Saturday, February 27, 2016

Keep on Learning.

I like to think that I'll only stop learning when I'm on the other side of the grass. With that in mind, I read and re-read books like Freeman Patterson's "The Art of Seeing", or Michael Freeman's "The Photographer's Eye" or Bruce Barnham's "The Art of Photography" and I seem to learn something new every time. I also look at fine art books with a view to seeing how painters approach their works, to try to apply it to my photography. We'll come back to that one.

Just so you don't think I'm one-dimensional, I also read Michio Kaku, other simpler theoretical physics books (it's been a long time, but I'm still interested), tons of crime and adventure fiction (I average 3 books a week), I listen to a lot of music (mostly guitar blues and jazz and amazing singers), I watch The Big Bang Theory religiously, and, back to photography and art, I look at many, many pictures on Facebook to see how other people do things. I spend a lot of time post-processing images in Lightroom and Photoshop and their ilk, as ALL of my regular readers know!

I also attended a workshop presented by Phil Gebhardt for the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club a couple of days ago and I admit to going in with an ulterior motive. I wanted to see how other instructors teach less-experienced photographers, in order to improve my teaching skills. I also wanted to see how he approached a topic near and dear to my heart, the lessons to be learned by modern photographers from the old time painting masters.

Phil Gebhardt, rimlighted! 

Phil's workshop, entitled "Lessons from Rembrandt"  was clearly not addressed at me, it was for new photographers. His message was that whether the medium is paint on canvas or pixels on a screen or photographic print, we're all trying to render a three-dimensional scene in two dimensions and he showed us some techniques in how to do that. His presentation covered points familiar to anyone who has taken any kind of composition course (in fairness, I have never even taken Art 101!) but that was his stated goal and he stuck to it.

Comments that I heard from the participants all around me indicated that he was very successful at opening some eyes: so kudo's, Phil. The only disappointing thing on my side were a couple of comments from people who had taken MY basic course who thought some of the concepts were new to them, although they were covered in my workshops (although in fairness, they were only part of the workshop which was more directed at the students' left brain). And he seemed to run out of things to say in the latter part of the course although that wasn't his fault, the continuing rain prevented us from going outside and shooting as he had planned.

I know this is long but I hope you're still with me. I did learn some things but more importantly, I came to an epiphany last night. Photographers and artists (paint and other media) are not the same. Generally their approach to their images are completely different, although there are a few exceptions. I've struggled with getting the point across about pre-visualization and careful composition and now I think I've figured out why.

How long does a photographer spend visualizing and planning and rendering his image? A photographer spends anywhere from no time at all (for a snapshot), some milliseconds or seconds (for an action shot), a couple of minutes (for a landscape or sunset, for example). Sure, there are exceptions. Pre-planning, lighting setups, backgrounds, etc. But once it's set up, it's just a matter of milliseconds to  take the picture.

Here's a Lake Superior seascape. I drove for 2 days to get this shot but it only took moments to shoot it. By the way, the Gales of November workshop still has space on October 27-30. Book now if you want to attend! 

I've posted this picture before. But it's an example of what I'm talking about. Although I had this picture in my mind before I even drove down Pleasant Point Road looking for a suitable subject, it still only took a few seconds to shoot it. I knew I wanted to emphasize the vertical lines and how to achieve it. I wasn't sure about the exposure or the shutter speed or how much to move the camera, so I took about a dozen shots until I was satisfied. And I knew that I would be able to enhance it once I got it back to the computer.

Now think about a painter. He has a blank canvas or sketchpad in front of him. He decides what he wants to put on that canvas and where. He thinks about how he wants to light it and where to guide the viewer's eye and what to include and what to exclude and what to change. He decides where to put that horizon, the proportions of the various elements and their relationship to one another, and will probably do an underpainting or sketch to block them into place. He chooses his colours and how he wants his brush strokes to look. Only then does he start putting paint on canvas and he pays attention to every detail, every brushstroke, every nuance.

I'm trying to learn to paint. But I'm a newbie. This is an attempt to render the scene in the photo above in oil on canvas. But it's different, isn't it? I thought about leading the viewer's eye. I thought about how the distant objects are less sharp and detailed or even saturated than the foreground. I needed to lean a tree in the left group to make it more dynamic. I had to fill the negative space at lower left and upper right without drawing the viewer's attention. 
Would I sell this original oil painting? Well, yes, but you'd have to make it worth my while. Think about having an early original 'Springer' and what it might be worth after I'm gone!

Sure there are photographers who work similarly – Ansel Adams comes immediately to mind. Or anyone doing commercial studio work. But for most photographers, "oh, look, a Pine Marten", and a barrage of tens or 100's or 1000's of images follow. Then they winnow through this multitude of images in the hopes of finding one or two that work.

So how do we photographers take these "Lessons from Rembrandt"? I've often said "you have to know the rules so you know when to break them". There are those who disagree with this platitude and I respect their points of view but stand by mine. Except that's not really the message, maybe I can explain it better.

This is the paragraph I'm having the most trouble writing. It relates to the relative laziness of the photographer, the lack of investment he or she has in their images. If a painter screws up a picture (or just doesn't like it), he or she throws away hours, or days or possibly even weeks of work. If a photographer screws up a picture, "oh, well". Click. What if a photographer were to invest more in an image? Not money: time and thought and planning. We tell everyone about this great world we live in, how much better we have it than the oldtimers who were limited to only a few images when they went out shooting but do we really? What if we would approach each image as if pressing that shutter release cost $100 every time we did it? 
Do we need to be more careful with our exposures or focus? NO, not really! That's our advantage in this digital world. That's where we can bracket or shoot multiple shots. Where we can USE the technology.
Would we not then spend more effort designing and planning our images? When we press the shutter release we should ask ourselves, "is this the best I can do? What can I do to improve this picture? Is this going to be a keeper?"

Depending on what you're shooting, you may not have the luxury of all the time in the world. Even if you're shooting landscapes, the light will change. If you're shooting action (could be wildlife, could be sports, could just be kids at play) or particularly if you're trying to capture peoples' activities or expressions, maybe a wedding or a headshot... you don't have the time. Do you want to spend what precious time you have trying to remember the Rule of Thirds or keeping your horizon level, or making the subject stand out through size or colour or value or brightness or contrast or how much exposure compensation to dial in...? That's why you should know the 'rules', know what works, so you can focus your valuable attention on the things that will make that image outstanding.

Make sense?

I think I STILL haven't found a way to say it.

Did you ever have one of "Those" days?

Yesterday. I had a great visit with my mom in Thornhill. On the way there, I stopped for some pictures: I was actually looking for Snowy Owls, but didn't see one, still, the ice-encrusted branches made for interesting images. I took the same route home and again got some not-owl shots.

However on the way home, I stopped for a bathroom break at a gas station in Georgina. I put my cellphone down, and remember specifically telling myself not to forget it. Seriously, I actually told myself not to forget it, literally 5 seconds before leaving the bathroom. You know what's coming, right?

Three hours. I knew exactly where I had left it. It took me an hour to get back there and two more hours to get home. It's my only phone so leaving it for a few days was not an option.

I've lost/forgotten stuff before: but never this bad. Is it just age, or the early onset of you-know-what? I can't find any of my drybags (I use them to keep condensation from forming in my camera when I bring it in from the cold). So I had to buy a new one. I can't find any of my half-dozen flashlights (well, one...) so I bought some new ones yesterday. I go in the grocery store without a shopping list and I can't remember why I'm there. {sigh}.

Anyway, here are some pictures from yesterday.

The trees were coated with a rime of ice and it was capturing the light snow as it fell. I saw this tree and stopped to shoot it. However, I had the long lens on (hoping to see a snowy owl) so even at its widest setting – 150mm – I couldn't get the whole tree in. So I deliberately shot a sequence of nine pictures: starting at lower right, three across, then back across the middle, then the top. I stitched these together with Lightroom CC 2015.4's marvelous new pano-merge feature. The resulting image was almost 150 megapixels in size – so big that I couldn't save it in the normal fashion! It did the job flawlessly. Then I decided it needed some textures and toning... 

Like I said, a rime of ice. This is basically right out of the camera, although I did work on the toning a little.  Surprisingly good given that it was handheld at 600mm (1/1000 second at f/6.3, ISO 5600)

This picture needed some noise reduction. Topaz Labs announced the latest version of DeNoise (6) a couple of days ago and I used it. I simply dialed in the preset for the D800 at 6400 ISO and clicked "go". Wow.

Topaz DeNoise 6 Upgrade
From now until March 20th, Topaz DeNoise 6 is on sale for $30 off their regular price of $79.95. Worth it at twice the price! You can download a free trial to see how it works for you before buying it, but you have to complete the transaction by the 20th of March to get the discounted price. 
Here's the link to the Topaz Labs page: Topaz DeNoise
Use that link, and enter "NOISEFREE" in the coupon code box at checkout to get the discount.
PS: If you already own deNoise your upgrade is free. You probably got an email from Topaz but if not, use the link and download the new version. It will recognize your existing serial number when you install it.

Here's one of these "I can't decide which picture I like best" questions. I hate when people do this on Facebook ("which one do you like, colour or black-and-white?") so forgive me.

The first image is a considered landscape. Diagonal leading lines, hazier in the distance, framed by the dark foliage... it tell the story of this rural house of worship on a snowy winter day.

The second image came to me when I was looking through the viewfinder, composing the first one. I loved the textures of the bricks and I wanted to make that the story. I wanted to make the church stand out from the softness of its ice-covered surroundings.

Snowy owls sometimes perch on that roof. That's why I was there...
— 30 —

Sunday, February 21, 2016

One Swell Foop (Not)

Sometimes I like writing this blog all in one swell foop. But occasionally I'll start writing an article, then revisit it a few days later when something interesting happens that I can add in. Doing it this way (a bit at a time) makes it more topical for me and hopefully for you. But it does make it somewhat disjointed, with a bunch of non-related topics! Sort of a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing. Hope that floats your boat!

Last week, I showed you a picture of a bunch of ice huts teetering on the edge of falling through the ice on Mountain Lake, because we had several days of unseasonably warm temperatures and two days of rain. Not to worry, they didn't fall through. Today is a whole other thing.

Country Living Challenges (part 2)

Last night, we reached -33°C with a wind chill of 44 below. My sump pump line froze up (it does every year) so I had to run a temporary line (I have two of them; when one freezes, I bring it in to defrost in the bathtub!). I'm hoping I got it right this time: if it has a continuous downhill slope, the water should just flush out of the hose and not stay in there to freeze.

This is the setup. I think I solved it: I was just out there (next day) and it isn't frozen up. By the way, this is a pano created using Lightroom CC 2015.4 in about 5 seconds! Four shots, and the new boundary warp feature is awesome!

if anyone is interested, here are the details.  The pipe at left is the problem: it runs underground across my driveway and even though there's a heatline connection (not sure it works) it freezes every year. I think it's because it comes up at the other end and water sitting in the pipe freezes. The connection in the house goes to the sump pump in the crawlspace. I attached the flexible hose and ran it up further to the hook you see (the check valve will let water drain back down into the sump).

Then I used this old metal frame to stretch the hose downhill. The logs are there to help support it when the water is running, and there's a bungee cord holding it in position where it drops on the right. 

Then I used an old piece of eavestroughing to keep it straight and a couple of logs to keep the end of the hose out of the frozen water on the ground. 

Pretty ugly, but it works (I hope!). I'm going to have a skating rink behind my house but I just use that area to turn the car around so I can back it into the garage.

PS: It's two days later and yesterday's temperatures were well above freezing. Water everywhere and the lake ice is dangerous. Such a weird winter!

FWIW, this is how I transport my firewood into the house. Beats carrying armloads! I generally split the wood this small, I find it burns more easily. 

When I woke up this morning, it was still 27 below. I had posted that I was planning to stay inside today but I had to go out to fix the sump pump line, so I bundled up and went out. Wool longjohns, snow pants, thinsulate jacket liner, down jacket, sheepskin hat, insulated mittens, the whole works. You know what? It was a beautiful day! So I hopped on the 4-wheeler and took a run out on the ice. No spectacular pictures (I had to take my glove off to shoot. THAT was cold). Then my face got cold. I headed back in. But just to prove I was there:

It doesn't really look that cold. Trust me. It was. 

There are people whom I know TENT-CAMPING in Algonquin Park this weekend. I submit that they must be of a different species. Even when I was young I wasn't that foolish! 

That was yesterday. Today is crispy cold beautiful again.

A chickadee trying to keep warm at -25°C. This was shot with my 70-200 f/2.8 shooting at f/8, 1/320 sec, ISO 640 and cropped. I was right to send back that cheap 500mm mirror lens. Have to find a way to get a Nikon 400mm lens. A lot of people are telling me that using black-and-white for nature shots isn't really appropriate: but I thought in this case, the detail comes out better. 

OK, I did buy a new lens

Well, mint condition used. I bought a Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens because I can't afford the one I really want, the Nikon 200-400 f/4 which is only $7000 at B&H (but it's backordered, so I guess I have to pass on it!).

I took a couple of test shots with it. I was hoping to see a pine marten attacking a rabbit on the side of Hwy 118 on the way home, but no such luck! Maybe tomorrow, when we're going looking for bald eagles. In the meantime...

I shot this at 1/1000 second, f/8, ISO 1100, 600mm handheld. After seeing this picture on my camera LCD, I agreed to buy the lens.The blowup isn't quite 100% but you get the picture. Stay tuned...
I think notwithstanding the shake reduction (Tamron calls it "Vibration Compensation") I'm going to try to stick to  the 1/focal length rule until I can test how effective it is. That means, 1/1000 at f/8 is going to be my go-to setting when shooting handheld at 600mm.

I did go out in search of telephoto subjects on Friday. Larry and I went to the Scotch Line landfill (euphemism for "garbage dump"!) because there be bald eagles there. So here's the 600mm doing its thing:

This was cropped a bit, it's about half-a-frame. However it took a fair bit of post-processing to get it looking this sharp. Shutter speed was a bit low – 1/400 sec – but I was on a tripod. The lens does autofocus pretty quickly.

"Mom and Dad and little Eddie" (you know — 'Eddie the Eagle'...). Rico suggested another name for this image: "Family Tree". Again it took a lot of work to get it this sharp. I've had a lot of good comments on it in Facebook. Same shutter speed, shooting at f/8, ISO 2000. Technically, not the greatest image: it's quite noisy if you blow it up.

So how do I feel about this lens? It's not a $10,000 piece of Nikon glass. But I think with some practice and work, it will do a good job for me, especially at places like Carden Plain in the Spring.

From the sporadic musings department...

 1. Do as I say, not as I do
I'm typing on a new keyboard and have a new mouse too. Both wireless, both from Logitech. My old one more-or-less died last week, they've been working sporadically so I dug out an old wired set for the time being.
I should learn not to eat at the keyboard. You would not believe all the crumbs that came out of both of the older keyboards when I turned them upside down and shook them. Unbelievable. 
Oh, by the way, I'm sitting here enjoying some cranberry-almond thins, they're like tasty crunchy baguettes. There are already a couple of crumbs on the new keyboard! {sigh}
2. Like a kid in a candy store
On my way home yesterday, via the 400/11/118 (I went that way to meet Mike with the Tamron lens) I stopped at Cabela's in Barrie, at Missy Mandel's suggestion. I had told her I was planning to go to Bass Pro to buy some camo's for bird shooting and she suggested I try Cabela's instead. Good call, Missy.
They're both about the same size – huge – with similar products and selection, but I think Cabela's might be a bit higher end. I've dealt with Cabela's before, by mail order from Nebraska. I still have a Goretex duck hunting shell from 25 years ago; the Goretex isn't completely waterproof any more, it was time to replace it, but the quality is great and it lasted forever.
Anyway, put me in a store like that and I'm a kid in a candy store. It's like going to Costco, you know, "just to pick up one item"... so I now have a set of waterproof camo pants and parka, both on sale, plus some other stuff. Don't ask.
They also carry camo ground blinds that would be great for bird shooting. They weren't on sale so no hurry, but I'm tempted.

This one's a folding chair surrounded by a camo shell, which you can easily carry, then pop it open and sit down. The sales guy told me he also uses it for ice fishing (don't look at me. I'm not sitting out there in the cold!) Only about $100. There's another one that's tall, designed for archery shooters, but I could easily stand up in it. And bigger ones for more than one person. Hmmm.  By the way, doesn't that look like a Pine Marten crawling into the blind? It's not, but it sure looks like it in this picture!

PS: re Gales of November

I have expressions of interest from enough people to fill up the second session. But they're sitting back, not committing yet. Folks, if you want to attend this, you need to get booked or you might be disappointed. There is still space available October 27-30.  October 20-23 is technically full, but a couple of people have said they could do either weekend, so we might be able to shuffle. in case you lost the address.

Several people have said they'd like to find someone to (a) car pool with and/or (b) share a room with. If that's you, contact me. I can probably help.

The day before (nobody said this had to be in chronological order!), the weather was also exciting. We had huge snow squalls, to the point where visibility was down to zero on the highway. In-between, there were some great photo ops.

I want to preface this by adding that I've been re-reading Freeman Patterson's "Photography and the Art of Seeing", and improving my visual thinking was in my mind as I was driving home. I stopped by the roadside because the patterns of the trees and the dead hanging leaves caught my eye. Here's one result:

This is what I saw. Not only the red leaves, but also the pastel, charcoal-like trees half-hidden in the blowing snow. That's what I wanted to capture. 

Instead of driving straight home, I headed down Pleasant Point Road. I had something in mind:

I viewed this scene through a painter's eye. I plan to put oil paint on canvas, using this image as a source. Stay tuned. 

There was also this scene:

No doubt you've seen images like this one: the technique is not new, it involves moving the camera while the shutter is open. I've done many of these over time but this one seems to capture the depth and the textures the way I saw them. By the way, the magic of this image is that it is 100% "Straight out of Camera". Nothing was done to it, not even a crop or exposure adjustment. A departure for me.

— 30 —

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are we having fun yet?

From the 'sporadic musings department

Just expressing some outrage about a comment on Facebook, not even directed at me. The discussion was about ice fishing in Algonquin Park (not allowed, it's a fish sanctuary in winter according to the ministry) but someone posted that it probably doesn't apply to (various racial and ethnic groups I don't even want to type the list here.) One phrase he used was 'colored people' (note the American spelling...). He also disparaged Syrian refugees. I took issue.

I said I was a 'coloured person'. I said my skin is mostly pink but some people call it white, but why does that matter? I got fried by at least one person supporting him, who said they were of native origin and they didn't take offence, so why should I? And also that "you don't live here" (well, actually I do...).

So I'm outraged. I probably should have a thicker (pink) skin, then again NO! It's 2016, not that that should make any difference either, but what really got me was that Facebook said his message didn't contravene their 'social standards'. Bullshit.

I also watched a news item about a Detroit suburban cop who was sentenced to 1-10 years for tuning up a guy just because he was 'driving while black'.

OK, rant over. Share the link to this blog if you agree. You can now resume your regular programming.

Just for fun!

My D800 with Opteka 500mm mirror lens
and 2x teleconverter attached. 

Some years ago, I had a 500mm mirror lens for my old D70 (I just had it for a short time and it got lost in the mail but that's a whole other story!). They're not very good, they're fixed aperture (f/6.3 or 8), manual focus, the glass isn't up to Nikon standards and due to the geometry, the bokeh is pretty ugly.

Why did I buy it? Because I can't afford a long super-telephoto from Nikon (unless I sell my car!) and I wanted a chance at reaching out for some long distance birds. I'm sure I'm not going to get any images I can print 20x30, but maybe something acceptable at web- or projection-size. With the teleconverter, it's a 1000mm f/10 lens! Why did I buy it? $150 delivered to my door. Canadian dollars. From Amazon, by the way.

So a few hand-held tests the day I got it confirmed my impression: I don't think I'll be blowing anything up to 1:1

This is an uncropped picture of an ice fishing hut 1/4 of a mile away across the ice. Yes, I did some post-processing to try to get the maximum
sharpness out of it. 1/1000 second, 1000mm, ISO 800.

I'm going to need to shoot at 1/1600 second handheld with the teleconverter, and probably 1/1000 second with it attached: but the beauty of the D800 is its low noise at high ISO, so I just may be able to get away with it.

When I get a chance, I'll try it on the tripod. A good test would be to shoot the same image with the Nikon glass an crop it to the same size to see a comparison. I will when I get some time. Meanwhile, hey! 1000mm for $150!  Just for fun.

OK, update. You get what you pay for. After a week or so of trying, I couldn't get a reasonable picture out of this lens no matter what I did. BUT: I bought it on Amazon, and guess what? They're taking it back and giving me a full refund. Not only that, they're paying the postage! Kudo's to Amazon for great customer service. 

When life gives you lemons, you know what to do, right? Use Topaz Impression! That's the blurry door handle on the ATV shed at the Red Umbrella Inn, uncropped, 1000mm handheld. 1/2000 second, ISO 2000. Now a fine art impressionistic piece!

Once again, the original was unacceptably blurry so I made lemonade in post-processing. I tried all of the sharpening tricks, still not good enough, so Topaz Impression to the rescue! This is a male house finch that dropped into my feeder today with his significant other. Last sequence I shot with the lens before packing it up for return. 1/800 sec, ISO 1800, 500mm, f/6.3.

Trying out a mirrorless camera

Sony Alpha A6000
picture borrowed from the web 
A friend of mine has too many cameras in the house and decided that this one – almost new and still under warranty – has to go. Since I've put aside a few dollars for such eventualities, I thought I'd have a look at it. What I'm writing here is my first impression, after about an hour of playing with it. My intention is to add to this as I go along and render my decision whether to buy it by the time I finish this article!

My motivation to look at it was the announcement from Sony of the A6300 a couple of days ago. In many ways it could even be considered to be an upgrade from my D800: higher ISO capability, faster burst rate, lightning fast autofocus. It does 4K video but I don't do video but you never know... then I remembered that my friend had the A6000 and I called her and asked if I could try it before buying it.

Clearly the other reason was the gradual accumulation of lenses and accessories for my D800 putting me at the point now where I have to decide which lenses to take with me since I can't take them all! I haven't actually weighed my basic bag (camera plus three lenses and accessories) but I'll bet it would exceed airline carry-on limitations, not to mention my back. It's got this great swiveling LCD that might save my knees, and of course it's relatively tiny. 24Mp APS-C sensor, by the way.

It took me a little while to figure out the menu system and start to set it up. At one point, it wouldn't take a picture even though it autofocused and appeared ready to shoot. I still don't know why. I have it in manual but can't figure out yet how to vary the aperture without going into the menu. I know, I know: RTFM. But there really isn't a printed manual, there's an online "manual" that really just says what the controls do, I've just started working through it. I'm reading that you can buy a decent manual from third parties.

So here's a photo I took on the way home from picking it up.

This was with the 55-210mm lens at 210mm. Cropped a little, otherwise nothing special done in post.  

I shot this image with the same lens, zoomed out to 88mm and some post-processing. Too bad the sun had disappeared.

By the way, off-topic, it got warm and rainy last week. Those ice fishing huts are sitting on Mountain Lake and the ice surface is covered with water. You couldn't pay me enough to go out there although clearly the buildings haven't fallen in yet. Maybe in a hovercraft, wearing a dry suit and floater coat, with a helicopter standing by...

Anyway, that's day 1 with the A6000. Battery life seems to be a problem since the LCD/Live View is always on, but we'll see. Stay tuned.

On the way home from Toronto on Saturday, I wandered over to the spot where some Snowy Owls have been seen... nada. So nothing to shoot with the 500mm lens. A little later I stopped for my "mid-drive nap" (better than having one while driving!) at the York Regional Forest on Ravenshoe Road. Got out for a stretch and saw an interesting little trail through the forest, so I got out the Sony camera, put on the 16-55mm lens and took a few shots.
This fellow came along – his name is Jay and I think he said his brother had something to do with building this refuge many years ago – and he was riding this trail bicycle with studded tires (needed because the trail was slick with ice). He cycled away for yet another lap around the forest. He subsequently emailed me a picture of himself cycling in Moab, UT 'way up high on a ridge.
Anyway, I hope you like this photo, Jay:

I've decided NOT to buy this Sony A6000 mirrorless. Although it's a great little camera and I'd likely use it a fair bit, there were a couple of reasons for my decision. (a) I'd be forever trying to decide which camera to take with me (and probably end up taking both!); (b) the 'operating system' is very different from my Nikon DSLR. Some things that I take for granted are much harder to implement, but admittedly a lot of it would simply be learning curve. Rico (whom I ran into on Saturday night and who has an A6000 to complement his Canon) put it well when he pointed out that it's very menu-driven where, he guessed, I would be more comfortable with a camera that controls more via external controls.

The biggest argument in favour of buying it was the fact that I would have been able to just toss it in a pocket for a hike down the trail instead of carrying a 50 lb camera bag (and STILL not having the right lens with me when I came across something I wanted to shoot)!

I'm not ruling out going mirrorless. I actually see it as inevitable but I'm not ready for it yet.

Gales of November workshop update

The October 20-23 weekend is FULL so we opened a second session the following weekend: October 27-31. That's already starting to fill up so if you're thinking about it, you'd better get in touch! 

We may have a space or two on the first weekend because a couple of people are thinking about switching to the second session. Contact me!

The web page with details is at

The challenges of Country Living

A couple of nights ago I woke up around 2 or 3am hearing noises outside. When you live in the country, it's quiet. I hear when my sump pump comes on. Or the water heater. I figured this was some kind of animals, although I remember thinking it can't be bears because they're hibernating. I went back to sleep.

Next morning I looked out my kitchen window and saw this:

What the Hell? My property is surrounded by these pine trees, all big and healthy. Why are all these branches down? Have I been feeding the squirrels too much in my bird feeders? 

Near as I can tell, we had freezing rain in the night that coated the branches, thick enough to break them (we've had ice before... never broke like this!) when a burst of wind came up. It warmed up in the morning so the ice melted. That's my best guess. I asked around, some other people had some damaged trees too, but nothing at the Inn across the road or down the road, as far as I could tell.

Big healthy branches.

It took me about 3 hours of work to drag these to the brush pile behind my garage. I used the ATV, couldn't have done it by hand.

Anyone want some fresh pine boughs? Smells great! Free for the taking. This is my brush pile. 

Here's a Topaz Impression sketch:

By the way, the first two pictures were done with the iPhone, the second two with the Sony A6000. I also did a video with the Sony of me dragging the brush to the back but it's 78Mb, so I haven't put it up anywhere.

Speaking of the challenges of country living, there are good things and bad things that happen when the temperature wanders down to around -30°C. First of all, I fully expect my sump pump line to freeze up – it has every year. When it does, I have to go out and disconnect the line, and connect up a temporary outside line, or the pump will keep going continuously. That always happens between 2am and 3am...

The other day my smoke detector started emitting low battery beeps. Naturally, at 2:30 am. Since it's up on a 12' ceiling, I had to go out to the garage to get the big ladder. Then I climbed up to discover it was the OTHER one beeping. And only one spare battery.

City folks generally don't heat with firewood. I do (I have oil heat but the fire is better and cheaper). So today, my job list included chopping some kindling and bringing in three loads of firewood (I load about 25 pieces on my snow scoop and drag it to the door). One of the three loads was wood I bought this year, it'll burn OK if I have a hot bed of coals going. I also plowed the driveway , then found the trickle charger for the ATV battery because it'll be tough to start when it's 30 below. I also cleared the snow off the satellite dish with my extending snow rake.

Here's the good side, though. As I write this, I'm looking out at a beautiful bluebell and gold sky sunset over the lake. The snow is a clean, beautiful white. I've had blue jays, chickadees, two species of woodpeckers, nuthatches and house finches at the feeder. And the ubiquitous red squirrels. It's crystal clear at 25 below zero and the snow squeaks when you walk on it. I might sojourn out on the lake tomorrow if I'm not feeling too chilly after my trip to the landfill and the post office. And there are no mosquitoes!

Also I live less than an hour from Algonquin Park. Maybe I'll drive up on the weekend. Oh wait, 30 below...

I could shoot stars tonight... nah. Too cold. Well, we'll see...

Here's something else most of you city folk aren't used to. I've been using my cast iron skillet (and saucepan – you can see it at the top of the picture with the other little skillet) constantly. I've finally got it to the point where nothing sticks to it, it's perfectly seasoned. My trick for keeping them that way? Rinse it out while it's still hot, and occasionally brush a tiny amount of oil on it before it cools. I just use a paper towel.

Cheesy chicken and rice and broccoli casserole hot out of the oven, made in my cast iron skillet. The beauty of it is, you can start on the stove then just throw it in the oven to keep baking. Try doing omelets that way! Awesome. This is just a quick iPhone photo.

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