Sunday, December 28, 2014

Last 2014 post

Traditionally, this is a time of year to look back and then cast an eye forward to the next 12 months.

I originally wrote this long diatribe about how I'm aging and how I have to learn to accept my limitations but I decided to erase all of that and put on my "glass half full" hat.

2014 was a pretty good year.  I've finally reached a point where I'm producing images that I like and I can see my art becoming slowly consistent. Others have recognized that, which is very satisfying. My opinions and perspective is more valued. I got to shoot assignments for the local newspaper, sold some prints, mentored some people, learned to focus my vision.

I'm basically retired and don't have the desire or energy to pursue my business any more, financial issues notwithstanding, so I want to concentrate on my photography, my art, my writing. I write a lot – you're reading some of it, this will be my 49th blog post this year (including the tech blog) – and I write for the paper and eBooks and tutorials and... but there IS a novel somewhere inside me. I need to devote a little time to it every day.

I have lots of friends and acquaintances, although none of the intimate kind. A bunch of new ones in the camera club. I'm enjoying country living, but I miss having a connection with my family and my past. I'm frequently told I should pack it up and move back but I don't want to. It's inevitable, I know, but I'm holding out as long as I can.

I share too much. This is my outlet, though, so forgive me. As each year dawns, I wonder if this will be when my medical issues will jump up and bite me. Two cancers, both still there... It's hard to accept limitations. When you're younger, you can resolve to fix things but at this age (I'm 68, if you didn't know) it's more about learning to live with things. My weight. My legs and knees limit my mobility. Creeping arthritis. My hand's not the same since my broken wrist a year ago. Other stuff too...

So what am I looking forward to in 2015?
  • No new medical issues. No pre-existing ones jumping up and biting me. Wishful thinking? I sure hope not!
  • Growing my connection with family and friends.
  • In 2015 I vow to pick up a paint brush. Traditionally I'm self-taught in most things but I want to find a way to kick start my painting. At least I need to learn the basics.
  • I want to teach more. There's a network of people up here who value my knowledge and opinion, mostly from the camera club, and I enjoy sharing my experience. I will set aside time for that.
  • In my photography:
  • Continue on the path to finding my style
  • Print and sell more pictures
  • Continue acting as a judge in competitions
  • Ongoing assignments from the newspapers
  • The PanAm Games are here this summer. I'm hoping for press accreditation so I can photograph the whitewater events
  • I hope I can travel at least once. Finances are limited, there are a number of places on my 'bucket list' (New Orleans. Iceland. New Zealand. The British Isles...), I want to see at least one of them.
  • My "Great Canadian Novel". A good start. Dare I hope to finish it?

That's a lot of stuff for one year! Good thing I'm 'retired'. Maybe I'll have to move some of it to 2016! Not the travel thing, I hope.

Stick around to see what I write at the same time next year! And to all of you, look at the picture at the head of this article:

May 2015 Exceed your Expectations!

From the "Sporadic Musings" department

Do I have A.D.D.? No I don't, and I apologize to those who might or know someone who does, I don't intend to trivialize it. But I think it's in all of us, to some extent.
I get distracted easily. Is that the definition? Put on some music. "Wish I could play keyboard like that". New song. "I really should have stuck with the guitar". "Think I'll go find my harmonica and play along". No, back to the keyboard. Why is that blue jay pecking for seeds on the ground when I have a perfectly good bird feeder up 2m away? I haven't heard back from the computer guy yet. 
I was reflecting on why I haven't settled on an art style. I know it's because I'm constantly exploring new directions. Every time a new program comes up, I imagine the possibilities and try it and go off seeking a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Then along comes another one and I go that way. I'm wandering around instead of focusing on "True North", despite the lip service I've paid to the concept over the years.
My mind wanders. I hesitate to start anything that would require continuous attention for more than a couple of hours. Is it just me? Oh look, a squirrel!
Parting Shots

It was a rainy day in Pizzaville...

What does one do when it's a rainy, cold, damp, miserable day? The obvious choice is to throw another log on the fire, pour a fresh cuppa, find a good book to read and put your feet up. I did that. Then I got bored. And I thought, "I bet the streets are shiny wet" so I did what any real photographer would do: I went out in the damp rain.

I drove into Minden, filled up with gas (amazing, 85.9¢/L after my discount!) bought some groceries (prime rib roasts on sale! Yay!) and meandered down to Bobcaygeon Road in Minden. Downtown. The main street. OK, it's really the ONLY street... I parked, looked for a likely spot, took a few test shots for exposure, then waited for someone interesting to come along.

There were only a few people out but I wasn't ready to give up. A soggy half hour later, I was rewarded. Along came this red and white umbrella person!

Definitely being added to my "Best of 2014" set!  

I've had this shot in mind for some time. I knew that what I wanted to do was to mask out the subject, then apply a motion blur to the background. Others have used this technique in posted pictures of wanderers in the rain-soaked narrow cobblestoned streets of exotic locations, but here I was in 'picturesque' downtown Minden! I wiped the raindrops off the front of my lens and took a few shots.

My composition wasn't great. In fact I shot it as a landscape shot (horizontal), trying to include the lamp on the light pole at right. But when I loaded it into the computer, this crop called out to me immediately.

At the risk of being exceedingly technical, I fixed up the wall on the left, pasted her on a fresh layer, removed the top half of the umbrella on the background layer and did the motion blur thing. And some other Photoshop stuff. Good, but not quite my vision. So I added some brushstrokes in the style of Cezanne, a soft glow with, well, Topaz Glow, and texture with Flypaper Textures.

On the way home, I stopped in the Canadian Tire parking lot, figuring the lights from inside the store would add an interesting element to a similar shot. I didn't like any of those, but then behind me, these two girls appeared. Got it! I debated removing the stop sign but I think it adds to the story.

At the risk of eclipsing the other picture, here's another one. An oil painting filter in Topaz Impression, plus a flypaper texture.. 

See you all when the clock strikes 2015! Stick around and enjoy wrapping your mind around some new ideas. And let's enjoy the upcoming year together.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blowing my own Horn?

...somebody has to!

Art Gallery Exhibition

Last week I wrote that I consider myself more of a craftsman than an artist. It's still true, but it seems others might have a higher opinion of me! This is exciting, some recognition from a respected art venue!

The Agnes Jamieson Gallery and Minden Hills Cultural Centre has selected three of my images in a juried competition. Twenty five images were selected by the curator of the museum, and three of them were mine! They will be exhibited in the Gallery in the month of January. They are for sale in the gallery, or after the exhibit, right here, assuming they haven't sold. If you're in love with any of them, well, you know what to do!

So that's the good news. The bad news is that I had to prepare the images for exhibition which means printing, framing, matting... in the end it cost me over $100 each. They'd better sell...

This was an extra print I did (frames were two-for-one at Michaels...). It's very similar to one of the accepted images and I thought someone might like to acquire the pair. Sorry about the crummy iPhone picture.  

I have to give 'props' to two people. Jim Camelford printed these images for me. Jim is an absolute printing guru. He did his magic with his Epson 7900 and the dynamics and the deep blacks in these monochrome prints are incredible. Jim offers his services for people who want excellent prints made and his pricing is really low. Only bad part is the fact he'll be away for a while in Florida. However you can email him at

The second guy is Bryan deLang who is a frame maker and artist par excellence up here in Minden. I found Bryan through the local facebook buy and sell group, but Bryan is not on the internet. He doesn't own a computer, doesn't want to. I really like this guy: he's eccentric, a curmudgeon, has a wry sense of humour but does fantastic work at very reasonable price. You can reach him at 1 705-286-3572, he's on South Lake Road in a really interesting house!

Sporadic Musings
From the "sporadic musings" department, how much of us is upbringing and how much is DNA? I was sitting and enjoying a Manhattan last night – 2 parts rye, 1 part red vermouth, I skip the bitters, but always put in a maraschino cherry and a couple of ice cubes – and reflected on the fact that it was my father's favourite drink. It's still mine: oh, I've flirted with 18-yo single malts, European beers, Cabernet Sauvignons, but when all is said and done, my dad's favourite is also mine. Then there's my penchant for chocolate, undeniably dad's thing too! So is there a gene sequence for taste buds? Or is it all in the environment in which I grew up?
Waiting for Harder Water

It's freezing up! The weather forecast is for a couple of warm-ish days this week but it shouldn't affect it much. It's been cold for the past few days, and nights are below freezing, so the lakes are getting hard. The Inn across the road has prepared their ice fishing huts to go out when the ice gets thick enough, but I was able to walk on the shallows today. Did you know it's not quiet out on the new ice? If I didn't know better, I'd think I was hearing whale song, there was an almost continuous moaning that was really the still liquid water under the ice finding openings to filter into. Occasionally, you'd hear a big "crack". It's just a guess, but I think there was about 4" to 5" of hard water. You won't catch me out there yet but I'm sure there will be some brave – and foolhardy – souls venturing out very soon!

This was an HDR, converted to black and white with Silver Efex Pro. I loved the sunset sky. Click, as usual, to view it bigger.

When I shot this, I envisioned capturing the essence of the sunset reflecting off the new ice. But it didn't come to life until I processed it with Impression, one of the Georgia O'Keeffe presets. Then I added a Flypaper texture called "Dorian Gray" which made it look like what I had seen in my mind. 

I also shot another picture that I wasn't really satisfied with. But then I used a portion of it after trying the new Topaz Glow plugin:

Could be a huge flock of birds taking off! But it's Glow's interpretation of the fractals in the ice surface. 

Speaking of "Glow", here's a rendering of an older shot

That's the canoe in the morning mist shot from Algonquin Park at the end of September. Topaz Glow is a fascinating program, it lets you explore some off-the-wall ideas! 

Topaz Glow is on sale for the month of December. $20 off the regular $69 price. You can take advantage of it via this link: Enter INTROGLOW in the coupon code at checkout. Because it shares a lot of things with Impression including the hardware requirements, you should do the 30 day free trial before you buy. But bear in mind the deadline is the end of the year.

Parting Shot

I'd like to leave you with one more shot. This one is right in my ballpark, I think. I woke up Wednesday morning to a dusting of new snow and had to go out to take the prints to Bryan to mount. Of course I had the camera with me (I always do). After dropping the pictures off, I went exploring down some back roads and was captivated by two things here: the orange coloured dead leaves still hanging on some bushes (ash, I think), and the tall trees silhouetted against the snowy sky.

So I loved the composition, but again felt it needed some post-processing to make it 'painterly'. The Georgia O'Keeffe preset is turning into one of my favourites. So is this image, I think it'll print well:

The birds aren't real. I "enhanced" the sun, but I actually created the birds with brush strokes in Photoshop. The image needed some balance. I don't know what I'd do without my Wacom tablet!

I haven't shot a lot of straight "photographs" in a while. It's time I did some pictures without adding paint or brush strokes or other impressionistic things, so I'll try to do so in the next little while. We're coming up on the year end, of course, so the deadline is fast approaching for images that will appear in my "Best of 2014" book!

It's not time yet to write that "what I'm looking forward to for 2015" article... stay tuned!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What Inspires Me?

What Inspires Me?

I'm intrigued by this quotation: Pablo Picasso said, "good artists copy; great artists steal" (the attribution is unclear; go here). I'm not sure I fully understand or agree with the meaning of this aphorism as written. The intent is pretty clear, though. An artist will take those things that inspire him and incorporate them in his own work. How well he does that defines his place in the art world.

You might disagree. but everyone has been influenced by others. The best example I can think of is Oscar Peterson, who was influenced by the likes of Art Tatum and Nat "King" Cole (jump to 1:35 in the link for the solo) and who far surpassed them as arguably the best jazz pianist ever (here's a link to one of my favourites, I actually learned to play this. Want to hear the master for an hour like I did? Go here.) OK, back on topic, I got sidetracked...

By no means should an artist directly copy anyone. To me, being an artist is to create, not to duplicate. That said, if I could play one song like Peterson, I'd be in heaven, but I'd be a mechanic, not an artist. Make sense? But allowing someone else's style to influence your work is a given – that's how art evolves. Think about the Impressionist movement, a genre that evolved from the work of Claude Monet.

So what inspires me? The work of Yousuf Karsh, to start with, although I don't shoot portraits. Ansel Adams, of course. The writings and teachings of Bruce Barnbaum. A tip of the hat to Freeman Patterson, Richard Martin and other lesser knowns like Lance Gitter and Ron Goodlin. Hilarie Mcneil-Smith. Bharat Mistry. An eclectic mix. If I could take a little from each and make it my own...
...and lately, Vincent van Gogh, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris...

I'm fascinated by the graphics work that went into the making of the title sequence of the HBO Mini-series, "The Pacific". This link is to a video showing the sequence, and scroll down for an interview with Art Director Steve Fuller. This is outstanding and inspiring to me, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

This image is from the Art of the Title page, here. It's a composite of processed drawings by Steve Fuller. In the title sequence, they morph brilliantly into video footage. It's the look and feel of the charcoal renderings that I find outstanding. Image published here with permission.

It's frustrating as a photographer to see what professional cinematographers and art directors can do. Sometimes I get the feeling that the rest of us are just playing. Read the backstory below the image on the linked page.

I think of myself as a "craftsman". Maybe one day, a history book will describe me as an artist. That's what I'm striving for. I'm not there yet.

Another new program from Topaz!

This one's called "Topaz Glow". You need to watch their video to see best what it does, here's the link..

Here's the first image I edited with it

It's on sale for the month of December at the introductory price of $49.99 (that's a $20 savings) at this link: Enter INTROGLOW in the coupon code at checkout. By the way, it shares a lot of things with Impression. Including the hardware requirements, so if you're not sure, do the 30 day free trial before you buy. 

Here's another image. I posted a charcoal version last week but the Glow version is exciting!

This is a vertical version of the same trees. Can't decide which one I like better. You? Please comment 

A complex Photoshop Action

After writing the opening story for this blog, I posted a question on the Topaz Impression group on Facebook about whether anyone knew how to achieve the charcoal effect I talked about. Lo and behold...

A fellow named John Stevenson in England has written an Action that works in Photoshop CC and is making it available for free. It's really complicated under the hood, but a dummy like me was able to figure out how to use it (although I did have to fiddle with the last step). Anyway, here's the link to where you can download it. John, my hat's off to you.
You need Photoshop CC or CC2014 plus Topaz Impression for this Action to work. 

Here's an image I tested it on, from the dogsled races last winter.  

This is the original image:

So you can see I'm spending a lot of time in front of the computer, not out taking pictures. I was a little under the weather last week, plus the other kind of weather wasn't great! 

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I'm back after a few days off

I've taken a few days off. It's very rare for me to have not picked up my camera and I actually had an infrequent visit with my son, daughter-in-law and the grandkids, and left my camera in the car. I wanted to be a participant, not an observer. 
I also attended a wedding last Sunday and while I was interested in watching the technique of the photographer, I had, and still have, zero desire to shoot that kind of event. They did a lot of video and not so much stills, by the way. And they did a lot of shooting from the hip with wide angle lenses. Wonder how those will turn out?
It's not easy for me to be motivated to shoot at this time of year. As I sit here, my light tent is still sitting on my dining room table (it's a lot of effort figuring out how to fold it up!) from when I tested the ring light (below). It's grey and cold and damp outside... but I needed to put down the camera for a few days. 

These first two articles are directed at other photographers. If you're not one, bear with me and try not to be too bored!

Judging Photojournalism

As many of you know, I was honoured to be asked to judge the TCC International Salon, Photojournalism category. It was a great experience, very challenging and really educational at the same time.

We viewed well over 800 images (and re-viewed at least 100 of them!) some of which could easily have appeared in National Geographic. All of the judges instantly agreed on the single best image in the group and after choosing the top 15 images for awards, and about 24 others for honourable mentions, and eliminating 29 out of 100 tied candidates for "acceptances" our eyes were all going in circles.

The category "Photojournalism" is extremely broad. It comprises topical newsworthy images, plus documentary and sports images, making it really hard to stay consistent. So we had to score images captured at a massive and deadly fire somewhere in Southern Asia, cowboys riding bulls at a rodeo, football action, kayakers on white water shots of poverty-stricken families in a Yurt, dancers in flamboyantly coloured costumes and rock concerts! How do you do that and remain consistent?

The only negative was that the organizers had not vetted the images, so we were presented some which were not in-category, for which I felt I had to dock points (it was not our place to disqualify them). That was hard to do since some were really outstanding, just not on-topic!

In the end, out of all these images, there were about a dozen that had the "WOW" factor. So don't be discouraged (fellow club members who are afraid to enter competitions!), this was an INTERNATIONAL SALON! Even here there are images that stand out and some that don't. By the way, when you view 1000 images, there's no provision for comments... I had to bite my tongue a few times!

Two things came out of this as recommendations for you: (1) stay on topic. If the category is "action", for instance, a cow eating a flower isn't going to cut it. Neither is a kayaker paddling in the distance on calm water. And (2) Look at your images as if they were someone else's kids, not yours, as a stranger would see them. I know you think your cat is cute but not to someone who has never met the animal (or worse, hates cats).

I want to take this opportunity to thank the academy, my mother and all the little people... kidding, but I hope I get asked again.

Oh, and one more thing: there's a selfish aspect to being a judge: you get exposed to some outstanding images, you can clearly see the ones that have that "WOW" factor and your own photography can benefit, and you get to meet and spend time with some wonderful people you might not otherwise get to meet!

I Bought a Ring Light

They use them all the time on CSI. But how do you get the details of fingerprints or tire tracks when the light is coming from the same direction as the lens? Turns out, you can. It wouldn't be my first choice, but hey, it looks sexy on TV (ever notice that the serious 'foresnic' folks use Nikons? LOL).

This is the ringlight on the lens. Plus a bunch of sharpening stuff in PS and LR 

In this one I took the ring off the lens and held it at about a 45° angle. You tell me which one shows the detail better.

BTW I decided that if I was going to give you the finger, I'd use the correct one... are everyone's fingers this full of lines and cracks (surface, not the fingerprint)? Or is it because I'm getting old? 

Because you're generally shooting close to the subject, light from the ring will be very soft, despite the fact that it's coming straight from the camera. It's quite interesting.

I like shooting macro and small objects in the light tent (disclaimer: I still don't have a real macro lens. One day...) and the ringlight seems to be a nice way to go. But also, I've seen some portraits shot recently with them and the lighting is excellent, not to mention those great catchlights!

I wasn't able to get the kind of catchlights I wanted, but these are interesting. By the way, I HATE pictures of myself. However today I was testing the new ringlight and playing around, and shot this 'selfie' image. I didn't nail the focus on the eyes so I decided to use Topaz Impression (Degas preset) to make the whole thing painterly. I actually don't HATE this image.

So I found one on Amazon and, for $49, how can you go wrong?
FWIW, here are the links:
     Nikon version at Amazon Canada:
     Canon version in Canada:
     Nikon version at (USA):
     Canon version in US:
(I think the Nikon and Canon versions have different pinouts at the flash shoe)
You know you "get what you pay for", right? In this case it works as advertised but there are some things you have to work around.

  • You mount the 'sender' unit in the hotshoe and the ring on the lens (it comes with a bunch of adapters for different sized lenses). 
  • When you turn it on, the LEDs light up and they'll stay that way as long as you're pressing the shutter release halfway (odd, because mine is disabled, I use back-button focusing). 
  • If you're in flash mode, it will flash about twice as bright as the continuous light. But the continuous stays on.
  • You can adjust the light output continuously over a 2:1 range. The flash output changes too. You can double that effect by turning off half of the lights from the sender.
  • To fool it, so the continuous light is not on, I took the 'sender' off the camera. To make it flash, you have to do it manually.
  • I can't get it to work with my synchronized off-camera flash. But I did use the continuous light together with the flash.
  • The real bad news is that it vignettes like mad. The ring is only 66mm in diameter although the adapter fits up to a 77mm lens diameter; and it extends about 30mm forward of the front glass, so coverage is less than ideal. It works if you switch to DX (cropped sensor) mode.
It's going to be fun to use, though, and I'm looking forward to shooting some people shots with it. Stay tuned!

Here's a macro shot in the light tent. That's not grain, it's the surface of the plexiglass they were on. These are teeny-tiny .22 calibre CB Caps, by the way. 

I set these leaves in the light tent and shot them with the ringlight only. This is actually 4 exposures, focus stacked. Neat lighting!

Here's the actual setup, behind the scene. I shot in continuous mode, 1/8 sec at f/11, ISO 800, lens was the 24-120 at 120mm, but in DX mode.  

If you're not a photographer, your eyes are probably glazed over. Sorry about that!

One more for the Photographers.

Or at least for the photoshoppers! This is an example of how I used Topaz Impression on this image. This is a screen grab from Photoshop.

The intent was to give this shot a painterly look. But I wanted the Christmas tree to be kind of impressionistic, the house to be a coloured sketch and the background to be detailed but muted. So I used several different masked layers. Want to know how to do this stuff? Come take a course! (if you're reading this before the end of the Black Friday weekend, go here; Otherwise,

Here's the actual image 

Here are a couple of fresh images for your enjoyment. I was driving home from Uxbridge on Saturday and came across this row of trees.

I actually made a U-turn and stopped to take this shot because something about it caught my eye. This was along Lakeridge Road just North of Uxbridge. Each of the fields that bordered on the road was guarded by a line of sentinel trees (are these oaks? I plead ignorance). I tried to process this a few different ways but I kept coming back to this charcoal look.  

As the sun started to set, I thought about this shot, a bare tree silhouetted against the colourful sky and I actually pictured this kind of brush stroke effect. I was surprised to discover that I shot this five minutes BEFORE the previous (sentinels) shot. I thought I took it much later. The swirling blend of colours in the sky is reminiscent of van Gogh's style (but a bit more subtle). 

I raced to try to capture something of the sunset but couldn't find a suitable spot to shoot from. As a last desperation attempt, I pulled into the Independent store in Beaverton and there was a small lot in the back. I shot this out the car window because I didn't have time to set up before the clouds hid the setting sun. The foreground uses a heavy Impasto style and the sky is more in the style of Edward Hopper. 

Something that Topaz Impression has awakened in me is awareness of painting styles and the techniques of the masters. I'm moving closer to the day that I might pick up a brush and try to paint myself. Stay tuned!

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