To all ye who want to paint with light ...

I should have started this blog many moons ago as I started experiencing the joys of rediscovering the art of photography. But as the saying goes - it's better late, than never!
So, here I am, in the hopes of recording what I learn as I progress from ignorance to enlightenment; about what my eyes can see that my camera can capture; and, what my mind imagines and my camera paints with its capabilities.

Please feel free to add any comments and share your wisdom (tips or tricks) that you have picked up along the way.

And do check out my How-To and Birding pages as well.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Natural Horsemanship @ Punkin Patch Farm

Natural horsemanship is the philosophy of working with horses by appealing to their instincts and herd instincts. It involves communication techniques derived from wild horse observation in order to build a partnership that closely resembles the relationships that exist between horses. - Wikipedia

Last Sunday, my friends and I had the opportunity to visit my colleague Wolfgang and his partner Kathy's farm in Rigaud, QC.  And the farm has the cutest name ever - Punkin Patch Farm.  It's only an hour away from Montreal and 1 hr and 15 mins from Ottawa.

You must visit, if you are in this region, or even if you aren't, make the time to do so.  Please check out their website for more information on schedules.  The owners are very happy to show you around, time permitting, although it's best to call ahead and make an appointment if you don't want to be disappointed.  They're extremely busy caring for their own and others' pets, so do call ahead.

If you're just looking around and not taking riding lessons, please leave a small donation towards the upkeep of the farm.  All the animals are given treats for the little tricks they perform, and it would be a nice gesture if you did that.

The Barn at Punkin Patch Farm
The barn at Punkin Patch Farm

It was a gorgeous day when we visited, and I was accompanied by my son and some friends who drove with me from Montreal, and others who drove in from Ottawa.  So, to start with, the company was great.

The greatest thing was however, the experience we had at the farm.  Let me introduce you to Wolfgang & Kathy!

Kathy & Wolfgang
Kathy & Wolfgang in front of the barn

Kathy is the owner and the head trainer of the horses and has spent decades working with these gentle and beautiful animals.  And it's not surprising that she does this with a passion - she's one of the most patient, gentle and kind persons I've met!  And her passion for her beloved horses, shines in her eyes when she's with them, or merely talking about them.

She spent hours regaling us with stories about the horses she has or has had on her farm, stories about how she trains them or cares for them.  My friend's kids listened to her with rapt attention and I wasn't surprised when they lovingly brushed the horses down when Kathy and Wolfgang let them do so - they'd already built a bond with Punkin, who's the star of the farm, and Toby, the shiny black horse.

Punkin Getting a Brush Down
Kathy brushes Punkin down before the ride

Since they believe in raising and growing everything organically, Kathy & Wolfgang don't believe in using chemicals.  Therefore, to prevent mosquitoes and flies from harassing or biting the horses, she likes to have a fly mask on them (instead of using bug repellant), which are removed only when those pests are absent.  We, unfortunately, didn't get to see the beautiful eyes of the horses, but I'm definitely planning to go back to visit them at a time when the fly masks can be removed - maybe when it's cooler?

Besides the horses, there were chickens and a couple of roosters, cats, and Roland, the wolf.  I had mostly wanted to visit the farm for the new chicks that were born recently, and I had gone with the impression they would be running around being cute and fluffy.  They were definitely cute and fluffy, but were nowhere near running around.  They had to be kept warm under a heat lamp.  (Us, city folks, are pretty ignorant about farm life, aren't we?!  tsk tsk)  As a result, I couldn't get good photos of them because the coop was only illuminated by the red light coming from the lamp.

New Chicks
Little chicks keeping warm

The batch of chicks that were older were milling around each other in another enclosure, but it was way too dark again for a good photo.

We were told that Roland was a cross between a wolf and a husky, because it's against the law to keep a wolf as pet.  Roland had incredible eyes - one brown and the other one blue!  And what a handsome guy he was!  I wish I were brave enough to get behind the mesh to get a clear shot of his eyes.  :(

Roland the Wolf

Kathy and Wolfgang grow their own vegetables and if they have some leftovers, they are happy to sell them to you.  Every summer, Wolfgang brings fresh veggies and eggs from his farm, and I have to say that I really wait for the eggs!  I absolutely love eggs and they are extremely fresh, being less than a week old, and they taste and look great on your plate.  I'm already looking forward to this summer's supply! :)

I have tried my best to summarize my experience, but no amount of summarizing does justice to the real experience of spending a day at their farm!

I have uploaded a lot of pictures to my Flickr stream, so please feel free to go and take a look.  And I highly recommend that you go and visit the farm and help support local farmers by buying their produce.  During times when we are all concerned about global warming, Nature conservation, eating organically grown food amongst other things, you can help immensely by supporting your local economy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Berry Nice Parfait

I did say I would start doing some serious food photography.  So, I decided to start, without much ado.  We have been having incessant rain and bad weather for the last 4 days, and it doesn't show any signs of letting up.  I was going to do a team photo shoot at work, but had to cancel because of the rains.  It's almost summer, but where are the summer temperatures?

So enter the summer fruits!  A parfait, made with fresh berries, yogurt and granola is by far my favourite breakfast cereal or even late-night snack.  I sometimes add sweetened coconut or some honey to the parfait, but for this shoot, I didn't want to mess with the honey and get my camera sticky like the last time.

Berry Parfait

I bought a ton of berries over the weekend, and therefore, you're going to possibly see some pictures of those over the next few days till they finally get consumed.


The issue I'm having with photographing food is that my kitchen is the only spot where I get a really good quality of natural light, but unfortunately the work area is so small, it's becoming a great challenge for me.  And I should have chosen my furniture wisely - I have a tall bar table and chairs, which raises the height so much, that unless I'm standing on a ladder, I can't get a proper bird's eye shot of anything.  And I don't even have a ladder!  So, I have to stand on a chair, and then stand up on my toes to gain some extra height.  I could put the food down on the floor, but I wouldn't dare do it for fear of spiders and other bugs getting into it. 

Fresh berries - loaded with goodness!

I used my 90 mm lens through the entire shoot with a varying aperture of f/2.8 or f/4.0, but mostly used it at 2.8.  



I have challenged myself to now take shots that I will touch up only minimally, including cropping.  I will definitely have to crop my images of birds, because unless I invest in a $8000 lens of 800 - 1000 mm, I don't think I have the faintest chance of getting a shot that doesn't need chopping up.


I took all these shots from different angles, and by varying the set-up and I think I'm pleased with the outcome.  I've taken a load of food pictures in the past, but they were mostly hurried and done in a specific way for my cooking classes.  But it doesn't have to be that anymore.  

I'm only warming up, right now.  Wait till I start posting some real food shots with real recipes! ;-)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My New Birding Blog :-)

I decided to set up my birding blog sooner than later.  It's still a work in progress and I'm sure it will see a number of changes in the next few days, but if you would like to check it out, please feel free to do so.   I plan to update it as frequently as time and opportunity permits, but that is one blog that will keep growing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Looking Back on the Photo 365 Project and Going Forward

(Image shot in Ottawa - the giant iron spider titled "Maman", a monumental sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.)

It's been a few days since I posted my last shot to the project and it's given me a little time to ruminate over this.  I can't say I feel much different, because I'm still picking up my camera almost every single day.  I had to consciously stop myself from doing that when I went out for a walk with my friend the other day - I wanted to see the world through my own cataract afflicted eyes, instead of at a 15x magnification through my lens.  Let's just get this straight - I have poor vision (ok, the cataract was a bit of an exaggeration for now) and I realized I was using my camera as a visual crutch!

About a year and half ago, I wanted to start learning some hardcore stuff when I realized that I had too much spare time on my hands and it was too dangerous for my own good.  So, what did I do?  I decided to go out and buy myself my 55 - 250 mm lens and just start doing something.

Even after the purchase, I went for days without taking a shot, and then suddenly I would come home with a few hundred of them.  I realized I needed to keep at this on a more regular basis.  That's when  I got myself reading - I read a lot!  I went through Flickr images - hundreds of them in a day.  I started buying books to read.  And then, before I realized it, I had made myself a sacrificial lamb unto myself - I promised I would take pictures everyday, for a year!  I remember that fateful day like it was yesterday.  And so the journey began!

The first thing I learned about photography was that it's not easy!  It's not easy to take a picture and then like it after 24 hrs.  There are only a few images that I still like to go back to and think they're pretty darn good!

The first thing I learned about the 365 project was it was the most difficult thing to find an interesting subject everyday.  As much as I love the outdoors and Nature, living in a country with frigid temperatures and snow on the ground for more than five months in a year, you had to start thinking outside the box.  And that's when I started thinking of tea strainers, cheese graters, food, aluminum foil, and what have you!

The second thing I learned about both photography and the project was that you needed patience - a lot of patience!  Mind you, since  it was my first DSLR, I had to learn the camera settings, the basics of photography and then how to marry all that together before tripping the shutter.  Now when I look back on the first several images, I balk at them!  Utterly horrifying!

I guess the most important lesson I learned was that it was okay to cut yourself some slack.  I'm the kind of person who never takes a project that I know I can't handle.  However, when I started this project, I didn't take into account the facts that I had a very stressful job, a home, a kid and my not-so-great health to contend with, all on my own.  I thought it would be a breeze - but it soon changed tack and became more like a tornado, trying to suck me into its vortex.  I was terrified I'd give up!  Fortunately, I had a host of friends and fellow-bloggers standing on the sidelines to cheer me on towards the finish line.

The biggest surprise by far was how I easily got bogged down with too many different things, and a lot of times I was too drained to even lift my camera, leave alone think of doing the shot of the day.  I have to admit that this took a lot longer than it should have, but I didn't want to give up and a lot of you gave me the good counsel that it was okay to slow it down a bit.

Besides that, one of my Flickr contacts, Shotslot, opened my eyes to the fact that no matter how down you are, you need to forge ahead with your commitment.  He's an amazing photographer and blogger, and he never once wavered in his commitment to his 365 project despite suffering a heart attack - he took shots every single day even while he was in hospital.  My friend Jim sent me links to where I could look  for ideas for my project.

When you look around and find these sources of inspiration, how can you give up?  Maybe give in a bit, but you can never give up!  I've tried to always remain positive, within the project, and even in my personal life, and my blogger as well as real life friends kept me on track.

Would I do this again?  I don't think so!  It became an all-consuming thing for me where I would sometimes neglect health and home to get the shot of the day.  That's over!  Now I don't feel guilty anymore for vegging out on the couch and staring at the TV screen.  I was probably smoking some very cheap weed when I thought I could take pictures everyday.  But the good thing that came of it is - I know I've learned it all on my own, through trial and error, one baby step at a step.  And these lessons one never forgets!

Going forward, I plan to start a few projects - one of which I've already set up - a couple of friends and I are planning to collaborate on it.  I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to share that at this moment, but I do definitely have a long wishlist of other projects, the most important ones being food photography, and portraiture.  Another project I have is to set up a page on my birding experiences.

So, stay tuned!  I will be starting them in the next couple of weeks or so.  Since summer's here, I'm trying to enjoy the outdoors as much as I can, despite allergies, viral infections, asthma and what have you!  I have promised myself to not let anything come in my way of enjoying the warm season that's always so short here in Canada.

Last, but not least, thank you once again for being around and it's now time to move on!

(Taken in Ottawa - this image was shot from the hip)