Algonquin park is ablaze with colour as the Sugar Maple leaves are now bearing intense red tones and the Aspens a golden yellow. Before yesterday, I hadn’t been to Algonquin Provincial Park in quite some time, forgetting how outrageous the canopy colours really are! If you have been looking for a place to go and are willing to travel a couple hours, keep this place in mind.
A Brief History
For those of you who don’t already know, Algonquin Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in Canada, just eight years older than the first National Park, Rocky Mountains National Park (1885). Before colonization, the land was also home to many Algonquin bands. During the late 18th and early 19th century, the Algonquins used the rivers that flow through the park to trade with the French. Nowadays, the band’s use of the land has been greatly reduced from their origins, as war and and coercion has forced the Algonquins to reside in areas less than a tenth of their original size. More popular history recognizes artists from the Canadian Group of Seven such as Tom Thompson (1877-1917) who painted beautiful compositions while serving as a guide before his untimely death.
Algonquin park is also an extremely large provincial park, being one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Islands (awww!). There are 19 trails on the park’s grounds, spanning from 1 to 11.7 kilometers. Although 11.7 km may sound like a walk in the park, keep in mind the terrain and elevation can be daunting, especially if carrying lots of photography equipment! In addition to the trails, there are also many canoe routes with well monitored water levels and ‘back country’ campsites for those that really want to be one with nature.
Before planning an excursion I always like to keep in mind the weather of the destination. In this case, a high pressure air system had cleared the skies for the entire week. Some clouds would have been better for better ‘Autumn tones’, but blue skies provide other interesting views as well. As I had recently bought a circular polarizer filter for my wide angle lens, I was able to use this as it’s first test run.
Before I left my house at 10am, I packed a backpack full of my camera equipment, a Nalgene 1.5L full of the good stuff, and my FotoPro tripod. I also carried a few energy bars just because I knew I’d be skipping lunch. I also brought a flashlight and utility knife for tactical purposes, as you never know what situations or environments you may find yourself. While bear (let alone human) attacks are extremely unlikely, chances of having to cut a dead twig off a tree to frame your photo are more likely. And in the case of my flashlight, which I didn’t have to use, it would have saved me in case I had (somehow) gotten lost after dusk. Because I was still on the trail at 6:52, two minutes after sunset, I can definitely recommend a good flashlight.
The trip took around 2 1/2 hours to get to Algonquin park and situated at the trail head (38km from West gate). If you’re coming from the south, as I was, it is usually a good idea to fill up on gas somewhere between Innisfil and Oro, as gas prices can be higher further north. Because the Park tends to fill up during the fall days, I would recommend going on a weekday. I went on a Tuesday and the park was still incredibly busy. There were nearly 100 cars in the parking lot at the Centennial Ridges Trail head alone!
On the Centennial Ridges Trail
At midday, I arrived at the trail head for the Centennial Ridge Trail, a ‘difficult’ rated trail that spans several different lookouts over mainly deciduous trees. The trail, over 10 km in length, has some decent elevation changes which have gorgeous lookouts. In my case, because I was carrying what felt like 50 lbs of equipment, I meticulously stopped at each outlook (there are 12) and assembled my tripod for shots of the outlook. I brought the tripod to ensure that I could alternate between smaller f-stops without ramping up my ISO or causing blur with slow shutter speed.
Over the course of the day it became obvious to me how many tourists had come to see Algonquin park, and the beauty that it holds for so many people. Thankfully, some of these tourists were nice enough to hold my phone and take a candid shot.
Problems Shooting in Direct Sunlight
As I alluded to earlier, shooting in direct sunlight is not ideal, in fact, can be off putting for a lot of photographs. However, for these photos, I found the sky and trees to provide a useful contrast that worked well. The harsh shadowing was the most difficult aspect to remove, and in most cases was best removed in the post-processing stage.
A Note On Framing
Not being used to shooting with a wide angle lens (24mm), I was not as prepared to constantly frame my shots as I probably should have been. Compositions that looked beautiful through my eyes ended up looking lack-lustre upon comparison. I think that this was a lot like a little boy who, having been never allowed to have candy is entire life, is introduced to a mountain of free candy (not in a white van, thanks). In this comparison, I’m the little boy who is now able to capture so much more of the beautiful landscape that I just went all-out and wanted to capture EVERYTHING! Perhaps a little bit of self-discipline to stop and ask myself, “where is the subject in this photo?”, “is this a composition or a snapshot?”, or “is there a better way I can capture this scene?”. All of these questions would have helped bring me back from the dreamy eyed photographer I had become in those moments!
Side Note: The Sublime
Like Mary Shelley’s depiction of Frankenstein’s Monster, I always find it interesting how we’re similarly attracted to the ‘sublime’: the aspects of nature (or God) that we can’t possibly understand. The feeling that, when presented, our only response can be complete humility. When I sit on these lookouts, I’m always amazed at how everyone arrives at the edge of the cliff in complete silence. They stand in awe for a few moments before collecting their minds. This is the kind of humility that I imagine when I hear Rick Warren’s famous words, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”. This is one of the reasons I love to return to these sites, because, when I stop for longer than a second to view my smallness relative to the Earth and it’s history, I can put aside my own pride and remind myself that despite all the things that might be going wrong in this world, His grace is enough.
After 6 hours on the trail…
Because I had taken many stops along my hike, I had turned the trail into a six hour hike. I stopped at each lookout for approximately 20 minutes, adding what was probably an extra 2-3 hours to my hiking time. I had stayed the longest at one of the last lookout points which was able to offer me an interesting sunset photo over the trees.
Pack Lighter (and know what’s worth it’s weight)
I could have easily gotten away without taking my Sigma 70-300 mm or the litany of filters I had. Instead, a more flexible packing job would have ensured that I didn’t carry any more photography equipment than needed. However, I would not change the amount of water I carried. The 1.5 L Nalgene just made it through the six hour journey and was very much appreciated. Though I could have opted for a smaller Nalgene matched with a Steripen, there weren’t many areas worth stopping for to sterilize water.
Practice with Wide Angles
Although wide angle lenses afford a greater field of view in your photos, it is not without its own drawbacks. In the future I will look for ways to better frame my shots to make better use of a wider angle.
Bring a Friend 🙂
As much as I do like hiking and ‘doing photography’ alone (and I do!), I also enjoy having someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of. And I mean, returning to the discussion on ‘finding subjects’, you don’t have to search very far for a model!