Monday, October 31, 2011

It's all about RESPECT

Today I want to talk about respect for those who do difficult shots. We all have our comfort zones, and sometimes we step outside them to shoot subjects and situations we're not used to. Every time I do that, I learn a bit more respect for people who shoot in different venues than I do.

I was going to talk about concert shoots first, but I got sidetracked by thinking about other challenging subjects. The first one that came to mind was sports. I've been following Scott Kelby's NFL and NBA images and I'm awed by the technical excellence in his images (how DOES he get them so sharp!!!) and by the challenge of capturing the moment. I did some hockey last winter, at the Ontario Senior Winter Games: that's a tough gig! Dodging pucks and sticks and trying to get the action at the right instant.

You've seen this before if you've been following my blog for a while.

... and this is called "making lemonade out of lemons".

Then there's portraits. I worked with Ron a couple of weeks ago (look back at my last blog post for an image of Kim and her family), and I've done some 'headshot' portraits, actually while playing around with some ID photos I used to shoot. Here's one

Shot with the Gary Fong diffuser on the SB-600 flash, off-camera.
And a lot of post-processing, mostly in Lightroom.

I don't see a ton of emotion in this shot. However last week, shooting at a concert, I took this image of my cousin Steve just as a test of the lighting levels.

Talk about making lemonade! Yes, there's some special post-processing (Nik Color Efex Pro 3 — Polaroid Transfer preset), but I really think this captures Steve. I admit this is luck, not planning!

Concerts. Well I've done a couple: In July I did one up here. I had a dispute with the band who said, "what do you mean you want us to pay you??", so I guess I own the pictures. This one was over the top but I thought it would make a good poster

Crazy lighting and some creative image toning using Topaz Adjust

OK, now check this out: this is Francis Martin of FOG in concert at Hugh's Room last week

Here's where you need to have the right equipment. This was shot at F=24mm, 1/60 second, f/4, ISO 3200. Yes, I said ISO 3200. Nikons are incredibly good at holding the noise down at high ISO but having a faster lens would have helped! Nik Color Efex Pro 3 vignette blur applied.

How DO they do it? Get quality concert shots in lousy or weird lighting? I have great respect for photographers who can do this. Other than "making lemonade" by doing weird post-processing, I don't know how to get good concert shots.

Anyway, I'll leave you with one more image, then I have to get going! Two more sleeps (one of them a short one because I have to leave at 5 am!) and I'm off for the Gales of November workshop with Rob Stimpson up on the shores of Lake Superior. Back after the weekend and I hope to have some good images to share with you.

FOG, onstage. With their signature hat!

Oh yeah! I forgot. I got a chance to shoot with a phenomenal lens this week and wrote about it on my technical blog. Check out the writeup and the pictures there! TTFN...

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sad, is it not?

I'm ready. The house is prepped, the tarp is in place on the roof (hope to avoid ice damming this year), firewood is stacked, the gazebo is stored, screens are down, perennials are trimmed and dead overhanging branches are gone. Thanks to Rosa for helping with some of that! I found my boots, coats, gloves, hats... and then to the garage!

The lawnmower is prepped and I started the snowblower. Then the motorcycle was readied -- stabilized the gas, lubed the chain, connected the battery tender and covered it with an old sheet.

Today I had the snow tires put on, oil changed, the cold weather kit readied to go in the car.

Scary, isn't it?

{sigh}. It's here. The forecast is for snow on Saturday.

For those of you who live in California, Florida, Africa and Australia, "eat your heart out". Get ready for some outstanding winter pictures! Starting with "The Gales of November" up on Lake Superior next week!

The garage shot is from yesterday. The others from last year -- a reminder of things to come!

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Just because it's night...

Shouldn't stop you from taking pictures. I fell asleep on the couch in front of the TV. When I woke up at 1:00 am, I decided I didn't feel like sleeping, maybe a short walk outside. When I saw what it looked like, the shadows created by the lights at the inn behind me, I went back in for my camera (and tripod!)

The light in the sky is the light pollution from Minden about 10km away. It works because there were clouds, you don't see them on a clear night. The foreground is lit by the lights from the Inn behind me but I CAF'd out my shadow and the tripod's shadow. 15 seconds at f/4 with the 12mm wide angle, ISO = 2000. I used Nik DFine to take some of the noise out of the sky.

Playing with a flashlight! Same spot, this one's a 30 second exposure. I went running around with a flashlight while the shutter was open!

I think this is my favourite. I don't know if it renders well at this small size/resolution. I tried lighting things up with the flashlight, needed several attempts because the sign was too bright. I dodged the lower right foreground and used Content-aware scaling to reduce the width of the dead black area between the sign and the tree on the right. What would have made this image would have been if a deer had stepped out on the road to the left and posed for me! As if!

This is where the light was coming from. It was a busy-ish night at the Inn but still I wonder why they keep all those lights on all night. I had to burn in the lights (too bright) and I waved the flashlight around on the beach to give it some foreground structure. Same exposure.

The trick to shooting at night: set everything up before you go out. You can't adjust much — especially focus — in the dark. I put the camera on the tripod and basically levelled it. I put the wide angle lens on, focused it almost to infinity and turned off autofocus. I attached the cable release. I set the camera to manual and started with a 15 second exposure at f/4, ISO 500. It took a couple of shots to realize that wasn't enough. I should have brought a cloth with me (or my black hat) to cover the viewfinder, especially if I wasn't staying with the camera (running around with a flashlight).

It was fun. I'm going to try it again when there's snow on the ground (too soon!).

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Who's on Google Plus?

I just opened an account there. I haven't figured out how to find and add people yet, other than searching for them by name. Anyone know how?

Google Plus looks like a much more professional way to share photos and news than Facebook.

If you're on Google Plus, search for me and add me to your circles! Or tell me how to find you. Email me or leave a comment here. If you're not on Google Plus, drop me a note the same way and I'll send you an invite.

BTW, here's the picture I used for my profile. Thanks to Les Palenik for shooting it and letting me use it.

Another question: do you have an iPad? What app do you use for reading Blogs and for RSS streaming?

I've been using BlogShelf but it doesn't seem to come up in the app store any
more. I'd like to look at other options. Drop me a note.

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Different Stuff

A few different things to talk about today...

One of my pictures is going up for auction next Thursday night at Hugh's Room in Toronto. It's a charity event featuring the band FOG and I donated the artist's proof of my Minden Wildwater image (see below). I hope it raises a lot of money -- I'll report back next week and let you know (unless it didn't do well! LOL

The band used several of my photos on their debut CD. Not the cover picture - I was disappointed and so, I hear, was the band. They were kind enough to autograph a print for me, so when they become famous, it'll be valuable! For now, it's featured in my living room. The one below is similar to the one the signed.

I've been working on different stuff the past few days. One is this illustration of a world on a star field. In a couple of days, check out my tech blog if you're interested in how it was created.

A while ago, my neighbour gave me an old picture (it was tiny: only about 2" square) and asked me to see what I could do with it. Have a look!

That's it for now: if the weather clears a bit, I'll get out and shoot some pictures over the weekend.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Animal, Vegetable and Mineral

I just downloaded the Blogger app for my iPad, so I wanted to test it to see how easy it is to post to the Blog from here.

First step was to get some images onto the iPad, now let's see if I can access them!

Well they're there, but I don't know how to put them where I want them.

Anyway, these are the pictures I entered in the October NAPP competition yesterday. Let's see how they look!

Edit after the fact: it worked. No bells and whistles, but it was easy and painless to make a quick blog post from the iPad. Just a few quick details about the pictures...

The 'animal' picture was cropped and edited using the Cutout filter in CS5. I kind of liked the stylized effect. The mushroom shot (yeah, I know, it's not a vegetable. Close enough!) was actually a 5-shot focus stacked image. I wanted it tack sharp but the background out of focus. Aperture was f/2.8. The 'mineral' shot is either the quartz crystals inside a cut Geode, or a peek inside the Fortress of Solitude. You decide! I spherized it, added a starry background and some lens flare. I'll write up how I did it later today on my tech blog. (I don't know how to add a clickable link here. Hmmm. Let's see what happens if I type the HTML code: Link.

Another post-posting edit: The trick is to go in and fix the post afterwards on the computer. I just did, by sequencing the pictures where they belong in about 2 minutes.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

A Magical Drive

This evening's experience was magical. I hope I can share it through this narrative because I wasn't able to capture an image of what I saw other than in my mind and memory.

I chose to drive home from Toronto after dark this evening. For those who don't know, I live about 2 hours Northeast in the Township of Minden Hills, part of the Haliburton Highlands, or as some call it, "God's Country". To get here, you go North on Highway 48, which curls East through Bolsover and Kirkfield, then ends at Highway 35 in Coboconk. I'm 46 klicks North of that, on 35. Driving South this morning, we had some relief from the rain of the past few days, with broken clouds, the sun peeking through here and there, which gradually turned grey as the day progressed but cleared up later on. It was blustery and windy all day but relatively clear when I left Toronto around 8pm.

As I drove North, I could see the occasional flash of lightning on the horizon to the Northeast. It lit up a small segment of sky but I could still see stars above me. I figured I was driving into a storm and hoped it would pass to the East before I got home. I stopped for a coffee at the Tim Horton's in Beaverton, about halfway home, then continued up towards the Bolsover cutoff which, as I said, turned me due East. I made that turn somewhere around 9:15pm. The lightning was continuing off to my left, North of me. As I made the turn, I looked ahead and saw...

The moon. It had just risen above the horizon. It was 'waning gibbous', which means it's a couple of days past full, but it was that dusky orange colour that one relates to the 'harvest moon', its colour reminiscent of the brilliant fall foliage. It was about 3 times the size of the normal moon (it looks so much bigger when it's right on the horizon) and it was directly in line with the road, so it looked like I was driving right to it.

I thought about pulling over and taking a picture. I thought that if I turned my high beams on, I could illuminate the road ahead around the same brightness but there was no way I could do it. I was captivated by the scene evolving in front of me.

I drive a Subaru Forester. It's a stable, safe cocoon in the windiest, snowiest, blusteriest days. I was about the only car on the road and it was like floating in some sort of time and space machine along a thread of road, flying toward the moon. Not just for a moment, either: for a solid 10 minutes or so! And to top it off, every now and then, the world was split by a lightning bolt to my left, although I could still see the moon and stars. After a while, the moon rose a bit higher and wisps of cloud appeared across its face and eventually it was hidden from view. By now, the storm was further East and the moon was replaced by brilliant flashes of lightning that illuminated the whole sky and detailed the clouds above and ahead of me. Not just a little arc of sky, the whole world in front of me!

At Coboconk, when I turned North, the rain started to come down. Soon I had the wipers on high, and my high beams lit the rain which appeared to be coming down in sheets of big fat water globules. If it had been colder, I would have thought I was in a snow shower but no, it was just heavy, huge raindrops. As I turned into my driveway half an hour later, the rain stopped as if someone had flipped a switch and when I looked up, stars!

You had to be there. There aren't words to describe the experience. I wish someone had been with me to share it with. Maybe with this writeup, I managed to convey the magic of the drive. As I said, the only images I have are buried in my mind.

I want to share some new pictures with you.

Last week, my friend Ron called me and asked me to help out with a shoot he was doing, some portraits. I had this picture at the time of my last post, but couldn't share it until I received permission, which I now have. I brought strobes and stands and reflectors and backdrops... Ron brought his D3S! He did the serious shooting, I handheld my D300 to test the lighting setup but captured this image while Ron was doing something else! I asked the young lad to look at his mom and it worked! Here:

By the way, if you want teeth like hers, contact Dr. Ron Goodlin. That's what this shoot was about... Ron's a phenomenal photographer and an even better dentist! Lighting was with 3 studio strobes — two with umbrellas and one (the hairlight) open with barn doors. The large muslin backdrop should have been a bit more out of focus but this is just as it came out of the camera, no Photoshop at all! OK, I'm lying. Well, sort of — I used some negative clarity control in Lightroom, with an adjustment brush limiting its scope to the ladies' faces.

The studio stuff is for sale for a very reasonable price. I just don't use them enough and would rather have a new lens! Contact me.

Last weekend, I did some more fall colours. Here are a few images.

Everyone else does a "red leaf on a wet rock" (I got a laugh watching Judith do it at Buttermilk Falls: exactly like Shannon and Linda did a couple of years ago!). Just to be different, I did a "red and yellow leaf on a log". I didn't put it there, I swear! It was there! It was!
This weekend, I was with Rosa, my artist friend. She hates my HDR's. She says I use my Left Brain and take all the emotion and feeling out of my shots with all that hi-tech post processing pixel manipulation. So here are a couple of non-manipulated images that show what it really looked like out there. It was a dreary damp day and I think these images convey that feeling.

Is she right? I think she might be. I'm working on formulating my goals for the Gales of November shoot on Lake Superior (Wow! Only 2 weeks away!) and this might form part of them. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Perfect Day

Today I had a great day. Indian Summer is here, the temperature was 24°C, the sun was shining. I decided to go for a ride, back up to Algonquin Park. Well, almost to the park — my destination was Ragged Falls just west of the Park on Highway 60. It's 68km from my door on one of the nicest riding roads in Ontario.

My motorcycle friends would understand that I was throttle steering all the way through the sweeping turns, really into the ride. I wish I had a helmet cam so I could share the great colours and wonderful weather. Next year, it's on the list. Around every corner, over every hill was another vista... I must have asked myself if I should stop for pictures over 100 times. I hung in there and waited until I was on the way home. Here's a shot from Dorset:

Ragged falls was interesting. I worked my way up a trail that took me below the main part of the falls. It was quite a challenging hike, mostly because of my knees. I was very careful climbing down a rock face. I took a number of pictures then looked up and saw this up near the top of the falls:

Waterfalls are interesting, cute girls taking their clothes off are more interesting. She didn't, though. Just waded out near the top of the falls. She had a couple of little dogs with her that she took out as well.

Here's another shot from the same spot. I did a long exposure with the ND filter but didn't like it. I have a whole bunch more to process, you'll find them on my Smugmug site eventually...

On the way home, I stopped several times for pictures. It's more difficult on the bike because you have to untie the camera bag, not just pick up a camera off the seat. Here's one from Highway 35:

Again I have lots more images to process! These were my favourites.

Yesterday was interesting too: I stopped in Norland on the way home from Toronto and caught this Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) doing her thing on top of a hydro pole:

I wasn't sure if it was a male or female, so I looked it up on the National Geographic website: my picture is better than theirs! Theirs is on a tree, though. This is a pretty tight crop — I couldn't get closer — and a testament to the sharpness of the Nikkor 70-200 VR lens.

As long as we're going backwards in time, these are from a few days ago.

The first shot is just off Highway 35, the second one is on Buckslide Road. I'm planning to go back there tomorrow: just around the bend from this shot is another great scene.

So I wasn't going to shoot colours this fall. But how can you help it? These vistas are all around! Stay tuned...

By the way, it's been an interesting week: there's a bunch of new equipment here which needs review, and a saga about Bell Canada you'll enjoy. You have to be patient — I'm too tired to write about it now!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Algonquin Park Excursion

I joined about 30 photographers in a Richmond Hill Camera Club excursion to Algonquin Park. First of all, thanks to Larry Rezka and B.Dass for putting it together — these things are a lot of work and it often goes unappreciated. I enjoyed everyone's company, especially  Liz (who stayed at my place and is an awesome cook!) and Ron, whose insights and humour are infectious.

The excursion itself was marred only by Mother Nature's lack of cooperation... to a certain extent. Saturday was actually too bright and sunny, and Sunday brought a balanced cloudy/sunny sky, but no really nice dawn (for which I got out of bed at 5:00 am!). The leaf colours were not there yet. There were some, and although it appeared that they hadn't peaked yet, there were some areas where we could see bare trees. Perhaps the lack of bright reds was because all those leaves were already down! Oh well, more to come up here, that's why I live in the Highlands!

I didn't actually shoot any colours. I focused on two things: moving water, using my new Neutral Density filter, and on some texture shots. I was somewhat disappointed in my efforts, but it was a good practice run for the Gales of November excursion coming up in a month. More to say about the ND filter on my Technical Blog. It really doesn't fix sunny/shade scenes... and I learned more about composition this weekend.

Here are a couple of ND shots:

This is the top of Ragged Falls which is technically not in Algonquin Park, but just outside it. It's a 30 second exposure taken with the ND filter, but I had to enhance it with Topaz to make it look half decent.

The main portion of the falls. It's hard to get this perspective: you have to get over the fence and near to the edge to shoot it. FWIW, my tripod feet are just outside the bottom edge of the picture, just a couple of inches from the edge. Processed almost the same way as the previous image. It was hard to think of different ways to shoot these falls. Perhaps on another day.

 I did what I call "Texture Shots" at the old Logging Museum. Here are a few:

Logs hand split and hewn for making a log house. These are done the old way, as it was 100 years ago. A typical structure is in the background.

This was the door handle on a log cabin purportedly from the turn of the last century. You can see the hand work on the lower wood block and tool marks on the door planks. I find it amazing that smooth planks can be turned out using primitive tools. There's a hand built house in the Bancroft area that I'm hoping to get permission to shoot, much more awesome than this.
The handle, however, is screwed onto the door with a Phillips head screw which wasn't invented until the late 1930's...

Ship's wheel. This was in the wheelhouse of a boat used for logging 100 years ago. I loved the textures, and the patina on the wood. This is cropped out of a shot of the whole wheel which I like too, but I wanted to zoom in and show just this portion.

We stopped twice at the same spot. A small turnout on Smoke Lake, just off Highway 60. I was taken with the textures of the trees and roots and rocks. The second time we were there was at Dawn on Sunday (we couldn't find the rest of the group). Here are two similar dawn photos (I couldn't decide which one I liked better!).

5-shot HDR's processed using Photomatix Pro and tweaked with various other pieces of software and plug-ins in Photoshop.

One annoyance that I will share here, in the hope that you do not see yourself here and if you do, you'll take steps to correct it. I was setting up to take these shots, or similar ones a few minutes later and a van pulled up in the little turnout. About 5 people piled out of the van, cameras in hand, to take pictures here. I will NOT share their ethnicity, I'll leave it up to your imagination. The spit of land I was photographing was probably 10 or 12 feet wide, there's nothing but water off to the right in the above picture. They jostled past me, I had to protect my tripod to prevent it from getting knocked over, and proceeded to walk out on the rocks beyond the trees, sit down and take pictures, without a single word of excuse or apology, or any thought of asking me if I was done and if they would be interfering with my shot. By the way, the exact same thing happened the first time we stopped there, and I had to yell at the guy to stay out of my shot when he blithely walked in front of my camera. I found these people to be extraordinarily rude and self-centred. I packed up my camera and we left. Think about it next time you shoot where there are a bunch of other photographers.

The best spot on the excursion, in my opinion, was Ragged Falls. I'll be visiting back there again more than once, possibly in winter too: I'd like to see what it looks like with snow all around. It will be a challenge getting to the same vantage point, though.

Back soon!

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