A Cold Manitoba Night, The Northern Lights, and a 3/4 Full Moon

A group of photographers headed out on Friday Nov 23rd to photograph the Northern Lights. It was a cold night in Southern Manitoba with the temperatures hovering around -20 celsius. One tip about shooting in the cold is that cold weather drains the batteries faster than shooting in warmer temperatures. The best bet when shooting in the cold is make sure you have extra batteries, and always keep that extra set close to your body so that it stays warm and doesn’t freeze! After going back and forth about whether or not to head up Lake Winnipeg and have the half frozen lake as a foreground, we ended up going to an Abandoned Barn and out building close to Oak Hammock Marsh. We bundled up and headed out at 7:30pm.  As we hit the Perimeter we noticed a band of Northern Lights dancing and intensifying the closer we go to the barn. Once we got to the barn we jumped out of the car and hurried up to get all our gear set up to to capture the amazing sight. By the time that I got set up and everything focus the band had started to disappear.

To get the angle of the shot below I had to trek threw knee deep snow! It doesn’t look like we had that much snow but out in the open prairie with the wind blowing it creates snow drifts.

Sometimes having a full moon takes away from the intensity of the Northern Lights but it was only 3/4 full so it light up the foreground nicely. There was also a fresh dusting of snow that sparkled in the moonlight which added a nice touch to the images.

A view of the abandoned farm with a northern lights band above.

After 3 hours my toes were frozen so I had to take a break and warm them up in the car. Shortly after I went to the car to warm up the group decided to call it a night even thought the northern lights were still out. We were all chilly, but I think the camera gear was colder then I was! By the end of the night the camera was covered in frost (there was a lot of moisture in the air that night) but I was really impressed with how well my batteries lasted during the cold night shoot.

Lest We Forget – Gun Salute Manitoba Legislative Building

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, the guns fell silent to mark the end of the First World War. It was a year later after the armistice was signed that Remembrance Day started.  Canadians pay tribute to the fallen soliders of WW1, WW2, the Korean War, the Afganistan conflict, and the peacekeeping missions with 2 minutes of silence.

Winnipeg marks Remembrance Day with a number of different tributes around the city. One of them is the 21 Gun Salute at the Manitoba Legislature Building. The 21 Gun Salute is fired for military and naval honor. After the 2 minutes of silence, the gun salute begins.

 

 

I was struck by this story that was shown on CBC today. This is the story of this years Silver Cross Mother. The Silver Cross Mother is chosen each year to lay a wreath during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial  on behalf of all mothers that have lost there children in the service of their country. Her son was a combat photographer who was killed in Afghanistan. The images that are shown in the video are amazing and really tell a story which in my option is make of a great photographer. http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/The+National/ID/2302756832/

 

 

                                 In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

- John McCrae

The Friesen Family

I had the pleasure of shooting the Friesen Family today.  Here is a sneak preview of the shoot!

 

 

 

Northern Lights in Matlock, MB – Part 2

On July 12th, 2012 the sun unleashed an X-1 Class (X class flares are the strong type of flare) flare from sunspot AR1520. The sunspot was directly facing earth which meant that the CME that was associated with that flare was heading for earth.  The CME was supposed to arrive in the early am hours on July 14, 2012.

 

After some discussion with another photographer we decided that we would head out to Matlock with a group of photographers from the Manitoba Foto Friends. We had another location selected at the beginning but that location had a tree line around the lake which won’t work well because if the auroras were low on the horizon we wouldn’t be able to see them. The geomagnetic storm was supposed to be a good one so we hoped for clear skies and a good show.

 

As expected the CME arrived in the AM hours of July 14th. At 9pm we were heading out to Matlock. We were lucky enough to have clear skies but we did have smoke from the forest fires to content with. When we arrived at the Matlock Beach is was smoky and windy which helps with the mosquitoes!  We set up our cameras and waited for it to get dark and for the show to start.

 

At the beginning the northern lights were out but they weren’t very active.

Like clockwork around midnight (which is usually one of the best times to see them) they really started to dance. They got so bright that they lit up the beach!

I had shot the pier with the northern lights in June so I decided to look for different foregrounds. One of them was these wooden poles that were sticking up from the sand

I admit that I did take a couple of shots of the pier.

There is a small playground by the beach and I decided that the swing set would be an interesting foreground.

Around 1:30am most of the group had left and another photographer and I decided to check out Mustard Seed Church which is about a 5 min drive from the beach.  It is a cute little white church that is surround by a cemetery that is still in use and is nicely maintained. We decided to set up and take some shots. The only problem with this location was that the mosquitoes were horrible! In between 2-2:30am the skies exploded again and the entire sky was green and bright which lit up the church and surrounding area nicely.

By the time we got home it was close to 4:30am and there was light visible on the horizon. The geomagnetic storm lasted an amazing 36 hours from July 14-16 and the northern lights were visible as far south as Wisconsin.

Another great night with a great group of people.

Storm Chasing and Photography

It seemed that almost every time there was a thunderstorm I would head out with my camera in hopes of catching some lightning. Never would I have thought to actually chase a storm. Until I meet a fellow photographer and friend. She introduced me to storm chasing. I have always been interested in the weather especially storms; I could sit and watch a thunderstorm for hours.

Well this hasn’t been the most active storm season in Manitoba, unlike in Saskatchewan which had more tornadoes in the month of July then the entire USA had this season. Manitoba still managed to get a couple of good thunderstorms.

The first storm of the season was one that I mostly missed out on. I left the house too late and only caught the tail end of the storm (too busy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs!). I did manage to get a good lightning shot. It did take quite a bit of shots to get the one good lightning shot, but worth the effort. I was photographing the lightning manual using a remote release. Trying to photograph lightning this way is tricky, you have to get a rhythm down and I hadn’t manage to get a good rhythm down that night. After that night I decided it was time for a lightning trigger which I was happy to get for a birthday present.

The first time that I went storm chasing with a fellow photographer we ended up in North Dakota, USA. Winnipeg is a two hour drive to the border.  We had planned on heading to Grand Forks because the forecast said there was a potential for severe storms. We ended up chasing a storm that was before Grand Forks. Unfortunately the storm started to die out and was starting to break apart. We stopped at a park which had a dam in it to take some shots of the storm. I did manage to get the following shot of the storm as it was breaking down and the sun rays were starting to come threw the clouds. Crossing the border was interesting, and I’m quite sure the border guard must have thought that we were nuts when he asked what we were up to.

Our next adventure took us to the Doppler radar station in Woodlands, MB. Woodlands is about 30-40 mins north/northwest of the city of Winnipeg. We saw the front of the storm as we were about 15 mins away from the radar station. The front of the storm had amazing texture!

We set up a camera at the radar station and waited for some lightning, but unfortunately the lightning wasn’t over the radar station but in a field across from the station. This was not the night for me to catch lightning everytime I would give up on a spot and move the camera that’s when the lightning would strike.

On July 29th Winnipeg was hit with a severe thunderstorm. It had a lot of rain and wind. The wind gusts were around 90 km. I had to stop by the gas station before we could head out chasing. I could barely get the door open to get out and pump the gas. By the time that I had finished pumping the gas I look like a drown rat! We headed out southeast towards Steinbach, MB as that was were the storm was heading. There was some amazing lightning in this storm unfortunately we were able to capture any of it because it was raining out! We managed to catch to the storm just south of Steinbach and ended up set up near a farmers field. The storm appeared to have stalled. I was able to capture this shot of the storm front during the sunset. I had my neutral density filter on to make it easier to photograph the lightning.

I had my lightning trigger on and for the first time I managed to fill up two 16 gb cards! The lightning trigger works by triggering the shutter when there is a flash of lightning (or any other light!) I managed to get some great lightning shots!

On Aug 1 we headed out to HWY 6 and found a nice wheat field to set up at for the approaching storm. We went back and forth about whether or not we should stay and wait out the storm and then chase it down again. We decided to wait it out. This storm had a hail core which you could see in the distance as well as heavy rains. The hail was only pea sized and we were just at the edge of it so we didn’t see a lot of hail.

Once the rain died down I headed back outside and set up my camera with my lightning trigger. I got a great lightning shot! It filed the frame nicely as it goes from one end of the image to the next.

There wasn’t a lot of lightning so we headed out to see if we could catch up with. On our way to our next location we ended up stopping again by a wheat field(we do live on the prairies!) to capture a rainbow that appear to be coming threw the clouds.I managed to capture this shot of the wheat field after the storm with the setting sun back lighting the wheat field.

By the time that we caught up to the storm it had gone a bit to far east. Which normally isn’t a problem but in Manitoba the further east from the city of Winnipeg you go you end up in a forest! Not the best for storm chasing as its very difficult to see the clouds and lightning.

I have learned a lot about storms this season so far. I now know that only 5 % of super cells will drop a tornado. An interesting statistic from NOAA – About 100,000 thunderstorms happen every year in the USA alone and only 10 % of those storms end up being severe thunderstorms.  Whether it be from talking with my fellow storm chaser or watching the storm chaser live streaming on TVN. I still have a lot to learn about what storms, I am even considering taking the storm chasers course with the University of Manitoba(best part about that course is you actually do some storm chasing in the states for 7 days!)

 

 

 

 

The Northern Lights in Matlock, MB

I woke up Saturday morning to clouds and a lot of rain. The forecast for the evening looked more promising as they were stating that it was going to clear. I knew there was going to be some activity based on the email that I receive that alerts me to the potential of the northern lights. I also frequently check spaceweather.com to see if the CME’s have arrived and if they had triggered a geomagnetic storm. That morning both CME’s had arrived and had little impact, so I wasn’t too hopeful but decided if it cleared that I would still go out. It’s a good thing that I did because there was a 3rd CME that arrive later in the day and strongly compressed earths magnetic field which meant that there was a good chance of seeing the northern lights.

Another photographer and I headed out to Matlock, MB. We thought that the pier would make a great foreground. I had also put an invite out to the other photographers from the Manitoba Foto Friends. While on our drive out there I got a text message from spaceweather.com stating that KP index had reach 6 which meant a moderate storm was in progress and that the northern lights would be visible over head.  At this time the sky had started to clear nicely, and by the time we made it to Matlock (which was about 9pm) there were only a few clouds in the sky. All we had to do was wait for it to get dark out and hope that the northern lights would make an appearance.  A couple of other photographers decided to join us for the evening.

While we waited for it to get dark I decided to take a couple of shots of the pier. Since I have been going out to Matlock since I was little I have taken tons of shots of the pier from the beach but never from the water shooting towards the beach. I wasn’t sure how high the water was so I put on my rubber boots first and heading down the steps into the water and I only managed to get down two steps before I realized that the water would be too high if I went any further.  One of the photographers that I was with brought water shoes she let me borrow them and I made a 2nd attempt at going into the water. This time I got down to the last step but the water was already at my knees so I had to head back to the beach. I ended up getting the tripod and camera in the water in the position that I wanted without getting to wet! I converted the image to B & W which I think lets the detail of the pier stand out.

I was walking to the other side of the beach I went under the pier and the bark coming of the pier caught my eye and I just had to capture it! This shot was taken during the blue hour so that is why it looks so blue. I added a vintage film effect to the image to create an older looking image.

The sun sets around 930pm but it doesn’t get dark out till about 11p. The minute it got dark out we could see the auroras they were really faint at first but the camera picked them up!

The darker it got the more active the auroras got!

Then the auroras started to dance and I couldn’t believe the amount of purple in auroras! Normally they are usually green with hints of purples, pinks, and reds.

Since the pier in Matlock is a public pier and its closer to a parking lot you sometimes get headlights lighting up the pier. Which works out great for light painting the pier!

I decided to get a shot on higher ground of the pier and the photographers that were on the beach. This was the most green that we saw all night!

I decided to head out onto the pier to capture this shot. I wanted to try different exposure lengths for myself to see how they turned out. The one thing with doing a longer exposure when shooting the northern lights is that you start to get the start trails.

It seemed like the auroras were starting to subside and then I notice the spikes that were happening and manage to capture this shot.

We started to notice that the clouds were coming in so I manage to fire off a couple of more shots. I really like how this one turned out. The angle of the shot provides an interesting view of the auroras threw the pier.

The auroras were still visible threw the clouds. At this point we decided to pack up and head home plus it was already 2am and by the time I got home and got ready for bed it was already starting to get light out!

It’s always a blast to shot the auroras with a group of photographers. Sometimes you have to wait for auroras to make an appearance and when you have a group of like minded people to chat with while you wait it makes the time go by faster.

 

Adventures on the shores of Lake Winnipeg

On June 5th, 2012 Venus was crossing in front of the sun, to say this was a once in a lifetime event is an understatement. The next time that Venus will cross in front of the sun won’t be until 2117. There was also a good chance to see the auroras that night as well. So myself and a another photographer headed out to a place call Lakeshore Heights Beach (which is close Grand Marais Beach) to meet up with a couple of other photographers.

I borrowed a solar filter to attach to my lens in order to see and photograph the Transit of Venus. I only had a 70mm-200mm lens on me so I was zoomed in to 200mm on this shot plus I did some cropping on it as well. It’s amazing to see the scale of the Sun compare to Venus. Another thing that was neat is that we were able to see the sunspots on the sun which are responsible for releasing flares that cause the Auroras.

 

After we were done capturing some images of the Transit of Venus we decided to explore the beach and look for areas to shoot the sunset. It was a beautiful night in southern Manitoba and the sunset was gorgeous. Some cloud come in that were located above the horizon which added some nice color reflection, texture, and drama! While I was shooting the sunset I had my rubber boots on which I like to use in the spring time as the lake is quiet cool. I miss judged how high the water was (something that happens when your navigating in shin high water with a camera and a tripod!) and gave myself a booter. Boy that water was cold!

One of the photographers brought out this powder that colors the fire different colors. Manage to get this shot. Fire is always fun to shoot!

We waited until midnight to see if the Auroras would make an appearance but all I managed to capture was a faint green low on the horizon.

While I was checking to see if the auroras had made an appearance I managed to break my flip flops! Next time I am going to wear different sandles Smile .  We packed it up and headed home. Another great night with a great group of photographers.

Long Weekend in Matlock, MB – Sunrise, Star Trails, and More!

We headed out to the cottage for the long weekend. I had hoped to use the pier at Matlock Beach for a sunrise shoot and to try out star trails for the first time. To my surprise the pier at Matlock Beach wasn’t up yet but I knew there were a few others up it was just a matter of finding one that had a beach! So I headed to Whytewold and their pier was up, along with a tiny beach. This is the pier that I used for my sunrise shoot and star trails. I had brought my camera along with my neutral density filter to try out a couple of shots. I have a 10x neutral density filter, so it is quite dark. On a filter such as this, you will need to create your composition and focus before putting the filter on. I would also suggest turning auto focus off as auto focus has difficulty focusing in low light conditions.  It had just finished raining, so there wasn’t a lot of color it was mostly grey and gloomy so I decided to convert that image to B & W.

Sunrise was at 538a on Sunday Morning, so that meant getting up at 445a to watch the sunrise. It was a cool morning and there was some low level ground fog which is always a nice bonus! The sunrise was beautiful some clouds create a dramatic and colorful sunrise. When shooting the sunrise or sunset I like to do a lot of bracketing and HDR work. Taking multiple images and blending them together to create the best exposure possible. I also like to do some silhouette shoots, which means exposing for the colors in the sunrise as to not overexposure them but underexposing the foreground.

After the sunrise and on the way back to the cottage I notice how the lighting was hitting the grass and how beautiful the heavy dew was looking. So I figure this was good excuse to stop and try out a macro shot. Manage to get a great reflection of the grass in the dew.

That evening I wanted to head out to the beach and try my hand at startrails. Since this was my first time doing the start trail I ask the members of the Manitoba Foto Friends if they had any tips. I got a great response and got some useful tips. There are two different ways of doing star trail – the 1st is to do a long exposure this can lead to some long exposure noise in your image which isn’t something that you want. The 2nd way was to do multiple exposures using an intervometer or using the camera continuous shooting mode. Since I didn’t have intervometer I used the camera’s continuous shooting mode by locking the shutter button and just letting it go. The reason that you want to shoot on continuous is so that you don’t have any gaps in the star trails.  For this one you should also do a couple of test shoots to test out your exposure and composition. Then the images are stacked together using a specific program. A big thanks to Sheila for suggestion the following programs to use and best of all they are free!  www.startrails.de or StarStax. You always want to shoot at a wide open aperture and an ISO around 800. Since it was a new moon there wasn’t any moon light to light up the foreground so you had to do some light paint. I also had the added bonus of having cars drive by the pier to help light it up. I had wanted to try both ways to see what the difference in the results would be

The first shot was taking using the first method that I describe. The exposure was 16 minutes. ISO 800 and the aperture was f/3.5

 

The 2nd shot was taken back at the cottage as it was a pretty cool May night. So I set the camera up on the deck and try letting it take multiple images while I was inside the nice warm cottage. I used the fire to help light the tree for a bit until it burnt out and then I had to use a small LED flashlight to help light up the trees. I let the camera run for 30 minutes; I had just over 50 shots that uploaded into the starstax program. This is the image that I can up with.

All in all I prefer the composition in the first image but I like the way the star trails look in the 2nd image. So from now on I am going to be taking multiple shots and stacking the images together.

On the last day of being at the cottages we decided to take a walk down to a different pier. One that normally won’t go to but since the beach that we normally go to didn’t have the pier up we went to this on. I notice that the water was very low and that the rocks were showing. So I decided to come back with my tripod and neutral density filter so that I could use a slower shutter speed to show the movement of the water amongst the rocks. Since there was no beach I had to put my rubber boots and get a little wet. I set up the tripod in amongst the rocks. Since I wanted the greatest depth of field possible and to get a slower shutter speed I set the aperture to f/22. The bigger the aperture number the smaller the lens opening, the smaller the number the bigger the lens opening is.  Making the aperture smaller lets in less light.  I ran the image threw a bleach filter.

Had a great weekend and can’t wait to head back out there to try out more Star Trails!

The Northern Lights in Southern Manitoba

On Monday Night (April 23rd) a group of photographers headed out to Sandy Bay Beach to see if we could capture the Auroras. I have been trying to see and photograph the auroras for almost a year with no luck. A number of things have to happen before we could see then in Southern Manitoba. The 1st of which is that there needs to be a solar event (i.e. a solar flare and that solar flare have to be headed towards earth). The 2nd thing is there has to a good number of particles hitting earth magnetic field. The 3rd is the Interplanetary Magnetic Field, which is part of the Sun’s magnetic field that is carried into interplanetary space by the solar winds. When this is oriented southward it allows more solar winds and particles to enter earth magnetic field which creates beautiful auroras and allows them to be seen further south than normal. The 4th is the KP index (which is the measurement of disturbance in earth magnetic field) should be above 5 which means a geomagnetic storm is in progress.  We were lucky enough to have all these combine together on Monday. One thing that you need when photographing the auroras is patience. Sometimes the auroras last for hours, which was the case on Monday night. Other times they last only minutes.  So if you are heading out to see or photograph them be prepared to be out most of the night.

A couple of tips for photographing the auroras. This was my first time shooting them, if I haven’t shot something before I like to do a little research so that I shoot them correctly. Here are some tips based on that research, and my experience:

1. A fast lens is ideal, anything with a f2.5 aperture or lower is the best – my wide angle lens has an aperture of f3.5 so that is what I shot at. Makes sure to take your lens of off auto focus as auto focus has a hard time focusing in the dark. Focusing your lens to infinity will ensure clear and crisp images.

2. Always take your filter off your lens before shooting otherwise it will create concentric rings on the image.

3. Try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible – I was shooting at 800-1600 for most of the night as the auroras were bright at one point.

4. As far as shutter speeds go, different photographers have different opinions.  Some swear that a 30 sec to 60 sec shutter works best, while others like it at 10 sec to 30 sec. For me I shot at 15 sec most of the time. However the next time that I head I will be trying a variety of different shutter speeds to see what kind of images I can get.

5. You will also need to be shooting on a tripod because of the slow shutter speed. A cable release is also a must.

I am part of a photo group called the Manitoba Foto Friends and there is a group that frequently goes out to capture the auroras. I figured it was time for me to try my luck again as a previous excursion resulted in the clouds not clearing.

We headed out to Grand Marais first. We didn’t stay there long as we couldn’t find a way down to the beach as it was too steep and trying to carry camera gear down there won’t have been pretty. I manage to get off a couple of shots as the auroras were active.

After that we head to Sandy Bay Beach. By the time we got there it had clouded over so we waited. Photographing the auroras with a group of people is great; the time passes more quickly when you are waiting for the clouds to clear or for the auroras to appear. Plus we had a lot of laughs! We knew the auroras were active because we could see them through the clouds.

Eventually the clouds started to clear and you could start to see the spikes in the auroras over the lake.

Then the clouds clear completely and then they really started to dances! At one point the auroras were so active I didn’t know which direction to point my camera in. Which lead me to say that I need a 2nd camera to shot the auroras that were going on behind me.

All in all it was a very successful and memorable night filled with a lot of laughs and some great images!

 

 

 

 

Different Lens, Different Looks to Your Images

Spring time in Manitoba means that the Prairie Crocus is in full bloom. On the Easter long weekend I decided to head out to the Rosser Cemetery which is located close to Rosser, Manitoba about a 20 min drive from the North Perimeter. The cemetery has not been taken care of for a long time, so the charm of it is in the native Prairie grasses and other plants including the Crocus which have taken over the cemetery.

Before heading out I decided that I wanted to photograph the crocus with three different lenses. The three lens were my Macro 100mm f/2.8, 10mm-20mm lens f3.5, and a 70mm-200mm lens.

The first image was taken with the Marco 100mm lens – Aperture was 6.3 and Shutter Speed was – 1/160. The great thing about a macro lens is the amount of detail that it picks up in the images. It picked up the fuzzies that are a staple with the Crocus plus it also picked up the pollen that is in the center of the flower.  The image below has a shallower depth of field then most images because it is shot with a Macro lens.

 

The second image was taken with the 10mm-20mm lens @ 18mm – Aperture was 3.5 and Shutter Speed was – 1/640. This is one of my favorite images of the day. I wanted to incorporate the tombstones in a image with the Crocus and this is one of the reasons that I choose a wide angle lens. When using a wide angle lens on smaller subjects you will need to get in pretty close so that you don’t lose the subject. I like to use the wide angle lens to incorporate the environment that my subject is in.

The 3rd image was taken with the 70mm-200mm lens @ 100mm – Aperture – 6.3 Shutter Speed – 1/100. On thing that I like about the zoom lens is how nicely it blurs the background in the image. By focusing on just the flower of the plant and having the rest of the image out of focus makes the flowers standout more.

 

While a lens doesn’t make a image it helps to create the image along with composition, lighting, and camera settings. Think of the look that you want to create with your images and pick the lens that best suits your vision.