Monday, April 29, 2013

Shooting at Humber College

It's official:
We're participating in the Haliburton Home & Cottage show, May 31-June 2! I'll be exhibiting, selling art prints and booking students into photography courses! Linda Cresswell will be there with me, selling her fine art images as well.

I just ordered 1000 of these cards for distribution at the show:

I have a source at a ridiculously low price for full colour printing. This card, printed on both sides in full colour, with an aqueous coating, is costing me under $50. Interested in getting something printed? Business cards in colour for about $20? Or attending a workshop? Send me an email.   

A little more flood stuff
I added a handful of pictures to the web gallery I had put up on the Minden Floods. Here's the link: if you've been there before, be sure to check out page 2. Sorry if the pictures got mixed up a little, I didn't save the gallery template and had to redo it.

Downtown Minden is a ghost town. They're worried about a dam giving way which would inundate the town without warning, so they've closed the main street to traffic.  This is a single frame toned image from my point-and-shoot, by the way.

The Box House
I took this a couple of weeks ago. My neighbour has a very attractive house. His last name is Box, so it's the "Box House". The story is that it burned down some years ago and was rebuilt, with this beautiful stone and glass façade.

This time of year, it's hard to make beautiful landscape shots because everything is brown, grey, muddy and wet. But I thought I'd give it a try.

I went a little overboard on this one. It's an HDR, then I toned it even further with Topaz Adjust, but I went nuts with the detail slider. Then I masked back the house and its reflection in the puddle to bring back the colour and detail. 

I tried another version of it using a line-art layer instead of the toning, but didn't like it as much.

Last weekend at Humber
I dropped in to the Humber College campus last weekend for a couple of reasons: to meet with someone from out that way, to say hello to my old motorcycle instructor colleagues, and to see what was interesting to shoot at the Humber Arboretum.

I miss teaching there. I don't miss the aches and pains, and with my voice issues, it was a challenge to make myself heard over the wind and the bikes. It was time to retire.

But after I left, they had to find a way to make the motorcycle course attractive again, so they went out and bought a whole fleet of pretty bikes:

Honda CBR 125 Repsol's. They bought some black ones too, but these are far prettier! 

There are a bunch of cool images to see: rather than clutter up the blog, I posted them on a separate gallery,
and here's the link. Drop in for a look!

Humber Arboretum
Although it was a bit early in the season, the only flowers that are up are crocuses (croci?) and daffodils, the Humber Arboretum is a great place for a visit. As far as I know, it's freely available to the casual photographer or visitor, but I know they require a permit for any commercial shooting. Check it out at their website here.

The recent firmware update for the D600 said they were addressing an autofocus issue. I haven't seen any problems, in fact it is unbelievably quick in AF-C mode. This is a composite of two successive frames in a high speed burst, F=400mm, ISO 250, 1/2000 sec at f/8. I will admit the bird was flying into a strong wind and wasn't moving very fast, but still... You can click to blow it up (like all the other pictures in the blog).

Is this a crocus? Or a lily? Not sure. Paintograph... 

Don't ask me what kind of tree this was on, although if I were guessing, I would say "cherry".  I have to come back when it's open. 

I ran into another photographer by the name of John, who was a bird and wildlife shooter. Despite the fact that he was using Canon equipment (I'm not going to stop making Canon jokes. Or Harley jokes. Live with it!), he had some outstanding images in the folder he carried in his car. He was actually shooting with a Sigma 150(?)-500 lens. He had some excellent wildlife shots, from deer to birds and foxes if I rccall. Anyway, we wandered around together and he pointed out things I didn't notice, oh, like a flock of about 25 cedar waxwings! They eat berries (ready for this? from CEDAR trees! Who would have thunk it!) and I got a few shots with berries in their mouths, but none perfectly timed.

Notwithstanding my previous comment about autofocus, the camera was fooled by all the branches and twigs, so I had to manually focus to get this shot.  

I think this is my favourite image.  

Although I kind of like this paintograph as well! 

OK, one more picture then we'll call it a day. I shot this one at the top of the hill in the arboretum.

I wonder how it will print on watercolour paper... 

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Friday, April 26, 2013

The Minden Flood

I'll resume my normal blogging in a couple of days. But the flooding in this part of Ontario needs documenting...

First of all, in deference to those of my readers from areas harder hit by the forces of nature, I recognize that this flood in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario does not hold a candle to events like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Japanese Tsunami or even the regularly occurring tornados in the US midwest or Southwest. There was no direct loss of life due to the event to my knowledge and although the damage is widespread, the biggest effect is going to be on peoples' pocketbooks.

In the news, insurance companies are claiming this to be an "act of God" and therefore they will not consider damage claims. There was an interesting letter to the Editor of the Haliburton Highlander that pointed out the Hand of Man was involved: this flooding, at least in the Highlands, is largely due to "conscious decision making by the Ministry of Natural Resources and others associated with the provision of water to the Trent Severn Waterway", according to the letter writer.

For those unfamiliar with the TSW, it's described by Wikipedia (link) as, "The Trent–Severn Waterway is a canal route traversing Southern Ontario cottage country, and a linear National Historic Site of Canada administered by Parks Canada. It was formerly used for industrial and transportation purposes, and is maintained for recreational boating and tourism." It's almost 400 km long and a big bone of contention for residents and cottagers in the Highlands whose expensive lakefront shorelines are affected by huge water level changes every year as dams are opened and closed to maintain navigable water levels in the canal. That said, some of that water is used for hydroelectric and irrigation purposes as well.

Minden is a small community: I don't know the absolute numbers but I think around 4000 permanent residents and that swells to as much as 70,000 in the summer. A large percentage of the full-timers are retirees, elderly, on fixed incomes, so their property damages will be devastating for them. Most of the cottage structures won't be affected because they're typically built higher up, away from water level.

To give you an idea, here's a photo of my dock. Normally the ramp from the shore to the dock slants steeply downwards, so much so that you have to watch your step walking down it.

The end of the dock is normally in about 3' of water. In August, that drops to less than 1'. I'm guessing it's at around 6' now. The building with the blue door in the background is NOT a boathouse, it's a storage shed/workshop. And yes, that's ice still on the lake that you see in the distance. More melting to come.
Here are a couple of other shots I took at the Minden Wildwater Preserve. This is a designated recreational white water area, but it's upstream of the main Hydro dam which had water flowing over the top yesterday. If it were to go, Minden would disappear.

You can see that the dam is open: it looks like 2' of log boom has been removed (sitting on top of the dam). The whitewater is higher than I've ever seen it. There's a depth gauge that normally sits at about 2-3 feet, sometimes up to 5 or 6 feet deep during white water events (the Pan-Am Games will be held here in 2015). The top of the gauge is marked to 10': and the entire gauge is at least two feet under water. That damaged platform at left is a viewing/judging stand for the kayak races.

Sometimes I sit at the base of this tree to photograph a race. Not today! 

Anyway, here's a link to a gallery of images I shot in Minden today. The good news is, the water's down about a foot. The bad news is, more rain on the way and there's a rumour that the MNR will be opening some upstream dams in the next couple of days. I sure hope not.

The liquor store in downtown Minden. 
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Raptors Workshop (no, not the basketball team)

Register for a really neat photo op!

A friend of mine, Les Palenik, is facilitating a "Birds of Prey" workshop at the Canadian Raptor Conservancy in Vittoria, west of Port Dover, Ontario. You get to shoot eagles, hawks, owls both on perches and in flight, and he promises owl chicks as well (owlets?).

The date is May 12th and the price is very reasonable, but I'll let Les tell you more about it: here's the link.

There are still some spaces available on this workshop, but I'll bet it will fill up fast, so wander over to his site and get signed up. I will be there, for sure! The birds in flight part excites me the most. When I asked him, Les said a 200mm lens should do, but I'm bringing the 400 as well!.

It's only a couple of hours out of Toronto, but I know that several of my readers live or cottage in the area, so this is a great opportunity!

Lightroom 5 Beta

Kelby did a quick review of the new features of LR5 on YouTube.

I wonder how long it will be before his new book on LR5 will be out (if I sound cynical here, well I am...).

A few other thoughts...
  • I've read on TIF and one other place (G+?) that the LR5 Beta is crashing Windows...
  • The main editing features are one-button straightening (perspective cropping), and the new spot-removal and adjustment brush options. These are functions that you can do in Photoshop CS6 (well maybe not one-button...). I get that these are time-savers for those who edit lots of images and don't want to go out to Photoshop all the time. That's not a concern for me since I only edit a few pictures at a time (typically spending 30-60 minutes on each one) and there's always other stuff I want to do in Photoshop, but I see how others might find this useful.
  • They did add a radial version of the graduated filter and allowed you to select it multiple times and stack them. And since you can adjust all kinds of things (exposure, contrast, highlights, blacks, clarity, sharpening, saturation, and so on), you can essentially add all kinds of lighting effects in multiple areas, much like control points in the Nik products. That one looks quite cool.
The one feature I've been looking for has not been added. Sometimes I think I'm in a text field, like keywords or caption, etc, or I think I'm typing on the other computer (I switch my keyboard between machines), but I'm really in Lightroom, and I start typing. Type almost any innocuous word and you're invoking commands. That's because Lightroom uses a lot of single-key shortcuts. For instance "B" adds a photo to the quick collection. "E" changes to loupe view. "R" turns on crop mode. "H" hides stuff. "P" picks a photo. All the number keys add ratings to a photo. And so on, for almost all the letters and numbers. The feature I would value would be a key or button that I would call, "oops". "Take me back to where I was before I started typing". I don't know how I would write that but then I'm not a highly paid software engineer either.

I'm not going to install this beta. Adopting Lightroom 4 early caused me a lot of grief: as I said elsewhere, they didn't solve the latency issue until 4.3, which made LR painful to use for quite some time. So I think I'll wait.

I also wonder what the upgrade policy is going to be. Adobé's strategy seems to have been to cut the price of LR in half, attract tons more customers, then pull the rug out a year earlier than usual with a new version. Guessing they'll want $79 to upgrade, that means all those new customers they sucked in will end up paying them the original $150 for the privilege.

Just musing...

Haliburton Home & Cottage Show
Our space is confirmed. Booth #204 in the Curling Club (hope we can find a way to block that ugly green arc-lamp lighting!). Linda Cresswell and I will be sharing this space and selling prints ranging from card size up to a 40x60 canvas Linda has planned (not too many of those, Linda: we only have 10' x 10' to display in!). I'll also be talking about and taking bookings for my DSLR courses and there will be at least one give-away to visitors.

The show is on the weekend of May 31 - June 2, in the beautiful village of Haliburton.

Even if you don't have a home or cottage in the Highlands, it's worth coming up for a visit. Lots to see and do, and Haliburton is home to many artisans and artists (the Fleming College campus of the Haliburton School of the Arts is here). More information to come...

Panning moving water

The other day, Linda and I were talking on the phone and she came across this outstanding artist, +Ursula I Abresch. A picture's worth 1000 words, but I don't post other people's work on my blog without permission, so here's a link to her 500px gallery site.

To see the images that I consider the most stunning, scroll down to the bottom third of that page. It's really worth the visit.

While we were talking, Linda was exploring her sites and content (I can't multitask, she can!). She came across a bit about how she creates these images, which involves shooting reflections in pans of water. But along the way, she read something about "panning moving water" and my ears perked up.

Yesterday, I was driving by the whitewater (no eagles again yesterday) and stopped to try some stuff. You can get some very interesting effects by panning:

This wasn't what I had in mind originally, but I found it to be a really interesting abstract. 1/15 second at f/22, ISO 50, F=200mm. I added some effects in Photoshop, mainly using the cutout filter to smooth things.  

While I was there, I thought, "what about zooming?" I did a few slow shutter speed zooms and got several interesting abstracts, including this one:

You need to move back about 2 meters from your monitor to look at this one. It's more effective when you view it as a gestalt. Again, I did nothing to this shot other than to crop it vertically. It was 1/10 second at f/22, ISO 50. I zoomed the lens from about 100mm to 200mm while the shutter was open. I like this image so much I'm going to print it, probably as a 12x18 watercolour. I wish I had shot this last week, I would have entered it in the RHCC creatives competition! 

Oil Paint filter again!

There's something magical about the oil paint filter in Photoshop CS6.

Black Ash leaf still hanging in early spring.

A little background here. Out for a walk the other day, with the D600 and the 70-200 f/2.8 around my neck. Nothing much to shoot, maybe I got one other shot of a snow drift that looked like shooting the Rocky Mountains out of an airplane window. I saw this leaf fluttering in the wind, opened up to f/2.8 and shot it with a dark-ish background. I was taken by the texture brought out by the afternoon light. Problem is, it was surrounded by its brothers at different distances, so it was hard to isolate. Also the tip of the leaf wasn't pristine. So I cropped it really tight, in fact the final image is only 1000 px wide, so I can't do much with it.

I spent half an hour playing with sharpening and Topaz, then abandoned most of it because I had lost the subtle texture in favour of oversharpening. Yes, the Nikon 200mm and D600 combo is sharp and renders colours really well, but it was the texture that drew me to this one. Then I thought I'd try the oil paint filter...

Now I don't like what it does to continuous toned backgrounds and I'm not taken by the "shine", although you need a little. So I reduced the shine to a very low number and then masked it out on everything but the leaf and the sharp buds and twigs.

When I looked at the jpeg on a white screen, I didn't like it, so I went back and created a mat using a colour I sampled from the image.

I don't know what draws me to this filter effect. Rosa hates it on principle, says I'm trying to fake a painting. Yeah, so???

PS: wish I had the tip of the leaf...

That's all for now. Go look at Les's workshop if you haven't already. Should be interesting! And don't forget to subscribe to my mailing list. I'm going to be giving away free stuff to subscribers, and you want to be there!

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Winter's last gasp

Before I get into the winter story, there are a few other topics to cover.

Printing Media
Last week, I took some time to review my thinking on various print options. I wrote it up over on my other blog, FACzen Tech tips. I said at the time that it was an open-ended article because I was continuing to research the subject and in fact had ordered some sample prints. Well they arrived.

I have three prints here to review: an acrylic mount, a print on matte museum-grade watercolour paper, and a lustre-finish image lovingly output on an Epson 7900. Since it's a technical topic, head on over to the tech blog to read about it. Bottom line? Three outstanding prints.

When you get lemons, make lemonade.
Those of you who read my ramblings on other social media (Google+, TIF and FaceBook) may have read hints I've dropped about an interesting development coming up. Unfortunately, it did not materialize.

I was in discussions with a local weekly newspaper about authoring a column on basic photography. The working title was "Through the Lens" and it was intended to comprise basic tips for new and inexperienced photographers. It's not happening at this time. But I had written several columns in advance and didn't want them to go to waste.

So I'm rewriting them as short eBooks and planning to give them away for free to anyone who subscribes to my mailing list. I've completed the first one and I plan to release it this week, with a new one every week. If you're not on my mailing list, look over here →→ and subscribe. I'll give you more details next week.

"Why," you may ask, "are you giving them away for free?" Two reasons: my goal is to expand my social network, and giving stuff away for free is a good way to do that; and I want to encourage people to consider attending my basic DSLR workshops.

The Haliburton Home and Cottage Show
Mark your calendars: May 31, June 1 and June 2 are the dates for the Haliburton Home and Cottage Show. I will be exhibiting there, along with Linda Cresswell. We both have prints for sale, from card-sized up to huge: Linda told me about a 40x60 print she wants to produce and sell, and I have some large ones as well (not that big!). We're trying to figure out how to display our work in that 10x10 area we've committed to, if anyone has an appropriate set of walls or a grid structure we can borrow, please get in touch!

Winter's last gasp
Every year, winter delivers a final blow in April. No one seems to expect it but year after year, there's a storm that reminds us we shouldn't have taken off those snow tires or put away those boots. 2013 was no different.

On April 11th, in its usual alarmist fashion, the City of Toronto issued a winter storm warning. They told people to stay home, watch out for driving and walking hazards, because a coating of ice was about to descend upon us. And as usual, it didn't happen. Sure, there was a storm. Heavy winds and rain... but the ice didn't materialize. That is, except for the Barrie area, about 60 km to the North. I drove home on Friday, the 12th through there. There was a band of freezing rain and further North, an accumulation of slushy snow, amounting to about 5cm or 2 inches. The big question is, was that the end of it or is there yet another storm to come?

I stopped for a few photos on the way home. Here's a little visual essay.

Just North of Toronto, on Bathurst Street in the King City area, there's a stretch of beautiful land. I'm sure it will be filled with wall-to-wall houses in the near future, but it's really picturesque now. I stopped at this spot on a misty, rainy day and took a few shots. The colours of this tree are exactly as they appear here. 

Here's another shot from the same area. Again, the colours and details are there, but this time I did a little work in Photoshop to prepare the image. Not much, actually... 

As I mentioned, there was an area of freezing rain just around and North of Barrie. I stopped for some pictures. This was shot with the venerable 200mm f/2.8 lens, wide open.  

Another view, in the same spot. I should have stopped the lens down to get more of the foreground in focus, but I do like the effect anyway.

Same place, just to the right, was this tree, all coated with ice. When I looked at this picture I realize that I missed something: it would have been a better composition with more of the farmer's furrows visible on the left. Can't go back...

This is the same tree, but a different tree-t-ment (sorry!). In fact this is a 3-shot pano, merged in Photoshop, and then I created the light effect from scratch. I had to add a shadow in the foreground as well. The sombre tones and border effect make this into a moody piece. The file size is huge and it will print really well as a 30" or 36" print. I'm thinking Watercolour Paper... 

In his lecture, "Crush the Composition", Scott Kelby reminds us to look around in other directions when you stop to shoot. This has proven helpful to me more than once and in fact I incorporate the concept into my workshops as well. This Maple Syrup facility was directly behind me, across the highway. Although the trees were coated lightly with ice, I couldn't capture that in this image. But there was a lot of work to make this one happen!

First of all, it's a 3-shot HDR. First I processed it in HDR Efex Pro 2, and before exiting, I added some control points to bring out the texture in the roof, and the tone in the wood pile. Next I took it into Photoshop CS6 and used perspective cropping to make the foreground railing and the building parallel. By the way, I was shooting across a busy divided highway. At one point I took my life in my hands and ran to the median (where the railing is), but I like this shot better.

Next I selected the foreground and added a motion blur to the roadway, and masked the posts back in. Finally, I added a light layer of Topaz Adjust to enhance the smoke and the wood pile. To me, this is a very Canadian springtime scene. Too bad about the car and truck, but you get what you get! Again, this will print up really well, probably on watercolour paper.

I saw this sign about 20 km down the road. A final taste of winter! 

And then I turned around and saw this scene off to my right! I just enhanced it a bit by running it through Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 as a single image. Full frame, full resolution image from the D600, again with the 70-200mm lens.  

When I arrived home a couple of hours later, this pair of Mallards was standing on the ice not far from shore. There was a bit of open water to the right. When the hen started to preen, I knew I had to shoot it! I can imagine all kinds of cool captions for this shot, like "Let's go, dear. We'll be late for the party!". Another very printable image.

Remember, if you want a limited edition art print of any picture in the blog, drop me a note, and let's talk! Preliminary prices are in effect.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Did Nikon omit something important on the D600?

New Header

The observant among you will have noticed that I've replaced the header picture on the blog. For what it's worth, it's a composite of two images I took a couple of weeks ago at Horseshoe Lake. The eagle was about 400 or 500m away, and I reached out with my 400mm lens to capture it.

Blogger doesn't archive the old image, so as I usually do when I replace it, here's the previous image.

Trouble in Paradise

I put the 10-stop ND filter on the 17-35mm lens the other day and re-shot the Trent Waterway shot, hoping for a smoother effect on the water and some motion in the clouds. When I uploaded the images, I was surprised to see this:

See the big ugly line about 1/4 of the way up, and the dark zone around it? Also look at the vignetting! Click on the image to enlarge it

I THINK this is from not covering the viewfinder while shooting the picture. The amount of light leaking in is visible in comparison to the limited light coming in through the filtered lens. The vignetting is surprisingly more than I expected since the filter is not thick and I didn't have a skylight or any other filter mounted on the lens. I was shooting zoomed all the way out to 17mm.

I'm going to go back out today to test my theory... I have a totally opaque cloth to hang over the viewfinder. I'm a bit surprised Nikon didn't include a cover for the viewfinder like they did on the D800 and D3/D4. It couldn't cost them more than a few cents...

Update: I did go out on Monday to test. That's a relief – it was the viewfinder. I opaqued it out with a heavy cloth and the line and vignetting disappeared. I  created the following HDR while I was there:

Technical notes: This shot was blended from three exposures at 3 seconds, 0.8 seconds and 13 seconds, ISO 400, f/16, F=17mm, D600 FX with the 10-stop B&W ND filter on board. The camera was on the tripod and I used the cable release and the 5-second self-timer to stabilize it. There was a heavy cloth over the camera to opaque the viewfinder. I chose the ISO in order to achieve the 3 second nominal exposure so that I could preserve some structure in the fast flowing water. When I merged it in HDR Efex Pro, I used the middle exposure for de-ghosting. Finishing touches were done in Silver Efex Pro with several custom control points. Contact me for a limited-edition print of this image. Click on the image to view it full sized.

It's pretty well documented that if you are shooting long exposures, especially if there's light behind the camera, that you need to block the viewfinder. Normally your eye does that but not if you're using a cable release, or timer, etc. Light leaks in there and somehow gets to the sensor, messing up your image like the example above. On their higher end cameras, Nikon has a built-in switch to block the viewfinder. Even on the D300, they supplied a little slide-in plastic piece to cover the finder. Not so the D600. They should design a rubber eyecup with a slide-in cover, if they're not prepared to build it into the camera.

Damaged Tripod

The day that I shot the "marsh grass" image that I posted a few days ago (and which, by the way was selected by TIF as their cover image for the month of April), I stumbled with my camera mounted on the tripod, legs fully extended. To prevent falling down, I managed to put my full weight on one of the tripod legs. I broke it. Fortunately, the break is at the top of the second leg segment, where it goes inside the top one. The tripod is still fully functional, except that I have to be careful not to pull the segment all the way out, or it will come out (it doesn't stop any more).

I was thinking that if I had been carrying my full-sized Gitzo, it might not have broken. But then it weighs 3 times as much as the 3-Legged Thing carbon fiber. Bad luck, but it could have been worse: I might have dropped the camera or hurt myself in a fall. Lesson: be more careful!

April Fool!

The most successful April Fools jokes are the ones where people actually believe them for a while, until someone comes along and points out it was a joke. At which point they slap themselves in the head and say, "OK, you got me".

I posted a story yesterday (April 1st) about how one of my images was purchased by Arts Canada, and would be hung in the National Gallery in Ottawa (that's our equivalent to the Smithsonian). Not that credible, right? I added that I couldn't reveal the amount they paid, but I'd never have to work again. Then I said that the curator, Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz would be making a press announcement. Not enough clues?

I have to tell you, I got an entirely satisfying number of congratulatory messages from individuals who should have caught it earlier, including at least two with "Dr." in front of their names... on the other hand I got an "I hate you!" from someone I care about who shall remain nameless (lest I get in further hot water). Seems she told a whole bunch of people about it before I told her the truth! This is where the acronym, "ROTFLMAO" is really appropriate!

Thinking about Printing

The more I research the printing game, the more the thought of printing myself is boiling around in my head. I know it means an investment in time and working my way through a learning curve, and it certainly means I'll have to acquire some equipment and make space available (I have the space)... this might be a direction I want to go.

I posted an article yesterday on my technical blog, just expounding on some of my thought process and describing some of the exotic media and mounting options out there. Have a look. AND: if anyone has an Epson 3800 or equivalent that they might want to part with for a reasonable price, please send me an email or get in touch otherwise.

In case you thought it was Spring...

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, "it ain't over until it's over".

I took this picture yesterday, April 1st and no, it's not a joke. It was bloody cold when I went out to the white water for those ND filter test shots, especially since I had my gloves off most of the time. Although it was only about -4°C, the wind was vicious. No sign of the eagles on Horseshoe Lake either, they were too smart to venture out. This was the view from my dock later in the afternoon. You're looking at the ice road plowed mid-winter by the Red Umbrella Inn to get out to the ice fishing huts. The huts were taken in last week when it LOOKED like spring was here and we ventured into double digit temperatures, Saturday and Sunday were georgeous, then along came Monday.

Technical notes: this was a single exposure, 1/4000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200. I used a masked layer of Topaz adjust on the ice and a masked layer of HDR Efex Pro on the sky, tweaked it in LR and at the last minute, darkened it a stop or more for the dramatic effect.

Until next week...

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