Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Print of the Week


I was going through some old photos when I came across this one and thought it would make a good print. Usually over Christmas I escape the circus and get outside to take some photos, despite the limited winter subjects. But it was -32c this morning (below -40 with the wind chill) and even I'm not that dedicated! I did get outside for a run the day before Christmas when it was still a balmy -20c. This colorful flower closeup seemed like a good antidote for Saskatchewan winter.

It was from a batch taken at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas on a rest day from rock climbing at Red Rocks. Whenever friends are headed to Las Vegas we try to sell them on taking a break from their hotel and the strip and visiting Springs Preserve. Sadly, few take us up on it. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Print of the Week

plant under water

This was taken last February near Portal in the south east of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. Off the beaten path, and a beautiful area. Once more, I was indulging my fascination with water and the abstract patterns of nature. Not reflections this time though, just a plant underwater, distorted by the ripples. The green of the plant contrasts nicely with the red rock.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Nanny State

Saskatoon sunset

A while ago "Trail Closed" signs appeared on the lower unofficial dirt trail along the river. That's my walking route to work, so I ignored the signs and kept taking the trail. Judging by the packed snow on the trail, I wasn't far from the only one.

It always annoys me when they attempt to close these unofficial trails. The city or Meewasin (I'm never sure who does what) didn't build the trails (I suspect they were animal trails originally.) They didn't open the trails and they do little to maintain them.

It annoys me even more when they "close" them for no reason. I never did figure out why the signs were there. There didn't appear to be any construction or washouts which were the usual excuses. Perhaps something had been going on and they just forgot to remove the signs after they were done (common).

It does make me happy to see that I'm not the only one that objects to these attempts to control the wild trails. When there was a landslide on the East side of the river there was a long term battle between the closers (the "stop its" as my father called them) and the trail users. When signs didn't work, they put up fences. When people went around, they put up more fences. When people knocked down the fence, they put up stronger fences. People still knocked them down. What was so wrong about people walking around the trail damage? Or was it just the control freaks don't like being ignored?

Bureaucracies, no matter how well meaning, like to control things. They probably view it as protecting people. Of course, recipients, like me, see it as meddling attempts at control.

Out on my run, I encountered new signs: "Natural area closed. Beavers active. Danger of falling trees." Again, like most people, I ignored the signs and continued on down the trail.

The beavers have been fairly active. But there are always beavers along the river. You never know where they will decide to feed. And the activity was mostly in the fall when they were presumably stocking up for winter. I haven't seen much signs of recent activity. Of course, bureaucracies move very slowly, this is probably a response to what occurred two months ago.

Our culture is afraid of nature. That's partly because we are so disconnected from it. I think it's also because we can't stand the thought that we're not in control, that we're not the top dog. We (humans) think we are the supreme beings, in charge of everything. We don't want to admit that we are never going to be in charge of nature. There's no doubt that we can mess it up, chop down the forests, plow up the prairies, poison the oceans, etc. But being able to destroy does not imply control. A bull can destroy a china shop, that doesn't make him in charge.

Our culture is also obsessed with eliminating risk. But no matter how much we think we can remove risk, it is always there. You could have a heart attack. The brakes in your car could fail. The brakes in the oncoming car could fail and hit you. You could slip on a patch of ice. We cannot put up a sign for every possible risk. Nor would doing so eliminate all the risks.

For the people who don't ignore the signs, all you're accomplishing is making them even more afraid of nature. Less likely to care about protecting it, and more likely to want to turn it into a playground. Next thing you know we'll have to "do something" about the "beaver problem". A euphemism for more attacks on nature.

If you walk in a forest, there is a chance that a tree could fall. If you see that beavers have been chewing on the trees, then you can probably guess that there's a very slightly higher chance of a tree falling. Do we need to "close" a forest because there is a chance of a tree falling? If you really want to be a nanny state, then go ahead and put up your signs saying "Slightly higher danger of tree falling due to beaver activity." I wouldn't recommend standing among the trees in a windstorm, but that's regardless of whether the beavers have been around.

Of course, another reason for these signs is that we're also a culture that doesn't like to take responsibility for anything. If a dead tree falls on us because we stood under it in a wind storm, then we need someone to blame, preferably to sue. Because we're sure as heck not going to admit we did something stupid and paid the price. We sue MacDonalds because the coffee is hot. Really? On the one hand we think we're masters of the universe, on the other hand it's not our fault if we can't remember that coffee is hot? There is no limit to the extremes we will go to blame someone else for our bad luck or stupidity. And thus, we need those signs to supposedly limit liability, even though that's probably useless.

Realistically, what are the odds of a tree falling on you? I've never heard of it happening other than in a windstorm. But every year people get hit by lightning while they're golfing. They don't "close" the golf courses (except maybe during a storm). People get in car accidents all the time, but we don't "close" the roads. Realistically, I'm pretty sure I'm safer on the trail, even with the dastardly beavers, than I am walking and crossing icy streets, contending with drivers late for work with a phone in one hand and a coffee in the other.

let it snow

Monday, December 04, 2017

Print of the Week

Chromodoris marislae (nudibranch)

This is from our recent diving around Loreto, Baja, Mexico. It's one of the nudibranchs (sea slugs) that I photographed. (see Slugs and Worms). My underwater shots are seldom sharp enough to make large prints but this one isn't bad.

I often do more editing of photos prior to printing. This time I ended up rotating it to look more normal. Here's the previous version in the correct orientation i.e. it was on a wall.

Chromodoris marislae (nudibranch)

It was fairly deep and in the back of a recess in the wall, so there wasn't much light. I have an underwater flash (aka strobe) but I am terrible at using it. People get great results with flashes, so I know the problem is me. Part of the problem is that I don't go diving that much, so I don't have a chance to gain the necessary skills. This trip I pretty much gave up and quit trying to use it.

The flash is on a flexible arm so you can move it around, but that means you're never quite sure if it's pointing correctly. Plus I can never seem to get the exposure correct. A flash doesn't help with focusing in the dark so it also has a focusing light. Towards the end of the trip I found I had more success using just the focusing light (and not the flash), which is what I did for this photo. At least with a light you can see where you're aiming, and the camera can get the automatic exposure right. So for my next trip I'm looking for a constant light (like an underwater flashlight). They're not as powerful as flashes, but fine for closeups, which is what I mostly take.

Part of what made me choose one of my underwater photos is that I've been revisiting a set of underwater photography books by Richard Salas. He has so many amazing photographs that are so much better than mine. Definitely inspiration to keep working at it.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Population is Number One Priority

When I read that headline I thought, "Great! Finally people are recognizing that the overflowing human population is destroying our finite planet."

Of course, when I read further I discovered that the number one priority was actually population growth (according to a Saskatchewan politician). The city of Saskatoon is no better, hell bent on raising its population. Why can't we focus on "better" instead of "more" and "bigger"?

I should have known better. Our civilization is based on the impossible dream of never ending growth. It amounts to the biggest pyramid scheme ever. And we know what happens to pyramid schemes, in the end they inevitably collapse.

Even most environmentalist are afraid to raise the subject of limiting or, god forbid, reducing the population. Some people will try to argue that it's not population that is the problem, it's consumption. I've never quite figured how that helps. So we can keep growing the population (for a little longer) if more of us (or preferably "them") live in poverty. But isn't the average standard of living also rising? It seems to me that convincing people to lower their standard of living is even harder than convincing them to have less children.

One of the sad statistics I came across recently was that people that describe themselves as "environmentally friendly" have higher rates of consumption - because they tend to be people with a higher standard of living. Economists may be happy to hear that higher income means higher consumption, but it's not helping the planet. Of course, economists don't care about the planet, it's an "externality". Would they think the same if it was their house they were burning down? Oh, I forgot, it is their house they're burning down.

Even sadder, I'm guilty of it just like everyone else. I buy too many cameras and computers. I travel too much. I try, but it's hard to escape the culture you're embedded in.

It's one thing if humans destroy themselves, but unfortunately, we're doing our best to drag the whole planetary ecosystem down with us.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


I was sitting on the couch playing with a new lens I picked up this morning when I looked up and saw a squirrel in the tree outside our front window. Perfect chance to test out the lens!

squirrel in the yard

It's unusual (for me at least) to see squirrels in Saskatoon. I wasn't too surprised to see it though, because the neighbors had mentioned seeing one around our bird feeder. This one didn't actually mange to get to the feeder while I was watching, but I might have to move it further away from the trunk to be safe! He/she was moderately cooperative - not letting me get too close, but not running away.

squirrel in the yard

Although I was shooting upwards into the tree, I was far enough back that the angle was reasonable and the shots don't look too far off eye-level. I had a little trouble with exposure due to shooting against the bright sky. I tried exposure compensation first, which is what I'd normally use, but in this case I found using center weighted metering gave me the best results.

squirrel in the yard

The lens is the new Tamron 18-400. On my Nikon 7200 that's the 35mm equivalent of 28-600mm. Previously I was using the Nikon 18-300 but I really liked the idea of getting a little more reach. And the Tamron is also better at shooting macro. Amazingly the Tamron does this with a lens that is more or less the same size. (Slightly longer but thinner.) This kind of lens really fits my opportunistic style of photography. One minute I might be photographing a bird, the next a landscape, and the next a tiny insect. It's perfect for travel where you don't want to carry a bunch of big lenses.

A super-zoom lens like this (22x) is always a compromise. It's not the brightest or sharpest compared to non-zoom prime lenses. So I was curious to see how my shots of the squirrel would turn out. It was a cloudy day and the squirrel was in the shadow of the branches, not ideal conditions. And as usual for me, it was handheld. But the eyes are sharp enough to see the trees reflected in them, and you can count the whiskers. I was pretty happy with the results. (Click on the photos to view larger.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Print of the Week

poison dart frog

A poison dart frog at the Loveland Aquarium near Salt Lake City, Utah from last January. I love their bright colors - you don't see too many bright blue animals. Of course, that's to warn predators that it's poisonous.

One of the things I like about making large prints is that it encourages you to look at details that you might not see otherwise. Until now I hadn't noticed that there was an insect (soon to be frog food) on the top of the rock, which explained why it was in that position.

Aquariums and zoos are a mixed blessing for photography. On one hand you are obviously much more likely to see animals than you would in the wild. On the other hand, you have bars and fences, dirty glass and reflections, crowds of people, and artificial and unnatural settings and backgrounds. Not to mention the uneasiness over the whole idea of captive animals. Hopefully they inspire people to value nature a little more.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Saturday Morning

coffee beans

I grind the beans, enjoying the aroma and the physicality of the hand grinder. The espresso trickles out, dark and rich. The milk steams noisily.

I turn on the stereo. (Does anyone even call it that anymore?) I put on Ages Past, a group of local kids, guitar and percussion. It’s the right rhythms and melodies to accompany my mood this morning. Their only album is short but the repetition is a comforting familiarity.

I pick up a couple of books I’m currently slowly savoring, Stephen Legault’s Earth and Sky about the Rocky Mountain Front, and Trevor Herriot and Branimir Gjetvaj’s new Islands of Grass. They are full of wonderful photographs, mostly landscapes, which I love but seldom photograph myself, finding them difficult to capture well.

I sip the coffee and enjoy the complex flavors. Interesting how we enjoy coffee and wine, both complex acquired tastes.

Outside in the cold and snow the nuthatches are out and about, creeping along the tree trunk and branches and taking advantage of the bird feeder. A red headed house finch also stops by, brightening the day.

Both books are saddening. Despite the wonders of nature and landscape that they depict, they are also about how it’s disappearing at the hands of humans. It's tempting to be sad. I hold no illusions - humans will trash this planet, the only question is how quickly. Hell, the coffee I'm enjoying is a part of that destruction - forest cut down to grow it, oil used to transport it. But take that train of thought to its logical conclusion and the best thing you could do for the planet is to leave it. I turn my thoughts away and go back to enjoying the coffee and the books.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Foggy Winter Sunrise

With temperatures around -20c and the river still open, there was lots of fog yesterday morning on the way to work. The combination of fog and frost and sunrise color were too much to resist. I had a better camera with me but my iPhone was easier to stick in my pocket so that's what I used. I only had big mitts so I had to take photos quickly with bare hands, before they got too cold.

foggy winter sunrise

foggy winter sunrise

foggy winter sunrise

Monday, November 13, 2017

Bird Feeders

We've had quite a few birds at our bird feeders. Mostly chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches, but also the occasional downy woodpecker. And a few magpies crashing the party. I always enjoy watching the birds - one of the few active signs of life in our winters.

I went out to fill up the bird feeders the other day and the nuthatches calmly let me approach to within a few feet. I watched them for a few minutes and they seemed quite content to have me close so I went back inside and got my camera. Of course, when I came out with the camera they immediately flew away. I waited patiently but they didn't return while I stood there.

Similarly, they usually don't mind if I watch them through the window, but if I try to take photos through the window they often fly away. Unfortunately, even when they do stay put, it's hard to get good photos through dirty windows. Here are a couple of not very good shots.

Downy woodpecker

Red-breasted Nuthatch

There have been a few birds of another kind that I haven't identified for sure. They might be White-breasted Nuthatches.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017


Sitting at my desk yesterday morning, working on the computer, the sun was coming up and there was some color in the sky so I raised my blinds. Then I noticed there was condensation on the window forming an interesting pattern with the sunrise behind.

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

I uploaded larger than usual versions because I think the small details are part of the attraction. (click on them to view on Flickr and then click again to zoom in)

The photos are quite abstract, which I know isn't everyone's favorite. Hopefully some of you will find them interesting.

Here's a less abstract one, this is closer to what your eyes could see. Zooming in you can see the trees reflected in each drop.

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

Another one where you can see the trees in each drop, especially in the top left.

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

Sometimes the camera had trouble focusing since I was shooting into the sun. But even that could give interesting results. (Good bokeh, as photographers would say.)

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

Here's the sun shining through one drop.

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

At the more abstract end of things, but still with recognizable trees:

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

Another abstract one, other than recognizable drops this time.

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

I love the liquid looking texture to the photographs. Obviously, it was liquid, but that doesn't always come across in a photograph.

Drops of water condensed on a window at sunrise.

It was a tricky thing to photograph and what my eyes saw wasn't necessarily what the camera captured. Slight changes in focus or camera position could yield quite different results. I tried with my RX10m3 which can focus within a centimeter or two (something insects don't like, but fine for inanimate objects) Then I tried with my Nikon 7200 with both my zoom lens and my macro lens. And finally I tried with my iPhone 7+ and the Kamerar closeup lens. I thought one of them would be a clear winner but they all produced different but good results. My final picks were pretty much evenly divided between the three cameras. Can you guess which is which? (If you click on them to view, the camera is given under the photo.)

See all 13 photos

Monday, November 06, 2017

Print of the Week


A fountain at the mission in Carmel, California (near San Francisco). It's always hard to tell how shots like this will come out. A lot of photographers like to use a slow shutter speed to blur and smooth the water, but I often like to freeze the motion like in this shot. It's interesting because it's not a view you can get with your own eyes. You'd think this would make a good black and white since there's not a lot of color. But I like it better with the slight color to make the fountain stand out more.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Fresh Bread

There's nothing like fresh bread, hot out of the oven. If I could share the delightful smell, I would. I don't make it so much in the summer - too much else to do outside - but in the winter I usually make a loaf once a week. It takes a little effort and a span of time, but I like the familiar ritual. It's a good break from staring at the computer. And the effort makes you appreciate it more.

My recipe has evolved over time - it currently includes a mix of organic local flour (red fife, 7 grain, and whole wheat), plus oatmeal, flax seed, ground flax, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia, corn meal, and hemp hearts. It's not for those of you who prefer light fluffy white bread! But I find it tasty and filling. It's what I usually eat for my lunch at work, either with cream cheese and green peppers, or occasionally with peanut butter. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Window Seat

I always like to get a window seat when I fly. I love watching the view from the air - it's such a different viewpoint. Of course, I get that viewpoint when I fly my paraglider, but I'm nowhere near as high. And, of course, I like to try to capture that view with my camera. It's difficult to get good results through a small dirty scratched window, with the vibration of the plane, and the haze from 4 or 5 miles of atmosphere. But the results can be unique. (for example, this or this)

These photos were from the flight back from Loreto, Baja, Mexico to Los Angeles.

Baja island

Baja peninsula

Sometimes it's the "texture" of the scenery that attracts me. This is some of the mountainous interior of Baja.

Baja interior

The Colorado river delta made some intriguing patterns, somewhat fractal.

Colorado river delta

Colorado river delta

These are all fairly heavily processed, especially to increase the contrast. Lightroom's "Dehaze" feature works well on aerial shots.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Print of the Week

sea anemone

Taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (highly recommended) on our last trip. I love the abstract shape and colors but also that it's a living creature. Yet another example of how amazing nature is. Who needs space aliens!

Although they are mostly sessile (stay fixed in one spot) like plants, anemones are actually predatory animals. And they can move around, although usually so slowly that you wouldn't notice. Some kinds can even detach from the ground and swim. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Last Flight

My last flight, of both our three days in the Owens Valley and of our two month road trip, didn’t disappoint. I haven't done much XC (cross country) so I had had my fingers crossed for something on this XC/thermal clinic.

I had another good launch, thankfully. I have to admit being a little nervous with an instructor and a bunch of other participants watching closely, and video being recorded for analysis. Especially after the first person to launch on our first day got a pretty severe critique. Luckily the worst comment I got was that my launches were too “casual”. i.e. I could add a little more energy.

Paiute launch

Our last flight was from the Paiute launch (or Piute?). This launch is up a very steep, narrow, rocky road and I was glad I wasn’t driving! Our instructor (Kari) launched early to try to give us some guidance in the air. I caught some lift right away. Launch is about 2430 m (8000 ft) and I managed to make it to 2760 m (9000 ft) not long into the flight. But the thermals were broken and most didn't seem to go very high.

After about 25 min I was getting low and approaching "last chance hill". I wasn't having any luck finding another thermal and I was pretty sure I was headed for the LZ (landing zone). Some of the other people had already landed, but frustratingly there were also a bunch of people managing to stay up above.

Meanwhile, Kari got on the radio to say she had hopped over to the next spine to the north (downwind). In my struggles to stay up I had lost track of her, and I was in no position to follow anyway. One of the other participants was higher and seemed to be heading in that direction. I was bummed that they were going to head out while I sank. :-(

Then I felt a little something and tried to head for what I hoped would be some lift. Sure enough I found a thermal and managed to climb from my low of 2080 m back up to 2360 m (about a thousand foot climb). Not super high (still below launch) but enough (I hoped) to take a stab at heading north. Thankfully I found another small thermal on the way and topped up to 2400 m.

Chasing Kari really made me realize just how big the Owens Valley is. From the bottom of the valley to the top of the mountains is about 10,000 feet, almost two miles! Even though we were in just one tiny corner, her glider ahead of me looked tiny relative to the scenery.

By the time I caught up at the next spine I was down to about 2000m. But I was higher than Kari, and could see there was some lift. We searched together, finding little bits of choppy lift but only enough to maintain.

Eventually Kari decided to head out towards the highway in the valley. I had tried to stay above Kari to give myself some margin since she was way more skilled and on a better glider. But by this point I was below her. I was pretty sure I wouldn't make the highway from my present height so I decided to search a bit more. Worst case I'd just land a bit shorter. Best case I'd find another thermal. In paragliding, more height is like more gas in the tank, allowing you to make a longer glide. Just as I was about to give up, at 1660 m, I felt a tug on the wing and turned into the best climb of the flight. It was about 3 m/sec (600 ft/sec) - not super strong but decent. I managed to hang onto it till 2180 m (climbing about 1700 ft).

Meanwhile, Kari hadn't found any lift in the valley and had landed, short of the highway as I had figured, but on a side road for an easy retrieve. Up high, I could relay her position by radio to the rest of the group.

Now I had a decision - should I try to continue north along the foothills? I headed towards the hills but right away changed my mind and decided to use my height to glide out to the highway. Without Kari, I was a little nervous about continuing and landing somewhere with a long hike out to the nearest road. The rough conditions were another factor in the decision.

I hoped for some thermals over the valley, but I didn't find much. I angled to intersect the highway at a decent height to pick an LZ. As I approached I had my eye on a clear spot next to the road.

huge landing strip next to the highway (image courtesy of Google maps)

It turned out to be a large pullout with a couple of piles of gravel but no power-lines or barbed wire fences. Of course, there was no windsock or streamers so it was a little hard to judge the wind. I almost landed short since the wind was stronger than I guessed (poor judgement) but in the end I made a good no-step landing on the end of the pullout and laid my glider down on pavement (much preferable to the sagebrush!)

While I still had radio coverage from the air I let them know where I was landing. After landing I was out of radio contact and had no cell phone coverage, so I was happy to have my inReach satellite gps/messenger to pass on my exact location.

Here's a 3D visualization of my flight (watch it fullscreen for best view).

The flight only lasted an hour and ten minutes, I've had longer flights. But it was my longest in straight line distance - 13 km. In overall paragliding terms, that's nothing, people routinely fly hundreds of kilometers, but it was satisfying for me, nonetheless. And it was the best flight anyone in our group managed in the three days we spent with Kari.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Loreto Diving part 3

going diving

Here's the final batch of diving photos from the last four days of our 12 days of diving around Loreto, Baja, Mexico with Dolphin Dive Baja. Highly recommended!

lets go diving!

I recently read a book about octopus and squid so when we got to Loreto I asked Rafael if there were many around. He said "no" so I wasn't expecting to see any. But we ended up seeing three different ones. Often they are just a well camouflaged blob in the back of a dark hole. One did come out briefly but I wasn't in position to get a photo. This one was at least recognizable with its eye looking out.


Another good sighting was this giant Elegant hermit crab. This shell was the size of a football. When Rafael waved us over all we saw was a seemingly empty shell. But as we watched the hermit crab emerged. Quite a bizarre looking critter!

Elegant hermit crab

This just looks like bubbles - it's hard to tell what it is. But it's actually an anemone all closed up. It opens at night to feed.

Beebe's anemone

These coral hawkfish are fairly common but they're a bit skittish so I was happy to get this closeup. Love that top fin!

Coral hawkfish on orange cup coral

As always, I love the hidden details. Here's the underside of a starfish.

underside of starfish

Although the Sea of Cortez doesn't have a lot of hard coral it makes up for it with lots of sea fans and soft corals.

backlit sea fan

This next one is a basket star, a kind of starfish where the arms branch many times so it appears they have a lot of legs, although when they're all wrapped up it's another one where it's hard to tell what it is.

Basket star

One time Rafael waved me over to look at a scorpionfish. That seemed a little odd since they are quite common. But then he indicated that it was something small on the back of the scorpionfish. Sure enough there were tiny shrimp on it. I could barely see them unless they moved. I'm going to have to start carrying a magnifying glass like he does! Later, when I was looking at one of my photos of a scorpionfish I noticed what I think is one of the shrimp (look on the right side of the "forehead")


There aren't a lot of obvious anemones here. I spotted this one in the back of a crack in the rock. I'm not sure what kind it is.


We ran into a few Agassiz nudibranchs and I managed a little more interesting angle on this one:

Agassiz's nudibranch

We saw a few of these Mobula rays (related to manta rays, but smaller)  but mostly in the distance. This was the best shot I managed:


Usually what we saw was more like this distant shot of a spotted eagle ray:

Spotted eagle ray

People that are only diving for a day or two here often like to go to see the sea lions, so we ended up diving at this site a few times. We didn't mind since it's always fun to see the sea lions and it's a great dive site regardless.

sea lion

On our last day of diving we were lucky enough to see another group of dolphins. Previously we saw bottlenose dolphins, these ones were common dolphins. (check out Shelley's video)

Common dolphins

If you want more, see all 77 photos in this album

See also: Loreto Diving part 2 and Diving in Loreto