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Back at it, and back to Ministik

Sarsaparilla leaves show the first hint of fall colour on a warm morning at Ministik Game Bird Sanctuary east of Edmonton, Alberta.

First fall colour

So, I’m back from my work in Fort McMur­ray, I’ve had a chance to rest up a bit, and I’m look­ing for­ward to resum­ing my project of mak­ing a new print every day. Just a sim­ple print today from a pho­to­graph that I took early last Sep­tem­ber at the Min­is­tik Game Bird Sanc­tu­ary. I’m headed out to Min­is­tik tomor­row morn­ing for the first time in a long while, and hope to come back with some new pho­tographs that I can share here.

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High-key mountain peak

The textured faces of Leah Peak are highlighted by the bright side lighting of a winter day in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Leah peak in bright win­ter light

Yes­ter­day I printed a very dark, night-time image, so I thought today I’d go the other direc­tion, and print a very bright, win­ter day­light image. Leah Peak is on the east shore of Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, and in my opin­ion, one of the most sub­tle yet strik­ing moun­tain in the area.

I took this photo on a very bright day and it was a bright image straight out-of-camera. In Light­room I did my best to make the print as bright as pos­si­ble while retain­ing good con­trast and detail in the high­lights. I also tried con­vert­ing it to black-and-white, but I found that I missed the very slight blue in the shad­ows and warmer sun light on the shoul­ders of the ridge.

And, just for the inter­est of the real photo geeks — here are the his­tograms from yesterday’s photo and from today’s:

low-key

high-key

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Aurora Borealis over black spruce

A towering curtain of northern lights hangs over a dense boreal black spruce stand in northern Alberta

Aurora bore­alis over black spruce forest

Finally — a pho­to­graph of the Aurora Bore­alis on borealisimages.ca! (Although, for the record, the title I’ve given these gal­leries — ‘Sil­vi­cola bore­alis Images’ — is derived from latin roots, and roughly trans­lates to ‘inhab­it­ing the north­ern for­est’. The pre­fix ‘silvi’ (or ‘silva’) relates to the for­est, as in ‘sil­vi­cul­ture’ which is the prac­tice of grow­ing and tend­ing a for­est. ‘Bore­alis’ refers gen­er­ally to things north­ern in nature, and is from ‘Boreas’ — the Greek god of the north wind.)

This is def­i­nitely the dark­est photo that I’ve ever printed, and I’m quite happy with the way it turned out — the print lit­er­ally felt heavy with ink! On-screen, I could see a lit­tle bit of detail still in the spruce trees, but I can’t see any of that in the print yet. We’ll see if view­ing it in bright day­light will reveal some of those dark­est details, but oth­er­wise I think they look fine as solid sil­hou­ettes too.

I took this photo in north­ern Alberta while doing owl sur­veys this past spring. It was the first time I’d pho­tographed the north­ern lights, and it was a lot of fun to try out a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent tech­niques, equip­ment, and of course, patience… I’ll be doing a round of bat sur­veys in the next lit­tle while, and I hope to get the chance to apply some of what I learned this spring to mak­ing more images of these beau­ti­ful north­ern lights.

(Click to enlarge the image — you should be able to see the stars in the full-size image too!)

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Morning light in young pine

The first strong rays of morning sun burn off the last of the fog hanging in a dense young pine stand in the boreal forest of north-western Alberta, Canada

Morn­ing light in young pine stand

This patch of for­est was pretty much the oppo­site of the one in yesterday’s pho­to­graph — it was a thick, messy, second-growth tan­gle of young pine, alder, and other shrubs. But when the fog started burn­ing off, and the first strong rays of sun started pierc­ing through to the for­est floor it was so beau­ti­ful, it almost made up for how soak­ing wet I was walk­ing through it (and it smelled amaz­ing too!)

Find­ing an inter­est­ing com­po­si­tion in the dense boreal under­story is one of my favourite pho­to­graphic chal­lenges. If you’re inter­ested in this photo, I have a port­fo­lio of sim­i­lar images enti­tled “Branches”. You can find it by click­ing here, or fol­low­ing the nav­i­ga­tion bar up top. Here’s the descrip­tion that I wrote for that portfolio:

There are times when I stop while walk­ing through the dense under­story com­mon in the boreal for­est and aspen park­land to admire the com­plex beauty of the entwined branches, wil­lows, grasses, and leaves. Then I bring my cam­era up, and as I look through the lens the com­plex­ity turns to chaos as the lens com­presses the scene onto a two-dimensional plane. This is when the chal­lenge (and fun) begins. By mov­ing the cam­era a few degrees to one side, chang­ing the focal length by a few mil­lime­ters, or open­ing the aper­ture a few stops, a com­po­si­tion may be found that is bal­anced, pleas­ing to the eye, and cap­tures some of the beauty entan­gled in these forests.

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Owl hunting

A Great Grey Owl listens for rodents under the snow while hunting from a thin aspen sapling

Great grey owl hunt­ing from thin aspen sapling

I’ve writ­ten about this image before, and I wanted to print it today, as it’s got a very dis­tinct sep­a­ra­tion between the sharp, in-focus owl and the com­pletely blank sky where any grain or tex­ture is purely an arti­fact of sen­sor noise and sharp­en­ing in post-processing. As I men­tioned yes­ter­day I tried the strat­egy of push­ing the clar­ity and sharp­en­ing as far as I think looked good on my mon­i­tor, before back­ing off a bit. Yes­ter­day the print came out look­ing really good (although it had a slight green­ish cast that I hadn’t noticed on-screen), so I fig­ured I’d try it on a much less for­giv­ing photo today. We’ll see how it turns out…

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Boreal mixedwood colours

Aspen, spruce and pine trees display a range young boreal mixedwood forest in western Alberta, Canada

Colour­ful mixed­wood trunks

I’m writ­ing this post as my printer churns away on this one, and I’m really inter­ested to see how it turns out. I’ve often heard it rec­om­mended to push a given pro­cess­ing tech­nique a lit­tle too far, and then ease back a lit­tle. By doing this, you dis­cover the limit of the tech­nique with­out cross­ing it. This sounds rea­son­able in prac­tice, but I fear that you then have all your images at the edge of what’s accept­able, and per­haps sac­ri­fice some sub­tlety. A cer­tain sub­tley, is often harder to notice at the moment that you’re work­ing on an image in Light­room, but can eas­ily be essen­tial to mak­ing a good image a great image. I guess the goal is to be able to rec­og­nize when an image requires that sub­tlety, and to make sure that you’re not cross­ing that line.

So with that in mind, I picked this photo (which, although I quite like it, I don’t think is very sub­tle at all) and pushed the clar­ity and sharp­ness to the limit of what I thought looked good on my screen. Once the print is fin­ished, it’ll be inter­est­ing to see how well (or not) that trans­lated on to paper.

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Summer tiger lily

A Tiger Lily shines in the sun after an early morning rain storm in the boreal forest of western Alberta, Canada.

Fresh rain on sum­mer Tiger Lily

This one is for my wife today.

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