Sunday, April 11, 2010

From a different perspective, railcars on the way to Moosonee

About four years ago I was fortunate enough to have a chance to photograph a large number of railcars as they arrived in Moosonee.
These are not much used by railways anymore, they prefer hirail vehicles which are trucks with both track wheels and rubber tired wheels for road use. Hirails are convenient and comfortable compared to small railcars.
Today they are mostly used by enthusiasts and it was a bunch of them who came to Moosonee in 2006.
I posted a lot of pictures and really enjoyed seeing so many of them and meeting some of the people who owed them.
Today I ran into a blog by one of the participants. It was great to see the trip from a different perspective, that of a participant. Grant Bailey was an ONR vice president who took part in the trip. He posted some great video along with his blog. Worth a look.
The railcars had showed up in Moosonee in the evening so I was shooting into the sun when they arrived which did not make the greatest shots possible. I was glad to see somebody else's photography of them along the way north.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wandering around under a full moon (again).

It was a full moon tonight and, what's more, it was relatively warm (even the wind chill didn't get below minus 10). That meant heading out with a camera and a tripod to take pictures by the light of the moon.
The worst thing about taking pictures at night is the ugly yellow and green light from street lights. So, I try to get away from street lights. That means walking.
I went to a couple of areas tonight, over by the railway bridge and out on the river at the start of the winter road to Moose Factory.
The time for the winter road is coming to an end so it was nice to go out on the ice one more time. I am careful, I know about the dangerous area near the shoreline where the ice is broken up by the tides in the Moose River. So far I have not sunk in far.
For my pictures tonight I decided to stick to a single focal length and took along the Canon 24mm f1.4 II lens with a Canon 5DII.
A 24mm lens on a full frame camera is pretty wide, not quite fisheye but a step in that direction. So it only works well in certain situations. The ideal ones for me tend to wide vistas or foreground objects that relate well to a large scale background.
When I shoot pictures at night I use time exposures. It is easy to do these up to 30 seconds each. I use mirror lock up and put the camera on a tripod to keep it steady and reduce vibration. I tend to use hyperfocal focusing--this means that I set the distance scale at the hyperfocal point. Set this way, the lens is in focus from half way to the hyperfocal point to infinity. To get the hyperfocal point for a given camera, focal length and aperture setting I use an online depth of field calculator. In practice this is pretty simple, I just need to remember the hyperfocal distances for a few different apertures for a given lens and camera. I tend to stick to a wide lens at night and f5.6 or f8. This means that the hyperfocal distances are pretty short so easy to keep most things in reasonable focus.
Because these shots are time exposures I use a tripod. I also use mirror lock up to reduce vibration and use a shutter delay to let the camera settle down after I touch it. My camera can be set for shots up to 30 seconds which covers most full moon situations. For longer exposures I have a Canon TC-80N3 timer remote which can be programmed to do most anything including taking a series of five minute exposures.
I play with exposure and the shots are usually ok until I give in the temptation to put something bright into the picture. Internal reflections sometimes cause problems. Images end up with additional bright spots, sometimes in ugly green. Since I am doing these pictures for my own pleasure I often edit them out.
When I want to have the moon itself show up in a shot I hope for a cloudy night when it may be a little less bright but it is still a lot brighter than anything else in the picture. I have played around with combining shots -- this can be a problem since the moon and the clouds are moving.
I put a bunch of shots on my website and uploaded low res versions of those and some "I did this because I was bored shots" to facebook.
There was not a lot of traffic on the winter road tonight. I saw only about half a dozen vehicles and tried to get shots of most of them. One of them stopped and the driver and passengers wanted to know if I was Ok and once they saw what I was doing asked what I was taking pictures of. I can understand the concern, it is cold outside and cold people get disoriented and do stupid things sometimes. People stopping....another one of the benefits of living in a small town.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A reminder that this is still winter March 25th

Moosonee has had some nice weather lately. It was above zero (freezing) at times and I took a lot of pictures of vehicles heading through water on top of the river ice. At work, we had a couple of consultants here who saw fantastic weather.

I took a look at the front door around 3 this morning and it was a different world out there. Snow was blowing in under the screen door and I could hardly see across the street. I toyed with the idea of going for a work to grab some pictures but decided to go back to bed.
It was still blowing snow when I grabbed a few pictures just before work.

Later on, the sun cut through the clouds and snow and the light was incredible for a while. Naturally, this happened while I was at work. Finally, lunch time and a chance to get outside and take some shots of the clean up. The snow was still blowing although not enough to the kind of dramatic shots of which I was dreaming while I sat at work. The nasty thing was that it was cold, minus 28 with the wind chill.

There was a loader at work next door at the government building, piling up snow from the parking lot. Looks like a great way to have snow moved I thought to myself as I made a pathetically narrow path from the front door to the road, just before the plough came along.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Survey questions - I want more options!

Today I am thinking about some of the surveys that show up. Some newspapers run a lot of them about things that are related to current events. I have an opinion on pretty much everything so I am often tempted to answer them.
My problem with them is the narrow range of possible answers.
For example, the Toronto Star, is asking:
Would you pay $12.95 to buy a bottle of wine named after Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion?
The answer choices are Yes (18 per cent so far) and No (82 per cent).
Wait a minute. Why are they asking this? It is not just because the wine is available but also because the mayor is under attack at the moment although she is immensely popular.
How should I answer?
Well, I would not pay the money but then again I would not pay anything for a bottle of wine since I would not drink it anyway.
I would like to have the option of saying "No - I don't drink so I would not pay for it".
People who do drink wine might like to be able to answer whether or not they would pay extra for a bottle of wine named after the mayor or if they would just pay what the wine itself was worth regardless of whose picture was on the bottle.
There are a lot of options. It is not a simple yes or no matter.
The Star, which I read online, often does short surveys of readers. I figure that since I am getting it for free it is the least I can do.
One question they always ask is how often I read the printed version of the paper. There is a range of options from never through daily. I have to answer never but wish I had the choice to answer never because I cannot buy your paper here anyway (there are no daily newspapers for sale in Moosonee). Because, honestly, if they did sell it here, I would buy it once in a while.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Off to watch the freight train

Moosonee sees two different trains: the Polar Bear Express which looks like a mixed train and shows up every weekday and a twice weekly freight train. I miss out on the train most of the train because I am at work. Today, I took a holiday and decided to get some shots of the freight train.
I used a Canon 5DII and my usual walk around lens, the 24-105mm L f4.
The Polar Bear Express operates on a schedule and is often, these days, pretty much on time. I am not keen on standing around for hours waiting for a train to show up (not a real serious railfan, I guess) so getting shots of the freight can be a little troublesome. Fortunately today I timed it just right and showed up at the station just as the train could be seen in the distance. Yes, I took a taxi and yes, I have lots of radios.
It was snowing more than a little bit but not that bad. The snow adds a blanket of blur to every picture especially for anything that is not up close. So when I am taking pictures of a train in the snow I can count on brilliant images of what is close to me with the far end of the train being an obscure dark blob. I guess that is art.

I got a few shots from the station and then, when the train stopped, headed closer to the bridge across Store Creek. The freight train is pretty long compared to the station platform. It arrives a couple of hours ahead of the Polar Bear Express so it can be switched out of the way.
The train today carried mostly boxcars, some flatcars with insulated pipe and a few other flatcars with vehicles that cannot be accommodated on the Polar Bear Express. Other days the consist can include fuel tankers and containers, sometimes double stacked.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not a lot of photography so far this year

2010 has not been a big year for photography for me. I did something to my wrist which made it very uncomfortable to do simple things such as zooming and focusing if they involved turning anything and I got very busy at work over the holidays.
I missed out on some photographic opportunities because of my wrist. At times it seems a little better but then it reminds me of the agony it can cause when I go to do certain things.
I should be out taking a lot of pictures given that I have two new cameras, a Canon 7D and a Canon S90. Instead I have been sitting in my office moving pieces of paper around and typing stuff into the computer. Doing these things gives me a great feeling of professional accomplishment. However, taking pictures would be a lot more fun.
I have done some reading, on paper and online. One blog that I have started to read is called Canon Field Reviews by Ole Jørgen Liodden, a photographer in Norway. I first saw it when he was talking about the cold weather performance of the Canon 7D. That is a topic of considerable interest to me since I bought one and it is cold outside here in the winter.
Generally, the first thing to do in winter photography has been me, not the equipment. Battery life is an issue although it is easily handled by carrying an extra battery in a warm place. Usually I come inside when it is much below minus 20 or so although I have made some exceptions.
Liodden has an amazing video that demonstrate the cold weather tracking abilities of the 7D and also the obedient nature of his dog. That second item amazes me the most as I have never owned a dog that was so well trained as to sit still in a designated place.
He has also written a bit about a much more expensive camera, the Canon 1DIV. Buying one of those could put off my retirement for another couple of years but I suspect it would be worth it.

Yesterday I stuck my 2X extender and the 100-400mm on the 7D. This means that there is no autofocus as the maximum aperture is f11 (yes I have heard that you can tape the pins so the camera will try to focus but I decided to try manual focusing). I picked a dark day to shoot at f11. I tried to focus on the hydro towers a few miles up the river. My eyesight is not what it was thirty years ago but I think it almost worked. I shot at ISO 3200 so there is a bit of noise. I should try this on a brighter day; 800mm on the 7D is the equivalent of 1280mm on a full frame camera.