Sunday, January 25, 2015

Don't Leave Home without It!


1. Are you cooking your steaks wrong?
This has absolutely nothing to do with photography!
A friend of mine (Sean, I think it was) sent me a link to an article asking that question. I tried it and came to the conclusion that they were right, I've been doing it wrong for 50 years.
Follow this thinking:
If you sear the outside of the steak first and then BBQ or broil the steak (the way I've always done it), you will end up with only the centre of the steak correctly cooked (your call: rare or medium-rare. If you like your steak well-done please skip the rest of this story and click here for a tasty treat you'll enjoy).
Now for the rest of us: that means that most of the meat will be overdone. The article suggests to slow-cook the steak over low indirect heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 115°F. NOW sear it at very high temperature to give it that crispy outer crust. Note that it will continue to cook internally so the done-ness will be right. There's another reason too – it will melt in your mouth! How do you make a tough piece of meat tender? You cook it slowly, at lower temperatures. That's why crock pots work.
This also works for lamb chops, roasts (I've been doing them that way for a long time) and even hamburgers. For what it's worth, that's how high end steak houses cook. Try it!
2. Unsubscribing from junk mail
You know those "unsubscribe here" buttons at the bottom of most junk mail? Should you or shouldn't you? It's possible that they're waiting for you to click on it so they can verify that you are legitimate and gather your email address for additional spam. What does everyone think? 
By the way, the unsubscribe on my Newsletter is totally legitimate. I use MailChimp and by clicking it, you get totally removed immediately from my mailing list. Not that you would ever want to do that!

Press Accreditation for Pan Am Games

My Press Accreditation application has been approved as a photojournalist for the PanAm Games this summer. Specifically, I've applied for the Canoe and Kayak slaloms to be held at the Minden Wildwater Preserve July 17-18. I'm looking forward to photographing and reporting on this marvelous event. If you are in the media (or know someone who is: please pass this on), I am shooting as a freelancer and would be delighted to submit images to your publication(s). Please contact me directly via


Some sample images

By the way, I would like to borrow or rent an extra camera body for the event. Nikon, of course, minimum D7100 (or D4s or D800 or...). A crop-sensor body would be useful for the extended tele capability, but I have enough reach with my present gear. Please get in touch if you can help!


It's time to start thinking about 2015 workshops. I still have to rewrite my workshop pages ( but here's what I have in mind. I have three or four basic introductory sessions that last half-a-day and cost $50. Basic photography, Lightroom, Photoshop, specific topics. All of them can be expanded to two day sessions ($150) at the end of which the student will have a working knowledge of the topic. Photography workshops can include a field trip as day 2. All sessions are designed to run up here at my house, but I can also travel if it makes sense.

My schedule is pretty open, so I don't want to set firm dates at this point. Not in the July 11-20 window, though! (PanAm Games). So this is a preliminary heads-up and anyone considering moving up to the next level should read what's on the site above (remembering that I haven't updated it for 2015 yet) and contact me (pardon the anti-spam attempt. I'm sure you understand).

Star Light, Star Bright

The other night, when I got home from the camera club meeting I looked up and actually saw stars.They looked pretty crisp, it was one of those dry winter evenings, temperatures hovering around 0°F (-18°C). Unfortunately I have some local light pollution (one day I'm going to take a .22 to that all-night hydro light in the Inn parking lot next door!), which you can see in this shot, illuminating my garage.

It was the first clear night in a long time: in fact I can't remember a cloudless night since last summer when I did stars workshops! (there may have been some but not predicted more than a day in advance). For fun, I thought I'd include the garage in the foreground and shoot the Eastern sky above it. Besides, Venus was up there blazing brighter than anything else. Besides, I got to set the camera up in my driveway and go inside where it was warm!

This was one single frame, before stacking but after doing lens correction to remove the distortion you get by pointing a wide angle lens upwards. Lightroom did a neat job of straightening everything up.

I took a total of 162 exposures over 81 minutes (the arithmetic isn't tough: 30-second exposures!), tweaked them in Lightroom and exported them to StarStaX. As usual, too many stars! So I took them back to Lightroom and darkened them down, then I used the lens correction tool.

For the tekkies: D800 full frame with Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 at F=17mm. 30 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 1600. That's a little bright, even for a single shot (ISO 1000 is enough) but you need much less when you're stacking them.One time I'm going to see what I get at ISO 400. Anyway, the sky was 'way too crowded so I took only 80 of the images into StarStaX and turned on "comet mode". I processed the images in reverse order to make it look like the comets were raining down instead of up.

Turns out it wasn't totally clear. The red you see at the bottom of the picture is from a cloud layer that moved in across the shot. The red glow probably comes from the village of Haliburton, about 20 km away. It was interesting to watch it develop so I took the same images and loaded them into MS Movie Maker and did a short time-lapse (15 seconds) which you can find here on YouTube.

Take your camera with you!

"What kind of camera should I use"? "The one you have with you"! Yesterday I was stopping off at the landfill (PC word for "garbage dump"). I almost left the camera at home, it was a grey, not very pretty day... but threw it in the car anyway. GOOD THING!

What is that huge bird? It's a juvenile Bald Eagle! And there's his sibling, and there's mom (or dad)! They just sat there while I took off the wide angle lens, put on the telextender and the 70-200. Still pretty far away... so I took a few shots, then started walking closer to them. Came over a little rise and startled a herd of 6 deer! And when they ran away, the eagles also decided to make themselves scarce. 

Still I got a few shots... and the message is, "Don't leave home without it"! You never know...

Not a great shot, couldn't get close enough and the lighting wasn't great. This was about half a frame. Mom and the kiddies. Actually it's probably Dad because the adult actually looks smaller than the juveniles and males are generally smaller than the females.

Of course the deer are so curious that even though I startled them, this guy came back to see what the fuss was about! Since they shed their antlers in the winter, I can't tell whether this is a buck or a doe but I suspect it's a male because my impression was that it was bigger and healthier than the others in the herd. Also I think he was leading them.

I used Impression (Impasto, brush 14 if anyone cares) on the deer and the background. I masked out the brush effect on the snow and burned in the slight shadows to give it a more realistic look. 
'til next week!

— 30 —

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Musical Interlude

Thought for the day
   by Tim Churcher on Facebook Photoshop and Lightroom Group, with permission
"Art is self-expression through making your own artistic decisions, as soon as you hand those decisions over to someone else, it ceases to be art and becomes painting by numbers. Making your own artistic choices is essential to developing as an artist, it is infinitely better to make your own mistakes than follow the 'correct' choices of other people. So if you have an artistic decision to make, you are the only one who can decide, if someone else does, it is no longer your art."
Tim was responding to an ongoing (to me, annoying) trend on the above-mentioned group, where people ask, "is this better in black and white or colour..." (dozens of times every day). I was trying to find a way of saying, "Dude, what does your vision tell you? What you think, is more important than what someone else thinks". I think he hit the nail on the head.

The other annoying thing to me on that group is the frequent plea, "what's the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop", or "I don't want to rent the software, where's the best place to buy Photoshop?", or "can someone tell me how Lightroom works". I've learned to simply scroll past those threads. They've now banned basic photography questions ("which camera should I buy...") but with close to 100,000 members there's a lot of traffic on the group. Check it out, though, if you're on FaceBook. It's a good resource, for Photoshop users of any level.


File storage
I just read a thread on Facebook where someone complained that there was no CD/DVD drive on their new computer. I'm pretty sure there's no floppy disk drive either... and I got to thinking about my archives of images going back 10 years or more, on CD and later, DVD. Even worse, my old company stuff (when I was in the desktop publishing business) is on 100Mb Zip drives. Haven't seen one of those in years!
Where's file storage going to be 5 or 10 years from now? Unless you diligently update your file storage to current technology, then do it again every few years, nobody is going to be able to ever retrieve or see your images. And yet, you can still see Leonardo da Vinci's pencil sketches from the 15th century and prehistoric cave paintings... what does that say about the disposable society in which we live today?
PS: I have copied images from 2006 onwards (and a few earlier ones) into my hard drive and imported them to Lightroom. But there's a ton more, including boxes and boxes of 35mm slides...
More Musings...

I'm not an elitist, OK? However I have not been inside a McDonalds in 40 years. Or in the drive-through. I take that back: I did eat there one time on a motorcycle trip when there wasn't anywhere else to eat, and when my kids were little they had a great play area for someone's birthday party...
Anyway, I would never eat their fast food, 'way too many calories and grams of fat. Someone gave me some French Fries that tasted like pressure-treated sawdust. If I do eat at a fast-food place it's Wendy's (good salads) or occasionally Harvey's (flame-broiled burgers). But people have been talking about their coffee, so I tried some. Note: I did NOT go into a McDonalds, I bought a package of the Tassimo McCafé disks. I'm hooked.
Don't get me wrong: Tim Horton's is my staple (although I don't like their dark roast, I prefer the Nabob versions) and a pot of coffee dripped through a conical filter from freshly ground Kirkland House Blend beans is an almost daily occurrence, but I have to admit that the McCafé stuff is pretty good!

Free Wallpaper

Here's a background picture for your computer monitor. Enjoy. I'd love to know how many people have downloaded and used it, so if you have, please drop me a note. If you want a different one, something you've seen on my blog, again shoot me an email request.

There's a widescreen version here (1920x1080), and
there's a standard version (1600x1200) here.
Simply open the page, right-click and "save as..." to save the image on your computer.

I don't just shoot landscapes...

Wendy invited camera club members to come out and shoot at the Celtic Music Jam group on the weekend. Turns out I was the only taker... which was good in a way because it was about a dozen people squished into a living room! She said afterwards she was amazed at how I made myself invisible, to which I responded, "yeah, like the elephant in the room"!

There were at least 4 more people who didn't make it into this wideangle shot! For the tekkies, I used a Gary-Fong-Diffused-speedlight off-camera, pointed at the ceiling with the top open. Treatment was with Topaz Adjust and then Impression/Chiaoscuro preset. I warmed up the white balance on purpose.

I switched to the 70-200mm for this shot, zooming in as tight as I could. Finished with Topaz Glow/Fur & Feathers and Chiaoscuro again. I never appreciated the latter filter until now, it really focuses attention on the selected area (the hand and violin fretboard). 

I guess you don't call it a "fretboard" on a violin since there are no frets. This isn't my kind of music but it was fun! I'm pretty sure these people don't know who Stevie Ray was...

Speaking of music, my new favourite guitarist is Tommy Emmanuel. Don't know who he is? YouTube him or just click here or here (with Bob Littel) for a sample. (OK, if you liked those, try this one).

This musician was a study in concentration. I don't think he's as severe as his expression indicates but I think the high contrast black-and-white conversion suits this image. There are some painting effects, but minimal, just for texture. And I used a lot of my black-and-white flower techniques on this image. 

I haven't been out shooting much. It's winter and although I talk a good show, well... and my ATV is in the shop (apparently going to cost me a ton of money to fix. I should have bought a newer one... oh well, it is what it is). I've been busy with other stuff – related, because a lot of it has to do with the camera club, etc. Have to get back to it. 

OH: and if you're in the area, remember to visit the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden for the Juried Photo Exhibition. It's on until February 7th. Bring your wallet! (just kidding. Sort of...)

— 30 —

Friday, January 09, 2015

And so it begins!

A new year is upon us. What will it bring? 

It is winter in the Highlands... when the wise man stays inside to edit his images instead of going out in the -30° temperatures and vicious windchill to take more pictures. Nobody ever called me wise...

So there's a mix here, of musings and images! 

To start things off, here's the new banner for this blog (I change it every now and then). 

I took this from out on the ice, between my dock and the Red Umbrella Inn. After some other edits, I used the "Turner Afternoon" preset to capture this impression of the southern shoreline 

I came across this inspiring list the other day and saved it to my desktop. I spent some time searching for it so I could properly attribute the list, but failed. The deepest I managed to get was to an image on Pinterest. Anyway, here it is, "author unknown":

Rules to live by? I admit it's a lot easier when you don't have to go to work every day... 
Gallery Exhibit

As mentioned earlier, there's an exhibit at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden: on until February 7th. 25 outstanding photographic images, all available for sale but they'll be gone by the time the exhibit ends, so get there early. This is a juried exhibition, pictures selected by the Curator of the museum (Laurie Carmount). The gallery is located on Bobcaygeon Road in Minden, Ontario. If you're not from this area and you're interested in any framed (or unframed) images, let's talk...

Note: my images are individually hand signed but not numbered: which makes them unique... 


From the "Sporadic Musings" department...

Early Adoption 
I was thinking about the pros and cons of being an "early adopter". I've been one from time to time over the years (less often now because I need to watch my pennies more).  As an "early adopter" you get in before they get the bugs out! But you do have the "latest and greatest"!
Take my iPad, for example. I bought a Gen1 really early and loved having it. But in their infinite wisdom, Apple decided to keep coming up with updated operating systems which won't run on the old iPad 1 (best I can do is iOS 5). Because the app suppliers follow suit, a lot of apps won't run on my iPad. Facebook crashes every time I click a video in it. Time for a new one, I think. But if I had waited for Gen2, I'd still be in business.
I also "early adopted" a Sony BetaMax VCR many years ago. 'nuff said?
I guessed wrong with my D600 too (insurmountable technical issues). I was lucky enough to be able to swap it for a D800. Of course 6 months later along came the D750...  
It occurs to me that one derives great satisfaction from having the latest and greatest, but only for a short time until the rest of the world catches up. Then the next generation comes along and suddenly you're behind! And no way to catch up unless you have bottomless pockets...
This is different from putting off buying something because something better is in the wings. There's always something bigger and better coming along if we're talking about technology: but if you wait until the absolute best camera or computer or car comes along, you'll be without one until the day you die.
PanAm Games

I drove by the Minden Wildwater Preserve the other day, site of the PanAm Games this summer. It's hard to imagine how they're going to accommodate so many people there. It doesn't make sense to enlarge the little parking lot for a one-week event. And there's room for MAYBE 100 spectators on the riverbank. (in fairness, there's the other side of the river too: but room for fewer people and physically quite challenging to get to, so I wonder about liability issues). 

I also heard that people up here are thinking they can rent their homes and cottages for the week for hugely exorbitant sums of money. Wishful thinking, I expect. 

My application is in for press accreditation, I'm sure they're going to severely limit the numbers. They responded to my email inquiry saying, "you should be hearing from the Olympic Committee shortly." Stay tuned...
Here's a pencil sketch of what the river looked like on New Year's Eve. Rendered using John Stevenson's complex action for Photoshop CC and Topaz Impression, with a bit of dodging and burning and tweaking.
And so it begins...

The ice fishing season is under way. As of yesterday, there was 8" of ice on 12-Mile lake. And because of the weather conditions in the past week or two, it's good, solid clear ice. This thickness is more than enough to support a car. Certainly I had no worries about driving my ATV out there this afternoon.

I had these two kids pose with the ice blocks their father had cut from under the ice fishing hut. I added some saturation to the blue of the ice so you could see it better, and the kids give it a sense of scale. You can see the real colour on the second block in the image.

Here's their vehicle, a Polaris side-by-side ATV. Some of my neighbours take winter seriously! 

Another neighbour has this beautiful ATV. I was struck by two things when I did this image out on the ice this afternoon. First of all, the smooth delicate colour transition in the sky (although I admit I increased the saturation for this shot) and the awesome vehicle my neighbour acquired for riding out to the ice fishing huts and clearing his snow. It's a Bombardier Can-Am side-by-side ATV with bogie-driven tracks and I'm guessing this can go ANYWHERE. 

I used a Topaz Impression "watercolour" preset selectively on this image, and added a motion blur to the background. I was trying to convey a sense of power out on the isolated ice surface of 12-Mile Lake.

UPDATE: I wrote the above a week ago. The banner image at the top of this post was shot today, and so was the following shot which I have repetitiously titled

"and so it begins"! There will be a couple dozen more Ice Fishing huts out there soon 

And last one for today:

I'm not sure why I'm taken with this picture.You have to blow it up to appreciate it (click on it). The subtle textures and brushstrokes of the Cezanne preset (modified) match the lighting and gradation of the scene. I'm debating printing this to canvas.

— 30 —

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Last 2014 post

Traditionally, this is a time of year to look back and then cast an eye forward to the next 12 months.

I originally wrote this long diatribe about how I'm aging and how I have to learn to accept my limitations but I decided to erase all of that and put on my "glass half full" hat.

2014 was a pretty good year.  I've finally reached a point where I'm producing images that I like and I can see my art becoming slowly consistent. Others have recognized that, which is very satisfying. My opinions and perspective is more valued. I got to shoot assignments for the local newspaper, sold some prints, mentored some people, learned to focus my vision.

I'm basically retired and don't have the desire or energy to pursue my business any more, financial issues notwithstanding, so I want to concentrate on my photography, my art, my writing. I write a lot – you're reading some of it, this will be my 49th blog post this year (including the tech blog) – and I write for the paper and eBooks and tutorials and... but there IS a novel somewhere inside me. I need to devote a little time to it every day.

I have lots of friends and acquaintances, although none of the intimate kind. A bunch of new ones in the camera club. I'm enjoying country living, but I miss having a connection with my family and my past. I'm frequently told I should pack it up and move back but I don't want to. It's inevitable, I know, but I'm holding out as long as I can.

I share too much. This is my outlet, though, so forgive me. As each year dawns, I wonder if this will be when my medical issues will jump up and bite me. Two cancers, both still there... It's hard to accept limitations. When you're younger, you can resolve to fix things but at this age (I'm 68, if you didn't know) it's more about learning to live with things. My weight. My legs and knees limit my mobility. Creeping arthritis. My hand's not the same since my broken wrist a year ago. Other stuff too...

So what am I looking forward to in 2015?
  • No new medical issues. No pre-existing ones jumping up and biting me. Wishful thinking? I sure hope not!
  • Growing my connection with family and friends.
  • In 2015 I vow to pick up a paint brush. Traditionally I'm self-taught in most things but I want to find a way to kick start my painting. At least I need to learn the basics.
  • I want to teach more. There's a network of people up here who value my knowledge and opinion, mostly from the camera club, and I enjoy sharing my experience. I will set aside time for that.
  • In my photography:
  • Continue on the path to finding my style
  • Print and sell more pictures
  • Continue acting as a judge in competitions
  • Ongoing assignments from the newspapers
  • The PanAm Games are here this summer. I'm hoping for press accreditation so I can photograph the whitewater events
  • I hope I can travel at least once. Finances are limited, there are a number of places on my 'bucket list' (New Orleans. Iceland. New Zealand. The British Isles...), I want to see at least one of them.
  • My "Great Canadian Novel". A good start. Dare I hope to finish it?

That's a lot of stuff for one year! Good thing I'm 'retired'. Maybe I'll have to move some of it to 2016! Not the travel thing, I hope.

Stick around to see what I write at the same time next year! And to all of you, look at the picture at the head of this article:

May 2015 Exceed your Expectations!

From the "Sporadic Musings" department

Do I have A.D.D.? No I don't, and I apologize to those who might or know someone who does, I don't intend to trivialize it. But I think it's in all of us, to some extent.
I get distracted easily. Is that the definition? Put on some music. "Wish I could play keyboard like that". New song. "I really should have stuck with the guitar". "Think I'll go find my harmonica and play along". No, back to the keyboard. Why is that blue jay pecking for seeds on the ground when I have a perfectly good bird feeder up 2m away? I haven't heard back from the computer guy yet. 
I was reflecting on why I haven't settled on an art style. I know it's because I'm constantly exploring new directions. Every time a new program comes up, I imagine the possibilities and try it and go off seeking a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. Then along comes another one and I go that way. I'm wandering around instead of focusing on "True North", despite the lip service I've paid to the concept over the years.
My mind wanders. I hesitate to start anything that would require continuous attention for more than a couple of hours. Is it just me? Oh look, a squirrel!
Parting Shots

It was a rainy day in Pizzaville...

What does one do when it's a rainy, cold, damp, miserable day? The obvious choice is to throw another log on the fire, pour a fresh cuppa, find a good book to read and put your feet up. I did that. Then I got bored. And I thought, "I bet the streets are shiny wet" so I did what any real photographer would do: I went out in the damp rain.

I drove into Minden, filled up with gas (amazing, 85.9¢/L after my discount!) bought some groceries (prime rib roasts on sale! Yay!) and meandered down to Bobcaygeon Road in Minden. Downtown. The main street. OK, it's really the ONLY street... I parked, looked for a likely spot, took a few test shots for exposure, then waited for someone interesting to come along.

There were only a few people out but I wasn't ready to give up. A soggy half hour later, I was rewarded. Along came this red and white umbrella person!

Definitely being added to my "Best of 2014" set!  

I've had this shot in mind for some time. I knew that what I wanted to do was to mask out the subject, then apply a motion blur to the background. Others have used this technique in posted pictures of wanderers in the rain-soaked narrow cobblestoned streets of exotic locations, but here I was in 'picturesque' downtown Minden! I wiped the raindrops off the front of my lens and took a few shots.

My composition wasn't great. In fact I shot it as a landscape shot (horizontal), trying to include the lamp on the light pole at right. But when I loaded it into the computer, this crop called out to me immediately.

At the risk of being exceedingly technical, I fixed up the wall on the left, pasted her on a fresh layer, removed the top half of the umbrella on the background layer and did the motion blur thing. And some other Photoshop stuff. Good, but not quite my vision. So I added some brushstrokes in the style of Cezanne, a soft glow with, well, Topaz Glow, and texture with Flypaper Textures.

On the way home, I stopped in the Canadian Tire parking lot, figuring the lights from inside the store would add an interesting element to a similar shot. I didn't like any of those, but then behind me, these two girls appeared. Got it! I debated removing the stop sign but I think it adds to the story.

At the risk of eclipsing the other picture, here's another one. An oil painting filter in Topaz Impression, plus a flypaper texture.. 

See you all when the clock strikes 2015! Stick around and enjoy wrapping your mind around some new ideas. And let's enjoy the upcoming year together.

— 30 —

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blowing my own Horn?

...somebody has to!

Art Gallery Exhibition

Last week I wrote that I consider myself more of a craftsman than an artist. It's still true, but it seems others might have a higher opinion of me! This is exciting, some recognition from a respected art venue!

The Agnes Jamieson Gallery and Minden Hills Cultural Centre has selected three of my images in a juried competition. Twenty five images were selected by the curator of the museum, and three of them were mine! They will be exhibited in the Gallery in the month of January. They are for sale in the gallery, or after the exhibit, right here, assuming they haven't sold. If you're in love with any of them, well, you know what to do!

So that's the good news. The bad news is that I had to prepare the images for exhibition which means printing, framing, matting... in the end it cost me over $100 each. They'd better sell...

This was an extra print I did (frames were two-for-one at Michaels...). It's very similar to one of the accepted images and I thought someone might like to acquire the pair. Sorry about the crummy iPhone picture.  

I have to give 'props' to two people. Jim Camelford printed these images for me. Jim is an absolute printing guru. He did his magic with his Epson 7900 and the dynamics and the deep blacks in these monochrome prints are incredible. Jim offers his services for people who want excellent prints made and his pricing is really low. Only bad part is the fact he'll be away for a while in Florida. However you can email him at

The second guy is Bryan deLang who is a frame maker and artist par excellence up here in Minden. I found Bryan through the local facebook buy and sell group, but Bryan is not on the internet. He doesn't own a computer, doesn't want to. I really like this guy: he's eccentric, a curmudgeon, has a wry sense of humour but does fantastic work at very reasonable price. You can reach him at 1 705-286-3572, he's on South Lake Road in a really interesting house!

Sporadic Musings
From the "sporadic musings" department, how much of us is upbringing and how much is DNA? I was sitting and enjoying a Manhattan last night – 2 parts rye, 1 part red vermouth, I skip the bitters, but always put in a maraschino cherry and a couple of ice cubes – and reflected on the fact that it was my father's favourite drink. It's still mine: oh, I've flirted with 18-yo single malts, European beers, Cabernet Sauvignons, but when all is said and done, my dad's favourite is also mine. Then there's my penchant for chocolate, undeniably dad's thing too! So is there a gene sequence for taste buds? Or is it all in the environment in which I grew up?
Waiting for Harder Water

It's freezing up! The weather forecast is for a couple of warm-ish days this week but it shouldn't affect it much. It's been cold for the past few days, and nights are below freezing, so the lakes are getting hard. The Inn across the road has prepared their ice fishing huts to go out when the ice gets thick enough, but I was able to walk on the shallows today. Did you know it's not quiet out on the new ice? If I didn't know better, I'd think I was hearing whale song, there was an almost continuous moaning that was really the still liquid water under the ice finding openings to filter into. Occasionally, you'd hear a big "crack". It's just a guess, but I think there was about 4" to 5" of hard water. You won't catch me out there yet but I'm sure there will be some brave – and foolhardy – souls venturing out very soon!

This was an HDR, converted to black and white with Silver Efex Pro. I loved the sunset sky. Click, as usual, to view it bigger.

When I shot this, I envisioned capturing the essence of the sunset reflecting off the new ice. But it didn't come to life until I processed it with Impression, one of the Georgia O'Keeffe presets. Then I added a Flypaper texture called "Dorian Gray" which made it look like what I had seen in my mind. 

I also shot another picture that I wasn't really satisfied with. But then I used a portion of it after trying the new Topaz Glow plugin:

Could be a huge flock of birds taking off! But it's Glow's interpretation of the fractals in the ice surface. 

Speaking of "Glow", here's a rendering of an older shot

That's the canoe in the morning mist shot from Algonquin Park at the end of September. Topaz Glow is a fascinating program, it lets you explore some off-the-wall ideas! 

Topaz Glow is on sale for the month of December. $20 off the regular $69 price. You can take advantage of it via this link: Enter INTROGLOW in the coupon code at checkout. Because it shares a lot of things with Impression including the hardware requirements, you should do the 30 day free trial before you buy. But bear in mind the deadline is the end of the year.

Parting Shot

I'd like to leave you with one more shot. This one is right in my ballpark, I think. I woke up Wednesday morning to a dusting of new snow and had to go out to take the prints to Bryan to mount. Of course I had the camera with me (I always do). After dropping the pictures off, I went exploring down some back roads and was captivated by two things here: the orange coloured dead leaves still hanging on some bushes (ash, I think), and the tall trees silhouetted against the snowy sky.

So I loved the composition, but again felt it needed some post-processing to make it 'painterly'. The Georgia O'Keeffe preset is turning into one of my favourites. So is this image, I think it'll print well:

The birds aren't real. I "enhanced" the sun, but I actually created the birds with brush strokes in Photoshop. The image needed some balance. I don't know what I'd do without my Wacom tablet!

I haven't shot a lot of straight "photographs" in a while. It's time I did some pictures without adding paint or brush strokes or other impressionistic things, so I'll try to do so in the next little while. We're coming up on the year end, of course, so the deadline is fast approaching for images that will appear in my "Best of 2014" book!

It's not time yet to write that "what I'm looking forward to for 2015" article... stay tuned!

— 30 —

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What Inspires Me?

What Inspires Me?

I'm intrigued by this quotation: Pablo Picasso said, "good artists copy; great artists steal" (the attribution is unclear; go here). I'm not sure I fully understand or agree with the meaning of this aphorism as written. The intent is pretty clear, though. An artist will take those things that inspire him and incorporate them in his own work. How well he does that defines his place in the art world.

You might disagree. but everyone has been influenced by others. The best example I can think of is Oscar Peterson, who was influenced by the likes of Art Tatum and Nat "King" Cole (jump to 1:35 in the link for the solo) and who far surpassed them as arguably the best jazz pianist ever (here's a link to one of my favourites, I actually learned to play this. Want to hear the master for an hour like I did? Go here.) OK, back on topic, I got sidetracked...

By no means should an artist directly copy anyone. To me, being an artist is to create, not to duplicate. That said, if I could play one song like Peterson, I'd be in heaven, but I'd be a mechanic, not an artist. Make sense? But allowing someone else's style to influence your work is a given – that's how art evolves. Think about the Impressionist movement, a genre that evolved from the work of Claude Monet.

So what inspires me? The work of Yousuf Karsh, to start with, although I don't shoot portraits. Ansel Adams, of course. The writings and teachings of Bruce Barnbaum. A tip of the hat to Freeman Patterson, Richard Martin and other lesser knowns like Lance Gitter and Ron Goodlin. Hilarie Mcneil-Smith. Bharat Mistry. An eclectic mix. If I could take a little from each and make it my own...
...and lately, Vincent van Gogh, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris...

I'm fascinated by the graphics work that went into the making of the title sequence of the HBO Mini-series, "The Pacific". This link is to a video showing the sequence, and scroll down for an interview with Art Director Steve Fuller. This is outstanding and inspiring to me, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

This image is from the Art of the Title page, here. It's a composite of processed drawings by Steve Fuller. In the title sequence, they morph brilliantly into video footage. It's the look and feel of the charcoal renderings that I find outstanding. Image published here with permission.

It's frustrating as a photographer to see what professional cinematographers and art directors can do. Sometimes I get the feeling that the rest of us are just playing. Read the backstory below the image on the linked page.

I think of myself as a "craftsman". Maybe one day, a history book will describe me as an artist. That's what I'm striving for. I'm not there yet.

Another new program from Topaz!

This one's called "Topaz Glow". You need to watch their video to see best what it does, here's the link..

Here's the first image I edited with it

It's on sale for the month of December at the introductory price of $49.99 (that's a $20 savings) at this link: Enter INTROGLOW in the coupon code at checkout. By the way, it shares a lot of things with Impression. Including the hardware requirements, so if you're not sure, do the 30 day free trial before you buy. 

Here's another image. I posted a charcoal version last week but the Glow version is exciting!

This is a vertical version of the same trees. Can't decide which one I like better. You? Please comment 

A complex Photoshop Action

After writing the opening story for this blog, I posted a question on the Topaz Impression group on Facebook about whether anyone knew how to achieve the charcoal effect I talked about. Lo and behold...

A fellow named John Stevenson in England has written an Action that works in Photoshop CC and is making it available for free. It's really complicated under the hood, but a dummy like me was able to figure out how to use it (although I did have to fiddle with the last step). Anyway, here's the link to where you can download it. John, my hat's off to you.
You need Photoshop CC or CC2014 plus Topaz Impression for this Action to work. 

Here's an image I tested it on, from the dogsled races last winter.  

This is the original image:

So you can see I'm spending a lot of time in front of the computer, not out taking pictures. I was a little under the weather last week, plus the other kind of weather wasn't great! 

— 30 —

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I'm back after a few days off

I've taken a few days off. It's very rare for me to have not picked up my camera and I actually had an infrequent visit with my son, daughter-in-law and the grandkids, and left my camera in the car. I wanted to be a participant, not an observer. 
I also attended a wedding last Sunday and while I was interested in watching the technique of the photographer, I had, and still have, zero desire to shoot that kind of event. They did a lot of video and not so much stills, by the way. And they did a lot of shooting from the hip with wide angle lenses. Wonder how those will turn out?
It's not easy for me to be motivated to shoot at this time of year. As I sit here, my light tent is still sitting on my dining room table (it's a lot of effort figuring out how to fold it up!) from when I tested the ring light (below). It's grey and cold and damp outside... but I needed to put down the camera for a few days. 

These first two articles are directed at other photographers. If you're not one, bear with me and try not to be too bored!

Judging Photojournalism

As many of you know, I was honoured to be asked to judge the TCC International Salon, Photojournalism category. It was a great experience, very challenging and really educational at the same time.

We viewed well over 800 images (and re-viewed at least 100 of them!) some of which could easily have appeared in National Geographic. All of the judges instantly agreed on the single best image in the group and after choosing the top 15 images for awards, and about 24 others for honourable mentions, and eliminating 29 out of 100 tied candidates for "acceptances" our eyes were all going in circles.

The category "Photojournalism" is extremely broad. It comprises topical newsworthy images, plus documentary and sports images, making it really hard to stay consistent. So we had to score images captured at a massive and deadly fire somewhere in Southern Asia, cowboys riding bulls at a rodeo, football action, kayakers on white water shots of poverty-stricken families in a Yurt, dancers in flamboyantly coloured costumes and rock concerts! How do you do that and remain consistent?

The only negative was that the organizers had not vetted the images, so we were presented some which were not in-category, for which I felt I had to dock points (it was not our place to disqualify them). That was hard to do since some were really outstanding, just not on-topic!

In the end, out of all these images, there were about a dozen that had the "WOW" factor. So don't be discouraged (fellow club members who are afraid to enter competitions!), this was an INTERNATIONAL SALON! Even here there are images that stand out and some that don't. By the way, when you view 1000 images, there's no provision for comments... I had to bite my tongue a few times!

Two things came out of this as recommendations for you: (1) stay on topic. If the category is "action", for instance, a cow eating a flower isn't going to cut it. Neither is a kayaker paddling in the distance on calm water. And (2) Look at your images as if they were someone else's kids, not yours, as a stranger would see them. I know you think your cat is cute but not to someone who has never met the animal (or worse, hates cats).

I want to take this opportunity to thank the academy, my mother and all the little people... kidding, but I hope I get asked again.

Oh, and one more thing: there's a selfish aspect to being a judge: you get exposed to some outstanding images, you can clearly see the ones that have that "WOW" factor and your own photography can benefit, and you get to meet and spend time with some wonderful people you might not otherwise get to meet!

I Bought a Ring Light

They use them all the time on CSI. But how do you get the details of fingerprints or tire tracks when the light is coming from the same direction as the lens? Turns out, you can. It wouldn't be my first choice, but hey, it looks sexy on TV (ever notice that the serious 'foresnic' folks use Nikons? LOL).

This is the ringlight on the lens. Plus a bunch of sharpening stuff in PS and LR 

In this one I took the ring off the lens and held it at about a 45° angle. You tell me which one shows the detail better.

BTW I decided that if I was going to give you the finger, I'd use the correct one... are everyone's fingers this full of lines and cracks (surface, not the fingerprint)? Or is it because I'm getting old? 

Because you're generally shooting close to the subject, light from the ring will be very soft, despite the fact that it's coming straight from the camera. It's quite interesting.

I like shooting macro and small objects in the light tent (disclaimer: I still don't have a real macro lens. One day...) and the ringlight seems to be a nice way to go. But also, I've seen some portraits shot recently with them and the lighting is excellent, not to mention those great catchlights!

I wasn't able to get the kind of catchlights I wanted, but these are interesting. By the way, I HATE pictures of myself. However today I was testing the new ringlight and playing around, and shot this 'selfie' image. I didn't nail the focus on the eyes so I decided to use Topaz Impression (Degas preset) to make the whole thing painterly. I actually don't HATE this image.

So I found one on Amazon and, for $49, how can you go wrong?
FWIW, here are the links:
     Nikon version at Amazon Canada:
     Canon version in Canada:
     Nikon version at (USA):
     Canon version in US:
(I think the Nikon and Canon versions have different pinouts at the flash shoe)
You know you "get what you pay for", right? In this case it works as advertised but there are some things you have to work around.

  • You mount the 'sender' unit in the hotshoe and the ring on the lens (it comes with a bunch of adapters for different sized lenses). 
  • When you turn it on, the LEDs light up and they'll stay that way as long as you're pressing the shutter release halfway (odd, because mine is disabled, I use back-button focusing). 
  • If you're in flash mode, it will flash about twice as bright as the continuous light. But the continuous stays on.
  • You can adjust the light output continuously over a 2:1 range. The flash output changes too. You can double that effect by turning off half of the lights from the sender.
  • To fool it, so the continuous light is not on, I took the 'sender' off the camera. To make it flash, you have to do it manually.
  • I can't get it to work with my synchronized off-camera flash. But I did use the continuous light together with the flash.
  • The real bad news is that it vignettes like mad. The ring is only 66mm in diameter although the adapter fits up to a 77mm lens diameter; and it extends about 30mm forward of the front glass, so coverage is less than ideal. It works if you switch to DX (cropped sensor) mode.
It's going to be fun to use, though, and I'm looking forward to shooting some people shots with it. Stay tuned!

Here's a macro shot in the light tent. That's not grain, it's the surface of the plexiglass they were on. These are teeny-tiny .22 calibre CB Caps, by the way. 

I set these leaves in the light tent and shot them with the ringlight only. This is actually 4 exposures, focus stacked. Neat lighting!

Here's the actual setup, behind the scene. I shot in continuous mode, 1/8 sec at f/11, ISO 800, lens was the 24-120 at 120mm, but in DX mode.  

If you're not a photographer, your eyes are probably glazed over. Sorry about that!

One more for the Photographers.

Or at least for the photoshoppers! This is an example of how I used Topaz Impression on this image. This is a screen grab from Photoshop.

The intent was to give this shot a painterly look. But I wanted the Christmas tree to be kind of impressionistic, the house to be a coloured sketch and the background to be detailed but muted. So I used several different masked layers. Want to know how to do this stuff? Come take a course! (if you're reading this before the end of the Black Friday weekend, go here; Otherwise,

Here's the actual image 

Here are a couple of fresh images for your enjoyment. I was driving home from Uxbridge on Saturday and came across this row of trees.

I actually made a U-turn and stopped to take this shot because something about it caught my eye. This was along Lakeridge Road just North of Uxbridge. Each of the fields that bordered on the road was guarded by a line of sentinel trees (are these oaks? I plead ignorance). I tried to process this a few different ways but I kept coming back to this charcoal look.  

As the sun started to set, I thought about this shot, a bare tree silhouetted against the colourful sky and I actually pictured this kind of brush stroke effect. I was surprised to discover that I shot this five minutes BEFORE the previous (sentinels) shot. I thought I took it much later. The swirling blend of colours in the sky is reminiscent of van Gogh's style (but a bit more subtle). 

I raced to try to capture something of the sunset but couldn't find a suitable spot to shoot from. As a last desperation attempt, I pulled into the Independent store in Beaverton and there was a small lot in the back. I shot this out the car window because I didn't have time to set up before the clouds hid the setting sun. The foreground uses a heavy Impasto style and the sky is more in the style of Edward Hopper. 

Something that Topaz Impression has awakened in me is awareness of painting styles and the techniques of the masters. I'm moving closer to the day that I might pick up a brush and try to paint myself. Stay tuned!

— 30 —