Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cheltenham Badlands Closed

Nestled unexpectedly within the pastoral green, idyllic Caledon Hills countryside an hour north of Toronto lies the red Martian landscape of the Cheltenham Badlands.  It has been one of my favourite photographic locations since I learned of it while on-location for an episode of a television series I worked on in the late 1990's. 

During my initial visit I knew that there were many great photographs to be made but that I probably wasn't going to get any that day. As I began to explore the space and frame shots it became apparent that there was much that I needed to discover about it first. I have returned regularly to see how its character changes with the time of day, the influence of weather and the seasons, as well as what different camera positions reveal and emphasize. For example, shooting up toward the lone tree located in the middle of the formation from a specific point near the bottom emphasizes the strength and resilience of the tree with all lines leading directly to it (see the Strength photo below).  It creates a very different feeling than shooting down from the top, evident in other photos below. I believe that having such a location that is inspiring and regularly accessible is very helpful in our photographic development.  It certainly has been for me.
Strength, Cheltenham Badlands, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, 2001

The Cheltenham Badlands is located along the Niagara Escarpment, which is part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is composed of soft red clay-like, iron rich, Queenston Shale deposited approximately 450 million years ago and exposed in the 1930's as a result of poor farming practices.  The red colour is due to iron oxide deposits and the greenish streaks that run through it is the result of ground water changing the chemistry of the materiel. This kind of badlands topography is very rare in Ontario.

Cheltenham Badlands Closed 1, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, June 2015

Cheltenham Badlands Closed 2, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, June 2015

There has been a rapid increase in visitors every year since I've been photographing the badlands.  Not everyone has treated the fragile landmark with proper respect; I've even witnessed individuals riding their bikes up and down the hills and gullies. As a result, it was fenced off and closed to the public at the end of May 2015 to stop further damage while a conservation plan is being developed.

More information about the closure is available at

Cheltenham Badlands 2, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, June 2015

All is not lost for us badlands photographers. The image above is one example of the kind of photos that can still be made without trespassing into the fenced off areas. Click the image for a larger view.
Terra Cotta Snow, Cheltenham Badlands, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, 2001
 Absorbed In Stillness, Cheltenham Badlands, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, 2006
Badlands Snow, Cheltenham Badlands, Ontario, Canada, 2006
Reciprocity in Blue, Cheltenham Badlands, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, 2001

Friday, July 3, 2015

Winter Solstice / Summer Solstice Solargraph

My second solargraph is a six month 182 day exposure spanning from the December 21, 2014 winter solstice to the June 21, 2015 summer solstice. 

Solargraphs show the path of the sun over a period of time using homemade pinhole cameras and old fashioned light sensitive photographic paper. For this image the camera was pointed west over the southern part of Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada with a 122 degree field-of-view. A retaining wall can be seen at the bottom of the photo with the beach and sky above it.  The lowest sun trail is from the winter solstice and the highest from the summer solstice which together represents the full movement of the sun over the changing seasons.

Read more about solargraphy at this previous post:
Solargraphy (128 Day Exposure of Time, Space and Weather)

 12.21.14 – 06.21.15 (182 days), Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada, 2015

Here are a few crops of the full solargraph image, above.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival 2015

Norman Felix Gallery, Toronto, Canada
May 1 to 31, 2015

Opening Night: May 7, 2015 (6pm - 2am)

I'm in a group show for the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival again this year.
CONTACT is the largest photography event in the world, and a premiere cultural event in Canada.It stimulates excitement and discussion among a diverse audience that has grown to over 1.8 million.

Contact Photography Festival Exhibition 2015

Norman Felix Gallery | | 416-366-6676
445 Adelaide Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5V 1T1
Thursday 11am - 5pm, Friday 11am - 5pm, Saturday  11am - 3pm

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Revival of the Landscape – Image Ages Magazine

A selection of my work along with a question and answer interview was featured in the February issue of Image Ages Magazine (Yingxiang Shidai), a photography publication from Hunan, China. 

The front cover, left, portrays the surrealistic photography of Luis Beltran.

The article about my work is entitled Humanism.  The photograph on the top left page is Uprooted and Spiritual Seclusion is on the right. Beneath that is The Priest's Stone on the upper left, Dunluce Castle on the lower left and Collapsing Farmhouse on the right. The Dark Hedges is on the last page.

Uprooted (left), Spiritual Seclusion (right)

The Priest's Stone (upper left), Dunluce Castle (lower left), Collapsing Farmhouse (right)

The Dark Hedges

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Milky Way Photography (A Short Tutorial)

In contrast to my homemade pinhole camera solargraph, featured in an earlier post, this photograph of the Milky Way was taken from the same geographic location using good equipment and completed to the best of my technical abilities at the time. 

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy approximately 120,000 light-years in diameter and containing between 100 and 400 billion stars, of which our sun is one.  There are billions of galaxies in the universe, which is, hypothetically, one of an infinite number or universes (see multiverse).  It is as unfathomable and humbling as it is beautiful.

The Milky Way Photo
The Milky Way 1, 2014

I used a Nikon D800 camera, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens, Gitzo Explorer Series 2 tripod with Ball Head, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I set the camera to manual mode, turned off noise reduction, vignetting and distortion corrections, set the ISO to 3200, the shutter speed to 20 seconds, white balance was 3600K (modified during post processing), the lens zoomed out to 14mm at f/2.8 and the focus was set to infinity.  The images were saved as RAW files. 

I utilized the image stacking technique to create this photograph.  This is when several photos are combined on top of each other in order to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of high ISO images resulting in a cleaner and more detailed photo.  Another option for less noisy results would be to decrease the ISO, but that would increase the exposure time resulting in star trails because of the rotating Earth, which is not something that I wanted.  Anything above 20 seconds would reveal visible star trails with my camera and lens combination.  A third option would be to use a star tracking device which moves the camera in perfect sync with the rotation of the Earth allowing for very long exposures at low ISO. Since I didn't have one I opted for the stacking technique.

It's important to shoot from a location with minimal light pollution, sadly, something that is increasingly hard to find.  Check out this light pollution map to see what I mean.  My location was between light and dark green on the map, which is not terrible but could be a lot better.  The quality of the results will definitely be limited in urban areas. 

I used the camera's built in intervalometer to take a series of 24 photos, one after another.  I imported the images into Lightroom for basic colour correction work and exported them as 16-bit TIFF files.  I then switched to Photoshop.  Under Scripts in the File menu I selected Load Files into Stack... and made sure that "Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images", necessary to counter the Earth's rotation over the course of the 24 exposures, and "Create Smart Object after Loading Layers" were checked.  Once Photoshop was done processing I went to Smart Objects in the Layers menu and changed the Stack Mode to Median, which is the magic of the stacking technique.  The noise was greatly decreased while the details were preserved.  I flattened the image and finished with a little more post processing work.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Finding Your Photography Style - Podcast Interview with Bret Culp

You can listen to a recent podcast conversation I had with Marko Kulik about developing a unique photographic style at or on iTunes.

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast #134 fea­tures an inter­view with Toronto, Ontario fine art pho­tog­rapher Bret Culp. Dur­ing the inter­view we talk about find­ing and devel­op­ing your own pho­tog­ra­phy or shoot­ing style. Bret offers up some prac­ti­cal tips on how to make this process easier.

Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, by Ansel Adams
Mono­lith, The Face of Half Dome, 1927, Ansel Adams

In the podcast I discuss that the iconic photograph Mono­lith, The face of Half Dome, made by Ansel Adams in 1927, is a great example of an artist choosing a specific technique as a way of expressing how he felt about a subject, as opposed to trying to capture exactly how it appeared before him.  The story goes that Ansel was unhappy with his earlier photographs of this subject citing that they lacked the power he felt when in its midst.  In a moment of inspiration he decided to place a deep red filter in front of his lens resulting in a darkened sky and increased contrast, releasing the drama of the scene that he felt when looking at it.  To my knowledge, this photograph was the first time he used such techniques, and for which he became famous.

You can listen to the podcast at:


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Solargraphy (128 Day Exposure of Time, Space and Weather)

My first solargraph, below, is the result of a 128 day exposure made from August 16 through December 21, 2014. 

Solargraphy is an alternative photography process that uses homemade pinhole cameras and very long exposures to record the suns movement across the sky over days, weeks and months.  A single image allows for a view of space, time and weather patterns that we are normally not able to see.  Uniquely, it reveals the gradual change of the sun's path from one day to another, due to the Earth’s slightly elliptical orbit and 23.5° tilt.  The missing or broken trails are the result of periods when clouds have obscured the sun.

As a photographer committed to the using the best tools and techniques in order to produce the most technically competent photographs I can, solargraphy is a wonderful lo-fi liberation from technology.  Much of its beauty is the result of uncontrollable factors such as moisture, dirt or fungus that may invade the camera, temperature fluctuations and whether the days are sunny or cloudy.

08.16.14 – 12.21.14 (128 days), Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada, 2014

The camera was facing west-northwest over Georgian Bay.  The tree line is visible on the right side of the frame and there is a hint of the shoreline along the bottom.  Every day the sun burned a new trail, the highest in this image from mid-August, the lowest on the winter solstice.

What I like most about solargraphy is that in contrast to the instant gratification digital age we live in, solargraphs take their own time, and the results are often a surprise.

More to come, in good time.