Saturday, February 28, 2015

Good guys, bad guys


I don't get sick very often (well, colds, flu...). Flu every few years, colds probably once per year. But I get cranky when I do! As I write this, I'm on day 5 of my cold and we all know that if you take care of yourself, the cold will last 7 days. If you ignore it, it takes a week...

I wrote that I was really grumpy and sneezy, the meds that Doc gave me made me dopey and sleepy, I've never been bashful and in a little while I'll be happy again. Mr. Disney got it right...

...from the sporadic musings department...
Live Long and Prosper, Mr. Spock
Leonard Nimoy passed away yesterday. A character if there ever was one and if you look up "typecasting" in the dictionary, you'll find his picture there. He wrote a book entitled "I am NOT Spock" but well, yes he was.
Turns out he was a passionate photographer too. Something you didn't know unless you were connected... and he had an Orthodox Yiddish upbringing in his native Boston. Google where that Vulcan greeting gesture came from!
Coincidentally, being under the weather, I finally got around to watching "Star Trek: Into Darkness" a few days ago. Nimoy had a cameo role in this and, unless I'm mistaken, in ALL the Star Trek movies.  
It occurred to me that of all the people I could think of, it would be most appropriate were his remains lifted into space. Well him, and Steven Hawking when his time comes. Hope someone thinks of that. 



While shooting smoke in the light tent at the camera club meeting this week, I got this shot. If you look at it for a while, you might be able to pick out Nimoy's face. He's looking down, the nose is quite prominent. I'm displaying it here small, click to blow it up: sometimes things appear differently at different sizes. Eerie, don't you think?

Good Guys, Bad Guys

I seldom talk about merchants and customer service (OK, I do from time to time. Humour me). I had two notable dealings that I thought deserved comment, one good, one bad.




2150 Steeles Ave W
Thornhill, ON
905 669 6355
I normally clean my own sensor. But I had some persistent spots on my D800 and really didn't want to do a heavy liquid cleaning so I phoned Sun Camera from the car on the way into Toronto last Tuesday. I was prepared to explain that I was from out of town, only in for part of a day, was getting ready to whine and cry... I started by asking if they still cleaned sensors and whether they could do it while I waited.
"Well, sort of: if you drop it off and go get a cup of coffee, it'll be ready when you get back". A far cry from Nikon service's, "send it in, give us two weeks and we'll send it back when it's done".
Perfect job, only $60 (vs. Nikon's $80), personal service with a smile. By the way, Sun is an authorized Canon service depot, but apparently Nikon Canada has been sending work their way recently. 


Canadian Tire
8081 Dufferin at Highway 407
Vaughan, ON
This is the email that I sent to Canadian Tire this morning. Let's see how they respond. 
This is a HUGE customer service complaint relating to the store at 8081 Dufferin in Thornhill, ON. I hope this is not a CT-wide thing, just a local store problem.
Let me start by going on record that I generally like dealing with Canadian Tire. Especially the one up here in Minden where you get personal service and they go out of their way to help people out. I've had lots of good experiences with them and I can't believe they would treat a customer like I was treated at the one on Dufferin at Highway 407 yesterday. I even use your credit card services. Let me set the scene.
I'm a senior citizen, not officially disabled but at my age... I live up in Minden but was visiting in Thornhill. It was Sunday morning. I had bought some stuff at Walmart, went out to the car (Subaru Forester), put the stuff in the back and started to close the tailgate. The hydraulic closer arm on the right side broke off at the bottom but it was extended out and I couldn't force it back in so it kept the tailgate from closing all the way (it was sticking out). All I had to do was unscrew the top two bolts holding it on but I had NO TOOLS in the car. All I needed was a pair of pliers or a Philips screwdriver and 30 seconds to remove it so I could drive home. Imagine driving 200 km in sub-zero temperatures with the tailgate open.
I went to the Canadian Tire. I went inside to the service department and politely asked if I could borrow a tool for a second and was told in nasty terms, "the mechanics do not lend out their tools". "Then could someone come out for a second and unscrew the thing so I could drive home? I'm from out of town". "You'll have to make a service appointment and complete a workorder (they had no customers in the shop and the mechanics were standing around), and there will be a charge".
I decided to go in the store and buy a pair of pliers, figuring I'd use it then bring it right back. The cheapest one I could find was $20. At the cash I explained I'd be bringing it back. They said if I opened the package, I owned it. I left it there.
I went to the garage bay and approached a mechanic. I was told in no uncertain terms to perform an anatomically impossible act.
This story ended when I drove into the PetroCan station at Dufferin and Centre street and asked if I could borrow a pair of pliers for a minute. "Sure. Want me to help?" "No", I said, "I can do it myself" and proceeded, arthritis and all, to remove the offending part in less than a minute (while holding up the tailgate with my head!).
I get why you have that policy. I get why the mechanic’s time has to be paid for. What I don’t get is why nobody had the common courtesy to help out someone in obvious distress with literally 30 seconds of their time. I want Canadian Tire to explain to me why I should continue doing business with your company.

For the record, I didn't get upset, I didn't get angry. I generally don't do that: my style is more to "get even" after the fact. I was especially perturbed by the attitude of the mechanic who was intimidating and aggressive, when all I did was to ask him if he could do me a favour for a second.

Followup: I got a generic response from Canadian Tire: the classic "bug letter". As I said, I don't get mad, I get even. My first step is to stop using Canadian Tire as my go-to place to shop. My second is right here, to encourage my Canadian readers to do the same. {shrug}.
I'm also waiting for my ATV to come home. It's been out of service for weeks! It suffered an electrical failure (both the stator and the CDI module, apparently). I saved $700 by finding an aftermarket stator: Polaris wanted almost $800 just for the factory part (eBay. California. $50). Hope they bring it back today, although I won't give in to the temptation to take it out until this cold is gone!

Some Photos

It's been a busy week: sick, teaching, meeting, Toronto trip... so I haven't shot much. I did do a little Photoshop work, though.



I shot this on Tuesday enroute home from Toronto, stopping for a quick look for more Snowy Owls (I did find and photograph one, but nothing really different). This array of trees caught my eye, just as it did the previous week. I made a sketch out of it and painted in a couple of birds for mood and balance. Hope you like it! 



Stuck in the house with my cold, and preparing for the HHCC meeting where we were doing a tabletop workshop, I broke out the light tent, set the camera up tethered to the laptop in Lightroom, and shot a series of images of my old carry gun, my Colt .45 (I was a combat pistol competitor and instructor in another life, long ago). Topaz Glow helped me bring out the well-worn character of this piece. I can't tell you how many times it's been in and out of a holster but you can see it. 



At the club meeting, I threw my watch in the light tent as something to focus on, then I experimented with some lighting options, just demo-ing how to do it 

Then with some time on my hands (still stuck in the house), it occurred to me that I didn't have an image for the Richmond Hill Camera Club Creative/Altered Reality competition, so...



A little warp, some liquify, some digital painting and Impression/Chiaoscuro and voilĂ ! 

Dog Sled races next weekend! Stay tuned!


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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter Games

...from the 'sporadic musings' department...

Gearing up

As I write this, the Intellicast site displayed this (8 am on Monday):



I admit that's Celsius but damn, that's cold. For our American readers, that translates to -30°F. My weather station says 63% R.H. which makes it feel even colder. Thank God there's no wind. 


It's been cold this winter (so much for "Global Warming"). I'm going to say 10 days so far in the -30°C or colder range. There's only a foot or two of snow on the ground up here so far: we missed all the fun that Buffalo and the east coast has had. And we didn't have much of a summer. I actually own 5 different pairs of longjohns, ranging from the heavyduty level 4 stuff from XPS that I bought at Bass Pro, through my old merino wool, polyesters and the cotton weave that I'm wearing right now sitting in my living room. Life's a challenge in God's Country...

Thankfully it's supposed to get a bit warmer later in the week but I really don't want to go out. That said, I watched the guy across the road start and warm up a snowmobile with plumes of smoke and vapour coming from it (I told you. I'm not going out to take pictures!), all bundled up against the cold. Then I have to comment: a pretty, young, blond girl who was likely a guest at the inn, dressed in a slim, stylish snowmobile or ski suit, stood outside and chatted with him: no gloves, no hat, out for a cigarette. You have to be nuts.



Shot through my picture window from the comfort of my computer chair. I think they were heading out to the ice fishing huts on the lake. Certainly not for a long sled ride without face masks. 

I'm getting ready to shoot the Ontario 55+ Senior Winter Games on Wednesday and Thursday. We got some volunteer photographers together, divided up the sports as best we could and we're going to do our utmost to capture some images. Since I was helping to organize, and did what I could to convince people to volunteer, I had to let them choose which sports they would take: so I ended up with the exciting, Badminton and Table Tennis (I ended up shooting others! See below).

Nobody ever accused my mother of having stupid children. These are both INDOOR sports!

Stay tuned, I can't publish other people's pictures  (without specific permission) but here are links to the Ontario55+ site where they're being posted:



Thanks (in no particular order) to Gord Sheehan, Fred Pyziak, Kathy McKelvey-Brown, Sarah Bell, Rob Stimpson, Amanda Virtanen, Debbie Bradley and Scott McDonald for volunteering.



Debbie Bradley in FRONT of a camera for a change! 




Sidebar: We know that many people in camera clubs in the GTA cottage or visit the Haliburton Highlands regularly. Unlike most camera clubs, we do NOT shut down for the summer: in fact it's our high season! Cottagers are more than welcome to join! If you are reading this, please bring this to the attention of your members at your next club meeting. Forward the link to this blog and/or the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club website (www.highlandscameraclub.ca) to members of your club, or suggest they contact our membership chair via the website. We will have TONS of events and outings for members in 2015!


Here come da Judge.

I tried to remember who made that line famous: it was Flip Wilson in the late '60s. But I learned that he didn't originate it, it was Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham (whom no one's ever heard of! Google is your friend).

I want to encourage all of my photographer friends to take a judging course. I took it five or six years ago and have since judged in dozens of competitions, ranging from local clubs to the TCC International Salon. I admit that I didn't intend to become that involved – I just wanted to learn what the judges were looking for so I would score higher in competition.  However it has done four things for me.
  • It has helped me in my own photography. By judging competitions, I get to look critically at hundreds of images and it becomes obvious very quickly what works and what does not. So I take ideas and concepts and techniques from what I've seen. No artist is an island unto himself. While your brain is fertile ground, you have to plant seeds for anything to grow.

  • It has helped me in my teaching. Of course, knowing what to teach... but also how. It is equally important, if the goal is to encourage rather than discourage, how you say things. The CAPA judging course stresses this but like anything else (especially for me) it takes time for these things to sink in. It's improved my communication skills.

  • I've been exposed to genres in which I had zero expertise (and I'm still but a grasshopper) but I've learned more about them and I'm not afraid to try. Birding. Street Photography. Photojournalism. Sports Photography. There are some where I'll admit to no knowledge but an interest has been kindled: Printing. Portraiture. 

  • I've met and dialogued with some very interesting people. Photography legends like Philip Sun, Lance Gitter, Harvey Rogers, Stu Freedman, Hilarie McNeil-Smith, Rob Stimpson and many others. Not all of them through judging, it's true: but I feel somewhat more elevated by the practice of adjudicating others' images.
I don't know about other jurisdictions but in Canada we have CAPA and more locally in Toronto, the GTCCC. I'm sure there are equivalents around the globe. Take the step. Contact your local club for information on judging courses.

Shooting the Ontario 55+ Senior Winter Games

An argument for staying in shape. These folks do stuff that I didn't do even 30  or 40 years ago. They should be very proud.

Shooting the games was quite challenging. For one thing, they had 10 different sports in about 17 different locations and we ended up with about 7 or 8 photographers. The toughest part were the medal ceremonies which all took place on Thursday afternoon, all over the map!

I got to shoot a variety of sports, filling in the gaps where others couldn't be there. Here's a look at some of the shots I did:




Alpine skiing at Sir Sam's. I shot at the bottom of the course, needing a long lens and very high shutter speed to freeze the action. Exposure was relatively easy because there was lots of light. 



Curling was tough to shoot. There was enough light but the ugly arc lights were a weird colour.  



The two iconic curling shots were people sweeping and someone throwing a rock. I tried a different treatment on this one to make it interesting. 



I tried an artistic rendering of the rocks and a broom. 



I've shot hockey before, in the same arena. So before I got there I knew where I wanted to shoot from: the penalty box. When I walked in, I discovered they had remodeled the place and EVERYTHING was glassed in, INCLUDING the penalty box. I only found a couple of spots where the glass was clean and undamaged enough to shoot through. So I have lots of shots of the same goalie and the same net (they didn't change ends between periods). 



Although it may look bright inside a hockey arena, you need really fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. I tried my telextender but because it uses up almost two stops of light, the best I could do was 1/500 sec at f/4.8, ISO 6400. And that was deliberately underexposing almost a stop. I switched to the 70-200 (which was enough from where I was shooting) and locked in the camera at 1/1000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400. 



Badminton was a huge challenge. It was like, "DARK" in there. And when they swing their racquets it's like squash or racquetball, the racquet is moving so fast you can't time the shots and it's just a big blur. I set up with the flash, but then got told it disturbed the players so I put it away. I got lots of shots of people standing there waiting for a shot. I did get other perspectives, but I thought this one told the story pretty well. 



Typical stance, waiting for a serve 




Table Tennis was another huge challenge. First of all, they were in a small venue (just room for two tables) and it was filled with people. Second, because any breeze disturbed the flight of the ball, they shut off the ventilation system and all the windows. Outside: -15°C. Inside: +30°C  and 100% humidity. Took over 30 minutes before I could shoot a picture through fogged-up lenses!

this gentleman is Andrew Kwan (Kwong Hon Kwan). He and his partner Sandy Chu were easily the best players there and took the doubles gold medal for the 65+ division. Look how the racquet and the ball are blurred, even at 1/500 second! I talked with him a bit: about 8 out of 10 serves are with heavy underspin so that the opponent has to loop the ball up to get it over the net, which gives the serving team a kill shot response. Every now and then they'd mix it up with a topspin ball, and if the opponent doesn't react to it, their shot will sail 'way long! Then there's side spin which leaves the opponent whiffing air instead of a ball! These guys were good!



I shot 3 or 4 award ceremonies. This was the bronze medal winning team in the 55+ division, one of my favourite shots. The coach on the left introduced himself as "Punch Imlach" and said his partner was "Toe Blake". I 'almost' believed them since their namesakes did dress like that for games! But they would have been 98 and 103 respectively and I knew they were gone... as an aside, I went to school with Toe's daughter, Mary Jane, when I was 12 or 13. 



The iconic handshake at the end of the Gold Medal game: the Ottawa Hawks were the winners. Hard fought physical games but lots of camaraderie.  




Gold medal winners got this handsome glass award. 



Local dignitaries making the medal presentations. All of the Games staff and volunteers wore these distinctive yellow scarves and matching laminated ID badges. 

Part of our mandate was to get pictures of the volunteers and staff enjoying their tasks.



Here's a bunch of them at the alpine skiing venue
 
The scarves were really distinctive. Games officials and volunteers really stood out in a crowd. 



You can't see the colour of the scarf in this black-and-white impression sketch. He was in charge of the hockey venue in Haliburton but I can't remember his name. 

This week's closing images

On Tuesday, I had to drive into Toronto (with a stop to see Dr. Ron in Aurora. If I had known when I was a kid how important brushing my teeth was...). Anyway I drove past the snowy owls venue and although I was looking for them, I didn't see any: until I was driving home the same way later in the afternoon. 



This guy was doing his thing, giving me the "evil eye" from atop a hydro pole. I used Topaz Adjust and Clarity to enhance the detail in this image. 



"Working the Scene" at the same spot, I saw this lonely tree and was captivated by the pastel beauty of the sky behind it and the snow in the foreground. I know snow is supposed to be white, but in this case it reflected the same colour tones as the sky.

I did quite a bit of work on this image, including adding textures to parts of it and cleaning up the foreground. Rendering the foreground was a bit problematic: but Hilarie McNeil-Smith (click the link to see her compelling images), whom I've known for a while since she taught a digital painting course I facilitated some years ago, suggested adding some blowing snow. Some of what she taught me stuck! I love the effect: I used an airbrush in Photoshop, lightly loaded with white and at low opacity to make it happen.

Click to blow it up to see it better. My friend Lori wants her entire wall painted like this. I know where to get 8 foot wide prints made! I think I'm going to get a fine art print made for myself (not 8'wide! I may go for 24x36", though). Want one?


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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Paying it Forward

A challenge for you

I was recently given a Tim Horton's gift card. So I went into Tim Horton's, asked for the manager and gave her the gift card. I told her to use it for people who come in who need it more than I do. I asked, "Do you know whom I mean"? She said, "I know exactly whom you mean". So do you.

It's just a small thing but I hope I made a few people a little happier for a moment. If half the readers of this blog did the something similar then a whole lot of people might get a little smile. Feels good. Be in that half. Pay it forward.

New Banner

I changed the banner last week and since some people can't see it, depending on how they view this blog, here it is:




As I worked on this image – I've created different versions of it, cropped a variety of ways – I realize how strong my attraction is to images with lots of negative space. If you look through my work over time, I've done a lot of images with absolutely nothing in the background, usually white but a number of black images too. And although "fill the frame" is a mantra of mine, I'm learning that wider shots that include more background, tell the story much better.

Topaz Labs February Special

Topaz Labs Plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom are brilliant. I'm addicted to their products, particularly Impression which I find outstanding and frequently include in my workflow.

You can buy individual products or the complete bundle and if you enter “faczen” in the discount coupon box at checkout, you get a 15% discount. You can also do a 30 day full free trial on any and all of their products. (highly recommended for Topaz Impression and Topaz Glow: they don’t run on all systems because they need higher functioning graphics cards. Try before you buy!).

There are larger discounts from time to time on specific products, for instance Topaz ReStyle is on sale for $20 off ($40 instead of $60) in February, using this coupon code: ‘febrestyle’. Here’s the link to their site (which includes my affiliate code), or click the Topaz box at the right.

ReStyle is a plugin designed to alter the colors in your image with its unique array of toning effects.
The technology behind ReStyle uses a cutting-edge process to map the color and tone statistics from a source image.

With this, creative possibilities extend to many inspiring choices. Restyle is a useful tool for the photographer or artist looking to alter the overall feeling and mood of his or her image. The program can even be used to revamp the tone of graphics and textures.



I used Topaz Impression to finish this image that I shot last week. The "Georgia O'Keeffe" preset helped me produce the rich blend of pastel colours in the water as well as the textures in the snow. FWIW, this was a 5-shot HDR bracket. I pasted the ducks back in because they were ghosted in the HDR (on purpose: I was trying to smooth the water). 




Here's another shot from the same day, same spot (well, I was in a different position). I startled these Goldeneyes into taking off and used the Impression "Impasto" preset for the brush stroke effect. 




These shots were taken at roughly the same spot, but on a different day! I say "these shots" because this is a composite of two images, plus some background manipulation. There was in fact a wild turkey right where this one is in this shot but he was in a less flattering pose, so I replaced him!

Snowy Owl

Thank you, Kathy. Thank you, Kathy. In case I forget to say it, "Thank you, Kathy"!

When she put up some Snowy Owl pictures I said how envious I was. She texted me the next day and asked if I wanted to go shoot some. You don't have to ask me twice, but Kathy (McKelvey-Brown) has magic eyes. She sees stuff nobody else can. Grey owls in grey trees. Turtles. Ducks. So I figured I'd never see them. I was half right.

She told me where she had seen them the day before and when we drove there, (2 cars), she pulled over. I got out to talk to her and she said, "didn't you see the owl? It was in that tree, and when you got out of your car it flew away". Rats. I never saw it. Then she said, "There it is!". A white spec in a tree 300 meters away. Magic eyes.

Cutting to the chase: I got the hang of it and had at least half-a-dozen sightings, two of them after she left and I spotted them on my own! Without further ado...



They sit on top of power poles or on fence posts, looking for prey in the snow with THEIR magic eyes. White bird, white snow, white sky... 



This one took off from the pole when I got a bit too close (yeah, like in the next county!). I have a 200mm lens plus 1.7x telextender on a full-frame D800. Not quite enough for birding. 



I captured this owl in flight. Now if I didn't tell you this was a composited image, would you have known? There was nothing but the bird and sky in the original shot so I added in a background. This is the same bird as the previous shot, about 1/2 second later. Back button autofocusing and predictive tracking in the D800 does a fantastic job! So does Topaz Adjust 5 and ReMask.


Want a print of this image? Send me a note.

By the way, you know I'm a landscape guy, right? While driving around looking for owls, I came across this scene and it called out to me to be photographed:




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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Where there's smoke...


Musings

I promise, I'm not turning this into a "food blog". But I had a great dinner the other night and so I was thinking about it and so...
Do you like sushi?
I do. I'm a little picky, though, I won't eat squid or eel or anything really exotic. But I love salmon and tuna and butterfish and shrimp and crab and... since I'm a 'healthy eater' (which means I eat a lot, not that I eat healthy!), I'm an "All you can Eat" kind of guy. I like trying a whole bunch of dishes.
If you're ever in the Thornhill or Aurora area (OK, this is for my local readers! The rest of you will have to experience this vicariously), I have a couple of recommendations.
First of all, there's a place in Thornhill, on Centre Street just west of New Westminister, with the unlikely name "HOCKEY SUSHI". They have learned to make OUTSTANDING 'kamikachi rolls'* (spicy salmon rolls), my favourite. They don't have sashimi at lunchtime but they do at dinner and they know how to buy quality ingredients! Also at dinner (I was there last night) you can get some more traditional oriental dishes such as their General Tao Chicken which I couldn't stop eating!
* I was first introduced to these at Ginza Sushi at Yonge and Clark in Thornhill but they've changed a lot over the years and we don't go there any more. I mention it because the owner's name is Alice and we were regulars and got personal service. They opened a number of additional places and it isn't personal any more. By the way I gave them a CD of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" to play on their sound system but I guess they didn't appreciate his music! You might, though, so click the link! It's better if you're high. Just sayin...



Don't knock the iPhone shot. Besides I was more interested in eating than in photographing.  You can tell by the fact there are only 3 spicy salmon rolls left on the plate! The dish in the back is beef udon which I also enjoy.

In Aurora, there's "SUSHI DEN TEPPANYAKI" on Wellington Street just East of Yonge. I first went there with Dr. Ron and absolutely love the quality of the place. Their food melts in your mouth!
Let me know if you want to join me when I'm next in the area. I don't need a lot of arm-twisting as an excuse to go there!
What does this have to do with Photography? We should all take a lesson from the Sushi houses who pay a great deal of attention to plating and presentation. They're doing "Composition" right there on your plate! Worth considering next time you're setting up a shot!

Aurora Presentation

I did a presentation last night to the Aurora Public Library Camera Club, invited by Ronen Grunberg to speak. It's hard to turn down a chance to show off your work!

Unfortunately, there was a timing misunderstanding. I thought I had more time and was taken aback when I had about 15 minutes of presentation left and the guy walked in from the library and said "we're locking up the doors and kicking you out in 5 minutes!".

So I didn't get to the "meat" of the presentation, and skipped through the Composition portion much, much too fast. So today, I took the presentation, annotated it a bit (since viewers wouldn't be there to hear me speak), converted it to a PowerPoint Slide Show (you don't need PowerPoint to watch it) and posted it online here:  www.photography.to/presentations/onlineaurora.ppsx. It's about a 75Mb download. Feel free to watch it, just don't steal any of my images, they are copyrighted, OK? Near the end you'll hit a slide that says "My ECLECTIC Mix". When you exit that, there's a 5-minute automated slideshow with one of my favourite music tracks, Moe Koffman's "Swinging Shepherd Blues".

Facebook: the good, the bad and the ugly

I hate to admit it, but I've become a Facebook addict. I have a couple of hundred people I've "friended", either they're people I actually know or photographers I've had dialogue with and am impressed by their work. 

The frustrating parts are (1) the "Ugly", FB really does degrade the rendering of images, and (2) the "Bad", which has two subgroups: (a) stupid people who make stupid comments, some of them mean-spirited and (b) people who seek validation and are so insecure of their own vision that they put up things like, "does this look better in black and white or colour?". 

On the "Good" side, first there are some absolutely OUTSTANDING images posted. Both for viewing (I'd love to have that on my wall!) or for learning (how'd s/he do that? I'll file that away next time I'm shooting that kind of subject, or "that gives me an idea, I'm going to try that!"). There are also new people who are stuck and looking for help, although sometimes typing their question into Google would get 650,000 answers... 

It can be educational: where do you think I learned about back-button autofocusing? My black and white flowers on a black background came from FB when Antony Northcutt posted his images. I've been in touch with him, even suggested some alternate techniques. I've tried skin softening using Frequency Separation and it's filed away in my toolbag next time I need it. Today I saw a Milky Way shot much better than mine and in a dialogue with the maker, I learned his approach is different (a little) than mine and I'm going to try it next time.

It can be inspirational. I read some of the street photography groups because I'd really like to learn how to do that better. There are some really great studio shots out there (and some bad ones: what "not" to do!). And people posting Icelandic landscapes and aurora borealis shots that make me go and stare at my bucket list.

I participate in 3 or 4 groups, I thought I'd share some here.
  • the "Photoshop and Lightroom" group which just passed 90,000 members. There are inspiring images and ideas there.
  • Topaz: both the "Users" group and the "Impression" group, to see what others are doing and get ideas
  • of course the "Haliburton Highlands Camera Club" private group for members only, as well as a few other local groups, and
  • The Big Bang Theory because I love that show (although not as much since Kaley cut her hair! OK, I'm shallow. I admit it).
The trick is to simply scroll past posts that make you shake your head or anything with a cat in it. Move on to the interesting ones and the things your friends are posting. It's a great way to keep up with what's going on in their world.

Now that I've written this, I've got an idea for my next newspaper column (you think it's hard coming up with stuff to write here? Try writing general, not-too-technical photography articles every week!). 

Speaking of my Bucket List

Mine is mostly about places I'd like to go (and photograph) rather than things I want to do. Partly because that sentence usually ends "...while I still can..." and that's beginning to be a little in doubt by now.

If you've been reading me for a while, you know that I want to start painting (like with real brushes and paint). Yesterday I bought an easel. Next week, some paints and brushes, but I'm going to drop into the Cultural Centre on a Monday because they have painting classes there an I want to pick peoples' brains. Technically that's not a "I want to do this before I die" thing, though.

Again if you've been around here for a while, you know I want to do Iceland. And New Zealand. I've been to Newfoundland three times and want to go back again. Africa and Alaska are there too, but further down the list. And I've never been to New Orleans. Photography and music combined.
Speaking of New Orleans: I'm thinking "Road Trip", maybe late summer. Gas is cheaper now. Anyone interested in coming along? Contact me...
I've been a lot of places and done a lot of things. But as Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over until it's over".

Published again

The GTCCC (Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs) has posted a short version of my tutorial on High Contrast Black and White images on Black Backgrounds on their website. Check it out here. You can find the full length version on my technical blog here and I'm available to come out to clubs to talk about it and other topics live. I'm scheduled to go to Bancroft next week, FWIW. 

GTCCC also put up some images from our club in their gallery and one of them is mine. Just so you know, our club executive chose the four images but I recused myself from voting for my own image, so I'm honoured that they liked it.


Some pictures...



Fun with Cows! Reworking an earlier image using Topaz Glow. Just for fun! You can get a 15% discount on any Topaz product by using this link (or the one at right) and entering "faczen" in the code field on the order page. 

Does anyone want me to write up how I do my signature (lower left of the picture) or the grey 3D frame and title on my images? I can do a short tutorial and post it on my tech blog, but not if people don't ask me for it. Comment here, or send me a note and I'll do it.

I'm in a bit of a lull. Busy with other things so I've not gotten out to shoot much in the past couple of weeks. This is just about the only shot I liked, done today (February 2):



It's an Impression-edited image of a snowbank. I just kind of like the way it flows from lower left to upper right. I left the blue in the shadows on purpose because it could also be clouds. FWIW, I used the Monet-Impasto preset.

Here's another reworked image from a while ago, using Impression:



 A couple of people said, "Wow! How'd you get that shot of Leonard Cohen?".  But some of you know who this is (Steve Weiman, lead guitarist for FOG) and where I shot it (Hugh's Room in Toronto). Shooting in concert lighting is challenging, but Impression helps a lot. I used one of the Chiaroscuro presets to focus the light on his face and guitar, then one of the Impressionist presets (could have been Monet) to give it the painterly look.

Where there's Smoke

And finally, Mark Girard posted some work he'd been doing with smoke. I didn't feel like copying his setup, besides I didn't really have anything that would give me continuous smoke: I had to light and then blow out a candle to get some! Here's one setup attempt:




I thought of trying this oil lamp. When you crank the flame down it gets really smokey at one point. But I had to be really careful not to set fire to the nylon tent! (I'll bet you were thinking that's what I did, right?)



How's this for a neat lighting setup? I haven't worked on this image yet... 

However i did work on this real surprise image. Believe it or not, this is basically straight out of the camera!



This was in my light tent, but with a black background. Illumination came from my ringlight which I had dismounted and was holding off to the left. This is the original shot SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) except I cranked the blacks and shadows and then straightened it up a bit.  

I tried a bunch of edits and crops and in the end, I like the original much better! Even the lumpy cloth at the bottom. I couldn't do this again if I tried! Going in my "Best of 2015" list, for sure!

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Don't Leave Home without It!

Musings

1. Are you cooking your steaks wrong?
This has absolutely nothing to do with photography!
A friend of mine (Sean, I think it was) sent me a link to an article asking that question. I tried it and came to the conclusion that they were right, I've been doing it wrong for 50 years.
Follow this thinking:
If you sear the outside of the steak first and then BBQ or broil the steak (the way I've always done it), you will end up with only the centre of the steak correctly cooked (your call: rare or medium-rare. If you like your steak well-done please skip the rest of this story and click here for a tasty treat you'll enjoy).
Now for the rest of us: that means that most of the meat will be overdone. The article suggests to slow-cook the steak over low indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 115°F. NOW sear it at very high temperature to give it that crispy outer crust. Note that it will continue to cook internally so the done-ness will be right. There's another reason too – it will melt in your mouth! How do you make a tough piece of meat tender? You cook it slowly, at lower temperatures. That's why crock pots work.
This also works for lamb chops, roasts (I've been doing them that way for a long time) and even hamburgers. For what it's worth, that's how high end steak houses cook. Try it!
2. Unsubscribing from junk mail
You know those "unsubscribe here" buttons at the bottom of most junk mail? Should you or shouldn't you? It's possible that they're waiting for you to click on it so they can verify that you are legitimate and gather your email address for additional spam. What does everyone think? 
By the way, the unsubscribe on my Newsletter is totally legitimate. I use MailChimp and by clicking it, you get totally removed immediately from my mailing list. Not that you would ever want to do that!

Press Accreditation for Pan Am Games

My Press Accreditation application has been approved as a photojournalist for the PanAm Games this summer. Specifically, I've applied for the Canoe and Kayak slaloms to be held at the Minden Wildwater Preserve July 17-18. I'm looking forward to photographing and reporting on this marvelous event. If you are in the media (or know someone who is: please pass this on), I am shooting as a freelancer and would be delighted to submit images to your publication(s). Please contact me directly via photography@faczen.com.


    
 


Some sample images


By the way, I would like to borrow or rent an extra camera body for the event. Nikon, of course, minimum D7100 (or D4s or D800 or...). A crop-sensor body would be useful for the extended tele capability, but I have enough reach with my present gear. Please get in touch if you can help!

Workshops

It's time to start thinking about 2015 workshops. I still have to rewrite my workshop pages (www.photography.to/workshops.htm) but here's what I have in mind. I have three or four basic introductory sessions that last half-a-day and cost $50. Basic photography, Lightroom, Photoshop, specific topics. All of them can be expanded to two day sessions ($150) at the end of which the student will have a working knowledge of the topic. Photography workshops can include a field trip as day 2. All sessions are designed to run up here at my house, but I can also travel if it makes sense.

My schedule is pretty open, so I don't want to set firm dates at this point. Not in the July 11-20 window, though! (PanAm Games). So this is a preliminary heads-up and anyone considering moving up to the next level should read what's on the site above (remembering that I haven't updated it for 2015 yet) and contact me (pardon the anti-spam attempt. I'm sure you understand).

Star Light, Star Bright

The other night, when I got home from the camera club meeting I looked up and actually saw stars.They looked pretty crisp, it was one of those dry winter evenings, temperatures hovering around 0°F (-18°C). Unfortunately I have some local light pollution (one day I'm going to take a .22 to that all-night hydro light in the Inn parking lot next door!), which you can see in this shot, illuminating my garage.

It was the first clear night in a long time: in fact I can't remember a cloudless night since last summer when I did stars workshops! (there may have been some but not predicted more than a day in advance). For fun, I thought I'd include the garage in the foreground and shoot the Eastern sky above it. Besides, Venus was up there blazing brighter than anything else. Besides, I got to set the camera up in my driveway and go inside where it was warm!




This was one single frame, before stacking but after doing lens correction to remove the distortion you get by pointing a wide angle lens upwards. Lightroom did a neat job of straightening everything up.




I took a total of 162 exposures over 81 minutes (the arithmetic isn't tough: 30-second exposures!), tweaked them in Lightroom and exported them to StarStaX. As usual, too many stars! So I took them back to Lightroom and darkened them down, then I used the lens correction tool.

For the tekkies: D800 full frame with Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 at F=17mm. 30 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 1600. That's a little bright, even for a single shot (ISO 1000 is enough) but you need much less when you're stacking them.One time I'm going to see what I get at ISO 400. Anyway, the sky was 'way too crowded so I took only 80 of the images into StarStaX and turned on "comet mode". I processed the images in reverse order to make it look like the comets were raining down instead of up.

Turns out it wasn't totally clear. The red you see at the bottom of the picture is from a cloud layer that moved in across the shot. The red glow probably comes from the village of Haliburton, about 20 km away. It was interesting to watch it develop so I took the same images and loaded them into MS Movie Maker and did a short time-lapse (15 seconds) which you can find here on YouTube.

Take your camera with you!

"What kind of camera should I use"? "The one you have with you"! Yesterday I was stopping off at the landfill (PC word for "garbage dump"). I almost left the camera at home, it was a grey, not very pretty day... but threw it in the car anyway. GOOD THING!

What is that huge bird? It's a juvenile Bald Eagle! And there's his sibling, and there's mom (or dad)! They just sat there while I took off the wide angle lens, put on the telextender and the 70-200. Still pretty far away... so I took a few shots, then started walking closer to them. Came over a little rise and startled a herd of 6 deer! And when they ran away, the eagles also decided to make themselves scarce. 

Still I got a few shots... and the message is, "Don't leave home without it"! You never know...



Not a great shot, couldn't get close enough and the lighting wasn't great. This was about half a frame. Mom and the kiddies. Actually it's probably Dad because the adult actually looks smaller than the juveniles and males are generally smaller than the females.



Of course the deer are so curious that even though I startled them, this guy came back to see what the fuss was about! Since they shed their antlers in the winter, I can't tell whether this is a buck or a doe but I suspect it's a male because my impression was that it was bigger and healthier than the others in the herd. Also I think he was leading them.

I used Impression (Impasto, brush 14 if anyone cares) on the deer and the background. I masked out the brush effect on the snow and burned in the slight shadows to give it a more realistic look. 
'til next week!


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