Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall is here!

What a wonderful summer!

{begin sarcasm mode}Was it hot enough for you? Enough clear starry nights? Sunny days? {end sarcasm} As far as I know, Toronto only had one day with any kind of heat warnings all summer. But at least two big heavy duty storms.

We have not had one single suitable night for star photography all summer. As we joked at the club meeting on Wednesday, our star shoot will be in February! And I'll bet only a few of my students will want to be there! (I actually do have an idea about that, we'll have to pursue it later on).

And yet I heard that from a Global perspective, the average temperature worldwide was higher than ever. Just not here. Or in the US. Or in Europe, I understand. Africa and Asia got it.

Onward and upward! Pray for Fall Colours!

Remember, there's a free eBook on shooting Fall Colours available by subscribing to my Newsletter. Click the button at top right!

Topaz has done it again!

They released a brand new product yesterday, called "TOPAZ IMPRESSIONS". If you like to convert photos into fine art, this is the plug-in for you (it also works as a standalone, but all the Topaz products seem to work better for me inside of Photoshop (or Elements) because you can control it better using masked layers.

Click this link to go to the Topaz Impressions page. You can see some great examples of how it works, download the free trial or buy it right there. If you key in the coupon code, "SEPIMPRESSIONS" at checkout, you will get a 25% discount. This is only valid until the end of September!

I'm sure there's a deal there if you already own the bundle. I'm waiting for Topaz to reply to that question but I see that if you have a log-in on their site you may be able to find out there. As soon as they tell me I'll pass it on.

Remember, you can also get a 15% discount on the entire bundle or any other individual Topaz product by using the code "FACZEN" at checkout. This one doesn't expire but you can't get BOTH the 15% and the 25% at the same time (I wish!).

Do the math... 15% of $429 is $64. 25% of $99 is $25. If you're buying the bundle...

New Fall Colours Banner

Here it is (for those using RSS Feed so they can't see it at the top). This is an impressionistic picture of the early fall colours!

Win some, lose some

I usually drive the Argyle Road from Beaverton in order to avoid the 50km zone in Kirkfield when I'm travelling from Toronto to home. On Friday, I did as well, but for another reason. For once, I wasn't in a huge hurry to get home, it was a nice day and I wanted to take my time and some pictures.

There are several solar farms under construction in that area. I learned that several farmers had agreed to sell their land for that purpose, and for several reasons – access to the grid, flat geography, etc – it's ideal. I've been wanting to get some pictures of the solar arrays, so I stopped to ask permission to come in and shoot.

Nope. Got to get agreement from the company that owns the place. I got a clear explanation at the second place I stopped at: liability. If I trip and fall on their property...

The problem is, they have a high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to keep people out. And the links in the fence are small, less than 2". No way to shoot through it without seeing the fence. This is the best I could do:

Too bad. There were some awesome pictures to be had there. In hindsight, if I had my point-and-shoot with me I might have been able to, by putting the lens through the hole. Think I'll try that next time.

Now THAT's a tree

I kept driving and ended up on a back road south of Kirkfield. There was a section where trees overhung the road, I stopped for some shots but I'll come back again after the colours are mature. However just after that, there was a farmer's field with some awesome oak trees in it. I spent some time there trying to get some images, I did get a couple. I had a mental image when I came in, don't know if I achieved it, but I stuck around and "worked the scene", and came up with this one.

Technically, it's a 5-shot HDR which I edited quite a bit. The textures were wonderful, but too overpowering. So I went to Topaz Simplify to smooth them and then I did some toning in Lightroom.  

Same tree, different view.This is what I envisioned when I was actually there, shooting it. For the tekkies, deliberately overexposed. Everything was done in Lightroom, using the adjustment brush, then I took it into Photoshop and used Nik Color Efex Pro 2 to enhance the high key look. 

As I said, I wasn't in a hurry and I wanted to have a look at the Carden Plains, an "Important Birding Area" just North of Kirkfield. I took an hour or so exploring up Wylie Road, then turned on Alvar Road. There weren't a lot of birds around, must be the wrong time of year.

Wetlands on Alvar Road. Probably a good idea to have 4WD here. A few minutes later, 3 deer crossed the road about 50m ahead of me, a buck and two does.   

PS, I did talk to some people on Wednesday (notably Dan Busby, who will be presenting at the HHCC meeting next month, don't miss it!) who are familiar with Carden Plain. Apparently Ontario has now designated it a Provincial Park. And the right time to visit is late May, into June (I said you probably should bring a macro lens to take closeup pictures of the blackflies!). You can bet that I'll be there. How have I not been there before??

Why do I do Photoshop?

Or more accurately, "post-processing". I have to admit it's partly because I don't work well under time pressure. I'm off-topic here, but yes, I'm a procrastinator, yes I wait until the last second and put myself under huge time pressure, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm a "deliberate thinker". I need to sit back and analyse things, then take action. So making on-the-fly decisions  is not my forté and that includes while I'm looking through the viewfinder. The best camera I've ever bought is the D800 which gives me so many megapixels I can crop and straighten like crazy, and which has such good high ISO performance and dynamic range that I can ETTR (expose to the right) and fix stuff later in Photoshop. Or Lightroom. Or a number of plug-ins like Topaz and Nik.

So I'm about to give you a dumb example. Don't laugh, OK? When I was in Carden Plain, I drove past these cows. I remembered that I needed a "cow" picture for the HHCC Scavenger Hunt so I took a couple of snaps. The 70-200 with the telextender was on the camera and I just shot from the seat of the car at 340mm. This was the one I liked the best

I was a little slow; the two cows – one's a calf – were actually  interacting better in another shot but I didn't nail the focus.
Crappy picture, right? Horizon skewed, cows in the middle, a tree growing out of one of them, bad foreground, didn't fill the frame... but this is how my vision works. I knew I could solve most of that stuff in post. By the way, focus was not tack sharp either.

In Lightroom, I straightened it, cropped a little, toned the image a touch, then I used the Radial Filter tool to make them stand out from the background more. Then I took it into Photoshop and used the new "shake reduction" filter to sharpen it, and even took a paintbrush to the eyes to make them more crisp. I cloned out the tree. I cropped it again to get them out of the middle and saved it. I played with some plug-ins and while I was looking at the oil paint option in Topaz Simplify and really liked what it did to the sky; so I ran it, then masked out everything except the sky, and did a little painting with the healing brush. In the end I also blurred it a bit because the contrast between the sky and the rest of the picture didn't look natural. Voilà!

Not the world's greatest picture, it's not going to end up in the National Gallery, but somehow I like it. Now if these had been lions instead of cows... 

Cool, Unique Product

What do you buy someone who has everything? Something different. I ordered a pillow from RedBubble for my granddaughter. She loved it. And her little 6 month old sister apparently has been "saying hello" to it!

This picture is a screen capture from the Redbubble site. Visit my Redbubble page to see the pictures I have available there. Buy something! I haven't actually seen the pillow yet, it was delivered to Leah in New York, but I'm going to order one for me, perhaps with a different picture. If you join Redbubble, you can upload any hi-res picture and order prints and other products too! 

The whole thing cost me $40 US including shipping and everything. You can buy three different sizes (this was the medium), and the whole pillow or just the outer casing and you put what you want inside (cheaper and your choice...).

As an aside, ever watch Two and a Half Men? Walden has three pillows on his couch with custom markings. Comment here if you know what they have on them!

Algonquin Park Photowalk

Pretty well every year I swear I'm not going to shoot more Fall Colours and every year I do. Last week I told you about my planned photowalk to Algonquin Park. Yesterday I visited the Frost Centre to find out the rules about using the area (it's closed and "No Trespassing" signs are posted. But if you access from the south end, where the Algonquin Highlands hiking trails begin, it's legal.

Technically, the beach is part of the Frost Centre, but the hiking trail cuts between the Centre and the beach, so I don't see it as a problem. Neither does Curtis, the Township guy who runs the Parks and rec office right there. By the way, there's less colour at the Frost Centre than there is where I live (OK, well "green" is a colour, right?) but I'm sure it will be outstanding two weeks from now.

If you want to join the Photowalk, you need to sign up. Click this link to do so. By the way, it's free except (a) if you're not a club (HHCC) member, we're asking you to buy a coffee mug for $10 to support the club, (b) you need to get a day pass for the Park when you come in ($16 per vehicle) and (c) of course you're on your own for food and gas. I'll send out a list of people interested in carpooling after this weekend.

Featured image for today. Early fall colours in the Highlands  

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