Shooting in Acadia National Park, Maine

Atlantic Coast in fog Maine USA

I just came back from the week of shooting in Maine. This was my first visit when I could exclusively focus on photography. I spent a day and a half about ten years ago there but at the time there were other things that preoccupied me. So now looking at things with photographer’s eye, I can tell you: Acadia National Park rocks. Literally, there are a lot of rocks here 🙂 . This is absolutely first class location for landscape photography. In my opinion it’s at the same level as it’s more famous cousins in the West: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc. Having had the opportunity to shoot in many great locations around the world, I’m convinced that Acadia is as good as the best of them. You will find there: rocky coastal landscapes, lakes, ponds, mountains, old forests, lighthouses, picturesque villages. Add to that tides and frequent fogs and you have loads of fantastic opportunities.  All in the 25 mile radius. Can’t get better than that.

I came back with slightly over 350 images, which surprised one of my photographer-friends when I mentioned that. That got me thinking about what was the “right” number of frames on a shoot like that. I never subscribed to the “machine gun approach to photography” but lately I’m certainly more selective. We were in Acadia NP for 7 days. I typically shoot only early in the morning or late in the evening which means that I had 14 potential “sessions”. Actual number was probably more like 9 or 10, which gives an average of 35 frames per “session”. I think it is not that bad. When you are on location then there are only so many angles that you can explore in a limited time when the light is “good”. You can compare that to the portrait session with one person. 35 frames is probably enough (or close to it). I admit that 35 frames per session is a bit on a low side even by my standards but on the other hand I feel that there is no point for me pressing the shutter every few seconds and moving my tripod every couple of minutes in an attempt to get one good photo by chance. I prefer a slower, more deliberate pace when I take some time to think about the composition, the light, etc. If it means that I bring only 10 images from the “session” that’s ok as long as those pictures are of the “high potential” breed.

One week of shooting is certainly not enough to explore all possibilities but I think that at this point I have some good idea which locations appeal to me, which can be handy in the future. I’m definitely planning to come back. So what were the best locations ? In my opinion three areas stand out. The first one is Otter Point, the rocky peninsula in the eastern part of the Park. This is the area where you can find endless opportunities for shooting rocky Atlantic coast. What is important, it is good for shooting at sunrise as well at sunset, so in a way, it is a “no-brainer” if you are out of ideas. The second location that also offer many opportunities is a stretch of the coast from Bass Harbor to Northeast Harbor along the Somes Sound. And finally the third area, which I really liked was the Schoodic Peninsula, which is within the National Park border but is located on the mainland rather than on the Mount Desert Island. In Schoodic you will find more interesting rocky shores, islands and waves crashing on the granite boulders.

In terms of logistics, the ideal base would be in the central part of the island, in Somesville. The only problem is that Somesville is a very small village and I’m not sure if there are any hotels there. Perhaps you can find some Bed & Breakfast places. If you manage to do that you will be able to access all park locations within 15 minutes (by car that is). Your second best choice (and by far the most popular) is Bar Harbor, a very busy town in the eastern part of the island, just outside of the park border. You will find a lot of accommodations in there and you will be able to get everywhere in the park within 20 min – 25 min. The downside is that the town can be fairly crowded, especially in the summer and the fall. Since my trip was of the ‘last minute’ kind, I was unable to find a hotel on the island. Instead, I stayed in Ellsworth on the mainland, approximately 15 miles from the park entrance. It worked but it was taking from 30 min to 40 min to get to the intended locations. On the bright side, I had a chance to frequently visit one of the best seafood restaurants I ever had a chance to eat in: The Lobster Pot. It is located in down-town Ellsworth on South Street, overlooking the river. The food is great and the service is amazingly efficient and friendly at the same time. If you are in the area, you must go there at least once.

A few words about the image at the top. It was shot in the western part of Acadia National Park, in the area called Wonder Land. It was a foggy day that are frequently seen on the Atlantic coast in Main and Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The tide was low exposing rocks, seaweeds and small creatures. It was calm and quiet.

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Statistical Approach to Landscape Photography

Well, the secret is out. I guess that based on the title of this post you can figure out that I’m a geek at heart  🙂 .

Blue Heron at Burleigh Falls Ontario

What prompted this post was a discussion between two well known and respected photographers that I watched a few days ago. From time to time they critique images sent by other photographers and it is shown in a form of a video. In that particular installment they reviewed all kinds of images, from portraits to landscapes. What caught my attention was a brief exchange that went like this: “Look, there is another landscape picture that has horizon dead in the middle ! This is not good. You should never put horizon in the centre of your image”. I paraphrased it a bit but that was the essence of the comment. I thought: “Really ?! Is that so ?” Of course I knew about that “rule” as well of all other kind of “rules” that more experienced photographers pass down to the newbies but that brief comment got me thinking about the validity of this particular “law of photography”. In my work I’m almost never concerned if the horizon is in the middle or not. I just don’t think of it as a valid rule but on the other hand, I’m not the second coming of Ansel Adams to believe that “I know better”. So I decided to put years of my scientific training to good use and do a little bit of statistical analysis of outstanding images.

First of all, I decided to analyse Top 100 Landscape photos from web site. Why ? Mostly because I’ve been a member for many years so there is a familiarity factor and secondly (and more importantly) because of a rather unique feature of that site. When you post your images you can submit them for rating by your fellow photonetters. The scale used there is from 1 to 7 where 1 = Very Bad, 2 = Bad, 3 = Below Average, 4 = Fair, 5 = Good, 6 = Very Good, 7 = Excellent. So I went to and browsed Landscape images with the highest All Time average. The scores ranged from 6.78 to 6.63, all extremely high. Among the photographers in that “top 100 club” were many well regarded pros like: Simon Butterworth, Marc Adamus and many others, so it was definitely a pool of elite images. The results, shown below, were quite interesting:

Horizon Stats

The numbers you see in the column titled “Bin” show range of distances between horizon position  (seen or just perceived) and the middle line. For convenience I calculated that in percents. What we can see there is that:

  • 25% of all images had horizon roughly in the middle !
  • You are more likely to see the horizon above the middle line (43%) than below (32%)
  • 57% of images had the horizon  between -30% and 30%

Now it is interesting to compare that with the Golden Ratio. Using the same methodology that I chose for my calculations, the horizon placed at the Golden Section point would be 23% away from the centre line. So based on the summary above, approximately 32% of images followed the Golden Ratio rule. But at the same time, almost the same number (25%), had the horizon “dead in the middle” !

What’s the conclusion then ? Well, I think that we can safely say that the rule of not placing the horizon in the middle is just a BS. If you feel that it should be in the middle then go ahead, do it and don’t worry about critics who feel it should not be there. At the same time, decisions regarding composition of your image should be made consciously.  So think about the position of your horizon but DO NOT robotically avoid the middle area because the “rule” says you shouldn’t be doing this.

Finally, a few word about today’s image. I took it a couple of weeks ago in Burleigh Falls in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. It is a beautiful place where Blue Herons fish in the rushing waters cascading over rocks and boulders.

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Brilliant quote on developing your own style

” You have to understand yourself before you can understand the masters and you have to understand the masters before you can begin to think about copying them and you have to begin copying them to even think that you’re anywhere near the road to finding your own style. “

Scott Bourne

Wow ! This is deep and profoundly important for all those of us who strive to develop our own style in photography. Excellent post by Scott Bourne titled: “The photographer’s fascination with being ‘NEW’ (Developing your own style)” in which he discusses why we shouldn’t be obsessed with constantly seeking something ‘new’ to photograph or chasing the ‘newest technique’. He argues that there is nothing wrong in taking images of well known locations or subjects and that it is important part of the process of discovering your own voice. As long as you are willing to put in enough time and effort into it. In that it connects to the book by Malcolm Gladwell titled “Outliers” (10,000 hours rule) and to the essay by Alain Briot “Achieving your personal style”. Excellent read. Highly recommended.

Fog in Dundas Valley Ontario

The image in this post was taken in Dundas Valley on a foggy, autumn morning last October. It was one of those mornings when after a few cold days came a sudden rise in temperatures caused by moist and warm air from the South. This created delightful foggy conditions for a few hours around the sunrise.

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Graduated Filters in Landscape Photography

Autumn in Dolomites Italy

A couple of days ago I had an email exchange with one of the fellow photographers. The subject was the use of graduated filters: how often I use them, what kind, etc. Here are my expanded thoughts on this topic.

First of all, I have several Singh-Ray Galen Rowell filters in various strengths: Hard Edge 1, 2, 3, stops, Soft Edge 1, 2, 3 stops. They are all 84 mm x 120 mm in size. If I were to buy new filters, I think I would go a little bigger, perhaps 100 mm x 150 mm. The ones I have work ok for all my lenses (even the 24mm Tilt & Shift) but I found out that when I use 17mm-40mm lens at 17 mm then I have to be quite careful not to stick my thumb into the image (I hand-hold them, but more on that later). Between these filters I can cover almost every situation in the field. Of course there are some cases where there is no way that a standard graduated filter will work. In those situations I usually take two (sometimes three) exposures and will blend these images in Photoshop. I don’t use the HDR technique. I tried it on a number of occasions but I was never too happy with the results, meaning you could kind of tell that it was an HDR image. Which in my book is a “no, no”. I really dislike the HDR Look. I know that it is quite popular with many people but it doesn’t turn my crank at all. There are some very good photographers who use this technique all the time and the results are great but I just can’t find motivation to master it. For me it is a lot easier to get the results I want in camera. The benefit of doing it this way is that you see the result on the back screen of your camera immediately. You can make necessary corrections right there.

Now back to the graduated filters.There are a few systems out there that allow to mount a rectangular filter onto the lens. The most widely used are made by Lee and Cokin. Of the two, the Lee system seems to be of the higher quality and has many fans among landscape photographers but the down side is it’s high cost. In both cases you essentially screw in an adapter onto which you can slide your filter holder. Once it is in place, you can position the filter any way you want. Simple ? Yes. Convenient ? No. The main problem is that the whole thing is slowing me down and is contributing to a certain level of laziness. Many times I knew I should’ve changed my lens but the process of removing the filter, removing the adapter, changing lenses, putting the adapter back on, inserting the filter holder, re-positioning the filter, while trying to keep all elements clean and dust-free was just too cumbersome. Especially in a fast changing light conditions at sunrise or sunset. Additionally, the risk of introducing heavy vignetting is quite high. Based on that experience, I decided to try different solutions. For a while I used pieces of gaffer tape to keep filters in place (a trick I found in one of Tim Fitzharris’ books) but that didn’t work for me either. Finally, I decided to try hand holding and that was the solution I have stuck with. So the whole procedure goes like this:

  1. Put the camera on a tripod
  2. Switch camera to Live View mode
  3. Turn Image Stabilization and Auto Focus off
  4. Zoom-in onto a portion of the image you want to focus on
  5. Adjust focusing ring
  6. Press down the depth of field preview button with your right hand
  7. Position the filter based on the Live View image (I hold the bottom corners of the  filter with my left hand)
  8. Remember relative position of the filter as compared to the lens edge (you may want to put a small mark on the edge of your filters with a Sharpie pen to make it easier)
  9. Release the depth of field preview button and press the shutter release.

That’s it. It’s simple and works quite well for me even for very long exposures (more than 30 sec). Of course certain stamina, patience and practice are required but it works and I’m able to work quite fast, often changing the position of my tripod. There is one more thing I do to increase my speed of work and flexibility. I have a small shoulder bag I bought at MEC (Canadian outdoors outfitter) that holds all my filters including polarizers and some other more exotic filters like Singh-Ray Gold-and-Blue. Typically it sits on my right hip while the belt is on my left shoulder. With this arrangement, the bag does not slip off my shoulder and I can easily wear my backpack at the same time. All graduated filters are put in a sequence (usually: 1 stop Hard, 2 stop Hard, 3 stop Hard, 1 stop Soft, 2 stop Soft, 3 stop Soft) so I can find the appropriate filter very quickly. In the past I kept filters in my backpack but again, it was slowing me down so I ditched if for the shoulder bag.

One thing that you should keep in mind is that when you use this technique, the transition from darker to lighter area on your image will be a lot less abrupt as in the case of the filter holder. However, in my eyes this is actually beneficial because it makes the use of a graduated filter a lot less obvious.

Finally, if you are just considering the purchase of a set of graduated filters and have some financial constraints, I would suggest that you go with just hard edged filters. As a minimum, buy 2 and 3 stop. I found out that those are the ones I use most often (probably 80% – 85% of the time). In cases when more strength is required, you can stack two filters together to get the the effect you need. Also, from my experience soft edged filters are not very often used. Due to a much longer transition between dark and light they appear to be less “strong” as compared to the hard edged ones.


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Thoughts on Adobe Creative Cloud

Sunset on Mississauga River Ontario

I’m back from a brief vacation. It was fantastic. I spent 4 days “in the wild” (taking photos of course) and 3 days trying to recover from basement flooding caused by catastrophic rainfall in the Greater Toronto Area. I’m telling ya’, it was fun ! Particularly the basement part. Just kidding.

So, it’s been two months since Adobe announced the switch to the subscription model for their suite of products, known as Creative Cloud. Now that the emotions settled and we had a chance to mull things over, let’s look at the whole concept again and see if my perception of the deal has changed. Last month I wrote a post, titled “Adobe and Flickr May controversies“, where I indicated that I didn’t like the idea. At least from the photographer’s perspective. Any change of heart after some thinking, reading and calculating ? Not really and here’s why.

A lot has been written on this subject and of all different blogs/posts but two caught my eye. Those were: “Ten reasons haters are mad at Adobe Creative Cloud” by Scott Bourne and “You said something I disagree with. You must be getting paid” by Scott Kelby. Both authors are very well respected in the photographic community and I follow their blogs regularly. They made a lot of good points in their posts, however, in my view, they unfortunately also missed some. I think that the best way of looking at this is on two different levels: the economic one and on a more philosophical plane.

Let’s start with the economics or the cost of using Creative Cloud software. I’m sure that there are a lot of folks for whom the new, subscription-only model is the best thing since the sliced bread. After all more than 700k people signed in since the introduction of this model.  If you are a graphic design professional, doing a lot of web things, etc. and you use several of Adobe’s applications, this is perhaps an excellent deal. Especially, if you used to upgrade your software as soon as a new version was released. But for the purpose of this post I’ll focus on the photographer’s perspective. I just like many other photographers, use only two applications: Lightroom (all the time) and Photoshop (from time to time, when more complex operations are needed). At this point, for my calculations I’m going to ignore all promotional deals for the existing users. Those deals (valid for 1 year) are expiring soon (July 31) and after that it will be just the regular pricing. I’m also going to assume that you already have reasonably recent version of Lightroom and Photoshop. So, what are the options ? Basically, you can either subscribe to a long list of applications and services for $50/month or you can get just one app (presumably Photoshop since you can still buy Lightroom with perpetual licence) for $20 / month. In the first case you will pay $600 annually to use both “photographic” applications (Lr5 +Photoshop CC). If you subscribe to the second, it will be: $240 plus $53, which is the cost of Lr5 upgrade (the actual upgrade is $80 but Lightroom is updated roughly every 18 months so I pro-rated that amount). $293 in total. Or $24 / month. Not a lot of money at first glance but more about it later. Now, with the old model you would pay $200 for Photoshop upgrade + $80 for Lr every 18 months. That translates to $23 /month. Not very different from the $24 mentioned above. We start seeing the difference when we factor in that with the old model you could decide if and when you wanted to upgrade. It seems that many photographers chose not to upgrade Photoshop as frequently. This is quite understandable since Photoshop for photogs is a little bit of an overkill. It has a lot of features that are not used by us, hence not every release was compelling. I’m pretty sure that we will also see that not all future Lightroom releases will be compelling enough to fork out some cash. That is the reality of mature applications. Once they reach a certain level of maturity, it is difficult to come up with really revolutionary upgrades. So this is exactly what prompted Adobe to introduce the new model. They didn’t do it for the benefit of users. Nope. They did it to eliminate “upgrade skipping”. Plain and simple. I understand their motivation. They used their dominant market position to force this model. I doubt that prior to it’s introduction they were buried by thousands of emails from customers begging them to provide the subscription model. To summarize, with the new deal you, as a photographer, are going to pay more. On top of that, you are hooked. You can’t stop because if you do you won’t be able to edit your files. Well, actually I’m wrong. You will be able to edit them if you decide to use any competing application. However, the reality is that at this moment there aren’t any that would provide you with comparable feature set. Clearly Photoshop is king and Adobe knows it. (As a side bar, Photoshop Elements could be a potential option with some tweaks. Adobe ? Are you listening ?). This was where Scott Bourne was wrong. He claims that we have reasonable options with regards to image manipulation software. But I have yet to see a pro or advanced amateur photographer using exclusively non-Adobe software. Haven’t heard of such thing. By the way, you can also buy access to Photoshop by paying monthly but this is going to be ridiculously expensive ($80/month or so).

Now let’s look at the new model from a different perspective. This is like a car lease. And I hate care leases. Never leased a car and never will. Why ? Because when you do that you loose control of your finances. At least partially. You pay for a few years and at the end of the term you have nothing. If you buy/finance your vehicle then it is up to you when to buy a new model. If your financial circumstances are not the best then you can just keep driving the old clunker until you are in a better financial situation. Now, let’s imagine the world when all your software is “leased”. It is not far-fetched. Microsoft is already pushing Office 365 for $100 / year or $10 / month. How about Windows (or OS X) for a low price of $10 monthly ? Let’s go further. What if Intel demanded a few bucks a month for the privilege of using their CPUs, chipsets and drivers ? Insane isn’t it ? Add all other monthly installments (Internet access, your web presence – if you are photographer you typically have a few places on the web where you showcase your images, or where you sell them, etc.). things can get very expensive in a hurry. The bottom line is that if the pendulum swings too far in that direction, pretty soon you will be paying hundreds of dollars every month just to continue your photography hobby or small business. And either you keep paying or you have to stop altogether. There is no middle ground. Slowing down would be close to impossible in this scenario because you have no control whether to upgrade and when. Ridiculous ? I don’t know. I hope so but the trend is definitely there and I don’t like it.

One final thought on something that Scott Kelby wrote in his post that I mentioned earlier. He says:

“Another thing I read a lot, still, is from people who skip upgrades complaining that Adobe is being unfair to those “loyal customers.” In fact, in that Mashable article, I read an argument from a guy who skips three releases before he upgrades. I’ve got news for you. You’re not an Adobe customer.”

I’m sorry Scott but this makes no sense. Do you buy the newest model of a car you drive every year ? If you are like most folks, probably not. Does it mean you are not: GM’s, Ford’s, BMW’s, etc. customer ? Come on Scott ! I doubt that Adobe views this in the same way. Let’s do a quick math. Over 30,000 people signed an online petition against Adobe’s subscription plan. Based on a lot of negative comments on the interweb, we can safely assume that there are at least 5x to 10x more people like that worldwide. Easy. And likely majority of them didn’t upgrade Photoshop every time it was released. I would assume that between Lightroom, Photoshop and perhaps some other products they used to spend $100 annually with Adobe, a fairly conservative assumption. This translates to $15M to $30M of annual revenue to Adobe, which at this point is pure profit. I don’t think that any corporation, of any size, would just sneeze at this.

I think that in the short term Adobe is going to see a significant boost to their top line. In the long run however, I’m not sure if they are not going to hurt themselves by this decision. The growth in their user base has been typically coming from people who at first wanted to try things out (but longer than just one month trial): students and recent graduates experimenting with things, small business owners, advanced amateur photographers, etc. Now, when they have to commit to regular, monthly payments many of them will think twice. This may not be good for Adobe.

Finally, a few words on the image on the top. I took it in early July in the area of Village of Buckhorn, Ontario. Just a couple of kilometers east of it, there is a small bridge over Mississauga River. I took this photo a few minutes after the sunset.

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