Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 

Brad Hill: Blog: Q3 2007 (July to September)

Short-winded blatherings on whatever is currently occupying the part of my brain that deals with photography. Updated sorta weekly.

24 September 2007: "Orca Art" Declared "Photograph of the Week".

My photograph entitled "Orca Art" has been declared "Photograph of the Week" by the French website NundaFoto. Check out what they're saying about this shot on NundaFoto's website. This is the 3rd consecutive week where one of my images has been declared the "Photograph of the Week" - I'm both flattered and very appreciative! Orca Art is available as a Limited Edition Print (details here).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

21 September 2007: Talus Lodge - A Class Act High in the Rockies.

I spent last weekend in a remote lodge high in an alpine meadow in the southern Canadian Rockies. Talus Lodge is the dream-come-true of Chris Espinel and Dan Verrall. It's a first class operation located just above treeline along the Great Divide that forms the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta. The setting is nothing short of spectacular. The lodge sleeps up to 10 guests. Chris and Dan offer guided or self-guided hiking (and showshoeing in the winter) in an environment that has to be seen to be believed. If you are interested in a first-class alpine adventure, ya gotta check out Talus Lodge. Not surprisingly, a few images shot up there just made it into my gallery of Latest Additions - check them out!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

19 September 2007: "Misty Morning Dip" Declared "Photograph of the Week".

My photograph entitled "MIsty Morning Dip" has been declared "Photograph of the Week" by the French website NundaFoto. Check out what they're saying about this shot on NundaFoto's website. Misty Morning Dip is available as a Limited Edition Print (details here).

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

11 September 2007: "Textures of the Tundra" Honoured Again.

Just two weeks after capturing Nature's Best Magazine's "Picture of the Week" honours (see entry of 24 August below), "Textures of the Tundra" has drawn more accolades. This time France's wildlife website NundaFoto has elected it their "Photograph of the Week". Check out what they're saying about this shot on NundaFoto's website.

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

10 September 2007: Online Nature Photography Communities.

If you're a nature photographer looking to connect with other like-minded individuals you might want to check out some of the online communities of nature photographers. I've been involved with the Nature Photographer's Network (NPN) for about 3 months and more recently I joined NundaFoto. Both offer discussion forums covering a host of topics of interest to any nature photographer and both give you the ability to post photos for critique by their community members. I like the Photo Critique forums in particular - having your work critiqued AND putting in the effort to thoughtfully critique the work of others is a great way to hone your "photographic thinking".

Nature Photographer's Network (www.naturephotographers.net). This US-based website has members from around the world and is populated by a very active community (including some AWESOME nature photographers!). Very active Photo Critique forums (with over a dozen different categories) and discussion forums. A one year membership costing $49 provides you with full benefits, including a 120 image portfolio on PhotoPortfolios.net, ability to participate in all galleries and forums, listing of your own personal website on their Links page, plus more. English only. Definitely $49 well spent!

NundaFoto (www.nundafoto.net). This French-based website (which is offered in both French and English versions) is dedicated to wildlife photography and has a real international flavour. Offers virtually all the same features as the NPN but in an even slicker interface. Photographic content (and discussion forums) are slightly more limited than with NPN - this website if for wildlife photography ONLY (NPN supports ALL facets of nature photography, including macro work, floral work, landscape photography, and more). Joining Nundafoto costs nothing - an even better deal than with NPN!

I highly recommend both of these online communities. They're a great way to learn more about nature photography and get YOUR images seen!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

5 September 2007: Kill a Wolf, Save a Caribou??

The government of British Columbia has long had a reputation for condoning the slaughter of wolves. This year there's a new twist to the wolf slaughter story - the carnage is being performed in the name of Mountain Caribou conservation! Does this make any sense? Read on...

What the Government Did: In 25 hunting management units in central BC the government has removed all bag limits on wolves (in most of these management units the bag limit had been 3 wolves). This, coupled with the fact that a BC resident needs no license to shoot a wolf, encourages anyone with a gun who opportunistically encounters a wolf pack within these regions to freely blast away until all the wolves are killed.

Why Slaughter the Wolves? The management units affected contain dwindling populations of Mountain Caribou, one of North America's most endangered species. Predation by wolves, bears and cougars HAS been found by scientists to be an immediate and proximate factor hindering the recovery of caribou populations. So...the policy of wolf eradication is being justified in the name of caribou conservation.

Will the Wolf Slaughter Save the Caribou? Not a hope! The major and ultimate contributor to the decline of the caribou is habitat loss, primarily through logging the old-growth forests needed by the caribou. Other factors include increased human access to the winter ranges of the caribou (largely by snowmobiles and heli-skiing operations) and the current policy of rapid clear-cutting of forests infested and/or killed by pine beetles. Wolf slaughter/control will be completely ineffective in saving the caribou unless the ALL the root causes of caribou decline are addressed, and addressed fast. Knowing the compromises that most governments make, and the pattern of action shown by the BC government towards conservation plans in the past, it is highly likely that the wolf slaughter will be completely in vain. This is a crying shame, and - in my opinion - ethically and morally reprehensible!

Is This the Whole Story? Nope, not even close to it. The issue is complex. But it has been thoroughly studied and a recovery plan has been fast-tracked by the BC government's own Species at Risk Coordination Office. The government has received a group of detailed recommendations from its mountain caribou science panel. These recommendations include protecting up to three million hectares of mountain caribou habitat, and caribou-friendly management for two million more. Have they acted on the full list of recommendations? Nope - just the wolf kill portion. North America's favourite scapegoat takes it on the chin again!

Want More Information? To learn more about the plight of the mountain caribou, and the actions that have been taken to stop their decline, go to mountaincaribou.ca. Links to the actual Mountain Caribou Recovery Strategy documents are available at the Species At Risk Coordination's Office website. And, you can download a PDF of BC's Hunting and Trapping Regulations and view the regulations governing the wolf "hunt" (slaughter?) and outlining the regions with "no bag limit" shooting here...

WHAT YOU CAN DO! There's a great list of actions you can take on the FAQs page of mountaincaribou.ca. Help save a caribou. Help save a wolf. And empower yourself all at the same time...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

29 August 2007: For Sale: Nikon D2X Digital SLR, 17-55 mm Lens, and 12-24 mm Lens

I've got three new pieces of used equipment available for sale - a D2X body, a Nikon AFS 17-55 mm f/2.8 G DX ED-IF zoom lens, and a Nikon AFS 12-24 mm f/4 G DX ED-IF zoom lens. Why? Prices? Check my Gear 4 Sale page for all the info!

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

24 August 2007: Nature's Best Photography Magazine's "Picture of the Week" Award Winner.

Every week Nature's Best Photography Magazine features a single image selected from submissions of photographers worldwide. They judge these images on composition and technical quality. My image entitled "Textures of the Tundra" was selected as the feature image for the week of August 23 to August 30, 2007. Check my winning entry out at Nature's Best Photography website (only until August 30). This was my first submission to the competition.

Nature's Best Magazine is the world's premiere nature photography publication. It's chock full of great images, and not many ads! If you haven't seen it or don't subscribe to it, visit your local newsstand and grab a copy - it's simply a fabulous publication.

This week's winning entry is available as a Natural Art Images Limited Edition print (only 25 prints available for sale/distribution). Details here...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

23 August 2007: Nikon D3. Nikon D300. And 5 New Lenses.

Well, the news has finally broken - late last night Nikon announced two new camera bodies and 5 new lenses. In doing so, they tipped their hand and showed the direction they're going to take in the near future. The D3 is targeted at the pros - it's full-frame (image sensor approximately the same size as a piece of 35 mm film) but with "only" 12.1 megapixels, which means that the camera has large photosites. This should translate into super-clean, noise-free images, even at high ISO settings. And, it's blazingly fast - up to 11 frames per second (fps)!

The other new camera body, the D300, is being touted as the replacement to the very successful D200 - it comes in at 12.3 megapixels (more than the D3!), but has an APS-C sized images sensor (the ol' DX format). This camera is amazingly well spec'd out and, in my opinion, is being offered by Nikon to appease all those folks who've invested in DX lenses. I suspect you'll see a LOT of pros picking up one of these!

Lenses? Not only did Nikon come out with a few absolutely critical pro lenses for the full-frame D3 (a 14-24 mm f2.8 wide angle zoom and a 24-70 mm f2.8 "normal" zoom), but they updated 3 of their legendary super-telephotos (the 400 mm f2.8, the 500 mm f4, and the 600 mm f4) with vibration reduction (VR) and nano-crystal coatings. Prices on the lenses haven't been announced yet, but expect the super-telephotos to be close to or beyond the 5-digit threshold (ouch!). As always, the best place to get the full specs is at Phil Askey's dpreview.com website. Here's what I consider to be the highlights of the cameras and lenses:

Nikon D3: Things that REALLY stand out for me with this camera include, in order of their importance to me:

Large Photosites: "Only" 12.1 megapixels distributed over a full-frame sensor, accompanied by a new image processing engine, SHOULD be associated with a very high signal-to-noise ratio and thus very clean images with very low noise, even at high ISO settings! YES! In the recent past Nikon has really lagged here relative to Canon, but they may have just more than levelled the playing field. Sports and news photographers will love this, as will any nature photographer who shoots in low light.

New 51-point Autofocus: While it's hard to pre-judge how well Nikon's latest and greatest autofocus system will work until a camera is in hand, it's looking like Nikon's auto-focus system just took a quantum leap forward. Theoretically it should work great in low light and should have awesome capabilities for tracking moving objects. Given the grief Canon shooters are having with the autofocus system of the EOS-1D Mark III (details here on Rob Galbraith's website), it's possible that Nikon will take back the lead in this aspect of camera performance.

Blazing Speed: The D3 is capable of shooting at 9 fps in full-frame mode (with autofocus tracking on) and up to 11 fps in DX crop mode. Is this kind of speed necessary? It is if you're a sports photographer or a nature photographer that likes to shoot images like this running wolf or these sparring polar bears. As of today, the D3 is the fastest SLR available.

Battery Compatibility: YES! The D3 uses the same batteries as the D2's! This may seem trivial to some, but it makes a big difference to me. When I'm traveling to remote locations nothing bugs me more than having to allot limited space and weight to a second re-charging system!

Dual CompactFlash Cards: This seems like a great idea. Not only can you shoot sequentially from one card to the next, but you can use the system as an automatic backup or simultaneously store NEF files on one card and JPEGs on the other. Clever.

Live View: Live View seems to be the latest rage - both of Canon's latest pro offerings are equipped with it, and it's one of the headline features of the D3. Nikon boasts that the Live View operates using either of two autofocus modes - which no other SLR does. I have exactly zero experience with Live View cameras, so I can really can't judge the usefulness of this feature until I've spent some time with it. I'm wondering if it's simply a battery-draining frill...

Full frame sensor: (oh yeah...almost forgot about this). As a nature photographer who shoots a lot of wildlife, I admit I like the effective magnification offered by a DX sensor. And I use wide angle lenses only rarely. So, I quite liked the DX format. But, I also like low noise images and the flexibility of using higher ISO settings (and still getting quality images). And, going full-frame seems to be about the only way to do this...so I'll trade off the magnifying power of a DX sensor for image quality. And, the D3's full-frame sensor gives me a reason to keep my D2Xs (I still love the 1.5x magnification of my lenses!).

Who should buy a D3?: Anyone who is a serious sports photographer or news photographer. Or, a nature photographer who likes to use long lenses in low light. Or any Canon shooter who wants to experience a REAL camera ;-)

Will I buy a D3? Yes - my name is already on a list to get one. And yes, I wish the camera had more resolution (18 MP would be great!), but I'm willing to forego a little resolution for improved low-light performance. Going into the field with a D3 and a D2Xs seems like a good thing to me - the D3 seems to complement the D2Xs more than it replaces it.

Nikon D300: Rather than regurgitating what's above, just look at the list of D3 features above. Most of them are found on the D300, for a little over a third of the price. Lose the size and weight, lose the full-frame sensor, lose the dual CompactFlash card capabilities, lose a little speed, and ADD sensor cleaning capabilities and...presto...you have a D300. Hmmm...why buy a D3? The image quality of the D300 should be very similar to the D2X, but it really shouldn't match the image quality of the D3, especially in low light/high ISO conditions. If a serious Nikon shooter doesn't already own a D2X or D2Xs it would be really, really tough to NOT buy this camera! This looks like an absolutely amazing camera and and even more amazing bargain. I think Nikon decided to reward all those folks who bought DX lenses with a major bonus! They really have nothing to complain about with this camera!

Who should buy a D300? Any serious Nikon shooter that doesn't already own a D2X/D2Xs and/or any Nikon shooter who owns a lot of DX lenses and wants to upgrade. And any Canon shooter who wants to experience a REAL camera ;-)

Will I buy a D300? Nope, at least not right away. Why? Three reasons. First, I DO own a D2Xs. Second, and at least for now, I'm not sure Nikon has upgraded the lens-mounting ring on this camera (from that found on the D200). Huh? Well, the D200 has one less screw (only 4) attaching the lens mounting ring to the camera body than the D2X (which has 5). So what? Well, this one little screw makes a big difference if you use long lenses. I, and several shooters I know, experienced problems with the mounting ring contacts on a D200 when using long lenses, especially when hand-holding them (which is what you tend to do with VR lenses). Bottom line, the electronics on my D200 failed repeatedly in critical situations when I was using it with long lenses. While photos of the D300 on the dpreview.com website show it with 5 screws on the lens mounting ring, I want to wait until I see a production camera before I'm convinced they addressed the problem (as far as I know Nikon never officially acknowledged the problem). And third, like with the D200, the D300 uses different batteries than the D2Xs/D3 and I really don't want to haul another recharger and a second additional set of batteries along with me.

New Lenses: As previously mentioned, Nikon absolutely needed to introduce a few critical zoom lenses for the D3 (because DX lenses can't take advantage of the full-frame image sensor). And they did. Plus, they updated three of their most legendary super-telephotos (which never were DX format lenses) with Vibration Reduction capabilities and "nano-crystal" coating. What lenses top my "must have" list? Just these two:

AF-S 24-70 mm f2.8G ED: This lens pretty much duplicates what the 17-55 mm f2.8 DX lens offered with DX format cameras. Plus they've added nano-crystal coating to reduce glare and ghosting (which the 17-55 was very prone to do). This will be my primary landscape/general purpose lens. I MAY be tempted by the AF-S 14-24 mm f2.8G ED in the future, but I doubt it - I'm just not that much of a wide angler...

AF-S 600 mm f4G ED VR: I've been waiting for Nikon to introduce this lens for over two years. By next spring this cannon will be in my arsenal, even if I have to rob a bank to afford it (I'm expecting it to be in the $11k range in Canada). This lens will offer awesome reach on my D2Xs and very good reach on a D3.

What's coming next from Nikon? I think that in producing the D3 they've stated that the SLR platform does NOT compete with digital medium format cameras (Canon obviously thinks otherwise). Perhaps Nikon has a completely new and larger image sensor and camera format (complete with a totally new array of lens and accessories) on their drawing board. This new system would be absolutely free of the limitations and legacy issues associated with lenses that have always been designed for a piece of film 35 mm wide. Sort of like starting with a clean slate and creating the optimal digital camera format. It would be a bold move. Hmmm...I wonder...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

20 August 2007: Nikon Rumours Abound While Canon Leaps Ahead.

The Nikon rumour mill has been really churning away of late (check out www.nikonwatch.com for a sampling). There's a growing consensus/belief (or wishful thinking) that Nikon will be making a major announcement this week (as early as Tuesday the 21st or as late as Friday the 24th). Most rumour-mongers are guessing that a new pro digital SLR body will be unveiled, plus a flock of new lenses. A few sources are also predicting we'll see a replacement for the D200 (likely named the D300). The theoretical Nikon D3X (or just D3) professional machine is supposedly going to be Nikon's first "full-frame" digital camera (with an image sensor equivalent in size to a piece of 35 mm film). But many so-called "experts" are claiming it won't be quite full frame, arguing it will have an effective magnification factor of 1.1, as opposed to the 1.5 factor of Nikon's current DX-sized image sensors. Resolution is being pegged at between 18 and 22 MP. And, of course, the camera will feature a high-speed crop mode that just happens to work with DX lens (so perhaps it will be called a "DX-crop mode"), improved high ISO noise-reduction, and better autofocus. And a slew of other new features. Are there any truth to the rumours? I have no clue. But, I'm hoping that if the camera does materialize it uses the same batteries as the D2X (EN-EL4a's) - I don't want to go back to carrying two different recharging systems into remote locations! Seems like a trivial concern, but in practice it's really important to me!

Meanwhile...Canon leaps ahead! Canon moved out of rumour mode today by announcing the EOS 40D AND their new professional flagship, the EOS-1Ds Mark III. Both camera have solid specs (details at dpreview.com), and the EOS-1Ds Mark III looks downright awesome! The 10.1 MP 40D is slated to ship in early September with an expected street price of US $1299. The 21 MP EOS-1Ds Mark III is expected to ship in November and is expected to go for a street price of US $7999. Highlighted features of the EOS-1Ds Mark III include improved image quality over its predecessor (the EOS-1Ds Mark II), a maximum frame rate of 5 fps, a self-cleaning image sensor, ISO range of 50 to 3200 (with the 100-1600 range in 1/3 stop increments) and almost everything found in their already-shipping high-speed pro model, the EOS-1D Mark III.

As a "as loyal as possible" Nikon user, I guess I could be crying the blues - there's no doubt that if the 1Ds Mark III performs as well as its specs suggest, it will officially and unequivocally kick the butt of a Nikon D2X (I really believe the D2X was every bit as good as Canon's old flagship, the 1Ds Mark II). If Nikon doesn't come up with a new flagship of their own equal to or better than the 1Ds Mark III, then serious Nikon shooters will be at a disadvantage if they stick with Nikon. But, I prefer to look positively at Canon's new products - it just means that Nikon is absolutely forced to get better. Without Canon Nikon would likely just sit on their laurels (and without Nikon, Canon would likely do the same).

I can hardly wait to see the D3/D3X - I just hope it's real soon. If it isn't here by March, I just might be giving a buddy of mine (AKA the local Canon rep) a call...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

20 August 2007: Re-emerging from the Darkness of Moving Residence and Business...

YIPPEE! We're far enough along on the moving of our residence (and businesses) to our little cabin in the woods that I'm finally able to find a few minutes to update this website! Better yet, in a couple of days I'll be able to re-introduce myself to my cameras! Am I ever looking forward to that! Our inter-provincial move (Alberta to BC) involved a massive renovation of our cabin in the woods (which transmogrified into our year-around residence). From planning to completion it was a two year project. While I know some people seem to live for these kind of projects, to me the renovation project itself was a necessary evil (more commonly known as a pain-in-the-ass!). There were parts of the project I enjoyed (spec'ing out my office was quite OK). And, selling our home in Calgary's hyper-inflated real estate market provided us the privilege of buying all new appliances and electronic goodies. So it wasn't all bad. And, the new and improved cabin is simply AWESOME (thank you, thank you, Pinnacle Creek!)! And, we're now nestled away in the woods, which is a great place for a nature photographer to be!

Here's an abbreviated list of some of the highlights and lowlights of our move:

THUMBS UP TO:

Pinnacle Creek Homes (Invermere). Our builder was great, even though they had to deal with some real poor service from a few trades and/or materials providers. This family-run business is highly efficient and builds great quality homes. They even have a lot of values that seem almost like throwbacks to a bygone era - weird stuff like pride in their work, concern for their clients, a penchant for keeping everyone happy, and more. Very unusual!

Apple TV. We designed an audio-visual system for our main floor around an Apple TV system. It's awesome. Music, photo slideshows, YouTube videos, and a whole lot more in a slick package with seamless wireless integration. Love it. If you're in the market for a new home entertainment system, do yourself a favour and check out Apple TV...

Satellite Internet. We have limited options for internet connectivity at our new digs - either satellite or satellite. But, our install went flawlessly (well, almost) - thanks mostly to Sigma Computers in Canmore and our connection speed is very acceptable. So far our provider (C-Com Satellite Systems) seems to be providing a reliable, rock solid signal. Kudos to both parties...

Apple's Airport Extreme Wireless Base Station. It was unbelievably easy to tie this wireless router in with our satellite system and provide our cabin with a wireless network, including wireless internet access. The new 802.11n system provides us with a way better range than our previous system (based off of a 802.11g system) and will be a whole lot faster when I get around to upgrading our host machines to 802.11n standards.

Ferrier's Waterscapes. Another quality company - great landscaping work and capable of building intriguing water features. Concerned with keeping on schedule and within budget. A rare find - check them out at www.ferriers-waterscapes.com.

THUMBS DOWN TO:

Lightspan Lights (Calgary). Dealing with these guys was nothing short of a disaster. They couldn't get anything right. Confused orders (wrong products, missing parts); incomplete orders; bizarre shipping; incoherent communication skills and no customer service. I'm not sure we'll EVER get our lights sorted out...

Bell ExpressVu (service). Good channel selection and good hardware, but absolutely a customer service nightmare. They make Telus's customer service look brilliant (which I would have thought was impossible to do).

HVAC service from Ron Smith (Invermere). Earth to Ron, earth to Ron - are you out there? Can you please return a phone call? Can you please try to complete our job sometime this year (decade?)? We'll need our fireplaces working sometime before Christmas...

Feedback to: feedback@naturalart.ca.

10 July 2007: Moving Time...Sporadic Web Updates for Next Little While...

After a year of planning, and another year of construction, our little cabin in the East Kootenays has become a full-time home. And, it's moving time! The only downside to it is that I'll be without an internet connection for a short period of time until we sort out our new satellite internet system (hey, this isn't downtown Calgary we're moving to!). So...until early August updates to this website will be sporadic (at best). Sorry! For those who are interested, check out the view from our new digs! Cheers and I'll be back as soon as possible...

06 July 2007: Long-eared Owls Breeding in East Kootenays...

Last weekend I stumbled onto something interesting, although admitting it is just a tad embarrassing. I stumbled upon an adult and fledgling Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) about 75 metres from our cabin. Given that Long-ears are very rare in the East Kootenays (and in all of southeast BC), it was an exciting and interesting experience. The sighting (and photographs) may even have a little biological significance - it's looking like this might be the first documented case of the species successfully breeding in the Kootenays (and all of SE BC). The images I captured of the fledgling aren't too great from a photographic perspective (view them in the "Latest Additions" gallery), but they definitely document the successful breeding of the species.

Where does the embarrassment come in? Well, I like to think of myself as a reasonably competent birder. When I discovered the owlet it was about 6 weeks old - which means I managed to miss the presence of the adults for MONTHS! I'm trying to make myself feel better by reminding myself that I found them in a very dense forest and that the species is nocturnal and easily overlooked. But I still feel kind of dumb!

By the way, if anyone knows of other confirmed reports of successful breeding efforts by Long-eared Owls in southeast BC please contact me at feedback@naturalart.ca and I'll set the record straight...



Blog Archive - not so fresh but still very readable and relevant...

2013 - The Whole Shebang
2012 - Almost The Whole Shebang
2011 - The Whole Shebang
2009 - October to December2009 - July to September2009 - April to June
2009 - January to March 2008 - October to December 2008 - July to September
2008 - April to June 2008 - January to March 2007 - October to December
2007 - July to September 2007 - April to June 2007 - January to March