Feature Photos 2012
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Here is the selection of favourite images that appeared in the Home page “Feature Photo” spot in 2012.

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Posted December 2nd, 2012

photo: Eagle in Flight
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In Flight

I recently traveled to Haines, Alaska along with a few friends from the Whitehorse Photography Club to photograph the eagles that congregate there for a late salmon run on the Chilkat River. The club assigns a monthly theme for members to shoot and then show our best results at the next meeting and the theme for our December meeting is “in flight”, so catching the birds airborne was a major focus of this outing. That is a challenge at any time but the flight patterns of the eagles here tend to be erratic and unpredictable and the low light at this time of year makes continuous autofocus more unreliable, especially with a slow lens. My most successful shots were fairly distant and often contained distracting elements elsewhere in the frame so most required heavy cropping and that also brought out the quality limitations resulting from relatively high ISO. Massaging the images in software, including liberal use of Noise Ninja and Photokit Sharpener plugins in Photoshop, yielded considerable improvement but I don’t expect to be able to produce any satisfactory large prints from these photos. Still, some like this one are satisfying to view on-screen.
Pentax K-5, Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 500mm, 1/1500sec @ f/8, ISO 800

Posted November 17th, 2012

photo: Hanging On
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Hanging On

The weather was good this fall and I kept busy taking full advantage of it to accomplish a lot of the outdoor stuff that is important to my way of life (except not much photography, as one might infer from the dearth of recent content on this site). Even when the snow came to stay in mid-October, I was compelled to get out for a few more loads of firewood from a spot from which I could still haul it home with the ATV until the snow got too deep. The weather turned cold but I steeled myself against it to deal with some deferred projects in the garage as well as necessary vehicle maintenance. Well, now I am in great shape for the months ahead and physically in full winter mode with my major outdoor chores these days being clearing snow and bucking and splitting that wood I cut earlier. But mentally I haven’t slowed down and I can’t quite let go of the idea that it is still autumn ... I seem to be in denial that this is mid-November even as it is snowing, blowing and minus 20 degrees. The tenacious leaf hanging on to this little sapling even in the face of full blown winter conditions strikes me as fittingly symbolic. I shot this photo in dim, gray overcast light that is typical of November. The default RAW conversion was flat and almost textureless with a sickly faint greenish cast which may have resulted from imprecise colour balance or perhaps was weakly reflected colour from the spruce and pine boughs above in the absence of any other significant hues. I tweaked the image in Lightroom to bring out the texture in the snow, in the process producing a sense of directional light that did not really exist, and when I adjusted the colour balance I added a touch of warmth that also did not exist. The extent of the transformation I accomplished was modest; on review, it occurs to me that I was grasping to hang on to brighter days gone by.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD @ 50mm, f/8

Posted October 3rd, 2012

photo: Fall at Five Finger Rapids
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Fall at Five Finger Rapids

Autumn comes early to the Yukon but this year it was a bit slower to arrive than usual. The trees must have known that September would be uncommonly mild and held the chlorophyll in their leaves long enough to compensate for what was a miserable start to the summer. The fall colours were still near their peak when the temperature soared above 20°C in mid-late September and it was too hot to be cutting firewood so I took a day of recreation and went for a motorcycle ride up the Klondike Highway as far as this spot overlooking the famous Five Finger Rapids on the Yukon River north of Carmacks. A patch of cloud here softened the light but the brightness in the sky prompted me to call upon Photomatix for an understated application of HDR using different exposures to retain the patterns in the clouds.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD @ 32mm, polarizing filter

Posted August 26th, 2012

photo: Tenting Under the Milky Way
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Tenting Under The Milky Way

I just returned from a motorcycle trip to British Columbia’s Okanagan region where I went to visit with relatives. I camped along the way and I had little other than clear skies for the return leg. With a new moon, that provided perfect conditions to photograph the stars at the Crooked River provincial campground 70 kms north of Prince George, well away from any significant artificial light pollution. The bright band of the Milky Way appears in the northern hemisphere during the summer months but we do not see the best of it at these latitudes and the lack of complete darkness for much of the season further conspires against viewing and photographing it, at least at my home in the Yukon. However, on this night at this location it was visible to the naked eye and the light gathering capability of a digital sensor served to enhance it nicely. A small flashlight in the tent provided sufficiently low lighting to not overexpose during the long exposure at wide aperture required to capture the stars in the same shot. Actually though, while it looked good on review in the LCD in the darkness, the sky did end up poorly exposed and I had to boost its brightness considerably in software. This could have created an unusably noisy image with poor detail including failure of dimmer stars to be recorded but the great low light performance of the Pentax K-5 shone through. At the wide 17mm focal length, rotation of the earth should be only a minor issue in a 45 second exposure but I used the astrotracer mode of my camera-plus-GPS to ensure there was no streaking of the stars which I figured would be more distracting than the slight blurring of the trees and tent that resulted from this choice.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD @ 17mm, 45sec @ f/2.8, ISO 560, Pentax O-GPS1

Posted July 25th, 2012

photo: The Garden 2012
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The Garden of 2012

It has been a very cool, dull and wet summer here, at least until very recently, but that has allowed the wildflowers to flourish and endure. The open hillsides and fields are masses of blooms. However, these mostly are not colourful and showy flowers and the terrain tends to be cluttered with random other vegetation and dead debris. I have struggled to capture the sense of floral abundance in a photograph and achieve a pleasing composition. Those challenges were present in this scene but I saw some potential for an image against the forest backdrop in the soft light at the edge of dusk. I could not achieve the front to back sharpness I wanted by setting a small aperture at the required focal length so I took 6 shots focused at different points to cover the range and combined them in Photoshop with focus stacking. The result was not satisfying even after much tonal manipulation. André Gallant’s digital “dreamscape” technique to the rescue! The blurring subdued the clutter and, more importantly, the profusion of blossoms was brought into prominence as I had perceived when I was inspired to make the photograph.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DiII LD IF Macro @ 47.5mm, f/9.5

Posted June 21st, 2012

photo: Double Rainbow Plus
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Double Rainbow Plus

The summer solstice is a perfect time to catch a late evening rainbow at my location as it positions to arc over Mount Lorne and the lake next to my home. I was warming leftovers for an already late supper when I saw this one forming in a slowly approaching thunderstorm ... better a very late meal, twice reheated, than to miss a good rainbow! The display persisted for a remarkably long time and I made many exposures as it morphed. The fragmented, non-concentric third bow in this image is a bit of a puzzle. It appeared only in my last several shots, taken after the rain had finally reached the lake. Could it have been produced by the sun reflecting off the water?
Pentax K-5, Sigma AF 10-20mm f/4.0-5.6 EX DC @ 10mm, Polarizing Filter

Posted May 23rd, 2012

photo: Solar_Eclipse
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A Bite Out of the Sun

Here is my best effort at photographing the May 20th solar eclipse. It was only a partial eclipse at Yukon latitudes with a magnitude of 0.64 at my location and I took this image 35 minutes after the maximum. Throughout the event, thin cloud softened the outline of the sun’s crescent but had the benefit of reducing the intensity and contrast levels. As it unfolded, patches of darker cloud gathered and that provided appealing texture to what otherwise were aesthetically bland photographs. I began shooting with an 8x neutral density filter stacked with a 1000x B+W but that attenuation soon became excessive and the B+W ND 3.0 alone was way more than enough in the end. Composing on the LCD in live view kept my eyes safe. The dynamic range of the sun and sky that is framed within this image was moderate enough to be well covered within a single RAW file from my K-5 but I blended two exposures in Photoshop, not so much for more optimal exposure but in order to attain sharp focus on both the tree and the important area of the sky.
Pentax K-5, SMC Pentax DA* 60-250mm f/4 ED [IF] SDM @ 250mm, B+W ND 3.0 filter, 1/45 and 1/3 sec @ f/11, ISO 80

Posted May 13th, 2012

photo: Spring Moon on Ice
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Spring Moon on Ice

I seem to be fixated on nighttime shots for this Feature Photo spot lately, but this one likely will be the last of that for awhile as it is the time of year when we have just about run out of darkness in the Yukon for a few months. With the snow mostly melted off the ice on the lake, the recent full moon reflected appealingly off the textured surface. HDR processing of three exposures did not really produce the results I was looking for, but a second tone-mapping of the already tone-mapped image using Photomatix’s compressor mode enhanced the cool blue of the snow on the far shore and the mountains to complement the warm hues that the thin cloud imparted on the moonlit ice and sky. I had not pre-envisioned this effect but stumbled upon it as a happy accident. This post was delayed a week while I was moving the site to a new web host and in the last couple of days the ice has mostly gone off the lake, in spite of unseasonably cool weather.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD @ 34mm, 3 exposures from 0.33 to 7.7 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 1100

Posted April 20th, 2012

photo: Orion Nebula
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Orion Nebula

I recently purchased a Pentax O-GPS1 GPS attachment for my camera. While its main purpose of course is to geotag photos, this unit also has a unique astrophotography feature that I just had to try out. Its astrotracer function employs the sensor shift mechanism of the camera’s image stabilization system to move the sensor to compensate for the rotation of the earth during long exposures of the night sky, in effect an equatorial mount for the sensor. After trying it with some wide angle views, I got ambitious, put on my longest lens and aimed it at the Great Nebula in Orion (M42 and M43) along with the Running Man Nebula in the upper area of the image. In order to acquire and define dim details, this image actually consists of 22 40-second light frame exposures of the nebula to accumulate exposure, 16 dark frames for noise reduction and 16 flat frames plus corresponding dark frames to correct for lens artefacts and vignetting, all combined using DeepSkyStacker software. That is a total of 70 exposures ... each image of this type is a small project. The O-GPS1 did not do a perfect job, elongation of the stars is evident. Exposing for 50 seconds, the maximum indicated for this focal length and south-west shooting direction from my location, produced distinct streaking. Shorter exposures down to 20 seconds did not provide significant further improvement from what I used here. You can find better photographs of this subject, though perhaps not taken with such relatively unspecialized, small, light, easy-to-use equipment. But it always excites me when I can photographically extend my vision far beyond that of my naked eye and I feel compelled to share this.
Pentax K-5, Pentax O-GPS1, Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 500mm, 22 x 40 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 1100

Posted March 29th, 2012

photo: Northern Lights to the East
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Northern Lights to the East

The aurora have been very quiet in recent years and this winter is the first I have photographed them since my days of shooting film. I am sure that I missed some good displays because we had extensive cloud cover the week when a burst of solar activity hit the news, but also because my location in the extreme south of the Yukon puts me near the outer edge of most of this season’s bands of auroral excitation and I do not have a clear view to the north. Earlier on the night that I took this photo the canvas of the sky was deep black and I had spent time exploring another new endeavour, photographing the heavens. I had a lot to do on the computer after that and it was well into the wee hours by the time I shut it down. As I got ready for bed I looked out the skylight window of a dark room and saw the sky almost filled with northern lights. I was tired and thought, “No, I can’t ...”, but by the time I finished brushing my teeth I knew I had to at least step out on the deck and grab a couple of quick shots. The results were encouraging but I was shooting too much through the trees to get a very good photograph. So I put on my boots and more warm outerwear and trudged down to the shore of the lake, where I captured this image. It was worth the lost sleep.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD @ 17mm, 23 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1100

Posted February 28th, 2012

photo: Fireworks at Rendezvous 2012
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Fireworks at Rendezvous 2012

The annual Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous just took place in Whitehorse and a Saturday night fireworks display has become a regular feature of the festival. I have photographed this in the past ... see the March 5th, 2010 Feature Photo. This year, to provide context to my images I chose a vantage point overlooking part of the main Rendezvous venue of Shipyards Park. The long exposure captured several of the pyrotechnic bursts and built up enough exposure of the foreground to enable me to balance it nicely with the fireworks using the tonal controls in Adobe Lightroom.
Pentax K-5, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD @ 17mm, 14 sec @ f/6.7, ISO 100

Posted February 12th, 2012

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Winter Flower

After a month of cold, snowy, often windy weather the strengthening sun of February is doing its thing and once again it is pleasant to spend time outdoors. I am getting a break from the perpetual snow clearing of late and have bucked and split enough firewood to sufficiently replenish my supply for any brief arctic resurgence. Time to get back out on my snowshoes and exercise my camera and my photographic eye. This dried plant remnant from last season was poking through the snow on an exposed, south facing slope where wind and sun had thinned the snow cover. With a macro lens on my camera and the late afternoon sun providing nice modeling light and some sparkle in the crystalline snow, this subject was a natural draw for my aforementioned photographic eye.
Pentax K-5, Sigma AF 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro @ f/9.5