Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VW Van Farewell, Canon's new 24 Tilt-Shift lens and Twitter

Much to tell you since the last post!

Above photo: "Turtle" and I on the Texas coast in April.

I've parted ways with "Turtle", my VW Westfalia van/home for the past year. Why the name "Turtle", you ask? It was my shell, providing refuge from intense desert sun, frigid nights and coastal downpours during my travels. And like most VW Westy vans, it was very slow... especially on hills!

Turtle and I had a love/hate relationship, exploring incredible landscapes but also stopping frequently to share my life savings with repair shops. A young couple bought the van yesterday to begin their own journey southwest. Lucky for them, most of the major repairs have been completed!

Above photo: Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lens

With some extra cash in my pocket from selling the van, I bought the new Canon 24mm Tilt-Shift lens yesterday. There have been some great reports about this lens from other photographers (FYI, I never buy a piece of camera gear as soon as it's released... I wait for several months until its been tested by others). 

There are a couple of huge benefits of Tilt-Shift lenses for landscape and outdoor adventure photography: 
-not distorting objects such as lighthouses, trees or people (which 'bend' with typical wide angle lenses)
-more depth of field... allowing for faster shutter speeds and sharper images because you are able to shoot at optimal apertures such as f/8 or f/11 and still get full depth-of-field.

Expect to see some images with the new lens in coming posts.... I can't wait to get out shooting with it!

Incidentally, I would have preferred the extra wide focal length of  Canon's new 17mm TS lens, but the front lens is convex, so it's not possible to put a polarizer on it. Darn!

Twittering? Yes, it was only a matter of time before I'd get with the times and start twittering. Click this link to stay current with what I'm up to: Follow Ethan on Twitter

Thanks and happy shooting!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 Awards

The Wildlife of the Photographer of the Year competition just announced the 2009 winners. Check out some of the finest nature photography in the world... lots of inspiration here:


My favourite photos from among the winners are:

-Sardine round-up by Paul Nicklen (Canada) in the "Animal Behaviour: All Other Animals" category
-Starling wave by Danny Green (UK) in the "Nature in Black and White" category
-Deer in the grove of giants by Floris Van Brugel (US) in the "Animals in the Environment" category
-Wild, wild wolverine by Sergey Gorshkov (Russia) in the "Animal Portraits" category
-Ice Fox by Henrik Lund (Finland) in the "Animals in the Environment" category
-Wild spring garden by Floris Van Brugel (US) in the "In Praise of Plants" category

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A full year on the road!

Today marks a full year of traveling since hitting the road last autumn. What a wild trip it has been.... many miles, incredible places and experiences..... and more photos than I probably know what to do with.  After such a long time living wanderlust, I've decided to settle back down in Ontario for the foreseeable future. Life on the road is grand, but a year is a long time to live in a van (especially by yourself!) ..... so I'm looking forward to being in one place for a while. I've rented a beautiful house near Georgian Bay and will be working on some cool projects,  getting my new photos into circulation and recharging my bank account (van repairs were damn expensive!). I'm particularly going to enjoy regular showers, home-cooked food and an indoor plumbing (versus always having to pee behind trees)!  

Thought you might be interested in a few basic trip stats from the year....
- 78,500 km driven
-  1,020 km waked carrying my camera gear
- 87,000 photos taken
- $16,500 spent on van repairs/maintenance
- 433 bird species seen
- favorite place: giant redwood forests of northern California
- 19,000 different blog visitors

If you've been following the blog, you'll be pleased to know that I did not break my 6 day record of wearing the same t-shirt. And I only ate 3 bags of Oreos during the entire trip!

How about my favorite photos from the past year? Here are a few that stand out in my mind:

Above photo: Star trails over Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Above photo: The Subway canyon in Zion National Park.

Above photo: Salt Creek cracked mud, Death Valley National Park, California

Above photo: American White Pelican landing, Salton Sea, California

Above photo: Painted Bunting, central Texas coast.

So what are my next big trips? Aside from some shorter trips within North America, my top destinations are Madagascar and Australia. Those are fairly expensive destinations, so I'll be saving my cash for a while.... even if it requires surviving on dried cat food and cheap wine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wood Ducks in autumn colors

I'm in Cleveland, Ohio for the weekend at the North Chagrin Reservation pond, considered the premier location to photograph Wood Ducks with fall color reflections. I arrived at the pond (next to the Nature Centre) around lunch time and by the time I stopped photographing at dusk, I'd shot 973 images. The pond has many tame wood ducks, beautiful reflections and gets bathed in soft evening light. What more could you ask for?

I've been back in the hotel room all evening editing the photos... my eyes are bugging out from staring at the laptop.

Here's a travel tip: I stay in hotels often and save a pile of cash by booking them through discount sites such as hotwire or priceline. Tonight's room (in a 3.5 star hotel) cost about half the usual price.

Here are a few quick picks. All shot with an EOS 1Ds mark III; 500/4 IS lens (first two with a 1.4x teleconverter). More coming in the next post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Point Pelee National Park & Holiday Beach Conservation Area

Sorry for the long wait for another post, but I've actually been working this week! My photo collection had outgrown my storage system, so I shifted to an upscalable Drobo storage system (a bank of hard drives). At the same time I've added all of the photos from the past year (hundreds of GBs). I have a well-edited collection, but it's still over a terrabyte of data. All the files are backed up in triple redundancy (you can never be too careful) and it takes a heck of a long time to complete a major backup!

I'm down in the Pelee area (my mom lives here, so I am visiting) and have been doing a bit of photography  when not at my computer. I've been mostly chasing birds and shoreline images.

For the first photo at the tip of Point Pelee National Park, the light was fairly flat and the beach lacked strong foreground elements. To create a more dramatic image I used a 2-stop hard edge ND grad (Singh-Ray) to darken the clouds and a slow shutter speed (1/4 second) to blur the water for a sense of movement in the foreground. In landscape photography, these kind of tricks are akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat. When conditions are dull, there are always creative techniques to make a stronger photo.  EOS 1Ds mark III; 17-40mm lens; Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo polarizer & 2 stop hard edge ND grad; ISO 200; 1/4s at f/18; mirror lock-up & cable release

For this next photo of a White-throated Sparrow, I had set up a blind in my Mom's backyard (it's an incredible yard for migrating birds) and put out some feeders. Dozens of sparrows came in to ground feed and one would occasionally land on a strategically placed log. EOS 1Ds mark III; 500/4IS lens & 1.4x teleconverter; 580EX II flash (fill set at -1 2/3); ISO 400; 1/200s at f/5.6   

I spent a few mornings trying to photograph migrating hawks from the famous tower at Holiday Beach Conservation Area. It seems that every day I missed, the hawks were low and plentiful. On the days I was there, the birds were flying high... except for this flock of Mute Swans (an exotic species that nest in the marsh at Holiday Beach) which flew by the tower - low - in early morning light. EOS 1Ds mark III; 500/4 IS lens & 1.4x teleconverter. ISO 400; 1/2000s at f/5.6.  

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Monarch Butterfly Migration at Point Pelee National Park

I stumbled across good numbers of roosting Monarch Butterflies yesterday morning at the tip of Point Pelee National Park while leading a private photo workshop. There were easily a thousand monarchs, including some groups nearing 100 individuals. It was a sunny morning, the monarchs were low.... what more could we ask for!

Photo 1: Canon EOS 1Ds mark III; 17-40mm lens; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer; Exposure: ISO 400, 1/80s, f/14

Photo 2: Canon EOS 1Ds mark III; 17-40mm lens; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer; 580 EXII flash (fill set at -2/3); Exposure: ISO 400, 1/125s, f/11

Photo 1: Canon EOS 1Ds mark III; 70-200/2.8 lens; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer; Exposure: ISO 400, 1/60s, f/8

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Canon EOS 7D camera body

I'm down in southern Ontario visiting my family and waiting for better light to photograph migrating raptors in flight at Point Pelee and Holiday Beach. Peregrine Falcons were moving yesterday but the weather was overcast and drizzly, so no photo opps. Crossing my fingers for some clearer skies!

I've been getting many emails from photographers asking for my thoughts about the just released Canon EOS 7D. I'm not in the market for a new body right now, so I haven't had a 7D in my hands yet. But I have been reading some of the reviews in the online photo forums and it sounds like it could be a great value body for bird & wildlife photography. When looking for information about new cameras, these are the websites where I start my research:

Rob Galbraith - Digital Photography Insights

Canon Rumours

The Luminous Landscape


Naturscapes.Net (forum discussion about the 7D)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

EOS 1D Mark II N for sale; Aspiring bird photographer

A couple of quick notes here:

1) My friend Bryan Holliday from Phoenix, AZ has a Canon EOS 1D Mark II N for sale in great shape. Interested? Check out Bryan's blog for more information.

2) A couple years ago I met an aspiring young birder named Brendan Toews after he discovered the first nesting Piping Plovers at Sauble Beach, Ontario in decades. Brendan quickly became hooked on bird photographry and has been building a good portfolio of images ever since. Check out some of his work on his website.