Sunday, May 21, 2017

Food For Thought

My goal today is, as usual, to showcase some of my recent images and thoughts, but particularly, to give my readers, especially those photographers among you, some ideas and food for thought.

That's always my goal. Nothing pleases me more than when someone writes and says, "I tried what you talked about in your blog, here's an example of what I was able to do". I get those messages sporadically, but not often enough!

I don't specifically come out and say, "here, try this...". But I demonstrate by example and sometimes a reader will think, "that's cool, I wonder if I could do that". Yesterday that happened when I showed a focus-stacked image. I try to give enough information with the images or story, but I don't want to bore people with excessive detail, so if you want more info on anything, don't be afraid to write. My email is

A few random things to think on and perhaps contact me about:

  • anything you see here you're not sure how to do? I'm always happy to help with advice or perhaps even a workshop if you're interested.
  • I know where to get really high quality custom business cards very inexpensively
  • I'm going to Newfoundland in a month.  Does your office or living room wall cry out for a specific picture from there: a seascape, blue hour or golden hour shot, wildlife, colour abstract? Tell me in advance and I'll look for that shot for you.
    • for that matter, what about any of the images you've already seen here? Would you like a print (or a tote bag or a pillow or a coffee mug...)?
  • The Gales of November workshop isn't full yet. October 26-29th in Wawa, a chance to share time with a dozen photographers or so in one of Canada's most scenic places for very little money. Here's a link (I have to work on this page to update it but almost everything is there)
Talk to me!

"Spam, spam, spam, spam...."

Anyone else seeing a jump in the number of spam messages? I used to get about 20 per day and it's jumped to over 100 in the last week or so. It's annoying. A ton of messages offering me a free $50 Costco gift card...

That said, I have them well handled, or at least my ISP does. I'm set up so that they get blocked at the server and I never have to see them, except that I have a list of them dumped to a single daily email from the ISP, just in case something real slipped into that group. It takes me a minute to scroll through the list just to make sure.

But it's annoying. My email address is spread around a fair bit: I could change it but that means informing a lot of people, printing new cards, etc. Guess I'll just let it be, but it is annoying.

Speaking of cards...

I've gotten some compliments on my new cards. I didn't change the back, but I did create a new front side. Here's what they look like:

Front of card 

Back of card 
One of the biggest compliments was from a professional graphic designer who commented on the extreme readability of the text, especially on the  white side. That's the purpose of the card and it was my goal. The only negative was the multiple fonts on that side: I had to because switching over to the Mac, I couldn't use the original fonts and the FacZen Photography logo is a graphic, not type. 

I mention this because cards are very inexpensive today. What vendors do is to gang a large number of customers' cards onto a big printed sheet, then cut them out: they all have to use the same inks, stock and coatings and then it's very economical. Vista Print is a tempting supplier but the quality of the vendor I use (my account with them goes back to the '90s when I was doing graphic design) is much better. I can do a box of 500 cards for $20 plus shipping. So if you want cards, using your own art or mine, get in touch

Topaz Labs has something new in the works, to be released at the end of May. It's a platform that might let you do some quality post-processing without having Lightroom or Photoshop... but if you do have those programs, it will enhance your workflow and give you some great new tools!
I'm not allowed to talk about it yet in detail. But watch this space for more information. Click the "Newsletter" button at top right if you're not already a subscriber and I'll give you a heads-up a few days before the public announcement. 

Bird Photography

I am a mere grasshopper (so I have to be careful around some of the birds!). A few weeks ago, I proudly stated that I had counted 21 species on one trip to Carden. Only to discover that there are people out there who count over 150 species in one day! There's a pin out there somewhere to celebrate that achievement, in conjunction with Canada's 150th birthday. Crazy.

I still can't identify most of what I hear out there, or see. I do know a little more than I did before, though — by the time I'm 100 maybe I'll be more knowledgeable. FWIW, I've ticked off species I've seen in the back of my Peterson's book and my total is... drumroll... 105 species. 

I'm missing a lot of warblers. They're loud and fun to hear but damned hard to see! Patience, patience. Taking a whole day to cover the 8 km of Wylie Road at Carden Alvar is not enough... but I've never NOT enjoyed a day there!

Algonquin Park

Speaking of patience and enjoyable days... I could say the same thing about Algonquin Park. Obviously if I were physically more able, I'd enjoy it more but I honestly love just driving slowly along Highway 60, stopping occasionally, seeing what there is to see. I went up again last Friday, got to the Park around 9am and left around 4:30pm.

What did I NOT see? A moose. I was really hoping to but I think you have to get there a bit earlier in the day. Also "papa" fox (the guy with the pink frostbite spots on his nose) and his family were not around (it's a open secret where he hangs out but I'm not going to be the one to publish it!). I didn't even see a grey jay on Friday although I did hear some. I think everyone's working on starting their families at this time of year. 

Here's what I did see.

I jotted them down on my iPhone and took a screen grab 
Here are a few pictures.

Broad-winged hawk. #105 on my lifer list! I saw two of these: one first thing in the morning and this one on the way out late in the afternoon. He was actually singing – or what passes for singing for a hawk!

A couple of roadside waterfalls. I'm not that happy with the resulting pictures so I need to work on technique a little more.  Jesse Villemaire posted this one from a few days before and I managed to find it. The water flow was a little less than he saw.

A Loon at Tea Lake. I used another shot of this guy (and his lady friend) as the header on this blog. 

A Ruffed Grouse. I've got better shots but I liked this one anyway. 

All in all, a nice day in the Park. To quote Ahnold... "I'll be back"!

Carden Plain (Alvar)

I said I've always enjoyed every time I've been there. All true, but some visits are more productive than others. I was there twice this week (Tuesday and Friday). Tuesday was more productive.

Virginia Rail. Actually I found this on Prospect Road, about 10km south of Carden.  

I got three 'lifers' that day: the Virginia Rail, a Least Flycatcher and a Warbling Vireo. I got so many good shots that I decided to create a web gallery in Lightroom rather than post so many pictures here, and you can find it at Go ahead, click it. I think you'll enjoy the images. Not all are birds: you'll see why you shouldn't take your Ferrari to Carden!

There's a similar gallery of pictures of the Minden Flood 2017. Here.

Carden isn't just about birds. There are flora there as well, and some insects. Some of whom you don't want to meet:

This is an American Dog Tick. Fortunately not the kind that carries Lyme disease, but it can also host other serious diseases. I found him crawling out of my hair when I got home. As far as I could tell, he didn't have any of his little buddies with him and didn't bite me.  I'm careful to wear long pants, tucked into my boots when I go out in the field.

Parting Shot

I shot this after the Camera Club meeting on Wednesday. My goal in Newfoundland is to get some of these "Blue Hour" shots, inspired by the work of Ray Mackey (whose page you can find here). Ray gave me some post-processing pointers. I hope to spend some time with him in Newfoundland in July. 

Aside from the lighting and exposure, I was really careful with the composition and I reduced some of the clutter in the background in post-processing. It was cloudy, stars would have improved this image for me. I have to wait for an appropriate night to work on that.  

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hi. My name is Glenn...

Seek, and ye shall find...

My name is Glenn and I'm a coffee-o-holic. It's been 2 hours since I had a cuppa...
Seriously, I'm addicted. In fact if I don't have a cup of coffee before bed (my wife and I used to lie in bed and watch the Johnny Carson show with a cup of coffee!), I wake up with a low grade headache, cured only by a cup of Joe.
Now I'm not a gourmet. I'm an equal opportunity coffee-o-holic. I don't like weak watery stuff and it should be fresh, but (don't think less of me, now), I even like Tim Horton's. I generally buy darker blends for brewing at home. The MacDonald's stuff is pretty good too.
I like Latté's and cappucino's but, like, they have milk in them. Coffee should be drunk black. Espresso is good from time to time, and Starbuck's occasionally has a good blend but you can't get the same thing there two days in a row, so I don't go there.  I buy beans and grind them just before brewing.
I know there are many ways to brew coffee. I prefer a drip machine but it has to have a conical filter. Or a single brew.
So what's this story about? I have a Tassimo machine. I like it. It's quick, the coffee is always fresh, it's super convenient. But it's big and bulky and has a water reservoir. When I was in a hotel in Montreal last December, they had a coffee machine in the room that took the Keurig K-cup pods. It was small, had no reservoir, one-button easy. I managed to find it online, but believe it or not, it was $140!
As you may know, I'm planning a month-long trip to Newfoundland and I want something to take with me. The Tassimo is too big and one-cup drip things make lousy coffee...
I asked my sister to look for me in the US. And she found one: made by Proctor-Silex, around $25! I found it on Amazon and bought one. It's coming with me to Newfoundland. So is my cast iron frying pan. How can you live without these things?
That said, it's not as good as the Tassimo. I find the coffee comes out a bit muddy. But it's better than a generic hotel coffee maker or {the horror} instant. 

PS: after writing this, guess what I need? I'll be back in a moment...

PPS: it's Sunday now and I'm re-editing the blog. Guess what I need? Right back...

The RAW vs JPEG argument popped up again, as it often does. FWIW, here's what I wrote:

So when you're looking at a JPEG, you're looking at a baked cake, one that you bought in the supermarket for $2 because it's the cheapest one they make . It was made by a machine. Once the cake is baked, there's not much you can do to change it. 
When you're looking at a RAW file, you're looking at a bunch of ingredients: eggs, flour, all that good stuff but before the cake was baked. You can custom make that cake any way you want, or you could bake cookies or muffins, or... whatever your heart desires.

How can you make your RAW file look like a store-bought cake? With a lot of work and practice. But why would you want to? If you want ordinary pictures, take JPEGs. If you want images made with love and care, shoot RAW. 
Make sense?

May I ask a favour?

I entered the Vistek "Capture Canada" competition. It's hard to choose a picture that says "Canada" but I think I did. Here it is:

A warm sanctuary on a quiet lake in the wilderness shows the peace and serenity that defines Canada

The way it works is they choose the 10 most popular images and select the winners from amongst that bunch. But to be popular, I need votes. Please go to this link and vote for my image.  I need your help.

I'm given to understand that you can vote once per day: I know it's asking a lot, but if you could bookmark it and click the link and vote from time to time? Thanks! 

Oh, and tell your friends. Give them the link to this blog and let them read it for themselves. They might enjoy the blog...

Speaking of things coming with me to Newfoundland...

The car's going to be pretty full! How do people travel by air? Just my camera gear would exceed my luggage allowance. Then there's my clothes, kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, computer stuff, rain gear, hiking boots, knee pads, oil paints and easel and canvasses and sketchbook and charcoals and of course, my wallet.
Do the math. Driving 8000 to 10,000 km (gas!), the ferries, staying in cottage/efficiency accommodations for 30 days... 
Why Newfoundland? Three main reasons: (1) I love the place. I've been there two or three times before and I'd really like to go again, (2) I might even be convinced to buy a place there to spend my summers there in future. Not winters. Gawd. and (3) I can't really travel outside of Canada. I've been turned down for travel insurance by all of the carriers I contacted, including CAA who initially said yes but who now say "no" (the killer question: "have you been treated for metastatic cancer"). I especially can't go to the US, and I doubt I could even safely go to Iceland or other foreign destinations. So Newfoundland it is!

I've booked the first three weeks plus, I've booked the ferry, all good. Can't wait!

I bought a backup camera body. A D5500, got a good deal on a used one. The main feature I was looking for was the articulating screen to make it easier on my knees.  I had this picture in my mind of my D800 failing and me there for a whole month without a camera. It also has a crop sensor so it'll be interesting to compare using it with the big telephoto lens vs the D800.

File this under, "I'll believe it when I see it".

I was on the phone with Bell tech support today because my DSL modem goes down 3 or 4 times a week and it's annoying. They're sending me a new one (update: "you should have it by Monday or Tuesday". It's now Sunday, a week later. No sign of it, so back to the phone tomorrow. Grrr.)

Sickening. Especially the Upload speed. But then again, I look out the window at the lake...

But in the conversation, when I deplored the awful speeds available here (I was asking if anything changed or do I still have the max available to me) he said "Bell is working on your area and EVERY CUSTOMER will get FIBE services in a few months". 


Documenting my day.

I thought my readers might like to know what to expect and to do if they go down to Carden. I wandered down again yesterday. It was a nice day, and the weather forecast said "rainy and cold" for the next three months (OK, not three months. But it sure feels like it).  

This is what Wylie Road looks like in early spring. What you don't see in this picture are the huge water-filled potholes. Some of them are the full width of the road, maybe 15 or 20 feet long and as much as a foot deep. Except for a section in the woods down the road, they're hard-bottomed (it's an Alvar. Look it up). But you want to have all-wheel drive and substantial road clearance, and take it slow. Don't bring your Ferrari. 

I've learned a lot of patience while birding down there.  I got there a little after 9 am and the first real picture I took was just before 11 am. I had already walked a couple of km on the road, and decided to hike down the Sedge Wren hiking trail before I saw anything worth shooting, and it wasn't even a bird! 

People wonder why I wear camo's at Carden*. This guy paid me no attention as he sedately munched away on some kind of stick for lunch. I watched him for about 10 minutes until he finished it and calmly swam away. 

* I wear them for other reasons too. They snap at the ankle and fit under my boots, so ticks and other nasty insects can't get at me, they're Goretex lined so they're completely waterproof and breathable and they're windproof so worn with suitable undergarments (wool blend) they're comfortable over a wide temperature range. And they fit! Cabela's is a great place to shop.

I met an interesting guy who worked with the Conservancy. We chatted for a while, I learned that one of the things he did was to arrange a port-a-potty at the blind on Wylie Road (thank you, David!), he maintains the hiking trails,  he's fully aware of the condition of the road (he's working on the township to get them to run a grader down the road. We both think that may be a mixed blessing since it would allow people to access the area in their Ferraris and the place could turn into another Algonquin Park weekend zoo). He could see things I couldn't see (two bluebirds mating, a Loggerhead Shrike in a bush far away). Of course Stevie Wonder can see better than me...

I ran into David again on the Sedge Wren trail, after shooting the beaver pictures.  He flushed an American Bittern but of course it flew away from me, so I never got a shot. Then a Northern Harrier flew over, hunting the marsh, and all the birds went into hiding! I didn't get a good picture of her either, but for what it's worth...

From there I went to the Cameron Ranch because I heard that the Shrikes have been known to hang out in the Hawthornes there. None I could find, of course, but I did find this field sparrow playing hide-and-seek

That's a Hawthorne, by the way. Emphasis on the word "thorn". You don't want to go in there... 

After Cameron (I walked a total of about 6000 steps — that's over 6km. Dr. Jeff made me get a fitbit thing and although it doesn't DO anything, it makes me more aware and I try to walk more. Only hit his magic 10,000 steps once, though!), I drove down to Prospect Road where there's a designated marsh. Now I was there for at least a couple of hours and I didn't actually SEE anything (other than red-winged Blackbirds, Geese and some more hunting Harriers), I heard a ton of things.

I was stopped in one spot when I heard an odd sounding call and figured out that it was a Virginia Rail. A woman stopped by (Theresa from Bobcaygeon? You know I'm bad with names!) and she hung out for a while. We definitely heard the Rail again, and also at least three different Sora (I played the call on my iPhone and they called back!) It's rare to actually see one. Another guy stopped by who really knew his stuff. He said he was going back to Carden, so I decided the day was shot anyway, I would too!

On the way up Prospect Road, I heard a Sandhill Crane. I stopped, got out the camera but they were so far away I couldn't get a usable shot. With apologies...

This will give you an idea how far away they were. There's a meadowlark in this picture. Can you find it?  600mm, uncropped. Hint. It's in the middle... 

Back at Carden, we were hanging out near the blind when I said, "a bird just landed on that fencepost over there". The guy from Prospect Road said, "that's a bluebird". I hate people who can see.

Digitally painted 

He also said there was a Meadowlark in a tree near the road. Not when I got there.

Time to leave. It's 6:30pm, time to go home. As I'm driving up Wylie Road, near the end, I see this:

A gaggle of Greater Yellowlegs! There were three of them, hopping around but behind the wire fence so it was hard to get a clean shot.  I couldn't get closer to the fence (giant foot-deep puddle) so I had to wait until they moved away, then shot through the holes.  

It was worth waiting. I saw one of these the week before on Prospect Road in the distance, but otherwise, this is the first time I managed a picture of them. 

So this was a great day. Listening to birds, talking to nice people, putting miles on my feet. It would have been better if I had noticed that it was a police cruiser I was driving behind on Highway 35 and had slowed down a bit... but this should tide me over until the rain stops next year!

Carden Plain, Algonquin Park... which one should I go to next? It's bird season. It's moose season. What to do, what to do...

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Monday, May 01, 2017

It's Spring. But not everywhere...

I was in Toronto the other day. What a difference from here! Apple and cherry trees are masses of flowers, people's gardens are blooming, grass is green. Here in the Highlands, not so much. In fact that's an understatement. Some green shoots here and there, the forest floor is still covered with dead leaves. The ATV trail I like to ride is blocked with a fallen tree (Jack, if you're reading this... chainsaw & winches. Call me)

That said, the trilliums at the Wild Water Preserve are coming out. There are actually flowers in some of the sunnier spots.

This is a focus stack of about 8 or 9 images. In theory you can control the background better this way. I also did a single shot at f/22 just for comparison:

not much difference in this case. Slightly different treatment and some extra Clarity added in this one. 

I used one of the DaVinci presets in Impression as a basis for this sketch, then added some colour back in. This is another focus stack. 

It was a nice day Saturday. When I went to the landfill, I decided to get some practice shooting birds on the wing: what better location? Hundreds of gulls and crows and turkey vultures to shoot. I concluded that the Tamron lens is too slow autofocusing: you needed a few seconds for the lens to lock in and if it lost focus, sometimes it wouldn't get it back. Still...

A face only a mother could love. But the Turkey Vulture is majestic in flight.  

Not my favourite bird but again I was practicing and using the Tamron at 600mm handheld. Sometimes you get lucky — I have to turn that into more of a regular occurrence.  

I need a lot more practice before Newfoundland!

Speaking of Newfoundland

All booked! Things could change but my itinerary looks something like this:

I'm planning to take 3 days to drive out, including a loop around Cape Breton. The ferry leaves at midnight on the 27th, arriving early in the morning. It's a long drive the next day to Twillingate. I'll spend a week in each of three locations, and I left a few days at the end to go to the Cape St. Mary bird sanctuary. The ferry from Argentia is expensive but it would save me a couple of days and about 1500 km of driving.

I'm skipping two places I really should visit: the Gros Morne national park (it's halfway up the west coast) and L'anse aux Meadows which is the very Northern tip. The former because I've been there, I'm not a hiker, and it messes up the schedule and the latter because it's FAR. 700km up the coast (and another 700km back). I do want to go to Fogo Island (been there too) but if I do it'll be a day trip out of Twillingate. And a must-see is the Puffin colony at Bonavista.

The places I'm staying are all cottages or efficiencies because I really don't want to eat in restaurants all the time.

I'm working on a shot list. I plan to make the record of this trip into a story. I came across a new piece of software called Adobe Spark which looks promising to create such a record. More on this later.


As promised, I'm holding it down to a few. Only my better images should be here, I think. I still have to work up a portfolio... not enough hours in a day!

'Tis the season to go to Carden Plain (or as I've been told, to call it "Carden Alvar". When I remember...). I'm there at least once a week. So far not all the birds are back, but here are a few shots I'm proud of:

I shot this at the 'blind' of course. Not an unusual or particularly difficult bird to shoot but I like the pose and I absolutely NAILED the sharpness and focus! 

This is a "lifer" for me (non-birders — it means I've never seen one before). I decided to try the Seven Styles Watercolor action on this one and I like the effect! I can't claim to have found him: Bruce Carmody, whom I ran into at Carden ALVAR, spotted it. I'm really not very good at seeing things... 

It's all about the light, isn't it? You know it, I know it... how come I don't remember that more often? 

... and finally, my "parting shot"

I've been wanting to shoot a composite that includes the Milky Way arch. So it was frustrating to see cloudy skies every night. On Saturday, the skies cleared but I knew clouds were coming in. So I went out to my usual spot only to discover no Milky Way (covered by clouds or I don't know where to look). But I had set up to shoot composite pano's so I did one: a full 360° in fact. This is part of it, a 5-shot merge — the actual file is over 70Mp! I did not replace the sky or foreground, it's 5 portrait-orientation images 15° apart merged together. I took my time and edited this the best I could. Smooth tones, one of the best landscapes I've done suitable for large scale printing. 

Again, the intent of this shot was practice for Newfoundland. I want to do night and dusk shots like this of the landscapes and seascapes.

Time to go: painting class in half an hour! 'Til next time.

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