I challenged myself to “virtually” walk across Canada during 2020 – I keep track of how far I walk every day and plot this against a map of Canada. Read more here.
As anticipated, I walked a much greater distance this past week. I managed about 124km. Pretty good. That’s more in one week than I had done in the previous three combined. Although it’s about 18km per day average, which is less than the 25km per day average I need to make it across Canada in a year.
As you can see from the map, I have bust it from the Abbotsford and Chilliwack area and am now a little south of a place called Hope. I’ve almost made it past The Rockies. I am now about 2% through the route having completed a total of 216km. I should reach Alberta sometime in late February.
I challenged myself to “virtually” walk across Canada during 2020 – I keep track of how far I walk every day and plot this against a map of Canada. Read more here.
It is week three and I have had another fairly inactive week mainly due to some sedate activities at work and the rough snowy weather on the weekends. I’m confident that I’ll make a ton more progress starting with the next update, but until then, let’s just get this out of the way!
I did just under 38km last week – well below target. I went to the gym a couple of times, else it would have been worse! Not sure if the gym will continue (I’m not a fully paid-up member), but I may not need it as my work is (normally) highly active.
Anyway, as you can see from the map, I am about halfway between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
I don’t want to keep being negative, but this is definitely further behind than I had hoped… Maybe I will be able to catch up? The next update will give a good idea about that. Until then!
I challenged myself to “virtually” walk across Canada during 2020 – I keep track of how far I walk every day and plot this against a map of Canada. Read more here.
In the last update, I had made it from Vancouver to Surrey – about 21km during a short week of 4 days, as the year began on a Wednesday. That’s about 5km per day instead of the 25km per day I need.
This second update covers Jan 5th – Jan 11th. I managed 44km in 7 days, about 6km per day. Not really close to what I need and I’m falling behind. Maybe this will turn into a two-year challenge!
The main challenge I have faced is that my assignment at work is a lot less physical than usual. Typically I would walk 20,000-30,000 steps per day, but I am working in a set area and doing only about 5,000 steps per day. That should change in a couple of weeks time. This week went a little better mainly because I have started to accompany a friend and old work colleague to the gym where we do some speed-walking, among other things. I’m going along on a free trial and trying to decide whether I will pay the typically expensive membership fee to keep going!
Anyway, I have made it far enough to no longer be inside the “Metro Vancouver Area”, the border of which lies a little east of Langley City, BC. As you can see from the updated map below, I am just on the edge of Abbotsford. This will be my first city that isn’t part of the Metro Vancouver Area. The route I am taking is borrowed from a website that makes it easy to track my progress, but the route is a little odd and I cannot change it – so for the next little while it looks like I am walking through random forest! It means that I won’t hit another community until Keremeos, a little village in a valley with a population of 1,500.
This first week is a partial week because January 1st fell on a Wednesday, so it is a 4-day-week. Even so, it hasn’t gone well so far. The route I planned is 8,871km and I would need around 25km a day to make it. Sadly, I came absolutely nowhere close to this. In fact, I only did 21km across 4 days. Eeek.
As you can see from the map, I am still in the suburbs of Vancouver, not yet even into Surrey.
My work usually involves a ton of walking but that hasn’t been the case lately. And I don’t expect much distance for the next couple of weeks, either. Oh dear! Maybe things will improve once the weather warms because I’m not getting out much in my spare time, either.
It’s likely I might have to alter the route to make it more direct (there’s a couple of extra thousand extra KM on the route I mapped to visit Nova Scotia, for example). Either way, I need to pick it up before the challenge gets away from me. See below for the overview map.
It’s the start of a new year and a new decade today, Jan 1st 2020. I’m not usually one for new year’s resolutions, probably because I know that the things I ought to do around improving health, or not biting my nails, are destined to fail.
But I am pretty good at walking more than the average person. It’s tough to find the time to take on challenges at particular places – I wanted to tackle The Bruce Trail, but work makes it tough to get out to the trail. I still intend to pick that up, eventually.
In the meantime, I thought it might be cool to see if I could walk across Canada “virtually”. Obviously I don’t have a spare six months to do it in person, but I could take the distance I walk each day for all of 2020, and plot it on a map.
The route I will take will not be a simple straight line, but will roughly follow the route of the Trans-Canada Highway. This adds a fairly significant distance, but is more realistic.
The route is 8,871km (5,512 miles) and I’ll start on the West coast in Vancouver, British Columbia. I will head East through The Rockies, into Calgary in the province of Alberta, Regina in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg in Manitoba and then into my home province of Ontario. Adding considerable distance, The Trans-Canada Highway heads south into Toronto before heading to the capital, Ottawa. Into Quebec next and Montreal and Quebec City. In New Brunswick I will visit Fredricton and Saint John. Adding a ton more distance, I will diverge from the Trans-Canada to cross The Bay of Fundy so that I can hit Nova Scotia which would otherwise be missed. I’ll swing through Halifax, then head back North through Truro. Back in New Brunswick I’ll follow Highway 11 until I’m back in Quebec. At Matane, I’ll cross the St Lawrence river and finally head back east for a long walk to the border with Newfoundland and Labrador. At Blanc-Sablon I will cross The Gulf of St Lawrence into Newfoundland at Sainte Barb. Via Highway 430, I’ll rejoin The Trans-Canada at Deer Lake to Gander, Conception Bay and finally St John’s.
Walking aggressively across Canada via a more direct route (about 6100km) takes about 150 days. Driving non-stop takes about 160 hours (7 days).
I will try to do it in 366 days (it is a leap year). I will need to walk an average of about 25km every day, which I think will be tough, especially if I am sick at any point. My fitbit will log my steps which I will use to plot my progress and I’ll try to update about once per week.
It seems like every year Toronto based media gets into a tizzy about Red-winged Blackbirds attacking residents, with Liberty Village being the 2019 aerial attack hotspot.
BlogTO says a Blackbird is “terrorizing” the neighbourhood, as yellow police tape cordons off the area. In 2018, CTV News described the birds as a “menace” in their headline about a spate of “attacks”. Some city parks display signs that warn visitors that birds may exhibit aggressive behaviour after a number of people whinged to the 311 city helpline.
So what is going on?
Quite simply, Red-winged Blackbird survival and success is reliant upon the territory that they claim. As is the fate with many animals, humans are responsible for removing an ever-increasing amount of habitat.
In the northern reaches of their range (which would include Canada), these birds are migratory. To avoid our winter conditions they will travel south. They will return to Canada in time for Spring, but the males and females will generally arrive at different times.
Most people are familiar with the males which are all black in colour save for their red and yellow patches, called epaulets, on their wings. The female (pictured) is a pattern of light and mostly darker browns. She is less territorial and therefore less conspicuous.
The males arrive first, around early-to-mid March in the Toronto area. A few weeks later, the females will begin arriving and they will be looking for a mate. One of the main criteria for selecting a male is the territory that male has secured during those early weeks. These birds are polygynous and so a male Red-winged Blackbird who is able to defend a good piece of territory may have the opportunity to mate with up to 10 females who are somewhat loyal to him.
Red-winged Blackbirds prefer wetlands and marshes, where they nest amongst Cattails and rushes. Next time you are dive-bombed by a Red-Winged Blackbird, it might be worth asking yourself a couple of questions:
Where have all the wetlands and marshes have gone?
Where are those 10 lucky females?
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Extreme Cold Warning
When I announced my intention to end-to-end hike The Bruce Trail in stages, I have to admit that a few of the positive responses that I have received on this site and on social media have helped to spur me on a little. I had some spare time on “Blue Monday”, supposedly the saddest day of the year, and so I decided to try to “find my happy” by heading back down to The Niagara region. This happened to be on the same day that The Government of Canada issued an “Extreme Cold Weather Warning”. It could reach -35°C with the windchill, they said.
If you read about my hike through Bruce Trail Map 01, you’ll know that I slugged my way from Queenston Heights to just beyond “Fireman’s Park”, noting how unfit I had become in the last few months. Having done nothing to improve the situation, I repeated the car journey along “North America’s busiest stretch of highway”, The 401, then briefly onto The 427, then The Queen Elizabeth Highway (QEW) which was named to coincide with a visit to Canada from George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1937.
You get a good view of the western edge of Lake Ontario as you pass over The Burlington Skyway, continuing to just before St. Catharines and the replica ship of La Grande Hermine that sits forlornly in Jordan’s Harbour. Such a strange effect was taking place during this frigid morning as low cloud hung over the lake and hundreds of arms of mist reached towards the sky like Poseidon grasping for the heavens.
Although I don’t think it ever really dipped as low as -35°C, it was cold enough that my breath would blow back at me, condensate in my facial hair, before freezing into pieces of ice. Despite this, my coat ensured that the rest of me never felt too cold.
Things didn’t start so well. Upon arrival, it appeared that the parking lot had not been ploughed, but I decided to drive forwards to get a closer look. My car got stuck in a snow-filled dip at the entrance and took a few minutes to free again. I parked on the side of the road and hoped not to annoy anyone.
Next up, I managed to go the wrong way! This was hugely frustrating, but my own fault. I took a different trail by mistake as a result of not preparing myself by…. you know… checking the map before I started. The side trail that I took by mistake was deep with snow and was an absolute killer on the steep terrain. After slipping and sliding my way up to the top of a ridge, I was gasping for breath. This is where I realised my mistake and I wondered just how far I would now be able to get with my energy depleted.
When I got back to the car, I still had trouble orientating myself. To save you from reading any more about this ridiculous situation, I think there were some old white blazes – the markings on trees and signposts that you follow. Plus I am easily confused as I age.
About 30 minutes later, the time already 11 am, I finally figured out where to pick up the trail from last time I was here, parallel to some Canadian National Railway tracks. I got a real thrill when one of CN Rail’s huge, powerful, long trains blustered through, billowing clouds of snow all over the place.
Progress along the trail began easily enough (considering the weather conditions) because someone had already been through with an all-terrain vehicle. I was able to tread in the tyre tracks that were left behind. After weaving up and down a couple of hills, the trail returned to the same old railway bed that it had also followed back near Queenston. This stretch of trail was even easier because the snow had been cleared almost entirely by a plough.
Continuing through a crop of young trees, suddenly the snow was back to being as deep as my shins and it was completely untouched – except for some deer tracks. I could hear rustling the rustling of the shy creatures just out of sight. The hiking became difficult at this point. I had to kick and drag my feet through the snow.
Somehow life hangs on through the harsh Canadian winter. At first glance, it can appear that the only living things in the snow-covered scene are the Cattails protruding from the surrounding frozen lagoons. But there are also flashes of the red
of StaghornSumac. A small number of birds flitted amongst them. Throughout today’s hike, I also saw many Dark-eyed Juncos, Blue Jays, several pairs of Cardinals and a very vocal Downy woodpecker that I heard before I saw it. His calling “ pik” sound is somewhat similar to that of the Northern Cardinal, but less metallic sounding, of a lower pitch and the note is held for longer.
Large parts of this section of trail are also shared with The Laura Secord Friendship trail (as well as the Trans-Canada trail, recently renamed “The Great Trail”, which traverses the length of Canada). Despite being the daughter of a patriot, Laura Secord married a loyalist named James who served under General Brock at The Battle of Queenston Heights. Although his militia enjoyed victory in Queenston, James was seriously wounded. Through 1813, he would be nursed back to health by Laura.
By the summer, The Americans had successfully invaded the Niagara region and soldiers were billeted in the Secord home. Legend has it that, as the soldiers ate their dinner, Laura Secord overheard talks of an American attack on the British position at Beaver Dams. The next day, she hiked 27km from just north of Queenston Heights (where I began my journey), to just south of St. Catharines. There, she met with a camp of Mohawk warriors who were allied to The British. They escorted her another 5km to Lieutenant James FitzGibbon so that she could impart her information. The Laura Secord Trail approximately follows her journey – a journey that is more than double the distance I have achieved so far.
During The Battle of Beaver Dams, native warriors closed in on the flanks of the 500 Americans and launched a surprise attack. British regulars joined later and agreed to call off the Mohawk warriors only if The Americans surrendered. Thanks to the information shared by Laura Secord, The Americans were out-manoeuvred and they duly surrendered. Laura Secord lived the rest of her life destitute, particularly after the death of her husband. She was not recognised during her lifetime, aside from a belated award of £100 from Edward VII (at the time he was The Prince of Wales) during a visit to what would have been “The Province of Canada” in 1860. The prince was told of Laura’s story, her contribution, and her current unfortunate financial state. These days, Laura Secord is a woman of great legend and a Canadian heroine.
As I had waded through more and more snow – a never-ending supply of snow – it became apparent that I was not going to cover a great distance today. I examined the map for the next parking area to make it easier to pick up the trail next time. There were three parking options all grouped together about 3km away, but I was exhausted. Even 3km seemed difficult. I was about 1km-2km away from a supposedly haunted tunnel (aptly named “The Screaming Tunnel”). Surely anything less than making it that far would be
There were slippery stone steps hidden beneath the snow. There were bits of trail that had been boggy, but were now frozen over with thin ice, also hidden by a layer of snow. Sometimes I would step on these hidden traps, the ice would collapse, and I would fall literally knee-deep into the water, winded by the impact. It was a hell of an effort to climb back to my feet after this happened for the third time. It was hazardous. I came across a drain whose cover had wide enough grates that you could easily lose a leg through it. It was only partly visible under the show.
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At this point, let’s take a little breather so that you get a break from what may sound like incessant complaining. I’m not complaining. It just happens to sound an awful lot like complaining. This was an arduous hike, but it was enjoyable in its own way. And I’ll get fitter. Right? RIGHT?!
A large pedestrian bridge crosses a stretch of The QEW highway that I would have driven under an hour or two ago. This bridge marks 10km from the beginning of The Bruce Trail and about 3km of progress made today. The bridge was free of snow, perhaps from the rising heat of passing vehicles or from the lateral direction of blowing wind. It felt so good to be out of the snow. My legs felt like they were floating on air.
A short distance later the trail turns to the right, through The Screaming Tunnel. A number of different interpretations of a ghost story surround the local name for this tunnel, which allows you to cross beneath The CN railway tracks. Some say that a young girl was set alight and ran for these tunnels screaming before her death. Another story tells of an unhinged woman who was hated by neighbours. After frequent quarrels and fights, she would travel to the tunnel at night to scream in her madness. If you stand in the tunnel at night and strike a match, the screams of the ghost will fill the air and a whoosh of wind will extinguish the flame.
The Bruce Guide warns that the tunnel is often filled with ice during winter, and it sure was! The culvert pictured ejects water that runs into the tunnel which was completely frozen in these sub-zero temperatures. It was uneven and had a sprinkling of snow which afforded me enough grip to make it through unscathed. At the other end of the tunnel, I turned left onto Warner Road.
After around 1.5km, the trail turns right off Warner Road onto the edge of some property. It then enters
WoodendConservation Area. That will have to wait until next time. For today, I found a fence to sit on and I ate some lunch. I am now 11.8km along The Bruce Trail. In two days, I have still only hiked about 1/3 the distance that Laura Secord completed! Not including the time I spent walking in circles when I first arrived, I travelled 5km. That doesn’t sound so great, but the conditions were pretty rough. That is my excuse.
Sitting still for a while felt good, but it did allow the cold to take hold for the first time, so I didn’t stay long. Walking back was very slow going and I was pretty much dragging my left leg by the time I got back to the car. I didn’t pass a single person on this section of trail, although there were several more cars parked on the side of the road once I had returned. Most people were in Firemen’s Park sledging or snowboarding down the slopes.
It will be a disaster if I don’t get to The Welland Canal next time!
I’m not sure when I will get back out here because of some potentially good news for the first time in a long time. Stay tuned.
I dropped my wife off at work in Markham and assured her I would be back to pick her up at her finish time of 6 pm. No, no, I won’t be late. Yes, yes, I’m sure. The previous night I had prepared for this hike. I had packed The Bruce Trail Reference Guide, I had charged my DSLR camera, my mobile phone, and my backup battery. More importantly, I had dug out the long-johns that were bought for me as a parting gift from my mother back in 2007 during her blind panic that I was emigrating from England to Canada – a frozen land of igloos still to be tamed by the pioneers.
It took about two hours to arrive at Queenston Heights, not far from The Niagara River on another unseasonably warm day that has been typical of our 2018-2019 winter. This end of The Bruce Trail is marked with the “Southern Terminus Cairn” in Queenston Heights Park. I have marked the parking with a hastily drawn dark blue ‘X’ on the map. It is handily close to public washrooms, which I made good use of after downing a Tim Hortons Double-Double along the commute. The parking was almost empty on this December weekday, but I’m sure I would have been pulling teeth trying to find a spot during the summer.
The War of 1812
The Bruce Trail begins at the cairn shown as a red pin on the map and photographed in the image above. The trail initially works its way through the park. During The War of 1812, this was the scene of The Battle of Queenston Heights. Perched upon the top of an imposing 185ft column is the statue of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, built on the crest of a hill so that he can continue his watch for invading American forces some 200 years after his death. This British general, so widely regarded in this part of the world, was shot in the chest and killed here, but his forces were still victorious, forcing an American surrender. Brock had earlier captured Detroit with the help of his ally, the Native American Warrior Chief Tecumseh.
The War of 1812 has captured my imagination since I emigrated to Canada. What I find particularly interesting are the different interpretations that people have.
- Many Brits have never heard of it. It is considered a series of battles in which Britain was mostly victorious, that form a minor part of The Napoleonic Wars.
- Although Upper Canada was a British colony at the time, Canadians see this conflict as Canada’s war and their own victory over The United States. It forms part of the Nation’s identity, especially in Southern Ontario.
- Strangely, the widely held view of Americans is that they were victors of a war they started, lost more troops in, and in which resulted in a state of status quo ante bellum (territory was returned to each country).
Once I had navigated the manicured grass, playground, and the closed-for-the-season cafe, the trail turned into woodland and traced the edge of what would have been a bluff along the shore of Lake Iroquois. I have talked about this great, ancient lake that was a forerunner to Lake Ontario, in my now rather dated documentary videos that you can probably still find on Youtube (if you must). Were Lake Iroquois still here today, half of Toronto would be underwater. Northwards and to my right, the terrain dropped off around 200 feet to where the shore of Lake Iroquois would have been, but instead of ancient waters, today there were lightly snow-dusted farmland, golf courses, and one of the many vineyards that the Niagara region has become known for. As I walked over the hard frozen ground, I thought to myself about the workers who are often woken during the early hours of the year’s first frost to urgently pick the sweet Niagara grapes, a crucial moment in time for the successful production of Ice Wine.
The Bruce Trail Reference Guide breaks the colossal Bruce Trail into 42 maps or sections, and when I had set off on this journey I had hoped that one map per hike would be reasonable. I was keen to not have to drive too many journeys to and from the trail as it is quite far from my home and thus expensive in gas. However, it was becoming apparent quite early on that this was laughably optimistic. I had set out to film myself completing this hike with the idea of uploading an episode-by-episode documentary. There was no way I could follow through on this. Recording slowed me down far too much. I also brought my dSLR camera, but even this felt like a burden. On future hikes, I would have to travel much lighter to make better progress and suffer less from equipment weight. The other problem with an end-to-end hike is that I have to park my car, walk the trail…. but then double-back to return to my car, effectively doubling the length of the trail.
I pushed on. To the south, a huge crater in the earth revealed itself to be an abandoned quarry. I have read about an old mine hidden around here that is explored by people far braver than I am. Also of interest, just before reaching the quarry, there is a large rusted iron structure which I initially assumed might be mining equipment, but further research suggests that this is a Cold War-era antenna tower built in the 1950s and used as part of the Distant Early Warning system.
A side trail branched off to the left and passed through huge cliff-like boulders. This seemed like a good spot to rest and take lunch. I ate a sandwich, some fruit, and a granola bar. I quenched my thirst with some water while I again examined the guide map. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I had hoped to make it as far as the Welland Canal today. Maybe with less faffing around and early-morning traffic. Plus I needed to get back to Markham on-time, remember? Time for a new goal. It would make sense to stop somewhere with parking to make it easier to pick up the trail next time around. Therefore, I decided to aim for “Fireman’s Park”.
After 3-4km, the trail drops very steeply in a zig-zagging pattern straight down The Escarpment. With the ice and snow, I considered the possibility that I might have to scoot down the rockier sections of the descent on my backside. The idea of having to come back this way did not fill me with joy. At the bottom of the slope, the trail turned left and followed the route taken by what used to be the New York Central Railroad, though the sleepers and rails are long gone. At this point, I had made it to where maps one and two of The Bruce Trail Reference Guide overlap. A moment of celebration, I suppose. Although I think the first map is probably the shortest of all the sections!
My Alan Patridge Moment
For my Canadian readers, I’m Alan Patridge is a British comedy series about a cheesy washed-up television presenter teetering on the edge of mental collapse. In one episode, out of lonely desperation, Alan decides to walk rather than drive along an inappropriately busy road, traffic whooshing past, to get to a gas station to buy some pointless supplies. For no right-minded reason, he completes this journey whilst singing the theme tune to the James Bond film Goldfinger.
And so, while the trail was interrupted for a few hundred yards by Niagara Regional Road 100, I too found myself murdering the theme tune to Goldfinger, nonchalantly skipping along trying to ignore the cars whooshing past me. This may have been a tribute to one of my comedy favourites. Or it may have been a man teetering on the edge of mental collapse!
The trail turned right into more woodland, muddy in parts, with a couple of more difficult climbs. There was a lot of weaving around and I think there may have been some re-routing as I had to reorient myself a lot, but the trail ultimately emerged onto Dorchester Road near some railway tracks. I walked on a few more meters to just past where “Fireman’s Park Side Trail” splits off. To continue from here in the future, I would be parking a few hundred meters along from this side trail. I stopped for something more to eat and to contemplate.
When I was driving into Niagara from Toronto, I passed roadsigns for locations that I knew I would hike through along The Bruce Trail. I passed a road sign for Ball’s Falls Conservation Area as I drove along the Queen Elizabeth Highway on the way to starting this adventure. When driving, it seemed SO close to Queenston Heights. But I had barely managed to scratch off map one. Ball’s Falls Conservation Area isn’t until map four. What have I let myself in for?!
I finished eating and began the long journey back to my car. By the time I reached Niagara Regional Road 100 and my Alan Patridge moment, I had a desperate, burning desire to google taxi firms or to hail an Uber for the first time (perhaps not a bad idea for the future when I have an income!). By the time I reached the horrible climb back up the escarpment, I thought that perhaps my future would be spent living in these woods. The Quarry had trebled in size from when I had passed it the first time. The Cold War iron structure was a Tyrannosaurus Rex from which I could not outrun.
I enjoy hiking, but I have lost some fitness over the last few years. I will need to quickly get used to longer distances than this. As mentioned, I’d be bringing much less with me in future (I had a pain in my shoulder from the straps of my bag which lasted for three days). As I emerged back in Queenston Heights Park, I spied General Brock long after he would have spied me. I enjoy the affinity I feel for this “Loyalist” part of the world.
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Driving back to Markham through Toronto in the afternoon was a bigger nightmare than I had imagined due to the awful traffic through the city. And as for my earlier guarantee of being back on time? My wife was delighted that I was somehow 40 minutes late (kidding – she was quite good about it).
The next leg of this epic journey will take place where I left off at Fireman’s Park and I will pass through a haunted tunnel.
I also welcome any feedback on this article. I know it is longer than those I normally write. Too long? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Thank you for reading if you made it this far!
This is part two of my series on understanding your camera’s exposure settings. Part one is about ISO.
Hopefully, you have a good grasp of ISO by now and you are almost ready to start getting your fancy camera out of “Auto” mode. I mentioned in the first part of this three-part series of articles, that getting out of auto mode allows you to be more creative with your camera and that this begins with understanding three primary settings.
I had mentioned that ISO was the easiest concept of the three exposure control settings to understand, but shutter speed is very easy, too.
Here is something obvious: A photograph is made by capturing light.
Your camera controls the amount of light that is captured.
Imagine you are wandering along with your camera. Light is all around you. It is bouncing off everything, and some goes into the lens of your camera. The lens takes that light and focuses it into a tiny spot.
Because the shutter on your camera is closed, the light doesn’t make it (far) into your camera. To allow the light to get into the camera, you have to press the “shutter release button”. The big one that takes a photo!
The shutter release button causes the shutter to open then close, allowing a certain amount of light to pass into the camera body. The light is then detected by the sensor, and your camera builds a photograph. You can change how long the shutter stays open for, and this will control the amount of light entering the camera, and therefore the exposure of the photograph.
Think of this example. Even if you understand now, this exercise will help with part three when we talk about aperture.
- Imagine you have a piece of pipework that carries water.
- The pipe has two controls. We are only going to worry about one of them.
- The control we care about is the on/off button.
- When the pipework is “on”, water can flow. Otherwise, no water can pass.
- We also have a bucket.
We want to fill the bucket “perfectly”. We want it filled to the brim, but we do not want to spill any.
Therefore, there is an exact amount of time that we need to have the pipework “switched on”. If it isn’t on for long enough, the bucket is underfilled (the photo is underexposed – too dark). If it is on for too long, water spills and ruins your carpet (the photo is overexposed – too bright).
The range available to you will depend on your camera. But to give a couple of examples, I have a Samsung Galaxy S8 and my Nikon in-front of me.
Samsung Galaxy: 1/24000 – 10
If I put my camera in “pro” mode, I can change the shutter manually to “1/24000”. This is the fastest the shutter will operate and it just means one twenty-four-thousandth of a second. I can move it to the slowest speed, which is “10”, or simply, ten seconds.
Nikon DSLR: 30″ – 8000
Controls vary by camera, but if I put my camera dial into the M, S, or P modes (more on this in a future article), I am able to change my shutter speed with one of the control dials. If I turn it all the way, it will say “Bulb”. Again, more on that shortly! One click back again and 30″ is the slowest. This is thirty seconds. Much like the Samsung, but Nikon has added quote marks so that you know it is seconds (and not one thirtieth of a second). At the fast end, 8000 is simply one eight-thousandth of a second.
If you camera is in bulb mode, it simply means that the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold the button down on the camera. A common use of this feature is in astrophotography, where photos of stars in the dead of night need a long time to expose.
For any type of photography where you have the shutter open for a longer period of time, you are going to need extra equipment, some of which I have mentioned in the column opposite.
Why Use Manual Shutter Speeds?
Most of the time, your camera will select the right speed for you, but it will generally try to “freeze” action.
Sometimes, you might want to be creative. Ever see those photos of waterfalls where the water looks creamy and white? It looks that way because the shutter was manually selected to remain open longer. The water is actually blurred and looks milky.
How about shots where crowds of people are walking through a busy street and everyone is a blur? Similar technique.
Long Exposure Equipment
If your shutter will be open for more than, approximately 1/80th of a second, you will need a tripod. It is around this setting that you will no longer be able to keep the camera steady enough when holding by hand.
One of the best tripod brands is Manfrotto, and the MK290XTA3-3WUS is a good choice for most work.
The MK290XTA3-3WUS is available from Amazon Canada and Amazon UK .
You’ll also want to investigate remote shutter options and maybe an ND-Filter, but they go beyond the scope of this article.
Sometimes you might want the shutter to operate more quickly. Perhaps at a sporting event or during wildlife photography, where animals can move quite suddenly. Altering your shutter speed manually could help you here.
Remember, ISO changes the sensitivity of your camera (thus how much light will then be needed). Shutter speed changes how long the shutter is open (thus how much light is received by the camera).
They work in tandem.
If you increase the ISO (sensitivity), the shutter can operate faster because it doesn’t need to be open as long. But remember that a higher ISO can introduce more noise.
If you increase the shutter speed (more light gets in), the ISO can be lower. This reduces the noise… but if the camera or the subject in your photo moves, you’ll risk getting a blurred photograph.
It is a question of priorities and balancing the two settings.
This article is about the principles of these settings and is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all possible situations and their ideal settings.
But… while you wait for part 3 on aperture, have a think about what photograph you would like to capture. A waterfall? A sporting event? Just hop onto Google and search for what priority your settings should have for the situation you are interested in. As you practice and actually try things out, you will come to realise how it all fits together.
I hope this article was of help. I will leave you with a couple of photographs I have taken where altering the shutter speed was a primary part of the final result.
This photograph was taken early in the morning, with the sun rising up behind the silhouetted tree. It was still dark. Therefore, I left the shutter open for longer, helping to expose the photo better. As a bonus, having the shutter open for longer can sometimes lead to capturing bolder colours, like in this sky.
Did you receive a new camera for Christmas or a birthday?
Or perhaps you are one of many people who has had a camera for a while but never did figure out what “Aperture” is. Let me guess, your camera has been stuck in “Auto” mode for a while now?
Good news: It’s not too difficult to understand your camera’s exposure settings, and once you do, it will unlock some of your camera’s potential. A lot comes down to balancing three primary settings. I will write about each, starting with ISO. So read on!
The easiest exposure setting to get to grips with is ISO. It stands for International Standards Organisation, which doesn’t really help us, but if you remember film cameras, it will help you to understand ISO. Film is rated by a number such as 100, 200, usually up to around 1600, and all it means is that the higher the number, the more sensitive to light the film is. In practical terms, this means:
- 100 Film is for outdoors or places with lots of light. It is “fast” and can freeze action, like sport. But in difficult, poorly lit conditions, photos come back way too dark.
- 1600 Film is for darker conditions, like barely lit indoor locations. But in any kind of fast moving action, your photos come back blurred.
- Faster film (100, 200…) will typically be sharper and less grainy than slower film (800, 1600).
- You’d be tempted to opt for, say, 400 film…. More forgiving in dark areas than 100 film and less potential blur than 800 film.
- But this is the analogue equivalent to locking-in and restricting your creativity!
Your digital camera (maybe even the one built into your mobile phone) has the same ISO setting, but unlike a film camera where you are committed to the same film until it’s finished, you can change the ISO setting on a digital camera at any time. The setting is usually in the menu of your camera and it controls how sensitive the sensor is (instead of the film).
On my Nikon: Menu > Photo Shooting > ISO sensitivity settings > ISO sensitivity
- Makes the camera LESS sensitive to light – for when there is plenty of light
- Photo will be SHARPER (if you focus properly).
- To compensate, your shutter may have to be open for longer (article on shutter speed – coming soon)
- Makes the camera MORE sensitive to light – for if it is darker
- Photo will start to degrade. Noise will make the image less sharp.
- To compensate, your shutter may have to be open for less time (article on shutter speed – coming soon)
REMEMBER: All three settings I talk about in this blog balance together for your final image and changing one may impact the other two. See Shutter Speed (coming soon) and Aperture (coming soon).
Final Takeaways on ISO:
You want the lowest possible setting in almost every situation to eliminate as much noise as you can. You will need to learn your camera’s tolerance for dealing with a higher ISO. High end cameras will allow for a higher ISO with less noise than a mobile phone camera, which generally have a lot of noise that they try to filter out automatically (but this reduces sharpness). It’s why all those photos on Instagram taken on a mobile look great in bright conditions on a small screen, but an enlargement of an evening photo… well you don’t see too many of those, do you?
Your camera will select the correct ISO in MOST situations. In wildlife photography (with sudden movements) or darker environments, your camera will usually select a setting which is too low. If ISO is too low, your shutter has to open longer, and this leads to blurring.
I hope this helped you to understand ISO and how it relates to exposure settings. I have an article on Shutter Speed and one on Aperture is coming soon, and reading those should make it all start to fall into place.