Words & Musings

179 posts

HDR Software Review Series

Over the next few posts on the blog, I’m going to do reviews of some of the many HDR software applications out there on the market. These aren’t going to be highly technical or get into the nitty gritty of what each individual slider or control does. What I’m looking at is results. Results on real world images. How easy and intuitive is the software to use? How easily can you generate a ‘realistic’ result? How well can it generate the ‘grunge’ HDR look? How fast is it (i.e., can it be used in a workflow when turnaround time is important)? What’s the look and feel of the software? These are the kinds of things I’m going to be looking at.  I’ll also look at what kind of documentation/support is available for each application.  In all cases, once the HDR file has been tonemapped into a 16 bit space, no further editing will be done.  The goal is to show only what the HDR applications in isolation can do.

‘Who the hell are you?’ you may be asking as you read this. Well, I’m no Jack Howard, author of “Practical HDRI” or Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs fame.  Not on their worst days and on my best days.  I’m just you’re averge schmuck photographer who (a) likes HDR and what it can do, (b) has tried a fair number of different HDR apps and (c) uses HDR in some of my photography.  I’ve written a few previous commentaries on HDR here in the blog as well.  I’m not sponsored by any company and I don’t get freebies so the thoughts and opinions expressed during these tests will be genuine and without the filter of having to try to keep someone happy in order to keep the swag train running. Continue reading

Update on Geocoding for Crackberry Users

In an earlier post about geocoding, I’d talked a bit about options for Nikon users and noted that, at the time of writing, Canon didn’t have anything available, to my knowledge, for its users.

Well, Canon has come out with updated versions of some of their wireless file transmitters; the WFT-E2 II A, the WFT-E4 II A and the WFT-E5A, all of which offer the ability to embed geotag information into the EXIF of image files.  The downside is you still need a separate GPS device (via USB connection) and these wireless file transmitters cost anywhere from about $640 to $750 depending on the model.

At least Canon is in the game now, but not in an overly user friendly or bank account friendly way.

The Great HDR Debate Pt II

I wrote a post a while back called The Great HDR Debate.  That was almost a year ago.  It seems that the debate over HDR, its validity as a photo editing tool, the results generated and the concept in total remain every bit as controversial and perhaps even moreso than at that time.  It seems as though the anti-HDR camp is becoming increasingly zealous in their opposition to HDR in any form.

I was recently on a photo forum where a member had asked a question about how to do HDR.  He’d seen some, thought it was interesting and wanted to try it out but didn’t know how to get started.  Through more than a page of responses there were a raft of people telling him ‘don’t bother’ or ‘HDR sucks’, or ‘go ahead and check it out but NEVER use it on real photos’.  Probably a dozen or more responses telling him how bad HDR was but not one person answering his actual question.  Is this what it’s come to?  If so, why?

I’ve said in the past that I’m not a big fan of the hyper-processed, way over the top, comic book looking HDR effects.  It just doesn’t appeal to me.  But I know it does to some.  So be it.  It’s part of the subjective nature of the appreciation of art.  It continues to surprise me (although maybe it shouldn’t) that there is still, in this day and age, such a closed-minded, intolerant, ignorant presence in the art community. Continue reading

Geocoding for Crackberry Users

Geocoding digital photos has become a popular thing to do. It makes sharing of photos in applications like Google Earth very easy. Some suggest that it’s helpful for buyers of stock photos in finding images but I’m not sure I completely see the connection there. Are stock buyers searching based on geo. coordinates? Maybe some folks could weigh in on that one.

Anyway, I began geocoding my photos about a year ago. It’s another step in the workflow but it’s reasonably automated so not terribly onerous. In my case, I used my Garmin eTrex Vista HCx which has route tracking capability and GPicSync. GPicSync uses .gpx track files which is what my eTrex creates. The workflow goes like this – Load images from the CF card to the computer via Lightroom (adding copyright, keywords, etc). Transfer the .gpx track file to the computer. Launch GPicSync, point it at the track file, point it at the folder with the image files, let it do its thing. Easy peasy. I set the eTrex to record a track point every 10 seconds. In GPicSync, I set the threshhold for time difference between track points in the track file and the time code in a particular image file at 10 seconds. GPicSync then writes the long/lat coordinates into the EXIF if the difference between the two is less than 10 seconds.  In order for this to be successful you have to sync the time in your camera with the GPS time in the GPS receiver you’re using, be it something like my eTrex, a smartphone or a small GPS tracker like those from Trackstick. Continue reading

Pat Burns Deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame

I’m stepping out of my ususal photography-related ramblings for something different and more important.

Pat Burns has been the coach of four National Hockey League teams (Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey). He also coached successfully in junior before coming to the NHL. He’s won 3 Coach of the Year awards and a Stanely Cup.

Burns has battled cancer for several years now. He’s received treatment on a couple of separate occasions and gone into remission. The cancer has now metastasized to his lungs and he’s decided not to have any further treatment.

Burns’ coaching record deserves to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. There’s a Facebook group trying to get him elected while he can still enjoy the honour.   This piece at the Ottawa Citizen discusses the group and the effort to get Burns elected.

Join the FB group.  Pass it on to your friends.


There’s a discussion going on in my HDR Timelapse group over at Vimeo between another member and I about workflow for HDR timelapse video creation. For many it’s likely the nth degree of esoterica but it got me thinking.

It seems as time goes on the pursuit of perfection in our artistic endeavours becomes increasingly fervent.  We analyse and tweak pixels to within an inch of their lives.  We work to create perfect video output from absolutely imperfect input.  Music is recorded and re-recorded and mixed and remixed till it’s so perfect it hurts.  Why?  Has it always been this way?  Is perfection a good thing?  Once we get it perfect, what else is there? Continue reading

The Power of Lightroom

I’ve enjoyed using Lightroom since v1.  With the improvements and new editing tools introduced in v2, it’s vastly improved.   And now with v3 on the horizon, the story should only get better.  Lightroom is now my main editing application and I typically only use PS for things that can’t be done in LR (e.g., perspective correction, more complex layer work).

As good a tool as it is for organising your photography database, I think there are a good number of people using LR who still don’t know how powerful an editing tool it is. Everything I did with the photos below can be done in PS and probably PSE and other editing applications. In most cases I find the result is better with the tools in LR and the workflow is faster and more natural. In addition, to do the same things in PS would require, in most cases, using layers to maintain the integrity of the original image which increases file sizes and chews up hard drive space.  First I’m going to show 4 images in a before and after comparison.  You may not like the photos, you may not like how I approached the editing.  That’s all fine.  I think they do show the power of the tools in LR for editing; however.  In all but one case, the only tools used were the Adjustment Brushes, Spot Removal and the Clarity slider.  In one, a slight Tone Curve adjustment was made and in the last a crop was applied.  I wanted to do a couple things with these.  I wanted to highlight the bits of colour in the surrounding evergreen trees.  Second, I wanted to bring out the texture of the Precambrian rock of the Canadian Shield.  Beyond that, I wanted to enhance contrast by darkening certain parts of the water and existing shadow areas without completely losing texture or detail.  In the last, I also wanted to brighten the waterfall itself which was hidden in fairly deep shadow and crop to create a near perfect mirrored symmetry with the reflection. Continue reading

Sometimes it pays to take a second look….

…. or a third…. or a fourth… or….

Sometimes we go out to a location that we’ve read about, researched, investigated and are full of hope for a positive experience and bringing back some terrific photographs. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. At least not on the first look.

A couple years ago, in mid-September, I was on a trek up in the Bruce Peninsula working on my lighthouse project. From Tobermory, I took the ferry over to Manitoulin Island and my initial plan was to take the ferry back to Tobermory to make the trip home. While on Manitoulin, I decided I’d drive off the north end of Manitoulin and come around the top of Lake Huron so I could hit Killarney and the lighthouse there. With this change in plan, I spent the next couple nights researching other places I could stop and found Chutes Provincial Park.  It was in the opposite direction I wanted to go but it looked like a great spot for flowing water and waterfall shooting so I decided to make the detour.  The park is located just outside of Massey, ON.  The day started out well.  Fantastic sunrise that allowed me to get some interesting shots of the swing bridge (one of the few remaining in operation and one of the oldest) at Little Current on Manitoulin and some good shots of the lighthouse on Strawberry Island and I was fortunate have one of the Strawberry Island light shots grace the cover of Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine. Continue reading

A backpack, a backpack, my kingdom for a (good) backpack!

Ripping off Shakespeare again for a lead in line. But hey, he might have ripped off another writer too so why not.

The debate around which is a better option – backpack, sling bag, shoulder bag, holster, etc. – is almost as fervent as which camera manufacturer is better. I am firmly in the backpack camp. Having done a fair bit of hiking and camping when I was younger I like backpacks and am a strong believer that for the photographer on the go; nature, landscape, wildlife, trail walking, hill climbing and the rest of it, backpacks are the preferred option. Backpacks distribute weight evenly, unlike single strap bags which can put undue stress on one side of the body. Good packs will have a waist belt to position the majority of the weight on the hips which are the strongest bones in the body (you DO NOT want to carry the weight of a pack on your shoulders – this is a surefire path to fatigue and potential long term injury). Properly made backpacks will be light but strong, have compartments for separating gear and have a good number of external pockets for holding things like water bottles or other small items we want to have easy access to. The downside with backpacks is they’re not as speedy as some other options. With but a few exceptions, you have to take them off to get at your gear and I’m not convinced that the ones with the spin around compartment are all that good anyway.

Here’s the problem: I have yet to find a really good backpack for photographers. All the big makers have packs – Tamrac, Lowepro, Kata, Domke, Tenba and the rest. I currently have a Tamrac Adventure 7 and an Adventure 9. The Adventure 9 isn’t bad. It fits more like a backpack (when I don’t have my laptop in it), has a good waist belt, the compartments are decently sized and is reasonably comfortable for day hiking. But it’s still not optimal by a long way. The Adventure 7 is a nice, small pack that I can sling over one shoulder when I’m just going in the car or when I’m walking around in an urban setting but it’s not a good trail pack. Continue reading

Firefox 3.5 Color Managed by Default

The latest version of the popular Firefox web browser has taken browser colour management to the next level.

There are only two web browsers that offer colour management capability. The two are Safari from Apple and Mozilla’s Firefox. What does that mean? It means that the browsers have the ability to recognise ICC profiles and render colour accurately according to those profiles. With Firefox up to v3.5.x the feature was available in Firefox but the user had to enable it manually. Starting with v3.5 (current version is 3.5.3 at the time of writing) the feature is enabled automatically and the user has to turn it off if it’s not desired.

In other browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer, Chrome) in order for colours to appear accurate, images had to be converted to the sRGB colour space. In a non-colour managed browser if you place an image tagged with sRGB next to the same image tagged with ProPhotoRGB, the colours in the one tagged with ProPhoto will appear desaturated, dull or washed out. The browser doesn’t have the capability of recognising the wider colour gamut of the ProPhoto image and is unable to properly display the colours. In a colour managed browser, the browser has the ability to recognise the profile in the ProPhoto image and properly compress the colours for web display. In a colour managed browser the ProPhoto image and the sRGB image will look the same.

The colour management functions of Firefox are accessed in the configuration setup of the browser.

In the address bar type about:config and hit Enter. This will bring up all the configuration options. Type ‘color’ into the Filter bar and you’ll be presented with the setup options that relate to colour. The line that relates to the colour management is gfx.color_management.mode.  The possible option values are 0, 1 or 2.  A value of 2 is the default.  A value of 2 means that all images with an embedded ICC profile will be colour managed but images with no embedded profile won’t.  A value of 1 means that all images; with or without, an embedded profile will be colour managed.  A value of 0 turns off colour management entirely and allows you to see the differences between images with different colour profiles.  A value of 0 is how I have my browser set.  This way, when someone says an image they’ve posted on the web looks ‘flat’ or ‘blah’ or ‘desaturated’ I can see it too and can help them get to the root of the problem since it’s most likely a profile issue.

The enhanced colour management in v3.5.x is a good thing but it’s not perfect.  Firefox still doesn’t have the ability to recognise v4 ICC profiles.  Since many aren’t yet using v4 profiles it’s not a huge issue but it may become more important as time goes on and v4 ICC profiles become more the norm.

The Finger Lakes – New York

The Finger Lakes area of New York State is a treasure trove for photographers. The many state parks and forests that sit in what is the heart of New York wine country are definitely underrated gems, particularly so for those interested in waterfalls.  In the fall of 2008, I visited the area for a week, hiking in 5 state parks and checking out numerous local wineries.

The main towns in the area are Watkins Glen, Corning and Ithaca.  Watkins Glen may be better known for its world famous road racing coarse, Corning of course is the home of Corning Glass and Ithaca is where the Ivy League’s Cornell University is located.  The drive from Toronto to Watkins Glen is about 5 hours and from New York City it’s about the same.  The town of Watkins Glen sits at the south end of Seneca Lake.  Corning and Ithaca are both roughly 40 to 50 minute drives from Watkin’s Glen.   I’m referencing other points to Watkins Glen because that’s where I stayed. Continue reading

Has Canon Lost Its Way?

As a long time Canon customer I think I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had to send any of my cameras in for repair – until recently.

I’m an owner of a 5D. The issue of the mirror detaching is fairly well known. It seems as though it’s been isolated to certain areas with hot, humid climates. I don’t live in that type of climate and mine detached a couple weeks ago. Canon’s repairing them at no cost so no problem, right?

Rather than deal with a mail delay, I decided to take the camera to Canon myself. I live about 45 minutes from their head office in Mississauga. Upon taking the camera in, I was given no receipt or any documentation to verify they had my camera, no repair tracking number, nothing. That seemed a bit odd, but so be it. I was also told it would take 15 to 21 ‘working days’ for the repair. That means 3 to 4 weeks in calendar days. What? 3 to 4 WEEKS? That’s absurd. If Canon’s backlog of repairs is that large, then something is either seriously wrong with their products or they don’t have a large enough staff to do the work. According to a post on Rob Galbraith’s site Canon closed its Montreal and Calgary facilities earlier this year, consolidated everything in Mississauga and hired more staff than they had at the three facilities combined previously. And it’s still going to take 3 to 4 weeks? I have other cameras so I’m not stuck but that’s not really the point. Continue reading

Film is NOT Dead, it’s just been repurposed – A Story of True Collaboration

Collaboration is something a lot of people talk about but I don’t think many have the good fortune to be a part of a true collaborative effort. I have recently been that fortunate.

I’d had an idea for several years for a studio shoot I wanted to do with a wardrobe made of film. A fair number of photographers have done things like wrap a model in film but I’d never seen an actual piece of clothing made of film. Not being a designer or tailor I couldn’t make the outfit myself and hadn’t been successful in finding someone else to make it for me – until this past February. I was headed to Trinidad to visit a good friend (and photographer) and to attend Carnival. My friend asked if there was anything in particular I wanted to shoot while I was there. Brendan Bhagan is well connected in the studio/fashion market in Trinidad so I asked if he knew of anyone who could do the film wardrobe idea. He made some inquiries and after a few days told me to ship some film down. He’d lined up a local designer to make the piece, had a studio location to shoot it, an MUA to do the makeup and a model to wear the piece. All of these folks are established professionals in the industry in Trinidad and the Caribbean but all generously gave of their time and skills freely for this project. After talking concepts with Brendan we decided he’d shoot the stills and I’d do a ‘behind the scenes’ style video. The wardrobe turned out amazingly. Jewel Lewis, the designer took my concept, made it her own and made it reality. ReneeLiza Seeramlal came up with a very creative makeup style, echoing the idea of frames of film. Serala Ramlogan, the model, put up with the edges of the film scratching and cutting her legs for over two hours and made the piece look fantastic. Brendan’s stills are, as usual, excellent. And James at TriniPulse has a great space to shoot in. Continue reading

To edition or not to edition….

…. that is the question (with a nod to Mr. Shakespeare for the phrasing).

I’ve been asked from time to time about my thoughts on editioning prints. There are staunch voices on both sides of the question.

My basic thought is ‘why would I’?

When does editioning make sense and who does it make sense for?

For the vast majority of working photographers, my feeling is editioning serves little purpose other than to puff up egos. Unless someone is a very well known photographer whose prints command prices in the thousands of dollars and who can basically guarantee that an edition will sell out and for whom a limited edition series will increase initial sale prices, I don’t see how it makes sense. For the great many of us who aren’t very well known and whose prints don’t command thousands of dollars, how does editioning benefit them (us)? It’s not likely to increase initial selling prices so there’s no benefit there. It may increase secondary market prices at some point in the future but that still doesn’t benefit the photographer who sold the print initially. Unless an edition can be virtually guaranteed to sell out, editioning may actually do more harm than good. If an edition of, say, 200 prints is announced, but only 100 sell; the market thinks there are 200 in circulation but there are only 100. Maybe, if the edition had been limited to 100, initial selling prices could have been higher. Continue reading

The Great HDR Debate

OK, maybe great is stretching it a little. It’s no Thrilla in Manilla nor Rumble in the Jungle; but the discussion going on in photographic circles around HDR, the use of HDR, whether HDR generated images are photographs and even the legitimacy of HDR as a technique for “traditional” photographers gets pretty heated at times and I admit, I’ve engaged in some of the debate myself. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the arguments that used to go on between ‘traditional’ skiers and snowboarders when snowboarding first started to make an appearance on the hills.

HDR is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of a technique photographers have been using for many years called Blended Exposures – that is, taking two or more shots of the same scene at different exposure settings then manually blending them after the fact. There are software applications that automate the process now, like LR Enfuse, a Lightroom plugin. John Paul Caponigro has written extensively in his DPP magazine columns about what he describes as XDR – (E)xtended Dynamic Range, including the use of HDR as a tool in XDR and shown how effective a tool it can be.

As far as whether it’s even a legitimate tool, at this point anyone thinking it’s not is really not in the here and the now and are clinging to old, outmoded thought processes. Part of the problem is there are hardcore HDR enthusiasts who are trying to ram HDR down people’s throats, who think if you’re not doing HDR you’re a buffoon and who won’t accept any kind of critical feedback on their efforts. The arrogance these people display is little different from the arrogance of the early snowboarders who had no use for traditional skiers who, they felt, didn’t ‘get it’ when it came to snowboarding. Most of these people are producing the really whacked out, comic book colour type effects by simply moving sliders or clicking radio buttons seemingly without really knowing what they’re doing till they get something that looks ‘cool’ rather than something that looks even remotely like a photograph and still looks cool – both are possible. Continue reading

Leki Sierra Antishock Walking Stick

I’ve been using this stick for about 18 months now. Leki are a very well-regarded manufacturer of ski poles, trekking poles and other outdoor accessories.

I’d been using another, similar pole from another manufacturer but found it inadequate. The section locks weren’t strong enough and it would compress if anything more than minimal weight were applied for support on either a downhill or uphill. No worries of that with the Leki. In the store, I expanded it to the right height, placed the ball under my hands, braced it into my midsection and put as much weight on it as I could (the guy in the store joked that they might have to institute a ‘you break it, you buy it’ policy). It held. It did bow very slightly but that was all. The sections were securely locked.

I chose this particular style for a couple reasons. One, I liked the fact that it could be made compact for travel. I also liked that the wooden ball at the top can be screwed off and the stick used as a monopod (more on that later).

Overall, it’s a very well made, very durable and sturdy walking stick. The ability to adjust the length for better support both up and down hill is a plus. As mentioned, the section locks work very well. A simple quarter to half turn and the sections can be slid out and in as needed. The slight shock absorption system in the pole is a nice touch as well, making it a little easier on the arm/hand in the field. Continue reading

Feisol Tripod Review

Last fall I began looking for a new tripod. I’d been using a Manfrotto legs and head for several years and it was time for something new – for a few reasons. While pretty sturdy, the Manfrotto isn’t light. Carrying it on the trail for several hours, the extra couple of pounds do make a difference. I was also getting a bit tired of the flip action leg locks that get caught on things. It wasn’t overly compact in the closed position so carrying it was more difficult and lashed onto the bottom of a bag it stuck out on the sides a fair bit and would get knocked around easily.

Wanting to lighten the load a little I decided that carbon fibre would be route I’d go with a new ‘pod. I started looking at the major contenders: Gitzo; Manfrotto; Induro; and others. For various reasons, none seemed to be what I was looking for. The name Feisol is one I’d seen mentioned a few times in the past and always with positive reports. Based in Asia, they now have a U.S. distributor. Their Traveler Tripod (model CT-3441S) with ball head (model CB-30C) looked like it might fit the bill. Compact when closed (the legs fold up around the head, making the closed length shorter than normal), lightweight (just over 3lbs for legs and head), good load rating (just under 15.5lbs – an EOS 1Ds MkIII + 600mm f4 L IS weighs in at just under 14.5lbs) and priced well ($399 includes legs, head, one QR plate and a carry bag). A hook that screws onto the bottom of the centre column for hanging ballast is also included. The legs come with neoprene wraps for carrying comfort. Given the positive reviews I’d seen from others, I decided to give it a go.

I had a couple questions before buying. The response from their U.S. rep was quick, cordial and directly addressed my questions. The online purchase was simple, confirmed quickly and the item was shipped quickly. A follow up email to request a tracking # was answered an a timely manner and the shipment arrived at my door on time. Continue reading

Carnival, Trinidad

Elaborate, brightly coloured costumes. Beautiful women – and men to be fair – at every turn of the head. The driving bass beat of Soca. The crisp, ringing notes of steel pan. The lilting lyricism of Calypso. Bright, hot sunlight – in February. The smoky, sweet aroma of barbecue. Dancing in the streets night and day. This is the sensory overload, the hedonistic celebration, that is Carnival in Trinidad


Months of planning and weeks of fêtes culminate in a two-day bacchanal celebrating life before the beginning of Lent.

J’ouvert (pronounced joovay) marks the beginning of the two-day, almost non-stop apex of Carnival. Revelers take to the streets in the wee hours of the morning, caking themselves in mud or smearing themselves with paint and dance to music with a beat so strong it cuts to your very core. The dance is the ‘chip’. J’ouvert evokes a time in Trinidadian history when slaves rose up against their owners, using mud to disguise their appearances. Want to just step outside to get a glimpse of the goings on? Nope. J’ouvert is a participation sport. J’ouvert celebrants consider it their duty to ensure anyone they encounter who isn’t muddied becomes so immediately. Resistance is futile. Surrender yourself. Wear old clothes or better yet a swimsuit. Get dirty. Celebrate. It washes off. Continue reading