Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quebec's Road Signs

While there are international graphic based road signs, we found several interesting road signs as we drove through Canada. I was always amused by this one - warning of moose. For one thing, we've seen moose warning signs in other places along our travels and usually the moose are elusive and we don't see any. So when I see a moose crossing sign or a moose warning sign, my first thought is "Promises, Promises." Because I like opportunities to see moose.

However, one of our fellow travelers was worried about traveling at night, because there have been so many fatalities in Labrador and Newfoundland from car/moose collisions. They are the largest species in the deer family. You have to realize that a moose's antler rack is 6 feet wide, they are approximately 6 feet tall and can weigh 1,800 lbs (almost a ton). So hitting one would do serious damage to a car and its occupants.

We did see moose in a few places on our trip - after dark on the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve and one rainy evening out of St. Anthony, Newfoundland. Fortunately we did not have any close encounters, but there were plenty of these signs warning us of the possibility.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Leaving the St. Lawrence and heading north

Aug 14 - After the whales we headed east along the St. Lawrence heading for highway 389 that heads north to Labrador. This little park was our last stop before leaving the river. The lighting was bad because the rain was coming in. But sometimes I need to take memory pictures in spite of poor lighting. I was suprised what a little bit of post processing did.

This was a place I would love to have had time to be there in the early morning and before sunset. It is a tidal zone, so it would be interesting to see how it looks at high tide and low tide with golden light and sunset/sunrise glow. But our time was short and it was still a long way to Labrador so we pressed on.

But I couldn't resist photographing this rainbow. There was not a good vantage point for it, but it was so lovely, I wanted the memory.

Too often on this trip, I would be seeing lovely areas, but gray skies and no "magic" lighting. My instincts were to leave the camera alone - knowing that the photos would not be "saleable." But I had to keep reminding myself that there are many reasons to take photographs - even snapshots. They are one of the ways we remember where we've been and what we've done long after we have returned home.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baie St. Catherine

Aug14th - One of the goals for the Canada trip was to explore the St. Lawrence Seaway. Baie St. Catherine offers two sets of cruises - whale watching and a cruise up the Saguenay Fjord. I was eager to do the whale watching, so we didn't check the schedule for the cruises - turns out the whale cruises are offered both morning and afternoon, while the Fjord is only a morning cruise. I felt a little bad, because Henry had wanted to do the Fjord cruise and we realized the scheduling after we'd already done the morning whale watching. We tried to guess where to ride the whale cruise from, but it turns out that the boats pick you up from several docks to take you out to where the whales are - the docks are about 20 minutes apart.

But the morning cruise was nice . . . It was a little foggy over the water. The cliffs were really lovely.

This is where the Saguenay Fjord enters the St. Lawrence. A pair of ferry boats transports cars across the fjord here. We took this ferry later in the day.

While I love it when the whales are close to the boat, many times whale watching is just getting to see a species no matter how far away. I'd seen beluga whales at one of the SeaWorlds, but this was my first time to see belugas in the wild. They appear like white spots or white blobs out on the water. They seem to stay in pods as they feed.

Belugas are not large whales, but they are easy to identify in the water because they are so white.

Sometimes when you're whale watching you only see the back and the dorsal fin as the whales feed along the surface and as they surface for air.

You can also take Zodiac cruises. They outfit you with raincoats, because you can end up close to the whale action.

I have to admit, part of me would like to have been on the zodiac that was so close to the breeching whale.

Occasionally you get lucky and the whale surfaces right near the boat and you have the opportunity to catch the tail as the whale makes its dive.

I never know when I take a whale watching cruise whether I will end up with great images or mediocre images. But I always, always enjoy being out on the water marveling at these wondrous creatures.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Parc National Des Hautes-Gorges-de-la Riviere-Malbaie

Aug 13 - After visiting Grand Jardins, the next major park was Hautes-Gorges. This park is very pretty with a series of valleys cut deep in a range of mountains that are the highest rock faces east of the Rockies. A shuttle bus takes you from a central parking lot up a park road with several opportunities to get off for hikes through the beautiful forested mountains. We were headed to the uppermost stop where there was a lake with a boat ride up one of the gorges. This lake had many people out in canoes and kayaks exploring the area at their leisure. When we got out on the tour boat, we saw lots of people in their canoes and having picnic lunches in beautiful spots around the lake. We didn't have time to do canoeing this trip, but it sure looked like this would be a fun place to explore on your own. The concession had plenty of rental canoes and kayaks.

We wanted to take the 1 1/2 hour cruise on Le Menard. As a photographer, it can be frustrating when you have only a limited amount of time and you can't be everywhere during magic light. But you make the most of it. The dusk cruise would probably have given me better light, but we were very near where the whale cruises were and the whales were calling me. We missed the 11:00 boat and had to take the 1:00 cruise.

We had some extra time so I explored this building and the stories of the 1996 flood. I left my camera with Henry and took his as I went up the stairs and followed the trail to an overlook.

I was glad I didn't take my good camera, becasue not only were the stairs steep, but the trail was up and down over rocks and tree roots. But I was glad I had taken Henry's camera because the view from the overlook was spectacular.

If you look carefully, you'll see Henry at one of the chairs on the outdoor patio. I tried to get his attention to wave at him, but he was busy reading something on his iPhone. This visitor center has a little cafeteria where we had a nice lunch and a nice gift store as well.

While you see inukshuks all over northern Canada, there was an area along the lakeshore that had many of them all in one place.

The light and shadows created by the clouds made for some good pictures in spite of it being in the middle of the day.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Black Bear Encounter

Aug 3: On the way to the Chapleau Game Preserve, we had another bear encounter on the side of the road. This bear saw us and came right up to the car, making us think that people on the road construction crew or other automobiles had been feeding him. He came so close that I could hear him panting just like a dog. I don't think I had known before that bears pant. Naturally I was taking pictures up until he was really close to the car (I think I did close the window briefly and then opened it when he turned around.)

When I looked at the photos afterward, I realized that nature isn't always kind to its critters. Notice the flies and other insects buzzing this bear's face!

This bear hung around us for several minutes giving me some good opportunities for portraits.

I also realized that I wasn't getting shots of the bear with good backgrounds. So after the bear had retreated back into the woods, I shot some photos of the underbrush with the thought of doing some DA (digital art) later. One of the advantages of thinking about DA while still at the site: you have lighting at the same angle and intensity as your animal and your vegetation or surroundings are natural for the animal you are photographing. Ethically, if I submit this photo, I will label it as a composite or digital art.

I knew as I was shooting that this bear shot was likely to "work" because I got the whole bear and things looked pretty sharp in the camera. but this background is not that interesting.

I found this underbrush near where we saw the bear.

And then I combined the two images to get this:

I've added some artistic filters to make the background look better and so that it is obvious that this is "art" rather than straight photography. I don't know yet if I will do much more with this composite or whether I will submit it anywhere. But sometimes it is good to practice techniques like this because I learn things by playing.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Zambia's Village Children Calendar 2010

When we were in Zambia a year ago, my heart was touched by the orphans living at the Namwianga Mission. Inspired by another photographer, Karen Ande, who does calendars each year to benefit a different set of children in Africa, I decided to do calendars to help raise money for these precious children. Life in the rural African bush has many challenges. Children are orphaned when their mom dies from AIDS, death during childbirth, and other health issues. Some of these orphaned children have lost both parents, others only their mom. Some of these children live at Namwianga until they are about three and then a relative comes to bring them back to their village. Others have no relatives to go to and grow up at Namwianga. These precious children often come to Namwianga as infants and some do not survive infancy because of health issues they are born with.

The workers at the orphanage and the medical clinic love these children and give them amazing care. As one small thing I can do for this important ministry, I have put together a calendar whose profits will go to benefit these chidlren.

Here are sample of the images for each month. This year some of the photos were taken by me and others were taken by David Gregersen using my camera while we were there.

To order calendars, click here to go to the "Donate button" at the Zambia Mission Website:

Zambia Mission Donation

Click on Donate and then fill in the form: The calendars cost $20.00 and the cost to mail is $1.73 so enter $21.73 for each calendar and hit Update Total, then log on to PayPal. There is a place to give special instructions, please mark this to indicate that you want to purchase a calendar or how many calendars. Please include the address where you would like the calendar sent.

If you prefer, you may also email me with your name, address, and how many calendars you wish and mail a check made out to Zambia Mission to this address:

Zambia Mission
658 E.N. 21st
Abilene, TX 79601

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chapleau Crown Game Preserve

Aug 3: We are known for our explorations. I saw the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve on the map and I wanted to go see it. It is the largest Crown Game Preserve in the world with 2,000,000 acres! We got into the town of Chapleau and knew we needed to get our room set up first, because in small towns hotel keepers put the "No Vacancy" sign out when they'r ready to go to bed. We got our hotel room, put gas in the tank and headed north to explore the preserve. The road was dirt, and we regularly passed beautiful ponds and lakes. We knew there was a lake at the end of the road 72 kilometers away. We got to to end of the road where there is a pretty lake and a campground. We finally saw moose after the sun went down, but they didn't cross the road. We came across one of the lakes as the moon was rising and I just had to see what I could do with the pretty scene:

I stayed out as long as I could playing with exposures. But the mosquitoes were fierce and it was getting late and we still had a long way to go to get back to the hotel.

And, sure enough, when we got back to town at a late hour, everything was closed up tight. It was good we had planned ahead and had a comfortable room. Sleeping in the car would have been no fun and there were really no other towns very close. It was a good day!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Grands Jardins Provincial Park

Aug 12 Parc national des Grands-Jardins has amazing mountains that are part of the Canadian shield. Jardin is French for garden. The park got its name because of the carpet of lichens and Nordic vegetation. We only got to sample the park and we were there late in the day when the sun was low in the sky. There was a long dirt road on the park brochure that looked worth exploring, but we knew we had limited time so we only went a short way before turning back.

Near our turnaround point, we came upon this lovely old log church.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

La Mauricie National Park

La Mauricie National Park is located northeast of Montreal in the Quebec province of Canada. While there are hiking trails and roads to explore the park, canoeing is probably the best way. There are 30 lakes to explore with portages between many of them. Canoes, rowboats, and kayaks can be rented at several places in the park. For those planning long trips with several portages, they have light weight canoes. I've gotten to do some canoe trips, and I found myself wishing that we had more time here to see the scenery from the water level.

The road led us up to this beautiful overlook. There are canoes on the water in the distance, but so far away they are little dots. We were lucky enough to be here late in the afternoon when the lighting was pretty good for photography.

We stopped at this lake and I went out on the dock - savoring the still, quiet water and the beaver that was swimming on the other side of the lake.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lake Superior's North Shore

Aug 2-3: For a long time I had been wanting to explore the Canadian side of Lake Superior. While we didn't have a lot of time on this trip, we made the most of what we had.

Since we first started visiting the Lake Superior area, I'd been hearing about Thunder Bay. It is a picturesque town the western end of the St. Laurence shipping lane. It overlooks the scenic Sibley Peninsula with the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. It is a nice sized town. We had a great lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bay in the old train station.

Near Terrace Bay is the lovely Aguasabon Gorge. There is also a waterfall, but the overlook didn't have a good vantage point for a good photo and it was getting close to dark so I had no time to check for a better one. The limits of doing a road trip with a hard deadline to be in Montreal for the convention are that you can't always be at the prettiest places at the right time of day hoping for "magic" lighting.

On the way to Pukaskwa National Park, we saw this merlin swooping over the marsh. Merlins catch their prey in flight. While much of their diet is small birds, they also eat insects such as dragonflies. This merlin was hunting over this marshy area and we suspected that the insects were his prey that day.

He did pause on this fence post to check us out giving us a good look see and a better chance to identify him.

We weren't at Pukaskwa National Park at the right time of day for spectacular photos either, but the rock formations leading down to the water make this a pretty place. It was one of several Canadian parks that I wished for a canoe to go out and explore it better.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Riding Mountain National Park

Back to the blogs about our Canada trip:

It was a rainy, cloudy day when we entered Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba. Beautiful aspen forests surrounded us as we drove into the park. There were two bison enclosures and we were able to drive quite close.

I don't know why, but I always enjoy getting to see bison - they're big, strong, and a historic symbol of the open prairie.

The wildflowers were beautiful.

From the daisies to the pink clover - there were flowers everywhere.

These reminded me of domestic day lilies, but they were small:

This young bear poked his head out of the forest to check us out. A little later we got to watch him grub for worms deep in the forest.

We were treated with a rainbow at the end of the day! What more can one ask!

Monday, October 05, 2009

St. Louis

One of the things I like to do while we are in St. Louis for Archon is to go over and take cityscape shots of St. Louis. Each year the sunsets are different - different clouds, different colors, etc. This year I was lucky and the Busch Stadium lights were not on. I like to get there before sunset and take sequences of shot without moving the camera or changing the zoom so that I can play with the images later for specific looks.

These may not be the final versions, but here are the initial workups of this year's shoot. You can click on each image to get a larger view.

The sun was not in exactly the best place for where I was to get the golden hue behind the arch. But in this version I was trying to get the sunset glowing sky and yet keep detail in the buildings rather than a silhouette and get the street lights. So the images used for the HDR were taken over a longer time frame.

This HDR version was created to produce an image similar to what your eyes see at twilight:

I chose the first vantage point so that I could avoid getting a building crane in my skyline shots. But I also wanted view that would get the courthouse better, so I moved. I think I wish I had moved earlier so that the sky would not have been quite as dark.

I also wanted a vertical shot this year:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Early Man - Bannock Point Petroforms

A Post from our Canada trip:

We were driving south from Lake Winnepeg along Highway 307 late in the afternoon, when we noticed a sign along the road for "petroforms." When I read the historical information kiosk a the parking lot, I knew I definitely wanted to take the hike over. Sadly, since it was late in the day, I didn't grab my camera, but I did head off at a brisk pace up the steps, through the forest and up the hill to see what I could see.

We were on the Canadian shield, precambrian rock that is the oldest in the world. While there is forest surrounding the petroforms, there is a big open space at the top of the walk. The sight of old lichen covered bedrock, depressions filled with grass and moss surrounded by the forest rewarded me for the hike uphill to get here.

At first it took some study to find the petroforms, the first ones seemed like random stacking of rocks amidst the moss. However, the more we walked along the bare rock paths, the more we found. Henry joined me and we wandered through the area amazed at the number and the variety of the shapes. Some of them are obviously very old - notice how the lichens and moss surround the rocks with matching lichens.

Henry had brought his small camera along and began photographing as we tried to make sense of who did these shapes and why did they make them. The photos in this post are his!

These petroforms are actually pretty large and are quite varied - snakes, turtles, people, even a newer cross. The initial sign said that the oldest date back 2500 years. I tried to picture people in North America during that era - these are primitive art, but none the less interesting. Were they telling a story? Were they leaving messages for one another perhaps like modern graffiti? Were they nomads who had just come to a new land? From having read so much science fiction - were they trying to signal someone in the sky?

I did some research, it is difficult to make an actual date for these petroforms because there is definitely a large space of time between the oldest through the newest. One dating method, based upon a campsite that was near two small petroforms, suggests 500 AD.

Native people in this area, the Anishinabe (also called Ojibway or Saulteaux) still consider these sites as sacred. They call this area the Manito Ahbee, the place where God sits. They believe that this is the site where the first Anishinabe was lowered from the sky to the ground by the Creator.

As a Christian, what is impressive about this place is that even before the good news of Christ came to this area, the people knew there was a Creator and wanted to communicate with Him. I think modern society often misses the importance of the spiritual elements of the human soul. Too many people have decided there is no God and what we have here in this life is all there is . . . I also believe that if we earnestly seek God, he will reveal Himself to us.

The petroform area fascinated me - I could have spent more time there and would love to have heard an interpreter describe the current ideas about what the individual forms mean.

For more information about the Petroforms and related topics:
From Manitoba's Provincial Park website: Teaching Places, Healing Places: the Petroforms of Manitoba

Wapedia: Wiki:Petroform Manitoba Bannock Point Petroforms

I also found these two links that relate to the petroforms - the similarity is amazing . . .
Midewewin Stages of Life vs
Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development

Heart of the Healer