Sunday, October 28, 2012

The times they are a-changing...

There are two times in the year when the Highlands are not beautiful. At the end of the winter, when the snow melts and the world is painted in shades of muddy brown and grey, and now, after the leaves are down. One can be spoiled by the spectacular colours of autumn and once gone, they leave a sense of regret behind. The four seasons are magnificent, but there's a time between them that's less compelling.

To top it off, it's been raining and cold and grey. More to come: as I write this, the impending arrival of hurricane Sandy, coupled with a large cold front coming from the west, "Frankenstorm", the media has dubbed it. Thankfully we're not directly in the path, but we expect to be battered by it here as well.

The first thing I did was to change the banner at the top of this blog.  I plan to change it again from time to time.  Here's the old one, because I think it's gone, even from older posts.


This was the banner image up to today. The text was overlaid separately.

And here's the new one. 

So it's not a time to venture out with the camera to capture the spectacle of nature. Instead, it's time to throw another log on the fire, creating with senses other than the eyes, tools other than the camera. It's time to sit down with the computer. Photoshop, not photography.

I got to thinking about the images I've made in the past and wondered how much I've changed. I hesitate to say that I've grown, but I have to come to the conclusion that I have: some of my earlier pictures look incredibly amateurish and not up to my present technical or even artistic standards. I started by looking at my early HDR's. I found that I was taken with the extreme fringes of the technique, like many others I contributed to the frequently heard, "I hate HDR's. They're not realistic".

Although that's true, I don't hate all of them. Some are pretty good, but they lack subtlety. They're also one-dimensional in that they were attempts to get the most out of every pixel. Anyway, I looked at an image I shot 2 years ago, at Old Woman Bay on the shore of Lake Superior:


Not horrible, in my view. My goal at the time was to enhance the detail of the cliff face and the sky. 
So I revisited the image, and this time, used Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to tone it. I did it without looking at the old version:


This time, I wanted to add some character to it, so I used control points to add the light from the setting sun, again I emphasized the cliff face, but now I cropped off the messy foreground and spent some time simplifying the dead tree in front. I varied the saturation from spot to spot and of course framed it with a vignette which I created with Topaz Adjust. This time I zoomed in and fixed some chromatic aberration and reduced the halos that I hadn't noticed two years ago.
Which image do you prefer?

Of course, I still think there's a place for extreme effects. I'll show you that in a minute.

All of that said about the lousy weather and dull scenery, I did go out. I had a purpose in mind. About 25 years ago, I wrote a short story. Now I'm using it as a basis for a more challenging work: an actual novel. Here's a sample, for what it's worth:

As soon as it reared up over the rocks, Henry recognized it for what it was: a large black bear sow. It spotted Henry and for some reason, felt threatened and moved to the attack. Bear were usually docile unless provoked or if you got between them and their cubs, so he wasn’t prepared for its aggressive behavior. He could see the sharp claws and hear them as it scrambled over the rocks, could almost smell its fetid breath as he stared down the gaping mouth, through the sharp teeth. It roared and the sound chilled him to the bone and spurred Henry into action.
He quickly lifted the .32-20 and thumbed back the hammer as he brought the muzzle up. Henry knew that this lightweight gun was much too small against a large bear, but it was all he had. He tried to mount the gun on his shoulder but his pipe was in the way and he couldn’t get his cheek on the stock so he brought it down and fired from the hip. Working the lever quickly, he fired again as the bear attacked with race horse speed. He got off a third shot and with the bear very much alive and ...

Yeah, you're going to have to wait to find out what happened. In the original piece, I wrote these opening paragraphs:

An artist would need only shades of grey, green and brown on his palette to capture the entirety of the November forest. No other colour intrudes upon the senses. The ground is carpeted with the brown colour of dead leaves, interspersed with the occasional spot of green where a hardy fern still displays its life. Here and there, a slate-grey rock pokes up its gloomy head, covered with splotches of dark, almost black moss. Occasionally the moss is bright green, almost fluorescent in its contrast with the rest of the bleak world.
Above stand the trees: their trunks painted almost universally in shades of grey, tinged with green. The evergreens are close to black in colour, sometimes forming a monolithic wall against the dull sky or the brown hill behind. Everywhere are the dormant branches of the brush, like a brown fog wherever you look, partly obscuring whatever’s behind. You can focus your eyes on a branch, or try to see through it. There are gaps where you can see with crystal clarity, but mostly this is an out-of-focus world.
Here and there are bushes where not all the leaves have fallen – a bright yellow/brown that draws the eye. It’s hard to focus elsewhere, difficult to see through them. Or the odd silver birch, a bit of white in an otherwise pastel world.
Today, a gloomy, rainy day, I set out to capture that feeling.


It's not a great picture but read the text. It tells the story. The bear came over the rise on the left...
Just for the record, I'm about 8,000 words into the book. I hope I'm not jinxing it by talking about it. I'm giving myself the winter to finish it. I may publish excerpts here from time to time.

So...

"If you go out in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise."

There's always something to shoot. Here's what I found...


I don't care if you think extreme HDR is for the birds. I like it sometimes.  
 Also, I went out on Thursday for a last ride on my bike. I'm giving up motorcycling, the bike is traded for an ATV with a snowplow which, according to the phone call this morning, I'm going to get on Wednesday, weather permitting. Expect pictures...

Here's a farewell picture of my bike.


The naked trees aren't the story, the bike is. A similar selective coloration treatment as in the tractor picture, and vignette like the Lake Superior landscape. 

Since colour isn't the story out there right now, here's a monochrome treatment of the pine woods where I stopped to get the bike picture. This is now the wallpaper on my iPad. 
Be safe in the hurricane, everyone. I'll see you on the other side.

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