Exploring Manhattan at Night

Manhattan at Night

Breaking out of a creative rut sometimes requires getting out of your comfort zone.  Luckily my wife was heading to New York city for a business trip and I decided to tag along.  I would get the typical touristy shots of towering modern buildings inter-playing with the city’s heritage, but what I really wanted to do was explore Manhattan at night.  I don’t usually get a chance to experiment with night photography and this was a great opportunity.

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Kitchener’s Stanley Park Natural Area

I pass Kitchener’s Stanley Park Natural Area every day as I head into work.  Its trail follows the Grand River all the way to Bingemans and dotted with plenty of fishing spots – although I’ve never come across anyone actually catching fish.  I hang out here every few months to observe the changing seasons and Autumn is a bit of a magical time of a peaceful time in this natural oasis.

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Fall Photos In Beaver Valley

“Let’s go and shoot some fall photos” a friend asked a week ago.  With my camera freshly returned from being repaired I was itching to run it through it’s paces; spending some time outdoors in the fall weather sounded like a fantastic plan.  Although Southern Ontario has plenty of spots to catch the trees turn colour, we decided to explore a part of the province that we don’t normally get to see.  We headed to “Grey County“, an area that covers Mt. Forrest to Georgian Bay, and take the “Beaver Valley” driving route that we found on the Grey County tourism site.

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Waterloo’s 19th Annual Royal Medieval Faire

I had the privilege to photograph Waterloo’s 19th Annual Royal Medieval Faire in September.  Rain didn’t dampen the volunteers spirits to put on an amazing show.  Next year’s 20th festival is bound to be something special!

 

Northern Ontario Road Trip

During the Labour Day weekend a friend and I did a road trip through Northern Ontario. We avoid the major highways (aka any of the 400 series highways in ontario) in order to take our time and stop at any place we found interesting.  The trip was to encompass McGregor Provincial Park, then making our way to the west end of Manitoulin Island, with a final night at Grundy Lake Provincial Park just south of Sudbury.

MacGregor Park

McGregor Provincial Park where we just wanted some place to lay our heads down before heading off to catch the Chi-Cheemaun ferry that would bring us to Manitoulin Island.  The park is quite small compared to the Pinery, but each campsite if fairly secluded so if you’re looking for a quiet time outdoors this is a good park to check out.  The campsites are have a bit more gravel than expected, so pitching the tent is a bit more difficult than first expected.  I’d recommend bringing a mallet or finding a rock to hammer the stakes in properly.

Mississagi Lighthouse

The highlight of the trip was to take the Chi-cheemaun ferry from Tobermory and head to the Mississagi Lighthouse and Campgrounds on the far west side of Manitoulin Island.  It’s not currently labelled on Google Maps and we made reservations be sending messages over Facebook.  Facilities are clean, there’s fresh water and firewood available for sale from the lighthouse staff.  The lighthouse is still active, but we couldn’t venture inside as it’s being renovated – hopefully our road trip next year will allows us to to see the improvements! Each campsite is furnished with a fire pit, a good sized cooking grate to cook and picnic tables.  Our site happened to be nestled within a grove of pine trees with a ten steps away from gorgeous views of Lake Huron.

By being so far west of the island, cell service is non-existent and it’s so dark that you can see the Milky Way.

 

Grundy Provincial Park

Our last stop on the road trip was Grundy Provincial Park, south of Sudbury.  I visited the park about a decade ago and always wanted to camp there; unfortunately I didn’t recall how crowded the campsites are as well as how easily noise traveled.  We even had a giant raccoon steal a package of hot dogs, but luckily we had extra meals planned for an emergency.  For day tripping, the park provides a few nice beaches and cliffs to jump off of.  If you’re going to stay a few nights, I’d recommend going about an hour more south and stay a Killbear.  All was not lost, however. We still had a great view of Grundy Lake with the ability to see the stars clearly at night.

Epic Iceland in Winter

Sólheimajökull Glacier Walk

We all have an travel bucket list.  Whether it’s to go see the African Savanna, drive along the Pacific Coast on US Route 1… we have a list that we always seem to be saying “later” to.  Iceland was always near the top of my list (perhaps even the top)  – the majestic cliffs, the waterfalls and geysers… it’s a paradise for anyone that loves pressing the shutter button on camera.  For some reason it’s always seemed such a far place to travel, even though it’s closer than many European destinations so the trip was always being put aside.  However, when a co-worker and his girlfriend uncovered an IcelandAir promotion that included hotels and a trip to catch the Northern Lights there were no more excuses!  My wife and I were ready to head out even if it was in the middle of February!

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The Boss – A Self Portrait

They say practice makes perfect.  I’m attempting to do a 52-week photo challenge and the first assignment was a self portrait.  I would normally do a standard head shot on a white backdrop, but that’s not the point of doing this type of challenge.  It’s about learning and self discovery, so I wanted to do something a bit more dramatic and have a bit of fun.

For this setup I have a softbox with a Canon 430EXII flash inside.  The box is positioned so my face is just on the inside; when the flash is fired the light clips my face and body giving a nice dramatic shadows but just barley lighting me up.  The camera is positioned at waist level angled upwards with a small reflector at it’s right – I found without the reflector my left arm got lost in the shadow so it needed something to cast just a bit more light onto the coat.

Now for the black background – it’s actually my white backdrop that I always use.  Now I bet you’re thinking I used Photoshop to get it black, but I didn’t.  Knowing a bit about the inverse square law and how it affects light helped me to get the background really dark.  There’s a good write up of the concept at Digital Photography School, however you don’t really need to know the math to do this successfully.  All you need to know is when you are using a flash its power falls off dramatically the further away it is from the subject – faster than you think.  For this photo I’m standing 6 feet from the background; when the flash fires it is pointed 45 degrees away from the backdrop.  Even though there is light spillage from the softbox the background almost comes out totally black.

Relax this Winter with a Cruise

Cruise Ship Departing Ft. Lauderdale

The wet slush on your boots, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…. combined with fighting with car to start it’s no wonder thousands of Canadians flee to warmer climates for a brief respite from winter.  With warmer weather on our minds my wife uncovered an unexpected deal on Royal Caribbean last January!  It’s been a while since we cruised and with the kids being old enough to appreciate the experience, but young enough that their education wouldn’t be disrupted, it didn’t take long for us to jump on the opportunity.

 

A few quick tips if you’re new to cruising

  • If you live in southern Ontario, look for flight deals in Buffalo or  Detroit.  Even with the exchange rate airlines like Southwest sometimes are providing trips with steep discounts.  For this trip we departed a day early from the Buffalo airport which is about a 2 hour drive from Kitchener, Waterloo and flew on Southwest Airlines to Ft. Lauderdale.
  • Arrive at your departure port a day in advance especially if you’re coming from an area that experiences real winter.  Dealing with the weather is unpredictable and this will give you some time to adjust your schedule if you’re delayed.
  • Getting to your destination a day earlier gives you time to pick up last minute items that you may have forgotten, or allow you to pick up a bottle of wine to take with you on board the ship.  If you don’t have a beverage plan, this can save you quite a bit of money due to corkage fees.
  • If you don’t drink there’s usually free lemonade or iced tea available on board.  Most of the time I don’t drink soda pop and usually stick with iced tea at meals; for all the other times I’m drinking water.
On top of the Liberty of the Seas
On top of the Liberty of the Seas

We had a gorgeous departure day with slightly cloudy skies – warm with no snow in sight.  Watching the parade of cruise ships departing port for ocean is amazing as you can see how how nimble these behemoths are as they navigate out to to the ocean while much smaller freighters needed a little assistance from tugboats.

Tugboat helping out
Tugboat helping a freighter navigate the Ft. Lauderdale port.

Cruise ships have plenty of activities to keep you busy.  Besides just eating and drinking, you can find water slides, rock climbing walls, golf simulators and more!  Royal Caribbean signature activity is their flow rider that allows you to ride boogie boards and see how long you can remain upright before making a big splash!

Catching the wave
Catching the wave

There are two main benefits on ship when cruising in the winter:

  • There are not many kids on board which means parents don’t have to the Kids Club for day care.  The clubs give parents a nice break to be by themselves without feeling guilty that their children aren’t having a good time.  On this particular cruise I think we counted maybe 20 kids at any given time being taken care of by the staff.
  • For those who are not travelling with children – enjoy your day without having to deal with kids running around your feet!

As this was a January cruise, the low number of children allowed for those on board to really explore and take advantage of everything the ship has to offer.  The H20 splash  zone was practically empty allow my children to run around without worrying that they’ll collide into someone!

The empty splash zone.
The empty splash zone.

 

Every day there’s some kind of activity happening around the pool.  Watching the belly flop contest was one of the highlights on this trip – I wasn’t brave enough to join, but I salute all those who bruised themselves for everyone else’s entertainment!

To give you a sense of scale of how large cruise ships are these days, on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, there is an entire deck that is configured like a long shopping mall.  Places to eat and shop to your heart’s content.  There’s even a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and an ice rink where you can skate or catch an evening ice show on ship!

 

One of the things I didn’t realize I would enjoy is watching the sun set over the ocean.  Amazing colors that you don’t often get to see being land locked in Southern Ontario.  Golds, marine blues and deep cherry reds.  You can lose yourself watching the sun rise and fall each day.

If you managed to take a five day cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, convince yourself that you need to spend a few days touring around this city before rushing back to the snow.  This city has extensive beaches that reminded us of being on a TV Show. Swimming, Kite Surfing, and even getting married are just some of the things you can do and see while strolling around.

If you consider the all-in costs of getting away for a beach holiday vs. a cruise the price is almost comparable.  Considering that your hotel, meals and entertainment are all included it turns out the price is almost identical.  So what are you waiting for?  If you need a break from the wintery weather taking a cruise is an option that you definitely should consider!

Historic Oakwood Cemetery

Cemeteries hold a mysterious power over the living… lingering souls begging to be remembered of past deeds that shaped the world as it is today.  The Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas is the oldest in the city and steeped in dark memory.  Officially it dates back to the mid-1850’s but it is rumored to have existed well before that time.  You’ll find notable residents like Dr. Annie Webb, Blanton – the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas and John Barclay Armstrong – Texas Ranger, U.S. Marshall who captured the notorious killer John Wesley Hardin.

Oakwood Cemetery is still in use today and you’ll find a mixture of historic monuments and modern headstones honoring the dead.

Churchill Park Fall Photo Shoot

The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend provided gorgeous weather for a family fall photo shoot at Cambridge’s Churchill Park.   A sunny clear sky with leaves turning colour – a beautiful backdrop to work with.  Small children are always tricky to deal with and often you need to have patience to capture a moment – the classic family photo where everyone is smiling may or may not happen, but most of the time preserving authentic personalities is often better.  We headed out around 11am and could have ended up with photos with harsh shadows due to the mid-day sun.  Luckily Churchill Park has plenty of trees to soften the light.

To kick things off the kids didn’t really want to cooperate and knowing that I was there to take their photos brought out their wackiness.  I needed to figure out my camera settings so why not embrace the moment?  Some of them were the best shots of the outing!

This family has a greyhound which must be one of the most even tempered dogs I’ve worked with.  It didn’t matter what everyone else was up to he just stood there patiently without fussing around.

You don’t need to go far for a fall photo shoot and the best places are sometimes in your backyard.  Churchill park is a great little gem in Cambridge; interesting trails and play equipment for the kids making this a great place to capture memories.

Copyright [AWC] Photo 2017
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