Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spinning Wheels and Traction

Have you ever had a period of time when you feel like you're making no progress whatsoever? Silly question: we all have. When you wake up in the morning to the same to-do list as yesterday and you go to bed with the sense that you've done absolutely nothing proactive all day? It's been like that for me for a while now, but I'm beginning to get some traction, I'm on the cusp.

Something has to click to get you moving. Sometimes it's not just one thing, it's a combination of circumstances and inputs, but today I feel like I've begun to get under way. I think the problem I had up to now was too long a list of things I want to do, so in the end I did nothing.

Some people work doggedly away at tasks, little bites at a time until eventually it gets done. I don't work that way — never have. I like to develop a concept mentally, then when I grok the gestalt, I leap into action and do the whole thing all at once. I was going to say that's the wrong way, but I don't think there's a right and a wrong, it just "is". Am I making any sense? Especially given my mixed usage of terms from different genres?

So for me, spinning my wheels is when I'm stuck on a concept (how's that for mixing a metaphor?). One or two of them have now come unstuck. (1) I know how I want to teach photography workshops and (2) I know how the course material should look (well not "look", but "be"). Now I can move forward with it and my goal is to be ready to start teaching by the end of April. Watch this space to see how I do.

What got me unstuck? Not just a single thing, several. The main one, though, is engendered in this word: "simplify". On the surface, it contradicts what I said two paragraphs ago, but not really. I see the whole concept but instead of taking a parallel approach, focus on one thing at a time. I learned this when I came across an eBook by +Anne McKinnell called "Before the Shutter" (it's a free download, you can get it here). She devoted 28 pages to one topic: "Plan before you Shoot". This isn't a comment on the topic; it's about her approach to it. By the way, it is a terrific concept and worth reading, It's also worthwhile visiting her site and reading about her lifestyle, something that I'm only one lottery win away from emulating!

Why did I write all this? Two reasons: if I write it down I have to do it or someone is going to call me on it, and maybe it will help a couple of my readers who are also stuck. Oh, and it plants the seed that if you are a beginning photographer or you teach novice shooters, I may have something for you Real Soon Now.

Early Adopters:
why I'm not one or at least want to avoid being one.

Every time I do it I kick myself. You'd think I would have learned by now. Not only is it an incredible waste of time and resources, but it generates a whole new level of frustration. So the watchword is "be patient".

I did NOT install Lightroom 4 Beta. At least I did that right. But when Adobé (I spell it that way because of the very funny spoof, "Fotoshop by Adobé" which you should watch on YouTube) came out with the full Lightroom 4.0 release, I bought and installed it. For me there were more bugs in it than there are mosquitos in Tuktoyaktuk in late spring, and it was totally unusable. I had to find convoluted ways to revert to LR3.6 without losing any work. At this writing, I've installed the LR4.1 Release Candidate, which seems to be working but I'm not doing any serious work in it until they make it official.

"So let it be with Photoshop". There are all kinds of new and wow! tools announced in CS6, but I'm not jumping in yet. I'll wait until the final release is out, even version 6.1 if I'm smart. Besides, I don't think I'm going to be able to run it on my antiquated dual-core-Vista 32- 2Gb RAM laptop so it's going to be an expensive upgrade. That said, if you're new to Photoshop or if you are still running an older version, you should probably upgrade to version CS5.5 now, because it comes with a free upgrade to CS6 when the time comes. Here's the link. It's an especially good deal if you qualify for the Educational pricing.

Besides, I'm saving my nickels (not pennies any more: they've done away with those, finally!) for a Nikon D800. Again, though, I'm waiting (OK, that has more to do with the $3000 price tag and lack of availability!). For instance, I'm not sure it's supported by the software yet, and besides, think about the file sizes with a 36Mp sensor! One of my backup 1Tb drives is already full! Logically, it'll be my birthday present to myself in September if nothing untoward happens between now and then.

I really need to join this century. I absolutely refuse to join FaceBook or Twitter, but a new eBook by +Guy Kawasaki called "What the Plus" has convinced me to at least TRY Google+. I'm pretty sure I'm not doing it quite right, but at least I'm getting my Social Networking feet wet. If you're on Google+ you can find me by searching for "Faczen"or just clicking here. Now if I understand correctly, you're not supposed to ask people to add you to their circles, so I'm not (wink, wink!).

New Stuff to photograph!
People have commented that they're amazed how I come up with new things to photograph within a few mile radius of my home. Especially considering I've been here going on 5 years. I did it again yesterday!

I ventured over to Horseshoe Lake Road where the Minden Wildwater Preserve is. It was cold: just around the freezing mark, but there were people already out there in their kayaks! I'm looking forward to another great summer shooting there, and I took this one picture yesterday as a reminder:

Kayaks on the Gull River in Early Spring. I wanted to capture the fluorescent bright colours of the kayaks and still convey the feeling that the river is freezing cold, just after ice-out. So I used Lightroom 4.1's effective clarity controls, then took it into Nik Silver Efex to finish it. First I made it monochrome, using some tone controls to bring the rocks and river to where I wanted them, then I dialed the colours back in by adding in a series of control points. I thought it deserved a rough border to match the water texture, also in Silver Efex. Back in Lightroom, I adjusted the colour temperature. I like it more every time I look at it!
There are a couple of working farms on Horseshoe Lake Road. There were 4 or 5 horses grazing quietly in one field, and I thought I'd practice with the 400mm lens, in anticipation of the moose workshop in Algonquin Park scheduled for June. You know the expression, "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me"? Yeah, well I did it again. Camera on Manual, not Aperture or Shutter Speed priority. I wondered why my pictures were all over-exposed! But the big thing was: 1/125 sec shutter speed with a 400mm lens doesn't work well handheld.

That said, I did pretty good.

Equine Portrait. I didn't initially go for the black-and-white look, but in a brainstorm, I brought it into Silver Efex again and started working with some other effects. I love the tonality of the animal. This shot wasn't that simple: I had to clone out some stuff (like a post right under the horse and some fence wires) and there was nothing in the sky so I added a graduated screen and then rendered a cloud layer to add interest. This is a 'keeper' for me!
As I stood there, one horse, for no apparent reason, decided to go for a sprint! I rattled off about a dozen frames (sure wish I had been at a higher shutter speed!). By the way, I have to learn to burn more frames with moving animals. Good practice for June.

Feeling his Oats 1. By panning, you can maintain sharpness even at theoretically too low a shutter speed. I've written about this before and it takes practice. Anyway, I love sharpness and texture, so I used Topaz Adjust 5 to enhance it — not excessively but just enough. Then some other tricks in Lightroom, like selectively bringing up the greens (it's still early spring here!) and I used Nik Color Efex, 'reflector effects' to warm it up and Viveza to bring up the exposure on the face and flank. Too bad he wasn't running towards me instead of across!

Feeling his Oats 2. This took a bit more work. The legs were blurred by the slow shutter speed and the whole thing needed sharpening and his fur (OK, 'hair') needed texture. So using masked layers, I did selective hi-pass sharpening, then blurred the background and legs. Not enough, I added a heavy motion blur which gave it the dynamic I was looking for. Some final toning and an enhanced catchlight in the eye and I was done. You like? I do!
So let's see what I can come up with next time. And a progress report on the courses/manuals!

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