“The whiteness of winter has more to reveal about how we see the world. If we take the time, and look carefully, the white exhibits treasures that we don’t even notice on casual observation.” – Ed Lehming

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to photograph successfully is a bright winter scene. As we look upon the world, it seems filled with pure and unending whiteness, broke up by shadow in the deeper recesses of the forest.

I’ve read many articles pertaining to winter photography, camera settings, gear best suited to cold temperatures, and composition. Moany of those articles have shaped how I approach winter photography, which is an inevitable, given where I live. This year the snow began in November and the ground is still covered with a thick blanket of the stuff. “How” is see snow has changed a great deal for me this past year. I’ve spent more time composing my photos, pulling in elements to add interest to what would normally be a scene of white, with shifts to black. I spend more time letting my eyes wander and look for winters of colour that are not readily visible.

Think of the beautiful soft tones of blue in the shadows of winter scenes. I’ve looked for those tones and pushed them a bit to reveal wonderful gems of colour. For me, if there is no colour, I tend to be a bit disinterested. Not to take away from wonderful black and white winter photography, many scenes lend themselves very well to this treatment, but I have a great fondness for colour and its effects on my art.

In the scene above, I was particularly taken by the bright red berries above the path. It actually took a moment for my eyes to realize what they were, given the bright glare of this winter glade. I tried to bring this forward in my processing of the image, transforming the pale blue shadows to more of a teal tone and in doing so, the rusty ochre coloured pine cones took on a purple cast to match the barely noticeable shadows in the snow. What I find interesting is that even though I have modified the colours, I believe there was already enough of a hint of them in the original photo that though it looks processed, it does not feel completely unnatural. It does feel quite liberating to break from the norms and create something altogether new.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/2817 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Warming days and foggy mornings bring back familiar paths, but new and unexpected scenes emerge from the mists, drawing me forward, revealing their wonder.” – Ed Lehming

I find myself between misty and foggy scenes and those of deep cold, but that is the nature of late winter around here. It can be bright and cheerful one day and bitterly cold the next. These changes in temperature also bring changes in the forest. In places, the snow recedes and brings back memories of golden autumn days, the ground littered with leaves and filled with the sweet scent of loam.

Yet, the revelation is slow and measured, showing only so much. In the distance, thick fog hangs on the trail, hinting at something yet to be discovered and beckoning me forward.

The image I chose conveys some of this transformation. The ground is covered with leaves compressed by the winter’s snow fall; above, the slender branches still seem to hold the cold of winter in their teal tones and softness; ahead, the trail disappears in the bright glare of fog and snow. It’s like standing in a transition of seasons; a few steps forward brings me back to winter whites and a step back puts me back to the promise of spring.

I really enjoy these ‘transition’ areas because of the visual variety they provide me and the symbolism of change that they represent. I often find myself standing in these places for long periods of time, looking forward and looking around me, enjoying the transformation that they represent, because that too will change as the seasons continue to advance.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 6.0mm
1/122 sec, f/2.0, ISO 50

“The mist settled around me, obscuring all sounds as whiteness swirled into the distance.” – Ed Lehming

This is a memory from peaceful day late last year when a thin fog had settled in the local forest. I had just received my new iPhone 12 Pro and was anxious to see how it performed. I thought the fog was less than ideal for this but ventured out anyhow. I also took along my Nikon D800 as a comparison and made the same shots with both cameras.

The intelligence built into the iPhone was incredible. It is essentially point and shoot whereas the D800 on auto-mode struggled to capture to colours and tones as well. Once I switched over to full manual-mode and took control of the settings the results were comparable.

What the iPhone can’t do, because of how it processes long exposures, is to produce a smooth ‘sweep’ when creating ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) shots. There is no ‘shutter’ per se to remain open and it processes the images as video. Since I like to produce single exposure, in-camera ICMs regularly I will continue to rely on my Nikon for those images. Each camera has its place in my kit.

So, there is the technical stuff out of the way. What did stand out for me that day, from both cameras was the subtle tones of purple in the shadows. I’ve really been enjoying re-imagining some of my traditional images and this one really lent itself to that same treatment, especially given the hints of orange to compliment the purples. The resulting, edited image has a soft haunting feel that almost looks like a watercolor painting. I find there is a depth and flow to this image that I really like and I have found myself returning to it several times over the past few days simply to enjoy it. I find it peaceful, yet slightly haunting as the gently rolling hills fade into the distance. The image brings me back to that particular day and I vividly recall the absolute silence as a stood and made this image, drinking in the stillness.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70 mm
1/4 sec, f/18, ISO 640

“The windswept leaves shone and shivered in the breeze like a raging fire among the pines.” – Ed Lehming

This image was made early last week on a trail I had not visited for some time. I was on a quest for some bright beech to help bring February to a cheerful close and I recalled some nice groves in this location.

I was not disappointed.What I recalled as a few decent patches of beech have flourished during my absence and the bright orange multi-toned leaves blazed among the pines as if the tree itself was on fire.

The beech leaves also tend to retain the shape they held when the dry out in the fall. These would seem to have experienced some strong winds at that time and look like they are caught in a windstorm, further enhancing their flame-like appearance.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 6.0mm
1/800 sec, f/2, ISO 25

“Headwaters”

“Beginning as a trickle from deep in the earth and combining with other small trickles, the creek forms and grows in the dark recesses of the forest” – Ed Lehming

Here is another ‘re-imagined’ image of a scene I have tried countless time to do justice too. It’s the headwaters of Duffins Creek, a local creek that flows from the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. I have spent many years hiking the trails along this beautiful creek and it has yielded many great photos.

This beautiful spot is a challenge to photograph for a few reasons. Firstly, the light is very low and diffused by the thick canopy of cedars, nourished by the boggy, water-laden ground, which is the source of the creek. Secondly, is the cedars themselves. Photos I have taken in the past have seemed dull, uninteresting, and don’t communicate just how lovely this place is. If you look at my camera settings below, you can see that there is not much available light to work with, even on a bright day.

December snow falls and taking a chance on something new has yielded this image. The snow brightens the scene and the morning sunlight in the background beams softly through what would normally be a thick, flat looking mesh of cedar. It seems like all the elements came together at last, further enhanced with my post-processing. The scene is transformed from what can be, and has been, almost oppressive and brooding to something quite serene, I think.

I’m so pleased to be able to achieve this result with a bit of coaxing and breaking out from the more traditional processing of my photos.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/125 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“What lies around the next turn, we cannot tell for certain, but having taken the journey before, we can anticipate.” – Ed Lehming

For today’s post, a very familiar site; one that I have photographed many times, seeing some potential in the composition; interesting lines, but never quite satisfying. I decided to transform this image from early December as well, to see what it would yield, and I’m very pleased with the results.

The snow that morning was the first real significant snowfall and it was heavy and stunningly white. That’s why I decided to overexpose the image a bit, to replicate the glare that my eyes experienced. Despite the purity of the snow, there are always shadows and they come out nicely here in tones of soft purple and teal. Of course, there must always be a splash of orange somewhere, which balanced the overall image.

It was not till I started really looking at the image that I was reminded one of the telegraph poles that line the track had fallen over a few years ago, toppled by a storm. Here, it appears like it has succumbed to the deep snow and is resting on a soft bank of white powder. It is actually suspended by the wires that it is was designed to support.

Just around this bend, at the north end of the town of Stouffville, is the commuter train station and my backyard. I did not have to go far for this one at all.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 6.0 mm
1/888 sec, f/2, ISO 25

“Midwinter and February’s golds bring colour and gladness to the otherwise stark forest.” – Ed Lehming

I’m continuing with this series of ‘painterly’ photos, which due to the environment I’ve been immersed in lately, have taken a shift to more of an orange and purple palette.

For a change of pace, I decided to return to a trial system that I have not been on for a few years, making it familiar yet refreshing at the same time. This particular tract has far more beech trees than I recall from previous visits and I have to admit that I did not spend much time on these trails in the winter because they tend to e quite busy with cross-country skiers and dog walkers. I was considering my regular haunt but when I saw the trailhead relatively deserted, I decided to take my chances.

The late morning, winter light was wonderful and my hike yielded a lot of good images, some of which I transformed and others which I will post over the coming days in their original format.

There was a second reason for this excursion, other than simply needing to get outside after a few days. I just acquired a new 24-70 mm f/2.4 lens that I was eager to take through its paces. More on that in future posts.

As I said earlier on, this forest is filled with beautiful beech groves, interspersed between pines. With the sunlight low in the sky, the beeches seem like flames between the pines and stand out so nicely in the snowy winter landscape, as I think shows up rather nicely on this image.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/2450 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Blue Ice”

“The ice had just begun to form on the pond, freezing it in time. Frozen, but ever so thin, letting the blue shine from within.” – Ed Lehming

Another of my re-imagined images. This time a view from early December. We’ve had a relatively mild winter here with moderate wet snowfall. At this time, there was still a lot of open water, which made for some confusing images. I created this one just as the pond had begun to freeze. It was quite interesting because it even appears that there are frozen ripples but it already had a moderately thick coating of ice on it. The combination of the bright winter sky and the water beneath the ice makes the blues more pronounced.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 1.54 mm
1/1100 sec, f/2.4, ISO 25

“Mid Morning in February, and the winter sun beams brightly between the pines; the world stands in silence.” – Ed Lehming

This season, I have experienced something altogether new; mornings in the winter forest, and it is spectacular! You see, in the past, I would wait till afternoon to venture out onto the trails, giving the sun some time to warm the air. I really did not feel I was missing anything; I was wrong.

I’ve been venturing out earlier this year mostly to avoid the crowds of people who have discovered the forest trails; the COVID escapees. This actually began for me in early December, when a new fallen snow transformed the winter world. This was the heavy, wet snow, that clings to everything, forming thick blankets of snow and suspending miraculously on slender branches, its weight causing those same branches to bend towards the ground.

I had been enjoying watching the snowfall from my kitchen window while enjoying a cup of hot coffee when I decided that I would like to be in this wonderland, rather than just an observer. So, I got into my truck and made the quick fifteen minute drive to my favourite trail, something I generally don’t do in the winter, but I was concerned that even a slight change in temperature or wind would quickly undo this wonder. As I stepped into the forest I was awestruck at the magnificent and unspoiled beauty of the snow-filled landscape. I posted those photos back in December, if you care to look back.

In any case, that single morning experience has made me far more apt to get up a bit earlier to enjoy the soft winter sun, among the pines and scenes like this.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/340 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“The North Trail”

“The trail narrows, tucked nicely between the reaching spruce boughs, before the North Trail widens up before me.” – Ed Lehming

I struggled for a title for this image, so decided to use a location for a change. This portion of trail runs along the northern edge of North Walker Woods, a local trail that I have spend much time on over the past few months. The image depicts one of the few spots where the trail narrows down a bit. For the most part, the trail is wide enough to accommodate four people walking side by side.

This year, with so many people trying to get outside to cope with the isolating effects of COVID-19, the trails have taken an extraordinary amount of traffic, especially this winter when our provincial government imposed a strict ‘stay at home order”. That meant that you could only leave your home for essentials. Fortunately, exercise was deemed as essential. But, It also meant that thousands of people began to look for places where they could do this; the local trail system became one of them. So, the trails that are generally quite narrow and lightly used in the winter months are so wide and trampled that it looks like cars have been through here.

I’ve made a point of getting out on weekdays, when traffic is a bit lower and I’m less likely to run into any large groups. I like to hike quietly and alone and actually find myself getting bit anxious when I hear particularly loud groups approaching. I understand others’ need to get outdoors as well, but I like to hike quietly with my thoughts and enjoy the sounds of wildlife around me.

As case counts steadily decline here, I’m hoping that my sanctuary, like all else in our world lately, returns to some sense of ‘normal’. For now, I will be content with whatever time I can spend outdoors and savour what peaceful moments the day affords me.

This image also continues my series of ‘re-imagined’ photos, which is perhaps coming to a conclusion. I’m still enjoying them, so expect to see a few more.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/1000 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Beeches Ablaze”

“Like the welcome of a warm fire, the beech trees glow in winter’s sunlight” – Ed Lehming

The wonder of beech trees keeps my attention. As I review recent images, they always make me look twice. In this ‘re-imagined’ image, a particularly bright beech dominates the scene. What I have found most interesting, apart from the fact that beech hold most of their leaves all winter long, is the diversity in pigmentation. Those shown here are thick leaved with a deep copper colour while others, in close proximity, are wispy and a faded cream colour, almost bleached looking and tattered.

Here, bright morning sunlight makes the overhanging tenacious oak leaves really ‘pop’ in competition with the beech leaves below them. Yes, even some of the oaks hang onto their foliage well into winter if the conditions are right.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is such a delight in this bright colouration in the depths of winter. What I find most astounding is that I rarely noticed them until a few years ago, when I spent more time on the forest trails. I’m wondering if it’s simply because I was not paying particular attention to my surroundings or if the profusion of beech is some recent element of the forest’s evolution. I’ll have to reference back to photos I made many years ago to verify that.

In any case, the bright orange is such a welcome sight every time I enter the forest, be it next to the trail or some distant grove in a distant valley, their effect on me is always the same.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/950 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Despite colder temperatures, the days are beginning to lengthen and the sun fills the forest with warm sunshine. As I stand on the trails, enjoying the scenery, it warms my skin and my soul.” – Ed Lehming

It’s mid-February, there have been many snow-filled days, somewhat limiting my time in the forests, though I make a point of venturing out as often as I can safely. The trails themselves are fine, but I have to drive to get to them.

When I actually get onto the trails, my world is transformed. The day to day worries wet away into the peace and solitude of the forest. The world goes quiet, and the only sounds are the wind and birdsong blending in the air above me. I take my time, taking in the very essence of the woods.

The sun is now a bit higher in the sky, and If I plan my hike, much of it is spent with the sun on my face. It warms me and puts me into a deeper sense of peace. The mid-winter sun is warm but soft, making many of my photos a bit more dreamy. I’ve enhanced this effect in my recent ‘re-imagined’ series of images to try to communicate this more deliberately. When I look at the resulting images it brings me the same sense of peace that I get when I’m out hiking and I’m hoping this translates to those reading these words and viewing my images.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/2400 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Familiar paths are transformed by winter’s snow. Freshness and purity fills my senses as I look upon the serene landscape, framed in birch.” – Ed Lehming

I’m continuing with my theme of ‘re-imagined’ landscapes. Taking these familiar scenes and digitally transforming them beyond standard photographs is therapeutic for me. There is a real sense of creative joy when I look at the finished product.

There is a correlation here for me, since I have spent a lot more time outdoors in my forced retirement. I’ve had more time to really appreciate the wonderful natural areas that I find myself in. There has been time to consider my past, present, and future as I walk silently through these landscapes.

I’m finding myself less hesitant to try new things, to do things that I find satisfying, rather than worrying about drifting from some accepted ‘norm’. As the landscape is framed between the birches, I life is currently framed between a familiar ‘past’ and an uncertain ‘future’, which I am trying to process in a new way, much like I did with this image.

The many recent snow filled days have put the autumn residue to rest, buried deep beneath winter’s white blanket just as I gradually put my former career to rest. The past is now buried and the future is unknown and the present is beautiful and calm.

As the snow eventually melts, I look forward to what emerges.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/4000 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Alignment”

“When the elements come together in perfect alignment, the scene is transformed into a thing of incredible beauty. You just have to be there when it happens to truly appreciate it.” – Ed Lehming

I have made many images of this point along a local hiking trail. I’m drawn to the accentuated vanishing point in the distance and the way the pines line up, particularly on the right-hand side. There is also an interesting play of shadows on the snow, caused by overhanging branches higher up.

Lately, I have been out hiking and making photos earlier than normal, maily to avoid the steady increase in visitors to the trails as people seek new activities during the COVID lock-downs. Coming out early has offered me a few treats, like this one where the winter sun is in perfect alignment with the trail. The effect of this is that the entire length of the trails is brightly lit by the sunlight passing directly between the trees. It makes the path seem to glow. Even above the path itself, slender branches are bathed in sunlight and reflect it back to me.

This bright, but somewhat softer winter light reflects into the forest and the whole scene is tranquil, yet energizing. I’m not sure how else to describe it. I think the image does a far better job at that.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/3500 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Potential”

“Though diminutive to their surrounding neighbours, the small spruces have the potential to be so much more” – Ed Lehming

In keeping with yesterday’s post on Transition, I’m including another interpretation of a recent image along the same theme.

Especially in winter, the small spruce groves which grow within and beside the much larger plantation pines make for interesting image which tell a bit of a story about the forest itself. The spruce are secondary growth, taking advantage of the shelter provided by the towering pines.

At some point, the pines will be selectively harvested to allow even more light into the base layer. It is practice to remove every second row once the trees reach maturity. This provides timber for sale and opens up a larger area for secondary trees to grow in their place.

Someone once told me that maples planted in open fields will not flourish. They are too easily damaged by winds, excess sunlight and snow. So, they are planted within these pine forests so that when the pines are harvested the remaining, more mature maples and other hardwoods can survive.

I find these forestry stories interesting and they make sense.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/1062 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Transition”

“In the space between old and new, a transition takes place, the path I follow puts me between both and I can partake in both without having to chose” – Ed Lehming

This is another very familiar scene to me, transformed into something slightly different.

The trail depicted here runs along the edge of a plantation pine forest. The forest slopes gently to the north, with the trail running westward, creating an artificial border between the pines and the mixed forest to the north. It is a transition point with the pines to my left and the older, mixed forest, to my right.

I have made many photos from this vantage point, mostly in the winter when the spices below the pines and to the right catch the fresh fallen snow, creating peaceful winter scenes.

Looking at the image in this form, changes how I see it. It makes me consider a bit more carefully just why this composition works so naturally. There is a contrast between the old and new growth and the light, form the south almost always makes its way through the pines, diffusing it and creating a soft glow.

It also provides a broader view of the diversity of this part of the forest, where one environment flows into the next with such ease.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/172 sec, f/2.4, ISO 25

“Reminders”

“The bright beeches that I encounter along the way serve as reminders of bright warm autumns and offer the promise of better days.” – Ed Lehming

I have chosen to re-interpret yet another of the images I made this past week. In this scene, the trail is bordered on both sides by bright orange-leaved beech trees, bathed in morning sunlight.

The beeches have always fascinated me in how they retain their leaves for much of the winter. There is an unexplainable variation in just how vibrant the leaves can be; some are paper-thin and wispy, while others are neep copper tones and quite thick. Nonetheless, they are always a welcome splash of colour in the winter woods, more so when the low morning sunlight lights them up to the point they seem to glow.

They are tenacious reminders of the lush growth that existed here only a few months ago and offer me the promise that that growth will return once more. This particular grove, at the base of a fairly steep incline, has retained most of the leaves and the foliage continues deep into the surrounding pines. The darker rusty bark of the pine trees also contrasts nicely with the brighter orange beech leaves.

As I edit these images, I’m always surprised by the subtle and unexpected colour tones of the shadows in the snow. In this case, as in my prior post, I pushed the already present soft purples a bit because they work well for the overall serene mood I’m after. I hope I achieved that, it seems to work for me.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 14 mm
1/170 sec, f/2.4, ISO 25

“Every journey has a beginning. What that journey has to bring, is an unknown, but our attitude in starting the journey often has a great impact on the outcome. I chose hope.” – Ed Lehming

In keeping with my photographic experiments, I have digitally enhanced this one as well. It brings me great joy to see what some of my everyday scenes transform into.

The image I chose today is a few steps in from the trailhead of one of my favourite local trails, North Walker Woods, near Uxbridge, Ontario. I have hiked this 6.5 kilometer circuit hundreds of times over the past two decades. Over this time, the familiar trail has offered me some of my best photographic memories, from bright spring flowers, deep summer greens, and spectacular autumn colours, as well as wonderful winter scenes.

What I have discovered, when entering this forest trail is to always expect something new. The forest is never the same, even on the same day. It is alive and vibrant and ever changing. I know this to be true because I have experienced it. Even on dull days, I come across some new wonder, some subtlety that I had not noticed earlier. The light also plays a lot into this, since it plays differently in different seasons and times of day. A beam of light may fall on an otherwise un-noticed blossom, or cast an interesting shadow across my path.

So it seemed appropriate to use this particular scene for one of my modified images. The digital enhancements serve as a new and enjoyable way to regard my many journeys down this familiar path, now transformed into something wonderfully new. It has, yet again, offered my a new perspective.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/1500 sec, f/1.6, ISO
32

“Structure”

“Hints of colour on crisp winter days inspire me to look for more, to imagine the world alight with brightness” – Ed Lehming

I’ve found myself stretching and experimenting with my photos lately, not satisfied with the image, “as-is” but wanting to expand it, to glean more than the base photo offers me. I’m taking the bright elements of the photo; the bright birch bark, the warm orange and copper of the beech leaves, and the glow of the background sky and extracting something altogether new from those hints of colour.

What’s driving this desire lately is a desire to bring beauty into a world caught in the complex emotions of social isolation as the COVID 19 pandemic still holds the world around me in its grip. I find the news filled with depressing news of ‘worst-case scenarios. For my own mental health, I need to create beauty, and if it means taking some small hints of colour and expanding them into something more, then that is what I will do.

My intention, over the next few days and weeks is to create a themed collection of enhanced images that are informed by these bright colours, to fill my world with brightness that I can immerse myself in and, hopefully, bring that brightness to others along the way.

I titled this image “Structure” because of the way the background foliage seems to hang on the framework of the birch tree. I’ve taken some liberties in converting the normally green pine boughs to an orange palette to keep the look and feel of this series similar.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/3500 sec, f/1.6, ISO
32

“As the deep cold of January takes hold, the world is transformed, but not diminished” – Ed Lehming

This haunting image was made along the roadside in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. The island/peninsula location in south-eastern Ontario is made up on a thick layer of limestone. It’s the limestone that creates the interesting ridges that the water flows from and then freezes as it encounters the cold air. Limestone is also extremely porous, so offers an easy place for groundwater water and surface runoff to accumulate and flow through.

The ice-fall section that I chose to photograph is part of a larger exposed rock-cut which was almost completely covered in ice. I chose this section because it had the most interesting structure and the light was playing particularly nicely in this part of the overall structure.

The image is only one of several scenes involving ice that I shot that day. The ice along the shores of lake Ontario had begun to form in earnest over the past few days of very cold temperatures (-15C). It makes photography a bit challenging as leaving my hands exposed in the wind and low temperatures makes it extremely uncomfortable after only a few minutes.

It is pretty incredible how the simple act of freezing can transform a scene to something completely wonderful, but you have to be willing to brave the elements to enjoy much of that transformation.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/1900 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“Winter hikes on cold days offer me time for quiet reflection, bright sunshine, and solitude” – Ed Lehming

More and more, I find myself our hiking on even the coldest days. As the COVID pandemic continues to affect our world I’m finding the natural places around me to have become ‘discovered’ by more and more people trying to get outside and active. This has meant that the once quiet places I have been going for years are often overrun, especially on weekends. Single track trails now look like highways and many of the larger groups that I pass can be heard long before I encounter them.

I will not begrudge others the gifts that our natural places offer. It’s truly a good thing that people are beginning to freshly appreciate the healing gifts that time spent in nature has to offer, but I do miss the solitude, those times where I simply want time alone, without the noise and distraction of others.

I have found a few ways of achieving that goal: I have begun to discover and explore lesser used trail systems, those where access is not conveniently provided. I’ve found myself going out much earlier, before the majority of urban adventurers arrive, and, I find myself on the trails on days those very cold days where I would normally have stayed at home.

With good preparation, even the coldest days can become enjoyable. I dress appropriately for the temperature, yet keep in mind that vigorous hiking will also keep me warm, and often perspiring, especially as the hike progresses.

It’s on these cold days, especially those where the sun is clear and bright, that I have experienced some beautiful scenery and sounds. The cold air creates some interesting effects. During deep drops in temperature, the snow becomes particularly crunchy and sound seems to travel further. Around me, the trees crackle as the cold penetrates the wood. Despite the cold, small birds; chickadees, juncos, bluejays, and finches, fill the air high above me with their song. There have been many times recently when I have just stood and listen to the sounds of the forest around me. It’s a pretty amazing experience.

Of course, I am never completely alone on the trails; there are others out and about, just like me, but on my typical 12-15 kilometer hikes, I meet other hikers only on occasion. Sometime we will stop and chat, but generally, it’s a cheerful “hello” and we pass by each other, simply enjoying what nature has to offer us.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/2500 sec, f/1.6, ISO
32

“It’s nearly mid-February, yet on the dullest days, bright orange beech leaves and the contrasting splendid whites of the birch, bring cheer to my days.” – Ed Lehming

In mid-winter, there are many places in the forest that become exceptionally drab and dull looking, lacking colour or interest. Thankfully, these places are offset by the beauty of the beech trees, which retain most of their leaves all winter long. Sure, some become bleached and diaphanous from the harsh winter environment, yet some stay bright orange or copper in colour until new spring buds force them off the branches.

There is also the brilliant white of the birch groves, which are found spread out through my region of Canada. I’ve come across some wonderful groves in the rolling hills of the moraines close to my home.

In this painterly interpretation? The beech and birch stand together along the trail, brightening the whole scene.

I decided to interpret this image the way I did simply because it pleased me. As I have noted in a few recent posts, I find myself wanting to extract more colour and softness from the image than the original yielded, so I extracted them in this manner.

“Even on the coldest February days, signs of life appear in the forest” – Ed Lehming

A walk in the winter forest is something I have always appreciated, but many times it has been in complete silence. There are no sounds of birdsong in the air, missing is the rattle of woodpeckers, and the distant caws of crows high above me. There is no movement and the forest sits silent, seemingly devoid of life.

Then, as I look around, the recent tracks of the forest inhabitants give evidence that life continues within the silence. In this case, a squirrel has ventured from the depths. Further along the trail, the burrowing of mice and moles, just below the snow fills the white landscape with dizzying patterns. In the distance, a tree shows the recent endeavors of a hungry Pileated Woodpecker burrowing deep into the trunk, leaving fresh wood exposed.

If you simply walked into this forest and did not take the time to look for and understand these signs, the forest could seem like a dead, frozen place. It goes through it’s cycles, as it does every year. Some days the canopy is filled with sounds and excited movement and seems very much alive, and then, there are times when it seems to have taken a deep breath and silently exhales.

The more time I spend in nature, and forests in particular, the more I find myself tuned into these cycles, recognizing them for what they are, appreciating and understanding their meaning a bit more each time.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2mm
1/4800 sec, f/1.6, ISO
32

“Often, revisiting images or memories with a fresh eye can yield pleasant surprises.” – Ed Lehming

I am not a photography ‘purist’ by any stretch of the imagination and I’m finding that the more photos I make, the more I want to stretch the bounds of what a photograph is and can be.

By definition, photography is: the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (such as film or an optical sensor). What we do with these images has often been debated. Does it cease to be a photograph if the original is altered in any way? I think, not.

One of the first things I realized as I got more serious with my photography was that composition is everything. It’s what differentiates, in my opinion, between a snapshot and and a good photo. I often hear people commenting that their photos are rarely very good. When you look at these images, the first thing that stands out is that they not well composed. That is why they are ‘snapshots’ or images made quickly, simply trying to capture a moment without much though to what they might communicate.

A well composed photo, and I’m not trying to say I am the authority on this, is well balanced, intentional, and draws the viewer in to itself. I find a well composed image lends itself to further exploration and interpretation. Try to think back on a photo you have seen lately, one that ‘grabbed’ your attention. Consider that photo and what made it stand apart from the thousands of images we are exposed to every week?

I have begun doing that with some of my recent photos, the ones that I composed very deliberately, because I saw ‘something’ in my viewfinder as I composed the image that drew me to photograph it in the first place. Often, I don’t know exactly what that might be, but I sense it. I know that the image has something to communicate and I try be utmost to make that meaning show through in my images.

There are times, like this, when I go back to my images and try to reimaging them using different techniques to show them in a slightly different way. In some cases, I may just adjust the lighting levels, boost the vibrancy or accent a particular colour to extract subtle elements that may not come through otherwise. In other cases, the image does not communicate what I originally saw in a typical photographic manner, so I apply further filters to render it as digital art. This transforms the image into something altogether new and refreshing, but the common element is always a good original composition.

If I was a good painter, which is something that I will keep working on, I would render my images into paintings, but I’m not there yet, but it gives me great satisfaction to be able to paint with light, in whatever style that may be.

“In the forest, old is replaced by new. The old growth shelters the new, yielding just enough light to allow it to thrive, while still protecting it.” – Ed Lehming

This image was inspired simply by what I thought was an interesting winter composition. Freshly fallen snow from the day before covered the young spruce trees in a planted grove of red pine. It also caused my to dig a bit more into the history of this tract, since aerial phots I found from 1954 show much of it to open pasture lands.

Much of this area was formerly open pasture and sandy farmland with a few forested tracts until it was purchased over time (1947 -1962) by Jim Walker who wanted to start a private forest and to protect the forests. To do that, he planted over 2 million trees. He wanted the lands to be used for public conservation lands and sold his many parcels to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority in 1991. Red pines and jack were planted to slow erosion and to allow other species to grow. Many hardwoods will not grow successfully when planted in an open field. They require a shelter crop to protect them from the elements.

Now, nearly 70 years later, the former farmland spans over 1062 acres of lovely forest. The red pines have been thinned by planned harvesting and the hardwoods are taking hold. Among the intended residents, small groves of spruce are taking hold along the perimeters of the planted pines, further sheltering the more delicate hardwoods from damaging winds.

It’s pretty amazing to see how a planned forest, left pretty much to its own devices will take care of itself.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 6.0 mm
1/294sec, f/2.0, ISO
25

“Even the most mundane can become a thing of beauty, if we but expect it” – Ed Lehming

Surprisingly, this is my first post this year and the first in over a month. That’s highly unusual for me, but I have found myself terribly uninspired lately. I’m finding the lack of face to face interaction with people is affecting me in ways I had not expected, being a largely solitary and private person.

I’ve still been outdoors, enjoying the snow-filled forests, and posting those images on Facebook for others to enjoy but I have been uninspired to do much more than that.

I’m looking for something to pull me out of this creative slump and general laziness, wanting to do more than just share the occasional image. So, I’m taking a kick at it today, with an image I created while on a hike last week. The original photo was ‘nice’ but I wanted to emphasize the way the low sunlight played between the pines and within the bright orange leaves of the beech trees.

I did something a bit different here to get the photo to realize into something more than just a photo. I wanted the beauty, the softness, and the subtle tones to really show through. This was accomplished by adjusting the tones to my satisfaction in Photoshop and then applying a Prizma filter to get the painterly effect. I’m really pleased at how it turned out and it will serve as a reminder to me to persevere through the COVID lock-downs, there is still beauty around us, we just need to apply a bit more effort to get it to permeate us and appreciate it for what it is. Hopefully, this is the start of a trend for me as I shake of the effects of partial isolation.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2 mm
1/609 sec, f/1.6, ISO
32

“I enter the forest trail, branches bend and bow, forming a cathedral-like arch above my head. In the silence of the new fallen snow, I find myself in reverence to the beauty of nature. A walk in the woods becomes a spiritual experience once more.” – Ed Lehming

This is how that wonderful day in early December started out. Only a few steps from the trailhead, this scene of wonder greated me. It truly felt like those first few moments when I enter a great cathedral. The quiet grandeur and majesty of the columns and high vaulted ceilings humbles me and puts me in a place of reverence.

It’s so very difficult to fully explain this to people who are not connected to nature. There are times, like this, where the beauty is simply overwhelming. I have found myself standing, nearly breathless as I simply drink it in. Places and scenes like this sustain me through my lows, reminding me that peace and beauty are still very present.

On that December morning I was a bit nervous about my ability to successfully capture that beauty. I have found that when everything around me is so startlingly beautiful it become difficult isolate sections. But this time, it seemed that no matter what way I turned to compose an image, there simply was not a bad shot. A few of my photos are not as captivating or interesting as others, but they are all beautiful in their own way.

As I look back on this particular photo I can still experience that incredible feeling of peace and wonder, watching wisps of snow swirling in the air on the gentle breeze, the only sound I could hear. Just writing this and looking at the image brings peace and calm to me and I look forward to entering this place once more.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 6.0 mm
1/1916 sec, f/2.0, ISO 26

“Take a Rest”

“There are times to rest and times to keep going, it’s good to have a choice.” – Ed Lehming

I’m still working through photos I made over two weeks ago on that magical December second morning. The overwhelming beauty of that day is still with me, though I’ve travelled these trails several times since that. The way the freshly fallen snow transformed the world that day was indescribable.

The trail, within Uxbridge, Ontario’s North Walker Woods, is one of my favourites and has yielded many of my best photos over the past few years. It’s a place I go to recharge, to be inspired, and simply where I love to be. I’ve hiked the same trail for many years now and it always offers me something new, even after all that time.

The forest is a living, changing thing, and never the same twice. That morning in early December really drove the point home. I have travelled these trails on beautiful snow-filled days before but have never experienced the brilliant and pure radiance like I did that day. I have about fifty photos, each one a wonderful representation of that morning to keep as a reminder. I have posted a few so far and will be posting others in the future, I’m sure.

This particular image has kept me coming back. The bench, just recently placed at the juncture of three trails, beckons me to sit and just take it all in, but it’s covered in deep snow, which I also do not want to disturb, so others can enjoy this view too. Also, the view looking at the bench, with the wonderful sunlight behind it is actually better than the view from the bench, particularly at this time of day.

When I look at the image, as when I was there, the temptation is to sit and rest, but with all the darkness in our work these days, the time to rest, for me, is not right now. I’d prefer to fill myself up with beauty and hope, saving it for a time when rest will be more urgent. For now, the image of this place is rest enough for my spirit and I hope it has the same effect on others.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 4.2mm
1/1383 sec, f/1.6, ISO 32

“As winter approaches, remnants and reminders of autumn persist, adding colour to the gradual toning down to winter whites.” – Ed Lehming

This image was a fortunate combination of two factors: convenient compositional angle and a very wide aperture on my new Iphone 12 Pro.

The compositional angle is due to me trying to get the cluster of leaves lined up to my satisfaction, which put all the stems behind the leaves which I wanted as my focal point. The aperture was a bit of a surprise. I’ve been playing with my new iPhone and it’s ‘portrait mode’ which allows me to create phone images with incredibly wide aperture for such a small device, rendering pretty much anything behind the subject as a soft blurred bokeh, including the stems the support the leaves. The effect is that the leaves seem suspended in the air against a very soft background.

My primary intent with this image was to capture those splashes of colour that remain into late fall, even after it has snowed. The colour is primarily orange or tones of yellow-orange from the many beech trees in my local forests. But, every now and then, a stubborn maple or oak has some colour to share as well, which was the case with this small bunch of maples leaves which caught the morning sun so nicely.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 6 mm
1/125 sec, f/2.0, ISO 25

“All too often we are so focused on cautiously watching our step that we fail to look up and ahead to see the bigger picture right there in front of us.” – Ed Lehming

My hikes and photography are something I really enjoy and every now and then, an image, like this one, will confront me with a perspective to consider.

As I walk through the forests, I spend a lot of time looking down, watching my step, to ensure I don’t trip over a root or uneven ground, more so in the winter. As a photographer, I also spend a lot of my time looking around me, always on the lookout for my next image. However, that focus tends to shift between my footing and my horizontal sightline. Unless I stop and make take in my wider surroundings, they go generally unnoticed as a whole as I tend to focus on specific areas.

It was not till I made this wide angle image that I realized this somewhat unfortunate habit. The wide angle treatment is not something that I expect that I would pursue on a regular basis but it did remind me that all the tighter scenes that I enjoy are part of something larger and beautiful. The wide view is also quite humbling for me because it reveals he vast scale of even a small section of the forest world that I hold so dear.

iPhone 12 Pro @ 1.54 mm
1/1350 sec, f/2.4, ISO 25