Friday, April 13, 2018

Raise your Hand

"May you live in interesting times"

I've long known that this is translated from an ancient Chinese proverb... or was it? Not according to Wikipedia. Theirs, and other pages make interesting reading.

Donald Trump is the President of the United States. I don't need to comment on the antics of this "stable genius". The White House was quoted today that they would be funding the training of teachers to carry and presumably use firearms. Raise your hands if you think there is no room for firearms in schools. Raise your hands if you think the way to mitigate that is to take the guns away from the bad guys instead of creating a wild west atmosphere where children live. His levy of import duties on steel and aluminium was a transparent ploy to pressure the NAFTA negotiations. I won't even mention "Stormy Daniels"...

And yesterday, the Ontario Conservative Party elected the (alleged) former drug dealer Doug Ford as their leader. Conceivably he could become Premier in the next election. He publicly berated the father of an autistic child because a clinic for challenged kids supposedly degraded his precious Etobicoke community. Shame! Reminds me of Trump mocking a handicapped reporter. Supposedly a "man of the people", he wants to roll back the minimum wage increase, stop sex education in schools and go back to back alley coat hanger abortions. Son of Trump. I hear his catchphrase is "Make Ontario Great Again (one line at a time)". Raise your hands if you think something is wrong here.

And then I read about Elon Musk and his motivation for driving SpaceX. Makes up for the other two! Manned mission to Mars by 2024. I hope I live long enough to see it.

By the way, the spaceship they're working on is known as the "BFR". Publicly, "Big Falcon Rocket". Raise your hand if you think Musk had another word starting with "F" in mind when he named it.
It's March 14, 2018 as I write this. I just learned of the death of Dr. Stephen Hawking. He was an inspiration: He will be remembered not only for his incredible mind but also for his humour and courage.  I wish I could have met him.     

Cataclysmic weather events are taking place around the globe. From Earthquakes to wildfires, hurricanes, cyclones, melting ice caps, all driven by the climate change that Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford deny because they're driven by the almighty dollar.

Interesting times, indeed.

Is it just me?

Some people are really full of themselves.

Someone (I won't name names) sent me a friend request on Facebook. I looked at her page quickly, we have several mutual friends, she's a legitimate photographer, so I accepted. Suddenly I discovered there's more to it.

"If you want to see my work, you have to join this group. Oh, and the only person that is allowed to post anything on this group is me, that's the only way you can see my work." "Oh, and here's a picture I took. You can look at it, but you can't touch it. You are absolutely forbidden from using this picture, even as source material for a painting or a sketch".

Tell you what, lady: I don't want to join your secret group, I see from the few thumbnails you've posted you're a reasonably good photographer but there are thousands of others out there who don't have your kind of attitude. And as far as I can tell, nobody's ever heard of her. Get off your high horse. Where's the "unfriend" button? Oh, there it is...

What pisses me off is that in my opinion, an artist can use ANYTHING as inspiration. To suggest that your work is so precious that you [attempt to] forbid anyone from using it for that is ridiculous. To quote Pablo Picasso (ok, he was probably not speaking English so technically it's not a 'quote'...) "Good artists copy, great artists steal". Ideas. Inspiration. Not works.

If someone asked me if they can use one of my images as source material or inspiration, I'd be honoured. If someone wants one of my images to use for non-commercial purposes, I'd be delighted. In fact, as I said last time, under Creative Commons, you don't even have to ask.

My father was a smart man.

He's been gone for almost 8 years now, it feels like yesterday. When he was in hospital before he died, I asked if he wanted anything. He said, "Female Dark Chocolate". Huh? What's that? "No Nuts".
My mom was sharp too. She died at 95 a little over a year ago. She said, "Bob (dad) and I will be together in heaven soon. But he's younger than me now: I wonder if he found a girlfriend up there. If he did, I'll kill her!" 
But he said more poignant and less humorous things which I understand more as I get older. One was, "Everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work any more". OK, there is a touch of humour in that, but it's true!

Then there's this one: "I'd rather move when I can, instead of when I have to". This before he and my mom moved from their apartment in Montreal to the Thorne Mills on Steeles senior home. Anyone who has experienced the hard times when elderly parents become ill and have to move into assisted living, closing their homes and selling their belongings, getting rid of the car, all when they are severely ill or perhaps after their deaths, know what I'm talking about. I don't want to impose that on my children.

It's a lot easier to make that step when you choose to instead of when you must.

With that in mind... I've listed my house for sale and I will be moving back to the city. I plan to rent a nice apartment, hopefully in suburban Thornhill or thereabouts, where I'm closer to services such as transit and hospitals, and to a network of friends (not that I don't have friends up here!). My dad also said, "this is the last move we're going to make". I'm NOT saying that.

 As I write this, the property is listed with Re/Max Minden, here's the link to the MLS listing. If you know anyone who wants to live or cottage in God's Country, pass it on! Hurry! I'm told it's a seller's market up here and it's going to go fast. And the crazy Toronto prices haven't hit here yet. Just sayin'...

I'm ambivalent. I have to come to terms with the things I'm going to be giving up. I love winters here. I love my barbecue. Sitting in front of the fire. Crisp, clean air. Plowing the snow is fun, mowing the lawn, not so much. Going out in my boat. Swimming off my dock. Shooting sunrises and sunsets and wildlife and the proximity to Algonquin Park and Carden Plain. The quiet. I won't have all of those things in apartment living, but there will be other advantages. And I plan to travel, starting with two whole months in Newfoundland this summer. A new phase.

Here's a couple of quick iPhone shots of what my living room looks like now. Hmmm. Maybe I'll stay! Nah... If you think it was easy decluttering it, guess again! And keeping it like this for showings? Another challenge. 

Online Portfolio
(in the works!)

A few years ago I terminated my SmugMug online gallery because I was paying a bunch of money for really nothing — I don't sell online and frankly, I wasn't using it. But I feel the need to have someplace to show my work. I started a site at PixieSet but they're really geared towards wedding and other event photographers: it was a huge workaround to even get captions to show on my pictures (what I had to do was to created a bordered print with a caption. I did write a Photoshop Action to do that but it took about 10 minutes for each image, 'way too much work!). Their big advantage was the price: even if you doubled it, it still was free! And in the back of my mind was the ability to create an online store for people to buy prints. I might still use them for that purpose.

Here's a typical example. I run the Action to create the mat, the drop shadow, and set up the signature and the caption, both of which I need to insert manually. Then, like in this case, I edit in a new background colour before saving it back. The Creative Commons logos are added by the export routine in Lightroom.

Adobe includes an app called "Portfolio" in the CC subscription for no additional cost. So I started working with that and slowly, I'm creating an online gallery. It's not ready to share yet but I'll let you know when it is. I mention it here because if you're a CC subscriber, you too can have a free online gallery. It's a little confusing to get started but it does make sense and gets easier as you go along.

watch this space...

Newfoundland trip

Not much new to report except we've firmed up some reservations since I last posted (scroll down to the previous blog posting for details). I did find and reserve a spot in an artist's retreat called "Coffee Cove" that not too many people visit up in the North Central part of the Rock, where I found a 2-bedroom seaside home to rent for the last week of July, the second room is empty as I write this. It would be great to have company there... check it out!

Seascapes and Icebergs off Twillingate 

Basically I have space for visitors from the middle of July onward, in Twillingate, Coffee Cove, Bonavista and Torbay (St. John's area). Huge savings on accommodations if you're considering a visit, although you still have to get there... (mid-week airfares are generally half-price). Contact me!

Picture time!

With a lot of my attention going to readying my house for sale, working out my Newfoundland trip and getting through the early spring "ugly" season, I really haven't been shooting many pictures. However I need to get out of the house (especially when they're working on it and I'm underfoot) so I've been to Algonquin Park a couple of times and as I write this, Trailer-Hitch Larry is picking me up at 7am for another jaunt up there. Hoping for moose this time... it's been a long dry spell.

(I wrote this a week ago. Since then, I've been back to the Park, spending a couple of days there with Dr. Ron and Rob)

The new banner photo for this blog was taken at Mew Lake in Algonquin Park this week.

So without further ado...

Let's start with our perennial favourite, the Pine Marten. So cute, peeking out at us from behind a tree! 

A ruffed grouse, strutting his stuff in the Mew Lake forest. Guess who spotted him? Right. Thanks, Larry!


Crossbills are amazing. You have to wonder how they manage with those warped bills. The yellow one is a female, the red one a male. You can click on a picture to blow it up.

When I was up with Ron and Rob we found these beavers (there was a family of 5 of them!). I'm not a high speed shooter — they each took over 1000 pictures of this guy while I shot 20 or 30. I can't imaging editing through that many pictures! I kind of like this shot! 

When you don't find critters to photograph, you shoot landscapes! Here are a few to end the day.

These pictures were all taken around the same place, Costello Creek on Opeongo Road.  Treatment is quite similar on all of them — first of all, they're all merged pano's because I was shooting with the D5500 and the 17mm lens wasn't wide enough with the cropped sensor. And I finished them all in Topaz Studio, with various impressions presets.

Until next time!

— 30 —

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Sea of Tranquility

The sea of Tranquility. No, not the one on the moon. Just something that occurred to me in response when asked why I'm planning to spend the summer in Newfoundland. Scroll down to read more.

My work is now protected under Creative Commons licensing.

People seem to get their panties in a knot about copyright and their online images getting stolen and copied. I can understand if you're making a living — or a business — out of selling pictures but I don't, really. I've decided that if someone likes my pictures enough to copy them to share on social media, to look at onscreen or even make small prints for their own use, why not? I should be honoured.

I do draw the line at people making large prints because I'd like to have some say about quality, and of course people selling or making money from my images.

I've decided to partially release copyright on the images or copy I post online, both here on the Blog and on Facebook. From now on, my pictures and text are licensed under Creative Commons rules.

Creative Commons
Attribution — NonCommercial — NoDerivs

What that basically means is people can share — copy and redistribute my images in any medium or format subject to the following:
  • they must give appropriate credit to me when they do so
  • they cannot use it for any commercial purpose whatsoever
  • they cannot change the image or text in any way.
This is different from normal copyright rules in that people can use the pictures or text (following the rules above) without asking permission. For example, you can legally download a picture from the blog to share, maybe use it as background wallpaper on your computer or even print it for private non-commercial use (although I don't upload full high resolution images online). If it has a watermark on it like the one above, you can't edit it out. You can quote my writings but you have to say where you got it.

You can still contact me for permission to use my works commercially or for a high resolution print, for instance.

Creative Commons rules are on this page: Have a look.

Time to upgrade the camera?

Not for this old codger. I wrote the following ramble in response to a thread in a Facebook Nikon group. I share it here because it eventually gets to the end message.

I love my D800. It's been frozen shooting pond hockey and dogsled racing, doused in salt water spray on a zodiac in the North Atlantic, drowned in a frog-strangling rainstorm... but like that Timex watch, it keeps on ticking.
Yes, I had it in for service a couple of times, the last time after those liquid events last summer in Newfoundland. There was some corrosion where water got in (apparently around the flash shoe) and the bayonet mount was replaced (too many heavy lenses). Does it ever fail to autofocus? Sure. Do I ever get unexplained exposure variances. Yep. Sometimes. 
The camera is a tool. It's a really fine one. BTW I'm at around 100,000 shutter actuations. Sure I'd love to have the latest and greatest but I'm an old retired guy and my limited funds are going into glass, if anything. And I'm debating a new tripod and gimbal head, my old one's getting a bit heavy for these old bones and arthritic knees.
I met a guy the other day with a slick D5 and a 600 f/4 on a pristine Jobu tripod and gimbal head. Did he get better shots than me? Yes, but part of that was because he's young and can still see through his eyes and can actually hike to where the better images are. And he's skilled.
I shoot birds with my 200-400 f/4. I shoot timelapse star shots and landscapes with my 17-35 f/2.8. I shoot macros and focus stacks with my 105 f/2.8. I shoot all kinds of everything with my 70-200 f/2.8. I love the 36Mp because I don't have to worry about precise framing, I can crop in post.
If I had the money, I'd replace it with a D850 and buy a D500 as a backup to replace the D5500. But for now, I'm really content with what I have and prefer to focus on the art instead of the hardware.

Thanks for putting up with my rambling.

Newfoundland plans are coming together!

At this moment, the plan is to leave for Newfoundland by car in the last week of June, returning at the beginning of September. 

People have asked me, "Why Newfoundland"? It's one of the most spectacular places in the world if you like the idea of outports, small villages, birds, seascapes, stars... I can go there and still be covered by the Canadian medicare system in case anything happens. Although it's a lot of driving, I'm comfortable with that (besides, there's a new engine in my car!). 
What do I want to get out of it? The word, "Peace" comes to mind. I will pursue my photographic art and I hope to be able to accomplish more painting and sketching and writing. 

My friend Amin is travelling with me and will stay until about July 8th. He's coming back at the end of August and will travel back home with me too.

I've arranged to rent accommodations in the following areas:
  • Change Islands, last week of June — focus on icebergs, landscapes, Fogo Island
  • Twillingate, the month of July — focus on icebergs, landscapes, maybe whales, boat tours
  • Bonavista, the first week of August — focus on Puffins, icebergs, whales, boat tours
  • Torbay, the following 3 weeks in August — focus on whales, boat tours, landscapes, cityscapes

On the drive in, we'll be stopping at Peggy's Cove (just for the lobsters!) and once on the Rock, heading straight for Change Islands. From Torbay, I plan day trips including Cape St. Mary (Gannets). On the way home, we'll spend a couple of days on the West coast, a quick look at Gros Morne, the Port au Port peninsula and the bird sanctuaries around Codroy.

The only hole (at this writing) is the last few days of July. I've rented 2-bedroom or bigger houses with the intent of making space available for friends to come visit and join me in experiencing the beauty of this fabulous place.

Except for a few days in Bonavista, where some friends are planning to spend some time with me, I have space available. I'm happy to act as a tour guide and I have help, especially in the St. John's area where Ray Mackey is available. Best photographer/tour guide in Newfoundland!

A previously unedited image. I have LOTS of images from last summer that I haven't gotten around to working on.
Shot in the harbour at Twillingate, sky textures added. 

If you always wanted to come to Newfoundland, this is your chance! My suggestion would be a 2-week visit, one week with me and one week exploring on your own. You need to contact me soon, though, I need to plan! Email me — that's the best way.


Let's move on to some pictures, shall we? After all that's why most of you read this blog. This issue has an eclectic mix of images taken in the past couple of weeks, a hodge-podge of venues and styles. Where shall I start...

I went to Algonquin Park twice so far in February. The animals seem to be avoiding me but the landscape and the birds can't escape my itchy shutter finger.

At Mew Lake, the snow on the trees was awesome. Now this image won't stand up to a close scrutiny because I edited it very roughly, but if you can ignore the little errors (for instance that branch top centre shouldn't be 'hazed out').  The scene was majestic and beautiful. I added the haze to give it atmospheric perspective and make it more 3-dimensional. I also converted it to black and white, although it wasn't really necessary, there wasn't any colour there anyway! 

On my second visit, the icicles hanging on this rock wall on Highway 60 called to me. I wanted to highlight the details and textures in the rocks and the ice. By the way, both this and the trees image are large-pixel-count panoramic merges of multiple frames. Extremely high resolution. 

Then there were the birds. I'm really pleased with the performance of the 200-400mm f/4 Nikon lens, a whole level better than I was able to do before.

American Goldfinch in winter plumage

Female purple finch. 

Male red crossbill. First time I've seen these birds and they're rampant in the park. This one was on a tree behind the visitor's centre. The hard part is the exposure: they sit right up at the top of the trees and when I was there, the sun was directly behind the bird! The magic of Photoshop and Lightroom... 

Next was the pond hockey tournament and the dogsled racing at Pinestone. Some great photo ops!

I just came out to shoot some pictures of Cheryl Hamilton's team, the "Finest Things". On their uniforms, the individual players were identified with big badges, "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" and... I loved their coach, the Cat in the Hat. Some fanciful editing with Topaz Impression to make this whimsical picture. 

I got there late for the dogsled races. I missed everything except the closing 8-dog race. Again lots more shots to edit, but these are a couple of my favourites. The weather was ugly: freezing rain, although it wasn't frigid. 

It was a rainy day in Pizzaville... so I shot indoors for a bit instead of going out there. In an effort to begin decluttering, I put some items up online to sell and did some quick pictures to go with the listings.

These are pieces from a beautiful anodized aluminium chess set I had acquired in the late '60s in New York. I thought I'd get rid of it in an effort to declutter, but I'm just as glad nobody bought it. I shot this in the light tent which provides such even, soft lighting that there's not a shadow to be seen! Each of the pieces is represented in this picture (plus an extra pawn for balance.  
And now, as my closing picture, here's a macro shot of a spider. Since purchasing Helicon Focus software last month, I haven't seen a single bug to photograph. Not one. Then I came across this dead spider and said, "Aha"!

This little guy was about 1cm across. This picture is a composite of 88 stacked images. I was trying to get a picture showing the spider's eyes. Hidden by the hair? Nah. Guess which end of the spider this is! Like one of those little dogs where you can't tell front from back. No wonder I couldn't find them!  

À prochaine!

— 30 —

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Coyote Ugly

Wondering about the title of this blog post? You'll have to scroll down to the picture section to find out. But first i need to catch up with a few things.

It's time to start planning your shooting opportunities this year. There are a couple of excursions or workshops or whatever you want to call them coming up. 

Gales of November

This premier event takes place the last weekend of October in the best resort facility on the North Shore of Lake Superior, the Rock Island Lodge in Wawa. It's a 4-day workshop to celebrate the natural resources of the fall scenery on the biggest Great Lake. This year's workshop is being led by celebrated photographer Ben Eby, with my support. One of the best scenic areas in North America, fantastic lodgings and service, great leadership, economical price, what more could you ask? Photographers of all skill levels are welcome. Drop into for more information (although we still need to update the 2018 information) and drop us a note to let us know if you're interested: we'll get you on the mailing list for information (no spam, we promise!).

Summer on the Rock

I'm planning to spend the summer in Newfoundland. I want to rent 2-bedroom accommodations to make it possible for people to visit and spend some time there. All I'm looking for is to share the rental costs. I know a lot of the best shooting locations and events: where to shoot puffins and whales, icebergs and gannets, seascapes and cityscapes. 

Arguably the best local Newfoundland photographer Ray Mackey, is on board too, to guide and help photographers. He isn't free, but economical and a very personable and knowledgeable guy. 

What I envision is that someone might come to Newfoundland for a couple of weeks, spend a week with me and another week elsewhere. There are several great spots to visit, depending on your preference of subjects. 

For what it's worth, my rough plan is to start with a week on Fogo Island, then a month in Twillingate, a week in Bonavista and a month in the Witless Bay area (which is close to St. Johns and from which you can access the entire Avalon peninsula.  On the way home, I plan to visit the southwest corner, Port au Port and Codroy before getting on the ferry. End of June through end of August.

I have 3 or 4 interested people so far. My commitment to rent specific places depends on whether people will come visit (if not, I'll just rent one-bedroom places). So I need to hear from you if you're thinking of coming, we can talk about details directly. Please email me.

By the way, I wrote half a dozen blog posts about my trip last summer, starting with this one: At the bottom of each page on the left, is a link marked "newer post". If you click that, you'll get to the next one. Have a look, lots of pictures and stories there. Worth a visit.

Pictures. More pictures.


Back in December I told you about buying Helicon Focus, a program to facilitate focus stacking multiple images. Mostly used in the macro world, it leads to some remarkably detailed photos. The most spectacular are insects (although snowflakes are very cool too!).  There are no insects around yet, and I haven't gotten the hang of snowflakes yet. 

But this is a very left-brained technique and it takes practice. So I've been working on it, making some progress. Here are a few shots from the other day. Each one is somewhere between 30 and 70 stacked images. All of these were shot with a Nikkor 105mm macro lens, using a variety of extension tubes.

I lined up a few .410ga shotgun shells in my light tent. Dig the detail! 

These are .22 Short cartridges, sitting on top of a boxful of them. Both of these two shots are done with contrasty hard lighting. The cartridges are 16mm long, by the way.

For this image, I changed to indirect soft lighting and I zoomed in, then cropped even tighter. Look at the surface details on the bullet (they're copper flashed in production to keep them from corroding over time. That's way thinner than 'copper plated').  

Marie and Simone's Visit

Marie Algieri-Goldgrub and Simone Koffman came to visit for a day and we went to the ice races in Minden.

I shot this with my new 200-400mm lens (at 300mm). This is right after the start flag drops and the cars skitter around like insects on a hot plate.

I switched to my 70-200mm for this shot of a car losing it and crashing into the ice wall. The driver is looking up the track to see if anyone is about to T-bone him. 

We moved on to 12-mile lake and the ice huts. We went out on the ice on my ATV (well, Marie walked...) to get a better angle. I'm anxious to see the shots they got!

Me and Simone on the ATV. It wasn't really a cold day — say about -8°C — but with the wind out on the open lake, it was chilly. There's very little snow, it rained last week and washed a lot of it away. Photo by Marie, reproduced with permission. 

Here's one of my shots.  

Sometimes you put a lot of effort into a picture and it goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Here's a case in point:

This is a 6-image panoramic, 3 across and 2 high. The resulting image was approximately 90 Mp in size and contained a huge amount of detail. 

While it's true that one shouldn't judge an image by how it was created or how difficult it was, I did a lot of work to make it look like what I pre-visualized.  Here's the original shot, straight out of the camera (but already merged to the pano):

Nothing major wrong with it that a little tweaking wouldn't solve but I decided to put some effort into it. Probably the first thing you'll notice is that there is no green hut in the original, the original is wider, and there's a nondescript wooden hut off to the right. I spent some time carefully moving it where I wanted it and then cropping off the right side and some of the sky. Then I thought, if I have a blue and a red hut, I need a green one, so I changed its colour.

I wanted some texture in the sky and the foreground ice, which I did in Topaz Studio, selecting an HDR-like effect then editing it so it wasn't so strong.

Outing with Larry

Larry called me and said, "let's go looking for Snowy Owls again". This time he wouldn't let me drive (see my last post!). Larry really knows how to find stuff, and he can actually see things!

I took my new 200-400mm f/4 Nikon lens. And my 1.7x teleconverter. Now I have to say, I was looking forward to some exciting sharp images and... disappointment. This is a very difficult lens to use right, especially handheld. After this day, I have to question the use of the teleconverter: it gives you an effective focal length of 650mm. I'm sure with some practice... but for now I'd better save that for when I'm on a tripod, and after some practice.

The first wildlife we spotted were some trumpeter (pretty sure!) swans. Here are a pair of them taking off

Swans should be soft, right? So I softened this one in post-

At 400mm, I was able to capture this flying swan. The autofocus is surprisingly quick! 

Eventually we found a snowy owl on a fence in a farmyard. After talking with the farmer and getting permission, we cautiously crept in and snuck up on the owl without disturbing her. I have the vision of a moose. Moose can't see stuff that doesn't move and neither can I. The bird is right out there, bright white, and I couldn't find it. Larry had 50 shots before he patiently helped me to locate it. Once he did, it was obvious!

Tell me how I couldn't see this. I had to do a ton of work in post-processing to make this come out sharp.  

Coyote Ugly

Kept you waiting! 

While we were shooting the snowy owl, a pair of coyotes showed up in the back 40. With a huge amount of post-processing, I was able to come up with this shot. 

A beautiful, healthy looking animal. Hunting mice in the field with (presumably) his mate. 

After lunch, we came across another coyote. This one, however...

Coyote Ugly. This guy had mange, his whole back end was fur-less. Sad. I imagine surviving the winter will be a challenge. By the way, this shot required far less processing and shows me what this lens is capable of. 

Catch you later. And don't forget to email me if you're at all interested in Newfoundland this summer. I'll keep you in the loop.

— 30 —

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pay it Forward

Pay it Forward

Time for a story. Let me preface it by, (1) it wasn't my fault, (2) the photos in this part are not mine, and (3) those who know me know that I've been writing creatively for many years (to wit, this Blog!) and the Great Canadian Novel is eventually going to come out, if I live that long! Enjoy.

"Trailer-hitch" Larry and I were looking for snowy owls to shoot. With cameras, dear reader, not guns. We could have gone to the Barrie area where we know there are some because this guy Len baits them with store-bought mice and charges tourist wannabe photographers an arm and a leg to photograph them close up. But it's more satisfying to find them in the wild. We've seen them in the Glenarm area before, him more than me because he can actually see out of his eyes. His nickname hearkens back to last year when an old beat-up Toyota sitting behind us, held together with duct tape and baling wire, suddenly sprouted a 2" hole in his front grill, exactly the size of Larry's trailer hitch ball. Come to think of it, we were snowy owl hunting that time too, with Dr. Ron...

This time it was just me and Larry. I was driving because I figured we'd have a better chance if Larry was the spotter. Amazing how he sees stuff. Kathy's got that talent too, but if a moose walked into my front yard and started grazing on the raspberry bushes right in front of my window, I probably wouldn't see him. I always kid Fred about how many deer he sees when driving up here in Haliburton, even when were going to the same meeting, I never see one and he posts dashcam video by the time I get home. I never see one, they're probably there but I just don't spot them.

I'd say, "Hey, Larry, look. A bird just flew over".

He'd say, "yup it was an immature male merganser and it looks like something is wrong with the second toe on his right foot".
"What kind of tracks are those?"
"Looks like a coyote tracking a flock of wild turkeys. Not chasing them, the tracks are too close together so he wasn't running".
I hate Larry.

"Snowys nest along this fenceline", Larry says. "They hunker down under the roots of those fallen trees. Sometimes you'll see them sitting on the ground in the field, or on a fencepost where they can spot prey".

Sure they do, Larry. White birds with camouflaged black patterns sitting in the snow 100 yards away under broken black branches. Don't get me wrong, I've seen Snowy owls. Sitting on top of a hydro pole or on the roof of a barn or church or house. But only when someone says, "hey, look! There's a snowy owl!".

He saw 10 bald eagles and a herd of deer at the landfill the other day. Not just a story — I talked to the guy who works there. I said, "Larry told me he saw 10 eagles and a bunch of deer".


Did I tell you I hate Larry?

Anyway, Trailer-hitch and I are driving the back roads south of Glenarm, looking for snowys. We come to an intersection, and lo and behold, an Amish buggy crosses our path. That I can see: it's big and black and there's a horse towing it and it has one of those dayglo orange triangles on the back to warn motorists. Google will tell you the difference between "Amish" and "Mennonite". The former are more strict and eschew modern tools, like cars and machinery. Go ahead, look it up. I'd recently seen a great picture featuring one and thought I'd like to try to get a shot, so I turned the corner to follow them. That's where the trouble began.

Picture one of those big old highway snowplow trucks, where the blade extends out wider than the truck itself, especially on the right side, where they drive down a highway lane and clear the lane and the shoulder too at the same time. Now picture what happens when he turns a corner: the plow blade clears a beautiful swath around the inside of the corner so it looks just like a nice, flat, cleared road. But underneath that smooth surface is... a ditch. That's what i figure happened, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I turned the corner. First inkling of a problem was Larry saying, "uh-oh" and the second was this tilting feeling.

Sometimes stuff happens in slow motion and you know there's nothing you can do about it. It's like if you're a motorcycle rider and you get off the bike and forget to put the sidestand down. Or you're making a u-turn on the crest of a hill and you come to a stop mid-turn with the bike leaning too far over and you KNOW what's about to happen. I'll leave you to guess why I chose these examples.

So we come to a stop. I look at Larry. He looks at me. I try to put it in reverse and use the 4WD. But I know. And he knows. And he says, "looks like I'm going to have to climb out the window or crawl out your side". And I can't get out either because I'm using my legs to hold the door from falling closed and can't get enough leverage to lift myself out of the seat. Probably also has something to do with me being 'short for my weight' and in great shape if I were 100 years old. Hey, round IS a shape... I tell Larry to push on my back. He does and I fall out of the tilted car. He crawls after me.

We ain't going nowhere. I knew I hadn't damaged anything but we're stuck. And I had let my CAA membership lapse, so my first thought was, "this ain't gonna be cheap". Neither one of us is a Canadian Winter newbie: we both have thick winter coats, hats, gloves, boots. I was actually in full camo because, well hunting clothes are made to be warm, dry and more importantly, to fit people in great shape like me.

Larry says, "I think I saw a tractor at that farm back there. Let's try them before calling a tow". We went traipsing off down the road and sure enough, there's a huge John Deere in the farmyard, only problem is: nobody home. "Let's try the farm where we saw the buggy turn in. Bound to be someone there".

We walk into the farmyard, trying to look needy and contrite. There were about 3 men there; the closest one a young lad I'd guess in his late teens or early 20's, clean shaven, red face from working out in the cold, a second man somewhat older, with a dark and straggly beard and the third your stereotypical Amish elder with a long grey unkempt beard and a lined face that has obviously seen many harsh winters. All three were dressed in rough farm clothing with rubber boots, heavy pants and dark, sturdy coats. All of them wore variations of those kind of hats that they've probably had for years, weathered and hard-worn the kind of thing Yuppies look for in high end stores and would pay hundreds of dollars for in a heartbeat.

There was also a sledge in the yard, with a team of two large, sturdy draught horses hitched to it. The kind you'd see in a beer commercial but without the hairy Clydesdale hoofs. We explained our situation, and stepped out in the road to point out my vehicle clearly captured by the false promise of smooth hard snow. Someone said, "well let's get to 'er". They said they had towed another hapless motorist out of the ditch across from the farm entrance, and someone mentioned that a snowplow had gotten stuck in the same spot we were in a couple of years earlier. 

They all came out to help! Picture by Larry

Suddenly, there weren't just 3 of them. We turned around and started walking back to the car, accompanied by probably 10 more men. The horses and sledge quickly overtook us and on the sledge were perhaps another half dozen men and a couple of young boys. Everyone had those great hats! By the time we got to the car, the sledge was parked, men were unhitching the horses and a couple of them were crawling under the car trying to figure out where to attach a chain. The only visible hooks were on the front, so it was decided to pull it out that way. Subaru, by the way, has hidden places where tow hooks can be attached, we learned later and there were hooks in the spare tire compartment. I know... read the f'in manual!

The whole family came.  The big guy in the middle came out of that F-150, I think. Now that I look at this picture, I guess they didn't ALL have those great hats. I'll bet they do, but it's winter... Picture by Larry

These folks didn't mess around. I realized this was going to happen like, right now. So I dived into the car to start the engine and take the transmission out of Park. I didn't make it! Those huge, living, one horsepower creatures had already started effortlessly pulling my car out, locked wheels and all! I managed to get it into drive eventually, and a few seconds later, I was safely stopped in the middle of the road. 30 seconds later, the horses were hitched back up to the sledge, they had turned around and everyone had piled on board for the ride back to the farm.

That has to be more than one horsepower! Picture by Larry 

They pulled me out like it was nothing! Even before I got it out of Park. Picture compliments of Sam Tallman from Haliburton. She was in that black F150 that came to help. That's Trailer Hitch Larry

I got out and shook hands with 3 or 4 of them, as many as I could get to. I went to the elder gentleman and thanked him profusely and I asked if there were some other way I could express my appreciation. He looked at me and said, "No thank you. Pay it forward." 

And off they went, horses chuffing and the sledge grating on the road surface, chains jangling and a silent score of unassuming heroes getting back to their chores. Back in the car, we thought about how "help thy neighbour" is a lost concept in the world we live in, but not in their world. It's like that in Newfoundland too, that's one reason I love the place so much.

And off we went, to a nearby rural bakery for a 'slice' and a coffee. We bought pies to take home. We messed up making change paying for them and I ended up giving them $10 too much. That's OK, they needed it more than me. 

Homeward Bound! Picture by Larry 

I will. Pay it forward.

Ice Fishing is a "Thing"

Tourist season in the Highlands is of course in the summer. The population increases by an order of magnitude, the likelihood of meeting another car on the road is actually higher than that of encountering a deer. Then comes the fall; after the leaves are down people batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of winter. But among them are those who spend their time figuratively sharpening their fishing rods and getting ready to wander out on the ice in search of finny food. And there are actually people who come up here in order to sit out on the ice, braving the wintry chill or in heated huts, in the off-chance that some frigid fish might swim by and grab a wriggling minnow. The Inns and B&B's actually have customers in the winter!

Of course that presumes that they actually go out there to fish. When I've visited ice fishing huts in the past, one can attain a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.8 just by breathing. But these people are obsessive about getting out there. To the point where, well, all their brain cells have fizzled and died.

Listen. It was +7°C and raining last week. Obviously the ice was thick enough for him to get out there (he's about 150m away from shore) and that's surface water you're seeing but just behind him is fast flowing water from the 12-Mile Lake dam which NEVER freezes, and he's fishing through an opening in the ice. A candidate for the Darwin Awards. I drove by an hour later and the red hut was there but he wasn't.

I got to thinking what would happen if he fell in? All I would be able to do would be to dial 9-1-1 and watch as he drowned. That's all anyone could do. Folks, let's not be stupid out there. 

Now when it gets colder, and there's a foot of solid ice out there, it's another story. This is on 12-Mile Lake opposite me — half a dozen huts are out there now.  I haven't been out to visit yet but I should be able to this weekend. 

Algonquin Park

I do go there a lot. Some days you don't see anything interesting to photograph but a day in the Park is better than a day at home (or in the office) ANY time. Dr. Ron and a group of people were up for the weekend, staying in a beautiful cabin (OK, "house". 'way bigger than mine!) in Dwight. I had a commitment for Sunday, so I just came up to visit for the day on Saturday, and Amin came with me. 

My "Sunday" commitment was to go to Toronto and pick up that 200-400 f/4 Nikon lens I told you about last week. Got it! Yahoo!

Ron has one of these lenses. He's a good friend and he let me use it for the day before parting with all my shekels for the one I was buying. With the usual caveat, "you drop it, you own it". Actually, I took it to mean, "you SCRATCH it, you own it". I was really careful!

It is an AWESOME lens. Here's the very first shot I took with it:

Dr. Ron. Straight out of camera, not even cropped. Wide open at f/4. I love it.  

One of the first stops we made to photograph was along Hwy 60 — the cycle of warm, wet and cold has created outstanding frozen water cascades along the rock surfaces on the roadside. The colour variations in the ice are beautiful, a watercolour painter would kill for that effect. As near as I can figure it out: thin ice structures are basically white, while the thick ones have more colour. If the water has dragged bits of earth down with it, there's a yellowish-brown tinge. But once that has cleared, new water dripping down will take on a blue or green cast due to trapped gasses or the way ice crystals refract light. Icebergs display similar characteristics but even more pronounced. 

I enhanced this painted image to illustrate the colour variations 

Luba Citrin trying to decide what to shoot.  Choices are almost infinite, from sweeping wide angles to textured surfaces and details, down to plants trapped in the ice or even macro shots. 

Here's a sequence of three shots I did of a lonely alderberry twig trapped in the ice.  I still don't know how to crop it! 

Then I decided to turn it into an impressionist image using both the Seven Styles Watercolour action (which doesn't work perfectly in the latest 2018 Photoshop, have to work on that) and finishing it with Topaz Studio, starting with the Impasto preset in Impression and modifying from there.

This should make a dandy canvas print. My walls are getting full, though! 

There's a canvas print supplier I've been working with who is offering incredibly discounted prices. I can happily sell stretched, wrapped canvas images up to 24 x 36 inches at surprisingly low prices. This is a time-limited offer, anyone interested should contact me ASAP. If you are a subscriber to this blog you will have received more detail (see below)

We stopped at the Visitor Centre to shoot birds at the big feeders around back. I was motivated to test that borrowed 200-400mm lens and I gave it a good workout. Literally: I did not pull out the tripod and gimbal mount so I shot handheld, albeit braced on the balcony railing. I've had tendonitis in my left wrist ever since! 9 pounds doesn't sound that heavy but when it's jutting out cantilevered from the camera...

Here's a female white-winged crossbill shot with the 400mm. Cropped a bit... and I got lucky with the sun on the bird and the dark background.  

This is a goldfinch in its winter plumage, puffed out to insulate itself against the biting cold (it was -22°C and who knows what the windchill was!). This was at 650mm because I had mounted the 1.7x converter for a few shots. I love the bokeh of the background in this shot, wide open at approximately f/6.7 (1/1000k sec, ISO 450). I edited two versions of this shot, the other one with added clarity and detail and sharpening done in Studio but this one is only basic Lightroom edits, so this is what came out of the camera. Or the lens.

La pièce de résistance. This is an immature male red crossbill. I had no idea they were so colourful! This shot has earned more "likes" on Facebook than any other picture I've put up. Originally I said that I didn't see what the front of the bird looked like, until I went through my images and found a couple of others, which I had initially rejected for focus and other reasons.

If you follow this blog (click the Newsletter icon at top right), you will have received a heads-up email with one of those frontal pictures included. I always include a picture that I haven't posted anywhere else. 

Two final comments before we close for today: 

  • Kudo's to Subaru who, as my readers already know, replaced my engine because it burned too much oil, even though I had over 200,000 km on the car. I did end up paying for some service — my oil pan was leaking and my rad had a crack in it, and I needed new brakes all around — but now I have a car I can continue driving for much longer. Eddie and the crew at Minden Subaru are the best, and
  • I really am seriously considering Newfoundland for the entire summer. If you want to come to Newfoundland, I'm planning to rent a 2-bedroom place so that some of my photographer or artist friends can visit. I'll guide them to some of the best spots and I've already been in touch with one or more of the premier photographers on the Rock to provide guiding services as well. But it's time to start looking at who might be coming and when; you need to get in touch with me if you'd like to talk about it.

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