Author Archives: Richard Leonard

About Richard Leonard

A writer of fiction, software, magazine articles, websites, blogs, tweets and sadly, cheques.

New Lens, Clean Sensor, Test Photos of the Local Wildlife

Any beginner who has started taking photography a bit more seriously will realise that the lens that came with their camera can be quite limiting. It’s usually an 18 to 55 mm zoom (approximately 1 to 3 times magnification if you think in those terms) and you’ll soon discover that 55mm is not long enough to catch wildlife in the distance, 18mm is not wide enough to take really nice landscapes and night sky shots. And the small maximum aperture is not enough for good shots in dim light or to play with wide ranging depth of field.

The other day I took my camera in to get its filthy sensor cleaned and was checking out some lenses, tossing up between a 55-200mm zoom and a 70-300. I liked the 55 end of the kit zoom I had and wanted to explore beyond. The 300 was tempting but I really didn’t want to miss out on experiencing the gap between 55 and 70. Pft! you might say. It’s only 15 mm and the extra 100mm at the top more than makes up for the 15mm at the lower end. Maybe so, but I will never know if I never try. I was very uncomfortable with that gap so I bought the 55-200.

I picked the camera up during the week and took the new lens for a spin in the vacant scrubland on the hill behind us. Here are some of the better shots. Feel free to criticise. :) All in all, very happy with the lens. Feel free to click to my Flickr page in the menu on the right –>

Yellow Flower

I’m not a botanist so have no idea what this is. In fact it appears on its way to the great flower bed in the sky.

Scotch Thistle with Butterfly

Gotta love the composition on this one. Trying too hard to hide the wilting flower off the left hand side. May as well give up and say there’s a dying purple flower off the left hand side. Love the butterfly though. It was the only one I managed capture before it flew away.

Scotch Thistle

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think this is a scotch thistle… with one decent flower… and three not so decent.

Kangaroo on the ridge

I was walking up the hill concentrating on plants when I looked up and spotted about six roos on the ridge. Panicking about missing a potentially awesome shot, I started snapping away, fumbling with the focus ring, to produce exactly zero shots with good focus. This is the best of those shots, cropped slightly for composition.He was the only one kind enough to hang around and pose for his portrait!

Fox sprung

Similar story as with the Kangaroo. Plant spotting and I heard a commotion behind a patch of blackberries. Fox fight! One of them scampered away, before I caught this one looking straight at me.

Fox on the Run

And finally he takes flight, well, ground.

Berries

Again, my botany knowledge is lacking. Can anyone tell me what these are? They are about half an inch long top to bottom. It was late morning and still dripping with dew. Beautiful.

Berries-02

Black ones, this time. Smaller.

Berries

Feel free to help me out, here. Thanks!

Days Since Last Snake: 4

Yep. I had to reset the counter the other day. You’ve all heard the stories about Australia being home to seven of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world. Or the top however many of the deadliest creatures. You’ve seen the Croc vs Snake video and the Kangaroos fighting in the street. Wildlife is everywhere. We used to laugh when we hear about Europeans thinking kangaroos are constantly hopping down the street. Not in the city and not during the day, typically. Although it does happen in rural areas around dusk. Foxes are common in the suburbs, scavenging for food. Possums are found in inner city parks and roofs. Rabbits are everywhere. So, I’m a little surprised we’ve gone 20 years in our current place of residence before our first snake encounter.

The snake found behind our laundry door

The snake found behind our laundry door

With the massive expanse of scrubland behind our place, I really thought we’d come across a slithery little serpent in our yard many years ago. Neighbours occasionally report sightings in their wood piles against back fences, under sheds etc. So naturally we thought our time was not far away. We always cut our grass short and keep piles of cut branches, wood and other rubbish to a minimum. That probably helped a lot. But it turned out our first encounter was to be within the sealed walls of our home.

We probably have our dog to thank for discovering the silent sucker. And my daughter for noticing his strange behaviour, and for her calm reaction. Last Thursday was a warmish day. We had the laundry’s external door open and the fly-wire door shut for the breeze. I was helping her with a late essay for school at the dining room table. At one point she decided to get up for a drink of water. From the kitchen she can see through to the laundry where the dog was extremely interested in the bottom of the solid back door wedged open against the wall. Ears were up, nose was sniffing madly. Em approached cautiously and had a peek behind the door.

On her return to the school essay work site, she calmly says to me, “I think there’s a snake in the laundry.” Eyebrows raised, I go to the laundry, get the dog away and peered into the gap between the wall and the open door. The I praised the door wedge jamming it open against the wall, preventing the dog from gaining access to the poisonous fangs on the creature tucked in behind it.

Snake presence confirmed, we then went into automatic snake removal mode. Lesson one: Make sure you have the phone numbers of several local snake catchers. We didn’t and started Googling. Actually this wasn’t so bad because the first website on the list automatically used my phone’s location to direct me straight to a local snake catcher. Problem was the guy was based in Mornington, more than an hour’s drive away. The intent was good but the result was off the mark somewhat.

Anyway, after sending him a pic of the snake he confirmed it was a copperhead. Very common, very poisonous but rarely kills people. And he was at least an hour away. My wife in particular was not prepared to wait that long. Her father is advocate of “If you see a snake, get the shovel”. I’m an advocate of avoiding huge fines by not killing protected animals. Yes, Australia has some of the deadliest snakes, and they are protected. This snake was curled up peacefully behind a door. Moving the door would have risked it slithering out and heading to some other hiding place, either further in the house or outside somewhere. Not knowing where the bastard is was less comforting than watching it lying in its current position.

Snake-warning-sign
After the third phone number and about seven attempts to call them all, we had a Steve Irwin-type guy come out to catch it. And catch it he did. Wife won’t go to bed now without a towel wrapped up (ironically snake-like) against the small gap at the bottom of the wire door. Everyone else seems rather unfazed by it all now. It was an excitement we hadn’t seen for years. And the Steve Irwin snake catcher assures it will likely be another 20 years before we see another one nearby. Let’s hope so. Thinking of getting a sign like this:

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Imminent Danger is Officially LIVE!

Richard Leonard:

Michelle Proulx has re-released Imminent Danger And How to Fly Straight into It on Amazon in ebook and print. I’ve already read the first edition and these changes make me want to buy the update! Check it out!

Originally posted on Michelle Proulx -- The Website:

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen — Imminent Danger And How to Fly Straight into It is re-released on Amazon and ready for your reading enjoyment! (Scroll to the end of the post for links.)

The 2nd edition features a variety of exciting updates, including:

  • A brand new cover!
  • Revised interior text! (the story didn’t change or anything, my editor and I just did another run-through to tighten up phrasing, remove some minor logistical errors, punch up the wow! factor, etc.)
  • An affordable print edition! ($12.99 list price on Amazon, compared to the previous $21.99 atrocity that iUniverse created)
  • An affordable ebook edition! (it’s enrolled in KDP, so I’ll probably be doing some free days in the near future)
  • A shout-out to my fellow WordPress bloggers in the Acknowledgments section! (if you’re reading this, you rock, and never forget that)

For anyone just finding this site for the first time, here’s…

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Photography Experiment #2: HDR From One RAW File

Expanding on my last experiment with exposure bracketing whereby a photo is composed of several separate exposures using layer masks in post-processing, I found a good candidate for a similar technique where the different exposures come from the same RAW file.

Taking photos in RAW mode with a DSLR gives greater scope for post processing because you can get up to 2 or 3 or more EV out of a single RAW file.

Yesterday I took the family to Point Nepean at the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne. A beautiful spot with lots of Australian defence history. (Those of you who have read the final chapters of my novel-in-progress, Rochelle’s Briefcase, will realise I have an agenda. I’ve never been there before but needed to become familiar with the place!) I took a shot of an interesting cloud over Point Lonsdale but later thought apart from its shape the overall colour was a little bland. Blue ocean and sky, white-ish cloud. I needed to bring out some detail in the cloud.

DSC_0608-Cloud01-Split

The two exposures I extracted from the single RAW file of the photo.

Back at home I opened the RAW file in GIMP using the UFRaw plugin and began playing with the exposure. As you can see in the double photo to the left here, the recommended exposure (bottom) contained a nicely blue-tinted ocean but the clouds were too friendly. I found that by lowering the lower exposure (top), the darker, stormy detail of the could was emphasised, but the nearby shore was too brown and dirty.

I opened the normal exposure first and used that as the bottom layer of my image.

I then reopened the same RAW file as a layer which invoked UFRaw, where I reduced the exposure to bring out the cloud’s detail. I used this as the upper layer in my image.

The next step was to apply a layer mask but unlike in the last experiment, I simply used an opaque mask to begin with. I wanted to make the top layer transparent from roughly the horizon down so the bluer ocean in the lower layer would show through. To simply make the sea transparent and the sky opaque would result in a weird transition at the horizon so I needed to make this more gradual.

DSC_0608-Cloud01

Final merged version of the photo. Click the pic to see the full resolution photo at Flickr.

Using the gradient tool while editing the layer mask, and drawing with a black background and white ink, I drew a linear gradient from roughly halfway between the rock and the horizon, vertically to a point equidistant above the horizon. Here’s the final product:

London-Bridge

London Bridge rock formation at the mercy of approaching storm clouds. Click the pic to see the full resolution photo at Flickr.

Here’ another example where I used the same technique to highlight the nearby London Bridge rock formation in the foreground while bringing out the darkness of the clouds. I think this one still has a problem with the slightly bright band above the horizon.

Again I wonder if this is true HDR. One could argue that it is because I’m taking two different exposures and combining the desired elements of each. regardless, I’m finding that layer masking is a very useful tool during post processing and if it can help improve the end result, then I’m going with it.

Sunset at Gemmys Point, Lakes Entrance Victoria

My Exposure Bracketing Experiment Using GIMP Went Surprisingly Well

I accidentally took this photo the other day at Gemmys Point near Lakes Entrance, Gippsland Victoria, overlooking the Gippsland lakes just after sunset.

DSC_0276-SunsetGemmysPoint-300wI say accidentally because I was experimenting with exposure bracketing, something my camera doesn’t do automatically, and just wanted some quick snaps and see what I could put together when this photo popped out of Gimp at the end of a rather simple procedure.

Here are the original snaps all taken with the following exposure settings: f/13.0, ISO 100, 40m focal length. From the top down the shutter speeds were: 0.5, 1, 2, 4 and 8 seconds.

5 bracketed exposures.

5 bracketed exposures.

In Gimp (free software that does most of the awesome stuff Photoshop does) I loaded each photo as a layer in the order presented above, longest exposures at the bottom, shortest at the top.

Then in the top layer I created a layer mask initialised to a grey-scale copy of the layer, just to see what would happen. I wasn’t expecting miracles.

I repeated this for all other layers except the last and Boom! This happened: Everything was exposed very well, the sunset sky, the lake, the trees on the islands in middle and back grounds, and the bushes in the foreground. What happened was all the dark parts of each layer would become transparent while the light parts would remain visible in proportion to their luminosity, resulting in the desired parts of each layer naturally showing through.

I was happy with that. But I know, there’s still something weird about it, right? Colour balance. I also realised there was too much sky, no obvious subject and probably many more faults. But it was just a quick experiment in exposure bracketing and post processing in Gimp that I was never expecting go as well as it did. Using the grey-scale of the layer as the layer mask is almost like a semi-automatic HDR. I think this might be very useful.

After fiddling the colour balance and cropping some sky I was satisfied with the experiment. In fact my mother-in-law was so impressed she had it printed on a 20” by 30” canvas.

Sunset at Gemmys Point, Lakes Entrance Victoria

Cropped and fixed white balance. Mother-in-Law now has this on her wall.

2014 in review

Hey all!

I just got back from where internet access is sparse. Now I have some catching up to do.

It seems the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys have prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Post Series and Cover Designs

Hello there. Yeah, I’ve been quiet of late. I thought I’d pop up and say G’day before the Christmas break.

I’m inside on this bright sunny Melbourne morning afternoon because I just had the eye test where they chemically wrench open you irises and shine a spotlight at your retina to check for defects. Retina is all good. So to avoid that optical stabbing sensation from even moderately bright light sabres, I’m inside, curtains drawn, at the laptop putting out this post in the medium dark.

My lack of recent postings is mainly due to my focussing on two series of posts I’m putting together. Both started as one post that grew too large (perhaps a sign that I’m still struggling with my excessive verbosity), and therefore begged to be broken down into smaller ones that  would be less likely to bore the pants off people. Then there’s the need for pretty diagrams which I really dislike putting together. Photos are one thing but drawings and diagrams… not a fan. I hope to have them ready in the new year.

I’m also getting closer to requiring a cover for my up-coming book (believe it when you see it). I’ve been watching a few cover reveals and have wondered how authors get models for their book covers. I guess the options include stock photos which the cover designers get hold of (which may not be a perfect fit for the story), having a custom photo-shoot done with a professional model/actor/person off the street (which can be prohibitively expensive for an indie author), or DIY with someone they know.

I realised recently that a family friend could actually pass as my main character. Visually, that is, and may be suitable for featuring on my cover. Without revealing her ambitions here, I think it could be a win-win for both of us. She’ll should read the novel first. She might change her mind.

I’m thinking of having a go at the complete cover design myself. I know, people recommend not to do this but I’m a tight-arse. Plus I need to save up for an editor, apparently. More importantly I want to get some practice in more serious photography, including the shooting, editing and the graphic design. No, it won’t be done with a point-and-shoot and edited with MS Paint. I’m talking DSLR, careful lighting, shooting raw, editing with Gimp (=Photoshop. I’m yet to find a useful feature of that tool that can’t be achieved using Gimp). I’m pretty confident I won’t completely stuff it up. Who knows, the cover might be better than the novel! There’s two reasons to buy it!

*Crickets…*

Ahem.

Okay, With the Christmas break and being off work for four weeks (Whoo-hoo!) I hope to progress many things I’m working on, including my post series’ and my novel(s). I hope everyone has a great Christmas break, holidays, time with family and friends. Don’t work too hard. Have fun and I’ll catch you in the new year!