Mikhail Belikov Photography (nature, adventures, travel)
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Update: February 14, 2019. Since some of you have been wondering about my Valentine's Day - themed Her Sweet Lips print (see my 2016 post below), here is the big reveal. This is actually a close up image of a sea anemone, more specifically its central part, where the mouth is. So, after thinking it over, I guess we can call this "the lips" after all, only not the human ones!

February 11, 2016. Love At First Glance
Small Works Show and Sale at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. This juried art show is at the full swing! If you are looking for something special for your Valentine's Day date, you will find various themed local artworks there. I am delighted that my Her Sweet Lips has been included. The show closes on March 6th. And no, these are not lips...  ;-)

October 21, 2015. Back to Victoria.
  After two months in the BC wilderness, I am finally back to Victoria. This latest expedition was full of adventures but also challenges, including the stormy and rainy September. Lots of stories to tell; many of them will end up in my wilderness adventures photo book: stay tuned for more info!

A very desirable side benefit of an active life in the wilderness is a healthy drop in weight: lost 18 kg/40 lb this time! Hope to never find them again! Meanwhile, some adjustments are in order:

November 22, 2014. Christmas Small Works Show and Sale at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The show has opened and some works are already gone. If you are looking for a Christmas present, you will find well-presented juried artworks from local artists, nothing over $200. I am delighted that my The Snow Path has been included. The show closes on January 1st.

The Snowy Path

December 8, 2013. Making sense of Nikon Df (part 3): What I wish Nikon Df would have been. This is likely my last post on this subject. The previous two were: Who would benefit from transitioning to Df? and  Making sense of Nikon Df (with just a little bit of tongue-in-cheek). There are a few alternatives to the Df  model that would have intrigued me:

Alternative 1. A fully manual camera but with the latest digital capabilities. Make it with the body, metering and focusing of D800, with the D4 sensor and don’t forget the video mode please. Keep all manual controls that Df has but decouple the ISO/Exposure Compensation dials: I perceive that the combined dials are going to be difficult to operate. Add a very important component missing in Df: a preinstalled split prism or similar manual focusing screen, or at least offer it as an option: according to some reports, the Df focusing screen cannot be changed. To me, focusing fast manual lenses without a manual focusing screen is a challenge.

Alternative 2. A variation of the previous one. Why not make the sensor user-replaceable? Something similar to digital (or film) backs available for medium format cameras? With everything in alternative 1 included, this camera would have enough digital power to stay relevant for at least a few years. With replaceable sensors, it may last much longer. This way, instead of having two cameras, one for a low-light shooting and one for a high resolution studio/landscape work, a photographer may decide to only have one (plus a backup). Need to shoot a night concert?  Insert a D4 sensor (or its successor) and go ahead. Need to photograph models in the studio? Plug in a D800 sensor (or its successor). On-board memory could be made sufficient to keep firmware for many sensor types, present and future.

Alternative 3. Something I would have wanted to have right away: a Leica-sized digital rangefinder or a rangefinder-like camera with the F mount, released with a collapsible lens. Until the 1960s, Nikon had been a major player in the rangefinder camera industry, and then transitioned to SLRs. Small, quiet and non-intrusive, rangefinders have survived, primary in the photojournalism, although SLRs have overall replaced them as do-it-all professional mainstream cameras. Thanks to the Fuji X line of cameras, there has been a recent revival of the traditional design, while the mirrorless camera segment overall have been enjoying significant support. A small full frame (or even DX) rangefinder with traditional controls and accepting existing Nikon F-mount lenses will find its niche and loyal supporters without cannibalizing the Nikon DSLR market.  Offer the latest most advanced autofocus and video modes, incorporate an electronic viewfinder or better yet a combination of an optical and electronic viewfinders. Provide focus peaking or at least a magnifier for a selected area in the frame. Make it in a weather & shock - resistant body. Have I mentioned a collapsible prime lens, so the camera could fit in a pocket? Offer three collapsible lenses: a wide-angle, a normal and a telephoto. That’s it. The technology is there, the demand is likely there, confirmed by 700,000+ Fuji X-series cameras sold since their introduction in 2011, and of course by other mirrorless sales. The price? Something along Nikon DSLRs (and Fuji X series): $1,000 for a DX version, $2,000 for an FX model. By offering a rangefinder with the F mount, Nikon could likely stop the leakage of its otherwise loyal customers to the serious mirrorless market dominated by other brands. It could also provide a Nikon alternative to someone moving upstream from advanced compacts and deciding among numerous APS and full-frame options.

Hope that Nikon is listening!

Comments? Let me know.

November 21, 2013. Making sense of Nikon Df  (part 2): Who would benefit from transitioning to Df? In my previous post (with a tiny bit of tongue-in-cheek) I have suggested that Nikon Df is a bar & nightclub photography camera targeting emotional buyers in the consumer segment.

In this post, I will analyze who may actually benefit from transitioning to Nikon Df.

1. Film photographers using traditional Nikon/Nikon-branded gear, up to and including Nikon F4, Nikon FM2n and Nikon FM10. If you are shooting traditional film cameras and have decided to transition to Nikon Df, many controls will look and feel familiar. You will still be able to use all your Nikon lenses, all way down to pre-1977 non-AIs. What you will likely miss is the precise manual focusing with a split prism screen. To be fair, Nikon is not making split prism screens for modern DSLRs. Third-party products are available, with some compromises, so this shortcoming can be addressed. If you shoot from a tripod, focusing in the magnified Live View mode is a useful alternative, if your subject is stationary.

Another potential shortcoming is the stacked ISO/Exposure Compensation dials. Granted, the combined dials have been used before, for example the ISO/Shutter Speed dial on Nikon FM models, where the control priority is correctly given to the frequently adjusted shutter speed, not to the ISO. It is not common to adjust ISO mid-roll when shooting film, while in the digital realm ISO is an integral component of controlling exposure for each shot, along with the shutter speed and the aperture. To me, the modern stacked dials (found for example on D610 and D7100) are confusing and distracting from the shoot: I tend to grab the wrong one when trying to adjust on a hurry. However, this might be a matter of gaining experience or personal preferences. In addition, it looks like there is more physical separation between two stacked dials on Nikon Df than on Nikon D610/D7100, so this may end up being not a serious drawback.
2. Film photographers using the latest generations of autofocus film SLRs (F100, F5, F6).  If you are comfortable with the Nikon Command Dials and other buttons, Df will take you in a different direction, potentially slowing down. If you would want to continue using command dial cameras, D7100 (DX), D610, D800 and D4 (all FX) would all be obvious choices. If you don’t need video at all, a used D700 could be a good alternative offering a very solid camera for almost half the price of Df.
3. Digital/Film SLR users who need high ISO. If you are not satisfied with the high ISO performance of your current camera and need the highest possible ISO while maintaining a reasonable image quality, there are currently only two options in the Nikon lineup: D4 and Df. Note that Df is not really an action shooting camera, at least not in the autofocus mode, thanks to the DX-size matrix with only 39 points, and will be slower to use than D4 due to manual controls. If this does not bother you or if you do not have funds to buy D4, Df will fit the bill in a pinch for half the cost.

4. A retro-loving person with around $3,000 to spare, looking for something traditional outside, but with digital guts. If this is you, Df is the only digital option in the Nikon lineup – go for it!

In my next and likely last post on Nikon Df I will cover what, in my view, Nikon Df should have been.

Comments? Let me know.

November 16, 2013. Christmas Small Works Show and Sale at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The show has opened on Saturday. Within an hour, some works were already gone. If you are looking for a Christmas present for yourself or someone else, you will find well-presented juried artworks from more than 50 Vancouver Island artists, small in size and nothing over $150. I am delighted that several of my works have been accepted, including the Dew Drop on a Leaf  below. The show closes on January 3rd.

Dew Drop on a Leaf

Comments? Let me know.

November 10, 2013. Making sense of Nikon Df (with just a little bit of tongue-in-cheek). After weeks of suspense, the Nikon Df is finally out. The camera has raised more questions than provided answers, and, along with far more capable reviewers, I have been trying to make sense of what it represents.

This is not a fast action camera, despite the beautiful 16MP D4 sensor that begs to be used in low light and on fast moving subjects. The Df manual dials slow you down and the 39-segment DX-sized focusing system hinders action shooting (wildlife, sports, running kids, jumping dogs etc.)

This is not a landscape/studio camera: the highly regarded and just slightly more expensive 36MP Nikon D800 covers this segment much, much better.

This is not a camera designed for manual focus lenses: it accepts them, all way down to pre-1977 non-AIs, but it does not have a split prism or similar focusing screen essential for precise manual focusing. Yes, there is Life View, but using it requires a tripod therefore moving the camera into the studio/landscape realm where D800 is unbeatable.

So, it is a slow-action low-light camera that does not fit into any of the above segments. What is it meant for? Photojournalism? Possibly, although the absence of video mode makes it unsuitable for many modern PJ applications, and it is not the best choice for action shooting anyway. Street photography? Also possible (Df is smaller than D4 with similarly excellent low light performance). However, this still sizable DSLR with the retro look will attract attention these days, something often undesirable in the street photography. And who would not want to record a video of a spontaneous dance on a street using the camera in hand, not another camera with a video mode in the bag?  It seems that the street photography is also a potential application with some reservations.

The only application I can think of where this camera makes a good sense (the missing video mode aside) is the bar & night club photography. Relatively small, at least much smaller than D4, excellent low light performance and, most important, a retro look -- this is a great conversation starting piece! So, everyone, welcome Nikon Df -- the night club & bar photography camera!

Now, with the applications sorted out, what customer segment does this camera target? To determine this, I will apply my battery test. In brief, when trying to position Nikon cameras, I look at the batteries they are using with an assumption that each battery line corresponds to a certain market segment. It is by no means a precise test: the presumption behind is that Nikon would want to simplify photographers’ life by letting them use same batteries in two or more similar cameras that the photographers might have. For instance, someone shooting with D800 may also have D610 or D7100 as a backup: these cameras use same batteries. As of November 2013, the modern Nikon camera lines are:

Professional line: D4 -- EN-EL18 battery
Prosumer line: D800/D610/D7100 -- EL-EN15 battery
Consumer line: D5300/D3200 -- EL-EN14 battery -- we have a match!

Based on the battery test, Df is a consumer segment camera.

Finally, what about the almost $3,000 price tag? Should not a consumer camera be closer to $1,000 than to $3,000 and possibly even lower than that? The only way to explain this in my view is that Df is a want camera not necessary a need camera. It appeals to emotions, not to practical reasons/common sense and the emotional sale is a perfect way to make people pay more than they would have otherwise.

So, here it is, a bar & nightclub consumer-segment camera for emotional buyers. Enjoy! ;-)

In my next post on Nikon Df I will cover who may benefit from upgrading/moving to Df, and in the post thereafter I will talk about what, in my view, Nikon Df should have been.

Comments? Let me know.

October 5, 2013. My Princess Royal Island Presentation Coming up on October 8. Nature and photography lovers might be interested in my upcoming presentation Princess Royal Island in Photographs and Stories on October 8th at 7:30pm. The presentation is to the Victoria Natural History Society in room 159 of the Fraser building at the University of Victoria. It is open to public: everyone is welcome, no RSVP is required. The summary is below.

To get a sense of the area, please check the online version of my January exhibit Princess Royal Island: A National Treasure.

Tuesday October 8 at 7:30pm


Princess Royal Island in Photographs and Stories

Room 159, Fraser Building, University of Victoria

Princess Royal Island, the fourth largest island in British Columbia, is situated in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. The island is largely wild; however, the area is rich in the First Nations culture and history, including abandoned settlements and active communities. Most of the island is covered with the temperate rainforest and is full of wildlife, including bears, deer, wolves, foxes, eagles and marbled murrelets. Salmon, sea lions, seals, orcas, porpoises and many other marine species inhabit or frequently visit island’s waters.

The most famous inhabitants of Princess Royal Island are spirit bears, known scientifically as Kermode bears, an extremely rare subspecies of American black bear, only known to exist in British Columbia’s temperate rainforest. These are black bears with a recessive gene that becomes active in some individuals producing a creamy-white coat.

For two seasons Mikhail Belikov, a professional photographer and a VNHS member, has explored the island and surrounding areas traveling solo by kayak. He will share his photographs and stories.

Would like to learn more? I have started posting my trip diaries here .

Comments? Let me know.

July 14, 2013. Summer Small Works Show and Sale at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
. Last Friday was the opening night for this long-awaited annual event running until September 5th. More than 100 juried art works by Vancouver Island artists representing a variety of genres, media and techniques are waiting to be admired and taken to their new homes. I am delighted that one of my photographs, Johnson Street Bridge at Sunset, has also been selected for the show. I am even more thrilled since it seems to be the only photographic work of art that is currently on display.

The iconic Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria, in operations since 1924, is being replaced with a new modern structure. Soon, this prominent landmark will be gone.

If you happen to be in Victoria this summer, please visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and enjoy its numerous permanent and temporary exhibitions, including this show & sale. Also, please do not forget about the TD Art Gallery Paint-In, Vancouver Island’s largest outdoor visual art event, on Saturday July 20th!

Comments? Let me know.

July 7, 2013. Vancouver Walks
. My trip from Victoria to Vancouver in early July: downtown walks, favourite places, interesting encounters.

Crossing the Strait of Georgia on a BC ferry: muddy Fraser River waters stream through the blue Salish Sea.
Photographed through a dirty window.

Waterfront walk in downtown Vancouver: Cactus Club Cafe. A moire pattern is clearly visible on a close-up:

Moire pattern in a digital image captured with Nikon D7100 (no anti-aliasing filter).

Downtown Vancouver: Van Bear -- definitely a male.

Chinese Garden: a juvenile rat (likely a woodrat, native to British Columbia) enjoying the greenery of this urban park. 

Granville Island: urban patterns

False Creek: boats returning at sunset

Stanley Park: A view on downtown Vancouver 

Stanley Park: a habituated raccoon strolling down a walking path. It stopped by to sniff my backpack for food. No luck.

On a BC ferry, back to Victoria: sunset over the Strait of Georgia

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May 21, 2013. Welcome Home Celebratio​n for Adam Kreek. On May 18, Whitehall Rowing and Sail in Victoria, BC welcomed back Adam Kreek, a Canadian 2008 Olympic gold medalist and a member of the rowing team that was attempting earlier this year to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a rowing boat.

Adam Kreek speaking at Whitehall Rowing and Sail in Victoria, BC

The team was close to completing the crossing when rouge waves flooded and capsized the boat just 1,300 km from their finish line in Miami. All team members have been rescued. Their rowing boat, James Robert Hanssen, carrying a precious cargo of science data, documentary video footage and equipment has been recovered later. However, the boat search and recovery costs have mounted. The team is accepting donations on Indiegogo to help cover the costs, share the enormous amount of oceanographic data and promote adventure and ocean conservation through their video records. There are only four days left before the Indiegogo campaign is closed, so please help soon if you can!

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April 7, 2013. Back to the Basics in B&W
. Last November, our local photography group had the usual photo outing in Ross Bay Cemetery area in Victoria BC. This place is very photogenic in the Fall, covered with fallen leaves displaying a full range of autumn colours. However, this time we had a challenge of capturing the essence of the season and the spirit of the place in black and white, using B&W film and all-manual cameras. Everyone could only have one roll of film and two hours to make the best use of it.

Autumn Trees at Ross Bay Cemetery

Around twenty souls had accepted the challenge braving the rainy forecast. It was a usual mix: from seasoned photographers, some primarily working with the film, all way to young folks who had never photographed with film cameras. Several participants had brought extra film cameras to share, including one medium-format that was particularly in demand. Switching from a digital to a film capture had been challenging for people with no previous film experience. It was particularly interesting to observe a first-time film shooter lifting a camera in outstretched arms to compose a shot the usual way, on a back-panel LCD, only to realize that the LCD was not there! At the end, it had all worked out fine: our group had created many excellent images despite the recurring drizzle.

Pumpkin Vase with Flowers

I photographed with my Nikon FM2n and a 24mm f/2.8 lens that was my favourite for a one-lens setup. This lens was wide enough for landscape images, yet the 0.3m focusing distance was short enough for intimate shots of small subjects. It was good to get back to the basics, especially being forced to slow down: with only 24 frames, every shot counted. I was also thrilled that I could rely again on the split-prism focusing screen to consistently produce razor-sharp images even at f/2.8, as long as a subject was stationary. At the end, I was pleasantly surprised that, out of 24, I had at least five good images, worth printing large: my success rate with digital cameras had not been that impressive.

Would I come back to shooting film? Not likely: the digital capture offers too many advantages that are hard to dismiss. However, I would definitely want to keep shooting film, once in a while, as a way of refocusing on the basics while removing the technological noise. My shooting film experience was similar to what a city folk would likely feel heading out into the wilderness, even for a few hours. No phone calls, no Internet, no flashing billboards: just the fundamentals to reconnect to and to get reminded of what really matters in life.


Autumn Leaf in Ross Bay, Victoria BC

Comments? Let me know.

March 12, 2013. Three Days in Rainy, Stormy and Sunny Tofino. In early March, I had joined a small group of fellow photographers for a three-day photo trip to Tofino -- a town on Vancouver Island's West Coast in an area popular for surfing and nature watching. This was our second Tofino outing: the previous one, two years earlier, was full of surprises. We anticipated foul winter weather and storm watching; instead, we got calm seas, blue skies and spectacular sunrises and sunsets. This time, the weather forecast was more "promising" and diverse: 50+ mm of rain on Friday, rainy Saturday and sunny Sunday. We left Victoria on Friday morning, with the sun almost breaking through the clouds. However, very soon the weather got back to what was expected: light rain started in Malahat, becoming quite heavy by the time we had stopped at Coombs for lunch. In warmer months, Coombs is a great place to check out goats grazing on a grassy roof. This time, however, they were likely on the ground level and inside, away from the rain. 

Spectacular roadside waterfalls were greeting us along the Pacific Rim Highway; unfortunately, opening a car window even for a couple of seconds to compose a shot was not wise. We arrived to Botanical Gardens on outskirts of Tofino in a downpour. After checking in Ecolodge, a very pleasant hostel-like accommodation, a few of us had braved the weather and went outside to explore the grounds and views from the shore. On this walk, I photographed most of the time with Nikon V1 inside a water-proof Eva-Marine housing: it was too risky to expose unprotected cameras to the rain for extended periods of time.

Nikon V1 with 10mm F/2.8 Lens inside Eva-Marine Housing

Islands in Browning Passage, Tofino. Nikon V1 with 10mm F/2.8 lens

Salal Bush on a Log, Browning Passage, Tofino. Nikon V1 with 10mm F/2.8 lens

The Saturday morning had treated us to more rain. There was no point in leaving very early for a sunrise: the clouds were too thick and the rain quite persistent.

Rainy Morning at Ecolodge, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens

In the morning, we concentrated on the north part of Chesterman Beach. I had used a combination of Nikon V1 inside the housing and Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens under an umbrella. Winds had picked up by late morning making an umbrella impractical.


Wooden Pilings on Chesterman Beach in B&W, Tofino. Nikon V1 with 10mm F/2.8 lens

Surfer Waiting for a Decent Wave, Chesterman Beach, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens

By early afternoon, the rain had ended. We had taken off to explore Tonquin Beach, very close to downtown Tofino. A pleasant trail through the soaked rainforest had lead us to the shore. The area was just 1.5 km from downtown yet reasonably wild: from now on it's a must if in Tofino with no car and only a couple of hours to spare.

Tonquin Beach, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens

Sand Pool with a Rock, Tonquin Beach, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens

Fungi after Rain, Tonquin Beach Trail, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens

The wind had increased and the cloud cover was breaking by late afternoon. We had returned to Chesterman Beach, this time to its south part, and photographed spectacular waves, much appreciated by surfers and kiteboarders.

Stormy Waves, Chesterman Beach, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 18-200 VR lens

Kiteboarder, Chesterman Beach, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

Sun Breaking through the Clouds, Chesterman Beach, Tofino. Nikon D5000 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

Unfortunately, the sun had set behind a thick layer of clouds denying us a spectacle. We had returned to our lodging deciding to try our luck on Sunday at sunrise.

The night was clear and by early Sunday morning we were already on a pier in downtown Tofino, waiting for the sun to rise. This proved to be a less than perfect location at this time of the year: the sun was rising behind mountains that were also almost blocked from our view by Esowista Peninsula. Still, I came back to Ecolodge with an interesting image of a pier.

Pier in Tofino. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

The day was still young and we were driving back to Victoria with multiple stops along the way. Numerous observation points on the Pacific Rim Highway made the scenic stops safe and convenient.

Snow-capped Mountain and Clouds. Photographed from Pacific Rim Highway. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

Old Pilings in Kennedy River in B&W. Photographed from Pacific Rim Highway. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

A must stop on a way from Tofino to Victoria was the Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, a protected patch of old growth forest. As usual, it was full of visitors. Some parts of trails were under water after heavy rains, making them impassable without rubber boots. It was a sunny midday with harsh shadows and bright spots -- a challenge if photographing trees. With many images from the Cathedral Grove already in my portfolio, this time I had concentrated on smaller details.

Tree Roots in B&W, Cathedral Grove. Nikon D700 with Tamron 28-75 F/2.8 lens

Cedar Branches, Cathedral Grove. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

Our last photo stop before arriving to Victoria was at Qualicum Beach. It happened to be a peak of the herring spawning in the area. The bay was full of fishing boats and birds, and waters close to the shore almost white from the milky herring sperm released in massive quantities to fertilize eggs deposited on sea weeds. Definitely a spectacle not to be missed!

Herring Spawning, Qualicum Beach. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 70-300 VR lens

In conclusion, this trip was very diverse and full of photographic challenges, and rewarding opportunities. It was good that we already knew the area taking advantage of weather patterns and locations without wasting our time. We were also ready for the foul weather and so could be outside photographing in the rain, at times heavy. At the end, it was important to have a plan yet be flexible, adjusting on the go. It was also important to stay open-minded taking advantage of unexpected subjects and events. Finally, packing light and carrying only a very limited set of cameras and lenses allowed us to explore trails and beaches without a burden of heavy loads. Overall, a well-rounded outing in a pleasant company, something hard to beat!

Comments? Let me know.

February 7, 2013. Lessons from Setting up a Photography Exhibition. Last week, I have opened my new photography exhibition at Saanich Municipal Hall -- Princess Royal Island: A National Treasure. It took me two solo kayaking expeditions, more than two months in the wild, to properly capture the essence of the place, and I wanted to share this in prints.

While preparing all my previous exhibitions, I was either restrained by group exhibit rules or utilized to various extent older prints, already in my inventory, of different sizes and often on different media. This time, I had started from scratch. The experience has been both refreshing and educational, and I would like to share it with you.

1. Size and medium. This was an easy part. The main exhibition space was limited to an L-shaped 16 + 7 feet wall, 7 feet in height (roughly 5 + 2 x 2 metres). I knew that images of nature would look great if printed large. And so my choice was to reduce the number of photographs but print them as large as I could without going to a commercial lab. The maximum paper size accepted by my printer was 17x22”. However, most of my photographs had retained the standard proportion of the 35mm film (1:1.5), and the largest available cut paper for my printer in this form factor was 13x19”. Princess Royal Island is in the Pacific temperate rain forest ecoregion, with the emphasis on the rain. To my taste, misty images looked especially compelling when printed on matte paper.

2. Framing. I had opted for a set of 18x24” black metal exhibition frames. They looked sophisticated yet nonintrusive and allowed replacing the prints easily -- great for reusing the frames for other shows. I had to order custom mats: the standard ones, advertised for 13x19” prints, had an opening slightly larger than my printed images. A custom 12x18” opening that I had requested was nearly perfect, giving a few mm margin on each side. I had ordered conservation mats and backing, said to last at least 80 years without affecting artwork, exceeding the Wilhelm Imaging Research permanence rating of 76 years for my paper & ink combination, when framed under glass.

3. Narrowing down the selection. This was the most difficult part, as I could only exhibit about a dozen of prints. I had initially managed to get to 144, then down to 42 images. Going every step further was progressively more difficult: the emotional attachment was getting in the way, clouding an objective judgment. I had found that the best way to handle this was by asking for an external opinion from trusted sources. With their invaluable help I had reduced my selection to 14 (and thereafter down to twelve printed and eleven displayed).

4. Printing. I have noticed that, no matter how well the monitor is profiled, it is next to impossible to get the image brightness right, unless the light level in the computer room is unchanged throughout the day. My solution was index prints. After making preliminary brightness adjustments, I had printed all images on one letter-sized sheet of the same paper that I was going to use for large prints. While images printed that small did not show fine details, they were good enough to judge an overall level of brightness. After making a second round of adjustments, I had made another index print. Two iterations were sufficient for selecting brightness levels and getting the large prints done right.

5. Hanging. I had prepared ten horizontals for the main gallery and two verticals for an area inside an office on another floor. Once on site, I had discovered that I could not actually hang all ten horizontals, as the wall had a round protruding fixture sticking out where the print supposed to be, something I had missed when surveying the area a couple of weeks earlier. With one print removed, we had arranged the remaining nine both thematically and matching brightness and colours whenever possible. We had found a use for the wall space around the fixture by hanging my bio and an exhibition description above and below. After the work was completed, I quite liked how a simple line of large prints of the same size and style told the story without confusing and overcrowding.


6. Some of the Lessons learned:

Here is a link to the online version; however, I hope that some of you will manage to visit the exhibition in person and appreciate the power of large prints!

Finally, my big thanks to everyone who has helped with selecting the images and setting up the exhibition, including, in chronological order: Victoria Photography MeetupMike Nelson PeddeVirginia Hutzuliak and Sun Marshall (Saanich Arts and Recreation Marketing)

Comments? Let me know.

January 16, 2013: What Nikon Lens in the 70-200mm Range? Recently, Nikon has announced a new lens: the AF-S 70-200mm F/4.0 VR. The initial tests and reviews are quite encouraging; it is likely that this lens is close in terms of image quality to the well regarded AF-S 70-200mm F/2.8 VR II, while being cheaper, lighter and more portable. This brings a question: Should one consider getting this lens instead one of the two already available telephoto alternatives in the Nikon lens lineup: the AF-S 70-200mm F/2.8 VR II and the AF-S 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 VR? In my view, it all comes down to how desperately one needs to shoot at F/2.8, and how limiting is the budget.

Some years back, I needed a telephoto lens in this focal range for my lightweight expedition photography. The 70-200 F/4.0 was not an option at that time, and I had settled on the 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 VR lens. It is much smaller, two times lighter and about four times cheaper than the 70-200mm F/2.8 VR II lens. Over the years, the 70-300mm lens has served me well. I have taken thousands of images, including some of my favourites.

Chesterman Beach Sunset with Birds and Rock, West Coast of Vancouver Island, 230mm at F/14

Close up Portrait of a Harbour Seal, Victoria BC, 140mm at F/8

However, like everything in our lives, this lens is a compromise. While I have saved on size, weight and price, I have lost in the low light performance. Its largest aperture ranges from F/4.5 at 70mm to F/5.3 at 200mm (and to F/5.6 at 300mm, but this focal length is beyond the scope of this post). Moreover, to get a good sharpness across the frame, I usually have to stop down to at least F/5.6 at 70mm and to F/8.0 at 200mm. So, in a nutshell, I have a 70-200mm F/5.6-8.0 lens (with an option to go to 300mm). For comparison, both the F/2.8 and the F/4.0 versions of the 70-200mm lenses are already sharp wide open and can be safely used at their widest apertures. In practical terms, stopped down at the 200mm focal length, the 70-300mm lens is two stops slower than the 70-200mm F/4.0 and three stops slower than the 70-200mm F/2.8.

Just how much difference the three stops make? During my most recent wilderness expedition to the temperate rainforest, on one occasion I was shooting next to a photographer who was using a 70-200mm F/2.8 lens. It was inside a dark forest, drizzling, yet we were photographing a fast moving bear and needed all the shutter speed possible to get sharp images. I could only shoot at an ISO of up to 6400 (the highest ISO setting in my camera providing an acceptable level of image quality) and this was limiting me to a shutter speed of 1/320 sec, while the other photographer had an advantage of shooting at a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec and an ISO of around 2500. The outcome? He was getting sharp, moment-freezing and much cleaner images, while mine were blurred if the bear was moving faster than at a slow stroll.

If I had the 70-200 F/4.0 lens at that time, I would have gained two stops and could have bumped up the shutter speed to the acceptable 1/1000 sec, and reduce the ISO to around 5000: not as clean as the ISO 2500, but still better than the 6400.

To sum up, if the low light performance is an overriding priority, there is no choice but to go for the 70-200 F/2.8 lens. If one is photographing in a better light, or if a fast shutter speed is not that critical, the new 700-200 F/4.0 lens seems to be a very good, more portable and less expensive alternative. Finally, if the price is an overriding priority, the 70-300 is still a reasonable option, as long as one is aware of its limitations.

I have recently acquired the 70-200 F/2.8 VR II lens, and I intend to use in extensively in the rainforest, adding teleconverters if a longer reach is needed. One more reason, besides the F/2.8 aperture, was guiding my decision to buy this lens. Both the 70-200 F/2.8 and the F/4.0 lenses have an internal zoom, meaning that the lens does not contract/extend when being zoomed in/out. In contrast, a barrel of the 70-300 lens extends while zooming out, capturing the moisture and taking it inside when the lens is zoomed in. In the damp and often rainy rainforest it is usually just a question of a few hours, sometimes much less, before this lens gets fogged inside, even when utilizing a rain cover. Then it is either changing the lens or packing up and getting to a dry place, and letting the lens breathe for hours. By contrast, with no extending parts and also additional weather sealings, both 70-200 lenses should be much better performers in a damp environment.

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January 13, 2013: A Few Simple Steps To Improve Bokeh
. First, a few words about bokeh. Essentially, bokeh is the way the out of focus areas are blurred in the photographs. Often, we prefer a smooth and non-distracting blur, so that the background blends emphasizing the main subject.

The main decisions that affect bokeh are choosing the subject, choosing the background, positioning the subject against the background, choosing the lighting and selecting the depth of field. I have described the choices that I have made on my last photo walk in the following narrative.

After a prolonged period of rains, we have enjoyed a few sunny days here in Victoria, an unusual treat in winter months. I have visited a local park a couple of times soaking up the sun while it lasted and looking for interesting subjects for my photography. Initially, I headed for the most easily accessible but also most diverse part of the park. I was not the only one enjoying the sunny outdoors there: a usual mix of birders and photographers, joggers and walkers filled in the park with human presence and noises. Then a flock of young mothers with toddlers had entered the park chatting their lives away, seemingly oblivious to the sunshine, the beauty of nature around them and everything else, leaving unanswered friendly greetings from bypassers.

With this part of the park getting overcrowded, distracting me from the nature photography, I had decided to explore grassy areas out of the main path. The afternoon sun was bathing dry grasses in golden light, and I wanted to capture this in my photographs.  

My first step was to select a subject, a stand-alone grass head, so its is not competing for attention with other nearby grasses. Soon, I had identified a couple of candidates. I then started searching for a background that I had in mind: a field of dry grass a bit away from my main subject, providing a pleasant colour and texture without blending with the subject. After finding a promising bed of grass, I had positioned the subject against the background by moving my camera around until finding a suitable composition, and took a picture below: 

Grass Head, 105 mm lens at f/6.3
In this first image, taken with a 105 mm lens at f/6.3, the background was very distracting, as the depth of field was not shallow enough. Two choices had affected the depth of field in this image: the focal length and the aperture. The longer the focal length of the lens at any given aperture with a distance to the subject unchanged, the more shallow is the depth of field (the area in front and behind the subject appearing to be in focus), and the more blurred the out of focus areas are. The 105 mm telephoto lens was a reasonable compromise. This focal length offered an angle of view wide enough to fill the whole grass head in the frame, yet the focal distance was long enough to offer a shallow depth of field and blur the background. I could reduce the depth of field further by photographing at a large aperture, and that was what I did in the next image, taking it with a wide open lens (f/2.8):

Grass Head, 105 mm lens at f/2.8

The background looked much better; however, it was still too distracting, as the grasses did not blur and blend well enough. In addition, patches of ice and water on the ground had created large dark areas. I had decided to try another grass head about a meter away, with a less distracting background. This time, I had also positioned my camera lower, pointing it slightly upward. Now, the whole background was formed by stems of grass only, with no ice or water patches visible. To improve the bokeh further, I had to move my camera closer to the subject. The higher the subject magnification, the more shallow is the depth of field, and this move had finally helped me achieve the smooth background texture that I was looking for:

Final Image: Grass Head in the Late Afternoon Sun, 105 mm lens at f/2.8

Note my choice of the lighting:  the front light of the soft late afternoon sun evenly covered the grass head giving it a warm and slightly golden tone, while a distant grass bed, also lit with the sunlight and displaying similar colours, is far enough to let the grass head on the foreground to stand completely apart. In this direct front light, the bokeh would not have been that smooth if the background had some reflective surfaces (for example, water drops on grass leaves and stems): it would have been full of bright round objects, possibly sparkles, circles or donuts.

Finally, one more factor is affecting bokeh: a mechanical design of a lens. Some lenses, due to the number of blades in their aperture diaphragms and other design choices, produce better (more "creamy") bokeh than others. These are often the most sought after lenses, sold at higher prices and a prime choice of portrait and macro photographers.

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December 15, 2012: Trying out Nikon 1 V1 -- A Small Camera Offering Intriguing Opportunities. With Nikon V2 already announced and pre-Christmas discounts running strong, Nikon V1 prices had dropped to a level where I felt comfortable buying this camera and giving it a try.

First, a few words about the Nikon 1 mirrorless system. Nikon 1 cameras have a crop factor of 2.7: their sensors are larger than in the compacts but smaller than in the APS cameras. So far, four camera models have been released: the LCD-only J1 & J2, and the EVF+LCD V1 & V2. Six lenses are available, primes and zooms, ranging in focal lengths from 10mm to 110mm (27mm to 300mm in the full frame terms). Crucially, Nikon has also released an FT1 adapter allowing mounting its standard F-mount lenses. With this adapter, Nikon F-mount AFS and VR lenses retain their focusing and vibration reduction functions (with some limitations). For more information about Nikon 1, visit Nikon website.

In past couple of weeks, I have tried this camera with the kit 10mm F2.8 lens and a few other Nikon lenses, including AFS VR 70-300mm and an all-manual E-series 50mm F1.8. The results? Well, overall they are acceptable.

The 10mm F2.8 pancake is a nice walk-around lens: small, reasonably sharp even wide open and auto focusing fast. Chromatic aberration is on a high side: although initially automatically corrected, it becomes clearly visible if making exposure adjustments in post-processing:

Nikon V1 with Nikon 1 10mm F2.8 lens: Reed Field at Rithet's Bog in Victoria BC
Exposure and fill light have been adjusted in the Lightroom

Same picture, 100% crop: after post-processing, chromatic aberration becomes clearly visible.

The Nikon AFS VR 70-300mm was an interesting lens to try: at its telephoto end, the effective focal length becomes 810mm. With this lens, I have struggled getting sharp images of distant subjects: the focusing bracket was often too large for the subject and therefore imprecise. At the same time, I have managed to capture a sharp image of a tiny bird sitting a couple of metres away from me, handheld. An obligatory image preview in a viewfinder between shots makes action photography with V1 challenging, so this is definitely not a wildlife camera, although if a subject stays in place for a second or two, like this bird, a good capture is certainly possible:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) perching at Swan Lake in Victoria, BC.
Nikon V1 with FT1 and Nikkor 70-300 VR lens at 270mm (730mm effective focal length), handheld.

Finally, I have had most fun with a manual focus lens. A 50mm standard lens becomes a 135mm telephoto; precise manual focusing is possible with an on-screen magnification option. This combination has to some extent resembled a traditional rangefinder: with a little patience, a pleasure to use. On the image below, notice an unusual bokeh pattern, a known issue associated with the FT1 adapter:

An Autumn Leave, Swan Lake in Victoria, BC
Nikon V1 with FT1 and 50mm series E F1.8 lens, wide open

The conclusion? To me, Nikon V1 is a niche camera complementing, not replacing, its bigger brothers and sisters. The most significant advantages over Nikon’s current APS and full frame cameras are its much smaller, almost pocket size, and an option to use a completely silent electronic shutter. The latter makes Nikon 1 cameras an intriguing option for street, event and wildlife photography, in the situations where the shutter noise would be undesirable. The image quality in the tested range of ISO 100-800 was good to acceptable.

Why did I get V1 instead of waiting for the newer V2? V1 is smaller and, unlike V2, still uses same EN-EL15 batteries as Nikon D600, D800 and D7000: a huge advantage if traveling.

I anticipate using V1 as a walk-around discreet-looking camera. It may also be a good companion in wilderness travel, with the 10mm pancake lens and inside a soft waterproof bag, for rainy day and possibly even underwater pictures without flash. Finally, the silent shutter opens doors to a variety of options, from photographing wildlife without being noticed to unintrusive pictures at quiet events and concerts. And I have not tested its impressive video capabilities yet: this is a subject for another story.

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December 8, 2012: One Hour in Downtown Victoria in B&W
. It was finally a dry day in Victoria, although no promised blue skies. I had about an hour to spare and decided to go for a short photo walk in downtown. I had challenged myself to a self-assignment of photographing the area only with a 105mm F2.8 macro lens that I had happened to have with me, wide or almost wide open. The aim was to render the images in black and white in post processing giving them that timeless look of the old days. The result? You be the judge!

Walking the Dog

Johnson Street Bridge: The Counterweight

Johnson Street Bridge: The Top

Walking in Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown

Shanghai City Restaurant, Chinatown

The City Hall

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May 2010. A Picture from My Portfolio: Stellar Sea Lion
. Last year, when I was kayaking off North Vancouver Island shore, I had noticed a stellar sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) swimming in my direction. I had stopped and got my camera ready. The animal was getting closer and I had become excited that it would likely pass close enough for a good shot.

The sea lion had also noticed me and suddenly changed its course, heading strait at me. I kept taking pictures. The animal came very close, about a boat length away, and stayed there for a while as if checking me out. Maybe it was amused seeing such a strange creature on water. Or maybe someone had fed it before, and it was waiting for a snack. To me, it was an amazing experience: being so close to a curious wild animal.


 Stellar Sea Lion

After what felt like a minute or so, the sea lion had continued its journey, and I mine. Needless to say, this encounter had made my day. To read and see the full story of my kayaking trip, please follow this link: Kayaking North Vancouver Island Straits Solo.

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March 2010. A Picture from My Portfolio: Northern Pygmy-owl with Prey. The daylight started fading. My friend and I wrapped up the afternoon shoot and began hiking the forest trail back to the car. Suddenly, we heard a bird screaming and then some commotion. “A domestic dispute” -- I joked. We laughed and continued our walk. Then, just a dozen steps ahead, we saw a small bird sitting in a middle of the trail, next to another bird that was lying motionless.

My initial thought was that the sitting bird was protecting its partner fallen during some misfortune. However, when we got closer, I realized that this was a northern pygmy-owl holding its lifeless prey with one talon. Although the prey looked bigger and heavier than this little predator, the owl had easily dragged it to the trail side and started feeding right away despite our presence, displaying no signs of distress. We set up our tripods and took a number of pictures.

Northern Pygmy-owl with Prey

One interesting feature of this species is the eye-like spots on the back, apparently to confuse the predators. They looked so natural that sometimes it was hard to tell if the owl was looking at us or away. We soon moved on, leaving the owl to finish its meal.

Northern Pygmy-owl with Prey: Back Eyes

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October 2009. A Picture from My Portfolio: Lighthouse in Rain and Fog. The forecast called for rain, and lots of it, up to 50 millimeters by nightfall. I had signed up for a five-hour birding tour on a sightseeing boat and had no choice but to go, as the trip had already been paid for and it was way too late to cancel. My neighbors, seeing me heading out into the heavy rain with a photo backpack, joked that I had forgotten my canoe.
I expected that this foul weather would also discourage everyone else. However, when I joined the rest of the group hiding from the rain under an overhang roof at the dock, the mood was completely different: people were energetic and ready to go. The birders (virtually everyone else in the group) were consoling themselves by sharing a comment that the pelagic birds would not fly in heavy rain preferring to stay on water, so the chances of seeing them would be much higher than on a dry day. I suspected that this was going to be a lost day for me, from the photography point of view, but decided to give it a try, braving the elements and staying dry and warm as long as I could.

Soon after the departure, I had to put away my long telephoto lens and switched to a wide-range zoom. There was no chance to get a sharp picture with the long telephoto through this heavy rain. However, I was expecting some opportunities for the seascapes and for the environmental pictures of birds and marine mammals, where the rain would convey the mood of the moment. A wide-range zoom, although by its nature not the sharpest lens design around, had a major advantage: I did not have to change the lenses -- a very unpleasant operation in wet environment. With a rain cover on, I had taken a number of pictures in rain, from birds and sea lions to seascapes.

Lighthouse in Rain and Fog

Lighthouse in Rain and Fog

After coming back and reviewing my images on the computer screen, it was clear, as I suspected, that all pictures of the birds and the sea lions taken in heavy rain ended up looking grainy and fuzzy. However, I was stricken by the low-key beauty of the picture above, with the lighthouse almost disappearing in the rain and fog, and the trail of our boat adding some dimension and a sense of place. So the day was not lost after all. This photo had more than compensated for all the discomfort and disappointment.

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