Guest Shooter – Cairns Through Karen Simmons’ Eyes

Posted in Guest Shots on August 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today was a good day, because we would be very alone without our friends and two of our best are here with us in a time of need. Yesterday I worked a bit in the afternoon and later in the evening with Karen Simmons, who has a very nice Olympus SP590UZ camera, but wanted to learn how to do some things a little more exciting than snapshots. I was only too happy to oblige.

We started out on the balcony with lessons about shutter speed and aperture, probably the two most important fundamentals one needs to understand about a camera. It’s not rocket science, but they are things which casual shooters are probably not thinking about.

After a while, Karen was understanding it all, but getting restless. We started on the fancy options of her camera. One is a highly tricked-out panorama mode which actually builds the shot inside the camera so that you don’t have to fiddle with it in Photoshop. You just download the finished image onto your computer:That’s a very respectable image of the Cairns Marina from the balcony of the apartment. So far, so good. We’re into the advanced shots already.

Of course, we had to go down into the streets in the evening for the really fun shots, such as this UFO candidate which is actually the blurred lights of a passing car. Once Karen started to use the shutter speed priority setting on the camera to select a very slow shutter and she learned to brace the camera securely, she was able to take shots such as this until the novelty began to wear off:

It doesn’t take long. One thing leads to another.

There is a big festival on in Cairns now. On the Esplinade was a big tent sporting some action. It was good for Karen to have a go a what I would consider nearly impossible shots:

Though just about every condition for a decent shot is missing here, she still managed to grab a decent image of some Torres Straits Islanders performing a traditional dance.

This is my favourite of Karen’s shots for the night. Simply placing the camera on a flat surface for bracing allowed this beautiful low shutter speed image, as long as the girl didn’t move:

Fortunately, she was sitting quite still.

This is another real beauty. The lighting and composition here is very pleasing. Karen was amazed at the shots she was getting with just a little understanding and practice:

She managed to catch the single swimmer playing with the water gushing from the fountain.

Karen wanted to shoot the fountain close up to catch the water spray. I told her that I didn’t think it would be possible with the amount of light available. I was both right and wrong. There was not enough light to freeze the drops, but what she wanted was the impression of the flowing streams:

After fiddling with the camera for a while, she got exactly what she wanted. Frankly, I would not have thought to do this, but it is an excellent image technically and the composition is very interesting.

One thing that people who fancy themselves as good photographers sometimes lose is the crazy spontaneity that sometimes produces a very amusing image. Here is a beautiful example of what I’m talking about.

Again, I would never have thought to try this shot. It’s nearly impossible to get the timing right.

Fortunately for me and you, Karen didn’t know that. My advice is don’t learn too  much. You’ll start thinking like a geek.

Good on ya, Karen.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Tonight we see an oncologist for the first time concerning Eunie’s condition. I can never remember feeling more anxiety in my life. It is the first time that we may have a chance to catch a glimpse of the future. If you know my wife, you very likely already love her. She is simply that kind of person. If you are a thinker, think good vibes in her direction. If you’re a prayer, pray for a merciful verdict this evening.

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Karen’s Most Excellent Adventure

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Our dear friends Trevor Hattersly and Karen Simmons came yesterday to stay with us for the weekend. What a pleasure it is to have them here. I’ll talk more about why at the end of the post.

While I’m at it, I’ll explain my tactic for keeping Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  a pleasant place to visit while still giving information concerning Eunie’s medical condition. I’ll present my usual weirdness in the beginning of each post. Casual readers can, as usual, like it or not, according to their tastes. At the end each post I will give any news concerning Eunie. This seems to be the best way to keep the character of the journal as it has been in the past, while still giving out information which is of concern to some readers.

So, if you’re here for the distraction or frivolity, read as far as you like and then go your happy way. If you’re here for the news, try to wade through my craziness and continue to read to the end.

My assignment yesterday evening was to deliver some terribly technical photographic instruction to Karen, who wanted to be able to use her Olympus SP590UZ camera more creatively. Since I’m not a “press that button and don’t ask questions” kind of guy, it required a nighttime field trip to demonstrate the techniques.

Our first stop was in the hotel lobby to talk about low light, slow shutter speeds and white balance:

I can’t believe how funky my shoes look. Those shoes are not me!  Karen’s pose seems to imply intense concentration. Today, I’ll present the images which I took. Tomorrow, Karen will be our Guest Shooter with the images from her camera.

Our first street expedience was to talk about camera bracing and the use of slow shutter speeds to get interesting motion blur effects. Here I braced my Canon G11 on top of the rear view mirror of a car and waited for Karen to tell me when vehicles were coming so that I could get some blurred tail lights:

The blurring of the cars changes what would be a pretty ordinary image into something a little more dynamic. This was a one second exposure.

Still on the subject of motion blur and slow shutter speeds, we moved over to the ocean side of the Esplinade along the sea wall to catch some Phantom Walkers, also shot at a slow shutter speed with the camera sitting on a sign post:

People who were sitting relatively still are sharply defined. Those who were moving are blurred. It’s not rocket science.

All modern digital cameras have a variety of “Scene” settings. Some of these are very useful, because you can’t easily set the camera up manually to create the same effect. On this one we used the “Night Snapshot” setting on the G11 to get Karen sitting primly by the swimming pool with the fountain in the background:

For this setting the camera needs to be braced or on a tripod to keep the background from blurring. The total exposure time was probably a half second or more, so the camera must be held absolutely still for that period of time. At the end of the exposure, the flash goes off, hopefully properly exposing the foreground. One can get some very interesting shots with this setting.

On our way back to the apartment, we were startled out of our wits by the sudden appearance of two tiny UFOs, which whizzed past us up Aplin Street heading in the direction of the outback:

They were accompanied by weird “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa” noises that faded away into the warm tropical night leaving behind an ominous silence. We waited in intense anxiety for a second or two and then went upstairs. “I don’t think they noticed us.” was my cautious comment.

The final lesson of the evening was a nice little panorama of Cairns at night, at least the part that we can see from the balcony:

All in all, a very pleasant experience. Karen seemed quite pleased to see what she could do with her camera. There will be more lessons later.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tonight, at the unusual hour of 21:00 we will be seeing a top-notch oncologist at the office of our surgeon. The oncologist operates out of Brisbane at a hospital which specialises in these disorders. Our hope is that he will tell us that Brisbane is our best logistical option. We have excellent support near Brisbane. Trevor and Karen’s presence here this weekend is a genuine blessing. Karen spent the afternoon yesterday investigating on the web information that Eunie needs, but I simply cannot deal with at the moment.

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Chaos from the Land of the Unexpected

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Keeping with the theme of random images from yesterday (it seemed to work), Here is a nice little shot of the mangrove creek up at Blueblood. I came out much better than It expected, which is not unusual when using the Olympus SP-590UZ:
The mangrove creek at BluebloodThis next one looks like a panorama stitch, which would be nearly impossible with this scene. I wanted a very wide angle, so I put the camera down about 3 cm from the water (very carefully) and shot blind, since I could not see the image screen. I took about ten shots like that. This one came out the best. All I had to do then was crop it so that it looks like a panorama. Simple, eh?
Another shot of the Mangrove creek at BluebloodThe Olympus did a terrific job on this one. The sea was quite rough on the way back from Blueblood. I wanted to get the nice colours of the sky, with the dark sea, but I also wanted t get the water splashing up from the bow wake. I decided to try the Night+Portrait setting from the Scenes knob position. It’s meant for shooting pretty lights in the background (with a tripod, most likely, unless you want motion blur) and getting a correct flash exposure on subjects in the foreground. In this shot (the best of ten) I got a good exposure on the sky and water, even while the boat was bucking like a spanked mule, and I also got perfectly exposed and stopped water drops from the wake. Amazing!
Sky, sea, and spray on the way back from BluebloodIt’s too bad that most people don’t seem to read the manuals on these top of the line point and shoot cameras. The will do things that were technically impossible to do only a decade ago.

Here is another shot, though not as good as the last, showing the Night+Portrait mode. I was a little too far from Mike to use the image as it came from the camera, so I had to fiddle with it a bit. Unfortunately, the fiddling is all too obvious:Mike CassellStill, it’s an image that would be difficult to get if you did not have the special settings needed built right into the camera waiting for the touch of a button.

Since I have acquired somehow an obsession with spiders, I’ll throw a couple of the leggy little critters at you. These are both residents of Blueblood. This is Fred: Spider at Blueblood
And this is Ginger showing off by hanging upside-down:
Another Blueblood spiderSpiders. Can’t get enough of them these days. I wonder if it’s a dietary deficiency?

I’ll leave you with my image pick of the week. It’s one of those shots that, when I took it, I didn’t think it was going to be much. Then, as I started to play with it and listen, it began to shout at me. “Hey, look at ME! I should be in National whatchacallit magazine! Gimme a break, man”Yonki dam spillwayHard to ignore pleas such as that. So I fiddled with this shot of the spillway at Yonki Dam with the kids walking home from school. You know what?

I fell in love with it.

Spooky, eh?

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I’ll Take Whatever My Camera Gives Me

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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Because of my incredibly generous boss, with whom I sleep, I ended up with a five day holiday. Perhaps I should explain. My boss at the office also happens to be my wife. About the holiday, we had to skip one recently because of work loads, so she gave us that one back and another one following Independence Day. So, I was off from Wednesday and I don’t have to go back to the IT sweatshop until Monday. Hurah!

To celebrate, I’m going crazy (un . . . make that crazier). I worked on fourteen images this morning and I’m going to throw them at you in a more or less random order over the next two days. Some may amuse you. Some may not. Some may lead you to wonder what I’ve been smoking. All is well; it’s my job to amuse. It’s the only thing that I do with some degree of competency.

Let’s start out with this perfectly ordinary image of a perfectly ordinary object. It’s an Aussie barbecue. I can hear the Americans scoffing. Believe me, the Aussies scoff just as loudly at the Yank style. My friend Trevor Hattersley explained it yesterday:  “The Yanks got it upside down. They put the grill on top and the plate on the bottom. They do everything upside down up there in the Northern Hemisphere.”:

An Aussie BBQ

As a Yank, I’m not allowed closer than this to the barbecue. Sometimes they will allow me to start the fire, under close supervision. The white stuff on the big steel plate is sea salt left from the sea water used to ‘scrape’ the plate. The plate is never  cleaned. I’ve been told it sometimes takes years for the plate to develop the correct flavour. I case you’re wondering, the food that is cooked on this contraption is exquisite.

This shot of a hibiscus lit from behind with the coconut fronds and the dark blue sky in the background is exactly as it came from my Olympus SP-590UZ. Sometimes the camera is right. You don’t want to mess with it. I only did a little cropping:

Hibiscus lit from the back

As much as I like Flying Foxes, I’m shocked that I have no good shots of them. I’ll have to fix that someday. They are hard to shoot, because they are way up in tall trees, mostly beyond accurate slingshot range. Here is an early morning mob just settling in after a night out dining on the farmers’ papayas and bananas:

Flying Foxes

Here’s a shot a little closer in. You can see a couple of them flying around:

More Flying Foxes

This is as close as I could get from where I was standing. You can begin to see individuals. The really pack themselves in:

Still more Flying Foxes

Keeping with the day’s theme of randomness, here is a nice shot of an Indonesian style boat with Little Pig Island  in the background:

Indonesian boat

I would really love to have one of these. It’s a very pretty design. They travel thousands of miles over open ocean in these boats. I imagine that they must be very fuel efficient, since they are small and have a very long, slender hull. The outriggers make them very stable.

To finish up for today, here is a shot that I got on the way back from Blueblood on Wednesday. We had a birthday party up there for Di Cassell. We rode up and back on Mike Cassell’s boat. On the way back, the setting sun was glistening off of the water in a very magical way:

Sunset from Mike Cassell's boat

I particularly like the crazy angles in the shot. The horizon is level, but nothing else is straight. The Olympus did a nice job of exposing the image, even if the highlights are blown. You couldn’t expect much more from any camera given the dynamic range in the scene.

Unless you’re completely colour-blind, you’ll note that I converted the image to monochrome. Some things simply look better without the distraction of colour.

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More Nob Nob Mountain Miscellanea

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 7th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today, I have more than enough images to show you of things that caught my eye on my recent visit to Nob Nob Mountain. There’s no particular order or theme here, so be prepared for more than the usual randomness.

Here is a rather amazing shot that I got from the communications tower ridge of the main wharf in Madang.  I’m guessing that the straight line distance is in excess of ten kilometres. I got the shot with the Olympus SP-590UZ at full 26x optical zoom. It points out the good and bad points of the cheap, but impressive zoom lens on the Olympus:

Madang Wharf telephoto shot from Nob Nob Mountain

First, I should point out that it was a very hazy day. That hurt the quality of the image before it ever reached the camera. You can see some vignetting around the corners. The shot is slightly cropped, mostly vertically, so there was even more light fall-off at the corners and edges. Next, you’ll note that the shot is not very sharp. I did a bit of cleaning of noise and sharpening. The original was more blurry and noisy. I also had to increase the saturation of the colours, but that was mostly because of the haze. Still, despite the problems I think that it’s amazing that you can buy a camera for less than US$500 that has a lens equivalent to a 700mm hunk of glass on a 35mm camera. If you’re just shooting snapshots, but you always wanted that super-telephoto effect, you can get it for free on any of the new superzoom cameras. They cost no more than any of the top-of-the-line point and shoot cameras (such as the superb Canon G11) and they give you telephoto shots that will blow your socks off. You can see some other examples of the relative quality of the superzoom shots from the Olympus here, here and here.

Showing the random nature of today’s post, here is the biggest mass of coconuts that I have ever seen on one tree. I’m sure that it is nowhere near a record, but it did amaze me:

Mass of coconuts at Nob Nob Mountain

Many times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  I have told you about the Flying Fox. It is one of my favourite critters, though if I lived under a roosting tree, I might not feel so happy about them. Anyway, here is a papaya tree showing a nice, ripe papaya that nobody is going to want to eat. It’s half gone and the rest is covered by Flying Fox slobber:

Flying Fox meal of papaya at Nob Nob Mountain

I don’t often think of male and female trees. It’s something that just doesn’t come to mind. So, whenever I see a male papaya tree, I think what probably a lot of women think. Men – they’re so much bother. How many do we actually need, anyway? Here’s a lonely male papaya tree pitifully hoping that some of its pollen will be wafted on the wind to a receptive female:

Male Papaya Tree at Nob Nob Mountain

As you can see, he does nothing useful except to produce flowers. Not a bad job, I guess, if you can get it.

Here’s another interesting plant. It’s the top of a tree fern. Many of you in temperate and cold climates may never have seen one. If you can image a fern as tall as your house with a trunk like a spiny tree, that’s a fairly good description:

Tree Fern at Nob Nob Mountain

Here is another kind of fern called a staghorn fern. They also grow to be huge. I’ve seen a few that were nearly the size of a Volkswagen. This Frangianpi tree is an unusual host. It won’t be long before the weight of the fern causes the tree to come crashing down.

Staghorn Fern at Nob Nob Mountain

Here is a coconut tree groaning under the weight of a staghorn fern. It will eventually grow so big that it will drag the tree down, destroying its host. There is no noticeable intelligence among staghorn ferns. It has that in common with the human race:

Staghorn Fern at Nob Nob Mountain

I think that this is a common house plant over much of the world. I don’t know what it’s called. It reminds me of taro. Whatever it is, it looks as if it has been too near to where the house painters have been working:

Painted leaf at Nob Nob Mountain

We must have a million colours of hibiscus here. This is one that I particularly like:

Hibiscus at Nob Nob Mountain

Finally, back to ferns one more time. There is a kind of vine with blue flowers on it that grows all over the trees around Nob Nob Mountain.  You saw it a couple of days ago on the Tree Monster. I saw this nice fern frond growing where I could get a shot of the blue flowers on the vine in the background:

Fern frond at Nob Nob Mountain

I found it frustrating that I couldn’t get an angle on the frond that showed the lacyness of it the way that I wanted. I tried twisting it around, but it wouldn’t stay. Afraid of damaging it, I left it be and shot it as it was.

It was a good lesson for me for the day – take life as it comes. There’s little that you can change without making things worse.

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Shoot the Moon Again

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 6th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I got home yesterday evening the Moon was full in the still blue sky. I stopped at the front door, bracing my Olympus SP-590UZ against the wall of our house to hold it steady and shot a few frames at the full 26x zoom. Our flame tree has been completely trashed by bugs, so it looks like a wintertime shot with the bare branches:

Shooting the Moon with the Olympus SP-590UZ

This Shoot the Moon image isn’t not National Geographic quality, but it is very nice. I think that the small dark spot in the upper third of the Moon is a little bit of cloud, because it doesn’t belong there. That is, unless I accidentally caught a mother ship passing by. Any major UFO (Unreasonably Funny Objects) sightings recently?

No? Well, let’s move on. The sunrise was a bit of a disappointment this morning. I woke up at the unholy hour of 05:00 and even a valium couldn’t knock me out. So, after a half-hour of laying there with my head doing stand-up comedy (poorly), I got my Canon G10 and tripod and went outside to the water’s edge to wait for some light. I got this shot just as the first bit of sunlight began to show:

Moody Sunrise

It’s a fifteen second exposure, so the water looks nice and glassy. Also notice the stars around the lights. They are usually more prominent when you have your lens opening very small (a bigger f stop number, like f8 or larger). The little blades of the iris of the camera lens cause the diffraction stars. You can actually tell how many blades your iris has by the number of points on the stars.

A few minutes later, the sky was lightening up and I could see that the lame show was nearly over. I grabbed one more exposure with crossed polariser filters to cut the light way down so that I could still get a fifteen second exposure. The funny thing about this shot is (you’ll see if better if you click to enlarge) that I caught the morning flight of Air Niugini coming into Madang:

Sunrise with an Air Niugini flight streaked across the sky

It is the streak of light about in the middle just above the town. In the enlarged view, you can even see the little dots on top of the streak that are caused by the strobe light on top of the fuselage.

Even a crummy sunrise can be fun.

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The Niagara Escarpment

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on May 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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We went up on the “mountain” today, as it is known in Hamilton. It’s not really a mountain at all, but an escarpment, not that it makes much difference. It’s part of the Niagara Escarpment, a very interesting geologic formation. Here’s a nice panorama shot that I got with the Olympus SP-590UZ. It has two modes of stitching together a panorama automatically in the camera. Both work a treat:

The Olympus SP-590UZ does a great job of stitching together a panorama in the camera.

The above is a much better panorama than my first attempt a year ago. However, it does have a couple of imperfections in the sky. I’ll probably stick to individual exposures and merging them in Photoshop for serious panoramas.

You can’t miss the fact that Hamilton is a steel town:A steel town at 26x optical zoomThough some say it was once hell on earth, today the air is much cleaner. I bet that most of the clean up was not the idea of the steel producers. Ah, well, that’s life:

Locals say that the air is much cleaner today than it was twenty years ago.Some people won’t change their habits unless politely asked to do so.

Hamilton is about 70 kilometres from Toronto. Here’s a beautiful example of the treasures built into the Olympus SP-590UZ 26x optical zoom lens. It’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but it lets an amateur with a good eye take some mind-blowing shots:

Hamilton steel mills, the skyline bridge, and Toronto in the distanceThat’s the steel mills of Hamilton from the escarpment with Toronto in the far distance.

Here’s another similar shot with a foreground frame that is just pleasantly out of focus:Another view of steel mills, the bridge, and Toronto miles awayAnd, here is Eunie practising with her new Canon Powershot A100IS:

Eunie practicing with her new Canon Powershot A100ISShe’s having fun with that camera. It’s not overpowering for someone who just wants to take superb snaps for her journal. Check out her latest post here.

Walking through the neighbourhoods of Hamilton is a beautiful experience. The yards are full of flowers and thoughtful landscaping. Here we see the strong Dutch influence in these beautiful tuilps:

Cheery tulips contarst with industrial drabness - Hamilton, OntarioIf fact, this time of year you would think that you are in Tuliptown.

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