Sunday, November 19, 2017

Looking at you

Today is a reflective post, and might be long, so you probably want to go get something to drink. It started with my realization that 2017 is my most prolific blog year to date. The previous best was in 2013 when I posted 283 times for no particular reason I can remember. This one is number 285 and I will probably top 300 blog posts for the year. (The peanut gallery and their comments about quality and quantity can stifle themselves.)

When I started photography as a serious hobby about a year and a half ago, I had no idea where it would go. You might remember a goal I set myself to try to post a photo a day from the good camera. It's safe to say I've exceeded that goal by far, and I've learned so much doing it. My readers have said many nice things about my photos and thank you very much. Maybe I've posted too many photos and some of you are bored but are too polite to say so.

I'm getting a bit more reflective about my photos, though. I'm trying to think through what makes a good photo, and being a bit more thoughtful about clicking the button. Sometimes of course, it's a no brainer. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about more ordinary scenes that need a bit of thinking  to find the angle, to find the light, to find the hook that drags people into the photo. Why lying on my belly instead of standing up? Why this lens or that lens? Why one particular set of exposure settings and not another? Why edit it this particular way and not any of the nearly infinite other ways of doing so?

The way to get better at anything is to practice being better, and not be content with the same old, same old. There are books to read, photos to look at and think about, photographers to talk about the craft with. Then go practice some more. This is the main reason I started doing Image of the Month, to make me look back over the month's work and think about what images are best and why. I suppose if I wanted to get carried away I could do best within categories, such as best landscape, skyline, sunrise or sunset, reflection, action, or macro, just to name some of the things I've photographed. But really, a good photo is good, no matter what category.

Part of all that is thinking about what I want to accomplish. I'm slowly narrowing down to deciding I want to be working with the limitations of the real world and my camera equipment. So for example, the full moon rising over downtown. I've been out for this shot a few times, and have never been entirely satisfied with my results. It being hard is what makes it worthwhile.

I could shoot a full moon against a dark background, blow it up to any desired size, and composite into a shot of downtown. If I did it just right it would look real. Do it sightly differently and while it would look stunning, people would realize it wasn't real. Done slightly badly and it becomes one of many photoshop fails.

Since my photoshop skills are nearly non-existent, I'm not going to do that. If you see a shot of mine with a moon and the downtown skyline, it's going to be what you would have seen standing there, within the limitations of my skills on the camera equipment I'm using that day.

I happen to really enjoy discovering new locations to shoot from, or discovering new things to shoot at locations I know of. Looking at the work of other photographers is great for that. It's always giving me new ideas. If I asked nice, I could probably get my photo buddies to show me their secret sites, but I'd rather discover them for myself. I'd like to think other photographers wonder where some of my shots are done.

There's a fine line here. My buddy Neil Z has produced some stunning work, and no, it's not luck. He researches, he plans, he gets his butt out there in all weather at all times of day to get the shot. Now, some of his shots I know to within a few inches where he was. Any local photographer would know. I could set up there, and take an identically framed shot, but it would look different. The sky and weather would be different, and if they're in the shot the skyline and water would be different. That camera and camera settings are different, and I would edit it differently. Am I a plagiarist? No. The world is there for us artists to interpret. Trying to pass it off as a Neil Z work would be a clumsy forgery.

People will see a particular scene slightly differently, given the exact state of their eyes, any corrective lenses, and how their brain interprets the signals the eyes send. Now we add camera equipment in, and things can get really different. A JPEG from an iPhone might look better than a RAW from my camera, or maybe the iPhone won't get the shot at all. Then we add in software to manipulate the data and who knows where that will end up?

My choices now are to generally try to make the scene look like I remember seeing it. Every now and then I'll push the software a bit to make the scene look like what's in my head. Usually this will mean pushing the colour and brightness a bit, but I try to keep it to what it could look like given specific lighting.

Then there is art, usually an abstract. I haven't worked on any of these for a while, and I'm looking forward to getting back to them. I'll push the software and change colours, sometimes running things through again, and pushing it even more, just to see how it turns out.

It's a different sort of creative process than writing. To write something you have to choose specific words in a specific order for the readers to make sense of it. Writers are making something up out of nothing. Photographers start with the world, and tweak from there. In either medium, if well done there is always something more for the viewer to enjoy.

I got this shot of Curtis while experimenting with the then new tripod and head. I totally love the way the camera can click in and click out of the head. Of course, any shot with Curtis in it is likely to be good because he's the most photogenic mammal in the house.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

The downtown wetlands walk

Earlier this week you know I went on a frosty wetlands photo ramble. Some of you have probably figured out it was Prince's Island, at the very east end. From the photos alone, you'd never know it was in the heart of Calgary. Well, there are a couple shots with some clues if you look really carefully. I took these photos the same day, but they would have given away the location.

It's a beautiful walk, and I'm going to have to go back there to work on reflection shots. Last time I was on the island for that, the wetlands were fenced off. I think at the right time of the year it would be good for sun or moonrise shots along the river.

Here's more of the geese. They seemed unusually skittish and most flew away as I walked by. Normally geese are obnoxiously belligerent, standing their ground, giving people the stink eye, almost demanding a toll to let you pass.


I like how the tops of the taller buildings disappear into the clouds or vapour from other buildings.

I knew the camera would struggle with this, but I wanted the image to just barely see the lines of the buildings, have the vapour from the top of The Bow be dark and foreboding, with the sun poking through just enough to complicate things.

 The buildings, clouds, streams of vapour all riding on the wave of the building facade amused me a great deal.

A temporary crane in East Village. For all there's a downturn in the economy, there sure are a lot of cranes working. The difference is that only a few of them are on office buildings in downtown proper.


East Village used to be a place nobody wanted to be any longer than necessary to get their fix. I felt sorry for the elderly people living in a couple of the buildings there. Now the place is exploding, with new buildings going up left and right. I was in one of them for a photo shoot, and it was surprisingly big. The ones I'd seen in showroom model for looked cramped and utilitarian, aimed at young adults. The building I was in was for well off adults.

There have been a lot of those sorts of condos going up in Calgary. Yes, there has to be a market for those empty nest boomers to move into smaller and more efficient spaces, but who knew the market was this big? Then again, I wonder how many out of all those new suites are actually sold to people that actually live in them, as opposed to people that bought in the hopes of flipping them. Always a dangerous game in the Calgary market.


I did a U turn to come back and get this shot. The light isn't quite as good as when I first saw it, but I liked how the buildings emerged from the fog and clouds. Oddly enough, the white building on the left was the sharpest clearest part of the image when I first saw it, looking like it was ready to explode into the camera. I'd never seen white on white looking quite like that.





Friday, November 17, 2017

A frosty wetlands walk

There was a grumpy email about process failures. Originally there was going to be a long and detailed rant here, but the email made me feel better enough, and the actual process that the grumpy making process was hindering went well enough that I'm feeling better, so there is no rant here on that topic. Sorry about that, I know you guys like my rants. The whole thing involved my nearly perfect blood and enough said about that.

After that was a short fun walk through a wetlands beautiful with frost. That helped me feel better. Most people would be surprised to learn where this is.


Someone else had the same idea I did.


It being a wetlands, nobody should be surprised there were lots of birds, especially geese and ducks.

Still a surprising amount of colour.

 This wasn't part of the wetlands proper, but I was quite charmed. There didn't seem to be any birds in residence.

I'm not sure what it is, but this scene really struck me. I enjoyed the view a few minutes, then moved around to find the perfect shot. You may have seen it on Instagram

For at least a few of my readers, this and the next photo are a tip for location. I loved how the light broke through the mist and really lighted up that first tree. The wetlands are only a short walk away.

I'd known there was a Canada 150 thingie, but I hadn't seen it. I came across it, and the first thing I thought was that it would be fun to take the photo from behind it, so it would be a mirror image. The only problem is that you'd have to use a really wide lens, or be willing to stand on lagoon ice of unknown thickness. Not me. I got a conventionally boring shot, only 4.5 months late.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Night gritty

Last night I published some of the moody shots from a night shoot over the weekend. These ones are taken along the way, just a little (a lot) more industrial. Still, I suppose they evoke a mood as well, but I didn't want to bore my readers putting them all in one blog.

I think this machine shreds metal; it would be fun to see it in operation.


Some of the shimmer of plastic and rock shows up, but not like I saw it. The plastic looked almost like a layer of water on the rocks. The orange facing on the trailer was glowing.


This was a tough one to get framed. There is a building right behind it, and I didn't want any of it in the frame. It looks like a panorama, but no, I just chopped the top third of the image off. I can't help but think it's going to be a while before someone rents this office, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had nice wood flooring and spacious offices. The brick facing is handsome, and with a nice awning put up on that framework, it might even look pretty classy. In the meantime it just looks sad.



This is the source of the funny smell you sometimes get in that area.

A couple people inside gave me funny looks along the way. I suppose from their perspective, seeing a little car pull up, and a big guy in a big parka with reflective stripes on it get out, might make them a little nervous. Then I zoom off, and they probably wonder what the story is.

Places like this I don't mind going alone because I'm on public streets in well lighted areas. I was thinking about going down to the river to get some reflection shots, then thought about it again, knowing that the homeless like to set up camps to avoid going to the shelters. They might get unhappy were I to disturb them.

Of course, there's always the risks of stumbling around on rocks, at night, when it's below freezing, near a river, when a simple slip and fall could turn out very serious. If I'm going to do night river stuff, I'm going to look for company. Maybe I'll call you. Or you could call me and set up a date.

Next up will be some from a photo ramble in an unexpected location. Unless something else comes along and I change my mind.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Night moody

Night shooting is fun. We can play all sorts of games with the camera settings to make the scene look like daylight, or so the viewer can barely make anything out. I like to edit the shots to be dark like my eyes saw it, but bring up the colour a bit, and sometimes show effects our eyes don't see.

I've always wanted some shots of the cone of light from beneath the streetlights, stretching off into the distance. Preferably with a curve in the road, but when I saw this I didn't complain.


Yes, a house in an industrial area. I suspect it's an office, or a storage area, but at one time I'm pretty sure that people lived there. Zoning might have been different back then.


This was shot at the same place I got the nice panorama yesterday. If you missed it, go back for a look, you won't regret it. Third one down. A few nights ago I was trying to get a long streak across the sky, but had an equipment adventure. This night was better, but still not quite what I have in mind.  I'll keep working on it.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Night and contest results

I was out for two nights in a row in one of the older industrial areas that isn't far from one of the places I used to work. I drove past it and marvelled at the changes. I'd love to get in there with my camera, but suspect all the people I ever worked with are long gone. It's been 27 years since I left there, after all, so I don't think there's much chance of an informal tour. Still, maybe I'll drop in one day and ask nice.

Along the way I relearned a photography lesson. Take your time, explore the shot. This one, for example was taken the second night, just before packing it in.


Yes, yes, you say, a nice shot of the skyline. Ho hum.

Compared to this one, taken the first night.


The same shot, you say, what's your point?

They're not the same shot. The top one was taken a little bit further to the left, maybe 50 feet, so the foreground changes from that nice railway line to seeing more of the highway. Pity, I liked the railway. Pity I blew the shot because I rushed. On the plus side, I get rid of the distracting bright area in the lower right. You might not be able to tell from the web version, but the camera was moving ever so slightly. I suspect the tripod wasn't completely anchored, and was still settling as I took the shot.

It looked in focus on the back of the camera, but I didn't look that carefully, and I didn't take another shot. At least this time I could get back, and capture the Tower lined up with the new Brookfield Place building. Sometimes you can't go back and have another go at the shot.

The real winner in the skyline shot sweepstakes is this panorama taken the second night. It would print out 42" x 12" at 300 dpi or 5' x 1.5' at 200 dpi, which is still going to come out very nice.



 There I was, wandering around a deserted industrial area, looking for photo possibilities. No cars, no people. I'm all set up on a railway track and as soon as I press the button, I get this.


Here's the other railway shot I like from the night. Some of you may have seen it on Facebook or Instagram.


Plus an industrial selfie, just because.



And the contest results you're all waiting for! Not many entries, and thank you to those that played along, or commented. Here's a bigger view of the whole thing.


Two people said 'cat brush'. The judges have conferred, and decided that is a winner! Sophia and Michelle can contact me and arrange a time to decide which photo they want. Coffee, tea, or wine will be supplied as desired.

More night photos coming.






Monday, November 13, 2017

Macro Monday 12, contest, diamonds

I was thinking Sunday midnight for the entries to close on the contest, but the actual text says Monday at midnight. Oops. That's today for those that have are reading this now. Which could lead me down the rabbit hole of discussing what 'now' means in an asynchronous world, but we won't go there. Today. Maybe a different now. For all I know 'now' I'll come back in the future and put a link there.

So, one more last clue, a somewhat less zoomed in version of the object. Scroll down.

Wine diamonds are rarely found in commercial wine. They are made up from Tartaric acid binding with potassium, and are generally held to be an indicator the grapes were on the vine longer, and the wine fermented longer. The red ones have just been stained by the sediment.

What puzzles me is why the red ones are curved and ridged, but the white ones are more crystalline. In any case, they're tiny. These were not attached to the cork, so I had to figure out how to get them positioned and stable so I could capture the images. These are all at between 4 and 5x mag.

I managed to get them set up so that some of the crystals were in the morning sun, plus an LED light, plus the macro flash of course. The combination sometimes produced a lovely glow that doesn't really come across well in the photos. By the time I got to some of the other crystals the sun had moved.










And your last, really, no fooling, not kidding around this time, clue. Remember, several other recent blog posts have clues, most particularly, this one. Remember, the prize is to choose one of my 35K plus images and get a file suitable for a desktop screen or printing out fairly big, though the printing is on your dime, but printing is cheap. Many of mine will look lovely on canvas and then you don't need to frame, though putting canvas in a float frame looks stunningly good.

It just occurred to me that my out of town readers will not get quite as wide a selection, unless they want to come here. In that case I'll roll out the red carpet. But they can choose between any of mine that have appeared in this blog over the last year and a half or so, or more recently on my photoblog. Most of the images on Facebook or Instagram came through my good camera, but not all. We'll work something out.


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