Friday, July 27, 2012

Musings from the Highlands

Just some goings-on up here in God's Country. It's been hot (for the benefit of my readers in other parts of the world. Of course if you live in the area, you already knew that. How hot was it?

The bottom numbers are the outside temp/humidity. Muggy when I took this.

In addition to the new BBQ Gazebo...

An HDR shot of the new gazebo on the deck. Designed to keep the rain and snow at bay. I barbecue year-round and this is going to help a lot!
... I bought an interesting new product that I first saw at my friend Lori's place in the city. It replaces my sliding screen door — it's two panels held together by a set of magnets (that's the black vertical line in the middle) and it snaps together nicely after you walk through it. I walked through my screen one too many times!

"As seen on TV". Magic Mesh, I think it's called. $25 at Canadian Tire. I did have to roll up the bottom a bit because it won't close if it's dragging on the ground..
It's perfect. It keeps the bugs out, you can just walk right through it with both hands full, it snaps closed right away. OK, well ALMOST perfect. There's someone else who can just walk right through it without any difficulty:

With the nice weather, we've been spending a lot of time outdoors, walking, swimming, and working very hard ...

Hard at work! 
Guest Photo

During my last DSLR class, Val, one of the students, went out on assignment to shoot some pictures and came back with this one:

So I spent the afternoon after class looking for this guy again, without success! I haven't seen him since. Val is a really good photographer and I hope I was able to take her up a step or two.
A few more of my shots

A couple of people asked me about the range of my bellows attachment. I shot a couple of sample pictures to demonstrate that.

This is about the minimum magnification with the bellows completely retracted. That said, zooming the lens changes the magnification and I don't know where it was set.

And this is at the other extreme,  Both of these shots are right out of the camera, as you can see, holding exposure is not easy — also depth of field at these extreme magnifications is almost non-existent. 
Whitewater shots

I dropped by the whitewater preserve on Sunday and took a few shots. I was on the bike and only had my 24-120 lens with me: it was dwarfed by the lenses that the 3 or 4 other photographers there had! Interestingly, they were all Nikons, ranging from a lowly D300 (like mine) to a D7000 to a new D800! Nicest lens I saw was a Nikkor 300mm f/2.8. Can you say envious?

In my humble opinion, there are two different ways to shoot action: slow, and fast. This first shot is at 1/1000 second, so the water is frozen.

This is a tone-mapped image — not exactly an HDR because it was made from one photo. I treated it that way because I wanted to emphasize the muscle tone and detail. What attracts me to this shot is the facial expression: I call it "focused" but someone else said, "he's obviously 'in the moment'" which I thought is a good way about saying it.

But I think you get a more dramatic and dynamic image at a slow shutter speed, like the 1/30 second used for this shot. Which one do you like best? 
I'm dong another basic DSLR class this weekend: it's light because of a cancellation so if anyone wants to come up at the last second, give me a call (416 630 5921) or email me, there's room. Saturday and Sunday, 11-4.


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Thursday, July 19, 2012

July is supposed to be a quiet time!

It's been hectic. There's been a lot going on, and some things have kept me from picking up the camera in the last little while. The disturbing part is that for a while, I didn't feel much like shooting pictures. It's a little odd, because I have a couple of new toys, one of which I haven't succeeded in using yet.

Part of the reason might have been that it's just been too hot. I was driving back up North last Saturday and decided to stop at one point to take some shots of a field with harvested hay rolls. I had a picture in my mind but didn't really capture it, although I "worked the scene" as Scott Kelby suggested in his recent seminar. What caught my eye as I drove by was this:

Too bad there weren't any clouds in the sky. And that the temperature was in the mid 30's (over 90°F). This was about an hour away from my house and I took solace in the thought that 5 minutes after getting home, I'd be in the lake!
Anyway, I stayed there about half an hour, trying various things. I chased a couple of butterflies around but they never landed so I couldn't get a shot. The best shot of the session was this one:

Originally I was going to post this exactly as it came out of the camera so that I could say, "See! Exactly as it came out of the camera!". However I never leave well enough alone. I sharpened the left and warmed it up a bit, and I blurred the right just a touch in Lightroom. But otherwise, it's "Exactly as it came out of the camera"!
I ran a basic DSLR workshop on Sunday. The students were excellent: they had great vision and a feel for composition, so it was a pleasure to work with them. One got a very cool picture of a grasshopper on my woodpile; I've spent 2 days looking for the little guy so I could emulate it, without success! I did take out the bellows to show them how it worked, and found these teeny tiny bugs on a daisy:

These guys are about half the size of a grain of rice, to put it in perspective. I missed the focus by a touch, though.
I got a candid shot of one of the students at lunchtime. Bear in mind, this is outside, in sunlight, at mid-day. Just the time when you're not supposed to be able to take good pictures. I was trying to get a backlit shot for the "lighting" lesson and this worked out pretty well.

Here's a 100% crop of the original image. I was surprised how much texture appeared, given that the light was coming from behind her. I did some enhancement in Lightroom:

Next I took it into Photoshop and did some more work on it. Primarily I focused on the eyes, but then I added a "Glamor Glow (Nik Color Efex Pro). Then I brought it back into Lightroom, took out some more skin texture and lowered the red saturation a bit.

When I posted the un-cropped image on the NAPP site, I was accused of over-smoothing the skin, a la "Fotoshop by Adobé". So I reworked it a bit, same concept but less effect. Here's what I ended up with:

I'm pretty satisfied with this shot. Maybe I should shoot something other than rocks and trees sometimes!
I shot some more macro stuff with the bellows. The jury is still out on the focusing rail that I got (I don't like that the control that lock the positioning and the screw control to move it are both on the same side. I don't have enough hands!). Anyway, this is a 4-shot focus stack on a flower bud that's about the size of a grain of rice (when I think of a better comparison, I'll let you know!).

And yesterday I picked some raspberries, so I shot this single frame. This one is a virtually untouched original:

Until next time! TTFN.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Up Close and Personal

In today's blog, I'd like to share two topics with you: first, getting up close and personal shooting pictures of little wee things, and second some guest pictures from the moose workshop I could not attend.

Close Up photography

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, I now have a bellows which allows me to shoot closeups of really small things. This will give you an idea of scale:

This is nowhere near full magnification. This shot has NOT been cropped, that's what my sensor saw.
And I did that with a $35 piece of equipment (well, added to the camera and lens and tripod and Speedlight and light tent and...). Technical details are on my tech blog here, as well as other pictures. It's a basic tutorial on all you need to know to get started shooting this stuff yourself. Here's another image:

Same flower, more magnification. This was slightly cropped because there was something ugly at the bottom of the frame.

I also shot the following picture in the light tent at the same time. It's not a "macro" since the flower is quite a bit larger than the frame:

I did a bit of work on this image, just to sharpen it and do something other than pure white (or black) for the background. I think it's called a "Day Lily", maybe someone will come along to confirm or correct that. By all means, click on this to blow it up to check out the detail.

Now that I know how to fold up my light tent, I'm going to use it more!

Moose Workshop

As you know, I could not attend the Mike Bertelsen moose workshop in Algonquin Park mid-June because of family circumstances. I'm rather sorry I missed it, maybe I'll have another chance in a while. Two of the people who were on that trip sent me pictures yesterday, and with their permission, I'm able to show them to you here.

Without further ado...

These first two outstanding images were captured by Mark Girard

These two fabulous images are by Dennis Phillips.

Basic DSLR Workshops

If you're a relatively new DSLR owner and photographer, you too can improve your photography. One-day and two-day workshops are available here in the Haliburton Highlands or elsewhere at your convenience. Check it out at

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Monday, July 02, 2012


Not for you, for me.

Oh, OK. I have a challenge for you. But first let's talk about me.

Due to some family matters, I literally haven't picked up my camera in over a week. Which implies that the photos in this blog are older than that! So that's been keeping me busy for a while. Then I got home and turned on my laptop and, "boing". That's the only word I could think of that wouldn't end up with this blog getting x-rated.

Without dwelling on the details, it's dead. I was lucky enough to be able to recover my data. I had done a backup to an external drive about a week before, and if you're not using Dropbox, you'd better start now. Click the link. Saved my bacon — I had gotten into the habit of copying my critical files, especially my Quickbooks accounting file to Dropbox and there it was when I needed to recover.

So I went computer shopping. I really wanted to get a Mac, but in the end, the price of changing over was too high for me. Not only the hardware, which is close to double what you pay on the PC side, but also all the little bits and pieces of software that I would need. I stayed on the Dark Side.

This is not an endorsement for either the manufacturer or the store, but I bought an HP laptop at Costco. When I transport stuff, it's in the back of my Subaru Forester SUV so size doesn't matter (in computers as well as other things...) but I have to admit that the 17" I bought is HUGE. In fact, when I got home I discovered that the big leather computer bag I've been using for years is too small, it won't fit in! I had to buy a computer backpack (at Costco again... OK, I do endorse them!). Anyway, a quad-core i7 processor, 8Gb of RAM expandable to 16Gb, 1.5 Tb of hard drive storage in the form of two discrete 750Gb drives, and a 2Gb NVIDIA video card. All of which I'm sure will be obsolete in 6 months!

Anyway, I'm sure you don't want to read about the endless trials and tribulations of getting software installed and configured, it's a daunting exercise. But it can be a Sisyphusian task (look it up!) if you don't do it right from the beginning, which is why I brought the computer up to Jim's place before even taking it out of the box! Jim is a workflow guru and I think we got things set up in the best possible way. Thanks, Jim!

Photography Courses in the Highlands

They are up and running. I have at least two sessions booked in the next two weeks. All as a result of this ad placed in the Haliburton Highlander:

For those of you interested in taking such a course, I'll be running these here in the Highlands or in the Toronto area for now. Please use this link to contact me. Or you could, of course, pop over to the website. Or even phone me!

If you're interested in TEACHING such a course, my Train-the-Trainer manual is coming along nicely and if all goes well, it will be ready in a month or so. Please contact me via this link to get on the list of those who will receive a FREE copy of the manual when it's ready.

Rosa is a smart lady

So she deserves a subheading of her own in this blog! Kathy and others will remember the difficulty I had trying to collapse my light tent so that it would fit into its original dinner-plate-sized bag. Kathy did it last summer in about 3 seconds but try as I might, I just haven't been able to do it.

Rosa said, "Look on YouTube. I'm sure you'll find how to do it there". I was skeptical. She is a smart lady! There are a number of tutorials on there that show exactly how and I DID IT! Her insights into a thousand different things amaze me. For a right-brained artist, she sure knows a lot of stuff. She's even challenging me on Quantum mechanics and string theory. She doesn't "get" the Big Bang Theory, my favourite TV show, though! LOL

Business Cards

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I have a source for full-coloured, double sided, high quality business cards at ridiculously low prices (like $20 for 1000 cards!). Since then, we've ordered a number of them for people and they've all come out exceptionally well. If you're a photoshop type, you can do the whole thing from start to finish yourself, if not, I can help you with it. Go back and check out the previous article or contact me if you need some.

A really Excellent presentation.

I watched a presentation by Scott Kelby a couple of weeks ago and it caused me to recompose some of my teaching points in my course, but more importantly, to rethink some of my practices when shooting pictures. It was called "Crush the Composition" and it was recorded on YouTube. It's an hour long, and worth watching -- make the time. Here's the link.

One of the things Scott touched on in his talk was "Working the Scene" and it's a fabulous concept. In three words or less, if you've stopped to take some pictures of a scene, don't just take one or two snaps, work it. Your original picture may not work out, but there are bound to be others that will, if you take the time and make the effort to try different perspectives or views of the same scene. He documented a great example, when he visited the Taj Mahal... but I'll let you hear it directly from him instead of trying to paraphrase it.

A few days later, I stopped at a canola field that caught my eye. I already showed you one image a couple of weeks ago, but here's the one I had in mind when I originally stopped there:

In the spirit of "working the scene", I mounted my 400mm lens and took this shot:

and this one:

And this one, which I did some additional work on:

I used some of the new tools in Photoshop CS5 to move the plants around to form a better arrangement,
then the oil paint filter to add some texture.
Back to my 70-200mm lens, I created this layered looking panorama

and now a deliberately slow shutter speed and panning action on that smooth gimbal mount produced this:

I call this one, "Yellow". I wonder why? I'm contemplating making a very large print of this for mounting and display. The one before as well.

Are you bored yet? I'm not. Half-a-dozen totally different images, all from the same stop at a yellow field of canola plants (actually I stopped twice, about a week apart).

My challenge to you

Next time something catches your eye and you stop to take a picture, pause and look around and see what other images you can create from the same spot. Post your pictures somewhere and send me a link to where they are, I'd love to see you stretching yourself like I think I did!

I had originally intended to come up with a theme for you, but I don't want to impose any limitations except that you should try to capture some totally different images, all from the same location.

I'll try to find some time this week to shoot some pictures. I'm working on the course, and I have to prepare for my CRA audit (shudder) next week, but I'll be baaack!

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