Sunday, August 12, 2012

Still Learning!

I haven't found my niche yet. By now you'd think I would have but almost every week I find myself experimenting with a new technique or style and in a way, that's a good thing.

I thought I found it half a year ago. Landscapes, seascapes, big skies, HDR's... but if you look back at this blog over the past several weeks, you won't find a single landscape there. Well except for an 'oil painting' of a boat on the Trent-Severn canal but that was more about the technique than the subject. Lots of black background flowers but how many of those can you do?

A common thread that winds through my images over time is some action. Whitewater kayaking, motorcycles, bicycles, runners. I still haven't tired of the Minden Wildwater Preserve, shooting kayakers on the river. I've been up here almost 5 years and I've lost track of the number of times I've gone over there. Same with other action events, whenever there is one, I'm motivated to get out and shoot. Last week it was a running race, yesterday a bicycle event...

But every time I get a new piece of equipment or software, I have to experiment with it to see what  I can achieve, and to reach a certain skill level with it. Macro, for instance. It's amazing what images exist in the small world and I'll keep trying to capture some. Hopefully I'll stop shooting water droplets on leaves, though I'm drawn to them!

I think I can define one characteristic of my pictures: I like making bold statements. Subtlety is not my thing. An image needs a clearly defined subject, one that stands out because of colour, brightness, texture... does that make any sense? Sometimes that results in an over-processed look as opposed to the photorealism that I've strived for in the past. I haven't given up experimenting yet!

Whenever I'm out shooting pictures, though, when I look through the viewfinder, one thought is almost always in the back of my mind: "would this make a large format art print"? That's where I'd like to be. I have the photographic and post-processing skills, not the mechanics of printing, though; I don't really want to get into that so I'll have someone do it for me.

When you look through my pictures, I hope that's what you see: "this would make a wonderful print"!

Learning from the pro's

I may have said this before, but if I did, it's worth repeating. With the Olympics on for the past couple of weeks, I've been watching more than my usual share of TV. The photographers and videographers (not just at the Games: pay careful attention to commercials! And movies. And Sitcoms.) get paid big bucks to do what they do and sometimes they are VERY good. True, they have unlimited budgets (especially the commercials) but next time you're in front of the tube, pay attention to the composition, to the lighting! Most of it is outstanding.

The NAPP forums are essentially dead.

For the past couple of years, I've hung out on the forums at the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) site. It was a great place to get answers to photography or post-processing questions, see the work of others, respond to challenges, meet new friends. It appears that either their business plan has changed, or a fox got into their henhouse because suddenly there were some very heavy-handed actions by both moderators and NAPP staffers (well one, anyway). Imagine a site, focused on Photography and Photoshop training, where members are not allowed to post pictures. Peoples' work were called 'snapshots' in a derogatory fashion. Complaints were dealt with by deleting posts and by banning members from posting.

This should in now way take away from the excellent quality of education and publications fostered by NAPP and Kelby Training. It was with a heavy heart that I and a substantial number of other members tendered our resignations, both on the forums and as NAPP members. A new group of talented photographers and graphics people, now numbering close to 60, has popped up and a new forum is being set up as I write this. For now, access is by invitation only but if you drop me a note, I'll submit your contact info to the group.

Now on to this week's pictures.

A few days ago, while sitting at the computer, a bird hit my picture window with a thump. That happens from time to time. I got up and looked out and there on the deck was what I think is a juvenile purple finch. It had knocked itself out cold! I picked it up gently and put it on the slate table of my gazebo to recover. It sat there looking at me. Of course the next thought in my mind was, "where's my camera?" I grabbed it and it had the wide angle lens mounted, so I took a quick shot, then went in to change to the bellows. I was thinking, "when would I get another opportunity to shoot a living bird from 1" away"? Unfortunately, there wasn't enough light to get a good image. By the time I got the flash out and mounted, the bird flew away. But I did get this first shot with the wide angle:


Sharpened in Photoshop CS6 (hi-pass), some selective clarity adjustment in Lightroom and then toned with Topaz Adjust. 
I got to thinking about the same spot for other songbird portraits. (an aside: as I sit here looking out, there are a dozen songbirds on my bird feeder and 3 or 4 others sitting waiting their turn on the guy wires from my gazebo. I'd take a picture but as soon as I open the door, they'll be gone. I think the trick is the choice of black sunflower seeds in the feeder — it works like a magnet!)

The roof over the table is an ideal holder for a reflector. So this was the basic setup.


For you tekkie types: here's where the rule about closer=softer doesn't work. In order to illuminate the reflector more evenly, the flash has to be further away from it. To add some light fill, I also added a rolled-up white towel  on the table to the right. The SB-600 was driven in "commander mode" by the pop-up flash on the camera, which was actually inside my house, hidden somewhat by the magnetic screen door I described a couple of weeks ago.
Now who knew that songbirds had such quick reactions?  A bird was standing on the table (attracted by some of those black sunflower seeds, of course!) When I fired the flash, the bird jumped! It was almost impossible to get a shot of a bird just standing there!


Like I said, this American Goldfinch was just standing there until I fired the flash! Toned with HDR Efex 2 and Topaz. This was shot with the 200mm and was cropped from about half of the frame. 
Here's another one:

This is another one of those purple finches (the adult males are coloured, females and juveniles are not. I think that's what it is, but the bird book shows the bill as lighter coloured. 
Eventually, an hour or two later, the birds became accustomed to the flash and didn't fly away when I fired it.


Bird portrait. The fuzzy blob off to the left is another bird. I used the Iris Blur filter in Photoshop CS6 to isolate the subject. You can see that the rolled up towel reflector off to the right was actually effective. 
Let me add one more picture before I go. I have some others which I'll save for next time. Yesterday I came across this old chair next to a wall of peeling paint and it literally screamed, "HDR Me!" The only thing missing was a bearded little old man puffing on a pipe.



Until next time!

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