course as a good brother, I had to capture it on camera and post it for everyone to see... 

While they were here, I was a good host. Until I got an alert on the computer. KP of 7.3! Do you know what that means? The aurora borealis are visible here with a KP of 4 or so. 7.3? I ran out with the camera and took a quick test shot but I didn't need to: it was obviously visible to the naked eye. I told my sister I was going to be a terrible host, I turned on the TV, showed them how my remote control works and said, "Bye. See you in the morning!"

I've seen Aurora before. But the last time I saw a display like this was probably 30 years ago, on a moose hunting trip south of Timmins (still reading my blog, Pete? Remember?).

The Northern Lights

No words. Here's a link to a short timelapse I shot. And here's another one, something I called "Pastel". A little different. Enjoy.

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