Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What Inspires Me?

What Inspires Me?

I'm intrigued by this quotation: Pablo Picasso said, "good artists copy; great artists steal" (the attribution is unclear; go here). I'm not sure I fully understand or agree with the meaning of this aphorism as written. The intent is pretty clear, though. An artist will take those things that inspire him and incorporate them in his own work. How well he does that defines his place in the art world.

You might disagree. but everyone has been influenced by others. The best example I can think of is Oscar Peterson, who was influenced by the likes of Art Tatum and Nat "King" Cole (jump to 1:35 in the link for the solo) and who far surpassed them as arguably the best jazz pianist ever (here's a link to one of my favourites, I actually learned to play this. Want to hear the master for an hour like I did? Go here.) OK, back on topic, I got sidetracked...

By no means should an artist directly copy anyone. To me, being an artist is to create, not to duplicate. That said, if I could play one song like Peterson, I'd be in heaven, but I'd be a mechanic, not an artist. Make sense? But allowing someone else's style to influence your work is a given – that's how art evolves. Think about the Impressionist movement, a genre that evolved from the work of Claude Monet.

So what inspires me? The work of Yousuf Karsh, to start with, although I don't shoot portraits. Ansel Adams, of course. The writings and teachings of Bruce Barnbaum. A tip of the hat to Freeman Patterson, Richard Martin and other lesser knowns like Lance Gitter and Ron Goodlin. Hilarie Mcneil-Smith. Bharat Mistry. An eclectic mix. If I could take a little from each and make it my own...
...and lately, Vincent van Gogh, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris...

I'm fascinated by the graphics work that went into the making of the title sequence of the HBO Mini-series, "The Pacific". This link is to a video showing the sequence, and scroll down for an interview with Art Director Steve Fuller. This is outstanding and inspiring to me, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

This image is from the Art of the Title page, here. It's a composite of processed drawings by Steve Fuller. In the title sequence, they morph brilliantly into video footage. It's the look and feel of the charcoal renderings that I find outstanding. Image published here with permission.

It's frustrating as a photographer to see what professional cinematographers and art directors can do. Sometimes I get the feeling that the rest of us are just playing. Read the backstory below the image on the linked page.

I think of myself as a "craftsman". Maybe one day, a history book will describe me as an artist. That's what I'm striving for. I'm not there yet.

Another new program from Topaz!

This one's called "Topaz Glow". You need to watch their video to see best what it does, here's the link..

Here's the first image I edited with it

It's on sale for the month of December at the introductory price of $49.99 (that's a $20 savings) at this link: http://goo.gl/aQvTVd. Enter INTROGLOW in the coupon code at checkout. By the way, it shares a lot of things with Impression. Including the hardware requirements, so if you're not sure, do the 30 day free trial before you buy. 

Here's another image. I posted a charcoal version last week but the Glow version is exciting!

This is a vertical version of the same trees. Can't decide which one I like better. You? Please comment 

A complex Photoshop Action

After writing the opening story for this blog, I posted a question on the Topaz Impression group on Facebook about whether anyone knew how to achieve the charcoal effect I talked about. Lo and behold...

A fellow named John Stevenson in England has written an Action that works in Photoshop CC and is making it available for free. It's really complicated under the hood, but a dummy like me was able to figure out how to use it (although I did have to fiddle with the last step). Anyway, here's the link to where you can download it. John, my hat's off to you.
You need Photoshop CC or CC2014 plus Topaz Impression for this Action to work. 

Here's an image I tested it on, from the dogsled races last winter.  

This is the original image:

So you can see I'm spending a lot of time in front of the computer, not out taking pictures. I was a little under the weather last week, plus the other kind of weather wasn't great! 

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I'm back after a few days off

I've taken a few days off. It's very rare for me to have not picked up my camera and I actually had an infrequent visit with my son, daughter-in-law and the grandkids, and left my camera in the car. I wanted to be a participant, not an observer. 
I also attended a wedding last Sunday and while I was interested in watching the technique of the photographer, I had, and still have, zero desire to shoot that kind of event. They did a lot of video and not so much stills, by the way. And they did a lot of shooting from the hip with wide angle lenses. Wonder how those will turn out?
It's not easy for me to be motivated to shoot at this time of year. As I sit here, my light tent is still sitting on my dining room table (it's a lot of effort figuring out how to fold it up!) from when I tested the ring light (below). It's grey and cold and damp outside... but I needed to put down the camera for a few days. 

These first two articles are directed at other photographers. If you're not one, bear with me and try not to be too bored!

Judging Photojournalism

As many of you know, I was honoured to be asked to judge the TCC International Salon, Photojournalism category. It was a great experience, very challenging and really educational at the same time.

We viewed well over 800 images (and re-viewed at least 100 of them!) some of which could easily have appeared in National Geographic. All of the judges instantly agreed on the single best image in the group and after choosing the top 15 images for awards, and about 24 others for honourable mentions, and eliminating 29 out of 100 tied candidates for "acceptances" our eyes were all going in circles.

The category "Photojournalism" is extremely broad. It comprises topical newsworthy images, plus documentary and sports images, making it really hard to stay consistent. So we had to score images captured at a massive and deadly fire somewhere in Southern Asia, cowboys riding bulls at a rodeo, football action, kayakers on white water shots of poverty-stricken families in a Yurt, dancers in flamboyantly coloured costumes and rock concerts! How do you do that and remain consistent?

The only negative was that the organizers had not vetted the images, so we were presented some which were not in-category, for which I felt I had to dock points (it was not our place to disqualify them). That was hard to do since some were really outstanding, just not on-topic!

In the end, out of all these images, there were about a dozen that had the "WOW" factor. So don't be discouraged (fellow club members who are afraid to enter competitions!), this was an INTERNATIONAL SALON! Even here there are images that stand out and some that don't. By the way, when you view 1000 images, there's no provision for comments... I had to bite my tongue a few times!

Two things came out of this as recommendations for you: (1) stay on topic. If the category is "action", for instance, a cow eating a flower isn't going to cut it. Neither is a kayaker paddling in the distance on calm water. And (2) Look at your images as if they were someone else's kids, not yours, as a stranger would see them. I know you think your cat is cute but not to someone who has never met the animal (or worse, hates cats).

I want to take this opportunity to thank the academy, my mother and all the little people... kidding, but I hope I get asked again.

Oh, and one more thing: there's a selfish aspect to being a judge: you get exposed to some outstanding images, you can clearly see the ones that have that "WOW" factor and your own photography can benefit, and you get to meet and spend time with some wonderful people you might not otherwise get to meet!

I Bought a Ring Light

They use them all the time on CSI. But how do you get the details of fingerprints or tire tracks when the light is coming from the same direction as the lens? Turns out, you can. It wouldn't be my first choice, but hey, it looks sexy on TV (ever notice that the serious 'foresnic' folks use Nikons? LOL).

This is the ringlight on the lens. Plus a bunch of sharpening stuff in PS and LR 

In this one I took the ring off the lens and held it at about a 45° angle. You tell me which one shows the detail better.

BTW I decided that if I was going to give you the finger, I'd use the correct one... are everyone's fingers this full of lines and cracks (surface, not the fingerprint)? Or is it because I'm getting old? 

Because you're generally shooting close to the subject, light from the ring will be very soft, despite the fact that it's coming straight from the camera. It's quite interesting.

I like shooting macro and small objects in the light tent (disclaimer: I still don't have a real macro lens. One day...) and the ringlight seems to be a nice way to go. But also, I've seen some portraits shot recently with them and the lighting is excellent, not to mention those great catchlights!

I wasn't able to get the kind of catchlights I wanted, but these are interesting. By the way, I HATE pictures of myself. However today I was testing the new ringlight and playing around, and shot this 'selfie' image. I didn't nail the focus on the eyes so I decided to use Topaz Impression (Degas preset) to make the whole thing painterly. I actually don't HATE this image.

So I found one on Amazon and, for $49, how can you go wrong?
FWIW, here are the links:
     Nikon version at Amazon Canada: http://goo.gl/IpkVQ4.
     Canon version in Canada: http://goo.gl/1oIMeD.
     Nikon version at Amazon.com (USA): http://goo.gl/nT6UVI.
     Canon version in US: http://goo.gl/MoG9QE.
(I think the Nikon and Canon versions have different pinouts at the flash shoe)
You know you "get what you pay for", right? In this case it works as advertised but there are some things you have to work around.

  • You mount the 'sender' unit in the hotshoe and the ring on the lens (it comes with a bunch of adapters for different sized lenses). 
  • When you turn it on, the LEDs light up and they'll stay that way as long as you're pressing the shutter release halfway (odd, because mine is disabled, I use back-button focusing). 
  • If you're in flash mode, it will flash about twice as bright as the continuous light. But the continuous stays on.
  • You can adjust the light output continuously over a 2:1 range. The flash output changes too. You can double that effect by turning off half of the lights from the sender.
  • To fool it, so the continuous light is not on, I took the 'sender' off the camera. To make it flash, you have to do it manually.
  • I can't get it to work with my synchronized off-camera flash. But I did use the continuous light together with the flash.
  • The real bad news is that it vignettes like mad. The ring is only 66mm in diameter although the adapter fits up to a 77mm lens diameter; and it extends about 30mm forward of the front glass, so coverage is less than ideal. It works if you switch to DX (cropped sensor) mode.
It's going to be fun to use, though, and I'm looking forward to shooting some people shots with it. Stay tuned!

Here's a macro shot in the light tent. That's not grain, it's the surface of the plexiglass they were on. These are teeny-tiny .22 calibre CB Caps, by the way. 

I set these leaves in the light tent and shot them with the ringlight only. This is actually 4 exposures, focus stacked. Neat lighting!

Here's the actual setup, behind the scene. I shot in continuous mode, 1/8 sec at f/11, ISO 800, lens was the 24-120 at 120mm, but in DX mode.  

If you're not a photographer, your eyes are probably glazed over. Sorry about that!

One more for the Photographers.

Or at least for the photoshoppers! This is an example of how I used Topaz Impression on this image. This is a screen grab from Photoshop.

The intent was to give this shot a painterly look. But I wanted the Christmas tree to be kind of impressionistic, the house to be a coloured sketch and the background to be detailed but muted. So I used several different masked layers. Want to know how to do this stuff? Come take a course! (if you're reading this before the end of the Black Friday weekend, go here; www.photography.to/blackfriday.htm. Otherwise, www.photography.to/photoediting.htm

Here's the actual image 

Here are a couple of fresh images for your enjoyment. I was driving home from Uxbridge on Saturday and came across this row of trees.

I actually made a U-turn and stopped to take this shot because something about it caught my eye. This was along Lakeridge Road just North of Uxbridge. Each of the fields that bordered on the road was guarded by a line of sentinel trees (are these oaks? I plead ignorance). I tried to process this a few different ways but I kept coming back to this charcoal look.  

As the sun started to set, I thought about this shot, a bare tree silhouetted against the colourful sky and I actually pictured this kind of brush stroke effect. I was surprised to discover that I shot this five minutes BEFORE the previous (sentinels) shot. I thought I took it much later. The swirling blend of colours in the sky is reminiscent of van Gogh's style (but a bit more subtle). 

I raced to try to capture something of the sunset but couldn't find a suitable spot to shoot from. As a last desperation attempt, I pulled into the Independent store in Beaverton and there was a small lot in the back. I shot this out the car window because I didn't have time to set up before the clouds hid the setting sun. The foreground uses a heavy Impasto style and the sky is more in the style of Edward Hopper. 

Something that Topaz Impression has awakened in me is awareness of painting styles and the techniques of the masters. I'm moving closer to the day that I might pick up a brush and try to paint myself. Stay tuned!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Am I one-dimensional?

today you get some "sporadic musings" to start things off. Just trying to change things up from time to time.

...I hope not. At least I'm trying not to be. Yes, my first passion is photography, but there are other things in life. Something missing is people and I'm trying to correct that, but I do have others: writing, teaching, music, the outdoors...

I love music. If I could come back as anything in another life it would be as a musician. I envy people who can express their emotions so, well, blatantly. When was the last time you looked at a photo or a painting and were moved almost to the point of tears? Or with joy? So all of that said, I know that I can't play any instrument like I want to (my keyboard is sitting to my left as I write this, a guitar leaning against the wall and a handful of harps (harmonicas) lying on top of the keyboard. All unused for months now). But I can certainly listen to others play and perform.

What's driving this discourse is the fact that I attended a great concert in Haliburton last Saturday, by Harry Manx (and Steve Marriner). Both terrific musicians, first one in a long time. I didn't bring my camera in, although I could have – I decided I wanted to enjoy experiencing the music instead of trying to photograph it. I gave in and shot a couple of iPhone shots, that's all.

Too many links... go to YouTube and search for these guys. Their music is off the wall and not what you're likely used to but you might be impressed by the skill and emotion with which they play. PS, I never thought I'd be impressed by someone who plays a Sitar (or sitar-like instrument like the mohan veena) and clearly is influenced by Indian music (OK, George Harrison...). He did drop the "Ravi Shankar" name.

As I re-read this and wonder why I wrote it anyway, the realization has set in that as I age, I've transitioned from participant to observer, and that's not a great feeling. I used to ski, hunt, fish, hike, work out, play racquetball, put 17km on my legs and knees on a weekend teaching motorcycling... I was invited on a trip to Yellowstone yesterday and have been considering Iceland. But my first thought is, "how much walking is involved"? {sigh}. I really have to do some of these before I can't any more.
Message: don't "put off until tomorrow what you can do today..."

Another Great Experience

I've been fascinated by American Sign Language for some time. I haven't learned it properly because I really don't have anyone nearby to practice with, although I know three people who are very conversant with it: my cousin Dr. Steve who is a psychologist and specializes in deaf patients, Shannon, a photographer friend from the Huntsville area who is hearing impaired and in fact teaches ASL, and my friend Ilana who works with deaf kids at the York Region School Board.

Enough intro? Ilana and I went to a new restaurant in Toronto called "Signs" where all of the wait staff are deaf. And you have to order from the menu using ASL (there are 'cheat sheets' on the menu and the table!). The food is good, prices are Toronto-competitive, and the atmosphere is outstanding! I highly recommend the place.

I was going to photoshop this to make me taller and slimmer and not so stupid looking, but hey, 'I yam what I yam'. Ilana, of course, doesn't need any photoshopping! 

By the way, when we first walked in, the maƮtresse-d' (did I get that right?) specifically said it's OK to take pictures. In hindsight, I should have taken some shots of our waitress Chandri (her 'sign name' is "Candy". You'll understand what that means if you get into ASL), while she was talking with us. Signing with us. I will next time, because I'm definitely going back. Watch the little video on the Signs site.

What's fascinating about ASL is it isn't just making signs with your hands, speaking in ASL is like acting. You need to add body language and facial expressions. People who speak it well are soooo fast! It's hard to read them! But our waitress and the other staff at Signs know that, and are really helpful!

By the way, as long as I'm rambling on about this, did you know that there's less and less need for signing today? Two reasons that come to mind: a large percentage of profoundly deaf people can regain some hearing through cochlear implants today; Ilana tells me there's almost no need for signing in the public school system any more; and electronics, like iPads and the like, make communicating much easier than it used to be. See? You learned some trivia today!

I DID photoshop this one. Slim, eh? Too bad it's not that easy in real life! 

PS If you Google "ASL" or "American Sign Language", there's lots of links to learning the basics.

Speaking of iPads...

I was, right? OK, I mentioned them... I can't use my old iPad 1 as much any more. Somebody mentioned recently that Apple has built obsolescence into the iPad (and iPhone) products. They have, haven't they? Consider that I can't upgrade the I/OS in the old iPad beyond version 5. Then apps come along with updates that I can't install or worse, that I can install but no longer work. I haven't figured it out yet, but iBooks, which I used to use to read a library of books and pdf's on the iPad, doesn't want to work any more. Hell, I can't even play Scrabble. I think Apple wants me to buy a new one... anyone else have this issue?

Colour Space

For my photographer and Photoshopping friends (what photographer doesn't do post processing today?), the issue of colour space is important. Bottom line, what you see on your screen will likely not match what you get when you print; and what you see on the internet (especially FaceBook!) doesn't look like what you're seeing in Photoshop or Lightroom. It's not a simple topic.

When you're editing, you're likely using a "colour space" which is bigger than what the printer or monitor can handle. For example, you might have something fluorescent orange which won't look that way when you print it, but you want to edit it in such a way that you can see all the detail, all the nuances of colour in the program, onscreen. But as I said, the minute you want to post that image online or print it, you have to convert it to the colour space those media can handle. And that's not so simple either! For example, do you want that range of fluorescent orange colours to look like the brightest orange you can print, or do you want to "map" them down into the colour space so you can still pick up details?

A good example was that business card I showed you last week: the printing press uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks to create the colours, your monitor uses red-green-blue*. They're obviously going to look different and in this case, I had a greenish tinge. Both Lightroom and Photoshop have the ability to simulate what the image is going to look like in a different colour space – PS more that LR – and it's called "soft proofing". Here's an example

The picture on the right is what the image looked like when I finished editing it (just the colour, etc. I haven't edited the picture itself, so don't criticize it!). But when I saved it for FaceBook it looked like the middle one. In order to make it look good in sRGB (for online or printing) I had to change it in Lightroom to look like the picture at left.

* Actually whenever you put ink on paper, you're dealing with reflective colours and when you look at images on a monitor, it's transmissive colours. So all printers work on the CMYK principle. When you send an image to your inkjet printer, you send an sRGB image and the printer translates that into how much Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black to put on the paper. Some printers have more ink colours (the Epson 7900 has 11 of them, if I recall correctly) in order to reproduce nuances better. Some newer ones can work in other colour spaces. I don't know any printer that can reproduce fluorescent orange the same way a monitor can.

So if you've ever sent a picture out for printing or posted it online and you were disappointed with the colour, this might be the reason why.

Don't get me started on the need to calibrate your monitor if you've got any hope that what you see is what you're going to get! What if your monitor was too red? You'd adjust a picture onscreen until it looks right but look at it on someone else's monitor or in print? If you calibrate you have a chance that they'll be the same.

So much for my lecturing for today. It's one of the things I talk about in my Photoshop and Lightroom workshops. Want to learn more? It's the right time of year, the weather outside's getting frightening! Read about it at www.photography.to and sign up for a course!

What's Art?

There's a discussion going on on Facebook about whether using Topaz Impression is cheating, pretending to be an artist. There are arguments going back and forth about how the computer is not a real art medium, how only people who hold brushes and get paint on their clothes are real artists...

I'm torn. Clearly, anyone who can translate their vision into a shareable medium is an artist (I consider ALL musicians to be artists, see above). Regardless of how you do it (Warhol and his Apple Mac were used as an example), it's art. And there's nothing wrong with emulating someone else: otherwise the question, "who were your influences when you were starting out?" would be meaningless. COPYING someone else is a no-no, though.

Dumb example. I created this in a game for my grandson on my iPad by bringing up an image on my computer, looking at it and then sketching with my finger on the iPad to copy it. This isn't art. It's copying someone else's art. 

But if I take one of my photos and apply brush strokes and textures to it using Topaz Impression, does it become art? Well it already was art... I'm just making it look more like how my mind saw it. Impression's presets are labelled "van Gogh", or "da Vinci", or "Cezanne" or... does that mean I'm pretending to be one of those masters? I don't think so. Since I never studied classical art, I had no idea what those masters did or what their work looked like. As I look through the presets, I find ones that I like, they could be called "X" or "Z" or "fuzzy brush strokes", doesn't matter. By the way, I'm enjoying looking at paintings and would like to know more. I need to go to Kleinburg (The McMichael Collection) again soon. The AGO is south of the 401... 

Can you create art on a computer? Without question. Look up Patrick LaMontagne. His work is amazing. Do I think the National Gallery will ever display a work done in Impression? Who knows? Who ever thought that a Campbell's soup can would be considered art?

I love Impression. It allows me to add another dimension to my images, and as I said above, it makes them look more like what my mind saw. Is it art? Youbetcha.

I reworked this old image in Impression, using the Edward Hopper I preset as a starting point. Probably not something I would hang on my wall, but fun...

Here's the thing. Pictures with minimal editing in them now look flat and lifeless to me. I have to get out of that mindset.

So now some pictures...

If you want to practice shooting birds in flight, go to the dump! Just as I learned from shotgun hunting, when you have a whole flock, you have to pick one bird to focus on (or use a small aperture to get huge depth of field). In this case I got lucky, I had the wrong focus point selected!

There's a plug-in for Lightroom that shows you which focus points were used when you shot the image. 

Sometimes the bird is just standing there, posing for you! My camera is always set to AF-C (continuous tracking) and back-button focusing, so I'm always ready, whether the subject is moving or not.  

Nailed it! But I did shoot about 50 images... I liked this one the best. 

Shooting pictures in the winter is challenging. For the above shots, I set the exposure compensation to about +1ev because I wanted white, not grey snow. Read about it and other winter tips in my 56 page eBook, "Winter Wonderland, a guide to taking better pictures" available for FREE to subscribers to this blog (click the Newsletter link at the top, or here). If you're already a subscriber, you'll get an email with the link to the free eBook. If you don't want to subscribe, you can get the eBook here for $2.

Here's my picture of the day. I went out for a walk and saw the grass poking up through the new snowfall, and the boat mostly buried in fresh snow. It was coming up to sunset, so the shadows were interesting and as soon as I spotted this scene I knew basically what I wanted to do with it. So I shot it with the idea that I was going to process it with brush strokes. I chose the "Georgia O'Keefe" preset in Topaz Impression (there were about 8 presets that I liked for this!) and didn't change it much. This is definitely going on my list of images to print. 

Just a reminder that this time of year you might want to have some Holiday greeting cards printed up with your own images on them, or mine if you prefer. I can help, very inexpensively fro excellent quality. And think about giving gifts of art, it's perfect for those who are really hard to buy for! I have a great selection of images on my SmugMug site (just working on updating it today), on RedBubble (check out their pillows, smartphone and tablet cases and skins and other stuff! Some great gift ideas there!) and on Fine Art America, all at very reasonable prices. Check them out or send me an email and let's talk!

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

I live in the "705"!

New Phone Number!

I'm a procrastinator. I've been living up here in the highlands for 7 years now, you'd think I'd have a local phone number by now! My neighbours have complained that they have to call long distance to reach me and I have a certain lack of credibility because I don't have a local number (for the record, if you're grandparents weren't born here, you're not considered a 'local' anyway!). I needed to keep my business number (for the First Aid business). Up to now, that's been a Bell "SNR" number which was permanently forwarded to my cellphone.

Like many other people, I don't have an actual home phone. I live on my cellphone. There are a few disadvantages but I can live with them. Because my cellphone plan has unlimited calling, I decided to make the number known. I don't really want to type it here, so look at the business card in the picture below.

The challenge was to keep the Toronto (416) number so business contacts and people in Toronto without long distance plans could still call me toll-free, and yet have a local (705) number for up here where I live. I accomplished that by getting a new cellphone (actually, I didn't get a phone, just a SIM-card) and permanently forwarding it to the (705) number. It came with an almost unlimited long distance package. Now you can call me at either number. 

The ONLY thing I had to give up was the ability to receive faxes. The one or two people every year who send me a legitimate fax will eventually learn that they have to join the 21st century and go with email.

New Business Cards

With my change in phone number, I needed new business cards. 

Front and back (or back and front!) of my new business cards. The bottom image has a green cast to it on my screen, which shows up here but not on the original file. It could be because of changing colour spaces, from CMYK for print to ProPhoto RGB in Lightroom to sRGB when making the images for here... we'll see what the actual printed product looks like. (update: it's somewhat in-between. If I were reprinting, I'd warm it up a little).

The other thing that's inaccurate is that the actual printed cards will be slightly trimmed from what you see here. These are 3.627 x 2.127" and they'll be trimmed to the standard 3.5 x 2" when made.

I have an outstanding wholesale printing supplier who specializes in business cards. Because they gets hundreds of orders per day and can standardize inks and paper (they put all the cards on one big sheet, run it through a top end large format printing press) their prices and quality are UNBELIEVABLE.

I ordered 500 business cards, printed in full colour on both sides, on 14-point bright white glossy stock, with an aqueous coating that provides excellent rub and scuff resistance. My cost? Around $20. That's right, I said $20.

If you want cards, let me know (delivery US and Canada). You can approach this two ways: (1) you do all the artwork. I'll send you a template, just fit everything inside the lines, produce a PDF file (press quality, in CMYK: you can do that in Photoshop easily) and send them to me via dropbox or (2) send me the pictures you want to use and the text, I'll do the layout for you. If I do the layout, I have to charge you for my time, of course. I'm reasonable but not free...

Or you could use one or more of my images. There's a selection on Smugmug, here. You could also use virtually any image you've seen on my blog. Get in touch with me by email and I'll send you details...

AND they make greeting cards (folded to 5x7 with an envelope!) and a hundred other products.
Think Xmas...

Just want to go on record...

I HATE Leukemia. I just attended a funeral for someone who passed away this week, far too young. His name was Howie Mandel (not the one most of you are thinking of). He was, admittedly, more of an acquaintance than a close friend but he was close with several people whom I care about and his death had a big impact on them and therefore, me.

Leukemia or lymphoma have taken too many, too soon. My first girlfriend died of it in her 20's. My dear friend Fran was taken a couple of years ago. 

Just feeling sad and hope writing about it is somehow cathartic. 

Winter is on its way

I'm pretty well ready: we still have to address the sump pump line problem, one last small repair on the ATV but the plow is already mounted. The roof is done, at least the critical part, firewood is cut and stacked, chimney re-cemented, summer shorts and bathing suits stored, winter boots ready. Do I hate winter? Not really. I don't love it like I did up to a few years ago but I'm actually looking forward to crisp white snow underfoot.

The last vestiges of fall are slowly giving way.

This stubborn shrub is next to my fence and it refuses to drop its leaves. I think they will eventually, they're holding on by a thread, but virtually everything else is down now.

Impression is such a great program because it turns a mundane photo into a piece of art. Don't get me wrong: the picture has to be properly exposed and composed and focused... but it can do wonders with an ordinary picture of a leaf.

The forest looks like this, sun filtering between bare tree trunks, snowflakes gently falling on the still-wet ground. 

But I don't like this time of year. There are two times I don't like – early spring and late fall. The world is damp and dull and wet and chilly and grey and ugly. When I used to be a hunter, I looked forward to November. Spring was a lot warmer than winter, you look forward to summer. But November? As I type this, I look out on a couple of inches of soggy, wet snow. My hands are chilly, although it's warm enough in the house. I'll go lay a fire in the fireplace and it'll be better in here, but it's ugly outside.

On the other hand, there are days... like yesterday, as I drove into Toronto, the air was crystal clear and the light was gorgeous. I was under some time pressure but I couldn't resist stopping for a couple of pictures, and the one here is my new Blog header as of today.

I spent an hour painting this image, tweaking this and that, then I saved it and by chance looked at it beside the original, unedited image right out of the camera. Yep, that's the one I used! OK, well it's a 5-exposure HDR,  

Sometimes an image just doesn't want to look like my mind wants it to. That's the case with this one. I want the trees to be silhouetted against a dark sky but I can't seem to make it happen. HDR's like the header above look a lot cheerier, somehow. In this bottom image, which is just a single virtually unedited frame, everything is wrong technically, the histogram is way off, there aren't any whites... but it's approaching the mood that I want. I'll keep at it. 

Two minutes later, I pulled over for another shot. 

I can't explain. There was something about the light... This was the original, more or less. It's another HDR, of course.

And this is my final version of this image. I removed the gate. I leveled the combine (or whatever it's called). Both of those things were "fussy" work. I used Topaz Adjust to add colour and contrast to the sky. I thought I was done until I opened Impression to play with it. There are two layers of Impression used here, one for the sky and one for the foreground. Click to blow it up so you can see the brush strokes.
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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

They made Topaz Impression even better!

Topaz released version 1.1 of Impression today! [update: version 1.1.1 came out a week later with some more improvements] The big problem is "too many presets"! There are so many you could spend an hour deciding which one you like best!

I was just playing with this one. It's amazing how saturated the world gets when you shoot in the rain, at dusk. Since I can never leave well enough alone, it's a 5-shot HDR, enhanced with Topaz Impression, Georgia O'Keefe II preset, dialed back to 66% and Edge and Detail Enhanced in Topaz Simplify.  

The picture above is a bit of mystery to me. It was really loved on Social Media, in fact the "Topaz Impression" group selected it for their masthead. I have to be honest, I don't love it that much. I get that it emulates Georgia O'Keefe's brush style and colour choices, but I initially found it too strong. Interestingly, I shot it from virtually the same spot as another image a couple of years ago (different, it was about the foreground vegetation). At that time, I was about to discard it when Rosa said it was absolutely my best work, and of all my images, she chose that one to have a print made for herself. It just shows that everyone's taste is different.

Honestly, I liked this picture much better, but I didn't get a lot of reaction to it. To me, this is a gallery-ready image. It's a rework of an older image, using the Impasto preset in Impression. I took this picture because the bike colour matched the wall colour and as I captioned, I wonder which came first. 

Here's a pencil sketch of my house taken at the same time but enhanced with a totally different preset in Impression. I started with something called Cavedweller IV but did a lot of custom modification from there. 

One more:

Once again, I used Impression and selected the "Sketch III preset. I won't bore you with the variations I made, the 5-shot HDR,  the second layer with a different brush rotation, the added subtle lighting effects in Photoshop... oh, too late, I already did! This needs to be viewed larger, so click on it.

Back story on this image: Friday night was the first sprinkling of snow up in the Highlands and as I was driving to Haliburton for the event below, I spotted this stand of trees frosted with snow. I ventured into the woods and came across this cabin. I would have preferred a shot where the cabin was much smaller, in other words, with a wide angle lens; but I had the wrong one with me and this was the best I could do. There was a large run of split firewood where I was standing so I couldn't get further back. Just guessing: the owner of this property has logged it, the stand of trees is clearly second growth. Maybe the cabin was built to house the loggers. It was clearly disused and yet there were several bush cords of split firewood there, that shed in the foreground was only a small part of it.

If you're not yet a Topaz junkie, or just haven't tried them yet, get thee to this link or click the box at right to try/buy any of their products. And if you enter "faczen" in the checkout box, you'll get a 15% discount.

Zombie Walk!

Linda send me some pictures that she had taken when she and Cheryl went to the Toronto Zombie Walk a few days ago. They were really great, and intriguing! (Here's the link to her online gallery). Then I heard on the radio that they were going to have one on November 1st in Haliburton, so I went! I hoped to match the quality of Linda's images but I don't think I succeeded. However, here are a few samples. It was a fun afternoon!

Gord Kidd under that makeup. Apparently I'm supposed to know who he is but I've only lived here 7 years, so what do I know? 

A far more subtle "undead" person.  

My favourite shot (so far!). I cropped this out of a larger image, too bad I didn't get tack-sharp focus on her eyes. Remember, you can blow up any image by clicking on it. She was really into the role, never saw her crack a smile, even when she won an award for her costume/makeup.  

OK, maybe this is my favourite shot... for the photographers/Photoshoppers out there, I had my Speedlight on the camera with the Gary Fong Diffuser and compensation to -1ev. I wanted to separate the subjects from the background, but in the end, the background you're looking at is not what was there. I created a black background then added in some Flypaper textures. It was still too prominent so I used Impression/Impasto to change it. Some extra sharpening and a little retouching on the Zombie Girls.

By the way, these weren't the only people there who had put in contact lenses to change their eyes. Some people took this event quite seriously!

Retouching hint

Admittedly, I'm no professional retoucher (imagine trying to retouch that picture above!). But I get that you can overdo things (who, me? LOL), plastic skin is not a good look. My ex-GF asked for my help with a picture for her website and because I'm a nice guy, I spent over an hour on it. Honestly, I could have left it after 30 minutes, but I got carried away and tried to do it just right. Here's the before and after:

Disclaimer: not my photo. Taken in a Sears photo concession. Not 'that' bad, but lighting was too hard, pose was not flattering, artifacts in the background, focus not bang on... click to enlarge.
So what she asked me for was to take down the reflections, and a small enhancement on her teeth. In addition, I changed the perspective slightly (they had her looking up at the camera), cleaned up the fly-away hair and spotted a few blemishes, cropped it differently, used liquify on some places not in the final image and then worked on the skin, although she doesn't need it.

So what's the hint? I decided to finally try "Frequency Separation" to do the smoothing. The idea is to split the image into two layers, one containing the colour information and toning, and the other the details (pores, lines, etc). It works. It's a little tricky at first, but you have quite a bit of control.

I'm not going to give you a link to a tutorial on it, I watched a few of them before diving in: Google it. "Frequency Separation". As usual there are 704,329 pages in Google.

So what do you think? She looks pretty good for a 75 year old lady. OUCH. Stop That. I'm kidding. She's not a day over 65! You owe me one, Iris!

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Show you Care

Why don't we honour our cops?

Ready to put up with my ramblings? This has been on my mind and I want to express it.

Last week’s terror attack in Ottawa triggered this post. While any terror attack, whether carried out by a group or a single extremist, whether it results in the loss of thousands of lives or just one, is to be deplored, that’s not my message. Only one person who mattered died (the gunman died too, but his death was unimportant) but the bad news is this is not going to be the last such attack. This was inevitable: Canada’s support of the world’s fight against extremism and terror has not gone unnoticed. I certainly don’t think we should cower in fear or back down, I think this event should add to our resolve to wipe out terror organizations that threaten the globe. The message should be, “you don’t poke a sleeping lion”.

I watched the public reaction to the death of Nathan Cirillo. There was news coverage around the world. The Queen expressed her condolences. Parliament gave a 5 minute standing ovation to the Sergeant-at-arms who stopped the bad guy. Thousands of people stopped what they were doing, stood on overpasses and at the side of the 401 to pay their respects as the hearse travelled from Ottawa to Hamilton, that road has been designated as the “Highway of Heroes” and a laudable tradition has developed to honour the sacrifices of our armed forces members in defence of our country and our way of life. I fully support that expression of solidarity. But in my mind, it raises another issue. Two, actually.

Why does the public not express the same outrage when a police officer is killed in the line of duty? Yes, the law enforcement community acknowledges and honours the sacrifice of a fellow officer, but why doesn't the public? Just like the armed forces – more, perhaps – these people stand between us and the bad guys who would do us harm. Is there a line drawn somewhere, defending our country is more important than defending individuals? Dead is dead, doesn't matter whether it was directly at the hands of a terrorist or a criminal or in an accident while trying to defend us, dead is dead.

We need to recognize and pay homage to the sacrifices of our police officers, our firefighters, any other emergency service personnel, as much as we do to a soldier who was struck down in the performance of his or her dangerous duty.

I know a lot of police officers. And a few firefighters. And some selfless EMTs. They all deserve to be recognized for what they do and especially know that we are proud of them. Go shake a cop’s hand. I dare you.

My second message is this: drive through any small town in the US and you will see homes bedecked with flags, streets lined with symbols of American patriotism. Drive through an equivalent Canadian neighbourhood and, oh, look, there’s a flag! One. There are lots of reasons I prefer being a Canadian to an American, but this isn't one of them. Why are we not committed to our country as they are to theirs? Are we not proud to be Canadian? Why don’t we say it more? Yes, we can add “please” and “thank you” but we have to stop being apologetic about being citizens of such a great country.

To start with, fly a flag. I do. I dare you.

Still a cool pillow...

Remember the pillow I had printed with my granddaughter's picture on it? I just uploaded a bunch of new images to RedBubble, and some of them would make dandy pillows!

Pretty cool, huh? Picture this in an appropriately colour-coordinated room. In fact, it'll look great on my green leather couch and I'm going to order one!  

Check out my RedBubble portfolio here. They make all sorts of fine art products, from framed prints to canvas prints, even posters, greeting cards and Tote Bags

Shooting Stars (again!)

Linda called me last Thursday and said she had heard about a huge solar flare, which of course should result in dramatic Aurora Borealis. It happened to be a clear night, so I "girded my loins" and went out at around 1:00 am. I tried a couple of spots and ended up on the public beach across from the old 12-Mile Lake Historic Church (kicking myself right now. Why didn't I think to see what I could shoot with the church in the foreground? Damn. OK, on my list...)

Anyway, no Aurora. At least, not visible. So I shot a few milky way setup shots, then settled in for a 90-minute, 180 image sequence for Star Stacking. PS: didn't get to bed until 5 am... had to upload the pictures to see how they came out!

Here's a Milky Way image. The red lights are on a radio tower probably 5 or 10 km away. When you enhance the image in Lightroom (or ACR), the green glow of the Aurora appears but as I said, it wasn't visible to the naked eye.

Here's a stacking sequence. 170 frames, actually: I miscounted. But as usual, there were too many stars, so I had to go back to rework it, then I applied some Topaz magic. I may be way out of line here, but to me, the tonality of this image, including the pastel transitions in colour particularly in the water reflection reminds me of Lawren Harris (Group of Seven). Maybe that's why I liked it. Click to blow it up. Comments would be welcome.  

Here's another image that I took the same day. I was driving back from Toronto and had a bit of extra time, so I revisited the spot where I shot the massive oak tree a month ago. I took a few interesting shots there, but one jumped out at me.

What I saw was the back lighting on the grassy stuff in the foreground and the composition of the way trees take the eye into the middle where the sun is. It's a 5-shot HDR. It was a nice enough image but I decided I wanted some texture, so I opened it in Topaz Impression and after experimenting, used the "Caveman" preset. By the way, I stopped down to an aperture of f/11 to get the sun's rays (which I then proceeded to soften with the brush strokes! Oh well!). 

I was just South of Kirkfield, still had some time, so I said "let's go see what's doing on Carden Plain". Not much. I drove up a different road and came across this old farm building, that screamed, "Take an HDR, take an HDR", so I did.

While I was shooting that picture, along came a tractor and since I didn't know how the driver would react about having his picture taken (and since I had my long lens on), I shot one from far away.

Don't critique the picture! Just setting the scene, OK? 

Turns out that Leo (that's his name) and I had a great conversation! See what I mean about not being afraid to approach people and talk to them? Here's the gist of it:
This is Leo. He's 71 years old and for 45 years, while he was farming his 1300 acres on the Carden Plain, he also drove a transport truck at the same time. He's thinking of selling, Real Estate people are after the property. He can be a very wealthy man. He wanted to set up three solar farms a few years ago but was stopped when it turned out that his property was home to an endangered species [the loggerhead shrike].
We talked about how his kids aren't interested in farming, how Ontario has designated parts of the Carden Plain as a Provincial Park, how the nights are quiet and really dark there, about the 12 feet of snow at the top of the hill behind him last winter, how his neighbour, who has 200 acres offered him $130K for a 100 acre parcel adjacent to her land, he laughed and said he would give her double that (per acre) for hers but she turned him down, and more that I can't remember.
As we went our separate ways, I asked if I could take his picture. He said, "sure, as long as you think you won't break your camera!".

I used Topaz Impression to add texture to this bright sunlit portrait. I started with the "Cave Dweller 3" preset. I stepped back a bit but I had my 70-200 on board, with the 1.7x converter, so this was about as wide as I could get (OK, cropped a little). Does he look 71 to you?

Revisiting an image

Last June, I shot a picture of this person after a conversation with him, including discussions of his prison tattoos including the teardrop one on his cheek. Today I read a thread on FaceBook about someone who shot (pictures of) homeless people and he posted an example which was outstanding. To make a long story short, I revisited this image and re-edited it to put it on a black background and make it much contrastier and darker.

It reminds me of Yousuf Karsh's photo of Ernest Hemingway. You need to look at this one full-sized. Click the picture to blow it up. 

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