Friday, December 21, 2018

Get over it.

Is this a  "New Year's Resolution"?
No, it's more of an epiphany.

In the last couple of blogs I've been bitching about getting old. Aches and pains, lack of energy and motivation, growing contact list of doctors, awful sleep patterns, a GRANDSON in the Air Force, for God's sake. The list goes on.

Then I say, without meaning it, "consider the alternative".

OK, enough. I can't promise I'll be less curmudgeonly, but I'll try. Think positive.

Three things happened in the past few days that are pushing me on this track:

  1. The oncologist I saw last week said, when I commented on my age, "the patient I just saw before you is 91. Get over it."
  2. My aunt passed away this morning. She was 102. My mom was 95. My dad died young, at 89. Get over it.
  3. On a completely different note, I went to Algonquin Park on Wednesday. Because I can. Whenever I want to. In fact I can do anything I want. Whenever I want to.

I want to write. I want to make pictures, with the camera, the computer, a paint brush, charcoal and pencils. Time for the excuses to end. 
Get over it.

In a conversation with my cousin Howard today (it was his mother who passed on at 102) we looked backwards at our lives — we basically grew up together — and we realized how much stuff we've done over the years. If I created a character in my novel who had done, and mastered, all that stuff, nobody would believe it. I'm still going to give it a shot!

Topaz Labs sale

If you're reading this and it's not Boxing Day yet, you still have time to take advantage of the Topaz Labs year-end sale.

I'm committed to the Topaz products. Virtually every picture of mine that you see has had a whiff of Topaz. Whether it's painterly effects, textures,  noise reduction, extra clarity or sharpening, upsizing or simplifying, their products are superb.

I recently started using AI Clear and now I'm committed to it. It does such a good job of increasing the acuity of an image that a lot of the methods I've used in the past have been relegated to the shelf.

Is there a learning curve? Of course there is. Not that steep though, you can work your way through it.

If you're cost conscious, you want to take advantage of this sale before it's gone. If not, you owe it to yourself to try their products: you can do a full 30 day free trial on anything in their program.

Here's the link:

Newfoundland Portfolio

I spent some time working on my Newfoundland pictures from last summer. I put a selection of them up online using Adobe Portfolio. All of the pictures in this group are large hi-res, so for the most part they'd be great printed!

So far, these are the best images. Click a picture for full-screen. Hover over it for the description.

Longliner approaching Gull Island, off Twillingate. 

Right now I'm recommending canvas wrap printing: I have a good, responsive and inexpensive supplier. You can get up to 40" width, you can hang them without framing, and I can do a large format print for about $100, delivered, including taxes. I can get regular prints too.

If you like any of the images, please communicate with me, tell me the title or description, and we'll go from there.

"The time had come, the warden said, to talk of many things..."
Of animals and ecology and climate change and the Park 
(sorry, Lewis Carroll).

Before I get into pictures from yesterday, I want to talk about some things I learned from a Park Warden named "David" with whom we chatted for a while.

PS: I got carried away, writing this: if it's too much for you, just look at the pictures.

OK, OK, here's a picture!

Male Pine Grosbeak. I learned from David that this is a second-year bird, not wearing full-colour plumage yet. 

David was a nice guy, despite the patches on his shoulders and gold badge on his chest. A bit crazy hanging out with us on the back deck of the Visitor’s Centre in a short sleeved shirt, everyone asking him from time to time, “aren’t you cold”? “I wouldn’t do this if it was 40 below, but it’s a nice day…”. Me, in a down jacket over a wool sweater over my thermal underwear… Knowledgeable guy, knows his birds, nature, the park. “I don’t think that’s a hoary redpoll, look at the shape of the bill. I think it might be just a light coloured common redpoll”.

The conversation turned to feeding and baiting, and where do you draw the line. Aren’t they really the same thing? You could tell that David was not comfortable at times. You had the impression he was expressing a personal opinion and being really careful not to contradict the Park’s official position. He made an interesting comment, that it’s not a digital divide, unethical baiting on one side, managed feeding on the other, "it’s a continuum", he said. 

At one point he grudgingly admitted that it wasn’t necessary to have the feeders at the centre, the birds would survive the winter anyway, or most of them would. The feeders were really there to cater to the visitors and yes, the photographers.

Of course we went to pine martens and foxes next. There was a couple we all  had run into up at the turnaround on Opeongo Road that day. When we (Amin and I) were there, they were holding a handful of bird seed or trail mix to hand feed the chickadees and Canada jays. But other people in the conversation said they saw this couple feeding cheese and meat to a pine marten there. One said he left without shooting any pictures because he couldn’t condone the behaviour. 

All of us have seen the deplorable setup at Mew Lake. The pine martens live in the garbage bins and through some sort of misguided logic, some people think there’s nothing wrong with spreading peanut butter or cat food on the tree branches in the hope of slowing down these fast-moving predators so they can get a picture. After all, they're eating garbage anyway. Last week I had to wait to get a shot when the animals weren’t busy licking the trees. Someone said they saw a visitor one day, nailing hot dogs to the tree. “Can’t something be done about this? Can’t you charge people”?

“When we get there”, David said, “people say the one who did this just left. We’re just taking pictures”. It is a chargeable offence, harassing wildlife, but hard to enforce. But David went on to explain why it’s wrong. He used the famous foxes on Arowhon Road as an example.

The foxes up there were so habituated to Man that all you needed to do was to stop your car and open the door, and the foxes would appear. Crinkle a potato chip bag and you’d almost have one in your back seat. They waited for people to appear, guaranteed food sources. As a result, several things happened. First and most obvious, the animals were interacting with two tons of metal and plastic and the inevitable occurred, the cars won. Papa fox and one of his daughters are now living their lives out at Aspen Valley rehab, Papa still limping around on often broken limbs after car collisions. 

My favourite picture of Papa fox, shot a few years ago. 

But Papa has lived a long time, some say between 12 and 15 years, unheard of for a fox: it's like a person living to 120. Still fathering a litter of kits every year until recently, which meant that there was a continuing presence of foxes in that territory for a long time. Not just a pair... many. Maybe as many as a dozen. There are turtle beds along the trails and with the constant pressure of a dozen foxes, virtually no turtles have survived. We've changed the ecological balance, at least in that part of the park, in a few short years, by feeding the foxes in order to get some pictures.

But there's more. These foxes are so tame they would conceivably take food from the hand. "What do you think would happen", David asked, "if a fox nipped someone, perhaps a child, in the process of taking food from the hand"? The answer was obvious: the foxes would be hunted down, trapped and euthanized. 

Now let's get back to the pine martens at Mew. There used to be one or two. This week I saw five, someone else said six. True, some of them were kits (or whatever a baby pine marten is called). What do you think is happening to the squirrel population? Voles? Are we changing the environment for the sake of a few pictures? When is someone going to get bitten (not "if". It's going to happen)? Then what. How is it different from bears or wolves invading campsites? 

Back to the question at hand. What's the difference between baiting the wildlife, and feeding the birds? Nobody's going to get bitten by a chickadee landing on your hand for a peanut. And since the Park itself is setting a poor example by setting up feeders and putting out suet, how can they begin to prevent people from doing the same.

There has to be a line drawn in the sand (or the snow!), though. And by the end of the conversation, we all agreed: it's between feeding mammals and birds (yes we talked about baiting snowy owls but it's not germane to Algonquin Park). And let's not talk about the supposedly "Wild" turkeys at Mew who peck between your feet and come out when people show up.

Is it ethical to take pictures of habituated animals, even if you're not the one doing the feeding? Should we be flocking to Mew Lake or Opeongo after the martens? A conundrum wrapped in a mystery, buried in an enigma (thanks, Sir Winston). I'm on the horns of a dilemma. It's just that they're just so damned cute...

And to that couple who were throwing cheese and hamburger to the Pine Martens up in Opeongo, don't do it in front of me. You know what side I'm on.

Sure the Pine Martens are cute and photogenic. But there are at least 5 of them living at Mew right now, what's that doing to the population of squirrels and voles in the area? And what happens when someone gets too close and gets bitten? 

What else did I shoot at Algonquin yesterday? 

Not much but it was a great day, like every other time I've managed to get to the Park!

Colours on that immature male Pine Grosbeak are exquisite.

Here's what a mature male looks like 

Common Redpoll 

American Goldfinch 

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

It's Photoshop season!

With the frightful weather out there, some days are best spent indoors, allowing your creative spirit to soar in front of your computer or with an indoor camera setup. A beverage of your choice, music playing in the background, and now that it's legal, some mind-altering chemistry, these things enhance your creativity. It's what I call "Photoshop Season".
Caution, though. Always wait until the light of day before sharing your images. Sometimes they don't look the same when viewed through less 'altered' eyes!

A "sporadic musing moment".

I just figured out basketball.

Up 'till now, basketball has been a bunch of really tall skinny guys running around randomly and exhibiting fabulous gymnastic ability with a goal to put that ball in the hoop. The commentators always talk about 'plays' and 'screen and roll'  and 'dribble drive' but it took a long time for me to figure out that it really isn't random.

The plays are all designed to get the ball in the hands of a shooter who is not defended properly by drawing the defence away somewhere else. Thing is, it all happens in the blink of an eye.

I've been a Raptors fan since the team's inception.  I don't like baseball because I tend to fall asleep easily and it's boring. I love watching football because I played many centuries ago and I understand the game. I don't watch CFL football because that's like listening to your little sister practice the viola (sorry, Barbi) when you could be listening to Tommy Emmanuel or Eric Clapton or Oscar Peterson or...

For me, basketball is different. For one thing, I have never had a dream in the middle of the night where I was beating Magic Johnson to a spot or shooting over LeBron James. I'm short. I'm fat. I can't jump high enough to get my toes off the ground. And it's been over 60 years since I tried shooting a basketball at a hoop. Does anyone still shoot free throws underhand from between their legs?

Football (sorry, my non-North-American readers, our kind of football, not yours!) is like a chess match. You plan in advance what you're going to do and then you execute to the best of your ability. The defence tries to anticipate your move and move forces in place to prevent it, being careful not to leave any other options wide open for the offense. When I watch football, I do so vicariously. I could be that offensive or defensive lineman, or nose tackle. I love to watch the offensive guards, especially when they 'pull' (run ahead of the ball carrier).

Basketball is the same, except it's like speed chess, everything happens on the fly. On offence, you try to find a path for the ball to get to the basket which is not covered by the defence. If you drive into the paint, the defenders are forced to bring their manpower in to prevent it, but that leaves the guy in the corner with a wide open 3-point shot. If they try to cover the 3-pointers, that leaves the middle open. If you have players capable of hitting shots efficiently from the mid-range, the defence is screwed, they can't cover everything.

The players are incredibly skilled. Their reaction times are unearthly fast. Their body control and especially their hands are unbelievable.

The Raptors are a good team. Maybe even the best on the planet this year, we'll see. At this writing, they are 20 and 4 and if they stay healthy, it's hard to see how anyone can beat them. The skill levels of the individual players is outstanding: Lowry's vision and long range accuracy, Leonard's offensive skills, Siakam's dexterity and sheer speed, Ibaka and Valanciunas's power and presence... I especially like watching Steady Freddy VanVleet as he explodes from zero to 100 in a microsecond.

But it's not just about these individual skills. It's about forcing your opponent to deploy their forces to react to a perceived threat and then executing something completely different. It's about playmaking and the coaching staff are the ones making these moves. Yes, the players are exciting to watch but they're merely the chess pieces on the board, not the GrandMaster making the moves.

What's this got to do with photography? Nothing.

Time to start thinking about next summer?

Newfoundland again? Maybe...

But an idea has arisen. What about a bunch of us getting together and flying up to Whitehorse or Yellowknife or both for a couple of weeks? We could rent a couple of motorhomes... or we could engage a local guide...
Who's interested? eMail me.

Another 'sporadic moment'

Does anyone else get muscle cramps in their inner thigh? The muscle in question is called the "sartorius muscle" and it runs from the knee all the way up to the hip joint. Cramps in this muscle are excruciating. I've been tempted to call 9-1-1 when I get one and it's interesting that when I Googled it, other people have said exactly the same thing. One person said he'd broken bones and had less pain. A woman said natural childbirth hurt less.

My doctor had no suggestions. Other than lose weight...

I know that too much exercise causes me to get this cramp. Those who know me know that "too much exercise" might be getting off the couch too many times on the way to the refrigerator and back. Seriously, for instance if I mow the entire half acre lawn in one shot, I know I'll be hurting that night. Or a long (for me) hike.

So my questions are, (1) how do you prevent this cramp?  I've read all kinds of things about hydration, potassium, magnesium... they don't work. Anything else? And (2) when you get one, what works best to make it go away? I stand up, find something around stomach height (back of a chair, a dresser...) to take some of the weight off it, and remain motionless until it abates. Sometimes I try to find and massage a trigger point but nothing really works.

Anyone else suffer with these? Please let me know.

BTW I just did something to my shoulder. I can't remember any particular incident. I carried a load of firewood in yesterday but that was with the other arm... hurts like hell to raise my arm but if I force it, I can get a full range of motion and the pain eases for a minute or two. Frustrating: do you know how much stuff you do with your dominant hand?

Altered Reality

Here's an image I've been working on sporadically (I like that word!) for some time. The original image was from a "zombie walk" a few years ago in Haliburton. Then there was a "chamber of horrors" thing set up for Hallowe'en at Pinestone, a year later if I recall. That was a challenge because there was virtually no light in there so handheld long exposure! I merged the two pictures and did a lot of work on toning and colour, etc. Then I added some texture effects and a final cut/edit to use it for a challenge on the Photoshop and Photography Facebook group.

Last week I remembered that there was a flame function in Photoshop and since I wanted to play with it, I brought the image up again. The Guardian at the Gates of Hell can project flame from his eyes and he set the hair of the female zombie on fire. Without further ado...

I need to come up with a few more creative composite shots for upcoming competitions, so watch this space!

Here''s an image I spent some time on yesterday. As I said, it's "Photoshop" season, a good time to go through images I marked for editing from last summer.

Looking Northwest at the Twillingate harbour

I did some subtle editing here. When I first looked at it, I opened up the shadows on the boat/land to the right to see what was there: lots of detail. Shooting in RAW lets you do that. The sky was nice. I had 4 images and tried to combine them but it didn't help so I simply used Lightroom and later, ACR, to give the sky more presence.

Although it was a 1/4 second exposure, the water had too much texture for me. So I selected it and applied a motion blur to smooth it. There was a bright spot in the sky at upper left and I decided to try to enhance that by using Topaz Studio Texture Effects (I remembered one with some sun rays) and I like how that turned out. Finally I dodged and burned the right side to make it look like the boat and land were subtly lit by the sun peeking through the clouds.

This image 'tastes' like it did when I shot it. I think it will make an excellent print.

I've been in Algonquin Park twice in the last 4 days. Friday was cold: -22°C, Monday not so much, only around -7°C. I got a bunch of pictures I liked on Friday and I decided to put together a little Lightroom slideshow instead of trying to post them individually. I uploaded it to YouTube and you can see it here. It was disappointing to me, though, because I lost a lot of quality — nothing's really sharp. I had to reduce the size of the video file because of my lousy upload speed. Here are a couple of individual shots:

Seen on the way home later in the afternoon. And yes, too close (although it was with a 400mm lens). She walked towards me, I backed up , just a snowbank between us. She wasn't really being aggressive, I had the feeling she didn't care that I was there, this was just the way she wanted to go.

At Mew Lake, where the Pine Martens live, there's a flock of wild turkeys. They're totally habituated to man, who's ever heard of wild turkeys that root around at people's feet? Ditto Pine Martens that hang out under your car.

I'm starting to be a little disgusted by the photographers who spread peanut butter or cat food on the branches at Mew Lake for the martens (you know who you are and where I'm talking about). There are half a dozen living there and if you don't see one or more, just wait a few minutes. And if you don't see one today, well that's an excuse to come back to the Park another time.

When we were there yesterday it was hard to get a picture when the animal wasn't licking a tree. Yes, they run around fast and are hard to photograph but how can you be proud of a picture of an animal that was baited? Might as well go to the zoo.

Don't get me started on baiting snowy owls with store-bought mice.


Here's one that does NOT live in a garbage can. Yes, he's running across a road but he lives in the bush and lives on what he hunts, not on man's scraps. This was up on Opeongo Road on Monday.

Parting Shots

Here are a couple of images from Monday's visit to the Park. 


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Saturday, December 01, 2018

Getting Old Sucks

I wrote this section two weeks ago. I'm leaving it here because, well, it's true. But if you scroll down a bit, you'll see a little different perspective.

Getting Old Sucks, a rant.

I know, I know. Everyone's first reaction is, "the alternative sucks worse". I get that.

But it's true. You work all your life, then you retire and you want to do all those things you've been putting off. But... why do you think the word "retired" has the word "tired" in it. My get-up-and-go has got up and went.

Yesterday I fixed a loose towel hook on the back of the bathroom door. That was yesterday.

Today I did more. I brought in some firewood. I started a fire. I watched the mechanic fix the snowblower (I couldn't do it. That wasn't an 'age' thing, it was an 'I'm a numbnutz mechanic' thing). But then he started it by pulling the 'thingie' once. Later I tried and I had to plug in the electric start to get it going because I don't have the strength to pull the cord hard and fast enough.

I know I'm bitching. But back when, I used to work out and was proud that I built a body with a 56" chest and a 36" waist and I bench pressed 315 lbs and funny enough, I only weighed about 20 lbs less than I do now. I'm not going to say the numbers now, because it's embarrassing  but when I bought bird seed today (oh, yeah: I did that too. And filled the feeders!) I had to have them sell me half a bag because I couldn't lift the 50 lb bag. A couple of weeks ago, I couldn't pick up a bundle of shingles.

Part of it's due to arthritis. My hands cramp up. So do my legs, my abs, my side, my right shoulder... my knees are sore. So are my hips. They wake me up at night. 4 am, I get up, wander around the house for an hour then maybe get back to sleep.

My father used to say, "Everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work anymore".

"Do you want some cheese with that whine"?

I heard about a couple more people who have dementia. Maybe they're lucky, they don't know what's happening.

I haven't shot a picture in 2 weeks, or even edited one. That stops now. Back to work. Right after my nap. I'm not ready yet, dammit.


Now to the main subject of this blog.

Does this Grandson make me look fat?
And short. And old.
Are we so sure that Genetics is a real thing?

That's what happens when you have a 6'2" slim grandson! All of the above... 

This blog post is not about me. It's about my grandson, Ryan Davenport.
That would be 2nd Lieutenant Ryan Davenport, Royal Canadian Air Force.

I had the privilege of accompanying my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter to attend Ryan's graduation ceremony at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School located at the Saint-Jean Garrison in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. He completed the Basic Military Officer Qualification course for Regular Force Officers and he now holds the rank of 2nd Lt. in the RCAF.

Lori and Rich, Kelly and Ryan, an iPhone shot the day before graduation.  

Rich shot this picture of Ryan with me and my daughter, Lori, so 3 generations! I stripped out the background and replaced it with this one.  Oh, and a little photoshop 'liquify' on my shape, because yes, this grandson makes me look fat!

Family shot.  Lori and Ryan and Kelly and Richard

It was interesting that Ryan had bulked up, building his fitness level and endurance before the course. We were shocked to see how much muscle mass he lost over the course of these months. He puts it down to perennial sleep deprivation and the fact that almost all of the PT was cardio-based, favouring endurance over strength. He says he can't wait to get back on the ice playing hockey or in a gym pushing weights.

As I write this, he is now posted to his permanent base but he'll only be there for a month or so before he leaves for his Phase 1 flight training. All things being equal, in a few months he'll be a qualified military pilot, then moving on to additional training leading to his goal of flying jet fighters. Soon, he'll get to fly the Harvard II, an 1100 hp turboprop trainer (for those familiar with the original ones, this isn't your grandfather's Harvard! Fully aerobatic, capable of pulling 7G's and topping out at almost 600 kph... be sure to click "more photos" on the linked page). From there he moves to jets: I heard that it's possible he'll do his jet training in T-38 Talons in the US instead of the CT-155 Hawk in Canada because he might be too tall to fit in the Hawk cockpit! These are both supersonic jet trainers! By the way, I know more but won't post locations or other details here.

The graduation ceremony was held in a cavernous building with terrible lighting for photography. An hour and a half or more of marching drills and mostly standing at attention or parade rest (under arms, with the C7 rifle). My feet hurt just watching them.

Ryan was at the far right end of his platoon, likely because of his height. The group behind them were non-commissioned recruits who go through similar basic physical training. 

All three branches of service (Army, Navy, Air Force) trained together here, hence the different uniforms. They must practice that facial expression.

Personal observation: I have to admit that because Ryan is just a kid to me, at the beginning I had the feeling that this was not serious. By the end, I realized these people are not 'playing soldier'. This isn't summer camp.

Some of the instructors 

I know that the job of a grandparent is to spoil the grandkids rotten. Now I also realize that the grandkids' rĂ´le is to make their grandparents incredibly proud.

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