Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Our Way

Drove to Minot yesterday. Very cold (-30) but the highways were in reasonable shape. Some blowing snow later in the day but not too bad.

Stopped in Lumsden at Fourth and James Bakery that Penny had tipped us off to. Good scones and coffee.

Checked into the Grand International hotel. Picked up our tickets at the Amtrak station. Dropped off the car at the airport parking (across the street from the hotel)

It looks like the train is running a little late according to the Amtrak app but we'll head over to the station shortly. Next stop Seattle.

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fresh Snow Still Life

The day was dull grey, but I threw the camera into my pack just in case. The chickadees were in their usual spot, and the goldeneyes were on the river. But it was things peeking out of the fresh snow that caught my eye. (click on the photos for a larger view)








We're setting off on another adventure - circling the United States by train with 45 day Amtrak rail passes that allow up to 18 stops. We'll drive to Minot and leave the car in long term parking at the airport. (Apparently they're geared up for this because it's common for Canadians e.g. from Regina to drive to Minot to catch cheap American flights.) The rail pass doesn't cover sleeping cabins but we're planning to upgrade on a few of the longer segments.

We've done some planning, but we haven't booked everything so we can adjust our plans as we progress. The trains run daily on most of the route, except from Los Angeles to New Orleans which only runs three days per week.

Some of the stops we have planned are:
Unfortunately, the train no longer seems to run from New Orleans to Jacksonville so we'll have to take the bus on that section. (or go further inland)

 I've loaded my Kindle with a stock of reading matter, including Waiting On A Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service: A Year Spent Riding Across America

This is a trip I've thought about for a number of years. It should be fun. Stay tuned for more blog posts and photos from Shelley and I.

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Learning to See

at Innovation Place where I work

We think we know how to see. After all, it comes naturally. But photography has shown me that I don't really know how to see very well. And it has helped me get just a little bit better at it.

Common advice to aspiring photographers is to take lots of photos and then pick the best.

guess whoWe're also supposed to adjust the exposure and color etc. to get the best possible photo. (Whether in the camera, or the darkroom, or nowadays, the computer.)

The weak point in this kind of advice is that it assumes you know what's better and what's worse.

There are some things that are obvious. You want your image to be sharp and in focus. Except there are always exceptions. There are some great artsy, blurred, out of focus shots. And what about depth of focus? How much of your image should be in focus? If only part of it should (or can) be in focus then which part should that be? The eyes? The foreground?

passing by
blurry, but I like the feel of it

When I first started using photo software I thought I just needed to learn what all the knobs and buttons did. But that's just the start. Knowing what the white balance control does won't tell you what the "best" setting is.  There are times when it's clear cut, when you just want to make white be white. But if you do that to a sunrise or sunset, you're going to destroy it because the light actually was colored and the whites actually weren't white.

I love reflections in water

I always enjoyed color, but I never paid much attention to the nuances. Now I've been forced to pay a lot closer attention, because I have to decide what the "best" color is, from a huge range of subtle variations.

We tend to like images that "pop", that have lots of contrast and saturated colors. But when you're adjusting those things, you have to decide how much is enough, and when it's too much. It's easy to go too far. Looking at some photo sites you'd think we live in a Kodak commercial. I fall into this trap all the time. Then again, sometimes you do it on purpose.

also at Innovation Place

But the interesting part is that learning to see in the context of photography has helped me to see better even when I'm not doing photography.

I see the warm light of sunrise and sunset. I see the blue of twilight. I notice the difference in the reflected light from the water depending on whether I'm looking toward the sun or away from it. I see the shades of green in the leaves and the shades of white in the show. I see the color of the sky. I see the lines and shapes, the textures and patterns.

I'm still not very good at it but I feel like I'm slowly learning to see.

the weir

Monday, January 07, 2013

Photos of the Day

More sunset photos taken walking home from work. In a way it's boring to take photos of the same scene over and over. On the other hand, it's a good exercise. The light and the sky are always different and I always try for a little different angle or treatment. And it helps me pay attention instead of just thinking I've seen this route countless times.

These were taken with the little G12 which struggles a bit with the low light. (My new Pentax would have been better.) I used a tree to steady the first, and rested on the bridge railing (using the articulated screen) for the second. I applied substantial noise reduction in Lightroom (although the noise isn't as visible in these smaller versions).

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Photo Books

For several years I've been meaning to try making photo books using one of the online services.

When Apple came out with books in Aperture and then iPhoto I thought about trying them, but I have my photos in Lightroom.

Finally, Lightroom 4 came with a Book module and I didn't have any more excuses.

As Christmas approached and I was suffering my usual conflict of wanting to give gifts, but not wanting to support the commercialization of Christmas or our general obsession with "stuff".

I got the bright idea of doing a photo book of our McKinlay family trip to Baja in the fall.

It didn't take long to figure out the basics of making a book in Lightroom. It was definitely a plus that I could do it within Lightroom and have easy access to all my photos and be able to tweak them without having to switch programs.

The Lightroom book module works with Blurb. I finished my book and sent it off to them. I was a little nervous about how it would come out. I would have liked to order just one and see what it was like but I didn't think I had time so I ordered three (my two sisters plus Shelley).

As it turned out, they came very quickly. I was really pleased with the results. The premium lustre paper is very nice and the reproduction of the photos was good.

I was so happy with the results and the speed that I decided to do a second book of my Saskatoon nature photos to give as a Christmas present to some of the people who have been supportive of my photography and that I thought would appreciate it.  I made the first book hard cover and fairly large so it turned out quite expensive (about $50). This one I made smaller and paperback, reducing the cost to about $20. (Still with the premium paper.)

I was afraid it wouldn't arrive before Christmas but again it was very quick. And again I was really pleased with the results. (click on the full screen button for a larger view)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Speaker for the Dead

I was out with some coworkers and one of them was talking about the hassle of clearing snow on their acreage. Someone said they should move into the city. Oh no, they liked living in the country too much. They loved having the deer come and visit their yard. How nice, I thought.

But they also had a coyote come and visit their yard. Even nicer, I thought, coyotes are cool.

But they were worried it might hurt their dog, so they shot it. So much for nice, I thought.

Everyone agreed that this was regrettable, but necessary. Except me. I said I'd choose the coyote. They all misunderstood, assuming I was agreeing with them. No, I said, you don't understand, I would choose the coyote over the dog.

They looked at me like I had two heads. One of them said (albeit joking) "And I thought you were a nice guy". I felt I should look at them like they had two heads. I wasn't nice because I didn't agree with killing a wild animal? To me that's bizarre logic.

I tried to explain that I thought the coyote had as much if not more right to be there than we did. But all I got was blank looks.

These are nice people. I like them. I think I get along pretty well with them. This doesn't change that. I don't hold their attitudes against them. Their parents likely had, and taught them, the same attitudes. Their friends likely have the same attitudes. Heck, our whole culture has the same attitudes. It's clearly me that is the oddball wacko.

I love people, and dogs, and cats, and all animals and plants. But I love nature more than I love people. If you had to choose between a tenant that trashed the place, and one that left no trace, which would you choose?

Humans have demonstrated over and over that we have little concern for anything other than ourselves. We've shown that we will continue to party until the whole place is wrecked. We are the hoodlums and therefore we don't deserve to be here. The coyote isn't trashing the planet, to me it obviously and arguably has more right to be here than us, let alone our pets.

It's bad enough that we feel it's ok to trash the planet for our sake. But it's even worse to feel it's ok to trash the planet for our pets. (We might not explicitly say that we think it's ok, but actions speak louder than words.)

Shooting a coyote is hardly trashing the planet. But the attitude it demonstrates is the same attitude that is driving our destructive ways. People always come first. Closely followed by our toys and pets. The government will pay you to shoot a coyote, but if I shoot your SUV (clearly more harmful than the coyote) then I'll likely go to jail. Pretty obvious what our value system is.

I have no illusions that this post will change anyone's attitude. If you disagree, no doubt you still disagree (if you made it this far). And if you agree, then you didn't need to read this. But sometimes it's just hard to stay silent. I'm not angry, I'm just sad.

* The title comes from an Orson Scott Card book of the same name

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Favorite Photos of 2012

Here are my favorites of my photos from 2012. It's always hard to choose, and your favorites may not be the same as mine.  Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy them. Much thanks to everyone who gave me encouragement and support through the year.

click to view photos (34)

2012 was another great year. In March we took the train out to Vancouver and the ferry to Victoria. In April / May we drove down to Red Rocks (near Las Vegas) to rock climb and drove back through California, visiting Sequoia and Yosemite. We stuck around Saskatoon to enjoy the summer. In September / October we drove down to Baja Mexico for scuba diving and sea kayaking. (Photos of all these trips are on Flickr)

I went another year without flying. That makes three years except for the short flights between Florida and the Bahamas at the end of 2011 (the ferry quit running). Of course, we did quite a bit of driving instead, but with two of us in our Prius, it's better than flying. (And flying it's a lot easier to rack up a lot more miles.)

You can see last year's favorite photos at 2011 Favorites