Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lake Superior trip: second report

I had great intentions. I wanted to post at least every second day of the trip but "the best laid plans..." and all that. First of all, wifi access is spotty to say the least. I'm sitting here on Wednesday with a working wifi connection for the first time since Sunday morning.

And I'm having some trouble editing pictures on this laptop.

Surprisingly, it's the machine I do almost all of my editing on, but I desperately miss my 26" calibrated monitor. Maybe I'm spoiled. but the pictures look awful, badly in need of post-processing, so I'll post some pictures here with the caveat that they're not finished. Not too surprising, since the only thing I use this lousy monitor for at home if for the Photoshop menus. Can't calibrate it, colour balance and tonality is horrible.

So I'll post a few things now, more to come when I can get them processed properly.

Agawa Canyon Train Tour

A lot has been written about the Agawa Canyon Train Tour. Almost everyone says it's a "must do" and praise is virtually universal.

Maybe I'm just jaded, but it was "good", not "great". On the positive side, the scenery in the canyon is spectacular. It would have been better a couple of weeks later when the fall colours were out more, and yes, the weather was less than perfect, but that's not the reason.

Basically it's 8 hours of sitting in an admittedly comfortable train but most of the time, the trees and shrubbery were so close to the train and so thick, there was nothing to see. Occasionally you would pop out of it at a lake or bridge, but all together, that was only a few minutes out of the trip.

During that unscheduled stop for repairs. 

Then you arrive in Agawa Canyon, which admittedly is beautiful and very photogenic, despite being a week or two early. Here's the thing: the train stops there for 90 minutes. Which gives you enough time to RUN to Bridal Veil Falls, take a few pictures, then RUN to the other falls (Black Beaver, I think it's called) and grab a couple of shots before you have to RUN to catch the train before it leaves. So my hint to others: (1) when you board, try to get a high-numbered rail coach. I was in car #1 which meant I had to RUN an extra 5 minutes to reach the back of the train so I could go to the Falls. And (2) don't try to do both falls. Oh yeah, and (3) bring your own food: just for reference, a hot dog is $8 and the box lunch which is a ham-and-cheese sandwich and a bag of chips is $16.

The train broke down on the way back for close to an hour. Which was OK because we stopped on the Montreal River trestle for repairs. Good photo ops.

That's actually our train, shooting from car #1. See what I meant about it being a long walk? Bridal Veils Falls was about a 2-3km walk from the back of car #16.

Bridal Veil Falls. A 10-stop ND filter on my 70-200mm lens. 1/4 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400.

By the way, I stayed for 2 nights at the Holiday Motel (not the Holiday Inn: the Holiday Inn Express in the Soo is $158/night plus taxes!). It looks crummy from the outside but well-appointed rooms. I found it via

Rock Island Lodge in Wawa

I spent two nights there, with host David, plus Renee and Andrea. HIGHLY recommended. Great spot, nice people, they fall all over themselves making your stay excellent. It's the same place I've been twice before, with Rob Stimpson's "Gales of November" workshop a few years ago. Any of my readers who have been there before would know this shot:

The Michipicoten River Light as seen from the Lodge. The "Gales of September"!

Here's what it looked like at sunset:

You'll have to wait for my star trails shot until I can get to my home monitor to finish it! 

Lots of other shots, but here's the one I came all that way for:

I'm standing in EXACTLY the same spot on Sandy Beach that A.Y. Jackson stood in when he painted his iconic "Shoreline" picture three-quarters of a century ago. AND I had my oil paints and easel with me, so I painted it too. That you'll have to wait until I get home to see, if I ever show it because I suck at painting!

By the way, I also started a painting at Chippewa Falls, right where J.E.H. MacDonald stood when he painted it. It's not finished yet.

Here's an abstract photo I took at the same time on Sandy Beach. I'm a better photographer than I am a painter! (Correction: this is in Old Woman Bay. My bad!)

This is just one little corner of High Falls on the Magpie River in Wawa. I'll show you more images later. I met a father and son from Arkansas also shooting the falls: Chris (the son) was using a Cambo 4x5 view camera with Ilford FP4 black and white film! I met them again later in Old Woman Bay at sunset.

We were all hoping the setting sun would kiss the rockface. It didn't, really.

One more to wrap up:

 This is Agawa Rock, on which there are pictographs. I didn't see them because it was raining and I didn't want to hike out there on the wet rocks. But I did do this long exposure

More to come!

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Lake Superior Trip, Day 1

Before I do anything else, I want to post this image for my friend George, who's going through some tough times right now, but we know he's going to come out the other end just fine! Cancer is a son-of-a-bitch but you're going to defeat it, my friend. Stay positive!

Public Domain license
If you know George, you know why I chose this image.
...and some more bad news.

I learned last night that Stu Freedman has passed away at the age of 92. Stu was a lifelong photographer, mentor to some very fine people like Ron Goodlin and Lance Gitter, founder of the Toronto Guild. The top award in the GTCCC is named the "Stu Freedman Award".

I only met Stu about 5 years ago, through Ron (I grew up in Montreal, not Toronto!). Then I discovered that Stu's wife Renalee is my mother's cousin, so we're related! I was amazed to watch him getting around with his walker, outfitted with a camera case on top, and up until a couple of months ago, he was sending me pictures of birds-on-the-wing taken hand-held with his 500mm lens, something very few people could do (especially not me!).

Rest in Peace, Stu. As Ron put it, "you had a good run!"

Lake Superior Trip

This will be an ongoing trip report. I'll combine a couple of days together before posting.

I decided I needed a "Road Trip" to get away from the frenetic pace of life in the Haliburton Highlands! So I left this morning (Thursday, September 17) for Lake Superior. I booked the Agawa Canyon Train Tour on Saturday, and a couple of days at Rock Island Lodge in Wawa after that, the rest is unscheduled.

My goal is to walk where some of the Group of Seven did. I even brought my easel and oil paints and if weather permits, I'll paint where AY Jackson stood when he painted "Shoreline". Stay tuned!

Day 1: my intention was to stay somewhere along the North Shore of Lake Huron that night. That gave me tons of time to get there, I could have made the Soo if I had wanted to, but I didn't want any excuses not to stop to take pictures. It didn't work out that way.

I don't know about you, but it takes my mind some time to switch modes. Even knowing that I had all the time I wanted, I was still in "Gotta-get-there" mode most of the day. So I didn't get a lot of great photos, and I drove past a few. That said, I didn't get to a motel until after 8pm, already dark!

I wanted to go to Elliot Lake. I've never been there, I heard that it's a thriving retirement community, wanted to see what it's about. There are over 11,000 people in Elliot Lake: but there's only one hotel/motel. It's a Hilton at $150/night. I turned around and found something at half that price in Blind River. That said, an endless freight train rumbled past my room about 50' away at the stroke of midnight! Hope there isn't another one at 6am!

The only real enroute glitch was that Rte 141 was closed at Lake Rosseau. A one-hour detour through Port Carling. It was upsetting because although there was a big sign advising about the closure as you came out of Bracebridge, it seemed that they'd point you at a detour as you got closer. No such luck.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from Day 1: note that they've been roughly edited on my Laptop without the benefit of a calibrated monitor. I probably have to go back and fix them later.

This was about 25 km from home, on Highway 118. Just a hint of fall colours but as you drive North it sort of sneaks up on you. We'll see what the colours are like up around Sault Ste. Marie tomorrow. 

This was just South of Sudbury. It's a panorama merge of four shots (taken with the camera orientation vertically), so it's about a 180° view: that foreground embankment is straight!). I modified a Van Gogh preset in Impression, it's as close as I can get to a Group of Seven look.

This is Lake Huron's North Channel taken from behind my motel in Blind River, just after I got there around 8pm. 

It's almost 1 am. Time for bed. more to come...

OK, I decided to add a couple of shots from this morning and post the blog.

I discovered that there's actually a beach behind the motel. I went out at dawn this morning and got a few shots:

Again, it's hard to see what the exposure and edit looks like until I get back to a calibrated monitor. This laptop screen sucks. Maybe I will have to give in and get a Mac... 

More to come!

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

It's my birthday

Just a short post, I wanted to get this done now because I've got a busy week ahead of me, with a club meeting and then my trip. More when I get back, of course!
A Milestone...

One that I'm not sure I'm particularly happy about. I've entered my 70th year.
(PS: that means I'm 69, not 70!)

Physically, I understand that I'm that age .

My father used to say,
"everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work anymore".
I get it.

Mentally, I'm much younger, so it's frustrating that my body won't do the things my mind wants – no, expects – it to do. I'm still in my 50's. Or 40's! And that  people (OK, women) might find my chronological age off-putting.

I've done an awful lot of different things in my life – more than most people. Not only career related, but passions and sports and activities. That's something to look back at with some pride, now to figure out a path to go forward.

That iPhone case

A few weeks ago I mentioned a custom iPhone case with my own image on it. It arrived quickly and it looks exactly like the picture:

In hindsight, I might have chosen a brighter image but it really looks excellent. Also, the "Tough" case option comprises a formed rubber skin (no screen protector, though) and the picture is printed on a hard plastic shell that snaps on.

The only downside is that the opening where the headphone plug goes in was too small for the plug that I was using in the car to connect to the sound system, so I had to do a little shaving with a sharp knife and scissors (a Dremel would have been better but I was too lazy!). That damaged the shell too, but it's hardly noticeable if you do it carefully. I wrote to them about it, let's see how they respond.

It was inexpensive (around $25), and easy to order. Open an account at and you can do it yourself with your own images. Or you could buy one of mine! BTW they have them for iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones, iPads and laptop sleeves as well.

My book is finished. YAY!

I've just completed and uploaded my latest book, "Best of 2014".

front cover

How do you choose a single favourite image from so many genres? By process of elimination I selected this one which is printed as the page 1 flyleaf for the book. 

It's 92 pages long, a full-sized coffee table book. I prefer the "image wrap" cover instead of a dust jacket, so I didn't put anything on the flaps.

You, my loyal readers, can preview the book here. If you're also a subscriber, you can download a free pdf of the book, click the "Newsletter" link up above.

I use's BookSmart software because it offers more flexibility than direct creation in Lightroom or their simpler Bookify or BookWright package. And I once used InDesign which is really flexible but I don't have a subscription to it any more.

If you want to do a book yourself, the process is a bit tedious but straightforward. Basically, you download their software (free), then create a book. In BookSmart, there are hundreds of page templates or you can create your own, then you drag and drop pictures into picture containers and paste or type text into text boxes. Make sure the pictures are high enough resolution. Good practice would be to select the pictures you want to use, then gather copies of them together in an appropriate folder so you don't have to hunt around for them.

The first time I did a book, I carefully resized my pictures to match the boxes: then I stopped doing it and just used a hi-res version (pixel count is important, DPI is not. Read my tech blog at You can easily resize or reshape your containers. If I add up the time it took to do this book (not including my post-processing of the images, of course), I'd say around 10 hours.

Blurb books are relatively expensive (it's about $100) so I only printed a couple of copies. I use them because of the quality. If you want one, you can order it from the link above. But you can also get a pdf copy of the book! I'll put the link for the free download in my next Newsletter, so if you're not yet subscribed, click the button at the top right corner of the blog. I'll wait right here until you do so!

Next up: "The Best of 2015"! I might even do a book called "Photo Impressions" that comprises only pictures of that genre that I've done in the past couple of years. I wish I could find a way to print economically so that it would be affordable and I could distribute more books.

Lake scenes

It's the end of Summer and the Fall colours are approaching. The cottagers are slowly disappearing leaving all this glory to us!

Sunset on the lake from the beach at 12-Mile Lake Church. There wasn't a lot of colour in the sky but Photoshop and Topaz Impression helped with that!

If I were any good with a paint brush and oils, this is what I would paint. I've had two conversations in the last week or two with Harvey Walker, the artist and teacher who has been running the Monday morning art classes at the Cultural Centre. I bring him up because he CAN do paintings like this, just as easily as I can do photographs and digital paintings. He said, "come back when you have 50 years of painting experience" when I commented how easy he makes it look.

Golden Afternoon. There's more to this picture than it looks! I took 150 exposures over the span of 20 minutes using my TriggerTrap in TimeLapse mode. Then I blended them together using StarStax – the "lighten" blend mode didn't work all that well but "darken" was ugly. Then I layered it in Photoshop and applied a couple of versions of Impression (Impasto and Van Gogh) at lowered opacities to provide the mix of textures and brush strokes that you see here.  

It's all about being able to express what's in your mind's eye (or ear: musicians can do the same thing with their instruments).  That has to be the goal I mentioned at the top of this blog post. I don't have 50 years... but maybe I can put a dent in it!


I decided to reward myself with one. After all, I have to get away from the frenetic pace, the pressures of living up here in the Highlands (LOL).

So next Thursday morning (the 17th), I'm getting in the car and heading Northwest. Destination, Lake Superior. Should be peak fall colours up there. First stop, Sault Ste. Marie where I've booked a trip on the Agawa Canyon train everyone says is fabulous. Then a couple of nights in Wawa at the Rock Island Lodge. I hope the weather cooperates because that's the greatest spot for a star trails shot! I want to do a lot of waterfalls and landscapes.

After Wawa, I might go back South to Batchawana Bay or I might head East along 101, through Timmins and perhaps Iroquois Falls before turning south towards home. We'll see how it goes.

I plan to take my oil paints and easel with me; again if the weather cooperates, I'd like to try painting in some of the places the Group of Seven were in so many years ago. I'll take pictures too, because my painting skills are non-existent. It will be fun to try.

Stay tuned...

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A quiet week, photographically.

The past couple of weeks have been busy, mostly spending time with friends, the usual Toronto trek and without a camera in my hands! But you know me, I never stop shooting pictures. The camera club, planning events, thinking about what's going on next month...(If you're an HHCC member, think "Algonquin Park", fall colours, October 5th), But before I get started,

Last week I expressed my concern over a proposed generating plant proposal from Orillia Power which would have dramatically affected the beautiful white water rapids in the Minden Wildwater Preserve.
I'm delighted to announce that the Minden Town Council has unanimously voted AGAINST the proposal and it is now effectively dead. Congratulations to the council for their insight and foresight.
I'd like to think that the letter I wrote played some small part in that decision but I guess I'll never know. 

But the Town of Minden Hills gets one of these too. At the end of June or beginning of July, the town prepped Red Umbrella Road for repaving (they'll say "top coating", not repaving). And they said they'd finish it by the end of July. It's now September.

Why am I complaining? Every time a car drives by, a huge dust storm rises of the graveled road especially when the wind is from the lake as usual. So much that the front yard of my house, the table and chairs in the gazebo are coated with dirt. You can't sit outside. All summer I've only eaten al fresco twice, when the wind was from the east.

Every now and then a water truck comes and sprays the road. That keeps the dust down for, oh I don't know, 30 minutes? Today was 30°C and I had to keep my house closed up tight to prevent the dust from coming in.

First the delay was because of the PanAm Games. Yeah, they've known about that for, like, two years. Then it was because of the weather. I spoke with the road superintendant mid-August. He PROMISED it would be done within a couple of weeks and apologized for the delay. I emailed him today and got this response:
The road will be sealed up soon, the contractor is saying within the next two weeks. Please try to understand that surface treatment contractors work across Ontario and cover tens of thousands of kilometers per season. When they are rained out in one area it has a domino effect on everybody else. 
On Sunday, the Inn is having a RibFest, with live music and everything. I hope for their sake the wind isn't coming from the East that day. You dust ribs with spices and BBQ sauce, not road dirt. Stay tuned.

Back to painting again

It's so much harder than taking pictures! And I really can't draw or sketch, as I confirmed when Janie and I tried sketching the same scene (from the picture above). I painted it, though – twice! The better one is when I just went for it, with loaded brushes and heavy strokes.

Can you tell from the picture that I put gobs of paint on it? I think I captured the feeling of the rushing water, but I know I got the perspective wrong. Mixing paint colours is a challenge for me too. 

Reminder: Topaz ReMask 5 is on sale until September 18th, $20 off. If you don't have it and you've ever tried to select something out of an image, you need it! Read last week's blog for more details or go to the Topaz site.
Here's the link to the ReMask product page. You can try it out for free... but complete your purchase before the 18th to take advantage of the sale price. At checkout, enter the code. "GetReMask5". 

Lambs and Ivy

 Cheryl was up from Oshawa way and we spent the afternoon shooting some pictures. We also tried for a sunset, but the skies didn't cooperate, not too exciting.

Inside the barn at Lambs and Ivy, low light!

I took that picture at Lambs and Ivy, an antiques barn where they have no problem with us taking pictures. It was pretty dark in there and I didn't feel like bringing in a flash or reflector. The D800 does a great job at high ISO. Also, I limited myself again to the 105mm lens. It's so flexible except that you have to zoom with your feet!

Focus on the eyes, they say! 

Loved this old typewriter. Again it was hard to get back far enough to fit it in. And the big problem here was that the backgrounds were always cluttered and busy. We could have spent hours in there, though! 

Lambs and Ivy have some fabulous gardens. Here are some examples:

Processed with Topaz Glow and Impression. 

Sunflower macro. I did one even closer but I liked the symmetry and pattern in this one. 

My favourite, I think. Topaz Impression, "Turner Afternoon" preset. 

Carden Plain

On the way back from Toronto a few days ago, I decided to see what was going on at Carden Plain.


I don't think I saw more than two birds, and none close enough to shoot. I walked down the Sedge Wren Marsh trail, again nothing. I did take the 105 macro with me, so I got a few shots.

Forgive me. I know people are tired of the "Twirl" but this brilliant red leaf (it's coming!!!) lent itself perfectly to this treatment. Here's the original picture:

This flowering plant is called bugloss, or blue weed. This is actually two images focus stacked together. 

After leaving Carden Plain (well, technically I was still there, on Victoria Road), I saw this gentle sunset and managed to capture it:

The unprocessed shot looked pretty good but since I can't leave well enough alone, I of course opened it in Topaz Impression to make it a bit more surreal. 

All in all, not an exciting week, photographically, but I think I made the best of it.

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