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World famous Delicate Arch by Banff Landscape Photographer, Brian Merry

     Around my home in Banff, Alberta the landscape photography is pretty amazing at the world class level.  However, even I need a vacation to travel somewhere else every now and then.  Last month, April 2015, Kazue and I decided to head down to Southwestern Utah to get an early start on the rock climbing season and to visit a landscape photography location that has been high on my list for decades, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.  In the slideshow at the bottom of this post you’ll see that we were rewarded with some spectacular landscape photography.  This area should be on the “must photograph” list of every landscape photographer.

Banff Landscape Photographer

World famous Delicate Arch by Banff Landscape Photographer, Brian Merry

     After taking two days to reach Moab, Utah, we knew we had reached one of those special places in the world that everyone should see.  As we started to enter the region we stopped by the side of the road to whip up a little lunch.  Shortly after starting to cook we where paid a visit by a polite State Trooper as he passed by us on state scenic byway number 128 just East of Moab along the Colorado River where we had stopped for lunch.  He pulled into where we were parked and asked if we were broke down and needed help.  After finding out we were OK and noticing that we were tourists from Canada he pointed out a wall of native rock cravings in the rock just 30 meters away in the boulder field beside were we parked.  That was nice of him and after we finished our lunch I took some time to photograph the Navajo rock carving panel.  He also recommended camping at one of the many nice and affordable state campgrounds a little farther west down the highway we were on and let us know about a natural spring close to Moab that had an endless supply of good drinking water about 500m East of the last traffic light on the North end of Moab.  His advice was great, particularly about where to find potable drinking water in the middle of the desert.  What a great introduction to the area!

 The kindness from the locals didn’t stop there.  People kept helping us out to find the best locations for landscape photography as well suggesting some great classic multipitch rock climbs up a few desert rock towers.  I had a list of classic areas I wanted to visit and photograph like Delicate Arch, Mesa Arch, The Window Arches, Landscape Arch, Dead Horse Point State Park and Upheaval Dome.  We weren’t disappointed but we did wish we had more time in the area than the 12 days we had for our trip.  Below, I’ve added a slideshow showing the highlights of our trip to the area showing the huge landscape photography opportunities the area offers the dedicated photographer.  I sincerely hope you like our trip and if you have any questions about when and where to go while visiting this area just send them to me in a form on my contact page.  

 

Happy Photography!

     

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Meteor over Mount Fuji, Japan © www.brianmerry.ca

How to Photograph a meteor Shower Night Sky Photography

We’re in for a night sky photography treat tonight with the chance to photograph a meteor shower.  Twice a year our planet passes through the dust trial left by the last passing of Haley’s Comet and I have a few tips here to help you photograph the meteor shower when this happens tonight.

As a comet’s orbit passes through space close to the sun it leaves a bit of a dust trial behind in its wake that just stays floating around in space. This dust trial is sometimes affected by various gravitational pulls by passing large celestial bodies, like our planet. For decades after a comet’s has passed close to our planet that dust trial can collide with Earth at the same time each year. As the dust enters our atmosphere it burns off in the form of a bright, and sometimes not so bright, “shooting star”. When the planet passes through a large dust trial like the one left by Haley’s Comet, then a significant meteor shower can be the result.

Night sky photograph, Geminid Meteor

A Geminid Meteor and star trials over Mount Fuji, Japan, Dec., 2012

Tonight, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, is going to be one of those nights.  This presents a great night sky photographic opportunity for photographers willing to stay up to capture it.  We’re going to pass through this Haley’s Comet’s dust cloud tonight and we may be able to see this meteor shower and possibly photograph it. The moon rises in Alberta around 11pm so it might be good to get out before this happens because the light from the moon will make it harder to see the meteors and photograph a long exposure.  Here’s my advice how to photography a meteor shower night sky photography to help you get the most out of this photographic opportunity.  The Weather Network also has the details about when and where this is going to happen.

Camera Settings

Exposure. This is obviously very important. A good exposure starting point for nighttime photography is 4-8 seconds, f/4 at ISO 2500. With these settings you will capture an image with some detail. You should make local adjustments based on the test image you initially capture. The idea here is that you want to exposure the night sky properly so “space looks black”, and you want the stars to show up as dots and not oval spots or even lines caused by the rotation of the Earth during too long of an exposure. At the above suggested exposure you’ll get a photograph that is pretty close to the right exposure with the wildcard variable being how much light pollution you have for man made sources like street lights. You can tweak your camera settings based on the test exposures you capture. You also need a dark place for these exposure setting to work. This leads into the second tip.

Banff Aurora Night Photography

The Aurora in Banff National Park

Qualities of a Good Location

You’ll need to find a good location for night photography. A good location for night photography would be one that has little or no light pollution from cities, towns and even well lit exits from street lights along the roadways. Some good places to view the night sky in Alberta include Banff’s Lake Minniwanka, around Pyramid and Patricia Lake north of the Jasper townsite, North and Northeast of Edmonton, East of Red Deer, Southeast of Calgary and Northeast or East of Lethbridge. Incidentally, Jasper has the honour of being designated as a dark sky preserve so practicing night photography there has the potential to produce some beautiful photographs. I suggest using Google Earth in satellite mode to find an area that has little settlement and one which has little or no nighttime lighting. Once you’ve identified possible locations you should check them out before the meteor shower is expected to arrive to make you final location decision.

Steadying your tripod

Make sure you have a sturdy tripod to mount your camera onto. A tripod that has a hook on the bottom of the center post is useful to hang a camera bag from to steady the tripod/camera setup farther. You don’t need much weight to hang from the hook. About 10 to 20lbs, 5-10kg, should be good. Also, don’t cheap out on the tripod head that you put on your tripod. An entry level tripod head may not be steady enough to prevent all of the camera shake from the mirror slap and any wind that may be present. The added weight to the tripod helps to steady the camera in a moderate to strong wind and the head helps to negate the vibration from mirror slap produced inside of your camera when you trip your shutter.

Minimizing Camera Shake During Long Exposures

Use a remote trigger system to open your shutter so the action of your finger pressing the shutter release button, and then removing your finger from the camera after it opens, doesn’t produce camera shake. You have a few options here to minimize this problem. You can use a cable release to open and close your shutter or use a 2 second timer to open your shutter to take the picture if you don’t have a remote trigger. A wireless or wired remote trigger would be fine for this. However, a remote trigger with an intervalometer feature in it is best.

With a simple remote trigger you have to press the shutter whenever you want to take photograph. Then you just have to repeat that action each time you want to take a photograph. Using an intervolometer is better. With an intervolometer You set the device to trip the shutter at a pre determined set interval and then you don’t have to touch the camera after that. That is, if you set the intervolometer to open the shutter every 9 seconds and the exposure set on your camera is for 8 seconds, then your shutter will be closed for only 1 second between exposures and you won’t miss much. This is the preferred tool for photographing meteor showers.

These Steps in Action

In my photograph of the meteor over Mount Fuji in Japan I was lucky enough to have the shutter open for the entire length of the meteor’s 3 second entry into our atmosphere. But really, I suppose I shouldn’t say that photograph was lucky. I did all of the steps I outline above and it paid off. Let me explain.

In 2012 I was planning a trip to Japan to visit family and do some preliminary location scouting for my Japan Photography Tour. A friend on facebook also reminded me that the Geminid meteor shower was going to happen while I was there.  I had previously known about the Geminid Meteor shower but forgot that it was going to be at its peak in December while I was scouting for my future tour there. Knowing this I was able to move the dates of our visit to Mount Fiji to coincidence with the forecasted peak of the meteor shower.

I had pre-visualized a photograph that would speak powerfully about Japan and the meteor shower. I decided that capturing a dizzying array of meteors over Mount Fuji in a single image would be exactly what I wanted.  But that didn’t work out exactly as I had planned.

I arrived at Mount Fuji 4 days before the peak of the event and Kazue and I started to do a reconnaissance all around the mountain during the days and nights leading up to the peak. We discovered that even though Mount Fuji is about 150km from Tokyo the light pollution from the city is still too much for night photography on the Eastern and Southern sides of the mountain. We covered hundreds of kilometers scouting the area for our future Japan tour and for the expected peak of the meteor shower. Oh, and did I mention that during my research of the meteor shower in Japan I discovered that the bulk of the show was going to be low on the SE horizon so we had to find a location on the North or Western side of the mountain to capture what I was after.

The hard work paid off. We discovered basically only two locations where the light pollution was manageable enough to get usable night photographs of the Mountain. With a bit more pre-planning I picked the location on the Northwest side of the mountain that put the North Star behind Fuji San so I could form an arch of light over the mountain. The photograph above is the result of all this planning and it’s an example of how good preplanning and practiced night photography skills can come together to produce a good photograph. I wish you all the best tonight capturing meteors and in all of your future night photography projects. You can find more photograph tips and suggestions by “liking” my facebook page too.

Interested in wildlife photography and searching for the right camera?  Consider looking at the new Canon 7D mark II.

Canon wildlife photography camera

Is the canon 7D mark II, the next best “wildlife/sports” camera?

The MP size increase is slight at 20.2 MP but there are a host of other improvements over the 7D and especially the 70D.  The APS-C sensor (cropped sensor) also gives you that extra reach usually needed for wildlife.  The ISO noise performance over the 7D and 70D has been significantly increased as well.  The acceptable quality of the image at high ISOs will give you more confidence to push the ISO a bit as the light fades too.  The focusing has been improved as well over the older models.  Time will tell if if “meets the mark” but I have good expectations from what I read in the few reviews I looked over so far.

Being a cropped sensor you might be challenged with your wide angle shots of landscapes unless you already have lenses in the 11mm range.  Keep the cropped factor and the inventory of lens you already have in mind when deciding whether to buy this camera or not.

The video capabilities are great. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for video.  I won’t get into the video qualities here but you can read a great review of all the new features and how they stack up to other models in the canon line-up here.

I usually go to dpreview to study the specs of cameras but I found their review fell short of what I was looking for this time.  I found most useful was the review by thedigitalpicture.com that compare the 7D markII to the Canon 7D and 70D.  This is worth a read if you have time.

But, is is good for landscape photography?  Well, yes, and maybe not.

The noise seems does to be well within an acceptable level for the ISOs that landscape photographers will use.  And, canon has some good cropped frame ultra wide angle lenses that will keep even the “get it all in the frame” landscape photographers happy.  So my answer has to be to get the body for the landscape lens you already own.  A good quality cropped lens is a fraction of the price of a good quality full frame lens and the top quality full frame lens “generally” only give you a bit of a noticeable improvement in image quality when observed at magnification with a critical eye.

I’m generally known by my customers as primarily a landscape photographer.  However, I spend a lot of time photographing wildlife during certain times of the year as I will be in the coming months this spring when I’ll be photographing a lot of black and grizzly bears.  I might be getting a Canon 7D mark II soon to have in the passenger seat of the car beside my 5D mark III.  Incidentally, I am considering upgrading to the new 5Dsr for landscape photography.  I’m still thinking about the 50MP images and if they are really worth it.  I’m leaning towards yes because I print my limited edition fine art photography quite large and the larger file size would be a significant benefit for large prints.  The canon 7D markII sells at The Camera Store in Calgary, AB for $1899.00 at the time of writing this post.  

Time will tell which new camera body I buy this spring but it will either be a canon 5Dsr or a canon 7D mark II.

 

     Landscape photography on the Banff Bow Valley Parkway Moose Meadows is simply amazing.  The parkway has a high concentration of world class landscape photography locations.  Other more popular ones, such as the Lake Louise shoreline, are easily found, however, I wanted to mention Landscape Photography on the Banff Bow Valley Parkway Moose Meadows because this roadside location has an amazingly low profile given the diverse landscape and wildlife photography options it presents.

Landscape Photography on the Banff Bow Valley Parkway at Moose Meadows

Spectacular Moose Meadows in Late Winter.

     Moose Meadows is located on the popular Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise.  I often mention to other landscape photographers that this location is beautiful in almost any weather at any time of year.  There is a pullout right across the road from the meadows so you can safely park your vehicle as you take your time exploring the area on foot with your tripod in hand.  And, if you’re on one of my photography tours we’ll likely visit here because it’s a good spot to pull over and let a van full of photographers get out and organize their gear before descending on the location.  As the name suggests, you may believe that it can be a good place to see moose, and other wildlife such as elk, deer or wolves, but, honestly, there are better places in the park to see wildlife.  I visit the best locations to see wildlife around Banff when hosting my private and organized group wildlife photography tours.  You can read more about my private full and half day wildlife photography tours here.  

     Another good quality about Moose meadows is that it tends to be a good location to shoot when the weather is bad and it usually has OK light for photography during the harsh light of mid-day.  This location is best a few hours after the sun comes up and a few hours before the sun sets.  This quality makes is a good stop after shooting the sunrise somewhere else, or before heading off to shoot the sunset.  Also, it is especially good to photograph here when the weather is poor.  The colours in the meadows seem to glow when the vegetation is wet, there is valley fog or during heavy snowfalls.  The meadow forms diminishing layers as the distance from your camera position increases.  This can produce beautiful photographs in poor visibility.  Wildlife photography in the swirling snow or fog can be beautiful in the surrounding meadows as well.

Landscape Photography on the Banff Bow Valley Parkway at Moose Meadows

Misty Elk in blowing snow, Banff National Park

     The colour here can be surprisingly sweet.  The branches of the bushes in Moose Meadows tend to reflect a surprisingly large amount of red light, especially when wet, while the trees and the sky reflect green and blue light.  The colours in the foreground, red, middle ground, green, and background sky, blue, combine to form a beautiful combination of the primary colours in the natural landscape, red, green and blue.  This combination of colours in the landscape, along with the calming flow of compositional picture elements,  is probably why this location works so well when building a compositionally balanced photograph.  Much of the source of this harmony can be explained by studying and gaining an understanding of colour theory.

    I should mention that the Bow Valley Parkway has a seasonal nightly closure on a small portion of it.  Click the preceding link for details about the closure.  Moose Meadows is NOT in the area closed during the Spring and early summer, however, the southern access to the meadows from Banff is closed each night between 8pm and 8am between March 1st and June 26th each year.  You can still access the meadows from the north by exiting the TransCanada highway at the Castle Junction exit and then travel south on the Bow Valley Parkway (the 1a highway) back towards Banff.  The closed section of the road is important to wildlife early in the season before the snow melts up high.  Bears tend to feed in the valley bottom along the road and cars park within a few meters of them to view them up close safely inside of their vehicles.  The bears tolerate this but will saunter off into the woods when the car traffic becomes to much for them and return about a half an hour or more later after everybody has left.  The disruption of their feeding by tourists and photographers, like us, during this critical time early in the season has caused Parks Canada to partially close the road.  This is why early morning at Moose Meadows can only be access from the north during this nightly closure in the Spring/early Summer.

Moose Meadows on the Bow Valley Parkway looking North. © www.brianmerry.ca

      I hope you get to enjoy Landscape Photography on the Banff Bow Valley Parkway Moose Meadows in the future and I’d be happy to take you there personally.  I’d like me to pass on this and some of the other detailed knowledge I know about landscape photography on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff and at other locations in the area.

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Winter can creatively be a slow time of year if you’re a landscape photographer.  You may even photographically feel like joining the grizzly bears in hibernation until Spring.  However, there are significant advantages to photographing in March that many landscape photographers often overlook, especially where I live in Banff, AB, Canada.   I’ll point five important steps towards successful winter photography here and add a few suggestions to help you overcome the unique difficulties you’ll face when photographing landscapes in the winter.  

Snowdome Sunset on the Columbia Icefields.  © www.brianmerry.ca

1/  The biggest advantage to photographing Banff in March is that is that you can still get out to photograph “Winter in the Mountains” without worrying too much about getting frostbite.  The landscape still looks like “Winter” in Banff for most of this month but the -20 or -30 degrees celsius is pretty well done for the season.  Also, towards the end of winter we tend to be a little better acclimatized to the weather and staying warm while out in the field is a little easier.  Making sure that you stay warm and comfortable is one of the most overlooked, and most important, things to consider when planning a winter landscape photography trip.  I suggest wearing a few layers including a somewhat thick down jacket even if the temperature is around freezing.  You’ll tend to cool off quickly as you stand around composing your photographs.  If your down jacket doesn’t have a hood then be sure to wear a good hat too.  I also wear wear a thin pair of gloves that are small enough to fit my hands inside my down jacket pockets when I’m wearing them, but also thin enough to operate the camera controls.  Lastly, make sure you have good pair winter boots to keep your feet warm.  The Kamik arctic boots from Canadian Tire are a good pair.

2/  The second thing I do to prepare for a winter landscape photography session is to be well fed and watered before I head out.  Yep, just like children, we tend to lose interest if our stomach is grumbling when we’re out shooting the sunrise at -20 degree Celsius at 7:30am and we haven’t eaten breakfast yet.  I like to grab a coffee and a muffin as I leave town to drink while I’m out there.  My morning Timmies coffee really helps to wake me up and relax so I can start to concentrate on my creativity. 

Once I’m warm, comfortable, and my creature comforts are taken care of, I’m ready to brave the cold.  But is my camera equipment ready for it?

3/  We’ve all heard that cameras fail fairly easily in the cold.  I’ll point out a few common reasons why they fail here and how you can manage their vulnerabilities.  First off is the big one, the batteries.  Most camera batteries today are Lithium-Ion batteries.  They are very good at maintaining a good burst of energy but they lose their charge extremely fast when they’re cold.  The way I avoid this is to only put the battery in the camera when I’m actually taking a picture.  After I’m finished photographing at a location and I’m ready to move on, I’ll pop the battery out of the camera again and store it in an inside pocket close to my body to keep it warm.  When I’m at the next location I’ll simply pop it back in my camera and start shooting with a warm, strong battery.  I also always have a fully charged backup battery in case the first one dies.

The Rundle Diamond, captured on a very cold winter morning in Banff.

4/  Another common problem photographers face when shooting in winter is condensation building up all over, and inside the camera body and lens.  In an extreme case, heavy condensation can cause damage to your camera.  It’s a really good idea to avoid or reduce condensation.  There are two ways I’ve found to do this well.  Firstly, when I go outside I always leave my camera in my backpack or around my neck so it is exposed to relatively the same temperature for the whole session.  The camera will cool off when you first go outside and it’ll stay cold the entire session.  This won’t cause a problem with your ability to take photographs.  Remember, it’s the battery that fails when it’s cold.  Generally cameras are fine in the cold as long as they don’t have condensation on them and their power supply stays warm and fully charged.  Remember my battery tip?  One think to avoid is repeatedly pulling your camera in and out of your jacket in a futile effort to keep it warm.  This will cause a lot of condensation and frost all over and inside of your camera in no time all.  Think -> Condensation=>Bad

5/  Another good tip to avoid condensation when you go back inside is to put your camera in a ziplock bag while you’re still outside, and leave it in the sealed bag when you bring it inside until it warms up.  After it’s warm you can remove it from the sealed bag and not worry about condensation forming on it.  This is little tedious but it’s worth the extra effort in high humidity environments.

I hope these tips help you manage the cold for both yourself and your equipment the next time you’re out shooting outside in the winter.  Sometimes our best photographs are created under the harshest conditions.  A prepared photographer manages the elements so they can focus on their emotional communication.

 

 

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