Monday, June 19, 2017

It is to laugh!

I have to laugh.
Let's talk about the Adobe "subscription" model.

I recently read a thread on Facebook where a person complained that his old version of Lightroom cannot handle RAW images from his new camera, a Nikon D5. When someone suggested Lightroom and Photoshop CC, he responded that "$120 per year seems pricey". This is a person who just spent close to $7000 on a camera body (never mind lenses!). Hell, he probably spent more on batteries.

People disparage Adobe for their subscription model. And I was on that side as well back when a monthly subscription was $50, even though I used to spend over $700 per year for updated Photoshop alone. But when they came out with their "Photographer's Package" at $10 (yes, US dollars, and that's before tax) per month, well that's an offer nobody can seriously refuse.

There were two main concerns that people had about the plan.

  • "What happens if I choose to terminate my subscription"? The answer is that the software will stop working fully. Lightroom will continue to work, except for the Develop module, so you'll always be able to access and export your pictures, you just won't be able to edit them any more. Photoshop won't work, but your pictures are of course safe. You'll just need to find another way to open them, which might be a concern if you've saved them in a Photoshop format (like .psd). But other programs can open .psd's (lately, the new Topaz Studio).
  • "I don't want to have to be online to use these Creative Cloud programs". You don't. You need to check in every 90 days or so (there's a 30 day grace period on top of that) so that Adobe can refresh the cookie that says your subscription is up to date.

This isn't a perfect world. Seems that each version of LR/PS relies more heavily on modern hardware and operating system. Even now, a lot of people find that they have to turn off the use of their GPU (Graphics Processor) and lose some functionality if they don't have a top-of-the-line system. That's because Adobe is taking advantage of new computer capabilities. It's a never-ending spiral but what isn't?

Turns out Adobe was right about their subscription model. I don't know the actual numbers but there are MILLIONS of subscribers around the world, if not tens of millions. And Adobe is continuing to fund new developments and upgrades from that subscriber base. I heard they made over $5 Billion in the first quarter.

The Photographer's package is the best deal on the planet.

So to that guy who has tens of thousands of dollars tied up in camera and computer gear and who refuses to spend $10 per month to support their capability, "it is to laugh".

Which one, which one?
There are some classic questions that need answering:
  • Mac or PC? No, that's not the one. I'm on the cusp, having just switched to Mac, and I like it and I'm convinced that's the way to go.
  • Canon or Nikon? You're kidding, right? Nikon all the way. Give me an "N", give me an "I", give me a "KON".
  • iPhone or Android? I don't know anything about Android, so iPhone.
  • Oil paint or Acrylic or Watercolour? Powerboat or Sailboat?
but here's the latest choice:
  • Tassimo or Keurig?
Here's the story, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I've had a Tassimo machine for some time now. At first I thought it was expensive to use but after a while, the convenience outweighed the cost and I use it without thinking about it. But it's big and bulky. So I found a small Keurig-type machine to bring with me to Newfoundland.

With the Tassimo, the variety of coffees in the stores is limited, at most half a dozen different blends. But I can make Lattes, Cappucino, etc. And an extra-large or an espresso. However there's a huge variety of K-cups available. In fact, I was in a store the other day (Cayne's in Thornhill) where they have over 500 different blends. I bought a sample pack of a dozen varieties. The hard part is going to be remembering which ones I like.

Which one, which one. Which one do you use?

By the way, I also use a drip coffee machine and usually I grind my own beans. I'm an admitted coffee-o-holic. Sometimes I'll be tempted by an interesting looking blend at a store. But if you've ever had the coffee in a motel room, you'll understand why I'm packing my Keurig machine for my Newfoundland trip!

File this under
"sporadic musings"!

While we're in the kitchen...

Do you have a cast iron skillet? I use mine ALL the time. I'm even taking it to Newfoundland with me. There are lots of videos around how to season them and clean them: go ahead and follow them for seasoning (they're all about the same). But I'm lazy so here's how I clean mine after use:
While it's still warm, I put it under running water and I simply lightly scrub it with a nylon dish brush. Not difficult, probably around 30 seconds, really. Then I rinse it out and put it on the stovetop, on a cooling burner or just on an adjacent one to dry off any water. Done.
If it isn't perfect, I have a great solution. Try this: Preheat your oven to 400°. Cut up some potatoes into small chunks. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in the hot skillet and cook for about 5 minutes or until the cut portions are nice and browned. Turn frequently. Take the pan off the heat, and season the potatoes to taste. I use some garlic salt and pepper, then my "Simon and Garfunkel" seasoning mix — parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Put the pan in the preheated oven and turn the heat down to 325°. Cook for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice. Don't forget the oven mitt: that pan is HOT. Put the potatoes in a serving dish and follow the rinse instructions in the previous paragraph.  
Done. Your pan is amazingly clean and ready for the next time! And you have some delicious roasted potatoes!

Want meat with those potatoes?
Get a cheap cut of roast beef. Outside Round, Sirloin Tip, Round Roast, etc. Cut up some onions and lay them on the bottom of a crock pot. Sear the roast on all sides (total about 5-10 minutes) in your skillet (optional). Put it in the crock pot on top of the onions. Season with a little salt and pepper, garlic and, the pièce de résistance, an envelope of dried onion soup mix. Pour about ½ cup of beef stock over the whole thing (or you may want to add other stuff, like wine or even teriyaki sauce). Put the lid on the slow cooker, turn it on low and don't even look at it for 8 hours. 
Done. PS, I bought an inexpensive small slow cooker to take with me to Newfoundland too. And a cheap plug-in timer in case I'm gone for more than 8 hours and want it ready at a certain time.

The Carden Alvar
An interesting factoid
I visited Carden again yesterday. I usually meet interesting people, most of whom know a LOT more than I do about birding and about the area. Yesterday was no exception. At one point I was down in the marsh area and there were a couple of birders on foot. "Oh listen: that's an Alder Flycatcher!" They pointed out the bird and I managed to get some shots. "You can only really identify them by their song," I was told. Then we saw a sparrow, I figured it was a field sparrow but again they told me it was a "swamp sparrow". Two more for my lifer list!

Swamp Sparrow 

Alder Flycatcher 

Earlier, I had run into a young fellow in a tall 4wd pickup truck and I learned that he was a "fire environmentalist" living at the cabin on the West side of Wylie road a couple of km in. He told me that he was actually living in a tent because the cabin was so run down and the mice were so populous they threatened to carry him away! He was working at the North Bear Alvar (off Alvar Road at the North end) and I got the impression they might be planning a burn to open the area up for more meadowland to favour the birds that live in open areas.
Anyway, I met another couple (also walking: my arthritic legs envy them!). They told me a bit of history. The cabin I mentioned was originally occupied by the Wylie family. When they left or died, "Miss Wylie" moved in. She was a spinster and she lived there for years and years. The property is totally off the grid — no amenities, including water. Apparently she lived there on her own until her mid 80's. I didn't catch how long ago that was. 
Interesting factoid!

Rather than post a whole bunch of pictures here, I created a little web page in Lightroom from this visit to Carden. Click here to enjoy the pictures, go ahead, I dare you! And here's the link to the same thing from my visit a couple of weeks ago.

Learning Curve

No matter how experienced you are or how familiar you are with your equipment, there's always a learning curve when you get something new. That's the case with my new (to me) Nikon D5500. I bought it as a backup to my D800, expressly for my Newfoundland trip. Imagine being on a month-long photo trip and your camera craps out!

I've owned lots of Nikon gear over the years. This is my seventh Nikon DSLR body. The first thing I did when I got it was to put the batteries on charge. Then, because I practice what I preach, I "RTFM". Three of the letters in that acronym stand for "READ THE MANUAL". You can probably guess what the "F" stands for.

First thing I learned was that this Nikon manual SUCKS. I don't know what they were thinking when they decided not to put an index in the back of this 133 page booklet. I couldn't find answers to even the simplest questions. For example, when you turn on bracketing, how many pictures does it take? (the answer is 3 but it's not in the book). Much of the book is devoted to things an amateur would want to know: how to use the two "Automatic" modes and the "scene" and "effects" modes.

Fortunately the person I bought it from included a third party book, David D. Busch's "Compact Field Guide for the Nikon D5500" which takes you in an easy to read cogent tour of the camera's functions. It's not perfect: it doesn't answer the bracketing question either!

I like the camera. Don't get the idea from the following that I'm sorry I bought it — I think it's mostly a learning curve issue. It's light, small, relatively easy to use (especially if you're an old Nikon user).  That articulated LCD on the back is wonderful if you have trouble getting down on your hands and knees (or stomach) for those low angle shots. However, I haven't figured out a combination of glasses that will let me see it well (don't get me started on my lousy eyes) unless I get right up to it anyway. I didn't think of that.

Oh, and it has wi-fi built in! I can control the camera from my iPhone (I need to experiment!) and I can upload pictures instantly to my iPhone. Cool!

Here are a few things:
  • It's a crop sensor. So when I put my 600mm lens on it, it's equivalent to a 900mm lens on a 35mm or my full-frame D800. That's good news and bad news. Technically, I can reach out further than I can with the D800, but can I? If I crop on the full-frame, especially since the D800 has 36Mp, isn't it about the same? And because it's technically a longer lens, I'm finding that I can't handhold it at full throttle as easily. I've learned that I have to shoot at 1/1250 sec for sharp images on the D800 (at 600mm); I'm thinking 1/2000 sec on the D5500. Or maybe I need practice.
  • despite the fact that it's a newer sensor/processor generation than my D800, it doesn't handle noise all that well. ISO 2000 noise seems to be about the same as ISO 6400 noise on the D800.

  • While it doesn't illustrate the noise issue, this was a 3-shot bracketed image at ±1 EV. Really easy to set up in camera using the "i" button.

  • Exposure compensation does not work properly in manual mode (which I shoot 99% of the time), especially when you have Auto-ISO turned on. The EC button on top of the camera actually changes the function of the command dial from changing shutter speed to changing aperture. So the only way to change it is through the menu system although once you're used to the "i" button (Information edit) that's pretty quick. Ditto changing ISO, metering mode, etc.
  • Disappointing: the flash does not work in "Commander" mode, so off-camera-flash is problematic.
  • The AE-L/AF-L button does something different when you have an image up (review) on the LCD: it 'protects' the image from erasure. That means that because I have it set up for back button focusing, I have to turn off image review or it won't focus.
  • For some reason, the active spot is constantly moving off-centre to the far right. I have no idea what I'm doing to cause that! And finally...
  • This camera does not have micro-adjust capability. Autofocus on the Tamron lens seems to be off (back focusing) so to get a really sharp image, I have to get close with the autofocus then tweak it manually. (look at the Song Sparrow picture above as an example).

Manually tweaked to focus on the bird's eye. FWIW, this was D5500/Tamron, 1/1600 sec at f/8, ISO 2200, F=600mm, cropped to about 5 Mp. Some post-processing. Eastern Towhee singing his heart out.

...and sometimes the AF works perfectly! 1/1600 sec at f/7.1, ISO 320, F=280mm. Killdeer in flight. Cropped.

Anyway, this was for Nikon users primarily, and I'm sending a dual message: (1) there's a learning curve in everything, and (2) RTFM. OK, a "triple" message: you get what you pay for. A D500 would have been about $1500 more.

I'll be using it as a backup, as a platform for the long lens sometimes, and as a walking-about camera. With the 18-55mm kit lens, it feels like a little toy in my hand!

B. Dass

I heard some bad news about B. Dass, a talented photographer friend from the Richmond Hill Camera Club. Seems he was in a serious accident and as I write this, he's in a medically induced coma with some major injuries.

My heart goes out to him and his family and friends.  Hoping for an easy recovery. Stay tuned.

Off to Newfoundland!

I'm typing this on Monday night, June 19th. I'm leaving the house on Wednesday morning, spending a couple of days in the TO area (my granddaughter's graduation, some hospital stuff, a visit with friends... oh and a dentist appointment!) then I point the car East.

The Ferry isn't until Tuesday night at midnight. My goal is to be in Nova Scotia on Sunday night and I might try for Peggy's Cove (I think it's been almost 20 years since I last visited there) on Monday and depending on the weather, I might hang around there for a day or so to get golden hour shots.

My return ferry is booked for July 25th but I might extend that a few days and leave from Argentia instead of Port aux Basques. 

I will be posting pictures and perhaps 'musings' here on the blog enroute. I'm going to try to post at least one picture on Facebook every day, look for me at and here's a direct link to the photo album I set up on FB (if I did it right). Bookmark it and pop in for a look often. I dare you!

I'm posting a big mental sticky note for this trip:
(Keep it Simple, Stupid)
I need to keep telling myself that when I compose a shot. The other note is,
Tell Me a Story
Now if only I can read my mental writing...

Parting Shot

I took this in the fading light at Carden Plain last week. What a difference the light makes! 

Wilson's Snipe at last light. Shot at 8:45 pm. 1/1600 sec at f/8, ISO 6400, D5500/Tamron lens at 600mm.  

— 30 —

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Algonquin Park and Aurora. You choose.

Algonquin Park
a conversation with the staff

Some discussions have occurred regarding some apparent changes in AP policies and I decided to find out directly from the Park. At the same time I wanted to ask about an issue that's been bugging me. They were kind enough to give me clear and very reasonable answers and gave me permission to reproduce the correspondence here.

The two main questions were:
  1. How to shoot nighttimes (stars, aurora, etc) when the day pass clearly expires at 10 pm, and
  2. Access to the campgrounds with a day pass.
Here's the email correspondence in full, except that I had to retype the 'questions' because they got mixed up in the back-and-forth.

We corresponded last year on the subject of coming into the park to shoot star trails or milky way or aurora pictures. The issue was that the day pass expires at 10pm and the solution we came up with at the time was to buy two day passes (for the next day as well). I would have bought a camping permit except all the campgrounds were full and they wouldn’t sell me one. Anyway, that worked after the guy at the West gate figured out how to do it! By the way, a better solution might be to get an annual pass… but that carries the same 10pm limitation, I think.

The correct process for anyone wishing to be in an Ontario Provincial Park with a day use permit after 10 pm is to request permission from the Park Superintendent.  The easiest way to make application for this is by having you email directly to David Coulas ( explaining your request and  reason.  He will then be able to reply directly to you.  DVP’s and Annual DVP’s do all carry the same 10pm limitation.

Question # 2:
Sounds like there's been a policy change at AP. One of our members was denied access to Mew Lake because she only had a day pass. All she wanted to do was to photograph some birds at the Airfield, not to camp. In the past we've told them at the campground entrance that's all we were there for. In the paper I picked up at the gate the other day it says "a day permit does not allow access to campgrounds (unless specified otherwise; check at the park office at the point of entry)".

 With regards to day use visitors being denied access into campgrounds for day use areas ie, beaches, airfield, trails, etc., Mr. Nichols, who is the Zone Manager has sought clarification with Head Office and has confirmed that we cannot restrict people from coming in to the park or campgrounds if they have a valid day use permit in any Ontario Provincial Park.

The front page of our tabloid where it indicates that a day permit” does not allow access to campgrounds”, however it also states “unless specified otherwise, check at the Park Office at point of entry”.  This allows us to clarify to our park visitors.  You would continue to stop at the office and advise them of your intent and if you are unaware of parking space please ask at the office entrance.

If at any time, access to a campground with a day use permit becomes a safety issue, ie, campground is over maximum capacity during an extremely busy time and therefore becomes a safety hazard within the campground, then and only then may the Park Superintendent make a decision to restrict access to day use.  The park office will not be making that decision without the approval of Park Superintendent.

Glenn I hope this will clarify your questions for you and your group at this time.  

Topaz Studio
Different Strokes for Different Folks!

Topaz Labs has hit another home run. They have developed a new program which means different things for different people, depending where you are in your post-processing life. As far as I can tell, it will be valuable for three different groups:

  • You DO NOT have Lightroom or Photoshop or Elements. Studio is a post-processing workbench for you and it's FREE! (well the 'base' version is... see below). You're one of those who doesn't want to "rent" the Adobe CC suite: YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANYMORE.
  • You DO have one or more of the Adobe products. TS gives you a whole new set of adjustment tools that are effective, easy to use and quick.  You may decide to use them instead of ACR or in addition to it.
  • You have other Topaz products, perhaps the whole suite, and you want a way to use them in combinations, whether from within an Adobe product or standalone. This functionality is FREE.
Too many words. It's all explained much better on the Topaz site. But before I send you there, I have to tell you a couple more things.

You can download and use it for FREE. Forever. 
Or you can buy some enhancements if you want.

The FREE TS shell comes with 10 fully functional adjustments like "Basic Adjustments", "Tone Curves", "Blurs", and others; plus a whole whack of tools like support for RAW files, cropping, masking, lens effects, etc. There are also 14 other adjustments which have limited functionality (they work, you just can't control them much) such as dehaze, noise reduction, sharpening, texture, abstraction, etc. If you want full control of one of these you can buy it or you can get the whole pack of 14 for $99. 

Enough! Get thee over there and read about it. Download the free app. Try it. Here's the link to get you there. And if you decide to buy anything before the end of June, use the coupon code "STUDIO" to get up to $270 worth of adjustments for just $99.

PS: They produced a great introduction video which explains clearly what Studio is and how it works. Here's the video link. But use the other link in the paragraph above this one to log in and download in order to take advantage of the discounts (and, fair disclosure, give me my "brownie points"!).

I processed this image in Studio. The original was a soft HDR (testing the bracketing function on the new D5500) created in Lightroom. In Studio I used the built-in HDR preset which really just increases Clarity, but then I masked it back. I added a Gaussian Blur layer and painted a quasi-precise mask over the boat (not fine enough over the ski frame, I should go back over it) and a vignette and painted in some sky colour. I didn't use any Topaz plugins although in hindsight I should have tried Clarity. The masking brush is brilliant. And the fact that you can copy and paste the mask onto different "layers".

By the way this is NOT my boat. I wish. It's at the same marina and I'd be embarrassed to have mine in the same picture.

Gales of November
an update

If you're a new reader and you haven't heard about 'Gales' yet, here's a quick summary:

A 360° pano taken at the Rock Island Lodge 

On the weekend of October 26-29 (It's really called "The Gales of November come early"), we will be holding a four day low cost workshop in Wawa, Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior, for 12 lucky participants. The event is hosted by the Rock Island Lodge/Naturally Superior Adventures and the price includes all accommodations and food. The lodge rooms are first class (when they fill up, you'll stay at a nearby motel/cabin facility, maybe even better!) and the food is fresh, family-style and organic where possible. How much would you spend for food and accommodations in a first class facility? Think about that then check out the cost of our workshop!

This year, Ben Eby will be joining me in leading the workshop. Ben is more of a photo-realist than I am (I lean more towards impressionism and do a lot more post-processing). I'm still working on a "Ben-Bio" on the site but for now check out his website here.

The word "workshop" is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, we'll be challenging you with some themes and educational content, but if you just want to do your thing, you're welcome to do so, and enjoy one of the most picturesque nature venues in all of Canada in the company of a bunch of great photographers. You can even bring your dog and your spouse, as long as they're friendly! Check with us.

This scene was two minutes from the lodge, first thing in the morning one day last year. 

There's still some space available. But this is going to fill up and you need to stop procrastinating! Here's the link to the website and signup page (still a work in progress!): I dare you to check it out.

Newfoundland Trip
It's creeping up on me!

Less than 3 weeks from now, I'll be on my way to Newfoundland. My plan is to drive to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, then board the ferry to Port aux Basques, and spend a month in Newfoundland, primarily in three locations, where I've booked cabin/efficiency accommodations. I've left the last week open but I intend to spend a couple of days in the Cape St. Mary area, then board the ferry home from Argentia. Here's a map:

Obviously a month isn't long enough to explore the whole province and I'll be skipping some interesting spots: primarily the West coast including Gros Morne National Park and the northern peninsula. My goal is to shoot picturesque seascapes and outports, waterfalls, stars (aurora!), birds and other wildlife (including whales if possible). Icebergs are a bonus although I have to admit that I sort of have a "seen one, seen them all" kind of attitude. I'm following and have been in touch with some outstanding local photographers and hope to hook up with one or more on my trip. I have some friends there right now: in my opinion, they went too early. There's massive sea ice and even snow on land. It's been hugely foggy the past few days.

I'm hoping to "storyboard" each of the locations. I'm probably using the word wrong, but I want to present a picture of each spot in an attempt to capture its flavour. So while my focus is on the landscapes, I want to force myself to include other aspects of life there. "Work the scene" will be my operative phrase. My plan is to shoot during the golden and blue hours, so get up at ungodly hours, shoot, then relax and maybe nap during the day and go back out in the evenings. We'll see how that works out. I plan to bring my sketching and oil painting kits with me and force myself to draw and paint as well.

Aside from camera gear and my computer, I'm bringing too much stuff. It's not just a week-long vacation, I need kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, clothes, even food. I can't imagine flying there with one checked bag and my camera stuff. I'll be in touch over wifi but I'm going to try to wean myself off of social media. I have a big note in front of me to make a list of all the stuff I need and organize it.

Speaking of cameras, I  acquired a Nikon D5500 as a backup to my D800. It's got a crop sensor so technically I'll be able to reach out further with my long telephoto (not sure how much more than cropping on the D800 but we'll see). It seems to do a creditable job.

Here's an image from the landfill when I was there practicing on the birds. With the Tamron zoom on the D5500, this is like a 900mm lens on a full-frame.  This isn't cropped and it was handheld. I'm going to have to be really careful to keep the shutter speed up at these values. 

What's your favourite lens?

The obvious answer to that question is, "well, it depends on what I'm trying to shoot". I have 4 lenses that I use regularly and a couple of others... and if I were told "You can only have one lens. Choose." I would have to say, my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR. It's not even the new model. It's just so good, I can't imagine a better one. If I need to reach out further, I couple it with my TC-17e III teleconverter for a net 340mm at f/4.8, no discernable loss of sharpness. That's not enough for birds, though, so I find myself using the Tamron 150-600 a lot. It's "OK" but it could be sharper. I can't afford the Nikon big guns, so it'll have to do.

My Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 wideangle is very good. Landscapes and astrophotography. But the "favourite" label is a tossup between the 70-200 and the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro.

Here are a few shots with the macro when I loaded it on the D5500 for testing purposes.

Dandelion head. 

Don't ask me to name this flower and I won't have to lie to you. It's a wildflower growing behind my house. 

Dragonfly sitting on my car. 

Last weekend, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit for a couple of days. We had a great visit, I took them out in the boat, gave them the nickel tour of the Highlands, and then I said to my sister, go park my ATV in the garage. She said, "really"? Why not.

She's never driven one, or any bike for that matter. She started laughing hysterically to the point where she was wiping tears from her eyes. By the way, I think she was going 2 mph! Of course as a good brother, I had to capture it on camera and post it for everyone to see... 

While they were here, I was a good host. Until I got an alert on the computer. KP of 7.3! Do you know what that means? The aurora borealis are visible here with a KP of 4 or so. 7.3? I ran out with the camera and took a quick test shot but I didn't need to: it was obviously visible to the naked eye. I told my sister I was going to be a terrible host, I turned on the TV, showed them how my remote control works and said, "Bye. See you in the morning!"

I've seen Aurora before. But the last time I saw a display like this was probably 30 years ago, on a moose hunting trip south of Timmins (still reading my blog, Pete? Remember?).

The Northern Lights

No words. Here's a link to a short timelapse I shot. And here's another one, something I called "Pastel". A little different. Enjoy.

— 30 —

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Food For Thought

My goal today is, as usual, to showcase some of my recent images and thoughts, but particularly, to give my readers, especially those photographers among you, some ideas and food for thought.

That's always my goal. Nothing pleases me more than when someone writes and says, "I tried what you talked about in your blog, here's an example of what I was able to do". I get those messages sporadically, but not often enough!

I don't specifically come out and say, "here, try this...". But I demonstrate by example and sometimes a reader will think, "that's cool, I wonder if I could do that". Yesterday that happened when I showed a focus-stacked image. I try to give enough information with the images or story, but I don't want to bore people with excessive detail, so if you want more info on anything, don't be afraid to write. My email is

A few random things to think on and perhaps contact me about:

  • anything you see here you're not sure how to do? I'm always happy to help with advice or perhaps even a workshop if you're interested.
  • I know where to get really high quality custom business cards very inexpensively
  • I'm going to Newfoundland in a month.  Does your office or living room wall cry out for a specific picture from there: a seascape, blue hour or golden hour shot, wildlife, colour abstract? Tell me in advance and I'll look for that shot for you.
    • for that matter, what about any of the images you've already seen here? Would you like a print (or a tote bag or a pillow or a coffee mug...)?
  • The Gales of November workshop isn't full yet. October 26-29th in Wawa, a chance to share time with a dozen photographers or so in one of Canada's most scenic places for very little money. Here's a link (I have to work on this page to update it but almost everything is there)
Talk to me!

"Spam, spam, spam, spam...."

Anyone else seeing a jump in the number of spam messages? I used to get about 20 per day and it's jumped to over 100 in the last week or so. It's annoying. A ton of messages offering me a free $50 Costco gift card...

That said, I have them well handled, or at least my ISP does. I'm set up so that they get blocked at the server and I never have to see them, except that I have a list of them dumped to a single daily email from the ISP, just in case something real slipped into that group. It takes me a minute to scroll through the list just to make sure.

But it's annoying. My email address is spread around a fair bit: I could change it but that means informing a lot of people, printing new cards, etc. Guess I'll just let it be, but it is annoying.

Speaking of cards...

I've gotten some compliments on my new cards. I didn't change the back, but I did create a new front side. Here's what they look like:

Front of card 

Back of card 
One of the biggest compliments was from a professional graphic designer who commented on the extreme readability of the text, especially on the  white side. That's the purpose of the card and it was my goal. The only negative was the multiple fonts on that side: I had to because switching over to the Mac, I couldn't use the original fonts and the FacZen Photography logo is a graphic, not type. 

I mention this because cards are very inexpensive today. What vendors do is to gang a large number of customers' cards onto a big printed sheet, then cut them out: they all have to use the same inks, stock and coatings and then it's very economical. Vista Print is a tempting supplier but the quality of the vendor I use (my account with them goes back to the '90s when I was doing graphic design) is much better. I can do a box of 500 cards for $20 plus shipping. So if you want cards, using your own art or mine, get in touch

Topaz Labs has something new in the works, to be released at the end of May. It's a platform that might let you do some quality post-processing without having Lightroom or Photoshop... but if you do have those programs, it will enhance your workflow and give you some great new tools!
I'm not allowed to talk about it yet in detail. But watch this space for more information. Click the "Newsletter" button at top right if you're not already a subscriber and I'll give you a heads-up a few days before the public announcement. 

Bird Photography

I am a mere grasshopper (so I have to be careful around some of the birds!). A few weeks ago, I proudly stated that I had counted 21 species on one trip to Carden. Only to discover that there are people out there who count over 150 species in one day! There's a pin out there somewhere to celebrate that achievement, in conjunction with Canada's 150th birthday. Crazy.

I still can't identify most of what I hear out there, or see. I do know a little more than I did before, though — by the time I'm 100 maybe I'll be more knowledgeable. FWIW, I've ticked off species I've seen in the back of my Peterson's book and my total is... drumroll... 105 species. 

I'm missing a lot of warblers. They're loud and fun to hear but damned hard to see! Patience, patience. Taking a whole day to cover the 8 km of Wylie Road at Carden Alvar is not enough... but I've never NOT enjoyed a day there!

Algonquin Park

Speaking of patience and enjoyable days... I could say the same thing about Algonquin Park. Obviously if I were physically more able, I'd enjoy it more but I honestly love just driving slowly along Highway 60, stopping occasionally, seeing what there is to see. I went up again last Friday, got to the Park around 9am and left around 4:30pm.

What did I NOT see? A moose. I was really hoping to but I think you have to get there a bit earlier in the day. Also "papa" fox (the guy with the pink frostbite spots on his nose) and his family were not around (it's a open secret where he hangs out but I'm not going to be the one to publish it!). I didn't even see a grey jay on Friday although I did hear some. I think everyone's working on starting their families at this time of year. 

Here's what I did see.

I jotted them down on my iPhone and took a screen grab 
Here are a few pictures.

Broad-winged hawk. #105 on my lifer list! I saw two of these: one first thing in the morning and this one on the way out late in the afternoon. He was actually singing – or what passes for singing for a hawk!

A couple of roadside waterfalls. I'm not that happy with the resulting pictures so I need to work on technique a little more.  Jesse Villemaire posted this one from a few days before and I managed to find it. The water flow was a little less than he saw.

A Loon at Tea Lake. I used another shot of this guy (and his lady friend) as the header on this blog. 

A Ruffed Grouse. I've got better shots but I liked this one anyway. 

All in all, a nice day in the Park. To quote Ahnold... "I'll be back"!

Carden Plain (Alvar)

I said I've always enjoyed every time I've been there. All true, but some visits are more productive than others. I was there twice this week (Tuesday and Friday). Tuesday was more productive.

Virginia Rail. Actually I found this on Prospect Road, about 10km south of Carden.  

I got three 'lifers' that day: the Virginia Rail, a Least Flycatcher and a Warbling Vireo. I got so many good shots that I decided to create a web gallery in Lightroom rather than post so many pictures here, and you can find it at Go ahead, click it. I think you'll enjoy the images. Not all are birds: you'll see why you shouldn't take your Ferrari to Carden!

There's a similar gallery of pictures of the Minden Flood 2017. Here.

Carden isn't just about birds. There are flora there as well, and some insects. Some of whom you don't want to meet:

This is an American Dog Tick. Fortunately not the kind that carries Lyme disease, but it can also host other serious diseases. I found him crawling out of my hair when I got home. As far as I could tell, he didn't have any of his little buddies with him and didn't bite me.  I'm careful to wear long pants, tucked into my boots when I go out in the field.

Parting Shot

I shot this after the Camera Club meeting on Wednesday. My goal in Newfoundland is to get some of these "Blue Hour" shots, inspired by the work of Ray Mackey (whose page you can find here). Ray gave me some post-processing pointers. I hope to spend some time with him in Newfoundland in July. 

Aside from the lighting and exposure, I was really careful with the composition and I reduced some of the clutter in the background in post-processing. It was cloudy, stars would have improved this image for me. I have to wait for an appropriate night to work on that.  

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hi. My name is Glenn...

Seek, and ye shall find...

My name is Glenn and I'm a coffee-o-holic. It's been 2 hours since I had a cuppa...
Seriously, I'm addicted. In fact if I don't have a cup of coffee before bed (my wife and I used to lie in bed and watch the Johnny Carson show with a cup of coffee!), I wake up with a low grade headache, cured only by a cup of Joe.
Now I'm not a gourmet. I'm an equal opportunity coffee-o-holic. I don't like weak watery stuff and it should be fresh, but (don't think less of me, now), I even like Tim Horton's. I generally buy darker blends for brewing at home. The MacDonald's stuff is pretty good too.
I like Latté's and cappucino's but, like, they have milk in them. Coffee should be drunk black. Espresso is good from time to time, and Starbuck's occasionally has a good blend but you can't get the same thing there two days in a row, so I don't go there.  I buy beans and grind them just before brewing.
I know there are many ways to brew coffee. I prefer a drip machine but it has to have a conical filter. Or a single brew.
So what's this story about? I have a Tassimo machine. I like it. It's quick, the coffee is always fresh, it's super convenient. But it's big and bulky and has a water reservoir. When I was in a hotel in Montreal last December, they had a coffee machine in the room that took the Keurig K-cup pods. It was small, had no reservoir, one-button easy. I managed to find it online, but believe it or not, it was $140!
As you may know, I'm planning a month-long trip to Newfoundland and I want something to take with me. The Tassimo is too big and one-cup drip things make lousy coffee...
I asked my sister to look for me in the US. And she found one: made by Proctor-Silex, around $25! I found it on Amazon and bought one. It's coming with me to Newfoundland. So is my cast iron frying pan. How can you live without these things?
That said, it's not as good as the Tassimo. I find the coffee comes out a bit muddy. But it's better than a generic hotel coffee maker or {the horror} instant. 

PS: after writing this, guess what I need? I'll be back in a moment...

PPS: it's Sunday now and I'm re-editing the blog. Guess what I need? Right back...

The RAW vs JPEG argument popped up again, as it often does. FWIW, here's what I wrote:

So when you're looking at a JPEG, you're looking at a baked cake, one that you bought in the supermarket for $2 because it's the cheapest one they make . It was made by a machine. Once the cake is baked, there's not much you can do to change it. 
When you're looking at a RAW file, you're looking at a bunch of ingredients: eggs, flour, all that good stuff but before the cake was baked. You can custom make that cake any way you want, or you could bake cookies or muffins, or... whatever your heart desires.

How can you make your RAW file look like a store-bought cake? With a lot of work and practice. But why would you want to? If you want ordinary pictures, take JPEGs. If you want images made with love and care, shoot RAW. 
Make sense?

May I ask a favour?

I entered the Vistek "Capture Canada" competition. It's hard to choose a picture that says "Canada" but I think I did. Here it is:

A warm sanctuary on a quiet lake in the wilderness shows the peace and serenity that defines Canada

The way it works is they choose the 10 most popular images and select the winners from amongst that bunch. But to be popular, I need votes. Please go to this link and vote for my image.  I need your help.

I'm given to understand that you can vote once per day: I know it's asking a lot, but if you could bookmark it and click the link and vote from time to time? Thanks! 

Oh, and tell your friends. Give them the link to this blog and let them read it for themselves. They might enjoy the blog...

Speaking of things coming with me to Newfoundland...

The car's going to be pretty full! How do people travel by air? Just my camera gear would exceed my luggage allowance. Then there's my clothes, kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, computer stuff, rain gear, hiking boots, knee pads, oil paints and easel and canvasses and sketchbook and charcoals and of course, my wallet.
Do the math. Driving 8000 to 10,000 km (gas!), the ferries, staying in cottage/efficiency accommodations for 30 days... 
Why Newfoundland? Three main reasons: (1) I love the place. I've been there two or three times before and I'd really like to go again, (2) I might even be convinced to buy a place there to spend my summers there in future. Not winters. Gawd. and (3) I can't really travel outside of Canada. I've been turned down for travel insurance by all of the carriers I contacted, including CAA who initially said yes but who now say "no" (the killer question: "have you been treated for metastatic cancer"). I especially can't go to the US, and I doubt I could even safely go to Iceland or other foreign destinations. So Newfoundland it is!

I've booked the first three weeks plus, I've booked the ferry, all good. Can't wait!

I bought a backup camera body. A D5500, got a good deal on a used one. The main feature I was looking for was the articulating screen to make it easier on my knees.  I had this picture in my mind of my D800 failing and me there for a whole month without a camera. It also has a crop sensor so it'll be interesting to compare using it with the big telephoto lens vs the D800.

File this under, "I'll believe it when I see it".

I was on the phone with Bell tech support today because my DSL modem goes down 3 or 4 times a week and it's annoying. They're sending me a new one (update: "you should have it by Monday or Tuesday". It's now Sunday, a week later. No sign of it, so back to the phone tomorrow. Grrr.)

Sickening. Especially the Upload speed. But then again, I look out the window at the lake...

But in the conversation, when I deplored the awful speeds available here (I was asking if anything changed or do I still have the max available to me) he said "Bell is working on your area and EVERY CUSTOMER will get FIBE services in a few months". 


Documenting my day.

I thought my readers might like to know what to expect and to do if they go down to Carden. I wandered down again yesterday. It was a nice day, and the weather forecast said "rainy and cold" for the next three months (OK, not three months. But it sure feels like it).  

This is what Wylie Road looks like in early spring. What you don't see in this picture are the huge water-filled potholes. Some of them are the full width of the road, maybe 15 or 20 feet long and as much as a foot deep. Except for a section in the woods down the road, they're hard-bottomed (it's an Alvar. Look it up). But you want to have all-wheel drive and substantial road clearance, and take it slow. Don't bring your Ferrari. 

I've learned a lot of patience while birding down there.  I got there a little after 9 am and the first real picture I took was just before 11 am. I had already walked a couple of km on the road, and decided to hike down the Sedge Wren hiking trail before I saw anything worth shooting, and it wasn't even a bird! 

People wonder why I wear camo's at Carden*. This guy paid me no attention as he sedately munched away on some kind of stick for lunch. I watched him for about 10 minutes until he finished it and calmly swam away. 

* I wear them for other reasons too. They snap at the ankle and fit under my boots, so ticks and other nasty insects can't get at me, they're Goretex lined so they're completely waterproof and breathable and they're windproof so worn with suitable undergarments (wool blend) they're comfortable over a wide temperature range. And they fit! Cabela's is a great place to shop.

I met an interesting guy who worked with the Conservancy. We chatted for a while, I learned that one of the things he did was to arrange a port-a-potty at the blind on Wylie Road (thank you, David!), he maintains the hiking trails,  he's fully aware of the condition of the road (he's working on the township to get them to run a grader down the road. We both think that may be a mixed blessing since it would allow people to access the area in their Ferraris and the place could turn into another Algonquin Park weekend zoo). He could see things I couldn't see (two bluebirds mating, a Loggerhead Shrike in a bush far away). Of course Stevie Wonder can see better than me...

I ran into David again on the Sedge Wren trail, after shooting the beaver pictures.  He flushed an American Bittern but of course it flew away from me, so I never got a shot. Then a Northern Harrier flew over, hunting the marsh, and all the birds went into hiding! I didn't get a good picture of her either, but for what it's worth...

From there I went to the Cameron Ranch because I heard that the Shrikes have been known to hang out in the Hawthornes there. None I could find, of course, but I did find this field sparrow playing hide-and-seek

That's a Hawthorne, by the way. Emphasis on the word "thorn". You don't want to go in there... 

After Cameron (I walked a total of about 6000 steps — that's over 6km. Dr. Jeff made me get a fitbit thing and although it doesn't DO anything, it makes me more aware and I try to walk more. Only hit his magic 10,000 steps once, though!), I drove down to Prospect Road where there's a designated marsh. Now I was there for at least a couple of hours and I didn't actually SEE anything (other than red-winged Blackbirds, Geese and some more hunting Harriers), I heard a ton of things.

I was stopped in one spot when I heard an odd sounding call and figured out that it was a Virginia Rail. A woman stopped by (Theresa from Bobcaygeon? You know I'm bad with names!) and she hung out for a while. We definitely heard the Rail again, and also at least three different Sora (I played the call on my iPhone and they called back!) It's rare to actually see one. Another guy stopped by who really knew his stuff. He said he was going back to Carden, so I decided the day was shot anyway, I would too!

On the way up Prospect Road, I heard a Sandhill Crane. I stopped, got out the camera but they were so far away I couldn't get a usable shot. With apologies...

This will give you an idea how far away they were. There's a meadowlark in this picture. Can you find it?  600mm, uncropped. Hint. It's in the middle... 

Back at Carden, we were hanging out near the blind when I said, "a bird just landed on that fencepost over there". The guy from Prospect Road said, "that's a bluebird". I hate people who can see.

Digitally painted 

He also said there was a Meadowlark in a tree near the road. Not when I got there.

Time to leave. It's 6:30pm, time to go home. As I'm driving up Wylie Road, near the end, I see this:

A gaggle of Greater Yellowlegs! There were three of them, hopping around but behind the wire fence so it was hard to get a clean shot.  I couldn't get closer to the fence (giant foot-deep puddle) so I had to wait until they moved away, then shot through the holes.  

It was worth waiting. I saw one of these the week before on Prospect Road in the distance, but otherwise, this is the first time I managed a picture of them. 

So this was a great day. Listening to birds, talking to nice people, putting miles on my feet. It would have been better if I had noticed that it was a police cruiser I was driving behind on Highway 35 and had slowed down a bit... but this should tide me over until the rain stops next year!

Carden Plain, Algonquin Park... which one should I go to next? It's bird season. It's moose season. What to do, what to do...

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