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.

Solitude

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?

Flight

What does your imagination see in this one?

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

Yellow Rose
Begonia

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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Jasper NP, June 2022

My campsite had been booked several weeks in advance. As the date drew closer it became apparent that I was likely going to have a cool, rainy camping trip. As my friend James would say, “any fool can be uncomfortable”. I decided that it was time to invest in a shelter that would help keep me a bit dryer at my campsite.

The shelter, pictured below, turned out to be a good investment. The mosquito netting on three sides, when it got wet, tended to shed water rather than let it pass through. The result was that I could sit in the shelter and stay dry even when it was pouring rain outside. The solid back helped shelter me from some of the wind. And it was large enough that I could set up my camp stove inside it and cook under cover. It’s actually large enough to fit over a picnic table (in this case the tables were on top of an asphalt pad so it wasn’t possible to drive in the stakes needed to secure the shelter). Pure heaven!

While setting up my camp, I was closely observed by a local resident.

The shelter kept me nice and dry while cooking a ham and cheese omelet for breakfast one morning.

My comfort at the campsite assured, all I needed was to find subject matter to photograph over my three days in Jasper National Park. Of course, in Jasper NP, finding suitable subject matter is never a problem.

With frequent rain, overcast skies and low cloud layers, this was not going to be a trip to capture beautiful clear grand landscapes with towering mountains in the background. In fact, for much of my time, most of the mountains were largely obscured by cloud. Instead of being a detriment, that just provided opportunities for some moodier types of images. It also forced me to look around for other stuff to photograph.

Athabasca River

On this trip, I opted to return a couple of times on different days to the same locations to photograph them in different conditions.

The first two images below, of Patricia Lake, were taken at different times on the same morning. Different lighting creates quite different moods. I actually spent about three hours at this one location, watching the ever changing light. The third was taken a couple of mornings later from a slightly different vantage point.

Similarly, these two images of Pyramid Lake were taken on different mornings. Again, different conditions, different moods.

The bright rain gear of the tourists stand out in this rainy day photo of the bridge that connects an island in Pyramid Lake with the shore.

The rain did let up enough to let me take these images at Horseshoe Lake.

The primarily overcast skies provided the nice, soft, diffused lighting that is perfect for photographing wildflowers.

While in the campground, I was visited by a Merlin who successfully captured his evening meal.

Visitors to Jasper National Park know that it is fairly common to see Wapiti (Elk). They truly are magnificent animals. In the Spring, its an added bonus to encounter Wapiti cows with their calves.

You can’t control the weather. One thing this camping trip to the mountains demonstrated though, is that regardless of the conditions, there is always something you can photograph. You just have to slow down, observe your surroundings and be in the moment.

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Moab

In mid-March, along with a group of fellow camera club members, I travelled to Moab, Utah. People often refer to the whole area surrounding the city as simply “Moab”. In actual fact, two separate National Parks lie within short driving distances from the city. The closest, just outside the city, is Arches National Park. A little longer drive gets you to Canyonlands National Park.

During our stay we visited both parks.

We spread our drive to Moab over two days. On the first day we stopped for a few hours at Valley of Fire State Park just north of Las Vegas. Here we spent most of our time in the area of the “Fire Wave” waiting for sunset. The Fire Wave itself is a pretty interesting rock formation that does resemble ocean waves. And with the right light at sunset it looks pretty spectacular.

Fire Wave

For me, perhaps more interesting than the Fire Wave though, was the colorful rock formations and patterns in the area. Here is a sampling:

After sunset we were treated to some pretty amazing colors in the sky. In the photo below, it really looks like the hill is on fire.

The next day, after driving through a blizzard north of St. George, UT, we arrived in Moab in mid afternoon. Our late afternoon and sunset location that day was Balanced Rock in Arches National Park.

Balanced Rock

In the two images below, you can really see how the late afternoon sun turns the rock formations in the park a beautiful red color. The image on the left, of rock formations with the La Sal Mountains in the background, was taken later in the afternoon but before the sun got too low on the horizon. The image on the right, of some different formations but still looking towards the La Sal Mountains, was taken with the sun low on the horizon.

One of the main reasons people visit Moab is to see the arches. Most of the well known arches are in Arches National Park: however, one of the most popular, Mesa Arch, is in Canyonlands National Park. If you want to find crowds of people, just visit the arches. Most are within a fairly short walk from a parking lot. Delicate Arch requires a bit more effort with a 3 mile round trip hike. Of that, getting to the arch involves 1.5 miles of pretty much constant climb (480 vertical feet). As well, since sunset is most popular with this arch, coming back down in the dark can be a bit tricky if you aren’t watching your footing.

Turret Arch, Arches National Park
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
Broken Arch, Arches National Park
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Aside from the arches, there is lots to see and photograph in the area. I loved the countless misshapen junipers with their textured bark and green foliage, often contrasting with red rocks or sand.

In addition, there is no shortage of grand vistas to photograph. A couple of the spots we visited were Dead Horse Point and Green River Outlook, both in Canyonlands.

Dead Horse Point, Canyonlands NP
Cleopatra’s Chair (white rock formation), Green River Outlook, Canyonlands NP
Green River Outlook, Canyonlands NP
Green River Outlook, Canyonlands NP
Green River Outlook, Canyonlands NP
Green River Outlook, Canyonlands NP

In the short time we were there, we only scratched the surface of what there is to do and see in these two national parks. If you are a hiker or have a four wheel drive vehicle, the opportunities are endless.

If you are new to my blog, or haven’t yet visited my photo gallery, please drop in by clicking on the “Photo Gallery” tab at the top of the page or just go to neilmillerphotography.com. I will shortly be updating it with my favourite images from the winter months, so check back regularly. Or even better, while you are there, sign up for my newsletter. I won’t bombard you with emails: only a quarterly newsletter outlining recent updates.

And I always welcome your comments on either my blog or my photo gallery.

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Big Sur 2022

Big Sur 2022

This winter I payed my second visit to the Big Sur section of the California Coast, although to be truthful, it was the first time actually getting up to Big Sur. My previous trip, in 2017 (wow, can’t believe it was 5 years ago) was affected by rain and mudslides. As a result I spent my time exploring from Moro Bay to Ragged Point. You can read about that trip in my earlier post, “Best laid plans“.

On this trip I stayed in the heart of the Big Sur area, at the Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It is an older property but very nicely kept up. The rooms, located in cabins, are uphill from the main lodge. Accommodation is very basic with no TV, phone or internet. Cell reception is spotty. Their website makes all this clear so you know before you go. With that said, the rooms are very comfortable and clean.

My first morning started before dawn with a drive up to photograph Point Sur Lighthouse. It was pretty cloudy and misty so there was no real sunrise. Still, I think I got a pretty nice shot.

Point Sur Lighthouse

As I was packing up to leave, the mist turned to light rain. A few minutes later it stopped and a beautiful rainbow appeared. I had to scramble to get down the road a bit to capture this image. The rainbow was already starting to fade when I got to a spot where it lined up with the lighthouse.

Most of the rest of that day and the next morning were spent in search of seascapes. A problem with much of this coastline is that you are looking down at the water from some height, which does affect the perspective in your photo. There are a few areas, though, where you can get down close to or at water level.

In these images I wanted to capture the power and motion of the waves. In the first one, I like the addition of the two gulls in the foreground.

The following series is a bit more abstract presentation. I tried to give a sense of motion in these images.

There are a few waterfalls along this section of coast. Pfeiffer Falls is located at the end of a nice little hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It didn’t have a lot of water flowing but was still pretty. McWay Falls, located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is one of only two waterfalls on the California Coast that flows directly into the ocean. I caught some gorgeous late afternoon light on the falls.

Pfeiffer Falls
McWay Falls

The final image above was just a little waterfall I found on a hike down to a beach.

On one of the beaches I visited, I found an incredible display of little sand trees or sand feathers, depending on how you look at them. These are patterns in the sand left behind as a wave recedes. I have seen them on other beaches but this particular beach probably had one of the best displays I’ve found. I easily spent about an hour and a half photographing them, and could have stayed longer.

Of course not visit to the Big Sur area would be complete without a shot of Bixby Bridge. As there are probably tens of thousands of photos of it in existence, I didn’t spend a lot of time there. It is an impressive structure, but I was more interested in the other “stuff” I found.

Bixby Bridge

This part of the California Coast definitely warrants a return visit!

If you are new to my blog, or haven’t yet visited my photo gallery, please drop in by clicking on the “Photo Gallery” tab at the top of the page or just go to neilmillerphotography.com. I will shortly be updating it with my favourite images from the winter months, so check back regularly. Or even better, while you are there sign up for my newsletter. I won’t bombard you with emails, only a quarterly newsletter outlining recent updates.

And I always welcome your comments on either my blog or my photo gallery.

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Joshua Tree NP 0222

My last trip to Joshua Tree National Park this winter began early morning, just as the sun was starting to light up the sky. Getting up early for the hour and a half drive to get into some of the locations I like to shoot for sunrise is never a hardship.

The image above was taken as sunrise was approaching. I loved the color on the horizon. I also liked the simplicity of the single tree and the pile of rock, both so representative of the park. Like most of my early morning photos, this was a three image exposure blend. I’ve talked about this technique before. Three separate images, one normal exposure, one dark exposure for the sky and a third lighter exposure for the foreground, are blended together so the shadows don’t get too dark and the sky doesn’t end up blown out.

As the sun rose above the horizon, it started to light up the tops of the distant hills.

As the sun rose higher, it started to peek through gaps in the boulders, giving a warm glow to the Joshua Trees.

The shadowy distant hills provide a nice backdrop to the warm golden tones of the grass and the green leaves of the Joshua Trees in the image below.

While far from an award-winning photo, the sunlight snaking between the boulders and zig zagging through the through the grasses, caught my eye and I just had to take the shot.

This was my last visit to JTNP for this winter, but it was not my last California adventure. I did a trip to Big Sur and to Moab, which I will talk about in future posts.

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Death Valley 2022

At the end of January I participated in a photography workshop in Death Valley National Park. The workshop, run by the Out of Chicago group and called the Out of Death Valley workshop involved about 100 participants and 16 to 18 professional photographer instructors. Participants were divided into groups of 8 to 10, and each morning and afternoon went out with different instructors. The workshop was a great experience and helped me look at Death Valley in slightly different ways than I had before.

A number of the instructors that our group was paired up with were more into “small scene” photography as opposed to grand vistas. Over the last year or so, I have been gravitating more toward small scenes, even if at times I wasn’t fully aware of it. This workshop came at a perfect time, I feel, on my photographic journey.

The first morning we were shooting the octagonal salt formations at Badwater Basin. While it was fun and I experimented with a lot of stuff, when I got back and looked at my images on the computer, there weren’t any that particularly turned my crank. On the way out, though, I caught this cute little tree that kind of looks like a Bonsai.

In the evening we photographed mud cracks. They were kind of mesmerizing, looking at patterns and seeing shapes in them. They were kind of like a huge Rorschach test. Can you see the elephant head in this one? Or maybe a lobster? Or maybe … ?

The image below was taken just after sunset at the Mesquite Sand Dunes. It was shot from some distance, looking down on the dunes using a telephoto lens. By isolating a small section of the dunes you get some interesting patterns with the dunes catching some of the pink reflections from the sky. The shrub provides a bit of an anchor point. To me, the dunes look like peaks of whipped cream or perhaps a meringue.

Believe it or not, there is water in Death Valley. We were very fortunate to enjoy a beautiful sunrise at Salt Creek, as the following photos will show.

Zabriskie Point is a popular spot with photographers. Rather than doing the traditional shots of Manly Beacon (which I have photographed before), I spent my time photographing the interesting rock formations and amazing colors.

The inclusion of people in the shots gives a sense of scale to these formations, such as with the photographer in the first image below and the couple in the second image.

This particular valley almost looks like it has a river flowing through it.

Just when we thought that sunset was going to be somewhat ho-hum, the sky burst into beautiful “flames”.

Early morning on our final day found us at Dantes View. If you are willing to risk substantially colder temperatures and blustery winds, this outlook provides an incredible view over Badwater Basin and the Panamint Mountains. Sunrise can be quite spectacular.

In this image, I love the layers and the early morning colors.

In the next two images, I really liked how the first rays of sunlight lit up the ridgelines of the hills.

One might think that the photo below shows ocean waves washing up on a beach. The white is actually salt deposits in Badwater Basin. I liked how Badwater Road on the right mimics the curves of the salt deposits.

This was my third visit to Death Valley. I have to say that, more so than my previous trips, this workshop really opened my eyes to the vast range of photographic opportunities in this National Park.

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Pioneertown Revisited

With friends visiting over Christmas, we thought a visit to Pioneertown was in order. I have written about Pioneertown in previous posts as it is just a fun place to go.

The town was originally built in the 1940’s by a group of actors and members of the musical group The Sons of the Pioneers, for whom the town was named. Actors such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were involved. It was designed to be a permanent old west movie set complete with services for film crews and actors such as a motel and dining room. Over 50 movies and a number of TV series were filmed here including The Cisco Kid and Judge Roy Bean.

Located a few miles north of Yucca Valley, the town is now a popular tourist attraction as well as a good place to ride a horse. In fact, automobiles are not allowed on Mane Street, but horses are welcome.

As I strolled along Mane Street I photographed whatever caught my attention. Later, when I post-processed the images I finished them all off with the same antique look.

Our visit would not be complete without lunch at Pappy and Harriets where we have always had great food and cold beer. Since our last time in Pioneertown, the Red Dog Saloon has opened for dining. One of these days we will have to check it out!

Here is a selection of the images I took on my stroll down Mane Street. Click on any image to see an enlarged version.

If you would like to see more of my photography, I invite you to click the “Photo Gallery” tab above or go to neilmillerphotography.com. While there, sign up for my quarterly newsletter to be informed of new additions to the gallery.

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Back to JTNP

Just before Christmas I made another trip up to Joshua Tree National Park. As is my normal custom, I arrived nearly an hour before sunrise, giving me time to scout around for a suitable composition. As the sky started to lighten, I found a composition I liked, featuring Joshua Trees silhouetted against the sky. I never get tired of the endless shapes of Joshua Trees: every one is different. Soon I was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise lighting up the sky.

It was a cool, crisp morning, so the warmth of the sun as it rose above the horizon was welcomed. As it rose higher in the sky, the sun kissed this Joshua Tree with its warm glow.

After enjoying the beauty of the start to another day, I set off to do a little exploring. One thing that is always fun is looking for shapes in the rock formations that remind you of something. This morning I found two. The first looks like a dog, the second looks like a sliced loaf of bread.

Occasionally you come across old mining equipment or vehicles that have been left for eternity in the desert. This old truck definitely needs some TLC!

On my little hike, I stopped at the ruins of an old house. I believe the house at one time belonged Worth Bagley, a neighbor to Bill Keys. It would be an understatement to say that the two men did not get along! The animosity escalated when Bagley blocked the road access that Keys used to get to his Wall Street Mill, claiming that the road ran across his land. Keys refused to accept that he had no right to use the road and the whole thing came to a head in mid-1943 with a gunfight. After shooting Bagley dead, Keys turned himself in, claiming he had shot Bagley in self defense and that Bagley had shot at him first. After what many hold was a somewhat rigged trial, Keys was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin Prison. Earlier in his life, Keys had made the acquaintance of a lawyer by the name of Earl Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason. When Gardner heard of Keys imprisonment he championed the case for his parole. Eventually he convinced the courts that Keys had been wrongfully convicted. Bill Keys was given a full parole and freed from prison in 1948.

The window in the ruins of Bagley’s old house nicely frames this Joshua Tree and the pile of boulders beyond it.

I concluded my visit with this beautiful view of Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California. While it may be warm down in the desert, the peak is usually capped with snow during the winter months.

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