Monday, May 18, 2015

Spring Fever

Spring has sprung, but I'm feeling a bit uninspired these days. Does it show? I'm a little distracted. One of the reasons is that I'm investing a lot of creative energy in other media: painting, and re-learning to play guitar. When I pick up the camera, I feel like I'm 'phoning it in'. Time to get motivated again!

Topaz Labs just announced that TOPAZ SIMPLIFY is on sale for 30% off, reducing the price to $27.99 for the month of May. Use this link and enter the code "MAYSIMP" at checkout.

Turtle Power

As I hinted last week, I finally managed to get some turtle shots! For some background, there are eight species of turtles in Ontario and all but one of them are on the endangered list. The one that isn't is the Painted Turtle:

Every spring, the turtles venture out of their marsh homes in search of food, nesting spots and mates and often cross roads to find them, where they often meet with untimely ends at the "hands" of car and truck tires. In Haliburton County, organizations are in place to monitor the populations. Other people see turtles all the time, but I never actually have... despite driving around on appropriate roads in search of them. Until last week, when I came across this hefty Snapping Turtle specimen:

I should have added something for a sense of scale, but this guy's shell is probably half a meter long. I was tempted to remove the piece of grass on his head. Only for a second, though: it would be a good way to lose a hand! 

Birds of Prey

I also mentioned last week that I had visited the Canadian Raptor Conservancy with a group of 10 friends from here and from Richmond Hill Camera Club. We had a great time, weather was good, the birds were cooperative! And impressive as usual.

Others got better shots than I. Sometimes you're not in the 'groove' and that was me that day. I succeeded in getting many in-focus, well-exposed images but my timing was off, especially when they flew a bald eagle over the pond, and several of my colleagues got great shots where the bird's wingtips brushed the water. Mine weren't so exciting.

So I don't bore you, here are a couple more and that's it.

Baby Great Horned Owl 

Aplomado Falcon showing off 

We went into Port Dover for lunch (worth it! The pickerel and perch at the Erie Beach Hotel is worth the trip) then headed home. Along the way there was an apple orchard that had caught many of our eyes, so we stopped. Again, I was a bit disappointed. I think I was more concerned with the long drive ahead of me and didn't give it the time I needed. However I did get a few 'keepers'.

This is what caught our eyes. You'd think there's be some killer shots here! 

A bit of a painterly treatment from Topaz Impression helped this one 

This was what I had in mind when I stopped 

And here's a shot of John Kot doing his thing, with a little help from Impression/Monet. 

I also stopped at a wind farm, with the intent of doing a slow shutter exposure. That didn't work out, but here's a composite shot that didn't look too bad:

Half a dozen exposures blended in Photoshop

More Birds

To close for today, here are two more bird shots from Carden Plain (I was back there on Saturday) that I liked. I was wearing my springtime fragrance, "eau de Deep-Woods-Off". Yep, the black flies were out!

Eastern Phoebe 

Barn Swallow 
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I shot a LOT of pictures over the past couple of weeks!

...I don't just mean I ran my shutter count 'way up, I shot a bunch of different venues:
  • I was at Carden Plain twice, first with Dr. Ron and Mark and Dan Busby and Bill Bunn, and then on my own on my way into Toronto the following weekend.
  • Ron and Mark had a "concept shoot" in mind. Wendy Evenden from the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club volunteered as a model. I admit I was exhausted and couldn't concentrate on this one by the time we got out there to shoot.
  • The HHCC had an outing to Wintergreen for brekkie then on to some interesting venues. I haven't even LOOKED at those pictures yet!
  • I drove around during the week looking for those elusive turtles that are supposed to be on the roads. 
  • I was at the Canadian Raptor Conservancy in Vittoria, Ontario (north shore of Lake Erie, near Port Dover). I've looked through some of these pictures but I'm not done yet.
  • On the way home, I set up a shot at a wind farm south of Hamilton.
Phew! I'm going to break this into more than one blog post so I can do justice to some of the images. But before we start...

A different Medium

OK, look at the trees on the left in the header picture. Then look at this:

Painted with my own hot little hands with a brush and oil paint on canvas.   

Big thanks go out to Harvey Walker who is a great artist and an able teacher! Anyone who could teach me to paint has to be good. Obviously I didn't achieve the nuances of shape and shadow that he does but every artist does things his or her own way, right? I still need to do the sky (without messing up the trees!) and I might add a rock in the lower right foreground for balance. the bush on the right was added out of my imagination. See, you can do that when you paint! Artist's license...

Birds, birds, birds!

You know those photographers you see running around out there wearing camo and toting howitzer-sized lenses and heavy duty gimbal mount heads on sturdy tripods? There's a method in their madness. It's hard to get those shots without all that gear. When I went to Carden Plain with Ron & Mark et al, Mark loaned me a Tamron 150-500mm lens and I have to say, I'm sure the lens was better than I was but I didn't get much usable stuff. You need practice with these long lenses.

You also have to know how to spot the birds you're hearing. I didn't do too well! Nevertheless, here are a few shots from that day, all at 500mm.

Male red-winged blackbird making himself heard 

Here's another one (not at Carden, on Highway 48 near Bolsover) catching his lunch. I normally wouldn't post a blurred image but what a great story! He took off from a power line in pursuit of this bug.

Same bird, after his snack, making his presence known to the ladies. 

We were at the Osprey nest on Highway 48. Weird things going on there: THREE birds, not two. Odd... 

I got some tree swallow shots but not much else that day. Dan's pictures blew me away, I'm not posting mine! When I came back the next week, there were a few more birds around: I noted a total of 12 species. Here are some pictures:

Tree swallow. Nowhere near Dan's but this is unedited, straight out of the camera. 

Wilson's Snipe. It's a pretty tight crop, I only had my 70-200mm plus 1.7x converter and I shoot full-frame. 

Barn Swallows. I shot from inside the blind on Wylie Road (all the shots were on Wylie Road). They weren't quite so close together, I used content-aware-scale to bring them in. The guy with the twigs hung onto them for the longest time. In hindsight, I wonder if the nest was in the blind and he couldn't come in because I was there. 

This Spotted Towhee was down near the end of the road. According to the book, the Eastern Towhee is uncommon (saw some of those too, but no usable photos) and the Spotted one is even rarer. Again, a pretty tight crop, he was far away. 

Carden Plain, or the Carden Alvar is not just about birds. This is Wylie Road about 5 or 6 km in. A charcoal sketch done with Topaz Impression. 

On my way out, I spotted this Kildeer. He was closer but flew off when I brought up the camera, so this distant shot was the best I could manage. Apparently there were Bobolinks in the same field but I couldn't spot them. 

Ron's Concept Shoot

As I said, I was really tired and couldn't buy into the concept shoot Ron (and Mark) were trying to achieve. A musician in the woods. Anyway, I did a couple of shots while we were there:

Wendy, Mark and Ron. 

Perhaps as Leonardo da Vinci might have envisioned it 

Stay tuned until next week! And just as a teaser,

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Friday, May 01, 2015

I wasn't going to do it!

Why use Lightroom?

I just wrote the following in response to one of our club members' question about why use LR when you already have Elements.
As far as editing is concerned, all three: Lightroom, Photoshop and Elements share the same processing engine, known as Adobe Camera Raw or ACR. But each program does other things outside that function.
■ Photoshop contains all the tools you'll ever need to manipulate a photo. You can edit right down to a single pixel with precision, if you can imagine it, you can do it in Photoshop. Twelve different ways, I might add. If you have the time and patience, that's the program to use. It has a steep learning curve, but you don't HAVE to use all the tools if you don't want to.
■ Elements contains a subset of the most commonly used, the more simple tools in Photoshop. And it's presented in such a way that you don't have to be as schooled to understand them. You can pretty well get to where you want to go but it might take some time to get there. Using Elements is sort of like using your camera on "Automatic", it's a 'Point-and-Shoot' editing program.
■ The downside of both of these programs is that they are designed to work on one picture at a time. Lightroom is designed to help you work with multiple images. Its forté is organizing your images and workflow by letting you import, file and flag and label a card full of images, edit them, let you switch out to PS to adjust them if you need more in depth manipulation, then you can export them for whatever purpose you have in mind, whether it's for print, for the web, for a slideshow, whatever. 
The point of Lightroom is that it takes a fraction of the time to process images compared to the others. I can import 200 pictures, mark and select which ones to work on, do basic editing on those and get them ready for export in 30 minutes: which is about the same amount of time it takes to manipulate one single image in the other programs. It's a workflow machine.
What it DOESN'T do is work with layers or combine multiple images (except for the new HDR and Pano functions in LR 6/CC). Personally I spend 85% of my post-processing effort in LR and only go out to PS when I need to go above and beyond.
Make sense?

Speaking of Lightroom

I told everyone I wasn't going to upgrade to LR CC (Lightroom 6) until I could see what kind of experience others were having with it. I gave in. I actually held out for... oh, I don't know, 8 hours? LOL. I downloaded and installed it on one machine that night.

First problem I had was getting it to run. To make a long story short, it wouldn't work – wouldn't even open – until I logged out of the Creative Cloud and logged back in. Then it worked seamlessly.
One weird thing: it decided that my F: drive – my external master image storage drive – should henceforth be known as the G: drive, which messed up a bunch of relationships! I simply renamed it and was back in business.
The first thing I did, after making sure everything was still there (and it was), was to do an HDR merge using the new function in Lightroom 6. Here's the first image I processed:

Two clicks made this image. Well actually I had to adjust some sliders afterwards, but really basic stuff like exposure and black and white levels and shadows. From zero to done in two minutes flat.

The resulting image in Lightroom is a natural, not heavily manipulated picture, that even people who say "I Hate HDR" can't find fault with. But the best part is, different from all the other HDR programs I have, the merged file is a RAW file (DNG) with a virtually infinite scope of what I can do with it afterwards. I understand the new Pano function is similar but I don't have any test images to try it on right now*.
Now I do! See below.
The main advantage of the upgraded program is supposed to be an order-of-magnitude improvement in speed. Apparently they worked hard at optimizing how it processes images. Time will tell.

The other big thing they're touting for LR6/CC is Facial Recognition. Not something I care about since I'm primarily a landscape shooter, but you never know. The other thing is seamless integration with Lightroom Mobile that allows you to edit images on portable devices. But if I want to edit images I want to do it on my 26" monitor with my Wacom stylus in hand and an i7 quad-core processor slaving away in the background, so it's not for me. By the way, I have limited internet speed and bandwidth so I don't use any kind of cloud storage.

So far Lightroom 6 seems to be a seamless upgrade. We'll see...

Lightroom 6 Pano function

It's brilliant. Almost seamless. Check this out:

This is a giant pano. It's made up of 12 images automatically stitched together by Lightroom. Each image is 36Mp and the finished composite is almost 300Mp in size! Go ahead, click it. You still can't see it in all its glory! It's 32,273 pixels wide! Why? Look at this: 

This is a tight crop out of the pano above. I've shot large format: 4x5, 8x10... I think digital just caught up.  

Lightroom also automatically created this pano merge:

I shot this upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right. Lightroom AUTOMATICALLY put them together in the right way. It's a 120Mp file. I'm impressed.

By the way, this is my latest painting. It's Ritchie Falls, as you saw in last week's blog.  

New Header

I created the new header for the blog using the pano feature in Lightroom 6/CC. It's a bit taller than I usually use, wish I didn't have to cut the top off that tree! By the way, it's 20 merged images: I merged four 5-shot HDR's, then put them together as a pano. And there's a little touch of Topaz Impression, Rembrandt 1 preset in there.

You win some...

I had high hopes for these images. But they didn't go where I wanted them. I'm posting this as a reminder that sometimes what you see in your mind is not what you can capture with the camera or even produce in post-processing.

I was practicing what I preach. As I drove past this hillside on a rainy Monday, the little water rill caught my eye. I was on my way back from my painting class, without my camera in the car (OK, that part I didn't do as I say...) so I marked the spot, drove home, picked up the camera and came back. Here's what I originally saw:

This is straight out of the camera except for a minor exposure adjustment. 

I liked the colour palette. Something I'm paying more and more attention to these days (I'm finally catching on, Rosa, if you're still reading my stuff!). The beech and oak leaves still hanging on the trees added a brilliance to the scene. And of course, the rushing water... you can probably see what made me stop. But when I got it home, I wasn't excited.

I did shoot a 5-shot bracket so the first thing I did was to merge them to HDR. Really a waste of time: this is NOT a high-dynamic-range scene, it was overcast and raining. And if you looked at the histogram, there was nothing blown out or filled in. But the HDR merge did increase the detail level some. Then I increased saturation and got this:

I thought vertical worked better.  
My next thought was, "too much going on". So I tried to lose some detail, using various tools like Topaz Simplify, negative clarity... nah. Another attempt, using Topaz Impression with an impasto preset (but multiplied in to enhance the tone of the shadows, not so much the texture):

Now I ran "Simplify" on the image again, and masked out the river and the yellow tree, and here's the image closer to what I envisioned:

Not really what I was after, and not my favourite image ever, but it has its points!

I looked around before getting back in the car. "Working the Scene". I shot a closeup of some weeds, but didn't get much (I really have to get a macro lens!). Then about 100m to the right, I saw the scene below. Again, the colour palette was what attracted me and also, I had just spent a couple of hours learning how to paint rocks on canvas with oil paint, and I thought this scene had potential:

When I paint it (and I am planning to!) I can leave out some of the distracting brush in the foreground and get rid of that green leaf at right. I know I don't have the painting skill to make this come out the way I want, but it's worth a try. Wish me luck!

One more...

I took this picture yesterday, after coming out of the endodontist's office. I'd just had a root canal (doin' fine, thanks for asking!). I'm pretty sure this is his car... he did great work and deserves to be well paid! Well, maybe not THIS well...

This is a Tesla Model "S", P-85. All electric. Look it up! Over $100 Grand...

5-shot HDR, processed with Photomatix, tweaked with Lightroom 6/CC. 

Next week: images from the Carden Plain. The new header picture comes from there.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

I'd be lying...

...if I told you that the reason you haven't read a blog post from me since April 4th is that I've been too busy out there taking pictures in the burgeoning spring weather. Not true. Fact is, I'm going through somewhat of a dry spell, photographically. There are a few reasons, maybe by writing them down they might go away.

While it might be Spring on the calendar, it's just getting started here. I'll admit that the last few days have been nice but where I live, the grass is still brown, where you can see it through the melting snow piles (not fair, I suppose. The snow's mostly gone, but the ground is brown and soggy, muddy). Just not interesting...

In Toronto, spring has sprung but they don't believe me when I say the lake here is still mostly ice covered. This winter, the ice was thicker than most people can remember – my neighbour said over 30" thick in places where it's usually half that – but I wouldn't be venturing out there, it's paper thin in places! 

But here's the good news: the birds are back. The other day I saw (for the first time) a pair of sandhill cranes in flight, 'way too quick to get the camera out but Gawd, those are elegant birds in flight! All the usual suspects are back, turkeys galore, robins, osprey, mourning doves, American goldfinch, and the usual blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers and grackles. I'm looking forward to heading down to Carden Plain in a couple of weeks.

Speaking of birds, this snowy owl was still hanging around last week. Guess he'll be heading up North soon.  

Also speaking of raptors like owls, our outing to the Canadian Raptor Conservancy is now booked and full up. Looking forward to that too!

I find myself looking at images online for inspiration and not getting much. After a while they all look alike. I want to make my work stand out from that crowd, so I'm waiting for the creative juices to flow. 

You ever have so much to do that you don't know where to get started? That's where I'm at right now... I'm on deadline for both a presentation and judging a large  competition... I really have to stop saying "yes" to people! I'm working through some other issues too, which leaves little time for writing (I really want to get back to my creative writing!) but I'll be back, so don't go away mad. 

Johnny Ferreira photoshoot

I did get out to shoot one assignment last week that I thought I'd share. My friend Styles called and asked me to do a headshot for a musician he's working with. I only had an hour to shoot, but spent a day so far on post-processing.

This is the image he wanted. The original, straight-out-of-camera is on the left so you can see that I did a little retouching work in addition to swapping out the background. I used a technique called "Frequency Separation" which did a good job of NOT turning him into Barbi (OK, "Ken"). It's technical, but not difficult, so if you're interested, go to YouTube and Google it. The tutorial I found most useful was by Frank Doorhof, here.  Notice the teeth and eyes, by the way.

Just for fun, here are some shots I liked for ME, not necessarily for him. 

I shot this while I was setting up the lights, just as a test; but I really like the feel. By the way, I used an off-camera strobe with a Gary Fong Diffuser on it, and later, a reflector disk (but not in this shot). I told Johnny just to do what he wanted, I was only setting up. Have to do that more often!

This was an interesting sketch created from one of the images. I added some layers with the guitar in different positions, then ran it through a complicated Photoshop action from John Stevenson in Colorado that makes use of Topaz Impression. 

I did a colour version too. Click to blow it up! 

But this is the image I liked the best from the shoot. Styles said they might consider it for a CD wrapper on an upcoming album:

I just liked how he was framed by the neck and headstock of the guitar. I added a textured background from Flypaper textures within Photoshop, as well as the retouching tools I mentioned above. 

The other thing I've been doing is painting. Here's one that's almost done, using a technique called 'sgraffito' which entails scratching off a fresh wet paint layer to reveal what's beneath it. 

I did take the easel and paint stuff out to Ritchie Falls the other day. It's a LOT more difficult than I'd imagined! I took some photos from the same spot, which I'll show you when the painting is a bit further along.  

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

It must be Spring...


No surprise, or it shouldn't be. I've seen snow coming down as late as early May!  Last night there were flakes of the fluffy white stuff that accumulated a few inches but the temperature is hovering around the freezing mark and it's melting. The maple syrup people aren't happy, nights are still getting down to the -10°C area and the sap isn't running, but it will get there.

Today I saw the first American Goldfinch pair at my bird feeder. Robins shouldn't be far behind. And a Cackle of Grackles is out there making a ruckus and scaring off all the other birds. The chipmunks haven't come out yet but the gulls are back at the landfill, competing with the crows for the delectable morsels of disgusting garbage... we've had bald eagles there all winter but I haven't seen them in a few days.
There was a red-winged blackbird at the feeder this morning (April 3) but he was too shy to let me take a picture. Remarkable because (a) it's the first one this year and (b)the red patch was outstandingly brilliant – almost fluorescent,
The ice fishing huts are off the lakes. Well, off our lake anyway... law says today is the deadline for removing them. My neighbour Jim Walker stopped by to chat, he says there's 30" of hard water in spots! That's a LOT. It's been a rough winter, very little snow but very cold.

It's the "Ugly" season for us landscape photographers. If you don't like muddy brown vistas, naked trees and wearing rubber boots that keep you dry when you step into deep gooey mud puddles, you'd best be patient. It'll get green again soon! And the flowers and buds will be out, bringing with them that sneezy drippy season if you have allergies and those itchy lumps cheerfully provided by our national birds, the blackfly and the mosquito!

T.G.I.S. !!

Painting is HARD!

Some people make it look so easy, but it's not! My regular readers will know that I've finally, after all these years, picked up a paint brush and started putting pigment on canvas. But it's really not easy.

I have a decided advantage over some of my other painting newbies: I get composition. I have a feel for light and how it affects the subject. But what I'm struggling with is putting lines and shapes where I want them, in the way I want, and mixing colours.

I've learned that you can make any colour out of Red, Blue and Yellow paint. You can tint it with white or shade it with black (frowned upon: you want black, you "make" it!), but I haven't been able to make the same colour twice! You mix up some, then run out and want to make more... good luck matching it!

So far. Not finished yet... I need to add some more bright colour and texture. And fix the edges of the leaves. I took some artistic license with the colours and with the composition (the leaves are supposed to be sitting on a log...)

Here's the original photo 

and here's sort of what I had in mind. This is courtesy of Topaz Impression and I haven't figured out how to emulate those brush strokes. Or colours! 

Thing is, I ruined this painting. I'm trying to fix it but it's not like rolling back the develop instructions in Lightroom or removing offending layers in Photoshop. Either I have to paint over what I've done (after it dries) or add to it, or just throw it away and start over.

I paint (and photograph) in an impressionistic mode. Two reasons: I haven't figured out how to paint fine lines yet, and I'm lazy and just want to stand back and throw paint at the canvas. I haven't got the nerve up yet to try a complex subject like a tree, but that's my next step.

It's fun, but it's hard. My goal is to be able to go out and paint "plein aire" some time this spring. Stay tuned...

Birds of Prey field trip

Shot in 2013 

These pictures were taken at my last visit to the Canadian Raptor Conservancy on Lake Erie just West of Port Dover. I've booked a return engagement for Sunday, May 10th for a group of 10 photographers. Cost is just $50 each plus tax (Right now I have about 7 people confirmed and a bunch of "maybe" folks. If you want to go, you need to send me an email RIGHT NOW.

Understand that this is NOT a teaching workshop: I'm not making anything, just facilitating the field trip. Priority goes to Haliburton Highlands Camera Club members.

Here's one I haven't previously published from that visit a couple of years ago. Great Horned Owl coming in for a landing. 

One final bird picture for today. I know, just an ordinary black capped chickadee staging on a twig near my feeder but I really like the sharpness and the "velcro" as Dan Busby calls it. And the diagonal lines, the lighting... I used Topaz Impression and started with the "Palette knife and Oil" preset for the painted texture.

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