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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