At the sheepdog trials—windy and wonderful

It's not often that I get to attend a sheepdog trial. Ok, let's be more accurate: I had never been to see sheepdogs put through their paces before this summer. But mid-way into our house exchange with a couple from Kirkmichael, Perthshire, we learned that the Strathardle Sheepdog Trial was being held in nearby Enochdhu.

This was not our first trip to Scotland, so we were open to doing more local things off the usual tourist trails and weren't looking to spend a lot of time in the bigger centres. A sheepdog trial promised to tick all the boxes. And it did.

Watching the shepherds and dogs work together was a wonderful experience. I was surprised at the intelligence of the dogs, the lack of intelligence of the sheep, and the unbroken chain of shouted and whistled communication—even when it broke down. Done well, herding sheep with a dog is a delight to watch.

The shearing competition was probably more fun for the audience and judges than it was for the sheep (some of which were clearly nicked), but you have to admire the strength and skill of the men and women who make a quick and clean job of it. There may not be a lot of room for sentimentality in farm life, but a deft hand is to be respected.

These were clearly real contests, not demos put on with a wink for tourists (apart from a family from Belgium, we were the only tourists there). The competitors obviously knew each other and seemed to be on on friendly terms, but they were all there to win in their categories, from beginner to old hand. The sky threatened and the wind never let the refreshments tent have an easy minute, but the roll and sausage was hot and the whisky was welcome.

All in all, a glorious afternoon out in Highland Perthshire.

All pictures taken with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses.




Inside fall

I live two steps from Gatineau Park, a region renowned for its natural beauty -- especially when the leaves change colour in the fall. All the same, I've grown tired of taking the same pictures autumn after autumn. This year I wanted to do something a bit different, so I aimed for something less literal. Instead of simply taking pictures of beautiful trees and leaves, I wanted a more abstract effect that would give a sense of the play of fall colours on the senses. These pictures are my attempt at doing just that.

All shots taken with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 35mm, 56mm or 55-200mm lenses


The view from the tower (black and white)

A large part of the enjoyment of travel is the chance to see different things. But when you're visiting a place that you know relatively well, the enjoyment often comes from seeing things differently.

That was the case for me when I visited Toronto recently with my younger son. Although I haven't lived there in a long time and the city has changed a lot, it's still a familiar setting for me so it was time to find a different vantage point. Off to the CN Tower we went while the sun was low in the sky, to make sure we'd have some nice sidelight. The Tower is a great location to take in a 360-degree panorama of the GTA, what's left of Toronto's lakefront and an expanse of Lake Ontario.

As great as the view is, however, actually shooting from inside the structure is not easy. (And even if I were ready to do the EdgeWalk around the outside, carrying a camera is prohibited.) You are either behind thick glass windows that are not very clean or heavy wire mesh that makes a clear shot impossible. I decided to go with a longer lens to minimize the impact of dirty streaks and wires. The 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms helped with framing shots carefully and I was surprised by how well the images held up through the glare and dirt.

See for yourself. I'll post some colour shots next time.

Happy 2015!

Well, another year has come and gone. But before 2014 was quite done my family and I enjoyed ourselves at Ottawa's Hogmanay night ("Hogmanay" is a Scots word used for New Year festivities). This is the third time that the Scottish Society of Ottawa has hosted the event and it seems to get better each year. The first two years were held outside Ottawa City Hall; a lot of fun the first time, but temperatures below -20C were enough to chill some of the enthusiasm.

This year the do moved inside the Aberdeen Pavilion, the only large-scale exhibition building in Canada surviving from the 19th century, and was a big hit. There was food for sale, activities for the kids, and a range of beer and (especially) whiskies for the adults. The big draw, though, was the free music provided by the likes of the Glengarry Pipe Band, Ecosse and Glass Tiger.

I took along my camera to take some shots of the bands in action. Although the Fujinon 55-200mm hunted a bit for focus on my X-E1, I still had a pretty good success rate at high ISOs (3200 and 6400, to be precise).

A few pictures for your viewing pleasure and my best wishes to you for 2015.

Baltimore and meetings out of the Blue (Angels)

I've taken a lot of pictures over the last few months, but I just haven't had the time to review, process or upload them. Between our family vacation and additional recent travel, there are a lot of shots in the queue!

I happened to be in Baltimore on business while the city was celebrating the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key writing "The Star Spangled Banner." It was an open-air party, so the Inner Harbor was full of tall ships, dignitaries and sailors in their dress whites. Having a couple of hours to kill before my train left for Washington, I headed down to the harbor and found that the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels had decided to put on a show just for me (several thousand other people watched, too).

I'm posting these few shots ahead of the others in my lengthy queue because I learned two lessons while taking them:

  1. The Fujifilm X-E1 and the Fujinon 55-200mm zoom are capable of creating high-quality images, but they are NOT designed for following fast action. I know a lot of people have written on this topic, but it's not until you try following and focusing on jet fighters performing aerobatic moves that you realize just how ill-suited this equipment is for that particular task. It was a frustrating exercise but, fortunately, most of my favourite subjects don't move quite so fast.
  2. More importantly, I probably need to be more open to meeting new people. A family beside me -- grandfather, father and two young boys -- was also watching the Blue Angels and we got to talking. Far from distracting me, they added to my enjoyment of the afternoon as we tried to track the planes, joked about how tricky it was, and chatted back and forth about Canada and the U.S.

I'm making no claims that these are great images. But I'm posting them here as a souvenir of an enjoyable afternoon in good company.

Canada Place

I'm behind with the posts, so I'll be putting up a few with relatively little comment. The following shots are details of the beautiful sail-like roof of Canada Place at Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.

I continue to be impressed with the quality of the Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens. It seems very sharp and the Image Stabilization is very, very good. I'll need to post some handheld shots later on to show just how good the stabilization is—these were all taken at a distance at relatively high shutter speeds.

Sails —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/5.0 at 1/1400 sec. ISO800.

Sails—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/5.0 at 1/1400 sec. ISO800.

Between the sails —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/420 sec. ISO400.

Between the sails—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/420 sec. ISO400.

Rigging —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/250 sec. ISO400.

Rigging—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/250 sec. ISO400.

At the protest with the Fujinon 55–200mm

I was in Vancouver for business a couple of weeks back with my new Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens and was anxious to try it out. A group of protestors obliged me by blocking the street not far from my hotel, so I put the zoom on my X-E1 and spent a few enjoyable minutes with them. As you can tell from the pictures, they're concerned about oil pipelines and their impact on the environment and treaty lens. They also seem concerned with having fun, chatting and taking pictures of each other. And, yes... they're not fans of the current Prime Minister.

The zoom performed beautifully—I was really pleased with getting extra reach beyond my current set of lenses. The focus speed seemed just fine. The biggest plus, however, was the Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) that gave me greater freedom with the choice of slower shutter speeds hand-held. It just works. Try it.