Image Deconstructed: Fletcher Creek Forest Swamp

Fletcher Creek Forest Swamp Ontario

Happy 4th of July to all our American friends. All the best and beautiful photographs.

I captured this image a few days ago on a Sunday morning. Early morning. Way too early in the morning. It was the end of June and the sunrise was shortly after 5:30 am. Did I mention that it was too early ? Actually, it wasn’t a plan. The plan was to sleep in, spend most of the day doing nothing or as little as possible (that’s my specialty) and then go out in the evening to take a few pictures. All that changed when I checked weather forecast the day before. One of them, I think it was the Weather Canada site, mentioned patches of fog the next morning. Well, I couldn’t resist. I absolutely love to shoot in fog. This is an element that often makes images better. The only problem was that I had to get up at 3:30 am. That’s quite early. Did I mention that before ?

I decided that I was going to visit the area I scouted a few years ago, called: Fletcher Creek Forest Swamp, shown on the map below by the red dot. It is close to Cambridge, On., approximately 50 km west of Toronto.

Fletcher Creek Forest Swamp Map

I believe that it is also called Beverly Swamp. But I may be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. And likely not the last. Anyhow, to get to the swamp you need to find the trail-head for Lafarge 2000 Trail. It’s not very easy to see but it is very close to the intersection of Gore and Maddaugh Roads. Look closely and you should be able to see the sign. Follow the trail, which turns into a boardwalk after 100 meters, cross the wetlands and there you are. You found it.

When I arrived to the area where I wanted to photograph the air was quite clear, there were no signs of fog. Luckily for me, after 30 minutes a fog patch rolled in making the scene very mysterious and enchanting.

In terms of post processing, it was actually very simple. In Lightroom I increased contrast a little bit, added Clarity and Vibrance and painted a delicate vignette. I was also after a “fairy tale” look so I decided to shift green hue a tiny little bit towards yellow part of the spectrum. As far as the local adjustments are concerned, I only increased contrast and a bit of saturation in the logs in the foreground. The biggest change was with the image crop. The original picture is shown below. As you can see, there was another log close to where I was standing. I felt that it was significantly changing the balance of composition. That log and a lot of shady tree reflections were making the image less “fairy tale” and more “sinister”. In a way, the darker areas of the picture were overpowering the more subtle and foggy portion.

FCreek Forest Swamp Full Crop

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Interesting book, Cool music, Beautiful images – Happy Canada Day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happy Canada Day to all of us here in Canada and abroad.

For me this is typically a relaxing, lazy day with an interesting book, cool music and beautiful images that were mentioned in the title. So, we know where to get good books but how about cool music and even cooler photographs. Well, there is a simple but effective solution to put everything into action. I’m not a big Apple Corp. fan but I love a few of their products. One of them is AppleTV. It is a little set-top gizmo, not much larger than a hockey puck. It can connect to your TV, sound system and to your wireless network allowing to access either your iTunes music collection or you can connect to the vast Internet radio directory. My favourite is Radio Paradise, which plays a wonderful mix of delightfully eclectic music, anything from smooth jazz and punk through pop, world music to classical. There are no commercials, radio is fully supported by voluntary listener’s donations. Give it a try, you will not regret it. Even better, while you are listening to your music, you can set AppleTV device in such a way that it can access your flickr account and use the images there for a slide show / screen saver. I usually like to view my Favorites but any Set or the entire Photostream can be chosen. Just a little heads-up, the device can load approximately 500 photos into it’s memory. If your Set or Favorites contains more then than that, you will be able to see only the latest 500.

Finally a few words about the image on top. I took it last year during my trip to the Canadian Rockies in September. We hiked to the top of Rundle Mountain in Banff, AB where this little, cute critter was munching on some food left by tourists. Appropriately, there was a Canadian Flag in the background.

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Image Deconstructed: “Spring Fields”

Spring Filelds Ontario

I took this image a few days ago in the area north of Toronto. In the town of New Tecumseth to be precise. I kind of knew about this area, passed through it many times but never had a chance to explore it photographically. As usual, I checked the area using Google Maps and decided that it looked promising. The terrain seemed to be fairly “hilly” if that’s the word. I started a bit later than I planned. It was already 7pm when I got to the area. It was beautiful, warm evening. It was quiet and peaceful. The only problem was that I couldn’t find any spot that would be catch my eye. I stopped in several locations but I didn’t like any of them. Finally, it was already past 8pm, I found this field with very interesting patterns created by rows of young plants. I wish I knew that they were. I must have skipped school when this was covered. At that point the sun was already very low over the trees in the distant hills, so I had only 10 min – 15 min to get the shot. I chose 100 mm – 400 mm lens to compress the perspective to emphasize the pattern. I shot several frames playing with various focal length, exposure, etc. This particular image was taken at: 200 mm, f/22, 2 sec., ISO 100.

When I opened the pictures in Lightroom this is what I got after some global adjustments:

Spring Filelds Ontario Original

It wasn’t too bad but there were some problems with it, primarily that visually this image wasn’t balanced. The next picture illustrates what I have in mind.

Spring Filelds Ontario Problems

As you can see, there are three circular shapes in this composition. Unfortunately, all of them are positioned towards the right hand side of the frame. Particularly shape “B” makes things worse due to the fact that it is quite bigger than “A” and actually touching the frame, which gives it more “weight”. I tried to fix this issue by re-positioning my tripod but couldn’t find any new angle that would work better. The main problem was that outside of what you see in the frame, there was a much larger cluster of bushes and obviously I didn’t want to include it. In order to visually balance the composition I decided then to turn to Photoshop and move “A” to the left and to clone portion of the shape “B” out to reduce it’s weight. Once that was done, I was much happier with the outcome.

I also did a little bit of local adjustments in Lightroom. I wanted to emphasize the fresh green of plants by making the dirt between the rows a bit darker. The picture below shows how I did that. Red indicates where I applied the adjustment brush.

Spring Filelds Ontario Local Adjustments

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Albion Falls: Preparing for the shoot

AlbionFalls-

The image that you see above was shot at Albion Falls in Hamilton, Ont. One of the fellow photographers, who happen to like it, was planning to visit this place and asked me about the best time of the day for a visit. I thought that this could be a nice pretext to look at the planning process  before you arrive at the location.

In a general sense, I typically use four step process in my preparations:

  1. I check the sunrise/sunset times along with the of rise/set azimuth  lines. I like to use a simple yet very useful program “The Photographer’s Ephemeris”. Actually, let me re-phrase it. This program is not just “useful”, it is brilliant !!! It is free for the desktop version and $8.99 for iOS/Android and it can be downloaded from the developer’s site here. They also have a very useful tutorials and blog that I visit occasionally.
  2. I look at the detailed location map, typically using Google Maps to understand the terrain topography.
  3. I check the local weather forecast for a few days before planned visit. There are a lot of web sites providing that but in my experience it is not a bad idea to check a few of them and compare forecasts. I also like to look at radar and IR images if available for the area. Before taking off, I often do a last minute check to make sure that everything at the location is as planned.
  4. Finally, I do some research on the web to view images of the location. Most of them are rather bad (to say the least) in a photographic sense but they give me an idea of the potential angles that I can use to show the place.

Now back to the original question, what is the best time of the day to photograph Albion Falls ? As usual the answer is: it depends. Clever, eh ? It depends on how you want to capture the falls. Are you planning to show the rock structure and water cascading over it (like in the image at the top) ? If that’s the case then you will be best served by scattered, soft light of the overcast day. Or you could photograph there early in the morning or in the afternoon when the falls are in the shade. The way they are positioned (facing East) with a big portion of the falls being deep in the ravine, I think, it is pretty much impossible to have a nice side lighting for the entire falls structure. The falls will be side-lit around noon but the sun will be almost vertical (actually, at 70 degrees according to The Photographer’s Ephemeris) with very harsh, difficult light. While you  look at the screen capture from the Photographer’s Ephemeris at Albion Falls (click to see larger) for June 24, you can see that from sunrise till approximately noon, the falls will be mostly front-lit. Then, after 1pm, the sun will be actually behind the falls, which means that they will be in the shade.

PEphemeris

For comparison, I included a screen capture from TPE for December 24. As you can see the rise and set lines are entirely different. Also, it is good to know that at 1pm the sun will be only 20 degrees over the horizon, which would give you a much better chance for attractive side lighting.

PEphemeris2

Now, it will be a different story if you want to show the entire falls including the surroundings (which by the way, are not that attractive so some clever framing and/or Photoshop post-processing may be recommended). The best strategy would be to photograph at sunset although it will be probably quite challenging to find an angle to show both: the falls and the sky in some logical manner. This time of the year sun will be disappearing below the horizon almost exactly behind the falls so with some luck, you can capture a very nice, colorful sky over the falls. Expect that handling a very large dynamic range will be the order of the day. The usual approaches will apply: a) use of a neutral, graduated filter; b) capturing two frames, one exposed for the shade and one for the sky and combine them in Photoshop; c) HDR (ONLY if you can do it tastefully – in Canada you can get charged for heavy-handed use of HDR ……. Just kidding. Unfortunately, we do not have such laws).

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What’s the fuss about Thunderbolt ?

Peggys Cove-

If you paid attention to the recent Apple product releases, particularly Mac Pro, you know that they are going full tilt Thunderbolt. For a couple of years now, all Apple products sport a Thunderbolt port and clearly folks in Cupertino believe that this technology will provide their customers with the best computing experience. There are some Thunderbolt sightings on the Windows side of the world as well but for now, it is predominantly Apple. So, you may ask, what’s the fuss ? What does it mean to an average Joe Photographer  ? Well, as of now it means nothing. Period. At the moment, there is nothing compelling that this technology would offer to photographers. There are likely some benefits for video folks who have a need to process huge amounts of data and have accordingly big budgets. And we are not talking about a wedding videographer covering your cousin’s ceremony. We are talking “Lord of the Rings” here. In 4K. But it is an entirely different cattle of fish.

Let’s take a closer look at the details. First of all, Thunderbolt was developed by Intel and in it’s initial incarnation promised to deliver data rates up to 10 Gb/s. Just a few weeks ago Intel released specs of the second revision, which doubles the speed to 20Gb/s. Comparing this to other popular interfaces: USB 3 (5Gb/s), SATA 3 (6 Gb/s), it is mighty quick. Without getting into too much of technical details, Thunderbolt combines two different protocols: PCI Express (PCIe) and Display Port. The controller will switch between the two automatically to allow for connection of various devices: hard drives, monitors, etc. They can also be daisy-chained. Ok. This sounds good you might say. What’s wrong with this picture ? You could connect a Thunderbolt storage device (Hard Drive) and you’ll be able to move data at an amazing speed. Right ? Wrong. Unfortunately, the bottleneck is not at the interface protocol level. It is the nature of hard drives that limits how fast you can move data. The sustained transfer rate is lower of: disk-to-buffer rate (currently around 1Gb/s for a typical 7200 rpm drive) and buffer-to-computer rate, which is determined by the interface protocol speed (for example: SATA 6Gb/s). Sure, you could buy HDD spinning at higher rpm but it will still be much lower than even SATA 2 can deliver. There are two ways to go around this limitation for external storage devices. The first one would be to use a RAID Array configured in RAID “0” (Stripping) mode. That would allow you to connect 5 HDDs (using for example Drobo 5D), which would give you theoretical transfer rate 5x that of one HDD. By doing this you would still be within what USB 3 or SATA 3 can deliver. No need for Thunderbolt. So what is the second option ? Go with an SSD (Solid State Drive) device. They don’t have the disk-to-buffer limitation and the fastest of them are close to saturation point of SATA 3 interface. If you wanted to connect them in RAID “0” then you would need a faster interface (read Thunderbolt) to transfer data to an external storage. The downside ? Cost. As of June 2013, SSDs just barely broke the $1/GB barrier so be prepared to pay approximately $200 for a 240GB drive.

As you can see, there are no significant benefits of using Thunderbolt technology. Now. (actually, there is a significant disadvantage: cost. A simple 2m Thunderbolt cable costs $60 at Newegg.ca. Ouch !!!)

So, what’s the big deal ? Actually, I think that it will be another 4 years before we see all benefits of this technology in their full glory. This is based on two premises: Firstly, earlier this year SATA-IO (Industry consortium developing SATA standard) announced a new standard called SATA Express (no, there will be no SATA 4 or SATA 12 Gb/s). It will allow drives to bypass SATA overhead and use the full speed of PCI Express (PCIe) interface, which at the moment is 8Gb/s per lane. The new standard allows for two PCIe lanes increasing throughput to 16Gb/s. The new PCIe 4.0 will double that speed to 16Gb/s per lane. At the same time, SATA Express will be backward compatible with older SATA versions and it will automatically recognize what kind of drive is attached. The first SATA Express drives will probably start trickling into the market next year and in my view it will be exclusively in SSD flavour. The good, old HDDs will still have the same “disk-to-buffer” limitation.

The second factor driving the adoption of Tunderbolt will be the price of SSDs. Since they are based on Silicon memory chips they are governed by Moore’s Law. This means that around 2015 they will break $0.5/GB barrier and by 2017 they should drop below $0.25/GB. At that point you will be able to buy 1TB SSDs in SATAe format at reasonable price (below $200) and use it for super fast external data storage. We are talking about speeds that will require throughput of a Thunderbolt or similar interface.

What should we do in the mean time ? Sit tight, do nothing and wait for the prices to fall. The only people screwed in the short term are Mac users who will essentially be funding the development of the ecosystem. But I haven’t heard any complaints from them so they must be ok with that.

Finally, a few words about the image at the top of the post. It was taken in Peggy’s Cove not far from the capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax. The lighthouse is probably the most photographed lighthouse in Canada so I couldn’t resist when I went to Halifax for a friend’s wedding. It was mid-July and it was hot ( hot for Novascotian standards, around 20C – Is Novascotian actually a word ?). Surprisingly, there weren’t too many people there. Those who stuck around, like a photographer in the picture, were able to see a beautiful sunset scene.

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