Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 A Year in Review

For me 2012 was the best year I have had in a very long time. Although the year was full of ups and downs, the downs were not as low as they have been in the past and the ups were way higher. 2012 was a year where I learned to use rudder and sail to steer my course rather than just being blown around by the wind. Of course I mean that as a metaphor because I don't know how to sail. It's good to set goals for a year and then break those goals down into the months, weeks and days. I started by setting a 5 year goal and then worked out what I needed to do to get there. I firstly needed to find ways to cut my monthly expenses and I achieved that by trading in my truck for an economy car. This reduced my monthly car payments by $200 and also reduced my fuel expense by $80 per month. An added bonus of reducing my auto insurance of $30 per month was unexpected but greatly appreciated. So now I have reduced my monthly expenses by $310/month and I have a nice new car as well. I also decided to cut back on my cable bill by removing channels I don't need. Mind you I don't have time for TV anymore. It's amazing how much stress relief comes with freeing up all that extra cash. 

In Feb of 2012 I took the plunge deeper into photography by purchasing my first DSLR. Oh how I love photography. For years I felt something was missing in my life and I tried filling that hole with so many things but nothing worked. Nothing, until photography entered my world. I have an untold amount of gratitude to my wonderful friend +Karl Stevens  for recognizing my ability and doing what he could to nurture it. I have taken some photos in 2012 that I am very proud of. Proud mainly because this is my first real year as an amateur photographer and I am confident my work will get better still. I look at photography as an art form and create artistic photos. Using this method has opened my eyes to a new approach on life. Anyone can take a photo but to take a great photo requires planning and work. Same as life. Anyone can live a life but to have a great life it requires planning and work. The more you put into it the more you will get out of it. With photography, as in life, you can never stop learning. If you do, if you think you know it all, you will stop moving forward and eventually get left behind.

Veritas Vos Liberabit


  This photo was taken in March of 2012 and in my mind still rates as one of the best I have taken to date. It was a very cold night at -30C. Steam was rising from the river which made it very difficult to see. I had a rickety cheap tripod at this time and was fumbling on a steep river bank to set up my camera. I got lucky as much of the mist cleared and the bridge became visible. My viewfinder was fogged up from my breath so I took the shot mainly on what I thought I saw.

Amber Astotin
  As the year progressed I began experimenting with using photoshop. I had made many attempts and combining a photo with a texture layer but I had been very dissatisfied with the results. It wasn't till August when I managed to get a result that I was very happy with. I took a photo at Elk Island Park with +Karl Stevens of Lake Astotin at night. In the photo there was the glow of our home city in the distance. In processing the photo I added a texture layer of a marble floor tile that I had converted to black and white. The final result gave the photo the look of a forest fire in the distance. The night had dark clear skies and as a result the stars were visible over the glow of the distant city. 

 In 2012 +Karl Stevens and I also started a Google+ page dedicated to photographers living in and around the Edmonton area. We founded +Edmonton Photographers and began meeting a group of wonderful people. To this date we have held 6 photowalks and have met some very talented amateur  photographers and a few professionals. On one of those photowalks I managed to capture a set of photos that I stitched together to make a panorama. I then blended in a texture layer of fire. Creating an image that is one of my personal favorites. 
Painted With Fire
 The photowalks have given me to opportunity to make some new friends. +Sharon Morsink, +Justin Wondga, and +Stephen Paskaluk to name a few. In meeting these new friends I have had a chance to experiment with equipment that I don't own. Most significantly +Stephen Paskaluk let me borrow his speed light which gave me the opportunity to experiment with photographing smoke. In the span of a few nights I filled my memory card over 4 times. With so much experimenting I was able to develop a good process for photographing smoke and wrote up a tutorial about it. Tutorial

Spirit Wheel

 With so many images of smoke on my computer hard drive it didn't take me long to start experimenting with them. I discovered an interesting technique and began experimenting with it. The results were rather interesting and upon sharing the resulting image on social media sites I began getting questions as to how I was able to do that. Again I took the time to make up another tutorial. Tutorial

 2012 had definitely been a good year for me. Photography has taught me so much and it's not all about taking pictures. If you would like to make changes in your life to makes things better then here is my advice to you. Treat your life like a business manager would treat a business. Start off your year with a long term goal. Usually 5 years. Then break that goal down into significant achievements that you need to accomplish for each of the years. This basically takes your big goal and breaks it down into steps that you need to take to get there. Establish time lines and a budget. After each year it is important to do a review of that year. As I am doing now. By putting that into a document you can visually see the steps your are taking to achieve your goal. After your yearly recap you then need to sit down and establish your goals for the next year. If the previous year did not go as you planned you may have to make adjustments in the upcoming year. If you are finding that you are having difficulty meeting the financial requirements for your goals you need to do what any good business manager would do. Cut back on the non-essentials. This means taking control of your spending. What it comes down to is asking yourself this question all the time, "Is buying this going to help me achieve my goals?"  When you can do that and make the hard choices you will take control of your life and your future. 

Success = work 
Failure = lazy 

 I have lived most of my life being lazy and have finally learned what I need to do to succeed.  I haven't succeeded yet. I still have 4 years left on my plan but I know I am on the right path. I hope that by sharing this I can help you find your right path. 

Best of luck to everyone in 2013. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Smoke Flower - A tutorial

I received some requests asking how I made the smoke flower after I shared it on various sites so I decided to make a tutorial showing how.  If you would like to know how to photograph smoke please visit my earlier blog post:

This tutorial will start at the point were the photo has already been taken and processed using photoshop. This is the image that we will be working with.  It has been rotated and cropped. If you wish to download this image and try this for yourself it's available for free download at:

After loading the image into photoshop click on File/New and create a new photoshop image the same size as the smoke image. Now on the new image click Layer/New/Layer and click ok. This will create a new layer called Layer 1. Select Layer 1 and click on Layer/Smart Objects/Convert to Smart Object. This will make Layer 1 a smart object. Double click on the Layer 1 thumbnail. This will open up Layer 1. If you have never done this before a pop-up window will tell you about saving. Just click ok. Switch to the smoke image and select the rectangular marquee tool. Use the marquee tool to select all of the smoke image. Click Edit/Copy then switch to Layer 1.psb. Click Edit/Paste and the smoke will be pasted into this layer. Press Ctrl-T, this will put you in free transform mode and reduce the size by 30%.
Adjust the W: and the H: to 30%.  Then press the check mark. Select the move tool and move the image over to the right size of the work space. Now change the blending mode of the layer to screen.
With the blending mode on screen any part of the layer that is black now becomes transparent. However, one thing to keep in mind is that anything that is light in the image will become lighter so you may have to darken areas later on. Also if you are attempting to do this with an image that you want the black to show it will not work using screen. At this point we are going to start creating duplicate layers that are in different positions. To do this press Ctrl-Alt-T. This is similar to what we used earlier to make the smoke smaller but by adding Ctrl we are making another layer. When the transform box comes up you will notice a little x in the middle of it (highlighted in the next image with a red circle). Move that x to the far left in the center where you see an adjusting square. That x is what determines the rotation point of the layer. Change the angle in the transform box to 45 degrees then click the check mark. Your new layer should rotate 45 degrees down. After that you can now press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-T and that will repeat that layer. Press Shift-Ctrl-Alt-T 6 times to complete a full circle. After doing this you can close Layer 1.psb. Photoshop will ask if you want to save this layer. Say yes. Go to your new document and you will see your flower on a white background. Use the paint bucket to fill the background layer black, Click Layer/Flatten Image, Crop off any excess and you are done.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and if you have any questions feel free to ask. I do not use a Mac so I am not familiar with any of the keyboard shortcuts.