A Review of 2019

Well, 2019 is over in a few hours and I thought it would be a good time to share a few of my favourites from the year. Photographically it was a very good year. I took a big step back from taking photos for other people yet I still took about 12000 shots, the majority being self-motivated.

Jenny and I had two trips, to Cuba in February and Spain in November. For both of these trips I brought the lightest kit I could… the X100S to Cuba and my new X100F to Spain. I brought the WCL and TCL adapters as well and made pretty heavy use of the former.

Speaking of the X100 cameras, more of my favourites were with those bodies than my two Nikons (D750 and D810) combined. That says as much about the “bring everywhere” portability as it does about the image quality. Still, I’m delighted by those little cameras. I took my favourite Milky Way shot so far on the X100S with the WCL and the minuscule Ultra Pod.

I picked up two new lenses this year, the Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.8 G and the Samyang 14mm f/2.8. The Nikon 24 was my default hiking lens, along with the 70-200mm f/4. The Samyang, on the hand, was used maybe just 3 times. Yet, it took one of my absolute favourite all time shots (the boathouse at sunset). Looking at the other shots in this post I see appearances from the Nikon 18-35, 24, 60 macro, 135 DC, the Sigma 35 and 50 1.4 ART lenses, the Samyang 14. The X100 series make up the rest with 5 from the native lens, 6 from the WCL and one from the TCL.

I also managed to complete a month of Photo of the Day but called it off when I got too busy… maybe I’ll pick it up again in 2020!

So here are my favourites, in order of date:

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Street shot in Trinidad, Cuba (X100S and WCL-X100)

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Street shot in Trinidad, Cuba (X100S and TCL-X100)

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Playa Ancon, Cuba long exposure (X100S and WCL-X100)

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From the roof of our hotel at Playa Ancon, Cuba (X100S and WCL-X100)

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Milky Way at Playa Ancon, Cuba with an alignment of the Moon, Venus, and Saturn (X100S and WCL-X100)

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Spring thaw at Schneider’s Bush, my favourite local trail (panorama D810 and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART)

Greta on the Piano

Greta on the Piano (D750 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART)

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Hall’s Lake boathouse at sunset (D750 with Samyang 14mm f/2.8)

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Milky Way near Thornbury, Ontario (D810 and Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, panorama with five exposures at each of two positions, processed with Sequator)

Milky Way with Sigma 50mm Art

Milky Way near Thornbury, Ontario (D750 and Sigma 50mm Art at f/1.4, 6s, ISO 1600. 9 images combined in Sequator)

Old Baldy Crevace

Old Baldy, Beaver Valley Ontario (X100S and WCL-X100)

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Leslie and Magnus (X100S and WCL-X100)

Golden X-Wing

X-Wing (D810 with Nikon 60mm f/2.8 G Micro)

Bashful and Grumpy

Egg Cup and Clown (D810 and Nikon 135mm f/2 DC)

Immaculate Puffball

A perfect puffball (X100S) 

DIckson Wilderness Area

North Dumfries, Ontario (D750 with Nikon 24mm f/1.8 G)

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Canada flag and a cornfield near St Jacobs Market, Ontario (X100S)

Sunrise at Beithaupt Park

Sunrise at Breithaupt Park, Waterloo, Ontario (D810 with Nikon 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G)

Grand River Sunrise

Misty sunrise on the Grand River, Waterloo, Ontario (D810 and Nikon 24mm f/1.8 G)

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On the Canal du Midi, Toulouse, France (X100F)

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Placa de Sant Filip Neri, Barcelona, Spain (X100F)

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Sunset in Gerona, Spain (X100F)

Yukon, BC, and Alaska in August

This past August I took a trip. A trip to the Great White North to visit Emily (and Brad and Leika). A trip of a lifetime, really. How often does one buy a flight to Whitehorse on a whim for 10 days of road tripping, camping and hiking?

I brought along with me the Fujifilm X100s with the WCL adaptor and the Nikon D750 with AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, AF-S 70-200mm f/4, and AF-S 85mm f/1.8. Choosing what to pack for an extended trip is always a challenge but this combination has treated me very well in the past. For the most part on this trip, the X100s went up the mountains and the D750 did everything else.

On the first leg of the trip, we stuck around the Whitehorse area with a day trip to Carcross and climb up Caribou Mountain, a day trip to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and Gunnar Nilsson & Mikey Lammers Research Forest, a visit to Miles Canyon and putting around downtown.

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Emily, the dog and I then started our road trip with a night camping at Paint Mountain (on Pine Lake near Haines Junction). I got some great shots of the lake and mountain at both sunrise and sunset.

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We then headed south into BC, camping at Million Dollar Falls and taking by far the best hike I’ve been on, to Samuel Glacier. Middle of nowhere, 10km out to the glacier and 10km back. The views were spectacular, but what really struck me was the dead silence once we got away from the highway.

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After the long hike we continues south into Alaska, camping at Chilkat State Park in Haines. I’ve never been to such a good looking campsite. The mountain views were beautiful and the mossy rainforest nook where we set up our tent was totally secluded.

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The next morning we caught the ferry from Haines to Skagway and after exploring the tourist town (while navigating the ridiculous crowd of tourists) we made our way back up to Conrad, Yukon to meet up with Brad and the trailer. The mountain right across the Windy Arm lake had been on fire for a while but luckily the wind was blowing all of the smoke away from us. I got some spectacular fire shots and my new favourite Milky Way.

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We hiked up the Sam McGee trail the next morning and got some great views of the lake and forest fire.

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And that’s pretty much it. An amazing trip and one I’d happily do again!

 

A Day at Carcassonne

While in Toulouse for work I used one of my days off to visit Carcassonne, about a 1hr train ride away. The walled city is very old, founded by the Romans, and changed hands many times before being faithfully restored in the 1800’s. I arrived early, and walked the cool and drizzly walk from the train station to the castle. In the off season, on a weekday morning, and with mediocre weather there were very few people and I had no trouble taking photos of the building alone, or waiting to position a single person perfectly in the shot.

The inner ramparts opened after lunch (although they were supposed to be open in the morning too) so after a hot cassoulet and local beer I paid the admission and got up high. The weather did eventually clear somewhat but not so much that I lost the dreary look to photos. Here are my favourites, with the D750, AF-S 85mm f/1.8G and Sigma 35m f/1.4 Art.

A Week in Toulouse

For the second time, my job sent me to Toulouse, France to speak at an image sensor conference. I had a few days off after and was able to explore the city.. For the most part I used the X100s, shooting only in JPG. I had the D750 as well, with AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G, AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G and AF-S 85mm f/1.8G.

 

Whistler-Blackcomb – July 2017

During my trip to Vancouver in July I took a few days to drive up the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler-Blackcomb, with some stops at Murrin Park, Shannon Falls, Nairn Falls and Pemberton. A highlight of the trip was the Peak-to-Peak gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb.

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A Trip to Vancouver – July 2017

A perk of my job is that occasionally I get sent to Vancouver to do testing at UBC. This year I was lucky enough to visit in July and had perfect weather for the whole trip. I brought along the D750, 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, and 70-200mm f/4. Here are my favourite images:

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Photographing the Milky Way

As much as I loved the D700, and I really did love it, the excellent high ISO of the d750 has opened up some new doors. One of these doors, a completely new one to me,  is night sky astrophotography. Specifically the Milky Way. Although only subtly visible to the naked eye, a long exposure brings out all of the rich texture and hues that can span from horizon to horizon. Southern Ontario for the most part isn’t particularly dark but even a couple of hours north of the 401 corridor the light pollution dies down enough to get a decent shot.

The trick to getting a good capture of the milky way is to keep the signal to noise ratio high, with a wide aperture, long exposure and clean high ISO performance. As with all photos of objects in the night sky, the exposure must be short enough to keep them from being blurred by that the rotation of the earth. Fortunately there is a simple rule of thumb. Divide the number 500 by the lens’ focal length to get the maximum shutter speed to avoid blur. For example, when using an 18mm lens, the longest shutter speed is 28 seconds. This formula applies to full frame cameras. With an APS sensor, divide the shutter speed further by 1.5.

A steady tripod is also critical to getting sharp photos. For focusing, set the camera to live view, manual focus and zoom the display to a bright star or planet. It’s best to shoot with a cable release or at least in self timer mode to minimize camera shake.

Don’t expect an epic photo straight out of the camera, this type of image takes some extreme post processing. Here’s an example before any editing, followed by the finished product. The shot was taken with the D750 and AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G (18mm, f/3.5, 25 seconds, ISO 6400).

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (out of camera)

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (out of camera)

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (after extensive edits)

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (after extensive edits)

There will always be a colour caste in the original image due to light pollution, high ISO noise and white balance settting. After adjusting colour, the image will need some heavy contrast enhancement and careful use of shadow/highlight sliders (if using lightroom) and a good dose of saturation. Careful noise reduction and sharpening is key too.

Now, of course I’m finding some limitations with my equipment (surprise surprise). My brightest wide lens is f/3.5 at 18mm. Nikon makes an outstanding 20mm f/1.8 that’s pretty tempting but I don’t think I can justify getting a new lens just for taking photos of stars!  Anyway, I’ve been getting great results with what I already have in my bag. Here are another few examples, all with the D750 and 18-35mm at 18mm. The first is a panorama of 6 shots.

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