Friday, April 27, 2018

But soft! What light from yonder window breaks?

North-Facing Window Light
A random thought about lighting

In response to a question on Facebook, I used Yousuf Karsh as an example of who I'd like to emulate when I grow up. So I leafed through some of his famous portraits and came across one of my favourites, his shot of Albert Einstein (someone else I'd like to be like, and of course never will!).

Because it's someone else's picture, I won't reproduce it here. But please click this link to see the photo I'm talking about.

Photographers spend a lot of money on studio lighting. I get it, if you want to have predictable results all the time but, and I've said this before, all they're doing is trying to emulate natural lighting. For me, the best light is "north facing window light". The window doesn't actually have to face North, it just means that there's no direct sunlight and the window serves as a source of soft light, like the huge reflectors and softboxes most studios prefer.

I remembered this picture I made a few years ago of my ex-girlfriend Rosa's friend Valeria, sitting at her kitchen table. It  was placed in a kind of bay window alcove so light came from the huge windows to her left. It was a freezing cold winter day (I remember it was one of the few days that actually reached 40°C below) in Bancroft, there had been a fresh fall of snow so the world was bright white and all the light came through the window.

I don't think I consciously emulated Karsh's lighting but you have to admit there is a great deal of similarity between this image and his (if you didn't click the link above, please do now).

The only thing I did in terms of light setup was to spread a newspaper on the table in front of her to reflect some of that beautiful light upwards to fill in under her chin.

As I look back in my archives I realize that I love using natural window lighting for portraits. The best example is this one:

This was a digital painting that won me the top portrait prize in the GTCCC some years ago. George was a groundskeeper at a place called "Deep Gorge" in upstate New York and I had asked him to stand by a window. FWIW, I tried to contact him later to get a model release, only to discover that he had died. His co-workers had dedicated a cabin to his memory and I provided a print for the cabin.

My son-in-law preparing my grandson for his graduation dance from 8th grade some years ago. He's now a Seneca College student, preparing for entry to a Canadian Forces program that will hopefully lead to him flying fighter jets. He's also a little taller now, towering over me! 

My neighbour, Vic, in the living room of his house on 12-Mile Lake, illuminated by, you guessed it, North-Facing Window Light. In hindsight, this one emulates the Karsh lighting best, don't you think?

Topaz Labs Spring sale!

Topaz Labs has announced a huge spring sale: 40% off everything in their stores from now until May 7th! That's 40% off their already discounted prices, best prices ever!
Note: if you already own some of the Topaz products, their smart website will calculate a top-up price once you log in. This is an opportunity to get these amazing tools at a huge savings.

If you're not familiar with Topaz, they started with some great plug-in tools for most photoediting apps (my favourite is "Impression" which turns your images into painterly art. Second favourite is DeNoise which quietly does exactly what you think it does!). 

Then they introduced "Studio" which is a FREE standalone photoediting platform on its own (although it can be run out of other apps too: my usual workflow is to call it out of Lightroom). It comes with a number of totally free adjustment tools but they have some premium ones where you can play with them for free but to get full access, you need to buy them. They have a bundle called the "Pro Pack" which gives you everything all in one shot.

You can also get a 30-day free trial of anything through the links below.

Here's the link to Topaz Lab's new FREE "Studio" platform.You can also use this link to access any of the "Pro"-adjustments, plug-ins and special discounts currently in effect. 

For the original plug-ins, here's the link:

No need to enter a coupon code, Topaz will apply the 40% discount automatically.

Steel Wool fun

The other night, the camera club went out to shoot steel wool again. We've done it a few times before, and I ran a session up in Wawa as well— something to do at night if the weatherman wasn't going to cooperate and give us stars to shoot.

What you do is take a bit of steel wool (half a clump?), stick it in a household whisk (the thing you use to beat eggs into submission), tether it with some kind of rope like a dog leash, set it on fire (easy to do with a lighter or even the spark from a 9v battery) and swing it around to paint with light, being really careful not to hit yourself with it or to set the forest on fire. Leave your shutter open for a while. You'll get pictures like this:

This was a 12 second exposure at f/11, ISO 100. 

If you work at it, you can get pictures like this one:

This was about 4 seconds. I zoomed the lens while the shutter was open and I added texture using Topaz Studio. 

or this one:

I edited this in Lightroom. I increased the exposure dramatically and used the "Guided Transform" tool to straighten up the perspective. This image was very well received on Facebook. I did get some comments about the post which  I left in because it adds depth, perspective and tension to the image. Some liked it others didn't. You? 

Now for those of you who don't understand why you need to shoot in RAW...

... here's the "before" shot, straight out of the camera.

If you expose for the burning steel wool, the rest of the image is going to be dark.  

In this case, I increased the exposure by 2½ stops for the overall image. But I wanted the stone fountain to be even more visible so I painted it with the adjustment brush in LR and added another 4 full stops. That's a total of 6½ stops! Try that with a Jpeg.

House still for sale!

Hurry before someone grabs it up! I'm still waiting for those multiple offers they promised me! LOL

Dining Room 


Almost time to put on a bathing suit, your boat in the water, or relax in the gazebo with good company and a good book!

Here's the link to the MLS listing

Carden Plain: too early

With the weird spring (I'm still looking out on remnants of snow from last week!) it was too early to visit Carden Plain and see a wide variety of birds. But it was a nice day yesterday and I made the trek. Nothing exotic but always interesting... I had also intended to head down to the Lindsay area where, I heard, there were meadowlarks in the fields off highway 35. Never made it. I got to Carden a little before noon, and didn't leave there until well after 5, headed to Fenelon Falls for some groceries (I figured there'd be a bigger variety there in the Sobey's — yes but their prices are even higher than here!), then made it home a little before 8. A nice day.

Here are some pix:

I started in Minden and found one of the ubiquitous RWBB's coming in for a one-point landing. Can't resist shooting these guys (until later when there are thousands around!).

Ruffed Grouse crossing Deep Bay Road 

He headed for the base of a tree where he figured I couldn't see him. Almost... 

The bluebirds are back! Only a few of them and they stayed well away, this guy was sitting in a Hawthorne quite some distance away (cropped!) 


A pair of Northern Flickers showed up for a quick look. As did this European Starling.

I ran into a couple of people: first, a team of Conservation Officers out making sure that turkey hunters (season opened the day before) were following the rules... nice folks out of Minden. By the way, unless you have a good AWD vehicle and know how to use it, don't go into the wetland portion of Wylie Road beyond the bridge. Them thar puddles are deep, y'hea?

On the way out, I met a couple of birders who told me they had seen  some Loggerhead Shrikes at the Cameron Ranch. And meadowlarks. So guess where I went? Nope. Not around. There were a couple of small sparrows at a distant Hawthorne, and I heard the meadowlarks, but no joy.

However I managed to convince a couple of Wilson's Snipes to pay me a visit, investigating the sounds my iPhone was making! They posed for a couple of pictures!


One of my favourite birds. 

And so it begins! Next time...

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Raise your Hand

"May you live in interesting times"

I've long known that this is translated from an ancient Chinese proverb... or was it? Not according to Wikipedia. Theirs, and other pages make interesting reading.

Donald Trump is the President of the United States. I don't need to comment on the antics of this "stable genius". The White House was quoted today that they would be funding the training of teachers to carry and presumably use firearms. Raise your hands if you think there is no room for firearms in schools. Raise your hands if you think the way to mitigate that is to take the guns away from the bad guys instead of creating a wild west atmosphere where children live. His levy of import duties on steel and aluminium was a transparent ploy to pressure the NAFTA negotiations. I won't even mention "Stormy Daniels"...

And yesterday, the Ontario Conservative Party elected the (alleged) former drug dealer Doug Ford as their leader. Conceivably he could become Premier in the next election. He publicly berated the father of an autistic child because a clinic for challenged kids supposedly degraded his precious Etobicoke community. Shame! Reminds me of Trump mocking a handicapped reporter. Supposedly a "man of the people", he wants to roll back the minimum wage increase, stop sex education in schools and go back to back alley coat hanger abortions. Son of Trump. I hear his catchphrase is "Make Ontario Great Again (one line at a time)". Raise your hands if you think something is wrong here.

And then I read about Elon Musk and his motivation for driving SpaceX. Makes up for the other two! Manned mission to Mars by 2024. I hope I live long enough to see it.

By the way, the spaceship they're working on is known as the "BFR". Publicly, "Big Falcon Rocket". Raise your hand if you think Musk had another word starting with "F" in mind when he named it.
It's March 14, 2018 as I write this. I just learned of the death of Dr. Stephen Hawking. He was an inspiration: He will be remembered not only for his incredible mind but also for his humour and courage.  I wish I could have met him.     

Cataclysmic weather events are taking place around the globe. From Earthquakes to wildfires, hurricanes, cyclones, melting ice caps, all driven by the climate change that Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford deny because they're driven by the almighty dollar.

Interesting times, indeed.

Is it just me?

Some people are really full of themselves.

Someone (I won't name names) sent me a friend request on Facebook. I looked at her page quickly, we have several mutual friends, she's a legitimate photographer, so I accepted. Suddenly I discovered there's more to it.

"If you want to see my work, you have to join this group. Oh, and the only person that is allowed to post anything on this group is me, that's the only way you can see my work." "Oh, and here's a picture I took. You can look at it, but you can't touch it. You are absolutely forbidden from using this picture, even as source material for a painting or a sketch".

Tell you what, lady: I don't want to join your secret group, I see from the few thumbnails you've posted you're a reasonably good photographer but there are thousands of others out there who don't have your kind of attitude. And as far as I can tell, nobody's ever heard of her. Get off your high horse. Where's the "unfriend" button? Oh, there it is...

What pisses me off is that in my opinion, an artist can use ANYTHING as inspiration. To suggest that your work is so precious that you [attempt to] forbid anyone from using it for that is ridiculous. To quote Pablo Picasso (ok, he was probably not speaking English so technically it's not a 'quote'...) "Good artists copy, great artists steal". Ideas. Inspiration. Not works.

If someone asked me if they can use one of my images as source material or inspiration, I'd be honoured. If someone wants one of my images to use for non-commercial purposes, I'd be delighted. In fact, as I said last time, under Creative Commons, you don't even have to ask.

My father was a smart man.

He's been gone for almost 8 years now, it feels like yesterday. When he was in hospital before he died, I asked if he wanted anything. He said, "Female Dark Chocolate". Huh? What's that? "No Nuts".
My mom was sharp too. She died at 95 a little over a year ago. She said, "Bob (dad) and I will be together in heaven soon. But he's younger than me now: I wonder if he found a girlfriend up there. If he did, I'll kill her!" 
But he said more poignant and less humorous things which I understand more as I get older. One was, "Everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work any more". OK, there is a touch of humour in that, but it's true!

Then there's this one: "I'd rather move when I can, instead of when I have to". This before he and my mom moved from their apartment in Montreal to the Thorne Mills on Steeles senior home. Anyone who has experienced the hard times when elderly parents become ill and have to move into assisted living, closing their homes and selling their belongings, getting rid of the car, all when they are severely ill or perhaps after their deaths, know what I'm talking about. I don't want to impose that on my children.

It's a lot easier to make that step when you choose to instead of when you must.

With that in mind... I've listed my house for sale and I will be moving back to the city. I plan to rent a nice apartment, hopefully in suburban Thornhill or thereabouts, where I'm closer to services such as transit and hospitals, and to a network of friends (not that I don't have friends up here!). My dad also said, "this is the last move we're going to make". I'm NOT saying that.

 As I write this, the property is listed with Re/Max Minden, here's the link to the MLS listing. If you know anyone who wants to live or cottage in God's Country, pass it on! Hurry! I'm told it's a seller's market up here and it's going to go fast. And the crazy Toronto prices haven't hit here yet. Just sayin'...

I'm ambivalent. I have to come to terms with the things I'm going to be giving up. I love winters here. I love my barbecue. Sitting in front of the fire. Crisp, clean air. Plowing the snow is fun, mowing the lawn, not so much. Going out in my boat. Swimming off my dock. Shooting sunrises and sunsets and wildlife and the proximity to Algonquin Park and Carden Plain. The quiet. I won't have all of those things in apartment living, but there will be other advantages. And I plan to travel, starting with two whole months in Newfoundland this summer. A new phase.

Here's a couple of quick iPhone shots of what my living room looks like now. Hmmm. Maybe I'll stay! Nah... If you think it was easy decluttering it, guess again! And keeping it like this for showings? Another challenge. 

Online Portfolio
(in the works!)

A few years ago I terminated my SmugMug online gallery because I was paying a bunch of money for really nothing — I don't sell online and frankly, I wasn't using it. But I feel the need to have someplace to show my work. I started a site at PixieSet but they're really geared towards wedding and other event photographers: it was a huge workaround to even get captions to show on my pictures (what I had to do was to created a bordered print with a caption. I did write a Photoshop Action to do that but it took about 10 minutes for each image, 'way too much work!). Their big advantage was the price: even if you doubled it, it still was free! And in the back of my mind was the ability to create an online store for people to buy prints. I might still use them for that purpose.

Here's a typical example. I run the Action to create the mat, the drop shadow, and set up the signature and the caption, both of which I need to insert manually. Then, like in this case, I edit in a new background colour before saving it back. The Creative Commons logos are added by the export routine in Lightroom.

Adobe includes an app called "Portfolio" in the CC subscription for no additional cost. So I started working with that and slowly, I'm creating an online gallery. It's not ready to share yet but I'll let you know when it is. I mention it here because if you're a CC subscriber, you too can have a free online gallery. It's a little confusing to get started but it does make sense and gets easier as you go along.

watch this space...

Newfoundland trip

Not much new to report except we've firmed up some reservations since I last posted (scroll down to the previous blog posting for details). I did find and reserve a spot in an artist's retreat called "Coffee Cove" that not too many people visit up in the North Central part of the Rock, where I found a 2-bedroom seaside home to rent for the last week of July, the second room is empty as I write this. It would be great to have company there... check it out!

Seascapes and Icebergs off Twillingate 

Basically I have space for visitors from the middle of July onward, in Twillingate, Coffee Cove, Bonavista and Torbay (St. John's area). Huge savings on accommodations if you're considering a visit, although you still have to get there... (mid-week airfares are generally half-price). Contact me!

Picture time!

With a lot of my attention going to readying my house for sale, working out my Newfoundland trip and getting through the early spring "ugly" season, I really haven't been shooting many pictures. However I need to get out of the house (especially when they're working on it and I'm underfoot) so I've been to Algonquin Park a couple of times and as I write this, Trailer-Hitch Larry is picking me up at 7am for another jaunt up there. Hoping for moose this time... it's been a long dry spell.

(I wrote this a week ago. Since then, I've been back to the Park, spending a couple of days there with Dr. Ron and Rob)

The new banner photo for this blog was taken at Mew Lake in Algonquin Park this week.

So without further ado...

Let's start with our perennial favourite, the Pine Marten. So cute, peeking out at us from behind a tree! 

A ruffed grouse, strutting his stuff in the Mew Lake forest. Guess who spotted him? Right. Thanks, Larry!


Crossbills are amazing. You have to wonder how they manage with those warped bills. The yellow one is a female, the red one a male. You can click on a picture to blow it up.

When I was up with Ron and Rob we found these beavers (there was a family of 5 of them!). I'm not a high speed shooter — they each took over 1000 pictures of this guy while I shot 20 or 30. I can't imaging editing through that many pictures! I kind of like this shot! 

When you don't find critters to photograph, you shoot landscapes! Here are a few to end the day.

These pictures were all taken around the same place, Costello Creek on Opeongo Road.  Treatment is quite similar on all of them — first of all, they're all merged pano's because I was shooting with the D5500 and the 17mm lens wasn't wide enough with the cropped sensor. And I finished them all in Topaz Studio, with various impressions presets.

Until next time!

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