Monday, October 30, 2017

Fabulous Fall Hikes


Early fall is an absolutely amazing time here in the Canadian Rockies. The mosquitoes have gone, as have most of the tourists; the temperatures are not sweltering hot anymore but range from freezing at night to a balmy warm, perfect hiking temperature during the day.
But best of all are the colors!!!
In early fall the colors just explode...and whenever I can find a willing hiking companion, I'm
'gone hiking'.

Here a few of my favorites:

Bugaboo National Park is always a gorgeous hike , but the fall colors just give it that extra touch.

The glacier and spire up close
Looking through fireweed
Although I did the hike this summer, I took these images last fall while hiking with friends from Germany and Tomi.

Path through the larches
Konrad Kain Hut

When my friend Monika arrived for her this years journey to the Canadian Rockies we just lucked out on the weather and the fall colors...as hot and dry as the summer might have been, this fall was unprecedented in regards to color!
 

We headed up to Banff National Park for the larches and were not disappointed.
Coming from the Plain of the Six Glaciers we descended to Lake Agnes via the Big Honeycomb.
What a view...




On the short hike down from Lake Agnes to Lake Louise you get a peek of the glacial moraine leading into Lake Louise.


Not yet completely discouraged by the totally insane amount of tourists this year in the park, we headed out to hike Larch Valley the following day.
Well, if we had known what to expect just to get there, we might have decided otherwise....
Since the parking lot at Moraine Lake, where the trail head for Larch Valley is located, only holds about 120 cars, the park administration closed it for anyone coming after 7 am. One has to park at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot and then take a (school)bus up to Moraine Lake. The bus runs every 15 min, so that alone didn't sound too bad. BUT what we hadn't counted on was that we had to stand in line for 45 min to get on the bus....well, I had always wanted to ride a school bus.


Once we were there though and tried our best to ignore the hundreds of other hikers, we were rewarded by a beautiful hike, stunning views and unbelievable fall colors.



View from Sentinel Pass


After all, it was worth braving the masses!




Please feel free to click on the images for a bigger view


After this near traumatic tourist overload experience Monika and I craved for a more serene, quiet hike. Following a recommendation from Janice Strong, we checked out Brewer Creek the following week; a beautiful hike in the Purcell Mountains.


Parts of the trail were already snow covered, but this just added to the beauty!


After the fist incline, a wide meadow opens and a 360 view of the area rewards the hiker.


One more incline and one reaches a plateau with three tarns, about 1km from each other.



Narrow 'yellow' trails lead from tarn to tarn.


Can it get any more picturesque?


And, except for two other hikers, nobody else on the trails! For next fall I will go with what Goethe recommended:

Warum in die Ferne schweifen, wenn das Gute liegt so nah!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

THE 2017 Solar Eclipse


Wow, only a few topics have made so many headlines than the recent solar eclipse.
And for a good reason, it sure was a rare natural phenomenon.

The internet is overflowing with spectacular images, unfortunately also with spectacularly fake images.
As I was discussing this with another photographer friend, the question arises, where does fake start and where does real end.
Almost all images one can see of the recent eclipse went through photoshop in one way or another, for a good reason as I will explain later.
The last partial eclipse I was fortunate enough to photograph was in May 2012 and the timing was much better as this eclipse happened later in the afternoon when the sun was lower in the sky.
All three of these photos are a single shot using multiple neutral density filters at the same time.

 Partial eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, California May 2012
 Partial eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, California May 2012


 Partial eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, California May 2012

This time the challenge was that the eclipse happened around noon, when the sun is the highest in the sky, the smallest and the brightest....

First I debated if I should drive south, into the path of the total eclipse. In hindsight, I think I should have, but at the time I just didn't want to deal with traffic jams and photographers fighting for the best view points.
So I cruised around here, even thought of going to Lake Louise, scouting out different places the week before. Lake Louise was not in the right path of the sun and also was, as the rest of the park, rather smokey. I found a lovely place directly on the bank of the Kootenay River and decided - that's the spot.
Since one doesn't photograph a solar eclipse every day, some planning was required.
Luckily I had already ordered solar filters for my lenses, as I knew neutral density filters wouldn't do it this time. The rest was a bit of photo - math, composition, bracketing and, yup, Photoshop.

I had two cameras set up, one with a wide-angle lens, as I wanted to show the eclipse in it's entity

 Kootenay Eclipse

and a camera with a 600 mm lens to get the sun close and intimate.

 Eclipse Collage
Obviously neither of these images are a single image.....

The 'Kootenay Eclipse' is a combination of a photo that I took of the scene before the sun moved in but already with the solar filter attached:

 Scene before the sun moved in


and multiple images that I took every 10 minutes from start to end of the eclipse, with the solar filter attached.

These single images look like that:

Wide-angle eclipse photo


You see only black? Double click on the image to enlarge it and you will see the dot, which is the eclipsed sun (in the same stage as the zoom image below). Why such a strong filter: if you enlarge the image, you will see that even with this filter the sun is almost too bright. Without a filter it would be just a bright, blinding dot, like this:


 Eclipse without a filter
For the same reason you had to wear solar glasses in order to see the eclipse.

On the computer I combined all of the eclipse images with the original scenery image and blended them together in a way that the lighter parts show....and the 'Kootenay Eclipse' was the result.


Why is the sun so small you wonder, since there are thousands of images out there with scenery and a much bigger sun? Well, I combined images that were shot with the same settings, as in composition and size, to reflect what actually happened but you couldn't see with naked eyes.

I could have taken the images from my telephoto lens and put them into the scenic shot:


 Zoom lens eclipse in a wide-angle scene
Much more dramatic, eh? And I didn't even take any care in combining them, as I wanted to make sure everybody notices, that this image is 'not real'.


But of course I wanted to photograph some closer up images of the sun, too.  Hence the zoom lens.

Here I also took images of the eclipse every 10 minutes, each image looking like this one:



Single zoom image

All of these images I combined to one big collage that shows the progress of the eclipse, resulting in the "Eclipse Collage". The orange cast on the sun is a result of the filter I used.

Now, where does real end and fake start? The answer is very subjective, as photography is an art form and art is free. However, photography also is kind of documentary or at least is perceived as such. Hence, if one puts a zoomed in eclipsed sun image into a wide-angle scene, it's fake, as it does not reflect what actually occurred in nature. Of course it is still art and mostly brilliantly done, but...
This is just my opinion and I would LOVE to hear yours!!





Saturday, July 29, 2017

Wildies


I was thrilled as my friend Debra Garside invited me to join and co-lead her Wild Horses workshop last month in Sundre, Alberta. Not only is Debra an amazing horse photographer, please check out her work on the Sable Island Horses, she also is a horse woman inside and out! Thus she can read horses better than any photographer I know, which is invaluable when photographing WILD horses.


Mare with foal
Being almost a local to the area where the wild horses roam led Debra to many outings and photo session with them, hence she knew where to find them...another big plus.

Same mare with foal leaving with the herd
Although I did know all this, the actual workshop exceeded  my expectations by far. Had I hoped for maybe one or two encounters during the three days, we actually had so many I couldn't keep track.

Advances...
We could see all kinds of behavior, some all understood, some were more subtle, then Debra would explain to the participants what was actually going on. Except the stallion in the above maybe, most horses were so clean and shiny as if someone had just groomed them with show shine...amazing!

Mare peeking through tree branches
Now you are probably wondering, just as I did, how "wild" are these horses? Runaways from the sixties, more feral than wild? Far from it! The first round of genetic testing revealed that these horses could be more closely related to the Mongolian Horse.
Let's go a bit into the natural history of horses in North America. I would like to quote an article from the June 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal:
"The first equids appeared about 56 million years ago in North America. Over millions of years they went through vast changes as they adapted to profoundly altering climates and habitats. Species arose, disappeared, or merged with others. Ultimately, the genus of the modern horse Equus (which also includes asses and zebras) appeared in the fossil record some four million years ago and gave rise to a branch of caballine (true) horses that appeared about two million years ago.
Around the same time, some Equus species dispersed into Eurasia across the Bering land bridge, and some return migrations back and forth followed. But in North America, the caballine horses diversified into separate species leading to the appearance of today’s modern horse Equus caballus exclusively on this continent about 250,000 years ago. Over millennia, a wide variety in size and type of the modern horse continued to evolve throughout North America, and some populations migrated to Asia and spread to Europe.
But in North America, horses became the victim of the disappearance of large mammals between 13,000 and 7600 years ago. Fossils of ancient horses have been unearthed in the Dawson City area of the Yukon (Equus lambei), a small caballoid horse carbon dated to 10,000 years ago, and in southern Alberta (Equus conversidens), dated to 11,300 years ago and killed by early hunters."(1)


Very handsome stallion
It is believed that all the horses on the American Continent are descendants from the horses that the first Spaniards "reintroduced" in the early 1500.
Hence one would expect that also the wild horses genetic findings would show the Spanish heritage. Finding genetic traits from Mongolian horses could mean, that the horse was NOT "extinct" and is truly a native wild animal of North America. Even if this can not be validated, even the "Spanish horse" would be a reintroduced wild species, as the wolf in Yellowstone or the bison in Banff.

Bff's
Ok, and why would that matter? Well, as everywhere where nature and humankind are close together, there are opponents. In this case opponents that argue that the wild horses are "feral, alien, or an invasive species. They [...] overpopulate ranges, compete with wildlife and livestock for grass, and impact tree regeneration and the health of habitats." (1) and hence propose major culling of the wild horses.

If the genetic testing can proof that these horses are from Mongolian heritage or if one accepts that they are a reintroduced native species, the alien and invasive species argument is invalid and the wild horses would have to be treated as what they are: Native wild animals!

 Flyswatter aka Mom's tail

Two organizations are trying hard to promote and protect the wild horses in Alberta: The Wild Horses of Alberta Society (WHOAS) and Help Alberta Wildies.
On our third day of the workshop we visited the headquarters of  WHOAS and met some of the leading volunteers and 'rescued' now geldings. The wildies most often come under fire when the young stallions leave the herd, or get driven out by the head stallion, and now are looking for company or mares to breed. Sometimes they then jump into domestic horse pastures and havoc breaks loose. Or they harass riders that happen to be the misfortune rider of a mare...
Repeat offenders get caught and brought to WHOAS. Here they get gelded and handled, so that they can be adopted. This is not always easy as this post from Debra shows: The true wild horse story of Cody

Bachelor group play-fighting
WHOAS also supports the wild horse mare contraception project, a long term study to show wild horse populations can be safely and humanely managed by 'birth-control'. WHOAS is a completely volunteer operated organization that relies on donations.....I know, I know...but this is a matter close to my heart and I saw how well the rescued horses were treated and handled. And I also know how much work even two horses make in our climate, not to think how many horses are at the WHOAS at any given time.
You can donate via paypal...it doesn't get much easier ;-), just click here: Donate to WHOAS

Another bachelor group, if you enlarge the image you will see two birds "chasing" them
The cherry on the cake? We not only saw wild horses....we also ran into this Black Bear momma...


...and got almost run over by these curios Bighorn Sheep ewe's with their kids.


The sheep came running at us with what felt like 100 km/h, but as I slowly and cautiously stepped out of  the car, kind of hiding behind the car door, they slowed down and one after the other came and checked me out, cautious and gentle, to the point where even my wide-angle lens couldn't handle it anymore.


I fell in love with this posing "newly-born", if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will see that the shriveled up umbilical cord is still tangling from it's belly,


The light was most of the times rather challenging as horses are late risers and when they are tucked down they are a.) not so photogenic if you b.) find them at all. On the first evening though we got lucky and saw a herd in the last rays of the day.

Last rays


Best of all? Debra offers these amazing 3 day workshops ongoing. As I happen to know the next one will be around Mid-October. If you are interested, please shoot Debra an email and mention you read this blog.

(1) The Canadian Horse Journal, June 2013

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Kelpies!


As a horse woman and art lover the visit to the Kelpies in Falkirk, near Edinburgh, was a must.
But I truly believe this amazing sculpture boggles everybody's  mind....


The Location:

The Kelpies are part of a newly designed parkland, called the Helix, which connects 16 communities within the Falkirk area. The sculptures are a landmark at the eastern entrance to the Forth and Clyde canal and a new canal extension built as part of The Helix park. To get a better idea of their unique location take a quick peak at the Mayflower website, their aerial image about the project gives you a good idea.


The Vision:

The Kelpies are designed by the Scottish sculptor Andy Scott. With strong ties to the Falkirk area,  "Falkirk was my father's home town and that inherited association to the town has been one of my driving inspirations. A sense of deep personal legacy has informed my thinking from the outset, with old family connections anchoring me to the project." (1) his artistic mind created the perfect sculpture to express his vision.
Here in his own words:
"During the conceptual stages, I visualised the Kelpies as monuments to the horse and a paean to the lost industries of the Falkirk area and of Scotland."
"The original concept of mythical water horses was a valid starting point for the artistic development of the structures, but from the original sketches of 2006 I deliberately styled the sculptures as heavy horses. In early proposal documents I referred to Clydesdales, Shires and Percherons, of the fabled equus magnus of the northern countries." (1)
In the end it were two Clydesdale horses, Baron and Duke, who stood model for the famous sculpture.



While photographing the sculpture near sunset I was fascinated about the many angles and views...if you look closely in the above image the horse is about to eat the moon, in the below image it looks like a dragon spitting fire. The light playing and reflecting on the steel plates lets you imagine the muscles playing in the horses neck and face.
"The mosaic effect created by the flow of the plates and the view through the openings capture the horses as if in motion." (2)

The mosaic effect created by the flow of the plates and the view through the openings capture the horses as if in motion.


What's in the name:

In the Scottish legend a Kelpie is a shape changing water spirit which haunts rivers and streams, mostly in the shape of a horse. They are wicked creatures who may appear as cute pony to lure children on their back, but once mounted the children were unable to get off and the Kelpie would drag them in the water and eat them!
Well, no wonder Andy Scott preferred Clydesdales...


This sketch I photographed through the window of the giftstore at the park, which unfortunately was already closed. I would have loved to buy it. Click on it to see in in full size and see the relation of people to the sculpture! We were standing in front of the Kelpies and after having seen this sketch I almost was waiting for the moment they would stomp out of the water and run us over.


This image of the Kelpies under construction I photographed off a recycling bin. For a real insight of the construction of this massive statue I highly recommend watching the The Kelpies -Time Lapse , it will give you goose bumps!





Some Numbers:
  • the Kelpies were built in only 90 days (see time-lapse) starting in June 2013
  • they are 30 meters/98.4 feet high
  • the foundation consists of 1200 tonnes steel-reinforced concrete per head 
  • each horse head weighs 300 tonnes
  • the sculpture is made with 928 unique steel-skin plates



Reflections


"The artistic intent of (the Kelpies) is built around a contemporary sculptural monument. Water-borne, towering gateways into The Helix, the Forth & Clyde canal and Scotland, translating the legacy of the area into proud equine guardians."  Andy Scott, Sculptor  (1)



During the evening and night the Kelpies are illuminated with ever changing colored light, which inspired me to create this poster.


Although we spent hours there, I can't wait to go back...after all they are Kelpies...they will lure me back.


Sources:

(1) The Helix
(2) Engineering the Kelpies
Andy Scott Sculptor
Tata Steel, a case study
Mayflower Engineering 
Wikipedia - Kelpies
Time Lapse