Saturday, 30 April 2011

Spring Blooms

The arrival of spring brings with it a host of new photographic opportunities.  Last week, while strolling along the steep banks of the Pelly River,  I noticed several patches of purple sprouting up amongst the dead plant debris.  With camera in hand I descended the slopes to discover I had stumbled upon a cluster of flowering prairie crocuses. 

These showy plants belong to the Buttercup family (anemone) and are one of the first signs of Spring in the Yukon.  As soon as the snow melts these furry perennials sprout and bloom long before the actual leaves begin to emerge.  The flower is a favourite food source for ground squirrels and deer.

To capture these flowers I used a Nikor 105mm  f/2.8 macro lens attached to the Nikon D700.  The camera and lens were mounted on a tripod.  I'll be posting more on macro photography in the coming month.

Ok, it's back to the swans this afternoon.


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Swans of Tagish

Observing and photographing wildlife along the shores of the Tagish River (often referred to as the Tagish Narrows) could not have been any better than it was during last weekend's Easter holiday.  Excellent weather conditions, blue skies and a thousand swans rewarded those who took the time to travel the 100km distance from Whitehorse.

During the holiday weekend biologists had observed well over 1000 trumpeter swans, 400 tundra swans and scores of migratory ducks swimming and feeding along the shores of the Narrows.  Thousands more could be spotted at Swan Haven on Marsh Lake and along the open stretches of Kluane Lake.  From what I understand the bridge over the Teslin River at Johnsons Crossing was also a popular spot to photograph swans.

Joining the swans were wigeons, pintails, goldeneyes, buffleheads, mergansers, green-wing teals and mallards.  Numerous bald eagles and northern harrier hawks patrolled the skies over the waters in search of unsuspecting prey. A pair of river otters also playfully swam alongside the icy shores in search of food and a resting place.

A handful of international photographers had also taken up temporary residence along the Narrows during the weekend.  Photographers of every skill-level stood for hours along the shores of the Narrows or on the bridge hoping to capture their prized shot as the swans flew overhead or swam by.

Overcast skies, a steady breeze and chilly temperatures dominated much of Good Friday.  Weather conditions improved remarkably on Saturday morning when brilliant blue skies and plenty of sun provided ideal conditions to photograph the swans.  The clouds and haze had returned by Sunday afternoon.

My most successful shots from the previous three weekends were those from Saturday morning's photo-shoot.  The crisp blue skies were the perfect backdrop for the snowy-white feathers of the swans as they flew overhead - I could not have wished for a better day.  Sadly, I only had a few hours with the swans that day as I had to return to Pelly Crossing for a few hours.  Wish I had more time as the skies were not as blue on Sunday.

My camera of choice this past weekend was the Nikon D300 (for its digital crop factor).  The Nikor 300mm f/2.8 lens (with a 1.7x teleconverter) was my principal lens for the swan shots.  Aperture priority was used, the continuous high shutter command was set ON as was the VR (vibration reduction).  With the bright skies an ISO of 250 (underexposed by 1 stop) was all that was needed to capture sharp images.  Most of the swan flyover images were handheld.

Well over 600 images were shot during the course of the weekend, of which a dozen or so were 'keepers'.

What a stellar weekend!  Life has finally returned to the Yukon!!

Join me in the coming days as I share my top 10 ten tips to successfully photographing swans.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world,


Monday, 18 April 2011

Sunday morning with the swans

I'm still smiling from ear to ear as I sort through my images and recall my weekend with the swans of Tagish River.  Such a treat it was to have photographed and observed them.  

In the coming week I'll post a few more images along with some notes on my observations and tips to photographing these elegant creatures.  

Good night.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Good morning from the Yukon

Just a quick note to let you know I'm back home after spending a superb weekend with the swans in the southern Yukon. 

I've just unpacked my bags, ate a quick dinner and now I'm off to bed - it has been a very long, but rewarding day.  More images and text to follow shortly.

Hope you enjoyed your weekend.


Saturday, 16 April 2011

Swans in flight

Greetings once again from Whitehorse!

The trumpeter swans continue to arrive en masse as they make their way northwards to their summer breeding grounds throughout the Yukon and into Alaska.  Each year, in early spring, the swans make a brief 10-day stopover at Marsh Lake (and surroundings) where they rest and fatten-up on aquatic roots and other plants before they resume their journey northwards.   As of Friday biologists have observed at least 400 swans in the region (a far cry from last year's record of 2000+ individuals).

My goal for this weekend was to try and capture the beauty and elegance of their flight with my camera and 300mm lens - not an easy task as I have discovered.  Constantly changing light conditions (thanks to the clouds), an unpredictable flight path and keeping a steady hand while using the large lens were some of the challenges I faced as I tried to snap crisp images within a short time frame. 

One of the best places to photograph the swans in flight is from the Tagish River Bridge.  This morning I counted well over 100 swans feeding and swimming on both sides of the small bridge.  Every hour or so (sometimes much longer) a pair would fly overhead forcing me to scramble to get into position for a good shot - no worries, there was very little traffic on the bridge.   

All in all I spent close to 4 hours today observing the swans feed, swim, rest and communicate with each other.  I did notice a few pairs calling and bobbing their heads together in unison (supposedly a behaviour used to strengthen pair bonding).   I did manage to photograph a few fly-overs along with 8GB worth of behavioural images - some of those will be posted in the coming days.  

I'm pleased with my results as this was my first attempt photographing birds in flight.  There's still oodles to learn - lets see what tomorrow brings.

Good night,  


Camera settings for the day: 
- Vibration Reduction set 'on' (a similar function appears in Canon cameras)
- camera set at Aperture Priority, Continuous High and underexposed by a full-stop (for sunny days this will avoid blowing out the whites in feathers)
- f/stop between 5.6 to 8
- ISO 250 (will try for a bit higher tomorrow to obtain a faster shutter speed)
- spare batteries as the VR function takes its toll on batteries
- 16GB memory card (will record over 700 images in RAW)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Last dance

Nikon D700/Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @3.2, ISO 600/ 15sec

Shortly after 1am this morning the clouds broke free for a few minutes to reveal what was perhaps one of the last dances of the aurora for this season.  A mild geomagnetic storm had been brewing across much of the northern hemisphere for the last 48hrs and had triggered some spectacular northern lights across much of Alaska and northern Europe/Russia.  Unfortunately for us the last few nights had been cloudy.

There are only a few short weeks left before the season of the aurora gives way to the shine of the midnight sun.  I'm hoping for at least one more grand finale before then.

Good night!

Monday, 11 April 2011

An Afternoon with the Swans - con't

Greetings once again from Swan Central!

I'm still on a natural high from yesterday's fabulous photo shoot near Tagish Lake, Yukon.  As I sort and process the well over 200+ images I cannot help but think how fortunate I was to have found such a peaceful place to observe and photograph these graceful creatures in relative close proximity. 

As mentioned in yesterday's post I returned to the small river that joins Marsh Lake with Tagish Lake in hopes of photographing the swans in better lighting conditions than those of Saturday afternoon.  As I drove towards my destination the weather had begun to deteriorate with sudden snow squalls creating temporary whiteout conditions on the highway.  The dark ominous clouds appearing over the mountain tops didn't help matters either.  So often that morning I had wanted to return to the warmth of my hotel room in Whitehorse - thankfully I ignored those thoughts. 

By the time I arrived at the Tagish Lake Campground conditions had improved remarkably with blue skies, sun and scattered clouds.  I should not have been surprised by this as the weather here always turns on a dime.   

Within minutes of parking the car on the side of the highway I was deep into the bush with my camera gear and tripod in hand trying to slog my way to the river.  As the snow was still knee-deep in place I decided to follow an old moose trail that snaked through the maze of spruce and pine trees.  It appears as if the moose had similar thoughts as its tracks eventually lead me to the edge of the steep river slope from where I could scour the icy shoreline for my swans.  It wasn't long before the Trumpeter Swans had announced my presence to the rest of the world.  I waited for a few minutes before I continued quietly along the shoreline until I came to a small clearing that afforded an undisturbed view of a pair of swans resting, preening and 'talking' to each other while they were standing on a thick slab of river ice.  The sun was directly in front of the pair so this created some neat lighting conditions.  I spent close to an hour with the pair observing their behaviour and trying to capture those moments with my camera.  Throughout the hour both individuals kept a very close eye on my every move.  Eventually the pair had other plans and swam away to join their buddies.

I continued to explore the shoreline for a few more hours and did manage more swan sightings.  I estimate there must have been at least 100 swans along this tiny river system.  Toward the end of my day three swans flew quietly by me as if to signal I had overstayed my welcome.

What a treat it was to watch and photograph these critters in their undisturbed environment - an environment surrounded in complete silence and snow-capped mountains.  The silence was interrupted on occasion by the French Horn-like calls of the swans as they chatted with each other and by the steady breeze blowing over the tree tops.  The smells of the spruce and pine needles brought me back to my days canoeing through Algonquin Park in Central Ontario.  Ahh, the lure of the wildnerness!!  I'm so thrilled that spring has returned.  

I could have easily spent a few more hours photographing the swans had I not needed to return to Pelly Crossing (a 5hr drive away).

With lighting conditions being so good I decided to set my camera between ISO 250 and 320.  I elected to use the Nikon D300 camera for its digital zoom factor as it would allow me to take closer images than with a full frame camera.  I used my 300mm f/2.8 glass with 1.7x teleconverter.  Both the camera and lens were mounted on a tripod.  HINT - make sure you set your tripod correctly when shooting on a steep slope (you don't want to sacrifice your top-heavy camera to river below).  A cable release was attached to the camera to minimize camera shake when snapping images.  Oh yes, the camera was also set to Continuous High and Aperture Priority.

I cannot wait until next weekend!

Good night, 

Sunday, 10 April 2011

An afternoon with the swans!

Hi again - I just pulled into Pelly.  A very long day but a rewarding one.

Late this morning I returned to the river that connects Marsh Lake with Tagish Lake with the hopes of photographing more swans.  The weather was ideal for photography with plenty of sun, soft light and clouds - oh yes, there was the occasional snow squall and whiteout conditions.   More importantly I had very cooperative subjects.

All in all I spent close to four hours with a group of 20 swans while I was crouched under the boughs of a spruce tree.  I felt privileged to have watched and photographed the swans go about their business without a care in the world.  I'm pleased with my efforts.  

It's shortly before midnight and I'm pooped....  more images to come tomorrow.

Good night

The Real Swan Lake

Images with D300,  Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 with 1.5x extension, f/7, 500ASA 

Hi again from the Yukom, home to over 2,000 swans!

After a very long winter the swans have finally started to arrive en masse.  For the next few weeks scores of Trumpet and Tundra Swans will congregate in the rivers, lakes and marshes around the Whitehorse area for a chance to rest, feed and gather strength before continuing their journey further north to their breeding grounds in the High Arctic.

What a sight it is to see so many swans gracefully navigate the icy shores of Tagish Lake (2hrs south of  Whitehorse).  Most are in pairs, while there are a handful of what I think are family groupings with last years brood still sporting dusty grey feathers.  So far most swans are hanging around in the few stretches of open water available - a narrow stretch at Marsh Lake (1hr south of Whitehorse), a larger opening between the river that connects Marsh Lake with Tagish Lake and behind the dam on Marsh Lake (viewing accessible from the Alaska Highway).

Next week Yukoner's will honour their feathered guests with a week-long Celebration of Swans event mainly centred at Swan Haven, an interpretation centre at Marsh Lake.  Interpreters will be on hand to explain the natural history of the swans and other migratory waterfowl.  Unfortunately for photographers, the swans are resting at a considerable distance from shore. 

I wanted to see if I could find a spot to photograph the swans up close and in relative isolation from the hundreds of birdwatchers who have also flocked to Marsh Lake and its surroundings.  After a couple of hours of driving I found myself on the shores of a small river that connects Marsh Lake with Tagish Lake.  There I was pleasantly surprised to find at least 100 swans quietly carrying out their daily business.  It was tricky to find a clearing that afforded an undisturbed view of the swans.  After a bit of bushwhacking I did manage to find several vantage points with clear views of the swans below.  So neat to listen to them communicate with each other - it was as if they were all playing individual French horns.   

Rubber boots, snow pants (to keep your butt dry when sitting in the snow) and lite gloves are highly recommended if you plan on spending any time photographing these characters.  Patience is also in order as they constantly move about and lighting conditions can be tricky.  It is also a good idea to bring along some bear spray as the grizzlies have started to emerge from their winter dens - and I would guess they are a tad hungry :)

I'm heading back there today to take a few more pictures before making my way back home.  I'll post more tomorrow with locations and photo details.

Enjoy your Sunday!


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Enjoying another Yukon Golden Sunset

Greetings once again from the Yukon!

Sunday night was a gorgeous night to watch the sun set.  Moments before the sun was about to retire for the evening the sky was set ablaze with various shades of orange and yellow.  Once again I quickly searched for my camera, 300mm lens, tripod and cable release and made a mad dash across the street in hopes of capturing the silhouettes of the spruce and alder trees set against the dramatic backdrop.  I managed approximately 30 images - two of my favourites are posted above.

I was hoping for a repeat performance tonight - no luck.  Lets hope for tomorrow evening.  Speaking of which, aurora forecasters are predicting a good chance of spotting the northern lights tomorrow night. 

The days are certainly getting longer - the sun rose at 7:13 and set at 21:02

Good night from the Yukon.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

No April Fools

Quick note as its well past midnight - the northern lights made a brief appearance tonight over the skies of Pelly Crossing, Yukon.  Shortly before midnight I decided to peak outside my window to see if there was an unexpected celestial display.  Thankfully there was.  I quickly gathered my camera, tripod, cable release and memory card and bolted outdoors to capture the tail end of the show. Tonight's temperature was a balmy +3 oC (don't miss those -45 degree nights).

I was a bit spooked of heading out too far as the grizzlies have now started to emerge from their winter dens - I don't relish the thought of bumping into them in the middle of the night.

Not the best shots tonight as the street lights interfered with my images. 

There won't be too many more nights like tonight as the aurora are quickly giving way to the midnight sun which will grace our northern skies till August.

If you missed the shots from the spectacular March display be sure to click on March archives found on right hand side of this page.

Good night!  
Photo specs:  1200ASA, f/3.2 (Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8), 15 sec exposure (Nikon D700)