First Studio Session

Two years ago I joined the RA Photo Club. The Nortel Networks Photo Club was decimated from the cuts at Nortel and the company was headed for bankruptcy protection; there were very few people still attending the meetings. I wanted to see what the other clubs were like.

I also joined the Studio group, which allows me to have access to the club’s studio. I took the mandatory training session. I had also taken two studio courses with Lawrence Cook at the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa (SPAO) a few years ago.

But I never followed these opportunities up with my own studio sessions to practice.

I often fell into the mental trap of being afraid of not being successful.

Rosa and I talked about this and she, being more adventurous than I, pushed to have a studio session this weekend. So I booked a 6-hour session at the studio and we went in.

We treated it like a simple fashion shoot. Rosa brought about 10 complete outfits, including shoes.

For the high-key photos, I set up a large soft box at camera right, and raised it as high as I could – the ceiling was quite low. Put another, smaller soft box with a grid at camera left. Rosa stood on the seamless white backdrop (or cyclorama).

High-key setup
High-key setup
Rosa - high-key lighting example
Rosa - high-key lighting example

For the low-key, I used a thin vertical softbox at camera left. Because of the height, I was not able to raise it very high, so it was just above eye-height. Rosa stood on a black seamless backdrop. I learned from an earlier course that you can introduce colour into the background if I use a gel on a spotlight pointed at the background. This is what I was attempting to do for the Les Petits Ballets photos. So in this case, I used red and blue gels on a strobe that was fitted with a grid. This is used also to separate the model from the background.

Low-key with coloured backdrop
Low-key with coloured backdrop
Rosa portrait - low-key lighting example
Rosa portrait - low-key lighting example

For a few shots, I turned the grid strobe around to point at Rosa from behind. I was intending to use it to outline her, like a rim light. I also lowered the output level, as I only wanted enough to light her shoulder and hair. I wasn’t satisfied with the results, so I will need to try again in our next session next month.

Low-key setup with rim light
Low-key setup with rim light

The diagrams were created with the Strobox iPhone app.

Monthly Museum – Canadian War Museum

Today I continued my monthly museum visits with my first visit to the new Canadian War Museum.

I had been to the older museum about a decade ago. The new building, which opened in 2005, is much nicer with more room for exhibits.

LeBreton Gallery
LeBreton Gallery

First, I took the ramp down to the LeBreton Gallery (the main display floor). The ramp is lined with huge paintings, but they are mounted so high up on the wall it distances the viewer from the works. I think the paintings should be lower and closer to the viewer so that they may be more engaged.

The LeBreton Gallery contains a large collection of military vehicles and other large hardware. It was focused more on the army; there was only a single plane and a few naval guns. There were dozens of vehicles. The main museum for aviation would be the Canadian Aviation and Science Museum, and the Navy is well represented by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

Of interest to me was the 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft naval guns. They were ubiquitous during the later stages of war in the Pacific. They were mounted en-mass on every naval ship. They were complemented by the smaller, close range 20mm singles. They were key to dealing with the ship protection until the introduction of the kamikaze threat in the later stages of the war required the new 3″ anti-aircraft gun.

Along the same row were the main battle tanks, including the famous World War II M-4 Sherman, Russian T-34 and the German Panzer MkII and Panzer V tanks. At the end of the row were the Cold War tanks like the Chieftain and Leopard I.

A CF-101 Voodoo was mounted high in the ceiling, as if flying over the battlefield.

Also on display in the LeBreton Gallery were a jumble of smaller vehicles, including motorcycles, snowmobiles, ambulances, artillery and so forth.

Next, I went upstairs to the exhibits. The layout was a little confusing; I had to use a map to find out where I should go.

The history of military in Canada starts long before Canada was a country. Before the Europeans arrived, tribes of First Nations would wage war against each other. Forts were built using wood an other available natural resources.

Once the Europeans arrived, there were wars between the French and British, culminating in the French defeat in Quebec City (Battle of the Plains of Abraham), the destruction of Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, and the deportation of the Acadians (Le Grand Dérangement).

Canadian troops participated, as part of the British Empire, in some of the African campaigns of the British at the turn of the 20th century.

Medals of Billy Bishop, Canadian WWI Ace
Medals of Billy Bishop, Canadian WWI Ace

Canada was first forged as a nation on the battlefields and trenches of World War I. Though a country with a small population, Canada contributed to the eventual success in the Western Front through gallantry and the use of new tactics.

The Second Battles of Ypres, where the Canadian troops were gassed by the Germans), was the first time a former colonial force pushed back a major European power, in this case the Germans. The Third Battle of Ypres ended when Canadian Troops captured Passchendaele. In the Battle of Sommes, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment was almost entirely wiped out in a single attempt to advance to the next line of Allied trenches. This was indicative of the murderous attrition rate of trench warfare.

At the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where “all four four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle together, and thus became a Canadian nationalistic symbol of achievement and sacrifice”. Tactically, it was a brilliant victory for the Canadians. Using a rolling artillery barrage to keep the Germans undercover in their trenches, the Canadians were able to advance to their objectives without coming under attack from the withering machine gun fire.

In both World War I and II, a major part of the Canadian contribution was our navy. The first Battle of the Atlantic (WWI) and Second Battle of the Atlantic (WWII) against the German U-boat threat was important to Canada and also to the Allied European powers – United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

Hitler's 1933 Mercedes-Benz 700k staff car
Hitler's 1933 Mercedes-Benz 700k staff car

Canada entered World War II in September 1939. Canada was a location for the training of troops, a strategic location for the transatlantic convoys, and a major military force for the liberation of Europe. In the World War II exhibit, the museum had a Spitfire flying overhead and Hitler’s 1933 Mercedes-Benz 700k staff car.

After the war, Canada was on the front lines of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The Canadian Navy excelled in anti-submarine warfare and was a member of STANAVFORLANT, a NATO task force. Canada was between the two superpowers. Any nuclear war would see Canada stuck in the middle. The most important part of this history was the creation and later cancellation of the Avro CF-105 Arrow (the most advanced interceptor of the time) and the subsequent purchase of nuclear tipped BOMARC missiles for Canadian airspace protection (as part of the larger NORAD organization).

Soviet T-72 main battle tank
Soviet T-72 main battle tank

This part of the exhibition had a Soviet T-72 MBT and a MGR-1 Honest John short-range missile.

The final exhibit was Canada as peacekeeper. I am justly proud of the Canadian peacekeeping missions. We have earned our reputation in conflict zones in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. If I were in a position to influence the future direction of the Canadian military, it would be to expand the peacekeeping missions and sovereign territory protection (cough, the Arctic Ocean, cough), at the expense of large-scale offensive military actions (i.e. NATO).

I had only a few minutes at the end of my visit to walk (nearly run) through the extensive art gallery. I really enjoyed seeing the wealth and variety of art pieces on display, which cover all the major combat areas and conflicts, up to and including the current mission in Afghanistan and our on-going peacekeeping missions. The museum closed as I was in the gallery section.

Overall, it was good to go through the museum, but I don’t know that there is much to draw me back for return visits.

Interesting research notes: Canada has the 13th largest defence budget ($21.8 billion Cdn), and 58th largest in terms of personnel (67,000).

The photo gallery for my visit is here:

Les Petits Ballets Studio shots

Today I was asked to come in to take some promotional photos for Les Petits Ballets. They are preparing for the upcoming presentation of “The Little Princess” at Centrepointe Theatre in May. I was very pleased with the results.

Instead of shooting in the classrooms (which are very cluttered visually), we used the rehearsal studio. It is about the same size, but it is set up like a theatre with a black velvet background. It is a better location than the studio.

I also wanted to use the off-camera flash and coloured gels. Rosa and I had experimented at home one evening in December, and I wanted to try again. Specifically, I wanted to put some colour into the background to make the group of girls standout.

Including Rosa, who is playing Ms. Minchin, there were four girls. The choreographer posed the girls, and I would take a number of shots. The dancers tried six different poses.

The Canon 7D has a wireless flash controller built-in, using the on-camera flash. This means that when using the Canon 420EX off camera, it must have line-of-sight to the camera to receive the data.

I put the 420EX on a stand on the floor behind the girls. It was pointed at the black backdrop with the wireless receiver pointed back at me. I used a green gel (Honl) over the flash to ‘break-out’ the dancers from the background.

Because of the limitation of requiring line-of-sight, there were times the flash did not fire. The outfits of the dancers would block the communications. The ideal solution would be to use an RF (radio) controller that would not require line-of-sight.

Because the on-camera flash is used to trigger the remote off-camera flash, this meant that for some shots, I had to fix the red-eye in Aperture. This also could be reduced with an RF controller.

When using the flash, I try to take a set of two photos as quickly as possible. I know that the first photo will trigger all the flashes. When the second photo is taken, the flash has not had enough time to recycle and so I will get the second photo without flash and without needed to manually go turn the flash off. Having photos with and without flash allows me to pick the one that I feel is better. Sometimes the flash will overpower the exposure, and can produce harsh shadows; the nature light exposure might be better. Other times the flash is needed to correctly expose the image.

The photos taken will be used in promotion for the performance (Centrepointe Theatre, May 2011) and for the school in general. In the past, some of my other photos were used for the Capital Events poster and local newspapers.

Les Petits Ballets Presents The Little Princess
Les Petits Ballets Presents The Little Princess

Astrology is complete and utter nonsense

On the way to work this morning, I listened to a discussion concerning astrology on CBC Radio’s The Current. The first interviewee was Frank Florian from Science Director at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton. He discussed how the astrological zodiac must be inaccurate as they do not account for the changes due to the 26,000 year precession of the Earth’s rotational axis. I wasn’t really listening to him, as I just didn’t care about astrology and already knew about precession.

But I really became upset when the second interviewee came on. She was Sue Thompson of the Canadian Association for Astrological Education in Toronto. She has been learning about astrology for about 30 years and is earning her diploma in astrology education from the aforementioned Association.

I can understand that Sue was nervous – you could hear it in her voice. I know that feeling – I was on CBC television during the 1997 federal debate. I was nervous as hell too.

But what she said was simply incorrect.

Sue started by saying that astrology was a science.


Science discredited astrology 600 years ago, with the dawning of the scientific method.

She said that “Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus [were astrologers].” Well, Sir Isaac Newton also believed in alchemy, so perhaps it’s possible he was wrong about astrology too. It has been proven that Einstein did not approve of astrology – a famous quote was actually made up by Canadian Astrologer Werner Hirsig in 1951 (and the quote was removed from later editions of his book). Copernicus only studied astrology because it was a required course in the 14th century medicine and never practiced it. Galileo and Kepler were, like Newton, leading thinkers of their time, but they lived within a society that was only slowly emerging from the Dark Ages of dragons, witches, ignorance and superstition.

Sue said that the positions of the planets could be used to determine medical information or financial information. Again, complete nonsense. The moon cannot predict if I will get cancer. Mars cannot tell if I will pay less taxes in 2021.

I have a few other thoughts on this subject:

1. Astrology has been used for thousands of years. Sure. That is not a valid argument for the continuing belief. Other beliefs from thousands of years ago include Zeus, dragons, the Earth-centric (geocentrism) universe,  and the four humors. Just like astrology, there is no scientific basis to these ancient beliefs and they have been swept away. No one believes them anymore. So this is hardly a good reason to continue to believe in astrology. You should no more put your faith in astrology than you should in the fountain of youth.

2. Astrology is the description of how the planets influence humans here on Earth. This is based on the location of various celestial objects. Let’s examine this more closely. For all of recorded history, there were only five known planets (excluding the Earth), as they were the only ones visible to the human eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. During that time, astrologers would have created their astrology charts based on that knowledge. But what happened when Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered in 1781, 1846 and 1930 respectively? Wouldn’t that invalidate all the previous thousands of years of astrological writings? What about the recent demotion of Pluto to a dwarf planet, and the discovery of many other dwarf planets? Wouldn’t that cause all the astrological horoscopes to be rewritten again, and invalidate all the changes that were made since 1930?

3. Actually Sue said that astrologers can “determine how [the planets] affected all living things on earth: animal, plants, humans.” Really? So sunflowers, algae, platypus and penguins can have horoscopes? How do you determine the time of birth for a amoeba?

4. Sue said “the moon is important for determining one’s personality, as are all the other planets.” How does this ‘influence’ work? So, based on the location of planets and other celestial bodies at the time of your birth, astrologers are supposed to be able to tell your basic drives or impulses and are tied to the human psyche. Supposedly, they can tell your personality and predict the future. What is the method of this influence that the distant planets have on a personality? It can’t be gravity – the gravity of Saturn is certainly not enough to influence the neural pathways in the brain of any individual. It can’t be light or electrons – otherwise it wouldn’t work if you were born in a cave underground. It can’t be neutrinos, which could penetrate a cave, but do not originate from planets (only stars). The strong nuclear force only operates on distances of 10^-15 metres (atomic scale). The weak nuclear force only operates on distances of 10^-18 metres – 1000 times smaller than the strong force. Those are the four known forces and many of their particles. There are no other ways of transferring energy or information.

The fact is that there simply is no way for celestial bodies to influence the human psyche or predict the future.

I was disappointed that the CBC interviewer did not ask these more pointed questions about Sue’s claims.

Auctions I Cannot Afford

I recently came across a space autograph and artifact auction at R.R. Auctions. Over the last week, I’ve been drooling over the items I cannot afford. The auction ended today. The articles were from all of the NASA manned programs – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Apollo-Skylab and the Space Shuttle.

Most of the items are not very interesting, just signed photos (SP) and covers (stamps) from various missions, or items from Mission Control.

What I was really excited about were the “flown” items. That is, items that have actually been into space on missions. Those are the ones I wanted!

I scanned through the entire catalog (401 items) and found a few flown articles that were still not too expensive. Some of the flown flags were already in the thousands of dollars. The smaller items were in the hundreds of dollars.

From the Apollo program, there were 1×1 inch strips of kapton, which was used on the outside of the returning Command Module, small strips of beta cloth, which was a flame-proof white cloth used for straps, nets and even the white Apollo spacesuits. There were also some pages from the mission manuals.

Only one non-flown item was interesting to me: the Apollo fight plans. These were the 300-page books that detailed every moment of the 12-days missions with instructions for each astronaut. While not flown, they were immensely interesting. But hard to justify the cost when the books are also available for download as PDFs now from the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal web site. The Apollo 11 flight plan opened at $300 and closed at $5,296.

There was a one-page (double-sided) flown checklist from STS-5, the fifth Space Shuttle mission. That one page traveled 3,397,082 kilometres during the 5 day mission. That’s likely further than I will ever travel during my entire lifetime. The bidding opened at a reasonable $100, but completed at $525, which was too high for me for a single page.

One of the more desirable items was the personal preference kit (PPK) bag from astronaut John Young during the 11-day Apollo 16 mission. It would have been used for personal and private mementos. The opening bid was an affordable $200, but it closed at $5016.

John Young is a hero of mine. He is the only astronaut who flew in the Gemini (Gemini 3 and 10), Apollo Command Module (Apollo 10), Apollo Lunar Module (Apollo 16) spacecrafts and the Space Shuttle (STS-1 and STS-9).

He was the Command Module pilot for Apollo 10, which practiced the procedures for the lunar landing that took place on the next mission (Apollo 11, less than two months later). He was therefore the first person to orbit the moon alone. He and his crew mates still hold the record for the fastest speed of any humans – 39,897 km/h during their return from the moon.

For Apollo 13, he was on the backup crew. When the mission aborted due to the Service Module explosion, he played a role in determining how to stretch the consumables on the LM, now functioning as a life-boat.

On Apollo 16, he was the commander and descended to the lunar surface, where he and Charles Duke spent three days.

He flew the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1 and the ninth, STS-9, both on the Columbia. The first mission, the first time a full-up manned mission was done as the first launch of any American manned space vehicle. Previous programs started with unmanned launches of the vehicles; this was also how the Russian Buran shuttle program was done.

Captain Young retired from NASA in December 2004 after 42 years of service, with an active astronaut career from 1965 to 1983.

John Young was really a cool cat. During the Apollo 16 lunar landing, his heart rate peaked at 90 beats per minute. Neil Armstrong’s was 150. During the STS-1 launch, his heart rate also didn’t rise above 90 when his pilot, Bob Crippen, was 130.

Back to the auction, I kept looking over the small items, watching their prices, and thought seriously about sending a bid. However, on the last day of the auction, the prices started to rise dramatically.

For example, a single page from the Apollo 11 flight plan, flown to the moon, rose from an opening bid of $1000 to $22,275.

A 1 inch piece of a safety line from Apollo 14 rose from $100 (affordable) to $1,641. For a 1 inch long piece of rope…

A double-sided lunar surface checklist page from Apollo 17 opened at $200 and closed at $2,246.

I spotted an item I thought I could afford and would be worth having. A 0.75×0.75 inch square of beta cloth that was soiled with actual moon dust from Apollo 16, which opened at $200. During the days before the close of the auction, the price had increased to around $500, which was on the edge of what I thought I could afford. However, when the auction ended, the closing bid price was $1,504. This would have been one of the few opportunities to acquire moon dust.

The highest priced item was a flight-flown American flag from Apollo 11, which opened at $2,500 and closed at $39,710.


I would have liked to own something that had flown and landed on the moon, but it doesn’t look like that will ever be achievable.

Crash and Brass

This evening, Rosa and I had tickets to see Canadian Brass at the National Arts Centre. We thought we should have a date night, so we went out for dinner before the performance.

We chose Milestones (as if I don’t already have enough milestones at work). As we were driving north on Greenbank in a light snow, the traffic light at Baseline turned yellow. The SUV in front of us stopped, and I stopped with quite a gap, although I did have to pump the brakes because of the slippery conditions. However, the car behind us didn’t stop and they hit us from behind with a huge whallop.

I turned off the car, which is normal procedure for a car accident to prevent fire, and checked that Rosa was ok. I checked the mirror to see if there were any other cars coming and got out to check on the other car. Everyone was ok.

Despite the big hit, there did not appear to be very much damage to Rosa’s car. The bumper cover was pulled out about 8-10cm on the drivers side, and there were two wide grooves gouged in the bumper cover; the licence plate was crumpled. After exchanging our details, we pulled off to the nearby Petro-Canada station. As it was too cold to write, we used our phones to take pictures of each others drivers license and insurance.

I looked over Rosa’s car and could not see any safety issues, so we decided to continue with our evening.

After a noisy dinner (we had to sit in the bar area as all the tables were full), we drove (slowly) to the NAC.

Canadian Brass was backed by the NAC Orchestra. I was not expecting that, as I had assumed it would be just the five brass players. Having the full orchestra actually detracted from the headliners. In some of the pieces, the orchestra drowned out the brass instruments.

The highlight for me was when they brought out a piccolo trumpet and played “Penny Lane” by The Beatles. It was awesome.

They followed up with two other Beatles songs. “Blackbird“, the simplest Beatles song, was just Paul on acoustic guitar and a metronome for the beat. This didn’t translate well into a full orchestra. The french horn lead could hardly be heard, which is a shame as the french horn can be one of the richest, melodious sounding instruments. The last Beatles song was “Come Together“. Come Together (ironically, once used by Nortel in TV ads) also doesn’t work with an orchestra and brass ensemble. An orchestra lacks that driving buzzy guitar for the chorus, the insistent beat from Ringo and the poetry from Lennon.

I was surprised that “All You Need Is Love” wasn’t used. It would have been perfect the evening. It already opens with trumpets blaring “La Marseillaise” and is already scored for strings and brass. It would have been a great, upbeat song with rich musical textures for the NAC Orchestra and plenty of opportunities to highlight Canadian Brass.

Is this all that a man is?

All that a man is
All that a man is

Today, Rosa, Mama and I picked up my father-in-laws cremated remains. We had ordered a customized urn, and it took many weeks to get the urn back. The urn had a picture of Papa embossed on a raised circle on the top. When we finally saw the urn, we all agreed that it was very well made. I was surprised how well the embossing looked, considering that we only gave them a photograph.

The remains were transferred from the temporary storage box to the urn right in front of us. We are not squeamish, and Rosa and I were curious. Mama insisted on seeing the process too, as she was paranoid that somehow the remains would be mixed up.

The remains were in a small clear plastic bag, and were stored in a temporary black plastic box. The remains, which are basically pulverized bone fragments, were light grey colour.

Mama and Papa
Mama and Papa

The staff removed the bag from the temporary container and put the bag in the urn. Mama put two chains (one was the chain papa was wearing when he was in the hospital) in a small green velvet bag and placed the bag in the urn.

The urn was closed (it screws shut from the bottom) and given to us. Mama took it very hard and cried a lot. We drove home and Mama put the urn on the nightstand next to the bed.