Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Did you always want a dash-cam?

Fred, from the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club, put me on to this one. If you have an iPhone, you can have a dash-cam for the princely sum of $1.99. He pointed out that you can also buy a dedicated one at Costco for a couple of hundred dollars, but it doesn't do anything your iPhone can't!

The iPhone app is called "iSYMdvr" car recorder. You can find it in the apple App store.

Oh yeah, it also cost me an extra $15 for a suction cup mount for the iPhone. Good to have anyway, to turn it into a legal hands-free.

You can go through the options yourself. I have it set up to record 5-minute clips. Once it fills the space you've allocated (I can hold about 30 minutes worth) it writes over the oldest one. You can click the camera icon onscreen to take a still at any time (that's how I did the shot below). You can easily transfer any video to the camera roll in the iPhone and it even has a utility to turn the phone into a server if you're wi-fi connected and upload directly.

So if something happens enroute you have a video recording of it. It's a very neat application. By the way, it has built-in GPS capability so it can automatically record your speed, and you can set an alarm to go off when you exceed the speed limit. How cool is that! I don't really want it recording my speed (don't ask me why and I won't tell you) so I turned that off.

I uploaded a video for your viewing pleasure to YouTube. Just after taking the snapshot below, I drove through the standing water, but was driving really slowly to look at the water levels, then into my driveway.

For my photographer readers

Want to know your shutter count? I've addressed this topic before by suggesting you download and use PhotoME but in a recent thread on FaceBook, I learned that there is an incredibly detailed source of data within Photoshop itself (why am I not surprised?!).

  • Open a RAW file in Photoshop (disclaimer: I'm using CC, I don't know if this exists in earlier versions but I'll bet it does)
  • On the File menu, click on "File Info" (or use the shortcut ctrl-alt-shift-I if you have that many fingers!)
  • Along the top of the resulting popup window there are a bunch of tabs. Select the "Advanced" tab. If it's not there, click the downward facing arrow on the right side of the tab navigator to find it.
  • You'll see this window: select "Schema"

Here it is! In this example, my shutter count is 3102. 

I'm curious whether Canon and other cameras have all of this info. Last time it appeared as if this line is not in the EXIF information. Leave a comment at the bottom of this blog if you tried it. Ditto with other brands of cameras.

While you're in the File Info, look through the other tabs. You'll be amazed at the amount of information collected in the EXIF data with each image.

A few personal notes about life in the Highlands:

Will it never end? It's April 16th as I write this and I'm looking out at a blinding white vista, the ground covered with a fresh blanket of snow about 10cm deep. It's cold, too, around -5°C. It was the same temperature yesterday but it was windy and damp and the cold just seemed to bite right through you. Maybe in July we can finally look back and laugh.

Yesterday I drove into Haliburton to teach a workshop at Fleming College (OK, more ostentatious than it sounds: I was hired to teach a session to a Real Estate company and they rented a classroom at the college). Nice facility, by the way. When I got on the road, I was glad to have my all-wheel-drive Subaru, it was greasy and slushy as Hell. People were driving 40 and 50 kph on the highway if they didn't have 4WD.

Water levels in the lake are not high, but the melt a couple of days ago has had a huge effect on the low-lying ground just south of me. Helped along by runoff from the Inn parking lot, no doubt. Here's a snapshot taken with my dash-cam. This is right opposite my dock

That water is about 6" deep. It's running out of the woods on the right into the lake on the left. There's a seasonal cottage just to my right where I'm parked: every year I'm amazed it hasn't floated away or rotted out, it's under several feet of water. The plot of land to the South is for sale, any takers? 

The other thing is, the ground is really soft underneath due to the melt. So my car leaves deep ruts (as do my feet!) in my driveway. The Inn has wisely taped off their parking lot to prevent people from making an ugly mess by driving in. For the same reason, I'm not taking my ATV out to plow this snow, it'll make a real mess of the ground. Hopefully it'll melt soon.

Here's a fantastic product

I don't know why I waited so long to get these. It took falling on the ice and breaking my wrist to make me finally do it. My neighbour, Dorian, is the power-that-be behind Kador, the importer of this and other interesting products (Kate, if Dorian wants to think he's the MAN, let him!). Actually Dorian came over and gave me a set of these. I've permanently mounted them on an old pair of hiking boots that I can slip on whenever I go out.

These YAKTRAX™ give you absolutely PHENOMENAL traction on ice. They've saved my bacon a number of times! I know it's not the right time of year to think about these, but get some now before you forget. (they're no longer on the Kador website but you can email Dorian directly at this address). 

How's your wrist?

Thanks for asking! Not great. If you've not been keeping up, I broke it on January 16th, so 3 months ago today. I still can't close my hand completely and there's still some pain. I'd estimate the strength in that hand at about 30% of what it was before. I'm doing some physio (not as much as I should, I'll admit). But the big problem isn't the wrist, I hurt my shoulder at the same time but didn't realize it. Xrays and an ultrasound have determined that I did NOT tear my rotator cuff as I suspected, it's only bruised, but it's really painful especially at night and I can't raise my arm above my shoulder. Doc says "physio" but here's a Highlands problem: there's only ONE physiotherapist up here OHIP-registered (affiliated with the hospital) and there's a 140-patient backlog which means 2 months before I can get an appointment. If you know a physiotherapist who would like to live up in God's Country, it's a Hell of an opportunity!

The birds think it's spring

That's one of the joys of living up here. I managed to refill my bird feeders and it didn't take them long to figure it out. Yesterday, I added one to the species count when a mating pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers visited the Scotch Pine in front of my house:

I didn't get great shots of these guys. I haven't micro-calibrated the 120-400 mm lens to the D800 body yet, and I think I'm front-focusing a bit at this close distance. Male and Female yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

I really don't like Grackles. They're loud and raucous, they arrive in huge flocks and hog the feeders, scaring off all the other birds, and empty them in a day. But their iridescent head feathers are interesting.  This image was enhanced using Topaz Detail which is on sale at half price for the month of April. It does a fabulous job of enhancing images without injecting artifacts and noise. Use this link and enter 'aprdetail' at checkout to take advantage of the discount.

The ubiquitous Blue Jay. There are lots of these guys around. Although they're loud and aggressive too, I like them a lot more than Grackles because they don't arrive in huge flocks. Again, I used Topaz Detail on this shot. 

Here's a dark-eyed Junco. For some reason, I find it hard to get a sharp picture of these little guys, maybe it's the front-focusing thing again (actually, look how sharp the branch at the bottom under the bird is).  The only reason I put the picture here is so that I could say "Dark-eyed Junco". So there.

I'm no expert, but this seems to be a hoary redpoll. My book doesn't show that bright yellow spot on the lower part of the bill, though.

I also saw a pair of downy woodpeckers, some red-winged blackbirds, white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, and I can hear robins chirruping in the trees. There are some mallards in that high water south of me. All in the space of an hour or so!

The Haliburton School of the Arts

This campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College is a rustic building surrounded by acres of forest, populated by dozens of outstanding sculptures. Worth a visit, and I'll go back in better weather for more pictures. I've been in the forest before but never in the building.

"Rustic" is the operative word. You can't see the open hemlock-beamed ceiling, but this is a typical classroom. This is part of the group of Realtors with whom I was doing a workshop on shooting better listing pictures. I brought my flash with me and this shot illustrated trying to compensate for excessive outside light using an off-camera flash (it's in the picture on purpose). There's motion blur because I dragged the shutter to illustrate blending the light sources. 

This metal sculpture is just outside the front of the school. Great detail when you get up close. I actually got an angle that I liked better that shows it in dynamic full gallop but I wasn't happy with the composition. 

This is the front door of the building. It's hard to see at this resolution, but there is a circular design inlaid in the wood (no, that's not a watermark!) and until I got it back to the computer, I never realized there were words carved into it as well. Look closely at the top. It says, "Within These Walls the Walls Within Disappear". Great motto!

PS: you know that "Thou Shalt Not..." image I put up last week? It took FIRST PLACE at the Richmond Hill Camera Club. Yahoo! Or maybe Google...
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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Springtime blah's

The sounds of Spring

Drip, drip, drip...

If I ever buy another house up here it will have a steeper roof pitch, better ventilation in the roof and be sealed better especially in the valleys. There's really only one bad spot, over my front entrance. Can't do much about it now, but it's going to have to be addressed after the melt!

It wasn't exactly Niagara Falls, but I had to empty the red pail every 4 hours or so.  This went on for a couple of days and then suddenly stopped! I have no idea why, because there's still 6"of ice over the door. Sorry about the not-very-fancy picture, but it tells the story...

When you get an email that starts with,
"This is the final notice regarding your inclusion within the 2013 Edition of Who's Who Among Executives and Professionals."
Don't you wish it was true? That it's the last time they'll annoy you with this? That's the fifth "final notice" I've received this week. You have to wonder why they keep at it...

I'm in a flat spot

I'm really not inspired to shoot picture, especially outside. The crisp, white, invigorating blanket of snow is really very tiresome now. I always have the camera with me but I've been loath to take it out. Nothing really exciting to shoot.

It was a nice day and the clouds were moving pretty fast, so I thought I'd try a long exposure showing cloud movement. Even with the 10x ND filter on, the slowest shutter speed I could get was about 3 seconds.  

Nothing, right? So I decided to shoot a 5-shot time exposure sequence, each shot 3 seconds and about 1/2 second apart. The D800 will do that automatically.Then I combined the 5 exposures as layers in Photoshop and set the blend mode to "lighten".

See the difference in the clouds? Not much. You need an even longer exposure than that, especially when shooting with a wide angle lens.

Yeah, well, still not exciting. So I added a bit more drama by adding a motion blur (masked so it only affected the sky). A little Topaz Simplify, some judicious dodging and burning, then some painting with the mixer brush, a little crop and cleanup and voilà!

Now we're getting somewhere! That's more like the look I was trying for.

Today's weather isn't as nice. It's above freezing but it's windy, grey and damp, so I don't feel like going out to shoot. Instead, I decided to revisit Corel Painter 11 so I installed it on the laptop and opened up a random image to re-familiarize myself with it. I think it's been almost 5 years since I used it last.

Here's the image I opened. I shot this at Furnace Falls last summer, in what I was hoping was good dawn light. Not really. Without further ado, I give you:

Painted with Corel Painter 11. I'm going to spend a bit more time with that program. While the Photoshop plugins like Topaz Simplify are interesting, you get almost predictable results, more visibly computer generated. This has more "me" and less "Photoshop" in it.
I revisited another image from last fall the other day. I had been out shooting the milky way late at night (last week's "Thou Shalt Not" image was based on another frame shot the same night). Anyway, I zoomed the lens while the shutter was open. Then I composited in a shot of my car with interior lights (shot at the same time), and did a whole bunch of technical stuff in Photoshop to arrive at this one:

I'm going to go to the Subaru dealer and see if he's interested in buying a print of this.

Speaking of revisiting things...

I was inspired by a couple of pictures I saw in the Photoshop & Lightroom group on Facebook (free to join, search for it. Also they have a sister group called "Photography Help and Share". Both worth joining). The maker did a light tent shot of a calla lily that was outstanding, and I learned he used focus stacking. So I dragged out the bellows and the el-cheapo focus rail that I have, to give it a shot.

First I did a single exposure of an old ball point pen:

This is almost a full frame shot. Specs: 2 seconds, f/11, ISO 400, Nikkor 28-80 at 80mm , with the bellows extended almost all the way out. 

This is three shots focus stacked. Depth of field is so shallow that only the head of the screw is in focus in the first shot. Again, full magnification, but at f/5.6. You can see that the far right side is not in perfect focus. This is a lot of work and tough to do! I need more practice. I don't know how people do macro, stacked shots of moving things like insects. Bound to be more interesting than a screw, though!
Paraphrasing the words of the immortal Dr. Sheldon Cooper,
"Now fetch me something interesting to shoot!"
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Enough, already!

This is the winter of our discontent.
Not much to do with the John Steinbeck classic novel, a lot to do with the excruciatingly long winter we're having. And as I write this, guess what? It's snowing. It's March 27th and the temperature outside when I got up was -20°C, right now it's windy and just zero, but it's snowing again, dammit.

That said, it's supposed to warm up a little during the day tomorrow, although the nights are still going to be below freezing and the words, "a mix of rain and freezing rain" are never welcome. When will it end?

This is my friend Janie's cottage on Kushog Lake, shot yesterday. I sent her this picture and her response was,  "Are you kidding me? I cant believe all the snow... I guess spring may be a while away. See you in July. LOL" 

I've been hibernating, I'll admit. I just don't feel like going out there much. I was in Haliburton on Camera Club business today, didn't even bring my camera, what am I going to shoot, more snowy scenes? To top it off, it appears that when I fell and broke my wrist in January, I also injured my rotator cuff, so my shoulder is really sore. My hand hasn't healed yet either so I'm really not that comfortable. It would really help to look out on a world that wasn't deeply buried in the white stuff.

I know, I know. "Do you want some cheese to go with that whine"? Yeah.

I revisited this little house when Myrtle and Joe came up last week and captured this image. You have to admit it's pretty.  

Here's a shot of another house down the road. Both of these pictures were processed using Topaz Simplify, it adds such a great painterly feel, don't you think? This is one of my favourite Photoshop plugins. You can buy it here for $39.99. Sometimes it goes on sale, keep watching my blog to find out when! I'll give you a heads-up.
I thought I'd add a couple more pictures from my visit to Sir Sam's last week. The Magic Carpet ski lift is so photogenic! 

Cool facial expression! You have to wonder what she was thinking! At least some people are enjoying winter. 

OK, Jim is too! He's my neighbour and came by with this 10 lb lake trout he caught ice fishing the other day! I understand this put him in second place in the tournament going on this week. The ice fishing huts are slowly coming off the lakes, the law says they have to be in by the end of the month.  

So I guess it hasn't been a bad season for those who enjoy the outdoors.

Travel Plans

I'm really thinking about going somewhere this summer. I saw some fantastic pictures from Iceland last weekend that made me want to go there but I think it's too expensive. The idea of going to Newfoundland again is rattling around in my mind. Perhaps driving out, going up the East Coast and crossing over to Labrador this time. Anyone want to come along? What with the cost of gas... get in touch if you're thinking about it.

Here are a couple of shots from last time I was there:


Something off the wall

I thought I'd close with something completely out of my normal comfort zone.

"Thou Shalt Not...". I used a star trails shot I did last summer and started playing with textures and colours and warping and liquifying things, then I thought about sending a beam of energy in the direction of the North Star. Then I thought maybe we're not supposed to do that and someone up there was delivering a stern warning...

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

An Eclectic Week

I know the word "Eclectic" is an adjective (well it could also be a noun...) but but I wonder if you can use it to describe a week! Oh well, I just did. So there.

I spent a lot of time this week on business and administrative tasks (especially with the new Camera Club) and it was nice when some friends came up and dug me out of my computer chair to go out and shoot some pictures. A day or two in Toronto and Uxbridge with family and spending some time with a friend who's a bit under the weather (me too, for what it's worth), then back home and at the keyboard again!

Although it's a nice day out, I don't feel like going outside. I think the most commonly heard greeting here lately has been, "so had enough of winter yet"? I have. Been a Hell of a year.

At least I have a ton of pictures to write up here. But before we get started...


Do you have a Nikon and an iPad? there's a free app out there called "Nikon Manual Viewer 2" that lets you download any Nikon manual and view it, formatted perfectly for the iPad. Very slick. The more you read your manual, the better you know your camera. Not only DSLR's, but also mirrorless and even P&S cameras, plus all the Nikon Speedlights. Thanks to Moose Peterson for the find.

Topaz DeNoise promotion

Topaz is running a 50% promotion on Topaz DeNoise until the end of March, their image noise reduction plug-in is designed to fix heavy image noise and grain.
"Other NR software tend to strike a good balance between processing speed and quality. By contrast, DeNoise focuses entirely on the quality of the results you get. (The trade-off is that it takes longer to process an image in order to get better results.) For example, notice below that the books stay sharp and that there's no soft edges or smudged details:"
This technology makes DeNoise useful for "tough" cases of image noise. It can save photos that photographers might otherwise throw away.
Use this link to go to the DeNoise page where there are great examples and even a tutorial at the bottom: 
To get the 50% discount, enter the coupon code 'mardenoise' when ordering. You can also do a 30 day free trial.

Here's a shot where I used Topaz DeNoise. Indoor hockey arenas are notoriously difficult to shoot in. This shot was taken at 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400.

In this shot I did NOT use DeNoise, I did the best I could with the Noise Reduction in Lightroom 5, which is generally very good, but not as good as DeNoise! By the way, the title of this picture is, "If Looks Could Kill". Coach not happy. 

So who takes photos of referees at hockey games? People whose grandsons ARE referees! He works really hard at it. And it's hard to be unbiased: he penalized the home team in this championship match with less than 3 minutes left in the game. Fans not happy!

By the way, Ryan PLAYS hockey too. He played in this game and 15 minutes later was refereeing in the other rink. 14 years old, almost 6' tall, work ethic... hmmm.

He promised me a goal. Didn't keep his word :( . Can't say he didn't give it a try, though!

Some wildlife

I actually shot this one last week.

I was asked whether I got these deer to pose for me. Of course I did. You don't think they'd line up perfectly like that without a little direction, do you? 

In almost the same spot, a week later. This wild turkey tom was a bit less cooperative, I couldn't get him to 'display'. In fairness, Maureen and Jon feed these critters in winter, so they do hang out around their house.

Myrtle and Joe came up for the day last week. We tried to get the deer but weren't successful, but we did get to shoot some other neat stuff. 

I've been away from skiing for many years so I shouldn't be shocked at innovation on the slopes. First of all, there are kids doing things on skis and snowboards (which didn't even exist when I skied) that aren't natural. These shots were all taken at Sir Sam's Ski and Bike (they do crazy stuff with bikes in the summer!) near Haliburton.

And I bet these kids never even HEARD of a rope tow! Now they have something called a "Magic Carpet" which they stand on like a moving sidewalk, sheltered from the weather, no less!

Everyone wears a helmet, some cooler than others!

I took my camera for a ride up the magic carpet, then Joe and Myrtle did too. 

In case you're wondering, I walked down that walkway on the right. I miss skiing, but my knees certainly do not! 

One more shot. This kid was too cute...

I have other 'keepers' but I don't want to bore you too much!

OK, that's enough for today! I have to save some stuff for next week, you know!

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Busy, Busy weekend!

New Header Photo

Every couple of months I like to change the header picture on the blog to reflect the season. Today's new header is wishful thinking, I think! Last night it was almost 30°C below and we have a ton of snow on the ground. The theory is, "if you think it, it will happen". Think warm thoughts!

The new header is actually an old photo that I took with my D70 back in 2006 on the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It's amazing what quality a 6Mp camera delivers, even in today's terms. I enhanced it within Lightroom and Photoshop, then I applied the excellent "Paper Textures" extension in Photoshop CC. It's free, and if you install it, note that there are TWO versions, "Paper Textures" and  "Pro". Install both.

When I replace the header photo, I put the old one here for reference or it's gone! So here's the header picture that was up to the end of February.

The ongoing New Laptop saga

Strictly speaking, not a new laptop, just a new boot drive. The old one gave up the ghost, so I had a new drive installed. We put in a 256Gb SSD drive and loaded the operating system and programs on it. Data resides as it always had, on a second internal drive, backed up to various plugged in external drives.

By the way when I say "we" I mean I paid for it, and James Keller did it. He really knows what he's doing and is starting a fresh computer services business in Haliburton. He has my vote.

So my data was safe but I have to reinstall all of my programs. There are probably 20 of them that I use regularly, and a bunch of others that are more sporadically required and lots of support stuff. Today I discovered that I didn't have a PDF reader installed, for instance, or Dropbox. I've got the critical ones done but there are 7 or 8 of the main programs left to do and who knows how many of the utilities. What a pain.

I also discovered that I was missing some important pieces of the puzzle. For example, my Lightroom and Photoshop preferences and presets! So if I were you, I'd go look for those and make sure you have a backup somewhere. Also your Outlook file if you use that client. It's usually in some obscure location!

FWIW, the laptop sure boots up quick now! And since the swap files are on the SSD, I imagine Photoshop will fly much faster when working on some of those huge D800 files!

How's this for an HDR location?

I came across this old building last week. The sign on it says "Ontario's Coolest Building".What an awesome HDR site, especially if we can get inside (which we might be able to do after the winter). And across the road is a larger structure that had collapsed, so there's just some brick walls and framework left. Ill try to set up a shoot there!

This is a 5-shot HDR, then I added a Topaz Simplify layer.  

This is the yellow sign on the building (click to blow it up if you can't read it), shot through my car window. Hey, it was cold, OK? 

It was a busy weekend

It started with Ron Goodlin's wildlife presentation on Friday night, attended by almost 50 people. A wonderful program, turns on the 'envy' genes, both about his skills as a photographer and speaker, and his ability to travel and his great equipment.

Forgive the lousy iPhone photo! 

We went to the dogsled races on Saturday. It was a snowy, flat day, that got even worse later on. Sunday was clear but Saturday was a long day and I didn't get there the next day until much too late (someone told me the 8-dog race STARTED at 3pm. In fact it ENDED at 3pm. {sad face}.

It took a bunch of editing to make a useable shot out of this one. Really flat lighting and snow falling made it a difficult capture, especially since it was with my 400 mm lens. By the way, that looks like a GoPro camera on her chest: they're really ubiquitous. This was the 6-dog race on Saturday afternoon. 

This is an 11-week-old puppy. I tried to steal her to take her home, but couldn't get away with it. This has to be one of the cutest puppies I've ever seen. Her name is Nyx, after (Νύξ), the Greek primeval goddess of night. Apparently she will be bred in 18 months, so I gave her my card and said to call me in 18 months and 8 weeks! Do you think she bought the jacket to match the dog's eyes?

Dr. Ron, lying down on the job as usual! Ron, your camo isn't working! I SEE YOU!
I tried getting down on the ground too. It took 3 people to help me get up. {sigh}. 

The lighting was MUCH better on Sunday. This shot is only lightly edited. Could have used a touch more depth of field... 

But that's not all. I decided to drive home via Bethel Church Road, which leads to the white water venue on Horseshoe Lake Road. First thing that made me put on the brakes and grab the camera was this seasonal home.

It's a log building, boarded up for the winter, with a fastidiously applied coat of pastel blue and green paint. I thought it lends itself well to this painterly treatment. I had to climb up a snowbank to get this vantage point. Then one more step and I was in up to my hips. I didn't expect that, and didn't bother to take gloves with me, and couldn't use my healing right hand to help get up... you should have seen me floundering around!

That's still not all! As I got to Horseshoe Lake Road, I saw a herd of deer at a house on the right. I quietly got out, changed lenses, walked over to the driveway... and they ran off. I went to the white water, scouted around a bit, nothing doing, headed back. The deer were back again. This time I managed to get some shots. Even better, this one youngster was too curious to be frightened and I got to within about 15 feet!

Love his expression and the pink tongue sticking out! Notice his ears aren't even up! He's going to have to learn some caution or he won't make it through hunting season next year! He was trying to wind me, but I was cross-wind to him. 

An eyeball shot.Told you I was close! 400mm and cropped, but hey... 

...and you thought I was done for the day! When I got home, I saw these great clouds, the sun was about to set... I thought I'd get that colourful sunset I had missed last week. Again it didn't materialize. By the time the sun went down, it was cloudless. I spend two hours waiting for it out on the ice, to no avail. I sat in a fishing hut (no heat, but out of the wind) for an hour or so. Anyway, I took this burst while setting up the camera for later.

7-shot HDR and I painted in the lights. Then I added the stars. If those clouds had hung around for another hour it would have been more spectacular! I'll get one yet! 

So I figure that's enough for one weekend. Until next time!

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