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This beautiful stretch of whitewater has been scheduled to be the venue for the whitewater events at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Games. It is located just below the dam at Horseshoe Lake, where the Trent Severn Waterway holds back large amounts of water in order to prevent flooding of Minden. Unfortunately, this past spring the 100-year flood levels were just too much for the dam, and many areas in Minden have been flooded.

Usually suffering from low water volume in the summer, this year the water levels and volume are still at record levels. All the rain has kept the Horseshoe Lake water levels above the dam very high and the river continues to run strong. There were still sandbags on the concrete walls on both sides of the river, as the evidence of the recent flood.

Sand bags on the concrete walls above the dam

The spring flooding of the Gull River has damaged infrastructure at the Minden Wild Water Preserve. Just below the dam, you can see the toppled wall, part of the engineered whitewater course, built in 1972 from heavy concrete blocks. The heavy and long wall was installed to funnel water onto the side of the main channel. When the large blocks gave in, water rushed in and opened another river arm on the left side, creating an island. The problem is that if left this way, the main channel wouldn’t get in the summer months enough water. In addition, the erosion in the left channel might continue, altering significantly the entire course.

Damaged concrete block wall below the dam

Kayaker coming down from the upper part of the river

 

There was a kayak race in the morning, which I regrettably missed, so the following photos are from the afternoon after the slalom gates have been taken down.

On the top of the chute

Coming Through, one way or another!

Nothing will stop this fellow

Looking ahead to the next set of rapids.

Planning the next step

If you don’t feel like paddling, you can enjoy the spray of the whitewater in a more leisurely way. Not recommended for people who tend to roll in their sleep.

Woman On The Rocks

The bottom portion of the course is very popular, especially at high water levels. The last few rapids are not dangerous, but still fun to play in.

Perfectly synchronized team in an inflatable kayak.

Two men in a tandem kayak

In the calm water below the course

 

In closing, it was the strongest summer flow I’ve seen on this river in thirty years. A few years back, I used to run it in my Mad River Explorer canoe myself, but having seen that recent power of the river, from now on, I think, I’ll stick just to photographing others.

 

For more pictures from the whitewater course, you can visit my FAA Gallery at http://les-palenik.artistwebsites.com/art/all/whitewater2013-07-13/all

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A grizzly sprinting at 35 miles an hour from hundred feet away will sink its teeth into your expedition cargo pants in less than two seconds, giving you just enough time to engage the autofocus, select burst mode, and press the shutter. Depending on your reaction time and camera model, your closed ones may inherit six to ten pre-mortal frames that could be made into a very short viral video clip.

Reaction times for trained athletes vary from superfast 40 ms for Muhammad Ali’s fastest punches to 150 ms required to return a table tennis ball. Sprinters take 100-150 ms after registering the starting pistol to jump off the blocks.

As an action photographer, you might find it interesting that once an image hits the retina, it takes approximately 100 milliseconds before it consciously registers in the brain. Although the light travels much faster than sound, the human’s body visual system is actually slower than our audio system. When the light or an image hits our retina, the photons must be translated into a chemical signal that in turn must be converted into an electrical impulse that can be carried via the nerve fibres to visual cortex residing in the back portion of the brain. Visual cortex will process the input signal and split it into two entities – one processing the shape and identity of the object(s) we see, and the other decoding the location and motion of the object(s). These two streams are then combined into a final information block which is converted into conscious awareness. Lot of complex data manipulation and processing.

Neuroscientists have discovered another problem with the real-time watching. A simple assumption is that our visual system continuously monitors the surroundings and records it in “video camera” style. In reality, we are continuously scanning the entire scene and taking a quick sample from each location. The seamless connection and stitching of the entire scene is handled by the brain that combines the individual segments into an equivalent wide-screen scene that appears like a movie.

Typically, we perform about five such visual relocations per second with the minimum time of 200 milliseconds to shift our viewpoint. Then you add 300-400 milliseconds required to execute a cognitive decision and another 50 milliseconds to engage a motor command to be communicated by nerves to the finger on the shutter. All these activities add up to 500-600 milliseconds or half a second, which translates to several missed frames.

Case in point:

This past summer, I was photographing a whitewater kayak race. I used a 70-300mm zoom lens across its entire range, shooting at F8 in single frame mode. From my vantage point, I was able to follow the racers, set the continuous autofocus, and fire off one or multiple shots in each gate. Except one tricky spot on the river with a fast short drop followed by a haystack. I took a number of shots in that spot, some better than others. When I examined images on my computer screen, I came across the following shot:

I like this image, and it was a sheer luck capturing it. Surely, I wasn’t composing and focusing for the hand with paddle. Most likely, I noticed the racer just coming down the chute, focused on him and pressed the shutter. Let’s assume that in that particular drop the water moves at 15mph (24km/h), kayak moves relatively to the water at 5 mph (8km/h), so the resulting speed is 20mph (33km/h). If the distance from the top of the drop to the bottom is 5 ft (1.5m), moving at that speed, the kayak can cover 9m in a second, or 5 ft (1.5m) in 165 ms. This corresponds roughly with 100 ms required for a transmission of the image from the retina to the visual cortex, plus another 50 ms to press the shutter. And that explains the confluence of kayak being in the hole just with the hand and paddle visible behind the standing wave and click of the shutter in that very fortunate moment.

As the kayaker cleared the haystack, he was slowed down sufficiently, that I could easily focus on him in that position and make another exposure. If his speed in that moment was around 3-4 mph, he would cover in 165 ms only 1 ft (30cm) which didn’t pose any problem for locking the focus or sufficient depth of field at that distance.


 

Back to the grizzlies:

On August 24th, 2012, in Denali National Park, a grizzly attacked and killed a lone backpacker who was photographing the bear from just over 40 yards away. He took 26 pictures of the bear with his camera over a span of 7 1/2 minutes, but the bear seemed to take notice of him only for the last few seconds, according to National Park Service officials who based their assessment on satellite imagery and photo time stamps. The park service said that, based on “initial evidence,” authorities believe a bear attacked the backpacker by the river and dragged his body to a “food cache site” in a bushy area 100 to 150 yards from where the attack occurred.



Picture above taken by yours truly a few years ago in Denali from a safe distance, not too far away from the fatal site.

 

The hiker took the first bear shots with a wide angle. Then he zoomed in. The last five pictures, taken in a span of 13 seconds, show the bear lifting its head up, looking away from the camera, and then turning towards the photographer (did the hiker sneeze or yell at him?). The mauling probably occurred almost immediately after the last image.

“A bear could cover that distance before a person could react,” said the park ranger. The bear was estimated at 600 lbs (270 kg), big for Denali. It was a mature boar, at least 5 years old.

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Another year, another whitewater race.

The Open Canoe Slalom Race 2011 took place on the weekend September 10th and 11th in Minden, Ontario, the weather was perfect, and we had a great turnout in terms of paddlers and boats.

River rescue - click to see the photobook

I was photographing the event on both days – primarily with a Canon T2i and a prime 200mm/2.8L lens, and with a Nikon D300 equipped with 70-300mm and 70-200 VR zoom lenses. The light conditions were challenging – harsh light and dark shadows in the sun and quite dark in the upper stretch of the river that was shaded from both sides with tall trees. And those boats move fast!

It would be great to see the absolute differences between the three long lenses, but the comparison was difficult because each shot was captured under different conditions. What became obvious is that in good light all three lenses deliver great results and that the light, shutter speed, aperture, and the angle under which you shoot are much more important that the actual lenses.

The 70-200mm/2.8 Nikkor zoom lens, although quite heavy, focused fast and accurately throughout its entire range, and was a pleasure to use. The Canon camera and 200mm/2.8 lens combo was the lightest, focused also very fast and the lens has perhaps the nicest bokeh of the three. In good light, even the relatively inexpensive 70-300VR Nikkor performed admirably (especially in the tested 100-200mm range), but it did not resolve the details as well as the other two lenses, while the dark river sections constituted a challenge and introduced a lot of noise even for the Canon 200mm/2.8L prime lens. (To be fair, in that light the weakest point was the sensor and not the glass).

The entire whitewater section of Gull River is relatively narrow, everywhere you are relatively close to the action, and from most vantage points you can fill the frame even with a 55-200mm lens. On a few occasions, I dialed up the Nikkor 70-300mm lens all the way to 300mm, but at its maximum aperture of 5.6 sometimes you have to compromise the speed and the resulting sharpness.

As a side note, there are a few tight spots on the river to experiment also with a wide or short telephoto lens, and Glenn, my shooting buddy got some interesting shots even with a 12-24mm zoom.

Here are some images from Sunday, Sept. 11th. The small web-sized pictures (reduced from 12-18MP twenty times to about 0.5 MP) don’t do justice to the actual images, but they all look great at full resolution, and would print nicely in 8×12″ or even larger size.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-300mm ED VR - ISO 250, 140mm, F5.6, 1/2500s

Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-300mm ED VR - ISO 250, 185mm, F5.6, 1/2500s

Canon T2i, 200mm EF prime - ISO 200, 200mm, F2.8, 1/4000

Canon T2i, 200mm EF prime - ISO 200, 200mm, F2.8, 1/4000

Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-200mm VR - ISO 200, 200mm, F2.8, 1/5000s

Nikon D300, Nikkor 70-200mm VR - ISO 200, 200mm, F2.8, 1/2500s

More images from the river in the photo book by Blurb

See also slalom images at the Shutterstock site

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