Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Going to the Dogs!

I hate being sick. It puts such a crimp in your plans. I'm reminded of my grandmother's expression, "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". OK, my grandmother never said that but it sounds like something she might have.

So getting the flu (again! Twice in one year. Damn) last week messed up a dental appointment, and more to the point, the field trip to Niagara Falls (slowly I turned. Foot by foot... I had to say that. Knee-jerk reaction. If you don't know where it comes from, Google it. And tell us which version you like best!). I haven't heard back from any of the participants, but it had to be a great trip: hotel suite for a weekend, lots of stuff to photograph, good friends, good food... FWIW I was able to re-book the hotel for mid-February but not a suite. At least I didn't lose my payment.

The flu also slowed me down. I really didn't do anything for a week. I spent a lot of time napping in the computer chair or bundled up in a blanket in front of the fireplace. By Saturday I was bored out of my mind and although I was still congested and coughing, I had to get out. Then I remembered that the Niagara trip had conflicted with another event: the Haliburton Sled Dog Derby. So I bundled up warm in my down jacket and snow pants, and went out to see what's what.

I didn't stay all day, although I shot from 3 vantage points: the staging area, the start/finish line and out on the course. I shot a bunch of images of sled teams running away in the distance, into the setting sun but I didn't like any of those shots. One thing I DID do was to stick to one lens (except for a brief swap to my 70-200 because I wanted to use the shallow depth of field). All of the other shots were with the 120-400mm lens and all at 400 mm.

For you technical types, I set the camera to shutter speed priority because I don't get good results with that lens over 1/500 second. Keeping the ISO at 400, I was able to shoot at f/5.6 with one stop of exposure compensation dialled in (snow should be white, not grey). I was using a monopod which helps but if I'm going to use one, I need a better one. The issue I'm having with that lens is that I like to focus, then recompose the shot, but shooting in continuous focus mode (moving subjects), that messes up the focus and the exposure as well.

In talking to a friend who shoots birds and wildlife and action, he says the trick is to stay on the subject with the focus point, don't worry too much about composition and re-frame the image (crop it) later. That goes against what I've been trying to do, so I need to practice more. He did tell me one encouraging thing: he (and other action shooters) bang off a lot of frames and have a much lower success rate. I have to learn to hold down that shutter release and bring home 800 images instead of 200.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I'd like to hear back from others about how to shoot this stuff.

Anyway, here are some pictures from Saturday. I hope you like them. None of them are HDR's, they're all from single images but they've all been toned and sharpened in post processing.

This is that one shot with the 70-200 at f/2.8. It's cropped and toned. I find the extreme effect of the toning makes it interesting.

He's one of the race organizers. Toned again, of course. I use Topaz Adjust 5, mostly.

Team on the last leg to the finish line, about 1 km to go. These dogs are exhausted and the driver is encouraging them to run. But they're athletes and you can tell they love doing this. Picture a human athlete in a race, totally pumped!

Sometimes they don't make it. This dog collapsed in the harness a couple of hundred meters from the finish and was being dragged along on his/her side by the rest of the team at full speed. The driver had to stop, unhitch the dog and load him/her into the sled for the rest of the way.

This dog was running in a ski-joring event: two dogs harnessed to a cross-country ski racer. Wild eyes! They actually looked like that but I had to clean them up because they were too noisy.

The dogs are gorgeous. I shot this in the staging area just before the dogs were harnessed up for the 8-dog team race. The Huskies and Malamut's sometimes have such compelling blue eyes!

This was my favourite shot of the day. Again in the staging area, you could tell that this dog was aching to get out there and run!

The races continued on Sunday but I thought it was a better plan to stay indoors and continue to recover from the flu. I did have a good time and I was glad I was able to get out for at least a couple of hours over the weekend.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter marches on...

I was in Toronto last week and the temperature broke 10°C. You could see brown grass. Not here!

When I woke up this morning it was -28° and it's warmed up to -9° at 3:00pm. The sun is shining through broken clouds and everything is covered with a blanket of fresh white snow — we got about 10cm (4") yesterday. There was also a brief freezing rain the other day so the trees are coated with crystallized ice. It's really beautiful out so you may ask, why no pictures?

Well because I'm trying to get past this nasty flu that I picked up somewhere. I ventured out today to clear the snow (and my snowblower broke. Bad, this time I'm afraid!), bundled up really warm and I have to admit I enjoyed it, but my congested lungs did not.

A couple of days ago, I had to go into Minden, to drop something off at the post office and because I ran out of Advil. Now there's a spot on Highway 35 where you're driving directly into the setting sun, so oncoming traffic, trucks more so, are surrounded by a backlit halo of white spray. Every time I see it, I want to stop and try to take some pictures, and I gave into temptation. So there I stood, outside the car, in -10° C or lower temperatures, alternatively hacking away, wiping my runny nose, and hoping a Northbound truck would appear. I was there for almost half an hour, waiting for the sun to peek out. Probably not wise, given how I'm hacking and coughing.

I did NOT get the shot I pictured in my mind. I wanted spray coming up, backlighting... but I did get this one. I have a less extreme version of it but I really like how this looks like a painting.

By the way, I did NOT get the dog I pictured last week. Someone else adopted her. Also I'm missing the camera club outing to Niagara Falls this weekend due to this flu but i rebooked the hotel for mid-February so I'll get there.


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ice Fishing in Northern Ontario

It's been warm up to now, and open water abounded until a few days ago. Still, there were foolhardy souls who ventured out onto the shifting, thin ice to try their hand at catching lake trout, smelt, whitefish in the Highlands lakes.

I was in Toronto and it got cold on Friday night — so when I drove back North on Saturday, I knew the ice fishing huts would be out on the new ice.

Not without problems, though: the Inn across the road, who put 7 huts out every year, had two of them stuck halfway out in the slushy surface, and two more still staging on the shore waiting for harder water.

Last year I saw some portable huts out there, this year there will be more. Costco sells a 6-man shelter for under $300 which is very well thought out. It's a pop-up and one person can put it up in a minute or two. The red one in the pictures below is a 2- or 4-person version.

Here's a visual story of a group of two guys and two girls who took one of these out on the ice and set it up. Too bad this doesn't end with a picture of a caught fish!

It was cold. The overnight temperature dropped to -24°C and it felt damp and chilly as well. I dressed for it — snow pants, down jacket, fur hat. I wasn't cold because of the exercise hiking out about 1 km across the ice.

Here they are on their way out to a spot over deep water.
The shelter is in that red bag.

Ice fishing means drilling a hole in the ice with an augur. By the way, it turns out that there was already about an 8" thickness of ice today.

Setting up the shelter. That's a propane heater in the milk crate at left.

A minute later, the pop-up is ready to go

Now to drill the holes. One's already done and one of the girls is fishing. They didn't all go in the shelter, as you can see they're dressed warmly.

With the shelter set up, you can see the effect of the heat rising from it on the background across the lake. That's not a Photoshop effect, the long lens accentuates the heat mirage effect.

Here they are, enjoying their afternoon on the ice. These people spend every weekend and otherwise free day out on the ice. I have to admit that I don't see the attraction, but there are hundreds of them out there all winter!

I ventured out again late afternoon but everyone was gone. It was too cold to hang out and shoot more pictures so I did the right thing: scooted back inside and threw another log on the fire. Watch for more additions to this story later in the season.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

A visit to Bala

Bala is a small town in Muskoka cottage country North of Toronto. Here's a picture I took yesterday in the centre of town.

Bala is known for its cranberries. It's also significant for me because one of the best motorcycling roads in Ontario ends there, Muskoka Road 13. I haven't been there in about 5 years, though. I was there yesterday to visit a yellow lab that was rescued from the Sudbury pound a few days before her scheduled demise and I'm considering adopting her. I probably will.

The Bala River runs through the town and is criss-crossed by bridges. I'm not sure what this building is, but I'll find out next time I'm there. Winter is the only time, I think, that you can get this shot because of the trees. It's fast water, and judging by the lawn signs that abound, Hydro is looking at building a power station, something many residents don't seem to favour.

The Ontario Historical Society has put a few plaques in Bala. One describes the Pre-Cambrian Rock geology of the area. There's also the Lucy Maud Montgomery museum in Bala. Apparently she visited the town in 1922 and wrote a book called "The Blue Castle" based on that visit. It's a bit of a stretch, it seems to me, to have a museum for LMM there, since she's best known for her book "Anne of Green Gables" and is PEI born and bred. She did live in Ontario, but nowhere near Bala: in Leaksdale which is some 200km away over in Uxbridge township.

Enough history lesson? I think I'm going to do more of this background research, telling the story behind some of my pictures.

A couple of technical notes (I know, I'm running on at the keyboard!): 5-shot HDR processed in Photomatix with saturation turned completely off and the shadow saturation turned up. Interesting effect. I wanted to emphasize the building so I used lens distortion (horizontal) in LR to change the perspective and I cropped and straightened it a bit before syncing the 5 images and exporting to Photomatix. I used Nik Sharpener on the building and grounds and Dfine to reduce noise in the sky. I turned off de-ghosting in Photomatix to retain the detail of the river. I used the Vignette preset in Nik Color Efex Pro to focus the scene a bit more. I think this would make a good watercolor subject if I ever get around to picking up a paintbrush.

PS: here's a shot of Miss Dixie, the dog I'm considering adopting:

Her name is "Dixie" and the foster parents have dubbed her "Miss Dixie". She's a "she" despite the blue collar (that's all the foster home had). Apparently she was picked up wandering in Sudbury and they traced some history. She's about 6 years old and she was used for breeding in a puppy mill. The number tattooed in her ear implies she's a pure lab. She has a great disposition and really needs a new "forever home".

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

A bright light is gone

My dear friend Frances Goodman Pellatt passed away last night.
She was 65 years old.

Fran was a bright light in my life and I'm really going to miss her.

My thoughts go out to all of those she loved and touched,
especially to her family. She leaves a very big hole in our hearts.

Bye, Fran. Love you.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

This is about FACES

On Scott Kelby's blog today, the topic was, "I've got nuthin'". Me too, sort of. Nikon announced the D4 today, so that's newsworthy but this blog isn't about that. People will still be reading this down the road when the D4 is not big news, so I don't really want to focus on that kind of info. If you do want to read about it, here's a link. The features on this camera are incredible. Sure wish I could afford one!

I uploaded my "Faces" images to the Richmond Hill Camera Club a couple of days ago. The club runs half-a-dozen competitions a year and this one called for people or animal faces with interesting expressions that connect with the viewer. I keep saying that I'm a "Rocks & Trees" photographer but I actually had too many "faces" pictures to choose from! I'm only allowed to submit two. I chose two of the following shots, but I thought I'd share the group with you.

Question is, which two would YOU have submitted? Remember, pictures are not only judged for content, but also for technical quality. The only time technical issues are not really considered is in journalism categories. So here are the 5 shots I considered for the competition:

What are YOU lookin' at?
I'm finally learning how to use the 400mm lens. I did do some post-processing (ya think?), primarily with Topaz Adjust 5 which you can purchase here. The image is cropped quite tightly, it's only about 1/4 of the frame.

The YaBaby's in Concert
This is a composite of two images shot under wild concert lighting at an outdoor event last July. I was contracted by these guys to shoot the concert but they refused to pay me so I guess the images belong to me! Toning was done with Topaz Adjust 4 (not 5, it wasn't out yet).

You want me to do WHAT?
At Humber College, we teach motorcycle riding to all kinds of people, young and old. This gentleman was, I believe, 86 years old and he took and passed the motorcycle course. Can you say "Bucket List"? Again, toned with Topaz Adjust 4. I guess I like the grungy look!

You are what you wear!
I took this candid shot at the Byward Market in Ottawa last May or June. I love how the facial expression matches the shirt. Too bad about the bystander, although it adds some mystery and colour to the image.

In the open canoe competition on the white water at the Minden Wild Water Preserve during the Ontario Championship series in September. Do you think they were having fun? I actually shot this with a borrowed lens: Les and I swapped lenses for a short time. This is almost full frame with a 300mm lens, no post-processing to speak of.

So which two would you have entered? I'll tell you later which ones I did, and how they fared when the competition judging is done later this month.

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Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy New Year!

How does that expression go? A day late and a dollar short? You still have 365 days to enjoy because 2012 is a Leap Year, so get with the program!
I had an enjoyable holiday. Rosa was here and I spent less time than usual Behind the Camera and In Front of the Computer (™ and ©. Can you sense a book title coming?). So I missed my 50 blog posts in 2011 by one. My bad!

The photo above was taken early in December, just as the sun broke out of the clouds and illuminated some of the trees, as you see. When I wanted to participate in a thread on the NAPP site asking about your best photos in 2011, this is one of the two 'finalist' shots I decided upon. The other one was the aluminium boat with the red stripey design that I posted here last time. I couldn't choose, so I posted them both.

What's interesting about this picture is that it's almost exactly as it came out of the camera, with no photoshop edits to speak of (I straightened it and tweaked the exposure a bit). When I put the text on, I noticed some power/telephone lines that I got rid of but didn't really need to. I did try an HDR of this scene but the original single photo is more powerful. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

As I said, I spent some time enjoying the outdoors in the last week or so. Although I'm bothered a little now by the cold, winter is really a nice time up here in the Highlands. As I said last time, it would be nice if winter would make up its mind, though. We got about 12cm (5") of snow one day and it was enough to unlimber the snowblower.

I felt like Tom Sawyer. You know, the 'whitewashing the fence' thing? Rosa begged me to let her blow the driveway, so I reluctantly allowed her to, while either taking pictures or sitting in a lawn chair watching (I love work: I could watch it for hours!).

Now I ask you: does she look like she's having fun?

This is what I was shooting behind my house while she was working! An HDR, of course. Some might consider it overdone but I love the texture and detail of the foreground especially.

I even let Rosa use my camera! She took this shot on Saturday morning when we were enroute to Toronto for New Years.

I took this picture a couple of minutes later from the same spot. By the way, the first picture (the New Year's one) was shot about 200m down this road, where Scotch Line Road meets Highway 35. It was taken a few weeks earlier, though.

Sunday morning was a lot warmer and when I drove back up  it was about 4°C (about 40°F) and everything on the trees had melted.

I think this is a Asiatic Lily but I'm not 100% sure. It was in Valeria's kitchen at her house near Bancroft — Rosa and I spent one night visiting there. I tried to focus-stack this shot but it didn't work so this was manually blended.

Here's another shot, with Rosa looking a the same flower

I should have taken more pictures of it. The backlighting produced a great effect. By the way, for you budding photographers out there, ambient lighting from a window is the best you can get! A North-facing window would have been better (this one looks East, and it was still morning) because the light is gentler. I will be talking a bit about how to use it in my book, which is on Chapter 4 right now, thanks for asking!

So up until yesterday's thaw, it was a winter wonderland up here. It's snowing again today but it's too cold and the snow isn't really sticking to the branches but the clean, bright white blanket of snow is so invigorating: that's why I moved here from "The Big Smoke".

See you next time! Feel free to comment or share some pictures with us!

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