Yellowknife: The Aurora Borealis in Autumn

For as long as I can remember, the Aurora Borealis has always been something I’ve dreamt of seeing. It was always my impression that I would need to go far up North in the middle of winter in a Scandinavian country just to see it though, making it a little difficult to do.

In researching where to best see it though, I came across several places touting how Yellowknife, Northwest Territories is in fact one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. You mean I don’t even have to travel out of my home country? Sold!

The Aurora Borealis in Yellowknife in August reflects on the lake surface.

Why Yellowknife?

With flat lands, no mountains, nor salt water surroundings, the resulting dry climate creates an ideal condition for seeing the Aurora Borealis, making it scientifically one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Yellowknife also sits directly under what is known as the Aurora Oval. This allows us to see the Northern Lights every which way, including directly above you—which is such a surreal experience.

When geomagnetic activity is high, this oval can stretch further south—sometimes as far south as Northern Ontario. In these cases, if you drive far enough to a place with little light pollution, you can often see a hint of green along the horizon facing North.

The unmistakable green colour of the Aurora Borealis seen north of Toronto.

In Yellowknife however, the Aurora Borealis is literally dancing right in front of your eyes, making the show that much more spectacular.

The Aurora Borealis at Tibbitt Point—at the very end of the Ingraham Trail.

The next question I asked myself was: when is the best time to see the Aurora Borealis?

In the Spring of 2016, I happened to meet someone filming a documentary on why the Japanese have a love affair with the Aurora Borealis. He told me a little known secret: go see the Aurora Borealis in the Autumn season. You get to see the lights without having to endure the cold winter weather. He explained the Aurora Borealis never really stops during the summer months. You just can’t see them then because the night doesn’t get dark enough. Once darkness starts to roll in again at night in mid-August, the Aurora Borealis viewing season begins.

And that’s how I found myself in the Northwest Territories in late August of 2016.

*The film he was making is currently scheduled to be released in early 2019! Titled Aurora Love, you can head to their website for more details.

The Aurora Borealis in Yellowknife can be quite spectacular.

The Advantages of Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Autumn

There are a number of advantages of seeing the Aurora Borealis during the Autumn season. If you think I may have missed a reason, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

  1. Temperature. One of the most obvious reasons is the temperature. Mid August to early September offers a cooler but still manageable Autumn temperature in Yellowknife. With an average of about 13C, you won’t have to endure the cold temperatures of the Northwest Territories in the winter. This lets you stay out for a longer period of time without having to go indoors to warm up.
  2. Travelling. Travelling by foot or by car in Autumn is much easier than in the winter months. Without the snow-covered roads, you’ll be able to drive to wherever you want to see the Aurora Borealis.
  3. Reflections. The rivers and lakes have yet to freeze over during the Autumn months in Yellowknife, which means if you go by a body of water to see the Aurora Borealis, you’ll get to see the reflection of the Northern Lights, which also makes for spectacular images.
  4. Photography. Using your camera outside in the Autumn months poses very few problems. If you’re out by a lake, you may get some foggy lenses at most when the humidity increases, but other than that, you won’t have to worry about the laundry list of items you’ll want to do when you photograph in the winter time.
  5. Blue Hour. Daylight hours are still somewhat long in August with sunset being around 9pm in late August. This means you’ll have chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis during blue hour when it isn’t pitch black. This is great for wonderful blue hour images with the Northern Lights that you don’t see too often.
The Aurora Borealis during blue hour can be quite stunning to see as well.

The photo above was taken at Tibbitt Point, which is about 60km northeast of Yellowknife. I drove about an hour to get to the end of the Ingraham Trail, which offered a great view of the Northern Lights. With the reflection seen in the water, I was able to capture this in the blue glow of the evening. This was taken shortly after 11pm.

This particular photo covers most of my points. I had to drive far to get here, you can see the reflection, and you can see the blue glow of the evening.

The Disadvantages of Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Autumn

While there may be some disadvantages of seeing the Northern Lights in Autumn, I don’t believe they are significant enough to not see them during this time.

  1. Scenery. If you love winter scenery, then seeing the Aurora Borealis in winter might be the better option for you. With untouched snowscapes and those clear winter nights, it can be a great time to experience the Northern Lights.
  2. Travelling. While it might be easier to travel in Autumn, you’re restricted in travelling on only the roads. In the winter, with frozen lakes, you are gifted with different vantage points that you wouldn’t normally get in Autumn.
  3. Humidity. While humidity is generally not too much of a concern, there may be chances where your lenses can fog up through a night by the lake. If this ever happens, you’ll need to take proper care of your camera gear.
I love a good winter scenery so seeing the Aurora Borealis in winter was something quite special for me.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis for the first time in my life was breathtaking. Reminding us how small we are in this world, the Northern Light puts on a show that you will never forget. And that’s precisely the reason why I believe everyone should see the Aurora Borealis with their own eyes at least once in their lifetime. It is that special a moment.


Taku Kumabe currently has openings for his 2019 Aurora Borealis Photography Workshop at Blachford Lake Lodge in the Northwest Territories. Click the photo below, or the link above, to find out more about this workshop, and to register!

Autumn in the Northwest Territories

Autumn has always been my favourite season for photography. With an explosion of colours, Mother Nature reminds us her beauty is unmatched. With all the changing colours and that cool crisp air making its way back, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise. Couple this with an arctic backdrop and you have yourself a photographer’s paradise.

Autumn colours of the Northwest Territories in late August.

In August of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Northwest Territories to see what it had to offer. Being further North than my hometown of Toronto, the Autumn season in the Northwest Territories starts around mid-August. The days slowly start to get shorter and darkness starts to fall at night, allowing us to see the Aurora Borealis again.

If you’ve ever wondered what the Northwest Territories are like, follow along as I take you through my journey through the southern portion of this beautiful territory.

My trip started in Yellowknife (flying from Toronto to Calgary to Yellowknife via Air Canada). We rented a Jeep to explore various areas of the territory, camping along the way. We had no set itinerary; we just drove where we wanted to go. With breathtaking scenery at every turn from waterfalls to remote towns and of course, the Aurora Borealis, it was an inspiring trip to say the least.

Outlined below are the major stopping points that we took during our four-night, five-day road trip through the southern portion of the Northwest Territories.

Ingraham Trail

The Ingraham Trail spans more than 60km from Yellowknife and makes its way to Tibbitt Point where it ends. In the winter time, this area is the starting point to an ice road that leads trucks to several mining sites.

Yellowknife to Tibbitt Point

Tibbit Point

Other than a small parking lot, there’s not much else to Tibbit Point. However, we were tipped off by another photographer saying it’s a great place to see the night sky. Upon arrival, we saw small rocky shores along the lake, where you can spend your nights gazing at the Aurora Borealis. That’s exactly what we did one evening, witnessing a spectacular display of the Northern Lights.

Along the Ingraham Trail there are several Territorial Parks, camping sites, and areas that offer spectacular lakefront views for the Aurora Borealis. Not too far from Tibbit Point was Cameron Falls, which we went to visit during the daytime.

Cameron Falls Trail

We made a stop at the Cameron Falls Trail, which is part of the Hidden Lake Territorial Park.

Map from Yellowknife to Cameron Falls

The waterfall is roughly around a 30min. hike on a well-marked trail from the parking lot, which seems to be open year-round (along with a nearby outhouse). The water cascades down the rocks and makes for a great place for photos. There is a lookout with a bench that offers this view, as well as the view down the river.

Cameron Falls Trail is located within Hidden Lake Territorial Park, about 47km into the Ingraham Trail.

A little further down the Ingraham Trail is where you can find the Cameron River Ramparts Waterfalls, which are smaller than these ones here. I didn’t make it out there so I have no photos of it, but the two are connected through an eight to nine kilometre hike along the river.

Looking down the river that Cameron Falls opens to.

While we couldn’t make it out here during the evening, we went to another spot that was also suggested to us by another photographer. Cassidy Point, we were told, is not too far from Yellowknife, and has a great lakefront view of the Northern Lights.

Cassidy Point Park

Cassidy Point Park is accessed by the Cassidy Point road, which is the entryway to the famous Aurora Village. Rather than turning on Aurora Village Road, you simply continue on Cassidy Point until you see a small opening to your left. The park is a small beached area with a dock, and boats perched alongside it. The lake here freezes over in the winter, making an unofficial ice road to go to the other side. During Autumn, however, it provides for a great backdrop to the Northern Lights.

Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary

The Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary (just northeast of Fort Providence) is a protected area bordered on the west side by Highway 3—otherwise known as the Frontier Highway—and by Great Slave Lake on the east side. There is no road within the sanctuary, but imagine driving down a highway and seeing groups of bison roaming around the side—sometimes even crossing the highway. That’s what it was like driving down Highway 3 from Yellowknife. They are majestic in their own ways, silently roaming around and minding their own business even when they see you.

A herd of bison roaming along the side of the Frontier Highway—otherwise known as the Yellowknife Highway, or Highway #3.

Kakisa

The drive from Yellowknife to Kakisa passes by the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, bordered by Highway 3.

Driving further South, we reached the small town of Kakisa. It seemed almost abandoned as we didn’t see a single person there while we drove around during the day. I later found out this is a traditional Dene settlement with a population of just 45. It is in fact the smallest community in the Northwest Territories. Located just by the Kakisa river, we did notice that it offered a great view that would only be accentuated by a showing of the Northern Lights.

So naturally, we went back that night to be confronted with a brilliant showing of the Aurora Borealis.

This Aurora Borealis showing in Kakisa was intense, bursting with flare everywhere we looked.
The many different colours of the Aurora Borealis showed its presence that night.
Beautiful curves of the Aurora Borealis in Kakisa.

Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park

Having a craving for waterfalls, we continued further south along Highway 1 (Mackenzie Highway) to the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. This park comprises of Alexandra Falls—the third highest in the Northwest Territories—and Louise Falls, which is the smaller of the two.

Kakisa to Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls

Both waterfalls are beautiful in their own way. The sheer power of Alexandra Falls is mesmerizing, especially when you’re able to sit right on the edge of the rocks, listening to the power of the water rush by you.

The larger of the two waterfalls that comprise the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Alexandra Falls is where the Hay River plunges into a deep limestone canyon.
Louise Falls—the smaller of the two waterfalls—is a few kilometres further south of Alexandra Falls in the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Seeing the raw power of Louise Falls is exhilarating up close.

Alexandra Falls was so memorable to me I remember I really wanted to come down there during the night to see this landscape with the Aurora Borealis. Seeing the waterfall plummet to the river down below with the rocky gorge surrounding it, I imagined a scene of utter beauty.

It wasn’t until we arrived there at night that I realized this wasn’t going to happen. Walking along rocky shorelines and steep passes in pitch black wasn’t the smartest choice. I reluctantly stayed in the car by the side of the road, hoping to see any glimpse of the Aurora Borealis that evening.

It wasn’t until about 1:20am that we saw some lights appear. It was, however, short-lived.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a very active night for the lights, so we slowly made our way back to the campsite feeling a little empty inside.

Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park

Driving all the way back west on Mackenzie Highway, making several pitstops along the way, we finally made it to what would be the final stop of our camping tour: Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park. With its raw power, this waterfall was fantastic to see up close.

The scenic drive from Alexandra Falls to Sambaa Deh Falls on the Mackenzie Highway (Highway 1).
Peering over the ledge overlooking the waterfall.
The river on the north side of Highway 1.
The raging river on the south side of Highway 1.

Since we weren’t able to see a lot of the Northern Lights the night prior, we were really hoping to see it again this night. The only problem? Clouds were coming in quickly. By nightfall it was pouring rain, and it didn’t seem like it was going to let up anytime soon.

The tent we were in was so fragile that the strength of the pounding rain nearly toppled it over. Rather than sleep in it, we opted to sleep in the Jeep, where at the very least we knew we would be kept dry overnight.

Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep that night.

As much as I would have loved to continue exploring the Northwest Territories—we were only a couple hours away from Fort Simpson after all—we had a schedule to keep that day, so we made our way back to Yellowknife, ending a fantastic five days of driving and exploring around the southern side of the Northwest Territories.


Continue on my Autumn adventures in the Northwest Territories with my blog post on my first visit to Blachford Lake Lodge.


Taku Kumabe is currently offering a photography workshop in Yellowknife this August to photograph the Northern Lights! Click this link for more details or click on the image below.

A Winter Wonderland at Blachford Lake Lodge

Blachford Lake Lodge, located about 100km southeast of Yellowknife, is an eco-friendly lodge located high above the rocky shores of Blachford Lake. It is so remote, it can only be accessed by a 25min. float plane ride from Yellowknife.

Flying over the Northwest Territories on a float plane.

My first visit to Blachford Lake Lodge was in August of 2016. This blog post recounts my experience then. Three years later I found myself back at the lodge with nothing but great moments to recount. This time, yearning to experience a true Canadian winter experience, I took the challenge to go up to the lodge with -40 degrees Celsius temperatures in a snowy winter wonderland of a setting, and have absolutely no regrets.

Yellowknife in the wintertime is drastically different than in autumn. The landscape changes and you are reminded that cold doesn’t necessarily have to mean you stay inside. At Blachford Lake Lodge, that’s probably the last thing I had in mind.

A winter wonderland scenery at Blachford Lake Lodge.

The Arrival

The float plane now lands on the frozen Blachford Lake. Being completely frozen over, it’s safe to go on top, allowing you to experience the lodge from even more vantage points than when I was last here. The disembarking of guests sure looks great with the hazy sun in the background.

Disembarking from the float plane at Blachford Lake Lodge.

Lodge Rooms

Blachford Lake Lodge has several cabins scattered all over their property, each providing ample views of Mother Nature at her finest. My last stay had me at the Eagle’s Nest cabin so this time I opted to stay inside the lodge. Sunrise 1 was the room, and it came with two double-sized beds and one single bed, with windows galore, providing a spectacular view of the sunrise each morning.

The Sunrise I lodge room at Blachford Lake Lodge.

Being in the lodge means direct access to the showers and common areas, which in hindsight helped since putting on/off our winter gear every time was quite the chore. Also, who can resist waking up to the smell of bacon wafting onto the second floor? No worries for those non-bacon lovers as the smell won’t penetrate through closed doors.

Activities

I was happy to see that the inside of the lodge itself still retained its rustic yet homy feel to it. With the sun-lit common areas, it’s a perfect place to relax and soak up the atmosphere. Indoor activities hosted by the lodge include a speaker coming in to tell you about the traditional Dene culture (sadly she could not make it to our session), salve making, and dream catcher making.

If you’d prefer to be more active, not to worry as they have you covered there too. From fat-biking to cross-country skiing, skating, hiking, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and igloo-making, the staff and volunteers at the lodge do what they can to keep you busy. And busy I was, as I tried to cram in everything I could during my four-night, five-day stay there. I succeeded!

Paths are pre-made for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, so it’s a straightforward affair. Travelling across the frozen Blachford Lake and looping around islands that you would normally have had to kayak or canoe to in the summer, was fun times.

Possible lynx tracks sighting on one of the frozen lakes we snowmobiled on.

Snowmobiling

When I found out they were offering snowmobile rides (extra fee applies), I was game; it would be my first time on a snowmobile, and now that I’ve been on one, it certainly won’t be my last time.

Snowmobiling at Blachford Lake Lodge

Isaac, our guide (pictured below), was very knowledgable about the trail system, the wilderness that are scurrying around, and the surrounding paths. He would stop and explain behaviours of various animals once he saw their tracks in the fresh snow. This 2.5 hour tour ended up being almost 3.5 hours, as he took us over frozen lakes, through an abandoned mine, and to a part of Great Slave Lake where we were able to see a pressure ridge passing through the entire width of the lake. It was beautiful and incredible to see the raw power of Mother Nature first hand.

Isaac, our snowmobile guide explains to us his findings of wildlife markings in the snow.

Hiking

Blachford Lake Lodge has several hiking trails to suit anyone’s comfort level. The 2km, 4km, and 6km loop trails are well marked, and paths are carved into the deep snow, letting you enjoy the hike with ease. We were blessed with beautiful blue-sky days so we enjoyed hiking all three trails. No need to bring a thermos with you because if you get thirsty, just grab a mouthful of snow from a branch and eat away. For real! There’s nothing like eating fresh northern snow—so much cleaner tasting than eating snow in Toronto…not that I do a whole lot of that.

Beautiful sunset colours at Carldrey Lookout point.

You’ll pass by fields of untouched snow with pristine winter scenery one turn after another. And while you’re in the middle of the trail system, stop and listen. You will witness absolute silence, which may sound strange, but is a good reminder of how remote a location this place really is. You may come across fox and lynx trails, or ptarmigans flying about—the peculiar looking birds of the north—and if Lady Luck is by your side, you may even see them in front of you.

Food

With all these activities at the lodge, you’re bound to get hungry. Not to worry though, as I’ve had nothing but great experiences with meals at Blachford Lake Lodge. Their chefs know what they’re doing, and take care to serve a variety of dishes to keep things exciting for everyone. As luck would have it, the chef in charge while I stayed loved to bake. How does eating a different type of freshly baked bread for lunch and dinner sound? It’s music to my ears that’s for sure.

The buffet table at Blachford Lake Lodge is always filled with a hearty meal. Dessert is waiting nearby on the counter.

Meals are buffet style, where you take what you can eat, from the main table. But remember to leave room for dessert, because there’s always something sweet waiting for you after lunch and dinner.

You’ll notice I don’t have a lot of photos of food from this trip. That’s because I couldn’t wait to dive in at each meal and forgot to take them.

The Aurora Borealis

If it’s the Aurora Borealis that enticed you to come to Blachford Lake Lodge, you’re in luck. With no light pollution around, the only thing lighting your way at night are the night stars and the moon. The lodge lights are on, but don’t take away from the viewing experience. They’ve also installed minimal lighting along pathways to cabins to guide you throughout the property.

The Aurora Borealis at Blachford Lake Lodge.

If you love your sleep and don’t want to stay awake all night long, you’ll be glad to know they also provide wireless buzzers to each guest. With a night staff always available in the lodge, they will be your eyes while you are asleep in your bed. If a showing of the Northern Lights are visible, the buzzer will ring, vibrate, and light up, letting you know it’s time to wake up. The night staff will also knock on each door to ensure you are awake—unless you’d rather sleep that is.

The expanse of the Northwest Territories with the Northern Lights.

It’s a system that seems to work fine—although for me, I found myself awake anyway as that’s part of my enjoyment staying at Blachford Lake Lodge.

The Tipi

If you want to gaze at the night sky but want to quickly warm up, you can have the staff set up the tipi for you. They will light the fire and even provide all the goods to make some s’mores—just to make sure you don’t go to sleep!

The tipi backed by a fantastic showing of the Aurora Borealis.

My time in Yellowknife and Blachford Lake Lodge in the winter couldn’t have been any better. It was truly a Canadian winter experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was cold, but still manageable—if you dress appropriately, you’ll be just fine.

Have you ever been to Yellowknife before, or seen the Northern Lights? Let me know below in the comments.


If you’re interested in seeing the Aurora Borealis, I will be hosting a photography workshop at this lodge in August 2019. Please head over to this page for all details and to book your spot. Feel free to let me know should you have any questions.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever

Last year’s Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario was so successful that their crowdfunding campaign to purchase a permanent exhibit of hers was met with so much love.

Click here to read my Photographic Guide to Kusama Yayoi’s Infinity Mirrors.

Yayoi Kusama's exhibit, Mirrored Room - Let's Survive Forever, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada.
Yayoi Kusama’s Let’s Survive Forever introductory panel.

A year later, Toronto finds itself as the latest city to host a permanent exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s. Named INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – LET’S SURVIVE FOREVER, the room is almost double the size of some of last year’s exhibits, and brings together three former exhibits into one large mirrored room.

Yayoi Kusama's exhibit, Mirrored Room - Let's Survive Forever, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Canada.
Looking inside of Yayoi Kusama’s Let’s Survive Forever at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Nikon Z 7, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/640sec., 14mm.

The permanent exhibit is placed inside the Signy Eaton North Gallery space on Level 2, where on the outside, an LCD screen lists all of the donors names.

The list of donors scrolling on an LCD screen just outside the entrance to the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

You’ll get approx. 1min. to enjoy the room. While staff say that’s more than enough time, if you’re busy taking photographs, you’ll find that minute will fly by very quickly.

Yayoi Kusama’s Let’s Survive Forever description of the silver balls.

This is a permanent exhibit, which opens to the public on May 25th, 2019, so if you don’t get a chance to see the exhibit during its opening frenzy, not to worry as you will eventually get your chance. Donors to the art installation are able to preview the exhibit starting today.

Inside Yayoi Kusama’s Let’s Survive Forever. Nikon Z 7, ISO 400, 1/640, f/5.6, 14mm.

I recommend first taking the time to enjoy the room as it were meant to be enjoyed—without the distraction of taking pictures and selfies. Then, experience the room again with your camera.

Closer to the silver balls on the ground. Nikon Z 7, ISO 400, 1/640, f/5.6, 14mm.

For those interested, I’ve written down my camera settings under each photo so hopefully this will help you in preparing to take your own photos. They were taken on my Nikon Z 7 and for the majority of my photos, at ISO400, 1/640sec., f/5.6, with my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens set at 14mm for that wide angle perspective.

The silver ball! Nikon Z 7, ISO400, 1/640, f/5.6, 14mm.

Upon entering, a staff member will first remind you that no tripods or selfie-sticks are allowed, and that you will need to hand-hold everything close to your body to prevent anything from hitting those mirrored/silver balls. A group of four will be allowed to enter at one time, so you may end up being grouped with people you don’t know—especially during busy periods like at the opening of the exhibit.

Reflecting in one of the silver balls hanging from the ceiling. Nikon Z 7, ISO400, 1/640, f/5.0, 14mm.

With a large enough space to walk around in, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room contains a smaller version of a supplementary installation that AGO had previously hosted, Narcissus Garden. Silver balls hang from the ceiling so pay close attention you don’t hit them during your walk.

The mirrored column. Nikon Z 7, ISO400, 1/640, f/5.6, 14mm.

A mirrored column in the centre of the room has several windows to peer through, providing a kaleidoscope of enjoyment, similar to another one of Kusama’s exhibits from last year—the ones without the flashing LED lights. These windows have a glass front, unlike those we saw last year. Be careful you don’t hit the glass with your camera or nose.

Inside the mirrored column in the centre of the room. Nikon Z 7, ISO400, 1/640, f/5.6, 14mm.

It’s a wonderful exhibit to experience, and I’m happy to have it permanently located at the Art Gallery of Ontario so that we literally have forever to enjoy it.

Let me know in the comments below what you thought about this exhibit.

A Moment with the Nikon Z7

Nikon’s latest series of digital cameras—the Z series—is history in the making. Building a camera from scratch is no easy feat that requires countless hours of research, development, and testing. So when Nikon finally announced their Z 7 and Z 6 full frame mirrorless cameras to the world on August 23, 2018, the photography industry was watching closely. To announce something of this magnitude can only mean you are going all-in with mirrorless technology, and you are committed to building this new platform, without alienating their existing dSLR users.

Last month I was given the opportunity to test out a pre-production model of the Nikon Z 7—the camera that was just released today—September 27, 2018. It was an honour to be one of the very few photographers to be able to handle and see the camera, and to offer my thoughts on it to Nikon Canada.

Preproduction Nikon Z 7, 1/200 sec., f/8, ISO 64, 70-200mm f/2.8 at 70mm with the FTZ adaptor.

This blog post isn’t a review per se, since I wasn’t handling the final released version of the camera. I also won’t go too technical since there are already other posts that deal with the technical specifications of the camera—I hope to just offer some of my thoughts during my two days with it. The photos in this post are either JPGs, or lightly edited RAW files using the Nikon Capture NX-D software, which was released in mid September.

Once my production copy of the camera arrives and I have used it in the field, I will provide an update to this blog post.

Handling

I was told that when Nikon initially went out to produce a new mirrorless camera, they did a lot of research into what would make this the most ideal mirrorless camera. This resulted in a flange distance of 16mm (distance between the rear glass element of a lens to the sensor in the camera), and a mount diameter of 55mm. Everything else was built around these two specifications while trying to consider what made the most ideal mirrorless camera.

The preproduction Nikon Z 7 with the new 24-70 f/4.0 S line lens.

As a result, I feel Nikon did a great job with this. When I first picked up the camera, I immediately felt comfortable with it. It really did feel like a Nikon dSLR, just in a smaller form factor. My fingers were snug on the grip, and it just felt like I instinctively knew where to press to get the job done. Coming from a D800, the weight difference was substantial. I can only imagine the difference between the new mirrorless cameras and the D5s.

The 24-70mm f/4.0 S-line lens at the 70mm focal length. The protruding grip makes all the difference in comfort.

Handling mirrorless cameras from Sony and Fuji, I have always thought them to be very fragile—one single knock against the wall and I felt like something would get loose or even break. It felt like a very fragile piece of electronic that I would have had to take extra care in handling. However after holding the Z 7, I felt none of those feelings and was comfortable in treating it just like I would my dSLR (not to say I treat it badly!).

The grip on the Nikon Z 7 feels so comfortable in the hands.

There are two function buttons between the lens and the grip (seen below), which are completely customizable to perform what you want it to do. I did have to shift my grip slightly to be able to get to these buttons, but it’s not something I would be overly concerned with.

The front of the Nikon Z 7 mirrorless camera.

As for the overall button placements, they all felt fairly natural to me. There are a few key differences like the addition of the joystick and the buttons on the left of the monitor being replaced by the cluster of four buttons on the bottom of the camera. The buttons are all the same size as that on the dSLR, which adds to the natural feel to this. That joystick placement is new to me, so my thumb automatically went for the AF-ON button thinking it was the joystick. This will require some further training to get right.

The back of the Nikon Z 7 full frame mirrorless camera.

The new “i” button below the joystick displays a set of customizable menu options on the screen or viewfinder. It comes in handy when you need to make changes quickly. I do like the fact that the “i” button is customizable in that you can choose which options to see on screen.

When you press the “i” button, a set of customizable settings appears on the LCD screen or the viewfinder.

The Dial

The dial on the left of the camera is comparatively simplified. While I didn’t get a chance to use it, the User 1, 2, and 3 settings offer quick changes in different camera settings, replacing the somewhat confusing menu bank system of the D800 and beyond. I can definitely see myself using this feature, setting 1 to landscapes, 2 for event photography, and 3 for low-light scenarios.

The new info. screen on top is bright and clear. The dial on the left now has three user-defined preset settings.

I think the most important thing here is that you try out the camera for yourself in store, and see how you like the feel of this camera. If you’re already shooting with a Nikon dSLR, chances are, you’ll feel right at home with a Nikon mirrorless.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

One of my main concerns if I were to move to a mirrorless camera was the electronic viewfinder (EVF). I am so dependent on the viewfinder—even with live view availability on my D800—that I wouldn’t want to feel uncomfortable while looking through it.

As soon as I looked through the viewfinder on the Z 7 though, I noticed its brightness and clarity. It was a great experience overall. What’s even better is the fact that you have so many different options for viewing additional information inside the viewfinder. You can even review images that you took, and change menu settings without having to remove your eye from the viewfinder.

The LCD screen on the back displays a lot of information, including a histogram.

An EVF, however, will never be the same as an optical viewfinder (OVF). There was a time when I panned quickly from left to right, and noticed a considerable lag of tall buildings as it curved its way through the viewfinder. However, an interesting note here is that when I saw a demonstration of the camera at an event a week later, I didn’t notice this lag as the photographer demoing the unit panned left to right.

All the information on the LCD screen can also be seen in the viewfinder.

The use of an EVF also requires a different way of thinking from an OVF. When I started taking photos at dawn, looking through the viewfinder gave me a pitch black image. At one point, I checked to see if I had the lens cap still on! I had forgotten that an EVF only shows the image with the current settings in place. So if I my settings didn’t reflect the low-light at dawn, I wouldn’t see any details. My OVF, however, would have at least shown me some things in the dark, allowing me to compose the shot immediately. It’s just something you need to get used to when using a mirrorless system.

Dual Card Slots vs. Single Card Slot

According to Nikon, the size of the body was created based on the flange distance and width of the new Z mount. All the features they wanted to put in this camera, needed to fit in this body size that was created to be an ideal size for a mirrorless camera. This in essence was one of their deciding factors in putting a single card slot in the camera.

The Z 7 comes with one single XQD memory card slot.

I’ve seen many sites arguing about this, and heard many people saying this was a mistake on Nikon to offer only a single card slot, but I personally don’t think it’s that big of an issue. My current camera, the D800, has dual SD card slots, but I have only ever used the second slot as an overflow. It has served me well over the last six years of using it, and I have no complaints.

Someone online made a very valid point regarding this (I don’t recall which site this was, but it was someone who had also used the preproduction model of the Z 7), that I thought was worth mentioning here. Files are most susceptible to corruption when they are written on to the memory card. If the writing speed is quick, this will reduce the chance of files getting corrupted. The reading and writing speeds of XQD and CFexpress (to be compatible in the future with a firmware upgrade) cards are so quick that it will more than likely reduce chances of any corruption, which is likely why there have been very few known cases of any XQD cards failing since its arrival to the market several years ago.

Battery life

During the first day of using the Z 7, my fully charged battery lasted about 600 shots. This, however, included some extensive time on the rear screen, scrolling around each menu item to see where things were. I also had the rear screen and viewfinder both operating, automatically switching between the two as I was shooting. I have a feeling that during normal use, and with the viewfinder only operating (as this is what I would rely on the most), I would be able to get a lot more shots out of a single charge. I have heard of others getting as much as 1600 shots in one charge, which is right up there with battery usage on a dSLR.

The EN-EL15 batteries that came with the D8xx series cameras are compatible with the Z 7, which makes this very convenient. There are slight differences between these batteries though:

  1. Only the EN-EL15b that comes with the Z 7 can be charged inside the camera via a USB cable—camera cannot be used at the same time.
  2. The EN-EL15 (Li-ion01) batteries that were purchased/came with cameras between 2011 and 2013 have lower power outputs than their current counterparts, so performance will be lower when put in the Z 7.
  3. The EN-EL15 (li-ion20) and EN-EL15a batteries that were purchased/came with cameras from 2013 onward have the same power output as the newer generation batteries, however, cannot be recharged within the body of the camera.

To find out which battery you have, check the underside of your battery and look for the model number.

See the official Nikon article here for a more detailed explanation.

Focusing

The Nikon Z 7 sports 493 focus points, covering 90% of the frame both vertically and horizontally. This is a much welcome addition to my comparatively paltry 51 focus points on the D800. Getting to each one of these points, though is another story. If you’re using the joystick, you’re able to move the focus area point by point. My only critique with this is, I wish the joystick was more responsive/quicker in moving from one side of the screen to the other. There is a little bit of a lag before the focal area starts moving a little faster—much like you have on your live-view focusing on a Nikon dSLR (but not as long of a lag as on my D800). If you want immediate focusing, you’re able to touch the LCD screen on the exact area you want to be in focus, and the camera will focus and optionally take the photo immediately afterward.

Because the Z 7 uses on-sensor phase-detect autofocusing (PDAF), it now has four different focusing modes, which are slightly different from what Nikon dSLR users are used to. The welcome addition to this is the new Pin-point focus selector, which really helps in nailing that focus point on someone’s eye. Gone are the days of d9, d25, etc., which have been replaced by the likes of Dynamic autofocus, Wide-S, and Wide L.

The new autofocus settings on the Nikon Z 7.

Because I was more focused on landscape imagery during my time with the Z 7, I did very little testing of face detection autofocus (achieved through the Auto-Area focus mode). From my time with it, I do recall that it was able to track the face that I locked on, quite well, however, if the face was obstructed for a split second, the focus would be lost. If I remember correctly, there is a menu setting that allows you to select how long this obstruction can last before the focus is lost—I left this at its default. Overall, I didn’t have any issues with my focusing and found it to be quite responsive and quick, even when I was using the FTZ adaptor.

We lose out on some dSLR favourite focusing modes like 3D tracking, but we gain in other areas like pin-point auto focus and face-tracking. These new modes may require some time getting used to, but hopefully with that time, we will grow to like it just as we did the modes for dSLRs.

FTZ Adaptor

The FTZ adaptor is what allows Nikon’s F-mount lenses to be used on their new Z-mount cameras. It’s created to be an extension to the mirrorless cameras and because of this, feels solid and reliable. Even with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on the mirrorless, it didn’t feel like the adaptor was even on the camera. There is no glass within the FTZ adaptor so there really is no image quality loss that I was able to see. The bottom of the adapter has a 3/8″ thread to allow for a tripod plate attachment. One problem I might see here is that because this thread is so close to the thread on the bottom of the mirrorless camera itself, having tripod plates attached to both of these threads at the same time may hit each other, potentially causing a problem—unless you’re using a plate with a very small footprint.

If you look at the photo below, you’ll see my tripod plate connected to the bottom of the mirrorless camera. When it’s inserted into my tripod, the base of the FTZ adaptor sits a mere few CMs away from the tripod itself—not to mention the plate almost hitting the protruded section of the FTZ adaptor. Why is this an issue? This means I’m unable to already have a tripod mount on both the mirrorless camera and the FTZ adaptor at the same time.

The FTZ adaptor that connects the Z 7 and Z 6 camera bodies to any F-mount lens. Notice how the tripod plate on the body is very close to the protrusion of the FTZ adaptor.

As a photographer who loves to take landscapes, I have a tripod plate attached to my camera at all times so I can easily attach it to my tripod on demand. My L-bracket on my D800 is on my camera 100% of the time. I anticipate a plate or an L-bracket to be on my mirrorless camera too. But if I were to use the FTZ adaptor, I would only be able to attach one tripod plate to either one of these threads, possibly throwing off the balance of the system on the tripod itself (the weight of the lens and the FTZ adaptor could be too front-heavy) if I were to leave the plate on the camera.

The Nikon Z 7 with the FTZ adaptor and an F-mount 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached feels solid in the hand.

This is more of a nuisance than anything since long lenses tend to have their own tripod threads. The only lens I would be worried about with this FTZ configuration would be my 14-24mm f/2.8, which has an ND adaptor ring on it, making it even heavier at the front.

The protruding eyepiece on the Nikon Z 7 is the kind of small detail that Nikon has carefully thought of. It makes a world of difference believe it or not.

If you have any Nikon glass, it will be a wise choice to get the FTZ adaptor as well. Considering you can get this discounted by about CAD$130 when you buy it with the camera (before the end of October 2018), there’s even more of a reason to get it.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

I have always wanted in-body image stabilization (IBIS) in my camera, so this is a very welcome addition to the mirrorless system. It makes so much sense too as it now allows for smaller form factors in lenses, and adds vibration reduction capabilities to non-VR lenses.

The IBIS is a five-axis stabilization system, and works in conjunction with all of your lenses. Connecting a VR lens to the camera simply means you get an additional three axis of stabilization to what your lens already offers. You don’t need to turn off the VR on your lens to use it on the Z 7 as the two “magically” understands each other.

Even if you add the FTZ adaptor, the IBIS works seamlessly with all of your lenses.

Final Thoughts

After two days of using it and seeing the images coming out of it, I can comfortably say that I really do like this new system and the benefits it offers. The wider Z-mount means more lens variations are possible in the future, and the mirrorless technology means silent shooting, viewfinder options, and so much more in a solidly built body that I can handle like a normal dSLR.

It is truly an exciting time for photographers with so many options to choose from now. I firmly believe that while cameras may simply be a tool to get the job done, there’s no denying that the latest technology in these systems can offer substantial benefits in improving one’s workflow…and who wouldn’t want that?!

Additional Photos

The gallery contains additional photos taken with the preproduction Nikon Z 7. With the exception of the first two photos, all other photos are unedited JPGs taken straight from the camera and simply resized for the web.

Unzipped Toronto

The Unzipped exhibit in Toronto is a unique opportunity to browse through projects from the architecture company Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and those in collaboration with real estate development firm Westbank Corporation. It’s housed in the 2016 Serpentine Pavilion, which attempts to contrast the free-flowing element of a zipper to that of something of the opposite—a brick wall. As you walk in the pavilion, the brick wall—made of fibreglass frames—opens up like a zipper, creating the inner cavity. The open frames and the translucent properties of the fibreglass wall give off plenty of light-play within, as people move about outside and inside the structure.

Unzipped Toronto with the CN Tower.

From the entrance—facing south from King Street—you see the “wall” open up in front of you as you walk in. But seen from the east, facing west, the pavilion is seen as a perfect rectangle, mimicking a brick wall.

The exhibit is rectangular in shape when seen from the east or west side.

It is quite unique to see something like this in the middle of an urban street like King Street, and is a joy to walk in and around it on the lawn that was also created around this exhibit. Believe it or not this area was originally a parking lot!

If you get the chance, I recommend you go see it for yourself, even if it is to just sit down on the grass with a cup of coffee, enjoying the view around you.

Enjoying the view from the faux hill.

Booking is required, and you can register for your time slot here.

Here’s a gallery of images that I took from when I went during the opening weekend.

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.

Toronto to Muskoka in Less than 35min. with FlyGTA Airlines

With summer literally just around the corner, there’s no shortages of cottage-goers making their way up north of the city; every long weekend Highway 400 gets jam packed with those wishing to escape the city for just a couple of days. With drives lasting hours though, one can hardly call this a vacation. With the stress of having to drive there competing with everyone else, dodging traffic, and escaping collisions, you’re literally exhausted just from the drive.

You can kiss all of that goodbye, however, now that FlyGTA Airlines makes its way to Muskoka in less time than it takes you to reach the 400 from downtown. Beaming with pride, the FlyGTA Airlines CEO, Chris Nowrouzi (below, welcoming me to his aircraft), joined us for the media tour ride to Muskoka.

Chris Nowrouzi, CEO of FlyGTA Airlines, welcomes me inside his plane.

Inside the plane, Nowrouzi goes on to explain that these sickness bags are not your plain-old white bags you see on every other airline. These ones on FlyGTA Airlines have colourful illustrations on them, making them almost too good to use. Below, Nowrouzi explains to us the concept behind creating these unique bags.

Chris Nowrouzi telling us all about the colourful sickness bags.

In the photo below, you can see Z103.5’s Hammer pumped for his flight to Muskoka.

Z103.5’s Hammer is all thumbs up for the flight to Muskoka.

The flight from Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport to Muskoka’s Air Terminal only took 33min. from takeoff to landing, and it was absolutely stress-free—not to mention you can enjoy the view while not having to care about dodging traffic. Thirty-three minutes is a pretty short flight, but I couldn’t stop admiring the scenery below. With beautiful coastlines, so much lush greenery, and islands dotting the lakes, we truly do live in a gem of a province!

Coastline

Peering down through the window, I caught a glimpse of this unique view. It was a swimming pool out in the middle of a forest. I didn’t see any homes anywhere near this pool, so I’m not sure what that was all about.

A pool sits in the middle of greenery.

Another great view as seen from my window.

Scenery as seen from the window.

Looking down the plane, I see the two pilots flying with care, as they try and keep this flight as smooth as possible.

Two pilots man the airplane.

Jazz, always on the lookout for great views, takes to his phone and records a video of the flight.

Jazz filming the flight.

After touching down in Muskoka, this is where you have the option to continue your trip via a rental car (there’s an agency located inside the Muskoka Air Terminal), taxi, or in the future, possibly a shuttle to your Muskoka resort! Now that’s a stress-free vacation if you ask me.

Muskoka chairs waiting for us at the Muskoka Air Terminal.

The two pilots get out to chat with everyone.

The pilots mingle.

The Muskoka Air Terminal is located just about 10 min. north of Gravenhurst and 10min. south of Bracebridge, making it a very convenient location to continue your journey to various parts of Northern Ontario.

Muskoka Air Terminal

The FlyGTA Airlines plane sitting outside the Muskoka Air Terminal.

The FlyGTA airplane sits at the Muskoka Air Terminal.

After refuelling, it was time to head back in the plane for our trip back to Toronto.

The group enjoying the ride back to Toronto.

The 10-seater (including pilots) airplane seats comfortably even when I had my camera bag in the footwell. With quite a bit of storage space under the cabin and behind the seats inside, I’m sure you’ll have no problems getting all of your summer needs inside the plane.

Fluffy clouds.

The plane can get a little bumpy depending on the weather, but that’s just par for the course for small aircrafts—if you ask me, it just makes the ride that much more fun. Just look at all those fluffy clouds and you’ll forget all about the bumps!

Jazz looking over to the city of Toronto.

It’s clear that this new route to Muskoka will be very convenient for many people. Whether you need to get to Muskoka for business, a family vacation, or to the cottage, you can’t go wrong with spending just a little more to get there stress-free in only 33 minutes.

The Toronto skyline as we come in for a landing.

And on your way back from Muskoka? You’ll get to enjoy this great view of the Toronto skyline.

The FlyGTA Airlines shuttle brings us back to the underground tunnel.

FlyGTA was kind enough to shuttle our group back to the underground tunnel, which further made this one truly stress-free trip to Muskoka.


For more information, click on the appropriate links below:

FlyGTA Airlines

Muskoka Airport