Thursday, August 28, 2014

Whitewater action

As promised last week, I have some Whitewater kayaking pictures for you. As I mentioned, last weekend was the PanAm Games Test Event at the Minden Wildwater Preserve. If you don't already know, this will be the venue for the kayaking races for next year's games. Over the winter, they installed some support systems for the gates along the western edge of the white water. Looks like it worked well, but I'm no expert so I don't know. In addition, there was a whole bunch of electronic timing equipment, replacing the traditional stopwatches. Very pretty, and it seemed to work well too.

The event was publicized, attracting several photographers, including Ethan Meleg (and me!) and the CBC had a videographer onsite as well. It was difficult to get the best spots for shooting: we had to shoo people out of the line-of-site and work around them. They're going to have to do something about this next year. On Sunday it was sunny, which makes shooting boats on the white water a challenge.

Since I've shot a lot of white water kayakers in the past, I was trying to find some different shots. There are three kinds of shots I prefer (and one I didn't focus on, officials and onlookers. Next time). So here's some examples:

A wide angle shot that shows the beauty of the river and the environment. I painted this one with Topaz Simplify to bring out the textures of the water and the forest. I was lucky enough to shoot when the sun peeked out and lit the rock in the foreground.

This is a closer shot that focuses on the determination of the paddler and the wild water she was navigating. This was shot on Sunday, so I had to do a lot of work to minimize the sun and capture the textures of the water. 

A slow-shutter-speed action shot. I shot at 1/30 second and panned right with the paddler to add that motion blur. I love the feel of this shot, but missed the timing a bit: I prefer when the paddler's arm is not blocking their face. Also the vertical strip on the right is the gate pole he was heading for, I debated removing it but I left it in because it helps tell the story.

Another slow speed shot. Got the face this time, and the motion of the flying water. Click to enlarge it.

This was actually shot at exactly the same spot as the previous one, but with a fast shutter speed to freeze the water and action. I shot at least 20 paddlers in this spot in order to get one perfectly positioned, framed by the rock and the pole. Compositionally I like this shot (I know she's in the middle; but framed, high horizon and great detail). If I were  Whitewater Ontario, Tourism Ontario, or the PanAm Games people, I'd buy this shot!

I included this shot because of the astonishing vibrance of the colours, shooting in the shade. This kayaker was rescued when she flipped the boat. There are rescue boats strategically placed along the river as well as trained rescuers standing on the rocks, ready to risk everything to save a racer in trouble.

Don't you hate that ad?

It's called an "earworm". A tune that runs around and around in your head for hours or days. I hate to do this to you: "Everyone HATES Marineland". I wouldn't consider ever going their BECAUSE of their advertising.

If you're anywhere in Southern or Central Ontario or in upstate New York, you know what I'm talking about. How do they manage to advertise on EVERY radio station, every TV station in the area? And not just occasionally: all the time. I got curious and Googled it: I found out two things:

  • Their advertising budget is $4 Million.
  • There are all kinds of negative things online about them, concerning the treatment of the animals in their place.
Still, you have to wonder how they manage to get in all that media all the time. And their jingle is worse than "It's a small world, after all" (sorry, Skid!).

Riddle me this, Batman

Can someone explain to me why a simple bag of salad is $3.99 in the Foodland store (and the package of mixed Spring Greens is $5), when we're at the absolute peak of the local produce season? It was half that price when it had to be trucked in from California or Mexico or wherever.

Oh good, another excuse not to eat salad. I think I'll have a steak instead. Oh, wait... it's ON SALE for $10/lb.

Out of my comfort zone

I shot an assignment for the Times on Saturday, covering a reunion at the Cultural Centre, honouring the Prentice family who are intimately interwoven in the heritage of the area. I'm working hard to shoot people better, and I even got 50 Prentice's lined up for a group shot. But I liked this one a lot: Bill and Lenore, in their mid-80's are the senior couple in the family (Madeline is a few years older, but widowed).

I did some work to texture this image (using Russell Brown's Paper Texture Pro in Photoshop and I painted the Prentices using Topaz Simplify). 

Got my ATV back!

It's been in the shop for a couple of weeks, I got it back on the weekend and it's running sweet! It's still got a few problems, but it's smooth and quieter, and there are now tubes in a couple of the tires that had been leaking.  I can't resist posting a picture of one of my favourite spots on the nearby trail.

HDR and painted. Trying to capture the feeling of that day. Think I'll do a 'selfie' in the same spot next time. 

Next blog: some inspiring star photos! And I got a huge surprise when I got home (at 3:30am) and uploaded the images to my computer. Click the Newsletter button at the top if you're not a subscriber and I'll give you a heads up when the blog is posted. AND, I'll give you a free eBook!

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

"License and Registration..."

Great Lakes Police Motorcycle Training Seminar

If you see one of these guys in your rear view mirror, remember they can ride better than you can drive! Motor cops from all over were there to hone their riding skills and on the final day, to share their skills in the spirit of competition.

I used to know a lot of these motor cops, but there are a lot of new guys – and gals – in the cadre. Still some familiar faces: some retired, some not. Luc, for instance, from the RCMP in Ottawa (forgive me for not posting his last name here) is the Staff Sergeant in charge of training for his crew. I made a mistake, joking with him "if you drop your bike, give me a heads-up so I can get a picture!" Don't be mad, Luc, I didn't mean to jinx you! But I won't publish the picture. That is, if you put a package of small unmarked bills... kidding, kidding!

This is one of Luc's group, in perfect control of that big 'ole Harley. A fun edit with heavy-duty tone mapping and some added warmth. 

But even he isn't immune:

When you push the edges of the envelope, sometimes you get a paper cut! 

This was interesting: it's an electric bike. "Zero" was there with a bunch of bikes for the motor cops to try out. Without a clutch, I can only imagine how it is to ride in these tough low-speed exercises. 

I'll leave you with two "people" pictures.

He didn't see the humour when I suggested he shouldn't do that while riding!  

I was there with my friend Lori who actually said she LIKES this picture! I'm flabbergasted. This is the first time she said she liked a picture of herself! 

More Flowers

From there I drove to Humber College where I said hi to my former motorcycle instructor colleagues and took an hour to shoot in the Arboretum behind the campus. It's a good spot to visit if you're a photographer, free access (unless you're shooting a wedding or something in which case you need to arrange with them).

My goal was to shoot some more flower images for my black and white series. I still haven't figured out the optimum subjects for that treatment, but I'm getting there. I'm going to write a tutorial on how to do this, and put it in an eBook format. Watch this space or drop me a note and I'll tell you when it's ready.

I actually shot this one at the Fruit and Vegetable Market in Minden a few days earlier.

This one too... 

This one was shot at the Arboretum. And lots more, no time to edit them!

Shooting Stars

As most of you know, I ran a 2-part workshop last month on shooting the stars. But the weather gods have not cooperated: there hasn't been a single suitable night for shooting stars since the end of June!

PS: at last night's camera club meeting, one of my students said I could count on him NOT to come out to shoot stars in February. LOL. However, I do have an idea that involves making use of an ice fishing hut...

A couple of nights ago, I woke up from a 'nap' in front of the TV at around 12:30, went outside and saw, "STARS"! I loaded up the car and headed out to check out one of the spots I had pre-selected for the field portion of the workshop, when and if the weather cooperates. I got out there, set up and sure enough, clouds started moving in, so I didn't get a suitable sequence long enough for stacking. However, I did get a couple of shots:

This is facing East. That's the moon coming up on the right.  Click the picture to see it better. I was going to brighten it up but it lost the mood when I did.

Zooming the lens while the shutter was open produced this image. And a little help from Topaz Adjust which is on sale for 50% off until the end of August. Click the link at right and use "augadjust" in the code field at checkout.
Boat HDR

Yesterday I took the boat out and shot this 5-shot bracketed group. The Topaz Simplify filter produced this "painterly" effect. 
Free eBook

If you're reading this and you haven't yet downloaded your free eBook on shooting Fall Colours, get to it! There are some early red leaves out there... click the "Newsletter" button at top right. If you're already subscribed, you got an email with a link to the eBook. If you've lost it, send me an email.

I'll be running a photowalk day into Algonquin Park around the peak colour season for the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. If you've never been up there at that time of year, bring your sunglasses because the colours are so bright you'll burn your eyeballs out. Oh, and DO NOT come up on a weekend. Last year the stop-and-go lineup into the Park was over 20 km long and the outfitting store/restaurant was a mob scene.

This weekend is the PanAm Games test event at the whitewater, with the entire following week taken up by the Minden Invitational National Kayaking Championships. Guess what you can expect in  the next blog post?

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

I should not own tools.

Just thought I'd start with some "sporadic musings".

First, a sad moment.

R.I.P. Robin Williams

As I get older, the list of people whom I have admired and who have died grows necessarily longer and longer. Some were taken from us too young, some lived to a ripe old age, but in every case, it was too soon.

My father tops the list; today he would have been 94. Nobody lives forever but they leave a big hole when they're gone. I'm lucky. I can count on one hand the people to whom I was close who have died. But there's a longer and longer list of those whose talents were so huge who are gone.

Robin Williams was one of those. His off-the-wall humour, his incredibly quick wit made him my all-time favourite comedian. And some of the more dramatic roles he played were memorable because he made the characters believable. Good Will Hunting, the Dead Poet's Society, August Rush, yes, even Mrs. Doubtfire. I read somewhere that most of his dialogue in Good Morning Vietnam was not scripted, he improvised it.

In recent years, he pushed the edge of the envelope. His comedy became vulgar, his intent, to shock. I didn't like it, but I appreciated it. He explored boundaries, he pushed buttons. No doubt his substance abuse issues were a contributing factor in his death, but it was inevitable, in him and in others, mostly musicians, who brought their bright lights to live among us and make us feel. Maybe he really was an alien, Mork from Ork.

I wish I could have met, you, Mr. Williams. R.I.P.

Are you a good Samaritan?

The other day I saw a van parked by the side of the road, the driver, an older gentleman, sitting on the grass nearby, with his hand on the side of his neck seemingly feeling for his pulse. I made a U-turn and stopped. He wasn't really in distress, just waiting for a friend in another vehicle that had become separated, but he thanked me for stopping.

Just food for thought. Suppose you saw a motorcycle broken down at the side of the road. Would you stop to help, or at least offer the rider a lift to the nearest service station? Would you still do that if the biker was muscled, tattooed and wearing a ratty leather vest with a 3-part patch on the back?

I would. Would you?

I shouldn't own tools.

If I have tools, it's easier to break things or hurt myself. In fact, my picture should be posted in every Canadian Tire, every Home Depot with an order not to sell tools to me. My latest escapade?

I wanted to remove the ball head from my Gitzo tripod (the head is a Manfrotto 486RC2) but couldn't get it off. I wanted to mount my gimbal mount on it, which sits in a box in the car, unused, and which, I've found out, isn't a wise thing to mount on my lightweight 3LT carbon fiber tripod. But I couldn't get the ball head off.

So I Googled it. Sure enough... however the article talks about a set screw in the bottom of the head, and mine doesn't have one. I figured it's just too (friction) tight and then I thought, "I have an oil filter wrench that should fit around the base of the head, let me give that a try".

I now have a Gitzo tripod with a sheared off 1/4 inch bolt on the clamp that holds the centre column in place, with a Manfrotto 486RC2 ball head still firmly attached to the centre column. Fortunately, I know where Gentec is, the Gitzo importer and repair depot. Next trip to Toronto. Maybe I should buy a whole new centre column piece, after they fix the tripod, of course. Wonder how much that exercise is going to cost me?

If you see me coming, don't sell me tools.

Emergency Medical Information Card

Every now and then, I remind people about this. Suppose you were taken to an ER, unable to communicate (say, God forbid, in an accident and unconscious, or having suffered a stroke or other attack of some kind). How difficult would it be for the ER staff to find out about pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, or what meds you're taking?

Years ago, I made a wallet-sized Emergency Medical Information Card template and made it available to anyone for free. It's a PDF you download, you can fill it out and print it on your own computer (no information is sent anywhere) and get it laminated at Staples or wherever.

Over 20,000 people have downloaded it. That makes me feel good. The link is over on the right side of this blog, or here. Do it today.


I shot the same picture of the so-called "Supermoon" that everyone else did. I wasn't going to, but there it was, around midnight, when I went out to check if there were any stars to be seen (there weren't). I grabbed the 200mm with 1.7x converter and took a few handheld shots. Cropping out of the awesome 36Mp D800 image, I got this:

But everyone has the same shot. So I sat down with my coffee to play for a few minutes. That dragged into about an hour because when I posted it on FB, someone said the clouds should be in FRONT of the moon, so I went back and fixed it.

Just playing, you understand. You've seen this landscape before, I grabbed it, did some layer masking, then drew the birds in with the Wacom stylus. I darkened the image with some gradients, for mood.

New Technique

I picked up a new technique for rendering flowers in black-and-white on a black background from a fellow named Antony Northcutt. He put it together in a pdf eBook tutorial which I bought for £4.99. It's well done. The key is to choose a good picture to use. I'll do some more of these, but here's my first effort using that technique.

I put my own spin on this, doing some things differently from Antony. For instance, I used Silver Efex Pro for the BW conversion, and added some Topaz Simplify as well. The difficult part for this image was making the selection, it took a bit of painstaking painting on a mask layer to get rid of the background. 

Here's another, my second or third attempt. I went out today in search of subjects that would suit this style, this is a bit closer to my vision. This took me about an hour in Photoshop. It's closer to Antony's style, although I added a background glow.

Here's another one, with a difference. Instead of focusing on details, I went for textures. Topaz Simplify was the finishing tool.

Last but not least. Simplify again, but more detail. I like this technique and I'm thinking about printing a series of these images.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Mid-Summer Stuff

NEWSFLASH from Topaz

Topaz Adjust, arguably the BEST app in the Topaz suite is going on sale for half price in a few days!
Starting on August 13th, you can buy it for only $25, and you can download a 30 day free trial to check it out.

Adjust was the first Topaz product I tried and as soon as I did, I was hooked. It provides an amazingly broad range of control and adjustment effects to any image. I use it a lot: it's my go-to plugin in Photoshop (also works in Elements and Lightroom)

Here's the link, and put "augadjust" in the coupon box at checkout to get the discount. Remember, you can also put "faczen" in the checkout box for a 15% discount on the whole suite or any of their other products.

New Banner

As (most of you) can see, I've changed the banner on the blog. Whenever I change it, the old one disappears, so I've been posting it here in the body: but some people view this as an RSS feed so they can't see the banner and other formatting anyway. So I'll post the banner, together with the previous one, here in the body. Next time I won't have to post the previous one.

Old Banner. Composite image of bear at the landfill and a 50-image sequence put together with StarStaX. 

New Banner. Taken at the Highland Yard in Minden on August 3. This abstract is basically right out of the camera. I used a slow shutter speed and panned with the runner to give it a sense of motion. I couldn't resist enhancing it a little just to soften the blurred background some.

Tripod Update

The fine folks at 3 Legged Thing did what they said they would, they sent me a replacement leg segment and centre column piece to fix my broken tripod. I paid for shipping, that's all.

"Brian" is in one piece again, except for a couple of plastic bits they forgot to send me (they're in the mail). In their usual creative fashion these plastic pieces are called "chicken lips"! I love dealing with these guys.

Quality product from a company that really cares about their customers. They're not paying me to say this, although in fairness B&H Photo in New York does send a bit of commission my way if you buy anything from them using my link at right. Here's the direct link to "Brian" at B&H.

Backup progress

As I write this, I'm steadily doing a sync of my (now main) 2Tb external drive to a fresh 3Tb unit. I started it at around midnight, it's now 10:00 am and according to the progress bar, I'm about halfway through. It's working on September 2012 right now.

When it's done, I need to do an incremental backup to my other 3Tb, then I'll retire the 2Tb drive or re-task it somehow. I think I'm going to do another "Keepers" catalogue and put that on the 2Tb. There's no room for more on there now, it's 95% full. I'm still looking for a consistent strategy that doesn't involve buying a thousand dollars more backup drives.

I'm also worried about my desktop computer. When I wake it up, the screen is flickering. That could signal imminent monitor failure, or a video card failure or worse. The computer is about 3 or 4 years old, it might be that time... it's flaky anyway, and tests show that the main hard drive isn't happy. Diligent backups of the important data (including Outlook which runs on that machine) are in order.

Why am I writing this? Two reasons: to tell you how serious I am about backing up my archives and data, and to convince my loyal readers to give this some consideration!
Update: it took 16 hours to do the sync. Came up with two errors but that was probably because I brought up Lightroom once while it was working (had to look something up). I haven't done the incremental yet.

My (almost) daily chore

Since I'm not in the greatest physical shape (that's putting it mildly. Hey: Round IS a shape!) and being a lazy person, I don't do much exercise. To my regret: when I read about my friends Mark and Ron in Scotland, hiking the cliffs on the Isle of Skye, I feel deep pangs of regret that I didn't take care of myself better over the years. I'm beginning to admit that my age is catching up to me (I'll be 68 in September) and as my father used to say, "everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work any more".

Update: Mark has been blogging about their trip at, colour me green with envy. Scroll down to the August 7 post for my favourite images from their trip so far, landscapes on the Isle of Skye. I have to live vicariously...

My knees, or more accurately, my quads or the ligaments that attach them to the knees, are the most annoying. I completely lack the confidence to step down, afraid that I'll lose footing or balance and be unable to hold myself up. That's how I broke "Brian" in the story above. I get out of breath very easily doing moderate exercise. I've decided that if I'm going to live longer, I don't want it to be in a wheelchair or with a walker, so I must do something about it. My neighbour and I agreed to walk, some. That was a month ago, and we still haven't gone out even once. So now is the time.

The two paragraphs above are like New Year's Resolutions. Doomed. Maybe this will help: how about you, my loyal readers, following up on me from time to time? If I have someone other than myself to be accountable to, maybe it will help. By the way, I've lost almost 15 lbs in the past month or so, hit a plateau in the past week because I won't give up eating corn and because I gave into temptation when Janie said, "join us for dinner at the Pepper Mill" (the best hamburgers anywhere!).

So I started writing this because I had a couple of pictures for you that might involve a bit of healthy lifestyle habits.

I had a total of 7 face cords (2⅓ bush cords) of wood delivered a month ago. Wood is substantially less expensive than other heating methods. It needs to sit out in the sun for a while to dry out before it gets stacked. I'm half way through it, I do about half an hour of stacking a day. It's helping my wrist and shoulder and a little abs. I'm going to try consciously lifting with my legs, let's see if I can strengthen them a bit.

A healthy breakfast. Too bad it's only available fresh for a couple of weeks! The raspberries come from my own bushes, lovingly hand picked. I hand picked the blueberries too: from the Costco warehouse! I'm eating a lot more fruits and vegetables than in the past, trying to change some lifestyle choices.

Floating Camera Platform

Here's the story. I was chatting with Dorian, a neighbour of mine, about a very cool boat I had seen at a garage sale the previous week. Unfortunately, it was way more than I could spend. He mentioned that he had a little boat and motor he didn't want any more, and we made a deal. I took the motor to a local mechanic who made sure it worked and today I picked up the boat.

Nobody's going to say, "there goes Speedy Gonzales!" But it's perfect for what I want, a floating camera platform. And a way to do a little fishing and relaxing on the lake.

It's just a little boat, with a 4 hp motor. I promise, I won't take it out when it's windy or rough. 

An HDR closeup, finished with Topaz Simplify. I should have given it more space at bottom right, so I'll re-shoot this soon. 

Here's my first HDR from the boat. That's Vic's place down Pleasant Point Road. I was worried about alignment and ghosting since I was shooting handheld from a bobbing boat, but Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 handles it really well.

Update: I went out at sunset last night, took my fishing rod but not my DSLR. Wish I had! Here's the best I could do with the little point-and-shoot.

It took a bunch of Photoshop and Topaz (I used Adjust: see the top comment in this article!) to make this happen. 

Some foreground interest! That's my little 4 hp motor idling away 

I'm posting this one because it's such a great story, but it's a terrible shot. Click to blow it up. 

Can't wait for the fall colours! Oh, wait, yes I can...

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

I don't want to scare you...

But it's August. And you know what that means in the Highlands, right? FALL IS COMING! Scary thought.

It's been a tough year. A horrid winter, followed by a wet spring, a few warm days at the beginning of July, but cool and less-than-sunny for the past couple of weeks. I've been trying to find a date when we could go out and shoot some star photos but every night has been cloudy and the forecast isn't much better. If you're one of the Stars Workshop group, please be patient! We're slaves to the weatherman!

Back to the fall thing... a couple of years ago I wrote a 53-page PDF "Guide to Shooting Fall Colours" eBook. If you want a free copy, all you have to do is click the "Newsletter" button in the upper right corner, or here. I'm trying to build my readership, and what better way than to give away something valuable for free! If you're already a subscriber, you'll receive a download link in the next newsletter.

This is pretty cool.

Some time ago, I put some images up on RedBubble, a fine art site. I just discovered that you can buy these on their site:

Yes, that's my picture of the baby owls! Very reasonably priced and apparently all of the images that I've uploaded there are also available as throw pillows! Three sizes are available, and you can buy just the pillow covers or complete pillows.

Here's the direct link to the baby owls throw pillows. This link takes you to my portfolio on RedBubble. Click on any picture and the navigation bar changes to "Cards - Prints - Posters - Throw Pillows - Tote Bags". They do T-shirts and stuff too! Looks like I'm going to have to (a) order one of these so I can see if it's as cool as it looks, and (b) update my portfolio with some more "pillow-worthy" images!

Life in the Highlands

One thing I love about living up here is this. This morning I went out and picked a big handful of ripe, sweet raspberries, poured myself a bowl of cereal and coffee and enjoyed breakfast al fresco. A shame they're only ripe for a short time!

Working on my "People Skills".

Last week, I put a picture of my mom up on the blog. I like it: it represents what she looks like and communicates who she is. I also wrote, "No doubt, my mother's going to call me when she sees this picture and say, "how could you put such a horrible picture of me up on your blog?"." Sure enough... "Glenn, I'm standing on my [10th floor] balcony and if you don't delete that picture of me, I'm going to jump!". LOL Sorry, mom, I like it! PS: she didn't jump...

People never seem to like pictures of themselves. Especially women... that's why I shoot rocks & trees, they never complain! Here's another picture that I think the subject wouldn't like. But to me, it really shows her character, and since she's singing the blues, I think it fits!

Her name is Zoe Chilco and she used to host the blues show on CANOE-FM. Now she does a late night jazz show. She has a really rich bluesy voice and was singing and playing keyboard – busking – with a sax player named John Deehan at the Haliburton Crafts Show last weekend. I decided the harsh sunlight she was in was suited for this low-key black and white approach.  

By the way, the new "Focus Selection Tool" in Photoshop CC did an outstanding job. Look at the flyaway strands of hair, for example. Black and white treatment with Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Highland Yard

The Highland Yard is a 2K walk/run, and a 5k and a 10k run that's taken place in Minden every summer for umpteen years. In fact there's one fellow in the race who was wearing a shirt that said "Heiniken Yard 1977" and a sign on his back that said he's in his 37th year running it.

I've shot this event a few years now, so it's hard to come up with new approaches to the pictures. I tried to focus on people's expressions and tell the story. So here's a few shots from the race.

To set the scene, this is downtown Minden as runners come in to the finish. FWIW, I added a masked layer using Topaz Adjust 5 for the grungy detail effect. Reminder, if you use the Topaz link at right (OK, or here) and enter "faczen" in the code field at checkout, you'll get a 15% discount on their full suite. And I'll get a couple of free Tim Horton's coffees out of it.

The kids are my favourites.  I have a few shots where I engaged them before the race but this was one of my favourites. I love the determined expression on young #517's face. He's determined to get a good start!

And here's "Mr Cool" coming in to the finish line. Notice the untied shoelace on his Superman shoe! 

I used this effect last year too. A slow shutter speed adds a sense of action and motion and the angled horizon creates some triangles and makes the picture more dynamic (If you buy that, I have some land in central Florida you might be interested in...) 

Another runner coming in for a landing. I used another masked Adjust layer to enhance the subject. If you're wondering why he's in the middle of the picture it's because the story is about him AND the other guy, plus I wanted to give him room to move so I kept the bottom right corner of the shot. Check out the sense of depth created by the vanishing yellow line! (In teaching mode...)

Another finish line shot. More subtly enhanced using the radial filter in Lightroom. I like this one because of the expression on her face. 

And for my finale...

"The Thrill of Victory"! 

Amazing. All these people pictures. I'd better get out and do some landscapes before I forget how!

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