Monday, December 26, 2011


I want to start an online group for people who can't figure out how to connect to the Internet. I've also been meaning to write about procrastination, but somehow I never seem to be able to get around to it.

Sort of old jokes, but "many a truth is said in jest". It's the time of year when people think about their New Year's Resolutions which is another name for a list of to-do items that you'll write down again 12 months from now because you won't do them. But it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling that at least you're thinking about them.

I've given up on some of them. Take weight loss, for instance. Today I spoke with a friend who said, "I'm going to lose 40 pounds in 2012". And I said, be careful because next December you'll look down and say, "I still have 35 pounds to go" and of course you won't make it. And he said, "funny, that's exactly what I said this December". I might lose weight this year. But only if I really want to because you can do anything if you really want to. I lost about 15 pounds this year, we'll see what happens in 2012.

But that's not why you're reading this blog. By the way, you're not alone: by the time you read this, the hit counter at the bottom of this page will say more than 10,000 hits! Not bad. No, you're reading this because you enjoy my photography, because it might give you some ideas and because you want to be able to say "I was reading his blog before he became famous!".

So from a photography perspective, here's what I have on my To-Do list. These are not New Year's Resolutions, I've been avoiding these items for a long time now, hopefully I'll get around to actually doing some of them.

  • I love teaching. I was born to teach. I've taught such varied things as Morse Code, Pistol Shooting, Motorcycle Riding, Creative Writing and yes, Photography. Why am I not actually doing photography workshops on a regular basis?
  • Many people ask me "why are you not selling your photographs"? They tell me my pictures are better than most they see out there. That's a good question, why aren't I?
  • I had such a great time when I went to Newfoundland with the purpose of shooting photos and I brought back so many great images. That was in 2006. It's going to be 2012. Why haven't I done something like that since?
  • More than one or two people have commented that I'm really good at writing, why haven't I written a book? Another good question.
So in the next 12 months I plan to run some photo workshops, get some of my pictures sold, take a trip somewhere really nice just for the purpose of taking pictures, and write a book. Some of these are in the planning stages, some are just resolutions and guess what? I'm on Chapter 3 of my basic photography book! I've blocked it out, written abstracts for all the chapters and now I'm writing. Damned if I'm not going to do it.

I'm 65 years old. If I don't do it now, then when?

I've written this down and 10,000 people are going to read it. If I don't get to this stuff, then I'm going to look mighty silly, aren't I?

My intent here was to perhaps push some of you to get off your collective butts and do some of the things you've been meaning to do but never seem to get around to, before it's too late. Stop Procrastinating!

OK, off my high horse, and let's look at some pictures.

I shot these next two images a couple of weeks ago and mixed together some of the techniques I talked about in my blog(s) (tech blog included). They put some Christmas Lights up on the footbridge in Minden and I got a couple of different shots. Here:

5-shot HDR with a little line-art technique mixed in. I painted the details of the bridge back in using layer masks in Photoshop.

Similar technique but more extreme, and I added a vignette effect using Nik Color Efex Pro.

As you know, I got a new lens a couple of weeks ago: a Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 with OS (that's 'sigmaspeak' for Nikon's 'VR' or Canon's 'IS'). I'm not that happy with it yet, but I think it's more to do with the nut holding the camera. I get sharper pictures when I'm handheld than when it's locked down on a tripod. Why is that???.

I need to resort to some desktop magic to make the pictures as sharp as I want them. I'll get it, but I need some practice.  Here are a couple of shots from this week:

Once again, I used the line-drawing method of adding in sharp edges. And some Topaz Adjust 5.

This Chickadee on my bird feeder was shot from on the tripod. 1/400 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1000 and it's cropped about 50% of the full frame and rotated. I admit to some enhancements in Nik Sharpener, Photoshop, and Topaz.

So finally, here's a Christmas Day shot of my neighbour's lights just before nightfall. If I were the "Christmas Card" type, and if this were my house, I know what I'd use the image for! But I'm not, and it's not...

Interestingly, I shot a bunch of HDR prep shots, including a few 9-shot bursts but I like this single image best of all. I didn't do much to it, other than toning back everything but the lights. I'd like to make it look like it was snowing (it actually was, but not enough to show up in the image); I'll see if I can figure out how.

That's all for now. I'll try to put one more post up before the year end but if not, well, see you in 2012!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Winter (sort of...)

I wish it would make up its mind. The temperature keeps varying between -10°C and +10°C which means we have snow, then we don't, then we do, then we don't... Rosa asked me, when I grew up in Montreal, what was the difference?. Well we had a lot more snow than in Toronto (or maybe it's because I was smaller so the snowbanks were higher!), it was colder and, after some prompting from her I realized we actually had 4 distinct seasons. When it was winter, it was WINTER. When it was spring... even here, up in the Highlands of Central Ontario, spring could be 4 whole days long, then we jump right into summer. Or maybe this global warming stuff really is happening. I'm not thinking year-to-year, I'm going back 50 or more years to when I was a kid. Technically, it's not winter yet, until tomorrow, though.

I saved the best picture for last in this post, so don't go away without scrolling down! Your comments are very welcome: click the word "comment" at the end of this post.

I have taken my camera out for a walk several times in the past week and especially, I took the new lens out for a trial or two. Since I bought it for shooting wildlife, I thought I'd give it a shot at some rare birds, seagulls at the dump! It turns out that although I was trying to be facetious, this bird is a Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) which in fact is theoretically a rare bird! I dunno, there are hundreds of them at the dump!

This guy is not in my bird book. Some immature gulls are mottled brown but the book says the babies of this species have dark eyes and black bills, and this one has a yellow bill. Maybe it's a new species, Larus springerensus!

It's hard to shoot birds in flight. I'm going back today to try again.

Both of these shots were taken with my new (new-to-me) Sigma 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM lens. Both were cropped about half a frame, and both were shot at f/8, shutter speed 1/1000 or faster. ISO was 400. I didn't have as much success with this lens shooting in a hockey arena (my grandson Ryan plays for the Uxbridge Stars). In fact the only really good shot that day was with the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8. The lighting was so bad that I had to shoot at much higher ISO — this excellent goal (the Stars are in white/green) was at 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2500.

He shoots, he scores! Young Mr. Anderson scored the other goal as well, less than a minute earlier. I did capture that one too, better isolation on the shooter and the goalie, but no puck in the shot. The Belleville goalie kept the Stars off the scoreboard otherwise and won the game 3-2.

In this really badly lit arena, the best I was able to do with the slower Sigma lens was at ISO 6400. Incredible that they came out, but nothing to write home about.

This month, one of the assigned topics in the NAPP challenge rally was "Knifes, Forks and Spoons". I wasn't being very creative, but had fun with this shot anyway:

"One of these things doesn't belong here. One of these things isn't the same!" which comes from a kid's song on Sesame Street, I think. I mixed in some line-art processing to add visual sharpness and merged them into drop-shadowed layers in Photoshop. These pictures were shot in my light tent using ambient light (no flash).

Here's an HDR I shot when out walking.

I like the vignette effect. This is the door latch on an ice fishing hut, waiting for hard water before going out on the lake. Processed with Photomatix Pro, toned with Topaz Adjust 5 and the vignette was done in Nik Color Efex Pro. I do like my plug-ins! I think this image looks best on a white background, but if you're reading my blog with a normal browser, it's black. Click the picture itself to open it in a separate (white) page.

I saved the best for last. The same day, I shot this:

Again, I created the HDR with Photomatix, toned with Topaz and vignetted with Nik Color Efex. I went a little further though, notice how the horizon on both sides is the same. I cleaned up some background and I stretched the image horizontally to give it a more pleasing proportion.

This is a killer shot. I will be printing this as a limited edition art print and if anyone is interested in purchasing a copy, email me. Generally many of my images are available in print, let me know.

Oh yeah: speaking of print! My "Michipicoten River Light" image from Gales of November 2010 was published in Photo News! It's available online as a .pdf, click the link here and scroll down to page 11 to see my picture!

That's it for now. I'll try to get one or two more posts in before the New Year — I actually made almost 50 posts to the blog this year!

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cool Product

Well actually, "warm product"!

I just thought I'd tell you about a good product I found.

Last January, I paid over $600 for heating oil. I vowed that wouldn't happen again, so (1) I'm burning more wood and (2) I'm keeping the house cooler. I set the temperature back to 64°F (16°C) overnight but it's warm once I'm in bed. In the morning it goes up to 70°F (19°C) but I set it back to 66°F (17°C) during the day.

It gets cool sitting at the computer. Instead of heating up the whole room, I found this radiant heater at Costco for about $60. It heats ME, not the room. It's only 1000 watts but it's only on intermittently so it costs about what a few light bulbs cost to run, and the radiant heat is nice — it's like sitting in front of the fireplace. Here's a picture:

Odd looking picture? I thought you'd never ask! It started as a photo, then I converted it to line art and painted the colour back in by using a mask in Photoshop. Want to know how? Have a look at my technical blog here.


I still have a bunch of studio strobes and stuff for sale that I don't use. It was worth over $5000 new but we all know that means little: the market value should be around $1000-1200, but I really want to get rid of it so I can buy a new lens, so I'm seriously willing to dicker for a quick sale. Everything works. This is your chance to get a complete turnkey setup for next to nothing, so let's talk.

Included are 3 strobes, two with umbrellas. 3 Manfrotto stands, one with a boom arm. A backdrop stand. Two boxes full of muslin backdrops in various colours and assorted other stuff. Even a Gossen lightmeter (twist my arm...). Here's some pictures. CONTACT ME

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

It's HDR Thursday

For those of you who really hate HDR's, there's nothing to see here, move along.

OK, well just for you, here's a non-HDR shot to look at. I try to have something for everybody.

The lights outside the Red Umbrella Inn, out of focus. I recently participated in a competition where images had to be out of focus and it gave me this idea.

Groupon link
Do you know what Groupon is? They're active in many countries including US and Canada, you get some phenomenal deals from companies who are looking for new clients or to fill quiet times. Often they have to have enough participants to activate a deal, but when they do, you get some crazy prices. The latest deal I read about is $115 worth of printing at Photobooks Canada for $39.

It costs nothing to join and use Groupon. Click this link for more information and to sign up. BTW, I get referral credits if you use that link (nothing but full disclosure here!).

Have you ever used Extended ASCII (ANSI) characters?
So, like, what are they? Well suppose you wanted to put in your 2¢ worth. Or you really want to use the © symbol instead of typing out "copyright" or "(C)". Or you want to write about the temperature outside (it's -4°C in Bancroft as I write this). Get the picture?

It's pretty easy, especially if you're on a regular keyboard (a little tougher on a laptop but do-able, and I'm really not sure if it works on a Mac — someone write me back and tell me if it works.

I wrote up how to do it on my tech blog here. And I created a pdf page you can print out and put it in among the rest of the clutter on your desktop so you can find the codes when you want to use them. I like this one, by the way: ■

Now, it's about HDR's.
I'm stretching my memory to try to recall who used this analogy: it might have been Rob Stimpson, or maybe Dr. Ron, but I can't remember. Anyway, consider that you're a carpenter, and you've just acquired the world's greatest hammer. It doesn't mean that everything you build needs to be done with a hammer and nails — sometimes you can use screws or glue — but from time to time, a hammer and nails is the best solution. So it is with HDR's.

Some pictures scream out to be processed as HDR's. Sometimes, you need to do extreme processing, sometimes you can be subtle. And by the way, I include toning single images with packages like Topaz Adjust 5, or any of the HDR programs that allow it. The shot inside Gwartzman's shop a couple of days ago is an example of a single toned image. Where was I???

Oh yeah. Yesterday, I was driving to Minden (with a stop at the Subaru dealer to fix a slow leak in a tire), and the light was spectacular. There was a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow (song lyric!). Just as you come into Minden, there's a footbridge over the Gull River that called to me. Here it is:

This literally SCREAMED "HDR" at me. I ran it in Nik HDR Efex, then added some sharpening and detail in CS5.

Actually, on the way into Minden, I saw this scene and needed to stop and shoot it.

Although this is technically an HDR (5-shot bracket), I didn't do much to it, I just accepted the default "Compressor" preset in Photomatix. Then I tweaked it with Topaz A5, just a little tad to add a bit more detail.

What's interesting about this shot is that I changed the White Balance from "Auto" to 9000°K and it made the picture really jump off the screen at you (well, at me, anyway. You have to tell me if you agree or not).

At the Subaru dealer, I had some time to kill while waiting for my car. The light was spectacular, as I said. The sunset was golden on the trees and the fresh snow was beautiful (I won't think that way a month from now!). Here are a couple of images I did. This lighting really works in HDR

One last shot. Again, although this is a 5-shot HDR, it really only added the detail to the sky, the trees looked pretty good in a single individual image. The only other thing I did was some hi-pass sharpening to bring out some of the detail. Look how the setting sun hits the ridge in the background! It really did look like this:

So to those who thought I was going off in new directions, I am… but I never said I was going to give up shooting the kind of images I love, especially now that I have a new and wonderful hammer!

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