Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy 2016 to all my friends!

My 2016 wish for all of you:


Because if you don't have that, nothing else matters.

When I read what I wrote, I realize that I must really be an old man. Those ubiquitous wishes for prosperity and happiness in the new year ring hollow when one has had brushes with problems of health. As I get older, I realize that you can get past the engine in your car blowing up, your basement getting flooded, your business failing or losing your job and none of that matters if you don't have your health.

I'm a cancer survivor. I had surgery for metastatic cancer in 2004 and again in 2007 and several radiation treatments and medications since. It's been 12 years and I'm still here. One day it's going to jump up and bite me but I'm still here. My father had the same cancers I do and he made it to 89. That's a long way in the future. Maybe I'll make it that far, maybe not.

But that puts a perspective on one's life: sure, I want to be fulfilled and content and not lack any of the necessities but mostly I want to not have to worry about my health for a while longer. Because if I have that, I won't sweat the small stuff.

Speaking of the years going by...

I've been writing this blog since 2006. TEN YEARS! This is my post #345, so about 3 posts per month for 120 months! I don't have a huge audience, a couple of hundred regular readers, more when I have something significant to say. As I look back, I've been pretty consistent and it's pretty clear that my photography, my art, has matured and grown over that time.

It occurs to me that in all that time, I have never made ANY statement about politics. I'm about to break that.

When asked what my politics are, I say that I am APOLITICAL. That means I don't care, one way or another, I have better things to think about. Another way of looking at it is that they are all cut from the same cloth, one is just as bad as the next. But at the risk of alienating some of my readers, I feel compelled to step out and say something now. And the reason is a fellow named Donald J. Trump.

Nothing scares me more than the possibility that this bigoted, racist fascist might get elected President of the United States. At the beginning, you could laugh about him: he wasn't seriously running, he's a joke... but then so was Rob Ford. The scary part is that so many people are taking him seriously – even people whom I otherwise respect – and not only the threat that he might get elected, just the fact that he is running, is probably the most serious threat to world peace since Germany in the 1930's.

The man colours all Muslims with the same paintbrush, all billion-and-a-half of them in the world. He equates them all with violent fanaticism, analogous to Hitler's beliefs about the Jews. The words that come out of his mouth are born in hatred and fear and worst of all, disdain for what anyone else thinks: it's as if no one else's opinion matters. He will cause – he IS causing – a backlash and as some have mentioned, he's probably ISIS's best recruiting tool right now.  

I have always been right-wing. OK, right of centre. I am a firearms owner, I'm very pro-police, the only reason I don't hunt anymore is due to physical limitations. I rode motorcycles, I still drive too fast, but seriously, my American friends and relatives? Seriously? Hopefully you're just having fun laughing at him too, but enough! 

Minden Wildwater Preserve

Everyone knows my favourite place around here is the whitewater. I dropped by there on Christmas day and again after the ice storm on Monday.

It's a very spiritual place. I often go there and take in the serenity and majestic beauty of the rushing waters. Today, Christmas day, I saw this guy at the river's edge. He was lost in prayer, didn't even know I was there. I watched him kneeling motionless for several minutes and took these pictures to capture the feeling. 

There's a Zen word for this. It's "Shikantaza". Look it up.

Then I discovered what he was really doing... as he reached over and took the Neutral Density filter out of his Lee filter holder (in case you don't know what that is, it fits over your camera lens and lets you do long exposures among other things)! Fooled me. Good story? But without the explanation, I find this a very emotion-filled image.

Of course the white water never freezes. But it creates remnants of ice on the rocks and twigs and trees. I call them "Ice Caps" (sorry, Timmies. Different spelling!)

That 105mm Nikkor lens is pretty sharp! 

Same lens. This was handheld at 1/5 second, sitting really, really still! My long range rifle skills came back to me, control breathing, relax muscles... 

This was one of a series of long exposures (tripod this time). All shot in the same place and all different!  

On the way home, I got this image behind my house

A little post-processing went into this one: it's a 5-shot HDR blended in Nik HDR Efex Pro, then treated with Topaz Impression, then I used Topaz Star Effects to bring out the reflections of the ice coating the trees and grass. Click it for a better look.

Algonquin Park

I'm blessed. Not only because Algonquin Park is an hour away but because I can still just go up there when the mood strikes me. It did on Sunday, so I hopped in the car and went. I didn't know what to expect to see: not much landscape for me this time of year, but I thought maybe I could find some foxes to shoot and I was really jealous of the pictures I've been seeing of the Pine Martens. A couple of people told me where I might find them. As you will see below, I did.

The other interesting part is the people you meet. John Marshall was someone I hadn't met before, with his friend Charlene?? (bad with names!). Steve Dunsford, whom I've met before: he owns the Mad Musher in Whitney and does some phenomenal photography in the Park. I'm struggling to remember the bearded guy's name, whom we met while shooting the Pine Martens... and his friend Laura (John just told me: Jesse Villemaire). 

Some of the animals are too unafraid of humans. That makes it possible for people like me to get pictures but it makes me uneasy about whether their reliance on people to feed them will prove their downfall. The story I heard yesterday about the foxes on Arowhon Pines road is that they (or their ancestors, I guess) were sick with mange a few years ago and someone left medicated food for them to nurse them back to health. They got used to people feeding them, which I hear many people do (but have never witnessed).

I saw some photos later of the fox kit I photographed and a sibling playing with one of the photographers. Great shots. I don't think that road is plowed in winter. We got snow today so I wonder if anyone will get up there until Spring. Hope the foxes survive. Here are some pictures:


And now... a Pine Marten. I'd never actually seen one until that day! Exceedingly cute, and very very fast! S/he scampered through the trees, occasionally posing for a photo.

Not so "cute" when s/he was showing her teeth, upset at the blue jays who were stealing his/her food! 

I was just going to post one or two pictures but I got carried away. They're so damned cute! Prints are available, so are cellphone cases, tote bags, pillows, even shower curtains if you want! Email me and I'll link you to where to get them.

I just realized I updated my watermark a day or two early! Oops.

Anyway, see you all in 2016. Come join me up in Wawa in October. Details will be on the web page at (if I ever get it finished!).

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Chains upon my feet...

...from the "musings" department

I've said this before: if you want to learn how to set up a photo, watch TV. Or movies.

Last night it struck me again. I was doing something on the computer and although I don't normally watch NCIS Los Angeles (I do admit to watching the original NCIS and New Orleans, though), it was on in the background behind me. I turned around and saw a scene where the curly blond haired guy was sitting, talking to the old, short lady (his boss? – told you I don't watch it!) – and the scene made me come to a stop. It was outstanding.

The subjects were perfectly lit – they were in a dark room, on a staircase, with a doorway in the background and some light that appeared to be sunlight dappling the floor in front of the doorway. The lighting, the composition, the depth of field, the textures, were absolutely outstanding. If you took a still from that shot and entered it in an international Salon level competition, you would win, hands down. Then she walked away, through the dappled light, while the camera stayed focused on the guy's face. What a visual story!

But it's not just this shot, it's pretty well ALL of them. Go switch on your TV. Doesn't matter what you watch, a talk show, a sit-com, a commercial, a movie, a football or hockey game: it's perfect. Look at it and try to figure out why!

These are the big guys. The people who make big bucks doing photography and videography. They have unlimited budgets, all the equipment you dream about, and a staff that includes set designers, lighting experts, makeup artists, etc., as well as graphic designers and people who sit there and design and storyboard the shots. Do they do a better job than you can with shot setup, design and execution? You bet they do, better than I can or anyone that I know.

Sure there are differences between stills and video.  So hit "Pause" on your PVR and look at the still. Is there any question in your mind what the subject is of the picture? Is the subject in the middle or off-centre? Is it too flat or too contrasty? What about colour balance? Is it in focus? Is the exposure too bright or too dark? I can't see what you're looking at but I'm pretty sure I know the answers to those questions.

Use it as a learning experience. Sure, you don't have a team to set up your shots, you don't have an unlimited equipment budget... but there are tons of things they do that you could also do. One of those things is to stop and study a scene (if you're doing landscapes) BEFORE you press the shutter, even before you take out your camera. It's called "Pre-Visualization".

99% of the pictures I see, whether on Social Media, in competitions... would be instantly rejected by these big guys. Everyone is trying to emulate them, with little success (I was going to say 'varying success' but a 99% reject rate is not 'varying'). I may not be good enough to get in that 1% very often, but that isn't going to stop me from trying. I need to take more time to think about it. How about you?

Gales of November Workshop

The Rock Island Lodge 
I've been invited to several workshops this year. Exotic places like Cuba, Costa Rica, Africa, Iceland, Yellowstone. You know what they all have in common? They're all THOUSANDS of dollars. US dollars to boot. The Gales workshop IS in an exotic location: the Canadian Wilderness, on the shores of Lake Superior, where the Group of Seven wandered and expressed what they saw in their art. And it's NOT thousands of dollars.

There's only room for a dozen people (although if demand is high, I can do a second session). It's already about half full. Think about it. If there's any chance you might be able to make it up to  Wawa next October, PLEASE go to this webpage and take two minutes to do the short questionnaire and leave me your name so I can keep you in the loop.

PS: I'm still working on the web page. Bottom line? It's a 3 or 4 day field experience for intermediate or advanced photographers who want some fresh ideas and an opportunity to experience some outstanding landscapes and express themselves in the company of other talented people.

Topaz Labs year-end special

They're at it again! Topaz Labs is offering a 35% discount on any and all products until the year-end. If you've been waiting to take the plunge or add some more of their outstanding plug-ins, now's the time!

Some of the newer Topaz products require a higher graphics functionality to work. If you're not sure it will work on your computer, download the free trial before finalizing your purchase. Be sure to complete the transaction before the year-end, though.

Here's the link to their site. Enter the coupon code "TOPAZ2015" at checkout to get the discount.

Triggertrap update

They've been listening! I love my TriggerTrap but one thing I've run into is the drain on the iPhone battery. Even if you turn the brightness all the way down, you still only get about 90 minutes out of an iPhone6. So I ordered (but haven't yet received) an external battery pack for the phone. This is not something TriggerTrap can fix (other than to remind you to turn your screen brightness down when doing time lapses).

But they did address the other issue, which is that brightly coloured and white screen glow which can affect your images if you're not careful. So their update 4.1 includes a "night mode". Much better!

Also they included a ND filter conversion calculator in the Timed Release mode: just enter your base shutter speed, the ND filter strength, and TT does the rest! I had printed out a table on a laminated card, then I lost it somewhere... no more mental arithmetic.

If you want to know how TriggerTrap works without paying anything, simply download the app (for iPhone or Android) for free and try it! To make it work with your camera, you need the hardware, which you can buy from a European or North American source. Free shipping until the end of the year! Here's the link to their site. There's also a bunch of useful video tutorials on their site under Inspiration→howto. Give it a looksee!

Are we having fun yet?

It sure is a lot easier (for me) in Photoshop and Impression! MUCH harder with brushes and canvas and oil paints! Two of my oil painting works-in-process.

Chippewa Falls, Lake Superior. It's a tighter crop than the last version, from much the same vantage point as J.E.H. MacDonald painted it. I didn't paint this one plein air, I came back to it and did another painting. This is oil paint on board, 9x12.

South Lake Road, Minden Ontario. This is in process; I want to change what the tree looks like but have to wait for the paint to dry a bit before I go over it. You saw a black-and-white version of the original photo in last week's blog, I'm happy with a lot of this image, especially the foreground, but not the tree.  Painted in oils on canvas paper, 9x12.

Winter has finally arrived least I think so. The forecast for Monday is warm and rainy, so I'm not counting my chickens. But the world looks so much nicer with a blanket of clean white snow than muddy brown!

I did take the opportunity to get my ATV out with the snowplow for the first time this year. We had about 4" of snow (I was going to say about 6" but then I would be open for all those off-colour jokes...). And new this year, "Chains upon my Feet". What a difference! In fact, my 4WD wasn't working yesterday (it's mysteriously back today) and I actually had difficulty on a slippery surface until I put on the chains! It feels unstoppable (I know enough not to get too cocky, though).

Putting the chains on wasn't too difficult, although I threw one after my first attempt. It was easier when I figured out that using the motorcycle jack to lift the tire off the ground was the trick. I need to get some heavier duty bungee cords to hold them tight. And with them on, no playing around doing donuts or they're likely to come off and damage something.

I didn't do much to this image. Almost straight out of camera... well it is a 5-exposure HDR processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, I did a radial filter to add haze to the background, then I added the yellow light to the headlights which were actually off... all right, I'm lying, but really only about 10 minutes work, all in Lightroom!

This is the original SOOC 

And this shot is just the way I saw it... in my mind!  Among other things, I added a masked motion blur layer to give it a sense of motion (I know, doesn't make sense since it's obviously not being driven), blurred the background and treated it with Topaz Impression, then Texture Effects to give it a vintage feel 

"Waiting for Hard Water". Every year I do a picture of the ice fishing huts at the Red Umbrella Inn, waiting to go out on the ice. Well as you can see, despite the fact that it's December 20th, no ice yet. I think it'll be some weeks before they can go out, but I could be wrong. This is one of their smaller, older huts; the one at left in the foreground is brand new and 4x the size.  

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Monday, December 07, 2015

Announcing the NEW "Gales of November" Workshop!

The Gales of November

One of the longest running photography workshops around has been the "Gales of November" at the Rock Island Lodge in Wawa, on the shores of Lake Superior or 'Gitchigumi' as the natives call it. The area offers the most outstanding and spectacular landscape and outdoor photography in the Province. It has run for some 10 years under the expert tutelage of Rob Stimpson.

Due to some other commitments, particularly his trips to Antarctica, Rob has been forced to give it up and I have accepted the responsibility of facilitating this stellar photo-op and workshop opportunity.

Sunset view from the Rock Island Lodge 

Last year, the workshop was re-named, "The Gales of November Come Early" because it was scheduled for October! (That's like Oktoberfest in Munich: it's held in September because they can't wait!). The reasoning is to allow the lodge to close for the winter a bit earlier. We're still working out the details, but we're looking at one of two weekend dates, either October 8th or October 22nd, 2016. I'd like to do the earlier one because I think there will be fall colours in evidence at that time (who knows? This year was weird...) however that is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and I don't know if that's going to be a plus or a minus.

A small corner of High Falls on the Magpie River 

I might even do a Spring 2016 session up there if enough people are interested.

The basic premises for the workshop are as follows:

  • 3 nights at the superb Rock Island Lodge, great accommodations, all-inclusive
  • Inexpensive. The final price hasn't been set yet but it will be affordable.
  • Limited to about a dozen photographers. There are some nearby accommodations also available when the Lodge itself fills up.
  • This is for experienced photographers who already know their cameras and basic post-processing. Depending on demand, we may make a separate session for those who need more guidance.
  • Some physical limitations are not a problem, although there is ample opportunity for those more active to explore more challenging venues by hiking or kayaking or canoeing, etc.
  • Limited teaching: I plan to set some challenges and assignments so people can step up to a new level. But Rob told me the following: "I found for the most part the last few years, people were looking to shoot and edit with like minded people - take them to places they otherwise would never get to".

One of the rooms in the Lodge 

There's a web page in progress (Link here). I would ask my gentle readers to go there and give me some feedback: I need to choose dates, etc. For now, there's a two-minute survey there, please respond if there's even a remote chance you might be able to join us!

I'm really excited about this. Some think it might be just an excuse for me to get back up there again... maybe a germ of truth in that! I absolutely love this area.

New Banner

When I put a new banner up top, I post the old one in the body of the blog so it doesn't disappear entirely. The new banner is an impression of the steel wool shoot in Haliburton last week. Here's the previous one:

Sharing a laugh

When my Nikon SB-600 flash died, I bought a Yongnuo YN568EX to replace it. It seems to have excellent specs, it costs about 30% of the price of the Nikon equivalent (it's available at B&H for $100 US here). The only downside is that my Gary Fong diffuser doesn't fit because the head is larger than the SB-600.

FREE! First person to request it gets it for free (just the cost of the shipping). Email me.

Here's the laugh part. This is what it says in the instruction manual:
FAST CURRENT-RETURN SYSTEM The time for full gloss output current-return will only take you 3 seconds; you can get fast current-return experience even without brand-new batteries, which will only take you 4~5 seconds.
Here's another example. This is from the "Quick Start" page:
Press [MODE] button to select TTL/M/Multi mode, holding [ZOOM} for a while to select remote trigger model, and then press [MODE] again to select Sn/Sc/S1/S2.
Nowhere in the manual does it explain what Sn/Sc/S1/S2 are. Does "n" stand for "Nikon" and "C" for "Canon"? That's my best guess. Oh, wait. I found a paragraph on "S1" mode:
It will work with the first work of the master flash synchronously with the result consistent with the use of radio slave. To use this mode correctly, the master flash should be set at manual flash and the TTL flash system with preflight function and the red-reduction function with multiple functions should not be used.
OK, folks. I've used off-camera speedlites before so I'm pretty sure I'll eventually figure this out but I wonder if someone who has never done off-camera would be able to do it! It also says it will do fast sync up to 1/8000 sec (interesting, the D800 says 1/320 sec maximum...). Anyone who has used one of these, please email me!

You would think that a company – even a Chinese one – who are a major supplier to the North American market, would be able to afford a translator who is not transliterating from the Chinese.

It is to laugh...

I'm pretty good at Lightroom and Photoshop

On Facebook, frustrated people post questions they're stumped on. Sometimes I'll watch for a while and see that nobody else seems to know the answer, even though it's obvious to me. Or people put up stupid and flat-out wrong information. That frustrates me, so I take the time to respond. The best example is "Should I output the picture at 72 dpi or 300 dpi if it's going to be printed"? (DPI doesn't matter, it's the number of pixels). Or "should I convert my pictures to CMYK to send them to the printer", or "I deleted all my pictures from the computer but I kept them in Lightroom, how come I can't output them anymore?".

I try to help out by answering many questions (but not the ones like, "which is better, Photoshop or Lightroom"?). Not blowing my own horn, but I guess I know the right answer to 95% of 'normal' questions, on either program.

I'm not pretending to be something I'm not... I certainly don't have the chops to be a Lightroom or Photoshop ACE (Adobe Certified Expert). To pass that, you have to be familiar with everything in the programs and I'm not. For instance, I've never done 3D or worked on a storyboard or tried to do a web page with slices. I don't use the print module in Lightroom, never even looked at the Map module. You have to know all that stuff to pass the ACE. But I certainly know my way around the normal (normal for me!) stuff. And I know where to look when I need to learn something new.

Maybe it's the way I'm built (wide and low to the ground?), but generally you only have to show me how to do things once, or I see them or try them once, and it sticks. Must be the fact that I was left-brained for half a century before I discovered the other side. I owe my Lightroom start to Jim Camelford who put me on the right track when I got Lightroom 1.

I love to share. And teach. Nothing turns me on more than watching the lightbulb come on, seeing someone 'getting it' (well... let's not go there!). Right now I'm doing a two-session Lightroom workshop. Session 1 is on organizing and importing images, Session 2 is on editing and exporting, because these are the things people have to do in LR and if they can do more, it's gravy. Once they can do those things, they are on the right track.

I'm also pretty good at general photography. Same thing: if I've tried it, I know how to do it, and I can probably teach you how to do it. Basic camera use; lighting; composition; visualization; shooting stars; editing images; winter shooting and more.

If anyone wants me to do these sessions for them, contact me.

PS: I'm less confident teaching the right-brained stuff: I can't teach you how to play keyboard or guitar or harmonica even though I've tried those things, I'm not good at them. Or painting: I really suck! And seeing how to do it once isn't doing it for me this time. Ditto carpentry or canoeing or anything that challenges my arthritic knees! Some people think I'm pretty good at writing, but I can't teach it.


After Lance sent me some images of snowflakes he had taken, I knew I wanted to try it. With a new macro lens, I gave it a shot.

It's HARD! I tried a bunch of tricks and after a while I was able to get this shot. But it took a ton of manipulation to get it to look like this. There's a lot of Topaz Texture Effects in this shot.

I can do better! With winter on its way... well watch this space!

Speaking of Texture Effects...

I was in the car, actually parked on the shoulder of South Lake Road near Minden, talking to Dr. Ron on the phone when I saw the delightful pattern formed by the snow-covered branches of this tree. I remember saying to Ron, "there are wires, and a fence... but I bet I can make a good leading line out of it". Well it took a lot of work but I got the image I wanted. 

I went back over an image I shot last September up on Lake Superior ('Gitchigumi' is the Ojibwe name for it). This is consistent with my passion for creating art out of digital images. I think it tells the story of the Big Lake well, and it certainly takes me back to when I was there. It should print really well on canvas.

This is a composite image. I added the girl/dog in from another picture taken on the same beach that day, because I wondered if having a foreground interest would add to the image, which it did! FWIW, they were facing the other way, I flipped them around so they were looking into the image. And I spent some time creating drop shadows and matching the toning so they would fit in seamlessly. The textures were done in Topaz Impression starting with one of the Oil Paint presets (#IV, if anyone cares!). Oh, and I enlarged the moon. It gets pretty small when you use a wide angle lens. 

— 30 —

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy US Thanksgiving! I said to my US friends. And to the vast number of young turkeys who were orphaned today, "I'm sorry for your loss". LOL


I want to give a shout out about one of my favourite accessories, the TriggerTrap Mobile kit. Sometimes you find a device or an app that's brilliant, and this is one of those. I've supplemented my remote triggering devices for my DSLR with their kit. It gets around any and all limitations the camera has, and it makes it dead easy to do timelapses, star trails, even simple self-timer and remote shutter actuation.

This is exactly how I use it on my camera (although this isn't my photo, it comes from TriggerTrap. I would need an extra camera to get this picture and I can't even use my iPhone if it's in the picture!). I control my camera through my iPhone. 

If you go to the TriggerTrap site, you'll find out that the unit has two parts: the one that connects to the phone through the audio port, and the end that connects to the camera. Just tell them which camera you have and it will tell you which version you need. I'm not going to give you all the details, because their website is wonderful and they tell it better than I do. Here's a tip: click on "Inspiration" at the top of their screen for some great tips and tricks! (or just click here to go there directly).

Now here's two tips of my own:
  • TriggerTrap cannot access the Apple iPhone screen brightness or switch it off. So to conserve battery, I turn the brightness all the way down when I'm ready to start. Problem is, even with it turned down, I run out of iPhone battery after about an hour and a half. I have ordered an external battery pack for the phone (like $6.49 on eBay from the Far East...). You'll need it if you want to do long timelapses.
Oh, and you might want to throw a hat over the phone to prevent its light from invading your images. Don't forget to cover your viewfinder. 
  • I was having trouble figuring out where to put the phone, I didn't think letting it dangle off the tripod was a great idea. So I went on eBay and within moments, I found a mount, much like the one in the picture above, that fits in the hotshoe on the camera. Ex- Hong Kong or China, shipping included, it sells for the princely sum of $0.99. 'nuff said?
Anyway, it's a great product, very reasonably priced, and I don't hesitate to recommend it to all my faithful readers. By the way, they're offering free shipping worldwide until the end of 2015. Here's the link again.

One more shout out to 3LeggedThing

My replacement tripod leg arrived yesterday. "Brian" is now walking on his own three legs! In case you're new around here, the back story is that I had tripped and almost fallen down on winter ice, saved only by my superb carbon fibre tripod. It's strong (weighs in at only around 1.3kg including the ball head) but is not really designed to support 270 lbs (8 kg or 17 lbs rating). I bent a couple of leg sections that made it hard to collapse. Still worked, though!

Anyway, too long a story. Cut to the chase: 3LT sent me replacement parts at no charge even though I wanted to pay them. But in the end, although we did everything we could, we couldn't save the leg. So they just sent me a new one. Free. Am I getting special treatment because I write about them? No, I don't think so. They are just 110% committed to their customers. You can see this attitude if you watch this little video on their website. They're as off-the-wall as it implies.

Anyway, pay them a visit. You'll be impressed.

PS: They just announced pre-orders are open for the new Trey Ratcliff/Peak Designs Everyday Messenger bag. Not cheap but this looks like a perfect product and you get what you pay for. Check it out in their USA store.

A quickie from Topaz Labs

It's Black Friday time. You know what that means!

Topaz Labs just announced a BLACK FRIDAY sale: 50% off the whole package. If you already have some of the apps, you can get 50% off an upgrade, between November 25 and November 30. Use this link to get to the Topaz site: and enter "BLACKFRIDAY2015" in the coupon field at checkout. Note: their newer products require some graphics horsepower to run. You should download the free trial to make sure it works before committing. But get it all done before the 30th if you want the discount!

Picture Time!

I'll start with this one:

Last time I posted the original of this picture. I've had a chance to work on it, using Impression and the new Texture Effects and I have to say I'm really quite satisfied with how it turned out. I can picture it as a large scale canvas print. Hope you like it too!

The camera club went out and shot "steel wool" the other night. For those who don't know what it is, you set fire to a ball of ultra-fine steel wool and swing it around on the end of a tether while doing a time exposure. Thanks to Mike Hamilton for being the "swinger"! We had a turnout of about 10 club members and EVERYONE got outstanding images. Here are a few examples:

Mike stood on top of the stone fountain at Head Lake Park in Haliburton. When I looked up, the moon peeked out from behind the clouds and I got this shot of him silhouetted against the moon, before he started to light the steelwool. This needs to be made into a real painting, it's my first project when next I pick up my brushes and oil paints! Blow it up fullscreen.

After he lit it, from the same location. By the way, I really wanted to shoot this with the wide angle lens from this distance, which put me in Kathy's field of view, for which I apologize. She actually got some good pictures with me in the falling flames: I said it adds to the image!  

Out on the flat lawn area, this picture looks like a giant umbrella of flame. 

And my favourite one, you know me, I have to mess with them in post-processing! and it burns, burns, burns...

A whole bunch of painted effects were used to achieve this impressionistic oil painted look. I used Photoshop, Nik HDR Efex, Impression and Texture Effects and more!

I have some great news on an upcoming project, which I should be able to reveal next week, and some pictures of a very different subject, keep an eye out for the next blog posting!

— 30 —

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

If I only save one life...

Do you use protection?

What do you think I'm going to talk about? Latex things? Wrong.

This blog is about photography. Did you think I was going to talk about using filters on your lens? Nah, that subject has been beaten to death (bottom line: 50% of photographers I surveyed use UV filters on their lenses. The other half are smart enough to know that (a) digital sensors are not sensitive to UV like film was, (b) the filters, especially cheap ones [under $100] degrade picture quality and cause excessive lens flare, (c) you're not protecting a $2500 lens, you're protecting the front glass which is factory replaceable at reasonable cost, (d) a lens hood provides much better protection and (e) camera stores make HUGE profits on filters. They buy them for $1 and sell them for $20 or $30, that's why the salesman tells you that you need one. LOL)

No, I'm talking about your computer. Background: I have a friend whose computer was just eaten by a mean and nasty virus or trojan (trojan. protection. hmmm.). I'm not going to lecture him again about clicking on unknown links in email, even email that seems to come from someone you know. I already did. I love this guy but he's so incredibly naïve... and there's no sense in making him feel worse. I'm going to make a few points and if they're really obvious to you, then feel free to skip down to the next subject. But if not... then at least think about it.

  • You need to have backups. When I said to my friend, "just reload your Quickbooks from your backup..." I had a feeling... Now some of us don't have the resolve to stick to a routine, or the resources to do this perfectly, but at least try!
  • The 3-2-1 rule says have 3 copies of your data on at least 2 different media and at least 1 copy off-site. That means for example, hard disk, flash drive, DVD, cloud. Go buy a couple more external hard drives (they're cheap!) and keep one in your safe deposit box at the bank. Regularly make an extra backup of your data and rotate that drive to the box. If your house burns down or is burglarized, your life's work is still safe.
For the record, I have some of my stuff on a hard drive at my mom's apartment in Thornhill, but it's been a while since I rotated a new copy there. My really critical files (not my pictures: my financials, etc) are backed up to the Cloud via Dropbox every couple of days.
by the way, I just saw a new Lexar SDXC card that holds an incredible 512Gb. A TeraByte is only one step away. Incredible. 
  • Keep your virus protection up to date. And check for MalWare as well: the virus programs miss stuff.
I run Microsoft Security Essentials every night at 3am. I also run Malwarebytes (look it up) whenever I think of it. If my computer starts doing silly things, it's my go-to reaction and sometimes, it finds stuff. 
  •  Stop clicking on links in emails. Sure it's easy: "click here to upload the latest update..." but stop and think. Instead, go to the developer's website and search for the update there. It takes an extra effort but it can save you a lot of grief.
The one I've been reluctantly clicking on is the "click here to unsubscribe" link. Every time I do, I wonder if I'm being smart, but I'm so tired of the spam. Do as I say, not as I do!
This subject also came up in an online discussion. Remember, you don't need to have a plan in case your hard drive fails, you need to have a plan for WHEN your hard drive fails, because it's going to.

OK, off my soapbox. If I only saved one life, it was worth it!

I think I figured out why my painting sucks.

I attended some sessions with a talented painter (Harvey Walker) who creates a painting in an hour or two. I just realized that it doesn't work that way for everyone. Mind you, he's got years of experience. I can't just say, "OK, now I'm going to paint those rocks" and an hour later, I'm done.

Here's a link to an essay by Robert Bateman on Painting. He doesn't just slap paint on canvas. It's worth a read if you're an artist (and even if you're not!). I'll wait right here.

I've been trying to "express myself" by just going for it: painting a tree with huge impasto strokes in a few minutes. I finally get that it might not work that way for everyone, especially when I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to keep trying. Watch this space.

Topaz is about to Rock your World (again!)

It's been quiet down in the land of Topaz Labs. That's because they've been working on something special. Their latest program is Topaz Texture Effects. Here's a quote from them:

"Texture Effects allows users to create a variety of textured, toned, and lighting effects in a fraction of the time it takes in other editing software. The program includes a library of over 150 expertly crafted effects, an extensive collection of texture assets (275+ high-resolution assets!), and instant access to effects other Topaz users have shared with the new Topaz Community. That means no more scouring the web for a look that inspires you. With Texture Effects, inspiration is only a click away!"

example image from Topaz Labs.  

another example image 

...and one more.  

Full disclosure: I haven't worked with it seriously yet, they've just released it and as I write this, the full version isn't even out (by the time you read this, it will be!). As a Topaz Affiliate, they've given me a pre-release version to test. And as an affiliate, I receive some compensation if you purchase it through the links on this blog.
Topaz has put together a bunch of really good effects and ideas. If you've played with Russell Brown's "Paper Textures" inside Photoshop, this goes further. Ditto, Nik (Google) Analog Efex Pro: you can add a world of effects to give your images an antique character and change the mood completely. Oh, and it runs both as plug-ins to the Photoshop suite or standalone.

 But they've also incorporated some of their better tools; their masking brushes work a lot like ReMask. Some of the sliders feel like Impression, but different effects, of course. They've also made it easy to save your own custom effects so you can give a consistent feel to multiple pictures AND they've set up an online cloud community where you can share your effects with the world. Here's a video clip that says it much better than I can.

 All very exciting but caution, this is a high end piece of software, you won't be running it on a lower end computer. System Requirements: Mac OSX 10.8+; Windows 7/8/10 x 64bit + OpenGL 3.2.  And it's HUGE. The download is 1.4Gb! Be prepared. As usual, you can download and try it before buying, to make sure it works on your system. It's a pretty big download, by the way. I think this is going to be one of my go-to plugins when I'm feeling creative and I have a vision how I want an image to feel. 

Here's the link to the Texture Effects page. It's on sale for $49.95 ($20 off) between now and November 20th. Use this coupon code – TEXTUREFX –  at checkout.

UPDATE: I just installed the full version. First impression? It's SICK. It's blown my mind. I figured that a huge program like that was going to be slow on my lousy system but it FLIES. Everything works in real time. Topaz: my hat's off to you!
There's a quick pass at my latest aurora picture at the bottom of this blog.

Dry Spell

I'm in a bit of a dry spell. There are two times of year I don't find inspiring: spring, right after the snow is out and before life returns to the forest, and now, when everything is dead and not yet covered with a blanket of snow. The world has two colours: brown, and grey. To get out of this rut, I need to unleash some other genres. So, people; events; and out comes the light tent to do some macros and still life shots.
I like to cook. 
As a bachelor, one kind of has to! And I like to do it the easy way, especially so that I don't have a big cleanup afterwards. My ideal meal is made in one pot, and uses one plate to eat it! The down side is that it's hard to cook for one, so often either these are two-day meals or I eat too much. Back on my diet as of this morning, I have to shed some of this extra weight. Most people don't agree with how I diet, so I'm not going to elaborate on it.

I also haven't seriously approached photographing these creations, but I will a bit more as winter makes it less hospitable to shoot outside (you have downloaded my "Winter Wonderland" eBook on taking better pictures in winter, right? If not, click that "Newsletter" link at top right and I'll send it to you, free). Where was I.

Oh yes, cooking. In addition to my BBQ, which I use year-round, I've settled on some pretty rugged cooking hardware. I use a lot of cast iron, skillets and pots, but my favourite is my cast aluminium wok. One pot, one meal and it cleans up by rinsing it out (it's never seen soap and nothing sticks!)

Chicken stirfry. Kind of my go-to meal, not fattening and as I said, easy cleanup. My own recipe, I'm not going to make MasterChef Canada with it, but it's easy. 

This one's pretty easy too. Take some chicken, some rice, some broccoli, cream of chicken or mushroom soup, some chicken broth and some shredded cheddar cheese. After pre-cooking the chicken, mix everything together except the cheese and put your trusty cast-iron skillet in the oven for a while. Then add the cheese and eventually turn on the broiler to brown the top. 10 minute prep, 40 minutes to cook, 5 minutes to clean up!

Where'd I get the recipe? Shhh. Google is your friend! By the way, I won't be making this for a while, not until after the diet!

As I said, I'll try to photograph better (these are iPhone shots, no special lighting). The challenge is how to shoot a skillet that's 350°F in the light tent without burning the house down!

I shot this "zombie" picture last weekend using my little ringlight as fill-in flash because my SB-600 flash is dead. It's not very powerful, just adds a touch of highlight and a little catchlight in the eyes. (I did some work in LR to isolate her from the background. The flash wasn't strong enough). I'm amazed at how much texture and detail it adds, though. Theoretically it shouldn't, it should provide flat lighting because it comes directly from the camera. Mystery. Here's proof: 

This is the same shot, zoomed in to 100%. Check out those textures! The catchlight should be much larger, you need to be shooting from closer up, maybe with a wider lens. This was shot with my 105mm prime, 1/250 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400. 

As I said, my flash died: the Nikon SB-600 won't power up. It's happened before, but now it's really toast, I think it's the switches on the back. I ordered a Yongnuo YN-568ex from B&H for only $100 (the Nikons are 4 or 5 times that price!) so let's see how it works out. I'll  post some pix after I get it in a couple of weeks.

I did take the ATV out the other day, but didn't find much inspiration on the trail in the woods. However there was an interesting pastel sunset going on. I forgot my tripod, so this is handheld:

Here's a "selfie" from the same spot:

It's the first week of deer hunting season. I wear my orange vest when out on my ATV this time of year. Without a tripod, I rested my camera on my bag and set the timer to do this shot. In hindsight, that beach has some interesting textures and shadows, but I didn't see it until I got home.

My favourite shot from that afternoon. It's actually the same boat I shot a couple of years ago, covered with a dusting of snow (from a different angle and in fact, facing the other way!), that won a bunch of awards and was published several times. What I like about this one is the subtle colour palette, the strong diagonal and the sunlit board that draws the eye and adds to the story. 

Parting Shot

As usual, I like to save the best for last. Last night, I headed out to shoot the Aurora Borealis: the aurora prediction was extremely high a couple of days ago and still high last night; and we had some clear weather. So out I went! I chose the same spot I've been going to recently, I just like the visibility, North and South, and the shape of the hills. The only thing missing is a foreground subject.

When I first got there, I couldn't see any aurora. Not unusual: the camera sees it a lot better than my eyes. So rather than waste the trip, I turned around and set up a time lapse sequence on the Milky Way. Not the best time of year for it, the galactic centre isn't above the horizon, but still...

A "little" post-processing! I liked it until I applied the Watercolour filter in Impression. Now I love it! 

No visible aurora, but there was something else going on: the Taurids meteor showers. It's a bit different from the other ones, because the meteors are bigger and fatter than most, so the trails are brighter and light up the sky! Of course when I pointed the camera North, I saw one to the East. So I pointed it East. Oh, there's another one, to the West! I didn't really get a still photo (one...wait for it!) but I did count several meteorite events on a time lapse, taken over about 45 minutes.

You know how the Seinfeld show is about "nothing"? So this video is also about nothing. Look carefully, you'll see half a dozen airplanes and seven meteorites. Here's the link.

Also while I was out there filming, I was treated to a 10-minute serenade from a pack of howling wolves. And something big jumped in the water right beside me! It was a fabulous evening.

Here's what the eye saw:

and here's what it looked like after a bit of Lightroom editing:

Since I enjoy creating impressionist images, here's what I came up with:

Impression/Liquid Pencil, then I added some Paper Textures in Photoshop (can't wait to try this again with the new Topaz Texture Effects)!  Then I though, "Hmmm. Foreground object". That's what Photoshop is for! And look! There's a meteorite trail to the left. Click the picture to view it fullscreen.

First quick pass using Topaz Texture Effects. Mind blowing. 

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