Monday, March 29, 2010

...but I digress...

Usually I write my blog postings all in one sitting. I’ve already blocked out mentally what I want to write about, then it’s just a matter of putting the words on paper. OK, not paper, on LCD. But paper sounds much better… because it might be a CRT instead of an LCD and technically I’m just putting representations of the words I’m writing on the screen because really I’m storing them in the computer, that is after I hit “save” which is something one should do frequently in case something happens like a power failure or a surge or some sort of electronic glitch or virus or something and all your thoughts are wiped out like using an eraser on a blackboard or more likely a wet cloth because when you use an eraser sometimes you can still reconstruct what was underneath, but I digress.

Today it’s too early to compose it all (see, I wrote “write” it all, then I realized I used the word “write” in the first paragraph so I decided to try to come up with another word to use here or should I say “employ” here because I already utilized the word “use” in this very sentence, but I digress), because I don’t really know yet what I’m going to include in this article and I’m marking time until I think of something, like a drummer or a singer doing an intro to a song and you wonder when the band is going to kick in or the singer take the microphone off the stand and go for that “wow” note (you can tell I’ve been watching American Idol. I’m trying not to be too pitchy…) but I digress.

So I’m having some fun writing this and I hope you will enjoy it and email me to tell me if you did or not and why and give me some kind of feedback so that I don’t feel like I’m hollering into an empty barrel which gives one nothing in return but a sad echo of one’s own voice, something that I don’t have much of these days which they tell me is going to get better but it’s been a long time and it’s very frustrating and if you’ve never met me in person you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about but surgery last summer has taken away most of my regular voice, but I digress.

OK, so let me tell you about what I’m going to tell you about in this piece of writing today (but not really today, as you would have known had you been paying attention in the first two paragraphs).

  • I’m going to point you at some valuable photographic learning resources by reiterating how much NAPP can do for you, yet again;
  • I’m going to show you some pictures I shot this week (well it might not be ‘this’ week depending on how long it takes me to finish creating this commentary which depends on two things: whether I have time to devote to writing and of course to photographing things, and how fluidly my creative juices are flowing, whether it’s like the rushing waters of a cataract in the springtime or more akin to the treacle of maple syrup out of a jar which comes to mind because of the time of year and the fact that the sap is running in the maple trees and the elms and walnuts and oaks too but nobody makes ‘oak syrup’, you have to wonder why but I digr… you know);
  • I’ll talk about my new book — I received my proof copy a couple of days ago.

Why am I so high on NAPP?

Well first let me go on record by saying that NAPP (which stands for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals which can be found at this website which interestingly enough is NOT which takes you to somebody completely different’s website which must be why), does not pay me anything to mention them in this Blog. It would be nice if they did, like, I don’t know, a free pass to next year's Photoshop World Conference and Expo which is going on even as I write this, down in Orlando, Florida while I sit up here in Haliburton looking out at the ice slowly melting off the lake and the brown ugliness of muddy pathways although the birds are coming back and there are the first green shoots poking their little heads out of the ground showing the promise of the spring and summer to come which is of course followed by the spectacularly indulgent colours of autumn, but I d…

I stumbled upon NAPP when I decided to take a one day training course on Photoshop when the travelling seminar team came to Toronto and joining NAPP was a natural thing to do because it gave you a discount on the course and because you could add “National Associations of Photoshop Professionals” to your credentials and the word “Professional” has certain positive connotations. I got 4 things out of that seminar:

  • Some great creative ideas and a look inside some techniques that the ‘professionals’ are using
  • A great book on using and learning Photoshop which I bought that day called “The Adobe Photoshop CS3 (now available for CS4 and soon, CS5) book for Digital Photographers” which sits on my coffee table and which I pick up and leaf through for ideas from time to time even though I’ve read it cover to cover more than once
  • A subscription to Photoshop User magazine which I read religiously whenever it comes in and from which I always get at least one useful tip or technique every issue, and
  • Validation that perhaps I’m not entirely a rank amateur when it comes to using Photoshop although I am humbled daily by the work I see others doing.
I’m a huge Scott Kelby fan. Scott is the founding father of NAPP and the author of many of the books and seminars I’m talking about. He has this incredibly conversational writing style (which I’m semi-automatically emulating, like the way you tend to say “y’all” a lot when you’re in the Southern USA even though you’re from Canada and would much rather be saying ‘youse’ which makes me cringe every time I hear it because you have to wonder how many years the person who just said “youse guys” has spent in Grade 3 and if he ever made it out of public school but I…). Scott doesn’t beat around the bush. He tells you WHAT to do and explains in simple terms WHY you should do it.

So what prompted the scribing of this discourse (coming up with all these synonyms and alternative phrases is fun! I think I’ll do it more. I have to be careful, though because it’s a lot like using 87 different transitions in a ProShow slide show just because they are there, or 7 different fonts on a page just because you can but…)?

Last Christmas I bought myself some new books from NAPP. Two great ones and two not-so-great. You win some and you lose some. To get the less-than-satisfactory ones out of the way, I bought a book on Digital Painting by Bert Montroy which proved to be WAY too technical and niggly for me but would be a great resource for someone more detailed than I, and I bought a subscription to Layers Magazine because they hype it a lot and it turns out that mostly it’s about all the other programs that Adobe makes like Illustrator and InDesign and DreamWeaver and… stuff I don’t use.

The great ones? Thought you’d never ask. “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 book for Digital Photographers” which did for me the same thing that the CS3 book did for Photoshop and which sits on the coffee table as well and gets leafed through during commercials and when the Raptors are having a bad night (when they are good, they are very very good. When they are bad, they are horrid). And a series of three books called “The Scott Kelby Digital Photography Library Bundle”. I let the latter sit for a while but started reading it yesterday. Suffice it to say that I am inspired to go out and try all the down-to-earth stuff he talks about and I know that I’m about to become a better photographer because of them.

If you’re new at photography, or just got back into digital, or have a thirst for knowledge, or have low self-esteem and think you really don’t know what you’re doing and wish you could shoot better pictures: pick up “The Scott Kelby Digital Photography Library Bundle”. It’s $45 at Kelby Training and worth 5x the price. You can read more about it and order it here.

You can join NAPP by using this link. I lied when I said they don’t pay me anything: no actually I didn’t, but they will give me stuff like a new Nikon D3X or a free upgrade to CS5 (ok, there I go lying again! However if they feel like it, I’d be happy to provide my shipping address…) or extending my Photoshop User subscription by a few months, if you use that link so they know you came to them from me.

OK, I told you about NAPP (again) as I said I would, now let’s take a break and look at a few pictures because if you’re like me and you have the attention span of a rabbit in mating season, I lost you 10 paragraphs ago and you’ve scrolled down in the hope of seeing some interesting images.

I shot the flag again. Remember that ripped Canadian flag overlooking the impromptu ice fishing village on 12 Mile Lake? I shot it again against a blue sky, then did some stuff with the clarity slider and saturation to make it jump out of the page. I dunno. No real use for the picture, but I kind of like it.

I woke up to a fresh dusting of snow, perhaps winter’s last gasp (although as I write this, we went through a night of -15ºC temperatures and it’s -4 right now and someone is coming to see and hopefully buy my motorcycle so that I can get the BMW F650GS that I’ve been looking for so that I can explore some of the dirt and gravel roads around here without worrying about dropping the bike and not being able to pick it up because my knees are really getting to be a problem but I digress…). Anyway, I caught a couple of images that I like by virtue of the extremely sharp and contrasty detail of the skiff of snow on the trees. I made them monochrome, one would almost think they were infrared pictures if one didn’t know better. If you click on the picture it’ll blow up so you can see the detail better.

Later the same day, I was out for a walk (lugging my 70-200 lens; I alternate which lens I bring rather than carrying the whole bag with me) and the moon caught my eye, sort of nestled in some branches. Actually, there were some red-winged blackbirds perched on the treetops and I was trying to get one of them in flight in front of the moon but failed miserably because I wasn’t ready when they took off. Shot the moon anyway, but I realized that even though the branches were a hundred meters away, that wasn’t infinity, and the branches and the moon were not both in focus at the same time, even though I shot at f/11. So I took 2 pictures and overlaid them. OK, I blew up the moon a bit as well. Amazing how much detail comes out when the moon isn’t in a black sky. Click on it to blow it up and see. I wonder why?

Everyone tends to overexpose moon shots. I’ll go out on a clear night maybe this week, and try again at night, but I’ll shoot the same exposure: 1/200 second at f/11, ISO 400. Let’s see what I get.

OK, I did go out again, and that’s what I got. And the exposure was equivalent: f/8 at 1/200 sec, ISO 200, 70-200mm lens with the 2x teleconverter mounted.. I didn’t exactly shoot this at night, it was still light out. What’s interesting about this picture is the fact that I followed the tips that Scott Kelby gave in the book I mentioned above to make sharp pictures,

It works! If you do as many of these things as possible or you're conscious of what affects sharpness, I guarantee you, you'll get sharper pictures!
1. Put the camera on a tripod. Even if you think you're shooting at a high enough shutter speed, put your camera on a tripod.
2. Shoot at a higher shutter speed. You may have to adjust the ISO or the lens opening to make that happen.
3. Turn off the VR. If you have a lens with Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization, turn it off. There's a little motor in there trying to compensate for any vibration and when there is none (like on a tripod), it creates some just for the Hell of it.
4. turn off autofocus. Another little motor doing stuff.
5. shoot with a cable release. You can't help but shake the camera when you press the shutter release. The modern DSLRs have electronic releases that are better than the old mechanical ones. 
6. Or you can use the self-timer. Set it for a minimum of 5 seconds to give vibration time to die down before the shutter releases. 
7. If you can, put the mirror up before the shot. Again, it reduces things moving around when the picture is taken. Read your owner's manual if you're not sure how to do that.
8. Shoot at the lens's sweet spot. Usually it's about 2 or 3 stops down from wide open -- for an f/2.8 lens, that wound be at f/5.6 or f/8; for an f/5.6 lens, somewhere around f/11 or f/16.

Here's another image I did today by following some of these rules. I couldn't use the timer, of course, or lock the mirror up because I had to manually focus. I had the camera on the tripod, shot 1/160 sec at f/9, ISO 800 with the 400mm lens (2oo+telextender), a little off the sweet spot but the best compromise I could find. I used the cable release and fired a burst of 3 or 4 shots (I think the mirror stays up between shots in a burst). There's a little noise in the image because of the high ISO, but it only appears at big magnifications.

Male White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) at the feeder
My book needs a little work.

Not too much, though. The biggest thing is the missing copyright information, which was probably my mistake but who knows? Second is the cover. I made an image wrap cover instead of a jacket. I used a black background which I’m guessing leached through the two pictures on the cover because they are WAY too dark. Before I adjust them, I’ll ask Blurb what to do. Also, the cover appears “smudgy”. Almost as if it had been handled a lot, but it hasn’t. Inside, there are a couple of pictures that need touching up – one where the signature is cropped partly off, one that needs to be lightened a bit. And there is at least one page I don’t like, so I might change a couple of images.

All in all, though, it’s quite satisfactory. It’s a pretty good representation of where I’m at today and how I got here.

Oh. I remember mentioning that I didn’t fit the images exactly to the ‘containers’ on the pages. I made sure I had enough resolution and that I wasn’t doing extreme reductions. I have to look through it again, but I didn’t find a single artifact (pixellated digital stuff that shouldn’t be there). If you’re doing a Blurb book, you don’t have to be so niggly but YMMV (which stands for “your mileage may vary” which means that if you do what I said and it doesn’t turn out, it’s YOUR fault, not MY fault!).

BTW, I did sell my motorcycle. I have to bring it into Toronto next weekend to get it safetied and new tires for the new owner, but it’s gone, it’s a deal. I’m going to miss the beast. Here are a few shots.

In Newfoundland. At Cape Spear (the easternmost point in North America) and somewhere on Fogo Island which the Flat Earth Society recognizes as one of the four corners of the Earth.

Up in the Haliburton Highlands. The spring shot is opposite my dock on 12 Mile Lake, the fall shot along Highway 35 just South of here.

These photos were taken by "Killboy" at Deal's Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. This portion of Route 129 is known as "The Tail of the Dragon". There are 318 turns in 11 miles and it's mecca for motorcyclists in North America. As I write this, it's closed down by a rockslide that will take several months to clear. In case you were wondering, that's me. On my now sold ST-1100.

Catch you all next time! I'll be talking about what I do to get inspired.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Did you miss me?

After I finished the fourth Lightroom article, I had to pay some attention to other things. So I haven't posted in a while. A few things did happen in the meantime...

Note: I added this little section after the fact. I had a few calls about the Lightroom articles so I wanted to make a quick response here. The articles don't "Teach" LR. They just summarize a few of the features and pitfalls for thos contemplating getting their feet wet in LR or who are new at it and are lost. The articles are supposed to be read in order, 1 to 4, but the nature of this blog means that they're posted in reverse and in fact, the first article has fallen off the bottom. Here's what to do: click on February in the Blog Archive at right (not in the screen capture below!)  to expand it, then click on the article itself, starting with #1 at the bottom.,

It's nice to be recognized!

Remember the "Mountain Man" image? It seems that some other people liked it as well. In fact it was awarded "BEST PORTRAIT" in the Digital images category at the 2010 GTCCC (Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs) Interclub competition. Yesssssssssss! Several people congratulated me, and a couple of them remarked, "OK, so isn't it time you got back to doing some painting? One of them was Hilarie who taught me in the first place. I need to make the time to focus on it and I will. In fact, I have an image in mind that I'd like to work on... news at 11. Which means later. I'm going to make a larger print and get it framed. When the same image won the Richmond Hill print competition last year, I won a free picture framing. If I can still find the award (hmmm. It's somewhere in my computer room!), I'll get it properly framed for display. It's getting hard to find space to display all my award-winning shots! LOL

I wasn't the only one to win an award at the GTCCC's. Irina Popova, Lance Gitter, Fern Gitter, Bud Newton, Robert Fowler and many other RHCC members won awards as well. Hilarie, who I mentioned above, won 4 (four) awards! Including First Place overall in Digital Pictorial. Click this link to look through some really fine examples of the art of photography.

Why I don't shoot pictures for a living
Last week a business colleague/friend asked me to shoot his picture for a business card. I was dumb not to ask how he wanted to use the picture. I came to his house, spent an hour or two shooting then a couple of hours editing before I posted the pictures on Smugmug for him to select. He told me which one, so I spent a couple more hours carefully editing and preparing the picture.Then he emailed me and said, "oh by the way, I want it floating on a transparent background. So much for my careful vignetting of the background. Out comes the old "Extract" tool in Photoshop (which isn't in CS4, you have to go find and download it), and about an hour later I had the close-cut image. Less than perfect, because had I known in advance, I would have chosen a background easier to select from. Then I get, "it appears a little dark...". So I've got to have 5 or 6 hours into this picture, which I'm doing as a favour for free. That's why.

I haven't been shooting pictures.
But that doesn't mean I haven't been doing photography stuff. Sometimes planning shoots and studying other photographers can be very productive too. I ran into photographer Lyn Winans in Minden one day last week. We chatted for a while and exchanged contact information. When I got home, I surfed over to her gallery site and was very impressed with her work. About 300 images up there, and each and every one of them is tack sharp and really well composed. Many of her shots had the "wow" factor that we all strive for. I won't post her pictures, of course but have a look at her gallery. My favourite of her images is this one.

I also invited Dr. Ron to shoot the annual group picture of the Humber College instructors. In previous years, I would set up the camera and run into the picture, which was good for a laugh. But I felt I was getting stale and didn't want to shoot the same shot year after year, so I asked Ron. I gave him a guideline or two, then left it to him. I have to say that I learned a few things — Ron has vision, different from mine (notice I didn't say "better". Ron would disagree with me if I said that but I would be right and he would be wrong. So there.) Anyway, I can't post those pictures here, because they're not ready. I'm sure he'll allow it but you're just going to have to wait and see! There's also an instructor at Humber by the name of John Kerns who is a superb photoeditor so he's going to do that part of the project!

Told you I haven't been shooting.
So this is the fourth topic in the post and still no pictures. Huh. See? Would I lie to you? I shot the FAC course ID photos last weekend and proceeded to drop my flash on the floor. Now it doesn't work (surprise, surprise!). So I need a new one. SB-600 or SB-800. We'll see what I can find at a reasonable price on eBay. So I had to shoot those photos and all I had was the popup flash on the camera. Yuck, to say the least. I duct-taped the Gary Fong diffuser on top of the camera. It helped, but I got some really ugly shadows. You do what you have to do. By turning down the clarity, I got some sort-of acceptable images. So I have to fix or replace that flash quickly.
Here's a typical shot with the pop-up flash and diffuser. Before and after clarity adjustment.

I think the clarity slider is a great invention.

All right, I lied.
OK, I did go out last week and shoot some photos. However not really with the intention of creating a world-beating image, at least not now. Again, I have an idea about what I want to create and I don't know quite how to do it so I went out to practice. Here's the deal.

I told Dr. Ron that I am contemplating returning to Newfoundland again this summer. We discussed a photo expedition that I was looking into and I told him I had decided not to go with them, for a couple of reasons — first, I looked at the work of the expedition guide and I don't think he has that much to teach me. Second, it's expensive and I could do pretty well everything he was going to do for much less. I told Ron that I had a photo in mind that I wanted to take. He said, "you're going all the way to Newfoundland to get one photo? That's nuts!" This after he told me he hiked 30 miles with a 4x5 camera for 2 pictures. We both realized that this is what it can be all about.

Do you think I'm rambling? Not really, I'm leading up to something. I'm trying to tell you, dear reader, that there's nothing wrong with getting an idea in your mind then going to extremes to achieve it. I want to take a night time exposure involving the sea, some rocks and if I'm lucky, an iceberg. The iceberg thing may not work because they move, so that would screw up the time exposure thing, but I might be able to capture it separately and post-process it together. Anyway, I've got a vision of what I want to capture and a vague idea how to do it, so I have to try it before I go.

I went down to the lake at night and captured this shot of some fast water coming out of a culvert:

Nope. Didn't even come close to working. How do you focus in the dark?

While I was there, I took these so-so interesting images:

Not a forest fire – house lights through the trees

The house across the lake. Tough exposure!

Star shot. The belt of Orion.

I went to the Minden Wildwater Preserve and did some exposures with heavy duty Neutral Density filters in place. I actually managed to do a 1 minute exposure in daylight. Now we're getting somewhere, but it's not ideal. The lens was stopped WAY down to f/32 which doesn't produce the best sharpness (see an earlier post about diffraction effect. Search for "aperture") and all that extra glass on the front of the lens... but the result is getting there. I just need to know how to do this in the dark! Here's the best shot that day:

1 minute exposure at f/32, 100 ISO. I used the 24-120mm lens with an 8xND filter and a polarizer mounted for additional light reduction. As an aside, I remembered to turn off the VR but I didn't remember to turn it back on until just this minute!.
So what am I trying to tell you? By setting a goal and figuring out how to get there, I think I'm taking a step forward. It remains to be seen if I can capture that image I have in mind. I'll be disappointed if I don't but at least I'll have tried.

PS: anyone want to come to Newfoundland at the end of June? Email me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My book is done, my book is done!

I don't have a lot to report today. Except this:

My New Book is Finished!

I'd like to thank all the little people...

After many months of effort, my new book "Pathways", has gone to the publisher. It is a 96-page coffee table size book and it is a themed collection of some of my favourite (and best!) photos.

I should elaborate, I guess. When I say "publisher", I mean "". I ordered one copy so that I could proof it for typos and look for picture problems (see below). Everyone knows that typos grow invisibly overnight, only to appear when the first 100,000 copies are off the printing press. I already discovered that the customized text I had written on the Copyright page had disappeared, so I have to wonder what other problems exist.

Picture problems: I'm going to assume that Blurb knows what they're doing (yeah I know, "makes an ASS out of U and ME"). But do I know what I'm doing? Here's the thing: In my first Blurb book, I diligently resized each and every image to match the pixel size of the container it was going in. There were no digital artifacts that I could see, no jaggy lines, no sharpening issues. For this book, I took a different approach: I made sure the pictures met at least a minimum and didn't exceed the actual pixel dimensions by more than about a factor of 2. So if I had to fit the picture in a container that was 2342 pixels wide, I just made sure that it was somewhere between 2000 and 4000 pixels in size. Let's see how the Blurb software handles that. I'll report again when I see the physical sample.

I started the book and did about half of it last spring. The phrase 'many months of effort' is a bit misleading: I did nothing but occasionally think about it for many months. Then when I knew which pictures I wanted in it, I sat down and crashed through it in 2 days. That's kind of how I work on projects. Once I know, I go. The interesting thing is, the number of hours I actually worked on the second half of the book was surprisingly low. Why? LIGHTROOM.

If you've been reading my articles, you'd understand. I selected the pictures I wanted. Tweaked them. Stored them in a Collection. Then I clicked "Export", set the criteria I wanted (sharpening, size, location, etc) and clicked Export. Now I had finished jpegs in a folder and simply dragged them into the Blurb containers. The new version of the BookSmart software helped too, I was able to edit page layouts much more easily than in the past. So let's see, shall we?

Screen Capture of the front cover of the book. Read below how to see the rest of it!

"Where", you may ask, "can I see this book"? I thought you'd never ask: here — Click on "Full Screen". You can even zoom in on any page by right-clicking, but I found that you have to right-click back to 'original size' to navigate through the book. Knock yourself out!

(small edit after-the-fact: clicking that link takes you to the Blurb bookstore with that book highlighted. Click on the cover of the book to preview it. It opens a new page with a fake wood background -- and a button that says "Full Screen". That's the best way to preview it. You can click on the book to turn the pages, you can right-click to blow it up. You can order a copy on the original page but wait until I get the preview copy to see what edits I have to make, unless you want an "artist's proof" copy. I'm going to reset the paper option so it is available with and without the premium paper if I can.)

Keyboard symbols
I like using ASCII symbols when I write. Stuff like, º for 'degrees' (as in, "it was -20ºC today") or ©2010 instead of "Copyright". How do you type these? On your numeric keypad, by holding down the "Alt" key when you type the code. For example, 'alt-167' is the º symbol. 'alt-0151' gets you an em-dash (—). Where do you find these codes? Google "ASCII Numeric Keypad Codes". I found this site: Try it. It's a mystery to me how to do it on my laptop, though. There's no numeric keypad, so it's something to do with the "Fn" key, but I haven't figured it out. If someone knows, email me!
Spring is here.
Well, not yet. There's still a foot or two of snow on the ground up here, but you wouldn't know it if you were in Toronto. But we've had some warm temperatures which turned my driveway into a slippery sheet of wet ice, and the roads and bush into greasy, ugly mud. Not a very photogenic time of year. So I haven't done a lot of pictures, just a couple to share.

I think this tells a story. I named this image, "Only in Canada, eh? Pity." Anyway, that's what it looks like out on the lake. I did some work on this image, enhancing the sky and some of the detail on the flag, and I removed a few twigs and stuff at the bottom.

One day I'm going to find a killer image like this. I kind of like this one.
Onward & Upward!

PS: small addendum. My file of images that I would like to use in my next book is virtually empty. I feel as though I'm starting all over again. It's strange not having that hanging over me. I have some ideas about my next photo projects, which I'll share next time. In the meantime, the working title of my next book is, "The View from Inside my Head" (or maybe, "Inside my Head, {subtitle}The view from here" ). Say next year, this time. Not a bad target, huh?