Sunday, October 25, 2015

Look where you want to go

Some words of encouragement.

Look where you want to go

Luc is a Staff Sergeant with the RCMP, a motorcycle trainer and all-around good guy.
I have 1000 pictures that illustrate this concept. 

This is a sentence pronounced by every motorcycle instructor who ever lived. Not once, not 10 times, 10,000 times. It's one of the first things every motorcyclist needs to know, to love, and to live. It's something you need to do, and being reminded of it will often get you out of trouble. But this is not about motorcycling.

You need to do this with your life.

I have a friend, in a place where I never want to be, and neither do you. George is in the middle of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and having a tough time. Today he said to me, " resolve is cracking...". This is one of the toughest guys I know, he does everything well and to the best of his ability and clearly he's being pushed to the limit, but I know he's going to come out the other side. He needs to keep his eye on the prize... to look where he wants to go. As a Chief Motorcycle Instructor at Humber College, George knows this in his heart, but we all need to be reminded from time to time. Hang in there, buddy.

It occurred to me, as I wrote back to him, that this applies to almost everything in your life. First you need to figure out where you want to go, then you have to focus on getting there. Every day, every step you take, should be in that direction. There was another concept called "True North" that I wrote about some time ago on the blog (perhaps worth a read. Here) that tells a similar story.

There are so many trite phrases rolling around in my mind as I write this. I'm not going to say them. Just think about this for a minute in context of where you are right now and where you want to be.

Now Look Where You Want To Go.

It's coming!

For the past few years, I've made available my 2012 "Winter Wonderland" eBook at no cost to subscribers to my blog. It's that time again. It's a 56-page PDF eBook with tips on winter shooting and a small composition section at the end. It's not rocket science but it might help some of you with your mindset when you go out to shoot winter pictures.

If you already subscribe to the blog, you've already received the link to the eBook. If not, just click "Newsletter" at top right and follow the bouncing ball. You can unsubscribe afterwards with one click if you really must. I'll send the eBook link again in next week's update. I would just ask you not to reproduce the eBook or send the link on to others, send them here so they can subscribe as well.

I'm Addicted. I admit it.

I'm addicted to images taken in the canopy on Arowhon Pines Road when the fall colours have peaked. I never get tired of them, or of making painted variations of them.

Here's another shot taken in Algonquin Park last week. Yes, the colours were spectacular. Not a lot of reds, though, I will admit.

I was up in Algonquin again on October 24th.  I was with Genny and Dean Ribalko (Genny is with TDPC and was up here a couple of weeks ago, couldn't stay for the Algonquin trip). We met some really interesting people and, it turned out, had a great photo day!

You probably know that names and I don't get along: but if you have a computer to remind you... last week Amin and I met Wesley and Mitch and Stephen (and I don't remember who the fourth person was!). On Saturday, it was Rico and Kent and Jim and Joe. All great photographers and good people. I was especially impressed with Kent's knowledge and experience (and great clothes and equipment!). Off-topic, he had a Canon 100-400mm lens that was able to focus to as close as about 50cm! Nice. Rico had a 500mm f/4 prime, really sharp but it didn't focus close at all. Jim had the Tamron 150-600 on his D7100. Rico and Jim have met Dr. Ron (and me, at Carden Plain as well). They said they have sites where there are literally dozens of snowy owls... hoping for an invite!

Kent, especially, knows where the wildlife live in the Park. He took us to one and while the rest of us were chatting he disappeared and came back a few minutes later and said the father fox was back, and was napping in his den. For proof: a photo on the back of his camera of the sleeping fox (link)! He also called in a bunch of grey jays, to Genny and Dean's delight! We all got great pictures.

I took lots of fox pictures when he came out to greet us after his nap! So many good ones that I'm having a hard time choosing which one I like best.

This one is straight out of the camera with no editing whatsoever. Not even a crop: this is straight out of the camera.

I think he was yawning, not growling! Cropped tight and brightened but that's all.

I did edit this one, but only slightly! Some contrast and tonal balance, a small crop, and I removed one weed that was almost in front of his face (so I can't use it in Nature competitions). I will put this up on RedBubble or be happy to talk to anyone who wants a print or other product with this image. 


Rico and Genny have visits from Grey Jays*!

Battling over a peanut! 
I just got told it's "GRAY" jays, not "GREY" jays and that I don't really want to know why! LOL. I stand corrected, Dan!

Some of us wandered off through the park in search of moose... no luck that day. We embarked on an almost-6-km-hike down the bike trail behind the Mew Lake Campground to see a moose carcass reported in a pond where bears were seen feasting on it. Basically nothing left to see. At least I got a little exercise!

All in all, a great day. And as Ahnold says, "I'll be baaack".

Products with my pictures on them

Normally I don't sell stuff here. But I just think it's so cool having products with your own images on them, that I had to share. No pressure: just showing you some stuff you can get!

A couple of months ago, I had an iPhone case made with one of my images on it. 

Although I love it, I think you need a strong image as opposed to a subtle one to give it some impact. So I just ordered a new case, that looks like this:

The case is a "Tough" case. It has a hard plastic shell and a soft rubber insert. You can get them in various sizes, for iPhones, for Samsung phones, etc. The only problem I've had with them is that the opening where you plug in an external speaker is a bit small and I had to open it up with a scissors (a dremel would have been better) so I could plug into it. Just saying. 
Then I decided I would also like a throw pillow with the same design, here I used the full picture instead of the cropped one on the iPhone case.

The pillows come in 3 sizes, this is the largest one. I ordered just the shell, not the complete pillow insert because shipping costs were lower. I'm just going to stuff an existing pillow inside the case or if worst comes to worst, go to Michaels and get some foam rubber. 

I order these products from a company called "RedBubble", where I also have fine art prints listed. If you would like to order one of these (or any of the other products they have with this image on it), go to this link. If you want to see other images that I have on that site, use this link. They are very fast and reasonable, and the quality is great! I can add pretty well any one of my images there, if something else strikes your fancy. Email me.

I also added the fox picture. You can buy 20 different products with that image on it from RedBubble for very reasonable prices! Link

Here's an example: a tote bag! Available in 3 sizes, prices starting at around $10. You can also get prints, canvas prints, smartphone and laptop cases, even spiral notebooks!

By the way, I sent a pillow with the baby owl picture (here) to my granddaughter and she loves it!

See you next week!

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bullwinkle, At Last!

Uh oh. I've been musing again...

I came across this quote today and find it very appropriate, especially in view of the show that Nature is putting on for us out there at this time of year:

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." Albert Einstein

Some more musings:

I did a whole bunch of work yesterday and today and when it was done, it didn't look as though I had done anything. And it occurred to me that's how it should be when you use Photoshop... sometimes!

Here's the work I did. When I moved here (8 years ago!) I had a truckload of gravel brought in. Before that, it was impassible in the spring when the ground was muddy. But over the years, my car had dug a couple of tracks into my "driveway" so I added a few cubic yards of gravel/tar mix – won't tell you where I got it! – using my ATV and the little trailer I have on semi-permanent loan from Styles. Then I tamped it down with the ATV and by driving back and forth over it with the car (a roller would have been better but I didn't have one). Now it's nice and flat.

My arms and pecs are sore from shoveling, it took me about 4 hours to do (do you know how much you need to fill in a 6" or 8" deep rut? Or how heavy a cubic yard of gravel weighs? Kudos to those who do this all the time!. In a few days, you won't be able to see the difference, as the pine needles cover it. But the puddles and soft ground after every rainstorm are gone. It will be invisible.

Loading the gravel from my secret source with my ATV and my trusty "555" Styles trailer 

...and unloading it on the driveway. This is about the 6th load, and it's day 2: a little rain last night told me which spots needed a bit of touching up so I got back to work. If you're going to do something, do it right. 

So I worked away and sweated for several hours for what? If you look at my driveway a few days from now when the pine needles are covering it, or a month from now when it's blanketed in the white stuff, you won't be able to tell that I did anything – unless you were there when I started. The same thing is true of Photoediting. 

Your work in Photoshop or whatever editor you use, should be invisible. But you need to address all the details: no dust spots; no unwanted lens flare, toning and skin just the way it's supposed to be, a slightly burned edge, horizons level, and so on. Address all the details. And don't stop until you're done.

Of course sometimes you edit an image with the INTENT of making it look surreal or impressionistic. I do that a lot. But I think that somewhere during the editing process, you need to bring the image to the point where it's perfect and your editing should be invisible. Something to strive for.

Fall Colours are Addictive!

Every year I say I'm not going to shoot the colours. Every year I do anyway. How can one not: when you see something this spectacular, you have to share it! So here are a few shots around the Haliburton Highlands.

If you are located in the Highlands, perhaps these images won't 'grab' you, but many of my readers are from other parts of the world and this is for them!

This is not an uncommon look, since Richard Martin espoused the concept of moving the camera while the shutter was open... however that's not how this image was done. The motion blur was added in Photoshop to a more traditional picture. I did it this way because, well because I CAN. Besides, I wanted to draw the viewer's eye to the birch tree and its colleagues just right of centre, done with a layer mask. I also added a texture overlay.  

I shot this on October 9th, on Oliver Crescent just off the west side of Kushog Lake near Carnarvon. The colours had peaked in spots like this one. I added a touch of Topaz Glow and a smidgen of the Degas preset in Impression, just to add some texture. 

At Hall's Lake. The brilliant colours stand out even more against the rich greens of the pine trees. I used the "coloured pencil" preset in Impression as the baseline from which to edit. 

Tired of fall colour pictures yet? I have bad news for you: more to come! I took a trip yesterday with Amin Shivji from HHCC to Algonquin Park, in search of fall colours, and moose. Let's just say we had a good day!

On the way up, the sun broke out momentarily as we were passing (I think) Kushog Lake.  

As we got into the park, we stopped at Fisherman's Point on Smoke Lake, where we found, wait for it, some fishermen (OK, "fisherpeople"!).  

As we continued further East, we stopped at spots where we hoped we would see moose. Nada. But we did find this wetland on Opeoongo Road, which I thought was quite scenic and told the Fall story.  We went for lunch at the Mad Musher in Whitney where we ran into a quartet of photographers, one of whom, I discovered, reads my blog! (Thanks, Mitch). Another guy has wildlife pictures published all over the place. He reluctantly told us about a spot where he'd seen, not only moose but wolves as well. I promised not to reveal its location. It was threatening to rain, and it started while we were at lunch.

Indeed. I took this through the windshield (thank you, Adobe, for the really nice de-haze filter!). I even blurred the trees a bit to soften it and make it three dimensional. 

As we continued westward, we came across some spots where the colours were spectacular. We stopped a couple of times. 

An impressionistic view of the outrageous colours in a maple bush. 

On to the secret spot. These mallards flashed through the sky overhead, but I had something in my left hand, so I could only swing the camera (complete with 1.7x converter and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens) with one hand, pressing on the back-button focusing while tracking the birds. It wasn't perfect, so I turned it into a sketch, which I call "Couples". 

And now, la pièce de résistance, a bull moose swimming across the water about 100 meters away.  

Here's another shot, more tightly cropped. 

Using Topaz Impression to turn it into a painting, I edited the same image as the cropped one, to tell more of the story. 

We had a good day! I can't wait to visit Algonquin Park again soon. 

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Friday, October 09, 2015

The Sky's on FIRE!

... before I start, here are a couple of shots of some avian visitors to my humble abode! 

Ruffed Grouse

I haven't seen any here in the 8 years I've lived here, but for some reason, I had a visit from a pair of ruffed grouse. They stayed just long enough to have their portraits made:

and now, without further ado...

The Sky's on Fire!

I read a post on FaceBook that showed a huge swath of aurora borealis activity over Canada. I checked with the ClearDarkSkies forecast and it indicated that we were in for a cloudless night. That got my motor running!

I had checked out my neighbour Vic's place as a likely spot to shoot stars. It has an open Northern exposure, a nice overhanging tree, no light pollution... so that was my first destination.

Not bad, but the Northern Lights weren't particularly brilliant. This was probably one of the better displays. By the way, I like the way the red light on the tower 'grounds' the image and gives it some depth. 
So I shot for an hour or so, doing a timelapse sequence. I actually went home, made a coffee and came back to the camera clicking away on Vic's dock! Then I decided to try another spot before going home to work on the images. Good thing!

I've been here before: the Schuyler's Island Causeway in Horseshoe Lake. Half an hour later I was set up and running, and I wasn't disappointed!

Here's what I saw! The sky was on FIRE! I installed this image as my blog banner today as well. Note the meteor trail captured just left of centre!

New Header
Here's the previous header for archival purposes:

I also turned around and shot the Milky Way while I was there. I'm still struggling with post-processing techniques. My problem is the millions of stars! I need to eliminate some to improve the image. Here's where I am so far:

This is the first time I've been able to render the 'depth' of the Milky Way. I'll keep practicing. 

For my photographer readers: my star shots are usually 15-30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600-2000. That night, I stayed with 15 seconds because I wanted to shoot a sequence of a couple hundred shots, and 30 second exposures would have made me stay there all night!

A word about the TriggerTrap© shutter release device. It makes life really easy and it's an elegant, inexpensive solution. If you're not familiar with it, Google is your Friend!. Basically one end plugs into your camera and the other end into your iPhone or Android. The app lets you choose a variety of triggering mechanisms and arrangements. Bottom Line: it makes live really easy!
The only downside is that you can't shut down the iPhone display while it's running, so it drains the battery (I ran out of iPhone battery before camera battery!) and depending where you put the phone, you have to watch out for light pollution/light leaks. 
In this case, I set it to make exposures 2 seconds apart (to let the sensor cool down a bit between shots), pushed the button and left it to run. Brilliant product!

I combined about 150 images from the 9:00 session and about 180 images from the later group into a 2-minute long timelapse video. Please take two minutes to enjoy it, I'll wait right here! Here's the link:

And here's my favourite image, a composite of a 180-image StarStax and the image up above. 

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Fall Colours Weekend

So my house is a disaster zone... I haven't even finished unpacking from my Lake Superior trip (thinking I might be going back), but when I get the urge to sit down and write, that's what I do. The house can wait!
Big mistake. BIG mistake.

The good news is, it could have been worse. Bad enough, though.

I think I have a good workflow. But in this case, I slipped up. Here's what happened. When I went to Lake Superior, I didn't bring my primary external drive (actually, I did: but not to use it, just to take it off-site in case my house burned down while I was gone). Also it's full. So I prepared another drive for use, and created a temporary Lightroom Catalog to use on the road.

I have a rule. Only name a file or a folder "temporary" when you're going to use it immediately. So if you see something with that word in the title, you can safely delete it without giving it a thought. You guessed it.

To avoid turning this into a long boring story (too late!), I intended to import all the images into the main catalog when I got home, which I did, but I missed a step: I copied the images over to the primary drive, all right, but not into my regular hierarchical file, instead they resided in a folder called, "Temporary Wawa trip catalog". Get the idea what I did? Yes, I deleted it to make space on the hard drive.

Costco-bound this weekend. I hope the 4 Tb external drives are on sale, I plan to buy two of them. It's a never-ending cycle. Maybe I will have to break down and split up my archives into multiple pieces instead of all-in-one.

Since I automatically make a second copy of the RAW files (on a different drive: the internal one in the computer) on import to Lightroom, I didn't lose the original images. I also didn't lose the Lightroom edits because they're kept in the Lightroom catalog and I had a backup of that too. What I DID lose were all of the external files, the PSD and TIF files that were created when I went out to Photoshop or a plug-in. In other words, the importantest, bestest pictures from the whole trip. I can recreate them, if I can remember what I did and of course by investing the many hours I spent working on them. Grrr.

Why did I tell you this? Just to make you think so you don't make the same misteak. And because I needed a shoulder to cry on!

Speaking of Lightroom...

Adobe just announced "Major Updates to their entire Lightroom and Photoshop product lines". If you subscribe to the CC versions, they're free. If you own the standalones (LR6 or PS CS6), sorry, you're S.O.L.

I just read the features of the updates here. At first glance, Adobe is expanding the utility of the new De-haze algorithm (in LR, PS and ACR) so that you can use them within local tools like the graduated and radial filters and the adjustment brush (yay! What a great tool dehaze is!).

In PS, they've put a lot of work into 3D and mobile app versions. Neither of which I use right now. But you can bet they streamlined other things and addressed a few bugs.

I'm even more convinced that $10/month is the best deal on the planet.

...AND speaking of Lake Superior

The proposed trip to Wawa, "The Gales of November Come Early", is still up in the air. I need three or four more participants to make this work.

If you can make it, you need to tell me NOW. October 22-25, $375 includes everything except getting there. I sent an invitation out to my mailing list, if you missed it or want the details, email me: I haven't put up a web page on this one. Don't delay.

Herding Cats, or
Fall Colours Weekend

A couple of months ago, I used the expression "herding cats" to describe the virtually hopeless task of keeping a diverse bunch of photographers together. At the time there were 7 of us in Kensington Market. This weekend I had almost 20 of them at half a dozen venues up here! Hopeless!
That said, a few people started responding to me, "Captain, my Captain"... that was cool (I miss Robin Williams!).

I was privileged this weekend, to spend time with both the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club and a group from the Toronto Digital Photography Club. The latter had a weekend retreat at Camp Wanakita and asked me to "guide" them during their visit up here. I chose some venues that I thought they'd enjoy visiting and photographing, did a talk for them on Friday night, and invited them to join the HHCC group on our annual trek to Algonquin Park for the fall colours. About 8 of them did in fact join us!

So doing this chronologically, the Friday night talk was so-so. The weather forecast seemed to indicate that we would get some clear nights so I built a "star shoot" into our agenda. Unfortunately the guy upstairs didn't cooperate – he wanted clouds – but I did do the presentation portion of the stars workshop for them on Friday night.

I tried to compress my all-day workshop into an hour (those who know me know that I didn't make it in an hour! As usual, I talk too much...). In fact, it was good practice for the session I'm supposed to do in Oshawa this winter, and I'll make some necessary changes. I'll have to incorporate more pictures in the presentation, and in different places.

It's a technical topic: "here are all the things you have to think about if you want to shoot stars successfully..." and also due to the late hour, people were somewhat 'itchy' as time went on. I'll fix it for next time.

Saturday, we went to the White Water Preserve, the Hawk Lake Log Chute and Buttermilk Falls. It was a fast water day! A couple of Kayakers graced us with their presence at the whitewater, the forest trails were delightful at the Log Chute, and a couple of animals made it interesting at Buttermilk! We never did get in a group picture (see "Herding Cats", above!) and I wasn't particularly taking pictures, just mentoring and helping as a guide, so I only got a few:

"A roof over my head"! This was at the Log Chute, where they grow their fungi big! And I've always been considered a fun-guy... Just kidding, composite, of course. Genny told me where this mushroom was, coincidentally where Liz Gallo shot some a few years ago when she was blonde! (LOL). The little red leaf was there, I swear I didn't set it up! Genny, you did, right?

At Buttermilk Falls. This Great Blue Heron posed for us endlessly! 

A mink, doing whatever it is that minks do, right at the top of the falls above the dam. Fall Colours in the reflections... 

On Sunday, we went to the Lambs and Ivy antique barn for a change of pace, then over to Wintergreen for lunch, which everyone enjoyed.

At Lambs and Ivy. A four-shot focus stack with the 105 macro lens, then Topaz Impression 

This was actually enroute in the morning. It shows the state of the colours in the region this weekend. Still not at their peak! 

At a display in back of Wintergreen. I love window lighting! 

Monday was Algonquin Park Day. First came dawn at Raven Lake

Not much "dawn"! It even took some processing to see the clouds. Grey day, but that's not bad when you're shooting the colours!

We then went to Marsh Falls on the Oxtongue River. But I'm going to show you that picture at the bottom of this post... After that we went for breakfast, then entered the Park and some of us went up Arowhon Pines Road, one of my favourite spots! OK, it was my idea...

Last year, the colours were yellow and gold. This year, still green. Obviously gorgeous! 

The tour busses have found this road. Don't get me started on how inconsiderate they (or their passengers – every one with an iphone or ipad) are. I had to stand out in the road to prevent them from whipping past us at warp speed, spewing clouds of dust and dirt and threating to mow us down and shave off our car doors. 

We got the grey jays (whiskeyjacks) to come out and play again. Suet is apparently like catnip for them! All of the ones we saw were banded 

After lunch, some of us rounded up the trip with a walk around the Spruce Bog Boardwalk...

As Van Gogh might have painted it 

...and a stop at Killarney Lodge just to shoot their red canoes on the beach.

I was tired. So I sat down and shot this (there was another canoe there, but through the magic of Photoshop... 

Shot of the day

I saved this one for last. It's Marsh Falls, on the Oxtongue River where it meets Highway 35. Jack March, my neighbour and fellow club member, set this up for us, including making little direction signs and putting them up so our people could find the place. When we got there, he was just coming up from the falls, soaking wet. Seems "Marsh Falls" is also "March's Fall"! The rocks were very slippery. He didn't get hurt and he saved his camera, just bruised his ego!

I didn't venture down to the very bottom where he fell. But I did manage to capture this image:

The right shutter speed is essential to capture the essence of a waterfall. For a big expanse like a lake, you need several seconds. For a small trickle, a second or two. For wild water like the kayak spot on the Gull, 1/8 to 1/15 second. Here, I chose 1/4 second, although I shot a variety of speeds just to make sure. I want some texture in my shots, not just a featureless milky white.

In this case I was lucky that I could achieve this speed without stopping the lens all the way down (and introducing diffraction effects, blurring the sharp rocks). It was at the limit, though: 1/4 second at f/16, ISO 50. I could have put the polarizing filter on to bring it down one or more additional stops, or of course my ND3.0 filter which would take it down 10 full stops. I think this is one of my favourite waterfall shots ever. Hope you like it too!
Onward and upward! I suppose I should clean my house now... or I could just pour myself a scotch, put my feet up, and chill. What to do, what to do...

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