Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa: A perfect opportunity for an aspiring photographer to hone her craft

Well, it’s the May long weekend – the start of planting, the beginning of summer, the opening up of one’s cottage (chalet, cabin, or camp), the return of Sunday morning cycling along the parkways, the weekend before Ottawa Race Weekend, and the last hurrah for this year’s edition of the Canadian Tulip Festival here in Ottawa.

A couple of weeks ago, I began an introductory class in digital SLR photography through the School of the Photographic Arts in Ottawa (SPAO). I’ve always been an avid point-and-shoot photographer since I was a kid, but I finally decided it was high time I learned to shoot in proper, manual mode with an SLR. I also have to say, the plethora of stunning photography I’ve seen on WordPress to-date has certainly been a motivating factor to finally jumping on the SLR bandwagon. The main draw, however, was the allure of eventually being able to create some really interesting, artistic shots and possibly venturing into the realm of mixed media.

For now, I’m borrowing a photographer-friend’s back-up SLR camera. I figured it was probably best to see if I actually liked SLR photography first (as much as I suspected I might) before going out and buying an expensive camera. Plus, I figured I would probably benefit from some good buying tips from the teacher — and avoid getting sucked into all kinds of pricey accessories I didn’t need from those opportunistic sharks on commission at the big box stores. Turns out my teacher, who reminds me of a cross between Red Green and MacGyver, is all about cost-effective photography. Sweet! 🙂

Since I love color, shooting landscapes, and being outdoors, the Tulip Festival afforded me a great opportunity to practise taking pictures, while gaining familiarity through experimenting with the essential technical aspects of the camera — specifically, the shutter speed, the aperture, the ISO. I’m not really conversant in these features yet, as I mainly adjust instinctively or by feel right now. (I do really enjoy fiddling with post-production in Photoshop though! :-)) Hopefully, over the next two months of this class, however, I will get to ‘know the numbers’ when asked about the technical characteristics of a given photo I take.

To give you an idea of my baseline or more accurately, how mechanically-challenged I am (which makes mastering the technical aspects of SLR photography both challenging and a bit intimidating), I only learned a few days ago that I had to manually turn the lens in order to zoom in and out. What a whole new world that opened up for me! 🙂 Up to that point, I had only been shooting at 18mm and couldn’t figure out how I would ever bring a distant image into focus. (With point-and-shoot cameras, of course, that feature was simply a button you pressed.)

Anyway, the photos below represent some of the fruits of my self-directed photography tutorials, and were shot over several outings during the past two weeks. This year, the tulips were unfortunately not at their best. Some beds were bursting with blooms while others looked really wilted overall. By contrast, the beds were consistently beautiful last year (and the year before), though reached their peak well ahead of the Tulip Festival schedule. This year, the tulips weren’t especially early blooming, but they were missing that wow factor of last year. I should say that I am far from being a green thumb, but I do have to wonder if that week of pseudo-summer we had back in March, followed by the considerably cooler, often frosty April, was responsible for the outcome of lacklustre blooms in many of the beds. In any case, the show — or Festival — must go on. The pink tulips — I think they’re the ‘Pink Lady’ variety — along the canal were especially pretty and are my favourite, and so that is where I spent the bulk of my practising. I guess I must be expressing a little bit of my Dutch heritage by enjoying these beautiful flowers so.

[Above: There was a peleton of middle school kids seemingly out on a field trip, happily whizzing by as I shot this lovely bed of pink tulips near the canal.]

[Below: Taking time to reflect or ‘smell the tulips’ near the canal.]

[Below: This was one of the loveliest beds of pink tulips I came upon, somewhat removed from the ‘main stage’ downtown or at Dow’s Lake, being along the canal path. The ‘castle’ house in the background has always caught my eye, as well; from the path, I have noted what seems to be a sizable library visible through the windows in its turret.]

[Below: This was my first foray into shooting in manual mode with SLR last weekend at Commissioners Park. An idyllic location — especially in the early morning — where all those beautiful, gracious homes overlook the park and Dow’s Lake, and where the greatest concentration of tulip beds can be found.]

[Below: My pink tulips again after discovering what a 50-70 mm shot looks like this past weekend. :-)]

[Below: No tulips per se in this shot, but I love this house, particularly its windows and the stunning views of the Lake and sunset that they must provide the owners. I also liked the lilac bush, but the color is a bit dull in this photo.]

[Below: This Tudor-style home is another favourite. It wraps around the corner of Queen Elizabeth Drive facing the canal. In the winter, it is very tastefully decorated with carefully placed beautiful balsam wreaths with red ribbons.]

[Below: A practice shot: Giving the tulips their close-up.]

[Below: Another home I greatly admire for its interesting architecture and the multiple chimneys. It must be cozy during the winter! :-)]

[Below: Just around the bend from Commissioners Park in the Glebe on a quiet, leafy laneway lies this interesting little, ivy-covered, stucco English cottage with a wonderful red door.]

[Below: A little pond in the Glebe where fish and turtles can be found frolicking — much to the delight of the neighborhood children — along with this lovely bed of tulips.]

[Below: Interesting Spanish-style home overlooking Commissioners Park and Dow’s Lake. I love the red terra cotta roof tiles and the constrasting powder blue shutters.]

[Below: A spendid leafy, yellowish tree adorning a red-roofed house facing Commissioners Park and its pink tulips, and Dow’s Lake.]

[Below: Some sort of white, flowering tree, which I found beautiful in the sunset on the periphery of the pond in the Glebe.]

[Below: This was one of my favourite pictures when I was out shooting that warm summer-like twilight. A little girl perfectly matching the tulips in her pink outfit reacts to a fish who suddenly surfaced and flapped its tail before diving back below the surface. (I wasn’t fast enough reacting to capture the fish on film though!) At the same time, the little girl found a tiny turtle lounging on the shore. I didn’t want to scare him and hadn’t figured out the zoom at this point, so unfortunately, I didn’t capture him either. So, you’ll just have to take my word on both of these sightings! :-)]

[Below: A practice shot: For ‘homework’, we were asked to ‘freeze’ a moving object and also catch it as a blur on a slow shutter speed. This is what I caught on a break from my lifedrawing class in the Byward Market. Lovely red tulips, too, but the pink ones remain my favourite. :-)]

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