A Desert Botanical Garden

Recently I had an opportunity to visit Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs. The garden features cactus, succulents and other plants found in various desert environments.

The garden has an interesting history. According to their website it was created by “Chester ‘Cactus Slim’ Moorten and his wife, Patricia. Cactus Slim was an original Keystone Cop and a stand-in for Howard Hughes. He developed tuberculosis on a film set and recovered in Cottonwood Springs, near Joshua Tree, where he panned for gold and collected beautiful cactuses. He learned mining was hard work and selling prickly plants paid better.

In search of more customers, Chester came to Palm Springs in 1938, met Patricia, who also had an interest in succulents, and they bought the property, which became Moorten Botanical Garden, from renowned nature and desert photographer Stephen Willard.” (http://www.moortenbotanicalgarden.com/about-moortens/ )

While there, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours practicing small scene/abstract photography. Hopefully you enjoy the following images. As always, I welcome any comments.

For more of my images, please visit my gallery by clicking the “Photo Gallery” tab above. I will shortly be adding several photos taken this past Fall, so while there, sign up for my newsletter to be notified when they are added.

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Return to JTNP

Two weeks after returning to our second home in California, after the “Covid year absense”, I returned to Joshua Tree National Park for the first time in about two years.

An early start, at 4:00 am, ensured that I got to my chosen destination well before sunrise. When I got there I discovered that I had forgotten my headlamp. Fortunately, I had a flashlight in my camera bag so was able to light my way as I searched for a suitable composition. It’s always nice to be able to see a cactus before you step on it as you navigate your way through the desert in the dark.

I soon found a composition I liked. A boulder formation had a bit of a window through which I could see a bit of sky. The boulders were nicely framed by two Joshua Trees. A path through low growth leads your eye to the rock formation. My hope was that if the sky caught a bit of color as the sun came up, that you would see a bit of it through the “window”. And, as you can see from the photo below, the sky did not disappoint.

A beautiful sunrise in JTNP
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Fall Colors 2021

About a month ago I went camping in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, just south of Hinton, Alberta. For many years, this area has been one of the coal mining regions on the eastern slopes of the Rockies. There are still a few operational mines and lots of evidence of the history of the area. The only remaining town in the area is Cadomin. I had never been to the area so it seemed like a good time to go do a bit of exploring and look for Fall colors.

There was no difficulty finding Fall colors, although in Alberta, the colors consist of mainly yellow and orange. Occasionally one finds patches of red brush to add a bit more color, but we certainly don’t get the range of rich colors experienced on the East coast.

Click on image to see full size.

Aside from photographing larger landscapes, on this trip I also enjoyed spending time walking about making images of smaller scenes that caught my eye.

Click on image to see full size.

One interesting location I came across was the Mountain Park Cemetery, which is at the highest elevation of any cemetery in Canada. The huge coal deposits in the area were discovered in 1895. The Mountain Park Coal Company was established in 1914 and a railway was constructed from Hinton to the mine and newly developed town of Mountain Park. At its peak, the once thriving town had a population of about 1500. Falling demand for coal resulted in the closure of the mine in 1950 and the town was soon abandoned. All that remains today are the remnants of a few foundations and the cemetery. In 1997 a group of volunteers, comprised of former town residents, family and friends, restored the overgrown cemetery. It continues to be maintained by volunteers.

Mountain Park Cemetery

As mentioned above, there is still mining taking place in the area. Just south of Cadomin is Lehigh Cement which is mining limestone. The rock is blasted off the mountain and dumped into a shaft inside the mountain. The limestone is crushed and stored within the mountain until it is loaded onto rail cars for shipment.

Lehigh Cement

North of Cadomin, on the road to Hinton, is the Luscar Coal Mine.

Luscar Coal

On my drive back to Hinton, I happened upon a little stream and waterfall that just capped off my 3-day visit.

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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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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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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!

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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

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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