Algonquin Park: A Nature Photographer’s Dream
One of the things I love about canoeing is the way it fits so perfectly with my love of nature photography.
On this particular trip we decided to go to Algonquin Park’s Lake Opeongo, and although I’d been up to the North Arm many times in the past, it was my first time paddling the East Arm. As it turned out, we had been in a bit of a rush to get packed and out the door, so the Algonquin Outfitters store was our first stop. It had been a while since I’d canoed Opeongo, and I was pleased to see the expanded offerings of the store, which we took full advantage of before heading out onto the water.
Living in the city, we’re pretty limited in our wildlife sightings, so when I do get the opportunity to hit the park I tend not to leave anything to chance in my photo gear: a long zoom lens for animal encounters, a couple of wide angle primes for landscapes and night stars, a macro for anything small and interesting, as well as a few accessories that I’ve always found useful. With spare batteries and weather-proofing gear, it does end up weighing quite a bit, so a large, padded photo backpack, including padded hip belt and sternum strap, are also essential for portages and protection. A sturdy carbon fibre tripod rounds out the gear list, which also serves as a convenient parking spot for the camera at the campsite: off the ground, and easy to grab at a moment’s notice, without having to unzip or rummage through anything.
Although Algonquin’s majestic moose are probably the most sought-after wildlife of most campers, my favourite has long been the common loon. Its strikingly contrasting colours make it a photographic challenge, while its haunting cries (((listen here))) echoing across the lake at dusk remain one of the quintessential elements of Canadian camping. We were quite fortunate to encounter several loons on our day trips, during which I always keep my full gear bag directly in front of me in the canoe, unzipped but closed to protect from splashes. For loons in particular I leave my longest glass mounted while in the canoe, and try to set a manual exposure before pushing off; reflections off the water can affect the subject’s exposure significantly depending on the background. I also usually set an aperture that will give me some cushion in my depth of field, even if it means using a higher ISO.
This photo of the loon spreading its wings made carrying every ounce of my long glass worth it. One of the big differences between summer and fall camping is the number of insects, for better or for worse. Back at the campsite, this spruce beetle really made a name for himself with his seemingly clumsy flight pattern, which included bouncing conspicuously off trees, our tent, and even us!
Happily, he was also a perfect subject for my macro lens: easy to spot, and sat perfectly still. Macro lenses can be tricky to use, with an extremely thin depth of field especially at the close focus end of their range. Without doing anything fancy like focus bracketing then focus stacking after the fact, the most important part of any subject to keep in focus is the eyes. Unless there’s something else very specific you’re trying to depict, always have the eyes of your subject in focus, whether it’s your child on the playground or a beetle on the forest floor.
Sunsets have always been a favourite subject of mine, even more so when I discovered the simple secret to photographing them: under-expose.
We were quite lucky with weather on this trip, and were blessed with a gorgeous sunset every evening, often punctuated by loon calls well into the night. As gorgeous as they are, I believe they’re even more effective as a backdrop to a foreground subject, whether it’s a tree or a person, usually in silhouette.
As evening came and the food barrel was hung, perhaps my favourite part of the trip transpired: the night sky. Again, living in the city, we don’t see much of stars, which makes the Algonquin night sky one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever been blessed to witness
Capturing it photographically is something that I’ve been refining over the years, in an attempt to do justice to the truly awesome experience that it is. Completely different effects are possible by changing lens focal lengths and exposure times, to give long circular star trails, or the infinite spattering of pinpoints, the latter of which I am more fond of.
Time-lapse is one of the media forms I’ve been most recently exploring; I love the way it brings to light the processes and events that humans could previously only imagine and theorize about. I stitched together time-lapses from two nights in this video, the second of which utilized a time-lapse motion controller in order to achieve a panning effect
As a photographer there are few things more satisfying than being completely immersed in a subject I love, with the right gear and the time to create. Algonquin Park offers a rich variety of absolutely engaging subjects any time of day or night, all year long. If you haven’t experienced the park yet, treat yourself and satisfy your inner photographer.
Photographer / Educator
“I’m just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe.”