Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Rest in Peace, mom



Phyllis (Faigie) Springer,
September 27, 1921 – November 30, 2016

Rest in Peace

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ready for winter?

I'm ready!

There's a whole checklist of things that had to happen to get ready, and I'm done. Today, my neighbour Jack came over to help (wrong word: he did the work!) by sweeping the chimney and removing some trees that had grown too close to the house. The other day I got my ATV back from the mechanic, it now sports a dedicated 4WD switch (electrical problems. It was intermittent) and the battery from my boat is now mounted on the back of the ATV to help power the winch that controls the snowplow. The car's been serviced, the furnace people were here three times to iron out issues with the heat, I've split and stacked all the firewood, snow shovels are by the doors. 
The boat's parked in the garage, the gazebo and lawn furniture are in storage. I'm done.


Let it snow! 



A few more Lake Superior pictures

I still have lots more to process, mostly "people pictures" from the weekend. Here are a few more landscape shots from my trip


I didn't record exactly where this was. It was somewhere south of the Montreal River Harbour, maybe Alona Bay? 


Another shot in the same location 


Commercial fishing boat at Mamainse Harbour. 



Algonquin Park


I managed to get a few days at home early in November. I woke up one day and decided I'd drive up to Algonquin Park to see what there is to see before winter sets in. It was certainly a lucky day! I got there early and saw this cow and calf moose. I took a bunch of pictures, then decided to move along, to see what else I could find. I really wanted to find a bull moose!



 A couple of fellow photographers were there (Jerry and Dave from Barrie) and one of them said, "a bird in the hand, you know..." so I stayed a bit longer!



Yearling male. You can see the nubs of his antlers coming in.


My favourites are the last two; they're "environmental portraits" which tell of the animal in its surroundings. Closeups are fine, but I prefer to tell a story
.
Eventually they moved on, and so did I. Next stop: check out if the Pine Martens were back. I wonder where they go in the summer...


They were – or at least one was – but the backlighting was horrendous and it was really dark where he was. Still, I got a shot or two! 

Continuing east, I drove up Opeongo Road to see if I could find that elusive Bull Moose... no such luck, but I did come across a couple of spruce grouse!


Check out the gorgeous colours of this male bird! 


The spruce and ruffed grouse share a defense mechanism: they freeze and they're very hard to spot in the bush — are you kidding me? Maybe for the Ruffed grouse and the female Spruces... I think they were handed a short supply of brains. It's a wonder any of them are still around! Dig the bright colours and contrasty feathers!

I decided to hold off on the foxes until after I turned for home (no, I'm not going to share where they hang out... don't ask!).



This is "Papa" fox. He's been around for a while and he's really good at posing for a shot! 

So all in all, not a bad day... kidding! It was an awesome day.

The next day, at 11:30 at night, after I had posted a few pictures, my phone rang. It was Dr. Ron. "I'll be there at 7 am, we're going up to Algonquin. {sigh}. SURE!  Up we went!


While we were waiting for the foxes to show up, this blue jay entertained us. 


I think the Blue Jay should have been named Canada's National Bird instead of the Grey Jay or WhiskeyJack. This name is a variation on Wisakedjak, a benevolent trickster and cultural hero in Cree, Algonquin and Menominee mythologies


Right on schedule, our furry friends showed up. This is either Mama or one of last year's kits. 

Off to look for Pine Martens. Again, we found birds to shoot:


A fearless red-breasted Nuthatch comes down for a treat! 


Hard to see, as I said earlier. Here's a Ruffed Grouse hanging out in a pine tree. Dr. Ron spotted this guy.


And our friendly neighbourhood Pine Marten came for a visit. There was a bit more light than the previous visit, so I managed a decent picture. 



Parting Shot

That was a long couple of days! Rewarding, wouldn't you say?

Then there was all that hype about a "Super Moon". Folks, the super moon looks exactly like any other full moon, except it was (wait for it) 7% bigger. Whoopie. But I was duty bound to go out and shoot it. When I got back to the computer, as I said, it looked just like every other moon shot. So I decided to play with it and came up with this:


Super Moon Rising over Horseshoe Lake. This is a composite image, the foreground is from a shot at the Shuyler's Island Causeway, looking for Northern Lights last summer. 

A lot of people on Facebook liked this image and asked for it as "wallpaper" for their computers. So I made a 1920x1080 pixel version and uploaded it to  http://www.photography.to/wallpaper/moonwallpaper.jpg. If you want it for your computer background image (wallpaper), just go to the link, right click and save it, then follow the procedure in your operating system. Enjoy!

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Monday, November 07, 2016


Please forgive my long hiatus. I've been dealing with some serious family medical issues that have kept me away for the last month. Frankly, I wasn't motivated to pick up the camera even once in that time, except for my trip up to Wawa but I did keep up with my Facebook friends and enjoyed the pictures and stories, especially those in Algonquin Park. I'm so jealous of all those great moose pictures!

 Fall colours this year are outstanding. I missed it in the Park but came home in time to get some shots here in the Highlands. I used this one as my Facebook header photo:








RAW vs. JPEG

Try this analogy: JPEG is like going to the store and buying a jar of pasta sauce. You can get it home and add some stuff to it to change it a bit but it's still store bought pasta sauce. RAW is like making it from scratch with tomatoes you lovingly grew yourself and garlic and spices and onions and other ingredients from your own garden. Much more work but if you know what you're doing... it can be much better than the store bought stuff. Using a preset in LR or a plug-in is like looking up a recipe and following it, not using one is like making it the way your mother taught you years ago, a pinch of this, a teaspoon of that, but it has a lot more of "you" in it. Let me add one more thing to the analogy: if you buy a jar of pasta sauce you can prepare it just by tossing it in the microwave. But if you make it from scratch, you need to have a real stove and pots and pans and knives to chop with and a spoon to mix with... in other words if you shoot RAW you need to have the tools – like LR or PS – to make those ingredients into sauce. Make sense?







While chasing fall colours, I ended up at Bob Lake just West of Minden around sunset. I saw this and HAD to stop to take this picture. 

I worked hard for this shot. This is one of those examples of "working the scene" to find the shot that made me stop. I had to climb down to get the proper angle, I tried different positions until I found the perspective I wanted. By the time I was ready to take it, the sun was long gone, but there was enough light left to do a 5-shot HDR burst. The middle shot was 4 seconds @ f/16, ISO 1100, for what it's worth.




GALES OF NOVEMBER

The Gales of November workshop on October 20-23 was attended by nine very talented photographers. I had said that I promised them "weather" but didn't specify what kind... it turned out that it was much more benign than I had hoped. No "gales"! 


Group photo courtesy of Jim Camelford. I just did a tiny amount of LR tweaking.Shot with his Olympus E-M1 mirrorless camera. Very tempting... 

My rĂ´le was to facilitate. I chose some venues that had different challenges and tried to ensure that the participants had some knowledge of the techniques needed for each: an easy job because everyone was so experienced! For example we had scheduled a short lecture on using Neutral Density filters and long exposures. Ron (who was leading that one) asked, "who is not familiar with using ND filters?". Everyone said they were, so that was the shortest lecture ever!

I tried to challenge the group by focusing on the concept of pre-visualization. The intent was to highlight a technique that was probably in their toolbox but which can add to the way they approach their photography. I plan to create a mini-workshop on this topic for photographers of all experience levels soon. 

What I found fascinating was how differently everyone approached each venue. For example, there was a tree, reflected in a pool of water (I think in Katherine Cove), and I looked at it and failed to see anything interesting; yet at least four of the participants disagreed and got some outstanding shots. I'm hoping we can put together a slide show presentation of a compilation of their best shots and I'll link to it here. Also in the works is a Blurb book.

I shot a lot of "people" pictures. Sadly, I haven't gotten around to processing them yet, so you'll have to wait to see them. But here's a selection of landscape images I took that weekend. Most of them post-processed in my usual impressionistic style. 


Spectacular Fall colours! I took this shot with my iPhone on the way up. Just off Highway 69, south of the French River. Although it lack some of the quality of a similar shot I took with the D800, I think I like it better! Picture postcard perfect!



I took this shot a few minutes later with the D800. It's rendered using Topaz Impression with my favourite "Impasto" preset. 



Next day, en route between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa. Although the colours aren't as eye-searingly brilliant as those further South, the scenery on the shores of Lake Superior is incredible. I was thinking of renting a cabin up there for the month of October next year, just to explore and photograph this 200 km stretch of highway. Who's with me? 



One of the spots I scouted for the group was this blueberry field on the way to High Falls. I was really taken by the textures in the vegetation. 



We went to the beach on the Michipicoten First Nations Reserve where I did this impression looking out over the Michipicoten Bay. Because it was so calm, I felt the need to add these textures to make it match my vision. I used pre-visualization techniques to compose and render this shot.




This was shot on the last morning as I drove to the Lodge. It's one of my favourite pictures of the trip. I knew it the moment I saw it. This one will be printed for sure! 


Where to stop! It's such a spectacular area. I'm planning to do this again next year, if you want to come along, drop me a line and I'll put you on the list of people I keep in the loop!

To close this blog, here's an image I took in front of the Rock Island Lodge. 




I think it was Jim's idea to drag these Muskoka chairs down to the beach but it was someone ELSE's idea to provide this awesome lighting just after sunrise! Textures added in Impression.


OK, one more! 




Shoreline rocks worn smooth by millions of years of Lake Superior wave action. Pastel colours and textures enhanced in Topaz Impression. It reminds me of a Microsoft screensaver, only better! 


So many others! I've added these and other images on my 500px site (just getting that under way) where they are available for purchase. I'll be updating my RedBubble and Fine Art America portfolios as well. They provide prints and other products at very reasonable prices. 

More to come!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fall is coming. Do you know where your pictures are?

Fall Colours are coming!

We all have our favourite spots for taking fall pictures. And we all know of spots we'd like to visit, Every year I say "I'm not going to shoot the colours again" and yet every year I do!


Obviously, the bright colours are the most addictive: but why? Bright colours are all around us, what is it about the autumn leaves?




Obviously I used Topaz Impression 2 (my favourite preset is "Impasto") on this image, but there's more to it than that! I did a lot of extra technical work to make this picture look like what I had in mind when I shot it. For one thing, it's an HDR merge of 5 bracketed shots so that I could work with the full dynamic range. And I used some secret sauce (see below) to bring out the colours of the foliage which were not anywhere near that intense so early in the season. I actually muted and blurred the background just a bit to enhance the foreground subject. 

I think the answer lies in the colour palette. I don't know enough about colour theory but from my painting experience, I know that the basic fall colours all come from the same set of basic pigments: reds and yellows and greens. They're balanced by the skies and the water. I wish I could achieve this look with brushes and oil paint. I've taken a sabbatical from painting for a while to get past this frustration, but looking at scenes like the one above is tempting me to take them out again.


So: two things. First, a few years ago, I wrote a "Guide to Shooting Fall Colours" and I published it as a pdf book online. Here's a free link to the guide: http://www.photography.to/fallguid.pdf. Enjoy. All I ask is that you find me on Facebook (search for "faczen") and tell me what you thought of it. Feel free to share: I've given up trying to make any money from these publications, I share them in the spirit of education! (well, if you decide to donate something, you could follow the link at the beginning of the book!). And if you're not a subscriber to my newsletter, do the right thing! Click the link at the top right of this blog.


The second thing: I watched a presentation by Scott Kelby that he gave a few years ago at B&H Photo. Towards the end, he did a segment on enhancing fall colours in Photoshop. He demonstrated a simple technique which really works, although I don't really understand why! It's only 4 steps: here goes!


You need Photoshop for this. Do it on a copied layer (ctrl-J or cmd-J on a Mac) so you can change the intensity easily later. Here's the starting image:




Remember you can click on any image to blow it up full size 


  •  convert your image from RGB to LAB colour




  • Apply the image




  • Change the blend mode to "Overlay" (you can experiment with other modes, like "Soft Light" for more and less intense effect); and select the "b" channel. This menu pops up when you click "apply image" in the previous step.




  • Now simply switch back to RGB so you can continue editing, or output a normal Jpeg. If you did this on a fresh layer copy, you can now change the opacity or blend mode, or you can mask areas as you wish.

Here's the resulting image after those four steps. 



I used that brilliant free stitching program from Microsoft that I wrote about last week, again (what a convoluted sentence!). This is another shot from the marina where I dock my boat, like the first picture on today's blog.



This was carefully cropped and straightened up using the perspective cropping tool in Photoshop (People don't seem to know about this tool. It's simple to use and so effective!) . The original image was an amazing 266 Mp in size; this crop is almost 60 Mp! Again I used Impression/Impasto, and I added some texture using Topaz Texture Effects.  

Here's the link to that Microsoft stitching program, "Image Composite Editor" or "ICE":

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/ice/




Here's the blog banner I just replaced. I need to do this so that the old one doesn't just disappear into cyberspace:








Gales of November: less than a month away and I'm excited because (a) there are some outstanding people attending and (b) we have some fantastic venues to shoot and some great programs planned!
Despite several last-minute inquiries, we still have two spaces available in the first weekend (October 20-23) AND a lodge room has opened up. Also there are still 4 spaces on the second weekend. Jump on it, folks! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO BE THERE
Visit www.photography.to/gales for details and if you want the first weekend, email me directly. The October 27-30 session can be booked directly online. 



Open Canoe Races

The open canoe event took place on the Gull River at the Minden Wildwater Preserve last weekend and several camera club members came out to take some pictures. Here are my two favourite shots from the event:





A picture is worth 1000 words.I don't need any words for these pictures, do I? 



Parting Shot


Here's a fall sunflower on the side of the road that called out to me to have its picture made. 



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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sleeping like a Baby

sporadic musings...

Good News! I'm younger than I thought!

I hadn't taken exchange into account: 70 Canadian is less than 54 US! So I'm actually younger than I thought.

Consider this, though: my sister, who's two years younger than me, has lived in the US for more than half her life. I think she moved around '75 so 40 years in the US is like 52 Canadian so she's actually considerably older than me in Canadian years. I always knew it, Barbi!

I don't want to harp on the fact that I feel old: driven by both the number and how I feel and my habits. There's a litany of physical things... and the daily habits... wait! I typed them then realized that's "TMI" (too much information)! Let's just say that one day you wake up and discover that you ARE your father! They announced the iPhone7 today – who cares? Every day my current phone nags me about upgrading the O/S and every day I say, "leave me alone. Later". I can still make phone calls. I can listen to music and read my emails. Go away.

I have never played "World of Warcraft" and never have and never will look for a Pokemon, whatever that is. I tried FaceTime once, don't remember how, don't care. I am my Father!


By the way, where did the expression "sleep like a baby" come from? I sleep like a baby. I wake up at 2 and again at 4am. I get up because I have to go to the bathroom or something hurts. My father used to say, "everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work any more". I know how he felt.

But I still know how to write, although I'm at a loss for some words I can't remember from time to time, and I know how to make pictures, and I know how to share my knowledge with others.

If I start rambling about my age after this, call me on it. Stop me. You're not interested, dwelling on it just makes me feel ancient. Life goes on.



Gales of November: we had a cancellation from the first weekend (October 20-23) so there are two spaces available AND a lodge room has opened up. Also there are still 4 spaces on the second weekend. Jump on it, folks! This is going to fill up. 
Visit www.photography.to/gales for details and if you want the first weekend, email me directly. The October 27-30 session can be booked online. 




I bought a boat!

If you read my last blog, you already knew that.



Photo credit: Jack March. It's a 16' Starcraft with an 85hp Evinrude outboard.

It's  quick, it's stable, it runs well... thanks to Bob Sully who brought the motor back to life after some preemptive tries. No thanks to me, I told him I'm his customer from Hell. Anything I touch with a motor in it... he had to visit at least twice before I could figure out how to start the damned thing! The electrical stuff isn't in that good a shape, I (ok "We") are going to have to work on that.

And today, I realized that I need to address something else. I muddled up throwing a tarp over it because it was going to rain last night and this morning. But I need to figure out a way to make a "tent" because now the tarp, sagging in the middle, is full of water! And one of the electrical things that doesn't work is the bilge pump... going to have to look at that!

Docking it is a challenge, since 12-Mile Lake is part of the reservoir system for the Trent-Severn waterway and the water levels are really low in fall. I'm docked for now at the Inn across the road because the water's only knee-deep at my dock. Also I've been warned to be careful, there are lots of rocks in the lake, it can be expensive hitting one with the prop!


Update: I've moved it to the Marina down the road. Makes more sense, although I have to drive to the boat instead of walking (well I could walk...). Very reasonable price and friendly folks.

As my friend Janie says, there's something about being out on the water. I'm only sorry I didn't do this sooner! I'm looking forward to Fall Colours!



Here's me in my Tilley hat. It's the only one that will stay on my head when I'm running in the wind... 



...and here's me fishing my Tilley hat out of the water. Guess I was wrong! 


 



Loons on 12-Mile Lake. Click to view larger!

Here are a couple of Loon pictures I took the other day on the water. I've shot better ones, but these were from my own boat!





Night Skies

Last week there was an alert about high solar flare activity and a prediction of active Aurora Borealis. It's been many years since I saw a visible display of sheets of aurora... and I'm still waiting! The camera can see better than my eyes.

This little video will show you what we actually saw. It's not particularly enhanced. http://photography.to/video/aurora20160902.mp4. By the way, I did this with a program called "LRTimeLapse", straightforward but lots of steps... and since I didn't know what I was doing, I had to start over a few times! I'll play, and figure out how to add music, etc later.

Anyway, I went out and a couple of camera club friends joined me. There was some activity which I was able to capture, but it took some post-processing to enhance the images. Nothing like some of the stuff I've seen from Alaska or Iceland, but still impressive and pretty.






A couple of nights later, I stopped on the way home to see if there was any sign of Northern Lights, but there weren't. I did manage to get a few shots of the milky way (last of the season: the galactic core doesn't rise above the horizon in winter) and a couple of other star shots for your enjoyment.



This is a merge of a few shots to get a little extra detail



I was struck by the warm glow of the lit-up cottage and by the splendour of the starry sky.  




Interesting free software

This is for PC people. You MAC guys have enough toys and good stuff to tantalize us with, so for once it's our turn. This one comes from Micro$oft themselves {gasp}!




This looks like an ordinary picture of a house under construction. If you look closely you can see some distortion, especially in the lower right corner.  But what makes it remarkable is that it's a composite of 25 separate pictures and it took me 2 minutes to assemble it. 

I wanted to document this new house being erected on our lake. Long story. But the short version is that I was there with one lens – my 105mm – and I could only get about 30' away from the  building. So here's the best I could do with a single shot:




What I did was to shoot 25 overlapping images, sweeping from side to side with 5 shots, then up a bit and 5 more, and so on. I tried to do a 'pano merge' in Lightroom but it didn't want to behave.

A few days later, I came across a picture of the Milky Way on Facebook produced by a 16 year old kid from Czechoslovakia. He said it was a merge of some 225 images, if I recall. Turns out he did it using a piece of software called "Microsoft Image Composition Editor" or "Microsoft ICE". MS calls it "an advanced panoramic image stitcher". It's for Windows, and it's brilliant. It even does RAW files, no need to convert to Jpeg first! It's fast, easy to use, it's not massive, and it's FREE. 

Rather than copy and paste what MS says about it, here's the link. I look forward to trying it for more exciting pano's. It says it will do Gigapixel images – the one I did is about 150 megapixels! In seconds. Brilliant. 

PS: I zoomed into the image and produced a 200% crop so you can see the potential.



This is detail from the same  composite image. Cropped really, really tight.





Nothing doing on Carden Plain

Looks like the migration is well under way. The only birds I saw when I was there a few days ago were some crows in the distance. A "Murder of Crows", probably 25 or 30 of them making a racket in some far off trees. And a couple of Eastern Kingbirds. Flowers are still there but showing signs of fading for the fall. I caught a few pictures with my 105mm macro lens.





Fall's not far away! 



Parting Shot



This was a 5-shot HDR which I then painted with Impression.  This one might get me back to my brushes and oil paints. I've been taking a sabbatical from painting for a while because I find it a lot easier to capture my vision with a Wacom stylus in my hand than with a paint brush. 

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