Category Archives: Blog

BC Smoke

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.

Todays view
Todays view
Todays view
Normal view over Bow River toward mount Rundle
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.

Todays view
Todays view
Todays view
Normal view toward the Old Engine Bridge over the Bow River
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.

Blog | Latest images | Nikon

Bears galore

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!

Young American black bear (Ursus americanus), Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada
Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens, 1/640 sec @ f4, ISO 1600, Aperture priority exposure +1 stop exposure compensation
Photographed from my car window with lens resting on bean bag.

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.

Very rare white mutation of American black bear (Ursus americanus), Spary Lakes Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta. This genetic mutation from a recessive gene prevents the bear producing melanin.
Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens with TC 14 converter, 1/1250sec @ f5.6, ISO 1100, manual mode with auto ISO, +0.7 exposure compensation. Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter Pro head.

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!

Cinnamon coated American black bear (Ursus americanus) takes a stroll down a gravel road, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada . You can see just how unconcerned this bear is as he takes no notice of me in the car as he walks right on by.
Nikon D850, Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens at 185mm, 1/1600th @ f6.3, ISO 400, Aperture priority automatic. Yep – I stayed firmly in the car for this one!

Photographing bears

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!

Cinnamon coated American black bear (Ursus americanus), Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada .
Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens at 185mm, 1/800th @ f4 ISO 1600, Aperture priority automatic. Photographed from my car window with lens resting on bean bag.

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.

Young American black bear (Ursus americanus), Spary Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. Nikon D850, Nikon 200-400 f4 lens at 400mm, 1/800th @ f4 ISO 450, Manual mode with auto ISO +1 stop exposure compensation. Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter Pro head..

Finally

  • 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!

Smoke haze from BC wildlife fires hanging over the mountains in Canmore
Nikon D850, Nikon 24-70mm at 35mm.

Bald eagles

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,

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) delivers nest material, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

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.

Two Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeding on a duck carcass on an ice flow in Bow River, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) places a nest stick, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

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.

Photography tips

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.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in flight carrying nesting stick, Calgary, Carburn Park, Alberta, Canada

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.

Capture One 21

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.

New features

Speed editing

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.

Dehaze

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.

Learn

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

 

Clean up your images with Topaz Denoise AI

Each new generation of digital camera has improved its control of digital noise in high ISO images. None the less I have always found it necessary to do a certain amount of noise control in post processing with most images shot at 1600 or above. For the last few years I have used NIK filters Dfine as an external noise reduction filter for high ISO images and been reasonably happy with the results. Recently there has been a big advertising push online from Topaz Labs plugins and a lot of positive reviews, particularly for Topaz Denoise AI, so I thought I would download the free trial and give it a go.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement! All noise reduction software that I had tried in the past had always led to some softening in detail areas and a slight reduction in apparent sharpness. This includes both external plugins and the noise reduction built into Lightroom and Capture One.

Topaz Denoise, does not cause a lack of sharpness, in fact it seems to somehow enhance sharpness. The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence, and it certainly hits the mark. However, you are not stuck with the AI version to remove noise from your image. You can manually adjust the settings should you wish to do so. I am not a great fan of automatic adjustments by software on an image but this is certainly the exception. I rarely have to use any manual changes, simply setting Auto and letting Toopaz do it’s thing.

Topaz Denoise before and after
Topas Denoise shows a before and after view before you commit to the changes. This Ring-billed gull was shot at ISO 1100, 1/2000th f6.3, Nikon D850 with Nikon 500mm f4 and TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm, handheld. Note how the background noise has been smoothed and feather detail and the eye enhanced

Workflow

It is important to note that Topaz Denoise AI does not work with RAW files. You must output a pixel based image before applying. You therefore need to apply all your adjustments in your RAW processor, before outputting a TIFF or PSD file for denoise work.

My workflow is now to cull, caption and keyword in Photomechanic, Process RAW file in Capture One 20, output a 16bit TIFF and open in Photoshop. Here I make any further adjustments necessary and finally apply Topaz Denoise. If I do not require any Photoshop adjustments I open the TIFF file directly from Capture One and apply Topaz.

Speed

Topaz Denoise is not the speediest of processors. If I am applying to a full size D850 image it can take around 30 seconds to complete it’s task. However, I think this is a small price to pay for a super clean output. In any case I only apply this process to my best images as part of outputting them for final use.

Texas Rangers Delino DeShields narrowly misses getting hit by a ball. Nikon D4s with 500mm f4, 1/1250 @f4 ISO 4000

Click on the images to view a full size file that more clearly shows the noise reduction.

Downloaded Topaz Denoise as a fully working 30 day trial and purchsed for $79.99 at https://topazlabs.com