Wednesday, September 10, 2014

If it feels good, do it

Scroll down to read about the Algonquin Park photowalk at the end of September...

I don't usually do this, but after I wrote this article for Haliburton County Living, I thought it might be appropriate to reproduce it here.

Tell Me a Story

Photography has 1000 rules. And you have to learn and follow all of them if you want a successful picture. Bull. There are only two.
  • (1) You can’t take pictures if you don’t have a camera with you. 
  • (2) If it feels good, do it. 
Let’s talk about equipment. There are those who believe you can’t take a good picture unless you have $12,000 worth of cameras and lenses and a Sherpa to lug them around for you because they’re so big and heavy. Tell that to the photographer who made a Sports Illustrated cover photo with his iPhone. In fact, there are gurus out there I don’t read anymore because that’s the line they spout. Now you have to understand that I DO have expensive and high end camera gear, but there’s a picture attached to this article that I took with a $100 point-and-shoot.

This was taken on a warm, relaxing sunny afternoon on 12 Mile Lake, with a small pocket camera. I want to be one of those guys enjoying a paddle on the calm water.

Why? Because I was out in the boat (and it’s just a teeny-tiny little boat) and I’m a little afraid to take my D800 and big lenses out there. I threw my old point-and-shoot in the dry bag – I love dry bags, you should have one even if you don’t have a boat – so I had something with me. Truth be told, I had two cameras with me because my iPhone was in the bag too, but for other obvious reasons. I couldn't do the world’s greatest high resolution image, but I got something, and I was able to make it say what I wanted it to back in the computer. But that’s just me – you don’t have to be a post-processing freak either, although I admit it helps.

So why have expensive gear? To give you a better chance to make an image that looks like what you saw in your mind’s eye. You can eliminate some of the limitations and capture that feeling or memory. Which leads me to point 2:

Photography shouldn't be about making pretty postcards. I take that back, there are people who make a living selling pretty pictures and I don’t want to belittle their efforts. That guru I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago said, “If you want to make beautiful pictures, you need to take pictures of beautiful things”. Bull, again. Some of us can’t go to the Taj Mahal or Antelope Canyon or Iceland. We take pictures of where we live and our friends and family, who may or may not be professional models.

 Maybe I'm mellowing with age, but photography should be about capturing emotions and memories. It has to bring you back to a place or time and it has to communicate what was special about that event to whomever looks at the picture. Otherwise why would we have photos of our long gone parents or ancestors, and why are the most meaningful ones the pictures we took ourselves?

It’s easy to teach people how to take better pictures, that is if you can avoid boring the students to death. The first part is purely mechanical, what buttons to push, how to set up the camera, some insight into how it works and what you can do so your image will look technically correct. The second part is to familiarize them with some of those 1000 rules so that they can instinctively use them and know what to avoid. Teaching composition, and even post-processing is also not tough, it just requires a bit more concentration on the part of the student.

Teaching people how to see… that’s the hard part. To use their right brain, to make, not take a picture. Just to put them in the right frame of mind, on the right path. Maybe this will help: figure out how to capture the moment so you can look at the picture later and remember how you felt at the time.

If it feels good, do it.

FWIW, you've already seen the other two pictures that accompanied this article (click them to blow them up if you haven't): the one of the paddler on Maple Lake  last week and one of a racer at the PanAm Games test event from the week before.


The caption on the Paddler picture makes the point in the title of this article. It said,
Because it’s a wide angle shot that includes the landscape and the sky, this image, taken where Maple Lake meets Highway 118, tells a story more than the other images. Available as a large format print, if you’re interested.

I have to admit that I haven't figured out how to teach people to see. In fact, I can't do it either myself sometimes. Something to work on, hoping for an epiphany.

A little Nostalgia

Who remembers this bag?

If you've ever played Scrabble, was there any other bag you ever kept the tiles in? The bag in this picture dates back probably 60 years. I have a couple of other versions as well. It's the perfect size to hold my camera sensor cleaning kit!

From the Crown Royal website:
The first exquisite blend of Crown Royal® Canadian whisky was meticulously crafted from 50 select whiskies, dressed in the finest cut glass and wrapped in purple robes, to commemorate the first grand tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in 1939. And in truly noble fashion, this bottle of Crown Royal® was placed on the Royal train as a symbol of the hardworking and genuine nature of the Canadian people.
Apparently the design of the purple bag was originated by Sam Bronfman himself. The bags were produced by Montreal Swiss Embroidery Works, Ltd., founded by his colleague Jules Springer (my grandfather. I don't know if they were ever friends). When he died in 1958 the company was taken over by my father, Robert Springer and his two brothers.

It's interesting that Seagram's has brought the bag back for their 75th anniversary. I still have some original bags, found among my father's effects when he passed away in 2010. FWIW, a Manhattan, made with Crown Royal and vermouth (and a dash of bitters, which I usually omit), was my father's favourite alcoholic beverage and is still mine (although I admit I'm quite taken with some well-aged single malts as well!).

PS: Seagram's had a very creative ad many years ago. It was a picture of a Crown Royal bottle smashed on the floor, with the caption, "did you ever see a grown man cry?". Remember it? If you're under 60 you probably won't, it was a long time ago.

Early Influence

I got to thinking about my early influences as a graphic artist. Probably the best example was this 1959 ad:

Attribution: "Think Small" by Magazine. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Think Small via Wikipedia -

This is one of my favourite images. I have a print here that was on display at the Rail's End Gallery for a time. I'm having framed as we speak. It's pretty clear what influenced me when I created it. 

Sensor Cleaning followup

As I mentioned last week, it was time to clean the sensor on the D800. I have some 11,500 shutter actuations on the camera without any visible signs of sensor dust – a testament to Nikon's improved design and technology, a far cry from the D600 issue I had last year. A few spots appeared last week.

I had heard great things about the new Eyelead Gel stick and tried to buy one. The manufacturer was backordered, so I shopped on eBay and found one from the Far East. Turns out it was not an original (although it was priced the same). However the technology looked identical. Turns out it may not be.

The Gel stick has a sticky surface which you press (lightly!) on the sensor and it's supposed to pick up dust. It does, but unless I'm mistaken, it leaves a trace of adhesive behind. I won't be using that again. So I took out my SensorPen and used it. It was effective: I got everything I could see in about 5 minutes.

If you are careful and delicate, you don't have to worry about damaging your sensor (DISCLAIMER: I'm not telling you to do it yourself. If you do, and you damage the sensor, it's YOUR FAULT, NOT MINE). I think you have to take much more care when you do a wet cleaning. I found the kit that I bought at B&H the most effective, it includes a rocket blower, an illuminated loupe so you can actually see those bits of dust, and the SensorPen. Here's the link to where I bought it.

Photowalk planned

Last year I did a photowalk up to Algonquin park at the end of September. I'm doing it again this year, together with the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. I'd like to invite my friends and loyal readers to join us.

Last year, on the beach behind the Frost Centre 

Also at the Frost Centre last year 

I'm usually pretty good at remembering where I was when I shot a picture, but this one is eluding me. Could be the Oxtongue River Rapids... Shot in 2011. 

There's no charge. This is not a teaching field trip, just a guided visit to some sites we know about that are 'photogenic'. However, in fairness to the Club, if you are not an HHCC member, if you join us, we're asking you to buy at least one HHCC coffee mug at $10 to support the club.

We're working on the agenda as we speak. Our tentative plans are:

  • We are NOT going on a weekend. Algonquin Park is a ZOO on weekends during fall colours season. I refuse to sit in a 20km long traffic jam.
  • Dawn shoot at the Frost Centre just South of Dorset on Highway #35. If you're not an early riser, you can join us at one of the other stops
  • Breakfast in Dwight
  • Come into the park at the West Gate on Highway 60 and meet somewhere, somewhen! (Maybe Mew Lake campground, we'll see). You have to buy a parking pass at the gate on the way in, I think it's about $15. We should carpool...
  • Visit a few good spots for photography. We can go as a group or split up, as you wish
  • A quick lunch somewhere, maybe at the Canoe store.
  • Exit the park and go to Ragged Falls
  • Gluttons for punishment might stop at the Kawagama River Rapids on (ready for this?) Kawagama River Road out of Dorset
  • Go home and sleep.
Tentative Date: Monday, SEPTEMBER 29
Rain Date: Thursday, OCTOBER 2

I'm HOPING it's not a bright, sunny, clear blue sky day. Last year it was and I came home with very few good pictures. If it's an ugly, rainy day, we'll postpone, but otherwise it's a go.

If you want to join us, YOU HAVE TO LET US KNOW WHETHER TO EXPECT YOU. I'll send additional details as we go along, including where and when. If you do not complete the survey, we will NOT send out details to you. If you're not sure, do the survey and add a comment at the bottom. 

That's it! Until next week...

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

September. Bummer.

I love September and the colours are coming, the colours are coming, but, hey, did we have summer?

It's Labour Day Monday

Mondays have always been my day off. That started about 20 years ago, when I used to teach the firearms safety courses on weekends (wow, has it been that long? Started in 1994!), then the motorcycle course for 12 years starting in 2001. I always felt a little guilty when others would bemoan the worst day of the week.

Now it's photography courses, and of course, photo events which  are often on weekends too. Yep, Monday's my day of rest. So I thought I would share my to-do list for today. FWIW, the sun is shining, it's 23°C now, going to 26.

  • Stacking firewood. I do a little at a time, and I have about 2 or 3 days more work to do until it's finished. Yesterday was tough because a whole row of wood collapsed and I sweated to get it re-stacked.
  • Mowing the lawn. Haven't done it in a month. Really need to, figuring there will be one more opportunity after this before fall sets in.
  • Posting bills. There's a big stack on the table that needs to get in the computer. Don't ask me about paying them... I also have a couple of small orders to process.
  • Doing my monthly hard drive backup. Shouldn't put this one off.
  • Cleaning the house. Yeah, well...
  • Writing my September article for Haliburton County Living. It's a day late...
  • Working on my Black Background Flowers Photoshop tutorial. So far I've written the intro and preface, taken some workflow screen captures, thought about what I'm going to write...
  • eMail catchups. I need to send the results of the last competition to the judges, gather the troops for the scheduled shoot at the Wilberforce firehall on Thursday, 
  • Try to put some time in on the Blurb book I was going to do called, "The Best of 2013". Not 2014... maybe this one is for rainy days.
And here's a couple more things to do:
  • Going for an ATV ride, to get some pictures in the woods. I could continue over to the Whitewater to see what's going on there, although there's no formal event scheduled for today.
  • Going for a boat ride. I cleaned the spilled gas out of the boat yesterday, checked the motor and attached the steering arm extension. Should I take the camera, or a fishing rod?

Stay tuned, I'll tell you tomorrow what I actually did today!

Update: I made it a two-day affair. I went for the boat ride, stacked firewood, posted bills, did my email catchups. Running my backups as we speak.

Here's the firewood situation as of yesterday. 9 face cords down, one to go! The area behind the "firewood wall" to the right is my little working cave, where I split the wood to make smaller pieces to burn and kindling. The 'wall' keeps the snow out. Last year it collapsed, so I added those "X" braces and stacked more carefully. We'll see...  
OK, Update: 
  • Firewood got finished two days later
  • Mowed lawn
  • Did backup
  • Posted some bills & stuff
  • Went for ATV ride and boat ride.
Yeah well...

Big Surprise

Last week I mentioned that I went out shooting stars one night (there has not been one single clear, cloudless night this entire summer. Bummer). I went to the Island Causeway location I've tried a couple of times now. When there are clouds, or moisture in the air, the light pollution from nearby towns is visible. That's what I figured I was seeing  when I set up and did a couple of test shots. this is what I saw:

Facing South-west, that's probably the lights of Minden. No great shot of the milky way tonight. So I turned around to try to do a star trails shot.

I read a tutorial on shooting the Milky Way and saw that the author's original image wasn't much better than the one I had. So I thought I'd try using his methods. Here's the result.

Not that happy with it but I can see the potential. Here's the link to the site where I found the tutorial: 

It wasn't until I got home and uploaded the images that I discovered it wasn't light pollution after all, it was the aurora borealis! The camera saw it, the eye 'almost' saw it!

This was one of the first images in the sequence. I did quite a bit of enhancing to bring out the contrast and details. 

And here's the combined stacked star trails image:

This is a merge in StarStaX of 144 sequential images, each one 30 seconds at f/4, ISO 800. It took a lot of work to render this image, the glowing aurora interfered with the blending process in StarStaX.
Before I left (at 3:30 am) I tried a few other shots.

I did this by zooming the lens while the shutter was open. Like the 3D effect? 

Then brought to you via the magic of Photoshop,

And here's another one, with the addition of Topaz Star Effects and Simplify. Don't forget you can click any image to blow it up.

Enough "Stars" for a bit. Although the weather forecast is FINALLY showing some clear nights coming up next week so I'll probably go out and shoot some more. 

In an"Art" mood

Sometimes you take pictures with the expectation that they'll be what you're looking for SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) and sometimes not. I've been shooting some images with the intent of post-processing them further. For example, I did the following one just to capture the cloud movement using StarStaX.

Bonus! I didn't expect StarStaX to do what it did to the tree to the right (it was moving in the wind between frames). Not enough of it in the picture, so I did some work in Photoshop to expand its presence. Then I thought the image needed some texture so I used the Paper Texture Pro extension in  Photoshop. 

When I was out on the ATV the other day, I came across this iron and wood bench. I thought it might be a suitable subject for putting on a black background (still writing the tutorial!), so I shot it and post-processed it using techniques I'll share in the eBook. The chapter will be called, "It's not just for flowers" and it's giving me some ideas about other subjects to seek out!

And finally, this one. I saw these great clouds while driving to Haliburton the other day, and the first thing I had in mind was a StarStaX merge. I remembered this spot on Highway 118, stopped and got set up. Then along came this paddler.  This is a 5-shot HDR merge, colours masked back and muted and again, painted using the Topaz Simplify plug-in. The StarStaX merge? Didn't work, but I know why...

PS: when I did that shot, I discovered that I had developed some dust spots on my sensor. Time to try the new Sensor cleaning gel stick I bought. I've been using a sensor pen until now. We'll see how it turns out!

— 30 —

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Whitewater action

As promised last week, I have some Whitewater kayaking pictures for you. As I mentioned, last weekend was the PanAm Games Test Event at the Minden Wildwater Preserve. If you don't already know, this will be the venue for the kayaking races for next year's games. Over the winter, they installed some support systems for the gates along the western edge of the white water. Looks like it worked well, but I'm no expert so I don't know. In addition, there was a whole bunch of electronic timing equipment, replacing the traditional stopwatches. Very pretty, and it seemed to work well too.

The event was publicized, attracting several photographers, including Ethan Meleg (and me!) and the CBC had a videographer onsite as well. It was difficult to get the best spots for shooting: we had to shoo people out of the line-of-site and work around them. They're going to have to do something about this next year. On Sunday it was sunny, which makes shooting boats on the white water a challenge.

Since I've shot a lot of white water kayakers in the past, I was trying to find some different shots. There are three kinds of shots I prefer (and one I didn't focus on, officials and onlookers. Next time). So here's some examples:

A wide angle shot that shows the beauty of the river and the environment. I painted this one with Topaz Simplify to bring out the textures of the water and the forest. I was lucky enough to shoot when the sun peeked out and lit the rock in the foreground.

This is a closer shot that focuses on the determination of the paddler and the wild water she was navigating. This was shot on Sunday, so I had to do a lot of work to minimize the sun and capture the textures of the water. 

A slow-shutter-speed action shot. I shot at 1/30 second and panned right with the paddler to add that motion blur. I love the feel of this shot, but missed the timing a bit: I prefer when the paddler's arm is not blocking their face. Also the vertical strip on the right is the gate pole he was heading for, I debated removing it but I left it in because it helps tell the story.

Another slow speed shot. Got the face this time, and the motion of the flying water. Click to enlarge it.

This was actually shot at exactly the same spot as the previous one, but with a fast shutter speed to freeze the water and action. I shot at least 20 paddlers in this spot in order to get one perfectly positioned, framed by the rock and the pole. Compositionally I like this shot (I know she's in the middle; but framed, high horizon and great detail). If I were  Whitewater Ontario, Tourism Ontario, or the PanAm Games people, I'd buy this shot!

I included this shot because of the astonishing vibrance of the colours, shooting in the shade. This kayaker was rescued when she flipped the boat. There are rescue boats strategically placed along the river as well as trained rescuers standing on the rocks, ready to risk everything to save a racer in trouble.

Don't you hate that ad?

It's called an "earworm". A tune that runs around and around in your head for hours or days. I hate to do this to you: "Everyone HATES Marineland". I wouldn't consider ever going their BECAUSE of their advertising.

If you're anywhere in Southern or Central Ontario or in upstate New York, you know what I'm talking about. How do they manage to advertise on EVERY radio station, every TV station in the area? And not just occasionally: all the time. I got curious and Googled it: I found out two things:

  • Their advertising budget is $4 Million.
  • There are all kinds of negative things online about them, concerning the treatment of the animals in their place.
Still, you have to wonder how they manage to get in all that media all the time. And their jingle is worse than "It's a small world, after all" (sorry, Skid!).

Riddle me this, Batman

Can someone explain to me why a simple bag of salad is $3.99 in the Foodland store (and the package of mixed Spring Greens is $5), when we're at the absolute peak of the local produce season? It was half that price when it had to be trucked in from California or Mexico or wherever.

Oh good, another excuse not to eat salad. I think I'll have a steak instead. Oh, wait... it's ON SALE for $10/lb.

Out of my comfort zone

I shot an assignment for the Times on Saturday, covering a reunion at the Cultural Centre, honouring the Prentice family who are intimately interwoven in the heritage of the area. I'm working hard to shoot people better, and I even got 50 Prentice's lined up for a group shot. But I liked this one a lot: Bill and Lenore, in their mid-80's are the senior couple in the family (Madeline is a few years older, but widowed).

I did some work to texture this image (using Russell Brown's Paper Texture Pro in Photoshop and I painted the Prentices using Topaz Simplify). 

Got my ATV back!

It's been in the shop for a couple of weeks, I got it back on the weekend and it's running sweet! It's still got a few problems, but it's smooth and quieter, and there are now tubes in a couple of the tires that had been leaking.  I can't resist posting a picture of one of my favourite spots on the nearby trail.

HDR and painted. Trying to capture the feeling of that day. Think I'll do a 'selfie' in the same spot next time. 

Next blog: some inspiring star photos! And I got a huge surprise when I got home (at 3:30am) and uploaded the images to my computer. Click the Newsletter button at the top if you're not a subscriber and I'll give you a heads up when the blog is posted. AND, I'll give you a free eBook!

— 30 —

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"License and Registration..."

Great Lakes Police Motorcycle Training Seminar

If you see one of these guys in your rear view mirror, remember they can ride better than you can drive! Motor cops from all over were there to hone their riding skills and on the final day, to share their skills in the spirit of competition.

I used to know a lot of these motor cops, but there are a lot of new guys – and gals – in the cadre. Still some familiar faces: some retired, some not. Luc, for instance, from the RCMP in Ottawa (forgive me for not posting his last name here) is the Staff Sergeant in charge of training for his crew. I made a mistake, joking with him "if you drop your bike, give me a heads-up so I can get a picture!" Don't be mad, Luc, I didn't mean to jinx you! But I won't publish the picture. That is, if you put a package of small unmarked bills... kidding, kidding!

This is one of Luc's group, in perfect control of that big 'ole Harley. A fun edit with heavy-duty tone mapping and some added warmth. 

But even he isn't immune:

When you push the edges of the envelope, sometimes you get a paper cut! 

This was interesting: it's an electric bike. "Zero" was there with a bunch of bikes for the motor cops to try out. Without a clutch, I can only imagine how it is to ride in these tough low-speed exercises. 

I'll leave you with two "people" pictures.

He didn't see the humour when I suggested he shouldn't do that while riding!  

I was there with my friend Lori who actually said she LIKES this picture! I'm flabbergasted. This is the first time she said she liked a picture of herself! 

More Flowers

From there I drove to Humber College where I said hi to my former motorcycle instructor colleagues and took an hour to shoot in the Arboretum behind the campus. It's a good spot to visit if you're a photographer, free access (unless you're shooting a wedding or something in which case you need to arrange with them).

My goal was to shoot some more flower images for my black and white series. I still haven't figured out the optimum subjects for that treatment, but I'm getting there. I'm going to write a tutorial on how to do this, and put it in an eBook format. Watch this space or drop me a note and I'll tell you when it's ready.

I actually shot this one at the Fruit and Vegetable Market in Minden a few days earlier.

This one too... 

This one was shot at the Arboretum. And lots more, no time to edit them!

Shooting Stars

As most of you know, I ran a 2-part workshop last month on shooting the stars. But the weather gods have not cooperated: there hasn't been a single suitable night for shooting stars since the end of June!

PS: at last night's camera club meeting, one of my students said I could count on him NOT to come out to shoot stars in February. LOL. However, I do have an idea that involves making use of an ice fishing hut...

A couple of nights ago, I woke up from a 'nap' in front of the TV at around 12:30, went outside and saw, "STARS"! I loaded up the car and headed out to check out one of the spots I had pre-selected for the field portion of the workshop, when and if the weather cooperates. I got out there, set up and sure enough, clouds started moving in, so I didn't get a suitable sequence long enough for stacking. However, I did get a couple of shots:

This is facing East. That's the moon coming up on the right.  Click the picture to see it better. I was going to brighten it up but it lost the mood when I did.

Zooming the lens while the shutter was open produced this image. And a little help from Topaz Adjust which is on sale for 50% off until the end of August. Click the link at right and use "augadjust" in the code field at checkout.
Boat HDR

Yesterday I took the boat out and shot this 5-shot bracketed group. The Topaz Simplify filter produced this "painterly" effect. 
Free eBook

If you're reading this and you haven't yet downloaded your free eBook on shooting Fall Colours, get to it! There are some early red leaves out there... click the "Newsletter" button at top right. If you're already subscribed, you got an email with a link to the eBook. If you've lost it, send me an email.

I'll be running a photowalk day into Algonquin Park around the peak colour season for the Haliburton Highlands Camera Club. If you've never been up there at that time of year, bring your sunglasses because the colours are so bright you'll burn your eyeballs out. Oh, and DO NOT come up on a weekend. Last year the stop-and-go lineup into the Park was over 20 km long and the outfitting store/restaurant was a mob scene.

This weekend is the PanAm Games test event at the whitewater, with the entire following week taken up by the Minden Invitational National Kayaking Championships. Guess what you can expect in  the next blog post?

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

I should not own tools.

Just thought I'd start with some "sporadic musings".

First, a sad moment.

R.I.P. Robin Williams

As I get older, the list of people whom I have admired and who have died grows necessarily longer and longer. Some were taken from us too young, some lived to a ripe old age, but in every case, it was too soon.

My father tops the list; today he would have been 94. Nobody lives forever but they leave a big hole when they're gone. I'm lucky. I can count on one hand the people to whom I was close who have died. But there's a longer and longer list of those whose talents were so huge who are gone.

Robin Williams was one of those. His off-the-wall humour, his incredibly quick wit made him my all-time favourite comedian. And some of the more dramatic roles he played were memorable because he made the characters believable. Good Will Hunting, the Dead Poet's Society, August Rush, yes, even Mrs. Doubtfire. I read somewhere that most of his dialogue in Good Morning Vietnam was not scripted, he improvised it.

In recent years, he pushed the edge of the envelope. His comedy became vulgar, his intent, to shock. I didn't like it, but I appreciated it. He explored boundaries, he pushed buttons. No doubt his substance abuse issues were a contributing factor in his death, but it was inevitable, in him and in others, mostly musicians, who brought their bright lights to live among us and make us feel. Maybe he really was an alien, Mork from Ork.

I wish I could have met, you, Mr. Williams. R.I.P.

Are you a good Samaritan?

The other day I saw a van parked by the side of the road, the driver, an older gentleman, sitting on the grass nearby, with his hand on the side of his neck seemingly feeling for his pulse. I made a U-turn and stopped. He wasn't really in distress, just waiting for a friend in another vehicle that had become separated, but he thanked me for stopping.

Just food for thought. Suppose you saw a motorcycle broken down at the side of the road. Would you stop to help, or at least offer the rider a lift to the nearest service station? Would you still do that if the biker was muscled, tattooed and wearing a ratty leather vest with a 3-part patch on the back?

I would. Would you?

I shouldn't own tools.

If I have tools, it's easier to break things or hurt myself. In fact, my picture should be posted in every Canadian Tire, every Home Depot with an order not to sell tools to me. My latest escapade?

I wanted to remove the ball head from my Gitzo tripod (the head is a Manfrotto 486RC2) but couldn't get it off. I wanted to mount my gimbal mount on it, which sits in a box in the car, unused, and which, I've found out, isn't a wise thing to mount on my lightweight 3LT carbon fiber tripod. But I couldn't get the ball head off.

So I Googled it. Sure enough... however the article talks about a set screw in the bottom of the head, and mine doesn't have one. I figured it's just too (friction) tight and then I thought, "I have an oil filter wrench that should fit around the base of the head, let me give that a try".

I now have a Gitzo tripod with a sheared off 1/4 inch bolt on the clamp that holds the centre column in place, with a Manfrotto 486RC2 ball head still firmly attached to the centre column. Fortunately, I know where Gentec is, the Gitzo importer and repair depot. Next trip to Toronto. Maybe I should buy a whole new centre column piece, after they fix the tripod, of course. Wonder how much that exercise is going to cost me?

If you see me coming, don't sell me tools.

Emergency Medical Information Card

Every now and then, I remind people about this. Suppose you were taken to an ER, unable to communicate (say, God forbid, in an accident and unconscious, or having suffered a stroke or other attack of some kind). How difficult would it be for the ER staff to find out about pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, or what meds you're taking?

Years ago, I made a wallet-sized Emergency Medical Information Card template and made it available to anyone for free. It's a PDF you download, you can fill it out and print it on your own computer (no information is sent anywhere) and get it laminated at Staples or wherever.

Over 20,000 people have downloaded it. That makes me feel good. The link is over on the right side of this blog, or here. Do it today.


I shot the same picture of the so-called "Supermoon" that everyone else did. I wasn't going to, but there it was, around midnight, when I went out to check if there were any stars to be seen (there weren't). I grabbed the 200mm with 1.7x converter and took a few handheld shots. Cropping out of the awesome 36Mp D800 image, I got this:

But everyone has the same shot. So I sat down with my coffee to play for a few minutes. That dragged into about an hour because when I posted it on FB, someone said the clouds should be in FRONT of the moon, so I went back and fixed it.

Just playing, you understand. You've seen this landscape before, I grabbed it, did some layer masking, then drew the birds in with the Wacom stylus. I darkened the image with some gradients, for mood.

New Technique

I picked up a new technique for rendering flowers in black-and-white on a black background from a fellow named Antony Northcutt. He put it together in a pdf eBook tutorial which I bought for £4.99. It's well done. The key is to choose a good picture to use. I'll do some more of these, but here's my first effort using that technique.

I put my own spin on this, doing some things differently from Antony. For instance, I used Silver Efex Pro for the BW conversion, and added some Topaz Simplify as well. The difficult part for this image was making the selection, it took a bit of painstaking painting on a mask layer to get rid of the background. 

Here's another, my second or third attempt. I went out today in search of subjects that would suit this style, this is a bit closer to my vision. This took me about an hour in Photoshop. It's closer to Antony's style, although I added a background glow.

Here's another one, with a difference. Instead of focusing on details, I went for textures. Topaz Simplify was the finishing tool.

Last but not least. Simplify again, but more detail. I like this technique and I'm thinking about printing a series of these images.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Mid-Summer Stuff

NEWSFLASH from Topaz

Topaz Adjust, arguably the BEST app in the Topaz suite is going on sale for half price in a few days!
Starting on August 13th, you can buy it for only $25, and you can download a 30 day free trial to check it out.

Adjust was the first Topaz product I tried and as soon as I did, I was hooked. It provides an amazingly broad range of control and adjustment effects to any image. I use it a lot: it's my go-to plugin in Photoshop (also works in Elements and Lightroom)

Here's the link, and put "augadjust" in the coupon box at checkout to get the discount. Remember, you can also put "faczen" in the checkout box for a 15% discount on the whole suite or any of their other products.

New Banner

As (most of you) can see, I've changed the banner on the blog. Whenever I change it, the old one disappears, so I've been posting it here in the body: but some people view this as an RSS feed so they can't see the banner and other formatting anyway. So I'll post the banner, together with the previous one, here in the body. Next time I won't have to post the previous one.

Old Banner. Composite image of bear at the landfill and a 50-image sequence put together with StarStaX. 

New Banner. Taken at the Highland Yard in Minden on August 3. This abstract is basically right out of the camera. I used a slow shutter speed and panned with the runner to give it a sense of motion. I couldn't resist enhancing it a little just to soften the blurred background some.

Tripod Update

The fine folks at 3 Legged Thing did what they said they would, they sent me a replacement leg segment and centre column piece to fix my broken tripod. I paid for shipping, that's all.

"Brian" is in one piece again, except for a couple of plastic bits they forgot to send me (they're in the mail). In their usual creative fashion these plastic pieces are called "chicken lips"! I love dealing with these guys.

Quality product from a company that really cares about their customers. They're not paying me to say this, although in fairness B&H Photo in New York does send a bit of commission my way if you buy anything from them using my link at right. Here's the direct link to "Brian" at B&H.

Backup progress

As I write this, I'm steadily doing a sync of my (now main) 2Tb external drive to a fresh 3Tb unit. I started it at around midnight, it's now 10:00 am and according to the progress bar, I'm about halfway through. It's working on September 2012 right now.

When it's done, I need to do an incremental backup to my other 3Tb, then I'll retire the 2Tb drive or re-task it somehow. I think I'm going to do another "Keepers" catalogue and put that on the 2Tb. There's no room for more on there now, it's 95% full. I'm still looking for a consistent strategy that doesn't involve buying a thousand dollars more backup drives.

I'm also worried about my desktop computer. When I wake it up, the screen is flickering. That could signal imminent monitor failure, or a video card failure or worse. The computer is about 3 or 4 years old, it might be that time... it's flaky anyway, and tests show that the main hard drive isn't happy. Diligent backups of the important data (including Outlook which runs on that machine) are in order.

Why am I writing this? Two reasons: to tell you how serious I am about backing up my archives and data, and to convince my loyal readers to give this some consideration!
Update: it took 16 hours to do the sync. Came up with two errors but that was probably because I brought up Lightroom once while it was working (had to look something up). I haven't done the incremental yet.

My (almost) daily chore

Since I'm not in the greatest physical shape (that's putting it mildly. Hey: Round IS a shape!) and being a lazy person, I don't do much exercise. To my regret: when I read about my friends Mark and Ron in Scotland, hiking the cliffs on the Isle of Skye, I feel deep pangs of regret that I didn't take care of myself better over the years. I'm beginning to admit that my age is catching up to me (I'll be 68 in September) and as my father used to say, "everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work any more".

Update: Mark has been blogging about their trip at, colour me green with envy. Scroll down to the August 7 post for my favourite images from their trip so far, landscapes on the Isle of Skye. I have to live vicariously...

My knees, or more accurately, my quads or the ligaments that attach them to the knees, are the most annoying. I completely lack the confidence to step down, afraid that I'll lose footing or balance and be unable to hold myself up. That's how I broke "Brian" in the story above. I get out of breath very easily doing moderate exercise. I've decided that if I'm going to live longer, I don't want it to be in a wheelchair or with a walker, so I must do something about it. My neighbour and I agreed to walk, some. That was a month ago, and we still haven't gone out even once. So now is the time.

The two paragraphs above are like New Year's Resolutions. Doomed. Maybe this will help: how about you, my loyal readers, following up on me from time to time? If I have someone other than myself to be accountable to, maybe it will help. By the way, I've lost almost 15 lbs in the past month or so, hit a plateau in the past week because I won't give up eating corn and because I gave into temptation when Janie said, "join us for dinner at the Pepper Mill" (the best hamburgers anywhere!).

So I started writing this because I had a couple of pictures for you that might involve a bit of healthy lifestyle habits.

I had a total of 7 face cords (2⅓ bush cords) of wood delivered a month ago. Wood is substantially less expensive than other heating methods. It needs to sit out in the sun for a while to dry out before it gets stacked. I'm half way through it, I do about half an hour of stacking a day. It's helping my wrist and shoulder and a little abs. I'm going to try consciously lifting with my legs, let's see if I can strengthen them a bit.

A healthy breakfast. Too bad it's only available fresh for a couple of weeks! The raspberries come from my own bushes, lovingly hand picked. I hand picked the blueberries too: from the Costco warehouse! I'm eating a lot more fruits and vegetables than in the past, trying to change some lifestyle choices.

Floating Camera Platform

Here's the story. I was chatting with Dorian, a neighbour of mine, about a very cool boat I had seen at a garage sale the previous week. Unfortunately, it was way more than I could spend. He mentioned that he had a little boat and motor he didn't want any more, and we made a deal. I took the motor to a local mechanic who made sure it worked and today I picked up the boat.

Nobody's going to say, "there goes Speedy Gonzales!" But it's perfect for what I want, a floating camera platform. And a way to do a little fishing and relaxing on the lake.

It's just a little boat, with a 4 hp motor. I promise, I won't take it out when it's windy or rough. 

An HDR closeup, finished with Topaz Simplify. I should have given it more space at bottom right, so I'll re-shoot this soon. 

Here's my first HDR from the boat. That's Vic's place down Pleasant Point Road. I was worried about alignment and ghosting since I was shooting handheld from a bobbing boat, but Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 handles it really well.

Update: I went out at sunset last night, took my fishing rod but not my DSLR. Wish I had! Here's the best I could do with the little point-and-shoot.

It took a bunch of Photoshop and Topaz (I used Adjust: see the top comment in this article!) to make this happen. 

Some foreground interest! That's my little 4 hp motor idling away 

I'm posting this one because it's such a great story, but it's a terrible shot. Click to blow it up. 

Can't wait for the fall colours! Oh, wait, yes I can...

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