Thursday, September 14, 2017

Playing "Catch-up"!

Since getting back from Newfoundland a month ago, I've been playing "catch-up". Not so much on things, more on my 'headspace'. My month on the Rock was about photography, mostly. I didn't go anywhere without the cameras. For the record, I took 9,700 pictures and I kept almost 7,000 of them — a very high percentage for me. I also drove 10,600 km, spent about $1300 on gas alone. Add ferries, accommodations and food and it wasn't a cheap trip.

I had to do it, though. I had to get away. People ask me, "Why? You're retired, you live on a lake in God's Country, you have a nice house, a bunch of toys (ATV, boat...). What are you getting away FROM?".

I know a lot of people who are of retirement age or getting there. You have to understand, I need a purpose in my life. People envy me, that I can choose to go up to Algonquin Park on the spur of the moment, because I heard that there might be aurora borealis tonight, or friends have spotted bears gorging on blueberries at Mew Lake airfield. That I can stay up until 4 am or sleep in until noon (no I can't, but that's another story!).

I remember my dad used to say the same thing before he died. He and mom lived in a senior's home and he used to spend his time working on his financial "bible" because he had nothing else to do. I used to think that would never happen to me, I have too many hobbies and interests, but you know what? It did.

I took up painting. That's frustrating when you don't have built-in talent. I gave up trying to play music, except sporadically when the mood hits, because although I appreciate hearing great music, I really suck at playing. I took a week-long creative writing course at Fleming College in order to re-awaken the desire to write fiction: I've always wanted to and have started dozens of books and stories over the years, and never finished one! More on that later. I have my cameras and computers, they take a lot of my time and are vehicles for expressing myself.

Family and friends? I'm really bad at keeping up relationships. It's easy to say that's something to work on and get better at, a lot harder to do. The bulk of my guilty conscience is related to this but it's hard for me.

As I write this, I'm on the eve of my 71st birthday. I've been living with cancer for 14 years. Who knows how much longer? I have an overwhelming desire to make a mark but I haven't figured out how. Writing this down and especially sharing it, is cathartic, and maybe, just maybe it will spur me into action.

I was doing a DSLR course this week and we were at the Minden Wild Water Preserve yesterday. This guy landed 10' behind us and wouldn't leave, even though I had only arranged for him to be there for a short visit (when I do a camera workshop, you get more than you expected! LOL ). We got tired of shooting him after close to an hour! We left before he did.

This is straight out of camera with a minor crop for composition. Spot metering and exposure compensation, class!  Great Blue Heron, if you didn't know.

Did you know that TopazLab's "Studio" is free? 
Do you know what it is?

Topaz Studio is a Photographer's editing toolbox. It works independently of other platforms — you don't need to have Photoshop or Lightroom or... (although it does operate as a plugin within those programs if you want it to).

Studio contains a whole lot of adjustment tools that you can use for free. But Topaz also offers extra full-detailed control of some of those adjustment tools if you want, at nominal cost. You can get some or all of them but you don't need to.

Studio also supports the Topaz plug-ins and they're gradually being ported over to the Studio platform. Topaz Clarity was offered on sale last week and this week, it's my FAVOURITE plugin, Topaz Impression. So you can call up Impression from inside Studio and it will knock your socks off. The Puffin sketch was done in Impression.

Click the image to go to full-screen. Look at the eye. I painted the keylights on the eye using techniques that Hilarie McNeil-Smith taught me many years ago. They were also sketched over but I decided I wanted to see the eye in all its glory so I masked the sketch out (also a little of the blue and yellow areas). All in Impression, called from within Topaz Studio.

If you already own Topaz plug-ins, they'll appear in Studio. Or you can purchase them individually and as I said, Impression is on sale at 40% off through September 29th.

Here are some links for you.
For all the details, answers to pretty well any questions you have, and to download the FREE Topaz Studio platform, go here:
For the Topaz Impression plugin (which will also work with your existing platform) at 40% discount, go here:

From the "Sporadic Musings" file. A Rant...

This was prompted by the backlash from a story about how an order issued by a McDonald's manager in Yellowknife forbidding the employees to speak their native language while on the job was rescinded by the franchise owner.

Imagine you lived in a place where you were not allowed to speak English.

I grew up in Montreal. I left there in 1983 (would have been earlier if I could have) because the Quebec government legislated that it was illegal for me to speak my native language — English — in the workplace and indeed that it was only because they were doing a special favour for those who were educated as Anglophones in Quebec, that they allowed my children to be educated in English.

So you can see that I have a strong aversion to any government (or other group) interfering in how I live my private life. I should be able to speak whatever language I wish, I should be able to practice whatever religion I prefer and I should be able to express my sexual orientation any way I want to. It's nobody's business as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else..

A similar policy was put in place at the Senior's home where my mother lived before she died: workers had to speak only English on the job. There was no practical possibility of moving her elsewhere but I would have had one presented itself.

We live in a country that runs under free enterprise. Sure, we lean a lot more left than we did when I was growing up, and we have a lot more socialist services than we had in the past (Medicare and Education come to mind first) but I'll tell you this: consumers in our system are free to choose where they do business. If you don't like the fact that people speak other languages or have other cultural, religious or gender orientations in the restaurant or shop or home where you live, then you are totally free to eat or shop or live elsewhere. Or start your own enterprise. If you own a business and customers start staying away in droves, you may want to rethink your policies, but it's your business, it's your call.

And by the way, you should think about that next time you go out for dinner and eat "har gow" or "maki" or "calamari" or "pad Thai" or "souvlaki" or "schnitzel" or "hummus" or "boeuf Bourgignon"... these are all non-English dishes with non-English names. Think about it.

I'm proud of the fact that I live in a country that celebrates diversity and makes it work in a non-confrontational environment. What's happening on the other side of the border, where the racist right is persecuting everyone who is not a white, straight, Anglo-Saxon male, echoing Germany in the 1930's is downright scary. We should build a wall...


600A Peak 15000mAh Portable Car Jump Starter

I put a business card in the picture to give you a sense of scale. The unit is 6" x 3" x 1", and weighs about a pound. The battery inside is Li-Ion.

I bought one of these things for $65CDN on Amazon. I have both a boat and an ATV with potential battery issues and although I didn't really believe that something this small (and inexpensive) would do the job, I figured I could always return it if it didn't live up to expectations.
I went down to the boat yesterday after several days absence and some on-and-off rain through the week. My bilge pump runs automatically if water gets in the bilge (my boat doesn't have a cover) and it can drain the battery. That's what I discovered. Trying to start the engine resulted in a resounding "click" and silence.
Long story short, I hooked this thing up to the battery and the engine started right away, as if I had a full charge in the 50lb marine battery. And the old 85hp 2-stroke Evinrude doesn't fire on the first crank, it takes several seconds of cranking with full choke, then close the choke and crank again to start it.
I was shocked it worked so well. The charge on the unit dropped to about 3/4, so it still had lots more juice. I plugged it into the USB in the car and it was charged up full in half an hour.
It looks like this particular one is out of stock at Amazon but there are lots more like it listed. I looked for high cranking amps and reasonably large storage, so 600 amps/15000mAh was what I chose.
Worked for me. It goes wherever I go (car, boat, ATV) from now on. PS, it can also power my iPhone forever, when I use it to drive my timelapse photos for hours.

Picture Time!

I put this picture up online as kind of an experiment:

I shot this in Trinity one foggy morning. Then in post-processing, I enhanced all the colourful buildings — colour saturation, clarity, sharpness... to my eye, there's something wrong here. The buildings don't blend properly with their surroundings. I put it up anyway.

 Here's my premise: most people don't care about the technical details. They like a picture or they don't. It's only other photographers (or retouchers) who care. And I was right. I got tons of "Likes" and "Hearts" and positive comments both in the Newfoundland FB group and on my own general timeline and nobody commented on the processing.

I took my boat out and went Loon hunting on 12-Mile Lake. Found one!

I went up to Algonquin Park, didn't see any moose and only one bear (no photo). But I did take the macro lens out, and I discovered that I could mount it on my teleconverter for a net 210mm. Less bending down!

Dewdrops on a spider web, Mew Lake Airfield, Algonquin Park

Hoverfly on a wildflower 

Wild blueberries at the Airfield 

I went back up to the Park a few nights later because I was hoping for Aurora. Nope, but I did take these...

At the Lake of Two Rivers beach. A little light painting with a flashlight, a little Topaz Simplify... 

...and this is at Opeongo. There's a hint of Northern Lights on the horizon, but nothing to speak of. This is a 162-image StarStax composite. 

As I mentioned at the top of the blog, I did a DSLR course last week and I invited a Great Blue Heron to join us at the white water. I'll close with a few more shots from the workshop.

Illustrating lighting, focusing, point-of-view and composition (centre is OK when you've got symmetry).  

North-facing window lighting, focus, spot metering 

And this is our group, at the white water, with our invited guest! The lighting was challenging, Lightroom to the rescue! 

Parting Shot:

Topaz Clarity, called under Topaz Studio. Minor crop in Lightroom. 

OK. I'm caught up. Back soon!

PS: Gales of November is full! Yahoo!

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Newfoundland Wrapup (#7)

It's taken me longer than I thought to get to this post, my apologies, loyal readers! And I probably should have split this into two posts, but as long as I was writing...

I spent 3 days in the Cape St. Mary area in the vain hope that the fog would dissipate and I'd be able to return to the Gannet rock. The port in St. Brides, which I could have seen from my motel had it not been foggy was quiet but a few boats came in to unload their catch of cod, guided by the plaintive call of the foghorn every 30 seconds. It is a small port, boats ganged up 2 by 2 on the pier, manned by hard men and brash teenage lads, some of whom captained their own boats. All of whom took the time to share a friendly moment with a photographer "from away", in typical Newfoundlander fashion.

The young lad in the blue shirt captains the black boat in the previous picture. It must be a family thing because a lot of boats had "Dohey's" in the name 

Crowded port. These boats docked with inches to spare. 

Room for 3 more boats on this side of the pier 

Cod fishing is still a "thing" in Newfoundland but quotas are restrictive for commercial boats, and strictly enforced. The Ministry of Fisheries is present when the catch is weighed in 

I shot a couple of abstracts while waiting for the weather to clear

With the winds in Newfoundland, drying clothes is a breeze. I'll bet very few houses boast a clothes dryer! 

In the afternoon, I took a drive. For groceries, if nothing else: there's nothing in St. Brides. You swoop along pothole-strewn Route 100 up hills above the clouds and back down in the fog to isolated sea-level coves, each with an name like "Ship Cove" or "Great Barasway", some of them boasting several houses but most with just one or two. Topping a last rise you come into the surprisingly large town of Placentia.

The newly renovated Sir Ambrose Shea lift bridge is raised about 2400 times per year to allow boats access through the "Gut" to the safe Northeast Arm. There's lots of signage and stories about the cable and mechanically drawn ferries that used to be the only way to cross this dangerous channel. Colourful buildings dot the landscape as usual. 

 The whole lower side of that town is built at sea level and back half a century ago, there was a huge storm that caused a huge amount of flooding. Afterward, the city built a large walkway cum seawall, probably several kilometers long. People told me they're going to get inundated one day anyway, and they couldn't understand how major companies like Canadian Tire and Loblaws would build facilities on a flood plain!

...and of course they love their churches on the Rock. This is actually a Roman Catholic one. Probably because although Placentia was probably founded by Basque fishermen in the 16th century, the French took it over in the mid-17th century and the remnants of their culture is still strong.

This too, by the way, would be under water on occasion if it wasn't for the extensive seawall. 

Nearing the end of my Newfoundland trip I started to feel a little burned out. But I had planned the last days so I could go back and revisit the Cape St. George peninsula, since when I saw it originally on Day 1 I had rushed around it in order to get to Twillingate for the night.

My plan was to drive from Cape St. Mary to Stephenville where I had booked a couple of nights at the interesting-sounding "Dreamcatcher Motel". Although it was a long drive, I allowed myself a couple of stops on the way.

The Heritage Warplane Museum in Gander had some nice flowers planted around it.  Some interesting planes too but nothing I haven't shot before.

I took the time to stop in a town called King's Point just to see what was there. It was another picturesque fishing town. They promised whales but they lied!

Just before the thunderstorms I had been playing tag with all day caught up to me.  

Stephenville is an interesting larger town right on the ocean. There's a long, flat beach along the Western edge where people camp – in Newfoundland you can basically camp anywhere you want – so there were a number of motorhomes and RV's set up.

Gathering firewood at dusk, then at the fire an hour later. These folks toasted me, "may ye be in Heaven before the Devil knows yer dead". There's a lot of Irish heritage here. 

If you looked at a map you would see that the "Port au Port" peninsula extends from Stephenville into the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The edges of the peninsula are rugged eroded cliff faces until you reach the western end where it's really just flats dotted with small fishing villages.

Most of the beaches consist of rocks polished smooth by the endless tumbling action of the North Atlantic waters 

On the very tip of the Port au Port peninsula is Cape St. George. From the park high on the point you look down on the crashing waters. Seabirds are ever-present, from murrs to cormorants, all varieties of gulls, terns and Northern Gannets that nest further up the coast. 

There were some sandy areas as well, in protected coves 

I wanted to stick with it but it was time to go home. I was heading for the ferry at Port aux Basques but I had some hours to kill, so I took a random turnoff from the TCH and ended up in an area called "Codroy". Little did I know it is a well-known birding area!

Here's a Willet getting quite vocal! 

Spotted Sandpiper posing for his portrait 

I walked out on a flat at low tide. I discovered that the terns were nesting in an embankment there, and they REALLY didn't want me there. I came under attack! Fortunately I had chosen to wear my Tilley hat and a Cabela's jacket because they attack with a vengeance! High speed assaults to within a few inches of you and they are extremely accurate with their primary weapon, bird poop! First things to hit the laundry when I got home!

This guy actually threw that fish at me. Hit me right in the hat! 

Across the road was a sand beach and it was marked as a protected Piping Plover nesting area

With my 600mm lens and cropped sensor body, I didn't need to get close to get good pictures. I tried not to disturb them much but you could tell that papa plover was trying to lure me away from the nesting area.

With good reason. These chicks couldn't have been more than a couple of days old! I watched one of them running around, constantly stumbling and falling down!


This has to be the definition of "cute"! 

Closing shot of the day. My regular followers would also know that I did an oil painting on canvas based on this shot.  I'll post it in the next edition of the blog so if you want to be sure to see it, click on the newsletter link in the upper right corner of this blog. No spam will come your way.

With that, I boarded the ferry and left my island paradise in the North Atlantic. I really hope to get back there and maybe even acquire a property there for summer use (I was going to say something about winter, but no offence to my Newfoundland friends, you have to be mad to spend winters there!).

After a month on the Rock, the seascapes of Cape Breton and the Cabot trail held little attraction for me. After a cursory look at the Inverness beach and a stop at the Glen Breton Scotch Whisky distillery (they now have a 25-year old. It's only $750 for a bottle!), I turned West and headed for home. 

Inverness, Nova Scotia.
That was the last shot before home. One other notable thing was the best chocolate milkshake I've had in 50 years, at a truck stop restaurant attached to an Irving gas station near the airport in Fredericton, NB. Almost worth driving 1000 miles back there!

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Newfoundland post #6: Witless Bay (back in sequence!)

My blog posts got out of order last week.  I was so excited about getting the Cape St. Mary pictures out there that I skipped the Witless Bay week. Truth be told, I think I wanted to give myself a little more time to work on the Witless Bay pictures. Anyway, here we are.

Witless Bay is a small community south of St. John's. It's within half an hour driving distance so I chose it for my third week stay. It's more commercial, or should I say 'less rural' than the other three places (Twillingate, Trinity, St. Bride's) so the place I stayed was not as scenic. However as I said, I had access to St. John's, as well as some other areas.

There are 3 communities next to each other, from North to South: Bay Bulls, Witless Bay and Mobile, three separate bays on the Eastern shore of Newfoundland. All three boast whale-watching tours (which you'll see in a minute). Bay Bulls is a bit larger and they've built a marine service centre there to support, among other things, commercial oil rigs. Did you know they haul oil drilling platforms in for service? There's one parked in the mouth of Bay Bulls called the "West Aquarius" which (I think) is normally in the Hibernia oil fields offshore. They light these guys up at night.

The oil rig is in the background.  In the foreground is a ship called "Ramfall Titan" which is a survey ship used to research drilling locations in the North Sea.
(Linda Cresswell, you were right: I needed to recompose this shot. Like it?)

I wanted to go out on a whale-watching tour. You can go on a large boat or a smaller one. I actually chose one of the smaller operators but they were full up, so I ended up going out on the Gatherall's boat. It's a two-hour tour and they take you out to "Bird Island", the Witless Bay Ecological Preserve" which is home to (according to them) almost a million seabirds. When we got close, it smelled like it!

But on the way there, just after passing the oil rig, sadly you have to pass through one of the most active whale areas in Newfoundland. Did I say "sadly"? Oops, I mis-spoke! The tour operators obviously know what to look for so we had several whale sightings enroute.

You'll typically see three behaviours of a humpbacked whale. First, they roll like this –they're feeding on schools of fish underwater. After a while you can tell if they're going to show their tail, which they do when they dive deeper.

These two shots are a second apart. Mr. Whale is on his way down a couple of hundred feet and doesn't reappear for several minutes.

Here's another shot, on an angle. I liked this image so much I decided to paint it 

This is an original oil painting on canvas that I made using the photo as a reference.  I chose to leave out the floating birds and I changed the cliff face. 

The third behaviour is "breaching" which is when they come head first out of the water to capture a giant mouthful of fish near the surface.  You saw pictures of 'mouth breaches' from the previous week's blog in the Trinity area but not here. Sometimes a 60 foot long humpback will drive his entire 80,000 pound body right out of the water! Unfortunately I never did get to see that, so it might be an excuse to come back to Newfoundland again!

We did get to the Ecological Preserve where we saw tons of Kittiwakes (big seagulls!), Murrs, Puffins, Guillemots, Terns, etc.

The Capelin were rolling on the beach at Middle Cove on Saturday. I missed it but the party was still going on the next day.

For those who don't know, the Capelin is a small fish and schools "roll" in onto beaches annually to spawn by the millions. The Capelin is a major source of food for whales who often help by herding the schools into areas where they can feed.

This is just the edge of a cloud of Capelin . The main school is so thickly packed the sea turns black (the sides of the fish are silver but the tops are black). 

Newfoundlanders like eating Capelin, either dried or cooked fresh (I don't. Salty fish with bones is not my favourite thing). But, I'm told, most of the Capelin are used for fertilizer or simply wasted.

Waiting for the Capelin to roll at Middle Cove, north of St. John's. It's an event! Newfoundlanders flock to the beaches by the thousands, they have huge parties and bonfires. 
When a school comes in, they're like a black cloud in the water. The fish are silvery on the sides but black on top. People catch them by wading out with nets or just scoop them up off the beach (that's the part I missed) by the bucketload.

This little guy hadn't seen Capelin before and his dad was trying to get him to pick one up and throw it in the bucket. "Ewww, I'm not touching that"!  Eventually he did and then got in the spirit of it.

The seabirds know when it's time to feast! 

Gratuitous shot of a girl in tight shorts netting Capelin.  

Hopefully I'll get another shot at seeing the 'main event' as the Capelin Roll moves around the coast. Certainly they're a big attraction for whales, so I'll be looking for it.

The best part of the week in the St. John's area was brought about by a fellow by the name of RAY MACKEY. I had been in touch with him earlier and Ray spent some time with Marie and Simone a month earlier (when the weather was a touch cooler!) and he took me under his wing and spent the better part of 3 days with me. Took me all kinds of places I would never have found and shared some photo tips with me from which I learned a lot! Ray is personable, articulate and probably one of the best photographers in Newfoundland. Visit his online gallery at It's REALLY worth seeing. If you ever go to Newfoundland, be sure to look him up.

Here are some of the places we shot together.

The Cape Spear Lighthouse. Actually, I was there myself when I took this shot... 

but Ray was there for this one and commented on the composition when I shot it. 

St. John's harbout, from a select spot on the way up to Signal Hill. We rushed to get there before the colour disappeared from the sky. 

"The Battery", shot from down in the harbour. Ray advised me on post-processing technique for one thing, pointing out how the muted light reflections on the cliff face enhanced the image.

Qidi Vidi from a hilltop overlooking the area that Ray took me to. It was a battle getting up there (and back down!) with my aching knees. But even worse were the mosquitoes: they were vicious! I thought I was used to them from where I live, but... one of them landed at the airport and thy pumped 500 gallons of av-gas into it before they figured out it wasn't an airplane!  

Using the techniques Ray taught me, here's the town of Petty Harbour in the Blue Hour. I got in trouble in this town. If you ever go there and you see a sign on a very steep hill that says words to the effect of, "no place to turn around on this road", don't drive up it.  

Parting Shots

That night I got back to Witless Bay and it was a clear night. I drove down to the beach and found that people had built a bonfire. I thought I'd give it a shot:

It was quite bright and there were some street lights, so I moved partly behind the embankment you see to get this starry night picture. 

But I wanted the Milky Way and it was to the South (the bonfire was to the East). So I drove as far as I could, then walked down a dark trail in high grass and bushes until I found this spot where I could shoot the stars with little light pollution.


One more blog to come, documenting the last days of my trip. I'll get it done in a few days.

PS: I will be printing some of these images. Contact me if you want a print. 

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