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.