Oct 212014
Virgin River-0827

The Virgin river close to the Zion junction shuttle stop.

Zion National Park is one of my favourite national parks in the US, it is also one of the busiest. For example, if you want to take classic photographs at sunrise and sunset of The Watchman, then you will probably find yourself shoulder to shoulder with fellow photographers.

However, come back to the same spot an hour later and all will be quiet. Admittedly the light on The Watchman may not be as dramatic but the same area still offers fabulous photographic opportunities.

The key is finding open shade. Shady areas where nice light is being bounced in to the scene. This can solve the problem of dealing with high dynamic range and you can create beautiful and more unique photographs at a time of day when most photographs have gone home.

For the photograph on the left I also used a 4 stop graduated neutral density filter. No polarizing filter was used.

The Virgin river near Temple of Sinawava

The Virgin river near Temple of Sinawava

Below are two more photographs taken on the same morning. No filters were used, my friend Dave and I simply walked up the river looking for nice shady spots. These photographs were taken around midday!

It is always tempting to take classic landscape scenes when travelling to places like Zion National Park, if you look around, you may be surprised at how nice the light is even though it is not the “magic hour”.

The Virgin river and trees near Temple of Sinawava.

The Virgin river and trees near Temple of Sinawava.

Jun 112012

A "stinky turkey" sits on a branch as we paddle down a creek near Napo Wildlife Centre

Napo Wildlife Centre (NWC) is located inside the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador’s Amazon basin. The national park has an area of 9820 km2 and is situated to the South of the Napo river. There is a lot of oil production in the area and the Napo river is an important artery for the oil industry, tourism and local communities.

 

The easiest way to access the Napo river is to fly to the busy city of Coca. On clear days it is possible to see several volcanoes on the short 35 minute flight from Quito. Surprisingly, three airlines offer daily flights to Coca using Airbus aircraft.

 

Curious capuchin monkey

It’s a short bus ride to the river and then a two hour ride by a FAST motorized canoe to the head of the Ananugu creek. From here we transfer to smaller canoes for a scenic paddle down the narrow creek to the lodge.

 

The lodge itself is beside a beautiful lake and we were accommodated in spacious thatched bungalows. Since my last visit, four larger bungalows have been added for families. The guides just keep getting better and this year we had two wonderful guides who were not only knowledgeable and spoke excellent English but regularly consulted me in order to ensure we gave the group the best photographic opportunities.

Trying to photograph a Blue Morpho butterfly in flight is very challenging but I managed to achieve it this year.

As most of the wildlife activity takes place early in the morning and in the evening, then these are the times that we do our activities. The daily routine was essentially; 5:30am wake up, breakfast, morning activity, lunch, siesta, afternoon or evening activity, dinner, sleep.

The main activities are; jungle hikes, canoe rides along the narrow creeks, a day trip to parrot clay licks and the community’s cultural centre, a hike and climb up the observation tower which offers views above the canopy.

The most exciting activity for me are the canoe rides. You never know what you’ll see around the next corner; it could be a troop of monkeys jumping across the creek, a kingfisher sitting by the waters edge or the elusive giant otter. The variety of wildlife along the creeks is amazing.

A group of bats sleep under a branch just above the Napo River

During our stay this year we saw nine different types of monkey, 3 toed sloth, a variety of frogs, bats, caiman, turtles, giant river otters, spiders, butterflys and of course a huge variety of birds.

We visited two clay licks but only one had any parrots this year. However, clay lick day is also our chance to visit the community’s cultural centre. Since my last visit in 2010, the ladies of the community have made a new cultural centre and in a new location. The new one is a great improvement and we were treated to displays of dancing and singing and we were also shown a traditional house and demonstrations of various household tools.

Despite some rain, we had an excellent four nights at NWC and I saw lots of animals that I’ve never seen before. Although I have few photographs this year, I have lots of video footage that needs to be edited.

After four exciting nights at Napo Wildlife Centre we headed back up the Napo river to Coca and flew back to Quito. In Quito we met the rest of the group that were joining us for the Galapagos Islands but before heading to Galapagos we had due to visit Otavalo and Cotacachi the next day.

FInd out more in part three….

 

 

Aug 222010

HDR photograph of Kilmore church on Mull. Processed by Photomatix Pro

I recently wrote a blog article about Photoshop CS5’s new “Merge to HDR Pro”. In that article I mentioned that the recent improvements with HDR software will mean that I will start to do more HDR photography in the future.

However, before committing to doing HDR with Photoshop CS5, I thought that I would do some more tests. The ultimate HDR test for me is how easy is it to create a HDR panorama?

Whilst in Scotland, I made a handheld panorama at Tobermory. The light was harsh, so it was a great opportunity to try HDR at the same time.

I first tried to process the HDR in Lightroom and Photoshop CS5. The result was good but I couldn’t find an easy way of batch processing all the segments of the panorama in one step. In this case there are 10 different segments with 3 exposures per segment.

Click on the photo to see more of this hand held HDR panorama of Tobermory.

With Photoshop CS5’s ‘Merge to HDR Pro’ I had to process each frame separately and stitch the HDR frames.

I then tried to do the same task with Photomatix Pro. Photomatix has a Lightroom plugin, when the plugin is combined with Photomatix Pro’s batch processing, it is easy to select ALL the photographs for a panorama (in this case 30) and process them together. It can achieve this because you can tell Photomatix Pro that you want it to do the HDR processing in steps of 3 (in this case).

If you photographed a HDR panorama with 8 segments and had 5 exposures per segment then you would select all 40 photographs in Lightroom, export them to Photomatix Pro and tell Photomatix Pro to do the HDR processing in steps of 5. It’s that simple!

I’ve been so impressed with Photomatix Pro that I contacted the developers (HDRsoft) and have got a 15% coupon code. If you want to buy Photomatix then click here and type ‘RBERRYPHOTO’ as the coupon code and you’ll save money!

Aug 032010

Brown bear looking for fish

Our first few days in Alaska have been incredible with excellent bear and whale photography.

We saw a few bears at Kadoshan on our first day and photographed them chasing fish, resting and eating sedge grass.

For our second day went went whale watching. After a slow start we saw a humpback whale that was breaching, we headed to where it was performing and enjoyed the spectacular display and enjoyed listening to it’s calls.

Later, more humpbacks arrived and on the cruise back to Tenakee we saw a large pod of orcas which we photographed before heading back for dinner.

Humpback breaching

Today, we are exploring Tenakee and hope to see some bears in the river near the cabin.

More updates on Saturday!

"Chocolate" eating sedge grass

Jul 222010

Victoria Falls at sunrise

It’s hard to think of a superlative that can be used to describe my recent adventure in Zimbabwe.

Incredibly friendly people, gorgeous landscapes, breath taking wildlife experiences, all in a safe area with hardly any tourists.

The adventure started when I flew in to the town of Victoria Falls. Esther, a wonderful local guide took me on a tour of the falls and it’s different view points. During the walk she advised not to go out at night. After working in Nigeria for 6 years I wasn’t surprised at this advise but was quickly assured that it was elephants, buffalo and baboons that I had to be concerned about, not people!

Sunrise at the falls was spectacular and there I was, photographing one of the seven wonders of the natural world and I had the place to myself.

The purpose of my visit to Zimbabwe wasn’t just to photograph Victoria Falls but also to travel by canoe down the Zambezi River in Mana Pools National Park.

Canoeing down the Zambezi River

A Cessna 206 took three of us to a small airstrip at the western end of the Mana Pools National Park. Here we met our guide Nick and his team and soon we were on the river.

The idea is that the guests sit in the front of the canoes and enjoy the ride, whilst Nick and his assistants Tim and Tonia do the paddling. In strong currents we helped but the goal was for us to relax and take photographs.

Within minutes, we saw our first group of hippos. Over the next three days we saw an astonishing number of them; it is estimated that around  5,000 hippopotamus live in Mana Pools National Park.

One of the groups of hippopotamus along the Zambezi

When you are sitting in a canoe; a large, fast moving hippo suddenly seems a lot more intimidating than the ones at a zoo! Nick made sure that we stayed a safe distance from hippos but as we learnt on day 2, some hippos choose to hide. I’ll save that story for another day….

The variety of wildlife along the river is incredible. We soon saw crocodiles, African fish eagles, short tailed eagles, a variety of kingfishers, waterbok, elephants, water buffalo, impala, egrets, wart hogs, baboons and much more.

Enjoying a beer at the end of the first day

Before we reached our first camp, we rafted the canoes together and I enjoyed a beer as we watched the sunset.

Within a few hours this had become one of my best wildlife experiences ever. The solitude, lack of other tourists, sense of adventure and viewing experiences were unprecedented and this was just the first day!

At the start of the next day, Nick took us on a game drive followed by a walk. It was evident that Nick enjoys taking his clients on a walk through the bush, it was certainly exciting not knowing what be round the next corner.

Nick leading the way

Using a dry river bed as cover, we sneaked up to a herd of grazing water buffalo and then sat and watched them as they ate their breakfast.

This was one of the many incredible experiences that Nick took us on over the three days. His 50 calibre rifle was a reminder that these animals are wild and that we should plan for the unexpected.

At the end of each day we stayed in a mobile camp. This was luxury camping with proper beds, en-suite facilities and awesome food. After dinner we would sit around the fire swapping stories, watching the stars and discussing the plans for the next day.

It’s hard to choose a single highlight from such a memorable few days but I have to admit that Nick’s ability to take us safely up to bull elephants was astonishing.

He would raft the canoes together and we slowly drift toward the elephants, then stop and watch them eat, then drift a little closer…

Up close and personal with an African bull elephant

We ended up right next to the elephants as they munched away. No need for a super-telephoto here, I was using a 50mm lens!

On this trip I wasn’t just a spectator but felt like a participant in the excitement of a typical African day.

I’ll be returning to Zimbabwe in 2011 as part of my Adventure in Africa photo tour. I can’t wait and I’m sure that this will be the start of many trips to Zimbabwe.

Jun 262010

Smiling on the Aonach Eagach ridge as the cloud clears

On our first full day in Scotland, Steve and I ascended and traversed the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe.

The Aonach Eagach is regarded as the narrowest ridge in mainland Britain and it certainly has some airy sections.

So, what camera did I choose to take? My nice and light Canon D10 point and shoot? No, I actually took my heavy D3x!

The reason was that I suspected we’d see the cloud clearing and that we’d get some great photos.

The view along the Aonach Eagach ridge

The camera didn’t seem too heavy because I no longer use zoom lenses (except for the 17-35mm f2.8). I took a 28mm f2.8 and an 85mm f1.8 and was happy with choice. These two lenses are much lighter than taking a 24-70 f2.8 zoom. I also used my Winer front loading camera bag so that the camera was handy and had a polarizing filter (which I didn’t need) and a graduated ND filter which I did need.

We had a great day and I was certainly glad to have the D3X.

May 292010

I took 3 cameras to the Galapagos Islands; Nikon D3X, Nikon D3 and a Canon D10 (waterproof compact). As the light is nice and bright I had no intention of using the D3 and only took it as a spare. It stayed in a drawer on the boat for the entire week!

1:1 view of the detail of a Waved Albatross. The Albatross was 7.08metres away! D3X and 300mm f2.8

The D3x was awesome, I love this camera. It is quick and easy to use and the results are incredible. That’s it, not a lot to say on the D3x!

The Canon D10 is also a wonderful camera. I bought it after doing some research on waterproof cameras and one of the features that I liked was the fact that it’s waterproof to 10metres; that is important to me because I like diving deep when snorkelling and I didn’t want to worry about the camera.

Sea turtle at Targus Cove - Canon D10

When using a waterproof camera in salt water it is incredibly important to rinse them in fresh water afterwards, therefore I ensured that we had a dedicated rinse bucket at the end of each snorkel trip.

Sometimes the water was quite cool and I snorkelled for up to an hour at a time. I found that the battery would last about 3 snorkel trips before recharging which I thought was good performance.

I was happy with my camera choice but one thing that became obvious was how useful video is on a dSLR. Malcolm Thornton had a Canon 5D Mark II and he took some incredible video clips with it. There were simply situations (such as the sharks taking on a big sea lion to get some tuna) that stills couldn’t really capture with the same impact as video.

Nikon introduced video in to dSLR’s and Jim Slobodian did take some video clips with a D3S, unfortunately I haven’t seen Jim’s clips so I can’t comment on the quality but Nikon is only providing 720p video whereas Canon provides full 1080p in it’s cameras. As I mentioned in my post on my D3S test, I would have bought that camera if it had 1080p.

If you’re interested in doing high quality video with a dSLR then invest in a good quality shotgun microphone. The Azden SMX-10 microphone has excellent quality sound and is a great price, I use one with our Nikon D5000 for videoing the girls at home, may be I should have brought the D5000 along and kept it in my backpack for those video moments.

May 272010

Galapagos Hawk - photographed with 180mm f2.8 lens

This year’s photo tour to the wonderful Galapagos Islands was my third visit to the archipelago.

I recommended to my group that the most useful lens that they could take would be either a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII or the equivalent Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS II, I’m pretty sure that the majority of the photographers who took that lens would agree with that suggestion.

However, this was my first visit to Galapagos when I didn’t take that lens! Why not?

Last year, I decided to sell my Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 lenses. The reason was that I found them too heavy and when I checked the metadata I found that I was primarily using them at focal lengths of 24mm, 50mm, 70mm and 200mm.

As I already had a Nikon 17-35mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4 and 180mm f2.8, I reckoned that I could buy the 85mm f1.8 and 105mm f2.8 VR Micro and my bases would be covered.

Spider on Genovesa - 105mm f2.8 VR Micro lens

Did I miss the 70-200mm?

Of the 1100 Galapagos photos that I took with a Nikon, 49 were taken with my 85mm, 360 with the 105mm and 150 were taken with the 180mm. When I used the 105mm lens it was quite often to do macro photos, so I would not have been able to use the 70-200mm lens at those times. I must admit that I didn’t miss the 70-200mm and certainly didn’t miss the weight. However, I still stand by my recommendation that a 70-200 f2.8 lens is the most useful lens for Galapagos, for most photographers.

Did I miss the 24-70mm?

On the wider side of things here are the stats; Using the 17-35mm zoom, 14 photos were taken between 22mm and 28mm, 20 were taken at 35mm . I also took 102 photos with my 50mm f1.4.

Despite taking fewer wider/normal photos, I did miss the 24-70mm lens! I think if I were to make video clips of some of the action that we saw, then that would be the lens that I’d want. However, I still don’t miss the weight and length of that lens.

Garth and Kimi photographing the first sunset. 17-35mm f2.8 at 17mm

The 24-70mm is not a lens that I miss in my regular photography, so it’s a dilemma that I’ll have to ponder on. If Nikon comes out with a new DX format camera that has 1080p video and D700 image quality then I could use the 17-35mm lens, capture sound and video for the same weight as the 24-70mm zoom.

Wide angle photos

I find the 17-35mm lens to be very useful. Of the 70 photos that I took with that lens, 30 were at 17mm. On a full frame camera, that is very wide! It’s the one Nikon zoom that I can’t do without and it’s the only zoom lens that I own.

What was the star lens!

Without a doubt, the star lens for me was my 300mm f2.8 VR lens. I took more photos with that lens (378) than with any other lens. Of course, if I had a DX format camera (1.5x crop) then my 180mm f2.8 would have given me a similar field of view as the 300mm but Nikon does not make a DX format camera that has the same image quality as the D3 series cameras or the D700.

Juvenile heron - 300mm f2.8 VR

What does Nikon need to do?

Nikon seriously needs to update it’s range of fixed focal length lenses. I love the 180mm f2.8 but it has the antiquated AF focusing instead of the newer AF-S system. Add VR to that lens and I’m sure it will be a winner. An AF-S version of the 24mm f2.8 lens and the 85mm lenses would also be appreciated.

When Nikon introduced a new 24mm lens a few months ago I was excited for about 15 seconds. I then released it was an f1.4 that weighs 620 grammes and costs over $2,300! Give me a break, I’m sure it’s useful for some people but not me.

Come on Nikon, AF-S has been around since 1996. It is time to put it in all of your regular lenses! Canon has had ultrasonic motors in it’s lenses since 1987 and they have a wonderful 200mm f2.8 L lens.

Nikon also needs to update it’s DX line up and come out with a professional quality camera that has 1080p video and around 14 to 18 megapixels. I think that too many pixels will have an adverse effect on image quality and high ISO capability.

Feb 182010

Erin and Kendra viewing bison in Yellowstone

Inspired by the BBC DVD on Yellowstone, I thought that it would be fun to do a family winter trip to America’s first national park. Two days later and we were on the road!

Yellowstone is just 10 hours drive from Canmore but with children that equates to 2 days.

There are advantages and disadvantages to coming in winter. One major advantage is that it is relatively easy to see wolves and other wildlife.

So far we have seen; wolves, a fox, bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyotes, big horn sheep, geese, bald eagles and some rabbits!

Part of the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs

The wildlife is surprisingly close, the bison have often stopped us as they cross the road and I was 200m away from a wolf kill and took photos of bald eagles, ravens, fox and coyotes as they stole food from the wolves.

The disadvantage of visiting in winter is that the roads to the premier geothermal areas such as Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are closed, you can still visit those areas but you need to arrange a “snocoach” to take you there.

Fortunately, Mammoth Hot Springs is open and the terraces offer some amazing photo opportunities. Also, it is possible to cross country ski around the upper terrace which Erin and I did. It was really neat to be skiing around bubbling springs with amazing colours.

We’ll be heading home today but we’ve had a fun and memorable trip and I’ll definitely be back….

Bison in Yellowstone

Jan 242010

Mesa Arch at sunrise

The last few days in Moab have been spectacular! The grey weather cleared away and we’ve had fun at some of the premier locations in the area.

Shirl Ratzlaff enjoying the sunset at Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch in the late afternoon

On Friday afternoon we walked up to Delicate Arch on wet, muddy and ice trails. The hike was worth the effort. When we arrived we were the only people there! The light on the arch became warm with dramatic clouds behind. All in all, perfect conditions (except for the strong winds).

The setting sun was obscured by a bank of cloud at sunset but we had been rewarded with beautiful light and tranquility.

The next morning was also clear so we headed to Mesa Arch. As Steve and I found the previous Saturday, Mesa Arch can be busy at anytime of year. However, this morning was special, we were joined by a lovely couple from Houston and everyone was free to move around to get the photo they wanted.

The light was amazing and the whole arch glowed as the sun climbed. We stayed for a while enjoying the scene and the company. After eight previous visits to Mesa Arch I finally enjoyed it the way I’ve always wanted to.

Fisher Towers at sunset

We finished the week photographing the Fisher Towers at sunset. It was a wonderful afternoon with the towers glowing right up to sunset.

After the sun had set the clouds gave us an amazing light show and a second photo opportunity.

I have had an amazing two weeks in Moab. The snow has completely enhanced the landscape. Many locations have been delightfully quiet.

Thanks to Steve, Shirl, David and Niru for their fun company and hopefully we’ll be doing some photography together in the near future.

Group photo at Mesa Arch