Sunday, October 26, 2014

Show you Care

Why don't we honour our cops?

Ready to put up with my ramblings? This has been on my mind and I want to express it.

Last week’s terror attack in Ottawa triggered this post. While any terror attack, whether carried out by a group or a single extremist, whether it results in the loss of thousands of lives or just one, is to be deplored, that’s not my message. Only one person who mattered died (the gunman died too, but his death was unimportant) but the bad news is this is not going to be the last such attack. This was inevitable: Canada’s support of the world’s fight against extremism and terror has not gone unnoticed. I certainly don’t think we should cower in fear or back down, I think this event should add to our resolve to wipe out terror organizations that threaten the globe. The message should be, “you don’t poke a sleeping lion”.

I watched the public reaction to the death of Nathan Cirillo. There was news coverage around the world. The Queen expressed her condolences. Parliament gave a 5 minute standing ovation to the Sergeant-at-arms who stopped the bad guy. Thousands of people stopped what they were doing, stood on overpasses and at the side of the 401 to pay their respects as the hearse travelled from Ottawa to Hamilton, that road has been designated as the “Highway of Heroes” and a laudable tradition has developed to honour the sacrifices of our armed forces members in defence of our country and our way of life. I fully support that expression of solidarity. But in my mind, it raises another issue. Two, actually.

Why does the public not express the same outrage when a police officer is killed in the line of duty? Yes, the law enforcement community acknowledges and honours the sacrifice of a fellow officer, but why doesn't the public? Just like the armed forces – more, perhaps – these people stand between us and the bad guys who would do us harm. Is there a line drawn somewhere, defending our country is more important than defending individuals? Dead is dead, doesn't matter whether it was directly at the hands of a terrorist or a criminal or in an accident while trying to defend us, dead is dead.

We need to recognize and pay homage to the sacrifices of our police officers, our firefighters, any other emergency service personnel, as much as we do to a soldier who was struck down in the performance of his or her dangerous duty.

I know a lot of police officers. And a few firefighters. And some selfless EMTs. They all deserve to be recognized for what they do and especially know that we are proud of them. Go shake a cop’s hand. I dare you.

My second message is this: drive through any small town in the US and you will see homes bedecked with flags, streets lined with symbols of American patriotism. Drive through an equivalent Canadian neighbourhood and, oh, look, there’s a flag! One. There are lots of reasons I prefer being a Canadian to an American, but this isn't one of them. Why are we not committed to our country as they are to theirs? Are we not proud to be Canadian? Why don’t we say it more? Yes, we can add “please” and “thank you” but we have to stop being apologetic about being citizens of such a great country.

To start with, fly a flag. I do. I dare you.

Still a cool pillow...

Remember the pillow I had printed with my granddaughter's picture on it? I just uploaded a bunch of new images to RedBubble, and some of them would make dandy pillows!

Pretty cool, huh? Picture this in an appropriately colour-coordinated room. In fact, it'll look great on my green leather couch and I'm going to order one!  

Check out my RedBubble portfolio here. They make all sorts of fine art products, from framed prints to canvas prints, even posters, greeting cards and Tote Bags

Shooting Stars (again!)

Linda called me last Thursday and said she had heard about a huge solar flare, which of course should result in dramatic Aurora Borealis. It happened to be a clear night, so I "girded my loins" and went out at around 1:00 am. I tried a couple of spots and ended up on the public beach across from the old 12-Mile Lake Historic Church (kicking myself right now. Why didn't I think to see what I could shoot with the church in the foreground? Damn. OK, on my list...)

Anyway, no Aurora. At least, not visible. So I shot a few milky way setup shots, then settled in for a 90-minute, 180 image sequence for Star Stacking. PS: didn't get to bed until 5 am... had to upload the pictures to see how they came out!

Here's a Milky Way image. The red lights are on a radio tower probably 5 or 10 km away. When you enhance the image in Lightroom (or ACR), the green glow of the Aurora appears but as I said, it wasn't visible to the naked eye.

Here's a stacking sequence. 170 frames, actually: I miscounted. But as usual, there were too many stars, so I had to go back to rework it, then I applied some Topaz magic. I may be way out of line here, but to me, the tonality of this image, including the pastel transitions in colour particularly in the water reflection reminds me of Lawren Harris (Group of Seven). Maybe that's why I liked it. Click to blow it up. Comments would be welcome.  

Here's another image that I took the same day. I was driving back from Toronto and had a bit of extra time, so I revisited the spot where I shot the massive oak tree a month ago. I took a few interesting shots there, but one jumped out at me.

What I saw was the back lighting on the grassy stuff in the foreground and the composition of the way trees take the eye into the middle where the sun is. It's a 5-shot HDR. It was a nice enough image but I decided I wanted some texture, so I opened it in Topaz Impression and after experimenting, used the "Caveman" preset. By the way, I stopped down to an aperture of f/11 to get the sun's rays (which I then proceeded to soften with the brush strokes! Oh well!). 

I was just South of Kirkfield, still had some time, so I said "let's go see what's doing on Carden Plain". Not much. I drove up a different road and came across this old farm building, that screamed, "Take an HDR, take an HDR", so I did.

While I was shooting that picture, along came a tractor and since I didn't know how the driver would react about having his picture taken (and since I had my long lens on), I shot one from far away.

Don't critique the picture! Just setting the scene, OK? 

Turns out that Leo (that's his name) and I had a great conversation! See what I mean about not being afraid to approach people and talk to them? Here's the gist of it:
This is Leo. He's 71 years old and for 45 years, while he was farming his 1300 acres on the Carden Plain, he also drove a transport truck at the same time. He's thinking of selling, Real Estate people are after the property. He can be a very wealthy man. He wanted to set up three solar farms a few years ago but was stopped when it turned out that his property was home to an endangered species [the loggerhead shrike].
We talked about how his kids aren't interested in farming, how Ontario has designated parts of the Carden Plain as a Provincial Park, how the nights are quiet and really dark there, about the 12 feet of snow at the top of the hill behind him last winter, how his neighbour, who has 200 acres offered him $130K for a 100 acre parcel adjacent to her land, he laughed and said he would give her double that (per acre) for hers but she turned him down, and more that I can't remember.
As we went our separate ways, I asked if I could take his picture. He said, "sure, as long as you think you won't break your camera!".

I used Topaz Impression to add texture to this bright sunlit portrait. I started with the "Cave Dweller 3" preset. I stepped back a bit but I had my 70-200 on board, with the 1.7x converter, so this was about as wide as I could get (OK, cropped a little). Does he look 71 to you?

Revisiting an image

Last June, I shot a picture of this person after a conversation with him, including discussions of his prison tattoos including the teardrop one on his cheek. Today I read a thread on FaceBook about someone who shot (pictures of) homeless people and he posted an example which was outstanding. To make a long story short, I revisited this image and re-edited it to put it on a black background and make it much contrastier and darker.

It reminds me of Yousuf Karsh's photo of Ernest Hemingway. You need to look at this one full-sized. Click the picture to blow it up. 

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fall is coming to an end...

...I feel as though I'm girding my loins for the challenging battle with winter to come. Rumour has it that we can expect a tough one this year.

The roof is done, at least that part that I'm doing this year. The chimney mortar still needs pointing, we're waiting for a dry spell, cement bags and tools sitting at the ready. The sump pump line needs attention: maybe we can prevent it from freezing up this year. Outdoor furniture is stored and covered, the top of the gazebo's hanging in the garage, I made space for the ATV and the car, the 4-wheeler's been tuned and ready for the snowplow to be mounted. 

Firewood is stacked and I have a bunch of kindling split and ready to go; I bought 50 pounds of birdseed and the overhanging branches have been trimmed, ready for the weight of snow to come. I'm making an appointment next week to have the snow tires installed.

It's coming...

My neighbours are running around with leaf blowers. I get a real kick out of that: seeing them wake up the next day to a whole new crop of fallen leaves! Can you say "Sisyphus"?

I have prepared this image as a desktop background picture (wallpaper).
You can download the standard width version here:
and the widescreen version
Let me know if you want a different one. Enjoy.

I don't have any of these. My property is framed on three sides by pine trees – 37 of them at last count, all mature and sky high (I wish I'd planted some red maples and other deciduous at the back of the property 7 years ago when I bought the place. They'd be adolescents by now). What I have is a carpet of pine needles, anyone who thinks "evergreens" don't shed in the fall doesn't live here! 

A neighbour once complained that I should rake up all those needles. He said it was preventing the grass from growing well. "Good," I said, "that means I don't have to mow it"! I live in the country, folks. 

If you go out in the Woods today...

I feel a little as if I'm making an AA speech here: "it's been a whole week since I took any pictures". Literally. From the 11th to the 18th. So I took the ATV up in the woods yesterday. I have a number of places where I like to sit and let my mind float (I don't want to use the 'meditate' word or the "Zen" thing, I'd have to research what they mean so I'd be using them properly). That's one of the places. 

It changes constantly. Look back a couple of posts to see that picture Cheryl took of me on my ATV, or here's another one we took that day, three short weeks ago.

The ATV trail ends at a dirt road called "Surf Trail". This is down near the end of it. 

This is what it looked like in the woods yesterday:

It was overcast and in fact drizzling a little. That adds saturation to the colours. HDR with added brushstrokes added via Topaz Impression, van Gogh 1 preset. 

Eat your hearts out, city dwellers.

New Fall Banner

I change it every couple of months and post it here in the blog as well for those who can't see the header on an RSS feed or mobile device and as a record because the old one disappears when you change it.

Topaz Clarity on Sale!

Topaz Labs makes my go-to set of plug-ins for Lightroom and Photoshop. The other set I use are from Nik (Google): I rely on Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 when I'm working with HDR's, and on Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2 to do black-and-white conversions, the others less frequently.
What are plug-ins, by the way? They're 'preset' programs that change a bunch of Photoshop (or ACR or Lightroom) settings to achieve certain effects in a professional manner. Things that you might spend hours slaving over are suddenly available with a single click. They don't actually do anything you couldn't do yourself, but wouldn't want to! For example, creating an HDR merge manually to match HDR Efex Pro would likely take you 8 or 10 hours of work, things that the plug-in can do in one click.

But Topaz keeps coming up with winners, their latest is "Impression" which addresses the frustrated paint media artist in me (one day I'll actually pick up a brush!). I use many of the modules in their complete bundle regularly too. Some are less useful to me, some address specific problems (like DeNoise) and some should be used on almost every picture if you're trying to prepare a final image. Clarity is one of those.

Here's their words:

There are a lot of ways to increase depth and definition in a photo, but many methods will leave you with unnatural-looking contrast. The intelligent technology behind Clarity allows you to enhance contrast without over-emphasizing transitions between light and dark areas. This unique approach essentially eliminates the common problem of halos, noise, and artifacts.
Using the adjustment sliders, you can easily strengthen an image’s levels of micro, midrange, and overall contrast. You can even do this selectively by taking advantage of the masking module. With Topaz Clarity, your images will never lack visual impact!
This plug-in makes the Clarity slider in Lightroom or ACR look mickey-mouse. But don't take my word for it, download the free trial and try it for yourself, you'll get hooked like I am. Here's the link, and enter "octclarity" in the coupon code field. You can also get a 15% discount on any one of their other products including the complete Topaz bundle by entering "faczen" in the code field. 

My New Book is out!

Those who know me know that I'm not a "multi-tasker". My style is to cogitate and procrastinate and then finally dive into a project with both feet, working at it pretty well single-mindedly until either it's done or I abandon it. That's not always a good thing: I have lots of started projects where I've gotten stuck and set them aside, hoping that my mindset and time available will let me eventually get back to them.

My Blurb "Best of 2013" book is one of those. It's almost the end of 2014 and it wasn't done yet. I made a few abortive tries earlier, being really fussy about layouts, etc., and wanting to do it with Adobe InDesign, but that got really tedious and finally I started over using Blurb's proprietary software, BookSmart. And finally it's done.

Yesterday I uploaded the book to Blurb for publication. I also had them make a PDF version of it because the cost of the hard copy book is high, it's about $1 per page. So the 104 page book is over $100 to print.

The description is as follows:

This 104 page full sized coffee table book contains a selection of the sporadic musings and compelling images of Glenn Springer, a published photojournalist and author and artist located in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario, Canada. The images were all created in 2013 and reflect the artist's growth in that period. Many of the images are also available directly from the author as limited edition exhibition quality prints.

I ordered a couple of copies only because of the cost, and because I wanted to at least proof one before ordering more; I think the only people who might buy a copy of this book are future historians who want to say "I knew him when..." and who want to trace my development as an artist, those who are so impressed with my art that they need to have it in their collections, corporate, medical and personal clients who know that a book of this quality will add prestige to their coffee tables and waiting rooms, and close friends and family.

If you fit in any of those categories, don't be shy: the book is available for purchase through Blurb at the preview link below. It's printed on high quality premium matte paper and it's a full 11x14 hard cover book.

You can see a preview by clicking this link. It shows about 15 of the page spreads, my real "Best of..."! (be sure to click the "view fullscreen" icon at lower right below the image. Blurb does a good job of emulating the book, albeit at less-than-perfect resolution). I hope you will have a look. If you're a photographer or other artist or writer, it may give you some great ideas to do your own book. 

By the way, they have a deal running until the end of October for Canadian and Australian customers: by entering the code "CANADA25" or "AUSTRALIA25" you get a 25% discount on your order with them (and when books are as much as $100, that adds up!). Here's the link (yes, it includes an affiliate code for me...). By the way, they make less expensive products as well but I opted for the full-sized high quality coffee-table book.

PS: I have about 30 hours in the book, in addition to the actual photo editing, of course. Dr. Ron tells me he puts a book together in an evening, I don't know how! Maybe if I didn't customize every one of the 104 pages... I almost never use their preset layouts.

Winter Workshop

I don't want to say too much too soon, but  we're planning a massive winter workshop retreat up here in the Highlands on the weekend of February 28 - March 2, 2015. We have a fantastic facility lined up, with accommodations for up to 200 people (Gawd, we don't expect that many!!!), we're working on some really talented seminar and workshop leaders and we're talking to the Man Upstairs to arrange for some appropriate weather so we can do a bunch of outdoor as well as indoor sessions! (I personally hope we get some crystal clear nights for star shoots, although the moon is waxing gibbous that weekend).

February 28 – March 2, 2015

So watch this space for updates. And mark your calendars for that weekend, it's shaping up to be a great opportunity to build your photo skills and get away from the city for a weekend! Interested in presenting or running a workshop? Contact me.

Guest Photo

This image was made by Katherine Staynor in Newfoundland. She took my DSLR course last summer. I loved it so much, I asked her if I could post it here. She calls it, "The Three Amigos". Wonderful shot, Katherine, and thanks!

One more closing image for your enjoyment. Not much different from the earlier fall shot in the woods, a little different treatment, but somehow I wanted to share this composition as well.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Where am I at?

First let me address the title of this blog post: grammatically horrible! I was torn between that and "Who do you make pictures for?", equally bad! It's just that "For whom do you make pictures?" makes me sound like a high school English teacher and "Self Assessment: an analysis of one's personal growth" is just plain boring and pedantic.

The Question

"Where am I at (y'all)?"!

Here's where I'm coming from. I recently submitted a couple of pictures to the RHCC monthly competition and while the scores were predictable (not great), one judge's comment put me on this track. It was innocuous: "Looks like new paint program from Topaz". But it got me thinking about something.
First of all, let me digress for a second. Judges: remember your training. You're there to judge the image,
not how it was made.
My friend Ron asked me a while ago whether I was going to put some serious entries into the competitions, and I nodded and smiled and was deliberately vague. Probably not. Because the big question is, "for whom do you make pictures?". Not for them. Not any more.

So I got to thinking (Gawd, what's wrong with my grammar today? LOL) about where I'm at. I'm writing this for two reasons: (1) by writing it down, I might be able to understand myself more clearly and (2) to get you, my faithful readers, to think about your own place in the world.

The Answer

I want to say that I'm making pictures to please myself, not other people. I would be lying, of course, the world isn't black-and-white and it's gratifying when people say, "Wow, you must have a really good camera!" (photographer joke). Sure, it's nice to be appreciated. Maybe one day people will look at my body of work and say, "he was an artist". 

When I make a picture that works for me, I'm satisfied. Why? Because my standards have changed, I've grown and when I meet or exceed my new standards, I know I'm doing well. By the way, a corollary to that is that I hate my earlier work. I've said elsewhere (maybe not out loud!) that a lot of it is amateurish and just plain banal. 
As we speak, I'm working on a Blurb book, my "Best of 2013". I don't hate all the pictures in it, but I certainly think I've grown since then. It's a lot of work, I'm about ¾ of the way through. A few more days work.
I have two goals: to make pictures that convey what I pictured in my mind when I took it and when I finished it, and to increasingly improve what I'm trying to convey. Does that make any sense? Let me give you an example.

Sunset shot from the Schuyler's Island Causeway and rendered with Topaz Impression. FWIW, I started with one of the Da Vinci presets, added back some colour and some other minor adjustments. Click the image to blow it up.

Some background. Cheryl Goff was up from Oshawa and we went off in search of a sunset. We tried several locations, and I wasn't really satisfied with any of them. Sunsets are hit-and-miss, of course, they may not work out and I figured this was one of those nights. Then we saw the way the sun hit the trees across the water, the reflections, the clouds.

When I viewed the scene, I got to thinking "if I was painting this scene instead of photographing it, what would I do?" This. And I took the picture with this in mind. No, not the 'da Vinci' brush strokes, the composition. Framing it with the foreground plants. Capturing the reflections in the still part of the water. The leading lines created by the clouds. The balance. I'm really quite satisfied with this composition and happy that I was able to make it work.

It's interesting that when I joined the Richmond Hill Camera Club a decade or more ago, it was with the intent of learning more about composition. And yes, I used to enter competitions with the goal of getting peer approval (not peer: my betters!). Now I have more confidence in my own vision. So what would a real artist  say (see? I still don't think I am one!)? Would they agree about the composition? 
What about the brush strokes? They're just fun. Why do I like this "Topaz Impression" plug-in so much?  I am definitely a frustrated paint media artist who still can't draw if my life depended on it, but I think I'm getting closer to picking up a brush and giving it a try. 
Where am I at? About halfway to where I want to be. Better than where I was yesterday. 

Guest Photo

Here's a rare picture taken by someone else. Photo credit goes to Fred Pyziak, VP of the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. It's a picture of me and Steve Hill, curator of the Haliburton Museum. We were at the museum and I was taking his picture. Why am I posting it? Because although it's a great photo, the caption is what tickled my funnybone. Well done, Fred!

Going door to door selling photography is a tough sell up here in the woods 

Yesterday wasn't such a great photography day.

But it was a good day. I managed to spend a little time with some people I enjoy, I did get out to shoot some pictures and share the odd bit of knowledge, but none of the pictures worked out except for the sunset one above. I even stopped at a spot that intrigued me after dark, on the way home and tried a little light painting but it didn't work out and I discarded the whole batch. But in doing so, I figured out why they didn't work and perhaps what to look for and do next time.

Thursday was, though. That's the day Fred took the picture above, we were at the Haliburton Museum and Steve Hill was kind enough to play blacksmith for us. I got a few pictures I liked, one of which I'm very satisfied with.

Another one of those Topaz Impression, "Da Vinci" style images. What I like about this one is the composition and the dynamic of the light.  

This is what the HDR process was made for. The crisp detail is brought out, there's a depth created by the lighting, and the bright exterior in the window and doorframe are retained. I think it's a good technical image although it lacks some artistic impression (should I add brush strokes? Hmmm...) 

And finally, this one. This is exactly what I was going for when I came out on Thursday. 

If you're a photographer, I'd like to direct you to a tutorial-style writeup that I did about what went into the making of the Blacksmith image. I think you'll find it instructive. If you don't care how the picture came to be, well, just enjoy it for what it is! Here's the link, I put it on my Tech Blog so as not to bore my non-technical readers.

Onward and upward. I noticed that this is my 301st blog post, not bad! I do go on, don't I?

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Algonquin Park Fall Colours

I'm still tired. And it's Thursday. I was in Algonquin Park twice last weekend, on Saturday with Ron and Mark and George, and on Monday with 13 or 14 members of the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. Cheryl from the Oshawa club was there too. Today's blog is about showing you pictures from those visits. Click on the pictures to blow them up.

It all started at 2 am, when we shot the stars:

Here's the Milky Way on a background of Aurora Borealis.  

150 stacked images later... same vantage point, StarStaX and some Topaz. 

Then I turned around to face South, stacked about 50 more images and added in this composite (I think that's Mark) 

A couple of hours later, after a short nap in the car, dawn arrived

This was at Lake of Two Rivers, by the way. Not a spectacular dawn but oh, the mist! 

Never neglect the other direction! This was facing West at dawn. Some Topaz Impression and... OK, I did some Photoshopping! 

After breakfast, we drove up Arowhon Pines Road. Ron and Mark didn't really want to stop, but hey, I was driving.  

We went for a short (Ron said 5 minutes. Try over an hour!) walk but didn't see any good colourful spots. Back in the car, we headed South.

This guy was hanging out just off the road. I took about 20 shots (because my lens was fogged over, I had to take some extras...) Ron took about 1000. Just sayin'... 

We stopped a few other times, but I haven't processed those images yet. Long day... from 1 am to about 5 pm. The next day, Cheryl Goff, whom I had met at the Oshawa Camera Club judging last week, dropped in and we went for a short ATV ride. I haven't processed many of the pictures, however I gave her my camera and asked her to shoot one of me.

My camera, my shot, right? OK, technically no, but I'm keeping it anyway! I like this shot. Thanks, Cheryl! 

Next morning, we left for Algonquin at 5:30 am. We stopped at the Frost Centre. I took a bunch of pictures of people instead of landscapes. This is a montage of some of the pictures I took on Monday

I didn't get everyone, but this is a selection. I have an interesting one of Holly and Christine... taking bids... 

I took them back up the Arowhon Pines Road.

When the direct sun isn't in evidence, the colours are more saturated. Also a bit of Topaz Impression. 

Up at the top of the road, we came across this sign:

So we had to turn around, right? Right. Um...

About a klick down the road we spotted this. It was rather difficult to get to the vantage point to shoot this picture, down an almost vertical slope. Was it worth it?

Most of the other images are obviously edited. So is this one, but I chose to make it subtle. I was going for smooth colours and transitions, and I think this is going to be an outstanding large print. 

On the way back, a guy was sitting by the roadside, having lunch. His lunch was a magnet for these Grey Jays

That would be the "Hand of Man", right? 

Next we went to the Logging Museum. Here's an image from the trail around back painted with Topaz Impression. 

This was also on the trailside. Processed with a brush style that emulates Van Gogh. 

The Dirty Dozen. Missing from this shot were Fred, Kathy and David, who had to leave early. Wendy, Holly, me, Christine, Cheryl, Sarah, Maryanne, Richard, Stan, Lynda, Sharon and Jack. Who says I can't remember names??

One final shot, at the top of Ragged Falls.  

It was a long day – a long weekend – but I think I got some decent shots. A long sleep followed.

And I'm the guy who said I wasn't going to shoot fall colours...

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