Zis iz zee castle of my master, Guy de Lombard!

Well, not really, but this is photograph a friend of mine made while he was skiving rather than being at the conference he was supposed to be at. He'd posted it on a private board after doing some tinkering and I thought to myself: "Hang on, I think we can get a bit more out of the image than that." He kindly posted the RAW file for me to play with. The image was made by a Samsung NX30, 1/2500 @ f/6.3, ISO 200.

When I first looked at the RAW file in Lightroom, I was surprised at just how much detail was still available in the shadows given bright sky and the dark castle walls.
Original Image
In LR, I did the following adjustments:
Lightroom Adjustments
The original exposure was OK but I really hit the Highlights and Shadows settings (I also cloned the bird on the left out. Bloody seagull) I found the RAW file to be remarkably robust to this sort of heavy handed tweaking. The only disconcerting thing was the two pure green spots on the castle wall. I think that this is a hot or dead pixel. I did end up cloning them out after I had run the file through Viveza. After this LR jiggery-pokery I ended up with this:
Lightroom Adjustments
I wanted to lighten up the Welsh flag a bit as I found it a bit dark. I opened the image in NIK Viveza 2.0 (Hey Google, if you're going to abandon the NIK suite, at least have the decency to open source it!) After tweeking the overall brightness, warmth, structure and shadows, using a Control Point set on the flag green of the flag I tweeked the brightness and saturation giving me this:
After Viveza 2.0
Not bad, not bad at all. Now, NIK has a tone mapping HDR application so, since I was going all McGyver on this image anyway, why not try that. There's lots of pre-built settings, ranging from neutral to "OMFG the acid has just kicked in!" Here's the three that I tried:
NIK HDR Pro Tone Map "Neutral" Setting
NIK HDR Pro Tone Map "Balanced" Setting
NIK HDR Pro Tone Map "Artistic B/W" Setting
I think I prefer my handbombed colour processing using LR and Viveza over any of the HDR colour presets.

I do like the B/W except for the burnt out sun, so back to the original image and this time I loaded it up in Viveza and set a control point on the burnt out sun and reduced the brightness until I got it to blend in to the cloud bank. Next I ran it through NIK HDR tone mapping, selecting the "Natural" preset. Finally into the ab fab NIK SilverFX. I selected the Ilford HP5 profile and worked with the fine structure, brightness, dynamic brightness and soft contrast sliders until I got this:
NIK SilverFX
This I think is the image I felt was hiding inside the image (except for the bright pixels and the bloody seagull)

For my friend, who is a Linux guy, I think you can do the LR adjustments and Viveza style spot adjustments in Darktable. I've got it running on Junior but I just haven't had the time to understand the UI yet. I don't know what application you'd use to do the tone mapping HDR, but LightZone does run on Linux and it does some pretty neat tone mapping.

Oh, and if Mike from Australia is reading this, well, you know what to do...


Big Alberta Sky

You’ll notice that rather than a photograph next to the lead-in paragraph I’ve embedded a YouTube link to an Ian Tyson song “Land of Shining Mountains”. I’ve been listening to that old cowpoke quite a bit and there is lot in his body of work that resonates with me having spent some formative years in Kamloops which, at the time, was a rail junction for both the CNR and CPR as well as a cowtown. The fancy hotel was called “The Stockman’s” featuring dinner and floor show Friday and Saturday nights for the well-heeled. It had its stockyards, its cowboy hotels and saloons and at certain times of the year your Mom and Dad hustled you across the street just “because”; later I found out it was because a cowhand had passed out in a doorway. I still recall wanting nothing more than a pair of cowboy boots and blue jeans to walk just that way like they did in the Lone Ranger and Rifleman.

It was Stampede and I had to get out of the city. As I wrote in my journal: “it feels like my head is being crushed”. In town, the sidewalks were filled with not the cowboys I grew up around in Kamloops but the Ricky Rodeos who forgot that the bullshit is supposed to be on the outside of the boots. I’ve always loved the Porcupine Hills and the sagebrush and short grass prairie south of Highway 3 and north of the 49th Parallel so I loaded up the truck and headed south.

In a review on Amazon.com of Ian Tyson’s album “I Outgrew the Wagon” Jim Cleary writes:
“You'll smell the dust and sage; you'll feel the blazing sun and stinging sleet; and you'll hear the sound of the wind in the wire. The prairie’s infinite expansiveness, its quiet and loneliness and unquenchable thirstiness, its midday deadness and its spring to life at low sun, it's nourishing protection for the lucky and its steadfast brutality for the unprepared.”
And the sky. Oh my lord the sky. It arches over you streaming to forever. It’s different than up in the Peace Country. I always felt the sky there oppressive, pressing down on you like the Lutheran god of the Swedes and Norwegians that settled there. The southern sky just is. It passes no judgement, pays no heed to the busy-ness of man. It can be quick to anger: a prairie thunderstorm can appear and disappear in a blink leaving flattened fields, damaged buildings, flooded streams and roads. It can also caress: sitting by the side of the road, the breeze rustling the grass, brushing your face and carrying away the cares of the world. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a very good landscape photographer. I find that I just can’t capture the emotions I feel when confronted with some of the vistas that I have here in my backyard. But hey, I tried. It’s something that takes time, like writing cowboy poetry. 

I have to come clean that I’ve fudged a bit. The standard 3x2 “full-frame” and 4x3 “Micro-Four Thirds” aspect ratios don’t do bupkis to help me get even close to showing my feelings of expanse: I cropped the images to a 16x9 aspect ratio to try to get me there. This is truly a subject area that needs a wiiiiide canvas.

As you drive through Porcupine Hills you come across ranches, some old, some new, some gone, some not much changed from when they were founded. Some are nestled in the hills; some are out in the open. This one is long gone and only the sighing of the wind bears witness to what once was.

Abandoned Ranch, Porcupine Hills
The month of July had brought storm after storm roiling out of the mountains and onto the plains. After slithering up the wet gravel, I crested a hill and whompf! There it was: the foothills, the Rockies and the sky. I wondered what de La VĂ©rendrye felt when he crested a hill like this one in 1743.
Southern Rockies, North of Pincher Creek
The next day I set out from Lethbridge and headed back west, heading south towards Del Bonita, now a ghost town although the two teacherages are for sale.
The sky to north would be threatening a nasty series of thunderstorms brewing, even in the early morning. This turbulent sky was to be my constant companion for the rest of the day. 
Canola and Fence Line
Heading deeper into the south and east, as if being drawn to the Sweetgrass Hills by a magnet, the land changes from cropland to sagebrush and short grass prairie. This is the land of the cowboy.

Short Grass and Sagebrush
Old Corral and Sagebrush (Thanks, Ian)
And always, always, the sky.
Brewing Storm
South, south, further and further south on the gravel roads until you brush up against the United States. The Sweetgrass Hills, at first just a ripple on the horizon now are the landscape rising up purple, untouched by the great Pleistocene ice sheets. 
Sweetgrass Hills
Sweetgrass Hills #2
All through this trip the ghosts of the cowboys were riding with me: Casey Tibbs, Bob Fudge, Jerry Ambler. Authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour were with me too; their descriptions of the prairie and the purple sage with me. It is a beautiful land and I hope that these images do it justice: I'll keep going back until my images do. 


Working Stiffs

It's been a while since I've written anything about, let done anything with a backlog of images dating to summer of last year.

First some background. My day job was (note the use of the word was) working as a flight coordinator for a charter airline. The airline flew oil company personnel to and from work sites in Northern Alberta and British Columbia. With the current geopolitical situation driving oil prices to below the costs of production (let's face it, the Western Sedimentary Basin and the Oil Sands are not low cost production environments) the flying started to slow down and my shift switched from a four on, four off rotation to three days on the weekends. All well and good. I had to do something productive with my time so I took in upon myself to write a boat load of software (something I did in a previous life, back when dinosaurs ruled and Borland was still a real company) for the OCC to streamline our operations, revamp the operations handbook and develop a series of online courses. Oddly enough this kinda sapped any creative juices I had left and I only photographed in fits and starts.

Well, as you can surmise, the flying kept going down and I got laid off about two weeks ago. No big deal, shit happens. I'll just re-invent myself, again (even though it is getting a litle stale, this re-inventing business, it being the third or fourth time; I've lost count).

Wouldn't you know it, I was able to return to the backlog and there, the creative juices started to flow. I noticed that I had a quite a few images of the working man, the guy that BTO sang about in opening verse "Takin' Care of Business". You know the ones: the ones who deliver the beer, make sure the traffic flows, make sure that the lads don't get out of control. The ones who build our buildings, clean our streets, catch our fish. I went back to some off my older images, and found a seam of hard working souls that had gone unrecognized.

I'll be adding to this collection and what is in the post gallery will change over time as images get added and deleted as the concept unfold.

After the parade, the sweeper comes always comes out. It's a tiresome job and it never seems to end.
New York cops, like the boys from Joisey have a natural knack for hanging out. These guys in Times Square on a hot and very muggy evening were watching the usual goings on with a sense of ennui that only comes from having seen it all night after night after night.
Another Night at Times Square
Steveston Docks is where you can buy fresh fish in Vancouver, right off the boat. It was one of those cold, damp, foggy days; the Scots would call it dreich. This fisherman kept warm by a space heater at his feet and bundled up in a parka was selling this morning's catch of spotted shrimp
Shrimp on Ice
Calgary has its dreich days as well, usually in early March when the rain is mixed with wet snow. This delivery driver is loading up in Chinatown with beef from a hole in the wall butcher shop.
Finally, this old timer was photographed in Nobleford, Alberta. He's retired, but had worked as a rig hand across the Prairies and from north of the Arctic Circle down to the Middle East. We spent a pleasant while yarning about the patch (I've worked the rigs too) and I was able to make this image.
Rig Hand
So here's to all those folks: the ones who make sure things get done. 

You can view the project here.