Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gather 'round, it's story time!

I have a couple of neat stories for you today. But first...

Interesting lighting?

You can easily tell where the light is coming from: behind the subjects, off to the right. It's actually my SB-600 flash, mounted on my camera, with the Gary Fong diffuser attached. But how can that be?
I shot this image in an unusual way. In a mirror! I couldn't get a good vantage point in front of them so I shot from behind, but at their images in the mirror! I love the way the light falls on their hair, especially. Just another trick I'll file away for future use some time...

First Story: it's about the artist A.Y. Jackson
When we were up in Wawa, we learned that A.Y. Jackson used to own a house there. Right on Lake Superior, on a place called "Sandy Beach" by the locals. Here's the house:

the blue part is a recent addition. The actual house stands in front and the outbuilding on the right
was there as well, as far as I know.

If you don't already know, Jackson (1882-1974) founded the Group of Seven Canadian artists in 1919 and is arguably the most famous Canadian artist ever. His passions were landscapes and he painted in the Georgian Bay, Algoma, Algonquin Park areas among others. An original A.Y. Jackson painting, if you could find one, would sell in the $1 million dollar range.

Somewhere along the way, he sold this house, but still frequented the area. He was an avid outdoorsman and ventured out frequently by canoe with his friend Tom Thompson and others. The story is that he was stranded by bad weather out on the lake and went back to the house for shelter, and the new owners obliged. According to the story, to thank them for their hospitality, Jackson painted a scene on a piece of birchbark, which they treasured for many years. Imagine, if you would, what such an original painting might be worth today.

Some years later, the teenaged son of the owner of the house came home from school and found it cold in the house. Apparently, the legend says, he used the piece of birchbark as kindling to start a fire in the fireplace. I don't care who you are, that has to make you cringe!

Other artists are enamoured with the area. Not 100m from this house, we met the renowned Canadian artist Valerie Palmer, at work on a current canvas. I didn't talk with her out of respect for an artist concentrating and hard at work, but here's a shot I took of her.

Second Story: Toronto's Best Art Supply Store
Three quarters of a century ago, Spadina Avenue was the centre of the "Shmatah" or lady's fashion business in Canada (some would argue that the real centre of the business was in Montreal, but I won't quibble). Every shop, every factory and building in the area was somehow related to that industry. Apparently, the Gwartzman family business was no exception, and they had a fabric store in the area. Mr. Gwartzman (I think his name is Paul) was working there and people — artists — used to come in to ask for canvas. Soon, apparently, an area was put aside for artist's canvas and over time, more art supplies were brought in. Some 70 years ago, Gwartzman's Canvas and Art Supplies was born, at 488 Spadina.

I read some reviews online — not all of them were glowing with praise. Mr. Gwartzman is apparently sometimes short with customers ("yes, that is a stupid question"!) and the quality of some of their products have occasionally been questioned, but there's no doubt that their prices are the absolute best anywhere and to my unpracticed eye, I can't imagine a wider variety of products.

Here's a picture inside the store last Saturday. Mr. Gwartzman himself was there, but not in the photo.

This image was toned with Topaz Adjust 5. I actually did 5 bracketed exposures intending to make an HDR, but the shutter speed was too slow and there was too much camera motion. Rosa is the customer at the counter.
I shot a quick high-key shot looking North along Spadina, on the streetcar tracks. After cropping and some artistic filtering in Photoshop, this was the result:

See you next time!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now THIS is a new direction

But before I tell you about that, let me update a couple of things.

The great Carrot Mystery unmasked

I finally spoke with a local who told me the true reason behind Xmaxxxx I mean behind the Carrot Pile. I knew it anyway, but I was just stringing you guys along (if you believe that...)

It's obviously for feeding deer. Apparently the Prentice boys and some other locals got a couple of dumpster truck loads of carrots and put them out in strategic places. I said deer don't eat carrots: how do they dig them up? The person I was talking to first laughed, then asked, "was there a shovel around"? Well, yes: some blue rain barrels on their sides under a sheltering tree with a shovel sticking out. During the winter, they come out and unearth (well, "unsnow") some of the carrots so the deer have something good to eat during the hard winter.

Eventually I'd like to get hold of them and find out whether they got any good pictures on their Carrot-Cam.

While I was up there, I shot a couple of self-portraits, laying the camera down on a rock or stump and setting the self-timer (once almost on a pile of raccoon poop which I didn't notice until the last second!). Anyway, by cropping me out of the background and overlaying the image back into the milkweed shot background, I came up with this greeting card concept and eventually the new Blog header. I'm reproducing it here because if you're reading this blog on an RSS feed, you might not be able to see the header.

Greeting Card?

New Departures

I've really been meaning to do this for a long time and finally got around to it. I'm about to show you an image I created...

There was NO CAMERA involved in the making of this image.
And if you think it was entirely computer-generated, read on!

Yes, loyal fans, for the first time in my life (well since kindergarten 60 years ago), I picked up a charcoal pencil and some paper, and did a sketch. I actually drew something!

Well then I had to enhance it with the computer, doncha' know? So for my tekkie fans, I scanned the original sketch, and opened it in Photoshop. I scaled it vertically about 10% (the original face proportions were not exactly right), I drew enhancements to the eyes, and added some white in the beard then I used Topaz Adjust 5 to tone it and add some colour, and of course I cropped it.

Here's the image before colorizing it:

And here's a final cropped version that I actually like:

A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

Those of you who are actual real artists will laugh at these images. But it was my first attempt at actual drawing, and I'm pretty proud of it!

I had emailed the sketch to Rosa and had a funny telephone conversation with her that I want to share. First of all, she told me she likes the original charcoal sketch, (on the wrong kind of paper but what do I know?) and doesn't like the computer enhancements, but she's a real artist and doesn't get computer stuff (yet!), so I don't mind.

She told me that I was like a little kid. I get all excited about stuff I create and can't wait to share it. Photos, computer art, books, music... and now drawings and eventually paintings! I realized that she's absolutely right, and it's the reason that in some ways I'm 65 going on 100 and in other ways, I'm 7. I hope I can stay that way for many years to come!

By the way, if you think I'm going to be famous some day, this, my first pencil sketch, is available to an astute collector for a price. What am I offered?

(I never told you the A.Y. Jackson story, did I? Wait for it... in an upcoming blog!)

'til next time!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

A New Look!

I've had the same header picture up on my blog for a few years now, and I decided it was time for a change. The original "Canoe in the Mist" image was shot in the fall of 2007. The new picture draws from a consistent palette of colours that I really like. The original shot was of a milkweed pod in a meadow near my house, but I replaced the plant with me (narcissistic, aren't I?)! I hope you like it.

So: on to some "stuff".

NAPP is giving some good deals. But they all happen on Monday, November 28th which is supposedly Cyber-Monday (what do we know in Canada? That's like our "Boxing Day", I hear!). They have 30% off stuff, but for me, the biggie is the extra 6 months membership with a renewal or a new membership. And I was about to expire! If you go to the NAPP site, please use the link at the right so I get my 'brownie points'.

If you don't know NAPP (The National Association of Photoshop Professionals), they're a huge resource for those of us who spend time at our computers making our images look pretty. And they're our advocates against the seemingly unfair policies of Big Business — take the latest one from Adobe where many of us won't be able to get upgrade pricing when CS6 comes out... details on these and other stories after these words about your dirty clothes!

The quote from the last post comes from an ancient George Carlin routine, mid 1960's. The character was "Al Sleet, the hippy-dippy weather man". He said, "...Russia and the United States are at war, missiles have been fired by both sides. Details on these and other stories after this word about your dirty clothes." He was a funny guy.

If you're not a member, click this link to find out more about NAPP. If you are a member, click it to renew, but wait 'till Monday to save some big bux! Go to this page to see the codes you need to use to get your discounts.

What else? Oh yeah,

The Alien Carrot Mystery

I got a lot of feedback from the last post. Some people suggested that someone was baiting deer. Another person thought it was an attempt to outfox the "carrot marketing board". Someone else thinks Santa has lost his reindeer and is trying to get them back. Or that my neighbours have a secret bunny farm in their basement and got a year's supply of food... but I got a bit more insight yesterday when I visited the Carrot Pile again. Here's what the pile looks like, in context:

See? In a meadow, in the middle of nowhere.

And here was my clue: a new addition to the site:

A "Carrot-Cam". I think this camera is fired by a motion sensor, which probably means I'm on Candid Carrot! But why? I stand by my original premise: they're trying to capture photos of the aliens!

Topaz Adjust 5

I've been using Topaz Adjust 4 for some time. Version 5 just came out and for registered users, it's a FREE upgrade and it's a real step forward! For new users, there's a discounted price of $35 until end of November (Code: "ADJUSTME") and then $50 after that. Topaz makes some phenomenal products and if you use Photoshop or Lightroom you really want to have their plug-ins. It's cheap, and upgrades are FREE! Click here to go to the Topaz site to see what they've got.

Here's a picture I worked on yesterday. It uses some of the new features in Topaz Adjust 5, but I also used Nik HDR Efex to produce the original HDR image, and Nik Color Efex for the vignette.

This was also taken yesterday, up in the carrot field

I'll be doing some analysis and some how-to's about Adjust 5 in my Tech blog, but not today! Give me a few days and come back. There are some things I haven't figured out yet. But go get your copy before the special offer expires!

One last picture for today

The Gull River at Norland. This is NOT an HDR. It is exactly as it looked when I shot it. It's a 2-shot pano with the wide angle and covers close to 180°. It's a huge wide image and I could probably print it 3 meters wide.
For the record, I did try an HDR but I didn't like the artifacts I got. Merged automatically in Photoshop CS5. I did tweak this with Topaz Adjust 5 and I removed some dust spots, but that's all.

Oh yeah, dust spots!

I almost forgot. I had some very persistent dust spots despite my best efforts to remove them. Mark (from RHCC) told me about a great place in Toronto to get my sensor cleaned, so I went there on Friday. Great experience!

For the record, Nikon wants $80 to clean the sensor, but more importantly, they want to keep your camera for up to 2 weeks! Not me. These people apparently do the service work for a large retailer who shall remain un-named, but their name starts with "H"... they're an authorized Canon service shop but they do all brands. They're located at Steeles/Keele. I brought in the camera around 11:30 and picked it up 2 hours later. $60. If you're in Toronto, give them a try: Sun Camera Service, 2150 Steeles W, 905 669 6355, info@suncameraservice.ca. www.suncameraservice.ca, Nick. Tell him I sent you.

Apparently my mirror bay was full of dust as well, every shutter actuation released a cloud. I really should be more careful.

Next time!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Aliens have landed. It's the only explanation.

We'll get to the aliens in a minute. "But first, these words about your dirty clothes." Anyone know where that line from a comedy routine comes from? Comment below or email me!

Glenn's Cheap Tricks
Larry Becker from NAPP has his "Cheap Shots" blog where he tells you about inexpensive stuff he's come across, or DIY things you can do on the cheap. I sent him this one, but he didn't publish it, so it's my turn! By the way if you come up with similar things, drop me a note and maybe I'll publish it and give you credit! Or my undying respect. Or whatever.

I came across this product at Walmart (colloquially known as "Wally World"!).

Microfiber (or "microfibre" if you're Canadian or British) is phenomenal stuff. I first started using these to clean the visor of my motorcycle helmet. You know the ones you get from glasses places? They're smooth and after a while all they do is smear stuff around. These are textured like a towel and work better.

They don't scratch. OK, YMMV, but if they're clean and not carrying a bunch of dirt around, they don't scratch. Even lenses. I use these for my glasses (nothing better!), my lenses (well I always have a filter on the front), my computer monitors and keyboard, my TV, the inside of my car windshield... a million uses!

They claim they can be machine washed. I haven't tried that yet because... well I'm cheap but these are under $6 for three big (16" square) cloths and I like a fresh one, especially for the lenses.

I found them in the section with the cleaning supplies, like sponges and mops and stuff. I have to assume that they're available in Wally Worlds everywhere. Oddly, I haven't seen them in the Dollar stores.

Still waiting for the aliens? Hang in there...

On our trip up to Lake Superior, I had my point-and-shoot camera with me and took a few odd shots. Here are a couple that I found interesting.

Hmmm. What was Linda doing while driving?? Bob? You let her drive the Sprinter? Hmmm. BTW, you need a graduate degree to program the onboard computer/sound system/GPS/rear camera/... in that vehicle.

Whenever I've been out shooting with Ron, I've noticed a common activity on his part. Somehow, he's always taking a nap... This was at Pancake Bay on the shores of Gitchigumi (you know that's the Native name for Lake Superior, right?)

In fairness, I think he had a second camera and was shooting the rocks while his other one was doing a long time exposure out over the lake. But he could have been taking a nap...

Rosa and I went for a walk the other day, in the fields down the road from my house. I've mentioned her but I don't think I've posted a picture of her yet, so here's one!

OK, now the ALIENS.
Occam's Razor is often summarized as "simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones" (Thanks, Wikipedia!). In other words after you consider various possibilities, the simplest, most logical one is usually the right choice. You be the judge. I couldn't come up with another one...

To set the scene, Rosa and I were walking (can't really call it 'hiking') on top of a hill behind a couple of rural houses, but probably 500 meters (sigh. 1/3 mile) away from anything. We were in a meadow that had once, probably 50 years ago, been farmland because there were the remains of an old stone fence and the rusty remains of a 1940's vintage truck overgrown with weeds. The only sign of human activity were some snowmobile or ATV trails and one rutted disused cowpath leading, it seems, back behind the houses. Even my property, supposedly, used to be a horse farm but that goes back half a century. There are no farms in this area. None. We're in a recreational, rural, lakefront area with a mix of cottagers and full-time residents.

As we walked through the forest/meadows, there was something orange in the distance. As we approached it, picking our way through the undergrowth, here's what we found, in the middle of the meadow.

Yes, it was a giant pile of carrots. Again, this was in the middle of a meadow, in the middle of nowhere. No farms around anywhere. Where did they come from? Why were they there?

They weren't decayed, they weren't bad or infested with insects, they were just piled there.

Shot with the point-and-shoot (the other one was with the DSLR and processed as a single image HDR).

Try as I might, the simplest explanation that I could come up with is that an alien spacecraft, populated by bunny-rabbit-like beings from a world that has to be at least 10 light years away, deposited these here as a cache that they intend to retrieve later, which perhaps would serve as a food supply for an invading force of creatures who are intent on wiping out the human population of the Earth or turning us into slaves to fulfill their goal of expanding through the galaxy as they take over world after world and turn them into sources of food for their exponentially expanding population (we know what bunny rabbits do, right?).

There were no more logical explanations I could come up with. How about you? Send me an email with the words, "Alien Bunny Rabbit Plans to Exterminate the Human Race and turn the Earth into a vast food supply World" in the subject line. I'll publish your suggestions, provided the aliens don't get me first.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Gales of November, 2011 Edition

As many of my faithful readers know, this is the second year that I've attended the Gales of November workshop up in Wawa, Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. The workshop is facilitated by Rob Stimpson — kudos to him for putting on this, the 11th edition of the event. Also to the Rock Island Lodge for hosting the group, their wonderful facilities, great food and attention to detail. Thanks go out to David, Megan and Judy — and we mustn't forget little Xavier and the ever-faithful Luna (a beautiful Pyrenees Mountain Dog).

My goal again this year was to get out of my comfort zone and capture some different images from my usual. Yes, I shot some HDR's, but only when it was the appropriate tool. I wanted to do more in-camera composition and less pixel-pushing on the desktop; I wanted to create images that could be considered as art. It was frustrating at times — once I went out for an afternoon shoot and looked around for 45 minutes before taking any photos. Sometimes I backslid, but again that's when some awesome picture opportunities presented themselves.

When I look at the 45 selected images from the trip, only 4 of them were taken with my new 10x Neutral Density filter. Changing directions is a slow process.  Am I happy with my results? Somewhat. Are there images I missed or messed up? You betcha. Are there any killer shots? You decide.

Here are a few images from the trip. The 45 pictures that I selected out of the 1779 shutter actuations I did are on my Smugmug site, in the November 2011 gallery. Have a look and enjoy, and feel free to comment or critique!

We travelled in style! Linda's husband was kind enough to let us use his Mercedes Benz Sprinter van. You can stand up in the thing, and it has enough space for just about everything I own! It only tipped over once, Bob, when we crossed the river bed where the bridge was out (just kidding!). I have to get one of these one day!

Shannon kept saying, "we have to find a grove of birch trees". Well, we did! This was just South of Sudbury on Rte. 69 and is a fantastic spot. I programmed it into the GPS for the next time I'm up that way.

This was my room at the lodge. Fantastically comfortable, great view over the lake... what more could you ask? (this, BTW, is what HDR is for!)

On Friday morning we went to Sandy Beach. I shot the same boardwalk and beach grass last year, but this year`s shot is better!

`Ron`s Tree`. Ron shot this tree last year and got an outstanding image. My turn to try! The tree is real: I created the leaves and the fog from scratch on the desktop. FWIW...

I was up really early on Sunday morning and took this shot looking Northeast in front of the Lodge. Could this be the Aurora Borealis? I didn`t see it but the camera did...

As I said, there are more images on my Smugmug site, including a couple of Art Deco prints I created. Hop on over and tell me what you think!'

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