Creating Drama With Shutter Speed

great blue heron - ardea herodias - at the capilano river

Great Blue Heron
(Ardea herodias) – 1/125 seconds

-click to enlarge-

   In October I visited the banks of the Capilano River in North Vancouver in search of some fall colours. I didn’t find much there, but the canyon is always so beautiful that I knew a photo opportunity would be likely regardless of the state of the leaf colours. Lucky for me, this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was lounging near the bank and posed for some photographs.

   Often when I shoot wildlife with my 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens, I switch to AV mode and f/4 so that I am always getting the fastest shutter speed possible. I do not know what I am going to encounter a lot of the time, and this gives me a good chance of being able to catch whatever action I may happen upon. On this day I had upped the ISO to 640, so that I had a bit of extra shutter speed available (1/125 sec) for this photo. Thankfully the 7D does great with much higher ISOs than this – so there is some room available for dealing with low light. When I came upon this Heron, I was able to make this photo quite easily with these settings.

great blue heron - ardea herodias - at the capilano river

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) – 0.6 seconds(Purchase)

-click to enlarge-

   While I like the above shot I thought there might be an opportunity to make a better photo. Having tried a number of ideas with a faster shutter speed, I decided to try a slower one to see what I could do with the water in the background. I changed my aperture to f/18, and lowered my ISO to 100 in order to create the longer shutter speed. Using a tripod, I made the photograph on the left with a shutter speed of 0.6 seconds.

   I believe that the blur in the river created by the slower shutter speed makes the second photo here much more dramatic and interesting than the first. The Heron doesn’t really change between them, the rocks remain the same, but the longer shutter speed creates a great effect in the river. While I do this quite often with static landscape subjects, this is one of the first times I have tried this with a wildlife photo. Granted, the Heron made a great subject for this attempt, but this really shows how varying shutter speed can have dramatic impact on the photographic result.

Eureka Falls in Detail

eureka falls in spring
Eureka Falls
-click to enlarge-

   This is a close up shot of Eureka Falls just outside Silver Lake Provincial Park near Hope, BC. A bit wider take on the panorama I posted earlier. These falls are pretty easy to get to – they are right on the side of the road. Unfortunately, (as you can see in my shots of this area last year) Silverhope Creek runs between the road and Eureka Falls. At this time of year the river is really roaring (or I presume, as I’ve not seen it any other time of year) and I have not been willing to go down the bank near it. The river is running fast enough, and the rocks large enough, that being swept away would mean I would not be coming back to this spot. I do hope to return later in the Summer or maybe Fall to see if the water levels are lower and the bank more accessible so I can get some different angles on the falls themselves. I am also hoping that Eureka Falls is not a seasonal waterfall and actually exists with lower water levels.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

A Barred Owl (Strix varia,) in Campbell Valley Park, Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

barred owl strix varia campbell valley park

Barred Owl (Strix varia,) (Purchase)

-click to enlarge-

   I went for a walk through some trails last week and while I wasn’t going there specifically for photography I brought the camera along. I figured that if I didn’t have it with me, an eagle would land in a tree right in front of me and well, I would be out of luck photographically. No eagles this time, but a Barred Owl (Strix varia) did land right in front of me and posed for long enough for me to get a few decent shots of it. I have never seen an owl this close before, and I’m lucky I had a camera poised to take the shot. A few weeks ago I was in the same spot on the trail taking some macro shots of Pacific Bleeding Heart flowers. If the owl had shown up then I would have had the macro lens on (instead of the 70-200mm), camera on the tripod, mirror lockup turned on, the ISO too low, and an aperture stopped down enough that a handheld shot would have been impossible. I guess what I am saying is I feel fortunate to have had all the factors work out for me this time! Getting a nice composition is difficult with so many branches sticking out everywhere though.

Focus on the Details

the chilliwack river in winter
The Chilliwack River in Winter

   When I first started getting serious with a “real” film camera I had a 28-90mm kit lens. Eventually I wished to move on from just taking random snapshots and actually gain more skills and take better photos. I read a bit on the internet about lenses and bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. The “nifty fifty”. It was at this point that I realized the difference lens quality can make. I couldn’t believe how sharp and clear the shots with the 50mm were.

   A few years after buying the 50mm I upgraded to a DSLR – A Canon 30D. Wow not only could I take 100’s of shots at one time, I was not paying for film and developing so I could actually afford to experiment and try new things. The 28-90mm kit lens was a bit better on the DSLR (cropped out some of the edge anomalies) but still had nothing on the 50mm. On the APS-C sensor of the 30D (1.6x) the 50mm was more like an 80mm lens. I really wanted to go wider so that I could get more into a shot. I saved up and bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. Good quality and really wide compared to the 50mm. I shot with the 10-22mm and the 50mm (the kit lens now relegated to a drawer for bad behaviour) for quite a while. I wanted to determine what I was missing the most before I went in that direction with a new lens.

nodoubt peak - part of Mount Redoubt - alpenglow
Alpenglow on Nodoubt Peak in North Cascades National Park

   A year or so after I bought the 10-22mm I filled in the gap between my lenses with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. At that point I had opted for crop sensors over full frame (largely due to price of both long lenses and the FF cameras) so the 17-40mm was not on my list. From there I went to a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM to get a bit more reach for wildlife. What I had not really anticipated is that I would be using this lens so often for landscapes.

the chilliwack river in winter
Abstract Chilliwack River

   Often as a beginning photographer I read about wide angle lenses as the be all and end all of landscape photography. Walking in to a camera shop and being asked what I like to shoot – the answer of landscapes would push wide angle lenses in my direction. I was rather surprised to learn what I had been missing in a longer telephoto lens for landscapes. In some scenes I have found it difficult to use the wider focal lengths in that they actually get too much into the frame. Ironic considering this is why I earlier had thought I needed a wide lens. The details of the scene are there, but are drowned out by distracting elements that take the viewer’s eye away from what is important. So my initial impression that I would always want to be at a wide angle all the time has actually changed to looking at the details and what is more essential.

eureka falls in spring
Eureka Falls

   I never would have predicted this sort of outcome when I started. I see many posts and articles devoted to gear and purchasing wide lenses for landscapes. I wonder how many of the beginners reading these thing will eventually start to favour longer lenses for their landscape photography? Would they be better off getting a telephoto lens before a really wide angle one? Maybe this is just a normal evolution for a photographer. Regardless, I am happy I have moved away from all wide angle all the time – the variety of shots possible at longer focal lengths is liberating.

Keremeos, BC

Keremeos is a small town about 350km west of Vancouver. Full of orchards and fruit stands, for some reason when I visited it earlier this last year on my way back from Kelowna and North Cascades National Park, most of what I photographed was a few plants and the “Sportsman’s Slide” talus slope just outside of town.

talus slope on sportsmans slide in keremeos bc talus slope on sportsmans slide in keremeos bc

talus slope on sportsmans slide in keremeos bc

Sunset behind Burke Mountain

sunset behind burke mountain

Sometimes the shots you think you will like from a trip fall to the bottom of the pile pretty quickly. A few weeks ago I was out near Pitt Lake hoping for some good sunset alpenglow on Mt. Blandshard (aka the ‘Golden Ears’). Burke Mountain ate up a lot of the direct light when the sun went low in the sky, and clouds obscured the top of the Mt. Blandshard peaks. What resulted was a rather bland panorama. Two years ago I would have been happy with it, but now I know it is a throwaway more or less – not bad but nothing special about it.

This was one of those times when suddenly the light just goes away. Turning around I saw the scene above – dark clouds with nice orange colours underneath. Thankfully I have just enough zoom in the 70-200 to show the detail of the treetops which I think adds extra dimension to the shot.

Rule #1 – Bring your Camera

small flock of dunlin - calidris alpini - feed along the shore of penn cove in washington state

   This is something I have learned the hard way. While I am not going to bring the SLR when I go to the grocery store, I have learned to bring it with me if there even a decent chance of finding something interesting to photograph. There have been many times when I have found something interesting – and every time this happens my camera has done me little good sitting in its bag back home. This can be a bitter pill to swallow when one comes across something spectacular.

small flock of dunlin - calidris alpina - feed along the shore of penn cove in washington state

   A few days ago I accompanied a friend on a journey to Washington State to buy a new vehicle. I debated whether I should bring the camera bag or not. It was quite likely that I would not have time to shoot anything – and also quite likely I would see nothing to shoot. I’ve had this debate before – and opted to not bring my equipment with me. Frequently this has worked out just fine, but other times I have missed great opportunities by leaving my equipment at home. So this time I brought it all with me.

   Glad I did!

small flock of dunlin - calidris alpina - feed along the shore of penn cove in washington state

   We stopped for a quick break along SR20 in San de Fuca which is just outside of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. Walked down to the shore and there was a small flock of Dunlin (Calidris alpina) foraging along the shore. A quick dash back to the car and I began stalking them along the shore. Not very skittish at all, but they did move along the shore away from me when I approached. I had to hide behind old timbers of a dock to get as close as possible. Normally it is much better to sit and wait for a group like this to wander back towards you, but they did not seem alarmed by my presence and I had no time to camp out. Dunlin spend their time here on the coasts of Washington State and British Columbia in the winter – fattening themselves up before a migration to their summer breeding grounds in Alaska and along the shores of Hudson Bay.

Maidenhair Fern in Cowlitz Box Canyon

maidenhair fern - adiantum pedatum - clings to cliff over the muddy fork of the cowlitz river in mount rainier national park

A Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) clings to the side a the cliff above the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River in Mount Rainier National Park.

I am still sorting through a few 2010 images that I have not fully processed – most from my last trip to Mt. Rainier National Park. This shot was taken looking down into Cowlitz Box Canyon. More from this location to come soon!