Monday, April 30, 2007

Digital ~ The Other Black and White Meat

It was my uncle Don who, for reason's he took to his grave, introduced me to photography when I was just this side of ten years old. Accidentally or otherwise he planted the seed.

It was 1968. The year Neil Armstrong was asking his manager at NASA "You're sending me where?".

That year my uncle and his wife visited the family and, I still remember the moment vividly, out of the blue Uncle Don and I zipped out to a toy store and he bought me a basic black and white dark room kit. It had everything needed to create nifty 4x6 B&W prints. Developer, stop bath, fixer, negative tank, paper, nifty and dreamy red Safe Light that I could screw into the fixture of what, until then, had been the downstairs bathroom.

I dunno. Maybe it's different these days but being 10 years old in 1968 and having not only my own Safe Light (tm) but a Dark Room to boot was a pretty kick ass feeling.

I wish I had asked him what motivated him to buy me such a pivotal present. I'm an uncle four times over now and wonder if something as powerful as my love for my nephews and nieces was at the core of his gift. Or was it just guilt at work? The dark room kit was, as best as I can recall, the first and last gift he ever bought me.

Regardless. We were both together at that moment and thanks to him I suddenly had the chance to discover a magical world in the reverse order that most experience photography. Rather than taking pictures and then developing them I developed my dad's negatives into prints and then wanted a camera to create my own pictures.

I wonder. Had there not been an Uncle Don would my love for photography exist?

Uncle Don planted the seed but it was my dad and mom that nurtured that seed into it's first bloom. They bought me the camera needed to create my own negatives and accepted me blacking out the basement windows in our house for years in order to have my own in-house dark room.

Thanks Mom and Dad. You did good.

Things are changing quickly though in the world of photography and what was a wonderful, solitary but strangely intimate technology of my early days is now all but consumed by the cool crisp world of the computer. Don't get me wrong. I love computers. My working world has, for many years, been nothing but computers and, for the most part, has delivered nothing but a totally enjoyable way to make tons of money.

But the technology that has been my most enjoyable hobby for nearly 40 years - print film - is on the wane. The biggest impact I've seen so far is the effect on black and white photography. There are killer films of the 20th century you can't get anymore. Ack!! Kodak's classic B&W Hi-Res Infra Red film .... gone. Konica 750 near-IR film .... gone along with Minolta and Konica. Ilford's SFX-200 near-IR film ... brought back by popular demand.

I guess what I'm saying is ... if you have even the slightest tingle of an urge to rediscover your film roots in photography go for it. Now. Don't walk to the photo lab ... run.

The first image in this post was taken with a Canon A530 digital in B&W mode. The second and third images were taken with an old school Nikon F100 with Kodak Infra Red film and, along with it's 35 cousins on the same roll, was a photo moment that was nothing short of magical.

Can the world of digital photography give me this again? ... I think it can.

Unfortunately it was such a technical challenge to use that I waited for when 'the time was right' to try it again.

Well, Kodak does not make the film anymore and even though the time is now right I'm, unfortunately, technically screwed. I can't buy the media needed to express my art.


It's like a painter discovering that he can't buy acrylic paints anymore.

"Sorry pal. Everyone loves the new 10.x Photoshop Acrylic Plug-In and no one's buyin' the paints anymore."


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Magic Light - Gentle Green

Sunrise and sunset bring out the best in natural light - magic light. Even if the day is overcast there is still something ethereal about the low angled light that accompanies the sun's arrival and acts as the overture for its departure.

This moment in spring in particular really catches this type of natural light well. I've been watching the gigantic 10 story tall elm tree in this picture for years now and this I think is when it's most beautiful. The leaves are still fresh and sparse yet just enough to perfectly compliment the rich nearly black wood of its trunk and branches.

Here the tree is illuminated by the sun 20 minutes before sunset. Magic light, sunset yellow and gentle spring green.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bay of Fire - Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is the perfect name for the stretch of Beach Avenue Vancouver between Thurlow St. and Pacific Ave. In particular during the middle of spring to the middle of fall. It's during this half of the year that the sunsets are slow to the point of being luxurious with, at the start of summer, twilight often lasting till nearly 11:00 PM.

Last night's demonstration of God painting with light was a classic show of fiery red. This photo was taken at 8:24 Pacific Daylight Time - roughly 4 minutes after the official time of sunset. It's a pretty dreamy image with no post-processing being done to the photo - not even my usual bit of digital sharpening. What you see is what I got.

With April coming to an end and my slightly broken promise of a post a day nearly up my blogging plans for May will be a bit different. I'll still have tons of new content (semi-daily) with a focus on old school Black and White and Color film photography. More importantly though starting May 1st I plan to post a week of sunset photos. Hopefully each will include a photo of a current sunset but the weather here in Vancouver during the spring tends to be 4 days of sun then 4 days of rain so there is no guarantee of decent images over the course of week. We'll see. My digital photography days started 8 years ago so I'm certain I can fill a gap or two from the archive if the weather washes things out.

And here's the usual reminder - click on any image to see a larger version of the photograph. I usually reduce the images to 33% of their original size but with a 10 mega-pixel camera that means a 3,872 x 2,592 image is reduced to something still pretty large - 1,278 x 855. Large enough in fact to create a decent 8 1/2" x 12" print.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nice Day ... If You're An Anaheim Mighty Duck!!

I'm a fair-weather hockey fan and with my home town Vancouver Canucks going up against the stinky Anaheim Mighty Ducks (Vancouver lost) and the Ottawa Senators going toe to toe with the New Jersey Devils (Ottawa won) I'm thrilled. Over the next few weeks I expect I'll watch more hockey than I normally see over the course of a year.

The rain continued today and after the Ottawa vs New Jersey game, right near sunset, I went out for an hour long walk in the rain and caught this photo of a glimmer of sunshine reflecting off one of the majestic and very wet iron sculptures on Sunset Beach. It's amazing what a bit of fill flash and your basic point-and-shoot camera can produce these days.

The environment this photo was taken in was a scenario these basic but powerful cameras are built for. Point & shoot cameras are easy to use, environmentally rugged and inexpensive to the point that I've no worries about bringing them along on a walk in the pouring rain. They can handle a bit of abuse and unlike a Nikon D80 (a camera that cost just over 10 times as much as my no-nonsense Cannon Powershot A530 5 mega-pixel camera) the little workhorse camera was there when the Nikon stallion was not.

As always diversity is the key. The right tool for the right time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Nice Day If You're A Duck

We have a rule here in Vancouver. If, after several days of rain, someone says the phrase "Nice day ... If you're a Duck!!" and then laughs in that slightly deranged way us Wet-Coasters will do after days of rain we're allowed to punch them. Alternatively, if you're not violently inclined, we can reply "Ya know, city bi-laws allow me to punch you for saying that. However, since I'm in a good mood I gonna let it slide. ... This time."

Here's a slice of the Vancouver Seawall looking like something out of one of those Post Apocalypse movies. You know, the ones where the hero awakes and discovers that everyone on the planet, except him, a fabulous babe and hordes of zombies has vanished.

This view is of the section of the Seawall between Sunset Beach, which starts at the base of the Burrard Street Bridge, and English Bay Beach, which is where Denman, Davie and Beach Ave intersect.

Today was a great day for a walk along the Seawall in the rain with mostly just the die-hard walkers such as myself, the poo-people taking their dogs for a walk and a smattering of Japanese tourists.

Oh, .. and lots of ducks. :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More Fun Than A Dozen Wide Awake Kittens

During the 2000 Abbotsford Air Show I had the unique opportunity to fly in the lead aircraft of the Snowbirds Aerobatic Team as we buzzed Vancouver, the south Fraser Delta and then the western Cascade range of the Rocky Mountains.

It was one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. So fantastic in fact that mid way through the flight, which lasted for 90 minutes but seemed like an instant yet forever at the same time, I wished that everyone I'd ever known could experience what I was chest deep in.

The Snowbirds no longer take press up prior to a show which is a sad but understandable thing. Prior to the flight we'd spent an hour going through the mechanics of how to perform a high speed ejection in the event of an inflight emergency.

To be honest as we were getting ready for the flight and I was being strapped in to Snowbird 1 by the ground crew I was reviewing in my head the emergency procedures I'd just been taught. Part of me knew that the half I'd forgotten I would have a tough time remembering while turning end over end at 10,000 feet and 450 km/hr.

The other part of me though knew that if push came to shove I'd figure out the half dozen steps needed to free myself from the various bits and pieces of the aircraft that would still be stuck to me after I'd ejected. The risk seemed worth it regardless and pailed in comparison to what lay ahead.

The pictures in this blog entry were taken with my first generation Nikon digital. The aptly named Nikon CoolPic 950. I'd bought the camera 9 months earlier and thanks to the fish eye lens and huge 1 gigabyte high speed flash card that I'd also bought I was able to take 80+ self portraits during the flight.

Sigh. I would so love to experience that afternoon again. And again.

What impressed me the most and is the memory that will be with me forever is how the Snowbirds, in flight, demonstrated the true meaning of 'team'. They fly as one organic creature of metal, machine and human. Interlocked in a an aireal ballet that, outside of the aerobatic teams of other countries, has no equal.

I wish everyone could have a day like I did that wonderful hazy August Friday of 2000.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Digital Infra Red

While not quite as dreamy an effect as the one you can get using Kodak's High Speed Infra Red Black and While Film, with a bit of digital tinkering you can get 75% of the way there with a regular digital image.

Today was almost summer like with a warm breeze blowing in from Washington State and high wispy stratus clouds portending the approaching rains. It should be a killer sunset this evening - 'Red sky at night - sailors delight.' and all that.

The majority of the trees along the Seawall and into Stanley Park (apart from the evergreens of course) are still in full bloom. Not quite 'ripe' enough to justify blowing $40 on a roll of IR B&W film along with the developing costs. Yet I'm already getting hungry for that afternoon to come and plan to warm up by shooting a few test rolls of old-school Ilford SFX-200 film over the next few months.

It will be sort of refreshing - in a way I'm not quite certain as to why - to shoot film again. I dunno, the ability to shoot a bazillion photos with a digital camera is great and all. And I do spend as much if not more time now on the technical aspects of photography in the world of digital. It's just ... I dunno ... maybe it's nostaligia at work or something but part of me still misses shooting film.

Wierd. Anyway, back to the future ... so to put it. :)

Today's photo was quadruply processed. First, using Nikon's Capture NX software it was reduced from 24 bit color to 8 bit black and white grey scale. Second, using ThumbsPlus, it was slightly sharpened. Then third and fourth, again via ThumbsPlus, a bit of edge detection was done to enhance, well, the edges and then a 'Pop Art' filter was applied to punch the contrast and lower the grey scale to 4 bits.

I really like the result but, sigh, the purest in me, having seen the results of real Infra Red Black and White photography, just .... doesn't ... quite .... dig it.
I bet though that if I encountered this image without knowing the digital trickery that went into it's creation I'd give it 'two enthusiastic thumbs up!'.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Sliver of Sunshine

I'm allways thrilled to get even a marginally decent astronomical image with the zoon lense on a regular camera. This one was processed slightly by brightening the part of the moon in shadow to bring out the detail a bit and then sharpened. It was taken with an AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm 1:3.5 - 5.6 DX lense zoomed to it's max of 200mm.

Sigh. If only I'd loaned Bill Gates the $1,000 he asked for back in 1982. Had I done so I might now be able to make a downpayment on this bad-boy -> Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM telephoto lense. The $4,100 US street price for the lens is a bit out of my league though. Far enough out of my league in fact to be just past the orbit of Pluto. I can dream though :)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lion's Gate Bridge ~ Stanley Park NW

Getting back and forth between Vancouver and Vancouver Island can be done via three main modes of transportation each of which is quite enjoyable. I've used them all, both for business and pleasure and, interestingly enough, there seems to be a direct relationship between the cost of the trip and its the fun-factor. The more expensive the trip the funner it is.

  1. Helijet - $199 Vancouver to Victoria
  2. Float Plane - $120 Vancouver to Victoria
  3. Ferry - $45 or so Vancouver to Victoria
The best though was the 20 minute Vancouver to Victoria trip by Lear Jet to the Commonwealth Games in 1994. That trip was a free-bee though thanks to me being in the right place at the right time.

Today I had several client meetings over in Victoria and went for option {2}. The weather on the way back to Vancouver was a bit choppy but the views, including this one of the Lion's Gate Bridge connecting Stanley Park and Vancouver's downtown to the North Shore, were spectacular.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vancouver Sun Run 2007 Timelapse Hi Res

A nice high resolution version - 720p res. for you video-nuts - of my Vancouver Sun Run 2007 timelapse video is now available at Stage6 - the source for DivX videos including quite a few at 1080p high def. You can view the better resolution version of the Sun Run video by clicking -> Here <-.

I wonder if it will hit 20,000 views like How Clouds Are Born managed to do?

Sun > Water > Wood > Iron

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vivid Red and Polarized Blue

If the weather tomorrow is as good as it was today (nice and sunny) I certainly want to improve on today's flower photo. The tulips have begun to bloom and this pretty collection you can find at the entrance to English Bay Beach in Vancouver.

The sunshine was a bit uncooperative when I took this photo yesterday so I'm hopeful that with a bit of solar punch the already luscious red will be even more intense.

Today I zipped over to Granville Island market for a series of shots looking north at the corner of Beach Avenue and Hornby Street south. At this spot you'll find a good collection of very late 20th century residential towers that deliver not only perfect post card material but stellar views of English Bay for the residents.

It's an area that sits on the south west corner of what became Yaletown and, in my opinion, provides some wonderfully creative architecture. It's also a great place to get a hair cut. :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stanley the Eagle

OK. So I've no real proof that the eagle in the picture is named Stanley. I'm not even sure if he is a he to be honest.

Eagles, and Bald Eagles in particular not only occupy the top of the natural avian food chain they also, for me, define the 10 on my 1 to 10 bird coolness scale.

During the winter 2,500+ bald and golden eagles nest 30 km north west of Vancouver near the sleepy little town of Brackendale. Last December my brother, nephew, niece and I drove up to see them and while the views were spectacular we wound up in a location that was not the best for taking pictures. Too far, too cold and too cloudy.

Today, while cruising through Second Beach, intent on finding some more subjects for a bit of close up macro photography, I spotted two eagles fishing just near the Second Beach pool. They were swooping and diving intent on grabbing something in the water and I kicked into high gear hoping to get closer for a few killer shots.

I was laughing an ironic, ain't life like that sort of laugh inside over the fact that when a stunning telephoto moment arrives my camera was equipped with a lens that's great for taking pictures of flowers from 6 inches away. But, in a pinch, especially when that's all ya got, a fixed focal length macro lens will do the job just fine. The eagles, who I expect are the two that annually nest inside Stanley Park, finally caught their fish, turned and flew towards me and back into the park.

It was an excellent moment and without a doubt a personal photo highlight for this year. Tomorrow some rather choice photos of tulips. A solid 7 out of 10 on my list of beautiful flowers.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fresh Pacific Rain Drops

Such a sad day today.

The rains beat against my apartment windows for most of the morning and afternoon and turned a 45 minute walk along the seawall into a chilled and somber affair.

The rain I am used to. In fact, as a slightly overweight power walker I love the cool mist on my face.

The events that unfolded today at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA however I will never get used to. Like a bad dream that keeps coming back to punish the sleeper for a transgression they have no recollection of having committed more children died today.

But, the empathy of nature knows no bounds and as I watched the dismal evening news the sun broke through the rain clouds and flooded English Bay with warm gentle light. Perfect macro-photography light in fact.

The smell of a wet beach, pacific air and the feeling of spring sunshine on my face beats anything on TV. Especially today.


Here's one of those cool jobs that they never teach you about in school. One that asks that you learn the details of your role on the fly while you are simultaneously up to your armpits in the thick of things and surrounded by others who are equally as confused as you are.

Sort of sounds like developing software in the ever changing world of computers. Only with the one shown in this picture you get to wear a cool t-shirt and shout encouraging things to 54,317 people each morning.

Sigh, if I had it all to do over again. :)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Vancouver Sun Run Time Lapse

As promised here's a 5 minute video (no music) of the Vancouver Sun Run as seen from 32 floors above the corner of Thurlow and Beach Avenues. If Stage6 is cooperating these days I'll upload the higher resolution DivX version there.

You Kids Get Offah My Lawn!!

The weather today was perfect for the 22nd annual Vancouver Sun Run. Cool ocean breezes, 75% scattered cloud cover and a mild temperature of 9'C.

This photo is quite fresh given that as I type this blog entry the final marathoners, the walkers, are still poring past my apartment. It's 11:15 AM Vancouver time and from the looks of it there is a good hour or so left before Beach Avenue switches from being a gigantic foot path back to just a regular scenic road.

As I've watched the walkers stroll past and did the mental math over my 3 hours of walking yesterday (13 km or so) I resolved that next year, as a minimum, I'll be part of the marathon and walk it. As always it's funny when I discover my own mental blinders. After 3 months of daily hikes of between 5km and 10km this year, as I've done 16 times before, I decided not to participate in the marathon because I'm not a runner.


Even though I walk the length of the marathon each week I let old habit guide me and decided not to do the marathon because I'm not a runner.

Pretty funny. Maybe in 2009 I'll run it. For 2008 though I'll be there power walking along with the rest of the over 40 crowd.

Congratulations to the 51,000 who "just did it".

Tune in tomorrow or the day after for a 7 minute 5:30 AM to 12:00 PM timelapse of Beach Avenue today. I did the same last year and it's a pretty cool video experience to watch a river of 51,000 people stream past.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Downtown Seawall

As Vancouver's downtown has grown and new developments have emerged along the north and south shorelines of the city core the double lanes of the Seawall path has grown right along with it. I'm not sure of the exact length of this 21st century foot and bicycle path but ... totally wild guess here ... I would say that start to finish the Seawall is now well over 40 km in length. A serious morning or afternoon of biking alongside the most picturesque scenery anywhere in Canada.

Today I decided to hit the north side of the Seawall and after a 15 minute drive around the interior of the park to survey the progress of the repairs of last winter's storm damage I parked and hit the trail. It was a great mid morning two hour walk with cool spring sunshine and light crowds.

The devastation in the park still amazes me even though I've seen it dozens of times now. For you weather fans a one hour tour of today's Stanley Park will show you, in very graphic and ugly detail, the effects of storm induced micro-cells. These are little tornadoes that popped up in the park during the peak of the storms. Micro-nukes. Huge gigantic building sized trees flattened while 10 meters away nothing.

Shudder. I still remember the two most vicious of the storms. The one in November in particular. I've been witness to some nasty storms in English Bay over the past 16 years but that night the storm was different. Not only did it set records and nuke the crap out of Stanley Park there was something almost animal about it. At 3:00 AM, as the storm lashed away at my apartment 32 floors over the bay, at times I could hear this deep harmonic moan. The sound people say they hear just before a tornado strikes.

Tomorrow is the big Vancouver Sun Run 10k marathon and, unfortunately, the current forecast is predicting a brutally sunny day. Ugh. The event always makes for some awesome pictures as 51,000 sweaty Vancouver-ites run past my apartment at Beach and Thurlow. This year I think I'll stand out front and as the first serious marathoners streak past my apartment I'll yell encouraging and West-End crazy things like "You kids get off-ah my lawn!!" :)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Murphy Scares Off Friday the 13th

Murphy, my brother's first cat, was a wonderful companion.

I had the pleasure of living with Murph for a number of years and, to borrow from Albert Camus it was Murphy who, in the depths of winter taught me that there was in me an invincible summer.

Simply by being in the right place at the right time and doing nothing more than the thousands of wonderful things that kittens are prone to do Murphy transformed a dark time into one of light.

Thank you Murphy. I will never forget you.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spring Sunset - March 11 2004

One of these days I'm going to do a video of 365 English Bay sunsets. One for each day of the year. The only wrinkle is that I'm not certain if even I would have the patience to watch it. 365 sunsets at 4 seconds per with a 1 second dissolve transition between each image would work out to just over 30 minutes.

Given the potential boredom factor of such a piece I think I'll start small and rather than the mother of all sunset videos I'll try a 180 degree image of English Bay, Kitsilano, Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and West Vancouver. I'll knit together 12 images at nearly monthly intervals with a PhotoShop blend between each frame.

It might look rather nifty as a 36" by 24" poster.

This image is a flash from the past - 2 years and 1 day ago in fact. A most spectacular sunset.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

February Showers Bring March Flowers

The finer points of macro photography still elude me but I am making some progress.

If I'd taken this shot two days earlier I think the blossoms would have been perfect. Of course, two days before this photo was taken it was a grey drizzly day but why let a bit of reality hamper self criticism? :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Late Bloomer

One of the interesting thing about walking the Vancouver Seawall 6 to 7 times per week has been being able to watch spring unfold in what seems to be slow motion. The past is the past and all but ... sigh ... if I had it all to do over again I would have started a daily walk along the seawall years ago. During previous years if my life was too busy I would see a few blooming trees, blink and then ba-bing it was summer.

Not this year.

Very early in January I started my diet and exercise program and as a result I have had the pleasure of watching the various trees and shrubberies that line my daily walk slowly shake off their winter slumbers and blossom. Don't get me wrong though. It's anything but over and spring is still very much in high gear. While the Cherry Blossoms have nearly completed their blooming in the downtown core of Vancouver the larger trees have just begun.

It's a magical process to be a part of.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lost Lagoon Heron

Several weeks ago Mike and I headed out to Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park to grab some nature photos in the fading light of an early spring evening. I was a bit worried that the lack of light would deliver little in the way of anything worth photographing.

Well, with a bit of fill flash, the occasional slow exposure and heavy reliance on Vibration Reduction lenses we wound up with dozens of really great shots. It was a result that makes me chuckle even more thinking of a quote I read from a professional nature photographer -

"If it's cloudy I won't even leave the house."

Almost sounds like the famous Linda Evangelista quote

"We have this expression, Christy and I: We don't
wake up for less than $10,000 a day"

Point ... what was my point? Oh yes, Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park.

Mike and I got quite a few good shots that evening including this pic of one of downtown Vancouver's resident Great Blue Herons. A very pretty bird that looks majestic both in flight with its 2 meter wing span gracefully plowing the air and while fishing on the shore. Standing over a meter in height they are hard to miss.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Magic Light

Magic Moment ...

Right place ...
Right time ...
Right light ...
Right equipment ...
Completely cute subject.

I love having a brother who has a passion for photography that half the time exceeds my own.

Recently Mike picked up a 1 meter light reflector and this Easter weekend we had the chance to play around with it.

To be honest the power of the new photo-gizmo with mid-afternoon spring sunshine was considerably more intense than either of us expected. As with any new piece of tech however we both understood that working out the details and sweating the small stuff is just part of the all too familiar learning curve.

The reflector has two sides. One that's very reflective and is perfect for cloudy days or diffuse studio lighting. The other side is diffuse and works great for high sun outdoor shots and high powered studio lighting sessions.

Above is a photo of my perpetually cute niece Elise with brother Mike holding the mega-beam-of-fill-light and me working the camera. A moment in time that caught the magic and showed me once again that photography is not so much an expression of technology as it is painting with light.

It was also a moment that reminded me of an early scene in the still cool 1998 movie The Fifth Element.

Early on in the movie, several hundred years before the period where the core of the story unfolds, an archaeologist is working inside an Egyptian tomb uncovering the primary plot arc of the soon to unfold kick-ass story. As he dusts away thousands of years of grime from the history of "The Fifth Element" the local boy providing him with reflected light for his work inside the tomb nods off half asleep. "Azeeze!!! More Light!!!" the archaelogis belows.

Coincident with this moment in the movie and his demand for more fill-light is the landing of an inter-stellar space craft outside the tomb. As the demand for better reflected light leaves the mouth of the 1930's archaeologist the spacecraft powers up it's exterior lights and illuminates the interior of the tomb. All of which is in preparation for the next scene that captures the entrance of a half dozen "superior beings".

"Ahhh, thank you Azeeze. Much better." responds the archaeologist.

It's a great flic.

Thanks Elise and Mike. :)

Sundog Details

Astronomical phenomena such as sundogs are a relatively common occurrence. What makes them appear to be so rare is, for the most part, a natural result of something being missed by a pair of eyes that have become accustomed to bright sunlight. They are often there it's just that in the natural glare of the sun your eyes have become blind to them.

The web is rich with numerous sites that include detailed descriptions of the solar optics involved in the creation of a sundog as well as a great collection of photos.

The British site Atmospheric Optics includes some beautiful imagery of the classic sundog halo along with a technically accessible discussion of the the science involved.

The first image in this post is a wide field of view of English Bay at 7:05:56 PM March 26th 2007. The image was taken with my trusty Nikon D80 using a Nikkor AF-S 18-200 mm VR (Vibration Reduction) digital lens at an aperture of f/6.3 (wide). The exposure time was 1/640th of a second at a fixed 'film speed' of ISO 100.

When I first saw the sundog it was so bright and large (thanks to the perfectly positioned cloud-lette) that I thought it was an airship off to buzz the tourists in the downtown core of Vancouver. Two or three blimps descend on Vancouver each year and while the shape of your run-of-the-mill zeppelin is anything but what I saw that evening the technocrat in me initially ignored the natural explanation and went for the man-made one. "Blimp. Gotta be."

This period of disbelief lasted but a few seconds however. Once I'd put the pieces together, in particular the fact that the halo and the sun were separated by 22 degrees, I realized I'd just bumped into the photo-op of the year.

All of the images in this post were manipulated as follows:
  1. They were re-sized from the D80's natural resolution of 3,872x2,592 (10 Mpixels) to 1,278x855 (suitable for 8"x14" framing).
  2. Mild sharpening was applied to the resized pic to pump the contrast just a touch.

That was it.

Having gone through the images many times I expect more than one sceptic will suspect that a bit of digital trickery was employed to create them. I can understand such a reaction. The intensity of the sundog was such a rare event (I've never seen a better one in 48 years) I can fully understand a sceptical response. However the images are pretty much what I saw that evening and the event is one that for me personally is up there with the months spent watching the great Hale-Bopp Comet of 1997 hang suspended over English Bay. Fortunately this time, unlike the last, I took lots of pictures.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sundog Sonet

Near the end of March, as the day slipped into night, the forming sunset created the best sundog I have ever seen.

Here's a four minute video slide show of the photos I grabbed that evening. Over the next few days I'll pick several of the coolest and post them here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tidal Pool Green

Each time I see a tidal pool I can't help but think back to a research paper I wrote during my post-grad at Carleton U. in Ottawa. I'll skip the gory biochemistry and quantum mechanics and take the easy, Web 2.0 route and just link to this article on Primordial Soup
up at Wikipedia.

The basic gist of the various theories of primordial evolution is the attempt to answer the question "What started it all?" How did such complex constituents of life such as DNA, RNA, sugars, proteins, etc. ever get created in the first place?

The answer to this big question revolves around the events that lead up to the creation of a diverse and sustained primordial soup of basic organic molecules. Heat, pressure, ultraviolet radiation, lightening, etc. combined to bond together the very basics (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen) into simple sugars, the precursors of DNA, etc. In fact if you put the basics of our planet a billion or so years after it cooled enough to be called a planet into a flask, heat and zap it for a few days you'll get the basics of life. Skip needing 7 days, a good bit of electricity can get things rolling in 2.

Anyway, I nearly metaphysically digressed. Back to the reason for the picture above.

The downside to most theories on primoridal evolutions theory is that ... well it's a big nasty ocean. Even if the right combination of events occurred to create your run of the mill amino acids the harsh oceanic environment would quickly break them back down to their constituent atomic bits.

In come the Tidal Pools to save the day. These wonderfully aromatic pockets at the edges of any of the seven seas act as natural concentration points for the goop of life and, even more important, protect the nascent stuff-o-life (tm), at least for awhile, from the ravages of the ocean. With tidal pools life get's a chance to start and evolve and eventually we get MP3 players and wardrobe malfunctions at Super Bowls.

Here's the dramatic finish. Tidal pools of course only exist because our oceans have tides. And we have tides thanks to having a moon. So, the next time you see a full moon rising think of the kittens. Without the moon and the tides it creates kittens would very likely not exist.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Concrete Forest

The downtown core of Vancouver splits itself along Burrard Street. West of Burrard you'll find the older residential side of Vancouver commonly called The West End. East of Burrard is where the newer developments appear and where Yaletown itself is located.

The older part of downtown, a high density spot I've called home for the past 16 years, is dotted with numerous old trees and, as you travel deeper into the West End, ends with a gigantic forest known as Stanley Park.

Pictured here is the corner of Thurlow and Beach Avenues with one of the 30,000 cherry blossom trees in the foreground. A concrete jungle that manages to share the ground and sky with nature.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Upclose and Personal

I was almost tempted to use the Me As A Porsche 911 pic as my post of the day but ... like dieting ... why lie to yourself? I set the goal of a picture a day and skipping out on that personal promise I'd consider deep into the You Can Run But You Can't Hide category of human behavior.

Plus, while cruising up to Second Beach this afternoon (today was a grey day, a bit of rain, ocean smells were great and I videoed several ravens collecting stuff for their nest on the beach) I remembered this cute photo of one of the many Stanley Park racoons standing infront of his/her lair.

Cute caption: Nothing to see here but us twigs. Move along everyone.

Movie link caption - [... Using Robert De Niro voice from the movie Taxi Driver ...] Are you talkin' ta me? Are you? .... Talkin? ... Ta me?

It's doubtful though that the raccoon ever saw Taxi Driver so my thinking is the first caption is a bit more plausible. :)

What Type of Car Are You?

I'll be honest - I've never really thought of myself as a car. However, given that I've loved adding bits of techno-geek (GPS systems) not to mention fog lights (caution) and a front impact grill (body armor) to my current vehicle (Honda CRV) the link below proved revealing.

I'm a Porsche 911!

You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite,and you know it.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Across The Shore From Yaletown

Mix together 2 months of Expo'86, half a dozen hectaires of a dilapidated and rundown warehouse district and billions of construction dollars and the result is Vancouver's Yaletown district. This area has proven to be quite interesting to watch evolve and over the past few decades, as each glittering glass tower has risen from the next vacant lot a futuristic micro-city has emerged in the heart of Vancouver.

This photo is from the north east tip of Granville Island looking across False Creek towards Yaletown. Having watched this area evolve for 16 years what I've noticed is that the hi-rise construction in Yaletown seemed to pass through a series of phases with the current phase being nothing short of spectacular.

Phase one included several stark and utilitarian monoliths that looked to be about as inviting to live in as a futuristic prison would be. The idea of having to get a bar code tatooed on the back of your neck in order to qualify for a mortgage must have erked many condo buyers. I'm just kidding of course ... I think. Fortunately the city revolted at the prospect of turning the south east side of Vancouver into a massive prison camp and instead turned 180 architectural degree's and phase two arrived.

During this short lived second constrution burst rather than massive ugly buildings that looked like they'd been designed by a summer co-op student who just clicked on Auto-CAD's MyNewProject wizard what we got was low-rise (10 to 15 story) brownstones and enough metro-sexual funk to choke one those micro-apartment-dogs. It was all very nice and was certainly a welcome switch from phase one but the construction proved to be both a shame and a sham. Many of the new buildings were constructed with building standards that assumed it never rained in Vancouver. Ooops. You mean this isn't Phoenix Arizona? A decade and many millions of dollars and lawsuits later the last of these leaky condos are about to loose their green construction covering and return to daylight. Welcome back.

Phase three saw a burst of construction that stamped out semi-pleasant but derivative 40 story high-rises. The new kids on the blocks filled in the core of Yaletown and extended themselves down to nearly the water's edge at False Creek. But, sigh, each of the cookie cutter buildings lacked enough character to ever receive an appreciative second glance. On the upside however the new buildings have made what was to come in the next phase shine even more.

Phase four, which we're deep into at present, has unleashed one unique and beautiful building after another. As the cheaper interior lots were consumed by the phase three buildings what was left was the really pricey stuff. The crazy out of this world pricey stuff. The $750,000 for an 800 square foot one bedroom & den condo crazy stuff. Given the enormous price the remaining lots and subsequent condos asked, not to mention their killer locations (the water's edge) what has resulted is high class artistic design and a uniqueness of architecture with each new sky scrapper that makes my jaw drop each time I see the yet again changed skyline.

Phase five, while not in Yaletown itself, is in high swing in the downtown core of Vancouver with some 60+ story commercial/residential stratosphere scrapping towers being built. Landmark buildings for a landmark slice of Canadiana. What a cool city this is.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Stanley Park Staircase

The flowering cheery and plum trees have been in full blossom for nearly a month now. So much so that my photo archive is nearly bursting with every conceivable angle, lens and perspective on these gorgeous flowers.

For the second year in a row the city has sponsored the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival that pays tribute to 60 years of blossoming trees. The web site for the festival is nicely done with schedules for the early and later bloomers. Even though many of the trees near my apartment have shed most of their blossoms there are many close by, including those in Stanley Park, that have just begun to show off.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

One Pic a Day Plus One

Officially spring is barely 2 weeks old yet for us here in Vancouver most of March and a good chunk of February has already delivered that virginal blush of nature at her most delicate.

Ahhh spring. The older I get the more spring becomes my favorite season. Why is that I wonder?

Perhaps it's the lack of the humid thickness of a thunderstorm laden evening that is an Ontario summer. Or maybe it's the fact that winter, at it's most extreme on the west coast is but a week or two of chilly inconvenience.

Whatever. The days have been glorious and over the past weeks I've accumulated a ton of wonderful images and video. Some duds to be sure but many photographs that take even my jaded breath away. I caught the most spectacular sun dog one recent sunset. One so vibrant it made any that you'll find on the web thin by comparison.

This month I will post a new pic each day plus one on the first of May. I've enough new content to fill each day already but to spice things up I'll dip into the older archives as the month unfolds.

To begin here is one of the half dozen swans that call Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park Vancouver her home. This August I'll return to this spot with my trusty old-school 35mm loaded with Kodak Infra-red film. Nearly 10 years ago, with my first role of infra-red no less, I created magic that I've yet to do again. Maybe this year.