2023. The year that felt more normal than any since the pandemic hit.
And by normal, I don't necessarily mean "better." One had but to watch the news to know that; natural disasters, wars, disintegrating health care systems - for many, 2023 was not a good year. However, overall, for me it was a decent year. I got out more with my camera, I avoided unnecessary business travel. Our annual sales conference was - once again - thankfully run completely in a virtual manner.
While I miss seeing my colleagues face to face, I do not miss Las Vegas a week before Christmas.
I decided to be very tough on myself for this curation; with only 1 exception, I chose a single image from each month of the year. This was not easy for several months, and VERY easy for a few others. Captures with either my iPhone, Nikon or Olympus/OM cameras.
Much like last year, My approach was a combination of initial visual impact, followed by emotional impact.
In late January, I made my way to the Rouge Marsh, my second photowalk of the new year. It was a dull, grey day, but I wanted to get out with my camera, regardless. I was treated to more waterfowl than I expected, including several swans. My favorite from the series is above, capturing this group as they came around a clump of bullrushes.
The only issue I had was that in the original image, there were a couple broken bullrush stalks overlapping the beak of the the lead swan. Making the image not as desirable. Thankfully, the (at the time) new Remove tool in Photoshop made short work of those reeds.
Warm Kitty, Sleepy Kitty
We visited Prince Edward County in February - a combination Valentine's Day and birthday gift. The town of Picton is not exactly bustling in the winter months; it seems the tourist trade is strictly focused on summer and fall, however, it was still a very nice getaway at the historical Merrill House. One evening, as we were walking by the local bookshop (@bookscompany_picton) downtown, I spied the store's cat curled up in a red velvet chair in the window display. I only had my phone with me at the time, but it was such a perfect scene, I did not want to miss the opportunity.
Early March hit us with a significant amount of snow and I made the time to get out to a couple locations, including Highland Creek and Thomson Memorial Park. It was fun to isolate elements like the leaf above, which appeared to be melting its way down into the snow. The strong sidelight provided ample texture to both the snow and to the withered maple leaf.
After setting up the joint winter exhibition at Elmhirst's Resort with my cousin's wife, Stephanie Lake, we went back to my cousin's cottage on Lower Buckhorn Lake. Their place is fully winterized, so we opted enjoy some wine, a great meal and to stay the night. In my opinion, they have a million-dollar view of Lower Buckhorn Lake, and I often tease Stephanie that she doesn't have to change out of her pj's to get a great image.
Well, that morning, it was my turn to get some awesome photos without leaving the deck (although I DID change out of my pj's). This mist/fog in the background made for such a mysterious, magical scene, aided by the dull yellow-green of the evergreen trees on the far shore. I spent a fair bit of time experimenting with colour balance and grading to get the warmer result seen here, while still retaining the cool blue of the ice in the foreground.
The Great Escape
With her two cohorts on the lookout, this plucky hen makes a break for it... to the feed tray. I thought this was such a funny image that told a very humorous story. All I could think of was I was witnessing a live-action version of Chicken Run.
This field sits alongside County Road 2, just outside of Keene, Ontario. Over the years, I have seen it grow soy, corn, hay and in this case, wheat. Each season, the metamorphosis of this farm field (and others) simply fascinates me. It also gives me a deeper appreciation of where our food comes from. I have a great deal of respect for the work that farmers do; I never set foot in a growing field, but - if possible - I will walk right up to the border.
Originally captured on my Nikon D750, this final image is a Lightroom HDR composite of two frames, so I could retain both the shadow detail and the sunset in the background. I'm a big fan of leading lines and the fence gate pulls you right into the field, directing you to the sunset, while also framing the scene.
I learned of Cordova Falls from a fellow photographer, Russ Higgins. Russ left us in November of 2022 and I regret not having the time to get to know him better. He certainly had a gifted eye. He and I both had a love for the water, especially moving water. In honour of Russ and because the location is just truly amazing, I try to get out to Cordova Falls a few times each cottage season. This time, I brought a friend from the city who is also an avid photographer, skilled artist and musician. I'm a bit more of a one-trick pony when it comes to creative endeavours, but I hope what I lack in range, I make up for in depth.
This is another composite, this time performed in Photoshop, allowing me to retain sharpness in the delicate fern which would rustle in the slightest breeze, blending with my preferred motion in the waterfall in the background. I love the little whirlpool created by the slow shutter (.6 second, using Live ND) that helps bring the eye back around to the upper right rather than landing (and staying) on the rocks and fern in the foreground.
While I've had ample opportunity up to now, this is the first image in this collection where Adobe Firefly had a role to play in the storytelling. I've written several articles about Generative AI and shared my opinion on the benefits it can have for photographers; this article is not the place to rehash those thoughts.
Suffice to say, I could have camped out all summer, waiting to capture both a beautiful sunrise and early morning fisherman at the same time, and left the beach disappointed. Instead, I focused on capturing the majesty of a Rice Lake sunrise and then later, using Firefly in Photoshop (Generative Fill), prompted for a fisherman in a boat. Firefly results can be a bit of a grab-bag; you never really know what you're going to get, but luckily when using Photoshop for this type of work, all your generations (good or bad) are saved as variations that you can call on and compare. That small visual element expands on the story of this image; it's a synergistic effect, completely realistic (right down to the reflection) and something I never would have captured in camera.
The Cheat Month
September is the only month I've included two images. September was when I learned I'm to be a grandfather in February of 2024 (and I'm so excited!). While the photo itself of my son and his wife holding the ultrasound image of "Lil Spud," is just a quick grab from my cell phone, it's perhaps one of the most important images I have ever captured. It's also kinda meta...
September also marked the month when I got to photograph Scottish Highland long-horned cattle not once, but twice! The image here is from the second opportunity, at the Red Farm Lane in Douro, Ontario. Farmer Terry actually led me into the cow pasture for this photo. He rested his hand on this recent new mom and I made my photos, then had the chance to pet the animal, which was pretty awesome. A combination of Firefly and the Remove tool helped to remove Terry's arm from the photo.
Learn more about a practical use of Generative AI in Photography in this article.
Fall color was late coming to the Kawarthas, but there were pockets of vibrancy in early October. One such location was Cordova Falls. The water level was very low, exposing much of the rock of the cascades, but those rocks add a lot of visual interest and texture. I made use of the Live ND feature of my OM-5 camera to create the long exposure. I captured other excellent waterfall scenes that day, but this one symbolized the change of seasons best. In hindsight, getting higher might have helped even more, by making the reflection of the trees more prominent. Not for next time...
While it may look like a pop art background plate for the Matrix, this is shot in my backyard, using Intentional Camera Movement (panning the camera), Live ND and a long shutter speed (1/4 second). The actual scene is the fall colors in my backyard, but I felt it would have far more impact as an image that was blurred through motion. I made several images, and it was a toss-up between this image and another that ran diagonally. This version though, resonates with me; it's like a multi-coloured downpour of rain, autumn smearing into winter...
After what seemed like weeks of grey skies and a fair share of rain, I was chomping at the bit to get out with my camera by the end of December. The light was not great, but I didn't care; I just had to get out there!
I ended up visiting Morningside Park for the first time. I had been at the park for about 45 minutes and was following a somewhat squelching path that bordered Highland Creek and some wetland. I had made some images up until that point, a couple of which I thought had promise. I was about to turn around and head back to the car, but I decided to walk a couple hundred more yards before turning tail. I was glad that I did! The bright white of the birches, contrasting against the warmer shades of brown of the wetland made for an interesting composition.
There was a slight mist in the background, which added a good sense of depth to the scene, with the birch trees anchoring the composition in the foreground. In post-processing, I was able to enhance that mist slightly, softening up the background.
The moral of the story; when you think you've walked far enough... walk a little bit further.
Well, that was the year as I saw it, in a very abridged form. I'm hoping to make the process even more challenging at the end of 2024, as one of my resolutions is to get away from my desk more during the day. Far too often I eat breakfast and lunch at my desk. I'm not nearly active enough.
I hope you've enjoyed this round-up and that it's inspired you to get out there more. Whether your camera is full-frame, APS-C, Micro 4/3 or just part of your smartphone, take some time for yourself each day, exercise your legs and your eyes.
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