Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Photography Workshop Options

This photo workshop is centered on a convergence of thousands of bald eagles in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Your instructor(s) for this workshop will guide you to the best locations for photographing the eagles in the Fraser Valley that is surrounded by the Cascade Mountain range, including a private boat tour up the river within meters of the eagles. You will be provide detailed instruction on how to capture your perfect landscape photo and eagle shots by your instructors .

Dates: November 30 - December 4, 2013
Price; $2950

The winter of 2014 is supposed to be a spectacular year for viewing northern lights. In February I will be headed to one of the best places on earth to view the northern lights, Iceland.

Dates: February 5th to February 10th
Price: $3895

And back we go again to Tanzania to bear witness to the great wildebeest migration through the Serengeti. Please join me as we head back to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti plains to photograph some of earths most amazing landscapes and animals in their natural habitat.

Dates:  April 28th to May 7th
Price: $4780

This ten day workshop will see us visiting northern Newfoundland and Labrador during the beginning of summer. That magical time when whales migrate north through iceberg alley as the crystal palaces float south.

Dates: June 1st to June 10th
Price: $4250

I hope you consider joining us on one of our workshops or photo tours. There are many more in the last half of 2014 that have been recently announced. You can check out those workshops and photo tours on www.photographerslounge.ca and www.northof49photography.com

Have you ever been to the extreme west coast of Canada? The unique location where you can enjoy the sights of a rainforest one day and be photographing black bears, bald eagles and whales the next... then switch things up and turn inland to photograph snow covered mountains?

Join Kevin and Ellen on another "North of 49 Photography" photo workshop to this unique land. August is a magical time of year in Tofino; "fog"ust as it is referred to creates spectacular images along the expansive shoreline in the morning hours, animals like black bears, sea lions and yes, even whales are a frequent part of the day’s activities in the Tofino area.

Dates: August 10 to 17, 2014
Price: $1295USD

Over the course of the five days & nights at the lodge, your leaders will cover topics on macro-photography, long exposure night photography, bird and wildlife photography. This area offers a wide variety of plants, many of which will be brightly colored in September and lay upon the landscape like a blanket.  This is also a great time of year to capture northern lights (aurora borealis), migratory wildlife & birds, including possible bear sightings, fox, tundra swans, eagles, owls and falcons.     

Dates: September 20 to 27, 2014
Price: $5500USD

I hope you consider joining me and my fellow workshop leaders,


Monday, 29 July 2013

Learning exposure compensation to help get better photos with your digital camera

Exposure compensation is function that allows you, the photographer, the ability to fine tune exposure to compensate for situations where your camera's metering system does a poor job.

This would be something that you would want to use to make adjustments for contrasting light when highlight detail would otherwise be lost, or when photographing snowy landscapes or other tricky scenes. This photo that accompanies this post is a good example of a real life situation.. the crashing water was extremely bright, and the kayaker had a helmet on that casts a very dark shadow across his face. I had to use my exposure compensation to ensure that I did not either blow out the water, or make his face black. It took a few photos to get the right setting, but it was worth the effort.

Cameras are programmed to just aim for the middle of the grey scale… A camera exposes for the middle luminance value of the scene (middle grey, 12-18% reflectance or 50% luminance), and your cameras different metering modes are just different ways of placing this mid value by weighting where the camera meters from.

EV Compensation helps to fix this by telling the camera to expose at a higher or lower setting than it thinks is right. For very bright settings (like the snow or beach), set an EV value as a positive number (+1/3, +1 etc). For very dark scenes, choose a negative EV number.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – that doesn’t make sense! If the subject is very bright, don’t I need to set a lower EV (negative number) to make sure the image is exposed correctly?

Well, no. It’s the opposite. It helps to think of what the resulting image will look like. In the snow, where there are lots of bright areas, the camera will choose a mid point in the bright area, so the snow will look gray in the resulting image. To fix that and make the snow white (as it should be), we need to brighten the image. Thus we need to increase the exposure and use a positive number.

You would need to consider using exposure compensation in the following situations:

Landscape photography in bright, sunny conditions - Landscapes are usually shot at wider angles (zoomed out) and often includes bright skies and dark shadows. Your camera's estimate of the mid value in such contrasty situations can often result in important highlight details being be lost in the sky because of that orange ball of bright light, aka the sun. To remedy this, you would darken the image slightly by reducing exposure, usually by two or 3 stops. This will lighten the shadows and bring those awesome colours back in the sky that drew you to the image in the first place.

Snowy scenes - Snowy scenes are unusually white, and your camera will think this is supposed to be more towards mid grey. Without an adjustment your white fluffy snow comes out this pale blue… sound familiar? To remedy this, you would lighten the image by increasing exposure by 1 or 1 1/3rd EV.

Most cameras will have an EV display (in the viewfinder or on-screen). The zero in the centre is where no EV compensation is applied; to the left we have -EV and to the right we have +EV, with 1/3rd EV steps between.

Depending on your camera and display settings, the EV display may only show when in use, or when compensation has been applied.

In Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Programmed Auto

Locate your camera's EV button (marked EV or +/- ), hold it down and scroll the relevant command wheel either +right or -left depending whether you wish to increase or reduce exposure (lighten or darken the image). As you scroll, the marker will move to the corresponding value on the scaled display, or the value will simply update on the single type display.

Remember to set the EV back to zero once you've finished taking exposure compensated shots.

Manual Exposure

In fully manual, you set the shutter speed and aperture values, and the EV display tells you how much this may differ from what the camera's metering suggests. The EV button isn't used, but the effect on exposure is the same.

The advantage with manually applied exposure is that you don't have to remember to reset compensation. You do, however, have to set exposure yourself for each shot.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Newfoundland and Labrador Workshop - whales, icebergs, lighthouses, Gros Morne Natonal Park and more

We begin our time together as we live the life of a lighthouse keeper overlooking “Iceberg Alley”.

Hear the Killer Whales’ call echoing off massive icebergs in our own private cove and hopefully awaken to the sounds of the Humpbacks calling you across vast stretches of the North Atlantic. From this location we will explore the rugged landscape made famous in “The Shipping News”, the Pulitzer prize-winning novel and Kevin Spacey movie.

Imagine the feel the salt spray in your face as you journey out to remote Quirpon Island amidst the dolphins and whales. As you land in the cove, imagine you are returning home to the sod huts, thousands of years old, which lay undisturbed here. Forge a link with ancient humans as you stand in the remains of their huts overlooking the cove and picture the tiny beach coming to like as it was eons ago.

This is your home for the next few days. It lies atop the cliffs at the northern tip of this deserted island. The contrast of the rugged beauty of the island and the cosy luxury of Quirpon Lighthouse Inn will bring back your childhood feelings of laying by the fire as a storm raged outside. Imperceptibly your priorities in life will shift as you become part of the primal connection between humans and the remote reaches of the sea.

You are now in the best spot on earth to visit with whales and icebergs. At dawn, be certain to introduce yourself to your only neighbours – the whales migrating past your doorstep. An abandoned fishing village near the lighthouse is your hiking destination today. Learn of the tragic but romantic mass murder and suicide that inevitably lead to its demise.

View the “vast cathedrals of ice”. On sunny days they appear lit from inside. On dull days other senses take over as they seem to grow in size. Their chilling effect spreads to your mind and you feel a timeless empathy for sailors who have dreaded these giants for millennia.

Europeans first arrived in North America 500 years before Columbus. These Vikings settled in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of L’anse aux Meadows. As you visit, one question will fill your mind- Why here? Be sure to ask resident Vikings who work here today. Join them in their huts and sample cuisine from ten centuries ago.

From here we will sail to Labrador where a 12 year old child was lovingly laid to rest in North America’s oldest grave – 8,000 years ago. Visit Basque whaling site where a boat from the 1500’s raised from the frigid waters shows how little technology has changed in 500 years. A photogenic location at any time of day and your photos, chronicle history very few ever visit.

Heading south along the Viking Trail you might experience time travel visiting isolated fishing villages which have hosted civilizations for thousands of years, capturing lighthouses during golden hours and at the Port au Choix National Historic Site, learn how little we differ from our ancient forbearers. Take time to linger and photograph the memorable sights along the seaside… because you will be busy spotting the thousands of moose and caribou in Gros Morne National Park amidst some of the most breathtaking scenery the east coast of Canada has to offer.

If you think the shoreline to this point has been spectacular, wait until your boat tour of Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne. This landlocked fjord was left as a slash in the cliffs when the last ice age ended. 2000 vertical faces slowly come together as your journey on the purest lake in the world. This voyage is guaranteed to give you memories to savour back in the real world. Afterwards, stretch your legs on a valley of ancient earth’s mantle that has made this park a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscape evokes images of the moon more than the earth, but this geological wonder has its own charms. You will enjoy it from sun up to sun down through the lens.

Before our trip together ends, you can have the choice of completing our odyssey with a taste of other experiences unique to out corner of the globe. Kayak with the bergs and whales or hike into a falls for another photography walk to capture the golden light landscapes and local wildlife.

Dates of Workshop:  June 1, 2014 to June 10, 2014

Price of Workshop:  $3890USD is your price ($4250 on my website) – shared accommodation

Photographic Leader(s):  Kevin Pepper

Maximum Number of attendees: max 5, min 4 (2 spots already taken)

Deposit to secure space in workshop:  $750USD

What is Included: 9 nights’ shared accommodation (including 4 at Quirpon Lighthouse Inn). 6 breakfasts, 2 lunches, daily snacks, juice and water, 5 suppers (including 1 dinner theatre). Western Brook Pond boat tour. Ferry to Labrador. All park and site passes. Transportation. Minimum of three editing sessions

What is not included: anything not mentioned as included, items of personal nature, travel insurance.
More details on the locations

We will be staying in a reclaimed lighthouse, Quirpon lighthouse on a private island, and in some hotels.

We will be spending time whale watching, photographing icebergs, photographing lighthouses on the northern shores of Newfoundland and Labrador and spending a fair bit of time in Gros Morne National Park on the North West coast of Newfoundland.

We will also head over to Labrador to see the original settlement of Vikings in North America, do some shoots along the seaside and visit some of the oldest fishing villages in Eastern Canada.

You will be shooting seascapes, lighthouses, old fishing villages, hopefully some of the tens of thousands of caribou and moose in Gros Morne (if we can see them), some migratory birds, landscapes, whales and icebergs




Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Sunny 16 Rule for Photography

The Sunny 16 Rule is a way to meter for correct exposure during daylight without using the camera’s meter.

The basic rule of thumb is that if you have a clear, sunny day and your aperture is at f/16, whatever ISO you are using, your shutter speed will be the reciprocal value of that ISO value

So for example, if your ISO is 200 at f/16, then your shutter speed will be 1/200 seconds. If your ISO is 100, then your shutter speed will be 1/100 seconds.

The Sunny 16 Rule is a good way to check if your camera is spot on with exposure or does it consistently under or over expose. Some cameras have a tendency to slightly under expose, and this is a good way to test your camera.

Additionally, unlike the camera metering system, the Sunny 16 Rule is based on incident light instead of reflected light, which means that it’s based on the brightness of the light only, and not how the light that is being reflected off the subject and into the camera.

Go ahead… try it and see how your camera performs…

Monday, 15 July 2013

Sigma 120-300 f2.8 DG HSM OS spends time in Mongolia and takes first place at the Naadam Festival

This is not your Dad’s Sigma lens. Long gone are the days of the rough coated plastic feeling Sigma lens that rolled off the production line to satisfy people’s needs for more lenses at an affordable price. This lens screams quality from the first view out of the box. The lens is finished in matte black and is dust and splash resistant. Then, when you realize that each lens is tested before it leaves the factory, not just the random sampling, you begin to truly understand that Sigma listened to what photographers wanted in a lens of this caliber and delivered tenfold.

Not only will the looks of this lens impress both you and anyone around you, but it performs beautifully in a range of situations, some that you would not think it would excel in. When I took the lens to Mongolia I had journalists, amateurs and police that lined the crowd all looking through the lens and taking photos… it created quite the spectacle… LOL

OK… now, let’s just get this out of the way… the lens is heavy… there is no other way to put it. It is 6.5lbs and is almost 12 inches long…  but this is a step into the realm of professional lenses that has now shown me through extensive use, produces professional results. The size of this lens can be attributed to the constant aperture of f2.8, and for the outdoor situations I was just in, was extremely appreciated.
For a week I used this lens on a monopod and hand held shooting a variety of photos in the sports category, I panned with the camera and I did some portrait photos. Each time I looked at the results, I was impressed.

Here is what I liked about the lens…

The 120-300mm has a focus limiter to offer an adjusted range of auto focusing, you can choose from 0 to 10meters, 10 meters to infinity and the full range of focus.  including a faster auto focus speed. You can also, as mentioned above, fine-tune this with the USB Dock to your precise specifications.

The image quality produced from this lens is really great. Though it is not the absolute sharpest lens I have ever shot with (that is reserved for the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 that I had in May), it performed beyond my expectations. I found a few sweet spots with the best aperture to use around f7.1, but nowhere was I disappointed with the lens.

Everywhere from f/2.8 through f/22 was sharp, with some minor abbreviations occurring at f/22. Generally though, the sharpness was consistent across the aperture range which, for me, is extremely impressive.

The USB dock took a stock lens from the shelf and allowed me to make micro adjustments, making this a custom lens for my style of shooting on my camera bodies.

The variable focal range… I truly appreciated the range when shooting action. Whether the 1.4 teleconverter was attached, or not, the ease at which you can go from 120mm to 300mm was appreciated.

For those of you who were waiting for Sigma to up their game, your wait has ended. The affordable professional lens for the sports shooter has landed… it is the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 and is now available in stores across North America.

I would recommend this lens to anyone that asks… if you don’t at least consider this lens you are doing yourself a disservice.

Species Spotlight - Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. Until recently, it was regarded as the sole member of a distinct genus, but data now shows that it is very closely related to the horned owls.

This yellow-eyed, black-beaked white bird is easily recognizable. It is 52–71 centimetres (20–28 in) long, with a 125–150 centimetres (49–59 in) wingspan. Also, these birds can weigh anywhere from 1.6 to 3 kilograms (3.5 to 6.6 lb). It is one of the largest species of owl and, in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping; the young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and colouration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

Snowy Owl calls are varied, but the alarm call is a barking, almost quacking krek-krek; the female also has a softer mewling pyee-pyee or prek-prek. The song is a deep repeated gahw. They may also clap their beak in response to threats or annoyances. While called clapping, it is believed this sound may actually be a clicking of the tongue, not the beak.

Young owl on the tundra at Barrow Alaska. Snowy Owls lose their black feathers with age, though particular females retain some.

The Snowy Owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home north of latitude 60 degrees north. However, it is a particularly nomadic bird, and because population fluctuations in its prey species can force it to relocate, it has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with
good visibility such as the top of mound with ready access to hunting areas, and a lack of snow is chosen. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may be used. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May to June, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict and no evidence of siblicide. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators, sometimes by distraction displays. Males may mate with two females which may nest about a kilometre apart.[3] Some individuals stay on the breeding grounds while others migrate.

Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northermost stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Snowy Owls are attracted to open areas like coastal dunes and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. They have been reported as far south as the American states of Texas, Georgia, the American Gulf states, southernmost Russia, and northern China.

In January 2009, a Snowy Owl appeared in Spring Hill, Tennessee, the first reported sighting in the state since 1987. More notable is the huge mass southern migration in the winter of 2011/2012, when thousands of Snowy Owls were spotted in various locations across the United States.

This powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season, but at times of low prey density, or during the ptarmigan nesting period, they may switch to favoring juvenile ptarmigan. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. They feed on a wide variety of small mammals such as meadow voles and deer mice, but will take advantage of larger prey, frequently following traplines to find food. Some of the larger mammal prey includes hares, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, prairie dogs, rats, moles, and smaller birds entrapped furbearers. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, other ducks, geese, shorebirds, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, songbirds, and even other raptors, including other owl species. Most of the owls' hunting is done in the "sit and wait" style; prey may be captured on the ground, in the air or fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using their sharp talons. Each bird must capture roughly 7 to 12 mice per day to meet its food requirement and can eat more than 1,600 lemmings per year.

Snowy Owls, like many other birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found. Biologists frequently examine these pellets to determine the quantity and types of prey the birds have eaten. When large prey are eaten in small pieces, pellets will not be produced.

Though Snowy Owls have few predators, the adults are very watchful and are equipped to defend against any kind of threat towards them or their offspring. During the nesting season, the owls regularly defend their nests against arctic foxes, corvids and swift-flying jaegers; as well as dogs, gray wolves and avian predators. Males defend the nest by standing guard nearby while the female incubates the eggs and broods the young. Both sexes attack approaching predators, dive-bombing them and engaging in distraction displays to draw the predator away from a nest. They also compete directly for lemmings and other prey with several predators, including Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Gyrfalcons, jaegers, Glaucous Gulls, Short-eared Owls, Great Horned Owls, Eurasian Eagle Owls, Common Ravens, wolves, arctic foxes, and ermine. They are normally dominant over other raptors although may (sometimes fatally) lose in conflicts to large raptors such as other Bubo owls, Golden Eagles and the smaller but much faster Peregrine Falcons. Some species nesting near Snowy Owl nests, such as the Snow Goose, seem to benefit from the incidental protection of snowy owls that drive competing predators out of the area.

Info courtesy of Wikipedia

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Mongolia ~ virtually untouched and waiting for you to experience it through your lens.

After the breakdown of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in late 1989, Mongolia had its Democratic Revolution in early 1990. This then led to a multi-party democratic system, a brand new constitution in 1992, followed by the transition to a market economy. A Democratic nation in Asia was born…

Democracy has given foreign investors enough confidence to stick with Mongolia during the hard times in the last 20 years. Attractive investment laws have lured some huge investors from the mining world but despite their progression, Mongolia still faces enormous economic and social challenges and remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Since the fall of communism, Mongolia has done just about everything in its power to open itself up to the world to show that what is truly unique about this gem of Asia. It is not often you can visit a country where ancient traditions survive and the unbridled nature is still mostly intact and extremely accessible.

Tourism, along with mining and cashmere, have become a key feature of the economy. Unfortunately the poor infrastructure and short travel season have kept vacation revenues small. But a growing network of ger camps that cater to travellers seeking ecotourism adventures is growing and gives hope for tourism dollars.

Without the presence of private property to restrict a traveller’s movement, Mongolia is a perfect destination for photographers, horse trekking, long-distance cycling and hiking, and especially for camping out under a sprawling mass of stars. With such minimal light pollution, one feels like they can reach out and touch stars that, until a visit here, they never knew existed.

Most travellers come for Naadam, the two-day summer sports festival that brought me there earlier this month. The Naadam festival is held in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar during the National Holiday from July 11 – 13. Naadam begins with an elaborate ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians dressed in traditional ware. After the ceremony, the competitions begin.

Naadam is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another. Its origin in the activities, such as military parades and sporting competitions such as archery, horse riding and wrestling originated in the beginning of the 13th century when the Yuan Dynasty was established.

As early as 1206, Genghis Khan held big gatherings on the grassland in order to inspect his army and to maintain and allocate the properties. The chief leaders of all the tribes were assembled, and the gatherings were held as a sign of solidarity and hope for an abundant harvest.

I brought a group here to spend 8 days in Mongolia. We are currently visiting numerous areas in the countryside and thoroughly enjoying the sights and the people before we head back to enjoy the Naadam festival. With special passes to allow us down on the floor where the athletes are, we are sure to capture some spectacular images.

But Mongolia’s unique charm will always lie in the countryside where, rather than being a spectator to the wrestling, you may find yourself in a vast expansive land, void of travellers, in the awe of an untouched landscape. One cannot help but feel humbled!

Outside the villages nomad families still roam and their relentless sense of hospitality can at times be nothing short of overwhelming. And it is genuine… and as uncomfortable as it may make some people, the generosity and decent human spirit is refreshing for someone like me that has travelled to many parts of this world.

Think of Mongolia as an Ice Cream Sunday made up of everything you want a photographic adventure… “Mix together the vast landscapes of one of the greatest deserts on earth with the dramatic gorges and sparkling fresh water lakes of Khövsgöl, apply the topping of the snow-capped mountains of Bayan-Olgi and sprinkle the ger tents and nomads with the odd cry of a Golden Eagle and you have a recipe that you will not ever forget. “

I am sorry you couldn’t make it this July for the 2013 Naadam festival… but I am headed back in 2014. Jim Zuckerman and I will be leading a group of photographer’s on a workshop to witness the Golden Eagle Festival and the Gobi Desert… Please join us on our Photography Workshop on September 30, 2014. To learn more please click here.