A product review: Stellar Data Recovery
We’ve all had that sinking feeling when we try to download our photos off the camera card but instead get a nasty error. Or perhaps an inadvertent slip of the mouse deletes your files permanently. Or even worse, lightning strikes and zaps your computer! No matter if it’s a snap of your cat with its tongue stuck or a rare and endangered bird that you hiked 10 km to photograph, chances are your photos are precious to you.
Is all hope lost? Not at all! Deleted and damaged files are not necessarily gone forever. With a simple deletion or reformat, the files are still there so long as you don’t write more to the disk. All that’s gone is the index to those files. Even a damaged disk is likely only damaged in parts. Fortunately, there is data recovery software to save us. It’s been many years since I’ve had to resort to disk scraping, so I had no idea what the software to do this tedious task is like these days.
Recently Stellar asked me to review their data recovery software, with the nice kickback of a free standard licence. I assured Stellar (and you) that receiving this gift would not affect my review. Stellar asked me to do this review as a wildlife photographer. They didn’t know that part of my day job at Mimosa Acoustics (where I wear many hats!) involves product testing and bug discovery. And I’m good at it. I’m known as the Chief Breaker and Wrecker. If I can find a way to break it, I will. But I tried my best to behave and use the software in the same way an end-user might rather than a product tester. So I started by not reading the instructions! And trust me, this is what 95% of users do when faced with new software. My day job also involves user manual writing and customer support - I know you don’t read the manual!
The install is straightforward and kindly takes you to the website showing the steps to get started. I ignored it all and jumped on in…
Stellar has designed their product with photographers in mind. What’s really cool is that the software is meant to recognize a vast range of image formats, including native RAW formats, and can display the images. This makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for. But how well does it actually work?
I found an old 6GB SD card last used in an ancient Panasonic Lumix superzoom camera and in an old scanner to save PDF scans to file. The card had 2 empty folders and one folder with 6 PDFs, circa 2014. The initial scan found a further 22 files in 7 folders. I liked that the file structure interface clearly showed the existing folders and deleted (but recoverable) files and folders, which had a red cross over the icon.
The DCIM (camera folder) had subfolders, one of which had RW2 (Panasonic) raw files. The preview wasn’t able to show me an image of this old format, but I chose the first image to recover. I saved it to my desktop and was glad to see the entire folder structure was written and not just the file. Win10 could preview the image, and I was delighted to see it was a photo of a baby kākā! Awwwww cute!
Curious as to what a Deep Scan might reveal, I tried that. A Deep Scan does take significantly longer to run, but a progress dial manages expectations. This time 43 files were found in 14 folders. A new folder was created on the card called “Raw Data.” In this folder, the files are grouped into subfolders by file type, not in their original folders. Why is that? Well, if the original folder structure was still readable, it would have been picked up by the Initial Scan. Without the index, all the data recovery software can do is recover the individual files. What is curious is that it found files it labeled as *.RAW from the old Panasonic camera and could preview them. Perhaps it just didn’t know that RW2 files are RAWs?
The four RAW files it found had wildly different sizes. Two were 4GB, and two were 20MB. I’m guessing the two 4GB files were missing end-of-file markers because they were partially overwritten. The JPG preview in the RAW file was still viewable. Conveniently, these files are named by the camera type and image dimensions, e.g., “Panasonic DMC-FZ100-4536x2448-9029440.RAW”. The smaller files were recoverable, but the larger ones took forever (and to be honest, I got bored after 10 minutes and stopped the recovery). I also tried deep recovery of a WMV (not readable) and a PDF (recovered without error). Deep recovery is not guaranteed even if a file is recognized because it may be partly overwritten by other data.
I then took this card and stuck it on the fridge with a powerful magnet for a few minutes (don’t try this at home) and then dropped it on the floor (inadvertently). My plan was to well and truly corrupt the card, but unexpectedly, the card survived its torture just fine. It wasn't corrupted! Rerunning Stellar showed the same files available for recovery, including the Deep Scan. I still wouldn't recommend doing this on a card you care about though...
I then tried one of my current 64 GB SD cards, which regularly gets reformatted by my Sony a7riii camera and currently has multiple photoshoots saved. The card was less than a third full, so there was plenty of “empty” disk to find previously deleted photos. The Stellar file preview could display the Sony ARW images, which was handy. The initial scan showed the expected available, undeleted folders and one deleted folder, which was empty. So I entered Deep Scan. Curiously, the deep scan did not find the photos prior to formatting as I expected. A card reformat doesn’t delete the files; it merely rewrites the index, so there should have been files there to be found. It seems there is something about the Sony reformat that Stellar doesn’t recognize? This is obviously an issue for a product aimed at photographers. Who among us hasn’t inadvertently reformatted a card before downloading the images?
For fun, I then looked at a 32 GB SD card from my Panasonic GX8. This card had been reformatted and had no images. The initial scan found nothing other than the basic file structure. But unlike the Sony-formatted card, switching to Deep Scan revealed deleted files. There was a JPG, 8 RAW files (all with previews), and two TAR files in the Raw Data folder. All the RAWs were suspiciously 4GB again, which is much larger than the native RW2 format of around 15 MB. I recovered both the JPG and a RAW file successfully and opened the latter in Adobe Camera Raw. I also found a previously deleted folder with Panasonic RW2 files under the MISC folder, none of which could be previewed by Stellar. They were, however, recoverable, and I could also open them in Adobe Camera Raw. So lovely to find an old photo of Puffin!
Stellar Data Recovery has a friendly user interface and is intuitive to use. I liked being able to search and group by file types and see previews (sometimes!). I can see how that could considerably reduce the search time and effort if it’s just a specific file that needs recovery.
I did not have a corrupted disk to test, but I hope recovering photos from reformatted SD cards is a fair test. It certainly worked fine for the card from my Panasonic GX8. But there is an issue with Sony-formatted cards that Stellar might want to look into, given Sony cameras’ rising popularity.
I hope you never need to use data recovery software, but Stellar is worth a look if you do. Stellar offers a free trial, so if you find that it doesn’t work for your situation, you won’t be out of pocket. When it does work, it works well and is intuitive and straightforward to use.
Have you ever had a corrupted disk and had to use data recovery software? How did you fare and what did you use? Let us know in the comments...
Reviewed: Stellar Data Recovery Standard
Platform: Windows 10
My favourite project for Zealandia EcoSanctuary is creating the annual fund-raising calendar! And it takes around 18 months to create if you account for the effort required to obtain a seasonal range of photos. Many of us aim to get that calendar-worthy shot on every visit to Zealandia, and we visit year-round, often weekly.
Planning starts in December, and sometime in the New Year a call goes out to the volunteer Sanctuary Storyteller photographers and to regulars on the ZEALANDIA Visitor Art & Photography Facebook page to start submitting their photos. We aim to include at least three photos per month, with each month having a theme. It's a 13-month calendar, because it's created from folder A3 paper (to make an A4 calendar). This gives 4 pages for every piece of paper. A 12-month calendar plus cover only fills 26 of 28 pages.
Around March, the selections are made and photos edited and approved by the contributing photographers and staff. This year, preparations coincided with lock-down giving me a most-welcome distraction.
The coveted spot is of course the cover - that image needs to be compelling, have some negative space for branding, and be recognizable from a distance. Congratulations to Jason Plaisted for his wonderful kākāriki photo that graces the 2021 cover.
Once the photos are set, over autumn, the Storyteller writers conjure up inspiring stories to match the theme and images. Some keen contributors aim for the complete sweep with a set of themed photos and a matching story. But most months are a mix of many contributors.
As we head into winter, the fact-checkers and researchers dig in and confirm all the species are identified correctly, that the dates and moon-phases are correct, the Te Reo Māori is correct (including macrons), as are the holidays and observations. The pedants among us relish this task, and many lively discussions can ensue. I'm sure some of you are also pedants and are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes decisions (if not, skim down to the end to find out how to get hold of a calendar!)
I always fear the dates will somehow be wrong, but I use this amazing plug-in for InDesign (Calendar Wizard) that is a pig to use but when you conquer it, it automatically generates all the spreads. It's a life- and time-saver.
We set the moon phase as it is in Wellington - anywhere else in the country (or world) can be off by a day as the phase often changes in the middle of the night. There is often confusion as one of the definitive guides online has the correct phases, but uses the wrong Northern-hemisphere icons (yes, the moon is upside down in the Southern hemisphere - a fun fact that has confused many of my Northern-hemisphere friends).
Scientific names can be quite fluid for NZ species, with researchers actively updating taxonomies, but with scientific consensus and adoption of new names taking some time. For instance, you may have noticed that our gecko names have transitioned back and forth over recent years, and it's still not settled. Te Reo names are also fluid as old knowledge is reclaimed by local iwi, or new names are needed. Of great debate is whether transliterations for months and other European concepts should be used or maramataka months (from the Māori lunar calendar, which is based on moon phases). These decisions and recommendations are made with such care and much consultation. In recent years we have decided on the transliterations. I would love to some day help with a maramataka calendar too.
Some people wonder why we don't include specific observations and holidays. We strive to include many conservation-related observances, but the sponsoring organizations often don't advertise their dates (or haven't decided on them) for the coming year in time to include in the calendar (I won't name and shame). We also don't tend to include religious holidays unless they're an official public holiday.
Not including the Matariki period (the Māori New Year) seems like an oversight to many, and we do hope to include it next year. But there are many variations across different iwi in how the period is defined. This makes a lot of sense when you consider its all about observational astronomy: the appearance of the constellation Matariki on the horizon. And this of course depends on where you are in the country and barriers like hills. Some iwi use other constellations. It is a fascinating subject and there are some amazing Māori astronomers working on it. With talk of Matariki becoming an official public holiday, it will be interesting to see how consensus is reached because the aim is to have one date for the entire country (but which will at least vary each year), so by definition, some of what the Matariki period means will be lost to convenience.
Back to the Zealandia calendar, once the dust has settled and the facts established the best we can, it's then down to multiple rounds of proofing and sign-off from every part of the organization. We strive for no errors, but is that ever possible? By the end of the process, once the calendar comes off the production line, I'm too afraid to look! People tell me that it's absolutely gorgeous, so I'm going to trust their judgment...
If you're keen to participate, do join the Facebook group and start working on your photography. You're more likely to be successful if you've taken a fabulous photo featuring a subject we haven't previously had in the calendar (e.g., kākā, tūī, kākāriki, and takahē have had more than enough exposure). We also love photos that show wildlife interacting with its environment or showing an interesting behaviour.
In addition, do join my Art of Birding Wildlife and Nature photography challenge. Many of the successful contributors are doing the challenge, which is designed to upskill photographers for wildlife advocacy, and with outcomes like the calendar in mind.
If you want to lay your hands on a calendar for yourself, your friends, and your family, pick them up at the Visitor Centre or check out the offer above.
[Update 3 Nov 2020: You can now buy them directly from Zealandia through their new online gift shop!]
Finally, such huge thanks to the contributors for 2021:
Photography: Brendon Doran, Andrew Hawke, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Bianca Maddox, Amanda Main, Janice McKenna, Linton Miller, Jason Plaisted, Karen Rankin, Alison Valentine, Rory Wilsher.
Stories: Leon Berard, Vanya Bootham, Rosemary Cole, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Katherine Miller, Louise Slocombe.
Design: Judi Lapsley Miller.
Research & editing: Vanya Bootham, Libby Clark, Rosemary Cole, Chris Gee, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Linton Miller, Louise Slocombe, Rory Wilsher.
It's all about dreamy backgrounds...
This week on the Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge, we're tackling bokeh and blur. When I was first starting out as a photographer, I adored photos with a dreamy, buttery smooth background and a subject in sharp focus. But I struggled to replicate the look.
I eventually discovered there is more than one way to achieve it. Two techniques are free and the other costs lots of money. Let's chat about the free ones first!
Regardless of your camera, its settings, and your abilities, its possible to get out-of-focus backgrounds by being smart. No you don't need to get into the physics of why (but it is interesting if that's your thing). The secret is to get your subject close to the camera and ensure the background is waaaay in the distance, like in this photo of a tūī. This was taken at Zealandia (if you're familiar with the sanctuary) on the path leading from the Takahē lawn up to the Weka fence. To the right, the bank falls away to the wetlands There are scrubby trees at eye-height on the edge of the path and below and beyond them are the low-lying wetlands. In the distance are the green hills of the steep West Scarp. I love shooting here! If a bird lands on top of the nearby trees, the background is far, far away and creates a beautiful green blur pretty much regardless of the settings.
You can increase your chances of success by paying attention to your aperture, rather than shooting on Auto. Learning a bit more about how your current gear works may save you an expensive purchase. You want the aperture to be as wide as possible. This decreases the range that will be in focus. To get a wide aperture, you'll need to switch to Aperture priority mode (A or Av) or Manual mode, and set the aperture to the smallest number that the lens allows.
<pedant mode on>For the pedants out there, yes I know that it's actually 1 over the number, and so its the biggest number, but the reality is that people refer to just the denominator.</pedant mode off>
[Update Oct 16, 2020] At the above-mentioned location at Zealandia recently, I took a series of photos in Aperture-priority mode with my 100-400mm lens (set at 400mm) as if there was an interesting bird sitting on the foreground branches. (In this mode, as I changed aperture, the camera automatically changed shutter speed and ISO to ensure the same exposure for all photos in the series). For each photo I narrowed the aperture by a couple of clicks. The largest aperture on this lens is f/5.6, which is not that great but given how far away the background is, it still gives a nice blur. Even at f/18 the background is still nicely defocused (although its unlikely you'd want to use f/18 for wildlife).
You'll start having more reliable success if your lens is capable of apertures like f/1.4 and f/2.8. If you're using a 4/3rds or APSC camera, rather than a full-frame camera, the effective aperture will be narrower (ie the amount of blur will be lessened) even with wide-aperture lenses (this was a sad realization with my 4/3rds camera when I got an f/1.4 lens and I still wasn't getting that blur).
If you find you're frustrated by your gear, even when being smart about how you're shooting, this is when you start considering getting a lens that has a wide aperture. And usually when you start gulping when you look at the price and the weight. They're expensive and they're heavy. Don't consider getting one until you've exhausted all other techniques, such as the ones above, and that you understand what aperture and focus depth mean (otherwise you might not get the best out of your expensive purchase). But if you're serious about getting that look and having the ability to get it when you want it and not just when the conditions allow, it's well worth it. I must admit, I've drunk the KoolAid and don't regret it for a second.
One more affordable option that's worth considering is a Lensbaby lens, like one of the Velvet or Sweet lenses. Not only do they have wide apertures, but they also allow for special effects and can be a lot of fun to play with. You need to manually focus them though. They really are a lot of fun and you can even get them for your iPhone.
And finally, a fun thing to try is making patterned bokeh. You can buy Lensbaby templates to do this, or you can go old-school and cut up some cardboard to fit over the end of your lens. Simply cut a pattern like a heart or a star, ensure the edges are taped so no light sneaks around the edges, and set up a scene with your subject close to the camera and the background far away. Set the aperture to wide if you can. The key is to have something sparkly in the background like the Christmas tree lights in the photo above. You'll need to experiment a bit and you might have to manually focus, but if you succeed, your Christmas cards will be sorted this year!
If you try out any of these techniques, do leave a comment and let us know how you got on.
This fella cracks me up! I can just imagine him out for a moonlit stroll chortling away to himself. I don't know what the joke is, but it's a good one. Listen out, if you're in kiwi territory, for their distinctive snuffling and snorting as they go about their business.
It's not easy to get good kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) photos - they are nocturnal after all. But I was fortunate to get the opportunity to photograph this chap during the day as he foraged for grass grubs. Conservation staff thought he was likely in a territory dispute, so rather than take on his foe, he decided to take the peaceful option and forage in the daytime instead. It was such a rare opportunity that I shot a couple of thousand photos! And I couldn't resist reimagining him in a more familiar night-time scene.
More typically, photo opportunities are at night and lit by red torchlight (converting to black and white is the only option). Shutter-speeds are slow and ISO is high, making for a grainy photo with motion blur. Despite these limitations, I do love the above photo with the oversized shadow in the iconic kiwi shape.
I've been fortunate to be involved with some of the kiwi research at Zealandia EcoSanctuary, helping out Andrew Digby (before he became a kākāpō and takahē guru) and Helen Taylor. I never did get to see a kiwi chick, but I did get to see many adults. A highlight was watching a fight late one night, with the two kiwi "beak-fighting" like they rapiers.
We (literally!) dug kiwi out of their burrows during the day for health checks. This provided some unique opportunities to get close-up photos of their tiny wings and their huge eggs.
Helen's research suggests that all is not well for kiwi pukupuku. Despite their breeding success at Zealandia, Kāpiti, and other places around New Zealand, they are descended from only a handful of birds. This genetic bottlenecking decreases the fertility of each generation and lowers their genetic diversity. Helen's research has been instrumental in helping conservation organizations get a handle on how many individuals are needed to successfully translocate a species to a new home.
If you found this page because you're after kiwi photos, I've donated a number to Wikimedia Commons with a CC-BY-4.0 licence which means they're free to use with attribution. Links to my fine-art prints featuring the kiwi are below, with sales supporting conservation at Zealandia.
Fine art prints featuring kiwi pukupuku
A real kiwi joker (kiwi pukupuku)
Out for an early evening stroll under a rising moon, our kiwi friend is chuckling to himself - I wonder what the joke is?
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Free shipping worldwide. Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
Also available as an 80cm print, on enquiry.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
After midnight (kiwi pukupuku)
A snuffle, a rustle, then a ghostly image appears, silvery light dappling over his fluffy feathers - this is the rare and endangered kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) out for a moonlit stroll. Long cat-like whiskers and a heightened sense of smell ensures this kiwi will find a tasty dinner.
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Free shipping worldwide. Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
I'm so excited to give you a sneak preview of what is likely the final image in my dark and moody tūī series. "Forever calling me" speaks to an uncertain future for our resplendent tūī. And from now until the end of March 2020, limited-edition medium-sized (28x28cm) prints are available exclusively at Forest & Bird's webstore.
Ten percent of my proceeds for my bird art goes to conservation, and for this print Forest & Bird is the recipient. By going through their webstore, you increase that percentage even further because they also receive a commission.
Forest & Bird is one of New Zealand's largest and oldest conservation organizations - for nearly a century they have advocated from the grassroots to the highest government levels for our precious wildlife. I've been a member and supporter for over 15 years and I'm delighted to be able to support them further through my art (six pieces are currently available). If you want to support the birds through art, this is a great way to do it!
(In late March, Mr Tūī will then make his public debut at an exhibition in Akaroa and will be more widely available on my web store and in other galleries. If you're interested in larger or smaller limited-edition prints, just contact me for details.)
Some people dislike the holey nature of kawakawa (Piper excelsum), but I think it gives this under-rated native shrub some personality. Each leaf is uniquely carved out by the every-hungry kawakawa looper moth caterpillar. The birds adore the fruit and I adore a nice cup of peppery Kawakawa Fire tea.
It's week 2 in the 2020 Art of Birding challenge, and it was a simple one - to get inspired by leafy greens. Though my apologies to our snowed-in Northern Hemisphere participants who had much more of a challenge on their hands. I'm so glad so many of you were able to uncover some evergreen leaves.
400mm, f2.8, 160s, ISO 400, 0EV
I love taking photos of leaves, and often use them in my art by overlaying them with textures and collaging them to make leaf arrangements. Some examples are:
Do you have a favourite leaf?
We're kicking off Week 1 in the 2020 Art of Birding photo challenge with "Where I Stand," which alludes to the Māori concept of "tūrangawaewae" - a place of empowerment and connection. As a Pākehā and as someone who grew up living in many different places, I can only have an inkling of what it feels to be connected to the land in that way. The closest I come is my current home in Wellington, New Zealand, and especially Zealandia EcoSanctuary. For the past 16+ years I've been involved in this huge community project to restore an inner-city valley to a pre-human ecosystem. Not only have we transformed the valley into a lush landscape teaming with birdlife, but we've transformed the surrounding city. Wellingtonians are now fortunate to live in one of the few places in the world where biodiversity is increasing.
Today we went for a typical walk at Zealandia, but instead of the usual feelings of peace and tranquility, I was struck by the feelings of impending doom. The light was low and the air filled with haze and the faint smell of burning. Not because of anything local, but because the apocalyptic climate-change-enhanced bush fires from Australia have spread smoke across the Tasman Sea over 2000km away to New Zealand. The scale of these fires is unfathonamble and unprecedented and I can't bear to think of the lives lost - both humans and other animals. So many friends and family across the ditch are in harm's way.
It's the start of new year and a new decade, which should be a time for hope and anticipation of good things to come, but it feels more like the beginning of the end of life as we know it. Is it really as bad as we're told? According to this recent article by Jonathan Franzen, it's probably worse, because as he quite rightly points out, scientists tend to be cautious and underestimate the likely impacts of climate change. We are now living a "new normal".
So what can we do? It seems so insurmountable, but I'd rather we try than just give up. It may just be a little thing, but I hope that this photo challenge gives some of us a voice to our concerns, and, in conjunction with compelling imagery, will spread ripples throughout our friends and families. Showing our love for our wildlife and wildspaces and what we have to lose if we don't change our ways. Right now. Right away.
Creativity ebbs and flows and after a busy patch doing something else it can be hard to get back into it. Sometimes the business side of art, other work, and life has to come first for a bit. I've been reflecting on what's helped me in the past and I thought I would share my thoughts with you - I know I'm not alone in needing some inspiration (and a kick in the pants)! I'd love to know what works for you - feel free to add ideas in the comments...
1. a reward for getting going
Photo-art teacher Sebastian Michaels taught me that you have to turn up, and keep turning up, for your muse to arrive. She won't take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously too. I like to hook in a reward for turning up - something as simple as a cup of coffee or tea in a special mug first thing in the morning can get me out of bed and ready for action. For a long time I was starting every morning with art, but somehow I got out of the habit. This is probably the number one thing I need to remedy in my quest to get creative again. Sebastian's 21-days to creative abundance is a good kick-starter. I also love Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big magic: creative living beyond fear". Might be time for a re-read...
2. The time is now
There's no point waiting for the perfect time to get creative - there is no better time than now, even if just for a few minutes. Waiting for the perfect time means so many lost opportunities. I find when the perfectionism/procrastination ramps up so that I find I'm waiting for the perfect time, when it arrives I'm out of practice and risk squandering the opportunity. A little bit more often, even if not ideal, means I'm more likely to have days when I find my muse and get into the zone.
3. Message a trusted friend
It makes a big difference touching base with artist friends regularly to inspire each other with plans and schemes and to bounce ideas around. I'm blessed to have a couple of artist friends that regularly check in and are quick with positive encouragement. We all need people in our lives that believe in what we're doing, especially for those times when we don't believe in ourselves.
5. Try a new art medium
Seeing a favourite subject in a new way can help, and what better way to feel enthused than a visit to the art store for new and interesting art supplies. My life was forever enriched when pastel artist Karen Rankin Neal put me onto shimmery Pan Pastels and Dahler Rowney pearlescent inks! It's what took me from a purely digital world into experimenting with Giclee print embellishment, mixed media, and big messes.
6. Do a creative course
I love getting creative and crafty with weekend workshops and online courses. Even if not directly related to my main artform, they can lead to creative connections. The weekend picture framing course I did last year at The Learning Connexion unleashed an entire product line (TinyArt), produced a rewarding collaboration with friend and framer Chris Helliwell, and enabled me to get bolder and more creative with my framing choices. There are so many free online courses and tutorials on literally every creative endeavour - start with YouTube and you'll soon be on an adventure. Did you know all the classic Bob Ross "Joy of Painting" courses are online and free? All 403 of them! What a resource! I've not been taking advantage of my subscriptions to the online KAIZEN (enrollments currently closed) and Shift Art photo-artistry communities, both of which have an incredible wealth of creative tutorials, and I will get back into them tomorrow... or even today... I promise.
7. Schedule social media
Being active on social media is an essential part of most modern artist's lives, but it so easy to go down unrelated rabbit holes and never return. Make time for social media, but not at the expense of the most productive hours of the day. I have to relearn this lesson again and again and again… how about you?
8. Join a regular creative challenge
daily, weekly, or monthly creative challenge can be a fun way to keep trying new things and to build a habit of creating regularly. I created the weekly Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge in 2018 to push myself to try new things, and then invited the world to join me. There are now hundreds of people also doing the challenge and we're all set to go for 2020 - check back in early December for the new challenges. Next year's challenges will emphasize creativity and composition, won't rely on having special gear, will have extra credit challenges, and will work for both photographers and other artists. I'm excited!
9. Create something just for fun and just for you
It can be too easy to get caught up in the mindset that everything created needs to count. But sometimes it's best to relax and take the time to create something just for ourselves. It's especially important if you're having an "attack of the shoulds" (when you hear yourself saying "I should be doing this" and "I should be doing that"). It took two days to make this crazy-complicated secret Belgian binding notebook, but I loved every moment. Especially fossicking through my decades of interesting paper scraps. Want to make one too? There's lots of tutorials out there and I referred to many, but the lovely Jennifer aka Sea Lemon tutorial was the clearest.
10. Fill your world with inspiration
Enrich your surroundings by subscribing to art magazines (check out Artists Down Under), collecting art, following artists on social media, and going to exhibitions. Try the Excio app that puts art and photography on your phone's wallpaper. Put on some of your favourite music, grab your tools, and get creating!
Do any of these suggestions resonate with you? What works for you? What else would you recommend I try? Let me know in the comments below...
[An article for budding artists who are taking the plunge to exhibit their work, though art buyers might also be interested in what goes on behind-the-scenes of an exhibition]
So you've taken the plunge and agreed to do an exhibition - congratulations! One of the first major decisions is framing. If you've not done it before, it can be quite intimidating. Hopefully this blog will take some of the uncertainty out of it, or at least will help you know which questions to ask.
My key take home message? It is important to see the frame not merely as a vehicle for the print but as an extension of the art itself.
So what's going on here? We have a super-intelligent parrot - Polly to her friends, but Professor to her students - at home and trying to relax but the kids are testing out their camera skills. We've all been there...
There's something about the aesthetic of old family photographs that I perversely love - the retro wallpapers, the jaunty angles and lack of focus, the look of terror on the poor victims, the fashion faux pas - and of course the memories - they're a delight to relive. And I found some wonderfully cringing examples in my old family photo archive to share so you can perhaps see where I'm coming from with lovely Polly.
Yesterday we got the opportunity to visit with and photograph Zealandia's takahē chick - the first chick for the eco-sanctuary and one of only about 370 takahē left in the world. As you can imagine, every chick is precious and vital for the survival of their species. So for now, there is restricted access, but hopefully soon the general public will be able to see the chick too. (Our access was due to our roles as volunteer Sanctuary Storytellers).
For more years than I can count, I've felt compelled to tell the stories of our precious wildlife, through photography, art, and writing. In late 2017, after completing the 52-week 2017 Dogwood photography challenge, I was in the market for a new challenge, but one focused more specifically on wildlife. I also wanted to encourage my Zealandia "Storyteller" volunteer team to push themselves further too. But I couldn't find anything suitable. Rather than giving up, I realized that I could just make up my own challenges and that perhaps others might be interested in joining me. So just before New Years, I came up with the Art of Birding 2018 Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge and put it out there for the world to join
Those all-knowing eyes! I was completely captivated by this lovely youngster - she's as bright as a button and so curious about the world. She became "Professor Polly", and she reminds me so much of a super-smart friend who became one of youngest female professors in NZ's history (who coincidentally has a daughter named Polly!).
I have long been fascinated with bird intelligence and cognition. Study after study are now showing that birds are incredibly intelligent - just this week there was news about tool-use seen in kea (the kākā's cousin) in the wild. Long gone are the days when scientists thought that tiny brains relative to body size meant tiny abilities. Birds have vastly more dense innervation allowing smarts to be packed in much more tightly than human brains. And parrots and corvids are some of the brightest.
Researchers are quite taken by the kākā as a study subject. They're cousins of the kea, who are thought to be the most intelligent bird species in the world, but kākā are rating similarly on the IQ scales. It is fascinating watching them solve the tasks the researchers set them. The thought was that as social birds they would learn by watching their friends solve problems. From what I've seen, it appears more competitive than that with each wanting to show that they can solve puzzles their own way. It was quite incredible to see how many different techniques there are to solve the simple task of acquiring a cashew nut tied to the end of a string.
Not only are kākā super intelligent but they have complex emotional and social lives. We do of course have to be careful at over-anthropomorphizing, but I fear under-anthropomorphizing has had a negative effect not just on our understanding of animal cognition but also animal welfare. They might not think or feel identically to humans, but they think and feel and we shouldn't assume less.
And not only do we have a calendar, but through October and November, selected and additional photographs and longer stories from the calendar will be on exhibition in the Zealandia Stairwell Gallery. Come and find out why we love Zealandia so much!
With stories by Louise Slocombe, Vanya Bootham, Chris Gee, and Lynn Freeman, and photographs by Janice McKenna, Hayley May, Andrew Hawke, Linton Miller, Chris Gee, Lynn Freeman, Brendon Doran, and myself, there is something of interest for everyone.
And now the 2019 calendar is sorted, I'm already thinking about 2020 - what would you like to see featured?
The volunteer Storytellers' support Zealandia's fundraising efforts with the calendar and postcards, amongst many other activities. Individual artists and photographers also have high-quality prints and photographs available in the store. Proceeds from sales go directly to support Zealandia's not-for-profit conservation and restoration efforts.
I'm going to take you behind the scenes of what has been one of my most popular posts on social media recently and let you in on how it came about... I know it has been puzzling some folks...
It was a typical Sunday morning, mid-winter at Zealandia, on our regular photowalk and we had just reached the pontoon to spend some time with the kāruhiruhi families as they went through their morning rituals. The low sun was just starting to break around the corner, back-lighting the birds and sparkling the dew still hanging on the leaves. Then the rays hit the chilly lake and ethereal mist began rising. For once I was delighted to have lost the battle as to who had the 24-70mm and who had the 100-400mm lens!
The magical misty light hung around for only a few minutes; just enough time to take a bunch of photos with the wrong settings and then to figure out something that might work better and to hopefully get a nice shot. And the photos were indeed "nice," but not much more and I put them aside. On returning to them some months later, I realized that there was no one shot that had everything, but with some judicious compositing I could create a scene with a story.
I know some people have assumed that this image is a single photograph and have puzzled over how I got the shot, so I'd like to set the record straight, so to speak. And in one sense it is "just a photograph," far less messed about with than some of my images. But I believe that adding artistic licence and liberating oneself from pure photography, it's possible to more accurately capture a moment experienced and to share that emotion.
So what did I do? Four very similar photos went into this image - each was selected for what the birds were doing over the course of just 5 minutes. One was swimming making a spiral of ripples, two youngsters were looking excitedly into the water, another was "hanging out the washing to dry", and others were looking with anticipation into the new day. No one photo showed all that happening and there was no time to wait until they simultaneously did something - the mist was fading too fast. Choosing one photo as the main image, I did a first pass through camera raw to make basic adjustments to the exposure and lighting. I then carefully masked, adjusted with camera raw, and composited in the alternative birds to create a more interesting version of the scene. Then came a little bit of secret sauce; using Topaz Impression to add in a silky, painterly feel at a lowered opacity over the image, and then layering painted textures using soft-light blend modes to subtly change the lighting. When viewed at full size, the more painterly feel is much more apparent. A couple of passes through adjusting highlights and shadows and spot-healing distractions completed the image.
Do you like this image more or less now that you know how it came to be? Do you feel cheated and that it somehow isn't real? Does it take away the magic knowing what was added and how it was made? Or do you feel like you've seen through my eyes and into my soul? Have we shared a moment?
As soon as I started creating bird art I was asked "when are you going to do a tūī?" As a photo-artist, this isn't so easy because first I need to get the photos and you can't just ask a bird to sit right there and strike a pose. But eventually the stars aligned and "Unfurling" unfolded and quickly became my most popular print. And still the requests for more tūī came... So I turned my attention from my beloved kākā and spent more time searching for magic moments with the best-dressed boys of the NZ forest.
And after many hours of spending time with tūī, I came to see so many subtle differences among them. Each lacy nape is like a fingerprint, each poi is a fashion statement - some neat and tidy, some worn more jauntily. And their colours! Not just black and white, but glorious shimmering shades of blue and green, with touches of purple and even gold.
I asked them for their stories. And they answered with dark, gothic tales of loss, defiance, colonisation, foreboding, and reclamation. The tales are still coming, but now is the time to let you in on some of their inner secrets. Stay tuned on Facebook or Instagram this week as I unveil these new works, or if you'd just like to see everything all in one place, jump ahead here.
There is something about the tūī that resonates with people, more so than other more iconic birds it seems. Whether it's their colours, their personalities, their vocal gymnastics, their ubiqituousness in many regions (thanks to predator control), tūī capture people's hearts and minds like no other. Have they enchanted you? What stories have they told you?
What an incredible week for wildlife lovers in Wellington! Our first blessing was a kiwi pukpuku (little-spotted kiwi) out foraging during the day at Zealandia. Finally a chance for some photos under good conditions! Although quite unusual behaviour for a nocturnal bird, he seems healthy and is feeding well. There looks to be plenty of grass grubs on offer. Speculation is that he may have lost his territory to a competitor so is feeding during the day to minimize conflict. I wonder too if his vision has deteriorated further (he has a known eye issue) and he might not be able to tell day from night anymore - kiwi don't have strong vision, relying far more on smell and hearing, so it's not necessarily a problem for him. A visitor asked me if perhaps he should be taken somewhere where he can be looked after and have his day-night regulated, but really what better place than at Zealandia where he is safe to roam free where ever and when ever he chooses?
Our second blessing was the sudden appearance of a southern right whale in Wellington Harbour. It is a beautiful sight to see a whale frolicking in our picturesque harbour, especially on Thursday night as a calm sunny day descended into a pink sunset. The mood on the waterfront was joyous as Wellingtonians came together to experience this special moment. A moment of poignancy too as we reflected on the killing field that Wellington Harbour once was when whaling was in its heyday, and how we humans nearly hunted whales to extinction. It's thought that at one stage there was only one breeding female southern right left, and all today descend from her. Let's hope our visitor stays and brings friends!
Wellington can be a difficult and challenging city - this weekend is shaping up to be a good example - but moments like these make living here all worthwhile.
#WhyWellington #CantBeatWellingtonOnAGoodDay #NaturalCapital #Wellington #FreeWelly #kiwisforkiwi #zealandia
The hashtag #WhyWellington started as a marketing exercise but took on a life of its own as hundreds of Wellingtonians wanted to share with the world what makes our city so special. This week, Wellington gave us a reminder of why we choose to live here with a spectacular dusk and sunset. We started at Zealandia and then headed up Wrights Hill in Karori, where we were treated with fire and glory looking over Makara and ethereal pastel shades over Wellington City. The clouds looked painted on! I've put together this slideshow so you can enjoy too.
#WhyWellington #CantBeatWellingtonOnAGoodDay #sunset #NaturalCapital #Wellington
Aside from a good dose of curiousity and willingness to explore and try things out, I can recommend the following courses, software, and hardware to anyone keen on getting into photo-artistry.
Anything and everything by Adobe Evangelist Julienne Kost (check whether your local library provides free access to her Lynda courses - Wellington Library does.)
Photoshop Artistry: Fine-art Grunge Composition with Sebastian Michaels
Teaching the fundamentals of photo-artistry with Photoshop and PS Elements
AWAKE - Living the (Photo)-Artistic Life with Sebastian Michaels
A year-long training program for photo artists - life-changing!
Enrollments open twice a year for students of his Fine-art Grunge Composition class.
Fine Art Photography with Brooke Shaden
Everything you need to know about creating fine art photos from the shoot, compositing, making prints, to running a fine-art business.
SOFTWARE & HARDWARE
Ask in the comments below if you have any questions about any of the above...
In anticipation of World Wetlands Day today (2 Feb), earlier in the week we added a visit to a wetland in and among our stops at various wineries around Martinborough. The wetland of choice was Carter Scenic Reserve, located in the back-blocks of Carterton. The nominal 30 minute walk stretched to an hour and a half, despite the blistering 30C heat, because it was a truly lovely and interesting spot. I hope you enjoy these photos and that they inspire you to visit one of your local wetlands.
#worldwetlandsday #artofbirding2018 #artofbirdingweek5
The reserve is a mix of wetland, grass and shrubland, and lowland forest. The trees of note are kāhikatea and tōtara, with many towering trunks, many dead, as water flow has changed in recent years killing off these stately trees, presumably due to surrounding land use. I can only speculate that there is a correlation between this change and the intensive irrigation seen in surrounding dairy farms. DOC, however, look like they're doing a fantastic job regenerating the area and propagating and planting many natives.
I'd like to offer up my method for managing my stash of textures, elements, overlays, and masks that I've acquired through courses like AWAKE, Kaizen, and from content I've purchased. It's a bit different to what Sebastian Michaels' suggests, but each to their own. It's a big decision to make, so considering various strategies allows you to make an informed decision before taking the plunge to get organized. This overview assumes you already know a bit about navigating your way round Lightroom Classic and how to import images.
Just considering textures alone - I have over 4000 textures after the AWAKE and KAIZEN courses, along with creating my own. Too many to search through if they were all in one folder. One option is to create folders for each type of texture: grunge, paint, black and white, cracks, urban, concrete… but that quickly makes for some hard decisions. How would you file this texture on the right? You certainly don't want to duplicate the image and put it into multiple folders!
Rather than fuss about which folder an image should be filed in, forget about filing entirely. Let Lightroom work for you instead, with keywords, searches, and smart collections. When you get a new content bundle, unzip each content package into a main folder for all your goodies. I usually let the folder be autonamed by the package name, which also makes it easier to trace back to the source (e.g., "2LO Artist 11", "FS_Cloudy_Day_background_"). Within my main folder, I also have separate folders for AWAKE, Kaizen, and my own content, but that doesn't really matter. Once the content is unzipped, import it into your Lightroom catalog. Then (and this is the only painful bit), keyword every image.
How to keyword
Ctrl-K or Cmd-K gets you to the Keywording panel quickly. Simply type in your keywords, separated by commas. As your collection of keywords builds up, Lightroom will autosuggest and autocomplete for you. For the above texture, I've tagged it as "fabric, cracked, watercolor, texture". I can then easily find it (and others) by simply searching for "texture fabric" or "texture watercolor", or whatever. It's up to you as to how detailed you get, but once keyworded, you will more likely be able to find your goodies in the future. Keyword all your photos too, not just your stash. Even if you have a big collection already, start like you mean to go on with new images and knock the rest off in 15 minute chunks each day till they're all done. It will save you more time in the long run as your images will be so much easier to find. I have over 45000 images in my collection, and they are finally all keyworded.
Week 1 of the Art of Birding Challenge (#artofbirdingweek1) and the first assignment was to go somewhere off the beaten track where we hadn't been before and take a photo that might inspire someone else to also visit. I chose Birdwood Reserve because I wasn't sure my legs were up to taking on the Faultline Track at Zealandia, which was Plan A.
I did it! Challenge completed on 30 Dec 2017. Thanks to everyone who offered encouragement over the year, and especially to Janice who loaned me equipment at strategic points! Was it worth doing the weekly challenge? At various times, I wondered, but now that I've completed it I say absolutely! Was it hard? You betcha! It really brought home how different fields of photography require totally different skill sets. And that I still suck at bringing "story" to my images - mainly because it takes thought and effort and I don't always have the head-space to do that. But I also found that I love shooting still life and not just wildlife, and that taking people photos is not quite so scary anymore.
For 2018, I wanted to find a challenge with a more wildlife focus, in part so that more of my friends would perhaps join me (more fun with more than one!), but I couldn't find anything quite what I was after. So I decided to go all-in and put together my own challenge - for myself and for anyone else in the world who wishes to join me. The overall challenge is to use your wildlife and nature photos not just for pretty pictures, but for advocacy: by telling a (visual) story, creating compelling images, and improving on technical skills, then posting your images online for others to enjoy, be inspired by, and to learn from. You can start the challenge at any time, and do it at your own pace. You only have yourself to satisfy. Find out more at on the challenge webpage and join our private Facebook group if you decide to take the challenge on.
So without further ado, here are the photos for the last quarter of the 2017 Dogwood Challenge. If you're interested and inspired, they're doing a 2018 version.
I am so glad I didn't take on a 365 challenge as I'm struggling (failing) to keep up with a weekly challenge. Rather than doing them weekly, I find I'm doing a bunch at a time or when an opportunity arises, rather than deliberately setting out to do a challenge each week. Throw in some procrastination and perfectionism, it's a recipe for dipping out before the challenge is completed. But I am determined to see this through though, and today did a big push to catch up with the third quarter, even if some aren't my best work. Will I get the last quarter done by the end of the year? Feel free to place your bets!
Week 27 - Communication (Artistic)
I love how the light from her screen makes her face glow.
Access Octomono Masonry Settings
Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
Art, birds, photography, wildlife - be the first to find out what's happening...