Saturday, April 28, 2012


What's Going On?
As I usually do, first I write about what's happening for a bit, then I get into the topic of the day. Or of the week, actually. Let's see...

Computer and software-related stuff
Sort of slow times here right now and I've been trying to understand why. Then I realized how much time I've been spending on the computer (those who know me will say, "yeah, what else is new?") but it's even more than usual these days.

There are days like yesterday when a sticky printer problem took up most of my day. It's fixed, but don't ask me how...I've spent lots of time trying to get Lightroom 4 working. Adobe even thanked me publicly for a detailed report I posted on their forums. I don't think they've had their "AHA!" moment yet, with the solution.

I also installed a third external hard drive (WD 2Tb "MyBook" at Costco for $129). Copying my archive over took about 18 hours but I didn't have to sit and watch it, it ran overnight. I finally have an off-site backup.

My workshop/book project is still under way. I try to spend a minimum of 3 hours per day working on it, with some measurable results but I'm not there yet. All of this stuff has taken a lot of my time and attention.

CS6 is out
If you're a NAPP member, you know that. Also if you read industry blogs. Seems like that's all everyone is talking about, but I'm not jumping on the bandwagon yet. Wait and see whether it's another Lightroom 4 fiasco.

The Nikon D800
I've seen some reviews and pictures from people I know who now have one and I'm more than envious. I'm saving my nickels, maybe for my birthday in September. But a consideration has arisen: Imagine working with 40Mp files instead of 10Mp. You may even need a new computer to handle the load, certainly bigger storage drives. Plus FX lenses...  still the performance is spectacular, particularly high ISO images.

Upcoming Events
I've got several photography shooting events coming up.
  • Mid-May, there are a couple of friends coming up to shoot trilliums and whatever else here in the Highlands. Touch bases if you want to join them
  • June 10th is my friend Styles' motorcycle charity ride to benefit the Vaughan Hospital, for which I'm principal photographer. If you want to shoot interesting bikes and bikers, drop me a note and I'll arrange for you to participate as well.
  • June 13/14, the Algonquin Park Moose workshop with Mike Bertelsen. I'm really looking forward to that one but I need more practice with my 400mm lens!
  • July. I've set aside the first 2 or 3 weeks and would really like to go somewhere. I've been thinking Newfoundland again but the gas alone would cost about $600! New Orleans? I've ALWAYS wanted to go there. Maybe I'll just do that 'around Lake Superior' trip I planned a couple of years ago. I know where to stay in Wawa!
I read a bunch of other peoples' blogs on a regular basis. I use an RSS feed on the iPad. Lately, everyone's writing about CS6 but here and there, there are some gems and great stuff to look at. Look up +Anne McKinnell — she and her husband are RV'ing around North America and has some great stories and images. There's +Dan Bailey in Alaska with some great stuff and there's a fellow by the name of +David duChemin who travels to a lot of exotic places and whose images and tales are compelling. These people are all on Google+ — I hope I've got the hang of tagging them correctly.

OK, the topic of the week...
When I come across a scene or a subject that I want to photograph, I'm trying to discipline myself to visualize what I'm trying to make out of the image. Sure, a duck or other bird goes flying by and you just want to grab the shot and/or practice with your 400mm lens,

Majestic, or really ugly? This is a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) and I think it's incredibly beautiful in flight, if you can ignore its ugly head! This was shot at 300mm, 1/1000 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800 and cropped. I wish I had been at 400mm because the head's not as detailed as I would have liked.
I was out for a walk down Pleasant Point Road (a dirt road around the corner from me) and spotted this old lantern that someone (my neighbour Vic, I think) had hung up as decoration on his signpost. I immediately visualized it as an HDR and took the appropriate 5 bracketed exposures.

Old Lantern. Edited with Photomatix Pro and toned with Topaz Adjust 5. I threw in some other effects with Nik plugins too. Over the top? Sure, but I think that's just what this shot needed.
A few meters further down the road, I veered off on a trail through the woods, where I saw an open area, dominated by the trees instead of the brush. The thing about forest scenes is that they don't seem to have a single subject that stands out, so that's what I was trying for with this shot:

Open Forest. It's in black and white because I found the colours distracting and they took away from the strength of the three trees. In hindsight, I should have moved a few inches to the right to separate the middle tree from the left one. Although I did shoot several bracketed exposures, HDR did nothing for this scene because it had a low contrast tonal range to begin with.
When I set up to take this shot, I thought about some of the rules I had learned. What I wanted to do was to balance the image, by taking the 3 big trees off centre and using the grove of smaller trees for counterbalance. There is a diagonal line there, but it doesn't draw the eye. I look in the gap in the big tree triangle. Right or wrong, I do like this image.

Next, I moved forward and to my left. Now I was trying to use the diagonal, to carry the eye into the scene.

Forest Glade. Again where does the eye go? In the grouping of trees at the right, not the left! Why? It's because of the light and because the diagonal draws you there. I made it black and white again, but I found the red tones of the leaves on the ground really added to the scene, so I put them back in. There's quite a bit of post-processing in this shot.
I find this image compelling. Next time I shoot it, I'll do it from lower down, to include more foreground, I think. To me, what makes this image is the light and the contrast between foreground and background, which was actually not there in the scene, which I created on the desktop! I enhanced the brightness on the forest floor behind the trees and I added the fog and the light streaming through the trees. Notice how the appearance of the light coming from upper right is created by the angle of the green branches on the trees at right!

What's my point? When I stood there contemplating how to shoot this scene, I thought, "I wish it was foggy" so the trees in the foreground would be separated visually from the background. What you see here was not what I actually saw, but rather what I VISUALIZED. Here's what I actually saw:

The original scene
The resulting toned image is what my MIND saw, when my EYES saw the original. I was fortunate in being able to enhance the picture to match what I wanted it to be.

When I wake up to a foggy morning, you can bet I'll be out there again. I'll post the picture here when I get it! But I'll be back...

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Life's Distractions

Would you believe I let life get in the way of taking pictures? Me? Oh the horror.

Now if I could report that I actually achieved something, it would be different. With one exception, everything was "reactive" as opposed to "proactive". The only thing I've made some progress on is my basic DSLR photographer's course and I AM getting somewhere with it. The concept is complete, and now it's all about getting it down on paper. Well, not 'paper', but you know what I mean. A few more weeks...

Non-Photography note
Just a non-photography note: I don't know about you, but I HATE those in-ear bluetooth thingies. First of all, it makes you look like a Borg, second it's uncomfortable and for me at least, won't stay in, and third, there's something that psychologically bothers me about there not being a microphone in front of my mouth somewhere.

As many of you know, I have problems with my voice and if I try to use the built-in bluetooth in the car, nobody can hear me. For years, I've been trying to find a headset that goes over my head instead of in the ear, but they don't make one to fit the Blackberry. My friend Styles found one: it's bluetooth as well, but it goes over the top, not in the ear, and there's a boom mike that sits in the usual position near your mouth. They have them at Radio Scrap (oops, I mean "The Source") for $50.

Why am I telling you this? Because I found a product I really like and I wanted to share it.

On to some pictures!
Spring is starting to appear up here. I was in Toronto earlier this week and the buds on the trees are magnificent. I didn't have time to stop for photos, unfortunately. There's really nothing like that up here since the trees are not 'ornamental', and anyway, we're a couple of weeks behind the big Smoke. Rather stark, but here's one of my raspberry stems, just starting to revive:

Although it's cropped out of a larger image (I don't have a macro lens!), not much other than sharpening has been done to this shot. Hmmm. Black background. Hmmm
I also shot my one and only daffodil (there will be more. This one appeared all on its own, for some reason)

I did do some work on this image. Not as much as you might think,though. Mostly sharpening and getting rid of some extraneous objects; plus a dark vignette to isolate the flower. Hmmm. A black background. Hmmm.
One more: here's a shot of my wind chimes. I was trying to be creative, responding to the theme "music" for the monthly NAPP rally.

This is a 5-shot multiple exposure, all done in the camera! I used my flash off-camera to light it and made them move between exposures. You might have noticed that I shot it on a black background... hmmm.
By now, the more astute and observant of you might have noticed that I have become enamored of black backgrounds! I did some pictures a few years ago on black, and my interest has been rekindled. So I did some research and found that there are some sneaky ways to create "invisible black backgrounds" using flash, and while I want to try that too, it wasn't what I had in mind. I found a really simple and very cheap solution and I documented it in my technical blog (link here).

You can't take a bad picture of your kids.
OK, well actually you can, but you can get away with a lot of stuff when the subject of the photos is so near and dear to you. I only took a few shots when my son and daughter-in-law brought my granddaughter for a visit last week, but here are my favourites.

Leah is sitting with my mom and I can feel the happiness in this picture. Almost 90 years separates these two. The light is entirely from a big north-facing window, my favourite lighting scenario!

Here's Leah with my other two grandkids, Kelly and Ryan. Ryan likes hamming it up for the camera and Kelly's picture is in the dictionary beside the word "precocious". I couldn't tear her away from my iPad, though!
OK, one more to share with you. I drove by my favourite spot, the Minden Wildwater Preserve again, just to see what was going on. Sunset, that's what. But when I finished with this picture, it looks more like a huge forest fire than a sunset!

Conflagration. The sun was still illuminating the trees in the background, but the front ones were already in the shade. This is NOT an HDR, although I did shoot for one (5 exposures). They didn't work because the trees moved too much between shots. So I used one frame, and toned it.
Have I bored you enough for today? OK, OK. Say goodbye, now! Until next time...

PS: Photoshop CS6 is scheduled to be released on April 23rd. Are you going to be an early adopter? Not this cowboy!

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Busy, busy!

I've been busy. I know, I just said that! "Busy doing what", you ask? Well, my First Aid business needed my attention, Revenue Canada is being a pain in the neck (I'm being generous. Lower down.). Motorcycle training season is starting. Back and forth to Toronto for business and family stuff. Planning workshops, and writing the manual for training courses.

I'm an American Idol fan. Joshua, Jessica and Philip. You read it here first. I'm also a Big Bang Theory fanatic, and Stephen Hawking is guest starring tonight! It's such a great show, and not just because I grew up with a "Sheldon Cooper".  So I've been watching that in the evenings.

Accolades and Neat Stuff
I've been asked to do a couple of seminars and workshops next season and accepted readily. I know precisely what I want to do, but I have to work on the material. I'm waiting on my first Freelance assignment for the Highlander Newspaper. I'm planning my first photo workshop up here in a month or so. My Michipicoten Light image has been put up on several websites (and Naturally Superior Adventures is using my video on their site with permission). I'm now about halfway through "Behind the Camera and in front of the Computer™" which is a manual directed at people teaching and taking basic photography courses.

See? I'm busy!

But I'm not as busy as Dr. Ron who takes over as President of the American Cosmetic Dentists Association this week. "It's a whole other full-time job," he told me. I wished him luck and asked if I need to find accommodations for the Secret Service when he comes up to visit next month! He still has time to print pictures and submit them to the Richmond Hill Camera Club competitions, where he took two First Place and one Second Place ribbons in 'Yoda' class this month. He's so talented! If you click the link above, you come to the RHCC home page where there's a display of winning images from the latest competition. Look for the cape buffalo shots and the wolf. By the way, his "Oxpecker on Cape Buffalo" image scored a perfect "30" in the competition, first I've seen.

There are some really outstanding images by RHCC members this month. I'm humbled.

Landscape pictures
A couple of weeks ago, I posted some pictures of an old truck that sits outside the Argyle Blacksmith Shop and antique store. I commented that there was a huge spiderweb in the window. I was back a few days ago and guess what? Another missed opportunity! It was gone.  But I did get this picture nearby.

Disused. There are lots of these run down farm buildings in rural Ontario, elsewhere too I'm sure. This one caught my eye because it was just at sunset and the light was a golden glow. Not in the sky, though: that was pure, bluebell, boring blue. So I merged two different HDR pictures (the ground done in Nik HDR Efex and the sky in Photomatix pro). I kept the warm colour temperature and painted in the setting sun using Viveza. The picture lacked that balancing structure, so I painted the two birds from scratch. This image needed a lot of post-processing but it will make a fine, large art print.
Speaking of missed opportunities: I came back from a walk yesterday and saw what I think was a Golden Eagle hunting in the sky over my property behind my house. I ran inside, grabbed the long lens... but alas he was gone. I did see this, though:

Moonclouds. No, this isn't a composite image. The rising, waxing gibbous almost full moon was playing peekaboo in the clouds. All I did was to add some contrast,  adjust the exposure and crop the image slightly in Lightroom 4.1. It might be out there again tonight: we'll see!
It was quite windy yesterday and the sky was populated by puffy clouds as you see. I've shot this stuff before, and shots in the middle of the day, or even late day, are boring in flat, bright sunlight. So I was looking for a way to change things up, and I happened to think about my 10-stop Neutral Density filter. I took it, with the wide-angle lens out for a walk. With tripod and cable release, of course!

The filter adds a dreamy look to water, even when there's nothing really going on.

The Red Umbrella Inn, shot from near my dock. This was a 15-second exposure and although there was nothing really happening, the water has a milky smooth texture and even the inn has a soft creaminess to it. Not what you would expect to see on a sunny afternoon.
Remember the picture of the boat upside down on the dock, that I mentioned is about to be published in PhotoED magazine?

Here's another shot of it yesterday. It didn't fare too well over the winter!

Still Waiting and More Weathered. What makes this shot for me is the light. Also the texture of the water, compared to the boat and the wood. As I said, the ND filter and long time exposure (15 seconds) adds a creamy smoothness and texture. All I did to this picture was to clean up a few spots (I need to clean my sensor again) and touch up some texture issues. I burned in the board at right, it was too bright and distracting.
Now this shot, and the next one, were taken blind. With the filter mounted on the lens, you can't see through the camera. I could have unscrewed the filter and recomposed and refocused, then put the filter back, but I'm essentially a lazy guy... so I left it in place, kept the camera focused almost to infinity, and pointed it where my instincts told me it should look.

Reach for the Sky. The clouds moved, of course, during the 15 second exposure. So did the evergreen trees but the bare tree did not. A surreal look at an otherwise ordinary day.
Perhaps I'll wander over to my favourite whitewater spot and see what's doing there! Catch you later!

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