New Year, New Computer

I have been putting it off for almost three years. Over the holidays I bit the bullet, and set up a new computer. It’s faster. Has a bigger CPU. Better graphics. More hard drives. Yay.

The problem with changing your computer system, of course, is migrating everything from one to the other in a way that doesn’t cause heartache or pain, or slow down production. Tricky.

There are as many ways to do this as there are people to tell you you’re doing it wrong. I’ll avoid that debate and just tell you what I did, because it works for me. On the original PC, I went through the Windows folder to see what programs are installed. I like to do this because this folder contains every program that was ever installed, even those that were deleted years ago. This helps ensure I don’t forget an obscure program I may later want, and I can recreate most of those programs on the new PC prior to migration. This saves a lot of downtime.

What I discovered was that there were some programs I would like to revisit, but a larger number I could happily lose, and just keep the core. That will help the new PC run faster. No bloat to slow it down. The new PC was a fresh install on a custom build. I’ll spare you the details.

Transference

I consolidated all the data files and documents from the old PC hard drives on to it’s C: drive, and with a sigh turned the old PC off for the last time. I took that drive and installed it in the new PC, gave it a new drive letter, and booted up. Boom. Instant temporary workstation.

This method provides a safe backup (on the original PC hard drives) while I’m working. Just in case anything gets fried. The configuration data and program settings for every program on the old PC are at my fingertips, should I need them. I can review everything including the system registry files, and work at leisure to recreate my working environment one program and folder at a time.

This seems an unnecessarily complicated method, but this is not my first rodeo. Over the decades I have bought many new computers. I learned the hard way not to take the easy route. Let’s just say I haven’t lost a file since the 80’s and my email archive goes back to the millennium. Not many can say that, though I guess I’m tempting fate saying it.

This manual approach works for me and my OCD, and down the line I know I won’t have the anguished forehead slapping moment experienced by many, that then call GYST for repairs and data recovery.

Anyway…

Because of the prep I did the migration process took an hour one evening. It’s been three weeks since transference. Zero business hours downtime: Priceless.

I have since consolidated all my hard drives and data, set up my backups. All programs I had not preinstalled are now installed and running as I want, including configuration – I cannot exaggerate how good it feels to open a program for the first time and find everything from music playlists to Lightroom presets, watermarks and even recent file histories are exactly where they should be.

Today, no issues having been found and all data migration complete, I reclaimed all that file space on the original PC hard drive. Taking ‘ownership’ I deleted the C:/Windows, Program Files, Users and other protected directories. This gave me one last check point. I like to be cautious with data.

That drive is 2 terabytes in size. I deleted almost half a terabyte of files. Along with all the other drives I have about 5Tb free space now. Room to breathe. Room for the future.

After throwing around all that data between a dozen drives, there was one final step. To empty the recycle bin. I just finished that. It is a sad feeling, watching the files disappear. I felt I was pulling the plug on a friend. We have been together for a long time.

763,127 files taking up 147Gb of space in the Recycle Bin. And that’s not even my personal best. Farewell, old PC. You and I produced some amazing things over the years. You will not be forgotten. Thank you.

This was the end of an era. But as is the way of these things, it’s the start of another. New beginnings.

With a new OS drive installed, the old PC has gone on to a better place, where it can live out its remaining days in peace. It will be productive for years to come and has a new lease of life. That makes me happy.

And I have a new PC to fill with graphics and animations and video, oh my! Onward…

Somewhere In Niagara: Gypsy Caravan

A beautiful sunrise. An old gypsy caravan. A meadow.
The sound of laughter, running water, geese. Peace.
What more could you want?

Available for your wall, computer desktop, phone. You choose.
From $2.99 at the link in the description.

#wallart #homedecor #fineart #creative #design #inspiration

Port Colborne marina and Welland canal entrance

Flight Over Port Colborne

A couple of weeks ago I took to the skies with Nikki and the friendly Jim Hutchinson, squadron pilot and flight trainer for our local air cadets, 79 Lynton Davies in Port Coborne. Into the blue, we spent a happy hour or so aloft seeing the Niagara region from entirely new angles as we took a flight over Port Colborne.

From our take-off point at the Dorothy Rungeling airport on River Road in Welland, we went South West to Mohawk Point and the lighthouse there before turning East for Port Colborne. After a couple of turns around the city we went East toward Point Abino, another lighthouse way point. Finally, we flew over a section of Brookfield road where an annual memorial was taking place for a cadet that lost his life there in a car accident three years ago. Jim dipped the wings in tribute as we passed overhead: He knew this cadet.

Jim is a highly experienced pilot and enjoys nothing more than getting airborne. His personality makes him a great guide, and his experience as a DJ shines through. He has a wealth of stories to share, and is a fount of knowledge about all things aviation and local history. We can’t thank him enough for taking us up and letting us share the clouds with him.

The Air Cadets

Jim is a proud advocate of the Air Cadet program, which he went through himself. Coming out the other side with his pilot’s license, he has been flying for decades now. He tries to go up at least once a week and gives back to the air cadet community by training the future pilots of 79 Lynton Davies squadron. The air cadet program has taken him and his trainees around the world. Nikki is an ex-cadet and recalls her time there fondly. There are worse ways for adolescents to spend their time. I can definitely recommend this as a way to channel youthful energy. If you know anyone that may be interested, the contact details for the Port Colborne air cadets are in the video itself. Check it out.

Airborne

In the air, the cold made me keep the window of the single-engine aircraft firmly closed, though Jim said I could open it. Interestingly, it uses a similar twist lock to the old quarter-windows cars had back in the 60’s, when the plane was built. I wanted to poke my camera through that opening to get around the condensation and scratches on the dusty glass, but as cold as it was on the ground, a few thousand feet up it’s way colder. Hand wringing, foot stamping cold. Which reminds me, here’s a Top Tip: Don’t actually stamp your feet inside a training plane unless you want to give the pilot a coronary when you hit the dual pedals. Oh, how we laughed. Well, me. I laughed.

Next time, at Jim’s gratefully received invitation, we will do it in better weather. I look forward to some amazing photographs with that window open, when the sun isn’t playing hide and seek behind the snow clouds. We are looking at a spring flight over Port Colborne, and Jim suggested going up in the Autumn when the leaves are changing. With all the trees in this area I can only imagine the colours.

There is much to see. With Jim’s help we may make aerial journeys to explore the North, and the shore of Lake Ontario. Maybe even the Falls themselves. Now that would be something to write about. To be sure you don’t miss it when I do, you can subscribe to this blog and be automatically notified.

Video Of Our Flight

Being me, I could not sit there quietly during this. While juggling a photo camera in one hand I held a video camera with the other. Quite the challenge. I really must choose one or the other. Doing both at the same time is not easy. I shot an hour of video while we were up there. This video is cut to just over 20 minutes and features Jim’s potted history of the Air Cadets as well as all our banter on the ground.

Here’s the video on Youtube. I encourage viewers to like and subscribe for future vids, of course. Please and thank you, a little encouragement goes a long way – this took a day and a half to put together.

To finish, I must say that seeing your home town from above is quite an experience. It looks nothing like you might imagine. Winding roads take cars the long way round, and you can see it would sometimes be faster just to walk across a field. If you live in the area between Dunnville and Ridgeway you may want to watch right through. There is a chance you may see your house. We did. Twice.


Update: After posting this blog and video to the socials I was rewarded with the response below.
You know you’re doing something right when you get a ‘thumbs up’ from Adobe.

Thumbs Up from Adobe

Barn Owl - a raptor

Raptors

Last weekend I spent two hours at the Canadian Raptor Conservancy, in the company of a select group of other photographers. We were there to learn about and bear witness with our cameras to those most beautiful creatures of the air, Raptors.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a “Raptor, in general, is any bird of prey; the term raptor is sometimes restricted to birds of the order Falconiformes (hawks, eagles, falcons, and their allies).” We would see more than a dozen, in a natural habitat suited to their instincts. Here, they fly. Soar. Dive. Hunt. Sometimes they pass swiftly and silently by, so close their wings actually brush your hair.

Make no mistake, though beautiful and sometimes cute, raptors are first and foremost natural predators. Seeing them this close, untethered and flying free, you are mindful that most of them could remove your face without missing a (wing) beat. It is a sobering reminder that Nature truly is red in tooth and claw. When you are up close and personal, raptors seem almost entirely tooth and claw.

During the next two hours I recorded raptors in flight, mainly in high speed video. More on that another time. Today I want to showcase my favourite photos of my favourite raptors, including Frodo. He’s the ironically named Eurasian Horned Owl posing for portraits: His species is the largest owl on Earth.

But enough of this. Let’s get to it. Time to show the photos. Enjoy.

Barn Owl - a raptor
Click the Image to open the Raptors gallery (opens in new window)
NBS Shopping Trip 2020

Holiday Shopping

I serve as the elected Public Relations Officer for a small riding club, the NBS Riders, based in Port Colborne Ontario. Like many similar clubs we raise funds each year, and use those funds to benefit our communities. 2020 has of course been a lean year for fundraising events. Despite that we raised a record amount through our efforts this year. The cause we chose to support? Education. With school closures, parental layoffs, economic recession and all, it’s been a hard and stressful few months for everyone. We thought we could put smiles on a few young faces by going holiday shopping.

NBS Riders logo

We ramped it up a little, of course.

We chose two grade schools, and liaised with them to get student head counts and a breakdown of how many boys and girls in each grade. Armed with this info we made a shopping list. And set about buying every child in those two schools one present each for the holidays. Three hundred and sixty one of them. I won’t name the schools – if word got to the kids it would spoil the surprise so shhh – but a few that may otherwise be facing a bleak winter might feel warmed for a few minutes by the holiday spirit.

Shopping for 361 kids is quite a logistical challenge. We’re up to it. We called in five of our best organizational resources on November 28th. Six hours and seven carts later, the task was done. Almost. I dislike shopping with a passion. After six hours I was climbing the walls and everyone else was tired. I kept spirits high by nominating myself Morale Officer and becoming the class clown, not much of a stretch for me.

We have arranged to drop these gifts at the schools, where they will sit for a few days to sanitize before being wrapped for distribution by the already hard working staff and teachers. Our work, running events to raise funds and organizing shopping is the easy bit. Over to you, educators. Respect.

It is a good feeling to see all that hard work and dedication pay off. At the end of the day, our reward is to play Santa for the day. As good feelings go, that’s hard to beat. We have a good team that pulls together to get things done. When the chips are down, that’s how we succeed.

We are not the little team that could: We are the little team that did.

As Public Relations Officer I recorded proceedings so we could share this feel-good moment with our friends and extended families in the various riding communities. Days like this remind us all that even in difficult times, good people can rise to occasions and overcome challenges to get things done.

The video I put together here shows five minutes of our long shopping adventure. Enjoy.
For best effect watch full screen. And remember to Like and Subscribe, if you wish.

Perseverance creates Inspiration

Perseverance

Spoiler alert: I crashed my drone.

I was flying backwards, very low, over a field of sunflowers. The wind pushed her down as she passed above a particularly tall specimen and… it was a calculated risk, I was prepared. But still. Blush.

Now, I could have kept this to myself, but I felt it would be of more value to others if I didn’t. So I’m putting it out there: I hit a problem. Here’s how I fixed it.

Perseverance

It’s a lesson in perseverance, and preparation. And learning. The three tools of the Spanish Inqui… no, that’s just being silly. The drone was somewhere in the middle of a field that stretched to the horizon. I know the farmer, this field was planted as fallow. Everything in it will go back to the earth as nutrient for the crop next year. It contains a dozen varieties of plant life, not just sunflowers, which are there only to please passers-by (true, I swear it. Canadians are so nice).

The resulting undergrowth was so thick I couldn’t even see my feet. No problem.

Preparation

I studied, got my license. Read the manuals. Made a flight plan. Did a site survey. I knew what to do.

One, I knew exactly the line along which she went down as she was in visual sight at all times (Oh! So this is why that’s a law?). I fixed my eye on that line. Two, I knew from the monitor roughly how far away she was from the treeline, so that gave me rough distance – I gauged around five hundred metres. Three, the clever manufacturers understand that if these things come down they may be hard to see, so they install visible and audible alarms which sound if the motors cut out unexpectedly, as they are designed to do after a crash. Time to get walking.

In essence, I simply walked across the field until I could hear the chirping and picked her up. She was lodged under some foliage. Couldn’t even see her, poor thing. Without the audio alert I might have stood on her or even still be looking. Rather, everything went exactly as expected. Preparedness 101. I got her back easily with no visible damage to drone or field or flower. Nice.

Learning

Hmm, I thought to myself. I won’t do that again (Note: I probably will). After dusting her off and giving the required safety inspection, I sent her up and ran some basics to check flight worthiness. All was good.

So I persevered. I continued my planned flight and shot my intended footage. The original aim was to get background b-roll to add to my stock library for use in future productions, but after this I thought it would be fun to share the story behind it. And make this video from that b-roll.

This story is about perseverance. See, if you give up you won’t be able to fly. See what I did there?

Finding something the size of a dinner plate half a kilometre into a miniature forest is a daunting prospect. But it’s just another challenge to overcome. Life is full of them. Best foot forward, and off you go. One step at a time until you reach your goal.

This video is not about me messing up, but feel free to laugh. It’s about what you can go on to achieve, however hopeless you think your prospects are, if you don’t give up.

So, you know. Don’t.

Bird Whisperer

This weekend we went for a hike. As usual, we chose a local beauty spot. Also as usual, Nikki took along some critter appropriate nibbles. Today, as well as the usual squirrels and chipmunks she fed ducks, geese, and Chickadees. She was the Bird Whisperer.

I stood by and watched as she stood as still as a rock, patiently cooing and literally whispering to the birds until one by one they overcame their natural inhibitions and came hesitantly to her hand.

Her smile made me smile.

For a few hours we forgot the world and just enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature. The trail got busier, so we took a side trail or two and had the place to ourselves. And I took some video along with a whole bunch of Autumn photos for the 2020 collection.

This short shows a few minutes of a most enjoyable day. Hope you enjoy.
Let me know what you think in the comments.

Three Little Birds

Three Little Birds

I conceived Three Little Birds as a personal antidote to the depression rampant online during the rolling economic and financial problems, societal and general stress caused by this pandemic.

The photos came from a trip my wonderful wife and I took to the Niagara Bird Kingdom, one afternoon a couple of years ago. I’ve been sitting on them and thought this would be a perfect use.

Inspiration

Not everybody will get the ‘three little birds’ reference, so I’ll explain. The legendary Bob Marley had a string of hits, including one that almost everyone knows, ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’.

While I was browsing the social medias I could not help but notice my feed was full of posts from people with increasingly despondent outlooks. As we are into Autumn and soon to slide into Winter, it occurred to me moods would likely get worse.

Being of an annoyingly optimistic mindset (it’s a lifestyle choice), this Bob Marley song started running through my head as I browsed the interwebs. This, I thought, I can do something about.

The chorus (or verse, depending on your outlook) of the song goes like this:

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Sit by my doorstep.
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, “This is my message to you-ou-ou”…

Hmm. Three Little Birds. I remembered the Bird Kingdom. And went to work.

Composition

I needed three birds, obviously. I ran through my library and chose the ones I felt would be the best fit. Cleaning them up in Camera Raw, I took each into Photoshop and masked their backgrounds out.

After adjusting the birds to a pleasing placement I added the text Three Little Birds behind them and used a blue texture I liked as it complemented the yellow plumage of the central parrot.

I won’t bore with more detail. Suffice to say, as I worked I accumulated 18 layers in multiple groups, adding highlight and edge effects. I tried a bunch of variations along the way. As is always my main problem, deciding which composition I like best took a long time. Knowing me, I dare say I’m not finished yet.

On The Record

Bob Marley inspired this so it seemed natural to work this into an album cover mockup. I used the fictional name Rob Marley and named the album Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing’, another lyric from the song.

I’m pleased with this version. I thought of making a CD cover too, easy enough, but decided that good old fashioned vinyl best spoke to the Reggae roots of this song. So here we are. My antidote.

Three Little Birds.

For best effect, click each image to open the full size versions.

This art can be purchased at the Gyst photo site.
The album cover is HERE, and the standalone art HERE

Anyone wishing to commission their own art can Contact Us for details

Product Mockup of Carl Aid - Drink It!

Why You Want Product Mock-ups

The phrase ‘Product Placement’ usually refers to movie or TV production companies taking money from sponsors to promote products on screen. A family eating their brand of cereal, or a hero drinking a certain soda for example. That is not what this post is about. This is about Product Mock-ups.

In the design world, product placement has a far more literal and practical meaning.

Either photographically or by graphic magic, adding elements seamlessly into scenes to make the unreal look real (known as compositing) is the beating heart of modern marketing. Placing studio models onto beaches or into cars are two everyday examples. Compositing requires skill, planning, and time. This skill set deserves entire volumes of posts. Fortunately many can be found with a quick Internet search. The art of creating something which doesn’t physically exist… well. That’s next level.

Compositing non-existent products is a whole new ball game.

The product must first be created, usually from scratch while working closely with the client to match their product visualization. This requires design and practical skills beyond putting images together. You create from a blank canvas. The conceptual creation must then be matched with the angle, scale, and colour scheme of the carefully chosen target, and the lighting on the product matched to seem it was actually, physically, present in the scene. If done well, the viewer only knows when they are told that it’s a composite mock-up. That’s the Gold Standard: If you’re not told, you think it’s real.

What Are The Benefits Of Product Mock-ups?

A real and growing need exists for product mock-ups in the global business world.

Companies want to see how physical products will look before committing the resources to make them. Proof of concept mock-ups can be examined from all angles and discussed among stakeholders. Designs and packaging variations can be evaluated quickly, and costed accurately, without need to retool production lines or build multiple time consuming physical prototypes. It’s a much faster, more responsive, and far less expensive workflow for getting a product to market.

Startups seeking financing have more chance of securing funds when they can show potential investors one or more mock-ups as part of their pitch, even if they haven’t yet made a physical product. Focus groups can be given virtual products on which to provide feedback about packaging, shapes, colours, fonts, style.

Without spending a single dollar on production costs, it is possible to raise funds and take advance sales. For real-world examples, look no further than Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and GoFundMe.

These are just some of the practical benefits that can be leveraged with a mock-up. It’s clear to see that working this kind of composite into marketing and advertising campaigns can reap massive rewards.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

Compositing of any kind is a valuable skill, for sure. It’s also a very rewarding practical exercise and something I like to do when I have spare time and the mood takes me.

Tongue firmly in cheek, I created my very own product: Carl Aid. Clearly not a real product (unless someone wants to invest?) this proof of concept and shameless marketing tool is simply eye candy. It shows the power of mock-ups. A different colour? No problem. Move the logo? Done. Change the photo. Sure.

As a baseline target I used an iPhone snapshot of my real camera on a bar in Buffalo where we stopped for lunch. The napkin holder originally said ‘Kahlua’, so that had to go. Which led me to Carl, then to Carl Aid. Then, of course, I made and branded a can of soda, blending it with the low res original iPhoto and adding a little camera blur to match the depth of field. As a proof of concept, it does the job nicely.

As a purely practice piece this went quickly from ‘Don’t drink the Kahlua’ to ‘Drink the Carl Aid’ and… well. Here’s the finished proof of concept. Carl Aid tastes good and is good for you. Any business wanting to leverage this kind of product placement or work out campaign strategies can test that at any time.

Just pick up a phone. Let’s do lunch. Maybe have a soft drink as we work. Maybe try the Carl-Aid.

Drink it…

Product Mockup of Carl Aid - Drink It!
Click For Larger Image
Concept Art: Don't Pay The Ferryman

Don’t Pay The Ferryman

In the last article I used this image of me laying back taking a break from rowing. It was taken by my wonderful wife with her point and click. I liked it so much I wanted to play with it, and see where the muse took me. After a few enjoyable hours of play, I created this: Don’t Pay The Ferryman.

My apologies to Chris De Burgh for borrowing his title. His excellent song of the same name started running through my head as the work evolved into this final piece. It grew through several different ideas before I locked on this one. I’m going to work on variations, but this one works best for me so far. The image here gives a strong visual impact that tells a powerful story. This story.

The Ferryman

The Styx is the mythical River Of The Dead. To reach the afterlife, it must be crossed.

The Styx can only be crossed by ferry. There are no bridges. The dead carry no possessions. They have no boats. Swimmers attempting to cheat their way into the afterlife become disoriented and lost in the perpetual mists along the river, until exhaustion overtakes them and they sink down into the murky depths of damnation. Fearful souls too afraid to board the ferry spend eternity in the ghostly limbo between life and death. They can be seen along the shore, until they are lost in mist as the ferry pulls away leaving them behind forever.

The ferryman, whose name is Charon, guides the dead to their final home, rowing forever backward and forward between the shores of life and death. His ferry is the only safe path to the afterlife. He has to be paid for his troubles. Once you have paid his fee, you may board. Your fate is sealed. So unless you are weary of this world and ready for that final journey… don’t pay him.

This myth has percolated in many forms and many cultures throughout history. It’s one reason the dead would have pennies placed on their eyes: To ensure they could afford safe passage.

Time and Tide

Two things which wait for no man are time and tide. Two more are death and taxes. The only one we are not sure applies here is taxes. There’s an interesting stream of thought…

I have never been one to give up easily. I will fight to the last, and if there is a way around a problem I will find it. One day, though, and being purely practical, my life will be over and I will reluctantly have to pay Charon. Probably. But not until I’ve explored every option. Which is where we come in.

So here I am, dead. Rowing a boat I somehow managed to contrive or conjure, exhausted from navigating the Styx and its mind-bending mists that ensnare and confuse and push the faint of heart back to the shore where they must pay the ferryman for passage. I’m sleeping the sleep of the terminally tired, not yet aware that my stubborn perseverance actually paid off: My little boat found it’s way to safe harbour.

I drifted into the channel, and am being carried by gentle waves to the futuristic landing stage of my next adventure (this is my afterlife, guys). As one closes, another door opens. Onward. Always onward.

Styx

The band Styx have absolutely no connection to this. They simply share the name of the mythical river. As I worked on this, it morphed many times. At one point I decided it would make a great concept album cover, so I went with it even though it’s not (yet) square. That’s another variant for another day.

The album is ‘Don’t Pay The Ferryman’. And it’s by a band called Styx Not. Not Styx.

Homage to a great band that I discovered through my wonderful wife and have grown to love, the members of which band will hopefully not try to sue me for copyright infringement. But hey, guys, if you want to use this concept as your next album cover, let’s talk. Just throwing it out there. Worth a shot. Hey, gimme a break. I may one day have a ferryman to pay. Or not.

Don't Pay The Ferryman concept art
Click image to view at full size