A Spring Outing

With beautiful Spring weather in St. Albert, it was time to grab my camera and head out for my first outing since our return from California.

I decided to venture over to Lois Hole Provincial Park as well as the Grey Nuns White Spruce Park to check out the birds. As is usually the case, I found a variety. I have organized the photos below by species. Click on any image for a full-sized version.


Red-necked Grebe

Lesser Scaup

Green-winged Teal

Canada Goose

Lesser Yellowlegs

Song Sparrow

While I was pre-occupied with birds, I did get a couple of landscape shots in.

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Stay tuned for some Spring flower images in my next post.

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Joshua Tree NP March 2023

A little over a week ago, I visited Joshua Tree National Park for what will be my last time this winter. OK, I know it’s Spring, but we use the term loosely to describe our time in Southern California. On this trip, I was leading a group from my camera club to a few of my favorite spots in the park. We were in search of wildflowers as well as any other scenery that caught our eye. As the sun was already up when we started, we didn’t capture any dramatic sunrises. However, there was still lots to shoot (as there always is).

While we did find wildflowers, it certainly fell short of a “super-bloom”. With all the rain we had this winter, expectations were high for the wildflower bloom this year. While there are areas carpeted in flowers, Joshua Tree was not one of them. However, the display was still quite nice.

In photographing the flowers, I looked for contrasting textures and/or colors. Click any of the images to see a larger view.

The following two images show two different treatments of the same flower. The first is a sharper image that even includes a couple of bugs who stopped by. The second is a much softer treatment.

A couple of patches of lichen made some nice subjects. The image on the right looks like a boot.

With it being the middle of the day, I knew that some of my images would be in Black & White. It’s a great medium to emphasize texture and contrast, as in the following.

Ocotillos are a very interesting desert plant. Easily recognized by their tall, spindly appearance, they are amazingly adapted to life in the desert. Most of the year they appear to be dead. The truth is, rather than relying on photosynthesis through leaves, they photosynthesize through their stems. While not as efficient as through leaves, it allows the plant to get by with very little water. Following rain, when water is more plentiful, they produce small leaves along the stems. This can happen several times a year. From March through June, the plant produces red flowers at the ends of its stems. In the following photo of an Ocotillo flower, you can see the tiny leaves.

The two images below show a live Ocotillo and a dead one that looks like some kind of Ocotillo scorpion.

Ocotillo scorpion

At mid-day, the moon was high in the sky. It made a nice composition with this pile of rock.

We finished off our visit to the park by photographing the snow-capped peak of Mount San Gorgonio, the tallest peak in Southern California.

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Big Sur 2023

Planning for a recent trip to the Big Sur coast in California was complicated by winter rain causing the closure of Hwy 1, from just north of San Simeon to just south of Big Sur. This was similar to my first trip to this area in 2017. On that trip I elected to spend my time in the Morro Bay to Ragged Point area. A year ago, the road was open all the way through; however, I chose to spend my time in the Big Sur to Carmel-by-the-Sea area.

This year, while my hope had been to do more exploration in the Ragged Point to Big Sur area, the road closure meant I would have to break my trip into two components: the area south of the closure and the area north of the closure. The result was I spent three nights in Cambria and two nights in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

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I enjoy photographing old piers. The San Simeon Pier can be viewed from the beach on either side of it. The pier itself is closed so you can’t walk out on it. The photos below show it from two different sides: one mid-morning and the other at sunset.

San Simeon Pier
San Simeon Pier

The images of the pier that I really enjoyed creating, however, were long-exposure black and white. The three landscape (horizontal) versions were 2-minute exposures while the portrait (vertical) oriented image was a 3-minute exposure.

The other pier in the general area is the Cayucos Pier. In the two images below, the dark colors of pre-dawn give way to the softer pastel colors on the horizon after sunrise.

Cayucos Pier
Cayucos Pier

It was cold and windy in the early morning hours in Cayucos. However, that didn’t seem to deter the surfers who started to show up just after sunrise. They often seem so graceful as they ride the waves, just before they tumble off their board into the cold water. I must say I enjoyed a good hour and a half to two hours just watching and photographing them.

Of course, what would a section of coastline be without lighthouses? I photographed two on this trip. The first two images below are a sunset and a sunrise view of Piedras Blancas Light Station. The third is the Point Sur Lighthouse somewhat obscured by early morning mist.

Occasionally you come upon a scene where the light is just perfect. I literally only had a couple of minutes to grab my camera and tripod, run across the road, and capture this image before the light changed.

The California coastline offers views that range from tranquil, gently rolling seas to the frenzied crashing of waves on the rocks. Here is a sampling.

In one spot, while I was shooting waves, I noticed one area where the backlit wave glowed with a gorgeous emerald green color. So naturally I had to capture it!

Sometimes, when just wandering around exploring an area, you happen across a little gem .. like this little waterfall.

When in this area, it is always fun to spend time watching the Elephant Seals.

I did manage to catch some other wildlife on my trip.

If you have made it this far, congratulations! This has been a long post. I’ll close with one final image. Those who follow my blog know that I enjoy playing with different techniques. Here is an abstract I call “Breaking Waves”.

Breaking Waves
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On a couple of my visits to Joshua Tree National Park this winter I have been treated to dramatic skies. This has been a special treat as frequently, being a desert environment, there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

Back in November, I arrived in the Park about 45 minutes before sunrise. Stepping out of the car I was greeted with a blustery cold wind. It was a very chilly wait for sunrise, but the light clouds in the east lent hope for a beautiful sunrise. In fact, as the sky started to lighten it looked very promising. The wind grew stronger behind me and, looking back, I could see a mass of dark clouds blowing towards me. A short time before sunrise it started to snow. Even worse, the clouds continued their trek to the east and very shortly obliterated any hope of a beautiful sunrise! The photo shows the view looking east shortly after what would have been sunrise.

Looking East

There was a silver lining though. The storm that blew in quickly also passed through quickly. My patience was rewarded with the dramatic skies associated with a clearing storm!

At one point, as the sun broke through the clouds, it cast a beautiful warm glow over everything.

As the morning progressed, it started to warm up a bit and most of the snow quickly disappeared. And, of course, the clouds disappeared from the sky, as can be seen in the photo below. The stone almost seems to have a face carved in it!

Rock Face

Towards the end of my visit, I managed to capture this image of a Mountain Bluebird against the clear blue sky. This was even more special as it’s the first time I have seen a Bluebird in Joshua Tree (or Southern California for that matter).

As an antithesis to my topic of “Drama”, the following image of cactus thorns is almost ethereal.

On a subsequent visit to Joshua Tree National Park, I found the skies no less dramatic, although without the discomfort of a snowstorm and cold winds. This time, sunrise truly was spectacular, both looking towards the rising sun as well as the sky in the West.

Looking East towards the rising sun
Looking West

Following sunrise, the drama in the sky didn’t diminish.

To close off this post are two black & white images that really emphasize the dramatic skies.

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Zion ’22

This past November, I accompanied a group from my camera club on our semi-annual photo trip. This time it was my third visit to Zion National Park in Utah.

Our first morning in the park, we were up before sunrise to photograph the Towers of the Virgin. I captured the following image just at the tail end of Blue Hour, just as the sun was starting to lighten up the sky but before it came up over the peaks behind us.

As the sky was getting lighter, I noticed this lone tree. I liked how it was framed by the cliff face.

It had snowed in the park a few days earlier and there was still evidence of snow showing at higher altitudes. As the sun came up and started to warm the face of the Towers, I particularly liked the contrast of the warm, red rock and the snow, with line of evergreen trees outlining a pyramid.

While it was mid-November, the fall colors were still abundant in the park.

The following image I call Fall’s Palette:

At one of the shuttle stops, we noticed a couple of climbers high on a rock face. Using our telephoto lenses we were able to determine that they were two women we had seen early in the morning on the shuttle. One seemed to stay in one spot while the other one climbed up to the peak, then lowered herself back down again, then repeated the process several times during the time we watched. Soon the shuttle came along and we were off, so we never saw what transpired for the rest of the afternoon. My one regret was I didn’t get a photo of the entire rock face to show how small these women were compared to the face they were climbing. However, you can get some idea from the following image. With the naked eye they literally looked like specks on the rock face.

Each time we have been to Zion, I have photographed the iconic Watchman. This time I shot it from a different location. I have to say that this has become my favorite version of The Watchman.

On our final day, three of us hiked The Narrows. This is a section of the Virgin River that flows through some narrow canyons. The hike involves wading through water that, at this time of year, ranged from ankle deep to mid-thigh. While we had waterproof pants and neoprene socks, the boots let water through. Needless to say, the water was very cold and my feet alternated between being comfortably warm and freezing cold. I believe we hiked about 1.5 miles upstream then returned. All-in-all it was an interesting experience, worth doing once anyway. Photographically, with overcast skies, the light was less than desirable. I did come away, though, with the following two images.

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Back in the late Fall, after our return to the desert, I visited Sunnylands Center and Gardens in Rancho Mirage, CA. The gardens are open to the public and admission is free (check Sunnylands website for hours), The gardens are part of the huge Annenberg estate. Tours of the historic home and surrounding grounds are available but tickets must be purchased in advance. I have not yet taken the house tour but would like to do so one day.

The public gardens are a beautiful display of desert plants. It is a very peaceful area to walk around or to just sit and contemplate. And, of course, the plants provide beautiful subjects for photographs. So please enjoy the following images from my visits.

And now, for something a little more abstract, can you guess what this is?

Not only do plants look great in color, but they can also look amazing in black and white, as hopefully the following images show.

The Center holds an art gallery, cafe and, of course, a gift shop. There is also a 20 minute video about the estate. Sunnylands is a great place to while away an hour or two!

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Dinosaur Provincial Park

As usual, I’m months behind on my posts. I seem to get busy taking photos then post-processing them. Somehow, writing about my trips seems to fall lower on the to-do list.

Dave at work

Last Fall, a photographer friend and I spent a few days camping and exploring a part of Alberta that included Dinosaur Provincial Park. David Buzzeo (buzzeophotography.com/ ) is an amazing photographer and we always have a great time on our trips. We have a great arrangement: Dave plans where we go to shoot and I plan the menu. Somehow we end up coming home well fed and with some great shots.

First, a bit of geographical clarification. Drumheller, Alberta is not part of, nor anywhere near, Dinosaur Provincial Park. In fact, they are a couple of hours apart. I know this confuses a lot of people as, until a few years ago, I confused the two. Both areas have rich fields of dinosaur bones, and Drumheller has the Royal Tyrell Museum which is essentially a dinosaur museum. Dinosaur Provincial Park is further south.

Unfortunately, conditions on our trip were not pristine for photographic purposes. As has become typical in Alberta, and much of the western provinces, smoke from forest fires drifts through the atmosphere through summer and into the fall. We both agreed that this area would warrant a return visit sometime when there was less smoke. Nevertheless, I did manage to come away with some decent photos.

The first stop on our journey was Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. The park, new to me, stretches along the Red Deer River near Trochu, Alberta and offers some great views.

Our next stop was the hamlet of Wayne, just outside of Drumheller. Once a thriving coal mining town, Wayne is now a veritable ghost town. It is home, though, to the Rosedeer Hotel, built in 1913. It’s Last Chance Saloon appeared to be a popular watering hole.

By late afternoon we arrived at the campground in Dinosaur Provincial Park. With dusk rapidly approaching we set up camp and had our evening meal. Over the next couple of days we explored several hiking trails within the park which were generally only a couple minutes drive from the campground.

As can be seen in the following images, the area can definitely be described as badlands with lots of interesting rock formations.

On one day, we visited the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Site, about an hour and a half drive from the campground. The museum was a great place to learn about the history and culture of the Siksika Nation. The museum and grounds were well worth the visit!

As I mentioned above, Dinosaur Provincial Park is definitely worth a return visit, preferably when the atmosphere is a little less hazy.

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Flowers Part Two – Butchart Gardens

In mid-August I had the privilege and the pleasure of taking a photography workshop in Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, BC led by a truly talented photographer, Charles Needle (charlesneedlephoto.com). I had originally encountered Charles when he spoke to our camera club in Indio, CA. I really enjoyed his impressionistic and abstract style of photographs. Since purchasing his book at that presentation, I have tried out many of his techniques. When I saw the workshop advertised I thought it would be a great way to further my skills in photographing flowers and quickly signed up.

I was not disappointed. Charles was full of ideas, encouragement, enthusiasm, and suggestions on how to make the most out of our three days in the gardens. The workshop started with an orientation on the Sunday evening followed by spending mornings in the gardens over the next three days. In the afternoons we had classroom sessions with a return to the gardens later one afternoon. The workshop wound up on the final morning with an image review.

During our time in the gardens, I really didn’t spend a lot of time creating images of large flower beds. Instead, I wanted to spend my time practicing the different techniques we were learning as well as continuing to gain experience with my newly acquired Lensbaby Velvet 56. Some things worked, some didn’t. But it didn’t matter. It was all about experimentation. I was in the moment. It was just me and the flowers and what could I do to best present what I was seeing. Much of the time I was totally unaware of who was around me, even though the gardens were full of tourists (I was, though, consciously aware of not blocking pathways with my tripod or my body).

Some images were more traditional views of flowers.

Others involved close-ups and/or shallow depth of field (area of focus).

In this photo, taken with a wide-angle lens, I loved the mass of zinnias in the foreground with just a bit of the building in the background.

Italian Garden

The two images below are different presentations of hydrangeas. The one on the left shows a pattern of pink flowers with one having a prominent white center. The one on the right is a much softer, more delicate view.

What caught my eye with these two Dahlia’s was that one almost appeared like it was a reflection of the other. In taking this image, I played around with illuminating the larger flower with a flashlight.

Dahlia Reflection

These two images offer quite different views of a couple of begonias.

The image below, taken in the Japanese Garden, to me evokes a sense of calm. The splotches of light on the ground and the tree trunk caught my eye as I was walking along the path and I had to work quite quickly to capture it as the light started to fade right after I took this image.


Moving into a bit more of an abstract image, this is actually the reflection of a tree on the edge of a pond, turned upside down. It almost seems to be growing out of the lily pads.

What was really fun was playing around with various techniques to create abstract images. The image on the left, below, looks like flowers orbiting around a central one, while on the right the flowers appear to be spiraling into a dark hole.

The contrast between the blue and the yellow in this flower bed caught my eye.

I love the pastel shades in this one.

Could this be a white dove soaring over a field of flowers?


What does your imagination see in this one?

And now (drum roll please) my two favourite images taken at Butchart Gardens:

Yellow Rose

What this workshop did for me was open up a whole range of options for viewing and photographing flowers. There were other techniques that I tried out that aren’t featured above as my attempts really didn’t pan out this time. But I know that if I keep practicing with those techniques I will come up with images I like. It’s fun and it really is just playing with your camera. And what I really love about the abstract and impressionistic types of photos is that every one is an original. It can’t be duplicated, not even by me. I could go back and photograph the same flower or flower bed and the results would be completely different.

If you would like to check out more of my photography, please visit my website neilmillerphotography.com , or just click the “Photo Gallery” button at the top of this page. While you are there, if you sign up for my newsletter you will get a quarterly notification about updates to my website galleries. Also, I love to hear any of your comments, either here on my blog or on my photo galleries.

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Flowers Part One

Over the past several months I have spent a fair amount of time photographing flowers. In part, this has simply been because I love flowers, enjoy photographing them, and want to get better at creating images of flowers. A further incentive was that I had signed up for a photography workshop at Butchart Gardens that took place in mid-August (more on that in my next post.)

Here in St. Albert, AB we have the wonderful St. Albert Botanical Park. This hidden gem is entirely maintained by volunteers and is absolutely gorgeous. I have visited it a number of times this summer. My back yard has also provided some beautiful flowers to practice on.

An early Spring visit to the garden saw tulips in full bloom.

This was followed, a couple of weeks later, by the irises starting to bloom nicely.

By now the roses had also started to bloom. I really enjoy photographing roses just at the buds are starting to open.

I enjoy creating images with a very shallow depth of field: in other words, with the flower in focus and the background blurred. As the roses in my backyard started to bloom, I had opportunity to play around with various techniques, including creating a bit of a glow around the flower.

In this image of a zinnia, enough is in focus so you can see the leaves on the plant but the background is blurred.

For my birthday, my wonderful wife gave me a Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens. This is a specialty lens that allows parts of the image to be in focus with the rest exhibiting a beautiful glow. So, of course, I had to practice with it in my backyard. There is definitely a learning curve with this lens and the more I use it the more comfortable I get with it.

In this comparison, you can see two different lilies, one with a “normal” lens and one with the Lensbaby. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, they just give different effects.

Of course, not everything has to be a colorful flower to have a beauty of its own.

In this final image, I experimented with my Lensbaby and using a flashlight to illuminate a specific portion of the petal from behind.

In my next post I will give an account of my trip to Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, BC.

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Not A Twitter Tweet

This Spring I had a few occasions to get out photographing birds. When I do get out I generally find it to be quite a relaxing time, as capturing images of birds requires a certain amount of patience. Capturing decent images of small birds amongst tree branches also takes a bit of luck.

I also use these outings as a chance to grow my knowledge of bird identification. I don’t consider myself a bird watcher so I have a relatively limited, although growing, ability to identify specific bird species. One source I find invaluable when in the field, as well as when I’m later reviewing images, is the Merlin Bird ID app produced by Cornell Lab of Cornell University. The app allows you to identify birds based on their coloration, size and where you viewed them. It also has a feature that allows you to record the sound of the bird and the app will identify it. The app also allows you to search for birds by their names.

Below is a gallery of some of my favorite shots from recent outings. Clicking on any image will open a larger version.

If you would like to view more of my images, of birds or otherwise, please visit my image gallery. Just click on the “Photo Gallery” tab above or go to www.neilmillerphotography.com. While there, sign up for my quarterly newsletter to hear about updates to my site.

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