Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cameras Keep Secrets

I've been completely beside myself with envy whenever I notice a new post on Dave's blog. There is a really great chance that he has been somewhere excruciatingly beautiful, learning some crazy new survival skill, or just enjoying the opportunity to appreciate skiing under the full moon. Despite living in Canmore, a city where people are always ready to leap into an extreme adventure, it seems as though there is a shortage of people who will just wander into the mountains (and I use the term wander very loosely) if there isn't some obvious and lofty goal to pursue. That leaves a niche for someone like me and a couple of others who simply enjoy the journey -- that struggle of getting from one spot to another -- to go along for the ride.

But, not this time :(

Dave spent the spring equinox learning advanced glacier survival skills(his blog, again). With the crevasse of learning between us, I'm sure he would have never consider taking me on this kind of journey, even if I were foolish enough to ask. Anyway, it's not the trip that I long for, in this case... it's the pictures. He was shooting in some extreme conditions and it made things very tricky. I increasingly find myself looking at pictures and wondering how I would have changed the way things were shot, or how I would treat them in post processing to get the result I was looking for. I get the chance often enough with my own photography, but I always have my own experience to fall back on -- as a touch stone to reality. Since I lacked that in this case, I asked myself "what I would like to get out of his photos?"

I guess I want something that helps me tell a story. The photo as it is above gives a great glimpse of just how dangerous the conditions on any glacier can be and in this case, there were blizzard conditions on top of that. For all that, I am aware that the human eye is much better at detecting shadow and light than any single image is capable of displaying. On the other hand, the camera often captures a lot more than we give it credit for. Even a compact Canon Coolpix like Dave was shooting with.
 So, what did he see. Dave gets to move around a scene. His eyes constantly adjust to any vista and allow him to see a whole range that is lost from the picture.

In the photo above, his camera captured some of the crucial detail that I sought out: the crevasse into which their instructor has deliberately lowered himself -- entirely invisible in the untouched photo. My edit is quite rough, due to my amateur hand and limited time, but I was pretty happy with the result.

The exposure of the original is actually pretty good, if you are looking at the person as your subject. In this case, I was more interested in the gash in the snow. I dropped the exposure on the entire photo to bring back those faint shadows and then raised the highlights and whites. I increased the contrast and then dropped saturation to keep the whole thing from turning blue. By this point the person had become a black blob, so I zoomed in and counterbalanced all my edits to try and bring her back into view. Finally, I cropped the photo to eliminate a bunch of white that my tinkering had destroyed anyway. My edits introduced a lot of problems into the picture, but ultimately showed me what I wanted to see -- the story of the terrain.

I want to take a second to point out that there were many pictures in his post that I think told their story perfectly well without any editing. It's a "squeaky wheel" type of situation here. I'm giving all the attention to the photos that didn't work (for me). And, if you are simply shooting to archive, you probably don't want to waste your time mucking around with hue and contrast. After all, you could be out skiing or hiking.

I used very similar technique on the above photo. The only difference being that I cropped this one to try and emphasize the height difference (which Dave mentioned) and give it more of an "over the shoulder" feeling.

I edited everything in Adobe Lightroom 4, which will set you back $150 after their recent price drop. You can do most of what I did with any number of free programs and for the more advanced, I supposed you could use GIMP if you are so inclined. LR makes it all pretty easy, once you know what you are doing.

Mission accomplished. Having a DSLR to shoot with and doing it in RAW format would have allowed for a more subtle interpretation. There is simply way more information to work with. But, as Dave is fond of pointing out (and I have discovered first hand), it is an incredible sacrifice even to take a small camera into these kinds of conditions. I'd like to think that I would make that choice, but I'm sure I'd bitch (and brag) about it for weeks afterwards ;)

Thanks to Dave for giving me permission to use his pictures here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quest New Year, 2012

I had a great sit in session at Tim Horton's on 8th and Cumberland on March 17th. I sat, read and wrote for well over 2 hrs. on my own and then for another 2 hrs. with Vin and James. 

In attendance: Mike, James, Vin
Regrets: Dave
Absent: Geof

I hope all Questers managed to find the renewal that we all crave. I was suffering from serious lethargy, due to cold. I still managed to have a fine evening and stay up until 1:30am. We mostly reminisced and drank coffee (I broke a very long dry spell by winning a free coffee -- despite the stated 1:6 odds). I am still hopeful that we can get together for a more formal gathering if/when Dave makes it to Saskatoon.

What follows is a peek into my brain while reflecting on the celebration that is Quest New Year. My thoughts aren't well edited. I've mostly included them as part of my need to archive my thinking.


I don’t know what the Quest Era is. Traditionally, we have kept track of Quest birthdays, as it were. Working from an increasingly difficult place of my shaky memory… I met the questers after about 6 months of university -- when I was in 1st year. That would make it 1991. Therefore, March 17, 1991 is QE0, making this QE21. Sounds reasonable anyway. Of course, there have been adjustments to the calendar to compensate for failed meetings and the like. I can no longer be responsible for knowing that.

I still find this day holds a great importance for me, but something has changed. It’s been happening for a few years, now, but I think something fundamental has happened for me.

By now, everyone I know is pretty aware that I have traditionally suffered from what I have begun to think of as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. I can trace it back to early university, which is the first time that I started to match my emotional state to the seasons. It took me quite a few years to identify that there was a direct mapping of my depression to the particular months of January and February. I’m not convinced that the celebration of Quest New Year, which is at it’s heart a Spring festival, was entirely an accident. I think there is something critical to human success that involves celebrating the retreat of winter. I didn’t pick the Quest New Year – I’m certain that it picked me, in a sense.

After months of study and slowly spiraling out of control, missing classes, struggling to find meaning in what I have been doing, there is a desperate need for renewal. QNY has always been that event. The opportunity I need to seize control of my life, try to reinstate order, and try and make sense of what IT is all about. Goal setting has always been key, whether I was planning to write a novel, run a marathon or studiously avoid setting a goal (because I was beyond it that year).

In an adult life filled with epiphany, I think I’m getting close to the real deal. And it only took 21 years.

Setting and achieving goals wasn’t something I ever learned to do as a child. I don’t like to blame my parents for somehow “scarring” me this way. They certainly never told me outright not to set goals. I’m sure they must have set goals of some sort, or encouraged me to do so. It just couldn’t compete with my ability to adopt the coping mechanism of never planning for the future. My childhood was a typical chaotic existence. I couldn’t count on Dad to be anywhere at any particular time and Mom was at her wit's end, trying to keep us in food and clothing. Taking that into consideration, I think that they actually did very well. But, the result was that I found it most useful to not plan ahead. I have always been quick on my toes. Much better to pull something off at the last minute and impress people than to plan ahead and efficiently underwhelm someone. I don’t think that was the only way to survive, and I can see from the example of my wife that, in fact, things can go completely the opposite way. But, that is how it went for me.

As I went through university, the meeting of goals became a virtual necessity for the first time in my life. QNY came to exemplify my goal setting. Here is what I have recently discovered. I always set my goals to be something I thought I wanted to do, or wanted to find out if I could do. If I failed, it was because I was no good at the thing (Of course there was always room for the option that I was just no good). I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but I had a very “closed mindset”. Quite recently, I have begun to change. Now, I think of what I want to do and I set a series of reasonable steps. I innately believe that I can achieve the goal. Not because I am good enough at it, but because I can learn to do virtually anything if I am patient and provide myself with encouragement. I’ve taken to thinking of it as parenting myself. Wendy helped me develop the practice when she pointed out the super patient and encouraging manner I had with my children and those in my dayhome and contrasted that with the way I limit and trash-talk myself. It was a revelation.

I struggled to find the benefits of this new thinking until I began to read about the concept of FLOW, which I have talked about before. Once I began to apply my parenting self talk with challenges that were carefully balanced to maximize opportunities for flow, things began to take off.

More carefully balancing the challenges in my life and adopting an open mindset have lead me to have the best winter of my adult life. Happy New Year to me!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


A long time ago, Wendy and I came up with an axiom of our relationship. I'm sure it's been "discovered" countless times throughout history.
  • The thing you most hate the most is the thing you love the most. Ben would probably add, "from a certain point of view."

We have seen this countless times during the course of our marriage.

Wait! Don't go. This actually isn't another boring post about my relationships ;) No, really, it's not. I was just thinking that the same can be said for the weather. We had a minor ice storm last night. It made driving frustrating and dangerous, it made shovelling snow difficult and it made cleaning my windshield this morning near impossible. If I had remembered the relationship axiom (and remembered that it applied to weather as well), I would have brought my camera with me as I drove my kids to school.

Serves me right :)

I had been on the road for all of 2 minutes when I sensed my error and whined to Leora about it for the entire car ride. I know how fickle the light and the weather can be. I may have missed the best of the light by the time I got my camera, but I still managed some splendid nature photos.
Ice was covering more than just the road and my windshield and with a sun still low on the horizon, it gave a wonderful icy glow to the trees.
This tree appears to be decked out with Christmas Lights.
And, as you are now my captive audience, I force you to indulge my obsession with orange. Muwahaahaa :o
If I had been out a half hour sooner (remember your camera idiot) the sun would have been directly over the train bridge.
Campus was also quite lovely. I'm really glad that all the construction equipment and fencing is finally out of The Bowl.

The rest of the photos can be viewed here.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Scrabble Tournament

James and I went to the Murray building yesterday to watch a frenzied feast for the brain -- a charity fundraiser for literacy. There is nothing more sexy than a bunch of 20-80 year olds spelling under the searing pressure of their uber competitive peers.

The library entered a team. After watching from behind my camera for a few minutes I totally wished I had signed up.

There is an explanation of how to play Speed Scrabble AND... if you are interested, you can find donation links through READ Saskatoon's website

SPLs Team -- Happy before Pulverization :)
Actually, they maintained a pleasant aspect all throughout the drubbing proceedings, which we kept telling ourselves, was in fact, for a good cause.
Stylish costuming was in abundance.
Dressed up as Saskatoon City Counsillors -- How Cute ;)
The award for "Best Dressed" obviously went to this fabulous woman
By the bitter end of several rounds, many words and many "not quite, but I really want it to be a word" were spelled and $6000 dollars and counting was raised.

James found an entry form for a Saskatoon club's tournament in a couple of months. He may not need to try too hard to get me to join his team.

Just this once, I am going to save you from looking at the rest of the photos ;)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Diligent Update

It's been awhile. As is my custom, I was beginning an update on what I've been doing lately, when I was inspired to do something else. Go figure. Since you have already, no doubt, noticed the use of an ironic tone and the past tense, I'll be repeating myself to say that the update will wait.

What I did instead...

We finally received a really good dump of snow. I shovelled 3 times during the day and certainly got my requirement for exercise. Some people obviously gave up under the pressure of even a mild winter some time ago.

While I was out an about, I heard the hum of heavy machinery and was nearly run down by some snow removal equipment.

I thought of Eric and Anthony right away. I was only 40 giant snowy steps from their house at that moment. Then I thought of Greta's comment about Max liking my demolition pictures 6 weeks ago. I also happen to know that Merlin is in a heavy 'car' phase. My feeling was, I could be the perfect uncle, if only I could continue to bring my nieces and nephews photos of these mechanical delights. That and the idea of having to be so close to these machines that I risked getting covered up by their massive piles of chunky snow was more than I could bare. By the way, Matt and Jan, I don't want you to feel left out. If heavy machinery is your thing (and I just haven't noticed) just say the word ;)

I raced to my camera equipment and hoped, as I set up for the shot, that I was right about where they were about to begin plowing Clarence Ave. I waited. After 5 minutes of waiting, I went hunting around the neighbourhood to discover that they had decided to go on a coffee break before starting. However, I was now certain, based on their parking location, that they were indeed about to plow in the correct direction. Here we can pause briefly while you marvel at my very advanced powers of deduction and to what uses I put them :)

Finally, I could see them coming down the road. I got some nice shots, but I had gotten distracted and raced to be in position. I wasn't certain that I had got The Shot.

So, I hopped in my van and flew down the snowy side-streets until I was ahead of the plows again and shot a second round. I was pleased to see the double-takes of two of the three operators.

Clarence is a long street, I thought to myself. So I jumped back in the van and got ahead of them for the third time -- Yes, this is really how I spent my afternoon. I'm sorry for those of you who had to work.
Anyhow, I switched lenses and angles for the third set and I think I got what I was hoping for. I even had time to quickly change my settings and try a little shutter drag, to get an artistic effect and show some motion.
You may be able to make it out in this photo. The driver was giving me a big smile and total "thumbs up" at this point.

There you have it. I changed the name of the album with my previous demolition photos and added these and 8-10 more. Here is the link.