Squamish Bald Eagles (Again) Jan13

Squamish Bald Eagles (Again)

This was my third time in Squamish to shoot Bald Eagles, and it will likely become an annual excursion.  Not only do I love Squamish and Brackendale, it is a great opportunity to practice wildlife photography with a photogenic subject.  Unlike my previous trip to the area when I visited in January, this time I came when the eagle concentrations were much higher.   There were several occasions when I saw up to eight eagles all trying to get one or two dead salmon, unsurprisingly some fights broke out.   As I was heading to a new location to begin my search for eagles, I saw an interesting log pincer thingy (correct name) and had to stop.  I managed to get a shot with my wide angle that included the Stawamus Chief in the background.   (As always, click to view larger.  You can also just scroll through all of the photos in a slideshow) Getting to the beach at the south end of Squamish was more fun than expected due to deep snow.  Once I arrived, there were no eagles to be seen but I did brave the elements to get this long exposure shot before I packed up and went searching for the elusive birds. First stop was near the SPCA.  Mount Garibaldi was looking majestic as usual so a quick shot was necessary. I did find a single juvenile bald eagle  Pretty sure he saw me. Also came across a Great Blue Heron Plenty of crows, which I used to practice my focus tracking for flying birds. A gang of seagulls. A few shy ducks. This is the reason the eagles are here in high concentrations, plenty of dead or dying salmon to eat.  Other bird species also enjoy the annual feast. Finally, in the most popular spot there were plenty of eagles.  These were all found off Government Road near the Watershed Grill restaurant. This one looking like he has found something interesting. As I said previously, fights were not uncommon though rarely seemed to result in any real damage.   I shot a LOT of photos to only get  a few worth keeping.  Not an easy subject to photograph. The seagulls don’t stick around to ask questions when they see the eagles coming in. Another fight sequence.   This guy wanted to make sure the young eagle knew who the boss was. And a few more shots.  It certainly won’t be my last time visiting the area.          ...

Hike to Saint Marks Summit

I haven’t been hiking much this year, such is the life with young twins.  I look forward to the day they can join me, but for now the tougher hikes have to be without them.  Since it’s now fall, I figured this weekend was one of my last chances to get up into the mountains.  I decided to try Saint Marks Summit, which is close to Vancouver and only 11km so something I could finish before lunch.  I roped my friend Andrew into joining me, and he brought along his great awesome dog Genny. [See previous hikes in Lynn Valley, the Chief, and the Lions.] The overall route is 11km round trip, and it took us almost exactly two hours to get to the summit.  In total, it was a four hour hike with close to 30 minutes at the summit.  On a clear day, you may want to spend more time at the top, but as you will see from the photos today was not such a day.  Feel free to browse these sites for details on the hike: Trail Peak, Vancouver Trails, Live Trails.  The route to Saint Marks is just part of a longer trail called the Howe Sound Crest trail which will take you past the Lions and eventually Porteau Cove. My map of the route, it is very well marked, look for the signs and the orange trail markers. You start off in the Cypress Mountain parking lot, head to the far north of the lot and up towards the chair lifts.  You will stay to the left and look for a route marker saying “Howe Sound Crest Trail”. For the first half, the trail gains elevation but it’s well maintained (and they continue to upgrade this trail). Eventually though, the upgrades end and the trail becomes more natural.     Can you spot Genny? After two hours, you reach the summit.  From other photos I have seen the view is stunning.  For us, we were socked in with heavy cloud cover.   A panorama, iPhone vs Nikon Not the easiest descent.  On the way down we passed a yahoo wearing flip flops!  I really couldn’t believe he made it as far as he did, and I’m sure his footwear will get destroyed and he will have to complete his journey barefoot.  These are the types of people North Shore Search and Rescue have to go pull down off the mountain. Probably my favorite photo from the trip. Then the weather started to fog my lens, so I packed it in from that...

Harvest Moon 2016

On September 16, we had a full moon which was also our harvest moon.  The harvest moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox (Sept. 22nd).  Since it was a beautiful clear night, I thought I would test out the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 VR lens.  Here is the shot, which isn’t too bad for a relatively inexpensive lens (and Nikon...

The Wonderful Art of Dale Chihuly Mar07

The Wonderful Art of Dale Chihuly

I have been a huge fan of Dale Chihuly for many years.   He is a glass artist from Tacoma, Washington (USA) and now has an amazing gallery in Seattle called Chihuly Garden and Glass.  I don’t have too much time to ramble on about each piece, each one can speak for itself.  His incredible versatility and technical execution makes each piece special.  I hope to own a few of his works one day.     A bunch more photos from the trip.  Click any image for a bigger version.   And one photo from our journey back.  Some random pub in a town I no longer...

Squamish Bald Eagles Jan13

Squamish Bald Eagles

I was eager to try out my new Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 VR lens that I received for Christmas from my lovely wife.  I knew that Bald Eagles were likely still in Squamish as I had been there previously.  I ventured out one very old morning to see what I could capture. The sun was rising as I pulled into Squamish and I noticed it was illuminating Mount Garibaldi.  I decided to see how the lens performs for a long distance landscape shot.  Nice detail despite the distance. The rig The shot I then walked around one of my favorite spots in south Squamish and did encounter a few eagles. One thing I realized is that I have a lot to learn about wildlife photography, especially birds. Learning how to use a telephoto lens has a fairly steep learning curve, and trying to capture birds in flight makes it even harder.  I took a lot of shots but only have a few keepers and even those I’m only mildly satisfied with.  Having said that, the combination certainly does help in comparison to shooting with my iPhone. Eagle shot with iPhone Same eagle with a Nikon D810 and Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 VR lens.  Anyone claiming “gear doesn’t matter” hasn’t tried to shoot wild eagles. I relocated several times but had a hard time finding eagles.  I found out later that there are much higher concentrations of eagles in early December and by January they have started to depart as most of the salmon that they are feeding on are gone.  It was still a beautiful day so I made the most of it by shooting some landscape shots.  Even some with my iPhone. My trusty Tacoma, it never disappoints. This was actually a hand-held shot with the Nikkor 200-500 lens.  Shutter speed was relatively long but the VR system helped me get an acceptably sharp shot. After more driving around and looking in a few spots I have never visited before I did find a few more eagles.  Didn’t get the focus or composition right in all of the photos, but I did get a lot of practice in tracking eagles in flight. Finally, a comparison of iPhone vs Nikon.  See that moon in the top right? Now a little closer with the...

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-500mm f/2.8-5.6E ED VR Lens...

Ok, so the headline is a joke, but it would be nice to own such a lens :)  I recently got the Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6 lens and was in Squamish looking for Bald Eagles.  With me I also had my Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 and Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 lenses.  The 14-24 and 200-500 represent the two extremes of the focal lengths I’m able to shoot.  I thought it may be fun to do a test to see just how much difference there is between 14mm and 500mm.  I threw in a few intermediate focal lengths as well.  The scene is in Squamish, BC, Canada beside the BC SPCA and looking northwest to Mount Garibaldi.  All photos taken with the Nikon D810. 14mm   24mm (I noticed a slight difference at 24mm between the 14-24 and 24-70, discussed below.)   70mm (Sorry for the typo on the image text, obviously not the 14-24.)   200mm   300mm   400mm   500mm   Now an overlay between 14mm and 500mm, move mouse left/right to see both images.   When does 24mm not mean 24mm? Finally, when reviewing images taken during the testing I saw a difference between the 24mm images shot with the 14-24mm and 24-70mm.  Here are the two images side by side.   I then applied Lightroom’s lens correction to both 24mm images, to see if that would close the difference.  A greater change was made to the 24-70, but there is still a substantial difference between the two.  Here are the two corrected images.   If anyone is curious on how the 200-500mm performed when shooting eagles, I have yet to process most photos but here are a couple initial images....

October Flowers & Mushrooms

Today, when I took the dogs for a walk I decided to bring my camera along. I haven’t had very much opportunities to use it recently and needed to get my photo fix in somehow. We have had a very mild fall in Vancouver and there are still plenty of flowers in the neighbourhood. I also came across some mushrooms, and even a few critters. My route with the dogs The flowers, I can’t believe we still have this many at the end of October!   Some mushrooms   These flowers are still growing in my yard.  Maybe this global warming thing isn’t so bad ;)   Some of the...

Exploring Santiago Sep10

Exploring Santiago

Though I’m posting this in September, the photos were taken in March. It has taken me ages to find the time to edit and post these shots but such is the life with young twins. I have been to Chile several times in the past but often don’t have time to explore due to my work schedule. However, during this trip I had an extra day and decided to explore the city of Santiago. I contacted Cat at Foto Ruta to see if she had time to plan a custom tour. Not knowing the city well, it’s nice to have a local show you around. Cat was very accommodating to my schedule and interests and we planned an afternoon/sunset shoot.  We met at the GAM (Center of Arts, Culture, and People) and wandered the streets for hours from there.   Not far from the GAM is the “Cerro Santa Lucía”. My favorite photo from the fountain did not turn out great but I had a good laugh at the little boy playing in the water.   Here are my tour guides for the afternoon, Cat and Alex.  I never did see the photo from the other side :) I did try my hand at some sweeping shots of traffic.  Need more practice. A few shots while walking through the streets. We then made it to this great plaza where guys sit around and play chess.  Maybe women play too, but likely few and far between. Some interesting characters, and a bit of street art too. I love old and interesting churches, this one was beautiful. Caught this guy in the plaza, his shirt says “I shoot people”.  So do I :) Some fantastic murals, they were huge and very well done. This young guy looked relaxed and waved to us.  I like the long shadow in the waning daylight. We got into an area of town filled with graffiti.  This is not the crappy work you see in a subway tunnel, but works of art by commissioned local artists.  It was brilliant. My guides Cat and Alex looking for shots. Even the people around here are covered in art. A few shots from a rooftop to finish the day.  Thanks for the great tour Cat and Alex!   The next day, I only had a few hours before my flight but enough time to visit Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos.  This is a small village full of Chilean handicrafts and a farmers market.  Worth a visit. My final stop for the day, and a place I have visited twice before, was the Cementerio General de Santiago.  It’s an interesting place to roam around, with a blend of old and new.  I’ll likely visit again in the future. I “almost” sat on this at the end of the day.  No idea what it is but it was covered with long, hard, and incredibly sharp spines.  It hurt to even pick it up, so I’m glad I didn’t sit on it. It would have been a LONG plane ride...

Perseid Meteor Shower

One shot from the Perseid Meteor Shower. Taken on August 12 near Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver, BC).

Canada Day Fireworks At Canada Place

I haven’t had time to process my photos from last night and given my backlog it may take some time :) I did want to get a few posted though, for those that missed the festivities at Canada Place.  These shots are taken from Waterfront Centre with the Vancouver Convention Centre on the left and Canada Place on the right.  Before the fireworks started, I managed to get a couple of short Hyperlapse videos of the crowd. This was my vantage point, couldn’t ask for better (iPhone panorama). A few photos from the evening, I’ll try to get some better edits and more photos up soon.  ...

Nikon D810 Setup and Configuration

Updated on August 21, 2016 for Nikon’s latest D810 firmware: C 1.11, L: 2.013. The Nikon D800/D800 Setup and Configuration post I made a few years ago has been one of my most popular.  Now that I have the Nikon D810, I decided to create a new list of my settings (and a new setup file for download).  If you want more info on why I upgraded to the D810, you can read about that here. The menu banks are not great because they don’t save all of the settings you need to change, but they are better than nothing.  The U1/U2 settings of the D750, D610, and D7100 are superior to the menu banks both in terms of features and ease of use.  I have no idea why Nikon has decided to leave out such a fantastic function on their high-end cameras.  Neither the D800/D810 nor the D4/D4s have the U1/U2 settings.  Nice work Nikon. Here are the four menu banks I created: Landscape & HDR – sets up the camera for landscape or high dynamic range shooting.  I usually use a tripod and have time for manual focus, etc. Action – I usually use this setting when chasing my young kids, but also for my dogs or any other moving subject. Portrait – useful not just for portraits but for any stationary or slow moving targets. Point & Shoot – Since I use the “AF-ON” focusing technique (*1), it makes it difficult for my wife or friend to use my camera.  Rather than try to explain the technique, I just change the settings and let them shoot.  Since my wife often just wants a couple of quick photos to post online, this is the only bank where I also shoot JPEG. The settings for all four modes are outlined below.  Note that the settings just make the starting point for configuration easier.  It doesn’t mean these are always the settings I use when shooting.  I may not use ISO64 for all situations nor the same AF settings.  If you want to use them as a starting point for your own custom settings it is easiest to just download my config file here.  Choose the right file for your firmware (check your firmware SETUP MENU -> Firmware version). C: 1.02, L:2.005 : Download Nikon D810 custom settings file 1.02. C: 1.11, L: 2.013 : Download Nikon D810 custom settings file 1.11. To use the custom settings file, copy it to the root folder of your media card using your computer, insert the media card into your camera and navigate to SETUP MENU -> Save/load settings -> Load settings. This will copy the settings over to your camera.  You may want to save your own settings before you copy mine to your camera in case you need to revert back. Note the [change this] in the settings below, these are things you will want to change in your own camera before you start shooting.  At the bottom of this post, you can also see what I put in “MY MENU” to access some controls I often change on the fly. To switch between the various menu banks, you have several options: The slow way: Shooting menu bank: go to menu -> shooting menu -> shooting menu bank -> select your bank. Custom settings menu: go to custom setting menu -> custom settings bank -> select your bank. The fast way: Press the “i” button on the back of the camera (no idea why Nikon gave us yet another button, sigh). “SHOOT” should be selected, press the center button in the multi-selector, pick your setting.  Do the same for custom settings bank (“CUSTOM”). If you have questions, or a suggestion feel free to leave them in the comments at the bottom of the page.  If you want more detail on the settings below download Nikon’s D810 manual (free). Landscape & HDR Action Portrait Point &...

Why I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a D810

  Why I Upgraded In this section I list the main reasons I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a Nikon D810.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the D800, it was an amazing camera capable of fantastic results.  There were a few things that made the difference though.  In general, Nikon took an already great camera and made it better. No anti-alias filter.  Also known as Optical Low Pass Filter, Blur Filter, and probably a few other names.  When the D800 and D800E were released, it created a lot of speculation about the potential moire and false color problems that the D800E would face.  I had actually planned to get a D800E but my local shop had the D800 first and said I’m facing a 4+ month wait for an E model.  I decided to get the D800 and start shooting.  In the end, the fears around no AA filter in the D800E were unfounded, the vast majority of shooters have never had a problem.   Given the lack of issues, Nikon didn’t even bother with a filtered version of the D810.  In fact, it improved on the D800E even further.  Where the D800E had an AA filter that cancelled itself out, the D810 has no AA filter at all in the stack.  The sharpness benefits are not drastic, but there are there and I’m happy to have the best possible starting image. Frame rate.  5fps in full frame mode (36 megapixels) with full AF and metering.  Drop it down to 1.2X crop and you get 6fps and 24 megapixels.  Plenty of resolution, plenty of speed, and no battery grip needed.  I really don’t need more than 6fps, when I shoot bursts it’s often chasing my kids so the 1.2x crop suits me just fine.  The rest of the time I’m shooting landscapes or architecture. The D810 feels like both an action cam and a landscape cam in one body.  Perfect. Improved autofocus. I had plenty of problems with my D800 autofocus.  It was plagued with the ‘left focus problem’ and went to Nikon three times before it finally came back fixed.  The D810 seems to work great out of the box and now has group AF mode and better face detection. Improved bracketing.  The D800 was limited to +/- 1 EV between exposures, the D810 extends that to +/- 3 EV (it can also do 1 and 2 EV).   To get a standard -2/0/+2 exposure for HDR I had to take 5 shots with the D800 and then throw away two of them.  With the D810, I can take the 3 I need and call it a day.  More flexibility, more options, and solved something that always bugged me about the D800.  Worse still that this would have been a simple firmware fix for Nikon. Electronic front curtain shutter.  The D800 had mirror up (MUP) and exposure delay modes to reduce the vibration effects of the mirror.  The D810 takes it a step further by also eliminating the vibration effects of the shutter.  Well done Nikon. ISO 64.  Base ISO is now 64 (instead of 100 in the D800).  Gives me options for long exposures and bright light with fast lenses. ISO 12,800.  I’m unlikely to shoot at the upper end of the ISO range often, but noise performance has been improved at 3200 and 6400 as well, which is a bonus. Live View improved.  Nikon made great improvements in Live View over the D800.  Not only is the LCD a higher resolution screen, but the nasty artifacts that plagued the D800 are now gone.  I use LV frequently, especially at 100% zoom, for critical focus work so the D810 is a joy to use. Hand grip improved.  I have large hands, and the D800 never felt that comfortable in my hands.  The D810 brings some much welcome changes here, the grip is noticeably improved and the camera feels much more secure...

Home Computer Backup Strategy

Updated May 5, 2015 Since I work in the IT industry, several of my friends have asked me how I back up my home computer.  Rather than repeat the same thing over and over, I decided to create this post to try and outline how I do things.   I’ll also tell you what you should do as a minimum to ensure the safety of your data. If you don’t currently back up your data, you should.  That is of course if you would experience any grief if you lost all of your photos, documents, email, calendar, etc.  Personally, I have a TON of photos that I simply can’t get back if I lost all of my data.  I can re-write my resume if needed, download some music, but I can’t go back in time to capture an image I took on vacation five years ago.  I make sure I have several copies of ALL of my photos as I never want to lose any of them.  Beyond my photos, I treat most of my data in the same way, I ensure it is safe. Some people think their data is safe because they back up to DVD or an external hard drive.  This is better than doing nothing, but ineffective for two main reasons.  First, no one I know keeps up with a regular schedule of burning DVDs.  Their most recent backup is from 8 months ago and they don’t even know where the discs are.  Also, the sheer volume of data we have these days makes DVD backup cumbersome.  If I had to back up all of my data I would need 181 DVDs!  No thanks.  Second, local media like external hard drives are typically plugged into or stored right next to the computer.  If you have a fire, flood, experience a theft, or some other major issue, your computer and backup are both gone.  If you can maintain a rigorous schedule of rotating hard drives off-site, more power to you, but I like to do things the easy way.  In the words of Ron Popeil, I need to “set it and forget it“. Most people I know don’t back up their data, they never had a major failure and assume it will never happen to them.  It will happen to you sooner or later, no sense sticking your head in the sand.  Others think that is part of the risk in owning a computer, it just happens or it’s too hard to keep data safe.  Below are a few quick and easy things you can do to immediately improve your situation.  There really is no excuse not to do this. With that rambling out of the way I’ll cover what I consider the minimum effort needed to ensure that your data is safe.  I’ll also cover what I do with my data which is beyond the minimum but that is what IT guys do. PREAMBLE Data backup needs to be easy and automated.  I’m lazy and don’t want to be constantly doing something, it should “just work“. I assume you have a broadband internet connection.  If you are on dial-up or some back-woods connection this will likely not be helpful for you. I’m running Windows but this applies equally to Mac (though I don’t provide links). THE MINIMUM DATA SAFETY STRATEGY First, ensure you have some kind of anti-virus software running on your computer and keep it up to date.  If your Norton subscription expired two years ago it’s not doing much to protect you.  You are unlikely to be infected by a virus from a few years back, and much more likely to get something released yesterday.  There are good options out there for free, so please install one.  Avast is the one I use, it’s FREE and scores very well on the various tests conducted by third parties.  If you use Microsoft Security Essentials, I suggest...

A Short Visit to Wrocław, Poland Mar02

A Short Visit to Wrocław, Poland

Being a native of Poland (specifically Łódź), I was happy to book a return visit to my homeland.  I haven’t been back for many years, and it being a work trip I didn’t have much time for sightseeing.  I flew to Wrocław via Frankfurt, and while at the Frankfurt airport I had the chance to stretch my legs so I took my camera along. They have a great kids area complete with a plane and a soft rubber floor.  I didn’t have the twins with me, so they couldn’t enjoy playing pilots.  Click any photo to enlarge. I also got my first glimpse of the new Airbus A380, the largest passenger airliner in the world.  I actually saw many of them so Frankfurt must be a hub for these monsters.  It’s an impressive machine. I spent my week in Lubin, Poland and unfortunately have just one photo to share.  I took this at a park near the Astone Hotel on a cold and foggy morning.  The toned black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro.   The night before my flight home, I did have a few hours to spend walking around Wrocław.   It was late so I was unable to enter any of the fantastic cathedrals and churches in the city (I am fond of these places: 1, 2).  It was also very cold and I was poorly prepared for the elements :)  Regardless, I did get a few photos from this beautiful city.  Next time I intend to spend more time there. First, just a quick shot as I was on my way to the city square (Rynek). A quick stroll through the city square, very beautiful and not something I find in my home town of Vancouver :) As you may notice, it’s now dark.  I may have stopped for a pint, maybe.  Below is a photo of the University of Wroclaw with the River Odra in the foreground.     My chilly walk continued and I was treated with a great view of the Cathedral Island (cathedral right and church of the Holy Cross [Kościół Świętego Krzyża], left). Getting to Cathedral Island meant crossing the Tumski Bridge (Most Tumski).  From Wikipedia: Tumski Bridge is also called Lovers Bridge, Cathedral Bridge or Green Bridge. It’s a place of enamoured tradition for lovers. The bridge is full of padlocks which lovers leave to cherish their feelings. An important part of the ceremony is to throw the key into the Odra river.   Now on Cathedral Island, the Church of the Holy Cross. At the side of the big Cathedral.  Very sorry I was unable to go inside. Now off Cathedral Island, I took a few photos of the National Museum.  Such great architecture, I spent some time here.     Looking back towards Cathedral Island, I took one more shot before heading back to my hotel cold and happy.      ...

The Grid: A New Way To Design Websites?

I remember developing websites when the web was just starting to take off (mid 90’s). Coding HTML by hand and using Mosaic 0.9 Beta as my browser. Over time, tools like Dreamweaver gave us WYSIWYG editors to make things easier. Today, this site is based on WordPress, one of the very successful web publishing platforms that sprung up in recent history to make creating websites and posting content easier still.  Themes, plugins, widgets, and other shortcuts means you never have to see the code, or do any heavy lifting.  It’s a great way to create a site, but you still need some tech skills to get it up and running.  I still go into the code to make small changes to the templates and plugins, even making a child theme to keep my changes separate from the parent theme.  The beauty is that once running, anyone can post content.  It’s no harder than writing an email.   Switching themes in WordPress is not trivial, having done this a few times I know that the change isn’t seamless.  Layout usually looks terrible and requires some effort to fix.  It doesn’t help that themes have unique features (like shortcodes) that don’t work elsewhere, so you may also need to edit your posts.  Further, you need a plugin like WPTouch to make the content look good on mobile devices.  As good as WordPress is, there is room for improvement.   Today, I saw that a new publishing tool, The Grid, is being developed that hopes to make building a site even easier.  Sites look good in any browser or on any device (desktop or mobile), layout can be changed and everything continues to look good and work well.  The video below gives a quick into to the service.     The Grid harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to take everything you throw at it – videos, images, text, urls and more – and automatically shape them into a custom website unique to you.     AI sounds good, but will it actually work and produce what I want?  How much control will I have over the look and feel?  Are “layout filters” really different from templates?  Will the automatic selection of color palette and fonts look good? Hard to say right now, you can’t create a site yet.  It sounds good but it is too early to say.  If you are willing to sign up now and be a founding member, you pay $8/month and that rate is locked in for as long as you use the service.  One launched the service will be $25/month so I’ll take the chance that it’s something I want to use and start paying now.  It won’t launch for about six more months, so it’s a $50 roll of the dice but that seems like a reasonable amount.  You can also get referral credits if you spread the word and others sign up.  So visit The Grid and check it out for yourself.  ...

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