Sunday, June 17, 2012

Stuck in Toronto

Could be worse... I could be stuck in {don't want to name any specific city like Regina or Buffalo or New York, at the risk of offending anyone} some other place. The bad part is, I can't get any work done, and I'm bored. I guess this is going to drag out another week, although I'm going to sneak a quick trip back home on Tuesday to take care of some stuff.

Workshops I have and will miss...
I spoke with Linda and emailed with Ron and learned that the moose workshop last week was fabulous. Believe it or not, I'm not resentful that I missed it, I'm sure I'll have another opportunity down the road. Hopefully one or both of them will share some pictures with me, so that I can share them with you. I heard both days were sunny and bright, but day 2 was blessed with a misty dawn, so I'm expecting some great pictures out of them. Mark and Dennis, you too!

I've cancelled the Workshop for this coming weekend and indicated on the website that the new scheduled dates are July 7 and August 11 weekends. I hope that works out. Again, if you know someone who wants to attend, get them to pop over to and check it out.

Do you ever watch the TED talks?
I do, from time to time, when a subject catches my eye. I have it on my RSS feed where I read blogs on my iPad. This one was particularly good and I recommend you take the 10-15 minutes to watch it. It's by someone named Juan Enriquez and it's called, "Will our kids be a different species".  If you don't know what the TED talks are all about, go here.

It's a small world, after all...
I'm really sorry, Skid. That's Jim's nickname, if you don't know him. One of the things that really bugs him is songs that stick in your head and no matter what, you can't get them to go away. That title is one of them. Sorry, Skid.

So I've always wanted to shoot macros. I looked at buying a macro lens but procrastinated for a long time. I could explain that to you, but you'll have to wait until I get around to it. I used to have some screw-in macro lens/filters but I don't want those because I think the extra glass is not a good way to go. That leaves extension tubes or, in my case a bellows.

For those who don't know, the further you move the back of your lens away from the sensor (or film plane), the closer it will focus. Extension tubes act as spacers; a bellows is an infinitely variable spacer. But because the lens is not mounted directly on the camera, autofocus and aperture adjustment don't work. You need a lens with an aperture ring, and none of mine had one! So I did a Kijiji deal in a Tim Horton's parking lot (felt like doing a drug deal!) and bought a little Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 D-type lens to use with the bellows.

I can't put a picture of my setup up because I've loaned someone my P&S camera so I can't take a photo of it; and I don't want to violate anyone's copyright by stealing a picture online. So here's a link to the eBay vendor I bought the bellows from. It took about 2 weeks to get here from Singapore and cost me all of $35. This is NOT an endorsement, you understand: just a picture of what I bought.

Here's one of the very first shots I took with the bellows setup, last night. It was tough because it was getting dark and hard to see to focus.

There's nothing here to define the scale. This bud is about 2mm across and about 5mm high. The exposure was 3 seconds at f/8, ISO 200 and probably at 80mm focal length but there's no EXIF data when the lens isn't hardwired to the camera.
The challenge shooting macro is depth of field. There essentially isn't any. This next shot, with the bellows extended even more for greater magnification, is a good example of that:

I took this one this morning when there was more light, so it's the same settings except shutter speed was 1/30 second. Although there are a few things in focus, you can see that the depth of field was exceedingly shallow.
One solution is focus stacking. Shoot a series of pictures with different things in focus and have Photoshop merge them together. It's tricky and finicky, and requires a lot of planning and thought. The picture above is one of 9 exposures I did at different focusing points. Here's what Photoshop CS5.5 (I'm on the laptop, CS6 isn't installed here. Yet) can do:

I never knew that flowers and leaves had little transparent hairs.
Now if I can only catch a bumblebee or a butterfly doing his thing. Trouble is, I think the front of the lens was less than 5cm (that's 2", Yanks!) from the plant. I'll be experimenting after I eventually get home.

Another tool to add to my arsenal.

Catch you later!

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Friday, June 15, 2012

If you want to make God laugh...

... tell him your plans.

I was shooting the Vaughn Hospital Charity Motorcycle Ride on Sunday morning when my cellphone rang. Without adding too much detail, it was the doctor telling me that there was a family medical emergency and my shooting day ended there.

It also put the Kaibosh on my planned two days shooting moose in Algonquin Park this week. I was lucky enough to find someone to take my place and I heard from the others that were there that it was a fantastic time: I heard there was a small bull, a cow and two calves and assorted other wildlife shot. I hope to get another chance to go at another time.

As I write this, I'm sitting in Toronto, not sure when I'll be able to get home. I'll keep you up to date as time goes on.

That doesn't mean I don't have stuff for you to read and look at. Onwards and upwards...

My Workshops are up and running!
I've announced two dates for DSLR courses up in the Highlands: June 24 and July 7 weekends. Those will be group courses, I can do individual or semi-private courses at the students' convenience, you tell me.

An ad is running in the Haliburton Highlander as we speak, and the link to full details on the workshops is here:
Here's what the courses are about:
Shoot Better Pictures
This course is aimed at people who are relatively new to Digital SLR photography. Beginners, more or less. It is a general course, so that you can use more of the features of your camera but mostly to get you to understand that the camera doesn’t shoot the picture, you do.
Now I know that most of my readers are well beyond beginners, so this workshop is not for you. But if you know someone with a new DSLR and they want to get off Program mode, have them contact me. I'll do sessions in Toronto or elsewhere as well, but we'll have to work out a schedule.

If you want to TEACH a course like this, let me know. I have the curriculum almost finished and the "Train the Trainer" manual almost done. The intent is that I'll share the course curriculum with you for free and I hope you'll use the student workbook I'm writing, at really nominal cost for each student (I'm thinking $2.99!).

That's another hour out of my life I won't get back...
Warning to PC users (if you have a MAC, you can probably skip this section).
I was bitten by some Malware this morning. I'm not sure where I got it because I don't surf "those" sites. The only thing I can think of is that I went to to get a short name for a long URL and I remember something popping up which I ignored.

I've seen this one, or ones like it before, so I didn't bite this time. But they're insidious and creative, so I thought a word of warning is appropriate. About 10 minutes later I was writing an email and a big huge warning box popped up onscreen that said my computer was infected, click here to get rid of it. It's easy to think that's your virus protection software kicking in BUT IT'S NOT. It's a trojan (virus). In my case, I had to Ctrl-Alt-Del to get rid of it.

I finished the email, then shut everything down and ran Malwarebytes. Sure enough, it found two infected files.

So two messages here: (1) don't click on these infection warnings and (2) install and run Malwarebytes anti-malware software (there's a free version here). It catches stuff your regular virus software doesn't. Run it whenever you have an incident, or if your computer is misbehaving, or from time to time just for the Hell of it. You'll be surprised what it finds.

For what it's worth, I use Microsoft Security Essentials as my main virus protection. It's also free, doesn't clutter up the computer with extra stuff like other programs (I don't want to mention Norton or AVG, so I won't) and it comes from folks who have a vested interest in protecting Windows products. I've linked to it above.

Photos from the Charity Ride
As I said, I was interrupted while shooting the Charity Motorcycle Ride. I did get a few pictures, though.

My favourite lens is the 70-200. You can't take a bad picture, especially at f/2.8

The Honourable Julian Fantino, MP for Vaughn. Chief Fantino, as many people still call him, was the head of the OPP before running for Parliament. He made a presentation to StylesQ, the organizer of the ride.

...and here's StylesQ on his iron steed, just getting ready to depart on the ride. Although he was leading the ride, and he designed it, he got lost. I know Styles doesn't mind me saying that. He once got lost trying to find his own house. He has said to me, "what is this thing 'North' that you keep mentioning?".
I've put a few of my ride pictures up on my Smugmug site here, and Kathy Constantinou who was also there, and did manage to shoot the whole ride, put her ouststanding images up here. If anyone wants prints or screensaver/wallpaper images they can contact me or Kathy by email.

Canola field in the sun
I drove home on Wednesday to pick up some clothes (and my laptop!), then came right back to Toronto the next morning.

As you drive along at this time of year, you might spot a canola field. The bright yellow caught my eye and I had to stop to photograph it. I'm probably going to brighten this image up a bit in a few days but I'm not at the desktop computer right now (on the laptop) so I can't. What caught my eye when I stopped here was the incredibly bright yellow and it needs to be brighter than what I see onscreen right now.

What did I tell you about the 70-200 lens, especially at f/2.8? Right. This field was just west of Argyle, Ontario. There will be some more shots of it on my Smugmug gallery in a little while (when I get back to the computer!).

Poetry in motion
As I was driving to Toronto on Saturday (out of chronological order but so what?), I saw a bicycle race in the Mount Albert area. I drove ahead of the pack, then pulled over to park (actually they fooled me and turned onto a different road. I had to backtrack and do it again! They drove past the Nudist colony but I didn't stop in for pictures!). Anyway, I took a few shots:

This one was done at a deliberately slow shutter speed, panning with the bike. I can't get at the EXIF information right now, but I think it was 1/30 sec or slower).
Black Background Flowers (again)
Again, going backwards in time, here are a couple of pictures I did on black backgrounds up North. Two different varieties of Irises. Suitable for large format reproduction, if anyone is interested... email me.

Two guesses which lens I used to capture these images! These were actually shot inside my light tent, using the great big light in the sky as illumination. Actually, I may have used a bit of flash fill on the second shot, also bouncing it off the light tent.
Anyway, more to come. I hope to get back on track in a few days. TTFN.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

A day in Algonquin Park

The phone rang around 7am Saturday morning. I was up, just barely. I was where you go when you get out of bed in the morning — more detail would be TMI... "Hi, it's Ron. I'm in Algonquin Park. What time can you meet me here?" I needed a little time to get going, so it ended up a little before 10am at Smoke Lake. It was a bit of a blustery, damp, overcast day: perfect lighting for daytime shooting.

An HDR, converted using Photomatix, one of the black-and-white presets. Then I used Nik Color Efex Pro to tone it and the "Polaroid" preset to frame it.

We drove up Arowhon Road where we came to a camp at the end of the road with a bunch of rotted, peeling canoes and a fellow (Joe?) who was refurbishing them. Neat shop: I'd like to go back and photograph inside. We had been there for some time and didn't want to wear out our welcome. I got this 'arty' shot outside.

These are canvas-coated cedar strip canoes.

On the way back, we stopped a couple of times, not staying very long in one place because of the voracious mosquitoes!

Here's Ron shooting this landscape at a beaver-dam-created slough. This is an HDR and I blended in a Topaz-toned "Ron", using just a single image for that part for the detail and sharpness. Notice how he's all covered up against those pesky bugs.

There was a forest scene we had passed on the way up. Should have stopped: the lighting was outstanding. We stopped on the way back and it was pretty good but not as nice as when we first saw it.

It's an HDR, of course. Then I used the new "Oil Painting" filter in Photoshop CS6. Wow. This image is a keeper! It's going to make a dandy large format canvas-wrapped print.

Next stop was Rock Lake. Nothing much to see there, except this family of Canadian Geese. Ron and I kept driving them back and forth to get good views.

Family Portrait.

Another family shot, soft toned with Nik Color Efex Pro

Back lit by light reflecting off the lake. Blended layers to enhance the three goslings in the foreground and blur the background. All of these shots were done with the 400mm lens.

That was it for the day. We headed home, anticipating our next visit in 2 weeks with Mike Bertelsen. Ron's already got his moose shots, I'm looking forward to mine!

The following day, I saw the following image at my house. Technically it's not a "black background" shot but close enough!

After the Rain. Almost as shot, just a little toning to increase contrast and detail.

I used the new tripod this weekend. It does everything my heavy Gitzo does but it's a lot easier to lug around. I have some new equipment coming soon which I'll hold off telling you about until after it arrives. That doesn't include the Nikon D800e that I ordered today, which I might see by my birthday in September. It's going to take me that long to build up the money to pay for it!

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Things with 3 Legs

Yeah. They're called "Tripods". I just bought a new one for 3 reasons.
  • The Gitzo I have is really big and hard to carry around on my bike
  • It's heavy. I think the legs themselves (not counting the ball head) weigh 5 or 6 lbs.
  • I saw this one and really thought it was innovative.
So I wanted a tripod that was really light. This one weighs about 2 lbs without the head. It's made of carbon fiber which is very rigid and strong. The head is innovative too, and it weighs less than 2 lbs and can support almost 20 lbs. It needs to be small so I can pack it easily. This one folds down in a really innovative (using that word a lot!) way -- the legs fold up over the head so the overall length is only about 17".

It also needs to be tall enough so I don't have to bend my aching back over to look through the viewfinder. Do you think this one is tall enough?

As I mentioned a couple of blog posts ago, this tripod is made in England by a company called, "3 Legged Thing". And the name of this tripod is "Brian". Cute, eh? Here's a link to the manufacturer's site and here's where you can buy it (at B&H). They say the one with the blue ball head is backordered but the black one is in stock.

I'm really happy with it, although I've had it less than a week. The only issue I'm having is that I tend to grab the friction locks (there are so many of them!) and loosen them inadvertently, so I need to tighten them more. I like the ball head, it's smooth and easy to use. On a scale of 1-10, it's a 9. So far.

When it gets dark...

Don't put away your camera. Instead, take out your tripod and get creative. I like star shots, so here are a few:

I used a little flashlight to paint the tree with light. This is a 30 second exposure at f/4, ISO 800 and 15mm in case you were interested. To keep the stars crisp at that long an exposure you need to use a wide angle.

The moon is really bright. In this picture I tried not to let it affect my exposure so I stuck with the same settings as the last image. I was struck by the pattern of the clouds and never noticed the meteor trail at around 10 o'clock (I suppose it could be an airplane but meteor sounds better!).

Almost the same exposure: a little darker originally because it was 15 seconds at f/4, ISO 400. But I did some processing to bring out the Inn and the sky at the same time.

A couple more hummingbirds. This little fellow is in flight — actually hover mode at my feeder.

Male Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight

Male ruby-throated hummingbird at rest. This looks similar to a shot I did a week or so ago, but I like the sharpness and the composition better. Remember this guy is only about 2" (5cm) long.

And finally,

Attack Squirrel! This guy looks like he's coming after me. Quite the opposite, he's frightened. He should be: this is just after he emptied my squirrel-proof bird feeder.

More to come!

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