Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I refuse to stay indoors!

In a sketching mood...

I took this picture of the Red Umbrella Inn across the road on a grey, very cold day. In fact I took several, sitting in my car just in front of my driveway, and merged them to a high resolution pano.

I had the 70-200 on the camera and was too cold to get out and put on the wide angle. So it's a 140 megapixel merged pano. 

I shot it because I had a sketch in mind. In fact, a pencil sketch, not a digital sketch, and I wanted a source photo. However I did play with it in Topaz and came up with this digital version:

Again, the purpose was to use it to do a pencil sketch. 

Without further ado, here's the actual pencil sketch I did. HB Graphite pencil on Strathmore fine-tooth sketch paper.

Then I opened this pencil sketch in Photoshop and Topaz and did a little fine tuning. Here's what I ended up with:


On the cusp. I need to decide soon. Talk to me...

(also the house for sale thing. Procrastinating).

Algonquin Park

The weather forecast for the week is lousy but Sunday looked OK so I headed up to the Park. Never disappointed! My big problem is choosing which images to post here but hey this is a digital world, so I have a bunch! I'll split them up...

Shooting right into the sun at Lake of Two Rivers. Some HDR and Topaz manipulation to give it the effect I wanted 

Ice Cascades

This is an edit of the picture above it. I wonder what caused the break between the stalagtites and the stalagmites. 

This ice cave is on the north side of highway 60 near LOTR. What looks like another cavern is actually a big ball of ice! It was treacherous climbing in there: wear good boots, cleats if you have them, and be prepared to wade through deep snow.

(or as Ron would call them, "chickens")

Red-breasted nuthatch hoping for peanuts. On the Spruce Bog trail

Immature male pine grosbeak.. These next shots are all at the Visitor's Centre

Female Pine Grosbeak 

Mature Male pine grosbeak 

Common Redpoll. He refused to turn around! 


A lot of people think Pine Martens are cute, cuddly creatures. They are NOT. One of my Facebook friends calls them "adorable assassins". They may look cute... this day I managed to capture images of one in a pissy mood. They have teeth that don't fool around.

These were all shot at Mew Lake, but I saw them in 2 other locations that day as well. These pictures came out best.

I shot all of the bird and critter pictures with my D800 and Nikon 200-400 f/4, handheld or leaning on a railing (my arms and shoulders are still tired!). They came out sharp and beautiful, I thought, until I ran them through Topaz Labs AI-Clear. What a difference! You would think I shot with a $10,000 lens (Oh, wait... look up the Nikon 200-400!).

AI-Clear is an adjustment in Topaz Studio. You can use a preset version of it for free, or you can download the 'Pro' version, that's currently under $100. Or you can trial the Pro version for 30 days for free. It is absolutely worth it. 

There's a Topaz Labs icon in the right panel of this blog. If you use that link, and you read what to put in the coupon field below the icon, you'll get another 15% discount. I could tell you what it says, but what would the fun be in that?  Go see for yourself!

Until next time!

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Friday, February 01, 2019

OK, it's c-c-c-cold!

How much do we take things for granted?

Last night, I went to brush my teeth before going to bed and wondered why the water trickled instead of flowing from the tap. I know that the pressure is down when I flush the toilet, but this was next to nothing. Without going into a lot of detail, a few minutes later, it stopped completely.

It was frigid out. (OK, a little detail, that's what writers do. They paint pictures with words).
How cold was it?

It was so cold, you could see your breath with your eyes closed. If you blinked, there was a chance they'd freeze that way and you wouldn't be able to open them. Your nose would run but it would freeze in your beard, unless you were a woman in which case, I don't know what happens because I've never seen a woman with snot on her face. Except on TV when she's just finished a downhill ski race (how come figure skaters' noses don't run? Would the Russian Judge take off points for snot?). If you take off your hat it's hard to put it back on again because your hair has frozen in spikes in the few hatless minutes. Unless you're bald, in which case you look a lot like a snow cone.

It was so cold that they delayed the start of the dogsled races because the Siberian Huskies were getting frostbitten feet. Once they did get it started and you were shooting pictures, your lens was hard to zoom because the lubricant in it wasn't, well, lubricating. After a while, you couldn't focus because the focus ring on your $2500 lens was frozen solid. Besides, your breath had iced up both the viewfinder and the LCD on the back of the camera and you couldn't see anyway.

It was so cold that you couldn't feel your toes anymore, even though they were encased in heavy wool socks inside thickly insulated snowmobile boots. When you walked across the snow field, the snow squeaked in protest. You could carry your heavy camera gear across the field without feeling any pain because, well, everything was numb, except your fingertips which ached and the tip of your nose which had been touching the back of the camera and it still hurts a day later.

If you're a numbers person, the air temperature was only around -25°C which is just about -13° in Fahrenheit, which isn't so bad, we've all grown up in colder... those of us in Canada and the True North, that is. But it was windy. So the broadcast meteorologists, guys in suits or blond women with ample chests and low cut tops. who stand in front of their green screens and point to invisible cold fronts and low pressure areas and the jetstream, who have made up this measurement called "wind chill" say, "it's -25° but it feels like -40° windchill.
As an aside, I read this morning that the windchill temperature atop Mount Washington was -114°F or -81°C this morning. So I guess, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that cold here. And I remember skiing at Stowe, VT when it was actually -40° (C or F, take your pick) and they gave us 4 or 5 woolen ponchos to ride up on the chair lift. And night skiing in the Laurentians at Mont Habitant at 40 below. But I was so young. In my teens or in my 20's. Now I'm 72 and SO much wiser. And so more brittle.
 I've lived in Canada my whole life. Not like those wimps in Vancouver, who go sailing in the morning then skiing in the afternoon in shorts and a windbreaker. Or in Toronto where they call in the army at the hint of a snowstorm and where traffic grinds to a halt because half the population doesn't believe you need snow tires to get up those little hills but you do. No, in Montreal. Where as kids we used to dig tunnels and forts in the 10' high snowbanks created by the snowplows, and our parents warned us to watch out for the snowblowers which would suck them up and spit them out into caravans of dump trucks. We used to play broomball in our late teens or early 20s on outdoor hockey rinks (I wasn't a skater) and you'd play a 5 minute shift then go cough your lungs out from the condensation freezing as you breathe (and because like every other idiot in the day, you used to smoke a large pack of DuMaurier a day). Further north. I've been at the corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg in winter. I was once on a bus from the Edmonton airport to downtown in an 'ice fog' which is caused by water particles in the air freezing into an opaque cloud.

Yes, I know, other people have been in colder places. But I've lived up here in the Highlands for over 10 years now and never once did my water freeze up. My sump pump line, yes, but not my water lines.

Back to the point of my story. We're spoiled. Yes, I've been winter camping (once. I'm dumb, not stupid!). Yes I've had to carry water up from the stream for cooking and washing. But never at home! Do you know how much you rely on having water? I brought in half a dozen pots full of snow to melt so that I could flush the toilet when I have to ("if it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down". Gross. But true!) I filled up water jugs at my neighbour's for drinking and cooking and brushing my teeth. Shower? Uh-uh.

So here I am in mid-whine. Then I thought about my ancestors who NEVER had running water. And I thought about a large portion of the world's population who don't have access to water, especially clean water. And I thought, I really am a privileged asshole. Spoiled by the luxuries of the modern world. What would it be like if I'd been born 100 years earlier? Or 200 or 300 years? What would it have been like having to do everything physically, manually? Could I have survived?

Now if I run out of cashmere soft 3-ply toilet paper, I can sit at the computer and access the Amazon site, place an order online and two days later get a shipment from the FedEx guy and the hardest thing I have to do is open the box. Or if I do go to the grocery store, I get in my car and turn the key and the most exercise I get is pushing on the gas pedal and carrying in the bags of groceries. Including fresh vegetables that come from Mexico or Peru or even Israel or Morocco, in the middle of winter.

If I'm that spoiled, what about my children? What's it going to be like for my grandkids? We exercise by running or lifting weights or stretching our muscles when  we don't have to: what are they going to do? Or maybe they won't have to, they'll be so reliant on chemicals and medications and nanobots and machines that will keep them alive while they sleep. Or will they sleep?

Does anybody care? Or is it not important, is it evolution? But I weep.


For those who don't appreciate the difference, perhaps this example will help.

Yesterday I shot this dark brown dog on a white snowy background in bright sunlight. I set the camera to save a RAW image (Nikon NEF) on one card and a JPEG Fine on the other card (shooting a D800, 70-200 f/2.8 — 1/640 sec at f/8, ISO 250, matrix metering with +1.3ev exposure compensation). To get a good exposure on the dog, clearly the snow was going to have to be too bright.

After doing the best I could do in Lightroom with the two images, here's what I got. If nothing else, look at the ability to recover detail in the RAW image, in areas like the snowbank which are completely blown out in the JPEG.

I hope this helps some people understand the advantage of shooting in RAW.

The RAW file. Even though the back of the camera (which just shows a JPEG preview of the image) was blown out, detail was still there in the broader dynamic capture range of a RAW file. 

...and this of course is the JPEG. Once you've blown out the whites, nothing you do can bring the detail back. 

What prompted me to shoot this was because Topaz Labs had pre-announced their latest hot product, JPEG-to-RAW-AI which is a standalone product using AI learning to get the most out of a JPEG. i admit that it couldn't save this picture because the detail just didn't exist in the blown out JPEG. You can't recover what's not there.

I've tried the product. It works, on less extreme images. It's intended for when you shoot with your iPhone and capture an image you'd like to enhance and maybe print large. There's no cost involved in trying it: you can get a 30 day free trial to see if you like it. If you commit to buying it before February 8th, you get a 20% discount and there's a way to get 15% even more that I'm sharing with my blog subscribers (click "Newsletter" at upper right to be added to the list. If I see that you subscribed, I'll send you the code).

Topaz explains how it works and gives much better examples than I can. Here's the link, and you need to use this link for the discount:

Newfoundland Update

I'm still procrastinating. I need a push to get me to commit. A couple of people have tentatively put out feelers about joining me, at least for part of the trip, but nothing definite yet. "Speak Now, or..."

Picture time!

I haven't shot much for the past few weeks — it's been too damned cold to spend a lot of time out there.  But then again, it's been a while since I posted to the blog, so here's a bunch!

We did a session at the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club bursting balloons. Some shots were just balloons, others were with people bursting them with their hands. You can't keep a straight face when a balloon bursts in your hands!

With some added effects 

I know I wasn't nice to Hana! But I felt this shot needed a 'grunge' touch and also I composited broken glass into her glasses!

Next was the Dog Sled Races. It was soooo cold... my lens actually froze up and I couldn't focus. Here are a couple of shots anyway...

Last weekend was the first of two weekends of the Pond Hockey championships. It's a fun tournament but some of the play was serious. Again it was really cold so I didn't stay long, but I got this sequence:

The "Ice Team" did a great job and had fun doing it. Can't imagine how, it was soooo cold! 

As I said, some of the players got into it big time. I thought gloves were going to be dropped at some point. 

I thought this shot epitomized what the games were like. 

The less serious teams are playing this weekend. Much more fun photos, wait for it next time!

I shot frozen bubbles a few times. But you know me, I can't leave well enough alone and I love Topaz Studio!

Bubble world approaching the edge of the universe 

It was so cold that the bubble liquid froze before I could get it out of the wand! 

Parting Shot

Yesterday I could only stand about 10 minutes out in the cold, so I shot a few bubble pictures then retreated indoors to the warmth of my computer chair. I decided to composite a few images into one, so here they are:

BTS ("Behind the Scenes") shot of my setup. I used the BBQ as a windbreak and a dark background, added some extra light, and blew the bubble through a straw onto the upside down glass. 

I used these 3 pictures for the composite 
And here's the finished result:

See you next time! And don't forget to subscribe if you want the Topaz discount code!

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