Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's Bitchy when it's Itchy

Broken Wrist Update

One of my first D800 images. Shot in a 3-part mirror, flipped, LR distortion (angled mirrors),
framed with Perfect Effects 8, further processing in Topaz Simplify for your enjoyment!

My right arm is in a cast (they made me choose a colour. I picked raspberry!). My fingers are still quite swollen, I can't close my hand yet. But the good news is that the cast comes off February 18th.

Anyone who's worn a cast will tell you it's bitchy when it's itchy. I figured I'm tough, I can stand it. Oh yeah? It better get better soon. I woke up at 6am and was tempted to gnaw the damned arm off!

Last time I wrote about the terrific service at the Minden ER. The fracture clinic is at the Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay and it too was a far cry from the big city body factories. They were competent and relatively responsive, but some big city stuff crept in. For instance $2.50/½ hour for parking. Walking a maze of endless corridors.

This is NOT a photo. Well, except for the girl. I created the entire image in Photoshop using the new pattern fill tool, then added a texture with Paper Textures. Yes, I drew the trees, the water, the sunlit trail, the birds... More to come, this is fun. Especially when it's hard to hold a camera!

Camera Club

It's astounding. We have 45 paid-up members already and we're talking about capping the number of members! Apparently about a dozen people showed up to shoot the first weekend of the Pond Hockey in -25°C temperatures (I wasn't there. I wanted to be but the wrist injury was compounded by an ugly head cold). I'm starting to see some images from some very talented people, this is going to be great. We're still working on the logo, website, etc. Stay tuned!

D800 image and metadata

When I saw this Latte come out of the Tassimo machine, I had to grab a shot. Ugly ambient lighting didn't help. I did do some editing:  a towel on the counter in front was cloned out, I tweaked the colour balance, sharpened it with a hipass layer and I cropped a little, primarily off the left side. It's surprisingly sharp given that it was a 1/13" exposure handheld in portrait mode with a broken wrist, no less! Oh, and a touch of Noise Reduction: it was at ISO 6400!

I inadvertently deleted the NEF file while working on my workflow: I will be deleting a lot of unused RAW files to save storage space. But I wanted to verify the shutter actuation count on the new camera, so I loaded up my metadata editor to have a look. 608 clicks, just where Nikon said it would be.

You would be AMAZED at the copious amount of metadata your camera collects. I've addressed this topic before, but if you missed it, or you want to have a peek at this fascinating info, wander on over to my tech blog where I posted it. There's also a link there to where you can download the free metadata editor I use.

More to Come

I'm still quite limited in what I can do with one wing, but I'm going to try my damnedest to get out to the Pond Hockey tournament on the weekend. That D800 needs some exercise!

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A New Direction

Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night with this incredible revelation that may not represent your understanding of nature and the cosmos as a whole, but which apparently (at the time) has life-changing implications? Then you go back to sleep, and when you get up in the morning, you have no recollection of the thought, or you know there was something important but you can't remember what it was?

Of course you have. So you vow that next time, you'll write it down, and now you keep a pen and paper by your bedside just in case. Then you look at what you've written, and either you wrote it in Klingon and can't read it, or it says something nonsensical like, "Onions won't grow when the sky is yellow", or "Mimsy are the Borogroves, and the Slithy Toves did Gyre and Gimbal in the Wabe"?

I had one of those last night. I had my iPad beside me, so I grabbed it and wrote myself an email:

Backwards. Detail to simple

This time, I know what it meant. Now to try to put it in words that ordinary humans can understand.

I'm pretty sure I know what makes an outstanding image, at least in my vision today. That's not to say that I can make them regularly, but I understand what I'm striving for. The picture has to tell a story. And the viewer has to know what the subject is. But is that consistent with where I want my work to go?

In the past, I've talked about the "True North" concept in the blog. Not long ago, either (link), but I've been on that track for probably 15 years. Basically, everything you do should take you closer to your goal, not further away. But as I said, your goals are a moving target. I've had some eye-opening insights in the past couple of years, primarily due to my artist friend Rosa, but inertia makes it hard to match my actions with new directions. I'm probably not making sense here, but bear with me.

I love landscapes. Although I dabble in other directions, that's what makes my heart sing. The goal is to make every grain of sand, every twig tack-sharp. To that end, I'm picking up a D800 on Friday, to replace the D610. Nothing wrong with the D610, but 36 Mp! That's the right move for a landscape photographer. BUT... (that's a big 'but')

I'm beginning to realize that simple, not detailed, is the way I really want to go. I recently did this crop out of another image and will let it speak for itself:

I submitted this in an RHCC competition this week. I fully expect a low score, but if one judge likes it, it will be heartening. Doesn't really matter, it's MY vision. I've been asked what this is. Doesn't matter. Maybe it's an unseen comet's trail. Or an edge. Or something beginning. Or something dying. It's what YOU see. It's what it represents, not what it is.

So do I need a D800 to make images like this? No. Will it hurt? No. Except that it might take my focus away and entice me to shoot more complex landscapes. Do I think I can forego all other genres and only shoot these kind of images? No. Do I think I might be able to one day? I don't know.

My favourite graphic style is this simple: think back to some Olympic symbols where the sport is rendered by a few calligraphic strokes (maybe I should have been born Japanese. I love Haiku's too. Really wish I could draw...)

I've shot a few like this before: simple, tons of negative space.

Let's see where this goes.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Medical Musings

An Anniversary
10 years ago today, I had surgery for stage IV thyroid cancer. Every year I reflect on the fact that I'm still here and think what you want but don't say anything bad about universal health care. My surgery happened within 3 or 4 weeks of diagnosis, so did my second surgery and my radiation treatments, I've had CT scans, Ultrasounds, Xrays, PET scans, full body scans, MRI's. I take daily doses of Thyroxin, appointments every 6 months with oncologists at Princess Margaret Hospital. The only expense to me has been the dispensing fees from the pharmacist and the parking lot tickets at PMH.

I never thought I would still be here 10 years later. But I am, and I feel especially grateful on January 8th every year.

Country Living
Living in the sticks has definite advantages over city living, no doubt. i got to test one of them today.

Note to self: "don't walk out on an icy driveway to greet the fuel oil delivery in your leather slippers". you will fall down. Second note to self: "you can"t break your fall with your hand, so don't try". Typing this with one hand because my right one is in a temporary cast. Nicely broken wrist.

What's amazing to a city dweller was the hospital routine. First of all, I parked 10' from the emerg. door. When I went in, I asked if I could park there. They looked at me like I was dumb. "Like, yeah...". The triage nurse saw me 5 minutes later. It would have been faster except the last patient tried to walk out with the BP cuff still attached and she had to fix it. The doc saw me 5 minutes later. "Does it hurt here?" Those guys are all the same! 5 minutes later, Xray, 10 minutes later I walked out the door in a cast. Total time from start to finish: under half an hour. Take that, you city types.

PS they wouldn't let me have the really neat Xray pictures to post here. Booo.

It's amazing how much you take for granted. You try opening a can of soup with one hand. Hope I can hold a camera next week at the Pond Hockey Championships!

Some Pix
Since it's hard to type, I'll keep this short. Here are some pix.

My house after the big snowfall and before the big thaw. Now my driveway is an undulating sheet of ice!

Last week's DSLR class photo. Katherine & Tracy & Paul mugging for the camera.

Topaz Simplify is my new favourite plug-in. Get it here. (Buy the complete collection
or click "View Products" for single apps)

I've posted this image elsewhere and it's garnering considerable acclaim. Available as a large format print.

See you next week. Hopefully I'll be able to shoot new pictures.

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Sunday, January 05, 2014



I was doodling with my Wacom stylus in Photoshop. What do you think?

When I did this, I was thinking about a logo for the new Haliburton Highlands Camera Club (this isn't it: it needs a camera or lens or shutter in it). But I started playing with a pressure sensitive brush and started by trying to draw a pine tree. I'm actually not that happy with the brush (can't seem to go from really big to really small) but anyway, this evolved.

Somehow I really like it, wish I had something i could do with it. If you know someone who owns a resort in the pine trees, this would make a great logo for them!

PS: it's 5 strokes of the pen and a filled circle. I so wish I could draw...

What got me started thinking in this direction was this image I took on the way home from Haliburton yesterday.

Winter Sunset. Straight out of the camera. Just a little crop and some Lightroom toning.
My new blog header banner until another one catches my fancy! 

2014 Resolution, Day 1

Asking people if I can take their picture. I stuck my toe in the water. I sort of asked someone in McKeck's restaurant if I could take his picture. Sort of... there was a guy there in a full snowmobile suit and helmet in the upstairs restaurant (you don't see that in the city much. Different story in Haliburton!). Anyway I didn't really ask, I chatted with him, told him how unusual that was, and TOLD him to go stand in the window light so I could get a shot. He didn't question it, just did what I said! The shot didn't come out as I would have liked but it was a first step!

Then Karen, the lady who served us, started talking about how they had REAL oyster crackers with their clam chowder and got all animated and excited about them (!). I didn't ask, I just picked up the camera and shot a burst. She didn't mind at all, just said "I hope you got my good side".

We don't just have crackers, we have OYSTER CRACKERS!
I got a nice smile in another shot but I like her expression here!
So I guess my resolution is about taking people's pictures when they know I am, not like a paparazzi with a telephoto lens.

So it begins

Ice fishing season is under way. With the recent cold spell, the ice on the lakes is nice and thick and the seasonal villages of ice huts is about to explode on the northern lakes. Frankly, I don't see the attraction, probably because I'm not a big fish eater or beer drinker, but it does provide some photo ops!

And so it begins. Kirk, from the Red Umbrella Inn, dragging an ice hut out onto 12-Mile Lake. Processed with Topaz Simplify, I also used Topaz Star Effects and a radial filter in Lightroom. My latest favourite tools! Because I get asked how I post-process images, here's what I did.

I used Topaz Simplify to add the painterly look then I masked it for his face, hat and jacket, the front of the ATV and the snowplow blade (and the bit of snow at the bottom). This was already low DOF because it was shot at f/2.8 (200mm) but I wanted to enhance that look. I also used the local adjustment brush in Simplify to burn in the wood on the shack a bit to give it more vibrance. The windshield was covered with a mass of duct tape where it was cracked and it's a white mess, so I used the healing brush and then the mixer brush to blend it out. Then I added stars to the headlights which were just a dull yellow since this was a daylight shot. To do that, I had to brush in a little white spot where I wanted the stars, then run the Plug-in. Back in Lightroom I darkened the image then I added a radial filter around his face and clicking 'invert mask' to adjust the inside of the filter, increased the exposure, clarity and sharpening on his face.

For me that's really light post-processing. Nothing I do any more is SOOC (straight out of the camera), that's just my style.

It's Sunday morning, 4:00 am

...and here I am typing on my blog. In case anyone is wondering why, it's the downside of living up North. I was lying in bed and heard my sump pump running. It should go off after a few minutes, but it didn't. That means my sump pump line under the driveway is frozen (I didn't think the heatline in it actually works...). I was going to wait until morning but then I thought about how my basement might be filling with water and wondered if the pump would fail. So I went out and attached a jury-rigged hose to the outlet and ran it across the driveway. I have to do that every winter. When that line gets frozen, I swap in another one, and bring the frozen one in to melt in the bathtub.

Then when I came inside and looked at the thermostat, the low-battery warning was flashing. I figured as long as I'm up... and I changed them. Then I went to the computer before going back to bed and here I am. PS, if it snows a lot today, I'm in trouble. My ATV is in the shop, the 4WD was only working when I curved to the left. They found the problem but didn't have it back together yet on Friday, so it'll be Monday before I get it back. Kirk, the guy on the ATV in the picture said he would plow out my driveway if we get a big snowfall before my ATV comes back. The joys of living in God's Country!

Now I'm going back to bed. Night-night!

Free Wallpaper

Remember this image from a couple of weeks ago? It makes a really nice background picture for your computer.

Free for use as wallpaper on your computer. This image is protected under Creative Commons Licensing BY-NC-ND. Attribution required if you distribute it, no commercial use, no modification in any way. Please do not print it: this version is not optimized for printing. If you want a print (large format art print available) or if you want to use it for commercial purposes, just ask.

Readers of my blog can download it for free as follows:

Go to one of the following links, then you can right-click/save-as to take a copy
You can of course stretch either version to fit your monitor but you may prefer the cropping of one or the other.

Haliburton Highlands Camera Club Meeting

We found a great location for our meetings: The Royal Canadian Legion in Minden! Seating for about 60 people, easy to get to and to park... next meeting is Wednesday, January 15 at 7pm. If you didn't get the invite via MailChimp, drop me a note and I'll get you on the list. Among other things, we're going to do a mini-tutorial on how to resize and upload pictures, and on the private Facebook group we have set up for the club. Here's the club's webpage. See you there!

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Exceeding Expectations

Exceeding Expectations

That's what I'm hoping for, for 2014. And I'm off to a good start! What comes to mind first is the new Haliburton Highlands Camera Club.

As I write this, we have 22 members. And I know of several others who will join in the next weeks, if you remember we had to postpone our inaugural meeting because of weather and a lot couldn't come.

What's most gratifying is that I perceived a need for such a club up here, bit the bullet and made it happen, and people overwhelmingly agreed with me! I have a real mailing list of almost 70 people at this moment who are seriously interested.

If you live up in the Highlands, or you know someone who does, send them to where they can learn more about us and the programs we're putting together!

Now the challenge will be to put it together so that it can exceed our members' expectations. To do that, I need to assemble a team to administer the club, because I certainly can't do it myself (OK, maybe I could but I don't WANT to!). What I WANT to do is to teach, to write seriously, and to have the opportunity to shoot some quality images this year, to explore and advance my artistic side. I'm hoping that my health and other factors will let me travel a bit this year. I really want to do Newfoundland again and perhaps be able to go to Iceland and/or the British Isles but that would be exceeding my expectations!

Adobe Rumour

I heard a rumour that Adobe has extended their $9.99/month offer for PS/LR until February 28, but just for people who have registered copies of CS3 or newer. I saw it once but haven't been able to find it again... perhaps by the time you read this.

Most Popular Image

My most popular image of 2013 was my next-to-last one. On the way into Toronto on Monday, I drove South on Bathurst from Aurora. There are some picturesque rolling fields on the west side as you approach Aurora. I've shot there before, mostly in summer and fall but in view of the ice storm happening over Christmas in Toronto, I was looking for rime ice remnants, found a few but nothing really exciting.

I drove home on New Year's Eve and deliberately up Bathurst Street. There had been a dusting of snow so I didn't expect to see much if any crystal clear ice, and I was right. But there's a little grove of gnarly trees that I've seen before and I slowed down to have a look. By the way, it was 20° below zero and there was a biting cold wind. I was cold in my down coat and fur hat!

As I write this (New Year's morning), this image has had over 100 views on Facebook which may not sound like a lot but considering I only have 60 'friends'... It's been reshared and lots of great comments! It needed to be black-and-white, not colour and I looked at several versions before picking this one. Topaz Simplify and Nik Silver Efex if you're keeping track.

If I hadn't already chosen my 'best image of 2013', this would have been a candidate. Something compelling about this shot. I'll make it available as a fine art print and put it on Fine Art America and RedBubble later today. You can buy a museum-quality art print of this by sending me an email.

Just to set the scene, for those of you who don't know the area, Bathurst is two lanes in either direction with a centre untravelled lane mostly for making turns. Since there had been a touch of snow, you could see that nobody had driven there. Shoulders were non-existent because of snow clearing so it was hard to stop safely without blocking an actual driving lane, unless you were in the median.

So that's what I did. Rather than risk traffic and make people drive around me, I parked in the median when I got out to take pictures. A police car pulled up, the officer wondered what I was doing and said, "technically you can't park in the middle of a highway..." then he actually said, "you're not in any trouble. Be careful and have a Happy New Year!" York Region's Finest.

This was actually the LAST image of 2013. In this case I had stopped in someone's driveway. I was trying to find something to document the devastation, the broken trees from the ice storm. I know there are worse events elsewhere in the world, but a ripped-up palm tree that takes a few years to grow full sized isn't the same as a  splintered 100 year old oak

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