Oktoberfest Starts at The Queensmount

Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest starts early this year with festival halls opening a week early to attract Homecoming crowds of the local universities.  Bands were entertaining festival goers with a notable absence of polka music to kick off the annual celebration of beer, schnitzel and sauerkraut.  I managed to snag some photos close to the stage at the Queensmount arena where The Argues family band were having a great time on stage.  Performing a mix of classic and original hits they opened the Oktoberfest hall with a bang!


Following the Argues, the hard rock band Three Quarter Stone hit the stage.  Their chest thumping beats were keeping the Queensmount fans energized.

Kitchener- Waterloo holds the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside Germany!  If you’re looking for a good time and a chance to listen music, drink beer and eat a lot you can’t go wrong with this event.  Tickets to the festivals can be purchased online and there’s free transit from October 9 through 17th to get you to and from the venues safely.



Backyard Tourist: Waterloo’s Royal Medieval Faire

Waterloo’s 18th Royal Medieval Faire celebrates everything from the middle ages – knights, queens and kings, and even pirates!  Over 150 actors, performers and volunteers spend a multitude of months to hold a spectacular day of family fun.  If you’ve never attended this annual event you are missing a treat and I would dare say it’s one of those rare city events that makes the KW region a great place to live in.  This event is so popular that Waterloo’s reigning mayor got into character to open the festivities.

Waterloo's own Mayor Dave Jaworsky opens the 18th Annual Royal Medieval Faire.

Waterloo’s own Mayor Dave Jaworsky opens the 18th Annual Royal Medieval Faire.

Getting in the spirit of the election year, festival goers were treated to skits surrounding the election of the new “Pirate King”; debates were held and champions were chosen through combat.  In some ways I wish elections were always this entertaining as King Bertram’s promise of an endless supply of catfish is more believable than many of the promises being made by political leaders.

Waterloo, Ontario's annual festival celebrating swords play, costumes, food and music.
Waterloo, Ontario’s annual festival celebrating swords play, costumes, food and music.

Besides watching sword play there was plenty of things for the kids.  From firing giant crossbows, bow and arrows to miniature catapults there isn’t a moment where those young at heart had something to keep them entertained for the day.

This year Torvik, a Viking re-enactment and educational group made an appearance.  Not only were crowds entertained with realistic combat they also got a glimpse of how rough Norse life could be.

Swords, pirates, Vikings, food music… there’s really something for everyone at this festival.  So if there is one event that you need to add to your list for 2016, make it the Royal Medieval Faire.







2015 Royal Medieval Faire Preview

Waterloo’s annual Royal Medieval Faire is happening September 19, 2015 at Waterloo Park!  This event has something for the whole family to enjoy – food, music, costumes, activities and of course people swinging swords (real metal ones)!  I have the privilege of taking photos of this year’s festivities and managed to attend one of the last remaining rehearsals before weekend.

Practicing for the 2015 Royal Medieval Faire in Waterloo.
Practicing for the 2015 Royal Medieval Faire in Waterloo.

These actors and professionals make swinging swords, axes and staves easy, but don’t be fooled!  It takes a lot of skill and practice to do it safely. Many of them have been honing their craft for years on stage and donate their time to make the Royal Medieval Faire a success.  With this year’s festival being held on “Talk like a Pirate” day, you’ll need to come out and help determine who will be crowned the new Pirate King!

If the rehearsal is any indication, this year’s festival is going to be a great one – more photos to come next weekend!

Backyard Tourist: Pinery Provincial Park

The Labour Day weekend provided a final opportunity to explore the great outdoors with the family.  This time we decided to try camping at the Pinery Provincial Park  just outside of Grand Bend – about a 2 hour drive from Kitchener, Ontario.  We’ve always heard that this park is famous for its 10 kms of beach on the shores of Lake Huron, rolling sandy dunes and a 21 kms of rare forests that is great for hiking.  It was time to find out if all of the hype is real.

We booked a camp site in Burley Campground, on the far west of the Pinery.  Sites are nestled within an old pine forest providing privacy that you normally can’t find in many other car camping areas. Washroom facilities, showers and running water is a short walk away and for those who need electricity I’d recommend heading over to the Riverside area where you can find hookups as well as laundry facilities.  Our particular site, 1087, was extremely clean and with tall trees protecting us from the heat of the hottest weekend of the summer.  It’s also a short 10 minute hike through sand dunes to arrive at a secluded beach for you to enjoy.  Even without swimming gear my wife and kids decided to charge into the waters of Lake Huron to cool off!  I was thankful for the limited number of spectators as my 5 year old son decided to take off his shorts to enjoy the water in his underwear.

When it comes to car camping, I could never find reliable information of whether camp sites include grates to cook – not to mention if they’re actually going to be there.  It’s one of the reasons why I always pack one just in case.  I’m extremely happy that at the Pinery you’ll find that their fire-pits are well equipped.  Each campsite has a well constructed metal pit with a sturdy iron grate that is attached to the pit for cooking.  We made tinfoil dinners, hotdogs and pizza on the fires allowing us to save our propane cylinders.

Activities for the kids are plentiful with trails that are suitable for biking.  The Pinery has a well equipped rental centre where you can find all types of bicylces including tandems.  With the Old Ausable Channel running through the park there are penty of canoes to rent as well as hydro bikes and kayaks.  If you’re lucky you can tag along for a free 1 hour guided paddle where you’ll learn about the habitat and native wildlife that is being preserved.

The beach by the Burley campground is fairly rocky and due to Lake Huron having higher than normal water levels this year you’ll find very little sandy areas.  However if you need sand, and most kids do, head over to the day use areas where you’ll find a narrow strip before your toes touch water.  But don’t be distraught with the lack of a beach as there are advantages with water levels being so high – the water is warm and it’s shallow for 15 metres before it reaches your chest.

I’ve read that National Geographic has rated the Pinery as one of the best places for sunsets in the world.  I’ve yet to find an actual reference, however the statement is not hard to believe after witnessing it myself.  Just after dinner on Saturday I went for a quick hike up the dunes to witness what I’ve only seen in Caribbean.  The skies were painted in an orange and pink hues that is hard to describe, providing just enough light to enjoy a few extra moments of water play on the lake.

Watching the sunset, and the time as I didn’t want to hike in the dark back to camp, I was curious of how the shores of Lake Huron would look like at dawn.  Getting up before breakfast I returned to the same location and wasn’t disappointed.  Instead of skies being used like a painters canvas, a golden hue covers the land.  My attention was drawn to driftwood scattered on the beach with their character being drawn out by the morning light while the morning mist was slowly being burned away.  Photography enthusiasts should definitely make a pilgrimage to this provincial park.

The final activity that my family did was a short hike along the Riverside trail which follows the Old Ausable Channel. It’s a short 1 km loop and for tired kids – just enough to get them moving before complaining about sore feet.  It’s well maintained and level and you’ll get to see many different species of birds and frogs along the way.


The Pinery is a very family friendly park with enough activities to keep your family busy without having to drive through traffic to get to Algonquin.  Well groomed paths for bicycles, many hiking trails are wheelchair accessible and of you can’t go wrong having a beach along the shores of Lake Huron just 2 hours away from Kitchener.  The park is open during the winter and I’ve heard that you can catch Bald Eagles hunting – maybe I’ll be adventurous enough to head out to see what I’m missing.

Potrait Lighting to Slim or Expand the face

Lately I’ve been experimenting with lighting and how it falls on the face.  When I don’t have a model, doing “selfies” and trying to pose myself is an interesting challenge.  I wanted to try creating a photo with my head slightly cut off – doing a selfie allowed me to play around with composition and how close I needed to be the the camera to make it look intentional.

The photo below is what I came up with.  My key light, an umbrella used as a bounce, is in the classic 45 degrees up from my face.    I have a backlight at a stop lower behind me to make sure the background doesn’t go totally grey.  Effective focal length is 80mm.

A selfie. Lighting the far side of the face to make my face look slimmer
A selfie. Lighting the far side of the face to make my face look slimmer

I lit the side of my face that was the furthest away from the camera to cast a slight shadow on the closest side to create slimming effect; this can be used with someone with a wider face / rounder face like myself for a more flattering photo.  You can go the opposite route and light the side closest to the camera to give the opposite effect so those with narrow faces can look more full vs. looking skinny.  The portrait I took on the weekend is an example lighting the opposite way.


Hope you enjoyed this quick example of how lighting the side closest or farthest away can affect your portraits.




15 Minute Headshot

On the weekend had a request for a corporate headshot for a friend.  Nothing fancy – plain background and keep the pose simple.   The goal was to get a shot she could use for any RFP responses / corporate literature so customers can get a sense of who she is.  So taking a page out of Peter Hurley’s playbook I decided to go landscape which would allow cropping of just the head if it needed to be a traditional headshot; otherwise there’s room to play wish if the company wanted to do something more creative.

The shot below is the one we went with.

Cheryl Taylor - Landscape - Front

Here are some other shots that we took in a span of 15 minutes.


Roadtripping through New York State and Pennsylvania

It’s not often you get a chance to go on a road trip for work.  When those rare occasions do I make sure to bring my camera along to catch anything interesting on the way.  On this particular occasion the Google Maps and my GPS wanted me to go through Rochester, then to Syracuse to get on the I90; once there proceed to the I81 until I hit Mount Pocono.  All that interstate driving is a bit boring so I decided to take the scenic route.  Taking US Route 20A, to  I390 to NY17 until I hit the I81.  The country side drive on US Route 20A is beautiful with lots of rolling hills, farmland and wind turbines dotting the landscape.  It’s a two lane road for most of the way and the twists and turns keeps your attention.

Along the way I encountered small towns with familiar names for those who live in Southwestern Ontario.  I drove through Elmira and the the historic town of Orangeville that was established in 1816.  Just on the other side of Orangeville there’s a collision centre that’s a replica of an old Texaco gas station.  Mt. Morris, just before you hit I390 is a lovely town nestled in the hills that have some fabulous hiking trails and a beautiful national park that I sorely wished I had the opportunity to explore


Once I got to Mount Pocono, I quickly discovered one of the must visit place go is Callie’s Candy Museum where you can purchase all sorts of homemade sweet bites to satisfy any craving.  It also has historic candy making machinery on display so you can say you went for the education – not necessarily for the dark chocolate covered pretzels (which are fabulous).  Behind Callie’s you’ll find classic cars on display with no one stopping you from getting up close to the beauties.

On the return trip I decided to take a break and spend a night at Corning, PA, home to the Corning Museum of Glass.  Unfortunately I didn’t arrive in time to make my own glass, but if you have kids it’s a great place to keep them busy for a few hours.  There are many interactive exhibits showcasing the history of glass and how it’s used; from windows all the way to the smartphone that you most likely have in your pocket.  Corning has great historic feel with a combination of modern and historic building influences; I give them kudos for preserving many of the turn of the century buildings and retrofitting as many as they can with modern amenities.   The Rockwell Museum dedicated to Art about America dominates the centre of town and has a peculiar looking bovine head bursting out from the wall.  The town has a great urban vibe and I’ll have to return to spend more time exploring its secrets.


The 2015 Kitchener Mile

Downtown Kitchener is going through a rejuvenation.  Five years ago the area was quite abysmal with lack luster options for dining and events that united the locals were few and far between. A lot has changed since then; new eating establishments have opened up and the Downtown Kitchener Association has coined “#KWAwesome” as a way to rally the population to make downtown exciting.

Although there are large events happening throughout the summer, not everything needs to have a big splash.  The Kitchener Mile is an example of a short running race that doesn’t take a whole lot of time for those interested in participating.  Employees of local companies can can enjoy a quick run right after work and then head off to refuel without taking up their entire evening.  The first event in July attracted a few dozen professional and amateur runners displaying much enthusiasm to see the results of their training.

Backyard Tourist – Storybook Gardens

Storybook Gardens Train
Storybook Gardens Train

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Storybook Gardens.  I remember my parents taking me when I was just a wee lad, and now that I’m all grown up I thought I’d see whether my own kids would enjoy something from my childhood.  Nestled within the picturesque Springbank park, this London, Ontario attraction has plenty of affordable rides to keep the little ones active.  Adult admission is $7.50; children 2-17 years $7.50 and a family pass is $28.  Ride tickets are $2.00 and if you really want to tire out your youngsters, grab an unlimited attraction wristband for $12.

Out of all the rides my kids enjoyed, the push pedal cars was a particular favorite.  My son didn’t want to leave the track and kept going around and around.

A large banana slide, merry-go-round and an elephant ride, but one of my son’s favourite attractions was an area with just large foam blocks to stack.

If Pirate Cove isn’t the best area of Story Book Gardens, it’s up there.  This area has 3 pirate ship themed areas where kids can climb, slide and explore; it also has a huge cable/rope course my daughter kept going from one end to another.   No doubt that other kids were having a great time while parents relaxed in the shade knowing that the ride home will be a quite one.

Not only are there plenty of rides to keep the kids happy, there are plenty of green spaces where you can hold a picnic or just get some quiet time in amongst some of the Canadian Geese that also frequent the park.

Just outside of the Storybook Gardens you can enjoy a miniature train and a merry-go-round and not have to worry about paying the full administration price.

Not much more to say; this is a fantastic amusement area of young kids at a much more affordable price than Canada’s Wonderland.  From the Kitchener/Waterloo area Storybook Gardens is only an hour drive away – much more convenient than going into Toronto and with a lot less traffic.

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