Sunday, December 10, 2017


This was a contemplative day, both before and after a butter tart hunt and a dear friend came to visit to pick out some photos for her own purposes.

I got a great deal on a RAID drive last week, and I'm hoping it will get delivered this week. Then I can shuffle images around and make it easier to do some of the planned organizational work. Just thinking about this is a bit daunting, but I want to weed out some of the images, review star assignments and keywording, and build a better system for keeping track of photos for various purposes. I've been sort of making it up as I go along, and the shortcomings of such an approach are becoming obvious.

As always I'm working on the next Image of the Month, but I'm beginning to think about the 2017 Image of the Year. Yes, the best photo I've done all year. To make the selection even harder, It's not just the 12 monthly images in the running. There are several runner up images that are better than some of the monthly winners. I'm going to give all the 4 and 5 star images from this year a critical look to try to think about what made them good photos (at least in my mind) and what needs to happen to make better photos.

I already know which photo that dear friend would pick as image of the year, but I'm curious about which image from the year is most vivid to you? Feel free to let me know which one you think should be image of the year. You've got some time. That might come up as late as mid January, depending how much I dither over the final choice.

Also in January I do an Ask Me Anything feature. You ask the question, I'll do an answer, and fair warning, it might be more than you expect.

I've got plans for some more macro photos to show up on Monday. I just need to actually shoot them. Guess what I'm doing tomorrow...

Just for you flower junkies. The hibiscus in the back has bloomed once again! I was going to try to catch the bloom fully open but missed it. You have to settle for this instead.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A day walk with a bridge reveal

I was out for a wonderful photo ramble today. The zoo bridge was opening, Linda had a course at the zoo, so I figured park there, and ramble while she coursed. It worked out fairly well, including a bunch of shots, a lamb naanwich at Blue Star Diner, and 12 K of walking to burn it off again.

This is not the bridge that opened, though it is revealed in a different light than Neil's famous shot that includes the holiday train. I have my suspicions about exactly how he did it, but mum's the word.

 He had talked about rail safety, and this is why. It is surprisingly easy for a train to sneak up on you. I'm on the other side of a fence here.

I happen to know there are several other trees to keep this one company, and they all get a good view from up there.

A moose!

Thursday night this is what we saw when exploring the zoo bridge.

Today is a different story.

It's a lovely bridge! Lots of room for cars, bikes, pedestrians, and a horse drawn buggy. This is Calgary, after all.

Even the underneath is nice.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A night walk

One of the nice things about retirement is that you can schedule your time as you like. At least, that's the theory.

I'm generally a morning person. Left to myself I'm usually in bed before 10, sometimes before 9, and I'm usually up before 6. Being in bed at 7 is rare, and past 8 is almost unheard of. In the summer that means I'm not going to get much night shooting done.

Places that are boring in real life and even worse in photos can turn into interesting and dare I say, even magical places at night. So that's one nice thing about this time of year, I can go out in full dark and explore the light and shadows of the city. And right now, night starts about 6:30 (there's an app for that). I can get some lovely shots and be home for bedtime.

The Camera Store organizes a beers and cameras event every other Thursday. Last night was it, to get you onto the cycle. People show up with their cameras at a pub, eat and drink and talk camera stuff, then stroll as they please to another pub to drink and talk more.

It's fun going by yourself, and even more fun with buddies. Last night I'd planned to meet up with my buddy Sean, and it turned out one of the women there had been in a Zeller class with me. She had brought a neighbour, and the four of us strolled amiably towards the new Zoo bridge set to open this weekend, then to the other pub.

A technical camera aside for those that care, feel free to skip a couple paragraphs. The sensor in your camera records the light that falls on it. You can control how this turns out through your camera settings. One of these is ISO. Don't worry about what that stands for, it's just a measure of sensitivity that used to relate to what film you bought.  Film, that's, oh heck you can look that up yourself.

For most cameras it starts at 100 and goes up, 200, 400, 800 and so on. The better the camera the higher the numbers go. (It's more complex than a tweet!) If the sensor doesn't see much light, you get a dark photo. You could hold the shutter open longer to let more light in. That's fine for a scene where neither the camera or subject are moving, or where the moving things (like tail lights) are creating an effect you want. Yes, your heartbeat is enough to move the camera.

Or, you can increase the ISO, which makes the sensor more sensitive to light so the shutter doesn't need to stay open as long. This might be the right thing, if you don't have a tripod or your subject is moving.

So why not crank up the ISO and leave it there? Noise. It's like a false positive. The sensor sees a dark sky, but it's all twitchy and jumpy like a person that's had too much coffee and it's seeing stuff that isn't really there. So the dark sky we see is replaced by this grey with coloured speckles in it, and it looks gross. During the day the photo would be over exposed. The usual trick is to keep the ISO as low as possible and adjust other settings.

(Technical aside over. You can start reading again.)

So my buddy Sean and I get together periodically for a beer and a meal, and chat about the state of the world. We've known each other since 2002 or so, and both do similar kinds of work. I hadn't known he was interested in photography until I started. So we decided to join the beers and camera thing this time. My main camera thing was to explore where higher ISO settings bring in unacceptable noise on my new camera, which isn't as simple a thing as you'd think it would be.

The first pub was unexpectedly crowded, so we drank and walked. There are a number of nice scenes in Inglewood, and we had a nice time strolling and chatting, or waiting while one of us was engrossed in a scene.

Part of the challenge of shooting at night is balancing what our eyes see compared to what the camera sees. I don't want to tweak the photo so it looks like daylight. I want to leave in the shadows, and the subtle light reflections.

Once upon a time this place was the fashionable place to go, then it was really seedy for a long time, now it's a really good restaurant.

A splash of colour in a shop window.

I'm not sure about this one. I wanted more of a halo around the person but it didn't quite come out right. Maybe if I'd held off the shutter a fraction of a second longer.

This is actually a dangerous photo. As some of my buddies know, those numbers relate to a specific colour. Now they can hold up a skein to their computer screen, and wonder where the colour calibration is off.

Two of my photo walk buddies, eager to get to the next place. Love the hail battered window ledge as a leading line.

I'm really not sure about this one. This is what I was thinking of when saying a shot might be boring during the day. At night, I'm thinking the shadows and lines make it more interesting. Then again, you might think I'm smoking dope. Don't be afraid to tell me.

Yes, it would be easy to push the exposure and light up this building, but it would boring. I like the shadows, and the pattern of lights. Beats me why they have two lights together on the left side and not one.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The world is more complicated than a tweet

As some of you know, I bailed on Twitter a while ago. I no longer wanted any part of a platform that permits and enables not just hate speech, racism, and bigotry, but actual threats of nuclear war by someone in a position to start one.

I now skip over "news" reports that consist of someone telling me what someone tweeted, and then showing me a screen shot of the tweet, sometimes an entire conversation of tweets masquerading as news with both the text and the screen shots repeating the information. I want more from my news than that. This superficial analysis is essentially a he said, she said issue, and the problem usually is that one of the sides is a complete idiot spouting utter nonsense. Sometimes both sides, and it's not a surprise if it's three sides, counting the 'journalist' as a side.

You see much the same things in the comments section of any news outlet that permits them. Complete nonsense, and it's easy to tell that the author is yelling, completely full of self righteous bile punctuated by spelling mistakes. I don't read the comments section either and my blood pressure is the better for it.

Whatever happened to actual articulate speeches or position papers that outlined a plan, the reasons for it, maybe some preliminary cost estimates and timeline, that people could respond to? A proposal to do something positive, rather than undoing something. There might be hearings to attend or provide submissions to, perhaps there would be actual debates about the issue out in public and everything. The reasons would actually make sense or appear to, and not be some simplistic jingo appeal to patriotism, or a bleat to lower taxes, or dog whistles to a favoured group.

One upon a time, the world was a simple place. You worked your ass off hoping not to starve to death and did what your lord (secular or religious) told you to do. Most people were told what to think and usually lacked any peaceful exposure to people who thought otherwise. Then you died of some horrible disease while still a kid by today's standards, or were killed in an aristocratic spat.

Now the world is a much more complicated place, and we're here (most of us anyways) for much longer. We know that much of what people have believed in the past is not true. You'd think we would be able to discuss things like grownups, taking the time to unravel the complexities and doing the right thing, or perhaps the least wrong thing.

But no. There are people that seriously believe the earth is flat, that Americans have not walked on the moon, that vaccinations are a bad thing, that aliens walk among us (usually grey lizards wearing human skin, if I understand it correctly), that airplanes flying into the World Trade Centre buildings were not the reason they fell, that the world is going to end real soon now (from a wide variety of imaginary causes), that chem trails are a real thing, that homeopathy is effective, that Elvis (or many other celebrities) are still alive (he would be coming up on his 83rd birthday as I write this), that Kennedy was shot by (take your pick), climate change is a hoax, that Obama was born in Kenya or elsewhere but certainly not the USA, that there is a magic carburetor that gets 300 miles per gallon(are there any cars in North America currently sold with carburetors rather than fuel injection?), that any number of common substances cure cancer, and I could go on but it's too depressing. Often they are loud and proud of themselves. I quite frankly think that if you actually believe any of these to be true, you aren't smart enough to be voting for our elected representatives. Or better yet, your vote is counted against the person you voted for, except that's complicated too.

As I've said other times, the common thread to unraveling any conspiracy theory is how many people had to be involved to make it work, and remembering that 3 people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead. After that, anyone with a functional brain and what I consider a high school education can find the holes in such conspiracies.

Such people appear to want to return to the days when someone told them what to think, and it was simple. Problems had simple solutions, which usually involved killing some other unpopular person or group. Now we have various (usually conservative) groups spouting simple (simple-minded is the word) slogans that will cure all the problems facing us. Have you heard any of these? Build the wall. Lock her up. Build a pipeline. Cut taxes. Repeal the carbon tax. Fire fat cat civil servants. Gold plated pensions. Anybody could do that job. Radical Islamic terrorism. Environmental terrorism. Drill baby drill.

Pick a problem. As big as global climate change, or as small as changing the bus routes in your neighbourhood. There might be a variety of proposals to consider, each with points for and against. I don't mind someone holding a particular position I disagree with, and I don't mind them being passionate about it. I don't even mind if they are stuck on one particular point, usually because it affects them personally or they think it does. (Looking at YOU, Mercedes Man.) Just be honest about it, and don't try to wrap it up in some bigger issue that is meant to bully other people. Accept that other people will disagree and that the price of you being allowed to speak is them being allowed to speak too. No, you're not more important because you're a rich white man. And don't start shouting. My usual rule is that whoever starts shouting first has demonstrated they've lost their grasp of the issues, and the debate.

It's like we've forgotten how to hold a civilized discussion, where people take turns making their points, recognize there is a sense of order and method to the discussion, that people can hold opposing viewpoints yet not be an enemy, and accept that a decision might not go your way.

It's clear to me that attention spans have been dropping, as evidenced by sound bite journalism and rapid cut movies. But there seems to be less willingness to tolerate a different opinion, and essentially no willingness to explore why someone might hold such an opinion. It's a cliche to find out someone unfriended another for saying something they disagree with, which is one step to turning the internet into a giant echo chamber. It can't be a surprise that politicians take advantage of this.

There are exceptions, though. Two politicians come to mind. Calgary Mayor Nenshi made it clear he wanted to talk in complete paragraphs, and actually made sense when allowed to do so. But I know people that thought it was weird, and got lost in what he was saying, then started saying derogatory things about him. I couldn't decide for sure if this was resentment at what appeared to be someone smarter than them showing off, or simple racism.

The other is Adlai Stevenson. I have no actual memories of him, being born too late, but I remember some of my older relatives talking about him. Over the years I've read about him and his campaigns for President. I remember reading a quote attributed to Adlai Stevenson upon being told that he had the vote of every thinking person, "That's not enough, madam, we need a majority!" That was back in the 50's, and he was prescient enough to see the rot setting in. He died in 1965, and some of his quotes are even more relevant today.

While I was researching that to make sure I got the wording right, I found some other quotes. Enjoy.

"The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions. But there is also, it seems to me, a moment at which democracy must prove its capacity to act. Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal cords."
Speech in New York City (28 August 1952)

"I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them."
Campaign statement in Fresno, California (10 September 1952);

"My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."
Speech in Detroit, Michigan (7 October 1952)

Read those three over again and think about what's happening today. The only way we can stop it is to push back. Don't vote for politicians spouting nonsense, in fact, laugh at them. Get involved in the issues, and support people that recognize the complexity of the issues. Anyone that says the issue isn't complex, and all we need to is 'x', is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

There are consequences to any action, or even inaction. Sometimes the consequences are good, such as fewer children dying of measles. Sometimes bad, such as inadequate drug testing leading to Thalidomide being prematurely released. Sometimes we have to balance the consequences, deciding if it's worth adding to government spending to build some piece of infrastructure. Sometimes we just don't know for sure.

But the first step to noodling through it is to realize that it is complicated. The reasons given often are not the real drivers. There are connections to other issues that might not be visible on first examination. There are different ways to look at it, and placing different priorities will lead to different results. I once had a boss who picked the result he wanted, then reasoned backwards to find a trail of "logic" that got him what he wanted. You want to watch for that, and call them on it.

The advice of "follow the money" is still applicable. Find out who benefits, and you'll begin to understand why things unfold the way they do. Keep in mind it often isn't the politicians that are driving things. They're just the stooges, I mean, the front man. Look for the person pulling their strings, a less competent wizard of Oz behind the curtain, I mean the corporation.

The one tactic that frosts my noodle is when a an entity dresses up a rape and plunder policy as something beneficial to the victim, and slips it to them like a fraudulent dose of cod liver oil. We see that happening a lot in the USA just lately. I can't believe people are stupid enough to vote for Republicans that are fixed on removing improvements to health care.

We see it here with cries to cut taxes. What they don't tell you is that to do that they intend to fire front line workers in health care and government services. Union people. Nurses and teachers, mainly. People that just happen to be your neighbours providing a vital service. It's a multi-pronged approach. There's an element of gender wars, since most of those people are women, so it removes their independence from men. There's an attack on unions, who provide a counterbalance to the powers exerted by wealthy corporations. The people that get the most benefit from a tax cut are already personally wealthy and corporations. When corporations benefits, what the really means is the people running it can earn more personal income because the corporation plunders more profit. There's a side of money siphoned off to "consultants" who help them decide who to fire.

Don't fall for it. Think it through. This is more important than following the imaginary lives of people on TV. The TV shows (sports, reality shows, soap operas, whatever) are the modern version of bread and circuses, designed to distract you from what's important. Inform yourself, and don't believe the first guy you find on the internet selling you more of the same. Keep looking. Speak up. Write letters, and send email. Vote.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The full moon. Oops.

Sunday night I was out trying to shoot the full moon rising over downtown. Again. It didn't go as well as I had hoped, mainly because I blew the settings. As you can see, the moon is so bright it was just a disc of white light. There is no detail to be recovered through Lightroom mad skillz. I thought I had dialled down the exposure to balance the lights of downtown and the moon, but not enough. It's a tricky balance, and maybe I was trying for too much, I was letting the camera take a bunch of shots in a row, with the idea of maybe assembling a movie. I should have realized with the clouds that wasn't going to work and changed course.

Just as a thing to mess with Facebook, here's the photo I like better, and then the one that is a technical failure.

There was a win, though. I did my research and picked the spot to shoot from to get a shot of the moon rising over downtown. I figured from my vantage point it would appear to the side of Banker's Hall, and go over the tower. I wasn't sure if I'd get the moon right above the tower. You can see the clouds that the moon is disappearing into, and it did. The show lasted maybe 5 minutes.

I didn't hang around to see if the clouds would clear up. There was a nasty cold wind and I was freezing. I guess there was another win, though. I was there to see it, and I'll remember the big yellowy moon right between the buildings and the tower. I was out trying to get the shot.

I had the 6D on a tripod with the 70-200 lens aimed at downtown. At the same time I had the 24-70 on the T6 and was shooting some sunset and cloudy colours shots that turned out ok, considering I wasn't in a good spot for seeing the sunset. As well, here's the 6D set up ready to go.

Plus, as a consolation prize for scrolling through photos that are at best documentary, here's Celina!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Two cameras, three lenses, one rose bush, part 1

Fair warning. This post will be boring for the non-photographers of you. Even some photographers might be bored. I was doing some experiments to understand my new camera better, and what better way to do that than compare it to the old camera?

The intent is to compare a Canon T6i to a Canon 6D Mkii, using three different lenses. The lenses are the Canon 100 mm f2.8L IS macro used as a reference, the Tamron 70-200 mm f2.8, and the Canon 24-70 mm f4L IS.

All shots were done at ISO 100 in bright sunlight at f4. The cameras were on a tripod aimed at a particular rose bush in our front garden. For each camera I shot the 100 mm lens first to get a grip on what it 'saw' and tried to ensure the other lenses were set to 'see' the same field of view on each camera. I realized only in the middle of the shots that the tripod shoe on the 70-200 mm lens is ever so slightly not lined up with the lens, so I ended up having to move the tripod head slightly between shots.

I shot them in the order of 100 mm, then 70-200, then 24-70 on the 6D, then the T6. I let the autofocus do it's thing. That was a mistake. Once I drill in a bit, I can see the focus point moved around a bit which makes it a bit harder to compare apples to apples. Rather than the rose bush, I should have put the centre point on the corner of the flowerbed.

For people not familiar with the camera model numbers, the 6D MKii is a full frame sensor that is 35.9 x 24 mm and produces an image 6240 x 4160 pixels, and the T6i is a APS-C or 'crop' sensor that is 22.3 x 14.9 mm and produces an image 6000 x 4000 pixels.

There is zero processing in Lightroom, so they will look a little flat and lifeless. The photos were imported from different chips, and exported in one batch, using my usual social media settings.

100 mm macro lens, first the 6D, then the T6.

70 -200, first the 6D, then T6.

24-105, first the 6D, then the T6i

You will have noticed that even though all the lens were shot as close to 100 mm as I could get, the photos look very different from camera to camera. The T6 images are a narrower field of view, so the rose bush appears larger. The photographers reading this know the multiplication factor is 1.6. If anyone wants me to explain why the factor is 1.6, you have to buy me a beer, and I'll explain. Just to warn you, there are optical physics involved.

While I was at it, I compared the two cameras with the same Canon lens at 24 mm, first the 6D then the T6.

 Then I compared the Tamron lens at 200 mm, first the 6D, then the T6.

Lastly I did some more playing with the Tokina 11-20 mm f2.8 on the 6d. In the Canon world, a lens that fits on a full frame DSLR will also fit on a crop sensor, but the crop sensor cannot take full advantage of the lens. If you try to put a crop sensor lens on a full frame camera, you will get a black ring around the image because the lens sends a ray of light that is narrower than the sensor. My Tokina lens is a little odd in that I get the black ring when the lens is at the widest, but not at the narrowest, so I thought I'd document this.

This is the 6D at 11 mm (the widest this lens will go.) All these are still at ISO 100 and f4, aimed at the same rose bush. Don't worry about the weird looking shadow lines around me and the tripod, they're from a tree across the road.

14 mm

16 mm

18 mm

20 mm

I normally think of this lens as my astro lens. It can see lots of the sky and it's a fast lens. Note to self when shooting this on the 6D, set it at 18 mm.

The different crop factor makes it tougher to directly compare than I thought. While I tried to get the exposures the same, its possible the 6D was reading a hair darker than the T6. Or it's picking up slightly richer colours from what is a pretty desaturated scene. 

All the photos are pretty good, as you'd expect for good quality lenses. I did some pixel peeping in Lightroom to look at the details, such as the red rose hip, or some of the individual thorns. That's where I learned the autofocus picked slightly different points. That makes it impossible to compare how well the sensors pick up details. If I want to compare the image quality, I need to be much more careful shooting the images. 

Comparisons can be tricky things, and I didn't think this one through as well as I should have. Force the camera to focus using the center point on a fixed spot, like the corner of the flower bed. Double check exposure settings. Maybe put some text from a book, or a page from a magazine in the photo, along with some natural scenery. I could even close down the aperture to f10 or f15 and see how that affects the images, which implies some parts of the scene are much closer to the camera than other parts.

I suppose I should do a more complicated comparison, where I set the 24-105 lens to 24 mm on the T6, and about 38 on the 6D, and then about 35 and 50 respectively, and about 65 and 105 respectively. The attentive of my readers will notice that 1.6 factor again. 

The other thing to try is to shoot each camera with the 100 mm lens so I don't have to worry about zoom issue, then digitally crop the 6D photo so the field of view is the same, then compare the images.

Both of these are a lot of work, and I really should pick a scene that gives more of a challenge to the cameras. Perhaps the garden in full bloom, or a forest river landscape down in Fish Creek. I confidently predict that none of my photo buddies will want to join me in doing this, where they might be interested in a photo ramble.

There is more to photography than the photographic end result. There's the experience of actually shooting, and the 6D is a better camera for that, by far. It fits my hand better, has a bigger viewfinder with more information that makes composition easier, and I am getting a technically better image quality if I can improve my technique to take full advantage of it.

If I want to shoot birds or distant wildlife, I'm more likely to take the T6i and the 200 mm lens to get as much reach as possible. For most other things, I'm going to take the 6D to get the better sensor and full advantage of my lenses. I haven't compared macro photos yet, maybe I'll do that for the next macro Monday.

Here's a photo of the two cameras. Note the 6D has a quick release plate on the base, so it is sitting about a cm higher. Otherwise the two cameras are a similar size, with the 6D being a bit bigger. The T6 has a 17-50 lens that was not part of the comparison.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Split tree mortality

Once upon a time these trees were both alive and growing. I'm not sure if they're twins started from the same seed, or just seeds that started really close together. We'd have to dig them up to find out if they share a root structure, or if it's intertwined. That would be hard on the living tree, so lets not.

Then not long ago something happened to the tree on the right. Maybe the wind was just right to affect one tree and not the other. Maybe the one on the right had a disease that weakened it enough that some stress snapped it. I'm pretty sure that it would have looked fine to us the day before.

Whatever their origin, the two trees grew up, doing their tree thing together, never suspecting that one would die and the other go on. I'm reminded of the tale of Baucis and Philemon, but wonder if the so-called gods were playing with them.

Look at the people around you. Maybe they are family, and you share genes with them. Perhaps they are adopted family with no genetic relationship, but a close relationship of ongoing shared experiences. Maybe they are friends with some degree of shared experiences.

Some people are better at withstanding some stresses than others, but  how do you really know for sure till it happens? All we see is the outside, and while that sometimes gives us some clues, most of the time it doesn't help. Then there's what they tell us, but there's three problems; they might not know themselves, they might not be telling the truth if they know, or we might not be correctly hearing what they say. Then we're surprised when they are afflicted by some stress and they die.

Oh sure, we think, they were in poor health so it's not a shock. But it is a surprise because they lived through yesterday, why not today? What happened? That day will come to all of us, we just don't know when, or why. All we can do is be strong like the oak when that's called for, or supple like the willow in the wind, and enjoy it while you can.

The other thing is to think about the stresses you are putting on those around you. Be honest, are you stressing them, or making their life easier?

Be kind instead.

Be honest with yourself, what stresses are you creating within you? Do you worry about things that are not likely to happen? Do you fly off the handle at the slightest little thing? Do you eat or drink too much and stress your body that way? Abuse drugs?

Stop it.

I look at the world and see so much artificial stress. This coming season is famous for stressing almost everyone. There's so much focus on gifts, and having the perfect time with your family, doing all the things that you are SUPPOSED to do. Don't get me started on road rage in between those activities Just stop.

Dial back and enjoy the people in your life.


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