Although we live on the East slope of the Rockies in Alberta we are suffering badly from smoke pollution drifting over the mountains from the extensive BC wildfires. The last two days have been particularly bad, in fact this morning the the AQI (Air Quality Index) in Canmore was at 502, the highest I have seen it so far which was 140 times the WHO recommended exposure. As I write this it is still rated at 337, which is considered hazardous.
Normal view over Bow River toward mount Rundle
Although meaningful photography is pretty meaningless in these conditions I wanted to show a couple of examples of just how bad it is.
Normal view toward the Old Engine Bridge over the Bow River
We are forecast for rain later today, everyone here is praying it comes and is extensive, and here’s hoping it makes it’s way over the mountains into British Columbia to assist with the firefighting efforts there.
My new home of Canmore is situated right on the edge of both Banff National Park (the first National Park created in Canada) and Kanananaskis Country. Within 10 minutes of here I can be out in bear country, and there are lot’s about. In fact, I don’t even need to go that far, while walking the dogs along the trail beside the Bow river right on the edge of town there was a sudden splash and a young black bear we had startled leapt out and disappeared into the bush. Pretty much all the locals walk around with bear spray on their belts – those that don’t are generally the unsuspecting tourists, not realizing how near they might be to the local wildlife!
Learning about bears
Are bears dangerous? Well, yes and no. It depends entirely on the circumstances, and your own knowledge. Get between a mother and her cubs and you are asking for trouble. Get inside a bears comfort zone – yep that’s dangerous. Ride a mountain bike full tilt down a mountain path and startle a bear, asking for trouble. Sit quietly watching a bear who is completely aware you are there and showing no signs of agitation, I do it safely all the time. Stay in your car for bears near the road, no one has been injured doing that.
Do you want to know more facts about bears? Stop watching When Bears Attack etc. on TV. Mostly sensationalist nonsense to attract viewers. There are dozens of bear books out there, but, in my opinion, one stands out above all others. ‘What Bears Teach us’ by local author Sarah Elmeligi and illustrated by photographer John E. Marriot. Available on Amazon and other online book stores. In my opinion this should be compulsory reading for anyone venturing out into bear country!
Bears are among my all time favourite subjects. Mostly they are active early mornings and late evenings so get out accordingly. (During the fall they can be more active during the full day as they feed up for hibernation) To get great photos the bears need to be relaxed and you need to be safe. Observe what the bear is doing. Long lenses are the order of the day. If you don’t have a long enough lens don’t approach within a bears comfort zone, simply shoot environmental images of bears in the landscape, they are just as effective. If a bear stops what it is doing and looks wary, you are too close or it huffs, pops it’s jaws, or flattens it’s ears you are ay too close!
Long lenses require good support. A bean bag resting on a car window frame works very well when shooting from a vehicle. Use a tripod when outside the car.
Be careful with exposure, especially when shooting darker bears. It is often necessary to open up between one and two stops to get detail into the fur of a dark furred black bear. Note, not all black bears are black, and not all brown bears (grizzly bears) are brown. Both species come in a variety of shades.
Be respectful of bears to ensure both you and they remain safe
Always follow warning signs and advice given by guides and park rangers
Don’t stop on the road when it’s unsafe to do so, bear jams are a major headache in National Parks
Never carry food on your person or in your vehicle when in bear country, bears have amazing sense of smell. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear!
Carry bear spray, and know how to use it. That can of bear spray needs to be where you can get at it, if it’s in your backpack it’s useless!
To see more of my bear images and other wildlife click here
P.S. As I write this a glance out of my window shows the visibility is down to less than 100 yards, the air being thick with smoke from the BC forest fires, just the other side of the Rocky Mountains. My thoughts are with those fighting these fires, those who have lost property in the devastation, and the wildlife who have lost their lives and whose habitat has been destroyed.No wildlife photography today!
A recent article in The Calgary Herald mentioned a big influx of Bald Eagles along the Bow River in Calgary, with as many as 20 being viewed on some days. This is probably due to less freeze up occurring on the Bow in the City itself, keeping open water available for waterfowl, the eagles main prey.
Since the beginning of December I have been closely following two of these eagles as they build their nest in a tall cottonwood tree situated on a small island in the Bow,
Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/1600 sec @ f5.6, ISO 500. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected
Baldies are among the first birds to begin the nesting process each year, often adding layer upon layer to nests from previous years until the nest can become too big for the tree to support.
Although regarded as a top predator, in fact bald eagles are an opportunistic hunter, regularly stealing prey from other birds, feeding on old carcasses. Scavenging roadkill, can prove disastrous as many are subsequently hit by passing traffic.
Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/3200 sec @ f6.3, ISO 400. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected
Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/3200 sec @ f5.6, ISO 500. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected
It is evident from sightings reported to e.bird.org run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that numbers of bald eagles are on the increase, a far cry from being placed on the endangered species list in 1973 due to illegal hunting,, habitat destruction and the disastrous effects of DDT which caused the birds to lay non-viable eggs due to very this shells, a problem associated with the decline of many birds of prey around the same time.
Long may then continue to increase in numbers as it is always a thrill to see these birds soaring along the rivers and lakes of Canada.
Only adult bald eagles have the white head – forming in their third year. The big difference in dynamic range between the white head and the dark body means it is essential to get your exposure correct so as not to blow out the highlights on the white feathers. I generally choose to set the exposure manually but use auto ISO to compensate for changing light conditions. I generally set my auto IOS to go no higher than 2000 as this is the level at which the D850 begins to exhibit more noise than I find acceptable. Lower resolution cameras can tolerate much higher ISO
Bald eagles are big birds, which fly relatively slowly, making flight images quite easy. However a few things to be aware of. Because they are big they have a huge wingspan, (between 6′ to 7.5′) so watch your depth of field, it is very easy to get the wing tips out of focus so close down a stop or two to add that little bit of depth.
Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter (effective length 700mm) on Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/2000 sec @ f6.3, ISO 250. Exposure set manually with auto ISO selected
Even though they are relatively slow you still need fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of flight. I recommend at least 1/2000sec. Make sure you pick up your subject as early as possible to lock the autofocus and pan quickly. I use a tripod and Flexshooter head for most of my birds in flight images, unless I can get really close to use a shorter lens.
For autofocus I generally use dynamic area AF set to 9 or 25 AF points. For static birds I tend to switch to single point AF so that I can lock the single point on the subjects eye.
After a great deal of consideration and hours spent on the internet I have finally decided to use the Covid down time to make some fundamental changes to my website and archive system. So, it’s Photoshelter out and Photodeck in.
Photoshelter v Photodeck
First, there is nothing actually wrong with Photoshelter and I have used their services for a very long time to both present my photo galleries and provide a searchable database of my images. But, that first sentence contains an important snippet, ‘a very long time’. And that is precisely the time period where really little has changed in the Photoshelter presentation.
Photoshelter have made some steps forward, particularly with regard to SEO performance but, my site is visited mainly to view my images, purchase prints, and by editors looking for illustrative images for books, magazines, newspapers etc. Therefore of prime importance to me is how are my images presented on the site front page, in the galleries and in search results.
This is where Photoshelter has fallen behind. The gallery presentations are now very tired looking, every gallery is exactly the same, just a block of identical thimbnails, with nothing very dynamic looking. I was therefore very excited when Photoshelter announced back in October 2019 that, as the result of a client survey, they had a roadmap forward with exciting new designs, a better shopping cart, and an ‘overhaul client galleries with a modern, user-friendly interface’ among other things.
Well we are going to see new web templates in August 2020. Then in June we heard things were slipping behind, Ok, no problem development takes time and hits some problems, but we did get a new Photoshelter logo! So an announcement in October heralds progress? Nope, another update that it’s more difficult than first anticipated. November, another announcement just tells us these exciting things are coming!
Now we begin 2021 and to cut a long story short as we enter February we still have no new website designs. I fully understand that Covid-19 must have had a profound effect on the ability to deliver but I finally began looking for an alternative and came across Photodeck.
For me the biggest advantage of Photodeck is the modern presentation of the overall websites and galleries, super speed for search results and the amount of customization available in website designs. Last but not least is the ability, once you have finalized your site design, to output a WordPress theme which makes the blog mimic the same look as the main site for a seamless experience.
Admittedly there is a bit of a learning curve in moving to a new platform, but after a couple of days I started to get the hang of it and was quickly able to get a new site up and running.
You will find many new images in the galleries that have not been presented before and every day more images are being added to the stock availability which you can find using the search function.
Most images are available as prints in a range of sizes and media, professionally printed and delivered directly to you, and as licensed downloads for a variety of uses.
Prices for Photodeck and Photoshelter are almost identical for most people who are likely to use the Standard subscription model at $25 per month with 100GB storage (thats around high resolution 20,000 jpeg images) Ecomerce is also completely free of any additional charges with Photodeck compared to 10% transaction fees on Photoshelter.
You can give Photodeck a try with a fully functional 14 day trial period at www.photodeck.com Furthermore, if you decide Photodeck fits your need anter the code YG@UESDHW at checkout with your first subscription and receive 50% off your first month.
Capture One 21 was launched a week ago as the latest iteration of my favourite RAW processing software.
So, lets get one thing out of the way immediately – are the new features worth upgrading from version 20? In reality, even though this remains my post processing software, I don’t think so. When a software gets an upgraded name I expect there will be many new features, and version 21 is a bit of a disappointment.
I understand why the need to produce a version 21, after all we are nearly at the end of 2020 ad it would look a little strange to continue with the 20 numbering as we enter the new year. However, that is a marketing situation, and the new features are, in my opinion, really version 20.1, not version 21.
So, that being said, what have we actually got for our money.
Speed editing allows you to use modifier keys and drag left or right and up and down to make adjustments. For example, to change the exposure value, hold down the Q key on your keyboard and an exposure tab will open under the image. You can adjust the exposure by mouse dragging left ad right.
OK, this does allow me to keep my eye on the image I am editing and not have to go looking for the adjustment sliders, and may be marginally quicker. Is it a huge new feature? Probably not for me, but may be for some users.
Q – adjusts exposure W- adjusts contrast E – adjust brightness R – adjust saturation
A – adjusts highlight S – adjusts shadow W- adjusts white E – adjust black
Z – adjusts clarity S – adjusts RGB shadow W- adjusts RGB midtone E – adjust RGB highlight
You should by now have realized these modifier keys are the first 4 keys on each line of the left end of a standard keyboard. As with almost everything else in Capture One, if you don’t like these modifiers you can change them to suit your own taste.
Adobe Lightroom has had a dehaze tool for a while. Capture One has now added this. Yes, it’s a useful edition, but it’s also true to say that you could always dehaze an image, and still can, with far greater control by using a mask on the layer to dehaze, and adjusting the clarity, contrast, brightness and the shadow point.
Pro standard profile
Version 21 has introduced new camera profiles with more to be added soon. The new profiles should provide a sightly more true to life rendering of RAW images. I have looked at images from my D850 in both the Generic D850 and D850 Prostandard and there is a small difference in the colours that should give a better starting point for colour grading.
Capture one now boasts a built-in range of help screens and videos to assist photographers in using the various tools. Helpful no doubt for a short while while learning the program but of limited use to seasoned users.
Faster asset management
Now we come to the feature that I have been most concerned about in previous versions, the speed of searches and browsing through catalogs. Search speed has for long been outstripped by Adobe Lightroom, and when you have huge catalogs as I do, that I regularly need to find a particular image within, it has often been a frustrating exercise. Well, this has been addressed in the latest version and searches zip along at about the same speed as in Lightroom. Score one for Capture One 21!
In addition importing new images has been much improved, now allowing import from multiple folders at the same time. High resolution previews are generated much quicker now allowing one to start work on images much sooner when ingesting a large folder of images as I often have to do – score two for Capture One 21!
Hopefully in the coming months there will be some additional features that will make me feel better about the upgrade price. However, as I have mentioned before, Capture One is still my RAW processing software choice and I believe will continue to be so.
If you have not tried Capture One then download a fully working 30 day trial coy here