Milky Way Photo at Algonquin Provincial Park

I’ve always had an interest in astro-photography, having previously taken star trail photos and of course, the moon. One subject I hadn’t yet tackled yet was the milky way, or at least the slim, tiny portion that’s visible from Earth.

The most important thing you need for successful astro-photography is a clear, dark sky. Knowing that I was going to spending a few nights in Algonquin Provincial Park, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

Milky Way photo from Whitefish Lake
Nikon D7000 with Sigma 10-20 DX lens at 10mm, f/5.6 at 30s and ISO 3200

I did some research online, finding a few helpful articles. Even with a relatively dark sky, the band of dense stars is faint and hard to make out with the naked eye. Enter a smartphone app, Sky Guide, to help me out. Run the app, point is at the sky, and it tells you in real time what you’re looking at. The greatest thing about the app is the ability to fast forward in time, to see where celestial objects will be, say, four hours from now. As a starting point, I knew that I needed to be facing south to see the milky way.

The first day at Algonquin, I staked out a spot near a river and dam that faced south over the water. Sky Guide told me that the moon would be out, and it would be full. A full moon, according to my research, is bad; bye-bye dark sky. Still, I tried it out, and sure enough, I ended up with dim star points on a gray sky. The location was less than ideal, too, as the close trees obscured much of the milky way.

I figured that with the moon being full and only starting to wane, my hopes of a good shot were diminished. The next two days at the park brought rain and cloud cover.

On day five, I spent the sunset taking photos at our campground’s beach (which faced north). While waiting for dusk, I looked again at the Sky Guide app to see what other opportunities might be in store for my final night before returning to the light polluted city. Sunset was just before 9 pm. I fast forwarded the time to 10 pm and turned my phone south to see a projection of the milky way. I then tried to locate the moon. Nowhere in the sky. What’s this? It’s below the horizon until after 11 pm!

So, I had a clear night and an invisible moon. The third thing I needed was a clear view south. I checked the park map for a close by location. The neighbouring campground, Whitefish Lake, had a south facing beach. Perfect!

Excited, I ventured out after dark and arrived at Whitefish Lake just after 10 pm. The beach was vacant and dark. It was Monday night, and the campground was relatively empty.

Shooting in the dark has its challenges. You can’t see your framing or if your horizon is straight. The first few photos I took were slanted and had more lake than sky, but the milky way was unmistakable. Anyway, with exposures lasting only 30 seconds, it was easy to have trial and error, unlike a star trail shot which can last 30 minutes or longer before you know whether you had success.

It took several tries before I finalized the framing; obviously, I wanted a ton of sky and hardly any lake.

The most surprising thing about the photo was the yellow glow behind the trees. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the long exposure picked up and amplified the latent bit of sunlight that was invisible to the naked eye. Truly, it is darkest just before the dawn.

The final shot didn’t take much post-processing; a small colour adjustment to make it cooler, some sharpening, and a slight straightening.

On the whole, planning and access to the Sky Guide app helped make this venture a success.

Algonquin Provincial Park camping trip

For the first time in over two years, my wife and I headed up to Algonquin Provincial Park for camping. Now when I say camping, I mean, with the car about ten feet away, a large cooler, a tent made for six people that I can actually stand up in, an air mattress, and all my camera gear. Oh, and the ability to high-tail it into town for a Tim Horton’s breakfast when you wake up and it’s pouring rain (day 3).

Still, Algonquin is a natural wonder. It’s really the first major destination outside of Toronto where you truly feel like you’ve entered the rugged, beautiful Canadian wilderness.

Here are some of the photos I took while on various hikes off Hwy 60. For some, I used HDR (high dynamic range) photography, where two or three bracketed exposures are combined together, revealing both shadow and highlight details that would otherwise be impossible with a single exposure.

Craigleith Provincial Park & Tombermory

My wife and I missed camping in the summer, since we hadn’t gone since 2013. To get back into the swing of it, we opted for a park close to Toronto, and one where an urban centre was close by, since we were sure we’d have to stock up on something or other.

We chose Craiglieth Provincial Park, on the south shore of Georgian Bay, near Collingwood, Ontario. We also took a day trip up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory and Flower Pot island.

The “flowerpot” rock formations are a sight to behold. Despite having been to Tobermory a few times before, I was never aware they were on an island. The biggest challenge in photographing them was finding the 1/200th of a second when no people would be intruding in the shot.

Algonquin moose viewing

Every spring in Algonquin Provincial Park, the moose emerge. They like to drink the water on the side of the highway, as the snow melts and salt from the road puddles in the ditches. Of course, this provides photographers with a great opportunity for some up close portraits of Canada’s wanna-be national animal.

Nature’s Lullaby (with Sonja Seiler)

This summer, I wrote a little progression on the piano which was intended to be a gently flowing chord progression and melody. I repeated it twice in the recording.  Having nothing more to do with it, I sent it to my friend Sonja to see if she would be willing to put a lyric and vocal melody to it.

Later on, we got together to hash out some ideas. Sometimes ideas can come from the strangest places. The piano sound I used was from Native Instruments “The Giant” and for lack of a title, I thought of “Giant…” and what’s something that’s NOT giant? “Giant Caterpillar.” So when we got together, we decided to write lyrics that reflected paradoxes or contradictions in nature, where the reality of things in nature may not be what they appear to be. Sonja came up with a gorgeous melody and beautifully poetic lyrics.

The final recording was done in my home studio, and we added a cello part to complement the piano and vocal. We also showcased the song on an episode of Song Talk Radio.

Sunrise in Collingwood

While on a family weekend getaway in Collingwood to celebrate the beginning of the summer, I awoke at 4:30 am to capture the sunrise over Georgian Bay. From seven people, only my wife and nephew joined me for the early shoot. Not sure about them, but for me, it was totally worth it.

Cherry Blossoms 2015

For my third time experiencing the short-lived beauty of the Cherry Blossoms, I had camera in toe once again. The first time was a dawn-time photoshoot, and the second time I decided to focus on the people. This time, I used a neutral density filter to increase shutter times dramatically. This gave some of the photos a strange look, with people blurred as they moved, and the slight movement of the trees emitting a ghostly glow.

Cheltenham Badlands

It looks like you’re in Alberta, but the Cheltenham Badlands are actually very close to Toronto. Not much bigger than a city block, it’s a little gem of undulating red shale hills. The distinctive colour is produced by iron oxide. Due to a lot of people climbing over the rocks, the site was closed to human traffic in 2015.

All of these images used HDR, or high dynamic range photography.

Killarney Provincial Park

In 2013, I went to Killarney Provincial Park, the crown jewel of parks in Ontario, for the first time. The park deserves its subtitle, as the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield is stunning here. The Group of Seven spent much time here painting, and somehow photos don’t really convey the breadth, the smells, the textures and the sounds of being here.

Algonquin Provincial Park in the Fall

Fall in Ontario is a beautiful time of the year that many Ontarians might take for granted. When I lived briefly in British Columbia as a student, many people I met were from Ontario, and invariably, the thing they missed most were the autumn colours.

Algonquin Provincial Park is renowned for its spectacular display of colourful foliage. Of course, if you’re from Toronto (or anywhere in Southern Ontario), it’s important to know the colours in Algonquin peak about two weeks before they do in Southern Ontario. Usually, campgrounds, hotels, and resorts book up fast for that last weekend in September.