Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First Impressions

I've got my new Nikon D600 and I'll share some first impressions here. But first...

Announcing Photo Mini-Tours
On the weekends of October 7 and 14, I'll be running some what I call "mini-tours". The intention is to take some people out to shoot photos of the fall colours up here in the Highlands, at venues I've scouted and perhaps give them some tips on how to take better shots. These are not full teaching workshops, just a 3-hour session that should give them some great ideas and if the weather cooperates, probably some "keeper" images. There will be 3 sessions each Sunday, depending on demand: loosely termed "morning", "noon" and "night".

If you're interested in attending or if you know someone who might be, visit for more information, but don't delay! The colours are coming, the colours are coming!

As I mentioned earlier, I've written a guide to taking better fall pictures. It's included in the registration for the mini-tours, but it's also available for separate download here.

They're Baaack...
Yes they are. The alien bunny-rabbit like creatures from a planet far, far away, have come back under cover of darkness and placed another caché of carrots for their forthcoming invasion of the Earth. I have proof, captured on digital film:

Some of the alien bunnies must be colour blind because they threw in a few parsnips this year. Also some onions and turnips...
perhaps we're destined for a stew in a giant crock-pot! 
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

iPhone Picture
I have to admit, it isn't bad!

I built this little fence to block the elements so barbequeing  will be easier in the winter. I do that year-round.

OK, OK. You're waiting for the D600 impressions. Here we are.

Nikon D600 first impressions
Some good, some not-so-good, but I'm glad I bought it. I wrote most of this up on the TIF forum last night as well, so if you're on there, this might be a repeat. Here's what I wrote:
I have an overall positive feeling about the camera but there is a learning curve and a few glitches that take the shine off it a little for me. Some of it is just me but I thought I'd share anyway. 

  • Without Lightroom/ACR support, it's a bitch to post-process images. The only software I have that will handle the NEF files is NikonView NX2. Remember when LR4 was creepy-crawly slow? NX2 is worse. Adjust the white balance and wait 20 seconds before the screen refreshes. Exporting one file to TIFF is a 60-90 second process. The controls in NX2 suck compared with LR (or maybe it's just me). I initially set it up to output RAW+JPG(fine) and chose "vivid" toning. That looked horrible so I switched to "Neutral". That's also awful, I'll try a different setting tomorrow. Images are really flat. When you overexpose (eg. bird in flight) there's nothing you can do to recover.

  • You can only do 3 shot bracketing. 1 stop increments are too small, 2 stop are too big. Or maybe it's because I'm stuck with JPEGS for now... 

  • I used to walk around all day with my D300/70-200 in my right hand. The middle finger on the right hand sat comfortably under the little ledge on the front of the camera. With the D600, they reshaped the ledge and my finger hurts. I suppose I'll get used to it.

  • None of my old accessories fit. Batteries, CF cards (the D600 uses 2 x SD cards), the cable release, even the AC power supply.

  • The autofocus is super fast and tack sharp. I wasn't sure because it was hard to tell on the LCD but I went out yesterday and practiced on birds in flight and 80% of my shots were bang on. Learning curve, though: I have to figure out which settings work best. There's "AF-A" mode that takes some getting used to, but I can see using it as a default when 'walking about'.

  • High ISO performance is OUTSTANDING. I did a forest scene at 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO 6400 and after a little noise reduction in LR (on a JPEG!) it looked like an ISO 800 shot from the D300.

  • You can blow up/crop images to 200% and they look like 100% crops on the D300. Tons of detail on that 24Mp sensor!

I picked up the camera on Friday, and shot this test image that afternoon:

This is cropped from a larger image. The significant fact is, I shot it at ISO 25,600. Yes, I said 25,600.  I did apply a little noise reduction in Lightroom, but this blows my mind. ISO 25,600.
On the way home to Minden, Rosa and I stopped at a cool pine forest and I took these shots:

Rosa's taking an iPhone picture up in the trees.
We're probably going back to this spot on one of the mini-tours, by the way. 

On Sunday, I stopped at the landfill (OK, the "garbage dump"!) with the intention of testing the autofocus as I said above.

On the way home, I came across this wild turkey (the one above is a "turkey vulture". Different beast).

This was shot with the 400mm, quite far away so I had to crop. I used shutter speed priority, 1/640 at f/5.6, ISO 800. 

Heartwarming little dog picture

My neighbours, the Sweets, have a couple of little dogs. Marty walked by while I was shooting some fall colours and the dog stopped yapping long enough for me to get a photo:

I used the oil paint filter on the fur, and painted some catchlights in the eyes. It's cropped quite tightly.

That's it for now. More to come soon!

— 30 —

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fall Colours: they're HERE...

Just a quick post:: it's that fantastic time of year.

Pine forest near Bancroft, Ontario 
Do you know how to capture those saturated colours and huge dynamic range? If you're experienced, you probably have a good shot at it but if you're a relatively new shooter, or you're using a point-and-shoot camera or lower end DSLR, you may be disappointed with your images.

No worries! Help is here.

I've written a Guide to shooting Fall Colours and it's available on my website at The guide is a PDF file optimized for the iPad but readily viewable on a normal computer. It's intended for anyone with a digital camera: you don't have to have a fancy DSLR to benefit from most of the tips. It's only $2 to download, worth 10x that amount.

Get more information at and pass the link on to your less experienced colleagues. Now everyone can make compelling fall colour images.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What's Goin' on?

Well for one thing, summer appears to be drawing to a close. We usually get an "Indian Summer" period where daytime temperatures approximate high summer, but the nights are definitely getting cooler and, "the colours are coming, the colours are coming"!

I've extended an invitation to several friends to come up and visit at the end of the month or first weekend of October. We'll be going out shooting the outstanding panoramas of Fall in the Highlands. I hope we can get up to Algonquin Park too. If you want to come along, send me an email so we can figure it out.

What else is new?
I don't want to jump the gun, but I've ordered my new Nikon D600. Faithful readers will know that I had to pass on the D800 I had my heart set on, but I've been saving my shekels and I can do the D600. Like I said, I don't want to jinx anything, but when you read the NEXT blog entry, I expect to have the camera in hand.

Now although I'd really like to have a backup body, frankly I can't afford it right now. And I have a superb lens that's DX and I need an FX one for the new camera. So my D300 is for sale, complete with a Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 lens. More than 20% of my keepers (the images I really really like) were taken with that lens. The big winner, by the way is the 70-200 f/2.8 with over 40%. You can't take a bad picture with it. So if you're interested in a deal on a great camera/lens combination, contact me. I'll cut you such a deal!

Absolutely Outstanding Customer Service
I'm impressed. I've written this up elsewhere (on the TIF forum) but the story deserves repetition here. A while ago I wrote about a new funky tripod made by 3 Legged Thing that I bought. It's got some incredible features, from the fact that it's only about 2 lbs and will support up to 17 lbs of camera/lens due to its carbon fiber construction, it extends up higher than I can reach on my tippytoes, folds down to 20" and costs half the price of a Gitzo. I've been using it for a few months and have a few quibbles. I sent an email to the manufacturer in England and to my surprise, I almost immediately got an overseas phone call from Danny, the CEO of the company.

First we walked through me trying to make him understand what the issues were (my terminology was flawed) and he immediately acknowledged them without argument. Then he said, "I could send you a few parts and tell you how to fix it, but I'd really rather just send you a new tripod". He asked me to be patient for a few weeks because their new model is being introduced at Photokina next week and he wants to send me the new one. He assured me that I wouldn't be out of pocket one cent (or farthing, I guess!).

This tripod is worth a look. You can buy it at B&H (here's the link). We even talked about his need for a retailer in Canada, and I've forwarded some contacts to him. By the way, the manufacturer's website is as funky as the tripod itself and you can see it here.

You didn't think I'd finish without some pictures, did you?
I was out shooting for a couple of days after quite a dry spell. But I'm going to start with the most recent pictures, from last night. OK, well technically from early this morning, not last night. I was on my way to bed and realized I forgot something in the car. When I went out to retrieve it, I happened to look up. O–M–G! The night was so crisp and clear, the stars were like light bulbs and the Milky Way was like a carpet of mist. I HAD to go out and shoot some pictures. So here are a couple:

I had a small flashlight with me so I painted the trees with light during the 30 second exposure. I did need to do some work in Lightroom to enhance it, but nothing fancy. I've often wondered what that cluster of stars is, in the upper right corner. Anyone know? That really really bright one has to be a planet. 

Beats me what that glow is across the lake. The lights from a house illuminating the bottom of a cloud? It was barely visible to the naked eye, but a 30 second exposure at f/4, ISO=3200 can see EVERYTHING. I can't wait to shoot some of these with the D600 fantastic noise performance! 
I decided, "in for a penny, in for a pound" and I prepared the camera (and of course my 3 Legged Thing "Brian" tripod for a long time exposure. At 2:45 am, I set it up (by the way, ISO=100, f5.6, 12mm focal length) and went back inside with the shutter locked open, intending to spend an hour editing images before going out to retrieve the camera. Well I fell asleep in the computer chair, so the actual exposure was 102 minutes! Probably should have stopped it down a bit more, I've had success at f/8 but working on the RAW file in Lightroom, I came up with this:

Hope it reproduces well on your monitor. 
Let's go back in time to Friday. I went out for an hour or so to try to get the images for the monthly TIF rally. The 3 categories were "Yellow", "Motion" and "Fuzzy", set this month by yours truly. I didn't cheat: I went out with fresh eyes looking for images. I won't post the ones I'm going to enter here, you'll have to go over to the TIF forum to see them. You need to register (to keep out the riff-raff) but there's no risk or associated spam. Look for "September Rally" under "Battlefields".

Anyway, here's some shots I will not be submitting (unless I change my mind!)

Macros are fun, but really challenging! This is a focus-stack of 5 images, enhanced with Topaz Adjust 5. 

I've been trying for a month to get a bee in focus! 

This is a tiny bee-like insect. These guys are more interested in the pollen they're gathering than in the lens less than 2" away, or in the delicate, vulnerable hand holding that lens! 
La pièce de résistance!
After filling up my water jugs at the Maple Lake mountain spring (it was running really slow, so I took the bee pictures while I was waiting. And the leaf at the top too), I went in search of another water source a local told me about, at Stanhope Airport. Nothing doing there worth photographing, but there was a sign saying "Open Doors Ontario" on the church at the corner, so I popped in (be patient, I'm getting there!). Nothing caught my eye in this 111-year-old church but in chatting with a lady there, she told me that the Twelve Mile Lake Church was also open for visits. She said it was tiny, and completely off the grid: no electricity. It was built in 1890, which makes it 122 years old. I wandered inside, and the décor wasn't spectacular, but they had a manual antique pump organ that had been built in 1888 and was still in use! According to them, the natural wood carving and finish are original. Can you say, "HDR"? So I asked and received permission to photograph it, and here it is.

I decided to also use the Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6, after rendering the HDR. I spent a lot of time reconstructing the top step on the left in Photoshop and think I did a creditable job, shadows and light nuances and all.  
So that you get a feel for what the Oil Paint filter can do, here's a 100% crop from the image:

So that's it for now. I'm going to head out in a few minutes, have to drop into the garbage dump and pick up some groceries. I'll be bringing my camera with me, of course. TTFN

— 30 —

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sometimes you've got it...

And sometimes you don't!

Distracted by visitors (that's a good thing!) and with my mind clogged with other stuff (that's not), I haven't been shooting very many pictures for the past couple of weeks. Normally I see potential images everywhere around me, but not for a little while now. I'm feeling kind of jaded, but also on the cusp of something. I'm just not sure what.

I look at other people's pictures and say, "ho-hum. Another landscape, or HDR, or bird". Been there, done that. Stuff hasn't been speaking to me. I read a book on writing novels, then I read a novel and marvelled at how inept the writer was. Stilted dialog, inappropriate time spent on detail and not enough on character... and this is a published novel from a known writer! I watch sitcom's on TV and cringe at the laugh track, although I can still marvel at the skill of the videography. There's much to be learned.

I went out for an afternoon shoot with Dr. Ron and got... nuthin'. Not inspired. We spent 2 fruitless hours waiting for an Osprey in a nest to do something! It was a good day, though, the company was great, just getting a chance to unwind a bit... I feel a bit directionless and in need of a challenge. Is it just me, or do others feel that way sometimes?

A disappointment

Henry's Camera phoned me: the D800e I pre-ordered was in. "Come pick it up". I declined. Some financial issues, including the replacement of my computer, make it not possible now. My D300 keeps on trucking along, and I understand that Nikon is coming out with their new D600 in a few weeks at half the price of the D800. (Link) Maybe that's the ticket, we'll see soon! I have set aside enough money for that.

By the way, there's another rumour floating around for Canon fans: check it out! Thanks, Stu, for the heads-up.

Close to a deal

PS, I'm close to a deal to sell my motorcycle, or actually trade it for an ATV with a snowplow. Actually we've shaken hands on the deal but it depends on whether the other guy is able to restore the ATV to a suitable condition (I'm pretty sure he is, but I don't want to count my chickens!). Stay tuned...

Here's another mixed message

I took this picture yesterday:

Macro shot of a maple leaf. And yes, that's what colour it is. Lit by an off-camera flash at an oblique angle to bring out the texture. By the way, for you tekkie types, this was shot at minimum magnification with the bellows, lens somewhere around 80mm and probably at f/11. You can see the focus fall-off at upper right. Depth of field is always an issue with macro shots. 
All around me there are signs of the end of summer and the promise of autumn colours to come. For over a week, there are trees and individual branches showing colour already. Likely they are the less healthy shrubs, suffering somehow from lack of circulation. Although the daytime temperatures vary with the weather, there's a certain crispness in the nighttime air even when it's a warm evening. I can't believe it's actually Labour Day Weekend, the traditional end of high summer.

Every year I look forward at this time and say "this year I'm not going to give in and shoot the trite postcard views of Fall Colours in the Highlands". And every year, my breath is taken away by the colours so bright that you need sunglasses to look at them without damaging your eyes. What will I do this year?

I haven't planned anything yet: but I'm thinking about a "Photowalk" or "Fall Colours Shoot" up here. Who wants to come up? Shall we put something formal together? Or just a group of friends? Please tell me your thoughts and if you'd like to participate. A quick flirt with my calendar says the weekend of September 29/30 might be the one. Drop me a line...

Gales of November

That's Rob Stimpson's workshop up in Wawa on the shores of Lake Gitchigumi (Lake Superior). I'm not able to go this year, but I think they still have some space available if anyone is interested. It's a long drive but a wonderful opportunity to get some outstanding pictures, make new friends and have a fantastic extended weekend. This year it's November 1-4. Here are some links for information:

Rob Stimpson's website. Scroll down near the bottom of the page. Contact Rob here.
The Rock Island Lodge website. There's a video at the bottom of the page that I put together after the 2010 trip. If you click the "more images in the gallery" link at the bottom of the page, there's quite a number of pictures to see.
If you go to this Picasa album, there's a selection of images taken over some years at the Gales workshop. Some of the images are mine!

This is probably my favourite image from my two visits there (published several times, including in PhotoNews!)

Anyway, here are a few images from this "less-than-productive-week". OK, some of them came out OK...

At the "Famous"(!!) Haliburton Garlic Festival. Would you believe this bunch of a dozen garlic bulbs was selling for almost $50? OK, I'm not a connaisseur...

Family Portrait at the Scotch Line Road Landfill (OK, 'garbage dump'). I don't like the foreground, maybe I'll play with it a bit later on. You can click on it (actually any of my images) to blow it up and see more detail.

Macro shot of flower buds. This whole image is the size of my thumbnail. This is actually a "Focus Stacked" composite done in Photoshop CS6, from 8 separate images. As I said earlier, depth of field in macro photography is a challenge. Also enhanced with Topaz Adjust 5. 

Pano taken when I was shooting with Dr. Ron the other day. This was just East of Kirkfield, where the Trent-Severn waterway meets Highway 48. There was a boat with two fishermen in it nearby when we drove by earlier but they were gone when we got back. I'm kicking myself for not following my instincts and stopping for the shot. 

I had stopped for some sunset shots on Highway 35 one evening. It got dark (it does every night! LOL) and I was putting the camera away when I thought of trying this shot. I zoomed my 70-200 lens while the shutter was open (1 sec @ f/8, ISO 100) and a car approached along the road.  
See you next time! Pass along this link: I'd love to have more visitors to my blog.

— 30 —

A nice visit

Last week, my mom came to visit for a couple of days. When she reads this, she'll know I didn't really mind when she scrubbed my just-cleaned kitchen counters ("I moved the toaster and there were some bread crumbs under it"!). That's what moms do.

She enjoyed the great weather, sat outside and marveled at the birds coming to the feeders — there would have been more but I only filled them the morning of the second day — chatted with a neighbour and petted his little Pomeranian, 'Bear'. My mom has a thing for furry little cute dogs. I was glad she could come up, she's going to be 91 this month and her outings are few and far between.

We went into Minden and did a few errands. Although she hasn't been there before, the town has some similarity to others she's visited over the years and it seemed to kindle some fond memories. Then I took her to my favourite spot, the Minden Wild Water Preserve, where we carefully negotiated a gravelly slope with her walker in tow, down to the water's edge.

I didn't take a lot of pictures during her visit, in fact I think I only took the camera out once, during the white water excursion. But when I reviewed the images, I saw that I might be able to present an interesting storyboard to put you there with us in the moment.

Here's where we sat, by the edge of the water.

This is one of my favourite spots. I can be lost in the rushing water forever — it is as close as I come to meditation, I daresay. After several minutes, I could see that my mom felt the same way. She seemed to relax and feel the peace in the moment.

Some time later, a pair of kayakers came along to challenge the river and play in the white water.

Mom was at first fascinated but a little fearful

When one of the boaters started playing in the waterfall, you could see her starting to worry and be a little concerned for his safety.

When they made it through, she relaxed and could see how much fun they were having.

And then she was able to turn her mind back to the calming, relaxing atmosphere by the river. As we sat there, we talked about what it was like at our country place, 'Ivry North', where we spent our free time some 50 years ago. I think she now has a better idea why I like living up here in the Highlands.

I look forward to repeating this visit when she turns 92!

— 30 —