Sunday, November 28, 2010


Barns outside Ottawa

I love the look of old barns around the Ottawa area.  Barns in the immediate area of the city are disappearing quite quickly now -- I can think of two at least that have been taken down in the past year.  I hope that the farming heritage won't disappear completely in our haste to build golf courses and houses.   My house was build on farmland, so I can't say that all house building is bad, but at the same time I don't like to see farms and barns disappear.

. . . Rob Williams

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Snow

Every year, no matter what era I've reached in my life, I still get excited at seeing the first new snow of the season.  It happened again last night when the snow started to accumulate.  For some reason, it's hard not to stop and watch.

Trees along Brophy Drive near North Gower, Ontario

When I woke up, the snow was still on the ground, so I took my camera out and drove some back roads around where I live, looking for some interesting images.

NCC Forest along Moodie Drive, Ottawa

The snow stayed around all day, and so it will be a chilly night for the ghosts and goblins.

Bushes at the Lime Kiln Trail, Ottawa

Fence post on Brophy Drive

Bush beside the road on Brophy Drive

. . . Rob Williams

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How to remove a stuck filter

Earlier this year, I wanted to remove the polariod filter from my 70-200mm lens, but it was badly stuck.  Filters are hard to grip, and doubly so for polarizing filters with the rotating ring.  I tried everything I could think of, including putting a rubber band around the filter for better grip, but I could not get it off.

I tried searching the web for a solution but I didn't find any good suggestions for a polarizer other than a filter wrench, and I couldn't find them (they're available at B&H, but I didn't want to wait for the shipping).  Eventually I went to a kitchen store to see if I could find a jar lid opener that would be kind to the filter.  Most were metal, but I found one that was made from soft rubber, called "EasiTwist Jar Opener":

I liked this one because it had a wide opening at one end, and smaller openings closer to the end for different sizes of filters.  It turns out that the widest opening was perfect for a  77mm filter.  I tried it out, and it worked immediately and very easily:

Highly recommended.

. . . Rob Williams

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cape St. Mary's Ecological Preserve, Newfoundland

On our family's trip to Newfoundland, a day visit to Cape St. Mary's Ecological Preserve was easily one of the highlights.  The preserve is located on the tip of the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, on a peninsula between Placentia Bay and St. Mary's bay.  It is home to a massive bird colony, consisting of thousands of Gannets, Common Murres, Thick-billed Murres, Black-legged Kittiwake, Razorbill and other species.

Northern Gannets

To get there, we drove down highway 100 from Placentia south to the cape -- a very picturesque drive, not to mention very hilly.  You drive through a series of small villages, each of which is in a cove at the bottom of a valley between two 250 to 450 foot-high hilltops.  The road up and down these hilltops is quite steep, at least from my perspective, which makes for an interesting and occasionally exciting drive.

Cape St. Mary's cliffs

When you get to the site itself, there is a roomy interpretation centre with information and a model of the cliffs showing the locations of the various nesting sites.  But the real fun begins when you start walking down the path to the cliffs.  The first viewing location is a grassy slope that lets you see the cliffs as a whole.  You can hear the birds as well as see the level of activity to and from the cliffs.  It's almost like a futuristic movie where flying cars are going to and fro on an aerial hightway.

Bird Rock and many of the 11,000 nesting pairs of Gannets

As the path continues (for about a kilometre), there are a couple of other viewing sites, but the best site is at the end of the path.  The path leads to the cliff edge, where you can venture out on a narrow rocky point to see Bird Rock, a rock about 20 or 30 metres away that is covered with Northern Gannets.  This view is truly awesome -- you can see the individual birds and their young, and various gannets flying back and forth.  I watched the birds there for quite a while, and took many photographs.

The Gannet superhighway

The whole experience was exhilarating.  When I was finished at the main viewing location, I went back to the grassy slope and just sat for a while watching the hub of activity, and listening to the sounds of the birds.

 These and other photographs from the preserve and elsewhere in Newfoundland, please visit my website.

. . . Rob Williams

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Carpet of Daisies

Around where I live, there is a lot of new house construction going on now.  When the land is being prepared, there are large areas of bulldozed earth that are left alone for months and sometimes years.  The freshly upturned earth seems to be full of seeds waiting to grow, all at the same time.  The results are quite spectacular:

A Carpet of Daisies

A gust of wind

Another view of the carpet

. . . Rob Williams

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The fun is back for Infrared photography

I started making infrared photographs quite a while ago, using Kodak H1E infrared film.  I shot black-and-white photographs while I was young, and I really liked the dramatic contrast and unusual look of IR photographs.

The whole process from storing and loading the film, to taking the photograph, and developing it was difficult, frustrating, and very often disappointing.  Storing the film in the fridge wasn't new to me, but loading the film in the dark and having to use a virtually opaque 720nm filter was quite difficult.  Framing the photography involved setting up the photograph without the filter, and then carefully screwing the filter on, trying not to move the focus or zoom rings.  Not only that, but determining the correct exposure needed a lot of guesswork and bracketing.  I normally had to overexpose by 2 or 3 stops, but it was not consistent.  Even with bracketing by a couple of stops, I missed quite often.

Forest Scene, Shot using Kodak H1E film

When it all worked, the results were fascinating, and made all of the frustration worth the effort.  

When I switched to digital with a Nikon D100, infrared photography became much easier.  The D100 is quite sensitive to infrared light, as opposed to later generations of DSLRs.  I no longer had to deal with H1E film, or with guessing the exposure. I could check the exposure right away, and adjust on the fly.  My exposures (using f/11 or f/16) was on the order of a few seconds, which was okay unless there was a strong wind.  I took quite a bit more photographs using this setup, and learned how to introduce colour to IR by taking an identical colour image, and blending the two images.

Mer Bleue Boardwalk, Nikon D100, Hoya R72 filter

The situation went downhill with my current camera, a Nikon D200 which is much less sensitive to IR light.  The exposures now were over 30 seconds, and it was hard to find a good photograph with that long an exposure.  I virtually stopped taking IR photographs after I purchased the D200.

The latest change in infrared photography is the ability to convert a digital camera to infrared.  The IR blocking filter over the sensor can be removed, and a 720nm or similar filter can be fitted over the sensor to block visible light..  The sensor itself is quite sensitive to IR light, and so the converted camera lets you take photographs at normal exposures, and without any external filter.  This is a huge improvement over anything available in the past.

Oxtongue River, Nikon D40x IR converted

The main problem now (for my limited budget) is the price.  There are a number of companies that offer conversion services (LifePixel and MaxMax are two of the high profile companies) and the prices range from $300 to $450 for most cameras.   To be honest, this is about the same price of an "external" infrared filter.  A Hoya R72 filter costs around $350 for a 77mm filter in Canada.  However, you also have to have a camera body to convert.

The Minto Bridge to Green Island, Nikon D40x IR converted

The price point is dropping, especially if you are willing to by a used entry-level DSLR.  The market for these cameras is quite competitive, and the models seem to last only a year or two.  I've seen Nikon D3000 camera bodies selling for about $250 on eBay.  I recently bought an IR-converted, used Nikon D40x, and although it is not a sophisticated camera (only 3 autofocus points!), it is great as an infrared camera.  It's a very light body as well, so it doesn't add much weight to my camera pack.

All of the barriers to infrared photography have been removed, and  it's fun again to photograph in infrared.

. . . Rob Williams

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What a difference a day (or two) makes!

The weather around here can be a bit crazy in the spring.  On April 27th, we had snow, and  the few remaining tulips in my front garden had to put up with some cold weather.

Switch to today, the temperature got up to 15C (59F), with bright sun.  The tulips look a lot happier now:

. . . Rob Williams

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Orchidophilia -- the Ottawa Orchid Society's Orchid Show

This morning I went out to a local sports arena where an orchid show was being held by the Ottawa Orchid Society. For two hours in the morning, they welcome tripods -- no doubt a way to avoid hassles caused by tripod-carrying photographers during the main hours of the show. I arrived shortly after the show opened, and had a short time with a few other photographers, but the event got much more crowded by mid-morning.

I've been interested in orchids since I started photographing wild orchids in local bogs and wetlands (Pink, Yellow and Showy Ladyslipper, Rose Pagonia, and Grass Pink). This show includes many cultivated varieties, but it's surprising how much most of the orchids resemble our local varieties. The variety of colour and shapes is amazing, and lots of fun to photograph.

The main problem I had was to get a relatively clean background. Most of the displays had some wood to support the orchids, but the backgrounds were still very busy and bright. I had to work quite hard to position my camera so that I had a reasonably dark, plain background. I also moved in for detailed images of the flowers.

The lighting was also challenging if you were not using flash (like me). It's a mixture of fluorescent and incandescent, so I had to do a lot of adjustment after the fact. Despite all of that, the results were quite good.

I want to thank the show organizers for accommodating the photographic crowd -- it was lots of fun.

. . . Rob Williams

Friday, April 2, 2010

Abstract clothes

Abstract clothes, originally uploaded by robertwilliams017.
Daily Shoot #138: Make a fashion photo today: a person modeling clothing, the clothes in your closet, an accessory that defines you, etc.

I'm no fashion photographer, nor a portrait photographer, so this assignment is a bit far-fetched for me. Since the assignment suggested clothes in your closet, I decided to try that out, and see what happened.

The closet is lit by a single bare bulb, so the light was really low. The only chance of hand-holding the camera was either to use ASA 1000 or more, which really doesn't look good with a D200. So I just used shutter speeds of 1/4 to 2 seconds, and moved the camera up and down.

This kind of abstract is very hit-and-miss, so you have to take many individual images and hope that something turned out. Before digital became affordable, it really was hit-and-miss, and expensive as well. Thankfully, digital photography has solved those two problems.

. . . Rob Williams

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Daily Shoot #ds133: Reeds against the sky

Reeds, originally uploaded by robertwilliams017.
Today's Daily Shoot assignment is "Backlighting in a scene can create drama. Make a photo with interesting placement of backlit subjects. "

I must admit that I had some trouble with this assignment. Today's weather in Ottawa was mostly overcast which doesn't make too many backlit opportunities. I went to a field close to my house where there were some reeds that I wanted to photograph. The stems of the reeds are almost glowing in brighter light, but it didn't look that way when it's overcast.

After taking a number of slow-shutter-speed photos of the reeds blowing in the wind, I decided to just get low down and photograph the reeds against the sky. I have a couple of different versions of this image showing the clouds, which are quite interesting themselves. But, I really liked this version where I overexposed quite a bit. The reeds become very ethereal, with only their form showing up against the light.

. . . Rob Williams

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Daily shoot #ds132: Painting on the side of a building

Today's assignment from The Daily Shoot is "Sidewalks are great for people watching. Make a photograph of a sidewalk scene today. " Since I was going out to buy some hiking boots, I brought my Canon S90 along to make some photographs along Richmond Road in Westboro, a neighbourhood of Ottawa.

I was quite surprised to see a number of buildings that had large-scale paintings on their side. It made quite a unique look for this old neighbourhood.

. . . Rob Williams

Daily Shoot #ds131

10D-01534BW, originally uploaded by robertwilliams017.
I've just discovered The Daily Shoot ( Every day, a new photo assignment is posted, and people from all over submit photographs. Today's assignment was "Think of a subject that starts with either the letter "D" or "S". Find it, and make a photo! ".

I found a conch shell, and made some macro photographs of it. This is the one I choose to submit.

I'm going to try this for a while, and see how it goes. I looks like a good way to be thinking about photography on a daily basis, even if I don't get the time to make a photograph.

. . . Rob Williams

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Quest of Warm Hands

Winter in Ottawa is either overcast and relatively warm (right now, it has been overcast for several days, and it's -4°C (25°F)), or it is sunny and cold (-18°C (0°F) or colder). Most winters, we have a period of time where an arctic high pressure comes down, and we get a week of extreme cold, ranging from -30°C (-22°F) at night, to a balmy -20°C (-4°F) during the day.

Trees on Bates Island, Ottawa

Photography under these conditions is extremely challenging, to say the least. When the temperature gets down to -18°C, you have to dress accordingly, and protect any exposed skin to avoid frostbite (and a lot of pain). I have the appropriate clothing – long underwear, ski pants, heavy winter coat, and warm hat. However, covering my hands is another matter. With proper cold-weather mitts or gloves, it's impossible to manipulate the controls of a camera. With lightweight gloves, you can manage a camera, but your hands freeze very quickly, and it is very painful, especially when they thaw out.

So the question is: how do you keep warm hands in very cold weather?

Snow on a Sumac tree

A number of years ago, I bought some “photographer” gloves that had dots of some material that allowed you to grip a camera. They were knit gloves and gave a bit of warmth, but they were not windproof by any means, and were only good at temperatures above about 5°C (about 40°F).

I have also used some cross-country ski gloves that were much warmer, but I still suffered badly when the temperatures were very cold. I could use these gloves down to about -10°C (14°F). Any colder than that, I had to use my cold-weather mitts, and switch to gloves only for short periods.

This year, I have tried out a number of newly designed gloves with modern materials, and some glove liners.

The first set of gloves were purchased from a local “outdoors” store. I bought a pair of Manzella Stretch Fit gloves, rated as “warm, for outdoor aerobic activities”, a pair of Manzella Woodsman gloves rated as “warmest, for outdoor activities in extreme conditions”, as well as some polypropylene glove liners.

A Farm outside Ottawa

The Manzella Stretch Fit gloves are light skin-tight gloves with a very good palm and finger surface for grip. I first used these gloves on a street-photography walk down a downtown Ottawa street, when it was about 3°C (37°F) and windy. I was using my new Canon S90 camera, which is very small and hard to handle with gloves. I found that the glove's grip was good enough for the camera, but some of the controls were difficult as you might expect with a small camera. The gloves were just barely warm enough at this temperature. After about an hour, my hands were cold, but not painfully so. However, these gloves are not windproof, and I think that 3°C is the limit for warmth for my photographic purposes. My walk down the street was not aerobic by any means, and I think the story would be different if I had hiked for a half hour to get there.

I tried the Manzella Woodsman gloves on a much colder day, when it was -16°C (3°F). These gloves were not designed for photography or activities that need a good grip, but I wanted to see how warm they are, and whether I could manipulate my DSLR with them. In the end, the Woodsman gloves are very comfortable, and reasonably warm, but not suited for photography. I tried them with glove liners to see if they would be good in colder temperatures, but I found the fit too tight. I probably should have gotten one size larger to use with liners. Nonetheless, I really like these gloves, and they have replace my cross-country ski gloves for driving, and most winter activities.

A golf course near where I work

After much web searching to find warm photographic gloves, I finally found “AquaTech Sensory Gloves” from Outdoor Photo Gear ( They are waterproof, breathable, and have a silicon dots on the palm and fingers. On top of that, there are neoprene sections on the thumb and index finger with holes that let you stick your thumb and finger out of the glove to control the camera. After some email exchanges with the people at Outdoor Photo Gear (who were very responsive), I decided to buy them and see what they were like.

I tried the AquaTech gloves out on a windy 16°C morning, along with the Manzella Stretch Fit gloves serving as glove liners. I stayed out in the cold and wind for over 30 minutes, and this combination of gloves and liners did very well. It was still difficult to manage the Canon S90, but I expected that. I used my Nikon D200 quite easily, and although my hands got cold at times, I never felt that I wanted to get out of the cold.

The small holes on the index finger and thumb worked quite well. I didn't pull my finger and thumb right through the holes, but I found that I had a better feel of camera controls.

Hoarfrost on trees, taken on an extremely cold day, with freezing cold hands

The Manzella Stretch Fit gloves are a bit bulky as liners. If I had gotten one size larger Aquatech gloves, I think the thickness would be fine. The polypropylene liners that I got from the outdoors store are thinner, and work well inside the AquaTech gloves.

The AquaTech gloves are certainly the best I have tried, and I'm quite happy with them. They are very good for modestly cold weather, and when it gets really cold, they work well with glove liners. I highly recommend them for winter photography.

. . . Rob Williams

Friday, January 1, 2010

Canon S90 Raw format distortion

As I wrote in the last post, Raw format is a very important feature of the S90. One of the first things you will notice is that the S90's raw captures have a significant amount of barrel distortion. Here is the raw capture of a photograph of some bricks, taken at the shortest focal length, 28mm (actually 6mm):

Brick wall, raw format before correction

The amount of distortion declines as the focal length increases, until there is almost no distortion at 105mm (22.5mm actual). The good thing is that it is quite easy to fix, although it is an extra step in post-processing that adds time.

With Photoshop Elements, use the Correct Camera Distortion tool (Filter -> Correct Camera Distortion...).

Here are the settings I use to fix distortion at various focal lengths, using the "correct distortion" slider:

  • 28mm (6mm actual): +25

  • 35mm (7.49mm actual): +14

  • 50mm (10.7mm actual): +7

  • 85mm (18.189 actual): +5

  • 105mm(22.5mm actual): +1
Bear in mind that you may also want to correct for virtical and horozontal perspective as well. Here is the result of the correction, before being cropped:

Brick wall, corrected for distortion, before cropping

The jpeg version of this image is processed inside the camera. The camera corrects distortion, but I have found it is not corrected fully. Here is the camera-processed jpeg, with a slight barrel distortion:

Brick wall, corrected in-camera for jpeg

. . . Rob Williams