Growing up in the area around Vancouver, British Columbia, especially out in the Fraser Valley, Mount Baker is a constant presence on the Eastern horizon. Many roads seem to point straight towards Baker or sometimes Mount Shuksan. While I am most familiar with the view of Baker from Langley, it can be seen all the way from Stanley Park in Vancouver, the Southernmost point of the area in Tsawwassen, and from North of the Fraser River – here in Pitt Meadows. I made this photograph from the edge of one of the many Cranberry fields on the road to Pitt Lake. As Baker is such a constant for anyone living out here, it was quite a surprise for me as a kid to realize that it was not a Canadian mountain – it actually is in Washington State. I was young enough that I am not sure I believed that right away.
Downtown Vancouver at dusk from Stanley Park – including Canada Place (left) and the new Trade and Convention Center.
Downtown Vancouver Panorama photographed during Blue Hour (Purchase)
-click to enlarge-
I have photographed downtown Vancouver from Stanley Park a few times in the past – with fair but not spectacular results. When my first DSLR was new I would try to photograph the skyline well after sunset. At that time of day there isn’t much contrast between the dark buildings and the sky, so these photographs did not turn out very well. I learned that if you photograph during “Blue Hour” there will be much better contrast between the dark buildings and the sky – with much better results! Blue Hour is the period of time between total darkness in the sky and sunrise or sunset. Just like the “Golden Hour” this may not actually last an hour. In Vancouver at this time of year I think the blue hour lasted about 20 minutes facing southeast though there was still good blue light facing west for about another 10 minutes after that.
This Panorama, taken during the blue hour after sunset, shows a dark sky but you can still see the profile of all the buildings. Much better than a photo taken when the sky is really dark!
FYI – if you ever photograph downtown from Stanley Park near the Nine O’Clock Gun is the location I made this photograph. I was still there at 9 o’clock… with a few others who had gathered to hear its blast. Well, this isn’t a cap gun, the shockwave was dramatic even though I was standing 50 feet away. There were some tourists and teenagers who were standing right next to the wire cage that houses the gun, and one passerby tried to get them to plug their ears or step away from the thing as it was almost 9. This sage advice was ignored and when the gun went off there was a lot of screaming and even some tears due to the noise. If you are out there photographing near 9 o’clock and the red flashing lights go off – plug your ears!
I made this photo in a favourite local park – Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley, British Columbia. There is not much in the way of wide open scenery here, but it is a great place to focus on smaller things such as mushrooms, wildflowers and occasionally birds. If you have read my previous mushroom posts over on Google+ it will come to you as no surprise that I have not identified this species of mushroom.
I would normally shoot something like this with my macro lens, but in this case I was not going to be able to get close to this log at all without destroying a lot of underbrush, so I setup my tripod on the trail and used my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens to “get closer”. I am not against placing items in a scene, but for this particular photo I did not place the Maple leaf – it was already laying there. I do have another version of this photo without the leaf, but I believe the above composition is stronger with the leaf in place.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) -click to enlarge-
At the Lower Stave River I camped out a few locations that looked as though they might be likely Bald Eagle feeding spots (lots of salmon carcasses). Unfortunately I was not able to photograph any Eagles at these locations – perhaps my presence stuck out. I did manage to wait long enough to have one land in front of me but when I raised my camera (slowly) to make a photograph – they flew away into a nearby tree (the image on the right).
Stay tuned for Part III – this time at the Harrison River…
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) -click to enlarge-
Every Fall there are a considerable amount of Salmon that spawn in the various tributaries of the Fraser River. After spawning, the dead Salmon become great food for Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and other species. There are many locations I visit every year in order to see the Salmon spawn including the Harrison River, Weaver Creek and the Lower Stave River in Mission, British Columbia. There aren’t usually many Eagles near Weaver Creek, but the Harrison and Stave Rivers are usually pretty good places to look for Eagles indulging in the Salmon feast.
The photo above illustrates the one situation where adult Bald Eagles don’t seem all that afraid of someone approaching. I guess they know that people can’t climb trees quickly. I have seen a number of Eagles nearby feeding on Salmon on the ground – but as soon as they see you they take off. Those in the trees do not do this, but a bird up in a tree is not always a very interesting photo. This was the best Eagle photo I made on my first trip to the Lower Stave – but not exactly what I was after.
Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) -click to enlarge-
The first time I visited the Lower Stave River this year was in early December. Standing near a swiftly flowing channel below the Dam, there was suddenly a surge of water moving upstream – this confused me initially. I couldn’t think what would be large enough to create it. Suddenly a lot of Salmon started leaping out of the water, a few flopped up onto the bank and this big Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) surged out of the water, caught one of the Salmon, and continued up stream with the fish hanging from its mouth. I was so shocked that I failed to do anything but stand there… a video or a few photographs would have been awesome. When I finally came to my senses I did make a photograph of the back of the seals head, but this is all I gathered from the encounter. VERY cool to see though – I never expected a Harbour Seal that far upstream, this far inland. I presume it ventured up the Fraser River and the Salmon were a meal well worth the trip.
On Friday I drove out to the area searching for Bald Eagles to photograph. The Lower Stave River still has a lot of Salmon carcasses (and still some live Salmon) for the Eagles to feed on. There are also a ton of Seagulls, Great Blue Herons, and Ducks of all sorts. I still have not managed to get a “good” Eagle photo – but I am still working on it. There are a ton of Bald Eagles out in the Fraser Valley right now, so I will keep going out there for a while trying to get some of the shots that I have in my head (or totally different ones).
Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) -click to enlarge-
Neither photo here is a Bald Eagle of course. So often I head out seeking a particular subject or photo, only to come home with completely different subjects. This is great, because even if I am not able to photograph the subject I am looking for – coming home with good photos of something else is nice. I think one of the many things I like about photography is you are just never quite sure what you are going to get.
I had never seen a Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) before but immediately recognized it. A very small Owl species, this guy was probably only 17cm (7 inches) high. Much much smaller in size than the other Owl I photographed recently, a Barred Owl. I really enjoy the glare it is giving, though I have no idea what it was looking at. I made several photos of this owl and I think the first one here is my favourite just because of the facial expression – it looks like it is about to kill something. More apparently in a larger version is the small smear of blood on its chest feathers, indicating this is not necessarily an idle threat.
I made this photograph back in October at the Capilano River in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I like how the water flows slowly around these rocks while the river rushes by in the foreground. You may remember one of the earlier photos of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that I posted from this location a few weeks ago. The Heron photo showed how a small tweak in shutter speed can make a huge difference in the photographic result. In this case, a shutter speed of 1/3 of a second gave me just the amount of water blur that I was looking for. Enough to show the water “in motion” but not so much as to blur it to the point of abstraction.
A review of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens
In early 2010 I finally decided that I had outgrown my 100mm macro lens as my longest telephoto lens. I wanted a lens that would help me photograph some of the wildlife that I occasionally see, and to help me photograph subjects I wasn’t able to get closer to on foot. I had read some great reviews of the Canon 70-200mm lenses so this seemed like a great place to start my research.
Canon offers 4 versions of its EF 70-200mm lenses. The EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II USM (IS stands for Image Stabilization), EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM and the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS III USM. I own the older (I) version of the 70–200mm f/4L IS lens.
Ultimately my choice between these lenses came down to price, weight, and the type of photographs I usually shoot. The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L versions have a relatively high price tag so they were well beyond my budget. I had considered the non IS version of the f/2.8 lens but this version is almost double the weight of either f/4 versions. I was reasonably certain that I did not require an f/2.8 and that the f/4 would be fast enough – especially considering the landscapes that I often photograph. New cameras with great high ISO capabilities have also lessened the usefulness of f/2.8 lenses for me. I had decided that I wanted the IS feature so it really came down to the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. I should point out that I did not consider lenses from manufacturers other than Canon.
The stabilization system in the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS is a “4 stop” IS. IS systems like this one steady the lens when your hands move the camera – they do not have any effect on a moving subject. Essentially you can use a slower shutter speed hand held with the IS system turned on than you otherwise would be able to. The EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS also focuses internally, so the lens does not extend its length as you zoom.
How I use the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS Lens
While I purchased this lens mostly for wildlife and the occasional landscape, I was initially surprised how often I have used it for landscapes. There can be many distracting elements in a landscape scene and shooting at a wide angle might make it difficult to minimize these with composition alone. With the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, I am often able to concentrate only on the most important part of that sort of scene. In the first example below I focused on the patterns in the White Salmon Glacier on Mount Shuksan in Washington State. This was the most interesting part of the photo to me, and the effect would have been greatly diminished with a wider angle lens such as my Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS.
The White Salmon Glacier on Mount Shuksan in North Cascades National Park (Purchase)
Another example is this image of Eureka Falls – made possible due to the focal length available in the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM. The waterfall is 82 feet (25 meters) from where I was standing, but between my feet and the falls lies the swiftly flowing waters of Silverhope Creek. This was not a case of being able to walk closer to the subject. I already had some nice wide angle images of these falls from another trip and with this lens I was able to show some of the details in the water and the surrounding rocks.
Eureka Falls near Hope, British Columbia (Purchase)
Naturally I also use this lens for photographing wildlife. At a focal length of 200mm you have to be reasonably close to your subject – even more so on a full frame camera. While I almost always shoot landscapes from a tripod if possible, sometimes my wildlife shots are hand held depending on the circumstances. This is when the IS system comes in handy. This American Pika (Ochotona princeps taylori) was not moving but not easy to get near either. I needed to approach the Pika over various rocks and boulders on a slope so using a tripod was not going to be possible. I turned on the IS system and shot this hand held with good results.
An American Pika (em>Ochotona princeps taylori) in the Mount Baker Wilderness (Purchase)
Sometimes the subject is posing nicely like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) below. In a circumstance like this I always turn off the IS and shoot with my tripod. While a wide angle photograph might have looked good, being able to isolate the Heron on the rocks and the river flowing behind gave this image something special. This would not have been possible for me without the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM.
A Great Blue Heron on the shore of the Capilano River in North Vancouver, BC (Purchase)
When you purchase this lens you receive a lens bag and the ET-74 lens hood included. The only complaint I really have about purchasing the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM is that Canon did not include the Mount Ring A-2 tripod collar. Canon charges a lot for the tripod collar by itself, ($139) and it just seems that this lens is expensive enough to have included it.
Overall I have been very happy with the performance of this lens. I cannot think of an instance where it has let me down. I have found the images I have made to be very sharp regardless of focal length or aperture.
I have found the photographs made with this lens to have slightly more vibrant colors than with some of my other (lower quality) lenses. Less time spent editing colors later is always a good thing. This was my first L lens from Canon and it is definitely a step above my other zoom lenses in terms of image quality and construction. If you are considering a telephoto zoom lens I believe the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM would be one to consider.