Saturday, January 27, 2018

Coyote Ugly

Wondering about the title of this blog post? You'll have to scroll down to the picture section to find out. But first i need to catch up with a few things.

It's time to start planning your shooting opportunities this year. There are a couple of excursions or workshops or whatever you want to call them coming up. 

Gales of November

This premier event takes place the last weekend of October in the best resort facility on the North Shore of Lake Superior, the Rock Island Lodge in Wawa. It's a 4-day workshop to celebrate the natural resources of the fall scenery on the biggest Great Lake. This year's workshop is being led by celebrated photographer Ben Eby, with my support. One of the best scenic areas in North America, fantastic lodgings and service, great leadership, economical price, what more could you ask? Photographers of all skill levels are welcome. Drop into for more information (although we still need to update the 2018 information) and drop us a note to let us know if you're interested: we'll get you on the mailing list for information (no spam, we promise!).

Summer on the Rock

I'm planning to spend the summer in Newfoundland. I want to rent 2-bedroom accommodations to make it possible for people to visit and spend some time there. All I'm looking for is to share the rental costs. I know a lot of the best shooting locations and events: where to shoot puffins and whales, icebergs and gannets, seascapes and cityscapes. 

Arguably the best local Newfoundland photographer Ray Mackey, is on board too, to guide and help photographers. He isn't free, but economical and a very personable and knowledgeable guy. 

What I envision is that someone might come to Newfoundland for a couple of weeks, spend a week with me and another week elsewhere. There are several great spots to visit, depending on your preference of subjects. 

For what it's worth, my rough plan is to start with a week on Fogo Island, then a month in Twillingate, a week in Bonavista and a month in the Witless Bay area (which is close to St. Johns and from which you can access the entire Avalon peninsula.  On the way home, I plan to visit the southwest corner, Port au Port and Codroy before getting on the ferry. End of June through end of August.

I have 3 or 4 interested people so far. My commitment to rent specific places depends on whether people will come visit (if not, I'll just rent one-bedroom places). So I need to hear from you if you're thinking of coming, we can talk about details directly. Please email me.

By the way, I wrote half a dozen blog posts about my trip last summer, starting with this one: At the bottom of each page on the left, is a link marked "newer post". If you click that, you'll get to the next one. Have a look, lots of pictures and stories there. Worth a visit.

Pictures. More pictures.


Back in December I told you about buying Helicon Focus, a program to facilitate focus stacking multiple images. Mostly used in the macro world, it leads to some remarkably detailed photos. The most spectacular are insects (although snowflakes are very cool too!).  There are no insects around yet, and I haven't gotten the hang of snowflakes yet. 

But this is a very left-brained technique and it takes practice. So I've been working on it, making some progress. Here are a few shots from the other day. Each one is somewhere between 30 and 70 stacked images. All of these were shot with a Nikkor 105mm macro lens, using a variety of extension tubes.

I lined up a few .410ga shotgun shells in my light tent. Dig the detail! 

These are .22 Short cartridges, sitting on top of a boxful of them. Both of these two shots are done with contrasty hard lighting. The cartridges are 16mm long, by the way.

For this image, I changed to indirect soft lighting and I zoomed in, then cropped even tighter. Look at the surface details on the bullet (they're copper flashed in production to keep them from corroding over time. That's way thinner than 'copper plated').  

Marie and Simone's Visit

Marie Algieri-Goldgrub and Simone Koffman came to visit for a day and we went to the ice races in Minden.

I shot this with my new 200-400mm lens (at 300mm). This is right after the start flag drops and the cars skitter around like insects on a hot plate.

I switched to my 70-200mm for this shot of a car losing it and crashing into the ice wall. The driver is looking up the track to see if anyone is about to T-bone him. 

We moved on to 12-mile lake and the ice huts. We went out on the ice on my ATV (well, Marie walked...) to get a better angle. I'm anxious to see the shots they got!

Me and Simone on the ATV. It wasn't really a cold day — say about -8°C — but with the wind out on the open lake, it was chilly. There's very little snow, it rained last week and washed a lot of it away. Photo by Marie, reproduced with permission. 

Here's one of my shots.  

Sometimes you put a lot of effort into a picture and it goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Here's a case in point:

This is a 6-image panoramic, 3 across and 2 high. The resulting image was approximately 90 Mp in size and contained a huge amount of detail. 

While it's true that one shouldn't judge an image by how it was created or how difficult it was, I did a lot of work to make it look like what I pre-visualized.  Here's the original shot, straight out of the camera (but already merged to the pano):

Nothing major wrong with it that a little tweaking wouldn't solve but I decided to put some effort into it. Probably the first thing you'll notice is that there is no green hut in the original, the original is wider, and there's a nondescript wooden hut off to the right. I spent some time carefully moving it where I wanted it and then cropping off the right side and some of the sky. Then I thought, if I have a blue and a red hut, I need a green one, so I changed its colour.

I wanted some texture in the sky and the foreground ice, which I did in Topaz Studio, selecting an HDR-like effect then editing it so it wasn't so strong.

Outing with Larry

Larry called me and said, "let's go looking for Snowy Owls again". This time he wouldn't let me drive (see my last post!). Larry really knows how to find stuff, and he can actually see things!

I took my new 200-400mm f/4 Nikon lens. And my 1.7x teleconverter. Now I have to say, I was looking forward to some exciting sharp images and... disappointment. This is a very difficult lens to use right, especially handheld. After this day, I have to question the use of the teleconverter: it gives you an effective focal length of 650mm. I'm sure with some practice... but for now I'd better save that for when I'm on a tripod, and after some practice.

The first wildlife we spotted were some trumpeter (pretty sure!) swans. Here are a pair of them taking off

Swans should be soft, right? So I softened this one in post-

At 400mm, I was able to capture this flying swan. The autofocus is surprisingly quick! 

Eventually we found a snowy owl on a fence in a farmyard. After talking with the farmer and getting permission, we cautiously crept in and snuck up on the owl without disturbing her. I have the vision of a moose. Moose can't see stuff that doesn't move and neither can I. The bird is right out there, bright white, and I couldn't find it. Larry had 50 shots before he patiently helped me to locate it. Once he did, it was obvious!

Tell me how I couldn't see this. I had to do a ton of work in post-processing to make this come out sharp.  

Coyote Ugly

Kept you waiting! 

While we were shooting the snowy owl, a pair of coyotes showed up in the back 40. With a huge amount of post-processing, I was able to come up with this shot. 

A beautiful, healthy looking animal. Hunting mice in the field with (presumably) his mate. 

After lunch, we came across another coyote. This one, however...

Coyote Ugly. This guy had mange, his whole back end was fur-less. Sad. I imagine surviving the winter will be a challenge. By the way, this shot required far less processing and shows me what this lens is capable of. 

Catch you later. And don't forget to email me if you're at all interested in Newfoundland this summer. I'll keep you in the loop.

— 30 —

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pay it Forward

Pay it Forward

Time for a story. Let me preface it by, (1) it wasn't my fault, (2) the photos in this part are not mine, and (3) those who know me know that I've been writing creatively for many years (to wit, this Blog!) and the Great Canadian Novel is eventually going to come out, if I live that long! Enjoy.

"Trailer-hitch" Larry and I were looking for snowy owls to shoot. With cameras, dear reader, not guns. We could have gone to the Barrie area where we know there are some because this guy Len baits them with store-bought mice and charges tourist wannabe photographers an arm and a leg to photograph them close up. But it's more satisfying to find them in the wild. We've seen them in the Glenarm area before, him more than me because he can actually see out of his eyes. His nickname hearkens back to last year when an old beat-up Toyota sitting behind us, held together with duct tape and baling wire, suddenly sprouted a 2" hole in his front grill, exactly the size of Larry's trailer hitch ball. Come to think of it, we were snowy owl hunting that time too, with Dr. Ron...

This time it was just me and Larry. I was driving because I figured we'd have a better chance if Larry was the spotter. Amazing how he sees stuff. Kathy's got that talent too, but if a moose walked into my front yard and started grazing on the raspberry bushes right in front of my window, I probably wouldn't see him. I always kid Fred about how many deer he sees when driving up here in Haliburton, even when were going to the same meeting, I never see one and he posts dashcam video by the time I get home. I never see one, they're probably there but I just don't spot them.

I'd say, "Hey, Larry, look. A bird just flew over".

He'd say, "yup it was an immature male merganser and it looks like something is wrong with the second toe on his right foot".
"What kind of tracks are those?"
"Looks like a coyote tracking a flock of wild turkeys. Not chasing them, the tracks are too close together so he wasn't running".
I hate Larry.

"Snowys nest along this fenceline", Larry says. "They hunker down under the roots of those fallen trees. Sometimes you'll see them sitting on the ground in the field, or on a fencepost where they can spot prey".

Sure they do, Larry. White birds with camouflaged black patterns sitting in the snow 100 yards away under broken black branches. Don't get me wrong, I've seen Snowy owls. Sitting on top of a hydro pole or on the roof of a barn or church or house. But only when someone says, "hey, look! There's a snowy owl!".

He saw 10 bald eagles and a herd of deer at the landfill the other day. Not just a story — I talked to the guy who works there. I said, "Larry told me he saw 10 eagles and a bunch of deer".


Did I tell you I hate Larry?

Anyway, Trailer-hitch and I are driving the back roads south of Glenarm, looking for snowys. We come to an intersection, and lo and behold, an Amish buggy crosses our path. That I can see: it's big and black and there's a horse towing it and it has one of those dayglo orange triangles on the back to warn motorists. Google will tell you the difference between "Amish" and "Mennonite". The former are more strict and eschew modern tools, like cars and machinery. Go ahead, look it up. I'd recently seen a great picture featuring one and thought I'd like to try to get a shot, so I turned the corner to follow them. That's where the trouble began.

Picture one of those big old highway snowplow trucks, where the blade extends out wider than the truck itself, especially on the right side, where they drive down a highway lane and clear the lane and the shoulder too at the same time. Now picture what happens when he turns a corner: the plow blade clears a beautiful swath around the inside of the corner so it looks just like a nice, flat, cleared road. But underneath that smooth surface is... a ditch. That's what i figure happened, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I turned the corner. First inkling of a problem was Larry saying, "uh-oh" and the second was this tilting feeling.

Sometimes stuff happens in slow motion and you know there's nothing you can do about it. It's like if you're a motorcycle rider and you get off the bike and forget to put the sidestand down. Or you're making a u-turn on the crest of a hill and you come to a stop mid-turn with the bike leaning too far over and you KNOW what's about to happen. I'll leave you to guess why I chose these examples.

So we come to a stop. I look at Larry. He looks at me. I try to put it in reverse and use the 4WD. But I know. And he knows. And he says, "looks like I'm going to have to climb out the window or crawl out your side". And I can't get out either because I'm using my legs to hold the door from falling closed and can't get enough leverage to lift myself out of the seat. Probably also has something to do with me being 'short for my weight' and in great shape if I were 100 years old. Hey, round IS a shape... I tell Larry to push on my back. He does and I fall out of the tilted car. He crawls after me.

We ain't going nowhere. I knew I hadn't damaged anything but we're stuck. And I had let my CAA membership lapse, so my first thought was, "this ain't gonna be cheap". Neither one of us is a Canadian Winter newbie: we both have thick winter coats, hats, gloves, boots. I was actually in full camo because, well hunting clothes are made to be warm, dry and more importantly, to fit people in great shape like me.

Larry says, "I think I saw a tractor at that farm back there. Let's try them before calling a tow". We went traipsing off down the road and sure enough, there's a huge John Deere in the farmyard, only problem is: nobody home. "Let's try the farm where we saw the buggy turn in. Bound to be someone there".

We walk into the farmyard, trying to look needy and contrite. There were about 3 men there; the closest one a young lad I'd guess in his late teens or early 20's, clean shaven, red face from working out in the cold, a second man somewhat older, with a dark and straggly beard and the third your stereotypical Amish elder with a long grey unkempt beard and a lined face that has obviously seen many harsh winters. All three were dressed in rough farm clothing with rubber boots, heavy pants and dark, sturdy coats. All of them wore variations of those kind of hats that they've probably had for years, weathered and hard-worn the kind of thing Yuppies look for in high end stores and would pay hundreds of dollars for in a heartbeat.

There was also a sledge in the yard, with a team of two large, sturdy draught horses hitched to it. The kind you'd see in a beer commercial but without the hairy Clydesdale hoofs. We explained our situation, and stepped out in the road to point out my vehicle clearly captured by the false promise of smooth hard snow. Someone said, "well let's get to 'er". They said they had towed another hapless motorist out of the ditch across from the farm entrance, and someone mentioned that a snowplow had gotten stuck in the same spot we were in a couple of years earlier. 

They all came out to help! Picture by Larry

Suddenly, there weren't just 3 of them. We turned around and started walking back to the car, accompanied by probably 10 more men. The horses and sledge quickly overtook us and on the sledge were perhaps another half dozen men and a couple of young boys. Everyone had those great hats! By the time we got to the car, the sledge was parked, men were unhitching the horses and a couple of them were crawling under the car trying to figure out where to attach a chain. The only visible hooks were on the front, so it was decided to pull it out that way. Subaru, by the way, has hidden places where tow hooks can be attached, we learned later and there were hooks in the spare tire compartment. I know... read the f'in manual!

The whole family came.  The big guy in the middle came out of that F-150, I think. Now that I look at this picture, I guess they didn't ALL have those great hats. I'll bet they do, but it's winter... Picture by Larry

These folks didn't mess around. I realized this was going to happen like, right now. So I dived into the car to start the engine and take the transmission out of Park. I didn't make it! Those huge, living, one horsepower creatures had already started effortlessly pulling my car out, locked wheels and all! I managed to get it into drive eventually, and a few seconds later, I was safely stopped in the middle of the road. 30 seconds later, the horses were hitched back up to the sledge, they had turned around and everyone had piled on board for the ride back to the farm.

That has to be more than one horsepower! Picture by Larry 

They pulled me out like it was nothing! Even before I got it out of Park. Picture compliments of Sam Tallman from Haliburton. She was in that black F150 that came to help. That's Trailer Hitch Larry

I got out and shook hands with 3 or 4 of them, as many as I could get to. I went to the elder gentleman and thanked him profusely and I asked if there were some other way I could express my appreciation. He looked at me and said, "No thank you. Pay it forward." 

And off they went, horses chuffing and the sledge grating on the road surface, chains jangling and a silent score of unassuming heroes getting back to their chores. Back in the car, we thought about how "help thy neighbour" is a lost concept in the world we live in, but not in their world. It's like that in Newfoundland too, that's one reason I love the place so much.

And off we went, to a nearby rural bakery for a 'slice' and a coffee. We bought pies to take home. We messed up making change paying for them and I ended up giving them $10 too much. That's OK, they needed it more than me. 

Homeward Bound! Picture by Larry 

I will. Pay it forward.

Ice Fishing is a "Thing"

Tourist season in the Highlands is of course in the summer. The population increases by an order of magnitude, the likelihood of meeting another car on the road is actually higher than that of encountering a deer. Then comes the fall; after the leaves are down people batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of winter. But among them are those who spend their time figuratively sharpening their fishing rods and getting ready to wander out on the ice in search of finny food. And there are actually people who come up here in order to sit out on the ice, braving the wintry chill or in heated huts, in the off-chance that some frigid fish might swim by and grab a wriggling minnow. The Inns and B&B's actually have customers in the winter!

Of course that presumes that they actually go out there to fish. When I've visited ice fishing huts in the past, one can attain a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.8 just by breathing. But these people are obsessive about getting out there. To the point where, well, all their brain cells have fizzled and died.

Listen. It was +7°C and raining last week. Obviously the ice was thick enough for him to get out there (he's about 150m away from shore) and that's surface water you're seeing but just behind him is fast flowing water from the 12-Mile Lake dam which NEVER freezes, and he's fishing through an opening in the ice. A candidate for the Darwin Awards. I drove by an hour later and the red hut was there but he wasn't.

I got to thinking what would happen if he fell in? All I would be able to do would be to dial 9-1-1 and watch as he drowned. That's all anyone could do. Folks, let's not be stupid out there. 

Now when it gets colder, and there's a foot of solid ice out there, it's another story. This is on 12-Mile Lake opposite me — half a dozen huts are out there now.  I haven't been out to visit yet but I should be able to this weekend. 

Algonquin Park

I do go there a lot. Some days you don't see anything interesting to photograph but a day in the Park is better than a day at home (or in the office) ANY time. Dr. Ron and a group of people were up for the weekend, staying in a beautiful cabin (OK, "house". 'way bigger than mine!) in Dwight. I had a commitment for Sunday, so I just came up to visit for the day on Saturday, and Amin came with me. 

My "Sunday" commitment was to go to Toronto and pick up that 200-400 f/4 Nikon lens I told you about last week. Got it! Yahoo!

Ron has one of these lenses. He's a good friend and he let me use it for the day before parting with all my shekels for the one I was buying. With the usual caveat, "you drop it, you own it". Actually, I took it to mean, "you SCRATCH it, you own it". I was really careful!

It is an AWESOME lens. Here's the very first shot I took with it:

Dr. Ron. Straight out of camera, not even cropped. Wide open at f/4. I love it.  

One of the first stops we made to photograph was along Hwy 60 — the cycle of warm, wet and cold has created outstanding frozen water cascades along the rock surfaces on the roadside. The colour variations in the ice are beautiful, a watercolour painter would kill for that effect. As near as I can figure it out: thin ice structures are basically white, while the thick ones have more colour. If the water has dragged bits of earth down with it, there's a yellowish-brown tinge. But once that has cleared, new water dripping down will take on a blue or green cast due to trapped gasses or the way ice crystals refract light. Icebergs display similar characteristics but even more pronounced. 

I enhanced this painted image to illustrate the colour variations 

Luba Citrin trying to decide what to shoot.  Choices are almost infinite, from sweeping wide angles to textured surfaces and details, down to plants trapped in the ice or even macro shots. 

Here's a sequence of three shots I did of a lonely alderberry twig trapped in the ice.  I still don't know how to crop it! 

Then I decided to turn it into an impressionist image using both the Seven Styles Watercolour action (which doesn't work perfectly in the latest 2018 Photoshop, have to work on that) and finishing it with Topaz Studio, starting with the Impasto preset in Impression and modifying from there.

This should make a dandy canvas print. My walls are getting full, though! 

There's a canvas print supplier I've been working with who is offering incredibly discounted prices. I can happily sell stretched, wrapped canvas images up to 24 x 36 inches at surprisingly low prices. This is a time-limited offer, anyone interested should contact me ASAP. If you are a subscriber to this blog you will have received more detail (see below)

We stopped at the Visitor Centre to shoot birds at the big feeders around back. I was motivated to test that borrowed 200-400mm lens and I gave it a good workout. Literally: I did not pull out the tripod and gimbal mount so I shot handheld, albeit braced on the balcony railing. I've had tendonitis in my left wrist ever since! 9 pounds doesn't sound that heavy but when it's jutting out cantilevered from the camera...

Here's a female white-winged crossbill shot with the 400mm. Cropped a bit... and I got lucky with the sun on the bird and the dark background.  

This is a goldfinch in its winter plumage, puffed out to insulate itself against the biting cold (it was -22°C and who knows what the windchill was!). This was at 650mm because I had mounted the 1.7x converter for a few shots. I love the bokeh of the background in this shot, wide open at approximately f/6.7 (1/1000k sec, ISO 450). I edited two versions of this shot, the other one with added clarity and detail and sharpening done in Studio but this one is only basic Lightroom edits, so this is what came out of the camera. Or the lens.

La pièce de résistance. This is an immature male red crossbill. I had no idea they were so colourful! This shot has earned more "likes" on Facebook than any other picture I've put up. Originally I said that I didn't see what the front of the bird looked like, until I went through my images and found a couple of others, which I had initially rejected for focus and other reasons.

If you follow this blog (click the Newsletter icon at top right), you will have received a heads-up email with one of those frontal pictures included. I always include a picture that I haven't posted anywhere else. 

Two final comments before we close for today: 

  • Kudo's to Subaru who, as my readers already know, replaced my engine because it burned too much oil, even though I had over 200,000 km on the car. I did end up paying for some service — my oil pan was leaking and my rad had a crack in it, and I needed new brakes all around — but now I have a car I can continue driving for much longer. Eddie and the crew at Minden Subaru are the best, and
  • I really am seriously considering Newfoundland for the entire summer. If you want to come to Newfoundland, I'm planning to rent a 2-bedroom place so that some of my photographer or artist friends can visit. I'll guide them to some of the best spots and I've already been in touch with one or more of the premier photographers on the Rock to provide guiding services as well. But it's time to start looking at who might be coming and when; you need to get in touch with me if you'd like to talk about it.

— 30 —

Monday, January 01, 2018

Starting 2018 right!

It's that time of year again

It doesn't matter who you are, somehow on this day or this week, you wonder where you're going to be in 12 months. Last year you probably set some goals: how did that work out for you? Are you richer, smarter, have more skills, happier, have better relationships? Did you write that book, get that job, take that trip? I hope you did.

The definition of how successful a year is depends a lot on how old you are. Not necessarily physically, in your spirit. If you're young at heart (yeah, I know: trite, overworked phrase!), you have ambition, things you'd like to accomplish. If you're not, your goals revolve around things you enjoy. None of us are 100% in either of the young/old camps. There are, for all of us, things we would like to learn to do better and the satisfaction of doing them. And each of us wants to experience the warmth of things that impact us, whether it's the growth of relationships or the people around us or more mundane things that touch us emotionally or intellectually.

Not making sense? The young want to DO things; the old to EXPERIENCE them.

I'm not young any more. 2017 was not a great year for me because I finally came to that realization. Sure, there are things I want to accomplish, but on a daily basis, they take a back seat to what I want to experience. Music touches me, for instance: but I finally accept that I can't MAKE music as much as I can feel the music others make. I get carried away, sometimes, listening to music until the wee hours. I did go to Newfoundland again: but I accept that some of the other places I always wanted to visit are beyond my reach now.

I'm not going to write about my regrets. Because I don't want to admit them to my self nor do I want to expose them to the light of day.

Making art — with my camera, my paintbrushes and pencils, with my computer — that's been a success, although I feel I've learned more and I'm poised for a breakthrough, as opposed to having accomplished something this year. Ditto, writing. And sharing my experience with others, that's really my passion. These things are what my life's about now. Will I be healthy enough (that's the elephant in my room) to take any of those things to a higher level next year?

A year from now, I hope you look back at 2018 and say, "that was a pretty good year".

Printing revisited
If you're not a photographer and you have no interest in printing tips, feel free to skip this section. Go ahead. I won't mind!
Last time, I talked about preparing your images for print, and the problem that what you see onscreen — even on a calibrated monitor — is going to look different from what you see on a print. 

Every printer lays down ink slightly differently from every other printer. Every printing paper absorbs ink and handles it differently from every other paper. Fortunately you can simulate that on your computer using the "ICC Profile" of that printer/paper combination. Any decent professional lab will send you their ICC profiles — even Costco does — and after installing it in your computer you can "soft proof" your image before sending it to the lab. You turn on soft proofing (it's available in both LR and PS) and adjust your image until it looks correct on your calibrated monitor. Generally you can copy those adjustment settings to a group of images but of course if you're fussy, every image is different. So ask your lab for their ICC Profiles. Make sense?

If you print at home, same thing. You should be able to get the ICC profiles for the printer and the paper from the manufacturer's websites.One caution, though: if you use aftermarket inks, you're on your own. They'll be different, of course, and the printer manufacturer certainly isn't going to support it.

Camera and Computer Gear

Who among you have acquired new equipment this year, or have changed directions? We live in this material world, so my guess is, "lots of you"!  The trend, of course, is to move from DSLR to mirrorless. Sensors are awesome (Sony makes the big sensors for Nikon. It figures that their own lead the pack too). Optics are great, maybe not quite up to Nikon (or grudgingly, Canon) Pro standards, but with advances in computer controlled machining, they exceed most of what was available back in "the day". Mechanically they are faster and more precise and of course smaller and lighter. To use a word banished from the Queen's English, these new little mirrorless wonders are "Covfefe".

Sometimes heavier is better. It's true with rifles, for instance. You want accuracy over a mile, you go .50cal. Benchrest rifles have humungous barrels that weigh 20 or 30 pounds. And it's true with the big light-gathering long super telephotos like the Nikon 600mm f/4. Or, I hope, with the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 which weighs almost as much. I said "I hope" because I'm about that far away from buying one.

Not my photo. Soon my lens! I hope.

So I've gone in the opposite direction. I figure I'll go mirrorless when I get old and I have to! Sort of kidding: those who know me, know I'm a dinosaur.

When my desktop computer died, it didn't owe me anything. It was time. I decided to finally go to the Dark Side and buy a Mac. But then, the screen on my laptop died. So I converted it to desktop use and ended up buying a Macbook Pro. I don't want to foster a huge debate but I've been using it for a year now and the only conclusion I can come to is, well, it's like comparing an Audi with a VW. They're both essentially the same thing, the Audi is more expensive but it's just better.

By the way, the PC laptop finally gave up the ghost last week. I still need a Windows machine to run my old accounting software, so I found a used one for next to nothing. It works. It ain't pretty, but it works.

On the software side, I bought Helicon Focus which automates focus stacking. I've just played with it until now but it's something I want to work with more in the new year.  Stretching my senses. Pretty left-brained, though, I have to admit.

So which direction are you going this year?

Want to come to Newfoundland this summer?

I'm planning another trip to Newfoundland. The basic concept is to spend the entire summer there in two or three places. I'd like to rent some 2-bedroom places so that I can invite friends to spend some time there with me. And I'm working on lining up some experts to take people to the best spots and events. Think icebergs, whales, puffins, gannets, night shots, outports, seascapes... 

If you are possibly interested in coming down for a week or so, let me know. I need to get the planning under way. And if you happen to know of suitable accommodations in Newfoundland, please contact me too!

Enough words. Time to share some pictures.

Tied up with other things, I didn't shoot much this month,. And it's been c-c-c-cold so I didn't really feel like getting out either. I did a little, though.

Snowflakes are tough to shoot! When you don't get them right, you can always get artistic, right? Makes a dandy Blog Header photo, though!

This is a little better, but nowhere near what I want to do. It's too cold to shoot them right now (two reasons: even if it does snow, you don't get neat crystals at these temperatures; and I ain't going out there to shoot them. An hour-long session at -30°C? My mom didn't raise any stupid children!). Don't worry, there's lots more winter to come. 


Frozen soap bubbles, on the other hand, work better when it's colder.  The complexity of the crystals in the bubbles is a function of the chemical composition. Sugars form the crystals: the top one is from maple syrup, in the bottom one I added some brown sugar to the mix.  More to come! 

I had a great day trip to Algonquin Park  with Amin Shivji and Kevin Beer. We didn't see much wildlife, other than a variety of birds, some beavers and otters (but they were really far away) and a quick glimpse of a pine marten. I kind of liked this shot of a blue jay because of the composition and the complementary maple leaves. 

This blue jay decided to pose for a portrait atop a pine tree. Some post-processing using Topaz Studio helped out here. I've actually ordered a large canvas print of this shot! 

But I realized I couldn't let 2017 get away without doing some landscape shots. 

I wanted to remove the complexity from this shot, to let the patterns of the weighted branches and virgin white snowy path speak for itself.  

While looking for landscape shots, I happened to turn around in this driveway. The setting sun added a golden glow (enhanced by choosing a really warm white balance) and again I simplified the shot. After posting the picture on Facebook, i got a message, "Hey, that's my house!". A dynamite canvas print is on the way.

Parting Shot

I've used that quote from Pablo Picasso before: "Good artists copy, great artists steal".  I saw an image on Facebook that gave me an idea, and I went back to my June visit to Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia to borrow the concept of a silhouette against a colourful sky with a moon for counterpoint. I have a similar, less posed image, from Old Woman Bay on Lake Superior and a shot from Stephenville in Newfoundland. Here's what I came up with. I'm going to be looking for more of these!

I promised myself I'd get back to painting. I'm planning to paint from this image. Wish me luck!

Have a super 2018, everyone!

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