Friday, May 20, 2016

Spring at last!

Someone came up to me yesterday and said, "I didn't get your blog reminder this week. Something wrong with your list"? No, it's because I didn't get the blog finished yet! Nice to know that people actually look forward to reading this! 


I just watched a Nikon product tutorial about "wireless flash" presented by Moose Peterson. Two things occurred to me, I'll mention the second one first: "why do you need it?" Yes I get why it would be useful in certain situations, like when you are in a huge studio, but no, wait, when you're in such a studio you are most probably using studio strobes, not little speedlights... but sure there must be situations when the standard built-in infrared commander mode flash controls don't work.
Actually they wouldn't if you have a D3 or D4 or D5 because they don't have pop-up flashes.
But here's the thing. Moose was espousing this thing for use in wildlife photography, "so you don't have that distracting cable running from the camera to the flash" (which was mounted on a bracket above the camera on his tripod). To use it you need to buy a flash controller ($200) which you plug into the camera and of course the new SB5000 flash which sells for $600 at BH. And that brings me to my second point...

The first impression you get when the video starts is, "yeah, must be nice". You never see the tripod itself, except the top of it but it's probably $1000 Really Right Stuff or Gitzo legs. The gimbal mount looked like a $1500 Zenelli. Mounted on it? A Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR Lens ($16,500) and a D5 ($6000). Total cost of the setup in the video? Somewhere North of $25,000 US dollars.

I get that there are people who have that kind of money to spend on toys. But why make a general distribution video about it, and put it on a channel (Nikonos Tim) where they also have tutorials on how to set up your camera's diopter, or explaining what "depth of field" is?

So that's my gripe. Are you mass-marketing to the regular photographers out there (pro's too: most people don't have black Amex cards) or to the high echelon elite? Kelby does the same thing: he writes for the mass market but looks down his nose on anyone who doesn't have $25K of studio lighting, the ability to fly to India and shoot the Taj Mahal or press access to the sidelines of NFL games. I guess he sells more books if he maintains the mystique.

Mechanic in a Can

Every year I seem to want to write about a magic "mechanic in a can", then I look back and discover that I've already written about it. But every year I'm amazed.

Suffice it to say that I have an old lawnmower. When I put it away last fall I filled the tank, put in a couple of ounces of SeaFoam, ran it for a few minutes to mix it in and parked it in the back of the garage. Today I took it out, pushed the primer a few times as usual, and pulled the starter cord. Nothing. "Uh-oh", I said, "my luck has finally run out". I pulled the starter again. The motor started immediately and ran smoothly.

So once again, I'm amazed. Canadian Tire sells it now and every mechanic I know is aware of it. Now you are too. "SeaFoam Motor Treatment". It's magic.

Don't take my word for it. Google is your friend. Here's an example: 

I used it in my motorcycles. I use it in my ATV. I used it in my snowblower. I use it in my lawnmower. I DON'T use it in the car (don't ask me why!) but I will. I use it in the gas but not the oil: again don't ask why, I will next week.

I'm the type of person who shouldn't own tools. I couldn't fix an engine if my life depended on it. But this stuff is so good, I don't need to!

So now you know. I'll probably write this again next spring!

Don't deal with PosterJack

I just spent the better part of the day preparing some images for print. I had decided to print at a company called "PosterJack" in Toronto because (1) they had a special on and (2) I've printed with them before (some time ago) and had good results.

Before getting down to work on the images, I contacted them to find out what they needed. I was ordering some 16x20 canvas wrapped images and needed to know how to deal with the edges so that the image would wrap around the frame. They told me they needed 1.5 inches all around, so I diligently changed my images to reflect that.

Here's a screenshot that illustrates the work I did. I used content-aware fill and other techniques to extend the image so that it would wrap correctly. The outside guidelines are at 16x20", the image itself is at 19x23", The double guidelines were there to indicate the safety zone for the signature at lower left so it wouldn't be near the edge. 

When I uploaded the image to their site, it told me it had to be cropped. Why? I sized it PRECISELY the way they told me to. So I phoned them and got a very unpleasant CSR on the phone. In the end, she explained that they needed an additional 1/4" all around to avoid problems at the back of the wrap. If I'd been told that initially, I would have added it, so I said I'd go back and add it in then re-upload. Just for verification, I said, my image was 5700px x 6900 px. She told me don't bother, their software will resize it (yes but then the proportions would be wrong!) and that I didn't need more than 100 pixels per inch for an optimum print.

I get that we're talking about canvas, so you don't need full resolution. But it was the way she treated me as if I were an infant that left a bad taste. Then she refused to let me talk to a manager, saying she was an expert. I ended up calling back and talking to someone who may or may not have been a manager, who defended the CSR and said that I don't understand photography.

So: I highly recommend that you do NOT deal with PosterJack. Dealing with their customers this way is not how to conduct business. Too bad, because I have an acrylic print they did for me a couple of years ago that's really excellent.

PS: yes, I'm writing this while I'm pissed off. That's my privilege. If I prevent just one person from dealing with them, I've done my job. Hope they hear about it.

PPS: too bad. I've been shopping around to try to get these prints done economically (with all due respect to the pro printers out there, I'm donating some prints to Toronto General/Princess Margaret Hospital and can't afford much. If any of my readers do canvas and want to help out, please get in touch). Just about everyone is double the price I got from them... I ordered one via a Groupon but when you add the shipping...

Oh no! More birds!

It's an addiction, I tell you! I don't think they make a nicotine patch for bird shooters. Maybe there's a 12-step program out there... and when I see what REAL bird shooters are doing, they're much better than my shots. But it's a challenge, with this Tamron 150-600 lens. One day maybe I can get a 'big boy' lens like Ron and Mark and Dan and... that said, when we were at Carden Plain last week, I could do things they couldn't, because both Ron and Mark commented that they can't shoot those big 600 f/4 Nikons handheld. 

When Ron and Mark were here, I was editing the following image and we got into a discussion about cropping. In competitions, the judges seem to prefer tightly cropped images. I'm not sure that's always right. Yes, there's a composition rule that says "Fill the Frame" but I believe that sometimes including more of the environment tells a better story. You be the judge: here are two versions of the same image:

Both images show a meadowlark perched in a hawthorn shrub. But I find the first one more interesting because there's more to look at than the bird and it says something about the environment. 

The original shot does say more, but it includes too much detail and the subject is lost:

That's at 600mm. Pushing the edge of the envelope!  Besides, it's poorly composed. I put the bird in the centre so I could use the best focusing sensor point in the camera.

I saw a few other birds at Carden Plain that day, and again the next day when I went back.

Wilson's Snipe. Composed with a lot of white space to tell a story. By the way, this bird did a little dance in the air just before I shot this. I had just brought the camera up to my eye and wasn't ready to shoot. Too bad, it was a National Geographic moment!


A bobolink and a Baltimore Oriole. It was a rainy day... Remember, you can click on any picture to blow it up.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... a busy day at the bird feeders here at home. 

The hummingbirds are back! Female ruby-throated at the feeder. Amazing toning and textures in the feathers. 

Here's a female American Goldfinch in the Scotch Pine tree. There's been a whole flock of these birds hanging around. The males are more brightly coloured, but I liked the textures and composition here. 

Not just birds... too! It is that season. I took the ATV out in the woods, spring is kind of late getting here, things are just starting to green up. 

Long time readers of my blog might recognize this spot, I've shot from the same place during all seasons in the past. Looks like a tree came down over the winter. I just like the textures and tonality in this shot. 

I shot four different varieties of trilliums, all within a few feet of one another. Three were shot with off-camera flash, varying the shutter speed to change the brightness of the background. I mentioned the technique last week. This is something I want to explore further and I'll bring out the light tent to work on it in upcoming weeks. 

Here's another flowering plant, also in the same spot. It's called a "Bellwort" if anyone is interested. How do I know? Google is my friend! I plan to do more shooting with the macro lens.

,,,speaking of macro... this is a Prairie Smoke bud shot at Carden Plain. When the flower blooms, its tendrils look like pink smoke, hence the name. I'll go back to Carden next week to see what's what.

I did ONE abstract landscape picture that day. 

"Blur on the Water". I can't think of a better name for this image, any suggestions? I took a suggestion on Facebook "Smoke on the Water" as the basis for this one. Now the interesting thing is: no Photoshop! This is exactly as it came out of the camera (except for the crop). I came across this fleet of rental fishing boats on Lake Dalrymple, bobbing around in some rough water, so I slowed down the shutter speed, and moved the camera slightly when I shot it.

Two quick updates:

Topaz Labs is offering a 40% discount on their complete collection (or upgrades to it for existing customers), but it expires at midnight MAY 22! Hurry. It's a great deal. Here's the link to their store, and enter the code "SPRINGSUMMER2016" in the checkout box to get the discount.

There are still some spaces on the October 27-30 Gales of November workshop. I'm really excited about it, it's a low-cost opportunity to pump up your skills in a phenomenal environment, in the company of some great photographers. Book now to reserve your spot!

It's 23°C outside and sunny as I write this, and the bugs aren't active yet here, so why am I in here? This weekend promises to be the first really nice one of the year. Hope it is where you are too!

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