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Archive for the ‘Travel report’ Category

Drive to Lake Superior

Just before the fall colours peaked in Central Ontario, I checked the weather forecast and decided to head up north, to the northeastern shore of Lake Superior. After a brief evening nap on Wednesday night, I packed up the camera gear, some clothing and food, and at 2:00am I left my home. The traffic at night was very light, the roads were dry, all moose were hiding safely in the woods and at the dawn I arrived in Espanola with just over 400km under the belt, a good spot to refuel and get some coffee. This was Thursday, and it was going to be a nice sunny day. As I was driving northwest on Hwy 17, I passed a small lake with mirror-like surface and beautiful reflections.

At The Dawn

Driving along the Spanish River, the colour changes in the trees were getting more noticeable, and I took a few shots along the river. The little tree clinging to the rocky islet, leaning in the direction of the current, was an interesting sight.

Lone Survivor on Rocky Islet

Now, the colours started to get really vibrant. So many trees, each section with a different color palette, it was hard to pick the best place.

Colorful Tree Along Spanish River

As I was taking in the colours and looking for a nice composition, suddenly I noticed a bald eagle perched on the top canopy (see the tiny black dot in the left third near the top). It was quite far on the other side of the river. Fortunately, I had a 70-300mm lens already mounted on my camera, so I managed to get a few shots of the eagle across the river before he took off.

Eagle between the reds and yellows

The sun stayed up all day, the temperatures continued to rise, I kept stopping to take more shots, and slowly I made my way towards the Lake Superior Park. In the summer, the road must be quite busy with many cars, RV’s, and even cyclists, but at this time of year the traffic was very light which made it easy and convenient for driving, frequent stops, and countless U-turns. I enjoyed the journey, and couldn’t help comparing it with the overcrowded roads at the Algonquin park at this time of year (for the benefit of international readers, Algonquin provincial park is about 3 hours northeast from Toronto, and Lake Superior park is almost 800km northwest from Algonquin Highlands).

Driving on Trans-Canada Highway

Finally, by mid afternoon, I arrived at my destination, and spent the rest of the day exploring the rocky beaches and cliffs just south of the Lake Superior Park.

Colorful Lake Superior Pebbles

On Friday, it was raining, so I caught up with sleep, and in the afternoon I ventured out towards the park. I stopped at several scenic spots and took some photographs in the rain.

Trans-Canada Highway is the main route for transport trucks

Small Island With Tall Trees

Red Leaves on a Maple Seedling at Agawa Bay Beach

On Saturday, I had a mix of sun and clouds, even some brief showers, so I was able to capture all kinds of weather conditions and light. I drove northbound through the park, and made it all the way to Wawa.

Pebble Beach and Rugged Cliffs

The famous 28ft tall, and now slightly rusty Wawa Goose

Last shot of the day at the Katherine’s Cove

Sunday was my last day at the Lake Superior. The day was sunny and unusually warm, and the big lake looked very calm. I was planning to take a short hike on the Lake Superior coastal trail, so this would be the highlight of my trip and the best day for photography.

The entire trail length is about 87km (54 miles) and the recommended hiking time is 5-7 days. The trail is quite demanding and the terrain varies from forested sections, sand and pebble beaches, boulder gardens, granite slabs to steep and exposed cliffs. In several  places, I had to lift or lower my camera bags first, before I could climb or descend using both hands to pull myself up and unencumbered without the heavy load. However, the scenery and wide views were absolutely breathtaking. Fresh lake air and fragrance of pine needles, plentiful mushrooms and fallen leaves added even more to the overall experience.

Clear waters and rocks

The coastal trail follows the coast, and where the cliffs become impassable, it veers off the coast and turns into the forest. This is indeed a rough trail, not an easy boardwalk. In places like shown below, if the wind blows from the lake, the waves could spill over the boulders and pull you in, or you could slip on wet rocks.

An easy section of the trail

Walking on the uneven terrain, especially when passing through the boulder gardens means you are constantly stepping up and down, and have to watch your every step.

Boulder garden with a hiking trail sign

Colorful rocks and boulders in every size and color

One wrong step and you could easily tumble into the deep and freezing water

By the end of my hike, the slight breeze changed into cold and intimidating gusts, calm water turned into white caps, and the lake looked quite ominous. The weather can change very quickly at Lake Superior.

Still, it was hard to leave this incredible place. I used every opportunity to make yet another stop, both on the coastal trail and then on my drive back along the lake. Finally, at the dusk, I took the last pictures at the eastern end of the lake, and headed back to Sault Ste Marie. Drawing on the day’s experience, overstimulation, and charged-up energy, I drove through, and by 3:00am Monday morning, after four splendid days in the north and two nights and 2000km on the road (and about as many images), I arrived safely home. I still haven’t finished processing all the pictures.

To see more pictures from the Lake Superior trip, please visit my (still evolving) stock image site at http://www.advantica.com/stockphotos/ (you may have to paste in this link into your browser)  or  at http://www.les-palenik.artistwebsites.com?tab=artwork (few pages down or search for “Lake Superior”)

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The worst flood in hundred years
Most towns around Lake Muskoka were hit extremely hard by this year’s flood which reached the peak by the weekend, although water levels remain high. Many roads, particularly in Bracebridge were under water and impassable. There was extensive damage to the roads and many properties around Lake Muskoka and Muskoka river.

View from Kelvin Grove Park towards the Hydro Falls in Bracebridge, Ontario

The photo above and all other pictures that follow were taken in Muskoka on April 28, 2013, the day after the Muskoka river has crested.

Muskoka River spilling over the pedestrian walkway at the Hydro Station

The catwalk on the top of the Hydro Falls dam was overflowing and closed to the traffic.

Maintenance worker at the bottom of the Hydro Falls

Wharf Road on the west side of the Muskoka River at the Bracebridge Bay Park

Accumulated driftwood shows the extent of the flood

There was a lot of great looking driftwood and construction lumber including pieces of wooden docks alongside the river. The boards shown above were left on the grassy banks of Muskoka River about one meter higher and ten meters from the Sunday’s river edge.

Chairs in the lake

This group of chairs was situated on low-lying bank on eastern side of Lake Muskoka (that is, low-lying ground before the flood), and being in calm water and weighed down, it didn’t float away.

All kinds of items got away and are enroute to Georgian Bay

The water levels on Muskoka River rose higher than on the surrounding lakes, and proportionally there was more damage along the river. Many boathouses filled with water, hydro lines got short-circuited, boats came out of their slings or were pushed against the ceilings, shelves and furniture sank, and some canoes stored outside floated away.

Lakeside cafe half-submerged in the historic Duke’s building in Port Carling

This waterfront cafe is located in the historic Duke’s building at the top end of Indian River in Port Carling, just a few steps from the highway 118 and the lock to Lake Joseph. Not a good way to start the season.

Submerged town dock on Severn River

The landscape was significantly altered (for the period of flooding time). Many fixed large dock structures on the rivers and lakes were completely submerged, some of them almost a half-meter deep and several meters away from the water’s edge.

Three teenagers on a dock

I wouldn’t attempt it myself, but these three kids were pretty good at balancing precariously at the edge of the submerged dock. To their right, the water was only a few inches deep, to their left, 6-8 feet deep. In both directions, the water temperature was just a few degrees over the freezing point.

Top portion of High Falls in the northern part of Bracebridge – Muskoka River spilling over the access road to the falls and bridge

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There are 425 castles and 180 forts in Slovakia, more than in most European countries. The castles were built since the twelfth century, originally as defense posts, later as domicils of the upper echelon. The cold and dark fort compounds were not particularly homy and pleasant, so in 16th century the nobility started to build more comfortable castles and mansions below the forts. Most of these structures were attacked, destroyed, reconstructed, repeatedly burnt, but many buildings have survived and prospered till the modern days.

As to the photographing many of these monuments, what lenses should one use? Although a wide angle lens seems to be the most logical choice, it depends very much on the location and surroundings of the castle. When you get close to the massive structures or even inside the castle grounds, you’ll need extreme wide angles. If it is possible to photograph the castle from the grounds below, I find a prime 50mm lens or 17-50mm zoom very handy. Both lenses can be used very effectively also for panorama stitching. If the castle is perched high on a mountain and the visibility is good, I try to photograpraph it on my approach several kilometers away with a long lens. This gives me a totally different perspective than photographing it from just below the castle.

Let’s start with Bratislava castle, the seat of national government. The recently renovated rectangular building with four corner towers stands on a rocky hill above the Danube river. Over the years the city grew around the castle and today the castle is in the middle of the city. It’s an easy walk from the downtown or you can take a ride in a cute tour minibus.

The castle terrace provides an excellent view of Bratislava, and in good weather even views of two neighbouring countries – Austria and Hungary.

Just slightly over 100km northeast of Bratislava lies a completely different castle, in the village of Beckov. This castle was built on a 50m limestone cliff which was formed a long time ago by the river Vah. This view was captured with a 70-300mm lens, at 110mm.

A close-up from just below the castle walls with a 50mm lens produces quite different view. Although presently, there is no access to the castle grounds, you can walk around the castle, and there is a nice view of the surrounding countryside from near the entrance to the castle.

Another hour away to the east, is perhaps the most famous castle in Bojnice, visited by hundreds of thousands of travellers every year and it is also a popular filming stage for fantasy and fairy-tale movies. It is a romantic castle with some original Gothic and Renaissance elements, located in a pleasant town with a nicely restored town square, beautiful gardens, small zoo and other tourist attractions.

Filakovsky hrad is located in the southern Slovakia, just a few kilometeres from Hungary. It was built originally as a defense fort against Turks, but they invaded it and held it briefly in 15th century. Part of the castle is a massive pentagonal bastion that has been re-roofed and exists in a slightly modified form till today.

same ruins, just from a little bit closer:

Going straight up north, in the northern part of Spis near Polish border, is another old castle in the town of Stara Lubovna. This large castle was built originally in the 13th century on a limestone cliff in the 700m elevation with a large tower and a gothic palace. In 1553, the castle was completely burned. In 16th century, a new palace and a chapel were added in baroque style. Inside the walled compound, there are three courtyards and on the grounds there is an old and huge linden tree, about 25 tall with a 4.5m diameter, estimated to be 300-400 years old. The town below is a well known spa resort in a beautiful mountain setting with a skanzen and other tourist attractions. This photo was captured at 180mm from the east side.


Two more castles in Slovakia, Spišsky Hrad and Šomoška, have been covered and shown in previous posts.

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On a recent trip to Slovakia, I took a lot of pictures, many of them in panoramic format. I thought, combining the recent impressions from Slovakia with a short essay on panoramic viewpoint would make an interesting article.

I have been active in the panoramic community for almost two decades now, and the possibilities still amaze me. Originally, I started with film cameras and used wide-format fixed Fuji GX617, swing-lens Noblex, and rotational Seitz Roundshots. The specialized panoramic cameras were very expensive, so were the films and naturally, also the film and print processing. Although the stitching concepts emerged more than 15 years ago, originally we were fusing scanned slides, which was a lot of work, and often quite inferior to the large format panoramic film images. However, the panoramic stitching methods changed dramatically in the last ten years with the introduction of Canon 20D and newer digital cameras. The progress has been relentless and using the latest crop of large megapixel cameras, motorized accessories like Gigapan, and latest software stitching tools, it is now possible to construct very impressive panoramas.

Nevertheless, the challenges of composition and panoramic viewpoints remain today the same as hundred years ago. Anybody even with a simple pocket camera can now create a long and skinny print, but it takes some experience and practice to see and display the scenes in a pleasing panoramic format.

What is actually a panorama? A classic definition states that a panoramic image should be at least twice as long as high, but there are some Gigapan panoramas in huge 4:3 or 3:2 formats, assembled from hundreds of individual images, and sometimes you’ll see also very tall pictures, called vertical panoramas. And there are the screen-only-based spherical panoramas. To add more complexity to the subject, we are dealing not only with the actual physical format, but also with a panoramic viewpoint.

Simple panoramas with a single point of interest can be seen and digested with a single glance, some short-distance rotational panoramas with curved streets and corners have to be studied and analyzed, and then there are some sophisticated panoramas that are similar to old master paintings depicting large groups of people and other objects, telling complete and complex stories.

Let’s move from the theory to practice, and I will use the examples just from my recent trip. On that journey, I didn’t carry any specialized panoramic camera, and most images were taken handheld by a dSLR with a 50mm lens and stitched later together in Photoshop CS5.

The first picture on the top is of Spissky Castle in eastern Slovakia, one of the biggest medieval castles in central Europe. The ruins of this partially restored castle are photogenic enough to produce a pleasing image even in the conventional 3:2 format. However, I found the entire scene so enticing, that a panoramic format seemed more appropriate. This panoramic picture was combined from six vertical and slightly overlapped images. Picture like this really should be viewed on a huge wall-sized print, but if you look carefully, even the small screen version tells a story (click on the image to see a slightly larger version).

Initially, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the castle on the right, and then he becomes aware of the countryside around – several villages and hamlets in the centre, a road and plowed fields in the foreground, mountains in the far distance, and a beautiful sky with picturesque clouds.

The picture below in a conventional 3:2 format conveys a completely diferent feeling. The focus is primarily on the castle, and even the vilage below serves just as an underlining border to emphasize the hill with the castle. Not better or worse than the panorama, but definitely a picture with a very different feel.

The next panorama shows an apartment building subdivision in town Poprad against the backdrop of High Tatra mountain range.

In this case, the panorama is much simpler, showing four separate vertical segments – a field, city, mountain range, and a sky with clouds. All four bands are very symmetrical, spanning the entire width of the image.

The next landscape panorama is yet slightly different in structure.

A large green meadow in the middle, and a mountain range in the background. A small cabin on the right side is the focal point in the picture, and the trees and bushes on both sides contribute to a nicely balanced image.

Panoramas can be also very effective in the urban places. The following scene shows two streets with renovated buildings in the town of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia. A short conventional picture couldn’t accommodate this amount of information, whereas the panoramic picture depicts the entire scene very naturally, almost exactly as experienced with our own eyes.

The problem in many cities, especially in Europe, are the parked cars. Often they ruin the street scene for you. Whenever possible, I look for pedestrian zones. The following picture shows the main square in the same town, devoid of any cars.

Shooting doesn’t have to be confined to the day light. Sometimes, the night lighting will provide special effects, suitable also for panoramas. Here is a night capture of the main square in Bardejov, a famous health spa town in eastern Slovakia.

Sometimes, there is so much colour in the scene, that you really need a wide canvass to show it all. Here is a picture of Banska Stiavnica, a medieval mining town, proclaimed by the UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site.

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This is one waterfall which won’t blur on you, even at a slow camera shutter speed. Made of a solid basaltic rock, mere four millions years ago.

The unusual rocky formation is located near Lucenec, in the southern portion of central Slovakia, right on the Hungarian border. The waterfall is positioned on the top of a 7.9 hectar large volcanic area, consisting of crumbling penta- and hexagonal columns, almost perfect large brick-size pieces, and loose rocks. The actual stone waterfall of basaltic flow is about 9 meters high, with rounded lava top and beautifully bent vertical stripes coming down.

This natural wonder is worth the climb. Not only you’ll see the stone wonder, that is unique in the central Europe, but on the top of the mountain, there is also an old gothic castle offering a great view all around. From the Slovakia side, the trail (under 2km long) starts near the village of Šiatorská Bukovinka. For most of it, the trail is a pleasant hike through a nice deciduous forest, just on the top it gets quite steep. It takes about an hour to get to the top, considerably less coming down.

As you approach the top, first you’ll see rocks strewn on the hill. This place is called the “Rock sea”, consisting of loose rocks which weathered and tumbled down from the main columns and crumbling mountain top.

Notice some of the perfectly formed stone bricks.

The rocky waterfall is very photogenic, you can take an overall view using a wide lens (as shown in the top picture), and then choose some of the details (see below):

The castle ruins stand on Slovak territory, with the village of Šiatorská Bukovinka on the northern side in Slovakia and Somoskő on the southern side in Hungary. The picturesque castle was built out of basaltic columns on a volcanic rock originally in the 13th century, and completely reconstructed a few hundred years later.

The castle and surrounding walls were built using the basalt rocks. Here is a picture of the castle’s northern wall:

The rocky waterfall and castle of Šomoška (Hungarian: Somoskő) are located on the Slovak-Hungarian border, between Salgótarján and Fiľakovo.

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After spending a few freezing days last month in Ottawa, the thought of driving 2,500km due south sounded actually quite enticing.

I managed to get away for the coldest week of the year, got into one snow storm going down and barely escaped another one on the return trip. On my way south, I passed through a snowed-in Pittsburgh around midnight, it was an incredibly beautiful sight, with hardly any traffic, soft light and falling snow, but definitely not the time to stop on the freeway and taking photographs.

Florida was pleasant as usual, and the water in the ocean was swimmable, except one day when the stormy seas deposited on the beach deluge of light blue bodies of portuguese man-of-war. Many more were still in the water. Portuguese man-of-war belongs to a different family than jelly fish. It is sometimes found floating in groups of thousands. I guess, that was the day.

Portuguese man-of-war can’t swim. The creature moves by means of its crest that is a gas-filled (mostly nitrogen), bladder-like float, which functions as a sail to propel itself through the water with its tentacles hanging down sensing for any prey. Attached to that balloon are clusters of polyps which may be 3 to 12 inches long, but get this, from the polyps hang tentacles of up to 165 feet (about 50 meters) in length.

I managed to get one shot of a small floating specimen holding a tiny fish in its tentacles (see below). Since I didn’t have time to change to the telephoto lens, it was shot from a fair distance with a 50mm lens, but it depicts the little monster reasonably well. The sting of portuguese man-of-war can be very painful and can cause serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung action. Keep away from those blue balloons!

Here are some pictures from the trip to Broward County.

One of the many pastel coloured apartment buildings along the intracoastal waterway

Hillsboro lighthouse in Pompano Beach

Rush hour in Miami

Lonely tourist at the beach

Beached portuguese man of war

Portuguese man of war floating and holding small fish in its tentacles

Evening at the fishing pier in Lauderdale by the Sea

Nice sunset scene makes your day

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Ottawa, Dec 2010

I just returned from Ottawa. Surprisingly, this December, they had there less snow than in Toronto. Rideau canal was already frozen, but not open yet to skating.

Here are some pictures from the cold capital. Next post is going to be from some warmer place.

Art Gallery with the 30-ft tall spider sculpture

Parliament Building - Centre Block

View at Hull, Quebec across Ottawa River

24 Sussex Drive, dressed for Christmas

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