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Canmore, Alberta

One of the very few photos that I took while I stayed in Canmore, Alberta was from here. Beside a bridge, I came here specifically so that I could take a photo of the rushing waters with the mountains in the background.

Nikon D800, 15 sec., f/18, ISO 100, 70mm

Nikon D800, 15 sec., f/18, ISO 100, 70mm

During my stay in Alberta, it was really unfortunate that I didn’t get a single day of sunset where the sky was just bursting with colours. The magnificent sunset and sunrise that the Canadian Rockies are known for had eluded me throughout my 10-day trip there.

I later found out that there were indeed many prime locations to shoot in and around Canmore, and I regret not being able to visit any of them during my trip. It just looks like I’ll have to go back another time.

Nonetheless, this extra long exposure during nightfall was made with a 6-stop ND filter and a polarizer to stop me down another stop. The ominous clouds were a great capture here as it made the mood for the photo. I tried to accentuate the winding of the river from the background to the foreground through the long exposure trails the water made.

Fireworks photography 101

Fireworks Photography 101

You may think that taking pictures of fireworks is as easy as pressing the shutter button—and sometimes it really is that easy—but if you’re really keen on taking some great shots, there are a couple things to note in terms of settings and equipment.

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 1.2 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Go early to claim your spot

There’s nothing worse in going to see and photograph fireworks only to have your view blocked by a few heads in front of you. You have to go early, scout the area for the best vantage point, and stay in that spot until the fireworks start. There’s really no other way around this unless you have some sort of special access that the general public does not have.

Setting up your equipment

Once you claim your location, be sure to set up your gear well in advance of the start of the event. This will ensure that you’re not fidgeting with your camera settings when the fireworks are going off in front of you.

Ideally, you should have a tripod, cable release, and if you’re trying for an extended exposure, a black card to block light from your lens while the shutter is open—I’ll explain more about this below.

The cable release comes in handy because it prevents you from shaking your camera by having to press down on the shutter button.

Start shooting

There are a couple ways of shooting fireworks. But whichever way you choose to go, be sure to keep taking those photos because fireworks go fast, and they don’t wait for you to ready your camera!

A simple long exposure of about 1-2 seconds will give you a decent display of fireworks that will work for the most part. The photo above was an exposure of 1.2 seconds on my tripod using a cable release.

Given the long exposure nature of fireworks at night, you may instinctively think to set your ISO to a high amount because of the amount of ambient light available. The higher your ISO, however, the more noise you bring into the photo.

My settings above brought in just amount of light without yielding too much noise. My ISO of 200 yielded in a fairly dark image at first, but I was able to open up the shadow areas within Lightroom without producing too much noise. I much prefer to do it this way than increase my ISO from the beginning as it almost always tends to produce cleaner images.

I mentioned a black card earlier in this post. This technique can come in handy if you want to stack multiple fireworks over each other by leaving your shutter open in Bulb mode, and covering the lens with this black card when you don’t want any exposure. You only take the black card away from the lens when you want to capture the fireworks. The photo below is a 4.6 second exposure where I used the black card method. This is why you see the coloured explosion on the top, and the white fireworks from the bottom.

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

Nikon D800, 4.6 sec., f/9.0, ISO 200, 14mm

You really have to be careful with this though, since you can easily over-expose certain areas of your photo, like you see in the photo below. You will have to figure out in advance how many seconds will give you a properly exposed photo.

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

Nikon D800, 12 sec., f/13, ISO 100, 14mm

A little post-processing helps

When you’re done shooting your photos, no doubt a little post-processing will help give your photos that extra oomph. This particular photo was editing completely within Lightroom CC 2015. I opened up the shadow areas while reducing the highlights. I boosted the saturation slightly, and added some overall clarity. And finally, the new dehaze feature of Lightroom really worked well in this case to remove some of the haze produced from the smoke of the fireworks.

The level of post-processing is always different for each photographer, so you do as little or as much as you want to make the final image what you envisioned.

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

Nikon D800, 0.6 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1250, 14mm

One final note

Remember to enjoy the fireworks while you are there! They happen very quickly so try not to be totally consumed with getting that perfect shot. You can easily be distracted by fiddling with your cameras while the beautiful colours explode above you, preventing you from actually enjoying the evening. But with a little bit of preparation, you should be able to fully enjoy the event and take decent shots that you are happy with.

A little perspective can fool you

Nikon D800, 1/640 f/4.5, ISO 800, 70mm

Nikon D800, 1/640 f/4.5, ISO 800, 70mm

Here’s a great photo that always makes me laugh a little every time I see it. The photo was taken at The National Art Centre, Tokyo. It’s an architectural marvel and photographer’s delight to be inside, especially during sunset, like above.

During one of my trips to Japan, I came here with a friend of mine—the one standing in the middle of this photo with a camera up to her face. The great thing about this photo is that because of where I was standing with my camera, the two people who happen to be in the frame look like they are totally different heights. The security guard on the left looks like he is quite a bit taller than my friend in the middle. Now I know my friend isn’t that short!

As it turns out, although the security guard was only a few feet in front of my friend, because I was so low to the ground, this particular angle makes it look almost as if my friend and the guard were standing along the same line—or the same distance away from my camera. This perspective trickery makes the subject standing further away from my camera appear to be much smaller than the subject who is only a few feet closer to the camera.

My camera was sitting right on the hardwood floor here, and I was taking random photos as people passed by. That was a great moment as there were so many different people walking by my camera. I did manage to get many photos here, and I will be sure to do some more show and tells  in the future.

The takeaway here is to remember to play with the perspective of your camera as you can easily fool the audience by making your subject matter appear much smaller or larger than they really are.

Nikon D800 vs. iPhone 6 Plus Banff Landscape Showdown

We all know that our iPhones are capable of taking great photos and videos. Heck, there’s even a commercial built around this fact. But every so often I like to compare photos that I’ve taken with my iPhone 6 Plus and my Nikon D800. It’s not a very technical comparison by any means, but one that I find to be amusing just to see any inherent differences between the two.

This time I chose a landscape photo that I took out the window of the Banff Gondola, going up the summit of Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. It was exhilarating to be up there so I’m glad I was able to capture it with both cameras in a short span of time. Let’s take a look, shall we?

iPhone 6 Plus Landscape

iPhone 6 Plus edited in VSCOCam, A5 filter.

iPhone 6 Plus edited in VSCOCam, A5 filter.

This photo above shows the massive mountain ranges of Banff National Park with the Rimrock Resort Hotel seen in the bottom right. It’s a gorgeous view don’t you think? I really like the muted treatment on this, which is all thanks to the VSCOCam app, using the A5 filter. This photo was a simple edit with a little bit of sharpening and colour enhancements from that app. The blue skies and puffs of clouds really shines brightly in this photo.

Now, let’s take a look at the Nikon D800 version of this same landscape, taken just moments after this one.

Nikon D800 Landscape

Nikon D800, 1/400 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 35mm

Nikon D800, 1/400 sec., f/9.0, ISO 100, 35mm

The photo above was taken with my Nikon D800 just moments after I took the first photo with my iPhone 6 Plus. The composition is nearly identical, but you can see the editing treatment is a little different. I edited this photo all within Lightroom CC 2015. Rather than the muted tones, I went for a slightly punchier look to this photo. But more importantly what I noticed instantly, is the sharpness of the photo and the details my Nikon is capable of, compared to my iPhone. Of course this should be the case, given the sensor size difference between the two—and this is precisely why I can’t travel without my Nikon. The quality just can’t be matched.

This difference in quality is harder to notice when you see photos by themselves, but when you compare the two side by side like I did above, you get to see the finer differences between the two.

The question that remains now is, which editing style do you prefer?

The incredible details of the Rocky Mountains

On a clear day I decided to take a close up shot of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. While parked on the side of the road, I took out my 70-200mm lens and pointed it straight at the summit of the mountain in front of me. The sheer detail you’re able to see is incredible. It humbles you to think you are just a tiny spec compared to the size of this behemoth.

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 175mm

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 175mm

The patterns you see of the rocks on the side of the mountains are all naturally formed. You can just imagine at how rugged these mountainsides are just by looking at these photos.

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 135mm

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 135mm

The trees in the photo above look so small, yet when you stand in front of them, they are massively tall. That’s the power of Mother Nature, and that’s what truly is mesmerizing about the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 90mm

Nikon D800, 1/320 sec., f/10, ISO 100, 90mm

If you ever get a chance, go see the Rocky Mountains. And if you ever go there, make sure to hike it to truly experience the wonders of this planet.