Sunday, June 17, 2018

Be careful what you ask for...

Ontario voters affirmed that they wanted a change. 
And they got it.

Some of us said, "be careful what you ask for". I fully expect that over the course of the next few years, the words, "I told you so" will echo around the Province. If you are not straight, white, male, healthy and entitled, you will be feeling the pain.

Sadly, there was no viable choice offered this time. Hopefully, in a few years, there will be. Hopefully we still will have a place where people of all stripes will still be welcome, where we'll have clean air to breathe and water to drink instead of scorched earth and a vast gulf between rich and poor like we see in third world countries.

I have more in common with the basic PC concept than with the other parties, but could no more vote for Ford than I could for Adolf Hitler. Or Donald Trump. These three are (were) populist demagogues who imposed their own narrow, simplified visions on their parties with winning power and personal gain their only motives.

Watching Doug Ford is like watching a kindergarten kid grapple with theoretical physics. They know that if they drop an egg on the floor it's going to smash and make a mess but they have no clue why or how to prevent it or, to carry the analogy one step further, to clean it up.

Hopefully the people elected around him will manage to rein him in, but it didn't work for Hitler and it hasn't yet worked for Trump. I weep for what he's going to do to this province.

 I probably won't be around to see it. But my children and grandchildren will and I fear for them.





I'm seeing a notice from Google about privacy and the European Union, etc on my blog dashboard. I read it, but call me unsophisticated or stupid but I don't get it. Or it just doesn't apply. As far as I know, I haven't enabled any cookies, I don't have any clue who visits my blog, I don't have any advertising whatsoever on my blog.
 That said, I do have links to both BH Photo and Topaz Labs in the right column. The former is arguably the most respectable photo equipment retailer in the world, and the latter makes superb photo post-processing software that I use and enjoy. I have no idea whether either of them tracks visitors to their sites that come through those links. Full disclosure: I do participate in their affiliate programs and sporadically earn some consideration when a visitor through those links buys something from them.





Speaking of Topaz Labs...
Introducing "AI CLEAR"

Topaz has just announced a brand new adjustment for Studio called "AI Clear". This is a totally new innovative product, a whole new paradigm. It uses Artificial Intelligence to create the processing algorithm on your local computer rather than force you to the Cloud for this function.

"What function?", you ask. "AI Clear uses the insight of a custom neural network trained on millions of images to detect and reduce noise as well as enhance details in your images automatically".

This is going to be available on Tuesday, June 19th. You will be able to download a 30 day free trial and if you like it, it will cost $59.95 after that.

I admit I haven't tried it yet. No time, I'm packing for my trip: but hey, it's FREE to try, so give it a shot. Let me know how you like it!

Here's the link: https://topazlabs.com/ai-clear/ref/32/




Newfoundland: 5 more sleeps!

I'm writing this on Sunday afternoon and departure is scheduled for Friday. I'm getting excited about the trip but not frantic yet about getting prepared! That will probably happen on Thursday night!

Amin and I are driving out, our first tourist destination is Peggy's Cove, NS. We've both been there before but it breaks up the long drive, the photo ops should be awesome, and besides I had the best lobster ever there last summer!

We'll be travelling in my 2011 Subaru Forester, all ready to go with the new (to me) cargo carrier on the roof. I have to be careful not to use underground parking!




Amin is driving out with me, spending a couple of weeks, then flying home and coming back again for a couple of weeks and the drive home at the end of August.

Here's a map summarizing the NL part of my itinerary:




Some notes:

Here's the big one: From July 12 through August 25th I will be in accommodations too big for just me and if anyone wants to come visit, let me know! Especially August, where I have a 4-bedroom home all to myself.
  • On arrival, we're driving pretty well straight up to Coffee Cove where we'll spend 2 nights. Likely we'll drive back to Gros Morne for a day. 
  • One little glitch (don't ask...) I was SURE the place we rented for June 27-July 1 was on Change Islands. Turns out it is not. It's in Twillingate. Where we're also booked until July 23rd. Oh well, day trips to Fogo and Change..., up and down the coast.
  • July 23 I'm going back to Coffee Cove or to Trinity, depending how much we liked the place on the way out. TBD...
  • Bonavista is the destination for the end of July. Puffins, whales... I plan to spend a lot of time seeking out these critters.
  • The spectacular house in Torbay (just North of St. John's) will serve as a base for day trips as far away as Cape St. Mary's, down the Avalon peninsula and up past Bay Roberts, etc. 
  • On the way home, a couple of nights in Stephenville, exploring The Port au Port/Cape St. George loop. We'll hit Codroy on the way back to the ferry.
  • Back on the mainland, the plan is to head up to PercĂ© in the GaspĂ©. There's a huge gannet colony there, hopefully the birds will still be there at the end of the summer.

My basic plan is to get up early, shoot sunrise/morning golden hour, come back and chill during the day, then go out for the sunset/golden hour/blue hour shoots in the evenings. I hope for nights when I can do some stars and maybe aurora. Rinse and Repeat. And there will be days when I'll put my feet up, pull out my sketchbook or my oil paints and do my thing. Maybe spend some time on my "Great Canadian Novel".

I plan to post here as often as I can. I'll put some stuff up on Facebook, but this blog will be the main medium for photos and the trip log, so stay tuned. If you are not subscribed to this blog, please click the "Newsletter" link at top right: no spam will come your way but you'll get a quick email telling you about a new post here. And a photo that will not appear anywhere else, each time. One click to unsubscribe if you must.


PS: I'm bringing two camera bodies, half a dozen lenses, two tripods, my macro gear, warm, cold and wet weather clothes, my Macbook Pro, two external drives, Wacom tablet, external keyboard and lots of connecting stuff. Even a wifi extender, three sherpas and a kangaroo. I stopped short of throwing my 27" monitor in as well!




Photos

What's a blog from me without pictures?

First up are some guest photos by Leah Torres Springer. If you don't know, she's my 8 years old granddaughter, and with some minimal coaching (and a few "please don't drop my camera!" pleas), she took these shots. She was barely able to lift the D800 with the 105mm macro on board, let alone reach the buttons for back button focusing!

This is Leah 

















Leah's sister Amalia.  



Her aunt Lori (my daughter!) 



Her father Jamie (my son!). I have the same dimples, nose and forehead. But I also have 30 years, 3 surguries and 60 or more pounds on him! 



So this is what you're going to look like in 2048 if you're not careful, Jamie! 






and this is my photo of Amalia. Love that sparkling smile! 




More Pictures!

I have a dilemma. I have so many pictures that I like since the last blog, almost all of them from Carden Plain. I tried eliminating some, I took out most of the more mundane birds and so on, but I'm left with WAY too many. So at the risk of boring you to death, and the promise that I'm done with Carden (Newfoundland next!), here they are. I hope you enjoy them.

They're more or less in chronological order.



American Robin in the rain. Not a happy camper!



Bobolink on a stick. 



A patch of Prairie Smoke, the same rainy morning. 



Blue-winged warbler, warbling



Another shot of the blue-winged warbler. I just liked the pose. 



Chestnut-sided warbler dining on tent caterpillars 



Virginia Rail. This was actually on Prospect Road, about 10 km from Carden Plain. 



Common Yellowthroat. He was being shy but came out for a second! 



Swamp Sparrow. I chose to show him in his milieu. 



Eastern Bluebird male with lunch. Also wet from the rain.



Female Red-winged Blackbird. Love the colours. 



Prairie Smoke bud about to sprout. 



Indian Paintbrush 



An impression of what the alvar looks like with the prairie smoke and the indian paintbrush in full bloom. 



Lilies just outside the viewing blind at Carden. 



I dunno. Some kind of flower-to-be 



Wild Rose impression.  




Parting Shot



I saved the best for last. This is a pair of Wilson's Snipe exhibiting courtship behaviour. One of the best Nature stories I've been able to capture. I cropped the male only (the bird on the right) and printed a big canvas, proudly displayed on my living room wall. 

OK. Next time in the Maritimes! On the road on Friday,


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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Best time to be a wildlife photographer!


New header picture

I know it's just a robin but Carden Plain is such a great place and this gives me the feeling of being there.

Getting Excited!

Newfoundland's only a month away! I can't believe it. It's time to start prepping for the trip: figuring out what to pack, getting the car detailed and a final service, nailing down those last few reservations, making a list of the pictures i want to make!

I still have room in the houses I've rented if anyone wants to come visit. Look at previous blog posts for details: Twillingate, Coffee Cove, Bonavista, Torbay... the trip of a lifetime! Contact me!








Camera's in the shop...


Seems I must have been a little heavy handed. Somehow the little doohickey inside the bayonet mount of the D800 that holds the shutter open got bent. Maybe by the teleconverter, maybe by the extension tubes. I'll have to be a little more careful.

I suspect the TC. Amin came over and brought his computer with Fo-Cal software. We were trying to microadjust the focus of the TC/400mm combo and this happened right afterwards (it's your fault, Amin!... just kidding). It's weird, though. The TC with the 70-200 lens works fine. The 400mm without the TC works fine. The TC/400mm works fine on the D5500. But the TC is back focusing beyond the ability of the D800 to compensate for it.

Sun Camera Service has my body and the TC. They said they hope it's not the mirror box... I should have it back soon. Good thing I had the foresight to buy a backup camera last year. The D5500 is "OK" but it's not a D800. When I get it back, I'll send the TC to Nikon to see if they can fix it. I'd love to be able to use it with the 200-400mm lens, giving me 680mm...


Update: got it back. All working, reasonable price ($160 + tax & shipping). They cleaned the camera (including the sensor), adjusted the AF and replaced the bent part. They reset all my menu items, hope I got everything back the way it should be! Sun Camera Service is an outstanding place, they do factory service for both Nikon and Canon, expert with bodies, pretty good with lenses too. Fast, good and reasonable. Give them a try. Tell Nick I sent you!

Update on house for sale

Not sold yet.  Need to find the right person. One potential buyer liked it but isn't ready to retire yet. The suggestion was to buy it as a cottage and watch your investment grow. Another person thought about buying it as a full time home but they already have a cottage further up North. Suggestion was to buy it and rent it out for the summers. This is a good place to buy for investment, prices haven't gone up like Toronto or Muskoka and you don't have to contend with Highway 400. Pass the word!

I love this time of year.

If you're a wildlife photographer, this is prime time. Landscape photographers, not so much but we're getting there!

In the past week or two, I've been to Algonquin Park twice, Carden Alvar 3 times, and just driving around the beautiful Haliburton Highlands.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some pictures.





I shot this at the Prairie Smoke Alvar Nature Reserve. It's part of the Carden Alvar, just to the west. The Bobolinks were buzzing all around us in the grassy meadow as we walked through it. I thought this texture effect in Topaz Studio best represented the feeling of the day.



While I was there, I dropped the lens hood from my 200-400 f/4. "No problem," I thought. "I'll go on eBay and buy a new one, probably $20"... folks if you buy a Porsche, expect to pay big bucks for replacement parts. Same thing with a big pro Nikon lens. Almost $400! I went back on Friday and marched through the field, trying to execute a grid search. I was almost ready to give up when, "Eureka"! 

Algonquin Park...










You don't really get how big moose are until you have something to compare them with! OK, "Something with which to compare them".  



I did shoot the occasional landscape. This is Found Lake at the Art Centre, and that's Dr. Ron in the picture. 

Focus Stacking/Macro

It's amazing what you can see when you stack a number of closeup photos. Helicon Focus software gives you a whole new perspective!




Peppercorns 




It's Trillium time! 




This is a "Giant Water Bug". A species I didn't even know existed! 

Carden Plain

I'm not a great birder. Other people see as many species in a day as I have in my life list. People make a lot better pictures than I do. But it really is quite a challenge shooting the birds and very satisfying when you manage to entice one to come out and pose for a picture.

Sometimes it's not just about the picture. Just being there, seeing them and hopefully identifying them is enough (well, I'd also like the picture...). I bought a pair of binoculars on Amazon. Really very impressive, you can see things much brighter and clearer than looking through the camera!


NIKON 16004 PROSTAFF 7S 10 X 42-Inch All-Terrain Binocular, Green. They cost me $239 Canadian. People told me to spend more but I didn't want to. Anyway, you can return stuff to Amazon, so I thought I'd give these a try. Amazing quality. Perfect. Here's the link if you want some yourself.

On Friday, when I was back at Carden because I was looking for my errant lens hood, I met a group of real birders — you could tell because they had Swarovski spotting scopes that cost more than my camera — and they told me about a rare hybrid bird called a "Lawrence's Warbler", a cross between a blue-winged and a golden-winged warbler. I spent some time looking for it. I played the call of the blue-winged warbler on my iPhone (in the iBird app) and out he came to investigate! I got a good look through the binoculars, dropped them and picked up the camera but he was gone in a flash. I got a couple of shots of a fuzzy yellow blob. But I saw it! Large as life.

Here are a few shots I did take over the past few days.





Baltimore Oriole
 


Chestnut-sided Warbler. Another new one for me
 


Eastern Towhee


Upland Sandpiper 



Savannah Sparrow. It was a windy day!
 


Here's another shot of the Savannah Sparrow. Sometimes pictures like this tell a better story. 

Parting Shot


Here's a macro shot of my one and only daffodil, stacking something like 30 images together with Helicon. I plan to do more of these as the spring flowers come up here in the Highlands.


 


'til next time!


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Friday, April 27, 2018

But soft! What light from yonder window breaks?

North-Facing Window Light
A random thought about lighting

In response to a question on Facebook, I used Yousuf Karsh as an example of who I'd like to emulate when I grow up. So I leafed through some of his famous portraits and came across one of my favourites, his shot of Albert Einstein (someone else I'd like to be like, and of course never will!).


Because it's someone else's picture, I won't reproduce it here. But please click this link to see the photo I'm talking about.

Photographers spend a lot of money on studio lighting. I get it, if you want to have predictable results all the time but, and I've said this before, all they're doing is trying to emulate natural lighting. For me, the best light is "north facing window light". The window doesn't actually have to face North, it just means that there's no direct sunlight and the window serves as a source of soft light, like the huge reflectors and softboxes most studios prefer.

I remembered this picture I made a few years ago of my ex-girlfriend Rosa's friend Valeria, sitting at her kitchen table. It  was placed in a kind of bay window alcove so light came from the huge windows to her left. It was a freezing cold winter day (I remember it was one of the few days that actually reached 40°C below) in Bancroft, there had been a fresh fall of snow so the world was bright white and all the light came through the window.



I don't think I consciously emulated Karsh's lighting but you have to admit there is a great deal of similarity between this image and his (if you didn't click the link above, please do now).

The only thing I did in terms of light setup was to spread a newspaper on the table in front of her to reflect some of that beautiful light upwards to fill in under her chin.

As I look back in my archives I realize that I love using natural window lighting for portraits. The best example is this one:




This was a digital painting that won me the top portrait prize in the GTCCC some years ago. George was a groundskeeper at a place called "Deep Gorge" in upstate New York and I had asked him to stand by a window. FWIW, I tried to contact him later to get a model release, only to discover that he had died. His co-workers had dedicated a cabin to his memory and I provided a print for the cabin.




My son-in-law preparing my grandson for his graduation dance from 8th grade some years ago. He's now a Seneca College student, preparing for entry to a Canadian Forces program that will hopefully lead to him flying fighter jets. He's also a little taller now, towering over me! 




My neighbour, Vic, in the living room of his house on 12-Mile Lake, illuminated by, you guessed it, North-Facing Window Light. In hindsight, this one emulates the Karsh lighting best, don't you think?



Topaz Labs Spring sale!


Topaz Labs has announced a huge spring sale: 40% off everything in their stores from now until May 7th! That's 40% off their already discounted prices, best prices ever!
Note: if you already own some of the Topaz products, their smart website will calculate a top-up price once you log in. This is an opportunity to get these amazing tools at a huge savings.

If you're not familiar with Topaz, they started with some great plug-in tools for most photoediting apps (my favourite is "Impression" which turns your images into painterly art. Second favourite is DeNoise which quietly does exactly what you think it does!). 

Then they introduced "Studio" which is a FREE standalone photoediting platform on its own (although it can be run out of other apps too: my usual workflow is to call it out of Lightroom). It comes with a number of totally free adjustment tools but they have some premium ones where you can play with them for free but to get full access, you need to buy them. They have a bundle called the "Pro Pack" which gives you everything all in one shot.

You can also get a 30-day free trial of anything through the links below.

Here's the link to Topaz Lab's new FREE "Studio" platform.You can also use this link to access any of the "Pro"-adjustments, plug-ins and special discounts currently in effect. 



For the original plug-ins, here's the link:



No need to enter a coupon code, Topaz will apply the 40% discount automatically.



Steel Wool fun

The other night, the camera club went out to shoot steel wool again. We've done it a few times before, and I ran a session up in Wawa as well— something to do at night if the weatherman wasn't going to cooperate and give us stars to shoot.

What you do is take a bit of steel wool (half a clump?), stick it in a household whisk (the thing you use to beat eggs into submission), tether it with some kind of rope like a dog leash, set it on fire (easy to do with a lighter or even the spark from a 9v battery) and swing it around to paint with light, being really careful not to hit yourself with it or to set the forest on fire. Leave your shutter open for a while. You'll get pictures like this:




This was a 12 second exposure at f/11, ISO 100. 

If you work at it, you can get pictures like this one:




This was about 4 seconds. I zoomed the lens while the shutter was open and I added texture using Topaz Studio. 

or this one:




I edited this in Lightroom. I increased the exposure dramatically and used the "Guided Transform" tool to straighten up the perspective. This image was very well received on Facebook. I did get some comments about the post which  I left in because it adds depth, perspective and tension to the image. Some liked it others didn't. You? 

Now for those of you who don't understand why you need to shoot in RAW...

... here's the "before" shot, straight out of the camera.




If you expose for the burning steel wool, the rest of the image is going to be dark.  

In this case, I increased the exposure by 2½ stops for the overall image. But I wanted the stone fountain to be even more visible so I painted it with the adjustment brush in LR and added another 4 full stops. That's a total of 6½ stops! Try that with a Jpeg.




House still for sale!

Hurry before someone grabs it up! I'm still waiting for those multiple offers they promised me! LOL



Dining Room 

Kitchen

Almost time to put on a bathing suit, your boat in the water, or relax in the gazebo with good company and a good book!

Here's the link to the MLS listing




Carden Plain: too early

With the weird spring (I'm still looking out on remnants of snow from last week!) it was too early to visit Carden Plain and see a wide variety of birds. But it was a nice day yesterday and I made the trek. Nothing exotic but always interesting... I had also intended to head down to the Lindsay area where, I heard, there were meadowlarks in the fields off highway 35. Never made it. I got to Carden a little before noon, and didn't leave there until well after 5, headed to Fenelon Falls for some groceries (I figured there'd be a bigger variety there in the Sobey's — yes but their prices are even higher than here!), then made it home a little before 8. A nice day.

Here are some pix:




I started in Minden and found one of the ubiquitous RWBB's coming in for a one-point landing. Can't resist shooting these guys (until later when there are thousands around!).



Ruffed Grouse crossing Deep Bay Road 



He headed for the base of a tree where he figured I couldn't see him. Almost... 



The bluebirds are back! Only a few of them and they stayed well away, this guy was sitting in a Hawthorne quite some distance away (cropped!) 


 


A pair of Northern Flickers showed up for a quick look. As did this European Starling.


I ran into a couple of people: first, a team of Conservation Officers out making sure that turkey hunters (season opened the day before) were following the rules... nice folks out of Minden. By the way, unless you have a good AWD vehicle and know how to use it, don't go into the wetland portion of Wylie Road beyond the bridge. Them thar puddles are deep, y'hea?

On the way out, I met a couple of birders who told me they had seen  some Loggerhead Shrikes at the Cameron Ranch. And meadowlarks. So guess where I went? Nope. Not around. There were a couple of small sparrows at a distant Hawthorne, and I heard the meadowlarks, but no joy.

However I managed to convince a couple of Wilson's Snipes to pay me a visit, investigating the sounds my iPhone was making! They posed for a couple of pictures!




 


One of my favourite birds. 

And so it begins! Next time...


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