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!