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!).

— 30 —

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.  

— 30 —

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 —