Sunday, December 29, 2013

A New Year's Resolution I intend to keep

We all make New Year’s Resolutions we can’t keep: stop smoking, lose 50 pounds, but this year I'm making one I'm determined to follow up on. I thought I’d share it with you so I don’t have any excuses, and perhaps to inspire you.

I'm shy. That’s why I shoot rocks and trees, not people. One of the most difficult things for me to do is to walk up to someone and ask, “Can I take your picture?” I've rehearsed it a thousand times: “you have such an interesting face, can I photograph you?”; “I'm with the local press”; “I always wanted a picture of someone eating an extra-large Kawartha Dairy ice cream cone”… and I never do it. And yet every time I screw up my courage to ask, people say yes. On top of that, the shots are fantastic! So why not do it more often?

You can do what I do, hide behind a long telephoto lens and take candid pictures of people who don’t know you’re photographing them, or pretend to be taking a picture of something else (sometimes you get caught: that’s embarrassing!). Or you can walk up to someone and say, “can I take your picture”? What’s the worst thing that can happen? They could say “no”. But if they agree, and you get the chance, why not talk to them a bit and find out their story? People are so interesting and there’s always a story!

Here's a candid I shot in the Byward market in Ottawa a couple of years ago. Long lens, she had no idea I was shooting her. I love how her expression (and even her hairdo) matches her sweatshirt! But wouldn't it have been a better picture without the lady in red? I could have gone up to her and asked. 

Everything I've read says to be successful shooting people, you have to relate to your subject. A couple of years ago, I met a street photographer down at the Toronto Distillery District. He walked right up to me and Linda (the friend I was shooting with), and struck up a conversation. He took dozens of pictures and although I hate having my picture taken, after a while I didn't notice. I want to try that. 

Some time ago, in upstate New York, I met George, the bearded guy in the picture here. Like I said, I screwed up my courage and asked him to pose for me. I took exactly one shot so I wouldn't inconvenience him. This image won portrait of the year in Toronto in 2009. But there’s more to the story: I tried to find him so I could send him a print, only to discover he had died in the meantime. His colleagues asked me for a print for a memorial they were making. Tell me that isn't a great story. 

This is George. It's a digital painting of the original image. 

So that’s my New Year’s Resolution. Now what about you? Are you ready to give it a try? Remember, the worst thing that can happen is someone will say “no”. But more likely, they won’t. If you see me on the street, and I ask you to pose for me, please say “yes”!

Tell me a story!

One thing I have been doing is trying to tell stories with my images. If you've been reading my blog you'd know that. They're more successful images when they communicate something! Here are a couple of my favourite examples:

At the Highland Yard last summer in Minden. Dad raced his son to the finish line. Did he let him win? 

But this is my favourite one at the same event. I think this is mom and son, they were coming in from the 5K run, jogging side by side until the last 100m. Then the boy looked at mom and TOOK OFF, doing everything he could to beat her. You could almost read her mind when she reacted, "oh no you don't!" Did she beat him? Did he win?

Here's another example. This guy got in trouble during the Open Canoe race at the Minden Wildwater Preserve last summer. A second after this shot, he overturned his boat. I actually posted a timelapse video of the incident, but a little creative editing resulted in this shot that tells the story. 

One for the road!

I was driving along Bobcaygeon Road north of Minden when I spotted this scene. Truth be told, the sky was just a dull grey but I saw the fence line and wanted to use it in a composition. I tried it from a few different angles but I actually shot this from the driver's seat of the car without actually getting out!

When I got it up on the computer, I thought there was 'way too much detail in it, but I knew how to reduce that using Topaz Simplify. I cleaned up a couple of things, then thought I would drop in a sunset sky. I used Adobe Paper Texture extension in Photoshop to add it. I liked the grungy textured look and posted the image in the Photoshop and Lightroom group on Facebook for critique. Among others, Gudrun in Calgary thought the contrast between the grungy sky and the smooth foreground was jarring.

So two choices (three: but you ignore Gudrun at your peril! LOL) and I chose to remove the texture but keep the colour in the sky. Suddenly I love this image. I hope you do too!

Contact me for a fine art print of this image.

Quick Link:

I just came across this excellent video by Terry White from Adobe on the ten things a beginner needs to know to use Lightroom. If you are not a Lightroom user (or if you're a new one and want to get started right!), or you haven't decided why people think Lightroom is great (like me for example), watch this video. Here's the link!

By the way, I disagree with a couple of his points, "Convert to DNG" and not making a second copy to another drive on import, but that's what makes the world go 'round!

Best of 2013

On TIF (you guys know that stands for "The Imaging Forum" so it would be repetitiously redundant to say 'The TIF Forum', right? You should join. It's a small and really friendly place), someone started a thread that said, "Post the best image you made in 2013". That started the brain cells churning.

That's really hard! Find the ONE IMAGE you consider your best for the year. What criteria??? The one I worked hardest on? Most technically correct? Most artistic? Best image...

So I cleaned out my Quick Collection in LR, and started selecting images to put in there that I thought might be candidates for this honour. On the first pass, there were about 40 to consider. Then I looked at them together and started eliminating. Two hours later I ended up with 14 images. And today, I added one more. Then I took it down to 4. And finally, I chose one.

Here's the link to the SmugMug gallery I put up with the top 15. And here's my final choice as my best image for 2013.

1965 Shelby Cobra. This car was parked at the Inn across the road for a couple of days last fall. It was actually in the sun so it took a considerable amount of post processing work  to reduce it to what you see here. But this picture speaks to me because it is closest to what I envisioned before I pressed the shutter release. It goes without saying that a fine art print of this image is available.

My current project is a coffee table book featuring these 15 images and some of their siblings. Watch for it...

That's it for 2013. Have a healthy and prosperous 2014, folks! See you next year.


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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'tis the Season

You'd think that with everything spooling down at this time of year for the holidays, there would be more time to get things done. Just the opposite, I'm afraid. I'm playing a continuous game of catch-up!

First of all, I've been in-and-out of Toronto for some family and some medical stuff (which will hopefully work out OK, it's hard to concentrate when you have things on your mind). I had to write three newspaper columns in one day and I'm still struggling to catch up on the promises I made to the new Camera Club.

Then it snowed. My ATV's having some difficulties (the 4WD only works when I'm curving to the left. You can't plow heavy snow – with or without a rime of ice on top – without 4WD. YOU try plowing a straight driveway in curves! That said, I have it easier than my Toronto friends, some of whom are still without power since Saturday's massive ice storm (it's Tuesday as I write this), and it's supposed to go to 20 below tonight. I hope they're all finding ways to stay warm.

I shot this in Toronto on Saturday around noon, BEFORE the big ice storm.  

I said people were welcome to come up here. I have power (as I write this!) and a fireplace to keep warm. By the way, ISO 6400, the only other light a small lamp off to the right that just provided the rimlighting on my head. I painted this with Topaz Simplify. 

Family shots

It was great seeing my son, daughter-in-law and 1.75 of my grandkids last weekend (Jamie and Maria were in from New York, with Leah and a new little one due in about 6 weeks!). I only took a few pictures, Leah wouldn't hold still for a second and refused to pose for pictures, so I grabbed what I could.

Nothing does my 92-year old mother's heart more good than a visit from her great-grandchildren. Simple North-facing window lighting. 

It was hard to choose which image of Leah to use. I kept hitting "Pick" as I went through them. I've always said you can't take a bad picture of your kids! I chose this one because of her expression, and included her favourite "Princess" doll.  

Back Home

I said we got snow up here, not ice. This will give you some idea. There was about a foot of fresh white stuff, more after I shot this, and more to come tonight!  

I did venture out with the camera and took a few shots across the lake. But I've shot so many of these, I thought I'd try to make it a bit different, so I painted and textured this sunset shot. By the way, that's not open water, just darker ice. Certainly not enough to walk on yet, let alone drag ice-fishing huts out! 

Again, I have a lot of pictures of the Red Umbrella Inn, so I painted this one to make it a bit different. It's a 3-shot HDR, rendered with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, then painted with Topaz Simplify.

You may have noticed the grey drop-shadow framing on some of these images. I'm experimenting with how to present my pictures better online. Please let me know if you have a better idea!

Weekly Blog

My goal is to blog once/week. This is #45 for 2013 (I had exactly 52 in 2012, and 48 in 2011). So there will be one more, #46, but I also wrote 6 technical blogs on the other site this year, that I'm going to count, so that adds up to 52! Let's see what 2014 brings!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013


New Blog Header picture

Some newsreaders don't show the header picture and whenever I change it, the old one is lost. So here's the current picture preserved in the body of the blog as well. This is a rendering of a snowmobile track on the ice of 12-Mile Lake just opposite my dock. I shrunk it proportionally; the original is much taller. I was going to leave it black-and-white but I really liked the tonality of this version.

Contact me if this speaks to you as it does to me. Picture the image (without the text, of course) as a
48" by 12" canvas or matte print on your wall.


No, not the Christian holiday. A "Leap of Understanding". Wikipedia defines it as,
An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is an experience of sudden and striking realization. 
 In my humble opinion, they're rare, and they should be, otherwise they wouldn't be significant. And in my case, stating them can be a bit embarrassing. Because it feels like you're restating the obvious. Cognoscenti will stare down their noses at you and say, "Yeah, and? This is something you didn't know?"

The last one I can recall had to do with motorcycling. For 12 years I taught the motorcycle course at Humber College. There was one really, really basic concept that all motorcycle students had to grasp. I must have used the words 10,000 times. But it wasn't until one day, riding my bike down at Deal's Gap (The "Tail of the Dragon". Google it if you don't know what it is) when I had an epiphany: "You have to look where you want to go". Motorcyclists will understand this, the rest of you probably won't. I can hear my friend George thinking, "like what are you, new?"

Do you understand what I mean? Yes, you know it but do you KNOW it? Robert A. Heinlein coined a word that applies: GROK. (From his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, and if you haven't read it, you should).

So here's my epiphany for today:
"The only people who care how a picture was made are those who are trying to figure out how to emulate it". 
People who don't have that agenda, flat out don't care. They either like it or they don't like it. They either see and appreciate the maker's vision or they don't. Am I restating the obvious?

Look at that banner picture up top. Do you care how many pixels wide it is? Is it noisy? Is the colour balance off? What's that dark lump about 1/3 in from the right? Do you care what technique I used to make it? WHO CARES? It's an expression of MY VISION.

During the time I spent with Rosa, I think she tried to tell me that 1000 times. I didn't hear it until now. She also used to disagree vehemently with my premise, when teaching composition, that "you need to know the rules so you can know when to break them". I still don't get that – she was probably right but I don't Grok it.

How does that change what I do? It's a bit of a sticky wicket, as my British friends like to say. On the one hand, I'm teaching, and that involves giving people ideas and examples of what to do and what not to do. On the other side, I'm trying to express my vision in my art and that involves none of the above. I've stopped submitting images for competitions and yet with the new club, I'm fostering that learning vehicle. What to do, what to do...

So here are a couple more quotes for your enjoyment.
"I'm succeeding admirably in my rôle as a starving artist!"
"Everything hurts. Except the things that don't work anymore."
Attribute the last one to my father (Robert Springer, 1920-2010), who also coined "female dark chocolate" (no nuts!) in his later years! The other two are mine.

You know what would be cool? If years from now you entered these quotes in Wikipedia and they came back attributed appropriately!

Haliburton Highlands Camera Club

We have, as they say, Liftoff! After a snow-delayed launch, the inaugural meeting of the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club took place on a memorable date: Friday the 13th of December! There were 26 people in attendance (good thing, that’s all the chairs we had!), and at this writing, 17 of them have joined the fledgling club. I find this an auspicious number. For one thing, there are no snowbirds or cottagers in the group, imagine the headcount had we done this in the summer! And a lot of people wrote to say they wanted to be there but couldn't make the last minute schedule change.

I have an amazing 55 names on my HHCC list, from a population that would be dwarfed by the number of residents in one city block in the 'Big Smoke'. My assumption that there is a need for a camera club up here in the Highlands seems to be true. The next step is to make the promised programs happen, and we're getting a start at it. First step is to assemble a team to coordinate our activities, and that's in the works.

Part of the group at the inaugural Camera Club meeting. 

So if you're in the Highlands and you haven't joined yet, have a look at our web page and contact me for more information.

Photomatix Pro 5.0

HDRsoft has released version 5.0 of their signature Photomatix Pro software. The world seems to be divided by the three big HDR generating products, Photomatix, Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop HDR Pro (there are other tone-mapping products out there, notably Topaz Adjust). Photomatix is the only one that can run as a standalone, without requiring Photoshop or Lightroom.

HDRsoft has always provided free upgrades to their existing customers, and there seems to be no exception here: I went to, downloaded and installed it over Photomatix 4.2.2 and it never even asked for a serial number. They didn't send me a heads-up, though, so if you're a customer, get thee over to the site for an upgrade. Kudo's to HDRsoft for this policy.

I've spent a total of 5 minutes on it since I installed it. I opened a 3-shot/2 stop burst and played with it briefly. It appears to run smoother that before and with more subtle control over the effects. I'll have to do some more testing. My normal go-to has been the Nik product and the one thing it has that Photomatix doesn't is Control Points, although you can do much the same thing with layer masks in Photoshop.

Here's that 3-shot image I ran. All I did to it after returning from Photomatix was to dodge out the bottom of the dirty door a bit, and straighten/crop in Lightroom.

I really should have cleaned the spider webs off the side of the building before winter. Then again, I wouldn't have gotten this shot! 

Topaz Star Filter

If you hurry, you can get the new Topaz Star Effects filter for half price (until year-end). It does really neat stars, but it also does glows: I learned that by watching their Webinar last week, then I tried it on this image:

The glow makes a big difference in the feel of this image. 

I used the star effect on this photopainting of the snowplow after the first snowstorm of the year. 

Go to this link and enter decstar as the coupon code at checkout.

Winter in the Highlands

A day in the life... here's what you have to do when you live up in the Highlands!

...and this

He had no problem with me taking his picture! That's $300 of heating oil being pumped into my tank! I must say the D610 delivers spectacular performance at ISO 6400.

It's not even winter yet officially until Saturday. Looks like we're in for a long one.

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Sunday, December 08, 2013

"May you live in Interesting Times"

When I looked up this phrase to see to whom to attribute it, I discovered that it really is NOT an ancient Chinese curse and Confucius did NOT say it. However it is appropriate to the past couple of weeks for me.

This is actually a complete rewrite of what I penned yesterday. It all sounded like I was whining a lot but that's not my style. Let's just say it was an eventful time, and move on.

In the past couple of weeks, I've had some dental issues (by the way, if you EVER feel you need a new dentist, Ron is the best there is, anywhere. It's a bit of a drive to get to him, but worth it. Go to, there seems to be a nerve thing going on in my ear and I don't know, I'm just not feeling right. I think it's a 'time of year' thing. I've said before, I don't really like these "shoulder" seasons, waiting for winter to really set in.

Then I had some big car expenses, plus my ATV's just back from winter service and my desktop computer's exhibiting signs of being on its last legs. {sigh}.

That said, I was at THREE parties last weekend, had a great time with wonderful friends, I was interviewed by two newspapers (link to the Highlander article here).  and I'm working hard on the inaugural meeting of the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club next week (in 3 days, actually!).

So rather than bore you with lots of words, I thought I'd just show some pictures and restrict myself to a couple of lines of captions.

Spectacular sunset. The lesson here is "don't procrastinate". Remember the Norwegian fable about the "Three Billy Goats Gruff"? I saw this sunset (no colour treatment here: this is how it looked!) and thought, I need to find a better foreground, I'll drive a bit further. I passed up much better shots than this. I finally pulled over when I realized it was going to die in a couple more minutes. It was much nicer earlier. Next time: stop right away!

Last ATV ride in the bush until spring. I've got the snowplow blade mounted now and it doesn't have the clearance for trail riding with it on board. This was on my way in to the service shop (not allowed on the highway). I had to winch out a fallen tree that was blocking the trail (top shot). 

After a blustery cold day, the lake left its signature on the shoreline. Waiting for hard water... 

Matt Desrosiers, the editor of the Highlander, shot this picture of me with my camera and he gave me permission to use it as I wish.
By all rights, this shouldn't have worked that well. Handheld, 1/60 sec at f/8, F=116mm, ISO = 6400.
But I did some Photoshop and Lightroom magic and I really like this shot. 

There are three images from last weekend that reflect my mood. This is my favourite. I chose to do a soft rendering of Renée, a tight crop from a reception hall image, lit with my flash and Gary Fong diffuser.

One of the musicians at the Bar Mitzvah. I struggled with how to crop this but settled on this 8x10. Square works too, but it cuts off the top of the instrument. The composition works for me, as does the black-and-white and painted treatment. What do you think? (Please comment). I held the flash off-camera to the left, again with the Gary Fong diffuser on board.

Best Friends Forever. Talk about making lemonade from lemons: THERE WAS NO LIGHT! This was handheld, 70-200mm lens at 130mm, 1/4 second at f/2.8, ISO 6400. Read that again, photographers, this should not have worked! High key, Topaz Simplify, some work on the background, sepia treatment with Nik Silver Efex Pro. Make your own story here: are they dancing? Looking at something scary? Sharing some gossip?
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