Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Bucket List


Not much to do with photography per se, but I was prompted to think about how my days have become a bit aimless and how I need some motivation. One thing led to another, then I thought about my "Bucket List". What do I want to accomplish while I still can?

I'm not talking about things beyond my control, so winning the SuperMax lottery is not on the list. I can't physically do the stuff I used to do years ago, and besides I've already skied the Alps and the Rockies, won a racquetball tournament, flown an airplane (but never jumped out of one — nor do I ever want to!), ridden a motorcycle over 200 kph, won a combat pistol competition, hunted and fished and camped and canoed and sailed and swam in both the Atlantic and Pacific, driven a car in a rally (and almost won!), bench pressed over 300 lbs, drove a race car on a track, and so on. I've done a lot of stuff.

There's stuff I haven't done but it's not practical to think I could ever do it. Fly to space, beat a chess master, jammed with a jazz group (well technically I did, but that's another story...). I want to travel to some interesting places (Iceland on top of the list) but I didn't include travel destinations. So here goes:
• Create a painting or drawing good enough to exhibit
• Write a publishable book
• Sell a photo print to a stranger for $500 or more
• Write a song and get someone to play and record it
By publishing this list, I'm hoping to be motivated to work at it. Something every day. That's the #1 piece of advice I've gotten from published authors, by the way. You have to work at it every day. Make it a routine (#2 was "characters, characters, characters").
Note, I didn't say "get a book published". That may not be in my control. Also with my damaged vocal cord, I can't sing my own song and I'm not a good enough musician to play anything really well.
So now the big question: what does YOUR bucket list look like? Your turn!

New banner photo

Replaced today. Here's the one that was there before, to record it for posterity!

Print Sale!

It's cool when a print sells. Vindication. Proof that other people like your work, not just you or people you know. Most of my sales have been either to people I know or to people connected with the subject I sold one of those this month too, a candid portrait I had done). For instance Wintergreen bought some prints of an image I took of their upstairs facility.

Today a buyer in Australia bought this framed print through RedBubble:

I haven't been paying much attention (OK, "none"!) to RedBubble or Fine Art America (click to see what works I have there now). I really need to update my listings there because they are indeed online marketing arms. I'll spend more time on them in the next little while.

Incidentally, if I would make a sale in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Antarctica, I'd be in all the continents! Come on, readers, you can do it!

Some of the nicest products these people make are tote bags and throw pillows. They're quite economical and outstanding quality: I've bought both as gifts for my family and friends (hint: if you live outside the US and you're buying a pillow, buy just the cover and not the insert, to save on shipping cost. Then go to a dollar store or Michael's for a pillow insert). My mom has a bag with one of my fox pictures on it and gets compliments on it every day! Here's a link to this particular one.
PS: if you're local, I have a substantial collection of unframed exhibition quality prints (and a few framed pieces) here, taking up space. I'd like to sell these, so I'm practically giving them away. They're all in 'crystal clear' bags, printed on 18x24 sheets of fine art paper, image sizes are typically 13x18. Contact me and come see them!

Quinte Air Show 2016
CFB Trenton, June 25

I had so much fun shooting the airshow at CFB Borden that I decided to go to Trenton for a repeat performance. The shows were similar but the Trenton venue was MUCH larger. They had some different planes and routines too.

I failed to find Capt. Match Hatta (Snowbird 3) amongst the 50,000 people who were there. But I did meet the CO of the Snowbirds and he got us (me and Amin) into the VIP area. Great view but not as good as these guys had:

Best seats in the house, and they weren't even watching! 

A little technical thing for my photographer readers. I shot with my 70-200 lens with 1.7x converter (most of the time) and I put my polarizing filter on. Made a difference. I did learn that 1/1000 second is NOT fast enough for this kind of stuff. I even experimented with 1/8000 second! Check it out:

In order to get this shot I had to pan with one of the planes (I forget which) and trigger a burst which included this image.When I did the same thing at 1/1000, the plane I was not tracking was motion blurred. This is sick. These planes are flying at a relative speed over 1000 kph and missed each other by a couple of feet!

One of my favourite pictures: a vintage P-51 Mustang. 

USAF F-22 Raptor during a high speed pass. This plane is 18% grey! Really hard to get a good exposure. Noisy with the afterburners going! The pilot turned it vertical right after this shot and took her straight up to 40,000 feet!

The Raptor on takeoff. You know how red-winged blackbirds like to harass bigger birds? I think this one bit off a bit more than he could chew! Bet he got incinerated in the jet exhaust. 

They called this the "Heritage Flight". The Raptor and the Mustang flying in close formation. By the way, the Mustang pilot was a USAF Major General . Also BTW, I heard that it cost $125,000 per hour to put the Raptor in the air. I'll bet it costs the "other" Raptors a similar amount after they re-sign Demarr Derozan! 

Here's the Snowbirds crew. The pilots are in red (they're all there, two are hiding in the 'close formation'!). They give a lot of well-deserved recognition to their maintenance crew, here in blue.  Processed in Topaz Impression 2, as discussed below.

For me at least, this is the most photogenic of the Snowbirds manoeuvres. It's called "The Battle of Britain". I don't know how they avoid running into one another: imagine the hours and hours of practice. 

I wanted to stop with the last shot, but I couldn't resist posting this one. 

The Quinte airshow was quite a production. There were a reported 50,000 people there, traffic lineups were horrendous; with temperatures hovering around 30°C and the miles of walking, we were wiped out by the end of the day. Coupled with a 2½ hour drive home. I look forward to being able to do it again next year!

Gales of November

If you're still on the fence about attending the Gales of November workshop up in Wawa on the weekend of October 27, time to get moving! There's still space, but it's getting close to time to get off the pot! Best deal of the year on a deluxe workshop weekend!

Visit for more information.

Topaz Impression 2

Topaz Labs has released version 2 of their marvelous "Impression" plug-in. That's good news and bad news. First of all, the effects and the fact that you can access thousands of community-developed presets are awesome. There are over 140 built-in presets!

Here's a shot at Fisherman's Point on Smoke Lake in Algonquin Park I shot last week and processed using Impression 2. 

The bad news is that it doesn't play well with lesser systems. In fact you need OpenGL 3.3 in your video card (or Mac OS 10.9+) to run it at all. And unless you have a high end system, you need to set the preference to "low resolution" or your hair will grow grey waiting for it to redraw. I expect they're working on that.

FWIW, I'm working on upgrading my computer: this has been the straw that broke the camel's back. My desktop is about 5 years old, which makes it 120 in dog years. It's been having a hard time running the latest versions of LR and PS as well.

If you can run it, you should get it. Amazing effects. If you already have Impression 1, the upgrade is free (don't delete version 1 when you install: just to be sure). If you don't have it, use this link before July 7th to get a 40% discount and enter the code "2IMPRESS" at checkout.

For the Birds

Yeah, I know. Lots of bird pictures. Just a few here, OK?

Vesper Sparrow with lunch for the kiddies, shot at the Cameron Ranch on Carden Plain.  

This is the same bird, hiding in a Hawthorn shrub. I suspect this is where the nest was. I don't think judges will like this shot in the Nature competition, but it tells a better story, don't you think? 

Maybe this is what he was hiding from! Male Northern Harrier in flight, possibly hunting although I think he's carrying something in his talons (he was quite far away when I shot this so it's cropped bigtime). 

Sometimes when you use spot metering and you've turned exposure compensation up, you get high key shots like this one of a Barn Swallow, shot at the Blind in Carden Plain.  

Algonquin Park

I mentioned in an earlier blog that my sleep patterns were weird: and that I decided if I wake up at 4:30am, I'd take advantage of it and do Carden Plain or Algonquin. So I went up to the Park one morning. Turned into a long day, though! In addition to the Fisherman's Point shot above, I did a slow cruise from one end of Highway 60 to the other, without seeing any of the moose or fox kits that others had. I explored several of the side roads that I hadn't driven before and filed away a few spots to revisit. Then I stopped for a bite at the Mad Musher in Whitney and headed home the long way via Bancroft.

I came across this Snapping Turtle laying her eggs by the roadside. Thanks to Steve for pointing her out! 

High Falls in Bancroft. I came home by the Eastern route after lunch at the Mad Musher in Whitney. I'd been here before but wanted to do a shot with the 10-stop ND filter at the Falls. The water was so fast-moving that ½-second was almost too long an exposure! 

Closer to home was this lily (I think it's a lily. Help me out here!) and I focus-stacked several images taken with my macro lens to get this picture. 

— 30 —

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Bird in a Herd

Did you know herons nest in bunches?

This is called a "rookery" or perhaps more descriptively, a "heronry". When you see them airborne, they are either sleek and jet-like or when their landing gear is down, prehistoric and awkward. The iconic heron stands by the water in a Zen-like state until suddenly it strikes. This stillness is echoed as they stand guarding their nests.

Did you know that a group of herons is called a "Siege of Herons"? I bet you didn't!

They inspire me to write in rhyme. Like Dr. Seuss...

Are these some herons in a tree?
Yes they are as you can see.
Babies two and mom makes three,
The scene is very clear to me.
Daddy's coming, we really wish,
We hope that he will bring a fish.
Bring us lunch, please do, please do:
Daddy heron where are you?

Now look! Now look! Look now, you three.
Daddy's coming home, I see.
Has he got a big fat fish?
On a plate or in a dish?
Oh no, Oh no that cannot be.
Daddy's got no food for me.
Is it hiding in his foot?
Where's he carrying the loot?
In his neck or in his mouth?
No I think it's further south
I know, I know wait patiently!
It's in his tummy, don't you see?

But I can be serious too. In the style of a Japanese Haiku...

Aloft on giant wings 
Feathers cloak ungainly bones

From another world


In the clinical note on my latest visit with the oncologist, he said, " a pleasant, 69-year old gentleman...". Guess he doesn't really know me — one out of three ain't bad! Looks like you're stuck with me for a while longer, surgery was successful as anticipated, I still have my cancer but it's being managed.

I've developed these really weird sleep habits, I think since my surgery. I used to go to bed late, sleep from, say, 1 am to 6 am, like a log to which the undisturbed sheets and bedding attest. 5 or 6 hours, that was all I needed.

Now: I have dinner, then afterward, no matter what I'm doing, watching TV or at the computer... no matter if it's interesting or not, I fall asleep without warning. I'll close my eyes during a commercial and BANG, it's 1:30 am and I've been asleep for 3 hours. Now I force myself to go to bed (after putting away the milk I took out or sticking the dirty dishes in the sink to soak) and of course it's hard to get to sleep.

Next thing I know, it's 4:00am and I'M UP. I go to the bathroom and read for a while and try to go back to sleep. If I succeed, it's 8:30 or 9am when I wake up. Usually I can't.

My friends tell me, "welcome to the club". No sympathy. I get no sympathy. I'm reminded of a line Bob Newhart said on the Big Bang Theory one time: "I get up, go to the bathroom, then wander around the house for a couple of hours".

So I decided not to feel concerned about it. If I'm up at 4, so be it. I'll catch up tomorrow. Carden Plain is 45 minutes away. Algonquin Park is an hour. Why not greet the sun as it rises and take advantage of that golden hour? Or the birds as they greet the new day? Or if it's ugly out, catch up with all the goings-on on the computer and try to do some of the stuff I never seem to get to anyway.

We'll see how that goes. But right now, I need to take a nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn...

Carden Plain birds

So I changed into my camo's, left the house around 5:30, drove to Carden Plain, and started up Wylie Road around 6:15. Quiet. I wonder why? Still, I heard birds and stopped to look and listen. The woo-woo-woo of a Wilson's Snipe. There he was, standing guard on a fencepost. He was on the east side so the sun backlit him, a challenging shot. Suddenly he puffed himself up, just like we do when we get out of bed and stretch! A Wilson's Snipe Puffball!

This shot is not cropped at all. Here it is in its 36 Megapixel glory! I was surprised he let me get this close but I was wearing full camouflage, so maybe that helped.  

Across the road and down a ways was a Savannah Sparrow. He just stood there, not singing, but hey...

This one IS cropped. I couldn't get that close. 

It's 7am and a black SUV pulls up. Dan Busby, of all people! We chatted for a bit, I mentioned that someone said they had seen an upland Sandpiper a couple of days ago. But he said he was on a mission, to get a Sedge Wren. I asked if he minded if I tagged along, which he didn't.

I learned a lot. We stood there, listening. Dan said, "there's a sedge wren in those cattails and another across the road. I hear [list of birds I can't remember]". I swear, I heard nothing. It was quiet. Eventually I heard them and I was amazed how Dan could identify what was around us. He knew the habits of the birds, where they might be found, what they would do. And sure enough...

I think I like the second image best. More dynamic.

Borden Airshow June 11th

To preface this, the Snowbirds used my photo of a Harvard trainer taken a couple of years ago, in their 2016 brochure. I was honoured that they chose it, they put my signature on the tail of the plane (in the brochure!) and I had some correspondence with Capt. "Match" Hatta who designed the brochure. Match flies Snowbird 3 and has outstanding credentials with over 2000 hours in the CF-18 Hornet. He arranged for me to get a special pass to access the VIP section at the Base Borden airshow.

Here's the picture they used 

Actually the access pass I got let me into the "Special Guest" area which was less than ideal because there were some vehicles parked in front of it, obstructing the view. Ron and the rest of the RHCC group had a better view from the bleachers! However I talked my way into the actual VIP area which was dead "centre stage" so I think I had the best vantage point possible. I also got to hobnob with some interesting people, including the RSM of the MP's at Base Borden and his wife! He thought my camera/lens was quite heavy: not as much as a loaded C7, sir!

The flying didn't start until 1:00 so we looked around at the static displays. There was a lot of military hardware around, and every second person was in CADPAT BDU's. I decided that now was the time to resurrect my HDR techniques, to emphasize the textures of military hardware.

In the doorway of a Griffon helicopter. These were actually members of the Air Force 443 squadron (Hornets). I offered to swap my leather hat for one of their caps. No dice!

T-33 trainer in HDR.

CF-116 or what the Americans called an F-5 Freedom Fighter.

Here's another shot of the Freedom Fighter. It was impossible to get spectators to stay away long enough to shoot a picture...
aren't you impressed with my Photoshop skills? 

This is the Tudor trainer that the Snowbirds fly. They allowed spectators to sit in the aircraft but the lineup was really long. 

The airshow started on time and the skies cleared up but a few of the 'acts' were cancelled because of the high winds. That included the paratrooper drop and some of the lighter aerobatic civilian aircraft. I won't bore you with tons of in-flight pictures but here are a couple:

An aerobatic squad of Harvards. These aircraft are meticulously maintained but they're about 60 years old!

This is a DeHavilland DH-100 "Vampire" fighter. This plane was test flown in September, 1943 and was adopted by the Canadian Forces in 1948, the first jet fighter post-war. Google it: the history is fascinating!

Today, Canada flies the CF-18 Hornet. Amazingly, they've been in service since 1980 — that's 35 years! There's discussion about replacing the fleet with the F35. 

Heading virtually straight up! What causes the contrails? The air passing the wingtips (and next to the fuselage) has expanded so much that its temperature has dropped below the dew point (the point at which the air can no longer hold the water as a vapour) and it condenses out. But you knew that... (the Ideal Gas Law. Look it up!)

The Snowbirds closed the show. The precision and skill of this team is awesome. They are considered by many to be the best aerobatics team in the world.

Here are a few of my photos from their routine:

Here's where being dead centre had its advantages! One bird is slightly out of position... unless he's preparing for the next manoeuvre  when the remaining four planes split.

I think this was technically one of the most difficult manoeuvres. It's called the "Echelon in Review" and I wondered how they could do it since none of them could see the other planes. Turns out they could, Match told me, by looking up through their canopies

I took this a couple of seconds later. Virtually perfect symmetry.

Speaking of symmetry, here's the Snowbirds' iconic diamond formation. The sky was perfect for photography!

Video Links
This is a 360° video link that Match sent me. If you're using Chrome, Firefox or the YouTube mobile app, you can pan around and see it from all angles! Ain't technology wonderful?

Here's a normal video that was taken at the St. Louis airshow a few weeks ago. Pretty well the same routine that the Snowbirds flew at Base Borden...


— 30 —

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Flower Power

Focus Stacking

For the photographers among my readers. 

Others might enjoy the images but have no interest in the methods. This first part is a bit of a loose tutorial on Focus Stacking, just from a hands-on, empirical direction. I thought about putting it in the tech blog instead but there's a very popular article there on exporting images from Lightroom, especially for print, that I don't want to push down. If you're at all confused about cropping or sizing images for print, read this article:

Often I like to work on new techniques, or at least techniques that I don't use frequently so that I can improve my skills. A good example is focus stacking. I spent some time on it the other day and at the same time, figured out how to get my camera down to ground level with my 3 Legged Thing tripod. Let's start there.

It's pretty simple, actually. Remove the tall centre column and replace it with the short one they provide. I even left off the collar under the ball head to get an inch or so lower, so I had the camera about 6" (15cm) off the ground. I could have had it even lower, in fact right ON the ground, by inserting the column upside down and hanging the camera underneath (image would be upside down) but that was overkill for what I was shooting. It's good to think about and practice this stuff for when I need it in the future.

This tripod (3LeggedThing "Brian") allows me to put the legs flat on the ground so the minimum height is governed by the height of the centre column and ball head. The camera is  Nikon D800 and lens is a Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro. I used a cable shutter release and to help see the LCD, a Hoodman Loupe which you see at lower left. I find shooting multiple shots using LiveView to be cumbersome so mostly I just used the viewfinder.

Focus Stacking is used to control depth of field. I could have used a small aperture to get the whole flower in focus but the background wouldn't have looked the same.

Besides, a small aperture means less light so shutter speed and/or ISO would have to be adjusted. This shot was 1/60 sec at f/18, ISO 100. Note this was after the sequence below and I had spritzed water drops on the flowers.
With a large aperture, depth of field is minimal and when you're shooting macro, often not enough:

1/2000 second at f/3.3 (as wide as this lens will go when you're shooting this close), ISO 100. Note that only part of the back flower is in focus. Click any image to blow it up if you want to see it more clearly.

So I took 7 exposures, each one focused a little closer to the camera than the previous one. I looked through the viewfinder and just moved the focus ring slightly between shots, using the cable release so as to not move the camera. Then I opened all seven as layers in Photoshop, auto-aligned them and then auto-blended them. Photoshop looks for the sharpest focus in each image and masks out the rest. You could do it manually but that would be tedious.

Here's the resulting image. I cropped it before exporting it here, as well as doing some sharpening and toning... notice the great-looking background as compared with the small aperture shot up above!

* You may have wondered why I didn't say "the Bokeh" of the background. Because that would be inaccurate. Bokeh refers to the shape and tonality of out-of-focus highlights, not the background as a whole. 

Faithful readers know me by now... I can't leave well enough alone! Here's my finished image after I applied some Topaz Impression, using the Impasto-1 preset as a basis.

These wild strawberry flowers are about the size of my thumbnail, by the way. When I did the frame for display here (an action I wrote in Photoshop), I took a colour from the image to use as a background. This image itself is ready for printing!

When you focus stack, you have to be careful to get all the slices in focus. Not that easy to do! Sometimes you need to work at smaller apertures than the minimum (deeper depth of field) or use more images in the stack. For the following image, I merged 20 exposures and on close examination, even that wasn't enough (the closer you are, the shallower the depth of field).

This is also a finished image. I added a bit of Topaz Glow and again, Topaz Impression for the painterly effect. 1/1000 second at f/4, ISO 100. 

I shot a couple of others, some worked out, some didn't: here's another focus stacked image:

Look at the delicious Bokeh in this image! I thought of cropping tighter but I thought the yellow corners – especially the flower at lower right – added a depth and balance to the shot. This has the look of a medium- or large-format image from the old film days! It's why I love my D800. This is comprised of 8 stacked images shot at 1/1000 sec at f/3.3, ISO 100.

You can click on any image to blow it up and view it larger onscreen. Pretty sure I'm going to print this one, probably on canvas.

Gales of November news

This was the banner atop the blog until today, when I replaced it with the Sandhill Cranes picture. 

Two more people have signed up for the October 27th workshop so we're slowly running out of room! If you've been sitting on the fence, time to hop off! The closer we come to it, the more excited I am about the experience we're going to have! 

Go to for details and to sign up.

Flower Power

Carden Plain isn't just for the birds! There's interesting flora there as well. Among the many varieties there are two in particular that I photographed third week of May, the "Prairie Smoke" and the "Indian Paintbrush". I can't say that either are unique to the area but the word 'ubiquitous' comes to mind. Large bands of both plants give the Alvar a spectacular colour and texture in the Spring.

Bands of Prairie Smoke (and of course dandelions. Where AREN'T there dandelions!)

The buds of the Prairie Smoke are beautiful in their own right. Here I did a multiple-image focus stack while lying on my stomach in the grass. "They" are right when they say you have to get down on your subject's level! 

When the flower ripens, this is what you get. The tendrils give it a smoke-like appearance.  

That's more obvious when you get a whole bunch of them together. This was another focus-stack. 

A patch of Prairie Smoke. Now you can see where the name comes from!

Indian Paintbrush is a brilliant, photogenic Orangy-red and it also grows in bands across the open grassland. The bird in the distance is a Sandhill Crane! 

Here's a bunch of them. You can figure out where the name came from. This plant is more indigenous to the Pacific Northwest.  

I chose to do an artistic, painterly rendering using Topaz Impression. Many of the presets yielded interesting images, it was hard to choose just one! 

What I love about this shot is how the colours of the two flower species' work together on the green and yellow background to produce a coordinated palette of colour. Looks like this will make a fine abstract print on canvas. 

Next on tap is the trillium. Several species of these abound in Ontario for a short time in the Spring. One variety I haven't seen this year is the "Painted Trillium", but it ain't over 'till it's over!

Last week I posted some trillium shots that I painstakingly lit and stacked and crawled on the ground to capture. Then again...

I shot this one hanging out the car window with my long lens! We were driving on a dirt road just North of Carden when we saw these. The white trilliums turn pink as they fade and die. 

This specimen was so beautiful I had to give it special treatment. Another one I shot from the comfort of my car seat!


Yeah, well! I'm definitely not an experienced birder but I'm an enthusiastic one. I don't know what I'm looking at, it's hard for my eyes to pick them out, but it's a challenge. And I don't have the best optics, just adequate. It's good to know some really qualified birders such as Dan Busby and Bill Bunn, and some people with phenomenal eyes like Kathy McKelvey-Brown and Linda Cresswell to shoot with.

I just went through the list at the back of my Peterson's Field Guide and I came up with 84 species that I've seen (I may have seen others but haven't recorded them). I don't necessarily have photos of all of them. I look forward to seeing more!

Grey Catbird, seen behind the Cultural Centre in Minden. There were lots of birds there, I'm looking forward to
going back. 

Brown Thrasher at Carden Plain 

If Dan hadn't told me what this was, I'd never have guessed! But now that I look at it, I realize, well, it's obvious! This is an American Robin fledgling just out of the nest, wisps of down still on its head. Shot right behind my house! 

I have some spectacular bird pictures for you for next time, so stay tuned. To get an email note that a new Blog entry has been posted, please click the newsletter button at top right.

— 30 —