Saturday, November 13, 2010

Over The Top

Having left Calgary sometime after 5:00am with clear skies overhead, I had decided that this would be the perfect day to drive though the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country, as the winter-gates will close on December 1st, and I wanted to make one final drive through the pass before winter. I also had brought along my telescope, as I planned on setting it up once I reached the Galatea parking-lot, a popular hiking trail up to Lillian Lake. I had left early enough to reach galatia while the pre-dawn skies were still dark enough for me to set up my telescope, and the plan was to check out the "Great Nebula" in Orion, that was visible in the southwest sky as I backed off of my drive-way. The Great Nebula is considered the finest example of a diffuse nebula in the sky, and possibly one of the most beautiful objects in the night skies that I have set my eyes on. It actually may be seen through binoculars as a faint haze spreading out from the famous quadruple star "Theta" in the middle of the "Sword Of Orion" In a small telescope it appears as a bright greenish mist enveloping the star. In a moderately large telescope its appearance is impressive beyond words.

As I made the run westward on highway #1, I was becoming concerned, as I could see cloud building through my side window, and I had a sinking feeling as to my chances of being able to view Orion. By the time I turned south on highway 40, the skies were obscured. So much for setting up my telescope on this morning, but hey, I was sure that I would still enjoy the day, and besides, there would be another day for viewing the Great Nebula" in Orion.

I have driven through the Highwood pass from both north and south many times over the years. However on this day, I would drive it from the north end, as there were a number of peaks along the east side of the Kananaskis Valley that would be perfect for me to catch some of the beautiful light that would back-light the peaks and also wash over them as the sun came up on the eastern horizon.
Now I know what your thinking, "I thought he said the skies were obscured" Yes, over the mountains, but typical on this morning as on other mornings, there was a open window on the eastern horizon for the sun to spread its rays up on the underneath of the clouds, and then the clouds would reflect this beautiful light on to the peaks along the Kananaskis Valley. I timed my arrival to the top of the Highwood Pass perfectly, as I could see the peaks to the east were taking on hues that only sunrise can produce, and I had timed it perfectly witht the top of the pass in sight. I pulled in to the parking-lot and quickly set up my camera on my tripod. While I shot photos, a vehicle pulled in beside me and I was soon having a conversation with a group who were about to set out for the Ptarmigan cirque located in a bowl to the east of the pass.

One of the group came over and commented that he wished he had cameras like mine, so that he could improve his photo shooting skills. That got me to thinking about a time when I had those same thoughts and put more effort in to worrying about the camera that I did not have but wished I had, thinking that this was what I needed to be a better photographer. All these years later,I have learnt that It's the photographer that takes great photos, not the camera. Think about that for a moment. It's true isn't it? I've seen great photos taken with a simple digital point & shoot, while some photographers take lousy shots with the most expensive DSLR. I thought about what advice that I could give to new photographers based on lessons that I have learnt over the years. First, get to know your camera. Don't come home with your new camera, rip open the box, and briefly look at the manual and never look at it again. Instead, learn everything that you can about your new camera, how to control exposure, the different modes, and how to use the flash properly. What you learn about your camera, will pay dividends when your out shooting photos. The other thing you want to learn, is to hold your camera level. Since most digital cameras come with a LCD, you can use it to properly frame your shots. Next time you're taking a shot, try to look for the horizontal lines and use them as guides. A good example is to make use of the horizon when you're taking a photo of a sunset. Of course you can use a photo editing program on your computer to fix problems such as these, however get in the habit of proper composure while shooting the photograph, as this will result in less time sitting in front of your computer.

Next, I cannot stress enough the use of a tripod to support your camera, as this is an essential tool in your photography arsenal. When will you need a tripod? It's useful under most conditions, including if you're taking shots under low-light conditions, or trying to capture fast moving objects.
I always use a tripod for all my photographs, as there is nothing that annoys me more than getting home and upon examination of my photographs that I have just uploaded to my computer, to find that what should be one of my best captures of the day, is headed to the trash bin, because I was lazy and did not use a tripod. Always try to look for a tripod that's convenient to carry around. For personal use, you don't need a huge one - just a simple compact one that's easy to pack. There are more hints that I can share with you for shooting great photos, but that will have to wait till next time. For now, get out and use that camera. See you in the field.

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