Friday, June 24, 2011

It's June. I'm 180 km from home, it's not dark yet and I'm not wearing sunglasses. Also I don't smoke.

Surely you know where that title sort of comes from...

Did you miss me? I've been kind of busy chasing my tail and doing all kinds of non-photographic stuff, so I didn't have much to blog about. Some people will argue that I still don't...

Well I did take time out to submit some photos for a competition on the NAPP forum and, wonder of all wonders, I won! It's all about being creative on demand and while I won't win any prizes for technical or artistic expertise, I did manage to capture what they were looking for. Here's the deal.

Every month, a list of three (this month it was four) topics is posted. You have 72 hours to shoot pictures, two more days to process and submit them and two days to vote on your favourites. so among the pictures submitted, mine was the favourite in two categories and I was the overall winner. My prize? Well the ongoing adulation of my peers, a certain amount of ribbing which this blog is likely to evoke, and the task of choosing categories for next month's competition.

Without further ado, here they are:

Topic: Wood, Woods or Woody

This one did NOT win. I kind of liked it for the wide angle perspective, the sun, the composition. Not too many others did, I guess.

Topic: Floating

This was a winner. Shot at the Minden Wildwater Preserve, one of my favourite venues. The paddler was concentrating on staying put in the whitewater eddy. Lighting was a challenge, what to expose for? The bright sunlit water, the kayak, the paddler's face? I chose the water, then used a gradient and a blur vignette in Nik Colour Efex to keep the eye on the paddler, and I opened up the exposure on the face by dodging in Lightroom.

Topic: Summer Bliss

I waited quite a while at the Kawartha Dairy in Minden, for someone to order a large icecream. Nobody did. Believe it or not, this is what they call a "Small". There has to be a litre of icecream there. Amazing how only skinny people can eat like this without feeling exceedingly guilty. The effects were produced with NIK Silver Efex. Unfortunately, this did not gain the admiration of the group and was not a winner. PS: I did have an icecream while I was there, but a "baby" size which is only one scoop. A large, is 3 scoops!

Topic: Vanishing Point

This was almost an afterthought. I first tried to zoom my lens with the shutter open, shooting a decrepit shack in the trees but then I got the idea for this shot. I did enhance the texture with Topaz Adjust, and then got the idea of cropping it this way to make the viewer's eye move along the diagonal to the vanishing point. Mikey liked it, it won!

Anyway, there's a little challenge every month and you have to be a NAPP member to log into the forums. I find it a great right-brain stretching exercise. Join in! Everyone can play.

I'm sort of in 'teaching mode'. I thought I'd share some things I've been working on. Lately I've been working on my composition skills. So I've been cognizant of what I'm looking at through the viewfinder. It does pay off, I think! Here are some other pictures for you to (hopefully) enjoy.

Canola Field 1

Canola fields are such an eyecatching bright yellow!  I love looking at them but I'm never sure how to photograph them. This time I stopped, walked into the field with the wide angle lens and composed this shot. Full depth of field, a triangular shape upper left, high horizon, some interesting structure in the sky.

Canola Field 2

It's all about the colour. I enhanced the colours in this image (well, images -- it's obviously an HDR).  Again, I followed the landscape rule of focus from front to back, the tree divides the image in the golden ratio proportion, the horizon is low to feature the sky.

Focus Stacking

This Iris image is a composite of 6 exposures processed in Photoshop. The technique is called "Focus Stacking". Each of the images focuses on a different area of the flower and Photoshop CS5 does an extraordinary job of seamlessly merging them together. Technically, focus stacking is supposed to be done with a macro lens on a rail with measured steps between focus planes: but check this out: these shots were taken with my 70-200 f/2.8 lens wide open and manually refocused between shots. I'm going to write this up in the technical blog soon -- it's a great technique to use when you want to selectively focus areas of an image. The vignette effect was produced with NIK Color Efex Pro.

Back to my favourite technique -- HDR's. These shots were both 'cooked' with Photomatix Pro and enhanced with Topaz adjust.

"Something Old..."

1938 Dodge Pickup truck. Taken at the Kawartha Dairy while waiting for a good ice cream shot as mentioned above. 5-shot HDR, a light standard and a fire hydrant removed with content-aware tools in CS5, as was a passenger in the truck! The sky was added in: it was a featureless bright blue that day, so I took the sky from another shot and layered it in.

"...something New"

Ferrari. Red, of course. Taken at the Vaughan Hospital fundraising motorcycle ride. Oh, look! Same sky! Actually this was where I got the sky for the previous shot. Some people tell me my HDR's are "overcooked". Perhaps. But I like them...

One last topic. I know this blog is getting overly lengthy, but it has been 2 weeks!

I'm putting together some workshops. I plan to do the first session for free, then work in some additional sessions which hopefully people will be interested enough in to pay me something for my time and expertise. Not to mention my extraordinary teaching skills...

Here's the card I prepared for posting on local bulletin boards. I'm working on setting a date for the first session, probably mid-July. Watch this space, and check the website (nothing up there yet as I write this) soon for more details.

What do you think?

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Devastating Tornado in Minden Ontario

Yesterday, a devastating tornado touched down in a retirement community just South of Minden Ontario. Here are a few images captured less than 24 hours afterwards.

Although Environment Canada hasn't actually admitted that it was a tornado, the residents know it was. One elderly gentleman, who told me he was a padre in the Canadian Forces during the Korean war and is an 80-year old retired cleric said he was in his back yard and saw it coming. It tore up the street one over from his house and although he said he couldn't see a twister per se, there was no doubt in his mind that's what it was. This house was a few doors away from his:

Just across the street was this house. The gentleman who owned it told me that his wife, who was hearing impaired, was laying down on a couch when the storm brought a tree crashing through his roof which threw her off the couch. As far as he knows, her injuries are limited to some minor contusions, but she is recovering in Minden Hospital.

These workers are working out how to seal the damaged building from the weather. It's likely that the insurance company will write off the house, but the contents still need to be protected.

By the way, most of the residents here are elderly retirees. The houses are typically modular homes. Some people were very aware of what had transpired, such as this scooter-enabled gentleman who shook his head and told me, "third time in 3 years".

This lady, though was not the only one for whom life went on. Somewhat in a daze, she was out doing her gardening; pruning her lilac tree and raking the debris on her grass. Her house was spared, but she was oblivious to all the devastation around her.

This was not on the same order of magnitude as the recent tornadoes in the American midwest, nor of course the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Despite the fact that there was no direct loss of life, these people's lives were uprooted along with their precious trees.

An interesting sidebar: I live about 15 km North of this site. I had actually taken my camera and tripod down to the lakeside when I saw a line of heavy rain, presumably accompanied by lightning, approaching on the Intellicast weather map. I did NOT get any lightning pictures and although it got windy, it didn't even blow the big umbrella I had brought with me inside out. Just a few kilometers south: a tornado. By the way, the trees that surround my property are the same as the ones torn down in the photos. I have a few of them over 50' high and more than 4 or 5 feet in diameter. If one came down, my house would be gone. Sobering thought...

You can see the entire sequence of images on my Smugmug site in this gallery. I prepared them for submission to various news agencies, so they have been reduced in size. Also there has been ABSOLUTELY NO POST PROCESSING or manipulation: they are exactly as they came out of the camera.  Enjoy!

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Monday, June 06, 2011

A quiet week in the North country

Late spring is clearly upon us. The weather is great, it's very green out there, and the mosquitoes are back. The good news is that the black flies are pretty well gone, though. I actually sat out in the screen tent having dinner last night but I have to break out the citronella candle. Although there were only a few mosquitoes around, they were hungry!

Yesterday morning I saw the sunlight singling out a dandelion puffball in front of the house: the background was in shade but the flower was in sun. I moved around to where it would be backlit and shot this image

Shot with the 70-200 lens wide open, so it had a very shallow depth of field. I used the soft outer part to frame the crisp centre of the image. This was stopped down more than one stop to hold the detail in the bright areas.

It's been a quiet week for me, focusing on work and not much else. I did get out yesterday though. The most exciting thing was buying a new shower head at the Haliburton Home Show. On the way home, I came across Bambi and his sister out playing in traffic on Highway 118.

I stopped and tracked them for a bit and got a couple of interesting pictures.

These are obviously young, probably year-old deer. Just because they are not mature-sized and because they have very little fear and were much more intent on eating the tasty foliage than on me. This is a full-frame shot with the 200mm so I was about 50 feet away.

I shot the picture at f/2.8. I generally set the camera at that opening so that I can capture shots like that without having to worry about shutter speed, then I dial it down later if I have time. Because of that, the little doe in the foreground is not in perfect focus, so I had to take it into Photoshop and tweak it a bit. That's all I did to it, though — this is exactly what I saw through the viewfinder.

Because the focus wasn't the best, I decided to do a version of the shot without her there and used the magic of Content-Aware-Fill in Photoshop CS5 to remove her. I cleaned up the distracting branches at upper left and cropped the image slightly to get this final image. I kind of like it — you?

That's it for today. Hopefully I'll have some new images for you later in the week. There's a female ruby-throated hummingbird hanging around my hummingbird feeder (haven't seen the more colourful male yet. The flowers are just starting to open in the garden so maybe he'll show up soon).

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