Thursday, June 27, 2013

Niagara Falls - Getting It All Wrong...and Being Allright

Sometimes, I’m just an idiot.

Sometimes, I get it all wrong.

Sometimes, opportunities present themselves for which I hesitate, or consider passing on altogether. That’s because I’m an idiot. That’s because I think I know exactly what’s coming, and I prepare to be underwhelmed. Sometimes, being such an idiot is the best way to be, because it is in those experiences that the lessons, and rewards, are greatest.

When I found myself at the end of an intense conference weekend in Toronto, I was beat, burnt out, and sick and tired of staring at a schedule and trying to be everywhere at once. I was also feeling utterly insignificant, like there wasn’t anything more I could do that would possibly be worthwhile, and who would care anyway. I just wanted to crawl into bed, sleep in late, and lazily idle away the next day. In my hour of under-slept and overwrought hesitance, I turned to you, my online travel community, and asked the question… ”Should I?”

And you answered, “YES.”

Thank you. I am deeply grateful to you for circumventing my being a full-blown idiot.


I admit I’ve been spoiled with extensive travels to exotic places on this planet. Those “once in a lifetime” travel destinations for others have been “many in a lifetime” for me. I’ve been to Iguacu Falls. More than once. Both sides. I’d seen Victoria Falls, the Smoke that Thunders. I’ve hiked around, floated beneath, and flown above both of these amazing waterfalls. I’ve experienced enough magical mist and rainbows to raise some unicorns. How yet another waterfall could possibly impress me, I hadn't a clue.

Well, I was about to find out. Sometimes, everything lines up to put me and my camera exactly where we were meant to be, even if only for one day - one magical, misty-rainbowed-filled day that would set me straight again and forever shatter my filtered lens of pre-conception. That's exactly what happened, by the way, figuratively and...uh, literally.

Everything I thought I knew about Niagara Falls, shattered!

Painful to look at that, I know. Well that's karma in action, and lesson learned. Fortunately, the shattered filter (not lens, thankfully) happened later in the day, and now that I've exposed my faults and all to you, let's get to the good stuff - the reward:


The American Falls, looking their grandest from the Canadian side
And I only saw them from Canada. Some who advised me suggested that the US is the "nature" side and Canada is the "Las Vegas" side, or that the US is the better side, or that no matter what I HAD to see both sides even if I only had a day.

Well, I only had a day...and I did not regret spending every moment of it experiencing Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. I had a Niagara Parks Adventure Pass and all manner of activities to choose from right there in Canada - there was more than enough to fill the day.

And what a beautiful sunny day it was. A perfect day for surfing. So I headed downriver to check out the surf. Waves, that is.  I'd heard the largest series of standing waves in North America are found here, along the White Water Walk, and I surfed them with my eyes...and my camera!

Awesomeness, right? These waves happen downstream of where the river abruptly changes direction and forms a natural whirlpool, which is better appreciated from above in the Whirlpool Aero Car.
The Whirlpool of Niagara Falls, where the river flow abruptly changes direction
Speaking of above, I really love the aerial perspective of, well, anywhere on our planet. So, of course, being a photographer, I just had to get up in the air at Niagara Falls too.
My flight over the falls with Niagara Helicopters was truly amazing - a quick 12 minutes total, fully narrated, but still long enough to get some great shots, and more importantly, perspective.   Perspective. A 12-minute flight experience can pass in a instant but last a lifetime, think about that....     After my flight, I took in some history.
The Maid of the Mist is North America's oldest tourist attraction, operating since 1846!   
It was an equally invigorating adventure to see the falls from the water below as it was from the air above. In fact, more so, because from below, more of the senses are involved. You get WET. And it's really really really fun getting wet!!   When I get wet, I get hungry. And thirsty. The Edgewaters Restaurant is perfectly situated with a view of the Falls, which made it a great choice for lunch. But it was the best choice for another reason. My phone battery was at 10%, and I needed to recharge as I still had half the day ahead of me. Upon inquiring with the hostess, I was seated at one of many tables on the terrace overlooking the Falls...with a plug outlet! So I was able to recharge both my phone, and my tastebuds, all the while gazing at the magnificent falls. The server offered a flight of Ontario micro-brews, and being that I am a self-proclaimed "drinkie" (as opposed to "foodie"), I had to try them all. Excellent, as was the satisfying meal. I enjoyed my "downtime" and battery charge up time tremendously.    
  At long last, the sun was getting closer to where I wanted it to be for my "trophy shots". I'd anticipated all day when and where the sun would be setting, and was ready to poise myself and my camera for optimal light and rainbows. Well guess what, sorry to break it to some of those American Niagara enthusiasts who insist the US side is the best, but for photographers, the very best spot for rainbow-laden postcard pictures of Niagara Falls is definitely on the Canadian side, right where I was!     
This, of course, is when I dropped and shattered my polarized lens filter which makes the sky bluer and rainbows "pop". So, I had to make do without. I soon got over it, especially after bumping into another blogger/friend who regretted not having her "big girl camera" with her at all! But we both agreed - shattered filter, iphone, or no camera at all, Niagara Falls was definitely worth a day trip from Toronto.  
 During my last hour at the Falls, I stood in awe and just gazed with my eyes and heart. I wanted to soak it all in - the moment, the experience, the smell, the feel, the sound....the grand show of mother nature that is Niagara Falls. I'm glad I was wrong. It's not about comparisons, it's not about cameras. It's about being completely humbled by something so much greater than ourselves. And in those humbled moments, allright.
Disclosure: My activities at Niagara Falls were made possible by Niagara Parks who provided me with an Adventure Pass and tickets to all activities. My helicopter flight over the Falls was provided by Niagara Helicopters. My decision to visit Niagara Falls was heavily swayed by my facebook community, to whom I am extremely grateful!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Road Trip for Cameras: The Guysborough Gallery (part II)

Some would argue that the right weather can make any place beautiful. But Guysborough has proved to me it's the other way around. The right place can make any weather beautiful.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining strong. Under these circumstances, it can be a challenge to shoot anything beyond glossy postcard and calendar shots. But those are nice too, and if this was to be the weather condition of the day, then I just have to work with what nature gives me.

"So, what do you want to shoot? Landscapes, people, boats....what are you after?"

I thought a moment, and gave the day's mission a word. "Character." I want to capture to the character of the place - the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes Guysborough from other beautiful places on the planet.

Before I went to Nova Scotia, I had this image in my mind of what it would be like. I had this idea that it would be photogenic and beautiful, but I wasn't sure what that would entail. Sure, there would be coastlines and beaches and trees...

...but what else?

I wanted to discover the elements that make up Guysborough. I also wanted to discover photogenic places that I'd likely have missed if I was just passing through. Who better to enlighten my eyes and my lens than a locally based photographer?

So I took a one day Authentic Seacoast Company photography tour with team member and local photographer, Derek Hendsbee, who is a source of inspiration for anyone wishing to explore the region "beyond the car window." And we did just that.

"I'm a bit of a luddite," shares Derek, "I don't own a cellphone."

I looked up from my phone mid-tweet, and realized this was perfect, umm, opportunity, to BE HERE NOW. In other words, this meant our outing could go completely uninterrupted, just us and our long as I turned off my cellphone too (swipe, done). This also meant that anyone following my instagram, facebook, and twitter accounts online would just have to wait for this blog post to see all the images from this day exploring Guysborough with a local. And, most importantly, this meant quality time to re-bond with my Canon 5DM2 and experiment with a new (all-purpose) 28-300mm lens, without also juggling the cellphone in and out of my pocket. I admit I've missed some great shots while I was busy changing lenses or posting something on my phone that just couldn't wait. Not today. One camera, for one day. And no phone. Bliss.

To recount all the towns and beaches and marinas we explored during the day would take away from the imagery and character of the region itself, so for the purpose of staying focused, I'm just going to present here "The Guysborough Gallery". I hope that in doing so, I've shed light on various elements that make up the character of Guysborough, Nova Scotia.






Be sure to see Road Trip for Cameras: Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore (part I).

My camera took a rediculous number of images, of which these are just a taste. Here's the link to the full Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore & Guysborough Gallery.

If this looks like your kind of road trip vacation getaway, you're in luck. DesBarres Manor Inn has many getaway packages available, and starting this summer they will also offer a Photography Package which will include a half or full day led by a local photographer. Your camera will thank you for it! And remember what I said about any kind of weather...

Disclosure: My visit to Nova Scotia was hosted by Authentic Seacoast Resorts, for whom locally-based photographer Derek is an employee. My accommodations were provided at DesBarres Manor Inn. My impressions, words, and images are entirely my own.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Road Trip for Cameras: Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore (part I of II)

Starting Point: Halifax, where there's an airport.
Destination: Guysborough's Authentic Seacoast...really far from where there's an airport.

Right, so if you're looking at a map, I'm crossing a region of Nova Scotia, known as the Eastern Shore. I've fondly dubbed it the Road trip for Cameras.

To get across by car will take about 2 1/2 hours, and that's the express route, going straight through, mostly inland. What's the big hurry? The alternative is about 5 1/2 hours via Marine Drive, the coastal route. So why not make a day of it and go the scenic route? That's what I came here for anyway, the scenery. And I had a full day to enjoy it. Hurry? No, none whatsoever. At this time of year, the daylight stretches out long at both ends.

Certainly, this could be a nice 3-day trip in itself. But with one day, there's no need to rush through. You just have to pick and choose where to stop and explore. I made a point of doing very little reaserch before arriving - I like surprises and getting lost and not having any set agenda or expectation. There were only two must-see's I wanted to check out along the way: a surf spot, and a provincial park. Given plenty of options for both, I didn't put too much thought into deciding. I knew they'd all be good.

I like to seek out and photograph surfing spots wherever I travel, and the more remote, the better; even better when there are actually surfers in the water. Of course, the best is when I can get out and surf too.

I picked a surf beach which had a pretty name: Martinique Beach. It also happens to be a Provincial Park, so I get to check off both. Located 8 miles off the main Marine Drive, it's one way in and out down a long finger of land and then along a one way spit of beach. This, I would go out of the way for. It's surf, after all.

And it was worth it. The reward: A 3-mile long beautiful sandy beach lined with dune grass and covered by an umbrella of deep blue skies and puffy white clouds. At the near end was a protected nesting area for the piping plover, and the boardwalks continued on to open stretches of beach all the way down.

To find the surf, and the surfers, would require beachcombing, and that meant kicking off my shoes and plunging my bare feet into the soft wet sand dotted with dried kelp, round pebbles, and patches of sharper rocks.

It all felt good on my feet. I headed right towards the water's edge to test the temperature. It was COLD! Like, foot-numbing cold. Wow. I documented it in case I would forever lose any use of my right foot (I didn't).

I squinted my eyes toward the east. I noticed small black specks in the water. If they were sea birds, I wanted to see them. If they were surfers, they were frickin' crazy to be out in that cold water so either way I HAD to go see for myself.

While there wasn't much of a swell, lo and behold, there were surfers braving the chilly waters for short, small waves. Die-hards.

All the power to them. As for me? No, thank you. I'll stick to taking pictures this time.

Now that I had both must's checked off already, I could leave the rest of the drive, and the day, to spontaneous temptations and recommendations of my local host and driver, John. John had driven all the way out from the Authentic Seacoast to pick me up. He admitted he hadn't taken the Marine Drive for a few years, so he was enjoying the route as much as I was. Plus, he had a lot of patience, an important trait when escorting a photographer through the land of natural scenic beauty.

"Anywhere you want to stop for a picture, just say." He wasn't kidding. Stop we did. Right on the road. "Take your time," he assured me. Yeah, right. I was certain that every time we slowed down to pull over, some car or truck would come barrelling down on us. I fumbled and snapped and rolled the window back up in seconds, assuming a long line of cars would start honking behind us any minute. Well, that never happened. In fact, when it did, it was more likely they were stopping to roll down their windows and have a conversation. Yep, right there on the road. So, it took a few efforts before I ceased panicking and started to trust the pace of life in Nova Scotia.

Our next roadside adventure almost didn't happen at all, and John is to credit for turning the car around and retracing our way back to this sign:

"When they have the sign out, you don't pass it up."

We pulled in to the gravel drive of Aquaprime Mussel Ranch, where we were invited to poke around the processing room. Here's a fresh bunch of mussels getting a a cold shower:

Then we were shown to the refrigerated room to pick our own bunch.

We were given ice to pack them in for the rest of our drive. Fast forward two days, and they re-appeared (and disappeared again) served up in this glorious manner at a very glorious manor, the DesBarres Manor Inn, in Guysborough.

You might think you've had good mussels, but unless you've had these fresh out of the cold waters of Nova Scotia, and prepared exquisitely at DesBarres Manor, you simply haven't had the best.

So seeing how that warranted turning the car around, from that point on, I wasn't afraid to say "stop, slow down, go back" whenever my eyes saw the potential of something interesting. I took a look at my phone's map app to follow our route. I located the blue dot and saw that, not too far ahead, was another provincial park, and we decided to check it out. A boardwalk led from the parking lot through tall green trees and on to a sprawling white sandy beach. This was Taylor Head Provincial Park, with just the right amount of sunshine and wind to make for fun kite flying conditions.

We continued on, seemingly taking turns saying "stop." My next request was to pull off so I could photograph the boats at Sheet Harbour, both in the water, and out.

Then John decided it was time for some tea, so we stopped at Liscombe Lodge to enjoy a cup with a view of the Liscombe River and birdfeeders which attracted all colors of songbirds.

Then we made one last detour before we headed inland towards Guysborough; again, John's excellent recommendation - a drive down the Main Street of Sherbrooke Village.

This small quaint town is a seasonal open air museum of historic buildings, providing lots of colorful treats for the camera.

At last, we arrived in Guysborough, as the slowly setting sun sent magical golden rays of light. My eyes adjusted to a whole new spectrum of green, and I took in this view as a final desert course topping of a delicious meal of a day - along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia.

Coming next: Road Trips for Cameras, Part II: the Guysborough Gallery

More inspiration for travel to Canada:
What the Halifax is a Moosehead?
My Top 5 Highlights of Travel in Canada
How Cool is Ucluelet?
Canada's Labour Day in Toronto

And more Canada Images for your exploration!

Disclosure: My visit to Nova Scotia was hosted by John and the welcoming folks of Authentic Seacoast Resorts.

Find more travel photos & stories every Thursday here.