Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas To All!

"The Christmas Hearth"

Visited the Tropical Greenhouse over at Hamilton's Gage Park the other day and amongst the banana trees and tropical ferns was their lovely Christmas display... a Christmas tree and fireplace decked out in poinsettias and amaryllis, so very sweet and homey. This is one of my favourite times of the year. I love watching loved ones open their gifts in surprise, I love reading the true Christmas story, I love the food and the friends.

This is a shot of the wreath over the fireplace... and if you ask Ron, my photography partner in crime for the day, he'll confirm that the minute I lay eyes on it, I knew I wanted this close-up. The colors and the textures called to me. And there's some great lines on the background from the mantle and windows nearby. And I knew I'd wait and share it today, my last post before the Christmas celebration begins in earnest.

I do wish you all a very blessed Christmas, and even if it is not your religion or holiday of choice, I hope you'd not be offended that I send you all the best my own seasonal celebration has to offer. If the tables were turned, I'd be touched that you'd extend the same. And many of you in other cultures have already... I'd never consider it to be anything other than an honour. Whatever you celebrate in the coming days, my prayer is that you be surrounded with family and friends, that your coming year abound with adventure and blessings, and that the peace extended to us in the gift of a babe in manger permeate the entire New Year and beyond.

Merry Christmas friends. See you on the flip side!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Channeling Escher Again ~ Mono Monday!

Which Way Up?

I'm short on time today... was playing with some old architectural photos from last December. Thought I'd post one for you here.

I'll let you decide what to make of it.
Try something, anything, creative today... it's good for the soul.

Thanks for the short ramble! Have a good one!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Little Things ~ Floral Friday!

"Curly Vine"

Without any naval gazing whatsoever today, thought I'd post a random list of all the little things that I've learned to remember whenever I'm out photographing flowers or anything for that matter. Here we go;

1. Keep a sense of adventure.

2. Use my Exposure Compensation button more. It's my friend.

3. Watch my histogram. NOT my LCD screen for accuracy.

4. The light dictates my technique. The subject in that light dictates the story.

5. A tripod slows me down. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes bad.

6. The flash comes OFF the camera. I get better photographs every time.

7. I need to continue learning about my flash.

8. I always look up. Way up. There's always something above you to see.

9. The right half of the right half of your Histogram is crucial to knowing if you have a photograph with the largest amount of information possible.
(Thank you David DuChemin for this one)

10. My telephoto will always require a tripod in less than brilliant light.
It's just a slow lens.

11. If my exposure is dead on in camera, or darn near close to, my higher ISO isn't going to ruin a photograph.

12. I do my best work in Manual mode. A total 360 from four years ago, I was terrified to leave Program mode. Total control in manual is so freeing.

13. It's okay to take sucky photographs. I learn from them. Every time.

14. Photography is hard. It's hard.

15. It's hard.

16. Keep a sense of adventure.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Large Space, Large Plane! ~ Exploration Thursday!

"Presenting The Catalina PBY-5A Canso"

I have a pressing need to go back to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum over the holidays at some point. I had such a blast photographing all the aircraft there, and the overwhelming space as well. The hanger really can become it's own character in each shot if you so choose. That always intrigues me.

What will happen though is I'm renting either an ultra-wide, or fisheye lens... and would love to hear which one you think I should go with?

Here's the thing... I don't think my nice little 18-55mm is doing the space justice. I did my best, getting low to the floor, using various aviation-type details to emphasize the perspective, the height, the vast space, all those cool lines... but I still think I could go much wider. And I'm torn between the two. I realize the easiest thing would be to rent both but I'll have enough to do adjusting to using one never mind two new lenses.

Anyways, the shot above was my first attempt trying to convey how large and beautiful the space was, and also how big the Catalina was, looking out over all the rest of the aircraft parked within the hanger. The guy walking up to the plane also helps with the scale of everything.

Ultra-wide angle? Fisheye lens? And hey, if you'd like to join me for a morning of photographing these amazing machines, drop me a line and let me know! It'll be around the first week of January!

Thanks for the ramble! Have an awesome day gang!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Photography, No Matter What!

"Curious Little Fungus"

I can deny it no longer. The crazy schedule I have right now due to the Christmas season means I may not be blogging daily for the next while. And I don't mean my work schedule, although that was busy for a bit too... I mean my personal schedule. I love Christmas and this means I make time for family, friendly gatherings every other night, and all the special activities I can't do without.

However, I DO find time to photograph SOMETHING through the week. No matter what! And so today's image is from a jaunt we made last week to try out a new hiking trail in the greater Niagara area. One we'll definitely be visiting often over the coming year. The Short Hills Provincial Park is one I've been wanting to visit for a while. Three major trails prevail, loads of birds of every color and size, deer and coyote... and I can't be certain but we think we saw fox tracks too through some mud.

I spend much of the time on new trails or locations just getting a feel for the area, the possible conditions we'll experience, the amount of time we need to experience it all, and what times of day would be the most ideal to visit. Also the history of the area. I don't do a ton of shooting my first walk through. But I do bring the camera on the off chance I need to remember what I love about the trails, and to photograph the odd scene that grabs my eye.

We were in a darker part of the woods when I spotted some fungi I had never seen before on the Bruce trails in the Hamilton area. Tiny, tiny, white with ruffles and tinges of green throughout. I loved the texture, but hated that I had neglected to pack my tripod, which I didn't really want with me this first time through. It was super bright out for the most part with harsh light and I wasn't thinking about how thick and dark the canopy of trees can be even without their leaves. So this one was taken with the ISO jacked up to about 500 to avoid any camera shake. The rock bed I stood in was not too sturdy either and I couldn't find a secure spot to place the camera on a support of any kind without it getting wet. So this is the best I could do.

I still like the image and it speaks of the future photo possibilities awaiting me the next time I return. Possibilities I'll be able to anticipate and try to be prepared for. But it's a fabulous park and the walk with the hubby was wonderful regardless of what little material I came back with this first go round! How about you? Do you always scope out a new area before trying to spend hours photographing it? I highly recommend it. No matter what.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On My Bookshelf ~ Exploration Thursday!

It's occurred to me that I've not had time to discuss the type of material I keep handy when I want to be inspired, challenged, or taught. Nor who's teaching or writing styles have been (in my opinion) the most instructive and motivational without being a difficult read. These five books featured on the post today will forever be on my bookshelf at home and I'm about to break down why.

My first pick is pictured above (from so the action statement above each book will not work, just letting you know now...) and it is hands down my favorite David DuChemin book ever. So far. His new one is on order and after I read it this one may have to make room for "Photographically Speaking"... anyways... as I was saying, "Within The Frame" is invaluable to any photographer, David has an easy going yet no-holds barred kind of writing style, the images fully explain each concept he introduces to what makes an engaging photograph and you are left feeling like you finally understand why you love to approach photography the way you do.

This is my latest acquisition and you'll appreciate Manning's breakdown of how to discover who you are as a photographer and then how that applies to the various avenues available for boosting your career as a photographer. Simple easy tips on how you can start making money now, and then the bigger picture for later on. Another uncomplicated read, Erin lays everything out for your consideration and even has spot light sections on various pros who answer questions on what their own hardest obstacles were and what they're still learning today about their business and their photography. I'll be hanging on to this book!

There is a lot of great Canadian content featured in this post, but none more magical than any book by the great Freeman Patterson... including this new and improved revision of "Photography and the Art of Seeing". Freeman's books contain enchanting images, and he gives you an intimate look into his inspiring photographic thought process. His goal? To motivate you to look closely and think completely about all the fantastic subject matter you have around you even now. Patterson really does challenge the lofty photographer to stop skimming the surface and start doing the work it takes to recognize great photo ops even in your backyard if need be. I really love this book.

When I first saw this book on the shelf of the local bookshop, it was the beautiful colors that drew me, and then the title. Then when I realized it was Michael Freemen, I HAD to have it. If anyone can breakdown the inner workings of how the eye sees imagery, and how composition can be your strongest tool, it's Michael. He stresses being the "informed" photographer, assessing everything from the subject's story, to the light, to the location, to how it all feels together. Much like DuChemin's book, if you can't put your finger on why you put your finger on the shutter for a certain shot, then it's time to stop flying by the seat of your pants when you can, and start really seeing what makes a great photo to you personally. The minute that happens, your viewers will notice and feel compelled by your images also. Whew. Good stuff folks. Read it!

And finally (excuse the giant space around it) the book I keep handy for pure inspiration. "Manufactured Landscapes" by Edward Burtynsky is a visual adventure into the manufactured footprint we're leaving on our planet. If you've ever had the pleasure of viewing one of these magnificent photographs in one of our national galleries, you know that these images are the epitome of excellent photographic skills and a passion for our planet put together.  He explains at one point about the use of the "essential element"... something that brings you right into the photo, that can only be captured from a certain point, at a certain time, from a certain location, in certain light, etc... in other words, be deliberate.
You cannot help but walk away from this monster of a book feeling like you need to make a change somehow. And landscapes will never be the same again my friend.

Each of these books will change how you feel about photography. No doubt about it. And there are so many others. Inhale each and every one and you'll reignite you love for the photograph and the camera!

Thanks for the ramble, and have a good one! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time For Cards!

I don't usually use this space to promote my sale items, but I've had a number of folks ask if I'm still selling our Art Card Sets. The answer is yes! So I thought I'd include them here on the blog and get the word out.

And I have also been asked before if these come in bulk from a printer of any kind. These are made by hand, each and every one, and before you decide that's a little too "Suzy-homemaker/old school/craft nut-ish" I can tell you that they are a fine quality watercolor paper card stock with detailed edging on both cards and envelopes, with heavy quality photo paper in brilliant clarity, adhered completely and professionally with much care.

Each and every one is then signed.

These come in sets of 12 assorted images, the Landscape Set and the Floral Collection... easy to purchase through my website when you click on the links I've just provided and scroll under the image to the Purchase button.
If you are in the Hamilton, Ontario area and wish to avoid shipping and handling, please paste the link to whichever set you'd like and your particulars in an email to and we'll set up your order for you and a drop off/payment time.

I've been told they make a great gift for others or yourself, and have had many folks tell me a few stay on their walls in frames for safe keeping.

This is one of those rare times I indulge in a little self-promo here on the blog... I'll be back tomorrow with my usual ramble!
Have a super day gang!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pursuit of the Better SP ~ Part II

"Finally Smiling!"

So here we are with Part II of my quest for a better self portrait. With the inclusion of some very important tips, I was able to get a few images I felt good about. This is STILL not my favorite activity of all time but it was good for me to get a better handle on this particular subject. I'm including two of my favorites today.
Here's what went down....

Last week I said my basic approach was just playing with my settings and trying to get some over all good light. But let's face it, it was boring light. In order to get some interesting light with nice coverage, I took a moment to get an exposure that wasn't being affected by the ambient light in the room at all, so basically, my test shot result was a black screen. This is the only time that this is a good thing. But it was all about to change! Enter my speedlight and reflector/light panel. The flash was about to override any available light in the room and help me get better portraits. I placed my flash fairly close to my location, at half power and aimed/bounced it behind and up into my reflector. This disperses your flash light evenly and with better quality than just the flash aimed at the subject. (Do a little experiment next time with just flash and then flash diffused or bounced out towards the subject and see the difference in editing.) 

With my flash being controlled totally by the camera, it made it easy to change settings too instead of running over to the one and then the other. I had my reflector on a stand, clipped at an angle and positioned just in front and to the right of me. I positioned the camera at eye level, and quite close to create a more intimate portrait. Still using my 50mm prime lens at a softer aperture of about 2.8 - 4.5 meant getting a depth of field with some drama. And the smaller the aperture, the more powerful the flash setting needed to be. Why? Because the light I ultimately wanted for the shot needed to break through the available light currently in the room. When I first learned this concept, flash photography really began to make sense to me as another type of artist's tool, and not something scary to overcome.
I did start out with the flash at it's maximum sync speed, but decided artistically that dialing it down to half created a light I liked.

At half power, I started to get very subtle soft shadows. This adds volume to the image and avoids looking harsh and flat. Later in processing, I used curves to ensure that there were also nice highlights to balance out the shadow areas without having too much contrast. Skin tones in portraits need to seem soft and clean. Save your edgy, clarified, high pass sharpening skills for more editorial or street photo type portraits. There's nothing worse than razor sharp wrinkles and features with deep contrasting lines within a classic portrait. What I did pay attention to in processing was the odd blemish, and the detail around the eyes. And I'm deathly opposed to making people look like wax figures with that often overused skin-softening tool. So just the make-over brush was used to even skin tones in the odd spot.

I've done one in B&W and one in color today... I may yet attempt to get a better B&W done. Am not sure if I like so many dark areas in the final one above. But it's much improved from last week's portrait and that was the point of this exercise. The moral of this pursuit? Everything takes practice, your flash is a wicked tool the minute you remove it from on top of your camera, and that if you truly want to know how many wrinkles you have, just smirk into a 50mm portrait lens.... you can count each and every one. Sigh.

"Yours Truly"

Thanks for following along on this journey not yet over, and have a
super Monday gang!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Flowers and... Trucks? ~ Floral Friday!

2011 Fall Mum Show, Gage Park, Hamilton

Back to Floral Friday and I thought seeing as we're now into the cold weather I'd post something bright and colorful... and automotive. Yes, you read that right. For all you men out there that think flowers are for girls... well, they are. But put a massive antique vehicle in their midst and suddenly you have men flocking to the nearest flower show. Ha.

The theme for this years past Mum Show was "Fire" and there were massive displays throughout the brand new spacious greenhouses that were full of bright color, dragons spitting fire, a giant flame, and these beautiful old firetrucks, polished to a mirrored finish and decorated to within an inch of their shiny chrome. Naturally, I had to take pictures.

The space was well light obviously, and the only downside was trying to photograph between crowds of visitors. Space like this requires you to truly pay attention to the clutter and chaos intruding into the frame, and to still try to get the big picture for those who may not have been there. The two shots up this morning were my favorite from the show. And I hope you enjoy, whether you're partial to flowers OR trucks!

Have a good weekend folks, and thanks once again for the ramble!