Friday, March 27, 2015

Photo Friday: Like Night and A Better Night

One of the things that had bothered me the most about my dying camera was that I couldn't take a night exposure without spending a lot of time, afterwards, editing the photo: sharpening, adjusting the contrast, making the colours more vibrant, and the endless removing of blown pixels, which added annoying red and blue blocks to the image, making it hard, sometimes, to tell what was a fault with the sensor and what was a real star.

And the image was never truly sharp, because the camera would shake a little as the mirror flipped up to take the exposure. That wasn't a problem with an ailing camera, but was a sign of the limited, clunky technology.

The last photos that I shot with my old Nikon D80 were of the night sky, on a side road in the village of Galetta, north-west of Ottawa, in the Ottawa Valley. And they weren't very good, though I did publish them. You can see the images in last Thursday's post.

My D80 was a 10-megapixel device whose ISO speed was limited to 1600. Last week's photo was shot at that setting, with a 25-second exposure at f4. The only light that I received in setting up the shots was thanks to the stars and an extremely dim glow from nearby Arnprior.

The image shows very little: dark silhouettes of trees and power lines; dim stars.

It took me about 10 to 15 minutes to bring the images to where I felt I could show them, but I'm not proud of them.

On Tuesday night, the sky was clear and the temperature was bearable, and so I thought I would try a night exposure with my new D7200. Before I left the house, I set the camera to Manual mode, set the aperture to f2.8, the shutter speed to 25 seconds, and, just for fun, set the ISO speed at a modest 3200 (the first photo that I shot with my new camera was taken of my cat, who was on my bed: a lonely, low-watt bulb lit the room, and I took the photo at ISO 25600—you can see it here).

I drove southeast, over the Strandherd Bridge, and followed Earl Armstrong Road until it took me to Bowesville Road, outside of city lights, not far from the airport. On the horizon, the glow of Riverside South, Manotick, and Barrhaven lit the treeline. To my surprise, this rural part of town saw lots of car traffic: seldom did a minute pass when at least one car would arrive at this intersection.

My first attempt resulted in a totally white image: everything was washed out. So I dialled the ISO down to 1600. Same result.

I went to 800 ISO, and received an image, but the photo looked as though I had shot it on a foggy day. There was still too much light getting in. At 500 ISO, I could see stars, but the sky was still too bright for my liking.

At ISO 100, the lowest setting, I got the desired result. The stars were bright, the sky discernible, and the glow of the city illuminated the horizon. And the image was sharp. One of the added features of the D7200 is the ability to set the mirror to lock up, so that it does not move while you take your photo. And, shooting by remote control, I didn't have to lay a finger on the camera to shoot.

When I saw the result, I was thrilled. And, with the new technology, I was able to download the photo, by WiFi, directly from the camera to my smartphone, where I posted it on Facebook.


I did do some touchups on the photo, when I returned home. Because the D7200 is really new, having only hit store shelves on March 19, most photo-editing software have not been updated to accept the RAW files. I had to download some Nikon software to import the photos and touch them up, and then save as a JPEG file.

Here is the final result:

But working with this camera is like night and day from my old camera. Or, in the case of these photos, like night and a better night.

Happy Friday!

While I still have to get used to the camera and I need to shoot a better vista, at a better location.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Art, Imitating Life

This is not a photo project.

They line my office building, blocking the view from the west-end, front parking lot from the path that I walk, from the northern entrance of the office to the northern parking lot, which is on the far end, away from the main accessway.

The trees, evergreens, are, of themselves, nothing special, except that in the bleak months of winter, they are one of the few signs of life. And, at different times of day, the light catches them and plays with them in different ways.

I just like the way they look, and so, as I arrive at work, or as I make my way home, if the light strikes my eyes against these giant pines* in such a way that I look twice, I have captured them with my Android device.

Sometimes, although rarely, I use a D-SLR.

But it's not a project.

And I'm not the only one who has found them lovely to look at.

My dear friend, Rebecca, liked one of the photos that I took and decided to show her own artistic take on these trees.

It was a late-afternoon shot: according to the photo's metadata, it was January 27, 2015, at precisely 4:35 PM. The sun was low in the sky, had just fallen below the Gatineau Hills, across Highway 5. A mix of sky and cloud swept the background and added to the coolness of the day. Temperatures were in the minus twenties.

I shot the image, and when I climbed into my car, climbed out of the cold wind, I tweaked the photo and posted it on Twitter. Maybe, on Facebook, too. I started the car and got rolling. I think I may have headed to the Rideau Falls, to take some shots for the next Wordless Wednesday.

Becca responded to the tweet. She said she liked the photo. She said she should paint it.

My friend is a woman of many talents. She can sing. She can act. She can make me laugh until it hurts.

And, she can paint.

I had specifically said, for those who were attending my birthday party at the Black Sheep Inn, that gifts were not welcome: it was my friends' company that I wanted, as we watched Midge Ure strum his Fender and belt out my favourite songs.

Becca disregarded my plea. As she sat next to me, she placed a gift bag in front of me. I protested, but she said it was something that she wanted to do. I picked up the bag and moved to place it alongside my camera bag. I was thankful, but my intention was to open it later, perhaps when I returned home. But she wanted me to open it right then and there.

We say that life sometimes imitates art. Becca's gift shows that art can imitate life, and do it beautifully.

I love it.

* I'm guessing they're pine trees, but I don't know much about them. I'm a writer, not a botanist.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Not a Professional

I have no illusions of grandeur: I like to take photographs, but I'm no professional. So, why would I need a professional camera?

The answer was simple: I didn't. And so, after many months of dreaming, after weeks of shopping around and of patiently waiting, I finally replaced my aging Nikon D80.

I had seriously considered moving up to a full-frame format, of spending the extra money to have a camera that would do everything I needed it to do, and more. Much more. When my wife and I were going to go to New York City, in the first week of March, I was fully prepared to return with the new D750: full-frame, built-in WiFi, and super-fast processor.

But moving to this model would have meant that half of the lenses that I already own would not have been fully compatible with a full-frame format. One of them, my 10-20mm, super-wide-angle Sigma, was my current favourite lens. When I was in France, last summer, I used this lens more than any other. I would still be able to use it on a D750, but a large portion of the sensor would not be used.

In February, Nikon had hinted about a successor to its popular D7100, and in the week leading up to my trip to NYC, the D7200 was announced, but not released. With improved sensors and a faster processor, plus built-in WiFi, it was everything that I was looking for to replace my old camera.

Except, it wasn't full-frame. It was, however, about half the price of a full-framed D-SLR.

So, I told myself, I wouldn't have a full-frame body. I wouldn't have a professional camera. But that was okay, I countered. I'm not a professional photographer. Yes, I have made money by photographing some events, and a brewery has paid me for some of my images, but I'm no more a professional photographer than I am, let's say, an avid cyclist.

I enjoy riding my bike: I enjoy taking pictures.

And so, on Friday, on the day that the D7200 became available in my local camera store, I was there to pick one up. I also decided that, rather than spend extra cash on a full-frame body, I would invest in a really good piece of glass, and so I added the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens.

I'm a happy camper.

Of course, I had to test the built-in WiFi. By downloading a Nikon app onto my smartphone, I am now able to compose a shot and take a photo remotely. I can also store the photos directly onto my phone, where I can edit them with my smartphone apps and post to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

I tested this app by placing my camera at one end of my bedroom and shooting, once I had moved myself into the frame. I let the camera take care of the exposure settings.

Not bad.

I wanted to put the camera through its paces this weekend, but with the foul weather on Saturday and a family funeral on Sunday, I simply didn't have an opportunity. Last night, as the sun set, however, I managed to get a few shots off.

I'd share those, but I decided that where I was will be the next location for Where In Ottawa. You'll have to wait until April 6 to see those.

And it's just as well: with the new camera, it seems, there are new tweaks that I'll have to do with my photo-editing software. The raw images were not readable in one app, and in the other, the images had what seemed like a pale film over them. The selfie that I included in this post took me about 15 minutes to clarify. It didn't give me this problem on my Android phone.

With every new piece of technology, I imagine, there will be some growing pains. After all, I'm not a professional.

Hopefully, I'll have them sorted by tomorrow's Wordless Wednesday.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Music Monday: Don't Walk Past

A couple of months ago, while I was reminiscing about old 80s music, a song came into my head and I immediately checked to see if it was available for download on Google Play.

The song was "Don't Walk Past," by Markham, Ontario, band, Blue Peter. In 1983, this song was popular among my close friends, in high school. I owned the album, Falling, and I think I played the vinyl disk until the grooves wore out. In the days of mixed audio cassettes, I made sure this song featured prominently.

On my smartphone, "Don't Walk Past" is now part of the rotation.

Earlier this month, as Midge Ure wrapped up his stellar show at the Black Sheep Inn, his promoter came on stage and asked the audience if they would be interested in seeing some performers, who were contemporaries of Midge, play at the Black Sheep. These 80s-era performers included Howard Jones, Chalk Circle, and Blue Peter.

I almost blew out my vocal chords in cheering. Any three of these acts would bring me to the Black Sheep, but considering I had just rediscovered Blue Peter, my enthusiasm erupted uncontrollably. While none of these performers came close to moving and influencing me like Midge Ure, they are part of my musical history, helped contribute to the person that I am today (as far as my tastes in music, at least).

Here's the video. Enjoy. If Blue Peter or any of these other performers make their way to Wakefield, do yourself a favour and see them.

Happy Monday!