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Sunday, April 14, 2024
Shooting the blues: NOTL photographer chases ideal light
NOTL hobby photographer Dave Van de Laar sets up for a photo at the Prince of Wales Hotel. Brittany Carter

There are a few moments twice a day when the world is bathed in a subtle blue hue and that’s when Niagara-on-the-Lake photographer Dave Van de Laar does some of his best work.

The blue hour is photography jargon referring to the 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, when the sun sits just below the horizon. It is during this time Van de Laar says he has taken some of his most popular landscape shots around Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“I do like the golden hour also but I just love the colour of the blue hour. I like the colour of the sky,” he says.

Van de Laar began his photography journey back in the 1980s with a Ricoh XR-P 35mm film camera. But as film was expensive and he was young, he says he didn’t have the resources to fully immerse himself in the hobby.

It wasn’t until he met another photographer while he was out taking pictures with his “cheap little digital camera” that he started to get serious with his own photography.

“A guy I met at Queenston. He said, ‘You should join the St. Catharines Photographic Club.’ ”

So he did. But he also got better equipment. “I’m a very competitive person, so then I got a better camera, better lenses.”

Over the span of the last 10 to 11 years, his interest, skills and equipment continued to grow. He owes much of that to the camaraderie that goes with joining the group of like-minded photographers at the St. Catharines club. It holds photo competitions throughout the year, which spurred Van de Laar’s competitive side, he says.

Club members are also willing and eager to offer guidance and advice. He says that mentorship went a long way in helping him develop his own craft. For anyone just starting out with photography, he says joining a club is the best way to learn.

“It is pretty tough just to go out there and learn on your own. You’ve got to have some guidance,” he says. “The best way to learn is from somebody better than you.”

Now, as an avid photography hobbyist in his 50s, many of his photos have been posted on NOTL community social media pages and in the pages of The Lake Report.

One of his photos of a nearly frozen Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls was picked up by Nikon and featured on the company’s website.

It is an incredible image in which the blue hour played a spectacular role.

“The blue tones are especially nice at the falls,” he says.

The blue, quieter time to set out on his photo adventures is ideal, because “there aren’t many people out at that time in the morning.”

Utilizing those peaceful moments can be especially important for Van de Laar, who works full-time at the City of Niagara Falls and can only pursue the hobby outside of work hours and on the weekends.

In a busy part of town like the corners of King and Picton streets in downtown NOTL, early mornings are the only time he can get a good shot without the hustle and bustle of town traffic obscuring his view. This is where the Prince of Wales Hotel sits – one of Van de Laar’s top three favourite structures in Old Town.

“I (photographed) the Prince of Wales in the winter last year. That is probably my favourite,” he says.

He is also partial to the Greaves Jams & Marmalades building on Queen Street and the gazebo at Queen’s Royal Beach. For landscapes, he says nothing beats NOTL and the Niagara area.

“I’ve been here all my life and I was thinking that not many people are taking pictures of Niagara-on-the-Lake, so maybe I’ll get into this little niche market here,” he says. Winter for the entire region makes for great photography fodder, too.

“The winter is beautiful. I think the winter is probably the nicest for Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara. When you get the snow on the roads and all that,” he says.

However, the gazebo photographs work well no matter the season.

While landscapes are where Van de Laar got his start, he also has an extensive collection of bird photography.

“I just love the way the way they act. Once you take pictures long enough you get to know what they’re going to do before they do it … How they’re going to act before they fly, kind of interpret their movements,” he says.

Van de Laar is currently using a Nikon D810 camera, with Nikkor 18-35mm and 70-200 mm lenses for landscapes, and Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses for birding.

He says he loves being able to add a little more creativity to his shots by editing many of his images post-production. He refers to those processed photographs as more “fine art.”

“For the buildings, I do a lot of Photoshop work. A lot of mine are more fine art photography.”

Moving forward, he would love to transition into more dog photography.

Many of his photographs are featured on his personal website, www.davehvandelaar.com.

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