Photography-related articles.

I see spots!

You see them everywhere: on the window, on your desk, and maybe even on your favourite coffee mug. You may never think twice about them but when it comes to photography, you’d better care a lot more about these spots.

 

Spots, or sensor dust, or whatever you want to call it, are notorious little fellas that wreak havoc on your editing workflow. They may be easy to get rid of but when they attack your photos by the tens and hundreds, you’re often left defeated…not to mention left with unusable photos.

Where do these spots/sensor dust come from?

Spots or sensor dust are small dust particles that are on your digital camera sensor. But how do they get there you ask? Dust particles can travel to your digital camera sensor in one of many ways—but most commonly by way of changing lenses. When you change lenses on a dSLR, you are exposing your camera’s mirror and sensor behind this mirror, to the natural environment. You may not see the small particles floating in the air travel from point A to point B, but they are there all over the place and will eventually get in behind the mirror and on to the sensor.

Here’s just some of many ways in which dust can travel to your sensor:

  • Leave the lens off for an extended period of time, exposing the inside of your camera to the environment.
  • You change lenses in a windy environment, or in an unprotected area.
  • You place your camera with the opening facing upward, allowing dust particles to easily make their way down inside your camera.
  • When zooming your telephoto lenses in and out, this “breathing” motion can push dust particles inside.

What do these spots do?

As these dust particles rest on your sensor, they will be imaged on to every single picture you take. Some may be visibly large on your photos, often seen as a dark spot. Furthermore, they will appear in the exact same spot in each of your photos since they do not typically move on the sensor. If they happen to be in solid coloured areas of your photo, then it’s much easier to remove in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop, but when they conveniently appear in an area with lots of detail, then this may affect your workflow quite a bit.

Many spots can be seen here, all caused by sensor dust and other foreign particles on the sensor.

How do you get rid of these spots?

If you only have a few of them on your photo, then you can easily clone them out in Lightroom or Photoshop using the clone stamp tool, or the healing brush tool. If they happen to be in an area with lots of detail, you will need to carefully fix this within Photoshop.

Another example of a photo with lots of sensor dust, yielding in dark spots on the image.

Dust spots often just make a small portion of your image darker. If fixing the details is not an option (although this is the best option), you can try and lighten the darkened area using curves or levels and masking tools, to blend them with the surroundings. This is not an ideal solution, but still can be done in certain scenarios.

Cleaning the sensor dust in Lightroom with the clone brush or healing brush tool.

Can I see these spots in my viewfinder?

Dust particles that are on your sensor cannot be seen on the viewfinder. However, dust particles that may be on the mirror of your dSLR may be visible in the viewfinder. These particles do not affect the image itself though, since the mirror moves out of the way of the sensor when you press the shutter button.

Dust on the lens element

It is entirely possible that you have dust particles on the front and/or back of your lens element. In either case, you may see these in the viewfinder as well, and they will appear as dark spots on your image as well.

Why do the dots look slightly different from each other?

Some sensor dust may look slightly darker and some may look more defined than others. This all depends on what your aperture was set to. Generally speaking the smaller your aperture (larger f-number), the darker and more defined your sensor dust will appear in your image. Dust particles on your lens element may yield much larger darker areas in your photos than a dust particle on your sensor.

A 100% crop from the previous image, showing you how much sensor dust and particles affect the image. This is a really dirty sensor and should be cleaned immediately.

I see spots too! So now what?

If these spots are driving you up the wall, you will need to clean the sensor in your digital camera. While some may not mind this task, others may shy away from doing anything inside their cameras, which is completely understandable.

I would only recommend you clean the sensor yourself if you know what you are doing!

Otherwise, take your camera to an authorized camera store or your manufacturer’s head office to get the sensor cleaned (provided they do sensor cleaning for the public). Most manufacturer’s head offices will have a customer service desk, and may charge a small fee for sensor cleaning.

Another example of an image created with a dirty sensor.

If you’re ok with having to clean the spots in Lightroom or Photoshop, then you can continue to do that. But keep in mind that it can get very time consuming and tedious if you find a lot of sensor dust on your image.

Cleaning the image in Adobe Lightroom is what I normally do.

I have had instances where there were so many small dust particles on the sensor that there were just way too many spots on my image to clean. It pretty much made the image(s) unusable.

My sensor is now clean, how do I keep it clean?

Keeping your sensor clean means always being conscious of what it is being exposed to. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • When you change lenses on your camera, be sure to turn off the camera first to eliminate any electrical currents from attracting dust.
  • When removing your lens, do so in an appropriate environment. ie. not windy, dusty, or rainy. If you’re out in the open then change lenses in as sheltered area as possible, even if this is inside your camera bag.
  • When removing your lens, face your camera down so the opening is faced towards the ground. This prevents dust from falling down into your camera. Attach your lens in the same way.
  • If possible, don’t keep standing and change lenses as you risk dropping your lens on to the ground. I learned this the hard way! If you have a camera bag, place it on the ground, and put your camera in the bag and change lenses inside the bag.
  • Always use your lens hood to protect the lens on your camera and put the lens cap and rear lens cap on the lens you’re not using.

I have a mirrorless camera, does this mean I don’t get spots?

No, you are still immune to sensor dust as your mirrorless camera still has a sensor inside.

In fact, since mirrorless cameras doesn’t have a mirror in front of it, there is a greater chance of getting dust on the sensor. You should be extra careful when you change lenses.

I have a sensor cleaning mode in my camera. Does this work?

This function on your camera is intended to do just this—to remove any sensor dust. However, it can only do so much. By introducing tiny vibrations or shaking the sensor, it attempts to remove sensor dust off the sensor and onto a catch/trap at the bottom of your camera. There is no guarantee all dust will fall off from this method though. Moreover, the dust catch/trap will eventually need to be cleaned if too much dust is collected.

What about an air blower?

If you have a manual air blower like the air blower that I have, I highly recommend using this first to remove any dust particles from your sensor. This is the first method that I use when I need to clean my sensor as it often helps to remove a large majority of the dust that I get on my sensor—and I get a lot!

Using the air blower, I gently blow air to the sensor, cleaning it of dust particles.

Here’s what I do whenever I use the manual blower.

  • Face the camera down so you are looking at the back of the camera.
  • Lift the mirror through your camera’s menu.
  • Squeeze the air blower away from the sensor a few times to remove any dust on/in the blower itself.
  • With the blower about 3-4cm away from the sensor, use the blower to blow air into the sensor to remove any dust particles. Be careful not to touch the sensor or the mirror with the tip of the blower.
  • If you see dust on the sensor, you can target the dust particles too.
  • Try to do this relatively quickly as you don’t want to expose the sensor to the environment for too long. If you have the mirror lifted for too long, the camera may automatically shut it back down to conserve battery power.

Never use a compressed air canister, as you have the potential of blowing chemicals directly on to the sensor.


If you have any additional tips or techniques to remove sensor dust from your images, or have stories of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments below!

Lunenburg

My previous post took you through the wonders of Peggy’s Cove in the early morning light. This post will take you through another must-see area of the Southern coastal area of Nova Scotia: Lunenburg.

A drive around the southern coastal region of Nova Scotia wouldn’t be complete without going to Lunenburg—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—so we decided to make this our destination for that evening’s ride. A direct drive from Peggy’s Cove to Lunenburg should take about an hour and a half, but when I’m in a new place with camera in hand, that time stretches to more than double.

Driving along the Lighthouse Route (Route 333), I took several detours to all the coves that lined the shores. Every road we drove on would lead to breathtaking scenery that we would have loved to have ourselves on a daily basis.

Our driving route from Peggy’s Cove to Lunenburg, hugging the shoreline as we went.

While we admired the many views going north on Peggy’s Cove Rd., I enjoyed the loop around Hwy 329, off of Hwy 3. It does add a little more time to your drive to Lunenburg, but when you’re in Nova Scotia, I consider the drive as part of my experience there.

 

Lupin, Lupine, Lupinus

Whichever name you go by, there’s no doubt these flowers are very picturesque.

They grow wild all over the province and offer so much colour to any landscape. Pink, purple, light pink, and light purple, you’ll see patches of them as you drive along the highway, making driving so much more enjoyable there too.

Lupins along the shores at Blue Rocks. 

Apart from the Lupins, there were other flowers that made for great foreground elements.

Flowers along the shores of Blue Rocks.

 

Mahone Bay

The three churches in Mahone Bay is another popular stop en route to Lunenburg, and is quickly becoming one of Nova Scotia’s iconic views.

Picturesque Mahone Bay.

 

It’s a charming little costal town and a great place for a break. We arrived there shortly before 5pm, so we had to hurry in through the many quaint shops before they closed. A quick stop at Lahave Bakery for a delicious cup of cappuccino satisfied my coffee craving.

Inside Lahave Bakery in Mahone Bay.

Shortly thereafter though, we left to go to Lunenberg, since we wanted to eat dinner there before sunset.

 

Lunenburg

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lunenburg is a beautiful port town that is home to the world-famous Bluenose (now Bluenose II), Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador. I knew I wanted to spend some time here, just wandering around the narrow streets, and to admire the architecture and harbour.

Quaint sitting area found while walking in Lunenburg. Taken on my iPhone.

Hunger may have got the better of us though, as we walked from one seafood restaurant to the next, looking at their offerings. We opted for the Savvy Sailor Cafe because of the one dish.

The scallop sandwich, which was what we were looking for, was a hit. Both a unique offering (never had scallops on a bun before!) and tasty, it was a perfect match.

Scallop sandwich from the Savvy Sailor Cafe. Taken on my iPhone.

We had a great view of the port and Bluenose II, which happened to be in town that week.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset. Bluenose II is the second boat from the left with the tallest mast.

After dinner, we headed over to the other side of the bay area to the entrance to the golf course, where we were told by a few people that it offered one of the best views of the Lunenburg harbour. We stayed there for the sunset that evening just enjoying the moment. The sunset wasn’t anything spectacular but we did have a nice subtle showing of purples and deep blues in blue hour.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset with boaters.

Looking over to my right, I see some great golf-green lawn which contrasted nicely with the purple skies.

Golf course across the Lunenburg Harbour as seen at sunset.

Blue hour at Lunenburg looks the best when seen from the opposite side of the harbour, and when the lights at the harbour turn on.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset.

A wider angle shows the entire harbour at blue hour.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset.

And another one.

Lunenburg Harbour at sunset. The famed Bluenose II can be seen if you look closely!

 

Blue Rocks

I had the grand idea of going out that evening to do some astrophotography. Since we opted to stay in Blue Rocks—a 7min. drive from Lunenburg—we were in a prime location away from the village lights. After taking in the sunset, we went back to our Airbnb (which by the way, was very nice—see below), cleaned up, and then just instinctively got ready to retire for the evening. My astrophotography idea had just vanished into thin air as I was too exhausted from the full day’s events.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

Not catching the stars only means one thing though—we woke up around 4:30am to catch the sunrise at the point at Blue Rocks. As I peered out the window of my Airbnb after waking up, I saw the sky was a burning red. Excited to see this even more at the point, we hurried our way there. A short 4min. drive away, we came upon the most vibrant sunrise we had seen in our trip.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

The picturesque point painted with the beautiful sunrise offered the perfect subject for any photos, and I was happy to be there soaking everything in.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

Jumping from one spot to the next, it was brilliant wherever I looked…it was honestly hard to stay still!

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

The boats anchored in the bay, the fishing huts perched afar, the rock formations, and that vibrant sunrise all made for one exhilarating morning.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

The various stores dot the Point at Blue Rocks.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

I love the unique look of the fishing boats here with the taller bow (front) and shorter stern (back); it’s something you don’t see too often in Ontario.

Fishing boat at sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

More boats seen with the brilliance of the sunrise.

Sunrise at The Point at Blue Rocks.

Taking a drive along the shores of Blue Rocks after the sun had risen was also a very refreshing way to start the day.

Shoreline at Blue Rocks.

Afterwards breakfast, we headed back out to Blue Rocks where we rented kayaks for a few hours and enjoyed the calm waters of Millers Pass.

Kayaking through Millers Pass in Blue Rocks.

The area is known to be one of the best places to kayak in Nova Scotia as its suited for everyone from the beginner to the experienced paddlers.

Kayaking through Millers Pass in Blue Rocks.

 

Airbnb

(https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/20538112)

The entrance to the airbnb.

So where did we stay? It was the perfect location for a quiet getaway with some of the best views to be had. I opted to stay away from the village of Lunenburg just to experience something new. Since Blue Rocks offered some great views, and was close to Pleasant Paddling, it was our ideal location—I wanted to go on a morning kayak trip so the proximity to the Point was ideal for us. I later found out that Blue Rocks is considered one of the best kayaking destinations in all of Nova Scotia, which is just icing on the cake!

The beautiful garden at the airbnb in Blue Rocks.

The airbnb is a small but charming place, and the owner—who also stays there—is a very welcoming and friendly individual. She had renovated the entire house herself, and tends to her beautifully decorated garden that is a great place to relax in as well. While you share the home with the owner, the guests get their own bathroom.

The beautiful garden at the airbnb in Blue Rocks.

Breakfast is included in this airbnb, and for us was some very tasty homemade granola and sweet potato muffins, with yogurt, fresh fruits, juice, and coffee. It was more than enough to get our morning started, not to mention very good. The only unfortunate part of breakfast was we ate too much of the granola that we didn’t leave space for the muffins.

The beautiful garden at the airbnb in Blue Rocks.

Without a doubt, I would recommend this airbnb for those looking to get away from the village, and connect with nature.


Have you ever been to Lunenburg and/or Blue Rocks? How was your experience? I would love to hear about them so please feel free to comment below and let me know what you did!

Sunset Photography Flight

Photographing in low light scenarios like a sunrise or sunset may be difficult enough, so what happens when you try and photograph from an airplane during a sunset flight over Toronto?

I found this out in my last flight over the downtown core with FlyGTA. I’ve received a number of questions on what my settings were when I shot certain photos so I hope to go through all of them in this post. If you have additional questions, please feel free to comment on this post below.

Things to Consider

Time of Day

Time of day will dictate how much light you have going to your sensor. Taking photos from an airplane will be much easier when you have more light available, so consider this when you decide on when to go.

CN Tower and Roger’s Centre. ISO 200, 1/400 sec., f/8.0.

Flying over the city during the day (above) provides enough light for a fast shutter speed. In contrast, shooting in the evening (below) will require a higher ISO and/or shallower depth of field to achieve the same shutter speed.

The CN Tower and city from above. ISO 800, 1/125 sec., f/2.8.

My last flight was supposed to be a flight over the downtown core shortly before the sun was to set below the horizon. However due to various circumstances, our flight time got pushed back and we ended up flying well past this time.

The airplane we took for the sunset flight over the city.

The sun had already set a while before we went up in the air, making our flight more of a blue-hour session. This may make things more difficult, but it also makes things more interesting. Why? Because at a certain point in the evening, the city lights will have turned on, making the landscape even more colourful to shoot.

The Bloor viaduct lights up in purple down below. ISO 800, 1/80 sec., f/2.8.

Lenses

I wondered about this too before my first flight, since I had no idea how close we would be to any buildings, the CN Tower, or anything else.

I opted to bring my 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, and my 20mm f/1.8 wide angle lens in case I wanted to capture the huge expanse of land you get to see while you’re up there. During another flight, I took with me my 70-200mm f/2.8, which enables me to capture objects further away, or closer objects in more detail.

The Toronto FC played against the Ottawa Redbacks at the BMO Field seen above. ISO 800, 1/80 sec., f/2.8.

For a sunset flight, you’ll want a fast lens (lower f-number) since you will need to open up your aperture to get in as much light as possible. Keep in mind though, that if you want an entire building in focus from the top to somewhere near the ground, you’ll probably want to use a higher f-stop like f/8 or f/10, forcing you to boost your ISO higher than you may want.

20mm f/1.8

Great lens if you want to capture the large expanse of land or water that you can see from above. Keep in mind since this covers a wide angle, you will more than likely catch the wing in your photo too. If that’s your intention, that’s fine—otherwise you’ll need to crop it out afterwards. With a wide angle lens, objects will be much smaller in your photo as well.

The west shores of Toronto with Ontario place seen at the bottom of the image. ISO 800, 1/80 sec., f/2.8.

24-70mm f/2.8

This is probably the optimal lens to use in this case as it’s the most versatile. You have plenty of room with your zoom, and it’s a fast lens at f/2.8. If it’s only one lens you carry on, I would recommend this lens.

Swimming pool in the beaches. ISO 800, 1/125 sec., f/2.8.

70-200mm f/2.8

This is another possible lens to use, but it’s very limiting because you see everything so close up. Use this if you’re after the details of the city in the sunset. For me, I would find it too limiting within a city environment, which is why I left it out of my bag during my sunset shoot. When I flew over a wide expanse of farmland and water, however, I found this lens to be more useful.

A pool sits in the middle of greenery. ISO 400, 1/400 sec., f/9.0.

Camera Settings

Camera settings will vary depending on the available light. As a general guideline though, for a sunset flight over the city, you’ll need to keep your ISO high and shutter speed fairly fast.

The best way to figure this out is to see the photos themselves. Let’s take a look at the following photos and settings to see what happened.

The downtown core. ISO800, 1/80 sec., f/2.8.

With a shutter speed of 1/80sec. you can see that everything is slightly blurred—take a look at the Sun Life Financial lettering. The airplane was moving so fast that a shutter speed of 1/80sec. wasn’t fast enough to freeze the moment.

To compensate for this, I should have raised my shutter speed to something like 1/200 or even faster. But if I did that, I would have to change my ISO or aperture to compensate for the lack of light coming in from the faster shutter speed.

During my flight, I didn’t change my ISO value of 800 simply because it would have taken me too long to change the value back and forth depending on my scene. I paid the price because of this, as you can see.

What could I have done? I could have set my camera to auto ISO to a maximum value of 800 or even 1600. Then with my shooting mode set to shutter priority and shutter speed to about 1/200, my aperture and ISO values would be constantly changing depending on the scene in front of me. I would have achieved better results this way.

Many of these photos were still brightened up in Lightroom afterwards to keep the shadows from being too dark.

Aura stands tall. ISO 800, 1/125 sec., f/2.8.

This photo above was taken at a shutter speed of around 1/125sec. which was fast enough to get a relatively sharp subject. Depending on if the plane is moving fast or if it’s flying on a curve, you can still get away with a relatively slower shutter speed. To minimize the risk though, I’d stick with a shutter speed of about 1/200 at the very least.

Composition

You can have a lot of fun with composition inside an airplane. It’s not something you normally see, so take advantage of the fact that you’re there and use what is there to your advantage.

Taking photos through the window.

Shooting without a window between our subject and lens would be the ideal circumstance since windows will lower the light coming in, have scratches that may get in the way, and almost certainly will produce reflections in the evening. However in this case, we had to manage with what we were given.

Frame your subject using the window.

Our first instinct is to shoot out the window to get a clear shot of the outdoors. However, an equally pleasing composition might be if you were to include the window in your photo, which evokes a feeling of being right there inside the plane. Try it out next time and you’ll see.

Enjoying the sunset. Taken with the 20mm f/1.8.

Someone else in the plane with you? Feel free to use them as a subject in your photo (granted they are OK with it). A wider lens will enable you to get everybody in the plane.

Taking a photo of the CN Tower on your mobile phone.

Taking a picture of them as they take a picture of the outside can be interesting if creatively done—just remember to expose for the brightest part of the subject, which in this case was the screen on the phone she was using to take the picture outside.

Champagne and flying!

Or if you’re celebrating a special moment, don’t forget to capture that with the city in the backdrop.

Focus on the foreground element while keeping the background blurred but still recognizable.

Sometimes you have no choice but to include the wing, or part of the wing in your photo. If that’s the case, try focusing on the wing and have something interesting in the background. In the photo above, although the CN Tower and Rogers Centre are blurred, you’re still able to recognize the two iconic Toronto structures.

The pilot and his sunglasses.

And finally, you can’t forget about the pilot and dashboard. The latter lights up at night, offering a great subject matter as well. In the photo above, I let the dashboard lights and sunset lights take centre stage while keeping everything else darker.

The CN Tower divides the screen.

There’s lots of opportunities for creativity when you’re up there even though the light may be dim. Be mindful of your settings and be creative. If you have any other questions, or want to offer some more creative ideas, please feel free to comment below and let me know your experiences with a sunset photography session inside an airplane.

Mosaïculture Gatineau 2018

Every now and again I come across art exhibitions that really make an impression on me—Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror earlier this year being one of them. When I visited the nation’s capital on Canada Day, I took a trip across the Alexandra bridge to Gatineau, Quebec where the Mosaïculture Gatineau 2018 exhibit was being held. I didn’t know what to expect from this exhibit at first, but as I made my way to the park, parts of it revealed itself and I knew I was in for something exciting.

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Peggy’s Cove

Peggy’s Cove, located just 40km south of Halifax is home to one of the world’s most iconic lighthouses. This community, nestled along the shores of St. Margarets Bay, has much more to offer though, including some of the freshest lobster you’ll eat and a myriad of great vistas in the village.

As a photographer, I was looking forward to taking photos of the lighthouse, but by the end of the day, I had come back with memories of great seafood that left me wanting more and vistas that rivalled my expectations of the lighthouse.

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