Friday, September 20, 2013

More Inspiration

Every time I look at this site, I'm blown away. What better inspiration can you get than to look at the work of some very talented photographers?

I'm talking about the home page for the Richmond Hill Camera Club. This is not news to many of my readers who are members of that club, but to others, I draw your attention to the site. At the top of the home page is a slide show of winning images from recent competitions. Go ahead, click the link above. I'll wait right here.

See what I mean? Every time I look at this, I'm blown away. And by the way, I've watched the development of this club and the work of some of its members for about 10 years now, it's incredible how they've grown. Bravo, RHCC.

I ask myself what do the images that stand out as extraordinary have in common? If I could come up with one single word to describe the, it would be "SIMPLICITY". The subject stands out. There may be other things in the image but the subject is presented to you in its simplest form. That's the inspiration I want to take into my work.

By the way, I'm more and more convinced that we need a camera club up here in the Highlands. I'm going to put some work into making that happen. If you're up here and want to help out or join, let me know.

The Richmond Hill Club membership is full and there's a waiting list. If you live anywhere in that area, get on the list.

Smugmug Galleries

I've been working on my Smugmug galleries. Their new interface is very powerful but like anything else on this computer, if you don't do it regularly, you have to go through the whole learning curve again!

You can basically do anything you want, but first you have to KNOW what you want! My big concern was not to fall in the same trap I was in last time, where I had literally hundreds of galleries and not only was it confusing for outside visitors, but for me too! So what I've done now is to create a few master "folders" and only show selected ones on the home page. For now, I've got my fine art images in one, and other stuff (which for now are the Whitewater images from this summer) in another. Eventually I want to create another one for "portfolio" and take the Whitewater stuff off the home page and link directly to it.

I spent a couple of hours (you know how time flies when you're doing this stuff!) redoing the layout, pop over for a look-see. Oh, and if you see any images that would look fantastic on your walls, drop me a note and Let's Talk!

Credit Card Reader 

Before the show last June, I acquired a credit card swipe reader from a company called "SQUARE", or "SQUAREUP". I didn't use it much but I was not dissatisfied with it, in fact I thought it was pretty slick.

It plugs into your iPhone or iPad and lets you accept and process credit cards. It works through your cellphone or wifi connection. They only charge for transactions, there's no monthly fee, and the money goes directly into your bank account. Simple, effective.

Today a friend of mine tried to get one and was not approved. Some silly reason about not being able to verify his ID (likely his fault, I'm sure he won't mind me saying his computer skills are a little limited). When he tried to contact them it turns out that they do not have any telephone access numbers. I mean literally, you can't contact them except via anonymous email or contact form on their site.

I am a little (OK a LOT) uneasy about them having access to my bank account, without knowing the most basic information about them: who are they, where are they. So I tried to find a way to delete my account with them and the banking access as well. YOU CAN'T. At least I couldn't find it. Tomorrow I'm going to the bank to close the account I gave them access to (update: that was a few days ago. Done, that account doesn't exist any more).

They may be totally legitimate but I'm sorry, something smells fishy. I thought it was a great solution to mobile credit card processing: what is it they say? "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is".

There's something wrong when you can't find out where they are or who they are and talk to them. I don't trust them and I don't think they understand about customer service. Just a heads-up.

Annoying Spam...

I am surprised it took this long, but the fact that I publish my email address here and on various other websites, or printed in newspapers and so on has finally caught up with me (again). Like I said, it's been a couple of years, but the spam is rolling in with a vengeance.

Almost all of it goes to the junkmail folder in Outlook, some of it is blocked at the ISP (if I give them the email sender or domain to block), but because I don't know all the people who legitimately want to contact me, I can't just block whole TLD's like ".biz" or ".us". I'm getting 100 or more a day now. And even if they have an "unsubscribe" link in the email, it invariably goes to some paragraph long alphabet soup URL and I'm not about to click on it.

So I get why people hesitate to subscribe to my newsletter, they don't trust the site or the unsubscribe utility. Just so you know, my list is hosted at MailChimp and their unsubscribe is REAL. One click and you're deleted. People only get added to the list if they do it themselves. The exception is that I sometimes add people to the list whom I've met in person or with whom I've corresponded directly.

Next step, unfortunately, will be to stop using the offending email address and install a web form link for email contact, protected by a Captcha. Hate to do it, but I might have to if this persists.

As long as I'm complaining...

I rebooted my laptop on Wednesday morning in preparation for the workshop this week, and it crashed. Not a BSOD, but half the applications didn't work, including my Wacom tablet. So annoying...

My desktop is about 3 years old (that's what, about 140 in Dog Years?). The laptop is much faster so I actually use it with an external monitor and keyboard for most of my photoediting.  Anyway to make a long story short (too late!) I tracked down the problem to an automatic Mickey$oft Windows "Critical Update". I couldn't even open my control panel to do a system restore, until I rebooted in Safe Mode. It worked fine after that.

Here's the problem: this morning I rebooted and sure enough, the update had installed itself again and same problem! I knew what to do, but that's 45 minutes out of my life that I can't get back and I don't want to have to do it every day! I've disabled automatic updates, but now what?

It occurred to me that I've had my iPad and my iPhone for a few years without even one incident. Sure wish I could afford a Mac.

White Water

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I live 6 Km from one of the finest whitewater kayaking venues anywhere. The Minden Wildwater Preserve will be the venue for the PanAm games in 2015 (don't know where everyone is going to park: the lot holds maybe 8 cars!). So I shoot a lot of kayaking pictures. And I include whitewater canoes in that too.

Last weekend was the annual Open Canoe Race (mark your calendars: it's the weekend after Labour Day every year). On Saturday, they predicted rain (it didn't) but it was cloudy all day. On Sunday, bright blue skies. If you're a photographer, you're way ahead of me: cloudy is MUCH better for pictures, especially with brilliant, reflective water!

I shot an equal number of images both days (300-400). I can count the keepers from Sunday on one hand. Saturday was another story

Remember the girl from last week? This is her again. Now I got some facts wrong last time (serves me right for not talking with her. I did on Saturday). Her name is Morgan Nunn. Her dad is Keith, her brother is Liam. I don't know exactly how old she is, but she's in High School. Rumour has it she's going to run for Mayor of Toronto next year! Anyway, she wasn't "afraid" of the Otter Slide as I thought last week. She was concentrating hard on how to approach a certain wave for the competition and was elated when she nailed it! Here she is in the Open Canoe race, coming into Gate 16, on the Otter Slide.

BTW, if she does run for Mayor, I have a picture of her father in a dress (people wore costumes on the Sunday). I'll bet that will be worth some money to her opponents! LOL

In case you're wondering about the green and white barber poles, they are the gates. If you miss a gate, you get a 50 second penalty. If you touch one, it's 10 seconds. Red and white gates have to be negotiated UPSTREAM, in other words, you have to turn around and paddle against the flow of the river.

Here's another image from Saturday:

Story. The guy in the green canoe lost his paddle during his run.. The fellow in the yellow canoe retrieved it for him and brought it over (he was hanging out in a calm eddy above the fast water). Then they ran down the river together, not actually racing, just trying to get to the end of the rapids. 

Here's a little animation that I shot at the same gate (hope this runs OK in your browser!):

This is a burst of 15 exposures at the 5.5fps frame rate on the D600. Not everyone was able to negotiate that gate without mishap! FWIW, I couldn't create the animation at full resolution, the computer choked when Photoshop told it the gross file size was 2Gb! So I reduced it to 800px wide before merging the frames.

There were a couple of great images (OK, "I" think they're great!) in the middle of that sequence. Here's one of them (this was done at full size):

Obviously, I added some effects. The graduated fog and the grain and the border. This is going to make a dandy large scale print! Watch for a version of it in my gallery. RHCC, watch for a version in competition this year!

Speaking of the gallery, I'm posting images of the race. There are two galleries showing: "Selects", which are shots that I've post-processed, and "Open Canoe September 2013" which contains images before I've done anything to them. Contact me if you see one you like, if you're in one of the picture and you want a copy of it, or if you want a print. Here's the link:

A few pictures

Just to round out the blog... I did a basic DSLR course this week with some very interested students. I was explaining how "North-facing window light" was the greatest, and Jen willingly posed so I could illustrate the point. Then we got to playing with a few images in Lightroom and Photoshop and this was one of the resulting shots.

Clarity turned down and then a Topaz Clarity layer was added as well starting with a preset called something like, "Flawless Skin". Didn't need much, Jen's skin is pretty good anyway. I finished it with a little vignette. I played them the "Fotoshop by Adobé" clip on YouTube (Google it) and we all had a laugh. 

We then went on to talk about composition. With that in mind, I did this one:

Use of negative space?  Breaking the rules? Leave the viewer wanting more! I dunno, it was just fun. I was just thinking I might composite the other half of her face into the right side of the image!

We spent some time learning about the effects of shutter speed and did a little session on panning with a slow shutter speed. They all caught on and produced some neat images. This is one of mine, though:

It also illustrated what you can do when you shoot in RAW. This was hugely overexposed because I bumped up against the limits when I locked the shutter speed to 1/15 second and had the ISO at 1000 and the aperture at f/2.8! there was lots more to recover, but I liked the tonality of this one.  

And finally, the pièce de résistance: the Angels and Mini-Me.

Someone (I think it was Sandi, on the right) suggested that we do a "Charlie's Angels" shot. Then I stripped in a background from the Old Brick Works in Toronto (who knows what I changed?). That's Cheryl and Harper in the middle. I have some other shots of "Mini-Me" that I'll save for later! 

It was a fun and productive two days! I can't wait to see some of their work down the road!


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Thursday, September 05, 2013


I love music.

Not all kinds, mostly blues and jazz and, it occurs to me, most of the artists I listen to are dead. Oscar Peterson, Janis Joplin, Moe Koffman, Jimmy Smith, Paul Butterfield... and SRV.

There are exceptions, of course: Barbra Streisand, Eric Clapton, Gordie Lightfoot, the Eagles, Leonard Cohen, Rhoda Scott, lots of others, of course. Almost nobody contemporary, though. The nearest I come to that is Casey Abrams (and Haley Reinhart). I love their rendition of "Hit the Road, Jack" and "Moanin'". I have about 10 different versions of that last song by various artists.

I consider all the artists I've mentioned to be virtuosi. Not just lucky accidents, people who have skill and talent and have taken them to the pinnacle. Yesterday there was a Labour Day event at the Inn across the road and they had live music going all afternoon. Sitting here, I suddenly heard what sounded like a B3 (the Hammond organ I'd kill for) so I wandered over. The keyboard player was "just OK", as was the group he was in. 10 minutes later I was home, put on some Rhoda Scott and some Tony Monaco...

I'm writing this because this morning, a thread about Stevie Ray Vaughn showed up on Facebook and of course I had to fire up iTunes and play some tunes. I listened to "Pride and Joy" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and as I'm typing this, "Voodoo Child". Sometimes I listen to a cut and want to try to learn to play it on the keyboard or guitar or harp. Lately I just listen and enjoy, recognizing I'll never be able to play like that, even if I had a hundred more years to practice.

What's this got to do with photography? It occurred to me that you get your inspiration from experiencing what others have done. When I see images that move me, I think one of three things: (a) I wish I could do pictures like that, (b) what a good idea, I think I'm going to try to use that technique, and (c) I can do and have done better.

The other day, Lance Gitter, a photographer I met about 10 years ago at the Richmond Hill Camera Club, posted a new book he created, called "Gitterized". More about it down further. As I viewed it, thoughts (a) and (b) went through my mind. Lance inspires me to try harder and do better.

PS: iTunes, in its infinite wisdom, picked a random track from my library to play next. How is it possible that I forgot to mention Ray Charles. "Georgia on my Mind" is playing now...

In my next life, I want to come back as a musician. I think that's the best medium in which to express and share your emotions. Sounds odd, from a left-brained person but as I approach my 67th birthday in a few days, I realize that my priorities have changed. My goal in photography is the same: to express emotion and mood, not just technically correct images. Thanks for those who have inspired me in that direction.

Maybe this has inspired you to think about what you're trying to accomplish with your photography. Or painting. Or music. Or writing. Or...

Here's a story with emotion in it

I rode over to the MWWP yesterday. I was actually going to shoot some landscapes enroute but forgot my polarizing filter and Xume adapter at home, so I just shot some kayakers. One caught my eye: different from the usual bearded old guys and grungy characters, she was young and blond and cute and very photogenic.

At first, I couldn't figure out why she was sitting for such a long time off to the side, concentrating on the Otter Slide (a feature in the MWWP waterway). She'd get partway in, then turn around and back out. Another kayaker would be coming down the river but well above, and not actually going to enter the slide yet... it reminded me of a motorcyclist I knew years ago who wouldn't come out of a gas station because she was afraid of the traffic, even though it was light... I figure that she's not that experienced a kayaker and was not confident she could actually do it.

Here she came halfway across, figured she couldn't make it, and struggled to get back to safe water. She did this a few times while I watched.

Finally, she gave it a shot. Here's the sequence I shot as a burst

Check out the facial expressions from left to right! You can click on the image to enlarge it. From 'worried', to 'OK, I can do this', to 'I'm doing it!' to 'yesss!' to 'Yahoo!'  Can you tell from the last two shots below if she was having fun?

I heard her talking with her mom afterwards, it was the first time she actually managed to negotiate that white water (and by the way, the water flow was quite high yesterday, the Otter Slide was wild!). I sent her dad a copy of this image, I know his name is Keith, but I don't know her name...

Fun story. I'm glad I caught it!

Speaking of Inspiration

I remembered a video that I had watched a few years ago and even embedded in my blog (with permission) in 2011. When I went to revisit it, it comes up as "Forbidden". I looked a little further and found it again on a different site. So I thought I'd post a link to it here (not embedding it, just linking to it so copyright isn't an issue).

Possibilities: "Celebrate What's Right with the World" by DeWitt Jones, former National Geographic photographer. It's worth watching again (although the image quality is lacking but the message is still there).

OK, Adobé. NOW you got my attention.

Adobe just announced that the price of Photoshop CC + Lightroom 5 will be an ONGOING $9.99 per month. John Nack specifically said on his blog,,
To reiterate: the intention is not to get you in at $9.99/mo., then crank up the price after a year. $9.99 is the expected ongoing price.
NOW you got me. No hurry to sign up, you have until the end of 2013. This offer is for those who own CS3 or up. I'll give you the link later, you can't do it yet anyway.

Topaz deal available on Monday

REMINDER: I got an email from Topaz Labs that they're putting Topaz Adjust 5 on sale for 50% off ($24.99) from September 9 to September 30th. It's very rarely on sale, so mark your calendars and jump on it next week! Topaz Adjust 5 is my go-to plugin in Photoshop and in Lightroom, it's absolutely my favourite. Go to this link, and enter the promo code "septadjust" (without the quote marks) when ordering.

'tis the season to be jolly! Fa la la la la... never mind!

Get Gitterized

There's an outstanding book available, written by my friend Lance Gitter. It's titled, "Gitterized". Here's what Lance says about it:

This is a collection of my creative images from the last number of years. I have finally accomplished the goal of putting them together in a format where I can share my creativity, who and what inspired me to make some of my photos and what tools and/or techniques I used to come up with these creations.
Lance's work is incredibly creative. Here (with permission) are two images from the book:

Shot on the Rideau Canal last winter 

This montage is a self-portrait. What vision! 

Whenever I see Lance's work, I'm inspired. And not only do these images appear in the book, but also some of the thinking and techniques that went into their creation.

Lance has generously made the entire book available for viewing on-screen but you would be remiss if you didn't buy the book and enjoy the full experience of seeing these images in print. The link for viewing or buying the book is here.

Sometimes you win

And sometimes you don't.

I spent the better part of an hour at the landfill (polite way of saying "garbage dump") this afternoon. They had the giant chipper going — technically I was told it wasn't called a chipper, but that's what it does. It turns big pieces of garbage into small pieces of garbage. This was construction material, so what they do is to bury the wet waste, the household garbage, and cover it with this stuff. Eventually the deep stuff composts, but I learned that they dug up a Sears catalog from 1950 and it was still readable. "That shiny paper takes a long time to decompose".

Where was I? Oh yeah. I tried my damnedest to "isolate the subject". I wanted to make sense out of the chaos that was there. And I couldn't. So these pictures are failures, but a valiant attempt, don't you think?

They dump big garbage in the top of the chipper and little stuff comes out the conveyor belt to the left. Mountains of it. Then they move the big orange thing (the operator of the big excavator has a remote control) and build another mountain.  

Another attempt to isolate it. Here I did three things:  I put the Neutral Density filter on and shot long exposures (around 2 seconds) to give it a sense of motion, I combined about 4 exposures as layers in Photoshop using "darken" as the blending mode between layers, and I ran Silver Efex Pro 2 and put in a bunch of control points for selective colorization.
You win some, you lose some. I gave it the ole college try.

This is Leonard. He works there. He spent part of the day trying to keep the people dropping off garbage and the bears apart. There were two males there today, but not the big one-eyed boar they often see. f/2.8 on the 200mm and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 (one image only) helped to separate him from the background.

This is Big John. He drives the tractor that makes mountains out of mole hills. Captured his character, I think. He told me his beard used to be down to "here" but it kept getting caught in the tattoo gun. Tough guy. But a pussycat deep down, I think (don't tell him I said that!).

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

I can't believe it's September

Did summer happen while I wasn't looking? Have I done a Rip van Winkle and been asleep for a couple of months? The temperatures have been in the low 20's here for about the whole month of August (that's the low 70's for my Yank readers). We did get a bit warmer the past few days, but because the nights are so cool, the water temperature is starting to get "brisk" (George Costanza and 'shrinkage' comes to mind!). I try to keep my lake at 75° but the heating bills are enormous!

Fall colours are appearing here and there. We're 4 weeks away from the PEAK colours in Algonquin Park (if you got my newsletter about the Photowalk, time to register! If you didn't, shame on you. Click the "newsletter" button at upper right).

Someone left a book out in the rain

I don't think that I can read it
It'll take so long to dry it
I may have to go and buy that book again...
Oh no! Oh noooh.

Oops. I forgot it outside in the pouring rain. I figure it'll take a month to dry, if it ever does! 

I was reading outside on the deck with lunch and forgot my book when I came in. Then the skies opened up. As I write this, two days later, the book is a soggy mass. Maybe if I leave it in the sun for a month...

Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist who had a hand in the development of Superstring theory. I first came across him when I read his book, "Physics of the Future" where he describes where we might be headed in the next 100 years.

Although it has technical content, Kaku writes it in an easy fashion, so it's very readable. He is an incredibly erudite author and makes well thought out predictions based on where we are today. I'm impressed with how broad this man's knowledge base is. Amazing how many of the predictions of Star Trek have come true or are on the horizon (and which two are not...). Read it. You won't be sorry. You can get it here.

He went a little further in his book, Hyperspace. This is his field of study and he attempts to explain quantum theory without the mathematics. I'm not sure that you can. I was on the chapter about why it's self-consistent in 10 dimensions and 26 dimensions (they add two, and I don't get why. It's really 8 and 24 dimensions which makes more sense...). I haven't gotten to the chapter where Steven Hawking proposes an infinite number of universes. It might be a good thing that the book got wet!

OK, I have very little idea what he's talking about. Most of the developments discussed were after I left school, but more importantly, the last time I heard the phrase "tensor calculus" was when I actually studied that stuff in the late 60's (ah, Quantum Mechanics with Dr. Lee, whose accent was so strong nobody could understand him in English or in Chinese!). There's an old story that could have been about Dr. Lee...

The quantum physics lecturer  said, "...and obviously we come to this final conclusion, E=MC²". A student raised his hand and said, "but sir, that's not really obvious to me". The professor went to the blackboard and filled it with equations and calculations in his tiny precise handwriting. 90 minutes later, he turned to the class and said, "yes, it's obvious".

You had to be there. Actually, I was!

Dr. Sheldon Cooper is more my speed now! I'm waiting with anticipation for the start of the new Big Bang Theory season. Two interchanges stick with me as my favourites:

Penny: "... a monkey"
Sheldon: "when does a monkey have a trunk?"
Penny: "when a suitcase just won't do".


Stephanie: "how was your day?"
Leonard: "...I'm a physicist. You know, I thought about stuff."
Stephanie: "that's it?"
Leonard: "well I wrote some of it down..."

In a previous chapter, discussing the Big Bang and the origins of the universe, Kaku mentions some of the arguments concerning the existence of God. In the 9th Century, someone postulated, "If God exists, where was He before Creation"? "Does God have a Mother?"

Sometimes I think about stuff...

NEWSFLASH: I got an email from Topaz Labs that they're putting Topaz Adjust 5 on sale for 50% off ($24.99) from September 9 to September 30th. It's very rarely on sale, so mark your calendars and jump on it next week! Topaz Adjust 5 is my go-to plugin in Photoshop and in Lightroom, it's absolutely my favourite. Go to this link, and enter the promo code "septadjust" (without the quote marks) when ordering.


How can anyone NOT instantly fall in love with a 9-week old Golden Retriever puppy?

Words are superfluous. His name is "Finnigan". Belongs to a neighbour, wish he was mine! 
Vegging out

Ever feel in a vegetative state? Fatigued? It's an effort even to get out of your chair? That's me right now. I can't say why, I'm sure it will pass, but in honour of vegging out, here's a bunch of vegetation pictures (OK, flowers). Fall is coming, I thought I'd better get some now before they're gone. It was raining, or I would have set up some backgrounds, and some external flash and reflector fills... maybe next time. Click a picture to blow them up.

Could be worse, I almost put up a bunch of ducks!

Why I live here

In closing, here are a couple of star shots from Saturday night. I stopped on my way home from my friend's place, and  I found a spot with less light pollution than my back yard. There was still some, though.

The coloured glow is from the town of Carnarvon, a few km away. The Milky Way is a bit further. The light on my car is from the stars only, there was no other light. This is a 30 second exposure, f/2.8, ISO 2500.

The Earth is rotating as it should. This is a 30 minute exposure, at f/2.8, ISO 100, from about the same spot. Both images were shot at 17mm on the full frame D600. 

So for my students and readers of my Weekender column, remember when I said you need a tripod? Get one.


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