Saturday, August 29, 2009

Texting while Driving

No pictures today.

I just watched this graphic video – it is graphic – and I think you should too.

Texting while Driving Video -- click to watch.

I have been guilty of responding to emails while driving. I will never do that again.

I also won’t READ emails on my Blackberry while driving. I think it’s equally distracting.

A promise I will not make, because I don’t think I can keep it, is not to use the cellphone while driving either. But I’m definitely going to cut back. The issue is not hands-free, the issue is where your mind is. How many of us can admit to missing that exit, or not noticing things because you’re in the middle of a phone conversation?

I have a two hour drive from Minden to Toronto. I usually leave myself, oh, two hours and five minutes to get to that appointment. So if the phone rings, I don’t want to take the time to pull over, I’m on a deadline. I’m going to change that. I’m going to leave more time, or I’m just going to be late for that meeting. I’m going to try to pull off the road if I need to take that call. At the very least, I’ll take the call and tell the caller that either I’ll call back or to wait while I pull over to talk to them.

I watched some followup videos but in my heart, I didn’t need anyone to tell me how unwise it is to use the cellphone or Blackberry while driving. Please follow suit and spread the word to anyone you care about.

Thank you, Matt (Zever) for posting this link in the VROC forum.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Orton Effect

Oh, all right. I already know what I want to write and it's Sunday and I have a few minutes, so I thought I'm just carry on.

I was looking at the NAPP Portfolio (mentioned it before) for inspiration, and I spotted a picture of a black eyed susan. I thought, that would look great as an Orton, then I remembered that I had shot some of the same kind of flower last week, so I opened one in Photoshop and got down to work.

Here is the original image:

Nice, but not outstanding, right?

Now I know the theory of the Orton Effect (which I'm about to share with you) and I've done some before, but I can never remember exactly how, so I looked it up and tried a few techniques. Here's one:

...but this technique is simplistic and doesn't offer the range of
control that I'd like.

So here's a second image that I did a different way:

and yet another one where I added a little twist of my own.

Click on the image to blow it up and look at it big. Go ahead, I'll wait right here.

Now let's get into some details.

The "Orton Effect" is named after Michael Orton, the photographer who invented the technique, way back in the days of film! What he did was to take two exposures of the same subject, one in focus and one out of focus, both overexposed, then he sandwiched the two transparencies together. The result was an image that had little sharp bits floating in a sea of soft, out of focus colours; and at the same time, colour saturations were 'way up. Very effective, to add a dream-like effect to an image, and it works well with scenic landscapes, punchy detailed colour shots like flowers, and even with people. It's much easier to accomplish this in the digital darkroom today. All you need is one properly exposed image.

Bearing in mind what you're trying to achieve, you need two versions of the same shot -- one in focus and one not. Both have to be over exposed because they get darker when you add them together. Here's what to do.

  • Open your image and make a duplicate layer (CTRL-J on the PC, CMD-J on the MAC). Change the blend mode of this layer to "Screen".

  • Name your duplicate layer "Sharp Layer" so you don't forget, then duplicate it again and name the second one "Blurred Layer".

  • Apply a Gaussian blur to this layer. Pretty heavy duty -- I like somewhere around 25 px radius, but you will have to experiment. Change the blend mode of this layer to "Multiply".

You're probably already liking what you see. Now try something. Go back to the "Sharp" layer and sharpen it. Big time. Since the layer is screened on top of the background layer, you won't see a lot of the artifacts you normally would, but there will be some, so select "Fade Sharpen" on the image menu and look at a closeup while you adjust it to what you like. I did one at a radius of 6px, amount 350%! Unbelievable! Play with it, but don't be afraid to go 'way up there. You can also reduce the opacity of the sharp layer to soften the effect.

You can do that with the blurred layer too -- adjust the opacity. That will also lighten and darken the image since it's in multiply mode.

Now try another experiment. What I did on the third image was to make a selection on the original image (just the flower) using the quick selection tool in CS4, then I shift-dragged the selection into the Orton'ed image (shift to keep it aligned). With that layer on top and the blend mode set to Multiply again, it added richness and detail to the flower itself and left the background untouched.

Save your image, then flatten it (in that order. If you flatten it first, you'll lose all your layers if you try to open it again). Use curves or levels to adjust the brightness and you're done.

Orton adds a wonderful dream-like effect to your image and minimizes imperfections (for instance, the flower is not in tack-sharp focus from front to back. So what?). Try it, it's fun!

PS: Here's a link to another image I did with Orton Effect last year. I like it a lot better than the one I've used as an example here, don't you? Click here.

Summer storm, Sports photography and High Contrast Portraits

First a personal note: I'm doing fine, pretty well recovered except for the voice. Which is improving, but frustratingly slowly. I was at a dinner on Friday night, with a somewhat boisterous group, everyone talking at once at times. I was trying to have a conversation with the person beside me and I was amazed that she said she could hear me, because I couldn't hear myself! I guess it'll be a little longer before it comes back.

The summer has been very quiet (calling it "summer" is somewhat of a misnomer, weather wise). The tornados a couple of days ago resulted in considerable damage but fortunately no loss of life (one up in Durham, but none in Toronto). I was indoors, enjoying dinner when it hit -- I heard about it on the way home. It was amazing how the sky cleared up to the West, while to the East the ominous black clouds were contrasted by a full arc of rainbow. I drove around for a while looking for a place to shoot some pictures of it, but I was unsuccessful. I did manage to capture some pretty awesome looking skies, though.

This was shot in Oak Ridges, looking West at the sunset.
Spectacular cloud patterns!

This image was shot at Lake Wilcox, just before I got home. It was already getting quite dark, but I exposed for the sky. I think I cropped the original a fair amount because it looks quite noisy when viewed close up. By the way, there were a flock of ducks flying in the distance, but they took away from the picture, so they got cloned out!

On a totally different note, here are a couple of images I took when I went to my grandkids' soccer tournament on the way up North yesterday. There are more shots on my Smugmug site in the August Gallery.

Now which of these images is the better one? Neither are perfect (if such a thing were possible) but the vertical one, with the crowd of players, tells the better story. Ryan (my grandson) is breaking out of the group going for the ball. The second shot captures the action, but it's really like a portrait -- it could be staged, not in the heat of a game!

Kelly, my granddaughter is the awesome beauty on the left. The other little lady is her best friend, Mackenzie and Kelly asked me to take this picture. Can you not read the emotion in this image? Suitable for framing (and it will be!).

Speaking of portraits, I want to share this next one with you. I shoot ID photos for a course, I've posted a few pictures before, but I really liked this one the moment I saw it on screen. The camera captured the texture and the lines on this gentleman's face, even though the lighting was soft (Gary Fong diffuser on the flash). I loved it, and wanted to enhance it even more, so I spent some time working magic in Photoshop. It's not my normal style, but I think it does justice to the subject. What do you think? The publications seem to be full of these high contrast portraits these days.

This is the original image, essentially as shot.

Here, I created a new layer and applied a very heavy duty hi-pass filter, then multiplied it in. Then I rendered some lighting effects to make the background more interesting and to create some contrast across the face. Finally, I added a black-and-white layer which I blended in at medium opacity to reduce the saturation of the skin tones. I could have done even more, but decided to stop at this point!

This is turning into an endless blog posting. Some days, I have more to say than others. I think I'll stop here, although I have a whole article on using the Orton Effect that I've created, but I'll save it for next time. Maybe as early as tomorrow -- so watch this space, and please -- feed back some comments!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Life (NOT) in the Big City

As most of you know, if you've been paying attention, I've had some surgery a couple of weeks ago that has slowed me down a bit. I'm pretty well fully recovered, except that it's going to take some time for my voice to return fully. And for those who haven't heard, "they got it all".

Anyway, I've been spending time up North for the most part, and using this 'recuperation' time as an excuse to not do much. I guess this is in lieu of the vacation I was going to take, driving around Lake Superior looking for spots to shoot photos that look like Group of Seven paintings! Although I'm not really housebound, I'm being very lazy, and that means I haven't shot many photos either. We did have an incident last week that made me bring the camera out: a thunderstorm in which (1) lightning hit a tree about 100m from my house, bringing it down in flames over the hydro lines, knocking out the power for several hours, and (2) the wind was so strong that it ripped my SECOND gazebo of the year out of the ground and destroyed it. I have to think carefully about what I'm going to have to do for next year.

Here are some photos:

This is the tree that came down a couple of doors away. The hydro crew was there quickly.
More photos in my August gallery on SmugMug.

My poor gazebo. The canvas and screening wasn't torn, as far as I could tell, but the support poles were mangled. What I really need is a screen porch over the deck, but no money to buy one. Unless a bunch of people want to come up and have a porch-building-party...

I went out for an early morning walk the other day. When I saw how misty it was out, I went back for the camera, with the 200mm lens mounted, thinking I'd do some shots including the other side of the lake in the mist. However, I saw a funky aluminium boat so I went back for the wide angle and the tripod. I wanted to try some HDR shots, so I shot bracketed 5-shot bursts. I haven't got the HDR process down pat yet: but there were some interesting effects.

I did the HDR thing, then a selective hue/saturation thing on the red colours, then a black-and-white conversion for the background. I painted the layer mask to isolate the colour image.

This one started the same way but I used curves to bring out the range of the areas I wanted to feature, like the hull of the boat.

Although I wasn't taking pictures, I wasn't entirely idle. I did spend some time working on my next book (I've done about 20 pages out of the targetted 100-120) and at getting some inspiration from others.

A good place to look if you want to see some superb photography, is on the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) site, which you can access here. The "Image of the Week" is usually superb (although I don't like this week's image). I like to click on the "Browse" button, which gives you a random spread of images posted recently. Click on any image to get into that maker's portfolio. If you enter my name on the 'search users' tab, you'll get to my portfolio. Or just click here.

Talking about HDR images: I came across this picture which I absolutely love. I don't know if it's an HDR but it's a wonderful image, don't you think?

By the way, I'd love to have some dialogue going here, not just a monologue from me: click on "comments" below and leave one!

Images for Competitions
I was reflecting on the difference between creating images for competition and images for other purposes. I'm signed up to take the course at the GTCCC (Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs) this fall, to become an accredited judge. I suppose that after I'm accredited, I'll be limited in what I'm allowed to share, but until then...

It's my experience that competition judging is primarily based on technical merit. If you don't follow the rules, points are deducted: the rule of thirds, tack-sharp focus, 3:1 lighting ratios, histograms that don't extend off either end, etc. That's not to say that these are bad things: on the contrary, creating excellent images is often a result of following the rules. But the judging often loses sight of the artistic impact of an image. For instance, Richard Martin-like shots with deliberate camera motion and blurry shapes, or deliberate high noise shots, will rarely be recognized on their merits.

Also, judges are rather subjective: one will look at this image (click the link if you haven't looked at it yet) and deduct points because it's oversaturated and not natural: another judge will downgrade it because the eye is drawn to the bright sky at upper right: a third will look closely at the person in the picture and say that there was some inaccuracy doing the selection for the hue/saturation work (seems to be some too-bright green over his right shoulder). A fourth judge will say, "this image absolutely blows me away. I give it a 10".

My point is, if you're not shooting for competition, do whatever YOU like best. Follow your own eyes and heart, don't try to satisfy some disembodied technically picky judge. If you are shooting for competition, then by all means, learn what they're looking for and go for it.

My Mountain Man picture is a good example. After creating it, I carefully went around the edges cleaning up artifacts, burning in some bright spots, etc. That made it a better picture overall and it was accepted in both worlds. It took first prize in the club competition, and I like it and so do a lot of other people. The canoe on the beach image and even the background heading photo for this Blog had similar attention to detail which I learned when shooting for competition. They are better because in processing them (and in shooting them too), I followed some rules. That said, the canoe on the beach shot was criticized because the image was too central, it didn't follow the Rule of Thirds.

I personally like the concept the Richmond Hill Camera Club played with introducing last year: a dual scoring system, one component based on technical merits, one on artistic (brings to mind Olympic Figure Skating, doesn't it? Whay says the "Russian" judge?).

So preparing images for competition is a great idea, to help you learn what the rules are. How, and whether you apply these rules at all in images for your own enjoyment or for other purposes, is entirely up to you. A prize-winning photo and one that tugs at your heartstrings are not necessarily the same.

PS: Terrific new product!
I was watching TV one day last month and there was an ad for a product that you could use to clean out those grungy places in your car or elsewhere. It's like that kid's product, "SLIME". That's what it feels like. What you do is press it into places that have dirt and grunge in them, then pull it away and the dirt comes with it! You can reuse it until it gets too dirty.

The product is called "CYBER-CLEAN". I couldn't find it in Canadian Tire or Home Hardware, but I did find it at Zeller's, for something like $7. They have little foil pouches for a couple of dollars less, but I bought a 5-oz (140g) cup. There are a few listings on eBay for it, but be really cautious: one major vendor said "FREE SHIPPING" but only to the lower 48: they wanted, believe it or not, $35 for shipping to Toronto. By MAIL. I submitted a complaint to eBay about their shipping practices.

Great stuff. Not only did it work on the car, but also on the computer keyboard. I'm bad because I munch while working at the computer, so there's all kinds of stuff that shouldn't be all over things or in the keyboard. Press it down enough and it'll suck up all kinds of stuff from between the keys!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A weekend of getting things done

OK, who's tired of waiting for summer? I'm up North and while technically it's warm enough to go for a swim, it's not really. 24°C is OK, but with the breeze coming in off the water, I wasn't that warm. THe house is cool, too, since the nights have gone down in the low teens (I'm sitting here in sweats, not shorts, and I've laid in a fire to start this evening), so I don't really feel like going in the water. I went for a short motorcycle ride, with a fleece vest on under the mesh jacket: where's summer?

So I spent this holiday weekend catching up and getting some things done. Mostly computer stuff. I did my month-end backups: actually, it's been 3 months since I did a proper one and I feel much more secure now that it's done.

I'm writing this so that YOU will start thinking about what you should be doing. How about you? Isn't it time to do your backups?

I know I don't do things in the most efficient way but here's what I did:

  • I copied my "Documents" folder in its entirety to my 1TB external backup drive
  • I created a backup Outlook .pst file and put it on the drive as well
  • I burned the May, June and July photo folders to DVD (6 of them!)
  • I copied them to the external drive, then deleted May and June from the computer
  • I defragged the hard drive, archived a bunch of old emails and
  • I copied more photos -- ones from the past 6 months -- to my favourites folder, a slideshow of which serves as my screensaver.

I have one thing left to do. I need to update the 'image' that I have of my hard drive programs and operating system and store it in a safe place. Iris's laptop hard drive failed last week and she had to start absolutely from scratch. I can't imagine (or unfortunately, I can) how difficult that would be so I have to take steps to prevent that from happening to me.

By the way, I take copies of my critical files -- there are two of them, my Quickbooks accounting file for the company and the student database for the firearms courses -- every day. I keep the copies on USB drives, with me at all times. Just in case...

The other project I've spent some time on is my book. I'm finally past the planning stage: I was trying to decide what theme to use, and the format of the chapters, but I'm there now. The target is between 100 and 120 pages, divided into about 5 sections and the working title is "Pathways". I've done one section, about 15 or 20 pages worth. I'm trying to target end of August to finish it, so watch this space for progress reports. The book will be for sale through and I plan to do a multimedia show based on the book.

I'll leave you with a couple of pictures as I always do. Nothing exciting, I'm not really inspired right now. I've been trying to get a shot of a bald blue jay who's been visiting my feeder, but he's elusive. Either he's a juvenile, or something happened to him because he doesn't have the usual plumage above the neck. Really ugly! We'll see if I can get him next time.

This is my new BBQ. The old one died of, well, old age. There are 3 burners
inside and one outside and the starter thingy actually works (sometimes)!
Photographically, it is a really straightforward image but I used
Photoshop's Vignette action on it which makes it much more interesting.

By the way, the vignette effect looks a lot better on a white background
than it does on a black one. Click the image to blow it up and see it
on a white screen.

After breakfast, but before the cleanup. Cooking with gas is so much better than with electricity. The food comes out much better, probably due to the even heating. I wish I had propane in the house...

I picked up this little rollaway computer table at a garage sale on the way up on Saturday -- for $3! It's perfect for when I want to sit on the deck or out in the gazebo working on the laptop.

I did a quick-and-dirty job on this photo. I created a layer copy, applied a heavy Gaussina blur, then added a layer mask and painted black over the sections of the new layer that I wanted to hide (white on a layer mask is transparent, black is opaque).

A little fresh fruit for lunch today. I ended up buyng too many fresh berries and need to eat them before they go bad.

A bunch of cottagers on the road along the lake got together and bought these little fluorescent green figures. I think they're cute and very effective. I don't know if the little tricycle was there by accident or on purpose but it sure sends the message!

That's all for today. The grey, threatening cloudy skies and thunder rumbling in the distance don't really make me want to go out and shoot pictures or ride my bike, so it's time to get some work done.