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Newfoundland: A “Bucket List” Destination

I just returned from a couple of weeks on the island of Newfoundland. What an exciting photographic destination! It seems to have a little of everything, depending on your interests. Diverse wildlife, inspiring landscapes, urban flair, historical landmarks, enchanting people, and of course the icebergs you have been recently hearing about in the news. Definitely consider adding the island to your travel photography “bucket list”.

Icebergs

Let’s start with the question many of my friends have asked me. Why icebergs? Due to its location, Newfoundland has become home to icebergs moving along the ocean currents from the Arctic. Some icebergs are as old as 10,000 years. Some are mammoth in dimension. There were hundreds of icebergs when I visited, ranging in color from white to a beautiful aquamarine blue. The area off the coast is known as “Iceberg Alley”. I also encountered Arctic pack ice, thick ice that formed in the winter and then moved south pushed by the winds towards land and not out to sea. The amount of pack ice was unusual for June, and dangerous for fishing vessels, however it made for stunning photographic opportunities.

Wildlife

The wildlife in Newfoundland is as amazing as the icebergs. Just along the road we saw moose, as well as a red fox, an arctic fox and a bear. Some of the largest seabird colonies of North America are found on islands close to shore. At Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve we observed a colony of over 24,000 gannets and at Elliston, on the Bonavista peninsula, we photographed puffins returning from lunch. I saw two whales in June, but  by July many more, including humpbacks, should come to find food. From May to September, at the Humber River in Sir Richard Squires Memorial Provincial Park, the salmon jump the falls of the river, sometimes as much as 13 feet, as they swim upriver from sea to freshwater to spawn.  It is important to check with the park first before making the drive, as in early June this year there was too much water for the fish to jump.

Landscapes

My travel companions and I drove through, hiked, and photographed vast eye-catching landscapes, including: mountains, fjords, pristine cascades and waterfalls, fog-veiled lakes, eroded ocean cliffs and desert-like rocks that were a billion years old (some of the oldest rocks on the planet). The island of Newfoundland boasts two national parks: Gros Morne National Park on the west side of the island on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Terra Nova National Park on the east side.

Rainy, foggy, cold weather seemed to follow us along our journey, but as every photographer knows bad weather can very well mean good photographs with unusual light and atmospheric conditions. It is important when visiting destinations with diverse and quick-changing weather to bring layers and layers of clothes and to be waterproofed. In June, I wore everything in my suitcase, at once, when I rode zodiacs around the icebergs. It was really cold and really windy at times. A winter hat and gloves were a must. I wore two layers of gloves.  I also brought a rain jacket for my camera as well as an umbrella to shield rain drops from my camera lens when my camera was on a tripod.

Urban Flair

St. John’s, Newfoundland’s largest city, has excellent dining and shopping opportunities and is one of the most colorful cities I have ever visited,  There is even one section of town named “Jellybean Row,” for the brightly colored row houses lining the streets. St. John’s is also one of the oldest cities in North America. (John Cabot is said to have claimed Newfoundland for England in 1497.) It is also one of the most easterly cities in North America, which means you can catch the first sunrise of the day for North America at Cape Spear, just minutes from St. John’s.

On the other side of the island from St. John’s, to the west and far north, is L’Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, once home to a Viking community dating to 1000 AD, about 500 years before John Cabot’s visit.

And if lighthouses are your thing, Newfoundland won’t disappoint. There are lots of lighthouses. In fact, you can stay overnight at a historic lighthouse on a deserted island, hiking and photographing to your heart’s content. We did just that, on Quirpon Island, across the channel from L’Anse aux Meadows and with a perfect view of Iceberg Alley. We took a zodiac over to the island and stayed for three nights. Once a day we enjoyed a zodiac ride sightseeing around the icebergs,and looking for whale and seabirds.

Fishing Villages

For nearly 500 years Newfoundland played host to fishing fleets from around the world, with vast numbers of fish filling the waters. Although the Canadian government imposed restrictions on fishing as the number of fish began to dwindle, there are still plenty of fisherman out fishing. The coast is lined with fishing villages and fisherman’s huts, as well as a fair number of abandoned homes. There are lots of places and people to photograph. I loved photographing the old boats with peeled paint resting on empty beaches. No matter where I visited, the people were friendly, and willing to talk and to have their photos taken.

Gear

Newfoundland offers a vast array of subjects to photograph. I recommend bringing a full range of lenses when you visit the island. I primarily use prime lenses. I shot wide angle landscapes and icebergs with my 16 mm lens. I used my 23 mm on the street photographing people, and my 35 mm when I wanted more intimate shots. I used both a 50-140 mm and a 100-400mm for wildlife, and even close-up shots of icebergs, at times attaching a 1.4x teleconverter. I shoot with a Fuji X-T2 and Fuji X-Pro 2, so there is a 1.5 crop factor to consider with my lenses. A 16 mm lens is a 24 mm lens on a full frame camera. A full gear list is at the end of this post.

A sturdy tripod that will remain steady in a strong wind is a must. I hung my backpack on the hook at the bottom of my tripod to keep my tripod still. I use a Siriu T-2205X carbon fiber tripod when I travel. It fits easily in a small suitcase, is relatively light, and is moderately priced for a carbon fiber tripod, at about $279. I also used my neutral density filter often, to soften the water I was photographing, as well as a polarizing filter to cut down the glare. I bracketed my shots and blended my images when the sky was much brighter than the landscape below or if I wanted greater detail in the shadow areas of my images.  Check out a couple of my previous posts for more information on taking and processing landscape images and for tips on photographing waterfalls and cascades.

Getting There

Access to Newfoundland is pretty easy. There is an airport in St. John’s, on the east side of the island, and one in Deer Lake, for the west side. There is a good chance you will have to fly a smaller, regional jet, with carry-on baggage limitations. Be mindful of these limitations and pack accordingly. I have a carry-on bag that fits under most airplane seats. Although it is not the bag I normally use, I pack it tight with my camera equipment when I know I am on a small plane. I also have a Pelican Air bag I take on occasion that is usually small enough to fit in the overhead but can be checked, if need be.

There is a ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. The crossing is long and the water can choppy. I was advised not to take the ferry as service can be interrupted due to precarious weather conditions.

Newfoundland can be easily explored on your own, or you may choose to join a photography tour. However you make your way there, you probably won’t have enough time to do all you want to do, and you will most likely plan for your return. I know I am already making a list of what I want to do on my next visit.

Gear List

 

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