Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fall is coming to an end...

...I feel as though I'm girding my loins for the challenging battle with winter to come. Rumour has it that we can expect a tough one this year.

The roof is done, at least that part that I'm doing this year. The chimney mortar still needs pointing, we're waiting for a dry spell, cement bags and tools sitting at the ready. The sump pump line needs attention: maybe we can prevent it from freezing up this year. Outdoor furniture is stored and covered, the top of the gazebo's hanging in the garage, I made space for the ATV and the car, the 4-wheeler's been tuned and ready for the snowplow to be mounted. 

Firewood is stacked and I have a bunch of kindling split and ready to go; I bought 50 pounds of birdseed and the overhanging branches have been trimmed, ready for the weight of snow to come. I'm making an appointment next week to have the snow tires installed.

It's coming...

My neighbours are running around with leaf blowers. I get a real kick out of that: seeing them wake up the next day to a whole new crop of fallen leaves! Can you say "Sisyphus"?

I have prepared this image as a desktop background picture (wallpaper).
You can download the standard width version here:
and the widescreen version
Let me know if you want a different one. Enjoy.

I don't have any of these. My property is framed on three sides by pine trees – 37 of them at last count, all mature and sky high (I wish I'd planted some red maples and other deciduous at the back of the property 7 years ago when I bought the place. They'd be adolescents by now). What I have is a carpet of pine needles, anyone who thinks "evergreens" don't shed in the fall doesn't live here! 

A neighbour once complained that I should rake up all those needles. He said it was preventing the grass from growing well. "Good," I said, "that means I don't have to mow it"! I live in the country, folks. 

If you go out in the Woods today...

I feel a little as if I'm making an AA speech here: "it's been a whole week since I took any pictures". Literally. From the 11th to the 18th. So I took the ATV up in the woods yesterday. I have a number of places where I like to sit and let my mind float (I don't want to use the 'meditate' word or the "Zen" thing, I'd have to research what they mean so I'd be using them properly). That's one of the places. 

It changes constantly. Look back a couple of posts to see that picture Cheryl took of me on my ATV, or here's another one we took that day, three short weeks ago.

The ATV trail ends at a dirt road called "Surf Trail". This is down near the end of it. 

This is what it looked like in the woods yesterday:

It was overcast and in fact drizzling a little. That adds saturation to the colours. HDR with added brushstrokes added via Topaz Impression, van Gogh 1 preset. 

Eat your hearts out, city dwellers.

New Fall Banner

I change it every couple of months and post it here in the blog as well for those who can't see the header on an RSS feed or mobile device and as a record because the old one disappears when you change it.

Topaz Clarity on Sale!

Topaz Labs makes my go-to set of plug-ins for Lightroom and Photoshop. The other set I use are from Nik (Google): I rely on Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 when I'm working with HDR's, and on Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2 to do black-and-white conversions, the others less frequently.
What are plug-ins, by the way? They're 'preset' programs that change a bunch of Photoshop (or ACR or Lightroom) settings to achieve certain effects in a professional manner. Things that you might spend hours slaving over are suddenly available with a single click. They don't actually do anything you couldn't do yourself, but wouldn't want to! For example, creating an HDR merge manually to match HDR Efex Pro would likely take you 8 or 10 hours of work, things that the plug-in can do in one click.

But Topaz keeps coming up with winners, their latest is "Impression" which addresses the frustrated paint media artist in me (one day I'll actually pick up a brush!). I use many of the modules in their complete bundle regularly too. Some are less useful to me, some address specific problems (like DeNoise) and some should be used on almost every picture if you're trying to prepare a final image. Clarity is one of those.

Here's their words:

There are a lot of ways to increase depth and definition in a photo, but many methods will leave you with unnatural-looking contrast. The intelligent technology behind Clarity allows you to enhance contrast without over-emphasizing transitions between light and dark areas. This unique approach essentially eliminates the common problem of halos, noise, and artifacts.
Using the adjustment sliders, you can easily strengthen an image’s levels of micro, midrange, and overall contrast. You can even do this selectively by taking advantage of the masking module. With Topaz Clarity, your images will never lack visual impact!
This plug-in makes the Clarity slider in Lightroom or ACR look mickey-mouse. But don't take my word for it, download the free trial and try it for yourself, you'll get hooked like I am. Here's the link, and enter "octclarity" in the coupon code field. You can also get a 15% discount on any one of their other products including the complete Topaz bundle by entering "faczen" in the code field. 

My New Book is out!

Those who know me know that I'm not a "multi-tasker". My style is to cogitate and procrastinate and then finally dive into a project with both feet, working at it pretty well single-mindedly until either it's done or I abandon it. That's not always a good thing: I have lots of started projects where I've gotten stuck and set them aside, hoping that my mindset and time available will let me eventually get back to them.

My Blurb "Best of 2013" book is one of those. It's almost the end of 2014 and it wasn't done yet. I made a few abortive tries earlier, being really fussy about layouts, etc., and wanting to do it with Adobe InDesign, but that got really tedious and finally I started over using Blurb's proprietary software, BookSmart. And finally it's done.

Yesterday I uploaded the book to Blurb for publication. I also had them make a PDF version of it because the cost of the hard copy book is high, it's about $1 per page. So the 104 page book is over $100 to print.

The description is as follows:

This 104 page full sized coffee table book contains a selection of the sporadic musings and compelling images of Glenn Springer, a published photojournalist and author and artist located in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario, Canada. The images were all created in 2013 and reflect the artist's growth in that period. Many of the images are also available directly from the author as limited edition exhibition quality prints.

I ordered a couple of copies only because of the cost, and because I wanted to at least proof one before ordering more; I think the only people who might buy a copy of this book are future historians who want to say "I knew him when..." and who want to trace my development as an artist, those who are so impressed with my art that they need to have it in their collections, corporate, medical and personal clients who know that a book of this quality will add prestige to their coffee tables and waiting rooms, and close friends and family.

If you fit in any of those categories, don't be shy: the book is available for purchase through Blurb at the preview link below. It's printed on high quality premium matte paper and it's a full 11x14 hard cover book.

You can see a preview by clicking this link. It shows about 15 of the page spreads, my real "Best of..."! (be sure to click the "view fullscreen" icon at lower right below the image. Blurb does a good job of emulating the book, albeit at less-than-perfect resolution). I hope you will have a look. If you're a photographer or other artist or writer, it may give you some great ideas to do your own book. 

By the way, they have a deal running until the end of October for Canadian and Australian customers: by entering the code "CANADA25" or "AUSTRALIA25" you get a 25% discount on your order with them (and when books are as much as $100, that adds up!). Here's the link (yes, it includes an affiliate code for me...). By the way, they make less expensive products as well but I opted for the full-sized high quality coffee-table book.

PS: I have about 30 hours in the book, in addition to the actual photo editing, of course. Dr. Ron tells me he puts a book together in an evening, I don't know how! Maybe if I didn't customize every one of the 104 pages... I almost never use their preset layouts.

Winter Workshop

I don't want to say too much too soon, but  we're planning a massive winter workshop retreat up here in the Highlands on the weekend of February 28 - March 2, 2015. We have a fantastic facility lined up, with accommodations for up to 200 people (Gawd, we don't expect that many!!!), we're working on some really talented seminar and workshop leaders and we're talking to the Man Upstairs to arrange for some appropriate weather so we can do a bunch of outdoor as well as indoor sessions! (I personally hope we get some crystal clear nights for star shoots, although the moon is waxing gibbous that weekend).

February 28 – March 2, 2015

So watch this space for updates. And mark your calendars for that weekend, it's shaping up to be a great opportunity to build your photo skills and get away from the city for a weekend! Interested in presenting or running a workshop? Contact me.

Guest Photo

This image was made by Katherine Staynor in Newfoundland. She took my DSLR course last summer. I loved it so much, I asked her if I could post it here. She calls it, "The Three Amigos". Wonderful shot, Katherine, and thanks!

One more closing image for your enjoyment. Not much different from the earlier fall shot in the woods, a little different treatment, but somehow I wanted to share this composition as well.

— 30 —

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Where am I at?

First let me address the title of this blog post: grammatically horrible! I was torn between that and "Who do you make pictures for?", equally bad! It's just that "For whom do you make pictures?" makes me sound like a high school English teacher and "Self Assessment: an analysis of one's personal growth" is just plain boring and pedantic.

The Question

"Where am I at (y'all)?"!

Here's where I'm coming from. I recently submitted a couple of pictures to the RHCC monthly competition and while the scores were predictable (not great), one judge's comment put me on this track. It was innocuous: "Looks like new paint program from Topaz". But it got me thinking about something.
First of all, let me digress for a second. Judges: remember your training. You're there to judge the image,
not how it was made.
My friend Ron asked me a while ago whether I was going to put some serious entries into the competitions, and I nodded and smiled and was deliberately vague. Probably not. Because the big question is, "for whom do you make pictures?". Not for them. Not any more.

So I got to thinking (Gawd, what's wrong with my grammar today? LOL) about where I'm at. I'm writing this for two reasons: (1) by writing it down, I might be able to understand myself more clearly and (2) to get you, my faithful readers, to think about your own place in the world.

The Answer

I want to say that I'm making pictures to please myself, not other people. I would be lying, of course, the world isn't black-and-white and it's gratifying when people say, "Wow, you must have a really good camera!" (photographer joke). Sure, it's nice to be appreciated. Maybe one day people will look at my body of work and say, "he was an artist". 

When I make a picture that works for me, I'm satisfied. Why? Because my standards have changed, I've grown and when I meet or exceed my new standards, I know I'm doing well. By the way, a corollary to that is that I hate my earlier work. I've said elsewhere (maybe not out loud!) that a lot of it is amateurish and just plain banal. 
As we speak, I'm working on a Blurb book, my "Best of 2013". I don't hate all the pictures in it, but I certainly think I've grown since then. It's a lot of work, I'm about ¾ of the way through. A few more days work.
I have two goals: to make pictures that convey what I pictured in my mind when I took it and when I finished it, and to increasingly improve what I'm trying to convey. Does that make any sense? Let me give you an example.

Sunset shot from the Schuyler's Island Causeway and rendered with Topaz Impression. FWIW, I started with one of the Da Vinci presets, added back some colour and some other minor adjustments. Click the image to blow it up.

Some background. Cheryl Goff was up from Oshawa and we went off in search of a sunset. We tried several locations, and I wasn't really satisfied with any of them. Sunsets are hit-and-miss, of course, they may not work out and I figured this was one of those nights. Then we saw the way the sun hit the trees across the water, the reflections, the clouds.

When I viewed the scene, I got to thinking "if I was painting this scene instead of photographing it, what would I do?" This. And I took the picture with this in mind. No, not the 'da Vinci' brush strokes, the composition. Framing it with the foreground plants. Capturing the reflections in the still part of the water. The leading lines created by the clouds. The balance. I'm really quite satisfied with this composition and happy that I was able to make it work.

It's interesting that when I joined the Richmond Hill Camera Club a decade or more ago, it was with the intent of learning more about composition. And yes, I used to enter competitions with the goal of getting peer approval (not peer: my betters!). Now I have more confidence in my own vision. So what would a real artist  say (see? I still don't think I am one!)? Would they agree about the composition? 
What about the brush strokes? They're just fun. Why do I like this "Topaz Impression" plug-in so much?  I am definitely a frustrated paint media artist who still can't draw if my life depended on it, but I think I'm getting closer to picking up a brush and giving it a try. 
Where am I at? About halfway to where I want to be. Better than where I was yesterday. 

Guest Photo

Here's a rare picture taken by someone else. Photo credit goes to Fred Pyziak, VP of the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. It's a picture of me and Steve Hill, curator of the Haliburton Museum. We were at the museum and I was taking his picture. Why am I posting it? Because although it's a great photo, the caption is what tickled my funnybone. Well done, Fred!

Going door to door selling photography is a tough sell up here in the woods 

Yesterday wasn't such a great photography day.

But it was a good day. I managed to spend a little time with some people I enjoy, I did get out to shoot some pictures and share the odd bit of knowledge, but none of the pictures worked out except for the sunset one above. I even stopped at a spot that intrigued me after dark, on the way home and tried a little light painting but it didn't work out and I discarded the whole batch. But in doing so, I figured out why they didn't work and perhaps what to look for and do next time.

Thursday was, though. That's the day Fred took the picture above, we were at the Haliburton Museum and Steve Hill was kind enough to play blacksmith for us. I got a few pictures I liked, one of which I'm very satisfied with.

Another one of those Topaz Impression, "Da Vinci" style images. What I like about this one is the composition and the dynamic of the light.  

This is what the HDR process was made for. The crisp detail is brought out, there's a depth created by the lighting, and the bright exterior in the window and doorframe are retained. I think it's a good technical image although it lacks some artistic impression (should I add brush strokes? Hmmm...) 

And finally, this one. This is exactly what I was going for when I came out on Thursday. 

If you're a photographer, I'd like to direct you to a tutorial-style writeup that I did about what went into the making of the Blacksmith image. I think you'll find it instructive. If you don't care how the picture came to be, well, just enjoy it for what it is! Here's the link, I put it on my Tech Blog so as not to bore my non-technical readers.

Onward and upward. I noticed that this is my 301st blog post, not bad! I do go on, don't I?

— 30 —

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Algonquin Park Fall Colours

I'm still tired. And it's Thursday. I was in Algonquin Park twice last weekend, on Saturday with Ron and Mark and George, and on Monday with 13 or 14 members of the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. Cheryl from the Oshawa club was there too. Today's blog is about showing you pictures from those visits. Click on the pictures to blow them up.

It all started at 2 am, when we shot the stars:

Here's the Milky Way on a background of Aurora Borealis.  

150 stacked images later... same vantage point, StarStaX and some Topaz. 

Then I turned around to face South, stacked about 50 more images and added in this composite (I think that's Mark) 

A couple of hours later, after a short nap in the car, dawn arrived

This was at Lake of Two Rivers, by the way. Not a spectacular dawn but oh, the mist! 

Never neglect the other direction! This was facing West at dawn. Some Topaz Impression and... OK, I did some Photoshopping! 

After breakfast, we drove up Arowhon Pines Road. Ron and Mark didn't really want to stop, but hey, I was driving.  

We went for a short (Ron said 5 minutes. Try over an hour!) walk but didn't see any good colourful spots. Back in the car, we headed South.

This guy was hanging out just off the road. I took about 20 shots (because my lens was fogged over, I had to take some extras...) Ron took about 1000. Just sayin'... 

We stopped a few other times, but I haven't processed those images yet. Long day... from 1 am to about 5 pm. The next day, Cheryl Goff, whom I had met at the Oshawa Camera Club judging last week, dropped in and we went for a short ATV ride. I haven't processed many of the pictures, however I gave her my camera and asked her to shoot one of me.

My camera, my shot, right? OK, technically no, but I'm keeping it anyway! I like this shot. Thanks, Cheryl! 

Next morning, we left for Algonquin at 5:30 am. We stopped at the Frost Centre. I took a bunch of pictures of people instead of landscapes. This is a montage of some of the pictures I took on Monday

I didn't get everyone, but this is a selection. I have an interesting one of Holly and Christine... taking bids... 

I took them back up the Arowhon Pines Road.

When the direct sun isn't in evidence, the colours are more saturated. Also a bit of Topaz Impression. 

Up at the top of the road, we came across this sign:

So we had to turn around, right? Right. Um...

About a klick down the road we spotted this. It was rather difficult to get to the vantage point to shoot this picture, down an almost vertical slope. Was it worth it?

Most of the other images are obviously edited. So is this one, but I chose to make it subtle. I was going for smooth colours and transitions, and I think this is going to be an outstanding large print. 

On the way back, a guy was sitting by the roadside, having lunch. His lunch was a magnet for these Grey Jays

That would be the "Hand of Man", right? 

Next we went to the Logging Museum. Here's an image from the trail around back painted with Topaz Impression. 

This was also on the trailside. Processed with a brush style that emulates Van Gogh. 

The Dirty Dozen. Missing from this shot were Fred, Kathy and David, who had to leave early. Wendy, Holly, me, Christine, Cheryl, Sarah, Maryanne, Richard, Stan, Lynda, Sharon and Jack. Who says I can't remember names??

One final shot, at the top of Ragged Falls.  

It was a long day – a long weekend – but I think I got some decent shots. A long sleep followed.

And I'm the guy who said I wasn't going to shoot fall colours...

— 30 —

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall is here!

What a wonderful summer!

{begin sarcasm mode}Was it hot enough for you? Enough clear starry nights? Sunny days? {end sarcasm} As far as I know, Toronto only had one day with any kind of heat warnings all summer. But at least two big heavy duty storms.

We have not had one single suitable night for star photography all summer. As we joked at the club meeting on Wednesday, our star shoot will be in February! And I'll bet only a few of my students will want to be there! (I actually do have an idea about that, we'll have to pursue it later on).

And yet I heard that from a Global perspective, the average temperature worldwide was higher than ever. Just not here. Or in the US. Or in Europe, I understand. Africa and Asia got it.

Onward and upward! Pray for Fall Colours!

Remember, there's a free eBook on shooting Fall Colours available by subscribing to my Newsletter. Click the button at top right!

Topaz has done it again!

They released a brand new product yesterday, called "TOPAZ IMPRESSIONS". If you like to convert photos into fine art, this is the plug-in for you (it also works as a standalone, but all the Topaz products seem to work better for me inside of Photoshop (or Elements) because you can control it better using masked layers.

Click this link to go to the Topaz Impressions page. You can see some great examples of how it works, download the free trial or buy it right there. If you key in the coupon code, "SEPIMPRESSIONS" at checkout, you will get a 25% discount. This is only valid until the end of September!

I'm sure there's a deal there if you already own the bundle. I'm waiting for Topaz to reply to that question but I see that if you have a log-in on their site you may be able to find out there. As soon as they tell me I'll pass it on.

Remember, you can also get a 15% discount on the entire bundle or any other individual Topaz product by using the code "FACZEN" at checkout. This one doesn't expire but you can't get BOTH the 15% and the 25% at the same time (I wish!).

Do the math... 15% of $429 is $64. 25% of $99 is $25. If you're buying the bundle...

New Fall Colours Banner

Here it is (for those using RSS Feed so they can't see it at the top). This is an impressionistic picture of the early fall colours!

Win some, lose some

I usually drive the Argyle Road from Beaverton in order to avoid the 50km zone in Kirkfield when I'm travelling from Toronto to home. On Friday, I did as well, but for another reason. For once, I wasn't in a huge hurry to get home, it was a nice day and I wanted to take my time and some pictures.

There are several solar farms under construction in that area. I learned that several farmers had agreed to sell their land for that purpose, and for several reasons – access to the grid, flat geography, etc – it's ideal. I've been wanting to get some pictures of the solar arrays, so I stopped to ask permission to come in and shoot.

Nope. Got to get agreement from the company that owns the place. I got a clear explanation at the second place I stopped at: liability. If I trip and fall on their property...

The problem is, they have a high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to keep people out. And the links in the fence are small, less than 2". No way to shoot through it without seeing the fence. This is the best I could do:

Too bad. There were some awesome pictures to be had there. In hindsight, if I had my point-and-shoot with me I might have been able to, by putting the lens through the hole. Think I'll try that next time.

Now THAT's a tree

I kept driving and ended up on a back road south of Kirkfield. There was a section where trees overhung the road, I stopped for some shots but I'll come back again after the colours are mature. However just after that, there was a farmer's field with some awesome oak trees in it. I spent some time there trying to get some images, I did get a couple. I had a mental image when I came in, don't know if I achieved it, but I stuck around and "worked the scene", and came up with this one.

Technically, it's a 5-shot HDR which I edited quite a bit. The textures were wonderful, but too overpowering. So I went to Topaz Simplify to smooth them and then I did some toning in Lightroom.  

Same tree, different view.This is what I envisioned when I was actually there, shooting it. For the tekkies, deliberately overexposed. Everything was done in Lightroom, using the adjustment brush, then I took it into Photoshop and used Nik Color Efex Pro 2 to enhance the high key look. 

As I said, I wasn't in a hurry and I wanted to have a look at the Carden Plains, an "Important Birding Area" just North of Kirkfield. I took an hour or so exploring up Wylie Road, then turned on Alvar Road. There weren't a lot of birds around, must be the wrong time of year.

Wetlands on Alvar Road. Probably a good idea to have 4WD here. A few minutes later, 3 deer crossed the road about 50m ahead of me, a buck and two does.   

PS, I did talk to some people on Wednesday (notably Dan Busby, who will be presenting at the HHCC meeting next month, don't miss it!) who are familiar with Carden Plain. Apparently Ontario has now designated it a Provincial Park. And the right time to visit is late May, into June (I said you probably should bring a macro lens to take closeup pictures of the blackflies!). You can bet that I'll be there. How have I not been there before??

Why do I do Photoshop?

Or more accurately, "post-processing". I have to admit it's partly because I don't work well under time pressure. I'm off-topic here, but yes, I'm a procrastinator, yes I wait until the last second and put myself under huge time pressure, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm a "deliberate thinker". I need to sit back and analyse things, then take action. So making on-the-fly decisions  is not my fortĂ© and that includes while I'm looking through the viewfinder. The best camera I've ever bought is the D800 which gives me so many megapixels I can crop and straighten like crazy, and which has such good high ISO performance and dynamic range that I can ETTR (expose to the right) and fix stuff later in Photoshop. Or Lightroom. Or a number of plug-ins like Topaz and Nik.

So I'm about to give you a dumb example. Don't laugh, OK? When I was in Carden Plain, I drove past these cows. I remembered that I needed a "cow" picture for the HHCC Scavenger Hunt so I took a couple of snaps. The 70-200 with the telextender was on the camera and I just shot from the seat of the car at 340mm. This was the one I liked the best

I was a little slow; the two cows – one's a calf – were actually  interacting better in another shot but I didn't nail the focus.
Crappy picture, right? Horizon skewed, cows in the middle, a tree growing out of one of them, bad foreground, didn't fill the frame... but this is how my vision works. I knew I could solve most of that stuff in post. By the way, focus was not tack sharp either.

In Lightroom, I straightened it, cropped a little, toned the image a touch, then I used the Radial Filter tool to make them stand out from the background more. Then I took it into Photoshop and used the new "shake reduction" filter to sharpen it, and even took a paintbrush to the eyes to make them more crisp. I cloned out the tree. I cropped it again to get them out of the middle and saved it. I played with some plug-ins and while I was looking at the oil paint option in Topaz Simplify and really liked what it did to the sky; so I ran it, then masked out everything except the sky, and did a little painting with the healing brush. In the end I also blurred it a bit because the contrast between the sky and the rest of the picture didn't look natural. VoilĂ !

Not the world's greatest picture, it's not going to end up in the National Gallery, but somehow I like it. Now if these had been lions instead of cows... 

Cool, Unique Product

What do you buy someone who has everything? Something different. I ordered a pillow from RedBubble for my granddaughter. She loved it. And her little 6 month old sister apparently has been "saying hello" to it!

This picture is a screen capture from the Redbubble site. Visit my Redbubble page to see the pictures I have available there. Buy something! I haven't actually seen the pillow yet, it was delivered to Leah in New York, but I'm going to order one for me, perhaps with a different picture. If you join Redbubble, you can upload any hi-res picture and order prints and other products too! 

The whole thing cost me $40 US including shipping and everything. You can buy three different sizes (this was the medium), and the whole pillow or just the outer casing and you put what you want inside (cheaper and your choice...).

As an aside, ever watch Two and a Half Men? Walden has three pillows on his couch with custom markings. Comment here if you know what they have on them!

Algonquin Park Photowalk

Pretty well every year I swear I'm not going to shoot more Fall Colours and every year I do. Last week I told you about my planned photowalk to Algonquin Park. Yesterday I visited the Frost Centre to find out the rules about using the area (it's closed and "No Trespassing" signs are posted. But if you access from the south end, where the Algonquin Highlands hiking trails begin, it's legal.

Technically, the beach is part of the Frost Centre, but the hiking trail cuts between the Centre and the beach, so I don't see it as a problem. Neither does Curtis, the Township guy who runs the Parks and rec office right there. By the way, there's less colour at the Frost Centre than there is where I live (OK, well "green" is a colour, right?) but I'm sure it will be outstanding two weeks from now.

If you want to join the Photowalk, you need to sign up. Click this link to do so. By the way, it's free except (a) if you're not a club (HHCC) member, we're asking you to buy a coffee mug for $10 to support the club, (b) you need to get a day pass for the Park when you come in ($16 per vehicle) and (c) of course you're on your own for food and gas. I'll send out a list of people interested in carpooling after this weekend.

Featured image for today. Early fall colours in the Highlands  

— 30 —

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If it feels good, do it

Scroll down to read about the Algonquin Park photowalk at the end of September...

I don't usually do this, but after I wrote this article for Haliburton County Living, I thought it might be appropriate to reproduce it here.

Tell Me a Story

Photography has 1000 rules. And you have to learn and follow all of them if you want a successful picture. Bull. There are only two.
  • (1) You can’t take pictures if you don’t have a camera with you. 
  • (2) If it feels good, do it. 
Let’s talk about equipment. There are those who believe you can’t take a good picture unless you have $12,000 worth of cameras and lenses and a Sherpa to lug them around for you because they’re so big and heavy. Tell that to the photographer who made a Sports Illustrated cover photo with his iPhone. In fact, there are gurus out there I don’t read anymore because that’s the line they spout. Now you have to understand that I DO have expensive and high end camera gear, but there’s a picture attached to this article that I took with a $100 point-and-shoot.

This was taken on a warm, relaxing sunny afternoon on 12 Mile Lake, with a small pocket camera. I want to be one of those guys enjoying a paddle on the calm water.

Why? Because I was out in the boat (and it’s just a teeny-tiny little boat) and I’m a little afraid to take my D800 and big lenses out there. I threw my old point-and-shoot in the dry bag – I love dry bags, you should have one even if you don’t have a boat – so I had something with me. Truth be told, I had two cameras with me because my iPhone was in the bag too, but for other obvious reasons. I couldn't do the world’s greatest high resolution image, but I got something, and I was able to make it say what I wanted it to back in the computer. But that’s just me – you don’t have to be a post-processing freak either, although I admit it helps.

So why have expensive gear? To give you a better chance to make an image that looks like what you saw in your mind’s eye. You can eliminate some of the limitations and capture that feeling or memory. Which leads me to point 2:

Photography shouldn't be about making pretty postcards. I take that back, there are people who make a living selling pretty pictures and I don’t want to belittle their efforts. That guru I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago said, “If you want to make beautiful pictures, you need to take pictures of beautiful things”. Bull, again. Some of us can’t go to the Taj Mahal or Antelope Canyon or Iceland. We take pictures of where we live and our friends and family, who may or may not be professional models.

 Maybe I'm mellowing with age, but photography should be about capturing emotions and memories. It has to bring you back to a place or time and it has to communicate what was special about that event to whomever looks at the picture. Otherwise why would we have photos of our long gone parents or ancestors, and why are the most meaningful ones the pictures we took ourselves?

It’s easy to teach people how to take better pictures, that is if you can avoid boring the students to death. The first part is purely mechanical, what buttons to push, how to set up the camera, some insight into how it works and what you can do so your image will look technically correct. The second part is to familiarize them with some of those 1000 rules so that they can instinctively use them and know what to avoid. Teaching composition, and even post-processing is also not tough, it just requires a bit more concentration on the part of the student.

Teaching people how to see… that’s the hard part. To use their right brain, to make, not take a picture. Just to put them in the right frame of mind, on the right path. Maybe this will help: figure out how to capture the moment so you can look at the picture later and remember how you felt at the time.

If it feels good, do it.

FWIW, you've already seen the other two pictures that accompanied this article (click them to blow them up if you haven't): the one of the paddler on Maple Lake  last week and one of a racer at the PanAm Games test event from the week before.


The caption on the Paddler picture makes the point in the title of this article. It said,
Because it’s a wide angle shot that includes the landscape and the sky, this image, taken where Maple Lake meets Highway 118, tells a story more than the other images. Available as a large format print, if you’re interested.

I have to admit that I haven't figured out how to teach people to see. In fact, I can't do it either myself sometimes. Something to work on, hoping for an epiphany.

A little Nostalgia

Who remembers this bag?

If you've ever played Scrabble, was there any other bag you ever kept the tiles in? The bag in this picture dates back probably 60 years. I have a couple of other versions as well. It's the perfect size to hold my camera sensor cleaning kit!

From the Crown Royal website:
The first exquisite blend of Crown Royal® Canadian whisky was meticulously crafted from 50 select whiskies, dressed in the finest cut glass and wrapped in purple robes, to commemorate the first grand tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in 1939. And in truly noble fashion, this bottle of Crown Royal® was placed on the Royal train as a symbol of the hardworking and genuine nature of the Canadian people.
Apparently the design of the purple bag was originated by Sam Bronfman himself. The bags were produced by Montreal Swiss Embroidery Works, Ltd., founded by his colleague Jules Springer (my grandfather. I don't know if they were ever friends). When he died in 1958 the company was taken over by my father, Robert Springer and his two brothers.

It's interesting that Seagram's has brought the bag back for their 75th anniversary. I still have some original bags, found among my father's effects when he passed away in 2010. FWIW, a Manhattan, made with Crown Royal and vermouth (and a dash of bitters, which I usually omit), was my father's favourite alcoholic beverage and is still mine (although I admit I'm quite taken with some well-aged single malts as well!).

PS: Seagram's had a very creative ad many years ago. It was a picture of a Crown Royal bottle smashed on the floor, with the caption, "did you ever see a grown man cry?". Remember it? If you're under 60 you probably won't, it was a long time ago.

Early Influence

I got to thinking about my early influences as a graphic artist. Probably the best example was this 1959 ad:

Attribution: "Think Small" by Magazine. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Think Small via Wikipedia -

This is one of my favourite images. I have a print here that was on display at the Rail's End Gallery for a time. I'm having framed as we speak. It's pretty clear what influenced me when I created it. 

Sensor Cleaning followup

As I mentioned last week, it was time to clean the sensor on the D800. I have some 11,500 shutter actuations on the camera without any visible signs of sensor dust – a testament to Nikon's improved design and technology, a far cry from the D600 issue I had last year. A few spots appeared last week.

I had heard great things about the new Eyelead Gel stick and tried to buy one. The manufacturer was backordered, so I shopped on eBay and found one from the Far East. Turns out it was not an original (although it was priced the same). However the technology looked identical. Turns out it may not be.

The Gel stick has a sticky surface which you press (lightly!) on the sensor and it's supposed to pick up dust. It does, but unless I'm mistaken, it leaves a trace of adhesive behind. I won't be using that again. So I took out my SensorPen and used it. It was effective: I got everything I could see in about 5 minutes.

If you are careful and delicate, you don't have to worry about damaging your sensor (DISCLAIMER: I'm not telling you to do it yourself. If you do, and you damage the sensor, it's YOUR FAULT, NOT MINE). I think you have to take much more care when you do a wet cleaning. I found the kit that I bought at B&H the most effective, it includes a rocket blower, an illuminated loupe so you can actually see those bits of dust, and the SensorPen. Here's the link to where I bought it.

Photowalk planned

Last year I did a photowalk up to Algonquin park at the end of September. I'm doing it again this year, together with the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. I'd like to invite my friends and loyal readers to join us.

Last year, on the beach behind the Frost Centre 

Also at the Frost Centre last year 

I'm usually pretty good at remembering where I was when I shot a picture, but this one is eluding me. Could be the Oxtongue River Rapids... Shot in 2011. 

There's no charge. This is not a teaching field trip, just a guided visit to some sites we know about that are 'photogenic'. However, in fairness to the Club, if you are not an HHCC member, if you join us, we're asking you to buy at least one HHCC coffee mug at $10 to support the club.

We're working on the agenda as we speak. Our tentative plans are:

  • We are NOT going on a weekend. Algonquin Park is a ZOO on weekends during fall colours season. I refuse to sit in a 20km long traffic jam.
  • Dawn shoot at the Frost Centre just South of Dorset on Highway #35. If you're not an early riser, you can join us at one of the other stops
  • Breakfast in Dwight
  • Come into the park at the West Gate on Highway 60 and meet somewhere, somewhen! (Maybe Mew Lake campground, we'll see). You have to buy a parking pass at the gate on the way in, I think it's about $15. We should carpool...
  • Visit a few good spots for photography. We can go as a group or split up, as you wish
  • A quick lunch somewhere, maybe at the Canoe store.
  • Exit the park and go to Ragged Falls
  • Gluttons for punishment might stop at the Kawagama River Rapids on (ready for this?) Kawagama River Road out of Dorset
  • Go home and sleep.
Tentative Date: Monday, SEPTEMBER 29
Rain Date: Thursday, OCTOBER 2

I'm HOPING it's not a bright, sunny, clear blue sky day. Last year it was and I came home with very few good pictures. If it's an ugly, rainy day, we'll postpone, but otherwise it's a go.

If you want to join us, YOU HAVE TO LET US KNOW WHETHER TO EXPECT YOU. I'll send additional details as we go along, including where and when. If you do not complete the survey, we will NOT send out details to you. If you're not sure, do the survey and add a comment at the bottom. 

That's it! Until next week...

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