Sunday, May 27, 2012

Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees

OK, not bees.

Birds and flowers and stuff. It is that time of year. I'll get back to landscapes soon! I think I've taken a big step in making sharp pictures (even without a D800!).

People tell me they like to look at the photos in my blog, so here we go. That's what this post is about.

Lupines on black. Beside my house.

Dandelion Puffballs on black. I have a love/hate relationship with these guys.

Right place at the right time. This mallard drake flushed out of a puddle as I walked along the road near my dock. I just happened to have the right lens on the camera, the right settings, the reactions to shoot a 5 or 6-shot burst. The background's not great, but the duck's in perfect focus. I have another shot when he lost lift and touched down on the road: his feathers were, well, feathered, but the background was even worse!

Female American Goldfinch. This is one of my first successful shots with the 400mm lens: I'm convinced that removing the filter makes a difference.

Male American Goldfinch. Same tree, same time.

Taking a break. This is a male ruby-throated hummingbird, taking a break from his usual helicopter routine. You can only see the red on the throat at certain angles, but this is a better shot.

On the wing. This is the female ruby-throated hummingbird giving me the eye.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. (Thanks, Linda!) Right near my dock, this butterfly was competing with a bunch of big honey bees for nectar from this flowering tree.

Hope you enjoy the pictures. I now have enough black background shots to put a gallery selection together, perfect for that kitchen wall you have begging for pictures! Drop me a note if you want some prints!

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If someone does NOT want your business...

...then I think you should go out of your way NOT to give it to them.

We'll start this tale a little further back, though. John invited me over to play with his D800. I had already decided that I want one, the question was "when?" and whether I should get the D800 or the D800e. Now that I tried it: I WANT IT EVEN MORE! I told him that end of the summer was the most likely time I'd be able to buy it and he told me, "if you get on a waiting list today, you might get one in November!". He was wrong.

Christmas. If you're lucky. And you put down a $600 deposit.

By the way, this camera is OUTSTANDING and as a bonus, I tried my venerable, not-so-sharp (so the reviewers say. I think it is...) Nikkor 24-120 f/3.5-5.6 VR and BONUS! It's an FX lens! I did not know that!

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late!) I decided to raid my D800 piggy bank for the $500 I needed for that new tripod I've been after. I came across this thing on someone's blog a couple of months ago and it seems to be perfect! Carbon fiber, under 4 pounds with the ball head, converts to a monopod, packs up really, really short, and extends to full height. It's just so innovative.

The tripod is called "Brian" (told you it was innovative!) and it's made by 3 Legged Thing in England, and it's sold by B&H here: (link). The manufacturer's website is here, but it doesn't work too well. If you're interested, click here to see the versatility of this tripod.

By the way, I think I got the last one with the blue ball head at B&H, but they have the black one.

I'm slowly getting to the reason for this saga... I wanted a spare quick release plate, but B&H was out of stock. Adorama had it, though so I started to place an online order there.

OK. B&H wants business from Canadian customers. They had some shipping issues a while ago, but they've settled on Purolator Ground and the whole shipping thing cost me $16. Plus taxes, of course. I could have even saved half of that by invoking my NAPP membership, but didn't bother.

When I tried to enter the order at Adorama, it turns out the only way they'll ship to Canada is via Fedex. And there's an automatic $60 to $80 brokerage fee charged ON TOP OF THE SHIPPING AND TAXES. I was ordering a $40 mounting plate, and they wanted me to pay $100 for shipping. Can't be right.

So I phoned them. Sure enough, yes, that's the only way we'll ship to Canada, too bad, so sad. No flexibility, no attempt to solve it. I could ship to a US friend for free and have them drop it in the mail, but like I said at the top, Hell will freeze over before I give them my business. End of rant.

B&H is a nice place to do business. Click the link at the right or here if you want to look through their stuff. I have an affiliate account so I get some brownie points (I have one at Adorama too. Don't think I'll post that link...).

So I guess I'm stuck with my D300 for a while more. Could be worse... it takes good pictures. Here are some more from last time.

The old Brickworks Arboretum. It took a little work to make this shot because there was some construction going on but Photoshop did its thing! HDR, of course.

Distillery Truck. They set this up just for us HDR photographers, I think!

Old Warehouse. This is just across the street from the main entrance to the Distillery District. These shipping doors must have been accessed by some sort of elevator device. There's a sign proposing to tear down this 6-storey heritage building and replace it with a 34 storey hotel/condo.


Faces. These ladies were both at the Distillery District, one the mâitresse d' at a restaurant,
the other a flower vendor. Lighting was great!

Red-winged blackbird doin' his thing at the birding spot in Whitby
And finally, I shot a couple of trillium shots yesterday. The white trilliums turn pink just before they expire, so I guess this is it for another year!

Trillium. This was lit with off-camera flash and shot with my NON-MACRO Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR (I love that lens!).

See you next time! Moose trip to Algonquin in 3 weeks! Yahoooo!

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Monday, May 14, 2012

What a weekend!

I spent the weekend shooting pictures with Linda Cresswell. I'm all tuckered out!

The original plan was for her to come up here and shoot trilliums and stuff but for one reason or another, we switched it up and I went down to the city. Linda lives just East of Toronto and we decided to shoot 4 or 5 different venues over the weekend. I'm nowhere near finished editing images but I can show you at least one from each site. More to come...

The Evergreen Brickworks
The first place we went was the old "Brickworks" just off the DVP at the Bayview Extension. If you are in the Toronto area or planning to be in the area, this is a MUST SEE even if you're not a photographer ... well I don't know how to describe it in a few words. There are a bunch of enterprises in there, all off-the-wall; the parklands rival most arboretums, there are hiking and bicycle trails, a farmer's market, a huge area where they cater to kids... visit their website: I can't describe it.

Linda took me into the first of many buildings. I would have been content to spend the entire day in that building. She dragged me to the outdoor kid's area. Like that character on "Friends", Oh–My–God! I didn't take as many pictures as I wanted to or could have, but I'll be back!

DIY Bike Space. One of the businesses in the Evergreen Brickworks is called Bike Works. Thomas, one of the owners, told me that the concept is to fix up and sell bikes, or rent them, or help people tune up their own bikes and even teach them how to maintain their machines. All profits go back into the shops at the Brickworks.
The Distillery District
Toronto's film industry has done a lot of movies in the Distillery District. Again an area comprised of old buildings, this has been turned into a tourist venue with restaurants, shops, art galleries, etc. This is higher end: everything here is expensive. Again I didn't take as many pictures as I'd have liked, but we did have a great espresso in a cafe, walked around and saw a bunch of places and Linda and I were even asked to be interviewed on a show being filmed for the Oprah network (we respectfully declined!)

Segway Rentals! You can even rent a Segway to cruise around the Distillery District (they're not street legal, though!). I think you can only go in groups, under supervision. That does look like fun!
Kensington Market
Everyone in the Kensington Market is weird. Linda and I were there, so by definition...

It was a zoo. By the time we got there, I was so tired and footsore, we didn't shoot much. We found a quiet unused patio and practiced our slow shutter speed/panning techniques.

Distracted Driver? I wonder if the law about using handheld devices applies when you're riding a bicycle! At least he was going the same way the traffic was (it was a one-way street) — most of the bikes and skateboards and other weird vehicles didn't care much.

Psychedelic Mural. I'm not sure, but I think the branches are actually painted on that wall, it's a trompe l'oeil. This person was so, shall we say 'stoned', she couldn't walk straight. The picture isn't blurry, she is!!!
Next we had a bite to eat in Chinatown (right there) and headed over to a spot I had scouted out as a good place to view the skyline.

CityScape at Dusk
I had a picture in mind. I wanted a shot of the Toronto skyline when night was just falling and the lights were on in the buildings. The spot we went to faced East. Had there been a good sunset, it might have been better to find one facing the other way, but it didn't matter. This is the bridge on Bathurst Street just south of Front Street (map).

We had to kill some time so found a Tim Horton's: did you know they're serving high end ice cream at some of their locations? You read it here first! Their double-double ice cream tastes like... a "double-double" (if you're not Canadian, you don't know what that is. OK, I'll help you out. Here). Anyway, we were at the bridge by about 7:15pm, just in time!

Toronto Skyline at Dusk. This is a 5-shot HDR, toned in Topaz. Suitable for canvas printing, a 20x30 would be good! Just in case you wondered if you could buy it... (link)

Another skyline shot. This is a longer time exposure, with a train going by on the tracks below. This HDR was processed with Nik HDR Efex Pro and toned further with Topaz Adjust 5. Exposures ranged from 1 sec. to 15 sec. The area where the train light is was blended in from one of the images. I said to Linda, "I feel like a Prairies farmer: praying for train". Finally, one started towards us from the downtown central station and I started the sequence.

Note: I had previously uploaded the wrong version of this image. Deleted and replaced with this one.

That was it for the day. We headed back to Ajax for a good night sleep and some relief for weary feet. Next morning, though we went to a completely different venue.

Thickson's Woods Nature Reserve
This is located in Whitby, Ontario and is a popular spot for birders and bird photographers (link). It's a marvellous place and I got to see and photograph some birds I've never seen in the wild. This is really difficult photography. Anyone who can do this well has my full respect.

Great Horned Owl. This fellow (a male, presumably because the female was with one of her chicks) was about 80' up in a tree and although it's a huge bird, about half a dozen people had to patiently tell me where it was and helped me to see it. I shot with my 400mm lens but you have to crank the ISO way up to get any kind of shutter speed. I don't know how they do it!

Cardinal. There aren't any cardinals up where I live, so I've never seen one in the wild. Another difficult 400mm shot. It took a lot of work to make this image sharp enough. 1/1250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1250 in case you're interested.

Tree Swallow. Another tough shot, especially since it was the middle of the day and his eye was completely in shadow. I created the eye in Photoshop. Getting subjects in focus with the 400mm is not easy, I'm practicing for the moose trip in June (hey, that's exactly a month from today!) 
This was the most fun I've had shooting pictures in a long time. I'm definitely going back to all 5 of those venues. Next time, I may have some more pictures for you to look at, or at least I'll put them on my gallery and give you the link.

If you ever come to Toronto or can make it there to do some not-quite-tourist stuff, I highly recommend all of these venues.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Fly me to the moon...

Just a quick blog post today, with two subjects: business cards and the moon!

Business Cards
As I mentioned last time, I have a dealer account that allows me to access wholesale pricing for business cards. They are rather excellent, and very cheap! So I thought I'd help out by offering my blog readers a deal on full-colour cards.

This is my new card, front and back.

Believe it or not, you can get 1000 cards printed in full colour on both sides of heavy glossy stock, for about $20. How incredible is that? Here's what you have to do:
  • You can provide complete artwork in a variety of formats,
  • You can supply a couple of pictures and tell me what the type should say and look like, or
  • You can use my images as the background for your cards.
If you supply everything, all ready for the press, it's $20. Plus taxes and shipping if applicable, of course. If you want me to do the layout and tweak things to look good, we can talk about how much my time on the computer is worth. If you want to use my images, that would also be included in the hourly fee.

I did this card for John. This is a great picture he took in Yellowstone and no, 555-1212 is NOT his phone number! That is his photo gallery, though: go have a look and enjoy! Took me less than an hour to set this up, including the back of the card (which I didn't show here).

This is next-to-nothing, folks. You could have cards showing that you're a camera club member, or a motorcycle group denizen, or for your work or just to tell people how to find you online... possibilities are endless at this price.

If  you're interested, I'll supply more information. I don't want to go on too long here, and bore half my readers to death! Email me.

The moon
There was an awful lot of hype about the "Super Moon" this Saturday. The full moon coincided with it being at perihelion — it's closest distance from the Earth, so it was bigger and brighter than normal. Big deal. I have lots of pictures of the moon and I'll bet you do to.

But as someone else wrote in his blog or on Google+ today (might have been NAPP's RC Concepcion), the moon is a magnet for photographers. Everyone likes taking pictures of it and if it's up there, we do our damnest to include it in our shots.

But hey, I'm a photographer, and the moon was full and the sky was clear (at least for a while) and... I was out for dinner and missed moonrise and it was cloudy at 5am (I think. I rolled over and went back to sleep!) so I didn'tget those shots. I did get a few, though. But I tried to be different.

All of the illumination in this image was from the moon. Well except for a bit of that light green at lower right which was from a light in the parking lot next door.

Again, all the light was from the moon. I thought the cloud formations were more interesting than the usual man-in-the-moon type photo. OK, OK, I cheated and comp'd in the turkey vulture which I had shot earlier in the day. I did do a comp of the full moon, properly exposed, with the bird flying across it; just like a million other moon shots I've seen.

Here's one that's just a little bit different:

Photomicrograph of the ebola virus. OK, This is actually the moon. One of those regular telephoto shots. Then I started playing in Photoshop and used the 3D Repoussé function and then made a layer on which I used the liquify filter, and the smudge tool and... just for fun! Originally I started making it out of green cheese, but I liked the orange so I left it that way.

I should be shooting some different stuff for me this weekend, but I'll leave you hanging!

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Basic Black

Good Morning!
We'll get to the topic of the day in a few minutes, but first, these other messages!

Im starting to enjoy the spring up here. There's a period of time where I don't: when it's brown and grey out, chilly and damp... but we're coming to the end of that and the world is starting to look green. Also colourful: the flowers are coming out too. I was scouting yesterday and saw a huge patch of trilliums already opened. There are some people coming up to shoot some pictures up here in about 10 days (the weekend of May 12th) so if anyone is interested in coming up for the day or tagging along, drop me a note.

Software Updates
There's all kinds of stuff going on in the photo software world right now. When Adobe released Lightroom 4, and then Photoshop CS6 (still pre-order as I write this, but supposed to deliver next week), all of the plug-in manufacturers had to scramble to catch up, to make sure their products were compatible.

Coincidentally (ya think?), HDRsoft released their updated version of Photomatix Pro 4.2. It's a free update for registered users of Pro (I think from version 3-up) and you can download it here. If you don't have Photomatix, you can go to their site and download a free trial before buying it. The bad news is, their free trial puts a watermark on the image so you can't really use it for anything until you buy it.

There are 3 commonly used programs for HDR generation/tone mapping: Photomatix, Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop CSx (where "x" is "5" or "6"). I haven't seen CS6 in action yet, but I heard that Adobe has updated the already excellent HDR generating engine in CS5. Topaz Adjust 5 doesn't generate HDR's but it's right up there as a tone mapping utility!

Speaking of Adobe, they've released Adobe Camera Raw 6.7 which supports Process Version 2012 (Lightroom 4 users are tired of seeing the incompatibility warning when they try to open an image in Photoshop) and it also supports new cameras like the D4, the D800, the V1, the 5DMkIII. If you use Photoshop, all you have to do is open it, click Help→Updates and follow the bouncing ball.

The ongoing problems with Lightroom 4 haven't been resolved yet. Some users have no difficulty but some (and there's no clear correlation who: Mac or PC, high end or not...) still have issues with the software being slow. Sometimes it uses up TONS of resources. When generating previews, for instance, it uses up 100% of all four CPUs that I have in the system, plus up to 80% of my 8Gb of memory. And sometimes it doesn't. I hope they solve it soon.

Beginner's workshops and course material
Just an update on the workshops and books I'm working on. If I said I was halfway through it now, I'd probably be exaggerating. But the hard part is done: all the concepts are in place, it's just about getting words on digital paper.

The reason I'm mentioning it is: who's interested in having a preview of it when the time comes? The first thing that will be ready is the Instructor's Workbook, so if you're interested in teaching beginners to use DSLR's, you will be interested in this. Email me and I'll put your name on the list for a free copy of the workbook.

Business Cards
Do you have any idea how cheap business cards are these days? You can get 1000 full-colour business cards, printed on both sides and UV coated for about $20. I'm about to reorder some and at that price, I'll make more than one design.

I have a dealer account with BossLogo, so if anyone is interested in making up some cards, drop me a note and I'll fill you in on what's needed to make it happen.

Let's get on to some pictures, shall we?

I was at my favourite spot a couple of days ago: the Minden Wild Water Preserve. It wasn't a beautiful day, and the dam was blocked up (they insert 12" wooden ties to limit the water flow) so the white water was particularly low. Nevertheless, there were a couple of kayakers on the water.

Got him looking right at me! Notice the cold weather gear: especially the glove/grips on the paddle.

These guys were just working on their techniques. As I said, the water level was really low which made it difficult to navigate in spots.

White water Quacker. Then there was this guy. He fought the current to swim across just above where I shot the other Kayakers (see the play on words? Huh? I posted this picure on the NAPP site and someone said it "quacked him up"!). Too bad I couldn't get more white water in the shot. I looked away to adjust the camera settings for a second, and he was gone!

Multiple Exposure. Remember I mentioned Photomatix 4.2? After I installed it, I wanted to test it in Lightroom 4 so I clicked on 5 images and ran it with ghosting turned OFF. I don't know if anyone's thought about using Photomatix this way: these were all equally exposed images, not bracketed. Had he been moving across the scene it also would have been interesting. Also if I had used a tripod. I'll try this again another day, but I kind of like this image!
Basic Black

Dogwood Leaves. I brought my black cloth with me and set up this shot in the woods at the Preserve. There was too much sunlight on both the leaves and the background, so I shaded them by standing between the sun and the leaves.

Baby Trillium. This is the pièce de résistance. Again it was shot with the black background and shaded. I enhanced the textures but the colours were just as you see them, including the highly saturated green leaves!

Both of these black pictures were shot with my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens. I don't have a macro lens (really should get one!). I had to do some work to get rid of stuff in the background, including making it really really black. Photoshop and Lightroom were really helpful, especially the black slider in the new Lightroom 4. And I added a black vignette.

By the way, as a technique trick: when trying to get an even, solid black background, sometimes you have to clone out stuff or use the content-aware spot healing brush. They aren't perfect. So what I do is to add a levels adjustment layer, and crank the right slider way over to the left to see anything that isn't black, then I can paint or clone it out. I delete the adjustment layer before saving the image.

More to come...

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