Monday, February 27, 2012

Winter in the Highlands

That's actually the title of my new Blurb book. I've been procrastinating forever, every now and then selecting some images to use in a book, wanting to do something limited to images up here in the Haliburton area... too many images! So with the impetus of a Richmond Hill Camera Club competition, I finally got around to it.

The book is only about winter up here. City folk are always asking me how I can stand it up here in winter and my response to them is, "did you know snow is actually white"? I love it up here and winter is a candidate for my favourite season. Anyway, the book isn't quite ready for public viewing. The competition required that a 40-page minimum book be uploaded to the Blurb site by the end of the day on the 24th of February. Believe it or not, I started working on it on the 22nd. I made it! There are lots of things to polish before it's ready, but it's there.

I'm not going to show you images from the book here today. Actually, you've seen most of them over time but they're together and form a story in the book. You'll just have to wait for it!

An Artist's Vision

Rosa and I talked about artist's vision last week. I was thinking about my music. When I sit down to a keyboard, or pick up a guitar or harp, I know what I want the music to sound like but I'm not good enough to make it happen. I can't convey the emotion that I feel inside, and that frustrates me. I wondered if a skilled artist can render on canvas, or paper, or in sculpture or in digital form, the picture that he/she has in mind. I was having doubts, you see, about my skills. She told me, "yes, almost all the time". That didn't make me feel any better.

We had been looking at a Picasso painting — "Court Jester" or something like that, I don't remember the exact name — and she told me about how the lines flowed and the eye moved along the curve to a specific point. I said, "yes, I can see that, but surely Picasso didn't plan it that way, he didn't think that through before putting a brush on canvas". "Yes he did. He knew what he wanted to do before he did it" (I'm paraphrasing: a woman can remember exact words, but I can't!).

How many of us do that with a photo? "I want the light to flow exactly like this. The composition should be just so, in order to lead the eye where I want it to go". I'm rambling and maybe not making sense, but a lot of my pictures are accidents. I don't often have a vision in my mind and go out and capture it. Rosa pointed out that a painter or sculptor has much longer to think about it than a photographer, production of their work could take days or months and since it's really easy to push a shutter release, serendipity figures into a photographer's work more often than not. Making any sense?

That's the direction I'm striving for. At the very least, when I'm standing at a scene, camera in hand, I should know in advance what I want to achieve, rather than bang off a bunch of shots and then say, when looking on computer, "oh, there's a good one".

I'm going to show you an image that I posted last week again: but I spent some more time on it. When I stood and looked at the scene, I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve. And although it took a lot of Photoshop and desktop effort, this was what I saw in my head:

This is what I had in mind. Not what I posted last week. I used some Photoshop effects, like Gaussian Blur, brush strokes and selective sharpening on different masked layers. Most interesting to me was the sky which I created using the mixer brush in CS5 after watching a tutorial by Mike Hoffman. It's exactly what I saw in my head even though the sky was just grey that day.
Along the same lines, I went out on the ice on 12–Mile Lake today (really yesterday because it's 2:00am), braving temperatures down around -20°C. I didn't know what I wanted to shoot until I got out there, then I saw the sky and I saw an ice fishing hut made from a blue tarp, through which the light glowed.

Was the sky that brown? No, but there was the diagonal line of dark and light streaks of cloud that you see. I knew that I had to shoot an HDR to capture it, and again I needed to re-tone the image so that the light glowing through the walls of the hut was more obvious. I softened the focus of everything but the hut to make it stand out even more.
So I didn't plan this shot before I walked a mile out across the ice, but I did plan it before I pressed the shutter (5 times! HDR, remember?). Here's another image that I took with a different perspective. This one wasn't planned, it was pure luck.

HDR again, of course. Processed entirely in Lightroom and NIK HDR Efex pro.
Don't leave home without it

This was another one of these moments. At the last second, I threw the camera, with the 70-200mm lens mounted, in the car. I was just driving into Minden for some supplies, with a stop at the garbage dump. Remember I said I liked living up here in the winter? Where else would you see scenes like this:

There are 10 deer in this picture. There were another half dozen there as well, but I couldn't get them to pose for the camera. It's hard to shoot a whole herd. It's like hunting, when you get a whole flock of ducks in front of you: you have to pick one, you can't shoot at a flock. I was tracking that deer that came in from the left and suddenly, there they all were! 

Here's another shot:

Deer are incredibly curious. Their ears perked up and they looked at me at the sound of my shutter releasing. I shot this with my 70-200mm lens from about 20 feet away. They weren't afraid, just curious
These two deer shots were at the dump, as I said. I did a lot of work to conceal that fact by cloning out and desaturating the detritus of man.

Enough for today: off to bed. See you next week!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

It is winter isn't it?

It's winter, isn't it? And we're in Canada, right? Could have fooled me, I'm having a hard time finding winter pictures to take. As I'm writing this, I'm thinking, "uh-oh, what have I done? I've jinxed us and we're going to get nailed with a bitchin' snow storm". Let 'er rip! I just had my snowblower repaired, there are winter tires on my all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester, everything's in place except the snow!

We do have snow on the ground up here in the Highlands. A few inches, anyway. But I was in Toronto and there's hardly a sign of any white stuff. Last weekend Rosa and I were down in the traditional snowbelt and there was barely anything there. We did come across this little waterfall, though:

It wasn't that cold, but the wind was strong and it was damp and chilly. And you can't park legally within 500 miles of the Falls so I grabbed this shot by putting the camera on a stone pillar (no tripod). The Canadian Falls are bigger but I think the American side (here) is more photogenic.

I haven't been to Niagara Falls in years. The town is totally different! And not in a good way. Clifton Hill hasn't changed much, it's still as garish and kitch as it ever was, but the rest of the town is all hotels and casinos and restaurants and tattoo parlours.

A humungous ferris wheel dominates the night sky on Clifton Hill. I did sneak out the tripod for this 8 second exposure.
We got a great hotel deal, but food wasn't cheap. That said, every chain known to man was there and we really enjoyed a decadent IHOP breakfast. I didn't know there were any IHOPs in Canada. If I were ever going to be in the restaurant business, that's the one I'd emulate.

Anyway, we quickly got out of town, heading down the Niagara Parkway towards Niagara-on-the-Lake. I've been there before, on motorcycle, and it's a great little town. A lot of merchants going out of business there too (I guess because it's winter and there aren't a lot of customers). Pretty well everything is 50-80% off. The drive down the parkway is picturesque, even in the dead of snowless winter. As I said, it wasn't too cold (about -2°C) but it was damp and windy.

Rosa said she looked just like a Mongol on the steppes in Asia! 5-shot HDR in a vineyard along the way.
This is wine country. Pretty well all the Canadian wineries in Ontario are here. We stopped at Inniskillin for a tasting. Neither one of us is very impressed with Ontario wines: she finds them bitter and I find them too acidic — the staffer at the winery admitted it's because of the cold climate. Icewine is their specialty but it costs a fortune: even a sip for tasting was $7!

This was one of the Inniskillin vinyards, or at least it was directly across the road from their headquarters. Look, no snow!
just down the road. I have to come back in spring or summer to take more pictures.
The Parkway is lined with big old trees (I was going to say "oak" trees but what do I know? It is, right?). Looking South, the Niagara River is just out of sight and that's New York state in the distance.
I took some pictures in Niagara-on-the-Lake, none of them really excited me. This building and door was interesting: it's actually the Canadian Parks Commission Headquarters. I did some stuff with Topaz Adjust 5 and then Nik Color Efex Pro to this image. It's just a single handheld shot, I didn't feel like lugging my tripod around with me.
Parting Shot

This wasn't taken in Niagara, I took this shot last night after I got home. I noticed that it was a clear, cold night and I vowed not to be so lazy, so I set up the camera for a star trails time exposure. Usually I point it North or at least where there isn't any light pollution, but last night I decided to shoot Westward from behind my house. The lights from the Red Umbrella Inn are filtering through the trees and add an interesting dimension to the shot. It was a 90 minute exposure (f/4, ISO 100, 12mm) and I used an AC adapter to power the camera because the batteries would never have lasted long enough (for the shot and the noise reduction image). The contrast was enhanced by toning in Adjust 5.
See you next time! Click "comment" below if you have anything to say about any of the images.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Life in the Haliburton Highlands

Before we get started:
Nikon announces the D800!
If you're reading this after the fact, it's old news but they released it YESTERDAY!

The exciting part is, I'm only one lottery win away from one!

For a landscape or portrait photographer, this blows everything else on the market out of the water. Scott Kelby said on his blog today, it's aimed at "...photographers who shoot medium format digital backs. I mean who used to shoot digital backs...". We're talking PhaseOne and Hasselblad people.

It's a full-frame 36.3 megapixel camera with full 1080p video and stereo sound and other goodies like built-in HDR... actually the $3000 price tag is not unaffordable, although if you don't already have FX lenses...

Go to or for a broader view, for more details. And check out the promo video, "Joy Ride" they shot in Chicago entirely with the D800. It's linked from the nikonrumors site. I found I needed high speed to see it smoothly, don't know if that's because their bandwidth is being used up by early viewers.

PS:edit added — here's the link to the best features page I've found so far on the D800, on the Nikon global site:

OK, back to the real world...

Technically I don't live in Northern Ontario. But on a recent visit to Toronto, I was struck with how different it is here and there. We actually have "winter". Toronto does not. Temperatures were in the double digits (that would be above 50°F for my American friends!), while they just barely cracked the freezing mark up here. I'm not complaining — our world is white and yours is fugly!

The other morning I was awakened at 5:30 am by the crackling of electricity and the flash of fire from an exploding Hydro transformer across the street. The crew was there in short order and replaced it. I got this shot of the guy in the bucket: his nickname is "Killer" (look at his helmet)!

Ice Racing in Minden
(you think these guys can get car insurance?)

It seems that although there are lots of ice racing venues, for car and motorcycle, there's only one land-based track around (that is, not on a lake). The advantage is, of course, nobody goes through thin ice! Also they can groom and prepare the track. I was told that the ice is at least half a meter (18") thick because the studs from the tires can rip up to 8" of ice away over a weekend.

I shot these races last year too but didn't have a 400mm lens. On Sunday I shot entirely with my long lens. Here are some images I got:

This shows the cars lined up for the start of a race, and the second shot is about 2 heartbeats after the green flag drops. Everyone is jockeying for position.

A few seconds and a couple of hundred meters later, the pack is in the first right angled corner, probably doing upwards of 80 kph (50mph) as they slide sideways through the turn. Remember, the surface is ICE!

A couple of laps later, a leader emerges. But there's a lot of dented fenders in the meantime! See what I meant about car insurance?

Here's a 3-shot sequence of a really aggressive driver in the #74 car passing the #82 car at high speed on the start/finish straightaway. By the time he reached the corner, he had passed the Tim Horton's car but his speed was too high for the corner and he lost position in the turn.

Fun to watch: come up to Minden on a weekend in February and March and enjoy the races. But this is the Haliburton Highlands in winter: bring your woolies!

One last shot for your viewing pleasure:

Beside the track is a large quonset designed storage barn.
I thought the pattern made for an interesting shot.

Until next time!

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