Monday, December 27, 2010

I got lucky last night!

OK well not THAT kind of “lucky” but that’s not a subject for this blog. (My last post was titled, "The Earth Moved...". Anyone detect a common thread here?)

I set out to shoot a picture, researched it, planned it, set it up... and it didn’t work. But in the process I kind of got an image that I like! This is kind of a long tutorial on the thinking that went into the shot. It might give you some ideas about how to do similar shots and some pitfalls to avoid. But if you’re not a photographer, or you want to avoid having to read through a bunch of stuff before scrolling down to the image, here it is: enjoy.

As usual you can click on the image to view it larger. You can also see it in my gallery at Smugmug where high resolution prints are available for sale at very reasonable cost.

Here’s the thing. I was in a ‘celestial’ mood after that eclipse event. I got home last night to a clear, starry night and thought, what’s the longest exposure I ever did? I checked and I think, around 80 minutes. Nice long star trails, but I saw an image a couple of days ago with much longer trails and I think the maker said it was a 4 hour exposure, so I set out to do one.

What settings? I looked at my earlier work and saw settings like ISO 100, f/8. So, I though, how can I go wrong by just stopping down a stop to f/11 and shooting for a longer time? I can always tweak it in Lightroom or Photoshop to adjust the exposure as long as I’m reasonably close.

What lens? Since I wanted to see a really big area of sky, the simple answer is, my wide angle. I decided to go whole hog, and cranked my 12-24mm to its widest setting.

Physical setup: Do I have to say, locked down solid on a tripod? I used my big Gitzo for greatest stability. Last time, my pictures came out on an angle because it’s hard to aim in the dark. So I set up the tripod in the house, levelled the camera and pointed the lens at the sky. Not straight up – I wanted some terrestrial objects in the picture.

That’s important, by the way. Star trails are neat but if you don’t have anything else in the picture, well, they’re boring.

I attached my cable release, put in a fresh battery, preset the exposure to “Manual – Bulb” and f/11, ISO 100, focused to infinity and turned off autofocus. If this lens had a VR setting I would have turned it off too. Then I bundled up in my sheepskin jacket and boots, threw a little flashlight in my pocket and trudged out to where I wanted to put the camera.

Next challenge. Where? I don’t have the ideal property for this. There’s only one place on my property where I get a reasonably clear view to the North and that’s behind the garage. Trouble is, you can also see the highway from there. I thought, I wonder what it’ll look like if cars drive by – will they pollute the light or create reflections on the lens? I thought I’d test this first, so I changed the camera settings to f/4, ISO 1000 temporarily, so I could take a couple of test shots without having to wait an hour to see them. I did a few 30-second shots. Having the flashlight with me was a good idea... well yes, there was a definite trail of light, way overexposed at the bottom of the image, no detectible splash on the rest of the picture, and I could crop that off. OK, reset to the long exposure settings. Besides, each car going by was only going to be in the frame for a few seconds and I was at f/11.

By the way, the Inn across the road keeps their big parking lot light on all night. I’ve talked to them about it, they agree it should be turned off, but haven’t done it yet. That’s why I had to go behind the garage. I could take my camera down to the dock but I don’t think I’d want to leave it there unattended for several hours, although I could put it where nobody would see it. Besides it’s a long walk in the cold.

So far, so good, right? Anyone catch on yet to what the problem was? Give yourself a brownie point if you did. Well here it is...

I set it up, locked the shutter open and went back inside to sit by the fire and enjoy my evening. It was 7:30 when I put it out, and I figured 11:30 when I would go out and retrieve it. Some time a couple of hours later, I thought, hmmm. The way Noise Reduction works on the Nikon is that it hums and whirs for the same length of time as the original shot, creating a null image (it doesn’t actually take a picture) and then it electronically merges the two images, subtracting any noise or artifacts generated internally in the camera from the picture. Ideally this should be done under the same conditions as the original picture, which means leaving the camera outside, chugging away for 4 hours. I could bring it to my back porch though. But then, it would be 3:30am before I could bring it in. I wimped out. At 10:30 I decided enough was enough, and I went out to get the camera. I got there, unlocked the shutter release and... NOTHING HAPPENED.

AHHHHH! Is my camera frozen? No... the battery was dead. It turned out that the battery lasted almost exactly 2 hours in -12°C temperatures. And that also meant, NO NOISE REDUCTION. It had shut down. {sigh}.
I brought everything inside (I took the CF card out and put the camera in an airtight drybag with outside air, to warm up in a dry environment. I’ve written about this before) and plugged the card into the computer. Hey.... not bad!

OK, I looked at the image and really wasn’t too excited about the distortion caused by pointing a wide angle lens at an angle. I tried perspective cropping to straighten things up, but nah... even the North star wasn’t a ‘point’. There were a bunch of little red and blue and white speckles all over the place – that’s the noise I couldn’t cancel. The trees were kind of neat, but the car trails and the barn at lower left which was distorted and overexposed were not, shall we say, pleasing.

Here’s the original image

So I ended up cropping it. I did use Topaz, two different ways. I played with some extreme effects and ended up using a ‘simplify’ setting, then played with saturations and came up with this one:

The final picture, which I showed you first, actually did contain a bit of ‘topaz’. I wanted to use the smoothing, simplify effect, but I wanted to bring out the star trails which got reduced by the filter effect. I liked what it did to the trees, though. So I added a layer mask and added a radial gradient on the layer mask centered on the North star which masked the entire Topaz-adjusted layer in that area. Back to Lightroom for a final crop, and we’re done.

So I got lucky. I thought of everything EXCEPT battery life. If I really want to do long time exposures, I have to find a way to power the camera externally, something I’m going to explore and report on when I figure it out. The other issue was the distortion which I think I can only fix by centering the image on the North Star or using a longer focal length lens. More stuff to think about!

Next: I have some saved-up topics but the moon and the star trails posts were too long to include them. I have some pictures of my new car, some frozen waterfall and mountain stream pictures and a neat HDR I’d like to show you. Later!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Earth moved (under my feet)

First, Season's Greetings, everyone!

I know, not your typical greeting card, but I was think about riding my motorcycle in the snow, then decided it was too cold and had a virtual ride instead!
There was a Lunar Eclipse.
Which you already know, unless you're an ostrich. I’m going to go through the thought process and technique for creating the image I did. Perhaps you will find it instructive and give you some idea of things to try. If you’re not a photographer and not interested in the details, just scroll down to the photo.

The eclipse started at around 1:30 am and ended several hours later. Well, it was cold! -15°C. Since the earth moves (yeah, yeah. I already did those jokes), I couldn’t just set the camera up, turn on the interval timer and go to bed. Furthermore, the exposure changes.

My first idea was to do a composite multiple exposure image in camera. I did a little arithmetic (360°/day = 15°/hour, so a 180mm lens on a 35mm camera (120mm on a DSLR) which the internet says shows about 13° along the diagonal so if you get the movement perfect, you’ve got less than an hour). I tested it with 4 shots at 5 minute intervals and found it to be relatively accurate. So I have a composite picture of 4 small moons about a lunar diameter and a half apart. Not great. and I’d have to be right on, making sure the camera pointed directly along the path the moon would follow.

Then there’s the exposure issue. The bright full moon was properly exposed at 1/200 sec at f/11, ISO 100. Clearly, I would need a longer exposure at totality. Anyone care to guess how much? Well the difference between the full moon shot at 8:30pm and a totality image at 3:30 am was... wait for it... OVER 10 STOPS! The best totality shot was 1.6 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 400.

So clearly, I wasn’t going to be able to automate this process. I decided to shoot individual shots at maximum magnification (which for me is 400mm – my 70-200 lens and 2x teleconverter. Experience tells me that to get a sharp image with that combination, at anything under 1/100 second even on the tripod, I would have to do everything right. The results show that I was correct. More later.

I did a test around 8:30pm, as I said 1/200 sec was the best exposure. I used the self-timer to stabilize the camera. An alternative method was to use the mirror-up setting and a cable release. I locked the mirror up with one push of the release, waited several seconds for the camera to stabilize, then released the shutter. That worked all right down to about ¼ second. Slower than that, things got a little fuzzy because, well, the earth moves. With the angle of view of the 400mm lens combination (less than 5° along the diagonal, you can see definite motion trails in exposures as short as 1 second. I didn’t realize that at the time so it was lucky that I bracketed my shots.

The Nikon D300 can be set to bracket up to 9 exposures – I chose to do 5 – at 1 stop apart. By the way, you can set the interval timer to do bursts too: I tried it – I did four 5-shot bursts 5 seconds apart, all automatically! Not good for this eclipse thing, but something to file away for future use.

I figured out what the moon’s path was going to be with the help of the Star Walk app on my iPad. In hindsight, pretty obvious: at the winter solstice, full moon directly opposite the sun, due East to due West. I found a spot for the camera where ambient light wouldn’t interfere and where I had a clear view to the West.

So I sat at the camera, out in the cold for 2 hours doin’ ma thang. Brrr. A couple of times I went inside, but the hassle of de-fogging my glasses, getting dressed and undressed was too much and besides as the eclipse started, it was fascinating to watch. So I stayed out there for the most part.

By the way, you go through batteries like mad in the cold! Especially if you use LiveView to help focus and frame. I used up 3 batteries.

I was not happy with my tripod/head. I have a good one – a Gitzo heavy duty tripod with a Manfrotto ball head. But at 400mm, when you centre the moon in the viewfinder and lock down the head, it moves so much that it’s actually touching the bottom of the frame. And I had put the tripod mount on the lens collar so it was balanced, too. Somewhere on my wish list is a Wimberley mount...

At 3:30 am I called it a night, since the moon had been in totality for the better part of an hour and I was too tired to calculate how long before it would start to come out of the penumbra. I took the CF card out of the camera, put the camera and lens in an airtight drybag to warm up in dry air, and went inside. I immediately uploaded the images to the computer and was a little disappointed with the sharpness of the totality images which had been at really long exposures.

My goal was to put multiple exposures on one image. So I opened up a new image. I decided I wanted about 1000 pixels per lunar image and I had pre-selected 13 frames. A little air on either side meant that I needed 16000 pixels. A HUGE file.

I wanted the moon to follow a curved path. So I used the elliptical selection tool and scaled it up much bigger than the image itself so I could see the path I wanted. Then I filled everything with black and stroked the path with white and put it on its own layer, which I would use but make invisible before printing. Now I brought in the selected images and placed them along the white curve. They overlapped so I changed the blend mode for each layer to “lighten” – remember I was working on a solid black background.

The last two images, by the way, were shot without the teleconverter so I had to scale them up by 200% to make them match. I tweaked the exposure values for each layer as I went along so that everything matched, more or less.

Finally, I added some text layers, a keyline to define the edge of the image and that 8:30pm really sharp moon photo to balance the page. Here’s the result. Was it worth it? You tell me..

You can see a larger image by clicking on the picture, and an even larger one by going to my Smugmug site here. Not the full 16,000 pixel one, though -- that's saved for printing and hopefully for sale.
I haven’t printed it yet. I got the order process wrong at Costco for a poster and will have to go back again next week. I’ll let you know how it turns out. They can do posters up to 24x36 for $20. We’ll see...

I have more images to show you of other stuff but I’ve written too much here. Next time!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gallery prints

Printing from Lightroom
Last week I started experimenting with the 'Print' module in Lightroom. Right away I ran into some trouble and some limitations, but I worked through it with the help of Jim Camelford and the NAPP users forums (fori?).

My intention was to create templates that I could use to produce large format prints. Among other challenges was the difficulty of specifying page sizes for printers I don't own, for example if I want to send prints out to a bureau or to Costco. Jim set me straight on that one: you have to specify "print to a jpg" and then you can set any size you want.

A limitation is in trying to print text with the image. I created a graphic identity plate in Photoshop. Although it's only text, I wanted greater control over fonts, weight, spacing, kerning, etc. I quickly discovered that you can't make a 50% grey version because that only works on a light background if you start with black type, and on a dark background if you start with white! So I made two of them.

Next I searched and searched and searched some more for a way to put the name of the image below it, but in a font and position that I wanted. No such luck. I'm going to post that as a 'feature request' on the Adobe site (it won't let me do it from the iPad and the computer's in the shop).

Anyway, here's what I came up with:


Perpetual Motion

Snow Fence

NAPP helped me with another problem: the tab "apply during import" disappeared. I still don't know why but they helped me get it back (sometimes LR is less than intuitive: right-click on one of the remaining tabs and select it from the contextual drop down menu. Right. Like I was going to find that on my own!). Another reason to join NAPP. Click the link at right. I'll wait right here.

So anyway, if someone wants to order a 12x18 or smaller print, I'm ready (just have to create a gallery on Smugmug). If someone wants a bigger print, I have to do a little more research!

A great tip from Jim
If you shoot a higher end DSLR from Nikon, check this out. If you specify a number of bracketed exposures (say 5 or 7), and you're in CH or CL mode and you hold down the shutter release, that's how many exposures it will take! Now ain't that a smart camera! Thanks, Jim Camelford. You're a smart man. Smarter still, since you're in sunny Florida, and we're up here in the snow and freezing temps. Of course that means you're not going to get a lot of dogsled race pictures!

So why's my computer in the shop?
It's like this. I got bitten by some MalWare (gotta stop looking at those nekkid women sites or checking up on my Nigerian inheritance! Seriously, I have no clue where I got it). Very creative, too. I was convinced that I was looking at a Lenovo (IBM) system failure warning. I was momentarily actually tempted to give them my $69 to buy the repair software.

Anyway, I tasted the sharp copper bite of my impending doom. My pictures are backed up, but what would I be in for if I had to recover from a disk crash? Can you imagine reinstalling all those programs you use every day? So I brought my laptop to Bob, the "Greek Geek". He's going to ghost the hard drive to a fresh 500Gb external drive I bought ($65 at Costco) upgrade the O/S to Win7, and make sure it's running smoothly.

The backup issue is rearing it's ugly head again. I'm going to leave you, dear reader, with a question to ponder: What would you do if someone broke into your house and stole ALL your computer gear? Or what would you do if your house burned down.. Think about it.

Well let's see about getting this posted on the Blog, if I remember how to do it from the iPad. Catch y'all later!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What do YOU want for Christmas?

What I want for Christmas

I started to write a piece on photo gear and my wish list. Then I remembered that I don't celebrate Christmas and this time of year is not the greatest for acquiring new gear because everything is at retail. Well, until Boxing Day (here in Canada: you Yanks already had your Black Friday and Cyber Monday!). On the other hand, this is a significant time, the ending of a year and in this case of a decade. Upon further reflection, I thought I'd talk about something entirely different.

Our lives are not homogeneous. Every day, every month, every year brings new experiences and new challenges (funny how we humans have broke time down into pieces relating to the movement of celestial bodies. Think about it: a day is one rotation of the Earth around its axis. A month, one trip of the moon around the Earth. A year, one lap around the sun). 2010 was not a good year for me. Oh, it had its moments: watching my grandkids becoming little, middle and bigger human beings, learning new stuff and pushing myself out of my comfort zone photographically, meeting a bunch of new people and getting to know some of them better, sharing my experience and knowledge with more and more people (I really was born to teach...). But there were dark moments too. The death of my father in June, the seemingly endless task of caring for my aging and sometimes ill mother, the rut I've dug myself into, living up here in Haliburton and travelling weekly to Toronto.

So what do I want for 2011? First, no more medical bad news. Not only for myself, but also for my family and my friends, some of whom have faced or are facing some challenges right now. Prosperity for those around me (OK, for me too. I'm turning 65 this year and have to find a way to make the next 30 years comfortable ones). Opportunities to share with many people. Not only my knowledge, although I'm searching for ways to teach more things to more people, but also my accomplishments: by publishing another book, by gaining some recognition of my efforts with this blog and other media, and by earning the respect of my peers.

In 2011 I would like to make a dozen excellent pictures and actually sell some. I would like to write at least a couple of articles that are published by someone other than myself. I'd like to get a good start at writing that elusive novel. I want to try my hand at painting (with brushes, not digitally) and play some music that stirs someone else's soul, or maybe just mine. I have some other personal goals that I'd rather not write down here but if you know me, you can probably guess. I want to accomplish something in this, my 65th year. I realize that these things aren't just going to come my way, I have to be proactive, to make them happen. I need to find the energy and the will to make it so.

There. I've shared more than I should. Why? It's cathartic, it sets me on the path, people are going to ask me, "so, what did you do today to achieve these things?", and maybe it will make YOU think about what YOU want for yourself in 2011.

As an aside: what do you see yourself doing at 11 minutes and 11 seconds after 11am on November the 11th, 2011? 11:11:11 on 11/11/11?

What I want for Christmas

OK, well a new car, a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, a Wacom Intuos4 medium sized tablet, one of those fancy neutral density filters I talked about last time, planning a trip to somewhere where I can focus on my photography: Ireland/Scotland is pretty high on my list, New Zealand and Africa are probably out of reach, but in a pinch, Newfoundland again would be great. Who wants to go with me?

Shall we look at some pictures?

I know a lot of people who read my blog are actually not photographers, are actually not interested in the technical details and challenges. But there are some: and I'm going to try to become more consistent in my descriptions. So let me start now.

I was driving along Highway 118 on the way back here from Toronto. Normally I come up the other way (highway 48/35) but there were two reasons I chose the 400/118 route yesterday: I happened to be in the West end of Toronto and it's easier (and I got to stop at Bass Pro where I picked up a couple of winter weight shirts and stuff), and because I had heard that they got quite a bit of snow in the Bracebridge area, much more than we got here, and I wanted to see for myself. As I drove along, I saw mixed sun and cloud, and indeed, there was dramatically more snow there than here! Say 20cm vs. 5cm.

The phrase that kept repeating in my head was "It's All About the Light". Also, I was mindful of the topic of my last Blog, not to be lazy and let opportunities slip by. I stopped at least a dozen times in that 50km stretch, and sometimes made a u-turn to return to a scene I had just driven past. One of those was this house:

The sun broke through and created this idyllic scene, a postcard view of a pretty little house in fluffy white snow. I framed the house between the two evergreen trees and captured enough foreground to give the photo some depth. I shot 5 exposures, all at f/9, ISO 400. The lens was my Nikon 24-120 VR. Why f/9 and not f/8? Why that lens? Well I had just come from my monthly ID photo shoot, and that was what was on the camera and how it happened to be set! I did think about it: the sweet spot on that lens is between f/8 and f/11, I knew I was in there. I did reset from jpeg-fine back to RAW (I shoot the ID's in jpeg, it makes the workflow MUCH faster and colour balance is OK with the flash and white ceiling. I switched back to RAW before putting the camera away so I wouldn't forget!). I missed the fact that the ISO was 400, I should have taken it down to 200 but 400 isn't bad. Focal length was at 34mm, and the 5 exposures ranged between 1/1000 sec. and 1/60 sec. VR was on, I was handheld. I spot-metered on the house because I knew that the white snow would throw the meter off if I used matrix metering. The nominal exposure was 1/250 sec and the other 4 shots bracketed this setting. Why did I shoot 5 shots? Because I intended to make an HDR image. The camera was in high-speed mode so that all 5 exposures could take place before the clouds could move significantly.

When I opened the image in Lightroom, I marked the 5 images with a single star, indicating that they were earmarked for HDR treatment. When I came back to them, I selected "merge to HDR-pro in Photoshop CS5". I started with the "Photorealistic" preset and tweaked the image until the detail and the noise levels balanced. I did increase the radius and strength settings somewhat, allowing a bit of white glow around the trees. Next I copied the layer and applied the Topaz Adjust 4 plug-in, cycling through the presets until I found one I liked for this image: I think it was "portrait drama". Working from this starting point, I increased saturation and clarity, kept the detail level fairly high and decided not to reduce the saturation at the bottom because the cool blue hue of the snow complemented the house colour. After saving the image, I returned to Lightroom, cropped and straightened it a bit* (I had the top of the trees in the image, but opted to crop them out because the focus is on the house, and by cropping top and bottom, I was able to maximize the size of the house in the image and reduce the amount of eye-catching bright sky), and then painted the cloud at upper right with the adjustment brush and reduced its saturation (it was really yellow!). Finally I tweaked the clarity and sharpness up a tad, added some noise reduction, and a soft post-crop vignette to keep the focus in the middle of the image.

* hi, it's Monday the 6th. I reloaded the picture because it didn't look straight to me. Interestingly, if you make the window frames on the right side of the building level, the picture doesn't look right. I used the dormer window on the left and it looks better.

If I were to submit this image to a club competition (I probably will), the judges will probably score it 8-7-6. One judge will like the crispness and depth of the image. One will say that the saturation is too high and the third one will say that it's overprocessed as an HDR and that the cloud is too yellow and too bad about the tops of the trees. Too bad. "I" like it, it's what I had intended. We'll see if I'm right in a few weeks!

So I kind of got carried away describing the process here. My goal was to communicate the thinking that went into making this image. Pretty well everything was pre-planned from composition to exposure. I'm putting into practice something I learned from Rob Stimpson and from reading Moose Peterson's book: accidents "don't" happen. You need to plan your shots. Was it as onerous and difficult as it seems? Not at all. Most of the thought and production processes were automatic for me. You have to know your camera and your software.

Here's another image from the same day, in fact it was taken 5 minutes after the house shot, just around the corner. But I had been back and forth to this spot 3 times, waiting for the light to be right!

This is a tighter crop. The original shot was a vertical one, with the entire tree on the right visible. I originally processed it that way but then I didn't like the complex sky and wanted to see what it would look like if I cropped it this way. I wanted more depth of field so I went up to f/11 and here I did bring the ISO down to 200. When I saw that yellow sign, I really wanted to make a cartoony HDR out of it. I used Photomatix for this one because you can get more extreme effects, and Topaz to hype it up. As I said, I waited for the light. I wanted the hill in front of me to be sunlit. Toning the image made the shadow areas blue which contrasted nicely with the yellow, and I punched up the blacks. 5 rapid exposures again, from 1/1600 to 1/100 sec. By the way, the original unedited inmage looks pretty good too, I just liked the extreme and whimsical composition here. Check them out side-by-side in my December Smugmug gallery.

A third image from yesterday is this one of a slough off Highway 118 that I've shot in the summer. Look at the great shadows and textures created by the setting sun, especially on the stream bed! This was shot 15 minutes later, most of which was spent waiting for the sun! I didn't really get the sky I wanted, but I did my best using HDR to bring out whatever was there. Again the HDR is somewhat extreme, enhanced in Topaz, but what can I say, I love the effect! The only other negative? The snow in the foreground is out of focus. I would have cropped it out except it adds so much depth to the image. Again, the original image is pretty good on its own (you can see them side-by-side in my December Smugmug Gallery). 5-shot HDR, 1/1250 through 1/80 second at f/10, ISO 200. I set the exposure compensation bias down 2/3 stop for this image because I was shooting into the sun and wanted to underexpose a little. This one was done with the Nikon 12-24mm super wide angle, set at its widest.

Why did I choose this spot? Because it's all about the light. Interesting that all 3 shots were made late in the afternoon with the sun on the way down. I shot all afternoon and didn't keep anything else!


Let's see what kind of reaction I get to challenges like this. If you like it, if I get some responses, I'll do it again. Don't be shy, take up the gauntlet!

Power Lines.

I hate power lines. I try to avoid them in my images. When I get one in a shot, well CS5 and the content-aware healing brush make short work of them. But what if we made power lines the SUBJECT of a shot?

Here's one. Now it's your turn. Send me your images of power lines. Give me permission to publish the best one or ones I receive. Come on,

Friday, December 03, 2010

Opportunity knocks...

Opportunity knocked but I didn't answer the door.

Yesterday, I drove into Minden. The sun momentarily broke out and lit the far slopes in bright contrast to the darker nearby roadside. "What great light", I thought, but I didn't stop. Then the sun lit the nearby trees, coated in freshly fallen snow, and I thought, "I really should shoot this" but I didn't. I had a shot in mind, of the Gull River just North of Minden where I figured the trees would be snow covered, the water mirror calm, and some detail in the sky. I skipped the opportunities I just described to you and pushed on, to get to where I wanted to shoot before losing the light. I got there: and nothing. The snow hadn't stuck to the trees I was picturing, the water wasn't calm, and the clouds had moved in making the light boringly flat. I struck out.

Two parables come to mind: remember the one with the billy goats where the next one would be the best one? And an expression I heard again a couple of weeks ago that sticks in my mind: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". SEIZE THE MOMENT. Shoot it NOW. Don't wait for a better shot later.

I make it a rule never to post to the blog without a picture or two. I found that hard to do this week because, frankly, I haven't gone out shooting, I've been running around dealing with business and personal matters. Still, I looked out the window at the first snow shower of the season and decided to brave the weather, find something extraordinary to shoot, and go out for a few shots. It's challenging to shoot during bad weather: I protected the camera from the falling snow with a 'storm jacket' that covers all but the front of the lens; only to discover that it didn't take more than a few seconds for the glass to become spattered with rain and snow. I went back inside and got an umbrella, then back out to shoot after cleaning the lens.

All to no avail. The idea was there but the execution was not. How do you shoot in a snowstorm? A short exposure gives you ugly grey splotches -- falling snowflakes frozen in time. A long exposure makes them disappear, but then the overall contrast and sharpness is reduced and the picture becomes mundane. I got wet, my camera got wet, I spent an hour out in the snowstorm and got nothing. Nada. I took one shot back and did some extraordinary photoshop work on it, then I hated it and won't show it to you.

Anyway, here are two pictures I took, both on Wednesday during the snow shower. Lazy shots. Done from inside my house shooting out the open door.

Both of these images speak to me. They reflect what it really looked and felt like during the snow shower. In both cases, slow shutter speed (1/3 sec and 1/5 sec) brought out some motion and texture in the falling snow. Longer exposures would have been muddy, shorter ones covered with ugly spots.

I might enter the second shot in a club competition, but just to prove a point. Remember the starry night shot of the Red Umbrella Inn a couple of weeks ago? I entered that one and accurately predicted my score. It scored 6-9-6 from the 3 judges. "Shadows were too dark", said one. "Some of the highlights were blown out", said another. A third one got what I was trying to capture -- the inn floating in a sea of stars on a crystal night, the detail in the trees and of the building. Blown out highlights. Building lights and a million stars. If I enter the above picture, I can just hear the comments: "the branches in the foreground are out of focus" and "highlights are blown out". Indeed. ON PURPOSE. It's a high key picture. Let's see if I'm right!
On to some technical tips.
Exif Data

Colour me impressed. Do you have any idea how much information is saved with your digital images by your camera? It reinforces the concept that this isn’t just a camera it’s a powerful computer.

I wanted to know how many shutter actuations I had on my D300. That information isn’t normally available, so I Googled it and found that there were several exif readers out there that can provide that data. I picked one and installed it.

For what it’s worth, I chose PhotoME exifreader, a free program that works on PC (not Mac. Google it, you’ll find similar programs for the Mac). Here’s the link:

How does it work? Download and install it (I didn’t choose the Beta version available, just the current version 0.79). Run it. Open an uploaded picture (they say it works better on a JPEG than on a RAW file, but I tried both and it works, but read the note below). An incredible amount of information is visible! I didn’t count them, but I’m going to guess that about 250 fields – 250 different bits of information – are available with each picture. Scroll down and read the wondrous info you now have on your images and on your camera.

Note: if the uploaded picture was imported into Lightroom and edited, then re-saved, you lose some of this info. So use an unedited image when you do this. There’s more information with the RAW file, but it’s all Greek! I didn’t analyse the differences.

So I found out that at the time I took that test image this morning, I had 35,468 shutter actuations on my D300. Here’s a quick upload of the results of reading two files, an NEF and a JPG:

Food for thought: that’s equivalent to almost 1000 36-exposure rolls of film. Now if I had been shooting 35mm slides, what did a roll cost, with processing? Say $10? (I’m probably off, but I don’t remember), that’s $10,000 worth of film alone! Wow!

Cleaning your sensor

I haven’t talked about this in a long time. I won’t dwell on it: when Ron and I were heading up to Wawa last month, we saw some ugly spots on our images and sat in a restaurant at breakfast one morning and cleaned our sensors. In my case, I wasn’t too happy with the results, but accepted it. There were still spots which I had to clone out on critical images.

It’s a tedious and painstaking process but you have to do it. It’s also a good idea to do it at home, with no time pressure, so that you know how to do it when you’re in the field with a minimum of effort and maximum effect.

Buy a sensor cleaning kit. There are lots of them out there – I bought my kit from several years ago (by the way, the owner of Copper Hill is into macro photography, check out their website and click “about us” to see some great images of butterflies and the like). Anyway, you can buy kits in stores like Henry’s now if you want.

They also tell you not to blow canned air into your camera, although I’m not sure why, as long as you blow some into the open air first to get rid of the traces of Freon or whatever propellant they use. Certainly if you don’t understand why you shouldn’t blow with your mouth into the camera, you should carefully pack the camera and all related equipment up and return it to the store or put it up for sale because you’re too stupid to own camera equipment (LOL. That comes from an old computer help desk joke relating to a call they received about a computer not working. Seems the user couldn’t get it to work, and after some time the CSR found out that the reason was that there was a power failure at the user’s house…).

DISCLAIMER: The manufacturers all say “DON’T TOUCH YOUR SENSOR”, you can damage it irreparably, etc. So I’m posting this topic for information only. If you do something to your camera IT’S YOUR FAULT, NOT MY FAULT, I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IT.

There are a couple of spots and a small streak in the lower left corner on my sensor which I can’t seem to budge. They’re minor, and I have to accept them, until such time as I can spare my camera for the time (and the charge, of course) for Nikon to clean it at the factory. I think they want about $100 and 2 weeks to do it.

It makes sense to keep your camera, lenses and other gear clean too. I’m somewhat guilty of not doing a lot to keep mine clean and I expect I’ll have to pay for that down the road. If my gear gets wet, I pat it dry and use Windex on the lens (well on the UV filter). So far I haven’t been in any particularly bad locations (desert, beach, African jungle…) so…

While I’m at it, I’d like to mention 2 other products.

I recently bought a Hoodman Loupe for viewing my LCD on the camera under magnification. It serves two purposes: one is, in those critical focus situations where looking through the viewfinder doesn’t do it for you, you can switch to LiveView (Canon has something similar, I think) and preview what the camera sees on the LCD. You can blow it up, look at it closer with the Loupe and do that fine tuning before actually firing the shutter. The second thing is, you can “chimp”. Look at a picture after you took it and blow it up to make sure you got it in focus, and go “ooh. Ooh. Ooh”, just like a chimp. That’s where the word came from! And show your shooting buddy what you got. There’s a third purpose: walking around with a loupe around your neck you look like a pro. Well really like a geek, but who’s judging?.

Seriously, the big advantage I find is that you can block the light from your LCD and still see it in a bright environment. By the way, don’t forget that your LCD, as big and bright as it is, does not have ANYWHERE NEAR the resolution or accuracy of your finished image.

The second thing I bought recently was a high speed card reader. My old one didn’t cut it. I bought mine (and the Hoodman) from B&H Photo (use the link at right to get me my Brownie Points!), for about $12. Worth it. My desktop has a built-in card reader but the laptop doesn’t, you either have to plug the camera or a card reader into a USB port. Today’s models are MUCH faster than the older USB 1.1 versions.

Time marches on. Things to do, people to see, places to go. Catch you later!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Do Inanimate objects have feelings?

That question is non-photo-related (NPR). It has to do with my car.

I've been thinking about changing cars. I drive a 2003 VW Passat with 210,000 km on it, and it's time. I need a bigger vehicle and AWD would be a good thing to have up here, so I've been hunting for a Subaru Forester and we found one: a 2007 in silver, the usual goodies (I'm not that fussy. If I get in, and turn the key, it should start. It should drive to where I want to go with the minimum of fuss and not burn a lot of dead dinosaur goo. It should have power locks and windows, and I don't care about much else. It shouldn't be black because then I'd have to wash it...).

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, before heading up to Wawa for the Gales of November workshop, a 2000 km drive into potentially snow country, I brought it in to have the winter tires put on. I think the car knew that this was going to be our last long trip together, because Rusty came over to me in his waiting area and said, "did you know you don't have any front brakes?" $450 later, I did have. Could the car have been punishing me for thinking about breaking up with it?

Oh, a side note. They didn't install the brakes correctly. And this being the country, the mechanic drove me the 15 km home and picked me up when the car was ready, apologizing for the "crunchy" noises the brakes were making, saying it was because he used metallic pads, that's all they could get at the last minute. Crunchy and grabby was a real understatement. Still, as long as the car stopped when I pressed on the pedal... anyway, around 5pm, the night before I was leaving for Lake Gitchigumi, a car pulls into my driveway. It was the mechanic. He said, "I was thinking about your brakes and I think I didn't install them correctly". I said, "well, I don't have time to bring it in..." and he said, "don't worry, I brought my tools". He then worked on my car in my own garage and presto! No more crunchy! Can you imagine a city mechanic actually doing that for you? I love living in the country.

Back to the car. On Thursday this week, I drove to Toronto. When I stopped at the first traffic light I encountered (I live in the country, remember?), the car started running rough. In fact I had to work to keep it running. To make a long story short (too late!), I spend most of Friday, and $641, at the VW dealer. It was the thermostat and another acronymy thing, $80 worth of parts and $500 in labour.

Oh, on Friday morning, Philip, my leasing broker colleague told me he had found a Subaru for me. I swear the car knew it.

Not over yet. On Friday I discovered a crack in my windshield. This on a car that was due to be sold. So I had to have it fixed, I chose the 'repair' instead of 'replace' option. You can still see the crack, but it's small and no threat.

So I think inanimate objects have feelings and make them known to you.

The thought of changing to Mac from PC has entered my mind. Today, my laptop decided it didn't want to recognize the fact that it had a battery installed...

This is a message to my D300, and my 70-200 f/2.8 lens, and most of my other photo stuff, also a message to my laptop computer: "I'm not now nor am I EVER (shhh!) thinking about replacing you. I love you all..."

OK but I do have some stuff I want to sell.

I have a studio setup that I never use. Two 600w monolights, one 150w mono, Manfrotto stands, backdrops and backdrop supports, etc. Worth probably around $1500 on the used market. Contact me if you're interested but keep it quiet, I don't want the equipment to hear about it. I'll break it to them gently that I've found them a new and loving home...

More on the Moose Peterson book

I realize now that Moose was documenting his photography career and the work at the beginning of the book was when he was new and young. The book is fascinating. This is an incredibly dedicated and talented man and his work is outstanding. If you're at all interested in wildlife and/or bird photography, you must read this book. Click on the NAPP link at right (or this one here) to order it.

By the way, this guy HANDHOLDS a 600mm f/4 lens with a 1.7x teleconverter on it. And refuses to crank his ISO up above 100. I swear, that's a physical impossibility!

Time to share some pictures

It always seems to be creeping up on 3am when I'm writing this stuff. So here are some images to enjoy (I hope you do!) and then I'm going to bed.

It's only a chickadee but I worked hard for this shot! Shot in the fading dusk light, the exposure was 1/13 second at f/2.8, ISO 2000. This is about half a frame on my D300. I used Topaz denoise -- works rather well, wouldn't you say? PS: clearly the camera was on a tripod but it took over 100 frames to get one where the little guy held still long enough!

When I refilled the suet feeder, I put the remnants on the deck in the hopes of attracting something photographicable and got a visit from this little guy. The exposure is 1/40 second at f/8, ISO 400 and the lens is the 200mm and the 2x teleconverter, or 400mm. It took MANY shots to get one in tack sharp focus. Needless to say, the camera was on the tripod, autofocus and VR turned off, so I manually focused and used a cable release. These shots are not easy!

I haven't done any pixel painting in a couple of years, and I totally forget how. I did this in Painter 11, spending a lot of time trying to remember how it works (sometimes, I'm painting on a new layer and absolutely NOTHING is happening. I don't remember how!). Anyway, the only thing in this painting that was in the original photo is the bird itself. I created everything else from scratch — the fence, the seed in his mouth, everything. I think I should spend some more time doing paintings!
That's it for now! Drop by any time!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do as I SAY not as I DO

I have a lot to learn. Especially about things I don't do very often. My mother would say, "yeah, like dusting the house". My fellow motorcycle instructors would say, "like cleaning your bike", my dentist (sorry, Dr. Ron!) would say, "like flossing your teeth", (anyone detecting a common thread here?), my ex-wife would say... well never mind. When you don't do something very often, you tend to forget how, or at least you're not very good at it.

I don't print pictures. No I mean I REALLY don't make prints, except for ID photos which don't count. This week I decided to print a bunch of images from the Gales of November weekend, because it's time to change some of the pictures hanging in the house and maybe add a few. By the way when I say "print" I really mean "upload to Costco and get them to print them". I REALLY don't make prints! Anyway, I didn't edit them very well.

First of all, there's the issue of monitor calibration. I have a Spider, I've used it from time to time, but it never seems to give me consistent results. I'll do the two big monitors that sit side by side, and afterwards, they'll look different. Close, but no cigar. The HP monitor has a much brighter, glossy appearance compared to the Dell, so I just write it off to perception. The colour balance seems to be consistent, though.

One of the pictures I printed was a fall scene. Dull. Lifeless. I need to pump up the saturation. Same thing with the Michipicoten Light shot with the sand in the front that I posted in the last blog entry. OK, mental rule #1 -- pump up the saturation if you're going to print. Also the blacks are a lot stronger on the print than on the screen. Like in the black and white Harris Creek waterfall image I posted a few days ago. Rule #2, tone down the blacks.

Rule #3, and this is the big one: Look a LOT more closely at the editing you do BEFORE going to print. I took out some hydro wires and a guy wire from a couple of pictures but when you get the prints back, there they are! BLOW IT UP and take care to edit properly!

The first image is from the original that I printed. Both of these are tight crop blowups. Notice the wires and stuff I didn't remove properly? You may not notice them when looking at a normal sized image onscree, but they sure pop out at you when you make a print! Removed, by the way, with the healing brush in CS5 with context aware fill turned on.

The same thing is true if you're going to submit images for competition. Blow it up and scroll all around the image looking for things to fix. Dust spots, for one thing. I have an open smooth water shot where I took the time to do that — not only dust, but little ripples and stuff floating in the water — and it paid off because that image came out well.

So did the night starry shot of the Inn (3rd one down in the previous post). I was a bit afraid that star movement due to the 30 second exposure would make the sky look fuzzy, but it didn't. Almost, though. If you're going to do star field shots, use a wide angle lens and keep it down to 30 seconds or less. Rule #4.

By the way, I don't know what I was thinking. I only have two frames/mattes that fit 18x12, and I now have 10 images suitable for framing, or at least I will have when I get these reprinted. I have 4 other frames set up for 18x9, guess I'm not changing those. So I'll get a few more frames done (that's a LOT more expensive than making the prints!). Maybe I'll rethink the print sizes...


I've been using Dropbox lately for my "cloud computing". For those who are not familiar with the concept, there are several solutions out there for people who want, as Dropbox says, "Secure backup, sync and sharing made easy". Here's how it works: Go to their website and sign up. Install Dropbox on any and all of your computers (which would include your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry...). Now any file you put in your Dropbox on any machine is visible on all of the other machines. Not instantly, it has to upload to their secure server. If you share those files with other people, they can see them too. If they're Dropbox users, they can edit them, you can collaborate. Doesn't matter what format the file is -- unlike Google Docs, for instance. Right now I'm using it for 2 or 3 things -- the most IMPORTANT of which is, to back up my critical files (I have two: a database and a set of Quickbooks company files that I use every day). I drag a copy into my Dropbox and there's now a secure copy stored on a server somewhere in California, I think, in case my house burns down or I get burglarized. I also share pictures and eBooks with friends, and transfer stuff to my iPad from my PC without going through that annoying iTunes.

Anyway, it's free (up to 2Gb). You can get more free space by referring people to them, so do me a favour -- if you go to check them out, use this link  so I get my referral credits.

By the way, I'm writing this on my laptop but I intend to use the desktop to upload the post to the blog, so as I write this, I'm storing it in my Dropbox and will open it on the other computer when I'm ready ot post, after doing the other stuff (like edit the pictures I talked about above and haven't done yet!).

Next FACzen Workshop

I've been asked by a number of people when I plan to host my next workshop. I've had a couple of thoughts. On January 22 and 23, 2011 is the Haliburton Highlands Dogsled Derby at the Pinestone Resort. I've been there for the past 2 years and captured some excellent images. Outdoor winter shooting is a challenge, and it should be a good opportunity to get together.

The other event is bigger. It's the "2011 Ontario Senior Games — Winterfest" happening on February 15-17. There are a bunch of sanctioned sports and events for the over-55 crowd, ranging from skiing and hockey to badminton and bridge. All fantastic photo ops. It will be busy up here -- most of the resorts are noted as "athlete villages" including the Red Umbrella Inn across the road. More detail later...

If you would like to come up and participate in either or both of these weekends, please drop me a note. If you would like to help by sharing your photographic skills, in other words, help teach or mentor others, let me know as well. I'm going to do some more work on these two events in the meantime.

Moose Peterson Book

Did anyone else buy the Moose Peterson book ("CAPTURED") from Kelby? Moose is a renowned wildlife photographer and birder, and this is his story and tips and techniques on wildlife photography. The jury is out. I'm on page 150 of 400 pages, I vowed to start at the beginning and not skip ahead. At the beginning of the book, the pictures are CRAP. But as I read further, I realize, that's where he started as a teenager, and besides he was shooting FILM. I cheated and leafed through the rest of the book and I realize that any doubts in my mind that digital is better in every way than the old 35mm film/slide days have been put to rest. Good book, although I find his writing style somewhat tedious and although the highlited "pullout quotes" and tips boxes are cute graphically, I find them hard to read on their green backgrounds. Still, if you want to take wildlife pictures, you'd better read this book. You can buy it at NAPP, click the link at right.

This is a picture of me taken by Ron Goodlin up in Wawa. You can see that it's wise to wear waterproof boots when photographing on the shoreline. Later that day I learned that one should never turn one's back on the waves or one will end up with soaked feet, regardless of waterproofing (when the water goes halfway up your leg!)
So here's one more image from the Gales of November weekend. Not actually in the Wawa area, it was taken at a burned out gas station somewhere along the road between Wawa and the Soo.

Broken Window. The putty really did look like that.
I used Topaz Adjust to add some extra depth to the image.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gales of November revised!

That PowerPoint thing doesn't work. Some — most — people can't see the video or hear the music.

So I installed the upgrade to ProShow Gold and recreated the presentation. This time you can easily see it two ways:

go to When it asks you to install activex controls, go for it. click on the photo to run the presentation. Note: this is a non-commercial video, using the original Gordon Lightfoot sound track.

watch it on YouTube. I put it up with a custom soundtrack because of copyright issues. The original Lightfoot track is more appropriate, but I can't use it. So I added a soundtrack that I composed and played myself on my Yamaha keyboard (just a loose microphone so the audio quality isn't great. Neither is the keyboarder....). I'll be back in a few minutes with the link as soon as it finishes uploading.
OK, here it is: As the photographer, the composer, the musician and the writer, I guess I don't have a copyright problem!

These work MUCH better. ProShow Gold is pretty good — almost no learning curve although I'm sure I've missed some things. For instance, I'd like to fade out a caption much more slowly and have an image sit there for a few seconds before starting the animation. Not bad, though — I created the thing in about 3 hours all told.

By the way, Photodex had me on file after all these years. I last used the program in 2006. Their customer service line was available on a Sunday afternoon, a live person came on the line in a couple of minutes and spoke English natively (I think they're in Texas). They allowed me the upgrade price and gave me the iPad output module for free (haven't tried that yet!). Good people.

I tried NOT to use a lot of different transitions, unlike the last time. I think I put too much animation in the slides though. What do you think? Please comment below, or email me.

Bye for now!

Gales of November best images

Several years ago, I bought ProShow Gold and did a couple of presentations, the best of which was my trip to Newfoundland by motorcycle in 2006 (oh yeah. I guess it was then that I bought it). It's here, by the way. You'll be asked to download a viewer, which is safe. I've gone through a few computers since then and have no idea where the software is, so if I wanted to use it, I'd have to buy it again. I probably should, because I spent the day compiling my images into a Powerpoint presentation complete with audio and video clips. Then I discovered that it wasn’t easily exported because of embedded video and audio. I think I managed it, though I'm really not satisfied. What did work was timing it to fit the audio track!

I tried to find a utility to convert the .pptx file into something more shareable. The so-called "free" utilities either put a huge watermark in the middle until you pay their $99, or didn't handle the audio. I tried to save it as a .pps, which is Powerpoint 2003 compatible and can be viewed with the old Powerpoint viewer, but the file ended up at 180Mb. I gave up and saved it in PowerPoint 2007, which resulted in a 45Mb file. Maybe someone can point me towards a better solution. Or I'll bite the bullet and get ProShow. I should anyway.

If you have Powerpoint2007, you can directly view the show I made here: Be patient, it's a healthy sized download. Not recommended if you're not on high speed.

Note: on my computer it looks like it's doing nothing while ht's downloading, then the window opens. Like I said, be patient.
Note: you have to click "slide show" in the menu at the top then the left-most icon "start slide show from beginning". Or the tiny icon at lower right that looks like a projection screen.

If you don’t have PowerPoint, you can download the Powerpoint Viewer from Microsoft for free at this Microsoft site.

Note: then go to the link above and download the show.

If you’re on a Mac, I’m not sure how it works. I get the slides only, no audio and no video on my iPad in Keynote, but I don’t know enough about it. Someone please clue me in. If you want to get the flavour of the embedded audio and the video clip, you can find them here: and

Someone please email me and let me know how it worked. Were you able to see the video and hear the audio track? I had trouble testing it because both of my Windows computers have PowerPoint 2007 installed and defaulted to it. The old vintage Sony Vaio that runs my scanner doesn't have enought memory to run the presentation.

By the way, I edited the video by putting pieces of 3 clips together in Microsoft Movie Maker. Works pretty well. The clips were made on my Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot camera. A videographer I'm not! The show starts with a minute or so of video introduction.

Here are a couple more images from the weekend

This one is becoming one of my favourites. Really minor enhancements to the saturation and sharpness, and a little crop to straighten it out. The biggest thing I did to it was to remove the red chair barely visible on the rocks in the distance. I never even opened Photoshop, it was all done in Lightroom. Quite a departure for me!

This image, on the other hand, is an HDR generated in Photoshop CS5 from 5 images. Not much was done to it other than toning and a shot of Topaz, and it was cropped out of a larger image (it's only about 1700x1500px).

I didn't take this up on Lake Superior, I took it the night I got home. It's the Red Umbrella Inn across the road from my house. I went out to do some night shots and played with this image using Topaz Adjust. I didn't do much: there are a bunch of presets I flipped through, this one is called "Night" (appropriate, don't you think?) and I don't think I did much after accepting the preset settings. This image looks best in a darkened room so you can see the stars. Click on the image to view a larger version.
Well, considering that it's 3:00am, I think I'll sign off for now. L8R...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wawa Wow!

So much to say, so little time...

We had a fabulous weekend up in Wawa. Due in no small way to Rob Stimpson and the crew at Rock Island Lodge who not only organized all the logistics, but who ordered up superb weather conditions for our visit as well. Rob is a laid-back mentor. He gently pushed me out of my rut and I'm sure, made me a better photographer. I will be back next year, unless my body (especially my knees) gives up on me. Go to Rob's site or the Rock Island Lodge website to see what it's about.

There were a dozen talented photographers on this weekend. I learned something from each and every one of them. I can't tell you how many times I said to myself, "I wish I could shoot pictures like him (or her)". I feel humble.

Now as I told Dr. Ron, if this had been a comnmercial shoot, I'd have considered it a failure. I'm used to having more images that I like come out of my 1500 shutter clicks. As it stands as I write this, there are less than half a dozen images that I would consider "print material", another 30 or so that I considered selected keepers, and a total of less than 100 images that I would use in a slide show or other presentation. Maybe enough for a Blurb book...

Here's one:

The Michipicoten River Light at dawn. I slowed the shutter down by shooting before it got too bright. I have about 3 or 4 other images of the same light but this is arguably the one I like best. It's a 30 second exposure at f/8 with the wide angle lens, ISO 200. This is cropped only slightly, just to straighten it up, and believe it or not, kiddies, NO PHOTOSHOP.  
Speaking of Neutral Density Filters (we were, right?):
If you're going to shoot water, you need them. I had a 2x (one stop), a 4x (two stops) and an 8x (3 stops) and I stacked the latter two for several shots. It happens they're 72mm in diameter so I couldn't use them for this shot (my wide angle is a 77mm diameter). Adding a stack of neutral density filters on the front of the lens works but it's cumbersome and hard to focus through it. There are a couple of solutions.

Lee makes a filter holder you can mount on your lens. It comes with several diameters of mounting hardware and you slide in whatever filter you want. Dr. Ron had a Lee set with a graduated filter for skies and among others, a 500x filter that gave him 10 stops adustment. If your normal exposure would have been 1/4sec at f/8, you could open your shutter for 4 minutes for the same shot. However I found the Lee set clumsy, and watched Dr. Ron drop it on the rocks once... it's about $500 for the set..

There's another concept: made by SinghRay and also in that price range -- a screw-in filter that's variable! I think the way it works is that there are two polarizing filters and as you rotate them relative to one another, the ND attenuation changes: from 1 stop to 9 stops, continuously variable. I like that concept and I'll be keeping my eyes open for one of those. Downside is, it only works for whatever diameter you order (although you can probably use step-down rings for different lenses). Brian Barker, one of the other photographers on the weekend had one.

Harris Creek Waterfall. Here's an 8 second exposure taken in bright sunlight using the stacked ND filter method. Harris Creek is off Rte. 17 along the North Channel of Lake Huron. A local fellow I met there told me there used to be a grist mill about where the highway is now, used by the pioneers to grind their grain, and later a water powered logging mill driven by the same water. Amazing what you can learn by talking to people!
I'll share one more image with you from the trip (for now). Eventually, I'll get them up on my Smugmug Gallery, but you're going to have to wait for it!

Indian Beach Surf. This shot was taken on Saturday afternoon after the wind picked up, as arranged by Rob with the Man Upstairs. The power of Lake Gitchigumi (Lake Superior. We listened to Gord Lightfoot all weekend. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald has the phrase "The Gales of November" in it. Did you know that?). No Photoshop. Some minor editing in Lightroom, that's all.
Visit my Smugmug site in a few days to see more images. I haven't even put the November Gallery up yet, so take your time!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Another test

Hmmm. Research shows me that Blogger (Blogspot) and Apple don't like one another. There is an app called BlogPress for my iPad which I just bought -- let's see if I can make it work. That's what I'm typing on right now.

Formatting text This is a test of formatted text

This is a test of posting a picture:

I edited this image in Photoshop Express on the iPad. Converted it to black and white, changed some exposure values and created the border. Now I'm adding some HTML code to this paragraph to see if it works.

Wow. That's not easy. There may be some shortcuts I don't know about. Oh well, at least I can post from my iPad. Maybe you'll hear from me this week when I'm up in Wawa or enroute.


Just a quick test

I've got a new toy! It's an iPad and I have Bob Fowler to blame. I played with his (iPad!) when we were at the Kelby seminar and had to have one. I bought the 16Gb version but this one came with 3G capability which I may or may not use down the road.

It also came with some installed media, mostly books and a few apps. I've been reading on it, the jury is out as to whether I prefer reading a real paper book or an electronic one. That said, I don't have to carry a bunch of books with me on trips if I have this.

I'm writing this blog entry on the iPad. The keyboard is quite useable, although I'm not suree I would write a novel on it! The way it handles photos is quite peculiar. I'm just starting to figure it out. Let's see how easy it is to upload a photo to the blog. Sorry I don't have anything exciting to put up, but this is just a test.

TestPhoto: (testing text formatting too!!)

Hmmm. That doesn't seem to work. I can't get into "compose" mode, so it won't let me upload a picture. I'll search for a solution and get back to you.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Workshops, workshops, upgrades

Did you miss me? Believe it or not, I’ve been too busy with other photo stuff to blog. OK, and with work and life in general... anyway, I’m back.

So first, let me tell you about the Kelby workshop I attended last Friday.

Photoshop CS5 for Photographers, presented by Ben Willmore from NAPP (Kelby Training)


• it was at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where parking is at a premium, it took almost 2 hours to drive there (and the same amount of time homeward bound).

• They ran out of coffee. THEY RAN OUT OF COFFEE. When we got there, all they had was de-caf. They brought in more coffee for the morning break and promptly ran out again, never to replenish it.

• No food facilities there. I knew that and brought my own lunch, but a lot of people didn’t.

• I think Ben was wearing the same hat he wore 2 years ago.

• The seminar was really directed toward photographers as billed. Unlike the Corey Barker session last year which had limited application for anyone but graphic artists. That said, that’s what they said it was going to be.

• There’s lots of neat stuff in CS5 and Ben knows how to pass that info along.

• By the end of the session, I could already see how to improve my workflow

• There weren’t really any vendors there selling stuff, so I made it out with my wallet intact.

You need to be practiced in Photoshop to get something out of the seminar. There was an evaluation form we filled out, with a check box asking if you thought you were a novice, intermediate or expert at Photoshop. I selected "intermediate" but in hindsight, I've sold myself short. I've actually used and are familiar with pretty well all of the techniques Ben showed us, with the possible exception of "Puppet Warping". I left the seminar wondering how much I had really gotten out of it, but I realized that I did get two things: validation that I was on the right track, and some insights into ways to improve my workflow.

Ben did not spend any time on Photoshop basics. That's what I meant above: it's not a grass roots course, so if you're not comfortable in Photoshop, you'll be frustrated because you won't know how to achieve the results that Ben did. He did spend a lot of time on Adobe Camera Raw, which he uses from within Bridge but it's the same as the engine in Lightroom.

The focus was on the new stuff in CS5 — the HDR engine, content-aware fill, fine selection, lens correction and yes, puppet warping.

If you really want to get up to speed in Photoshop CS5, buy Scott Kelby's book. It's well worth it and as I said a hundred times already, so is a NAPP membership. Click the link at right.

Upgrading to Lightroom 3

That was time consuming. Why? Because I didn't listen to Jim in the first place. My images were scattered all over the place — on 4 different hard drives, in various places. Before I did the upgrade, I reorganized my images and this time I listened to Jim and did the shuffling all from within Lightroom. I now have my master photo archive on a 2Tb external drive (the drive letter is "M". I think I'll call it "Mother"). The LR catalog itself is on the internal drive in the desktop and there's a backup on Mother. Most of the photos themselves are backed up on my other external drive but I still need to reorganize that.

I'm not going to talk much about LR3 here and now: let me get used to it first. Import and Export are different and I had to rebuild things, there are a few neat and sneaky new things like lens corrections and one really really neat thing called tethered shooting which I'll save for another day.

Suffice it to say that the upgrade was lengthy and had to be thought out well, and it ain't over. I still have to figure out how to replicate the settings I've created on the laptop.

I’m off to another workshop

I decided that since I hadn't had a vacation this summer (there are those who may argue that my whole life up here in the Highlands is one big vacation...), I deserved one. So when Rob Stimpson sent a reminder out about the Gales of November workshop up in Wawa, I jumped at it. I’m going, next week. So is Dr. Ron – I convinced him to come too! Go to the website to check it out, and don’t be jealous...

I haven't taken a lot of pictures. So without further ado... these are 3 images from a rainy Sunday afternoon walk. One of these days I'm going to try to publish images just the way they came out of the camera. Well, maybe not today...

Pine Sentries
In some places, pine trees grow in straight lines. I had added some (white) post-crop vignetting to this image, but on second thought, didn't like it and removed it.
The rain produces saturated colours. So does pixel processing in CS5, Topaz and LR3! I did an HDR of the same image and it's not as crisp as this one is.

Late Autumn field.
Across the road behind my house. Some painting effects.

I bought a new toy. It should be waiting for me at my mailbox when I get there tomorrow. I'm not going to tell you what it is, I'll save that for next time... stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fall Colours 2010 has come and gone!

And a great success it was! First thanks go to the creator of the fine weather we had: it was a little cool, but we had awesome sunrises and pretty good sunsets as well. I have to admit, though, that the sunset on Monday after everyone except me had left, was the best.

We were a "Group of 6". A good number because I was able to seat everyone at the table easily, we could look at our photos on my monitors without trouble, and everyone had a place to plug in their computers. Thanks for the great zucchini dish, Shannon (and the recipe), Kathy for the pies (which weren't baked, we didn't know that but caught it in time!), Bernie and Josie for their insights and Liz for a breath of fresh air!

I have some images from everyone to post on the site, as soon as we get the formalities out of the way. In the meantime, I see that Shannon put up a blog posting with a few of her images, here: I LOVE the first image she posted. I wrote that I wished that when I grow up, I could be like her!

A few of the venues I selected. I showed this map and some others like it on Friday night in a PowerPoint I created outlining what I was hoping to accomplish during the weekend. Although there was a teaching element to it, all of the participants were experienced and excellent photographers so I didn't want to create a rigid atmosphere. My intention was just to plant some seeds, and let the individuals make them grow in whatever direction they wanted.

My intent was to go out on Saturday and shoot images by following the "rules". Everyone did. Then on Sunday, I told people to go ahead and BREAK the rules. I don't know yet if anyone did and if they were successful. We'll see when they send me some images! I did, though:

Notice how your eye goes to the 'window' which is the brightest spot in the image, and which is centred left-to-right? But if you stay with the picture for a while, you look at the texture of the ceiling, which is really the focus of the picture. I broke the rules, just to see if it would work. Did it?

By the way, I'm enamoured with HDR and Topaz-enhanced images. This was also a hand-held multiple exposure (breaking another rule, about using a tripod!) and I set the edge glow quite high. The tree is centred in the window. How many other rules did I break?

In the same location (my neighbour's old barn), where Liz and I went to shoot for a bit on Sunday afternoon, I got what I consider my best "art" shot of the weekend:

This is cropped from a larger image. I call it "Chain, Chain, Chain". The motion blur is due to the slow shutter speed, and no tripod again. Breaking the rules!

I said we got some good sunrises ( see Shannon's blog for the best shots of the group, in my opinion). I did my crazy HDR thing...

...but I also got a few more conventional images which you can see on my Smugmug Gallery here. I took a couple of good 'people' pictures, especially of Liz, one of which is here:

I enhanced the eyes in Photoshop, and softened the image by reducing the clarity in Lightroom, that's about it. I deliberately didn't crop this one too tight because I wanted to show her as a photographer.
I mentioned the Monday night sunset. I was chainsawing down some rose bushes (hope they come back next year!) and turned around to see the most AWESOME sky I've seen in a while. I dropped the chainsaw (which cost me at least 45 minutes reinstalling the chain that came off the track!), grabbed the camera with whatever lens happened to be on it (the 12-24mm wide angle) and ran behind the Red Umbrella Inn to try to get a few shots before it went away.

I took this picture of the Inn as I was running out there. Not an HDR or anything, this is what it really looked like! "The Sky is on Fire!" .
Then I took a series of shots, all hand-held (no tripod: I told you, I RAN out to get there before the sky changed!). It's hard to choose my favourite, but this ranks up there:

All of the participants said they'd like to come back again. I'm still waiting for more feedback which will guide me in future workshops, and I'm planning to do more of them. Email me if you want me to send you details when I design the next one.