Polar Aircraft

Aircraft of Canada

I’ve taken A LOT of photos over the past couple of years. Since getting my Nikon D5200 I’ve been habitually taking more photos than I could ever need, primarily due to my theory that if I take a lot, there will be more good ones in the mix due to the sheer probability of the thing. Also, taking more = practice, and practice makes, err, better… I’m a few years clear of the selfie generation that’s currently pressurising the intertubes with oversharing of their day-to-day lives, so I prefer instead to take pictures of what I see that interest me and places I’ve been to that I’d like to capture and recall. I don’t take photos for other people, I take them for me. So I can remember how I felt wherever I was when I took the picture.

This results in a lot of photos of mountains, abstract shapes, to the annoyance of my friends and family back home who seem to want to see pictures of me, in the holiday photo style of standing in-front of a monument or landmark, squeezing out a cheesy smile for the camera as it’s held by a passer by who I’ve just met – I do that occasionally, to keep the fam happy, but that’s just not very me.

One consistent theme however is that I take almost as many photos of metal things with engines in as I do landscapes that I like the look of, including planes. So I’m cheating again this week with the whole “one post a week” challenge; here’s another video. 😛

This is why I exercise at 5am

The roads are empty but for a few buses, delivery trucks and sweepers. There are other crazy people running and cycling to delay the reaper, and the city feels like it’s taking a deep breath before sprinting back into the rat race. It’s peaceful, and it kickstarts the day.

This morning, the sun was peeking above the Biosphere on Saint Helen’s Island when I got to the Old Port. It took my camera today, and I’m glad I did, so here (in black and white, I’m going through a phase…) is what Montréal looked this morning.

botesrgud dome early lockitdown park squirrel water

A 2014 Restrospective

I’m forcing myself to take a couple of hours off to review the last twelve months, because I realise it’s been over 3-months since I wrote anything on here, and fun stuff like writing is one of those things that stays at the bottom of a todo list unless you force it to the top on occasion.

I had grand plans to keep this blog updated multiple times a week, with insights gained on my travels and gorgeous photos of Canada’s natural beauty and rich, exciting urban centres, that wasn’t to be. I changed my approach when I was only in my third province, partly due to the fact that I was stacking up way too much draft content and actually finishing none of it, partly because I had more photos than I knew what to do with (~21,000 since I landed on Canadian soil so far, yes really) and partly because it takes time to write things up into something worth reading, and I wanted to enjoy the experience of being in these places that I was traveling through, rather than just being a meat-camera, capturing and regurgitating visuals and anecdotes to be deposited on the interwebs.

Nikon D5200 with 50mm 1.4G Nikkor lens

I’m not going to document every last place that I visited, as if I did that I’d have nothing to tell you when we next meet up. Instead I’ll start gain from here, and I’ll include some photos of my travels as and when;

I now have my own personal stock photo library (a major bonus to travel that I hadn’t considered before setting off) – so some advice: do not hit the road with a crappy camera. I still hate to look at the grainy crap that I got out of the first generation Epson digital camera that I took to South America more than a decade ago, I’ve always been an early adopter like that, but in retrospect a film camera would’ve recorded the experience way better (even if it was cool to be the only person I knew with a digital camera at the time).

My camera choice this time however, was boss. It’s that thing in the image above; a Nikon D5200 body, with Nikkor 50mm 1.4G lens on it. I also took a borrowed Nikkor 55-300mm (thanks Mum). In retrospect I could’ve done with a shorter focal length lens for close shots, but the combo was perfect for landscape and environment shots. The 50mm in particular absolutely killed it for night photography, and I’m so glad I had it when I was up in Whitehorse checking out the Northern Lights.


 

Highlights (in no particular order)

British Columbia

The float plane flight around Vancouver was spectacular. I’ve always wanted to go up in one of these and my Harbour Air experience did not disappoint.

plane

 


 

Yukon

As I’ve mentioned before a lot, the Northern Lights in Whitehorse was an incredible sight and one that I didn’t expect to see on my trip (it was a last-minute “ah sod it, now or never” decision to fly up from Vancouver). Though the people I met up there was as much of a highlight as the location. The Yukon is now one of my favourite places, anywhere.

norlights


The Rockies

Solo mountain-biking in Jasper was another highlight. I got some incredible photos, but actually being there was mind-blowing. You can’t believe that you’re not viewing something that’s been photoshopped at times. It’s not cheap, and it’s super-touristy downtown, but if you can get out of the urban area a little there’s still a whole lot of wild Canada to explore.

outofthecamera


 

The Arctic

I didn’t expect to get as far north as Dawson City, so I definitely didn’t expect to find myself in the Arctic on the way to it. A completely random series of events ended up taking me to Inuvik by prop-plane. The view from the window on the flight up made me re-assess my understanding of the concept of scale. Seeing the rivers become dog-sled highways was as surreal as it was exciting.

IMG_20140424_125859


 

Icebergs!

These huge lumps of Canine Gin & Tonic (Eh? … 😉 ) float their way down from Greenland’s ice sheet, loiter off the coast a bit, then end up in a bottle of one kind or another. There are actual boats with huge grabber things on them that pluck chunks of ‘berg for the sole purpose of being put into alcohol production. I’ve now drunk iceberg in both beer and wine formats; both are delicious.

iceberg


 

The Maritimes

If you’re going to skip these provinces on your Canadian travels, you’re doing it very wrong. Best seafood you’ll ever eat in your life, and you can probably see the boat that brought it in! If you’re not into fish? Err, best stay west. Unless you like Timmy’s; there’s always a Timmy’s.

marit


 

The wildlife

In rural England, the most exciting thing you’re likely to see is a Fox. Not so in Canada; big, National Geographic-worthy wildlife is everywhere!

wildlife


 

Overall however, the best thing about this past year has been the people I’ve met, they make the experience. It’s why I chose to go for hostel accommodation most of the way around Canada, because it’s impossible not to meet people that way.

That’ll do for now; it’s been a year to beat!

Challenge accepted. 😛

Photographing the Aurora Borealis

I’ve not posted for a while (been having too much fun to stop and type!), but wanted to share my findings of my first attempt at trying to photograph the Northern Lights from Whitehorse last night, and show off some of the more successful images. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the aurora, so I was keen to capture something to remember the night.

A time-lapse image that I created with G+ autoawesome.

A time-lapse image that I created with G+ autoawesome.

Preparation

Clothes

I thought that I was going to be freezing cold, so layered up with my running gear as a base layer; lugging a bag full of camera equipment up a hill, I expected to get a bit sweaty so didn’t want a soggy cotton base layer reducing my cold endurance.

I then had a cotton t-shirt, jumper, hoodie, fleece and a breathable but windproof Rab rain jacket on top – having done some night walking, it’s all about reducing potential sweat chill whilst keeping air tight. I wore running gloves as they are warm but very thin, which makes using the buttons on the camera possible without having to de-glove at any point. Thick walking socks and winter walking boots kept my feet away from the icy ground.

That combination kept me comfortable for the ~2-hours that we were out, despite the temperature being a solid single figure negative the entire time. I wasn’t even cold when we headed back (but the others had had enough!).

Camera Kit

I used my Nikon D5200 with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens. Whilst the focal length is longer than ideal for this type of photography, I’m only carrying that and a Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Lens, which whilst being an excellent, versatile lens, wasn’t as fast as I thought I’d need for night shooting, and the 50mm has a marginally wider angle.

I mounted it on my Manfrotto 732CY tripod (no link as it doesn’t seem to be on Amazon any more…), which I have fitted with a Manfrotto MH293A3-RC1 293 Aluminium 3 Way Head with RC1 Quick Release. I’m glad that I opted for a lighter model, as it’s been everywhere with me in my rucksack since I left the UK.

Everything was in or strapped to my trusty Incase Photo DSLR Sling Pack Black, which has survived well so far during my travels despite being a bit of a trendy city bag rather than a rugged kit lugger.

The last crucial piece of the gadget puzzle is the Timer Remote Control/cable release, which is useful if you want to take shots without camera shake and don’t want to configure the shutter delay in-camera every time, or hold the shutter open to experiment with exposure times. This model also has an LCD display and programmable shutter timer, which makes time lapses easy; you set up the interval and duration of shutter openings, press the Start/Stop button and let it do its thing.

Disclosure: All of the above product links are via my Amazon UK referral links, so if you click through and buy something I get money from the referral to further my travels and gadget purchases. 🙂

Lastly, don’t forget to fully charge, and take spare batteries if you’re going to be out there for a while. The best time to shoot the lights is on cold, clear nights, and the cold does affect the performance of batteries. You won’t get as long out of them as you would in milder conditions, and some recommend putting your batteries in your pocket until you need them when it gets really cold.

Camera Settings

First off, remove your lens filters; you’ll get some annoying moiré on long exposures if you don’t for reasons I won’t go into here (if you’re interested look, up diffraction interference patterns).

After some playing around in full Manual mode, I used the following settings for most of the best shots:

ISO: 1000 – 3200

Aperture: wide-open at F1.4

Shutter Speed: 3″ – 6″
(only possible with fast lenses, I’ve heard that 30″+ can work for slower lenses but you’ll get star trails and the aurora won’t be as crisp over about 15″)

Enough of this, where are the pics?!

Here are a few of the best. Back indoors I can see that some are pretty noisy due to the high ISO, and it got worse throughout the night as the camera warmed up. I’m pretty pleased with the results for a first try though, let me know what you think in the comments.