Friday, November 28, 2014

On Finding Common Ground

I am not normally a biography reader, and I don't say that with pride. It's just not a genre that I tend to think about. However, Justin Trudeau's new autobiography, Common Ground, practically leaped into my hands at the library this week, and I consumed this very readable book in just a few days. Trudeau wrote in such a conversational style that it was both interesting and easy going.

Justin is the son of, arguably, Canada's most renown prime minister of the twentieth century or at least my part of it which began about halfway through the century. Pierre Trudeau was both a charismatic and a contentious politician, whose standout accomplishments (in my mind and likely in most) were repatriating the constitution and enacting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Having lived through the Trudeau era, both for better and for worse, I was interested to read Justin's accounts of his early days and memories and opinions about his famous father, who demanded that his sons show respect for others, including those on the other side of issues. This surprised me somewhat, as Pierre was seen as a bit of an aloof elitist.

Although it was all interesting to me, I was most interested in Justin's entry into political life, which came rather late in his life, as well as his political views. I was rather surprised that he didn't indicate very much interest in politics in his earlier years, only becoming interested and absorbed in his thirties after spending several years as a teacher in British Columbia in both private and public schools.

I had assumed that the younger Trudeau had been given an easy path to the leadership of the Liberal Party on the strength of his father's name, but such was not the case. When he first began to show an interest in running for parliament, his party actually blocked him from entering the nomination race in his home riding and, then, was offered no support in his quest to represent Papineau as the party preferred two other candidates over Trudeau.

Fascinating to me, was how Justin worked the riding for so many months in order to build support for his candidacy. He was constantly knocking on doors and engaging people at subway stations and supermarkets, talking to them and encouraging them to purchase $10 memberships to the party, so they could vote for him at the eventual nomination meeting. Naturally, he was successful, or neither the biography nor this post would have been conceived.

After the surprise of his winning of the nomination for the Papineau riding, he applied the same formula of hard street work to win the riding in two general elections. Although his father was not the sort of politician to enjoy on-the-street interactions, this became Justin's forte. In this, he was more like his grandfather politician, James Sinclair, from his mother's side of the family. He diligently worked the riding, day after day, month after month, for a year and a half until the first election and applied the same formula to the second. His success was opposite to the party's experience which was defeated in the first election and absolutely trounced in the second one.

Perhaps it was the Liberal Party's hard electoral times that enabled Justin Trudeau to vault into the leadership role as such a young politician, who is still in his very early forties and without vast political experience. However, his fresh vision and ability to engage youth and others in all sorts of roles, mostly volunteer roles, help him to ascend to this position.

He does not speak highly of Prime Minister Harper's and the Conservative Party's disposition to practice both an undemocratic and a divisive style of politics. Unlike his political opponents, however, he seems to be able to voice his concerns and differences without resorting to mudslinging and character assassination. Indeed, as you will see in the quotes below, he is very critical, but he doesn't stoop to underhanded, personal attacks. One hopes that he will continue to take the high ground when push comes to shove in the next general election, which could be called soon, but it will be difficult to continue to turn the other cheek as it were.

The title of his book, Common Ground, fundamentally reveals his view of Canada and how it should be governed. Despite this huge country's differences in geography, Trudeau, in his extensive travels, has discovered that the country's people hold very much in common, even from the typical French-speaking Quebecker to the prairie farmer. He desires a more inclusive government where the common person is seen, heard and considered.

He wishes to bring greater democracy to parliament with more open discussion and votes and wrote that "People feel the effects of democratic decline over time." Trudeau is pro economic growth that also benefits average Canadians, who have seen little or no real personal income growth in the past several decades. He believes that the economy can be developed in an environmentally friendly manner. He is pro immigration and also want to see improved conditions and opportunities for our first nations people.

Permit me to conclude my pithy review with a number of direct quotes. I have ended up including more than I had thought to, but I think it may be instructive to read some of his own words on various issues.

"The whole experience [of having his motion for the creation of a national policy for youth quashed] hardened my resolve to speak loudly and clearly for young people across the country. I would make sure that at least one strong, vocal politician was fighting for youth in Canada." (224)

"In my first years [as an MP] I was on the environment committee, and I later served on citizenship and immigration. On the former, all the government cared about was looking as if it cared about the environment, while doing the absolute minimum it could get away with. On the latter, it felt it had all the answers already, and anyone who disagreed with or corrected it must be a rabid opposition partisan." (224)

"Since the early 1890s ... we have always understood that immigration is essentially an economic policy ... The economic value of immigration has always been recognized. We wouldn't have much growth without it ... I think the current policy has lost sight of immigration's most critical role for Canada; it is a nation-building tool ... We should see the newly arrived as community builders and potential citizens, not just as employees."  (216-17)

"The predicament of First nations, and our willingness as non-Aboriginals to abide the abject poverty and injustice that afflict so many, is a great moral stain on Canada ... there are more than 1,1000 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. The government refuses to call an inquiry into the matter, and that is shameful." (235)

"What progress has been made has largely come through the courts, as First Nations people litigate the Charter ... This has to change. Canada's relationship with first peoples is definitional when it comes to our national character and is currently a practical obstacle holding our country back ... First Nations communities across Canada have a right to a fair and real chance of success. They cannot be an afterthought as we develop the resources on their land. (236)"

"I believe that Canadians want a national, non-ideological party that is connected to them and focused on them. One that is focused on the hopes and dreams they have for themselves, their families, their communities, and their country." (238)

"If I earn the privilege of serving as prime minister, I want to be judged by the quality of the arms I twist, all across Canada [emphasis mine], to actively serve our country." (244)

"These Conservatives [after finally winning a majority] are not interested in building on the common ground where we have always solved our toughest problems. Their approach is to exploit divisions rather than bridge them ... One you've divided people against one another ... so you can win an election, it's very hard to pull them back together to solve our shared problems." (254)

"Too many people were being left out and behind in Mr. Harper's vision. I said I believed that the Conservative government's basic flaw was its smallness, its meanness, its inability to relate or work with people who do not share its ideological predispositions." (from speaking to a committee of friends and colleagues while assessing whether he should run for the position of party leader, 258-59)

"I made it clear that I wanted to run a campaign focused on the future, not the past. I wanted to build a new kind of political movement by recruiting hundreds of thousands of people into the process ... We would build an inclusive, positive vision for the country, and have faith that Canadians would want to take part in it."  (also from the same talk as above to his friends and advisers, 264-65)

"I made it clear in my campaign that the Liberal Party needs to be a liberal party. By that I meant that the core values of liberalism — equality of economic opportunity and diversity of thought and belief, which I see as the building block of individual freedom, fairness, and social justice — ought to be the cornerstones of the Liberal Party and its policies. I said that we needed to be a party that stood up for the people's right to have a real and fair chance at success, regardless of whether they had been born rich or poor, where they came from, or what, if any, faith they professed. (281)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Focal Points and Leading Lines

Today, we look at two images to see the difference that a leading line can make. They are both made up of seven vertical shots merged into one photo in Photoshop. But this post is not about panoramas.

Both panos were taken from a boardwalk that I routinely traverse on my walkabouts. It's always interesting to peer into the swamp, for that's what it is and why there is a boardwalk over it.

The first (above) provided a very pleasant view in person, but the photo lacks something.

The second (below) is a much better shot IMO.

Why, when they're so similar?

For me, the reason is that the latter shot has a focal point of interest — the frozen stream. In the top photo, nothing in particular grabs my eye.

Also, the focal point becomes a disappearing leading line which draws the eye through the frame.

A more minor point is that the tree on the left and the stump on the right seem to provide some sort of natural frame.

So, although both views were pleasant enough to appreciate when I was there, the second photo has several elements that make it much better photographically (IMO): a focal point, a leading line, and bit of a frame to help focus the eye.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Snow on Tamarack

For those not from around here, the tamarack is a deciduous tree with needles: that is, it's a fir tree in style, but it loses it's leaves/needles like a deciduous tree.

I decided to take a close-up, which I won't actually call a macro because it's not that tight. First, I took the above shot with a small f8 aperture. The rule is: the smaller the aperture that you use, the greater the depth of field (or detail if you like) that you get in the photo. So, although they're fuzzy, we can see all of the branches in the background. The photo is too busy for my taste and not good at all.

So, then I opened the aperture to f2.8, which is quite wide, and took the next photo.

With less detail in the background (although even less would be better but that's all this lens could do) the branch of focus stands out much better. There is no question of what the focal point is. This photo just works much better than the first one. So, if you have a camera which allows you to control the aperture, go ahead and use it to your advantage.

Note 1: It seems confusing but the smaller the number of the aperture or f-stop, the larger the aperture. So, f2.8 is a much more open aperture than f16, foe example.

Note 2: Aperture controls DOF or Depth-of-Field. A large aperture (small f#) leads to a shallower DOF than a small aperture (large f#) which results in more of the photo being in sharp focus.

Note 3: DOF or depth-of-field can make or break a photo. The general rule is that you would like shallow DOF on a macro and a large DOF on a landscape photo where you normally want to see good detail from front to back. Of course, it's just a general rule — so perhaps I should call it a guideline.

Note 4: I did very little post processing on either photo. They are close to what one would see on the back of the camera.


By way of contrast (and having nothing to do with the point of this post), here is a tamarack from the same area, just a few days earlier. It's very pretty when the leaves turn yellow, especially because they hang on for quite awhile after the 'normal' deciduous trees are bare.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

First Snow

The snow has arrived. I am not sure if it will stay or not. Some years it does stay from the middle of November on through March and even into April. I hope this lot does go away for a little while because it makes the winter seem a little long when it comes and stays so early. The forecast is for another long, cold winter with that dratted Polar Vortex in place once again, so I am not too anxious to jump right into winter. Can't be colder and longer than last year though (he said hopefully with crossed fingers).

The good thing is that the paths were still walkable after only one snowfall, and a hobbled senior can get to spots that might prove difficult in another month or two. So, out I went with my camera to see what I could see.

And this is what I saw, or at least something close to what my camera saw since cameras don't necessarily see things the way that we do.

I liked this shot as soon as I saw it on the back of the camera. It didn't just have potential (as the shot in the previous post), but looked appealing to me right away.

However, on the monitor the RAW version lost quite a bit: the nice wintry blue cast for one thing. It was fairly easy to bring the blue back by cooling the white balance, and I also added a little more blueness in the shadows by using the split toning panel. This brought the image back closer to what I had seen on the camera.

I did some normal sharpening and some minor straightening and cropping, and increased the vibrance just a bit. I also adjusted the white and black points to boost the contrast, but once again, this was mostly to bring the RAW image back to what it should have been and not so much to alter it into my fanciful vision.

The one minor thing that I tried to improve, without great success, was to highlight the yellow bushes and trees. So I applied a little brightening via radial filters, but it really didn't do much and even looks a bit off. If I ever have another 'go' at this image, I will look at that effect again.

It seems like a lot of work when I write it out like this, but it really just involved moving a few sliders in Lightroom and didn't take more than a few minutes. It is one case where I preferred the camera's jpg version to the RAW version and worked to get the RAW image back closer to that.

The typical advantage of working with RAW data is that you make the decisions. When you shoot jpg images, the camera processes them as it sees fit, and then throws away so much good data that could be of use to 'the developer.' In this case, I had really liked what the camera had done (at least as I remembered what I had seen on the back), so I tried to process back toward that effect as opposed to the flat and dreary version I saw it when the RAW image initially came on the monitor.


In passing, permit me to insert a photo of the same pond from just three days prior. What a difference!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reflection Under the Bridge

I took a stroll around our neighbourhood park on a cold, windy day with the intention of just shooting a lot of photos. The object for me was to 'work the scene' and see what if anything appealed to me when I got the photos on the monitor later.

It's not a large park, and there's not really that much of interest. Yes, there's a nice pond, but with houses on three sides, it's not all that easy to shoot: especially when things get bleak in November.

There were some Canada Geese on the far side of the pond, and I took a number of zooms, but they weren't very interesting. I walked a bit in the long, dried grasses at one end of the park but couldn't find a very interesting shot.

The sun was going in and out, but when it came out, I saw some interesting reflections under the little footbridge over a tiny dtich that leads to the nearby pond. I thought that I could try to work with it, but it needed some tender care in post, as most photos do — especially if your shoot in RAW although I sometimes get decent results SOOC (straight out of the camera) even in RAW.

In analyzing the photo, I found five main things that I would like to change: numbered below.

1. This is to be the focal point. I think I need to brighten the reflection a bit and perhaps tone down the bright leaves on the bank — just even out the two parts of the focus a little. This could done in Lightroom: my goto photo editor. Some photos just require a little tweak or two in LR, but this would require more work.

2. This area above the line is extraneous to the photo, and even pulls the eye away from the focal point. I am going to crop it away. Also easily accomplished in LR.

3. The eye is always drawn to the brightest part of the image, so I would like to darken hilites like this one a little. Another job easily done in LR.

4. If I don't crop away this section, I need to do something with it. What I eventually decided to do in Photoshop, was to extend the wooden rail using the Clone (or Stamp) tool.

5. The boards are very unintersting. I was able to find a texture in Perfect Effects that made them better to my eyes.

Although I don't write down my steps as I go, that's more or less what I did, and the result is below.

You can be in a beautiful area at a beautiful time of day, and the photo is just lying there awaiting your snap. But sometimes, you are just carrying your camera around and experimenting. You get an image that's okay-ish but with potential to be better, and this is what happened that day. It's still not a WOW! image by any means, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't print it, but I find it pleasing enough.


Some of you requested seeing the original image to the previous post, and I have since added it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Replacing Danica's Head

Well over a month ago, I signed off for a short while with Thanksgiving plus a weekend on the road coming up after TG. That was then, and once the ship was righted, and I was back on an even keel, I found that I didn't want to return to my blog. Still don't really.

But, a few kindly souls have been emailing to wonder about my whereabouts, so I am dropping in to thank them for their concern and to let the world in general know that all is fine here. It's just that, I don't know what I want to do with this little space on the interwebby thingie. So, I'll will probably revert to dithering some more after posting this. In the meantime I will, however, make the supreme sacrifice of paying you all at least one little visit.

I have been pondering a couple of directions for this blog. One of them is to post just a single photo every now and then and 'talk' about it a bit. I won't get into my other idea right now.

However, to try out the photo notion, here's one that I didn't take; Sue did, but I processed it, and the steps are still somewhat fresh in my mind.

Danica wanted a snuggle the other night after she and Mom stopped over for supper. Sue had her camera nearby, so she hopped up to snap a few photos. Of the group of shots that she grabbed, we had a decent one of her and the same for me. The problem was that they were on different images.

So, I decided to use the good one of me as the base photo and to replace her head from the other picture. This is what I did — more or less anyway since I am going from memory.

  1. Before trying to merge the two images, I adjusted the White (ie Light) Balance in each. Sue had used a flash, but the ambient lighting was tungsten (as you can see), and the mixed lighting came out oddly. It still isn't perfect by any means, but it is better than it was.
  2. I sent both images from Lightroom to Photoshop as two layers in one file and had the program align the two layers. PS lined up walls and railings quite well, but people move, and her two faces (in the two layers) still needed some manual nudging to line up.
  3. Aligning the photos left some odd white space around the edges, so it was time to crop. I crop a lot in post processing. Unless the photographer is in a perfect position with the perfect lens and gets the shot perfectly straight, the majority of photos can do with subsequent cropping in post. I used to think that having to crop in post was a failure, and perhaps it is, but it is also reality, and it no longer bothers me to do it.
  4. I then masked out the whole top layer — the one with her good face (this one) — and painted just her face back in exactly over top of the poorer version of Danica.

  5. Replacing the face worked well, so I just had a few final steps to finish it off. First: in order to draw the eye, I used the iris blur filter in PS to slightly blur all but the area around our faces. Second:I added some vignetting (darkening) around the edges of the photo to continue to draw the eye to the important area.
  6. I almost forgot, but at some point in the process, I used the radial filter in Camera Raw to brighten both out faces, just a little.
It's still just a snapshot, but I enjoy taking an ordinary photo and making it just slightly better, and I am fairly well pleased with this result. Post processing in Photoshop or in any program will not turn an ordinary photo into a studio-quality shot, but it can bump it up a grade level, and that's what I think I accomplished in this case.


Edit: some people wished to see the original. The main thing was to replace her head, but while working on it, I did the other things mentioned above. It would have been a 'good enough' snapshot just replacing the head though.