2019-03-03: Topic of the month – Signs of Spring

This week I have really been trying to look for signs of spring.  Honest, I have.  But waking up today, the temperature was -29C with a high of -12C for the day, and it really does feel like spring is far away.  I have noticed a few things though.  I can see about a 6″ band of shingles on the roof of my house, from the days when it has been warm enough for a bit of melt to happen.  I noticed one lone willow tree, buried in about 4 feet of snow drift at the side of the road, starting to bud (despite the cold in was enveloped in).  But mostly, I have noticed the trees.

It has been stark white for a very long time in my back yard, and over the past two weeks, between the strong winds and the the (slightly) warming days, the evergreens have shed the huge cloaks of snow from their branches.  There are still bits of snow tucked into the crook of branches here and there, but finally when I look out my windows, I see a bit of green, rather than just white.

Pictures of bare branches in my backyard seemed a bit boring, but frankly, getting all bundled up to do a photo walk this weekend also didn’t hold much appeal.  So I went out for a short time to photograph some of the birds feasting on the sunflower seeds.  Today, only the chickadees were around, though usually there is a pair of red-breasted nuthatches plus the woodpeckers that pass through.  The chickadees made a steady stream from branch to feeder and back again; I couldn’t count them all as they were constantly coming in from every direction.

As a bird lover, one of the sad parts about the temperature warming is soon the birds will have to fend for themselves, once it warms enough for there to be a threat of bears visiting the feeders.  I think we have a ways to go before that is an issue though.

Here are a few chickadees for today; fingers crossed next weekend there are more signs of spring around.

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I saw this on one of the evergreens by the bird feeders; to me, it looks like the tree is giving the cold weather the middle finger.  But that’s just my interpretation.  To some, just an odd icicle that’s grown upwards, instead of down. 
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One of the many inquisitive chickadees in the yard.  They generally do not mind me being close by, and will even come to the feeder while I am standing there trying to fill it up.
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I can’t even explain how excited I am to see green.
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This one had been picking up a fallen seed from the ground; just a little leftover snow on the beak.

2019-02-03: Roadrunner

I’ve skipped the January Month in Review post, because my posts were so infrequent and inconsistent, there doesn’t seem much point in trying to recap so little.  A friend posted a meme the other day that seems a bit fitting ” January was a tough year, but we got through it”.  We’re on to a new month now, and while I haven’t yet picked a theme for the month, I am going to get back to that as I enjoy the focus for a weekly post.  Based on the current weather and forecast to come though, it probably won’t involve being outside shooting.  It was too cold this morning to even get the dog out for a decent walk.  And I’m not even in the midst of the polar vortex!

It felt like a good time to go through some of my photos from southern California, and today I focused on the roadrunner.  These quirky birds were all around the golf course I stayed at in October, though they proved to be a bit shy when I got the camera out.  With some patience though, I managed to capture a few images.  I feel like these images should be accompanied by comments about Acme products and Wile E Coyote, but I’m coming up with nothing, so let’s get to the photos instead. 🙂

Wishing everyone a fantastic week ahead.

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2019-01-20: Costa’s Hummingbirds

I was going to post some of these images on Wednesday last week for a wordless Wednesday post, but I was having a few site issues, and just didn’t have the patience to wait while WordPress loaded slowly.  So instead, I’ve gone through my images and found a few more hummingbird images and am sharing them all today.

While I was in Southern California, I enjoyed my morning coffee on the patio, and loved watching the hummingbirds fighting over the best spots at the feeders and various flowering bushes.  I also noticed how chattery the Costa’s hummingbirds are.  They spent a lot of time singing from the branches of the bushes in the garden.  The link below is the All About Birds page for the Costa’s hummingbird, and you can hear what they sound like there.

All About Birds – Costa’s Hummingbird

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Seeing these images makes me long for spring even more, when the Rufous hummingbirds return to Prince George for another (short) spring and summer season.

2019-01-13: What I’ve seen this week

This is a topic I haven’t done in a while!  I’ve been trying to keep my camera close, as there is such an abundance of birdlife in my yard at the moment.  It can be a bit challenging though, with the days being so short, and we’ve had a lot of overcast days recently.  But even when the light isn’t great, it’s still awesome to have camera in hand.

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This was shot through my office window, as even though the blue jay is now a frequent, daily visitor to both the bird feeders and the deer bowl, it is still quite shy and won’t stick around if I am outside.
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I’ve taken to having my camera on me when I go out to fill the bird feeders and the deer bowl.  This doe was not at all concerned about me filling the feeder about 10 feet away.
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A red-breasted nuthatch pausing from eating suet.
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A grey jay I spotted in the yard this afternoon, enjoying some of the cob that I put out for the deer.

2018-12-30: Backyard Birds

I must apologize for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks.  I hadn’t intended on taking any time off the blog in the run-up to Christmas, but time just got away from me.

Christmas Day saw a very unusual visitor to the bird feeder – a Blue Jay.  To those on the east coast I’m sure that doesn’t sound very exciting; but they are considered rare in my area, and I’ve not seen one since I was a kid growing up in Ontario, so I was thrilled.  The jay was very skittish though and while I have seen it a few times over the past couple of days, they are usually blink and you’ll miss it moments.  All I have to show for it are some fuzzy shots through my office window, but at least I have proof that it was here.

We’ve had a fair bit of snow the last few days, and it’s been very busy at the feeders; chickadees and nuthatches, flickers, downy and hairy woodpeckers, gray jays and even a visit from the magpies that I generally only see a couple streets over from where I live.  The ruffed grouse has also been around quite frequently.  I’ve been battling a bug with a nasty cough so I haven’t been outside much with my camera, but I did manage to capture the magpie and the grouse.  Now that I am starting to feel better I am hoping to get out and capture more of birds in the yard, and perhaps with any luck the blue jay will make another appearance.

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Month in Review – November

November’s Topic of the Month – The Night Sky

While I had the opportunity to edit and share images from my night sky workshop in October and some older images as well, I didn’t actually have the chance to get out and shoot the night sky in November, so I guess the topic of the month was a bit of a fail.  There is always another night to get out, and now that we are into the very short days of winter, I don’t have to stay up too late to do so.  Fingers crossed I can get out and get some local images…. maybe even some aurora shots if the stars line up 🙂

What’s new this month?

I’ve come to the realization this month that in 2018 I’ve done some really deep dives into editing in lots of different ways, but I’ve really not spent much time out shooting, which feels like a real missed opportunity, and something that I need to amend moving into 2019.  When I do get out with my camera I quickly get into the zone and find it such an enjoyable activity, that I really need to prioritize it more.

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What’s coming up next?

I’ve decided not to have a specific topic of the month in December.  The month always slips by in such a whirlwind of activity and family time that I would rather just share when I can, and explore what interests me at a given moment, than trying to fit into a specific topic.  I’m also going to spend some time thinking about topics and projects for 2019, which is coming up so soon.

2018-11-22: Barred Owl

I was busy working last week and something caught my attention outside, out the corner of my eye.  I spotted this gorgeous barred owl in a tree in my backyard, and rushed to grab my camera to take a quick photo through the window.

I decided to take a chance and dash outside and hope to get a better shot.  The owl gave me a quick glance, let me snap 3 photos, and then was off, deep into the forest.

I love when beautiful creatures like this decide to make a stop in my yard 🙂

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2018-10-28: Birds

As mentioned last week, I decided to go with bird images for my last round of editing images with On1 Photo Raw, Topaz Studio and Luminar, seeing how the results compare with the different software choices.  I thought bird images would be a great choice because there are lots of fine details in feathers that need to be enhanced, and often things like distracting backgrounds that need to be minimized.

In very broad strokes, I’ve come to realize editing an original image in Topaz Studio that requires colour correction is not something I enjoy doing, and not something I will try to do moving forward (until they provide some updates to that portion of the interface).  I don’t find that the colour temperature slider works well enough to deal with complicated colour scenarios, and I can get much better results using On1 Photo Raw, or even Luminar.

The first images I picked are of a purple roller that I spotted on the banks of the Boteti River in Botswana.  I decided to edit original images in each program, rather than correcting colour first in On1 Photo Raw and editing the resultant images.  For a series of images, it’s obviously not a good strategy, but I really wanted to see the different colour rendering and how well I could adjust the images.  The results are mixed.

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First up is an image from Luminar.  Despite desaturating the blues, the sky still looks a bit too blue and oversaturated.  The roller was quite a distance away from me; all of the purple roller images were shot at 300mm, and I think Luminar brought back an acceptable amount of detail in the feathers.  There’s only so much you can do with images of a small bird on a distant tree!
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This is the version from Topaz and try as I might, this was the best I could do with the sky.  I find it has an odd colour cast, but I am happy with the detail in the feathers.
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This is the On1 Photo Raw image.  I think the sky in this version is the most true to life.  The focus seems a little bit off, but I only had these purple roller images to work with, so I made the best of it.  This is the only time I have ever seen a purple roller, so despite the image series being far from perfect, I still wanted to edit and share them because they really are a striking bird.

Next up are some wattled cranes, also seen along the banks of the Boteti River while staying at the fabulous Leroo La Tau camp.  While these images were all shot on the same morning, the light was changing very fast and the birds were moving around relative to our vehicle, so some images were shot into the sun and others with the sun at my back.  Wattled cranes are listed as a vulnerable species; our guide Calvin had been so excited to see a group of this size while we were out on game drive.

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First up is the Luminar version.  You can tell from the white hot sky this was shot well after sunrise, and that the sun is already quite high in the sky.  I think what I like best about this version is the shimmery effect of the grasses behind the cranes.  There is a bit of a warm cast to the image, especially when compare to the On1 Photo Raw version.
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This Topaz version was shot earlier in the morning, with the sun at a more forgiving angle.  I love the postures in this image, with the three birds foraging while one appears to be on sentry duty.  I did colour correction for this first in On1, as I gave it a quick go in Topaz and was just getting frustrated with the results.
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Here are the wattled cranes edited using On1 Photo Raw.  I think this and the Topaz versions are the most successful in terms of colour rendering. 

Up next are one of my favourite birds, the beautiful lilac breasted roller.  Unlike the purple roller, I have seen this bird on all my trips in Africa, and have gotten a few really good shots over the years.

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The version from Luminar.
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The version from Topaz.
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The version from On1.

These roller images are the best ones for comparing the software, since the bird is fairly close and the light unchanging.  I am finding the version from On1 looking a little crunchy when compared to the other two, and the Topaz version lacking a little bit of contrast.  I think I was able to bring out the colour and tones the best with Luminar on this particular image.  I found Topaz was able to bring out a lot of fine detail in the feathers without making the image look crunchy (it’s hard to see on a web sized image, so you’ll have to take my word for it).  I think the On1 version could have done well with backing off the tonal contrast a couple of points; though if that version had been posted in isolation, I would be very happy with it.

I started getting some editing fatigue looking at so many similar images, so I decided for the last few, I would just pick a few one-off bird images, and edit one of each in the various programs.

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I edited this image of cormorants using On1 Photo Raw.  This was shot during the early morning on Phinda Game Reserve, at one of the large dams on the property.  It was a chilly, misty morning, and this cormorant was flying in while hippos were calling the in background.  It felt like the reserve was just starting to wake up while we were sitting here.
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This is an African Hoopoe edited using Topaz Studio.  I found the colours in this image flat (no fault of Topaz this time) and thought the image would work much better in black and white.
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This is a flock of red-billed quelea heading to a roosting spot at sunset.  This was probably the largest flock that I have seen, spotted while staying in the Okavango Delta.  I know from watching nature programs that these birds can flock in extraordinary numbers.

There are pros and cons to each of the programs; Topaz and the colour correction issues I have been having, Luminar with the lack of adjustable luminosity masks, and with On1, I don’t find the noise reduction function is a good as some other options.  But saying that, all the options are robust programs that have a lot of great features, it’s just a matter of learning how to use the tools to your best advantage.  I don’t feel like I am in any type of editing disadvantage by choosing to use these software options over the more common Lightroom and Photoshop scenario (that I also used for several years).

From these editing immersions and comparisons, I think I am a getting a little closer to knowing where all these options fit into my workflow.