Saturday, 19 August 2017

Punakaiki Blowholes with the Canon 40D

My run of good weather on the weekends is continuing, despite a very wet week and a very stormy Friday. I had resigned myself to a wet weekend spent indoors (catching up on some film scanning), however a quick look at the forecast on the interwebs late on Friday night suggested otherwise. Saturday looked promising, with some clouds around - always an exciting prospect for a landscape photographer after a passing storm front.

I decided to try my luck and head out Saturday morning - but where? A quick check of the sunrise and high tide times (sunrise was at 7.20am and high tide was 8.20am) and my decision was made for me - the blowholes at Punakaiki.

I've photographed on the West Coast for a very long time (about 20 years), but I have never managed to be at Punakaiki at the right time of day (high tide) to capture the blowholes in action. With a bit of planning, and a lot of luck, I was determined that this was about to change...

Punakaiki Blowholes at Sunrise. Canon 40D with Canon 10-22mm f3.5/4.5. 1/160th @f5.6, ISO 800. 0.9 Cokin Grad
I arrived at Punakaiki at 7.00am - 20 minutes before sunrise. The 10 minute walk to the blowholes meant that I was setting up my tripod 10 minutes before sunrise and a full hour before high tide. After such a stormy week with torrential rain, I was hoping for an aggressive incoming tide to create lots of action at the blowholes. I wasn't dissapointed.

Smoke on the Water. Canon 40D with Canon 10-22mm f3.5/4.5. 1/125th @f8, ISO 800. 0.9 Soft Grad
Having used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 for my last few outings, I decided this time to give the Canon 40D DLSR some love. I also thought that the 10-22mm ultra-wide lens would give me a better view of the blowholes than the Olympus 12-50mm. The Canon at 10mm gives a traditional field of view of around 16mm, which is very wide. Whereas the Olympus at 12mm achieves a traditional 24mm angle of view. So the Canon will get me wider - right?

Unfortunately, no. I also decided to shoot with the Cokin 0.9 Soft Graduated ND filter on the lens, to even out the exposure and tone down the sky - which it did brilliantly. But it also meant that I couldn't zoom the lens all the way out to 10mm because I was getting some of the filter holder visible at the edges of the frame. Doh! Best I could do was to start the lens at around 15mm which, when you add the x1.6 crop factor of the 40D, becomes a... 24mm field of view. Exactly what I would have achieved with the Olympus at 12mm (which doesn't show the filter holder on the edges of the frame). Oh well, never mind...

Punakaiki Blowholes. Canon 40D with Canon 10-22mm f3.5/4.5. 1/400th @f8, ISO 800. 10mm focal length
I did, however, get a chance to shoot at the lenses full 10mm ultra-wide range a little later in the morning. To begin with I shot on a tripod, at the same location, for about an hour and a half to capture full tide. Once I knew I had the shot(s) I wanted, I then removed the camera from the tripod, took the filter off the lens, and moved around to a viewing platform so I could shoot down and into the blowholes. At 10mm this has exaggerated the perspective, creating a dramatic image. Since it was later in the morning, with a bit more light, hand-holding the wide angle wasn't an issue. Shooting at ISO 800 gave me a fast enough shutter speed, and the extra weight and bulk of the 40D provided a stable base to shoot from.

Chimney Pot, Punakaiki. Canon 40D with Canon 10-22mm. 1/800th @f5.6, ISO 800. 14mm focal length
I had a fantastic morning at Punakaiki and am thrilled that I have finally - after 20 years - managed to capture the blowholes in all their glory. I also enjoyed using the 40D and Canon 10-22mm, even though I couldn't use the ultra-wide end of its range most of the time. Then again, I'm not really an ultra-wide kinda guy. I've always thought that 24mm is plenty wide enough for most circumstances, with an ultra-wide lens presenting more problems than it solves. It can be dramatic (as in the shot of the blowholes mentioned above), but it also means a bit more work in Lightroom to eliminate the distortion and vignetting inherent in these types of ultra-wides.

Eventually I would like to get a wider lens for the OM-D E-M1 - probably the Zuiko 9-18mm f4/5.6ED, which equates to an 18-36mm focal length in traditional film terms. I know that many 'serious' landscape photographers opt for the Zuiko 7-14mm f2.8 PRO, but at twice the price, and with an extra 2mm at the wide end that I probably wouldn't use, I think I would be better served with the Zuiko 9-18mm. It also happens to share the same 52mm filter thread as my other lenses, which simplifies things in terms of filter holders etc. In the meantime, if I want ultra-wide, then I guess I'll be reaching for the Canon 10-22mm and 40D. 

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