Look But Don’t Forget to Listen

Listen to the voice in your head. I’ll admit it, I don’t always. However I did recently and it was a good thing. I was out a few weeks ago to watch and photograph the sunrise over The Bay of Fundy at a place called Cape Spencer on the edge of town.  Shortly after the sun broke the horizon, I finished shooting, then I packed up and started to leave. I looked back one last time to make sure I had everything and I saw one other possible spot to photograph. Initially I was going to ignore the idea and just head home but I thought, I’m here so I’ll take a look and see what happens.

It was a good day to listen to that voice in my head. The area of the cape I spotted was next to the water’s edge, and it was a steep climb down along some very sharp and very large rocks. I carefully made my way down and ventured onto the small islands of rock and continued to shoot as the sun climbed higher.

As I carefully manoeuvred around the rocks I noticed the interesting flare that developed in between and around the boulders. Unfortunately the break in the rocks was also in a place that I couldn’t position myself in front of because there was also a large gap in the rocks I was standing on and below the gap was the very cold bay. The live viewfinder is not something I use very often but it came in handy as I held the camera in my left hand while balancing everything and also trying to keep the horizon straight.

“I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances. Be more active. Show up more often”. – Brian Tracy.

I like the above quote because it not only applies to a photographer but to life in general. I’ve heard it said quite often by photographer friends and even me that “I was lucky to get the shot”, when in fact there is generally a certain amount of preparation required, even if it’s just being there. Sometimes it’s that voice that puts us in the right place at the right time or just tells you to get ready.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. As much as photography is an art and there are principles to be followed there are also times we need listen to that voice inside prompting us to take a chance or to just show up. Since that day at Cape Spencer I’ve had more time to review my images and I’ve also had time to reflect on what else I learned that day. It got me thinking about that voice inside my head and how I should listen to it more often; with and without my camera. That voice may lead me to more unexpected photographs or it could also lead to more unexpected memories with my wife and kids, possibly a moment to even help a stranger. As we head into the Christmas season perhaps we all could take advantage of the opportunities given to us, just by listening to that voice a little more .

The Trip

Every year my family packs up our car with camping gear, luggage and all the necessary items for our annual camping trip. This year with sleeping bags, pillows, pots and pans at feet and on laps, we headed to what has become one of our one of our favorite destinations over the last few years. Passamaquoddy Bay is an inlet inside The Bay of Fundy and derives its name from the Passamaquoddy First Nation. It is the part of The Bay of Fundy where New Brunswick meets Maine and where the St. Croix River drains into. The Passamaquoddy is also where the Fundy Isles that I written about are located.

Passamaquoddy Bay at Sunset

This years camping site was Saint Andrews which is located in Charlotte County, New Brunswick. Commonly referred to as St. Andrews by the Sea and with a population of about 1800 this small town is a major attraction for the county and a bustling tourist destination for both Canadians and Americans. With a wide variety of small boutiques and restaurants lined along the shores of the bay, St. Andrews is a busy spot in the summer months.

Seagull at Sunrise

One of my favorite things to do in St. Andrews is to drive or walk along the road that lines the edge of the town. It provides a magnificent view on all sides, and great opportunities for taking photographs from sunrise to sunset. The beaches are also a fun spot for the kids to get out and enjoy the sand and shorelines. With numerous types of shorebirds and other wildlife, it is a great place to help kids appreciate nature. In one day you can have opportunities to play with green crabs on the beach, see great blue herons, plovers, cormorants and seals all from shore.

One Leg Piping Plover on The Passamaquoddy

The highlight of this summer’s trip was whale watching. Passamaquoddy Bay has several species of whales with the most common being the Minke, Finback, and Humpback. Although the whales were a little shy, we did see a well-known minke named “slice”. He got this name because he doesn’t have a typical looking dorsal fin and has had the top of it sliced off somehow. Along with Slice the minke, we saw porpoises, several bald eagles, gannets, and harbor and grey seals.

Slice the Minke

Harbour and Grey Seals on the rocks

Our annual camping trip is one of the highlights of the year and is the unofficial end of summer. It has become a great time for us to get away from all the business of life and distractions of work, internet and TV. I’m finding the older I get that I don’t necessarily enjoy the “roughing it” part of the trip, but it is still nice to take off with my family and just enjoy each others company, along with all that God has made.

Sunrise with Grace

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My daughter Grace and I started a new tradition earlier this year; getting up to watch the sunrise. I’ll admit, I’m not in my prime at 4:30 in the morning but if your daughter is into it and wants to hang out with her Dad, you go with it. So, one or two Saturdays a month we get up and head out looking for a place to watch the sunrise. Our first excursion was a bit of a flop due the fog along the coast. I also chose the wrong spot. The foghorn on a lighthouse is really loud when you get up close. They are really spooky in the dark too… but that is for a different post.

Last weekend we left the house at 5:30am and headed down the coast along The Bay of Fundy. We finally decided to stop at a small inlet called Haggertys Cove. If you are driving through and blink you are likely to miss it. Driving west on Route 1 from Saint John you arrive just before a popular provincial park called New River Beach. I wasn’t necessarily looking for this exact spot, it was more by chance. The sun was coming up and we needed a place to stop quick. It provided a beautiful view of the water and it turned out to be ideal.

Haggertys Cove

As the sun came above the horizon the shape of the surrounding coastline began to form and created a wonderful contrast against the bright orange sky. I spent most of my time trying to find the perfect angle to bring out the texture of the hills but balance it against the saturated skyline. I like the resulting abstract image with the cool blue water and silhouetted landscape.

As the daylight continued to increase the shorebirds came to life and several Great Blue Herons joined us. I didn’t have the option to get closer to shore because the coastline is eroding and to dangerous to maneuver down. Fortunately, I had my 400mm lens and was able to zoom in for another silhouetted image. Before we left that morning we saw four more Herons. It isn’t unusual to see them along the bay, but I don’t usually see that many in one spot.

The Great Blue Heron, times 2

Before heading home we took in the community of Maces Bay. This small village offers a very scenic coastline to drive. With the tide out a vast beach was exposed, along with the seaweed covered rocks. The low tide also allowed two people stroll the beach to harvest a seasonal crustacean of some sort I assume.

The tide is out! To show some scale there are 2 people in this photo. Hint – Middle right side of the photo.

I enjoy the one on one with my kids. It is a special time and important to get updates on what is going on in their lives. It is also fun to just get out and enjoy nature and perhaps mentor in some photography too. I’ll have to say though my favorite image from the day was the one I couldn’t take on our drive home. My daughter asleep in the seat next to me. I’ll admit something again…I was jealous. I’m not meant for mornings.

What A Rush!

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One of the main advantages of living next to the highest tides in the world is the change that happens every 6 hours and 13 minutes…(give or take). According to the official Bay of Fundy website a 100 billion tonnes of water flow in and out of the bay during one tidal cycle. I’d love to make a comparison to help put it in perspective for you in relation to Olympic swimming pools or bathtubs but that is just too much math for me, so we’ll just leave it at being a lot.

Evening Tide – Just a few hours later and I would be totally under water if I stood in the same place.

One of the more used apps on my phone is my tide chart. The best free apps that I have used are Shralp Tide for iPhone and Tide Prediction for Android. The tide app has become one of the more useful accessories among the other stuff that I have in my camera bag. I find myself referring to it several times a week in order to revolve my photography around either the low or high tide. There are several beaches close to my home and even though I may visit the same place several times a week, each trip can still provide many unique images.

Weir and Seaweed – At high tide this shot wouldn’t be possible. Knowing when to go made this image.

It is really quite amazing to see how many images can be created on the same shoreline by simply visiting at a different tidal heights. Then add to the mix the different lighting situations of either sunrise, sunset, pending storms or fog and the possibilities can sometimes seem endless. Before I arrive at the beach I have generally visualized an image or several images, but sometimes what has been provide by nature is better than what I imagined.

Split Rock in Fog

There are a few necessities that will help when working with the water. The first is a (sturdy) tripod, which will allow for slower shutter speeds giving the water that milky look. I also like to use a polarizing filter to remove glare from the ocean, and to assist with slowing down the shutter speed on bright days. A polarizing filter will also offer some protection for your lens against salt spray. For really bright sun or just when there is a big difference in exposure between the sky and water, I will use a split neutral density filter. These filters are dark on top and gradually move to transparent on the bottom so the water still looks as it should but the dark part on top helps the sky from looking washed out. Finally a cable release is also very beneficial but a 2 second self-timer will also work in a pinch to help avoid camera shake during long exposures.

What a Rush – Sometimes the sound is just as impressive as the sight.

As much as I enjoy getting out to photograph, sometimes it is just as nice to leave the camera at home and head to the bay just to watch and listen. There is nothing like a trip to the beach for a quick get away after a stressful day. When things gets crazy and the pressures of life close in, I find it very relaxing to hear the rush of the waves and to know that there is a God at work, who is more powerful and more in control than I may realize.

Great Expectaions?

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“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop”. – Ansel Adams

When I first read this quote by Ansel Adams I’d have to admit, it was a bit of a “wow” moment for me. Ansel Adams who is likely one of the greatest and most influential photographers of all time, had a goal of 12 great images a year. Since reading this it has got me thinking and wondering if my expectations are too high, or perhaps not high enough, depending on how you look at it.

When I first took up photography 20 years ago I asked a friend who became a bit of a mentor to me what his standard was. He said that his goal was to record one great shot per roll of film. Just one keeper per 36 images. Right or wrong I liked this idea and have kept is as an unofficial standard for myself. Like all things in life, there will be good days and there will be bad days when it comes to photography.

Ansel used several different formats for his photography, anything from 35mm, panorama, medium format to an 8×10 view camera. He certainly didn’t have the benefit or digital where you can shoot 400 images and hope one or two were keepers or edit and fix an image after the fact. I’m assuming there would have been a lot more thought put into the process; hence it may have been less about quantity and more about quality.

Sunset and Fishing Weirs – Campobello Island, New Brunswick

On a recent trip to Deer Island and Campobello I shot over 2oo images in one day and in reviewing so far I have found 2 that I would say are my “keepers” or “significant”. Not sure how I feel over all about all of the images as of yet but the two I’ve worked with so far I am very pleased with. Coincidentally they were taken in the same place about 30 minutes before we left. Sometimes is pays to take just one more shot.

Sunset and Seagull – Campobello Island, New Brunswick

On occasion I feel like I’m my own worst critic with expectations that are too great, and other times I feel as though I like an image more because I have an emotional attachment and not necessarily because it is great technically or aesthetically.  If Ansel wanted 12 significant shots per year, are my standards off? I’d be curious to know what yours are, or if you even think about it. Take a minute and let me know. I would appreciate your comments and feedback.

Beacons of Light

“We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.”

Dwight L. Moody

After awhile you can start to take things for granted living in the same place your whole life. I’ve said it before that I really haven’t appreciated where I’ve lived until I was in my 20’s. In looking through my photographs I’ve come to realize how truly fortunate I am to live on the east coast in the Maritimes. The scenery and the weather are generally perfect for someone like me who isn’t a fan of extreme heat or cold. For the most part the only extreme weather that we get here is extreme fog and very strong winds that blow off The Bay of Fundy.

So with lots of fog comes lots of lighthouses. All along the coast of the Atlantic are 100’s of iconic lighthouses, protecting the sailors and the commercial ships during their voyages through the heavy fog of the summer and the hidden underwater islands and coastlines. As I vacation along the coastal communities, a lighthouse is always an attraction for me and my family. These towers of lights and sounds that protect the shorelines and waters are magnetic for a photographer.

As I’ve traveled the roads and highways of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that run along the Bay of Fundy I’ve been fortunate to see many of these lighthouses and some dramatic weather that makes the Maritimes famous. Three of my favourite lighthouses are all associated with Islands: Partridge Island and Campobello Island in New Brunswick and The Five Islands of Nova Scotia.

Partridge Island at sunrise and the breakwater that connects it to the mainland of Saint John, New Brunswick

Partridge Island is located in the Bay of Fundy off the coast of Saint John New Brunswick. The island is famous for being a quarantine station in the 1800’s for Irish immigrants coming from Ireland during the Great Famine also known as the Irish Potato Famine. Over a 1000 immigrants died from the typhus epidemic. The remnants of quarantine buildings, a Celtic cross and other memorials remain today on Partridge Island. Its location provides a nice foreground to the sunrise and colorful skies of sunset.

The Five Island Lighthouse at dusk.

The Five Islands lighthouse isn’t actually an operational lighthouse anymore. It was built in 1914, but eventually moved in 2008 due to the eroding coastline. It was the beacon that looked out for the ships passing by Moose, Diamond, Long, Egg, and Pinnacle; AKA… The Five Islands.  The Bay of Fundy is famous for having the highest tides in the world and this is the perfect place to experience it. Normally the tide is measured in feet or meters. Here I’m guessing you can measure it in miles or kilometers. I’ve never seen anything like the tides around here.

East Quoddy Lighthouse on Campobello Island. Photograph taken from Deer Island.

Campobello Island is one of the 3 Fundy Isles and quickly becoming one of my favorite places to vacation and photograph. The East Quoddy or Head Harbour Lighthouse is likely one of the most famous landmarks for this island community. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in Canada, and also known as one of the most photographed. Again its location is wonderful in terms of the rising and setting sun, and its position allows it to be photographed from the neighboring Deer Island.

As a photographers I’m always looking for the best light. So it only seems appropriate that I look for the lighthouse.

Glorious and Free

I had another topic for this week’s blog, but after listening to the Canadian National anthem in church yesterday and seeing everyone in their red and white I was left with a much stronger sense of patriotism than I anticipated. It also got me thinking this afternoon about all the reasons I love my country and the places that I have been lucky enough to visit and photograph. The landscape of Canada is a huge part of my photography and one of the many reasons I love it. I’ve also been seeing a lot of the things going on in other countries around the world in the news, and it make me appreciate Canada even more.

Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia is a small town with just over 900 people living in it, but it is still one of my favorite places in the Maritimes to visit. This famous scene of the Three Churches is just one of the many photographic opportunities this coastal community provides.

Over the last 20 years I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in 3 of the 4 Atlantic Provinces as well as Ontario and Quebec. The rest of the provinces and territories are on my to-do list. Since Canada is the second largest country in the world by land mass it will take some time so see everything that I would like to. I have a map of Canada on the wall in front of my desk and quite often think about the places I want to visit. Someday I hope to have the opportunity to visit places like the Queen Charlotte Islands in BC, Grass Land National Park in Saskatchewan, Churchill Manitoba, or the Torngat Mountains National Park in Newfoundland.

I had the pleasure of visiting  The Lang Pioneer Village on a few occasions while living in Peterborough Ontario. It is a fabulous living museum and a wonderful reminder of what our country would have been like in the 19th century.

When I hear people talk about vacations it quite often is about going someplace warm and tropical. As much as I enjoy traveling to south, there is part of me that enjoys a staycation and discovering new places in my province of New Brunswick or visiting family in Nova Scotia and PEI. The older I get the more I enjoy revisiting the familiar places in my hometown or other places close to the Bay of Fundy.

Close to my home here in New Brunswick, the Nerepis River reminds me of the Florida Everglades… but without the gators thankfully.

There are many places around the world that I would love to visit and photograph. The Amazon, The Galápagos or Easter Islands to name a few; and they would all be amazing, but there is really no place like home. I live in a wonderful country and there are still so many places that I have yet to see here in Canada. The True North strong and free.

God’s Sandbox

As children we we’re drawn to it. We dig in it at the beach or the sandbox in our backyard. Some like the feel of it between their toes as they go for romantic walks along the beach or while lying out and soaking up some sun. Watching it flow through an hourglass mesmerizes us. It is as old as the earth and yet sand still entertains us.

All of the above applies to me when it comes to sand. However, as I’ve gotten older and spent more and more time on the shores of The Bay of Fundy and walking along the beaches of local lakes and rivers, I’ve developed a new appreciation for sand. The colors, textures, and shapes that are carved into the sand around the waters next to my home have been the subject for hundreds of my photographs. It is something so simple but yet with each new tide an image is created and waits to be recorded by my camera.

Sandbar seems appropriate. It even looks like chocolate.

When I feel like I’m getting stale with my imagination and my photography in general, I look to the shoreline for new ideas and motivation. The patterns and textures in the sand created by the power of the ocean offer me ample photographic opportunities.  I can visit the beach as often as I like and I’ll never run out possibilities. One visit can bring smooth flat surfaces almost glass and the next day when I visit again and the shores are rippling and almost ribcage like.

I found this sandbar like this. It looks like someone used an ice cream scoop on it. Nature is amazing.

The other aspect that marvels me about the shores in my area are the colors. People talk about white sandy beach when they go on vacation but here in the Maritimes I can walk on beaches that are white, red, grey and even black. As I’ve traveled around The Bay of Fundy I’m still amazed when I visit a new cove or bay and find new colors, textures and types of rock. Sometimes within a five-minute drive there will be two beaches, yet they look so different and still part of the same body of water. The colors and hues seem limitless.

Craters on the Moon. This is what I imagine it would look like….

Sometime a walk to the beach is just for an escape from the craziness of life. There is something about waves, the sand and the smell of the beach that soothes the soul. The problems from the day disappear and are replaced by the expanse and awesomeness and power of the ocean. It seems like it never gets old with each visit. I’m left feeling an enormous sense of awe at God’s magnificence. The details of His creation and art are beyond the scope of what I would ever be able to capture with a camera.

Salt Water Cure

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. – Isak Dinesen

I’m back from vacation. It was a short walk but the view was fantastic. Even though it was only a mental break from writing and I didn’t go anywhere, it was a much need time away to recharge and refocus on my photography. In looking for inspiration there is an abundance here in New Brunswick. I can look out my window and see the Bay of Fundy and open my front door and hear it. If it is too cold I can look through any of my windows and see the salt spray that has been left behind.

The Bay of Fundy in Action

It has been during walks along the coast when I have captured many of my favorite images. The Bay of Fundy has no shortage of  inspiration and subjects to photograph. There are many times when I visit the ocean that I attempt to record its power and awesomeness . Creating images of waves can be made on just about any visit, whether calm or stormy days. On a calm day I love to get close to the shoreline to show the motion and beauty of the water. The stormy days offer the beauty as well, but it is power that it really demonstrates.

Tides In

The shores along the bay provide creatures, color and the abstract of rocks and seaweed. Having a close focusing or macro lens will come in handy to photograph these subjects. Showcasing the details allows the viewer to really appreciate all that the ocean has to offer and also to show the fragility. The ocean is such a stark contrast of power and yet it is so fragile as it is impacted by the negligence and complacency of those who either don`t care or know any better.

Adam’s Rib

The ocean has been the subject of many of my images and it has also been the source of many memories. My children enjoy the beach and ocean as much as I do (but with less apprehension about getting messy). As a family we have spent countless hours walking the coastline while sharing stories, laughs and marveling at God`s creation. Water has this unique ability to capture our attention. Even with all the gadgets, TV shows and music to entertain them, my kids will still leave all those in a instant if I offer an invitation to join me for a walk on the beach.

Mud Pies

Besides photography, my other passion is the environment. Over the past 3 years I have participated in an international effort assisting in beach clean-ups.  The Ocean Conservancy (http://www.oceanconservancy.org) promotes the annual event along with a local organization called Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP). The list of grossness that we have collected is too long to mention but I have picked up just about any type of trash you can imagine.  If you have never been involved in a local clean-up, I urge you to find one and participate. You will be left with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and the added benefit of not having to photograph around trash the next time you visit the beach.

Reviving the Monoscape

We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium. – Ansel Adams

I discovered something, not only about my photography, but I think photography in general. I have unintentionally abandoned shooting images in black and white. I have a black and white mode on my camera and I had one on my previous DSLR, but I don’t recall ever using it.  I don’t remember the last time I used any of my Cokin colored filters. It was likely when I used black and white film. In reading the 5 most recent magazines on my desk I noticed that black and white images are become rare.

A monochrome image seemed so appropriate for this lonely tree next to a rural highway in Nova Scotia.

Prior to shooting digital, Ilford HP5 and FP4 rolls of film were easier to find in my refrigerator than ketchup. On occasion a roll of XP2 or SFX could be found in the butter compartment as well. Before converting to digital I also shot a few images with the now discontinued Agfa Scala-200 slide film, which was magnificent. In general, if you wanted to create a monochromatic image 15 years ago you had to plan before releasing the shutter (I have made B&W prints from color film but it’s not the same).

One of my most recent images that I decided to convert to B&W after shooting. I think it suits the mood better than a color image would

Digital has so many advantages over film, but at the same time I feel as a photographer it has made me more dependent on my PC than my camera. Part of the photographic process is planning, imagination and creativity. Deciding to take a photograph in black and white instead of color was a decision I had to make prior to hitting the button. Now it’s so easy to make a black and white image after the fact and I generally don’t think about it before I take the photograph.

My first experience with Agfa Scala B&W slide film was ironically at The Silver Falls in Saint John, New Brunswick.

As a nature photographer, waterfalls, trees and macro subject are perfect for black and white images.  I find this especially true when the scene is naturally monochromatic already. Flowing water or a solitary tree are subjects that I have traditionally sought out for making the centerpiece of an image.

One of my favorite monochrome images. The tide coming in on The Bay Of Fundy.

I’ve decided that before the month is over I’m bringing my Cokin filters back out and I’m going to rediscover the black and white mode on my camera. Years ago, there was a certain amount of anticipation in taking a roll or black and white film and waiting for it to return from the lab.  In some ways, I miss that. I also think that as photographers we all go through periods of creative droughts for one reason or another.  Isn’t ironic that in the era of digital and unlimited software choices, that something as old as photography itself might be the way to revive our creativity.  And it’s right in front of us in black and white.