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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
Carl resting

Jordan Harbour Gallery

I finally collated the images and uploaded a Jordan Harbour Gallery to my photo site.

It took a couple of trips. I shot some of these from the water, after rowing our 4-person inflatable boat from the launch point at the Jordan Conservation area, under the QEW and around the headland into Lake Ontario for the Grande Hermine shots, before rowing back down to get to the bridge. Quite the day.

On another day, we went back and crossed the bridge on foot, taking aerial images of the lake as we went, then hiked to the bottom of the trail to get shots from the riverbank.

None of these photos were shot on a drone. I didn’t own one at the time, hence the boat. Hey, when I commit, I commit. I will say, though, that my decision to later buy and become licensed to operate a drone may have been heavily influenced by this fun but tiring 7-hour rowing round trip.

I was toast by the end, as the wind picked up and fought us getting back to the dock. We weren’t making much headway so I engaged the help of my wonderful wife and her strong arms for the last half hour to pull an oar alongside me. She is quite the woman. Pretty, and can probably bench press a Buick.

After the day in the hot sun and all that exercise, I can tell you I slept well that night. We both did.

These were a couple of great days out that gave us some very happy memories and some great photos. Totally worth the effort. I was able to get unique perspectives that would not otherwise have been possible, even with a drone. I also have a longer battery life. Anyway, sometimes, it’s about the journey.

Please, enjoy the gallery. Let me know if you like the gallery by leaving a comment below. Purchasing any image in any format will soothe my still-sore muscles and the memory of all that rowing…

Sore but still laughing and loving life
Ojibwe Thunder Birds

Thunderbirds Are Go

Ojibwe legend says that Mount McKay, Fort William, is home of the Thunder Birds, powerful creatures that can control the very rain and wind, whose wings beat thunder & eyes flash lightning. From the mountain top they look out across Lake Superior, keeping protective watch over the land below.

Thunder Bay, Ontario, is said to take it’s name from these mythical birds, and they may also be the source of the 60’s TV show title. They are ingrained in many parts of North American culture.

These statues standing guard over the sacred mountain also serve as memorials to the Ojibwe Elders. The Ojibwe, whose varied spellings throughout continental North America has in some places become anglicized over time as Chippewa, are an incredibly rich & diverse culture. They still have much to teach, to those that have patience to listen. Very well worth some time to research, I humbly suggest.

This image is available framed, or as canvas prints, wraps, and metal as well as other items.
Click the image for a larger view.

Sunrise at Niagara Falls

Sunrise at Niagara Falls

Today started bright and early for me. Well, more accurately, still dark and early. At 5:00 am I got up to enjoy the task I had set for myself today: Get images of the sunrise at Niagara Falls.

I live around 40 minutes away in Port Colborne. At that time of the morning there is little if any traffic, and on a Summer day you can wind down the window and listen to nature waking up around you as you head into the rising sun. I find that few things lighten the spirits more. With a beverage from Tim Hortons to sustain me, I arrived as planned in the perfect spot at the perfect time: Table Rock.

Inches from the falls, Table Rock is a tourist destination with a food court, restaurants, shops. The usual things you would expect in a place like Niagara Falls. This is where 90% of duck-face selfies with the falls in the background are taken. However, this popular tourist and photography spot is almost entirely vacant at this time of day. Photographers love to congregate here at dawn. Time seems to stop as the most breathtaking view of the sun coming up through the mist unfolds. And no tourists to get in the way.

So here I am. On time, on target, and ready to rock and roll. That’s when things started to go wrong.

Last time I came here, Parking lot A, a short walk away, was free until 8:00 am. This not broadly advertised detail was taken advantage of by all locals wanting to shoot sunrise over the falls, as you could be in and out at leisure without cost: The parking lot was rarely empty. Not so today.

On my arrival I was greeted with a sign which said parking is now free only until 6:00 am. And since full sunrise this morning was not until 6:22, I had arranged to arrive just after. Bum, I said to myself.

It will now cost $28 if I want that photo, which gives me parking until noon. I only needed at most a half hour. Sorry, Niagara, I don’t want that photo that much. Not today. I drove on.

After a pleasant ride around town enjoying the sights, sounds, and excitement of a slumbering tourist area waking, I made my way to the top of the escarpment. From here you can look down on the falls from above. Not quite Table Rock, but still a spectacular perspective offering a viewpoint that encompasses the Niagara river stretching right back to the horizon.

Stopping here is not permitted, since the road would be permanently blocked with people enjoying this view. At this time of day the chance of getting a ticket in this tow-zone are minimal, so I took a calculated risk and stepped out of the vehicle long enough to take five steps to the rail. And got this.

Not the shot I planned, but it will do. It’s a memory that I survived to see another wonderful dawn. Enough to ensure the trip was not a bust. Even though I didn’t get the shot I wanted, I was happy.

After this I drove around for a while and spent one very pleasant hour just sitting by a creek I found. Watching fish swim, flies dance, and listening to the crickets and the woodpeckers and the frogs.

Roll with what you have, that’s what I say. Life is good. Onward…

Sunrise at Niagara Falls
Click for larger image

Empire Sandy fires the canon to start Canal Days

Canal Days 2020

This year has seen a huge change in normal life across the globe. Here in sleepy Port Colborne many things are different. Few things bring this home to me more clearly than the absence of the Empire Sandy to kick start Canal Days with a literal bang as they fire the cannon on their arrival the night before.

This cannon signifies to anyone in earshot, which is 90% of the population, that they should batten down the hatches for a long weekend of crowds, noise, traffic congestion, and queues. Everywhere.

Around the downtown core, street performers and musicians entertain patios full of diners with live music and food from around the world. On the water, the Tall Ships are open for tours and trips out into the lake. Along the canal, street vendors and food trucks line West Street from one end to the other. You can enter a wide range of prize draws, drive golf balls across the canal, race plastic ducks, even graffiti a wall.

There is a mini-carnival for the kids with a Ferris wheel and other rides. Birds of Prey and other animal attractions are on display. Craftsmen offer everything from caricatures to chainsaw carving. At the various parks we have car shows, kite competitions, face painting, live music, any number of activities.

The central market square across from City Hall is turned into an outdoor music arena for the duration with bands performing on stage from morning until night, to the enjoyment of the many thousands of tourists that flock here, and the dismay of those in the surrounding city blocks that just want to sleep. Saturday sees the main music event, whoever the headliners happen to be that year.

The whole shebang concludes on Sunday with a boat parade of lights, followed by what is widely acknowledged by almost everyone, locals and tourists alike, to be the best fireworks display in the Niagara region, bar none. The fireworks are also preceded by the firing of the Empire Sandy cannon. It’s a neat start and finish bookend to the weekend: Between two cannons, that’s Canal Days.

After the fireworks, the crowds drift away. Families head home. Locals, those vendors that are staying one more night, and boat crews head somewhere air conditioned to cool down and wind down. The clean up crews start work. Monday sees the remaining vendors leave. The Tall Ships leave. By end of day, the City is almost back to normal.

Another year, another Canal Days. For over forty years. Until 2020.

Many here in Port Colborne hate it. Many love it. The debates at City Hall and online are often heated, repetitive, endless. In other words, normal life in a small community. The tourists that come not only from the surrounding region but across from Buffalo and New York State to see this annual spectacle often come back year after year, so this little corner of Canada must be doing something right.

All I can say this year, is that it’s awfully quiet. I miss that canon.

Empire Sandy fires the canon to start Canal Days

For more Canal Days images from previous years please visit my Photo Site