Sunday, January 31, 2016

Winter at last!

from the 'sporadic musings' department...

I love photography but I think I love music more.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a musician. How to explain...

There's a certain joy you feel when you see a painting or a photo but hearing a piece of music that moves you is a whole other thing. Pictures don't bring tears to my eyes or that feeling in my heart that music does. Perhaps these are the ramblings of an aging man but I wish I could have expressed myself with music more. I can't play any instrument well. Not keyboard, guitar or bass, all of which I've had flings with over the years, and I haven't been able to sing since my surgeries a decade ago affected my vocal cords (come on. You've heard of "Simon, Garfunkel and Springer", haven't you? So now I just listen and try not to imagine playing.

I so enjoy virtuosity. Your list probably won't agree with all my choices (yeah, you probably WON'T if you're younger than I, as most of you are!) but can you argue when I mention Oscar Peterson? Or Barbra Streisand? What about Stevie Ray Vaughan? Or Tommy Emmanuel? Or specific renditions of certain songs, like Neil Larsen on the Hammond B3 behind Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"? Haley Reinhart doing "House of the Rising Sun" (here) (or "Moanin'" with Casey Abrams), or Jena Irene covering Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love" on American Idol (here). I'd better stop now or I'll be listing songs and artists forever!

You realize that writing these paragraphs took HOURS, of course. I had to take time out to listen to some of these songs (I even invested an hour watching a Streisand concert on YouTube, here).

I love/hate Facebook

There are lots of reasons to hate it. Many of them obvious. I'm not going to dwell on those. I think I've minimized them by limiting my "friends" list to people I know or fellow photographers whose work I admire. I'm active in several groups, but only a handful of them where I've enabled notification, so if I understand it correctly, the bulk of what I see in my newsfeed comes from those. Again populated by people I know or respect (major exception: the Photoshop and Lightroom Group where there are people whom I can help). For the most part, I've learned to simple scroll past posts that I consider nonsense and noise. Occasionally I get drawn it, which is why I hate it!

But Facebook is a resource for knowledge and information. There are countless people out there researching and finding and sharing things that you wouldn't find on your own. Great music and images and stories and learning. One case in point is an article I read today, written by Tavis Leaf Glover and shared by Vincent Versace who has a lot of insight into making pictures.

Here's a link to the article itself. I encourage you to read it, especially if you're a photographer.

Here's the comment I made after reading the article:
Good article. ALMOST makes me want to turn on my left brain again, Although I agree that the rule of thirds is hackneyed and there are other ways to compose an image, it serves the purpose of making the photographer at least THINK about composition before snapping the shutter. 
 It's easier to deconstruct an image than to construct one. One has to wonder if the classical artists were consciously using various composition rules when they created their art: I think not. I think they unconsciously or subconsciously recognized how to achieve the desired effect, that's what makes – made – them artists. Today we have the opportunity to see tens of thousands of images and create a mindset that subconsciously tells us what we like and what we don't like and we apply it to our vision as we look through the viewfinder. 
 The article did make me think. It made me finally go out and order Michael Freeman's book "The Photographer's Eye". It reminded me to think about balancing elements and gestalt theory. It put me back on the path of pre-visualization. Give me another 70 years and maybe I'll be an artist. 
One of the things I don't necessarily agree with is Glover's caveat, "get it right in camera, don't crop and waste valuable pixels..." (paraphrasing). That's why I bought a D800. It has loads of pixels to spare. Often I don't have time to compose images in the field (certainly not when it involves living moving things!) so I try to include all the essential elements to extract later.

Now I'm almost afraid to post pictures since I'm doubting my composition ability! Not every picture has to be a piece of art, though. However they all have to tell a story!

Gales of November

This is another rendering of the pano that I shot in September. This time I edited it using the new "Boundary Warp" feature in Lightroom CC 2015.4. It rendered quickly and beautifully but only from the middle exposures in my bracketed shots.

This is a 360° pano image that consists of 6 original images shot with a 17mm lens on my full-frame D800. I was able to increase the coverage of this picture by about one-third by increasing the boundary warp to 100%. By the way, it's 94 megapixels in size, 22k x 4.2k pixels. LR rendered it in about one minute. I pixel-peeped at 100% and I'm unable to find a visible seam. Colour me impressed. When you blow it up, you can see every grain of sand, every pine needle. That's due to the superb lens and of course, the D800. Obviously you're not seeing the detail here on the blog! I toned the image in Lightroom and used Topaz Clarity to bring out the clouds. No cropping, no other edits.

If you click on the image it blows up only to the 800 pixel width that I rendered for this blog. However I have also uploaded a larger version here. Still only 4000 pixels wide (to keep it a reasonable size) but depending on your browser, if you click in the picture, you can see some of the detail.

The October 20-23 session is FULL. Amazingly fast! So fast that planning is under way for a second session a week later, October 27-30 (we still can't wait for November!).

It's an inexpensive outing in a spectacular place. Check it out.

As I write this, I haven't yet updated the web page to reflect that fact, and David hasn't put the booking page in place for the second weekend. I need to know who's interested in coming so we can make it happen, so please take a moment to email me and tell me if you're thinking about it. I'm giving some thought to gearing the second session more to 'intermediate' than to 'advanced' photographers, so more tutorials, more hands-on coaching. What do you think? Tell me!

Most of the information, other than dates, is exactly like the original weekend session, which you can read about here:

update: It's official and the site is up! Go have a look!

Winter's here

I was going to say it's a weird winter, but it's just a little late. Last day of January as I write this, and  ice fishing – the mainstay of the winter economy up here in the Highlands – is just getting underway. Another snowmobiler died yesterday when he went through the ice so we all have to think about being careful out there.

Ice racing is happening in Minden. I spent an hour or so there yesterday and if you can, you should drop by. It's at the fairgrounds on Bobcaygeon Road. It's hard to capture the feeling with still photographs, you have to experience these guys driving faster on an ice-covered track than most of us can on dry pavement.

The lines on the ice surface give this a sense of motion, even though the shot was taken at 1/1000 second to freeze the action. 

The driver in the orange and black car at right was head-and-shoulders better than anyone else on the ice. In fact, he held back at the start line, giving everyone half-a-lap lead and not only won the race but pulled over near the end to let people catch up and unlap themselves. I'm told it was Tom Prentice, but I don't know for sure.

Some drivers weren't as good, or at least were driving beyond their abilities. Good thing they had snowbanks! I saw one car climb halfway up an embankment but nobody had an accident while I was there. 

Fender benders don't count. Imagine driving 100kph on a pure ice track, competing for position and trying to pass (or not be passed) in a chicane, while sliding sideways in a full 4-wheel drift. These are street studs, by the way, not racing studs (which are much longer). It's interesting that these are the exact winter tires I have on my car (less the studs)!

This is one of the drivers. I'm sorry, I didn't get his name but I thought the picture is compelling. So I don't know who he is either! Made you look. He said, "I thought you were taking pictures of my car, not me!" I was... He said, "be careful not to scratch the paint on my car!" LOL 

Picture of the week

I ventured out on the ice on 12-Mile Lake a couple of days ago, on my 4-wheeler. I was assured by people who seem to know, that there's an 8" (20cm) thickness of hard water, almost enough to support a car, but some spots are thinner than others, wherever there's moving water. After 8 years here, I basically know where that is, but still I was being cautious. That's my ATV in the photo.

I want to comment on the composition. As you'll see below, when I shot the image I had the horizon in the middle but that's because when I shot it, I wasn't sure if I wanted to add drama by including foreground or feature the sky. So I left room to crop. 

This is one of the original images, SOOC ("Straight out of the Camera"). This was one of five, in fact it was the darkest one because I had my exposure comp set for +1. The finished one was an HDR merge in LR, some toning adjustments including de-haze, small crop to move the horizon, graduated screen toning and colour temperature/saturation adjustment on the sky, some spot toning on the ATV and hut, burn in on the bottom ATV tracks, that's pretty well it. Oh, and a small vignette because Ansel Adams said that a picture isn't finished until the edges are burned a little. About 15 minutes in LR, never took it to Photoshop. 

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Gales of November site is LIVE!

The Gales of November site is LIVE!

We've settled on the weekend of October 20th, 2016. There's room for a dozen photographers and as I write this, I know of 5 who have already booked, and Rock Island Lodge implied that there are a couple of others they haven't told me about yet.

So if you want to attend, you'd best hop to it. First come, first served.
 (I COULD do a second weekend if enough people want me to.)
Here's the link: check it out!

Revised Banner shot

If you check out the banner picture at the top of the blog, it's an abstract rendering of a shot I was trying to make on New Year's Eve but then I experimented after the fact in Photoshop. The original was an attempt to isolate the dead tree against the snowy background... it was "OK", but needed something.

Here's the old blog banner that I replaced (I post the old ones in the blog so they don't disappear forever):

Haven't tried it yet...

I mentioned a few weeks ago that when doing timelapses using my iphone to drive the camera through TriggerTrap, the phone battery was the limiting factor. I could only do about an hour and a half, the camera battery lasted longer. So I searched eBay for an external battery pack and paid the princely sum of $5.88 US including shipping for this one:

not my picture. Screen capture from the eBay page. 

The specs say it's got about 3x the capacity of the regular iPhone battery so it should do. Now I need to wait for some clear skies for a chance to give it a try. It was a little confusing at first because the cable didn't match the new "Lightning" connector on the phone (which I like because you don't have to worry about which way around it is, it plugs in both ways, but I dislike it because none of my old charging cables will fit!). Then I realized you use the regular iPhone charging cable and plug it into the USB connector on the power pack.

If I want to do serious day-long timelapses, I'll have to look into external power for the camera too. On the list...

It comes in various colours. I was going to buy pink but then I though...

I wrote that a few days ago. I have tried it now and it works... but I haven't pushed it to see how much power it's providing. I ran about 200 images for a timelapse and had 93% power left on the iPhone. I'll do more later.

More Pine Marten pictures!

They're so deceivingly cute. I went up to Algonquin Park yesterday with Ron Goodlin and Rob Kline in search of wildlife, and I'm glad they weren't disappointed! Neither of them had seen Pine Martens before and the machine gun sound of Ron's D4 at 11 fps or whatever was more or less continuous!

I commented to someone that I was tired of seeing someone's endless cat pictures (s/he shall remain nameless). Cute enough, if you like cats – which I don't – but the're all the same. The response was, "yeah, should we talk about Pine Martens"? Guilty as charged!

Frankly, I don't understand how he does it. I went with the pressure and when I got home, discovered that I had shot 340 images. But as I culled and rated them there were so many identical. It was hard to decide which to keep and which to discard. I ended up throwing out about 200 shots. That said, there was one sequence where s/he opened and closed his or her mouth and I might have missed this shot if I hadn't been shooting in burst (my D800 only does about 4 fps — enough for me!).

I opined that these animals (Pine Martens are members of the weasel family. They may look cute but they're really mean like minks and fishers. They're carnivores, but these particular ones have become too accustomed to humans and our garbage.

Still, they make fine photo subjects, so here are a few more shots.

I suspect these are siblings from this year's litter. I posted this image on FB with the caption, "OK, here's the plan, sis. I'm going to run that way and stop and pose for the cameras every now and then. You go the other way and see if you can pick up some food for us without them spotting you. Ready? On 3...."

I think this is my favourite from this batch. I've long known that wide angle shots which include more of the environment tell a story better than closeups. I took some artistic liberties with the background to make it stand out less.

By the way, some people preferred to shoot other things. To each his own...

Ten feet away from where the Pine Martens were playing, this was set up to photograph chickadees. Sorry, I don't get it! There are a million of these around everyone's bird feeders, why go to Algonquin and ignore the martens to shoot these. Bird photographers are quirky! 

Nikon D5/D500

Nikon has announced the new D5 ($6500 US) and D500 ($2000 US, same processor and sensor, but DX not FX and "Prosumer" not professional build. It's the successor to the D300). Available in March. OUTRAGEOUS ISO capability: ISO 3,480,000 and 1,280,000 respectively. I remember thinking you could shoot 1/1,000,000 sec at f/16 in the dark!

I haven't yet seen any images posted of any high-ISO shots, other than a sneak peek someone caught of an LCD at the Consumer Electronics Show. But I'm just imagining the noise performance at more "normal" levels like ISO 6400 or 12,800. I think these cameras are going to mitigate the need for big aperture lenses for certain applications – I'm thinking about those $15000 monster telephotos. You'll be able to shoot at f/8 all day.

We live in interesting times!

...speaking of Snowy Owls...

We were, right? My bad, I guess not! 

Only one I've seen so far this year  

When I came across this ladybird, there was a group of conservation types hanging around. They were there, banding the owls. I asked how! They use traps baited with pigeons. I hung around for a while (until it was too dark!) hoping they would capture one so I could photograph the affair: that would be awesome! Too bad they didn't.

While I was waiting, the setting sun illuminated these greenhouses behind me. Check it out!

It actually looked even BETTER through the viewfinder but this was the best I could do, with a multi-shot HDR and Topaz software.

One for the road.

Snowflakes are TOUGH! There's quite a bit of post-processing work in this one and I haven't yet really nailed the focus. Thought I'd share anyway! 

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