Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I feel naked

I'm a disembodied spirit. On Monday, I drove to Mississauga and left my D600 body at Nikon. Hence, "disembodied". My D300 has gone on to its new forever home with Pete (give it lots of love, feed it only the best of CF cards and battery juice, but make sure it knows who's Master, Pete. Treat it like you always did your hunting dogs and it'll be there for you!), and without my D600, the only body I have left is the one connected to the bottom side of my neck!

According to Sarah, the vivacious young Nikon service counter representative (she might be reading this so I thought choosing my words carefully might help the cause!) 5-10 working days, but I smiled bravely as a tear rolled down my cheek and she promised to see what she could do.

So why did I bring it in? Well I've been reading about the dust accumulation issue and the dust on my sensor looks just like the image on dPreview. Dust builds up mainly in the upper left quadrant. Small, almost invisible spots — certainly invisible to the naked eye but clearly there under the loupe — in sufficient numbers to make spot removal a chore in Lightroom.

I like Nikon, don't get me wrong. But one annoying practice of theirs is their penchant towards secrecy. The rumour mill says there are 3 likely causes for this issue: (1) the material on the back of the mirror, (2) excessive grease around the sensor mount, and (3) a gap in the shutter assembly that sucks dust in every time you trigger it. I told Sarah, if all they're going to do is clean the sensor, well I could do that myself. But if they're going to fix something... all I saw was her pretty smile and nothing else. In the end, I know they're not going to tell me what they did, they never do.

When I first got the D600, I thought it didn't autofocus as readily as my D300 did. So I figured while I was there...

All I have left is my iPhone.

At the Richmond Hill Camera Club on Monday night 
HDR Presentation
I had fun. I did an hour presentation on HDR to the RHCC as I mentioned last week, and I think it went well. I certainly enjoyed being there and rekindling friendships with people I haven't seen for a long time, and I think my message, which was "HDR's don't have to be over-the-top" and "Don't run with scissors is the only rule you have to follow", came across OK. Several people said they were going to give HDR a shot.

Link to the slides (soon to be an eBook!) and the resources mentioned in the presentation:

RHCC runs out of a nice facility: a big, airy room, excellent technology (although I had a few issues with trying to get a Lightroom slideshow to run on the projectors). I'm going to really have to try harder to attend some RHCC events.

It just ain't right.
I haven't been paying attention, have they been talking about this for a while and I didn't notice? It seems that Hasselblad has come out with a new camera, the "Lunar", a repackaged Sony NEX-7 with optional fancy gold plating and wood-grained finish, and curves and textures which are supposed to remind one of the simplicity and elegance of the 500C.

I'm sorry. a 24 Mp APS-C sensored mirrorless camera Sony knockoff bearing the Hasselblad nameplate? What were they thinking? They got the price right, at $6500 though...

The Artist Project
This show was down at the Ex- on the weekend (non-Torontonians: that's "Exhibition Place" where parking is only $14 (tongue firmly embedded in cheek...). Great show. I talked to some of the exhibitors who said they might have gotten better sales at the One-of-a-Kind show, but less exposure for their art. Exhibitors here were split between painters and photographers, and there were some outstanding images on display and for sale. Several that I myself might have considered buying were I not a starving artist myself!

I walked around with my D600 and 17-35 lens and was physically stopped by an amazing number of people who wanted to know what I thought about the camera. I guess the big yellow "D600" on the camera strap was a giveaway. Interestingly, lots of people were taking pictures, but with iPhones or P&S cameras, I didn't see any other DSLR's there. One artist/exhibitor asked me to take his picture with one of his works, for his Facebook page. When I obliged, he INSISTED on being dead centre in the picture, looking straight at the camera. Not my fault!

A little selective tone-mapping, some perspective adjustment, and voilĂ ! Reflections were impossible to eliminate, so I blurred the background. We'll see if he likes it. 

When you first came into the show, you were greeted with a wall of "Faces". Rosa says they took one image from each exhibitor (if they had one of a face). Some excellent work.

It was quiet at first, then got a bit busier later.

So, very nicely done. I'll be back next year and, you read it here first, maybe, just maybe, as an exhibitor. I'm planning to 'get my feet wet' in Haliburton in June. Watch this space...

See you next week. Hope I have a camera then!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm really bad at multi-tasking!

How do people do it?
I think if one has to admit to a failing, my inability to multitask is a big one for me. Iris, my SO for a few years a while ago was a master (mistress?? LOL) at it. To the point that it would be annoying, she would constantly be doing several things at once. I could only concentrate on the task at hand. Those who believe in horoscopes say it's predictable: Virgos have that characteristic. I'm not a believer, I only know it's true of me.

I've been working on my presentation on HDR techniques, scheduled for next Monday at the Richmond Hill Camera Club, to the exclusion of pretty well everything else. I want to do it right, and since I don't do them very frequently, I spent a lot of time in PowerPoint (one annoyance: I haven't been able to find text styles on any menu bar. Sure would be nice to have a place to click to make text the same throughout the presentation). Writing it was easy: preparing it for presentation was not. Anyway, it's almost done and I think people will like it. I plan to publish the talk as an eBook right afterwards. I still have to finish my presenter notes and reference material links, and I'm done.

If you're an RHCC member, see you there! Or if you're in the North Toronto area and you want to attend, I'm pretty sure I can get you in as a guest. Drop me an email.

I'm a bit behind schedule on other stuff, I had to spend a few days in Toronto last week on personal business, but I expect to get caught up in the next couple of days. The preliminary schedule for photography workshops is at the top of the list after the HDR thing is done.

Winter at last!
I know a lot of people hate winter, but I don't. Sure, there are some things about it I don't like (short gloomy days being one of them) but with the huge weather variations we've been going through, it hasn't seemed like winter here, really.

We got a significant snowfall a couple of weeks ago so the world is white, as it should be. Snowmobiles are buzzing around, ice fishermen are patiently hunting those elusive icecubes and Bergy Bits (I know, I know. They SAY they're actually trying to catch fish, but the fish aren't stupid: they're all spending the winter in Florida!), and I get to go out on my ATV and plow the driveway. My neighbour, Jim, did his in about half an hour, then stopped to say hi as he drove by, saying "you're STILL out here?". I was having fun! I can do a basic job in about 20 minutes, but if you want to smooth out every little bit...

Anyway, it's nice to look out the kitchen window on a pile of snow in my neighbour's driveway taller than I am, and at heavily laden pine tree branches drooping so low you can't walk under them. As I write this (Tuesday morning), it's snowing heavily, and it's reasonably temperate at -3°C  (it's been cold at night. Down close to -30°C, crisp and clear. I've had a roaring fire going behind me as I toil away at the computer). Oh, goody! I can go out and plow the driveway in a little while!

Here come da Judge!
I had the honour of being invited to judge a photo competition for Toronto Camera Club last week. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take their photography to the next level. Looking through and evaluating hundreds of images, all of which are meaningful to the makers and represent their best work, you learn where you yourself place in the grand scheme of things. Sobering, sometimes, and, I have to admit, somewhat encouraging.

The other good part was to be able to work with some real pro's and get new insights. Thanks, Lance and Nella and Anthony and the rest of the TCC support staff. If any of you want to get involved in judging, take the CAPA course. You can probably track one down through your local club. CAPA is Canadian... I'm sure there are equivalent organizations everywhere in the world.

I don't shoot for competition any more. I seem to bend the rules more often than not. I created a composite clipart image for my HDR presentation, that says it all:

A new lens!
New to me, that is. A bit of a story (there always is... LOL). My old buddy Pete is an outdoor photographer/writer and we're in reasonably frequent contact. Turns out he had an FX wide angle lens that he was using on his DX-sensor camera that wasn't wide enough... and we agreed that a great swap would be my D300 package with the great 12-24 DX lens, for his FX, 17-35 f/2.8 lens.

So we agreed to swap and did it via Canada Post (it is winter, you know! And we live about 400km apart!). I shipped my package to him, and he did the same. The lens arrived first. Turns out that Canada Post will deliver to my door when a signature is required, but will only leave a card and I have to go to the post office if I don't have to sign for it. Makes sense, right? Not to me either...

So the lens was delivered. I eagerly tore open the package. A Nikon box, and a hard lens case inside it... rubbing my hands together, I opened it, only to find a Nikon 28-70 f/2.8 lens inside! Pete shipped me the wrong lens! My first reaction was to Google the value of that lens, but then I decided to call him and straighten things out. I finally got the right lens yesterday (more to the story, but I've bored you enough!).

Of course I threw it on the camera and went out in search of pictures! Didn't find much yesterday, but I did do a couple of shots.

Not a serious shot, just trying to see how wide it actually is. This was shot from around 3 feet away from the ATV and it's a 3-shot HDR (as if the cogniscenti can't tell! Don't criticize the halo, I was just playing, OK?). 17mm, f/8, ISO 100, Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, Topaz Adjust 5. Focus was on the back wheel and you can ALMOST read the fine print on the label on the back of the plow!

By the way, there were a lot of sensor dust spots in the sky... they come out to play when you do an extreme HDR. I thought my sensor was clean... going to have to look into that.

Here's a more serious shot, I visited my friend Vic and took an HDR sequence inside his living room. THIS is what a wide angle lens is for!

Heavily edited, of course. That's what I do! Vic said one of the things he loved about his house was the rich glow of the woods and I agreed with him. That's what I was trying to achieve in this shot. The room is fairly big: there's about 6' between me and the back of the chair in the foreground, but that's a full width, 12'-ceilinged window wall. FWIW, I metered on the wood in the centre, opened the middle exposure up about 2/3 of a stop and did a 2-stop differential burst. f/4 at ISO 640. NIK HDR Efex Pro and again Topaz Adjust, but I used a preset that emulated a retro film effect which added saturation, glow, some graininess and the vignette. 

I convinced Vic to let me take his picture too. I sat him on the couch on the left and used available window light with the 70-200mm lens at around 100mm.

Serious look. I have to get him moving around a bit next time. You have to love the lighting! Tack sharp, considering it was 1/80 sec at f/4.5, ISO 640, handheld.
Great Deals from B&H Photo
If you have a hankering for a new lens, Nikon is discounting many legacy pro lenses individually (up to $350 off!) for the first time in many years. The sale is valid until March 2, 2013. Here's the link.

For Canon-istas, there are some other hot deals right now at B&H, check it out here!

A rare visitor
The other morning I was treated to a rare visit from a Pileated Woodpecker. She graced me with her presence at the suet feeder long enough for me to (a) put the freshly charged battery in the camera, (b) change to the 70-200mm lens, (c) select "U1" as the closest usable camera mode preset (auto-ISO, AF-C focusing, spot metering), (d) shoot a few frames through the glass door, (e) open the door a few inches and (f) shoot a couple of frames through the gap. Then she flew off. So here she is:

Female Pileated Woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus). Males have red under their chins too. Technobabble: 1/250 sec at f/4.5, ISO 6400. Cropped from D600 image.
For what it's worth, I've got a constant flow of black-capped chickadees, white- and red-breasted nuthatches and the smaller hairy woodpeckers at this and my other feeders. I used to get a lot of blue jays but I haven't seen one in literally months! I wonder what happened to them?

Here's a chickadee (poecile atricapillus) enjoying a black sunflower seed from my other feeder. (S)he took it to a branch in the pine tree, held it in its claws and pecked to get at the meat inside.

A Hairy Woodpecker  (picoides villosus) waiting her turn on the feeder. She showed up just as I was typing this! Females don't have the red spot on the head. The Downy Woodpecker is similar but with a shorter bill. Your wildlife education for the day. 1/400 at f/8, ISO 6400.

And finally, here's a red squirrel hanging out on the split-rail fence on my deck.

Red Squirrel (tamiasciurus hudsonicus) Pretty common, but he came out to watch me take pictures of the chickadees so I had to take his picture too, since he obligingly posed for me! 

Until next time!

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Paranoia runs deep!

But before we talk about that...

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The little green men can still be after you even if you are paranoid, you know.

Two things triggered this thought.

1. The cops are out to get me

Driving home the other day along the Argyle Road, traffic was light. Perhaps 5 vehicles came from the other direction in about 10 km. Just to give you a sense... the road was bare and dry, the weather clear. The speed limit was 80 kph and I'm not afraid to admit that I drive around 100 kph in these conditions. I use the cruise control to keep from overdoing it.

I looked in the mirror and there was a black SUV behind me, with a suspicious looking roof rack/profile. I don't know where he came from, I'm generally pretty good at watching around me. Uh-oh. I know what that is. OPP (Ontario Provincial Police). I eased off the cruise control, just dropping to about 95. He stayed where he was. 90. Still there. Then came a straightaway and he pulled out and passed me. Then he accelerated to about 105 and was slowly gone.

Like this one. 

Two days earlier, on Highway 400, limit 100 kph, everyone travels at 120 or so. But then cars are slowing down... another OPP cruiser. He was doing 100 in the right lane, causing a traffic jam because nobody drives at 100... I held 110 or so and tipped my new hat to him as I passed.

But you get that sinking feeling in your gut whenever you see a cop car. Even if you're not doing anything wrong or unreasonable.

2. My power's going to fail!
This came up the other day. I went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and while I was there, I heard an odd beeping from my computer area. Nothing I recognized... then I heard a similar beeping coming from the back room where the DSL modem is. Putting 2 and 2 together, I said, "AHA! Power failure! Those are the UPS warnings".

I'm guessing it was a low voltage or brownout. I still had lights, etc. It stopped after about 10 minutes. I've not seen that here before, either it's on or it's off. But it made me think about my UPS's and wondering whether all of you are wearing protection.

Just in case "UPS" is not familiar to you (or it makes you think about brown trucks), it stands for "Uninterruptable Power Supply" and it's a battery backup system that provides power when the mains fail or drop below a threshold, and it usually includes pretty heavy duty surge protection as well. I recently replaced the main one that my computers are plugged into, I now have about 20 minutes to save my work and power down smoothly in the event of a power outage. I have a second one that supports only my DSL modem and that gives me about 2 hours of wifi and wireless internet when the power is gone. That's important to me because I'm isolated up here, I'm not in a city and without power, I don't have water pumps, a furnace blower, etc.
PS: Think it through when you install one. You need your computer, your monitor, your mouse and keyboard, your wifi or internet modem, and any external hard drives you're using. If you're on a laptop, you're usually covered, but maybe not the external drives or your router...

Pond Hockey pictures
So you expected to see some more pond hockey pictures, huh? You will, but not today. I have something else for you.

Snowmobiling on 12-Mile Lake
First of all, when I typed this heading, Blogger didn't recognize the word 'snowmobiling' and it wanted to replace it with 'monolingualism'. Shades of 'autocorrect' on an iPhone or iPad! Too funny.
It looked as though we were going to get a nice sunset yesterday. So I fired up the bike* and headed out on the lake around 5pm.
* Snowmobilers call their machines, "sleds". ATVers or 4-wheelers call theirs, "bikes". And you thought this blog wasn't educational!
Anyway, there wasn't a colourful one, although the sky was kind of HDR-ready.

Anyway, while I was waiting for the sun to set, I heard the angry hornet-buzz of a bunch of sleds. Usually these guys just go whipping by at 1200 mph but this time they wanted to play on the snowbanks at the side of the ice-road plowed by the Red Umbrella Inn. Looked like a photo-op, so I hopped on the bike (see how the new terminology works? You've learned two new words!) and wandered over. They were cooperative, to a point, so I unlimbered the camera and...

It was starting to get pretty dark, so I had to vary my shooting technique. Initially, I was doing slow shutter speed panning, but it got too tough, so I slowly switched to high-ISO fast shutter.

Small young guy, big sled. He couldn't jump as high simply because he didn't have the weight and strength to lift that big sled. This is 1/250 sec at f/4.5, ISO 2000.

For you techno-weenies, we're at 1/1000 sec, f/4.5, ISO 2000 and even then I was underexposed a stop or two. Getting dark! Shooting RAW gives you a lot of latitude.

In case you're wondering, these are not HDR's. Most of the lighting effects were done in Lightroom with the adjustment brush. I also used Topaz Adjust 5.

I converted the first image to a "Paintograph" (I read that term somewhere. I like it). The oil paint filter in Photoshop CS6 is very cool.

You've gotta admit... OK you don't gotta, but *I* like it!
These sledders have contacted me by email and are hopefully reading this blog. If they are, then I'd love to do some more pictures in better light one of these days. Please get in touch!

More to come next week...

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Pond Hockey, Eh?

The weather out there is frightening!
I remember when winter was winter and summer was summer. When I was a kid growing up in Montreal, I walked to school through blizzards and snowstorms and three feet of snow (5 miles, uphill both ways, of course). I remember playing in caves we dug in the snowdrifts and snow piles created by the huge snowblowers that prowled the streets (in hindsight, how stupid is that? Imagine the snowblower coming along and turning kids into minced meat...).

I moved up to Haliburton 5 years ago. The first year, we had 11 feet of snow. Snowfalls of 3- and 4- feet in one day.

Here's a shot from March (!) 2008. I had been in Toronto for a couple of days and came back to this immense snowdrift in my driveway! 

December 2009. This is the door to my garage after clearing the three-foot snowfall that day. 

For the past 3 years, nothing like that. Sure, we had snow, but 2 cm at a time (aha! It's when they changed from inches to centimeters! Snowpiles are a lot smaller now that we measure them in centimeters!). We had a two week long period in January this year where the temperature barely touched the freezing mark during the day, although the nights were cold enough to freeze the lakes and the ice fishermen were out there trying not to break through the ice...

On Sunday this weekend, we had about 10cm (that's 4", folks!) of snow and I brought out the ATV to clear it. I was in Toronto for a couple of days and when I got back, the temperature reached over 10°C (50°F) and you could see green grass, and of course huge puddles of melt. My sump pump worked overtime draining the basement.

Today (Thursday) as I look out, it's -5°C, it's windy and snow is falling. The ground's not completely white yet but it will be. The freeze should be enough to allow them to play pond hockey up in Haliburton. But what's with this weird weather? Where's our Highlands snow?  They say that Global Warming will continue to bring us these strange weather patterns. Sad. I miss winter...

Also December 2009. 
2013 Course Schedule
As most of you know, I teach people how to step up from taking point-and-shoot snapshots to making photographs with a DSLR camera. My goal is to get them off "automatic" and to understand WHY they're doing what they're doing. "Give a man a fish..." you know the rest.

I haven't set the 2013 course schedule yet, but I've got people already interested in attending sessions, either here in the Highlands or in the Toronto GTA. A course is usually two 5-6 hour sessions, best a week apart, and I need a minimum of 2 students in a session (4 is better). Dates are very flexible, especially before I set a schedule. The cost is only $150 per person for the two sessions.

The website describing the course from last summer is here: with obvious inaccuracies relating to where and when... I'll work on that in the next week or two. It would help me out to know what people want so I can set the times accordingly.

So if such a course interests you or if you know someone who has a relatively new DSLR and is anxious to improve their photography skills, please pass this information and link on, or email me and I'll contact them.

PS: if you're elsewhere in the world, I can still come to you, if it makes sense. I haven't figured out where I want to go this year; Newfoundland, Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, Australia... let's make it happen!

Ice Racing is back!
Every year the Minden Fairgrounds are converted to an ice racing track. It's a great spectator sport, for one thing, because you can get right up to the track and a close-up view of the racing cars. Here are a couple of shots from Saturday, when Ron and Mark came up for a visit and came to the track with me.

This was a crash into the snowbank on the back corner. The driver of this car is a novice (orange triangle on the back of the car) and was going for it: beyond what you can do on ice! That's what the snowbank is for, he was able to continue after the crash. FWIW, I was standing on top of that snowbank about 5 minutes earlier! 

The studded tires throw ice dust into the air. When the wind is calm, it blocks your view of all but the lead car or, on occasion, when a gust of wind comes along, a car pops out of the fog. That's what happened here. I used a bunch of Photoshop layers and Topaz Adjust to create this image, but I did NOT strip the car in, that's exactly what it looked like live. 

Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships
Haliburton hosted the Pond Hockey Championships this year and I got to shoot at the match. The games went on for 6 days, I shot 5 of them (I begged off on the last day, wasn't feeling up to scratch and didn't want to go out in -20°C temperatures). I'll put a few images here, and when I get the final site set up, I'll give you the link to the location. In the meantime, here are a few shots.

The first weekend was pretty serious hockey. Pond hockey is different from regular hockey, smaller rink, 4 players per team, no goaltending, no slapshots and theoretically no contact. (!!). The biggest difference is that when someone falls down, an opposing player is likely to go over to help him up and ask, "are you OK"? But hey, competitive is competitive! 

The net's less than a foot high, so no lifting the puck. My favourite shooting position was directly behind the net. And yes, I got hit a couple of times. The one that really hurt was the one in the shin. As I type this, it's red and painful almost from knee to ankle.  

This shot hit me. I was holding the camera below waist level. Let's just say it missed everything important! Actually it wasn't a hard shot, but both teams came over to see if I was OK. Next day, as I stood behind a net, a volunteer scorekeeper came over to me and said, "did you hear about the photographer who got hit in the..."? I'm famous.

This was the winning team in the Open division. This picture was on the front page of the Haliburton Highlander. OK, well not THIS picture, the one that Matthew Desrosiers took standing right next to me. He came up with the staging for the shot, I clicked at the same time! I learned a lot listening to and watching Matthew. 

The second weekend was very different. People were there to have more fun. Someone said, "there was a party going on in the beer tent, and a hockey game broke out!" There were a lot of girl teams, and their outfits were really creative! Recognize the guy in the picture? Dr. Ron, kidding around with the Big Birds! 

Lots of pretty girls around! These were the "Frozen Beavers" from Toronto.  

I'm a sucker for pretty blue-eyed blondes. Her team were the "Bee's Knees" and her nickname was, I think, "Friz" Get it? "Frizbee..." 

OK, one more picture. I can picture this one as the cover shot for the tournament next year or as a mural painted on a wall...

That was last Friday. With the wind chill, it was like -30°C. But everyone had fun. 

'till next week!

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