Landscape Photography by Taku.

Abstract Vision

What is your definition of abstract photography? Is it simply photographing something that we don’t recognize? Or perhaps does it need to be blurry for it to be considered abstract? Whatever your definition may be, it’s something that I have become interested in from about two years ago. I later found out though, that making an impactful abstract photograph is harder than it seems. Why? I’ll explain below.

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Blachford Lake Lodge

Blachford Lake Lodge

Blachford Lake Lodge

While planning my trip to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, I thought it would be nice to supplement my camping itinerary with a little bit of pampering—after all, we were celebrating our fifth anniversary and wanted to make this trip a little more memorable. After searching online through countless pages of things to do and places to go, I came upon Blachford Lake Lodge…and I am truly grateful that I did!

Perhaps it was the five days of camping in the wilderness of the Northwest Territories, or maybe it was the 1600km of driving we did in those five days, but whatever the reason, we found our trip to Blachford Lake Lodge in the last week of August so relaxing, memorable, and truly a great place to enjoy Mother Nature at her best.

Sunrise over Blachford Lake with the lodge on the left.

Sunrise over Blachford Lake with the lodge on the left.

Blachford Lake Lodge—situated in the most remote of places about 100km south east of Yellowknife—is an eco-friendly, all-inclusive lodge that aims to pamper its guests by creating a family-like atmosphere while you’re there. My experience with the lodge, starting from my many email enquiries and ending with my flight back to Yellowknife on the chartered bush plane, was a fantastic one.

Because of the location of the lodge, you can only go there via a chartered bush plane, like the one below—or in the winter time, you have the option of snowmobiling there, or taking a trip with a dogsled! Our bush plane carried 13 guests, which just happened to be the only guests to share the lodge with us during our 3-night stay there.

The bush plane that flew us to the lodge.

The bush plane that flew us to the lodge.

The lodge is run by a limited number of staff members and a large number of volunteers who come from around the world to gain experience in hospitality and tourism. The volunteers are there for a two-month period so there is a bit of a turn-over rate.

Common lounge area with the daily updates on the chalk board (right).

Common lounge area with the daily updates on the chalk board (right).

After disembarking the bush plane, we were warmly greeted by the staff and volunteers of the lodge. We were brought up to the main lodge area where we had our initial orientation. Our bags were packed up onto a buggy, where they drove them to our respective cabins.

The Eagle's Nest cabin.

The Eagle’s Nest cabin.

During the orientation period, they told us to relax, and treat everyone as if we were all one big extended family. (I’ll mention that it was an interesting coincidence that of the 14 guests staying there, nine of them were Japanese!) Our cabin, the Eagle’s Nest, was a spacious one with two bunk beds along the wall. With a pellet-starting fire place, this was quite roomy for my party of three.

Inside the Eagle's Nest cabin with the pellet stove.

Inside the Eagle’s Nest cabin with the pellet stove.

The volunteer who went around to check up on us at the cabin was new so she didn’t know how the pellet-starting fireplace worked when we asked. She was more than happy to look into it and got back to us at a later time. While this isn’t a big deal, it’s things like this that add up when you have a high turn-over rate.

I personally found the staff and volunteers to be truly helpful and at our needs. If there was something we wanted, they would be happy to accommodate to our needs. If we wanted a fire pit started at night, they would start it up and even give us a bag of marshmallows to go along with it. Mmm…it’s the little things like that, that make you feel pampered.

Excursions

There’s no shortages of things to do at Blachford Lake Lodge. During the day, you can explore the grounds by hiking the 2km, 4km, or 6km loop trails, canoe/kayak Blachford Lake, take a motorized boat and go fishing, or just take it easy and enjoy the lodge itself.

Boating to an eagle's nest in the rain.

Boating to an eagle’s nest in the rain.

Hiking on one of the trails.

Hiking on one of the trails.

There are guided hikes that you can sign up for, and the volunteers do a great job of organizing this the day before. We went on two hikes—both of which offer fantastic views—a boating trip to see if we can see any eagles nearby (the rain didn’t stop them from giving us a great boat ride either), and took a guided kayak/canoe tour around Blachford Lake.

A great view of the landscape at the Carldrey Lookout—our destination for the 6km loop hike.

A great view of the landscape at the Carldrey Lookout—our destination for the 6km loop hike.

Kayaking on Blachford Lake.

Kayaking on Blachford Lake.

There’s even a popular porcupine on the grounds that isn’t afraid of humans.

The resident porcupine.

The resident porcupine.

Food

With any all-inclusive package, food plays a big role. The meals at Blachford Lake Lodge were hearty, satisfying, and just what you wanted after a full day of activities at the lodge. I looked forward to every dinner we had.

First day's hearty meal that really hit the spot.

First day’s hearty meal that really hit the spot.

All three meals are self-serve and buffet styled. You line up and grab what you want on your plate. Afterwards, you clean your plate by throwing away leftovers in the appropriate bucket, and place the dish on the rack. This is all part of their eco-friendly program so while some may have issues having to do this on their own, I personally didn’t mind it at all.

The buffet-style food table.

The buffet-style food table.

Hiccups

There were a few hiccups along the way that I should mention. One breakfast, my family noticed that the orange juice that was put out tasted funny. In fact, it no longer tasted like orange juice, and there was a bite to it that only comes when the juice goes bad. We enquired about this to the kitchen workers and they shrugged it off saying the orange juice was fine. Nobody else was complaining about it, so I took a glass full and drank it. I later realized I shouldn’t have had that glass as my stomach was a little upset for the good part of the morning and afternoon.

There was another time where the cranberry juice that was put out was not mixed with water. Only the concentrate was put in the pitcher! I informed the kitchen worker about this and they took it away without an apology.

The dining area.

The dining area.

Our last hiccup came when we asked to get a thermos for our tea. They gave us a thermos not realizing that an old tea bag had been sitting in there for who knows how long. We made our tea in the thermos and as soon as we drank our tea, we noticed it didn’t taste right. After telling the kitchen worker about this, their response was “yuck!” with no apology afterwards.

While these issues are not enough to affect our overall experience, it’s just one of the drawbacks of having a constantly-changing roster of workers who may not be trained enough to handle various situations.

Aurora Borealis

It wouldn’t be a trip to the Northwest Territories without an Aurora Borealis sighting. While it’s never a guarantee that you’ll see it, there’s a good chance that you will during the viewing season. I intentionally went during the start of the Aurora Borealis viewing season before the temperatures drop to a chilling -30C (and beyond). All we needed were clear skies and an active geomagnetic storm to pass through and we were set. Of our three night stay, we were blessed with seeing a fantastic showing for one night. This wasn’t my first time seeing the Aurora as I had a few other sightings during my camping road trip prior to coming here, but this had to be one of the more spectacular viewings that week.

Blachford Lake Lodge Aurora Borealis

Blachford Lake Lodge Aurora Borealisora

After a day of hiking the trails and enjoying the outdoors, my family decided to jump into the outside hot tub to enjoy the scenery and evening sky. What we saw then was just the beginnings of a fantastic showing of the Aurora Borealis. It started early around 10pm at which point we weren’t sure if what we were seeing were just clouds. But watching it move quickly across the night sky, we knew this was the real thing. You can’t ask for a better timing as we sat in the hot tub, relaxing and viewing the Aurora Borealis. With so much activity in the sky and being surrounded by the beauty of Blachford Lake and the lodge itself, it was the perfect evening.

I was up until around 3:30am admiring and taking photos of the Aurora Borealis. I just can’t get tired of seeing them.

Here’s just a sampling of the lights that I was able to capture as I was in awe every second of the evening.

Overall

Overall, Blachford Lake Lodge is a terrific place to stay and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer. Located in the most remote of places, it’s a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. And with plenty of activities to choose from, you won’t have trouble keeping yourself busy. My trip during the Autumn season made travelling and enjoying the night sky comfortable. I only wonder how things are during the winter—and one day I hope to find out!

Staff and volunteers saying goodbye to some of the volunteers who left Blachford with us.

Staff and volunteers saying goodbye to some of the volunteers who left Blachford with us.

Group photo of most of the staff, volunteers, and guests during our stay there.

Group photo of most of the staff, volunteers, and guests during our stay there.

360 Photos

I have a few 360 degree photos that I took with the LG 360 Cam. I will post these in another post as they are resource intensive, so stay tuned for those!

 


For more information on Blachford Lake Lodge, visit their website, Facebook page, or Instagram account.

The Real Aurora Borealis

The Real Aurora Borealis

Viewing photos of the Aurora Borealis can be quite exciting with all of its colours. If you think about it, it’s hard to believe those vibrant curtains of light flow and dance right in front of you. Or do they?

The Real Aurora Borealis

For many of us—myself included—what you see in these photos is not what you see in real life. Our eyes are often not sensitive enough to see the colours of the Northern Lights so many of us just see white in the sky. On overcast days, you can easily mistaken these for clouds.

The Aurora Borealis at Cassidy Point.

The Aurora Borealis at Cassidy Point.

To understand why this happens, we need to understand how our eyes work.

Our eyes are comprised of two photoreceptor cells: the rod and cone. The rod is responsible for sending low light information to our brains, and do not detect colour. The cone is responsible for detecting colour and higher light levels in the scene. If what you’re looking at isn’t very bright, the cone photoreceptor cell doesn’t get activated, leaving you with information from only the rod photoreceptor cells. This would explain why I only saw colour in certain situations—when the Aurora Borealis was really bright. The photos below will show you what I typically saw with my eyes, compared to what my camera captured with a long exposure.

The Aurora Borealis edited in Adobe Lightroom.

The Aurora Borealis edited in Adobe Lightroom.

Compare the above photo with the one below, which is more like what I saw with my own eyes. Mind you the long exposure of the camera makes it look a little more sensational than it really was as well since the camera picks up the movement of the lights, whereas the eye can only see the lights in one place at a time.

The Aurora Borealis closer to what I saw with my own eyes.

The Aurora Borealis closer to what I saw with my own eyes.

Here’s one more example:

The Aurora Borealis edited with Adobe Lightroom.

The Aurora Borealis edited with Adobe Lightroom.

The colours above look great, but here’s what I really saw with my own eyes:

The Aurora Borealis as seen with my eyes.

The Aurora Borealis as seen with my eyes.

The more vibrant the Aurora Borealis, the better chance you will have of actually seeing colour in the night sky.

I only found out about this shortly before my trip to Yellowknife, so I wasn’t completely dumbfounded during my first sighting of the Aurora Borealis. Through most evenings though, I was able to discern a hint of green, yellow, purple, blue, and even red.

The vibrant colours of the Aurora Borealis

The vibrant colours of the Aurora Borealis.

Each evening always started with trying to spot a white cloud-like object that would move in the sky. If I thought it may be the Northern Lights, I would take a picture of it to confirm. If the photo on the back of my camera showed any colour, then I knew the magic had started. If objects in the sky turned out white on my camera screen, then I knew that they were simply clouds.

A test photo to see if the Aurora Borealis was showing.

A test photo to see if the Aurora Borealis was showing reveals nothing but white clouds.

What you see, however, all depends on the sensitivity of your eyes. I spoke with some people who said they could see all of the colours with their bare eyes; I’m quite jealous of their eye sensitivity. It would be quite spectacular to be able to see colours like this with your eyes.

What About Photoshop?

No doubt many of the photos you see on the internet have been edited in one way or another, with photos of the Aurora Borealis being no exception to this.

I mention this because the colours that we see in these photos are largely dependent on how the photographer chooses to edit their photos. With a simple click of the mouse button in Adobe Photoshop, or a slide of the slider in Adobe Lightroom, they can change that bright green you see in the photo to a neon green or a more muted one. Moreover, changing the white balance of the scene can change every colour of the Northern Lights in one fell swoop.

Here's a standard edit of The Aurora Borealis. The blue hue to the sky is created from the sunlight coming in from the horizon.

Here’s a standard edit of The Aurora Borealis. The blue hue to the sky is created from the sunlight coming in from the horizon.

Compare the above photo with the ones below, where all I’ve done was change the white balance in Adobe Lightroom.

The Aurora Borealis with just a slight change in the white balance changes the overall look and feel of the image.

The Aurora Borealis with just a slight change in the white balance changes the overall look and feel of the image.

The colours can change even more—it all depends on how the photographer feels like editing their photographs of the Aurora Borealis.

The sky has a deeper purple hue to it, with slightly different hues of the Aurora Borealis.

The sky has a deeper purple hue to it, with slightly different hues of the Aurora Borealis.

What does the Aurora Borealis really look like then?

There isn’t just one prescribed set of numbers used by the masses for editing Aurora Borealis photos. When editing my photos, I adopted to using a set of numbers that closely reflected what I remember seeing, even if it was very faint most of the time. These numbers were found to be fairly consistent with how some other photographers edited their Aurora Borealis photos. Hopefully this means we’re representing this wonderful phenomenon more truthfully. I’ve seen many photos where the Aurora Borealis had been over-saturated to the point where I knew that couldn’t be real. I’ve also seen photos that included colours that I’ve never seen before in the night sky. I wonder if that is just because I’ve just never been lucky enough to see them, or if that was just some creative editing by the photographer.

An over-the-top edit of the Aurora Borealis. This is way too saturated to be truthful to reality, in my opinion.

An over-the-top edit of the Aurora Borealis. This is way too saturated to be truthful to reality, in my opinion.

So, what do you think of these Aurora Borealis photos now? Are you surprised by any of this or did you already know these facts about the Aurora Borealis? Let me know what you think about these brilliant display of colours that we all love to see so much, by commenting below.

Meet me for a sunrise

It’s never easy waking up early to take sunrise photos, but it’s often quite rewarding. I’ve had some spectacular results in the past, with many of you asking where and how I took these photos. If you’re interested in joining me for a sunrise shoot, I welcome anybody and everybody on this particular day when the sun will rise near the CN Tower—and it will do so only from this location! It will be a great way to see the morning sun as it peaks behind the Toronto skyline, and crosses behind the CN Tower.

Meet me for a sunrise shoot

This will be a casual meetup where anybody who is interested is welcome to show up—I will be there shooting even if nobody else shows up. Many people have expressed interest in coming along with me in the past, so hopefully those people may want to join in on this special day.

The sun will rise above the horizon at 6:55am. However, that doesn’t mean you should arrive at that time. The golden hour happens before the sun actually rises above the horizon, so if you’re interested in seeing some beautiful colours (pending Mother Nature’s cooperation!), then it’s best to be at the park at least 30min. before sunrise. I’ll be there for 6:30am.

What Happens During a Sunrise?

Don’t know what happens during a sunrise? First, you’ll get the blue glow behind the skyline, like you see below. And if it isn’t cloudy like it is in the photo, you’ll get a much more pronounced blue throughout.

Blue hue before sunrise.

Blue hue before sunrise.

What happens next is why you made that effort to get out of bed so early! However, what you see really all depends on Mother Nature. Some days you’ll get the yellow-orange glow accompanying the blue.

A sunrise with clear skies and few clouds.

A sunrise with clear skies and few clouds.

While other days you’ll get some spectacular display or reds, oranges, yellows, and maybe even pinks.

A sunrise with vibrant colours.

A sunrise with vibrant colours.

As the sun rises above the horizon, the light reflecting off the buildings will continue to provide for some great photo opportunities of the skyline.

The light reflecting off the building is magical.

The light reflecting off the building is magical.

And after the sun rises, you can still get some good shots with a little creativity.

Swan spanning its wings during sunrise.

Swan spanning its wings during sunrise.

How Do I Take Sunrise Photographs?

That’s a good question. You can read up on my blog entry here about how I take my sunrise photos. It lists what you’ll need and what planning typically happens for each shoot I go to.

While I typically don’t use many props, you’re more than welcome to bring whatever props you may think you’ll want to use for sunrise photos.

The Details

The location of the sunrise shoot is near the Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, along Lakeshore Blvd. West. You can see the Google Map of where this is, below. For those of you taking the TTC, you can get off the lakeshore streetcar at Windermere and walk down to the park.

Location of the sunrise shoot, marked by the red marker. Park where the red car is.

Location of the sunrise shoot, marked by the red marker. Park where the red car is.

Where: Park where the red car is above, and walk down to where the red marker is.

When: Sunday April 3, 2016, 6:30am

Why: Sun will rise near the CN Tower.

For additional sunrise inspiration, feel free to check out my # on Instagram: #TorontoSunriseSeriesByTaku!


Questions? Concerns? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunrise, Seagull, and Spring

You would think that with the arrival of Spring, we should expect warmer temperatures, but that was hardly the case when I went out to shoot the sunrise on the first day of Spring. With temps nearing -10C, it was far from the Spring weather we are more used to.

With each sunrise shoot I go to, I always make it a point to come out with at least one decent shot that I’m happy with. If I come out with more, that’s a bonus. That morning the skies were relatively clear with just a spotting of clouds here and there. Overall, this didn’t make for any particularly interesting display of light.

A sunrise with clear skies and few clouds.

A sunrise with clear skies and few clouds.

This particular morning my interest quickly turned from the skyline to the seagulls that just wouldn’t go away. There were a number of them flying about where I was stationed (perching myself and my tripod on top of one of those corrugated steel pipes may have piqued their interest), while one particular seagull decided to show me what it could do.

Seagull flying with the sunrise colours in the background.

Seagull flying with the sunrise colours in the background.

In a display of pure wilderness, it eyed beneath the water and once it saw something, it quickly flew up and nose-dived into Lake Ontario, coming back up with its prize.

A seagull nose-dives into Lake Ontario in search of food.

A seagull nose-dives into Lake Ontario in search of food.

His first catch was a crayfish of some sort, although he soon realized with its hard shell, it would require much more work for a tasty breakfast.

A seagull catches a crayfish from Lake Ontario.

A seagull catches a crayfish from Lake Ontario.

While I was surprised to see a seagull capture this, I was even more surprised to learn that we had living crayfishes in Lake Ontario! After capturing the crayfish, it flew back onto the pipe I was standing on, trying to get at the crayfish. It picked and picked to no avail and eventually let it wash away into Lake Ontario again…but not before showing me who was boss.

Seagull grasping a crayfish in its beak.

Seagull grasping a crayfish in its beak.

The seagull’s second round under the water yielded in a small fish, which I’m sure he was able to enjoy much easily. Unfortunately the only photo I have of this was blurry as I was focused elsewhere at the time.

Seagull captures a fish in Lake Ontario.

Seagull captures a fish in Lake Ontario.

While I was following the seagull’s adventure, another photographer approached me and asked if he could take my photo silhouetted against the rising sun. He later emailed me the photo, as seen below. It’s a great shot since you can see where I was standing, and it includes the seagull I was eyeing all morning.

A silhouette of Taku taken by photographer David Allen

A silhouette of me taken by photographer David Allen, with his iPhone 5c.

You can check out David Allen’s site here, where he’s accumulated quite the collection of photos from High Park.

The above photo was taken shortly after I took the skyline photo below.

Orange and blue on a clear sky.

Orange and blue on a clear sky.

It wasn’t the most dramatic of sunrises, but I’m happy to have come out with some interesting shots of the seagull and its breakfast adventure. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from shooting sunrises for the past two years, it’s that you can never predict how things will turn out. And if the sunrise turns out to be a dud, then you’re better off turning your attention to something else that may make for a more fruitful photoshoot.

A victorious seagull cries.

A victorious seagull cries.