Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fantasy Worlds

I was looking at the bubble pictures and they looked like little worlds. Well worlds need a sun, and a moon, and stars... and sometimes the life forms on the world try to escape... a Haiku write, I will!

Strain, ungainly wings!
Space-time warped by bubble worlds
Unlikely escape 

Gales of November is back!

If you missed it last year, here's your chance! The Gales of November is a long weekend at a five-Star lodge at Wawa on the North shore of Lake Superior. A maximum of 12 photographers will enjoy the landscapes, seascapes, rocky shores and wild weather of the Gales of November on Lake Gitchigumi (the native name for Lake Superior) along with great accommodations, home-cooked foods and take their photography up a level due to interaction with the others and some gentle guidance and workshops from me.

The Rock Island Lodge. A 360° pano from the lake side. 

You don't need to be a pro, you don't have to have thousands of dollars of gear, but it's a good idea to be intimately familiar with whatever camera you bring. Let's talk!

Did you know the Munich Oktoberfest is held in September? That's because they can't wait! So we can't wait: the Gales of November workshop will be held October 26th through October 29th!

The 2016 crew! Picture courtesy of Jim Camelford. 

Lake Superior's unique weathered rocks
Visit the website at But also be sure to tell me if you're interested so I can get you on the list for updates and new information about the workshop. Don't worry: no spam will come your way.

Book now! Don't miss out again!


I was thinking about hardware and people's obsession about brands and ever-increasing technology. 

I was sitting here editing my Algonquin pictures from yesterday and at the risk of making a heretical statement, I was basically shooting on full Automatic.

Now before you jump on that, I'm not talking about the camera settings! "I" was on full auto, not the camera! My message is that you have to know your equipment well enough so that you hardly have to give it a thought. Here's what I mean. Consider the "Icing Sugar" image below. 

I knew that the detail and texture of the frosted trees were the subject of the image. To capture them, I needed high resolution. My D800 is a high res camera (but I REALLY want a medium format Hasselblad or Phase One!) but to get higher res, I wanted to stitch multiple images together. So I left the Tamron lens on. 

I know that with this lens, I need a high shutter speed for sharp images. Even though I was only shooting at 150mm, I left the camera at 1/800 second. I knew that if the lens was wide open, it wouldn't be as sharp as stopped down a little, that's why I went to f/7.1. I know that the camera performs very well at high ISO and I wasn't concerned about noise in this image. 

So I was able to make these images without giving it much conscious thought.

Every image, whether it's a landscape or a portrait or a tabletop macro, needs to be composed properly. I knew that I could crop (since I was going to end up with an ridiculously high res image) so I wasn't as concerned about the edges as I was about making sure that tree just left of centre – which was my main subject – needed to be all there and in the right place. I knew that the colour accents of the orange oak leaves were needed to grab the viewer.  I knew that the horizon had to be level but not in the middle. 

THAT's what I needed to concentrate on, not the mechanics. So in a way it didn't matter what camera I had in my hand, as long as I knew it intimately. That's my message: you can't let your right brain loose unless you put your left brain on fully automatic. 

Here's the image:
From a visit to Algonquin Park on a dreary day in January. Algonquin is beautiful in ANY kind of weather.

I spent a lot of time post-processing this image. The final image is somewhat close to what I previsualized. The basics:

■ this is nine images stitched together. The image size is close to 130 megapixels and the TIFF file is over 2Gb in size before compression. Stitching was done using Microsoft Research's "ICE".
■ The images were shot with a Nikon D800 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens (at 150mm). I deliberately did not mount my wide angle to shoot this because I was planning to stitch multiple images together to get the detail level. Exif: 1/800 sec at f/7.1, ISO 2500.
■ The pictures were taken early afternoon on a dreary day in Algonquin Park, somewhere near the west end of Highway 60.
■ I had to remove some ugly hydro wires and a pole. I did most of the heavy lifting with careful use of Photoshop's spot healing brush 
■ I experimented with a number of plugins and effects. In the end I discarded most of them but Topaz Clarity and a hi-pass filter in PS were needed to retain the detail. But it wasn't until I applied Topaz Impression 2 with the "crayon scratch" preset as a basis that the image gelled for me.

Of course what you see here on the blog is a mere shadow of the real thing. I actually reduced the image size to 20 Mp before producing this framed version.

More Images of Algonquin Park

Yesterday, Larry Murphy and I trekked up to the Park. We didn't stray off the 'corridor' so we only saw the usual denizens, but we had a great day and got some super pictures. So many that it was hard to pare them back, so here's a selection for your enjoyment:

As we came into the park, it looked as though the trees were coated with rime ice, but on closer inspection, it was more like snow. I think the snow on the branches melted and re-froze in place. 

You know me, I can't leave well enough alone! Brightened with LAB colour then a Topaz Impression treatment to make this magical shot. My favourite of the day, I think! 

Our friendly Pine Marten at Mew Lake. I had lots of shots, this one was one of my favourites because of the eye contact! 

On to the Visitor Centre. Park staff had dragged a moose carcass (car collision kill, I think) out behind the centre and it attracted all kinds of predators from wolves to fishers and martens, foxes, ravens... It was really far away. This is a full-frame 600mm shot, not cropped.  

At the bird feeder behind the Visitor Centre. The blue jays and chickadees were there in force, as well as these Evening Grosbeaks and American Goldfinch 

American Goldfinch in non-breeding winter plumage.  

Back West we went. We drove up our usual road but it was only plowed up to a certain point. And right there, at the end, was papa fox waiting for us!

Again, I like this picture of him because of the eye contact. This fox is too accustomed to people. We went for a walk up the road and Papa walked along beside us like a dog! 

The sugar coated trees were mainly in the western part of the park. We went as far East as Opeongo Road, where it was much less obvious. I thought it might be because it was melting during the day but this shot was also on the way home mid-afternoon.  

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Monday, January 09, 2017

It's winter, for sure!

Today's blog is just about some creative pictures. No words of wisdom to bore you with! I hadn't picked up my camera since October...

Blog Banner replaced today. Previous one copied here for archiving 

Golden Hour. I went for a walk around sunset on New Year's Day and took this HDR of a neighbour's bunkie into the setting sun. I did a fair bit of post-processing, including Topaz Simplify and a couple of passes through Topaz Impression to make it look like what I saw in my mind.

Snowflake Magic. Playing around with Topaz Star Effects.  This doesn't compare with some of the shots I've seen but I kind of like the effect. I was being lazy, shooting handheld with the 105 macro, no extension tubes but I put on the ringlight. Most of the snowflakes were unstructured little blobs but there were a few crystals. 1/100 @ f/11, ISO 6400.

Black Capped Chickadee in the snow. There are so many of them hanging around my feeders but they're so cute I couldn't resist. I used Topaz Clarity and deNoise and I'm quite pleased with how sharp this came out. I shot it with the Tamron 150-600mm at 600mm, 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 1800. Usually I can't do well under 1/1000 second so I surprised myself today. 

"And so it begins". Large amounts of snow do NOT make for good hard water. So whoever wanted to get the jump on the ice fishing season
took his life into his hands going out there. Not a great or safe idea. 

The Rock Cut at Miner's Bay in a snow squall 

"Winter in the Highlands". This house was right where I was standing just past the Rock Cut.  

On the way to the dentist on Friday (don't ask...) I left early to seek out Snowy Owls. ALL of the snowy owls I saw that day are in this picture.
Oh, you can't see them either? 

Again, lots of invisible Snowy Owls. But I was taken by these greenhouses and thought I'd turn them into a drawing of sorts. 

This started life as a frozen soap bubble. But with the help of Photoshop and some Topaz plugins, it became "Bubble World"!  

Here's another one.  A little different treatment.

Here's the Straight-out-of-Camera picture for the second image. If you want to try this at home, wait for it to get cold (these were shot around -10°C, or about +15°F) and get or mix up some bubble liquid. I tried about 1/3 dish detergent and 2/3 water and then changed to liquid hand soap. I think to get the internal crystals, you need to add some sort of sugar syrup: I used maple syrup, all I had on hand. Then with your camera ready, blow some bubbles. Most of them won't last long enough, so keep trying! I used a 105mm macro lens shooting at arm's length handheld, 1/160 sec at f/11, ISO 6400. 

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Saying goodbye to 2016

2016 was like a painting washed with vivid shades of dark grey.

I sit here at the keyboard less than a month since my mother died. This certainly painted a gloomy shadow over the calendar year. I know there were some bright spots but it's hard to see them right now.

I want to share this poem which my sister found among my mom's things. I don't know where she got it or why she kept it but I found it so very appropriate.

There's a .pdf copy of it on my website at if you want to share it as well.

I took my camera out of my safe yesterday. It's been stored in there for a couple of months now. I haven't yet opened the bags but today I'll put the batteries in the charger and maybe shoot a picture or two in the next couple of days. So to my readers who look forward to seeing photos on this blog, I'm sorry to disappoint today but I will resume next time.

musings... an attempt to be thought-provoking

Music is what emotions sound like
Art is what emotions look like

I came across the first line somewhere. If you Google it, there's no definitive attribution — several people have said it, you choose. But I added the second line myself.

What moves you?
I'm struck by the thought that I've often said if I were to have a second chance to start again, I'd come back as a musician. I can't imagine that anyone has not experienced that rush of emotion, that joy, that hasn't 'Kvelled' when hearing some music that struck directly at their heart. Tell me you never have...
I sat down at the keyboard today for the first time in what seems like a year. I don't play very well but I improvised a blues version of Ray Charles' "Georgia" and became lost in the song for close to an hour. 
And yet that's never happened to me when seeing a photograph or a painting or a piece of art. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I haven't been exposed to enough masterpieces or maestros of the visual arts. Maybe I'm still mired in the technical side. Can I ever get there? I don't know.

My goal for 2017 and onward will be to convey feelings in my photographs, hopefully in my paintings as well. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop shooting pretty landscapes, challenging people and birds and animals or interesting scenes and activities. But I want to express myself sometimes in my art. Let me try to put that in other words.

Level 1: creating memories. A photo is a "snapshot" if the intent is bringing back a memory in the mind of the maker or participants. If you take a picture of the Eiffel Tower, when  you look at it some years later, you remember being there, that trip, whom you were with, sitting at that cafĂ© having a coffee and a croissant... another great example is a picture of your kids. You are creating memories.

I remember that trip to Newfoundland. It was a rainy day... 

Level 2: telling a story. An image that attempts to make a third party – someone who doesn't know the maker or the subject of the photo – wish they had been there to experience the moment.

"Putting the world on ignore". This illustrates a "Level 2" image for me. Imagine the sound, the bustle of this Kensington Market street.

Level 3: the mind's eye is when the maker can look at the image and say, "that's what I saw in my mind". It's an attempt to render not what the lens saw or what the eye saw, but rather what the artist visualized.

This is a really early attempt at painting, 'way back when I first started, but it's the only example I can readily find that illustrates what I'm talking about. This is what my mind saw. 

And so is this. It's a photo composite showing what my mind saw, not my eyes. 

The final step, Level 4: from the heart, is when the photographer or artist renders his feelings. The heart doesn't see angles and leading lines and colour palettes, the heart sees feelings.

"Anguish". Maybe.  

Most of the images I care about are level 3. Most of my pictures are level 2. I don't know if I've succeeded in producing a level 4 photo deliberately, I'll have to think more about that. I believe my painting efforts are attempts at conveying emotion but I'm hampered by my lack of technique and skill. But as I read and write this, I realize that's where I want to go.

Here's something important: it could be that others will not appreciate these images. It doesn't matter, I'm doing it for me. You do it for yourself.

PS: Topaz Labs is having a fantastic 35%-off storewide year-end sale for both new and existing customers!

Anyone who wants to take advantage of this last deal of the year can use the code “thanks35” at checkout for 35% off ANYTHING in their cart. This applies to every item storewide, including Complete Collection purchases and Collection upgrades! Sign into your account before you upgrade to get the best discount possible on the Collection for owning prior products. If you didn’t see an item in the 12 Days sale, or missed a specific product, this is your last chance to get great savings on any or all of Topaz Labs 17 products.

The code will be active through January 10th, 2017. 

Here's the link

What living in the country is all about:

  • you have neighbours who will do anything for you at the drop of a hat and not ask or expect anything in return. A shout out to Jack March who not only looked in on my house while I was away but even plowed the driveway and when my ATV/Plow combination messed up yesterday, he came over and fixed it. Not "helped fix it", he did it all because (a) I am the world's worst mechanic and (b) I can't get down under it because of my knees: not and expect to get back up anyway.
  • You have the furnace repair tech's cellphone on speed dial. I've had 4 episodes of "no heat", culminating in the last one when I came back after a 10 day absence. They finally found the culprit, some valve or terminal box or something. I hope...
  • Not only do you know what a "6mm Clevis pin with wire lock" is but you own one. Actually, I own two (2/pack). Don't know what it is? Neither did I until this morning...
  • You know that the meter high pile of snow at the head of your driveway left by the snow plow is called the "cone" and you know how to minimize it (go out and plow a two or three meter swath on your side of the road about 10 meters before your driveway. When the plow comes along, there's less snow on his blade to leave behind).

Yes I did take my camera out for a walk for a few minutes this afternoon. 

And so I leave you with this image as a farewell to 2016  

And here's my wish for everyone, that 2017 will exceed your expectations and when it's over, you'll look back at the year with joy.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Rest in Peace, mom

Phyllis (Faigie) Springer,
September 27, 1921 – November 30, 2016

Rest in Peace

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ready for winter?

I'm ready!

There's a whole checklist of things that had to happen to get ready, and I'm done. Today, my neighbour Jack came over to help (wrong word: he did the work!) by sweeping the chimney and removing some trees that had grown too close to the house. The other day I got my ATV back from the mechanic, it now sports a dedicated 4WD switch (electrical problems. It was intermittent) and the battery from my boat is now mounted on the back of the ATV to help power the winch that controls the snowplow. The car's been serviced, the furnace people were here three times to iron out issues with the heat, I've split and stacked all the firewood, snow shovels are by the doors. 
The boat's parked in the garage, the gazebo and lawn furniture are in storage. I'm done.

Let it snow! 

A few more Lake Superior pictures

I still have lots more to process, mostly "people pictures" from the weekend. Here are a few more landscape shots from my trip

I didn't record exactly where this was. It was somewhere south of the Montreal River Harbour, maybe Alona Bay? 

Another shot in the same location 

Commercial fishing boat at Mamainse Harbour. 

Algonquin Park

I managed to get a few days at home early in November. I woke up one day and decided I'd drive up to Algonquin Park to see what there is to see before winter sets in. It was certainly a lucky day! I got there early and saw this cow and calf moose. I took a bunch of pictures, then decided to move along, to see what else I could find. I really wanted to find a bull moose!

 A couple of fellow photographers were there (Jerry and Dave from Barrie) and one of them said, "a bird in the hand, you know..." so I stayed a bit longer!

Yearling male. You can see the nubs of his antlers coming in.

My favourites are the last two; they're "environmental portraits" which tell of the animal in its surroundings. Closeups are fine, but I prefer to tell a story
Eventually they moved on, and so did I. Next stop: check out if the Pine Martens were back. I wonder where they go in the summer...

They were – or at least one was – but the backlighting was horrendous and it was really dark where he was. Still, I got a shot or two! 

Continuing east, I drove up Opeongo Road to see if I could find that elusive Bull Moose... no such luck, but I did come across a couple of spruce grouse!

Check out the gorgeous colours of this male bird! 

The spruce and ruffed grouse share a defense mechanism: they freeze and they're very hard to spot in the bush — are you kidding me? Maybe for the Ruffed grouse and the female Spruces... I think they were handed a short supply of brains. It's a wonder any of them are still around! Dig the bright colours and contrasty feathers!

I decided to hold off on the foxes until after I turned for home (no, I'm not going to share where they hang out... don't ask!).

This is "Papa" fox. He's been around for a while and he's really good at posing for a shot! 

So all in all, not a bad day... kidding! It was an awesome day.

The next day, at 11:30 at night, after I had posted a few pictures, my phone rang. It was Dr. Ron. "I'll be there at 7 am, we're going up to Algonquin. {sigh}. SURE!  Up we went!

While we were waiting for the foxes to show up, this blue jay entertained us. 

I think the Blue Jay should have been named Canada's National Bird instead of the Grey Jay or WhiskeyJack. This name is a variation on Wisakedjak, a benevolent trickster and cultural hero in Cree, Algonquin and Menominee mythologies

Right on schedule, our furry friends showed up. This is either Mama or one of last year's kits. 

Off to look for Pine Martens. Again, we found birds to shoot:

A fearless red-breasted Nuthatch comes down for a treat! 

Hard to see, as I said earlier. Here's a Ruffed Grouse hanging out in a pine tree. Dr. Ron spotted this guy.

And our friendly neighbourhood Pine Marten came for a visit. There was a bit more light than the previous visit, so I managed a decent picture. 

Parting Shot

That was a long couple of days! Rewarding, wouldn't you say?

Then there was all that hype about a "Super Moon". Folks, the super moon looks exactly like any other full moon, except it was (wait for it) 7% bigger. Whoopie. But I was duty bound to go out and shoot it. When I got back to the computer, as I said, it looked just like every other moon shot. So I decided to play with it and came up with this:

Super Moon Rising over Horseshoe Lake. This is a composite image, the foreground is from a shot at the Shuyler's Island Causeway, looking for Northern Lights last summer. 

A lot of people on Facebook liked this image and asked for it as "wallpaper" for their computers. So I made a 1920x1080 pixel version and uploaded it to If you want it for your computer background image (wallpaper), just go to the link, right click and save it, then follow the procedure in your operating system. Enjoy!

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