David Thompson Country

A few weeks ago I spent an enjoyable 3 days photographing in David Thompson Country with my friend and photographer David Buzzeo ( Buzzeophotography.com )

David Thompson Country is located in west central Alberta, basically along Highway 11 west of Rocky Mountain House. It is named for fur trader and cartographer David Thompson. I have posted about two previous visits on my blog: last January when I was attempting to photograph ice bubbles … Day Trippin’ , and three years ago when I went backpacking in the area … Backpacking Trip .

Crescent Falls

Our trip started off with a visit to Crescent Falls on the Bighorn River. I had camped here in the Spring of 2018 and took the photo to the left of the falls.

Our plan was to photograph the falls from below. We finally found a very steep path that would take us down into Bighorn Gorge. We were able to hike along the river for a ways but it eventually became clear that we were going to have to wade back and forth across the river a couple of times. With lots of interesting shots along the portion of the river that was fairly easily accessible to us, we decided not to go all the way to the falls.

The two images below are of a couple of the little waterfalls we encountered as we hiked along the river.

At one point, I became fascinated with light reflections on the water. Colored light reflecting off the walls of the gorge combined with the color of the river and the rocky bed created some beautiful, abstract color patterns as shown in the following images.

In fact, three of them would make a nice triptych. What do you think?

Later in the afternoon we set up camp at the Fish Lake campground. My wife and I had camped here a couple of times back in the ’80’s when we had a little tent trailer. I was happy to see that the campground is still just as nice as it was back then.

Having a friend along on this camping trip inspired me to be a little more creative with the meal menus than I typically am when camping on my own. Dinner was Basil Chicken Pasta and salad. The pasta was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast omelet, we struck off to hike up to Siffleur Falls. This was a new hike for me, although David has done it several times in the past. It is a reasonably easy 14 km return hike although with a camera bag and tripod on my back it took a bit of effort. While the falls at the top are spectacular, the scenery along the way made for some beautiful stops.

That evening we drove into Nordegg for sunset. On previous visits, David had found quite a few old miner’s cabins on the edge of town (Nordegg is an old coal-mining town). Unfortunately it appears they have almost all been torn down to make way for a new development. There was still one old cabin, or possibly a store given it’s false front, that we were able to photograph.

For our final morning we headed west to the intersection of Highway 11 and the Banff-Jasper Highway (Hwy 93) for a hike to the Howse Pass outlook. Our hike was broken into two parts. About a kilometer and a half into the hike we came to a bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. We spent some worthwhile time here exploring and photographing the area.

Another 1.5 km or so brings you to the Howse Pass Outlook. The view was spectacular although the extremely strong wind made keeping the tripod steady a bit of a challenge. Howse Pass through the mountains was a route between the Saskatchewan River and the Columbia River used by First Nations People and fur traders.

Following the hike, and lunch back in the parking lot, we set off for home. Our route took us back along Lake Abraham so we stopped for a few final images.

My thanks to David Buzzeo for sharing his knowledge of the area. It was a great 3 days!

To view more of my images, please visit my website NeilMillerPhotography.com – just click the “Photo Gallery” tab at the top of the page to go directly to my other site. While there, please sign up for my quarterly newsletter to be advised about new images added to my galleries.

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Mushroom

Just a single image this time. A simple mushroom in a patch of clover. A Leccinum boreale, I am told, Alberta’s provincial mushroom. Taken while I was laying flat on the ground. I love the warm orange contrasted with the cooler greens.

Leccinum boreale
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Waterfalls

I love photographing waterfalls. Unfortunately, life on the Canadian Prairies doesn’t offer a lot of nearby opportunities. So on my recent trip to Jasper National Park I took advantage of a hike up to Stanley Falls.

The great thing about this hike is that, not only are Stanley Falls worth the hike, but the trail along Beauty Creek is lined with multiple smaller waterfalls. It was a wonderful way to spend half a day, or so, taking the time to photograph each of these falls.

While I didn’t get a good shot of Stanley Falls themselves (didn’t find a good vantage point to really create a good composition) I did find some interesting shots by zooming in on the fast flowing stream, such as in the following image.

Here are several of the falls along the way.

Even the fast-flowing water of Beauty Creek is gorgeous.

The silky appearance of the water is created by using a long exposure, which necessitates using a tripod. It is extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to hold the camera steady enough for the length of exposure necessary. So of course this meant lugging my tripod along on the hike. In the middle of the day, in order to accomplish the slow shutter speed, not only is the tripod a necessity but often a neutral density filter is necessary. An ND filter is essentially a dark filter which cuts down on the amount of light entering the camera. Therefore, in order to let enough light enter the camera, you need a longer exposure.

Think of it as 100 people trying to get into a stadium. If you have 5 turnstiles that allow 5 people at a time to enter, the crowd will get in fairly quickly. If you close 4 turnstiles so that only one person at a time can enter, you will have to allow a much longer time period for those 100 people to enter the stadium.

Another useful device is a polarizing filter (which acts like polarizing sun glasses) which helps cut down on any glare from the water or the wet rocks alongside the creek. I carried, and used, a polarizing filter and several different strengths of ND filters on the hike.

Notice the difference amongst the three images below. The version on the left is taken at 1/60 sec. The middle one is taken at a longer 1/15 sec, while the one on the right is taken at a significantly longer 30 seconds. Notice how the water has some texture in the left image, appears slightly silky in the middle image and very silky in the righthand image.

How silky the water should be is totally a matter of personal choice. I generally like the appearance of silky water that still has a little texture to it. Others may prefer more texture in the water (more like the image on the left above). Either preference is totally fine. As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Spoiler alert, my final processed image earlier in this post was actually a combination of three different exposures: 1/15 sec, 0.8 sec, and 25 seconds. I combined bits of each exposure to achieve the balance of texture and silkiness that I wanted.

The final component to a decent waterfall shot (and perhaps the most important) is good lighting. This does not mean bright sunlight shining on the water: in fact, that produces the worst effect. Waterfalls are often in shady environments, either surrounded by trees or rocks. If direct sunlight is shining on the water, it creates a huge contrast between the darker or shaded parts of the scene and the bright water. The camera has trouble accommodating this huge range between dark areas and bright areas (referred to as dynamic range). As a result, it tries to either expose for the darker areas leading to totally blown out bright areas (i.e. the bright areas are just a white blob with no detail); or the camera tries to expose for the bright areas which means the darkest areas are totally black with no detail in them. The best scenario is when clouds are covering the sun leading to a nice, soft, diffuse light. Of course, early morning or late in the day, when the sun is low in the sky and probably not shining directly on the waterfall, can work very well too.

As, on the day of my hike, the sky was a mix of clouds and clear blue sky, it took a bit of patience at each waterfall to wait for the right conditions. Essentially, at each stop, it meant finding a composition, setting up the camera, then waiting for the clouds to cover the sun to create the ideal lighting conditions. That meant my stops along the way ranged from about 15 minutes to an hour or so. But in each case, the wait was worth it.

Here is a shot along Beauty Creek to the mountains beyond. There was some smoke in the air, from the BC wildfires, which created a bit of haze.

The next two photos are probably my two favorites of the day.

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know which was your favorite image above.

Also, please drop by my photo gallery at neilmillerphotography.com (just clicking on the Photo Gallery tab above will take you there) to view some of my other photography. While there, sign up for my quarterly newsletter to learn of updates to my galleries.

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Jasper in July

Late in July I spent a couple of nights camping in Jasper. I had booked my campsite before the wildfires in BC really started sending smoke into Alberta, so I anticipated some clear weather for photography. I few days before I was set to depart, smoke drifted into Edmonton and pretty much obliterated the sky. So it was with some trepidation that I struck off for the National Park.

I stopped in Hinton for fuel. When I got out of my car, it hit me … the air didn’t smell like smoke and I could actually see the mountains. As I got closer to Jasper the air cleared even more. While there was still some smoke in the air, it was more like a bit of haze than heavy obliteration. It was enough that I knew shooting grand vistas probably wasn’t going to be very good, but perhaps smaller scenes would be possible.

The first evening I set off for the location I had planned for a sunset shoot. When I got there, visibility was such that the mountain that would have been the subject of my shot was totally obscured. So it was off to Plan B which involved a drive into Jasper townsite and out the other side. When I got to location B it was clear that a shot from there wouldn’t work either. By now I was somewhat winging it as I set off for a third potential location, with sunset fast approaching.

This time I got luckier. As I was scouting around an area I had shot from many times before, I came across a new vantage point that offered some definite compositions. I spent a couple of hours at this location, trying different compositions as the sun got lower and eventually disappeared behind the mountains. In the end I came up with two images that I quite like.

The next morning (actually more like the middle of the night) I was up and driving to a spot from which I had planned a sunrise shot. My hope was that, if I got there far enough in advance of sunrise, I might get some nice alpenglow on the tops of the mountains. Instead, I got heavy cloud and smoke pretty much obscuring the sun and the mountains. Off in the distance I could hear the rumble of thunder. Fortunately the storm passed to the south of me but I did get this shot of the storm as it approached.

While I quite like the shot, it was essentially the only decent one I got in the two to three hours I spent at this location hoping the conditions would improve. When it became clear that it would remain heavily overcast for most of the morning, I set off to find a picnic area where I could cook my breakfast (porridge!). Then it was off for a hike and my main photo excursion of the day … but that’s a story for my next post!

For more of my photography, check out my gallery at neilmillerphotography.com – or click the Gallery button above. While there, sign up for my quarterly newsletter that will update you with photos added to my gallery.

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Summer Flowers

Summer is a great time to photograph flowers, especially if you have a botanical garden nearby. St. Albert Botanical Park is truly a hidden gem and is only about a five minute drive from my home. It’s easily accessible, open 24 hours, maintained beautifully, and free! What’s not to like about it.

I like to go early in the morning when the light is still soft and there’s seldom anyone about, other than a few bees collecting pollen. In fact, by the time visitors start showing up in any numbers, the lighting is starting to get too harsh and I’m packing up my gear to go home for breakfast.

Most of the images I create are closeups of flowers or parts of flowers. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with the flowers and to see them in ways that you don’t necessarily see when viewing a flower bed as a whole. Having said that, the mixture of colors and textures in a flower bed can also make a compelling image.

Here is a sampling of some of the photos I have taken recently.

In addition to more “normal” photos, I have also taken the opportunity of practicing various techniques that create more abstract images.

In these two images, the flowers seem to have a soft glow about them.

This next image also has a lovely softness about it. A combination of a soft pink color combined with only the tips of a couple of petals being in focus created this effect. When done for artistic effect, deliberately having some (or most) of your image out-of-focus can create some very pleasing results.

The following image of a lily is definitely more abstract. I loved the blend of cooler colors with a couple of splashes of warmer yellow and orange.

The final image has more of an impressionism feel to it. This effect is actually created in-camera. I loved the mixture of colors and the S-curve of this flower bed.

Now I just have to find some time to get back to the gardens to see what is currently blooming!

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Watch the Birdie

My main project this Spring seemed to be photographing birds. Generally I went out early morning, before the light got too harsh, and spent a pleasant hour or two photographing whatever I could find.

I think my favourite photo during this time was one where I caught a Red-winged Blackbird singing and you could “see” its breath. It wasn’t particularly chilly that morning so I assume there must have been a little bit of mist rising off the water, or perhaps just enough of a cold-air pocket that the exhaled air from the bird was visible.

“I can see my breath!”

Perhaps my second favourite was of a female Red-winged Blackbird that seemed to be singing into a microphone.

“The Singer”

The gallery below is a compilation of other favourite images from the past couple of months. Click on any image to enlarge it.

To view more of my photography, please visit neilmillerphotography.com – or just click on the “Photo Gallery” tab above. While there, please sign up for my quarterly newsletter to get informed of any updates I make.

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Still Life

Still life images are not something I do a lot of. So over the winter I endeavored to learn a bit more about some techniques for photographing such scenes.

The first few images I created were photographed in my tabletop light box against a black background and using a single light from the side. The result was some classic-looking images.

Teddy Bear
Old Violin

The technique I used in the images below was to photograph the subject against a neutral gray background. In the image below, I show how I photographed this scene against the gray background. In addition, I focus stacked the image. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I shoot a series of images moving the focal point of each image successively through scene. The resulting images are stacked together with the sharpest bits of each image being combined into a final photo that is tack sharp throughout.

The reason for shooting the scene against a gray background is that it makes it very easy to replace the background in Photoshop with anything I choose. In this particular case, to create the background, I started with 3 photos of various textures which I blended together in Photoshop. The result was the image below.

Tulip Saw Boot

Over several days, I photographed flowers and tools in my workshop. After creating a series of images, I combined some of them into triptychs and grids.

Floral Triptych
Flowers and Tools Triptych
Tools

All-in-all it was fun and perhaps something I will do a little more of in the future.

To view more of my photography, please visit neilmillerphotography.com – or just click on the “Photo Gallery” tab above. While there, please sign up for my quarterly newsletter to get informed of any updates I make.

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Out and About – in Black and White

A few weeks ago I went for a drive in the countryside with two thoughts in mind. One was to look for wildlife, in particular, to see if any of the sloughs or ponds had melted enough to start attracting waterfowl. No luck on this front – everything was still frozen over. The other thought was that I might come across some interesting old buildings to photograph. I had a little more luck on this front.

I love the site of old, abandoned houses and barns. I often wonder, who lived there? How long ago? What was their story? What was their life like?

I also like processing these old buildings in black and white as I think it simplifies the image and allows you to concentrate on the shape and textures of the subject. By removing color, surrounding objects often become less of a distraction.

This old house has resisted, to some extent, the ravages of time. That passage of time is illustrated by the weathered exterior along with the trees growing out of the window, doorway and roof. The snow is devoid of tracks other than what looks like rabbit tracks leading towards the house.

Similarly, old barns look great in black and white.

Common on the prairies is the sight of a church seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

The above church is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church St. John. A short distance further down the road (about a couple hundred meters) is the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Ascension, pictured below.

And, of course, every good farming community needs their community hall. Oh the weddings, dances, dinners, and parties that must have taken place here.

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Revisiting Elk Island NP

In late February, I paid a visit to Elk Island National Park. It had been a while since I had been to the park, and even longer since visiting the park in winter.

For those not familiar with this National Park, it is located about a half hour’s drive east of Edmonton. It is the only entirely fenced-in National Park in Canada. As the name might suggest, it was originally established, in 1906, to protect one of Canada’s few remaining herds of elk. According to the park’s website, “more than 42 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, five species of amphibians, one reptile species and two species of fish live in Elk Island National Park’s diverse landscape of forests, lakes, wetlands and grasslands.”

The park has, perhaps, become best known for it’s herds of bison. By the early 1900, North America’s largest land mammal, once roaming the plains in the millions, had been hunted nearly to extinction. Between 1907 and 1912, 700 bison were shipped by train to Elk Island National Park. For over a century, bison have been protected and flourished in the safe sanctuary provided by this National Park.

Elk Island is home to two sub-species of bison: Wood Bison and Plains Bison. Wood Bison are adapted to northern climates and once roamed across Alaska, Northwest Territories, and Northern BC and Alberta. At Elk Island NP they are found exclusively south of Highway 16, which bisects the park. Plains Bison were once found across the Great Plains of North America in herds of 10, 000 to 100,000 or more. In this National Park they are found north of Highway 16. It is this latter part of the park that I visited on this trip.

While I usually find bison when I visit the park, it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes they have roamed to more inaccessible parts of the park. On this morning I was lucky, finding quite a few where I could get close enough to get some good shots with a telephoto lens. These are wild animals so I always treat them with respect, both for their safety and mine.

All of the bison shown below are Plains Bison.

At one point I came across a small pack of coyotes attempting to harass the bison. While they were aware of the coyotes, the bison didn’t appear to be paying much mind to them. After a bit of time the coyotes dispersed, with one running fairly closely past me.

It was fun to visit the park again to see the bison. They definitely are majestic beasts! I’m sure I will get back to the park again over the summer.

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Bubbles

In my last post I talked about bubbles caught in a frozen lake (click HERE to go to that post). In this episode I will talk about a different type of frozen bubbles – ones you can create in your backyard! But you will now have to wait until next winter to try it.

A couple of years ago I read an article by a friend, Mark Hughes, on how to photograph frozen bubbles. As I was spending winters in California, I found it interesting but not something that I thought I would have a chance to try out. Here is a link to Mark’s article How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold.

As an aside, Mark has recently started up a YouTube channel. His recent post on filters will be of interest to photographers contemplating the purchase of various filters for their camera. Check it out HERE, and while you are there, why not subscribe to his channel!

But I digress. The current pandemic forced us to spend our winter this year in Alberta, which gave me a chance to try out some different “winter” photography. One project I thought I would try is photographing freezing bubbles.

Mark’s article very clearly outlines the process involved so I won’t go into great amount of detail. The most basic “ingredient” you need is cold weather: essentially temperatures that are -20 C or colder (-4 F). I have read accounts by others who have had variable success at temperatures in the -10 to -20 C (+14 to -4 F) range but suffice to say, the colder the better.

A second, equally important requirement is that it should be as windless as possible. Even the slightest of breezes blows the bubbles around, causing them to burst almost as fast as you blow them.

Back in February, we had a period where temperatures during the day were around -20 or colder, so it seemed like an ideal time for my project.

My shooting location was the snow-covered table on our deck. Armed with my soap solution of water, dish detergent and glycerin, created using Mark’s formula, I ventured out one cold morning.

I made two discoveries that first morning. First of all, blowing bubbles and getting them to land where you want them is not that easy. Secondly, when they did land on the table and I was able to get a shot or two, I found that the flat table had too much snow showing behind the bubble, with the result that it was very hard to differentiate the bubble from the snow. But, and it’s an important but, I did witness the phenomenon of bubbles freezing.

An early attempt

Not to be deterred, I tried again the next day. To solve the “flat table” problem, I built up a ridge on one side of the table by piling up a few pieces of wood then covering them with snow. This provided much better results. However, I wasn’t all that enamored with the background, and there really wasn’t anything that would provide a better background in my backyard merely by changing my viewing angle. As I could only last outside, given the temperature, for about 20 or 30 minutes, I decided that seeking a solution to the background issue could wait until another day.

Better result but not happy with background

A few days later, ideal conditions again presented themselves. I decided that if I didn’t like the background, then I should create my own. I hung a reflector behind my shooting area and found that this worked quite well. I tried different reflectors and found that the gold and silver ones didn’t work that well while the white and black reflectors worked the best.

My setup. Note the raised mound at the front of the table and the gold-colored reflector behind the table. My soap solution is in the cup on the table.

Here are a couple of examples with the black background.

At best, once you have successfully blown a bubble and got it to land near the ideal location, you have about 20 to 30 seconds to get to the camera and fire off a series of shots, before the bubble bursts. Often, they burst before I could get to the camera.

A bubble bursting

Something I found fascinating was the process as the bubbles froze. Initially a few frozen patches appear and start to float around the surface of the bubble. As more patches form the movement stops. The patches continue to increase in number and size until they pretty much cover the entire surface of the bubble. If the bubble has survived this long, it generally pops soon after the entire surface has frozen.

By using my own solid color backgrounds, I found it was quite easy to change the background to something else in post-processing. Here are some examples. In the final example, I also created a “stained glass” appearance to the frozen patches.

Have you tried photographing freezing bubbles? If so, I would love to hear of your experiences in the comment section below.

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